Thursday, September 20, 2018

Amazing Things

Joy is when a Middle Eastern friend lets you help her in her kitchen.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Two Feasts - Joseph and the Passover

Genesis 40 ends with a feast for Pharaoh's birthday. And if feasts are often catalysts for something, this one fails. God's servant, Joseph, is NOT let go. The cupbearer, once restored to his position of honor, forgets to mention him to Pharoah. Bummer.

But then the story before this feast caught my attention. We have a cupbearer and a baker, the wine and bread represented, the blood and the body of communion. Why then does the cupbearer get restored to honor and the baker get hanged? Aren't both important to the story? But reading on into Exodus we explore the Passover and this is where the bread is tossed. All the leavening and leavened bread are removed from the house. Bye, bye, Baker!

This connection in itself is a bit tenuous. (I still have lots of questions about this story and what it means on a deeper level.) But nothing is in Scripture by accident. And that's when the contrast hit me. After the feast of Passover (the first one!), the Israelites ARE LET GO, unlike Joseph who remained for years in prison.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Two Feasts - Abraham and Herod

Sometimes you read two passages next to each other that you never have connected before. Then something happens. You realize in a flash that they are sort of similar. Then the dominos keep falling and suddenly they are both about the same thing at the heart.

Tonight it was Genesis 21:8-20 and Mark 6:21-28.

Both passages begin with a feast. In the first, we have the feast commemorating the weaning of Isaac. In the second, the feast is for Herod's birthday. Both feasts are not the point but rather the catalyst for something to happen.

At the party for Isaac, Sarah decides that it's time to kick out Hagar and Ishmael and Abraham does. The earlier born but "backup" son has to go to make way for the true child of promise. His expulsion is ugly and brutal and feels utterly unfair.

At the party for Herod, Herodias decides that it's time for John the Baptist to die and Herod follows through. The earlier born relative and prophet came to prepare a way for the true Messiah of promise. His death is ugly and brutal and feels utterly unfair.

In both stories, the feast is the beginning of something important. In both, the someone is moved out to make way for the true promise.

A few other things struck me, too.  Ishamael is soon threatened with death as he and Hagar wander in the wilderness. But God rescues him. Isaac is later threatened with death as Abraham prepares him for sacrifice. God rescues him as well.

This contrasts with John and Jesus, both of whom are killed. The earlier story is only playing pretend. It doesn't know the seriousness of what it will become.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

My Hope is Built on Nothing Less

I feel alone, apart, adrift. I thought I had an anchor but I cannot feel its tug. Does that mean it is no longer there? And so I fear, doubt, and become even more tossed to and fro by the wind and the waves. 

I cry out but Jesus does not speak the words I would choose for him. He does not speak "Peace, Be Still" to the chaos of my life, my own storm. I know he could as easily he controlled the Sea of Galilee. Why? Help!

And then he does speak. He whispers, "Peace, Be Still," not to the wind and waves but rather to the turbulence of my own heart. The roiling worries have no place despite the waves. This is my miracle, my anchor holds. 

"When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil."

Saturday, February 07, 2015

The Perfect Game

I love games. I grew up playing board games with my family and when we'd finally exhausted Monopoly and a dozen others we started trying to make our own board game. We've picked it up again a few Christmases over the past fifteen years, and we did again this past Christmas. It was hysterical and fun.

For the first time in our gaming history we came up with a functional game that had a beginning, a middle, and an end. It worked. But like a fifth grade creative writing project, it lacked depth. It wasn't something we ever really wanted to play again. This led my sister and I to think through more and more about what made a game great. This is a topic we're still working on and while we have some ideas, it isn't a perfect science either.

This train of thought led me into other questions of whether or not games have purpose and whether or not my delight in them is well-founded. After all, games are not terribly practical. Their main purpose is pleasure. I play them for the delight they bring in the challenge, the friendship, and the story.

There are more dots in the connection than I can explain, but I eventually rabbit trailed this into seeing this as yet another metaphor for life. Life is God's game with us, not in a malicious or spiteful way. But it is full of challenge, friendship, and story. I should see those things in life with the same kind of delight and perseverance, the same kind of sportsmanship in winning and losing, the same appreciation that I have for board games.

And it all comes back to my phrase for the year: "For the joy set before him..." and thus "For the joy set before me...".

May we all look to the joy set before us, right in front of us as well as stretched out ahead past difficult things.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Again with the Doctor Who... I know.

 “Do you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make any difference?” ~The Doctor

I admit that this line almost made me cry. I have spoken with so many people who break off relationships with other people at the slightest jiggle of the shopping cart. I have known people whom I knew I would disappoint at some point and they would cut me off. And they did, because that's what they do to every person who's not perfect... and well, I'm not either.

But sometimes people cut off others for reasons that seem legitimate. I won't go into those and it's not those I care about. It's this: that Jesus loved me so much that betrayal, that being his enemy, didn't make a difference in whether or not he would die for me.

Having tasted a bit of the bitter dish of betrayal, I know that's no easy hurt to swallow.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Confetti Joy

I admit it; I was surprised by the confetti. My mouth gaped open, there was a sudden intake of breath. And then I smiled. I wasn’t expecting anything fancy for a $20 concert, even though it was one of my favorite bands. I loved it all. I loved the concert. I loved the confetti.

After my initial happiness at the fluttering colors, I began to think of how foolish it was to like bits of paper flying around in the air and how someone was just going to have to clean it up later. But then I realized how stuffy and cynical I sounded. Why can’t I just take joy in the beauty I’ve been given? Something that was meant to give me pleasure, did. And here I am complaining about it in my head.

The next day I was cycling through my thoughts about confetti and staring out my back window. It was a frivolous blizzard of yellow leaves. They were stunning in the sunshine.  And then it hit me. God also likes confetti; after all, he invented it! And we, all superior and grown up, instead of taking a child’s joy in them complain about how much work it is to rake them up.

So many things in life are like this. I spent a good bit of time convincing one of the 1st grade boys in our after-school tutoring program that participating in the activities was going to take some hard work but that it would be worth it in the end. He would learn and he would probably have some fun too. Take joy in the work.

It’s the same thing I tell people when I try to get them involved in volunteering and working with refugees and other internationals. It’s not easy. It takes a significant amount of work to become friends with a person who barely speaks your language. When cultural differences cause confusion, you can feel lost and idiotic. But it’s all worth it. The joy, the friendships, seeing God’s stories in the lives of people very different from you, seeing God work in your own life through it all, all these things are incredibly beautiful and valuable.
Sure, you may have to start with a bit of death like the trees do, a bit of choosing the hard thing over the temporary thrills of the moment, deciding to turn yellow at the edges. You may have to become open and bare and vulnerable to the elements and break free of the shell of your comfortable living. You might have to say “Hello” to a Muslim, or a Mexican, or your next-door neighbor. And then they may want something from you: your attention, your love, your service. Sacrifice your perceived safety on the altar of God’s call to the world. And then joy in what God adds to your life, the confetti colors of his creation, the overabundance of leaves and laughter.
Join me in this Isaiah path to joy.
...if you pour yourself out for the hungry
   and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness
    and your gloom be as the noonday.
And the Lord will guide you continually
    and satisfy your desire in scorched places
    and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
    like a spring of water,
    whose waters do not fail.

Monday, September 29, 2014


A few months ago, a kind woman gave me a couple of hand weights to share with some of the refugee women I work with. Some had mentioned an interest in exercising. I tossed them onto the floor of my back seat in a plastic bag. And there they sat.

In a few weeks they had escaped their plastic bag and would roll and rustle every time I turned a corner. They were taunting me with my inadequacy on many levels. First, I should have gotten around to giving them away. Second, maybe I should be using them myself!

And then it hit me. How many times in life do I let people give me their expectations, the weights of their standards, the burdens of their dreams? Just because someone else wants to live until they are 120, doesn't mean I have to strive for that. Just because someone wants to run a marathon doesn't mean I have to start training. Just because someone takes a certain vitamin and calls it their miracle drug, doesn't mean I have to spend half my income on it too.  Everyone has their own obsession.

I've got my own. When the woman in class mentions her traumatic memories of finding body parts of a relative, and it triggers the memories and fears of another lady who cries for her family in ISIS controlled areas, there is little to do but listen.

I've realized I can't care about everything; I don't have it in me. Some weights belong to other people and not to me.  But even more than that, I'm not the one who is supposed to carry any of these weights. Jesus bears my burdens.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Lamentations Poem

Tides rush down un-wooed by the moon
And the soft grey wool of the sky unravels
Like myself all undone to the earth
A puddle weeping into the broken cracks

Neighbor drummer pounds the sounds
Inside my sorry head late at night
Intoxicated with too much thinking
The plants outside too drunk with drinking

Will I awaken tired and sad?
The plants will thrive and green.
Or will the tears be spent tonight
The stains be dry in the morning light
And new mercies shine again?

Lamentations 3:22-23

Monday, September 01, 2014

Preaching to Myself

I'm always going around telling people to do things they are afraid of. For example, "Talk to the lady with a headscarf. She's not scary. She could use a friend and probably someone to speak English with her." Or, "You could teach in a foreign country. It's actually really fun!" Or even sometimes things that are a little more mundane, "You can step out of your shell and talk about something deep, something that hits below the surface conversation about the weather."

And all this is pretty easy for me. I'm not the type that is easily frightened by the unfamiliar. I moved to Iraq when my country still had an active military presence there. People called me brave, but it didn't feel like bravery because it wasn't scary to me in the first place. So sometimes I'm not very compassionate towards people who are afraid of things. I see their fear and how it keeps them from doing amazing things and I just don't understand.  Get a grip, people!

That is, until I run into the wall that is my own fear. When my own insecurities and inadequacies are on the surface of something new, suddenly fear is a totally understandable and reasonable response! I mean, that wall is made of brick! How could I possible get over or go through THAT!

For me, that meant being filmed... like... on camera. I think I had to pee every fifteen minutes that morning and visibly shaking as the time drew near. The first take had me looking like a frozen deer in the headlights. I had to preach the same message to myself that I so often give to others. "It's good to do something that scares you. It's worth it to step out of your comfort zone. This will help you grow and help others hear something new."

Thankfully, I was blessed to work with people who are my friends, who have great grace for me, and know me well enough to help me relax and laugh a little. In all, it was a good experience, even a little fun. I was running on adrenaline for the rest of the afternoon but adrenaline can make you very productive, so that was awesome.

So the message I preach to my friends here, I also preach to myself, because it is true. Our lives are better when we step into something uncomfortable, when we try new things, when we step out to do the things that God calls us to do, rejecting our irrational fears and instead walking in faith in the God who made us.