Jesus who?

Boy & the Bench

Today’s readings:
Psalms 43; 149, Jeremiah 5:20-31, Romans 3:19-31, John 7:1-13

Anonymity and privacy are quickly becoming obsolete. We carry identification for many purposes; our online activity is tracked and traded; our purchasing data allows marketers to target us directly; cameras and surveillance equipment feed the nightly news; and we voluntarily document almost limitless information about our lives on social media.

Life in the first century was very different. Because there were no photographs or even binoculars, many (if not most) of the people who followed Jesus wouldn’t know him if they met him. Thus, when the annual Festival of Booths arrived, he was able to wander it unnoticed and listen freely to what people were saying about him. Even his close friends didn’t know he was there. When they tried to convince him to go so he could increase his fame and reputation, he said “my time has not yet fully come” and told them he was remaining behind. What they didn’t fully understand was that he was referring to his time to die; the authorities were already plotting to kill him, and public appearances would only hasten that time.

Jesus knew how to pick his battles. He was focused on his mission and avoided distractions. However, that focus didn’t always translate into action; sometimes it meant working out the timing. It was no accident he turned over the money-changer tables in the temple just before Passover when it would have had maximum impact. The Festival of Booths (or Sukkot) was about six months later, and his crucifixion occurred at the following Passover. In one carefully orchestrated year he planted the seeds and tended the fruits that would be harvested at the resurrection.

As we move through life, we don’t have to constantly announce the minutia of our every intention and action, particularly for personal and important matters. Sometimes we need to hang back and weigh the available information (minus distracting if well-intentioned commentary) before deciding how best to live out our own calling. That way, when the time for action arrives, we are clear-headed and committed. Let’s try to recognize when things are best kept between us and God.

Comfort: You don’t have to be answerable to everyone all the time.

Challenge: Spend some time each week in a setting where no one knows you.

Prayer: Loving God, teach me when to reap, when to sow, and when to lie fallow. Amen.

Discussion: Have you ever shared too much information about yourself?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll  have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!

Invitation: The Bow Lady

Every December, for about the last ten years, some friends and I spend a Saturday volunteering at a Christmas “store” run by a local church for families in need. Parents, grandparents, and guardians can select gifts for children and pick up a Christmas dinner while children do crafts and pick out gifts in another part of the building. Most volunteers are either wrappers or personal shoppers guiding the adults. Since I’m not comfortable starting conversations with strangers, and because I worked in a luggage and gift shop for years, I try to stick to the wrapping.
The first year there, I met The Bow Lady.

She was wrapping at the same table I was, but most of her efforts were concentrated on selecting exactly the right bow to go with the paper. Now every hour each table had to wrap dozens of presents that came in all shapes and sizes – from decks of cards to bicycles. The donated gift wrap was a mishmash of colors, styles, and quality and the bows tended not to stick very securely, if at all. Bows were not most volunteer’s highest priority. Sometimes, knowing they were going to fall off anyway, we just tossed a bunch into the bag to apply at home.

But The Bow Lady wanted exactly the right bow on every gift. Not just the ones she was wrapping, but on mine and everyone else’s as well. At one point she removed the bow from a gift I had just wrapped, and replaced it with one she thought looked better.

“Please don’t do that,” I said, feeling miffed.

She didn’t, but she kept making suggestions and nudging bows toward us before moving on to another table.

Over the years, The Bow Lady has remained consistent in her quest for the optimal bow for every gift. She never seems to stay at any table for too long. She doesn’t seem attached to any of the other little groups from the many churches and organizations who volunteer. I suspect she’s associated with the home congregation, but I’m not sure.

All I know is, she’s there every year insisting you could be better about your bow choices.

She hasn’t changed. But this year – about nine years too late – I have.

It occurred to me, I am somebody’s Bow Lady. I undoubtedly have habits and behaviors of which I am unaware that have irked people for years. Sadly there are also behaviors of which I am perfectly aware that seem baked into my fruitcake; they are unappealing, but I am as yet powerless to change them. Those are the ones causing that little bit of shame; a sense of not belonging. I don’t know whether The Bow Lady is aware of how her behaviors can annoy others, but it can’t be easy not having a table to call home.

All I know how to do is show up and be me, and The Bow Lady knows how to show up and be herself. And she has shown up. Faithfully. For ten years. It took me this long to realize the ministry of the Christmas store – like every ministry really – is about more than its stated mission. We can’t compartmentalize how we show Christ’s love to others. The Bow Lady is not an obstacle or quirk to performing the ministry, because every ministry falls under The Ministry. I need to love her better.

And please don’t get the idea I think it’s only me ministering to her. She has, for ten years, patiently asked me to be more thoughtful about gifts I am wrapping under the banner of Christ. Okay that one time it was not so patient, but never once has she been unkind. She is ministering to me also.

We are all showing up as ourselves, discontent but powerless against our own quirks and flaws, hoping to be accepted, and not as loving as we could be.

But there is a table we can call home. It’s Christ’s table. The gifts prepared for us on this table are perfect and timeless. Christ knows us – warts and bows and all – and welcomes us. And he asks us to welcome each other. Warts and bows and all.

If we can do at Christ’s table, we can learn to do it a little better everywhere. Every ministry is just part of The Ministry.

I hope The Bow Lady is there next December. I think Jesus would like it if I invited her to our table.

May the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

Dress for Spiritual Success


Today’s readings (click below to open in new window/tab):
Psalms 111; 150, 1 Kings 3:5-14, Colossians 3:12-17, John 6:41-47

Whether you leave your house dressed in a bathrobe, a suit and tie, or a wedding dress, it’s the same you underneath. Despite employer dress codes, you are no less competent on casual Friday than you are when dressed for a board meeting at 8:00 a.m. on Tuesday. However there are times when what you wear is crucial. A nurse treating infectious patients must wear protective clothing. Hikers need footwear to provide both comfort and stability. Dancers are hindered if their clothes do not allow freedom of movement.

In his letter to the Colossians, Paul says they should clothe themselves “with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” and “love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” Some clothes communicate how we intend to interact with the world. Opposing teams and referees all wear different uniforms for a reason. Someone can say “I’m a professional football player” but until they’re suited up and on the field, they’re not playing professional ball. We can quote scripture and doctrine all day long, but if we haven’t put on a Christian attitude, why would anyone believe us?  Sure, meekness might itch a little and sometimes we can’t wait to slip out of that patience at the end of the day, but they are part of the dress code for the best job in the world.

The good news is, once you’ve broken them in, they are pretty comfortable. Kindness feels less like a tie choking off your breathing and more like a scarf keeping you warm. Humility changes from a girdle squeezing in your less virtuous bulges to a support that helps you keep your back straight and head high. None of us are able to display Paul’s list of virtues all the time, but the more conscious we are about putting them on, the more they become part of us, and the more prepared we feel.

These garments will protect you. They will provide comfort and stability. They will give you confidence to move freely in a world that doesn’t always understand what you’re doing. Dressing for success doesn’t have to cost a dime.

Comfort: Love of God and neighbor is the most beautiful thing you can wear.

Challenge: As you are getting dressed for the day, be intentional about putting on your garments of faith as well.

Prayer: Loving God, I will clothe myself in faith to please you and serve your world. Amen.

Discussion: What’s your favorite item of clothing and why?

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The Long Game


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 97; 145, Deuteronomy 8:1-10 (or Deuteronomy 18:9-14),  James 1:1-15, Luke 9:18-27

Great coaches do not hang their hopes or reputation on any single game, tournament, or season. They focus on long-term goals for the team and the program. Fans and players who demand short-term results can quickly become disgruntled. No one likes to see their team lose. No player likes to sit the bench, especially a former star in high school, college, or the minors. Despite complaints, good coaches stick to the strategy, put in players who prioritize the needs of the team, and patiently mold a team into its optimal form.

God also plays a long game – the longest. As the Israelites entered the Promised Land after forty years of wandering the wilderness, Moses explained how their trials had prepared them. Their faith was tested, and refined when found lacking. As their endurance was pushed to its limits, they became a people who could face adversity and come out the other side. No matter how much they complained, God forcefully but lovingly stuck to the program for benefits they couldn’t foresee. In the end they learned the problem was not the program, but their ability to accept and live it.

Under the best circumstances, people appreciate great coaches. Under the worst, they replace them with someone who promises more immediate results. Like the golden calf worshipped by the Israelites while Moses was on the mountain, cheap substitutes satisfy the present urge, but fail to build character that sustains the team for the long haul.

Jesus understood the importance of long range planning. When Peter admitted he thought Jesus was the Christ, Jesus told him to keep that information under wraps until all that needed to happen had happened. Events might have unfolded differently if the Jewish authorities had believed Jesus was the messiah – different in ways that could have been easier on him – but he chose to stick with the program.

A good program adapts to the needs of the team, while simultaneously moving each team member closer to the goal. God can work similarly in our lives – if we are open to the program. Let’s come ready to play.

Comfort: Patience is not the same as doing nothing.

Challenge: Write down some long range goals. Pray about and revisit them regularly.

Prayer: God, thank you for your patience and guidance when I wander. Amen.

Discussion: When are you tempted to take shortcuts in life?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll be notified of new posts through FB, and have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!