Breaking the Cycle – through Love

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

John 15:13

New International Version (©2011)

To be perfectly honest, I’ve probably only ever looked at this verse in the context of how Christ laid his life down for us – literally – which leaves me wondering how my own love could ever measure up. I mean, as a mother, I can see doing this under dire circumstances. I easily recall the time I went whitewater rafting with my son on his first exciting excursion with a Class IV rapid, and our inexperienced guide (who had given me every reason already to be distrustful of her) caused our raft to nearly tip going over the falls. Realizing which way the raft was going and seeing my son losing his balance midair, I chose to let my own footing go & bail out portside, while uprighting the raft along the way. The hydraulics pulled me under, as I knew they would; and despite all my best efforts, I still got slammed repeatedly into the rock wall in the current beneath with a raft on top of me just about longer than I was able to hold my breath. Absolutely better me than my son, though.

But is there anyone else I love so much as to lay my life down for them, besides my family? I’m not sure. And yet…that’s what we’re called to do – to lay down our lives – in order to be Christ-like.

Maybe it’s not always as drastic as hanging on a cross, or allowing oneself to have a near-drowning experience. Perhaps laying down our lives is a calling to extend ourselves beyond…ourselves.

I know a couple of fellas’ who have been doing just that for the past few weeks – extending their schedules well beyond work on both ends of the day, extending their bodies in training beyond what they were comfortably capable of doing, extending their mission beyond the comforts of their own lives – laying down their lives to try to help save the lives of others.

biking

Tom & Brian will be embarking on an almost 200-mile journey this coming weekend on their bikes with the goal of raising awareness and funds towards ending malaria.

You see, they’ve gotten to know a few people in South Sudan, during their travels there, who have touched their hearts. More than that, their hearts are broken – in love – for the people there, especially so many children whose lives will be lessened or lost there to a disease that IS preventable, IS treatable, and IS BEATABLE – with the right resources.

love

The World Health Organization reports the following:

  • The African Region accounts for 85% of malaria cases
  • and 90% of malaria deaths worldwide.
  • 85% of malaria deaths occur in children under five years of age.
  • Every 30 seconds a child dies from malaria. (Some sources say every 60 seconds. In either case, I hope you agree this is unacceptable.)
  • As a result of the scale-up of use of insecticide-treated nets, indoor residual spraying, intermittent preventive treatment during pregnancy and Artemisinin-based combination therapy, 10 countries in the WHO African region have reduced malaria cases by at least 50% between 2000 and 2008.

BUT WHO CARES ENOUGH ABOUT ALL THOSE OTHER LOST LIVES?

AND WHAT DIFFERENCE CAN THE RESPONSE OF ONLY A FEW PEOPLE MAKE ANYWAY?

Among those who care and who are willing to respond are these two men – with full-time jobs and life responsibilities. No one pays them for their time to train to do this. As a matter of fact, they have to take time away from other activities and people who are important to them to be able to accomplish the training this takes. They aren’t wealthy. They don’t live extravagantly. Yet their gear, the tuneups, the bike tubes can all become costly. They could’ve saved themselves this trouble and just pulled a few dollars from their pockets…and that’s a start…

BUT THEY CARE ENOUGH TO LAY DOWN THEIR LIVES.

These two won’t get any glory for their endeavor, as no one will be there to cheer them on as they cross any finish line. They don’t get a cut of the proceeds or even a support vehicle to lean on or to supply their needs. They won’t get special IVs to replenish their body fluids after making a mile of ascension in less than two days. Instead, their worn bodies will come off the road hopefully in time for them to arrive at their destination to meet and fulfill their next responsibilities.

BUT IT’S IMPORTANT ENOUGH TO THEM TO LAY DOWN THEIR LIVES.

And get this. After all that, and after delivering a check made out from our church organization who has received the funds that were pledged on their behalf, they won’t even get to choose who they think should receive the benefit of these funds. They are laying down their lives in this instance for complete strangers – strangers who are in need and to whom they want to show the love of Jesus Christ.

WHY? BECAUSE JESUS LAID DOWN HIS LIFE FOR THEM.

As a matter of fact, if these men had their choice, there would be enough funds to help everyone who needed the treatment, education and other community prevention measures to eradicate this disease. And the good news is – there can be! Malaria is a disease that CAN be eradicated and as little as $10 could save 1 person’s life from this affliction.

WATCH WHAT BEGINS TO HAPPEN…

Marys_gift

The smallest of these gets the principle of how one or two people can make a HUGE difference. Children began overhearing how the adults were trying to help other children & their hearts were moved to help. Without even being asked, they began making their own plans to watch God’s good works multiply…

Our friend’s daughter, Mary, heard about these children in Africa from her mom and how they could be saved, and she gave up all of the money that she had been saving to buy something special for herself. She understood that saving lives had such greater value for her to treasure. So, by her own desire, she brought her money to her mom and asked how she could give it to help those children. I see 2 lives just in the 1 bill on top – Mary gives BIG because Mary dreams BIG!

boxtop

Two of our own ‘littles’ caught the vision simply by overhearing the mission. Without asking or explaining, they got together, found a used postal box and a magic marker and painstakingly wrote out “Donation to Sudan” on it. They made a slot to insert (cram) money into, taped the box shut, and began to deposit all spare change they had or could get donated over the next few months. Would you believe that 10 lives were saved in the deliberate spare change of children – because they excitedly chose to put it into the box that saved lives instead of into vending machines and the like?

And need we wonder why God loves child-like hearts, innocent eyes of faith & cheerful givers?

THESE TINY PEOPLE LAID DOWN THEIR LIVES FOR THE LIVES OF OTHERS.

CAN YOU AFFORD TO LAY DOWN THE TINIEST PORTION OF YOUR LIFE?

Ten bucks. In the grand scheme of sacrifices, for most of us, that isn’t much. A movie ticket. A couple of cups of coffee. That being said, if you feel so led to be a part of this worldwide effort, it’s not too late. You can make an online contribution in support of these efforts at:

BREAK THE CYCLE

NMM

Or you can take the time to investigate if what I’m telling you is true at ImagineNoMalaria.org – a partnership dedicated to eradicating malaria before it has the chance to eradicate any more lives.

PARTNERS

WHAT YOU LAY DOWN CAN BE COUNTED AS 
LIFE VICTORIOUS!!!
THE LOVE YOU SHOW WHEN YOU LAY DOWN YOUR LIFE FOR THE LIVES OF OTHERS DOES NOT GO WITHOUT NOTICE.
South_Sudan

The Game of Life

Humanity is a marvelous thing – when we’re being humane. Unfortunately, as humans, we don’t always meet that mark. And as much as we celebrate the goodness that can come from our humanity, we aren’t often as quick to celebrate its synonym, mortality. Mortality has the tendency to remind us of the weakness of our humanness. Strangely and beatifically, the human spirit still has the ability to cause our souls to shine during mortality’s dark hours.

Yesterday didn’t seem like a dark day. On the contrary. Despite the cloud cover and the chilly breeze that had caused me to choose blue jeans and a jacket over shorts for my spectator apparel, it had begun with every reason for a celebratory mood. My son’s baseball team had battled back the day before (after playing their hearts out all week; all season, in fact) to earn their very first chance to play for their State title. I had what I considered to be the perfect seat – a chair-back centered at the beginning of the second level behind home plate (chosen for its spacious leg room as much as my views – one for the panoramic field, the other for seeing peripherally into our dug-out, and the last for directly observing & greeting joyful passers-by from both sides).

State_game

My focal field of view on this fantastic field of dreams

As the game progressed, the stats showed the story – still fairly manageable. We were down by 2 runs, but it came down to us not being as successful at getting our hits synchronized – we had simply stranded more runners. They had 6 hits; we had 5. No official errors were recorded for either team (though, in truth, there were some early adjustments that needed to be made for this larger field that could’ve been considered ‘unrecorded’ ones). We were home team, and unfortunately, by the time we had only 2 at-bats remaining, we were down by 4 runs with a costly error recorded. We continued to hit for the next 2 innings, and continued to strand runners. I won’t leave you in suspense. 4-0 was the final score, leaving us as runners-up in the State. For a first-ever run at State (a first Division title, a first Region title), I wasn’t at all disappointed. But I knew there were 18 players and a few coaches who were feeling a little differently about matters at the moment. I also knew that, one day, while cheering on their own kids, they would understand how very little importance this outcome would actually hold.

When we left the field that day, my son’s smile wasn’t as bright as it had been the night before. (Maybe it was even a little non-existent at the moment.)

All Smiles – my son (left) and his teammate (fabulous freshmen at State)

All Smiles – my son (left) and his best bud teammate (fab freshmen at State)

But here’s the story I was able to share with him and I want to share today with you.

I began by asking my son what he thought about the other team’s pitcher, to which he replied he thought this was the best pitcher they’d faced at State. I nodded and said, “I’d like to tell you a little something I learned about him today.” (I’ve also learned to wait for his permission before we discuss anything after games. You’ll have to read the quick back-story on my post, Your Child’s Confession, if you’d like to understand why.) After getting his nod of approval, this is what I shared:

“As the bottom of the 6th was starting today, I could see the concern on the faces in your dugout, since time to get your runs back was becoming limited. I thought back to comments I’d heard from some of the moms the night before – about doing prayer walks and even cheering with ‘Holy Spirit fingers.’ I couldn’t help but grin over their enthusiasm and it caused me to have my own private little conversation with God. My words weren’t about winning, though. They went more like this: ‘Lord, I don’t even know if you care about ballgames…but I do know that you care about your children. And you know things going on in personal lives out there on that field – on both sides – that I couldn’t possibly know. I ask, more than anything, that each of these boys feels your presence in their lives and feels your peace out there on that field – so they can enjoy the time they’ve been blessed to be here – blessed by the support of all these family and friends surrounding them and cheering them on.’ And, honestly, I prayed it for every young man out on that field. I figured if God doesn’t show favoritism, I shouldn’t either. (Okay, as my son, you’re still my favorite player!) After that, I didn’t expect to hear anymore about it. What would be, would be.

“After your game was over, after the fans had stood and cheered you all on and given you more of their support and their love, I was standing on the walkway waiting for you to come out. As a fan from the other team passed, I smiled at her and offered my congratulations. She stopped and walked close to me and threw her arm around my waist. She looked directly in my eyes and said, ‘I know you’re disappointed about the loss today, but I’d like to tell you something. That pitcher you came up against today is my grandson.’

‘He did a great job,’ I nodded.

‘Oh, honey, that’s not why I’m telling you this. I wanted to let you know that he was diagnosed with invasive cancer in March and has had to undergo chemotherapy. He had to be cleared to be able to play here at State.’

I’m sure my mouth dropped open. Of course, by the time I’d told her how sorry I was to hear this news and had gotten his name and assured her I’d be praying for him, I hugged her and thanked her for entrusting me with this information.

‘I just thought that might help your boys understand…’ She smiled the brightest, most beautiful smile in that moment of darkness, as though the sunshine had burst through the clouds. Then she told me he was supposed to be playing ball for the college in our town next year – and she wanted me to come and see him there. And I believe that I will. I believe he’ll be there.

I found a way to pass this news to our coach through our athletic director; but I don’t believe the boys, as a team, had this information as they walked out of the stadium that afternoon. I felt blessed to be able to personally relay this testimony to my own son. As I shared this other young man’s story with him, about how the opposing player on the mound was undergoing a different sort of battle, not only did my son’s countenance immediately change as he expressed feeling differently about the game’s outcome (especially its importance in the grand scheme of life), he caught on to my little secret.

“God answered your prayer.”

“He did, didn’t He?”

“He let you in on what was going on in somebody’s personal life that did make this game important to Him.”

I just love it when we’re paying close enough attention for God to give us a glimpse of Himself and His heart. Don’t you?

What a precious moment – when we stop to realize those specific times when God has dipped, yet again, into our humanity.

***

An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Devo: Heart Reflections

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror

then we shall see face to face.
Now I know in part;
then I shall fully know,
even as I am fully known.
– I Corinthians 13:12

While reflecting this morning, I thought…

THE ANCIENT GRECO-ROMAN WORLD MUST HAVE BEEN A LOT LIKE OURS
… since the Apostle Paul (writing here to the church in Corinth) seems to use plenty of analogies, metaphors and real-life examples of what was going on around him that we can still easily understand. Gosh, Greek society must have been narcissistic too. Imagine that!

People, no doubt, enjoy focusing on themselves.

I mean, how many times a day do I pause to check my appearance through my reflection?  I straighten my clothing while walking through reflective doors at the bank; I pull down my rear view mirror to check my hair before exiting my car; I even peek at the little visual box of myself while I’m video chatting, perhaps so I can ensure my expressions are appropriate for the messages I wish to convey.

People more ancient than us might not have had Skype, but they certainly had this same reflective instinct and…yes, they even had mirrors! And, just like us, they found reflective alternatives when necessary. Don’t forget the story of the famous Narcissus. Cursed to fall in love with his own reflection, he couldn’t tear away from the water’s edge, where he found he could stare at the object of his affection (himself) all the day long.

I DON’T WANT TO GIVE YOU THE IMPRESSION THAT I THINK CHECKING ON YOUR REFLECTION IS A BAD THING.

I rather think Paul was suggesting it. His description of the mirror represented it as a tool to use. Tools can only serve whatever purpose is determined within the hands they’ve been placed. A shovel can dig a hole for planting a beautiful new tree of life…or it can dig a grave.

A spiritual mirror can serve as a tool to promote self-aggrandizement…or serve to help us see our inner transformation taking place 

WE’RE ALL FAMILIAR WITH THE FAIRY TALE EXAMPLE OF THE DESTRUCTION WROUGHT 

when trying to form a reflection for our own purposes, rather than being transformed by truthfully admitting what we find there.

Snow White’s stepmother, a.k.a. the Evil Queen, is well known for asking, “Mirror, mirror, on the wall. Who’s the fairest of them all?” Because of her sad need to self-aggrandize, to refuse to fulfill anyone’s desires other than her own, she could have never been satisfied with the answer. Like Narcissus, she could not tear herself away from a warped fantasy to live a life of seeing beyond herself. She never stopped to think that she, too, could have had the same fairness as Snow White – had she only considered what was being reflected from her heart. Instead, she’d go to all measures to manipulate what she reflected to get the effect she desired. Ironically, she turned herself into an ugly, old hag to try to fulfill her own plan of being the fairest.

OUR FLESH HAS A WAY OF GETTING IN THE WAY OF OUR ABILITY TO SPIRITUALLY REFLECT.  

That’s likely why Paul reminds us we won’t be fully successful in our reflections because we only see dimly now. But, if we’re consistent in picking up our spiritual mirrors and reflecting on what exists within our hearts, a more lovely display should begin to emerge as we allow there to be less of our fleshly cares and more of our spirit-filled ones.

In love, -jody

________________________________________________________________________________

Update: My post was removed from a writing community today, with an email expressing that I hadn’t met the site’s criteria of providing a “So What?” It honestly doesn’t bother me to have gotten the boot; apparently, I deserved it. Because, in further reflection, it DOES bother me to think that, in challenging us (that’s you AND me) to engage in deep heartfelt reflection and the recourse that act has on humanity (the greater good) over any mere individual’s self-centered motives, maybe there’s not a strongly related so-what anymore in our world.

Isn’t that, after all, the problem? Regardless of whether bombs unexpectedly collapse giant buildings where people came to work that day or explode in celebrating crowds? Regardless of whether children are gunned down in “safe places” or they’re dying from preventable diseases like malaria in places from which we “feel safe”?  Oh, I know. We feel horrified – temporarily…but so what? We rant on a Facebook post here and there…but so what? We turn off the news when it’s too disturbing. We go back to our undisturbed lives. We choose to vacation to refresh ourselves, rather than traveling somewhere to help others. If no one really notices the ugliness we bear in our hearts, we might feel slightly remorseful for awhile; but if we don’t get called out on our behavior…so what?

SO WHAT can WE do to make a difference in this world? Since I got called out, I guess I’m passing it on.

I’m left with only one recourse here – to turn it over to your hands, wise readers, and ask – if the message resonated on your heart chords the least bit, what’s the “so what” in it for you?

Three Thieves Hung on a Cross that Day – An Easter Drama

Happy Easter!

tomb_scene

I understand that phrase has different meanings for different people. For me, as a Christ-follower, I celebrate this day as the day of my Risen Savior. The Church has a traditional greeting on this day, in which one person pronounces, “He is risen!” to which the next responds, “He is risen, indeed!” I always look forward to this exchange because I can’t imagine a better proclamation of faith to share.

That being the case, I’m going to share something with you today that I created for making this proclamation – it’s a dramatized monologue I wrote for our Easter sunrise service, in which Mary Magdalene arrives in the graveyard to alert those who have come that Jesus will not be found there.

If you decide to view it, please take it easy on me in “the reviews.” I don’t claim to be an actress, by any stretch of the imagination, and it takes me some time to ‘get my bearings’ and just let the words flow. (No stage practice beforehand – it was a one-time run in front of a live audience.) But my intent was to deliver a meaningful message that could serve to explain some of the lesser understood meanings of the ‘goings on’ likely surrounding the crucifixion, according to my research.

So I present to you…Mary Magdalene’s version of why three thieves hung on a cross that day (in her Southern Judean accent). 😉

He is Risen!…

(that’s your cue!)

Easter Blessings,

-jody

Desiring to be Dopey

I was once interviewed for our college newspaper by a student staff member.  Now this young lady, Dena, is going to make a great reporter one day because she really knows how to ask the kind of questions that get to the heart of WHO a person really is.  In my interview, she surprised me with a very thought-provoking question about myself.  She wanted to know…

If I was one of Snow White’s seven dwarfs, which one would I be?

That question definitely made me stop and think!  My first response was, “You mean I can’t be Snow White?”  Nope.  As a mother of three boys (reminder: boys don’t care much for fairytales), I had to admit that it had been too many years since I’d seen Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs for me to remember all of their names.  So to be fair, she let me do a quick Google search on them while we were sitting in my office. My informal study revealed some interesting facts about these characters along with their names – Doc, Grumpy, Happy, Sneezy, Bashful, Sleepy and Dopey.  Their group picture revealed that Dopey was the only dwarf without a beard, so I figured he might be a reasonable choice on that basis alone; but the caption also reminded me that he was the only dwarf who didn’t speak. (I get that some might suggest I discount Dopey from my list of choices for that reason alone.) I understand that most people don’t want to own up to being Grumpy, but I also figure most people don’t purposely want to be represented as Dopey either – especially when worldly intelligence is so in vogue. Nevertheless…

My choice was made.

Something about this quiet, clumsy little dwarf’s disposition struck me as powerful. He made it easy to look deeply into his heart to define him, rather than thinking about his name or his looks or his eloquence (or lack thereof).

We do the same thing all the time with people that we try to do to Dopey.

We look at the outside appearance, making them out to be someone different than God created them to be. We don’t take time to know their hearts, to recognize their callings. We think it’s bad to be Dopey, when, in fact, Jesus wants his followers to be able to become just that.

 As I read about the duties of each of these short-statured gem-miners, I discovered that

Dopey may have been given the most important calling of all.

He was the dwarf who had been assigned the task of cleaning up all of the ‘unusable’ jewels! 

Now I ask you – as a Christian in the world, could there be any more admirable calling on my life than this? Is this not what the namesake, Christ, himself, came into the world to do for me – for others? Did He not enter humanity’s story as a tiny, helpless, clumsy baby, seemingly unlikely for such an enormously daunting task? Yet His story reveals to us how powerfully He can mine unusable jewels as He bursts forth from the bowels of the earth to take control over the wages of sin.

 I’ve already revealed some great things to you so far about Snow White’s dwarf friend, Dopey.  

Yet there’s one other thing that I left out that makes him stand out from the group.  Dopey could become quite scared at times, possibly even paralyzed with fear. But in the one moment that truly mattered the most (when Snow White desperately needed help), he was the one who became quite brave and who urged the others to move in the direction that would free Snow White from her captivity and defeat death. You think of the Prince doing all the work; but the truth is, without Dopey’s role in it, the story wouldn’t have had its happy ending. 

 Jesus never asked his disciples to become brave and rescue him from the cross. (Remember, Peter tried to do just that in the garden, and Jesus stopped him – then Peter became fearful again and ran and lied).  Obviously, we aren’t expected to be perfect; we aren’t even expected to be warriors doing battle. What Jesus wants is for us to be brave to tell our own testimonies – to encourage others through their trials. To urge others to His saving grace.

That’s the calling on our lives that matters most.

  

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.                                                                               

– Philippians 4:8-9

 

How God Can Equip from the Hip on a Fateful Trip

Something very curious happened this morning with my blog post. I began this entry at the end of November, but just got around to finishing it up this morning. When I went to publish my saved draft, it saved it to the originally drafted date.

So…I’ve re-blogged the link, if you’re interested…

How God Can Equip from the Hip on a Fateful Trip.

Is Your Heart Taking a Beating or a Lashing?

Did you know that people can hear your heart without the use of a stethoscope?

Your heart actually has an outer appendage attached to it that reveals the shape it’s in without the need for any medical testing. When you use this appendage, others can see the condition of your heart.

That appendage is called the tongue – and it can be woefully powerful when it lashes out!

Proverbs 19:21: Death and life are in the power of the tongue.

heart_tongue

As a matter of fact, that tongue is like a spring that gushes forth everything from your heart.

James 3:11 asks: “Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water?”

In other words, your heart can either be a refreshing source of life to people, or it can throw someone’s spiritual metabolism into crisis. Be aware that drinking salt water can hurt the mind and the body – to the point of death! (Yes, they knew that back then too – they lived in a fishing community and not too far from the saltiest body of water on earth – the Dead Sea.) Most of us would rather try to convince ourselves that just a little bit of salt mixed in with fresh water shouldn’t do any harm, which is why James is making the point that you need to consider the source – your heart – because it can’t be both salty & fresh, both good & evil.

You see, when the salt begins to mix in, it takes the clarity away from the fresh water. For the heart, that clarity is LOVE.

I Corinthians 13 (the love chapter) begins by telling us: “If I speak in the tongues of men and angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love. I am nothing.

When things get salty, fresh water has to be poured back in to dilute the danger. Love is the fresh water. Without love, the saltiness creates bitterness. That’s why we’re told to guard our hearts against a seed a bitterness. Over time, it will grow into a hateful anger. (Can’t you hear the chaotic, arrhythmic, irritating noise that anger creates – just like the noisy gongs and clanging cymbals described above? Or just like heartbeats when they’ve been disturbed from their rhythmic pulsing?)

Luke 6:45 is very clear about how the noises that we hear from people’s mouths are very distinctive extensions of their hearts:

The good person brings good things out of the good stored up in his/her heart, and the evil person brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his/her heart. For out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.   (Luke 6:45)

So lying and deceitful and angry tongues pour forth from a heart that has been storing up evil until it finally overflows. Proverbs 10:18 talks about how the person tries to conceal these things in the heart, but how that person ultimately reveals himself/herself as a liar and a fool.

Proverbs 10:18: The one who conceals hatred has lying lips, and whoever utters slander is a fool.

In other words, evil can’t stay undercover forever.

Eventually, it either seeps out or it spews like a volcano.

(i.e., Do you prefer your deadly poison administered as slow-acting venom or delivered with instantaneous violence?)

It then becomes a vicious cycle – a self-destructing whirlpool (pulling you down into its deep, dark recesses while sucking the life out of everything it can grasp). Hate and foolishness cause people to lie and give false witness against one another, all the while hardening and deteriorating the heart. As a matter of fact, the way to guard against hate and foolishness is also given to us in I John 2, where we’re reminded to keep God’s instruction (His Torah, His commandments):

Whoever says “I know God” but does not keep the Lord’s commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in that person; but whoever keeps God’s word, in that person truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in God.

God’s love is how to guard our hearts from hate and foolishness, and we exhibit our love for him by doing what he asks of us.

I Peter 2 tells us to “Put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.”

As we realize how good God is, that he has chosen us and we are precious to him, we will want to offer spiritual sacrifices to him – which is to love him and to love one another. True, pure, heartfelt love – not the kind mixed with the salty bitterness of self-centeredness and self-righteousness.

So if you’re worried that you still have enough saltiness of self-centeredness that you might not be able to tame your tongue for someone else’s sake, let me leave you with these final thoughts to do it for your own sake. Apparently, cleansing can work, to some extent, in reverse. By taming your tongue, you can bridle the evil upchucking with a good backwash of the mouth, gargling all the way down to the heart.

Proverbs 21:23: Whoever keeps his/her mouth and tongue, keeps himself/herself out of trouble.

Proverbs 17:28: Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise.

Hold your tongue. A word to the wise should be sufficient…

hold-your-tongue

grabbing on myself, -jody

A Mean and Less Life

Newtown, Connecticut – Elementary school shooting

Happy Valley, Oregon – Mall shooting

And the list goes on and on…with ABC News reporting 31 school shootings in the U.S. since the Columbine incident in 1999. Think Progress lists a tragic timeline of mass shootings since Columbine.The New Republic reports that “Mass Shootings Are on the Rise–And 2012 Has Been Deadlier Than Ever Before.”

Those who have experienced it are forever traumatized. Even if not physically present, our nation has experienced it and our students, teachers, and the general public are traumatized. Headlines read, “Police, world  wonder…” and “motive a mystery” and “Why are mass shootings becoming more common?” and “no answers.”

When I can’t find an answer in the physical world, that’s when I come to realize I’m looking in the wrong place. We are spiritual beings having a human experience. As spiritual beings, we’ve been given a spiritual DNA, a human triumvirate made up of Faith, Hope and Love. (I Corinthians 13:13 tells us that these three ABIDE – remain as a part of us – faith, hope and love.) When we aren’t tapping into these sources of our being, our lives are going to be out of balance.

For today, I really want to focus on HOPE because there are Hope Thieves everywhere around us (and we don’t want to be in danger of becoming one either). Hope is one important element to our wholeness.

Someone once said, “without hope, life is meaningless,” but what I heard was, “without hope, life is mean and less.”

As I’ve contemplated on HOPE, I truly feel in my heart that I first have to hope for something before I can begin building my faith on the matter. I think a lot of people are living mean and less lives because they’ve allowed their hope to be stolen. As we are presently abiding in the season of Light (in which I’ll personally celebrate my Savior coming into the world), it’s no wonder that the hope thief would come to try to kill and steal (as God’s Word explains) and to extinguish that light in His people. Therefore, when besieged by troubles, I implore of you – Do NOT lose your hope.

Hope becomes my spiritual VISIONING process – the way my mind can see things as a possibility to be able to move in the direction of God’s destiny for my life. Yet, if my hope gets demolished early on, my faith may likely never be able to begin to sprout or grow. If my hope gets squashed, my faith can’t produce any fruit.

God’s Word emphasizes Hope’s importance in us knowing HIM.

hope

What is HOPE, anyway? When I was growing up, I can remember my best friend’s mom saying, “Put hope in one hand and spit in the other and see which one gets filled the fastest.”  So hope was something that wasn’t going to be fulfilled by her definition (and the process of trying was going to be disgusting). With many of us, it’s often a vague wish or a best case scenario when things don’t look so good.

“Hoping for the best” is just a singular side of HOPE that, in and of itself, won’t give you the base you need on its own. It won’t be enough alone. It has to be combined in FAITH and LOVE to be complete.

Hebrews 11:1 – “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

If the enemy can squash the fruit of our faith by early-on demolishing our hope, the victory of the hope thieves can be assured.

Hope Reflection

I conducted a quick, informal, convenience survey on Facebook & received 27 responses almost immediately.

Why don’t you take a moment to reflect on the same question that I asked of my FB pals?

‘What steals your hope?’

hope thieves

As you can see, the hope thief has been working overtime in some of my friends’ lives. So what should we do if we want to keep a thief away?

We keep watch. (We have to be responsible for identifying this loss of hope in ourselves and in others, and LOVING enough to take practical action.)

I Thessalonians 5:6 tells us:

So be on your guard, not asleep like the others. Stay alert and be clear-headed.

The King James version says “to be sober” in place of alert & clear-headed. But in going back to Strong’s concordance for an explanation of the Greek, this phrase means “free from negative influences.” Look at that list above again. It’s filled with negative influences. Where God’s Word tells us that the Thief came to steal and kill and destroy lives (through negative influences), Jesus says:

abundant life

In an ideal world, that abundance would be accepted by all and lived out by all. Unfortunately, we live in a broken world where many have given up on hope and abundance – and it affects us all.

On that practical note, here’s some more news about HOPE that’s both bad and good. Hope doesn’t really come from pretty places often we’re thousands of feet in the air, in the fog, in a plane running out of fuel before the thought to even have HOPE ever springs to mind! Or perhaps in a very dark moment following a horrific, senseless tragedy. As was the case of the Apostle Paul when he penned these ironic words:

Romans 5:3-5: “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”

Strangely, Hope springs forth from a seed of suffering…and then, more surprisingly, it has the ability to grow into something so much greater – to actually produce Love. How can this be, especially in the midst of horrific circumstances?

In times like today, when I reflect on these senseless, tragic shootings that have taken so many lives – ironically at a time when the world speaks of peace on Earth and goodwill towards men, I can nearly see myself frantically searching around, tearing up the place, desperately searching for my lost hope. Where did I put it? Where could it be? Like the woman Jesus mentioned in Scripture, turning her house upside down – calling on her friends to help her find it…

And that’s what we must do. We should call on others to help us find it – our hope. We should support one another in community. Yet, most importantly of all, we must find the most important key of all to maintaining our HOPE in those dark hours. The answer can be found directly, without question:

Psalm 39:7 – And so, Lord, where do I put my hope? My only hope is in you.

But how, you ask? Let’s go to Scripture once more for the answer:

Psalm 25:5  –  Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.

We have to let him guide us (in His truth, not the world’s), teach us AS a Savior, and don’t miss the part where we have to be willing to do it not a portion of the day, but…ALL DAY LONG!!!!!!! That’s what it means for our Human Triumvirate of Faith, Hope & Love to ABIDE. We are to abide in Him – all the day long.

Hope is not something we can conjure up on our own – it’s NOT a WISH. Our Hope is found in HIM – He has to guide us to it, to teach us how to bring it forth & we have to be willing to exercise on this All Day Long.

I think when people don’t find their HOPE IN HIM, it becomes dormant; it collapses. When it’s not sustained, any vision we might have had from HOPE can die. Take heart. If your Hope has withered away, it can be Resurrected. That’s what the Resurrection of the Christ means to us.

Things that are dead (that have been destroyed)…CHRIST’S HOPE can bring back to LIFE. Christ came so that we might have life – ETERNAL.  He specializes in the Resurrection of the dead. His divine current can Resurrect your hope – allow it to rise up and triumph over a deadened & numbed spirit! That’s the Good News!

Ways to Resurrect Hope IN CHRIST – by looking at examples of different types of Resurrection Jesus brought about:

  • It can happen in an unexpected instant (the woman’s son who was being carried by the processional of mourners).
  • It can happen when it appears that it is absolutely too late (Jesus waited until the fourth day for Lazarus’ resurrection).
  • It can happen when we’ve been told it will, but we keep trying not to believe (Jesus’ own Resurrection).
  • In all cases, it’s done BY him and THROUGH Him – out of His love & compassion for us.

I pray that we can have that same LOVE and compassion for others, to help hold them up in FAITH when they are crumbling in despair, and to be HOPE givers when thieves have tried to steal their last bit of hope.

Call recompense to the thief by speaking AFFIRMATIVES of HOPE to others’ lives today. In this way, we also serve to resurrect both their spirits and our own.

Acknowledge the words of the psalmist & song:

My life is in you, Lord, my strength is in you, Lord, my hope is in you,

Lord, in you, it’s in you!

For me, this is the hope that the babe of Christmas Day brings, as the Son of God breaks into this world to become the Son of Man, to reside among us in the midst of our brokenness.

My most sincere prayers to those parents, family members, friends and all others who are presently feeling the searing pain of these tragic losses. May you find hope and peace in knowing that there is a God who chooses to suffer with us in the midst of our trials and chose to suffer for us before we were even known. May your faith be sustained in the hope of His glory and may you feel His merciful presence in your lives through the love poured out by those surrounding you, both physically and in the spiritual realm.

Grace & peace to you, -jody

How God Can Equip from the Hip on a Fateful Trip

The same night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.

Genesis 32:22-31

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Today’s WordPress Daily Prompt is HelplessHelplessness: that dull, sick feeling of not being the one at the reins. When did you last feel like that –- and what did you do about it?

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Once upon a time…very early on a Friday morning (still known as night to most people) in late January, I set out on a hiking trip into the Great Smokey Mountains – up Mount LeConte, to be a little more exact.

Hanging out in the Smokies. That’s a happy me, waving hi! 🙂

I was with 3 others (my sister, a fellow youth leader, and his teenage daughter – who you see with me in the pic), each of them having the good sense to eat breakfast prior to the hike. (So my excitement had me preoccupied – that important little detail escaped me.) Although it was foggy, the weather report at the Ranger Station was good, so we headed out for an invigorating winter day-long hike.  Early on the trail (I’m guessing less than 200 feet from the trailhead), as I rushed to take the lead and forge my way up the hill, my foot slipped on a little piece of “black ice,” twisting my entire leg and pulling a hip flexor ligament.  I was unable to lift my foot to make a full step for the remainder of the hike – about 7 miles up to one of the highest points on the Appalachian Trail

 Worse yet, we hadn’t expected snow that day – and it wasn’t long before we were trekking up the mountain in 3”, 6”, 9”, 12” – up to 18” of snow by the time we neared the top.  The colder it got and the deeper the snow, the slower my shuffled gait became on the linear regression curve – according to the growing stiffness and pain in my hip.  At times, it felt as though I wasn’t even progressing.  I literally had to reach down and drag my foot by pulling my leg through the snow, though I, of course, kept saying, “No, I’m fine.”  Two of our party went on ahead of us, as I’m sure they needed to maintain their rhythm to make it up the mountain in these conditions until they could come up on places to rest and wait.  But my faithful co-youth leader and friend, Ralph (whose wife, Debbie, was smarter than us, because she opted not to go on the hike) remained faithfully and steadfastly at my side.

 Ralph was a true friend. As an avid mountain hiker, he could have easily outpaced me on a good day if I’d had a healthy hip – and his human nature may have wanted to do that. But he never once complained about the slow pace he chose to maintain with me. His big-brother mode not only encouraged me the entire way (even stopping me for a forced breakfast break with the squirrels – who must’ve come out, thinking I was a nut); but he practiced incredible patient steadfastness and threw in some great conversation to keep my mind distracted from my injury. Somewhere along the way, we started with some small talk, but then progressed to talk about those more important matters in our lives. I had been a young widow for a whopping 6 months at that time, still trying to emotionally recover from the unexpected trauma. Ralph, in contrast, had been married to Debbie for over 20 years. He openly reminisced about how they’d met, their dating years, about falling in love. Being raised by my dad, I understood what a rare occurrence it was to get to hear inside a man’s heart, and I felt privileged for the experience.

Mt LeConte Shelter
Mt LeConte Shelter on a less foggy day

 By the time we reached our intended destination – the summit, where the normally breathtaking view provided nothing more to see through our iced eyelashes that day than an ample amount of fog – we were lucky to grab a few moments in a shelter in which we all huddled to gain some caloric strength from our sandwiches. I think we finished them in about two bites, as we were being beaten and tortured, even in the shelter, by vicious winds and icy rain. It was there when we realized we were going to have to rethink our strategy to get off that mountain. (The ranger’s station dispatch thought to use the same shortcut strategy too, as a crampon-clamped, ice-encrusted party of boots attached to a well-lit search team was on its way up to assure we – and any other non-existent people who might have been “daring” – I like that word better than “foolish” – enough to go up there weren’t planning to try to brave an oncoming storm in the shelter. Seriously? Were they feeling this icy wind? Oh, yeah, it wasn’t their sanity that was being questioned.)

I can only say that, for the longest time after that hike,

I possessed a wonderfully worshipful attitude!

A view (we didn't have) of foggy darkness closing in
A view (we didn’t have) of foggy darkness closing in

In processing my experience, there was no brag in making it up Mount Le Conte, despite the odds of injury and ice.  Instead, all I could recall was my “God moment” – how my friend had waited for me and encouraged me along the way, how our hiking party planned an entire re-route  (which was a risk for all) with me in mind, and how another dear friend had been on standby and had joyfully come to our rescue at the end of another trail (based on the information we were able to give her once we received cell reception for just the small but right amount of time needed to convey it).  I had learned to walk on a hike in an entirely new sort of way a way that had to do with my survival on the one hand, and faithful friendship on the other. 

Despite any loneliness I had felt over the last several months in my life,my God-moment showed me I wasn’t alone.

I suddenly could see that this was the very relationship that God wanted to have with me – one where I utterly and completely had to rely on Him for my sustenance – His companionship, His guidance, His patience – His walk with me.

 God knew that I was at my river crossing in life – between being a widow from a heartbreaking marriage (scared – though not admitting it – of what the future held) and re-routing towards a new beginning.  On that fateful day, my hip injury slowed me down enough so that I could experience relationship in a way that I would have otherwise missed.  And that’s how, in my own hip injury experience, I think I can relate a little more to Jacob’s story at the River Jabbok – how his limp signified the irony of the blessing, in the place where he was brought closer to his reliance on God.

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Have you ever felt like you were battling God with your hurts and pains, when maybe you were being blessed with an opportunity to rely more closely on our Lord’s faithfulness?