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Lunch

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image“But Jesus said to them, ‘They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.'”
Mt 14:16

What a ridiculous response to the disciples’ reasonable request: there are over five thousand tired, thirsty and hungry men, women and children following us around in this wilderness. You’d better send them off, Jesus, so they can get their needs met. Very reasonable, thoughtful even.

“You give them something to eat.”

I imagine the disciples gawking at Jesus, then the crowd, then the wilderness. Where were they going to get the resources to meet such a great need? There was no taking up a collection or pooling credit cards to buy enough burgers at the nearest drive through. The disciples didn’t have a meal between them, but had to take a kid’s lunch.

“You give them something to eat.”

Jesus wasn’t taking responsibility for feeding the crowd, nor did he tell the disciples what he was going to do. Instead, he waited, waited for them to measure their own resources. Five loaves. Two fish. You really want us to feed ALL these people, Jesus? Five, count ’em…one, two, three, four, five loaves, five SMALL loaves! And one, two fish. Pretty measly stuff, Jesus. Send them away!

Our gifts, talents, experiences are inadequate for the people around us. We measure our resources and their needs and come to a reasonable conclusion, better send them to someone more anointed or experienced or educated than me, Jesus, because what I’ve got ain’t gonna cut it. Such a reasonable evaluation and we expect his holy approval and reassurance, a pat on the head and some understanding.

“You give them something to eat.”

I am inadequate, don’t you get it, Lord?
I’m not an evangelist or healer or prophet. I’m not the most gifted person in the room or ministry or church. All I’ve got is this lunch and its not even fancy. As far as callings go, I’m brown bagging it.

“You give them something to eat.”

When We focus only on our poverty of gifting, training, or experience, We’re indulging in what A.W. Tozer calls “perverted faith”, a faith in our inadequacies, rather than in the God who delights to multiply. You see, he is so moved with compassion by the needs of his sheep, he will use the morsels we carry. All he is looking for is for us to trust in his desire to preach good news, bind up the broken hearted, and free the captives. So, we are to offer what we have, believing he will use even us and that he will never fail to multiply and increase what we offer, because he is faithful.

“And he took the five loaves and two fish, and looking up to Heaven, he blessed and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples; and the disciples gave to the multitudes.”
Mt 14:19

Salt & Ice

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image 

A few years ago, I read a news story online about the terrible winter Britain and Europe were experiencing at that time. Included was a satellite photo of the British Isles completely covered with snow. The story described the difficult and dangerous circumstances Britain and the Continent were suffering through due to the severe weather. There was so much ice on the roads, that many countries were experiencing shortages of salt to melt the ice and make the roads passable. Women with shopping bags were crawling on their hands and knees and cars were spinning out of control. In fact, in France, the government was so desperate, it was using lavender bath salts as an emergency substitute (that just seems a very French thing to do).

 

As I read the story and looked at the picture, I realised I was seeing a metaphor for the spiritual climate of Britain and Europe, frozen and desperately in need of salt. Jesus called those who follow Him, the salt of the earth. It’s tempting when we see the culture freezing spiritually to huddle together and complain about the cold, but what we have is a salt shortage. Winter is here. Salt melts ice. Pray for more salt.image

Mac Junkie

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I’m an addict. I didn’t know I was until last week when the power cord on my Mac started smoking and the screen went blank. Suddenly my pleasant, peaceful demeanor  became unglued. No computer meant no internet, no writing. I had a power cord for my old Mac in storage and I retrieved it thinking that might work. Nothing. I called a friend who suggested two possibilities: the cord I was trying didn’t have enough voltage and I needed to buy another, or the faulty old one had fried the hard drive and I was screwed. I laid hands on the little apple that usually glowed with such a warm welcome and prayed, “Be healed…. I need you!”

I went to the local Mac Store, on Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year. I didn’t care. I had one small seed of hope… the Mac Genius! I needed help. They had an immediate opening. I was elated, but harboring the conviction that bad news awaited me. The Genius (it is good to have friends who are geniuses) plugged in a new cord and there it was, the glow of the little apple announcing my Mac lived, resurrected by the guy at the Genius Bar (I will never make fun of that name again). I paid for my cord and reverently walked out the door, my next fix assured.

I’ve been thinking about the Apostle Paul lately. In Philippians 4:4 he commands to rejoice in the Lord always. The whole letter is called the “Epistle of Joy”. It’s remarkable because Paul wrote it while in jail. He understood something powerful about rejoicing in all circumstances, but I want to point out, he didn’t have to worry about his Mac crashing.

Treasures Of Darkness

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A thousand feet below the  Mexican soil lie the Naica Caverns or Crystal Cave of Giants. Illuminated by lanterns, translucent selenite beams four feet in diameter, fifty feet long and weighing fifty-five tons weave through a dark gallery hidden until 2000 from the eyes of men. For centuries, glorious in their crystalline splendor, they have continued their ever higher reach, heedless of an audience to appreciate their beauty.

Darkness is the womb for turning ordinary gypsum into the Naica masterpieces, for turning minerals into gems, and sand into pearls. It is the place where, over time, with the right conditions, base materials become something remarkable. I’ve found that as much as I love seasons of light and ease, it has been the dark times, the places of suffering, where the greatest beauty has been formed in my life.

I struggle in those seasons to escape the discomfort and pain, yet I’ve witnessed again and again that it is there, hidden in darkness, God’s greatest treasures are to be found, treasures like faith, patience, intimacy with God, joy. He has promised that he will work everything for the good of those who love him and are called to his purpose. Everything. He has never failed that promise.

In The School Of Grace

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GRACE – the unmerited favor and love of God.

Not long ago, I had one of those mornings with my children when their every word and action pushed every button in me, so much so that I passed the point of rational thought and clicked into sheer emotional meltdown. The skills and war maneuvers I’ve learned through years of parenting four kids only echoed somewhere in the halls of memory. They were in full combat mode with each other and I was caught in the crossfire. By the time I dropped the last one at school without my customary morning prayer and blessing (I KNEW there was no way God was going to hear me I was so angry), I was crying, frustrated with my own inability to maintain self-control.

“I cannot do this! I am a complete failure as a mother!” I cried out.

I heard a quiet whisper, “I love you.”

I sobbed louder, “I know you love me, God, but I just thoroughly convinced those kids I don’t love them!”

“I love you,” I heard again.

“I know Lord, but did you see how I just behaved?” Tears were streaming down my face as the mirror of memory reflected back the ugliness of the me people I care about a whole lot less never see.

“I love you.” I stopped as I heard the meaning behind the words.

You… love… me. Even this me, the one I hide from everyone, the one even I can’t justify or rationalize, God loves me. You’re not waiting until I’m perfect so I can be called acceptable and one of your own, but in my ugliest, grossest moments, the Creator of the Universe, looks at me with love and calls me daughter. I have done nothing to earn this. I will never be able to earn this grace, a word for grabbing hold of, like a rope to a drowning man.

Turning Into The Spin

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Driving on ice is tricky. Fortunately, I don’t encounter it too often living near the beach in Southern California (ok, never). Which is good, as I have enough trouble driving in the occasional rain shower we get here. My children will be happy to verify. For those who’ve driven back East or in the Midwest, road conditions in a place like Southern California must seem like child’s play. No blizzards or wind storms to navigate, just the occasional fog, rain and balmy 75 degree weather. I may not drive in icy conditions, but I have been trained, thanks to my high school driver’s ed teacher, what I should do if my car ever spins out of control on ice – turn the wheel into the spin. Apparently, most people intuitively pull the wheel in the opposite direction, resulting in locked wheels and possibly a flipped car. The only hope of gaining control is to pull the wheel in the direction the car is turning. I am not going to even try to explain the reasons why this is true (I’d probably just botch the science anyway).

I don’t have any freak ice storms to report here, but I have been practicing turning into the spin. As money has become tighter and the economy icier, I’ve been giving away the treasures I’ve accumulated over years of prowling antique malls and thrift stores. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed myself and discovered a freedom in letting go of stuff and seeing enjoyment in the faces of those I give to (and no, they’re not faking it just to be polite). I’ll often bring flowers and give away antique jewelry to strangers. It’s amazing the relationships that have been born out of these encounters.

The same principle is in effect when it comes to dealing with rejection or hurt from people. I can respond to them in kind, turning my wheel in the opposite direction, but that only results in relational disaster. Instead, I’m taking the Sermon on the Mount at face value, give and you’ll receive in greater measure; bless your enemies; if someone asks for your coat, give him your tunic. Love, love, love. All of these commands are counterintuitive and require purposeful decisions to obey, not because Jesus will be mad if I don’t, but because he understands what is required to avoid greater disaster. I am becoming better skilled at navigating the icy circumstances of the current culture and economic circumstances, simply by responding in the opposite manner. Money is tight. I’m not going to be afraid and hoard what I have, but instead give it away. When someone rejects my love and friendship, I chooses to bless and love them more.  I’m finding that in doing so, I have power. Circumstances, the ice on the road, so to speak, don’t determine my quality of  life, my peace, my joy, my love, but I do, simply by obeying Jesus’ command to turn the wheel into the spin, the opposite direction from what seems right and let him maneuver me through the danger zones.

The Chest

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There was a man who bought a field. One morning, as he strolled across his land, he tripped over the corner of a wooden chest buried in the soil. Excited by the possibilities, he tried digging it up with his hands. The ground was hard and dry and he had little success. Afraid someone might stumble on his discovery, he raced home, grabbed a spade and raced back. There was no-one about as he jammed the tip into the earth. It made little progress in the rocky soil except to scrape a few inches of dirt from the edges.

Sweat traced streaks in the dust covering the man’s forehead and dripped into his eyes, making it difficult to see. He stood up, dropping the tool in irritation and gazed across the field. There must be something important in this chest and he had to know what it was. A pickaxe was needed. Again, he ran home and carrying the axe over his shoulder, returned to the box.

Gripping the shaft, he raised the pickaxe above his head and slammed it into the ground. A hole appeared under the point. This victory encouraged him and being careful not to damage the wood, he continued to puncture the earth, until the top was free. The sun glided across the sky, it’s heat scorching his back, then the top of his head, and finally burning his face before he was able to wrestle the box from the earth.

He sat down on the dry ground, his breath straining against his ribs and examined his discovery. The chest, its wood pitted from time spent in the earth, was unremarkable in size and construct. He tried to pry open the lid, but it was stuck and he was too hot and tired to struggle with it there. He stood up and grabbing an edge, dragged the heavy box behind him.

As he entered his front door, the air of his home lay like a cool cloth on his body, soothing the hot throbbing in his head and muscles. He pulled a large knife from a drawer and forced it under the lid of the box. It creaked, encouraging him to continue. The man shoved the blade in deeper and pushed on the handle. The chest opened, his hands plunged into the interior and he peered inside.

The box was filled with large metal shapes and what looked like rocks. He pulled these out first. They were rough and gray, but as he examined them in the light, he noticed threads of green, red, blue and purple glistening through the dull stones, whispering a promise of beauty. He laid them aside and pulled out the large metallic pieces. They were grimy, but their smooth edges testified to their workmanship. He traced his fingers on their surfaces and through the dirt, could detect ornate designs etched in the metal. Turning one piece over in his hands, the man realized it looked like some kind of headpiece. As he placed it on his head, he was surprised to discover it fit perfectly. Dragging more of the objects from the chest, he found others to cover the rest of his body.

He gazed in a mirror, admiring his reflection. There was something noble in what he saw and he felt as if a hand was stroking strings deep inside him, releasing the sweetest music.

At that moment, the door opened and his two most trusted friends entered. They saw him standing in the middle of the room, dressed in the soiled metal and laughed. Their laughter grew louder as the man explained about finding the chest and tried to show them the fine etching and coloured seams in the rocks. Through their amusement they gasped how foolish he was for getting excited by someone’s buried trash. They told him, they’d come to invite him for dinner, but he would have to get rid of his ridiculous outfit, if he wanted to join them. With that, they departed, still chuckling at his imprudence.

His friends were men of discernment and he valued their opinions highly, so turning his back to the mirror, he yanked the metal pieces from his body, tugging on shame like a well-worn coat as he dropped them into the box. He threw the dingy rocks, ugly in their silence, on top and slammed the lid down, once again concealing the contents.

Disgusted by his gullibility, he dragged the chest out onto the road and sat down on top. A horse-drawn cart pulled up along side him and the driver, a stranger, jumped down. He was obviously important as was attested by his fine clothing and magnificent horse.

“Why are you sitting on a box in the middle of the road?” he asked.

The man, looking down at the stranger’s leather shoes, replied, “I’m returning a box of trash to where I found it.”

“May I see what’s inside?” the stranger asked.

“It’s only metal junk and some rocks,” the man insisted, his face burning with the memory of his friends’ derision.

Again the stranger asked, “May I see what’s inside?”

The man stood up and lifted a corner of the lid, pulling out the metal piece he’d worn on his head. The stranger took it in his hands and examined it, rubbing his thumb over the design made faint by dirt. He reached in his cart and pulled out a cloth, then wiping it across the metal several times, passed it, now gleaming in the sun, back to the man. Astonished by its beauty, the man gasped.

“What else is in the box?” the stranger asked.

Again the man lifted a corner and pulled out another of the metal pieces. Again the stranger rubbed the cloth over it, transforming the metal.

“Let me see what else is in there,” the stranger demanded. Encouraged, the man opened up the box, letting the stranger peer inside. “Take it all out,” the stranger insisted and the man pulled out every bit of metal and every rock and spread them on the road.

“Would you like me to tell you what you have?” The man nodded, unable to tear his eyes from the gleaming headpiece.

The stranger took the object and placed it on the man’s head. “This is a helmet to be worn in battle.” He pointed to the metal, “All of this is armour, fine armour, meant for a warrior.”

The man started to pull the helmet from his head, “I found this buried in my field. I didn’t steal it.”

“Then it is yours, my friend,” the stranger said, picking up a rock streaked with vivid green. “This stone and the others, do you know what they are?” The man shook his head.

“They’re uncut gems of the highest quality, meant for a king.”

The man stammered, “I…I didn’t know. I f…found them.”

“Then they’re yours,” the stranger replied.

“My friends said they were trash,” the man whispered, marveling at the treasure before him.

“Farmers know of pigs and manure, not the ways of a warrior and the treasures of a king,” the stranger replied. He gazed at the man. “I am a captain in the army of a great king and can use a man like you. I can teach you how to fight in this armour.” The stranger picked up one of the rocks streaked with red, “And these stones can be fashioned by the king’s workmen into the finest gems. It’s for you to choose. Stay here with this treasure hidden in a wooden box, or follow me to the greatest adventure you will ever know.”

The man looked around, at his home, his field, his friends’ footprints remaining in the dust. He gazed into the eyes of the stranger and again felt the lightest touch of fingertips brushing the instrument deep inside.

“I’ll follow you.”