Wednesday, November 17, 2004
In my office I have this ceramic angel lamp that is made in such a way that she is always looking upon you, no matter where you are in the room. It kind of reminds me of the Amy Grant song that came out while I was in Jr. High “Angels Watching Over Me.” Amy would fervently sing, “Got His angels watching over me, every move I make. Angels watching over me. Angels watching over me, every step I take. Angels watching over me.” The only verse I can remember goes something like this: “God only knows the times my life’s been threatened just today. A reckless car ran out of gas before it ran my. Near misses all around me; accidents unknown. Though I’ll never see with human eyes the hands that lead me home. But I know they’re all around me, all day and through the night. When the enemy is closing in, and I know sometimes they fight. To keep my feet from falling, I’ll never turn away. If you ask me who’s protecting me, then you’re gonna hear me say. . . .”
This morning I was reading in Acts about Paul’s trip to Rome. He was a prisoner being taken to see the emperor. The ship he was sailing on encountered heavy storms that threatened to kill them all. And yet in the midst of the turmoil, Paul continues to pray and seek the face of God. One day he says to everyone on board with him, “I urge you now to keep up your courage, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For last night there stood by me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before the emperor; and indeed, God has granted safety to all those who are sailing with you.’ So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told” (Acts 27:22-25).
Looking back over the past year, I see so many reasons to keep up my courage. There have been so many people who have been angels in my life. I think of chance encounters with people of faith who had just the right word of hope I needed to hear. I think of the perfect timing of events where things just fell into place with a precision that had God’s fingerprints all over it. I think of those unanswered prayers that, had they been answered, would have been disastrous. God’s help for our circumstances is always close at hand. One of the angels in my life I am especially thankful for right now is Becky, our intern. For those of you who don’t know her, she really is worth getting to know well. The timing of her becoming a part of our ministry here at the foundation is such a blessing. I know that once again God’s hand is at work.
It is so easy to be in the midst of a storm, with the ship breaking up all around, and forget that God’s providence and provision are close beside us. We look at our losses and feel devastated. We forget those miracles that bring us safely to shore so that our lives may be restored. Sometimes it is helpful to simply recall all the ways God’s grace has saved the day in our lives. From the very beginning, remembering God’s goodness throughout the past puts a new perspective on our present and our future. Like Amy Grant says, we rarely see with human eyes the hands that lead us home. We only recognize the grace of God’s help by its results.
As you travel this coming week, as you eat turkey and dressing, as you share the love of family and friends, remember that God’s grace is with you. As invisible as air, and yet sustaining you just as much as your next breath. God loves you. God hears your prayers. God sends His mighty help.
Thank you for sharing this journey with me.
Tuesday, November 09, 2004
There is this really great episode of “Friends” where Phoebe and Rachel go running in Central Park. Rachel runs like everybody else, but Phoebe has a special way of running. She just lets loose and throws her arms and legs everywhere while she runs as fast as she can, the way she did when she was a little girl. Phoebe simply explains that if she is going to have to run she is going to have fun doing it. After being very judgmental about Phoebe’s “form,” eventually Rachel gives in to that childlike delight in running at breakneck speed with arms and legs flailing in the wind.
How about you? When was the last time you gave in to the simple delight of being alive? I love going shopping for the Wesley Foundation with Becky, our campus missionary intern, and whoever else happens to be there. It is always an adventure. And something about the delight of being out of the office and in a place with lots of cool stuff sets in. I’m worse than a kid in a candy store. Funny, it’s not as fun shopping by myself. There is no one to share the joy with. No one to show all the cool stuff to. No one to be a witness to the silliness that is part of my childlike delight.
I believe that Jesus was, is, full of delight. I believe that He takes great pleasure in the simple things of life. I believe that He regularly laughed out loud on earth, and I believe that He regularly laughs out loud in Heaven. We have heard the scripture that says, “The joy of the Lord is my strength.” But how seriously do we take that Word of the Lord? Maybe this is why so many Christians are so “not strong.” It seems we have gotten so serious about belonging to God that we have left the parts of God that aren’t “serious” out. Those are important parts! The JOY of the Lord is my strength. Not the discipline of the Lord, not the rules of the Lord, not the determination of the Lord, not the power of the Lord, not the wisdom of the Lord, but the JOY OF THE LORD.
My prayer for you is that you experience the Lord’s joy. It is a precious, precious thing. It “takes a lickin’, but keeps on tickin’.” God’s joy cannot be taken away. It is the gift of His presence which is with us always. Only we can squelch it. Only we can put it out of our lives and pretend it is not there. So many Christians live a miserable existence, but this is not, and never has been, the Lord’s intention for any of us. So do something harmless and crazy and fun. Fill your life with delight. Let the Lord show you how to really laugh again. Allow Jesus to give you His strength.
Tuesday, November 02, 2004
I hope everyone had a fun and safe Halloween. The Halloween party we had last Thursday was so much fun. Once again Jason wins best costume. You should ask to see the pictures. He makes a good Jesus. I can’t help it. I love Halloween. Ever since I was a kid I have loved dressing up in a costume and going from house to house to get candy. I loved singing the songs of the season: “Trick or treat, smell my feet, give me something good to eat!” Even though I don’t go trick or treating now, I love to be the first one to answer the door when the goblins, ghosts, and ladybugs come by. (Yes, we had an adorable lady bug stop by.) I so enjoy the fun of seeing kids all dressed up and the joy of giving away treats that make them smile. Lord knows I can’t wait till Noah is big enough to go around the neighborhood.
I think the fascination for me has always been the opportunity to pretend to be something or someone else, to exercise my imagination in creating a fabulous new identity. It was always so much fun to dress up. One of the things I have learned over time is that many of us expend a lot of energy playing “dress up” everyday. I know I have. It’s not that we put on costumes before going to class or work, but we do make sure we project an image of ourselves that we want others to find attractive and believable, or at least an image that is acceptable to ourselves. I used to do this with a smile. My motto was, “always be nice, never be mad, and always look happy.” People would comment on how I was the happiest person they knew. In reality, the smile I wore often hid my real feelings. It was easier to put on a smile than to admit to myself and others that I didn’t have it all together. That’s just an example. People hide all kinds of things about themselves for all kinds of reasons.
I think of Mr. Rogers. When I was in seminary I would come home everyday from class and watch his show “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.” I think it was therapy for me. I was finally having the mask of happiness peeled away and was very uncomfortable with what I was seeing in its place. But everyday I would hear those words from Mr. Rogers, “I like you just the way you are.” I was learning that it was okay to feel sad, mad, and drab. It was okay to need help. And I was also learning that while not everyone is like Mr. Rogers, some people are.
I like to think of the Wesley Foundation as a part of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. We’re not fancy, but everyone who comes through our doors is important. It is a place where “Just As I Am” is more than an altar call song, it is the invitation to the family. Come just as you are. Come and share your burdens. Come and share your boredom. Come and share your real self. Because once you don’t have to spend so much energy pretending to be something you are not, you miraculously find the strength to really experience true joy.
By the way, the real Mr. Rogers is Jesus. In His neighborhood, or shall we say Kingdom, everyone is important and highly treasured. Every person’s feelings are respected. And each one of us has the space needed to learn how to be like Him. There are no unreal expectations of us in the Kingdom of God except the ones we bring with us.
I pray that today you will feel the joy of being accepted for who you are. I pray that you will experience the freedom to just be yourself. I pray that you will know you have a home you can come to where you will be liked. If you don’t come to the Wesley Foundation, I pray Jesus will lead you to another place that is also part of “the neighborhood.”