Thursday, January 28, 2010

Plodding versus dancing

Musical chairs: isn’t that a game for a five-year-old’s birthday party? Why let the kids have all the fun? It’s much more fun for adults to play and watch!

If you were born on the dark side of the moon and don’t know the rules of musical chairs, here we go. If you have 20 people playing, you need 19 chairs set up back to back. Music, live or recorded, is played while people walk or march around the 19 chairs. When the music suddenly stops, everyone scrambles to sit on a chair, one seat per human bottom. The person left standing is sent to the sidelines, and a chair is removed. This stopping and starting continues until you have two players and one chair. When the music finally stops, the seated player is the winner.

Most of the fun is actually in watching the game and its strategists, however. The players sidle slowly past the chairs, always with their “behinds” pointed at the chairs. When rounding the line of chairs, they hurry around to be near a seat just in case the music stops. This causes collisions and laughter with the folk on the opposite line of chairs.

When it was my turn to provide the devotions at our daily worship time at the ministry where I worked, I arranged for the employees to play musical chairs. Of course, we started the devotions with a hymn, some joyful scriptures, and ended as usual with prayer ministry for those who write or call in with prayer requests. But in the middle 20 minutes, we partied! At the piano, we played bits and pieces of Christian music and stopped every few moments to mix it up. Our friends laughed and cheered, and plotted how best to get that open chair—yet their “luck” ran out and they were sidelined. The winner of the game got a box of peanut butter cookies to share with coworkers later in the day. 

So often, we plod staidly through life, doing what we’re supposed to do, and what’s expected of responsible adults: color inside the lines. Stay inside the box. Act our age – or older! Remember the importance of our tasks and the calling of our ministry. 

But when we’re following Jesus, He counsels joy! Jesus rejoiced, exuberant in the Holy Spirit. “I thank you, Father, Master of heaven and earth, that you hid these things from the know-it-alls and showed them to these innocent newcomers. Yes, Father, it pleased you to do it this way.” Luke 10:21 MSG
Jesus said to His disciples in that highly-charged week before His crucifixion, I've told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. John 15:11 MSG

Joy? How is that possible? Does this sort of playfulness and laughter, this break from the supreme importance of taking the gospel to the world, really please the Lord? Aren’t there deadlines to be met? What about our stewardship of time and diligent work that shows our respect for financial supporters? Should we really take time away from studying prophecy or learning the way of righteousness? 

Um, yes. Pretty much. 

Make that a resounding yes!

Jeremiah the prophet was not the most cheerful of guys, and who could blame him with all the physical abuse he endured. He wrote “Lamentations,” remember. But he also recorded this message from the Lord: I will build you up again and you will be rebuilt, O Virgin Israel. Again you will take up your tambourines and go out to dance with the joyful... Then maidens will dance and be glad, young men and old as well. Jeremiah 31:4, 13 NIV

One of the many Hebrew words for rejoicing, singing, and sometimes even dancing, is “gil.” That’s a word used to describe the Lord’s strong emotion over you and me! Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands hang limp. The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing. Zephaniah 3:16-17 NIV

So the Savior sings and dances like a bridegroom at a wedding? Over you and me? Apparently so! Remember the verse in Luke, that He was “exuberant.” That word is defined as “effusively and almost uninhibitedly enthusiastic, abounding in vitality; extremely joyful and vigorous.” 

One final word, friends. We ask you—urge is more like it—that you keep on doing what we told you to do to please God, not in a dogged religious plod, but in a living, spirited dance. You know the guidelines we laid out for you from the Master Jesus. God wants you to live a pure life…Regarding life together and getting along with each other, you don't need me to tell you what to do. You're God-taught in these matters. Just love one another! You're already good at it; your friends all over the province of Macedonia are the evidence. Keep it up; get better and better at it. 1 Thessalonians 4:1-3, 9-10 MSG

So enjoy the fellowship, live a little, laugh it up, love one another. No plodding allowed for a little while—try that living, spirited dance! Go wild with your coworkers at lunch time, and play a rousing game of musical chairs. Play like you’re five again. Have a peanut butter cookie. It’s all good. And Jesus says it’s OK.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Trans-Species Morphing

Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men. Matthew 4:19 NIV

I have a friend in British Columbia who is an elementary school teacher, but thinks, eats, dreams, breathes--fishing. Particularly salmon. At the birth of his first grandson, he told the weight and length of the newborn, which he described as "nice salmon size."

The last time I cast a line into Minnesota’s Rainy Lake, I was nine. My uncle David baited the hook with something squishy, and I caught a Northern pike, which my Aunt Helen cleaned. We ate it for dinner, and I choked on a bone. Ever since, I’ve disliked fishy-tasting food.

Recently, I attended a professional development seminar on fishing. It wasn’t about trout, bass, or salmon. It was about marketing. So often, we drop a line into the water and expect fish to fight each other for the honor of taking the hook (the hook being our product, donating to our ministry, or joining our cause). That’s absurd!

Christians who want to share the gospel and motivate others to join in service to humanity, should think like the fish we’re targeting. Go where the fish are. Use the lures the fish like, not what the fishermen like.

My pastor once taught that fishers are hunters, not agriculturalists. They know how to prepare nets, where to cast them, what kind of lure is needed, and where and when to expect the best results. They cooperate with other fishers. They know how to harvest and process the catch.

Those skills mastered, Jesus transformed His disciples from aggressive fish hunters to protective, providing shepherds, when He called Peter and his disciples to feed His sheep.

A church sign said: “Be ye fishers of men. You catch them—He’ll clean them.” That’s right. Catch new people for God’s kingdom. But don’t even think about reforming them to your image of a proper Christian. Let the Holy Spirit have His way with them and transform them from fish to sheep!

I’ve drawn strange metaphors here: fishermen morph into shepherds and fish morph into sheep. But it points up our inability to change anything or anyone. Only the Creator can do that work. By the way, where are you on the road from fish to sheep?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Sodium Chloride of the Earth

You are the salt of the earth. Matthew 5:13 NIV

Salt has many uses, some of which are flavoring, thawing, abrasiveness, preservation, buoyancy, cleansing, corrosion, and medicinal. Salt was an essential part of the Old Testament sacrificial system. It was one of the currencies by which the Roman army was paid ("salary").

I walked into the Dead Sea with flip-flops and lost my footing as they kept pushing to the surface against my will. You can’t help but float in the strong salt brine. Don’t splash, either, as the brine will sting your eyes and lips.

Many roadwork crews use salt on highways both for thawing the ice and providing traction, but that salt prevents or kills plant growth along the highways, and it corrodes vehicles.

For thousands of years, salt has been a preservative for food, including meats, fish, olives, and pickles. It provides the fizz in soda pop, speeds the process in the ice cream churn, and scrubs the grime off whatever it’s applied to. Baking soda absorbs odors.

Our bodies need salt to prevent dehydration. When I worked in hot and windy Jordan on an archaeology dig, I was encouraged to eat more salt than usual. But too much salt will cause water retention, which is not good for blood pressure or injured areas. Some medications and sport drinks are compounded with salts to efficiently disperse in our tissues.

We mostly think of salt as a flavoring. It enhances the flavor of herbs, vegetables, nuts, meats, and especially meat substitutes. Imagine Chinese food without salty soy sauce. Some foods are unthinkable without salt. Tofu, gluten, popcorn, and potato chips would be tasteless without salt, fit mostly for mail packaging!

Jesus said in Matthew 5:13 MSG, Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness?

Do you see the yin-yang here? There needs to be balance. Without you and me, the salt of the earth, restoring balance, people of the world know only bland and boring. I’d quite like to be in God’s salt shaker in Today’s Special!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Hostile prayers

Pray for those who persecute you. Matthew 5:44 NIV

"If they are calling on their God against us, though they bear no arms, they still fight us by pursuing us with hostile prayers.” –Aethelfrith (d. 616 AD), referring to British Christian monks.

I’ve heard of prayer warriors, but this beats all! Would the “hostile” prayers be for curses to be rained down on the bad guys? Or for the enemy’s hard hearts to be softened and turned to the Lord, thus bringing compassion and mercy back to the pray-ers? Christ told His followers to pray for those who persecute us, to forgive them, and to sacrifice our own comfort to assist them.

Who’s the first person that comes to mind when you think of an enemy? Man or woman, let’s call that person Aethelfrith for now. That enemy destroyed something or someone you loved, or stole what was rightfully yours. Aethelfrith has, perhaps, pursued and hounded you, invaded your boundaries, or usurped leadership. Aethelfrith does not share your values, nor has he any notion of asking your forgiveness or making restitution, much less reconciliation.

So what do you do about Aethelfrith? Ignore him and hope he goes away? Take up weapons? Retaliate by invading his territory? Submit passively to his patently unchristian authority and terrorist tactics? Burn with resentment?

The answer is 1400 years old. The Celtic Christians of northwestern Britain and Wales had been burned out, raped, pillaged, terrorized, and invaded by the pagan Anglo-Saxon King Aethelfrith. By Aethelfrith’s testimony, they pursued him with “hostile” prayers, calling on the Lord of Hosts to fight for them. Aethelfrith was killed in battle shortly afterward, and his immediate successors converted to Christianity, founding York Minster, monasteries, and Christian education all over the north of England.

So what will the Lord of Hosts do when you pursue your Aethelfrith with “hostile” prayer? It will be exciting to watch, even if we never see the “movie” until heaven. Jesus has already won the war at the cross, and He is just and merciful. If you ally with Him, you share in His victory.

Jesus said, "You're familiar with the old written law, 'Love your friend,' and its unwritten companion, 'Hate your enemy.' I'm challenging that. I'm telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that." Matthew 5:44-45 MSG

Monday, January 4, 2010

In memory of my amazing, brilliant mom

In memory of my mother, Judith Louise Anson Robinson, who passed away January 4, 1993. She was an artist (see paintings here), piano teacher, poet, gardener, inveterate reader, businesswoman, genealogist, compassionate Christian, and homemaker, but best of all, MOM.
Judith Anson (Forsell) with little brother David Forsell, ca 1942
Judith with cousin Raymond Prebil, her best friend through childhood
1946 or 1947: Judith hunched over with asthma
April 1950: Ray Prebil and Judith. Snow? International Falls, Minnesota should explain that!1953: Judith dressed for high school prom
1954: Judith sunbathing at lake in northern Minnesota
1955: siblings David Forsell, Lloyd Steen, Harriet Steen, Judith Anson
Sept 9, 1955: Judith marries Kenneth Robinson
Nov 29, 1956: Judith and her mother, Lois Stone Steen
1957: Judith and Ken Robinson, Phoenix, Arizona
1960: Christy and Judith
1962: My dad took this snapshot of my mom, my brother, and me,
probably on Easter or in the spring, in Phoenix, Arizona.
My mother painted this from the photo during the 1970s. 
1963: Ken, Judith, Brian and Christy
1968: Judith, Ken, Brian, Christy, and Gypsy

1974: Judith Anson Robinson

1975: Christy and Judith in photo booth
1978: Three generations: Judith, Christy, and Lois
Christmas Eve, 1992: two weeks before Judith's passing. Ken, Judith, Christy, Stacey, Jacob, Brian, and EricaJanuary 2009: Stone family reunion of Judith's siblings, cousins, and uncle and aunt--and me, representing my mom.2009: Judith's siblings David Forsell, Lloyd Steen, and Harriet Steen Bosico; me (in blue); with my mom's uncle and aunt, Russell and Mary Stone

Jesus overheard and said, "Don't be upset. Just trust me and everything will be all right."
Everyone was crying and carrying on over her. Jesus said, "Don't cry. She didn't die; she's sleeping." They laughed at him. They knew she was dead.
Then Jesus, gripping her hand, called, "My dear child, get up." She was up in an instant, up and breathing again! Luke 8:50-54 MSG

The New Testament was written in everyday Greek, known as "Koine." The word for "spirit," "air," and "breath" was pneuma. My mother's lifelong, chronic illness began with severe asthma, which developed into emphysema before she was a teenager. All her life, she struggled for breath. She has the breath of eternal life now.
"She was up in an instant, up and breathing again!"

Friday, January 1, 2010

Forget About the Future?

This year, I have many life-changing events happening in a short time: selling my home of 11 years, packing and moving my belongings from southern California to Arizona, camping with my brother's family before finding a rental house to move my stuff into, finding-nailing down-starting a new job, and more! So much is unknown, and I'm a planner, so this is uncomfortable change.

Did you make New Year’s resolutions? Sometime in the next months, you’ve decided to lose weight, learn a language, find a significant other, start voice lessons, stop bad habits, exercise more, or clean the garage. Most people forget or break their resolutions within two weeks of making them.

Recently, a song which had been just background noise, arrested me with the line, “Forget about the future, let’s get on with the past.”

That’s pretty anti-committal and unwilling to face the uncertainty of the unknown. But how many of us have done that? (Over and over?) Don’t raise your hands—we’re all pretty obvious. All right, let’s not forget about the future, or get on with the past, but maybe we could concentrate on the present at least?

That never-say-die apostle Paul wrote, “Forgetting what is behind [the past] and straining toward what is ahead [the future], I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.”

Straining toward the future! Every morning at 5:30, my Border collie acts like a Siberian husky, pulling me along, choking in her eagerness to sniff the next tree in the parkway. There’s high tension in that leash, as I drowsily stumble along behind, mumbling, “Slow down, doggie! It’s too early to be enthusiastic.”

The thought that God wants me to strain toward what is ahead is a hard teaching. We all tend to “think differently,” but God intends to make it clear that instead of our being a reluctant Jonah, He wants us to take the path of least resistance to Him. God will lead us toward the goal and its prize. And it seems clear from His Word that He wants us to forget the past and get on with the future. If there’s no tension on your spiritual collar, you’re not really straining. Where is God leading today? Get out there, and pull like a working dog!

December 2009 word cloud


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