Monday, November 29, 2010

Jesus: The Most Focused Man

Six weeks ago, my husband's dad died. His name was Thomas Reuben Jones, and he was generous, smart and witty. We miss him.

We have been with Tom's mom (two hours away in Sheffield, Alabama--our hometown) 80- to 90% of  the ensuing time up until now. There was much to clear up and to get there always is after a death.

I had my computer with me, of course. I worked and kept things going with DPI. But one thing I realized was that it was very hard to stay focused. This was true in my time with God too. My rhythm was off, my schedule derailed, and my thinking distracted.

Today...this Monday morning, I had some good time with God (I decided to read back through DPI's first book: Thirty Days at the Foot of the Cross. That book and the scriptures it points me to always help me focus on the center of God's message.)

And I love being back in my office, at my desk, in front of my large-screen monitor. My to-do list is getting checked off with precision. I'm riding high in the saddle of productivity.

All this made me think of Jesus, a man who never once lost his focus--not even while in torturous pain, hanging on a cross. What love, what power, what confidence in God.

In Proverbs 4:20-27, Solomon gave his son instruction about staying focused:

My son, pay attention to what I say;
listen closely to my words.

Do not let them out of your sight,
keep them within your heart;

for they are life to those who find them
and health to a man's whole body.

Above all else, guard your heart,
for it is the wellspring of life.

Put away perversity from your mouth;
keep corrupt talk far from your lips.

Let your eyes look straight ahead,
fix your gaze directly before you.

Make level paths for your feet
and take only ways that are firm.

Do not swerve to the right or the left;
keep your foot from evil.


Lord, help me to "look straight ahead," to stay focused on your words, and not to "swerve to the right or the left." Thank you for walking with me and lifting me up when I stumble. I need your help!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

God's Heart for the Alien

After we lost our little Shih Tzu Lydie last May, my only pets were “my” bluebirds. I eagerly anticipate their inspection of the bluebird “condo” I put up for them outside our bedroom window. I enjoy seeing the guy bring his girl to check out the digs. The male seeks to impress the female by finding a great first home and proving himself to be an able provider. I have seen the female stick her head into the entrance hole at least thirty times to carefully inspect the box and figure out if all the furniture will fit.

This year, there was a problem. A big problem…with a small bird: English sparrows, to be exact. Sometimes they take over bluebird houses, and they have been known to actually kill the bluebirds if they trap them in the house. So bluebird enthusiasts instruct you to trap and kill the sparrows (since they are not indigenous birds, it is legal to kill them). I could never do that, so I just clean out the nesting material and put duct tape over the hole, hoping they will give up and settle elsewhere.

This year I went back and forth with them, but they kept persisting. Finally I thought I had won the battle when a pair of bluebirds came house hunting and seemed to be settled on my offering.

But the next thing I knew, here was Mr. Sparrow popping into the hole carrying a load of straw. Foiled again!

I finally gave up, assuming that the bluebirds had been intimidated and decided the neighborhood was too dangerous.

I used to get up in the mornings and open my blinds to check in on the bluebirds. I still open the blinds and look out, but it doesn't give me any pleasure to see the little sparrow head poking out of the house.

I realized that I had to get a handle on this. I really resented the sparrows for messing up my joy. Those alien birds. They don’t belong here anyway. I missed my beautiful bluebirds.

Tom said, “Maybe God is just protecting the sparrows.” Which I know is true; the Bible tells me so. But I still muttered a bit.

Then I thought about God’s heart for the aliens in the Old Testament:

"Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt.” (Exodus 22:21)

“And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt.” (Deut. 10:19)

“Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:10)

God has a soft heart for the alien. And if I get right down to it, I was an alien myself before God redeemed me and brought me into his family:

"Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household." (Ephesians 2:19)

And in another way, I am now an alien in this world:

"Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul." (1 Peter 2:11)

I pray that God will use that little brown English sparrow to remind me to have my Father’s heart for the alien.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Kingdom: God's Book of Poems

My husband, Tom, and I got to hear the gifted author John Ortberg speak about his newest book, The Me I Want to Be. He quoted Ephesians 2:10: “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Ortberg makes the point that disciples are never mass-produced; they are handcrafted by God, always in the context of who they uniquely are.

In some study Tom did after hearing Ortberg, he found that the word translated “workmanship” is poiēma, rendering the English “poem.” And in his Mind Change Online blog this week, he commented that “just as every poem is uniquely designed, so each of us is uniquely designed.”

This got me to thinking.

It is so true that all poems are very unique; they are completely original and individual, just as people are. They are the creation of an artistic mind, just as we are the creation of The artistic mind who spoke the world into being.

This thought encourages me in two ways:

First, it reminds me that I am special to God. He loves me, quirks and all. And as I yield myself to him, he is handcrafting me into the “me” he has prepared me to be.

Second, it reminds me that every person is special to God. Think about another disciple whom you find it difficult to like, maybe one who really gets on your nerves. (Even though we are “good Christian people,” we still have to deal with feelings like this—be honest—admit it!) Now think of a person you genuinely like and are eager to spend time with. Each one is God’s poiēma. Each one is special and is being handcrafted by the God of Creation to be exactly who he or she was born to be.

I know what it feels like to share poems I have written. It is like transferring your child with trembling hands to someone else’s care. There is a certain vulnerability, a fear of rejection and a flush of victory in the risk.

As God shares his poems with each of us, every day, in our interactions with others, let’s remember to listen to the heart of the poem, and not to judge its style or delivery. Let’s try to look more through the Poet’s eyes and less through our own.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Follow Me

Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." (Matthew 16:24)

Jesus calls us to follow him...throughout our lives...all the way to self-denial...all the way to the cross.

In Hebrews 12:2 Jesus is called the "archegos" of our faith, the one who goes before us and establishes the way for us to follow:

"Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author [archegos] and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."

Have you ever tried to follow a friend on an Interstate highway? Let's say they are driving a blue van. You have absolutely no idea where you are going, so you are totally dependent upon their guidance...upon keeping that van in view.

But have you noticed how many blue vans there are on the road? If you get distracted, look to the right or to the left, and then look back at the road ahead, you can lose contact with the lead car. Where did it go? Is it that one getting off on the ramp? Or is it the one that just passed that semi? Or maybe the one three cars up behind the U-Haul?

When we lose touch with who we are following, we become disoriented and confused. Left to our own senses and thoughts and figurings, we are lost. Totally lost.

This is why we are enjoined to "fix our eyes on Jesus."

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Be at Rest My Soul

Be at rest once more, O my soul,
    for the Lord has been good to you.
                                                 Psalm 116:7

When troubling and challenging times come, and my soul is not at rest...when it is anxious and searching, I need to remember this pithy verse.

I need to think back to other difficult times and to remember that God saw me through. I must tell my soul: "Be at rest once more becuse your God is faithful. He has been good to you in the past, and he will be good to you now."

Friday, January 29, 2010

Good Things in Our Feeders

Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
    and his wonderful deeds for men,
for he satisfies the thirsty
    and fills the hungry with good things. (Psalm 107:8-9 )

As I shuffle out in bathrobe and slippers to feed the birds, they sense the winter storm on its way. As it was “rescheduled,” it is slower to arrive than originally thought. But it promises still to come.

As cardinals, titmice, chickadees and other bird-types hungrily munch the seeds, I am praying to God about my day. Whatever I am going to need, he has already put in my feeder.

Though God doesn’t wear a bathrobe or slippers, and he has never “shuffled” once in his eternal existence, he always moves ahead of me, anticipating and meeting my needs.

Thank you, God, for all the “good things” you put in my feeder every day.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

To Live Is Sheila?

Paul was a man with a single focus: "For me, to live is Christ..." (Philippians 1:21).

How easy it is for me to live by another focus: "For me, to live is Sheila." When I approach life with this focus, everything revolves around my comfort, my convenience, my desires, my time, my opinion, my sleep.

Much like the sea gulls in the movie Finding Nemo, my heart cries, "Mine! Mine! Mine!"

I love Paul's heart as it cries: "His! His! His!"

My heart is never more at rest than when I offer myself as a living sacrifice to the one who gave all for me...when I realize that "for me, to live is Christ."

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Seen by an Unseen God

“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 6:1)
"When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." (Matthew 6:6)

Jesus warns us not to do our acts of righteousness to be seen by men. Then he goes on to assure us that we will be seen by an unseen God. I love the interplay with the word “seen.”

He basically says,

“Do not give to the poor, or pray or fast to be seen by men. But just know that in your quiet obedience, your unseen Father is very aware of you; he sees your heart and your sacrifice.”

God is never interested in deeds apart from a pure heart. We cannot buy our way into his graces. But he never misses any nuance of a giving heart.

This passage always challenges me. Am I content to know that God sees and affirms me? Or do I have to make sure other people do too? Do I have to be recognized, applauded, lauded, lifted up, shouted-out, praised by others to feel a satisfaction in being obedient to God?

Or am I encouraged to know that the unseen God, who sees what I do in secret, is saying to the angels: “That’s my girl!”