Holding hands & flipping eggs

If I could only write in the shower.

It all started before I could even write, using my finger to do “cursive” on the bathtub walls. I advanced to teaching as I grew older – doing commercials extolling the virtues of my shampoo while I played in the tub.

My best sermons come in the shower and I would be quite prolific if I penned everything that comes to mind in there.

You see, if someone would invent a way to write in the shower, it wouldn’t have been an embarrassing amount of months since I’ve written anything. (There is an exciting forthcoming Bible study I’m a part of but more on that later!)

So tonight, I’m sitting down with wet hair to share.

Sometimes life comes to a screeching halt, does a U-turn and the road takes you to places you’ve never been before. That happened last September. My healthy, active 87-year-old mother went to the hospital because of pain. She left a couple of days later on hospice with a diagnosis of ovarian cancer.

My mom.

Cancer.

Hospice.

My mother raised five kids as a poor preacher’s wife, helped my dad start a mission board, met up with and married her high school sweetheart at age 81 after my father’s death. She’s tiny, active, and will tell anyone sitting on a park bench about Jesus. (Chances are they will walk away with a certainty of heaven and knowing Him as Savior.)

After a 45-minute telephone conversation with the doctor, it was apparent that we needed to move from Dallas, Texas to Verona, Virginia, population 4200. It says something about my husband that he didn’t bat an eye at putting everything in storage and moving into my mother’s basement apartment.

So here we are. It’s seven months later and she has obviously beaten the doctor’s diagnosis of “a couple of months if all goes well.”

People seem to think I’m doing something special, staying here with my mother and her husband. It is special.

For me.

I get to hear the stories that I never heard as the youngest child. I get to spend time with family that there wasn’t time for before.family Collage

There won’t be any “if onlys” or “I should have saids.” We know she won’t be here much longer and we enjoy every minute. We hug every night. We enjoy every game of dominoes. We say thank you over and over. I watch her read, talk on the phone, laugh, hold hands with her husband and I treasure it. I absorb her strength, watch her courteousness, and hope to copy her graciousness. She is the true embodiment of Proverbs 18:24 “A man who has friends must himself be friendly.” Cards, phone calls and visits from all over the world – greetings, love and prayer from lives she has touched.

I was making her bed one day (Poor Mom, I did not inherit her tidiness) and it hit me. There is amazing peace in all of this – meals, beds, meds, laundry, etc. Because while I may not understand the why, I know the Who.

Two things are emphasized to me over and over.

When we serve, we do not do it on our own.

I know how to get along and live humbly [in difficult times], and I also know how to enjoy abundance and live in prosperity. In any and every circumstance I have learned the secret [of facing life], whether well-fed or going hungry, whether having an abundance or being in need.

I can do all things [which He has called me to do] through Him who strengthens and empowers me [to fulfill His purpose—I am self-sufficient in Christ’s sufficiency; I am ready for anything and equal to anything through Him who infuses me with inner strength and confident peace.] (Philippians 4:12-13 AMP)

I love the emphasis in the Amplified version.

I know how to get along and live humbly and how to enjoy abundance. I can do all things He has called me to do. I am self-sufficient in Christ’s sufficiency.

Read that over again every morning before you throw a load of dirty kids’ clothes in the washer or do a task at work waayy below your pay grade.

All things He has called me to do.

Think that through when you are so ticked off at your spouse that you could scream.

Self-sufficient in Christ’s sufficiency.

Say that out loud when given a Herculean task like leading a small group, decorating for a retreat, or sharing Jesus over coffee.

If He called you to do it, He will make you capable.

And think about this:

When we serve, we serve Jesus.

Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ (Matthew 25:37-40)

One morning I counted – breakfast was six very different smoothies; two eggs over hard, yokes broken, two sausage patties, no toast; one egg over-medium, two sausage patties, toast; two eggs over easy, toast; one egg over very light with very crunchy toast.

Would you believe that was fun? It was. And I didn’t burn a thing! To you large family mamas that’s nothing but I only have one kid. Short-order breakfasts aren’t something in my repertoire.

I’m not great at this. I get upset and feel kinda snarky sometimes. I don’t balance upstairs living and downstairs living very well at all. But here’s the thing: Every egg I flip, every rug I vacuum, every bed I make, every brow I wipe – I do it in the name of Jesus.

What a privilege.

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Hold tight to what’s true…

I am part of a mid-size church nestled between one of the wealthiest areas of Dallas, Texas and the city’s poorest neighborhood. We are an eclectic picture of the Body of Christ. Rich sit beside the poor, African refugees beside African-Americans, seminary graduates beside the homeless, seekers beside long-time Christ followers. Grace is freely offered, truth is freely spoken and no name is higher than the name of Jesus.

This morning as I got ready for church, I prayed for a real thirst quenching. I came away drenched. Like a soaked sponge.

The Church is stirred up today, worried about what the future holds. God’s people are seeing the definition of marriage challenged, watching ISIS kill those who declare the name of Jesus, alert to the racism and hatred flooding fill the news and people are concerned about what will happen to religious organizations in the United States.

Fear is being allowed to invade minds that are supposed to focus on the good things of God.Phil4_RegimenswithGrace

It is creeping into our hearts when we are told that Jesus has overcome the world. Jn16_RegimenswithGrace

With all of that, I’d like to quote a small portion of the sermon I heard today:

Jesus will provide.

He can open the eyes of the blind and open the ears of the deaf but we’ve got to stop being dumb.

We really do. I’m not naïve. Just believing in Jesus isn’t going to solve any of these problems we face.

They may take away our tax-free status and stop giving people deductions for their charitable giving. The government may threaten us with fines or even imprisonment for speaking out against these things. What are we going to do?

I know what I’m going to do.

I’m going to keep preaching.

If they fine me ,then I’ll go broke.

If they send me to jail, then I’ll preach there.

And if they kill me then I will join that blessed band who “suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated — 38 of whom the world was not worthy — wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.” These people “acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15…they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” (Hebrews 11:36-38; 13-16)


Me?

One day, several years ago, I lifted my opened hands and said, “I surrender all.”

It was the most freeing thing I have ever done.

I trusted Him then. I trust Him now. I can trust Him with my future.


You can listen to or watch Gary Brandenburg’s entire sermon at Fellowship Bible Church Dallas here: Blind, Deaf and a Little Bit Dumb

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Grace for the Graceless

To speak the truth in love has been the clarion call to followers of Christ of late. Paul tells us that rather than chasing after every new teaching, we are to let our lives lovingly express truth [in all things, speaking truly, dealing truly, living truly]. Ephesians 5:15 (AMP)

Learning to deal with situations some have not faced before, Christians are grappling with what it looks like to be Jesus to the world around them.

How do we let our lives lovingly express truth?

In this current age of more strongly emphasized grace, we as a Church are struggling harder to

accept the unacceptable,

love the unlovable,

offer grace not condemnation,

give more than we receive

and to Tweet be light in a world that pictures God as a Judge with a gavel more than a Savior with a call.

People are moving out of comfortable middle-class neighborhoods to reach others less fortunate. Families are adopting children who would otherwise not find a home. The culture of grace is demanding that we take a look at our own sin before we stick up our noses at the sins of others.

We remind ourselves to pass along God’s grace, knowing that

Rahab the harlot is in the line of Christ,

David the adulterer was a man after God’s own heart,

Mary Magdalene was one of the closest friends of Jesus,

Jesus called a tax-collector to be His follower,

Our Savior touched the untouchable

and He dined with those rejected by the religious rulers of the day.

God is a wonderful, magnificent, loving God of inexplicable grace, calling the worst of sinners to repentance, washing all who receive Him in the blood of Jesus, pure and holy in His eyes.

All.

God so loved the world.

His grace is amazing.

However…

As we learn to offer the grace we have been given to those we have previously ignored, we often wind up

judging the legalistic,nograce

showing bigotry to the racists,

being intolerant of the intolerant,

loving all but those who refuse to love

and offering grace to all but those who do not offer grace.

In the midst of our praise and acceptance of grace, we must remind ourselves that

one of the greatest verses of salvation was taught to a pharisee named Nicodemus.

Most of the New Testament was written by a bigoted legalist.

Jesus taught His best parables to the rule-following, judgmental pharisees and Sadducees.

And He felt great compassion for the rich young ruler who would not give.

God so loved the world.yesgrace

He loved them anyway.

His grace is offered to everyone.

Not just the tax collectors but those who look down their noses at those who don’t pay.

He showed compassion not only to the unclean woman but to the rich young ruler.

He died for the thief on the cross beside Him and for the pharisees who had Him hung there.

What does unlovable look like for you?

Is it the poor urban child who desperately needs a home. Or is it the wealthy person in the better part of town who desperately needs to know the need of a Savior?

As we follow the call to love the gay couple next door, we must also follow the call to love the people down the street who shuts the door in their faces.

When we try to become a Good Samaritan, learning to sacrifice and show love to the man in the ditch in need of help, do we love or hate the one who crossed the road to the other side?

What is it that makes us turn up our noses in arrogance? Am I in danger of being proud of my humility?

Love unfeigned

Tweet Self-righteous or confessed sinner – all are in need of a Savior.

Can I freely offer the grace for which He so dearly paid?

Tweet The more I reflect on how much He pulled me out of, the less I am able to point a finger at people where they are.

Street corner or amen corner.

Love without hypocrisy. Even the hypocrites.

“Where sin abounded, grace abounded much more.” (Romans 5:20)

For everyone.

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Samson: Seriously Flawed, Used Seriously

We are amazingly reluctant to realize that our heroes have faults.

When it becomes glaringly obvious, we toss them aside, capes torn, shields tarnished, heroes no longer.

This must be why we find it so hard to realize that good people in the Bible do inexplicably bad things.

The really tough ones are the ones we never see say I’m sorry. I wrote about Lot recently (Jerk or Just) and the story has remained close to my heart since. We never see him building an altar, weeping over wrongs done, or even read any justification except what I call God’s gobstopping grace.

God called him righteous.

I just reread the story of Samson. importance of reading the bible

He’s another hero with a severely torn cape.

Read Judges 13-16. On the surface, Samson was an arrogant womanizer with major co-dependency problems. You know the good-looking jock in the movies who is led around by a gorgeous, manipulative harpy? That’s him.

The story starts beautifully with an appearance by God to Samson’s parents with a promise of his birth and instructions as to his rearing. (Kind of nice to have God Himself show up to deliver your What to Expect book!)

The last two verses in chapter 13 say, “So the woman bore a son and called his name Samson; and the child grew, and the Lord blessed him. And the Spirit of the Lord began to move upon him at Mahaneh Dan between Zorah and Eshatol.”

That is a pretty auspicious beginning.

Then the first thing we see Samson do as an adult is to let his parents know that there’s a hot Philistine chick that he wants them to get for his bride.

“Sammy, isn’t there a nice Jewish girl you’d rather bring home?”

They weren’t being prejudiced. The Philistines were in power over Israel at the time and they were ungodly idol-worshipping oppressors out for pure destruction.

“…But his father and mother did not know that it was of the Lord – that He was seeking an occasion to move against the Philistines. For at that time the Philistines had dominion over Israel.(Judges 14:4)

Here’s where I think some of the denial comes in.

To me, it is rather clear that Samson’s parents were doing their job as Godly people, trying to steer their son in the right direction. They were simply unaware that God, in His sovereign plan, was going to work Samson’s willfulness into the greater good.

As I read commentaries, people seem to struggle with this, certain that, since God’s spirit often moved mightily on Samson, that he prophetically wanted the Philistine woman for his wife so that God could move against their enemies.

I think Samson just wanted the girl.

We can’t be afraid to see good guys without a cape.

Tweet Our God of grace is often beyond our understanding. He uses flawed people who do stupid things.

There are some unbelievable doozies of  Samson stories I’d love to share but even a brief synopsis gets a bit lengthy. Read through Judges 14-16. You will notice that his deeds are not always accompanied by “the Spirit of the Lord came upon him.”

Sometimes, as when he ate honey from the lion carcass, he was completely breaking Jewish law. (Leviticus 11:27)

His marriage was clearly an ungodly one with horrible results for his wife. (The foxes didn’t fare so well either.)

Some of his actions appear to be purely out of anger or revenge.

Still, God had a plan to move against the Philistines and, more than once, He used a strong man with weak principles to do so.

The Spirit of the Lord did fall upon Samson in chapter 15 and he killed 1000 men with a donkey’s jawbone.

Gruesome? Yes. But these were enemies of God. There is no way one person could kill 1000 people in a day with anything but an explosive.

Or the Spirit of God and a jawbone. jawbone

 

He followed that God-filled victory with a visit to a prostitute, then pulled up the city gate by the gateposts and carried it up the hill.

Flawed hero. Torn cape.

All of this leads up to the story of Samson and Delilah, one of the most infamous relationships in the Bible.

I’m won’t lend much space to that here. You know the story. This seductive worshiper of Ashtoreth, Dagon and Baal-Zebub manipulated him into telling her, not the Source of his strength, but how he could be robbed of it.

He paid a dear price for that dalliance. Blindness, bondage, humiliation and shame.

He eventually was able to push down the main pillars of the temple of Dagon, killing more enemies of the Lord in his death than he ever did in his life. God gave him an amazing victory.

And here’s the lesson:

While there are incredible stories in the Bible about Samson, he judged Israel for 20 years. Several times we see him destroying the enemy through the Spirit of God. Several others, we see him acting badly or questionably.

But we don’t know anything else that happened during those 20 years. We don’t know how many ways God used him. For some reason, God chooses show us Samson’s frailties. We see him succumb to seduction and give in to desires.

But God placed him in Hebrews 11:32 in the same verse as David, Samuel and Gideon.

Whaaat???

And what about me?

Yep, you darlin’. All those failures. All that shame.

Past is past. He can use you too.

God exposes all that weakness, all that rawness, to teach us something.

Good people really mess up.

God uses really messy people.

Tweet Stay in the middle of your mess and the temple you are dallying in will come down on your head.

But He is willing to pull you out and He can still use you.

Tweet There are no chains so strong that the power of God cannot break them.

Tweet There is no blindness so dark that the light of God cannot pierce through.

Tweet There are no idols in your life on a pedestal so high that you cannot cast them at the feet of Jesus.

Samson went into the arms of the wrong person.

God gave him a glorious victory at the end of his life.

And God gave him, in all of his messiness,

gobstopping grace.

 

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Don’t skip the mess…

Gobstopping GraceIn case you don’t yet know it, there is a whole lot of ugly in the Bible.

When you think about it, it’s a wonder there are many children’s stories to teach from the Old Testament.Bible stories

Try explaining the story of Abram, Sarai and Hagar from Genesis 16 to your children without mincing words. In fact, I would encourage you to:

God made a promise to Abram.

It seemed impossible. God told Abram that he and his wife Sarai would have a baby. But they were already as old as your grandparents. Maybe even your great-grandparents!

Abram and his wife Sarai waited a very long time for God to keep His promise. Finally Sarai had an idea! She thought, “Maybe God wants me to help!”

So Sarai asked Abram to marry her maid Hagar so that Hagar could have a baby instead. That wasn’t nearly as weird then as it is now. People did that then.

But it wasn’t God’s plan.

When we don’t follow God’s plan, things get messy.

Sure enough, Hagar got pregnant. She began to act like she was better than Sarai. That made Sarai angry and she wasn’t very nice to Hagar.

She also got mad at Abram. That didn’t make much sense but when we try to do God’s job, we don’t always make much sense.

Abram told Sarai she could do whatever she wanted about Hagar so Hagar ran away before she had her baby.

See, not so bad.

Lesson: God has a plan. Good people do bad things. Sometimes we mess up God’s plan.

But don’t leave out the best part.

If you ran away from home, your mom and dad would come looking for you. That’s what God did.

When Hagar was sitting out in the wilderness, God went after her. He loved her. He told her He knew that she was sad and scared but that she needed to go back home. He told her that her baby would be very special.

Hagar knew that God had come after her because He saw her problems. She said, “You are the God Who Sees.”

She knew God cared for her.

It’s a really good story. Lesson: Sometimes life is a little like a paper towel commercial. Life is messy. When we let Him, God cleans it up.

Sarai and Abram made up. We see testimony of their faith in Hebrews 11 and testimony to their relationship in 1 Peter 3.

But what about poor Hagar?

I can’t completely blame her for being a little smirkish. She went from servant to wife of a very wealthy man and pregnant with his child. A little like winning Homecoming Queen over the head cheerleader. But the situation wasn’t pretty.

So eventually she ran.

Homeless and pregnant, life was a big, fat mess. As is usually the case, some of that mess was caused by others and she brought some of it on herself.

But here’s the beautiful part. (Don’t forget to share this with your kids and don’t miss out on it for yourself.)

“The Angel of the LORD found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, by the spring on the way to Shur.”

See, if we ignore why she ran, we negate the fact that God found her.

Wherever the mess of life has taken you, whatever you are running from, God is seeking you out.

“And He said, ‘Hagar, Sarai’s maid, where have you come from, and where are you going?’ She said, ‘I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai.'”
Why are you running?

Ashamed“And the LORD God called to Adam and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ So he said, I heard Your voice in the garden and I was afraid because I was naked…'” (Genesis 3:9-10)

Afraid“And behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and He said to him, ‘What are you doing here Elijah?’ So he said, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts…they seek to take my life.‘” (1 Kings 19:9-10)

He called Hagar by name. He called her by position. He gave her a chance to answer.

Are you running? Do you know why? Are you afraid? Ashamed?

God knows who you are, where you are and who He has called you to be.

He is calling out to you.

“The Angel of the LORD said to her, ‘Return to your mistress, and submit yourself under her hand.'”

Sometimes God calls us out of situations and on to new ones. In Hagar’s situation, He told her to return. While it was uncomfortable, it was one that was for her greater good.

He had a plan.

The chance of Hagar and her child surviving childbirth alone in the wilderness wasn’t very high. God not only promised her survival, He promised her a future.

“Then the Angel of the LORD said to her, ‘I will multiply your descendants exceedingly, so that they shall not be counted for multitude.'”

We flee.

God pursues.

We return.

He multiplies. Exceedingly. More than we can count or imagine.

“Now unto Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us.” (Ephesians 3:20)

“‘Behold, you are with child, and you shall bear a son, you shall call his name Ishmael*. Because the LORD has heard your affliction.'”

*Ishmael: “God hears.”

We run. God pursues.

We cry. God hears.

You cannot run so far that God will not seek you. You cannot cry so softly that God will not hear you. You cannot sin so much that the grace of God will not redeem you.

The Angel of the Lord described what her son would be like.  She didn’t blink an eye at His description “He shall be a wild man…” She went straight to recognition of the magnificent grace of God.

“Then she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, You-Are-the-God-Who-Sees; for she said, ‘Have I also here seen Him who sees me?’ Therefore the well was called Beer Lahai Roi*…”

*Well of the One Who Lives and Sees MeGod-Who-Sees

I don’t know about you, but that’s a well I want to drink from every day.

But whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.'” (John 4:14)

“On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.'” (John 7:37)

Here’s one more thing for you: Throughout this passage, reference is made to the Angel of the LORD. When you see LORD in all capitals in the Bible, it is God’s Hebrew name Yahweh. One easy-to-remember definition of Yahweh is that it emphasizes His position as  “Covenant Maker and Covenant Keeper. Yahweh

The same God who made a covenant with Abraham, pursued a runaway servant and made a promise to her in the middle of the wilderness. “Hagar, the Covenant Maker and Covenant Keeper has heard your cry and you are going to have a son. His descendants will be too many to count.”

A pregnant runaway servant, second wife and castaway,  was seen by Almighty God, The Covenant Maker and Covenant Keeper.

Don’t skip over the messy parts of the Bible.

That’s where God’s gobstopping grace shines through.

 

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