Friday, October 29, 2010

I spotted a typo while working on a chapter in a WIP, a work in progress, that’s what writers call a project that goes from rough draft to finished product. I had typed a portion of Psalm 132 where the writer tells about a prayer experience saying, “I lift up my voice to the Lord.” However when I revisited the chapter to edit and look for typos, I saw that I had written, “I lift up my vice to the Lord.”

The word “vice,” meaning an immoral habit, could actually fit in that sentence of the psalm. Our vices often wrong others and God remains the best place to take them.

The context of the original verse indicates that when our human will power grows weak, we become desperate to find strength in someone stronger than ourselves to get us on track again. When my vices send me down a dangerous path and God calls my attention to them, they are an ugly presentation to God, but he alone can turn the mangiest of sins into a healing process.

The process of lifting vices to the Lord is known as confession. Confession is one of the spiritual disciplines which can easily be overlooked. Why, because humans tend to justify naughty behavior. I find confession difficult. I find making excuses for behavior the easier road to travel because admitting sins involves humility.

Blatant sins are difficult to ignore in people we love and in our communities—murder, adultery, or theft. However, it’s the subtle sins in our everyday lives that we may tend to overlook. We may excuse ourselves for responding with out-of-control anger or claim a right to be snooty to another because they mistreated us. Alexander Pope says, “An excuse is worse and more terrible than a lie; for an excuse is a lie guarded.”

In “Overcoming Subtle Sins: the Key to Dynamic Discipleship,” Jim Dyet and Jim Russell say, “Like spots on the inside of car windows, subtle sins smudge the soul.” The Amy Foundation, in one of their writing lessons, lists about 50 subtle sins such as jealousy, lack of affection, laziness, anxiety, critical nature, self-righteousness, rudeness, gluttony, or immoral fantasies, to name a few. When a family member or friend has the courage and kindness to point out a subtle sin in your life, how do you respond? Do you see them as a messenger from God or do you hear their advice and view them as attacking you personally? (A rebuke can arrive in both ways).

Here’s an example of a bad habit and how a remark I made about it was taken in a God-honoring spirit. A friend and I were talking one day, when my friend said, “Don’t you just hate this hot weather?” One of my personal goals has been to eliminate the word “hate” from my vocabulary on the occasions when I’ve casually applied that word to a blessing.

Here’s a sample, “I just hate it when I get a pull in my stocking and I’m running late anyway.” Clothing, a car, a place to go -- all blessings. Why fuss because something went wrong with one of those luxuries. I could be barefoot in a third world country and placing my furniture on tables because the river threatens to flood and run through my home again.

Knowing my friend well, I mentioned my efforts to eliminate the word “hate” from my vocabulary when referring to blessings. With credit to Martha H’s malleable heart, she heard me out and agreed that she too often uses the word “hate” in connection with blessings. And she even thanked me for my “mini-sermon.” Who wouldn’t love a tenderhearted friend like her?

That’s just one example of “little” vices, subtle sins, which creep into our everyday lives. God’s forgiveness and grace covers a multitude of sins. And a multitude minus a few seems to be the norm for me.

From my typo, I was reminded to lift both my voice and vices to the Lord. And to also confess to friends, who can help me with accountability. “Hey, I’m working on not gossiping, can you help me watch our phone conversations to avoid that?”

“Heal my soul, for I have sinned against you” (Psalm 41:4), is an entreaty to God. “Confess your sins one to another, and pray for one another that you may be healed” (James 5:16) is the act of releasing a burden, committing to better behavior and of allowing fellow believers to help you toward a better way of living.

We are WIPs, works in progress, really rough drafts of what God can make of us. This week, lift your voice and vice to the Lord, who remains the Captain of mercy and help.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Mark Twain, Esther, and Fiona

An autobiography of Mark Twain releases on November 15. Have you heard about it? The first of three volumes will stock store shelves on that day. Unfortunately, there will be no book signing. Samuel Clemens writing under the pseudonym of Mark Twain penned his autobiography before his death. However, in his will he said that it could not be released until 100 years after death date.

Mr. Twain self published some early chapters from his proclaimed autobiography in the years 1906-1907. Since his death some editors have assembled those chapters or portions presenting them as part of Twain’s story, but the first edition of the entire manuscript releases this November, published by the University of California Press. Rather than following a true autobiography format, the three volumes contain more anecdotes, ruminations, and personal family stories.

Whether the first volume contains his preface, “From the Grave” is yet to be seen. He is said to have requested that the autobiography not be published for 100 years because it gave him the freedom to speak his “whole frank mind.” In his last few years, what must it have been like for Samuel Clemens to think that his witticisms, stories, and life might still impact people in another century?

I’m not sure that a hundred year old document would be my choosing. Too many last minute thoughts or happenings on this earth might affect my views. But in a few weeks, the acclaimed Mark Twain will speak not from the grave, but from a delayed release of thoughts while he was alive.

Today’s column is the last installment concerning Queen Esther. I’m impressed by the stories that God wanted to keep intact to impact generations not only 100 years later but thousands of years later. In 2006, Esther’s story made its way from the Bible pages to film. “One Night with the King,” the story of Hadassah (Esther’s Jewish name), released in 2006 starring Tiffany Dupont, Peter O’Toole and Omar Sharif.

While the screenplay is romanticized, the history and setting are close to the biblical account. When I watched the movie, the Citadel of Susa intrigued, with its 60 foot walls and huge mote. Esther’s character and devotion to God are well depicted. If you rent it, be aware that there are a few artistic intrusions on the biblical account, especially the appearance of the Star of David in a piece of jewelry (Historians tell us that the Star of David came into use in the Middle Ages).

But, I highly recommend the movie. This is what I suggest: read the book of Esther then watch the movie. You will be entertained but also taken back to the drama that unfolded in the Persian Empire.

A later impact of Esther’s story is seen in the Feast of Purim, celebrated near the end of February or first of March by Jews worldwide when they gather to remember the defeat of a plot to exterminate Jews. Some celebrations abroad rival Mardi Gras, while others focus more on the public reading of the entire book of Esther. They celebrate with noisemakers and “blot out the name” of the evil Haman when his name is read.

Jewish folklore says that Esther had become so ill and scared from being removed from her home that she had turned a ghastly, ugly green color and God worked a miracle and King Xerxes thought her beautiful anyway. When I discovered that legend, all that came to mind was Shrek and Princess Fiona.

The story of Esther and her God-instilled courage begs to be shared with children. Her story reflects the psalmist’s words, “When I called you answered me; you made me bold and stouthearted” (Psalm 138:3). Parents, share Esther’s story and bake the triangular fruit filled cookies called “hamentaschen,” literally Haman’s pockets representing a three cornered hat (recipe found online). Read a short portion of the book of Esther that repeats the name Mordecai and Haman, and allow children cheering and booing for good Mordecai and evil Haman respectively. Chapter five, verses 9-14 work well and explains God’s principle of reaping what we sow.

Aside from Mark Twain’s soon to be released last words and the story of Esther, which still reaches millions each year, what sort of shelf life and legacy do each of us have? Will your story impact in 50, 75, or 100 years? My prayer is God’s story will reverberate in future generations to a greater degree because we remain faithful in the here and now.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Rain or Drought

As I began this article the Chilean miners are above ground, they have left their temporary rock-encased home. Prayers went up around the world for their successful rescue, and by the time, I pushed the button sending this to The Courier all of the six rescuers also returned to the epidermis of our planet. Selfless acts of kindness were among the reasons rescue came to so few?

Through television, radio, and live streaming on computers, the world was informed as to the progress of the miners’ rescues. Because decent people respect life and work together, rescues such as the one in Chile can happen. They also happened because God gifted men with many talents to keep up with our expanding horizons. Finally, their rescues were in God’s will, and many turned to him and simply prayed in faith for the men’s safety.

Here’s what’s on my mind this week: brave Esther the Bible heroine, the Chilean miners and their rescuers, and the creosote plant. Read on and you’ll see why.

After hearing one intriguing fact about the creosote plant, I further researched this desert dweller. It takes extraordinary moisture to bring a plant to maturity. The problem? Most plants grow in drier desert regions. Plants from seeds may spring up, but they die before maturing due to lack of water.

If a plant reaches maturity, it becomes selfish about water consumption. Even its own seeds dropped near it will not sprout because the parent plant uses all water for self. However, if a plant becomes established, its root crown will send off new shoots between the ages of 30-90 years. Named the King Clone, a circled colony of creosote plants survive in the Mojave Desert. This clonal colony is listed among the oldest living organisms, believed to be 11, 700 years old. Ironically, the picture I saw of a creosote plant was taken in Death Valley, California.

Watering or drought happens to our children too. When children are taught respect, God-origination of human life, and nourished toward selfless behavior, they can readily give of themselves to promote life. When they lack the belief that mankind was created in the image of God, they can become selfish. To the extreme, they often harm, rob, and kill from their narcissisms. “Numero uno” is on each such mind.

Young Esther, chosen to compete for the position of queen of Persia eventually inherited the royal crown. Haman, one of the king’s advisers, plotted the demise of the Jewish exiles in Persia. Advised to keep her Jewish heritage secret, when King Xerxes’ top aid, Haman, devised a wicked plot to destroy all Jews, Mordecai asked Esther to intercede for her Jewish compatriots. Even her regal title couldn’t change her heritage.

The king had not summoned her into his presence for a month, and the youthful Queen Esther knew that if she entered his court without permission that she faced possible death. Selfless, she called a three day fast and prayers by all Jews in the citadel of Susa. Mordecai further challenged the young Esther by saying that her political position could have come about “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14). The well trained Esther, for the good of all, accepted her mission and said, “If I perish, I perish” (4:16).

After three days, Esther went into the king’s throne room, and he extended his scepter to her. She requested dinner two nights in a row with King Xerxes and the evil advisor Haman. After the second dinner, she revealed Haman’s plan. The evil he had planned for others eventually fell upon his own head.

A few weeks ago, I met and spoke to a group of Christian teenagers at College Park High School in The Woodlands. It’s obvious that they have been watered from above and by adults around them such as their sponsor Mrs. Danielle Rapp. Youth like them are my Camp Hope.

The world watched and participated in selfless behavior this week while the efforts of over 1,000 engineers, completed the rescue of the Chilean miners. We witnessed via media the hugs, pats, tears, and prayers of those who hoped for a good outcome. The hungry world longed for the happy ending that God granted.

Guardians of children, the best and good outcome of the next generation depends upon you and your partnership of God. Hand in hand with him you have a deep well of reserves to nourish faith filled children.

(photo of King Clone credit to Wikipedia)

Friday, October 08, 2010

Wanted: Child for Leading Role

If you heard her story for the first time, it would bend your heart toward her favor. At a young age, she lost both parents and was cared for by her male cousin, Mordecai, who loved her as his own daughter. But even that situation wasn’t ideal, because the cousin -- like his fellow countrymen -- was being held captive. They longed to return to their homeland, but the exiles didn’t know when or if that would ever happen.

That introduces the story of Esther in the Bible, the young girl, who through God’s providence became the Queen of Persia. Her story of developing faith can encourage men and women who pour their hearts into rearing their children. Her story can guide us to accept our own paths with joy, to remain teachable no matter the outward troubles.

If God had advertised for a child star, he couldn’t have found a better one. Esther had stellar qualities for one so young. Her cousin had a hand in training her to behold God with awe instead of focusing on negatives in her life. She had many excuses to grow up bitter and resentful: her parents died; Esther, Cousin Mordecai, and fellow Jews were exiled; she lived in restriction not freedom.

Holy text says that God gifted Esther with rare beauty that she was “lovely in form and feature.” And she also grew to have a selfless spirit. These types of children continually exhibit traits that could be real assets to adults. When our grandson Adam was four-years-old, this easy going and adaptable child gave back a second Christmas present from his grandparent one holiday. “Here. You can have this back. I got plenty of presents this year.”

Even in captivity, Esther’s eyes focused on her blessings instead of turning toward bitterness at have-nots. Her eyes were trained to look for the wonder in life instead of focusing on the chains of confinement. When a generous adult can live out God’s generous love, even in unwanted circumstances, children do notice. What they experience may not really grab at their hearts until they’re a bit older. But genuine gratitude is one of the easier things to teach children by example.

If Esther’s story took place in 2010, the civilized world would rage against the atrocities. Her story would shock us. Stir up our sympathy. We’d mourn the passing of her youth in captivity and a second captivity when by God’s design the palace guard rounded up many of the young Persian virgins, also taking the young Jew Esther.

After banishing his former Queen Vashti (we’re not told if she left with or without her head), King Xerxes became moody and his advisors seemed to think a beauty contest to seek a new queen would pacify the king. From heads of state on down to peasants, an attitude of entitlement describes some of the people of which we come in contact. Pride filled people cross our paths and their pompous weather rains on our parades. We met one this week. I’ll spare you the details.

Even though held against her will in a foreign land, the child Esther lived in her less-than-perfect circumstances adapting to God’s nature. Many of our daily grumbles are about luxuries not really bad circumstances. Mike Huckabee, former Arkansas Governor (and ordained minister), said that the complaint that he hears most often from congregants is about the temperature in the church sanctuary. One congregation finally put up a fake thermostat so each cold or hot Christian could come along and move the thermostat up or down to suit their personal needs.

Jesus Christ said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” That means that people – 9 to 90 – are more content when they remain teachable. When Jesus began his ministry he welcomed small ones around him and called his adult disciples to become like malleable children.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll let the captive child Esther lead us. Her gracious accepting attitude will teach us trust, faithfulness, and reliance on a guiding light – for she learned an overall secret of focusing not on the gloom but upon the Light.