Friday, October 28, 2011

In my home, I preferred to go bare foot until my arches gave way, and now I wear what my grandchildren call “granny shoes.” Hey, it’s better to wear “granny shoes” during the day than to have granny aches at night. My ancestry roots run back to the red dirt of Arkansas, so barefoot is simply what I prefer.

     In a women’s Bible class, the subject of bare feet came up. We were studying the life of Moses who was called at age 80 to lead the Israelites out of slavery. When the call came and at God’s command, Moses took off his shoes near a bush that had an internal fire set alight by God. Moses was at first hesitant to follow God’s calling, however his eventual following caused a deepening devotion to God and the Israelites.

The Bible also includes other barefoot moments. In innocence and purity, the first humans Adam and Eve were barefoot in the Garden of Eden (meaning delight). Much later, during the tabernacle and temple eras, the High Priests entered the Holy of Holies shoeless, anointed on their right ears, right thumbs, and right big toes, declaring that the whole man was set apart to serve God.

On the outskirts of Jericho, Joshua removed his shoes, instructed by an angel of the Lord to do so (Joshua 5:13-15). Hebrew mourning traditions included taking off shoes (Ezekiel 24:15-17). On the cross and barefoot, God rescued our High Priest Jesus from a world that spurned his purity. Jesus then re-entered holy heaven, the court of God, to plead our cases.

When my grandson Jack was eight-years-old and I talked about these barefoot moments in scripture, Jack said, “And we’re barefoot when we’re baptized” (our fellowship practices immersion). Why are these moments so significant in the lives of Bible heroes and us?

Intimate meetings, the baring of our souls to God (not just our feet)includes opportunities for God to ignite fires within – to ignite passions causing us to become his hands of help to the oppressed. Rick Warren spoke to 20,000 young people and asked them to hold up three fingers to form a “W”.  This sign signified “whatever, whenever, wherever” for the cause of Christ. Another speaker at the same event echoed the call of Jesus to learn the ways of mercy and justice. 

Even though Moses showed plenty of fear, he soon knew he was on the precipice of something startling and moving. When Moses allowed God to direct his life, that’s when God built a fire within.

Whatever. Whenever. Wherever. Take off your shoes, bare your soul in quiet moments this week, and watch for holy ground where God can inspire you to extend grace and mercy to others.

Index card verse for week 43: “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).


Saturday, October 22, 2011

Jesus Longs to Befriend You

            After teaching that prayer is “talking to God about what is on your heart,” she took prayer requests from the four to six year olds. She let them know they could bare their hearts, and she would pray every day for their concerns.

            First, pets were on their minds. Ashes the cat made the list. The dogs -- Sam, Happy, Bubba, Buddy and Bandit -- were covered in prayer that week, too. One other pet was AWOL. Each prayer request was accepted and treated with dignity. 

            Other boys and girls had noticed the suffering of people. A grandpa was in the hospital. A lonely neighbor had moved. Someone had a broken spine. One daughter said her daddy needed rest. Two children remembered recent deaths of grandmothers and a cousin. Still, other little ones requested prayers for moms and dads.

During the teaching segment, the teacher had explained different prayer postures. She told them about lying prostrate before God during especially trying or humbling times. One outgoing young man immediately threw himself on the carpeted floor and demonstrated for the more reserved students. She talked about kneeling to pray, and when the time came to pray, the teacher invited any children who wanted to kneel to do so. Each sweet child chose to join others in a circle and kneel in prayer.

We adults know that prayer is not a magic wand that we wave to get God to do things our way. We have embraced it as a humility-talk from a grown up child to Father, expressing thanksgivings, fears, needs, doubts, and praises. I’m reading and putting into practice the praying of the psalms and my teacher is Lynn Anderson, who recently wrote “Talking Back to God: Speaking your heart to God through the Psalms.” He says of that type of praying, “The Psalms are a place where contemporaries meet the ancients as we all try to account for the chaos, suffering, celebration, and lament we feel in our lives.”

For example, how often would this portion of a psalm speak about a place in life: “Listen to my cry for help; be not deaf to my weeping” (39:12)? If you experience a time of exuberant happiness, perhaps this would be appropriate praise: “He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God” (40:3). Sometimes, even a single line from the psalms can become our prayer for months: “Give us aid against the enemy, for the help of man is worthless” (108:12).

In the children’s prayer time, their requests and praises reached beyond themselves. Not one child asked a prayer for himself. I find that remarkable. When we pray, God helps us untangle from selfishness: “A man wrapped up in himself makes a very small package” (God’s Little Devotional Book).  Because of the nature of prayer, any time we pray we admit that we’re not good enough, bright enough, or bold enough to meet all the needs of life.

One of the wonderful things about prayer is its immediacy. We don’t have to be at a special place or it doesn’t have to occur at a special time of day. Prayer can occur anywhere and anytime—from a whale’s belly, from a cross, beside the Nile, in school, in the Temple, in a shopping line, on a battlefield, on a mountain, in a valley, or behind the wheel of a car.  

One of the surprising results of prayer is a growing knowledge of the holiness of God, the littleness of man, and a glorious friendship between the two. Need a best friend, one you can call on for help, simply sit with in silence, or tell them about your day? Try talking to Jesus. He longs to befriend you, and carry on a conversation for a long time.

 Index card verse for week 42: “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful” (Colossians 4:2).


Saturday, October 15, 2011

Show, Don't Just Tell

The Montessori instructor placed her left hand on an open door and her right on the doorknob; she gently twisted it quietly closing the door. She had just told her adult audience that often parents “yell” at a child, “Don’t slam the door!” However, the parent often fails to show the child how to shut a door properly. I sat in that audience over 20 years ago and the gist of her message remains strong in my memory. Showing a child how to accomplish a task produces better results than simply telling a child. The lesson stuck: Show, don’t just tell.

                I participated in a teacher’s workshop, and one teacher wanted her students to “see” the Bible story of Zacchaeus and Jesus acted out. You remember the story, the short in stature and hands-deep-in other’s pockets Zacchaeus heard that Jesus was walking his way, and he quickly climbed a tree so he could see over the crowd and spot Jesus. Jesus knew the location of this wealthy, chief tax collector’s heart and that he was spiritually out-on-a-limb—a limb that would eventually snap unless he changed his cheating ways. Jesus looked up in the branches and said, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today” (Luke 19:1-10).

                Melody, a Bible schoolteacher asked her husband to dress up as Zacchaeus to help her act out the story. She played the part of Jesus with her Bible times robe and wig and beard. Knowing that her husband, Monty, was resourceful, she didn’t dictate how he dressed for the part. When Zacchaeus entered the room, Melody had difficulty keeping the story from turning into a comedy. Her husband fully carried out the characterization -- long robe, wig, and beard -- and he entered walking on his knees with large soft shoes penned to his jeaned-knees beneath his robe. Zacchaeus was indeed low down to the ground.

                Melody’s class listened to the text of Luke and saw why Zacchaeus needed to climb a tree to see Jesus. Melody demonstrated the message that Jesus’ love can change tall or short thieves. Show and tell worked well.

                  In writing courses, one of the main elements in writing fiction or non-fiction is to “Show, don’t tell.” A story written with action and dialog is more understandable and readable than one where a writer uses only narration and a passive voice. Today’s popular novelist write in this style:  Show, don’t tell.

                If you are a parent, you especially have learned the value of showing a child how to do something instead of simply giving a verbal command. People learn best when there are demonstrations and then opportunities to practice. My husband could tell me to change the oil in my vehicle, but believe me I’d need several lessons before that would even come close to happening correctly.

                God did that for us. He didn’t simply tell us what to do, but he sent a live demonstration in the person of Jesus Christ. He clothed God in flesh, and through divine help, Jesus showed us how to live a just, compassionate, and forgiving life. As I think back over the life of Jesus, I am encouraged to know he constantly patterned perfect behavior for those around him. He touched the sickest among the crowds. He forgave the vilest offenders. He accepted into his presence both the prostitute and political official. He rubbed shoulders with outcasts. In addition, he contributed no slander, no gossip – only truth.

                Many have found the right combination of showing Jesus to others as they gently teach and demonstrate his love through their active involvement in others’ lives. Know-it-all preaching rarely results in the softening of hearts. Recently, I spoke with a young Christian woman, part of a group who has moved into a troubled neighborhood on the East Coast, and she said to me, “We’re not preaching on the street corners. We’re just living among them and showing people a better way of life by loving and helping others like Jesus did.” 

                 Index card verse for week 41: “Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near”                                (Philippians 4:4-5).

Friday, October 07, 2011

Soul Droughts

Soul Droughts

        A glossy picture in a Christian magazine shows a young girl from a poorer nation, who splashes water onto her face from a trickling faucet. Her turban-wrapped hair, closed eyes, and lips parted in a smile show her joy as she takes a drink of life-giving water.

     A look of intense delight radiates from her countenance. The caption reads, "She's tasting pure water for the first time. Imagine her excitement when it reaches her soul."

    The photo reminded me of the Israelites’ water-needs when they traveled from Egypt through desert lands. Bible scholars number those exiting Egypt between 1.2 million and 2 million, plus sheep, chickens, dogs, and other animals needing water to survive.

     Later, when they grumbled about their thirsts, a rock became a fountain. I had imagined at one time a garage-size rock, Moses striking it with his staff, and then a small stream of water emerging. However, trickles don't assuage the thirst of thousands upon thousands.

     The story of the Israelites parched throats is in Exodus 17 and Numbers 20, but the measurable details about the fresh water God supplied are in the Psalms: "Water as abundant as the seas" and water flowing down "like rivers" (78:15-16). When Moses struck the rock, "water gushed out, and streams flowed abundantly" (20).

     Another psalm tells about the "God of Jacob, who turned the rock into a pool, the hard rock into springs of water" (Psalm 114:8). The additional information in the psalms deepened my small puddle thinking.

     God is not a trickle fountain, nor is he tight fisted with water supplies. Those desert travelers needed sufficient water. God’s moisture-starved pilgrims needed an extravagance of water, and that's just what God gave.

     The Israelites also "drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ" (1 Corinthians 10:3). God kept their bodies alive with water, while their spirits feasted on his presence.

     Years ago on a country road, my vehicle broke down in 100-degree weather. I only had a tiny bit of Sprite with me. I didn’t have a hat to protect my head from the heat and didn’t have appropriate shoes for walking. After two miles of hiking, my thirst was extreme. Several cars passed but none offered a lift. Disheartened and dehydrated, I needed relief. The eventual savior-truck-driver dropped me off at a convenience store where I immediately bought a drink.

     Physical thirst is not the worst I've suffered. In our water-pampered nation, thirsts are easy to quench, but there are worse ways to dry up. In the October 2011 issue of “Christianity Today,” the article “Saving China’s Daughters” says that 500 women in China commit suicide every day traumatized by “gendercide and China’s one-child policy.” Tap water doesn't solve every thirst. Each person on earth needs living water whether they acknowledge the need or not.

      Every day people give up on living and sink further into depression, some choosing to take their own lives. Words from an old hymn state a truth. "There’s a fountain free tis for you and me. Let us haste, oh haste, to its brink. Tis the fount of love from the source above And He bids us all, freely drink.”

     We’re all in need of refreshment. Is anyone thirsty? An oasis waits. In the name of Jesus, share a cup of "living water" with the thirsty – and imagine their excitement when it reaches their souls.

     Index card verse for Week 40: “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2).