Friday, November 30, 2012

The World a Cathedral

Throughout the night, they cast bulky nets onto the inky surface of the lake. Each cast had brought the same disappointing results after they drew the nets toward the boat. Empty. Empty. Empty. Their nightshift ended without profit – or so they thought.

Dawn found them anchored on shore. Weary. Fatigued. Hungry. Wet. They were ready to wash their nets, search for tears, and untangle the snarls from lake debris.

At lakeside that morning, Jesus had drawn a crowd to hear his teachings. Finally, Jesus suggested that Simon Peter launch his boat into the foamy surf as a pulpit.

Peter moved the boat just offshore where Jesus sat down and continued teaching from a watery platform. When Jesus finished he said, “Put out into the deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”

Peter answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” On the lake, after letting down the nets, Peter felt the familiar drag of a catch, a huge catch. Checking the heavy mesh, he saw it teemed with fish and the weight of them caused tears in the sturdy rope lacings.  

He motioned to partners on shore to join them, and James and John oared out and hauled in fish after fish. The weight of the fish soon leveled the boat railings with the water surface. One more fish wiggle and water could have spilled into the crafts causing them to sink.

However, the miracles continued and they made shore without losing sailors, boats, or fish. The fishermen, the scaly catch, and The Teacher came ashore. That’s when Simon Peter recognized God’s divine hand and fell at Jesus’ feet saying, “Go away from me, Lord, I am a sinful man!”

Jesus didn’t leave.

Instead, Jesus consoled Simon Peter and said, “Don’t be afraid, from now on you will catch men. Come follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Luke 5).

On this day, God provided for these men and their families. He was about to call them on a monumental mission, and their families would be taken care of through the huge haul of fish. On this day, the lakeside became a cathedral when Peter fell down to worship Master of Earth and Sea.

As had happened before, God used the earth, his footstool, as a platform for the Son of God. Concern, care, and compassion showed in the abundant catch of fish.    

Chapels, cathedrals, and church buildings are formal places of worship where body and mind can be still and quiet. Places of worship where God is present as the audience as his people adore him through worship.

God dwells in the everyday happenings, too. In addition, where you walk, play, and work can become places of worship.

On this day, nets, boats, and fish became props to display Jesus as the son of God. Thirty years earlier, a stable, shepherds, and sheep had been stage props for the Savior. Today, as in times past, a car, a rented room, or a mall can be a cathedral if Jesus is there.

            During Advent, watch for the arrival of Jesus into your ordinary days.


            Hunger for Humility (Week 48): “And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20).


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thanksgiving in Tough TImes

"It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels," said Augustine.
            Readers, although not planned, we arrived simultaneously at Thanksgiving and rule seventeen of Jeremy Taylor’s (1613-1667) about gratitude. He defines how appreciation helps us live humbly: “Give God thanks for every weakness, deformity, and imperfection, and accept as a favoured grace of God, an instrument to resist pride, and nurse humility.” He goes on to say a man who has a crooked back has opportunity to stoop low in spirit. Those who suffer physical maladies often find themselves looking to God for help.
            I find it difficult to thank God for trouble, even though I know that hardships can shape me into a better person – if I allow it to do so. I’m thankful that God allowed the Apostle Paul to share in the Bible about his “thorn in the flesh,” a physical limitation that Paul had. Even after a request for healing, God said no to him because the weakness would become a facilitator to strength.
            Hear what the Apostle Paul said about his chronic condition. Whatever it was, he prayed three times for healing. However, God’s return answer was, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” So, Paul said, “I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). Taylor most likely had Paul’s experience in mind when he suggested that giving thanks for difficult circumstances could bring about unexpected blessings, most certainly internally and often externally.
            A friend once reminded me that if everything remained perfect in our lives, we could more easily be tempted to make it on our own. That’s impossible for as Luke the writer of Acts quotes, we “live and move and have our very being” in God (17:26).
            Surely, we should fully rely on God through good times and bad, but the bad times force us into the reality that we don’t take our next breath without God granting it. Often troubles arrive larger than our pocket books, our common sense, or our abilities to solve. Those difficult circumstances can cause a broader reliance on God.
            I remember something Joni Eareckson Tada wrote about her arrival in heaven someday. You may recall that she broke her neck in an accident and has been a paraplegic for decades. Her ministry to the suffering multiplied more than one-thousand fold because of her permanent injury and her willingness to praise God and embrace her new limited life.
            She said that her life on earth of being wheelchair bound has been involuntary. No one gave her a choice, or asked if she chose to be paralyzed for the remainder of her life. In heaven, her new eternal body will give her the freedom to move again. She doesn’t plan to jump, run, or shout, but she hopes voluntarily to remain before the Lord, not moving, stillness in worship of God because she chooses to worship him and he always chooses the best path for us.
            Giving thanks for tough circumstances. Yes. It’s possible. We have great advice in Jeremy Taylor’s writings, and proof that it’s possible in the Apostle Paul’s life. Joni Tada has shown bravery and courage trapped in her withered body. Many others have done the same.
            For what will you give thanks? Certainly for the good, and consider thanking God for the awful things, too. Ronnie Milsap has grown to call his lifelong blindness “an inconvenience.” I think the Apostle Paul would agree that God in the middle of any trouble makes all the difference in a life. Humility in the middle of trouble, thanksgiving in tough times, can make mere men seem as angels.
            Happy Thanksgiving.
            Hunger for Humility (Week 48): “When times are good be happy; but when times are bad, consider God has made the one as well as the other” (Ecclesiastes 7:14)              

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Helpful Apologies

Jeremy Taylor, writing from several centuries back, states the sixteenth rule for humble living (out of nineteen), “Be not always ready to excuse every oversight, or indiscretion, or ill action, but if thou beest guilty of it confess it plainly.” To beest humble, one must beest ready to apologize.
            When I’m queen, all citizens will be required to take a class on humble living, at least one whole week, students will practice making apologies. A true apology comes from a contrite heart when the person realizes that a personal mistake or selfishness caused another to suffer.
            This past year, a company charged us double for an annual insurance premium. Fortunately, our bank account had enough to cover the insurance company’s mistake. By the time I discovered the error it was closing time on Friday, and the company employee said she would look into it the next business day. I may have imagined the disbelief in her voice, but it seemed she doubted that they would make such a mistake.
            On Monday morning, the representative phoned me to say they had double billed us. As we closed out our conversation, I thanked her for solving the issue. She replied, “No problem.” I realize that “No problem,” has become a phrase that can mean, “I’m happy to take care of this for you.” However, when a person is troubled in the least or double billed several thousands, a more appropriate admission of guilt keeps customers happy, “I’m sorry we double billed you. We do appreciate your business.”
            I bring this topic up because often the phrase “no problem” has filled in where an apology would be more appropriate. After a customer has struggled with righting a billing issue, the last thing I imagine they want to hear in the same sentence are the words “no” and “problem.” Businesses would do well to train their personnel in making sincere apologies.
            Most apologies come from humble people, who have consciences, and who have made a practice of saying, “I’m sorry.” However, some find confessing a wrong difficult. While others, will only admit a wrong when caught or confronted. We’re also good at vague apologies, “I’m sorry for what happened.” Instead, a noble apology will admit fault and seek forgiveness, “I had no right to call you names. Please forgive me.” Mignon McLaughlin said, “True remorse is never just a regret over consequence; it is a regret over motive.”
            When was the last time you admitted a wrong aloud? Take a minute to ponder that. We commit infractions almost daily, and they often harm someone. In the heat of a moment, we verbally wound husband, wife, child, or close friend. We cast rude or impatient glances. We become exasperated and impatient and it shows in our behavior.  
            Another kind of apology is the one that has a “but” in the middle. “I’m sorry, but my alarm didn’t go off and that’s why I’m late.” As one person said, “Never ruin an apology with an excuse.”
               This week, act upon your pledge to live a humble life. Apologize when you’re wrong. Be sincere. Ask for forgiveness. Leave out the “but.” To better your life and your family’s lives, remember what Lynn Johnston says, “An apology is the superglue of life. It can repair just about anything.”
            Hunger for Humility (Week 46): “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24)

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Help Us Move Up

I'm not superstitious. I depend upon God to supply our basic plus unanticipated needs. Yet, a fortune cookie declared a good general message on Tuesday night as I watched the presidential election results.

            That evening, I tidied areas in my home and prayed strength and guidance over our next president. Many of you did the same – prayed for our country. Maybe you weren’t tidying your house or maybe you were. While straightening, I found two unopened fortune cookies.

            I don’t ever look to fortune telling for my future, because God alone provides for me. However, on a whim, I shuffled the two cookies wondering which one might provide at least an “aha” moment. I was hoping for a message that read, “Your candidate won the election because a voter from an obscure county in Oregon just cast the winning ballot.” Okay, okay, I know fortune cookies have no prediction power. I was only hoping because I was tired and wanted to sleep instead of waiting for election results.

            While the message in the cookie wasn’t profound, the words suggested a godly way for citizens and those who hold public offices to succeed: "He climbs highest who helps another up." Does that sound vaguely familiar? Perhaps, the fortune cookie writers look at Bible verses and spin them. “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble" (James 4:6). I’m an advocate of everyone doing his or her part to give someone who has less a hand up.

            This past week, I had the privilege of attending a CLASS writers’ seminar in Ghost Ranch, New Mexico because Cecil Murphey, co-author of “90 Minutes in Heaven” gave me a tuition scholarship. Murphey had many successes in ghost writing and some books had the fortune of becoming movies, “Gifted Hands” was one. He, in turn, gives writers scholarships to conferences where they network and hone their craft. He reached out to help me up.

            Represented at this conference were organizations with which Christian audiences are familiar: Christian Broadcasting Network, Focus on the Family’s “Adventures in Odyssey” and “Clubhouse” magazines. Also present were editors and publishers of publications such as “The Upper Room,” and book publishers Revell, New Hope, WMU, and AMG. All spoke encouraging words, looked at manuscripts, and pointed writers to noble goals.

            When I turned in my evaluation form, I noted two outstanding features of the conference: the willingness of each writer to help other writers and the ever present enthusiasm for fellow writer’s successes. Competition was absent because we all grabbed a hand and helped a fellow writer up.

             Henry Cabot Lodge said, “The nation has not lived in vain which has given the world Washington and Lincoln, the best great men and greatest good men whom history can show.” Someone had given them a chance and helped them up, and each of these leaders reached out and helped this nation up.

            Although we may never rise to heights of notice in the political field or on a football field, we can write our own fortune by maintaining humility, integrity, and reaching out to help someone up.

            Hunger for Humility (Week: 45): “One man gives freely, yet gains even more.” (Proverbs 11:24)




Wednesday, November 07, 2012

A Poem for the Day after the 2012 Presidential Election

The Nativity

By: G.K. Chesterton

“For unto us a child is born.” — Isaiah


The thatch of the roof was as golden,
Though dusty the straw was and old,
The wind was a peal as of trumpets,
Though barren and blowing and cold:
The mother’s hair was a glory,
Though loosened and torn,
For under the eaves in the gloaming –
A child was born.


O, if a man sought a sign in the inmost
That God shaketh broadest his best,
That things fairest are oldest and simplest,
In the first days created and blest:
Far flush all the tufts of the clover,
Thick mellows the corn,
A cloud shapes, a daisy is opened –
A child is born.


With raw mists of the earth-rise about them,
Risen red from the ribs of the earth,
Wild and huddled, the man and the woman,
Bent dumb o’er the earliest birth;
Ere the first roof was hammered above them.
The first skin was worn,
Before code, before creed, before conscience –
A child was born.


What know we of aeons behind us,
Dim dynasties lost long ago,
Huge empires like dreams unremembered,
Dread epics of glory and woe?
This we know, that with blight and with blessing,
With flower and with thorn,
Love was there, and his cry was among them –
“A child is born.”


And to us, though we pore and unravel
Black dogmas that crush us and mar,
Through parched lips pessimistic dare mutter
Hoarse fates of a frost-bitten star;
Though coarse strains and heredities soil it,
Bleak reasoners scorn,
To us too, as of old, to us also –
A child is born.


Though the darkness be noisy with systems,
Dark fancies that fret and disprove;
Still the plumes stir around us, above us,
The tings of the shadow of love.
Still the fountains of life are unbroken,
Their splendour unshorn;
The secret, the symbol, the promise –
A child is born.


Have a myriad children been quickened,
Have a myriad children grown old,
Grown gross and unloved and embittered,
Grown cunning and savage and cold?
God abides in a terrible patience,
Unangered, unworn,
And again for the child that was squandered –
A child is born.


In the time of dead things it is living,
In the moonless grey night is a gleam,
Still the babe that is quickened may conquer,
The life that is new may redeem.
Ho, princes and priests, have you heard it?
Grow pale through your scorn.
Huge dawns sleep before us, stern changes –
A child is born.


More than legions that toss and that trample,

More than choirs that bend Godward and sing,
Than the blast of the lips of the prophet,
Than the sword in the hands of the King,
More strong against Evil than judges
That smite and that scorn,
The greatest, the last, and the sternest –
A child is born.


And the rafters of toil still are gilded
With the dawn of the star of the heart,
And the Wise Men draw near in the twilight,
Who are weary of learning and art,
And the face of the tyrant is darkened,
His spirit is torn,
For a new King is throned of a nation –
A child is born.


And the mother still joys for the whispered
First stir of unspeakable things;
Still feels that high moment unfurling,
Red glories of Gabriel’s wings.
Still the babe of an hour is a master
Whom angels adorn,
Emmanuel, prophet, annointed –
A child is born.


To the rusty barred doors of the hungry,
To the struggle for life and the din,
Still, with brush of bright plumes and with knocking,
The Kingdom of God enters in.
To the daughters of patience that labour
That weep and are worn,
One moment of love and of laughter –
A child is born.


To the last dizzy circles of pleasure,
Of fashion and song-swimming nights,
Comes yet hope’s obscure crucifixion,
The birth fire that quickens and bites,
To the daughters of fame that are idle,
That smile and that scorn,
One moment of darkness and travail –
A child is born.


And till man and his riddle be answered,
While earth shall remain and desire,
While the flesh of a man is as grass is,
The soul of a man as a fire,
While the daybreak shall come with its banner,
The moon with its horn,
It shall rest with us that which is written –
“A child is born.”


And for him that shall dream that the martyr
Is banished, and love but a toy,
That life lives not through pain and surrender,
Living only through self and its joy,
Shall the Lord God erase from the body
The oath he has sworn?
Bend back to thy work, saying only –
“A child is born.”


And Thou that art still in the cradle,
The sun being crown for Thy brow,
Make answer, our flesh, make an answer.
Say whence art Thou come? Who art Thou?
Art Thou come back on earth for our teaching,
To train or to warn?
Hush! How may we know, knowing only –
A child is born?

Listen to this group, who played and recorded several stanzas of this on their Christmas album, very moving: L'Angelus (Lawn je loose) 

Friday, November 02, 2012

Meek Means?

“Blessed are the debonair for they shall inherit the earth.” When the French translated the third beatitude that is how they rendered, “Blessed are the meek.”

            “Debonair” in English means pleasant manners, courteous and gracious. Derived from Old French it means “of good disposition.” The understanding of “meek” remains vital to living out “meek.” What does it really mean? The dictionary defines meek as “humble, patient, or submissive” also as “overly patient; spiritless; tame.” That’s a bit on the wimpy side for my tastes.   

I much prefer many preachers’ definition of “meek” as “power under control.” Moses fits that description—a solid leader, a man who went before kings, a family man. Moses had his faults, but he was viewed as a “very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3). Jesus described himself as “meek,” and he lived a perfect life, so I don’t see the word meaning “spiritless” in any way.

For today’s Christian, one of the characteristics of a “meek” person means that they remain teachable. When instructed they readily listen to learn. The arrogant, when corrected, might reply with a flippant answer of “Whatever.” Besides not being courteous, that answer reveals an unwillingness to learn, whether it be performing a task or changing a behavior.

            My friend Jan Tickner prays for self-reliant people to “come to the end of themselves.” That prayer opens the door to a university of “higher” learning, where a person recognizes his or her own faults. The, that prayer becomes a launching pad to learn better living habits from others and from the Lord.

            Jesus defined “meek” when he said about himself, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” He then said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle [meek] and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30).

            Jesus invites those who have tired of trying to make it on their own to team up with him, and he is never too proud to step alongside the most unworthy person on earth. He only needs an invitation.

            Imagine yourself in a harness alone and you’re struggling to pull all your burdens against the grade of a hill. Now imagine Jesus slipping the leather straps of the same harness over his shoulders and pulling with you. Shoulder to shoulder, Jesus and you, in sync. Together, you make progress, and you have an all wisdom and compassionate person pulling with you. Now that’s power under control.

The word “debonair” and Jesus seem not to belong in the same sentence. However, when we consider that the word defines the Teacher who will come alongside and help all of us come to the end of ourselves, then Jesus is debonair.

            Hunger for Humility (Week 44): "Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.” (Revelation 3:20 NLT)

            Cathy Messecar welcomes comments at