What a Character!

There’s nothing like a Christmas pageant to get me in the Christmas spirit. I think it’s the humanity infused into such a divine story that does it, that brings it down to my level and reminds me that this isn’t just a story about heavenly angels, although they’re included. And it’s not just about God, although He’s definitely the main character. This story is about people. People being invited by God into His Story. And the invitation is repeated every time the story is repeated.

This year I’ve discovered a character in the Christmas story that I’ve underestimated in the past. He rarely has lines in pageant scripts. He doesn’t have any superhero actions to perform. And I don’t remember the spotlight ever being aimed at him alone.

But this year I’m amazed by how I’ve overlooked this character for so long.

I’m talking about Joseph.

It’s no wonder he’s gone unnoticed. Good grief. He’s married to the Virgin Mary and he’s the temporary, stand-in step-Dad for One-Third of the Holy Trinity. It would be almost impossible to stand out in that family!

But I think he does. At least I do now.

In most of the Christmas pageants I’ve seen or been a part of, any ol’ Joe could play the part of Joseph. As long as you looked good in a bathrobe and could sport a non-descript facial expression and carry a lantern, you could play the part. If the pageant was really in-depth, you might have to say one line: “His name is Jesus.” So even if the ‘first string’ Joe doesn’t show, just about any guy in the audience could step into the role.

But not in the real story.

I’ve been reading the Christmas story again recently. I started in Matthew 1 and Joseph got my attention immediately. Not sure why I’m focused on him, but I’m beginning to see why God chose this man.

I used to think God chose Joseph because here was a guy who didn’t have a problem playing second fiddle. And I do think that was part of the reason. I’m sure Joseph was humbled that God chose him to play this role. But I think more than likely Joseph was chosen because he was already humble.

And righteous. And just. And upright. And tender. And responsive. And responsible. And brave. And self-controlled. And honorable. And respectful.

Through Matthew’s gospel, I’m starting to get a glimpse of the kind of person Joseph was.

You probably know the story. Joseph and Mary are engaged to be married. In their time and culture, an engaged couple doesn’t break up as easily or as often as it happens today. In fact, for them to break an engagement was similar to getting a divorce today.

So when Joseph finds out Mary is pregnant, it’s a HUGE deal. Because Joseph knows it’s not his baby. And if it’s not his baby, then it has to be somebody else’s. Which means that apparently Mary isn’t the person she claimed to be, nor who her friends and family – and Joseph – believed her to be.

Joseph has a decision to make.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been betrayed. Wait, let me rephrase that. I don’t know how many times you’ve been betrayed. I believe it happens to everyone who lives very long.

Betrayal hurts. A lot. And I think the basic human response to betrayal is justice. And – speaking for myself here – not necessarily God’s loving justice. I don’t know about you, but when I’m betrayed, I want things made right—for everyone to see.

And I have to believe Joseph felt that way, too. At least for a moment. Somewhere deep down inside.

But that’s not how he responded. Even though he had every right to. In fact, based on their laws, Joseph could have had Mary stoned to death in public for her “indiscretion.”

But he didn’t.

His planned response was more toward the other end of the spectrum. Joseph was going to divorce Mary secretly. Privately. He was not going to bring shame or disgrace to Mary by making a public spectacle of her.

Joseph laid aside his right to “justice” in order to spare Mary any more humiliation than she would already have to experience.

In the face of seeming ultimate betrayal, Joseph thought of Mary and her predicament above his own desire for retaliation or revenge.

Remind you of anyone?

Say, someone on a cross?

Someone who laid aside HIS rights? Someone who bore shame and disgrace so his betrayers wouldn’t have to?

Joseph definitely has my vote to play his part in The Story. Not only is he a gentle man, humble, and others-focused, but check out what happens next.

God sends a messenger to Joseph. He tells Joseph to not be afraid to marry Mary. That the baby is God’s Son and will be the Savior of the world. And that Joseph should name the baby Jesus.

And Joseph does.

Joseph listens to God, believes God, and does what God tells him to do.

No matter what things look like.

No matter what people say.

No matter what it costs him.

And years later, Jesus obeys His Heavenly Father.

No matter what things look like.

No matter what people say.

No matter what it costs him.

Because of the kind of person I’m discovering Joseph to be, I believe Jesus learned a lot more than carpentry in his earthly father’s workshop.

I don’t think God could have chosen anyone better to play Joseph’s role in God’s Story.

This year, I’m shining the spotlight on Joseph. I think there’s a lot I can learn from this character!

Color in the Box

A flower captured my attention the other day. It wasn’t an unusual shape or size. It was an unusual color. It was a beautiful rich, deep color that I couldn’t name immediately. It was too purple to be pink and too pink to be purple. I finally realized it was magenta.

Remember magenta? That beautiful color you only got in the 64-crayon box? The color you used in every picture? I’ve known magenta since I was a kid, yet didn’t recognize it in real life. It looked so different out of the box. It was rich, deep, vibrant. Alive. Real. Three-dimensional. It took time for me to realize what it was.

It reminded me of Romans 2:28-29. The connection isn’t obvious, but stick with me. It says, “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter, and his praise is not from men, but from God.”

God used this scripture in my life several years ago . . . when I was stuck on following rules, keeping commandments, checking off do’s and don’ts, working really hard to be a good Christian. God used it to show me that what I was ‘doing’ was not what He wanted. He doesn’t want a list with everything checked off. He wants my heart.

The commandments God gave the Israelites painted a picture of people in close relationship with Him—how they would honor God, how they would treat other people. But as time went on, the Israelites. . . just like me . . . got busy checking do’s and don’ts off their lists instead of spending time with their heavenly Father.

When God sent His son Jesus, He showed us ‘in the flesh’ how a close relationship with the Father plays out in real life. The Jewish leaders, who knew the commandments best, had the hardest time recognizing Jesus. They were looking for a rule-keeper instead of someone with a heart sold out to God–someone totally focused on God’s mission of loving people and changing the world. They didn’t recognize the 3-D version. He wasn’t the person they had imagined. He didn’t look like the color in the box.

It’s much easier to follow a list of do’s and don’ts than to have an intimate relationship with anyone, especially an invisible God.

But do we want to be just a color in the box?

cars, boats, tow trucks

Had to have my car towed this morning.

Yesterday I stopped by my apartment complex office on my way home and when I got back in my car, it wouldn’t start. The radio worked, but no other sound. No clicking. No churning. Nada.

Later, we tried jumping it off, but to no avail. No sound. Nothing.

So I had it towed this morning. And instead of taking it to the local Honda dealership as I had originally planned, I had it towed to a small auto repair shop that I knew nothing about, but that was highly recommended to me by the tow truck driver.

The shop owner was very nice and there was contemporary Christian music playing. Not that either of those has anything to do with how well these guys can repair autos. But I’m just hoping I don’t get ripped off!

One of the main reasons I decided to go to this shop is that they give you a free loaner! And I had a list of errands I needed to run this afternoon and plans with friends this weekend. And I didn’t know how long I would be without my car. HOWEVER … I found out that “free loaner” is code for OLD CHRYSLER BOAT! And this boat has their logo and phone number plastered over the entire back windshield!

But I don’t need to complain because it is FREE! All I have to do is replace any gas I’ve used. And since it looks like I will only drive it a total of 10 miles, I’m not sure I need to replace any.

The shop owner called and said they found the problem. Well, actually they found the problems. There are two. First I need a new starter. That’s why it wouldn’t start! Second they found a “VERY LOOSE battery cable end” (repair guy’s lingo, not mine!). He said he is surprised that I have not been stranded somewhere because of it.

(And to think the local dealership did a thorough diagnostic inspection of my car a couple months ago?!?)

Anyway, it’s going to cost me only one arm and half a leg. But hey! They can get it done before 5:00 today and I don’t have to drive that OLD CHRYSLER BOAT around all weekend! I think it’s worth it, don’t you?!?

He also said they did a thorough inspection of my car and that I have apparently maintained it very well. He said they couldn’t find anything else wrong with it. I said I hope not because it’s only 10.5 years old and I’m planning on driving it at least another 2-3 years!

I have found this whole situation to be very stressful. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because this is first time I’ve had to have a car towed (and therefore the first time I’ve ridden in a tow truck!). The few times I’ve had a car problem that couldn’t be easily fixed, I’ve at least been able to eventually drive it where it needed to go.

This situation brought back memories of a time when my daughter’s dad and I had car trouble on a business trip. We purchased a new battery, but that didn’t fix the problem. It was then diagnosed as a bad alternator. We decided to ‘limp’ back home and have our good friend/great auto mechanic do the repairs for us instead of taking a chance with someone out of town that we didn’t know.

However, the trip home took longer than expected and I distinctly remember riding home in the back seat on my knees with a flashlight in each hand, shining them out the back windshield whenever a car approached. Because of the bad alternator, we ended up with no lights. And dark got to us before we got home.

So maybe today SHOULD have been my SECOND time to have a car towed!

Anyway, hopefully it will be my LAST!

My job

In the first chapter of Romans, Paul talks about the reputation of the believers in Rome . . . what they were being commended for.  I find it very interesting that it is so different from what we typically commend churches and believers for today.

They weren’t commended for their growth. For the number of converts they made or how many people they baptized.

They weren’t commended for their attendance records or how many members they had.

People weren’t raving about their programs. About how great their different ministries were doing.

The headlines weren’t about how beautiful their building was or how state of the art their services were.

People weren’t praising them for their good deeds. For how well they ministered to the people in their community. About the after school programs for the neighborhood kids or the food bank they kept well stocked or the yard work they did for the elderly.

As good as all these things are, that’s not the main thing being talked about.

Romans 1:8 says, “[the report of] your faith is made known to all the world and is commended everywhere.

Their FAITH.

That’s what was making international headlines.

Not their good deeds, not the number of their converts, not their selfless generosity.

Paul and apparently a lot of other people were talking about their FAITH.

Not their religion. Not their denomination. Not their belief system.

But their “believing” system.

I once heard someone say that our job as Christ-followers is to believe that God can do His job.

Sounds simple enough.

Believe that God can do His job.

To me I think this means going through my day doing my part: making myself available to God to make me more like Him as an employee, a friend, a neighbor–whatever roles I fulfill each day. While trusting God to do His part: open doors of opportunity, change hearts of people around me, change my heart about the people around me, convict, convince, provide, comfort, heal, calm, redeem, revive, renew, restore, grant favor, give life . . . all the things only HE can do.

That takes a lot of pressure off me.

I still have a part to play. I still have to make myself available to God to change and to use. And I still have to believe that He can and will change me and use me. And then I just need to let Him.

Faith.    Believing God can do His job.

Is that the headline being written about us today?

3 questions

I recently started reading the book of Romans during my quiet time, and I found the first verse fascinating.

It says, “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God”

In that one verse Paul answers three critical questions about himself. Three questions that I think we all need to answer for ourselves, especially if we want to make a difference in our world.

Here they are.

Question 1. Who or what am I a slave to?

The easy, spiritual answer is obvious. But if I look deeper, there are several options I could choose from.

Is it the opinions of people I admire?

The whims of my boss?

The balance of my 401k?

The fashion of the day?

The reactions of my friends?

The adoration of my child?

Does it change based on my situation? The time of day? The season of my life?

Question 2. Who am I called to be? / What am I called to do?

Who am I? Really? Am I trying to be someone I’m not? How hard am I striving to be the person I was created to be?

What am I designed for? What have I been created and called to do?

How is my calling different from my career? How well do they co-exist in my life?

Question 3. What have I been set apart for?

What was I placed on Earth to do — that no one else on Earth can do as well as me?

What specific role am I to fulfill?

What piece of the puzzle am I?

Where do I “fit” in the big picture?

Paul says he is a slave of Jesus. Not the Roman government. Not the local synagogue. It is much easier to please JUST one than to try to please EVERY one! And if the ONE we’re living to please is Jesus, then we know everything else will work out for our good and His glory.

Paul says he was called to be a special messenger. He knew what his career was (tentmaking) and what his calling was (preaching). Being a God-follower and fulfilling our calling does not necessarily mean quitting our job and going to the mission field. Most of the time God wants us following Him right where we are.

And Paul knew that he was set apart specifically to share God’s good news — especially with the Gentiles (see verse 5). No two of us have the same perspective. No two of us have had the same experiences. God has placed each of us where we are for a purpose. There are people in our path that we are perfectly designed to reach, to touch, to connect with.

Paul’s role was a unique piece of the puzzle.

So is mine.

So is yours.

But in order to fulfill our roles we need to find the answers to those questions.

LOST in the Dog Park

No, this isn’t a post about THAT television show in a different location. I only saw LOST a couple of times a few years ago. I was never able to get into it. Now give me some NCIS or some Chuck and I’m all over it!! But LOST has always been lost on me!

Anyway . . . this post is about my dog getting lost in the dog park. Well, actually it’s about getting separated  . . . from my dog . . . at a dog park. Now my dog will tell you that I’m the one that got lost. But that’s just her insecurity and embarrassment about the whole ordeal doing the talking. And I wouldn’t listen to it if I were you.

It was my first experience at a dog park and I thought I was doing pretty well. We were three quarters of the way around the entire circular path and I thought we were home free. Then we met a group of people and dogs that we had already met on our way up the first half of the trail. They were walking in the opposite direction from us. So we stopped and ‘chatted’ and ‘sniffed’ and I slowly started meandering in the direction we were heading . . . believing that Mel would soon leave her ‘friends’ and rejoin me. After a minute, I decided to retrieve her. However, when I reached the ridge and looked down at the group, Mel was nowhere to be seen!

I looked further down the path that we had just traveled and she wasn’t there either. I called her name, but to no avail. So I ran across the middle, up the hill toward the other side of the dog park . . . where we had started our journey. When I reached the summit, I saw Mel . . . running as fast as she could along the trail in the opposite direction of the way we had originally traveled it.

I was able to cut her off before she ran all the way to the gate. She was VERY happy to see me! And needless to say, she stayed close to my side as we continued on to the gate and went home.

It was very traumatic for her . . . and for ME. It’s not a big dog park and she doesn’t have a lot of stamina. So I’m sure if I had continued on the path toward the gate, Mel would probably have been sitting there waiting for me, ready to go home and rest. But I didn’t want her wandering around by herself, running up to everyone she saw thinking it might be me. I also didn’t want her to think for a minute that I had left her. I wanted to be sure she was okay. She was my responsibility.

I was thinking about that experience a few days later and it reminded me of something else. It reminded me of ME . . . and my relationship with God. Only I’m Mel.

It reminded me of how easy it is for me to sometimes get ‘off track’. To get distracted by people I meet on the path and to get involved with them and to get completely turned around and headed in another direction. Pretty soon I’m not able to find my way back. And I can’t hear God’s voice.

It would be so simple to just turn around and head in the direction I was going. God would be right there waiting for me to rejoin Him. But sometimes when I get involved in conversations and activities and game-playing, I get turned around and I’m not sure where I was and how to get back there.

And sometimes . . . like Mel . . . when I realize that I’ve lost my way, I panic. And I start running as hard as I can BACKWARDS! Searching desperately for Him. Back down the path . . . one I’ve traveled in the past . . . where I KNOW for a fact we were walking together.

And always . . . like I did with Mel . . . God crosses the terrain between us, goes however far is needed and does whatever it takes to meet me where I am. To be sure “I find Him.”

And just like Mel was so relieved when she heard me call her name and when she recognized me on the path . . . I am always very relieved when I hear God call my name again and when I recognize that He’s there . . . on my path . . . wherever I find myself desperately seeking Him.

Even if it happens to be in a dog park!

Writing

I’ve signed up for a writing class. It only meets 4 times for 2 hours and it’s a 101 class. There’s no critiqueing (thankfully! and by the way, how do you spell that? Apparently I didn’t spell it correctly because it has red dots under it, but you’re just going to have to deal with it for now. I’m not looking it up.) and there’s no reading your work to the class (hallelujah! And I can spell reading!). The class is designed to give you guidance as to whether or not you really WANT to write, what your strengths are, what kind of writing you might be interested in and good at, and then some suggestions as to what your next steps should be.

I’m really looking forward to it. I have no idea if I’ll pursue anything past this particular class, but I’ve always been interested in writing and thought I would see what I find out about myself.

In preparation for the class, I took a friend’s advice and bought Stephen King’s book about writing. I have never read a Stephen King book and as far as I know I’ve only watched one of his movies (Carrie). I’m a pretty big scaredy cat and Carrie and the few clips I’ve seen of some of his other movies have let me know that is not a genre I need to get involved in . . . because I tend to need to sleep on a regular basis and sometimes I actually find it necessary to go outside after the sun has gone down.

But I have to say that I have really enjoyed Stephen’s book on writing. It’s been very interesting to learn what was going on in his life while he was writing certain books. And it was fascinating to read about when he received his first really big check.  I recommend the book if you’re a Stephen King fan or if you’re interested in writing or if you’re just looking for an interesting read.

His book is not a textbook but he has given one assignment (so far, but I’m almost at the end) and it is proving to be very fascinating. The few things I have written in my life have been non-fiction. I have never even thought I would be interested in writing fiction . . . and I’m still not convinced. But the exercise he has me working on right now is fiction and I’m having fun with it!

He compares writing a story (fiction) with unearthing a dinosaur skeleton (or something like that). So for the exercise, he gave us a particular situation and asked us to ‘uncover’ the story. I know VERY LITTLE about writing . . . so I’m sure there are other ways people write . . . but this particular process has been very good to Stephen King so I’m not going to question it.

I still can’t imagine me spending my time writing fiction, but I guess I’ll see what I learn from the 101 class.

Can’t wait! I’ll keep the two of you posted.

conspiracy theory

I’m not talking about a conspiracy theory related to politics or religion. I’m talking about conspiring WEATHER FORECASTERS!!

When I lived in Atlanta, I thought it was just a HotLanta thang. I believed that the Atlanta Metro Chambers of Commerce were in cahoots with the weather forecasters. No matter what the Weather Channel was predicting for the coming weekend, every local television and radio station within 100 miles of Atlanta was predicting a beautiful weekend! That is until about noon Friday . . . when it was useless to pretend the sun was going to come out and shine in the middle of a monsoon . . . or in the summer when it was unthinkable to tell you it wasn’t 100 degrees in the shade with 99 percent humidity . . . when you’ve already sweated through every article of clothing on your body as well as an entire bottle of Arrid Extra Dry!

I believe the Chambers wanted everyone to go ahead and make plans to attend their chosen events scheduled for the weekend . . . and they were afraid if the weather forecasters shared the REAL FORECAST, no one would buy tickets, no one would reserve a hotel room, and everyone would do what made perfect sense . . . STAY. AT. HOME.

Unfortunately, I haven’t found things to be very different now that I live in Denver. Take this week for instance.

Sunday night I watched the forecast for the coming week. It helps me to mentally prepare for my daily commute, and to make sure I have enough layers of clothes in my closet and enough gallons of snow melt in my trunk! And I was so excited that there was sunshine and warm weather (relatively speaking) scheduled all week and through the coming weekend! No snow! Not even a cloudy day! And a GORGEOUS weekend coming around to top it all off!

HOWEVER, by the time Tuesday rolled around, the forecast high temperatures had dropped several degrees on most of the days and we had not one but TWO chances of snow . . . the second being during the GORGEOUS weekend that had been predicted less than 48 hours prior.

The only difference I see in the Atlanta vs. Denver conspiracy theories is that I believe it was the Atlanta Metro Chambers of Commerce conspiring with the local weather forecasters.

Here in Denver, I think the co-conspirators are local psychologists! I’m sure they must be completely booked in the winter . . . and the last thing THEY need is for Denver weather forecasters to tell us the REAL forecast! That would just send everyone over the edge.

Look

Sometimes the oddest phrase will jump out at me when I’m reading the Bible. And sometimes if I spend enough time with it, eventually it starts to make a little sense . . . to become relevant . . . at least to my life.

I’m finishing up the book of Matthew (still) and I came across an odd phrase. Verse  1 in Matthew 28 says that the Mary’s went to “look at the tomb”.

This is on the Sunday morning after Jesus was crucified and buried on Friday. Not only was Jesus buried in a tomb and a large stone placed in front of the entrance, but because He had told His followers He would rise from the dead, Roman guards were on duty there to be sure Jesus’s dead body remained exactly where it had been placed.

So when the Mary’s decided to go to the tomb that morning, they apparently weren’t expecting to be able to do anything. Matthew says they were going to “look” at it.

Jesus was dead. His body was lifeless. The tomb was sealed. And guarded.

The Mary’s knew there was nothing they could do when they got there . . . except “look”.

But they went anyway.

They were helpless. And hopeless. And probably disappointed. And I’m sure emotionally spent.

But they went anyway. Just to “look”.

What about me? Do I go anyway?

When everything in a situation seems hopeless, do I still go . . . just to “look”?

Have I invested enough of my life in my relationship with God that even when I see no hope, even when I’ve been devastated, even when things haven’t worked out like I thought He said they would . . . and even when I know for a fact there is absolutely no thing I can possibly do about any of it . . .

Do I still go . . . just to “look”? Maybe from a different perspective. Possibly with a new set of eyes.

And if I do go, what am I looking for?

What were the Mary’s looking for?

Because of their close relationship with Jesus and because of who they had known Him to be . . . did they possibly have a glimmer of hope? A mustard seed’s worth of faith? An ounce of belief?

Were they taking those with them to the tomb? Were they hoping against hope that He would do something beyond what was humanly possible in the situation?

Isn’t that what He asks of us? What He asks of me? A mustard seed’s worth of faith (that’s not much!) . . . that He is who He says He is and that He will do what He says He will do?

Even when things appear to be hopeless? . . . . Or maybe especially when things appear to be hopeless!

So what am I doing? Have I given up? Or am I going to “look”?

Am I paralyzed with grief or fear at the loss of a relationship, a job, a lifestyle, a calling, a purpose . . . that I thought would last? . . . that I thought would turn out differently?

Or am I getting up and taking the ounce of belief I have left . . . and going back to the place where my hope died . . .  just to “look”?

To see what God might decide to change . . . beyond what is humanly possible?

What aspect of my life have I given up on? Could it be that God hasn’t?

What is it in my life that appears to be over? Done. Dead. Buried. Sealed up. Hopeless.

Is it something God may want to resurrect? Possibly in a totally changed form?

And how will I ever know . . .  if I don’t take my tiny mustard seed of faith and go . . . just to “look”?

another second chance

There’s a song I’ve heard a few times on the radio recently.  I don’t know the name of the song or who sings it. I really can’t remember many of the words, but three words have stuck with me since I first heard the song. Those three words are “another second chance”. Not just a second chance, but another second chance.

I think those words struck a chord with me because that’s where I find myself at this point in my life. I don’t need a second chance. I need another second chance. And not just with this blog.

Fortunately for me God specializes in second chances. On top of second chances. On top of second chances.