Heroes and Villains: Delilah

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Judges 16:4-22.

Four-legged children have been members of our family since the very beginning. Andrew moved to Atlanta ahead of me in 2007 because his job was set to start before mine…and I am pretty sure that it was only after 96 hours in the city that he sent me a picture of a little Schnauzer face that was now ours.

Normally I would not recommend surprising a family member with a four-legged child, but when that four-legged child is as wonderful as our Samson, I would recommend it every time!

A year and a half later our sweet Delilah joined our family. Samson picked her out from a rescue in Middleton, Georgia. Samson and Delilah were not from the same litter, but that did not stop them from acting like brother and sister – two pups that had been together all their lives.

Now something about Schnauzers…they are pups…they are also silent ninjas. We have a rule in our house called The Little Mermaid Rule when it comes to the puppadoos. Ariel wanted to be “where the people are” – and our pups need to be where the people are…because if they are not…who knows what will ensue!

Consider one Thanksgiving Dinner at my parents’ house. The family was busily eating in the dining room and we all figured that our four-legged children were under the table hoping someone might share some holiday cheer with them. How quiet and patient they were being! As the meal concluded I rose to take my plate into the kitchen to start the clean up process and saw a mess of turkey juice all on the floor! What in the world!? As I rounded the corner of the countertop, there knelt Samson and Delilah, astride the trashcan, chowing down on the remainders of the turkey carcass my mother had already put in the trashcan!

Samson was the r-u-n-t of his litter; no way he was reaching into a 13-gallon trashcan to fish out a turkey carcass…but Delilah…if the carcass was near the top, could definitely reach it.

Little furry co-conspirators! It is a good thing they are cute…otherwise my mother would have had an outright fit!

Just like our four-legged children, the stars of our Scripture passage this week find themselves in a mess of their own creation – a mess fed and intensified by temptation for more. Temptation is a slippery slope. It causes us to lose our center, to lose sight of what anchors us, to forget or skew the core principles – the covenant – that we share with God that guides the actions of our hearts, heads, and hands. Temptation causes us to lose sight of humanity – our own humanity and the humanity of others. People become objects, the means to ends, useful only in the ways that they accomplish what we want or fulfill our needs. And that is not how our God created us to be.

A inescapable litany throughout the book of Judges is “the people did what was right in their own eyes.” This is the cause of temptation. The effect of temptation is separation – estrangement – from God and others. Resisting temptation – repenting from temptation – brings our lives back into focus by doing what is right in God’s eyes. Doing what is right in God’s eyes is an invitation to sacrifice, to put others before ourselves, to follow the ways of the Spirit rather than pursuing the ways of the flesh.

Our God is good and our God provides. When we fall to temptation we challenge the belief that our God will provide. Waiting for God’s provision is, at times, a struggle. But I believe God purposefully uses those times of waiting to teach us if what we desire is truly important and if what we desire is appropriate for that time in our lives.

Personally, I would rather wait to eat turkey that is nicely sliced on a plate than fish bones out of a trash can and gnaw on a carcass. What about you?

Prayer: “Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed, for I am thy God and will still give thee aid; I’ll strengthen and help thee, and cause thee to stand upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.”* Amen.

*“How Firm A Foundation,” The United Methodist Hymnal 529.

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Atonement: Family Transaction

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Genesis 22:1-19

This Sunday is the first Sunday of Lent!  We also “spring ahead” at 2am on Sunday morning.  Three cheers for more sunlight…and being to worship on time!  Woot-Woot-Woohoo!

This week I find it rather fitting to study the almost child sacrifice of Isaac alongside the beginning of Lent, which is a season of sacrifice.  Both occasions – the pericope from Genesis and the liturgical season – are opportunities for obedience.

God gave Abraham instructions and he obeyed.  He started and – at the right time – God stopped him!  God provided another sacrifice – a gift of a ram so that Abraham could retain his greatest gift, his son.

The season of Lent presents us with an invitation to reflect and fast – reflect – on who we are and what we do; fast – that who we are and what we do make us more into who God desires.  We are not called to mandatory obedience in this reflecting and fasting…but I have to question why we would shy away from it?  Is it because we are too proud?  Is it because we are scared of what might be revealed?  Or is it because we are resigned in thinking that no change can come our way?

This past weekend I had the opportunity to lead enrichment sessions at a conference women’s retreat.  My session, Letters of Treasure, was a time for retreat participants to write letters to women currently incarcerated in our local area.  Our mission was to remind these ladies that they are women of worth; that they are treasured, beloved, and special; that they belong to God.  We wanted to affirm in these ladies that change is possible, that God is already at work in their lives, and that God is inviting their participation to continue their change to lead more healthy and whole lives.

In the letters we asked the ladies to consider who they were, who they are now, and who they wanted to be.  We encouraged the ladies to (1) identify their healthy behaviors and then (2) either transform unhealthy behaviors or leave them aside completely.  We invited them to reflect and and fast.  Why?  Because we believe change is possible.  Because we are affirmed that we bear the change of Christ in our bodies.  Because we believe reflecting and fasting are signs of our obedient faith.

It’s not about who these ladies have been or what they have done.  It’s about who God will lead them to be and what God will lead them to do.

The same is true for each one of us.

During this Lent I will take pause to reflect upon who I have been and ask God to lead me, break me, craft me into who God wants me to be.  Tonight I will starkly remember that all that I have is because of all that God has given and continues to give with the sign of the cross upon my brow.

Ashes to ashes.  Dust to dust.

During this Lent I will fast from all bread related products as a way of standing in solidarity with my neighbors worldwide who hunger and ache for daily bread.  My prayer is that in these 40 days God will lead my heart and my body to God’s true and everlasting nourishment that as God’s vessel I will be able to nourish others.

What will be your reflection this Lent?  Where will God lead you to fast?  How will God encourage, challenge, and increase your obedience?

Believe in change.  Be prepared for change.

Obey and change.

Prayer: “O God, maker of every thing and judge of all that you have made, from the dust of the earth you have formed us and from the dust of the earth you would raise us up.  By the redemptive power of the cross, create in us clean hearts and put within us a new spirit, that we may repent of our sins and lead lives worthy of your calling; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.”*

*”Ash Wednesday,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 353.

Just Walk Across The Room: Matthew Party

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 5:27-32

This past weekend I had the privilege of celebrating two important events:

1. Andrew’s 29th Birthday!  We went to the beach early in the morning so he could work out with his Cross-Fit buddies in a Beach-Work-Out-Of-The-Day.  They ran relay races, completed calisthenics in the wave break area, and competed in tug-of-war!  Andrew dominated the tug-of-war.  He’s the KING!

What did I do during all of this?  Sat under the umbrella and read a book.  I do yoga people!

2. We left the beach and trekked up the Florida Eastern Seaboard to Jacksonville to celebrate his aunt and uncle’s 50th wedding anniversary.  It was a surprise party!!  Aunt Vivian and Uncle James were completed surprised and amazed to be surrounded by family and friends from all over the state and from all moments of their life together as a couple.  We hugged, we laughed, we ate so much food.  Everything a party should be.

Before we shared cake at the anniversary party my sister-in-law, Vivian – named for her Aunt Vivian – and my mother-in-law Dale offered toasts to the happy couple.  Both were sincere and full of love.  Collectively we all shed a few happy tears.

Dale’s toast, however, stilled my breath in my chest.  You see, Dale’s father died at a very young age leaving his wife and four children behind.  Dale’s mother soon became very ill and lost both her hearing and her eyesight.  She died at a young age as well.  The two oldest children – Vivian and Jimmy were already out of the house, working full-time.  Vivian married the love of her life, James.  After seven months of marriage their mother died, leaving the two youngest children, Dale and Glenn, without parents and without a home.  In those days there wasn’t really a proper foster-care system in place, meaning that Dale and Glenn would have been left to the streets.

Well Vivian, she wasn’t having any of that.

She took in her sister and brother and raised them.  She did not go to college so that she could ensure her younger siblings had everything they needed for school and meals and clothing.  She sacrificed her personal dreams so that her siblings would be able to achieve their dreams.

Dale looked at her sister in the eye and thanked her for taking her in.  Without that gift neither she nor her husband, nor her three kids, nor her daughter-in-law (me) nor her son-in-law would be in that place, in this family, today.

I was standing next to Andrew.  By the end of her toast I was holding him close.

//

Vivian sacrificed or gave up what she had in mind for her life to follow a new path that opened doors for her, for her family, and for her faith.  I cannot help but think of her – and James – when I consider the text for this week.  Matthew, also called Levi, sacrificed the life he had come to know to follow a new path – the path of Christ – and following that path surely opened doors for him, for his family, and for his faith.

I am sure that he experienced some internal struggle as he considered how he would negotiate the relationships he had before knowing Christ with the relationships he has now that he knows Christ. So instead of going all “United Methodist” and establishing a committee to figure out what to do next, he hosted a party.  At first this might not seem like the best decision, but it worked.  He got everyone together – from his past and in his present – to celebrate the transformation he had experienced at the hands of Christ’s forgiveness.

Established friends and new friends – together – celebrating, connecting, communicating, collaborating.  The party was an opportunity for people to gather, to rub elbows, to meet new friends, to start new relationships, to listen and respond to the leading of the Spirit, to point to where God is already present, to walk across the room.

I can always find a reason to celebrate…and celebrations are always better with friends.  So plan one, host one, invite the people important in your life, growing and potential believers alike!  Celebrate and talk!  Talk and celebrate!  If someone asks you why you are celebrating, share like Dale did – from the heart – about the difference someone made in your life, whether that person was God or someone in whom you feel God’s presence.  That witness is powerful.  That witness is life-giving.  To someone hearing you, that witness could be eye-opening and even life-saving.

Have a Matthew Party.  And walk across the room.

Prayer: “O use me, Lord, use even me, just as thou wilt, and when, and where, until thy blessed face I see, thy rest, thy joy, thy glory share.”*  Amen.

*”Lord, Speak to Me,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 463.

Jesus: The Early Years ~ Happy Epiphany!

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 2:1-12

At Reeves the children have been anxiously anticipating the arrival of the Wise Men since the beginning of Advent.

Yep…that was 6 weeks ago…

I don’t have many pet peeves when it comes to Scripture…but the “harmony” that tends to happen with the Nativity story is one of them.  Yes, I know that nativity sets come complete with wise men.  And yes, the wise men have been in my personal nativity scene since I set it out during Advent.

But

I know that the wise men arrive at Epiphany rather than showing up with the shepherds the night Christ was born.

So to teach this lesson to the kiddos at Reeves we played “Where’s Waldo Wise Men” each week during the Children’s Moment since the beginning of Advent and we will conclude it this Sunday.

Can you guess where the wise men will be this week?!?!

Weekly the children received a “text message” from the wise men – yes…they are quite cutting edge and technologically advanced – that included clues about where they were on their pilgrimage to Bethlehem.  Each week the wise men made their way closer and closer to the creche.

This week they arrive and present their gifts to the Christ child.

As I think of the wise men presenting their gifts, I am reminded of a field trip I took during elementary school to the Polk Theatre to view the play The Gift of the Magi.  I remember expecting the wise men to be there…I knew all about that story.  But this was another story of love and giving…and more so of sacrifice…and I think it is equally fitting for us as celebrate Epiphany.

(You can read the full text here…I will summarize.)

Jim and Della loved one another very much.  Their love was their greatest treasure.  They did not have very much money, but each wanted to give the other a special Christmas gift.  Della had long beautiful hair; she decided she would cut and sell her hair in order to have money to purchase Jim a chain for his golden watch.  That night when Jim returned home he was astonished to see Della had cut her hair.  He handed Della a slim package – her Christmas present.  She opened it to find two beautiful hair combs.  He confessed that he sold his watch to purchase the combs.  Della confessed that she cut and sold her hair to purchase his gift, the watch chain.

Each made a sacrifice for one they loved out of love.

From the wise men we have the tradition of giving and receiving gifts.  From The Gift of the Magi we learn that true wise men [wise people] are those that give freely and wholly and lovingly and sacrificially, not withholding anything.

Reflection: We see again and again throughout Holy Scripture people giving so that others may have and we see the blessings that follow this giving and receiving.  In this new year what gift might God be leading us to give our partners, our children, our family members, our co-workers, our neighbors that we will experience greater blessings?  How might God be leading us to live a life marked by giving freely and wholly and lovingly and sacrificially, not withholding anything?  How might God be calling us to continue the legacy of the magi all year long?

Prayer: Teach us how to give, O God, as you give, openly, freely, generously, and then to find, as we always do, that you have replenished what was given, and more besides; for your openness, freedom, and generosity are far more than we have any right to expect, and we thank you, through Christ our Lord.  Amen.  ~ by John Killinger