Speak, Lord

It’s 3:27 in the morning, and I can’t sleep.

I went to bed just after 10 PM, and fell right asleep, but then I woke up a little before 2, and haven’t been able to go back to sleep, so I got up. I’ve listened to some relaxing music. I’ve sipped a little Jameson. I’m still awake.

Yes, I have a lot on my mind, but it doesn’t feel like it’s any more than usual – I mean, I always have a lot on my mind. We all do.

My wife and I have lately talked several times about how noisy and chaotic life has become. As a household, as a society, we’re never quiet. It’s almost like we’re afraid to get quiet. When it’s busy, when it’s noisy, we can ignore God, and pretend everything’s okay. When it gets quiet, we can’t pretend any more.

It reminds me of the Old Testament story of Samuel, living at the Tabernacle. As a boy, he kept waking up when a voice called his name. He would run to the aged priest Eli, to see what he needed, but Eli hadn’t called him, and sent him back to bed. Finally, the old man realized what was happening and told Samuel that it was the Lord who was speaking to him, and the next time it happened, Samuel should say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

It’s quiet. It’s still. I’m listening.

Speak, Lord.

The Most Important Words

Proverbs 25:11 says, “A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” In other words, just as the right accessory can beautifully frame a piece of jewelry, so the right word at just the right time can make a big difference to someone who needs to hear it.

Additionally, James 3:9-10 reminds us, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.” All of us can think of people in our lives who have had a big influence over us, who always seemed to be able to say just the right thing at the right time. We can also remember times when we have been wounded by the careless words of someone whose opinion mattered to us.

The old saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is very mistaken. As we enter the new year, let’s remember that the words we use make a big difference to those who hear them — sometimes with the power to build up, but other times with a terrible power to hurt or tear down.

Many people are familiar with a document called “A Short Course in Human Relations.” It was a list of what the writer considered the most important words and phrases that we can use in dealing with other people.  After reflecting on this, and with an eye towards beginning the new year by being more mindful of the power of “a word fitly spoken,” here are my suggestions for the most important words we can say to each other:

 

  • Please.
  • I’m sorry.
  • I love you.
  • Thank you.
  • Let me help.
  • You can do it!
  • I made a mistake.
  • What do you think?
  • You did a good job.
  • We (As opposed to I, me, my or mine)

 

May we all be known as people who build up others with words of encouragement! God’s richest blessings on you and yours for a prosperous, safe and happy 2015.

 

Reflections on the Fruit of the Spirit

(I realize I’ve already posted another blog for this week, but I had something I wanted to get off my chest. Hope you don’t mind! And fair warning – this is a rant regarding preparing a Bible lesson, so it won’t hurt my feelings if you want to stop reading right now.)

In our Sunday morning Bible class at Beltway, we’re getting ready to start a new series for the summer on the Fruit of the Spirit, Gal. 5:22-23. In preparation for that, I’ve been doing a lot of reading about that well known text, but I’m not finding much that’s terribly helpful for the questions I have.

grapes1_0Oh, don’t get me wrong – there’s no shortage of devotional material on the Fruit of the Spirit. One well-known writer interprets the passage based on Jesus’ parable from Matt. 13 on the Sower & the Four Soils. Another wants to turn the Fruit of the Spirit into a commentary on Jesus’ words from John 15 about the vine and the branches and being fruitful. Other guys write about it from a strongly Calvinistic point of view, turning it into nothing more than a sermon against legalism. Now, all of that is fine, but before we look into comparing other scriptures to this text from Galatians, how about if we compare it to the rest of Galatians?

On the other hand, there are some excellent commentaries out there on each of the nine character traits that are listed, complete with excellent word studies on each. These studies describe the attribute being discussed, its background in secular Greek literature, other Biblical references, and so forth. Again, all of that is fine, and will be helpful in understanding the Spiritual characteristics involved, but the question remains, What is this list doing here, and what was Paul’s purpose in writing it?

Even bringing up the subject of Galatians gets people off topic. Mention Galatians, and a lot of NT scholars want to jump to Romans, where Paul supposedly gives a more thorough discussion of the points he raises in Galatians, OR they want to jump to Acts, and examine the alleged discrepancies between the historical timeline Paul presents in Galatians, versus the events as recorded by Luke in Acts. All of which gives me a headache, and none of which helps me answer the basic question: What was Paul’s original purpose in making this list?

I’m pretty sure he wasn’t looking to generate material for us to stick on coffee mugs and bumper stickers.

Here’s what I’ve figured out so far. Paul starts off in this letter by reminding them of his background, and how that his commission as an apostle did NOT come through any human agency, nor was his message and preaching beholden to the other apostles. Rather, in both cases, his authority to act as well as the content of his preaching and teaching, came directly from God. But then, with bluntness that the people of Galatia would have appreciated, he calls them “foolish and stupid” for abandoning the good news that he had brought, and instead, allowing themselves to be hoodwinked into accepting a false gospel that preached that faith in Jesus was not enough for salvation, and that we had to obey works of the law in order to earn God’s approval. In unmistakeable terms, he rebukes them for rejecting the beauty and simplicity of salvation by grace, in favor of the treadmill of a works-based legalism.

Throughout the book, he describes this by listing a number of contrasts – law vs. faith/grace; children of Hagar vs. children of Sarah; human divisiveness vs. the oneness of God; slavery vs. freedom. And the contrast he makes most frequently – and most eloquently – is flesh vs. Spirit. And in this specific case, it is the works of the flesh – uncleanness of all sorts – vs. the Fruit of the Spirit.

In that picture, you have the organic nature of growing fruit contrasted against the ceaseless striving of works; the produce of God’s Spirit, vs. the products of our own efforts; the life-giving and life-affirming qualities that bless others, compared to the selfish and destructive practices of a me-centered existence.

And, not for nothing, we should note that it’s the WORKS – plural – of the flesh versus the FRUIT – singular – of the Spirit. There is only one fruit. We should not speak of the “fruits” of the Spirit. There is one fruit, and it manifests itself in various ways, depending on the specific needs and situation. This is not a buffet, and we mustn’t think we can say, “Well, I’ll have some love and joy, but I don’t want any self-control right now.” If the Spirit is present in our lives – if God is moving within us – then HE will be growing these things within us at the same time. Certainly, our spirits can and should cooperate with His Spirit, and we must be intentional about looking for ways to demonstrate these characteristics, but we don’t become more loving, or more patient, or whatever, simply by trying to counterfeit that quality.

Anyway, that’s a little insight into some of what I’ve been thinking about Galatians and the Fruit of the Spirit. If you’re still with me, thanks for reading. And if my rant hasn’t scared you off, I hope you can join us as we explore each of these aspects of spiritual fruit, and discover how God’s fruit blesses us and those around us.

(The class will meet Sunday mornings at 10:50, during the second service. We meet at Beltway Park Baptist Church, Room A-110, and visitors are always welcome.)

Do You Trust Me?

All of us are faced every day with many questions.  “What should I wear?,” “Where do you want to eat?,” “When are we leaving?”  But there are questions, and then there are questions.  And in John 11, Jesus asks Martha a question that is definitely in that second category.

The chapter opens with Jesus learning that Lazarus, his friend, was sick – but mysteriously, Jesus does NOT immediately head for Bethany, the village where Lazarus lives.  Instead, Jesus delays for a couple of days before leaving.  The disciples are just as puzzled as we are by his behavior.

Jesus arrives to find Lazarus has been dead for four days.  Lazarus’ sister, Martha, goes out to meet Jesus on the road, and she immediately begins with the accusations.  “If only you had been here, my brother would not have died!”

We have to understand some of the cultural forces at work here.  With their brother dead, Martha and her sister Mary didn’t have a lot of economic options.  It wasn’t like they were getting a big life insurance check when Lazarus died.  And you certainly don’t get the impression that they were financially wealthy – after all, they lived in Bethany, which means, “House of the Poor.”  You wouldn’t expect to find a lot of money in a place called “Poor-town.”

So Martha, ever the practical one, was probably looking past her grief, already wondering how she and Mary were going to get by.  There weren’t very many jobs available for women.

“If only you’d been here, my brother would not have died.”  It’s a sentiment that many of us have wanted to shout at God at one time or another.

  • Where were you, God, when my child was killed?
  • I have dedicated my life to you, God.  How could you let my business go under?
  • How could you make my wife suffer with cancer like that?

There are many other versions of those questions, but you get the point.  Where is God when it hurts?

In his book “God Came Near,” Max Lucado says

You see, if God is God anywhere, he has to be God in the face of death. Pop psychology can deal with depression. Pep talks can deal with pessimism. Prosperity can handle hunger. But only God can deal with our ultimate dilemma — death. …He has to be God in the face of death. If not, he is not God anywhere.

So when Martha confronts Jesus for apparently being AWOL when he was needed most, Jesus doesn’t flinch.  He says, somewhat cryptically, “Your brother will rise again.”

Martha thinks Jesus is talking about something off in the future and says, “Yes, I know he will rise again in the resurrection in the last day.”  (As if to say, “That’s not going to be of much help now.”

But Jesus stuns her (and us) when he says, “I AM the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me will live, even though he dies.  And whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”

And that’s when he asked THE QUESTION.

“Do you trust me?”

Now, your translation for that verse probably says something like, “Do you believe in me?,” but I don’t think that does justice to what Jesus is really saying.  You see, for many people, to BELIEVE is something that takes place in the mind.  It’s a matter of giving intellectual agreement.  Yes, I believe I should watch my diet and exercise more.  Yes, I believe that wearing seat belts is good.  Yes, I believe that Jesus is the Son of God.

We say we believe those things, but we may or may not actually DO anything about it.  That’s because in our language, BELIEVING something doesn’t necessarily mean ACTING on that.

But Jesus is not asking Martha if she understands his words intellectually.  He’s asking, “Do you trust me?”  And it’s the same question he asks us today.  He wants to know, even when we don’t understand what is happening, or why, do we trust him?

  • Do we trust him in the hospital waiting room?
  • Do we trust him in the police station and in the courthouse?
  • Do we trust him when our most cherished dreams come crashing down?
  • Do we trust him as we hold the hand of one who is slipping away?
  • Do we trust him at the cemetery?

The fact is, it’s easy to trust him when life is going well and everyone is healthy and there’s plenty of money in the bank.  But what about when “things fall apart, and the center does not hold?”  Can we still trust him then?

Now of course, we know the end of this story.  We know that Jesus went to the cemetery and called out Lazarus and there is a great happy ending.  But put yourself in Martha’s sandals here.  She didn’t know any of that.  All she knew was that the brother that she loved was dead, her world was upside down, she had no idea what was coming in the future, but here stands Jesus in front of her, asking her to trust him.

Martha gives the answer for eternity.  “Yes, Lord.  I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

Good words, but more than that.  It’s the response of a broken but trusting heart.

It’s still the response he’s looking for today.

(Max Lucado quotation taken from The Question for the Canyon’s Edge.)

Lessons from Gardening

I am blessed to work with some amazing people at Connecting Caring Communities.  One of them is my friend, colleague and fellow Friendship House coordinator, Janet Mendenhall.

Janet and her family live in the Valley View Friendship House, and part of her work in that neighborhood is a community garden.  Recently, she shared her thoughts on what she has learned from tending her garden.  I really appreciated what she had to say, and wanted to pass it on to you.

Lessons from Gardening
Janet Mendenhall

 

I have been gardening lately. Actually, that is too lofty a description for what I do. That conjures a picture of someone outfitted with a proper gardener’s hat and gloves and maybe even one of those expensive long-sleeved shirts that protect you from skin cancer and keep you cool at the same time. Or just the right tools from Smith and Hawken. Or maybe even some new, hip, organic way of growing food and raising fish and recycling your rain water all at the same time. I am doing none of this.

I found an empty lot, convinced a man with a tractor to till it, went to the local feed store and bought some seeds. My rows aren’t even straight; my tomatoes are neither subdued by stakes nor carefully caged. My honeydew is too close to my zucchini and despite my daily rerouting is a bit clingy to its neighbor. I battle weeds with an old hoe found in our ancient garage, owned by the ancient man who preceded us. I am clad in old tennis shoes and a pair of my son’s old soccer shorts and a T-shirt. My ungloved hands are calloused. It is far from glamorous. Or hip. But some days, it is good.

Gardens are spiritual places. God chose to begin life there. And it was good. New life arising from the garden soil. And God chose to redeem life there. And it was good. New life rising from the garden soil.

They are places of hope. And growth. And nourishment. Mouth-watering food on my plate just months after dropping two dollars’ worth of tiny seeds into a hole. It is almost that simple. Well, except for the weeding, and watering. And the dirty hands. And the weeds. And the ants. And the weeds.

Gardens are places of learning, too. Down-to-earth lessons, like calculating the potential sprawl of indeterminate tomatoes, and just how big a red squash can actually grow, and making sure the bean seeds your neighbor gave you aren’t the kind that need a trellis constructed for their upwardly mobile tendencies.

And spiritual lessons, like people are more important than pumpkins, when a passerby prematurely plucks the single surviving pumpkin you have been pandering to for months. And how, like relationships, you can’t help anything grow without being intentional. Or nurturing. Or providing refreshment. Or getting your hands dirty. And how our own lives need careful cultivation to produce good fruit. And how they need little or nothing to produce weeds. And how quickly weeds grow. And how difficult it is to remove those weeds. And how quickly they come back. Without even trying.

It is often in gardens that we make connections: to other gardeners as we work the ground together, to the earth as we recognize its richness, and especially to our Master Gardener, who does good things everywhere, but is especially handy in the garden.

A Morning in Jerusalem

A disclaimer to begin: I realize this post is longer than I usually write – a LOT longer. A word of explanation is in order.

A few years ago I was preaching through the Gospel of John, always on the lookout for fresh ways of retelling familiar stories. One book I had read on sermon writing suggested telling a story as if you were describing a movie. How would the shots be set up? What would the dialog be like? How would the music sound?

So I decided to give that approach a try, and here is the result. Our class at Beltway will be dealing with this story this coming Sunday (Aug. 4), so I thought I’d pull this out and share it. Like I said, I know it’s longer than my other posts, but I hope you will find it encouraging and thought-provoking.

A Morning in Jerusalem
(c) Dusty Garison, 2004, 2013
John 7:53-8:11

We fade in on a gray screen. We can see movement and shades within the gray, but we really can’t tell what we’re seeing. Then, as the screen gradually continues to lighten, we can tell that it is dawn, and that we have been looking at gray clouds moving against the lighter gray sky, just before sunup. We hear the main title music playing, a haunting and beautiful melody, led by strings and flutes. The sky grows steadily brighter and brighter, changing in colors from gray to pink to rose to orange, until finally the sun breaks over the horizon and it is day.

Cut to a hillside view, overlooking a city in the Middle East. As the camera pans across the view, we can see hundreds of small, white homes and other buildings, crowded so close together it seems they are almost built on top of each other. Dominating the scene is a magnificent structure we recognize as the temple. It is truly an amazing building, with stones as large as school buses. Its courtyards and connecting spaces cover an entire section of the city. At the bottom of the screen, superimposed over the picture, are the words that tell us where and when our movie is taking place: “Jerusalem, AD 30,” and below that the explanation, “The Last Year of Jesus’ Ministry.”

The words fade out, the camera zooms in, and we are heading up and down the narrow, twisting streets and alleys of the city. It is still very early in the morning, and not many people are out yet. We see a woman stirring a small cooking fire next to her one-room house; we pass another woman carrying a jar of water. Finally, the camera takes us into another house. It is almost too dark to see, but there on the wall, we can just barely make out the faint shadows of a man and woman, locked in love’s embrace.

Suddenly, there is a noise and a commotion. The music changes from the sweet, soft melody of the flutes to a blaring cacophony of brass instruments and drums. A dozen or more men come bursting into the room as the lovers try to escape. There are temple guards and other officials among the men, and they are led some from the group known as the “Separated Ones;” Pharisees, they call themselves. They grab the woman and begin to drag her from the room, allowing her just enough time to grab a robe for her to partially cover herself. In the confusion, the man escapes – or did they let him go?

The music continues to build, louder and louder, as the group heads back up the street, pushing and shoving the half-dressed woman in a makeshift parade. They are yelling obscenities and curses at her, making sure that they attract a crowd to follow them. The discordant, glaring music holds a long note, then abruptly shuts off as we…

Cut to a much more peaceful scene, back at the Temple. Instead of the shouts and curses of the previous scene and the glaring trumpets, now we hear only soft footsteps. We see a group of a dozen or so men walking through the outer courtyard area. The footsteps we’re hearing come from them. They are a diverse lot, ranging in age from about 20 to perhaps 50. The camera tracks with them as they enter the courtyard. At the head of this motley group is a rabbi. We can tell he is the teacher, because draped around his neck is a long prayer shawl of the type some rabbis wear. It is so long, it nearly touches the ground. It is white with blue stripes, and tassels at each end. The young rabbi is in his early thirties.

We cut to a close-up of this man. We can see his hands are callused; he may be a teacher now, but he is no stranger to hard work. The camera cuts to his feet. He is wearing sandals, and his feet show the dirt of the road he is walking. Cut to his eyes. Even in his young face, we see the beginnings of laugh lines around his eyes, and in those eyes burns an intensity that startles us – a mixture of joy and seriousness, pain and humor.

He is talking with the men in his group as they walk along together, and although we can’t make out what they’re saying, it’s obvious as we watch that they have been together long enough to be comfortable with each other. He is their teacher and they are his students, but they are also friends, and it shows in their manner. They are heading for a particular corner of the courtyard; they’ve been there before.

The scene shifts from them to others in the courtyard. In a series of rapid cuts, we can feel the excitement building as people point and comment as the group walks by. “There he is,” we hear one man say. “What story do you think he’ll tell today?” another man asks. “Who is that?” asks a third. His companion answers, almost in a whisper, “That’s that teacher everyone is talking about – Jesus of Nazareth.” Meanwhile, the rabbi leads his little group to the spot he has in mind, and as is the custom for teachers of that day, he sits down. His disciples gather around him, and the lesson begins.

We cut back to the woman; the men around her are still shoving and pushing her, cursing her to hurry up. She is desperately trying to hold her robe together and preserve some shred of dignity and modesty, but she isn’t having much luck. The camera pans from the woman to a group of three of the leaders of this group, walking behind. We listen in on their conversation.

“Look, it’s just like I was saying the other day,” one them declares. “There’s no way he can get out of this.”

“Yes,” says a second, “but nobody has been executed for adultery in as long as anyone can remember. Good thing too, for some of these guys. Besides, he’s going to know what this woman is, and that we set this whole thing up. How else could we be witnesses, if we hadn’t hired her in the first place and told her what house to go to?”

“That doesn’t matter,” answers the first. “We’ve got her, dead to rights, and the law is still the law. It says she must die.”

“But the Romans would never let us execute someone for something like this; you know it, I know it, and he knows it,” his friend protests.

“You just don’t get it, do you?” the first man says. “If he says we should just let her go and forget about it, we can accuse him of being a lawbreaker and overlooking a capital crime. The people will turn against him. But if he says to carry out the death penalty, then we can accuse him to the Romans of usurping their authority.”

“Yes,” chimes in a third man, “but more than that, he’ll lose the support of that rabble that follows him. He can’t very well talk about forgiveness and mercy on the one hand, and executing her on the other. They call him, ‘The friend of sinners’ – some friend! No matter what he says, we can discredit him publicly.” The camera stays on this man’s face, and we see the triumph in his eyes. It is a thoroughly unpleasant look. The camera stops moving as we watch the group continuing marching through the street; just ahead of them is the Temple gate.

The scene cuts back to Jesus and his listeners. Many from the crowd have wandered over to hear him speak. It is early autumn, during the feast of Tabernacles, and there are a lot of folks here who have heard about this rabbi from the Galilee. He is retelling a story that some have heard before. The camera tracks across the scene, to give us a chance to see both Jesus and his followers, listening with rapt attention.

“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep,” he tells them, “and one of them turns up missing. Won’t you leave the ninety-nine sheep someplace safe, and go look for the missing one? Of course you would.” At this, the camera focuses on some in the audience who are nodding their heads in agreement. Jesus continues, “And when you find it, wouldn’t you joyfully pick it up and put it on your shoulders, and carry it back home? Of course you would. You might even throw a party when you get there, because you were so excited that you had found your lost sheep. I’m telling you the truth: there is more excitement in heaven over one lost person who repents, than over ninety-nine righteous persons who don’t need to repent.”

He pauses for a moment, to let them think about what he’s just said. He is about to continue, when heads in the crowd begin to turn. A mob is heading for him. “What’s going on?” some in the crowd ask. They grasp in shocked surprise at the sight of the indecently-dressed woman, so obviously a prostitute. More and more people hurry over to the corner of the courtyard where Jesus is sitting. After all, excitement is where you find it, and suddenly, this day just became much more interesting.

The crowd in front of Jesus moves aside, and up walk the leaders of the mob, with the guards dragging the woman along. For a long moment, no one says a word. During this silence, we have a series of quick camera changes, as we see first the Pharisees and teachers, staring angrily at him – cut to some of Jesus’ disciples, puzzled by this interruption – cut to the woman, bruised and scraped at the rough treatment she’s been receiving, and bleeding from her knees and elbows, embarrassed and humiliated at what is happening – cut to Jesus, still sitting on the ground, looking up at the ringleaders with a sort of a sad, resigned look in his eyes. We watch as he slowly stands up.

The camera cuts back to the scribes, as with a jerk of their heads, they motion to the temple guards, who give the woman a final shove. She tries to hide, but there is no escape. They are enjoying her shame, and they make her stand there. The camera moves to one of the Pharisees, dressed in his robes, proudly wearing all the badges of his office and symbols of his heritage. He is proud and sure of himself, and his pride can be seen in the way he is dressed, and heard in the way he speaks.

“Teacher,” he says, in a voice loud enough to be heard by all the crowd, “his woman was caught in the act of adultery – in the very act!” He pauses to make sure everyone has understood him. The crowd is murmuring among themselves for a moment. He looks around, nodding approval at the crowd’s gossip, before he raises his hands for quiet and continues. “In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. Please give us the benefit of your special wisdom,” he says, his voice dripping with sarcasm. “What should we do with her? What do you say?”

The camera holds on him, as he looks around at the audience. He is sneering with obvious pleasure. This is his moment of triumph: all the planning, all the preparations, all of it for this very moment. At last, he looks back at Jesus.

To this man’s very great surprise, Jesus doesn’t say a word. He doesn’t try to say anything, doesn’t try to get away, doesn’t try to explain his way out of an obviously put-up situation. Instead, the teacher just bends down, sort of sitting on his haunches, and begins to write in the dirt.

The noisy crowd has grown completely silent. Jesus’ disciples are also silent. In fact, we don’t hear anything except the wind blowing. What is he writing in the dust? We can’t tell. Is he just doodling, to give himself time to think? Or is he writing something – a verse of scripture perhaps? Perhaps a verse like, “Do not share in the iniquity of evildoers”? Or maybe, “Do not conspire with those who tell lies”? Whatever he’s writing, it takes a long moment, and the silence grows.

While this is going on, the camera moves in a circle around Jesus, always focused on him. His face is calm as he continues to write. We see his hand, drawing in the dirt. We cut back to his eyes. They turn one way to look at the woman, and we look at her, too. She sees him look at her, but she can’t bear to look back, and she stares at the ground. Then we see his eyes look over at the scribes, and we look at them. Their eyes are hard, bright and shining with anger. He looks at his disciples, and we see their concern. They know the master is in trouble here.

Not a word is spoken during these cuts. Finally, the Pharisees begin to press him. “Come on, teacher,” they say. “What should we do with her? Do we stone her or not?” Again we have a series of camera cuts, from Jesus to the scribes to the woman, to Jesus, to the crowd.

Finally, in a wide shot where we can see the whole scene, Jesus stands up and looks at them. We cut to a close-up of his face. “Fine,” he says, in a quiet and calm voice. “Whichever of you is without sin may be the first to throw a stone at her.” Then, he stoops back down and resumes his writing.

We cut to the scribes, and we can see they had not expected this. Suddenly, they realize they have been trapped by their own legalism. The camera pans across the assembled crowd. The older members of the group realize the meaning of his words, and begin to leave, followed by the younger members. We listen to one conversation. “What’s the matter?” asks a young scribal apprentice. “Why are we leaving?”

His master looks at him. “The law says that when executions are required, the witnesses against the accused must be the first to cast the stones.”

“What’s wrong with that?” asks the young man. “Why is that a problem?”

“Because,” says the older man, “the law also says that those witnesses must not be guilty of any conspiracy in the matter.”

The camera now holds steady in a wide shot, as one by one, the entire crowd moves out of the frame and walks away, leaving only the woman still standing before Jesus. The camera zooms in on her, and we look at her, and for the first time, really see her as a person. Jesus walks into the frame, and looks at her with genuine kindness, so unlike the look she normally sees in men’s eyes. After a moment, he asks her, “Woman, where did everyone go? Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, sir,” she answers. The camera holds on her for a moment.

Finally, the camera cuts back to Jesus. “Then neither do I condemn you,” he says to her. “You may go, and from now on, leave your life of sin.”

We see her expression change, and she begins to smile – a real smile, not the one she uses on customers. Something has changed in her; we see hope beginning to dawn in her eyes. The camera cuts back to Jesus, the music comes up with a swell, and he smiles back at her as we fade in the words, “The End,” and then slowly fade to black.

Except it ISN’T the end. You see, I believe each one of us is somewhere in this story.

Perhaps you are like the woman in this story before she met Jesus. You may not be an adulterer, but maybe you can identify with her. Everyone she’d ever known had betrayed and used her. She had thrown away her hope, given up on life, and now she just wanted to get through each day with as little pain as possible. Sound familiar?

Perhaps, like her, you’re desperately hoping for forgiveness, but knowing you don’t deserve it. But she found grace and forgiveness from this teacher, and you can as well.

Or maybe you’re like the Pharisees here. They were so sure of their absolute rightness, and they had all the answers. They despised people who didn’t measure up to their standards of right and wrong. After all, didn’t their standards come from the law? And hadn’t Moses given them the law so they could demonstrate how righteous they were, and how sinful everyone else was?

Maybe you can identify with the Pharisees. You see, I can. I grew up in church. I knew right from wrong. I didn’t disobey my parents or do drugs or get into trouble. And I knew the rules. I knew that keeping the rules was the way to get God to love me, and for me to prove how good I was. And everyone knows, we shouldn’t associate with anybody who doesn’t measure up to how the rules should be kept. If people want to follow God, let them clean up their act and prove they’re sincere; then we can talk.

What about Jesus’ disciples? What were they thinking during all this? I’m sure they were confused, torn between knowing that you can’t just overlook sin, but also knowing that Jesus came to demonstrate God’s love and forgiveness. But they must have wondered: how far does that forgiveness extend?

I know they wondered that, because I’ve wondered that. I was discussing this with an older Christian recently, a man whom I really respect and admire in the faith. He said he had been struggling with this, and he asked out loud the question many of us have wanted to ask: are there limits to grace?

I don’t know the answer to that question, but I do know this: as far as the Bible tells us, the only times Jesus ever condemned anyone, it was for self-righteousness and spiritual self-importance. On the other hand, every time Jesus dealt with people who came to him in need, sinners looking for a fresh start, every time he had to choose between showing more grace versus less grace, he always showed more. May the same be true of us.

The end. Fade to black.

“The problem is, I don’t want a drink. I want 10 drinks.”

As some of you know, I recently went to my doctor for my semi-annual checkup.  And I’m sorry to say, it did not go well.

My diabetes has gotten worse.  Well technically, IT hasn’t gotten worse, but other things have.  Back in January, my doctor put me on injected insulin for the first time in the eight years or so that I’ve been diagnosed with Type II Diabetes.  And I immediately felt better when I began taking the once-daily shots.  But as he explained to me, my diet had remained more-or-less the same, and the stuff I was eating that I shouldn’t, was making me gain weight, raising my blood pressure and elevating my bad cholesterol and triglycerides.

Sorry if that’s more information than you wanted.

Anyway, as a result, he has advised me – STRONGLY – that I make some changes.  As the saying goes, not a diet, but a lifestyle change.  I’m trying to  break my carb addiction.

All my life, I have loved starchy, filling foods.  Rice, potatoes, beans, corn, pasta, bread.  LOTS of bread.  And the fact is, it’s killing me.  So, with the help of my sweet wife and family, I’m making some changes.  Protein shakes for breakfast, instead of toast or cereal.  Salads for lunch, instead of sandwiches.  Meat & NON-starchy veggies for supper.  Almonds & olives for snacks, instead of popcorn.

Sharing dinner with our friends, the Pages. I grilled marinated pork tenderloin and a squash medley – and NO, I didn’t eat any of the roasted corn on the cob!

This is not all bad, by any means.  For one thing, I LIKE eating meat, so I got that goin’ for me.  Also, grilled veggies work really well with this concept, especially grilled squash, onion, peppers, etc.

One of the things I’m discovering is how truly addicting carbs are, at least to me.  You eat something starchy, thinking it will satisfy, but an hour or two later, you’re craving more of it.  It’s like that scene from “The West Wing,” where Leo is trying to explain to a young staffer what being an alcoholic is like.  She asks him if he’s allowed to have a drink.  He says, “The problem is, I don’t want A drink – I want ten drinks.”  (Thanks, Eddy, for reminding me of this great scene!)

Isn’t that the way sin is?  You “indulge” yourself with whatever your favorite sin is – bitterness, anger, greed, lust, whatever – thinking that will satisfy you and you can get on with life.  But consuming a little bit of that just makes you crave more.  And more.  And it’s never enough.  Because, as has often been said, Satan will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and charge you more than you want to pay.

In Isaiah 55:2, God asks, “Why do you spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?  Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare.”

I appreciate your prayers for me, as I re-learn what & how to eat, and adjust to these changes.  Meanwhile, let’s ask the Lord to reveal to us what addictions we are feeding within our own hearts – addictions that are keeping us from becoming all that the Father wants us to be.

Welcome to My New Blog!

Howdy and Welcome.  I hope this will become a place of interesting observations and stimulating discussion.  And since I like to sip on something while I do my thinking, I’m calling this “Sip with Dusty.”

Sometimes these comments will be devotional, sometimes not.  Sometimes they will be brief, other times, perhaps, not so brief.  You are always welcome in this conversation.  We may not always agree, but perhaps we can find some common ground and learn from each other.

Like many of you, I enjoyed watching the recent Olympics.  It’s a bit of shameless theatrics that NBC almost always closed its nightly broadcast with a medal ceremony of some American athlete – swimmer, gymnast, or whoever – standing on the platform, hearing his or her name called, then receiving the gold medal, finally capped off with the playing of the Star Spangled Banner.  It makes for great TV, and it IS an American network and an American audience, so why not.

How thrilling it must be to stand on that platform and hear your national anthem.  How satisfying it must be to reflect back on a LIFETIME of training, hard work, early morning practices, pulled muscles, and receive that gold medal.  Finally to silence all those who said you couldn’t do it.  Finally to know that all the discipline, self-denial and hard work was worth it.  Finally to hear your name called.

Of course, we understand that the modern Olympics are based on the ancient Olympics, and similar contests from antiquity, and the idea of a victorious athlete being called up to the platform to receive the prize is nothing new.  And I believe this is precisely the image that Paul has in mind in Philippians 3:13-14.

  • “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead” – just like an athlete who doesn’t dwell on the years of training and self-discipline, or even worry about those running beside him or her, but instead, focuses on the finish line ahead.
  • “I press on toward the goal” – not athletic glory, or a wreath, or even a gold medal, but the goal of knowing Jesus, intimately & personally (see 3:10).
  • “For the upward calling of God.” Here I think the NIV got it wrong.  They interpret it as “for which God has called me heavenward.”  That’s not a bad sentiment, but the text literally says, “for the calling-up of God.”  I think it’s an image of an athlete hearing his name called and stepping up on the platform to receive the prize.

May God grant us grace never to stop short of the finish line.