Sharp Disagreement

Journal 2010. I assume Paul and Barnabas’s “sharp disagreement” (Acts 15:36-41) included sharp words. This story leaves me feeling uncomfortable. Did they not bother to seek God’s face on this? How could they preach unity of the brethren under these circumstances? Both needed to kneel in humility and look upward. Yet they (Paul especially) had some pretty strong words to say with others. He was all about standing firm in the faith, and Barnabas was all about encouragement. They were Holy Spirit-filled men who had feet of clay. In the end, they left for their respective mission fields “committed by the brethren to the grace of the Lord.”

Who was right? It would be interesting to interview 100 Christians and see which side they’d pick and then see if there is a corollary with personality or temperament. (I tend to side with Barnabas.)

So did this disagreement hinder the Holy Spirit’s work . . . or help? Or did He simply use it to bring about His glory, plan, and purpose? In the end, there was a win-win as four missionaries went out instead of just two.

A 2021 update. For the past year and a half, I’ve watched in dismay as believers wrangle over opinions over COVID and politics. Anger, hurt, and fear drive our discussions, and I wonder how God will sort this all out for His glory. All I can do is guard my own heart and emotions and kindly love those who disagree with me.

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

Jealousy

Journal 2010. My third grade Sunday school lesson for this week was on David and Saul. I began by asking the children to look at each other’s eyes and tell me their color. We had five children with brown eyes, and three who had blue. Next, I told them that I had a special gift for each of the blue-eyed children:  a one-dollar gift certificate to McDonalds. I instructed the brown eyes to clap and applaud for them. And then I paused, observing their response. I asked the brown-eyes how they felt. One said she felt “left out.” Another said, “sad,” and another “unfair.” They all admitted to feeling jealous.

And then it happened. Little blue-eyed Ethan stood up and walked over to brown-eyed Holly (who had made a decision just this week to follow Jesus) and gave her his gift certificate. I praised him and then immediately handed him a replacement.

I then launched into the story of David (handsome shepherd boy, beautiful-eyed, strong, courageous, musically gifted) being anointed king (not because of his outward appearance, but because of his heart for God), his brothers’ jealousy, his slaying of Goliath, and Saul’s subsequent love and admiration for him. And then how the women sang, “Saul has killed his thousands, but David his tens of thousands” and how Saul’s admiration turned to jealousy, to hatred, and then to attempted murder.

We discussed what things made 3rd graders jealous (toys, talents, privileges), and how jealousy can lead to bad things. We talked about how God gives each of us gifts—not for the purpose of self-glory, but to be used for Him and given away.

In conclusion, I instructed the blue-eyes to hand their gifts to the brown-eyes. Not fair? Oh no! Because when we give our gifts away to minister to others, God blesses us in return. And I handed each of the brown eyes a replacement. Now everyone had a gift certificate.

I told the children the gift was theirs to use as they wished. They could spend it on themselves, or they could give it away to bless someone else. It was their choice.

Brown-eyed Chandler said he was going to give his to his brother. Blue-eyed Ethan said, “I wish I could rip mine in half so both my brother and I could use it!” Melina observed that he’d given his away twice, and she tried to hand her coupon to him, but he declined. “It’s okay. You keep it,” he said. And then: “I know! I’ll spend it on ice cream, and I can share it with my brother that way!”

I think the children taught me as much as I tried to teach them that day!

Random Thoughts on Prayer

From my 2013 Journal.

I need a fresh start with prayer. I’m beginning to do the grocery list thing again. I’m glad God can focus on more than one thing at a time. I can’t. My mind wanders. And God understands because He made my brain this way. But I know I have to do my part and have a little self-discipline. Journaling slows my brain down and helps me focus, but even while I’m writing out my prayer, my mind skitters off onto a tangent. Sigh. What if I quit using the word pray and start using talk instead? “God, I want to talk to You about . . . .”

. . .

My perspective on intercessory prayer has shifted from “ought to” or “spiritual discipline” to “ministry opportunity.” Prayer is as much kingdom work as teaching Sunday School or taking a meal to someone who’s sick. The key is the word ministry I think. I love “doing ministry.” It appeals to my task-oriented mind. Intercessory prayer is different from gratitude or praise or confession. I feel like I’m such a beginner in this.

. . .

Come into His presence, said King David. That was fine for him to say, because God’s presence was located in a place. There’s something missing in this statement for me. How can I “come into” when I’m always there?

I sat down to have my Quiet Time this morning and immediately began to intercede for someone—no preliminary formula of ACTS (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication). I hear some preacher’s voice in my head admonishing me, and it occurs to me that God is not on a timetable of morning, noon, and night. Maybe I thanked him last night, confessed at noon two days ago, and now I’m ready to intercede. I understand the mindset of focusing my attention on Him and quieting my heart, and some days I have to do that. But if His presence is there for me at all times, there’s nothing wrong with galloping into requests on others’ behalf. I think God can handle that!

. . .

I heard on the Barna report that the average person prays only 8 minutes a day. They compared that person to someone who was living in a dangerous community who prays continually. Well . . . yes . . . that makes sense. But it felt like shame and condemnation for lack of prayer on the part of those who live in peaceful places. But how does one quantify prayer? If one is continually in God’s presence, one’s very breath is prayer. Am I more spiritual because I say 50 words in prayer instead of 5—and that takes longer? Strange that we should equate time (minutes) with relationship. But I suppose there is some truth to that in the earthly realm.

Prayer is also listening. How do you quantify that? I listen all day long. Why is it so hard to let go of the rules and focus on relationship? Peter struggled with it when he went to visit Paul in Antioch and quit eating with the Gentiles. Not all rules are bad. We need them. But they are bumper guards in a child’s bowling game—helpful at first, but unnecessary when you get the hang of living the Christian life. You get into the groove of right living and obedience and you find the sweet spot of love for the game. Of course there’re always adjustments and self-corrections to be made.

. . .

I find that my prayers are directly tied to my emotions. Words flow when I’m feeling sentimental. I pray most deeply and earnestly when my emotions run deep and more cerebral when feeling flat. But my emotions are not what create results. It’s not the words I say, but rather, I believe, God reads the heart and the motive. I can invoke His name in a loud cry or a soft whisper. The power is in His name, not in my poor attempts to get His attention.

Prejudgment

From my 2013 Journal.

I stood in line at the Wal-Mart return counter behind a beautiful, young black lady linked arm-in-arm with a white man. From my view of their backs, it appeared to be an unlikely pairing. His head tilted a little to the left as if in affection. In my right periphery, another strange couple appeared—a white man with a very obese woman. Though there were two employees behind the counter, we all lined up single file so we could approach whichever clerk became available next.

I tsked under my breath when the couple to my right inched their way forward and nudged into line beside me. Though inwardly indignant, I remained outwardly gracious. If they wanted to be rude and ignore protocol, that was their problem.

The couple in front of me advanced to the counter, and I stepped forward to take their spot. At that moment, the couple on the right pushed past me to get in line directly behind the first couple. Astonished at their brazenness, I turned to the lady behind me to observe her reaction and mirrored her surprise. I shrugged and rolled my eyes as if to say, “Some people! Whatever!”

When the first couple finished their transaction, both couples turned and exited the room together. That’s when realization dawned. These were two special-needs people with their caretakers. The second couple was simply trying to stay close to their group. I felt duly ashamed of myself for my prejudgment. God forgive me!

Be Prepared!

From my 2014 Journal. For our tour in Israel, our leader, Charlie Dyer, supplied each of us with headphone devices so he could speak to us in crowded places. Each time we arrived at a site, we’d leave our personal belongings on the bus and carry only minimal necessities—camera, notebook and pen, and of course the headphones. Because of their weight, I opted to leave behind the provided spare batteries.

When we arrived in Jerusalem, the climax of our journey, the bus driver dropped us off on the top of the Mount of Olives. It was crucial to have our listening devices with us if we didn’t want to lose our way among the elbow-to-elbow crowds.

To my chagrin, my headphone batteries died just as we began to descend the mountain. I felt like one of the virgins in the wedding parable who had neglected to bring extra oil for her lamp. I learned a powerful and humbling experiential lesson!

But all turned out well. Someone in our group graciously let me borrow his extra batteries. The God of second chances!

Unbalanced

From my 2015 Journal.

I have been working at breakneck speed for too long. I neglected to rest after an Intensive Retreat with a client, and when I finally found half a day to myself, instead of relaxing, I trudged right up to bedtime. Drowning in over-commitment and pulled in too many directions, my stressed body and chaotic mind won’t shut down. I keep writing lists and the lists keep growing. My mind’s hard drive is full and, with no margin, I’m afraid it will crash. Meanwhile, any quality time with family and God suffers.

Currently, I’m planning two reunions, five trips, editing a magazine, teaching Sunday school, and preparing for two Bible study groups. And in the midst of these commitments, the floodgates for ministry opportunities opened wide. I crave peace and quiet, but drama reigns. I must cease striving and be still, put down my calendar and to-do list, set aside my goals (for now) and return to my priorities.

Visual: I see a picture of me as a teacher with her pupils (i.e. my to-do list). I delight in seeing a room full of wiggly children, but I have tolerated an unruly, chaotic classroom for too long. I place each child in her own cubicle—a cylindrical tube with a lid. I can keep the lids latched, but that takes away the fun away of watching little fingers waving in the air for attention. I instruct them to raise their hands for permission to stand and be recognized before speaking. The others must sit still and wait their turn. Okay . . . which child wants to go first?

Oh! Now I see Jesus behind me, directing their order. I don’t even have to worry about choosing.

Suddenly, a curtain descends in front of the group, the noise in my head stops, and I am alone with Jesus. Whew! I needed this. Refresh, refocus, return.

Be still before the Lord (Zechariah 2:13).

Unripe Fruit

From my 2013 Journal.

Recently, I broached a subject with a friend about an issue I’d noticed in her life. Her steely hard, plant-the-feet-in-the-ground, defensive posture, and irrational response all told me this subject was a trigger, and I needed to back off. She’s obviously not ready to receive my input, and so I have to let it go.

I know her heart desires truth, but she’s not ready to face her pain. And that’s okay. It’s God’s job to gently woo her to Himself and prepare her heart to be willing.

Don’t pick unripe fruit!

Keeping a Dream Alive

From my 2013 Journal.

Reading a biography or memoir may be interesting, entertaining, or even inspiring—but rarely life-changing, unless it intersects with my own—when I identify with the character in some way.

This morning I read Caleb, the spy’s story in Joshua 14. At age 40, he saw a piece of property he wanted in the land of Canaan, but because of the Israelites’ rebellion, he had to wander with them for 40 years in the desert. At age 85, he asked leader Joshua for that same territory, determined to rout the inhabitants with God’s help. Talk about keeping a dream alive!

Caleb’s faith sharply contrasts with the descendants of Joseph who complained they didn’t have enough land for their families. Joshua said to them, “Go clear the forest and you’ll have enough” (Joshua 17:17-18).

“But they have iron chariots!” they whined.

I can see Joshua rolling his eyes. “You’re numerous and powerful; you can do it.”

So I try to connect with this story. What dream have I held onto? Some dreams, I know, I must grieve and let go. But if God-directed, what excuses do I use not to fulfill it? Sometimes I need patience, endurance, and perseverance to wait.

What dream have you kept alive?

Food for Today

From my 2013 Journal.

All art forms have potential to touch the soul. Some (like paintings, photography, and sculptures) are tangible and static, and you can linger over them. Performances (like music and theatre) are fluid—you can’t capture and freeze them except in your mind. Different art forms appeal to different senses (sculpture—eye/touch, music—ear, performance—eye/ear). The written word can be tactile (holding the book, typing a manuscript) or cerebral, creating images with words.

As a visual learner, auditory input is so transient for me. When the music stops, it doesn’t stay in my head like it does for my daughter Sharon. And, unlike daughters Cindy and Katie, visual art doesn’t linger either, once I look away. Stories, for me, last the longest, though I quickly forget the details.

Could it be that feeding the spirit is also transitory? I learn a lesson or a truth but quickly forget to apply it to the next lesson or circumstance. I have a hard time holding on to it. If I can’t remember the Scriptures I read yesterday, does this mean I may as well quit reading? Of course not. Just because I can’t remember what I ate for breakfast yesterday doesn’t mean I wasn’t nourished.

What’s the solution? Daily doses of food for the mind, soul, body, and spirit.

Overwhelmed

From my 2015 Journal.

If I let it, the news this week could leave me feeling overwhelmed:

  • Earthquake in Nepal
  • Flooding and tornadoes in Texas
  • Riots in Baltimore
  • Beheadings in Syria
  • Shootings on campuses
  • Starvation in India

Meanwhile, I go about my sheltered, stress-free, cushy life. Catastrophes in other parts of the world don’t affect my daily life and decisions. If they did, I’d be the one in crisis and I couldn’t function. If I don’t feel pain when you’re in pain, that’s a good thing. I don’t want a doctor operating on me when he has a broken arm. I need him to be healthy and well.

For two full days this week I listened to three abuse victims’ agonizing sobs. They weren’t in any physical danger, but they believed they could not go on living. Was I compassionate? Yes, of course. But I did not absorb their pain. It’s not healthy or productive for me to do so. That’s Jesus’ job.

Whose pain have you taken on that doesn’t belong to you?