What to Do When You Can’t Do

Jesus judged me and counted me faithful and trustworthy and appointed me to this ministry. (The Apostle Paul, I Timothy 1:12 AM)

From my 2009 Journal. My child-rearing days taxed my time and energy, but these days I wonder sometimes why I have so much free time. You’d think I’d be happy to sit around and read novels and watch TV or do jigsaw puzzles. But I want to fill more of my time with ministry and less with fluff. That’s when I think of the Apostle Paul sitting for months in prison. Did he long to get back into the ministry of preaching? Did he ever feel like he was spinning his wheels? Missionary life was exciting and challenging and suited his drive for evangelism. I know he used some of this down time talking to the other prisoners and guards and writing epistles, but I suspect time weighed heavily on him.

How much of my time is God-directed and passion-driven vs. drifting along day by day, with no goals or excitement to fill my time? Where is my focus—on TIME or on my character development? I fear I think too much like an American—filling time is the driving force and factor of our days. In a warm-culture setting with no calendars or appointments or clocks or watches, relationships become central. Maybe I need to go back to my African roots and sit for awhile under a tree. God appointed me to a ministry of inner healing prayer, so I may as well let Him be in charge of my time as well.

2020. Though I wrote this over ten years ago, it seems to fit today’s challenges with social distancing and forced isolation. I’m grateful that I’m still able to carry on with ministry through electronic means.

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Visible or Invisible Deeds

The sins of some are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them. In the same way, good deeds are obvious, and even those that are not obvious cannot remain hidden forever (I Tim. 5:24-25).

From my 2009 Journal. While meditating on this verse, I came up with the following examples:

  1. The sins of some are obvious: Someone who yells obscenities and openly threatens a person in a parking lot.
  2. The sins of others trail behind them: An abuser’s sins are hidden to the world’s eyes; but eventually they become revealed (in the lives of the victims and, of course, at the Judgment Day).
  3. Good deeds are obvious: Someone gives a large donation to a charity that names a building after him.
  4. Even those that are not obvious cannot remain hidden forever: when I leave cookies on a neighbor’s porch with no note.

Can you give me more examples?

I’d like to be a better good-deed doer. It doesn’t come naturally to me. Though I have occasionally done something in a generous and spontaneous way, I usually have to plan, set aside time, and then do. But I’m thinking good deeds are more than giving things away or doing an act of service. Could a good deed also be offering a kind word to a frazzled checkout clerk or giving a smile of affirmation to a child or hugging a grieving friend?

I recall the time when our family stopped at an out-of-town gas station to take a much-needed rest stop. I was surprised and delighted to find fresh-cut flowers on the ladies’ bathroom counter. An uncharacteristically clean stall and a fresh odor also caught my attention.

When I emerged from the restroom, I approached the clerk behind the counter and asked if I could see the manager. Her face visibly fell. “Why?” she demanded sullenly. She looked like she’d been caught doing something wrong and went on the defensive. “She’s not here.”

“Okay,” I responded. “I just wanted to tell her how much I appreciated a clean bathroom and especially enjoyed the fresh flowers.”

The change on her face was immediate. With the fear gone, she relaxed and grinned. “I’ll be sure to tell her,” she said. “And thank you so much.” I wondered then how often this tired clerk had to put up with complaining customers. It appeared that this one kind word had made her day.

And now that I’ve told you, my deed is no longer hidden, but maybe it will encourage you to do a good deed today.

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Stereotypes and Pharisees

From my 2009 Journal. I think I’ve uncovered a misconception I’ve held for too long. In my mind, I have a stereotype of the Pharisees that says they were all hypocrites, bad leaders, and out to get Jesus. And many of them were. But, unfairly, I’ve lumped every religious ruler in Jesus’ day into the same lump of clay. Sure there was Nicodemus, but in my mind he was the great exception.

When I read Luke 13:31, it broke up that myth. Some Pharisees came up and said to him, “Go away from here, for Herod is determined to kill you.” Apparently, there were some religious leaders who were genuinely concerned for Jesus’ welfare.

One day Jesus ate a meal at the house of one of the prominent ruling Pharisees. The other Pharisees and teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them” (15:1). It was a big party, and Jesus had lots to say to the guests. He exposed their sin and faulty thinking, no words minced or held back. But maybe this host was a genuine seeker of truth—inviting Jesus to a social event in spite of the criticism of his peers.

Today? I fight the tendency to lump all our political leaders in the same mold: they’re all corrupt;  they’re all self-serving. Not so. There are godly ones as well as scoundrels.

I wonder what other group prejudices I have been harboring.

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Rule-Keeping 101

Rules

From my 2009 Journal. I’ve been reading Romans 14 and thinking about biblical rules. Old Testament rules included “Don’t murder.” but Jesus said it’s what’s in your heart that is most important. Is “Don’t hate” a New Testament rule? I suppose you could say that, but rules generally govern actions, not attitudes. For example, I may be imprisoned for murder but not for hating someone in my heart. But if you take care of the attitude (hatred) in your heart, you’ll have no temptation to do the action (murder).

In context, Romans 14 seems to be referring to religious activity: observances of meat offered to idols and special observances of days. I have freedom, the Apostle Paul says, to eat meat or not eat meat, to observe a day “unto the Lord” or not. It’s not just the action that pleases God, but the attitude of the heart. Am I doing it out of obedience to my conscience or out of disobedience? Am I doing it with a grateful heart? If I do the religious activity but am not thankful, what good is it? Verse 14 says food offered to idols in and of itself is not unclean. But if in your heart you believe it’s unclean, then to you it is. Don’t do it!

When I see someone’s action, I may or may not know their heart or their motive, but I confess I have been found guilty of unfairly judging them. It’s long past time for me to quit the Old Testament rule-keeping and be grateful for God’s grace and freedom to live according to the only two rules I find in the New Testament: love God and love each other.

Bottom line: examine your own heart, and don’t judge another believer’s religious activities. Can I hear an “amen”?

When Should We Disobey the Government?


From my 2009 Journal. Following up my recent blog post about The Blue Parakeet—Rethinking How You Study the Bible, I remember Scot McKnight’s injunction to read the Bible as a dialogue that includes different facets of a topic. We can get into trouble when we quote one verse or phrase in the Bible out of context, and we can come up with some pretty bad theology or advice. For example, I hear Paul saying in Romans 13 that you should never disobey government; and if you oppose government, you bring condemnation on yourself.

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. (Romans 13:1-2, 7 NIV)

Yet when Peter and the early apostles were instructed to stop preaching, they said to the high priest, “We must obey God, rather than men.” And God honored Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego when they defied the king and refused to bow down to his statue. Apparently it’s okay to practice civil disobedience if it conflicts with God’s law—but you’ll pay the consequences if you’re caught.

And so I think it’s wrong to apply Paul’s statement in every situation. In context, I think he was saying “Do what’s right.” There’s nothing morally wrong in paying your taxes and obeying the speed limits and [practicing social distancing, to apply this blog to 2020]. You don’t want to be slapped in jail for doing something the government opposes. But if the government forbids assembling together as believers [and I’m not saying as a temporary measure to avoid the corona virus], then disobedience is legit and the church must go underground.

Let’s dialogue. Over what issue would you disobey the government?

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The Blue Parakeet

Blue parakeetFrom my 2009 Journal. I just finished reading a thought-provoking book The Blue Parakeet—Rethinking How You Study the Bible by Scot McKnight. The author sets up two traditional ways of interpreting the Bible. The first is what he terms the “return and retrieve” approach: we return to what is literally taught in the context of the history in which it was written, and we try to obey it. This puts me in mind of another book I just finished—The Year of Living Biblically in which A. J. Jacobs humorously attempts to adhere legalistically to every command in the Law. The second approach is to “fossilize past interpretations into traditionalism.”

Why the title? Parakeets make wonderful pets, so we tame them, cage them, or clip their wings to keep them where we want them. McKnight contends that many of us attempt to do the same thing with the Bible. Instead, he proposes three better ways to read the Bible: Story, Listening, and Discerning.

With Story he suggests that we read the Bible like peering at Magic Eye photos  (take the flat, two-dimensional words off the page and see its three-dimensional depth) or like stepping into a picture on the wall and entering into it as an alive scene. He then suggests that we often try to do this with five ineffective shortcuts.

  • Morsels of Law (the dos and don’ts of Scripture). i.e. legalism—which results in our own superiority, being more concerned with being right than being good, and becoming judgmental. [I’m relating big time to this one.]
  • Morsels of blessings and promises (e.g. daily promise calendars). Dividing the Bible into chapters and verses contributes to this. “These people become optimistic and upbeat and wear big smiles . . . until something bad happens . . .” (p. 47).
  • Mirrors and inkblots. “Reading the Bible as an inkblot is projecting onto the Bible our ideas and our desires . . . it’s finding our story in the Bible instead of finding the Bible’s story to be our story” (p. 49).
  • Puzzling together the pieces to map God’s mind (systematic theology).
  • Maestros—following one “master” whether it be Moses, Jesus, or Paul. “One-chapter Bible readers develop one-chapter Christian lives.”

If we frame our relationship to God or the Bible as “authority,” then our response is going to be “submission.” But if we frame it as “love,” then our response is one of “love.” We’ve spent a lifetime being told to obey God—a term we use for a child (obey Mommy). But when we mature, our relationship to a parent grows to one of friendship, mutual respect, appreciation and love. I had to learn to obey my heavenly Father and to trust Him that He only wanted the best for me; and once I learned that, I could enter into the delights of getting to know Him better. He’s done everything for me, so relationally, I respond back to Him. I crave His attention; I crave spending time with Him—not just being subservient to Him.

If we read the Scriptures as a dialogue, a story, each author weighing in on a conversation, we get the bigger picture. For example, Paul says justification is by faith whereas James emphasizes works. This shows us that “James is in conversation with Paul or someone like Paul, or with someone who is distorting Paul.” Let’s say we had four theologians sitting around my dining room table chatting about their favorite subject. There would be banter back and forth between them, some saying one thing, another one correcting or honing in or asking questions. If we took just one statement off the table and wrote it down, out of the context of the conversation, all we’d have is a quote. We’d miss the larger picture, and we certainly wouldn’t experience the relationship that produced this quote. So . . . what’s our relationship to the Word? Love THE Word. I remember being jolted awake when I first heard the term “idolatry of the Bible”—where we worship God’s words instead of Himself.

McKnight says, “Words on a page are not just little squiggles of information on paper. Written words are personal exchanges, personal deposits of a person. Our words come from the depth of our heart and soul, and they extend who we are. That is why we care what others think of what we say . . . If you are doing good works, you are reading the Bible alright. If you are not doing good works, you are not reading the Bible alright” (p. 112). If you’re in the first group, keep it up; if you’re in the second group, make some changes!

And further: “We don’t follow Jesus literally; we  . . . pick and choose what we want to apply to our lives today, and I want to know what methods, ideas, and principles are at work among us for picking what we pick and choosing what we choose” (p. 122). The answer? Discernment.

If I were in a book club, I’d recommend this book for a conversation starter.

God’s Enemies

From my 2009 Journal. I pray with a lot of wounded women. At some point many admit they want to see vengeance on their abuser, for they perceive the perpetrator as their enemy. But I’m struck by the prophet Isaiah’s words that God will bring His vengeance down upon HIS enemies (not ours) (Isa. 59:17-19).

There are some truly evil people in the world whom God classifies as His enemies, but there are some abusers who are not so much enemies of God as they are in bondage to their own woundedness. Jesus came to set the captive free, not to bring hellfire and damnation on their head. If I’m the one who was hurt, however, that’s a hard truth to embrace. I want to see justice not mercy for my enemy.

So who are God’s enemies, the ones who will receive His wrath? James 4:4 says that anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. I cannot know a person’s heart, but I do know that those who have dedicated their lives to Satan’s kingdom and chosen rejection of God’s kingdom will be or are in this category. It’s not that God didn’t call them; it’s that God called them and they refused His offer.

Not every enemy of MINE is God’s enemy. But every enemy of God is MY enemy.

God's Enemy

You Try Walking on Water!

From my 2009 Journal. God delighted in King Solomon and showered him with honor and wealth and blessing. But it looks to me as if God’s delight was conditional: If you do it My way, you’ll get rewarded. If not, I’ll zap you (I Kings 3:14). Is that how I tend to view God? The first time calamity strikes, I ask, “What did I do to anger God?”

Visual: It feels like I’m walking a tightrope: keep my balance, walk carefully the straight and narrow path, but I’m doomed because the winds of adversity will knock me off. I might start out well, but I’ll finish with little faith. It’s easy to take my eyes off Jesus at the finish line and look down in fear. Then boom! I’m done for.

It’s like Peter walking on the water. Something about his story has always bothered me. When Peter got scared of the waves and started to sink, Jesus’ words “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matt 14:31) feel like a rebuke, a statement of shame. I feel like coming to Peter’s defense and saying, “Yeah, but he was the only one who even got out of the boat and tried! Give Peter a break already! Why slap him down after he made the attempt?”

I can hear Peter defending himself: “I tried; I did my best, it was instinctual, and my best wasn’t good enough. Yes, I have weak faith; so what? I’m human after all.”

Were Jesus’ words really a rebuke as in “What’s the matter with you? Why didn’t you calm the storm? Why are you such a scaredy-cat about the weather?” Was Jesus angry at Peter? Weary? Disappointed? Disgusted? Sad? Or were his words simply an observation about the condition of Peter’s heart? I think Jesus had just held a mirror up to Peter’s face. (“But just wait till after the resurrection, Peter. you’re going to be a rock!”)

So back to the tightrope visual. God gave Solomon a pole—the Law and God’s promises. When he started to get imbalanced, he failed to correct his course and eventually he dropped the pole and tried to make it on his own. Disaster! Yes, I too am weak, frail, and easily blown off course. But have no fear—I, too, have a pole in my hand to steady me: The Word of God and the Living Word Himself.

Live Long and Prosper

From my 2009 Journal. Why do we hold so hard onto life here on earth? Suicide, euthanasia, and murder are odious to us. Is staying alive a God-given survival instinct? What if we knew the date of our death? Would we accept it or bargain for more days?

In her last days, my mom observed, “The will to live is pretty strong,” and she fought hard till the end to stay here on earth. Shortly after she passed away, I read Isaiah 38, the record of King Hezekiah’s demise. God said to him: Set your house in order; you’re going to die.

Hezekiah wasn’t too happy about that announcement and he wept bitterly. Remember my good works and service to You,” he replied. And later, “I must depart . . . deprived of the remainder of my years . . . my sleep has fled, because of the bitterness of my soul . . . Give me back my health and make me live.

I cannot judge Hezekiah for his response. We do this all the time. The minute someone gets ill, we pray for their recovery. I don’t think that’s wrong—but I think it needs the condition “if it’s Your will.” What would happen if, when someone fell ill, we also prayed for their spiritual growth or acceptance of their plight?

We do not always know the mind of God. We think all affliction is bad, but sometimes it fulfills God’s purpose. In Hezekiah’s case, God told him directly that His will was that it was time for him to leave this earth. When we do know His will, why do we fight against God’s directions? Do we really think we know better? He knows our heart. Do we know His? Do we know the whole picture? The whole truth? (See Job).

Surprisingly, God responded to Hezekiah’s plea: I have heard your prayer. I have seen your tears. I’ll add 15 years to your life. And I’ll deliver Jerusalem from Assyria.

It is a comfort to me that the God of the Universe has an ear to His creation. He has compassion on our tears and He responds with abundance. Not only did He spare Hezekiah’s life, but He offered safety from his enemies. He answered Hezekiah’s prayer, but at what cost? During the remainder of his life, pride and arrogance took over his heart. Was 15 years on earth really better than 15 years he could have lived in heaven? I can picture Hezekiah arriving at the pearly gates, realizing the ignorance of his request, hitting his forehead with his the palm of his hand, and saying, “What was I thinking!?”

The Scriptures talk about long life being a blessing. We always assume a person’s life is cut short if he dies young. Somehow it seems easier to grieve an elderly person’s passing than a younger one. But from heaven’s perspective, the younger one has been spared an awful lot of heartache. If God’s best is for a person to live 5, 15, or 50 years, then he has lived for his full quota.

When God speaks, when He reveals His will, it is best to keep silent. I don’t think it’s wrong to struggle and work through our emotions—even Jesus struggled to accept the Father’s will—but our conclusion, in the end, must be, “God’s will be done.” I don’t want someone praying for me if they’re not praying the Father’s will!

I’m not near death’s door. When my time comes, will I, too, scramble for a foothold in order to stay bound to earth?

WORD FOR THE YEAR 2019 – REST

The problem is when labor becomes the only thing that defines who we are. When we come to see things like rest as a negative space defined by the absence of work. When we fail to recognize the value of rest for building our sense of self.

(Alex Pang WordPress Hurry Slowly)

All of my life I’ve set goals for the year, for the month, for the day. I’m a task-oriented person driven to make to-do lists. In college, my schedule was so tight I kept a minute-by-minute chart (no kidding!) for each day’s goals and activities. The advantage of this discipline is great productivity; the disadvantage is that flexibility cannot dwell in your vocabulary.

Marriage, and especially children, tended to upset my neat calendar rows, and I began to relinquish my grip on defining productivity as success. Some days just keeping a child fed, dry and safe was my goal for the day.

I’m in a lovely season of adulthood right now where I get to choose how I manage my time—no school bells, no appointments unless I make them. I have no imposed time frames from outside sources. If I were not so goal-oriented, I could imagine myself sitting all day long in a comfy chair with a book on my lap. But I don’t—there is work to be done, things I want to accomplish, ministry to attend to, and relationships to maintain.

Growth and maturity and balance, for me, have come from watching people-oriented people. I’ve attempted to embrace the fact that people are more important than schedules and “being with” is just as important as “ministering to.” But I cannot change my basic temperament, and I continue to set goals for accomplishment.

After the previous year’s marathon goal of stretching myself once a month, immediately I knew my word for 2019 would be REST. But what would that look like? Did it mean I would cancel all my prayer ministry clients? Put editing Simroots on hold for a year? Hire a housekeeper? No, it meant I would cease from self-imposed goal-setting for self-improvement. I could relinquish my “have-tos” and begin to relax. Just for a year.

RESTWhen I put the word Rest on my kitchen whiteboard, my friend Cheryl wrote more words vertically under each letter. Pretty clever and spot on I thought. I also came up with the acronym REST G (Releasing Every Situation To God).

What I learned this year: Resting is sometimes harder for me to do than doing! Jesus is my Sabbath rest.

What was your Word for the Year? How did that go?

Click on the links below to see some of my previous years.

Word for the Year 2012 – Adventure

Word for the Year 2013 – Word

Word for the Year 2014 – Food

Word for the Year 2015 – Hike

Word for the Year 2016 – Unplugged

Word for the Year 2017 – Neighborhood

Word for the Year 2018 – Stretch