Monday, February 8, 2016

Getting What We Deserve

One of the young men who murdered my son's sixth grade teacher last year finally faced sentencing this past week.  To avoid facing a trial where the death penalty would be pursued he accepted a plea bargain.  He pled guilty and was sentenced to life plus 20 years with no chance for appeals.  In other words, he will never get out of prison.

I hope that this begins to bring some closure and healing for Ms. Mathewson's family and friends.  She was loved by so many.  She was a woman of great faith and her love for God spilled over into how she related to others.  Although our local newspaper (sadly) didn't focus too much on this aspect of the hearing....many of her loved ones, when given the chance to speak directly to her killer, offered forgiveness, and spoke of God's love for him.

What a contrast that was to the comments left in reaction to the online article reporting his sentencing...

-"Why on earth does this country allow people to live if they plea guilty, so taxpayers have to pay for this scumbags crime by keeping him for life. I think with DNA evidence murderers should be killed within 48 hrs."
-"Killing him would have been letting him off easy, now he will sit in jail for the rest of his life wishing that he was dead."
-"I hope he gets a shiv in the back while in prison."
-"Why is his life being spared and the tax payers will pay for him for the rest of his pathetic life???? Thats why these scum bags do as they please to who ever they please, the justice system isnt fair and prisons are over crowded"
-"Death would have been too easy. Where he is going for the rest of his worthless life will be like hell on earth ."

These are the mild reactions.  There were comments made that I cannot repeat here.  People were angry.  I get that.  I'm angry too that they took the life of this precious woman who was so full of love and enthusiasm.  And, yet reading the hate filled comments didn't make me feel any better, it just made me feel sick.

There were a couple of her loved ones...those who had the most right to be angry...who tried to re-focus the discussion

* "I was proud to be a friend of Nicole today. Her life was honored by the testimony of her friends in the courtroom, offering forgiveness in place of justice. Grace in place of anger. Love in place of hate.
Everybody needs compassion

A love that's never failing
Let mercy fall on me
Everybody needs forgiveness
A kindness of a Savior
The Hope of nations"

* " I completely understand the response of the public, and as a close friend of Nicole's I feel similar emotions. But she would not approve of this hatred. It was against the very core of who she was: overcome evil with good. Read the transcript of this hearing - and you'll see what an amazing person nicole was by hearing from her family and close friends. This is where the rubber meets the road for Christians - to show God's grace in the face of extreme evil.

Today I was more proud than I've ever been to be a Christian and see the love of Christ triumph over absolute evil."

But their voices were barely heard through the continued noise of voices hungry for retribution and blood.

I've noticed a trend on social media.  It's a trend of judgement.  There is no mercy.  People should get what they deserve and then some.

I think it's in our nature to react this way.  A sense of justice is good...of wanting wrongs to be righted and situations to be redeemed.  Yes, God is a God of justice.  But our sinful nature causes this desire for justice to cross over into hatred, anger, bitterness, and a thirst for revenge.

God is also a God of mercy and compassion.  Not just for those who are 'good'.  But, for the worst of the worst among us.  He does not desire that ANY should perish.  Yes, even for the men who killed an innocent woman in her own home...who tortured her & did unspeakable things to her.  He longs for them to turn away from the wickedness that has entered their souls and to seek Him.  He longs for them to come to Him in repentance.  He longs to bring even them into his arms as cherished sons.

If God's love and mercy was only big enough to cover what we consider minor infractions....if his forgiveness was big enough only to cover those things...what power were there be in that??  It would be feeble & frail.  It would be unworthy of any notice.

The fact that God's love and mercy is big enough to cover IT ALL is a reflection of the vastness of His capacity to forgive and compassion.  It is deep and wide.  It is unending.  THAT is a God worthy of our worship.

We took communion this Sunday at church...a time of remembering the sacrifice that Jesus made willingly for US.  He stood innocent before judgement and accepted our guilt, our sin, our filth.  It was UNFAIR.  It was UNJUST.  And as a result WE were the recipients of mercy and grace.

I thought to myself, "Thank God I didn't get what I deserved.  God knows I deserved punishment and shame."  And, as I looked at my family I felt so humbled.  I did NOTHING to deserve the good things that I have in my life.

I am not saying that it is easy to forgive.  In fact, on our own it is impossible. And,  I'm not saying that we don't have to face the earthly consequences of our actions.

But, what I am saying is that we serve a God who is so mighty, so good, so perfect that it is beyond our comprehension.  And, if we seek to honor him here on earth, if we believe that he took our sins to the cross, then that should change forever how we look at other human beings....even those who 'deserve' our disgust.

We should remember..always remember...that thanks to the Grace of God we ourselves did not get what we deserve.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Downton Abbey Episode 4 - Now We're Moving

So last week I commented that I felt this final season of Downton Abbey was really in slow gear and rather bland.  Well, last night Episode 4 aired & I feel like the story lines have amped up and now we're moving along.  Thank goodness!   My biggest fear as we finish out my favorite television series has been that it's just going to kind of stop with no real resolution or sense of closure.  It looks like there are 8 total episodes for this season.  We're at the halfway point and now I'm finally fully engaged.

Last night was one of those nights where I didn't want to miss anything.  There were so many lines spoken throughout the evening that carried weight, so many stories that took off running.  The sudden advancement in last night's episode seemed a lot like Daisy's near confrontation of Lady Cora.  It came storming out of the kitchen, tired of holding it's tongue, & ready to go to war......or so to speak.  Last night the writers had thrown off whatever sleepy fog they were in for the first three episodes and made stuff happen

In Daisy's case, she didn't actually have that confrontation.  Thank goodness Lord Grantham showed up just in the nick of time.  He naturally assumed Daisy was there because she'd already heard the good news that they were going to rent the farm to Mr. Mason.  It stopped Daisy in her tracks.  And she quickly scurried back down to the kitchen not sure to do with the misplaced righteous anger she'd had coursing through her veins.  Lady Cora said she felt as though she'd dodged something.  Oh, you did Cora.  You did.  And, so did Daisy!

But what really stood out to me last night was Thomas Barrow.  I know we are just talking about characters.  But, sometimes a character really touches us deeply nonetheless.  I think we all know a Thomas Barrow - someone who is so damaged by life that they lash out.  They've been wounded & they don't trust anyone and even when they feel a certain level of trust, they don't know how to reach out.  They don't know how to react to kindness.  And, they retreat into their bitterness and cynicism because it's safer there.

So my heart goes out to Thomas....not out of pity - because he can't stand pity....but out of compassion.  Last night was painful to watch for poor Thomas.  He got to briefly step into the role of butler during Carson & Mrs. Hughes' honeymoon.   This is the position he has longed for.  With it he had also expected to receive respect....because in truth he longs for that as well.  Rather, the staff just seemed to barely bear with him & bided their time until Carson returned.  If anything they seemed to take every opportunity to remind Thomas that this position was temporary & he was certainly not there because of any merit of his own.

There were so many heartbreaking moments with Thomas last night.  There was a brief conversation with Lord Grantham where Thomas indicated how much he had enjoyed his week in the role of the butler.  It would have been nice if Lord Grantham could have just been gracious and thanked Thomas for his hard work that week & stepping up to the plate.  Instead he basically told him he could never expect to reach the heights of Mr. Carson because Carson is a kind man & Thomas could learn a few things about kindness from him.  Except, while Carson is certainly a principled man and is a defender of propriety, I don't know that 'kindness' is always an accurate descriptor.  In fact, he's often quite unkind to Thomas. And then Lord Grantham basically confirmed Thomas's worse fear that his time at Downton Abbey is short and that it's best to continue searching for other employment.

There was also the scene with Thomas & Baxter talking outside.  I have a terrible memory & I should really write things down.  I don't recall the specifics of the conversation.  But, I remember Thomas telling Baxter that she's lucky because people actually like her.  She made some comment.  I forget the specifics.  But, she was downplaying herself.  Thomas told her she doesn't give herself enough credit.  This was the first part of this scene that touched me.  Thomas said something nice to someone else.  There was that period of time where Thomas was basically blackmailing Baxter & torturing her mentally.  Rather than allow this to make her bitter toward him, she has taken it upon herself to show Thomas kindness even when he rejects it outright.  She has slowly built up a trust with him.  And, he's still afraid to admit how much he appreciates the fact that she's the closest thing to a friend that he has.  So, the fact that he stepped out & said something to build her up was huge for Thomas.  She later said that she admired Thomas for not caring what people think of him. And this was the second part of the scene that just ripped my heart out as he turned away and said something to the effect of "You're wrong about that.  I do mind."  There Thomas goes opening his heart just a teensy tiny crack.

And, of course, at the end of the evening's episode Carson & Mrs. Hughes (as she will continue to be known because it was just too hard for everyone to remember to say Mrs. Carson now) return.  A welcome back party has been planned downstairs, and all the upstairs folks venture down to welcome them back...even the Dowager Countess who mentioned she hasn't been downstairs in at least 20 years.  Isobel quipped, "Do you have your passport?".  Oh, those two!  Anyway, all is back to the way it was.  And, Thomas recedes once again into the shadows.  In fact we see him standing back in the hallway observing the others...once again forgotten.

My other takeaway from this week's episode was that this seemed to be the week of "WWSD - What Would Sybil Do?"   We were reminded several times throughout the evening of Sybil's good nature & giving heart.  The biggest reminder was the return of Gwen, the former housemaid.  As a little aside - I have to say that there have been so many characters that have come & gone over the course of these past 6 years...often just appearing as a minor blip in the storyline....that when they return again I really don't remember who they are.  Apparently we were supposed to remember the man Edith ran into on the street as someone she had met before.  Although, I am like Edith.  I would have walked right past him never realizing our paths had crossed before.  And, the new race car driver/ possible new love interest for Mary has been seen before?  Apparently.  But, I couldn't begin to tell you in what context he first appeared.

Anyway, Gwen is now Mrs. Harding.  She and her husband work to raise funds for young women to achieve higher education who otherwise lack the  opportunity.  Gwen herself has done well.  She was a housemaid with higher aspirations.  With Miss Sybil's encouragement she took classes to become a secretary.  She went on to work in the secretarial field before marrying Mr. Harding, who to the best I can figure is high enough in the social structure to have the respect of the Granthams, but isn't quite as high bred as they are.

Gwen didn't realize that one of the stops she and her husband were making to try to rally support for their cause would be Downton.  She feels understandably awkward and doesn't immediately 'fess up to why Lady Mary would think she looks familiar.  "Have we met before?"  Lady Mary asks.  "No, we haven't officially met."  Gwen replies...which while it's technically true, it's stretching it a bit.

Thomas' cranky nature gets the best of him & he can't help buy 'out' her at their lunch.  It doesn't go as he imagined though.  And, instead everyone seems annoyed at him for trying to put her in an uncomfortable position and instead they ooh & ahh over her and seem genuinely glad to see her.  This is where we are reminded again that Miss Sybil did a great deal to mentor and encourage Gwen.

So is it any wonder that later that evening as everyone is gathered & the discussion of the farm & Mr. Mason comes up, the question "What would Sybil do?" helps them all find their moral compass.   Even Mary later notes her own moral failings in comparison to her dead sister.  Perhaps there is hope for cold hearted Mary yet if she's able to acknowledge that she is indeed cold.

Other notes from the evening:

 - The Dowager Countess seems to be fighting a losing battle.  Even when she brought in reinforcements to support her side of the hospital merger debate, it backfired.  She knows she's outnumbered.  And, at dinner it appeared that she could spit or cry....neither of which is appropriate.  So, she had a bit of a contained hissy fit.

 - Foreshadowing?  Lord Grantham continues to have shooting stomach pains.  Something is most definitely not right.  At one point Lord Grantham & Lady Cora are talking about his mother & how upset she is over the whole hospital issue.  And Lord Grantham worries it will be too much for her insinuating it could kill her.  Cora alludes to the seeming immortality of the stubborn Dowager and says something along the lines of "You never know.  She will probably bury you."  Ugh.  Is the series going to end with just that happening?  Will Lord Grantham die and be the final death stroke for the floundering estate?

 - Ok.  So Lady Mary referred to Tom Branson as her brother.  I guess she doesn't see him as a romantic interest.  But, she does seem intrigued by this car racing fellow.  And, he doesn't seem the least bit intimidated by Lady Mary....which of course appeals immensely to her.

 - Oh, & thankfully Anna told Bates the reason for her & Mary's midnight excursion.  Let's hope they have a bit of good luck now & that Anna's pregnancy is uneventful from this point on.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Book Recommendation - The Advocate

I am really drawn to biblical historical fiction. I have found a few authors who are quite talented at staying true to the biblical text while pulling in historical aspects and a compelling storyline.
Francine Rivers is one of those authors. Also, Bodie & Brock Thoene accomplished the same in their A.D. Chronicles.
I have another author to add to this list. His writing talent blew me away. Today I finished reading The Advocate by Randy Singer. This book takes place in ancient Rome. It begins right around the time of Jesus' execution. It is written mainly from the perspective of Theophilus. While we don't actually know who Thephilus was in real life (the addressee of the letters known as the books of Luke & Acts), Singer creates a believable and thoroughly engaging character.

In the book Theophilus is a young Roman nobleman of the equestrian class. He has trained extensively in both Roman and Greek philosophy. He is an intelligent man who is concerned with justice and he becomes an assesore (much like an advisor) to Pontius Pilate. He later becomes an advocate (lawyer) who is drawn to defending cases of those who have been wrongly accused.
The first 2/3 of the book is written before Theophilus has any encounter with followers of The Way. He had a brief encounter with Jesus during his trial before Pilate and while it effects him profoundly he does not become a follower himself. This section of the book is filled with Roman political intrigue and vivid descriptions of Roman life. Trips to the Colosseum, and glimpses inside the lives of gladiators, along with descriptions of the Roman perception of the gods, their style of worship, and the role of vestal virgins help to establish who the Roman people were and how a Roman would think and behave.
The last third of the book picks up where Theophilus meets Paul while he is Caeser's prisoner. From there we witness his eventual conversion, and the bravery of the saints.
The end of this book literally moved me to tears. It was intense and deep. And, I definitely believe God's hand was on the writing. This book brought to life a period in time that is hard to imagine. You should absolutely read this book!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Downton Abbey...Final Season Blues

So Downton fans, what are your thoughts?  We are 3 episodes into the final season and I have to say it's feeling a little....bland.  It just seems to be trudging dutifully along but it's lacking its usual luster.   We have only a few more episodes to bring us to a satisfying closure for all of our beloved characters and, as it's going now, it feels like it's just going to end with no real denouement.

What of our favorite villain that we love to hate & still have been rooting for his good side to prevail?  Even Barrow seems to have lost his teeth.  He's just sort of been moping about through these first three episodes convinced he's going to be sacked & halfheartedly searching for alternate employment.  Come on Barrow.  You are one character I always count on to infuse some menacing quality to the story line.  But, most of all, I'd love to see you have a character transformation.  There's a hero buried under that cranky, nefarious surface.  Let us see it!

Carson & Mrs. Hughes have finally tied the knot.  After all the hubub over where the reception should be held, and then the COAT incident (more about that next) you would have thought the wedding & reception scenes themselves would have received a little more time rather than being a bit of an afterthought crammed into the last few minutes of the episode.  And then Tom & Sybie totally stole any remaining thunder by showing up unexpectedly.

Don't get me wrong.  That was the first thing that happened this season that has really caught my attention.  First of all, I just love Tom.  I'm really hoping they give him a story line.  Actually, as much as Mary annoys me I think she just lights up when she sees Tom.  Maybe we can have a romance?  Or would it be weird for her to marry her dead sister's husband and for cousins George & Sybie to grow up as siblings?  Eh.  Weird shmeird.  This is Downton Abbey.  They can make anything happen.  After all, we hardly remember Tom as chauffeur.

Ok.  Back to the coat incident.  Cora!  I didn't realize you had that nastiness simmering under the surface.  Honestly, I could just feel the humiliation of poor Anna, Mrs. Patmore, & especially Mrs.  Hughes.  Even though Cora came downstairs and made it right I imagine that would still hang over Mrs. Hughes head like a cloud.  Poor Mrs. Hughes would never and had never in her 30 years of loyal employment presume to go into her ladyship's closet & try on her coats.  But, good ole' Mary insisted she do this and that it was all ok.  It was their wedding surprise to Mrs. Hughes.  But, oopsie, she didn't get around to talking to her mum.  She halfheartedly tried to get her attention as she was leaving the library.  Why not get up off your bottom & go tell her Mary????  Anyway, the explanation Cora offered for her show of anger toward her loyal servants when discovering them in her room was that she was tired, had a headache, & was still brewing over her earlier confrontation about the hospital.  Still, it was a painful scene to watch

Edith finally told her blowhard editor to take a walk.  Thank goodness!  And who was that secretary?  She could be an interesting character.  Why not have Edith become her own editor & have that plucky secretary as her sidekick?  The two of them can run the magazine themselves.  But, just when I thought they were going that direction, that guy shows up and comes in to help them and the secretary becomes a background figure again.  Boo.  It would have been so much more interesting to see the two women work together to beat the deadline and forge an unlikely friendship across class lines. Changing times and all. But, I suppose we have to come up with a quick love interest for Lady Edith if she's to have found love by the end of the series.  And so Mr. What's His Name.

The theme of the whole show seems to be the changing times....the struggle of estates to stay afloat, reality setting in that it's not going back to the way it was, those pesky servants demanding to be thought of as human beings with rights, dreams, & hopes of their own.  And, then, there's my favorite....Lady Grantham and her nemesis Mrs. Crawley.  I have to say.  I sympathize a bit with Lady Grantham.  I'm not a fan of change myself.  And, here she is desperately trying to hold on to one thing she still has some bit of control over...the hospital.  But, she's outnumbered & I don't think she's going to win this fight.

At any rate, this season so far has left me feeling a bit deflated.  Maybe it's just because I know it's coming to an end.  There's no more time for dilly dallying.  Each episode counts.  Perhaps the pace will pick up because I absolutely refuse to come away disappointed.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Be Still

I've been doing more paper & pen journaling lately.  Really that is my first love.  I've kept a journal of some sort or another since I was about 12.  Sometimes I write passionately and frequently.  Other times there are long lulls....years even.

But, as I've been seeking God, I've found that writing down the things that he impresses on my heart is a huge help in remembering and applying what he has for me.

As I sat down this afternoon to spend a few minutes alone with God, I decided to go back & read some old journal entries.  This is something I do fairly often.  I often see what I wrote with fresh eyes and often it speaks to me in new ways.

I came across this entry from October of last year....only a few months ago.  And, it resonated with me today.  I thought I'd share it with you.

10-27-15      Be Still

I am impatient.  I know this about myself.  It's funny that my impatience even extends to wanting to hear God speak.  Sometimes I open my notebook and words just seem to flow from the Spirit.  And, I feel like I'm hearing the voice of God.

Other times I sit here waiting and there's silence.  I'm like, "Here I am God.  My notebook is open.  I'm ready to hear you."   And then I get impatient if I don't hear anything right away.

"Be still".  That command is in Psalm 46:10, "Be still and know I am God.  I will be exalted among the nations.  I will be exalted on the earth".

It's interesting how that line that is so famous - that seems to indicate rest for us - is followed by the promise of God's glory, that He will be exalted.  We are reminded of His sovereignty through it all.

But, it's so hard to be still sometimes.

There's another place where stillness is mentioned.  Zechariah 2:13 says "Be still before the Lord, all mankind, because He has roused Himself from His holy dwelling."

There's this sense that when we are still God is on the move.

Anyway, as I sit here with my notebook open - hoping for profound words of encouragement or enlightenment I'm reminded that sometimes the most powerful thing is to be still and to wait.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Doing Away With 'Should's, Part One

My mother in law snapped some family pictures for us yesterday in the back yard.  I'm determined to send out Christmas cards this year....something I haven't done the last 2-3 years.

I was feeling good about finally crossing this item off my 'to do' list.  And, I was feeling pretty spunky and confident in some new clothes I was wearing.  I had just received the skinny jeans & new black boots I had ordered.  And, I also had a new (to me) black sweater tunic I had purchased at a consignment store to go with those skinny jeans.

I was thrilled to have something a bit more fashionable to wear and I was feeling pretty confident about how I looked.  I was excited to have something fun & funky.  I've been feeling really blah & frumpy lately...and old.  So, I felt more youthful...and maybe even pretty.

My contentment lasted until I saw the pictures.  I was shocked.  Who was that fat woman?  Am I really that big?  While I certainly am not blind to the fact that I'm overweight, I still look different in my mind's eye...and even in my bedroom's full length mirror.  But, pictures don't lie, do they?  The truth is, I'm heavy....a lot heavier than I realized.  And, my fun, funky outfit didn't look nearly as fun & funky as I thought.

I felt like any joy I had felt just crashed & burned.  And, it's been a hard fight for me to find joy lately.  Lots of things have been weighing me down - mainly areas where I feel like I fail.  Failure as a mom.  Failure as a wife.  Failure as a woman.  Failure as a productive member of society.  Failure to keep my home well.  Failure to manage my time well.  Failure to be grateful enough.  Failure to be spiritual enough.  Failure.  Failure.  Failure.

But at that moment, the most pressing failure was my failure to manage my weight.  It has always been a struggle for me.  My weight has yo yo'd up & down ever since my teens.  In my 20's I had managed to stay fairly slim (although at the time I still thought I was fat).  But, with age & having children & sometimes feeling aimless & as though I'm drifting through my life I feel like I have lost any semblance of control I had over my weight.  It scares me.... this loss of control.  I just haven't been able to get a grip.  And, I keep getting larger & larger.

So seeing those pictures, I felt defeated & hopeless.  I actually typed this into google search...because I needed somehow to iterate what I was feeling..."Am I destined to be fat forever?"  Surprisingly...or not surprisingly...quite a few results popped up.  I clicked on the first one.

It was from  In an article there they talked about a study that had been done that showed that once people reach the 'obese' stage (which I now fall in that category according to medical charts), they are highly unlikely to lose weight & keep it off.

Great!  I thought.  Really encouraging.  But then I kept reading, and basically what he was saying in his response to this study, is that there IS hope.  In it he talked about moderation, not beating yourself up, working on being happy with yourself, changing a mindset rather than finding more willpower, and living a healthy life as opposed to following a 'diet'.  He talks about failures, accepting that they happen but not allowing them to derail you.

Ok.  Good stuff.  But, probably all stuff I've heard before.  Stuff I should know by now.  But there was something different about this site.  First, I didn't feel like he was trying to sell me something.  Second, it just seemed a real person...not some flashy website followed by millions of people.  And, not one that was going to say "You're ready to get started?  Awesome here's a 40 minute workout to get you going.  Eventually you can build up to our 2 hour workout, but we have to start somewhere."  In other words, it didn't seem overwhelming.  It seemed to understand how large a hurdle even the smallest amount of exercise or change seems to me right now.

So I signed up for their email updates.  And, the first one I received, asked me to do one thing.  That day.  Take a 10 minute walk.  If it's cold, he said, put on a jacket.  If it's raining, take an umbrella.  Just 10 minutes was all he was asking.

At first, I was like "Yeah, yeah.  Ok.  That seems easy enough.  I could start that tomorrow."  I stopped myself.  No.  This is today.  He's asking me to start this today.  So without thinking or agonizing over it too much more.  I got up & I went out for a walk.

And that's when it got interesting.....

Monday, November 23, 2015

Love Like Jesus?

I was standing in church on Sunday during our worship time singing God's praises.  And, as I looked around at all the people engaged in worshiping God, I asked myself "Do we believe what we are singing?", "Can we take the passion and love that we are experiencing right now & take it outside these doors?", "Or, are we just interested in soaking up all the goodness that God has for us personally without the willingness to share that with others?"

My heart been heavy this last week or so.  After the attacks in Paris, the whole war on terror & Syrian refugee crisis seemed to come to a head.  We are faced with the fact that terrorists can strike anywhere at any time.  And, we are afraid.  And we have spilled that fear over into how we respond to the Syrian refugees.

So many many Christians have said "No.  We don't want them.  We aren't taking that chance."  And, those folks have good reasons, rational reasons for saying that.  "Terrorists could sneak in posing as refugees.  We need to protect our families, our country.  We have so many in need in our own country - we need to take care of them first."

I get it.  I do.  All those reasons resonate with my own thoughts & fears.

But, do they resonate with what Jesus taught us?  Do they?

Jesus - who told the story of the Good Samaritan, an outcast to the Jewish people, who stopped to help a wounded Jewish man.  The Jewish people would not have associated with Samaritans.  They hated them.  They considered them dogs.  Yet, the Samaritan helped a man who he knew in any other circumstance would have spit on him & hated him.

Jesus - who said the greatest commands are 'To love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, & all your strength.  And, to love your neighbor as yourself.'  And, when he was questioned on who our neighbor is he shared the story of the Good Samaritan.  Our neighbor isn't just the people who will appreciate us & return our kindness.  Our neighbor is also those who spit on us and hate us.

Jesus - who also said (because he knows we're stubborn of heart & need further clarification) "You have heard it said - Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.  But, I tell you LOVE your enemies & pray for those who persecute you.

Jesus - who didn't just love the unlovable from a distance, but who welcomed them into his embrace.  The tax collector, the adulteress, the Samaritan woman, uneducated & loudmouthed fisherman - they all encountered Jesus personally & came away transformed.

Jesus - who was willing to go to a bloody, torturous death for us - while we were still sinners, still enemies of God.  He went to that death knowing that not all would accept him, that many would reject him & even mock him.

Friends, I don't want to live a comfortable Christianity.  I'm 45.  I'm middle-aged...most likely even past the midpoint of my life.  Why am I here???  Am I here to go through life as happy as I can?  Or am I here to be the hands and feet of God?  To see His kingdom advance?  To sacrifice my own life & my own desires for His glory?

Sacrifice.  We don't like that word.  We don't like denying ourselves or making ourselves uncomfortable.  We feel blessed when we're warm & well fed & we can afford that summer vacation.  We feel blessed when we have good jobs that pay well & nice homes & family surrounding us.  We feel blessed when we have health and security.  We feel blessed when things are going our way.

And, don't get me wrong.  I'm thankful for all those things.  But, what does Jesus say about blessing?
Blessed are the poor in spirit
Blessed are those who mourn
Blessed are the meek
Blessed are those who hunger & thirst for righteousness
Blessed are the merciful
Blessed are the pure in heart
Blessed are the peacemakers
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness.

I don't know about you....but some of those don't line up with my American idea of blessing.  Some of those sound...hard & uncomfortable & undesirable.

But we are called to a counter cultural kind of life.  We are called to something beyond what we see as the American dream.

"And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me."  Luke 9:23
Take up my cross?  Lord, that's hard.  I don't like denying myself & my wants & my ideas of how my life is supposed to go.

"Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few." Matthew 7:13,14
Oh Lord.  I'd rather stay on this easy path.  Don't ask me to take the difficult path.

"I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect."  Romans 12:1-2
There's that word sacrifice again!  Do you really mean sacrifice sacrifice?  Like something that is hard & difficult & painful at times?  Or is it ok that I gave up tv & caffeine for Lent?  Those were sacrifices.  Those were still hard.  I could barely do those.  Please don't ask more of me Lord.

I've felt convicted lately that the American church is missing the mark.  We are missing what being The Church means.  We are missing our calling.  If The Church mobilized & truly started reaching out into this dark, hurting, messy world I believe we would see miraculous transformations in hearts & minds & souls.  We would see the most wicked of the wicked overwhelmed by the Power of a Mighty God's love.

Do we believe it?  Do we believe that love is more powerful than evil?  Do we believe that perfect love casts out fear?  Or, is it just a nice sentiment to tell ourselves when we're feeling a little blue or discouraged.

Christians, if we BELIEVE it - really believe it - we need to LIVE it.  And, it's going to hurt & it's going to cost us....and some of us might even have to sacrifice our lives literally.  Paul said 'For me to live is Christ & to die is gain.'   If we really believe everything that we sing about, teach about, read & pray, then we need to grasp this.  Our lives are to reflect Christ.  And, if we die because of it - we still win!

This is not our final destination.  We are passing through this life.  We are ALL passing through this life.  We get to keep nothing that we value in this life.  "For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known."
I want to share one more thing.  I had begun a time of prayer & fasting a few weeks ago.  As it turns out there was conference at our church that happened about a week after I'd started this fast.  What I didn't know is that the speaker who was there has a ministry that specifically focuses on prayer & fasting.  The conference was called 'Open Wells' & it focused on God's spirit springing up like an open well...that there is an abundance of spiritual water for those who thirst.

That first night of the conference I went home & went to sleep but woke up around 3 in the morning.  There were words resounding in my head.  I woke up & thought those are pretty powerful.  I should remember them.  I felt compelled to get up & write them down.  I did.  And as I lay back down, more words started coming.  I got up again, wrote them down & went back to bed.  But, when I still felt like there were more words coming for the third time, I got up & went downstairs so I wouldn't disturb John & I could write down everything I felt God was saying.

It's not easy for me to share things like this.  But, I feel God is calling us into something deeper than a comfortable Christianity.  And, these are the words he laid on my heart.  I don't think they're just for me....

"You cry out, "More Lord!"  And, I say "It is enough."
What I have given is sufficient for the plans & purposes I have set before you.  It is time to stop just taking in & start giving out.

I won't pour myself into vessels that only sit and receive ...with my precious living water running out uselessly on the ground.  They must be willing to pour themselves out and share my water with those dying of thirst.  Then revival will come.
Yes, fast!  Yes, pray!  Yes, praise me!  Yes, ready my word!
But do not just be hearers of the word but doers of the word.  

And I say, "Go forth!"
You are a mighty army that has assembled & prepared itself.  And, now it is time to advance.  Even the strongest & mightiest army is useless if it does not engage the enemy.
So I say, it is time to move out & fight!

And this battle will be fought with unusual weapons -
with love
with mercy
with justice
with a holy passion
with forgivenes

And I will go before you.  And the enemy will have to flee.  He will leave behind his wounded & you will pick them up.  You will care for them, tend their wounds, & bring them into your camp.  
And so your army will grow & will continue to advance the kingdom of God.  
It is time to advance!"

One other thing..... we know that God's heart is for ALL the nations.  This link has a really good list of the many, many Bible verses that speak of this...

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