Don’t Miss the Disguises of Jesus

This post originally appeared at http://www.inspireafire.com/dont-miss-disguises-jesus/.

In the dream, we had to shepherd all the kids inside, because there was a strange man outside trying to lure them away from the house. And not just with penny candy or puppies. He was setting up extravagant bounce houses right in the front yard. Tall ones to climb, and sturdy ones to jump inside, and long ones to race through and slide down. This was a serious threat for even the most stranger-wary child.

bouncehouseOnce safely inside we pulled the curtains. The kids were playing happily since none of them had noticed the extravagant playhouses just outside our door; I stood guard at the window. I watched the man move from one brightly colored obstacle to the other. It was an entire playland, just waiting for someone to join the fun. Each time he glanced at the house his whole face lit up with a beaming smile. Then when no one appeared, his face fell into such a deep sadness that I felt my own heart twist inside me. Again and again this happened until someplace in the recesses of my subconscious another idea knocked against the dream. I jolted awake with the realization that it was not a scary man after all – it was Jesus, waiting for us to come out and play.

Jesus comes to us in many different disguises. Mother Teresa talks about serving Jesus in the distressing disguise of the poor. Jesus himself said whatever we do for his brothers in need we do for him (Matthew 25:31-46). But service to Jesus is not limited to those in need. Sometimes Jesus comes to us simply to have fun. Sometimes He flings open the door to the banquet hall (or bouncy house) and invites us to join the party. We should ask ourselves how often we choose to stay behind a locked door, peering through the window, and mis-judging his intentions.

Jesus wants more than anything else to be with us. We know this truth especially well during this time of year when we celebrate Jesus’ most famous disguise of all. A little more than 2000 years ago He was born into the world, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger. Herod tried to kill him, the magi came to worship him, and the shepherds praised God for him. He was so well disguised that it is likely no one, even Mary who pondered all these things in her heart, really understood what the birth of this infant truly meant. Jesus came to be with us. And He went to the cross so that we could always be with Him.

desert hills

In moments of quietude, God is there.

Today, don’t miss the many disguises of Jesus. Don’t miss Jesus in the poor and downtrodden, but also don’t miss Jesus in the joy and the fun.

Jesus is the Prince of Peace. See Him in the moments of quietude.Jesus is the Light of the World. See Him in the brightest of moments.

Jesus is the Wonderful Counselor. See Him in all wisdom and knowledge and truth.

Jesus is Love. See him in the love of your family and friends.

two friends

In the love of family and friends, God is there.

 

Take some time, this Christmas season, to have fun. Have fun with your family. Have fun with your coworkers. Have fun with your friends. Have fun with Jesus. He may be setting up the most fun activities on the very doorstep of your heart.Jesus is Emmanuel: God-With-Us. See him, even when you can’t actually see him.

Don’t hide inside.

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Connected

Colored Pencils

This post originally appeared at www.inspireafire.com/connected. 

It was a long day of travelling followed by a harrowing drive through an unfamiliar city. I arrived at the hotel with thoughts only of food and sleep. Too spent to venture far, I ordered a cheeseburger at the hotel bar and sat down to wait. I was counting the minutes until I could retreat to my room when a man grabbed the chair next to mine and called for a menu.

“Where you from?” He asked.

When I responded, he proceeded to explain that he was from Nebraska and was travelling back and forth every week for the next couple months to a job site here. I never did determine exactly what he did, but I was surprised when a few minutes later, after he had placed his order and departed, I felt my spirits lifted. Sometimes the simplest of human connections can make you feel less alone.

The next couple days contained more driving, meetings, presentations. But, I’ll never forget when I finally arrived at the main event, and one of the organizers introduced herself.

“I am your buddy. I am here to make sure you have everything you need,” she said.

She escorted me throughout the day. She showed me to my presentation room, joined me for lunch, checked in on me during my meetings. What a simple and powerful message that sent to me: I’m glad you’re here. I’m here to help.

I was starting to sense a theme of this trip, but God wasn’t done with me yet.

I was safely through airport security and standing gate-side when a mother with two little girls laden with luggage hurried by. A dozen feet from me, a container the little girl was carrying sprung open, and markers flew through the air. Dozens – I mean dozens – of markers. They clattered to the floor, bounced on the tile, rolled in every direction. The look on the little girl’s face was one of complete shock; the look on the mother’s one of complete helplessness. I barely had time to register what had happened when the scene was nearly lost from view for all the people who rushed forward to help. Other passengers who had been standing nearby bent down. People who were walking by stopped. A pilot who was waiting for his gate stepped forward.

“Thank you,” the mother kept saying.

Within moments, the case was filled, the cover was snapped shut, the flow of people was moving again. The mother and little girl vanished from my view.

cleaning-cart

Every time I pass a cleaning cart I am reminded: God has connected us for a reason!

I made a last trip to the restroom before my plane started boarding. I was in the stall when I heard someone on the other side say: “Thank you for keeping this restroom so clean for us. You are doing a great job. I really appreciate it.”

I could almost see the surprise on the worker’s face through the bathroom stall.

Okay God, I get it.

All around us are a million ways that we can reach out to another. It’s so easy for me to focus on myself and the thoughts that preoccupy my day, but it’s not much harder to shift that focus ever so gently outward. It can be as simple as a casual conversation with a stranger. Or the comforting presence of being nearby in case you’re needed. It can be a physical act of helping when things come crashing down around someone. It can be a word of appreciation.

Look around. In the next few minutes, someone is going to enter your sphere of influence. A stranger on the plane. A coworker in the office. A family member on the phone. A friend who just popped into your mind.

Don’t let this moment pass. Give an encouraging word, a friendly smile, a pat on the back, or a quick note to say “I’m thinking of you.”

God has connected us for a reason.

The Blog Challenge

This blog was many months in the making. You might think that means it’s going to be brilliant, but you’d be wrong.

It started last November when a friend sent me a blog challenge. Considering my severe lack of regular blogging, this challenge was needed desperately. Unfortunately, she didn’t give me a deadline. So the challenge sat in my inbox along with several hundred other “to-do someday soon items.” Which reminds me of a great poster I saw today: Each week contains seven days, none of which are called “someday.”

Hence, several months later, it was still sitting in my inbox when I sat down to my Thursday writing session and the severe temptation to nap instead.

“I will let myself nap if I write for one hour,” I said.

Then I procrastinated nearly 30 minutes trying to find the email that contained the ancient blog challenge. This left me 30 minutes to write a blog containing the words cactus, friend, hike and a reference to Psalm 42:1.

Done.

I’m pretty sure this wasn’t what she had in mind, but I’m telling you, naptime is calling something fierce. You might even say that as the deer pants for streams of water, so my eyelids pant for sleep.

That, in case you missed it, was a bonus reference to Psalm 42:1. The proper translation goes more like this: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.” And I have perfectly and unwittingly just demonstrated my personal struggle with this verse. Let’s explore.

I’m more familiar with the well-watered deer of the deep woods or prosperous farmland, but I can picture a desert deer panting in the shade of a cactus. I can feel the dryness on the tongue, the burning of the sun, the blowing of a scorching wind. I’ve lugged enough bottles of water on dusty hikes to appreciate how sweet those cooling streams can be. So I can appreciate this image and the deep need and longing that is being depicted here.

The conviction comes in the rest of the passage. When I consider the things I long for deeply in my life.

I long for friendship. I long for love. I pant after peace and rest. This makes me question where I place God. Do I chase down time with God as dearly as I chase down time with friends and family? Do I crave time with Him as deeply as I crave time with a good book, or a good friend, or even a good bowl of ice cream?

I do, I realize, but only after all the other longings have left me wanting. When relationships let me down. When I hunger and thirst again. When I realize that even sleep doesn’t truly bring rest. Then I start craving for God to come and piece me back together.

Jesus knew what He was saying when He said “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst” (John 4:13).

There are temporal needs in this world that can be met in temporal ways. We need water. We need food. We need friendship. But our deepest needs are not met by a reliance on the things we crave. They are met through a recognition of and a relationship with the One through whom these blessings flow. The difference is like repeatedly asking for a glass of water instead of asking for the wellspring.

I need to recognize amidst my scattered needs that there is an all-surpassing need that girds my pursuits. I need to recognize my longing for God. Then I need to spend time reading my Bible, praying, walking alone, or inviting God in for a bowl of ice cream. (I’ll help Him eat His.)

I need to recognize within my longing for that nap, that there is also a deeper longing for true rest.  Both are important.

Which reminds me, I’m well past my hour of writing, and still in need of that nap.

Undebatable

I love to participate in a good debate. When I’m in the right mood, the topic doesn’t even matter.  Like the other day when I somehow ended up in a heated discussion over Spam and the definition of the word tangent. I launched into an elaborate discourse that wove intricate circles through miles of linguistic terrain in a manner sure to baffle even the most adept navigator. I was rather pleased with my performance, but despite the maze of rabbit holes I repeatedly laid down, my friend kept coming back to the one tiny flaw in my otherwise airtight opening statement.

I think that means she won, but I won’t ever tell her that.

Truth is hard to argue with, but that doesn’t stop me – or many others – from trying. In today’s culture it’s very much in vogue to not only argue with truth, but to argue whether truth even exists. As the saying goes, if you ask five experts the same question, you’re likely to get at least seven different answers.

Jesus said something very different. He claimed not only to speak truth, but to be truth (John 14:6).

People of His day tried to joust with Him, too. There was the time when spies were sent to verbally trap Him by asking whether it was right to pay taxes to Caesar. Jesus saw through that ploy, giving them a succinct answer that ended the discussion and amazed everyone within hearing (Luke 20).

Another time the Jews demanded that Jesus tell them plainly whether He was the Messiah, but Jesus wasn’t interested in fruitless, insincere discussions. Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe.” (John 10:25)

Jesus carried himself different from other men. He did not speak like the other teachers spoke; He spoke as one who had authority. He did not debate to prove His points or to enjoy the thrill of the verbal competition. He spoke to spread the message of truth to those who would receive it.

“I am the way, the truth, and the life,” Jesus said. “No one comes to the Father except through me.”

There were critics in Jesus’ day who debated who He was, just as there are critics today. But Jesus has never been interested in a debate simply for the sake of a debate.

Instead, Jesus engages with those who come with sincere questions and with those who come to test all things to see if they are true. He is willing to answer questions, explain parables, and provide evidence. To the doubting Thomases, to the Nicodemuses, and to the large crowds of today, Jesus still speaks through the words recorded in the Bible. These words were written that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing we may have life in His name (John 20:31).

You can try to debate it, but you might be better served to simply listen, question, and consider.

“I did tell you,” Jesus said.

 

Break Time

 DawnToDusk

This post originally appeared at: http://www.inspireafire.com/break-time
And yes, that moon photo is one I took recently on a drive through IA. Isn’t it amazing?

I was walking through the Wal-Mart parking lot when three individuals stepped out of their separate cars. They unknowingly fell into step with each other and headed toward the entrance. I watched in amazement as they reached out their left arms with the precision of synchronized swimmers. They moved like extensions of the same organism: first extending, then bending, then bringing their cell phones to their ears.

I don’t think any of them noticed the others. I wouldn’t have noticed them either, except for once I was not on my cell phone. I was not talking with a friend, checking messages, or otherwise engaged. I was simply walking my dog on a shortcut through the parking lot and toward our favorite park. As I went, I realized it had been a long time since I had simply walked and looked – I mean really looked – around me.

computers

All of this convenience, and yet…

There was a time when walking my dog was how I sorted through my day, just me and God and the occasional squirrel who rudely interrupted my ruminating by dashing a fluffy tail under my dog’s nose. There was a time I could say hello to the Wal*Mart greeter without him wondering if I was talking to him or the person on the other end of the line.The convenience of phones not tethered to walls means that I can squeeze in my verbal correspondence almost anyplace. With the advent of smart phones, I can even squeeze in my written correspondence while waiting in line or sitting on a park bench when I should, perhaps, be watching the sunset instead. All of this convenience allows me to connect with those whom I otherwise could never find the time to connect with. And yet…

Somewhere along the line my schedule got a little tighter. I joined this group, then that group, and worked late “just occasionally.” I volunteered for this, signed up for that, and was recruited into oh-but-you’d-be-so-good-at-this!

All of it was important. Most of it was fun. None of it could be dropped. Except of course, it could.

I’m not even sure how it happened, but it was gradual. I didn’t sign up for the next session. I stepped down for a term. I didn’t renew my membership. And suddenly I found myself walking freely across a parking lot, watching the ballet of the synchronized cell phone users and thinking: Sometimes freedom in Christ means giving Him the freedom to act in my life.

sunset road

Freedom means giving God room to act in our lives.

It’s a stunning thought, but I can hinder my own freedom by not giving God the necessary space to act in my life. When I have every minute of every day packed with activities, I am blocking God’s plans. Oh sure, God can and will use the activities I am part of, but I’m talking about that dawn to dusk treadmill that has me running so hard I might not even notice God is there. Heaven forbid He suggest I put my cell phone down and say hello to the cashier. I don’t have time for that!

It’s easier than I realized to become a slave to a schedule of my own creation. And there is more freedom than I ever imagined in letting it go… even for a short time.

It won’t be long before my little cushions of time get filled again. I’ll sign back up for this and return once more to that. But in the meantime, I am pierced by this probing question: How might God have used that time I filled with classes, sports teams, even church activities? While I am free to do as I choose, will I be even freer if I leave a little space for God to do as He chooses?

I’m taking a little break to find out.

MeOnBreak

 

On the Road to Success

We were on the road to Success.

Literally, I mean. We were driving along route 62 East across Arkansas when we crossed a junction with a township sign pointing to Success. This prompted the conjecture you might expect: How many people do you suppose live in Success? How long does it take to get there, and is Success hard to find?

Before long, we had pulled a U-turn (legally, of course) and were on the road to Success.

Road Sign to Success
Turn here for Success! (Photo by Janet Beagle)

This prompted a great deal of conversation on – you guessed it – success.

“What’s your definition of success?” my friend asked.

“Well, my interview answer is to be in a position where I can constantly learn new things.”

“And your non-interview answer?”

“Probably the same thing,” I admitted.

“I don’t think we can ever really be successful. Success is like this perfect ideal we strive for but never really achieve,” my friend commented.

We talked about work and whether work-in-progress could be deemed successful or whether an event needed to be completed before it could be labelled. We talked about relationships and successful people. We talked about the difference between success and contentment or success and happiness. We concluded that success was not an easy word to define. Apart from being a very small town in Arkansas.

Despite our meandering conversation, it turned out Success was only a few minutes from where we had started. (And to think we almost missed it!) Very few people live in Success – only 180 according to the population sign. It seemed like a nice enough place, but for us, Success was fleeting. We had miles to go before we slept, so we captured a few photos on the edge of town, and then continued on our way. I wonder how often the Successians look out their windows to see crazy tourists snapping pictures of their population sign?

In the weeks since I’ve returned from our detour, I’ve often pondered the term. So often “success” is associated with fame, monetary wealth, prestige, or power. In today’s culture, it seems to be obtained in a winner-take-all rush for the top with little regard to the methods used to get there. Yet the Bible gives us a very different definition. “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” (Joshua 1:8) In God’s design, we become successful when we follow His commandments, not the whims of the world. Again and again the history of Israel shows us how generations who were obedient to God thrived, and how those who turned away from God were overthrown. In God’s design, success is not a location to drive through and snap pictures; it is a way of life walking in obedience with Him. It is a journey we take with Him securely at our side.

Town of Success Sign
You never know when God might take you on a detour through Success. (Photo by Janet Beagle)

I encountered my favorite definition of success just the other day embedded in one of those email forwards I usually delete. In it, a little girl asked her grandmother for her definition.

“Success,” she replied, “is when you look back at your life and the memories make you smile.”

What kind of memories are you building? Are they the kind that will bring a smile to both your and God’s face? It is a new day and a new opportunity to start your journey. Take the time to reach out to others, to work hard, to spend time with those you love. Listen to God’s guiding voice. He may just send you on a little detour through Success.

This blog was originally posted May 10, 2016 at http://www.inspireafire.com/on-the-road-to-success/. 

Green Blessings

In celebration of St. Patrick’s Day I had the brilliant idea of taking a picture of every green thing I saw today. I quickly learned 2 things:

  1. I apparently really like the color green, because there are a lot of green things in my apartment, and
  2. God has blessed me with many wonderful things that happen to be green.

Here are some examples:

daffodils

Daffodils! It was still dark on our morning walk, but I know even in the dark that these brave flowers have some green beneath that yellow blossom. Like the birds that sing before sunrise, this early flower lets us know that good things are coming soon!

 

SewagePipe

Okay, so I’ll admit I wasn’t quite as excited to see this sewage pipe as I was the daffodils, but let’s face it. I do like indoor plumbing. (And for that matter, I like heat and hot water and electricity, too.) I’m also grateful for all the utility workers that recently put this in. That’s certainly outside my skill set.

 

doingwellsticker

This sticker greets me every time I enter my apartment. It reminds me of friends, and that no matter what I might be facing, I’m doing okay!

 

Leash

Even my dog’s leash is green. And what can I say about that? I love long walks and soft fur and the friends I have made through various canine activities. This green leash has connected more than me and my dog all these years – it has connected me to many wonderful friends and adventures!

 

dish soap

I also have a green dishtowel and green mop and green toilet brush. I can’t say that I particularly enjoy using these items, but I do always appreciate the result!

 

ovenmitts

Ahh, oven mitts. We may not live on bread alone, but a nice warm loaf that’s still fresh and crusty from the oven is a blessing I’m not going to pass up. That scent that lingers in the air… I think I can smell it…

 

addressbook

For those of you in the electronic generation, this is a paper version of your smartphone’s contact list. It comes in handy when your battery dies. I’m grateful for a handy way to organize important addresses, and most of all for all the people that fill this book.

 

safetyshower

I pass by several labs on the way to my office, and I couldn’t help but pause today at these brilliant green signs. May God shower us all with the safety of his presence today and always.

I could go on, but I think it’s your turn. What green things are all around you? You may be surprised just how many green blessings God gives you today… and every day.

He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside waters of rest (Psalm 23:2).