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.

 

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Think Light

I was reminded the other morning of a time when I was little and hiking through a meadow of snow with my mother. The snow was deep – at least a couple feet – but had formed a top crust hard enough to sometimes stay afloat. Especially for someone as little and quick as me.

“Think light!” I called as I ran ahead, giggling.

I didn’t stop to consider that my mother was twice my height, or that my boot print barely filled half of hers. I knew only that if I imagined I was as light as the wind and stretched my mittens far out from my sides then I could run across the top of the snow. But if I stamped my feet and hung my head and concentrated on being heavy, then I broke through with a satisfying crunch. The powdery snow underneath would swallow my legs until I was practically sitting in the snow, even though I was also still standing. I repeated my light and heavy game all the way across the meadow, calling to my mother who seemed, no matter how hard she tried, to repeatedly be sinking to her knees.

“Think light!” I encouraged her again.

And then (to my now adult amazement), she did. She rose up out of the snow with a giant leap and came running across the top. Two, three, four steps before the crust gave way and she sank back down, both of us laughing.

I was reminded of that time just recently as my dog and I made our way across the snow covered yard on our morning walk. The crust was just thick enough for her to bound along on top, while every one of my footfalls cracked through. She bowed and pirouetted and bounced back and forth, not understanding why I labored so slowly. She knew nothing of the fact that she was less than half my size. Or that her paw print barely filled half of my boot print. More importantly, she knew nothing of how weighed down I was with sleepiness, with the pile of work that awaited me, with the thoughts that ran incessantly through my head.  She knew only that the stars were still out and the air was crisp and quiet. She knew that if she jumped hard enough she could crash through the snow in a pillowy poof. Most importantly, she knew if she was light and quick on her feet, she could dance spinning circles around me, tongue hanging out and laughing eyes clearly coaxing me on. I could almost hear her say, “Think light!”

How easy it is for our foot steps to feel so heavy. And how much I needed the reminder that it is possible to raise up out of the wallow and run lightly on the surface. If I just start thinking a little lighter.

“Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest,” Jesus said. “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

God promises that his burden is light, which means when it starts to feel heavy, I’m focusing in the wrong direction. Just like that crusty snow, as soon as I start looking down, I feel myself struggling through knee-deep mire. The good news is that it is possible to shift my attention outward and upward. Like the mittened hands of that little girl of my memories, I can feel myself being lifted up. I need only to remember to lift my head and my hands. To focus my attention outward. To call out to help another. And to think light.

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. (Isaiah 26:3)

Ashes

Last night I went to church and had ashes painted on my hand.

It’s tradition in some churches on Ash Wednesday to have ashes placed on the forehead or back of the hand. It’s a sign of repentance hearkening back to the sackcloth and ashes described in the Old Testament. And it’s a symbolic start to the Lenten season of personal reflection.

In the past I have had ashes placed on my forehead. Less humble, perhaps, but – I quickly realized – also less messy. As careful as I tried to be with my marked hand, it was not long before ashes made their way to the sleeve of my shirt, my jacket, my pants, the grocery store aisle, my dog’s head, my own head, my shoes… And even when it came time to wash my hands, the ashes bled and smudged and stained. Still today there is a faint cross-shaped shadow on the back of my hand.

Every time I look at that smudge, I am reminded. I am reminded of the less-physical but equally dark stains in my life. I am reminded how sin spreads so easily and so quickly, like ashes trailing from my hand. Some days it seems everything I touch turns dark. Some days nothing I say is right. Some days everything seems to be falling apart – flaking into smaller and smaller dark smudges.

But I am also reminded of another hand. A hand that is stained not with ashes, but with blood. And how this hand, too, leaves traces. Not of darkness. Not of ashes. But of life-giving blood.

For all the ashes I leave in my wake, there is Someone who comes along and deposits something else. Peace. Hope. Love. The blood of Jesus cleanses in a way that water on my physical ashes never could. The red hand of Jesus covers the black hand of me. And in His wounds, I am healed.

He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53:5).

What Others See in You

This blog was originally posted a few weeks ago on Inspire a Fire. See the original at www.inspireafire.com/others-see/.

Sometimes friends teach me things about myself I never knew.

Like apparently I talk with my hands way more than I realized. And I eat watermelon five times faster than any other food. (Keep this in mind if you’re ever feeding me in a rush.)

Maybe this isn’t exactly critical self-knowledge, but the point it raises certainly is. Sometimes others see something in me that I don’t see in myself.

Sometimes these things are negative. I need friends to encourage me when I’m frustrated, to tell me to snap out of it when I’m defeated, to remind me to be thankful when I’m not. But just as importantly, I need friends to give me positive comments. I need to hear about the strengths I overlook, the skills I take for granted, the gifts I should be nurturing.

I bet you’re the same. I bet you also need others to point out those things you overlook in yourself. And I bet your friends see more in you than you could possibly realize.

Girl in mirror

Sometimes others see something in me that I don’t see in myself. (Photo by Janet Beagle.)

God uses the people in our lives to help us find our way. But I’ll let you in on a secret. It’s not just our friends who see something more in us.

There’s Someone besides my friends who knew I would talk with my hands. Because He created them. There’s Someone who knew I would eat sandwiches slowly and watermelon fast. Because He designed me that way. There is, as Solomon wrote, a friend who is closer even than a brother (Proverbs 18:24). Maybe Solomon was referring to our earthly friends, but his words are true of our ultimate Friend as well.

“I have called you friends,” Jesus said to his followers (John 15:15).

God knows us more intimately than anyone could possible know us. He ordained every one of our days before we were born; He created our inmost being; He knit us together in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139). God has told us things about ourselves. Listen:

  • You are loved and forgiven (John 3:16).
  • You are protected (2 Samuel 22:31; Psalm 32:7)
  • You are handcrafted for a purpose (Ephesians 2:10).
  • You are made in the very image of God (Genesis 1:27).
  • You are called to perfection (Matthew 5:48).
  • You are never alone (Matthew 28:20; Psalm 139:7-10).
  • You are surrounded by God’s perfect peace (Isaiah 26:3).
  • You are part of a family of believers dating back to the very first disciples (John 17:20-21).
  • You are being guided, even in your moments of confusion (John 16:13; Proverbs 3:5-6).
John 15:15 I have called you friends

Listen to the Friend who knows us better than anyone. John 15:15. Image by Janet Beagle

We don’t always know what happens next. If you’re like me, you have a hard enough time keeping up with what’s going on right now. But we can rest in the assurance that Someone else does know. And when we genuinely try to follow His direction, He will keep our feet on the right path.

We are called, right now, to fulfill our days with the work that is at hand. Everything we need has been planted inside us. We just may need a little help bringing it out. Take the time to tell those around you what you see in them. Listen, to what others see in you. Most importantly, listen to the Friend who knows us even better than we can ever know ourselves.

Sometimes friends teach us things about ourselves we never knew.

Whipping up Conflict

Below is an excerpt from my latest Inspire a Fire post:

“If anyone ever asks you, ‘What would Jesus do?’ Remind them that flipping over tables and chasing people with a whip is within the realm of possibilities.”

I stumbled across this quote online, along with a picture of Jesus driving vendors from the temple. A more technical person might refer to this as a meme – one of those images that float through cyberspace being reconstituted and shared in various formats. Memes become popular because they present a familiar idea with a new, often edgy, twist.

Like this one.

There are some days when I would like to flip over tables and chase people – if not with a whip, than at least with something to get them on the other side of a door that I could slam. Something tells me, though, that this desire is somehow different than what Jesus would do, even if He did once chase people with whips.

When we ask ourselves what Jesus would do, the answer is usually the exact opposite of the scene we encounter when Jesus drove the money changers and merchants from the temple. We often picture Jesus as meek and mild. Indeed, He gently drew children to Him. He went to the cross silently like a lamb led to slaughter. And yet, we should not confuse these actions with passivity or timidity.

To understand how Jesus handled conflict, we need to look deeper than his surface actions… Read more.

Debt Free

I recently paid off my student loans. With submission of that last payment, I was – for the first time in (too many) years – debt free. You might think this would result in feelings of relief, elation, excitement, happiness…

You’d be wrong.

Instead I was plagued by sporadic moments of irrational panic. The moments were brought on by thoughts like these:

What if it’s not really paid off? What if I made the final check out for the wrong amount? What if, when I consolidated 8 years ago, they missed one of my loans and that loan has been sitting out there accruing interest for all these years? What if there is some other debt I forgot about?

These thoughts were quickly followed by others.

What if I suddenly have a major medical expense that plunges me into debt again? What if something catastrophic happens that forces me into a loan I can never repay? What if, just when I reach this major milestone, something happens and I am never debt free again?

And then it dawned on me.

In this life we have debts we can never repay. They may be financial. They may be physical or emotional. They may be spiritual. I am in debt to friends. I am in debt to strangers. I am debt to the gentleman who stepped out of his way last week to hold the door for me.

But most of all, I am in debt to God.

God has loaned me this life. All of it. The good, the bad, the everything in between. He has rained down blessings. He has walked with me through struggles. He has pushed me to grow. My life is a loan I can never repay. At some point, because I have no choice, this loan will run out. I cannot buy it. I cannot extend it. I cannot even ask to have the terms and conditions adjusted. When the loan is up, I will leave this life behind.

That’s a pretty big debt. But it’s not even the biggest one. Because in addition to this loan, God also has offered me a gift. He has invited me, when I leave this life behind, to go instead and stay with Him. He has offered to pay off the debts of this life. The emotional debts, the physical debts, and most of all, the spiritual debts.

If we compiled all the money in the world, it would not be enough to purchase passage for even one person into God’s house. Or, if we all worked our entire lives, trying to pay off such a debt, it would still not be enough. And yet, God has invited each one of us to join Him, free of charge. It is not a loan. It is a gift.

God sent His Son Jesus to show us our way home. God sent His Son Jesus to remove the great burden of debt under which each one of us would otherwise live. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith (Romans 3:23-25).

I thank God for the reminders in this life of what it means to carry a debt. I pray that He guides me toward good stewardship of all that He has given me. And then I thank God that even when I am under the burdens of this world, it is through His gift that I come to understand what it truly means to be living debt free.

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by cancelling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross (Colossians 2:13-14).

Today’s Question

“If Jesus had come to earth with the mission not of going to the cross, but to do your job, how would He do it?”

It was a question posed at a recent luncheon I attended, and the ensuing conversation was thought provoking. What would Jesus do a little differently? A little better?

Sometimes we forget that Jesus likely worked as a carpenter before starting his “public ministry.” And yet, that carpentry work was just as public as His three years of travelling and preaching. What kind of carpentry work do you think He did? Do you think He cut corners and made benches that would collapse? Can you imagine his followers saying, “Wow, He’s a great speaker and you should listen to what He says, but don’t buy His benches…”

How do you think Jesus performed in His day job?

How many lives do you think Jesus touched with a different kind of hammer and nails than the ones that hung Him to the cross?

And what does that say about how we, as His followers, should be doing our jobs?

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15).