Looked After

I lingered too long with my coffee yesterday morning. I planned an Independence Day run in my favorite park but didn’t start as early as intended. Orange cones already lined the street into the park to guide the throngs of firework watchers showing up to stake their claim to the best spots. I maneuvered my car through some of the cones to park in my usual space.

My run started better than expected and I felt good despite the heat. There were more people out and about at the park. Biking, walking, running, or preparing for their picnics. I ran through neighborhoods, around the school, then back to the park.

My run still felt okay but I was hot. I ran on the edge of a parking lot when I nodded to an older gentlemen driving a golf cart. He stopped the cart and motioned to me. I noticed he wore a cap with the park name on it. I wondered if he was an employee.

I walked to the cart and the man asked how long I’d been running. I answered him, then he asked how far I had to go. I told him, “three more miles to reach my goal.”

I must have looked overheated and thirsty. He handed me an ice cold water bottle from his cooler and told me to take it with me. Then he told me to take it slow. I opened the water bottle and drank fast. He looked concerned. I thanked him and turned to walk away. He said, “wait I’m not finished yet.”

He spread a small towel in his lap, filled the middle of it with handfuls of ice, and pulled the corners of the towel up around the ice. He put the “ice bag” behind his neck, on top of his head, under his chin, on his wrists and told me to do the same to cool off. I stood there with the bag behind my neck as he told me to be careful. He warned me of the heat again and I had a fleeting sense of familiarity.

He mentioned how he planned to celebrate later with his family and beamed when he talked about his grand children.

I thanked him again, reached to shake his hand, and asked his name. His eyes brightened, he shook my hand, told me his name, then asked mine.

Before he drove away, he said, “Marie, glad to know you.”

It wasn’t until this morning I discerned the familiarity.

The man on the golf cart reminded me of my father. Not his appearance, but the things he said and how he said them. His makeshift ice bag and demonstration of its most effective use. His going above and beyond in his care about such a small thing as me being too hot.

It was Dad who saw to our wounds when we were stung by yellow jackets or scraped our knees. He did the mean stuff. He dabbed our cuts with iodine or squeezed our splinters to the surface to pull them out with tweezers, and told us to stop whining about it.

As he aged, his care became more tender. More advice and prayers than tending wounds. Moving things or fixing broken ones. Letting us borrow what was his and always helping when he saw a need. Sometimes he helped before I knew I needed help.

Dad looked after us.

I finished my run. I took the man’s advice and slowed down, and it may be the reason I finished. I think it was another one of those times I needed help and didn’t know it.

 

Photo by Arleen wiese on Unsplash

 

Courage Giver

I received the best kind of text this morning. A spontaneous one from a friend who thought about me, then texted me to let me know she thought about me. That would have been enough to make me smile but she sent a powerful message of encouragement and some verses for me to think about throughout the week.

Her encouragement turned a manic Monday into a happy one.

Another friend and I are wrapping up our study of Ephesians this week, so I was reading the final verses of chapter 6. Paul ends the letter telling the believers at Ephesus he is sending Tychicus to them.

Ever heard of Tychicus? I’ve read his name several times, but I skimmed right over it without a second thought. His name is found in Acts and other letters and it’s obvious Tychicus was close with Paul and an important part of the ministry. Paul called him a beloved brother and a faithful minister and sent the man to update them on what’s happening with everything. What makes me wonder about this guy, Tychicus, is what Paul says about why he is sending him.

I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage your hearts.   Ephesians 6:22

He says the exact same thing in Colossians 4:7-8. He sent Tychicus to encourage their hearts.

Paul knew what it was to be discouraged and feel weighed down with doubt and worry. He knew the pain of loneliness and fear and remembered how words of truth and encouragement were vital during his darkest seasons.

When Paul couldn’t do it himself, he sent Tychicus to give courage to weary hearts. To strengthen weakened faith. To uplift downcast faces. To give hope and light and love.

We are told to encourage one another too. (2 Corinthians 13:11, 1 Thessalonians 5:11) And do it daily, as long as it’s called today. (Hebrews 3:13)

Because every one of us needs courage.

We don’t know what each person is facing each day, but we can guess from personal experience it’s hard a lot of times. A kind word from a friend can bring a moment of sweetness in the most terrible day. Someone cheering us on can give us the extra push we need to keep at it. A note reminding us of God’s promises can lift us from sadness and help us keep believing the promises.

My friend sent a text. Paul sent Tychicus. Both were courage givers and God only knows what good happened because hearts were encouraged.

 

For more information about Monday School, visit the Monday School page.

 

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To Those Doing It Anyway

Monday School is inspired by my Saturday morning run and Paul, formerly known as Saul, and the anonymous writer of Hebrews.

Saturday morning is one of my favorite times of the week. I ran earlier than usual and saw several friendly faces on the trails last Saturday. I saw some not-so-friendly faces too. It’s easy to see who is happy to be there and who is not. I passed several couples, and usually, one was cheerful while the other was merely tolerating the morning activity. One couple drove around the park in a golf cart and it was the same way. She smiled as they made the turn around the big tree, but he seemed irritated at the whole thing. One woman walked the trails humming a tune. Later, I smiled at a young man who frowned with the same intensity as he ran.

The people with the scowls on their faces were probably really nice, but maybe they’re not morning people and they’d rather be in bed early on a Saturday morning. Or maybe their significant other asked them to come along. Or maybe the doctor told them they need to move their bodies before it’s too late. Whatever the reason they were out there, this is for them.

And it’s for you and me and anyone out there doing hard things when we don’t feel like doing anything. Or doing the right and good and hard things when we could be doing easy things.

Way to go! Because it means something when we do what we know we should do, when we’re not feeling it. It’s important and it matters.

To do the work, when we’d rather play.

To study for the test to learn, instead of barely passing.

To workout, when we’d rather sleep in.

To say something for someone’s good, when it would go better for us if we were silent.

To forgive, when we’d rather not.

And to love, when it would be easier to turn our backs and walk away.

Paul said a lot about doing hard things. He made many references to athletes, their training, and the races. In his first letter to the Corinthian believers he wrote, “All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing.” 9:25-26

He wrote “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:14

When Paul spoke to the elders at Ephesus he said, “I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.”  Acts 20:24

Then near the end of his life, Paul wrote to Timothy, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”  2 Timothy 4:7

Look at the words Paul used: discipline, training, press on, aim, complete the task, fought, fight. Those are the words of a man that didn’t always feel like doing what he was doing. But he did it and he did it well. He knew his purpose, he fixed his eyes on the prize, and he did what he knew to do.

Fellow journeyer, it’s okay if we don’t feel it all the time. It’s good and right to do what we know to do even when we don’t want to do it. We press on, we aim and we fight.

Then God gives us the moments when we do feel it. We feel the compassion and grace, the tenderness and thankfulness, and the extravagant love. We feel it down deep in our souls and it brings a smile, unexpected tears, or an unreserved joy.

The writer of Hebrews reminds us:

“Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.  Hebrews 12:1b-2a

Jesus started it and he’ll finish it…..now let us press on and fight the good fight.

Photo by Emma Simpson on Unsplash

Full House

I’ll share what’s been on my mind all day, although I’m not sure it qualifies as Monday School.

Yesterday, we celebrated Father’s Day with the grill going outside and the sound of the U.S. Open in the background on the inside. That’s the way we celebrated Father’s Day when Dad was here. I always thought Dad should get a break from the grill on Father’s Day, but he didn’t see it that way.

Now my husband mans the grill for all the other dads and when he’s finished with that, flips the channel back and forth from golf to rodeo.

We laugh and talk around the table. The uncles tease the little ones and the boys throw the football in the yard. The kids play tag and climb the rope swing and we pose for pictures in front of the prettiest tree.

Here we are, in the same house, all these years later, celebrating the important days much like we used to. Our house was full on Christmas and Mother’s Day and some other days too. It will be full again soon. Same love, new generation.

Good people, good food, good times.

And all I could think about was grace…..God’s boundless, beautiful grace.

 

Photo by Aral Tasher on Unsplash

 

 

Our Trademark

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
John 13:34-35

I’m not sure why, but the second verse was rolling around in my head all weekend and it prompted me to read the passage where it’s found and then some.

These words found in the Gospel of John are part of the final instructions Jesus gave to his disciples before he was arrested and crucified. With his public ministry completed, Jesus spent the last hours before his arrest with them.

I wondered about the new part, because this is not a new command. ‘Love your neighbor’ was part of the Mosaic Law from the beginning. Matthew Henry said in his commentary, “it is like an old book in a new edition corrected and enlarged. This commandment had been so corrupted by the traditions of the Jewish church that when Christ revived it, and set it in a true light, it might well be called a new commandment. Laws of revenge and retaliation were so much in vogue, and self-love had so much the ascendant, that the law of brotherly love was forgotten as obsolete and out of date; so that as it came from Christ new, it was new to the people.”

The commandment was new in experience. For the first time, the people had a perfect example of love in human flesh and they were about to see it in an even more powerful way.

So, love is how everyone will know we follow Jesus. It’s our thing….our trademark.

Love. That’s how everyone will know. It’s not the church we attend. It’s not our denomination, education, or accumulation. Our traditions, rituals, network, or political views. It’s not our Facebook posts, YouTube channels or Twitter feed.

It’s our love for one another. And it’s not just the kind that says the right words.

John wrote in his first epistle: “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.’ 1 John 3:18

Then I remember what it says in Paul’s famous love passage:
If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.”  1 Corinthians 13 MSG

Without love, we are nothing. We are ambassadors of Jesus, commanded to love like he did.

It would be easier to finish this post using the collective “we” because it keeps me from having to look closely at my own life and asking myself, “do people know I follow Jesus by the way I love others?”

But I can’t dodge the question and I can’t compare myself to others. I’m commanded to love as he has loved me and honestly, I mess it up a lot of the time. Most of the time. On my own it is impossible, but with God all things are possible.

He never asks us to do something without giving us what we need to do it. And what He has given us is Himself.

Later in John’s Gospel, Jesus says, If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.”

Without love, I am nothing.

Father, thank you for Your love and grace. Show me how to love others like You love me. Deliver me from the love of my own comfort and make me willing to serve others. Make me more and more desperate for You and keep me in the light of Your love. Show me Your ways and align my heart with Yours, so I see others the way you see them. Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a steadfast spirit within me. I love You.

Photo courtesy of Joanna Schley

Second Fiddle

It seems odd that Paul wrote to the Roman church telling them to “outdo” one another. When I’ve ever wanted to outdo someone, it’s usually because I want attention or I want to be better at something. Basically, it was about me and me and me.

But the outdoing Paul wants us to do is not that kind. Romans 12:10 in the ESV says, “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.”

Other versions say “honor others above yourselves” or “take delight in showing honor.”

The kind of outdoing Paul tells us to do goes against the kind of outdoing we’re used to doing. Instead of outdoing each other in seeking honor, Paul urges us to outdo one another in showing honor.

Jesus gives us an example of what seeking honor looks like. He warns his disciples about what they see some of the religious leaders doing in Matthew 23.

“Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.

Before we start feeling good about ourselves because we think we don’t do this, stop. We’ve all done it and do it, only without the phylacteries and tassels. We brag and gloat and work hard for people to see all the good stuff in our lives. This happens on playgrounds, in school cafeterias and on basketball courts. It happens on news discussion panels, in political speeches, and on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. It happens at home, work, the gym and church. Wherever any number of people are gathered, physically or virtually, this can happen.

My favorite translation of verse 10 of Romans 12 is from the Message. The last part of the verse says, “practice playing second fiddle.”

Just think how much would change if we practiced this.

What a difference between seeking honor and showing honor! The difference can mean changed lives and restored relationships. Better marriages, life-giving friendships, less conflict at work, peace and joy.

Unfortunately, I tend to seek it more than show it, but with God’s help, I will get better and better at the best kind of outdoing.

To find out more about Monday School, go here.

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Welcome

For today’s Monday School, I’m recycling a post I wrote before I even thought about doing Monday School. It’s an oldie but goodie my mom would say. Paul (the guy who was once called Saul) just has a way with words, doesn’t he? And when you read Eugene Peterson’s interpretation of those words in The Message….well…..there’s no getting around them. It’s pretty clear what we’re supposed to do.

I’m away this week with some of my most favorite people in the world. We have a couple of newcomers to our vacation time this year, and I hope they feel as much a part of us as those of us that have been doing this for 17 years now. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do everywhere we go? Make others feel included, never excluded. Jesus said, “If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others?” Matthew 5:47

Thank you Paul, Eugene and Jesus. For making us think about how we receive and include others.

I have a welcome mat on my front porch. Most of us do. We like to think we’re welcoming people.

But are we? Really?

I’m sometimes guilty of welcoming only those I feel comfortable welcoming. Or those that are most like me. I sometimes shy away from having those that are very different from me into my home.

I have to be intentional about inviting all kinds into my home. Into my conversation. Into my world.

Unfortunately,I get so comfortable in my space. In my home with my people. In the office with my co-workers. And within my circle of friends.

My comfort is not what God had in mind when he inspired Paul to write to the Romans: Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. (15:7)

Welcome. Invite. Receive. Accept.

Joyfully.

The poor should invite the rich. And the rich…

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The Days of Our Lives

Moses brings us our Monday School this week.

“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”   Psalm 90:12

Psalm 90 is a prayer written by Moses, the one who led God’s people out of Egypt, through the miraculously parted Red Sea, to the edge of the Promised Land. Instead of trusting God, the people gave in to fear and did not enter the Promised Land until forty years later.

Throughout the psalm, Moses writes a lot about time and stresses how quickly it passes. Maybe spending lots of time in the desert, dealing with rebellious people, and hearing all the complaints about water and manna gives a person a better perspective on time and the days of our lives. In verse 12, he prays for God to teach us to number our days. Moses wants to learn……and wants us to learn……to count our days so that we become wise.

How will numbering our days give us a heart of wisdom?  The main thing it will do is make us realize the brevity of our lives. But realizing how short our lives are doesn’t give us wisdom. In fact, it may make us more foolish….chasing adventures, careers, or bucket lists and filling our lives to the brim with things that don’t matter.

There’s more to it than just counting our days. Moses prays for God to teach us to number our days. God is the Giver of our Days and must teach us what to do with them. He must show us how to live them, because on our own, we tend to waste them.

If you’re wondering, like I am, how not to waste your days……we can’t go wrong with what Paul wrote to the church at Corinth which echo the words of Jesus in all four gospels:  Love God and love people.

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”              1 Corinthians 13:13  

We’ve been given the days, let’s make them count and live like it matters.

 

 

Like a Good Neighbor

When I finally sat down last night to read and write a little, I was overcome with nostalgia. Our Mother’s Day celebration caused some of it but most of it came from our time at the church. The church was filled with others honoring the man’s life.

We knew him as Mr. Jimmy. We lived next door to him and his wife for thirteen years in another small town not far from the one we live in now.

We drove past the old place on our way to the church and the sweet memories filled my mind. The summer gardens. The country roads. The fields and the tractors and the cows.

And Mr. Jimmy.

The visitation line moved slowly. When it was my turn to offer my condolences, I shared a few treasured memories, told his wife and daughters what he meant to us, and explained that our son would be there but he lives far away now.

Our kids spent a lot of time in Mr. Jimmy’s fields; climbing the hay bales, fishing the ponds, digging up bones and old glass bottles. They spent plenty of time in Mr. Jimmy’s barn too. Playing in empty stalls, cuddling kittens and chasing puppies. We didn’t know it until yesterday but on the wall of Mr. Jimmy’s barn is the name of each child that has ever passed through it, including our three. His wife told us Mr. Jimmy wrote their names in black permanent marker.

Anyone could tell Mr. Jimmy loved his place by the way he took care of it. He kept the barn clean and knew where everything was. A dust covered radio played old country or southern gospel music all the time. He enjoyed time on his tractor and ate onions right out of the ground. He chewed on peppermint from his herb garden to ease an upset stomach. He loved to tell a good story, especially the ones about how he used to be but wasn’t anymore. He loved Jesus and gave him all the credit for anything good in his life. He’d come to the house for a short visit and sit on the same side of the love seat every time. What we all remember most about Mr. Jimmy was his kindness, generosity and a willingness to go above and beyond.

Usually a verse I’ve read is rolling around in my head and I share it for Monday School. But today, it wasn’t a verse I was thinking about. I was thinking about Mr. Jimmy and what he meant to so many people.

Mr. Jimmy was a good neighbor. The kind Jesus talked about in the Gospels. The kind James wrote about in his epistle. And everyone was Mr. Jimmy’s neighbor.

Yes indeed, it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: “Love your neighbor as yourself.    James 2:8