November 28, 2009

I just read a story about a man who went on a trip and left his employees in charge of his stuff. He gave three of them different amounts of responsibility in the form of money (It’s in Matthew 25 if you’d like to read it). The story doesn’t give a travelog of the man’s journey; it doesn’t even tell where he went or how long he was gone.

Instead, it describes what happened when he came back. Two of the trustees had been busy investing his money, and had earned dividends. He says to them, “Well cone, my good and faithful servant….” The “faithful” part caught my attention. It took faith for these two to risk the funds with which they’d been trusted. They had to realize something about the master’s character in order to be willing to take chances with his money. What would he do to them if they lost it? If someone else squandered it? How would the master react? Evidently their answer to all these questions was positive. They stepped out on faith in the good character of the one who had trusted them with his estate.

The third trustee, however, had a different response. He said, “I knew you were a harsh man, harvesting crops you didn’t plant and gathering crops you didn’t cultivate. I was afraid I would lose your money, so I hid it in the earth. Look, here is your money back” (NLT).

The boss was incensed. But I don’t think the tenant’s waste of the resources was the primary offense. I think it was his lack of faith. That trustee didn’t believe in the employer’s good character. He assumed the worst of the man, and his fear paralyzed him from stepping out in faith. He judged and condemned the one who had trusted him instead of returning the honor. His offense was in defaming and dishonoring the man more than just wasting his resources.

When someone misunderstands or misreads God’s character, it’s easy for them to be afraid of God instead of honoring and trusting Him. Growing close to Him and glimpsing His incredible love counteracts being afraid to trust. But this doesn’t happen all at once. He trusted me with five responsibilities in one area and three in another and one in my weakest place. Which ones will I invest and trust Him with? What will I do with the one that is hardest for me to let go? If I invest it, I have to grow in faith. If I don’t invest it, I insult God.

In the end, it isn’t the resources that most concern my Father. It’s how much I trust Him. The first two trustees in the story earned more responsibility because they were faithful. “Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!”

I wonder how often my faith makes God want to celebrate…

November 20, 2009

Yesterday talk-radio host Deidre Hughey interviewed me for her blogsite about my most recent book, What the Locusts Had Eaten, The Nikki O’Baire Story. You can hear the 45-minute discussion at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/deidrehughey. Deidre has interesting guests every week. You can visit her archives to hear some of the other authors and experts she’s talked with.

I’m always happy to talk about Nikki’s story. It is one of devastation to hope, of desperation to peace. I’m glad my job was to write about it, not live it. However, she and I both know and believe that God doesn’t waste our pain. He uses broken people whose lives were shattered; He alone can put the pieces back together and refract beautiful images of Himself through those vessels. How thankful I am to be one of those “cracked pots” He’s chosen to use.

One of the questions Deidre asked was how we are marketing the book. I have to admit I’ve fallen down on the job there to a great degree. My summer was spent dealing with illness, but I’m fine now and ready to consider some new marketing ideas. Please respond to this blog or to my Facebook page (Jennifer Evans) if you have any ideas!

One thing we’d like to do is market to book clubs. If you’re in one or would like to start one, please let me know. This book could be life-changing for you or someone you know who is going through struggles. There are thought and discussion questions for each chapter that are tailor-made for book clubs or Bible study groups. I’d be happy to have a “virtual discussion” with a book club over Skype or by phone. It could be an adventure!

I have to tell you a funny question Deidre asked me at the end (in case you didn’t get a chance to listen). She asked if I could have any superpower, what would it be and why. After not much thought, I said, “I’d like to be able to fly.” I still think that would be wonderful; I’ve done it in dreams and it’s perfectly glorious! Just think of all the places you could visit. Imagine soaring over rush-hour instead of participating in it. If a friend across the ocean was having a hard time, you could just drop in for a visit without waiting for a visa or paying for a ticket. It would be a breeze (so to speak). 🙂

 But for me the best thing about the ability to fly would be having control. Don’t we all long for that? No one could hold you down or tell you where to go. Dependence on a pilot or a driver would be over. No more confining oneself to speed limits imposed by someone else who thinks they’re for your own good. Setting your own boundaries. Or not.

That’s probably why God invented gravity. I need something to ground me, something to keep me in check and keep me from floating out into space. If I could fly, I’d mess it up. I’d run into a bird and meet an unpleasant or get sucked into a jet engine. Knowing my tendency to go the opposite direction (even with a GPS), I’d never make it to where I thought I was going.

In fact, He gives me all kinds of boundaries. The Ten Commandments. The Sermon on the Mount. “Love others as you’d have them love you.” He does it on purpose to protect me from my independence. That’s what surrender is all about. He sets boundaries for me so that I won’t have to go through what Nikki O’Baire did.

I’ll bet when my loving Daddy thinks I’m ready to fly, He’ll give me what I need to do it.

The Difference Christ Makes

November 17, 2009

Taken in western N.C. in 2008

What is the difference between a Christian and anybody else? Sometimes the best way to define something is by discussing what it is not. The Good Samaritan was not a Christian. He was not even classified as a religious person by the audience to whom Jesus introduced him. His contemporaries considered him a low-life, unacceptable because his ancestry had mixed blood. He was a common person on the street, not clergy and probably not even laity of any particular church.

In the story that made him famous from the tenth chapter of Luke’s Gospel, there are three other characters. For the sake of argument, consider the story backwards: look at the bad guys first. You’d think a priest – one who does good works for the sake of God – would stop and help a wounded man in the road. His job involved keeping every particle of the Law, but it didn’t involve getting his hands dirty. The other passerby was also a clergyman. He had prescribed duties for the sake of ritual, but they didn’t include involvement in strangers’ lives.

Now look at the hero of the story, the nameless Samaritan. Although he is just called a “neighbor,” he has a lot in common with modern Christians. Christians are not necessarily clergy, although some clergymen are Christians. Christians are not law-keepers, but grace-extenders. This Samaritan didn’t even know the religious laws. He probably didn’t observe religious rituals. Jesus was pointing out the man’s heart. The story’s hero acted out of a genuine concern; he got his hands dirty because he cared.

A Christian may look the same on the outside as everybody else, but his motivation is different. Christians are motivated by the perfect, all-powerful God’s initiative in forgiving. If Jesus has forgiven me of the garbage in my life, how can I refuse to forgive another for his offense toward me? My offenses caused Christ’s death; nothing done to me by another has cost me my life. In forgiving me, Christ set me free to forgive others without regret or strings attached.

God’s incredible love and acceptance of me invites me to change my attitude about myself. If God, the Creator of the universe, loved me enough to make such an extreme sacrifice, it makes me worth something. His love gives believers the opportunity for a healthy self-image. I am not to define myself by what I achieve or how I behave, but by to whom I belong: I am a child of God Almighty, a sibling of His Son by adoption. That relationship allows me access to all God offers: His peace, His power, His presence: not only now, but beyond life in eternity. It also affords me assurance that no matter what happens, I can trust Him because He is my Father.

Like the Samaritan in Jesus’ parable, a Christian is also motivated by a sense of urgency. The hero knew that unless he helped the victim in the street, the man would die. A Christian has the privilege of making a difference for good in the world. His heart breaks for the things that break his Father’s heart. As a child of God grows more into the likeness of his heavenly family, he will act more like Christ. “Christian,” after all, means “Christ-like.” Acting on one’s faith is the natural outcome of cultivating a love relationship with God.

Christians also realize their limitations. A Christian is not just a philanthropist. The Samaritan didn’t go rescue every robbery victim on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho. He had a life to live. Scripture says he laid the wounded man on his own donkey and took him to an inn. He couldn’t stay to nurse him to health, but he paid the innkeeper to take care of the injured one and promised to follow up when he returned and pay any further debt. He demonstrated healthy boundaries and personal integrity. A Christian longs to show the world a life that is consistent with what Scripture teaches. This is called personal holiness. Believers depend on God for power to love, to submit, to make choices, to respond rather than react. A Christian realizes his total need and depends on God for his total supply. If it sounds impossible to be a Christian, it is because within oneself, it is. A Christian struggles to die to selfishness at the juncture of every decision and in the intimate privacy of his own heart. Christ is the One who lives, becoming increasingly more evident in the lives of those surrendered to Him.

What makes a Christian different from anybody else? He is motivated by the love of God, defined by a personal relationship with the living Savior and prompted to serve others through the power of that relationship. The dichotomy between a Christian, and one who is not, is Christ; the only difference between the two is a simple surrender.

I’m NOT Lost…

November 9, 2009

Grace Labor Day 09

Grace - Happy 16th!

My husband depends on me for directions: if he turns exactly the opposite way from that which I suggest, it’s almost sure to be correct. I don’t know if I have other mental issues (ignorance is bliss), but I know I’m directionally challenged.

Yesterday, I had another chance to demonstrate my dubious guidance skills. Unfortunately, I was driving. And doubly embarrassing –  I had a lovely young passenger (my soon-to-be-sixteen niece). It’s easier to invent detours when you’re alone.

We’d started out on an expedition into Atlanta’s downtown area. It should have been a 30-minute trip from our remote locale. Since I was busy, my kind husband had programmed the GPS. I had understood that when I turned it on, it would magically take us to our destination. Usually, the plan is flawless.

However, on this particular birthday celebration day, the GSP lost its mind and almost caused me to lose mine. Instead of taking us to Atlantic Station, a wonderland of shopping pleasure, it drove us past our exit and told us we were going to the Fox Theater! Oh dear…

After touring an industrial area, going the wrong way to wind up on a major interstate headed away from our goal and running up a few dead-end streets, I felt like I was living one of my nightmares. A few vehicles honked their horns, and I really don’t think it was because they loved Jesus. I wanted to cry.

Grace (living up to her name) wisely stayed calm. A bumper sticker I saw once said, “I’m not lost; I’m exploring.” We definitely discovered some brand-new territory! I handed Grace the cell phone and the GPS, and she navigated us back from no-man’s land into familiar waters.

After a U-turn I’d have shouted about as a passenger, we finally found the parking lot for our destination. A five-minute search landed us in a decent slot and we sighed with relief. The half-hour trip had only taken us an hour and forty-five minutes.

Dinner was delicious and shopping delightful, but I can’t wait for the laughs we’ll have years from now looking back on our unplanned adventure. I just hope Grace doesn’t remember that U-turn when she takes her driver’s test….

 

November 7, 2009

Farm in the fall

Georgia in autumn

Today I had the opportunity to spend some time with an 89 year-young friend. She recently shattered her right hip when she fell (or fell as her hip shattered?), and is in a rehab center for physical therapy. The dear soul is quite deaf and also losing her sight, but her mind is pretty sharp.

What would it be like to be nearly ninety (her birthday is later this month), live through almost a century of history and watch your great-grandchildren start college? She remembers when she saw her first car. Most appliances we take for granted have been invented in her lifetime. Her family owned a farm during the Depression in the dustbowl of our country. Two World Wars, the entire rise and fall of the U.S.S.R., the creation of multiple countries and the dissolution of others… This lady has a treasure-trove of memories.

Yet during my visit, most of those fascinating portions of her past stayed dormant. I pushed her wheelchair into the sunshine of the courtyard and made small talk. Maybe she forgot her pain for a little while.

I pray she’ll have better days ahead, and that the therapy will be effective on her tired bones. She’s lived through so much. Next visit, I want to read to her about heaven. But I also plan to ask her more about her journey on earth.

Making Way

November 4, 2009

Tree cutting

Tree surgeon doing his work

An overabundance of rain this fall made the tree dangerous. He had to go. Hovering over our house, the old oak looked far too comfortable bending toward the roof in an almost protective stance. But one strong storm could have sent it smashing through the roof with the ground so soft.

I couldn’t watch the dissection. A short man in spiked boots, wrapped in rope,  hoisted a chainsaw through the English ivy to lop off one arm at a time, tie it and lower it to the ground. Two men guided each branch to the earth and gently laid the arms to rest. A tall trunk, now naked, stood defenseless in the wind. Soon, an empty sky peered down where autumn had been. A small man had again felled a giant. But for me it didn’t feel like a conquest.

Although I know  a tree doesn’t  have a soul, the poet in me grieves a little when something that’s been there far longer than I have has to go to make way for me.

They sent the pieces through a chipper that chewed them into mulch. I’ll spread the “ashes” in my flower beds.

 

Did you ever wonder…?

November 2, 2009

J and G anniversary pix

Anniversary 2008

Did you ever wonder who decided which mushrooms were safe to eat? And how many people died trying to figure it out? What about things like poke salad and dandelion greens – who decided how long to cook them, and determined that you had to pour out the beginning water and boil them again or they would kill you?

Can’t you just imagine the look on the face of the first Frenchman who actually swallowed a snail? How hungry was he – really – to decide that was palatable? And how many ants did some chef drown in boiling liquids before he came up with the bright idea to cover them with chocolate?

Different cultures enjoy different delicacies. What makes us think stuffing a lot of eyes, entrails and other detestable portions of an animal into a tube and calling it a hot dog is any more edible than an actual dog (which I have eaten, and other than being bony, it’s not bad)? Some folk eat cats, but I won’t tell Monet. ..

Tonight I had a delicacy for dinner. It was just one of those nights when real food didn’t appeal (aren’t we blessed to have the choice?!). The peanut butter and walnuts I put on my banana split made it a full meal and made up for all the bad stuff in the ice cream. Years from now, someone will ask, “Do you ever wonder who thought of splitting open a banana, filling it with ice cream, and calling it a meal?