Archive for January, 2014

The Gift of Ants

This is a tribute to some very special ants. They definitely aren’t slugs.

I was introduced to slugs in the Pacific Northwest. I don’t dismiss God made slugs and made them with purpose—though it isn’t obvious to me except to build patience before I unleash unkind words when stepping on them. If you’ve ever stepped on one you know they are slow, slimy, slippery, and ugly.

Their human counterpart, the sluggard, isn’t favorably portrayed by God. They don’t display a lot of initiative. Consider what God has said about them: “The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who can answer sensibly” (Proverbs 26:16); “How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep?” (Proverbs 6:9). At best, sluggards can only rise to the level of, “I owe, I owe, so off to work I go.”

The ant receives high regard from God.” Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise.” (Proverbs 6:6). Ants plan and build, and are tenacious about their work. We can learn a lot from them. I’ve always wondered if they even sleep. Our culture needs fewer sluggards and a lot more ants.

Interestingly, God connects wisdom to work, and the illustration is ants. Satisfaction in work comes from approaching it wisely. Being a workaholic isn’t the answer, but faithfully doing what God has before us—whether jobs or tasks or service, with thought and persistence “as unto to the Lord.” In meeting our physical needs, God has even instructed the church: “If a man won’t work he shouldn’t eat.” Ouch.

The significant yet lesser work is our jobs or careers. I’ve had many jobs and ministry stations in the last fifty or so years. They certainly were God-appointed arenas to reflect Christ, serve others, and meet our daily needs. For sure, it is all kingdom of God work. The greater “work” for followers of Christ is to point others to the One who, in grace and love, did the ultimate work—giving His life for us on the cross. We never had an angry “boss” on His throne waiting to stomp us. We have a Father, urging us to come, rest from our labor and sin.

I said earlier this column was a tribute to some very special ants. For the last five years I have worked with hard-working and unappreciated public servants at the Department of Human Services. I salute you. This is a fabulous team. They are truly like an ant hill of furiously busy workers, each with their own purposeful task, moving about to help tons of people. I have loved their wacky, loving insults and tricks (they decorate my cube from time to time), and the freedom they have given to be weird me. The Queen Ant sets the example and provides encouragement day after day against impossible odds. (Her baked goods are pretty good, too.) They all know how to love.

Today Father, I am especially thankful for the gift of “ants.”

Do You Talk to Yourself?

Do you talk to yourself? Better yet, what do you say when you mudder under your breath or sigh deep inside your heart?

We used to make fun of people who talked to themselves. The joke was—and I think it is cute—it became ok to talk to yourself as long as you didn’t answer yourself back. Time and people don’t stand still, so it became alright to talk to yourself and to answer yourself back. These days, it is a problem if you ask, “Huh?”

Now, there is an unhealthy hearing of voices and responding to them, especially if the voices tell you to do terrible things. In all seriousness, I know a good Christian psychologist right here in town that I can recommend if you know someone in this situation.

But along with others, I have noticed a wonderful characteristic of many Psalms that has added a deeper dimension to my prayers. Read through them and notice how often the dialogue is a good prayer to God but also a good ole fashioned talk to oneself, too. Here are some examples:

  • “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” (42:11)
  •  “How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all day?” (13:2)
  •  “I wait for the LORD, my soul does wait, and in his word do I hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than the watchmen for the morning; indeed, more that the watchmen for the morning.” (130:5-6)

Psalm 42 is a good one to invest an hour in. Well-known for being set to the beautiful music, “As the deer panteth by the water oh my soul longeth after thee,” it is an excellent example of both talking to God and talking to yourself at the same time.

I invite you to take a tour of the Psalms, the inspired prayers of Scripture, and drink in of the talks the writers are having. See the honest interplay; see how straightforward the Psalmists are with themselves and God; see how they almost always end up at the only place every inquiry, every struggle, every doubt, and every resolution must culminate—God.

Thank You, Father, for offering an open heart to our prayers and for providing faithful counselors and encouragers and teachers and help through the Psalms. They are sweet and practical aids in times of personal and gathered worship. Thank you letting us talk to ourselves and You at the same time—complaining, agonizing, venting, asking, and praising all at once.  

Friends in Christ, won’t you talk to yourself and The Father often—the way the Psalmists do–even with Psalmists? And then, when you talk back to yourself, perhaps they’ll be fewer “Huhs?”

Wilder’s Prayer

Oliver spent last Tuesday—the morning of his four month birthday–in court, and last Saturday Cheryl and I joined in a celebration of Oliver’s final, legal adoption in Georgia. I wish you could have joined our happy family.

His church called the gathering, and we had snacks, kids played, and people from all walks of life enjoyed one another for an hour or so. About four o’clock, the elders and pastor brought us together to pray. Jason, who with his wife Kimberly have adopted two children themselves and are a primary influence on our daughter and husband, gave a short word about adoption and then he prayed. He gave thanks for Oliver and his new family, and he gave thanks for the “gospel” that declares God also bought us out of our dead-end past, brought us into His family by faith, and has prepared a future with Him forever.

The legal proceedings Tuesday were short in time but long in significance. After months of searching for the biological father—and since the mother gave up her legal rights to Oliver—the judge gave him a new name, a forever family, and a secure future in a stable Godly family. What a comparison to our stories, too, when we have put our trust in Jesus Christ.

The night of the adoption Wilder, Oliver’s new seven year old brother, prayed, “God, thank you that we got to adopt Oliver today and now no one can take him away from us. And thank you that we got to go to Olive Garden to celebrate although that’s not as important. Amen.” Don’t you love children’s prayers?!

Wilder knows what it is like to have adoptive children brought into his life and then taken away. Four have come and gone. Our daughter tells us at first Wilder and his sister Adeline were tentative with Oliver. But you should have seen them playing with him, holding him, constantly kissing him, and competing for his attention when we were there this weekend.

Wilder’s prayer and Oliver’s adoption remind me of our salvation in John 10:29, “My Father who has given them to Me, is greater than all, no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” The parallels are amazing:

  • God is greater than the legal system, irresponsible biological parents, and any dangers Oliver or Christ’s followers will ever face;
  • God has provided a way through Jesus for Oliver and us to be part of His family:
  •  Oliver rests in the Father’s grip with a safe, guaranteed future—we do, too.

We drove in horrible traffic, cold rain, and fog to our daughter’s Friday night. We had to make one traffic detour, and it never stopped raining for almost six hours. When we walked out of the celebration the next day to drive back to Tennessee, the sun was shining and the sunset was astounding…sort of what I imagine it was like inside Olive Garden Tuesday night.


Shawna’s Stickers

“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain…I am hard pressed…My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample case to glory in Christ Jesus…” Philippians 1

Shawna had a difficult decision to make and so do we. Shawna is the smartest, cutest, and liveliest two year old girl in the universe. Yep, she’s my granddaughter.

   Just the other night, she was unloading a suitcase used for storing children’s books and toys. She shares it with her sister, who is four years old. Big sister was out of the room, so Shawna had the suitcase all to herself. Younger sisters don’t get to experience heaven on earth very often.

   As I watched her delight unfold, suddenly everything in her world stopped. She had discovered a set of stickers. I wish there had been stickers when I was a kid. Stickers are paper candy. Shawna’s eyes revealed her dilemma: “What do I put stickers on first?”

   At just the most strategic moment to ruin everything Popi (that’s me) piped in to say we aren’t going to put the stickers on stuff tonight. That was a copout so her mother or father could supervise the rapid destruction of priceless books and perfectly lovely toys.

   It’s what happened next that proved we are all torn between two worlds. In an act far beyond a typical two year old, Shawna held up the stickers, looked at them, then looked at me, and finally looked back at the stickers before she put them down.

   The Apostle Paul states our dilemma in Philippians 1 (above). Here is my paraphrase:

Life on earth can be fine, with many wonderful gifts and relationships. The unbelievably stunning sunrises, mountains, colors, sounds, ice cream, and granddaughter kisses give me a very thankful heart, too. Yet, all of this is temporary and no substitute for living in the presence of Christ forever. I can’t decide some days between this world and the one waiting for me. So, as I’ve heard said before, I am “ready to go but willing to stay” knowing I have the privilege to serve others so they, too, will seek to glorify Christ.    

   A new year presents us with a ripe opportunity to consider the options, decide, and focus. The better option, as Scripture states, is to be with Christ—right now, where He is, with Him, face to face, not on earth even with its beauty and majesty. But staying for a while to do God’s work is blessed, too.

   Shawna looked back and forth for a minute, made the hard choice, and made her grandfather very happy. Why is it so hard for us sometimes?

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