Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Everybody Wants a Blessing

Back in 1995, a wise old preacher shocked me out of my idealistic romanticism when, at the end of our incredibly meaningful, inspiring, starry-eyed wedding he pronounced the following benediction:

And now, may God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ give you
Enough trials to make you strong
Enough tears to make you tender
Enough sorrows to make you human
Enough failure to make you humble
Enough hope to keep you happy
Enough friends to give you comfort
Enough faith to banish depression
Enough determination to make each day better than yesterday.

This is NOT what I had in mind as we commenced our married life. Blessings of joy, peace and prosperity, dizzying love, endless pleasure and eternal happiness was more along the lines of what I envisioned lied ahead.

As days turned into months and months into years, I found the rugged, grit-and-gut blessing a lot more helpful and real than any sugarcoated Hallmark card could have ever bestowed on us that day.

Wishing somebody trials and sorrows, failure and depression may not be what you and I want. But, whether we like it or not, these uninvited visitors will come and some may want to stay.

What I didn’t understand at the time was that the old wise preacher was giving us a working construct, a well-laid out pathway to robust faith, vitality of hope and resilience I didn’t realize we needed that day.

The emotion of the moment was quite enough.

And so, today, as we look at the end of one year and peer into another, I bestow the same blessing to you as it has been handed down to us, with prayer that the Spirit of Jesus Christ and His Living Word would make it active and robust in your life as it has in ours.

Monday, December 30, 2013

The Both/And of Christmas

I received a Christmas greeting few days ago from a friend who celebrates Christmas on January 7th.  I am sure it was intended to be received as a blessing of Christ who came to earth to extend the message of reconciliation and peace with God to all mankind - regardless of our religion, the calendar we adhere to, culture and tradition.  

But I couldn’t help but notice a subtle partition… a slight note of separation…

To you, the Gregorians… … from us, the Julians.

Gregorians?!!! Julians?!!!  I had no idea I was considered a Gregorian until I received the card.

I stare at the words and marvel.

Here we are, celebrating the birth of the Savior of the world but can't help but point out how divided we are within His own family. And neither date is His actual birthday!

The calendar adjustment that took place within the Christian church in the 16th century was always an occasion for double celebration in our mixed (or maybe mixed-up!) family. We get to celebrate two Christmases and two New Years. It’s the best of both worlds! It’s like a re-run of your favorite TV show without all the stress of not knowing what’s going to happen in the end.  It’s like truly savoring a delicious meal the day after all the craziness and exhaustion of four-burners-and-the-oven-all-on preparations is behind you and now you can actually sit down, take a deep breath and fully enjoy each bite.

The diversity of the body of Christ doesn’t have to be divisive.  In fact, the diversity is intended to be enjoyed and celebrated as a gift of multifaceted grace and generosity of our God who came to us all… Gregorians and Julians, Hindus and Muslims, Jews and Atheists, Gay and Straight. Republicans and Democrats. 

He knew we all were completely powerless on our own. 

Christmas - the coming of Christ to earth was God’s decisive verdict on the futility of all our human effort to save ourselves. What we couldn’t do for ourselves – with our hard work, with our religion, with our self-improvement and resolutions, our knowledge and expertise -  He did. 

Once for all. 

On the Cross.

And started a new – eternal – calendar. 

Beginning with today.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Either/Or of Christmas

There is an old Yiddish saying:

If God lived on earth, they would break His windows.

I wonder if the ‘they’ of the saying should really read ‘we’?

For, somewhere deep down, we all have issues with God. 

With the way He runs this world. 

With the way He allows nonsensical suffering, tolerates evil, puts up with the hypocrites.  

We are like frustrated children who think we would do a much better job of parenting.  We are infuriated with His timing.  We question His love or power or both.

Some of us are angry.  Some of us are resentful. Some of us have simply given up.

The appearance of God on earth proved the general truth of the Yiddish proverb.  Except in reality it was worse.  Much worse than 'just' breaking windows or tearing down and burning His house. 

And, much more personal. 

Nothing God does is anything but personal. 

Because of that, from the very beginning of His earthly life, some sought Him out to worship Him while others sought Him out to kill Him.

This continued to be a recurring pattern throughout His earthly life. And continues all the way to the end.

He was in the world, 
the world was there through Him, 
and yet the world didn't even notice.

He came to His own people, 
but they didn't want Him.

But whoever did want Him, 
who believed He was who He claimed and would do what He said, He made to be their true selves, 
their child-of-God selves.

These are the God-begotten,
not blood-begotten,
not flesh-begotten,
not sex-begotten. John 1:10-13

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Trauma Recovery Day

The verdict is officially out. I must be getting old for I realize that by far my favorite day of the year is the day after Christmas.

It’s the day when all the build-up of noise, activity, expectations, disappointments and hopes of Christmas begins to slowly settle down and finds its proper place in an ordinary, overcast Thursday. The Trauma-Recovery Pajama Day.

The wrappers are in the recycling bin.  The presents are more or less quietly enjoyed.

The leftovers are in the fridge and the turkey carcass is in the pot, slow-simmering on the stove all day.

It’s the day when the chaos and craziness, the hype  –  both the good and the bad – is behind us and we can take in the marvel of Incarnation with a deep sigh of relief.

God With Us.

Here to stay.

Not as some celestial once-a-year visitor accompanied with a fancy entourage of glittery angels…

Not as a high-powered guest we feel the need to stretch out to please and impress…

But as an ordinary human being living an ordinary human life. Growing from infant to toddler… to teenager… to young adult…to a full grown man.

Pleased as Man with Men to dwell… Jesus our Emmanuel…

After the initial hubbub, much of His life was lived in obscurity, largely unnoticed, unrecognized, even by His own family… except, of course, His mom. 

He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of Himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status, no matter what.  Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human.  It was an incredibly humbling process.  He didn’t claim special privileges.  Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death – and the worst kind of death at that: a crucifixion. Philippians 2:6-8

He didn't cling to the advantages of status.  He set aside the privileges.

He lived a selfless obedient life.

And then died a selfless obedient death.

God With Us.  Day in. Day Out. Our Emmanuel.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

An Unexpected Christmas

Merry Christmas Everyone! With Savior like this, expect the unexpected :-)

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The "D" Word of Christmas

It is during that awful rock-bottom time, while he was contemplating divorce, during the time when Joe’s dreams have turned into a living nightmare, that he made a startling discovery - God of the Universe, the I AM THAT I AM was Himself personally invested in this marriage of his… 

Although, at the moment it felt not quite unlike God had butted into his life rather... uninvited… Causing, at least for a while, this huge heartbreak and disruption and turmoil…

However, according to what the angel said, the wedding was still on, with one tiny adjustment - a tiny Baby inside Mary’s womb…

Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. Matthew 1:19-20

All it took was less than two dozen words and Joseph let his own dreams for his life, his own plans for his marriage slip, like a fistful of sand rolls off the open palm of a child’s hand.  And Joe embraced the path of quiet obedience to the Voice of the Dream… the Dream more real than any reality he could ever hold onto.

One foot in front of the other… enduring the voices of misunderstandings, enduring the voices of scorn, enduring the voices of ridicule and shame and ostracism…

Forfeiting his right to defend himself, to explain, to clarify the misunderstanding…  

For how does one explain the inexplicable?

For how do you clarify the unfathomable to the scorning, ridiculing crowd?

And in that process Joe learned to trust the Voice of the Dream more than he trusted himself…

Do not fear, Joseph...

Don’t be afraid Son of David…

You are a part of a Dream Becoming Real…

Word Becoming Flesh and Bones, Fingers and Toes…

God Becoming a Baby…

So, do not fear…

Do not fear…

Monday, December 23, 2013

When Miracles and Misery Coexist

While Zach and Liz’s home is overwhelmed with joy and awe over the double-miracle,  the celebration and the wonder of almost palpable God-presence reverberating from the epicenter of their house out all the way into the hill country of Judea, Joe is undergoing personal hell.

Funny how that happens... how miracles and misery can coexist not just on the same planet, on the same continent, in the same country, in the same city... but even in the same family!

The outlandish rumors had reached Joe's ears while he was daydreaming in his carpenter shop, taking advantage of the lunch break to work on the headboard of his soon-to-be marriage bed.  He dismissed the senseless words as outrageous.  Idle people come up with the most absurd things when they should be minding their own business.  Unfortunately, Mary went to see her cousin and wasn't able to silence the vicious rumors herself. Her visit was waaay too long for Joe’s taste. He missed her terribly and he could hardly wait to set his eyes on his loving bride.  And that’s the moment when his entire world collapsed.  The unthinkable DID happen! The vicious rumors of the worst kind were indeed true.  With one look on Mary, Joe’s world collapsed into a million of shattered pieces.

She tried to talk to him.  She truly did. She plead and begged.  She cried and laughed and was not making any sense. No sense at all.  She told him she loved him but it was all empty words… How could she love him and be with a child with another man?!!

And the word that Joe never even dreamt would cross his mind, especially in his relationship with Mary, settled like a hopelessly foreboding cloud.

Divorce. No other way… but… divorce….

Friday, December 20, 2013

Unrelenting Holiness Unrelenting Love

The boy named The-LORD-is-gracious didn’t remain a newborn cradled in Zacharia’s and Elizabeth’s arms.  

One has to wonder if some of the angel Gabriel’s holy impatience, the spark that blew the angel’s fuse stuck to the couple's baby and became a part of his DNA.

For John, the Preparer of the LORD’s way grew up into one of the most austere, most controversial figures in diverse landscape of God’s motley crew.  Like fiery Elijah the Thunderbolt.

He might as well have been called The Sparkplug of God. The Thunderclap of the Desert.  The Bulldozer of the Proud.  The Leveling Plow of the Arrogant.

He described the religious hypocrites of the day as ‘brood of snakes’.

He called his great and the powerful contemporaries on the carpet.

He was an embodiment of a PR disaster.  His lack of diplomacy and smooth talking, his 'tell-it-as-it-is' approach eventually cost him his head.  Literally.

But Jesus calls John the lamp that was burning and shining. John 5:35 He says that among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist! Matthew 11:11 Coming from Jesus Himself, it’s hard to imagine a greater compliment.

How do we then reconcile his name – YAHWEH is gracious – and his life message of fierce morality? His unresting call to repentance and what we often perceive as feeble, grandfatherly forgiveness of God as if we are entitled to it… as if we can demand it… as if God owes it to us…? 

Or maybe this dichotomy exist only in our minds and hearts - proving that we understand neither God's unrelenting holiness nor God's unrelenting love?  

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Never Too Late... Never Too Old

He silently watched Elizabeth’s hollow belly grow and round. 

He silently listened to the unbelievable story of their young cousin Mary…

He listened and listened.   The more he listened the more he heard.  And he marveled:

How in the world did we get to be the insiders on such an amazing plot…? How come I get to have a part in the unfolding of this astonishing plan…? Why me?  Why us? Why now…?

And yet, everything – EVERYTHING – Zacharia saw and heard, everything he knew and thought he knew, everything Mary said begun to come together, to make perfect sense… when one realizes that indeed Heaven rules… not just out there, but over here… not just ‘up there’ but here, right in here…

When Zach finally got to hold his theology wrapped in flawless baby skin… something burst inside Zach…

Something old was made new…

Something dead was made alive…

Something… how shall I put it…? …stale…? …was made fresh?

And the words that opened his muted mouth… is it surprise that the words that opened his speechless mouth were

… YAHWEH is gracious

….YAHWEH is gracious

John.  John...

...Our God…. The great I AM THAT I AM… the one and only…YAHWEH is… gracious…loving... and kind... and...
But the word on his lips wasn’t just syllables… the word was honey … the word was Oreo cookies dipped into milk… a cup of hot chocolate on a winter day…  

For old Zacariah knew all these words all too well… they used to roll off his tongue with almost mindless ease… But today, they all came to life as he held the unexpected special delivery package… this little baby boy named by the angel – John.

And it was just a beginning… 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

When Angel Blows a Fuse

From our perspective, Zacharias questions and doubts, his unbelieving logic are quite reasonable.  They all make perfect sense to us. We know how stuff works here on earth.  In some things, especially the realm of the birds and the bees, if you missed the boat - you missed the boat.  It’s just a fact of life.  Live with it.

From Gabriel’s perspective,  our logic and reasoning are simply inconsequential. For the air he breathes is in the presence of eternal Word of God. He knows the Lord face to face.  He adores, worships and find his greatest soul's delight in being with Him and doing what He says. And even though there is much the angel doesn't understand about his Lord and Master, one thing he does understand.

What the Lord says He does.  The Word Spoken is The Word Fulfilled.

No ifs, ands or buts.

So, in the mind of the angel, questioning the Lord’s word is simply unthinkable.  In fact, it’s so outrageous that Gabe blows a fuse.

I am Gabriel.  I stands in the presence of God! I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. But, because you did not believe my words, you shall be silent and unable to speak until the day when these things take place. They will all be fulfilled in their proper time.

Just like that.
Zacharias leaves the temple…. speechless.  For the next nine months the old religious professional gets to attend a crash course, an elective-turned-major... Listening 101.

Because there is only one way a person can learn to LISTEN… truly LISTEN…

And that’s when the alphabet of his or her life gets so disturbed, rearranged in such a way that they become SILENT.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

When Heaven and Earth Collide

We are so used to keeping heaven and earth blissfully separate, comfortably apart.  Heaven minds its heavenly business.  Earth the business of the earthlings.  Unless there is some emergency, as long as they keep safe distance, we all manage just fine.

But, when the distance is bridged, when there is a breach in the invisible wall… well, there are surprises. And emotional upheavals.  On both sides.

When angel Gabriel shows up to the right of the altar, Zacharias is gripped with fear. This is the most common emotion that is aroused in the earthlings when they are faced with the heaven-lings.  Over and over again throughout the Scriptures angels uniformly induce terror in those who saw them.

And over and over again, angels do their heavenly best to assuage those fears and assure their earthly audience of God’s unconditional favor.

They’ve been sent by none other than the Lord Himself – the Creator of both realms - to deliver a special message. In Zacharias’ case, it’s a quite detailed message about the birth of the Messiah’s forerunner – the little baby boy John.

I wonder if Gabriel was still reeling from the shocking news which reverberated throughout the heavenly realm when he was summoned for the special messenger task on hand. His angelic brain struggling to wrap his mind around what he just heard:
Did you hear that Michael?!!! The Lord becoming a baby?!!! God  in… in… human flesh…?!!! A cosmic scandal!

But, Zacharias isn't privy either on the latest heavenly news or his own earthly role in the unfolding of God's plan.  In fact, all his hopes for a tangible, skin-clothed promise from God have gone by the wayside. With hope gone, all Zacharias has left… all Zacharias has learned to settle for is faithfully, dutifully wearing his religion like a garment, all on the outside of his old, drying up body…

But, God never intended for us to wear our religion all on the outside... like a garment, like a business suit... like a dead bark on a sycamore  tree... 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Christmas Hope for Religious Cynics

Yes, the Reality of Christmas is better, much better than anything we can Photoshop in or Photoshop out of it. 

The Reality is also worse, much worse than we are often willing to admit.

Take, Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, for example.

Good man.  Religious professional.  Faithful, untarnished by scandal, both he and his wife.  If anybody ‘deserves’ to be treated by God with special favor, it’s this couple. 

There is one thing they want more than anything else.  They give it their own best shot and it doesn't work. But that's O.K. They have a backup. Clearly, it’s in God’s power to grant this little request.  So they pray. Month after month, year after year, they pray and hope and wait; and they hope and wait and pray.


Yet, they continue in their faithfulness, following the rules, doing the job.

One foot in front of the other.  Persevering in what is right, and good, and true. Not only studying and knowing God’s Word, but actually doing what it says. How often do you and I come across people like that??

Do they ever wonder, Why bother? Why keep on while carrying this ache, this sometimes piercing sometimes dull pain…Enduring the shame and the stigma as if…?       

While Zacharias is meticulously performing all his religious duties, what is going on inside his mind and heart? 

Does he even notice when his hope turns into skepticism? When expectation turns into cynicism to prevent further pain because it is simply unbearable?

And yet, when all hope is gone, God sends His angel to the dutiful yet hardened religious professional.

Hi, Zach, it's a good day for you. God has heard your prayers.  The baby is on the way! And it's just the beginning...

Yea, right. You expect me to believe this?!!! Thanks, but no thanks.  It's way too late for us. 

But, God knows that sometimes it’s the faithful but disillusioned religious professional with a deep wound in his heart who needs to hear the good news the most. 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Photoshoping Christmas

I know I must be missing something.

Where are all these expectations coming from?!!!

Suddenly I think of a video which has recently resurfaced on YouTube portraying a stunning transformation of a quite attractive yet ‘imperfect’ ordinary young woman into a supermodel phantom.

Watching the editing process unfold is as heartbreaking as revealing… But before I jump on that 'bashing the Photoshop and beauty industry' bandwagon, I ask myself if in some sense, we might be doing the same to our Christmas?  If, by all our beautiful decorations and all our beautifully choreographed perfect family portraits, the twinkling LED lights and wobbly lawn decorations  inadvertently we've turned ourselves into Christmas Photoshop pros…?

As if Christmas needs to be Photoshoped...  

As if what God has done and is doing isn’t good enough… 

As if it is my job to improve on His work....  

As if I can improve on His work…

The absurdity of the thought has the effect of rolling a huge burden off my sagging shoulder. For I know I am horrible at manufacturing anything… and, with huge relief I realize that this Christmas season it doesn’t fall under my job description to manufacture some required happy feelings fitting the joyous celebration… for the Reality - The God Among Us, The God With Us, The God FOR Us reality - is better, much better than anything I can Photoshop in or Photoshop out.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Ready or Not...

Like a bunch of shell-shocked zombies, we tumbled out of an emotional roller-coaster Thanksgiving, crash-landing onto the decked out airport that spilled us into refreshingly balmy central-Florida December. We are welcomed by the palm trees waving their fronds wrapped in blinking green and red miniature LED lights. In the days that follow, cheery neighbors, colleagues and shop assistants sparkle with friendly conversation starter:

All ready for Christmas?  

I stare back until they feel the urge to repeat the question announcing each word, nodding imperceptibly as if to give me a clue what the right answer is.

Ready for Christmas?!!! I am still recovering from jet-leg and a host of other unrelated emotions, trying to shake them all off with rapid blinking and rapid succession of shots of extra-strong Turkish coffee. I understand every word but I am not sure I quite comprehend the meaning of their question.

What ‘all ready for Christmas’ means???

And, even more importantly, what happens if… if perchance… one is not…does not get… ‘all ready’?

For, this year, if there was a Christmas-preparation final, I know I would fail.  Last year, I probably failed also, but it was so long ago I don't remember. Now I know I am comprehensively unprepared, completely discombobulated and entirely unqualified to welcome baby Jesus into this world. 

There are only 12 days left and I haven’t even started ‘preparing’. 

Thoroughly overwhelmed by the mix of impossible expectations and depressing reality, I do what I normally do when thoroughly overwhelmed by the lethal combination of impossible expectations and depressing reality...

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Long List Short List No List

Over the years, we all have accumulated a number of voices that bring their life messages to us.  

The voice of Mom. The voice of Kindergarten teacher.  The voice of a ballet instructor who calls you, Elephant! and with a single word mercifully ends your ballet career. The voice of a friend. The voice of an abuser. The voice of a jerk boss. 

With the rise of the influence of media, the number of voices has grown exponentially, overwhelming even those most capable among us with sheer volume information. Some call it 'glut'.

Sometimes, the messages we hear complement each other.  Other times, they contradict.  Many seem good and reasonable and right. I found that quite frequently those can be the worst, because they leave us with ever-growing list of ‘shoulds’ but powerless to follow through. This, then, creates a backlog of guilty feelings making us all the more paralyzed for any worthwhile action.

Martha had a long list with many items on it. Eventually, she begrudgingly realized that in order to accomplish everything on her list, she had to enlist (no pun intended) some extra help.

Mary chose a short list, if it could be called a ‘list’ at all.

She chose not to keep up with all the voices projecting their messages on the screen of her mind and heart. She deliberately chose to ignore the usually effective guilt/manipulation techniques we all are prone to employ when wanting to get things on our list done!

Instead, she chose this… one, tiny, seemingly insignificant little thing.

She chose to lean in and listen to Jesus speak not just to her ear but also to her heart.

And, strangely, when her heart heard what He had to say (!), just one little word was enough… was more than enough!... to satisfy the deepest longing…Just one word, from Jesus’ mouth, had more staying power, more life-infusing energy,  than all the other voices combined.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Devotional Weapon of Worry

Martha’s devotional detour turned into worry and frustration.

This is the playing field most of us are very familiar with.  I can endlessly dribble the worry ball around and around like a pro.

The degrees of anxiety may vary – from mild unease to all-out panic attacks - but the condition is universal to us all.

To be human is to worry.  We feel we can’t help but fret.

Of course, we sing with Bob Marley

Don’t worry. Be happy.

But, that's easier said than done.

As commonplace as worry is, it’s caustic effect on the health of our soul is similar to rust.  Leave it untreated, and watch it corrode our joy, confidence, our ability to love beyond recognition.

But, what are we to do?!!!

Surprisingly, worry has a potential of becoming one of the most revolutionary devotional tools in our hands.  I think God actually intended for us to use our ever-present worries to keep coming to Him, express our needs, desires and frustrations to Him:

Don’t worry about anything.  Instead, pray for everything. Shape your worries into prayers.

Shape your worries into prayers.

I like that.

I get to mold and shape those annoying, troublesome realities into relational boosters as I hand them over, one by one, to my heavenly Father.

I have a choice to loop around and around inside my head while my fears and frustrations get bigger and bigger and my God smaller and smaller. Or, take advantage of my worries to discover how tender, how intimate the love of my heavenly Father is for me in the midst of all these troublesome details! 

So, now, I can actually welcome those lemony situations and my anxiety-filled sour responses to them as bright engine lights indicating it’s time to pray!

In a sense, that’s what dear frazzled Martha did. She came to Jesus with her worries and frustrations and even though she may not have received the answer she wanted and expected, she received exactly what she needed.  

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. I Peter 5:6-7

Monday, December 09, 2013

Devotional Detour

I find it terribly ironic that one of the biggest distractions to our devotion to Jesus is our service to Him. 

There, I said it.  And, if I need to, I’ll say it again.

One of the biggest distractions to our devotion to Jesus is our presumed service to Him.

This is too weird.

We usually start off well enough.  Just like Martha.  But, somewhere along the way, something shifts, a slight change in focus, a barely-discernible pull that affects our priorities, and there we are, flustered, fuming and frustrated.

What the heck happened?!!

Apostle Paul had the same incredulous question to the Galatian believers:

Did somebody scrambled your brains?!! Did somebody put a hex on you?!! !Where is that sense of blessing you used to have?!!!

The sense of blessing… the awareness, the shocking recognition that God - GOD Himself! - loves me! Me?!!!

Nothing I did - or could ever do - to deserve this crazy affection. 

Everything I did - and continue to do - to 'undeserve' it!  And yet, He loves me still. When we recognize the marvel, we can't help but love Him back - it's that kind of love...  

Lord, I give You everything... Everything that I am, everything that I have, it's all Yours. I'll serve You with all my being all the days of my life...  

And serve we do.... Until, one Tuesday or Wednesday, the heartbreaking whisper, the Spirit-breath reaches our ear...

You... have left... your... first... love...... You... love... serving Me... more... than you... love... being... with Me... 

Paul warns Corinthians:

But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. 

Sadly, sooner or later, most of us tumble into the trap. So close, and yet, so sooo far away.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Multitaskers Anonymous

Three words describe Martha:




Distractions.  Worries. Frustration. The air we breathe.  The ocean we swim in.

It appears that it all starts with distraction.

Wikipedia dictionary defines distraction as the divided attention of an individual or group from the chosen object of attention onto the source of distraction. Distraction is caused by: the lack of ability to pay attention; lack of interest in the object of attention; or the great intensity, novelty or attractiveness of something other than the object of attention. Distractions come from both external and internal sources.

It is implied that there is a chosen object of our attention, but something happens, either externally or internally that pulls our attention away onto something else. It’s like there is a battle, a war for our attention.

Distraction is number one cause of all accidents and kitchen fires in our household.  The day I set off the smoke alarm while making soup, it dawned on me that I might have a problem.  

 But, we can’t escape distractions. There always were, are and will be distractions. To make it even more complicated, we live in a culture that actually applauds busyness and multitasking.  And this was before texting and smart phones!

Consider this.  If ‘smart’ phone can do several things at a time, what’s the name of the phone that you can use only for talking? A ‘dumb’ phone? But it's doing exactly what it was created to do! If we admire and even envy outwardly successful people who can tackle multiple projects at a time, what are we to do with those of us who can do only one thing at a time?

Our true value, however, is not determined by the number of things we can or can not juggle at any given moment… as if life is a circus and we all are jugglers, impressing one another by the number of ceramic plates we can keep spinning… until, of course,  they start falling, as they eventually inevitably do…. 

Friday, December 06, 2013

From Troublemaker to Peacemaker

He was born into the world and named Troublemaker. Seriously. 

One has to wonder what parent would name their child ‘Troublemaker’?!!!

Troublemaker, it’s time for dinner!

Brush your teeth, Troublemaker. 

And, a weary, tired, resigned,

You can’t right all the wrongs in this world, Troublemaker. It’s only gonna get you in trouble.

His parents were right, as most parents are… even when they wish they were wrong. For, indeed, their child was born in the world of trouble. A deeply divided nation with deep wounds.  Incurable wounds, it seemed. It troubled deeply their Troublemaker to see the division and he had to do something about it.  Being the troublemaker, he caused trouble.  A lot of trouble. And that, of course, caused him trouble.  It landed him in jail for 27 years.  According to his judge, it was supposed to be for the rest of his life. But what do the earthly judges know?!!!

During those 10,000 days, something happened to Troublemaker. Something shifted. The troubles in his world still remained.  In fact, they got worse. And he was as troubled as ever. But, his approach changed. And he became a… peacemaker?!!!.  A messenger of forgiveness, an embodiment of humble service.

Reflecting on the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela, flawed and imperfect as it was, I cant’ help but think of Joseph and Moses.  John the Baptist and Peter.  Paul and Silas And, of course, the Troublemaker of all the troublemakers, Jesus Himself  followed by countless nameless others through the centuries… the heroes of faith who were banished or jailed for causing too much trouble in this troubled world.

And ultimately the only way such world can be truly changed… through the message, the embodiment of unmerited, unwarranted forgiveness. The forgiveness of God freely offered to each of us in Christ.  The forgiveness and love and joy that transforms our own hearts first and  then spills into our black-and-white, right-and-wrong world making it into one true rainbow nation.

But Jesus was saying, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing”.  Luke 23:24

For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace... Ephesians 2:14-17

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Majoring in Minors

What caused Martha to get derailed wasn’t so much the work in the kitchen per se.  

Kitchen is necessary.  We all must eat. Every day.  Some of us eat several times a day! It is by God’s design that we need food.  It’s a reflection, a reminder of our recurring, constant need and dependence on sources outside of ourselves for living our lives. You don't eat - you die.

Give us this day our daily bread…Matthew 6:11

Your Heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. Matthew 6:31-33

Man shall not live on bread alone…Matthew 4:4

But God didn't stop there. He created us not just to consume food to survive but actually enjoy eating. Some might say that He went overboard on this one. He made our taste buds and the matching unbelievable variety of flavors we get to savor with our tongues and palates! Doesn't get any better than that!

In this way, kitchen is often a place where sheer survival is transformed into a beautiful art.  From the way food is made to the way it is presented; from silverware and dishes in which the food is served to tables set for friends and family to sit together enjoying nourishment, not just for the body but for the soul… Food and eating – and drinking – can be a true art.  I know few friends who are artists par excellence in this field. Their kitchens and dining rooms are places of communion and joy and celebration... it's beautiful all around and it gives me a tiny glimpse of heaven here on earth. 

This is all wonderful and delightful and enchanting …  but, unfortunately, it can also get quite complicated. Just as it got complicated  for Martha. All this potential, all these possibilities... and Martha gets derailed... because she is distracted.  She forgot to keep the main thing the main thing... and begun to major in minors. 

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

The Quiet Power

When Martha storms out of the sweltering kitchen and barges into the living room, the pressure inside her cooker has built up to a boiling point. 

Don’t you care, Lord…?

…She abandoned me…?

…All this  work…

…All alone…

…I am telling You what You must do, Lord!...

In response to all this, Mary remains… silent?

Mary doesn’t say a word.

Mary sits.

Mary listens.

Mary stays silent.

I don’t know about you, but when I am under attack, there is something inside me that wants to roar back.  Stand up to the unfairness.  Explain myself and give meticulous evidence of the fully justifiable reasoning behind my misunderstood actions.  In a raised voice. With high-pitched inflection.

But, Mary does none of that.

She might be simply stunned at the velocity her sister’s outburst, having been immersed in the life-giving, life-affirming words that soaked her parched soul with living water. Something like being suddenly jolted from a beautiful dream that makes you feel happy and whole and sooo loved… Shocked that her sister could… would speak to the Lord Himself in such a way…?

Or, perhaps Mary is simply too weak, too intimidated by her overpowering sister to defend herself?

I am not sure... but I wonder if each of these Mary's non-actions –



remaining silent -

each seemingly passive choice is, in fact, an act of unprecedented courage and strength... a startling display of the quiet power of surrender Mary found at Jesus' feet...

He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he who rules his spirit than he who captures a city. Proverbs 16:32

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

How to Guarantee Failure Every Time

I am learning that my hearing ability is in reverse proportion to my assumed knowledge of what I think you are about to say.  

The more confident I am that I already know what you want to share, the less likely I am to really listen.  In fact, I take it a step further. To spare you the unnecessary wasting of your precious breath, I kindly interrupt and generously fill in the blanks with my own choice words.

I mean well. Most of the time. The fact that in the wake of my unsolicited helpfulness I leave people feeling run over, invalidated, misunderstood and disrespected is a topic for another discussion. Ironically - or not - I discovered that nine out of ten times, I get it all wrong! 

How can that be?!!! I wonder. 

Now, if this is true in our families and workplaces, our schools, churches and neighborhoods, I wonder how much more audacious it is to treat the One who is The Living Word Himself with such presumption? 

And yet, we all do it, all the time! 

For, when I believe that my haphazard, vague familiarity with His written word makes me an 'expert'....

....if my 'expertise' absolves me of the responsibility as well as the need and the desire to listen to Him moment by moment, day by day....

.... if I put my faith on autopilot and treat prayer as a monologue - namely,  me telling God what to do ...

.... if I can run my life efficiently and comfortably without needing His Spirit to speak... rather, breathe in love, and power and correction into my life...

... I can guarantee you that ten out of ten times I will end up in a ditch.  

Impressive, loud, noisy, busy, and yet dead religion, can never be a substitute for a living, listening - obedient - faith in the living, listening and speaking God.

God’s Way is not a matter of mere talk; it’s an empowered life. I Corinthians 4:20

Monday, December 02, 2013

The Lost Art of Listening

For a culture so intensely focused on results…

In a culture that worships activity and productivity…

In a culture that measures a person’s worth by what we make… what we produce… what we’ve accomplished…

… it’s difficult to appreciate Mary’s seemingly passive posture.

She sits. At Jesus' feet.

And she listens. She just sits there and listens.

To listen in a culture of constant chatter might be even more revolutionary than sitting in a culture of constant movement.

With the dawn of internet and the explosion of social media, everybody (including the yours truly) thinks they have something to say.  We are surrounded by incessant clamor of the countless talking heads, everyone carrying  a very important message.

With so much talking going on, one has to ask if anybody ever listens.  Truly listens.

I wonder if we all have grown a bit deaf, a tad hard of hearing just to protect our souls from the onslaught of verbiage flooding our senses each day? And how does one separate what's worth listening and what's just mental and verbal static?

Few years ago, our child’s Kindergarten teacher brought the importance of listening to our sharp attention during our first parent-teacher’s conferences.

It’s quite admirable that your child is not shy and has so much to say, she said, but in a classroom with 18 students,  I simply can’t afford all those interruptions...

I remember that night sitting at our dinner table, wearing the invisible Interruption Radar Hat while a typical evening unfolded. I was absolutely astonished by the volume of words that naturally flowed out of our mouths even as we were all shoveling food in, every third or fourth word interrupted by a comment which would turn into a tangent which would be interrupted by another tangent-inducing comment... 

Needless to say, the experience was quite eye – or rather, ear -  opening. For all these years, we were so focused on teaching our children to talk and express themselves using words that we forgot about listening!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Location, Location, Location

Ask any real estate agent what are the three most important factors in his field of work, and  he will tell you,

Location.  Location. Location.

From the day we enter this world, a body is given to us and we can’t help but occupy certain square footage… just one spot with precise geographic coordinates at any given moment. It’s essential aspect of being human.

Often, that location is chosen for us, especially early on or towards the end of our journey, but we all at some point experience relative freedom as to where we want to be.  We actually get to choose our location.

That afternoon in Martha's hospitality hub Martha chose a steamed-up kitchen.

Mary chose to sit at Jesus’ feet.
Of all the places she could have been in that busy household, she chose to be near Him.

What drove Mary to such counter-cultural choice?  What made her slip the apron quietly over her head that day, and lay it softly over the back of the chair, abandoning her sister in the middle of all the hectic work? (Or did she threw the apron on the ground, giving up decisively on the rat-race madness?)

What propelled her into this humble act of rebellion… a gentle revolution of surrender... at Jesus’ feet…?

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Ready? Set? Sit!

Three verbs describe Mary in this scene.




Some of us might be fooled by the apparent passivity of the melancholy sister whose actions are in sharp contrast to those of her hardworking multitasking sister.

We can learn as much about Mary from what she is not doing as from what she is doing.

She is not chopping onions, keeping an eye on the boiling pot of potatoes, telling baker that his rolls are overdone and listening in to the bits and pieces of conversation going on in the living room all at the same time.

As far as Mary is concerned, the turkey and the dressing, the rolls and the pies could go their own merry way, and she would hardly notice. 

It’s not like her attention is undivided.  It’s fixed.  It’s riveted.  

It’s superguled!

And in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the many preparations, Mary sits down.

This might be by far the hardest choice of all.  Just to sit down.  When there is so much to do.  When pressures all around abound.   The choice to sit is almost an insult.  A rebellion of sort.  But, Mary has the courage, the audacity to choose… to sit down.

Did she understand how outrageous her choice was? Could she anticipate her sister’s verbal assault? 

We don’t know.

And I guess it really doesn’t matter whether she simply doesn’t care or is genuinely oblivious to what this scene looks like to an outsider, including her own sister…

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Broken Road The Better Way

It is clear that when Jesus entered Martha’s house that day, there was a preexisting condition to this family.  Forces already at play in each person’s life.  But, Jesus is not a stranger to their story.  In fact, He knows and understands it better than they know and understand it themselves… because He’s been there from the beginning… from the very beginning of all beginnings…

We may be mystery to us and others, but we are no mystery to Him. 

He knows where we came from. 

The family. The innocence.  The dreams.  The hopes. The pain. The disillusionment. The shattering.

He knows where we are going.    

The place He has prepared for us. The place He is preparing us to inhabit forever. The place where He will wipe every tear away from our faces.

And, between those bookends, He knows the way we must take to get there. 

For He Himself is the Way

He loves each of us just as we need to be loved…    It's love tailor-made for our bruised and battered, inflicted and inflated soul… love that no one else on earth can give us….I can't give it to you and you can't give it to me. But, in His good time He gives each of us exactly what we need… perhaps not necessarily what we want… but whoever could trust the wisdom of his or her own desires?

However, before He can give us anything, we must be ready to receive it… And this is where Mary is a great example, a teacher extraordinaire to all of us, bustling  fuming Marthas…

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Same Sun Melts the Wax but Hardens the Clay

When parents are not in the picture anymore; when children are left to fend for themselves earlier than usual, one can’t help but wonder if this is the great loss which might have molded Martha into a busy overachiever, a young woman propelled into the world of overwhelming adult responsibilities before her age? 

Did this loss make her the driven do-er determined to drown the emptiness left behind with endless activity…? It was all up to her to keep this family going..?
It makes me wonder whether young Mary swung into the opposite direction, withdrawing from life into a self-protective shell?

While peering at her sister’s busyness from a peephole of despair she simply couldn’t see beyond the futility of all human endeavor when everything can be lost in a snap?

Why bother at all then?

And then, there is Lazarus.  

The young boy who became the object of both sisters single-hearted affection.  Drastically different as the girls may be, this is the focal point where Martha and Mary unite. Lazarus is their hope. The reason why they get out of bed in the morning. The stakeholder of their future. 

The one who must be protected from all harm lest…