Picking Crabs

Picking Crabs

Have you ever picked crabs? For the Eastern Shore residents, this means those hard shelled blue crabs that come from the Chesapeake Bay – but I guess other hard-shelled steamed crabs will do for this example.

If you have, you realize that it is usually a time consuming endeavor to get to those sweet pockets of crab meat found in the back fin and appendages. However, it is often messy and can even be painful if you scratch your fingers on the broken shell and Old Bay seasoning gets into the cut. But it is a reminder to me of that line in the Lord’s Prayer: “ lead us not into temptation…”

Temptation, as used in the Bible, is understood in two basic ways: as an action causing us to sin OR as a test or trial that proves one’s faith. We are assured that God never tempts us with the goal of causing us to sin (ref. James 1:13) but God will allow us the free will to make our own choices. We are also assured that God is ever faithful, and in a time of testing, will make a way of escaping the temptation so we can bear it (ref. 1 Cor. 10:13).

When picking crabs, I can be tempted to just go for the back fin because it is the biggest chunk of crabmeat with the least effort; then I could just discard all of the other options to find meat in the claw, legs, and other areas. Being tempted to take the easy win or the easy way can find us missing out on sweeter and more savory blessings.

It’s interesting that I can sit for several hours and pick crabs and never get full on crab meat; if I get full, it’s usually due to the corn on the cob, the hush puppies, or the other goodies available before me.  Again, the temptation to fill ourselves with other things in life can make our schedules too full for the better things God has in store for us.

Many times, when I am finished with what I want to eat, I’ll sit and pick out the rest of the crabs so that the meat can be saved or shared. If I am in a rush, I don’t take the time and rush through the experience – missing an opportunity to not only be fed but also to feed others.

Another temptation when picking crabs is to throw away the broken and emptied shells. While I am not a Master Chef, I do know others who take the discarded empty shells and use them as a base for the best crab bisque you ever tasted. Thank God he didn’t discard my brokenness but used it for making my life that much richer.

Our trials and tests in life allow us to strengthen our faith muscles; because muscles that aren’t used atrophy – and our faith in God is no different. To really get to the rest of the “good stuff” when picking crabs, some folks will use other implements (knives, mallets, etc) – for sometimes, it takes more than just our own will power and hand strength to get to the goodness that can feed us.

Since each one of us will face temptation, our prayer is that “we will not be lead into temptation” – that means we need God’s help to not fall into selfish desire that draws us away from God or fall when faced with a test that can ultimately become our testimony to God’s presence in our lives. Lead us not into temptation reminds us that we need to fully rely on God at all times, at work, rest, and play.

Truth is, one cannot pick hard-shell crabs until one has obtained them. For me, that means going to the dock or nearby seafood store to purchase them. The fishermen who caught those crabs had no intention of eating them all – they caught them with the idea that others could share in the catch. And yes, there is a price to pay but the opportunity is worth it.

Lord, we know that you give us free will to choose you and your way that leads to life. Lead us not into the temptation of trying to take the easy way of being afraid of the messiness of being your disciples. Lead us not into a hurried rush where we miss the opportunity to see you through the sharing with others, but to sit and look and listen and talk and rest in you. Make us not afraid of the trials and tests in our lives. Help us see the sweetness of your love within all things that nourishes our faith and grows our trust in you. May we taste and see that Your Word is a goodness worth waiting for. Amen.

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The free fall of forgiveness

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Did you know falling out of an airplane is a good illustration for forgiveness?

Recently I went tandem skydiving as I checked one more thing off my bucket list. On the ground, I was given step-by-step instructions and suited with a harness that would attach me to my instructor. Even as we rode the plane to a height of 13,500 feet, I was given a reminder of the instructions and description of what would happen. As we – the instructor and I – neared the drop site, we inched forward on a bench at the center of the plane; we inched because we were closely attached by secure hooks and clips. We dropped to the floor of the plane and scooted forward to the edge of the open exit area of the plane. My feet were hanging over the edge and I could hear the rush of the wind and see only open sky.  My whole body was dependent upon being securely strapped to my instructor. My instructor spoke into my ear, “remember, we will rock forward and back and at the count of three we will fall forward out of the plane. And don’t worry, I’ve got you.”

“I’ve got you” is what Jesus tells us – in the moments of life, and especially in the moments of forgiveness.  As the Lord’s Prayer reminds us, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us…,”  we are not meant to carry the burden of unforgiveness – a burden that can hold us back and weigh us down.  When we forgive others – or maybe even ourselves, we are letting go and letting God handle the future. If we try to hold on, we not only hold ourselves back from growing in trust but we miss the pure freedom of grace.

Grace is the bliss that comes from free falling with Jesus – being fully dependent on Him – especially when we admit need forgiveness from sin or that someone has sinned against us deserves forgiveness.

At the moment we went out that open doorway, I had to trust the instructor had the ability and the care for me as a student to carry the responsibility of the flight and subsequent safe landing.  Jesus has the ability to deal with sin – our sin and the sin of others – and carried that responsibility to the cross.  By His care for us, we are able to know the joy and bliss of grace – a gift best received and given when we are secured, closely to our all-knowing Teacher. Just as my instructor’s reputation was invested in me landing safely, our witness of the living God is invested in our being able to receive forgiveness for our sins and to offer forgiveness to others .

“Letting go and letting God” is not easy, like the moment I was staring down at ground 13,500 feet below me. I had learned all the instructions, but now the time came to really put it into practice. The view from that high altitude perspective reminded me God always knows and sees the bigger picture, while we often only get the earth-based view. For it is often our limited view that informs our withholding of our need to forgive and need to be forgiven. Forgiveness allows us the freedom to get an unobstructed view of God’s work – through grace –  in our lives.

While we learn about forgiveness on the ground, it is only when we “let go and let God” that we understand why our Savior wants us to experience the freedom forgiveness brings. And what a grace-filled and freeing experience it is.

Daily bread… with toppings

“Give us this day our daily bread”
Summer is probably the time of year I get more bread in my life than other seasons. I mean, what is summer without all sorts of creative sandwiches, burgers, hot dogs, and who can forget – pizza at the beach (the bread that doesn’t discriminate against a variety of toppings)  I can eat pizza any time of day – hot or cold – although my husband isn’t a fan of the cold version.
But, I also get fed more spiritual “bread” by taking walks, going to the beach or a nearby pond, smelling the fresh fields after a summer rain, and walking barefoot on the ground. I need daily bread – physically and spiritually – in order to grow in my faith. And the toppings are the variety of ways I get to “taste and see that the Lord is good.(Ps. 34:8)

The line in the Lord’s Prayer about daily bread is one that many Americans take for granted literally and forget about spiritually.

As Americans, many believe they are in the land of opportunity, a land of abundance including food – and that is true – for some, but not all.

Our daily bread is not just about daily sustenance for our bodies, but also spiritual nutrients that feed our soul. I’ve been guilty of eating something because it tasted good and because it made me feel good (thanks to the sugar and caffeine found in things like chocolate).; however, it is the steady or daily diet of ‘what I want” instead of “what I need” can have detrimental effects on my health now and for the long term. Too much sugar gives us a fast rush and then can leave us sluggish. Too much caffeine can also give us a jump start and then can leave us dehydrated.

The same can be said of my daily activity or inactivity. If I daily do only want “feels good” and shy away from the spiritual disciplines of prayer, fasting, and staying in the Word – I can grow sluggish in my faith and find myself dehydrated by the lack of living water in my life. Moving our physical selves helps our bodies function well and grow; moving our spiritual selves helps our beliefs to function as a natural part of our daily lives and thereby grow.

It’s no coincidence that Jesus tells us He is the Bread of Life (John 6:35) – that when we come to him we will never be hungry or thirsty. That means, seeking Jesus daily, we won’t hunger for things that make us sluggish and won’t be as quick to turn to that which denies us the spring of living water from within.

Even with Moses, with hungry people in the desert, manna was provided – a bread called “what’s that.” We don’t always recognize bread when we see it – didn’t think of pizza, did you? And we don’t always recognize those God incidences in which we get to worship, praise, ask, seek, and lean upon the sumptuous grace of our Savior.

There are only a handful of times in my life when I have not had a meal because there was no food. It’s hard to give thanks when we don’t SEE the provision, but God calls us to trust him. That’s why we pray, “give us this day our daily bread” – what which we need to survive, that which we need to thrive.

As we say grace before eating a meal, let us be thankful to God for the food we have. May we also remember those who don’t have food in abundance, asking God how we can give out of our abundance. For when we all become physically and spiritually fed, we are that much closer to the Kingdom of God.
PB

Plans of mice and men and God


“The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry”

For the past few weeks, as I have attempted to continue my blog in reflection of the parts of the Lord’s Prayer, I have found myself distracted. Life has not gone as planned. Well, maybe life has gone as planned but those plans were not the ones which I constructed.

It seemed each day that the things I meant to do, I didn’t always get done. And the time became filled with things never anticipated. The “best laid plans” reference comes from a line in the poem, “ Of a Mouse” written by Robert Burns. The poems tells of the regret the narrator feels for having destroyed the home of a mouse while plowing his field.

While I have kept to my plan of meeting the challenge of praying the Lord’s prayer daily at noon – thanks to the alarm on my iPhone – I have not consistently reflected on that prayer and what it means. That can easily happen when I read my Bible for my own growth, and not just for sermon or Bible study preparation. My best laid plans of spending time in the Word and in prayer can become reaction to a plan and not a relationship building time with God. I can be as guilty as the farmer plowing the field if I just roll past recognition of the power and my role in “Thy Kingdom” and Thy Will.”

The line – “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done – on earth as it is in heaven…” reminds us of two key things: who has the power in my life and why.

Thy kingdom come is reference to God’s reign in our hearts and over all that we do and say, now in part and later in fullness as Christ returns to rule the new heaven and earth. Thy will is God’s will for us to let God make the plans and we faithfully listen, watch, and follow the Spirit’s lead. With heaven as perfection, and earth as our current reality of imperfection, God’s kingdom and God’s will can still lead and guide us. Even as we make our “best laid plans.” By the grace and mercy of Christ, I don’t have to have the best laid plan; my part is to rely on the power of my Amazing God and Savior, who by His Spirit, will guide and equip me to be a faithful disciple in the planned moments and the unexpected ones.

On those days when my plans didn’t work out, I found myself in unplanned moments of kingdom building by showing compassion, revealing Christ’s love, and being still in the Spirit’s presence. In the unexpected, I found God’s will for me to let God be God and not try to take on that job for myself. Making lists and agendas is good, but only if it leaves room for the Spirit to remind me of God’s kingdom and God’s will to be known and done.

So while my plan to blog every day may be a good plan, my intention to keep in touch with who God is and who I am to Him is more important…even if I occasionally need a reminder like an iPhone alarm.

What’s in a name?

What’s in a name?

I once knew a man who would pray glorious prayers to the Almighty and speak of the Awesome God’s presence, and the power that the LORD revealed in his life. Following the prayer, the group we were with went to a meal, and on our way there, someone commented on the awesome smell coming from the kitchen area. The man who had prayed stopped in his tracks and those of us with him stopped as well. He looked at us, with an intent but compassionate gaze, and said, “how can the smell of a meal be compared by the same word as the One who created it, provided it, created the hands that prepared it, and will soon bless it to our good. If we use the word “awesome” for anything we like, then have we downgraded a God we call “awesome?”

In continuing to reflect on the Lord’s Prayer, we come to the line, “… hallowed by thy name…” and it raises the question: what name do you use when you pray to the divine?

The Lord’s Prayer began with “Our Father,” and then then referring to the “hallowedness” of the name. In my tradition, I have heard God, God the Father, Triune God, Lord, Lord Almighty, and several other combinations. But for our Jewish brothers and sisters, to even utter G-d puts one at risk of breaking the 3rd commandment that says “do not take the Lord’s name in vain.” While many see this as referring to using G-d in an irreverent manner, a curse, or a senseless oath, we can often fail to “hallow” the name of the LORD by frequent and thoughtless comments. Instead, they may refer to “the Almighty,” “the One above,” or HaShem ( Hebrew for “the name.”)

I was an adult before I realized that when the term, “the LORD (call capital letters)” was used, it was referring to “the name.” Actually “the LORD” refers to YHWH – the divine tetragrammaton – Hebrew letters יהוה‎, commonly transliterated into Latin letters as YHWH. English language transliterated the 4 letters – YHWH – as the name “Yahweh.”

The end note is: The importance of what name you use in reference in prayer is meant to emphasize reverence, respect, and awe to the One and Only.

Over the years, I have heard people get hung up on whether they pray to G-d, to Jesus, or to the Holy Spirit; my suggestion is to use Jesus’ reference with awe and respect and reverence, and you won’t go wrong.

Language is important but the state of our heart, mind, and attitude are even more important. To use the same word for something good and then for something extraordinary and power-filled, diminishes the extraordinary. That is what has happened to our careless use of the word “love”; for our Eternal Love is more than just a Hallmark sentiment or momentary pleasure. The same should go with any word we use to reflect the “hallowedness” of Thy name.

Is the LORD holy to you? And is his name hallowed to where you treat it as a blessed, precious and rare gift of awesome connection? May the words of our mouth and meditations of our hearts not only please G-d but also give Him the highest reverence and awe.

“…Who Art in Heaven…”

Recently I bought a new car from the dealership. One of my criteria was that the new model had at least all of the same features that my previous car did. And the vehicle I selected did – with one exception: fog lights were not standard on this model. After talking to a representative at the dealership, we were assured that I could get the fog lights installed by the dealership with little hassle. So I purchased the vehicle. When I took it back for its first oil change, I requested the fog lights be installed; however, company policy had changed and the cost was way more than we anticipated. It was suggested that we could get after-market fog lights installed for a quarter of the cost that the dealership would charge. Being on a budget, we opted for the after-market option since our chance at factory installed fog lights had passed.

This week, in my focus on the Lord’s prayer, I saw the phrase, “Our Father, WHO ART IN HEAVEN…”  and began thinking about that. We addressed God as to WHOM we are in relationship with but why does it matter that we address God as “the one in heaven?”

Author C.S. Lewis commented on this section of the Lord’s Prayer in the following manner:

Jesus taught us to address God where he is, that is, in heaven and not yet here on earth. The Father wants to be here and will be here when heaven and earth unite. In the act of prayer God unveils himself to us and so we are to unveil ourselves to God. We begin prayer where we are. If we are sad, we begin sad. If we are angry, we begin angry. There is no use trying to pretend we are not these things and to begin by adoration if we are not in that place. [i]

When praying the Lord’s Prayer – and I hope you are still making that your noon time habit J – , we begin by calling out to God to where he is from where we are. Because He is in the place of perfection, where all life originates and where life in Him will continue. That’s why when something is wonderful, we say it is “like heaven.” When our loved ones leave us, we want them to be in that perfect place where there is no pain and no sorrow, like heaven. And if we are honest, many of us gravitate toward stories about those who claim to have gone to heaven and returned because our inquiring minds want to know more about this place from which God reigns and watches over us.

Stretch your mind and think of heaven as the place where my vehicle originated. Everything factory installed came with a promise that, no matter what happens, things will be made good.  Unlike the after-market installation, the lights will probably work fine but they do not come with the promise like the originator of the lights offered. Yes, a vehicle factory is where man made creations come to be and those factories can fall short and can even close down. However, a heaven where God rules and reigns will never fall short, never close down, and will always be right where we need it – above us and around us.

We are created by the Creator who knew us before we came forth on this earth, who knit us together before we hit the showroom of the labor and delivery suite. And as someone once said, “God don’t make junk”… He makes good on ALL of His promises. So when you talk to him in prayer, whether through this noonday challenge or at any time, remember – no matter where you are in your walk of faith – God is in heaven to watch over and care for  you as He keeps his promises to love you with an everlasting love, to never leave or forsake you, to offer you a hope and a future. And when things are working right in your life, bring it to the One who gave you life.

 

[i] C.S. Lewis. Commentary on the Lord’s Prayer”. http://livinghour.org/lords-prayer/commentary-by-c-s-lewis/. Accessed 6/14/2017

“Our Father”

Hands: dad and daughter Recently, my dad celebrated his 81st birthday. My mom knew how hard it is to surprise Dad, so the owners of the local coffee shop made two coconut pies and set them at a special table in the adjacent dining area. I arrived to find my dad still near the entrance, seated at a table, with coffee in hand and talking to two friends – one on either side of him. They saw me come in, but since his back was to the door, he didn’t immediately see me – that is until I gave him a big hug around the neck. One friend commented that he knew I was related to Joe (my dad) when I came in the door because I bore a resemblance to him.

As our church – Wesley – is embarking of a summer of Praying the Lord’s Prayer at Noon, we are also taking one phrase of that prayer for deeper reflection each week. This week’s words are, “Our Father.”

Our reminds us that God is parent to all of us. While I may be my father’s only daughter – yes, a Daddy’s girl – my Father in heaven loves me no less because I share God with all others within humanity. That makes me a sibling by holy connection to residents of the Congo, leaders in Congress, people in the pews, and the person pushing the shopping cart with all her belongings. We are connected because we bear the image of the One who created us into the masterpieces that we are and in whom we know LIFE.

Now some people balk at the reference to Father because of negative experiences with an earthly father, but our Holy Parent is father to the fatherless, nurturing like a mother hen who cares for her chicks, and the source of our encouragement, hope, and love  – especially love.

By beginning the Lord’s Prayer, we acknowledge we are in this experience called life TOGETHER as holy siblings, and that we bear the image of love and grace by the One who created us – Father, Abba, Parent. Jesus called to “Father” when he gave praise, when he was in need, when he sought guidance, and when he interceded on our behalf.

I hope I not only bear a resemblance to my earthly father, but also to my heavenly father. I also hope that I keep my eyes open to see Our Father in the faces of those I encounter – even if by surprise – each and every day.  And maybe, just maybe, when I give one of them a hug, I’ll feel that divine hug from “Our Father” in return. After all, I am His girl too.

Praying with purpose

One of the staples in growing up was PB & J – that is, when all else failed and there was nothing planned for dinner, one could always go back to a good old-fashioned peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It fed the hunger of the body, with a little bit of sweetness added for the journey. Prayer for me is that staple – that PB & J along the journey – to feed my spirit and remind me of the sweetness of Jesus.

My life of prayer has often reflected my life of writing blogs and starting diets. I get going consistently, with much focus and intention – and then life happens and all good intentions seem to get pushed to the side again. But as I learned growing up in the country, you dust yourself off – let go of what was because it has passed- and keep on keeping on. I found this especially true as I am working on my Doctor of Ministry and exploring how our stories inform our spiritual connection with God and others, especially through the lens of the agricultural season. And since this is planting season in my neck of the woods, what better way than to start planting a new prayer habit in my life…. a prayer with a purpose.

So this summer, I planned on beginning a new prayer focus, thanks to Dr. Terry Teykl’s devotional, ” Praying the Lord’s Prayer at Noon.”  So each day at noon, beginning with Memorial Day Sunday, I plan to pray the 21-second prayer at noon.  According to Teykl, Richard Foster wrote that “for sheer power and majesty no prayer can equal the Paternoster, the “Our Father.” the Paternoster embraces the whole world, from the coming of the Kingdom to the daily bread. Large things, small things, material things, spiritual things, inward things and outward things – nothing is beyond the purview of The Lord’s Prayer.” In our fast paced, fast food society, concise can have much power in our lives.

But I needed more than 21 seconds.

So I decided to also take one line of the prayer as a specific focus throughout each week of the summer.  One line. One thought. To be One with the One who created my stubborn, forgetful, well meaning, human self.

So for this summer journey…. I welcome you along for the ride. Roll the window down and feel the Spirit blow through your hair… or where hair used to be. Don’t be discouraged if the smell of the landscape, especially in farm country, is less than desirable – God can bring good out of the smelliest things in our life. Instead find the beauty in the unexpected and find God in the surprises along the way.