Friday, August 31, 2012

Are We Having Fun Yet?

I am bent over a basket, pulling out my warm white clothes into a mound, soon to be folded.  As I do, a man I have never seen enters the laundry room and purchases a few drinks from the vending machine.  Then, with his arms full of bottles he asks me a question.

“Are we having fun, yet?” 

“Excuse me?”  I reply looking up at him.

“Are we having fun, yet?” he repeats.

I look at him puzzled, and respond, “Um sure.”   

Is this some new way of greeting people?  If it is, I’ve never heard it before.

He tells me, “I try to stay as far away from the laundry as possible.”

I nod and say “Oh” just before he exits the laundry room.

I pick up my basket and follow him out.

He is standing with a co-worker as they wait for an elevator.  I wait near them, arms full, as they talk with one another, before the man who spoke with me turns to walk down the hallway toward the front of the building. 

His co-worker waits beside me.  When the door opens, he allows me to carry my basket onto the elevator, before he joins me.

I ask, “Would you push two, please?”

He hits five and follows with two, saying “Sure.”

The next words from his mouth are the same as his co-worker.

“Are we having fun yet?”

I pause at the oddity of it.  “Yes?  I mean, sure.  I like when my laundry gets done.  I mean, I like having it all neatly in the closet.”  I manage weakly.

Where did these people come from?  Are you having fun yet?  Is this some sort of creed or mantra?  I really am confused.  I shuffle off the elevator and sincerely wish the man a wonderful day.

As I walk down the hallway toward my apartment, I chuckle at it.  Am I having fun?

Wasn’t my prayer as I walked toward my laundry that I would have some words about rest for today?  Did God not answer my prayer in their words? 

“Are we having fun?” Their words are rather similar to what God was saying to Israel through the prophet Isaiah. 

“If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
     and from doing as you please on my holy day,
if you call the Sabbath a delight
     and the LORD’s holy day honorable,
and if you honor it by not going your own way
     and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,
then you will find your joy in the LORD,
     and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land
     and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.”
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.  (Isaiah 58:13-14 NIV)
God is saying I want you to be authentic.  I want you to care about the things I care about.  I want you to enjoy me.  I want you to have fun.  You call my Sabbath a delight, live as such.

In my Judaism class in college we talked about a Hebrew word for the Sabbath that Jews use.  It is oneg.  It means to delight.  This is the word used here.  The Sabbath is to be filled with that which is enjoyable and restful.  It is a time to celebrate and give thanks for the blessings God has given. 

God’s words in Isaiah 58 tell Israel that they are going through the motions.  They say that God is important, but they do not value the things that He values and so their actions are empty.   He wants them to begin responding to Him and living in a way that will bring them life.  He wants them to truly delight in the Sabbath and rest in Him.

He invites me to do the same.

It is Labor Day weekend, a time the country stops to rest in celebration of the work that has been done.  It is a time where I will have a chance to spend some additional time responding to this Sabbath question, “Are we having fun yet?” 

I can hear God asking me.  I think about the friends that I will be spending time with this weekend, the anniversary I will be celebrating Sunday, the freedom to fill up the time with the delightful and life-giving things that bring real joy in Christ.  I think about this moment and the opportunity to respond to life as a gift or life as tedious task.  I choose gift.

I hear God calling out “Are we having fun yet?”

I respond, “Why, yes. I think we are.”


Grace and peace be ours in abundance as we seek to delight in the Lord and enjoy him.  May we find that we are full of gratitude for His gifts and that we have blessing to heap upon those whose lives are difficult.  May we find that Labor Day is an opportunity for continued rest. 

Jessica :)

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Brought to Complete Unity

On Thursdays I have been sharing a little bit about what I have been learning as I read through 1 John.

We have been reading about a paragraph at a time and have just finished up a few weeks looking at a few verses about the world.  This week we begin a new section.

“Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come.  This is how we know it is the last hour.  They went out from us, but they did not belong to us.  For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.”  1 John 2:18-19 TNIV
As I read there are two things that I notice. 

The first is in verse 18 with the word antichrist.   In his commentary John Stott writes that “the early commentators understood the word to signify and ‘adversary’ of Christ” (p.104).  An adversary is one who contends with, opposes or resists.  Thus, antichrist contends with, opposes or resists Christ.  I plan to write about this a little bit more next week when John addresses this again in verse 22. 

It is the second thing that strikes me as most important today, the idea of belonging.  It seems to center around the word “remain.”  I find it puzzling at first, wondering if this is a literal remaining with the believers John is referring to.  I suppose this is possible.  However, as I read the passage in context for another time, I realize the word “remain” repeats.  In the next ten verses it appears two times and the idea is hinted at as well.  I think that when he uses the word in verse 19 he is using it in a similar sense as he does in verses 24 and 27. 

I begin by exploring the word “belong,” curious to know what the term means in the Greek.  It is actually two words eimi and ek.  Together they mean something like “to be out of” or “to be away from.” 

Those that do not belong do not have something the believers do.  What could it be?

The idea of not belonging seems to be in contrast to the word “remain” which is menō in the Greek.  It is sometimes translated “abide.”  It is the same word that Jesus uses when he talks about the vine and the branches and tells his disciples to “remain in my love.”

When John talks about this idea of remaining I cannot seem to separate it from John’s own words in the gospel he wrote.  Is this what he had in mind too?

What comes to mind is the prayer Jesus prays for all believers:

My prayer is not for them alone.  I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.  May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity.  Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.  Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.  Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me.  I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”  John 17:20-26 TNIV
In this prayer, Jesus prays for the believers to be brought to complete unity.  This only happens through Him.  When we remain in Christ, we are one with Him; and through Him we are one with the Father and with the Spirit and with one another. 

John reminds the believers of this--their oneness in Christ.  They are one in Him.  They know the Father through Him.  The Spirit works in them through Him.  This is a oneness that some do not have—because they do not abide in Christ.  They are not one with Him.  They are antichrist. 

I’m trying to soak this idea in today, this oneness that comes through Christ.  Perhaps you’ll join me? 

Let’s abide and pray that through Christ we might be one.


Grace and peace be ours in abundance as we seek to remain in Christ.  May we desire the oneness He prayed for us.  May we discover unity in the Spirit and find that it is ever growing toward complete unity in Christ.  May we experience the beauty of oneness and the power that comes from it. 

Jessica :)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Fruit of Authenticity

I am sitting in the center of the canoe, holding a camera, as Jason and a Park Ranger paddle us across Black Bay toward a spot where we may have a chance to see a patch of wild rice.  I look for the picturesque moments, while the two men talk of all the things you talk about when you don’t know someone—where you grew up, what you do and how you got there.  I listen.

They talk about the National Parks and I chime in as Jason asks me to help recall the places we have visited.  Sometime after this, the ranger asks us what our parents do.  As Jason tells about his parents and the retreat center they direct in retirement, I begin to consider how to respond.

When I am asked about my parents, I often wonder how much to tell.  I tend to think people believe this is a safe question for casual conversation, but my parents’ story is not a normal one.  Inwardly, my stomach knots up as I decide to take the direct and uncomfortable approach.  I almost always do.  It is my story and to tell anything less is not being really authentic.

I wait until Jason’s voice comes to a stop before I speak up.  I tell of how my mom is a retired nurse and how my dad is in prison. 

For a moment after I speak, there is silence.  I am not surprised by this.  It usually takes people a moment to take it in, because prison is never something people expect to hear.  This is always the hardest part of the telling for me—getting it out there and wondering how the person who is listening will respond?  It is a little like dying.  I have to let go, not knowing what the results might be.

The ranger says that he is sorry.  It must be very hard.

I acknowledge this.  It is hard. 

But I tell him, there is so much good that has come from all that has happened.  I talk of how my dad’s life has been changed by God. 

I tell of how he began walking away from God in my early high school years.  I tell of how he left my mother in my junior year of high school.  I tell of the emotional distance that grew, year after year.  I don’t tell of what happened to my dad for him to be arrested and charged with six felonies.  It is a long story, so I only say that he did some of what he was charged with, but probably not all.  It is hard to know since he doesn’t remember much of that day. 

I tell of the prescription drug coma that he recovered from over the course of a month as he was taken of all the medications his psychiatrist had him taking for depression, anxiety, sleep, and a few other things.  I tell how it is after this they discover he had bi-polar, not at all treated by the medications he had been on; instead his medication likely made him worse. 

I tell of how my dad tried to do the right thing by working with the prosecution.  I tell of how they told him they would not push for the maximum sentence.  So, he agreed to plead guilty, which meant he did not go to trial.  Then, the prosecution pursued the maximum anyway.  I tell how the judge gave him the maximum, despite a court psychologist who wrote on his behalf for release and counseling.  I tell of his twenty-five year sentence without parole, because of the way the judge wrote the sentence—this for a man who had no previous record.  This is the difficult part of his story.

I pause because of some static on the radio.  After it stops, the ranger voices his surprise and his interest.  I continue to share.

I tell the beautiful part of my dad’s story too—one of grace.  I tell of how my parents have reconciled.  They are friends and in love—in a way they never were when I was growing up.  I tell of how my dad has drawn close to God and lives with such joy now, even in such a place as prison.  I tell of how he has softened in a way that has made his good qualities better and the change that continues to transform a proud man into a humble one.  I tell of how inmates respect him and come to ask him questions and talk to him about God.  I tell of how proud I am of who he is becoming. 

Jason agrees with me and tells of his own experiences of my dad as he knew him while we were dating and the change he has witnessed since he has been incarcerated.  He says he is like a totally different person.

As we marvel about his transformation the ranger sits quietly, listening closely.  He responds a little tentatively by saying how he is speaking for himself as a man, not as a park employee, when he says he is encouraged to hear my dad’s story.  He says that we sound like we are people of faith and asks us a little bit about our own faith stories.

I am delighted; because as we continue to talk the ranger begins to share about his own relationship with Christ.  He tells of how it was two years ago in this same park that his life began to change.  He tells of how his church and a group of men from Chi Alpha provided community and encouraged him to grow.  He tells us how he has come a long way—from a man who lived an impure life to a man who seeks to honor God with his life. 

Jason and I share how delighted we are that the ranger would share his story with us.  It never gets old, hearing the way lives change when a person encounters Jesus.  We talk about the challenges and the joys of discipleship.  We listen and encourage one another.  We speak blessing.

We paddle along exploring wild rice, listening to the rush of cormorant wings flapping overhead, watching an osprey circling, and hearing the distant call of a loon—we enjoy God’s creation and we enjoy fellowship that happens so naturally in the presence of believers—each moment of it blessing.

I tuck away this vacation memory, the fruit of authenticity. 


Grace and peace be ours in abundance as we share the story God has given us.  May we find that people are drawn to Him in the midst of our authenticity.  As we die to ourselves may we find that we have true life in Christ.

Jessica :)

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

For Hours It Flashes On

It flickers,
The light,
In the cloudy dark sky.

Now quickly.
Now brightly.
Now softly.

It shimmers on the waters;
Nearly lights up the night sky.
Soundless and bright—
These flashes of white,
Low bursts of yellow.
Piercing and pulsing like a strobe in the sky.

It casts these shades of gray to the far-off horizon
And all across the waters
It flashes on, gloriously furious,
For hours.

The wind rustles the pine trees,
And the stars burst forth in beauty
Ahead of a storm that never reaches this shore.

Grace and peace be ours in abundance as we marvel at God’s creation and the forces within it.  May we find that we meet Him there in the midst of our awe.

Jessica :)

Monday, August 27, 2012

Giving Thanks

I'm giving thanks to God today for...
A wonderful time away in Voyageurs National Park;
The four Newbery Medal books that entertained us our drive;
The quiet of the Northwoods;
The sound of water lapping on the lakeshore;
Bald eagles calling out and the sound of cormorant wings flapping over head;
Wild rice in the wild;
Beautiful lightning storms over the lake in the distance;
Days on the shore of Kabetogama Lake reading;
Conversations with--rangers, travelers, family and Jason;
Learning about the French-Canadian voyageurs and the lumber industry of the park;
Time with family;
Safely returning home.

Grace and peace be ours in abundance as we learn to give thanks for his goodness in all things.

Jessica :)

P.S.  These photos were taken by both Jason and I during our vacation.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Observe the Rhythm

I am settling into my seat after the music set at Crossroads.  I pull out my catch-all journal and a pen from my stash.  I flip to the right page and write the date. 

Then I sit expectantly. 

I have been looking forward to hearing Mike Breen speak since I heard him, for the first time last week.  I wonder what he will have to say about “The Good Life” today.  He takes the stage and says, in his British way, he wants to talk about the rhythm of rest that God has woven right into creation. 

I smile to myself, thinking, “I’ve been reflecting on that lately.” 

I’m curious to see what he will say. 

He calls rest an essential rhythm of the good life.

He tells of how work that doesn’t come from rest leads me to believe that change depends on me and not on God.  It leads to anxiety.  It leads to frustration.  It doesn’t lead to fruitfulness.

I find this quite interesting. While I have made the connection that rest leads to energized work, productive work, and life-giving work, I have not associated rest with fruitfulness in my work. 

It makes sense, though.

Mike goes on to describe how we can see this rhythm of rest in the life of Jesus and in the Bible.

He reads John 15, one of my favorite passages of Scripture. 

“Remain in me, as I also remain in you.  No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine.  Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.  I am the vine; you are the branches.  If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.  If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up and thrown into the fire and burned.  If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.  This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing that you are my disciples.”  John 15:4-8 NIV

Then as he finishes, Mike begins to trace the rhythm of rest that God set in place right from the beginning.

He takes us back to Genesis and God’s words to man and woman in the garden, “Be fruitful.”

We were designed to be fruitful.

Mike points out the order of events in creation.  Man is created on the sixth day. 

Then, he calls attention to the seventh day.

“By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his word.  Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” Genesis 2:2-3 NIV

The first day man lives, they enjoy rest.  We rest before we ever work.

We enjoy our creator.  And then we work. 

This is the rhythm of the good life. 

This is the rhythm of fruitfulness.

I had never considered this before.  Yet, it makes so much sense.

We hop forward to the commands God gives to Israel. 

In the Ten Commandments, we find the command to observe the Sabbath. 

Mike explains that if God puts the command to rest on par with other commands like “Do not kill” and "do not steal" and "do not commit adultery"  it must be important.

I think I begin to understand the reason he says it over and over again in the Law.  “Observe the Sabbath.”

Observe is the word used most in connection with the Sabbath throughout the Old Testament.  I learned this in my Judaism class in college.  In Hebrew, the word is “Shamor.”  It means “to keep,” in the sense of tending and taking care, watching over or giving attention to. 

The teachers of the Law, in Israel, responded to this command by denoting 39 categories of work.  They wanted to be sure they did not fail to observe the Sabbath.  I don't blame them.  There was a high penalty for breaking the command.  While I do not think God was surprised by this development, I'm not sure this is really what he intended when he gave them this command.

I certainly could be wrong, but I wonder if death, as a penalty for breaking the Sabbath, might actually be an act of  mercy.  Because who can really work endlessly without rest?  When we do, aren't those the times when we wish we could just die to escape the work and the heaviness we feel under it? 

We need rest to have a full life.  We need to be filled up by the one who gives us life.

For me, as I read the Hebrew definition, what comes to mind is the idea of caring for the Sabbath, of creating space to rest with God, the one who initiates it. 

I read these words in Exodus:

“Then the Lord said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘You must observe my Sabbaths.  This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the LORD, who makes you holy.”  Exodus 31:12-13 NIV

I hear God inviting me to come.

I hear Him saying “Keep the rhythm of fruitfulness.  Rest and spend time with me.  Let me prune away that which will not bear fruit.  Let me remind you of who I am.  Let me remind you of who you are.  Let me refresh you.”

Can you hear him calling you to rest with Him?

Let’s observe the Sabbath, partaking in this rhythm of rest, that we might bear fruit.


Grace and peace be ours in abundance as we take up the rhythm of rest that God has for us.  May we find that we are refreshed in Him.  May we discover that he bears fruit in us as we remain connected to the vine.

Jessica :)

P.S.  If you would like to listen to or watch Mike Breen's messages from "The Good Life" series at Crossroads, I recommend both.  You can find them here (weeks 4 and 5).

...reposted from the archives

Thursday, August 23, 2012

What I Do Have

It was so easy in rural Utah to feel like I was doing all I could for the poor.

In this respect, moving back to my hometown has been hard.

There, my exposure to the poor was through the food pantry, the soup kitchen, a dear elderly friend, and the occasional panhandler on the street corner near the Walmart parking lot.  For the panhandlers, it was easy to grab a sandwich, some fruit, or something to drink when I went on an errand and drop it off before I left.  Sometimes, I would have a conversation, others I would say a few words of blessing and head on my way.  It was easy, because it didn’t happen very often.  And since it didn’t happen very often, I felt like it was manageable.

Here, it seems like I pass a panhandler, nearly, every time I get on the highway.  And these aren’t rotating faces.  They are the same ones.  And I don’t know what to do with that.  Part of me feels sorry for these people, wondering what brought them to begging on the street and what keeps them here.  Part of me feels angry that they are there, forcing me to confront the poverty I see in them, every time I pass by.  This isn’t easy.  And it certainly doesn’t seem manageable at all. 

I wonder about addictions, jobs that, surely, could be found, and about mental illness.

I wonder where their family is.

I wonder why it is that I feel guilty as I pass by with nothing to hand them. 

I can’t shake thinking about all this, because I know God loves these people. 

There is much in Scripture about how God cares for the poor.  He wrote provisions for the poor right into the Mosaic Law.  He had harsh words for Israel’s failure to consider the poor in the prophetic books.  And Jesus himself tells about separating the sheep and the goats based on how those people helped the poor or did not help the poor. 

This is important for me to get.

“Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.”  Proverbs 14:31

Yet, what does it really mean to love the poor?  What does kindness to the needy look like?

I’ve been thinking about this lately.

I don’t have the answers.

I do know that last night God brought to mind a particular story in Acts.  I think it tells me a lot about what loving kindness toward the needy looks like.

“One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon.  Now a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts.  When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money.  Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!”  So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them.

Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”  Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong.  He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God.  When all the people saw him walking and praising God, they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.”  Acts 3:1-10 NIV

The lame man calls out for money.  Peter and John notice him. 

Peter calls out, “Look at us!”  The man looks, expectantly waiting.  But they don’t give him money at all. 

Instead, they give what they have. 

Peter speaks, healing him in the name of Jesus, and helps the man to his feet.

Is the man sad that he didn’t get money?  Not at all.  He is overjoyed that he is no longer lame. 

He goes along trying out his new legs—walking and jumping—praising God.

And the people are filled with wonder at what happened to him.

This story encourages me, because there were those who sought help then, just as now.

People passed the same man daily as they came and went asking for help, just like I pass the panhandlers day after day.  And while panhandlers may not all be physically crippled today, something in me wonders if they are lame in a different way. 

It makes me think that while they ask for money, to last the day, what they really need is somthing else.  They need someone to take notice of them.  They need someone ot take notice of their real need.  And they need someone to speak healing over them in Jesus' name. 
I think on a deep spirit level I must know this.  I think it is this that causes the guilt as I pass by—feeling like I ignore someone with a very real need.   

Only, I never realized before that it isn’t what I don’t have to give that is important.  It is what I do have that is important. 

So, I may forget my cold bottle of water in the refrigerator; and I may forget to bring the food packs along when I head down to the Banks, when a Red’s game is happening.  But, I still have something to offer.  I can listen and I can speak healing in Jesus name.

Jesus said:

“Very truly I tell you, all who have faith in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.  And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” John 14:12-14 TNIV

Do I believe Jesus when he says this? 

He healed people—lame ones, people with illnesses of all sorts--physical, spiritual, emotional.  

He fed people, thousands of them from just a little.

I’ve heard of miracles happening like this today.  I believe it happens.

Do I believe He can do this through His Holy Spirit that lives in me?

Because if I do…

It seems to me, by noticing the real cry of someone’s heart and meeting their real present need, it will be doing the most loving thing of all.  It will usher them into the presence of a loving God, the one who can truly meet all their needs.


Grace and peace be ours in abundance as we seek to honor God by being kind to the poor and needy.  May He give us eyes to see the real needs whether physical, relational, emotional, or spiritual.  Jesus, may we trust that as we give what we have—You—that You will heal and make them whole.

Jessica :)

...reposted from the archives