Sunday, January 31, 2010

Major and Minor Themes

"Is not my house right with God? Has he not made with me an everlasting covenant, arranged and secured in every part? Will he not bring to fruition my salvation and grant me my every desire?"
2 Samuel 23:5

As though it were yesterday, I remember an assignment in my television class at Endicott College that forever changed the way I viewed anything on T. V. or in the movies. This assignment was to note every camera angle, movement and focus for the first fifteen minutes of any broadcast or movie of our choice and how it affected the viewer.

Now, I admit I can't recall the show I chose for this experiment, but I do know it trained me to view everything on the large or small screen with a critical eye. Instead of just relaxing to watch a good story play out on the screen, I now look for what the director is trying to communicate with every move of the camera, ever cut, every focus.

Once I know the story I tend to like to watch it again and focus my critical eye on the minor theme.

Like today for instance, I was watching the classic “Rudy” who striving against all odds (academic and physical) dreamed of someday playing football for Notre Dame. That’s the major theme. Underlying that was the story of Rudy’s brother, Frank. He had the natural academic and athletic abilities to accomplish only what Rudy dreamed of yet, he chose to settle for the mediocre. This is the minor theme.

This minor theme is so poignantly displayed in the scene where Rudy’s father is announcing his acceptance to Notre Dame over the intercom at the mill where he and his son’s were employed. As my eyes are watched Rudy’s father bursting with pride and the entire mill giving Rudy a round of applause the camera slowly shifted my attention to his somber- faced brother, Frank where I could see that Rudy’s success shouted nothing but failure to him.

At that point I asked, “What if Rudy had listened to Frank?” There would have been no movie, no story to tell except for a boy who settled into life in an old mill town to make a living instead of making a life. Then I wondered, “How many times have I majored in this minor theme myself? How many times have I been Frank and settled for mediocrity instead of living the life God intended for me to live? How many times have I ignored the desires he placed in my heart to pursue the comfort of the crowds? How many times have I stayed when God said ‘Go’?”

I do believe God places dreams in our hearts. I do believe he wants us to pursue those dreams. Sometimes they’re desires that we have no means to attain apart from the miraculous and sometimes we know they are desires for which we’ve been gifted. Either way, God is the author of those dreams and desires…our major theme, if you will.

He’s also the director training our eyes to focus on the major theme all the while being watchful that the minor theme doesn’t steal the spotlight. If we’re good students, we’ll not only learn the story God is trying to write, but we’ll gladly join him in the process and realize the desires of our hearts have been perfectly aligned with His story all along.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

God's Lenses

"Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. His love endures forever." Psalm 136:1

It had been quite sometime since I'd called them. Christmas had come and gone with barely a "hello" between us and I was feeling a nudge of guilt as my excuses ranging from busyness to ill health seemed lame. So, I finally called them to say "hello" and let them know I love them.

Their voices on the other end of the phone were polite and lukewarm at best. I wasn't sure they cared I'd called at all. There were moments of awkward silence and gaps of air that swallowed me up in self pity. In only a brief few moments, trying as I might to interject any small ounce of joy, excitement or concerned love into the conversation, my heart's wound reopened without permission.

I hung up the phone feeling ten years old again, rejected, alone and feeling unloved by the two people that every child yearns to be loved by and embraced. I asked myself the same question I'd asked a million times before, "What have I done so wrong that they find me so unlovable?"

When I finally returned to the present, I was reminded it's not all about me. They have their own stories, their own wounds, their own colored lenses by which they view and react to those around them, including me.

If truth be told, we all wear colored lenses. The past creates the hues from which we view our lives. But, we are all offered the choice to view life as it really is, through clear lenses of Truth. We just have to choose to accept them, through Christ's invitation, and put them on. When we wear them we see ourselves as God does: holy and wholly loved...forever!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Just Say the Word

"Say the word and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority." Luke 7: 7b-8a

Walking into a classroom of twenty five preschoolers for the very first time was a daunting experience for me as a new teacher. All of a sudden, fifty eyeballs were glued to my every move and their tiny antennas were tuned into my every word. It wasn't enough that I held a place of authority by the mere fact that I was called "teacher. " Oh no...I had to pass their tests. If I passed, then and only then would I speak with true authority.

Their first (and on-going) test was "What's my name?" In my case, walking into this position eight weeks into the new school year, I wasn't given their names weeks ahead of time. I learned as I went along. By Christmas I got their first names down pretty well with a few exceptions, that, to this day, still give me trouble. Those poor kids, they want no excuses like, "Hey, I'm forty-something! I'm lucky to know my own name!" No way! I've got to get their names straight! That's how they know they're significant to me.

The next test was "Do your words match your actions?" Every action has a reaction according to the laws of science. So too, with human interaction. There's always something a child can and will do to test your authority over them. But, how we react to those instances rings very loudly and significantly in a child's ear. If I was asking a child to show kindness to their classmate, no matter how annoyed with them they were, I too, had to show kindness to my students even if they were being unkind or annoying to me. That doesn't mean I have to like what they were doing or allow them to continue their wrong behavior but, I did have to communicate my disapproval in a kind way.

Finally, "Draw the line!" Everyone needs boundaries. They wanted to know if I would hold them to the same behavioral boundaries set for them by the lead teachers. They wanted to know I respected and followed the same rules they were expected to abide by from the other authority figures they already tested.

Now, "Say the word!" I've passed the tests (with the exception of calling them all by the right name 100% of the time). I've now earned the right of authority in their school lives. I say the word and they will do as I ask because I've been tested and been found trustworthy, fair and genuine.

In Luke 7:1-10 the centurion must have been watching Jesus and testing His authority just like the preschoolers have tested me. We know Jesus passed because the centurion said, "Just say the word, Jesus and whatever you say, it'll happen 'cause you've got the authority!" But what's significant in this conversation is that the centurion understands that Jesus isn't just wielding his own authority around willy-nilly. He says, "For I myself am a man UNDER authority with soldiers under me." In other words, he understood that Jesus lived as a man under God's authority. Jesus did only what God asked/commanded of Him, so too, whatever Jesus commanded would be done because He was/is The Authority over all the universe.

Just like Jesus was given the right of authority in the heart of the centurion I too, must accept His authority in my own life especially if I say I love God. It doesn't always happen in an instant. Like my preschoolers, I put Jesus to the test, too. I want to know, "Am I significant? Do you know my name? Will you do what you say you will, Jesus?" And when I hear Him call me by name; when He proves Himself faithful over and over again I can finally say, "Just say the Word, Jesus!" And have the faith to know it will be so.

Monday, January 18, 2010

A Ray of Sunshine

"He is like a well-watered plant in the sunshine, spreading it's shoots over the garden." Job 8:16

Saturday was the first day I'd crawled out of bed in three days! I'd felt almost human again after hacking my way through a box and a half of Kleenix tissues and downing a third of a bottle of cough syrup with codeine! Yea winter! Anyone got a one way ticket to Florida?

My ray of sunshine arrived at last just before dinner that evening. My good friend and extroverted creative learning advocate called and asked to come over. She said she had a question to ask me in person so that she could see my face when she asked it. With my peaked curiosity I of course obliged her request even though I was still dressed in my night gown and slippers. So, in the back door she bounded, all smiles and face beaming with excitement. "She must have found Mr. Right," I thought. "Now how should I react?!" But, to my surprise, instead of announcing her engagement she asked if I would accompany her to a book launching party in Boston for her good friend and award winning children's author/illustrator the next night!

"What an engagement indeed!" I thought. Picking my chin up off the floor all I could say was "I've been so sick..." but my encourage-able husband interrupted, "but she's feeling better and would love to go with you tomorrow night!"

So, last night I stood shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the most creative, most talented, most influential people in the children's literary world! Weaving amidst the gourmet desserts, the glasses of wine and hearty congratulations there was an electricity (more than the buzz of the live band's amps or lights). It was the energy that's only found amongst those who bring out the best in each other; when the atmosphere is genuine and people are encouraged to live up to their creative potential.

I left there feeling warm, encouraged and hungry. I felt genuinely and warmly welcomed into the family of creative writers. I felt encouraged to live up to my potential as a writer. I was left hungry for be surrounded by more creative write accomplish more.

Stepping into 2010 the word hope filled my thoughts. Last night, I was given hope to continue in my writing and hope for a future surrounded by creative, like-minded people.

Thank you to my dear friend for wrapping me in sunshine and infusing hope into my heart through these remarkable people!

Here's to the future!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Great Expectations

"For my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel." Luke 2:30-32

I'm expecting! I'm waiting with great anticipation, excitement and hope for my grandson's arrival in just a couple of months! And as I look forward to meeting him I've found myself looking backward lately, reminiscing about the births of my own two children.

One of my fondest memories was their Dedication Day when we presented our children to the Lord and our church family. To me, Dedication Day symbolized several things: our giving ownership of our children back to God as their creator; to raise them according to His purpose, not our own; to raise our children to honor and worship God and the dedication of our church body to support us in those efforts. As a personal touch, our children were dedicated by their Uncle Bill, an ordained Baptist minister. He had a wonderful tradition after he prayed for us and over our children where he weaved up and down the aisles of the church, personally introducing our baby to the entire congregation giving them a feeling of ownership of our child as well.

This custom of dedication is based on the Jewish law of consecration when the first born male of every Jewish family was brought to the temple on the eighth day to be consecrated (or dedicated) to the Lord. It's first mentioned in Exodus 13:2 when God was giving Moses the Laws of Israel. We also find it in the life of Jesus. Luke records the significance of Jesus' Day of Consecration in chapter 2:21-40. Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to the temple on his eighth day of life to present him to the Lord and to make the proper sacrifice according to the Jewish Law. There was nothing spectacular about their obedience. They were simple, God-fearing parents carrying out their responsibility.

But there in the temple that day, were two prophets (Simeon and Anna) who had been waiting, expecting, hoping for the arrival of Jesus! They'd dedicated over 80 years of their lives praying, fasting and looking for their promised Messiah. When Jesus was carried into the temple that day, they knew who Mary was holding. Moved by God's Holy Spirit, Simeon approached Mary and Joseph first and prayed over Jesus, giving thanks to God for the promise of salvation to ALL people, Jew and Gentile alike, through this child. Immediately following, Anna the prophetess, approached them also giving thanks for Jesus, as the Messiah, promised redeemer of Jerusalem and weaving throughout the temple telling everyone who had been anticipating Israel's redemption about this baby Jesus.

I'm sure by the end of their day at the temple Mary and Joseph's heads were spinning. They knew their Jesus was to be the Messiah all along, but did they fully know the significance of that?I don't think so. Just like us, presenting our babies before the Lord, we don't fully know who we're holding in our arms. That child may look like us and act like us but he is fully God's, created in His image to do great things for His kingdom.

The expectations we hold for our children may be great but they can never surpass the aspirations that God has for them. May we consciously point our children to seek Him first and to follow the desires God places in their hearts.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Deadliest Catch

" 'Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!'..."Then Jesus said to Simon, 'Don't be afraid; from now on you will catch men.' So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him." Luke 5:8, 10-11

I cannot count how many episodes of The Deadliest Catch I've watched but it's a lot! It's a weekly T. V. series about the adventures and mishaps of crab fishermen on the Bering Sea in winter. Cameras give us a taste of their salty lives from the time they set sail in the icy seas to the day they return to harbor with their boats full of king crab. If I was watching this show in the 1960's I wouldn't understand what they were saying because every word would be bleeped. Their language is as rough as their sea weathered hands and as colorful as a double rainbow. They live hard and work hard. They're passion for the sea, their work, and their crew is unmistakable.

One night after watching an episode, being assaulted by their language, it dawned on me that Jesus chose fishermen to be his closest companions, his first disciples. They didn't choose Jesus. Jesus chose them! It was crude, foul-mouthed, beer-drinking, passionate men like those on The Deadliest Catch that Jesus chose to hang with...all the time! He didn't choose the "perfect, holy men" like the pharisees. He didn't choose the temple priests. He chose the rough-around-the-edges men who embodied boldness and passion! He didn't demand they change their behavior before he asked them to follow him. He took them just the way they were. He saw deep into their hearts, accepted them just the way they were then and there.

I think some of us reverse that in the Church today. We shun the crude, the rough people and thank God we're nothing like "them." We squeeze them out of our circles of influence because they're not holy enough, not clean and white like us. We never ask them to serve in ministries because people might be offended and our own holiness might be misrepresented by their behavior. We insult them, walk away from them, exclude them from our lives because they're not enough like Jesus for our own taste and we certainly don't want to dirty our own white sheets! All this is done under the impression that we're protecting ourselves, our congregations from evil.

We've got it all wrong! In God's eyes we're all rough-around-the-edges people especially those of us who think ourselves holier than our brother! In fact, it's the holy people that God warns us to avoid.

When those Galilean fishermen dropped their nets to follow Jesus they brought their crudeness, their drunkenness, their boldness and passion with them. Jesus loved them because he saw in them who he created them to be and trusted his Father (God) to do the transforming. He didn't squeeze them into a mold of holiness. He allowed them to be who they were in every way and loved them despite their faults. He didn't exclude them from ministry but brought them alongside himself to watch God's work and let that be the catalyst for their heart transformation.

Being a follower of Jesus is NOT about being holy and untouched by the world. To be a follower of Jesus means our lives are messy, our clothes are dirty, our hands are rough but we love, truly love people. We don't take responsibility for their behavior but only our own. We allow God to do the transforming not only in them but especially in our own hearts. Then, and only then, will we be able to call ourselves Christians.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Trained Eye of Hope

"Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for." Hebrews 11: 1-2

Have you ever noticed that when you start shopping for cars, the ones you've got your eye on seem to pop up everywhere you go?

Lately, my husband and I have been discussing new cars since both of our vehicles are over ten years old and needing repairs that cost more than their value. His truck has higher mileage and since he travels more it's the first vehicle that we'll replace. He's done his research and narrowed down the type of truck he wants to at least three makes and models. Now, we see tons of them everywhere we go! He loves to announce when one of those models is gaining on us in his rear view mirror so I can check it out! Of course I "Ooooh and ahhhhh" over them as they pass and for certain, he has some sort of critique. "The cab is too small" or "That truck bed is too big" and of course, "There it is! That's the truck!"

We all know it's not that those trucks magically appear just because he desires them but that my husband has trained his eyes to be aware of them. It's like that with us and God too, isn't it? I mean God is always around us but we don't always see him because we're not looking for him. But, if we desire him more, we can train our spiritual eyes to see where he is all the time.

Hebrews 11 recaps stories of faith from the Old Testament. Each person from Noah to Enoch and Joseph portrayed great faith in God that what they hoped for, desired, trusted God for would come to fruition. They couldn't necessarily see the outcome of their desires but they trained their eyes to see where God was and kept moving forward. They kept believing, desiring, trusting that what God had promised them would some day become a reality. They had hope.

Saturday, January 2, 2010


"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." Romans 15:13
"Now close your eyes and make a wish!" We've all done this as children (maybe even as adults) just before we sucked in a big breath and blew out our birthday candles. We took a moment of silence to visualize what it was we wanted and then exhaled as though our breath would bring our wish to life. To add more power to our wishes we'd cross our fingers on both hands, close our eyes tight until we saw stars and breathed so deep we almost passed out! All this would be followed by a huge round of applause and cheers from the party goers as though they were in agreement with our hopes and dreams.

What things did we wish for? Maybe we wished for a new bike, the latest Barbie doll, a new car, a child or a mended family? Whatever it was we didn't wish for things that we already had or the gifts we'd already opened. We wished for things that seemed outside our grasp; those possessions, ideals, opportunities, those life changes that would take a miracle to become a reality.

As the next year rolled around, however, many of our wishes remained unfulfilled. Mostly because they were not grounded in or vocalized to those that had the power to help fulfill those dreams or desires.

I believe that everyone has God-given desires placed in their hearts. They're more than just wishes for material things. They're passions that make us come to life as the people we know deep in our souls we were created to be. They're the longings, that when we seem so far from them, we ache at our very core. It's those desires that God wants to fulfill in us for His specific purposes. It's God's desire for us to become exactly who He intended us to be when He closed His eyes tightly, visualized who we were, every minute detail, sucked in a deep, deep breath and exhaled to give us life. All of this followed by His heart-felt applause as He placed us into our mothers' wombs.

There is so much hope for our futures If we place our trust, our hopes, our dreams our longings, our deepest desires in the One who created them in us at the very beginning. May we open ourselves to trust Him more, to fill us with hope so that we may share that hope with those in our lives who need Him.