Want What You’ve Got! (weekend)

English: School bus seats, photographed from b...

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I often think of the Christian life in terms of the classroom and the field trip.

Sermons, Bible studies, devotions = classroom.

Life in the real world = field trip.

Jesus taught that His words are not just to be “incidental additions to your life, homeowners improvements to your standard of living.” Jesus’ words are foundational words – words to build a life on! He has some pretty harsh things to say to those who spend all of their time in the classroom and never actually work what they’re learning into the living of their lives (Matthew 7:24-29).

The weekends during these 40 days of Want What You’ve Got are a chance to work out all that we think about during the week. Sundays during Lent aren’t actually counted in the 40 day season, because Sunday for the believer is always Easter! Always celebration! Always feast day!

This weekend, instead of going out and buying or doing something new, consider what you’ve got. Find one thing that you already have but haven’t used or enjoyed for a long time…An appliance that makes a special treat. An accessory buried deep within your closet. A movie you enjoy but haven’t seen since… forever.

Take it out. Dust it off. Want What You’ve Got!

While you’re searching for that one thing, keep your eyes open for something that you haven’t used or enjoyed for a very long time – something that you don’t want... An appliance. A pair of shoes. Something that collects dust in your spare bedroom or that you regularly trip over in your garage.

If you don’t want it, why keep it? Re-purpose or recycle by giving it to someone else or dropping it off at a local charity store on your way to the coffee shop (just kidding)!

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Want What You’ve Got! (Lent)

One year at camp I heard a pastor share a version of the Ten Commandments stated positively. Instead of saying Thou Shalt Not, this rendition of the original top-Ten list spun God’s commands in such a way that discipline-averse folks might embrace them.

I didn’t write them down. I haven’t been able to find them worded quite the way they were spoken that year at camp. But one of them – the positive interpretation of Thou Shalt Not Covet – burned itself onto my heart around the campfire and continues to send sparks flying each time my green-eyed monster rears its greedy little head:

Want what you’ve got.

The season of Lent has begun on this day with ashes from last year’s Palm Sunday fingerpainted on my forehead; the shape of a cross barely visible in the dark & oily mess as I lean into the mirror for a closer look. My first inclination is to grab a tissue and wipe it off – it’s as if I’ve got a billboard on my face that reads “this is as good as it gets, people.” Dust, dirt, sin, grease. On display for everyone to see.

I want to wipe it off!
I want to fit in when I walk into Safeway for a gallon of milk on the way home.
I want to look normal to the majority of people who didn’t go to church today.
I want to like what I see when I look in the mirror, or in my refrigerator, or at my checkbook, or closet, or scale, or when I look into the eyes of my loved ones at home.

Truth be told – I want a lot of things. I spend an enormous amount of time, energy and resources on acquiring those things. But then what?

When today’s purchases are hanging in the closet, lined up on the pantry shelves or plugged in beside my bed – then what?

Honestly? I want more.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to want what you’ve got? I have.
Today I can’t help but wonder how my life might be different if I were brave enough to believe God when He says:

“Just think – you don’t need a thing, you’ve got it all! All God’s gifts are right in front of you as you wait expectantly for our Master Jesus to arrive on the scene for the Finale. And not only that, but God himself is right alongside to keep you steady and on track until things are all wrapped up by Jesus. God, who got you started in this spiritual adventure, shares with us the life of his Son and our Master Jesus. He will never give up on you. Never forget that.” I Corinthians 1:7-9 (the Message)

A spiritual adventure beckons today for those of us who feel the Father’s heartbeat in our chests, though all we can see in these mirrors of ours is an ashy, oily smudge where the glory of God ought to be.

What if, for the next 40 days, we were to climb out of and into our bedcovers with this positive commandment in front of us all day long… Want What You’ve Got.

What if, between now and Easter Sunday, we were to choose what we already have over the temptation to buy more, take more, spend more?

And what if, while wanting what we’ve already got, we were to discover that God has given us everything we need?

How might we be different? How might we be changed?

How about we find out… together!

Watch for devotional thoughts and challenges to be posted here every weekday during Lent. Don’t want to miss a post? Subscribe to Pink Shoes Ministries’s blog and have each Want What You’ve Got post delivered to your email inbox.

Construction Zone

Even those on a Trek to the Manger can expect to encounter a Construction Zone now and then…

I know all about Construction Zones. As the wife of a road builder, I have been to and through all sorts of highway and bridge Construction Zones over the years.

I know the difference between concrete and cement, and I can tell whether a road has been paved in concrete or bituminous asphalt.

I’ve seen road surfaces being milled and bridge decks being poured.

I recognize a core sample when I see one and I know that when testing with a nuclear density machine, you’re supposed to wear a radiation-detection badge (I know, because a few of those have ended up in the laundry by mistake).

I’ve seen roads and bridges in various stages of a contract, and when it comes to Construction Zones, well… you might say I know just enough to be dangerous.

In Bible study today we agreed that our group gatherings look pretty much like a Construction Zone. In various stages of construction, each one of us is a distinctly unfinished project (some of us might even say we’re a real piece of work).

Some of us are entering uncharted territory. The road God is building in us doesn’t even exist yet! We might be able to see the bright paint sprays of the utility companies who have marked what’s hidden underground, but where we’re going, there have been no roads before.

Some of us are freshly graded earth, ready for the Paver to make us into a usable roadway.

Some of us are being resurfaced – getting a face-lift, you might say – because the years have left their mark, but there is so much more life left for us to live.

Some of us are all rebar and concrete forms – not looking so much like a road just yet, but being equipped with a solid foundation so that when the deck is poured, we’ll be able to handle any load God might bring our way.

Some of us are being signed and striped. We’re looking pretty darn good, but there are directions we still need and pavement markings that we require in order to continue safely down the road God has put us on.

The thing about Construction Zones is that, with very few exceptions, no one likes them.

Seriously.

It’s messy. It’s bumpy. And it’s really, really slow.

I suppose those doing the work itself would disagree, but for those who just want to pass on through, Construction Zones stink.

This is not unlike what happens in our Bible study group, or in any group of those whose lives are perpetually under construction. With very few exceptions, watching the construction of others is like driving through the Zone…

It’s messy. It’s bumpy. And it’s really, really slow!

Sometimes we get impatient and take a detour, to avoid the construction (and those being constructed) altogether.

Sometimes we wait for what seems like forever in order to move past the Zone that others are in, because when one life gets messy in a community of believers, everyone feels it.

Sometimes the Construction Zones of others keep us from doing things we want to do, on a timeline of our own choosing. This can frustrate, anger and disappoint us, no matter how understanding we try to be.

Today, try to think about those whose work is the Construction Zone… What they do while we’re feeling inconvenienced is to create something new.

Something better. Something more efficient. Something safe.

God Himself is in the Construction Zones of our lives, making something better. Something more beautiful. Something He can use. Something others need.

Yes, the Zone irritates those who navigate it during construction, but for those who are hands-on in the mess, the progress being made is measurable and significant.

We are becoming more and more like Jesus with every pass of the Paver, with every passing day.

No matter how you feel about what God is constructing in and around you, rest assured – the finished product will be well worth the wait.

Kingdom-Mapping 101

“The Kingdom of Heaven is like… yeast that a woman used in making bread. Even though she put only a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough.” (Matthew 13:33 NLT)

Seems pretty straightforward, doesn’t it?

A small amount of yeast is mixed into the dough, where the yeast acts on the fermentable sugars, turning them into the gas – carbon dioxide. This causes the dough to expand – or rise – as the gas forms pockets or bubbles. When the dough is baked, those air pockets ‘set’, giving the loaf of bread a soft and spongy texture. Yummy, right? 

And a beautiful picture of the Kingdom! I have always thought of this parable as fairly simple to unpack… God’s Kingdom, though small, is powerful! And it is meant to be added to the stuff of the world – not kept in a jar on the counter, or holed up in a church building somewhere. That’s how it does its work! It acts on the stuff of the world and changes it! God’s Kingdom stimulates growth and changes outcomes. Instead of coming out of the oven crispy & flat, that which is touched by the Kingdom of Heaven rises and grows and emerges soft, fluffy and fragrant! A delight to the senses! Something we can enjoy and share. Can’t you just smell it?! 

But, friends… there is much, much more to yeast (and the Kingdom of Heaven) than bread alone!

Did you know that in the baking process of bread, once yeast has converted the sugars into gas bubbles and caused the dough to rise, the yeast dies. Its work is… Finished. When that loaf comes out of the oven, the yeast is gone, but its fingerprints are all over the loaf. What does THAT say about the Kingdom of Heaven?

You don’t have to go far in a Google search on yeast before you stumble onto what is perhaps the most compelling Kingdom insight yet. I was a few web pages into yeast when I came across this quote from a researcher named Dr. Francis Collins – a name that rang a bell for me, by the way.

He said: The yeast genome is closer to the human genome than anything completely sequenced so far.” 

What does that mean? Well, a genome is all of a living thing’s genetic material. It’s the entire set of hereditary instructions for building, running and maintaining an organism, and for passing life onto the next generation. 

Francis Collins was saying that the yeast genome – the DNA of yeast – is closer to human DNA than any other organism studied up to the point of this quote, in 1996. Because of the similarities, studying the genome of yeast has opened up an entirely new area of science in which yeast and its genetic structure offer valuable clues toward understanding the workings of more advanced organisms, including humans.

Yeast models are being used today in the study of diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Yeast is being used to test experimental drugs and is helping scientists learn more about cellular processes.

When I heard Francis Collins speak at a conference about seven years ago, I was struck by his childlike enthusiasm for genetics. I know – it’s as weird as it sounds! He spoke for almost an hour and a half to a group of youthworkers whose attention spans are – I promise you – NOT that long! He was actually giddy as he told the story of his experience as the lead scientist on the Human Genome Project – an effort that led top genetic scientists to ‘unravel’ and map human DNA in the same way he had done with yeast in the 1990s. He even took out his guitar at one point and sang us part of his talk! He was actually pretty awesome!

Dr. Collins, it turns out, has been appointed by President Obama as the Director of the National Institutes of Health – this is his current base of operations. But perhaps most interesting is that Francis Collins is as giddy about his faith in Jesus Christ as he is about genetics! His studies into yeast and human genomes changed his life – and his heart – and he write a book called The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief so that others who struggle with reconciling science with faith might have the benefit of his insights.

All of this is to say… What if?

What if the Kingdom of Heaven, here on earth, is like yeast from Francis Collins’ perspective – possessing the entire set of instructions for building, running and maintaining life; even passing life onto the next generation – when we, like yeast, have finished our permeating work, leaving only fingerprints on the loaves we’ve left behind?

What if the Kingdom of Heaven is like yeast, offering valuable clues to the full workings of God’s plan – beyond what we can see with our eyes?

We can’t fully grasp the entirety of God’s Kingdom – heaven and eternity are beyond our understanding – but… the Kingdom of Heaven is like yeast! And yeast is close enough to human DNA to shed light on what scientists seek to understand. Maybe yeast is close enough to the Kingdom of Heaven to shed light on what we seek as well.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve often wished that God would give you a map for understanding life. Some of us have even tried to read the Bible that way, hoping for a MapQuest kind of experience, where we can see our origination and destination points – point A and point B – and with a click of the mouse, we can have turn-by-turn directions from today to eternity (complete with audio, if you like – and she can even have a British accent)!

Let me know if your experience has been different, but God hasn’t mapped the Kingdom of Heaven for me in that way. My experience with Kingdom-Mapping looks a lot like what Dr. Collins and his cohort have done with, yes… Yeast. Not so much a road map; more like a genome map.

A genome map is a set of landmarks that tell people where they are, and help them get to where they want to go. But where road maps chart well-known territory surveyed with incredible precision, a genome map is a map of a new frontier. Some parts of a genome map include great detail while other parts are relatively uncharted territory. It may turn out that a few landmarks appear in the wrong place or are the wrong distance from other landmarks, but over time, as exploration continues, the map becomes more accurate. More detailed. A genome map, like your life and mine, is a work in progress.
(http://www.genomenewsnetwork.org)

What if Jesus’ teachings are meant to be landmarks on a map of the Kingdom of Heaven? Not as much road map – precise and measured – as genome map – experiential and in-progress?

For example, from  the parables in Matthew chapter 13, we learn that:

The Kingdom of Heaven starts small – like a mustard seed – but once it takes root, there will be no stopping it! Landmark #1

The Kingdom of Heaven is growing at God-ordained speeds and in God-selected shapes, sizes and colors! No one but God knows what the seed will produce – you can’t tell by looking at the seed. Our work is simply to watch it grow. Landmark #2

The Kingdom of Heaven, like yeast in the dough, is acting on people and in systems and situations to make them better. To help them rise above. Landmark #3

And… the Kingdom of Heaven is diverse and filled with variety in people and personalities, all with different histories and gifts and crosses to bear. It isn’t our job to decide who’s in and who’s out… God has a plan, and it all gets worked out in the end. For today – for you and me – it’s enough to be caught in His nets! Landmark #4

In this way, using Jesus’ teachings as landmarks for Kingdom-Mapping, the Kingdom of Heaven really is like yeast – giving us new ways to learn and connect with realities we have yet to begin to understand. With each newly discovered landmark, the detail on our Kingdom map grows, leading us into a clearer picture of what God Himself must see.

A quick scan of related websites can provide a sort of yeast-mapping crash course; in a sense, Jesus’ parables and the whole of scripture comprise a life-long course of study – call it Kingdom-Mapping 101. Biblical teachings and our own experiences become landmarks on this Kingdom map of ours.

Some landmarks, like the parables in Matthew chapter 13, may show up on your map and on mine, but depending on how we each understand the teachings, we may place them differently on our own maps. My Kingdom map isn’t exactly like yours, because I also have personal encounters with God and the Holy placed on my map that you don’t know anything about! And my experiences with people and challenges in life also produce landmarks unique to me, which exist on my Kingdom map beside the truths I’m learning from God’s inspired Word.

When you tell your Kingdom stories, some of those end up on my kingdom map, too – because you help me learn when you take the time to share.

I have to wonder whether Jesus’ listeners were telling the truth when Jesus asked, “Have you understood all this?” and they answered, “Yes.” But what Jesus says next sounds just like yeast and brings the work of Dr. Francis Collins to mind:

“He said to them, Therefore every teacher and interpreter of the Sacred Writings who has been instructed about and trained for the kingdom of heaven and has become a disciple is like a householder who brings forth out of his storehouse treasure that is new and [treasure that is] old [the fresh as well as the familiar].” (Matthew 13:52 AMP)

May the yeast of the Kingdom produce treasure for you – the fresh as well as the familiar – and give you eyes to spot that pearl of great price, and the wisdom to do whatever it takes to hold onto it.

And may your Kingdom map reflect the work that is in progress inside of you: tethered to the landmark-teachings of Jesus, moving boldly into the new frontier of God.

What TWO Can DO L4L.19

Eggistentialism 1.5 or Three of a Perfect Pair

Image by bitzcelt via Flickr

The WORD

‘The Pharisees replied, “You are making those claims about yourself! Such testimony is not valid.” Jesus told them, “These claims are valid even though I make them about myself. For I know where I came from and where I am going, but you don’t know this about me. You judge me by human standards, but I do not judge anyone. And if I did, my judgment would be correct in every respect because I am not alone. The Father who sent me is with me. Your own law says that if two people agree about something, their witness is accepted as fact. I am one witness, and my Father who sent me is the other.”’ John 8:13-18 (New Living Translation)

This challenge from the Pharisees comes on the heels of Jesus’ failure to pass judgment on the woman caught in adultery (“Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”). Seems that these leaders of the faith were more apt to buy into a messiah figure who would wield his weapons of war on the battlefield of works and moral judgment  than one whose failure to condemn the clearly guilty left them feeling uncomfortably unjustified.

‘The Pharisees objected, “All we have is your word on this. We need more than this to go on.” Jesus replied, “You’re right that you only have my word. But you can depend on it being true. I know where I’ve come from and where I go next. You don’t know where I’m from or where I’m headed. You decide according to what you can see and touch. I don’t make judgments like that. But even if I did, my judgment would be true because I wouldn’t make it out of the narrowness of my experience but in the largeness of the One who sent me, the Father. That fulfills the conditions set down in God’s Law: that you can count on the testimony of two witnesses. And that is what you have. You have my word and you have the word of the Father who sent me.”’ (The Message)

As He often did, Jesus demonstrated His knowledge and understanding of Jewish Law by quoting from Deuteronomy (17:6 and 19:15), which had to make the Pharisees more than a little bit hot beneath the collar. In both of these Old Testament verses, the point made is that no man should be found guilty of a crime on the say-so of only one witness; the testimony of two or more is required.

Funny how Jesus managed to turn the Jewish leaders’ demand for proof of Jesus’ claims into His own method of defense. They demanded that Jesus bring a sound witness forward, to prove He was telling the truth. Jesus insinuates that what they’re really trying to do is find Him guilty of a crime, to which He offers the testimony of His Father; the Word of God Himself.

The APP

How many times have you found yourself in a situation where your words and witness fell short of being convincing? I was in this very place years ago, when I found myself working for a leader whose behind-the-scenes manipulation had become a grotesque art form. No matter what this person said or did to exercise control over me or to try to put me in my ‘place’, no one else was ever around when it happened. I was the only one who knew about the fiery darts that routinely pierced my sensitive skin and left me wounded and doubting my abilities, my intentions and my calling.

These circumstances ended up being an eye-opening experience, illustrating the need for the testimony of two; if there had been another witness, I don’t think I would have been the one to leave that workplace. But as it was, it would have been my word against his; not an ideal situation no matter how you frame it.

Jesus’ words acknowledge God’s Law in this confrontation with the Pharisees because Jesus knew that they wouldn’t listen to Him alone. Many times our squabbles in the faith arise from a “he said, she said” exchange, where you tell me what you think and I counter with my own words, to which you add your arguments and consequently pour fuel on my fire…

Jesus didn’t take this approach.

Jesus provided the testimony of two when He chose to let God speak on the subject, by letting God’s Word speak for Himself.

Now, you might argue that Christians do this all the time. Who hasn’t been the victim of scripture quoted for the purpose of proving that someone else is wrong so that I can be right? We can subtly (or blatantly) insert scripture into our conversations in order to throw more weight around than we actually have, and we can do this for our own selfish gain while furthering our own self-serving agendas.

This is not what Jesus did, nor is it what He is teaching us to do. Instead, He was aligning Himself with the powerful witness of One whose Word could validate Jesus’ own words and actions.

Jesus chose the testimony of two – He and His Father’s Word – so that He might be successful in the mission He was on.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 speaks about our very real need for the testimony of two:  

“Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.”

Quite literally, Jesus knew what two could do, and He chose to stand unified with the Father when confronted by those who would attack Him with their words, with their anger, and finally with their weapon of death on a cross.

You and I could choose today to walk the narrow road alone, but why would we when we know what two can do?

Two can help one another succeed.

Two can pick each other up when they fall.

Two can huddle together for warmth in this cold world.

Two can stand back-to-back and conquer any enemy that comes their way.

Jesus knew what two can do, and He chose to stand back-to-back with His Father, conquering death and sin so that you and I might be brought into unbroken fellowship with the powerful witness of One whose Word can validate our own words and actions.

You know that Christ comes with His Father’s testimony. Align yourself with Christ!

You know that there are people in your life who are witnesses of God’s work in you. Align yourself with them!

Where two or more are gathered together in the Name of Jesus, THERE HE IS among you!

It’s time to be Literal 4 Lent, my friend.

It’s time to see just what two can do!

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Workaholic L4L.09

Confession Of A Workaholic - They Say That Eve...

Image by echam+dikya+dzara via Flickr

The WORD

When the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went across to Capernaum to look for him. They found him on the other side of the lake and asked, ‘Rabbi, when did you get here?’

Jesus replied, ‘I tell you the truth, you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs. But don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food. Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man can give you. For God the Father has given me the seal of his approval.’

They replied, ‘We want to perform God’s works, too. What should we do?’

Jesus told them, ‘This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.’” John 6:24-29 (New Living Translation)

This text follows Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000. Those who had been fed realized that Jesus had moved on, so they followed him across the lake. Let’s read these words again, this time from the TNIV:

The crowd realized that Jesus and his disciples were not there. So they got into boats and went to Capernaum to look for Jesus. They found him on the other side of the lake. They asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”

Jesus answered, “What I’m about to tell you is true. You are not looking for me because you saw miraculous signs. You are looking for me because you ate the loaves until you were full.  Do not work for food that spoils. Work for food that lasts forever. That is the food the Son of Man will give you. God the Father has put his seal of approval on him.”

Then they asked him, “What does God want from us? What works does he want us to do?”  

Jesus answered, “God’s work is to believe in the One he has sent.”

Everyone knows a workaholic.

Some of us ARE workaholics.

The dictionary definition of workaholic is: somebody who has a compulsive need to work hard and for very long hours. Somebody addicted to work.

The people seeking Jesus had a compulsive need, in response to experiencing the miraculous signs and wonders of Jesus’ ministry, to do what Jesus did. Maybe they genuinely wanted to heal and feed the masses. Maybe they were caught up in the swell of excitement around Jesus and simply wanted to re-create that environment around themselves. Either way, these people had the potential to become addicted to work, and Jesus knew it.

The APP

Jesus recognized that this eager crowd had all of the markers of becoming workaholics; people who could very easily get lost in their work, losing track of the reason they were doing it in the first place.

Isn’t that just what happens to US? We find a job that will pay the bills, put our education to good use and allow us to contribute our unique giftedness to a purpose or cause that we can (hopefully) get excited about… and it sucks us in. Before we realize what has happened, our priorities shift, our time management goes haywire and we find ourselves dreaming workplace scenarios in the night.

Becoming a workaholic robs us of our sleep and our relationships and our health. What started with clarity as a beautiful thing can easily end up a disastrous mess when we lose track of why we’re doing it at all.

It’s no different in the church.

We get recruited to serve as a Sunday School teacher or sound technician. We like feeling useful. We like the idea that what we’re doing is God’s work. We figure that if we do even MORE for God, it can only be a good thing (right?), so we take on more hours or additional ministries.

Somehow we move from serving out of a response to God to serving in order to get a response from God.

Jesus knew we would be tempted to make our work the focus, which is why His response to this crowd of enthusiastic do-ers is worth our literal consideration today…

God doesn’t want our busyness.

God doesn’t require long hours.

God isn’t impressed with our spiritual resumes.

The only work God wants from us is our BELIEF in the Savior. Period.

Do yourself a favor today and make a list of what you do. List everything you do on a normal day, in a normal week. Then ask yourself these questions:

What are you doing that feels like busyness?

What are you doing that takes long hours, especially hours away from those whose lives are connected to yours?

What are you doing that serves mainly to build up a resume of spiritual service?

What are you doing that fits poorly, feels heavy or conflicts with something in your life that you value more?

God is giving us  permission to spend all of our energy on believing in Him!

Take Jesus at His Word.

He’ll take care of the rest.

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Affirmation Station L4L.07

Affirmations - Heart - Red

Image by Gurumustuk Singh via Flickr

The WORD

‘Please, sir,’ the woman said, ‘give me this water! Then I’ll never be thirsty again, and I won’t have to come here to get water.’

‘Go and get your husband,’ Jesus told her.

‘I don’t have a husband,’ the woman replied.

Jesus said, ‘You’re right! You don’t have a husband – for you have had five husbands, and you aren’t even married to the man you’re living with now. You certainly spoke the truth!’” John 4:15-18 (New Living Translation)

It’ll feel a bit awkward, but read back through this text as a conversation – out loud! Try to feel as Jesus and the woman might have felt…

The Word for us today comes from the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus strikes up a conversation with this woman whose past is probably part of the reason she is filling her bucket at the well alone, in the heat of the day.

Jesus had every opportunity to point out the error of her ways.

The woman had every opportunity to run the other way. Yet neither one did.

Well, you might say that Jesus asked about the woman’s husband in order to reveal her sinful nature, right? After all, He does proceed to describe her history in enough detail to convince her that He was, at the very least, a prophet.

I want to propose another motivation for Jesus’ approach: What if Jesus asked the husband question just so that He could say to her, “You’re RIGHT!

Think about it… Even in today’s culture, a woman who has gone through five husbands and a live-in probably doesn’t receive much affirmation from the people around her. She gets pointed at because of her choices. She is shunned because of her reputation. She is ‘wrong’ at every turn of every failed relationship, and she is probably surrounded by reminders of those failures no matter where she goes.

Today was no exception – she had no friend or family member to gather water with; the ‘right’ people had already been to the well in the cool morning hours, so she had made the dusty trek alone.

It’s not as if Jesus asked the husband question often – this is the only time we hear of such a thing in Jesus’ ministry. He wasn’t trying to sell her something – say, a timeshare – where His spiel could only be presented if both husband and wife were there to sign (or refuse to sign) on the dotted line.

What if Jesus asked the husband question simply to be able to show her the grace she didn’t deserve; ascribing to this broken woman the value she didn’t know she had?

He asked a question that, if answered truthfully, would allow Him to say, “You’re RIGHT!” to someone who only knew how to be wrong.

The APP

I’ve had the privilege of serving as a volunteer for Youth Specialties at the National Youth Workers Convention in the fall. One of my roles in the past has been on the Affirmation Team – a small group of servants whose mission is to affirm, appreciate and encourage youth workers – many of whom arrive at Convention as walking wounded, having been beaten up by the very ones they live to serve.

One of my very favorite A-Team responsibilities was the Affirmation Station – a table set up in the middle of a traffic area, stocked with poster-sized paper and markers. A place where paid and volunteer church staff could create signs to express their love, care and appreciation for the soul-weary co-workers they were attending the event with. The A-Team would routinely stop by the Affirmation Station to hang the posters, and by the end of the week we invariably would have run out of wall space.

Affirmations like these covered the walls, written to build people up and remind them how important they are:

David Jones is the BEST youth pastor in Tennessee!

Mt. Vernon Presbyterian LOVES their Sr. High staff!

What you’re doing MATTERS, Kara! You’re making a difference in Alpharetta!

My life was changed forever because my youth leader CARED!

When Jesus chose to affirm the Samaritan woman that day, He gave back the beauty, intelligence and worth that the living of her life had stripped away.

She was all wrong until Jesus reminded her, “You’re RIGHT!” His affirmation, and the conversation that followed, left her (and many others) changed.

Look around you today.

Look for those who seem all wrong.

Look for those who have been hurt, lied to, beat up and compromised.

Look for those whose past is ever-present, and then follow in the footsteps of Jesus. Set up your own Affirmation Station and make it your Lenten mission to paper the proverbial walls of your home, your workplace and your community with healing words of hope and desperately needed messages of love.

It doesn’t get much more literal than that.

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Low-Hanging Fruit L4L.04

The WORDYoung man harvesting plums

“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted there by the devil. For forty days and forty nights he fasted and became very hungry. During that time the devil came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become loaves of bread.” But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Matthew 4:1-4 (New Living Translation)

You know the drill – let’s read it again.

“Next Jesus was taken into the wild by the Spirit for the Test. The Devil was ready to give it. Jesus prepared for the Test by fasting forty days and forty nights. That left him, of course, in a state of extreme hunger, which the Devil took advantage of in the first test: ‘Since you are God’s Son, speak the word that will turn these stones into loaves of bread.’ Jesus answered by quoting Deuteronomy: ‘It takes more than bread to stay alive. It takes a steady stream of words from God’s mouth.’” Matthew 4:1-4 (The Message)

This season of Lent, forty days long (not counting Sundays), is a reflection of the forty days of preparation Jesus spent in the desert prior to being tested by God’s enemy. Before He even began His ministry, Jesus set Himself apart from outside influences, perhaps because He knew that His best shot against Satan would be a steady stream of God’s influence, untainted by the comforts and conveniences of the world.

By resisting the physical need to eat, Jesus was feeding His spiritual hunger at an all-you-can-eat buffet of Scriptural truth at the table of God. Truth that not only came in handy, but won the battle with evil, propelling Jesus into a whirlwind ministry of teaching and preaching that ultimately changed the world.

Jesus was starvingcan you imagine going forty days without eating? – and yet He was able to resist the low-hanging fruit of the tempter when it was offered to Him. It’s no accident that this scene unfolds at the start of His ministry, as it is in perfect parallel to the temptation of God’s first people as they stood, naked, in front of that tree in the Garden.

Low-hanging fruit is always the enemy’s Plan A. And it’s no wonder, since we (like Adam and Eve) are always so eager to take a bite.

The APP

What’s so appealing about the low-hanging fruit of the enemy, and why are we such easy targets?

Low-hanging fruit feeds our physical appetites. Just as Satan tempted Jesus to give in to His hunger, we are tempted every day to settle for the fruit we can easily reach.

Fruit we don’t have to work hard to obtain.

Fruit that is readily available.

Fruit that is temporarily satisfying.

Our appetites will always lead us into temptation, just as Adam and Eve were drawn to the fruit of the one tree in the Garden that wasn’t theirs; but we don’t have to partake.

We’re easy targets because we aren’t prepared. Jesus – Son of God, Messiah, Lord – spent forty days preparing for Satan’s testing. By denying Himself in the physical realm, Jesus was freed up to be strengthened in the spiritual realm and consequently was ready for battle when Satan appeared on the scene.

We fall to temptation again and again because we fail to take seriously our times of preparation. As long as we are satisfied with dabbling in the Word of God, we will never be satisfied with the hard-to-reach fruit of the Spirit.

If, as Jesus said, “It takes more than bread to stay alive,” then you and I must hunger for that steady stream of God’s Word if we are to allow low-hanging fruit to dangle while we stretch and reach and climb to obtain the fruit that will last.

For you, today, this may mean a fast. A day, a week, or perhaps forty days of refusing to give in to the easily-met desires of the flesh. Often we choose to give up something that is tempting to us as a token offered to the season of Lent; this is not what I’m talking about today.

What you and I most desperately need is to set ourselves apart for the purpose of being prepared – not preparing ourselves, mind you, but dedicating ourselves to being open to the preparation God provides us through His Word.

Until we take Jesus’ words to the enemy literally and choose to draw our very sustenance and spiritual nutrition from God’s Word, we cannot walk the path that Jesus walked. We cannot follow Him.

This is how Jesus’ walk began: with preparation, with temptation, with victory.

In that order.

May it be so for us today.

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Literal 4 Lent: The Best Teaching Ever Heard

(Click here for the Literal 4 Lent home page)

Several years ago I attended Youth Specialties’ National Youth Workers Convention in the fall. I always LOVE YS events, and this one was no exception, with speakers like Andy Stanley and Louie Giglio on the main stage. I was especially eager to hear Shane Claiborne speak – his message the year before had seriously rocked my world, so I was hungry to hear what he would have to say this time, as thousands of youth workers gathered to be inspired.

Shane took the stage and proceeded to do a couple of carnival tricks, including fire-eating, which was weird but not altogether unexpected (have you ever seen Shane?). Then he took out his Bible and began to read from the Gospel of Matthew – the Sermon on the Mount.

He read chapter 5. And chapter 6. And chapter 7.

Not a short text, yet I was ready for what was coming next – Shane’s unique way of looking at scripture that would certainly lead me into new understandings and applications of the Word.

That’s not exactly what happened. As Shane read the final verses of Matthew ch. 7, he looked out at the crowd of eager listeners and prayed:

“God, give us the courage to live it.”

And he walked off the stage. Talk OVER. Total, stunned silence fell over the room.

From my journal, dated Nov. 16, 2007: “I admit to entertaining the question, ‘is this… IT?’ Yet even as I asked myself the question, I couldn’t believe I was asking myself if Jesus’ greatest sermon – in His own words – was ‘all’ that Shane was going to share… but I did think it.”

Sitting in the silent company of thousands whose mental gymnastics had to be similar to my own, I was MOVED from disappointment to the realization that this man, who clearly had the full attention of everyone in the room, had just leveraged his influence to lift up the words of Jesus as GOSPEL… TRUTH.

I was moved – to tears. “I am at once convicted and motivated; mortified and passionate; confused and crystal clear.”

The way this sermon of Jesus ends is the way I have chosen to begin the season of Lent, as it is ushered in today, on Ash Wednesday. Jesus makes it clear that His words are not just something to add to our collection of wise sayings, to be pulled out and comforted with in times of need. No, what Jesus says is something that I most desperately need to hear, and I suspect that you do, too.

“‘These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on. If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit – but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock. But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don’t work them into your life, you are like a stupid carpenter who built his house on the sandy beach. When a storm rolled in and the waves came up, it collapsed like a house of cards.’ When Jesus concluded his address, the crowd burst into applause. They had never heard teaching like this. It was apparent that he was living everything he was saying – quite a contrast to their religion teachers! This was the best teaching they had ever heard.” Matthew 7:24-29 (The Message)

THIS was the BEST TEACHING they had ever heard. Because Jesus wasn’t just telling them what to do – He was showing them.

What if Jesus meant for us to do the same?

What if Jesus was serious when He said that the role of Bible study is to work the Word into the living of our lives?

What if He meant for us to take His teachings literally?

During this Lenten season that begins today and runs through Easter morning, I invite you to join me in asking, “What if?

Pink Shoes Ministries is going to experiment with being Literal 4 Lent.

Each week day during the 40 days of Lent we will be considering the literal application of the teachings of Jesus and their potential impact on our lives, our families, our churches and communities. We’ll take a daily look at the red letters in the Gospels, making the Word our primary text for this season of the church year – this Way of the Cross.

Each week day, here at Pink Shoes Ministries on wordpress.com, we will consider THE WORD (a teaching from Jesus’ ministry) and THE APP (how we might live it – today). On the weekends we will rest and consider the impact of this experiment in Kingdom living, taking note of what the Word has done as we gave it hands and feet and took it into our world.

What if people listened to what we have to say and responded, “It’s apparent that they are living everything they are saying – quite a contrast to the typical religious crowd.”

Let’s DO IT! Let’s pray for the boldness and the courage to LIVE the best teaching ever heard for the next 40 days – and see what happens!

It won’t be easy, but it’ll be worth it. It’ll be counter-cultural, but it will also be counter to the passive Christianity that appears to have its roots somewhere other than in the teachings of Jesus the Christ.

I realize that we are all over the place when it comes to our interpretation of scripture, but won’t it be an unprecedented undertaking to be Literal 4 Lent?!

In November, 2007 as I sat silent in the crowd, this prayer rose in my heart. May it rise in your heart, too, as we follow Jesus into a life LIVED for the glory of God…

“I am eager for what YOU will do NEXT, God! Bring it. I am ready.

I am yours.”

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Christmas in July (create)

Hand Prints

Hand Prints (Photo credit: chrispwalsh)

With time on your side and a few weeks of summer left on the calendar, creating a meaning-rich Christmas is still well within the realm of possibility! 

God’s creative genius has been passed along to each of us in a variety of ways. This Christmas, why not embrace these holy genesthe image and energy of God in YOU – by creating presents that reflect His presence?!

Hand-Bags

One year my family created Hammit Hand-Bags for everyone on our gift list. We chose a suitable bag for each person – canvas totes, backpacks, laundry bags, camera bags – and we adorned each one with our family member’s handprints. You might add the names belonging to each set of handprints, or consider embellishing with gems and ribbon to represent jewelry (rings, bracelets). Many family members used these bags for years as their library book totes, picnic or pool bags, etc.

Hollow Ornament Gifts

For many years we hung a ball-shaped ornament on our tree that was hollow inside. It sort of resembled an Easter egg, though it was larger and more sturdy and could be tightly closed. Consider crafting such an ornament for the families on your list, encouraging them to put something inside of it each year:

  • Choose one family memory from the current Christmas and write it down, then fold it up and place the paper inside. Add another one next year! Within only a few years’ time you will have a family tradition and stories to tell around the tree!
  • List the names of those who celebrate Christmas with you each year. Keep the list in the ornament and add names each December. This would be especially appropriate for families who welcome neighbors and friends at their holiday gatherings.
  • Encourage each family member to write a Christmas wish or prayer. Save these inside and pray or revisit them year after year.
  • Put the names of each Christmas guest and your family members on separate papers inside the ornament. On Christmas morning, have each person pick a name! This is the person you will pray for in the coming year… the gift of prayer!

Rather than a hollow ornament, a Christmas Box could work for these ideas as well. You might buy plain boxes at a craft store and decorate them, or search local thrift stores for unique and unusual designs!

Photo Gifts

Not everyone is crafty… Thank goodness for digital cameras and Vistaprint! Companies like Vistaprint allow you to put your photos to work as gifts – in many forms. Key chains, t-shirts, ball caps, greeting cards, blankets & tote bags are just a few of the items that can be dressed-up with your photographs and given as gifts to your loved ones.

Check out the Costco or Sam’s Club websites (memberships required), or simply do a web search for custom photo gifts – you’ll have more ideas than you can implement! Thrifty shoppers may want to keep an eye on Groupon or Living Social for vouchers toward photo gift purchases (I regularly see $70 vouchers for Vistaprint product for ridiculously low prices – sometimes as low as $17).

Blessing Bags

One way to expand your Christmas cheer and invite others into the celebration of Jesus’ birth is to create an assortment of Blessing Bags to give away. These can be as simple as a gallon sized Ziploc bag or inexpensive canvas tote, filled with items that those you run into on the streets around town may need:

  • A bottle of water
  • Fast food gift certificates
  • Small snack packs (granola bar, crackers, nuts)
  • Tissues
  • Small toiletry items
  • Anything else your family can come up with!

Decorate the bags, enclose a Christmas card from your family, and keep a supply of Blessing Bags in your car throughout the month of December, giving them away as you are inspired to do so!

Secret Angels

A twist on the Blessing Bags would be to pre-determine whom you wish to bless with each bag, fill them accordingly, then leave the bag on your recipient’s doorstep or desktop  – for a surprise discovery!

Wrap It Up!

One of my happiest Christmas memories consists of a roll of butcher paper, some sponges and tempera paint, and our driveway on a warm November day. In one afternoon, my family made personalized wrapping paper which was used to cover all of the gifts we gave that year! A roll of butcher paper and some creativity is all you need to make wrapping paper that communicates your joy to everyone on your gift list.

  • Choose a medium (paint, markers, crayons).
  • Choose a color scheme.
  • Choose a design (shaped sponges, hand or foot prints, lyrics from Christmas carols, words from Scripture, or have each family member choose a trademark word or design and place their mark all over the wrap).

I had never seen so many smiles at the sight of wrapped gifts before the year we made our own family gift wrap!