I Think I Know This Guy

He is always wrestling in prayer for-2He’s a preacher named Epaphras who is said to have helped establish the  first-century church at Colossae. And he’s such a close friend of the apostle Paul that he visits him in a Roman prison and decides to stay awhile.

But this one verse makes me wish we knew a whole lot more about him than just that. Here’s Paul, writing to the Colossians:

“Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured.” Colossians 4: 12

That phrase, “always wrestling in prayer for you”, resonates with me. In my mind’s eye, I see our friend Epaphras on his face before God. He’s not “wrestling” in the sense that he’s begging God to do something God doesn’t want to do, but he’s striving to represent the Colossians well, and seeking God’s will for them.

Epaphras really wants to get it right.

It is apparent that as he prays, Epaphras hits on exactly what it is that God wants for the Colossians: that they would stand firm in His will, and that they would be mature and confident in their faith. That’s a request God will certainly say “yes” to.

How does Epaphras know to pray this?

One of the coolest things I know about prayer, I read in Romans 8:26-27:

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” Romans 8:26-27

As we Christians pray, our words are edited by God’s Spirit so that what we ask is in line with God’s will for us. Even when we don’t know what to pray and perhaps all we can do is sigh (or cry), the Holy Spirit puts words to it and implores God in our stead.

That is just amazing.

As a young Christian, I used to wonder what the point was in praying, if God was going to do what God was going to do, regardless. But I think I see the answer in Epaphras. Continue reading

What does this look like to you?

“You need to tell your followers to knock that loud worship off. They’re making a scene.” 

In their arrogance, the religious elite actually said something just like  that to Jesus . . . and His response was beautiful:

“I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” 

hills-mountains-nature-685-621x350Imagine! If we as human beings never again expressed worship to Christ, nature would do it for us. One look at the Grand Canyon (or the tulips this time of year in the Midwest) would convince you of that. He is always worthy of adoration and if we don’t do it, the trees and oceans (and rocks) will.

Reveling in the beauty of creation as God’s handiwork for sure looks like worship.

I have a friend who, though not a “religious person”, thrills to the beauty of sacred music and loves to sing as part of a traditional choir. To her, the blend of the different voices enriches the sound and creates its own beauty.

If you ask her, she would tell you music is itself a form of worship. Who could disagree with that?

It’s natural to be moved to praise God as you walk through a park on a beautiful day or when you’re surrounded by others holding hymnals or following lyrics on a screen. Lately, though, I’ve been thinking about how worship is expressed in the hard things.

Do pain, suffering, and tears look like worship opportunities to you? Cause for begging, pleading, groveling prayers, maybe . . . but worship? Continue reading

But only if you don’t hold hands

filename-1Funny, the things you remember. When my younger sister and I were really little – I’m talking maybe 4 and 5 years old – we went to the nursery at the seminary where my parents were both students. We didn’t know anyone, of course, and we were scared, so we clung tightly to each other after our parents dropped us off.

The large room was divided into two, with a low partition between the sides. One area was for the younger children; there were the usual coloring books and stuffed animals and puzzles with giant pieces.  On the other side of the room was the area for the older kids. I’m sure there were lots of toys there, too, but all I remember is the blocks. There were dozens of wooden blocks in every size and there were even those sturdy cardboard ones painted to look like bricks.

Oh, how I wanted to play with those blocks, but it would mean being separated from my little sister, since she belonged on the other side of the room. I was torn between my protectiveness of her and my desire to build a “house” out of cardboard bricks. It was agony for a little kid.

One of the teachers, apparently sensing my dilemma, offered that we could both stay on the big kid side, but “only if you don’t hold hands”.

Continue reading

I Think I Know Lot’s Wife’s Name

IMG_6779Lot, the nephew of Old Testament patriarch Abraham, lived in a rotten neighborhood. In fact, the entire city, as well as the one next door, was so wicked, God ordered they both be destroyed, as a warning to future generations of His disdain for unrepentant sin. To this day, even the names of the cities – Sodom and Gomorrah – have come to epitomize evil and wickedness.

The story in Genesis 19 is riveting: Because Lot was said to have been a righteous man, God sent angels to rescue him and his family before the cities were annihilated.

The angels warned them to hurry and not stop to look back. Lot’s wife famously disobeyed and the Bible tells us she was instantly turned into a pillar of salt — perhaps caught in the burning sulfur and volcanic explosions that engulfed the area.

Though some Hebrew texts refer to her as Edith and others call her Irit, Lot’s wife is never actually named in the Bible itself. Instead, she stands as a symbol of the danger of indecision, especially when God’s instructions are clear. Even in the New Testament, Jesus cautions His disciples to “remember Lot’s wife” and not look back when God calls you forward.

The more I think about it, the more I think Lot’s wife’s name could have been Diane. Continue reading

Choosing to gulp, not sip

I stood transfixed on the lanai, watching a river otter cavort on the opposite bank of the small pond behind my rented condo. It rolled on its back in the grass, stood up, then threw itself down and rolled some more before finally slinking back into the water and swimming away.

Now I don’t know if otters feel joy; I kind of doubt it. For all I know, its back was itching and that’s how otters scratch. But that creature was so playful and unguarded, so totally in the moment, I couldn’t help but smile.

32 Curious DolphinI’ve felt the same pleasure watching dolphins frolic alongside a boat or kayak. They leap out of the water with those ubiquitous grins and seem for all the world to be truly enjoying themselves. Are they? I don’t know, but something about them makes my spirit soar.  Continue reading

People are starving – and not for food

I’ve been told I must have “talk to me” tattooed on my forehead in a type of ink easily visible to the lonely. It must be true because apparently Karen (not her real name) could read it.

IMG_3126It was only about a ten minute ride on the water taxi from the marina to the beach, but that was long enough. By the time we got off the pontoon boat, I knew Karen’s entire story: Where she’s lived for all 41 years of her marriage, how much she paid for her last three houses, the nature of her latest ailment, what she and her husband disagree about, the names and ages of each of her grandchildren, and … well, you get my drift. Me, a complete stranger.

The next day I went to an outdoor art festival with two friends. As I browsed the jewelry booth, a nearby shopper found earrings to match the necklace she was admiring. To my casual comment, “Must be your lucky day!”, she blurted out that she could use some good luck; her husband had died unexpectedly last week of a massive heart attack. She said she had come to the art festival hoping for a distraction from her crushing grief. Stunned, I touched her arm as I told her how sorry I was, my voice cracking. Again, I was a complete stranger.  Continue reading

That Day Worrying Finally Paid Off

I was at breakfast with a friend this past weekend who was fretting about her daughter. Her adult, intelligent, capable daughter. My friend was worried about a project her daughter was planning to take on the next day and the potential complications that could arise. The fact that she had no involvement or control over the outcome herself didn’t stop her from being genuinely concerned.

Only half-kidding, I said, “Well, it’s good you’re worrying about it because one of these days that’s going to pay off for you.”

We both laughed at the absurdity of such a statement; who really thinks worrying is anything other than a complete waste of time?

IMG_2498I’m one to talk. I recently drove 23 hours to spend two months in Florida. Balmy, snow-free, palm-trees-gently-swaying-in-the-breeze Florida.

The night I arrived, you know what I did? Continue reading

Please Don’t Kick the Sheepdog – a reminder

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe are a law enforcement family. My great-grandfather, George L. Bryant, was a small-town sheriff who died in the line of duty in 1908 and whose name is emblazoned on the National Law Enforcement Officers’ Memorial in Washington, DC. My older brother, my husband, and I are all retired “sheepdogs”. My sister-in-law spent her career as a police dispatcher and my younger sister began her working life as a member of this same tight-knit law enforcement community.

Perhaps you will understand, then, why this divisive climate in our country right now between the protectors and the protected deeply troubles me.  

For that reason, instead of posting something pensive and timely about Christmas today, I’ve decided to revisit a post I originally published in April 2013 after the Boston Marathon bombings.

The following perspective is taken from a book by Lt. Col. (Retired) Dave Grossman, Ranger, Ph.D., and author of On Killing; the Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill. Some of the statistics may bear updating but the sentiment remains valid. I hope it’s helpful: Continue reading

This Can Never Be Said About You

 

thumbs downNothing beats the Bible when it comes to flawed and unlikely characters. Some were real oddballs; others had disadvantages that weren’t their fault. Here are just a few you’ll find throughout the Old and New Testaments (you can click on any name to read more of their story):

Polygamists – King Solomon  was said to have had 700 wives and 300 concubines; many other Biblical patriarchs were also polygamists;

Criminals – The apostle Paul (known then as Saul) persecuted and imprisoned Christians prior to his conversion;  Zacchaeus was a notorious tax collector who cheated his own people; Moses  and King David  were both murderers;

CowardsGideon’s faith was so weak he repeatedly demanded God give him a sign before he would obey (and then he obeyed at night so no one would see him); Peter  blatantly and repeatedly denied knowing Christ; Continue reading

All that’s left for us to do is this

 

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When life is complicated –

and it is…

When people are hurting –

and they are…

When questions overwhelm –

and they do…

All that’s left for us to do is this: GIVE THANKS.

I’ll admit, it seems counter-intuitive, this expressing of gratitude when all seems lost and we are tempted to despair over the state of our world and our own small lives.

Yes, things are a mess.

But to collapse in a heap would mean missing the everyday miracles God is performing all around us, the hopeful evidence that He has not left our sides, no matter how grim things appear. Choosing to give thanks calls to mind the ways that indeed, He is crafting our redemption and is worthy of all honor.

I find the following simple prayer of Scottish author William Barclay to be prescriptive and healing for “such a time as this”, a gentle reminder of how blessed we are in this one aspect: that we love and are loved.

I give you thanks, O God, for those who mean so much to me —

Those to whom I can go at any time.

Those with whom I can talk and keep nothing back,

knowing that they will not laugh at my dreams or

my failures.

Those in whose presence it is easier to be good.

Those who by their warning have held me back from

mistakes I might have made.

Above all, I thank you for Jesus Christ, Lord of my heart

and Savior of my soul, in whose Name I offer this

thanksgiving.

With each line of this prayer, a face (sometimes more than one) comes to mind: someone who has been a gift to me in exactly the way described.

Even as I acknowledge there is much that needs to be healed – in me and in the world around me – I am overwhelmed by the generosity of God toward me through His gift of community . . . and ultimately, through the gift of His Son.

May you, too, be made aware of the immeasurable blessings you’ve been given and be moved to genuine gratitude this Thanksgiving.

~~~~~~~~~~

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