Monday, January 19, 2009


No one I know actually wears a sign around their neck with that proclamation printed on it in big, bold letters, but many effectively spell it out with their eyes and body language if you dare mention anything about spiritual matters. Their visage can become stone-cold as the lights go out - nobody home here! Must be Mt Rushmore! How and when did broaching the subject of Christianity become an almost punishable offense?

The people of the beautiful Caribbean island of Antigua do not feel this way (they didn't in the '70s anyway). How very different those brown-skinned men and women were from our country of driven Americans. It was as though the air dripping with sun, the mellow breezes and the ever rippling blue-green sea was part of their souls - making them bright, open, courteous, and as friendly as if they'd loved you forever. Their eyes sparkled with delight when approached even on the street about the Lord. Their "signs" read: "I'm open; I'm interested; I'm available for discussion!"

When offered tracts or any other written materials, almost every man and woman received them with what approached reverence - indeed, obvious appreciation. One lovely single mom struggling to support her children as a maid at our motel, declined my offer of sodas, foodstuffs and toiletries as our group prepared to leave the island, instead asking, "Do you have any books or pamphlets, or anything else about the Lord?"

It's not quite like that here in the U. S. Even when dealing with family the "signs" sometimes loom as big as a billboard on the interstate. I knew my aunt was not a part of any church, so I asked her one day about her faith. Whoa! She blew up at me. She didn't scream, but I could tell she wanted to. After a few minutes of red-faced huffing, she let me know the bottom line: her beliefs were private, locked behind the door of her life, and how impertinent of me to inquire. I - also red in the face but huff-less - slunk home.

That, and other similar experiences made me very cautious over the years. Since I'm not an extrovert and fairly cowardly, it would take me some time to regroup from such encounters. My tendency was, for awhile, to see those "signs" hanging around the necks of all, heed them, and keep my mouth shut. Eventually, however, the days rolled on by and dulled the unpleasant memories; I would stick a toe back out into the shallows, test the water, and move on out slowly.

Did you notice how many times I used the words, "I, me, and my" in the above paragraph?
The problem with looking at yourself, other than the fact that you're not looking to the Lord, is that a lot of precious time is lost not only in being afraid of lost people, but also in explaining your hang-ups, failings, and expounding on the psychology of why you're a coward. O, Lord, have patience!

What if the early church family had reacted in the same way when they tried to talk to their aunts?! Can you imagine Paul running out the door and keeping still about Jesus just because a cantankerous old relative spewed on him? Paul did not walk in the light, power, and at the bidding of Paul. He was lost in the Son of God - but supremely found at the same time, carrying the death of Christ around in his body, yet moving in and speaking to a dark world by the Life of Christ in his body. As a result, he knew exactly who and where he was, Whom he was serving, and how he was able to do so - he knew full well and rejoiced that it was not because of his ... anything.

How do we as ambassadors for Jesus Christ break through those forbidding "signs"?

"[Not in your own strength] for it is God Who is all the while effectually at work in you [energizing and creating in you the power and desire] both to will and to work for His good pleasure and satisfaction and delight" (Phil. 2:13). Amplified Bible

Lynn Stringfellow, campus minister in Tampa, shares these guidelines:

1. Desire - to do God's will (not just the part I like).
2. Pray - God will send someone into your life who needs Him (this is a pouring out of the heart for God to work in your life, not just a simple prayer).
3. Watch - For the answer to that prayer (be on the look-out for the person God is sending. Watching is Faith in Action).
4. Identify - Who the person is God has sent into your life.
5. Pray - For an open heart in him or her, and the opportunity to connect.
6. Watch - For an answer to that prayer (again, this is the action of your faith.)
7. Pray - A prayer of thankfulness and dependence.
8. Share - The Good News.

See the dependency upon the Lord? Not that I sit home on the couch watching an old movie and wonder why God isn't sending someone my way, but KNOWING this is God's work and He will lead.

"That with the utmost freedom of speech and unfailing courage, now as always ... Christ (the Messiah) will be magnified and get glory and praise in this body of mine and be boldly exalted in my person, whether through life or through death" (Phil. 1:20b). Amplified Bible

Monday, January 5, 2009

The "F"

She prayed the lumbering school bus would never get to her stop - that it would break down, blow a tire, or mysteriously be unable to find her house. Her insides were curled up into themselves, it seemed, and she struggled to hold the tears behind her eyes that were fighting to escape. Whatever had she been thinking?!

Why, for crying out loud, had she gotten herself into this mess? But worse than that, her mother ... confessing to her mother was what she dreaded most of all. Why couldn't she just lie? Hope surged up for a second, but only for a second. It would be her luck that her teacher would see her mother somewhere and ask about "it" and then she'd be in double trouble.

She usually felt uncomfortable around her mother. Mama was exacting, and always short-tempered (or so it seemed to her) for reasons she could never figure out. Physical affection wasn't part of her family's culture, but that absence really didn't really register with her, probably because many of her friends' and relatives' families were much the same way. Spontaneous hugs, kisses, even friendly arms around the shoulders were all foreign behaviors. Anger, however, flowed freely - ire was acceptable while tenderness was not. Not that she pondered these things; she was more concerned with staying out of the way of the anger.

The yellow bovine of a bus traiterously did remember her stop. She slowly slid across the greenish, cracked vinyl seat and stepped down into her lane. Nervously she looked up at the house. It was a rent house, of sorts; her daddy had bartered with the owner to allow her family to live there if they agreed to look after his cows. An old barn of a building, drafty, equipped with a massive wood-burning range her mama fiercely hated, run down and largely abandoned until her family moved in. But she, the child, loved it. A breezeway divided the house in half, providing a wonderful place to play on blustery days. Two huge cedar trees graced the front yard, offering cool, quiet play houses underneath their limbs that drooped to the ground. The windows had no screens much to her mother's dismay, but the child delighted to sit on a generous ledge with a cool drink and read for hours.

She thought of none of these pleasurable things as she entered the house. Wanting mightly to just get it over with and take whatever was coming, she rushed into the kitchen. Now the tears burst out of their gates, rolling down her cheeks. Alarmed, her mother said sharply, "What's wrong?!!"

"I cheated at school and got an 'F' on my paper!!!" she cried out with a curious blend of relief, fear, and shame. "I don't know why I did it - but I'm sorry!" Her nose was running now and she swiped at it ineffectively. "Betty wanted to know an answer, and - I don't know why - but I gave it to her, and the teacher caught me, and she called me up to her desk, and she asked me what I did, and I told her, and she said,'Go get your paper,' and I did, and she marked a big red 'F' on it and now she doesn't like me anymore - and I'm so sorry!!" she poured out. And proceeded to cry harder.

Silence. Fearing the worst, and feeling so low she really didn't care now what her mother did, the girl quieted and waited on her fate, looking at the floor.

"You know, an 'F' can stand for more than Failure." She couldn't believe the calmness in her mama's voice. She chanced a peek to see if the face matched the voice. It did. Her mother wiped her hands on a dishrag and looked at her daughter, eyes not black as they usually were, but a soft brown.

"An 'F' can also stand for 'Forgiveness' - did you know that?" The girl's head bobbed up and down automatically - she wasn't sure where this was going.

"I think maybe we'll just change the meaning of this big red 'F' on this paper to stand for 'Forgiveness.' I believe you realize what a bad mistake you made today, and you're really sorry for it. So we won't talk about it anymore." Then briskly, "Now go change out of your school clothes - I've got to finish supper."

Stunned, the girl turned as if in a dream and moved toward her bedroom. Suddenly her spirit was as light as a feather, and her feet could not merely walk anymore - she broke into a joyous run. She wondered if she dared to whoop inside the house, and chanced a puny one.