Good or bitter grapes?

“When I expected good grapes, why did I get bitter grapes?” Isaiah 5:4

imageIn chapter five of Isaiah, he begins by singing a ballad to the “one I love” who has a vineyard. The vineyard had been well-placed in good soil, hoed, and kept free of weeds–everything needed to produce the best vines. But at the harvest, the grapes were nasty smelling and tasted bitter. Isaiah explained that the vineyard is Israel, the owner is God, and the nasty grapes were the Israelites who didn’t appreciate what God had done for them by opting for a life of corruption and crime.

I’ve heard stories about big Lottery winners who immediately plunge into a lifestyle in which they had not been properly groomed. Crazy spending, gifting of funds, and poor investments produced nothing but bitter grapes. Some winners even said, “I wish I had never purchased that ticket.” It’s true, we reap what we sow.

Isaiah’s song ended with God having no choice but to let weeds, thistles, and thorns take over the vineyard. And, to be sure there would be no more bitter grapes, God commanded a drought on the land. God always wins.

Lord, show me how to tend my vineyard to reap a harvest pleasing to you. Amen.

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Go out into the world …

image“Go out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society.” Philippians 2:14

Paul wrote the message above while in prison. In his ministry he ventured into “squalid and polluted” territories to spread the Good News about Christianity. While locked up, he sent other apostles to keep the momentum going and to baptize and encourage the new Christians to go out into the community to show the others what it means to live a good life.

The world recently witnessed the executions of journalists working in the Middle East by Islamic militants. So far in 2014, twelve journalists have been killed in Iraq and Syria. All of these writing warriors had a choice to go into corrupted and war-filled countries. Stories are told of their “passion” to report the news–the reverse of Paul who went to tell the good news.

In verse 15, Paul says, “Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God.” Perhaps the fallen reporters felt called to a type of ministry in which they could give the people a glimpse of hope. In doing so, they died as Paul did–a martyr.

Dear God, help us bring a glimpse of hope to all living in unfavorable conditions. Amen.

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Whose rules will you play?

“Don’t touch this! Don’t taste that! Don’t go near this!” Colossians 2:21

imageThese words from Colossians are spoken frequently by mothers and teachers of little children. But Paul said them to mock religious leaders to show the Colossians just how silly the Old Testament rules and regulations were for believer in Christ.

I’m not much of a game player, but when I’m with my grandsons, ages four and six, I play childish games like Shoots and Ladders, matching games, and a domino game with pictures instead of dots. Each time we play I have to learn new rules–sometimes between each turn. But that’s okay. I am humored by their imagination, especially when the pre-schooler “reads” the rule sheet and comes up with clever ideas to make the game more fun.

Sensible rules and regulations make it possible to live and play together. Paul explained the New Testament rules this way: “Entering into this fullness [as Christians] is not something you figure out or achieve. It’s not a matter of being circumcised or keeping a long list of laws.” (vs. 11,12). It’s all about Jesus, whose death on the cross wiped the rule slate clear–the ones that couldn’t save us from anything–other than maybe a bellyache or leprosy.

Yes, Lord, I hear your rules and want to obey them because they free me. Amen.

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Can’t outgive God…

“Not what you do for God but what God does for you—that’s the agenda for rejoicing.” Luke 10:20

imageI understand the concept of good works and how it won’t get anyone into heaven. This gift is the grace of God.  However, there is something about getting something for nothing that doesn’t set well with me. It’s like when a dinner party host greets me at the door and I have empty hands–no entrance fee.

Jesus taught his disciples about grace through his actions. He didn’t just bring a bottle of wine to a wedding, he took jugs of water and turned them into the best wine served that day.

I learned the art of giving from my mother. Even at age 93, she rarely leaves to visit someone without a Tupperware container filled with her famous kringla (a Norwegian pastry; see “The Kringla Baker” on Youtube for the recipe). Mother never expects the container to be refilled upon leaving, but when we were kids visiting Grandma Twedt, we never passed up the offer for leftover homemade chocolate cake with fudge icing.

Dear Lord, I feel blessed that you expect nothing from me, except for my love and adoration. Amen.

 

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Are you qualified?

“Show us your credentials. Who authorized you to teach here?” Matthew 21:23

imageThe Jews asked Jesus what made him an expert in the field of preaching, healing, teaching. He had no signed diplomas or certificates—just a humble beginning in a manger and a job description from his Father.

Some times having too many credentials hinders getting a job. During the recessions, many people were passed by because they were overqualified for the position. Employers feared that after investing time and money in training the new employee, they would jump ship if a better job came along.

I’m grateful that when I’ve signed a contract for a speaking engagement or approached a publisher about taking me on as an author, I’ve never been asked for my credentials. I have none– just a heart for ministry, ears that heard the call, and a bunch of old pay stubs from 20-plus years serving in a church office.

Dear Lord, thank you for the opportunity to serve you without a handful of degrees and certifications. Amen.

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Please, don’t push …

“Don’t push your way to the front … Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead.” Philippians 2:3,4

imageMany years ago I learned about pushing your way to the front. When my youngest daughter, Susan, performed with the winter guard before the home basketball games, I made sure I arrived at the gymnasium in time to watch her step onto the court. One night I left work late and had to rush to get into the gymnasium in time. However, I wanted to purchase a ticket for the 50/50 raffle, which helped support the  athletic programs and gave a lucky winner some cash.

As I approached the booster club table, I saw a man reaching for his wallet. With the swiftness of a mother tiger, I jumped in front of him and handed my dollar to the ticket seller, grabbed my ticket, and hurried to the bleachers. Just as I found a seat, the girls strutted out on the court waving their flags.

Between the first and second game, the announcer called, “Get your tickets out, it’s time to play 50/50!” I grabbed my ticket and stared at the number. Then I heard,  “number 245.” I double-checked my ticket–“244.” That’s when I pictured the man–the one I’d cut in front of– putting nearly $300 in his wallet.

Dear God, thank you for the lesson that helped me understand I should put other people’s needs before mine. Amen.

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What happens when you sow wild oats?

“Forget that I sowed wild oats; mark me with your sign of love. Plan only the best for me, God!” Psalm 25:7

imageI recently watched an episode of Iyanla: Fix My Life featuring a man who sowed “wild oats” with seventeen women and produced thirty-four children. At one point during the show, Iyanla threw up her arms and declared his life was impossible to fix. So, she worked on the women–getting their self-esteem raised to the point where they could give up any expectations of a relationship with their children’s father.

In Psalms 25, David showed regret for his “wild oats” episodes. By owning up to his errors, he put the opportunity for healing, and the chance to move on, in God’s hands. Fortunately, mistakes made while growing up, can be wiped clean to present a clear path to clean living.

The father of thirty-four children never fully showed regret for destroying the lives of so many women. But at the end of the hour-long drama, while facing the mothers of his children, he teared up and asked for a chance to be a real father and get to know all of his children. I suggest when they gather together, the children wear name tags with a link to their mother.

Dear God, show us a clear path to sow good seeds. Amen.

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Not my problem…

God’s Message to me [Ezekiel]: “What do you people mean by going around the country repeating the saying,”The parents ate green apples, the children got the stomachache?” Ezekiel 18:1

imageIf you grew up in a small town or a tight ethnic community in a city, you may know someone who suffered from the wrath of a parent’s bad behavior. In my small town in Iowa, most everyone either knew you or about your family. Some of my friends came from a dysfunctional family or had a parent who drank too much, or couldn’t hold down a job, and caused their family to suffer in silence.

I admire my friends who put a healthy shield of protection between what people thought of their family life and found their own identity. Most of these kids have excelled beyond anyone’s wildest imagine. Many still live in the same town as solid citizens, have good marriages, and raised children–proud to introduce to their friends.

God tells us we aren’t responsible for a parent’s bad behavior. And, remember, they made their choices without your input.

Dear God, thank you for words that encourage everyone to seek their own identity. Amen.

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Rituals or life?

“But the One God raised up—no dust and ashes for him!” Acts 13:36

An August 29, a report on CBS news told about a funeral of a healer in Guinea, Africa, who died of the ebola virus. In the days and weeks following the event, the virus spread to over 1,200 victims. It appears that around a dozen mourners contracted the disease through a ritual of washing of their hands in a common bowl and then giving the deceased person a love-touch.

Scientists know the ebola virus is contracted through bodily fluids, but getting this information out and convincing the people to forgo this ritual and cremating the body has become a imagehuge humanitarian venture. I understand rituals–it took attending a few memorial services for me to accept the concept of cremation.

When Jesus died, burial was handled as the custom dictated. However, in three days, Jesus defiled the burial plan and rose from his grave, leaving behind no body or ashes. Wouldn’t that be a great way to leave this earthly life?

Thank you, Lord, for setting the stage for our departure from earth! Amen.

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Be careful what you say…

“Don’t bad-mouth each other, friends. It’s God’s Word, his Message, his Royal Rule, that takes a beating in that kind of talk.” James 4:11.

imagePeople love to share juicy gossip–especially if it tears down someone who is perceived to have clout or position. I must admit, it’s easy to get caught up in believing entertaining e-mails or petty posts are legitimate because they are usually well-written and come with “legitimate” pictures and illustrations.

In James 1:19, James explained how to avoid setting getting caught in the gossip trap: “Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear.” Today, he would add, and before spreading sensational news, check Snopes.com or another fact-check site.

When I read an e-mail or Facebook post about someone or an event that sounds far-fetched or out of character, I go into defense mode and dig around to find the real truth. If find the article to be false, I delight in setting the facts straight. Having said that, if I were to read ahead in James, he might tell me it’s not nice to gloat over being a know-it-all.

Lord, help us to share only good news–especially the Good News about Christ. Amen.

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