The Intimacy of True Love

A candle-lit dinner with God.
A quiet sunset walk with Jesus.
Whispering your deepest thoughts and needs to the Holy Spirit.
Intimacy, in other words, over exhibitionism.
That is one of the messages Jesus emphasized throughout his ministry.
In a particularly instructive parable, Jesus contrasts the praying of a Pharisee, who stands up in the synagogue by himself—to stand out—and a tax collector standing, Jesus tells us, “far off.”
All who “exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted,” Jesus declares of those who use religion to heap praise and power to themselves.
The Pharisee wasn’t seeking an intimate encounter with God.
There was no conversation.
It was all monologue: “Look at me! How great I art!” He was engaged in self-glorification.
The tax collector, on the other hand, was quietly, intimately asking God for mercy.
There’s no doubt to whom God would have been able to get close to at that moment.
Nobody says I love you as if it were a stage performance unless it’s all an act.
The Pharisee was performing as if an Oscar were at stake.
The tax collector, on the other hand, was quietly off in the corner becoming intimate with God. And that is what God so desires from us: an intimate relationship.
Love is exchanged through intimacy.
Grace is freely given and received by candlelight at a table for two.
Just God and you.
Jesus makes this most clear in the Gospel of Matthew when he tells us not to be like the hypocrites who loudly pray on street corners and in synagogues. Instead, Jesus says, “when you pray, go into your inner room, shut your door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen. And your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you….”
What wonderful phrasing:
Go into your inner room and shut your door.
Yes, that is where we say “I do” to God.
And where God says “I do, too” to us.
We all have our own inner room deep inside us. To get there, we find some quiet place to meditate and pray.
Jesus routinely went off, the New Testament tells us, “to a lonely place” when he prayed to God. There is no instance in the Bible of Jesus making a prayer spectacle of himself.
Jesus understood, and wants us to understand, that we can most honestly be ourselves with God—and so God can be most intimately there with us—when we are in some quiet corner together.
Not on stage.
But backstage, where no make-up is necessary.
No costume needed.
No scriptwriter required.
No director, no producer, and no studio audience.
Just us and God.
True love from true love, begotten, not made.

Rising Above The Crowded World

The story of Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector, in the Gospel of Luke is one of my favorites. This man of short physical stature climbs a sycamore tree to rise above the crowd so that he can see Jesus.
There are days when I feel just like Zacchaeus. Days when the world seems so much taller than me, blocking my view of Jesus, and my sense of Christ’s presence in my life is swept away, as if by a crowd.
When we were children, we could raise our arms and ask a loving parent or grandparent to pick us up and put us on their shoulders. From there, if we had been in the crowd with Zacchaeus that day, we could have seen Jesus quite clearly.
In truth, however, Zacchaeus was looking for something more than a glimpse of Jesus’ face as he passed by. Luke’s choice of words is fascinating: “He was trying to see who Jesus was.”
Not just trying to see Jesus. But trying to see who Jesus was.
Zacchaeus wasn’t there simply to be able to say “I saw him.” Something was drawing Zacchaeus deeper than that. He wanted to see who Jesus was, which would have involved closely observing how Jesus interacted with people, and how people interacted with him.
He would have watched intently to see the expression in Jesus’ eyes as he spoke to someone, and the look in the eyes of those to whom Jesus spoke. He would have been looking to see if Jesus had touched their heart and soul. To see if Jesus was full of himself, or emptying himself for others.
Zacchaeus clearly felt the answers to his questions in a very personal way. The Gospel of Luke tells us that Jesus looked up at Zacchaeus and told him, “Hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” Of all the people around him, Jesus picks Zaachaeus, the chief tax collector, a bad guy and sinner in the eyes of many, who despised the oftentimes corrupt tax collecting system in those days.
Naturally, everybody else begins to grumble discontentedly. But, in mid-grumble, they witness a transformation. By striving to see who Jesus truly was, Christ helps Zacchaeus see more deeply into himself. And that vision transforms him.
Zacchaeus pledges to give half of his wealth to the poor and, furthermore, declares that if he has defrauded anyone he will pay them back four times over.
Climbing that sycamore tree was the best thing Zacchaeus ever did.
I try to remember this story when the world has crowded me away from a sense of Christ’s presence in my life. No, I don’t climb a sycamore tree. But I do find a quiet place and ask the Holy Spirit to lift me up on its “shoulders” so that I can find Jesus.
From there, especially when I really need it—and when I open myself in complete vulnerability—I can feel that soft and quiet presence within me and the peace it brings.
I feel it telling me that I am lovable and loved.
And, if only for that moment, I am transformed and able to walk a few more miles further down a road that feels far less daunting than it did seconds before.
But, of course, that transformation is not meant to be hidden away and hoarded for myself. Nor is the road down which I travel mine alone. I see so many others looking and praying for a sycamore tree. Just like me.
So many yearning to see who Jesus really is. Just like me.
Countless people who, no matter their tough, self-sufficient exterior, desperately want to hear Jesus tell them that they are lovable and loved in the eyes of God. Just like me.
I’m not a sycamore tree but, here, climb up on my shoulders and see what you might find. I promise to hold tightly. You’ll know when that soft, quiet presence of our Good Shepherd begins to bring you peace….
….Yes, there it is, brimming up from the bottom of your heart now and streaming down your cheeks.
Don’t be embarrassed. I’m crying too.
Last week, remember, it was you who invited me to climb up on your shoulders.

Comfort Food

Life so often discomforts us. It just really does on some days. There is so much discombobulation all around, and periodically in our own lives. There’s no getting away from it.
Thank goodness, then, for comfort food.
No, not meat loaf and mashed potatoes. That sort of comfort food offers but a brief respite. We enjoy the meal but its comforting effect soon wears off. Clouds re-gather to cover that spoonful of mental sunshine.
Thankfully, the Bible offers comfort food that provides transcendent sustenance to help us on our journey.
I’ve marked my New International Version Bible with yellow highlights throughout its pages, helping me find my spiritual comfort food right away. Bright yellow, like the sun shining through on a dark day. Like the persevering beam from a lighthouse above the rocky, wave-crashing shoal. Like a candle left burning on a window sill for a midnight traveler.
I’ve got these words highlighted in the first chapter of Joshua:
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
Of course, Psalm 23 is there, highlighted in its entirety. And all of Psalm 121, as well:
“The Lord watches over you—the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon at night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming
and going
both now and forevermore.”
I love the word “forevermore.” The thought of the Lord watching over me for more than forever provides great comfort. I feel that right now as I type the words.
The entire 35th chapter of Isaiah is brightly lit in my bible, too:
“The burning sand will become a pool,
the thirsty ground bubbling springs.
In the haunts where jackals once lay,
grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.
And a highway will be there;
it will be called the Way of Holiness…
…Gladness and joy will overtake them,
and sorrow and sighing will flee away.”
And this from the 66th chapter:
“As a mother comforts her child,
so I will comfort you.”
I could eat all of the comfort food from every grocery store and not feel half as much comfort as those words provide me.
The New Testament, obviously, is also fully stocked with tremendous spiritual comfort food.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled,” Jesus tells us at the outset of the 14th chapter of the Gospel of John, “Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”
Jesus knows all about our human needs because he felt them deeply. That’s why, in his own hour of desperate suffering, he taught us to break bread and drink wine in remembrance of him.
Finally, I find it beautifully compelling that the last resurrection appearance account in John’s Gospel describes Jesus cooking breakfast on the beach for his disciples—unbeknownst to them—while they were out night fishing. The disciples, still feeling lost without Jesus, undoubtedly received even greater sustenance from his actual presence when they returned to shore.
Comfort food for them, but also for us today. The comfort of his presence. All we can eat. To our soul’s content.

The Asylum Of God’s Love

On his way to heaven, Jesus was walking through this land, where he found us desperately seeking asylum in a world that would not grant it. All of us were lepers in some way, or viewed as lepers by the key-holders, moneychangers, and other powers-that-be.
We cried out to him: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” and we ran to him as he began walking toward us.
We immediately felt the radiance of his love and, astonishingly, there was no border separating us from Jesus and that love.
There was no wall.
No barbed wire to keep us away.
No cages to lock us inside if we got too close.
His arms were spread wide, but not so wide as the healing love we felt coming from within his heart and soul.
We fell prostrate at his feet, incredulous at this generosity of spirit.
“Get up and go on your way,” Jesus told us with a smile. “Your faith has made you well.”
All of us were healed by this love: the Samaritans, the Guatemalans and Hondurans, and the Americans, too. All of us lepers no more. Even if some people continued to treat us as lepers, we were not lepers to each other.
Touched by love and grace, we went out into the world to touch others with that same grace and love.
Without exception, and telling the truth.
There is no more explicit message in the ministry of Jesus than the inclusion of everyone in the asylum of God’s loving embrace.
Even Samaritans. Even us.
And there is only one way to feel about that borderless love: joyful gratitude.
Being grateful for all of our joys, both great and small, increases their resonance within us. Gratitude for blessings deepens the blessing, keeps the ripples of the blessing widening out in ever greater circles across the still waters of our soul.
Being grateful takes us beneath the surface down into the deep well of joy that offers to quench our longing for something more. Gratitude keeps the blessing alive and by our side. Gratitude keeps us closer to Jesus and to God because we are more able to recognize the presence of their Holy Spirit.
And that lesson of gratitude can be applied to the very smallest of blessings, sharpening our senses so that blessing follows blessing.
We will become more sensitive, and so more alive to small miracles that may no longer feel like blessings because they happen so frequently. The blessings that have become routine, perhaps even redundant or—ironically—invisible because we see and experience them every day.
The smell of bread in a toaster.
The sound of a bird.
The touch of a raindrop on our cheek.
Shade on a hot day.
Sunshine on our skin when the day is cool.
Clouds painted by the rising sun, then brush-stroked again as the sun drops behind a line of trees.
The moon seen between the limbs of fluttering leaves.
The voice of someone you love, someone who loves you, too.
A child wrapping their hand around one of your fingers.
Words upon a page.
Three notes becoming a song.
The single bloom of just one flower.
The spreading colors of autumn in a single leaf.
We are surrounded by miracles and they were meant for us all to share as children of God.
As brothers and sisters of Jesus, who was, himself, born a foreigner to us on the other side of the world but who walks by our side every day that we ask him to.
On his way to heaven.
On our way with him.
Asylum granted to us all.

When The Blues Try To Play Us

As the mid-August birdsong around us begins to thin with the first wings of migration south for the coming winter, it’s worth noting that the Bible is full of music that never flies away. The book of Lamentations, for example, plays the blues. And I’ve been hearing the blues, feeling the blues, since my favorite summer sound—the fluted notes of the wood thrush—flew away.

“How lonely sits the city
that once was full of people!
How like a widow she has become …
She weeps bitterly in the night
with tears on her cheeks …
Her pursuers have all overtaken her
in the midst of her distress …
All her gates are desolate …”

“Lamentation” is defined as “the passionate expression of grief or sorrow.”
To lament something is to fall into the deep end of sadness and sink toward the bottom. Lamentation knows no shallow end. We are in over our heads.
There are times in our lives when we feel grief and sorrow with such passion that it nearly tears us apart inside. At such times it is wise to remember that it is not an act of faithlessness to feel and express such sorrow. The passionate expression of grief is not contrary to having faith in God.
Indeed, the act of lamentation may be considered an act of great faith.
The Bible is full of lamentations. The Book of Lamentations is far from the only chapter of pages where we will find them. There are as many psalms that cry out to God in despair as there are those which shout Hallelujah.
Playing the blues in our lives helps us feel and express our sorrow and, therefore, find a way to transcend the sadness.
Nor must we do so alone.
Another verse from Lamentations illustrates the point:

“The thought of my affliction and my homelessness
is wormwood and gall!
My soul continually thinks of it
and is bowed down within me ….”

But that soul—like our own—has not been abandoned by God.
The very next verse declares:

“But this I call to mind,
and therefore have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
they grow every morning;
great is their faithfulness.”

And then the soul itself speaks:

“‘The Lord is my portion,’” says my soul,
“‘therefore I will hope in him.’”

The speaker then ends the lamentation with this consoling wisdom:

“The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul that seeks him.
It is good that one should wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.”

Embracing our moments of sorrow is an act of faithfulness because we may do so with the full knowledge that the love of God will get us through any journey of lamentation. That love is by our side.
The bottom line is that when we play our blues our blues cannot play us and God will keep us in tune. The melody will give us wings.

God Drops The Mic

One of my favorite pages in any bible or prayer book is the one that contains Psalm 91. I read that psalm just about every day because it is included in The Book of Common Prayer’s Compline service, which is part of my nightly bedtime prayers.
The psalm is one of those through which God’s love for us just cannot be contained, bursting like brilliantly shimmering fireworks in the night sky, drenching us like this week’s rain.

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High,
abides under the shadow of the Almighty.

“He shall say to the Lord,
‘You are my refuge and my stronghold,
my God in whom I put my trust.

“He shall deliver you from the snare of the hunter
and from the deadly pestilence.

“He shall cover you with his pinions,
and you shall find refuge under his wings;
his faithfulness shall be a shield and buckler,” the psalm declares in its first four verses.

In those beginning verses, a third-person voice is stating what God will do for us. And this “third party” continues speaking through, and including, verse 13 which reads:

“You shall tread upon the lion and adder;
you shall trample the young lion and the serpent
under your feet.”

Then, however, it’s as if God can no longer be content listening to someone else declare how much love is there for us in God’s heart and what God is hoping to do for us if given the chance.
Suddenly, the third-person voice telling the psalm’s story vanishes and, in the 14th verse, God picks up the spiritual microphone and speaks directly to us, emphatically, holding nothing back.
And anyone doubting Jesus’ testimony that God is love should pay close attention to what God chooses to say first:

“Because he is bound to me in love,
therefore will I deliver him….”

Bound in love. Not fear.
There is no demand, no conditions.
Just love.
We are bound to God in love and God is bound to us in love.
God could not wait to see if the third-person voice in Psalm 91 would make that clear. So God said it directly, stepping out of the wings onto center stage.

“Because he is bound to me in love,
therefore will I deliver him;
I will protect him, because he knows my name.

“He shall call upon me, and I will deliver him;
I am with him in trouble;
I will satisfy him,
and show him my salvation.”

God is not content to wait in the wings of our lives, either. God is stepping out onto our life’s center stage with us—whatever and wherever that may be.
Because we are bound to God in love.
And that is all we need to take the next step forward today and tomorrow. In Psalm 91, God drops the microphone and opens that love up wider than the widest sea.

Crossing The Road Toward Jesus

The story of the Good Samaritan is one of the most beloved parables in the New Testament. A classic short-story with a marvelous, poignant and stereotype-shattering lesson.
In a single paragraph, Jesus probes and then reveals what it means to love one’s neighbor as oneself, and, explicitly shows us who our neighbors are: everyone. No exceptions.
The journey down from Jerusalem to Jericho is not an easy one. The 18-mile journey descends 3,200 feet. A man walking down that road is set upon by robbers, stripped and beaten and left for dead after being robbed.
Luckily for this unfortunate soul, a priest comes down the road. Perfect. Surely the priest will provide the loving and compassionate response the law requires. He is, after all, a priest. But the priest doesn’t go near the robber victim. He keeps on walking. Probably doesn’t even look back.
Fortunately, however, a Levite comes around the bend in the road a little later. A Levite is what’s known as a temple functionary, and so-named because he is from the priestly tribe of Levi.
Surely he knows the law about loving one’s neighbor as oneself just as well as the priest. Of course he does and that’s why he takes compassion on the robbery victim and…..Oh, wait a minute, the Levite walks on by just as quickly as the priest did.
If a priest and a Levite won’t help the man, who will?
Certainly not that Samaritan coming down the road now. Samaritans were regarded as rank outsiders. Bad eggs. Unworthy and looked down upon by the holier-than-thou priests and Levites.
But, what’s this? The Samaritan takes pity upon the poor man. He crosses the road, bandages the man’s wounds after pouring oil and wine upon them, which were deemed to have medicinal value.
The Samaritan puts the man on his own animal and takes him to an inn, stays there and cares for him, and then provides the innkeeper with enough money to continue caring for the battered man until the Samaritan returns, promising to reimburse the innkeeper for any additional expense.
“Okay,” Jesus asks the lawyer when the story is finished, “which one of those three guys was a neighbor to the man who’d been set upon by thieves and left for dead?”
The lawyer, who cannot even manage to use the word Samaritan when answering the question, simply replies “The one who showed him mercy.”
“Go,” Jesus tells him, “and do likewise.”
Easier said, in the real world, than done, of course.
I mean, suppose it was Jesus?
Jesus there, lying stripped and beaten and half-dead on the other side of the road.
What if we were walking down that same road and came around a bend in that road from Jerusalem to Jericho and saw him lying there? Or traveling down any road in our own communities.
We don’t know it’s Jesus.
We just know it’s a man
Stripped, naked.
Beaten and apparently dead.
A long-haired man, scraggly and bearded.
A homeless person, undoubtedly.
Unemployed, apparently.
Perhaps dangerous.
A criminal, maybe.
Or mentally unbalanced.
Would we be the Good Samaritan, despised by most of polite and powerful society, and cross the road, caring for his wounds with expensive medicine and then driving him to a place of refuge and safety, paying for his care from our own wallet or pocketbook?
I cannot honestly offer an assurance that I would choose to do what Jesus wanted me to. Fear and self-interest can keep us on our own side of the road and we’re pretty good at making what we regard as a strong case for not getting involved in something that could be pretty messy.
Few of us will ever walk or drive down a road and see a fellow human being beaten, stripped and laying half-dead on the other side of the road, of course. That literal circumstance is one we’re not likely to encounter.
But, in a way, we actually do encounter Jesus in just that devastated condition every day.
Not Jesus, literally.
But what Jesus hoped and prayed for. The kind of world that Jesus gave his life for.
The Kingdom of heaven, the Kingdom of God, takes a beating every day.
The Kingdom of heaven is lying stripped and half-dead on the sides of roads all over the world.
Headlines, soundbites and tweets declare this tragic truth every day.
The world seems hardly more civilized now than when Jesus left the shores of Galilee and began his journey toward Jerusalem and a hill known as Golgotha.
There, on that place of a skull, the homeless and unemployed Jesus—he was employed only by God and without a salary—would be stripped half naked and executed on a cross as a criminal along that hilltop road..
But he died believing the kingdom of heaven was near.
Drew his last breath knowing the kingdom of heave is near.
Today, the Holy Spirit, along with Jesus’ words in the New Testament, continue to preach that Good News.
The kingdom of heaven truly is near. As close or as far away as the world allows it to be.
As close or as far away as we permit it.
The one prayer Jesus taught us contains the words “Thy kingdom come, they will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
If only that would happen all more often and in more places.
And it would happen, and it does, when we hear the Holy Spirit of God calling out to us through those words, when we feel the Holy Spirit of God praying these words in our hearts: “My kingdom will come, and my will will be done, on earth as it is in heaven, when you cross the road where it’s waiting for you. It’s that close. Right across the figurative and literal streets.”
The road we humans must always cross first is the one within our own heart. Only after we cross that road can we cross the literal roads we travel down during our lifetime.
Sometimes, all it takes is a little encouragement, someone showing us the way, being an example. That’s why Jesus told parables—they show the way, they provide examples of how we human beings can cross the roads deep down inside our hearts, cross those roads toward one another, toward the kingdom of heaven lying half-naked, beaten and robbed.
Sometimes we find ourselves given the chance to offer that encouragement, a moment when we can choose to be an example and point the way, taking action that crosses the road and brings the kingdom of heaven just that much nearer.
Let’s take our corner of the world by the hand—wherever we live in our global neighborhood—and travel a few steps closer to each other.
The kingdom of heaven that Jesus prayed and died for needs another “good Samaritan.”
Why not us?

When I’m Feeling Sheepish

Virtually every day I’m reminded that without my Good Shepherd I would have gotten lost in life’s brambles and briars, or some pasture that seemed to have greener grass—greener grass that turned out to be poison ivy.
One of my favorite “Good Shepherd” stories is the parable Jesus tells about the shepherd who had 100 sheep and lost just one of them. We don’t know how the sheep came to be lost. Jesus doesn’t say. There are many possible explanations.
Despite having 99 sheep all flocked around him, the shepherd is not content, however.
Most people would be.
Ninety-nine percent? That’s nearly perfect. Just a single percentage point below 100 percent. One percent would be an easily acceptable loss on Wall Street, or Main Street.
But Jesus doesn’t view the world through a corporate lens. He has the eyes and heart of a shepherd.
“Which one of you,” Jesus asks, “having a 100 sheep and losing one of them does not not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices…
“Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over the ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance,” Jesus tells the group, which includes grumbling Pharisees and scribes who are upset that Jesus welcomes people they describe as “sinners.”
The parable would have gotten their attention. They are no better than any other sheep, Jesus is telling them. And no worse. They are not better sheep than the one sheep—or, the one human soul—who was lost.
And, again, we are not told how the sheep came to be lost. Perhaps it was afraid of wolves, had anxiety about when the next green pasture might be seen over the horizon.
Maybe this sheep was too busy enjoying a cooling stream on a hot day to notice that the shepherd believed it was time to move on to the next pasture.
So many things can get between us and God. Everyday concerns, fixations, habits, thoughts, the absence of thoughts—you name it.
Anything that, when we feel our Good Shepherd calling us, keeps us rooted to the spot, absorbed in whatever it might be that distracts us.
There are times when I obsess about this or that and so keep myself from feeling the full measure of God’s love and grace. And there are other times when I ignore that little voice of the Holy Spirit inside me urging me to stop doing one thing and start doing another. Oftentimes, I don’t even realize that I’ve wandered off the path because I don’t feel “lost.”
It’s only when I turn around my thoughts and wonder, “How in the world did I get so deep into this anxiety?” that I realize how much I’ve separated myself from the loving presence of God.
The wonderfully beautiful joyful truth is that our Good Shepherd is out there, looking for us, coming toward us, and can’t wait to lay us across His shoulders and bring us home to the still waters and green pastures our soul so needs.
And when we look up—mentally or physically—from where we are “lost” and see our Good Shepherd approaching, a loving smile on His face, heaven’s rejoicing has company because our own happiness becomes complete.

The Least Of Seats Is Just Right For Me

If we’re being honest with ourselves, I think we’d all admit to wanting a place of honor.
We want to be valued and seen to be valued. That’s human nature.
But perhaps sitting at the head of the table isn’t really the place of honor that it’s cracked up to be. And maybe we misunderstand what true “honor” really means.
Remember the story in the Gospel of Luke where Jesus is having a meal at the house of a leader of the Pharisees. He notices all the guests trying to slip into a place of honor and so he tells a parable to rearrange their perspective. When you go to a wedding, he says, don’t take a place of honor. Somebody more deserving than you might come in next and the host would have to ask you, in front of everyone, to move.
That would ruin the occasion for you. No matter how tasty the food, you’d be sitting there feeling humiliated, rather than like a “big shot.”
Take the lowest seat in the pecking order, Jesus continues, and then your host might ask you to move up to a place of honor.
Those who exalt themselves, he points out, will be humbled and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
That theme continues the melody of The Beatitudes from The Sermon on the Mount. The meek shall inherit the earth. A humble spirit is important to Jesus. The first shall be last and the last shall be first, he tells us elsewhere in the Gospels.
And with good reason.
For one thing, those worried about getting the place of honor are thinking only of themselves and their own prestige. There isn’t room in their mind, and so their heart, for anyone else.
They would collect all the loaves and fishes and keep them for themselves, believing their hunger is greater than any of the other 5,000 people. And so they would miss their moment with Jesus and a chance to help bring a miracle into the world.
The kingdom of heaven is not near to such people. It’s miles and miles and lives away from them, a tiny speck on the horizon that they convince themselves is just a distant crow against a cloud.
They wouldn’t recognize the kingdom of heaven if it were to be served to them in a bun with mustard and catsup.
The happiness they feel, therefore, when they grab a place of honor is counterfeit. They exile themselves from the true currency of God’s love and grace and bankrupt the world around them rather than enriching it.
They miss the chance to change the life of the person standing right beside them. They miss, therefore, the greatest gift and honor of all.
But, if I am being truly honest, there have been moments when I have missed out, as well. There have been times in my life when I desperately wanted a place of honor, something to help me feel good about myself, an affirmation to fill places of emptiness that sometimes felt like holes.
And sometimes still do.
At those times, I lose sight of that greatest gift of all, like a child turning his back on the Christmas tree.
Only when I consciously step away from such thoughts and reach out for the hand of Jesus do I feel filled.
Filled to the brim.
And to overflowing.
Happily sitting in the very last seat of all, furthest away from the head of the table but closest to the love of God, and those who really need me.

Who Me?

“Who, me?”
The young Jeremiah’s reaction is completely understandable. He’s not even old for his prophetic learner’s permit, much less a prophets license.
God, after all, had told him this:

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

Those words from God are enough to make anyone’s head spin fast enough to dizzy them. Jeremiah is incredulous, as we’d all be.
“Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy,” Jeremiah replies, unaware that God doesn’t mind at all if a little child shall lead them.
God’s not-so-fast reply leaves nothing to the imagination. And it refuses, as God often does, to take “No” for an answer.

“Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you,
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you.”

Moreover, God also lets Jeremiah know what to say when he does speak truth to power.

“Now I have put my words in your mouth,” God tells the youthful prophet.

The real truth is that God sees far more potential in each of us than we see in ourselves. He saw more in the young Jeremiah than the boy could ever imagine. And God sees more in you and me than we could ever dream of.
God gives us clues to how much potential waits within us as we pray. Our prayer time opens up the channel of communication. Or sometimes it’s just a sudden inspiration or an idea God drops into the mailbox of our mind.
But just as often, God speaks to us through other people who seemingly come up to us out of the blue and give us opportunities to do things we never saw ourselves doing.
God wants all of us to feel loved and valued. God wants us to have a sense of our own self-worth and as having a meaningful place in God’s world and its redemption through love and grace.
Not in a grandiose egotistical way. But in a way that is simultaneously incredibly uplifting and beautifully humbling.
We can also have faith—whenever God tells us “I want you to do this” and we move beyond “Who, me?” to “Okay, Lord, I’ll try”—that God will give us exactly what we need precisely when we need it.
Who, me?
“Yes,” God replies, “definitely.”