Curtain Call

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“All the world’s a stage.”

 William Shakespeare in As You Like It

No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him. 1 Corinthians 2:9 NLT

My friend Deb works as a dedicated teacher’s aide to a little autistic girl in a K-4 class. Serving this child is her sole assignment. She guides her in paying attention to the classroom teacher in order to catch all the instructions and follow the articulated sequential steps for each learning assignment. Deb knows just what her charge needs having spent every school day morning with her over the past 5 months.

Similarly, our Friend, God’s Holy Spirit, knows us intimately, having lived IN us since we were transferred into the Kingdom of Jesus to live forever with the Triune God. In this realm, we have been assigned to a new life-giving theater or stage. No longer are we held captive by the evil scriptwriter, director and prison guard.

Recently, this metaphor of our Kingdom lives being played out daily on God’s stage has captivated my imagination. As I imagine the Kingdom of God as a theater, I picture myself showing up for another day’s drama.  The point at which I lay my head on my pillow is the close of that day’s drama. Slowly I am realizing that how today’s business ended is not at all an accurate basis for predicting tomorrow’s scenes.  If I try to forecast what will be expected of me and prep for it, I only rob myself of the restorative rest and energy I’ll need for tomorrows’ drama.

But, in God’s theater where I now live, I sometimes forget my new home, where I live. I can quickly fall into old habits of worry and anxiety. These are nothing but long-practiced reactions that created a groove in my brain. I spend little energy in being sucked back into these routines. I knew my lines well for nothing new ever happened in my former prescribed role as a pawn in Satan’s drama.

But each day in God’s drama, new, fresh and creative describe the dimensions in which I live and work. As Jamie Winship, my favorite author from last year, has written, our minds only deal in what has worked up to now. The mind has no fresh, new ideas. It only knows the past.

But here’s the good news about our infinite God who is always doing something new. He is the Creator and it is his nature to generate the novel, imaginative, and freshly beautiful. Stunning us brings him joy.  Sure, our daily scripts include the hard and painful, but we trust him, for he is good, wise, holy, righteous and wise. And he has eternal kingdom goals in mind

This kind of thinking is transforming me. I picture God the Father as the Holy Screenwriter.  Jesus is his Director, to whom each of us as Jesus’ student report morning by morning. Reassuringly, his Divine Spirit, aka our Acting Coach is ever present. 

The Spirit greets us with eager anticipation as soon as we awake, just as my friend Deb welcomes her small student with a smile.

Jesus hands us no script.  He and the Spirit alone have the Father’s playbook. But no worries, all has been prepped and planned. Our Coach supplies what we need at the right Kairos moment.

To me, it feels like I’m an improv actor, since I don’t know the day’s plans. This metaphor keeps me concentrating on the present moment.  I watch Jesus for cues.  I pay close attention to what my brother and sister actors are doing around me. I have my ear tuned and open to the Spirit, with whom I engage in ongoing dialogue.

I’m learning not to even think (or predict) what I will need for the day. How could I possibly imagine the day’s events, my interactions with people who cross my path, since I’m not privy to future plans.  My responsibility is to rely on Jesus and his Spirit.  My Coach is prepped.  He has at the ready all props and and costume changes I’ll require for the day.

Since there is no need to be anxious, I can relax and look forward to all that is new, beautiful and challenging the Father has in store.

So far, this seems to be a far less stressful to approach each day.  And I am growing quicker at catching myself ‘planning and worrying’ in the middle of the night. I remind myself of the futility and waste of God-ordained restorative time for one of his beloved family cast members.

What is the Kingdom worth to you?

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The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure that a man discovered hidden in a field. In his excitement, he hid it again and sold everything he owned to get enough money to buy the field. Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant on the lookout for choice pearls. When he discovered a pearl of great value, he sold everything he owned and bought it! Matthew 13:44-46 NLT

Did you watch any of the final games of this year’s World Cup in Qatar?

I didn’t. But we started googling the outcome of each day’s matches during dinner prep. I’d say, “Mike, what happened in World Cup today?” 

This world-captivating sports spectacle would have passed me by, were it not for my friend Roberto from Argentina. He and I connect several times a week as he practices his English, and I my Spanish.  It’s through Roberto that I have learned all that I now know about soccer.  My world has expanded!

Normally, I would have rooted for France in last week’s final, because I have loved France and the French language ever since I was 14 years old.  But, with a closer personal connection to Argentina, I turned my back on France (à tous mes amis français, je m’excuse!) and supported Argentinia.

Mike and I arrived at church on Sunday just as the competing champions jumped into this last battle for the FIFA  2022 World Cup trophy. I didn’t pray for Argentina to win.  But I did hope that this country so needing some good news would pull it off with Messi’s prowess.

Thank you, Jesus, that Argentina did have a good day and the entire country has been celebrating, temporarily distracted from their government’s devastating financial policies.

Yet, more than the victory, what has stunned me is learning just how life-enhancing many Argentinians deemed their presence IN Qatar would be.  According to a European day-after analysis of the game, I heard that a lot of these South American soccer fans had sold homes, or postponed buying a car just to buy an airplane ticket to the Middle East to cheer on their team.

Not sure that this was true, I searched on line and found the following report:

Argentinians who forewent buying a car or a house and took all their money.

After confirming this over-the-top passion for their country’s national team, the Holy Spirit caused me to see our innate driving human passion and desire for the sublime.  If some fans would sell all they owned for an experience as fleeting as World Cup soccer, then I have to ask myself, “Maria, just how excited ARE you that you actually have received, free of cost, such a great salvation and place in God’s forever Kingdom, namely the one ruled by King Jesus?”

May my joy over this gift from God at least come up to the ‘it’s-worth-all-I-have’ level of some of Argentina’s fans for their boys.

What do you see?

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Matthew 6:33:  But SEEk first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

What are you looking at right now? Whatever it is, IT is feeding your mind RAW DATA.

And because we are human, our minds don’t leave raw data alone.  We try to make sense of it, to draw conclusions.

Another word for SEE is BEHOLD.  Both testaments use the Hebrew, Greek or Aramean term that translators have rendered as BEHOLD.  When I searched on line for the number of times the term BEHOLD is used, I found this website.

The author tells us BEHOLD appears 1298 times in the Bible.

Here’s why this is important. We choose.  We choose WHAT we see, what data we take in, what we focus on.

So which data stream do you want to allow into your mind?  What do you want to be the raw material of your conclusions which will

  • influence your feelings
  • guide your decisions
  • impact your body
  • color all your interactions with others?

This is no trivial matter.  You CAN choose what you focus on, what you SEE with your mind’s eye.

This day, I am exhorting myself:

  • Maria. SEE God!
  • Behold, that is recall, focus on all the details you know, Maria, about our triune, eternal, power-filled, good and living God.  If the details are from the Bible, then they are true. They are facts.
  • If you’re SEEing, looking at your earthly circumstances, you can’t be certain that they are what they seem.  You can’t be sure of the data, so be skeptical about your conclusions.

Why be skeptical?  Because, for one, we are finite. Moreover, we don’t know what God will bring about tomorrow.  But we can be sure of Him, the One who doesn’t change. He is the most important Fact in the universe.

So what are you looking at most of the time?

 

 

Which one of the 10 servants are you?

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My time!

My rights!

My agenda!

My priorities!

My money!

My day!

My needs!

If I’m honest, this is how I think more often than I’d like to admit.  I know, in my head, that this thinking is not only false but wicked.  After all, I am a Christian. That means I was bought with a price – Jesus’ blood.  The Godhead swapped His life for mine.  He died so that I could live, but not live ‘business as usual’.

I KNOW this, but functionally I still think of these days and years in this body as belonging to me.

But the Father is gentle and continues to press His Truth into me through daily Bible reading.  As He did yesterday with Luke’s account of the ten servants and the money entrusted to them.  Here’s the first part of Jesus’ parable:

Luke 19: 11-15 The Parable of the Ten Minas

While they were listening to this, he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once. He said: “A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas. ‘Put this money to work,’ he said, ‘until I come back.’

“But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king.’

 “He was made king, however, and returned home. Then he sent for the servants to whom he had given the money, in order to find out what they had gained with it.

**

As the parable continues, the newly crowned king returned and immediately called for an accounting of resources entrusted to each of the ten servants in his absence.  Three men’s interviews are described.  Servants 1 & 2 had put the king’s resource to good use and turned a profit for him.  They received commendation and were invited to take on new jobs under the recently crowned king, each one with proportionally greater responsibility.  Clearly, they had proven their dependency and faithfulness. The third guy rather foolishly expressed his unfavorable and distorted view of the king as mean, hard, and demanding.  Out of fear, this steward had held on to the king’s money and had not put it to good use as instructed.

The king announces severe consequences and this man is carted off.

What got me thinking was the absence of any mention of the other seven servants.  What about them?  Did they simply squander the king’s money?  Did they abscond with it, fleeing from the kingdom?  I know that parables usually have one main teaching point. We should not, therefore, read too much into them.  But the actions of these seven unmentioned stewards have stimulated my imagination.

But more helpful than finding out how the story might have ended is reflecting on how to apply Jesus’ principles to me.

I want to be one of the two trusted servants.

I want to receive Jesus’ commendation and to know that I did what He wanted and that I pleased Him.

If that is my heart’s desire, then the first step is the sobering fact that this is NOT my life.

The parable simply put is about Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and departure to be crowned King.  The majority of the stewards, the Jewish people, did NOT want Jesus as their king.

If we take the numbers as an indication for today, then 20 % of those who know about Jesus believe Him and serve Him with gladness and faithfulness.  And they will be rewarded when He returns with newer, more challenging and fulfilling work in the new Kingdom.

Is it too far-fetched to consider THIS ENTIRE life on earth as a training ground in being a faithful servant in the Kingdom of God?  A life-long course in stewardship?  And if that is so, then nothing my hands touch is mine.  It all belongs to Him.  So what kind of questions should guide my daily, hourly thinking about the things He has entrusted to me?

For starters, something like: How best do I use this extra money?  How best shall I use the ‘free time’ I see in today’s schedule?  How best can I perform the job with which God has entrusted me this day?

May I be found faithful not only when the King returns but this very hour.

What are you looking forward to?

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“Well what d’ya expect from him!” my cynical friend spit out after waiting yet again for a habitually late friend to show up.

Humans let others down.  Partly due to our sinful and selfish nature and partly due to how God designed us.  Creatures have limits.  Only God is limitless, perfect and consistent.

Expectations about others tend always to leave us disappointed.  As David Zahl, pastor of an Episcopal Church in Charlottesville says, “expectations are planned resentments.”

What if we were to change the WHAT or WHOM we place our expectations?  What if we were to place our hope in what is 100% guaranteed?  That’s a no brainer; if we did so, we would avoid disappointment.

I read just this morning about Joseph of Arimathea, one of Jesus’ rich disciples who according to Mark 15:43 was “a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God”;

What does that tidbit about his focus communicate?  Nothing short of the direction of his life!

After Jesus announced, “It is finished!” and died on that Friday outside of Jerusalem, this courageous man Joseph, along with the well-known Pharisee Nicodemus, took the bold step of requesting THAT AFTERNOON an audience before Pontius Pilate.  What they did was risky.

Their lives and their reputations at stake, the two sought permission to take Jesus down off the cross and bury Him.

That account is the last written about them, but not the end of their story.  I have no doubt that they are present with the Jesus they hoped in and staked all on.  No disappointments there.

So as this first month of the new year approaches the end, you might feel disappointed already:

  • with yourself and your lack of ability to keep up a resolution
  • with a friend or family member who has let you down, again!
  • with a job or activity you hoped would satisfy
  • with the way an organization acts

I’m learning that every created being or thing in this world on this side of the Cross will let me down, most especially me!  The path to peace and joy is to place our expectations in the only Person who doesn’t disappoint – Jesus Christ and His Kingdom.

I ask again: What are YOU expecting and looking for?

 

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