HOPE

Is there anything more hopeful than spring?  It is a chilly and rainy March morning here in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  But as I look out my windows I see the promise of spring.  The backyard is filled with jonquils, budding trees, and a few irises waiting their turn.  Cardinals and robins are singing and chirping, announcing an end to the barrenness of winter.  In the front yard, our tulips and hyacinths are blooming amidst their bed of violas and pansies.  Some pink is beginning to pop out on our azalea bushes.  Spring is God’s promise to us that there is life after death, that the cold and barrenness of winter will not last forever.  Spring must follow winter.  The poet Pablo Neruda says, “You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep the Spring from coming.”  

From a Christian perspective spring speaks of the resurrection, of new birth, of life.  We celebrate Christmas in the winter, when everything is dead.  It is a picture of Christ bringing light and hope to a dark and fallen world.  And we celebrate Easter in the spring, a visual reminder of the promise of Jesus: “The one who believes in me will live, even though they die (John 11:25b).”  Spring brings us hope.  

But in order for there to be a resurrection there must first be a death.  For years I have been praying for another Great Awakening, a revival to sweep across America.  I am wondering if this pandemic is it.  Since we are all social distancing, I don’t have a lot of data to support this thought.  We are even having church on line, so I can’t look around and see if we are more crowded than usual.  But if my social media pages are any indication, I would say that people are praying much more, and they are inviting others to join them.  We are all asking God to rid the world of this terrible virus, to save us.  Isn’t it interesting that all our idols are being repudiated, just like the gods of Egypt in Exodus?  The gods of entertainment, sports, careers, and the big god of Wall Street are all helpless in the face of this virus.  Our hope cannot lie in a something it must lie in a someone.  The only “god” that can save us is the capital G God of the Bible, God Almighty. And we are crying out to Him for help.

But there are two parts to a Great Awakening: a turning to God and a turning away from sin.  We are so accustomed to the stench of sin we don’t even smell it any more.  I have found that the more I pray, two things happen.  I get to know God better, but I also get to know myself better.  When I am in the presence of a holy God, I am aware of my own sinfulness, my absolute neediness.  I see myself more clearly.  I am reminded of the prophet Isaiah when he had a vision of the Lord, “high and lifted up (Isaiah 6: 1).”  Isaiah was overwhelmed by his own unworthiness.  “Woe is me!  For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: (v. 5)”

Where is the hope?  Our hope is eternal and alive.  It lies in the power of a good God to keep His promises. 

if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.  2 Chronicles 7:14

Even though we are in the midst of a great and unprecedented challenge, spring is a reminder that God is still on His throne.  He offers hope.  How will we respond?  

Who Do You Trust?

It is very early in the morning, still dark outside.  I am reflecting over the last week.  What a week this has been!  A roller coaster!  A deluge of strange events, dystopian sights, and new words.  Coronavirus.  How it has changed our lives in a week.  People getting sick and people afraid of getting sick.  People trapped on cruise ships.  No one at Saint Peter’s Square or the Eiffel Tower.  Times Square practically empty on a Friday night.  Events cancelled.  No sports!  Store shelves empty and people afraid of running out of toilet paper when there is not even a real toilet paper emergency.  The stock market!  People watching their 401Ks plummet in a downhill slide so rapid it almost gives one whiplash.  And then, after the President speaks in the Rose Garden a 1000-point gain.  What will next week bring?  And the new words and phrases that have become a part of our vocabulary: self-quarantine, social distancing, and respiratory hygiene.  Who knew we needed lessons on how to wash our hands?  Universities sending their students home or putting all classes online.  People working from home.  And churches cancelling services.  Listen, when Disney and Apple stores shut down and Tom Hanks gets sick we know we are in trouble!

In the midst of this wild week, we are dealing with our own personal changes…just like everyone else.  My mother-in-law, Jerry’s 98-year old mom is declining and we need to make some changes for her.  Hopefully she will still be able to live at home, but she is falling frequently and her cognition is not what it has always been.  We spent a few days in Dallas with her…Jerry going to her doctor with her and me researching resources to help her.  I also got a chance to visit with my 94-year old mother the day before nursing homes went on lockdown.  “Lockdown.”  There is another word.

I’m listening to how my daughters and my friends have been affected.  We all have a story.  Everything is changing and the future is so uncertain.  I remember a television show in the 50s that gave a young Johnny Carson his start.  It was called Who Do You Trust?  So this morning in my very early Saturday morning quiet time, God reminds me that I can really only trust Him.  He never changes.  

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  Hebrews 13:8  

Thank you, Lord.  Furthermore, He saw this week coming and He has it under control.  We plan and prepare and think we have our futures all laid out and then something happens to remind us that control is just an illusion.  The stock market can never really provide security.  Our aging loved ones are going to leave us some day.  And some day, other people will be making decisions about us.  In spite of all our preparations, someday our own health will fail.  We will die.  

Where is my bottom line, my investment with a floor, my safety net?  I can plan and prepare (and we should!) but the world can change in an instant.  I keep thinking of Psalm 20:7:

Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we will trust in the name of the Lord our God.  

Eventually I will lose all my chariots and horses.  They cannot protect me from every eventuality.  But God.  God remains.  He is constant.  And He loves and cares for me.

The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.  Isaiah 40: 28b 

I think I’ll go have another cup of coffee.

STANDING FIRM

For many of us in the Baby Boomer generation, a good many of our battles are behind us.  We survived childhood, battling measles, chicken pox, mumps and the practices of drinking from the garden hose and riding in the back window of the car.  God was definitely sending His angels to watch over us.  My mother’s biggest fear for her children was polio and she made us take a nap every day during the summer (somehow summer was worse for polio).  I hated those naps; now I love them!  

We made it through our teenage years with no atomic bomb, but we had those drills to prepare us.  Although too many of us did not survive the Vietnam War, those of us who were fortunate were able to begin our adult lives.  Some of us went to college, some got jobs, and some got married and started families.  We survived those early years of adulthood, stretching our paychecks and saving our Green Stamps.  We had babies and managed to keep them alive (more angels!), we worked hard to raise them right and teach them about the Lord. Then they left us, becoming responsible adults, eventually with families of their own.  

We became grandparents and had to relearn everything about babies because we found out we didn’t know anything.  The rules changed!  Do they sleep on their backs or stomachs?  We struggled with complicated car seats and strollers.  I still have flashbacks to the parking lot at Dillard’s trying to figure out how to fold the stroller and get it back in the car while a toddler howled in her car seat.  

Many of us are now retired. We have completed are careers and are now finding new ways to be useful. In theory we have more time now, but the time whizzes by at breakneck speed! Some of us are now (gasp) great-grandparents and chuckle at our kids wrestling with car seats.  But one of my favorite pictures is of my daughter falling in love with her new baby granddaughter.  Pure love!  

So even though there are challenges ahead, we have completed the biggest part of our earthly assignments.  As I thought abut these things, this verse from my quiet time particularly resonated with me: …”and having done all, to stand firm,” Ephesians 6;13b. We still need to stand firm, and that might be our most important job right now.  

My Bible study group (https://www.communitybiblestudy.org) has been doing a study called Return to Jerusalem and currently we are looking at the life of Nehemiah and the rebuilding of the Jerusalem wall.  In last week’s lesson the Jews completed building the wall (in only 52 days!) so Nehemiah’s next job was to make sure what they had accomplished was protected.  He needed to stand firm. He did this by appointing gatekeepers to control who came in and left the city and guards to patrol the walls and guard the houses. 

As I was reading these words I thought of my family and especially my grandchildren.  As parents and grandparents  we have done our jobs but we need guards at the gates and watchers on the walls.  I am so grateful that all my children and grandchildren have a saving relationship with the Lord, but that relationship must be carefully guarded because we have an enemy who would love to come in and confuse them and capture their hearts and minds. My job now is to be a watchman, to stand firm.

Although I don’t have as much daily influence as I did when my children were small, I have all of the armor of God that Ephesians 6 describes: the belt of Truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes that equip me to spread the gospel, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit (God’s Word).  And then verse 18 admonishes us to pray at all times, to keep alert with all perseverance, and to pray for all the saints.  I love how The Message version completes this verse:

In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.

This is how I can guard the gates and keep watch on the walls.  I can pray.  Jerry and I have really ramped up our prayer lives this year.  And although many of my big battles are behind me, my job as a guard and watchman is not over.  This is how I stand firm.

POWER SOURCE

We are all so dependent on power.  If you have ever had a power outage, you know the helpless feeling as you wait for power to be restored.  At our house we are having issues with power and connectivity.  Most of it is self-inflicted because we changed Internet providers.  Once we get everything connected things should run smoothly, but oh my goodness!  We have a lot of devices, and when I say we, I actually mean me.  I love gadgets.  But when they don’t work they become a source of frustration.  

Jerry and I watch a good deal of streaming television, so the first order of business was to connect all of our TVs (yes, we have many) to the Internet.  Then we connected our phones and iPads.  We thought we were pretty much set after that, except Jerry struggled to set up a new email account.  I admit it was difficult for some reason, so I am just keeping my Gmail account.  Easy.  Later, I realized all my Amazon Echo devices were down, and one Echo Dot just would NOT connect to the new Internet.  Finally, after several hard resets I got it up and running.  I told you I have a lot of gadgets! 

So this morning, after getting everything connected (I thought) to the new Internet, I discovered that we have a faulty power outlet at our house.  It just happens to be the outlet I use to charge all my devises at night.  Even my watch must be plugged in.  So this morning when I opened my iPad, I was surprised to find that I only had 28% battery left.  Nothing charged overnight!  We checked the reset buttons and then the breaker box.  I guess we will need to replace that outlet.  When I sat down to my laptop to Google electrical outlets (and there are so many fancy ones!) I realized I hadn’t connected it to the new Internet.  Network connection was a quick and easy fix, but just writing these words has made me realize how dependent I am on my power sources.

All of this has happened at a time when God has had me studying and writing a conference talk about prayer.  I want to pray powerful prayers and I am completely dependent I am on my heavenly power source.  When I lose my connection to God, I am weak and my battery runs low.  Trying to do what I am called to do on 28% doesn’t work.  Just as I have to recharge all my devises, I must recharge my heart.  I must be connected to God’s network if I am to be effective.  

I read that the biggest power sources in the United States are the Grand Coulee Dam and the Palo Verde Nuclear power plant.  I can’t even wrap my brain around the amount of power they produce every second.  And yet, our God is infinitely more powerful. 

There is so much power in prayer.  I want to pray big, bold, fervent, persistent prayers!  Importunate prayers.  Jerry and I are doing something new this year.  Since we are both retired, we have more time for morning prayers.  We decided to pray specifically for one family member each morning.  We have nineteen in our immediate family, so when we get to day twenty we begin praying for our extended family, our friends, our church, our country, and our world.  As we have practiced this way of praying, I’ve noticed out prayers have become bolder and more specific.  One of our first sermons of the New Year was a challenge to pray Ephesians 1:19-21 for our children and grandchildren.  It is a passage about knowing God’s power.  What a privilege it is to walk right into the throne room and speak to God on behalf of my family.  I can’t wait to see how God answers these prayers.  

 “I ask that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know the hope of His calling, the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.”  Eph. 1:19-21 ESV

THE END OF AN ERA

We did something big today, something I never imagined we would do, but it was time.  We cancelled the newspaper.  I guess there are fewer and fewer of us who even subscribe to the paper anymore.  I don’t think any of my adult children do.  Maybe home delivery will die out with Baby Boomers.

I have been thinking about all the years I have enjoyed getting and reading the paper.  When we lived in Dallas and even when we moved to Tulsa, we took both the morning and afternoon newspapers.  The morning paper we read rather quickly, just to get the news.  But when the afternoon paper came it was a time to sit down and relax and read more of the features.  Maybe work a crossword puzzle or read Dear Abby.  We relied on the paper to tell us what the weather would be tomorrow, what was on television tonight, and what was on special at Safeway.  We needed the daily newspaper. Even the classified ads were interesting.  Remember the personal column?

When I was a little girl I spent large chunks of the summer with my grandparents.  One of my favorite memories is sitting on my grandmother’s porch swing with her as she read the afternoon paper (The Dallas Times Herald).  She would usually cut an apple for us, and she would read the comics to me and then read the rest of the news to herself.  It was a time when she rested from her domestic activities and was still.  And I could snuggle up next to her.

I guess in the history of the world, the ways we have gotten news have changed over time and have largely been driven by technology.  Before the printing press was invented, news was transmitted by word of mouth.  Surely that couldn’t have been very reliable.  Newspapers became the primary means of journalism in the 18th and 19th centuries.  Then came radio and television, and now we can transmit news instantly via the Internet.  I was reminded the other day about newsreels that were shown in theaters before the feature film.  My grandmothers both had sons who fought in World War II.  I can imagine them sitting next to the radio or watching those newsreels, hoping for some good news.  Then later we all tuned in to Walter Cronkite or Huntley and Brinkley to get the day’s news.  The first time I can remember constant news coverage of an event was when Kennedy was assassinated.  But even then our newspapers were important.  Now we have the 24-hour news cycle and it sometimes drives me crazy.  I really don’t want to see Adam Schiff’s face again!  And is it any more reliable?

I hate to see the demise of the written word.  Even though I get a lot of my news from the Internet, I have to scroll past videos to see something in print.  While I will miss the idea of the daily paper, I’m not sure there is very much reality left to miss.  The Tulsa World has gotten thinner and thinner, with more ads as fillers.  By the time the news is delivered to my door, it is old news.  I have already watched it on television.  And it keeps going up in price.  It just doesn’t make sense to spend so much money on something that often goes straight into the trash.  I realize by cancelling my subscription I am becoming part of the problem, but it just isn’t worth the expense any more.

I would be remiss if I didn’t say a word about the Good News, the Bible. Even though it was written centuries ago, it is still fresh and still relevant. Everything changes, but the Word of God never does. It always gives me just what I need for my day.

“The grass withers and the flower fades, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” 1 Peter 1: 24b

So goodbye, Tulsa World.  I’m breaking up with you.  Maybe I will change my mind and come back if you are still around, but don’t count on it.  Thanks for all the memories but for now, I will have my morning coffee with the Good News.

A CLEAN SLATE

A clean slate.  A blank page.  A do-over.  Another New Year.  A new decade! As Oprah says, another chance for us to get it right.  What will 2020 hold for us? 

We all hope and pray for many of the same things: health, happiness, prosperity, peace, and the list goes on.  For those of us who are Baby Boomers, a new year is not as easily taken for granted as it once was.  We now think of life in terms of how much time we have left.  For some of us, a new year may mean the figuring out retirement (although fewer of us are retiring in the way we once imagined).  It may mean a second career, a new hobby, or it may bring the beginning of Social Security and Medicare.  There may be the lurking fears of declining health and finances.  But a new year also brings a new chance to live our lives with purpose and meaning; a chance to do life intentionally.  

As a Christian, I believe that God has a plan for my life.  Since I am still alive on this dawn of another year, He must still have a purpose for me here on earth.  The way to live this year to the fullest is to seek His purpose for me and begin to live it.  There is nothing that changes your life more than the discovery of your purpose.

While we may have an over-arching purpose that spans our entire lives, we also have specific purposes at different points in time.  What is my purpose now, in my senior years?  I want to be all that I am capable of becoming; all that God has planned for me.  A friend of mine says the tears that God will wipe from our eyes are the tears we shed as we enter Heaven and see the life He had planned for us that we failed to live.

Whatever wrong turns I have made on this journey, I am confident that He has used them to make me the woman I am.  He is still the God of second chances; his purposes toward me are always redemptive.  Lord, help me to treasure and not squander the New Year you have put before me.

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:  Ecclesiastes 3:1 (NIV).  

No, dear brothers, I am still not all I should be, but I am bringing all my energies to bear on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God is calling us up to heaven because of what Christ Jesus did for us.  Philippians 3:13-14 (TLB).

EMBRACING MY SEASON

I’ve been feeling pretty nostalgic as we approach Christmas. Maybe wistful is a better word…combined with nostalgia. For some time I have been wanting to slow the calendar down. Time is racing past! And I feel it acutely at Christmas.

Several years ago I collected all our photos from past Christmases and scanned them into my computer. I made a slide show and surprised my family with it on Christmas morning. I wasn’t sure how it would go over with a tree full of presents waiting to be unwrapped. But everyone loved it, the adults as well as the children. They wanted to sit through the whole thing before unwrapping gifts. Maybe some things are better than bought presents. I’ve continued to add to the slideshow every year and I will have it playing again Christmas morning. But this year I also did something different. I am playing it continually on my Echo Show that sits on my kitchen counter. So every time I walk into the kitchen I am treated to a blast from the past. And that is what is triggering my nostalgia.

Where did the years go? I thought my children grew up fast, but my grandchildren’s childhood years have flown by at warp speed. Our youngest is nine this year and is the only remaining believer in the magic of Santa Claus. We have two who are grown and married, one with a baby of her own. Our two college kids will be joined by a third, leaving a high school senior, two in middle school, and one left in elementary school. Once they get to a certain age they don’t have as much time for us, especially when they get those driver’s licenses. It is not such a treat to come to JuJu and Paki’s house, and that is how it should be. They have lives of their own. But it makes me miss the days when there were lots of little feet in the house.

EPSON MFP image

EPSON MFP image

I would love to go back and visit a Christmas past. Maybe a Christmas Eve with my own dear grandparents. I miss them every day. A Christmas with all my siblings.  Or a Christmas at our old house, the one our kids grew up in. I can practically hear those little feet running down the stairs shouting with joy over a doll or a bicycle. We have been in our current house for almost 20 years, so we have many wonderful Christmas memories here too. Little grand babies that have grown into big people.

EPSON MFP image

I’m wondering what future Christmases will look like. Will they continue to be as much fun as the grands continue to grow older? Will we be blessed enough to have more together? Will we still be relevant in their lives I’m coaching myself to embrace the season I’m in. To be mindful of my many blessings. I’m reminded of the story of the Exodus in the Old Testament when God delivered the children of Israel from a life of slavery. What did they do? They complained and looked back on the “leeks and garlic of Egypt.” If I focus too much on Christmas Past or Christmas Future I might miss the joy of Christmas Present.

So I thank God that Jerry and I get another Christmas together. We almost didn’t. Not all of my friends are so blessed. We know that these are bonus days for us, and tell each other every day. I have friends who are dealing with loss this year. Soul crushing loss. If you are going through a season of loss this year, please know that Jesus sees you and longs to be your comfort. And if you are looking for someone to listen to your pain, I’m pretty good at that.

Jerry and I still have our health, although we are not moving around as well as we used to. I know we are so lucky to have all our children and grandchildren living right here in Tulsa, some just around the corner. I’m blessed that we get to host Christmas Day. With so many moving parts we might not always get everyone together.

I don’t know the future holds but I trust the One who holds it. So I will enjoy Christmas 2019 and be grateful for our blessings. Most of all we are grateful that all our children and grandchildren know the Lord and we will all spend eternity together in His presence.

Reflections on Thanksgiving

I wrote this piece for my book a few years ago. As we approach another Thanksgiving I thought it was worth revisiting.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  Part of the reason is that it comes in my favorite season, autumn.  For me, it also is the start of a long holiday season.  I like to enjoy Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years for as long as I can.  That is why saying “Happy Holidays” is not offensive to me.  Oh I understand and sympathize with the argument Christians have with this phrase.  We want to put Christ back in Christmas.  And I say “Merry Christmas” frequently.  But for me “Happy Holidays” refers to the entire holiday season that begins with Thanksgiving and ends with New Year’s Day, so I am not put off by those greetings.  In fact, if you want to wish me a happy Wednesday, I’ll take that too.

The other reason I prefer Thanksgiving is the lack of commercialism, although that is now being tested.  It is not about shopping or giving gifts.  It is not about the making or spending of money.  Thanksgiving is about gratitude for what I have instead of thinking about what I want or need.  It makes me mindful of the many blessings God has given me.  It keeps me God-focused rather than me-focused.  It fosters contentment.  

This year God has stilled me, and that has given me plenty of time to reflect on His goodness.  I won’t be able to have Thanksgiving dinner at my house so I am SO grateful for daughters who step up. As I recover from knee replacement I am grateful for modern medicine and that I won’t stay in this state forever.  I’m grateful for a husband who takes such good care of me.  And I am so very thankful for all my friends who have brought in meals, come to visit, and called to check on me.  Thank you Lord, for an abundance of people in my life. 

The Pilgrims understood our need for gratitude.  They suffered more adversities than I ever will yet they knew it was important to set aside one day and thank God.  They dug so many graves and yet they found reason to be grateful.  In 1623 Governor William Bradford declared that everyone should assemble together “and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings.”

Psychologists who have studied gratitude have found that gratitude is directly correlated with life satisfaction, peace, and joy.  Individuals who cultivate and express gratitude have fewer health complaints, reduced stress, and are generally less self-absorbed.  Dr. Robert Emmons, the world’s leading expert on gratitude states, “The fabric of gratitude is deeply woven into the human experience.”  He has found that there are two parts to gratitude: acknowledging the goodness in life and recognizing the source of that goodness.

I believe God created us with not only the capacity to experience gratitude, but also the need to express it.  Our Father knew that his children would reap psychological, physiological and interpersonal benefits by cultivating a grateful heart.  He does not need our praise; it is we who need to praise Him.  I have noticed something in my own life.  Maybe it is not a scientific fact, but it is something I have observed.  The more I praise Him for His blessings, the more blessings I receive.  Maybe that is not actually the case; maybe I am just aware of more of the blessings I already have.  Either way, it fills my heart with joy.    

I think there is something wonderful that happens with corporate praise, when we thank him together with our families, our church families, and our nation.  It binds us together.  It brings us in touch with the things we have in common and directs our attention away from the things that divide us.  That is why we need a National Day of Thanksgiving.  When we gather together on Thanksgiving Day, let us thank God for our blessings and acknowledge that He is the Source of everything good in our lives, in our families, and in our country.

Bless the Lord, O my soul,

And all that is within me, bless His holy name.

Bless the Lord, O my soul,

And forget none of His benefits;

Who pardons all your iniquities,

Who heals all your diseases;

Who redeems your life from the pit,

Who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion;

Who satisfies your years with good things,

So that your youth is renewed like the eagle.  Psalm 103:1-5 (NASB).    

SITTING IN THE TOP ROW

If you have known me for any length of time at all, you know I am a HUGE college football fan. Specifically, I love my Oklahoma Sooners, but I will watch any game, even Wake Forest or Rutgers.  Because it’s football!  Jerry and I have season tickets to watch the Sooners play in Norman, and we even go to a few away games.  When the Sooners play at home, I don’t get to watch many other games.  I can listen on the radio while driving, and keep up with the scores on my phone, but it’s not the same as a full day of football immersion.  And that is what I had last Saturday.  Since the Sooners were away, I got to watch football ALL DAY LONG, starting with ESPN GameDay at 8:00 AM, and falling asleep to the Pac 12 games on the west coast.  At some point during the Florida/Auburn game there was an aerial shot of the stadium, you know, one of those blimp views.  It was a dramatic shot of a full stadium and it made me recall something I had read earlier in the week about the top row of a stadium.  I will explain later, but first I will share some stadium experiences of my own.

As I said, we have season tickets to all of Oklahoma’s home games, and we usually have a ticket to the OU/Texas game in Dallas.  Our seats in Norman aren’t VIP seats by any means, but they aren’t bad seats either.  We have had the same seats for years and have gotten acquainted with the people who sit around us.  However, this past spring OU made some improvements to the stadium and they moved our seats slightly.  So now we are getting to know some new stadium neighbors.  Our new seats aren’t any better than our old, but they aren’t any worse either.  Frankly, I think one is lucky just to be inside the stadium.  Home games are always a sellout.  

I have a couple of memories of some not-so-good seats.  Years ago, before we had season tickets, we bought a pair to a home game.  It might have been my first game in Norman.  I was trying to remember what team we played that day—Jerry thinks it was Iowa State.  What I do remember is where the seats were located: on the very TOP row of the upper deck!  It felt like we were in another time zone!  Being that high up certainly gives you a different perspective on the game.  That is probably why you will often see a shot of a position coach operating from the booth.  He can see the big picture, often better that he can from the sideline.  And he can see much more than I can from my regular seats on the 20-yardline.

On another occasion we followed the Sooners to College Station to watch them play Texas A&M. Every football fan should see a game at Kyle Field.  And if you think it’s loud in Norman, you should sit with a stadium full of Aggies.  They even practice yelling!  But it’s a fun atmosphere, especially when your team is predicted to win.  As happy (and confident) as I was, on this particular day things didn’t go so well.  It started with our seats.  They were almost on the top row, and the their upper deck is so steep!  It was quite a hike to get to our row.  I was gasping by the time I found my seat.  On top of that, the Sooners had a bad day on the field.  And I had a big, birds eye view of the whole debacle.  

So all of this brings me back to what I read last week.  My friend Ronda has a brother, Rick Renner, whom I have never met, but I follow on social media.  He pastors a church in Russia, and has written several books, including Sparkling Gems From the Greeka devotional book based on Greek words from the Bible.  He does such a good job of painting word pictures, and I can always do better if I have a visual.  Last week he posted a study on the word “clouds” from Hebrews 12:1.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,” (NIV) 

This verse comes after the famous passage in Hebrews 11 known as “the roll call of the faithful,” a portrait of the saints who have gone before us.  Renner says the word “clouds” describes the highest seats in the bleachers of a stadium.  Those saints are sitting up there cheering us along. This description gave me an entirely different perspective on that verse.  Those saints who have gone before us have a big picture view from their seats in the clouds.  They know the final score.  And they are there, cheering us on as we take our turn on the field.  

Each of us has a finite amount of time, and for those of us who are Christians, our own unique position to play.  The goal is to advance the Gospel, to move it toward the finish line.  There are some who may be called to important positions such as coaches or quarterbacks.  Others of us may be less significant.  We may merely serve as water boys, but that water certainly is important to those who are doing the heavy work.  As a team, as a part of the Church, we strive to carry the cause of Christ.  I think of the words from the hymn, Onward Christian Soldiers:

 

Like a mighty army
  Moves the Church of God:
Brothers, we are treading
  Where the saints have trod;
We are not divided,
  All one Body we—
One in faith and Spirit,
  One eternally.

My prayer is that I don’t fumble, that I don’t lose yards, that I can advance the ball.  And when my time on the field is over, may I take my seat on the top row and cheer on the next generation.

BEING A WATCHMAN

One of the things I am enjoying in retirement is the time to really dig into my Bible study lessons at Community Bible Study.  This year we are doing a study called The Road to Jerusalem, the story of the Jewish exile and the restoration of Israel.  Yesterday’s lesson highlighted the life of Ezekiel who was appointed by God to be a prophet and watchman to the people.  His main job was to warn the people to turn from their idols.  That term, “watchman” reached out and grabbed me. What was the job of a watchman?  

My thoughts turned to the medieval towns in Tuscany and Provence that we have visited over the years.  They were all built on a hilltop and they all had walls surrounding them.  These walls provided fortification and defense against attackers and intruders.  Along the walls watchtowers were erected a place for a watchman or sentry to stand guard.  Strategically, the towers were erected at points where entry were more likely, and where the watchman could have a 360 degree view of the landscape, where they could spot enemies before they got too close.  If an enemy approached, the watchman’s job was to alert the town of impending danger.  I’m thinking sentry duty then and now is a lonely job.

So what does Ezekiel’s call to be a watchman have to do with me today?  I guess I think of watchmen as those people who will be on the lookout for the things that will threaten to destroy us.  Those who will sound the alarm.  Modern day Paul Reveres.  From a Christian perspective, watchmen are protecting our faith and defending our society from our modern day idols.  In my opinion, our biggest danger comes from our secular culture.  Watchmen have to be able to stand against the tsunami of a godless society.  As we were discussing these ideas, I was having my own private conversation with God.  “Please don’t call me to be a watchman.”  I thought of some of my friends who can stand boldly in the face of criticism.  I confess that is a lonely and scary place for me.  I don’t like it.

I remember a day during a sociology course when the subject of abortion was discussed.  I was the only person in my class of about thirty who expressed opposition to it.  And the backlash against me was fierce!  I looked around the room and though to myself that surely I can’t be the only one in this class who thinks abortion is wrong.  Here in Tulsa, Oklahoma?  The buckle of the Bible belt?   After class, several people came up to me and told me they were proud of me for standing up.  “Where was YOUR voice,” I thought.  

I don’t want to be a watchman.  I don’t like opposition.  I often feel that I can’t muster a cogent defense quickly enough.  I remember that day when I felt like I couldn’t get my words together.  I think of my friends who speak out on different issues and I find myself like those classmates.  I admire the watchmen, but I don’t want to be them.  However, in these times when religious persecution is on the rise (Christians being the most targeted group), perhaps God is calling all of us to be watchmen.  Because if we don’t watch, who will? 

All these thoughts were going through my mind when I finally allowed God to speak to me.  I realized He isn’t necessarily calling me to be a watchman to the world as much as He is to myself.  “You need to be a watchman over your own heart!”  Wow!  As always, God is right.  I have a full time job guarding against idols of my own.  An idol is anything that takes my time, energy, and devotion away from God.  My potential idols are more subtle than golden statues.  Self-indulgence, screen time, acquisition of things, even (Gasp!) Sooner football.  I could create quite a list.  I guess even my family could become an idol.  

So my first calling to be a watchman is a call to guard my heart from the benign or even “good” things that could take first place in my life.  I think of the words from the old hymn, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” 

“Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, 

Prone to leave the God I love.”  

So today I lay open my heart before the Lord, and I ask Him to remove anything that has become an idol to me, and to keep me alert to the things that could sidetrack me in the future.  As I said, it’s a full time job.  But I also ask God to burden my heart for the things that burden His.  I want to “watch” for God, to see where He is moving and what He is doing.  Being a watchman is more that keeping an eye out for evil, more than warning about the dangers of sin.  A watchman also has the privilege of proclaiming the good news of the gospel.  As Believers, we get to announce to the world that God has provided a remedy for sin.  And we are all commanded to be on the alert, to watch for Christ’s return.  The more I think about it, I don’t get to opt out of being a watchman.  Nor should I want to.  It is an honor.