Saying Goodbye to America’s Evangelist

 

For the last week or so America and the world have been saying goodbye to Billy Graham. And I have been praising and thanking God for the life of this remarkable man. What a faithful servant of the Lord he was. I’ve watched a couple of television specials on his life and also wept through his beautiful memorial ceremony. I have been impressed again by his boldness and humility. And the legacy of his children! What powerful tributes to the man they called “Daddy,” and how faithful they are to take on his mantle. However, I do not believe I will ever see another man like Billy Graham in my lifetime.

He was America’s prophet and preacher. Our Isaiah, our Elijah. His message was simple and consistent. We are all sinners; God loves us and made a way for us through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus. We must accept Him as our Savior, and turn from our sins, and we must allow Him to be Lord of our lives. I think that was basically it. He never bowed to the culture or political correctness. He addressed wrongs in our society, such as racism, and called it what it is. Sin. He preached this message all over the world, reaching millions. I watched the documentaries on his life and was awed at the enormous crowds he drew everywhere he went. I remember going to see him in 1971 at Texas Stadium. When Billy Graham came to Dallas, it was a huge event even by Texas standards.

As I watched Billy Graham age, I knew that one day we would lose him. For a long time I have had the thought (and fear) that after Billy Graham left this earth, God would remove His hand of blessing and protection from America. We have been slowly watching it happened as we have moved from a society of faith and religion to a secular state.

This morning in my quiet time, I was reminded of just how blessed I have been to be born in an age and place where Jesus is known. It was relatively easy for me to come to the Lord. It didn’t cost me much. Actually, I think I paid a bigger price as a child and teenager who was NOT a believer. I went to school with Christians and Jews, we had daily Bible readings, we prayed, and we memorized the Ten Commandments. In Dallas public schools. My friends were Christians, and when they invited me to their church, I went. I heard the Gospel, and asked Jesus into my heart. That decision changed my life for all eternity. I often wonder what roads I would have taken had I not said yes to Jesus. T was culturally acceptable for me to become a follower of Christ. What a different America my grandchildren are experiencing.

Struck by watching Billy Graham bravely preach in communist countries, and thinking about the words in my morning devotional, I can’t help but think about those people who are living in dark places. North Korea, Syria, and China come to mind. How can they come to the Lord if they never hear the Gospel? And what a high price they pay to become believers. When I went to Kenya I saw how eager the people are to hear the Gospel, how desperate to have a Bible of their own. And I don’t even know how many different Bibles there are in my house!

As I write these words, I fear that America is becoming one of those dark places. Christian faith has become fair game for the mockers and haters. Being a Christian now carries a higher price tag than it did in earlier days. Even though we are still allowed to have our churches, and still allowed to worship, we are becoming more and more secularized. There are many competing activities for our time and attention on Sundays.

Although we don’t deserve it, I pray God would send us another Billy Graham. I pray for another Great Awakening. I pray it is not too late for America.

THIS IS NOT A DRILL!

 

Recently the people of Hawaii got the following terrifying emergency alert: ‘BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL. When I heard this on the news I had to wonder. How in the world do you protect yourself from a missile attack, especially if you are living on a small island? Where do you go? Do people in Hawaii have a plan? What about tourists? And what do you do if it’s a nuclear missile? Wouldn’t you have to live in an underground bomb shelter for something like 10,000 years? Please excuse my ignorance about nuclear missiles, but I’m thinking nuclear is synonomous with utter destruction.

I remember seeing a movie years ago called “On the Beach.” It starred Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner (It was a LONG time ago!). In the movie, the world had managed to blow itself up, leaving only Australia as a refuge for the remaining survivors. But there was a cloud of radiation taking aim on Australia, threatening the fate of humanity. I remember there was a sliver of hope, but what I can’t remember is if anyone actually survived. But my plan has always been to get to Australia as quickly as possible. That makes about as much sense as those atomic bomb drills we used to have in school. Right. Getting under my desk and covering my ears was going to save me. But at least those in power could say we had a plan. With a crazy dictator in North Korea and a president who is tweeting “My nuke is bigger than yours,” we are living in scary times. Yet we should not be surprised. We have been warned.

Last December I finished reading through the Bible again. This is something I’ve done multiple times. My thinking is that if God took the time to write this important letter to me, I should read it. It might be important. With current events in mind, the book of Revelation has taken on a new urgency. Actually the entire Bible is full of warnings for us, given to protect and save us. The book of Revelation is the culmination of the history of mankind. It is a warning to believers of the return of our Lord Jesus. We must be ready. It is also a warning that a time of suffering is coming that is greater than any suffering man has ever experienced. Revelation is a final warning to come to Christ before God pours out His wrath in judgment over the earth. It is a picture of Jesus knocking on the door of our hearts, longing to come in and save us. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.

No one knows when the end will be, but the Bible tells us to look at the signs, and there are signs all around. The stage is set. But even if Jesus tarries, we are still warned. Scripture tells us, “Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment,” Heb. 9:27 (NIV). THIS IS NOT A DRILL. These are two realities, death and judgment. We each have an appointment with death. There is no “if” to this warning, only a “when.” We each have a death date. One day we will die. And the second reality is judgment. We will each be called to make a personal appearance before God. If we have not accepted Jesus as our Savior, the only One who could possibly save us, then we will stand before a righteous God without an attorney, without our Advocate, and without a defense. We will stand in our own puny righteousness that is like a pile of filthy rags in the sight of God. We will be doomed, condemned to full and eternal punishment. Our verdict will be “guilty” and our sentence will be just.

So the warning is “Come!” Come while there is still time. Come while you still may. Come before it is too late. Jesus is not willing for any of us to perish but longs for all of us to repent and turn to Him (2 Peter 3:9). The end is coming. THIS IS NOT A DRILL!

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. REV. 3:20 NIV

THE OPPORTUNITY OF LIFE

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Well it’s another beginning of another year. I’ve been blessed to have experienced quite a few of these new beginnings. As 2017 was winding down I began thinking about 2018. What do I want it to be? What things do I need to accomplish, to finish? My bucket list is getting shorter because I have been fortunate enough to experience most of my dreams. I always try to bring God into these New Year’s thoughts. What is His plan for me this year? What does He have for me? What areas of growth do I need?

I quit making resolutions a few years ago because I’m only so-so at keeping them. So instead I have asked for a word for 2018. And I believe that word for me is health. I need to focus on my health and to take better care of me. It’s not too surprising that health would be on center stage in my life. I’ve been having orthopedic problems since early fall. And since receiving that word, health, new problems have been discovered. God knew before I did that I need to take time for health.

I’m not sure exactly what getting healthy is going to look like. We all know the basics: eat healthier, move more, de-stress. I don’t see myself joining a gym. I did that in another season and it doesn’t particularly interest me know. Maybe some sort of group class? Or maybe just more and longer walks (when I get my legs working).

I sat down to my quiet time this morning wondering where God would direct me. I just finished reading through the Bible again and I’m thinking I should do something else. So I picked up a devotional book my friend Wanda gave me titled A Diary of Private Prayer, by John Baille.  It didn’t take long to get smacked in the face as I began reading the first prayer. The author thanked God for “the great and mysterious opportunity of my life.”

Those words spoke loudly to me. He spoke of life as an opportunity and I guess I never thought of it that way. I have just thought of it as life, being alive. But my life is more than merely being alive; it is an opportunity. And it is a mystery that God would grant me such an opportunity. I wanted to remind myself about the definition of opportunity, even though we all know what it means, so I looked it up. This is what I found: opportunity is a set of circumstances that makes it possible to do something. So life is the gift of mysterious possibilities.

We had a tragedy in our church family a few days ago. Our Youth Pastor’s pregnant wife died suddenly and unexpectedly. The doctors took the baby and tried over several days to save him, but baby Asa never really had the opportunity of life. A baby should have an almost endless array of possibilities ahead of him, but baby Asa did not. How remiss am I if I do not thank God for life.

So at this beginning of 2018, I thank God for the opportunity of life, for the possibilities that lie ahead. Lord, please don’t let me go through this year mindlessly. Open my eyes to see the possibilities you have for me.

You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. Psalm 139:15-16 NLT

 

 

WHITE CHRISTMAS

 

A few years ago I wrote this piece for my book, Seasons. When it snowed yesterday, I started thinking about it. This is an updated version I hope you will enjoy.

Jerry and I have been binge-watching Hallmark Christmas movies since Thanksgiving. Even though they are cheesy and predictable, we love them. They are so formulaic, we could write a screenplay ourselves. Especially the ending: It snows and they kiss. I love the settings for these movies. Small towns with picturesque Main Streets, and a snow-covered mountain in the background. But my favorite Christmas movie, bar none, is White Christmas. Jerry groans every year when I suggest watching it, so in recent years I have watched it by myself or with my girls. The girls and I can recite most of the lines and sing the songs by heart. In recent years we have all had trouble staying awake past the train scene (“Vermont should be beautiful this time of year!”) This year I stayed awake through the whole thing!

What is it about that movie that speaks to us? I think for me it is a combination of nostalgia and hope. When the movie first came out, I was only a little girl. I was remembering my early childhood Christmases this morning. The one that particularly stands out in my memory was when I was six. It had been a good year financially for my parents (most were not), and I got a Western Flyer bicycle and a Toni doll. My younger sister received a Tiny Tears doll. For some reason fruitcake is tied to this memory, although I’m sure I would not have eaten any at that age.

White Christmas follows the career of two soldiers (played by Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye) in the years after World War II. It dawned on that the Christmas in my memory was not too far removed from that war. Since it ended before I was born, the war always seemed like ancient history to me. But to my parents, it had only been a few years. I wonder what it felt like to celebrate Christmas in peace and prosperity after going through such a dangerous and rationed period. They never spoke much about the war, and now I wish I had asked more questions.

I remind myself that we are still fighting wars. All over the world we have troops that are dreaming of a Christmas “just like the ones (they) used to know.” But they are doing their duty, trying to keep peace in a world filled with conflict, trying to keep us safe. And the ones who have returned home may still be battling their own traumatic memories.

Peace on earth. The prophets spoke of it, the angels sang of it. And yet we still have wars and struggles, families are still torn apart. We even have battles within ourselves. This past week I have heard some particularly devastating stories in my office. “Jesus, you were born into such a dark world! Oh, Prince of Peace, where are You,” I cry.

“Where is the Christmas we long for,” I wonder. Then Jesus reminds me that the war is not over. His kingdom on earth has not yet been established. One day soon, He will return and conquer evil for good. Until then, we will still face battles. The words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow say it best:

And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”
From Christmas Bells1.

White Christmas. What is it about snow? It makes everything beautiful, pristine. It covers even the most blighted landscape, turning it into something pure and new. That’s what Jesus promises to do for us. He takes our ugly, sinful hearts and covers them with the pure snow of His love, transforming them and turning them into something new. He offers us peace with God. May we all experience a truly white Christmas this year.

“Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” Isaiah 1:18 (ESV).

WAITING FOR CHRISTMAS

 

Today I am revisiting a devotion from My book, Seasons. I’ve changed it up a bit to reflect where I am today. And I’m asking myself if I have grown any since I wrote this. I don’t think I have gotten any better at waiting. But God in his mercy and patience is still working on me.

WAITING FOR CHRISTMAS

I’m terrible at waiting. I hate waiting in lines, waiting for a human to speak on the phone, waiting in doctor’s offices, waiting my turn. I get impatient and irritable. Why doesn’t everyone move at my pace? I’ve been doing some Advent readings in preparation, and being reminded once again that Advent is all about waiting. Of course it is waiting for Christmas, for the birth of the Christ Child, but there is more.

Every year I read Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s little book, God is in the Mannger (great title). This book is a collection of letters Bonhoeffer wrote from a Nazi prison. When he wrote about Advent, abut waiting, he was writing from the deepest desires of his heart. Waiting was a fact of war and a fact of his life. He waited to be released from prison, waited to be reunited with his family and fiancé, and waited for the war to end. When he learned about all the suffering that was being inflicted on the world, his family and friends, he could do nothing but pray. And in those prayer times he recognized how our soul is in waiting for redemption. “Life in a prison cell may well be compared to Advent. One waits, hopes, and does this, that, or the other—things that are really of no consequence—the door is shut, and can only be opened from the outside.”

We do a lot of “this, that and the other.” Things that we imagine are important, but really have no lasting significance. Christmas can be an exhausting time of year, especially for the mom of the household. Let’s face it ladies, most of the responsibility for making Christmas happen falls on us. Even for those of us who love Christmas, and who wouldn’t want to miss any of it, it is still a lot of work! This year I am purposely trying to reign Christmas in a bit. However, that old instinct is still there. Do I have all the gifts for children and grandchildren even? I can’t find my Christmas ramekins (Because I really need those!). I tell myself that when I finish the shopping, the decorating, and the endless lists, I will then have time to sit and wait for Jesus. To wait to hear the voice of God. To hear the knock at the door.  Am I more concerned about my door decorations than the One who is standing at the door and knocking?

I’ve been thinking a good deal about Mary during this Advent season, about how she spent that first Christmas. We are not told much about how she prepared for her baby. All we really know is that she had swaddling clothes. And Joseph. How did he prepare to become the earthly father of God? I don’t think Mary and Joseph “did” Christmas; Christmas was done to them. They received it. And what a glorious Christmas it was. A birth announcement like none other, sung by a heavenly choir from a sky that was radiant with the glory of God.

What if God wants to give Christmas to us this year? Instead of all our frantic activity, what would it be like if we waited for His gift of Christmas? Waiting. That is what Advent is all about. Waiting for Jesus. What would it look like if we really received Christ, in all of His fullness, into our hearts this year? Instead of packing Jesus away until Easter, what if we kept Him alive every day of the year? What if, like Mary, we said, “yes” to his will for our lives? What if we like Joseph were willing to put aside all our plans for our lives, our preconceived ideas about how things should be, and obey the voice of God?

What if we become truly willing to carry and deliver Christ to a lost and hurting world? Jesus is standing at the door and knocking (Rev. 3:20). What if we become truly willing to carry and deliver Christ to a lost and hurting world? Jesus is standing at the door and knocking.  Am I willing to put aside my ideas of how Christmas should be, willing to sit and wait? Bonhoeffer reminds me that if I want the greatest, most profound and most precious things, I must wait. I will not find those things in all the hustle and bustle, the business of Christmas. They are not at the mall, not in the boxes of decorations stored in the attic, and not in any electronic “cart” at an Amazon checkout. I will find them in waiting.  God forbid that I should keep Jesus waiting!  Waiting and knocking at the door of my heart!

Oh, Father, we ask You, the Giver of all good gifts, to create Christmas in our hearts this year. We wait expectantly and like Mary, we say, “I am the Lord’s servant, and I am willing to accept whatever He wants.”  Forgive me for keeping you, the King of kings, waiting!

ANOTHER THANKSGIVING, ANOTHER TURKEY

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Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It occurs in autumn, my favorite season, and it’s all about family, food, and love. About the only shopping required for Thanksgiving takes place at the grocery store, and I even love grocery stores at this time of year. All those special seasonal foods.

As I was getting my dressing together this morning I was remembering past Thanksgivings and trying to remember how many Thanksgiving dinners I have prepared. How many times have I made that dressing? I’ve cooked a LOT of turkeys!  I can’t remember many Thanksgivings from my childhood. Of course that was a LONG time ago. I do remember having Thanksgiving with my grandparents and my cousins a time or two, but as time went by I can’t remember Thanksgiving being an especially big deal. Broken families sometimes make for difficult holidays. I’m sure we must have done something for Thanksgiving because my dad was a fabulous cook. This happened out of necessity because my mother had neither the skill or the inclination to boil water. But that was our gain, because Daddy had an interest in cooking and an adventurous palate. His meals were the best! I guess that is where my love of cooking began.

So after Jerry and I married at the very tender age of nineteen (smart!), I wanted to tackle a turkey. It’s a good thing I didn’t try it at Thanksgiving because I caught it on fire. Turkey flambé! Gosh who knew there were bags of really gross stuff inside those cavities? So I’m thinking the first couple of Thanksgivings we must have had with Jerry’s family.  On our first Thanksgiving we went to Jerry’s Aunt Mary and Uncle Sam Lomonaco’s house with the Italian Carona family. That’s when I made the happy discovery that some people have lasagna and spaghetti with their turkey. Awesome!

It didn’t take many years for me to start preparing the Thanksgiving meal.  I don’t know how many Thanksgiving dinners I have made. I’m guessing around 40 or so, maybe more. When we moved into our first house I wanted to have Thanksgiving at our new house. In the beginning, I didn’t do it every year, but after a while it became mine to host and I loved it. We would have my grandparents, Jerry’s parents and sometimes his sister and her family. Many times my two great aunts, Una and Tess would join us as well as my Uncle Arthur when he was in town. There were times when my siblings and their families would join us, and a few times when we went to their homes. One of my funniest memories was the time I stopped up the sink and water from the garbage disposal, complete with bits of broccoli and onion, was backing up through my washer! As luck would have it, my brother-in-law owned a plumbing company. He went back home and got his snake and climbed on the roof to snake out the pipes. It was one of those Dallas days that started off warm but a “blue norther” came blowing in while he was on the roof and he just about froze!

 

A few years ago my daughter moved into her new home, and asked if I would mind if she hosted.   Are you kidding me? I’d love for you to host. Please take the torch! I am mostly ready to pass it on to the next generation. But this year I asked to have it back again. I guess I’m not quite ready to give up being the hostess. And like I said, I love Thanksgiving.

 

So this year as I make our traditional favorites, I thank God for my family. There are 19 of us now and we will all be together except for Kaylee and Austin who will be with his family. I now have to share my children and grands. I’m thankful for those who have passed on and for those who are still with us. I’m so thankful for our children and for this new generation, our grandchildren, and even thinking about those babies that are hopefully still to come. I’m thankful for our extended family and for our friends who have become family. Most of all, I’m thankful that I get to spend another Thanksgiving with my husband, the patriarch of our ever expanding family. There were some frightening days when I didn’t know if he would live to see another holiday. We tell each other almost daily (once in awhile we might forget), “We got another day.” So thankful for another turkey to roast, a table to set, and a family to gather round.

 

 

THE EMPTY CHAIR

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The following is a letter my friend Cathy wrote to some of her friends who have recently lost their mothers.  She gave me permission to share it.  I know too many of my friends are facing an empty chair this Thanksgiving.  You have lost parents and grandparents, spouses, and even children.  Please know I am thinking and praying for you all, even as I type these words.  You are not alone.

THE EMPTY CHAIR

The holidays are coming . . . and I dread the “empty chair”.

You are receiving this letter because you are my friend and we share a common bond. We are each one of six who have experienced the passing of our mother and walked with her through death this past year.

For all of us this has not been a sudden event, rather a long and plodding journey we have travelled with our mothers inch by inch. This journey has brought emotions and questions as each of our mother’s health and function declined and we could see the end coming. In moments of angst and suffering we would wonder when the end would come and yet . . . we embraced her at every turn not wanting to let go. And then . . . we knew the end was near.

As my mother came closer and closer to death in her final weeks, I felt more and more the presence of God. I prayed for His grace and mercy for her soul and mine. Death is a most sacred time . . . a time no one can completely understand, but you know God is near and your loved one is transitioning into the life after death. For all of us this is part of the human experience, we know it is coming, but it takes on a much deeper meaning when you sit by the bedside of the mother you love. You know God is there as you witness the spiritual mystery when her soul leaves her body like a whisper in the quiet of the night. She is gone.

Now after several weeks, I still reflect often on my mother’s life and her passing. And now . . . the holidays are coming and I face the “empty chair”.

As the holidays approach I hope to embrace the gift of the “empty chair”. I know from the life my mother lived that I am worthy of receiving and giving love, joy, and generosity. I know my mother faced challenges, difficult decisions, and made mistakes in her life and yet she endured. She never gave up, but kept on keeping on. This remembrance inspires me to do the same . . . forgive others and yes also myself, when I am weak to remember I can be strong, and know I can be kinder and gentler, more compassionate and empathetic to others.

The empty chair also reminds me of the depth of love within my family and the reason to keep that love alive and make it even richer. I am also reminded of the love of friends and how that love blesses my life and how I want to be that kind of friend to bless others. And . . . walking with my mother and witnessing her death reminds me to turn to a more consistent life of prayer and dependence on God embracing His love and mercy.

All of our mothers lived long lives and they endured and pressed on. And now . . we have the “empty chair”. We have been left with many gifts from the “empty chair” and It is our time to press on, to reflect and examine our own lives and genuinely embrace the joy and pain of life, allowing it to mold us into a better person, one filled with love and hope, kindness and understanding.

As you and your family gather, I pray you, my friend, have holidays filled with an abundance of love and joy and remember the gift of the “empty chair”. Yes there will be tears, but through these tears we have received many gifts.

Keep on “keeping on” my friends . . . and know I will be thinking of you and your family during this holiday season. I am sending abundant wishes for a Happy Thanksgiving and Christmas season with prayers for comfort and peace.

Lovingly,

Cathy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BAKER MAYFIELD, PART 2: A CAUTIONARY TALE

 

 

Listen up boys and girls, and all of us older adults too. There are lessons for all of us from Saturday’s game. Who would have thought the OU-Kansas game would garner so much attention? On Friday of last week I was watching a college football talk show (yes, I actually watch them) and someone was asking Paul Finebaum what Sunday’s headline would be. I’m thinking some upset, although with it being Cupcake Saturday there didn’t seem to be much likelihood of that happening. If the news were to be about Baker Mayfield, surely it would be about some record-breaking statistic. Well Baker Mayfield was the story and he is still the headline on Monday. Driving to my 6:30 AM hair appointment this morning, the radio buzz was still about “the incident.” So what are the take-homes from Saturday?

1. Baker Mayfield. Be better than that. Yes I know the Kansas captains disrespected you, I know there was a lot happening under those dog piles, and yes I cringed at that cheap shot that happened late in the second quarter. That should have been a targeting penalty. I get it and support that you always play with a good deal of emotion and moxie. And I also understand when you get all that adrenalin and testosterone flowing it’s hard to put on the brakes. But you are Baker Mayfield. You are the face of the Sooner Nation right now, the presumed winner of the Heisman Trophy, an award that is given for “pursing excellence with integrity.” A first round draft pick. You must be better. You are held to a higher standard than other players, especially the Kansas players. We love watching you play, but we are all a little concerned about your bad boy behavior. It’s time to grow up. Don’t be a Johnny Manziel, and you are getting dangerously close. Be a Manning. Be a J. J. Watt. Be a Tim Tebow. You must get used to having this big target on your back because it’s only going to get bigger. Do you think your first day at pro camp is going to be a group sing of Kum Ba Yah? Even your own teammates are going to try to knock that chip off your shoulder. Get used to it. By the way, thank you for your apologies. One can hope they are sincere.

2. Kansas. Do something about your football program! Right now your football team is the sacrificial lamb that allows you to play big boy basketball. If you are going to be Division 1 start acting like it. Put some money and effort into your program. I can only imagine how your players feel being the perennial joke of the Big 12. Everyone’s creampuff game. It’s easy to understand why they are so frustrated, why they resort to unsportsmanlike behavior. And also, please teach them good sportsmanship. One can hope that the refusal to shake hands didn’t come from the coach. Thank you Kansas players for the apologies. No more targeting!

3. Fans (including me). This is the hard one. Are we expecting too much from a bunch of college kids? We get so caught up in it all, and I’m the first one to proclaim how much fun college football is. Those of us who are big fans get caught up in a concept psychologist refer to as BIRG-ing. Basking In Reflected Glory. We say things like “We won!” or “We played a good game,” as if WE actually had something to do with it. When our team wins we feel great, but when we lose it feels bad. I have to admit; Saturday’s game left a bad taste in my mouth. It didn’t even feel like a win. Baker Mayfield has been my boy. But I had to put my cardboard Baker Mayfield in time out. He disappointed me.

So here is what God has been telling me. Our small group recently studied the book of Exodus, and the Ten Commandments. It struck me that my cardboard Baker Mayfield might be my graven image. While I don’t actually worship the Sooners or Baker Mayfield, am I giving them something that belongs to God? Has football become too important to me, too high on my list of priorities? Maybe football is not your obsession, but most of us could insert something else here. Instead of thanking God for our blessings, do we become too preoccupied with them, even to the point of worship? It can be sports heroes, celebrities, clothes, money, houses, career, politics, church buildings, prestige, and anything else that we ‘worship.” What captures our attention, our love, our time, and our money? Have I crossed some spiritual line here? I hope not. But this is where BIRG-ing becomes idolatry. If I am getting a sense of accomplishment, well-being, or self worth from my team or from any of the things mentioned above, I am committing idolatry. And God takes idolatry very seriously. The only reflected glory I should be basking in is the glory of Jesus Christ. He is my hero. I pray that I keep all my pastimes in their proper place. And I keep reminding myself that it’s just football. But oh my goodness it sure is fun!

You must not make for yourself an idol (graven image, KJV) of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. Exodus 20:4.

No longer will you need the sun to shine by day, nor the moon to give its light by night, for the LORD your God will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. Isaiah 60:19

BAKER MAYFIELD’S IMPOSSIBLE DREAM

 

hi-res-02a69cff4047e59f556c0d6d2d282ac0_crop_northIf you have known me for any length of time at all, you know that I am a huge Oklahoma Sooner football fan, and this year especially, an even bigger Baker Mayfield fan. I just love watching that kid play football. He plays with so much joy and enthusiasm…it’s contagious. I even like that he plays with moxie, swagger, and a little bit of a chip on his shoulder. And talent! He has a serious arm. Can we just go ahead and start working on a new statue for OU’s Heisman Plaza?

So I was listening to an interview he was doing recently and something he said really resonated with me. He said he just believes in himself. And the way he said it was not arrogant or narcissistic. He was just stating a fact. He believes in himself. He just doesn’t accept “no.” He has audacity.

When people told him he was too small to be a quarterback (and he was!), he just kept on throwing bullets. When he showed up for football practice as a Lake Travis freshman, he was only 5”2” and barely 100 pounds. But he had an arm and he had a belief in himself. Even after leading his team to a state championship as a senior, he still got little respect. He wasn’t what the big colleges would consider Division 1 quarterback material. No scholarship? No problem. I’ll just walk on. Win the starting position, but still no scholarship? I’ll walk on somewhere else. Maybe 14-year old Baker Mayfield dreamed of winning a Heisman, but I imagine no one else could see it within his reach at that time. In psychology we call that self-efficacy, and it’s a healthy quality to possess.

Psychologist Albert Bandura has spent much of his career researching how people are able to shape their own futures through human agency, the belief in their own capabilities to produce desired effects by their actions. It is the understanding that I have some degree of control in obtaining a desired outcome and preventing an undesired one.

People with self-efficacy are quick to recognize and take advantage of opportunities that present themselves, and they find ways to get around obstacles. Baker Mayfield had a big obstacle to get around at Oklahoma. Starting quarterback Trevor Knight had led the Sooners in an “impossible” victory over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl just a few weeks before Mayfield made his decision to come to Oklahoma. People thought he was crazy. He would have no chance to start. But he just refused to listen to the naysayers, to accept the impossibility of his dream.

Self-efficacy is not the same thing as self-esteem. My sense of self worth is different and independent of my abilities. For example, I can’t dance. I’d love to be able to, but I look like an ironing board with feet on the dance floor. No rhythm. But the fact that I can’t dance does not change my value as a person.

One of the problems I see in my psychology practice is the ways in which people relinquish control over their lives. And they do this without realizing it. I hear it all the time. “I can’t be okay unless Person X does Thing Y.” She needs to apologize. He must stop drinking. They must like and accept me. Maybe all these things should happen, but the reality is they might not. We have no control over the actions of others. We only have control over our own thoughts and behaviors. Waiting for someone else to take some action in order for us to be happy is giving away our power. It is putting our happiness and well being squarely in the hands of someone else.

Then there are some people who have no sense of self-efficacy. “I could never do that.” Maybe someone has told them that or maybe someone has always done things for them. It’s learned helplessness. But just because you have never done it before doesn’t mean you can’t do it. It just means you haven’t done it yet.

For me, as a Christian, my sense of self-efficacy begins with my faith in Jesus. That sounds contradictory on its face. Self-efficacy is not the same as self-reliance. I’m totally reliant on Jesus Christ, but I believe He will equip me to do what He calls me to do. When I am walking by faith I am not weighed down by personal doubt and by the “what ifs.” Yes, Jesus still performs miracles, He still delivers. But more often He commands me to take up my mat and walk. And being able to take up my mat and walk is a miracle in itself. The same grace that saved me equips and enables me. So maybe a better term for Believers is spiritual efficacy, the belief that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” (Philippians 4:13).

So as I’m writing about Baker Mayfield, I’m remembering another guy who was too small and too young to kill a giant. He didn’t command a lot of respect. But he believed in his ability. He had been training for this day his entire young life. And most importantly he believed in his God. You know how the story goes. Against all odds, David killed the giant with just a slingshot and a stone.

How big are your giants? Maybe God has been preparing you for just this moment. You can do this! How big is your God? With Him, nothing is impossible.

“Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult for Me?” Jer. 32:27.

 

“Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God,” 2 Cor. 3:5.

 

ALL THE LAWS WE CANNOT KEEP

 

It happened on our last vacation. We were somewhere in Wyoming I think, driving through some tiny little town. Jerry looked in the rear view mirror and saw the flashing lights no one wants to see. We were getting pulled over. “Were we speeding?” the four of us wondered. Maybe we were getting stopped for something else. We were in a rental car with Colorado plates. Maybe they were expired. The officer took his time getting out of his car, strode up to Jerry’s window and bellowed, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING SPEEDING THROUGH MY TOWN?” Wow. What a bully! It didn’t feel like we were speeding. It was such a small town we didn’t even remember seeing a sign.

 

He was talking to Jerry, saying a few more things that I couldn’t hear so I lowered my window. Big mistake. “PUT THAT WINDOW BACK UP!” Yikes! I immediately complied but the officer kept glaring at me. It crossed my mind that he might pull out a gun and shoot me. Much later I realized that he might have thought the same thing about me. Law enforcement officers never know when a routine stop might turn deadly. But I didn’t know the rule about not lowering the window. And don’t shout at me!

 

He went back to his patrol car to write the ticket while we were all wondering how big the ticket was going to be. I just knew he was going to stick it to us since we were out-of-towners. None of us could believe it when he walked back to the car and gave us a mere warning. His whole demeanor had changed. Now he’s a walking ad for the Chamber of Commerce. What was all that bullying and

blustering about? I guess he decided to show us mercy.

 

I k now there are people who have driven their entire lives without ever getting a ticket. I’m not one of them. I don’t intend to, I just occasionally break the law. Just the other day I accidentally ran a red light. Yikes! I’m lucky it didn’t happen at a busy intersection. I just spaced out; I didn’t mean to run it.

 

The reason I am writing about this is because our small group at church has been studying the book of Exodus and discussing the Ten Commandments. At first glance most of us can feel pretty self-righteous about those commandments. They seem pretty simple. Don’t kill. Check. Don’t commit adultery. I’m good on that one. I remember years ago seeing a cartoon of a man and a woman who was probably his wife leaving church where the sermon title, “The Ten Commandments” was posted at the door. The man was saying to his wife, “At least I haven’t made any graven images.”

Here’s the thing. When you read Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, you realize you have probably broken most if not all of them. Have I committed murder? No. But I’ve said unkind things about others, murdered their reputation and assassinated their character. Have I ever told a lie? We call them white lies to make it sound better. I remember cheating on a spelling test in the seventh grade (I got caught). I stole someone else’s answer. I still feel bad about that. What we see on prime time television would have been called pornography not so many years ago. And those graven images? We still have them. Big houses, fancy degrees, our 401Ks. While there is nothing wrong with those things, if we see in them security and fulfillment they become graven images. God wants us to trust Him alone for our security and fulfillment, not our shares of Apple.

 

Our small group teacher asked us why the Ten Commandments were given and what relevance they have to us today. We came up with lots of answers, but for me, those commandments show me how desperately I need a savior. I can’t keep those laws. I want to keep them, and hopefully I do a better job than I did as a young woman, but I can’t keep them because I am a sinner. And the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).

 

I’m glad God knows my heart and He has provided a Way. That Way is Jesus. Here is the entirety of Romans 6:23: For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. I can’t get to God by keeping the Ten Commandments. So God in His great mercy sent a Savior to come down to me and pay the price of my sins.

 

If you read a little further in the book of Exodus you will see that the Israelites were instructed to build a tabernacle. And in that tabernacle they were to place a box called The Ark of the Covenant. Inside that box, they placed the stone tablets, the Ten Commandments. But the beautiful part of the story is that God told them to put a gold lid on the box. This was called the mercy seat, the place where God declares, “There I will meet with you.” God’s mercy covering God’s laws. Such a beautiful picture of Jesus. He knew we couldn’t keep those laws, so in His mercy He sent His Son. Christ is our mercy seat! And through Him, we can meet with God.