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Seeking to See – Glimmer or Grand Illumination?

IMG_9870Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and rich. He sought to see who Jesus was, but could not on account of the crowd. ~ Luke 19:1-3

“The thing that Zacchaeus wanted to do more than anything else that day was to see Jesus. He failed, partly because he was small of stature but mainly because the people around Jesus prevented his coming near.” (JWRilling)

***

I am walking through the darkening streets of Williamsburg, VA which is swimming with thousands of people who’ve come to celebrate the season’s Grand Illumination. The periphery of the street is punctuated by torches set ablaze, and each has people gathered around to warm their hands and faces as the temperatures drop. A friend and I make our way down the middle of DOG (Duke of Gloucester) street. We are strolling down memory lane, having been roommates here at the college some years back, and have agreed to watch for horse droppings that were liberally distributed earlier in the day which are becoming increasingly hard to avoid in the dim light.

But one thing people do avoid are the “street preachers.” These, as did those in colonial days, stand elevated above the crowd by stools or steps, proclaiming scripture verses and Bible teaching. Not offensive. Not, you’re gonna rot in hell. Not, repent or die. Compared to John the Baptist at the Jordan, these guys are tame! They just speak words of the truth as they know it. And all the people give them wide berth.

Who, on this festive night, amid the splendid decorations and colonial costumes and fabulous fireworks, wants to listen to all that?!

My companion and I take note of this. In a sea of people crowding the street, there is a broad empty space left for these voices to have their say without ringing in the ears. She and I, both of short stature, did not have any difficulty seeing or hearing. We sped on by.

Full of hot cider and good cheer and with the booms of fireworks ringing in our ears, we retrace our steps along DOG street, retreating to the car parked several blocks away. Most of the other visitors are doing the same, some pushing wheelchairs, some holding the hands, some wheeling wagons, some are very, very merry. Many, it seems to me, are likely students at the college, taking a break from their studies before final exams.

As the crowd starts to thin we see a lone figure ahead, clad in long sleeve t-shirt and loose fitting, lightweight pants. “He looks cold,” says my friend. And that does make us both take notice. A very tall, lean, young man is standing, still and silent in the center of the road at the barricade to street traffic. He stares straight ahead. Is he looking for someone? waiting to meet a companion? Is he stationed there as security? None of these guesses seems quite right.

We draw closer, but his expression doesn’t change. The look on his face is neither bored nor amused. He doesn’t smile or frown. He does not pull out a cell phone. That, in itself, distinguishes him from nearly every other pedestrian. When I get close enough, I see that his t-shirt has handwritten letters across the front.

“SEEK

                    HIM”

is scrawled in all caps on the front of his plain white t-shirt. He, as a silent sentry has drawn my attention and piqued my curiosity. How, on a very cold nearly winter’s night, could he be standing there like that? Stock still. Expressionless. I can’t help glancing back in mute amazement at the figure as we pass. On the back, in the same handwriting, the shirt reads:

“AND

                  LIVE.”

What do we do, in the name of Jesus, that prevents others’ coming near?

What might we do, in His name, to draw them near so they might truly live?

Grand Illumination, indeed.

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What would Jesus Tweet?

“Your words were a blessing.”

It may have been the timing or the delivery or the situation, I don’t know. They were just words, my words, on a card or letter. Not flowery or lovely or well-heeled, but offered sincerely whenever I felt the nudge to write. After I had heard this blessing-thing from a few people, I began to wonder… If my words were received as a blessing, then God was in that. I owed it to God to become the best writer I could.

I signed up for one online course and then another, attended workshops and went to conferences, formed a writers group and began blogging. I had, for years, written regularly in my journals, but this new writing was different. It was public. Out there to be critiqued, challenged, berated and/or celebrated. No controlling what other people say once you punch that send button.

But sending out was exactly what I needed. Being at the mercy of public opinion, especially honest and trusted opinion, required me to risk. Risk spurred me to write well, or at least as well as I could, and then to receive what came back and give it its proper due.

Fit2Finish coverThis week, I held in my hands the very first copy of my very first book. Congratulations and well-wishes abound, celebrating my accomplishment. And it is. The work of a whole career and the lessons of a lifetime have shaped that book. It’s tempting to be proud. Proud of the work, proud of the success, proud of the adulation. Why not take a bow?

But from the pinnacle it is easy to lose one’s balance. Shouting from the mountaintops “I published a book!!!!” would echo from canyon to canyon. What a great symphony that would be! And that’s what the book-people tell you to do. Establish a platform and get it out on social media. Post it to Facebook; share it on Linked In; tweet it from the mountaintop!

But we’re not meant to build on the mountaintop. Peter got laughed off the Mount of Transfiguration for offering to build three tabernacles. How silly we are to think of making our permanent residence here.

Still, why didn’t Jesus make a bit more noise from the mountaintop? I mean, think about the distance those teachings would travel and the multitudes who would hear. What a splash He could have made on Twitter! But that wasn’t His way. When He was surrounded by many He shoved off in a boat to address the crowd. Why use a boat when you can walk on water?!! Because He didn’t want that kind of attention.

Recently, Cara, the young daughter of a dear friend convicted me in this. Cara is 5 years old, I think. Her mom was telling me how Cara had stopped the swimming instructor before her turn to swim from the wall because, first, she had to pray.

“He tells me to pray to him, so I do what he tells me,” Cara says, then repeats the swim lesson prayer for me: “Dear God, thank you for soccer camp and swim lessons. Amen.”

“What does God sound like?” I have to ask. I mean, how can I pass up an opportunity to question an eye witness?

She cocks her head and thinks for a minute, remembering. “He’s quiet, kind of whispering to me,” she says.

“Why do you think He’s so quiet?”

“If he was loud, everybody would look and shout and point…” she explains, matter-of-factly. An older child would have added, “duh,” but older children don’t seem to hear quite so clearly.

I was immediately dumb-struck. What this child was telling me made perfect sense. God speaks in whispers in order NOT to draw attention to Himself. Of course He does, because God is perfect in everything, including humility. Perfectly humble.

There is no pride there. No shouting from the mountaintop, even though His message is the most important of all time, essential for every single soul to hear. He leaves its expression to us to unfold in our lives and our conversations because that’s where it takes on new life.

Fit2Finish: Keeping Soccer Players in the Game is the title of my new book. I have tweeted and Face-booked and will invite my email contacts to opt in to the newsletter to find out more. That’s the way things get done on the mountaintop. But in the valley I expect the real message will get conveyed person to person in quiet whispers, friendly conversations, and a team talk or two.

Leave no doubt

What if we forget? What if we don’t get around to it? What if we’re afraid?…to tell them…until it’s too late.

I live among the self-sufficient. Everybody’s “got this.” “I’m good,” they say. They don’t need my help, don’t entertain my suggestion, don’t want my advice. In fact, accepting help taints their ‘I can do this myself’ capacity, the capability we pride ourselves with here in America, land of the free, home of the brave. Independence is where we stake our claim.

So, if I want them to know that there may be another approach or a new way, I am told I should ‘lead by example.’ That is acceptable, inoffensive and safe. If they notice, good. If not, well I’ve shown them. It’s not my job to turn them around.

But what if what I do is “not do”? That is, what if I choose to withhold my words or resist action? This really leaves the door open to all sorts of supposition. People may surmise, “Oh, she’s such a wimp.” Or, “She lets them get away with everything.” Or even accuse, “Why doesn’t she come to their defense?”

Here, I credit the Positive Coaching Alliance who suggests that we be sure to ‘tell them why you did what you did.’ This is especially true when our actions are silent. Speaking dispels misunderstanding. We don’t do it to tout what we did or draw attention to ourselves, but rather to be clear. And, to open the door for conversation and discussion. Why? What were you thinking? How did you decide this? What will you do now? Would you do that again? All valid questions. All essential so they can consider it for themselves. What would they have done if they were in my shoes?

And if, as has happened all too often, my actions were not what I wish to have conveyed, now I have  a forum to talk about that, too. “I shouldn’t have said that and next time I will do this…”

So many of us, though, shy away from this conversation. We want to let our actions speak so we don’t have. We like to quote the old standard of St. Francis “Preach the gospel at all times, and when absolutely necessary, use words.” Certainly yes. We don’t want to invade someone with overbearing expressions. Too many have used fear and force to do this. We would do well to be gentler, but we are challenged to go and tell.

Is it cowardly just to witness with my ways and let them draw their own conclusions? Am I hiding in plain sight, choosing to keep quiet about my faith lest someone might catch me doing something unChristian and call me out? Are we people who hide behind our good deeds and figure that’s good enough for God? Or are we meant to risk letting the Jesus show so that when we explain the why behind what we did or the why not behind what we didn’t, we testify to the truth.

I just love people who get creative about it. In fact, I am grateful because they give me ammunition and impetus to challenge myself to speak faith in a way that those who might not yet know the Lord will be tempted to consider Him. Now here’s someone who speaks it in style. 370Z style.

What message are we leaving behind?

How about this guy? He drives around with the message on his plate. I posted it to my Facebook page. Why not? Easter is coming. A harmless question … for the win. But I had better “be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks (me) to give the reason for the hope that (I) have.” (1 Peter 3:15) I have found that the right word is rarely as important as the timely word.

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