Brownies and a Dime (or A Little Bit of Sin) by Beth Smith

Brownies Michelle Tsang via unsplash.comI love this story about “a little bit of sin.” Two teenagers wanted to see the latest movie, one their father was quite sure was inappropriate.

“There’s only a little bad language in it,” they pleaded. “There’s almost no violence, and, while they talk about sex, you never see any on screen.” The father was adamant. The teens were upset. Eyes were rolling. Grumbles were rumbling.

But this was a very creative dad who loved his children and wanted to make a point. He headed to the kitchen to bake a batch of brownies. The house was filled with the tantalizing aroma of the coming chocolate treat. The teens soon made their way to the kitchen, begging for brownies.

“Help yourself!” the father said, “But before you dig in, you should know that I added just a little bit of dog poop to the recipe. There’s not much. You won’t be able to see it. I’m pretty sure you won’t even taste it. It probably won’t hurt you a bit.  So go ahead. Have all you’d like.”[1]

They got the point. That’s the way sin is in our lives. It doesn’t matter how much or how little, it’s still there.

First John 1:10 says, “If we claim we have not sinned, we make him (God) out to be a liar and his word is not in us.” Fine! But how about those of us who have really messed up? Some of us have had this thought, “I’ve done so much wrong, really evil stuff. I know I’m beyond redemption, beyond forgiveness.” Not true! Those who are forgiven much love him all the more. None of us are beyond His forgiveness. We’re like the lost coin in the parable that Jesus told. Let me recount it for you.

Suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and carefully search until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15: 8-10 NIV).

The lost coin in this scripture was a silver drachma. It was probably only about the size of a dime, but it was worth about a day’s wages. It was worth the search! And we’re worth the search. If we’re feeling lost, either eternally or temporarily, we can be sure that God desires to find us and to help us find him. He searches for us and joyfully receives us.

Next time you see a dime, let it remind you to cry out, “Here am I, Lord. You’ve found me.”

 

Photo by Michelle Tsang via unsplash.com

[1] http://www.snopes.com/glurge/brownies.asp , accessed 6/2/2015 reported that, “Our earliest sighting of this item comes from a August 2001 web site posting, and it has since appeared in at least one gook. However, even in its earliest incarnation the author was not identified, which makes it difficult to determine whether the story is a true account or a work of fiction.”  This author found it uncredited on several websites.

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A Level Praying Field by Beth Smith

playing field Henrique Macedo via Unsplash.com
We’re all a lot more alike than we realize. For example, does your mind ever wander in church? Have you ever found yourself singing a praise song while asking yourself one of these questions?
  • What’s for lunch?
  • When is the game starting?
  • Why don’t we ever sing my favorite song?
  • Did I turn off the curling iron? (female)
  • Will there be doughnuts after the service today? (male)

Admit it! We’ve all had a few of those thoughts. One of my children, who shall remain nameless, said he (or she) wondered what it would be like if frogs jumped out of the baptismal bowl. I must admit I’ve never had that thought.

We also all have our differences. Our society tries to compensate for that. Consider the way kids choose up sides for a game. The best players get chosen first for each team in order to even up the talent. (Almost everyone I know claims to have felt the pain of being the last one chosen. I certainly have.)

We might also think there’s a spiritual playing field—a “Praying Field” run by God. (Maybe we fear we’ll be the last one chosen there as well.) Not true! God’s children are all of equal value in his eyes.

For God so loved the world…that whoever believes…” (John 3:16 NIV). We all receive his love. We are all “whoevers.”

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 NIV).  When we come to Him, when we accept his love, we all receive the same forgiveness and mercy.

The Lord…is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9 NIV). Somehow we fall into two ways of thinking about God’s ability and willingness to forgive us. We consider ourselves either too good to truly need it, or so bad that it couldn’t possibly work.

Listen! Sin is sin. We can’t enter into heaven with a single bit of it. We all need forgiveness. We’re on a level field. God offers all of us the same love and the same forgiveness. God equally desires each of us to be His own. As you go about your day today, I hope you’ll make a point of accepting God’s love and forgiveness and sharing it with those around you as well.

Photo by Henrique Macedo via Unsplash.com

Old Journals

journal Debby Hudson unsplash.com

Do you journal? If so, I hope that once in a while you pull an old one down and read what you wrote years ago. I’ve been doing that lately, remembering God’s moments of grace through happy times and sad, seeing where I’ve (finally!) learned a lesson that once befuddled me and, truth be told, discovering places where I’m still struggling with the same challenges about which I filled pages a decade ago.

Here are a few quotes from the Brenda of  2005:

“There is only panic when I set my own agenda.” (That’s right, folks, I’ve been working on letting God be in control for a long, long time!)

“The people who watch us notice the ‘little things’—the daily habits, etc., more than the big events of our lives.” (Just last week, a perfect stranger passed Steve and me on the sidewalk and said, “Oh, keep holding hands!”)

“One effective tool of forgiveness is to pray blessings on those I need to forgive.” (Ever have to work, really work, on letting go of an offense? This does help!)

And then, there’s this for all you romantics out there:

“Elizabeth and I are in Colorado to enjoy the preliminaries of a wedding. When asked to write advice on a card, I found there was so much I wanted to say!

I wrote:

  • Believe the best of one another always.
  • Take walks together often; they open up special opportunities for communication.
  • Say “yes” and “I love you” many times every day.
  • Tithe, and spend less than you make.

But I also wanted to say:

  • Expect and encourage the best of each other.
  • Follow all of God’s rules, but don’t put much stock in the ones man makes up.
  • Don’t buy a TV for at least a year. Discover better ways to rest and play together.
  • Be generous to one another.
  • Don’t “keep score’ of anything in your relationship.
  • Make all significant decisions as a team.
  • Point out each other’s strengths. Make up for each other’s faults.

What do your journals say? Or if you had one, what would you have written about your lessons of long ago? I’d love to hear, so please share!

 

photo by Debby Hudson
@dhudson_creative via Unsplash.com

The Snapping Duck

ducks annie spratt unsplash.comNick is a pro at feeding goats at petting zoos. Flat hand. Bravery. Gentle goats. No problem. Ducks are a different deal, as he discovered, and he can demonstrate the proper feeding technique now—throw the food. And if you ask him what happens when you do it the wrong way, he will stick out his index finger and say “Hurt you!” He wasn’t really injured and recovered quickly. The whole thing got me to thinking, though.

Nick learned—the hard way—that he can’t treat all animals the same way, even when he’s trying to be kind to them. Don’t we need to learn the same lesson when it comes to how we treat other people? Most parents would be quick to tell us how they have to take each child’s needs and characteristics into consideration as they relate to them each day. Surely adults aren’t any different.

But we live in a rushed society, and one-size-fits-all is faster. Today I’m trying to internalize the lesson I learned from the ducks and the goats, and from Nick. Look before you leap—or feed, or speak or…Take time to look people in the eye and listen to their voices and to assess who they are and what they need. Then respond, sometimes slowly. Some people need advice. Others need a listening ear, or silent companionship, or a true promise of prayer coverage, or a simple meal…But we don’t all need the same thing.

And a corollary lesson for me: Sometimes, if I get it wrong, perhaps by moving too fast or making an assumption too quickly, I’ll get snapped at. That duck was just doing what it thought it needed to do to eat, to survive if I stretch this analogy a bit. And so, when the response I receive isn’t the response I expect or think I deserve, well, maybe I can learn to take that in stride as I slow down and try to see the “snapper’s” point of view.

So, back to the Bible we go again: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another…” So many ways to do that! May God bless your efforts today.

 

Photo by Annie Spratt via unsplash.com.

Keep Austin Weird

austin wierd 4 4 18 pixabay

Georgetown is a far northern almost-suburb of Austin. A few months ago, I stepped out of an elevator and found myself face to face with a friendly woman wearing a bright pink T-shirt emblazoned with the words, “Keep Georgetown normal.” That’s not what most people say around here. The T-shirts I’m more likely to see say, “Keep Austin Weird.”

Yes, my friends, that’s the slogan for my new hometown! Does it mean I must be weird to live here? Probably. Truth be told, we’re all a little weird. I’ve heard a couple of great sermons lately reminding me that, in some ways, we’ve been called to be weird:

Give away money—even if the budget is tight. Who knows how God may use your “widow’s mite”? And many times, when we give, we get to see how God provides for our needs anyway. I’ve been reading about George Muller and the miraculous way he provided for thousands of orphans without ever asking anyone for money.

Give away time—even though life is busy. There’s time enough to do all God wants us to do. (Of course, we may be caught up in a few time-consuming pleasantries that aren’t really part of his plan. I have to keep looking for those and weeding them out.)

Forgive—even when there’s no apology. Apologize—even when it’s awkward. Forgiveness isn’t a suggestion. It’s a command. Bitter grudges only harm us and dim the joy God has for us. If our bodies kept every bruise we ever received, think what a physical mess we’d all be. In the same way, imagine the mess that would come from holding on to every hurt inflicted on our inner selves.

Submit to authority—even when we don’t agree. (I don’t mean we should submit to sin or sinful edicts, of course.) Silent submission may require great strength and courage. The Bible is full of ways God has honored this: Daniel, David, Joseph, Sarah…

Speak with kindness and respect—even when we’re angry. Perhaps this is what “In your anger do not sin” means for many of us.

So, as I close, I’m wondering if there’s a market for T-shirts that say, “Keep Believers Weird.” No? In that case, I hope you’ll simply keep that slogan in the back of your mind this week, smiling as you follow Christ—even if that makes you weird.

 

Black Tea

heart bear pixabay 1 10 18

Happy Valentine’s Day to all of you, but especially to my husband, who never complains as I write about our lives on a public platform. (Thank you, my love!) Before I relate the story below, let me applaud the way he takes my teasing—and this blog—with humor and grace. Even after four plus decades (we were very young when we met) of friendship, we miscommunicate on occasion. Here’s one of our latest faux pas.

 

Elizabeth had flown from California to Texas to celebrate Christmas. The two hour time change was wearing on her a bit, as was a bout with a cold and the fatigue of a busy week. Having never been a coffee drinker, she asked me to add a caffeinated tea to my Christmas grocery list. I had a looonggg list, and managed to come home with a trunkful of culinary delights, including many flavors of delicious tea, but not her caffeinated request.

The next day was baking day, and we discovered a few needed items were missing. My loving husband offered to make the run to Kroger, so I added black tea to the list, sure that he would enjoy choosing a delicious flavor for our much loved child.

Oops.

Steve came home with everything on the shopping list, proud of himself for discovering that Lipton makes huge boxes of plain black tea bags that average about a nickel a serving. Yeah, that wasn’t what I had in mind. I was expecting something with pumpkin or spice or at least bergamot.

The most gracious thing I could have done, of course, would have been to drop the subject altogether. (Too much to hope for, my friends.) Instead, I teased him a bit about his frugal but boring choice. I chuckled and went on with my baking, having cited the wise writers of Driver’s Ed in a Box who taught me years ago that, when there is miscommunication, the fault generally lies with she who speaks, not he who listens, as nobody wants to misunderstand on purpose. There was no harm done. Son-in-law Jake brought home wonderful tea soon thereafter. I now have a lot of plain black tea in my pantry at home.

What does this story have to do with living as the Lord would have us to? Simply this. We need to get along. To cut each other slack. To take the blame ourselves. To swallow pride. To put up with inconvenience. To encourage one another. Petty grievances, and the discord they can create, are as old as the hills. Cain and Abel. (Okay, that’s a little extreme.) Euodia and Syntyche (Check out their story here in Philippians 4.)

Peace on earth? It really does begin with you and me. And now is as good a time as any to get started!