Melt

When “winter weather” threatens Pennsylvania, people get real excited. Weather reports and warnings flood our screens, grocery stores are mobbed with shoppers preparing for the worst, and everything shuts down.

We (former) *Vermonters*, however, like to sit back and laugh. Because where we grew up a little bit of snow was just a little bit of snow!

Last week, we woke up to a fresh coating of white and like true (former) *Vermonters* we looked out and said, “No big deal!” While others may have been out shoveling and clearing, we did nothing. When we walked through the ½ inch of powder to the cars on our very sloped driveway, we thought, “What’s a little snow? It’s just going to melt soon anyway!”

Until that evening when that fresh coating, which had partially melted during the day, froze to form a sheet of ice!

You would love to have had a hidden camera on our driveway over the next couple of days. Getting us and our kids and our stuff in and out of our cars while using all of our grip strength to avoid landing on our backs was a sight to be seen. The funny thing is, it wouldn’t have taken that long to walk the 20 feet into the carport, grab a cup of ice-melting rock salt from the bag and fix the problem!

But we’re *Vermonters* remember?

(Or maybe we’re just lazy 😜)

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As humans, we are prone to taking this (former) *Vermonter* approach to our hearts. We know something might not be quite right, but it doesn’t seem like a big deal, and surely it will go away soon! The development of dangerous hardness in our hearts (see last week’s post) isn’t something we ever see coming.

Thankfully, God hasn’t left us alone to figure it out – He’s given us churches full of friends to become our hard-heart-melting rock salt.

The idea of using salt to melt ice is has always confused me. When the salt is spread, it comes in contact with the wet outer layer of the ice and dissolves. In that process, it (somehow) lowers the freezing temperature of the molecules it comes in contact with, and with the freezing temperature lowered, the ice is ‘tricked’ into melting at that lower temperature. Not a scientific explanation, I know, but that’s how I see it 😉

A salty friend “sticks” (Proverbs 18:24) close, but not just for their own benefit. They are studiers of “you” and it’s through them and their outside perspective that God’s loving “truth” (Ephesians 4:15) is sprinkled on your heart. The truth may feel like a “wound” (Proverbs 27:6) because at first it feels cold, but that’s where the melting process begins.

A salty friend is someone who gets you but doesn’t always agree with you.

A salty friend cares about you, but also cares enough to gently nudge you off your high-horse when the frost of pride is settling in.

A salty friend dreams with you about what could be, but is also willing to burst your bubble when you might be taking on too much.

A salty friend listens to you vent, but ends the conversation by reminding you how much you have to be thankful for.

A salty friend listens, but doesn’t hesitate to interrupt and point out that your view of a situation has excluded trust in the God who is above it all.

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If you want to know if a storm is coming to our area, you don’t need to check the weather forecast, you just need to take a drive and see if they’ve “sprayed” the roads with salt brine yet. Science and the transportation authorities have figured out that prevention of the freeze is the best way to remedy it!

When it comes to hard hearts, prevention of the freeze by talking regularly with a salty friend is the best remedy.

Building intentional friendships with other believers is all kinds of hard. It can be awkward and bring out the *middle-schooler* in us. It can take longer for these friendships to develop than we think it should and the process requires extra flexibility as our seasons constantly shift. You may wonder if you really even need this in your life!

But you do. The stuff in your heart may seem like a little bit of powder, but the hidden camera on your driveway is revealing a different story!

If you have a salty friend, thank them today.

If not, what’s one step you can take toward making that happen?

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Frozen

When it’s 75° and sunny, I have lots of motivation to get out of the house and go for a run. When it’s 50° and cloudy, I can still muster up some enthusiasm. But when it’s 30° or below I need supernatural power – or at least someone else to drag me out the door 😉

This winter, I have someone to do just that! Tim and I have set a goal to do at least one trail run a week – regardless of the temperature and weather conditions (😱). Motivated by a bucket list of trails we want to complete, we’ve braved the cold and succeeded thus far.

Since winter in Pennsylvania = cold and damp, most trails require careful, slow maneuvering through sections of slippery mud and muck. So a few weeks ago when we set out on the Chapel Trail in Valley Forge and temperatures had just risen out of the 20’s, I was happy to see that all the mud on this shaded trail was frozen. This meant more running and less thinking, which was good because I just wanted to get this over with and get back in my warm house!

Unfortunately, my ankles reminded me that just because something is hardened doesn’t mean it’s solid or secure. Though mud is slippery, it does absorb your foot’s impact – which the crusty ridges and ruts of frozen trail-traffic do not!

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If you live in Pennsylvania, you know that temperatures at this time of the year are unpredictable. We usually hover in the 40’s, but it’s not unusual for us to drop, for several days, into the single digits.

And wherever you live, you know this is also true of our hearts. Our seasons and the atmospheric conditions they bring with them affect us more than we like to think and if we aren’t careful, the freeze can leave us hardened and crusty!

“Hard” hearts are present throughout Scripture and occur for several different reasons:

  • The Egyptian Pharaoh’s (Exodus 7-11) was the result of his refusal to acknowledge an authority higher than himself.
  • The Israelites’ (Psalm 95) was the product of disappointment after God didn’t do things the way they expected Him to.
  • For the “Gentiles” mentioned by Paul in Ephesians 4, it was denial that another being could have a say over their life of self-fulfillment and pleasure.
  • The disciples’ (Mark 6 & 8) came from an incomplete understanding of Jesus’ power over the forces of nature.

Hard hearts in the Bible were always the result of either unbelief or more specifically mis-belief in God’s nature or intentions. In most cases this hardness developed over time, in barely noticeable stages, as the heart slowly stopped absorbing truth, leaving its own truth to be preeminent.

When we think of “hard hearts” it’s easy to think of these Bible characters or even other people we know, but the whole thing with a hard heart is the subtle nature of the freeze. It happens when I allow a trust in my own authority and ability to make decisions to creep in, rather than regularly praying and submitting my will to God’s will. The frost permeates when I allow my life circumstances to speak louder to me than the Scriptures that speak of the nature of my God. The chill settles in when I stick a “not a big deal” label on my sin and decide I’m okay with “okay”. And the ice forms when I get so honed in on my own life that I limit my understanding of what God can do to my own experiences.

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Last year I began studying the book of John verse-by-verse, but because I believe it’s important to stay flexible, I took a break and did some other studies. I was excited to pick back up where I left off this January, and that excitement lasted… all of a few days. First came a passage I’ve studied and taught on many, many times, so I’m kind of over it. Second was a passage that seemed overly theologically complicated and not worth my time. And when I got through that, guess what? Another passage I’ve studied and taught on so.many.times.

My heart wants me to do the bare minimum, shut my Bible, and move on because “I already know all of this” and “Maybe I should look for something more exciting to study”. But I also know that this is exactly how those crusty ridges and ruts begin to form. Even if I’m not learning something super new and cool (or finding something I can write a super new and cool blog post about 😉), the interaction of my heart with God’s Word is keeping it warm and absorbent!

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Presence

When my friend Sue and I drove away from the Las Vegas airport headed for a tour of the National Parks of Utah, I expected to be impressed. Though I grew up in the mountains of Vermont and had taken in many of the east coast’s best views, I’d heard from several sources: “You haven’t seen anything yet!”.

As we toured the parks, I was certainly impressed, but what I didn’t expect was that one of my most awe-inspiring moments would not be a mountain, but a giant slab of rock in the middle of the desert.

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From a distance, the sandstone “fins” in Arches National Park looked cool and I was excited to hike among them. We saw many spectacular things that day, but I’ll never forget the moment I stood at the bottom of this and looked up:

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I couldn’t help but stand there for a minute, soaking in the sheer enormity and overwhelming presence of this rock. It seemed to rise up forever and also seemed like it might lean over and crush me at any minute!

People are annoying. We all have habits, quirks, and mannerisms that drive each other crazy. And though chewing loudly, pronouncing words incorrectly, or being unaware of personal space can be irritating, it’s the addition of our natural lean towards sin that really irks each other. All sin can be narrowed down to self-focused, self-interested, self-fulfilling behavior – and man, do we hate it when other people are selfish!

We can (at times) dismiss the rude cashiers, slow drivers, or the hygienically-unaware, but when someone else’s self-interest interferes with or threatens our plans, desires, comfort, or well-being, our brains (and blood pressure!) go into high gear and we respond with judgment.

Jesus is pretty clear in his rebuke toward our judgy behavior:

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:1-2)

In order to survive as humans, we need to judge. If our minds did not have the ability to discern right and wrong at some level, we would be in danger of extinction! The problem is that we take the verb “judge” and switch it to the noun “judge” by marching up to the bench, sitting down, and slamming down our verdict. Eve’s temptation in Genesis 3 was the potential to “be like God, knowing good and evil” and, since then, we’ve all been born believing we are the ultimate authority on right and wrong.

Though we do have the potential to be “like” God in many ways (we can be loving, joyful, patient, kind, gentle, and good) there are some ways we will never be like Him. Abilities like creating something out of nothing, having power over the forces of nature, giving life, and judging in complete, unbiased truth are reserved for God and God alone. The Judge’s seat is taken, there is no jury, and no apprentice positions are available!

A few weeks ago, after several years of begging and pleading, one of my kids finally agreed to read through the Chronicles of Narnia with me. We’re reading in chronological order, so we began with the prequel to the series, “The Magician’s Nephew”.

In this story, Digory (the magician’s nephew) and his friend Polly accidentally land themselves in a strange, dark world just in time to experience Aslan the lion’s creation and introduction of life to Narnia. Unfortunately, Digory and Polly also accidentally bring with them the evil queen Jadis, whose presence threatens Narnia’s peace and beauty.

Aslan sends the children on a mission to retrieve an apple from a special tree and bring it back to him. In the garden, Digory is tempted by Queen Jadis to use the eternal life-giving apple for his own purposes, but (*SPOILER ALERT*) he resists and returns the fruit to Aslan in victory:

“Well done,” said Aslan in a voice that made the earth shake. Then Digory knew that all the Narnians had heard those words and that the story of them would be handed down from father to son in that new world for hundreds of years and perhaps forever. But he was in no danger of feeling conceited for he didn’t think about it at all now that he was face to face with Aslan.”*

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When I’m far away I might feel big, but when I’m close-up and looking up, there’s no chance of being high on me. Putting myself in the presence of the only One who is all-present, all-knowing, and all-righteous is the best way to be reminded that I am none of those things (and that I may, in fact, be at the top of someone else’s “annoying” list!).

Holy Spirit, overwhelm my mind with so much awe and wonder at the sheer enormity of Your greatness and goodness that there’s no longer any room for self-conceit. Reveal to me today any situation where I have snuck up and tried to take Your judge’s seat. Interrupt my trains of thought when I believe myself to be the source of all truth and speak Your truth to me. Amen.

*The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis, Chapter 14

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Access

Oh, the joy of commercials! Interrupting our favorite shows and leaving us in suspense (or giving us a snack break), they fill our TV screens to convince us of something we need. Every year at this time, my emotions remind me of the marketing genius behind these ads. You can’t help but crack up when, after watching a bunch of “kid” penguins jump into arctic waters and complain about the cold, one dad penguin tells the other dad penguin he’s “gonna jump in that hot tub over there”. And who doesn’t tear up when Alexa tells a new dad at the end of his first day home with the baby, “I’m reminding you Laura loves you and you’re doing a great job.” 😭

But one commercial I saw this season just left me feeling confused. The ad shows a montage of home videos in which people open a gift and then freak out about what’s in the box. The over-the-top nature of their reactions led me to assume that these unboxed items included things like a positive pregnancy test or tickets to a dream vacation. But it turns out it was just a smartphone. Really?

I’m not sure I would ever be that excited about a phone, but I can see why someone might. With the wifi or data connection turned on, a smartphone gives its user access to the unlimited information, communication, news, TV, movies, photos, and games the internet provides. It’s not about the phone itself, it’s about what the phone gives you access to and the speed and quality at which you can now access it!

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Christmas is a time for joy, but if you’re like me, you struggle to find it. If you’ve been around the Christian world long enough, you know that “joy” does not have to equal “happiness,” but I’ll admit that after 40 years on this earth and 20 years in ministry, Christmas is kind of old news. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know that the “joy” of Christmas is not in the decorations, parties, presents, music, or even the yummy food. I know that joy is found in the celebration of the birth of a baby, but is this birth really something to get all excited about?

In his prophecy in Luke 1, Zechariah declared the reason for the great joy that would come from Jesus’ birth:

First, it was the joy that God “has come to his people” (v. 68) Rather than a constant striving to access the favor and benevolence of a higher power, this higher power came to His people.

Second, it was the joy that in coming, He “redeemed them” (v. 68) and gave them “salvation from [their] enemies” (v. 71). The concept of ‘salvation’ implies that God would bring His mighty power with Him and then use it in their favor to spare them from further pain or disaster.

And third, it was the joy that because of this salvation, they would be enabled to “serve him without fear” (v. 74). To Zechariah, this meant Israel’s worship of God would be “freed from foreign oppression and internal dissensions”* but we now see the bigger picture – that because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the localized, personal presence of the Holy Spirit would now empower all believers to serve “in holiness and righteousness before him all our days” (v. 75).

Paul puts this together for us so well in Ephesians 2:18 where he states that through Jesus we “have access to the Father by one Spirit”. When God came to us in Jesus, He gave us great reason for joy! Because this baby was born, I have access, through that way-better-than-LTE Holy Spirit connection, to the “holiness and righteousness” of the Father and, therefore, can “serve Him without fear”.

Over-the-top joy comes from knowing I don’t have to strive for access to God, I already have it because of Jesus. Joy comes from realizing I don’t have to hide my sin because the “tender mercy of our God” is on perpetual download (v. 78). Joy comes from understanding I don’t have to know it all because His Spirit’s GPS will “guide [my] feet” (v. 79). Joy comes from acknowledging that He’s the One with the power and ability to do the redeeming, so I don’t have to focus on results. And deep-seated joy occurs when I look around at the problems in this world, feel completely hopeless, but then am reminded that I am a “hotspot” of His Spirit and He is working through me “to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death” (v. 79).

If Christmas has become old news for you, maybe it’s time to stand up and show some unreasonable joy.  Jump, leap, shout, freak out, do a happy dance (I can’t “floss,” but maybe you can?), or just sing at the top of your lungs!

Good Christian men, rejoice,
With heart and soul, and voice;
Now ye hear of endless bliss:
Jesus Christ was born for this!
He has opened heaven’s door,
And man is blessed forevermore.
Christ was born for this!
Christ was born for this!

*https://biblehub.com/commentaries/luke/1-74.htm

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Avoid

If there was a term for the “fear of parking” I would have it. In addition to my nyctophobia (Bring on the sunshine – or at least a flashlight!), arachnophobia (Spiders are not friends), and public-toilet-o-phobia (Ew.), I also have a paralyzing aversion to finding a parking spot in a crowded place. Tight spots, backing out into traffic, and “Do I need quarters for that meter?” are not my thing.

In most of the places I frequent, I have multiple oversized parking spaces available to me and I can almost always find a pull-through. I avoid the smaller lots at crowded times and if I’m in an unfamiliar place, Google Maps “Street View” allows me to choose the coffee shop where parallel parking will not be required.

Last weekend, I took my 12-year-old out for a special lunch while her sisters were at their swim meet. We dropped Tim and the other two off, agreed on tacos, and were excited when there just happened to be a taco place we’d never been to just a couple of miles away! Unfortunately, I forgot to check the “Street View” and as we drove down Route 30 toward Wayne, my blood pressure started to rise. This location was going to require busy-street parking on a busy holiday-season-Saturday and I don’t do busy-street parking, especially on a busy holiday-season-Saturday!

When we missed the place on our first drive by, I stopped at the next light and was at a crossroads. Surely there was another place we could get tacos with easier parking – even if it meant a longer drive? We had all day, after all 😉

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Parking may not be on your phobia list, but we all have things we avoid because of fear. Memories of prior trauma associated with that thing or the mental images of future discomfort that might result push us to run in the other direction or at least stay parked where we’re at.

Four times in the narrative of Jesus’ birth, angels appeared as messengers from God to people, and all four times they prefaced their message with the same phrase:

And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. (Luke 1:12-13)

But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. (Luke 1:29-30)

And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. (Luke 2:9-10)

And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 1:19-20)

The repetition of this phrase makes sense – I’d be freaked out, too, if some supernatural figure suddenly appeared and started talking to me! The Greek word for “fear” in all four of these verses is “phobéō” which means “to fear, withdraw (flee) from, avoid”.* So, in essence, the angels were saying “I may be scary, but don’t run away!”

But they were also saying, “The message I’m bringing may be scary, but don’t flee from it.” A baby born to an old woman? Another baby conceived by the Holy Spirit? A birth announcement made to shepherds rather than royalty?

For Joseph especially, he had every reason to run in the other direction. Rather than an actual appearance, Joseph’s angel showed up in a dream. How could he be sure his mind wasn’t just playing tricks on him? And even if it was true, was he qualified to be the dad of the Messiah? Yikes! And most importantly, marrying a woman carrying a child that wasn’t his might expose him to ridicule and rejection by his own people.

There’s an ounce of fear that prefaces every step of obedience and that fear often causes us to avoid it – or hang a right and drive clear in the other direction! It’s not our usual “phobias” per se, but the little things: social awkwardness, loss of comfort or security, opening ourselves up to criticism, having our weaknesses exposed, and the good old possibility of failure or frustration.

The instruction to “Fear not” or “Do not be afraid” is less a condemnation on the feeling of fear, and more a charge to not let that feeling put you “to flight”.* If we’re listening, the Holy Spirit is constantly whispering our next steps in our ear – it’s how He works. Like Joseph, we may have reason to question: “Was that really from God or just my own thoughts?”. We may have a dozen reasons to believe we’re not qualified and we may have very legitimate concern about the criticism of others.

But, man, that Kalua Pork taco with Pineapple Chipotle Salsa, Cabbage, and Korean BBQ Sauce (and the smiling company across the table)? Totally worth it!

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P.S. For almost 20 years some very wise, trusted people have been telling me I need to publish the curriculum I write for Youth@Hope so that others can use it. And for almost 20 years I’ve avoided it because of my fear of it not being “good enough”. But on Monday afternoon, I hit that “Submit” button for the first time. And now I wait. And I’m kind of freaking out. Pray for me!

*https://biblehub.com/greek/5399.htm

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Wait

The Desilets family countdown is in full swing – only 196 days until summer vacation begins!

No, but really, our 7-year-old will gladly inform you that there are exactly 21 days remaining until Christmas. The decorations are up, the neighborhood lights (or light shows) are twinkling, and the smell of ginger cookies is in the air. The big day is coming soon!

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Waiting is hard. Whether you’re 7 or 77, any delay in receiving what you want or think you need is frustrating! Checkout lines, ticket lines, traffic lines, and restroom lines. Sign in, take a number, and we’ll be “right with you” – “Do you mind if I put you on hold?” The spinning wheel of a bad wifi signal, a video that won’t load, and, seriously? Two-and-a-half minutes of ads?! They said they would call you tomorrow – and that was three days ago. You know they saw your text, so why aren’t they writing back? The next phase of life, surely it’s going to get easier… And it seems like we’re always waiting for food 😉.

Most of our day-to-day waiting has an estimated end time, but it’s the unknown stuff that gets to us. Change seems slow, another day goes by, and the wheel keeps spinning.

In our fast-paced, fast-forward culture, waiting is hard – but waiting on God is even harder. We’re used to pushing buttons and making things happen, so when a situation falls outside of that ability, we get antsy. We know God has the ability to influence change and we trust that He is willing to use that power on our behalf because He cares for us. But about 99.9% of the time, we have to wait.

We’re all waiting on God for something – and we should be! The Bible is full of examples of faith-filled people asking for and expecting God to act. Through this asking and expecting, we take a posture of humility – surrendering control and admitting our need for Him. But sometimes we forget that in that surrender, we’re also waiving our right to speed up the process.

In Romans 15:4, Paul states that “everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.” When we think of our favorite Bible stories, we see a highlight reel of crisis points and miracle-moments. But like a movie or television show, we’re only seeing the “important” parts necessary for the story and don’t think about the significant amount of time between those events.

When you add up the numbers, you see that the Bible is full of hundreds of years of waiting. You see the 13 years between Joseph’s dreams and their fulfillment, the 14 years between David’s anointing as king and his appointing as king, the 40 years Moses was a shepherd in Midian before he returned to Egypt, and the 60-something years between Daniel’s refusal to eat the king’s meat and his time in the lion’s den. We forget that Abraham was 75 years old when God said, “‘I will make you a great nation’” (Genesis 12:2) and then not until 25 more years passed that Isaac was born. Where were you 25 years ago? Can you imagine waiting on God for one thing for that long?

It turns out there was more waiting than happening in the Bible and our faith-filled heroes lived their mundane, everyday lives in the in-between. Day after day they woke up, did chores or jobs, cooked meals, ran errands, and went to bed. I bet they even had to wait in lines (and they didn’t even have phones to distract them!)

But maybe the waiting was where things were happening. I want God to fix my problems, but maybe He’s doing most of that fixing in the times where it looks like He’s doing nothing. The waiting is where my heart is either softened to a place of trust or hardened to a lack of it. The waiting is where my motives are revealed – am I waiting on God to be who I want Him to be or am I waiting on Him to be who He is? If I’ve asked God to grow my faith, He’s going to make me wait – because it’s in the waiting where my faith does the growing.

As an adult, I’m not counting down the days until Christmas, but I certainly will be doing some waiting over the next few weeks! I can’t get everything from Amazon so there will be lines, and living in the same town as the largest mall in the country means one word: traffic. I’ve been challenged by my advent devotional this year to “learn to wait” by intentionally keeping my phone in my pocket during these situations.* The minutes might feel like an eternity, but I’m sure the waiting will be good for me!


*https://biblehub.com/timeline/
*https://www.thecommonrule.org/advent-edition

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Value

Turkey. Mashed Potatoes. Gravy. Cranberry sauce. And don’t forget the stuffing!

Only this year I did skip the stuffing – or at least the stuffing balls my mom made. Which apparently contained bacon and were apparently amazing (according to the reviews around the table). But I passed them up. Because of onions.

Over the years of my life, my brain has taken in the taste, smell, and texture of these pungent vegetables, processed the emotion those senses triggered, and concluded that I do not value onions. Which means that when I see them in a dish that is offered (or even if I can’t see them 😉), I will turn up my nose and walk right past. Yes, even when there’s an opportunity for bacon.

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As humans we place value on things. Woven into human intelligence is the necessity of determining value because we cannot and should not value everything the same. Our brains take in information from our five senses – sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch. We process that information and the emotion it triggers. That processing helps us determine what we prefer or don’t prefer and, over the long term, what we value. We then assign value by the action we take toward that thing.

Woven into every human-to-human interaction is the ability to assign value. When we are in the same space as another person, we automatically take in information from our senses – mostly what we see and hear (or possibly smell). We notice the external factors of a person’s appearance, race, economic status, family, and relationships. We observe their job or role, their talents, personality, intelligence, and maybe even what we’ve seen on their social media feed.

We process that information and the emotions it triggers, determining that person’s value according to us. We then assign value by the action we take toward that person. Whether we are conscious of it or not, in every interaction we have with another person, we are assigning value.

In Jesus’ day, much like our world today, the combined actions of multitudes of humans with multitudes of other humans led to the assigning of value to people. The circumstances, appearance, and visible actions of a person put them in a category. Based on that category, how they were to be treated was established.

In Jesus’ religion-based culture, value was determined by a person’s faith or connection with God. And the religious leaders of the time, specifically the Pharisees, emphasized human effort as the way to attain and sustain this connection. Their “rites were numerous, expensive, requiring much time, much property, and laborious. The Pharisees were rigid in requiring that all the people should pay the taxes, give of their property, comply with every part of the law with the utmost rigor.”* To them, this was the definition of “faith” and a person who would or could not comply, was devalued as unable to have “faith”.

The tension between these religious leaders and Jesus is noted repeatedly in Matthew’s gospel. As you read, it’s clear that Jesus intentionally interacted with people who could not or did not carry the Pharisees’ “load” (Matthew 23:4) because of their circumstances, appearance, or visible actions. In each case, He assigned value to these devalued people by making a big deal about their faith – or their potential to have faith.

It’s not surprising that Jesus’ first one-on-one interaction mentioned by Matthew (besides with John the Baptist and the disciples) is with a leper who, having been outcast from participation in faith activities because of his condition, showed evidence of true faith by saying “‘you can make me clean’” (8:2). This is followed by another one-on-one with a non-Jewish centurion, after whose confession of faith Jesus points out, “‘with no one in Israel have I found such faith’” (8:10). During an urgent trip to heal a synagogue leader’s daughter, Jesus stops to point out the faith of an “unclean,” outcast woman (9:22). Though many would have viewed people with disabilities as a nuisance or burden, Jesus welcomed them and called attention to their faith (9:29). He assigned faith-value to “tax collectors and sinners” (9:10) and children (19:14).

By seeking out, calling out, reaching out, and touching people who were not considered able to have “faith,” Jesus assigned value to them. He raised them up and raised their value, making them the example of true faith – which was not a heavy load, but a rest-filled trust in Jesus and His power as the Son of God. Their value was not determined by their external circumstances, but by their heart-and-mind connection to Him.

There’s one part of the Thanksgiving meal I certainly did not skip over this year:

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I value pie. All the pies. Just knowing there was going to be pie for dessert resulted in action on my part: I purposely reduced the amount of dinner that I ate in order to save room for the largest socially-allowed amount of pie I could take. Yum!

We live in a society that values pie. We value our people. I value the people who, when I see or hear (or smell) them, they trigger all the positive emotions and therefore I gravitate toward them. I will easily give up other things and pass by other people in order to spend time with them. I assign value to them by making eye contact, smiling, giving them my attention, asking them questions, and being genuinely interested in their responses.

It’s great to have pie, but maybe saving so much room for pie makes me miss out on bacon. As a believer, I have the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit empowering me to see people – to not just take in what I see or hear from them, but to see the faith-value of every person I share space with. I have the ability to see every person as a highly valued intentional creation of God, made to know and be known by Him.

When I assign value to people I might have otherwise passed by, I have a chance to show them how valuable they are. I can’t heal people like Jesus did, but maybe by welcoming someone into my space and listening with my face, by learning their name and referring to them by it the next time I see them, by asking questions instead of talking about myself, and by embracing the awkwardness that always comes with valuing others, I can be part of a miracle.

*https://biblehub.com/commentaries/barnes/matthew/23.htm

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