you-dont-own-meHe came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him. Yet to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. John 1:11-13


Recently, I heard a rendition of an old song that touched me greatly. “You Don’t Own Me” was written by Philadelphia songwriters John Madara and David White, and recorded by Leslie Gore in 1963, when Gore was 17 years old. The new edgy, haunting version is a remake by Australian born Grace Sewell, who was exactly Gore’s age when she recorded it last year. Both women wanted their listeners, male and female, to get the message that girls and women are not chattel to be used and abused by others. Gore said, “My take on the song was: I’m 17, what a wonderful thing, to stand up on a stage and shake your finger at people and sing you don’t own me.” Times have changed drastically in many ways since 1963, but unfortunately, domestic violence, sex trafficking, hate crimes and other offenses against persons have only gotten worse. Women—especially young ones—need to know that being respected by others is not optional. It’s essential.


Jesus knew and spoke this truth: all women and men are equal in the eyes of God. Some people get hung up with the idea that we are all sinners (Romans 3:23). It sounds like bad news to have to admit to being sinful in order to then be saved by the grace of forgiveness. The message of “universal sin” seems contradictory to the song’s message that no one “owns” us. But the good news is that God cares for each of us—good, bad, or in between—as if we are perfect. It is in realizing that God is God and we are not that we are set free. When we “belong” to God—when we admit that we have no real power to change ourselves without  God’s help—we inherit all of God’s goodness and strength and love and grace. Then and only then do we find “the peace that passes all (human) understanding” (italics mine; Philippians 4:7).


Compassionate God, strengthen us to combat human oppression of all kinds. Amen


drop-of-waterThen Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. Matthew 3:13-15


I accepted Christ as my personal Savior in a school gymnasium. Following some contemporary spiritual music, an evangelist gave a simple sermon. When the “alter call” was given, I literally bolted out of my seat. The noisy gym didn’t change, but I had changed. I wanted this Jesus. Stars rose up around me and cascaded down as blinding light. The floodgates of my weary soul opened to a love, a peace, an understanding I had never before experienced. That night, before I knew the symbol for the Holy Spirit, I dreamed that a dove descended and covered me with its wings. I picked up the King James Bible my sister had given me when I was twelve and read it like a child’s primer. Later that week, I dreamed, like Ezekiel, that I was eating that dusty old Bible. I was twenty-nine years old, but it was clear I had been “born again.” A pastor that I spoke to that week said I was “a new creature.”


When I think back, I sometimes long for the fire I carried in my heart that night. Over the years, that intense flame has burned down to a warmth of contentment as I spend each day still in love with my Lord. The prophet Isaiah said of Christ, “Here is my servant…, I will put my Spirit on Him.…In His teaching the islands will put their hope” (Isaiah 42:1, 4). I was an “island,” isolated and alone, uncertain what this life was about and doubting the idea of a life beyond. Christ humbled Himself, allowing His cousin John to baptize Him, to make Him “a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness” (vs. 6-7). I was that captive, in spiritual darkness. And now I see.


Saving Christ, keep me always in the warmth of Your divine love, that I may walk in Your light. Amen


Minister Martin Luther King, Jr. preaching at an eventPeace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27


Today we remember American civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr., an American Baptist minister and activist and a leader in the Civil Rights Movement. He is best known for his role in the advancement of civil rights using non-violent civil disobedience based on his Christian beliefs. He was brutally murdered in 1968, while planning a national occupation of Washington D.C.  For those of us who were around when Dr. King was assassinated, and for many who have studied his legacy since, he embodies important qualities and principles which we can hope to emulate and to live by.


Always in the spirit of peace, Dr. King was never afraid to confront attitudes, policies and laws that continued oppression. He engaged in hard conversations with both supporters and opponents. To say he was a champion for the underdog would be an understatement. He excelled in quiet communication while his actions shouted of a new way of “fighting” oppression. He could easily be called a “gentle healer.”


I would like to think that Dr. King has had many conversations with another Gentle Healer recently, in the heavenly home they share. Christ’s earthly ministry and His reign from above still provide hope for the oppressed, faith in the ultimate victory of good over evil, and peace for all who put their trust in God. Issues Dr. King worked to end are still with us; in some cases they may be worse. Fear, sadness, and an overwhelming feeling of dread permeate many minds today. But we can turn to Dr. King’s words for the hope we seek: “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”


In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus listed ways in which the disenfranchised, hated and feared of His time were blessed beyond their own understanding. That hope was also part and parcel of Dr. King’s work. Dr. King’s dream of peace and Christ’s ministry of the kingdom of God within us are what we celebrate today and every day.


exploding-nova-starI led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love. Hosea 11:4


He was a frail teenager, with skin the color of paste and a defeated look in his eyes. He hated the helmet, but his mother made him wear it because of the seizures. Five or six a day, sometimes more. He liked to stand and read in a doorway so when (not if) he fell the fall would be broken somewhat by the door jamb. In the hospital conference room, his mother directed him to a chair at the table with the doctors, various University Clinic staff, and me, his state vocational rehabilitation counselor. The doctors told him about the surgery they wanted to perform, to disrupt the nerve pathways that seizure impulses took through his brain. We all watched as the boy fell into a trance of sorts—definitely not a seizure. He was experiencing a “psychogenic episode,” a heightened emotional response when trying to process the information before him. He simply chose to “check out.”


Brain surgeon Paul Kalanithi says the “the root of disaster means a star coming apart, and no image expresses better the look in a patient’s eyes when hearing a neurosurgeon’s diagnosis.” In his poignant memoir, Wen Breath Becomes Air, the surgeon becomes the patient when Kalanithi is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. He saw in his patients, and later experienced for himself, how shocking news can cause the brain to suffer an electrical short. Sometimes the patient “checks out” for an extended length of time, even lapsing into a coma. Other times, Kalanithi says, “the treatment consists of speaking reassuringly, until your words connect and the patient awakens.”


The entire Old Testament, it seems to me, is a story of God’s longing to make life better for His people. The Great I Am tries everything but the Israelites just keep on bringing disaster upon themselves by not taking God’s good advice. Disaster. A star—a whole nation of stars—coming apart. Until one day, God reveals a new plan. He sends a new Star, One willing to, literally, “come apart” voluntarily to show the people how very much they are loved. Whether our “disaster” is personal (like illness or profound loss) or shared (like an earthquake or a senseless terrorist attack), God is there to walk with us.


O Great Star-God, keep us safe from disaster. Amen


praying-handsYou desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. James 4:2


Most of us make some New Year’s resolutions, formally or informally. And most of us don’t end up keeping very many of those resolutions; some keep none at all. Perhaps the reason we have so much trouble in the Resolution Department is because we expect to keep these promises without any help. And the best place to get help is to ask God.


Step One in a successful Resolution Plan: Admit we are powerless without God. If you guessed that this statement comes from the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, you are correct. Just as members of AA are powerless over the effects of addiction in their lives, all Christians are powerless to be “good” without God’s help. So why would we even think of embarking on a quest to keep some very human promises (spend more time with my family; go to the gym three times a week; turn in library books on time) without the help and guidance of our Heavenly Father?


Instead of making the traditional List of Resolutions for January 1st, write a letter to God instead. Ask Him to help you set some goals together. Start by requesting a newness of heart to live for Him each day. Then ask God to reveal to you what characteristics He wants you to display in the new year. Does He desire for you to have a more disciplined prayer life? A greater sense of peace? Revamping your daily priorities with His will in mind? Then ask God for the divine gifts that will make these things possible for you. And as surely as an alcoholic admitting her powerlessness before God will begin to change her life, so will your humility be rewarded with the very things you might have put on your original list of resolutions.


James continues: “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (James 4:3). We don’t make the rules. God does. He knows far better than we what we really need, what’s best for us.


Abiding Lord, help us this new year to do Your will alone. Amen