Category Archives: Opinion

Patty LaRoche: Worry Versus Worship

A few years ago, my girlfriend “Sharon” came from Florida to spend some quality time with her widowed mother who lived on a small farm outside of Fort Scott. Since her mother was a homebody and didn’t venture far from her garden, Sharon planned to take her mom shopping and treat her to a few of the local restaurants.

My friend flew into KC on Sunday. Wednesday found her at my house in tears.

“Mom” couldn’t leave her house on Monday because that was the cleaning day. Tuesday was for laundry and ironing and Wednesday for canning. Sharon offered to help but was told her mom needed to do it alone so it was done right. To add insult to injury, the “Is there something wrong with my cooking?” question caught my friend off guard.

Mom’s schedule dominated her life, and not even her daughter’s visit would dissuade her from altering it. Of course, Saturday “would have been fine” for a lunch out, but since Sharon had booked an early morning flight, she obviously had “not taken” her mother’s agenda into account. It was a miserable week.

Sharon’s mother died two years after that visit, but my friend has not forgotten her mother being so locked into her agenda that she could not set aside time just to “hang” with her only child. The Bible shares a powerful message on what Jesus thinks of people who cannot make time for relationships. Luke 10:38-42 is a familiar story but one worth revisiting.

Company’s coming, and not just any company. This is Rabbi Jesus and his friends, and Martha, the restless hostess, is almost ready; the house is free of cobwebs and the dirt floor swept, and there will be no shortage of food or drink. Still, the pressure is building. If there is something to stew about, Martha will find it. Not her sister Mary. Mary sits at Jesus’ feet, soaking in all he has to say.

One worries.

One worships.

What a difference!

A preacher at my step-daughter’s church expounded on that message with these words: “The presence of Jesus was part of Martha’s plan, but it WAS Mary’s plan. If Martha had time, she was going to be with Jesus. If Mary didn’t have time, she still was going to be with Jesus.”

Don’t skim his words. Read them again. The pastor ended his sermon by asking which one represented us. “Do we merely include Jesus in our schedule, or is our schedule designed around time with our Savior?”

Jesus modeled priorities. No one has ever been busier than he, yet he never appeared harried. He was all about people. The gospel makes it clear as to where we start. If we want a stress-less, worry-less, stew-less schedule, we must make time to sit at Jesus’ feet.

Martha’s regimen had no eternal benefits. Mary’s did.

So, the question remains: Do we want Busy, or do we want Blessing?

Patty LaRoche: A Work in Progress

And I am convinced and sure of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will continue until the day of Jesus Christ [right up to the time of His return], developing [that good work] and perfecting and bringing it to full completion in you. (Philippians 1:6, AMP)

God is not finished with me yet.

(Insert the “Hallelujah” chorus!)

And He isn’t finished with you either.

Of course, in my case He is running out of time since I’m slightly (ahem) over the half-century mark, a fact that confronted me the other day as I was organizing some family photos taken when the kids were young. What should have brought great memories made me sad. Babies had turned into adults, some with grown babies of their own, but no one had changed as much as I had. What happened to the thick mane, the trim body, the sagless eyes, the single chin? It didn’t help when this week my fifteen-year-old grandson, Drake, told us his height and weight and Dave shared, “Those were Grandma’s measurements when we got married.”

Drake got a kick out of that.

So did Dave, if you know what I mean.

Now, as I creak out of bed in the morning, rely on an occasional Aleve to calm the joint pain caused from pickle ball, and have to wait for my knee’s permission to navigate the stairs, I still have it a whole lot better than it will be in a decade when I will have even less hair, more aches, sags and chins.

(Delete the “Hallelujah” chorus!)

I’ll be honest. It’s much easier appreciating what I used to be and not what God sees in me now. I see a flawed, finished work as opposed to a work in progress. In reality, I negate the beauty of the work God has done—and is doing—in my life. What a waste! Look at the scripture above. None of us will be flawless until “the day of Jesus Christ.” Perfected beauty is nonexistent until we see God face to face. Where we are today is where we need to be so He is able to continue His work.

No matter what a mess we are physically, mentally or emotionally. God continues to paint on our life’s canvas. Can you imagine someone having the gall to criticize Michelangelo’s partially-completed painting of the Sistine Chapel half-way through his four-year project? I’m betting that viewers, privileged to watch him at work on scaffolding 68 feet above ground, were in awe of his masterpiece and told him so, even though he, the master painter, probably yelled from above, “Just you wait!” Nevertheless, to the observer, the finished frescoes would have taken their breath away. In their eyes, how could it ever be more spectacular?

God sees us as Michelangelo saw his Sistine project. Our Creator can transform our complaining view of our earthly bodies if we stop fighting him for the paint brush and appreciate what strokes he is perfecting now as he continues to make us a reflection of His eternal glory.

We are, in reality, a work in progress.

And I don’t know about you, but that makes me smile.

Patty LaRoche: God of Miracles

“Who believes God performs miracles?”

The group of baseball players, attendees at the weekly Chapel service, all raised their hands.

“Who believes God can do a miracle in your life?”

Same response.

“Who believes God will do one right now?”

The athletes looked at one another, unsure of what to do. If they didn’t raise their hands, were they denying that this speaker had a special connection with God? If they did raise their hands, was the
miracle dependent upon their faith being powerful enough to make it happen?

The guest evangelist, sensing their confusion, removed a banana from a plastic bag and asked the crowd, “How many of you believe that God can split the fruit of this banana into thirds without
altering the peel in any way?”

The ballplayers were dumbfounded. After all, God could do anything He wanted, so He certainly “could” perform such a miracle. Slowly, the men raised their hands.

“Good,” the speaker continued. “I’m going to pray that God does just that. I’m going to ask Him to slice the meat of this banana into thirds without making a mark on the skin. How many of you are confident God will answer my prayer?”

Surely it was a trick. Or was it? No one moved.

The speaker spoke to their doubts. “You probably think I’m messing with you, right? To prove I’m not, I’m going to pass this banana around the room. Check it carefully. See if there are any external marks on its skin.”

Each ballplayer took his time studying the banana. No one could find any puncture or marking. While the players sat on the edge of their seats, the preacher took the banana, raised it high, and prayed for it to be cut into thirds when peeled. As he broke the top portion of the banana’s skin and pulled it back, one piece—approximately a third—fell onto the table. The same scene replayed itself as the skin was peeled further. Three pieces. Just like the miracle worker said.

My son Adam, a player in that room, phoned me from the clubhouse.

“Mom, I just saw a miracle.” He proceeded to tell me what had happened. Although skeptical—only because I wasn’t sure why God cared about a banana dividing itself into thirds—I was thrilled for my normally unexcitable son to be so pumped about what he had witnessed.

A few days later I relayed Adam’s story to my girlfriend. “Patty, that’s an old trick,” she said. “A threaded needle is pushed through the banana by working in a circular motion. With enough punctures, it creates a cut, and the skin heals itself so the pin marks can’t be detected.” I couldn’t believe it. The ballplayers had been deceived. My friend was as bothered by this evangelist’s tactic as was I.

I shared my findings with Adam so he could discuss what had happened with the chapel leader who organized the visiting speakers. I told him what bothered me most was that God doesn’t need any help in the miracle department. No tricks. No manipulation. Jeremiah 10:12 speaks to His authority: But God made earth by his power; He founded the world by His wisdom and stretched out the heavens by His understanding. His abilities are endless. For goodness sakes, He produced ten plagues to force Pharoah’s hand, provided manna for millions of Israelites wandering in the desert, saved Daniel and his friends from a fiery furnace, and made Himself man to redeem a lost humanity.

In retrospect, I hope the intention of the pastor was to excite his audience about God’s power and not draw attention to his own ability to be used by God. I feel bad that he was so desperate to prove God is still in the miracle business. On the other hand, I would like to think my girlfriend was wrong; there was no needle and thread and this man’s prayer was answered.

Yeah. I would like to think that.

I just don’t.

Patty LaRoche: Jumping to Conclusions

Sometimes the only exercise I get is jumping to the wrong conclusion. Read last week’s article if you doubt me. This week we will look at a scriptural passage with repercussions far worse than mine.

First, some background. God’s chosen people, the Israelites, don’t act chosen. For 40 years Moses leads these slow-learning twelve tribes as they wander in the desert, sin, repent, sin, repent, etc. And now it’s time to enter the Promised Land. The leaders of Gad, Rueben and half of the tribe of Manassah ask to stay behind on the East side of the Jordan River. The land is rich with valleys for grazing their flocks and seems ideal. Moses agrees on the condition they first cross the Jordan with the other 9 ½ tribes to help conquer the land of Canaan. Five years later the war ends and the 2 ½ tribes return to their homes and families.

All is well.

Well, sort of.

Before even dipping their toes in the Jordan River, the Easterners build a massive altar, perceived by their Western brothers as a clear violation of the Law which mandates only one altar for sacrifices, thereby insuring that each tribe doesn’t do its own thing in its worship of Jehovah. One altar (already built on the Western side). One faith. One death, if disobeyed.

I can hear the 9 ½ tribes now.

“Seriously? Talk about one-upmanship!”

“Yeah. So much for teamwork.”

“Well, they’ve done it this time. First we have to fight the Canaanites and now we have to go to war against our brothers. And I was soooo looking forward to a nap.”

But then, a voice of reason. “Maybe first we should tell them why we’re going to slaughter them. You know, give them a heads-up.”

A delegation is sent to confront the offenders. Made up of Phinehas, a priest and 10 high officials of Israel, they waste no time for their come-to-Jesus meeting (except, of course, it really is more of a come-to-Yahweh meeting because Jesus hasn’t been born).

Let’s pick up in Joshua 22:16. “The whole community of the Lord demands to know why you are betraying the God of Israel. How could you turn away from the Lord and build an altar in rebellion against him?” The tirade continues as the 2 ½ tribes are given a nonstop tongue-lashing for building a second altar to the Lord. Now it is time for the accused to speak.

“The Lord alone is God! The Lord alone is God! We have not built the altar in rebellion against the LORD. If we have done so, do not spare our lives this day… We have built this altar because we fear that in the future your descendants will say to ours, ‘What right do you have to worship the Lord, the God of Israel? The Lord has placed the Jordan River as a barrier between our people and your people. You have no claim to the Lord.’ And your descendants may make our descendants stop worshiping the Lord.

“So we decided to build the altar, not for burnt sacrifices, but as a memorial…”

In other words, their motive is to unify, not divide, which always should be our goal when we don’t see eye-to-eye. So, what’s to learn from this story? First, even though it was far too accusatory, the opposition is given a chance to explain before the war trumpets are blown. Second, the response of the 2 ½ tribes, instead of igniting the fire (“How dare you talk to us like that!”), extinguishes it. We would do well to do likewise.

Phinehas and his now-happy-camper friends depart to tell the rest of the Israelites that there will be peace in the valley. (Someone should write a song with that title.)

All is well.

Well, sort of.

Patty LaRoche: Making Assumptions

“I have never learned anything with my mouth open.” So reads the sign on the office wall of our friend, Howard, who shared that ditty with us this past week. Although clever, I disagree. I have learned great lessons with my mouth open: mainly, that I can be a fool.

Like a few days ago. I was in Wichita, Kan., for a baseball tournament with my husband and three sons. For a week our lives were scheduled for us, thanks to organizers Brent and Jenny Hall and their adult daughter, Haleigh, who kept us informed of schedule changes, etc.

On Friday evening the family members were to meet in the lobby at 5:45 p.m. for a scheduled 6 p.m. bus departure to the ballgame. I was there. Alone. I texted my daughter-in-law, Jenn, who said the group text showed a time change to 6:30. She suggested that I ask Haleigh to put me on her group text so that I would get the announcements. That’s what I did.

Immediately my phone lit up with rapid-fire texts from the other wives. “Do you have an extra hat I can have?” “I will meet you at the game. Don’t look for me on the bus.” “Can I get extra tickets for friends coming into town?” You get the picture. Jenn suggested I ask to be removed from the group text. Good idea. I texted Haleigh to make that request.

On Sunday morning, I found out that friends from Fort Scott were coming to the game, and since Haleigh’s number was still in my contact list, I texted her to ask for tickets. Her response? “Sorry, but you were removed from this group. Maybe you should ask someone in the group to add you again!”

I read it again.

EXCUUUUUSE me? And what’s with the exclamation point?

I re-read the response.

Well, EXCUUUUUSE me again! After trying to get Dave as upset as I was (never happen), I responded. “I asked to be removed because I realized most of it wasn’t any of my business. I didn’t know I needed to be in the group to ask for tickets. No worries.”

Still, I stewed, waiting for Haleigh’s apology. I would have to tell Jenn so she never again suggested someone be removed from Haleigh’s elite little group. Before making that call, our son Jeff dropped by our hotel room. I sought his empathy, a waste of time since that male apple didn’t fall too far from that uncompassionate tree. “Mom, that doesn’t sound like Haleigh. What number do you have?”

Not the right one, as it turned out. The one I used was for the group text which sent out an automated reply to people outside the group. When Jeff gave me Haleigh’s private number and I made the call to the right number, she couldn’t have been more helpful. Jeff wasn’t finished. “Wow, Mom, why did you assume the worst?”

Because I’m good at it would have been the honest answer. Of course, I didn’t say that. I attempted to defend my actions, in which case both the tree and the apple would have none of it.

Relationships have been ruined when assumptions are made. Someone doesn’t answer my email or is short-answered with a text reply or doesn’t invite me to their dinner party or…

Proverbs 25:8 (MSG) simplifies the way I am to think when my feelings are hurt: “Don’t jump to conclusions – there may be a perfectly good explanation for what you just saw.”

Otherwise, my assumption becomes my truth which leads to an ugly response which results in broken relationships…or, in one case, war.

Next week we will look at a Biblical example of how close that came to happening.

Patty LaRoche: The Problem of Hypocrisy

As the light turned yellow, he did the right thing and stopped at the crosswalk, even though he could have beaten the red light by accelerating through the intersection.

The tailgating woman behind him was furious and honked her horn, screaming in frustration, as she missed her chance to get through the intersection. While still in mid-rant, she heard a tap on her window and looked up into the face of a very serious police officer. The officer ordered her to exit her car with her hands up. He took her to the police station where she was searched, fingerprinted, photographed and placed in a holding cell.

After a couple of hours, a policeman approached the cell and opened the door. She was escorted back to the booking desk where the arresting officer was waiting with her personal effects. He said, “I’m very sorry for this mistake. You see, I pulled up behind your car while you were blowing your horn, giving the guy in front of you the finger and cursing at him. I noticed

the “What Would Jesus Do” bumper sticker, the “Choose Life”  license plate holder, the “Follow Me to Sunday-School” bumper sticker, and the chrome-plated Christian fish emblem on the trunk, so naturally I assumed you had stolen the car.”

Who of us Christians hasn’t been guilty of not representing Jesus the way he deserves to be represented? (I’m raising my hand here.) In truth, I’m pretty sure there are some people who know me well but have had occasions to wonder. Sadly, I have an incredible ability to recognize the same fault in others but dismiss it in myself.

Hypocrisy has been defined this way: “Someone who conveniently forgets his/her faults to point out someone else’s.” (Hand is still up.) In Matthew 7:3-5, we read how Jesus viewed this behavior. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

Sadly, even though we work on our sin, read the Word, pray and intercede, we can still “lose it” when someone ahead of us fails to make it through a yellow light. Or keeps our little leaguer out of the lineup. Or passes us over for the company promotion. Or parks in a handicapped spot. Or…you fill in the blank. We ignore our God-given opportunity to exemplify Christ-like character.

Author Brennan Manning writes about the damage caused by such hypocrisy. “The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”

Serious stuff, don’t you agree? We have no excuse. God has placed within us the Holy Spirit who uses yellow lights (our conscience) as warning signs. Our job? To put the brakes on our mouths and our actions before any further damage is done.

Patty LaRoche: Under His Wings

Stanley Jones tells a wonderful story of God’s love in his book, “Christian Maturity”: “A wildlife conservation officer drove past a grouse (a bird), in the center of the road, and he was surprised that she did not move when he swerved around her. He came back and saw in the meantime that six other cars had swerved around her, and still she did not move. When he came near, six little chicks ran out from under her wings.

“One of her wings was broken and her head was bloody. But she was saving others; herself she could not save.”

Psalm 36:7 reminds us that there is Another who provides winged protection in times of trouble. How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God! And the children of men take refuge in the shadow of Your wings. Ps. 118:8 takes it a flutter further: It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in humans.

Eighteen months ago, Judy, a precious friend in Christ with whom I had lost touch, began to phone and text me, asking me if everything was okay with my family members. In her prayer time, God continually brought their faces before her, telling her to pray. Recently she drove several hundred miles to come to my home, pray with me for my family and remind me of the spiritual battle going on around us. Judy’s in-my-face visit was to remind me to stay close to God by speaking blessings on family members so they would walk in Truth.

“Satan is seeking to control them and destroy their walks with God,” said my friend. It was real. It was intentional. It was alarming.

Later that week another Christian friend called to “catch up.” The conversation was light and funny until I shared what Judy had told me. Her response was solemn. “We all need to hear that. I don’t pray blessings on my son (who has walked away from his faith); I just complain about it.” My traveling friend’s warning had legs.

How many times had I tossed the token “bless the kiddies and the grand-kiddies” umbrella prayer into the clouds, hoping it would filter its way into Heaven? How many times had I dismissed the power of the “prayers” I was mumbling, not recognizing the power in conversation with God? How many times had I not prayed, ignoring the One whose wings cover me and my loved ones 24/7?

Like the grouse, the Lord put his broken life on the line so that we might be saved. In my case He didn’t stop there. He sent a friend with a wake-up call for me to take nothing for granted.

How much more did He need to do to get my attention?

Patty LaRoche: Why Me, Lord?

I am organizing my funeral. Not that I plan on dying soon, but one never knows. As of today, there remain many undecideds: cremation, burial, or cremation with burial; who should be the lucky heir to my needlepoint tea towels; and who will give my eulogy and make me sound nicer than I am. (Children need not apply.) For every checked off item, I add two more.

Right now, I’m focused on music. Previously I had made my song list in the “Notes” section of my phone, but three weeks ago all of my 146 notes were deleted. Not even the backup Clouds APP could find them. Nor could the techie at the Apple store. So, I’m starting over.

I remember two songs from the original list. “You Raise Me Up” by Josh Groban and “Why Me, Lord?” by I don’t know who…which brings me to yesterday when I spent some time in the APP music store listening to different versions and singers. Ross King had a song by that name, but its lyrics were entirely different…and not funeral appropriate. Still, I loved its honky-tonk tune and bought it. I plan to learn it on my guitar. Not to play at my funeral, of course. That would be weird.

King’s words are a great reminder of what should matter. See if you agree.

My Lexus just ran out of gas; my iPod needs new songs.

My cellphone battery is dead.

Oh, why me Lord? Why you done me wrong?

My suntan salon just closed down; my summer glow is gone.

And the kid who cleans my pool just quit.

Oh, why me, Lord? Why you done me wrong?

There’s people starving in Africa; there’s War in the Middle East.

But I’m a rich dude in suburbia who could use a little sympathy.

My grande-no-whip-mocha-latte is way too strong.

Oh, why me, Lord? Why you done me wrong?

I’ve got 150 channels on my tv, but I think I need a hundred more.

Got a world of entertainment on the internet.

But I’m still bored. Why me, Lord?

My backed-up credit card’s maxed out; can’t remember what I spent it on.

So, I guess I have to settle for the medium fries.

Oh, why me, Lord? Why you done me wrong?

There’s homeless families in New Orleans, soldiers dying on a foreign shore.

But I’m a rich dude living in luxury who could use a little something more.

There’s white trash folks in my country club, and they really don’t belong.

Oh, why me, Lord? Why you done me wrong?

Yea, I think I’ll write a letter to my Congressman, maybe send him a tape of this song.

He’s probably in his big old mansion right now.

Sayin’ “Why me, Lord? Why you done me wrong?”

Yea, I care about the people in Africa, and I’m praying for the Middle East.

But I’m a rich dude out in suburbia who could use a little sympathy.

So, don’t forget my grande-no-way-mocha-latte is way too strong.

Oh, why me, Lord? Why you done me wrong?

Why me, Lord? Why you done me wrong?

So, Readers, the more I think about it, maybe this version should be included at my funeral. Chances are, it would be one no one would ever forget.

Patty LaRoche: Going to the Dogs

Their world has gone to the dogs. Correction: dog. Mollie hit the mongrel jackpot when she was adopted by parents who are giving her every opportunity to succeed in the canine world. Mollie is a rescue dog, which makes her parents sort of foster heroes because they chose a reject instead of purchasing a full-blood. Their home is a shrine to their baby, and even though she is only three years old, scrapbooks fill the fireplace shelves. Should you ask, a slide show is available in the family room. Okay, perhaps that is an exaggeration.

Then again, maybe not.

My friend Debbie is Mollie’s “grandmother.” She visited Dave and me over Memorial Day weekend, and we all cracked up when she pulled out the most recent photos of Mollie. We began with swim lessons. Yes, you read right. I questioned if Mollie’s parents paid extra for poochy to learn the back stroke and the butterfly. Seriously! What ever happened to tossing a dog off a dock to teach him to doggy paddle? If it was good enough for my kids…

The next snapshots were at Mollie’s day care center’s graduation. (See photo.) This is no normal pup school. The interview process assures an appropriate fit. Not just anyone is accepted, nor would just any faculty be right for Mollie. (Thank goodness Sunbeam Pre-School wasn’t as selective.)

Debbie shared that she was flabbergasted after receiving a graduation announcement listing a gift registry at Petco. As if that weren’t enough, at the ceremony Mollie was awarded a separate certificate for finishing her pre-school education as “a good citizen.” Since Mollie is the only “child” of Debbie’s only child, “Grandma” coughed up $50 to purchase doggie dental floss.

Mollie is fed better than I fed our children. Her diet is controlled with nutrients I can’t even pronounce. No ballpark hotdogs or frozen pizza or leftover pb&j’s for this mutt, and

Heaven forbid if her parents ever received a phone call from Sonic telling them that “yet again” their dog was mooching off of their patrons. Mollie’s diet is organic. Our pooch never saw a

preservative he didn’t like. Then again, neither did our kids.

I must be honest here. I’m not a dog lover. I’m a dog liker, but there is a difference. I have two girlfriends—let’s call them Marti and Sally because…well, that’s their names—who have saved more animals than the Humane Society. Not me. I will stop my car to help a turtle cross the road, but I have no desire to sleep with a dog or pick up their messes or buy a stroller so my pet can vacation with me.

That being said, I do believe God created animals to be protected and cared for. We know there was a bond between Adam and the creatures because Adam was told to name the animals…not the trees or plants. Proverbs 12:10 states, “Whoever is righteous cares for the life of his animals.” However, God declares in Genesis 1:26-30 that humans have the responsibility to rule over the nonhuman creation. There is a balance in there somewhere.

I’m just not sure swim lessons were what He had in mind.

Patty LaRoche: By the Grace of God

A man dies and goes to heaven where St. Peter meets him at the pearly gates. St. Peter says, “Here’s how it works. You need 100 points to make it into heaven. You tell me all the good things you’ve done, and I give you a certain number of points for each item, depending on how good it was. When you reach 100 points, you get in.”

“Okay,” the man says, “I was married to the same woman for 50 years and never cheated on her, even in my heart.”

“That’s wonderful,” says St. Peter. “That’s worth three points!”

“Three points?” he says. “Well, I attended church all my life and supported its ministry with my tithe and service.”

“Terrific!” says St. Peter. “That’s certainly worth a point.”

“One point? Golly. How about this: I started a soup kitchen in my city and worked in a shelter for homeless veterans.”

“Fantastic, that’s good for two more points,” he says.

“TWO POINTS!!” the man cries. “At this rate the only way I get into heaven is by the grace of God!”

“Come on in!”

Grace is one of the most taken-for-granted messages of scripture, yet there is nothing more life-changing than this fearsome force flowing from God’s heart to messes like us. It is offered to transform our lives, and once we grab hold of its treasures, we will never be the same. If ever there were an identity-changer, it is grace.

Pastor Bill Giovannetti wrote a powerful article on this truth. “People act out of who they are. If you want a man to love his wife better, you can teach him to communicate, suggest he

bring flowers, and offer ways to express affection in the daily routines of life. That’ll preach.

“But what if he hates himself? What if he has never overcome early abandonment issues? What if the voice of dysfunction keeps screaming he’s a failure, or if all the programming inside defines him as a loser? In that case, there are no ‘practical steps toward being a better husband’ that will work.”

Giovannetti continues with the answer: Man must understand that in God’s eyes, he is righteous, valued, beloved and accepted. Scripture proves that God lavishes him with grace and calls him righteous, “so he’s got nothing left to prove to that abusive, dead father who keeps hissing from his grave.” The gifted author prompts us to get involved. “Help him see how the Redeemer’s blood has set him free from every shackle slapped on him by his stoned-out mother or that bully who made school a living hell. Grace rehabs the identity first… and maybe, two months down the road he might actually say a kind word to his wife because he’s finally feeling better about himself, in Christ.”

We cannot work enough to impress God in an effort to earn points or negate our sins. Ephesians 1:6 advises us how to proceed. Let us praise God for his glorious grace, for the free gift he gave us in his dear Son!

It is a reminder of where we need to start…and end.

Patty LaRoche: Picked First

Do you remember the classroom spelling bee? The game Red Rover? Playground softball matches? For all three, captains were picked, and in front of the hopefuls desperate not to be last, they selected their teammates. Too many times that last one chosen was the same person, no matter the contest. He/she knew it was coming.

Public humiliation at its finest!

As a teacher, I knew that competition could be a fun motivator, but when I used it, I never picked the top student as captain. Those students who elected to sit in the back of the classroom, those with little-or- no eye contact, those whose clothes labeled them unpopular, were selected. The three of us would meet in the hall to choose the lineups, and the leaders were instructed that when we returned to the classroom and announced the teams, we would say the names in reverse order of how they were picked. Sometimes we would start in the middle, but we never began with the ones recognized as the best.

It’s no secret that everyone needs to matter. Rich or poor. Christian or atheist. Educated or uneducated. There are no exceptions. Being chosen validates us. Maybe that’s why the central focus of scripture is that God chose us. Did we deserve it? Definitely not! (With my past, I’d be lucky to stand on the sidelines and cheer.)

God sees things differently.

He is good at that.

In the Old Testament, Haggai the prophet is told by God to instruct two people, Zerubbabel, the governor’s son, and Joshua, the high priest’s son, to rebuild the Temple which their enemy destroyed 66 years before. There have been previous, paltry attempts at reconstruction, but work has stalled as the men become discouraged because their workmanship pales in comparison to Solomon’s original structure.

The warning from God is stern as He jolts them into action. Patty’s paraphrase: “You certainly don’t have a problem tiling and re-carpeting your own homes, but Mine looks like a tornado leveled it. Not cool.”

Just 23 days after Haggai’s message, the men get to work. God continues to instruct Haggai to tell Zerubbabel that devastation will befall the foreign lands of their enemies, but then affirms what He will do next. “On that day, I will take you, my servant Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, and I will make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you.” Power-punched words to end this Old Testament book. “I. Have. Chosen. You.” Of all the Israelites, Zerubbabel was labeled a favorite.

We have the same opportunity, no matter what worldly designation we have been given.

If we are a Jesus-follower, we need to thank God (literally) that He looked down from His throne and, ignoring what the world has to say, offered grace to everyone, even those defined as a “last pick:” the teenager with the kinky hair and the crooked nose; the boy who can’t hit a baseball; the girl whose parents will abandon her; the murderer; you; and me.

God chooses the ones who will love Him back, repent of their sins and become new creations in Christ. But there’s more good news: In God’s kingdom, there are no last picks. We might be the outcast on everyone else’s list, but we all are first on His.

We. Are. Chosen.

But don’t shout “Hallelujah!” too soon. It doesn’t end there.

One question remains which we need to ask ourselves: “Have we chosen Him?”

Patty LaRoche: In God’s Image

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. Gen. 1:26,27 (ESV)

If you skimmed this passage and missed its point, here it is: we are created in God’s image. Think about that. We matter. Last week I shared about my visit with “Greg,” a sex trafficking expert with “Deliver Fund,” who described what happens to girls taken into bondage. It made my skin crawl. He said that there is NO community unaffected by this crime. Surely he wasn’t serious. Nevada? Fort Scott? Where everyone knows who’s dating whom, what kind of surgery they’ve had and if they go to church or not? That’s just nuts.

Apparently not, because, well…let’s face it—we might know the latest gossip, but we pay little attention to what goes on right around us. Remember Ariel Castro, the man who for ten years imprisoned three women in his boarded-up, Cleveland, Ohio, home? Not one neighbor took the time to put the clues together that something was amiss…and there were plenty.

I asked Greg what people like me can do to help. Most importantly, he said, we need to pray for eyes to see. Greg knows that not everyone can be involved to the extent he is, but there are too many who just want to “scratch-their-action-guy-itch.” They volunteer to help but aren’t

committed. Fewer still want to take the time to be on the lookout for warning signs. Prime culprits are seedy motels with “a lookout” standing outside and convenience stores where men accompany young girls who make little eye contact and refuse to engage in conversation.

Greg wasn’t talking about me. Ask my husband. I live to catch a criminal. Once, after reading of the plane passenger who tried to light his shoe on fire, I alerted airport authorities to a man who had a cord hanging from the hem of his pants. It turned out to be part of his phone. (Or so I was told…um-hum.) Every time I see an adult carrying a screaming child, I immediately think kidnapping. I’m always on the lookout to save someone. It drives Dave crazy.

So, let’s say you aren’t as brave/foolish as I. There’s another way you can help. Yesterday I received an email from a relative. In lieu of a birthday gift, she asked for donations to Operation Underground Railroad, a foundation that rescues and rehabilitates kidnapped children. It is one of many, and all of them need financial support.

David Batstone, the founder of The Not For Sale Campaign, got involved when he found out that the staff at one of his favorite Indian restaurants in San Francisco were almost all slaves. This was discovered when one of the workers went home to find her roommate very ill.  Not knowing what to do, she called her landlord, the owner of the restaurant.  He arrived, then refused to call for help, and instead rolled the sick, unconscious girl in a carpet and loaded her into his van. Then he tried to force the first girl into the van.  A brave woman heard the girl’s screams and called the police.  It turned out that almost all the staff in the man’s several restaurants had been illegally trafficked from India, owed a “debt” to their “employer” for their transportation to America, and were paid minimal wages, which did not cover exorbitant rents that the owner charged for the slum-like apartments in which they lived.

The woman who called the police paid attention. As did David.

We need to do likewise. I’m not saying we turn into peeping toms who roam our neighborhoods with binoculars (although that would be a deterrent). Sex trafficking involves the dehumanization of life. It’s a slap in God’s face, the same God who made us in His image. To really make a difference we must open our eyes…and our hearts…and maybe even our wallets.