Sunday, February 21, 2021

House of the Lord

I was glad when they said to me,
“Let’s go to the house of the Lord.”
Our feet are standing
Within your gates, Jerusalem.
(Psalm 122:1-2, NASB)

There is nothing intrinsically special about our church buildings. It is not the tabernacle or the temple where the literal presence of the Lord resided for so many years. Today the Spirit of the Lord resides in His believers.

It is not the place where we make sacrifices to atone for our sins and mistakes, where bulls and doves allow us to express our sorrow for behaving in a way that is not pleasing to God. Today we make the sacrifice of a contrite heart.

It’s not even the place we truly worship God.  Jesus Himself taught that the day was coming when we would worship Him in spirit and truth. Today, like so many days that have already passed, is that day.

Yet there is something special about returning inside the church. I felt it last year, too, when we initially resumed meeting outside after quarantine.

No social distance can replace the warmth of being with those you love.
No masks can cover the smile in a person's eyes.
No lack of corporate singing can stop the song in one's heart.

Every time I have ever travelled, there is this special moment when I walk back into my home.  Whether being away for a couple days or a couple weeks, there is nothing like placing your feet on familiar soil.  For the psalmist, that land was Jerusalem.  For me, today, it was the sanctuary at my church.

Where I first learned to study scripture.

Where I was baptized.

Where I first served God amongst other believers.

Where I married my husband.

Where I've testified to God's grace over and over in my life.

So I will pray for my church, my homeland, my Jerusalem. When the words falter, I will echo the words of the psalmist, that peace and prosperity be a part of our lives, not for our own sake but for the sake of our brothers and friends and for the sake of the house of the Lord.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
“May they prosper who love you.
May peace be within your walls,
And prosperity within your palaces.”
For the sake of my brothers and my friends,
I will now say, “May peace be within you.”
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek your good.
(Psalm 122:6-9, NASB)


Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Wacky Wednesday

It all began
with that shoe on the wall.
A shoe on the wall...?
Shouldn't be there at all!
(Wacky Wednesday, Dr. Seuss)

If you've read any of the other posts I've made here, you'll know that I don't often begin with a quote from something other than Scripture.  Again and again throughout my life, I've felt the Holy Spirit prompt me to commit myself to God.  In writing, that means my words are most always focused on His.

But we're coming off a wacky year, and I'm in a wacky mood.  And it just felt like a Wacky Wednesday kind of day.

Wacky because I've started a new part time job, in addition to my existing part time job, working as a tutor. Yesterday was my first shift.  I sat in my virtual classroom for two hours... all... by... myself.  Though I knew that was a very likely possibility, it was not the vision I had created in my head.

Wacky because I spent most of today attending to details for this weekend, our church's first service inside our sanctuary in almost a year.  Forty nine Sundays held outside or at home.

Wacky because I almost forgot it's Ash Wednesday. And even though my church does not traditionally celebrate Lent, we do usually have a special time together on Ash Wednesday. You can read my previous reflections on Ash Wednesday here: Rough Cloth and Ashes or Rainbow Offerings.

You might say that my lenten experience is begining with a shoe on the wall.


To Sacrifice or Not To Sacrifice?
Lent is always a little wacky for me.  Our denominational tradition does not encourage the lenten focus, but I know a growing number of believers who find the experience beneficial to their faith.  But when your church body doesn't practice the act collectively it becomes a bit of a spiritual landmine.  Mention your fast to the wrong person and you'll get a lecture about how we are not Catholic and God does does not demand a sacrifice from us.

I always want to remind them that God never really wanted sacrifice; He wanted obedience. Even in the era when animals were regularly being offered to God, it wasn't God's primary desire.  I want to open my Bible to 1 Samuel 15:22 and help them recall that the prophet said "to obey is better than to sacrifice." Saul, the King, would be dethroned for making sacrifices to God that He did not ask for.  

Oh, but there are sacrifices that God desires:
For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it;
You do not take pleasure in burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
A broken and a contrite heart, God, You will not despise.
(Psalm 51:16-17, NASB)
God does not want a burnt offering.  He wants our hearts.  If a lenten sacrifice bring us back to Him, we should do it.


The Pattern of Fast and Feast
We love to celebrate the Christian feasts, Christmas and Easter.  We love the excitement and the tradition.  The joy.  But I'm not sure these days mean as much without also engaging in the fasts. The dark days.  The reflection and preparation.  The sorrow.

Many years ago, my husband and I went camping with a friend. We decided to explore some of the caves where we were staying. As excited as I was, I was also nervous about getting lost in our adventure. The farther we went into the cave, the smaller the light got until eventually it was the smallest it could be without disappearing. Our friend encouraged us to go farther, into total darkness. We compromised by making one single turn, stepping out of the light by only a few steps. That may have been one of the scariest moments of my life. We stood there a few moments until we were ready to leave, and I will never forget the joyous moment when I could see the light once again. For me, Lent is very much like that experience. It is a time remembering the darkness so that I can better celebrate the light.


Lent 2021
So here I am, still feeling wacky, but now a little retrospective too, wondering what Jesus would tell me if he were sitting at the desk across from mine.

I don't know. I really don't. But I can spend the next 40-ish days trying to figure it out.

Hey, God.
It's me.
How's it going?
Anything I need to pay attention to?
I'll be right here if You want to let me know...

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Neighbor

But wanting to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
(Luke 10:29, NASB)

I had just turned the heater on when I heard the knock on my office door. I opened it to see a woman.

"Excuse me," she said. "We just noticed one of your windows is broken."

It's not unusual to find neighbors on our church property.  On the edge of an area zoned for manufacturing, a major residential area begins to the south of our church campus. A large grassy area covers that side of property.  Those who have been at the church a long time may see the grass as a missed opportunity.  The original plans included many more classrooms and a small chapel, and the grassy area would have been replaced with buildings for education and worship.  However, the early members of our church never got around to finishing development for one reason or another. So, these days, we often find our neighbors throwing a football, practing casting their fishing rods, or like today, playing with their dogs.  Hello, neighbor.

As a church we do our best to make use of that area.  We gated off a small section so our children's department can safely take students outside to run around. Over the years we've had many barbeques and water balloon fights.  We even purchased a blow up movie screen to host movie nights during the summer.

These local residents are our neighbors and it's generally easy to love them.

But what about the others?  What about the person who, for example, broke our window?  What about the person a few years ago who graffiti'd our trash cans?  What about the man who asked (that is, told) us to make expensive repairs to a portion of our building "because he loved Jesus"?  Can we invite these people to be our neighbors also?

Indeed, those needing to be accepted as neighbors are the ones from whom we least benefit.  When the Samaritan helped the man on the road in Jesus' parable, he was generous with time and money.  He took care of his physical needs, transported him to an inn, stayed the evening there, paid the man's debt, and promised to return in case more was needed.

The Samaritan was a neighbor to the man before the man could decide he wanted a neighbor.

It's easy to befriend the Mr Rogers of the world who declare "I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you."  However, when we find our neighbor is more Oscar the Grouch than Mr Rogers, it is then that we can truly model God's love.  We can love first (1 John 4:19).

Sunday, February 14, 2021

90 West

Today I took the 90 West
to see if I remember,
to give myself a test.

To visit where blue whales always swim
and the big blue bus
stops next to them.

To hear the songs that Beethoven plays
from long forgotten
elementary days.

To see if the lady had lost her head
or if fences protect
like they intended.

To buy a donut, though out of the way,
because they taste the best
on a Sunday.

To see the house that the earthquake hit
and make a guess
who lives in it.

To drive down streets that I once walked
and rode my bike
and with friends talked.

To revisit if I am still my own.
To know who I am.
To see my home.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Donuts

Eating a maple bacon donut.
I love donuts.

No, like, really love them.

And I love people who love donuts along with me.

Let me tell you about a man I worked with for a few years named Ted.  Ted was special because he would bring me donuts.  From Oregon.  To California.  Ted and I shared a mutual love for VooDoo Doughnut, a small and quirky chain of donut shops that originated in Oregon, but can now be found in at least four states.

If there is one near you, try the peach fritter.  I know, peach.  Just try it. I've eaten my fair share of donuts.  I can't say I've eaten at every donut shop in driving distance from my home, but that's only because my car gets really good mileage.

I've brought donuts to many people for many occaisions, but I've probably never had anyone appreciate it as much as Ted. Our love for VooDoo Doughnut grew because we had each other in our lives.  We talked about them.  We dreamed about them.  We ate them more because we'd bring them to each other.  Our lives were more donut-y because we had each other.

A rather beloved proverbs floats around some Christian circles:
As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. (Proverbs 27:17, NIV)
I've recently been very convicted by this.  Instead of feeling like iron for my fellow believers, I've felt like a spiritual cotton ball. Unsure if I'm sharpening anyone, I've withdrawn. Quarantine makes it easy to hide. There is an unrest in my spirit that must be resolved. Yet, the call for community persists.  I need the iron of others as much as they need me. I do-nut want to neglect this.

Last year I broke my favorite knife.  It has a lifetime service warranty, but the factory was closed because of COVID.  I could send it to them, but they could not promise how long it would be before they repaired it. For no particular reason, I waited. I was frustrated I had to mail my knife for repair.  I was frustrated the factory was closed. I was frustrated the knife had broken in the first place. So that knife sat on a shelf in my kitchen for months - six, to be exact - before I finally realized that I had made a foolish decision.  If I had mailed it when it first broke, it would already be repaired.

As believers, as pieces of iron, our sharpening does not always come in the way we would choose.  The difficulty of repair just means we need repair that much more. Some days I'm a dull knife, no good for any use, and collecting dust.

But not today.  Today this knife is sharp.

Today, I eat donuts!