Friday, April 3, 2020

FMF: Now

My pastor closes his sermons with this benediction:
"Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen" (Hebrews 13:20-21 NIV).
At first I thought it was a strange selection. It sounded to scholarly. Who uses words like "equip" in everyday conversation? Most don't, but the writer of Hebrews did. As I continued to hear these words week after week, I realized how appropriate they are.

I want the GOD OF PEACE to EQUIP ME WITH EVERYTHING GOOD FOR DOING HIS WILL.  What better blessing is there to give to people?

I am just one of the sheep, and JESUS is THE GREAT SHEPHERD OF THE SHEEP. He guides me, protects me, and provides for me.

I want God to WORK IN US WHAT IS PLEASING TO HIM. It doesn't matter what is pleasing to me.  Ultimately, I live as Christ's representative, so what he wants is what I want.

I can only do these things THROUGH JESUS CHRIST, and he deserves GLORY FOR EVER AND EVER. None of this is about me.  Or, at least, none of this should be about me.  Help me, God, when I lose track of You.

AMEN.



This post is a prompt from Five Minute Friday and was written in approximately five minutes. For more information, visit fiveminutefriday.com.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Stories

In 2018 I went through a period in which God showed me that our lives are like a story. I love stories.  I mean, I really love stories, all kinds of stories: mystery, young adult, historical, and many more.

Stories are meant to be told to others. I share little parts of my story when I write, sometimes only implicitly and only the portions that allow me to remain feeling in control of what others might think of me. Some stories are easier to tell than others.

Four years ago my dad had a seizure in the middle of the night. He was taken to the hospital, treated, and released. For about two months he ate healthy and tried to take care of himself. Then my mother called me one day, but it was not really just ”one day”. It was, in fact, my birthday. She left me a message that said “Your dad is having bad headaches, so we are going back to the hospital.” The next day I found out my dad had a brain tumor.

God spoke to me very clearly at that time, reminding me of a story found in Daniel 3. When faced with the possibility of death, three men proclaimed, “Our God is able to save us, and He will save us. But even if He does not, we will worship only Him” (17-18, paraphrased). For the next three months that was my prayer. “God, You are able to save him... But even if You do not, I will worship only You.”

And then my dad died.

And I had a choice: To live out the prayer I had been praying or to abandon the God to whom I prayed.

That is the core of many stories. The main character has to make a decision. Edward or Jacob? Volunteer to face death or let my sister face death? Believe I’m a wizard or stay where I am? [Hey, I warned you I like young adult fiction!]

I hope my decision is evident. I still pray. I still believe. I remember that chapter of my story, knowing that God was with me in the fire, just like he was with the three men in Daniel 3.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

The body. The braid.

During a Sunday morning service last May, I found myself thinking about that girlhood rite of passage: the sleepover. Forgive me, Pastor Josh, if you are reading this.

Our pastor had just explained that the proper translation of Philippians 1:6 is a plural you. Where we read "For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in YOU will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus" (NASB), it would more properly be translated “He who began a good work in Y’ALL...” (as they might say in the south).

He had just made this statement when I noticed two girls in front of me sharing a moment of spiritual sisterhood. They were tenderly, messily braiding each other's hair. The jokes about girls getting together to braid each other’s hair are almost cliche. Nobody I know gets excited about braiding their own hair. Some even consider it a chore. Yet many times I've seen one woman start braiding another woman's hair, almost instinctively. Why is that?  Why is there something special about braiding each other’s hair?

I suspect it’s not too different from what my pastor was saying that day. We are made to be a people. God promised Abraham a son, but also a people. It was God’s people, as a collective, who were punished with 40 years in the desert, not just the ten spies who doubted their ability to conquer the promised land. It is why Paul missed his fellow believers when he was away from them, which I wrote about yesterday, and you can read HERE. Like three portions of hair come together to make a braid, we make up a body of believers. Don't forget, the braid is a Biblical concept.
"Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up. Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone?  And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart" (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, NASB).

Be the body.  Be the braid.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

See You Soon

The apostle Paul had a special gift for telling people he missed them. Sure, everyone misses someone from time to time, but Paul was good at expressing it.

In his letter to the Roman believers, he speaks of the blessing it will be when he is reunited with them:
"I pray that I will be allowed to come to you, and this will happen if God wants it. I want very much to see you, to give you some spiritual gift to make you strong. I mean that I want us to help each other with the faith we have. Your faith will help me, and my faith will help you" (Romans 1:10b-12, NCV).
In his letter to Timothy, he recalls the affection of his coworker and the joy his friendship is:
"Remembering that you cried for me, I want very much to see you so I can be filled with joy" (2 Timothy 1:4, NCV).
In his letter to the believers in Corinth, he states that he'll be visiting on his return trip so that he can spend more time with them. In the previous verse, he says he hopes to stay the whole winter, but he will act upon God's will:
"I do not want to see you now just in passing. I hope to stay a longer time with you if the Lord allows it" (1 Corinthians 16:7, NCV).
In his letter to the believers in Philippi, he expresses the deepness of his love for them:
"God knows that I want to see you very much, because I love all of you with the love of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 1:8, NCV).

In this era of social distancing, many are feeling socially isolated. Not just physically separated, they feel lonely and devalued. I have struggled with these feelings even though I live with three other people. We may not be in prison, like Paul, but we may feel trapped in our homes all the same.

Our communities need us to be Pauls, to be willing to put our hearts on the line, and expose our deepest emotions.  It's ok to miss people.  It's ok to remember good times. It's ok to have hopes for the future. However, it is better that these feelings be expressed to build each other up.

I'm starting now.  I pulled out some blank notecards and all the postage stamps I could find in my house. I am going to do what I can, what God allows me to do, to make sure people know they matter to me.

I hold on to the hope that God will allow me to see you soon.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Meaningless

Pandemic boredom has struck me hard this week.

I keep a pretty clean house, so I didn't have a lot of "catch up" work to do, and any I had was finished the first week we stayed home. I have been doing homework, reading, writing, and doing daily devotions more consistently. But like I said, pandemic boredom has struck me hard. So I looked for other projects:

I washed all my doors, inside and out.
I brushed the dog.
I washed all my baseboards.
I washed the walls in my bathroom.
I cleaned my kitchen cupboard doors.
I washed my ceiling fans.
I erased 4,000 emails in one sitting.
I hand polished my hardwood floors.
I cleaned my closet and one son's closet.
I trimmed two trees in my backyard.
I organized my cassette tapes, matching mixed tapes with covers.

It's all feels meaningless. On a day when it feels like there is not point to anything you do, sit down with twelve chapters of wisdom from a king who calls himself Preacher. Yes, today is a day for Ecclesiastes. Certainly if a king feels his actions are meaningless, I am allowed to feel the same. Wisdom, pleasure, possessions, labor, riches, and even life itself are all called foolish. That just about covers it all. I can imagine the Goodreads reviews if it were published today: Three stars. It had some good parts, but the Preacher needs prozac!

So what's the point?

Let's hear from the preacher himself: "The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person.  For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil" (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14, NASB).

I am reminded of another part of the Bible that says, "Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve" (Colossians 3:23-24, NASB).

Even though it's all meaningless, it matters because we choose to follow or disobey God through it. We will be judged according to how our faith plays out in our actions. So, whether this time of sheltering in place is filled with busyness or boredom, I pray my actions bless the Lord.