Friday, June 18, 2021

FMF: Lift

When the cloud remained over the tabernacle a long time, the Israelites obeyed the Lord’s order and did not set out. Sometimes the cloud was over the tabernacle only a few days; at the Lord’s command they would encamp, and then at his command they would set out. Sometimes the cloud stayed only from evening till morning, and when it lifted in the morning, they set out. Whether by day or by night, whenever the cloud lifted, they set out.  Whether the cloud stayed over the tabernacle for two days or a month or a year, the Israelites would remain in camp and not set out; but when it lifted, they would set out.  At the Lord’s command they encamped, and at the Lord’s command they set out.
(Numbers 9:19-23a, NIV)

In trying to follow God's will for my life, I have found that He has sometimes led me places I don't entirely love.  I have remained at jobs for longer than I wanted because that was how God was providing for my family during those days. I have delayed from doing things I felt I should do because there was no way for it to happen, and then one day, God made a way. God's timing doesn't always make sense. Why did the Israelites camp some places only one night and camp other places for longer periods of time?

Ultimately, it doesn't really matter why.  It's not too different from young children who bombard their parents with "but whyyyyyyy?"

Because.

God's "because" doesn't give me the warm fuzzy feeling I want from my faith, but I don't recall reading about warm fuzzies in scripture.

And in Numbers 9, we see the mysterious nature of God.  The God who sometimes settles His Spirit and sometimes lifts it up.  It is our job to keep watching.  And to follow.



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

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Camp Bound

But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.
(Romans 5:8, TLB)

Today was a milestone day in our house: my oldest son moved out, sort of. We packed up his things and drove him to a campground about two hours away, where he will live and work for the next two and a half months. Of course all the normal parental emotions welled up inside me.  There was some stress trying to make sure he had everything he would need ("How much underwear are you taking?") and that he knew all the important things he would need to know ("Do you know about tipping at restaurants?").  There was some nervousness as I wondered if he'd miss home or have a hard time making friends. And of course, I was excited for him thinking about how much fun he'd have and all the memories he'd make.

There was also a sense of nostalgia as I remembered the multiple summers I spent at that very campground. It was on that property that I learned how to be away from home, how to make decisions for myself, and so many other things. I laughed, and made friends, and cried.

But the most important experience I had at that campground was deciding to follow Christ. It's amazing to think my son will sit in the same ampitheatre where I first heard God call my name. It was there that I learned about God's great love for me, and I pray that my son has similar experiences.

Friday, June 11, 2021

FMF: Disagree

Stay away from foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they grow into quarrels. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, a good teacher, and patient. The Lord’s servant must gently teach those who disagree. Then maybe God will let them change their minds so they can accept the truth. And they may wake up and escape from the trap of the devil, who catches them to do what he wants. (2 Timothy 2:23-26, NCV)


I'm graduating college today.  Well, as much as any one "graduates" in a school district that is still closed for the pandemic. One of the most important things I've learned over the past two years is to agree-to-disagree with others in my educational community.  Sometimes I disagreed with classmates on trivial things.  Did they matter?  No, so it was easy to let it go while getting to know them. Other times, disagreements were more substantial.  I'll never forget the professor who taught adamently against racism and in the same class said that "Mexicans like Impalas."  Did I disagree with her blind hypocrisy?  Absolutely.  Was I ever going to change her?  Never.

Yet, when it comes to matters of my faith community, the agree-to-disagree situation is more challenging. In Paul's letter to Timothy it's clear that he's not talking about trivial things; he's talking about important issues that believers were letting the devil use to "gain a foothold"  in their spiritual walks, as Paul writes in Ephesians 4.  Paul doesn't tell the leaders to argue with them until they realize the error of their ways. His instructions are to be gentle.  To be kind.  To be patient.  To let the Holy Spirit do what the Holy Spirit does becuase only God would be able to let them see the truth.



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

Friday, June 4, 2021

FMF: Slow

Then Moses said to the Lord, “Please, Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither recently nor in time past, nor since You have spoken to Your servant; for I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.”

But the Lord said to him, “Who has made the human mouth? Or who makes anyone unable to speak or deaf, or able to see or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now then go, and I Myself will be with your mouth, and instruct you in what you are to say.”
(Exodus 4:10-12, NASB)


I've often wondered what was wrong with Moses.  Did he have a stutter?  A stammer?  A lisp?  Coming from a family familiar with speech delays, it's been a quality of Moses that I've considered more than once.

When my sister was about three, she saw a speech therapist.  My family cherishes a cassette tape they have of her singing.  What family wouldn't cherish a little child singing at that age?  Did it matter that the sounds weren't exact?  Absolutely not.  It was endearing.

I myself struggled with pronunciation when I was small.  It wasn't yellow; it was yeh-whoa.  It wasn't a cheeseburger; it was a chee-buh-guh.

And when I became a parent, I discovered that both of my sons needed help with language.  When my oldest saw a speech therapist, she emphasized how much he spoke.  That wasn't news to me!  He still loves to talk.  A lot.

But with any of us - my sons, me, my sister, Moses - what was wrong with us?

In a word: Nothing.

For whatever reason, this was how God made us.



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


For another speech therapy anecdote, you can read about my son's first session here: Ka- Ka- King.


Friday, May 7, 2021

FMF: She

She speaks wise words and teaches others to be kind.
(Proverbs 31:26, NCV)



She cleans the house with bleach each week
to take her back in time.
When things were simple and she swam
but hated the finish line.

She likes the smell of cigarettes
but has never smoked a cig.
It reminds her of her auntie's smell
she remembers as a kid.

She plants things in her garden
though she doubts that they will grow.
Because as a child a concrete yard
was all she had to know.

She'd still hide in a cowboy hat
if she thought that it could be
That she'd be invited.
She is trying. She is me.


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

Monday, April 19, 2021

IDK

I've been in a funk lately. I'm not sleeping well, so I am tired and struggling to accomplish what I need to do. That fatigue increased by the discouragement I feel from multiple challenging situations in my life. Why did that person treat me that way? Why didn't that thing happen?  When will I hear back regarding this other situation? Why does that person keep doing that? Maybe you've asked yourself these kinds of questions also.  As much as I hate to admit it, sometimes the only answer is "I don't know."

In the book of Numbers, we read the account of the God's early believers trying to figure out what God wants from them.  They approach their leader, Moses, with a pressing issue regarding who should be allowed to participate in the Passover meal. The believers' desire was to celebrate Passover, but they were unclean because they had recently been near a dead body (not because they had sinned).

Moses then said to them, “Wait, and I will listen to what the Lord will command concerning you.”
(Numbers 9:8, NASB)

There's something comforting in learning that sometimes even Moses didn't know what to do. I create these stories in my head that really spiritual people have all the answers, that they never struggle. However, scripture makes it clear that Moses never claimed to have all the answers.  He only claimed to have access to the One who did.  Moses was closer to God than any believer at that time, and yet He dare not speak on His behalf without consulting Him first.

There were things that Moses didn't know, and there will be things that we don't know. The important part is that we turn to God, for He does.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Preparing for Passover

I have never celebrated a traditional Passover dinner. And that makes sense, primarily, because I am not Jewish. I have read about it in detail, and I have particiated in tasting events, but neither is the same as gathering in a family's house as they pray, eat, and remember a tradition that is thousands of years old.

I must admit a good portion of the information I have read about Passover has been in preparing for Holy Week services. Christians who don't have at least a rudimentary understanding of Passover miss out on much of the symbolism of the Last Supper, Christ's crucifiction, and the modern celebration of both Communion and Easter.

But long before I knew the term "cultural appropiation," I was sensitive to the idea that a Christian observing their own pseudo-Passover meal might be offensive to a Jewish person. That left a person like me - who earnestly wants to understand and experience the tradition - in a predicament.

This year that longing to participate has been stronger than ever, and I have been considering how to balance these conflicting desires for months. I woke up this morning dispirited, thinking I had missed Passover.  Then I realized it was not yesterday; today is Passover.  I knew in that moment I would like to honor the day, even if I could not fully participate.  I looked up a few recipes, and I headed to the grocery store.  As I shopped, these words echoed in my head:
Eat the meat while your coat is tucked into your belt. Put your sandals on your feet. Take your walking stick in your hand. Eat the food quickly. It is the Lord’s Passover. That same night I will pass through Egypt. I will strike down all those born first among the people and animals. And I will judge all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord.  The blood on your houses will be a sign for you. When I see the blood, I will pass over you. No deadly plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.
(Exodus 12:11-13, NIRV)
There is an urgency to Passover, reminding me of my urgent need of salvation.  My best efforts are "woefully insufficient," as I recently read. God is my only source of freedom. So though I won't be painting my doorway with lamb's blood tonight, I will be baking some unleavened bread.  

I might even tuck my shirt into my belt. But if my husband asks, I'm just going to just say it's a French tuck.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

The People We Pray Quietly For

When I was a teenager, I loved attending Sunday night church. Sunday morning church services had a certain feeling. To me, there was a formality, a reverence to the gathering time. Sunday evenings, on the other hand, were more casual. I could wear jeans and a sweater. The format varied from week to week, and sometimes we had extended periods of prayer. As I think about it, I'm pretty confident that every week the pastor would call for people to share their prayer requests.

Figuratively, and sometimes literally, there were prayer requests shouted out. My neighbor is dying. My child is straying. I'm facing unemployment. My back is acting up.  Sometimes there was another kind of prayer request. This other kind was different.  For any number of reasons a person would not share the details of his or her prayer request. A person would just say: Unspoken.

I always struggled with unspoken prayer requests. Of course my teenage self wanted to know what gossip-worthy thing was happening in the person's life. Not that I intended to gossip. I just wanted to know. My adult self knows better. My adult self now understands.

The unspoken prayers were the ones that were most personal to you.

The unspoken prayers were the ones you didn't want to utter because it would make them true.

The unspoken prayers were the ones you couldn't even whisper.

But I thank God He knows our innermost thoughts.  He is the God who hears our prayers when the words come out as unintelligible screams and when they can't be whispered, when they come out unspoken.  Yes, He is the God of the whisper.

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart
and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind.
After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.
After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire.
And after the fire came a gentle whisper.
(1 Kings 19:11-12, NIV)

Friday, March 12, 2021

FMF: Possible

"But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”

“‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”

Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
(Mark 9:22b-24, NIV)


The man presented his sick child to the disciples, and at first his case seemed futile.  Even the disciples could not call out the spirit that caused the child to convulse, sometimes even fall in the fire.  Enter Jesus.  The situation was admittedly tense.  First, He rebukes His disciples, calling them an "unbelieving generation."  Ouch.  But, then, oh blessed moment, He calls for the child to be brought to Him.

The father cries out to Jesus.  He wants Jesus to take pity on His son if there's any way to heal him.

Jesus confirms, "If?"  Jesus clarifies: Jesus can't just do anything. He can do everything.  It's a matter of the father's faith.

The word faith in the original language is used both sacredly (God given faith) and secularly (convincing oneself).  Linguists look to the context to understand what kind of faith is intended?

I am certainly no linguist, but it seems like the father addresses both of these faiths.  His cry to Jesus is this: I have done everything in my power to believe, so help me to believe with the faith that only God can give.

If that is what is required, than perhaps I should pray less to be fixed and pray more to be faithed.




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

Friday, March 5, 2021

FMF: Green

But the person who trusts in the Lord will be blessed.
The Lord will show him that he can be trusted.
He will be strong, like a tree planted near water
that sends its roots by a stream.
It is not afraid when the days are hot;
its leaves are always green.
It does not worry in a year when no rain comes;
it always produces fruit.
(Jeremiah 17:7-8, NCV)

Let me tell you about the Green thing I love most: my friend who bears the color as her name. Mrs Green has been a friend of mine since the days when we were both still a Miss.  Over the years, we've had some hot days and dry years. I must admit there have been days we've cried to God for the rain.


Classwork and studies...
About to get D's in Chemistry.
But we had each other.


Broken hearts from boyfriends...

Pregnancy challenges...

Marrital struggles...

Childrearing challenges...

It never really stops; it only changes. So we comfort each other when the days are hot. She's the kind of friend who texts just to make sure I'm ok when I don't respond to a text in the appropriate amount of time. Just checking in to make sure you're ok. And she sends a funny meme with it.

Because of our mutual faith in the Lord we have been blessed, and our roots are secure.  The seasons come and go, but we do not shrivel.  God allows us to grow and flourish in Him. We have learned to trust in God more deeply becuase we have seen His work in the other's life.




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

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!

Friday, February 12, 2021

FMF: Once

This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Once again men and women of ripe old age will sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each of them with cane in hand because of their age. The city streets will be filled with boys and girls playing there.... so now I have determined to do good again to Jerusalem and Judah. Do not be afraid.” (Zechariah 8:4-5,15, NIV)

I've been thinking about mourning lately.  I didn't realize that might be strange until I just typed those words.  Mostly, I've been thinking that we (and when I say "we" I mostly mean "I") don't know how to mourn properly.  We don't let ourselves feel the depth of our pain, but, perhaps more concerning, we don't know how to move in an out of periods of mourning.

The prophet Zechariah spoke to the believers in exile.  I must admit, I have not studied the exile as much as I have studied some other periods of Biblical history.  However, I do know that the exile ended.  Eventually, the believers moved back to their beloved city and walked its streets once again.

The prophet promised that the return from exile would bring blessing to the believers.  Their times of fasting would become times of celebrations.  Love and justice would rule their city.  People would follow them to experience the same blessing they saw in the lives of the believers.

Seeing our streets filled once again may be a concept many of us relate to more than we did a year ago.  We long to leave the safety of our homes and begin to do life out in our home towns, to see the elderly with their canes, and to hear the young playing again. While I feel that longing for my physical life, perhaps I feel it more in my spiritual lives.

Oh, God, allow us to return from our spiritual exile and do not let us fear Your blessing.



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

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Along the Way

Me, doing my best impression of a tourist.
My family planned a trip to see a Minnesota Twins game in July 2019. Target Field, where the Twins play, is almost two thousand miles from our home so we also planned some stops along the way. In Utah, we visited long time friends who had moved out of state several years before. In South Dakota, we stopped at a cafe with the same name as my younger son. Oh, and we went to this little place called Mount Rushmore.  Maybe you've heard of it?

And then we drove the two thousand miles back home.  Along the way we planned equally exiciting stops. In Iowa, we saw a musician who wasn't coming to the West Coast any time soon. And the Field of Dreams! In Colorado, we visited family. And in Las Vegas, Nevada we stayed at a fancy hotel - just because we could... and because I had a coupon.

Sure, we could have flown to Minneapolis.  What took us a week each way could have been accomplished with a three hour flight.  It probably would have been cheaper, too.  But, oh, the things we would have missed along the way!

A candy museum. A gun museum. A cowboy museum.  Three rounds of golf at three different miniature golf courses in the same mall. Watching a lightning storm set a field on fire. Countless small towns that claimed a connection to Laura Ingalls Wilder. A mid-America county fair. A hotel with hallways reminiscent of The Shining and showers that could be seen from the main room if you didn't turn on the lights properly. A picture opp next to a giant Green Giant statue. Finally getting my son a mug with his name on it.  An underground cave tour.

What happens along the way is very important in Scripture.  God's people were warned of armies, ambushes, and angels they would encounter along the way.  Yet we wonder why things are difficult for us.

There was a stretch of highway in Wyoming that really made me nervous.  We had been relying on our phone to direct us, and we hadn't had any problems.  Yet, when it told us to turn off the main highway to go on another path for one hundred miles, then turn right and continue for fifty miles, I was suddenly aware of everything that could go wrong.  What would happen if we lost cell reception? What would happen if we missed our turn?  What would happen if we got a flat tire? We could see the fences of distant ranches, but we could not see people.  We had to trust the way before us.

Life is too often like that Wyoming path.  Uncertain.  Unfamiliar.  Unexpected.  Maybe even undesired.

There is only one place to receive comfort in those moments:

Jesus said, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust in me. There are many rooms in my Father’s house; I would not tell you this if it were not true. I am going there to prepare a place for you. After I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me so that you may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going." (John 14:1-4, NCV)

God has never abandoned me along the way, so why do I worry? I believe that God has revealed to me the way to the place where I am going, that place where I can finally be with Him in perfect peace. And I pray He alows me to enjoy the journey along the way.

Friday, February 5, 2021

FMF: Sunrise

“If a thief is caught breaking in at night and is struck a fatal blow, the defender is not guilty of bloodshed; but if it happens after sunrise, the defender is guilty of bloodshed." (Exodus 22:2-3, NIV)

This is not a political statement.
Thank you for not misconstruing this post.

What does the sunrise change? If you were an Israelite living in the time of Moses, everything. According to law of Exodus, it determined the guilt in your actions. Think about this way: In the safety of the light, you could see who was breaking in.  Your neighbors were likely awake to answer your call for help. It is not the same in the dark.  The light changes everything.

In our faith, we also have a spiritual sunrise. Lots of them. My denomination calls that process sanctification. It is the continual process of the Holy Spirit revealing to each believer what is right.  At certain points what was once justifiable no longer is. It is like James says, "If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them." (James 4:17, NIV)

And we don't all get there at the same time. Maybe that is why God tells us not to be careful in issuing judgement. We will never have adequate information to make the right decision in all cases.  We may get some right, but we'll definitely get some wrong too. So we are warned to judge carefully, to confirm if the sun has risen for the person standing before us.



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

Thursday, January 28, 2021

The Storm's Coming

There's a storm coming. You wouldn't believe me if you looked out my windows right now. It's bright and beautiful. There is just the slightest light breeze.  The sky is its own classic shade of blue, and there are white clouds dotting the horizon. Not storm clouds, these are the kind of clouds that make you lay back at a picnic and look for pictures in the sky.

But there is a storm coming.

The fire department has begun making sandbags available to residents.  Local restaurants, recently given permission to resume outdoor dining, are waiting a few days.  The fire damaged areas of Southern California have issued evacuation warnings because of the anticipated flash floods.  Already damaged by wild fires, for them the rain is insult to injury.

And so it is with the storms of life. Things appear perfect until they are not. Today's gentle breeze will blow a tree over tomorrow.

It makes me nervous to write this, almost as if I'm tempting fate, but I know my words will not cause the storms that blow my way.  They will, however, give credit to the God who will meet me in them.  He always has.  He always will.

I am reminded of something that was recently pointed out to me. It's a small detail that I have overlooked in a popular gospel story. The NASB translation says it like this:
Immediately afterward He compelled the disciples to get into the boat and to go ahead of Him to the other side, while He sent the crowds away. After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone.  But the boat was already a long distance from the land, battered by the waves; for the wind was contrary.  And in the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea.  When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” (Matthew 14:22-27)
The language is somewhat outdated in this translation, but it paints a much more vivid picture for my writer's brain. The wind was contrary. The disciples did not have smooth sailing and out of the darkness comes a figure walking towards them.  They were scared.  No, they were terrified.  However, they had forgotten the most important detail. It was Jesus Himself who told the disciples to be where they now found themselves. He urged them.  He forced them.  He compelled the disciples. 

So I must believe that I am in a similar boat as the disciples. I am trying to go where God has told me to go, but it is dark, and the wind is blowing. My journey isn't over; I'm no where near the shore. It is here that Jesus will meet me.  He will call out to me, and I will worship Him.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Fix Your Eyes

I've shared before that I struggle from motion sickness.  Really.  Bad.  Motion sickness.  My stomach turns a little even as I write those words. It's always been a problem for me, but it has gotten worse as I get older. I've tried everything to remedy it, but it appears to not be going away.

While I can't make it better, I certainly know how to make it worse.  Coffee, for one, seems to aggravate my stomach.  Whenever I fly or prepare for a long road trip, I try to avoid coffee.  That, of course, is difficult because those seem to be the days I need it the most. Fortunately, there are other sources of caffeine.

I've also learned that I can't look down, especially in the car.  I have about a ten second window that I can look down (if I'm not driving) at phone or GPS device.  After that, forget it!  Reading in the car? No way.  I'd die.

Ok, maybe I wouldn't die, but I'd be miserable.

I've learned to keep my eyes set on what is before me.

The writer of Hebrews uses a similar concept to encourage the early believers in their faith.  He writes:
Therefore, since we also have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let’s rid ourselves of every obstacle and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let’s run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking only at Jesus, the originator and perfecter of the faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2, NASB).
I'm the tall caveman in the back.
Running? I've done some, but I haven't received any formal training.  However, dancing is another story. It surprises a lot of people that I was a dancer in high school.  I knew I was never going to be a professional dancer, but for the most part I was able to do what I was expected to do. I knew what I could and what I could not do.

I always struggled with the pirouette. I could fake it, but I couldn't master it. That whole "pick something to focus on" trick that they teach you, I understood it conceptually but it didn't seem to do much to help me. I'd start with my eyes focused on something, but the spin would make it hard to find it again. I knew what I was supposed to do, but it never got easier.  I do one turn, but never two.

With my faith, too, I am at first easily focused. Then life spins me around and I've lost all sense of direction. Where'd my mark go? Was that one spin or two? Why am I so disoriented? It's not supposed to be this hard, is it?

Friend, yes.  Life is hard. I can't say it enough.  I wish someone had sat down with me when I was younger and explained to me that, though things change, they never get easy.  At least, not the kind of easy we expect.

We need to continue learning to look only at Jesus because life will never stop spinning us around.

Friday, January 22, 2021

FMF: Fix

Are you waiting for God to fix something?  Keep waiting.

I know those aren't the warm and fuzzy words of comfort you might have expected, but it's the answer God has given me for now.  And it's a hard answer because waiting is hard.

In the book of Exodus, the Israelites had escaped Egypt with urgency at God's prompting. They left so quickly they couldn't even let their bread rise.  Yet they found themselves at the Red Sea, again at God's prompting, with an army quickly coming upon them.  What was God's answer?

Well, you Bible scholars may have jumped ahead of yourself.  Did you say that God split the Red Sea?  Yes, He did, but look at when He did it:
Then Moses held his hand over the sea. All that night the Lord drove back the sea with a strong east wind, making the sea become dry ground. The water was split, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry land, with a wall of water on their right and on their left. (Exodus 14:21-22, NCV)
They waited all night.

The Israelites were exactly where God wanted them to be, but God told them to wait.  Moses held his hands out all night as the waters were prepared for their crossing.  The miracle took some time.

We often expect miracles to happen immediately.

We want that new job today.
We want that long hoped for child today.
We want our friend's illness to be healed today.
We want that addiction to subside today.
We want that miracle today.

Friends, it just doesn't always work that way.

Sometimes we have to wait through the night before we see the miracle.

So, keep waiting.

It is not yet time for the message to come true, but that time is coming soon; the message will come true. It may seem like a long time, but be patient and wait for it, because it will surely come; it will not be delayed. (Habakkuk 2:3, NCV)



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

Monday, January 11, 2021

Inspiration

I am easily inspired, at least about little things.

A few months ago I read Corrie Ten Boom's Prison Letters, and for days after I wanted to pour out my heart in letter form to every friend of significance. If you are reading this and wondering why you didn't get a letter - I never wrote any. The inspiration faded quickly.

That same week I discovered a cooking show, Struggle Meals. It's all cheap, simple cooking. A common theme from episode to episode is using free food. The host saves all the condiments he gets from take out orders (I mostly do that), and he believes in using leftovers. I believe in leftovers, but I am not disciplined in using them. I've read that about 40% of food is wasted in America. I don't think I waste that much, but we certainly throw out more than I want to. With this new found inspiration, my kids ate a "what's left" lunch that day: half of a watermelon, hot dogs with no buns, and half a bag of frozen french fries. I should thrown a blanket in the backyard and called it a picnic.

Yes, my passions change quickly.  In high school I called that fickle.  Now I reconize that I am well rounded. Perspective, folks.

I was reminded yesterday by Pastor Sam* that God has created us all differently. Our personalities are a unique expression of God.  We shouldn't want to change anyone; God does that. Change isn't bad, but it must be motivated by proper inspiration. Paul encouraged the church in Rome this way:
Do not be shaped by this world; instead be changed within by a new way of thinking. Then you will be able to decide what God wants for you; you will know what is good and pleasing to him and what is perfect. Because God has given me a special gift, I have something to say to everyone among you. Do not think you are better than you are. You must decide what you really are by the amount of faith God has given you. Each one of us has a body with many parts, and these parts all have different uses. In the same way, we are many, but in Christ we are all one body. Each one is a part of that body, and each part belongs to all the other parts. We all have different gifts, each of which came because of the grace God gave us. (Romans 12:2-6a, NCV)
If God has a place for a girl who likes to read and cook with leftovers, who doesn't know when to stop talking, and who almost always regrets her decisions after she makes them, then surely God has a place in the body for everyone.



*You can read another beautiful story about Pastor Sam here: FMF Disappoint.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Psalm 32

SIN!  There, I said it.  Now let's talk about it.  Most simply stated, sin happens when we do something God doesn’t want us to do OR when we don’t do something God does want us to do. The easiest way to understand sin is to compare it to a  parent-child relationship. For example, if a mother told her son not to touch something dangerous, but he touched it anyway, that would not make her happy. Or, if she told her son to pick up his dirty clothes, but he left them on the floor, that would not make her happy either. It’s the same way with God. 

With this broad definition it is much easier to understand that no one is without sin.  In Romans 3:23 the Bible makes it clear that we “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  In the early days, God's will was made known through His law.  However, generation after generation failed to keep it perfectly.  Many did well, but James 2 reminds us that the person who breaks one part of the law is as guilty as the one who breaks every part of it.  This is not an easy concept for those of us who have grown up with the idea that the punishment should fit the crime.  Should a liar receive the same sentence as a murderer?  For that, today, I have no answer.

In Psalm 32 David writes about how his sin made him feel:
When I kept things to myself, I felt weak deep inside me.
I moaned all day long.
Day and night you punished me. My strength was gone as in the summer heat. Selah
Then I confessed my sins to you and didn’t hide my guilt.
I said, “I will confess my sins to the Lord,” and you forgave my guilt. Selah
(Psalm 32:3-5, NCV)
David realized that sin made him feel bad. He felt weak like you might feel at the end of a really hot summer day. He moaned and groaned and was miserable.  But then something happened. David stopped trying to hide his sin. He talked to God about his sin. David told God he was sorry, and God forgave David. David felt different after God forgave him:
Happy is the person whose sins are forgiven,
whose wrongs are pardoned.
Happy is the person whom the Lord does not consider guilty
and in whom there is nothing false.
(Psalm 32:1-2, NCV)
What does this mean for us? Well, David encouraged everyone to do the same thing that he did. He thought everyone should pray to God to ask for forgiveness. David understood that forgiveness would fill our hearts with joy that he called “songs of salvation.”  How about you? Do you have the song of salvation in your heart?

Monday, January 4, 2021

Psalm 30

When I was a child, my favorite game on the Atari was Pitfall! Apparently I'm not the only one because Pitfall! is one of Atari's most popular games ever. Even though I loved that game, I wasn't very good at it. I was always falling in a pit, being eaten by a crocodile, or struggling to get on or off the swinging vines.  When I got stuck in the game, I'd look for someone to help me, to save me.

It is not too different in the first part of Psalm 30. David thanks God for saving him:
Lord, I will give you honor.
You brought me out of deep trouble.
You didn’t give my enemies the joy of seeing me die.
Lord my God, I called out to you for help.
And you healed me.
Lord, you brought me up from the place of the dead.
You kept me from going down into the pit.
(Psalm 30:1-3, NIRV)
David thanked God because he appreciated what God had done for him. When we ask someone for help, it is polite to tell them thank you. But instead of just being polite, we should work on having a truly thankful spirit. We should really feel thankful, and we should express it. David knew his prayers had been answered by God in two ways. First, when David was in trouble, God helped him. David said that God brought him up from the “place of the dead.” Second, God helped David to stay out of trouble – that’s the pit that David is writing about here. Just like David, we can also be saved from the pits in our lives.

In the second part of Psalm 30, David invites other people to be thankful with him:
Sing the praises of the Lord, you who are faithful to him. Praise him, because his name is holy.
His anger lasts for only a moment. But his favor lasts for a person’s whole life.
Weeping can stay for the night. But joy comes in the morning.
(Psalm 30:4-5, NIRV)
David was so thankful that he wanted other people to celebrate with him. Just like it wouldn’t be much fun to have a party all alone, David wanted people to join him in giving thanks to God. By doing this, he was able to tell others what God had done for him. Then, those people could think about what God had done for them, and they could thank God even more.

In the third part of Psalm 30, David remembers the time before God saved him, when he was still in the pit:
When I felt safe, I said, “I will always be secure.”
Lord, when you gave me your help, you made Mount Zion stand firm.
But when you took away your help, I was terrified.
Lord, I called out to you. I cried to you for mercy.
I said, “What good will come if I become silent in death?
What good will come if I go down into the grave?
Can the dust of my dead body praise you? Can it tell how faithful you are?
Lord, hear me. Have mercy on me. Lord, help me.”
(Psalm 30:6-10, NIRV)
David spent almost half this Psalm remembering what happened when God helped him. It’s important that we also think about the things that God has done for us. When we remember all the good things that God has done to take care of us, it helps us to have faith when we face another hard time. David liked to write Psalms. How can you remember the things that God has done for you?

In the fourth part of Psalm 30, David is back out of the pit and once again he thanks God for saving him:
You turned my loud crying into dancing.
You removed my clothes of sadness and dressed me with joy.
So my heart will sing your praises. I can’t keep silent. Lord, my God, I will praise you forever.
(Psalm 30:11-12, NIRV)
This psalm shows that David loved God very much. In fact, David is called a man after God’s own heart. Even though David made a lot of mistakes, he always asked God to forgive him. David recognized all the good things God had done for him, and he would not stop thanking Him for them.  If things are good for you right, or if you feel like you’re in a pit, God loves you and He is able to help you with whatever you are facing.

Sunday, January 3, 2021

2021: Stories

I read a lot of stories.  Some stories are true, some are not, and some are a unique blend of the two.  In literature, that's usually called historical fiction.  I don't read a lot of this genre because I'm afraid when the story is done I won't be able to remember what was true and what was not.

I find myself questioning stories more and more. Even last night, as my husband and I watched stand up comedy on Netflix, I couldn't help but wonder if the stories being told were totally true, or if they were well crafted tales for the sake of a laugh. Perhaps it doesn't matter when I'm watching a Netflix comedy special - I will readily agree to that - but it certainly matters when your spouse tells you why he is late coming home from work.  Or your children tell you why they got in a fight.  Or your friend explains why they didn't share a piece of information with you.

A friend recently told me a story that was not totally true.  Let me rephrase that.  A friend recently told me a story in such a way that the narrative led me to believe a certain conclusion that I may not have come to if he had told it to me another way.  He added certain details (and omitted others) that made me question his motives in telling the story.  My husband encouraged me to question him on it, but it felt right to just let it go.  It was his story to tell after all. And as long as we are telling stories, I should admit that I have been guilty of doing the same.

Most of our stories never get told.  They float around in our head for hours, weeks, and even lifetimes unless someone corrects them.  In high school, I struggled with expectations.  On one occaision I remember sitting down with my counselor and allowing myself to tell the story I had written about myself.  "I'm lazy," I confided to him.

More than twenty years later I can still see his smiling face correcting me, "You're tired."  I will always be thankful that he rewrote my story.  The stories we tell others are not nearly as powerful as the stories we tell ourselves. 

So it is with great care we must tell stories, to ourselves and to others, to encourage and to correct.  We need to hear stories to know there are other ways, right ways, better ways.  As the psalmist wrote:
We’ve been hearing about this, God, all our lives.
Our fathers told us the stories their fathers told them,
How single-handedly you weeded out the godless from the fields and planted us,
How you sent those people packing but gave us a fresh start.
We didn’t fight for this land; we didn’t work for it—it was a gift!
You gave it, smiling as you gave it, delighting as you gave it.
(Psalm 44:1-3, MSG)
The story will not end with me.

I look forward to the new stories I will learn in 2021, the old stories I will revisit, and the stories I will be able to tell.