ARCHIVES: August 2015


08.28.2015

Thankful for One Thing

Well I’ve moved into Romans. It’s not my favorite book of the Bible, mostly because it contains a lot of heady stuff and you have Paul writing things like, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do…What I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing.”

Come again?

But anyway, here I am, and if you’re with me on the two-year Bible reading plan, maybe you’re here too.  And maybe you found yourself breezing right on through the second half of Romans 1 this week like I did, thinking it wasn’t really for you. An easy assumption to make. I mean, Paul basically opens with a whole section about God’s wrath, starting out with warnings about general wickedness before transitioning into big-ticket items like idolatry and sexual perversion. (Interesting that he lumps “disobedience to your parents” in with murder, depravity, deceit, and ruthlessness…but that’s a blog for another day. Or maybe it’s a verse you want to write out and put on your kid’s pillow tonight.)

(Just kidding.)

So, there I was, skimming along through Paul’s litany of sin (and feeling pretty good since I wasn’t one of “those perverts”) when – kind of like what I imagine it must feel like to get hit in the head with a hammer (which has never happened to me) or with a soccer ball while you watched your kid’s game (which has) – a verse practically jumped up and bit me. Romans 1:21 says, Although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.

Ouch.

I know God, but how many times have I failed to give him the credit or glory he deserves? How often have I neglected to thank him for what he is doing (or what he has already done)? And how easy it has been, during those times, to slip into futile thinking:

This circumstance will never change.

It’s all up to me – and I don’t have what it takes.

This whole relationship/job/situation is hopeless…I’m just so tired…What if I fail?

And where is God, anyway? 

I’ve lost count of the times thoughts like these have pitched their tents in my head. And each time they do, I can almost feel my heart grow a little darker.

Hold that thought because, on a happier note (thank goodness!), today is 8/28.  I’ve paid attention to this date for years, ever since my friend Lisa (whose birthday it is) told me that she loved her birthday, since it always reminded her of Romans 8:28.

If you know only one line from the whole book of Romans, chances are it’s that one: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. People love Romans 8:28. And it’s easy to see why. Who wouldn’t want to stake their hope in the fact that, regardless of how bad things might look right now, God is at work, and his plan is to make everything turn out for our good?

Lisa believes that. Coming from her, it’s a belief that carries some solid weight, ‘cuz it’s born of experience, as well as faith. Three years ago, Lisa was a 48-year-old marathon runner and a successful attorney who racked up the victories on the pavement and in the courtroom. She was also a loving wife and the mother of two almost-grown boys. And then the stroke happened.

It was massive, and what followed was a horrific brain bleed that had doctors bracing her family for the worst. But if Romans 8:28 was ever going to be proved true in Lisa’s life, the time was then, and God did a miracle. Against all odds, Lisa lived. And against all odds (and after an incredibly challenging journey that has involved all of the stuff you hope never, ever happens to someone you love), she walked into her own birthday party this year.

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And it was quite a celebration. Not in the way you might think – there were no balloons or dancing cows or whatever it is that people feel like they need nowadays. It was just a handful of Lisa’s friends, gathered on someone’s screened porch for a casual supper, talking and laughing the way that girls do. And, during the course of conversation, Lisa made a profound admission:

“I try to find one thing each day to be thankful for,” she said. “I think about that thing, and I thank God.”

Wow. Romans 1:21 wasn’t even on Lisa’s radar, but in that one simple statement, she gave me hope. She turned the equation inside out, offering the antidote to a darkened heart. It’s gratitude, and a readiness to shine the spotlight on God. When we acknowledge his provision – living out verses like Romans 8:28, trusting in his power and his love even when we can’t see how he will work – the futile thoughts don’t have a chance to take root. And even if it’s just one thing to be thankful for each day, it’s a start.

So thank you, Lisa. Thank you for being a woman of faith, for reorienting my perspective, and for giving me a reason to be grateful (even for the tricky parts in Romans). Happy birthday!

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Note:  If you’re wondering where the Friday prayer is, check back next week. For now, why not borrow Lisa’s birthday verse for yourself, or for someone you love? Here’s Romans 8:28, in the form of a prayer:
 
Heavenly Father, thank you that you have promised to work in all things for the good of those who love you, who are called according to your purpose. Help me believe that today, and fill my heart with hope.  Amen.

 


ARCHIVES: August 2015


08.21.2015

Friday Prayer for Roots and Fullness

Ephesians 3-17-19I spied these veggies at the market (Charlottesville again!) and figured they’d make a mighty fine prayer prompt. Feel free to borrow these power-packed verses for someone you love…and know that, today, I am praying them for YOU:

I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:17-19)

In His name, Amen.

(Okay so I’ve just realized that the title of this post – Friday Prayer for Roots and Fullness – sounds like something you’d want on your way to the salon. While I am not opposed to praying over your hairdo – I have a friend who always texts me before her appointments so that we can “agree together” about the result – I hope you’ll go back and read today’s prayer again, slowly. Let the words soak into your mind. Think of them as a deep conditioning treatment. For your soul.)

 


ARCHIVES: August 2015


08.19.2015

Back to School

IMG_4563It’s back-to-school time, and I guess every household has their own “get ready” ritual.

If you’ve got little ones, you’re probably tucking things like glue sticks and scissors into pint-sized backpacks. (Niece Elizabeth, pictured here, is swapping her stylin’ pink bag for a much more grown-up version this year, a light blue number that features little white hearts.)

If, on the other hand, your kids are college-bound, they are probably stuffing a laptop, a few cans of Spaghettios, and a set of XL twin sheets into a Hefty trash bag.

That’s if they are a boy.

If they are a girl, there’s just no telling. You might have a daughter like Virginia, who couldn’t have imagined heading off to college without pretty much everything she owned, including her six-inch snakeskin heels, 60 pounds worth of high school yearbooks, and a sombrero (“What if they have a Fiesta?”). Or you might wind up with a Hillary, whose back-to-college strategy usually involved staying at the beach until the last possible second and then heading up the road, still in her bikini, with-or-without a backpack. Or a hairbrush. Or shoes.

Regardless of your child’s particular back-to-school style, consider packing a few prayers in the send-off. Here are ten of my favorites, simple one-liners that come equipped with the power of God’s Word:

Heavenly Father…

Whatever ____ finds to do, let her work at it with all her might, as working for you, Lord, rather than for other people. (Colossians 3:23)

Surround ____ with friends who will sharpen him the way that iron sharpens iron. (Proverbs 27:17)

Keep ____ from all harm; watch over her life, her coming and her going, both now and forevermore. (Psalm 121:7-8)

May your favor rest on ____; establish the work of his hands. (Psalm 90:17)

Clothe ____ with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, and let her forgive whatever grievances she may have against others. (Colossians 3:12-13)

Work in ____ to think and to act according to your good purpose.  (Philippians 2:13)

Let ____ be self-controlled and alert. (1 Peter 5:8)

Teach ____ what is best for him, and direct him in the way he should go. (Isaiah 48:17)

When ____ feels weary and burdened, let her come to you and find rest. (Matthew 11:28)

Let ___ grow as Jesus did: in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men. (Luke 2:52)

You’ll find hundreds of prayers just like these in Praying the Scriptures for Your Children and Praying the Scriptures for Your TeenagersIf you don’t have these books, just grab your Bible and ask God to show you a few verses that you can turn into prayers for your family. You might even tuck one of ’em into a lunchbox, or tape it to the can of Spaghettios. (My own dear mother used to write prayers on cantaloupes and send them to my dorm at U.Va.) You might get an eyeball roll…but at least your kids will know they are loved.

Happy packing!

 

 

 


ARCHIVES: August 2015


08.14.2015

Friday Prayer for Spiritual Fruit

Galatians 5-22I saw these peaches at the Charlottesville City Market last Saturday.  As irresistible as they look, their gorgeous-ness pales in comparison to the fruit of the Spirit!  Use today’s prayer verse to ask God to grow a bumper crop of beautiful virtues like patience and joy in your life today, or pray it for someone you love:

Heavenly Father,

Fill ____ with your Holy Spirit.  Let ____’s life be marked by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  (Galatians 5:22)

Amen.


ARCHIVES: August 2015


08.12.2015

Lessons from a Chair

So one of Hillary’s wedding wish-list items is to have “soft seating” at the reception. In case you aren’t familiar with that term (which was probably invented by some jacked-up wedding planner who ran out of more practical ways to pad the budget), the idea is to drag couches and ottomans and other “soft” pieces of indoor furniture out to the lawn or the putting green or whatever, and then let your guests sit on them.

When I first heard the plan, I was in – particularly since a couple of soft seats have been languishing in our garage for the past year. I bought them for 25 bucks at a rummage sale, thinking that they had potential. Sure, one had a broken arm, the other had the stuffing coming out, and neither chair was anything I would put in my house, let alone in an elegant wedding display. But really, how hard could it be to fix ’em up?  I put on a visor, grabbed a few tools, and got going.

Two hours later, I did what I imagine any good Pinterest person would do.  I stopped for a cold drink and a selfie:

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I know it doesn’t look like I’d made much progress. But for the record, when I snapped this pic I’d already used a drill, an electric sander, and a big saw – still in its original wrapper – that I’d found on our tool wall (i.e., the peg board that holds things like rakes, shovels and our disco lights). (I’m pretty sure the saw was a Father’s Day gift from early on in our marriage, back when I thought Robbie might one day want to build something.) I’d also gone thru about half a tube of wood glue and, in an effort to bring the whole project more into my strike zone, attacked the chair with some hedge clippers.

I’m no math brain, but even I could tell that at the rate I was going, there were not enough hours left on the calendar to finish the job. I needed reinforcements. I texted Charlie, the groom-to-be.

And an hour later, it was done.

Charlie works at a pretty swanky trim and millwork shop, where the guys get excited over things like a fresh slab of mahogany and build doors that would make Thomas Jefferson drool. I like to think that, given access to Charlie’s tools – which included a bigger drill, a couple of powerful clamps, and a compressor thing that went off at random intervals and sounded more like gang warfare than craftsmanship – I could have finished the job. But I know it’s not the tools that make the man (or woman). It’s the man that makes the tools. (Case in point: Charlie didn’t even have hedge clippers.)

And watching him work, I realized that it made perfect sense that Jesus would come to earth as a carpenter. Because basically, we’re all just a bunch of soft seats with the stuffing coming out, broken arms and legs pointing every which way. We all need fixing up. But when we try to do the job ourselves, drilling and hacking away, well. Hedge clippers doesn’t even begin to cover it.

It’s only when we realize our utter hopelessness and call in the Professional that things begin to change. God knows exactly where to drill so that the pieces of our lives will fit together, just how much pressure it will take to make us strong, and which rough edges to sand.

It’s incredibly freeing, knowing that we can relax and trust God to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. And it’s incredibly humbling, knowing that he’s doing the job not just because he can, but because he wants to. Tim Keller wasn’t talking about furniture repair when he wrote his commentary on Galatians, but his words about our condition still fit: We are more wicked than we ever dared believe, but more loved and accepted in Christ than we ever dared hope. 

To adapt Keller’s point for the soft-seating crowd: “We are uglier and more broken or unstable than we ever imagined, but in God’s hands we are exquisite workmanship, more lovely and valuable than we could ever dream. And he’s making us fit for a purpose.”

That’s the message of grace, in a nutshell.

 

 


ARCHIVES: August 2015


08.07.2015

Friday Prayer for a New Song

Psalm 40-2-3Tired of slogging through the muck of life, looking for a firm place to plant your feet?  Turn today’s verse into a prayer and soon you’ll be singing a brand new song:

Father God,

Lift me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and the mire of life’s problems.  Put my feet on a rock; give me a firm place to stand.  Put a new song in my mouth – a hymn of praise to you! – so that all who see what you have done will put their trust in you.  (Psalm 40:2-3)

Amen.


ARCHIVES: August 2015


08.05.2015

Who’s Your Nathan?

Sunday’s sermon featured a close up look at a pretty dramatic scene out of 2 Samuel 12, where the prophet Nathan rebukes King David over the Bathsheba business. To listen to the whole message click here, but if you don’t have a spare 17 minutes, here are a couple of takeaways:

Sometimes, we have to be Nathans. We may need to confront someone about a choice or behavior that runs counter to God’s good plan for their lives. When we do, it can make sense to come at the problem sideways (like Nathan did with the story about how the rich man took the poor man’s lamb) instead of barreling straight in with the conversational equivalent of a taser to the face.

Good to know.

More often, we need to have Nathans – people who can (and will) speak hard truths into our lives. It’s tough to spot our own whoopsies, and in a world where “follow your heart” has become a favorite counseling mantra, we can easily find ourselves slip-sliding away. The heart, don’t you know, can be a tricky thing. And finding your Nathan is not like the dentist, where a twice-a-year scraping gets rid of the plaque. As Paul put it in his letter to the Hebrews, “Encourage one another daily…so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”

So…who are your Nathans? Who can help you skirt the sinkholes – or, if you’ve already fallen into one, take you by the hand and help you find your footing?

The value of frequent check-ups (not to mention the inevitable transparency that comes from living with someone) might make your spouse a good candidate. Or perhaps your Nathan is a close friend or co-worker who shares your faith, someone who knows what you look like without makeup (both the Cover Girl kind and the public “face” you wear).  Or maybe you’ll get really lucky, like I did, and have a neighbor come up to you after church and offer to be your own personal Nathan, since – quote – he has “already started making a list of your top ten sins.”

Thankfully, I’ve had a lot of Nathans over the years, including my college roommates, Susan and Barbie. They spent four years keeping me straight and then, knowing that their work was far from over, walked the aisle as my bridesmaids:

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Back then, we didn’t know we were each other’s Nathans. All we knew was that there was punch that shouldn’t be guzzled (the fact that it was served in trash cans served as our first clue), boys that shouldn’t pitch a tent in our hearts (happily, Robbie made it past that screening process), and outfits that should never, ever be worn. (That last one was, perhaps, our biggest blind spot.  But it was the ’80s, so we have mostly forgiven ourselves.)

Spiritually, emotionally, and physically, we had each other’s backs. We tended to value candor over tact, and our go-to line – whether the bad decision had to do with our behavior on Saturday night or our hairstyle on Sunday morning (yes, I did perm my own hair, thank you very much) – was, “Can I just be brutally honest?”

The answer, of course, was yes. Always.

Brutal honesty got me through college. And even now, 30 years later, I know I can count on Susan and Barbie to tell me the truth, whether it’s about my parenting, my marriage, my friendships, and even these blogs. (Susan, who got a perfect score on her verbal SATs, was the very first person to email me with corrections when I started this thing.  That’s my Nathan!)

jbsLast May, these gals were on hand to watch Annesley get married.  Later this month, they will host a bridal shower for Hillary. Some folks might look at these expressions of love and say I am blessed to have such good friends. And I would agree, but not just because Susan and Barbie show up for life’s big moments (or because Susan lives in another state and has to cough up a serious chunk of time and gas money to get to Virginia Beach).  I cherish their friendship because of what it has been in life’s little moments – the “encourage each other daily” moments – where they have been, and will continue to be, brutally honest.

We all need Nathans. If not for the Bathshebas in our lives (and we all have ’em) then for the other really important blind spots.

Like our hair.

 

 




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