For Christians, persecution is nothing new. Way back when the Apostle Paul was sending letters from prison, he warned his young protege, Timothy, that such suffering was part and parcel of the Christian life. “In fact,” Paul wrote, without any attempt to sugarcoat his message, “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). Shortly after writing these words, Paul was martyred.
Persecution is nothing new, nor (if we believe Paul’s words) should it surprise us. Still, though, we recoil from the horrific videotaped execution of 21 Egyptian Christians, or the news that 150 of our fellow believers – women, children, and elderly people – have been abducted in Syria. We grieve, we get angry, we feel impotent.
And, even though we may live half a world away, we can relate to the Assyrian Christian woman interviewed by the Associated Press this week: “I just feel so helpless,” she said, as she awaited news of her relatives’ fate. “I cannot do anything for them but pray.”
I cannot do anything for them but pray. That sounds so insignificant, yet it holds so much power.
Encouraged by the #Pray703 movement, which calls people to pray for the persecuted Christians at 7:03 a.m. every day, I began praying in earnest this week. I started by looking up verses about persecution, and was immediately captivated by Hebrews 10:33, written to a group of people who had faced more than their fair share of suffering: “Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times, you stood side by side with those who were so treated.”
That’s what I want to do.
I want to stand side by side with my brothers and sisters in Libya, Syria, and all over the world. I want to stand side by side with them in prayer. They may be out of my reach, but they are not out of God’s, and I know that I can count on his infinite love, his limitless power, and his faithful promise to work “in all things for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28).
Here are just a few of the verses I prayed this week, if you want to join me:
Show yourself faithful, O Lord. Strengthen and protect our brothers and sisters from the evil one. (2 Thessalonians 3:3)
Remind these persecuted Christians that nothing – no hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, or sword – can separate them from your love. (Romans 8:35-39)
Thank you for our brothers and sisters who have given an answer to those who have asked about the reason for their hope. Thank you for their gentleness and respect. May those who speak maliciously against them be ashamed of their slander. (1 (Peter 3:15-16.)
Let our brothers and sisters take refuge in you and be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, bless them, and surround them with your favor as with a shield. (Psalm 5:11-12)
In Paul’s letter to Timothy, he said that evil men would go “from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.” Those words might as well have been written yesterday; they were true then and they are true today. And yet neither Timothy nor Paul lost hope. Instead, they stood side by side with their fellow Christians, enduring unimaginable hardship, trusting God, and proclaiming the name of Christ.
Side by side. Let’s stand with them, together.
To me, few things are more lovely than freshly fallen snow.
When my pal Laura sent me this pic, taken from her Charlottesville window, I couldn’t help but think of King David’s prayer in Psalm 51. He’s painfully aware of the consequences of his actions (he’d slept with another man’s wife, then arranged to have the fellow killed), and when you read his words, you get the idea that he is just desperate to get rid of his guilt. David longs to experience freedom and joy, and to have a clean heart again. “Wash me,” he prays, “and I will be whiter than snow.”
Haven’t we all been there? Haven’t we all said or done something we wish we could undo, something that fills our hearts and our minds with shame? Haven’t we all longed for a clean slate?
I’ve been mulling over Psalm 51 all week, grateful that we serve a God who can – and will – do that which we cannot: blot out our sin and restore our joy. Imagine my surprise (my delight, actually) when Robbie and I went to the Ash Wednesday service and Psalm 51 was read aloud while our minister “imposed” the ashes (at least I think that’s the right term for what happens when you get them on your forehead).
Turns out, Psalm 51 is always part of the Ash Wednesday service, at least in the Anglican tradition. Who knew?
(Well, probably a lot of you. But, not being much of an Ash Wednesday girl, it was news to me.)
I can’t think of a better season than Lent – a time when our focus is on drawing closer to God – in which to borrow a prayer from Psalm 51. You might find a verse or two that you like better in there, but I’m picking 10 and 12 as a prayer for myself, and for my loved ones, this week:
Create in ____ a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit in me/him/her. Restore to _____ the joy of your salvation, and make me/him/her willing to obey you. (Psalm 51:10 & 12, NLT)
I’m sitting here at the computer, watching the grey skies get heavier and wondering when the first flakes will fall. They’re calling for a “big storm” and Virginia Beach is all abuzz. It doesn’t matter whether we get one inch or two, we know the drill: Shut ‘er down. School, work, exercise class…they’ll all be cancelled tomorrow. Boston, we feel your pain.
Most moms I know have already been to the grocery store, stocking up on things like hot cocoa, chocolate chip cookie fixin’s, and Duraflames. (Paul Bunyan, eat your heart out.) The kids are rooting around in their closets, trying to find two mittens that match or some snow boots that still fit, hoping – praying! – that the weatherman got it right this time. And the grandparents, well…
I can’t speak for every wise old head in town, but I know at least two who probably have their faces pressed to the window, right this minute: My mom, Claire, and her husband, John.
Last time we got snow, they sent this pic to their kids:
At first, I thought they’d been shot.
But then I noticed the boogie board, and the pieces began to fall into place. Mom and John had been sledding (boogie boards do double duty at the beach) and, eager to make the most of the white stuff, they’d moved on to snow angels. I have no idea how long they lay there like that, or which neighbor happened along to take the picture. I just know they had fun.
How do you grow up like that? I mean, how do you get to be 75 years old and still go sledding on a boogie board? How do you still own a boogie board?
As always when I confront deep theological questions like these, I turn to the Bible. Sure enough, there are more than a few tips on aging. Here’s just a sample:
Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech. (1 Peter 3:10)
Do not forsake [wisdom’s] teaching, but keep [her] commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years and bring you prosperity. (Proverbs 3:1-2)
And this one, about which I will admit to having mixed emotions:
The glory of young men is their strength, gray hair the splendor of the old. (Proverbs 20:29)
Hairdresser bills notwithstanding, I’d still rather be strong than gray. But I think I’ll get working on the other two pearls, keeping my tongue from evil and storing up wisdom in my heart. Clearly, that kind of good livin’ pays off.
First, though, I’m going to whip up a batch of slice-and-bakes and light my firelog. The Pioneer Woman might have a famous blog and a cool TV show, but hey. We all do what we can, right?
With Valentine’s Day tomorrow, I figured this would be a good time to offer a prayer verse about love. The good news is that the Bible has about a zillion of them to choose from. The bad news is that the Bible has about a zillion of them to choose from.
We are called to love God, love our enemies, love each other. We see links between love and obedience, love and blessings, love and fruitful lives. We read about God’s lavish, unfathomable, and unconditional love for us. It’s all pretty incredible.
In the interest of keeping things simple, and because we could ALL do with a little more lovin’ in our lives, here’s the verse I picked – pray it for yourself or for someone you love this week:
“May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else.” (1 Thessalonians 3:12)
But a mom can hope, right?
When we sent our youngest child, Robbie, off to college last fall, I bagged up the usual assortment of dorm room must-haves: a desk lamp, twin XL sheets, laundry detergent (again, hope), and whatever random paper clips and pens I found in our junk drawer (the fourth child has no idea that there is such a thing as new school supplies). I also sent two self-addressed, stamped envelopes, along with a brief encouragement to him to write home: “Go ahead. Make my day.”
Why? I don’t know. I didn’t really expect to get a letter. But then yesterday, nearly six months after Robbie Sr. and I hid behind our sunglasses (Tears? What tears?), trying not to be the very last parents to vacate the Sewanee campus (it’s not a big school so lurking parents tend to stand out and yes, I was pretty much “that mom”), I got one.
And I was blown away.
Robbie has no idea that this is Valentine’s week. For one thing, he’s a college freshman. For another, he’s a guy. (Note to any men who are reading this post: Heads up. SATURDAY.) And I’m certain Robbie didn’t think about writing a love letter. He was probably just rooting around in his desk drawer and saw the envelope under an empty Gatorade bottle and some dirty socks and thought: Why not?
But as I held Robbie’s letter in my hand – treating it like a rare artifact that could crumble if grasped too tightly – it hit me just how powerful a simple letter can be. The fact that nobody writes them anymore makes them even more precious. In an age of texting and emails (and snap chats; I have begged my kids to set theirs so that they don’t expire for 15 seconds since it takes me at least that long to figure out what I am looking at, and if you think I could just take a screen shot then you clearly have no idea where my technological boundaries lie), getting an actual memento that you can hold – that you can clasp to your bosom the way that I imagine Magellan’s mother did when she unsealed the wax and read, “Hey Mom! It’s round!” – is just huge.
All of this is simply to say: Write someone a letter.
You don’t have to have a valentine to take advantage of the opportunity to share the love. Tell a former teacher or coach how much he or she meant in your life. Boost a neighbor’s spirits with an encouraging note. Tell your mom you love her, or even just that you appreciate how many times she got the grass stains out of your jersey. Go ahead. Make her day.
If you need a little inspiration, why not rip off the Apostle Paul? Here’s how he starts his letter to the Philippians: “I thank my God every time I remember you.”
Who wouldn’t want to open an envelope and read that?
The Bible is full of awesome little nuggets just like that, notes of hope and grace that you can tuck into your own writing, words that can speak life into the bleakest winter day. The whole thing, in fact, is really just one giant love letter, written from God’s heart to ours.
Looking for a little something to read with your morning coffee this week? Check out 1 John…right in the back, near Revelation. It’s not a long letter – just five short chapters – but it packs a whole lotta love.
How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! (1 John 3:1)
Okay, so it’s February. The Christmas decor is put away (well, most of it; never mind the knot of lights that my Instagram friends see dangling from the dogwood tree outside my window…44 days and counting, BTW), and the promise of Daylight Savings Time is still too far away to be counted on as a spirit-lifter. If you’re like me, you might be feeling a bit weary.
Which is where Galatians 6:9 comes in. This is my all-time favorite prayer verse for teachers (those blessed souls who keep at it with our kids, day after day), but it’s also a good one for anyone who might be struggling to restore a relationship, extend forgiveness, get out of debt, or just stick with the goals they set for the new year. Any good thing that can sap your strength and make you want to quit the race can be targeted with this prayer verse. Why not try it today for yourself, or for someone you love?
Heavenly Father, let ____ not become weary in doing good, but help him/her/me remember that at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:9)
On Saturday, January 31st, my beloved (and, until then, undefeated) U.Va. Wahoos fell to Coach K and his perennially strong group of Blue Devils. I’m sure our guys took the loss hard – we all did – but the boys regrouped, and just two nights later they stomped on the Tarheels in Chapel Hill. It was U.Va.’s first win over a ranked Carolina team in that venue in 24 years.
If you follow college basketball (and if you don’t, now’s a good time to start, what with March Madness about to hurtle into your living room), you know that there’s nothing sexy about U.Va. hoops. Well, nothing except the obvious, scrawled on one of the signs waved by a zillion giddy U.Va. fans during ESPN’s Game Day telecast just prior to the Duke game: “Our Coach is Hotter than Yours.”
“Our coach” is, of course, Tony Bennett. Under his direction, U.Va. players learn to execute a slow-and-steady game, one whose success is rooted in a defense designed to herd an opposing shooter into a “pack,” forcing him to either kick the ball back out or attempt a heavily defended shot. The system only works if everyone buys in, putting the good of the team above his own desire to shine. Where other top-ranked teams rely on a bevy of talent (Duke and #1 Kentucky have 18 McDonald’s All-Americans between them), Virginia (with a grand total of zero of these guys on the roster) wins because of one main reason:
The trust their coach.
I’m not an athlete, but I can’t help but believe that Bennett’s slow-paced, humble approach doesn’t always go down easily for all of the guys, once they get a locker in Charlottesville. All-American or not, the fact that they earned a spot on an ACC squad means that every kid on the U.Va. team was a total stud in his high school; you gotta believe they all had some pretty heady press coverage in between getting their driver’s licenses and finding a prom date. And you know that all of them come equipped with some spectacular moves. Granted, we’ve seen plenty of mile-high dunks and seemingly impossible three-pointers, but generally speaking, when you watch U.Va. play you sometimes get the idea that you’re watching a bunch of thoroughbreds who are, by sheer force of will, reining it in in deference to the wisdom of their coach.
Which reminds me, actually, of Proverbs 3:5-6. Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your path straight.
Now, I am not trying to compare Tony Bennett to God (although the man does love Jesus, and the family resemblance shows). What I am trying to get across (in what may be my first and only sports column) is that when we make a decision to trust God instead of our own instincts – or, to borrow a phrase from UNC’s Marcus Paige in his post-game interview, to “buy into what our coach is telling us” – good things happen. We get wisdom beyond what we’d naturally have. The crooked places in our lives become straight. There may be hurdles along the way (the “Duke Games” of our lives, if you will), but in the end, we will set ourselves up for victory.
From where I sit, it would appear that all of the U.Va. ballplayers trust Coach Bennett. More encouraging, even, is that a big chunk of them trust their Heavenly Coach as well. It’s a mighty fine program, one for which fans are grateful.
And, on behalf of those of us who daily make (sometimes difficult) decisions to try to do things God’s way instead of our own, can I just say to all the U.Va. guys (and Mike and Evan, I am going to make you read this): Thanks for the life lesson. It helps.
As in: Get it out of here and I will love you forever.
Now, I’m not knocking new baubles or an evening out. (Seriously. I’m not. Sometimes Robbie reads these blogs, and I’d hate for him to get the wrong impression.) But anyone familiar with Gary Chapman’s love languages will know what I am talking about when I say that Acts of Service is a big deal to me. And I am confident that, on Maslow’s lesser-known Hierarchy of Services, “Getting Rid of Dog Hair” ranks right there at the top.
But this particular act of service is, at least in our house, a quixotic endeavor. As you know if you saw them in their Christmas finery, we have two dogs: Khaki (a fat, stubborn Lab) and Max (a scrawny, good-natured Golden). Between the two of them, they probably shed about 17 pounds of hair per day. I am not, by nature or nurture, much of a “dog person,” but I don’t think I am being mean or unfair when I say that this habit is not attractive.
Because here’s the thing. It doesn’t matter how often I vacuum or how vigorously Robbie furminates (which is, I believe, an actual verb), there is no way we can vanquish the dog hair completely. To the casual observer, the house may look clean (and if I knew you were coming over, I would put the dogs in the laundry room and run a lint brush over the couch that Khaki probably thinks is named “Get off!”), but it would be a temporary illusion. Look closely (or, heaven forbid, actually pet one of the dogs) and you’ll see the harvest.
Dog hair – and stay with me, here – is like sin.
I mean it. Sometimes you look down and you realize that you are covered in it, and that you have to go back upstairs and change before you go out in public. Sometimes, it’s a little more hidden; only you know what’s lurking on the grill under the refrigerator. And sometimes, it’s just that one tiny little piece and you pluck it off of your black pants and you think you are good…until you spot another one.
I’ll be honest. I get depressed about the dog hair. And I would get depressed about my sin, too – except for this one (a-hem) saving grace: God has taken care of it for me. That’s basically the message in Paul’s letter to the Galatians, a group of people who thought they had to earn God’s love and acceptance by following all the Jewish laws and religious customs. “Not so!” Paul says (and I am paraphrasing here). “It’s not about what you do. It’s about what God already did.” God knew we couldn’t do it on our own, so he sent Jesus (and you gotta love the term Paul uses) to “rescue” us.
I’d go on, except that Tim Keller makes the case for grace much better in his book, Galatians for You. “The average person on the street believes that a Christian is someone who follows Christ’s teaching and example,” Keller writes. “But Paul implies that’s impossible. After all, you don’t rescue people unless they are in a lost state and a helpless condition! Imagine you see a drowning woman. It doesn’t help her at all if you throw her a manual on how to swim. You don’t throw her some teaching – you throw her a rope.”
I don’t know if Keller is a dog person or not (he probably is, because he seems well-adjusted), but I am sure he would agree with me on this: If we spend our lives trying to live up to some sort of “moral cleanliness” – if we vacuum and furminate until we think our house is “pretty clean” (or at least “cleaner” than so-and-so’s) – we’re doomed to a life marked by guilt, insecurity, and exhaustion. We won’t be able to do it.
If, on the other hand, we turn the dog hair of our sin over to God, trusting in him as the Ultimate Furminator, we are golden. We can grab hold of the rope and relax in the security of God’s unmerited favor and love, knowing that nothing we do (or don’t do) will ever change the fact that he is absolutely crazy about us.
God is crazy about us.
Dog hair and all.
(Bonus material: You really can’t get rid of your own sin. And trust me on this one: If you have a Lab, you will never get rid of your dog hair. You will have to move. But if you have a spare 35 bucks and you want to try your hand at furminating, or if Acts of Service is your primary love language and you have a husband who doesn’t mind tilting at windmills just to show how much he cares, click here.)
Back in December, I wrote a blog about a message that had been painted on Beta Bridge at the University of Virginia. Driving through Charlottesville yesterday, I couldn’t help but notice that the bridge – which sometimes gets repainted twice in the same night – still had the same message: YOU ARE LOVED.
Clearly, it’s a promise that means a lot to the students. It’s a promise that also means a lot to me, and it’s one that calls to mind the beautiful words Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, as he sought to reassure them that, despite the trouble and hardship they faced, God was on their side, and he was working for their good.
Today, if you need help remembering that God is for you – and that nothing can separate you from his love – turn these words into a prayer. Or pray them for someone you love.
Beta Bridge is going to get repainted one of these days, but the words that are on there right now will never change.
You are loved.
Heavenly Father, help _____ be convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love that you have for us in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)
One time, we bought a house and raked the leaves in the front yard – a move that soon had neighbors stopping by to admire “what we’d done to the place.” (Yes, it was that bad.) Another time, we added some crown molding to the living room and a wrought iron railing to the front balcony, prompting the former owner’s wife to berate her husband: “See honey? That’s what I wanted to do when we lived here! I kept telling you…”
And, in the house we currently call home, the hardwood floors rose and fell in so many directions that, if you’d dropped a marble, it wouldn’t have known which way to roll. When the contractor removed the eight shims that he found in the basement (and I use that term very loosely…it was more of a hole dug during Prohibition by an enterprising bootlegger), the floors suddenly dropped into place. Less charm, more structural integrity. It was a trade-off that made Robbie happy.
Suffice it to say, we love making old things pretty again. And right now, as I type, there is a handyman working away on our breezeway, which, thanks to one too many nor’easters in these parts, had begun to rot. At first, I was kind of annoyed by all of the banging (children, dogs, workmen…there’s always something that gets in the way of the Pulitzer), but then I remembered one of my favorite C.S. Lewis quotes. It’s from Mere Christianity:
“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”
Wow. That’s a nifty perspective-changer, isn’t it?
Today, if you find yourself with some rotting woodwork or wavy floors in the space that you call your life, or even if there’s something pretty yucky that’s lurking in your crawlspace, don’t worry if the Carpenter comes in and starts making some noise. Renovation can be messy, and even painful sometimes. But hey – you’re becoming a palace!
And I don’t know about you, but I think that’s exciting. (I could definitely use a new tower or two.)