Living the Scriptures


04.11.2017

The Road to the Cross

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Holy Week. The week before Easter. The week when Jesus knew that “the time had come for him to leave this world” (John 13:1), and that the road ahead – the road to the cross – would be filled with unspeakable pain. What was he thinking?

Do you ever wonder about that?

I do.

Being fully God, Jesus knew exactly what was about to happen. He’d be insulted, rejected, and abandoned – both by the Jewish leaders (many of whom believed in him but who were too scared to admit it, since they “loved praise from men more than praise from God”) and by his closest friends. (John 12:42)

He would suffer indescribable torment. The press of the thorns…the sting of the whip…the pain of the nails…the struggle to breathe.

And he would know the heartache of watching his mother watch him die – and of being unable, in that moment, to wipe the tears from her eyes.

So what was he thinking, on the road to the cross?

I can’t begin to imagine, but Scripture gives us some clues. Jesus says that his heart is “troubled” and that the idea of backing out has at least presented itself. He confides in his friends, telling them that he is “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” And he prays, asking God if there is any way to take a pass…but then, ultimately, choosing God’s will over his own. (John 12:27, Matthew 26:38, Matthew 26:39)

Clearly, the road wasn’t easy. It was agonizing. So how did he do it? How did he – being fully man – get past the fear and the worry and the sorrow that stood in his path?

Here again, the Bible offers some answers. Reading through the gospels and Paul’s letters, we see a man inspired by obedience, trust, humility, and love. And, in addition to these internal motivators, Hebrews 12:2 reveals an external driver: Future joy. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus,” the writer says, “who for the joy set before him endured the cross…” 

Future joy.

I’ve combed through the commentaries looking to flesh out, exactly, what that joy was. It seems like, for Jesus, the joy came in three parts:

The first is the idea of a mission accomplished. His teaching was revolutionary and his miracles amazing, but Jesus knew that the whole point of his life was the cross (“It was,” he says in John 12:27, “for this reason I came to this hour”). Fulfilling his purpose – the job that aligned with God’s master plan – gave him joy.

The second reason was the resurrection. Jesus knew (because he was God, and because of prophecies like the one in Psalm 16:9-11) that he would come out of the tomb alive, and that his experience would open the door to the everlasting joy of God’s presence – not just for himself, but for all who would call on his name.

And the third reason? The third reason is the one that makes me cry. The third reason Jesus stayed on the road to the cross (the main reason, in fact) is us. He did it for us. He did it, the Bible says, to keep us from falling and to present us before God’s glorious presence without fault and with great joy. (Jude 24)

Jesus wanted to be able to bring us to God. We are the reason he endured the cross. We are, I believe, what he was thinking about, as he made his way up that hill.

And this Holy Week, this Easter, I want us to think about that, too. Because we are God’s beloved – not just in the future, but right here and right now.

We are – you are – his joy.

 

 


Living the Scriptures


03.22.2017

When Life Finds You Stuck

If you’ve been around this blog for awhile, you may remember the theme from our family Staycation a few years ago:

Paddle hard.

It was a motto lifted from Colossians 3:23 (“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord…”). I figured these were words we could live by, whether we were navigating our way through careers, ministry opportunities, or relationships. Work with all your heart. Do it for God. Paddle hard.

That’s good advice.

At least until you get stuck.

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You know what I mean. There are seasons in life when we find ourselves sailing along, emboldened by a fresh vision or a clear sense of calling or even just the pressing need to finish the laundry, find the missing soccer cleat, and get dinner on the table. We know what we have to do, and we have a pretty good idea how to do it.

There are other times, though, when life can seem a little more…stalled. Maybe we have a God-given dream or a promise, but things haven’t worked out how we thought they would. Maybe we feel passionate about working or serving in some particular area but the door hasn’t opened, or we aren’t sure how to begin. Or maybe we don’t have any vision or sense of purpose at all. Maybe our life doesn’t look anything like amazing and (if were were being completely honest) we’d say we were a little bit underwhelmed. Bored, even.

Or, as my kids would say, “meh.”

During those times, we don’t need a paddle so much as a push. And while I am sure that there are plenty of good strategies for getting un-stuck and propelling ourselves back into life’s current, I’ll give you three of my favorites:

First, remember that your life does have meaning. You were created for a purpose, and God has worthy and specific jobs for you to do. You are “God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance.” (Ephesians 2:10)

Second, forget about the past. It doesn’t matter where you’ve been or what you’ve done; God is all about breathing fresh life into his people. Ask him to help you see what he’s up to, and be prepared to jump on board. “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:18-19)

And finally, until God shows you the next step to take, focus on what you already know. Micah 6:8 is my husband Robbie’s favorite Bible verse, partly because it works well in every situation or relationship: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Our seasons of stuck-ness may be painful, dreary, or long. (I know; I’ve been there.) But God promises to do new things, even in the most washed up or barren places. Like the tide, he will come in.

And when he does, let’s be ready to move.


Living the Scriptures


03.17.2017

Let God Quiet You

He will quiet you by his love.

“What are you giving up for Lent?”

It’s a question that many of us have considered, or at least heard, at some point during the last two weeks. Some Christians choose to fast (from desserts, say, or maybe from a habit like smoking or drinking or Netflix); others mark the weeks leading up to Easter by adding something to their daily routine (a new devotional, morning Bible reading, extra time for prayer). Either way – giving up or adding on – the idea is to do something that reorients your perspective and draws you closer to God.

For me, neither option works too well. Giving up chocolate doesn’t seem all that hard. Until I try it, and then all I want for breakfast is a brownie. I tell myself that I should channel that craving into a hunger for Jesus, but it’s like there’s a Doppelganger in my head saying, “Yeah. Jesus and a brownie. That’d be sweet.”

And when I try to add something (like a few extra minutes in prayer as a start to my morning) I don’t fair any better. Just opening my prayer journal seems to unleash a Kraken of cares, and they all start shouting at once: “Worry about this! Don’t forget to do that! Hurry up; you’re going to be late!”

I want to quiet my heart and get ready for Easter, but I can’t.

Which is why, when I read Zephaniah 3:17 this week, it brought me up short:

The Lord your God is in your midst,
    a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
    he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing. 

I’ve always loved the image of God as a mighty warrior, one who takes delight in his people and rejoices over them with singing. But the other day, as I struggled to get my distracted mind to behave, the phrase “he will quiet you by his love” fairly jumped off the page.

He will quiet you.

You know what that means, right? That means it’s not up to us. We don’t have to calm our own fears, or work really hard to shut out the worries and concerns of the day. We can come before God – during Lent, or at any other time of the year – and ask him to do that for us. We can relax, knowing that even as he “exults over us with loud singing,” his love will speak peace to our souls.

I don’t know what you’ve give up (or taken on) for Lent, or whether the change is helping you draw close to God. But if you’re like me and you find your mind wandering or your worries mounting or you wish you had just a little more diligence and self-control, why not ask God to help? Tell him you can’t do it on your own (which he already knows, anyway), and that you’d like him to step in. Make Zephaniah 3:17 your prayer:

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for showing up as the mighty one who will save. Thank you for taking delight in me, for rejoicing over me with gladness and singing.

I am worried/distracted/fearful; please quiet me by your love.

Amen.


Living the Scriptures


03.10.2017

Get a Garland of Grace

So I was looking through Hillary’s wedding pix the other day. I came upon this shot of the bride with her young cousins (who did a stellar job as her flower girls):

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Looking at this photo, I was reminded of what the book of Proverbs says about wisdom. Wisdom protects us, the writer says, and when we get it – when we “cherish her” – here’s what happens:

She will give you a garland to grace your head and present you with a glorious crown… When you walk, your steps will not be hampered; when you run, you will not stumble. (Proverbs 4:9-12)

A garland of grace. A glorious crown. And the ability to navigate life without tripping. I thought all of these things sounded great. But you know who didn’t?

The dog.

Come wedding day, the florist spent ages working on a spectacular wreath for Khaki to sport – a creation that looked every bit as glorious as the bride’s bouquet – but that mule of a lab wasn’t having it. She refused to be garlanded:

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And all I could think, as Khaki wandered around naked, was that she had missed out. She could have looked really good at the reception, but she blew it.

How many times have I done the same thing? How many times has God held out a crown – a garland of grace, woven by wisdom – only to have me walk right on by? And how many times have I gone my own way, ignoring his counsel, and then stumbled straight into a ditch?

Oh, Lord, don’t let me be Khaki. Or Max. I love our dogs but, IQ-wise, I wouldn’t want to be them. (Remember when Max ate the driveway? Yeah. Me, too.)

Instead, I want to get wisdom. I want to take hold of God’s words – his garland of grace – so that I know how to live. When God’s offers a crown, I want to say thank you. And I want to wear it.

If you do, too (or if someone you love would look good in a garland), why not turn Proverbs 4 into a prayer? Click here to get the big picture, or (if all you’ve got time for is the condensed version) try this:

Heavenly Father,

Show _____ how to pay attention, gain understanding, and take hold of your words. Lead _____ along straight paths. Crown  _____ with a garland of wisdom and grace. (Proverbs 4:1-11)

Amen.

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Living the Scriptures


12.14.2016

The Light of Life

So Buddy the Elf has been at it again.

He got inspired when we went to Dallas (where they are, evidently, as serious about their Christmas lights as they are about their hair). No sooner had we gotten home than Buddy was off to the hardware store, where he picked up a couple million more strands.

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I love that guy.

Buddy also came home with a few boxes of something called the “Net of Life.” I think that name is a little bit misleading, like maybe it should be a sermon or something. Plus, there a lady on the package who, presumably, hung a bunch of lights on her snowy roof. We know she didn’t. She isn’t even wearing a coat.

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But whatever. The Nets (which I bet the Dallas people do not use) did the job on our bushes, and then Buddy got out the ladder and started climbing the trees. If he wanted help, he didn’t say so. I imagine that he (like most husbands) is pretty much happy to be out of the house – out of earshot – this time of the year.

My man worked for most of the day, adding strand upon strand.

Upon strand.

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Yeah.

Anyhow, when when darkness finally came, Buddy was ready. And when he plugged ’em all in, I loved it. Because I’m no fan of winter. Or cold. Or darkness. Or anything, actually, that feels like Not Summer. But Christmas lights have a way of making the brrrr go away, and of filling our hearts with hope.

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This is, of course, the same transformation that Jesus makes in our lives us all year long. “I am the light of the world,” he says. “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

Isn’t that an amazing promise? We are surrounded by a world full of darkness…but we don’t have to walk in it. Or fear it. Even back when Isaiah was alive, he knew the difference that Jesus would make and he called it: The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. (Isaiah 9:2)

The light has dawned. The light has dawned!

Come January, when it’s time to take down the sparkle, we can hang our hope on that. Because we may pack up the Net of Life…but the Light of Life will still shine.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:5)

Bhahahaha! Hours after this blog originally posted, you began alerting me to the fact that I’d read the box wrong. Even my mother weighed in, bursting through the door of our home and saying, “Jodie! It is not life. It is lite!” Ahhhh! That makes so much more sense! I couldn’t figure out why someone would market a Christmas decoration as the “Net of Life.” Obviously, my eyes are old.

In my defense, though, I don’t think people should be spelling LIGHT like LITE. “Lite” is for diets. Which Christmas is not. Christmas is all about the FULLNESS of joy. And my prayer, for you and for me, is that we will experience Jesus as the light of life…the bread of of life..and yes, even as the Net of Life – one that is big enough to cover us all!

Merry Christmas! xo

 


Living the Scriptures


12.08.2016

The Nativity: Then and Now

I love nativity scenes. I have a set made of olive wood, which I purchased nearly 30 years ago in Israel:

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A set my grandmother brought home from a trip to Mexico:

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A simple scene from my aunt, who was a missionary in Madagascar:

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And a big, beautiful one that, for all I know, was made in China:

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I do not, however, own the Modern Nativity:

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You can’t really tell from this photo, but Joseph is rocking a man bun. Mary’s drinking what looks like Starbucks (while showcasing her cheekbones for the selfie). And the baby Jesus is swaddled in what has to be some sort of handmade, organic-yarn blanket and beanie. The set also features three hipster wise men (who come bearing gifts a la Amazon Prime), a couple of well-fed animals (the cow’s trough is marked “gluten free”), and a teenaged shepherd boy who’s posting the whole thing on Instagram (#babyjesus #nofilter).

Theologically speaking, I’m not really sure what the designers had in mind when they came up with this scene. But honestly? I kind of like it. It makes me feel like the whole scene is kind of…relevant. Like Jesus really is what Hebrews 13:8 says he is: the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is as present in the lives of selfie-taking, latte-drinking, man bun-wearing people as he was in the lives of the folks who gathered around him 2,000 years ago. And I don’t blame Millennial Joseph and Mary for wanting a pic with the Lord. Had I been in their TOMS, I would have taken one, too.

I’ve always thought it would have been pretty cool to be alive when Jesus was walking and talking and telling people where the good fishing was. Sometimes, I’ve even been jealous of those first disciples and all the others who literally saw him do miracles, and who could ask him hard questions, face to face. From an evangelistic standpoint, it feels like it must have been a whole lot easier to bring people to a living, breathing Jesus and say, “Look. That’s him. He fed all those people.” than it is to convince them to entrust their lives to someone they can’t even see.

But here’s the thing. Mary and Joseph and all of those early Christians got to see and experience all sorts of neat stuff. But when the time came for Jesus to be crucified, he told his followers that it was “for your good that I am going away.” Why? Because that meant that the Holy Spirit would come. As a man, Jesus knew that he could only be in one place at a time; as a Spirit, he is able to be with all of us, everywhere, all the time.

So yeah, I would liked to have been at the manger. I would like to have heard the angels sing, and seen the look on the wise men’s faces when they finally got to the stall. I would like to have pulled Mary aside and asked her all sorts of questions. I would like to have thanked Joseph for believing the angel (and for staying).

I would like to have held the baby. I would like to have watched him grow up.

But when I think about the Holy Spirit – his omnipresence, and all of the wisdom, comfort, conviction, guidance, and strength he provides – I am pretty darn glad to have that. To have him. And this Christmas, as I read verses like Luke 11:13 (which says that if we know how to give good gifts to our kids, how much more will God give the Holy Spirit to us), all I can do is ask God for more of the Spirit’s work in my life, and thank him for the indescribable gift of his presence.

So again, yeah. I would like to have known Jesus on earth. Mary, too. But you know what? I figure I’ll meet her one day, and (like all mothers, I guess) she’ll probably still be happy to talk about what her boy was like, as a child.

I look forward to hearing her stories.

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(And BTW, if you decide that the Modern Nativity is something you can’t celebrate Christmas without, you can order one here for less than what Mary probably paid for those black skinny jeans.)

 

 

 

 

 


Living the Scriptures


11.30.2016

Immanuel: He is Our Peace

So on Monday morning, after all of the Thanksgiving guests had left, I crept downstairs, eager to enjoy a cup of coffee in the predawn silence. We’d already decorated the Christmas tree (gotta do it when the kids are home)…

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…and as heart-warming as it is to watch six people climb on your bookshelves and elbow each other out of the way while carols from Pandora’s “Country Christmas” drown out the announcer on the U.Va. basketball game, I was ready for some peace and quiet. I looked forward to turning on the tree lights, grabbing my Bible, and spending a few moments with God.

And then I heard…snoring.

It was loud. And it was coming from the family room. Had a late-night intruder gotten into our Baileys? Would I find a strange man on the sofa? Should I go back upstairs and wake Robbie?

I tiptoed through the kitchen and quickly turned on the lights:

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Khaki.

The dog is not supposed to get on the sofa. I didn’t fully trust her arthritic legs or her tumor-filled belly to keep her down, so I’d put out a spread of books and magazines as a deterrent. To which Khaki said, “Nice try.”

I was not happy.

I didn’t like how the dog had treated my copy of Southern Lady, nor did I appreciate having to get out the lint brush. Again. Even more than these offenses, though, was the fact that Khaki had rearranged all my pillows. One of them wound up on the floor:

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I stood there, listening to the dog drone and looking at my fallen PEACE, and I thought: This is it. This is what my life has become. I get the peace all set in my life, tucked in among the beautiful velvet and linen, and then something comes along to knock it off.

Maybe you can relate. Maybe you’re staring down the weeks between now and Christmas, wishing you could experience the whole “peace on earth, good will toward men” thing, but there’s a little niggle of anxiety, or maybe even fear, that is holding you back. Maybe it’s a decision you have to make, or a deadline you are facing. Maybe it’s a sickness, or a loss, or the sense that you don’t have what it takes to do whatever it is that you feel like you are supposed to do. Or maybe it’s something totally unfounded, but still sort of paralyzing, like the time I went shopping with my mother-in-law and we got half way to the mall when she was suddenly struck by a frightening thought:  What if the stores are closed on Monday?

I don’t know about you, but there are times when I let worry – both about real concerns and and imagined ones – consume my attention. But that is the exact opposite of how God wants us to live. “Do not be anxious about anything,” he says, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

And when we do that – when we refuse to entertain anxiety and instead bring our requests straight to God – he offers this promise:  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

Sounds like a plan.

But, like so many good things in life, choosing to take our worries to God and trade them in for his peace is easy to say and hard to do. It takes practice. It might even take retraining our brains, so that our default position is not so much dwelling on doubt as it is on tacking our trust to God’s promises. It’s do-able, but we might need help.

Which is where Immanuel comes in. Of all the names God goes by, I think Immanuel might be my favorite. It’s not one we think about for most of the year, but when you start opening Christmas cards and listening to carols, it pops up. And, to me, Matthew 1:23 is one of the best lines in the whole Christmas story:  The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel (which means “God with us”). 

If you’re feeling like your peace is on the floor this Christmas, and you aren’t really sure how to pick it up and get it settled into your life, invite Immanuel to come in and help. He is the order in our chaos, the stability in our insecurity, the anchor in our storm. He is “God with us.”
And, in that very name, he is our peace.
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Living the Scriptures


11.16.2016

Blessed are Those Who Mourn

 

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Blessed are those who mourn.

That promise, from Matthew 5:4, has never been one of my Bible favorites. The second half of the verse is a little more upbeat – for they will be comforted – but, if I’m being honest, I gotta say that I’d just as soon skip the whole thing. No mourning, no need for comfort. Done.

But if you’ve been keeping up with this blog series about waiting on God, you knew I’d get around to mourning, eventually. And last week I promised to tackle one of the thornier questions that can attach itself to the waiting process:  What do we do with the grief, or even the anger, that can box us into a corner when our prayers seem to go unanswered, or when the outcome doesn’t look like we expected (or wanted) it to?

The short answer is to remember how much God loves you. Go ahead and take your hurts to him – tell him just how you feel – and then let him hold you. Mourn, and be comforted. If that’s all the blog you can process today, that’s enough.

If you’ve got time to dig a little deeper, I’d like you to meet my guy Asaph. He’s the fella who wrote Psalm 73. He sees all of the arrogant God-mockers getting healthy, rich, and popular, while he feels like he is being “punished every morning,” and he is shaking his head. He’s grieved, and he’s bitter. He’s mourning, and he’s mad.

Not a fun place for a believer to be.

In the end, though, Asaph realizes that he has it all backwards. The bad guys are on slippery ground. Their destiny is destruction; his future is secure. Asaph has the blessing of God’s guidance, the certainty of his love, and the promise of his presence. And that’s all he needs. “Whom have I in heaven but you?” he asks. “And earth has nothing I desire besides you.”

There was a time when I would have read a statement like that and thought to myself, “Yeah, right. God’s presence is nice and all…but I would have rather had the pony.”

Lately, though, as I’ve wrestled with the problem of pain and the questions that come with things like unmet longings and unanswered prayers, I’ve begun to appreciate the blessing of God’s nearness. Here’s why:

I was raised on verses like Romans 8:28 (which says that God works in all things for our good), Jeremiah 29:11 (his plan is to prosper us and to give us hope), and Job 42:2 (no purpose of his can be thwarted), and I struggled over the fact that I felt sad when things didn’t turn out like I wanted them to, or when God seemed to be silent in the face of my prayers. If I truly believed that God was working for good, that his plan was for hope, and that his purpose would prevail, then I had no business being anything but grateful. Even if I didn’t understand what God was up to, I felt like I should be excited about it.

But I wasn’t.

And because I wasn’t, I felt like I should apologize to God. I figured that, since he already knew my heart, I could just go ahead and be honest. So here’s what I wrote in my prayer journal (and I’m sharing this partly so that those of you who think that you need to be all holy and eloquent when you talk to God will maybe feel a little bit better about just letting it rip):

“God,” I said, “I am sorry to be so spiritually lame. I really am trying to trust you. And I don’t mean to be sad. I know all your promises about how good and powerful you are, and about how much you love me, and I guess if I honestly believed these things – ”

“It’s okay.” (Have you ever been interrupted by God? Because that’s what I think happened to me. There I was, telling him how lame I was, and he just cut right in.)

“It’s okay,” I sensed God say. “Go ahead and grieve. Your sadness is real. But it’s not a bad thing. Bring it to me, and let me comfort you.”

Wow. Talk about a game-changer. There I was, trying to push my pain into a manhole and put the cover on, and God said not to. He wanted me to come to him the way that I wanted my children, when they were younger, to bring me their skinned knees and fevers, so I could hug them and bandage their hurts. Or the way that I want them to now, with their worries and fears, so that I can pray and let them know they’re not alone. And I realized that day, as I basically climbed into God’s lap and let the tears come, that I was just like Asaph. I had it all backwards.

I thought that disappointment and anger were bad things. Things to be avoided. Things that didn’t have a legitimate place in the life of a “real” Christian. (And just as a sidebar, if we allow these things to shape our identity, dictate our perspective, or become our life’s focus, I think they are bad.) But if we can learn to see them as tools in God’s hands, we will discover that our grief and our questions are actually blessings. In drawing us into God’s presence, they are the cords that he uses to bind up our broken hearts (Isaiah 61:1), to let us know how much we are loved, and to show us that even in mourning, we are blessed.

Next week, in the final post in this series, I will introduce you to a couple of folks who have lived this stuff, and who express it so much better than I can. I realized (when I saw my friend Michelle’s organic turkey in a bag in her driveway) that Thanksgiving is almost upon us. And my hope is that, together, we can celebrate the holiday from a place of genuine gratitude, a place where waiting on God (and trusting him, even when we aren’t sure what he is doing) becomes something we can really enjoy.

Like Asaph, I want us to be able to bring all of our questions and complaints before God and find our joy not in his answers, but in his nearness.


Living the Scriptures


10.21.2016

The Power of Love

When Hurricane Matthew visited Virginia Beach two weeks ago, he left us without power for five days. That in itself wasn’t so bad (I am a big fan of candlelight), but he also knocked out our phone, cable, and Internet access (hence the lack of blogposts) until yesterday. Truth be told, I didn’t really miss those things, either (especially not when you consider what the people in Haiti have been through, or even our water-logged friends just over the border in North Carolina).

What was a bit tricky – and this was a first, in my hurricane history – was the fact that a forest of downed trees and power lines meant that Robbie and I (along with a handful of neighbors) we were basically trapped in our darkened houses for the better part of a week. This pic doesn’t show the full carnage, but you can see why getting a car out would have been kind of iffy:

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When people realized our plight (and it was hard not to:  Firemen, police, the local news, and even the National Guard showed up on our corner to check things out), we began getting all sorts of offers. Did we need coffee? The loan of a car, if we could reach it? Would it help if people just threw food and flashlights over the power lines?

We said we were fine (and we pretty much were), but then Robbie went down to check on the basement. Most Virginia Beach houses don’t have ’em, but our place was built during Prohibition and it came with both a basement and what was left of a still. Because I guess, back then, there were fewer hurricanes and more thirsty people.

Anyhow.

The water was rising. We had a pump, but no way to power it. The very cute generator we had purchased after the last big storm had benched itself, after just a few hours of playing time. Should we, I wondered, try bailing? It sounds so romantic and adventurous in books. Robbie was less than enthused, and eyeing the flight of steps and our bucket, I had to agree: As a basement app, bailing is sort of meh.

We were stumped. But then Along Came Gary.

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Gary Cole is the sort of man you want in your daughter’s father-in-law. We got him as part of the package when Annesley married Geoff, and the minute he heard about our situation, Gary picked his way through the trees (keeping an eye on the still-popping power lines) with a black box that he called an “inverter.” Being an English major and all, I immediately deduced that an inverter is something that changes a direct current into an alternating current so that you can use the engine in your Toyota to get the water out of your basement. Obviously.

Here’s what the thing looks like, up close:

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Gary’s contraption made short work of our water problem. Most guys would have popped a Bud and given themselves a high five at that point, but not Gary. For one thing, he’s a milk-and-cookies guy. And for another, he’s thorough. He stood back and looked at our whole house, in all of it’s food-spoiling glory. No generator? No problem. Gary said he knew a guy. And the next thing I knew, Gary and The Guy had hauled The Guy’s generator through the trees and into our driveway.

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All I could think, as I looked out the window, was how these men (and all of our other friends and neighbors who banded together to help one another) were living out verses like Philippians 2:4 (“Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others”), Galatians 6:10 (“Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us to good to all people”), and Matthew 22:39 (“Love your neighbor as yourself”).

I wouldn’t wish a hurricane on anybody. They can be nasty things. But having been through a boatload of them (smallish ones, anyway), I must say that those storm clouds can have a silver lining. In bringing our normal, busy, self-centered lives to a halt, they make us stop and notice each other. And in a world that feels increasingly adversarial and selfish, it was really nice to see these verses about looking out for one another come to life – and to realize afresh what love does.

And, since I didn’t get to post a Friday Prayer last week, I’ll tap into the (a-hem) power of one of the letters that the Apostle John wrote, toward the end of his life. Let’s make these simple words both a prayer and a resolution for our lives:

Let us love one another, for love comes from God. (1 John 4:7)

Amen.

 

 


Living the Scriptures


10.04.2016

Raise Your Ebenezer!

Back when I started blogging three years ago, the website brainiacs told me I needed to lump my posts into “categories.” So I did. And I feel pretty good about “From the Bookshelf” (where I recommend some of my favorite reads) and “Prayer Helps” (which features scripture prayers and other tools), but the “Try This” category is sort of hit-or-miss. Long-time readers will remember the Mac-n-Cheese and Peas and Fleas failure, and I still get occasional emails from people who tell me that it didn’t go so well when they put Grandma under the sheet.

Today, though, I think I have a “Try This” winner. Not only has this one stood the test of time by serving as an anchor to the past, but it provides a launching pad for things like hope and security as we look toward the future.

Make yourself an Ebenezer stone. Like the one in the second stanza of “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” (the one that made some contemporary worship leaders change the lyrics, since nobody knew what they were talking about).

Now, I realize that when we hear “Ebenezer,” most of us think of Scrooge. But he wasn’t the first Ebenezer. Nearly 3,000 years before Charles Dickens tried to get Londoners to provide for the poor with A Christmas Carol, the prophet Samuel tried to get the Israelites to acknowledge God as their provider by setting up an Ebenezer stone. If you are fuzzy on the details, here’s the story (and you can read more in 1 Samuel 7):

The pesky Philistines had come to attack the Israelites (again), and the Israelites were scared. They didn’t have a king yet, so they turned to Samuel. “Do not stop crying out to the Lord our God for us, that he may rescue us from the hand of the Philistines,” they begged. Samuel agreed. But that didn’t stop the Philistines from advancing; they “drew near” while Samuel was praying! But then something wild happened: The Bible says God “thundered with loud thunder.” As a result, the Philistines panicked, the Israelites gave chase, and the end result was what has to be one of the most epic (an unexpected) upsets in history. To commemorate the victory, Samuel set up a stone and named it Ebenezer (which literally means “stone of help”), saying, “Thus far has the Lord helped us.”

Today, if you google “Ebenezer Stone,” you might get a picture like this:

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I like it, but I can’t see Samuel setting that thing up. I’m thinking his rock might have looked a little more like this:

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Who knows? But how the stone looked isn’t the point of the story. The point is that the stone served as a marker, a place the Israelites could return to in the years to come, a reminder of how God had fought for them and protected them in their darkest hour.

We can do the same thing. When God does something for us, we can take a rock (it doesn’t have to be big) and make our own Ebenezer. I did that earlier this year, when Robbie transferred to U.Va. I thought he knew all about the school (we’d taken him there since before he could walk), but I was wrong. Robbie knew all about the football stadium. The library? Not so much. He had to find that, and then he had to go looking for all of his classes, his advisor, and a host of other unfamiliar people and places in what turned out to be a big and sometimes daunting world.

Robbie is a surfer, and I guess those first few weeks were a little bit like paddling out through the breakers, trying to get to the smoother part of the ocean, where things settle down and you can wait to catch your wave. And when he did – when Robbie finally texted us with some good news and we felt like he was maybe hitting his stride – the words “thus far the Lord has helped us” just popped into my mind. So I found a stone (a smooth one from the beach, which seemed appropriate for my boy) and marked it:

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On the flip side, I put the date:

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In years to come, Robbie might never remember what was happening in his life in September of 2016, but he will know that the Lord was right there with him, helping him paddle through the waves.

I love the story of the Ebenezer stone. I’ve made them before, and I am sure I will make them again. I have a spotty memory and my heart is prone to wander, so I need those tangible reminders of God’s faithfulness – both so I can thank him and so I can look forward with hope and confidence, no matter what the future holds. The God of “thus far” is the God who “ever shall be,” and to me, that is exciting.

And you know what’s even more exciting? We might not have a Samuel in our corner, but we have Someone even better. The Bible says that Jesus is praying for us, right now. Romans 8:34-35 says that he always talks to God about us – and that nothing can separate us from his love! So even when we aren’t sure what to pray (like, when we don’t know which direction our Philistines are coming from, or what we should do when they attack), we can count on the fact that God already has us covered.

And that right there is enough to make me head back to the beach to find some more stones.

 




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