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Sunday grace

This morning I paused at 2 Thessalonians 3:16.

Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.

After surviving months of quarantine, hopeful of better days, we witness rioting in the streets of our country. Tensions run strong as people express their hurt, anger, and fear. We break and wound because we are broken and wounded.

We want justice to prevail. We want people to be treated right. We want things to change rather than be like they’ve always been. Divided we are falling.

While laws are written and imposed, we cannot force hearts to love one another. Only God can do that. Only God can bring peace to a tormented soul. Only God is the lasting answer for our hurt and anger and fear.

And so I pray,

Dear Father of Love and Reconciliation,
You alone can heal our troubled hearts. Our iniquities were laid upon Jesus. He took our punishment and brought us peace by His atoning sacrifice. We have peace with You through Jesus.

Yet we don’t receive it. Instead, we try to fix things ourselves, as if we could make it all right. We are helpless and hopeless without Your love permeating the essence of our being, changing us to be more like Christ.

Jesus Christ Himself is our peace, tearing down the walls that separate us. He made peace possible through His blood, freely giving Himself for us.

Why can’t we love each other? Why can’t we be kind, forgiving, gracious to one another? Because we have not received the gift of Your love. Your love changes us. Your love bears righteous fruit in our lives. Your love shows us how to give and forgive, how to accept as You have accepted us.

Help us, O God! Help us see the light in the grace You offer. It is a grace that flows to the lowest depths, covers a multitude of sins, and lifts us from the mire of our selfishness and pride.

You are Jehovah Shalom, God of Peace. The road to peace is paved with the blood of the Son of God.

In the name of the One who said, “My peace I give to you. . . . In Me you may have peace.”

His name is Jesus. Amen.

Sunday grace.

Sunday grace

I was determined to start the fire in spite of rain predictions. Sweet William kept telling me, “It’s going to rain.” I know, but I intended to make the effort and burn what I could.

A couple of years ago, we constructed a fire pit at the side yard, with a salvaged stainless steel container and garden bricks from the hardware store; it was not bad looking for a do-it-ourselves project.

We intended to build fires, roast hot dogs and marshmallows and invite the neighbors. Years went by as I piled cut branches near the wood pile knowing they would be good for kindling. But eventually, the area became an eyesore, unused and unkempt. Wild things grew among the stacked wood. Weeds were tall around the small pit. And it became a project on my garden to-do list.

I was ready to start a fire, get rid of the rotting wood, and clear away the brush. I gathered matches and old paper, piled on dry stick and soon there was smoke and eventually flames. The rubble burned and the unsightly mess grew smaller.

It’s a funny thing about fire. It draws people to it. My cousins drove by, noticed us siting around the fledgling blaze, and pulled into our driveway. We invited them to come sit with us, properly distanced of course. Soon my other cousin who lives on our lane walked down to our house, and the five of us sat in yard chairs around burning embers under overcast skies.

I brought bottled water for us all and we talked, like we did before the world was crazy.

Eventually raindrops began and we scattered to cars and houses, back to sheltering in our homes. But for an hour or two, we were together again, drawn by the attraction of burning wood.

As I think of the re-entry process after two months of cocooning, I am considering my own responsibility and response to rules and changes and a new normal and especially the people I will meet face-mask to face-mask, or perhaps as our unmasked selves.

For years I’ve been discovering I cannot change others. I can only change myself. The lesson is hard learned, me with the constructive criticism, for your own good, mind you.

The powers that be can enforce rules, but it cannot change a heart. We may coerce people to do what we want, but we will not remake a life or an attitude or a mindset. Only God can light that fire.

How will I respond to rudeness? It should be with a gentle answer. What should I do if people get angry and shout their opinions? I could express myself with calm control. I can check my facts and know the truth before I dare to differ. I can stand for my God-given rights in peaceful protest.

Jesus’ example was humble strength. He did not back down, nor did He run over. He responded with wisdom, shrewd yet innocent of ulterior motives. He always spoke truth and He always acted in love. He was fervent splendor, ignited with the Spirit of God, and people were drawn to the heat.

As we move into our small corners of the world again, what if our lives were on fire with the light and love of Jesus? What if we walked without fear, clothed in compassion? Would people notice the difference? Would it catch their attention? Would they want to investigate and come closer, longing to be warmed by the passion of Christ burning in the lives of His children?

I pray it will be so in my own life, the one and only life I can change through the power of the Holy Spirit. I want His zeal and intensity burning in me.

And like the unconsumed bush that captured Moses’ attention, the fire of God will draw people to Himself. Then hearts will be transformed.

photo from pixels.com

Tuesday thoughts

Sunday slipped right by this week. Sweet William and I are accustomed to church in our pajamas, having learned to live-stream and worship at the kitchen table.

Sunday is my sabbath rest. I put aside garden gloves and housecleaning tasks, determined to relax and remember that God is the one who provides for us. If you know me well, you understand the discipline this requires.

As we watch the news and latest updates on the pandemic each morning, I have mixed feelings as the country makes an effort to open and get the economy running upward again. I know we need to. Businesses and real people are suffering.

We’ve been confined almost long enough to make it habit forming. Experts say it takes 90 consecutive days, but by day 47 of doing the same thing, it begins to feel normal.

Sweet William and I cocooned thoughtfully, emerging for necessities only. Friends brought groceries and fresh eggs several times, bless them. We visited with neighbors in the yard at a safe distance. We ordered on line and were careful handling packages and the daily mail.

Now we wonder how and when to venture further into society. We have our masks, and I wear mine while many around me don’t. I’m not sure how I feel about that.

As I lay in bed last night, I could see the sliver of the moon from the window. The sight of it was comforting, hung in the sky by the Creator in the beginning. And there it is, stable in its monthly rotation, moving tides, marking seasons, and lighting the darkness with its delicate glow.

I began to pray in the stillness, talking to my Father, and wondering what He is doing. As I sometimes do, I told Him that I don’t understand His ways. He is patient with my struggles, my wrestling questions. He simply holds me close and whispers, “Trust me.”

Tears filled my eyes, and my will responded, “I will trust You. I will trust You. I will trust You.”

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.

In my human frailty, my uncertain fears, the confusion and doubtfulness that plague me sometimes, my Father remains compassionate, kind, tender toward His child. His love is everlasting and unconditional.

As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for He knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are dust.
— Psalm 103:13, 14

I’m not sure how we will re-enter a world interrupted. I don’t know when I will be comfortable giving random hugs and sitting next to my piano students during a lesson. I long for what was before, when greeting people with a handshake, talking face to face, and touching people and things was natural and we did it without thinking, without fear.

The world is changed, and we are changed with it. This new decade we entered with anticipation will be one for the history books. We will remember it in our own narratives in the the days ahead.

And yet . . . in all that alters and shifts like the sand, our Eternal God remains the same. Stop and breathe in that truth.

The Lord has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all.
— Psalm 103: 19

As we walk into a different world, we are not alone in our wanderings. We hold to the unchanging hand of our Savior who has overcome. There is nothing to fear. Abundant life is just ahead.

Sunday grace

Sweet William and I cocooned ourselves early, and it is day 38 of social distancing, sheltering at home, being confined, not going anywhere or seeing people. It’s cabin fever in the spring time. Thankfully, the gardens beg for attention. Maisie still wants to walk, and I collect the mail each day while soaking in a little vitamin D.

We are eating well. The toilet paper continues in a manner like loaves and fishes. People call when they are heading to the grocery to check if we need something. Texts ping that someone is thinking of us. Mail order packages arrive on the front porch, and I’m Zooming lessons with my piano students.

The library books I checked out pre-caronavirus are in limbo, and I get to keep them for an undetermined time with no late fees. I listen to books on Hoopla for free, and podcasts are my friends.

While life is different, we are blessed. And so go our days.

On a recent podcast, Susie Davis talked with K. J. Ramsey. K. J. said we want the knowledge of good and evil, just like Eve when she was tempted with the fruit in Eden.

And it’s true. I want to know why the suffering. I want to understand the purpose in the pain. If Someone would explain the reason for sickness and death and job loss and family trauma, then I could come to some acceptance and move on. I would be able to deal with it better.

But would I? Could I handle the knowledge of good and evil, the vast expanse of wisdom that encompasses the plan of the cosmos?

No, I cannot.

We are created for fellowship with the Divine. We are invited to receive the indwelling of the Holy. We are given access to the throne of grace through Jesus. But we are not made to contain the knowledge of good and evil.

This brings a quiet peace to my soul. The things that keep me awake at night, what causes my anxiety, the questions that have no answers are too weighty for me to carry in my being. I was never meant to know the end from the beginning or to comprehend the secrets of the Godhead.

The questions the Almighty asked Job in the last chapters of his book certainly put Job in his place, silencing his questions and his complaints aimed at Yahweh. The answers Job wanted were too much for him. And they are too much for me.

And these are but the outer fringe of his works; how faint the whisper we hear of him! Who then can understand the thunder of his power?”
— Job 26:14 NIV

When my “why” and my “how long” and my “what in the world” questions begin to crowd my thoughts until I can’t think straight, I need to remember this wise counsel. I am not capable of knowing the answers. Nor was I meant to know.

My purpose is different. I am granted the privilege of knowing the One who created me, the One who came for me, the One who was willing to die for me. I am designed to seek Him,not the unknowable mysteries.

I am created to breathe in the breath of the Spirit, to grow within the body of Christ, to be a vital instrument of love in the world.

I am given a measure of faith so I learn to believe Him who is invisible, growing in my trust and dependence.

I am invited to walk with Jesus, not alone, in the light and dark places of my journey. I can be confident He is with me at every step.

The Lord has entrusted treasures to us earthlings. We have minds to discover and invent and create art. We problem solve, build, organize, and imagine. We love and receive love, establish families and raise our young.

We are intricately designed, fearfully and wonderfully made, an amazing fusion of body, soul and spirit. We are specifically purposed by the Master Designer.

But that does not include the knowledge of good and evil. This knowledge is too great, beyond me, and not necessary for my existence.

In the days of our cocooning, I’m learning things, simple and profound. I pray the experience is not wasted on me. When this strange season of virus and pandemic are over, and it will be over eventually, wouldn’t it be astounding if we emerged from our homes changed for the better? Wouldn’t it be something if our friends saw us in person again and said, “There’s something different about you.”

What if we began as caterpillars, cocooned for a while, and became butterflies?

And so it begins

Yesterday was Palm Sunday, and it was different. Perhaps years later we will talk about it, beginning our dialog with “Remember the year we couldn’t attend church on Palm Sunday? Remember that virus that kept us sheltered inside, distanced from everyone?”

The story is familiar to me, having heard it since I was a tot in Sunday school.  The flannel graph figure of Jesus sitting on a donkey moves through the streets of Jerusalem while people wave palm branches and lay down their outer clothes.  They shout “Hosanna” and “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” He accepts their praise, even welcomes it and says the rocks will cry out if the people are silenced.

It is His day.

In their final chapters, all four Gospel writers narrow their lenses on the last days of Jesus’ earthly life. The week is full of activity.  Each writer has his own slant, his own perspective. The details and consistency shout for us to sit up and pay attention.

But why is the Sunday of palm waving important, other than that it fulfills one more prophecy about Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah?.  Zechariah said the king would come riding on a donkey.  He would be righteous, victorious and humble.  Jesus was all of that.

There is something else.

Hundreds of years before, Moses instructed the people to take a lamb in preparation for their Passover celebration. On the tenth day of the first month of a new year. Set it apart. Examine it for imperfections. Keep it until the fourteenth day. Then kill it. It is the Passover lamb.

Jesus made His grand entrance into Jerusalem on the tenth day of the month.  He was chosen for this. He was about to set the people free and make all things new for those who believed.  And so on Palm Sunday, He was proclaimed, examined for imperfections, presented to the people on the tenth day as the sacrificial Lamb. And on the fourteenth day of the month, just days later, He was killed.

God’s Passover Lamb. The promise to Abraham fulfilled. “God will provide for Himself a lamb.” — Genesis 22:8

Jesus. He is the One we waited for. Give Him praise. Shout Hosanna.

Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!

Sunday grace

According to Webster’s dictionary, normal is defined as:  the usual, average, or typical state or condition.

It certainly does not describe what I’m living now. As I think of it, how often has my “normal” changed?

When I left my parents’ home to marry Sweet William, I learned a new normal. When I became a mother, life was never the same again. That role evolved many times and always into a completely new normal. When life took turns in an unexpected direction and I was faced with impossible uphill climbs,  I stretched and prayed to learn normal once again.

See the source image

 

I am here once more. While my days of confinement have become somewhat predictable, the world outside is morphing almost daily. I’m trying to learn new ways of doing things, adapting to my situation, while trying to keep a positive outlook that this self-distancing, COVID-19, uncommon spring season will eventually become a memory.

One thing we can count on as a constant. There will always be change.

But there is more I count on. In fact, I build my life and future on the truth I read in Scripture. God is in control when the world is spinning unrestrained. He is good even when life is not. He is strong and able to meet every need of every person who calls on Him. He has not forsaken us.

The Father is compassionate and gracious, sending fresh mercies at every sunrise. He has set the universe in order, and time continues according to His plan.

He shares His love with humans and gives them supernatural Holy Spirit power to love when we are wounded, to forgive when we are mistreated, to bend the knee and serve the least to the greatest.

As we enter the weeks before Palm Sunday, Passover, and Resurrection Day, the story that is ancient becomes relevant and contemporary. The gospel message is unchanging. God loved all people and Jesus came to die and pay the debt of sin. Those who believe and accept the gift of salvation inherit eternal life.

It is a changeless message of hope. God is love. Jesus Christ came to earth. He lived. He died. He arose to immortality and offers it to me.

Some things just don’t change.

While we wait

I’m in a waiting period. I think a lot of you are too.

The small wipe-off board I used to list our weekly activities is uncommonly blank, except for the dates. It’s never like that. 

It is strange, this social distancing, a word now unique to 2020 and one we will remember, I bet. Each day presents challenges, news updates and directives from our government. Every blog that presents in my in-box has something to say about coronavirus. I question how to do this life while we confine ourselves for an undetermined period.

Everyone isn’t confined, and I’m thankful for healthcare workers and first responders and the UPS employees who keep delivering our packages. Mail is deposited in my box each day, and I count it a gift.

I count the gifts of people who text to check on us, asking if we need anything. We are in the high-risk category of over 60 years old and determined to stay where we are. Younger friends asked if we are OK, can they do something, offering to bring supplies to our front door and leave them on the porch. We are touched by such kindness, and we feel loved.

Each day I talk with two of my cousins, one by phone, and one at her house down our lane, careful to keep at least three feet between us. I check on my neighbors, and they are much like me, home bound. I text my family members to see how they are faring during complex days. We try to be hopeful, cheerful, look for the bright side.

While this is a serious situation that I don’t discount, I appreciate humor where I can get it. Sometimes I really do LOL, laugh out loud, at something on Facebook or TV, and it does me good, like medicine.

I have a stack of good books and time to read them now. I hope the temperature rises. I could use a little sunshine so I can work in the garden and feel productive. The fresh air will be good for me.

A friend who is working her job remotely texted a request for some recipes. She is home with her husband and children and wants to make something good to eat. I sent her four tested recipes, with options to make them her own, according to her family’s tastes. Good food is satisfying to body and soul.

A couple of days ago I fed my sour dough starter and baked whole wheat bread. Sweet William and I ate it hot with butter melting in its crevices.

My neighbor who lives in the house next door texted that she was venturing to the grocery and did we need anything. I love her even more for asking. Her little guy, almost six, delivered some fruit and cream for our coffee, and I sent him home with a loaf of still-warm bread, a little thank you for caring about us.

Sweet William and I are practicing a song together on piano and guitar. We played it years ago at a friend’s wedding. It’s a difficult piece, and we struggle with it. But we have the time to re-learn it in these days of waiting.

The season of lent continues, and my early morning quiet time draws me to truth as I read of Jesus’s last days on this earth. I am reassured, knowing this was planned before galaxies were constructed, before I was born, before 2020 presented us with COVID-19.

As the trees bloom white in our little woods and I gather daffodils from the yard to cheer to the house, the earth moves in its designed path toward spring. If the clouds clear away, I will see the moon waning as she makes her  circular path toward hiding. Daylight appears each morning even when the sun is overcast. Birds sing and frogs croak, and the month of March is much like each one I’ve known and yet it isn’t.

This I know, there is a God in heaven who is watching His world and His children. He is aware and involved and working His good will in and among us. Kindness and love are His evidence.

In our waiting, let’s keep the faith. Be humble and kind. Look for the good and count blessings. Laugh out loud. Say “I love you” every chance you get. Stay in touch with those who are socially distanced from you. Pray for our leaders as they try to do their best for our country.

Trust the One who knows exactly what He is about in our world. Believe He will care for us like the sparrow. He loves us more than we know.

Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God?    — Luke 12:6

Growing fruit

Recently, I began thinking about  the Fruit of the Spirit, wondering what would happen if I focused on one of the nine components each day. I had to get creative to divide them into seven days a week. Here’s what I came up with.

Sunday – Faithfulness
Monday – Gentleness
Tuesday – Self-Control
Wednesday – Joy
Thursday – Peace
Friday – Patience
Saturday – Goodness and Kindness

And Love over all.

In the early morning quiet time, I look at my categories and write the word in my journal to help me focus on it during the day.

I understand that it is the Spirit in me working His beauty and grace causing His fruit to grow in me. I cannot conjure up these attributes myself, all by myself, in my own strength. I am aware that it is God working in me, giving me the desire as well as the power to do what pleases Him (Philippians 2:13).

I think of it like crocuses in my yard. They lie invisible and sleeping under ground all winter. Then the weather begins to warm and sunshine lasts a little longer each day. Suddenly the crocuses beside my front steps appear, surprising me every time. They are there under the ground, and so they grow.

There is a volunteer apple tree in the yard, noticed by my dad many years ago, marked and protected from the mower. It grew and eventually produced fruit. It’s an apple tree so it brings forth apples.

Perhaps the fruit God wants to produce is something like that, lying dormant in me but still pulsing with His life. As He works in me and I cooperate with Him, the fruit grows and I’m hardly aware of the process.

As I focus on the characteristics of the Spirit’s fruit, I pray to be fertile soil, a willing vessel. I become more conscious of what the Lord is doing in me. The Spirit quickens my spirit to awaken me when I have wrong attitudes and sinful actions.

When I bear fruit, I resemble the One who created me, the One who gave His life for me. And I want to be like Jesus. Oh Lord help! I don’t always know how to do that, but I do know I need His help.

I trust that He is working in all things, tilling the ground, removing weeds, pruning and feeding, watering with the Word, encouraging new growth.  

He is God over the growing season of my days, determined to produce fruit, more fruit, and much fruit. On the day of Christ Jesus, I hope for a bountiful harvest knowing the apple does not fall far from the tree.

Sunday grace

I’m a small girl, swinging my legs back and forth under the pew at the big church. My mother and father are on either side of me.  Familiar faces surround me.  The organ plays strong and the piano accompanies as the leader at the front sings,

I surrender all.  I surrender all.  All to Jesus I surrender, I surrender all.

And my tender child-heart surrendered what I knew of myself to Jesus. I didn’t understand theology and complicated doctrines. I only understood that Jesus loved me, for the Bible told me so.

I grew older.  My feet touched the floor as I sat up straight and listened to the sermon.  Again, I heard the invitation, “Surrender.  All.”  I left my comfortable place on the pew and went forward to kneel at the altar.  I wept and surrendered.  I thought it was my all.

It seems I’ve surrendered a lot to the Father’s entreating, and each time I think it is everything.

It is the gentle way of our Lord to call for another surrender and another as He reveals my heart to me and says, “Do you love me more than these?”

I don’t always understand the ways of the Spirit.  He is mysterious.  He is patient and persistent.  He is full of grace.  He is tenacious and unrelenting, unwilling to let me stay the way I am when there is so much more.  There is abundant life in Him, fullness of joy, and He wants that for me.  He invites to me to come further still into the place of His perfect will. That requires my surrender.

I want that too. The full-to-overflowing life where I abide in Jesus and His words abide in me and communion is sweet. The place where He walks with me and talks with me and tells me I am His own. Ah, the joys we’ll share.

But sometimes this alludes me. I am caught up with the cares of life, busy schedules, lots to do and time feels fleeting. I think I have to do it all and that it all depends on me, and what would happen if I lost control?

I hear it once more, the call to surrender.
Turn loose.
Quiet frantic thoughts.
Fear not.
Follow Me.
Be still.
Rest.

Once more, I bow to His will and relinquish.

I consider the life Jesus lived in complete submission to the Father’s will. The way to the cross would be horrendous, yet He walked it with purpose and acceptance. He yielded, even as He took His final breath, “Father, into Your hands I comment my spirit.” 

And so today, I surrender again.  I surrender all that is in my hand and all my hand reaches for, all my heart’s longings, all my hopes and dreams, my today and my tomorrow.  I surrender all.

Tomorrow I will do it again.

So it begins

The tradition of faith in which I was raised did not celebrate Lent. I hardly knew anything about it until in my fifties I was employed as pianist at the Methodist church in my home town.

It was a time of transition for me, a hard season when I carried a weight of sorrow. God sent me to that small congregation of loving people who built up my confidence, lavished me with love, and made me feel like a person.

While the traditional services were very different than my upbringing, I determined to enter into their style of worship with a whole heart. It was within this community that I learned about Lent.

The first year I was an observer. The second year I participated and gave up critical words, which I thought wouldn’t be that hard. I learned differently, finding my heart could be very critical even when I didn’t speak the words. It was a soul-searching experience.

I no longer attend that small church, but I carry with me a wealth of learning and love from my time there and the wisdom of the practice of Lent.

On this first day of the Lenten season for 2020, I contemplate how I can focus on Jesus’ journey toward Calvary’s cross. During the weeks leading us to Resurrection Sunday, I want to be intentional in opening my heart to the message that God was willing to pay my debt of sin, all because of love.

At Christmas we celebrate the God-man’s coming to earth with bright decorations, presents, family gatherings, and joy.

At Easter we celebrate life after death, defeat of the grave, miracles and wonders.

Lent is the in-between time, an arrow pointing us to Jesus’ determined journey toward Jerusalem, knowing His death was imminent. He would experience undeserved cruel and unusual punishment. He would be denied, abandoned, misunderstood, falsely accused, arrested, beaten, mocked, sentenced without a just trial, and led to his death.

The gospels give priority to the final weeks of Jesus’ life. There are details of the last meal with his close companions, the disciples. His trial and execution are reported thoroughly.

It would seem we should pay special attention. Can we do that together, pay special attention to what undoubtedly deserves our thoughtful consideration?

Each person will choose how to do that, whether by giving up something, adding to your daily spiritual practice, or simply noticing what is already a present activity. The purpose will be to remind us of the enormous and costly price our Lord paid for us, how His love for the souls of this world is beyond our comprehension, and that His sacrifice calls us to make a decision. The decision is to accept Him or not.

No other religion in the world offers grace like this. No other doctrine provides an eternal sacrifice for the sins of the world, for my sins. No one ever loved me like Jesus.

Will you join me on the journey to the cross?

We will meet here on Sundays and Wednesdays. I hope you will come along side. We can do this together.