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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

Monday grace

I read Ephesians 4 for the fifth or sixth day in a row, and I wonder why I’ve never highlighted the first few verses in my marked up Bible?

I beg you . . . to live and act in a way worthy of those who have been chosen for such wonderful blessings as these. Be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Try always to be led along together by the Holy Spirit and so be at peace with one another.  We are all parts of one body, we have the same Spirit, and we have all been called to the same glorious future.”

Humility has never been my strong point.

Yesterday, Sunday, we gathered with fellow believers, dressed up in our Sunday best and smiles that often cover.  Today, Monday, we head into the fray, meeting life head on with those who don’t see things like we do, some who want to argue their point with us, others who are warring against us.

The challenge is to live a life worthy, to be humble and gentle, to be patient, making allowances for other’s faults.  Because of Love.

Because I have been loved, I am called to love in return.  This is my calling no matter my job title, no matter my work schedule. no matter what.

I pray to put on the clothing of Christ:  compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, forgiveness, unity, love, peace.

Not in my own strength but in His.

Monday grace, friends.  Go with God and in the power of His might.

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Blessed are they who give and receive

 

Walking beside my Sweet William during his open-heart surgery experience has been an interesting ride, running the gamut of emotions from anxious to joyful.

In the midst of it all, we have been on the receiving end of lavish love, care, prayers, and the comfort of the physical presence of friends and family.  I truly believe all of that has contributed to Bill’s healing process.  For me, it has been like a balm to my soul.

Now that we are home from the hospital, and I am back to a partial work schedule, people are offering to bring us meals, to run errands, to come help us in some way.

My nature is to say, “Oh that’s OK.  We will manage.” It’s not that I don’t want what friends have to offer.  It is that I don’t want to put them to any trouble on our account.

I learned to be a giver a long time ago.  My dad taught me to tithe when, as a child, all I had was a dime.  I watched  mother and dad give time and money to missionaries, ministers, and people in need.

But I learned a valuable lesson about receiving a number of years ago.

Bill had been out of work for months.  There was no income coming in except a meager amount I was making from housecleaning other people’s homes.  We were regularly dipping into what reserve we had to pay bills despite the fact that we had eliminated all but the necessities.

At that time, we attended a church with a small congregation.  One Wednesday night after service, the pastor of the church came to our house with an envelope full of money.  It had been collected as an offering for us, given by the people of the church.  They were not rich people, just plain folk like us.

I immediately protested to the pastor saying “no” we could not accept that kind of charity.  I don’t recall his exact words, but his message was clear.  If we didn’t accept the gift, we would be cheating these dear people of the blessing of giving.

That made me halt my verbal protest.

Scripture says the Lord loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7).  I guess I needed to know how He deals with a humble receiver.

It came from the story of the great prophet Elijah.  The Bible tells how God withheld rain from the land of Israel because of the idolatry in the land.  After Elijah delivered this message to the people, the Lord told him to go to Zarephath where a widow would provide for him.

What if Elijah had argued with God and said, “What?  A widow woman is to take care of me?  Why, I am your prophet, Lord. I should be taking care of her.”

But Elijah didn’t even twitch a muscle.  He just obeyed.  He found that widow and her son.  She cooked bread for him out of her own need.  Through her act of giving and Elijah’s act of receiving, they had oil and meal enough to last until the rains returned (I Kings 17).

Being on the receiving end is a humbling experience.  It sort of purges the “I can take care of myself, thank you very much” stuffing right out of a person.

An independent spirit can be a good thing.  But the truth of the matter is we are all one body as Paul the Apostle said. When one of us hurts, the whole body hurts.  When I hurt even the smallest toe or finger, the rest of my body responds quickly to relieve the pain.

So it is with the Body of Christ.  Its members come to the aid of one of the least of these when they are hurting.  Members like me, like Bill.

We then are blessed to be on the receiving end of such kindness.

And what about the givers?  They have an eternal reward awaiting them for giving just a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name (Mark 9:41).  Imagine what the reward is for home-made chicken noodle soup and cornbread!

So when someone asks to bring a meal or to help in some way, I’ve learned it is OK to say, “That would be nice.  Thank you so very much.”

And it is an incredibly pleasant experience.

Immanuel – The strong God with us!

I love listening to Christmas songs whether it be on the car radio, through the computer at work, or on the stereo system at home. I have an eclectic collection of Christmas CDs. I begin playing them soon after Thanksgiving – but not before. You know how I am.

Some of my favorite Christmas songs are the ones that declare the name of Christ as Immanuel (sometimes spelled Emmanuel). You can probably hum and few bars of your favorite song right now.

Do you recall this one? O come, o come Immanuel, and ransom captive Israel.

One carol made popular by singer Amy Grant says,

Immanuel, Immanuel, Wonderful Counselor

Lord of life, Lord of all.

He is the Prince of peace, Mighty God, Holy One.

Immanuel Immanuel!

Matthew 1:23 tells us, “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God with us’).  (NIV)

Immanuel, God with us. I can rest in that proclamation, lie down and sleep peacefully, walk with courage during the day knowing my God is with me.

I love discovering new things in God’s Word, nuances to meanings of familiar passages. Recently I found out the word Immanuel literally means “the strong God with us”. Now that gives it an interesting twist.

The strong God came to be with us through Jesus.  At the same time, He showed His humility, strength under control, by taking on the nature of a servant, being made in human likeness, and found in the appearance as a man, so says Philippians 2.

  •  The strong God, able and willing to provide salvation – yet coming in the form of a helpless infant child.
  • The strong God, not afraid to call a hypocrite a hypocrite – yet letting the little children come to Him.
  • The strong God, fearlessly clearing the temple of buyers and sellers – yet allowing Himself to be touched by bleeding women and prostitutes.
  • The strong God, speaking the Word of God with authority – yet speaking not a word in His own defense at the mockery of a trial.
  • The strong God, calming the stormy sea – yet having to be awakened from sleep because His humanity was weary.

The strong God, Immanuel, is with me, with you even now through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. I am encouraged and strengthened by His grace to carry on.

Fellow traveler, the strong God is with you today.  And whatever you tomorrows may bring, the strong God will be with you there also.

Let us walk in the faith and confidence that this one Word, Immanuel, promises.

” . . . And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age,” (Matthew 28:20 – NIV).