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Sunday grace

Reading my Christ Chronological book, I’m following Jesus through His last weeks on earth, as the Gospels record them. It is my Lenten practice.

I pause at Luke 10, and how many times have I read the story of Martha and her sister Mary?

Verse 38 begins, “As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.”

I’ve often thought Martha was unduly criticized in this story. The very first thing we know about her is that she opened her home to Jesus. For all the women who ever opened their homes to me, your hospitality and grace was a blessing.

In a day when HGTV broadcasts the finished reveal of newly remodeled homes, I can feel undone and old fashioned in my outdated kitchen and rooms that are not an open floor plan with wide views of the whole house.

We have real people living in real homes, resulting in piles of clothes to fold, scattered toys where children play, dirty dishes on the stove and in the sink, and dust bunnies under chairs and tables. Let’s not even talk about Maisie’s dog hairs that gather at out-of-the-way places.

Opening one’s home is no small matter, especially when we think we will be judged because of perceived imperfections. Comparison kills relationships. So can the desire for perfection.

So I applaud Martha for her hospitality to a baker’s dozen of hungry men.

But my focus in this day’s reading is not on Martha. It’s on Mary. Isn’t she the ideal by which we measure ourselves? Mary is the contemplative who ignores the distractions of much preparation to sit at Jesus feet. Again, I never think I measure up to her undivided attention to her Lord

Reading this familiar story, I simply love both of these women for their different personalities, their ways of relating, and how their gifts serve.

Coming to the end of the short narrative, I pause at Jesus’ words in verse 42: “but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better . . . “

Only one thing is needed. I stop to ponder. Only one thing. This is what has been troubling me for weeks. What is my one thing?

While I moved slowly into January and the new year, February pushed more like a steam roller, days full and body aching. Responsibility and ministry required a lot of me. Cares of the world and concern for people weighed heavy. And my heart searched for direction. I felt drained, wondering about my one thing.

Now it is March, with the hope it offers. Birds sing their springy chorus early mornings. The forsythia bush unfolds yellow blooms one at time. Our little woods is greening after a grey winter landscape. Life is pulsing in the earth and narrow green daffodil leaves break through frozen ground. Change is in the wind.

It is fitting that I finally get clarity to ask the right question. In this present season of my life, what is my one thing? The one thing I am designed to do, the very place I am called to served God right now?

I know I’m not to be all over the place, scattered and thin, trying to be all things to all people. Saying yes to God’s best and the place of His calling means saying no to some good things.

The goal is to grow deep, to flourish like the trees in my yard. They give beauty, shade, shelter, and fruit. Trees grow where they were planted, content to do their one thing well.

Scripture records Jesus asking, “What do you want me to do for you?” He gave credence to people’s desires and longings, the one thing they wanted most. Our dreams often point us in the direction of our callings.

After Jesus visited with Martha and Mary, I read further in Luke 11, and hear  Him say, “Ask and it will be given to you. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened to you.”

My questions don’t go unnoticed. My yearnings can be an arrow pointing me in my direction. My Father wants to be found, wants to show me the way, even if it is just one step at a time.

My one thing may be to open my home like Martha. It might be to sit quietly with Jesus like Mary. As I seek Him, I expect to find Him.

One thing for sure, I will be in His presence, and that will be enough. 

Monday grace

As I turn over the calendar blocks to July 1, I’m stunned that half the year is over. Is life moving at warp speed or is it my own illusion?

What do the next six months have in store? Only God knows.

What have I accomplished since January 1? Lists marked with completed check-offs attest to busy days, tasks and projects completed. The journal reflects daily activity and moods, the inner rumblings of a mind distracted some days and focused on other days.

My good sense tells me the moments spent with friends and family were the most valuable and enriched my life in ways not measurable. I expect that will be true of the next six months. How does one calculate the intrinsic worth?

So what do I want? From this day forward, what should I pursue? What shall I choose for 182 days left in this year?

Working through a new Bible study, I see how the Scriptures are full of questions. In a way, I knew that. God asks:

“Where are you?” “Who told you that?” “Where have you come from and where are you going?” He knows all the answers.

Somewhere, sometime, I heard I should not question God. Yet through my study I’m being made aware that God initiates relationship through questions. Maybe they aren’t harmful after all but rather a way to dialogue. Don’t I practice Q and A to get acquainted with a new friend? I often ask and dig deeper to understand, to comprehend, to get beyond a surface response?

Jesus invited inquiry. “What are you seeking?” “Why are you afraid?” “How much more will the heavenly Father give . . . ?”

Psalm 38:9 says, “All my longings lie open before You, O Lord; my sighing is not hidden from You.

I wrote it on my spiral index cards, and I’ve looked at it many times during the last weeks. Sometimes what I want seems an impossible request. Sometimes it is difficult to put it into words, this longing too deep to be demystified. Sometimes it is too hard to say it out loud.

And so I offer it up to my Father who knows my heart and the thoughts yet to be formed in my head. He is completely cognizant of my soul and spirit, their inner workings, their conflicts, and the questions I have.

He welcomes my questions, the wrestling I occasionally do with Him. He tells me to ask, seek, knock. It is His invitation to bring all my quandaries to Him. He is not put off by them, is not stunned that I would be so bold, is not offended at all.

He offers the appeal: Come boldly to the throne of grace. Come with your questions, your struggles, your pain. Come with your proposed plans and decisions. Bring your “what if? and “what shall I do?”

God has answers to questions I don’t even know how to put into words.

Call to Me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” Jeremiah 33:3

This is Q and A at its utmost.

Monday grace.

The hidden things

Jesus unceasingly taught the disciples during their three years together. At every opportunity, He was teaching, sometimes in plain language and sometimes in parables. Whether they were listening, and more importantly whether they were understanding, is something altogether different.

It seemed there were some lessons that needed to be repeated. Like loving one another and the first shall be last and the one who leads shall be servant to all.

Sometimes they seemed to grasp the message and sometimes not. Perhaps they didn’t always want to. Perhaps they wished Jesus to be who they wanted Him to be,  made in their image, to accomplish their goals and desires.

I’ve been there.

Toward the end of the Gospels, I read how Jesus told them what was ahead, how His earthly life was coming to a close, that He would be lifted up on a cross. They didn’t get it.

Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be delivered over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him and spit on him; they will flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.”

The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about. — Luke 18:31-34

Sometimes the messages in life are hidden from us.

I think of people I care about who are dealing with such hard things, disease, brokenness, troubled marriages, wayward children, death. And we don’t understand. I wonder what good can come from trials that crush us. I have walked in those uncomfortable, even painful shoes myself, where there are more questions than answers.

The reasons are hidden from us for a season.

I would like to know why two pregnancies ended too early. I would like to know why my mother died when I was in my 30’s. I would like to know why many health issues have wrecked havoc on us. I would like to know why my heart has ached from longing that felt physically disabling. I would like to know why some of my prayers seem to go unanswered.

I would like to know why. But I don’t. And so my faith reaches for the unseen, reaches beyond the veil of this life into the spiritual realm. It stretches me to strain for what is invisible, the substance of what I hope for, the evidence of things not seen.

After Jesus’ death and then His resurrection, God’s heavenly purpose finally begin to be clear. But the disciples suffered agonizing despair for the days of mock trials, crucifixion, and a dead body in the tomb.

On the other side of resurrection day, the Son rose and light shined and the minds that had been shrouded by darkness began to comprehend. The disciples lives were changed forever. In fact, the world was changed forever.

One day my faith will be sight. All things will be clear. The face of my Savior will be glory like I cannot even imagine. And it will all be worth it

The uncertainty will be certain. All sickness will be healed. Every broken heart will be mended. Strained relationships will vanish in the beauty of God’s presence.

And I will understand that the tapestry of life includes dark threads as well as golden ones.

I may not get all the answers I hunger for here while I trod this earth, but there are reasons and there is a purpose. It is God who sovereignly rules and reigns and will cause all things to work together for good, according to His divine plan.

One day I will know as I am known. When I see Christ, it will be worth it. In the meantime, I will trust Him who knows all the hidden things now and forever.

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Got questions?

I have always had questions.

When just a tiny tot, I began to ask questions. It was a way for me to understand this giant world I had entered. “Why is the sky blue and why is the grass green?” “Why do I have to tie my shoes?” “Why can’t I ride my bike in the street?” “Why do I have to wear this?”

Little people ask a lot questions. They ask “why?” and “how come?” and “why not?” They ask it to infinity it seems, until mom or dad resorts to those words we promise ourselves we will never say to our children, “Because I said so!”

When I was growing up painfully shy, I was not very adept at social interactions with people other than family. So I read as much as I could to be better at it. I learned from the teen magazine I subscribed to that asking questions is a good way to make conversation.

The magazine told me to ask questions to find out about the other person, that people love to talk about themselves, especially boys, which was of prime interest to me at that age.

I tried it and found it was true. People do like to tell their own stories. Most of the time I didn’t have to say much, just ask the questions.

Through the years, I’ve continue to ask questions not so much because I’m still painfully shy but because I truly want to get to know people. I learn things like where he is from, how many children she has, what line of work he is in, where they go to church, what his hobbies are, and what brings the light to her eyes and her heart.

As a result of asking so many questions, I’ve become a pretty good listener.

I’ve been asking a lot of questions lately. Sweet William and I have been walking a long stretch of road that has brought many questions to my mind.

A lot of “whys” have sliped into my prayers. A lot of “how longs” and “how is this going to turn out for good and for Your glory, Lord?”  I just want to understand the purpose of it all.  If I just knew the reasons, then maybe I could endure it with more patience and grace.

So I’m listening.

But I’m not getting many answers, as least not the ones I long to hear.

My questions are mostly met with silence.

When I was a child I remember someone saying “You should never question God!” It was a rather fearful-sounding admonition.

Yet when I read the Bible, I find there were quite a few people asking questions of God.

The Psalms are full of questions like “How long O Lord?” (6:3) and “Will you forget me for ever?” (13:1) and “Why, O Lord, do you reject me and hide Your face from me?” (88:14)

Moses asked God, “Why have you brought this trouble on your servant? What have I done to displease You . . .?” (Numbers 11:11)

Job asked a lot of questions.  He didn’t get the answers he wanted either.

I am glad that God is patient with me and my questions.  I don’t need to be afraid to cry out my pain and frustration in the safe haven of His tender mercies.

I’ve come to understand that while I can ask all l I want, it doesn’t mean I will get an answer when or how I would like it.

The bottom line is, God is God and He answers to no one.

God is in no way obligated to explain Himself to me or anyone else. His plan is from eternity to eternity, a time line I will never fathom. His thought process is not something my pea-brain can grasp. His ways are beyond figuring out.

All my questions spiral down to one.   That question is “Who?”

Who is like the Lord God?

Who can set the universe in order?  Who causes the wind to blow, the seas to roar, the moon to shine?  Who makes a baby smile, a caterpillar turn into a butterfly, a rose to smell so sweet?  Who loved me so much that He was willing to die rather than let me go?

Who can take the darkest night and shine His glory in the middle of it?

Though I may not be able to make sense of the present, some things become quite clear.  God’s love for me is demonstrated in ways I count daily.  Though His voice may be silent, I see His hand of grace in so many things.

Can I trust a God who does not answer my questions but instead asks me to be still and to know Him in joys yet to be discovered? Can I trust His promise that  all things will work together for my good whether is seems like it now or not? Can I believe that this present pain will produce future glory?

My answer to that question is “Yes!” No other answer will do.

 

Dear reader, thank you for returning after such a long time of me being away from Strengthen by Grace. Two months of intense care-giving to Sweet William has left me with little time and fewer words. By God’s grace, we will meet more frequently in days to come.