Sunday grace

Following Thursday afternoon piano lessons, I sensed the changes coming. By Friday, schools were closing for two weeks, the SEC basketball tournament was canceled ending March Madness. The mega church in our area, with its multiple campuses, suspended weekend services. My supervisor sent an email to all music instructors to forego lessons the next two weeks. I’m paying attention now.

I’d already stocked up on essentials and knew we had food in the pantry and freezer. We would be ok. Watching the news Friday evening, I got a picture of how the coronavirus is affecting us globally. I refused to give in to fear.

But on Saturday morning, I awoke with a niggling concern. Did we really have enough milk and bread, enough cream for our coffee? Was there food aplenty on our shelves as shelves emptied in grocery stores? What if the self-quarantine lasted longer than two or three weeks? When and what will be the end of this pandemic?

I wondered why this new anxiety was surfacing. I questioned myself, my faith in a God who constantly tells me to “fear not.”

As I opened an old journal to the page where I’d last bookmarked, my eyes feel to the place where I had written Psalm 31:1 – In you, LORD, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in your righteousness.

I read more of this ten-year-old entry. Psalm 32:7 – You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.

Is it an interesting coincidence, this reading of old writings this morning? Is anything ever an accident when God is running the show? I think not. God will speak if I will listen.

As I’ve done many times before, I put aside my fears and and put my trust in the One who was and is and will be. No matter what comes, for better or worse, in sickness and in health, God will be with us. That is His promised assurance. His grace will be enough. He is Jehovah-jireh, my provider. He is Christ the solid Rock, the shelter under whose shadow I rest.

He is the Creator who gives food to the birds of the air and beasts of the field. He clothes the earth with beauty, lilies of the field, crocuses and purple-blooming trees. He is the everlasting Word sharing His words with us and allowing us to make sense of our own words.

I decide to mark the hours of 9 am, 12 noon, 3 pm and 6 pm on my phone to pray. Since I won’t be going anywhere with no chance of disturbing anyone, let technology sound its sweet alarm as an opportunity to give thanks for all our gifts, to petition the Almighty for help, to be mindful of others, and to seek His face.

I open to this, from the Book of Common Prayer:

Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves. Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thought which may assault and hurt the soul. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Amen and amen.

Sunday grace.

Signs in the heavens

Wednesday, March 11, marks a month before the festival of Passover. The moon is at its fullest, and even though clouds cover it, I know it is there. It has significance for me, this full moon marking time, making its way through the cycle of large to small, then hiding itself, only to emerge little by little again.

There is scientific reason for it all. I simply want to experience the mystery.

I notice the moon this time of year as it announces Passover is coming. It prompts anticipation. I remember and relive the stories I first heard as a child, the Exodus account of God’s people leaving the slavery of Egypt.

The first day of Passover is always a full moon. My mind wanders back thousands of years to the first time the Israelites were told to prepare lambs for supper and brushed blood on their doorposts, following instructions they didn’t fully understand.

A scene from the classic movie, The Ten Commandments, staring Charlton Heston as Moses, comes to mind. It is the night of Passover and the moon glows full and bright. What appears to be the shadow of death begins to move slowly toward Egypt. In this particular scene, the shadow blocks the moon for a few seconds as it pushes toward its deadly task.

I wonder what it was like that fateful night, the people of God shut in their humble slave dwellings, marked by blood, eating lamb, bitter herbs and unleavened bread while they waited for something unknown. Did they know this was the night of their deliverance?

Passover was God’s object lesson of a coming redemption. It was the shadow of the real and tangible Savior of the world, Jesus. The people waited long for their promised Messiah. He arrived on the scene at the appointed time, but not as they expected. Did they know their Deliverer had come?

The anticipation of Passover carries me toward a season of remembrance.  I remember the promise made to Abraham on Mt. Moriah of a Lamb that God alone would provide for the redemption of the world. I remember the upper room where Jesus met with his disciples for His last Passover celebration with them. I remember how He washed their dirty feet, them arguing who was greatest among the twelve.

I remember how He began a new tradition after the supper ended, giving them bread and wine, symbols of his flesh and blood, how He showed them His love to the very end.

Did they understand He was the Savior of the world?

This unblemished Passover Lamb bought our freedom.

Do you know this truth? Do you recognize Him? Do you remember all He did for you?

Have you accepted Him as your own Deliverer?

For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.”

                — 1 Corinthians 5:7

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. 

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.

Sunday grace

They first met at our house, these two who became one in holy matrimony only yesterday. The beautiful wedding was sprinkled with grace and truth, and those who know their story marvel at the narrative.

I first met him when he was in fourth grade with my oldest granddaughter, sitting at the lunch table with her. I remember his cute round face and the way his eyes crinkled when he smiled.

Not by chance, Sweet William and I became friends of his family, spending time at the breakfast table, hours talking over coffee, sharing Bible studies, and those evenings when he came to talk guy stuff with Sweet William. Relationships deepened.

I met her through our neighbors who live in the house next door, the one  where my dear ones onced lived. These neighbors were a balm to my aching heart, me missing those I love, who now lived many miles away. These neighbors were her relatives.

She had a lovely smile and a gentle way about her. We became acquainted with her family, sometimes celebrating birthdays and holidays. I noticed her godly character.

Add the years, and I hosted Bible study at our house, a room full of women who love God and want to know His Word, including my neighbor, her sister-in-law, and my friend, his mother. At the end of the evening, I casually mentioned his name and her name, how maybe they should meet.

Maybe electricity was in the air, maybe the moon was full, maybe the angels were listening, as minds conceived possibilities, and my neighbor and my friend planned to introduce him and her. In a couple of weeks,  the boy met the girl, and sitting at our kitchen table they got acquainted. During Bible study, while the rest of the women in the other room listened to Beth Moore talking about Believing God on DVD, he asked for her phone number.

That was about a year and a half ago. Yesterday they married.

I marvel at how this all came to be, how God orchestrated the plan, how He uses people to accomplish His purposes.

We offered our home, a place of gathering, a time to share the good gifts God gave us.

Some people hinted at giving us credit for this union of husband and wife, but we had nothing to do with the couple’s attraction to one another, to their budding relationship, their eventual falling in love and promise of commitment, or the hand of God all over it.

We simply opened the door to our house and said “Come in. You are welcome here.” It is that simple and simply that. When we offer what we have in the name of Jesus, He takes it as fish and bread and multiplies it to meet the need, to feed the hungry, and to bring people together in ways we cannot imagine.

The gifts God lavishes on us are not meant to be hoarded and kept to ourselves. They are meant to be shared. We give what we’ve been given, opening our hands and our hearts, allowing Him to perform wonders of His love.

What is in your hand? It may appear insignificant or small. You may wonder what good it can be. You may not think what you do is having an impact. But it could be you are an instrument in God’s hand, a pencil He is using to write His story.

What is in your hand? Give that. Leave the rest to Him to create the masterpiece.

Sunday grace.