Remembering

 

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Photo by Pisit Heng on Unsplash

 

Less than a week ago we celebrated Easter. It was a different kind of celebration for most of us. We didn’t gather in our usual place of worship. We didn’t gather around a table with extended family.

 

Beginning on Good Friday through Easter Sunday, we are given a closeup view of death in the cruelest form and life in the most miraculous form. The progression of the weekend pulls us from staring at death to marveling at life.

 

But we are living in a time when we are seeing both played out in every headline. For weeks much of the focus has been on death and the temptation can result in our focus being on death or the fear of death and never arrive at Easter life – life to the fullest, life abundant.

 

I believe the Lord would have us remember what I read in Eric and Kristin Hill’s book, First Breakfast:

 

“He is fully alive and making us alive with Him.”

 

 What does that look like in the now?

 

I think it is living out the ongoing business the Lord has been in since that first Easter – restoring us to Himself.

 

We might be able to identify more with the experiences of those first disciples now than perhaps any other Easter season. Those disciples were overcome with fear and grief. We see it in what the scripture says and what it doesn’t say.

 

On that horrific day of the crucifixion only one disciple, John, is mentioned as being present at the cross with the mother of Jesus, along with the mother of James and John as well as Salome. Some passages say “many women” were present, but these women and John are the only ones named.

 

Had fear and grief sidelined them from walking this last leg of Christ’s journey on earth?  Was guilt what stood in the way of his betrayers, Peter, and Judas?

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Photo by Stacey Franco on Unsplash

 

We do not know with certainty. We only know they were not there. Their emotions were paralyzing them from being with the One they professed and had followed and lived with for three years.

 

Are our emotions during the pandemic paralyzing us? Are they standing in the way of being with the Lord, sensing his words of comfort and reassurance that no matter what comes during this time that He will not leave us?

 

And the truth of that is that He never leaves us, it is we, the sheep, who can wander away from Him looking for greener pastures or what we believe is better than where He has placed us.

 

How much might we be tempted to fall into this description in The First Breakfast?

  

“They were overcome with grief and quite possibly, terrified for their own safety. They have sequestered themselves behind closed doors. They are confused by all that has happened.”

 

The disciples were being challenged. Did they really believe in the promises the Lord had taught them and lived out with them?  Could they trust Him even if they couldn’t see Him or touch Him?

 

In the midst of this or any other crisis we face, that becomes our question as well.

 

If we look at how it all plays out, we see that Jesus expresses no disappointment at where they were or were not, what they said or did not say, how they betrayed or abandoned Him.

 

Instead Jesus tells those who see Him at the tomb to go tell the disciples (and most especially Peter) that He is alive and eager to meet with them and when He does, He looks upon them only with eyes of love. He restores them to Himself and it is Peter that He wants to assure of restoration.

 

That scene on the beach of that first breakfast together they shared with the risen Lord is a powerful scene. Peter is back at a charcoal fire – the last mention and only mention of a charcoal fire in scripture was in the courtyard where Peter betrayed Jesus. Now here is Peter looking into the Lord’s eyes over frying fish and a charcoal fire. There is no condemnation in his eyes or words.

 

Notice that the Lord asks Peter three times if he loves Him. Peter had denied Him three times at that other charcoal fire and now the Lord gives him three times to reaffirm his love for the Lord and point him toward the mission ahead for this disciple.

 

However, you are handling this difficult season, Jesus looks at you with love as well. He understands your fear, sorrow, frustration, disappointment, grief, and everything else that seeks to upend your faith, but He is also calling each and all of us to draw near to Him in the intimacy of a charcoal fire on a beach. He wants to remind us we are fully alive in Him and show us the mission ahead as well as in the midst of this time.

 

And He promises us He will be with us at every step of this journey. This thing we are dealing with didn’t catch Him off-guard. Look up! He’s right here just as He said He would be.

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Photo by Alessio Cesario from Pexels

 

 

What Have You Discovered?

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When something (anything) disrupts the usual ebb and flow of our days and weeks, we are more likely to discover things we didn’t notice before. That is truer still if the disruption is unexpected and upends more than one area of our lives.

 

Our lives have changed in cataclysmic proportions in the past month it seems, and our moorings have unraveled for multiple reasons.

 

Some of us have recognized and discovered some things about ourselves that we may not have seen before or at least the extent of them. Some of us have been so busy with any kind of activity we can find to quell our anxiety or fear that we have not yet discovered much.

 

What kinds of things might we be discovering?

 

One of the big ones might be how much of our time is spent on doing. Some of that doing is of necessity and required, but some of the doing relates to activities and involvements of our own choosing that keep our minds, hearts, and bodies in motion nearly all the time.

 

How often do you ask someone else the question, “How are you?”, and hear back, “I’m busy.”

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Even those whose lives have transitioned to retirement remain busy with a variety of pursuits if their health permits. And now many (if not most) of the things that keep us busy by either requirement or choice are gone.

 

The impact shows up  now when you hear someone talking about not knowing what to do with themselves, or how much cleaning they have done to try to fill up the time, or they feel like they are going stir crazy because they are used to being on the go all the time.

 

Another discovery some might make is how hard it is to be still, quiet, or relaxed not running through each day like a gerbil running on a wheel. The sense of being in such a place creates tension rather than rest, dis-ease rather than ease.

 

There are many discoveries one can make, but one other I might mention is discovering where we receive comfort. If our comfort comes from other people we may not be able to see, from eating out more than cooking, from running more than reading, from listening more than talking, that can give us a great deal of insight.

 

This difficult season gives us an opportunity to reassess much about ourselves, our relationships with people and things, and our relationship with God.

 

It is not hard to see how much we struggle with contentment when what we want to do is denied. Few people had as many experiences to struggle with contentment than the apostle Paul and yet while sitting in prison, he wrote these words to the church at Philippi:

 

“11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

Philippians 4:11-13 (NIV)

 

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Perhaps we might use this time to discover that those things we might look to for contentment are fickle because they can so easily be taken away when we lose our control to obtain them.

 

I wonder if God would want to use this time to have us practice being as our doing is now limited.

 

I wonder if He would want us to finally take time to simply be with Him rather running on the treadmill, we are so accustomed to doing.

 

One of the books I am reading is Rediscover Jesus by Matthew Kelly. Kelly asks excellent questions at the end of each very brief chapter that seem well-suited to current life:

 

“How much is the sheer busyness of your life preventing you from living the life God is calling you to live?

In what area of your life is God inviting you to experience a new beginning?

How well do you really know Jesus?

When was the last time you had the courage to seek out the root of an important issue?

What are you most grateful for?”

 

Maybe it is worth noting how many authors have recently published books challenging us to slow down, get off the treadmill, and gain deeper soul nourishment.

 

That was evident in John Eldredge’s latest work, Get Your Life Back, that was released just as the pandemic began in earnest. Listen to these words in some of the opening pages of Eldredge’s book:

 

“We live in a crazy-making world. So much stimulation rushes at us with such unrelenting fury, we are overstimulated most of the time. Things that nourish us – a lingering conversation, a leisurely stroll through the park, time to savor both making and then enjoying dinner – these are lost at an alarming rate; we simply don’t have room for them.”

 

We are more acutely aware of some of these things now.

 

How long we will be in the current way we are living is not yet clear, but perhaps while we are here, we can make this time count by making discoveries that are essential to the quality of our lives (not just the quantity).

 

Perhaps we can practice the art of being and discover contentment where we would least expect to find it.

 

Then we, like Paul, will have learned a great deal in the midst of this trial.

 

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When Contradiction Brings Hope

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As I read the headlines or listen to the news, I can feel as if the world has turned upside down since I was a child. Values that appeared to be “the norm” often based on biblical principles could be found posted in public buildings and in public schools, not just espoused in our churches and homes. We seemed to be clearer on what we stood for and why. Somehow that felt reassuring even when those things were not perfect and shot through with our myopic humanity.

 

Of course, there were differing views among us back then, but we did not seem to shatter or break apart on their rocky shores. We appeared to be guided by something more than a presumed moral compass, a stronger commitment that bound us together beyond our contradictions. Perhaps some of that came from a sturdier foundation based on biblical principles.

 

Somewhere along the line we seemed to start reading stories we found in the Bible much as we would common fables, looking to discover the moral to this or that story. Maybe we missed the basics that the Bible is one large story rather than a collection of stories. It could be that we stopped looking at the Bible as relevant and got lost in what seemed like too many paradoxes.

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It wasn’t a big leap until doubts and uncertainty about what the Bible said or did not say grew. We began to cut and paste what suited us.

 

But then I began to wonder if things have changed so very much. When the Lord walked the earth as both God and man, life was difficult and full of contradictions. Many were looking for a king who would set things in order. But when He arrived in a dirty stable to the mother of a peasant girl and her fiancé, no one recognized He was royalty.

 

Later, the religious leaders of the day were upset for the way He challenged their traditions, inconsistencies, and power structure that showed little evidences of God’s love, grace, and truth.

 

He talked with persons that religious leaders of the day ignored, shunned, or condemned.

 

He stretched His arms wide to embrace a broad cross-section of the people of His day without compromising any of the values He came to demonstrate.

 

And never were His arms stretched wider than on the cross that was used by those religious leaders to try to shut Him up. What a paradox! The cross, an instrument of torture, trumped their power play, confirmed His deity, and assured the insurgence they so much feared.

 

The cross.

 

There are no other religions whose symbol stands as such a contradiction.

 

Listen to how G.K. Chesterton describes it in Orthodoxy:

 

“Christianity is centrifugal: it breaks out (Buddhism is centripetal…a circle represents it.) But the cross, though it has at its heart a collision and a contradiction, can extend its four arms forever without altering its shape. Because it has a paradox in its center it can grow without changing….”

 

Chesterton’s perspective reminds me that even though I may not always see it, that symbol of contradiction and paradox is still breaking out in my current day.

 

In the midst of the current pandemic when fear cripples so many, others step bravely to the front lines to care for those who are weakest, sickest, and most vulnerable. It isn’t that they do not experience fear, but that they choose to press through it to meet a calling that was accepted when life was not so scary and headlines not so ominous.

 

The horrors of the headlines push us to examine our values, our beliefs, and our foundations.

 

The cross brings us back to the truth while thrusting us forward to bear witness to it and remember the hope it brings and the promise it holds.

 

Summer in Savannah

The Call to be Darkness Chasers

 

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I shared a statement from a pastor in a recent post that we are to be darkness chasers. What does that mean? Certainly we are not to be chasing after darkness, are we? Aren’t we to chase after the light?

 

Consider this: Jesus is the light of the world. His light exceeds any light known by or created by mankind. If we are His children and He dwells in us, we are His light bearers. There is no need for us to chase the light because He dwells within us.

 

For as dark as the world is becoming, we must remember that it is not filled with darkness. Darkness is the total absence of light and so long as we Christ followers are here, there will never be total darkness on the earth.

 

John 8:12 (ESV) tells us He is light:

 

12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

 

Where was Jesus when He said these things? He was in the temple to celebrate The Feast of Tabernacles. This, like the other feasts, was used by God to remind the Israelites in every generation of their deliverance from Egypt.

 

090e8d65f6169db727f684e536971510As a part of this feast a lamp-lighting ceremony took place in the temple every evening of the feast. Large lamps would be set up in the Court of Women and it was said that the lamps’ light was so great it that it filled every courtyard in the city. Once these large lamps were lit, there would be singing and dancing to celebrate God’s salvation, especially His deliverance in the exodus from Egypt. There He used a pillar of fire to lead His people through the dark wilderness.

 

When the Israelites followed the pillar of fire into the darkness of the wilderness, the light illuminated the darkness. When we follow Christ and become His, we no longer walk in darkness.

 

Wherever we go, we have the possibility of causing the darkness to flee so long as we are His light bearers.

 

It can be tempting to fear the darkness and cower from it, but the Lord did not give us a spirit of fear and He would have us be light that dispels the darkness as we travel the path He has set before us. His call on us is to let His light in us shine in the midst of the darkness. Within us resides the power of God’s light through Christ by the Holy Spirit. The darkness needs to fear that.

 

Do you remember childhood games outside after dark? Sometimes it was flashlight tag or some other game made up on the spot. No matter how dark the night outside, the flashlights chased away the darkness wherever the light was.IMG_3332

 

Many of us in childhood also learned the little song, “This Little Light of Mine”. The lyrics of the Veggie Tales version are likely the ones you know the best:

 

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine,
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine,
let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.
Hide it under a bushel – NO!
I’m gonna let it shine.
Hide it under a bushel – NO!
I’m gonna let it shine,
Hide it under a bushel – NO!
I’m gonna let it shine, Let it shine,
let it shine, let it shine.
Don’t let Satan blow it out.
I’m gonna let it shine.
Don’t let Satan blow it out.
I’m gonna let it shine

 

I discovered the lyrics of the song when it was sung as a spiritual are just a little different so let me add those now as well:

 

This little light of mine
I’m going to let it shine
Oh, this little light of mine
I’m going to let it shine
Hallelujah
This little light of mine
I’m going to let it shine
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine

Ev’ry where I go
I’m going to let it shine
Oh, ev’ry where I go
I’m going to let it shine
Hallelujah
Ev’ry where I go
I’m going to let it shine
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine

All in my house
I’m going to let it shine
Oh, all in my house
I’m going to let it shine
Hallelujah
All in my house
I’m going to let it shine
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine

I’m not going to make it shine
I’m just going to let it shine
I’m not going to make it shine
I’m just going to let it shine
Hallelujah
I’m not going to make it shine
I’m just going to let it shine
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine

Out in the dark
I’m going to let it shine
Oh, out in the dark
I’m going to let it shine
Hallelujah
Out in the dark
I’m going to let it shine
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine

 

So, how do we assure that we are shining brightly and chasing the darkness as we walk out the life He has called us to lead?

 

It means keeping our light renewed and fresh; being sure we have oil in our lamps. When we see the ever-growing darkness, we must remember it points to the Lord’s soon return. As such, I believe Jesus would have us take heed as He taught in the parable of the wise and foolish virgins in Matthew 25. Let me share that with you from The Message:

 

1-5 “God’s kingdom is like ten young virgins who took oil lamps and went out to greet the bridegroom. Five were silly and five were smart. The silly virgins took lamps, but no extra oil. The smart virgins took jars of oil to feed their lamps. The bridegroom didn’t show up when they expected him, and they all fell asleep.

“In the middle of the night someone yelled out, ‘He’s here! The bride-groom’s here! Go out and greet him!’

7-8 “The ten virgins got up and got their lamps ready. The silly virgins said to the smart ones, ‘Our lamps are going out; lend us some of your oil.’

“They answered, ‘There might not be enough to go around; go buy your own.’

10 “They did, but while they were out buying oil, the bridegroom arrived. When everyone who was there to greet him had gone into the wedding feast, the door was locked.

11 “Much later, the other virgins, the silly ones, showed up and knocked on the door, saying, ‘Master, we’re here. Let us in.’

12 “He answered, ‘Do I know you? I don’t think I know you.’

13 “So stay alert. You have no idea when he might arrive.”

 

The call to be darkness chasers is one to keep our lamps lit and filled with oil as we ready ourselves for His return.

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Enough!

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Roy and Delight

When I was growing up, I never considered that we did not have enough of what we needed. As I reflect on it now, I am aware it had much to do with the perspectives of my parents and their own life experiences and values. After their deaths in 1995 we saw some of the ledgers that contained their month-by-month finances. It made clear what I had not fully recognized when I was a child.

 

My parents discerned clearly the difference between needs and wants. That is one of the things many of us are coming to grips with during this time of health and economic crisis that looks quite different than it did just a few short weeks ago.

 

There were things I wanted when I was growing up that I saw other classmates at school have and that reminded me that we were not “rich” in material goods. I had fewer clothes, and most were made by my mother. That meant they were not always in fashion but would last longer than the ones I often wished to have back then. I usually had only two or three pairs of shoes at any one time. One might be a pair of tennis shoes and another would be a pair for church. When the pair for church became scuffed or worn, those became my “every day” pair of shoes and sometimes they were getting too small, but I only recall that when saddle shoes were popular, they were not in my rotation.

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Other students brought lunches with things their mothers bought at a local grocery store. When my mother packed my lunch, the sandwich might contain meatloaf made from meat raised on our own farm, fruit grown on our own trees, a Thermos of milk produced from our own cows, and cookies made by my mother instead of the Oreos I wanted.

 

Despite things I wanted, there was always enough of what I needed. My parents had learned by living through the Great Depression and WW II how to stretch a dollar and to save and steward each thing they had. They knew no one could guarantee that what they had one day would be there the next. That affected their choices, plans, and decisions.

 

If our fruit trees produced in abundance, my mother would can or freeze more than she knew we would consume that year so there would be some for the following year if the weather or insects reduced the amount our family needed. When my mother went to the grocery store, she would be sure there was always an extra bag or two of sugar and flour as well as other staples just in case. You learn that lesson when there is rationing in a hard time.

 

For many or even most of us, we grew accustomed to running to the store more than once (or even twice) a week to pick up things we needed and wanted without much thought that it might not always be that way. We got used to spending more than saving whether that was money, food, household goods, or any other thing.

 

When everything changed a few weeks ago, some of us were at a loss on how to adapt to not eating out much of the time or making recipes work when we do not have all the usual ingredients.

 

We forgot the lessons the Israelites learned as they wandered in the wilderness for forty years. Yet it was those hard desert lessons that gave root to their faith.

 

I was reminded of that in a book I was reading a novel by Amy K. Sorrels this week. Consider these words in Lead Me Home:

 

“God saw to it that they had everything they needed, but in my opinion, he let them wander until they got the “wants” out of their system.

They were blinded by the lives of the Egyptians, their captors, and no doubt thought once they were freed, riches and the perceived blessings of material things would be theirs. But God wanted more for his people than material possessions…

But God tells us in Hosea 13:5, referring to the desert wandering of the Israelites, that he took care of them in the wilderness, in that dry and thirsty land. And again, in Deuteronomy 2:7, he reassures us that he has blessed us in everything we have done. He says that he watched the Israelites’’ every step through the great wilderness. During those forty years, the Lord was with them, and they lacked nothing.”

Yes, there were things they wanted, and they complained, but God provided everything they truly needed for life and what was needed to establish a nation in a new land.

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Today my parents would have been married 81 years. Yes, they were married in 1939 when much was uncertain and the economic conditions were not the best, but they learned to distinguish wants from needs

 

Maybe this time might be used by the Lord to help us get “the wants out of our system.”  Then we might also learn what the apostle Paul knew:

 

“11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

Philippians 4;11-13 (NIV)

 

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