Five Minute Friday: More

Gentle Reader,

I can’t tell you how much this little across-the-miles writing community means to me. Social media is a double-edged sword, to be sure, but when it’s good, it’s very good. The way God knits hearts together through the ether and the words…I am blessed.

Kate says:

Go.

“I say to you, my friends, don’t fear those who kill the body, and after that can do nothing more.”

– Luke 12:4 (CSB)

Jesus is something else, isn’t He? Always kind, always gentle, but not one to mince words – ever. He is constantly, through the words of Scripture and through the Spirit, teaching us the correct order of things. Teaching us how to be free. Teaching us how to walk through this life yielded to His direction.

Last night, I stood in line to receive an ashen cross on my forehead. A symbol of mortality. A reminder of what the Savior did for me. For us. For all of creation. Nothing magical or mystical about it. Simple elements that washed away with a bit of water. A transient mark upon my transient flesh.

I belong to God. People, they will come and go, just as I come and go. Some relationships last longer than others, of course, but ultimately, it’s me and Him. Acknowledging this doesn’t deny the reality or importance of the Body, the corporate aspect of Kingdom life. I am not a person alone, but surrounded by and part of a great group of witnesses.

And yet, the bottom line, the realest of real things – God.

He is more than I can imagine or dream. He provides more than I could want or need. He is the true treasure, the great reward. He is the source of my life and identity. He is my King.

When I pause and really think on this, everyone else takes their proper place.

Stop.

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Quiet Places

Gentle Reader,

…He often withdrew to deserted places and prayed.

– Luke 5:16 (CSB)

I have a complicated relationship with food. Some of it, I’m not supposed to eat, but I eat it anyway, just not all the time. Some of it makes me sick, a list that grows longer each year. Some of it is deeply disappointing, like carrots, which I love but didn’t improve my eyesight even though I ate them religiously as a child. (Grin to my parents). Some of it is just disgusting; cilantro, which takes like soap, and meatloaf top of this category. (I will not eat meatloaf, ever, even if it is your great-grandmother’s amazing recipe).

At this point my diet is fairly limited. Lots of vegetables, lots of fruit, some grains. Dessert more often than I care to admit, but I do try to exercise some self-control over my raging sweet tooth. While this all really does help me in the fight against liver disease, and has led to amazing cholesterol and blood pressure numbers, there is a boredom factor. A woman can only eat so many salads before she wants to throw something.

Thinking about this in light of today being Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the Lenten season.

Believers are not supposed to draw attention to ourselves when we choose to fast (see Matthew 6:16-18), but this day naturally brings about the discussion of what to give up for Lent. (Note: Observing Lent is not required, and is a matter of personal conviction). Some people choose to give up sugar. Some coffee (God bless them). Others let go of social media or television. There are a lot of options and no one choice is better than the other. Fasting isn’t about the thing being given up, but rather about using energy and time to refocus on the Lord.

Fasting from food isn’t the best option for me. It’s not totally out of the ballpark; I could skip a meal and probably be fine. In fact, I have days when the train wreck that is my internal organs decides to get messier and I simply can’t eat. In the past, I’ve given up sugar – real talk, not completely successfully – and learned a lot about how I turn to food for comfort when I should be turning to Jesus. But overall, if I don’t want to end up passing out or in the hospital, I have to stick to a pretty regimented system. God knows that.

God also knows that I’ve been real lax in my time with Him lately.

It’s odd, because I genuinely love to study the Bible. Once I’m in there, rustling the pages between the battered faux leather cover, I’ll stay there for hours. One verse leads to another leads to another and then I’m looking up obscure Greek words. It’s fantastic. I love the way the story of redemption spans centuries, continents and peoples. I am deeply, eternally grateful that God took the time to speak to us through the different authors.

But…I’m also human. And it doesn’t take a lot to throw me off track.

I’m a week behind in my “read through the Bible in a year chronologically because you’re a big nerd” plan. A month behind in my study of Isaiah. At first I was exhausted after helping at winter retreat. Then I got the flu. Then some other stuff happened. Instead of carving out time with the King of Kings, from Whom comes my strength, I just…kind of floated along.

Then I wonder why I’ve felt crabby the last few days.

This year, Lent is less about what I’m giving up and more about to what I am returning. Jesus, our model in all things, needed time away. He needed to disconnect from the noise and the crowds. He needed to hear the heart of His Father. So, too, myself.

I don’t need to binge watch that show.

I don’t need to mindlessly scroll through social media.

I don’t need to ignore my alarm in the morning and then panic because I slept late.

I need God. Need time spent at His feet, listening to His voice. Need to allow Him to decide how I spend the hours. Need to allow myself to move away from the noise and bustle. Need to remember that He is in charge, no me. Need to remember that He has the wisdom, not me.

Maybe you don’t observe Lent. That’s fine. But if I were a betting woman, I’d say there’s a good chance that you, like me, need to set down your smartphone and pick up your Bible. And if that’s not you, if you’re engaged in good habits and keeping Jesus at the center, then please find someone who needs your gentle encouragement.

Because as we move toward Easter, we remember that Jesus walked alone so that we don’t have to.

We walk, together, with Him.

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Creator, Your Creature Groans

Gentle Reader,

In my opinion whatever we may have to go through now is less than nothing compared with the magnificent future God has planned for us. The whole creation is on tiptoe to see the wonderful sight of the sons of God coming into their own. The world of creation cannot as yet see reality, not because it chooses to be blind, but because in God’s purpose it has been so limited—yet it has been given hope. And the hope is that in the end the whole of created life will be rescued from the tyranny of change and decay, and have its share in that magnificent liberty which can only belong to the children of God!

It is plain to anyone with eyes to see that at the present time all created life groans in a sort of universal travail. And it is plain, too, that we who have a foretaste of the Spirit are in a state of painful tension, while we wait for that redemption of our bodies which will mean that at last we have realised our full sonship in Him. We were saved by this hope, but in our moments of impatience let us remember that hope always means waiting for something that we haven’t yet got. But if we hope for something we cannot see, then we must settle down to wait for it in patience.

– Romans 8:18-25 (Phillips, emphasis mine)

John Bertram Phillips, a minister in southeast London, noticed that the young people in his congregation had difficulty understanding the Authorized Version (commonly referred to as the King James Version today). Thus, he began translating the book of Colossians into colloquial English – while huddled inside a bomb shelter. The Nazi assault on London, the Blitz, raged on outside, demolishing buildings and bringing many lives to far too soon an end. But this pastor, who had every reason to be just as terrified as everyone else (and probably was), turned to Scripture in the darkest of hours, desiring to bring its light to others.

There are a whole lot of points to be made here. Persistence, joy, looking to God in the midst of sorrow and struggle. All valid. Not where I’m going, though.

…all created life groans in a sort of universal travail.

Benny came into my life over a decade ago. We locked eyes as the animal shelter and it was all over. The first day at home, he wouldn’t leave my side, even laying on the bathroom rug while I took a shower. This was to be his habit throughout our years together. Never was he ever very far from me, unless it was on the rare occasion that he felt the need to go on an adventure, in which case I was chasing him up the street or through a parking lot.

He was not a morning dog, just as I am not a morning person. Oh, sure, he wanted breakfast around five o’clock each day, but after that he was content to crawl back under the blankets. Always under the blankets. No matter how many times anyone fought with him, or placed him at the foot of the bed, or told him “no,” he found his way in there, curling up next to my legs when he was cold and kicking me when he wanted more room.

Warm brown eyes and happy panting greeted me whenever I came home from work. He was content to listen to me rant about the bad days, so long as I scratched his ears. He came and visited the library a few times, but received a lifetime ban after peeing on a shelf.

Benny was so gentle. I can only recall a handful of times when he nipped at anyone, and it was always toddlers who didn’t yet understand that dogs don’t like to have their eyes poked or their whiskers pulled. He never, ever full-on bit them. Just a warning. Really, he liked kids. Once, on a walk, we crossed paths with a special needs boy and his dad. The boy squealed when he saw Benny. And so Benny yanked the leash out of my hand, ran up to the boy and stood there, lovingly accepting a good petting.

And, oh, did he love babies. Any who came to visit found themselves with a nice, cozy fur barrier, protecting them from all the dangers of the world. Because a Pomeranian-Chihuahua is very fierce and intimidating, you know.

Last Sunday, Benny went to sleep and didn’t wake up. He was warm and safe, on a heatpad and blanket. It was exactly the way I wanted his time to come to a close – yet I can’t help but wish he was still here with me. This is the first piece I’ve written without his warm body pressed against my hip. These are the first words I’ve published without the sound of his snoring filling my ears.

I have no significant life memory that a dog is not present in. From my first dog, the mutt Petey, who could hear cheese being sliced from 50 yards away; to Murphy, the dainty-looking Paipillon who loved the dirt; to Shih Tzu Bugsy, who danced for treats; to Blue the wiener dog who’s napping in the recliner right now. And so I know that dogs are physical evidence of God’s love. They come into this world with the desire to be our friends. That’s it. “Bad” dogs only exist because people treat them badly. These creatures have brightened my days. Their fur has soaked up my tears. They have been faithful companions, true to the very end.

And how I hate it when the end comes.

People like to argue about whether or not animals go to Paradise now and if they will be part of the new creation when Christ returns and all is set to rights. Me, I think that’s a dumb, time-wasting argument. The more I study the Bible, the more I see that salvation is truly cosmic in scope. (No, I’m not preaching universalism. Calm down). Plants and rivers and sunsets and animals were all part of the original design. They were subjected to brokenness and malfunctioning because of us. So, tell me, why wouldn’t God be about the business of renewing and restoring all of what He created?

It’s dumber still when someone says, “Animals don’t have souls!” As if that’s a settling statement. Animals do not bear the imago dei, but the truth is that we haven’t the faintest idea as to whether or not they have something immaterial about them. And frankly, it doesn’t matter. Because, again, why would God, who took the time to make the duck-billed platypus, who looked upon all that He had fashioned and said, “It is good,” not today and tomorrow and into all of eternity still find it good?

I believe I will see Benny again one day. He’s probably laying under the shade of a beautiful tree right now, sniffing some flowers. He liked to do that, and only occasionally tried to eat them. I can see him becoming buddies with the Apostle John, because John was all about the love and that was the essence of Benny. I believe that Jesus, who made that silly little dog, was there to greet him when he passed into real life. I believe He rubbed his soft ears and said, “Well done, good boy. Well done.”

And so I appreciate Phillips’ translation of this passage. My heart squeezes and the tears fall again. I can almost hear the groaning of creation. I know in my bones that this is not how things should be. I feel a deep ache, knowing that my choices, and the choices of so many before me, have brought destruction to this world, and the creatures upon it who did nothing to deserve the pain.

Then I remember:

But I know that my Redeemer lives,
and at the end He will stand on the dust.
Even after my skin has been destroyed,
yet I will see God in my flesh.
I will see Him myself;
my eyes will look at Him, and not as a stranger.
My heart longs within me.

– Job 19:25-27 (CSB)

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Five Minute Friday: Just

Gentle Reader,

What a week.

I’m feeling better, but so sluggish. As if the virus chose to leave the parting gift of zapping what little energy I possess.

Kate says: just.

Go.

She cut her hair short. Danced the Charleston. Was an early adopter of store-bought bread. Loved beautiful clothes.

In the time that I knew her, my Great-Grandma Jessie was a slim, white-haired lady, but she held onto the sass. She wore leather jackets, made bets on how long car trips would take and had an opinion on every topic under the sun. She was also gentle, kind and unendingly generous; as a teenager I admired a garnet ring she wore and she slipped it off her finger and pressed it into my palm. Only later did I find out that the ring was her retirement gift after years of working in a department store.

I want to be like her.

Family lore says that when someone tried to convince Jessie to move to a different expression and practice of faith, she replied, “I was born a Pentecostal and I’ll die a Pentecostal, thank you.” I love that so much. While I’ve never spoken in tongues or taken a ride on a chandelier (big smile for my charismatic friends), a bit of Jessie’s tradition comes out in me when I pray. I feel compelled to use my whole body. Hands moving. Rocking onto the tips of my toes and back again. There is something electrifying about knowing that, while I am here, I am also there, in the throne room of God.

Prayer doesn’t have to be long-winded or eloquent. Some of the strongest praying people I know stumble over their sentences. What prayer does have to be is more than “just.” Oh, I’m just praying. No, my dear. You are standing against the Devil himself every time you take your petitions to Jesus. You are in the arena, engaged in the battle, even when you don’t have words, when your prayers are silent and tinged with tears.

Not “just” anything, but the thing. All that you’ve learned from Scripture and sermons coming together in a bold act of faith. Choosing to believe that God really hears and really will respond.

What fierce people we might become, if we learned to take prayer seriously.

Stop.

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