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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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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By the Grace of God, Never Again

Gentle Reader,

Oh yes, You shaped me first inside, then out;
    You formed me in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!
    Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
    I worship in adoration—what a creation!
You know me inside and out,
    You know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
    how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, You watched me grow from conception to birth;
    all the stages of my life were spread out before You,
The days of my life all prepared
    before I’d even lived one day.

We are born afresh in Christ, and born to do those good deeds which God planned for us to do.

If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.


– Psalm 139:13-16, Ephesians 2:10, Galatians 1:10c (MSG, Phillips, CSB)

James tells us that not many should become teachers, for teachers will be held to a higher standard. Today I wonder if that doesn’t begin here and now, with the heaviness of the Spirit’s kind conviction, when you realize that there’s a part of you that still doesn’t believe. That still doubts.

I love to teach. I can’t help but teach. Maybe that’s why I feel such soaring joy when I’m around the teenagers; they have the most bizarre questions about the Bible and I love that. I love watching them begin to learn how to grapple with the text themselves. I love passing along the hermenutical skills I learned in college because that degree was dang expensive and needs to be put to use somehow. I love their steps of faith, large and small. I love encouraging them to live boldly, to be courageous in God and who He made them to be.

Ah, teacher. Teach yourself.

Born once, on a hot summer afternoon. A body that’s never quite worked properly. Living out John 9:3 long before I understood what that meant. Born again, on another afternoon when the sun burned so brightly through the bedroom window that my crayons melted a little. Right away in love with Jesus, content to sit on the swings at recess and talk to Him.

Flesh and spirit have wandered there and back again in the intervening years.

I read the words of the Psalmist and the Apostle and my heart twists. I know that it is the Holy Hand touching the tender place. I want to run, as I often do, but this time…this time I stay. I sit with the pain. Yes, Lord. I haven’t believed. I have declared Your goodness to others but have wondered if You are good to me. I have despised myself. Not the sin that You call me to hate, but the person, the woman You made. Father, forgive me. Help my unbelief.

Wretched companions, doubt and loathing. When we hold their hands, we are unable to grasp the scarred hand of our Savior. This doesn’t mean He’s left us – praise Him for His faithful patience! – but it does mean that we can’t move forward. Can’t live as He wants us to. Can’t keep our heads up and our eyes focused on what matters.

And me, I have to do that. I have to fix my gaze on Him.

Because teaching, the thing that He has called and gifted me to do, is not a fast-track to popularity. Or at least it’s not when the message that burns inside your chest isn’t one that people want to hear.

By the grace of God, never again. No more do I wish to walk around afraid of other people. It is impossible for me to serve the Lord wholeheartedly when I’m bound up in that. No more do I wish to apologize when no apology is needed. Just as there is room for you, dear reader, there is room for me. And no more will I reach for the “delete” button, consumed by terror and moved to compromise where no compromise should exist.

No more do I wish to be anyone other than who God made me to be.

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