Tuesday, October 27, 2015

When a few words can make a difference


Sometimes, life gets so hard, you wonder about the future.

The problems roll in, one after another, like waves on the shore.

Can’t catch your breath.

 
 


Over a dozen years ago, I faced one of those times. It seemed like the enemy aimed to take me under. In the two years prior, I was just recovering from posttraumatic stress when diagnosed with cancer and then only a few months after my last surgery, my mother fell and went into a steep decline. I became her caregiver. Six months later, she died. A few months after that, a trauma from my past resurfaced.

I gasped for air.

In a paraphrase of Paul’s words to Timothy, my daily mantra became, “Fight the good fight, finish the course, keep the faith.”

But honestly, at that point, I wondered if I was going to finish. It felt as if the pain would just crush me.

The summer of that year, we made a decision to travel to one of those places in the world where God was moving in amazing ways. We journeyed over 800 miles to see what God might do. Of course, I longed for the pain to be removed.

As we entered a service the first evening there, the last prayer on my lips continued to be that God would help me to “Fight the good fight, finish the course, and keep the faith.”  But still, I wondered. The young man speaking that night began very conversationally to tell about his ministry in South America in a place with which we were quite familiar. A place that we were very invested. My heart sank. “Lord,” I prayed, “Have we traveled all this way, just to hear about what we already know?”

Then something quite unusual happened. A few moments later, that young man stopped right in the middle of what he was saying, paused, and looked around. “I need to stop and say this,” he said.

I leaned forward. Say what? Why would he press pause on his sermon? He went on.

“I believe there’s someone here tonight that’s wondering if they’re going to finish the course. God says you ARE going to finish.” And with that he continued on with his previous talk.

I was dumbstruck.

I knew that word was for me. God was saying to quit wondering. I was going to finish. The pain didn’t go away that night, but it didn’t kill me, either. God gave me the strength to continue―to finish the course.

There were many benefits of traveling to that far place that summer, but I will always give thanks for that young man who obediently spoke what God had told him. Those few words changed my life.

So there are two things to take away from this story. The first is that if you have a word from the Lord, speak it even if it seems incongruous with what else might be happening. If God has placed it on your heart, someone needs to hear it. What that young man spoke to me that night had nothing to do with his ministry in South America, and he had to wonder what it was about, but he was obedient.

The second lesson is that sometimes God doesn’t take the pain away; sometimes he sends just what you need to continue. And for me, it was those few words, “You are going to finish.” My hope was restored, and in time, I found healing. 

I don’t believe I had to travel 800 miles to get that message, but I knew it was from God when a stranger, who knew nothing about my situation, spoke those words.

So, if you have a word, speak it. And if you’re in pain, listen for the perhaps unusual way God might choose to restore your hope.

Sometimes, it only takes  a few words.

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).

  

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

If there's only one


My friend, Guidepost writer, Julie Garmon, started a recent blog post with, “Sometimes I’m drawn to the most insignificant things.”

Ah, yes, Julie. The blessing and sometimes plague of all creative types―seeing possibility in the tiniest of things.

So, our friend Kevin, gardener extraordinaire, comes up to me on Sunday and says, “I was thinking since my peas were slowing down, I’d pull them up and plant Kale. But as I’m picking peas yesterday, this one solitary honey bee comes along seeking a blossom.”

I’m thinking he doesn’t need to plant Kale quite yet.

Kevin was already there, so he left the peas.

Then he says, “I just felt like I was supposed to tell you about this for some reason.”

After he did, it felt like that bee was in my head buzzing around. Thanks a lot, Kevin.

I’ve written about bees and their importance before when 25,000 of them decided to build a nest in the walls of our home.

Here Kevin has this single bee looking for nectar.

Bees are a keystone species, but what difference could this one make?

Yet William Blake wrote,

To see a World in a grain of sand,

And a Heaven in a wildflower,

Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,

And Eternity in an hour.

It seems to me that all of our lives are wrapped up in these tiny moments of seeming insignificance, which really aren’t insignificant at all.

Mother Teresa saw this when she said, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

So, today, perhaps we all might leave the pea patch for that bee seeking nectar.

Forsaking what’s expedient for the extravagant benefit of the one.

What does that look like?

It looks like leaving the laundry to read to a child, rescheduling the business lunch to listen to a friend, or maybe being content to use your talents, whatever they are, for the benefit of the small group instead of always seeking the large audience.

Because, really, when that bee comes humming along, don't we want to be ready to respond to God’s call?

“Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way” (Message Colossians3:17).

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Quivering lips and Hallelujah


I know from previous experience that the first holidays after a loved one passes are hard. So, here, only a few weeks after my dad’s death, I’ve tried to prepare myself, but really how can you?

I sing with a symphony chorus and a few days ago, we started our practices for the Christmas concert. 

 I’m doing okay until we get to the last piece, Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus.
 

One of my dad’s favorites.

Tears started to well, and lips started to quiver.
 
Then a thought came to me. What if right then up in heaven, Dad was having a conversation with George Frederick Handel himself about that piece of music? What if he was telling him what a joy the music had been to him in this life and thanking him for his faithfulness in writing it? What a happy thought.

The quivering lips turned up.

In 1741, in deep depression suffering from a series of setbacks including a stroke and the bankruptcy of his opera company, Handel was approached to write a composition for a benefit performance that would help free men from debtor’s prison. He would set to music a text written by Charles Jennens about the life of Christ. He originally anticipated it would take a year.
But according to Christianity Today,  'Handel began composing Messiah on August 22, 1741. Within six days, Part One was finished. In nine more, Part Two. Six more and Part Three was done. It took him only an additional two days to finish the orchestration. Handel composed like a man obsessed. He rarely left his room and rarely touched his meals. But in 24 days he had composed 260 pages—an immense physical feat. When he finished writing what would become known as the Hallelujah Chorus, he said, ‘I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God himself.’”

Handel had met opposition from the church over previous works  regarding how “the words of God were being spoken in the theater!” Again, the church initially opposed him, but in the end, the composition was a success and freed many from debtor’s prison. A year later, when it was performed in London, the tradition, which we still observe today began when King George stood at the opening notes of the Hallelujah Chorus.

The same Christianity Today article quotes John Wesley who was in the audience that evening, "I doubt if that congregation was ever so serious at a sermon as they were during this performance."

 It’s said of Handel’s death in 1759 that he hoped to "meet his good God, his sweet Lord and Savior, on the day of his Resurrection."

There’s a lot I don’t know about how things work in heaven. I Corinthians 13:12 says, “We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!”(The Message).

But even so, my plan this year when I sing or hear the Hallelujah Chorus is to remember the fine time my dad may be having meeting the composer himself. And Handel was only the conduit, the real composer is the one to really be excited about meeting face to face.

 And that's God, himself.

Hallelujah.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

When you think you’re anything but flawless


Shortly after seeing the movie War Room, I began a women’s Bible study at my church by Priscilla Shirer, The Armor of God. The study ties in well to the movie’s theme of strategic prayer, but capitalizes on spiritual power found by employing the armor Paul writes about in Ephesians 6.

We’re well into the study now, and in describing what the breastplate does, Priscilla uses the term “imputed righteousness.”

Now there’s a word for you―imputed.

I don’t usually venture too far into theological waters at One Ringing Bell, but if you’re still with me, I’ll try to explain.

I’ll never forget the first time I remember understanding what imputed means. It was decades ago, when as a single woman, I transferred to this town with my job. I had only one acquaintance here. Little could I have foreseen that this would be the place where I would meet my husband and raise my children, because at the time I felt alone.

Yet, not alone.

I spent my evenings sitting on my bed with a Bible in one hand and a commentary in the other. I studied. I prepared for what I didn’t exactly know. But I knew God was teaching me. It wasn’t in my wildest imagination that my future husband would be a pastor. Or that my dream of becoming a writer would actually come true one day.

I can’t remember exactly the verse that brought imputed into my frame of reference. But at the time, I struggled with a tremendous sense of unworthiness. Then I read a definition similar to what we find in a Google search, “ascribe to someone by virtue of a similar quality in another.” The light began to dawn in my mind that because of what Christ had done on the cross in dying for my sins, his righteousness was mine. I was worthy not in my own right, but because of his worthiness. When God looked at me, he saw me through the work his Son had done on the cross on my behalf.

It felt like a locked door had swung open. Now, I’m not saying that no one had explained that to me in the past, I’d just never understood it before―like cobwebs had been in my mind.

But I understood it then, and it was quite liberating. I could swap my feelings of unworthiness for the righteousness of Christ.

So, a week or so ago, I’m wheeling around town with the radio on in my car and this song comes on. I listen to the words and start crying, “Imputed righteousness.” What I’d just been studying.

It was Mercy Me and “Flawless.”

 

“Flawless” and imputed righteousness. It’s the same thing.

All because of the cross.

So, if you think you’re anything but flawless, your word for today and the rest of your life is―imputed.

And if you’re like me, you’re going to have this Mercy Me song on repeat for quite awhile. Take a moment to read the words here.

“Yet he (Abraham) did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.  This is why 'it was credited to him as righteousness.' The words 'it was credited to him' were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Romans 4:20-25).

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