The End Game

“Truly, truly I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.)”

John 21:18-19

“Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.”

1 Peter 4:19

Both these verses came up in my morning reading. I’m in a bit of a hard season of life right now, and it’s amazing how many encouragements God is sending these days to give me some¬†perspective.

Peter’s death was to glorify God. It promised to be an awful, painful death; humiliating and excruciating.

But death is not all there is. Life here on earth is not all there is.

We are ultimately here to glorify God. And every one of us has an eternal existence to reckon with.

God gives His kids eternal life. Not just existence, but life.

As I was reading, I started to think of eternal life as a thread running underneath all our daily experiences, unbreakable, continuing on past our death. Which made the events of our lives here on earth feel more like little beads on the string; less the essence and more the decoration of our real existence.

bead on a string

And if we are thinking about the string, the lifeline of our eternal life, rather than the little events day to day, wouldn’t that inform our joy? Wouldn’t we eagerly look to something more? Wouldn’t even our death become a way to show our love and obedience to our Lord?

Death is not the end. Suffering is not the end.

Let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to their faithful Creator, while doing good.

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On Water & Dependency

Last night, my husband heard the doorbell ring. It was our apartment manager, telling us they’d had a leak in the water main and had to shut all the water off.

water leak

I stared at him, dumbly, then asked: “So what does this mean?”

(I’m often like this in brand-new scenarios: freeze, try to gather data, think hard about next steps. Once I’ve done it a few times, I can jump into action — but the first time? Yes, I do ask idiotic questions like that.)

So, last night, we didn’t do the dishes. We drank juice from the fridge, not water from the tap. I brushed my teeth with the few dribbles left in the bathroom. We contemplated going to the bar across the street just to use their facilities.

We went to sleep not knowing if we’d be able to shower in the morning. (Would we have to wipe ourselves down with baby wipes, put on some deodorant, and walk up the street to Starbucks to beg for some of that all-necessary water?? And buy coffee too — no water means we couldn’t make our own.)

I didn’t realize how dependent I was on our water system until it was gone.

“…But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

–Jesus, John 4:14

God isn’t like a leaky water main. He is the unthinkably deep source of the truest water we I need. And He doesn’t run dry or have to call a plumber.

I’d had a conversation earlier that day about how much God cares for us, how much He loves us, how much He orchestrates events for our good and His glory.

If just one small thing (no water for a few hours) could upset me this much, how much is God doing for me every . single . day that I take for granted?

And how much can I trust Him to keep providing?

Completely. ūüôā

“It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”

-Joshua 1:5

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Adventures

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
James 1:2-4

It seems like adventure has become a trendy theme over the last few years — it pops up with cute crossed arrow motifs on journals or on wall hangings. Or in motivational quotes, with some sort of romanticized notion of good times. It seems like Pinterest’s working definition of adventure is “a thrilling, novel experience”.

adventure throw pillow

I mean, who wouldn’t want this attractive, soft, cuddly adventure?

But in my experience, adventures are uncomfortable. My working definition is that at least three things have to deviate from the plan. Something has to go wrong for it to be an adventure, or, as a friend of mine said last weekend, “It’s just a vacation.”

Merriam Webster online defines adventure as “an undertaking usually involving danger and unknown risks”.

In other words, unless you’re a total adrenaline junkie, adventuring is uncomfortable.

I recently went on vacation with the Husband. Before we left, it looked like it would be a Pinterest adventure; scenic locations, romantic man, lots of famous things to see and experience.

The reality was a little a lot different.

Scary Shell Cup

Just like this picture! Glamorous, intricate, and kinda scary.

The bad: I got lost once, cried three or four times, realized I had neglected to ask several foundational planning questions, and generally felt insufficient a lot of the time.

The good: I learned. A lot. Mostly about expectations I couldn’t articulate until they weren’t met, about how much I was selfishly keeping score in my head, about communication, and about my own reluctance to give of myself for the good of the trip.

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And seriously, we did get to see some pretty awesome stuff!

I don’t mean to say that the general humbling I experienced over these two weeks is anything quite like the “testing of the faith” James describes — I mean, I was on vacation, and the “trials” were for the most part, ones I volunteered for. But there’s something very real about the magic of welcoming hard things for the purpose of growth.

Maybe that’s what adventure is about after all.

Castle Grounds

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want”

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Christians and…financial independence?

Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‚ÄėMaster, you delivered to me five talents; here, I have made five talents more.‚Äô His master said to him, ‚ÄėWell done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.‚Äô

Matthew 25:19-21

Lately I’ve been rethinking how many choices we have, as adults, for our lives. I mean, there are literally an infinite number of goals for our lives, and how many do we think about? The American Dream is pretty one-track.

I’ve been listening to Radical Personal Finance — it’s a podcast about how to become financially independent within a fairly short period of time. But the meta themes that I was hearing this morning were about how many choices you have every day; at every moment you have agency, and you should be thinking about how you’re wired, what you really want in life, and how you can get there.

This applies to finances, relationships, jobs, location, and more.

OK, sure, you say, we need to think about our lives.

But this goes beyond that. Because you don’t have to look very far to realize people are doing some totally wonderful and unique and new things all around you. Entrepreneurs are literally printing money. RPF suggests finding a way to do what you love to do, whatever that is.

One of the soundest pieces of financial advice I’ve ever heard was from my mom, who noticed my panicky, squirrel-like saving habits and reminded me gently that you have to save FOR something. Money is meant to be used, spent; not hoarded. It’s a tool from God, not your god.

Of course, as a Christian, I can’t help but think of the parable of the talents. One slave got five, invested wisely, got five more. One guy got two, invested wisely, made two more. But then the guy who got one just sat on it. His snarky answer on Tax Day didn’t impress the lender any. The guys who invested — get this — were given ruling authority over cities.

So, should Christians seek to be financially independent? I think as long as you have God-honoring reasons for it, why not? Those¬†guys in the talent story got to rule over cities, which implies not just serious financial assets, but also relational responsibility. And these podcast guys I’m listening to, they’re motivated to help make people’s lives better, not just to greedily accumulate wealth. Understanding how to live frugally is a huge step towards freedom from the materialism of the West, and also frees up resources to help¬†others around us — in our neighborhoods (time spent not punching the clock), across the globe (time for volunteering, financial gifts), and after we die (endowments), to name a few.

As long as we’re saving for something, why not do what we can to become financially independent, and why not cast a giant vision for what we could do afterwards? If saving and investing can be God-honoring activities, there have got to be tremendous kingdom-building opportunities during all parts of the process.

Just something to think about!

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Sermon Scraps, part…uh…

Let’s just say I have a lot of these to post. As usual, I’m clearing off my desk. And these thoughts are worth pondering again.

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When we have troubles, we go to the people we most trust and believe are most for us.

Prayer is crying out to your Dad in the dark.

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The Lord’s prayer is intimate but not irreverent; warm, awe-filled. It is entirely appropriate to ask for more of God in our lives, our work, our legacy. Longing for more truth, love, joy, hope, restoration, repentance; for families centered on Jesus, for more things that smell and feel like God!

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You can go to God for little, everyday necessities. You can go to God for things that are bigger than you could possibly imagine.

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“Bring your sin and your guilt to me, and I will heal you!”

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Fasting reveals how we use food to cover up our frailty. Taking it (or any of a multitude of other things) away shows us our own desperate need for God very quickly.

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Means of grace are important! God uses them to bless us (and deliver us from sin) at every turn. If you are listening even a little bit, you will hear His love for you through these means (Bible, prayer, fasting, tithing, meditation, communion; giving, serving, submission; corporate worship, community, confession, feasting).

communion google

Each of these means of grace has no value by itself; they are a means of knowing and enjoying God, and each tends to apply the reality of God in different ways.

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Gracious God,

We confess that we often approach You out of Duty rather than love.

We often choose self-reliant slavery rather than standing in Your freedom.

We do not wait eagerly for You. We can be offended by the offense of the cross.

We use our freedom for the flesh, rather than for loving others.

So, we fly to You for forgiveness, refuge, renewed strength, and joy.

Forgive all our sin, known and unknown. Help us to never return to it.

In Your great mercy, help us to never lose sight of You as our greatest treasure.

Help us know that we only truly live, when we live with You.

Hold us fast, in Your overflowing love, and never let us go.

We are Yours by grace and grace alone.

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Wanting depth

from pinterest

I was talking with a dear friend tonight, trying to articulate some thoughts I’ve been having for the last few weeks.

I know Jesus loves me. I know I am saved and perfectly loved through His finished, completely effective work. But I don’t always live with that knowledge at the forefront of my mind.

OK, who am I kidding? I usually don’t live with that knowledge at the forefront of my mind!!

Basically, I’m hungry. Wanting to go deeper. Knowing there is more joy, more meaning, more fulfillment in Jesus than I am getting right now. But I’m not quite sure how to get there.

A wise man recently said that our fears of stepping into responsibility can keep us from growth and experiencing God’s blessing in new ways.

I’ve struggled with fears and anxiety off and on throughout my life. I fought a pretty big war against them about five years ago, and experienced significant healing and freedom.

But lately those little anxious thoughts have crept back in. The fears. The worries. About frivolous things and serious ones.

And I don’t want to let them take over again.

I’ve been pondering how to practice going deeper — how to meditate on the Word more, memorize it, chew it over, let it inform my life at a more intense level.

But at every chance my little leaky-bucket heart wants to do something else. It’s quiet, subtle, but always choosing NOT to think about Jesus.

Little heart, God is greater than you. He wants what is best for you, and not what you want — you want to be Him, and nobody can be Him except for God.

So here’s to adventures in spiritual discipline. Said dear friend is going to check up on me, and see if I’m regurgitating ideas on this blog on a semi-regular basis. And I’m going to ask another dear friend to adventure through Scripture memory with me.

I have no idea where this will end.

But I know I need Jesus. I need Him every day.

And, knowing Him, He will pull me through my fears, grow me to be more like Himself, and change my leaky-bucket, anxious heart into a little flicker of His own radiance.

Come, Lord Jesus, come!

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Peace

I went to a choir concert a few weeks ago, which spurred many thoughts.

I have a long history with choir singing — grew up in girls’ choir, attended choir camp faithfully every summer, sung through college, and following college, was able to make a small career out of my singing habit. But about a year ago, I realized I was a bit burnt out and decided to take a break.

One of my friends sings with this very talented group, and a mutual group of friends had extra tickets to her show. So we went.

SONY DSC

a google image (not mine) of the church, showing the organ

Being out of the choral scene for most of a year has given me an interesting perspective on it; sitting there in the pew, several different thoughts flooded over me during the show.

First: choral music is an acquired taste, and sometimes it’s just objectively odd if you haven’t been exposed to it. For me, it’s often more pleasurable to sing it than to listen to it. Several of the pieces were very “crunchy” and dissonant, which I enjoyed — but the people I was attending with just felt it was weird. If I hadn’t sung similar pieces before, there’s no way I would have enjoyed the music as much.

Second: in my city especially, many choral groups love to sing music about peace, but they never acknowledge the source of true peace — Jesus — and that the whole reason we need it in the first place is that our sin has broken it. They only reference peace and the search for it as an inter-human endeavor. So much of choral music is sacred in nature, and I was reminded that much of my own secular choral experience has felt hollow. I don’t mean to be arrogant, but I know where true peace and true meaning come from in life, and it doesn’t matter how much art directors put together themed concerts or gifted composers write avant-garde pieces; ¬†without acknowledging our sin and Jesus’s love, all appeals to mercy, justice, kindness, and peace feel very hollow.

(Caveat: I know there are a great many people out there who share my beliefs, and still find joy and fulfillment in programs centered around ambivalently spiritual themes. I have a track record of discounting things that don’t line up to my expectations exactly, so I ask the reader to take my bewailings with a grain of salt. There’s probably much more to glean from secular interpretations of sacred and spiritual themed music than I can¬†see at the moment.)

Third: the keynote piece was one I’d sung as a teenager at choir camp, which led to many flashbacks; the heat and stress of preparing a complicated piece in a few short days of intense effort in July — learning to sing in Hebrew — our director blowing giant rams horns — my own brother singing a long solo just hours before his voice changed. It’s full of lovely, weird, asymmetrical rhythms; strange to ears that hadn’t heard it before (like my friends) but emotional¬†and familiar and different all at once.

Fourth: I had moments of intense pleasure through this concert, which made me wonder if this is why people keep coming back? I’ve definitely had “choral high” as a singer, but never understood why people enjoyed coming to choir concerts. Apparently you can get a bit of that choral high from the audience as well. Who knew?

So there you go: some random musings from my brain while sitting and listening to crunchy music for organ and choir! Perhaps God will be kind to our city, and someday there will be appeals for peace made through song that acknowledge the only source for peace is first being at peace with God Himself.

Melinda

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