Lent 2020: I Pray…

“Did you know that God is always listening to you? Did you know that God can hear the quietest whisper deep inside your heart, even before you’ve started to say it? Because God knows exactly what you need even before you ask him…. So when you pray, pray in your normal voice, just like when you’re talking to someone you love very much.”

Well, that’s really great news, Jesus, because we hear so much bad news. The world, our lives, have filled up with so much uncertainty that we don’t always know what to say. We don’t always know what to think or how to feel or even what to do next.

I’m so grateful that God is always listening. I’m grateful that He knows the quietest whisper deep in my heart. I am grateful that He knows what I need, because I’m not always very good at knowing what I need.

Jesus, I pray for all those who are sick; comfort them and their loved ones. I pray for those who serve the sick. Thank you for the helpers. Keep them well so they can continue helping. I pray for those who feel anxious. I pray for those who have lost jobs. I pray for those who are working from home, especially if they’re also caring for little ones. I pray for parents who are suddenly cast in the role of school teacher. I pray for students who feel the weight of isolation, doing their best to learn using new formats. I pray for the bored and confused children cooped up at home instead of playing on playgrounds. I pray for the scientists working on cures, and I pray for world leaders to be wise in their recommendations.

I pray for peace. I pray for unity. I pray for the whole world to feel your presence. I pray for your Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love to reach every person and fill up every heart.

Amen.

 

During Lent 2020, I’m reading and reflecting on The Jesus Storybook Bible. If you don’t already have it, I highly recommend it. You can purchase it here. Please note: as an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases.

Lent 2020: The Wonderful Stories

All day they listened to stories about the wonderful things God had done for his people….How he rescued them — no matter what, time after time, over and over again — because of his Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love.

Stories are my favorite. I love to read. But during scary times, I can’t read scary stories. Or sad stories, for that matter. During scary times, I need happy, playful, light stories. Stories of love and laughter.

Ezra read the Law to God’s people and they cried as they recognized how far they had strayed from God’s intentions for them. When Ezra saw their tears, he changed his approach. He read the happy stories, the stories of God with them, protecting and providing for them, loving them no matter what. And they had a week-long party, a festival in which they ate and drank and shared with those who didn’t have food and drink, celebrating God’s goodness and love.

It’s not our job to tell people what to do and not do. That’s God’s job. But when we hear from God that we’ve blown it, we’re also not to wallow in shame and self-pity. Acknowledge your sin and move along. Celebrate God’s forgiveness. Celebrate God’s presence with you. Celebrate God’s love.

Because he has loved and forgiven and protected you once again. So get on with that celebration, because God is good all the time. All the time, God is good!

During Lent 2020, I’m reading and reflecting on The Jesus Storybook Bible. If you don’t already have it, I highly recommend it. You can purchase it here. Please note: as an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases.

Lent 2020: God With Us

Things were not looking good for God’s people….But God had not left his people. He was with them and he was looking after them.

We have not been conquered as a nation and taken exile into Babylon, but we have also never experienced anything like the quarantine in effect due to COVID-19.

It’s a strange new world. The things that make up our typical routine have rapidly been stripped from us: school, work, daycare, sports, even sports on TV, restaurants, libraries, public gathering places, parks.

Also, houses of worship. I can’t remember a Sunday when my pastor-husband has been home on a Sunday except for vacations or illness. What is a church without a community gathering? We’re currently in the discovery process, one we couldn’t have imagined.

It’s easy to feel all the feelings. To be anxious, fearful, bored, frustrated. It’s easy to feel separated from God, especially when we can’t meet to sing His praise or pray together with others.

But God has not left us. He is with us wherever we are. He is looking out for us, whatever the situation. The days ahead won’t be easy, but we can take comfort that God will be with us in them.

During Lent 2020, I’m reading and reflecting on The Jesus Storybook Bible. If you don’t already have it, I highly recommend it. You can purchase it here. Please note: as an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases.

Lent 2020: What Matters Most

But I can’t stop loving you.

Wow, in a time of unprecedented bad news, that’s the best news ever. No matter what, God can’t stop loving us.

No matter how much of a schmuck I may be today–even though I want to be kind and loving and super-duper, I’m sure I will also whine and think mean thoughts and put myself first–God will always and forever love me. He can’t stop, because His very nature is love.

No matter what. It doesn’t matter. God’s love matters. Love is all we need, love is all there is.

God’s love coats me like the dark-morning full moonshine, like the spring sunshine pouring through trees, bringing flowers to life. God’s love flows over me like the breeze, flows through me like breath. God, I breathe in your love, your presence, your grace.

Help me to live in your love today.

During Lent 2020, I’m reading and reflecting on The Jesus Storybook Bible. If you don’t already have it, I highly recommend it. You can purchase it here. Please note: as an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases.

Lent 2020: Heart of Love

“This is the one!…He has a heart like mine,” God said. “It is full of love.”

I want a heart like God’s, full of love.

Instead, my heart is filled with anxiety, complaints, aches, and some truly yucky gunk, like anger and fear.

My heart needs a thorough cleansing. I imagine taking it out, holding it gently like a fragile, frightened bird. I imagine immersing it in a basin of warm, not hot, soapy water. Holding it lightly in one hand, I swish the water around it, over it, in it. I ask God to remove the ashy silt of sadness, to wash it clean of all impurities.

I need my heart to pump clean, healthy blood. To pump rich, fruitful love.

I imagine God behind me, putting His arms around me and gingerly slipping His hand under mine. His free hand continues the care-full cleaning process. When we are done, God wraps my heart in the fluffiest towel to dry it off before putting it back in my chest. His hand lingers there as His eyes on mine tell me all I need to know:

I am clean. I am whole. I am loved. And so are you.

Lent 2020: Celebrate Love

God’s people were safe. They danced and laughed and sang and thanked God — when there had been no way out, God had made a way.
“I want you to love me more than anything else in all the world — and know that I love you, too,” God told them. “That’s the most important thing of all.”

God did an incredible thing: He parted the Red Sea to save His people from onslaught by the Egyptians. His people crossed safely; the Egyptians did not.

So they danced and laughed and sang and thanked God. We need more of this in life, recognizing God at work in big and small ways and joyfully celebrating with our whole bodies, from tippy-top to tiny toes.

Sadly, the Israelites didn’t celebrate for long. They quickly got caught up in complaints of the moment. They were hot and dirty and stinky and tired and hungry and where was God? Did He lead them into the desert to die?

Of course not. But isn’t that just our way? We have short memories. We forget what God has recently done and blame Him for not doing more right now. Bummer for us.

God called Moses up onto a mountain to give him some rules, not because God is all about dos and don’ts, shoulds and shouldn’ts, but because God wanted His people to know more about Him, to understand His priorities. He loves us so much He wants the best life for us so He gave us some guidelines, starting with loving and being loved by Him.

We get into trouble when we separate God’s commands from God’s love. When the rules feel hard and jagged, when they’re imposed on us by others without the context of God’s Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love, the rules lose their meaning. Never let go of God’s love.

During Lent 2020, I’m reading and reflecting on The Jesus Storybook Bible. If you don’t already have it, I highly recommend it. You can purchase it here. Please note: as an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases.

Lent 2020: Listen to Love

You see, no matter what, in spite of everything, God would love his children – with a Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love.

…Noah didn’t mind so much what other people thought, he minded what God thought. So he just did what God told him to do.

When we hear God whisper His Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love over us. When we receive God’s great big love with open arms. That’s when we stop minding what other people think.

The trick is, first, to listen. Get the gunk out of our ears and really tune in to God’s heart. To walk and talk with God as a best friend, as beloved children of our good, good Father, as the only true source of wisdom.

We listen to God through His Word, the Bible, but also through our circumstances, through wise people also listening to God, through His Spirit speaking straight to our hearts.

If Noah had listened to his own common sense, to his friends, to worldly wisdom, he would have missed God’s instructions. It made no sense whatsoever at all to build a gigantic boat in the desert. But God said it, and Noah followed through.

Hence, the second trick: to hold steady to God’s love as we listen and live what He says. Like His instructions to Noah, sometimes God’s words seem to make little sense. I can’t even begin to imagine some of the non-sense God might whisper to you, because it will be a) the same, and b) different for each of us.

But I’m certain of this: LOVE will be at its center.

 

During Lent 2020, I’m reading and reflecting on The Jesus Storybook Bible. If you don’t already have it, I highly recommend it. You can purchase it here. Please note: as an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases.

I Went Home.

Many of the Christian women writers, teachers, and preachers I follow have posted this week about John MacArthur’s deplorable behavior at a recent men’s conference. He was asked what two words come to mind when he hears the name “Beth Moore.” He replied, “Go home.”

Beth Moore has been a powerful Bible teacher for 40 years, teaching women since her Southern Baptist Church won’t permit women to teach men. Her reach has extended far beyond the Southern Baptist Church, however, through her books and videos and conferences. She is intelligent, well-read and -studied, dynamic, and one of the best preachers I’ve heard in any pulpit anywhere. Arguably, she is the Billy Graham of female preachers.

And John MacArthur et al quite obviously feel threatened by her influence, because they think it’s funny to publicly mock her. I purposely haven’t watched the video, because I have read it thoroughly described by several respected sources. And because I have heard and experienced similar words from men; some meant well, others used their words carelessly and, perhaps, unaware of their own bias.

For most of three decades, I’ve spent my career in the Church. I showed up day after day, year after year, in one, two, three churches, using my gifts, skills, and creativity in every possible way to express God’s truth to God’s people. Until I finally admitted that I was too tired and too hurt from banging my head on the glass ceiling.

I went home.

But I haven’t given up, and I will not be silent. As long as I have breath in my lungs, I will use whatever platforms I have to speak truth:

God loves me.
God loves and gifts all His people (male and female; white and POC; old and young; rich and poor; straight and LGBTQ+; throughout time and the world over) to share His love.
All God’s people are preachers, though only some use words.

I may never again step foot in a pulpit (though I don’t rule that out), but I will never stop sharing God’s love. I am a God-loving and God-gifted woman. Even from home, you can hear me roar!

For more of the story of my ministry experience, please read this post.

Read these posts from two women I respect:
Cara Meredith
Sarah Bessey

Cover photo by Katherine Hanlon on Unsplash

What’s the News?

A couple years ago, I decided I needed to curtail my practice of ending each day with the first fifteen minutes of the 10 pm newscast. For most of my adult life, I watched the news before bed. But gradually I realized that I wasn’t sleeping soundly, that images or issues from the news wound themselves into my dreams or, worse, left me tossing sleeplessly through the night. Adulting can be difficult enough without insomnia.

Towards the end of 2016 I decided that, for my sanity, I needed to forgo TV newscasts altogether. The presidential race brought out the worst in everyone, me included. Above and beyond the ‘commonplace’ stories on worldwide political shifts and violence, America’s angry politicians and their supporters had turned up the volume. In response, I turned it off.

Although we had stopped taking the paper years earlier, the time had come to once again read the news. To that end, I am grateful for The Skimm, which (ahem) skims the national and international headlines and presents summaries in a nonpartisan, headline style with links to more information.

I need to stay informed, but there is just so much bad news!

Without trying hard, I could rattle off bad news on too many world-changing issues. Yet when I ask myself, “What’s the good news?” I’m not sure I know how to answer.

What is the good news? And, now that we’re thinking about it, don’t we all love those too-infrequent feel-good news stories? The ones where the good Samaritan does some wonderful sacrificial act that changes the life of a wheelchair-bound child, or a homeless person, or simply their neighbor who has fallen on hard times. Maybe someone should produce a regular good-news cast (Is there such a thing? If so, point me in the right direction, because I need it!).

Some days—many days?—I forget that gospel = good news. I forget that Jesus told us all about this: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). I forget that God’s still in charge: “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth” (Psalm 46:10).

I suspect I’m not alone. Not alone in feeling overwhelmed by the world’s troubles. Not alone in finding it incredibly difficult to be still. Not alone in forgetting that God loves the world, this world, the very one He created, populated by all the people He fearfully and wonderfully made.

Not alone at all, because God loves me. And God loves you. And God asks us to love one another.

That love one another thing can be hard, especially with all the bad news. You and me, we may not even like each other. We may be on opposite sides of battle lines, barbed wire, drawn guns, hatred.

Jesus found Himself there, too. And, despite all the bad news that we are, He loved us so much anyway that He did the most wonderfully sacrificial good-news thing ever: He gave His life in our place, for our sins, so that we can live forever in relationship with God. Jesus’ story–which becomes our story–makes for the ultimate good-news cast.

Walk in Love
Week 10: Walk in Love
1 John 4:7-21

Connect
What good news have you received recently?

Study
Read aloud 1 John 4:7-21.
Why should God’s people love one another?
What does God’s love for us look like?
How does God’s love for us change us?
According to this passage, what does the Spirit do for us (vv13-16)?
Compare vv12 and 17. What is the difference between God’s love being made complete in us and among us?
How do God’s people loving one another make God visible (vv12, 17, 20-21)?
What is the connection between love and Christian confidence or “no fear” (vv17-19)?

Live
Does John mean to say that everyone who acts lovingly has a saving relationship with God? That anyone who does not act lovingly does not? Explain.
How do you know God loves you? How do you experience God’s love for you? What’s the difference between knowledge and experience of God’s love?
In your experience, does love or fear inspire more obedience? Better character? Explain.
When have you acted lovingly despite not feeling loving? What was that like?
“Remarkably, loving someone who is unlovely brings into focus the power of God’s choice to love us in our unloveliness” (Gary M. Burge). Have you ever experienced this? If so, describe it.
How would you sum up John’s version of the gospel’s good news from this passage?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Pray that God will help you know and experience His love so that you have generous love to share with others.

Believe. Love.

Many years ago, in my first church job, I had the privilege of working in the front office. Which meant I was the ‘face’ of the office, handling all the various requests of both members and those who walked in off the street. Brenda, the mentally-absent and sweet homeless woman whom we often let sleep in the women’s lounge, was one of the most colorful ‘characters’ in the mix. Oh, but we all have our character traits that lend to the stories of our churches–and our lives.

Another woman, a leader in her area of volunteer responsibility, was particularly ornery. I don’t know why, perhaps she couldn’t articulate it herself. She came to my office regularly to bark complaints at me. It was always my fault, even when it wasn’t, and she had no time for explanations. I cringed when I saw her coming.

After months of regular, painful, interactions, I put her at Jesus’ feet in prayer. I asked God to help me love her. Of course it would be great if God decided to change her, but meanwhile I would ask God to change me.

I took action. I smiled every time I saw her. I listened with all the patience I could muster. I did everything I could to soothe her frustration and help her in whatever ways she needed. I even committed to greeting her with a huge smile and a hug every Sunday morning during worship. After all, she sat on the aisle only a few pews back from my regular aisle seat.

At first she seemed skeptical. She yelled at me all the time; why would I hug her? I persisted with a big puppy dog-faithful grin. It wasn’t fake–I hate fake! Rather it was a courageous act of obedience to our loving God. Even when we don’t feel loving, we can choose to act lovingly. And sometimes, thank God!, our actions will work into us the feelings.

Over time she melted like an ice cube. She stopped grumping at me. She smiled back. Eventually, she even smiled first. She opened up to share her joys (with the occasional frustration thrown in). When the time came for her to move away to be closer to her grown children in her older age, we shared a genuine, tearful goodbye.

God did change her, but He changed me first. I decided to believe in Jesus, and to live in the truth that Jesus loved her as much as He loved me. Sheesh, Jesus loves me even when I’m the biggest grump in the world! Of course He can strengthen me to share His love with others. Even when it’s hard. Even when they’re hard. Especially then.

1 John 3:23–“And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us”–sounds a lot like the Great Commandment–

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36-40)

Believe in Jesus. Love one another.
Love God. Love others as you love yourself.

When we believe, we have the courage to act. When we love, God changes us.

Walk in Love
Week 8: Belong to the Truth
1 John 3:19-24

Connect
To which organizations or clubs do you belong, and what are some of the rules of membership?

Study
Read aloud 1 John 3:19-24.
What might cause someone’s heart to condemn them (v20)?
How can Jesus’ followers set their hearts at rest (vv19-24)? In other words, from this passage, what evidence would indicate that someone “belongs to the truth”?
Notice the balance between what we know and what we feel. Why are both important?
How would you explain vv21-22 to someone who says they prayed but God didn’t answer as they hoped?
How does this passage explain our role and God’s role in our relationship with Him?

Live
Have you ever doubted your relationship with God? What helped you through that time? Alternately, what reassurance have you offered to someone who doubted?
What comfort does it give you that God knows everything?
How might conflict between people who claim to follow God affect one’s faith? Explain the emphasis on the command to love one another.
What does it look like in your daily life to fulfill the commands to believe in Jesus and love one another?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Pray that God will help you believe in Jesus and love others.