More Than These

Five Minute Friday prompt: Excuse

This morning I practiced lectio divina before I took the dogs out for a walk. From John 21, I heard “Do you love me more than these?” and “Follow me.”

It was the phrase “more than these” that really caught me.

The resurrected Jesus has appeared to his disciples on the beach after a long night of fishing. They caught nothing until he called out to them, offering instructions to switch their nets to the other side of the boat. That might have seemed crazy to experienced fishermen after so many fruitless (fishless) hours. Still, it worked. Of course it worked.

So what is Jesus asking Peter? Do you love me more than the other disciples love me? Peter couldn’t have answered that. Do you love me more than you love the other disciples? Unlikely he would stir up rivalry … the disciples have mastered that game so well they need Jesus’ help unlearning it. Do you love me more than fishing? Bingo! Because following Jesus will be harder, more challenging, more rewarding, and will cost Peter way more than fishing.

Like Peter, I’m certain Jesus knows that I love him. Like Peter, I repeat: I love you, I love you, I love you. I have followed Jesus since childhood.

But “more than these?” Hmm. What is my version of fishing, the things I could offer as excuses to not follow Jesus, or not follow as closely? What excuses do I put before him?

Anxiety. A hard day. Stress. Comfort. So many big emotions, all my drama. Other responsibilities on the To-Do list. Hobbies. Fatigue. Occasionally, even boredom. I have been around God’s house forever, have seen and done and heard it all, and sometimes it feels too familiar. Lackluster.

I can offer lots of excuses, but the real issue is this: what am I willing to put aside to demonstrate my love for Jesus more than anything else? Because nothing else measures up.

I cling to his promise: Jesus came to give life, abundant life at that. I want complete joy, overflowing love, a full life that only following him can offer.

I’m gonna make myself a note and tack it up as a reminder: More Than These.

What excuses do you make, and how do you remind yourself to put Jesus first?

Cover Image by Elsemargriet from Pixabay

Tune In

Over the last few years I’ve been learning to develop healthy boundaries around the voices I listen to.

I stopped listening to the news and read carefully instead.
I implemented care in my use of media and social media.
I made the difficult choice to walk away from relationships that had become crusty, toxic, bullying.
I also tuned out the voices that lingered in my head, refusing to have conversations with people who weren’t physically present.

And I’ve done some serious relationship work with my inner critic. I call her Grumpamonk, sometimes Grumpamonkey, because either name makes me laugh and helps me take her less seriously.

So those are the voices I’ve tuned out. I’ve also tuned in to other voices, voices that speak encouragement, motivation, justice, and love. I’ve allowed myself to feel uncomfortable when necessary for the sake of learning and growth. Even my Grumpamonk’s voice has changed her tune, surrounded as she has been by a choir of voices singing in harmony.

The most important voice I’ve been listening to? The voice of the One who sings love over me.

Image by Manfred Richter from Pixabay

Since Holy Week, I’ve been using the free version of the Ritual phone app to practice lectio divina several times a week. Lectio is a way of listening to the Spirit through the reading of a short Bible passage. You listen for a word or phrase that stands out, and then invite the Spirit to tell you what that particular word might mean to you. You listen to the passage three times (it’s short, so it doesn’t take long) while having a quiet conversation with God. I’ve done lectio with groups, but I’m thrilled to have this simple tool guiding me regularly at home.

During Holy Week, as I listened to the passages from Isaiah commonly called the Suffering Servant passages, I anticipated challenging words related to my sin for which Jesus died. Instead, I heard that God is pleased with me.

Other times I have heard words such as: have life, come to me, see the Son, become, and complete joy. All encouraging, all relational invitations.

This has led to a significant realization: as much as I believe that God is love and God is good and God has good plans for me, I have also expected to hear judgment. I have expected to hear that I’m not measuring up, doing my best, or living as fully as God intends. Each time I’ve been surprised to hear God’s gentle voice loving me and calling me forward because somehow I’ve been anticipating rebuke. I know God doesn’t weigh our sins on a balancing scale, but if sins could be weighed, I’m sure my bad attitudes and inactions could get heavy.

Where did my presupposition come from? How had I internalized the voice of an angry, at least annoyed, God? I don’t know, though I can guess. All the voices of spiritual leaders who have emphasized personal sin without challenging the fallen systems within which we commit those sins, wagging fingers generally and sometimes pointing directly, combined to make my humanness seem a bigger deal than God’s love. It shouldn’t need a spoiler alert: God’s love is way bigger than any word or action on my part. Or yours.

Talk about spiritual seismic activity! I’ve been following Jesus since childhood. I have degrees from a Christian liberal arts college and a theological seminary. I can teach and preach and write about God’s love from here to Jesus’ return.

Yet I’m learning anew to hear God’s voice, the voice of love, a voice I want to hear again and again. Thanks be to God.

Cover Image by CSTRSK from Pixabay

Not Broken, Human

Five Minute Friday prompt: BROKEN

Years ago I stopped using the words “sinful” or “sinner” to describe myself and others. While they are biblical terms to describe a spiritual reality, I realized those words only played nice on the church grounds. Those across the street couldn’t hear the good news of a loving God because as they walked by some well-intentioned soul slapped them with a label. Maybe those words don’t play nice on church grounds, either.

I substituted the term “broken.” Most people know they’ve made mistakes, whether intentionally or not. They might begrudgingly admit that they aren’t living their best life, that they – and the world in which they live – are capable of so much more.

Lately, I’ve noticed myself moving away from “broken.” I prefer “human.”

Human includes every last one of us, wherever we are in the journey of life. Humans are imperfect and make mistakes. Humans sabotage and self-sabotage. Humans also have the capacity to grow and change. Humans can learn better patterns for living well. We can develop healthier habits that nurture our lives and foster loving relationships.

Broken is disparaging. It’s objectifying, as if we are toys that got played with too roughly and no longer pop – eliciting a heart-thumping shriek of laughter – when the timer goes off. Broken doesn’t work. It requires fixing. If broken can’t be fixed, it might as well get tossed with the trash. If humans are broken, has our capacity to learn and grow cracked? Maybe we’re hopeless. Maybe we’re beyond love.

Psalm 51:17 says, “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.” A broken spirit recognizes our need for God and leads us to worship. I argue that a broken spirit is actually whole, a whole-hearted gift of our whole self offered to a God who receives and loves every atom of our being and moment of our lives.

A cursory examination of broken in scripture: We’ve broken covenant with God and each other. Broken faith, commands, and treaties. In the purity laws, broken skin was unclean. First Samuel 2:10 says “…those who oppose the Lord will be broken,” but that refers to judgment against those who reject God, not to God’s people who struggle to do right.

There are broken vessels and walls, broken necks and arms, broken wheels and sandals, broken cisterns and gates, broken branches and horns. Broken empires and idols. Another reference to a broken spirit depicts grief and brokenheartedness. A cord of three strands will not be quickly broken (Ecclesiastes 4:12) so braid God into your human relationships. God will deliver his people from their enemies by breaking “the rod of the wicked” (Isaiah 14:5). The prophets often use the word broken as judgment against God’s enemies. Jesus also broke bread and fish to sustain the multitudes.

When we celebrate the sacrament of communion, we remember that Jesus’ body was broken for us. His body was broken, but not the whole of his being. His body wasn’t broken for broken people. His body was broken for love of the precious human beings he created, those he loves and sustains and longs to be with in relationship from now until forever.

A ministry leader once told me that I was broken and it was his job to fix me. I cried in recognition of the sad truth that I had been harshly judged, evaluated and found wanting, kicked to the curb as something unloved and unlovable.

He was wrong, friends. You and I are not broken in need of fixing, but beloved human beings. Learning, growing, living. Becoming. Human.

Image by Platelicker from Pixabay

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.