Salvation: Search & Rescue

Mother’s Day Sunday afternoon the neighbor’s cat caught a small bird, a sparrow, perhaps? Neighbor was able to rescue the terrified bird from the over-excited cat’s mouth – Have you ever seen a pet cat with a bird in its mouth? They’re funny about it, growl-y and amped, racing about but not injurous – and brought it to our house.

Which seems like an odd decision unless you know my family and the zoo we call “Home.” This is not the first time a bird has recovered in Teen’s room. He has a red shoe box that might as well by now be designated for this purpose. It contains an old worn-out soft dish towel in which he places the bird in need of shelter. He shuts the lid tight and leaves it alone, for hours at least, or until he hears fluttering.

No bird has ever died under Teen’s watch, mostly due to playful but not mean cats.

Mondays are my work-at-home days. As I soaked in silence, working hard and fast, I heard a Thump! from across the house. No one was home, so I had to get up and check.

In Teen’s room I found a red shoe box on its lid, our own cat batting at the side; she must have heard fluttering wings. And Teen must have been overly distracted to uncharacteristically forget about Bird in Box.

I shooed the cat away, grabbed the box, and ran outside. Well, not entirely accurate. As I snatched up the box, my first instinct was to open it and see if the bird was okay – first one cat, and then another… sheesh! Thankfully, I thought twice and did not open the box in the house because that would have been fun.

I ran outside and shut the slider behind me (no more cats in this game). I did not pause to grab a camera of any sort, a non-decision I regretted instantly as I lifted the lid.

This isn't our bird, but it works...

This isn’t our bird, but it works…

There sat God’s perfect creation of a bird, stunned by two cat attacks in less than 20 hours. It blinked at sunlight. It did not look at me. It sat so still that I considered whether I might have time to run inside for a camera, and then it took off for one of our large pine trees and I lost sight of it in the branches. It flew straight-line, not bird-limping, though I’m not sure I’d know what that would look like.

The bird embodied wholeness, perfection, freedom. My mom has always said she’d like to fly like a bird. I’m afraid of heights and prefer my feet on solid ground, though I admire the instinct to soar.

The bird did, the bird was, perfect Bird. Honestly, at first I felt exasperated that Teen had forgotten Bird, and then I felt elated – I got to release Bird, to watch healthy and whole Bird fly away to a hopefully much longer bird-life. This has not been my role in the family, to help hurting creatures. And now I get it in new ways, this desire to love God’s creatures in need of care. I am grateful.

In the same breath, I thanked God for my own creation, redemption, freedom. He created me; I am injured and He rescued me; He freed me to live in wholeness, to be the person He created me to be in the first place. I can soar with Bird, even with my feet on Solid Ground.

Connect
Reflect on a time when you or someone you know was involved in a search and rescue (official or unofficial). Who or what got lost, and what happened?

Study
Read aloud Ephesians 2:1-10.
Compare and contrast the “dead” life (vv. 1-3) with life with Christ (vv. 4-10).
How are “this world,” “the ruler of the kingdom of the air” and “the cravings of the flesh” spiritual forces in opposition to the Spirit of God?
Notice all the verbs where God is the subject. What does God do? What do we do?
Define “saved,” “grace” and “faith.”
For what reasons does God save us?

Live
How is your life different because of God’s great love for you?
How have you seen people try to earn salvation? When have you personally experienced this temptation?
Why do you think grace can be so hard to receive? To offer?
Read 1 John 4:10-12. How are love and grace related? What will you do to more freely extend God’s grace to others?
What good works do you think God has planned for you to do?
What is Jesus saying to you through this passage and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that you will live more fully into the reality of your salvation by God’s grace and that you will take every opportunity to extend God’s grace to others.

Grow

God has rarely been subtle with me. In my life, He definitely tends toward the dramatic.

Before she knew she was pregnant, God woke my mom up in a London hotel room to tell her she would have a baby girl. When three doctors told her I would be a boy (before ultrasounds, of course), she told them she had it on Good Authority that I would be a girl.

Having heard that story from an early age, I knew that God created me and had plans for me. I live God’s promise in Psalm 139:

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth” (Psalm 139:13-15).

When He called me into relationship with Himself, it was again with no small drama. My sister and I fought almost from the day she came home from the hospital. One day in the course of a scuffle during a mall trip with Mom, my sister managed to pull my eyeglasses off my face. They fell to the floor and broke. I was almost seven years old so my sister was just two. Flooded with shame I owned the blame; as the Big Sister I should not have been fighting with the Baby.

Surely frazzled, Mom headed for a coffee break. Seated next to her at the coffee counter, sipping my ice water, I quietly prayed. I wanted to ask God’s forgiveness, but I remembered something some Sunday school teacher must have told me: “God doesn’t have to forgive me because I don’t have a relationship with God. I need to ask Jesus into my heart.” And so I did.

Shame lifted, I leaned over and told my mom what I had prayed. Surprised, she recognized the peace of God washing over me. Many years later she told me she hadn’t experienced God’s peace quite like that ever before. Miracle of miracles, I stopped fighting with my sister, too. At least for that day.

God called me into professional church ministry through a prophetic dream. No kidding. Had you asked me before that time if I believed God still spoke through dreams, I’m not sure how I would’ve answered. But that particular morning I awoke from a vivid dream. Married just about a year, I rolled over and told my still-sleepy Guy, “Our high school director is going to announce his resignation during staff meeting this morning. He’s taking a job in Washington. You’re going to take his job and I’m going to take your job as junior high director.”

Guy scoffed, “Yah, right.”

As I left for my morning commute I laughed, “Call me after staff meeting!” He didn’t call.

But when I returned home, he had dressed to take me out to dinner. The high school director had announced his resignation during staff meeting, just like I’d seen. He was, in fact, taking a job in Washington. Guy’s job would be restructured and I was invited to interview for a staff position, one I joyfully filled for several years.

So, yes, I tend to be dramatic. But then, I am created in the image of a God with a strong dramatic flair.

Without a doubt I know God has been calling me to Himself since before I was born. He calls all of us, though admittedly He often whispers. He doesn’t always use 2×4’s and loud exclamations. Still, He loves us and wants us to know Him, to love Him more fully today than yesterday, tomorrow more than today.

Which means God also calls us to Grow in our relationship with Him.

Growth should be simple. With basic healthy ingredients – water, nutrients, sunlight, love – kids grow, plants grow, animals grow. Relational growth requires time, commitment, love. Spiritual growth requires the same – time with, commitment to, and love for God and His people. This looks like worship, study, prayer, service, relationship, and outreach. It should be simple, but don’t kid yourself that that makes it easy.

I love God and I love His Church. But I don’t always like what God asks and sometimes I don’t like the Church. Truth be told.

But Ephesians 4:1 tells us to “live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” And what does that worthy life look like? It looks like humble, gentle, patient, loving relationships with God’s people. It looks like unity, like making every effort to maintain the Spirit’s unity as there is only One Body despite our myriad denominations, churches, theologies and worship styles. It looks like peace, like bearing with one another, like love.

To grow in relationship with God, we must grow in relationship with God’s people. We don’t get to choose One or the other – it’s a package deal. Like it or not, Love is the answer.

And hopefully, when the rubber meets the road, when we come to life’s dark twists and turns, our investment in God’s family will hold us and keep us safe in God’s hands.

Connect
When did you first discover your professional vocation/calling?

Study
Read Ephesians 4:1-6, 12b-16.
What is the “calling you have received” (vv. 1, 4)? What does a life “worthy” of this calling look like (vv. 2-3)?
What does the end goal of our growth as Christians look like (vv. 12b-16)?
What do you think it means to attain to the “whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (v. 13)?
The phrase “in love” appears three times in this passage (vv. 2, 15, 16). Why is love so important in Christ’s body?
What does this passage say about unity? How is unity an indication of growth as disciples?

Live
During which time in your life have you seen the most growth in your relationship with Christ? To what do you attribute that growth period?
Where do you see examples of disunity among God’s people? In your own life?
What practical difference does it make in your life that God intends for His people to be “joined and held together,” to “grow and build itself up in love,” as each person does their work of service (v. 16)?
What is Jesus saying to you through this passage and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that your worshiping community will reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature disciples of Jesus Christ.

Hope for Salvation

Tween outgrew his room.

Three issues: increasing age and maturity; a sentimental-pack rat soul; and the furniture and layout just weren’t working. The convertible crib-daybed-full bed frame cracked some time ago. The remaining headboard, unattached, banged against the wall each time he rolled over. The drawers for the coordinating changing table-dresser stuck. Both pieces were more than sixteen years old, hand-me-downs from his brother. His rug, another hand-me-down, had belonged to an older friend who outgrew it, a cityscape “drive-your-Hotwheels here” rug. As our house doesn’t have a coat closet, our winter coats occupied half of his closet. His own coats never made it to the overly-crowded closet, so they took up valuable floor space. He had WAY too much stuff in the small space, and no good organizational system.

"Make a path!" our most regular room-related mantra

“Make a path!” our most regular room-related mantra

Our Christmas gift to him: a room re-do. We took him shopping on Saturday to buy a new dresser, shelving units, rug, pillows to sub for a headboard, and curtains for his closet. But we hadn’t really calculated how two hours of furniture shopping would equal exponential hours of clean-out.

We boxed and bagged up most of his stuff and piled it on the living room rug. Dad spackled, sanded, and touch-up painted the walls. We sorted “Keep” and “Give away”s. We vacuumed the dust bunnies that multiply behind and under furniture. We wiped down the old furniture, assembled the new, stuffed the pillowcases, rolled up the old rug and rolled out the new one. Less than five hours of work, over two days, and we have so much more to do before we’re done.

My laundry baskets currently hold a) enough Nerf guns for a neighborhood army and b) a small library of books that don’t fit his bookcase. Both baskets – and so much else! – currently reside in the garage, our own Land of Misfit Toys. I considered taking “during” pictures, but honestly, didn’t want to remember the overwhelming and fairly disheartening chaos.

For now, we’ve hit the Pause button. Shelving units and additional stuff-sorting will happen slowly, over weeks, but I can’t handle More this close to Christmas. Besides, I’m pretty sure he won’t miss most of the stuff in the garage.

Better, right?

Better already, right?

Tween had made a mess of the “broken system” that had been his room. It took expensive and hard work, more than he could manage on his own, to save him from himself and restore order and peace to his world. In short – and yes, an admittedly poor analogy – Tween needed salvation.

Sin broke the world God created. Humankind has done a bang-up job of wrecking the good place God made to be our home. We needed God to step in, to pay the price and do the work we couldn’t do for ourselves.

God gives us the gift of salvation, freely because there is not a single thing in the whole world we could do to earn it. He gives it, we receive it. And then we receive it over and over, day after day, hour after hour, again and again. We continue accepting the gift because we continue to need it. Philippians 2:12-13 says, “…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” God does the work, and we do the work of “working it out.”

Tween (and we) have hours of sorting and assembling yet to go. He will then have to hang his jackets, put away his clothes and toys, make his bed. We made it possible, but he will have work to do, no more excuses. Before it did feel (at least a little bit) hopeless. Now we are hopeful. And it feels good.

Week 4 – Hope of Salvation
December 21-24

Read Scripture: Micah 5:2, 4-5a; Matt. 2:1-6

Candle lighting: Light the four perimeter candles.

Read: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” The first candle represents the hope of Israel. The second candle represents the hope of heaven. The third candle represents the hope of His coming. The fourth candle represents the hope of salvation.

This week we celebrate the birth of a baby born to be King. Mighty kings and small children together bow before Him in worship. God promised that this baby will be a good Shepherd and a strong Ruler, bringing peace to the ends of the earth. Come and worship the hope of our salvation!

Pray: Dear God, thank you that you kept your promise to send us the hope of salvation. In the name of Jesus we hope and pray, Amen.

 

Throughout the Week// light the candle, read and discuss the daily Scripture and pray together.

Light four candles as you say: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Monday// Psalm 42:5// What makes you feel downcast, and how can God help you?
Tuesday// Psalm 65:5// What awesome or righteous deeds have you seen God do?
Wednesday// Ephesians 4:4// All God’s people hope in Him. Say thank you to Jesus for your hope in Him!

Pray: Dear God, thank you that you kept your promise to send us the hope of salvation. In the name of Jesus we hope and pray, Amen.