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Mourning Ostriches

Ostrich

At my church, Seaford Baptist, our pastor has started a new series examining different passages that people often claim as their “favorite scriptures.”

I do remember several weeks back, he conducted a social media poll asking folks to share their favorite Bible verse.  In fact, he referred to that poll this morning at the beginning of his sermon–and he spoke of how most people shared a favorite verse, but a couple of people completely disregarded the rules and shared, um, several.  I have no idea who that might have been.

Except, of course–yeah, guilty.  I have no favorite passage.  There are scriptures that I gravitate to more often than others–John 6:68, the end of Habakkuk 3, John 20, Psalm 4, Psalm 38, the verses I read each morning during study/prayer time–the list is long.

I wonder if part of the reason my list is long, is because it bugs the heck of me when one verse is yanked from scripture and slapped on a coffee mug, t-shirt, or cross-stitched and hung on the wall.  I’m probably way-too-judgemental and critical about that.

But, here is my reasoning.  When we cherry-pick words that make us “feel” something, we can completely and totally miss their meaning.  Without understanding the context surrounding words, and the overall environment in which they sit, serious errors can be made.  Or, maybe it isn’t always a serious error, but overarching truths can be missed, or truth can be watered down.

Have I been guilty of this?  Absolutely.  I imagine that even the most astute theologian has fallen prey to this at one time or another.  Maybe early in their relationship with God–but my guess is that even, on occasion, after they have been at their theological pursuits for a while.

It takes careful thought and consideration not to be pulled in the direction of the tendency.  And I certainly do not always take the time to put in careful thought or consideration.  I get lazy.  Or I get in a hurry.  Or, I’m searching for something in the moment to ease my soul, so I’ll grasp at words and apply them like a band-aid.  But those kinds of reactions do not produce long-lasting or effective work on either my brain.

But, I have also found that when I take the time to carefully consider not just the words themselves, but also the audience, the environment, the situation, and the words surrounding the words I am reading (in other words, context), then I end up experiencing true soul work–the kind of scripture work that produces lasting surgery on the sin and griefs and doubts and cold-heartedness in my soul.  And mind.  It’s the difference between setting a broken ankle and slapping a band-aid on it and thinking that will “make it all better”.

Surgery hurts.  But it is also necessary sometimes, in order for health to occur.

What does any of this have to do with mourning ostriches?

Not much, really.  Absolutely nothing, actually, except that our pastor shared a fantastic verse from Micah that had my girl and I giggling up in our balcony seats.  He shared it as an example of a verse that probably is not anyone’s favorite.  The passage, actually, is quite, quite serious.  Found in Micah 1, it’s a prophesy of coming destruction.  Not giggling material.  But goodness, ostriches are funny creatures, and the idea of an ostrich in mourning struck us both as hysterical.  I suppose you had to be there.

And, stemming from that, we’ve effectively used the term “mourning ostrich” 4 times throughout the day.  I believe it will become a part of my odd crew’s regular vocabulary.  As in, “Stop your whining, you mourning ostrich!”  And, “Quit moping, mourning ostrich!” And, “I wanna bury my head like a mourning ostrich.”

Giggle:

I will make lamentation like the jackals,
    and mourning like the ostriches.

Micah 1:8b

 

 

Update: Sermon Link Added: Farmers, Corn and the Grace Needed to be Steadfast

iowa-cornfield

Update:  I’m just back from a miserable walk in crazy heat.  I’ve been lax for the past 2-3 weeks–too much work, travel and other things on my plate, that I’ve neglected this piece of my daily routine.   But I had the bandwidth today to put in a long stretch of miles, and hopefully that will be the kick needed to get going again.

Because I knew I’d be on the move for a long stretch of time, I used the minutes to catch up on some sermons.  I listened to pieces of a few, before I landed on this one and listened to it in entirety.  The words shared in the sermon are a much better examination of the passage that I wrote about below. Much better. In fact, I wish I had listened to this on the challenging day that I wrote the post below.   And I doubt you’ll ever use the dumb cliché “Don’t pray for patience, God may give it to you.” again.  I’ve always thought that was ridiculous anyway.

Also, the speaker gives good explanation to the piece about “grumbling”, which I chose not to address as you can see below.  And stuff about Job that I didn’t address either.

Good stuff.  Well worth listening to, particularly if you are finding it challenging to stand fast. Maybe you will find it encouraging.  You can find the sermon at this link:

Our Vision of Faithfulness in Hard Times  (July 19th, Pastor Gene Cornett)

(See below for a second sermon recommendation)


I really had no idea that there was corn in Virginia.

Peanuts, yes.  Corn?  That was a surprise this weekend as we drove towards the Shenandoah mountains.

For fun, we chose the “Least Use of Freeways” option on the GPS to get there.  That made for a much more interesting trip.  And, lots of corn.  Good, tall, healthy-looking corn.  This girl is from Iowa; she knows healthy corn when she sees it.

My soul is heavy tonight.  Over specific things, and over broader things.  It’s been a tough day.  Not a bad day; just a tough one.  I am, as we all tend to get at times, a bit overwhelmed.  The pull to run is strong.

But running, in whatever form “running” takes, produces no good results.  Therefore, the only option is to stand fast.  To be steadfast.

We find evidence of this in this passage from James 5:

Be patient, therefore, brothers,  until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. ………11 Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

There is some good stuff in the middle of this passage about not grumbling, but I’ve set that aside for now to focus on verses 7, 8 and 11.

There are few people who are more patient than farmers.  They know the importance of the early rains–the rains that water the baby seeds, bringing life to the young seedlings.  And they know the importance of the late rains–the rains that refresh the parched land from the summer sun and bring home the harvest.  They know the patience that comes from working hard–applying day-in and day-out hard work to the task at hand.  Results are not immediate.

We, too, are to be patient.  In the same way that the farmer establishes his routine, we are to establish our hearts, for God will come again.  I think these verses are referring to His ultimate return, but I wonder if it could also mean that He will and is working even today.  I don’t know.  I very well could be wrong.

But, here’s the key—we are to establish our hearts.  And we do so, by remaining steadfast.  Unwavering.  Certain of who God is.  Certain of our need for Him.  Certain that He is near.  Certain that He sees and knows.  Certain that He will not abandon.  Certain that He will forgive.

I am not very steadfast tonight.  My steadfastness is shaky.  Some days are just like that.

But surely, surely I have seen the purpose of God, like a farmer sees the ear of corn when he plants the small seed and waits for the early rains.  He is compassionate.  And merciful.  I can number off the evidence that points to that–the list is long.

And, I will fight to trust that He will give me-and all of us–the grace needed to be steadfast, even (or especially) when our very unsettledness makes it challenging to stand fast.

Please God. Help me establish my heart, in you.  Help us establish our hearts, in you.

Grace, God, please.  And mercy.  And sleep.

Amen.


I still had miles to go after the above sermon, so I rolled right into the next sermon which delivered quite a kick.  Sometimes, though, we need beat up a bit.  Admonished and chastised a bit.

The subject was “words” and it is an examination of the last part of James 5.  Words matter; this sermon does a good job of explaining the importance of words, and the importance of shutting up at times.

Most valuable-ly, though, it is a decent exploration of prayer.  Particularly the part about Elijah as well as stuff about family/community as Christ-followers.

Words That Restore (July 26th, also Pastor/Dr. Gene Cornett)

Well Done!

Well-Done

Yesterday was a good day.

We, as humans, are odd creatures.  Complicated creations.  Created that way, by God, of course.  But sometimes I wonder, well, why?  Why create us with all the odd quirks that we possess?  Our infinitely varied personalities.  Our vast array of skills, gifts, talents.  The myriad of different points of view, social skills, interests, affections, beliefs.

We truly are a fascinating creation among fascinating creations.  Give me an airport, a store, a school, a business or a church full of people, and I can spend hours observing everything.  People are interesting.

Yet in spite of all our differences, some things are consistent, I think, for each of us.  Our search for meaning, our need for God, our longing to be loved, to matter, to make a difference.

In thinking of these similarities, one thing comes to mind to me tonight, in light of the course of this day:  the ache for someone to be proud of us.

I suppose there is some, or maybe a lot, of sinful pride wrapped up in that ache–the desire.  I don’t fully understand why it is in our souls and minds.

I absolutely love my job.  It is far more than a job to me; it is saving grace to myself and my crew.  On so many levels–financial, yes, absolutely.  But also the gift of being able to work from home and therefore in my kid’s world.  I can work and listen to Mark’s long-winded stories.  I can work and listen to my girl practice violin and ukulele.  I can work and take a call from my Navy boy, or visit with my oldest girl when she drops by to “borrow” internet.  Plus, I work with tremendously smart, fun and hard-working individuals.

I work hard at my job.  Most days find me putting in 10-12 hours, at least.  And most weekends find me putting in a good amount of time as well.  However, I’m just a small cog in a fantastic company, so I was completely surprised yesterday when I received the most incredibly encouraging phone call from one of my program managers, with incredible news for the future.  It was a tremendous “pat-on-the-back”–a moment to hear “We are proud of you.”  Whew.

There is something–settling?  Yes, I think that is the word.  There is something settling about having someone you respect, or someone who’s opinion you value, or someone who you think cares for you–who sees, knows and recognizes/understands the tremendous effort and fight you put in to life–there is something settling about hearing that that person is proud.  And grateful.  There is acknowledgement in the words “I am proud of you” that says “I know you are working hard.  I know it’s a fight.  I see that and know that and will not forget that.  Don’t stop.  Don’t give up.  Keep pushing forward.”

There is tremendous, tremendous encouragement in knowing someone is proud of you.  It’s the stuff of 1 Thessalonians 5:11:  “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.”  It’s that act of being built up by one another that contributes a piece to the process of becoming stronger, more stead fast, more able to stand fast.

But where does God come into all of this?

There is a part of my brain and soul that aches for God to be proud of me as well.  And I’m not entirely sure that ache is a good thing.  I’m sure that it is not, in fact.  It is tinged with the ugly kind of pride.  Of legalism and check-list Christianity.  Of the watering-down of the role of grace, and the pull towards work-based salvation, which–in some ways–would be easier.  To understand, that is.

But I’m not entirely sure that it is entirely wrong, either.

As Christ-followers, as believers, we are the sons and daughters of God.  Scripture tells us this over and over again:  1 Corinthians 8:6, Matthew 23:9, and the amazing Galatians 4:5-7…and so many others.

And, as children of God, we (probably fallibly, which isn’t even a word) respond in similar ways to how we respond to those on earth whose opinion we respect and cherish, be that fathers, or older brothers, or older sisters, or friends, or bosses, or landlords, or, well, anyone.  We ache to know that, like these imperfect humans that we respect, the perfect God who we cherish sees, knows, recognizes the fight, and is proud.

He sees far more than human eyes.

He sees the fight for joy.  He sees the fight against doubt and cynicism.  He sees the sleepless nights.  He knows the hardness of heart, the weariness of the soul, the battle against sin.  And, so I wonder, is He proud?  Does God experience pride in us, his messed up, stumbling, awkward children who are fighting for every inch?  Is He proud over our desire to be faithful with the tasks He has called us to do–the tasks to care for tremendous needs around us, the task to love our families well, the task to glorify Him?

Several weeks ago, I attended my son’s Navy graduation.  Back home, friends from my church were watching the ceremony online and were texting me in real-time.  We were laughing, because the MC several times nearly shouted to the new sailors these words:  “Well Done, Sailor!”  I loved that.

And, that phrase got me to thinking of that same phrase in scripture, found in Matthew 25:14-30:  the parable of the talents (which is actually some sort of coin).  The “master” entrusted 3 of his servants with coins, and each made decisions about what to do with those coins while the master was away.  When the master returned, they each had to give an accounting for what they did.  Much can be said about their decisions, but that’s not what I want to address here.  I want to focus on the master’s response, to two of the three servants:

21 His master said to him, ‘Well 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.’

Well done.  Good and faithful.  There is proud-ness in those words from the master.  He is proud of two of his servants.  They have done well.  The master if joyful in the wake of their faithfulness, and invites them to enter his joy.

To hear those words, from God our father–Well done, good and faithful daughter–whew.  I ache for that.

In the meantime, we as Christ-followers are called to work hard and be faithful, in all areas of life.  And, we as Christ-followers, are to encourage each other–“building up one another”.  Who needs to hear that you are proud of them today?  Who would be deeply encouraged by those words?

Well done, indeed.

14 And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.

1 Thessalonians 5:14

 

 

Crossway Book Review: Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin

wow

I received this book as a review copy from Crossway Publishers. And, honestly, I was hesitant to read it.

Books that are women-centric in the genre of “Christian Living” or even “Bible Study” make me nervous. Too often I have found them to be lacking in solid theology–lacking in wrestling with foundation questions–who is God? What is prayer? What happened on the cross? What about theodicy? What about grace?

Or sometimes these things are addressed, but in a way that tends to water-down both the explanations and the applications, and instead provide well-worn cliches and “feel-good” sentiments.

I suppose that is harsh. And, I realize that I am making that very judgmental statement based only on what I have personally read. But, I also think that I am not far off.

Those (admittedly, over-simplified) generalizations are not true for Wilkin’s book.

While it did not dig nearly as deep as I would have preferred, it was an excellent start. And, sometimes, a start is what is most desperately needed.

I would take this book and be completely comfortable walking a newish (or even a long-term) Christ-follower through it, to help give them a good, solid introduction to Bible study that goes beyond “feelings” to the mind. This is good stuff.

For me, personally, the chapter titled “Study with Patience” hit home. Particularly her point on having patience with yourself. Maybe not along the same lines as Wilkin refers to–I do not expect instant gratification or instant knowledge in studying scripture–but patience with myself when I just don’t get it. Or when I get nothing from the scripture work that I do. I was harsh on fluff writers for women above; I can be a bit harsh with myself as well.

So, I am grateful for this book. In fact, we are looking toward using it this fall with the women of our church, who are in need of the practical applications in this book, and the instruction and gentle prodding away from “feel-good, warm-fuzzy, emotional ‘Bible’ studies.”