“Ah, stubborn children….” ~ Isaiah 30

Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious

“Ah, stubborn children…..”

Yes.  Israel was.  Yes we are.

We are the epitome of God’s description, in Isaiah 30:

“…..who carry out a plan, but not mine,
and who make an alliance, but not of my Spirit,
    that they may add sin to sin;…”

We carry out plans that are not His.  We make alliances, but not to Him.  Alliances to money.  To fame.  To escape mechanisms. To the praise of men.  To work.  To a million things that are not of His spirit.

We go this way and that, “….without asking for [His] direction…”

Or, we ask….and when we don’t like his direction, we go the exact opposite.

We turn to things that do not help us, much like the Israelites who turned to Egypt instead of God.  The analogy is poignant:

Egypt’s help is worthless and empty;
    therefore I have called her
    “Rahab who sits still.”

We each have our favorite “Rahab’s who sit still”, be it sloth.  Or pornography.  Or alcohol.  Or praise.  Or busy-ness.  Or fill-in-the-blank.

I would say that we are prodigal sons and daughters, spending lavishly in direct opposition to what our Father desires for us—but the prodigal returned home.  We, sometimes, do not.

Yet.

It is in the returning, that we are saved.

But what are we returning to?

Rest.  And quietness.  And trust.

Rest.  And quietness.  And trust.

Rest.  And quietness.  And trust.

“In returning and rest you shall be saved;
    in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”

This is our salvation.

Yet, even if we lock ourselves away in some isolated location, away from likes and pings and emails and phone calls and needs and work and bills and even church, if we remain un-repent-ive and stubborn and hard-hearted and PRIDEFUL; there is not rest.

And, when that happens–when our unwillingness happens–we are pursued swiftly:

But you were unwilling, 16 and you said,
“No! We will flee upon horses”;
    therefore you shall flee away;
and, “We will ride upon swift steeds”;
    therefore your pursuers shall be swift.

Is there any hope for our sinful, rebellious selves?

Yes.

But only because of this:

Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you,
    and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you.
For the Lord is a God of justice;
    blessed are all those who wait for him.

He is gracious.  Because He is grace.

He longs to show mercy upon our hard-hearted, cynical souls.

He longs to show mercy upon our souls that are cynical out of habit.  And pride.

And He is a God of justice.  Too.

Truly, are there any more wonderful words than these?:

19 For a people shall dwell in Zion, in Jerusalem; you shall weep no more. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry. As soon as he hears it, he answers you. 20 And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher.

Oh, God.  Our eyes long to see you, our gracious and patient teacher.

Salve and Salvation

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In Psalm 139, God, we are reminded that you search us.  Know us.  You know our thoughts.

You know when we sit.  When we arise.  When we sleep.

And, when we are roughly awakened and sleep does not return.

And, while it can be a bit disconcerting that nothing is hidden from you, there is also great relief in that as well.

Because nothing is hidden from you, there is no need to hide from you.

No need to hide our fear.  Our worry.  Our discouragements.  Our sins.  Our confusion.  Our doubts.  Our home-longings.  No need to hide our pull to run; our pull to old ways of finding salve for the these middle-of-the-night-sleep-robbing things.

No need to hide any of these, because you already know.

So, because you are the very same God as the God of Exodus 2:25; the God who sees and knows–and acts–there is no need to sit here amidst these mosquitoes on the deck getting fresh air, or in the hospital room beside our loved one who will soon see you face-to-face, or at a sick child’s bedside, or in an office pulling an all-nighter, or on the floor at the altar of an empty sanctuary, or wherever our anxious soul finds ourselves–there is no need to sit here and tell you these things, because you know.

But, sometimes God, we voice them to you anyway, because that seems to be a small part of what prayer is.

Or, we mull over these things that keep us up–that unsettle our souls and minds, because our brains can’t seem to not mull over them.  Or we relive them in our nightmares.  But there are prayer elements in those incidents as well, even if unconsciously.  Because you know our thoughts.

And, in those moments–in these moments—we need you; implore you; to prompt us to seek out the familiarity of what we know to be truth.  Not platitudes.  Not clichés.  Not panic.  Not the pull to things that temporary numb the sharpness of the night.

No, instead–push us toward the truth of Your word, God.  Because the truth of scripture points us to the truth of who You are.  And, that is where we find both salve and salvation:

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me. (Psalm 23:4)

In peace I will both lie down and sleep;
    for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety. (Psalm 4:8)

 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69)

Make haste to help me,
    O Lord, my salvation! (Psalm 38:22)

Amen, and Amen.  Even so……come quickly, God…..make haste, our salve and salvation…..

 

 

 

I Prayed for a Dog Today……

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Ok, yep, that really happened.

One of the unexpected results of walking nearly every day for a year or so, is that I’ve gotten to know my neighbors.

That certainly wasn’t the plan.  At all.

I’m an introvert.  I am happiest in my little, tiny house, by myself.  Oh, mind you, I can work a room, when necessary.  I can be the extrovert, if forced into it.  But, overall, I am satisfied with my introvertedness.  Give me that one bedroom cabin in Montana, under the big sky, and I’m good to go.  As long as I have access to Amazon Prime and UPS to bring me my books.  That would be the one requirement.

And, for a few years, due to events in life, my introvertedness kicked into overdrive.  I work from home, and there were literally weeks when I did not leave this house, for anything, except food or toilet paper–and then only if we were desperate.  Hermit status.

In fact, one of the hardest things in getting restarted with exercising at the beginning, was I couldn’t bear the thought of anyone seeing me out there walking; or, heaven forbid, any of my neighbors stopping me to talk.  In fact, for months and months, I would walk just to the edge of a fellow church member’s house, then turn around.  I was embarrassed that I was so out of shape, and the idea of a conversation was taxing.

But, slowly that has changed.  Now, most of my neighbors know me.  And I know them.  I don’t know their names, though I am starting to work on that some, but I know them.  I know the:

  • 70-year-old man who flies past me nearly every day jogging, and who tells me to not quit (he makes me look like a slug)
  • Family who either own or work for Sea Tow, with all their trucks that have “Sea Tow” painted on the sides
  • The woman in her early 60’s, with 2 big dogs, who likes to sit on her screened porch and drink coffee in the mornings
  • The dad who, every day, without fail, walked his middle school daughter to the bus stop, with their big yellow dog
  • The pastor and his wife of the church I live behind, who are so friendly and encouraging
  • The senior adult who lives across the street from me, who is wheel chair bound and has 24/7 in-home nursing
  • My church member friends, who I know I could contact if there was ever an emergency (such as when my air conditioning in the house went out)
  • The gentleman who gives me produce from his garden and who asks me nearly every day why I walk so much
  • The three senior adult ladies, with their 3 sweet dogs.  Barney is the name of one of them.  One is a white poodle.  One is a mutt.

At first, I couldn’t look at any of these folks, let alone acknowledge them.  But slowly I started to glance at them; mainly because I was curious.  Then I returned a wave or two, and now–well, now I feel like they are friends.  Kind of.

This morning, as I headed toward Back Creek road, I came upon one of my senior adult friends–with her puppy, the white poodle one.  But I could tell something was wrong.  She looked distraught, and the poor little puppy looked pathetic.

I stopped and we started to talk.  And I found my soul breaking for her.  Over her dog, of all things.

The poodle (she told me the name this morning, I just can’t remember right now.  Which is pathetic, as you will see in a moment…) had a pink band-aid wrapped around his thin leg, and she told me that the band-aid was to hold the catheter in place.  Yep, a catheter.  The little doggy’s kidneys were not doing well.  Cancer.  And, she was so heartbroken.

We talked for at least 20 minutes.  She told me all about her puppy, how long she’d had him (11 years), where she had gotten him, what companionship the puppy had been.  She then told me that she knew it would be her last dog forever, because her husband doesn’t like dogs, and so she has decided she will not get another one after this one.  She was nearly in tears.  And the little doggy just sat in her arms, shaking.

We talked about other things as well–she asked me if I went to the church that I live behind, and I told her no, that I attend the Baptist church down the road.  She asked about my kids; how long I’ve lived in Seaford.  And then we came around to her dog again.

And, that’s when I heard words come out of my mouth that I never expected to ever say.

“Can I pray for your dog?”

I’m still not entirely sure where that came from.

I still feel really, really odd about it.  Hugely odd.

But, for some reason, in that moment, it seemed to be the right thing to do.

I take prayer very seriously.  Very seriously.  Mostly because I don’t understand it very well.  But also because I feel it is a weighty responsibility.  I only pray for a small handful of folks; my kids first and foremost, and then a small group of others–friends, family, a co-worker.  But the number is small.  However, I pray furiously for that group of people.  Earnestly.  Prayer is very important to me.

So that is one reason why the words surprised me when they came out of mouth.  And, honestly, it’s a dog.  I love my dog, Biscuit.  But I’ve never considered praying for her.

But talking with my neighbor, and seeing the look in her eyes, and hearing her voice–it just seemed like the right thing to do.  So I did.

It was short and awkward and odd.  I put my hand on that dog and muttered something akin to “God, please help ________ (and see, I can’t even remember the name, that’s ridiculous) to get better.  Thank you for our pets, they are such a comfort to us.  Amen.”

That was it.

She thanked me and wiped away a tear, and then we awkwardly laughed a little and she asked me where I work (from home, INTROVERT), she gave me a little hug and thanked me, and we went on our way.

I still feel strange about it.

But, here’s the thing I keep coming back to:

My neighborhood is full of hurts and needs.  Yours is too.  Doesn’t matter if you live in a gated community with million dollar homes, or if your house is in the inner city with drug deals going on in the alley behind it.  Your neighborhood has needs.  My neighborhood has needs.  And I can be so incredibly selfish at times and sit in this house and could absolutely care less about the world around me.  I do that well.

But that’s not what I am called to do.  It’s the stuff of 1 John 3:17-18:

But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

I am not a very compassionate person, at all.  I can be very hard-hearted and cynical. I am guilty of this: “….yet closes his heart against him…”  Compassion is not my forte.  And I can sit in this house all day long, selfishly going about my life and caring nothing for the hurting young mom across the street.  Or the curmudgeon down the road, sitting alone on his porch.  Or the shopowner trying to survive on little business.  Or the teenager sulking in his backyard as he mows.  Or the neighbor kid with the terrible attitude.  All day; I am so good at being so blind to the world.

Or, I can quit preaching and teaching and writing and talking about love (“let us not love in word or talk”) and get off my butt and start loving in deed and in truth.  Meeting practical needs.  Mowing the yard.  Sharing groceries.  Showing compassion–real compassion, not shallow, not false.

And sharing truth–that God is real, that He sees and knows, that He is our only hope.

And maybe praying for dogs.  On occasion.

To Be Damaris (Thoughts on Acts 17)

Paul_Preaching_On_Mars_Hill

What was she thinking?

She listened to Paul for all of about 15 minutes (if that, although maybe Paul said more that wasn’t recorded here), and she.

And, here she is, now listed in scripture.

Damaris.  Acts 17.

I’ve always liked reading Acts 17, but maybe from a different viewpoint than from most other “normal” folks.

I think that the majority of sermons I’ve heard on Acts 17 (ok, so there aren’t a lot that I remember, but still….) and references made to Acts 17 in books (there are much more of those that I do remember) seem to focus on how terrible the folks of Athens were.  What horrible idol-worshippers they were.  How corrupt, how awful.

And yes, I suppose there is some truth to that.  Scripture clearly says that it was a “…city full of idols.”  But, why shouldn’t it have been?

We can’t expect people who do not know God–who do not know Jesus–to act like they do.  They were looking for God; and that search resulted in multiplicity of gods.  Why wouldn’t it, if they did not know the gospel?  Why wouldn’t it, if they didn’t even know that there was a gospel–good news–to know?

We know that this was new teaching to them, because of their reaction:  ”

Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. 19 And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.”

“We wish to know what these things mean.”  Yes.  I love that.  Me, too.  Although, really I knew what the words were, I just didn’t really understand what they meant.  But I wanted to know.  

I like these Athenians.

So, they took Paul to the Areopagus, which was a sort of cultural “center”–a place of temples and the high court.  A fitting location, considering Pauls’ message of the one true God; the one true judge.

And, then….Paul spoke, and his words were solid.  I read these words, often.  They help remind me—that the creator God is a known God, and that there is nothing that he needs from me, even when I wish there was–even when I wish I could perform check-list tasks for Him, to earn His approval.  He gives us life and breath.  He allots my days; they are numbered and He alone knows that number.

And, most importantly–He is near:

 “.that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us

Facts.  Truth.  Laid out in a logical sequence.  This is this and that is that.

We looked at this passage this week at church, as we started a new study titled “Counter-culture”.  I think the study will be good, but–admittedly–I didn’t hear much of what the speaker–David Platt–had to say after I saw this next section in scripture, because when I read Acts 17, I usually stop at verse 31.  I’ve never really paid any attention to verses 32-34:

32 Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.” 33 So Paul went out from their midst. 

That word “mocked”—whew, I have definitely known that word, in my own response to the idea of a Savior.  There is much shame in that.

But then, much later, I have known the “others” response–the one that says “Ok.  I’m going to think about this a bit.  I will hear you again about this.  I think there may be something to this, and I’m willing to think further on it, to read further on it, to listen further about it, maybe to debate some about it, definitely to question this.  I want more information, before I decide if this is truth or not.  I want to understand….and then I will make a decision.

Sometimes, I am still that way, with God.  “Let me understand this first God.  I will hear you out some more on this.  Then I will decide if you are __________ (fill in the blank.  I have a Doctorate in this approach to God and scripture.  And, that’s not necessarily something to be proud of.”

And, then there–at the very end–is Damaris.

Where did she come from?

And, where did she find the–ability?  Trust?  Faith?–to believe?

Right there.  In that moment.

No “Let me argue a bit.”  Or, “Let me do some research.”  No “Let me think, and I’ll hear you say your piece on the idea that there is one true God again, at another time.”  No questions; at least, none that we are made aware of.

Just this:

34 But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.

Just settled belief.  “This is truth, so I will believe it.”

That astounds me.

I want that.  I see it in others, even today.  People who have such a deep trust of who God is, that it can truly be said that they abide in Him.  No unsettledness on who He is.  No unwavering that He is Father, that He is near, that He is the shepherd, that He hears and sees and knows and answers,

…..that He is God.  And that His grace is sure.

I even–probably sinfully–envy that in others.

I want to be Damaris.

And, the only way I know to keep pursuing that, hard, is by doing the (sometimes) hard work of scripture work and real prayer.  Because Romans 10:17 is truth, too:  17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

And, to continue to make the prayer of the father in Mark 9, my daily (sometimes hourly) prayer as well:

“I believe; help my unbelief!”