Questions from a Traveler

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Spring of 2017 brought great adventure. Steve and I left home for weeks, enjoying the world, our “kids”, each other…and taking time to re-think how the next season of our lives should look. Here are four questions I’ve found myself asking as I reflect back on the experience:

What is home? For ten weeks, I rarely slept in the Houston house that I call home. Furthermore, we’ll be moving from that address before the summer ends. Even though I am a homebody, I’ve been able to remain sane. I’m finally learning that particular walls and windows aren’t that important. When I have Steve with me, work to do, and a quiet place to pray, I can settle in. (Okay, having a kitchen helps, too.) Maybe home isn’t where the heart is, but where the Lord is. And since he’s everywhere, he can make us feel at home wherever he sends us.

How much stuff do we really need? I’m usually limited to one small suitcase and a backpack when we travel. I pile what I want to take on our bed, then start putting things back until I have a collection of items that will actually fit. When I’m finished packing, I’m always amazed at how much is still on my shelves and in my closet (and in the whole house, for that matter.) I rarely miss any of those items when I’m gone. This will be an important lesson to remember as we decide what goes with us to our next home. Furthermore, it’s time for me to think twice about how much time and money I ever need to spend adding to my belongings. There’s generally a better place to allocate those resources.

Do we keep the Story before us? I’ve spent countless hours in art museums lately. Many are chock full of tremendous paintings and sculptures that tell the story of Christ—his birth, his death, his resurrection. Each one evokes in me a moment of worship, of thanksgiving. But we can’t spend all our days in art museums. We need to be about the business of living—at the office, at home, in the car, out on errands. Even on those days, we need to keep the Story before us. As we attempt to keep our minds on Christ, art—perhaps in the form of music, pictures, or printed Bible verses—can help.

Do we grasp that Story with elation? I was in Germany on Easter Sunday. At 10:50 a church bell began to peal. Another joined it, then another. Soon the whole city seemed to be exploding in melodious proclamation. “He is risen!” I imagined the elation of the disciples as they shouted the discovery to one another. I need to recapture that elation every day.

On the easy days, on the hard days, the truth remains: He Lives! We have a good reason to rejoice!

Old Testament Surprises

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Each time I delve into the Old Testament I’m struck by its relevance, even when my reading falls within the historical accounts of kings and tribes. If we met for tea today, and you asked what I’ve been studying, I’d tell you 1 Chronicles. Would you yawn? Perhaps, but let me share what I’ve been learning.

1 Chronicles 22

In this chapter, David charges his son Solomon with the Herculean tasks of assuming kingship over Israel and building a temple for the Lord. His primary advice?

  • Be careful to observe the decrees given through Moses.
  • Be strong and courageous, unafraid and never discouraged.

And to the leaders of Israel, ordered to help Solomon, David says, “Now devote your heart and soul to seeking the Lord your God” (1 Chronicles 22:19a).

There it is, the essence of a believer’s walk once again: trust and obey!

Moving back a few chapters to 1 Chronicles 5:20-22, I find God working for his people in the heat of battle. He “delivered…all their allies into their hands, because they cried out to him during the battle. He answered their prayers, because they trusted in him…The battle was God’s.”

All our battles belong to God. We may be called to fight, but he is the one who does the winning.

While the Old Testament is chock full of encouragement, it warns us as well. Moving back just one book to 2 Kings 18, I was surprised by the passage condensed below:

“Hezekiah did what was right in the eyes of the Lord. He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it. (It was called Nehushtan.)”

Wait, what? God used that bronze snake as a means of rescue for the Israelites. They turned it into an idol? Yes, they did. Anything can become an idol, even something that started out as an instrument of good. I asked myself, “Am I in danger of making something an idol?” The answer for all of us must surely be yes. 1 John 5:21 cautions, “Dear children, keep away from anything that might take God’s place in your hearts.” We must always be on our guard, asking God to keep our perspective and our loyalty in line with him.

What have you been learning? Whether from the New Testament or the Old, has God used his Word to surprise you lately?

Lovely Day

Levites siteThe sign at the corner said “Gospel Brunch.”

Steve’s take: “I wonder how much gospel vs. how much brunch. Maybe this is just an Austin start-up band looking for a place to play.”

My take: “I’ve been wanting to try Threadgill’s anyway, so let’s give it a try.”

And so, on a sunny Sunday during our month of “Let’s consider Austin,” we walked down the road to a vintage BBQ joint, wondering if we should have gone to church instead.

Oh, my goodness! (And I’m not talking about the omelets.) We were in for a treat.

The Levites ( http://www.levitelab.com/bio )sang their sermon with hearty helpings of encouragement, conviction, and just plain fun.

  • “Keep Your Mind on Jesus.”
  • “Lay Your Burdens Down.”
  • “Don’t Worry. Be Happy.” (Because you trust the Lord).
  • “Lovely Day”

That last one surprised me. It’s clearly a romantic love song, yet it has become a worship tune for me  now. Its message is this:

Sometimes I wake up with my mind burdened by the seemingly impossible challenges ahead of me. Then, once I’ve looked at you, I know everything will be okay.

Doesn’t that pretty much cover how our best days begin? We rarely wake up to face a day free of all difficulties, but we always wake to a chance to remember Who is really in charge. We have a choice, each morning, as to what our focus will be. And when we make the right choice, many of our days can be lovely.

Because I take copyright laws seriously, you’ll have to go here  to read or here to listen to the full lyrics written and performed by Bill Withers in 1977. I hope you’ll take the time to do so. Then I hope you’ll take yet another moment and post an answer to this question: What “secular” song has become a song of worship for you? I would love to know!

Unsettled

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After nearly 30 years in the same house, I am moving. I’m not sure precisely where or when just yet. I don’t know who will buy our present home, nor which furnishings and possessions will “make the cut” and come along with us. I could spend another paragraph detailing the myriad of other uncertainties in my life. But then, you have a list of your own, don’t you?

You may, like me, sometimes be tempted to say, “I will be at peace when _____.”  Perhaps you would fill that blank with, “when the doctor gives me a clean slate” or “when my baby is born” or “when my next job review is over.” Of course, that will never work. By the time today’s list of uncertainties have cleared, a whole new crop of them will be headed our way. Our only hope for pervasive peace is to maintain our trust in the Lord within uncertainty.

I was thinking about my uncertainties as I washed the dishes this morning. (That’s usually Steve’s job. I don’t remember where he was!) Somehow, my thoughts landed on the Israelites. As they traveled the wilderness, they never knew what the next day would bring, whether they would be traveling or staying put.  If the cloud of God’s presence moved, they moved. If it settled, they settled. (See Numbers 9: 17.) But what of it? Their hope, their peace, was not in knowing what tomorrow would bring. It was in believing, believing that God would lead, provide, and protect.

Should we be any different? Do we really need to know what’s coming next in order to be at peace? Surely not, as that would mean we could never really be at peace. Today, I am looking squarely at my uncertainties and proclaiming, “I do not need to know. God knows. And that is enough!” I pray that you will do the same.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).

 

The Fretnotters’ Club by Beth Smith*

 

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Are you a worrywart? Worrying is something most of us do even if we don’t want to do it. Barbara Johnson once wrote that, “Worry is wasting today’s time to clutter up tomorrow’s opportunities with yesterday’s troubles.”[1] We’re not meant to go through life like that. There’s a better way.

Today I’m inviting you to join my club, The Fretnotters Club. It’s based on Psalm 37:1, “Do not fret because of those who are evil.” There’s no monetary investment required, but there are a few rules. (You knew that was coming.) I’ll summarize them, but the complete list of rules and bylaws is found in Psalm 37. That chapter doesn’t just tell us to stop fretting. It also tells us how to stop that nasty habit, and what will happen when we do.

Rules for Fretnotters:

  • Rule One: “Trust in the Lord (lean on Him; rely on Him) and do good” (Psalm 37:3 AMP).
  • Rule Two:Take delight in the Lord” (Psalm 37:4).
  • Rule Three: “Commit your ways to the Lord. Roll over and rest each care of your load on Him and be confident in him” (Psalm 37:5 AMP).
  • Rule Four: “Be still and rest in the Lord; wait for Him and patiently lean yourself upon him” (Psalm 37:7 AMP).
  • Rule Five: “Refrain from anger. Turn from wrath. Don’t envy” (Psalm 37:8-9 author’s paraphrase.

Now about that last rule, sometimes we think, “Well, I’m not an angry person. There’s no wrath in me.” Ahh, but do we experience road rage? Can we read the newspaper without having our blood pressure rise? How many times do we raise our voices to loved ones or grit our teeth to keep from yelling? Maybe we all have a little more anger in us than we’d like to admit.

In verses 23-40, God lovingly the benefits he bestows on those who trust and obey him, on Fretnotters. It’s a great list. He will delight in us, make our steps firm, and direct our paths. When we stumble, we won’t fall because he’ll hold us up. (This is a very important promise, because we will stumble as we attempt to obey these club rules.) God says he won’t forsake us, and he’ll protect us. Instead of requiring a pledge from us, God makes one to us in the last two verses of Psalm 37. I’ve changed pronouns, but not the meaning. Here’s God’s pledge to Fretnotters. Imagine him saying this to you.

The salvation of the godly comes from me, your Lord. I am your stronghold in times of trouble. I help you and I deliver you and save you, because you take refuge in me.”

Because we are in his care, we need not worry or fret, ever. Go on – enjoy God. Become a full time member of the Fretnotters’ Club.

*This is an abridged excerpt from Every Wednesday Morning, written by my mom, Beth Smith. If you want to read all 64 devotional essays in their full length form, you can grab a copy of her book at Etsy.com.

 

 

 

[1] Johnson, Barbara. Splashes of Joy. New York: Thomas Nelson, 2000, p. 332.

Chain of Events

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A few months ago, Steve was stopped by a Boy Scout as we headed into Kroger. The young man politely asked if Steve would buy the $10 coupon book he was selling. After Steve agreed and shelled out the $10, we continued into the store to do our shopping. We don’t generally frequent the fast food restaurants that place coupons in those sorts of books, so I never really expected to get our $10 back.

A few days later, I thumbed through the book, expecting to toss the whole thing. One page caught my eye, though. It was two “Ten Dollar Gift Cards” for the Whole Earth Provision Company. I knew where the store was—adjacent to the Trader Joe’s on Shepherd, but had never been inside. I tucked the coupons in my purse just in case we found ourselves in that part of town (a rarity at best).

Shortly thereafter, Steve and I drove into town to look at the azaleas, in full bloom despite the calendar that said, “It’s February, get your coat on.” We planned to pick up a picnic at Trader Joe’s on Shepherd. We were dissuaded by the FORTY people in the check-out line, but did go next door to check out the Whole Earth Provision Company. It’s a delightful store, and spending $10 of free money (each!) is always fun. My fun was particularly interesting, though.

I broke my little toe about ten days earlier. It still hurt a bit, and we were leaving for Washington, where we had planned miles and miles of walking, in just two more days. On the way into town I remember thinking, “What shoes am I going to wear? I don’t want to wear jeans and tennis shoes the whole time, and sometimes my tennis shoes still hurt.”

As you may have guessed by now, Whole Earth Provision Company sells everything from books and toys to socks and shoes. Clarks, a favorite brand of mine, has a new line called “Cloud Steppers.” They look like classy shoes but feel like a cross between bedroom slippers and running shoes. The “daily special” was a pair of great black ankle height CloudStepper boots, regularly $100, marked down to $40 (before my $10 off coupon.)

  • Sold.
  • Comfortable.
  • Delighted by God’s creative provision.
  • And no longer wondering what I’d be wearing around DC !

Please tell me, when has God used an unusual chain of events to bless you?