On Lines and Love

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My recliner tipped slightly to the right as my daughter placed her elbows and weight on the armrest. She was on her knees beside the chair, and her face was inches from mine. I turned my head to study her preteen face. The braces, the glasses, the innocence.

“Mom,” she said. “What do I do if a boy asks me to be his Valentine at school today? How do I say no nicely without hurting his feelings?”

I smiled and shifted my weight in the chair so I could face her fully. All the while I searched my brain for a decent answer. I decided to teach her one of the classics. You know, a version of the old let-down line; “It’s not you, it’s me.”

“Why don’t you just tell him that you don’t really do that? That you don’t have one specific Valentine person like that. That you want to have lots of friends.”

She thought about it for a moment then shrugged and said she guessed it would be nice enough.

I continued, “Having lots of friends is a good thing!”

She stood and nodded. Conversation over.

The topic of boys and relationships is simply on pause in her young life. I may try to live in denial, but I do know that soon enough, she’ll be hoping for Valentine suitors, and not asking for advice on how to reject them. And that’s a wonderful thing. Romance, love, marriage. They are gifts, and I hope and pray all of my children will experience each someday with great delight!

But, there’s also something to be said about love in the realm of friendship. And not just in Valentine season.

I’ve been to many weddings where 1 Corinthians 13, the so called “Love Chapter” was recited. It’s fine. The attributes of love listed in this passage are great principles for love within marriage and romance. Don’t get me wrong. But, this passage, in its context, is actually talking about a different type of love. Not romantic love, but the “I want to have lots of friends” type of love.

Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, and in the context of chapter 13, he’s teaching about love within the Body of Christ. Unity among believers. He’s showing them that love is the be-all, end-all. He says:

 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

(1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

Listen. We, as Christians, should never forget this; It’s not about what we DO for God. It’s about how we LOVE. 

And how should we love? Paul explains that too. He tell us in verses 4-8 what love should look like.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

But HOW do we love like this? How do we put this into practice when ugliness like comparison, selfishness, greed, and entitlement are so easy to focus on instead? Even among Christians. Or unfortunately, especially among Christians. So how do we love like Paul is teaching?

We find the HOW in the WHO.

Maybe we do need that one Valentine after all. Love Himself.

Jesus.

Jesus is actually the author of love, the One who created it. His plan of redemption is rooted in love. John 3:16 says,

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

For God so LOVED…

If we love Jesus and live for Him, He will teach us how to love. It will become an overflow of our love and relationship with Him. The more we love Him, the more we will learn to love as He loves. 

We learn to love when we focus on Him, not on ourselves or each other.

“It’s not you, it’s me.” I guess Jesus could use that ol’ line too.

And use it best of all.

 

 

 

 

Read the Directions.

It is no secret that I am a poor navigator. I have written about the GPS lady and how she has tried to cause issues within my marriage. I have shared about my personal Bermuda Triangle, and I’ve heard from many of you that I am not alone in my need for landmark descriptions when given directions, as opposed to such vague terms as, “It’s on the northwest corner of the intersection.”

But, we are not here to discuss my lack of navigational skills today. We are here to discuss direction. And the GPS lady is not invited.

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According to the dictionary, direction means:

a course along which someone or something moves.

I think of peeling the cellophane off a brand new board game and pulling out the shiny sheet of directions that I have to read about 12 times before I can explain the game to my family.

I think of the nurses in the hospital that sent us home with our newborn and directions to lay our baby on his back to sleep, not his tummy.

I think of the GPS lady bossing me around.

And I have to admit, though I despair over my navigational issues, sometimes it is nice to be given directions. To be told just what to do and how to do it.  Because then you have a clear verdict on whether you have succeeded or failed. You are either at your destination, or you’re not. You’ve accomplished the task, or you haven’t.

When I come to a figurative fork in the road of life, I sometimes feel like the Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz is the one giving me directions. One minute I think I should go left, the next minute I’m convinced right is the correct path. What do I do? Where do I go? What is the plan for my day? My week? My life?

Will someone just give me a landmark to guide me!

And yet, Someone has.

God has given us His Word, the Bible. I don’t wish to come off as super-spiritual (yuck!), and I am not aiming to sound “holier than thou” (Ew!). I am just telling you what I believe to be true. When I read the Bible and live according to it, I find direction.

No, the Bible is never going to say, “Head north to that new job offer.” Or, “Change lanes here and break-up with your boyfriend.” Or, “Recalculate your decision to buy everything in your Amazon cart!” No. But it’s going to guide us, lead us, give us a course along which to move.

Psalm 119:105 says, “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.”

God’s Word illuminates our way. It guides us and keeps us heading in the right direction.

We just have to read it and then put it into practice.

Read it.

Listen to it.

Study it.

Apply it.

Direction.

And any failures, when following God’s Word, are a result of user error, not of the navigational tool itself.

The GPS lady and I still differ on who causes our failures.

 


This post was written as part of the Five Minute Friday challenge, where writers are encouraged to write for about 5 minutes based on a one-word prompt. This week’s word: DIRECTION

Outside the Ministry Zone – When God Leads You Down a Desert Road

Outside the ministry zoneHave you ever learned something new only to then read your own journal or notes and realize it isn’t actually the first time you’ve learned that very thing? You’ve learned this before, you just forgot!

Yeah, me too.

It happened to me again this week. I was doing my “homework” for BSF (Bible Study Fellowship). In this study, we go through one book of the Bible each year, chapter-by-chapter, verse-by-verse. I’ve been in BSF for about 9 years, and I enjoy the learning. The group discussions are so interesting. The lectures are illuminating. I even like the homework. (There’s almost never math involved, so that really helps!)

This week, we learned about Acts chapters 8 and 9. I read about Philip, who is a believer, and disciple of Jesus, going to Samaria and preaching and doing miraculous signs. Things go well. There’s a response. People hear and believe what he tells them about Jesus. The leaders of the early church, Peter and John, come and affirm his ministry there by praying for the Holy Spirit to come to these new converts.

Ministry is happening here.

And then I read further. Right after this ministry-rich time in Samaria, God asks Philip to

“Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” Acts 8:26

Philip obeys. He travels down the desert road.

Wow, I thought, he’s going away from the perceived “ministry” spot, and going by himself on a desert road where there’s no ministry opportunities in sight.

And then I read what I’d written in ink in the margin of my Bible.

“Away from where the ‘ministry’ is happening.”

Oh. I’ve learned this before. Okay. Good thinking, Christy. Good thought.

Apparently, I need a refresher. I need to learn this anew. In this particular season of my life, this idea means something different to me than it must have years ago when I wrote with a pen in my Bible’s margin.

Let me be clear. God’s Word doesn’t change. It was true last time I read it too. And, I am not to take verses out of context, or make them mean only what I want them to mean. But, God’s Word is “living and active” (Hebrews 4:12) and it teaches me and impacts me in fresh ways as I apply it to different seasons and experiences in my life.

Such is the case with this passage.

This week, I was struck by the fact that Philip could have thought that his ministry opportunity for the day, or the week, was complete. Check that off the scroll, buddy! Good work.

But it turns out a man, an Ethiopian guy, was on this desert road, sitting in a chariot reading the Old Testament book of Isaiah, and needing someone to help him understand it.

The man was not in the perceived, “ministry zone,” but away from everyone else. He was in the desert. On the side of the road. Not waiting for Triple A, but waiting for someone to help him find The Way.

And Philip was God’s chosen instrument that day. God partnered with him to help this Ethiopian understand who Jesus is.

For me, in the season of life I’m in right now, I sometimes get into a rut of thinking that ministry is a “regularly scheduled program.” My husband is in full-time ministry. He has official ministry duties. I write and speak about faith and hope. Ministry does happen in these zones.

But, who is out the ministry zone waiting for me to help them know Jesus?

Is it the woman cutting my hair in the salon?

Is mom in line behind me at Starbucks?

Is it my own child who wants me to take time to listen and help them understand something they’ve been wondering through in their faith?

Philip was so obedient to travel down the desert road with no ministry plan or programming in place. He just climbed up into this guy’s chariot and started right where the Ethiopian was reading and told him about Jesus from there.

I like that.

What empty seat can I slide into? What searching heart can I help? Am I listening to God’s leading and allowing myself to partner with Him where He calls me?

I hope I can put this thought into practice. That’s what really helps me learn something for good – putting it into action.

Writing it in my margin was a good start. This time, I’m looking for the chariot on the side of the road.

What the Bible Taught Me About Writing

I’ve written two books. I blog. Occasionally, I summarize my thoughts into 280 characters and tweet them to everybody and nobody. I post updates on Facebook and “The Gram” (as I heard a cool twenty-something call it). I’ve even written a children’s Bible curriculum.

No, this isn’t my resume.

The point I’m trying to make is, in my forty-one years of existence (see why I rely on cool twenty-somethings now?), I’ve written about a variety of topics.

I’ve told emotional stories with my words, such as sharing about my mother’s death, my son’s cancer journey, and our struggle with miscarriages. I’ve used my words to teach children how the Bible fits together, and the fact that Moses lived after Abraham, and before David. I’ve written about the time my middle school son wore the same pair of socks for seven straight basketball games and how I almost died from the odor on the drive home. I offer a wide-range of topics.

And that’s just me.

When I scroll through my newsfeed, or browse the library shelves, I see articles and books on every topic known to man.

What could possibly be left to write? (I know that sentence could be improved grammatically, as in, ‘What could remain about which to write?’ but this is my essay, and I happen to like the ‘left to write’ thing.)

So when I sit down to work on my next book, or to pound out a blog post, I sometimes get discouraged. What could I possibly write about that hasn’t already been written? What wisdom, humor, information, or idea do I possess that has not already been released into cyberspace? Won’t my voice just be drowned out by the millions of others who have already sung this chorus and verse?

These doubts slow my creative process, and often bring it to a place where I sit and sulk with my friend, Low Self-Esteem.

Why tell my story? 

Why add my voice? 

Why write my words? 

And then one day, while I was doing my hair in front of my bathroom mirror, I looked at myself, and I thought, What about the Bible?

There are 66 books in the Bible, written by about 40 different authors. And, many of those authors write about topics in their books that are the same, or very similar, to the topics in other Bible books! They are humming the same tune. That’s quite the choir!

For example, take the guys in the Old Testament called “The Prophets.” There are 17 Prophecy books in our Bibles. Five of these are Major Prophets, and 12 are Minor. By the way, we call them “Major” and “Minor” because of the length of the books, not because Isaiah and Jeremiah had a weight problem. Just FYI.

Anyway, these 17 Prophecy books were written by 17 different men (actually, to be technical, 16, because Jeremiah wrote Lamentations. He’s always making things difficult), but these books all basically have the same message.

“Turn back to God or you will be punished.”

I’m summarizing, but that’s the main topic of each. Most of these men are even writing to the same audience; the divided nation of Israel. (Jonah, however, was called to Nineveh, and is an exception. If you remember him from Sunday School, you always knew there was something fishy about him!)

So, these 17 authors are all adding their voices, out of obedience to God, because they were called to share the message He gave them. Even though they aren’t the only ones sharing it.

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And then there’s the New Testament.

As I always tell my 5th grade students in my Bible class, the closer we get to Jesus in the Bible, the more information we have written. So in the account of creation, we only get about two chapters in Genesis, but by the time we get to the New Testament, we have four whole books dedicated to one man’s life. Jesus.

Four books. Four different authors. Four different versions. Four different voices.

But they all put their own flavor to it. And that’s what makes them so special.

Matthew was a Jew, and really connected with the Jewish reader. The Jews knew the Old Testament writings, and therefore Matthew shows them in his book how Jesus is the Messiah that fulfills the prophecies they’ve read so many times.

Mark wrote to a Roman audience. He tells of the same wonderful Jesus, but is writing to people who aren’t as familiar with the Old Testament prophecies, so he doesn’t explain how Jesus fulfills those. Rather, he tells of Jesus’ many miracles, and points them to the true God – who is greater than their many gods.

Luke was a physician, so one of my favorites little tidbits about him, is that in the story of Peter chopping off a guy’s ear when they came to arrest Jesus, (Peter was a not a subtle dude), is that Luke is the only writer that mentions that Jesus puts the ear back on! You can read about it in Luke 22:51. Of course a doctor would take note of such a “surgery!”

And John, he wrote to the world! He’s the one who wrote John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John has gotten the most post-Bible era press for this verse with the invention of the football end zone.

So basically, if God designed the Bible to be a collection of voices, and styles, and flavors, and audiences, and personalities, then having a sea of voices sharing about the same topic must not be so bad after all.

I guess it’s time I stop second-guessing the messages and stories I feel led to share, and get to work.

Sharing my words, even if I’m not the first (or the best) to write about the topic, is an act of obedience to the loving God who is able to use them for His glory!