Part of the Crowd

I read the story of blind Bartimaeus earlier this week, and it really stuck with me.  Then, tonight at the Antioch Association Youth Revival, the message, though from a different text, was very similar in theme to what I had been reflecting on most of the week, so I’m sure God’s trying to teach me something, but just maybe, someone else needs it too.

Blind Bartimaeus is begging by the side of the road, like I’m guessing he did almost every day of his life, but on this particular day someone passes by causing quite a stir.  Bartimaeus, hearing that it’s Jesus, starts crying out, “Jesus, thou son of David have mercy on me” (Mark 10:47), desperate for Jesus to heal him.  The crowd, however, tells him to hush, to stop being such a bother, basically, to go back to begging.  Now, if blind Bartimaeus, a man who had to stagger around or be led everywhere he went, had heard enough about Jesus to know that this Jesus of Nazareth could heal him, then you know the able-bodied members of the crowd telling him to hold his peace had.  Yet, no one said, “Here, take my hand.  I’ll lead you to Jesus.”  No one started calling out to Jesus on Bartimaeus’ behalf.  No, they were too busy shushing him.  Nobody has a kind word for him until Jesus Himself calls for Bartimaeus.

Perhaps the people in the crowd wanted Jesus’ attention all to themselves.  Perhaps they thought Bartimaeus, a lowly beggar, wasn’t worth Jesus’ time.  The fact is their motives don’t matter much.  They were in the wrong.

Bartimaeus, though, full of faith, refuses to be silenced, and he gets his miracle.

What convicted me earlier in the week when I was reading this passage before work one morning is that Christians, myself included, are so often like the members in the crowd.  We see hurting, broken people all around us; we see poor and needy people too; we have the know-how to lead them to Jesus, but we’re too busy, too afraid to speak up, too unconcerned (again, the motive doesn’t much matter) to take them by the hand and lead them to Him.  Some of them are, not so much with words, but through their actions, crying out for the love of Christ that we could share with them, but we might as well be telling them to hush, to just keep begging because we can’t be bothered.  If only we would start seeing and loving the lost the way the Lord does, how different our response would be…

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For the Journey: Stress and Deadlines

Time and not having enough of it has been one of my biggest struggles of late, and it seems to be one I share with the vast majority of people I know.  Everyone is crazy busy.

My biggest Sunday School deadline is coming up, so this week I reached my quarterly “How will I ever get it all done?!” moment.  (No, I’m not procrastinating…  My printer is in overdrive as I write.)  Don’t get me wrong: I absolutely love writing literature.  In fact, I would just be lost without it because it’s both my passion and purpose.  But, that doesn’t change the fact that sometimes I’m fighting sleep when I sit down to work on it or the fact that sometimes trying to balance everything is quite the challenge.

Last night, I was frantically working on my last new adult-level lesson.  It was going nowhere.  And what got me about that was I had purposefully saved this lesson for last and had been super excited about it and looking forward to it all along.  It came time to do it though, and I started overthinking.  I decided there was just no way it was going to work the way I originally planned, so I tried to go a whole different direction with it, which didn’t work at all.

I finally got tired of just staring at it and started over, trusting my initial instincts this time but thinking, “I really don’t have time for this.”  Guess what?  It started coming together really well.  As I was writing it, I knew I wanted to reference a passage from Paul’s writings as an example; I also knew there were several I could choose from and didn’t have a specific one in mind, so I was agonizing over how long it was going to take me to find the right one—that deadline thing again.  (Plus, Paul did write a rather large portion of the New Testament.)  I’m not kidding; I opened my Bible toward the back where Paul’s letters are, and the first passage I laid eyes on was perfect.  That may seem like a small, insignificant thing, but for me it was huge.  I’m not ashamed to admit I immediately started crying.  It was like God was saying, “I’ve helped you with this deadline thing before.  Quit stressing and trust Me.”

So, yes, life is crazy busy, and it does seem like there’s always more things to do than time to do them in.  But, I’m thankful that God is always with us.  I’m thankful He helps in the midst of crazy schedules and long to-do lists because He truly cares about every detail of our lives.

 

Switching gears completely, in case you need a good laugh, this was my week:

Sunday night:  I get home from church, change into feeding clothes, and am carrying water to the dogs when I almost trip and fall but manage to right myself and simply pour water all over me…only to trip and fall not even five minutes later outside the little dogs’ pen…

Monday morning:  Almost pulled in at the old location.  (We moved last week.  Surprisingly, I only did that the one day this week.)

Tuesday afternoon:  I go to my sister’s house after work to kill a little time because we were meeting a friend for supper.  The power was off.  She “forgot” to warn me her security system would start alarming because of the power being off.  Miniature heart attack.

Wednesday morning:  Wet boots, slick floor, trying to hurry…  You can imagine how that one ended.

Thursday night:  I shut my hand in my dresser…  Still not sure how I managed that one, and I’ve only had that dresser forever.

Friday afternoon:  Temporarily lost my phone.  Fortunately, I’m not the sort who can’t go without it for hours.  My only real concern when I realized it was gone was wondering if I dropped it in the floorboard of my car or in the parking lot to get picked up or crushed by a truck when I switched to Mom’s car for us to go to Russellville.  I also whacked my head getting out of her car…  (The phone was in my car in case you were wondering.)

Then, this afternoon, I dropped the can of feed for the goats on my way to the pen, and not paying attention because I was trying to hurry to make up for the time spent on my hands and knees picking up the feed, I walked into a tree branch for fall number three of the week…

Looks like I won’t be outgrowing that insanely klutzy, slightly accident-prone thing anytime soon…

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For the Journey: When God Speaks

Do you ever wish God would answer your prayers in an audible voice?  I know I do—especially when I have a big decision to make.  I just want Him to say, “Choose A, Sam” or “You really don’t want to do that,” because I’m terrified of making the wrong choice.  Though I don’t usually get that kind of answer, there have been a few times in my life when God has spoken to me so clearly it was almost like He was speaking in an audible voice.

I think about the night I finally knew what I was called to do with my life.  The night I knew that meant I was going to Bible College also comes to mind.  I think of all the moments God told me to stay there and also the moment He let me know coming home was His will for me after graduation.  Then there was the night I knew it was time and how to go about starting to write Sunday School literature.  Though they weren’t nearly as pleasant to experience, I also think of all the times He let me know, in no uncertain terms, that I had messed up and needed to seek forgiveness.  In all of these instances, God spoke clearly to my soul.  I didn’t have to wonder what He meant.  I knew.  There was no room for excuses; there was only obeying or refusing.

As I shared awhile back, this quarter I’ve been writing Sunday School lessons from some of my favorite passages of Scripture, some of the very passages God used to speak to me in the examples I mentioned.  The idea came to me in a revival service, and I just couldn’t let go of it.  (I like to think God was speaking again.)  As I’ve revisited texts that speak so vividly to me, it’s reminded me how precious a gift God’s Word is.  It’s both living and powerful, and it’s often the means through which God speaks just the right words, at just the right time, to His children.  In most (not all, but most) of the instances I noted of God’s speaking plainly to me, I was already taking in His Word in some form or fashion, whether that was through personal Bible study or a sermon in church.  The words I needed to hear, the comfort I was seeking, were already there for me in His Word.

I think sometimes we whine about not hearing from God, about His seeming silence when we desperately want answers, and all the while, He’s waiting for us to turn to the Word He’s already spoken, all the while, the answers we seek are right there as plain as day.  Sometimes the issue isn’t that God’s not speaking; it’s that we’re not in His Word enough to hear when He speaks.

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Weary

It’s been awhile.  It’s especially been awhile since a non-For the Journey post.  It wasn’t my intention to completely quit my regular posts when I started those.  It’s just sort of what happened.  Maybe I still remember how to do both though…

Weary.  Exhausted.  Bone-tired.  Spent.  All are appropriate descriptors for how I’ve felt lately.  The causes:  being super busy all the time, when as an introvert I love, crave even, peace and quiet; stress, all kinds of stress; storms, like the kind that just when you think you’ve weathered them, or at least almost weathered them, BAM—torrential downpour again.  It’s great…just great.  (If you were hoping for positive and uplifting, you should probably look elsewhere.  Just kidding…I’ll try my best to get there.)

So, for probably a couple of months now, Isaiah 40:28 has been my verse:  “Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary?”  I’ve reminded myself countless times of late that when I’m tired and weary, my God’s not.  This doesn’t magically make me less tired.  It doesn’t make the rain from those storms I was talking about stop falling.  Yet, there’s still great comfort in it.

Comfort in knowing when I’m running out of strength, I can rely on His endless supply.  Comfort in knowing when I feel like I’m losing all control of my life and circumstances, He’s still in complete control.  Comfort in knowing when I have no clue why things are working out the way they are, why my lot in life seems to be one disappointment after another and endless waiting for things to get better, He knows both what He’s doing in my life and what He’s allowing, which means just because things aren’t the way I would have them if I could have my way, doesn’t mean they’re not the way they should be.  Comfort in knowing, even when God feels distant, He hasn’t abandoned me for a month-long vacation.  He simply doesn’t work that way.

The remaining verses of Isaiah 40 contain further comfort, particularly the very popular Isaiah 40:31:  “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”  We’re going to grow weary and weak from time to time in this life.  We simply can’t handle all the twists and turns, disappointments and frustrations, heartaches and sufferings that accompany life in a fallen world on our own.  That said, the God who is never weary gives strength to those who wait on Him.

So, today, Isaiah 40:28 is still my verse.  Today, I’m still pretty weary.  But, I’m also waiting, trusting that, even though I may not know how or when, someday Isaiah 40:31 is going to be my verse, trusting that at exactly the right moment the Lord will renew my strength.

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For the Journey: Times of Sorrow

May has not been my month.  It’s been one of those months where it’s one bad day after another.  The kind where you just wake up wondering what terrible thing is going to happen today.  If it’s not work stress; it’s home stress.  If it’s not home stress, it’s this major disappointment here or that major frustration there.  Added to all that has been the constant string of bad news.  This person we know is going through this horrible situation; this person we know is facing this health crisis; this person’s family is dealing with a devastating loss.  Then, just don’t turn on the news because the whole world’s gone nuts.  It’s been the kind of month that makes your heart ache, the kind that leaves you filled with sorrow, if not for yourself, for others, the kind of month that leaves you searching and longing for comfort.

I guess that’s why as I thought about what I would do after I finished Ephesians and it came time to start a new Sunday School project, I didn’t feel led toward a particular book or section of a book.  Instead I longed to revisit some of my favorite passages of Scripture, passages I’ve gone to again and again for comfort or passages that spoke to me at just the right moment and left lasting impressions.  I call them my comfort texts, and I certainly hope you have your own collection.  I started by writing out a list of the passages I wanted to look at, and I didn’t really know why, but I decided to start with the call of Moses, which was actually very close to the bottom of my list, but is a favorite passage of mine because I can certainly relate to having trouble speaking publicly, and I think we’ve all been guilty at times of making excuses, feeling like we aren’t up to the task, and wishing someone else could do the job when we feel God leading us to do something new and challenging, perhaps even frightening.  But it was a different portion of the passage that caught my attention as I was studying and writing out a lesson from it.

After God calls Moses by name and tells him to take off his shoes because he’s standing on holy ground and introduces Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, He says, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows” (verse 7).  The Children of Israel had been in bondage for years.  Exodus 1:13-14 reads, “And the Egyptians made the children of Israel to serve with rigour:  And they made their lives bitter with hard bondage, in morter, and in brick, and in all manner of service in the field:  all their service, wherein they made them serve, was with rigour,” so we know their sorrows were great.  Their lives were filled with little joy and great fear and hardship.  After all, Moses’ own parents had to hide him to keep him from being thrown in the river, such was the power and cruelty of Pharaoh, and I’m sure other parents weren’t so fortunate.

The Children of Israel were only human, so I’m also sure as they prayed and prayed yet still found themselves waking up day after day to the same tasks and the same cruel taskmasters, they must have wondered where God was and whether He even heard them.  We know He did, though, because He tells Moses, “I know their sorrows.”

And still today, God knows our sorrows.  He sees each tear, hears each prayer we pray in anguish, and He knows; He truly knows and understands the way we’re feeling, the depth of our hurt.  Others can say they know, but He knows. 

If you remember, things got worse for the Children of Israel before they got better, so the fact that God knows our sorrows doesn’t mean He will instantly act to ease them.  Rather, He will act in His time and in His way.  He loves us too much to act too soon and deny us the blessings and strength of character that come through hardships.  In the meantime though, we can take comfort in the simple fact that He knows.

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For the Journey: Marriage??

When I was trying to decide where to write lessons from for the next Sunday School quarter, I couldn’t get Ephesians off my mind, so that’s where I went.  I was clicking right along; everything was going well. Then, I reached the last section of Ephesians 5.  You know, “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord … Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church …”  (Ephesians 5:22, 25).

I know it was probably wrong of me, but when I sat down to work on Sunday School literature and read those verses this week, my immediate thought was, “Seriously?  I’m getting asked, ‘Are you still single?’ and hearing about how my clock is ticking and consequently becoming very practiced in the arts of biting my tongue and grinning and bearing it.  I DO NOT want to write about marriage.”  Added to that, the literature is for adults, mostly married adults.  Yeah, what could I possibly have to say to them on the topic?  And the thought that Paul wasn’t married either was little comfort because I am certainly not Paul.

So… I reread the passage.  Then I reread it again.  Thought about skipping it, but since I hadn’t skipped anything else, I thought that might be a little odd.  Got slightly frustrated with myself because had I just thought about this particular, very familiar passage while considering Ephesians, I probably would have prayed a little longer before jumping in to it.  Throughout this process, I was very honest with God while pleading for His assistance because I had nothing.  Not a thing.

Finally, I decided I had to just buckle down and write something, so I started scribbling out something about the role of husbands and wives, nothing too profound, but all I could seem to come up with at any rate.

Then I came to verses 31, “For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh,” which is a well-known verse and is a quote from Genesis 2:24 when God ordained the marriage covenant.  I was struck by the verse that immediately follows it:  “This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.”  Though, yes, Paul was writing/teaching on godly marriage, he directly applies verse 31 to Christ and the church.  It took me a minute to wrap my head around that.  The church is born after the resurrection and ascension of Christ.  Acts records the birth and growth of the early church.  So, when the words of verse 31 were originally spoken by God in the context of the first marriage between Adam and Eve, the church didn’t exist.  That means marriage was divinely designed at creation, before the church was even born, to reflect Christ’s relationship to the church.  In other words, He loved His church, He loved us, that much then.  Before we were, He was giving us a beautiful picture of His love and care for us through the institute of marriage.  His desire for His church, for those He gave His life for, those He cleanses and sanctifies, those He nourishes and cherishes, is for them to be one with Him:  “For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones” (verse 30).

I started writing about Ephesians 5:22-33 moaning and groaning and wishing there was some way to avoid it, yet I really think, as much as I’ve enjoyed working through the letter, I was blessed more from this passage than all the ones before it because I left it standing in awe all over again at how deep Christ’s love for us is, in awe that as imperfect and unworthy as we are, those who’ve accepted His salvation get to enjoy the privileged position of being part of His church, the bride He’s loved from the very beginning.

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For the Journey:  Waiting with Purpose

Sometimes I feel like life is simply endless waiting.  From about the second day of fourth-grade to my last final exam in college, I was eagerly and impatiently waiting to be finished with school and able to just work.  Then, I had to wait for what felt like an eternity (I don’t care if it really wasn’t that long.  It felt like it.) to find a job.  Now, I’m waiting and hoping there’s more to adulthood than just endless working to feel like the only thing you’re accomplishing is exhausting yourself.

I recently started writing lessons from the book of Acts, and probably due to my own impatience with waiting, I couldn’t help paying extra attention to the manner in which the disciples spend their time as they wait on the Holy Spirit.  Jesus has given them this incredible task of reaching the world.  But, knowing there’s no way they can accomplish it alone, He tells them to first wait for the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  Acts 1:14 reveals, rather than sit around with their arms folded just waiting, they “[continue] with one accord in prayer and supplication.”  The disciples had no control over the sending of the Holy Spirit.  Only God did.  But, they could still be praying; they could still be seeking God’s direction to be ready when the Spirit fell.  So that’s what they do.  They make the choice to wait with purpose.

Whether we like it or not, there are a lot of things in life that we can’t do anything about.  For instance, we can’t force a speedy answer to our prayers.  We can’t snap our fingers and have what we want when we want (even when what we’re wanting really does seem like more of a need than a want).  Sometimes we just have to wait.  In the Bible, David waits years between the time he is anointed and the time he becomes king of Israel.  But, if you study 1 and 2 Samuel, everything that happens to David in those years prepares him to be a good king.  Joseph also has to wait years for his dreams to come true, but through the events that occur in those years, he is able to save the lives of many, including his own family.  David and Joseph both trust God and His timing.  They both wait with purpose, spending that time growing and maturing in the Lord.  When we’re waiting, whether it be for an answer to prayer or for something to happen, or both, we should choose to wait with purpose.  We should be effectively working through prayer as well as striving to respond in a godly manner and grow from the events that occur in our lives while we wait.  If we choose to just wait, all we’ll accomplish is wasting time.  If we choose to wait with purpose, we’ll most likely find ourselves looking back on that long, tiresome waiting period someday and praising God for it.

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