“I Would Prefer Not To..”

Years ago, our high school class read a classic short story by the American author, Herman Melville. Bartleby the Scrivener tells the story of an unusual clerk– one who begins as a good worker, efficient and conscientious, but ends up dying in prison, hopeless, ruined, and broken. His tragic downward spiral begins one day when the lawyer for whom he works asks him to examine a short document. This is a commonplace request, much like asking a writer to proofread her final draft before submitting it to the editor. However, Bartleby responds by saying “I would prefer not to.” The startled lawyer decides not to force the issue, and gives the task to someone else.

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Bartleby’s refusal to do what is expected of him escalates until he no longer does ANY work. He refuses to work, refuses to leave the office, and refuses to eat. He isn’t angry or violent, but he remains defiant until the very end.

So it is with us when we are living in sin and rebellion against God. It may start out small– some little habit or attitude. We know it is wrong, but instead of obeying God’s word, we calmly say, “I would prefer not to…” not to tell the truth, not to turn away from porn, not to help my neighbor, not to agree with God about my behavior.

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8 The Lord is merciful and gracious,
    slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
    nor will he keep his anger forever.
10 He does not deal with us according to our sins,
    nor repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
    so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

Psalm 103:6-12 (ESV)

God is patient. He is gracious and kind. He does not treat us as our offenses deserve. He gives us the chance to repent. He offers forgiveness. But every time we say to God, “I would prefer not to,” we get a little more like Bartleby– isolating ourselves, wasting our potential to be all that God created us to be, growing more defiant and more rebellious, until we waste away into a prison of our own making, and, finally, death.

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One of the things that makes Melville’s story so disturbing is that the narrator keeps trying to explain away Bartleby’s defiance–perhaps he is having trouble with his eyesight and doesn’t want to admit it; perhaps he was traumatized at a previous job; maybe there is a reason for his passive aggression. But in all of his attempts to understand, the narrator cannot save Bartleby from prison and death.

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Understanding sin cannot change us. Excusing sin does nothing to stop its consequences (see Romans 6:23). No one killed Bartleby, yet he died because he “would prefer not to” do the things he needed to do to live. His small act of defiance, which starts out singular and almost heroic (after all, who wouldn’t like to tell the boss, “I would prefer not to,” every once in awhile?), sounds innocuous. Such a little thing to refuse. Surely God would not punish us for so small a thing…until one small thing leads to another…and another; a bigger rebellion; a numbing complacency; loss of perspective; a heart of stone; isolation; starvation; imprisonment; death.

What am I refusing to do for God today? What am I refusing to give up? Refusing to admit? Refusing to listen to? Am I excusing myself? Do I tell myself I am not in rebellion because I have been polite in my refusal to obey? Do I comfort myself that my rebellion is really just a matter of “preference,” and will not be consequential? That God’s Holiness is less important than my comfort or convenience?

Many people coast through life in the belief that God is SO merciful and SO loving that He can’t also be Holy and Just– that His commands are really suggestions; that His wrath is mythical; that our own wisdom is sufficient for living a “good” life and pleasing Him. But God isn’t concerned about whether we live a “good” life– He wants us to have an abundant life– filled with joy and peace, love and relationship, both now and forevermore. In fact, He would “prefer not to” punish us. He is not “willing” (i.e. desirous) that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9), but that everyone would some to repentance. That doesn’t mean that He won’t punish those who refuse to obey Him, or those who refuse to turn from their rebellion and trust Him; only that He will continue to give us the opportunity to recognize our need for forgiveness.

10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.

John 15:10-15 ESV– taken from biblegateway.com

God has made it possible for us to be more than servants. We don’t have to respond to God as Bartleby responded to his boss– though God has the ultimate authority to demand our loyalty and obedience. Through Jesus, we are sons and daughters and friends! When God gives us commands, like “Love one another,” they are still commands. But His heart is that we should trust that all of His commands are righteous, life-giving, and in our eternal best interest. But some of us are still saying, “I would prefer not to.”

Of Yeast, Mites, and Mustard Seeds

God is interested in the little things. We praise Him for his glory, majesty, and power–rightly so–but He is also the God of atoms, and quiet moments, and insect wings and snowflakes.

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God celebrates with us in our smallest victories–biting our tongue instead of bragging, shaving a minute off our 5K run, not burning the dinner rolls, remembering to put gas in the car for my spouse.  He also sees our smallest sins–when no one else is looking; when no one else knows our motives or inner struggle– God sees every detail, every motive. God hears our prayers– not just our big urgent prayers, but our whispered secret prayers; our quick cries for help; our relieved sighs of gratitude; our shameful confessions.

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God often uses yeast as a metaphor for sin–just a tiny bit can ruin everything.  One tiny act– a fib, passing along a rumor, snubbing a neighbor at the store, watching “soft” porn on TV, hanging out with the “fun” crowd and taking dangerous risks, gambling “for fun” with money you promise to pay back later, drinking a little too much just a little too often, spending more time with that co-worker who “understands” your marital woes better than anyone…Most of us don’t set out to become addicts, thieves, adulterers, bullies, sexual predators, rage-aholics, embezzlers, or compulsive liars.  But Jesus warns us that big sins start small: “murder” really starts with disdain and anger and hate (Matthew 5:21-22);  adultery begins with lust; and the love of money (greed) is the root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10).  Selfishness, pride, envy, rebellion– they lurk in little lies and delayed obedience and easy justification we allow in our daily lives.

But God is not only watching us under a microscope, waiting to catch us in some small act of sin.  In fact, that is not His primary desire in watching us.  God is searching  eagerly for signs of obedience, faith, goodness, love, and kindness.

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Jesus used parables about small things– a lost coin, a mustard seed, a pearl, a speck of dust, the eye of a needle, a narrow door/gate, a lily of the field– to illustrate joy, faith, self-control, obedience, trust, and even the kingdom of God.  Small things are important, sometimes even glorious, in God’s eyes.  Even some of Jesus’ miracles started with small, humble, simple things– water, five loaves and two fish, a few quiet words, a few tears.

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Today, I want to pray that I will see God moving– not just in grand gestures and eloquent sermons (though I love to see Him move in those ways, too!)–but in the small moments.  I pray that I will be sensitive, not to the world’s crushing words of hatred and deception, but to the still small voice of encouragement; to the hopeful smile of a stranger; to the rushing wind that lifts dust mites to glory in the sun; to the unshed tears of a widowed friend.  I want to plant the mustard seed of faith and watch how God will grow it.  I want to be that cheerful giver of my last coins in gratitude for the riches of Grace that cost me nothing but cost my Savior everything.

A Prayer for the “Slurpee” Babies

Today is July 11. In certain parts of America, it is known as “Slurpee” Day. “Slurpee” is a brand name for a slushy drink sold at 7-Eleven convenience stores around the country. And since we write our dates with the month, followed by the day, today is “7/11.” Many 7-Eleven stores will be offering specials on their “Slurpee” drinks all day. And on a hot July day, that’s a great deal!

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But today is also the birthday of a very special person in my life. I can still remember the day she was born, and seeing her for the first time. She was beautiful (and still is). She had a full head of thick auburn hair, and seemed delighted to be alive and in the world– and we were all delighted to greet her! I remember commenting that she was a “Slurpee” baby– being born on “Slurpee” day. But shortly after she was born, it became clear that all was not “right” for “Chelsea” (not her real name). Chelsea did not respond to sights and sounds like other babies. And she started having violent seizures. Doctors soon determined that Chelsea had experienced several small strokes when she was in the womb. They also determined that such strokes would continue, and her chances of survival were slim. Immediate brain surgery would be necessary. At one point, the prognosis was very grim– even with surgery, she might be blind, deaf, and unable to control the movement in her limbs–essentially, she would be a vegetable if she survived at all. The first year of her life was a roller-coaster of surgeries and hospital stays, followed by extensive therapy and treatment that continues to this day. But she survived!

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So today, and every July 11, Chelsea, and her friends and family, celebrate her life– her survival, her triumph, and her continuing struggle. Chelsea will be 15 this year! She cannot walk, and she has trouble talking and using one arm. But she excels at school–she loves reading and music (Yes, she can see and hear!) and she loves anything having to do with animals, especially dogs and horses! She loves jokes and riddles, and loves to listen to her Daddy play the guitar, or spend time with her many friends. She even loves cool treats– not necessarily “Slurpees,” but sweet drinks and yogurt parfaits! Her life is not easy. Her parents still have to help her dress and eat, even though she is almost fully grown. She has to use adaptive technology to write and do her schoolwork (and what an incredible blessing that it exists!) She spends most of her days in a motorized chair. And, like most teenagers, she has “moody” days and gets frustrated–her physical limitations add to that frustration. But she loves life, and she inspires those around her to embrace the positive.

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I am writing about “Chelsea” today, because I love her– she is my grand-niece, and my favorite “Slurpee” kid! But I’m also writing because there are many other “Slurpee” children like her who are not alive today, or who are made to feel unwanted and “less than” other children. Chelsea’s health issues were not detected until after she was born. Had they “discovered” the damage she sustained in the womb, chances are very great that her mother would have been encouraged to have an abortion. The early prognosis was so horrific, and the struggle so difficult, that it would have been seen as the “most humane” option. Her “quality of life” would have been weighed in the balance, and her right to experience life– even at it’s most difficult moments– would have been invalidated by those who claimed to “have her best interests at heart.” Her parents could have made the choice to put her in an institution, or give up on her chances to live a purposeful and fulfilling life. Instead, they made numerous personal sacrifices, and have advocated for Chelsea’s well-being. And, if you ask them, it was worth it all!

I’m not here to judge those parents who have had to face this horrible choice, or those who have determined that they could not provide the care needed to raise a child with “special needs.” The needs are very real, very difficult, very expensive, and sometimes heart-rending. Most people I know have never had to face such challenges. And even my nephew and his wife were not called on to decide on Chelsea’s fate until after they had grown to love her for the baby she was. And there are days when they feel overwhelmed by the responsibility to care for a child beyond what they had ever planned. But I have also known Chelsea, and other wonderful children with extreme needs, who make the world a better, richer, more empathetic, and more joyful place– not because they are “special needs”, but because they are uniquely SPECIAL individuals! I also know of parents who have opened their homes and arms to foster and adopt children with special needs. Their courage, love, and sacrifice have made it possible for thousands of lives to reach their incredible potential.

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My prayer today is that Chelsea, and all children who are marginalized because their lives are somehow deemed “less” than someone else’s, will find strength, hope, laughter, and respect. And that those of us who have had a “normal” childhood and family experience would embrace the joy that comes from LIFE itself, and praise the one who gives it– precious, abundant, and eternal life!

Looking at the Negative

(Please note: This is a re-post from a couple of years ago..)

Growing up in the age before digital cameras, I remember waiting for photos to be developed from a roll of film. We would drop off a roll at the pharmacy or photo shop, and pick up a package containing the prints and several strips of negatives from the original roll of film.

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I was fascinated by these negatives–images with the exact opposite of the prints– dark was light, light was dark, and everything seemed topsy-turvy. Sometimes things seemed creepy and even somewhat sinister–people with white hair and white pupils shining out of dark eyes; icy trees against a dark sky.

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Of course, the negatives were not the prints, nor were they intended to be the finished product. The negatives were included so that new prints could be made at a later time. We didn’t put the negatives in our photo album; we hid them away in a dark place, out of sight and far from the light. Most of them eventually got ruined or degraded over time, while the photos they produced were preserved and cherished.

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Life holds a lot of “negatives”– negative experiences, negative emotions, negative thoughts, bad memories, scars–we all have them. But we are given the opportunity to produce something positive out of even the most negative of circumstances. It’s what God does– His light shines in the darkness and changes our view.

But we need to be exposed to the truth, and developed by faith, just like film. And we need to come back into the light, not as a negative, but as a faithful image of what (and who) God intends us to be.

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The world is full of negatives– distorted images and situations caused by exposure to sin, pain, grief, anger, bitterness, and hatred. We can dwell on such images, and fill our days staring at the negatives, never seeing the reality of what God has done all around us. Or we can allow God to develop the negatives in our life and create albums of God’s Grace–filling our eyes and minds with the truth and beauty that comes only from our Loving Father.

Philippians 4:6-8 NIV

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (taken from bible.com)

Someday, God will finish destroying all the “negatives” in this fallen world, and reveal His full Glory. What a sight that will be!

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Blessed Are the Pure in Heart..

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8)

“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10)

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I’ve been looking through the Beatitudes and how they relate to prayer. Jesus said that the pure in heart are blessed, for they shall “see God.” Have you ever spoken to someone who wasn’t looking at you? They looked past you, or around you, or down at their device, but they didn’t attempt to make or maintain eye contact. It can be disconcerting, and even rude. And yet, there are times when, with our divided hearts, we come into prayer without really looking for, or at, God.

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At other times, our hearts cloud our vision, giving us a distorted view of God. We harbor sin or guilt, and we see God as unforgiving or unfair. We are holding on to our own will, and we see God as restrictive or demanding.

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The pure in heart see God as He really is– Glorious, Merciful, Wise, and Just. They see evidence of His lovingkindness and faithfulness all around them. They see themselves through His eyes– beloved and forgiven–and they see others through the eyes of Grace.

This is not our natural state. We are NOT pure in heart. We are self-centered, self-absorbed, and self-conscious. King David recognized this profoundly when he was caught in his great sin of adultery and murder. In his own lust and selfishness, he had seduced the wife of another man, and when she became pregnant, David arranged to cover up the first sin–by having the man murdered. David was not a notorious scoundrel. He was even called, “a man after God’s own heart.” But when he was confronted with his guilt, David “saw” himself as he really was– not a victim of circumstance, or a martyr to passion, or a king who was above the law, but a man who had committed evil against others, and against a Holy and Sovereign God.

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David’s prayer was in line with his vision. Not only did he see himself as he really was; he saw God as HE really is: Holy and Just, but willing and able to restore David’s purity of heart. David’s God is the same today as He ever was. He longs to make us clean; to restore to us the joy of our salvation (see Psalm 51:12), and give us the power to pursue our purpose and leave our past sins behind.

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When we desire to “see God,” we must desire this cleansing and restoration of purity. We can pray without it, but we cannot look at a Holy God with an unclean spirit. All we can do is look elsewhere– talking to the wall or the floor. God still hears us, but he wants to have a real conversation; one full of intimacy and understanding.

So, today, will I make “eye contact” during my prayer time?

Blessed Are the Meek

I’ve been looking at the Beatitudes lately, and how they relate to prayer. Today I am focusing on “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5) Does this verse suggest that we should be meek or timid about prayer? Is God offended when we plead with Him or pour out our frustrations about pain or injustice? Doesn’t this contradict the writer of Hebrews, who says that we should “boldly approach the throne of grace” (Hebrews 4:16)?

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God invites us to have a relationship with Him. Good relationships cannot survive in an atmosphere of fear. But they must involve respect. There is a tendency in the Church today to look at prayer as a casual conversation with God, where God is our “pal,” someone we hang out with and chat with like a best friend. But even our close relationship with God as “Father” demands the same kind of respect we should give to an earthly father or an elder. God is not “one of the gang,” or “the man upstairs.” He is God Almighty, and Lord of All Creation.

Like any Good Father, God wants to hear from us– all that is on our minds and hearts. But we must remember who God is– and who we are. We are His children, not His “crew.” In The Lord’s Prayer, Jesus began by addressing His Father, and establishing His place– “Our Father, which art in Heaven, Hallowed be Thy Name.” (Matthew 6:9 or Luke 11:2) The meek person comes before God gladly, with awe and gratitude, eager to honor Him before all else.

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And the second part of the Beatitude is also key in how we pray. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Many times, we focus on the inheritance itself– “the earth.” But what about the act of inheriting? The meek will not conquer the earth. The meek will not purchase the earth. The meek will not gain the earth, or win it, or demand it. Instead, the meek wait patiently for their inheritance. How would our prayers change if we took this to heart? God will give us all that we require– in His time, in His wisdom, for His purpose, and with His delight! The whole earth belongs to God– and He desires to share it with us! There is never a reason NOT to be meek, humble, grateful, or reverent before our Father. There is never a reason to be demanding, rude, dismissive, or grumbling when we pray.

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This can be a very freeing realization. No matter how chaotic, frightening, or painful our situation, God IS in control. Wars rage, disease stalks, famine strikes, yet God has promised to give us access to all of His riches, including a peace that passes understanding and unspeakable joy! They are a guaranteed inheritance from our great Father– His lavish Grace and everlasting Love poured out on us.

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Blessed Are Those Who Mourn

I’ve been exploring the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12) and how I think they relate to prayer. Today, I want to look at the second one: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (v. 4).

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I know a lot of people who are mourning. I know people who have lost loved ones to COVID, to suicide, to cancer, etc. I know those who are mourning the loss of a job or a house. I know those who are mourning the loss of health– either their own or that of a loved one. And I have been a mourner. I know those moments when the grief hits unexpectedly– a song comes on the radio, or a certain photo pops up in my Facebook memories; even the smell of freshly cut grass or the taste of popcorn can remind me of loved ones lost, and bring a tear to my eye.

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I also know the mourning that comes from regret– the painful consequences of ill-chosen words or reckless actions– even missed opportunities. Mourning is painful. It is uncomfortable. The world around us is made uncomfortable by our mourning. People spend billions of dollars and spend countless hours trying to avoid mourning; trying to deny, placate, drown, or forget their grief and sadness. We take pills, we binge watch entertaining programs, we run away, we distract, we seek to mask our feelings, suppress them, or eradicate them.

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Jesus calls on us to mourn. He wants us to bring all the ugliness of our grief and shame and give it to Him. He will not ask us to cover it up, or hide from it, or “get rid of it.” He will not tell us to “get over it” or “put it behind us.” Instead, He will comfort us. That doesn’t mean we will never again feel grief or shame or sadness in this life. But our mourning will be transformed into Joy. Joy is not the absence of, nor a denial of grief. It is the triumph of life over death; of hope over despair; of purpose over futility. We are not commanded to be “shiny, happy” problem-free people. Nor are we to let mourning and grief overwhelm us or turn us sour and despondent. Instead, we are to share our grief– and to share in the grief of others–just as we can then share in the comfort we have found!

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In the same way that the “poor in spirit” can embrace all the riches and glory of the Kingdom of Heaven, those who mourn can receive from God the kind of Peace that “passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:7), and the joy the “comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5) God does not want us to be forever depressed or wallow in our despair–but He also does not want us to pretend that we are invincible, or untouched by sorrow. Jesus wept. Jesus felt sadness and frustration during His earthly ministry. He was tired, He was misunderstood, He was betrayed. He suffered losses. And He grieved over broken relationships and the horrible consequences of Sin in the lives of those around Him.

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Those who do NOT mourn– who do not feel sorrow or regret or loss– will never know the healing power of God’s consuming comfort. They will never know the full measure of Grace. They will never cry out for it, never be surprised by the light in the darkness, never feel the joy of being held and cradled by compassion. And they miss out on the true Joy that comes from being comforted and being able to comfort others.

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So the question I have to ask myself today is– what have I mourned lately? When was the last time I collapsed under the weight of my own grief or shame, only to find myself upheld and wrapped in the arms of the Lover of my Soul? When was the last time I extended comfort to someone else by mourning with them?

St. Francis Visits a Contemporary University…

St. Francis was allowed to visit a 21st century university, which housed a chapel bearing his name. He was both honored and confused by the opportunity. Walking about the campus, he was amazed at the number and variety of students rushing to and fro; they were not looking at the grounds or the sidewalks or at each other– they were focused on their devices. It was a noisy campus, full of the sounds of buses and other traffic, music and podcasts playing, people arguing… Finally, St. Francis arrived at “his” chapel. It was a beautiful building, quiet and simple in its design. It was empty, except for a single student, saying her prayers. At the entrance, there was a plaque with a well-known prayer:

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Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace; 
Where there is hatred, let me sow love; 
Where there is injury, pardon; 
Where there is doubt, faith; 
Where there is despair, hope; 
Where there is darkness, light; 
And where there is sadness, joy. 

O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console; 
To be understood, as to understand; 
To be loved, as to love; 
For it is in giving that we receive, 
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned, 
And it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life. 
Amen.

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Francis took a seat, absorbing the peaceful stillness, yet wondering at his assignment. Why had he been sent here? Why this moment in time? Taking his cue from the student, he also spent some time in prayer. Then he walked back outside.

He was struck again by the students– they were everywhere, but they were isolated. No one noticed him or stopped to speak. He tried to talk to someone–anyone–but they were all busy and not inclined to pause or interact. He noticed a coffee house across the street. Carefully avoiding speeding buses and weaving bikes, he crossed and entered the shop. It was a little quieter than the commons, but most of the customers were sipping their drinks and staring at screens–personal devices or the huge screen above the counter, streaming the latest news. War, scandal, protests, mud-slinging politicians, all made their appearance, only to be replaced by a commercial break and the next headline. No one stopped in horror at the litany of injustice, death, greed, or duplicity. They simply sipped their lattes and went back to scrolling through their Instagram accounts.

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The door opened to admit the student he had seen earlier in the chapel. She glanced up at the big screen, shook her head, and ordered a coffee. She found a table, and sat down. The coffee house was busy; it was the last empty table. She smiled as another student came in. She invited the other student to sit with her. She started a conversation. At first, the other student was jumpy and disinclined to talk. But soon, the two students were chatting. The sound of it attracted attention. Some customers were bothered by the new noise; others were intrigued by the sound of real conversation– even laughter! Two other students brought their chairs and drinks over and joined the conversation. They spoke of missing their families, of struggling with certain classes, and enjoying others. They spoke of future plans, and the obstacles that stood in the way. They spoke of fears for the future, as well. Francis noticed that one student listened from a distance, but did not join the others. He seemed weary and despondent. Francis walked over and asked if he could just sit at his table for awhile. The young man was startled, but said, “Suit yourself.”

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Francis sat in silence, his head bowed. Finally, the young man spoke quietly. “I saw you watching that girl. Just a word of warning– she’s a nut job. She comes in here about once a week, talking nonsense. She’s not even a student here.”

“And yet, I saw you were also watching her. She intrigues you.”

“I don’t know how she does it. She comes in here, talking about love and joy and faith, and people listen to her. They eat that stuff up. Don’t they know it’s all garbage? Look at the news! But she comes in, all smiling and happy– she’s crazy.”

“But she still intrigues you. Could it be that she is at peace, and you are not?”

“Peace?! Peace is nothing but an illusion. Power is what counts. Action. Look at her– she’s not doing anything to make the world better, and yet she acts like she’s got all the answers. It’s sickening!”

“Why do you keep watching her?”

“I don’t even know. She’s so stupid. She’s all wrong, and she acts like everything is fine.”

“Have you spoken to her? How do you know what she thinks and feels?”

“I’ve told you. She’s crazy. I don’t want to talk to someone like that.”

“Are you afraid?”

“Afraid of what?”

“That she’s not as crazy as you think. That she might laugh at your thoughts, the way you laugh at hers. That she won’t talk to you, like she talks to the others… Maybe you’re afraid of what you would say.”

“What do you mean?”

“What would you say to her if she spoke to you? Would you listen, or would you argue? Would you wipe the smile off her face and take away her joy and faith? Would you make the world a better place by winning your argument with her?”

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The young man was at a loss for words. He suddenly noticed that other conversation had stopped. People were looking at him– even the young woman he had been talking about. His face turned red, and he jumped out of his seat and dashed out of the coffee house. The group dispersed, and Francis was left alone with the young woman.

“He may be right, you know,” she said with a wry smile. I don’t think I do enough to make the world a better place. I just sit and talk with people, and listen, and pray. It’s not much. Not enough to make a real difference.”

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Francis put a hand on her shoulder and shook his head. “It is enough in God’s economy to be available. To be humble and willing and faithful. Keep up the good work. And may God bless you.”

I Just Called to Say…

Near the end of 2020, my mother took a bad fall and broke her hip. Because of COVID, we were not allowed to visit her while she was recuperating. Thankfully, she had her cell phone and was able to make and receive phone calls. My mom is a very independent sort, but she loves to be “in the know” about all that is happening in the neighborhood and among our family members– births, deaths, hospitalizations, relocations, etc.. But, for all her interest in “what’s new,” Mom is completely computer-illiterate. She doesn’t text, she doesn’t have e-mail, and she knows nothing of social media. She relies on her phone and her desk calendar and notepad. Being trapped in a nursing home for six weeks was torture for her, even though she needed to recover and do physical therapy there. I tried to call her every day, and each time, she would ask, “Do you have any news?”

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Sometimes, I had “news” for her; someone had tested positive for COVID, or a new baby had been born. But most days, I had to tell her– “I just called to say I love you, and I’m thinking of you.” And I could “hear” her smile on the other end of the line as she replied, “well, that means a lot. I just love to hear your voice.”

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I don’t know why, but it struck me the other day how often we pray about circumstances– we “call” on God because we have “news”– situations that we want to bring to His attention– as if He didn’t already know! We pray because we want to lift up someone who is ill or suffering; we pray because we need to make a confession and ask forgiveness; we pray because we are facing an unknown future, and we desire God’s guidance and wisdom. Other times, we pray because we have a specific praise or thanks to offer. These are all legitimate reasons to reach out to God in prayer, and we certainly SHOULD pray in all circumstances, but how often do we call on God just to say, “I love you and I am thinking of you!” In fact, how often do we take the time to disconnect from social media and all the other distractions of our day to really focus on spending time with God?

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Mom is back in a nursing home at the moment…she fell about six weeks ago and broke her leg! She still has no access to the internet, and still doesn’t text, so I call her nearly every day– with or without “news.” And I marvel that God is every bit as eager to hear from me– even me– every day, “just because.” I’m so glad that I still have the ability to talk to Mom; to hear her voice–and yes, even to share the “news.” How much greater my joy that I can talk to my creator; that I don’t have to worry about a busy signal or dropped call; that I can read His words to me any time of day; that His presence–even though I can’t see Him or hear His voice–follows me everywhere. And that He sends special people to call me, or text, or e-mail– “just because.” And no matter how I feel about my circumstances, God is so very glad to hear from me. And you!

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This isn’t a hymn, but the music was running through my head as I wrote this. How often to we hear a ballad or a love song, and suddenly realize that God sings love songs over us?! (See Zephaniah 3:17!)

In My Heart There Rings a Melody

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As I write this, the sun is shining and glinting off new-fallen snow. It’s been a mostly pleasant day, and I’m writing this in anticipation of a pleasant weekend. This will post on Monday morning– a brand new week, hopefully filled with new opportunities and adventures. Of course, not every day is like this. Some days are dreary, full of stress and anxiety, and filled with challenges and even tragedies. But I have been thinking about a song I learned in childhood, one that has blessed me over the years and helped me on many a dreary day, as well as on days like today.

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“I have a song that Jesus gave me,
It was sent from heav’n above;
There never was a sweeter melody,
‘Tis a melody of love.

I love the Christ who died on Calv’ry,
For He washed my sins away;
He put within my heart a melody,
And I know it’s there to stay.

In my heart there rings a melody,
There rings a melody with heaven’s harmony;
In my heart there rings a melody,
There rings a melody of love.

‘Twill be my endless theme in glory,
With the angels I will sing;
‘Twill be a song with glorious harmony,
When the courts of heaven ring.

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On days like today, it is easy to sing a happy tune– sunlight, shimmering snow and icicles, viewed from my nice cozy perch by the window–but the joyful song that Jesus brings rings through good days and bad; sorrow and stress; triumphs and failures. It is eternal and filled with the limitless Love of God. It is a song of peace that passes all understanding, and a confidence that sees beyond circumstances.

Sometimes, when life seems devoid of light and peace, it has less to do with our actual circumstances, and more to do with our unwillingness to look up from them. Throughout the Old Testament (and even in the New Testament) people would create songs as part of their worship–some songs celebrated God’s provision and protection; others spoke of His character and His faithfulness. But these songs weren’t just for celebration and services of worship– they were used to remind us in good times and bad, that God’s love never changes. The same God who brings victory and miracles will be with us in times of despair. The same God who sees us in our most desperate hour of need is there with us when we are enjoying a beautiful sunset.

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Today, I pray that we would take a few moments, find a song or a Psalm, and just sing a prayer to our maker. It doesn’t have to be a peppy song of praise– it may even be a song of yearning or anguish– but let it be a song that rises above our day and finds the ear of the One who loves us better than anyone else. It doesn’t matter if you can’t carry a tune; God listens to the heart! Sing the song that Jesus gives to you today. Your heart will be blessed. And it will bless the very heart of your Maker, as well.

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