Yesterday had 24 hours, the same as every other day. Yet it seemed to zoom past, leaving me “behind” in getting my blog ready for today. So here I am, writing “under the gun” so that I can publish today.
Blogs like this don’t have “deadlines” in the sense of print publications or broadcasts. I don’t have advertisers or managers demanding that I have content by a certain time or date. There are no editors to determine the length of any particular blog post. This one is likely to be shorter than most, in fact. And God isn’t standing by waiting to scold me for being late today. It is my own sense of expectation that gives me grief.
But God has placed all of us in time and space with a purpose. We do not have the power to “stretch” time, to reclaim it, or to bargain for more of it. Time “flies”–and what we do in the time we have flies, too. And He wants us to give our time to Him first of all.
Falling behind on a blog entry is not a life-or-death matter. Falling behind in life is another matter.
I pray that today will be a productive day, a restful day, even a challenging day– and that, as it flies by, we will fulfill God’s purpose in it. And He’ll take care of the timing!
I know many Christians who cite Philippians 4:13 as their favorite verse: “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” And while this is a powerful verse, and holds great promise, I think it has been misused and taken out of context too often in recent years.
The Apostle Paul wrote this– from a prison cell as he awaited trial and a likely sentence of death! And this thought is a summary statement. It follows a list of circumstances in which Paul had experienced needs, and questions, and setbacks, and lack of provision.
In this season of “sheltering in place,” I have a new appreciation for Paul’s letter. I am not in jail, but there are many restrictions (temporary, but seemingly endless) on where I can go and what activities I can pursue in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. I cannot “do all things” in any normal sense. My family could not gather for Mother’s Day this year. We cannot have friends over for a meal, or take our grandchildren to the movies, or meet together for a traditional church service on Sundays. I cannot open my little shop to customers. I can’t go and get a haircut or hang out at the bakery or coffee shop.
And there are others who are struggling, not just with restrictions, but with increased expectations. They cannot “do all things” to help a dying patient, or stop the spread of infection in their nursing home or hospital ward. They cannot answer frenzied questions about timelines and protocols. They cannot work effectively from home and still be available to their children as both parent and surrogate teacher. Or, they cannot meet the needs of their students without face-to-face interaction.
But Paul is not talking about the mere completion of a worldly task, or achieving a personal goal. Paul isn’t suggesting that he (or anyone else) can do anything and everything he might want to do or that others might wish him to do. He has just finished talking about times of lack, of wants and needs and facing uncertainties. Paul did not (even with Christ’s help) skip lightly around Asia Minor, making friends and influencing people.
So what DID he do? What did he mean by “all things?”
Paul speaks often throughout his letter of “running a race.” Paul learned that in all circumstances, with whatever resources, whatever restrictions, and whatever obstacles, he could “run” his race. Under persecution or in times of great success; in times of plenty, or in times of hunger; in prison or on the road (or seas); in Jewish synagogues or Greek amphitheaters; alone or in crowds– Paul could worship God. He could proclaim the Gospel. He could spread the love and grace of Christ Jesus. If he couldn’t travel, he could still speak. If he couldn’t speak, he could write. If he couldn’t write, he could pray. He could do “all things” that were necessary to accomplish his one goal– to run the race; to finish strong; to live a life of purpose and worship.
May we do the same today, through Christ, who gives us strength. I may not be able to gather with friends, but I have the blessing of being able to call, or e-mail, or IM, or send encouragement. I can still write this blog. I can still pray– in fact I have more time to do so! I can do “all things” that will fulfill my purpose and bring honor to God. And so can you. What a privilege–no matter where we are or what our circumstances!
We just celebrated a most unusual Easter– traditions, like gathering at church for sunrise services or grand cantatas, big family meals, Easter Egg hunts, and parades had to be re-imagined, or cancelled. And one Easter tradition that didn’t get a lot of press attention was the damage done to the Easter flower market. Lilies, hyacinths, daffodils, and other spring flowers–some grown locally, others imported from around the world–were unable to be shipped or sold as people are in quarantine. Churches and restaurants, two of the largest consumers of Easter Lilies, had to cancel their orders for this year. People who normally buy lilies from garden centers or florists were unable to do so, and those who grow them were unable to ship them out or sell them. Literally millions of flowers had to be burned, composted, and destroyed during this season of “new life.” Flowers for funerals, weddings, and birthdays were also lost, and millions more will be lost as we approach Mother’s Day next month. What a waste of beauty and life!
Some will say that it is a waste of time to mourn the loss of flowers when we should be mourning the loss of human life to COVID-19. I don’t think it is an “either/or” kind of mourning. There is a lot to mourn during these days, and we should not be ashamed to mourn–loss of connection, loss of beauty in the form of flowers, loss of jobs and prosperity, loss of opportunities– many of which we take for granted.
But Easter is not about our loss– in fact, it is not about loss at all. It is about victory and hope and ETERNAL life– not the life of a lily or even a human body– eternal, joyful, victorious life given to us as a gift for all who will receive it! If we are missing a beautiful symbol of that victory this year, we can never be deprived of the reality the Lilies represent!
In this season, many of us are feeling very much like the “lilies of the field.” Our lives seem uncertain, our days unproductive, even futile as we wait for this crisis to pass. We miss these symbols of beauty and new life, but we must not place our hope in the symbols. We must not place our hope in what we know or what we do or what we own. Jesus reminds us that we are– our souls, our lives, our hopes, our thoughts, and our longings– worth far more than lilies or sparrows– God knows what we need, and His love for us doesn’t depend on our being “essential”, or healthy, or having all the answers.
This season reminds us that our lives here are precious, and temporary as the grass. But our existence is both precious and eternal–and thanks to the very God who clothes the lilies of the field, we need not worry or fear what lies ahead. All who turn to Him will be saved. We are not destined to be burned or composted or forgotten. We may face uncertain days ahead, but God has a purpose and a plan for us to bloom– not just for a season, and not just to adorn a building or a home, but to bloom for eternity in His very presence!
Several years ago, there was a popular song lamenting that, “all we are is dust in the wind.” The song evokes a feeling of helplessness– we are weak, small, and helpless as dust in the wind. It speaks of impermanence, brevity, sadness, and hopelessness in the face of forces greater than ourselves, and offers a warning not to “hang on” to earthly vanities.
The Bible speaks to this –God told Adam in the Garden of Eden that he would die and return to the dust from which he was formed (Genesis 2:7 and 3:19). Abraham was told that his seed would be “like the dust of the earth;” spread out across the earth and unable to be counted. The book of Job is filled with images of dust and ashes, as Job, homeless and afflicted, sits covered in them, talking of his life and death, and the emptiness of loss.
But there are surprisingly few references to dust in the New Testament. Jesus tells his disciples to visit cities, and where the people will not listen, the disciples are to leave and “shake the dust from (their) feet” as a testimony against them (Matthew 10:14; Mark 6:11; Luke 9:5)
There are two aspects of dust I want to look at today. First, as the song suggests, dust is carried along by the wind. It has no permanence, no weight, no importance, no resistance, and is swept away by a chance wind, or by design with a broom or dust cloth. Dust is not cherished, but discarded. But dust is not destroyed by the wind– it is carried, lifted, moved, and dispersed, but not destroyed. The dust of today will be somewhere else many generations from now, and the dust that settles on our floors, tables, and under the bed may have been blown there from thousands of miles and centuries away! In just such a way, our lives– fragile and brief, leave traces of words spoken, kindnesses shared, and sacrifices made, that live long after our bodies return to ashes and dust. There is an amazing glory in a mote of dust carried by the stillness into a beam of sunlight. It sparkles and dances and drifts in a graceful spiral, suspended in light and air. And there is glory in a life lived in the light, seeking stillness and grace, being carried by the slightest whisper of God’s eternal love.
Secondly, dust that is not in motion, not in the light, IS discarded, unwanted, corrosive, and dead. There is no glory in layers of accumulated dust covering the beauty of an antique dresser or building up in the corner of a room. Dust that is NOT carried on the wind sits, worthless and destructive. It gets absorbed into an unsightly pile of sad, dead matter, and it sits– going nowhere, doing nothing. We shake it off, brush it off, wash it off, sweep it away, and get rid of it.
Dust comes from death– dead skin cells, dead plant and animal matter–and I think there is a very real reason it is mentioned so often in connection with sin, sickness, unbelief, judgment, and death (though not in all cases). God does not want to leave us unmoved and dead– He wants to bring us to glory and give us new life in Him. We are dust in the wind– but that is not all we are. Instead, it is what we are for a brief moment in time– being carried to a new destination, or sinking and settling into despair.
I pray that we will be lifted up in prayer and faith today, to dance in the light of God’s glorious grace, and carry our mote of glory and grace to wherever God my send us.
22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light,23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
Both the scripture text and the children’s song above are often used in the context of watching pornography or violent images, and their negative effects. It is true that if we fill our sight with negative and sinful images, we will be impacted negatively. We become desensitized to violence and evil; we become addicted to images that shock or excite us.
But I think there is more going on in this text, and I think it has a bearing on our prayer life. What we choose to see also involves what we choose NOT to see. We talk a lot about what we shouldn’t be watching or seeing, but there are some things– even unpleasant things– that we MUST see if we are to be the light of the world. Not only must we see such things, we must shine a light on them and cause others to see them. Injustice, corruption, dishonesty– we must be careful to see them for what they are.
We live in a world of optical illusions, and it can be very difficult to see clearly. But that is what we are called to do. If our eyes are good/healthy, we will let in the light of truth, so that shadows and illusions will become stand out. If our eyes are bad/unhealthy, the shadows and illusions will trick us. We will see only what can be seen in a glance, and miss the bigger picture.
John the Baptist had excellent “vision.” As he was out in the hot sun glinting off the Jordan, he looked up to see hundreds of people waiting to be baptized. But his eyes were searching the horizon, seeing all the others, but seeking one face. And when he saw it, he drew everyone’s attention to it– “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) Our eyes, like those of John, should be looking with purpose and hope.
Throughout the Bible, God looks at people with love and compassion. Several times in the gospels, Jesus looks upon or takes note of people (some of whom are seeking him, and others who know nothing of him) and has compassion on them. Our eyes, like those of our Father, should be looking in love. Love sees things as they really are– it sees sin, pain, disease, betrayal, war, hatred, greed. But love sees beyond to people who need salvation, healing, restoration, peace, compassion, and hope.
I need to give careful consideration to what I allow myself to see– do I see all the negative, hateful, sinful things going on around me? Do I see such things with a sense of purpose and with compassion? Or do I ignore them and turn my gaze inward, shutting out the hurt and need all around me? Do I see all the shadows and illusions and let my own light grow dim? Or do I see the Light of the World, ready to shine (even through me), with hope and redemption? Will I pray with my eyes closed and shuttered, or wide open?