I read Isaiah 44 on another blog tonight...it is powerful. This in particular stood out to me (verse 10):
Who but a fool would make his own god—
an idol that cannot help him one bit?
If we could remember that and not only what it says but what it implies...what a life we could lead.
I was thinking earlier today about how my choices for years have contributed to my spiritual state these days. My thoughts wandered to the Israelites and their own wanderings. What struck me out of nowhere was how God led them to the wilderness, to the dry place. He went ahead of them. And he never left them.
Those thoughts are comforting to me today. Even in that wild, dry, probably desolate place God was with them and providing for them, sustaining them each moment of every day. All they had to do was collect the manna.
Collect the manna. The bread from heaven. The "what is it?" As Ann Voskamp talks about it, the mystery...our Lord Jesus Christ.
This was a day that could have gone either way. I had a hard time getting up. Mike wasn't feeling well, and was in bed, and that meant that I would have to take the kids to church on my own (which I've done before)...but it seemed like too much for a little while, as I lay in bed this morning. I just wanted to sleep.
I could hear all three kids downstairs, and at first they were playing nicely. Christian and Eliana had already come in our room wearing matching outfits (jeans and an "Alaska" shirt from their Grandma Diana) (What do you think? I keep little skirts around for Christian?) and wanting breakfast. Christian then told Eliana he could get her breakfast and my heart both leapt with joy and sank at the same time. I wasn't sure if I definitely wanted to stay in bed because of the mess that was sure to follow or get up because of the mess that was sure to follow.
I stayed in bed. But...then there was a little squabble. Soon a quarrel. A little yelling. I looked at my phone (which is my clock) and saw it was only 9:23. I know that seems outrageously late to some (read: normal) people, but I had visions of being in bed until 11 while my kids entertained themselves happily downstairs or wherever I wasn't in bed.
I could see that my vision was not a very realistic one, and I thought to myself,"I need to go to church. I need to take them to church." I wish I could say that it was for the noble reason of being a decent Christian parent, but the truth is, this morning I knew that it would be a Very Long Day if I kept them at home and they were already driving me so crazy at just 9:30am.
I threw off the covers and told them I was showering and we were leaving soon after that for worship. They seemed fine with that, which gave me a boost. So did showering. I even dried my hair!
(I figure that no one, or maybe three people, read this section, so I can go on for however long I want to about totally insignificant details because if you are someone who is reading this then you must realize that the details always matter in the end. Or not.)
I got them all dressed (okay, Michaela dressed herself) and myself too (that would have been embarrassing!) and we headed out the door. We were early for worship, which I found completely refreshing! We sat with some friends, and between three moms there were six boys, and they all sat in the row in front of us. My girls sat with me. The boys were good for the most part, but in the end I had Christian come sit next to me because he was getting too wiggly.
Here is the really important part, though. I am so glad that I made the effort to go. Even though my reason in the beginning was not a very good one (or at least not a very God-honoring one), I was so blessed by worship today. Don't get me wrong. I do not believe that we are supposed to go to church in order to be entertained or for our own selves. We ought to be there in order to praise the Lord, and to bring him glory with our worship, our attention, our fellowship with each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. A worship service should be about God's glory from beginning to end. I also think, though, that one of the amazing things about God is that he brings us into his glory, he graciously lifts up those who bow down before him.
I told Mike later that the music was pretty much perfect today as far as I was concerned. The leaders chose both praise songs and hymns that have been very meaningful throughout my life. We sang Strength Will Rise, Forever Reign (You Are Good), Holy, Holy, Holy, and Blessed Be Your Name. It was better than a trifecta...it was a quadrecta! I jokingly said the only thing that was missing was Come Thou Fount. It was like they custom-picked the worship music for me. Of course, they didn't do that, but if someone did, it would look a lot like today's service. Or sound like it, anyway.
The sermon drove right into my heart, too. The pastors are doing a series on generosity this season of Lent, and it has been powerful. Today, the message coupled with a video that they showed of a trip to Africa last summer (to Njuthine, where there is an ongoing partnership and ministry) really got to me. I looked at those children's faces, and all the people lined up to see the doctors and nurses who went to volunteer their time in a new medical facility, and the kids who were replacing their completely worn out shoes (if you could call them that) with new shoes from donors, and tears just streamed down my face. I can run out any time and get my kids new shoes without thinking about if there will be financial repercussions, or wondering if we will have to go without a meal because they need shoes or clothes or toothbrushes.
I TAKE SO MUCH FOR GRANTED. And I DO NOT GIVE ENOUGH.
I'm not talking about around here. I think that's true too. I could do more in my home, to keep it orderly and maintained better. But what I am talking about this time is that I don't think about, really truly think about, what is going on outside of this house. In an abstract way? Sure. But in a concrete and practical way? Not really.
I want that to change. It's scary to say that, because now something will certainly have to change. God won't let this one lie untouched. And would you believe that the devotion that Michaela and I did tonight asked the question,"Is there something that you are afraid to do, that you know God is asking you to do?"
Hello! My heart longs to do so much, there are so many opportunities to serve just in this city, much less in different organizations that do stuff around the world (International Justice Mission, World Vision, our own church's mission opportunities) and yet I don't. I let fear get in the way. It's true. I am afraid of how dirty I will get if our family gets involved in any one of the ministries in which it would be so easy to invest ourselves.
Goodness, that is humiliating to admit. Many years ago I went to Portugal on a mission trip and we stayed with a couple that ministered in the city in which they lived as well as in very small villages in the nearby mountains. We would load up in a van, roll down the windows, sing our lungs out, and travel up to these tiny collections of homes, where the women would bring their wash to the community water hole (what I remember is that it was a very large, cement bathtub-like area) and the kids (Such beautiful children!) would run and play nearby. We were very interesting to all of them and they enjoyed conversation with us (the best we could have, anyway, through translators). The children, brown with white teeth, wearing shorts and t-shirts, or just shorts if they were boys, or old dresses if they were girls, loved the songs we taught them, the balloon animals we made, and the dancing. The women had such stories...their teeth were long gone, the hardships they had faced and the difficult lives they lived were written on their faces in each wrinkle that led to their bright eyes and surrounded their smiling lips. Rugged, cheerful women they were, in spite of the conditions in which they lived. I held hands with these children, hugged on them, and who in the world knows the last time they had bathed or even washed their hands properly. I never gave it a second thought at the time. What happened to that girl who could see beauty in anyone?
I know this was going somewhere when I started writing, but have rambled myself to a point much like one of those out-of-the-way villages in the mountains. Kind of off the map. I really wanted to say that God took me to church today. I hope he was honored by our worship. He also challenged me, and all day long at that, to do something for him that requires courage. The passage from the service was from 1 Corinthians 9, and verse 11 was particularly challenging: You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. We are given to so that we are able to give. And finally, the verse from Michaela's devotional? Joshua 1:9: Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.
I don't think God could be any clearer than that.
I usually don't follow college basketball but this year's March Madness seemed full of extra madness, particularly with two Richmond teams making it to the Sweet Sixteen. (I am from Richmond, in case you didn't know.) Isn't it exciting when the unexpected happens? Basketball fans watched as VCU made it to the Final Four. After a very close game they were defeated by Butler. Of course, there are a ton of people who would have loved to see VCU go all the way, and who are bummed that the team's run is over; but I have been really encouraged by the many, many followers who have chosen to focus on what the Rams accomplished rather than expressing great disappointment or sorrow over the loss. A lot of my Facebook friends were cheering for VCU and so many of them said things after the game along the lines of,"Way to go, Rams! There is nothing to hang your heads about!" Even though they didn't win that particular game, look how far they came! I love that attitude. We all need to be able to look at where we are, look back at what has been accomplished, and feel good about that.
I think similar things can be said about the Christian journey. I know for me it is so very easy to look at all of my mistakes, like the basketball players might look at each shot they missed and think,"If only I had made that one!" Failures are easy to count, aren't they? They practically number themselves. And maybe it's good to look at them for the sake of learning, but we should not dwell on them. Instead we ought to focus on both where we have come from and where we are headed, the goal. The analogy between the life of faith and the basketball player breaks down, as often happens, because in the end it is really God who is accomplishing everything in and through us. In seminary we had a professor tell us that sanctification was 100% the work of God and we have to do it. So, we are still like the athletes who work hard to win the prize. (Duh, the Bible does speak in those very terms.) Yet we must maintain that apart from him we can do nothing. (John 15:5)
In the Old Testament, the Israelites often looked back at what God had done in order to remember his faithfulness and to be encouraged by how he kept his promises before. Because he is God and he does not change, we (like the Israelites) can believe and trust that he will keep his promises in the future. When we look at how far we have come in our Christian life, we learn how to further place our trust in our Abba, our heavenly Father.
I don't know if any of this makes sense, and I'm still mulling over things I read in the book One Thousand Gifts. Still sorting things out in my head. Looking back and remembering, looking forward and trusting. Trying to learn, learning to trust, trusting when tried. God's goodness is foremost in my mind.