A moment to Yield

In my experience, when things are the most exceptionally challenging, God has the most exceptional response.  Let’s imagine for a moment, you are driving along a road approaching a 4-way intersection.  You know something big is happening because coming toward the intersection on your right is a police car, coming in on the left is an ambulance and coming in straight ahead is a fire truck.  You are likely to get to the intersection first. Do you speed up and get through before the convergence of emergency vehicles or do you yield to allow the response team to get where they need to be.   Of course, we would never want to be in the way of help getting where it is needed, so our job in this picture is to yield.  Now imaging the crisis is in your life, and coming toward the intersection is God, your creator, Jesus, your healer, and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit.  Will you yield?  What does it mean to yield in this context?
 I think it means letting go of our own ideas of what things should look like and trusting each character in our story to give us a glimpse into something bigger.  God promises us if we yield to him in difficulties, he will respond exceptionally.  To yield means to give way.  To yield to God means to give up on our own thoughts of what should and shouldn’t be and allow God to unfold His Glory before our eyes.  
    In the Exodus story, we enter into a tumultuous time where a new king has come into power over Egypt. He is afraid of the Israelites increasing in numbers and imagining them joining forces with Egypt’s enemies and coming up against them.  Pharaoh commands all male babies be put to death.  And, we find ourselves in the story of Moses’ birth. His parents are not named here, but we know from Numbers chapter 26, Moses’ father’s name is Amram, and his mother is Jochebed.  We also know names in the Bible have meaning. The name Jochebed means “Yahweh is Glory.”  I imagine with a name like that your life and all that you do would reflect its meaning. So Amram and Jochebed have a son, and Jochebed sees that he is ‘a fine’ baby. With the pride of a mother, she looks at her young son and sees something more glorious yet to come.  She sees a vision of a future that she must protect.  She is a faithful and intelligent woman, and recognizing that she cannot protect him on her own must entrust him to God.  In this most difficult time, she must trust God’s exceptional response. She gives Moses up, not once but twice.  She gives him up when she places him in the river, and then later, after raising him in his early years, she gives him back to Pharoah’s daughter.  This is a yielding I cannot even imagine, but what a sacrifice to behold.   Often letting go, yielding is how we make way for God’s great response to our difficulties.   Jochebed had a glimpse of something great in this precious child and dared to let go.  
We often think if we hold on tighter to that which we cherish that we can protect it. This idea brings us to the Gospel story, and Peter, who has been with Jesus for quite some time now. Peter has had glimpse after glimpse of God moments, and yet when things get tough, he leaps into the intersection.  Peter in this moment didn’t have a vision of the greatness in God’s response.  Even with all the teaching of his Lord that came before this, he simply didn’t understand. Jesus’ response sounds harsh. “Get back, Satan” This makes me think we must be careful.  If we are not yielding to God, we are yielding to something else.  Maybe we don’t want to think it is satan.  But what are we yielding to?  Fear? Control? Our ideals? Our plans? Our need for security?  We must let loose our expectations, our comforts and yield to God so that God can intervene in ways greater than we have ever seen before, and seeing God’s response, we are liberated to become more than we have ever been before.  
  Moses was a living sacrifice, he bought the Israelites out of the oppression of Egypt.  Jesus was a living sacrifice,  he brought us out of the oppression of sin.  In the yielding to God, greater glory was revealed.
 In Romans 12, we are called to be a living sacrifice to offer ourselves up, yielding our will to God’s.  And we are warned not to think too highly of ourselves.  Not to try to play a more significant role than is ours to play.  I have learned the hard way that when I try to do too much, I miss things and make mistakes.  These mistakes often hurt others.  As a living sacrifice, we are called to do our part and make way for others to do their part, together, we create a bigger picture that, as in the life of Jochebed, can be a reflection of God’s Glory.For Moses to become “the Moses,” who parted the Red Sea.  God needed not only Jochebed; he needed Miriam, Moses’ sister, to do her part.  He needed Pharaoh’s daughter to do hers.  For the Gospel to spread, God needed Peter not to stop the crucifixion but to be the rock on which Christ could build his church.  What is our part in this tumultuous time? What are we called to do, and how are we called to yield.  We will not likely be able to see in our present-day difficulties God’s significant response. Still, we can trust in the glimpses of God and know that if we do our part and give God the right of way, he will respond most exceptionally, and His Glory will be revealed.

Exodus 2 Now a man of the tribe of Levi married a Levite woman, and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son.  When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months. But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket [a] for him and coated it with tar and pitch.  Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile.His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him.  Then Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the Nile to bathe, and her attendants were walking along the riverbank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her female slave to get it.She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him. “This is one of the Hebrew babies,” she said.  Then his sister asked Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?”  “Yes, go,” she answered. So the girl went and got the baby’s mother. Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this baby and nurse him for me, and I will pay you.” So the woman took the baby and nursed him. 10 When the child grew older, she took him to Pharaoh’s daughter and he became her son. She named him Moses,[b] saying, “I drew him out of the water.”

Romans 12 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing, and perfect will.  For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your [a] faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead,[b] do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

Matthew 16  13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter,[b] and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades[c] will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be[d] bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be[e] loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

A moment for our graduates

Now it is a time of grand celebration! Our graduates are on the cusp between a work coming to completion and a new work begun. Though there is much to be thankful for, our 2020 graduates have been deeply affected by COVID-19. During this unprecedented time, they need our support and encouragement like never before. We should take a moment to honor our graduates and uphold all the emotions they might be feeling at this time! 

I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:6

Upon entering freshman year, the dream of graduation looked nothing like this! It is okay to be disappointed at this moment.  

With the economic uncertainty, colleges reinventing their learning strategies, and not knowing what the future looks like, it is okay to be afraid at this moment.

With the unusual way the school year ended, and the vast open space of the future, it is okay to feel lost at this moment.

Friendships that have been made distant by the stay-home orders may be even more distant as you move into new experiences. It’s okay to feel sad at this moment. 

Many have lost loved ones, and their absence at this time will deeply felt. It is okay to mourn at this moment.

Mistakes will have been made, and due to the circumstances, they may be unable to be corrected. It is okay to have regrets at this moment.

What’s done; is done. It is okay to forgive at this moment.

…we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts… Romans 5:3-5

You had a dream and lived it; you had a goal and accomplished it, so also, at this moment, it is more than okay to celebrate!  

 Because God is God, and God is good! God has your past, your present, and your future. He cares about your hopes and dreams.  

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.  Jeremiah 29:11

A Mary/Martha Moment

“Now, as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.'” Luke 10:38-42 (NRSV)

This time of staying home has been very different for all of us. Some people have had more time for contemplation and prayerful moments, and others have been busy cleaning closets and garages, while some are hard at work holding themselves together as best they can. Sometimes I get a little frustrated by this scripture that seems to tell us working hard is a bad thing. We can’t all drop what we are doing and sit at the foot of Christ. People are counting on us to do our jobs.  

I understand how Martha feels when she asks Jesus to tell Mary to help her. I can hear the groan as Martha, likely tired and resentful, hears that “Mary has chosen the better part.” Couldn’t it be said she selected the effortless task? The way I look at it now is that Mary was Mary at her best. And Martha would have been equally at her best if she first accepted Mary for who she was, and second, admitted that perhaps she was most comfortable serving Christ by, literally, serving him. Could Martha have turned a listening ear to Christ while going about her tasks? Would Martha have seen things differently if she was less focused on what Mary wasn’t doing and more focused on the guest she had welcomed into her home?

     I have a dear friend who often tells me when I am busy to “take it easy, Martha.” I always respond with, “I am my best Mary when I am Martha.” I have my time sitting with and listening to Christ. But some Martha moments are so filled with His presence that I cherish them deeply.

One such Martha moment occurs, at the end of the day, during a retreat I am facilitating. I love to return to the empty conference room and in the silence of the evening straighten chairs, clean up tissues and glasses, and other such tasks. It is a sacred time for me, a time of reflection, prayer, and listening.  

Another sacred Martha moment is when I am cooking. I like to cook, but I love to cook for people. It is a time of prayer and listening, where I feel deeply connected with Christ and those for whom I am preparing. I feel such love when I cook for others that I know I am my best Mary and Martha simultaneously.  

To be honest, I am not always a joyful worker. However, I will continue to refocus when I find myself taking my eyes off the Guest of Honor.

Whatever you are doing at this time, be your best self.

Remembering,

“We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you.” 1 Thessalonians 1:2-4 (NRSV)

I would love to hear about your Mary/Martha moments!

Feel free to share in the comment section below.

Peace

A moment scattered

“Do you now believe?” Jesus replied. “A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:31-33 (NIV)

A paradox, being alone and not alone simultaneously. I have only once before personally encountered such a time. In 2006 during hurricane Katrina, southern Louisiana scattered, across the country. Though families moved apart and friends became geographically distant, there was a unity to the New Orleans area that was a strong thread. It was this thread that tied the people together and helped them heal.

Once again, I find myself scattered, separated from family and friends. This time that scattering is global, and it seems no one will escape unaffected by this scattering. We are directed to stay in our homes and keep our distance from each other, which has left many of us alone, a bit lost, and somewhat afraid. The followers of Christ must have felt then similar to how we are feeling now. Separated from the routines they had become accustomed to, a bit lost without Jesus, and afraid, not knowing for sure what is coming next.
I am so deeply moved by Jesus’ prayer in John 17. In a longing plea with God, he speaks on behalf of those he loves. He knows that they will feel alone and lost, and he pours out his concern for them. He does not request that they are removed from the circumstances that will cause them pain. He pleads for protection that the pain will not overtake them. He asks that they are set apart from the suffering. The way to set them apart is once again paradox. He pleads for unity, that those he loves and all who share in that love be made one with Himself and God.

“I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them, I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
“Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.
John 17:13-24  (NIV)

In this present moment, when we are scattered to our homes, separated from our routines, a bit lost, a bit afraid we are also united in our desire to not let COVID-19 overcome us. There are many stories of people reaching out in safe yet powerful ways to keep others from feeling lost and alone. We share each other’s burdens and lift each other’s hearts. We are separated but we are not alone.
We are united by Jesus’ prayer on our behalf, our unity is sealed by his death, and the glory of this Divine Unity will shine across the globe as we celebrate the Resurrection of our Redeemer.

We are no longer scattered.
Peace.