A Mid-week Sunday Sermon

My pastor has been leading us through 1 Peter for a little while now. His latest sermon title was “Legacy Living In Your Last Days”. That was on Sunday. It’s the middle of the week now and I’m still working my way through parts of what he taught us from Chapter 4, verses 7-11.

“The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

1 Peter 4: 7-11 (ESV: English Standard Version 2016)

The title, alone, was enough to give me pause. It was early, I was tired, and we’re all getting older by the minute, but…our last days? Who wants to think about that?! Maybe a better question is, “Shouldn’t we have already been thinking about that–especially if we have any ideas about leaving a legacy behind us?” That word “legacy” is a hefty one. It implies leaving a gift of significant value and to do that, we need be living a legacy-worthy life today. That’s a lot to take in during the early service after a later-than-usual night watching college football. (Just keeping it real.)

When Pastor Jason got to verse 8 about how we’re supposed to love one another, he referenced Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount about how we’re to love others the same way we love ourselves. I’ll be honest and say my brain checked out for a little bit as I began to pray for some of the people I know who struggle with that. They actually seem to find it much easier to love others than they do to love themselves. It doesn’t matter what their “reasons” for that are. What matters is that, although they may have laid claim to the fact that God loves and forgives them…they just haven’t quite been able to forgive themselves.

That’s a tough road: trying to carry something that God’s already removed and hang on to things He’s already covered up and thrown away as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12)! It’s hard to find peace when you do that sort of thing. You know what that’s like. We’ve all been there at some point. Some of us more than once. The important thing is that GOD has a living legacy of love and forgiveness that He wants to share with us every single day. When we really get to know Him as He has shared Himself in Scripture, we realize He can be trusted…with everything.

The other thing we’d be wise to remember is that God has no last days. He is eternal–and as up close and personal as He desires to be with each of us!–He is never going to sit around just noodling over how much we might have messed up and wringing His hands over how He’ll never be able to overlook it. The fact is, He can’t overlook sin. As Holy God, He just can’t tolerate it…and that’s why He He made a plan to get rid of it: He sent Jesus to us for that. His sin-covering death on the cross makes it possible for us to do a lot more than hold our heads up. It means we have the ability to crawl right up into the heart of Almighty God and revel in the peace of being completely His. It’s called grace…and we ALL need it.

When we accept that part, life gets a lot simpler. In truth, so does legacy living. Whether you know it or not, you’re already doing some legacy living. The question is whether or not the legacy you’re living is the one you actually want to share and leave behind for those you love and those who still need Jesus.

What does your legacy-living look like? How well are you loving others and how well are you loving YOU? Does your life share the truth about God’s all-encompassing love and His unparalleled abilty to forgive or have you been hinting to others that He might have some limits after all–that He can somehow forgive and restore everyone but you? Don’t kid yourself. People know what you believe by how you live. Some of them may even make eternal spiritual decisions based on what they see rather than what they hear. What if they begin to believe “your God-limits” apply to them, as well? That’s why it is critical that our legacy-living be in line with Scripture in every way.

So, what’s your legacy going to be OR, as Pastor Jason concluded His Sunday sermon, “How are you honoring God today?” because your life and your legacy ought to do that very thing.

Grace and Peace!

Close to perfect

Ecclesiastes 3:1 (NIV) says, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens…” and this time of year just might be my favorite.

It’s the first Saturday in September. Despite the forecast, the sun is shining and the temps have yet to reach 90 degrees, although it’s close. I’ve been waiting for this day for quite some time. We’re smack in the middle of the first weekend of college football. That means my DVR has more games set to record than I’ll have actual time to watch today and my husband has already called to annoy his sister just for fun as she tries to watch her favorite team over 6 hours away.

My house smells like chili and oatmeal-raisin cookies. The chili is a requirement for good football watching no matter what the thermometer reads. The cookies simply remind me of my maternal grandmother and how I still miss her even though she probably never watched a single football game in her life.

I walked barefooted to check my mail this morning and took a few extra minutes to enjoy the cooling feel of grass still green and growing. Hummingbirds enjoyed the buffet at my feeder and I spotted a brand new tomato, so that late-season planting appears to have been a good decision. Most of our foliage is as green as the grass and that new tomato, but we’re not letting that stop us. We’re celebrating good food, the start of college football, family memories, and “meteorological Autumn”…and calling it “close to perfect”.

Happy day! Happy day!

Grace and Peace…and RTR!! (That’s just for you, Leigh!)

Even now.

Our family lost a loved one this weekend. It was unexpected and hard. We would never have chosen this outcome. Most of us are still in shock and we don’t know when we’ll have more details.

I’m pretty sure knowing more won’t change a thing for any of us.

Here’s what I do know: God wasn’t surprised. He knows everything we do and all that we don’t. He knows how much our hearts are hurting and exactly how long it will be before we’re all reunited. He has a plan for that, too.

Even now, I believe this to my core. ALL the things I know about God tell me trust Him with every single detail about which I haven’t a clue.

Our grief is no less sharp for believing this. It IS, if we will but allow it, another opportunity to experience God more fully and allow Him to create within us further avenues to share Him with others.

His Word is still true:

“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” 1Thessalonians 4:13-18 (NIV)

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (NIV)

Grace and Peace…even in grief.

Pacing

It’s no secret that I love words and reading. From early childhood, words written on pages have facinated me. They didn’t even have to be in book form. I also just loved the ways handwriting looked on a piece of paper. Of course, it probably didn’t hurt that my mama’s handwriting was absolutely beautiful. She made even the simplest words look elegant. One of my favorite unintended compliments was when my father asked her about a note she had written…and I had written it.

Words printed on a page sparked my fancy and helped me experience times and places I could never go to and spend time with people, both real and imagined, I could never actually meet. In my haste to read as much as possible, I learned to read quickly, as in I learned to read for information…at speed.

I devoured books at a lightening pace, always racing to get to the next one and the one after that. I spent a good deal of time in the elementary school library under the supervision of a wonderful lady who understood my love for words and encouraged me to keep using them for good in every way possible. She tried to steer me toward some of her favorites and challenged me to slow down a bit and savor them. That lesson took some time to catch up with me.

I’d say it finally has. Just this morning, I picked up a book I probably bought in 2016…and turned to the red satin ribbon marking the last place I left off…almost a year ago. The pages were interspersed with dried pink and red leaves from a trip last fall. Leaves among the leaves.

I’ve been trying to finish this book ever since I bought it. I’m still less than halfway through it. At times, my own pace for this one has frustrated me. I still have that desire to consume the words and move onward to the next one, but as I finished the chapter I was on last fall (!!!), I was struck by how God had helped me hit pause so that the words I read would resonate with me TODAY. I needed what I read this morning NOW, not last year when my physical pace was so fast-paced by circumstances beyond my control that they would have most likely bounced off me like a wayward BB and pinged away without making a dent.

My to-do list is still long, but my circumstances are not the same and some of those changes have reinforced the lessons about savoring that Mrs. Tessie Cole tried to instill so long ago. For years, I could only read one book at a time. Now, I find myself with at least 4-5 in process at any given time. My pacing has changed…in many areas. Hopefully, most of them involve wisdom and aren’t simply the result of having gotten older…but what if it is? Would that be so bad?

I’m laughing as I type because I flashed on the face of a friend who despises all comments about aging. While we have many things in common, this is an area where we differ significantly. While she gloriously and glamorously rails against the passing of time, I’ve become much more comfortable with it and find that savoring applies here, too. I often find myself slowing my pace on purpose these days. I’m spending more time actually and actively enjoying the moment instead of racing through to get to the next thing on the list.

I’ve actually altered that to-do list a bit, as well, to include the rereading of some of my old favorites from long ago. I’m finding that Robertson Davies truly was on to something when he said, “Nobody ever reads the same book twice.”

More than my pacing has changed.

How about yours?

Grace and Peace!

Enemies?

I don’t usually listen to a lot of podcasts, but when one of my favorite IG guided-prayer posters liked one of my photo posts, I got a little excited. I went to check out their official web presence. There, I found a podcast from July 24th for prayer and meditation entitled “Love your enemy” using Luke 6: 27-36. The Word says,

 “But I say to you who listen: Love your enemies, do what is good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.  If anyone hits you on the cheek, offer the other also. And if anyone takes away your coat, don’t hold back your shirt either.  Give to everyone who asks you, and from someone who takes your things, don’t ask for them back. Just as you want others to do for you, do the same for them.  If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them.  If you do what is good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that.  And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do what is good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High. For he is gracious to the ungrateful and evil. Be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.” (CSB)

Enemies? Not me. Not that I know of by name, anyway. I decided to listen anyway. Mercy, I’m grateful I did!

Following the initial reading, the narrator for this podcast asked if anything or anyone came to mind, identified a cause for tension, etc.–and I was amazed to find myself thinking about our modern society and how contentious we’ve become…especially on social media, which can be decidedly un-social at times. I found myself mentally rewriting these verses with a modern twist. With apologies to Dr. Luke and a definite desire not to usurp or dilute the truth of Holy Scripture, here are the words that came to me as I listened once more to the words of Jesus,

But I say to you who listen: Love your enemies, do what is good to those who are consistently in a bad mood around you, bless those who annoy you on purpose, pray for those who are vocal even though uninformed or ignorant, as well as for those who mistreat you because they’re having a hard time and you cannot fix it. If anyone cuts you off in traffic or while shopping, offer grace and allow someone else in front of you also. And if anyone takes you for granted or fails to say “thank you!”, don’t hold back your help from them in the future, either. Give grace and forgiveness to those who ask you (AND even to those who don’t!), and from someone who takes away your place, position of authority, or popularity, don’t ask for them back or try to undermine them in return. Just as you want others to do for you, do the same for them. If you love those who love you, believe exactly as you do, or are only from your faith practice, or political inclination, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love and always agree with them. If you do what is good to those who are good to you and have never–ever!–made a mistake, held a differing opinion, or rooted for another team, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you are only kind to those from whom you expect to receive kindness, public recognition, or advancement, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do what is good, and always extend your best efforts, expecting nothing in return. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High. For he is gracious to the ungrateful, the rude, the annoying, the ignorant, and even those who are evil. Be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.” (Becky’s brain)

Selah. Think about that with me. I think I might need to pray again.

Grace and Peace!

P.S. You can listen to the original podcast and find others by them at http://www.emberhq.com or find them on IG @slo.prayer.

Peace

I am not a “peace at any cost” person. Some things are worth a fight. Others are not. Many in our society seem to have forgotten that. It’s not new, of course, but it does seem to be getting uglier lately.

You know what I’m talking about: try expressing an opinion (almost ANY opinion) in a public forum and watch what happens. You’ll find out rather quickly that the name you were given at birth isn’t what you’ll be called next.

It doesn’t have to be that way, of course, and I’ve had the week to prove that. On five (yes, 5) separate occasions this week, I have engaged/been engaged in verbal exchanges and expressed views and opinions that differed, sometimes RADICALLY, from the person with whom I was talking. It used to be referred to as “having a conversation”.

It still is, though I must admit they have become rather rare in our society, my experience to the contrary.

In each of the 5 cases, both parties managed to escape without injury, insults, or new nicknames. Instead, we parted ways with dignity and relationships intact, perhaps even strengthened, since we all knew we were quietly listened to, heard without interruption, given opportunity for additional expression, and allowed to part ways with, if not a changed opinion, perhaps at least a better understanding of who we are and why we believe certain things.

It was wonderful. Topics ranged from abortion, to mask or not to mask, climate change, historical mores vs current behaviors, and some points on religion.

I won’t say it was life-changing, but it was life-enhancing and it was just simple conversation…on the phone, by text, and in person, face-to-face on the street. The tone and end result of all these encounters would have, in years gone by, been considered “expected” for conversing with other members of society.

Today I chose to celebrate the conversational civility by doing something else that used to be quite commonplace in our society: I made “real food” using recipes that have been with me for years and that reminded me of being in my mother’s and my grandmother’s kitchens. I prepared for upcoming guests using simple ingredients and I have, hopefully, eliminated the need for diatribe when I ask them which they would prefer: oatmeal-raisin or chocolate chip. I made both.

“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer each person.Colossians 4:6 (CSB)

Grace and Peace…and maybe a cookie or two over your weekend!

What do you see?

I was laughing with God about something on the way to my hotel night before last when I happened to look up into the sky. At that point, I REALLY cracked up because right up there in the clouds was a formation that looked for all the world like the face of a little old man with a grin on his face. It was absolutely amazing–even down to the perfectly placed eye and the shading on his hooked nose and pointed chin! There I was laughing, surrounded by traffic, and unable to pull over for a picture. I just hoped I could get one from a different vantage point. The closer I got to the hotel, however, the winds and clouds shifted and I watched as the face faded out and it became an empty space in between two larger cloud bodies.

I missed my picture, but I didn’t miss my moment. God drew a Norman Rockwell-detailed picture in the sky with imagination and moisture and then He drew my attention to it before shaking out His giant Etch-a-sketch, leaving me still watching the skies to enjoy the setting sun.

Last week, He sent me two more heart-shaped rocks and the most perfectly formed heart-shaped leaf. He even colored it red. I got a picture and took it home to place it on my kitchen windowsill.

I shared the photos on IG and my friend Cindy sent me a message saying, “I believe God sends you these little reminders of His love because you are observant and looking in anticipation.” (See. I told you she was sweet.) Oh, the blessing of friendships!

It is true: I am always looking for God. I have to. I am unwilling to lose the wonder and the intimacy we’ve built over the years since I chose to follow Him. I am always in awe that He wants that with me. A created being who is friends with the Creator…unfathomable, and yet true.

He wants that with you, too, you know. Just as our earthly friendships differ from person to person, I think God’s do in some ways, as well. After all, He gave us all of these differences ON PURPOSE and NOT to cause division and strife, but so we could, as a whole creation, share our God-things with each other and learn more–look for more!!–about Him in the process.

More importantly, He gave us our commonalities: those things that can bind us together if we’ll let them and turn into friendship blessings down here, as well. It all depends on what we look for and what we choose to see…in people and from God, as well.

As for me, I plan to keep looking for Him in the clouds–and in all of creation, actually!–because that includes you. Are you friends with God? Are you sharing your God-stories? Also, if you happened to be on the 182 bypass this past Friday night and managed to get a picture of the man up in the clouds, would you please share that, too?

“To Him who made the heavens with skill,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting.” Psalm 136:5

Grace and Peace!

Everything that glitters

I did something odd FOR ME yesterday: I bought glitter. For ME. I also bought glitter glue…and flakes…and sequins…in many colors and even a few different shapes.

Pehaps that doesn’t seem odd to you, but trust me. For me, it is decidedly strange. I am not a glitter girl. In fact, the last event involving sequins that I had any significant personal dealings with was WAY back when the husband and I got married!

That wasn’t a personal choice, btw, but more of a deliberate and strategically planned mass attack by a whole group of friends on my luggage for the honeymoon. (They even put sequins in my lipstick tubes. Yes, they did.) Green sequins made sporadic appearances for YEARS afterwards because, well…that’s the nature of sequins. They. go. every. where! Forever.

So, why buy sequins, glitter, and glitter glue after all these years? An art project. (Cue the angels singing.) I’m prepping for an art project and, just by way of a funny little sign of encouragement that I’m really supposed to cut loose and do this crazy, glittery thing, I believe that God arranged for a whole host of colors and options to be available at clearance prices and then sent me THE sweetest sales lady to help me in the bargain! (Just because HE CAN!)

Apparently, God is not glitter-averse.

Actually, God is just having fun with me, I think. As in: I believe He is having fun WITH me as I use the creativity He placed inside me. I also believe He TOTALLY enjoyed the idea of me going nuts and filling my little basket with all kinds of odd-for-me goodies that made me smile and hug a perfect stranger when she gave me the newly marked down prices. We shared a moment of joy together right there in the craft store and it did BOTH of us some good!

God likes that, you know. He loves it when we use our creativity. He’s right there in the moment as we share our joy! He delights in us and I believe that while “all that glisters is not gold” (yes, “glisters!”, and thank you, William Shakespeare!), the gold of lightening a load, of sharing a moment of possibilities, and the giving of impromptu hugs makes God happy. It sure helped my day. I can tell you that, for certain.

I have no clue what this project will eventually look like or even when I can complete it, but I do know this: you need to share your joy today. You don’t have to hug a stranger and you don’t have to make art. It doesn’t have to be big or publicly done. It doesn’t even have to be odd or involve glitter, BUT it can be FOR YOU just as much as it will be for those with whom you choose to share your joy…and God will love that because He loves you!

“Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” Luke 6:29-30 (ESV)

I’m convinced the truth of this verse also applies to sharing our joy! Try it and see!

Grace and Peace!

Remembering

Thirty years ago today, amid numerous Roman candles that failed to fire, a young man knelt in the sand and asked me to marry him. I said yes…and the last Roman candle went off like nobody’s business.

If we had been superstitious, we might have thought…well, we’re not. It’s been quite a ride. We’re survivors of many battles and champions of finding joy and laughter in the oddest of places. Together, we can do just about anything. Individually, we have the blessing of knowing, with absolute certainty, that our partner has our back even when they might not totally agree with you or even understand all of the details. We’ve actually learned to thrive in adverse conditions, but we’re not crazy enough to deliberately seek them. We much prefer a quieter, simple life.

I’ve always been entertained that he chose to pop the question that led us to such mutual dependence on the day that the founding fathers gathered to sign the Declaration of Independence…which, incidentally, actually made all of them even more dependent on each other. Life is a funny circle, indeed.

As for us, we’re celebrating the day (and the season!) at home doing things that we love within earshot of each other. He’s got the smoker going and I’ve been trimming the rosemary. I made a wreath to mark the day with some of the clippings and hung it where we’ll enjoy the fragrance as we come and go for quite some time.

A back porch shadow door

Rosemary for remembering. That’s actually what the plant means.

My hands still send the scent upward as I type here in the dappled shade near the one who loves me almost as much as Jesus…and keeps on trying. I am remembering today.

i am remembering what it means to be thankful in every season and for finding reasons to celebrate the simple things together.

‘Tis the season…

Grace and Peace–and happy memories!

Trusting the Process

I’m finally following directions…given by someone I have never met…about something I’ve never done. It feel strange. All new things do, I guess, but this feels extra odd because I’m trying something unfamiliar and trusting someone else’s instructions. I can’t see the demos anymore or hear their voice in my ear as I work, so I am relying on printed words from awhile ago.

I signed up for a free workshop on abstract art. I don’t generally make abstract art. I can appreciate a good bit of it and find some of it to be truly beautiful, but it’s not really “my thing”. I’m not always comfortable with it. However. It was free, an opportunity to learn and create something different, (hopefully, beautiful) and…did I mention that it was free? I LOVE free! It makes me happy, so, no brainer, right?

…also, no time to complete it right then. I couldn’t even follow along online since I had chosen to be Facebook-free for Lent and that’s where “everyone else” would be posting their work. Still, it was free, and I knew that if I could at least get started, I would eventually make myself finish. (I despise unfinished projects.) I managed to get through the first day’s instruction before putting it away to dry. It’s been “drying” for almost 4 months now: three canvases stacked on top of each other and the printed directions from somone who knows WAY more about what this should look like than I do. It was just sitting there…waiting on me to make a move.

I pulled it all out again this week and started reading. Honestly, it doesn’t make much sense to me right now. I have to trust that, as I go step by step, “something” will emerge that looks at least a little bit like what the instructor intended. We’ll see. I’m married to a man who makes his (our!) living analyzing data and finding ways to make things easier, faster, more efficient, and more productive. If I’ve heard this once, I’ve heard it a thousand times as he says, “Trust the process!”

When I think about it, this isn’t so very different for me, after all. Actually, I’ve had years of practice doing exactly this. I made the choice to take advantage of the absolutely FREE gift of salvation. I regularly read and try to follow instructions issued further back than I often appreciate. I am working to trust the process created by Someone who knows WAY more than I do about how everything is going to turn out along the way. Did I mention it’s free? The eventual outcome is something I can read about, but not completely grasp yet. At times, it feels a bit at odds with my natural inclinations. I’m not always confortable with it. I am still determined to finish well even though it may not always look like what others post on social media. That’s ok, too, since I’m not following “them”; I’m following HIM. Along the way, I am trusting the process and hoping to create something beautiful that makes others want to follow Jesus and trust His process, too. It’s actually the best decision I have ever made.

Did I mention it was free?

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23

Grace and Peace.