August 26, 2012

At Loose Ends

The response of “Let Go and Let God” can happen when we come to the point where we are at “loose ends” and don’t know what to do next or what will happen in our lives. One definition is that when we are at loose ends, we are restless or unsettled. That was certainly true for a couple of Bible heroes: Joseph, son of Jacob and Abigail, wife of David.
Joseph’s story is found in Genesis. He was the son of Rachel, Jacob’s beloved wife. His father’s favoritism led to jealousy among his 10 half-brothers. They threw him into an empty cistern and then sold him into slavery. (Genesis 37:18-28). That wasn’t the end of Joseph’s troubles. False accusations put him in prison, where he certainly was at loose ends. He was sure that he’d never get out of prison and never see his family again. (Genesis 39:29f)
Abigail, on the other hand, was married to a rich man who was selfish. She was secure and privileged. Then David, an outlaw from the court of Saul, sent a messenger to Nabal asking for supplies because he had protected Nabal’s flocks in the wilderness. When Nabal refused, she found herself unsettled and realized she had to take action to protect the family. (I Samuel 25:14-31) When she told her husband what she had done, “his heart died within him, and he became as a stone…and he died” (I Samuel 25:37-38). This left her completely at loose ends without protection of a husband.
Even though both these Bible heroes thought that their life was unsettled permanently. God, knew there was a lot more to the story. Joseph was destined to be the governor of Egypt to save his family (and the nation of Egypt) from the effects of a famine. David sent for Abigail and she became his wife and support during his time of exile and kingship.
There is a positive side to being “at loose ends”, though. It is the opportunity that is hidden in being unsettled. Maria in The Sound of Music says, "When the Lord closes a door, somewhere he opens a window.” That is true for us today and it was true for men and women in the Bible. We can get so focused on looking at the closed door that we forget to look around for the open window. 
At least I know that’s true for me. Only when I let go of my plan of using the obvious ‘door’ can I see the wide open window. I love this picture I found online because it shows that the door is the narrowest way to get to the other side. In reality, in God’s will, the wall is entirely open! There have been times when I’ve felt at ‘loose ends’-unsettled and uncertain about what the next step was. There have been times when I’ve felt that there couldn’t possibly be another step because the road is a dead end. Usually those are times when the Lord has a new direction for my walk, but I have to “Let Go” before God can work. When I quit pounding the closed door and look around, I can see the opportunity for a new direction.
Joseph and Abigail discovered opportunity in the ‘loose ends’ of their lives. Joseph, in Egypt, realized that his life as the favored son of a sheik in Canaan was over. Then he was able to be open to God’s plan. Only then could God place him in a position of power and restore his family. In my novel, It is I, Joseph he is torn between reconciliation with his brothers or revenge and decides on reconciliation (after he puts them to a little test-see Genesis 44:1-45:8). Joseph has come to understand that “it was not you who sent me here, but God.” 
Abigail was at ‘loose ends’ after Nabal died. She was unable to imagine what would happen to her as a widow. Then, “David sent and wooed Abigail, to make her his wife…and [she] became his wife.” God had a new opportunity as the support and love of David’s life. In My Abigail she gives him wise counsel during his time of exile, and this is because she learned to be strong and wise as the wife of the ‘foolish’ Nabal.
When my life is at ‘loose ends’, it is never a comfortable experience. Looking at Bible heroes helps me understand that very often that is the way God works and where the open window of opportunity can be found. If you feel like your life is ‘at loose ends’, look around for that window and see what opportunities God has in store for you.
There is an even worse feeling than being at loose ends. That is ‘being at the end of your rope’. We’ll look at a couple of Bible heroes that found themselves in that position, next time.

August 19, 2012

Letting Go

Over the past few weeks, we’ve looked at the Parable of the Growing Seed in Mark 4:26-29 as a lesson in how ministry grows. Any farmer will tell you that the result of the planting and tending of a crop is tenuous until the harvest is safely in. We’ve all seen images drought ruined corn and storm damaged fields.
On my way to work there is a small field of hay. The farmer has a pretty poor record of getting good hay baled. It seems that whenever he cuts the field, it brings rain. Here in the SW the rain is a welcome sight, but not for a farmer with hay cut on the ground. Cut hay that is rained on is ruined and pretty much only good to be used as straw. Whenever I drive by and see that this farmer has cut his hay, I start holding my breath, on his behalf, and looking at the sky for any threatening clouds.
It’s not like I can control the weather and keep it from raining on his field, but that doesn’t stop me from hoping he can get it dried and baled before it rains. That happens a lot in other areas of life. We are all guilty of trying to control things that are not even in our control. From little things like hoping the light will stay green to big things like trying to convince God that you HAVE to get a certain outcome from a prayer, we each try to manipulate the world around us and God.
Last month I had a week off, with nothing planned! It about drove me crazy until I realized that I have some definite ‘control issues’. Then I started thinking about what it means to be at ‘loose ends,’ ‘at the end of the rope,’ or ‘out of control’. All, at first glimpse are, to me, negative things. However, after a deeper look, I discovered that there are some real positives to these things. God is much more able to act when I am not controlling every little detail. 
During the vacation time, we took a day to go fishing (well my husband fished, I wrote). We had to cut the day short due to the rain and hail. It was lovely to have the cooling rain, but disappointing to have to leave early. God was in control, though, and we got back to town early enough to enjoy the rain that followed us home instead of driving wet mountain roads in pouring rain.   
This morning, a citation popped into my mind. “So he said to me, "This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: 'Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,' says the LORD Almighty.” Zechariah 4:6. It is a good reminder that no matter how wise or strong or powerful or great or talented we may be, it is truly only by the Spirit of God that we can do anything in and for the Kingdom of God.
There’s a little poem that explains that we have to really let God have our problems and let God be in charge of our ministries.

As children bring their broken toys with tears for us to mend,
I brought my broken dreams to God because He is my friend.
But instead of leaving Him in peace to work alone,
I hung around and tried to help with ways that were my own.
At last I snatched them back and cried, "How can You be so slow?"
"My child," He said, "what could I do? You never let them go."

Like children, we can get inpatient with God and say “How can You be so slow [with X, Y, Z]” forgetting that God’s timing is perfect and God’s Spirit will bring all to fruition at the proper time.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be looking at some places where saints and heroes of the faith (like Joseph, Rahab, Moses, and many others) have had to “Let Go and Let God” when they found that their life was out of control. I think they might just have something to teach us about living our life today.

August 12, 2012


I’ve been thinking a lot about “Transfiguration,” partly because last Monday was the Feast of the Transfiguration. You can find the Gospel account in Matthew 17:1-8, Mark 9:2-8 and Luke 9:28-36. Instead of focusing on Jesus whose “face shone like the sun and his garments became white as light”, I’ve been thinking about the reactions of Peter, James and John who were with Jesus.
At first, they probably thought it was rather special that they were chosen to go with Jesus to pray while the other disciples stayed behind. Maybe they expected some private training in prayer or being a better disciple. Maybe they thought he was going to explain some of his more cryptic comments recently.
However, what happened on the mountain was outside of their experience entirely. They did not get some private prayer mantra. They did not get private disciple lessons. What Peter, James, and John got was a vision of the Glory of God, previously reserved for Moses and Elijah who, lo and behold, were there too!
Imagine for a minute that you are a Galilean fisherman living in first century Palestine under Roman rule. Not too long ago you met Jesus, an itinerant rabbi. There was something about him that warmed your heart and made you leave everything to go with him. No longer can you say ‘I am a fisherman’ because that’s behind you. You do say, “I am Jesus’ disciple,” but you aren’t completely sure what that means. With Jesus and a few other men you’ve been traveling around Galilee. He’s been healing the sick and feeding thousands with a bit of bread and fish. Jesus also sometimes says some pretty astonishing things, and you wish he’d explain them.
Remember, about a week before the Transfiguration, Peter blurted out, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” but got rebuked for scolding Jesus who started trying to explain to all the disciples that the Kingdom of God comes at a cost—even the cost of a cross. Jesus had said, “Whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
Your training in the Torah has, of necessity, been a bit skimpy. The best rabbis gather in Jerusalem, not provincial Galilee. The local rabbi is not the greatest scholar and belabors points when he preaches. Being a fisherman means you haven’t really had much time to sit around discussing the finer points of the Law and Prophets, anyway. Trading with the ‘pagan’ merchants who come to the Sea of Galilee to buy fish for their clients across the empire means that you have been exposed, like it or not, to un-Jewish ideas. Sometimes it is even hard to hold onto your identity as Jewish in the face working and trading and making a living.
You do, however, know about Moses and Elijah. They are the pinnacle of what it means to be a Jew. Moses is the great deliverer and giver of the Law, while Elijah stood up for God against Jezebel and all her priests and later was taken up into heaven by the flaming “chariots Israel and its horsemen’ (2 Kings 2:11-12) Now here you are on this mountain with Jesus and there are Moses and Elijah-long dead, but not dead now. It’s a pretty amazing and awe inspiring event! No wonder Peter again blurts out the first thing that comes to mind, “…if you wish, I will make three booths here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” I like this image of the Transfiguration because it shows the three disciples adoring the vision rather than flattened to the ground by the event.
The next thing that happens is even more astonishing for the trio of former fishermen. They are surrounded by a cloud and hear “a voice from the cloud…’This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased, listen to him.” Probably in that moment they were totally overwhelmed, but later as they thought about it, they would have recognized that it was the same cloud that overshadowed Moses when he received the Law on Mount Sinai and that led the Children of Israel through the wilderness. 
Glimpses of God’s Glory make us want to hang onto the moment so it will last. How often do we attend a retreat that is very moving and inspirational and find that it is very hard to ‘come back to earth’ when we get home and find the laundry piled up and the kids squabbling? (You may recall that the same thing happens to Jesus and the three disciples-see Matthew 17:14f)
We are not told if Peter, James and John were different when they came down from the mountain. Perhaps, like Moses of old, their faces shown for a while, too. I am sure that they were transfigured in their hearts. That didn’t make them perfect. Peter, after all, later denies he knew Jesus. The experience, like any transfiguring change, became part of their hearts and souls and the way they lived, if only for brief moments when the event was remembered.
Transfiguration experiences do not have to be as dramatic as seeing Moses and Elijah and hearing a voice from a cloud. Deep insight during a time of prayer, an especially moving worship service, the unexpected beauty of nature, and many other things can all be times when we experience being in the presence of God. As Elizabeth Barrett Browning says, Earth's crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God; But only he who sees, takes off his shoes - The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.” (Aurora Leigh)
Have you experienced God’s fire or God’s cloud? Have you heard God’s voice? You are blessed. God’s glory is all around. Let’s look for it, instead of just picking blackberries.

August 5, 2012

The Harvest has Come

The farmer brings his crop to harvest and that is gratifying. He knew "when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come." (Mark 4:29) If you wait too long to harvest or start the harvest too soon, the crop is ruined and the resulting produce isn’t as good as it would have been at full maturity. With a garden there is just the right time to harvest, and in ministry we begin to see results when 'the harvest has come', too.
Sometimes we don’t get to harvest what we plant. Paul talks about this when he says “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” (1 Corinthians 3:6-7) The important thing is that God’s Kingdom advances. Max Lucado has a story about the donkey Christ rode, saying we each have a donkey (talent) that will move the Kingdom down the road.
Our part in the broad spectrum of ministry may be just a small part. We may just be the sower or we may cultivate or water. Others may do the actual harvesting. Many of the ancestors of our faith didn’t see the results of their faithful lives. Paul and the other Epistle writers would never have expected that their words, simply letters to new churches, would still inspire us 2000 years later. Abraham had to believe God’s promise of a multitude of nations, but he never saw it. Moses brought the people through the wilderness but did not get to enter the Promised Land. More modern prophets and pioneers like Dorthea Day, Julian of Norwich, Henri Nouwen and others all planted seeds still providing fruit now.
In the same way, we cannot take credit for any ‘success’ of the harvest. Rather we can only say, “I did my duty” and then we will hear the Master Gardener say, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” (Matthew 25:21)
Looking at this Parable of the Growing Seed has given me some insight into my responsibility as one of God’s farm laborers. There are similarities between farming and doing ministry. Both are ‘things we do while breathing.’ Both require preparing, sowing, and tending in order to bring in a fruitful harvest. In the process we will be pruned and changed in order to be more fruitful. This pot of flowers on my deck is a reminder that pruning is necessary for new growth. 
On the 4th of July a friend came over for dinner. She looked at the overgrown plants in this pot and asked if she could prune them. "They might bloom again," she promised and sure enough, after pruning the dead growth off, they immediately bloomed. 
God is always pruning the dead growth out of our lives and gardens. Even if we don’t see the result of our work, we can trust in God who gives us this promise in Jeremiah 29: 11-13: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. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord.”
The result of faithful ministry work is that the Kingdom of God is presented and God's love is shared. The fruit of our ministry will not necessarily be big and obvious, but it should be changed hearts and lives (our own and those we meet). We can plant and cultivate and water the ministry we believe we are called to do, remembering only "God can give the increase". It is our task simply to use our talents, as we are able, to cultivate fruit for the Kingdom, first in our lives and then help others to be more fruitful!
Next time, we’ll start a new series of meditations.