Planks and Pieces

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I don’t remember my dreams unless they are early morning nightmares where I cannot, for the life of me, get to where I’m supposed to be going. Today’s version of that: I was traveling in a tour group and somehow left my car parked somewhere (not sure why) and mistakenly thought I was close enough to home that I could just walk a few blocks to get there. But, the surrounding landmarks looked unfamiliar and big-city-like, not at all like my town! When I frustratedly failed at trying to secure an Uber (I don’t even have the app on my phone), I asked someone to point me in the direction of the W&M Law School. I got a confused look and the response, “You are in Arlington.” Then came the realization that I’d never get home. A compelling reason to wake up in a sweat! Thankfully. What a relief to know, okay, I’m in my bed, in my house, in my town, and my car is right outside! Rescued by wakefulness.

A favorite devotional book of mine is Streams in the Desert: 366 Daily Devotional Readings. The reading for August 22 grabbed by attention because I related it to my own modern day experiences of Acts 27:44: “The rest were to get there on planks and pieces of the ship. In this way everyone reached land in safety.” To get the context (surrounding story) of this verse, I encourage readers to look at the tumultuous, but miraculous story of Paul’s voyage to Rome (Acts 27, whole chapter). The voyage was difficult all along, but then became life-or-death dangerous (Acts 27:9) and then a violent wind made matters much worse (Acts 27:14-15), if you could imagine.

To survive the worst storm, the crew began to jettison the cargo (Acts 27:18) and Paul assured them that only the ship would be lost, but their lives would be preserved (Acts 27:22). When Paul says, “Men, you ought to have followed my advice and not to have set sail for Crete” (Acts 27:21), I am reminded that doing God’s work, but not in God’s way, will invite similar disaster. Doing God’s work, but not using the people He has specifically called. Doing God’s work, but not waiting on His direction. Doing God’s work, but not inquiring of Him in constant prayer. Doing God’s work, but ignoring the red flags sent by the Holy Spirit. Yes, it becomes a highly dangerous voyage, not to end well.

Yet, God, in His great mercy, will weave us out of the disaster safely, not usually by angels dramatically grabbing us out of the water, but by simple, winding paths of escape. On planks and pieces. Pain will be involved, but life is preserved. The airbags might cause damage, but you will be able to walk away with your life.

I’ve lived long enough to see unthinkable voyages. I have seen sophisticated undermining of ship’s captains, I have seen the demoralization of the crew, I have seen the emotional, spiritual, and even legal twisting of the truth to cause massive division and shipwrecks. But, in all these things, I have seen God work a simple way of escape and I have seen Him give the survivors, who floated away on the planks and pieces, eyes to see His rescue and redemption.

My dad is in his late 80’s. He has been walking with the Lord for a long time. These days, he talks about resurrection often. He loves the metaphor of the caterpillar, the cocoon, and the transformation into the beautiful butterfly. He loves the picture of hope in Jesus Christ and eternity in His presence. I share my dad’s hope. I can see that life in Christ is mostly lived in the caterpillar and cocoon stage. Some storms pass, some don’t. And serious shipwrecks do happen.

The planks and pieces of the dangerous voyage, we are sure to face – in more ways than one. But, one day, we will wake to find we reached our heavenly destination, very likely on planks and pieces of the wrecked ship. But, humbly and simply, as those whose hope is in Christ alone. We will wake up and not be lost in Arlington (I thought it was interesting that it was northern Virginia that caused the most fright). However, there will be a resurrection that provides our ultimate safe passage on the planks and pieces. It will not be a dream. It will be reality. Like the butterfly.

 

 

The Next Generation

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Watching children play on the beach is an uplifting experience. Even more so when you see the future before you in broad strokes and think about the gifts these kids are now and will be to others in the future. The potential they represent! The family of God! The heritage passed on to them by their believing parents.

One day this past spring, a friend shared a burden she had for the next generation. After several years out of her profession as a retired school principal, she returned to an interim position briefly and was surprised at the drastic change for the worse she saw in students, their parents and teachers. I found myself nodding in agreement as I had seen similar trends in recent years. Growing disrespect, tolerance of inappropriate language, divisiveness, and lack of discipline, to name a few. Yet…

Deut. 30:19 says, “…I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.” When we choose life, we do so knowing that God’s promises remain solid. This is for our children, too.  And for their children. God is true to His Word, and His gift of salvation was meant to breathe life into us anew and for eternity. And into our children. And, to sustain new life and its flourishing, even while we had and still have an inclination for death ever since the Fall.

God is still the Giver of new life and the gifts of marriage and family.  These were God’s designs for human flourishing from the very beginning. Have you ever wondered why our hearts melt when we see a newborn baby? Or even a newly born puppy, chick, or calf? Because we see great hope in the next generation perhaps? Great blessing for the future? In bearing God’s image, isn’t it one of our deepest desires to be part of the continuation of new life as part of God’s creation?

Psalm 127:3 says, “Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from Him.” In my lifetime, I have come to appreciate that fertility is never to be taken lightly. And, that infertility is an agony of great grief and despair. Yet, I also appreciate that great miracles do happen and often occur when you have least expected them to come. And, only by God’s grace. I see God’s miracles in every one of my grandchildren.

In a summer Bible study that I am leading currently, we had a discussion of the meaning of the word “ramification” as part of a discussion of suffering in I Peter 4:12-19. We found that it is – “a subdivision of a complex structure or process perceived as comparable to a tree’s branches.” Another definition is “a branch or offshoot, the act of branching, a consequence, an outgrowth.” We listed out ways that so much of life resembles branches… The branching out of the circulatory system, plant life/root structures, actual trees, family trees, etc. Outcomes (or outgrowths) are varied based upon the direction of the branches – and they go in so many different directions.

Literally everything has an implication (or branch or ramification) for the future. So, we as believers have a real urgency to pray regarding the next generation. Our children are our branches. We have hope in and because of Jesus Christ. We have access to new life in Him. We know that a family built on authentic faith in Jesus Christ will have an inheritance that cannot spoil, fade or perish. A great ramification.

For these things we should continually pray. Inheritance that includes these family branches, these spiritual ramifications, to name a few:

  1. Singleness of heart and action, unity. Jeremiah 32:39 says, “I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear Me and that all will then go well for them and for their children after them.”
  2. The Lord’s love and righteousness. Psalm 103:17 says, “But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear Him, and His righteousness with their children’s children –.”
  3. A stronghold against enemies. Psalm 8:2 says, “Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.” Think about this kind of protection and covering that comes from children praising God.
  4. Great joy in a real home and a real dwelling for God’s Name. Nehemiah 12:43 says, As the Israelites were rebuilding the Jerusalem wall “…(They) offered great sacrifices, rejoicing because God had given them great joy. The women and children also rejoiced. The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away.”

Our prayers, if built around ramifications for the future, will branch into prayers for our children and their children – to have a real home, and a real dwelling for God’s Name.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunrise Prayer

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So many mornings, Lord, I have been seated in other parts of my house, looking down at my phone or my Kindle or my Bible study homework (not that these are bad things), but have failed to look up, to look east, to see the sunrise from the front room in our house, a room that isn’t used very much. But, this morning, I can’t believe the beauty I’ve been missing by not looking up. By not seeing out, not watching the brightness appear over the water gradually into full on sunshine and a new day. The front room. That beautiful morning glow.

Psalm 121:1,2 says, “I lift up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” Four years ago, I wondered what life would be like after an intense 22-year ministry career. I wondered how I would spend my time. Really Your time given to me. I wondered how having time to really study Your Word would transform my life… because the Gospel does change everything. Every relationship, every perspective, every motive, every yearning, every dream.

And then this year, I met King David in Your Word, and I saw how he inquired of you often, and when he didn’t, he went wildly astray. I felt You calling me to be part of something that I never would have naturally sought. I felt You pull gently at my heart. I heard You tell me to break with my patterns, my routines, my natural inclination to find closure. Break with my obsession to finish what I’ve started, no mid-year upheavals allowed.

You brought me into something You were doing in my town. You helped me connect the past with the future. You pulled back the veil and let me see how You were preparing me. The last hurdle was waiting on You and Your timing, and it certainly wasn’t at all like 40 years in the desert…

It was an inquiring process that unfolded with regular prayer meetings and faithful women and men who were praying for the last 4-5 years. You included me. You gave me a new vision. You tended the garden of our hopes and dreams, and spurred us on. We inquired a lot. Then you answered, just like You answered David. It was a circle around.

II Samuel 5:19-23 says, “So David inquired of the Lord, ‘Shall I go and attack the Philistines? Will You hand them over to me?’ The Lord answered, ‘Go, for I will surely hand the Philistines over to you.’ So David went to Baal Perazim, and there he defeated them. He said, ‘As waters break out, the Lord has broken out against my enemies before me.’ So that place is called Baal Perazim. The Philistines abandoned their idols there, and David and his men carried them off. Once more the Philistines came up and spread out in the Valley of Rephaim; so David inquired of the Lord, and He answered, ‘Do not go straight up, but circle around behind them and attack them in front of the balsam trees.’ ”

In the last two weeks, You showed me personally that waiting is never idling. Waiting is never wasted in Your kingdom. You were in the midst of this, encouraging me with purposeful waiting activities and special blessings that I would only have a small window of time to receive and enjoy before my next assignment. Your answers are strategic.

In this waiting period, one particular gift was a special friend. My special friend whose son married my daughter 15 years ago. I would never have anticipated a bond with her that has taught me so much about Your faithfulness. Psalm 40:5 says, “Many, O Lord my God, are the wonders You have done. The things You planned for us no one can recount to You; were I to speak and tell of them, they would be too many to declare.”

Now the sun in the front window is fully up. It’s Sunday at 7:29 a.m. My friend and I share more than our children and grandchildren. We share Christ, and two transformed hearts that can only exist by the Lord’s hand of grace. And, for a brief two weeks, we got to be in the same Bible Study Fellowship class, sitting together, talking together, and mostly being grateful for our divine journey because of Jesus Christ.

Lord, how could I not be grateful for this amazing two weeks before You unfold the next mystery of Your purposes in my town, the next assignment, which You are now doing? The front room is full of bright sunlight now. I almost need sunglasses to be able to continue looking up. I am reminded of the need to lift up my eyes to the hills often. Help me to remember this always. Thank You for letting me be part of the sunrise of something You are doing in my community for Your glory.

Amen.