Three Funerals and a Wedding

In the month of July, I went to three funerals.  The first was a graveside service for the father of a friend whom I met at Clemson and had the blessing of leading in Bible study for many years.  The second one was for my dad’s cousin.  And the third was for a friend I knew from being in the singles’ ministry at my church and who had also attended the Bible study I lead there.  She was only 57, born two days before my husband.

Besides those funerals, this summer held many more reminders that we live in a broken world.  Several other friends also lost a parent including two women who are in my Bible studies.   Two other women confided in me that they struggle with depression.  Another woman’s father went into hospice.  And I am often reminded of my own parents’ aging, too.  So while it has been a good summer with plenty of joys, there has also been a lot of sadness.  My heart grieves for my friends in their losses and struggles.  I’ve never been one to cry easily or often, but I find that tears come to my eyes more easily and more often these days.

In God’s sovereignty (or irony!), I was studying and leading Genesis 1-11 this summer which includes Chapter 3.  The Fall.  The whole reason for this brokenness.

But before I even got to Chapter 3, of course, I got to Chapter 2.  And part of it includes a pretty specific description of Eden.

“And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers.  The name of the first is the Pishon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold.  And the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there.”  Genesis 2:9-12

One of the commentaries I was using mentioned parallels between this description and the New Jerusalem.  For example, in the New Jerusalem:

  • There are jewels (Revelation 21:10-11, 19-20)
  • There is gold (Revelation 21:18, 21)
  • There is a river that comes from the throne (Revelation 22:1)
  • The tree of life is there (Revelation 22:2)

This was the first time I had ever specifically seen these parallels between the Garden and the New Jerusalem.  Thinking on it reminded me that we were created for Paradise, and our hearts yearn for it.  Whether they believe in God or not, every human being knows that this planet is broken and longs for more deep inside of them.  They long for what they were originally created for in the Garden.

We try all kinds of ways to make this broken world more like the Paradise we desire.  We pour money into improving our bodies and our homes and our yards wishing for perfection.  We seek things that we think will fill our souls whether it’s money or things or food or drink (or chocolate . . . or ice cream . . .).  But Larry Crabb is right in his book Inside Out when he says (referring to the thief on the cross in Luke 23:42-43), “We must remember that our Lord’s promise of Paradise today was given to a man about to die.”  We will never experience what we long for on this side of heaven.  Not on this broken earth filled with broken people.

But thankfully we know the end of the story!  Because of Jesus we have a sure and certain hope that one day we will be in Paradise if we trust in Him.  And the pain we experience now in this broken world will be gone.

“He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain”.  (Revelation 21:4)

“And there shall no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it and His bond-servants shall serve Him; and they shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads.”  (Revelation 22:3-4)

Instead of funerals, we will have a wedding!

“Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,
‘Hallelujah!  For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns.  Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come  and his Bride has made herself ready;
 it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure’ – for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.
 And the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’ And he said to me, ‘These are the true words of God.’”       Revelation 19:6-9

In the midst of a summer filled with reminders of brokenness, the Lord used this study of Genesis to remind me of this hope – the hope we have of Paradise because of Christ.

Does this mean, though, that it hurts less here?  Not necessarily.  There is still pain and there is still grief as we hurt and miss those we love.  But at least there is not hopelessness as I can cling to this truth.  And while we are still here on Earth, the Lord is with us.  Psalm 34:18 says He is near to the brokenhearted.  2 Corinthians 1:3-4 calls Him the “God of all comfort who comforts us in all our affliction”.  In John 14:27, Jesus says He gives us His peace that is not like the world’s peace.  These are the things I pray that my friends will experience as they grieve, and they are the promises I cling to as well in sad times.

I am not alone.  And I am not without hope.  One day it will all be right again.

Thanks be to God.

Pulling Weeds

Mother’s Day is just around the corner!  Last year I was able to go home and see my parents for Mother’s Day.  On Saturday, I took Dad shopping to get some gifts for Mom.  One thing on her list was some lantana to plant in the yard.  Even though they live well within the city limits, they have a problem with deer, and Mom had found that lantana was something she could plant that they wouldn’t eat.

So Dad and I went to a nursery before heading to the mall so we could get some good quality plants.  Part of my gift to her that weekend was to also plant them for her.  So that afternoon on a beautiful day, I weeded the front flower beds and planted all the lantana that we bought.  With plants from a nursery, good soil that was now weed-free, and a place with good light and water, I figured that the lantana would thrive.

You can imagine my surprise later that summer when Mom told me that some of the plants weren’t doing well.  In July, I got to go see my parents again, and Mom asked if I could help her move the struggling plants to some planters she had gotten to put on the front steps instead.

I felt like a detective looking over the plants, seeing which ones had done well and which ones hadn’t, trying to figure out what had happened because it made no sense to me.  I was sure they were all set up for success!  It turned out that the difference between them was caused by weeds that had come back more quickly and densely than I expected.  They were blocking the light.  The plants that were thriving had enough light because the weeds weren’t covering them.

As I worked on weeding and pulling the struggling plants out, the parable of the sower in Matthew 13 came to mind, specifically the part about the thorns.
“And others (i.e. seeds) fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them out.” (Matthew 13:7)  Later in verse 22, Jesus explains this verse:
“And the one on whom the seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the worry of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.”

While they weren’t technically thorns, while I was weeding I thought about how the weeds choked out the lantana so that it couldn’t flourish.  And the real problem that caused the “choking” was that the weeds blocked the light.

And then it hit me – that’s what my worries do, too!  They block the light of God and His word in my life which makes me unfruitful.  I could just see all those worries in my head choking out the Word, keeping it from being in my thoughts.  When I am worrying, I’m not meditating on truth or on God and who He is.  I am letting those anxious thoughts grow in my head like weeds that block the light.

That day I helped Mom move those struggling, choked plants into planters on the steps.  They were now in a place where the weeds would be minimal, and they would get plenty of light.  Later that summer, Mom sent me this picture.  They were finally flourishing, just as I had originally expected them to do.  But only because this time there were no choking weeds.

How I need to be careful to “weed” the garden of my mind and heart of the worries that can so easily fill them so that I will flourish like these plants!  I need the light of God and His word to thrive.  I need to be diligent to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5) and not let the “weeds of worry” grow so large that I become unfruitful.  As I work in my yard this year, I pray that weeding my flower beds will be a regular reminder to “weed my worries”, too.

Earthen Vessels

The verse just leapt off the page.  Have you ever had that happen?  We were sitting in a small group in Sunday School and someone was reading 2 Corinthians 4:1-15.  But my mind stopped at verse 7:
“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves.”

“Earthen vessels”.  “Jars of clay”.  It’s a term that is meant to communicate weakness, fragility, and frailty.  That’s the phrase that stopped me in my tracks.  And it was because that is what I felt like.

I was tired.  Physically tired.  Mentally tired.  While things in our lives (my husband and me) are not horrible, this summer and now into the fall has been challenging.  It started with a trial that I thought had a light coming soon at the end of a short tunnel.  I was hopeful.  I had faith.  But it turns out the tunnel has been long and there’s no light right now.  And I am tired.

As the reader in our small group continued, my ears tuned out while my mind went to similar verses:

“And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’  Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me.  Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”  2 Corinthians 12:9-10

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy, and My load is light.”  Matthew 11:28-30

“Do you not know?  Have you not heard?
The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth
Does not become weary or tired.
His understanding is inscrutable.
He gives strength to the weary,
And to him who lacks might, He increases power.
Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly,
Yet those who wait on the Lord
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary.”    Isaiah 40:28-31

I don’t like weakness.  I never have.  I think my first sentence was “I can do it myself.”  And being single until you’re 44 means you get to live that out more than you expected or really ever wanted to.  I want to be strong and independent.

But the verse that leapt off the page reminded me that I’m not.  It made me face my weakness – my earthen vessel.  My jar of clay.  My tiredness.

And it reminded me why God made me this way.  Made all of us this way.  It’s so that I will be drawn to depend on Him instead of being independent.  Drawn to take His yoke instead of carrying my own.  Drawn to experience His grace instead of depending on my self-effort.

And it’s so that He gets the glory.

So I’m still tired.  At least physically.  I guess it would help if I went to bed earlier! But I’m done with trying to muster up some strength to endure or with coming up with a solution to make it all better.   Instead, I’m choosing each day to focus on His grace and His strength and respond to His invitation to come to Him no matter what I feel like physically or emotionally or mentally that day.

Do I hope the light shows up at the end of the tunnel soon?  Sure I do.  But then there will be another tunnel one day.  And another.  And some of them will be even harder tunnels than this one.  But the grace will always be there.  The “surpassing greatness of the power” will always be there.  The gentle and humble Savior will always be there with rest for my soul.

 

 

Charlottesville

I left Bible study today really sad and heavy-hearted.  Afterwards, I went to get an allergy shot and found myself holding back tears as I sat in the waiting room.  As I mentioned in my last blog post, these kinds of tears are unusual for me.

We were discussing Titus 2:1-10 today, and as we looked at the behavior Paul was exhorting Titus to teach to his church members, it didn’t take long for the topic of Charlottesville and the events in Durham last night to come up.  It’s one thing to read articles online.  It’s another to process them in a group with an African-American friend there.  To realize how these things affect your friend – your sister in Christ, someone you respect and value – makes the gravity and horror of what is happening in our country far more real.

This is not what I typically blog about.  I never want this to be a place that is political or denominational.  I want it to be a place that encourages women to trust and follow God.  But I have to express this weight on my heart and these tears.  And so my hope is that this post will still fit within my parameters – that it will be clear that it’s not political and that it will encourage those who read it to trust and follow God in light of what is going on in our country.

The events in Charlottesville were a wake-up call for me.  I have heard about the racism in our country – I read the newspaper (yes, I still get one), watch TV news, read articles online.  But since I’ve never met anyone with that kind of hate towards blacks, it was just hard to believe it was that intense – that so many people are like that, that they would express it the way they did in Charlottesville, that they would kill someone.

What was embarrassing today was to admit my naïveté to my African-American friend.  To look at her and know that she wasn’t surprised by Saturday.  That she didn’t need a wake-up call.  She didn’t say much so I don’t know her personal experience.  But I know she has experienced racism many times in many forms.

One of the women in the group who is older than I am mentioned that she can’t believe we are still fighting this battle, that she remembers when they were fighting it in the 60’s.  Since I am younger than she is, I don’t remember the fighting.  I only experienced the blessings, the amazing changes that Martin Luther King, Jr. and others fought for.

I started 1st grade in 1971.  My school was integrated – I’ve never experienced segregation.  I was in class with black students every year, and I don’t remember thinking about the differences.  They were just my friends.  I also don’t remember my parents ever saying anything negative about my African-American classmates and friends because of their race (or for any other reason).  I guess I was naïve then as well but blessedly so.

When I was in college, the protests over race were about apartheid in South Africa – not about our country.  I remember walking by shanties at UNC and marches to call for the university to divest from companies that did business in South Africa and being doubtful such protests would work.  But they did.

The first event of race-related anger and violence I remember were the Rodney King riots in 1992.  I guess I should have had my eyes opened then.  They showed what had really been going on under the surface.  But it was in California and seemed far away both geographically and personally.

I say all of this to explain my shock on Saturday.  While of course I knew there was racism in our country – because it is in every country in different forms because it lives in the fallen heart of man – I just couldn’t believe that it was this bad.  That our country was still so far from what Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. and others had fought for and what many had given their lives for.  How can we be here?  And so today I grieve.

As we got to the end of our study of Titus 2:1-10 today, I asked them what were the reasons Paul gave for teaching these character traits.  They are:

  1. That the word of God many not be dishonored (not maligned, reviled). Literally “blasphemed”.  Verse 5
  2. That the opponent may be put to shame having nothing bad to say about us. Verse 8
  3. That they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect (NIV – “make the teaching about God our Savior attractive”). Verse 10

We realized that this also relates to what is going on in our country right now.  First in that the members of these white supremacist groups who link themselves and their mission to Christ are blaspheming God and His word.  But also, the church needs to respond in a way that doesn’t dishonor God but instead makes the gospel attractive.  As I think back to another recent division in our country – immigration – I’m not sure the church always did that.  Of course, there are individual churches that did and are doing so now in their response.  But if you were to ask non-believers or even our ethnic brothers and sisters, how would they describe the white evangelical church’s response to these situations that impact them so deeply?  Do they see those responses as adorning the gospel?

Do I have the answers of exactly what the church should do?  No.  I’m just starting to search for the answers of what I should do.  Even if it’s small.

During our discussion on Titus today, I shared that the word translated “teach” in     Titus 2:1 literally means “speak” or “articulated words”.  I shared that I think Paul was encouraging Titus to not just teach but to speak up instead of saying nothing.  One of the women mentioned how we need to do that as well.  So this is my start of “speaking” rather than saying nothing.

Also, the overwhelming realization that our nation needs healing brought 2 Chronicles 7:14 to mind:  “and My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray, and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”  Sounds like a good place to start to me.

Lord, have mercy on our country.  We are overwhelmed as we see injustice and hate and the shocking expression of the wickedness that is in the heart of man.  Show us how You would have us respond whether it’s with our friends or in our community.  Show us the sin in our hearts that we need to grieve and repent.  May we live self-controlled, righteous (just), and godly lives that make the gospel attractive to others.  We acknowledge that only You can change hearts, and we ask You to bring revival to our country that results in people loving You and loving their neighbor.  Give our leaders wisdom as they address the challenges of their community and of our country.  Amen

Inspired by “Wonder Woman”

True confession.  I cried during “Wonder Woman”.

This was strange to me for several reasons.  One is that I typically don’t cry easily at things like movies or TV shows (although this has changed more recently.  I blame menopause and watching “This is Us” last year!).  Another is that I would never expect to cry during a superhero movie.  And then it happened during a battle scene – not a tender moment where tears would seem more likely.

If you have seen the movie, you will remember the scene.  It is the one that takes place in “no man’s land”.  After meeting Steve Trevor and hearing about what is going on in World War I, Diana (Wonder Woman) wants to be taken to the war, believing that she will find the cause of it (the Greek god Ares) and be able to kill him, thus ending the war and the deaths of millions of innocent people.  Eventually, Steve takes her there – to the trenches at the border of no man’s land.  In the trench, she meets a woman who tells her about what the soldiers are doing to the people in the town on the other side of no man’s land.  Diana’s heart is moved with compassion, and she decides she needs to do something.  Here is her exchange with Steve Trevor:

Steve Trevor: This is no man’s land, Diana! It means no man can cross it, alright? This battalion has been here for nearly a year and they’ve barely gained an inch. All right? Because on the other side there are a bunch of Germans pointing machine guns at every square inch of this place. This is not something you can cross. It’s not possible.
Diana Prince: So… what? So we do nothing?
Steve Trevor: No, we are doing something! We are! We just… we can’t save everyone in this war. This is not what we came here to do.
Diana Prince: No. But it’s what I’m going to do.

Diana removes her disguise to reveal herself as Wonder Woman and goes into no man’s land, fighting off bullets with her wrist cuffs and shield.

When I was searching for things about the movie to write this blog, I found out that I wasn’t the only woman who cried at this scene.  Apparently, according to this article, there are many of us who did.  I’m not sure about all of their reasons.  Maybe it was at seeing a strong woman take the lead when men kept telling her “no”. 

But I know why I cried.  Just a few days before I saw the movie, I had led a Bible study about spiritual warfare.  We had looked at the armor of God outlined in Ephesians 6:13-17.  With all of those verses fresh in my mind, as I watched the scene, I saw imagery of a woman fighting the spiritual battle.

This woman was taking the lead, holding her shield of faith to fight off “the flaming arrows of the evil one”.  And even though the battle was fierce, she kept moving forward, using her wrist cuffs to protect her from the bullets and holding her shield as protection.

But as she stepped out in faith in battle, she inspired others to do the same.  As Diana moves forward successfully in no man’s land, the men on her team come out of the trench and join the fight behind her.  As I watched this happen, it reminded me that my faith will encourage others to also trust God in the midst of the battle and be moved to action.

And even though she may have led and inspired courage in the men, she also needed them.  As they began to shoot and throw grenades at the enemy and fight with her, they helped clear the way for all of them, Wonder Woman included.

The result of Diana’s courage is that the people of the town are saved from slavery.  As believers, we know that there are people around us who are also in slavery – they are slaves to sin and need us to fight the good fight in hopes of saving them.

With all of this imagery going on in my mind, the tears sprang unexpectedly as I watched this scene. 

Fighting the battle isn’t easy.  Life isn’t easy.  It is tempting to give up when things get hard, to just quit.  I find that those temptations come ultimately because I am forgetting the character and promises of God and struggling to trust Him.  Instead, I need to put on the full armor of God and head into the battle with my shield of faith repelling the flaming missiles of the evil one. 

I’m thankful that a superhero movie – a genre I would typically avoid – encouraged me to do that.  As I fight, I want to keep coming back to this image of a woman moving forward in courage behind a shield that works to fight off the enemy.  I want to keep pressing on in such a way that others are encouraged to come along and move forward in the battle as well.  And I want to keep fighting side-by-side with the body of Christ and savoring victory together.

Thank you Wonder Woman.

 

Luke Maye and My Car

If you follow sports at all and especially college basketball, you have most likely heard about Luke Maye this week.  He made the winning shot in the UNC vs. UK game on Sunday, sending Carolina to the Final Four with another chance to play for NCAA Championship this year.  The shot would have been a big deal anyway, but it was an even bigger deal because Luke Maye isn’t a starter.  Instead he’s a sophomore who agreed to come play for Carolina without a scholarship for a year because his parents went to UNC, and it was his dream to play there.  (Roy Williams was able to give him a scholarship after all his freshman year.)

Luke Maye makes the game-winning shot.

I would have been following this story anyway as a third-generation UNC alum who was raised on Carolina basketball and whose blood runs light blue.  But I’ve been a little obsessed with it because I was friends with Luke’s dad, Mark.  My parents have lived in Charlotte three times in my lifetime.  They moved away when I was 3 and came back in March of my 5th grade year.  We lived down the street from the Mayes, and I went to school with Mark for the next five years until my parents moved again.  Our paths crossed once more at UNC when we had Western Civ together, and I’d also see him sometimes at Campus Crusade for Christ meetings when the athletes involved in FCA and Athletes in Action would come.

But this blog is not a place to write about my basketball obsession.  It is meant to encourage women to trust and follow God.  And that leads to the story about the connection between Luke Maye and my car, a 2005 Honda Accord.

The third time my parents moved to Charlotte was in 1987.  I had just graduated from UNC and was joining the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ (now Cru).  That meant the huge step of faith of raising my own financial support, something made even more challenging by moving so much.  (After leaving Charlotte in 1981 for Winston-Salem, my parents also moved to Akron in 1983 and Greenville, SC in 1985).  But the good thing about this move to Charlotte was that I had lived there before so at least I knew some people.  So one of the couples I contacted was our old neighbors, Luke Maye’s grandparents, Jerry and Rita Maye.

Mrs. Maye was so encouraging.  It turned out that Mr. Maye had gone to high school in Charlotte with a man who had been on staff with Campus Crusade.  So she put me in touch with him thinking he could help me.  I will never forget meeting with Mrs. Maye and their friend in the Hardees at Cotswald.  This kind, generous man gave me a huge handwritten list of names of friends of his that I could contact for support.  I remember him telling me that it might take a long time, but we were going to get my support raised.

So I started making phone calls and getting appointments.  Little did I know that one of the men on his list was a well-known and wealthy businessman in Charlotte.  I had never heard of him because we hadn’t lived there in six years.  But when I got off the elevator for my appointment and saw his name with the word “International” after it in big gold letters, I had an idea that this wasn’t any ordinary man.

That appointment was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.  I don’t think I have ever sensed the presence of the Holy Spirit in a place like I did in his office that day.  At the end, he asked me how much I needed to raise, how much I had, and how much I needed to report.  He told me he didn’t like to do things monthly and then wrote a check and gave it to me in an envelope asking me to not look at it until I left because he didn’t want it to affect our time together.  When I got home, I looked at the check and was floored.  He had given the amount needed to finish my financial support goal.  I was done in six weeks.

Fast forward to 2005.  This man and I had kept in touch, of course, although he hadn’t been able to replicate a check like that one due to changes in his financial situation.  Around Christmas time in 2004, I had asked my ministry partners if they would consider giving a special gift so that I could replace my 1994 Saturn that had 181,000 miles on it (my savings had gone to an HVAC unit that fall).  God provided abundantly through my kind supporters so that I had the exact down payment I had hoped for.  In January I went looking for cars.  I already knew exactly what I wanted – a blue Honda Accord.  It was my dream car.  I ended up arranging to have one delivered to the local CarMax.  I had to go to Daytona Beach for some ministry training and the plan was that my friend, Billy, was going to pick me up at the airport when I got home and take me to CarMax, and I was going to buy the car.

Well, before I left Daytona Beach, I got an email from this man that I met in 1987 asking about the car and what I was looking for.  I answered his email and then flew back to Raleigh, going straight to CarMax as planned.  The CarMax car didn’t work out, and I ended up putting down a deposit to get a car at a Honda dealership.  So that afternoon, I get home and check my email and there is another one from him.  He asked if I had bought a car already.  So I responded and told him what had happened that day.  He wrote back and first told me to sit down.  He then said to get my deposit back and then call a friend of his in Charlotte who owned a car leasing business and tell him the car I wanted, and he would have them deliver it to me.  YES – you read that right.  He was giving me my dream car for FREE.  NEW!

My car when it was brand new in 2005.

And that is exactly what happened.  At the end of the week, I came home from campus early to meet two sweet older men who had driven that car to Raleigh from Charlotte.  And a few weeks later the title came in the mail.  It was all mine.  For free.  I love that car.  It has over 187,000 miles on it and still runs like a charm.  I would be content to drive it for the rest of my life.  My husband calls it “the missionary car”, and it is.

So that is how my car is related to Luke Maye.  His grandmother introduced me to a friend who introduced me to the man who gave it to me.  It wouldn’t have happened without her.

I tell you those stories not just because I love basketball or because I love how God is blessing Luke Maye.  I tell them to you in hopes of encouraging you to trust God to do crazy things.  And I tell them because I need to remind myself to keep trusting God with the latest challenges in my life.

This morning I happened to see Ephesians 3:20 which starts out “Now to Him who is able to do for more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think”.  I could have never dreamed as a 22-year-old or as a 39-year-old how God would provide for me.  That man gave to me in ways beyond anything I had ever asked for or thought of.  And you and I can trust Him today to continue to provide for us and work in our lives in ways beyond our wildest dreams.  Even something like shooting the winning shot in the NCAA tournament.

Hidden Figures

On a recent Friday night, I finally went to see the movie “Hidden Figures”.  If you aren’t familiar with the movie, it’s about three brilliant African-American women who worked as mathematicians at NASA in the 1960’s and were a vital part of helping get John Glenn into orbit.

hidden-figuresThe movie was even better than promised.  Besides being well-written and well-paced (I could have sat there longer), it was inspiring.  It’s one of those movies that keeps coming back to mind and that you make connections to in conversations with friends.  It was great on so many levels:  in being reminded of an ugly part of our history in America in a way that makes you realize that discrimination is not over even if bathrooms aren’t labeled, in seeing it as a woman and understanding what it feels like to be a woman in a man’s world (and I can’t imagine what it’s like to be an African-American woman in a man’s world), and much more.  I could probably write a few blog posts off of my thoughts from the movie!

But what I wanted to write about most was the Biblical connection I made to the movie based on a verse I had studied that day.  (Spoiler alert – I will try to not give away many details about the storyline but if you haven’t seen it, stop reading this and just go do it!)

One key figure of the movie is Al Harrison played by Kevin Costner.  (I read that he is a fictional character made to represent three men who worked at NASA at the time.)  He is driven to beat Russia to get a man on the moon and, at the point of the movie in 1961, to catch up with them to get a man in space.  In the process, you don’t see overt racism in him as much as the fact that he doesn’t really notice it.  The world around him is just what it is, and it doesn’t seem to cross his mind to change it much.  But that changes when he realizes that he has a genius mathematician working for him who happens to be a black woman.  She makes him aware of the barriers she has in working there – which are really barriers to using her gifts to help get an American in space.

Hidden FiguresThere comes a point in the movie where Al Harrison expresses that he doesn’t really care who is doing the work – the most important thing is the mission which is putting a man in space and eventually on the moon.  And if the best person to help them is a black woman, then he wants her.  As the movie progresses, he will literally open doors for her.

As I watched this happen, Galatians 3:28 came to mind since I had just studied it that afternoon.

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man,
there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

While the leadership of Al Harrison and how he brought people together to accomplish something that had never been done before can encourage us to do the same in our workplace, adding Galatians 3:28 encourages me to do it in the church.

The church has a mission.  In some of His last words before He ascended to heaven, Jesus told His disciples, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  (Matthew 28:18-20)  It’s what we often call the Great Commission.  And it is our mission.

Paul’s declaration in Galatians 3:28 reminds us of the need for unity in the mission.  He is saying that our culture shouldn’t divide us.  That our social class shouldn’t divide us.  And that our gender shouldn’t divide us.

Think about it.  What if the church (and I mean both the local body and the church universal) was so focused on our mission that we were able to set aside these differences – of culture, class, and gender?  How many times do we let those things divide us and thus hinder our effectiveness in accomplishing the mission?  And I don’t necessarily mean great conflict that divides us.  Maybe it’s just my discomfort that does it.  Do I feel uncomfortable with people from different social classes or cultures in a way that hinders us from reaching the mission?  This is a question I have been asking myself since I saw the movie.

What would it be like if the church, like NASA, looked for the “genius” in each person – their God-given gifts and talents – and encouraged it to be used for the advance of the mission?  What would it be like to see more unity among classes, cultures, and genders to advance the gospel?  Or rephrase that in the opposite way – how is our lack of unity hindering us from advancing the gospel?  Where are people not free to express their gifts and so the church is hurting?

As I watched this idea unfold in the movie, I realized that it took a lot of humility on the part of each person on that team at NASA to do this.  Can you imagine being a white male in 1961 and suddenly having to work with a black woman who is better at you in doing the calculations to figure out how to get man back from orbit?  That takes humility.  But it also takes a commitment to the mission.  And the mission is more important than my ego, more important than whether I’m the best at something, more important than who gets the credit, and more important than the color and gender of the person I’m working next to.

And it’s no different for us in the church.  This is what it will take to accomplish the mission.  Will I look for people who are better than I am at something and encourage their gifts or will I just be jealous and hope they don’t succeed?  Will I quit if I don’t feel like I’m getting the appreciation or recognition I deserve?  Will my pride get in the way of the mission?

These are the kinds of questions I’m asking myself.  I don’t claim to have the answers for the church.  But maybe I can live this out more than I do now.  And I hope I can encourage it in the sphere of influence God has given me.

Lord, give us the kind of humility it will take to not be a barrier in accomplishing the mission You have given us.  Help us to seek out the gifts of others and encourage them to use them so that Your gospel will continue to spread.  Let us work side-by-side with those who are different from us and set aside any discomfort or prejudice we may have by seeing them as Your child who is made in Your image with gifts You gave them.  May the church increasingly reflect love and unity to a divided, angry world and glorify You as she does so.  Amen.

 

A Woman of Faith

When you think of heroes of the faith in the Old Testament, who comes to mind?  Abraham (my personal fave)?  Moses?  Elijah?  David?

What about women heroes?  Ruth?  Deborah?  Rahab?

Rahab?  You mean Rahab the harlot?

If you had asked me a couple of months ago if I thought much about considering Rahab as an example of a woman of faith, I would have told you “no”.  Not that I didn’t appreciate what she did – it just didn’t stand out to me like Ruth leaving everything to follow Naomi’s God or Deborah going with Barak to the battle.  But that changed this summer as I was going through a book by a local author, Debbie Wilson, in my quiet time called Little Women, Big God.  One of the chapters was on Rahab, and it made me stop and take her more seriously.  You have to feel for a woman whose name has “the harlot” after it almost every time it’s mentioned in Scripture!

You may be familiar with Rahab’s story.  It’s in the Book of Joshua in Chapter 2.  The Israelites had finally reached the Promised Land after wandering in the wilderness for 40 years, and Joshua is ready to lead them in to take possession of it.  Their first test after they cross the Jordan River is the city of Jericho so Joshua sends some spies to assess the situation before they go into battle.  The spies end up staying in the house of Rahab who happens to be a prostitute.  The king of Jericho sends people to Rahab to tell her to bring out the spies, but she hides them and lies to protect them.

Before Rahab sends the spies on their way with instructions on how to stay safe, she asks them to deal kindly with her and her family when they come back and take the city.  She knows about their God and believes in Him saying, “For the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath.”  (Joshua 2:11)  They agree to spare her family but only if she ties the scarlet thread in the window that they leave through and gathers all of her family into that home.  Later in Chapter 6, we see her do just that and her whole family is spared.  The last we hear of her in the Old Testament is: “and she has lived in the midst of Israel to this day, for she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho.” (Joshua 6:25)

scarlet threadBut you don’t have to go far in the New Testament before Rahab shows up again.  In Matthew 1:5, she is listed in the genealogy of Jesus when it says that Boaz was born to Salmon by Ruth.  So we learn some of what happened to her after she lived “in the midst of Israel”.

The other two times Rahab is mentioned in the New Testament she is held up as an example of faith.  One is in the “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews 11 where she is one of only two women mentioned by name (the other is Sarah).  “By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish along with those who were disobedient after she had welcomed the spies in peace.”  (Hebrews 11:31)  The other mention of her is one I had never really noticed before in the Book of James.  In writing about the relationship between faith and works, James uses Rahab as an example.  “And in the same way was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works, when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?” (James 2:25)  Here’s the thing that got me about the reference to her in James – when James comes up with examples of how faith without works is useless he picks Rahab and Abraham.  She is in the same company as Abraham when it comes to faith!  To me, that is a big deal, and it means I have to really take her seriously and admire her as an example of faith.

So I did.  Here are a few of my thoughts so far on the faith of Rahab:

  • The main act of faith she showed was clearly welcoming the spies and protecting them because she believed in their God. Why is this held up as such as example to us?  For one thing, she had to be putting her life on the line.  You will pay the price if you harbor spies even in the U.S. today much less in every other part of the world, and I imagine the price would have been even higher for her back then.  Again, she chooses to risk her life because she is aligning herself with their God.
  • Part of this alignment is also a radical decision to leave her culture, her people, and her gods. Because her family trusts her and apparently trusts God, too, Rahab does get to keep them.  But she gives up everything else.  I guess she would have lost it all anyway when Jericho was conquered, but I don’t think that’s her calculation.  I think instead, like Ruth who will be her daughter-in-law, she comes to know and believe in the true God and chooses to follow Him and align herself with His people.
  • Reading Little Women, Big God made me realize part of the story I had never thought about before that blew me away. Rahab’s house was “on the city wall, so that she was living on the wall.” (Joshua 2:15)  This is the same wall that “fell down flat” (Joshua 2:20) when the people shout after circling it seven times.  So imagine being Rahab and sitting in your house with all of your family, scarlet thread in the window, and the wall your house is on – the one you are sitting in – completely crumbles.  Falls flat.  How would you feel?  How would you respond?  I think, for me, my instinct would be to run out of the house and try to find somewhere safe.  I would be tempted to give up on the men who made the promise and come up with my own strategy to save myself.  But Rahab didn’t do that.  For me, that is the act of faith that really stands out.  Of course, the scarlet thread in the window points us to Jesus whose scarlet blood would be shed to save us.  Even when our world is crumbling, Rahab’s faith encourages us to keep trusting in Him no matter what.
    In Little Women, Big God, Debbie Wilson shares that “a local pastor’s wife visited the ruins of Jericho on her trip to Israel.  Their guide pointed to one section where the wall still rises above the crumbled city.  ‘Rahab’s home,’ he said.”  (Page 73).  I like that.

    The remaining part of the wall of Jericho that people think may have been Rahab's house.

    The remaining part of the wall of Jericho that people think may have been Rahab’s house.

  • Rahab is the mother of Boaz. We learn a lot about Boaz in the Book of Ruth.  Apparently he is a man of great means.  He is a kind man who takes notice of Ruth when he sees her gleaning in his fields behind his workers.  Even though she is a foreigner, he has compassion on her and protects and generously provides for her.  Boaz admires what she has done for her mother-in-law and how she left everything to follow the God of Israel.  As Ruth’s kinsman redeemer, he points us to Christ who will come one day from his lineage to be our Redeemer.
    When I see what an incredible man Boaz is, it makes me think that Rahab must have been a great mom.  I wonder if he has compassion on Ruth as a foreigner because his own mother was a foreigner.  What a legacy for both Rahab and her son and daughter-in-law to be in the lineage of the Messiah!

So I have added Rahab to my personal Bible “Hall of Faith” (even though the writer of Hebrews and James had already added her for me!).  I am challenged by her bravery, by her commitment to the Lord no matter what – risking her life, identifying with a different people and culture -, by her faith in God even when the circumstances around her could have led her to stop trusting in God and instead try to save herself, and by the legacy she left her in own family as she must have continued to walk with God.  Not bad for a “harlot”.  A REDEEMED harlot!

Being Rooted

If you follow this blog at all, you know I have a crazy yard that I spend my free weekends working to slowly improve.  There’s always something new and unexpected happening that keeps me on my toes.

One of those recent unexpected things was when a small tree fell over after a storm.  It was one of our “weird trees” (meaning it had no business being in that spot!), and I had already planned to take it out as soon as my husband and his chainsaw were available so I just figured God helped me out with it.  I say it “fell” over, but it would be more accurate to say that it “leaned” over.  Extremely leaned over.

So one day I had my clippers cutting back other brush in the yard and decided to go ahead and cut the small branches off of this tree and then finish most of the job later with my electric chainsaw.  It did look odd, but again – it’s a crazy yard so I didn’t really worry about it.

We went on vacation and the day after we got back, I happened to glance at the tree when I was getting the newspaper.  To my surprise, it was sprouting new leaves!  It turns out that even though it was leaning over almost flat, there are still enough roots intact for it to be alive and bear more leaves and branches.

Leaning treeAs I looked at it, a couple of Bible verses came to mind:

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord and whose trust is the Lord.  For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes; But its leaves will be green, and it will not be anxious in a year of drought nor cease to yield fruit.”  Jeremiah 17:7-8

“How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers!  But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.  He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers.”   Psalm 1:1-3

Of course, these verses didn’t perfectly describe my odd, extremely leaning tree since it’s not by a stream.  But this crazy-looking tree reminded me that as long as I stay rooted, I will bear fruit.

And that was encouraging to me that day because the other thought I had as I saw that tree was that I felt kind of blown over, too.  Don’t we all have those days?  Maybe they aren’t just days but weeks or seasons or years.  Life can come at us hard sometimes.  For me that day it was mostly lots of things going on with several family members and some personal health concerns.  In fact, the night before, I had been so sad when I went to bed that I woke up at 2:30am having a dream that was so sad, I was crying.  Like real tears in my eyes when I woke up.  I rarely cry when I’m awake, and I sure never do it in my sleep!  So that morning I felt like that tree.  Blown over by life, burdened, and heavy-hearted.

And yet I was reminded by the tree that even when I’m feeling that way – even when life is really hard – I can still bear fruit.  It’s not about how much I’m “leaning over” – it’s about whether my roots are staying intact in the midst of it.  He still wants to bear fruit through me, and He always will if I stay rooted and remain in Him (John 15:5).  As Jeremiah says, I don’t have to “fear when the heat comes”.  I can still have “green leaves”, “not be anxious in a year of drought”, and bear fruit.

Roots

Even while leaning, the roots are still intact.

God is so gracious.  By lunch time that day, He had specifically answered my prayers for one of the situations that was causing me to feel blown over like that tree.  It’s amazing how it lightened my load.  Most of the other circumstances are the same, but I’m no longer sad.  I know, though, that there will still be days and weeks and months where I will feel like that tree again, and I’m thankful for the visual reminder of staying rooted and bearing fruit no matter how hard life gets.

“The root of the righteous yields fruit.”  Proverbs 12:12b
Leaves

Being an Israelite

Today I am an Israelite.

It’s an embarrassing thing to admit.  For one thing, the Israelites definitely don’t come off looking good in the Old Testament.  They are the ones in the Bible that I love to roll my eyes at.  Like really?  How could they say that?  How could they think that?  How could they not just trust God?

But today I am an Israelite.

Like the Israelites, I grumble and complain.  I complain when following God on the path He has for me gets hard.  Or, honestly, just uncomfortable.  (Numbers 11:1)  I grumble when He has provided for my needs, but it’s not the way I wanted Him to provide or maybe I just don’t like it. (Numbers 11:4-6)  Most unbelievably, I complain even after God has recently answered prayer or done something amazing and unexpected.  (Exodus 15:24; 16:2-3; 17:3)

Today I am an Israelite.

Like the Israelites, I forget.  Psalm 78 details some of the amazing things God did for them, especially in rescuing them from slavery in Egypt.  But it says in verses 11 and 42 that they “forgot” and “did not remember”.  I’m not sure how you could forget those things, but they did.

My car which was given to me new in January, 2005.

My car which was given to me new in 2005.

I have my own amazing things God has done for me.  I drive a car that is my dream car that was given to me for free.  Yes, free.  New.  It seems like I would “remember” every time I drive it.  God has provided for bills, provided roommates, provided for me to buy a home when I was single.  I have seen Him change lives and answer prayer after prayer after prayer.  And if that wasn’t enough, there is the cross!  That in itself should be enough.  And yet, I forget.  Which leads to the complaining and lack of faith and doubt.

Today I am an Israelite.

A couple of weeks ago, we were driving to church, and I saw a sign that offered what seemed like an easier path than the one God has me on.  While there are some wonderful things about that path and I am sure I’m following God’s will, some things lately have brought a lot of fear and have just been hard.  Because of that, my heart had already been tempted to find an easier path so often that when I saw that sign that Sunday, I actually voiced the thought to my husband.  He looked at me surprised that I would even consider such a thing.  And the next morning, as I thought about it, the Lord said, “That’s your Egypt.”

God’s path for the Israelites was leading them to the Promised Land – one flowing with milk and honey.  In Numbers 13 and 14, God brings them to the edge of that land and tells Moses to send in 12 spies to check it out.  While the land is as wonderful as the Lord promised it would be, ten of the spies who saw it are fearful and pass that fear on to the rest of the people.  Their response?  “Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword?  Our wives and our little ones will become plunder; would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?”  (Numbers 14:3, emphasis mine)

That last question is the one that always gets me – “would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?”  Um – NO!  No, no, no, no, no!  You were SLAVES there!  How could you possibly consider that and think that Egypt is better than God’s plan for you?  Kind of like the look my husband gave me in the car that morning as I suggested a different path that seemed easier but, of course, would never be in the end.

I don’t like being an Israelite.  They actually serve as a great example of how NOT to follow God.  Paul uses them that way in 1 Corinthians 10 saying that these things happened as example for us so we wouldn’t crave the evil things they craved                     (1 Corinthians 10:6).  So how can I not be an Israelite?

  1. Remember God’s character, choose to trust Him, and be content.  There are times I don’t like my circumstances, but instead of complaining, I need to focus on God’s character.  That He is sovereign over my circumstances and has allowed or caused them to happen.  That He is good and so all He does is for His glory and my good.  That He is wise and, as A.W. Tozer put it, “Not only could His acts not be better done: a better way to do them could not be imagined.”  (Knowledge of the Holy, pg 60-61)  We can do things to put these truths in our mind more like spending more time in His word, listening to sermon podcasts, or listening to Christian music.
  1. Remember what God has done. This is a great benefit of journaling.  If you have been in that habit, go back and read old journals to remind you.  Or take some time and write out everything that comes to mind that God has done for you.  It could be listing all He’s done for you in Christ or just the answers to prayer and amazing ways He’s taken care of you.
  1. Don’t go to Egypt. Honestly, I was tempted again just the other day as I saw another sign luring me to my current “Egypt”.  This one was actually even more appealing than the one I saw a couple of weeks ago.  It was so appealing that I texted the temptation to my best friend as a way of keeping myself accountable to not go there.  Don’t go to “Egypt” physically but also don’t go there mentally.  Don’t start dreaming of ways life could be easier if they are things you know God doesn’t want for you or a direction in which He doesn’t want you to go.  Don’t dwell on how you wish life were different.  Instead focus on trusting Him, embracing His call, and obediently following Him no matter how hard it is.

Today I am an Israelite.  But I don’t have to stay one.  I can choose to trust, choose to be content, choose to remember, and choose to keep following God.

Don’t be an Israelite.