I have Spring Fever in the worst way and almost left the house in a light jacket, but checked the weather and wowzer!! 35 degrees…we aren’t there yet, my friends! But soon!!
This morning my devotion included a passage that was our benediction every Sunday for sooooo many years at First Christian.
I well remember the first Sunday sitting there in a new church wondering if this was where God was going to place us and hearing these words fall over me.
At that time I had walked with Jesus over three decades and yet I had never really grasped what Grace is.
FCC is where God finally broke through a whole lot of lies in my head that I wasn’t good enough to deserve salvation with the TRUTH that…well…I am not good enough to deserve salvation. No one does and that’s the point.
Because that’s what Grace is…it’s giving me what I don’t deserve while Jesus took what I did.
So I share those precious words that I waited for with anticipation every Sunday to hear spoken over me and over our young family…
From the tiniest of books in the Bible, Jude, come these amazing words:
Now to Him who is able to protect you from stumbling and to make you to stand in the presence of His glory, without blemish and with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power and authority before all time, now and forever. Amen
This is what a perfectionist, balance-challenged, flawed and prone to melancholy, stability craving person like me needs.
I bet you could use those words today as much as I do.
Today I am covering the bulk of his message which was based on Acts 16.I suggest a refresher read of this chapter at some point but let’s dive in.
In the Acts passages, Paul and Silas have been beaten and are imprisoned. The charges against them are based on exorcising a demon out of a slave girl. Her masters, who made a good bit of income off of her, were so angry they roused a mob and attacked Paul and Silas. Their bleeding bodies are chained in an inner cell of a prison and they are assigned an armed guard. The situation was completely out of their control as they were foreigners held in a high security prison with no means of escape or representation.
So they sang.
In their confinement, under the watchful eye of an armed soldier, they sang praise songs. And so the other prisoners and the guards and anyone within ear shot heard these two carrying on a worship service through the night. Pretty sure that was a first for everyone listening
When I read that I am reminded of the last trip I made to Kenya. We had left the clinic way too late in the afternoon and so as we drove, night fell. Our host missionaries had been warned by the people of the village that there were rumors of bandits waiting for us along the rough roads that led back to our home base. It was quiet and tense in the vehicle I rode in. My friend and I prayed together, but then the Kenyan drivers of our car suggested we sing praise songs. They sang the most beautiful Maasai hymn with gusto and then asked us if we would sing something.
I am embarrassed to say we stumbled around racking our brains for some song we could sing that we would know both the tune and the words. We explained that we aren’t really talented singers, not on the praise team at all…not even asked to be when they are desperate to fill a choir. Even in the dark I could sense our brothers were a bit confused by our hesitation to bust out a praise song.
Much time has passed but as I recollect, we may have managed a feeble attempt at Jesus Loves Me. We got home safely that night and it troubled me that as Americans, we traveled halfway around the world to bring Jesus and we couldn’t even muster up a song of praise.
I realized how much I rely on Christian radio and the praise teams to lead worship and I can just mumble along to the words on the teleprompter. I am not alone in this. Our worship music tends to be trendy and we pick and choose the songs we like to listen to without giving much thought to raising the voice God gave us to sing back to Him.
You would think I learned my lesson, but no.
Years later I found myself in homes in Cuba where our hosts and hostesses for dinners invariably ended up suggesting a hymn sing. With windows wide open to passers by who glared in; and knowing that outward expressions of their faith could mean serious sanctions, they sang with unabashed joy.
Teenage boys and girls, young couples, children, grandparents…all singing loudly. Again I found myself red-faced amongst my American friends having to try to drum up some song we stood a chance of remembering the lyrics to. Without the help of a few instruments and some strong lead singers, we warbled out what we could. It was a noise, but not so very joyful.
It was, as I think of it, extremely self-conscious…which is completely the opposite of what a praise song is supposed to be.
So as I have pondered this week about speaking words of life instead of death, and the power of the tongue and the example of Paul and Silas, it occurs to me that instead of using many words to explain to God what is so very wrong around me or share with my fellow humans the plight of my misery as I struggle with keeping myself upright in a world that has gone topsy-turvy or consuming the many words of others who are in similar chains of the times, perhaps the lesson here is to use my tongue to learn to sing praises first.
For Paul and Silas, praise broke the chains that bound them, flew wide open the doors that confined them and brought the entire household of the jailer to salvation.
Yes. I think I need to go dig out that journal I started many years ago where I was collecting the lyrics to old hymns and new praise songs and practicing singing them all by myself….off key, wrong tempo, sometimes substituting words in that sounded like what I thought they were saying…but God-conscious instead of self-conscious.
Then with a tongue that has been eating words of Life…and a heart that is bearing the fruit of worship…I can speak life and hope and Jesus to those around me who are desperate for hope and healing.
Here we are at Thursday and I have enjoyed being on task and following through with a theme this week! I love order and consistency. Being flexible is something I can do with grace when I am well-rested, nourished and have most of my ducks in a row…or at least know where they are.
But throw me a curve ball when I am hungry or tired or juggling too many things in my hands or my head…and watch out. Mary Poppins, I am not.
If I don’t completely lose it in front of you, I say something snarky and harsh and then get in the car and bawl my head off as I rant and rave before God about my plight of woe.
This is me.
So as I read the next set of questions raised by the sermon notes I am revisiting with you this week, conviction hits me square between the eyes.
What’s the loop that is playing in my head? How am I talking about the circumstances I am in? How do I take about situations that seem out of my control? (hello 2020/2021….I see you) Because they ARE out of my control. This part is true.
Often I speak words about them and about me in my overwhelming circumstances that I would never say to another human being.
But the self-talk IS talk and it bears the fruit of death in me as I spew out the poison of words carelessly.
I grumble and complain. And right now my reading is Numbers and I can tell you, God does not groove on grumbling and complaining.
As I consider the current circumstances that dominate how I am able to function in February of 2021, I have to admit that there are a whole lot of things that are out of my control that make life challenging.
I don’t think the answer is to sugar gloss the reality of a pandemic, a nation that is fiercely divided, a lose-lose when it comes to reopening and regathering and an economy that is imploding…just to mention a few things that can get me stirred up with anxiety and fear.
Pushing down my inner turmoil is not applying the wisdom of Proverbs 18:21.
Instead I find that I need to thoughtfully set aside as much of the emotions as I can (which is a mighty act of God in me, believe me) and make the effort to first acknowledge who God is.
As I come before Him full of angst and grasping to control what I think I can, I first need to enter His Presence with reverence and awe. Centering my mind on what I KNOW to be true of my God, I can then present my concerns and spiraling thoughts before Him recognizing that He not only knows what’s going on and how it is going to end; He also knows ME. He already knows all the stuff going on in my head.
So rather than charging the Throne Room of God with my words, I can quiet my heart and just pour out all that is swirling in a trusting flow of a child going to her Father and seeking His help, guidance, comfort and wisdom.
As I feed on His Word before I spill out my words, I find that I am not a tumbleweed blowing across some deserted expanse of a hopeless world, but a green vine attached to a Branch that will be nourished to bear good fruit.
Easier said than done some days, but going back to the list above helps me reorder my thinking to land in a better place to speak words of life – to myself, to others, to my God <3