Call and Response

Do you believe in pure coincidence? Serendipity? The human mind, I think, is always looking for connections, ways to make sense of what happens in our world. It’s like proof-texting scripture, though. Oftentimes, we come to a conclusion and then work our way back to its origin, falsely concluding that correlation equals causation.

At the same time, I’ve lived long enough to have had a moment – and sometimes my entire life – completely altered, taken down a path felt always meant for me, by a domino effect of “sheer coincidences.”  It’s then that I think… this can’t be just coincidence.

When I applied to seminary, I knew it might take me ten years to finish because I could only pay for one class at a time (I did not want to take on more school loans). Then – out of the blue – I was told my application had been referred for a scholarship I didn’t even apply for. A scholarship that eventually covered all my tuition.

A couple of days ago, I pulled an old journal of mine from a stack, looking for quotes or scripture notes I might be able to use for an essay on Ephesians. I didn’t flip through it, though, as I might normally do.  Instead, I opened the notebook to the first page:

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It was Ash Wednesday 2018, and I had started reading A Way Other Than Our Own by Walter Brueggeman. It’s now a year and a half later, and I’ve been steeped in Ephesians for weeks. By randomly opening an old notebook, I immediately spotted a connection between the OT book of Isaiah and the NT letter to the Ephesians. I would never have looked in Isaiah otherwise.

What I had read in Ephesians, coupled with what I found in Isaiah, brought me to tears:

In him, we have redemption through his blood… Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price… (Ephesians 1:7; Isaiah 55:1).

The OT prophecy and the NT message say the same things:  We – all of us, everyone who thirsts – are invited to come back, return to our original identity in God. We – all of us, even he who has no money – can buy wine and milk without price. Because we – all of us – have been redeemed by the grace of God through Christ’s sacrificial death and rebirth.

Our bill has been paid . We have been called to return. All of us. Everyone.

Willing to be Led

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Romans was going to be my first post-seminary exegesis project… a project all my own that wouldn’t involve a teacher’s deadlines or assignments or awkward “conversations” in online discussion groups. Just me and my NRSV, ESV, NIV, a couple of other alphabet Vs, and Paul’s Letter to the Romans.

I. Was. Ready.

Apparently, the Holy Spirit had other plans.

The first time I tried to study Romans, I didn’t even make it to a chair before I was waylaid.  I was at work, headed to my reading nook where I take my morning break, when a coworker hijacked my thoughts with his wedding plans.  Before I knew it, “As One” was written and posted, including a reference to John 17:20-23. In my Bible, right next to that scripture, I had written, See Ephesians 4.

After posting “As One,” I headed over to Eph. 4:1:  I therefore, a prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.

It just so happens, I’m in a season of discernment and this scripture reminded me of something very important I’d overlooked in all my moaning, wailing, and gnashing of discernment teeth:  God has called everyone to become one in the body of Christ and to use our gifts in the fulfillment of that call. After meditating on the scripture and consulting two commentaries (as well as Os Guinness’ book, The Call), “The Universal Call” was added to my 5 A.M. Thoughts collection.

Sorry Romans – You’ll have to wait till another day because there’s no way I’m leaving Ephesians right now. I’m fascinated by the intersection of God’s universal call with the individual gifts he’s given to each of us, and nothing short of overwhelmed at the thought of being created for the purpose of serving him – individually and as the Church.

It may not be a class requirement, but it’s no less of an assignment that I’ve been given. The Spirit has led me here, and it’s here I’ll stay until I learn what I need to move forward.

 

O God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Savior, the Prince of Peace: Give us grace seriously to lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions; take away all hatred and prejudice, and whatever else may hinder us from godly union and concord; that, as there is but one Body and one Spirit, one hope of our calling, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, so we may be all of one heart and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and charity, and may with one mind and one mouth glorify thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer)

Lent – Holy Monday

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Today’s Thought:  Are we good caretakers?

Then he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling things there; and he said, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer’; but you have made it a den of robbers.” Every day he was teaching in the temple. The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people kept looking for a way to kill him. (Luke 19:45-47)

I can tell you several bits of information about this scripture. I can tell you it was the day after Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a colt. That this particular scene took place during Passover, so there were thousands of pilgrims descending on the temple plaza. (Which, by the way, was the size of 29 football fields.) I can tell you how Jesus quoted from the prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah, and how that challenged the powerful.

But the most important thing I can tell you about these words from Luke is how they were merely a precursor to the profound change Jesus would usher in as the Messiah. In Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth he, like Jesus that day, reminds them to take good care of the holy temple of God. But now, because of the sacrifice Jesus would make within a week of his arrival, the temple is no longer standing in Jerusalem. Now, it’s within each of us.

Paul writes, Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. (3:16-17).

So… What’s going on in the Temple, that holy place of God where the Spirit dwells? Do thoughts about money take up 29 football fields? Does hatred, or bitterness, or self-destruction? Is there space for Jesus to teach or will he be forced to flip a few tables first? Is there room for you to learn? You are God’s holy temple. Are you caring for it?

Monday’s Meditation: Those in whom the Spirit comes to live are God’s new Temple. They are, individually and corporately, places where heaven and earth meet. ― N.T. Wright

Lent – Day 30

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Today’s Thought:  ‘New’ is a process.

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:17-18)

I remember reading those words from the Apostle Paul about being a “new creation,” then taking a look around me one day and wondering why my big box of new hadn’t arrived yet. Surely it should be here by now!

It has taken years of making mistakes, rebuilding, more mistakes, worse mistakes, starting over (multiple times), and seriously… where-in-the-world-was-my-brain mistakes, for me to realize that becoming a new creation through the love of Christ isn’t accomplished in a single altar call. So if that’s what you’re expecting, well… You might want to sit down for this.

Becoming that new creation doesn’t happen in a blink of the eye. Becoming that new creation is a continuous, oftentimes lifelong, journey. It’s showing up every day and learning—many times the hard way—what it means to let the old self die on the cross with Christ, while the new self walks with the resurrected Christ. This quote from Nadia Bolz-Weber, Lutheran minister and theologian, says it perfectly:

“God was never about making me spiffy; God was about making me new. New doesn’t always look perfect. Like the Easter story itself, new is often messy. New looks like recovering alcoholics. New looks like reconciliation between family members who don’t actually deserve it. New looks like every time I manage to admit I was wrong and every time I manage to not mention when I’m right. New looks like every fresh start and every act of forgiveness and every moment of letting go of what we thought we couldn’t live without and then somehow living without it anyway. New is the thing we never saw coming—never even hoped for—but ends up being what we needed all along.”

I am a Christian. I am a new creation. And, I’m still working some of the kinks out… but now I do that with God.

Tuesday’s Truth: “Radical obedience to Christ is not easy… It’s not comfort, not health, not wealth, and not prosperity in this world. Radical obedience to Christ risks losing all these things. But in the end, such risk finds its reward in Christ. And he is more than enough for us.” ― Dr. David Platt, Southern Baptist pastor and author

 

Lent – Day 28

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Today’s Thought: You’re pregnant!

Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him. (Colossians 3:10 NLT)

Congratulations! Bet you weren’t expecting to hear that this morning, were you! One of my sweet nieces just received news that she, her husband, and son will be welcoming a baby girl in August. New babies are so exciting! Anticipation like no other builds over the course of a short nine months as we wonder what this new life holds. What will her personality be like? Whose eyes will she have? How will her existence impact the people around her and the world beyond these walls of home?

But, back to you. You’re pregnant too! Yes, yes, YES you are! The question is, what are you pregnant with? Is it compassion? Perhaps even empathy? Is it happiness? Or, maybe—unfortunately—the heaviness of sadness is filling you in this season of your life. Maybe you’re full of questions, like “why?”

My niece doesn’t have to tell anyone she’s pregnant; it’s obvious, and not just because she has a growing tummy. From Day 1, she has radiated love and kindness. Mostly because she was already ‘pregnant’ with those qualities before she became pregnant with her baby girl.

What pregnancy news are you sharing with everyone around you? What has filled you, your life, your soul, to the point that everyone knows you’re pregnant with it before you ever say a word?

Think about it.  And have a gloriously ‘pregnant’ weekend filled with life overflowing!

 

Saturday’s Scripture-in-Sync

Old Testament: And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” (Isaiah 6:3)

New Testament: I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:18-19)

 

Lent – Day 24

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Today’s Thought: Simply prayer.

And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. (Matthew 14:23)

Sometimes, I need to talk to God; but, more often than not, God needs to talk to me. That’s not a concept I was raised with in my childhood church. Prayer was approached more like therapy. It was all about what I was thankful, needful, or sorrowful for, rather than being a two-way conversation. I’m learning God wants to enter the dialogue.

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Lent – Day 16

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Today’s Thought: What fruit does my heart yield?

 “The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45)

John Wesley, theologian and co-founder of Methodism, spoke and wrote frequently about “religion of the heart.” Wesley believed that true faith originated from the heart and was revealed through a person’s behavior. When he experienced his moment of conversion in 1738, Wesley wrote that his own heart was “strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

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Lent – Day 8

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Today’s Thought: What truth do my words tell?

Your tongue is like a sharp razor, you worker of treachery. You love evil more than good, and lying more than speaking the truth. You love all words that devour, O deceitful tongue. (Psalm 52:2-4)

In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, there is a scene late in Act 1 when Lady Macbeth urges her husband to murder King Duncan so that he may take the crown. Adding to the deviousness of their plot is the fact that Duncan has always shown kindness to both of them and even considers Macbeth a close friend. For their plan to work, they must keep up the charade, and Macbeth cautions his wife to watch her behavior: “False face must hide what the false heart doth know.”

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Behind the Scenes

While I know how convenient (and useful) it is to have a short devotion every day, I have to tell you: There’s nothing more powerful than sitting with a segment of scripture for an extended length of time, and there’s no replacement or shortcut or quick-n-easy substitute for unhurried, uninterrupted time spent thinking about scripture. Put the time in, commit to it, and I promise that you will absolutely hear the Holy Spirit in every word while gaining insights that you never even anticipated. I promise. It’s what lies behind every word I write.

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Awaiting God

“You’re pregnant!” As a woman who’s carried two babies, I can tell you that those words bring happiness or fear, and oftentimes both at the same time. When I heard the news at 23, I was excited and scared. It was my first child, and I had no idea what I was getting into.  But as crazy as that time of my life was, it would pale in comparison to the insanity I would feel if I got that news today at 54! [swoons]  I can’t even imagine.  All of which makes me wonder: What in the world did Elizabeth think when she became pregnant with John the Baptist?

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