I love to tell the story

I spent most of my 30-year career working for DuPont as a stylist in their carpet fibers division. I followed color trends, made samples using the fibers we produced and visited customers, helping sales and marketing reps explain the exceptional qualities of our products. But there was a brief stint when I worked with bath rug fibers, the softest, most luxurious fibers we made for floor covering end uses.

IMG_E1442Even though over three decades have passed, I clearly remember a customer meeting where we were requesting input on a developmental fiber. I touted its attributes and started a single sample on its journey around the conference room table. It never made it beyond the owner of the company. Like a child with a pet bunny, he stroked the sample repeatedly, exclaiming over its softness. I passed out other samples featuring styling suggestions for existing fibers. He’d finger them, comment, then pass them along, all the while retaining possession of his far-superior prize.

I can’t recall if anyone else got to touch the prototype or how I eventually removed it from his grasp, but I can still see him stroking that sample.

Controlled by the Past?

I was recently reminded of this long-ago scenario when daughter Mary introduced me to the intriguing phrase, “story fondling”. I followed up our conversation with some online searching and came across an article that described in more detail what Mary alluded to. In essence, story fondling involves an unwillingness to let go of the past and move on. Instead, some of us choose to hold on to past hurts and regrets, be they self-inflicted or brought about by others. Much like my customer and the beloved sample, we grasp the memories, caressing, replaying, retelling, until they come to define and, all too often, paralyze us.

Please don’t misunderstand. I know firsthand how detrimental denying the impact of our past can be. We may manage reasonably well in the present, at least until something tears the scab off a long-festering wound. Early in my marriage, I’d occasionally respond to something with such intensity, my perplexed husband would comment, “Don’t you think you’re overreacting?” Of course, his query only served to fuel my dismay and evoke glare-accompanied replies such as, “You don’t understand!” Nonetheless, looking back with a perspective transformed by time and Truth, I know he was right. My vehement response had a little to do with the event that precipitated it, but so much more to do with the inner demons it awoke.

The father of lies (John 8:44b) delights in pushing “play” on the litany of negative messages we’ve embraced. Like a pesky earworm of the soul, the subconscious recording relentlessly repeats:

  • “You messed up. Again.”
  • “You’ll never be good enough.” (Or smart enough or thin enough or pretty enough or . . .)
  • “If people really knew you, they wouldn’t like you.”

Sound familiar?

A Renewed Perspective

Those well-worn, oft-replayed lines may feel comfortable in a twisted sort of way. After all, they’ve been part of us for a long time. But we belong to the Good Shepherd and are meant to listen to His voice as He contradicts the lies. Scripture assures us we are:

  • new creations in Christ. The old has passed away; the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17).
  • being transformed from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18).
  • being conformed to the likeness of Jesus (Romans 8:29).
  • eternally and securely loved by the Father (Romans 8:31-39).

Not only does God’s Word give us a true picture of who we are in Christ, but it also points us forward:

  • This is what the Lord says—he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters . . . “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:16;18-19)
  • God forgives our sins and removes them as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:11-12), thus we may say with the Apostle Paul, “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13b-14).
  • Ultimately, all things will be made new and perfect (Revelation 21:1-5).

Informed by the Past

Long-time readers of this blog know I’m intentional in remembering milestones, anniversaries and loved ones who’ve joined the great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1). Though there are days I’m tempted to indulge in self-pity or allow past experiences to become excuses for present behavior, I endeavor instead to use these times of recollection to:

  • remember God’s faithfulness (Deuteronomy 7:9)
  • give thanks for His deliverance (Psalm 40:1-3)
  • celebrate my legacy of faith (2 Timothy 1:5)
  • resist repeating former sins (1 Corinthians 10:13; James 4:7-8)
  • comfort others with the comfort I’ve received (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

If you’re going to cling to a story, make sure it’s one worth holding onto!

I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see[1].

I love to tell the story – ‘tis pleasant to repeat what seems, each time I tell it, more wonderfully sweet; I love to tell the story, for some have never heard the message of salvation from God’s own holy Word. I love to tell the story! Twill be my theme in glory – to tell the old, old story of Jesus and His love. [2]

 

[1] “Amazing Grace”, 1st stanza, Text: John Newton.

[2] “I Love to Tell the Story”, 2nd stanza. Text: A. Catherine Hankey.

Whatever you do

The church I attend recently initiated several outreach ministries. I chose to join the Welcome Team since I want to help visitors feel at home and encourage them to return. At our first meeting, I agreed to lead the team as I generally enjoy dealing with details and organizing activities. Unfortunately, I also have the tendency to feel overwhelmed when faced with too many tasks at once. Pressure isn’t my friend so it wasn’t terribly unexpected when I started waking up in the wee hours thinking about all the things we needed to do to establish this new ministry.

Praise the Lord for reining me in with words of wisdom from my spiritual mother, Susan Hunt.

Susan approached me the week after our kick-off meeting to describe Word-driven  vs. task-driven ministries, i.e. why are we doing what we do? If it’s merely to check off a number of items on a prescribed list instead of seeking our purpose in God’s Word, we’ll soon burn out. I needed that brief, thought-provoking conversation to reboot my efforts. Yep, I’d sent out to-do-list, task-oriented emails to the team, making sure everyone was copied and all details were covered, but we hadn’t laid the foundation: Why were we even concerned about welcoming visitors? And how about warmly receiving those who already belong to our body of believers?

Not surprisingly, Scripture contains numerous passages addressing these subjects:

  • God repeatedly commanded the Israelites to be kind to the sojourners among them, remembering that they too had been aliens in Egypt.[1] The basis for these admonitions was reiterated by Jesus when he instructed his followers to treat others the way they themselves would like to be treated.[2]
  • The Gospel itself is welcoming. Once we were separated from Christ, strangers to the covenants of promise. But now in Christ Jesus we have been brought near by the blood of Christ . . . So we are no longer strangers and aliens, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.[3]
  • Jesus commends those who welcome strangers as having welcomed Him personally.[4]
  • Believers are encouraged to meet together regularly to encourage one another and to stir up one another to love and good works.[5]
  • In his letter to believers in Rome, Paul writes, “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.[6]

There it is! See it? Our overarching purpose in all things is to glorify God.[7] Furthermore, Jesus declared that obedience to his commands is one of the best ways to demonstrate our love for God,[8] a statement affirmed by the Apostle John in his first epistle.[9]

Several months ago, my 4-year-old granddaughter, Lyla, went to church with me. I was delighted to have her along, but, being an introvert like her grandmother, she was reticent to enter her age-appropriate Sunday school class full of strangers. I gently pried her off my leg and walked across the hall to my class, praying her angst would be short-lived. My petitions were answered, as they often are, beyond what I could have imagined.[10] Not only was Lyla smiling as we headed into the sanctuary, but she gladly joined the gaggle of children surrounding our pastor when it came time for his weekly moment-of-prayer with them. IMG_4644As I watched, the reason for her change in demeanor became obvious. One of the slightly-older girls had taken Lyla under her wing. She welcomed her into the circle and draped her arm around her shoulders as they bowed their heads.

That image will stay with me. Such a beautiful example of welcoming a stranger, of doing unto others. Lord, may we be faithful to do likewise, remembering that whatever we do for the least of these, we do unto You.[11]

[1] See for example, Exodus 22:21, 23:9; Leviticus 19:34; Deuteronomy 10:19.

[2] Matthew 7:12.

[3] Ephesians 2:12-13, 19

[4] Matthew 25:35b

[5] Hebrews 10:24-25

[6] Romans 15:5-7

[7] 1 Corinthians 10:31

[8] John 14:23-24

[9] 1 John 2:3-6

[10] Ephesians 3:20

[11] Matthew 25:40

He reigns!

Last week was a trying one personally, nationally and internationally. Too much stress, too much fear, too much shouting. Keeping our eyes fixed on what is above becomes particularly difficult when we’re surrounded by circumstances beyond our control that threaten to overwhelm us. Yet not only are we commanded to fix our eyes on the unseen, we’re told our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.[1] Furthermore, we’re advised to cast all our anxiety on God because He cares for us.[2] In addition, the Apostle Paul’s exhortations to the Philippians (and us) include a directive to think on things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy[3].

As I sought to follow Paul’s advice, I returned to my garden as soon as other responsibilities allowed. Bees buzzed busily in and out of flowers, filling up their pollen pouches. IMG_4178A spikey orange and black gulf fritillary caterpillar munched methodically on a passionflower bud while butterflies flitted around the vine ready to lay the next generation of eggs. Japanese anemone and wood asters displayed the first of their late-summer blooms. Peace began to return to my soul. The One who spoke everything into existence created me in his image.[4] Moreover, He sustains all He’s made[5] and not even a sparrow falls to the ground outside his care.[6]

The next day’s lessons at church brought further encouragement as I was reminded God remains on the throne, no matter what earthly rulers may plan, plot or scheme.[7]

Then yesterday brought with it the solar eclipse. For various reasons, I opted not to travel to an area of totality. Even so, it was plenty-fascinating to watch as the moon crept over the face of the sun. First it took a nibble out of the upper right quadrant, next it reduced the glowing orb to a crescent and finally it eclipsed 97% of its surface from my and daughter Mary’s sight. We marveled at how much light remained in spite of the near-totality of the coverage. IMG_4196I’ve since contemplated the statement in Revelation regarding the new order of things. “There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light.”[8] How awesome and powerful is our God who will replace the sun with his own glory!

And today I’m writing this post, hoping to encourage you, dear readers[9], while further shoring up my own foundation of truth. One of my favorite quotes is attributable to Welsh pastor, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones:

“Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? The main art in the matter of spiritual living is to know how to handle yourself. You have to take yourself in hand, you have to address yourself, preach to yourself, question yourself. You must say to your soul, ‘Why are thou downcast? What business do you have to be disquieted?’ You must turn on yourself, exhort yourself, and say to yourself, ‘Hope thou in God’, instead of muttering in this depressed, unhappy way. And then you must go on to remind yourself of God, who God is and what God is and what God has done and what God has pledged Himself to do.”

In addition to the passages already cited and with Dr. Lloyd-Jones’ admonition in mind, I offer the following for further reflection:

The Lord God is the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. (Revelation 1:8, Revelation 22:13)

God does not lie or change his mind. He keeps his promises. (Numbers 23:19)

God loved us so much He sent his only Son to die for us that we might not perish in our sins, but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

We’ll have trouble in this world. Jesus said as much, but we have the assurance He has overcome the world (John 16:33) and that God is working all things together for good for those who love Him. (Romans 8:28)

Jesus is preparing a place for us and will return to gather his own. (John 14:1-3)

God has promised a new heaven and a new earth where there will be no more weeping, the wolf will lie down with the lamb and there will be no more destruction. (Isaiah 65:17-28)

Nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39); no one can snatch us out of his hand. (John 10:27-29)

As we await Jesus’ return, may we abide in hope, encouraging ourselves and each other with the truth of his everlasting word.[10] For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.[11]

[1] 2 Corinthians 4:17-18

[2] 1 Peter 5:7

[3] Philippians 4:8

[4] Genesis 1:27

[5] Matthew 6:25-34

[6] Matthew 10:28-31

[7] Psalm 2

[8] Revelation 22:5a

[9] 1 Thessalonians 5:11; Hebrews 3:13

[10] Isaiah 40:8

[11] 2 Corinthians 1:20

Clutter

There’s something about starting a new year that makes me want to clean out and move forward with a lighter load. This year, my desire has been further fueled by the efforts my daughter Mary has made to shed stuff and redecorate her lovely home. It may be her nesting instincts spurring her on or the urgency of needing to help 2-year old Lyla settle into her “big-girl” room before baby Emma arrives. Regardless, seeing what she’s achieved while 7-months pregnant has both inspired me and put me to shame.

I’m a keeper by nature. I find it difficult to part with things that may be useful at some point in the future or were given to me by loved ones. Ok, so that covers a lot of territory. It also explains, for example, why you’ll find lots of buttons in the bottom of my sewing basket – you know the ones that come on shirts, jackets, pants, etc. in case one of the originals ever falls off – and the fact I have every birthday card my girls have ever given me. In spite of my tendency to hold onto things, I don’t consider myself to be a hoarder. After all, there’s plenty of room to walk around in my house without bumping into stacks of old magazines and I’m able to use my garage for its intended purpose.

Nevertheless, every now and then the results of my being a keeper start to wear on me, especially when I get to experience the positive effects of someone else’s house cleaning efforts.

Our living environments aren’t the only thing that can become cluttered, as many of us feel weighed down, even overwhelmed, by to dos associated with the demands of daily living. Joanna Weaver addresses our plight in her book, “Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World”. IMG_0367The story of the two sisters, recorded in Luke 10:38-42, resonates with modern readers even though the events it relates happened almost 2,000 years ago:

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (NIV Bible)

A cursory read might lead one to conclude Jesus was condemning Martha’s Type A personality and it’s tempting to stereotype the two sisters, labeling one driven and the other laid back. But our temperaments and abilities are God-given and it takes all kinds of people to accomplish his purposes. No, Jesus wasn’t chiding Martha for her work ethic. He wanted her to realize her focus was off, a message quite similar to the one in Matthew 6 when Jesus told his listeners not to worry about what they would eat, drink or wear, but to seek first his kingdom and his righteousness.

Of everyone who’s ever walked the earth, Jesus alone was capable of “doing it all”, but he didn’t. Instead, he sought to do his Father’s will in all things and to finish the work he’d been sent to do. In Ephesians 2, Paul says believers are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Isn’t that amazing? Even though God could accomplish everything himself, he allows us to participate in achieving his purposes and equips and enables us to do so.

Too often my mind is cluttered with the demands of the day and my thoughts race from one task to another wondering how I’ll ever get it all done. But more and more, God is reminding me to focus before doing. To seek him and his righteousness. To be still so I can hear him when he says, “This is the way. Walk in it.”

And when I do, He’s faithful to help me determine what is the better part.