Here are my most recent highlights from the Upper Room magazine devotional reading and writing. Just me and my daily doodlings, courtesy of the little book that reaches around the world. That God, He is always slipping in a good word when we’re not looking.
It is human nature to want to push the limits of what the law allows. But Jesus tells us that even thinking about breaking a law is breaking that law. (When God makes the law, stepping a millimeter beyond it means you’re standing in sin.)
Once my father grafted a pear-tree branch into an apple tree. In time, the grafted branch produced fruit that looked like an apple but tasted like a pear. (On God’s tree, I’m still me!)
When God calls us to do something, God gives us the ability to obey. (and the freedom not to)
(after a prayer of complaint) I expected to feel God’s displeasure, but I felt God was pleased, not with my complaining but with my willingness to trust God enough to express even the unpleasantness in my life. (Every offering has value to God, even the sour ones.)
Job wanted God to be his ultimate resource with the assurance that he was a child of God. “Before, you were only a theory to me,” Job was saying. “Now I know you are my ultimate reality.” (thank goodness my salvation doesn’t rely on me)
Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world!” (John 16:33) This, friends, changes everything. (thank goodness for Easter)
Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? (James 2:15-16) (‘Keep up the good work!’ is a slap in the face to someone who can’t.)
People put forth extraordinary effort to get results. God wants us to put forth extraordinary effort to bring about the dreams God has for us. (Why would I work harder for my dreams than God’s?)
We were taught “stop, drop and roll” if our clothes caught on fire. (If our tongues are aflame) we might do well to “stop, breathe and pray.” (Fire prevention safety never goes out of style.)
“Tell her not to worry, because she is ‘strong like me’.” (Three words that will last a lifetime.)
Selah, (written in between stanzas in the psalms) probably means, “pause, and think of that.” (Pause and reflect, perhaps the greatest untapped power in the universe.)
Sometimes as Christians, we focus more on how we look than where God wants us to look. (nuf said)
where we teeter
at the intersection of
RUN FAST and BE STILL.
The deadline for the Lenten Devotional looms. The editors are EXPECTing my submission. But inspiration just won’t come. That’s the thing about inspiration…you just can’t force it. In fact, the harder I try, the less of it I seem to have.
Still, it doesn’t seem right to just sit here. Waiting. As if a lightning bolt is going to descend and write itself upon my paper in perfect insights, with perfect grammar and legible penmanship. There are plenty of sitters out there. Waiting. I am not good at either.
I need to DO something to hurry the inspiration along! I cut and paste a few verses of my chosen scripture (Song of Songs 2:8-13) onto the computer screen. A few different translations. Why not? I pour over them. Read and re-read. I take notes, look for connections, let my wander to visual imagery. I respond to the verses – in writing! – but to no avail. Everything lies flat upon the page. A day passes. Another. The deadline is mere days away.
And then suddenly a phrase enters my mind: No really, I love you. And I begin…”A man I love side-stepped death.” The scripture sends an image of lattice-work and the loved one calling. An image of the mullions on my very own windows. The lover looks in. I look out. What do I see? What would another see who stood here? Do they hear Him saying, “No really, I love you”?
The experience is powerfully crafting the writing as I wait on the images. Sitting and waiting, here I am after all. But the waiting is expectant. I am the fielder and it is the fly ball. I have heard the crack of the bat. I’ve got a line on it as it soars high in the sky. I try to gauge its descent, tending first right and then a bit left. I see it beginning to drop. I reach out my hand and open my glove wide. It is coming; I am ready to catch it.
Fielding inspiration when it falls is not easy. It takes practice and preparation. One must be ready. But sometimes the ball seems forever in the coming down. Those editors, after all, are waiting.
I type the last and hit submit. Then my friend emails to share that her dearest childhood friend had just succumbed to cancer. It was a long battle, but she still is not sure whether the departed came to know how much God loved her during her lifetime. Surely a God of mercy understands.
This is when I realize that the piece I had written was intended for a different deadline. It was meant to comfort a grieving friend and landed right on time.
My job is simply to settle under the fly ball of grace and catch inspiration as it comes down. Then, to prepare for the next. Kind of ridiculous to think I could force the ball to fall faster into my glove.
Do we forgive our debtors or those who trespass against us?
I have wondered this from a young age, probably stemming from the moment of mortification when I said “trespasses” and EVERYONE else in the sanctuary said “debts.” Who knew that people memorized a 2000 year old prayer differently? I mean, there are quote marks. Jesus only said it one way. How can it be two?
Never really considered the rightness or wrongness, until I read it from Matthew (New International Version) this morning.
“9 “This, then, is how you should pray:12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’
Now that I’m a writer, I guess I read things a bit differently, but two things got my attention:
1. I’m asking God to forgive my debts as I have forgiven (present perfect tense) my debtors. “God, please forgive those things I owe you, as I have already forgiven them to others.” Isn’t it cool this is the “present perfect” tense? My forgiveness of the other allows the perfect present, God’s forgiveness.
2. Debts and trespasses are definitely not the same thing. Theologians may try to justify the “real meaning” of these words and Matthew’s intention when he wrote them, but if the Word of Scripture is living for me, it’s what they mean in my life when I read them that counts.
And debts and trespasses are different. Debts are something borrowed and meant to be paid back – a loan, a kindness, a transaction. Trespasses are lines knowingly crossed, transgressions against, boundaries violated, trounced or trampled. Debts feel forgivable. Transgressions feel permanent.
No wonder I have a hard time feeling like God would ever forgive me. How can I ever forgive those who have willingly trespassed against me? I guess I could try saying “debtors,” but I expect there’s a reason the ancient text has been passed down to me in the words I pray…
…making me especially grateful Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” ~ Luke 23:34
He must have known there would be people who, in their pursuit of knowing, would agonize over His words. Even in His agony, Christ left no doubt, “Forgive them.”