Obsessions can be popular entertainment for us. You know what I mean, the old Monk series on TV where the character is so afraid of deadly germs and has regular routines that must be followed exactly. The movies Rainman and As Good as It Gets showed other examples. We kid around about some women’s obsessions with shoes or for men, even more tools. (Stereotypes, I know. Not all women or all men fit those descriptions.) Well, you won’t believe who else has an obsession problem. It’s God! God is obsessed with us! I heard this in a sermon one time. From the time he created us, God just can’t leave us alone, no matter what we do to try to ignore him. The closest I can imagine obsession was over my children, but even then, though my love and concern for them never ceases, I had to let them go their own way. God never lets us go. We may run but we can’t hide. He won’t give up on us—not ever.
This virus quarantine made me think about the apostle Paul. Whenever he was imprisoned, he wrote a major part of the New Testament scriptures. It’s likely his longer imprisonments were confinements under a guard, such as house arrests, but whatever they were, they didn’t stop him from encouraging the various churches and sharing the gospel. Now that I’ve been in isolation for almost half a year, I’m asking myself, what have I done with the extra time? You’ve probably seen the jokes. Those who said they were going to write a book or learn a new language or lose 10 pounds during quarantine, but five months later no book, no new language and 10 pounds heavier, not lighter! Of course, there’s something to be said for taking a break from the usual routines. I got to thinking why not use my extra bits of time working on my relationships, with my family, friends and neighbors, but especially with my Lord. Love to all! Stay safe!
“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse” (Romans 1:20). As the apostle Paul wrote, God is the One who continually creates and sustains all that we see and even what we can’t see. Through the resurrection and ascension of our Lord, this earth and all nature, the entire cosmos, has been redeemed and is being renovated. In C.S. Lewis’ tales of Narnia, when the golden lion Aslan shows up, the eternal winter of the land of Narnia begins to turn into spring. That’s what our Savior is doing in the world now. It’s not totally as it will be. It’s just the beginning, but despite the abuse and neglect our battered earth has suffered over millennia, God hasn’t turned his back on it. He includes our earth in his redemption plan. And, as we, bit by bit, turn our lives over to him, this renovation is happening in us as well.
First, I saw it circling. Surely that hummingbird is not going to get down in the birdbath! It circled again, waiting for the larger birds to leave. I was fascinated, watching and wondering what it would do. Finally, it got its chance and hovered just above the water, like a tiny helicopter, dipping its beak for a drink. Then, zipped off again, just to return for another quick sip. So much fun to watch. Though we’re in a serious, deadly pandemic, life goes on in the world of nature. God continues to create and to sustain his creation. The flowers bloom, the rains come, the birds build their nests, life goes on. The frisky squirrels, the birds that splash in my birdbath and the almost tame rabbits in my yard are unaware a crisis is going on in the human realm. But God knows. If he cares so much for his little feathery and furry creatures, how much more for us.
I’ve lost a friend. We saw each other rarely, usually at church conferences, because she lived in Zambia, but we were friends. When I saw her again at a women’s conference in Zimbabwe two years ago, I did not dream it would be the last time. Many years before, when I first heard her speak in her low, melodious voice, her words so wise and gracious, I recognized a spiritual leader. She was poised in demeanor, not overly talkative and easily approachable. I will always remember how she looked when she wore her colorful native costume, standing so tall and erect and beautiful. Tributes to her from mutual friends continue to show up on my Facebook page. Their comments remind me of the widows in Acts 9 who in their grief at the disciple Tabitha’s death extolled her “good works and acts of charity.” Nsama, a wife, a mother and a mentor to so many, I miss you, my friend.
After our walking tour through the zoo, she came over to our picnic table with little packaged snacks for the grandchildren. She explained she brought extra snacks when she came with her kids to share with friends they made there. A black family giving the hand of friendship to our white one. Our grandchildren had run together excited over seeing the various animals as we walked through the zoo, with us adults complaining about the Texas heat. Nothing unusual as far as my daughter and I were concerned, but in her eyes something special was going on. Maybe in this volatile, racially sensitive time, it was. For whatever reason, she left us a message of hope for the future.
While going over some of our Savior’s virtues this morning and asking for those same virtues to be in me—love, joy, peace, generosity, forgiveness, mercy, gratefulness. Wait a minute, gratefulness? Does God need to be grateful? He lacks nothing and needs nothing we can possible give him, not even our prayers or worship. He has no need that I could think of to be grateful. Though thankfulness to God is expressed throughout the Psalms and New Testament prayers, it isn’t mentioned in the Lord’s Prayer. But then Jesus defended the thankful woman who poured the expensive perfume on his head when even his disciples questioned what she did (Matthew 26). And when he healed the ten lepers, and only one came back to thank him, he asked, where are the others (Luke 17). Jesus appreciated being thanked and he always thanked God in his prayers. God may not need to be grateful, but Jesus was grateful, so gratefulness stays on the list.
In the hot, dry summer months I refresh the water in the birdbath when I pick up my newspaper each morning. Almost as soon as I’m back in the house a bird shows up, tentatively looks around and after deciding it’s safe, happily splashes away in the water. This morning it was Mr. blue jay first, then his wife. After the blue jays and the cardinals and, of course, the crows finish, the titmouse, wrens and sparrows take their turns. Sometimes a squirrel runs them all off, except for the crows. There’s no first come, first served or waiting in line, it’s who is the biggest and the baddest who gets to use the birdbath. Nature is beautiful and wondrous, but it’s survival of the fittest out there, just the opposite of how Jesus says we should act. We can’t blame the critters for doing what comes naturally, but even for us who know better, it’s not easy to think of others before ourselves. Jesus knew that, of course. His command was to love others as we love ourselves. Still not easy!
Though my life in retirement is way less busy than when I worked full time, my whole week is still planned for the weekend. My Saturdays and Sundays I try to leave free for church and anything else I feel like doing. So no laundry or cleaning or yardwork on the weekends, unless I really want to, and I usually don’t. It’s a time to read as much as I want or watch an old British detective mystery or take a nap, guilt free. Before the virus, I regularly met friends for dinner at a restaurant on Saturday evenings as well. It’s my freedom from my somewhat structured lifestyle, a lifestyle I can’t seem to totally set aside. Some sense of order and structure is good, but I believe freedom in Christ includes freedom from our own hurried (and harried) obsessive behavior too. So, it’s OK to take a break and take time for yourself. I know some of you can’t take two days off, but even God took a Sabbath rest!
One of my dear aunts grew up in an orphanage. When we visited her and my uncle, she always made sure we were well fed. She was constantly concerned we weren’t getting enough to eat. Even my children noticed, as they happily ate whatever cookies or other sweets she gave them. It made me wonder if she had gone without enough food at times in her life. It seemed to her food equaled love. My husband hired an engineer from China years ago, and afterward, he and his wife (now a doctor) began showering us with gifts. They were so appreciative Ed hired him, even though his English was limited, so they kept giving us gifts. Finally, I had to say, no more gifts! Giving gifts was the way they showed how grateful they were. I receive intricate, handmade cards from a couple of my friends, and I believe putting that much time in creating something beautiful for others shows love. Though love can be shown in many ways, love is always outgoing, away from self. And, it always costs someone something.