Refreshing Hearts One Sentence At A Time
In this world you will have trouble. But take heart: I have overcome the world.
If anyone understands having trouble, or hassles, it is me. I’m sitting at my brightly lit computer screen with a ton of programs open, documents needing to be printed, and I can’t print them because the printer uninstalled itself and I have no idea how to fix it. There’s a stack of papers to my left. There’s a stack of papers to my right. There’s a stack of toys, musical instruments, and more papers, and weights on the couch across the room. They are homeless and have taken up residence on that futon. A stack of trash bags and boxes sits by the back door. There are three bags full of stuff that I need to get out of the car. There’s always something to get done, to be accomplished, and there’s always something breaking. In fact, my email window won’t close and there’s a white box just sitting in the middle of my screen that won’t go away. Insert coffee here.
I went to Sunday School this morning. I’d been asked to teach the lesson because the usual teachers weren’t there. In fact, nobody who was usually there showed up. I stood at the window stirring my coffee, about ready to leave and go home, when one couple came in, apologizing for being late. “But hey,” the man said with a smile, “Where two or three gather, there God is with us.” The three of us sat down at the big white, round tables and chatted about some random fun memories and the chaos of 8th grade boys.
After the coffee was sipped, we began the lesson. See, I am an online instructor but I don’t do a lot of Teaching. I read papers and post comments about them, helping students write better. So I was excited and quite nervous, because lately I seem to be fading away in the quiet roar that is 2015. I was excited because this was interesting stuff to be learning – John 16. This is one of the chapters following the Last Supper, where Jesus gives his last important message to the disciples. He ends this chapter with one of the best verses in the Bible: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (33).
I was nervous because I’m just little ol’ me: me who is klutzy, me who is tongue-tied; me who is short and has super-thick glasses; me who hosted an open house to which nobody came; me who sits at a computer trying to write sense into a world of advertisements, fake headlines, and captioned pictures; me who watches Netflix before bed because those characters feel like friends; me who really loves sunshine, movies, great books, and fun walks, and cuddles with my baby girls.
So while I was standing at the window and stirring my coffee, silent thoughts of defeat crept in. The sun shone in through the windows, but the empty room dimmed. Silence reigned, and a solitary, little ol’ someone wondered if it mattered if she existed and what would be the repercussions if she were gone. Nobody would be there to miss her.
Except somebody showed up, just in time.
“Did you notice?” my Bible asks in bold, black print. Did I notice? Did they notice as they walked in? Shake it off, I thought. Let’s begin. I’m so done with this church thing. Nobody cares if I’m here or not. See, having a baby has its challenges, and among them are the time restrictions. Nap time takes a lot of precedence with me because with a disturbed nap is a disturbed night’s sleep, which is a disturbed nap, which is a disturbed night’s sleep, and pretty soon there’s a vicious, grumpy, bleary-eyed cycle. And if I’m at home while baby sleeps, then I certainly can’t be at activities or with groups of people. Which means there are a lot of “No, I can’t do that’s,” and, “Sorry, I have to leave early’s.” And soon nobody notices if you aren’t there, because they expect it. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the cloud hovers lower.
In John 16, Jesus informs his friends and followers that he is leaving them, going back to the One who sent him. He is sending his Counselor to be with them instead. “It is for your good that I am going away,” Jesus tells them (v 7). They don’t understand but instead are consumed with grief. “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear,” Jesus adds (v 12). They pass looks among themselves, confused, hearts wrenching. Well, they wonder, where is he going, and when is he coming back? Is this a quick trip to the mall, or what? He informs them that he is leaving them in good hands, hands that can only be there if he is gone. He is leaving them hands that reach far beyond what one person can grasp, but hands that can touch lives and hearts throughout the ages and among the global population. The men continue to stare at him, mouths agape. Jesus even adds that they will have trouble – they will be kicked out of church, that they will be challenged, that they will be forgotten by their friends and families – and in fact they will even abandon him (v 31). Of course they vehemently shake their heads in bewilderment and denial. They are too full of grief and misery to hear any more from him. And seeing this on their faces, hearing the whispers of their thoughts, he adds, “But take heart! I have overcome the world!”
Matthew Henry is a great commentator and researcher of the Bible. His commentary adds this: “By only looking at that which was against them, and overlooking that which was for them, they were so full of sorrow that there was no room left for joy. It is the common fault and folly of melancholy Christians to dwell only on the dark side of the cloud” (405).
Did you notice? Jesus isn’t here. He’s not at Starbucks, he isn’t knocking on doors in khakis and a tie, and he certainly is not yelling on a street corner holding a sign. However, his Spirit, our great Counselor, has been sent in his place, to wrap our spirits into His. “The Spirit will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you (v13-14)…The Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God (v 27).” The men sitting around Jesus’ table were still perplexed. Henry states, “The notion of Christ’s secular kingdom was so deeply rooted in them. When we think the scripture must be made to agree with the false ideas we have imbibed, no wonder that we complain of its difficulty; but when our reasonings are captured by revelation, that matter becomes easy” (407). As my favorite author stated once, “That’s how things become clear. All of a sudden. And then you realize how obvious they’ve been all along” (Madeleine L’Engle). Here we come to a paradox, and a paradox that makes the difference between life, death, hope, and loss for many people: I am small. I am often wrong. I am only one. But God loves me. Jesus said it right there, in his living, breathing Word. I believe in Him, that he is the truth, that he is hope, that he is love. And he loves me. The same applies to you: you are small. You are one. But God created you, piece by piece, strand of hair by strand of hair, and you matter. You matter simply because God loves you.
This revelation may not seem large, in fact it may seem obtuse and too simple. It may not be the answer you are looking for. Sometimes I sincerely question if it matters if God loves me, because there are a billion other people on the planet as well, so if there’s a billion other dots of dust on the ground, does one even count.
That’s why He is God, and you – and especially I – are not. We are still in the dark. God sees from beginning to end, and he knows your high value. “Wait till God shall reveal even this to us” (Henry, 407).
My questions of value and significance often occur when my little world shifts away from peace. Lately the schedule has been busy and full of lonely, draining hours. There are children to feed and care for, classes to teach, and restless nights. The next few weeks will only hold more of them and that knowledge in itself is a binding force. However, I suppose I ought now to take hold of Jesus’ words to his followers, and as Henry put it, “Being forewarned are forearmed” (405).
“Peace in Christ is the only true peace,” Henry states. This brings comfort and healing. Are you seeking light in the relentless dark? Here He is. This world holds trouble – “Men persecute [Christ followers] because they are so good, and God corrects them because they are no better. So between both they will have trouble” (Henry 410). So indeed, whether you are following the directions or upholding the guidelines, or simply trying to get home with ten sacks full of groceries in the 100 degree heat, there will be trouble. Expect it. And at the same time, know that you are NOT alone. You ARE armed with the knowledge and constant presence of the creator of the universe, if you will but acknowledge your sometimes-silent companion.
“In the midst of the troubles of this world it is the duty and interest of Christ’s disciples to be of good cheer; as sorrowful indeed, in compliance with the temperament of the age, and yet always rejoicing, always cheerful, even in sufferings…’Take heart,’ Jesus says, ‘I have overcome the world.’ Never was there such a conqueror of the world as Christ was, and we ought to be encouraged by it. Christ has overcome the world before us; so that we may look on it as a conquered enemy” (Henry 410). Gather strength, harness it, and unleash those words in your utter weakness.
When the car breaks down, when the five-year-old spills her cup of milk, “when the pieces seem too shattered to gather off the floor” (All Sons & Daughters), when nobody seems to notice if you even exist, this is still the truth. These things are all simple tasks to help you see God’s presence. I’m not always certain of the Why behind those sufferings. We don’t always get that answer. But we do get the warning, and we get the comfort, and we indeed get the Spirit, our Counselor, who links arms with us in the pouring rain. We get the How. How do we bear it? The tools are gathered in a great Book in your suitcase, and can be revealed to you if you ask.
Did you notice? This day can be brighter. Did you notice? You are held and loved. Did you notice? “Where two or three are gathered….” Be one of the two or three, and just show up. Even if showing up means you rush in late, with messy hair. You never know where Church can be held, and you offer utter significance with your presence. Keep waking up. Keep your eyes open and look up. Dwell on the bright side of the cloud. Take heart. In the errands and the chaos, and in the quiet hours, your Almighty offers the universe. He has already overcome it. Now it’s your turn.
Henry, Matthew. The NIV Mtthew Henry Commentary: In One Volume. Edited by Rev. Dr. Leslie F. Church, Zondervan. 1992.
What is your least favorite part of a church service?
You know you have one.
Whether you’re the person coordinating the event, behind the board in the sound booth, on stage holding a guitar or microphone, or waiting for your turn at the pulpit, there’s that moment where you have to brace yourself, wince inwardly, and take a deep breath when That Time begins. Yes, you know what I’m talking about.
Mine is the greeting time. I can’t stand it. Imagine how Lina Lamont says it in her nasally voice in Singin’ In The Rain. I caaaaaan’t staaand it. You have to smile at everyone around you, even though moments ago you were just wondering what you were going to have for lunch and don’t know if you really want to eat at home but the hubster wants to eat out so there’s going to be an argument later. Then you have to look around to see who’s reaching out toward you to shake your hand. Shake Your Hand. Shake. Your. Hand. Because I definitely shake everybody’s hand when I see them. No! There are some hugs, friendly banter. If there is a voluntary handshake in Real Life, it’s usually one of those two-handed handshakes that just feels more sincere than its predecessor.
And then there’s the awesome conversation that you have with a)strangers and b)friends.
Conversation A goes like:
Person 1: Hi there.
Person 2: Hi.
Person 1: How are you?
Person 2: Doing good this morning.
Person 1: Good, good. Glad to hear it.
Person 2: And you?
Person 1: Yes, good. It’s good to see you!
Person 2: You too.
Conversation B goes like:
Friend 1: Hi there.
Friend 1: How are you?
Me: Doing good this morning.
Friend 1: Good, good. Glad to hear it.
Me: And you?
Friend1: Yes, good. It’s good to see you!
Me: You too.
And then move on, and so on, and henceforth, and blah blah blah until the song starts up again and, praise the Lord, there is relief from the agony. I just spent about half an hour looking for jokes about greeting time at church and couldn’t find any. I think that is surprising. There were a lot of terrible jokes, and it kind of made me feel bad that I was making fun of or complaining about one of the aspects of a church service. See, I do try not to complain about something unless I can find a viable solution for fixing it. Unless I can change a scenario, hot glue, paint, or duct tape, or make some kind of phone call to somebody who CAN fix the broken thing, then I will try to just deal. But here’s the thing about the deal….greeting time happens in almost every church, in every service, and good luck trying to change it. And honestly, who cares? Who cares that it’s awkward, fake, and a terrible way to spread germs like the plague?
There was a service my husband and I attended, which brilliantly avoided greeting time. I LOVED that service. You walk in the building; in the foyer was a table for making a cup of coffee. Walk into the worship center and the lights were dim, there was music in the background. You could converse with people or just take a seat. We’d have the music, the speaker, and afterward many of us would go out to dinner. Oh yes. That’s right.
What is it about the Greeting Time that I find so terrible? Am I alone in this?! I just don’t like the close proximity, the short-lived moment in which nobody is ready to discuss how they are ACTUALLY feeling that morning, and the forced faux friendliness. If you know me, then it’s cool if we have a little or big hug and/or a handshake if we usually handshake. But if I see you at the grocery store and we chat better than we do during the Greeting Time, let’s just be done with the waxy mannerisms, shall we? Nobody needs to shake my hand, and it never ever anywhere makes me feel welcome. I don’t know where your hands have been. Were you just picking your nose? Picking the lint in your pocket? Picking something out of your teeth? Ew. I don’t want your morning’s eggs on my hands. Even if you’re nice.
What is it about a handshake?
I’m not criticizing the fact that new people need to feel welcome, and I do understand how necessary it is for anybody who has arrived at an event to feel invited, part of the group, and that they belong. I agree with that. But it seems there should be a better way to make that happen. I don’t know if it can happen in a two-minute segue.
Maybe it has to do with me.
I DO realize that most people probably don’t even blink when it comes to greeting time. For me it’s a grinding of the teeth, nails on the chalkboard, a train wreck. I think my blood pressure skyrockets when I’m forced to meet new people that are standing right behind me. Maybe it has something to do with the ensuing chaos of people suddenly talking, walking around, moving every which way. Maybe it has to do with a fear of crowds or something. Check it out; just looked up “fear of crowds phobia” and what’s kind of funny is what came up:
That’s right. Agoraphobia is “an anxiety disorder characterized by anxiety in situations where the sufferer perceives the environment to be difficult or embarrassing to escape.” I get that, Wikipedia. I get that.
Now, I’m not looking for myself to have more trouble or drama than I already have, but let’s face it. Greeting time is a breeding ground for agoraphobes. Party rock, agoraphobes! Let’s hear it for the boys!
I’d rather have a quiet moment to chat with someone about what her name is, if she has come before, and what program I can interest her in. Or discuss how cute her shoes are. Or ask a question about my daughter’s teeth or health and how it relates to that person’s daughter. And a two –minute rock concert just doesn’t help that.
Now, don’t get me wrong in that I really DO like the real moments from people that I do know. I love a hug from a friend, waving to a friendly face across the room, and laughing about my poor husband’s wonky guitar solo that we will laugh about when we go out to lunch later. (Love you!)
I just needed to write something out about Greetin’ Time after a couple pointless handshakes yesterday. I really need to remember to put some hand sanitizer in my purse. It’s just one of those things you have to deal with, this GT. It’s definitely not a gift or talent for me.
I am reminded of my social awkwardness at the park. It’s this innate fear within me, of addressing Strangers. It doesn’t matter if they look friendly, kind, or like airplane hijackers, there’s this inner struggle to force words out of my mouth. Blarg! When I was a child my mother called it Shyness. Now I’m searching for a name and a cure; you see, it’s easier to defeat a problem when you can give it a name. And as a leader for an important ministry to my heart, as a Christ-follower, as a mom, I need to be able to walk up to new people and not feel like Cousin It. But I’m an organizer, not a greeter.
After months of vexation with my daughter, trying every tactic to get her to Take A Nap, I finally settled on the solution of singing hymns to her. For some reason, this works. I’m so glad. It started out with holding her down, holding her hand, and singing any song I could find in my old hymnbook for as long as it took for her to fall asleep, and now she asks me to sing songs from my book. Actually, if I leave before she’s completely asleep she will pull the book off her dresser where I leave it, and pull it into bed with her. And…. after that she usually comes to get me and asks, “What’s wrong with me?” and I walk her back to bed to see that she’s been trying to sleep on top of the hardback book.
I thumb through, perusing the songs I grew up learning in choir, and sing what I know. I try to settle on the ones that are slower, calmer, and I have found that the ones where I sing a bit higher are the ones that work the best. Some favorites are “Be Thou My Vision,” “In The Garden,” “My God is Near Me All The Time,” and “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”
In college we had this event called Renaissance Week, where the entire university held activities, a big dinner, some shows, and lectures on the Renaissance. I went to one where a music professor talked about A Mighty Fortress, and it was such an interesting discussion. I love learning about where stories and songs come from.
Martin Luther wrote the words and composed the melody sometime between 1527 and 1529. Remember that Martin Luther was a German monk, priest, professor of theology and iconic figure of the Protestant Reformation (Wikipedia). He strongly disputed the claim that freedom from God's punishment for sin could be purchased with money; that salvation is not earned but a gift of God; and helped the Bible become more accessible to the common man.
Quick facts about “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”:
• It has been called the "Battle Hymn of the Reformation" for the effect it had.
• It was a tribute to Luther's friend Leonhard Kaiser, who was executed on August 16, 1527.
• The words are a paraphrase of Psalm 46.
• Luther composed the melody, named "Ein feste Burg" from the text's first line, in meter 184.108.40.206.7. This is sometimes denoted "rhythmic tune" to distinguish it from the later isometric variant, in 220.127.116.11.7 (thanks Wikipedia).
• This hymn covers the full sweep of the Christian's life. In it, we find the answer to conflict, striving, spiritual warfare, and at last, victory” (<http://www.crosswalk.com/11583552/ > 10 Sept 2012).
One of the most significant facts I learned about the song was that not every verse ends with a cheerful note, literally, musically, and lyrically. Here are the lyrics:
A mighty fortress is our God,
a bulwark never failing;
our helper he amid the flood
of mortal ills prevailing.
For still our ancient foe
doth seek to work us woe;
his craft and power are great,
and armed with cruel hate,
on earth is not his equal.
Did we in our own strength confide,
our striving would be losing,
were not the right man on our side,
the man of God's own choosing.
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is he;
Lord Sabaoth, his name,
from age to age the same,
and he must win the battle.
And though this world, with devils filled,
should threaten to undo us,
we will not fear, for God hath willed
his truth to triumph through us.
The Prince of Darkness grim,
we tremble not for him;
his rage we can endure,
for lo, his doom is sure;
one little word shall fell him.
That word above all earthly powers,
no thanks to them, abideth;
the Spirit and the gifts are ours,
thru him who with us sideth.
Let goods and kindred go,
this mortal life also;
the body they may kill;
God's truth abideth still;
his kingdom is forever.
Who’s got no equal on earth in verse 1? Our ancient foe. So why are we singing out him being so strong?! Look at verse 3: God hath willed his truth to triumph through us. Our enemy may be unequal, but one little word shall fell him. One little word, one little name: Jesus. That name, that word, above all earthly powers. Let goods and kindred go; this mortal life also. God’s truth abideth still; his kingdom is forever.
Psalm 46 says:
God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Come and see the works of the Lord,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear,
he burns the shields with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”
The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Fortress: a large fort or fortified town; a place or source of refuge or support. Bulwark: any protection against external danger, injury, or annoyance. I like the reminder, that the almighty, protecting God who was around in 1 BC, who was around in 1527, is still around and present as ever in 2012. He abideth still.
Even during Greeting Time.
Even when you step in gum in the parking lot.
Even when the plans go wrong.
Even when you can’t hand her a brochure.
Even when you can’t find wiggle room in the budget.
Even when gray clouds fill the sky, masking the bright yellow sun.
Lord Sabaoth, the Lord of Hosts, of armies, from age to age the same. And He must win the battle.
So whether the battle is internal, or external, among friends or strangers, or silly awkwardness at the park or in line at the grocery store, He can work through it. He’s the one to run to, flinging our shameful inadequacy into his arms when we forget, fail, or falter. “God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day. Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts. The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress” (Psalm 46:5-7).
Maybe today is your Greeting Time. Maybe Greeting Time is your favorite thing, or maybe you’re glad to be on stage with a microphone so you don’t have to participate. Well for those of us in the audience, I’ll just keep on singing the chords and remember that even when my blood pressure rises, there’s a stronger one standing beside me. And he must win the battle.
But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. (1 Corinthians 1:9)
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