If you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you?…Lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great.

Luke 6:34-35 (NIV)

For the past several years during winter months, our church has hosted a homeless ministry referred to as “the warming station”. (COVID being the exception this year). Over the course of six hours, these special guests are blessed with a hot meal, prayer and conversation, cots on which to sleep and movies for entertainment.

Last year, a man at our warming station approached me, face weathered by time and hardship, and boldly asked,

“Ma’am, do you have any blankets? It’s really cold outside.”

Dreadfully cold.

I hesitated. One, because there were no more blankets to loan, and, two, because the plaid blanket in pretty shades of purple and aqua I’ve kept in my car for many years came to mind.

Yes, that one blanket I favor and have used. A lot.

Because one never knows when one might find herself cold and in need of a blanket. And when Mary is cold and miserable so is everyone in her midst.

Fixing his stare, eyes pleading, dark and hollow, the man urged,

“I’ll give it back.”

Drat. He’d read my thoughts. Must have sensed the wrestling with my inner Linus Van Pelt.

With effort, I mentally released ownership of the blanket, dashed to the car to retrieve it. The instant I handed it over, I knew the teeny tiny act of kindness was an obedient decision.

And I knew I’d never see that blanket again.

Will I, Lord?

Lend without expecting to get anything backLuke 6:35

Like Jesus.

When God sent his baby son Jesus to earth, it was a selfless, sacrificial act. Even though his gift isn’t consistently and faithfully reciprocated by his children in loving obedience, (If you love me you will obey my commandments. John 14:15) he remains kind and merciful to the ungrateful and wicked.

Within reason—and when prompted by the Holy Spirit—he calls us to be generous and lend to sinners. That doesn’t come with assurance we’ll get back what we loaned or the sacrifice of time, talent or treasure won’t sting a little…or a heck of a lot.

But for the generous lender, the willingness to give without expecting to get anything back produces abundant blessings from God whose riches are immeasurable, both here and in eternity.

What need have I in heaven of a blanket in an environment that’ll deliver perfect warmth, illuminated by the radiant glory of God?

The maker of blankets.

When we freely give a man a blanket, we receive far more than we have room in our hearts to take in.

’Tis the season for giving. What are you willing to lend that might not make it back to you? 

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Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love.

Psalm 107:1, 8, 15, 21, 31

“Because of COVID…”

Well, that’s certainly the statement of the year, isn’t it? And it could pester us again at the end of 2021 and beyond.

Like me, maybe your first thought is what this pandemic has cost you and you’ve catalogued all you’ve lost.

Because of COVID, I’ve lost the freedom to interact freely in social gatherings and at church, working that required mask smile into my eyes with greater effort…wondering if the one I’ve waved to is, in fact, who I think he is.

Uh, that is the pastor, isn’t it?

Seated at restaurants (which are still in business), I lean toward the masked waitress, hand cupped behind my ear. “You said which items on the menu are no longer offered?”

The new rule in retail shops is, “If you touch that, ma’am, you’ll have to pay for it.” (Who knew handcrafted, glazed pottery pieces could be so expensive).

Because of COVID, I can no longer …

Because of COVID, I’ve lost…

Because of COVID, I’m restricted to…

But what if I flipped this contagious thing on its head and considered what I would not have if it weren’t for the pandemic?

What if I gave the Lord genuine thanks for COVID?

Because of COVID, what have I gained? (besides a few pounds)

Some thoughts are:

*Ready access to people and events through Zoom without fear of spreading or contracting anything.

*Virtual attendance to events and conferences and celebrations which, otherwise, would be cost prohibitive if travel were added to the expense.

*Closer quarters among family has given opportunity for more conversation.

*The plethora of online church services make listening on the road a possibility that wasn’t available before.

*Grocery curbside pick up eliminates impulsive, end-cap purchases.

Struggle, loss, hardship. They serve a definitive purpose and remind me God is actively at work, whether I see and understand or not.

Because of COVID, I more readily lift my chin to Jesus to see his calm, unruffled—and unmasked—face, raging storms of uncertainty and loss an ever-fading backdrop.

Because of COVID, my prayers have surged to greater depths, my faith in God more precious.

And that’s the whole point, isn’t it?

He is good.

His love is unfailing and eternal.

Because of COVID, I am duly reminded of that.

Because of COVID, I have more reasons to frustrate the enemy, whose time is short (Revelation 12:12), and who, therefore, binges on ingratitude and sniffs around for grumbling.

Because of COVID, I have more reasons to “Consider the great love of the Lord.Psalm 107:43

How has the pandemic benefitted you? How have you experienced his unfailing love because of it?

Mary

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See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland. Isaiah 43:19

“It’s right over there. You can’t miss it.”

Maybe it’s just me, but each time someone offers this familiar phrase, I wince. Though it’s typically delivered with a well-meaning gesture toward the “it” I “can’t miss”, the fact remains I can and do and will, on occasion, miss “it”.

A similar discomfort rises when I read the verse in Isaiah where God invites the reader to see the new thing he is doing.

That followed by God’s punchy question:

Do you not perceive it?

With robust confidence, God delivers an enthusiastic invitation to see something that is actively springing up. But straining my gaze along the long arm of God to see what he sees, my faithless response is all too often,

No, Lord. I do not see it.

What I do see is chaos, division, splintered families, hurricanes, fires and floods.

I see masked people scattered about a room so as not to catch anything untoward from one another.

Having just moved with my husband from our two-story house of 21 years (where we raised our 4 children) to an apartment with a third the space, I see…boxes.

Everywhere!

(What I long to see is the hot pad for coffee that belongs on my writing desk. In all the unboxing, that critical item has yet to show up).

But what I should see in all those boxes is evidence of God’s provision, the assurance of new beginnings springing up all around.

That to which I’ve given my heart enables me to see what God is prompting me to see. So if my heart isn’t right, neither is my vision.

In close proximity to Jericho, a city tightly shut up because of the Israelites, God urged Joshua to see.

See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men. Joshua 6:2 (NIV)

Though the literal deliverance of Jericho had not yet occurred, God invited his people to keep their heart vision fixed on the assurance of his faithfulness to deliver the fortified city into their hands.

I don’t have to see with physical eyes to believe God is up to something good. I don’t have to see evidence that the fulfillment of his purposes are springing up to trust he is actively working.

Because when God says, ‘See, it’s right there. You can’t miss it’, I know it will come to pass.

When has God invited you to see a new thing or answer to prayer before he delivered it?

Mary

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The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. Luke 2:20

Not sure when I came to believe it was wrong to reference traditional Christmas scriptures when it wasn’t Christmas. So, here’s to breaking free from my own rule.

(For the record, I am aware Halloween is tomorrow, but very little about it inspires me, aside from the anticipation of purchasing a good bit of discounted chocolate candy the following day.)

It’s the closing of my favorite restaurant in town and the shepherds’ experience recorded in Luke 2 as these each relate to 2020 that’s snagged my heart this week…

When I drove past the restaurant with the supreme “all you can eat” salad bar boasting savory pumpernickel croutons, I was horrified to find its dark, lifeless and smudged windows staring back.

Suffering from the ravages of a pandemic, the place had gone out of business, its once tailored and vibrant shrubbery now overgrown and colorless.

The good news is, a friend told me this was true before I laid eyes on it. Otherwise, the vision would have crushed me.

This encounter mimics much of what we’ve experienced in our hearts and minds this year. A year to suggest perfect vision, and yet many of us have been unable to see clearly through the guise of untruth and change and division.

The irony isn’t lost on me.

What we’ve been told is no longer true. What we’ve enjoyed and anticipate has been cancelled. The people and circumstances in which we’ve placed our trust are no longer trustworthy.

2020 has me clinging—more so than ever—to that which is constant and good.

That which won’t go out of business or fail to provide for my needs.

That which is reliable and immutable and true.

That which is born of God.

His word.

Learning of the unexpected closing of my favorite restaurant led me to ponder the shepherds response to the birth of Jesus. In glorious splendor, the announcement of baby Jesus’s arrival came to these lowly men at night while they kept watch over their flocks.

Years prior, the prophecy had been given:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6 (NIV)

And in perfect timing, God fulfilled that which he said would occur. Salvation for the people had been foretold and salvation for the people had arrived.

When the angel of the Lord appeared and brought the good news, the shepherds didn’t harumph, “We’ll believe it when we see it.”

In confidence, the shepherds traveled to see that which they were told would be there.

Even if the shepherds doubted or guffawed at the holy announcement, it wouldn’t negate the reality of the savior’s arrival, but they’d have missed being witnesses to the momentous event in history.

God—the promised Savior—had come to earth.

Just as they had been told.

Baby Jesus was born in the town of David.

Just as they had been told.

Baby Jesus was wrapped in cloths.

Just as they had been told.

Baby Jesus was laying in a manger.

Just as they had been told.

Everything was…just as they had been told.

When they returned from Bethlehem, they glorified and praised God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were “just as they had been told.” (vs 20)

In all things, isn’t it utterly reassuring to know God is faithful to his word? Because unlike people and favorite restaurants, God and his word are always trustworthy, his love unfailing.

And he’s always open for business.

Mary

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Filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:19

After 21 years in the same house, my husband and I are moving to a space one third the size of what we’ve enjoyed. To meet the challenge, I’ve done a lot of decluttering, but the need to leave the place empty is quite a different reality.

I only thought I’d made headway on this until it became increasingly evident everything—EVERYTHING—must be either tossed, donated, sold or fit into a proper size box.

Item by item, room by room, the cupboards, drawers, closets and rooms are being emptied, these spaces previously filled with a wide variety of essentials and—as I’ve discovered—non-essentials.

Throughout the arduous process, I’ve struggled to discern what to toss and what to keep, what to sell and what to donate. And if something goes in a box for keeping, what size is best?

What if my stuff gets misplaced?

In exasperation, I lamented to my husband, “Some things just can’t be boxed up.”

(more…)