Something More to Do

Annie Dillard

Something More to Do

2 Corinthians 3:18: “As the Spirit of the Lord works within us, we become more and more like him and reflect his glory even more”

I don’t know if you’re familiar with a writer named Annie Dillard. She is an accomplished, luminous writer who has crafted poetry, essays, prose, and literary criticism, as well as two novels and one memoir. She is particularly known for her books about the natural world and our relationship with it in a way that is almost spiritual, although I do not know specifically what her beliefs are.

Annie Dillard published her first book in 1974, but recently said she sat down to write one morning, and, as she said, “I didn’t know what came next.” She was, unfortunately, finished with writing. I know that those who have read her books over the years have to be disappointed.

As a writer, I can identify with what she experienced. Every day when I sit down, I think, do I know what comes next? Is today the day I don’t have anything else to say? Is this it?

I am blessed that, as of now, I have more than enough to write about. A witness to that are the over 1,000 short pieces and five novels, to say nothing of these devotionals, which number about 1400. But I know that one day, one way or another, I too won’t know what comes next, and that will be the end of writing for me.

But I am hopeful. In spite of the possibility of one day running out of ideas, I believe God made us with the impulse to create, to reach out to our world and to touch the lives there. We will press on regardless, aware that if we can’t minister or create in one way, God has put other ways in our paths. The Gospel is about growing in Christlikeness through praise, prayer and deeds of kindness, and those will last us during this life, and all the way through eternity. Praise God for creativity, for allowing us to persevere, and for the sacrifice of his son Jesus Christ, who has given us the gift of this life and the life to come. Amen.

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I Have Some Cookies (and Other Good News)

 

Cookies on a Plate

Proverbs 25:25: Like cold water to a weary soul, so is good news from a distant land.

I don’t know if you’ve ever received good news in an unexpected place, at an unexpected time, from an unexpected person. All of this happened a couple of weeks ago when Becky and I went to Great American Buffer for lunch. We like to go after one o’clock, since that’s when the senior discount kicks in with a free drink. Hey, there has to be some recompense for growing old. We’re so eager to get the discount that we’ve waited outside the restaurant for the clock to kick over past one, but that free drink was well worth waiting for.

All right. So we had eaten our lunch and were just about to leave when I noticed a family of five or six, which included a little girl about six years old. They all got their food, and I assume someone in the family got her meal, because she came back bearing a small plate with something on it. From where I was seated, I couldn’t tell what she said, but as she held her plate aloft, she proclaimed to everyone she passed, “I have cookies! I have chocolate chip cookies!” I have rarely seen a broader smile or a greater sense of excitement that we did from that child that day. It warmed our hearts and made waiting for the discount worthwhile.

I got to thinking that the way the girl reacted to her cookies has a lot to say to us about how we share the Gospel. We need to proclaim it publicly with great joy and enthusiasm as we are going about our business, wherever we go. We don’t necessarily have to do this with words, but with our attitudes and actions. This is how the Good News of the Kingdom of God has been shared and will be given to others until the end of time.

The Bible tells us about the great Messianic feast at the end of time, and I have a feeling that no one has to wait for a senior discount, and that there will be cookies, and they will be chocolate chip.

Praise God for the Good News, for the sacrifice of our Savior Jesus Christ, and for making provision for us in every way, from now until we walk the streets of gold , bearing our cookies aloft. Amen.

Matching the Socks

 

Matching Socks

Matching the Socks

John 14:6: “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever.”

I don’t know if you do your own laundry or not. It’s one of those chores that no one talks about, knowing hat we all have to do it or have it done, and it comes with its particular frustrations. Chief among these is trying to make sure that the same socks you put in the washer and dryer are the socks that come out. We’ve all ended up with an unmatched sock or two, and it’s utterly baffling to understand where they went. Sometimes they have attached themselves to a shirt and show up after a while, or maybe the dryer created a black hole which sucked up some of the socks and deposited them on the very baffled inhabitants of a small planet circling a distant star. It’s hard to tell what they would think of this, particularly if they didn’t have feet, and they would probably want to return those strange knit objects.

I bring this up because I did my laundry Monday, and, when I went to match the socks, they were all there! I was inordinately happy about this rare event, which shows you the kind of life I lead. I put them in their special place in my dresser, where I can be assured that they will matched and ready to wear. I have to say here that there are no guarantees that they will match, especially the one-color socks. This is why I prefer footwear with designs on it so that I can easily tell what matches what.

Now, the point of all this is this: God created us as we are, and we are indeed wonderfully made. But we are missing something important, as a sock missing its mate cannot do what it was intended for. For us, that something missing can be the presence of God in our lives. And that is much more important than a bit of fabric formed into a tube and closed at one end.

Praise God for making us so that we need him, and for manifesting his presence in so many ways, but especially through the power of the Spirit, whom we praise, along with the Father and the Son. Amen.Matching Socks

The Habit of Recognition

Baby Pointing

Revelation 3:20: Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

I don’t know how everyone goes about gaining the attention of someone that they want to approach. Last Thursday, I went into another ESOL teacher’s classroom to say hello before I went to my class. When I walked into the room, she was concentrating on what she was writing on the board, and so didn’t notice that I had come in. I did what I usually do and stood there, waiting until she did see I was there. I prefer to do this rather than shout “I’m here!” or leap dramatically into the room. Shouting could have startled her and caused her to throw her book in the air, while jumping into the room could have gotten me stabbed with a pencil, and I wouldn’t have blamed her.

I found myself wondering how long I would stand there, waiting, but never found out since she turned to me in a few seconds and said, “Oh. There you are.”

“Yes, I am. And there you are.”

Since we had agreed that we were both present, we had a short conversation which didn’t go beyond remarking about our health and the weather. It was an important exchange, though, since it served to recognize and strengthen our relationship. My Southern aunts knew this because they told me, time and time again, “When you see someone you know, you should speak. You can always speak.”

I did this, since I did not want my failure to do so to get back to my aunts. I imagined someone I ignored asking them, “Your nephew didn’t speak when he saw me yesterday. Is the boy just simple or maybe he wasn’t fetched up right? I couldn’t tell.”

Then they would say, “It’s probably both, but don’t worry. We can remind him of how he was raised.”

I wondered at the time I started doing this what I should speak about, but after a few encounters with various people, I figured out it didn’t matter. As long as I made eye contact and sounds came out of my mouth, I was good, and they thought I was smart and polite.

It occurs to me that Jesus would have made a good Southern boy. He spoke to everyone, and treated them with respect. One of the many differences between Jesus and us is that what he had to say was always important, especially when he was asking  a wide variety of people to follow him. He posed the question and then he waited, and he was and is willing to wait as long as he could, until there was no possibility of a positive answer. I think that Jesus rejoiced when someone became a disciple, and likewise, he mourned when they did not. But he never forced anyone to follow him. That decision is strictly up to us.

We have perhaps hundreds of thousands of conversations in our lifetimes and I think we would agree that most of those are not that important except to the extent that they maintain and enrich our relationships. Asking someone to consider becoming a follower of Jesus is without a doubt the most important conversation we can have with them since that decision has consequences for this life and the next. Praise God for encounters with others, for recognizing and loving our fellow humans, and for the opportunity to offer them, through God’s power, the treasure of love, grace, mercy and eternal life. Amen.

Do as I Say

Distressed Writer

James 1:22: Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.

I don’t know if you’ve ever heard the saying, “Do as I say, not as I do,” although there’s a fair chance that you might have, and more than once. It’s used by someone who knows they ought to act in a certain way and tells everyone about it, but then ends up not doing what they have advised others to do. If it’s said by someone who is trusted or a leader, it can create confusion in the minds of those who hear it, particularly if they are young. I remember a man in our church when I was growing up quoted the verse about our bodies being the temple of God. As part of that, he told us to avoid colas. More than once, he told us that if we put a bit of meat in a container and then poured some cola over it, the cola would dissolve the meat. I never tired that, but I think I know how it would have turned out. And yet this man smoked in the parking lot between Sunday School and church in plain view of everyone.

I suppose I couldn’t be blamed for being confused, although in this case, I didn’t want to smoke. I did want to know how anyone could say to do something and then not do it. It didn’t make any sense.

As I got older, I understood better that human beings are masses of contradictions, and saying one thing and doing another was to be expected among a number of people. I found myself at times doing that, and the most recent example happened last week.

As a teacher and then as a writer, I told my students and other writers that it was vitally important to write something every day. It didn’t matter what it was or how long it was, but it was simply important to do it without fail.

Last week I finished a novel and decided to give myself a break between novels and wait a month before starting another. I would continue to write using other forms every day, and I did that until last week. I went three days without writing, figuring it wouldn’t affect me much.

I was wrong.

When I sat down again and tried to write, I couldn’t make it happen. I took a break and came back. Still nothing. I took time for lunch and then returned to my desk. Still nothing. Then I resolved I was going to sit at my word processor and not get up except for emergencies or to feed the cat until I had written something.

I was there two hours, and then something started to come, slowly at first, but then more and more rapidly. I felt I was where I wanted to be, although it took some doing. If I had written every day, I wouldn’t have had a problem continuing. That day I learned all too well the same lesson I had been teaching for years, and I wouldn’t make that mistake again.

Jesus understood the importance of making our words and our actions fit. He reserved his harshest criticism for the Pharisees, who claimed to be righteous and holy examples and were anything but. He also understood the importance of spiritual disciplines—prayer, Bible study, worship, fellowship, service and all the rest—and he told us to do them daily, as we are going about our business. Just as writing every day makes me a better writer, so does spiritual discipline helps us grow in Christlikeness. Praise God for the disciplines that enrich our lives and help us grow to be more like Jesus our Lord, our teacher, our Savior and our King. Amen.

Pealing the Hour

Grandfather Clock

Matthew 24:36: “About that day (of Jesus’ return )or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”

 I don’t know if you’ve ever owned or been around a grandfather clock that chimes the hour. We’ve had one for a long time. It’s a beautiful instrument, with a cherry case and a cool dial that shows the phases of the moon. I’m not sure what to do with a knowledge of the moon’s phases, but it’s there if I need it. I stopped wearing a watch a while back, but found I can tell the hour from the chimes, which I can hear all over the house. (The clock can chime on the quarter hour as well, but we only use the hourly chime. There’s such a thing as too much chiming.)

When we first brought the clock into the house and I heard it chime for the first time, I was impressed by the full, rich sound. I thought the chimes would be metal tubes about an inch and a half in diameter and three or four feet long at most. When I looked into the back of the clock, I was surprised to find that the chimes were not tubes, but rather metal rods the diameter of a pencil, and eighteen inches long.. When struck, they reverberated in the hollow body of the clock, which amplified and reinforced the sound. I realized then that even if the clock maker wanted to use tubes, there wouldn’t have been room. It’s all a matter of reverberation, echoes and overtones.

I was thinking that we as Christians are like the rods in our clock. By ourselves, we aren’t much, but if God is present in our lives, we can call on the power of God to accomplish God’s will and do great things. Our good deeds and loving attitude can ring out like chimes, letting the world know that God is great and God is love. Thanks be to God for multiplying our efforts and allowing us to ring out the Good News wherever we are and wherever we may go. Amen.

Losing the Lockers

High School Lockers

Look quickly–these may be gone soon!

Matthew 28:20: “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

I don’t know if you’ve heard about what has happened to lockers in high schools across the country. They have not been lost, as my title might suggest. Rather, they’re being ignored. High school students are not stopping by their lockers to get what they need for their next class. Instead, they are carrying backpacks filled with everything they will need the entire school day. The Post article I read about this said they look like Sherpas overburdened with supplies on their back, toiling across snow fields or, in this case, up and down the halls at schools.

While some students say that it’s difficult to go by their lockers and get to class on time since some schools are so large, but some of the overburdened students are paying the price with back problems. They’re also missing the opportunity to see other students between classes, share gossip, put notes into the locker vents, ask someone to prom, check each other out and fight one other. Believe me, I know about that. And I wonder what effect not being able to spend a little time talking to each other at their lockers will have on students and schools. That remains to be seen.

Students take everything with them because what they need to do their work has become smaller. Imagine trying to stuff an ENIAC computer into a backpack. You couldn’t, because it filled a large room. A smart phone is, of course, much, much smaller and can do everything an ENIAC could. It has 1300 times the computing power of the earlier machine.

As I was thinking of students making their nomadic way around high schools, carrying everything with them, I thought of Abraham before God called him to go to the land of Canaan. The tribes that became the children of Israel were nomads, staying for a while in one place, and then moving on, joining their animals in carrying everything they owned and everything they needed.

When the call came to go to the Promised Land, they were accomplished in knowing how to take everything they owned. They had plenty of practice, after all. So God chose them to make the move and become the nation of Israel. Abraham and his family responded in faith, and that is the point of all this. They knew they could move, but they also learned that God was always with them through any change that came their way. God does not change—God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, throughout eternity.  This same promise that Abraham and his people believed is one we can count on as well. Praise God for God’s faithfulness, steadfastness and for leading us through all the days of our lives and throughout eternity. Amen.