Author Archives: songstress7

About songstress7

Geek girl. Frustrated musician. Creative soul. Voracious reader. Aspiring writer. World champion level procrastinator. Saved by Grace. ~SDG~

Construction Work

Today’s readings: Psalm 127-129; Acts 18

Many apologies for my recent absence… I’ve been in the process of transitioning to a new work schedule, and between strange sleeping habits and random headaches, my thought processes have not worked so well for contributing here.  I haven’t forgotten you, my friends.

As soon as I began reading today’s passages, the first verse of Psalm 127 struck me like a personal thump to the forehead from the Holy Spirit.

Unless the Lord builds the house,
the builders labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the guards stand watch in vain.
(Psalm 127:1, NIV)

You see, I’ve been trying to build something lately, or at least messing about with the foundations and trying to decide whether to build something on it.

Is this right?  Does this wall go here?  How thick should it be?  Is this a good plan?

I’m horrible about making decisions, and to be quite honest, the majority of my life I haven’t had to make any significant ones.  I’ve been blessed like that, where I’ve either had a lack of options, or one glaringly obvious one, for most of the potential crossroads in my life.

Relationship-wise, every guy I had a crush on from the age of 16 until I met my husband at 28 was not interested, at least to the same extent at the same time.  For college, I had a nice scholarship offer from Southern Illinois University that made it silly to consider any other options, and an interest in broadcast journalism that made selecting my major an easy choice.  After college, my brother offered a spot in his guest room and made suggestions on job hunting that got me to Phoenix and in the door with the City… and my job on the reception desk at the convention center led me to my next job in the construction field office, which led me to my next job with the project management firm…  My career path has been a series of “right place, right time” and suggestions from other people that I’ve acted on, but with very little initiative or choice involved on my end.

And now, a decision is before me, and I’m studying all angles and trying to figure out what on earth to do.

Maybe you’re in my spot, trying to decide whether to start a new project, or you’ve already started building something: a new ministry, or a career, or a relationship.

Is the building going well?  Is it a constant struggle?  And most importantly, is what you’re building going to be worth the effort?  Will that relationship stand the test of time?  Will that new ministry bear fruit?   Unless the Lord is building the house, your labor is in vain.

The work is primarily His – although you may have work of your own to do in the building, and in the maintaining of it.  And the foundation must be His as well, or what you are endeavoring to build is nothing but a house of cards.  If you build on Him, and entrust Him with the work, the building will stand.

And what of the things in our lives that have already been built?  Our careers?  Our ministries?  Our marriages and friendships?  We hold tightly to what we have in this life, and work and worry constantly to attempt to protect the things that matter to us.  Unless the Lord watches over the city, your watchfulness is in vain.  Try as we might to hold on to what we have, if God does not have His hand on them, they will slip through our fingers.

I leave you this morning with these questions:

What are we building?   Is it our effort, or God’s?  And is God the foundation?

And once it is built, do we trust God to take care of the things that are most important to us?

 


But then… Mercy.

Today’s readings: Amos 7-9; Galatians 2

As I was reading today’s passages, there was one common thread that jumped out at me: how God, in His mercy, provides a way for His people to be spared from the judgment we deserve.

In the book of Amos, the prophet pronounces God’s judgment on the people of Israel, and it’s a harsh word through most of the passage, culminating in a relentless threat of destruction:

I saw my Master standing beside the altar at the shrine. He said: “Hit the tops of the shrine’s pillars,
make the floor shake.
The roof’s about to fall on the heads of the people,
and whoever’s still alive, I’ll kill.
No one will get away,
no runaways will make it.
If they dig their way down into the underworld,
I’ll find them and bring them up.
If they climb to the stars,
I’ll find them and bring them down.
If they hide out at the top of Mount Carmel,
I’ll find them and bring them back.
If they dive to the bottom of the ocean,
I’ll send Dragon to swallow them up.
If they’re captured alive by their enemies,
I’ll send Sword to kill them.
I’ve made up my mind
to hurt them, not help them.”
(Amos 9:1-4 MSG)

The prophecy goes on to state that Israel shouldn’t consider herself exempt from the same kind of judgment God had shown to her neighbors in the past — His target was to wipe out, as the Message translation puts it, the Kingdom of Sin.

But still, God decreed, He would not totally destroy the family of Jacob.  Instead, He would sift them:

“I’m still giving the orders around here. I’m throwing Israel into a sieve among all the nations and shaking them good, shaking out all the sin, all the sinners. No real grain will be lost, but all the sinners will be sifted out and thrown away, the people who say, ‘Nothing bad will ever happen in our lifetime. It won’t even come close.’
(Amos 9:9-10 MSG)

And after the sifting, which promised to be a painful process, followed a promise:  to restore, to strengthen and to bless those that remained.

The Word of God makes it clear that under the Old Testament law, mankind was doomed.  All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, Romans tells us.  It is only because of His great love for us that we are not consumed (Lamentations 3:22).

So God made a way, in His mercy, for us to be made right with Him: justified, reconciled, blameless.  Jesus’ sacrifice for us met the requirements of the law that we could never in ourselves meet… once and for all.

In Galatians 2, Paul recounts a confrontation with Peter over perceived hypocrisy.  Peter had been fellowshipping with non-Jewish believers and living the message of freedom in Christ… until some more conservative Jewish believers arrived from Jerusalem, and Peter pulled away from his Gentile friends and allowed the conservative group to push their agenda of adherence to Jewish customs.

Paul stood his ground against what must have been immense pressure.  After all, Peter had walked with Jesus personally as one of the original Twelve.  Paul was the new guy, and represented change that flew in the face of what the mainstream Jewish believers saw as righteous and holy living.

We Jews know that we have no advantage of birth over “non-Jewish sinners.” We know very well that we are not set right with God by rule-keeping but only through personal faith in Jesus Christ. How do we know? We tried it—and we had the best system of rules the world has ever seen! Convinced that no human being can please God by self-improvement, we believed in Jesus as the Messiah so that we might be set right before God by trusting in the Messiah, not by trying to be good.
(Galatians 2:15-16 MSG)

But Paul, they must have objected. Sure, most people can’t perfectly live up to all of the rules and regulations of the Old Testament law… but still, you have to try to live a holy life!  You can’t just throw out all the rules!  That right there is just an excuse to sin!

Have some of you noticed that we are not yet perfect? (No great surprise, right?) And are you ready to make the accusation that since people like me, who go through Christ in order to get things right with God, aren’t perfectly virtuous, Christ must therefore be an accessory to sin? The accusation is frivolous. If I was “trying to be good,” I would be rebuilding the same old barn that I tore down. I would be acting as a charlatan.
(Galatians 17-18 MSG)

The old school Jewish believers in that group still hadn’t grasped the purpose — and the power —  of Christ’s sacrifice.

What actually took place is this: I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn’t work. So I quit being a “law man” so that I could be God’s man. Christ’s life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not “mine,” but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not going to go back on that.

Is it not clear to you that to go back to that old rule-keeping, peer-pleasing religion would be an abandonment of everything personal and free in my relationship with God? I refuse to do that, to repudiate God’s grace. If a living relationship with God could come by rule-keeping, then Christ died unnecessarily.
(Galatians 2:19-21 MSG)

What Paul was advocating was indeed not an excuse to sin… it was in fact a much more difficult proposition than living by a rigid set of rules.

“I have been crucified with Christ.  My ego is no longer central.”

It is a painful, daily death to self, identifying wholly with Christ.  It is something we do imperfectly, and fail often.

It requires a choice, every day, with every decision, not to insist on having our own way.  Our own way, after all, leads to destruction.  It has led mankind down that path for thousands of years, as the Bible so clearly shows us.  We fully deserve to reap the consequences of our own actions.

But then… God shows mercy.


Carpe Diem

Today’s readings: Ecclesiastes 10-12; Acts 10:24-48

 


If you have about 5 minutes to spare, I’d highly recommend watching this video clip.  “Dead Poets’ Society” is one of my favorite movies of all time, and the advice Robin Williams’ Mr. Keating gives his students is highly reminiscent of part of today’s reading in Ecclesiastes 11 and 12.

There are two points I wanted to bring out from that passage.

Oh, how sweet the light of day,
And how wonderful to live in the sunshine!
Even if you live a long time, don’t take a single day for granted.
Take delight in each light-filled hour,
Remembering that there will also be many dark days
And that most of what comes your way is smoke.

First, don’t take a single day for granted.  As Mr. Keating told his class, carpe diem.  Seize the day.

When my husband died in 2008, I was so grateful that he and I had made it a priority in our marriage not to take a single day for granted.   Two days after he passed away, I posted on my personal blog about our philosophy of No Regrets.  Even more so now, I believe in the truth of what I wrote that day and the wisdom of the way we lived our lives.  You never know how long you have with those you love.

You who are young, make the most of your youth.
Relish your youthful vigor.
Follow the impulses of your heart.
If something looks good to you, pursue it.
But know also that not just anything goes;
You have to answer to God for every last bit of it.

Second, with all the passionate advice about following your heart and pursuing your dreams, Solomon tempers it with a dose of serious wisdom:  Remember that you will answer to God in the end.  Not just anything goes — the impulses of your heart can lead you astray, and your dreams are not always what God wants for you.

But how can we achieve that balance?  How do we reconcile our need to seize the day and live our lives to the fullest while we are young with that wisdom that not everything we will want to pursue is going to be God’s desire for our lives?

Ecclesiastes 12:1 has the answer:  “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth.”  (NIV)

The Message translation says to “honor and enjoy” Him.  I really like the Amplified Bible version as well:

Remember [earnestly] also your Creator [that you are not your own, but His property now] in the days of your youth, before the evil days come or the years draw near when you will say [of physical pleasures], I have no enjoyment in them

Remember that you are not your own, but His.   And remember it now, not when you are done “sowing your wild oats” and having your own way.

This is how you live your life to the fullest, with no regrets.

Seize the day.


Too Much, Too Soon

Today’s readings:  Song of Songs 6-8; Acts 7:22-43

Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you:
Do not arouse or awaken love
until it so desires.  (Songs of Songs 8:4, NIV)

I have a good friend who learned a very hard lesson last year.

She was 27 years old, and waiting for the man God had for her.  She’d made her share of mistakes in her past, mostly due to some deep seated emotional issues and a poor self image.   There was a deep need within her to love and be loved, and it had led her to make some foolish decisions.

As her honorary “big sister”, she and I had a few discussions about her past and her regrets.  I explained to her my philosophy about dating, and I thought maybe a little wisdom might temper her future decisions.

I’ve always been a pretty serious person when it came to relationships, and I never saw the point in dating someone just to have someone to go out with, especially if you already knew enough about the person to know already you wouldn’t want them as a mate.  I was happy to have quite a few male friends, and spent a lot of time with a couple of them in college to where some assumed we were dating, but the key element that was missing was the romance.

Ahh, romance.  There’s the dangerous thing.  Especially for a girl with self-esteem issues, once romance is a part of a relationship — and doubly so once physical intimacy is introduced — it becomes the be-all end-all, and obscures a lot of potential issues with the relationship that will cause it to crash and burn in the future.

My friend met a man last year, and the attraction between them was instant and mutual.  By the time she told me about him, they’d been dating for a couple of weeks, and romance was very much in the mix.  She was smitten.

“He’s a Christian,” she told me, “although he’s not involved in church right now because he’s been burned in the past and turned off by hypocrisy.  He’s willing to start going back to church with me, though.”

I was hopeful for her, but wary, and I tried to caution her to make sure of him before she gave her heart too fully.   He came to church with her all of twice, and then the logistics of getting him to church became too difficult, because he didn’t have transportation and lived too far away.

She would tell me stories later on that concerned me.  Arguments they’d had, bad behavior on his part, and underneath it all, the implication that she’d gotten too involved with him emotionally and physically to back away gracefully.

“But I love him,” she told me.  Her heart had taken over and was overriding things that should have been warning signals: his extended period of living with his parents, his lack of motivation to find a job, his unorthodox and un-Biblical religious beliefs…  and his lack of respect for her boundaries when she tried to back off from their physical involvement and focus on her relationship with God.

Above all else, guard your heart,
for everything you do flows from it.    (Prov 4:23, NIV)

In November, she found out she was pregnant, and suddenly she was looking at her relationship with much clearer eyes, and did not like what she saw.

After much prayer, she made the decision not to follow one mistake with another and resisted the pressure from those around her to marry him.    Her circumstances are far from ideal, preparing to become a single mother any day now, but she learned a difficult lesson indeed in getting too involved too soon.

When I read today’s passage in Song of Solomon, the verse jumped off the page at me:  “Do not arouse or awaken love before it so desires.”

Author and pastor Jared Wilson had an excellent post on his blog recently with advice for young singles in romantic relationships.  I’d say the words of wisdom work just as well for those who aren’t quite as young, and perhaps should know better.

A couple of nuggets from that post, to whet your appetite:

3. Persons in a dating or courting relationship are on their best behavior. So however they are now, you can expect, over time, for them to get “worse.” As familiarity grows, people let their guards down. Marriage does not fix bad behavior; it often gives it freer reign. Ladies, this means if your boyfriend is controlling, suspicious, verbally condescending or manipulative, he will get worse, not better the longer your relationship goes on. Whatever you are making excuses for or overlooking now, will get harder to ignore and more prominent the longer your relationship goes on. You can’t fix him, and marriage won’t straighten him out.

9. All of your relationships, including your romantic relationship, is meant to make Jesus look big more than it is meant to provide you personal fulfillment. When we make personal fulfillment our ultimate priority in our relationships, ironically enough, we find ourselves frustratingly unfulfilled.

I’d highly encourage you to go read the rest.


Such As I Have

Today’s readings: Proverbs 19-21; Acts 3

More apologies for a late post — it seems life is conspiring against me right now to keep me from writing when I need to be.

Most of us have this story memorized — the crippled beggar at the Gate Beautiful who asked Peter and John for a handout and got healed instead.

Peter’s response to him is a verse that I learned by heart in Sunday School:

6 Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.  (Acts 3:6, KJV)

The temple beggar brings to mind an image of the poor souls we see standing by the highway on-ramps in big cities, holding signs that read “Will work for food”, or “Homeless vet, please help”.  And most of us, I dare say, have used that verse in our reaction to those who panhandle, especially when our own pocketbook is empty.

Silver and gold have I none, indeed.

One day when I was working in downtown Phoenix, I was approached on my way to lunch by a homeless man who asked if I had a few dollars to spare for him to get something to eat.  I had a bit of time, and not a lot of extra money, so I offered for him to walk with me to Taco Bell and I’d buy him an inexpensive but filling lunch.  A couple of bean burritos, after all, are enough to stuff most people.

While we sat in the crowded fast food establishment, he told me his story, much like many others.  He had a family, but his poor choices had estranged them from him, and he had no idea now how to locate his adult daughter who when he last heard, was living in the area.  He was trying, he said, to turn his life around, but was finding it difficult.

Such as I have give I thee….

I listened to him and empathized, then shared with him my faith, and a message of hope.  I prayed for him before I walked back to work.  And I have no idea what has happened in his life since, but I knew without a doubt that I had done what God wanted me to do that day.

But beyond the practical modern parallel of this story in how we can respond to those we encounter who have physical needs, there’s something more that’s jumping out at me today from this verse.

The beggar asked Peter and John for money.  What he wanted, and all he could have expected, was that they would give him a few coins.   Instead, he got his life completely changed.

Sometimes what we’re asking for, and what we want, isn’t what we need, or what God intends to give us.


Wisdom Cries Aloud in the Street

Today’s Readings: I Kings 3-4; Proverbs 1; John 19:1-22

(Better late than never… My apologies, I fell asleep after work last night when I should have been writing.)

Solomon, the Word tells us, loved God, and the Message translation says he “continued in the God-honoring ways of David his father.”  King Solomon went to Gibeon to offer sacrifices at the most prominent place of worship at that time (before the  temple had been built), and there offered a thousand burnt offerings.

A thousand.  Now that’s an impressive number — expensive, extravagant, and time consuming, when you consider all that went into the ritual.  If each sacrifice took an hour to offer, for example, working around the clock it would have taken 42 days.  Perhaps there were multiple sacrifices being prepared and offered at a time, but still, any way you look at it, Solomon spent a lot of time, money and effort in this endeavor.

I never really thought before about how much expense and time went into Solomon’s offering, but God recognized that effort and offered Solomon an unlimited reward.  Whatever you want from me, just ask, He said.

We all know the story — Solomon asked for wisdom, and God was so pleased by this response (instead of wealth or glory or the destruction of his enemies) that He granted Solomon all that he didn’t ask for, in addition to the wisdom he did.  All that, as the saying goes, and a bag of chips.

Wisdom, clearly, is what God wants us to pursue.  So what is wisdom?

The Amplified Bible says Solomon asked for “an understanding mind and a hearing heart” — the wording in the Message translation is a “God-listening heart”.

Solomon gives his advice on wisdom in Proverbs 1, and verse 7 gives us step one:

7 Start with God—the first step in learning is bowing down to God;
only fools thumb their noses at such wisdom and learning. (MSG)

In society as a whole, as well as in the church today, so many of us try to be wise and knowledgeable while completely missing the foundation of wisdom:  the fear of the Lord.  Without that foundation, our knowledge is useless, and our attempts to be wise are nothing but arrogance.

The Spirit of God is crying out to our generation this morning, imploring us to seek true wisdom.  Will we hear His voice?

20-21 Lady Wisdom goes out in the street and shouts.
At the town center she makes her speech.
In the middle of the traffic she takes her stand.
At the busiest corner she calls out:

22-24 “Simpletons! How long will you wallow in ignorance?
Cynics! How long will you feed your cynicism?
Idiots! How long will you refuse to learn?
About face! I can revise your life.
Look, I’m ready to pour out my spirit on you;
I’m ready to tell you all I know.
As it is, I’ve called, but you’ve turned a deaf ear;
I’ve reached out to you, but you’ve ignored me.

25-28 “Since you laugh at my counsel
and make a joke of my advice,
How can I take you seriously?
I’ll turn the tables and joke about your troubles!
What if the roof falls in,
and your whole life goes to pieces?
What if catastrophe strikes and there’s nothing
to show for your life but rubble and ashes?
You’ll need me then. You’ll call for me, but don’t expect
an answer.
No matter how hard you look, you won’t find me.

29-33 “Because you hated Knowledge
and had nothing to do with the Fear-of-God,
Because you wouldn’t take my advice
and brushed aside all my offers to train you,
Well, you’ve made your bed—now lie in it;
you wanted your own way—now, how do you like it?
Don’t you see what happens, you simpletons, you idiots?
Carelessness kills; complacency is murder.
First pay attention to me, and then relax.
Now you can take it easy—you’re in good hands.”   (Proverbs 1: 20-33, MSG)

 


Resting In Him

Today’s Readings: Psalm 61-62, 65; John 13:21-38

As I write this, it’s been a long and tiring week, between working the Memorial Day holiday and the final preparations and actual hosting of a baby shower for a friend.  Plus the extreme heat in Arizona saps the energy out of a person.   I’d actually forgotten to prepare this post until quite late on Saturday night, and my brain is not wanting to cooperate.

Perhaps it’s just been my week, but what stood out to me when reading today’s scripture passages was Psalm 62.

Yes, my soul, find rest in God;
my hope comes from him.
Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.
My salvation and my honor depend on God[c];
he is my mighty rock, my refuge.
Trust in him at all times, you people;
pour out your hearts to him,
for God is our refuge.

Other translations render the concept of “rest in God” as waiting on God, patiently and silently before Him, putting our hope in Him and trusting Him to take action on our behalf.

On this Sunday, this day of rest, I’d like to challenge each of us to consider these questions:

1)  What circumstances in my life am I stressing over that I need to turn over to God and find rest in Him?

2) Is what I consider resting actively waiting on God and anticipating Him to take action, or passively procrastinating what I need to do?

On my heart tonight…