Season Finale–My last Chapel at Southwestern College

Last Chapel, April 14

I announced several weeks ago that I had taken a position with the Great Plains Annual Conference as the Clergy Recruitment and Development Coordinator, effective this summer.  While exciting, it’s bringing a significant season of my life to an end.  I am wrapping up my second stint at SC with 9 years working in Campus Ministry.  To increase the intensity of this, I have spent 15 of the last 20 years here at Southwestern either being a student or working here.  And yet I’m sensing God’s call in my new position in an undeniable way, so it’s been exciting to experience God’s enduring call.  I preached for the last time as the Campus Minister (I’m hoping that they’ll give me an invite from time to time) last week.  Here’s the manuscript that I wrote.  I more or less preached it as written (with a few extra bits thrown in–at one point, one of my friends reportedly leaned over to another friend and said, “She’s just going to say whatever’s on her mind isn’t she?”  I suppose that’s the freedom in the “last sermon,” right?).  Anyway…here are some of my final thoughts to Southwestern College on the eve of my final weeks here.

 

We’re finishing up our series:  The Gospel According to Popular Culture.  We wanted to have an opportunity to cultivate an awareness of where God is active in the world around us.  As I was thinking about how to end our year together, I thought about how TV shows come to an end:  The Series Finale.  As shows come to an end, we grieve what we are leaving behind in not being able to gather for the reunion of the lives of people who feel like our friends.

Take the show Friends for example.  Over the 10 seasons of it, I resonated the most with Monica and cheered on Ross and Rachel through all of their “breaks” and reunions.  I could sing along with Phoebe to Smelly Cat and laugh at Joey and Chandler.  I even had a “Page a day” Friends trivia calendar in Reid 204 during my senior year.  I will never forget the closing scene of Friends when they all turn in their keys to Monica and Chandler’s apartment.  It was incredibly moving.

Dramatic shows tend to really get me hooked, though…especially if they’re clever.  I got totally wrapped up in a show called ALIAS starring Jennifer Garner and man, I really thought that Sydney Bristow was saving the world!  She was a double agent for the CIA and what she thought was a black-ops team of the CIA but discovered WASN’T, and she solved international crises, personal crises, explored family secrets, and even showed how she was the one who was in a special prophecy.  I would get so wrapped up in the show that I had an inclination to pray for her!  That is some crazy stuff, y’all!  I would literally have to remind myself that it wasn’t real.  I have to admit, however, I was so disillusioned by the way the final season was ending that I can’t even remember the finale!

The TV show, however, that I was most wrapped up in and the Finale that I most anticipated was the TV show LOST.  LOST captured my attention the entire 6 seasons and I was waiting to see how it would resolve in the last year.  I don’t remember a series finale having more press and pressure than the LOST finale.  It was an ambitious plot with many layers of story (parallel universe, smoke monsters, characters names for philosophers and scientists, actual historical events, love, etc.).  Perhaps, however, LOST will go down in infamy for its finale, though.  Whereas each season finale kept the audience returning for more and more speculation and delight, the finale left everyone:  confused.  Various theories abounded and the writers had the gall to say, “The ending is open for interpretation.  However you want to interpret it, interpret it.”

I don’t know about you, but I want to know how the story ends.  Even if it’s not “happily ever after,” I at least want to know that my beloved characters have some kind of future together.  There’s always hope for a reunion show, right?  We tend to want to see shows resolve well and explain those mysteries that have been confounding us.  Did anyone catch the How I Met Your Mother finale?  I won’t spoil anything, but the whole entire show was based on answering that question of how Ted Mosby met his two kids’ mom.  The show took some twists and turns, hid some Easter Eggs along the way and then resolved into an ending that no one would have expected!

Without telling you the ending, I think that the show did 3 things that we want in a Finale.

  • We want resolution—to have our questions answered.
  • We want to feel like an insider—with little nods to running jokes and classic HIMYM humor.
  • We want to know that our beloved characters are going to be okay—we want to be able to predict/speculate on what their future might hold since we won’t get to witness it.

We get so attached to the stories, their questions, the characters, the lessons they’ve learned, the jokes—all of it!  We want…no, we NEED, to know if Ross and Rachel end up together, if the castaways get off the island, and how Ted Mosby met the mother of his kids.  Ultimately, I think our interest in the Series Finale is that we realize that we’re about to be left alone with just the story as it’s told.  Do we have all the information that we need in order to be satisfied?  Can the story stand alone?

As we approach Easter, we’re approaching the Series Finale in the Life of Christ.  I wonder if the disciples wanted the same things that we want out of a Finale:  resolution on their questions, to feel like an insider, to know that everyone is going to be okay.

I imagine the writers of a hit TV show in the meeting room talking about all the things that they have to cover in the final season of a show.  Which loose ends must they tie up?  Which characters can just disappear without much notice?  Which questions MUST they answer and which ones can they leave hanging?  In our story, Jesus is like the writers and he’s finishing up his final teachings before the end of the show.  It is particularly apparent in the Gospel of John.  There is a section starting in John 13 that is called the “Farewell Discourse.”  It is John’s version of the Last Supper—you know—the one that Leo daVinci painted and we often understand to be a Passover meal celebrated on Thursday evening of Holy Week.  In the “Farewell Discourse,” (John 13-17) Jesus is doing and saying everything left on his list to do and say in his final day.  Hidden in the middle of this text is our passage for today.  And I think that it has some Easter Eggs in it for us.

We all know what Easter Eggs are, right?  The things that we’re going to hunt on Sunday morning that have little surprises in them.  Well, a couple of years ago I heard the term “Easter Egg” being used to identify insider knowledge about a TV show, or even a website.  Facebook famously had several Easter Eggs that you could do to insert random pictures, change your language to Pirate or Upside Down English, etc.  LOST was constantly hiding little treasures into their shows—clues for astute observers to find.  In these cases, the Easter Eggs are extras—hidden gems that are mostly just for fun.  But as I looked back over the Farewell Discourse, it struck me how the teaching in John 13-17 is basically all the things that Jesus wants to make sure that they remember.

  • He washes their feet (John 13)
  • He calls out the person who will betray him (Judas) and the person who will deny him (Peter) (John 13)
  • He tells them that he is the way, the truth, the life (John 14)
  • He answers their eschatological questions:  they will have a home with him in heaven (John 14)
  • He says that in order for them to grow as a disciple, they must remain in him (John 15)
  • He gives them a new commandment:  Love one another (John 15)
  • He promises the Holy Spirit (John 14-16)
  • He predicts that they will have trouble (John 16)
  • He says that he’ll be back (John 16)
  • He prays for them (John 17)
  • He prays for you (John 17)

The passage that we read is what ties them all together.  Remember what I said was important about a good finale?  It’s something that gives us resolution, insider knowledge, and reminds us that our characters (and we as audience) will be okay.  This sermon is Jesus’ finale and he wants them to know that it’s not an unhappy ending.

He wraps up the story by telling them that they won’t have to figure things out by themselves.  He will be sending them the Holy Spirit.  Different translations use different words:  the Companion, Another Counselor, or the Comforter. He tells them the hard truth that they will endure difficulty—be kicked out of their religious community, or even killed.  Jesus is leaving them an Easter Egg so that when they feel threatened, they’ll remember that they’re not alone.

Can you imagine being the disciples?  They have spent all this time with Jesus, have seen miracles that he’s done, listened to his teaching, even gotten their feet washed by him.  He’s supposed to be the Messiah, the one who was sent by God to save Israel!  And now, he’s giving some teaching that sounds suspiciously like his last will and testament!  He tells them that though troubles come their way, the Holy Spirit will be there to teach them the way of truth.  Perhaps the way that Jesus will save Israel will look differently than they had expected.  Perhaps salvation is individual rather than national.  Perhaps Jesus hides his other Easter Eggs in teachings like “Love one another,” “I am the way, the truth and the life,” and “Serve others as you see me serving others.”

These are the Easter Eggs that we can find when we read this story.  What does it mean for you to rely on the Holy Spirit to guide you in all truth?  Have you recognized the Easter Eggs that Jesus left behind?

You have figured out by now that this is the last Chapel in which I get to preach as the SC Campus Minister.  I was tempted to make a list and tell you everything that I had left to tell you guys, but I refrained (mostly).  :) I decided that Jesus’ list from the Farewell Discourse was probably better than mine, anyway.  But I do have two bits of advice for you that I think bear repeating, if you haven’t heard me say them before.

The Holy Spirit is how God communicates with us.  He is the voice of God.  God’s voice is sometimes still and silent and sometimes overpowers us with such conviction that we wouldn’t even consider doing something another way.  The Holy Spirit is God’s gift to us as we live as God’s hands and God’s feet. I remember learning as a child an illustration of how we are connected to God.  We are the lamp, God is the light that shines from us, and the Holy Spirit is the cord.  Only when we are plugged in to God through the Holy Spirit can we shine God’s light.  It is your job and mine to cultivate practices when we are able to hear the Holy Spirit over the voices that take up residence in our heads and hearts.

This brings me to my second bit of advice that I have for you.  It is my contention that Jesus has left us a number of Easter Eggs in our world today.  A number of them have been left through his word—the things in the Farewell Discourse that I mentioned earlier.  I think we could study God’s word and then go and do it for the rest of our lives.  It’s not easy, but when we give our lives to following Jesus, we truly can find life.  The secret is that we find life by giving it up.  It’s not easy, but it is good.  How can you cultivate practices that allow you to hear and recognize the voice of the Holy Spirit in your Life?  How will you identify the Easter Eggs that Jesus has left behind for you?

I think that if we all lived our lives plugged in to the Holy Spirit and living out the teachings of Christ, the world would be a different place.  Southwestern College would be a different place.  We might find the ways to speak words of life into the people who are around us making choices that lead to death.  We might feel less entitled and more empowered to be a servant.  We might say I love you to people who need to know what it means to be loved and accepted and not ignored and overlooked.  What if we all lived our lives letting the Holy Spirit lead us?

I preach this sermon with a little fear and trepidation.  You see, as you all know, the Holy Spirit has led me away from Southwestern.  It’s nearly unfathomable to imagine not being with you all when classes start in August.  This August will be the first time in 20 years (plus 13 years of elementary, middle and high school) that I won’t go back to school—either for myself or for my job.  I honestly don’t quite know how I’ll handle it.  I will likely wander over to one of the universities in Lincoln, Nebraska where I’ll be living and sit in on a worship service or their move in day, just to soak in the excitement, anxiety, possibility, and sweat that represents a new year.  I preach this sermon saying that the Holy Spirit leads us and guides us—sometimes into difficulty.  And yet, it’s still the best thing for us to do.

I considered calling this sermon “Series Finale,” and based on what you’ve heard so far, you might think that is a better name for it.  But I’ve actually called it “Season Finale.”  A Series Finale implies that a show has met the end.  That we’ve been given all the information that we’re going to be given and that it’s over.  However, on a Season Finale, we know that it’s a cliffhanger.  A complication has been introduced—perhaps even one that seems to cut off some options.  But, in the Season Finale, we also know that there is hope for the story to continue to be told.  We can still seek the resolution of our questions.  We are still insiders to the Easter Eggs in the story.  And we can have hope that everything is going to turn out okay for the people that we love.

As Lent is wrapping up and we are heading toward Easter when we will celebrate the resurrection of Christ, we are heading not toward a Series Finale, but a Season Finale.  We can assume new life in Christ and that the Holy Spirit goes with us.  As I’m considering the Season Finale of my life at SC as Campus Minister, I’m recognizing that the Holy Spirit is leading me and when I feel lost, I can pick up the Easter Eggs that Jesus has left me all along the way.  I hope that you find them, too.  God, may it be true.

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Unity of the Spirit in the Bond of Peace for the Great Plains UMC

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This last week, the clergy of the newly formed Great Plains annual conference joined together for an Orders and Fellowship meeting.  We had a speaker, some workshops, some worship, and a great deal of fellowship.  I had fun seeing colleagues and friends from all over the two state area.  Unbeknownst to me (perhaps others knew about it), the chairs of each of the orders were making a statement about the following two questions:

1.)  How do we live in the tension of upholding our covenant to follow and uphold the Discipline of the UMC while disagreeing with some positions of the Discipline?

2.)  How do we respond with grace and love, both corporately and personally when a colleague decides she/he can no longer live within that covenant?

Given the recent conversation in the UMC, the elephant in the UMC was named and it seems that we are going to begin to (try) to find unity in the bond of peace in the midst of great conflict.  After each chair of the orders made their statement, Bishop Jones made a statement, too.  It’s found here.  

On Thursday morning, Rev. Dr. Nanette Roberts of Grace UMC, Olathe, preached a powerful sermon, not without it’s provocative statements.  They announced that the video would be made available at some point.  I assume that it will eventually be found here.

So…it seems that we are going to have a conversation, or at least the door was opened for a conversation in the open, about where we as the Great Plains will be standing on pastors upholding the Book of Discipline.  Being a peacemaker and a prophet often don’t go hand in hand.  What will we do?  Who will we become?  How will we show love to each other in the conversation?

 

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Dorm Sweet Dorm: some advice for living well with others

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I don’t know if I should be proud or ashamed, but in the decade between age 18 and age 28, I shared living space with 28 different women.  Here’s the breakdown:  10 roommates (for a minimum of a summer), 13 suitemates, and 5 different apartment-mates. 

Wow!  When I put it that way, it sounds like I don’t play well with others.  While that may be true for some, for me, I spent that decade in dorm rooms and campus apartments while I was in college and seminary and I even worked for 4 years in residence life.  I’m now in campus ministry and have many conversations with students who struggle with roommate challenges.  As the new school year is starting, I offer a little about sharing living space, compromising on climate control, and even about what it means to be a more faithful follower of Jesus. 

Communication is Key

While I initially loved having friends around every corner in the residence halls at my two schools, after 7 years, I finally got out of the dorms and moved into townhouse-style housing.  Our 3-bedroom space ensured the most privacy I had experienced since….ever, due to sharing space with my twin sister for our whole lives!  Upon moving into our townhouse, I was the one who anticipated living there the longest due to my roommates’ graduation, marriage plans, and jobs, so I called a house meeting and we discussed several things:  1.) pet peeves, 2.) mealtime expectations, and 3.) temperature of the house.  I knew that while one of my roommates didn’t like dishes left in the sink, I couldn’t stand someone putting a mostly empty ice cube tray back into the freezer, or using all but the last two squares of toilet paper.  (I mean, how much energy does it take to put on a new roll of TP?)  With our pet peeves discussed, we were able to not let “little” things crowd into our relationship with one another.

I also knew that we would have a kitchen for the first time in quite a while.  We were all looking forward to being able to cook, but with different schedules, we needed to discuss whether we wanted to share cooking responsibilities and eat together, share expenses, plan a weekly meal, or each person do her own thing.  While it may seem like a moot point—just let it happen and do what you want—we agreed that we wanted to share certain expenses, have weekly meals, and keep our hands out of each others’ food unless specifically invited.  With each new roommate, we discussed the expectations, and each time we let our schedules, diets, and habits be our guide.

Finding a happy medium on room temperature was a bigger deal in my experience in dorm life, but when we were suddenly paying utilities, some of us were hyper vigilant about not wanting to pay to air condition the outside, or were more willing to put on a sweatshirt.  Again, everyone has different preferences and the key is to be respectful of one another and be willing to give a little.

 

Don’t miss an opportunity for Christian Community

There is a lot of writing out there on intentional Christian community (Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, and their predecessor , Dietrich Bonhoeffer),  and while you may just be looking for someone to share expenses with, there may be an opportunity to take steps toward living out your discipleship by living with others.  Some general commonalities of many intentional Christian communities include sharing expenses (and even possessions), hospitality, engagement with the poor, and a shared, prayerful life.

Perhaps roommates aren’t all that interested in the spirituality of life together, but if they are, it can be an incredible opportunity to cultivate habits that stick with you, even after you no longer live together.  Over the years, I prayed with roommates and suitemates through a posted prayer list, other times it was occasional times in which we gathered for prayer.  One happy school year, I even prayed the bedtime Compline prayers from Phyllis Tickle’s Divine Hours prayer books with my college-aged niece who lived with me.  Having a rhythm of prayer in community with others even for a season shaped my own prayer life, but it also taught me about how others connect with God in prayer, too. 

Being aware of the values of living in community has ripples even when you no longer live in that community.  As I transitioned from living with roommates to being a homeowner and sole resident of my 2-bedroom house, I decided that my spare bedroom would be ready to host guests any time, which it has.  I keep a guest book in my extra bedroom and count at least 30 different guests over the last 8 years.  Learning to live in community while in college and grad school has prepared me for a life of opening my home to old friends, students in need, family members, and visiting ministry groups. 

Living with others, whether in college, summer internships, or even starting off in a new city, can be stressful…and it may be necessary.  Don’t despair:  it can also be a time of rich community, of learning about yourself and others, and you might even be surprised at how much fun it is!  You don’t have to want to be best friends with your roomie, but if you have clear communication and even engage a little spiritual intentionality, you’ll likely learn lessons about how God is working in you and in your community that you wouldn’t otherwise learn, even if you don’t always agree on the thermostat setting.  

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5 ways to Start on the Right Foot in College

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It’s the time of year that college students everywhere are leaving behind their summer jobs, internships, and mom’s cooking for a return to the college campus. I have worked with college students for more than a decade now and I’ve discovered that sometimes classes can get in the way of their social lives.  I can’t say as I blame them…there are a lot of great people with whom to connect and lots of free activities at the beginning of the year of which to take advantage. 

However, the inevitability of homework, tests, and one’s academic career leads me to come up with a little advice.  So…I present, 5 ways to start on the right foot in college.  This is especially appropriate for my small, private college campus, but it’s solid advice for college students everywhere.

 WRONG FOOT:

Assume that things are going to eventually slow down and you’ll be able to get on top of things.

RIGHT FOOT:

 Start getting organized, even when things are crazy.  Put assignments on a master calendar. Set deadlines for yourself. 

 

WRONG FOOT:

Enjoy the first couple of weeks of school before the “real work” starts!  Stay up late and get to know new friends.  Skip the reading—the professors will tell you all the important stuff right before the test anyway.

RIGHT FOOT:

Spend some time connecting or reconnecting with friends, but make sure that you are getting enough sleep to maintain your active life.  Stay current with the reading and make sure that you have the important parts identified when you get to class.

 

WRONG FOOT:

Skip classes and fail to communicate with your professor about your absences.

RIGHT FOOT:

Go to class!  However, there will likely be a time that you have to miss class for an emergency.  Be sure to communicate with your professor IN ADVANCE via email.  Be prepared to do work to make up for your absence.  In some cases there won’t be any work that you can do to make up for it. 

 

WRONG FOOT:

Wait until the last minute to start your first research project…Have the attitude: “I’m sure that the library can help me find my necessary resources the day before it’s due.”

RIGHT FOOT:

We do have an amazing library staff, but they won’t do research for you.  Take advantage of the opportunities that they offer to learn how the library works.  Then, Identify potential topics and do some research a month before a research project is due.  They’ll be able to Inter-Library Loan any resources that would be beneficial to you

 

WRONG FOOT:

Ignore campus resources if you find that you’re struggling a bit in a class.  Things are bound to turn around.

RIGHT FOOT:

Speak up if you find yourself behind, or even just confused about your subject matter.  Ask the professor if there is a tutor for the class.  Find your way to the tutoring center on campus or set regular study hours with a group of classmates.  Also, find out if there is a writing center if you’ve got angst over that first big paper.  Also, don’t be afraid to set up an appointment with your professor during his/her office hours to seek additional help.

 

The outcome of your semester could very well be a result of some of the first steps of this semester.  Don’t waste these first few weeks.  You’ll thank yourself later.

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Back-to-School Blogathon at Faithoncampus.com

For the last several years, Guy Chmieleski, over at Faith on Campus has been organizing a Back-to-School blogathon.  He solicits a dozen campus ministers, writers, thinkers, and pastors to write articles that can get you thinking about ministry with young adults.  He’s asked me to write for his blogathons various times over the years and I wrote one for this year.  It’s called: Taking Care of Yourself–for real this time!  Take a look!

By the way, the Kansas Leadership Center that I allude to can be found here.

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Mission to Zimbabwe, updated

Three weeks ago, I returned from my two week long mission trip to Doma, Zimbabwe.  Here are a few words that describe my experience:  fulfilling, exhausting, fun, beautiful, busy, productive, and cold.  (Any of these words surprise you?)  I am so grateful for the support of so many people, both financially and spiritually, while I was there.  Three Southwestern College students participated on the trip as well as two of my nieces, Maddy and Savannah.  The mission was a powerful experience for all.

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Throughout the trip, various members of our team of 20 people blogged.  If you’re interested, take a look at the reflections here:  Http://ashlandtoafrica.blogspot.com.

I wanted to share a couple of my most significant impressions from this experience with you.  This was neither my first time on an international mission trip nor my first visit to Africa (and I don’t believe that it will be my last, either).   I was prepared for leaving behind the conveniences to which I’m usually accustomed.  Things like…beds, wifi, daily showers, privacy, central heating/air conditioning, endless water usage.   As it turned out, despite being prepared for rather Spartan conditions (I thought that I would be sleeping in a tent in their backyard), I discovered many more comforts than I expected.  They did indeed have wifi, and it and the necessary electricity worked about 90% of the time!  Additionally, I had a bed in which to sleep (and it was even inside the house!) and a shower whenever I wanted.  Of course I knew that the water was coming from a well that provided clean water for about 800 people, so I didn’t linger longer than necessary.  Even though I was prepared for austerity, we experienced more comforts from home than I expected.  And yet, even all of our comforts had an African twist.  Take for example the house that I stayed in.  It was the home of Rory and Judy Ervine.  Rory oversees the farm and its many workers and Judy oversees the clinic.  Back to the house:  it was basically a glorified “mud hut” with thatch roof, complete with birds who nested in the layers of the thatch and woke us in the mornings earlier than our alarms.  But don’t let this description mislead you.  The house was really a piece of art.  It was soundly built, had cement and tile floors, running water and electricity (and windows!).  My favorite feature was the tree (branch) in the living room on which hung metal and wood animals and insects.  The house was absolutely breathtaking and full of life.  It was so much more than meets the eye.  Just like everything else that I experienced.

At first glance, the house of Susan and Kevin Fry was a bustling, packed, busy place of organized chaos.  People were coming and going, leaving things, taking things, talking, working, and coordinating.  We added significantly to the chaos because of our 44 trunks full of donations and supplies for our time in Zimbabwe.   Our stuff seemed to multiply and divide, leaving trails of sewing machine parts, medical supplies, and stuff for kids in every nook and cranny.  But after spending time in this “mission center,” it became clear that emanating from this place were ministries that would educate nearly 200 orphans, feed nearly 800 people (orphans, missionaries, workers and their families, and neighbors), and impact a whole region.  Sure, it may have looked like chaos, but God brings order out of chaos, and people are empowered to go about God’s work through the many items that were carried over from our homes.

One of the framing motivations for our mission to Zimbabwe was James 1:27:  “True devotion, the kind that is pure and faultless before God the Father, is this:  to care for orphans and widows in their difficulties and to keep the world from contaminating us.”  I first discovered this brief scripture when I was in college.  The impact of it has stuck with me.  Often, we try to complicate things—we debate what “church” should look like, who can do what in worship, how we spend our time and money—but I think that there is something much simpler to keep in mind:  are we caring for the most vulnerable, and are we living our lives in a way that reflects God’s holiness and love in the world.  I don’t want to diminish the importance of guarding the faith and teaching right doctrine.  However, this simple orienting reminder of what is at God’s heart was often curiously looking at me in the face through cropped hair, brown eyes, and hands that were constantly reaching out for a hug.

Thanks for your support!  If you want to look at some pictures, there will likely be some on our Ashland to Africa blog, but there are already some on my Facebook page.  If you think of it, please do keep Eden Children’s Village in your prayers.  You can check out their incredible work here:  www.edenchildrensvillage.org.

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My Birthday Psalm (A reading of Ps. 37)

ImageOn my 29th birthday, I started a practice that I have celebrated each year since on my birthday.  I was struggling with turning 29 and thus, decided to embrace the number just a little bit by reading the Psalm that was associated with my new year.  Wow!  I was awed by Psalm 29 and decided to commit the whole psalm to memory, specifically for this part of it:  “The voice of the Lord is powerful.  The voice of the Lord is majestic…The voice of the Lord strips the forest bare and all in his temple cry, ‘Glory!’”

These words resonated so much in me because I wanted to invite the Lord’s voice into my life in a more significant way.  I was captured by both the destruction (of my false self) and the worship (with my new self) of God.  As the year went along, I really began to be shaped by and find communion with God through those verses in Psalms 29 in a way that I had not before experienced.

This practice of reading the Psalm associated with my new age has become my birthday tradition.  Some years, it has been a lament, others a psalm of joy.  This year, on my 37th birthday, I’ve discovered that Psalm 37 is a Psalm written by David and is an acrostic poem.  In an acrostic poem, the first letter in each successive line, when taken in order, spells out a word, or in the case of the acrostics in Psalms, are the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet.  Of course this doesn’t translate into in English in quite the same way, but I love knowing that this Psalm was written with a sense of completeness, order, and artistry.  The particular phrases that caught my eye are verses 3-4 (CEB):

Trust the Lord and do good; live in the land, and farm faithfulness.  Enjoy the Lord, and he will give you what your heart asks.

Many people know verse 4, as it is often quoted as a word of hope and encouragement.  I’ve even heard it criticized for having a sort of prosperity-focused interpretation that some may say only reinforces a sense of self-focused individualism (the motivation for finding delight in God is so that one might have the desires of one’s heart).  However as I’m reading these two verses together (especially on my 37th birthday), I am struck by verse 3 especially:  Trust in the Lord and do good; live in the land, and farm faithfulness.  Remember, this is one of the psalms of David.  He knew how important the land was to the people of God.  In fact, he was the quintessential king of the United Monarchy, when Israel was establishing firm borders.  Of course this implies that it was establishing these borders through war, but the promise of the land for which generations had been longing was being realized.  So David said in this psalm to “live in the land” and “farm faithfulness.”

Living in the land has a beautiful imagery to me.  For the Israelites, it meant to put down roots (figuratively and literally), to cultivate the land, to trust God’s provision.  For me, today, it means that I need to “live in the land” of my life now, in Winfield, KS, USA!  It is often tempting to live for a time in the future, in the past, in one’s hopes and dreams, or even in one’s fears.  But for me, living in the land means that I will embrace the kingdom of God that Jesus spoke about right here and now.  I will embrace the promised abundance (especially of God’s grace), and the call to bring heaven to earth through living out God’s Kingdom.  I’ll live in the land as one who has inherited God’s blessing and not mourn what the locusts have eaten, or what I think I deserve to be given.  This year, I’m not just going to occupy the space in which I reside, but I’m going to live in it—embrace it, share it, and see it as a blessing.  All my gifts, limitations, freedoms, relationships, positions, and responsibilities—those are the land in which I live, and I will live in it.

As empowering as I found this phrase, I found the next phrase even more empowering.  The second half of the sentence, “Live in the land” includes the admonition to “farm faithfulness.”  I love this phrase in the CEB.  It also is powerful imagery.  Instead of farming animals, or crops, one is told to farm faithfulness.  It’s as if I hear the instruction:  grow your ability to be true, diligent and obedient.  Cultivate habits that enable you to trust God and be faithful in your relationships with God and others.  When the weeds creep in, and they will creep in, do the hard work of love, forgiveness, perseverance, and giving and receiving grace.  I’ve learned that certain practices help me in this pursuit.  Prayer, study, meeting regularly with other Christians who seek the same things, intentionally seeking to engage with those most in need, and worship.  These practices are my tools, my sustenance, and that which helps me to grow in faithfulness.

While the temptation may be strong to can’t skip the farming part for the blessing part in 37:4, “Enjoy the Lord, and he will give what your heart asks,” we cannot skip over it.  Our hearts must trust that God has our best interest at heart, that what we have is enough, that the suffering that we endure is not going to destroy us.  And this trust is built only through farming faithfulness.  Yes, I pray that that I would enjoy the Lord and that God will give me what my heart asks, but in the days and months ahead, as I work through Psalm 37 and live in the land, my first thought is that I might be found faithful.  And for today, that is enough.

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