Ministry at the Market

Now I know we really don't call our local grocery store the Market... but since alliteration is my favorite literary stylistic device, it worked well for the purpose at hand!  I was shopping at the Market (local grocery store), and as often happens, a friend just happened by the shredded cheese case as I arrived.
We gave each other a sweet hug, exchanged the normal, 
"Hello, it's been too long!  How are you?" 
 She gave a quick update on her side, then asked me, 
"And how are you all?"
I answered, "Good, we are good."

That could have and often would normally be the end of the conversation.  She would continue on through the frozen food trek, and my next stop:  cleaning supplies.  That's not how it went.

"Good?" she questioned, "Well, tell me about that."
She continued with a few specific, intentional questions.
Before I could even answer the first questions, her sweet smile exploded with, 
"Susan, can you and Frank join us for dinner tonight??
We sure do need to catch up!"

Who does that???  Just invites you to dinner... at their house... TONIGHT! 

Realizing dinner wasn't going to work that evening for us, she graciously offered a "rain check".  So our conversation lengthened for a few more moments as my friend listened with intensity, so that, she whispered, "I'll know just how to pray for your family."  

Before we left, she squeezed my hand and offered a reminder from the verse in Hebrews 10 that she'd just read this morning...  
"Remember, Susan, we, have to keep stirring each other up, encouraging each other, and meeting together!"

My daughters remind me all the time that if only I would utilize the new Click List for the grocery store, I would save a lot of time and probably a good bit of money, too.  They are right, I feel sure.  This day... I'm so thankful that my cart found its way to the shredded cheese section at just the perfect time.  "Ministry", whether at the market or the mall, happens all around us - jump in, the blessing in giving time and attention to others brings joy to the soul.

Can I challenge myself and you, friend! When we are in the grocery, or at the gas station, or at the coffee shop, or taking a walk in our neighborhood, my prayer will be, 

"Lord, let me see a friend who simply might need me to say, 
'You're good, well, tell me about that?'"

Thanks, Linda, for taking the time... 
And can we cash in on that rain check real soon??

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another... Hebrews 10:24-25a

I'll just pray for you

Maybe it's just me... maybe you can relate.  As I talk with a friend or even a stranger hearing just a portion of their current chapter in life, this happens.  As questions are asked, as conversations are deepened, challenging circumstances are revealed.  Hearing and listening, I've realized, are very different veins of communication.  Hearing is surface; listening gains depth of understanding.  Many of us live in the "fix-it" mentality.  As we listen with intensity, our thoughts go quickly to who can help, what must be done, how might a remedy be achieved, where should we go for the answer, when will we create a solution.  Problem solving is good and needed in difficult situations, so we can't stop thinking and helping with answers.  What I've realized, though, is so often when we get to the end of all the questions and figuring of possible remedies, and maybe even understanding the "problem" is not one with a foreseeable "fix", our ending statement goes something like this...

 "I'll just pray for you."

It is never intended as the last resort... the "there's nothing else we can do" default.  We certainly believe in the power of the Mighty God we serve. right?  You've been privy to those times when you truly felt powerless to help in any earthly way, and offered a sincere sigh of, "I will pray".  Then against seemingly ALL odds, the Lord granted a miraculous answer.  Were you surprised?  Honestly, I want to answer, 'of course not', but irreconcilable marriages have been saved, unthinkable circumstances untangled, undeserved forgiveness given freely, friendships  beyond damaged not only salvaged, but renewed, humble repentance of the hardest heart.  None possible in earthly understanding or fix-ability.  Only God.

Trying to adjust my own thinking to always praying as Paul reminded the Ephesians: 

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.  Ephesians 6:18

Studying through this scripture, I pulled up The Message paraphrase and read the verses surrounding 18.  It reads as follows:

Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.  Ephesians 6:13-18

So, friends, would you commit with me to pray hard and long - if you haven't  tried early in the morning, just like Jesus... maybe try it - just a few minutes earlier out of bed, praying for others, praying for decisions, praying for strength, praying His will to be done... through us as we seek Him first.

Oh friends, even now, I'm changing my own verbiage... No, I won't just pray for you... Yes, I MUST pray for you.  What a privilege...

The words of the precious hymn below offer sweet reminders... 

What a friend we have in Jesus
All our sins and griefs to bear
And what a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer
Oh, what peace we often forfeit
Oh, what needless pain we bear
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer
Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged
Take it to the Lord in prayer
Can we find a friend so faithful
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness
Take it to the Lord in prayer
Written by Charles Crozat Converse, Joseph Scriven • Copyright © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc, Universal Music Publishing Group

Just call me bitter

broken to beautiful
bitter to blessed

You have that friend, right?  The one who always sees the proverbial glass half empty, or some days the glass seems to be turned upside down with not even a drop in sight.  It's justifiable, bitterness, that is, for all of us, really.  Unmet expectations, broken relationships, disappointing circumstances, dashed dreams  - the fairytale life that just hasn't resulted in happily ever after.  As a matter of fact there doesn't even seem to be just the happy part.  We've all had feelings of bitterness, and we may even have shared those feeling with a close friend or our spouse.  The word bitter is defined in the four taste sensations as being NOT sweet, sour or salty; more definitive as cynical, distressful, resentful, hard to  bear...  Often the feelings of bitterness are compounded as we replay, retell or relay the circumstances and the people that prompted our plight.

Frank and I have often said that one advantage of raising four children is the necessity of not focusing to intensely on one child's challenge or difficulty, because you can be sure someone else will experience something more challenging and difficult within days or even hours of the first!

Like me, you know those friends that you often say about, "if anyone has every right to live in the pit of bitterness, its ________.  Her life is barely believable.  If the game of who has the "most likely to be bitter" superlative were on the list for seniors in high school, not one would be lobbying for votes! There was one, however, that did.  If you  know her story, you'll agree, Naomi SHOULD be bitter.  In just five verses in the Old Testament book of Ruth, we hear her heartache.  Because of famine, she and her husband moved their family from their home in Bethlehem to the land of Moab where they were strangers.  While there, her husband died, leaving her a widow.  Her two sons married young  women, and just a few years later, her sons both died leaving now three widows.

Naomi plans to travel back to Bethlehem, back home, having heard that the famine is over.  After a bit of discussion, one daughter-in-law insists on accompanying her.  Friends greet them as they return with the excitement you would expect for a long-awaited reunion.  Quickly the happy friends are clearly informed of Naomi's sad reality.  "Don't call me Naomi; call me Mara because the Almighty has made my life very bitter."  (Ruth 1:20) Mara actually means bitter or sorrow.   We get it, don't we?  The label - the embracing the label, the feeling it brings; the acceptance of it, even being defined by it.  Even as she introduces herself, I want to ever so gently take hold of her slumped shoulders and speak closely to her tear-stained face, "oh, friend, His grace is sufficient in weakness; you can do it (all things) through Him who gives you strength."

Ephesians 4:31 tells us what to do:  "Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every from of malice."  The little cynical piece of me says, oh okay, that's a great command, now where's the "how" to that command.  I took a little time to look through chapter 4 of Ephesians, and Paul does tell us the how.  He spends most of the chapter helping us see how, but read the verses below for a solid beginning:

That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.  (Ephesians 4:20-24)

Here's my cliff notes - getting rid of bitterness, or any other sin in our lives, doesn't come naturally... we simply must learn the truth that is in Jesus... His truth trumps our feelings.  We have to practice that truth... attitude - ouch!  With His help, I have a part to play in choosing to put off my old self... to adjust my attitude - to change my thinking.

After quite a story in the four chapters of the book of Ruth, Naomi is overwhelmed with the rest of the story of her life.  Ruth marries Boaz, and they have a son.  Her friends join in the praise for this baby boy reminding Naomi (not Mara) that this daughter-in-law who loves herand who is better to you than seven sons, has given birth.  I can only hear Naomi's voice, "just let me tell you about my grandson....  now I do understand that language!

from bitterness to blessed...
from broken to beautiful...

That's the truth the gospel of Jesus offers... truth for eternity... bitterness forever covered by grace.