Telling the Story to Myself

BT pic, cropped

A Bible Telling session with children: I’ve already told the story a couple times; the kids have acted it out; now we are creating a Way to Remember with pictures so they can tell it, too.

My work as a Bible Teller (telling the narratives of Scripture and helping others to learn them, too) means I carry Bible stories in my heart. There is obviously an outward focus to this as I tell and teach stories, but I’m finding incredible inward blessing as the Holy Spirit uses these stored stories to speak into my life. For example…

The other morning I was nursing a grudge about a situation in my life. It felt good to feed this little monster. After all, hadn’t I given enough to the person in this situation? Shouldn’t I be justified in feeling offended, feeling a little used?

I pushed the grudge off to the side (like putting a pot to the back of the stove to simmer) and listened to my audio devotional as I chopped vegetables for the crock pot. The Scripture was a story: Luke 13:10-17, in which Jesus heals the bent-over woman on the Sabbath. The leader of the synagogue is indignant about this healing and tells the people, “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” Jesus rebukes him for this and calls him and others there “hypocrites”!

I was feeling a little smug as I listened—Yeah, Jesus! Preach it!—until I heard the end of the passage: “…all his adversaries were put to shame, and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him.”

Ah! All the people rejoiced at the glorious things Jesus was doing!

I suddenly remembered the grudge that was still simmering and realized, Jesus is preaching to ME! I’m frustrated by this situation in my life–but I should be rejoicing! God is at work doing some pretty amazing things in this person’s life, and I’m feeling “used” because this work of His is involving me in some uncomfortable, past-my-boundaries ways (just like the synagogue ruler was miffed that Jesus wasn’t staying within the traditional “boundaries” set for the Sabbath). Jesus isn’t following the script I have written for this situation, and this is making me anxious and upset.

And here’s where the Bible Telling—all those stories hidden in my heart—was used. One scene after another played across my mind.

First came the scene from Mark 3 in which Jesus heals a man with a withered hand. Those watching also disapprove of this healing on the Sabbath, and Jesus is angry and “grieved at their hardness of heart.” Yes! My heart was hard toward this person–and toward Jesus and his radical work!

But, right on the heels of this came the phrase from the story of Abraham putting Isaac on the altar: “The Lord will provide.” Ah, some understanding of my frustration: my sense of being “used” was based on my belief that I was the one providing. Not true. The Lord will provide. The Lord is the source, not me. I get stressed and self-focused when I begin to think I am the source. He is the source of all I need—salvation and beyond; therefore, he is the source of anything I offer to others.

Another phrase, this one from the parable of the unforgiving servant: I showed you mercy! Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant as well? This reminds me of my true place. In my current situation, it might seem I am the one continually giving, but in reality, we are both at the foot of the cross, both equal recipients of God’s great mercy.

And finally, the image of my little preschool students acting out Psalm 23, tiptoeing through their classroom, pretending to be afraid as they enter the valley of the shadow of death and then whooping and throwing their hands in the air as I proclaim, “I will fear no evil, for you are with me!” Yes, this situation has me feeling over my head, but I don’t need to fear, for you, my Lord, are with me!

All this from stories! They, too, are part of God’s Word–a very large part of God’s Word, and they are powerful and powerfully used by the Spirit!

If you have any questions about Bible Telling, please feel free to message me below! (It will come to my email account.) I love to talk with people about ways they can learn the narratives of Scripture.

The Good Shepherd

darkest valleyNext week I will teach preschoolers the story of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, incorporating Psalm 23. I will use objects and songs and movements to help these little ones remember that Jesus leads them and cares for them and finds them if they get lost.

I am meditating on Psalm 23 and John 10 as I prepare for this teaching, and the pictures that keep rising in my mind are not of green pastures and still waters but of the wolf and the dark valley. I find myself singing phrases from two songs based on Psalm 23: Audrey Assad’s “I Shall Not Want” and Marty Haugen’s “Shepherd Me O God.”

These two songs are expanding my understanding of the dark valley and the wolf.

Not long ago my youngest child and I were talking about the wolf, the evil one. My child wanted to know how the evil one feels about people, specifically about him. And we talked about a depth of hatred that is beyond what we can understand, a desire for our destruction that is so great it will not be satisfied except by the complete separation of humans from all that is good and right—from God.

We talked about the varying tactics of the evil one, how at times he appears as an angel of light—as comfort and safety and self-interest and belonging—how at others he beckons with the dark seduction of power and fame and revenge. How the effects of the evil one’s deception might be more obvious in the broken families, high drug use, and violence of at-risk neighborhoods but the complacency, independence, and aloofness of well-off neighborhoods is just as much his work.

Both distract us from our greatest, deepest need. Both blind us to the goodness of God.

This past week I told the story of the Fall in church and then taught the children to tell it. “Did God say…?” the evil one asks, casting doubt on God’s truthfulness, on God’s goodness. God has lied to you, he suggests. There is a way for you to be like God, and God, being greedy, does not want that. He wants you stupid and grateful and content in not knowing what you lack. He has tricked you.

We have believed this lie ever since. It has its many variations—for the evil one is forever subtly and craftily undermining the goodness and trustworthiness of God toward us.

In the prayer of St. Francis, these lines appear: “O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console/to be understood as to understand/to be loved as to love.” I see these same ideas in Assad’s “I Shall Not Want.”

From the love of my own comfort/From the fear of having nothing/From a life of worldly passions/Deliver me O God

From the need to be understood/And from a need to be accepted/From the fear of being lonely/Deliver me O God/Deliver me O God

From the fear of serving others/Oh, and from the fear of death or trial/And from the fear of humility/Deliver me O God/Yes, deliver me O God

The needs identified—for comfort, provision, passion, understanding, acceptance, belonging—are good. They are among our deepest desires. It is these needs the evil one taps into, magnifying and twisting them. We cannot, do not trust God to fulfill these needs. He is either not big enough to or not good enough to want to. He is not the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. So we must take matters into our own hands; we must prize our own needs above those of others; we must lose our good sense of smallness—as one among many created in the likeness and image of God, as one of many, many beloved sheep. We leave the fold and strike out on our own.

We cannot, will not trust the perfect love of God to provide our needs and wants, and, ironically, only that perfect love drives out the fear that keeps us from trusting.

And this brings me to Marty Haugen’s song “Shepherd Me O God,” with its chorus that puzzled me the first time I heard it: Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants/beyond my fears, from death into life.

Beyond the shallow wants that distract me from my deepest needs.

Beyond the fears that blind me to true goodness and faithfulness.

It is in the “beyond” that we are fully satisfied.

And it is Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who takes us there.

The chorus of Assad’s song looks to this “beyond.”

And I shall not want, no, I shall not want/When I taste Your goodness, I shall not want/When I taste Your goodness, I shall not want

Our Good, Good Shepherd did not abandon us to the wolf but laid down his life for us, so we could be his own, could be his known sheep who know him, who live in his goodness and in the fullness of life.

And in this life, there is no want.

 

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures;

He leads me beside still waters;

He restores my soul.

He leads me in right paths

For his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I fear no evil;

For you are with me;

Your rod and your staff—

They comfort me.

You prepare a table before me

In the presence of my enemies;

You anoint my head with oil;

My cup overflows.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me

All the days of my life,

And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord

Forever.

Shepherd me, O God~a hymn share

flw house 2.JPG

A homeschooling perk: Em and I took a field trip last week to the Frank Lloyd Wright house in Oak Park (that’s US history, right?). Em took this pic of one of his window designs.

This hymn showed up in my daily prayer app the other day, and I re-read the first stanza several times: “Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants/beyond my fears/from death into life.” My default wants are safety, security, comfort, acclaim… And why am I so fixated on those? Because I fear that if I am not concerned about them, God will not be either. So I also need shepherding “beyond my fears.” I need God to move me “from death into life.”

I love the shift from prayer to truth-telling in this hymn, with the prayer for shepherding alternating with verses from Psalm 23, reminding the pray-er of God’s faithfulness and goodness. It is because of this goodness that we can confidently ask Jesus to shepherd us. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, knows our true needs, well beyond our wants or what we think will satisfy us. He will lead us through dark valleys of fear and doubt into abiding faith. He will lead us from death (which sometimes looks quite lively and self-satisfying) into true, full life. At the bottom of the post there are two links (to a Youtube audio recording of the song and to the hymn writer’s website) and a verse.

Hymn: Shepherd me, O God

Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants,
beyond my fears, from death into life.

God is my shepherd, so nothing I shall want,
I rest in the meadows of faithfulness and love,
I walk by the quiet waters of peace.

Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants,
beyond my fears, from death into life.

Gently you raise me and heal my weary soul,
you lead me by pathways of righteousness and truth,
my spirit shall sing the music of your Name.

Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants,
beyond my fears, from death into life.

Though I should wander the valley of death,
I fear no evil, for you are at my side,
your rod and your staff, my comfort and my hope.

Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants,
beyond my fears, from death into life.

You have set me a banquet of love in the face of hatred,
crowning me with love beyond my pow’r to hold.

Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants,
beyond my fears, from death into life.

Surely your kindness and mercy follow me all the days of my life;
I will dwell in the house of my God forevermore.

Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants,
beyond my fears, from death into life.

Words and Music: Marty Haugen

To hear the music, follow this link.

Visit Marty Haugen’s website for more of his music.

“If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’sgiving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.

Matthew 6:33 MSG

Mother’s Day–and the other 364 days

*Audio is at end of post.

On Mother’s Day, my motherhood is all clean and shiny; I get cards that tell me I’m very much appreciated for all the things I often feel go unnoticed, and my mom-failures don’t get mentioned.

But during the 364 other days in the year, I often feel like my motherhood needs some spit and elbow-grease polishing.

So, with the assumption that almost all other mothers feel the same, I’d like to share with you part of a message I listened to this past week. Dr. Crawford Loritts was speaking on Psalm 23, and his comments on one phrase in verse 6 spoke directly into my mothering.

“Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life”.

“Why ‘follow’?” Loritts asked. “Why not ‘go ahead of’?”

He then shared how he and his wife, Karen, love it when their seven grandkids visit, but with all of them aged 8 and under, it doesn’t take long before the house looks like a disaster zone. Each night, though, after the children have gone to bed, Karen gets out the vacuum and the Magic Eraser sponge. And she cleans up after the kids.

“God does the same for us, following us with His goodness and mercy,” Loritts suggested.

I know this applies to every area of/relationship in our lives, but my mind jumped immediately to relationship with my kids. So many times I’ve prayed, “God, I just blew it with them. Please undo my damage. Heal any wounds. Establish them in You. Restore our relationship.” In situations when I’m not even sure if I’m messing up or not, I pray, “God, I have no idea if how I’m handling this situation is good or bad, wise or foolish. Please work good out of it in their lives.”

Vacuum cleaner and Magic Eraser.

But WAY better.

Goodness and Mercy!

God’s goodness to flood over the wounds I have inflicted and will inflict. God’s goodness to fill in the gaps I’m missing, that I’m blind to.

And God’s mercy, defined as lovingkindness and compassion, as the character quality of God that urges Him to form and pursue and repair relationships with those who not only don’t deserve it but sometimes don’t even want it.

His goodness and mercy have come behind me again and again with my kids. I’ve witnessed it in their supernatural capacity to forgive me. I’ve experienced it when the aftermath of my wrong and subsequent confession is a deeper, truer relationship. I’ve benefitted when they are more willing to admit their faults to me because I have been vulnerable with them.

And it will come behind when I experience heartache with my kids beyond anything we’ve gone through yet.

That’s one to hold onto.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our lives…

Even when Mother’s Day seems very far away.