Friday, September 17, 2010

Gray Dead Ends

This past week, I went on a road trip with my husband, David, and then I reflected on the sights that impressed me. We first saw an older church building painted white but it had a new roof. And – TA DA – the roof was bright red tin. I don’t know who got to pick the color but it was impressive and symbolic.

Soon after that sighting, we waited to meet a Monday-morning work crew at the crossroads of “nowhere” and “nothing” high in the Texas Panhandle. The crew turned out to be one man, three hours late to the job. We spent the pleasant breezy morning sitting outside our truck watching lyrics come to life “where the deer and the antelope play.”

After unloading our truck, we left for Roswell, New Mexico and crossed several mountainous plateaus where we saw giant windmills generating power to the valleys below. When we reached prairie lands again, an abandoned stone church, stone dormitory, and stone well drew our attention.

Down the road a few miles, we drove by a 20 square foot neglected cemetery. What used to be a picket fence had weathered gray, any original paint wind blasted from the uprights. Totally filling the tiny area, grayish headstones hosted moss encrusted epitaphs. A NO VACANCY sign would have fit.

When any of us travel new roads, unfamiliar sights draw our interest. For those of us who have read the Bible and heard sermons for years, sometimes a familiar scripture may lose its punch. But it only seems that way. With a bit more exploration and a fresh motive, familiar scriptures can change colors – from dull gray, they can become vibrant again.

For a few days, I considered these words, “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). Originally these words were spoken by God and delivered in a letter to exiles living in Babylon, people carried away to a foreign country against their will.

But God’s instruction to the exiles is often overlooked: Build houses and settle down. Plant gardens and eat the produce. Find wives and husbands for your sons and daughters. Increase in number. Do not decrease. God also said for them to “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it because when it prospers you prosper” (29:7).

A message does resound to us from God’s letter to those exiles. When we’re banished to a place in life and it looks like we’ll be there awhile, we’re still to put our days to good use. Whining about wanting to be in better place does not change our literal or figurative addresses. Longing for the good old days or longing for better days ahead only makes us miserable in today.

I love that God encouraged those long ago exiles to pray for the actual place they resided even though captivity wasn’t their first choice of residence. If we can learn to pray where we land, then life becomes much more bearable. Of late, I’ve corresponded with a prison inmate introduced to me through my brother who works with Christians Against Substance Abuse (CASA, taught in some of the Texas Prison System).

“Brandon” said in a recent letter that he spends his days “addressing breaking the cycle, changing my life through the power of the Holy Spirit yielding daily to him. ‘Not my will but thy will be done.’”

Inmate “Brandon” gets it. He’s confessed that his actions have landed him where he is, but he wants to spend his days productively. His church is prison, but he’s covered by the red blood of the Lamb. Not even iron bars can withstand the wind beneath his wings -- the Holy Spirit.

At some time, life will generally land us somewhere unfavorable. But God reminded those long ago captives that no place has to be a dead end neglected cemetery. Wherever you are, honor God. Pray on the spot for the spot you’re in, and then leave the prospering up to God.

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