If Gathering: A Reflection

Friday and Saturday, I attended a sort of unusual women’s conference.  May I be brutally honest for a moment? Had I not heard from a few Biblically solid friends how good it was last year, I probably would not have attended.

The Pinterest-y feel of the whole thing when I looked into it did little to engage my rather awkwardly pragmatic little self. Door prizes. Cutesy table decor. Other things of that nature which, in my jacked-up little Spartan mind, are symbols of American privilege and hail the possibility of fluffy, ear-tickling speaking. (And if you’re wondering, no. I did not enter to win the door prizes but used my scrap of paper to fidget with while listening. I am, at least, a consistent oddball).

But I did have those friends… so I went. I am so glad I did. There were a variety of women speakers from several backgrounds, nationalities, skin tones, and life stages, yet they all had one thing in common: Jesus. A passionate love for Him and for His kingdom. Despite my own atypical female outlook, this was a place I belonged. The speaking was not (blessedly!) about feeling good about our Christianity. It was surprisingly challenging, engaging, passionate, and Biblically sound series of teaching sessions. Best of all, it was all about Him.

You see, God in all His attributes is my one true obsession. I love Him so very much.  I love His written Word because He is the Word. I love His Kingdom because He is in it. I love even the painful or difficult things in my life because in them, I have to depend on Him. In times of unrelenting physical pain when I have been tempted more than once to believe He is not really good, He always reminds me that He really is.

However, despite my zeal for Him, lately and with growing distress, I feel I have struggled to love people as much as I ought. I don’t know why this is–perhaps a combination of fatigue, migraine-brain, medication reactions (don’t worry — I’ve quit that one), or just plain old burnout. But whatever the reasons, I cannot allow excuses for my own, critical thoughts. In truth, for some time, I fear I have been struggling with a greater sense of frustration with people than overflowing with compassion for them. 

Yet, I do love people. I truly do. When I prayerfully examine my heart, I find that underneath my frustration is a sort of despair that so few really know my God; that so few really seem to want to know Him. Still, I had allowed sin to twist these feelings and had been struggling with a critical heart for some time.

So days before the If Gathering, I asked God to prepare my heart. I wanted to hear only His voice, to know what He wanted me to do. There were many ways He spoke to me, but the best, the most private and personal yet the one I want to share was this: Near the end, after the last speaker but some minutes before the live stream was over, I was praying when He spoke to me quite clearly, “It’s time to go.”

I wrestled with that for a few moments. There were people I had hoped to check on, people I wanted to speak with or perhaps pray with. So many little possible conversations I hoped to have.

But He made Himself clear, so I slipped out. Sure He had something for me to do, I looked about for someone He wanted me to encounter in the lobby, perhaps, or in the parking lot, but both were deserted.

As I walked, I looked up to see the most spectacular sunset through the branches of some trees. The overall effect of was simply breathtaking. And I knew that was why He had called me out.

After a busy season, He has called me to a time of rest in Him, of pressing in close, finishing the book I have put off; of digging into His Word, even attempting to learn to read it in the original tongue. Time to abide in His love. Time that I, in my fretfulness and worry and wanting to do, have been failing to thoroughly enjoy.

It still seems strange to me that God stepped into the midst of a struggle to bring my heart in line with His own great love and reminded me in a very personal way, “I love you, too, you know.”

I know that it is His great love with which I must love others. What little love I have of my own is feeble; His, though… there are not even words. With this love, mighty love, my Savior’s love coursing through me, oh the people I can embrace!

Thank You, my Lord, for such a wonderful reminder.

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.
John 15:9



Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2

There is an old computer programming principle commonly expressed by the acronym GIGO — “Garbage In, Garbage Out.” Simply stated, if you input garbage on the programming side, you will get garbage in the output, on the software or function side.

I have found that the GIGO principle applies to more than programming, however. It applies to entertainment, education, really every sort of input we allow for our children.  If they watch, play — even if they read — a steady stream of junk, we ought not to be surprised if junk is what comes out of their mouths or school work.

Even quality matters;  just because a book or movie is not harmful does not necessarily make it useful. If it is shoddily written, poorly thought out, or has a pointless story line or even none at all, it is garbage and does not encourage insightful and thought-provoking output. We can expect no Pulitzer Prize-winning ideas to grow from minds sown with pure and unadulterated diversion for diversion’s sake.  Garbage begets garbage.

But let me take this to another level. Our children aside, GIGO has bearing on us adults as well. What they read, watch, and consume has direct bearing on how their minds are being shaped, but what we read, watch,  and consume has just as direct a bearing on how our lives are being shaped… and on how we shape the lives of others.

As Christians, we are called to a higher standard of thought; not merely to goodness, but to holiness.  Our lives are meant to reflect the light of Christ everywhere we go, but in order to accurately portray our risen Lord, we have to let His life flow in and through us. As He told His disciples, He is the Vine and we are the branches. Only by abiding in Him constantly can His life fill and sustain us in this chaotic and often confusing world.

Just as the branch does not snatch a quick sip from the grapevine and then spend the day trying to withstand the scorching sun alone, we cannot expect to really experience the fullness and richness of the power of God in our lives unless we are willing to constantly, continuously abide in Him, drinking deeply from the Fount of Living waters and ruminating on the Bread of Life throughout our days. And that means being very careful about what ideas we allow to access our minds.

I am not saying that we should never have recreation, never read or watch movies for pleasure. Not at all. But we ought to think about what we read and watch. What is its message? What was the author or producer’s purpose? Does it have value above mere entertainment or is it just a mindless waste of time? Does it push an agenda that is in disagreement with God’s Word? Does it uphold Scriptural principles or scorn them?

Folks, these things matter! If we spend fifteen minutes with the Lord each morning and then several hours soaking in ungodly ideologies, what ought we to expect the fruit to be? If our input is screwy, so will our output be. Garbage in, garbage out. I love how Charles Spurgeon puts it:

You cannot expose the soil of your heart to a continual sowing of tares because some tare or other will take root and, by-and-by, instead of having the good wheat growing in your soul, there will spring up the tares whose end is to be burned and you will have lost the harvest which should have been produced in your spirit.

It is worthy of note that Spurgeon was not even talking about entertainments but false doctrines. Even the preaching we listen to must be examined through the lens of Scripture. There is nothing immune to the devil’s twisting, distorting influence! Again, however, if we do not know the Word for ourselves, how easily will we fall prey to the sowing of tares; how readily will we allow the garbage in.

Paul warned the Ephesian church to make “the best of the time because the days are evil.” We should also heed this warning, for our days are no less evil and our time no less short.  So let’s prayerfully examine our input from this day forward and be ready to cast the garbage into the refuse heap where it belongs.

… test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.    1Thessalonians 5:21-23