Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Empty on one hand, noisy on the other

I've sat under some amazing preachers in my forty-five years of walking with Jesus, some so inpressive that when I kneel before the throne, along with every other pair of knees, confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord, those preachers will be the reason. Among those who are credited with drawing me to that throne room are a few who came without eloquence, ones resolved to know nothing but "Jesus and Him crucified." And that was exactly what God used to impact my life--and the lives of many, many others around me. I think of the man with the Texan drawl and wide shoulders of a football player (which he'd been) who spent more hours in his week caring about kids, and thinking of ways to share Christ with us, than he did his actual, for-money job. The Texan, who was my very first real pastor, wasn't nearly as good a preacher as my baby-Christian self believed him to be. It didn't matter though. What he taught me transformed my life.

Another example was the  preacher at the church I attended in Eugene, Oregon when I was in college, who discipled so clearly from the pulpit, I filled countless notebooks with his sermon notes.  I no longer remember very much of what this man preahed, but at the time, I not only could have listened to him all day, but always felt a little sad when a guest preacher stood up on a Sunday morning. And, I was so inspired by this man, I actually decided to get re-baptized...because it meant something then. It didn't matter that I'd been sprinkled on as a child. That immersion experience, while the choir sang, "For those tears I died" (Why do I remember such things?) will forever remind me of how much I loved sitting under the authority of this preacher. Years later, when I was a married woman with three young children, I heard that RH had crashed a plane into the side of a mountain. It was as sad as if I'd just heard him the week before...and as happy. Because I knew--I really knew--what he believed about heaven. He'd taught me that.

 And these are only two of the many, some only for a single Sunday, or a weekend retreat, whom the Holy Spirit has used to leave His mark on me.

But there have also been a few such preachers who have been exactly the opposite of life-giving, Kingdom-extending. I once lived through an excruciating period with an interim pastor who somehow thought that YELLING from the pulpit was the only way to make his point. And he had a whole lot of points to make, complete with bulgin veins and red face.  The first time he did it, I felt like we were in a cartoon and all that hot air was blowing our hair straight back from our heads. And I'm here to tell you once he started yelling, I couldn't hear a word over the noise of his voice. Though he seemed to like the sound of that voice well enough.

But more than him, who wasn't very sneaky, have been the preachers with honeyed tones signifying nothing. I'm sure you've met a few of them over the course of your lives. If you haven't, you've been singularly blessed. Thank God for it. These people speak fluently, and before you know it, you've agreed to things you would have vowed you disagreed with walking in.

It seems to me that it's this kind of preaching that Paul writes about in the first words of 1 Corinthians 13. This chapter is easily the most poetic of Paul's writings, and the first three verses with their exaggerations, are hyperhole at its finest. "If I speak with the tongue of men and of angels, but have not love, I am nothing more than a noisy gong or a crashing cymbal," he tells us. Preachers with not merely beautiful words, but even with the perfect words of the mostly heavenly sort. The angelic sort. But here's the thing: we cannot separate this sentence, indeed this entire text, from the preceding chapter. The critical issue isn't that a preacher--or teacher (how this gift is listed in the previous chapter)--can teach, but that his or her teaching is imbued with the 'more excellent way.' A teacher/preacher who isn't in love with those being taught will be merely noise. Using God-given gifts without love mean we are always empty on one hand and noisy on the other. That's the point in these first three verses.

It's easy, however, to sit in a pew and point fingers at preachers, to evaluate sermons, write notes or emails or even criticize them to their faces.  To call them clashing cymbals. And that function--our willingness to point out the flaw in our pastor--is as insidious as the preacher who preaches without love.  So Paul makes it  clear that NONE of us is exempt from the possibility that we take our spiritual gifts and use them for personal gain...or at least, use them without seeking 'a more excellent way.'  Though he only writes of three spiritual gifts  (or perhaps four, if you consider prophecy and knowledge two different gifts),  it's fair to infer that we must place ourselves and our gifts in the mix as well. The construction of these sentences are easily identifiable--cause and effect--and all ultimately come down to the same thing. If you do this, or have this, or practice this, gift without love, you do, have and gain NOTHING. In fact, you ARE nothing without love. That's the point.

You're merely yelling. Blowing hot air. Giving away a whole lot of it. And that means failing.  We often think that the gifts of the Holy Spirit is the most important thing we're given. However, though these are given freely, though they're given at our salvation, the other gift was given then too. I speak, of course, of LOVE. That's what we were given the day we met Jesus, and said yes to Him. We already have Him. If this is true, then we have no excuse for not loving as we extend our gifts on His behalf. Gordon Fee says, "Possession of the gifts is not the sign of the Spirit; love is." The question is, are your gifts merely hot air, or are they saturated in the LOVE of Christ--and therefore, the love of Him for all those you come in contact with?

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Until further notice

I'm going to be offline for the next few days. A mishap involving a Springer Spaniel, a Kindle Fire and my computer resulted in the power jack to my computer being bent completely in half. The good news is that only that piece was hurt, and I'm actually writing this on my computer. However, I'm rationing the battery while awaiting the new power cord, which gives me the perfect opportunity to practice what I preach about turning myself off from technology for a while. Spending the time meditating and studying and saturating myself in books with actual pages to turn, writing on paper with...what do you call them? Oh yeah, pens.

So while you all enjoy the world wide web, I'll see you later in the week.
In the meantime, because I've had a few conversations recently with people who have wanted to pigeon-hole me (and all Evangelical Christians) here are five things which makes it difficult to align myself with any political party. I realize these are not necessarily popular views and, though they aren't make it or break it issues, but what I believe.
1. The Kingdom of Heaven is far more important than the United States of America.
2. I believe in the sanctity of life--in the life of the unborn, the elderly, the accused and even our enemies. For each of us and all of us, God is sovereign. To be more blunt, I am pro-life, anti-death penalty.  
3. I take seriously that the words of Jesus, "Give to Caesar that which belongs to Caesar..." means ALL people. There are no loopholes in His economy. Not for the rich, the poor or the in-between. (By the way, I also find it unbelievable that corporations are defined as--and therefore given the rights of--individuals!)
4. We are told that "In the world you will have tribulation, but be encouraged, I have overcome the world." Jesus tells us that in the old covenant an eye for an eye was the given way, but as His followers, we are NOTto respond in the old way. I see no way to read His words without believing He means us to practice peace. So yes, I am a pacifist. That said, I respect those who fight, who feel called to fight, especially those who believe in 'Just War' as a theological ideology. And I pray for them. Of course.
5. This world is God' Creation. He gave us responsibility to care for it. We don't care for it because we own it but because it's HIS. And we must care for those who live in it.

Ultimately, when we look at any political issue, we must look at it through the lens of scripture, knowing our citizenship is in Heaven.

And, because J and I watched "Forrest Gump" this afternoon, I'll say, "That's all I have to say about that.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Surprise visitors

So as my mother would say, 'the road to you-know-where is paved with good intentions!" And good intentions is exactly what I had yesterday about beginning my 1 Corinthians 13 reflections. However, stuff got in the way. And by stuff I mean people. Like having a great conversation with my son, then deciding to watch the BBC show "Sherlock" with him (and can I just say, brilliant!). While doing so, without even the barking fanfare our dogs usually bring, in walked E, though apparently J knew she was coming up to do laundry.  About a half hour later, he got a phone call that a couple of Beve's nephews were about an hour away. Wanting to visit Grampie.

It was a great afternoon and evening. Grampie was delighted. "Pleased as punch," as he would say. We took a whole lot of photos, of course, with him front and center with those four grandchildren, proudly wearing the bib I made him for Christmas. It does have a large WSU patch on the front, so along with his Cougar slippers (which he's been known to wear inside, outside and even in bed) everyone around knows where his loyalties lie. Grampie doesn't quite know to smile for the camera anymore, so when  Thyrza and Beve got in the shot, I told everyone to say, "Happy New Year!" and "Happy Birthday, Grampie!" and that did the trick. It's very like how we used to make faces for our babies to get them to smile for cameras.

There were a few moments of confusion, of course. He didn't recognize the room, didn't know it as a nursing home at all, let alone as somewhere he belonged. And he couldn't figure out what was going on in that room across the hall where a man had a TV on.  Such things are too much for him now. And then there was this: one of us--Beve? Thyrza? said something about Thyrza packing. Grampie wanted to know where she was going. "She's moving back to live with S," Beve told him. The rest of us held our breaths. What if this time, he had a different reaction than he had Monday night? But Grampie never disappoints. "Good for you," he told her, patting her leg. And the outlet breath probably raised the CO level in one swoop.

We left Grampie and Thyrza soon after that. Went out for dinner with these two young men. The older one is such the spitting image of Beve, if not for his coal dark eyes (from his Hispanic mother), it's like looking at Beve 28 years earlier.  Not that they're much alike apart from those superficial qualities of bone structure, but it's a little strange to me, to be honest. And even each of them can see it. Genetics is a fascinating thing, it really is.

Anyway, we had a great conversation over dinner, really talking about family dynamics and how these young people feel about their lives. I love being a part of such conversations. There's nothing better in life than sitting around a table talking getting to the heart of things with people. Long after they drove back down I-5, I was replaying the conversation. Perhaps remembering the whole evening because I know that Grampie will wake up today and likely not remember that it happened. Maybe that's what I can do for him now. Be keeper of the memories he no longer has. And I'm okay with that. Glad to do it.

And now, on with my day.
Today Beve's brother (the father of these young men) is arriving to visit Grampie. I have a hunch we might have a whole lot of family stopping by in the next few weeks--months?. And that's okay with me. More than okay. Come, family, come.

And yes, Maranatha as well. Come, Jesus, come. More than anything, we need you here.

1 Corinthians 13?
I haven't forgotten. It's percolating in me, as Beve likes to say.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Who I am

For our second birthday after we married (which, for those of you who don't remember, fall on July 30 and 31), Beve and I were given tennis rackets by his parents. By the way, because I have this strangely precise memory, I can also tell you that they gave us pillows for our first. Anyway, Beve's parents knew their son loves (and excels at) all kinds of ball sports. And they even knew I'd taken tennis lessons a time or two over the years. That, actually should have been their first clue. I'd needed tennis lessons--more than once, at a most elementary level. Anyway, Beve and I took those tennis rackets out for a game exactly once. One single afternoon. That day I watched my very coordinated, very athletic husband go from playing tennis to teaching tennis, to batting tennis balls gently across the net while his poor hapless, definitely uncoordinated wife managed to miss or send into the net or send sailing over the fence tennis ball after tennis ball. I felt so badly for Beve that I almost cried. It wasn't that I was so terrible--I already knew I wasn't any good at tennis. It was that he was light years better and hadn't a chance on earth of playing sports with me. Probably any sport, come to think of it. Afterwards, I suggested that he find someone else to play with. He tried to tell me that he loved playing with me, but those tennis rackets never got used again.

Years later, while on a family vacation, my then 8-year-old son picked up a tennis racket for the first time to try his hand with it. Across the net was Beve. Beve came back to our condo and said, "You need to watch him play." By that afternoon, I was sitting on the sidelines watching J put spin on balls that he should have been missing with regularity for someone who'd never had a lesson. It was clear he'd gotten his eye hand coordination from his father rather than his mother. Thankfully.

Yes, thankfully.  I've never been a jealous type. Not about such things, anyway. I mean, it would be ridiculous to be jealous or envious that Beve (or J) is a better tennis player than I am. I'm glad they're good at sports--just don't make me hold them up.  I grew up in a home of very smart people. And shared a room with one of the smartest. When I was in high school, teachers would stop me in the halls to tell me how smart this sister was. Teachers I'd had the year before she did. "You aren't much like her, are you?" One asked. I laughed at that comment, because it was so glaringly true. And how proud I felt to be her sister. I couldn't compete with her brain, and didn't really want to try. I loved that she was one of the smartest people I knew. That she still is.

I bring this all up because a friend asked me yesterday if it made me jealous that Beve said that my friend was the most beautiful girl in our high school rather than me. I began to laugh.  How ridiculous a question. If he'd have answered my name when I asked him, I'd have rolled my eyes at him because we'd have known he was merely being loyal. Not because it was anywhere in the same ballpark as true. I'm not looking for that from Beve. I'm not looking to be someone I'm not.

This morning I was thinking about what Paul means when he says, "Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ." (1 Corinthians 12: 12). It means that even in these ways, we are given gifts for a purpose. Athletic talents, intellectual ones, the gift of physical beauty. Or creative talents.  And these gifts are His. We're born with them and must assume that they're purposeful. For me to look at someone else's and wish for that is to decry His purpose for me. And it's critical that we understand that HE is the one who determines why we are what we are. He forms us. He gave us beauty or ability because He intended we use it to glorify Him.

And to build up His body. "The body is not made up of one part but of many." I need whatever you are, however you've been made, just as you need me.  I'm thankful that I don't have to be or do or have it all. Thankful that we are in this together, that we get to rely on each other for the gifts and talents each brings. So the one with the good eye can see, and the good arm can swing and the good mouth can speak. We need each other.  That's the word of 1 Corinthians 12.

However.
We are expected to EACH cultivate 'the more excellent way.'
1 Corinthians 13.  The way of love.

I've been thinking that for the however-long-it takes (interspersed with my usual musings of life around here) I'll delve into this chapter. This tends to be read as the great text at weddings, but I kind of think it's the great text of living as His disciples. We'll see where it takes us, shall we?
Oh, I guess you don't get a vote.

For today--who and what you are is from Him. In every sense. Be thankful for it. Look for ways to allow who you are to impact those around you.
For tomorrow-desire a more excellent way.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Beauty

Another of 'the girls' has a birthday today. About a year ago, Beve and I were talking about beauty. So I asked him who he thought was the most beautiful girl we'd gone to high school with. His answer was instant and unequivocal: my friend, MP. It's true. She was (and still is) very pretty.  And this beauty of hers was legendary before she'd been in town more than a week. Seriously.  She moved to town our eighth grade year, and I'm pretty sure about half the boys in our class were infatuated with her before that week was over.  I remember meeting her at the little rental where her family first landed down the major road on our hill before her family moved to another hill to their permanent home (just down the street from another of the girls, W-squared).

However, her beauty isn't what is profound about MP, at least not to me, (though I suspect more than a few--very superficial, nameless males mostly--think of this as the most important thing). When we were in high school what I remember most about her (besides all our shared experiences, of course) was her passion. And who she was then has grown and matured with age. She had strong, passionate opinions and now has strong, well-hewn beliefs that she stands on. She's the most willing to debate in politics of the girls, the most willing to take on all-comers about a host of 'hot-topics,' not mean-spiritedly or with an agenda, but with a strong sense of herself and an innate curiosity about the world and her place in it. She's also a loyal friend, a person with a deep well of humor always at the ready with a story sure to make us laugh until we cry, complete with hand gestures and a mobile face that makes us imagine the scene she paints with her words. And she'll laugh right with us at our stories as well.

But there's more to MP than this. And it's the big thing. The thing that has not only touched me (all of the girls) but moved and impacted us as nothing else could. Fifteen years ago, you see, MP was a mom of three young kids with a husband she loved, a life she enjoyed. But she tired easily, too easily for a woman so young. So she went to the doctor. Then went home, and tried to climb the stairs. Then the doctor called, told her not to pass go, but go directly to the hospital. MP's life changed at the ring of that telephone. She went from a too-tired mom to a cancer patient at a single sentence. "You have luekemia," she was told that day.

One of the great regrets of my life is that I wasn't there during her long fight with cancer, a fight that included kemo, hair loss, and finally the precious gift of bone marrow from her brother. I heard from two states away about that cancer. I was busy with my own life, my own three kids, my own whatever. Nothing, though, that was as big and life-altering as that. And...
I wasn't there when, years later, MP healthy again, got breast cancer.

Yes, she's had--and survived--two distinct kinds of cancer. Lived not only to tell about them but to show and tell about them to us, her old friends, even though we weren't there. She's forgiven me (us) for that. And I'm humbled by that forgivenenss. Now I can't begin tell you what the gift of her life means to those closest to her. I imagine it for her husband--a man I've known longer than I've known MP, since his 4th grade teacher was my mother--and her children who lived it with her (her oldest son is now a Marine serving proudly in Afghanistan), but I don't know for sure. They lived with the cancer but they didn't have to live with her absence, and I don't dare try to guess what they feel at that difference. But I can tell you what the gift of her life means to me.

The gift of MP is a gift of beauty. She is forged from the fire of disease to be a woman of precious metal. And there's beauty in that, the beauty of strength and a faith greater and more transparent than most I've known. She lives beyond the shadow of this disease, not taking life for granted, and reminding us to savor relationships--with God and each other as well. I will never be glad she got cancer, but will always be grateful for her example of grace in surviving it (twice).

There's a song from the musical "Wicked" that I think of, when I think of MP.
"Because I['ve known] you, I have been changed for the better and I've been changed for good."
Happy birthday, MP...and many, many more.
I love you.

Sandals off

One of my favorite small moments in scripture is in Joshua before the whole marching around that walled-city affair, a small interaction that causes all the action of the story to stop, and so captures my own attention that I'm always on the look-out for such moments in my own life.  As Joshua was approaching Jericho he encounters a man with a drawn sword. In fact, it's the only drawn sword in the whole story of Jericho.  I do well to consider that along side the words of Ephesians 6 where we are told to stand and stand and stand, in full armor--HIS armor--the implication being that our God does the actual fighting for us. This moment in Joshua surely points across the centuries to that epistle...as God's word always does, of course.

Anyway, Joshua sees this man with a drawn sword and asks, "Are you for us or against us?"  Now I have to say, I'd be likely to cower if I came across a man with a drawn weapon facing me on the road anywhere, but I'm not a Joshua. Not the leader of God's people. Joshua had some chops, as they say. And he wanted to know if he was facing friend or foe. But the man said, "Neither, but as commander of the Lord's army I have come." The Commander never actually answers Joshua's question, but that's often how God works. Think of Job and God's long poetic sermon about Creation when Job asks Him what's been going on. God doesn't answer directly either. It's NOT our business to question God's business, I think that's the point.
Anyway, these words make Joshua face-plant in worship. Maybe his knees couldn't hold him. Mine wouldn't have, I know that. "What message do you have for his servant?" Joshua asked from between his bowed head and clasped hands.
And this is the message: "Take off your sandals, for the ground where you're standing (or kneeling) is holy."

That's it. And those words have made me know that such moments happen. In fact, for as long as I've been a Christian, I've been aware of the holiest of moments. They aren't always big moments. Not moments you'd expect, I mean.  We already know worship is holy, as are weddings. But every now and then, there's a "take off your sandals" holy moment in life, sometimes when you're merely on your way to a larger one, simply walking along the road to something that you think will be the EVENT. But God knows you need to take a moment and simply stop. And take your sandals off in His presence, because He's there. Or here. Here and now. Such moments--such stops-- never cease to astound, bless because they reveal that God is truly in this place.

Tonight was such a moment right in Grampie's room in the nursing home. We're in the middle of such a terrible season. You can't imagine. Excruciating, really. You see, Thyrza's family lives across the country in Maryland. And last week, after Grampie's stroke, when it became clear that he's in pretty bad shape, the decision was made that we've all known was coming--that Thyrza will go back there to live. Beve is going to take her in three weeks. Since making the decision, we've all been crying and praying and worrying that it's wrong, though for months we've all been praying that God reveal when it was right, lead us, etc. Thyrza's been in on all of it, Grampie less so.

The tickets are bought now. So tonight, Thyrza, Beve and I took Grampie dinner and decided to tell him, even if he couldn't really understand what we're talking about. We knew we'd have to tell him again. And we were all dreading it.

But amazingly, tonight he was clear. Lucid. More than he's been for months. I mean, months! Maybe a year. He spoke to two grandsons on the phone--and knew them!--ate dinner by himself, and we chatted about the day, the Cougars and the weather. Then Beve told him that Thyrza's going back to Maryland. And Grampie said, "GOOD! That's exactly what I've wanted you to do."
We talked about it for two hours because he wanted to know everything. He was glad to know Beve's taking her--exactly like Beve thought he'd feel, and he told us he's been worried about Thyrza. He said he's very aware that his brain is messed up and that he can't take care of himself or her and that she needs to be with her family now.

By the time we left, all three of us knew it had been a sacred, holy moment. A time out-of-time. I don't know what he'll be like tomorrow, but it doesn't really matter. Tonight we had the conversation we needed. Thyrza, Beve (and Thyrza's daughter, who we got on the phone so he could tell her too) felt a huge weight lift from their chests at his obvious relief that she'll be okay. And, it was like God gave us that one small moment of the real Grampie--back the way he was five years ago because we all needed the stamp of his approval.

I love that God does this. I love that God gives us what we need the most as exactly the moment we most need them. We know the next three weeks will not be easy. There will be many more tears ahead. But God is in this. We will lose--first Thyrza, then Grampie. Or Grampie, then Thryza. But God is in control. Loss comes. But as long as He stands before us, and we can face plant before Him, and recognize that we are seeing Him when we're looking at each other, we'll be fine. We'll be more than fine.

In fact, we might just walk around some kind of fortress and watch the walls come tumbling down.
Don't count us out. If He shows up like this, anything is possible.
Hallelujah.


Sunday, January 22, 2012

Pruning, remaining, obeying

Sorry about the gap in posts.  We've been up to our eyeballs (or maybe even over our heads) around here and--as J just said--bawling out our eyeballs as well! Added to all the hard stuff up here, yesterday we drove S & J down to Seattle to fly back to the east coast, then stopped by our daughters' apartment for SK's birthday dinner. We got home and collapsed into our bed just after 9 PM.

For most of the two last years (other than during the amazing respite during the summer provided by his 'Finnish' brother, and a few visit by Thyrza's daughter), Beve and I have been alone in caring for the Elders. Though we've been blessed by them, it's also been hard and exhausting. Sometimes we've been the object of anger and frustration at their own infirmities.  But this last week, with S & J here--at the very time we most needed them--we felt part of a team. And, even more than that, when Beve met with Hospice, we instantly became branches on their tree. Suddenly we no longer have to navigate complicated issues. There is a whole tree of people with skills to help us. When the hospice nurse told us Friday afternoon that she'd call the doctor about something I am used to dealing with, I actually fell back onto the extra bed in Grampie's new room in the nursing home, so great was my relief.  We're not alone any more.

The seventh of the ontological statements of Jesus in John's gospel is startlingly apt for this current situation, I discovered as I was reading and praying about it last night. "I AM the  true Vine, and my Father the gardener,"  Jesus says in John 15. Jesus has already told us in two different I AM's that He is Life. Now He tells us that He is a living tree of which we're a part, if we're a part of Him. We are the branches. This is an important element of the Christian life.  We're in this together, as Eugene Peterson likes to say; we are the branches. Yes, the branches. Being the branches in the great vine that is Jesus is one of the best things about the Christ life. We are connected to Him at the very source. We--Beve and I, nor any of you--cannot be Lone Rangers as Christians because that's a cut-off branch. Living in community (as we have this week with S & J), gives us a picture of what it really means to be His body--to be the branches of His Vine.  And, I suspect, Beve and I will gain a whole new appreciation for this as we dwell with Hospice during the coming season.

Being a branch of the Vine that is Jesus means bearing fruit. "He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful." (15: 2)  A vital condition for bearing fruit coming from the truth that HE is the Vine and we are the branches and we live in Him. First, it's important to understand that bearing fruit here is NOT a metaphor for evangelism. Every commentator I've read agrees with this. There are many places in the gospels where Jesus tells His disciples to go and make more disciples (Matthew 28: 18-20, for example), but in this passage, Jesus is talking about character--becoming like the Vine.

So what is this fruit? Galatians 5: 22-23 has the most (but not the only) comprehensive list of character-fruit the branches of Jesus means us to be. "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law." These are the character qualities for every believer. You are meant to have ALL of them. There is no "I'm just not a patient person," excuse for believers. AND it's clear that one way or another, Jesus intends to see to it that this fruit is produced in us. We can produce it, we can be changed to become His branches. We must.


  There are three conditions for bearing fruit:

1. Pruning (verses 2-3) I find it interesting that one way or another, each of us has to be cut. It's all a matter of whether that cut is being cut off and thrown away or pruned in order to produce fruit. Our human tendency is to avoid cuts. But this is NOT how the Kingdom comes on earth. Being pruned is one of the hardest parts of being in the vine but absolutely critical. No matter how godly a person is, he or she will still be pruned. Do you want to bear fruit? Some things must be cut out of us. There are things in each of us that repeatedly make us dirty. I was thinking about this just the other day when a single orange had begun to mold in the bowl on my counter. As it touched the other oranges around it, some of that mold was infecting those closest to it. That's what happens within us. There are things that must be cut off in order not to infect other parts of our lives--and other people around us. Jesus relates pruning to cleansing in verse 3. (Also read John 13:10 regarding being clean) Even though we are cleansed from our sins once and for all, there's also a sense in which we must be repeatedly cleansed; ie, take our sins to Him in order to remain in fellowship with Him. 1 John 1: 9 says, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
2.Remaining (verses 5-8) --"I Am the Vine and you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." This is pretty straight forward. The choices of believers are to bear no fruit, to bear fruit, to bear more fruit or to bear much fruit (This is straight from the text). In order to bear much fruit, each of us must remain in Him. Abide is the word other translations use for 'remain.' I like this word abide. It's the idea of dwelling, staying put, setting up camp perhaps, or even building a home and living there. This is what we are meant to do in Christ. We're meant to build our lives IN Him (as it says in the parable of the house on the rock), and not leave. Not go wandering off from Him. EVER. Abide in Him. This will grow character fruit. AND, if we do this, we can ask whatever we wish and it will be done for us." WOW! Whatever we ask. Why? Because if we're our home is Him, we'll only want what He wants anyway.

3. Obeying (verses 10-14)-- Remain now becomes a command. "Remain in my love," Jesus tells us. "Love one another as I have loved you." It's His grand imperative. "Love one another." I have often thought that this should be the first "I AM" studied because it's so foundational for living with others. However, it's also the best place to end. Once we know who we are to Him, we must know who He expects us to be to each other. Love one another as I have loved you.  We will not bear fruit--not grow these Kingdom-qualities--will have branches cut off, will not remain, if we do not love. It's that simple. It always comes back to that. Do we love those He puts in our lives to love?

"Greater love has no person than this, that he/she lays down his/her life for a friend."  Two things about this verse. First, a snippet from my past that I can't help relating-- I was given a Bible for Christmas 1972, and my across-the-street friend not-then-the-Beve carried it as we walked home through the snow from a Bible study two nights later. Just as we rounded the corner up the steep hill to my house, he lifted it out of his coat to hand it to me but, instead, dropped it in the snow. Ever after, there were many wrinkly pages at the end of the New Testament. Anyway, over John 15:12 I wrote Beve's name--clear back in March of 1973. I don't have the faintest recollection of the conversation (or prayer?) that precipitated my writing his name, but I always connected that verse with him, even in the decade during which we rarely saw each other after high school before we married.  Needless to say, I still do.

Anyway, aside from that, the Person Jesus is really speaking of in this verse is Himself. Of course. He is telling His disciples--again--that HIS love is the 'greater' love. That He is the one who lays down His life. We must end there. "Greater love has no Man than this that HE lay down His life for His friends."
Amen.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Up to the privilege

It's Thursday...still. Or just barely. Lately I don't even have a moment of quiet to think about these posts until late in the evening. But this week's hard work, which we've done despite the unusual blizzard outside (though in some ways there's both a correlation between the bleakness of the ice and snow with the winter of Grampie's life; and, practically speaking, because of the weather--and school closures--Beve's had the whole week off!), makes this dwelling with Jesus' powerful words to us about Himself necessary to me.  I wonder what you--dear readers (as writers of the 1800s would say)--live as you listen to Him speak such words.

Today's "I AM" comes at the beginning of the longest discourse in John's gospel. The setting is the upper room, the time is the last meal Jesus shared with His disciples. I have often thought that the memory of these words must have seared themselves in John's memory because they were spoken at that table, with those select few. It was a family dinner. And--we must remember this--twelve hours after that meal ended, He'd be hanging on the cross.  The long shadow of the cross hangs over every word in this passage.

John 14.  The very first words Jesus speaks fairly drip with His shed blood and sing of His victory over death. "I go to prepare a place for you."  The great end of that journey will be a home--for US--in His Father's house. And not a simple shack, but mansions.  "In my Father's house are many mansions," and one of Jesus' jobs is to prepare those abodes for us.  Of course, Thomas (who didn't earn the nickname "Doubting Thomas" for nothing) has to have these enigmatic words clarified. If Beve had been there, his hand would have been raised right along side Thomas'. Come to think of it, so would mine.  We just don't get what Jesus is talking about. I can just imagine Jesus shaking His head, saying, "Thomas, Thomas, Thomas!"

And then He says this, "I AM the Way, the Truth and The Life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14: 6)
There are three distinct qualities to this "I AM the..."

I AM the Way...No one comes to the Father except through me. "The Way" means a couple of different things. Primarily, as always, it refers to salvation. "No one comes to the Father except through me," is another way of saying, "I AM the Gate, the Good Shepherd, The Resurrection and the Life." Jesus never strays far from His central message. He is The one true Way we must believe.
However, once we believe,  Jesus is the way, as in the highway on which we walk. As Paul puts in (repeatedly, but this is from Philippians 1: 27), "Walk in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ." The very name we are called as His followers, is Christians--Christ-ones. This word speaks to ones who are walking in the Way that Christ walks. Doing, responding, living, BEING Christ the Way He is.
And, He is the Way of prayer.  Jesus tells us numerous times in this long discourse alone that we are to "ask the Father anything in My Name." (John 16: 23) There is much more to say about prayer than I have time for here, but what is relevant is that Jesus is The Way to the Father in prayer. However, His Way is NOT simply mumbling "In Jesus Name" at the end of any old request, but aligning our desires with His so that what we want is what He wants for us.  It's about using the Garden of Gethsemane as our chief model, not Gideon and his fleece.

I Am the Truth...no one comes to the Father except through me.
Truth is very important in the gospel of John, used more in this gospel than any other book in the New Testament (I looked it up one time but have forgotten the ratio if I ever knew such a thing), and is connected to worship (4: 23); being set free (8: 32); the Holy Spirit (4: 23; 18: 13), the Word 17: 17), and being made holy (17: 17).  Pretty impressive list, right? A whole lot to hold on to, these things that Jesus, THE Truth, tells us He does (or will do) for us. This is not truth as a philosophical concept or some kind of moral virtue, but a relationship with a Person whom we can trust.  This is the Incarnation of Truth, and therefore, we can trust it--Him. What He says He will do, He will.
He says about the Father, "Your word is True." (John 17: 13), and also tells us that the truth will set us free. Again, it isn't an abstract truth that frees us, but the Incarnate Truth. The Living Word made flesh that is the I AM Truth. HE sets us free. He alone has the power to free us from what enslaves us. There is no other freedom and no way to come to the Father but through the Truth which frees us.

I AM the Life...no one comes to the Father except through me.
This is the only time Jesus repeats one of the I AM's. So it must be important. It is important. There is no Life apart from Jesus, and He is the embodiment of Life. Here and now and everlasting. AND, He gives us life. The Life He is--in us--is spoken of repeatedly in the New Testament (mostly by John):  "In Him was Life, and that Life was the Light of all people." And..."I have come that you might have life and might have it more abundantly."  "He who has the Son has Life, he who has not the Son, has not Life." (1 John)
Again, don't overlook the context that He says He's The Life mere hours away from dying.. It makes these words both poignant and powerful. He knows what He's saying. He came to die so that we could have that Life. He is the Life and will give it away so that WE will share in it.

What we do each day as we go about our business--whatever that business it--is extend Christ to those around us. We get to hold out THE WAY, THE TRUTH and THE very LIFE to others. Are you up to this privilege?
Don't waste it.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Another hard day ( I begin to sound redundant)

I may have mentioned this before, but I have a very tall, very strong husband.  Steady on his feet, steady in his heart, with large steady hands to help more people than I even know. For example, one day Beve got an actual letter in our mail (along with the usual credit card offers and medical bills) from some unknown people from some place I'd never heard of in Louisiana. It turned out he'd helped a couple who'd had car trouble, gave them a ride across town, made arrangements for them to get the best possible mechanic, took them to a motel, even stopped at a grocery store to help them buy a few things. They were overwhelmed by the kindness of this man. And he hadn't even mentioned it to me. He was just out mowing lawns and had the time, so, of course, he'd help. Who wouldn't? That's how Beve lives.

However, his rock-steady temperament (which he inherited from his dad!), means that he doesn't get too emotional very often. Yes, he feels, but he isn't what you'd call a cry-er. Not even close. Very seldom in the course of our long years of knowing each other (45+) and being married (almost 29) have I even seen Beve cry. Teary? Yes. A little choked up? Also yes. But blurry-eyed and overcome by grief? Very, very rarely.  But two days ago, when we had dinner with Grampie and Thyrza and Thyrza's visiting daughter and son-in-law, Grampie was completely himself, loving being with us, eating the Olive Garden's Chicken and Gnocci soup with great delight and trying to get everyone at the table to "just try a bite."  Sure, he didn't track with every conversation and nodded off pretty easily, but he was still witty and himself. And you should have seen his face when Beve got E on the speaker phone.  His grin about split his face in half. Just hearing her voice lit him up.

But yesterday, with that pre-dawn stroke, that man disappeared. He can still speak, thankfully, and sometimes he even makes sense. But he can no longer feed himself, no longer has any control over his own body. So Beve spent the night at their apartment last night, spent the day with a Hospice nurse, talking through the next step, and being his dad's personal nurse's aid.

And tomorrow, Grampie will leave his apartment for the last time.

So tonight, when Beve had to tell Thyrza that these arrangements are in place, which also means that the days of them living together are coming to an end, there was silence for ten minutes in our little universe, while Thyrza shook her fist at whoever (Steve? the Hospice nurse?) had decided that Grampie can't take care of himself any more, because he absolutely can.
And then, when reality set in, she cried.  And then...
then my tall, strong, steady Beve who has been carrying all these burdens on his wide shoulders fell apart. All the others-- Grampie's falls, his illnesses, my illnesses, J's ongoing  struggles, school stuff--distilled into a single pain: that he's losing his dad.  And his own children are losing their Grampie. That tears him apart almost as much as losing Grampie for himself (and gets to me as I write it! He's just the BEST Grampie!).

It was a hard, good evening with the elders and S and J (Thyrza's daughter & husband). How grateful we are that they came to visit at precisely this time, and that the snow fell exactly now so that they had to delay their trip home. As S said, "God made it pretty clear that we were to stay."  I fed Grampie his dinner while everyone else ate theirs, and we talked through the whole thing again until Thyrza felt comfortable. She thanked Beve for what he's done for Grampie.
"I'd do anything for him," Beve said, his eyes welling up again.

As hard as today was, there are harder days ahead. The day when Thyrza has to say goodbye to Grampie and leave with her daughter--that will be an excruciatingly hard one. For all of us. None of us look forward to it, no matter what we believe to be best. And the day we say goodbye to him ourselves. That'll be another. But, without wanting to sound trite, the only way to get through these days is to go through them. I  look at Beve, feel the stress and exhaustion and grief coming off him in waves, and know he just has to go through it. I'll be with him, but he still has to go through it.

And so we press on.

Tomorrow:
John 14: 6
"I AM the Way, the Truth and the Life..."

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

It's all pretty simple

I've been thinking about this post all day today. Actually, when I think about the seven amazing things Jesus tells that HE IS in John's gospel, this is the one I get high-centered on, linger on like it's a skipping record repeating itself over and over and over. And the story in which these words are lodged is full of some of the most miraculous interactions we get of Incarnate God.  It's not only where Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead but where He delays His going--after hearing that his close friend Lazarus is ill-- and says, "This sickness is not unto death but unto the glory of God." [You have to forgive me for the way my scripture quotations sound...they pour from my memory from  whatever translation I learned the verse. I think that was NASB].  But it isn't the raising of Lazarus that has so long appealed to me (though seriously, pretty profound stuff--His calling a man in his moldy grave clothes straight out of a cave as an image of what He'd be doing Himself once and for all). It's the conversation that Jesus has with Martha and Mary that I love.

Take Martha.  Martha gets a bum rap most of the time. She's the 'worker-bee', the one who has chosen the lesser way. But there are some amazing moments in Jesus' relationship with Martha that speak to me, that should speak to every single one of us, and have incredible application for our lives.  We meet Martha and her siblings first in Luke 10, when Jesus and His band of disciples (and many others, including women 'who were helping support them' as it says in Luke 8: 1-2) when they came to Martha's home. It was Martha's home, we know, because Luke tells us so: "Martha (rather than Lazarus or Mary) opened her home to Jesus."  And when Jesus came, it wasn't just one man for one meal, but a whole stinking pack of men. And I do mean stinking because it isn't as if they'd been staying in Holiday Inns every night and showering every morning. What Martha had to do was an all-out feast prep, and who knows how much warning she'd had for it.

So she was stressed.  Lots of people, beds to prepare (yes, they'd be sleeping there), menus planned,  food to buy (no refrigeration in those days, so everything was bought on the spot!), tables set. Not to mention the whole cooking thing. Let me be completely honest--I get stressed when I have two people I don't know really well staying in my house. I can't imagine 30 or whatever number she was facing.

And I know--because I know me!--that if my sister was just sitting out there listening like a besotted school girl while I was a sweaty mess doing all the work, I'd be really, really frustrated. Unfortunately, because I know me really well, I will also admit that in my case, I'm far more likely to be the one sitting out there listening to the conversation while my sister did all the work. And both my sisters would agree. So my reaction would be jealousy.

Martha's was not. She just wanted help. And here's the first interesting thing about Martha's relationship with Jesus: she goes to HIM, rather than her sister, with her frustration. She is completely comfortable with Jesus, so much so that she's willing to tell him the truth about how she feels. There's no spiritual jargon, no couching of her words behind what she should feel or thing, just a bald statement, "Tell her to help." And Jesus responds to her just that directly. He sees straight into her heart. In that heart isn't jealousy but anger, and that's the attitude that had to change. It wasn't her activity that was the problem, but how she was doing the activity. "Whatever you do in word or deed, do all to the glory of God." Colossians 3:17 says. Go back to your work, but give it to God. Be glad to do it.  Maybe even be as attentive to Jesus in that work as Mary is in her non-working, if that's what she's meant to do.  People are made of different things, after all.

The next time we see Martha, she's just about as upset as our first glimpse of her. This leads us to the conclusion that Martha isn't someone we'd want to know or be like. However, again, putting ourselves in her place, it's a bit easier to understand and appreciate her.  Her beloved brother has died. And Jesus wasn't there in time to help.  When Martha gets word that Jesus is approaching, she throws off her apron and goes running down the road to meet Him. And when she does, the most amazing, intimate encounter in the gospel occurs. It's something akin to Peter's great confession, really. She's out of breath, but still has the presence of mind to speak these phenomenal words.

1. If you'd been here he wouldn't have died.
2.I know even now God will give you whatever you ask.
3.I believe he (Lazarus) will rise again on the last day.
4. I believe you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.
Stop with me a moment and think about these four things as she said them. Right there on that road outside her home while all the mourners sat inside with her brother already in the tomb, with people all over unsure about who this Jesus was. AND we think that it was only Mary who'd been listening to Jesus. There is absolutely no possible way Martha could have spoken these words without having paid attention. Without faith. Real faith.

And it's because of the faith that Jesus sees in her/hears in her that He speaks this most powerful I AM. "I AM The Resurrection and the Life, whoever believes in me will lives though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?"
And Martha doesn't hesitate. "YES, LORD!"


This is the moment that every single one of us must get to. Eternal life begins today. Sure, physical death will come, but eternal life starts at the point when we say YES, Lord! to this I AM.

Jesus says exactly the same sentence to Mary.  And it's a beautiful thing that He knows these sisters so well that His words, though exactly the same, are different when spoken to each one. Martha, I think, was a person who thought more with her head, and Jesus spoke to her thusly. Mary was a feeler, so when He saw her, He responded with very human emotion.  To her, even in speaking these words of comfort and truth, He was also willing to be in her present. Her unknowing, mourning present. This used to strike me as very odd--when I was younger and more foolish. I mean, He was a mere moment away from calling Lazarus forth. It's clearly what He'd delayed in coming so that He could do. But He took the time out of His agenda (an agenda which would bring joy to Mary and Martha!!) to mourn with Mary.

But that's how the Lord is.  Even if He speaks the same words to you that He does to me, they are spoken knowing each of us intimately, knowing who we are and how we need to hear them.  There are some unalterable truths that we each MUST hear. "I AM the Resurrection and the Life" is surely one of them. And we must say YES, when He asks if we believe it.  However, the other promise of this moment is that He will be present in our present. If we mourn, He mourns with us--even if that mourning is but for a moment. If we feel hope, He is the hope. Whatever is our reality, He lives it with us. He may be Sovereign and live above time, knowing all things, but He walks through our time with us.

I feel great hope in this "I AM" today. I need to on a personal level.
This morning, our beloved Grampie had a stroke. Beve is spending the night with him as I write this, and we don't know how many more tomorrows on this earth he will have. This afternoon when we were talking, Grampie said, "It's amazing how simple it all is, when you come right down to it."
 "What?" I asked him.
"Everything," He answered.
And I think that's the truth.
It's all pretty simple.
"I AM the Resurrection and the Life.  Whoever believes in me will live..."
Do you believe this?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Sheep

It was fascinating to watch the "Occupy [insert city here]" protest movement grow this fall and winter.  I first saw some u-tubes of "we are the 99" before there was a single reference to any tents out here in the Northwest boonies where I live. But even in that first  viewing of the various (mostly young) people talking about their lives, and ending with the statement, "I am the 99", there was a visceral reaction inside that said, "Oh no you aren't. You are the 1."  When I was talking about this with a friend in December, he had a similar reaction, but his had to do with the economic reality of most Americans in relation to much of the world. That friend is currently in South Africa visiting some of the poorest of the poor, so he knows what of he speaks.  But my reaction had less to do with the economics of the protest and everything to do with the gospel, specifically, the parable of the lost sheep, which is the perfect way in to the "I AM" we've reached in the gospel of John.

The parable of the Lost sheep is found in Luke 15:4. Luke has most parables than the other gospels combined. The good doctor must have found something compelling about this way Jesus had of teaching. In a class I took at Regent College, it was called, "Telling it Slant." Parables come at us sideways, give us a glimpse of life that sink between the rocks we build up into walls around our hearts so we can really 'get' something we very much need to get, in ways we might close off if simply told straight.  I am always hard-pressed to decide which of the many stories I like the best, but the Lost sheep is right up there. No where am I put so directly into the story of what God's eternal plan is than in this parable. "Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn't he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home."  This is our salvation story.

But it doesn't end there. In John Jesus makes it clear. He does tell us straight out. "I AM The Good Shepherd," He says, (John 10:11, 14). He gives us a full description not only of who He is, but of what it means that we are His sheep. John 10 is picture of what it means that He's our Good Shepherd.

First, The Good Shepherd lays down His life for His sheep (verse 11).  As usual, Jesus never strays from His primary purpose--The Cross. He uses every opportunity to tell His disciples what He came to do. Of course, we have the advantage of understanding this because we have the whole story laid out in front of us and they didn't, so they didn't know what He meant until that Friday when it actually happened, but that wasn't for His lack of telling them. And it's essential that we don't stray from the centrality of the cross either.  Whatever else Jesus is, He is always first, our Savior.

Second, our Shepherd know His sheep and His sheep know Him (verse 14). Earlier in this passage, Jesus speaks of the sheep listening to the voice of the Shepherd. The sheep follow because they know His voice (v. 4). In verse 27, He repeats that "My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me."  Any time Jesus repeats Himself this often in one conversation, it's worth taking particular note. And it's this simple: we get to know His voice, we listen, then we follow. This isn't rocket science (though my nephew IS a rocket scientist!). This is our lives in Christ. Jesus is clear that He knows us.  It's His knowing us that precedes everything else. Not that we know Him. Our following Him is based on the fact that we belong to the Shepherd. Sheep don't pick out a Shepherd, the Shepherd is the one in control.

Along with this (still the second point), the idea of hearing His voice is one of the most complicated and misunderstood things for Christians. Isaiah 50:4 says, "He awakens me morning by morning, He wakens my ear to listen like one being taught."  Many times people say, "the Lord told me," or, "I felt the Lord say..." And I think He intends it to be clouded while we are in the body--like in a mirror dimly (though that's a slightly mixed metaphor).  However, we can be certain that His Word is true and that He speaks through it. Also, we must put ourselves in positions where those who are ahead of us in maturity in Christ are speaking into our lives.  These are ways we cultivate His voice. AND we must not be afraid of the small voice that is much less that we expect.  Read I Kings 19: 8-13. This is an example of God speaking in quiet and unexpected ways. The more we get to know Him, the more we will cultivate our ear. It's like learning a different language, I suppose.

The third aspect of the Good Shepherd is that He has other sheep that He also wants to bring into the flock (verse 16).  This speaks to the world-wide scope of the gospel. We have the privilege and responsibility of being Jesus to our neighbors, co-workers and whoever He puts in our paths. He intended this. With His ascension to Heaven and the gift of the Holy Spirit, we actually get to call others into the flock.  I've seen sheep call to sheep. Really. It's a rather amazing phenomenon. You can call "Bunch" to sheep, and they'll not only begin to bunch but bleat and call out to each other. They herd each other. They help each other into the herd.

It's an awesome privilege that the Good Shepherd uses us to draw His beloved lambs into the pen. We are the integral part of His work on this earth. If we pay attention to the Shepherd who lay down His life for us, listen to His voice, His love will compel us to do exactly that.  Those "We are the 99"? They are "the 1" and need "The ONE" to become part of the Sheep pen, too. Who will we help to toward that pen today?


Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Gate

Outside my window, it's making a valiant effort to snow this afternoon. When we walked into church this morning, a man pointed to my hair and told the little girl in his arms, "See the snow, honey? Let's get your coat on and go outside." But when I think about the words of today's  "I AM" statement, I imagine myself in an arid climate, standing on the side of a road, trying to catch a single glimpse a man walking along, surrounded by a crowd of people. His feet are dirty; his long, dull-brown robe ragged at the bottom from having been caught against rocks and twigs. His skin is leathery from years in the sun, from sleeping outside--even in boats. Among those in the crowd is a teenage boy with a staff, carefully keeping track of a small herd of sheep--maybe ten or twelve ewes and lambs together. I see the boy with his sheep and I see Jesus see him, see Jesus stop and wait for him. And as I envision this moment, it's here I imagine Him saying a few words about sheep.

The next two "I AM's" are related to sheep (and come in the same chapter--10), so it's good to mention this: though we talk of Jesus as the carpenter (we are definitely told his earthly dad had that profession), I am among those who are convinced that when He was a teenager, Jesus must have also herded sheep. Compared to how often Jesus talks about carpentry, He speaks about sheep a whole lot.  Have you ever noticed that? Since Jesus calls us sheep, it's helpful to see, in these next two days, the two ways He relates to us as His sheep.  So, metaphorically (except for my niece who is actually living in Israel this year), pull up a spot along the dusty road Jesus walked and think with me about sheep, shepherds, the Shepherd and the Gate.

Today, John 10: 1-10
Jesus says, "I am the Gate for the sheep." In the culture of 1st century Israel, sheep-pens were made with thick walls and only one entrance, which was guarded by a 'watchman.' Only the Shepherd--and the sheep, of course--had the right to enter the pen. Jesus is both the Shepherd (tomorrow's "I Am"--see verse 11f) and the Gate.  This makes it a little confusing. But what is important here is that He says, "I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved."  There is one gate. All other ways into the pen are illegal--thieves and robbers use them. This is a clear statement of how we enter the pen--which is His Kingdom. There is one Gate and His name is Jesus.

This statement comes at the heart of what every person needs to understand about Jesus Christ.  Several years ago, my mother (already in the throes of Alzheimers) went through a phase of hoping that everyone would be saved, or--to use Jesus' words here--that there were either about as many gates as there were sheep, or that there wasn't even a pen at all. I understood Mom's desire for that to be true. People she'd loved had died and she wanted to believe that they'd be 'in the pen' when she got there.  Plus, she was worried that she might not be in that pen herself, if there was only one way in--she didn't understand grace very well by that point, though she had earlier.

We who love Jesus, who have given our lives to Him, must not think that this "I AM" is easy. Not for Him to say, nor for us to tell the world. That I am separating this statement from the one I'll write about tomorrow is, in some ways, a grave injustice, because it's only in knowing what the great "I AM" did to herd the sheep into the pen that gives the Gate the grace we know it to have and be.

But we will dwell here for today. And while we linger at the thought that He alone is the way into the Kingdom, let's consider that His great desire is that each of us enter through that gate. I will say that again. God didn't go to all the trouble of the Incarnation because He only loved some of us.  His desire is for each of us. Every single one of us.  No one is beyond His desire. I don't care if you're a Calvinist and believe in election or a Armenian and believe in the Holiness movement, the place where your theology connects is at John 3: 16. "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life."


This is the gate through which we enter. Believing these words. Believing that God did this, believing that Jesus is that begotten Son and that IN Him we are saved. Yes, IN Him we are the sheep who find safe pasture.  John 10: 9 says, "The sheep go in and out and find pasture." A pasture is where sheep are free to eat and sleep and move anywhere they wish--within the fences.  This is the freedom we have when we're in the Kingdom of God--to move about, to do what we're given to do for Him, to "trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture" (Psalm 37: 3).

Gates, however, don't only provide a way in, but keep intruders from getting to us.  It will become redundant how often Jesus tells us that He protects us.  This "I AM the Gate for the Sheep" is definitely one of those promises of protection. A way in and a lock out for the enemy. There is no way anything can get to us if He is the only way in.  If He is our only Gate, we're safe. No matter what the enemy tries, no matter how it looks, we're essentially safe.

Romans 8: 35-37 says, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?...No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us."

Because He's the Gate.

If you aren't sure if you've ever entered the sheep pen, know this. You only need to ask and that gate will swing open.  "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved" (Romans 10:9).
And, if you have a beloved in your life who is still outside the gate--like I do--keep trusting that He is also the Shepherd. Thankfully.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Traveling

Tomorrow I'll return to the "I AM" statements of Jesus, but today I'm thinking about my older brother. You see, tomorrow he takes the next step in a journey he began about 18 months ago. It's the largest step, by the size of a globe and a two-day plane ride.  You see, tomorrow my older brother, the one who has always liked his creature comforts and upper-middle class activities like snow-skiing, golfing and biking, leaves his very nice home for a new engineering job assignment in Bratsk, Russiaa.  For those of you unfamiliar with Russian geography, that's Siberia. Yep, my older brother is going to Siberia in the dead of winter, which is always a smart move.

But let me tell you about the act of faith that brought him to this place and to the position where he not only doesn't feel trepidation at such a move (or the arduous travel involved in getting there), but a real peace that this is EXACTLY what he is meant to do right now.

About two years ago, R was working only five minutes down the hill from his lovely home where he and his wife had moved for the view, its proximity to his job and because he'd been commuting for about two decades (or so it seems to me). When they moved into Tacoma, his wife had the long commute across the Narrows bridge, against the flow of traffic (thankfully) and back out to their former stomping grounds to teach elementary school. They found a new church, got involved in a small group, loved the pastor, and enjoyed their lives together. Their sons were grown, had married wonderful women whom were sure to make their sons better men.  They took walks down by the bay, spent weeks in central Oregon at their condo, got a dog.  R skied in the winter, golfed in the summer, bought a bicycle to use in between. Sure, sometimes R complained about his job, but who doesn't? It was just about exactly the life R and D imagined for themselves. They felt blessed and satisfied, thought they'd live this way for a decade--until retirement. And then they could really play.

Then they went to a Christmas party two years ago.  And D noticed that R's company didn't appreciate him the way they should have. He's a very smart man, my brother is. He thinks well, communicates better and has people skills out the ying yang (whatever that means!).  In the next several months they spoke more and more about R looking for something different. At first it was simply talk. Then it became something of an idea. A plan.

Then our mother died. I'm not sure if this had anything to do with R's search or is just a time marker, but at least in terms of his talking to me (and my recording it in my journals), the job hunt began to take off. A world-wide company in exactly R's niche was looking for engineers with exactly his credentials.  The intriguing, though a bit complicating, part was that he'd have to be away from home for long stretches at a time. Even Siberia in the dead of winter for a month or six weeks without seeing his wife. Then home for two or three weeks. Then back to Russia for a month. On and off planes for the foreseeable future.  It was a rather daunting prospect, initially.

Was he up for the adventure of it all?  By the time R talked to me about it, he'd already had a conversation or two with a 'head-hunter'. He and D had talked about it a whole lot, I know. And undoubtedly he'd talked to those very smart, faithful sons of his as well. But the first conversation I had with R about it all was about how we know whether God is in something. Or, to put it a different way, how we know what God wants for us.  We all want God to give us a clear and certain sign that He is directing our paths. We want a neon light pointing us the way so that we don't do the wrong thing.  And in a decision as large and 'outside the box' as taking a job in Siberia, that desire is not academic. It's slightly different than wanting him to show us whether to eat this cupcake or not (and I've known people who are just that trivial about such things--and trust me, God both cares and doesn't care, if  you can understand that plurality!). My reaction to R that day was, "Ask God to close the door, just close the dang door." Those were my exact words.  Keep walking until the door to this job shuts.

The many conversations he had with D, his sons, his small group and others all led him to essentially the same conclusion--that he'd keep going through the job process until either he or the company decided it wasn't a good fit.

Clearly you know the end of this story. God didn't close the dang door. R has worked for that international company for a year now. He's been in the North American section, working weekly in Alabama, commuting home via plane almost every weekend. He's earned enough air miles to fly business class, and has grown comfortable using planes as a place to work and nap. As he puts it, the only difference between the way he used to work and this is that rather than daily, now he kisses his wife goodbye Monday morning and hello Friday afternoon. It's worked for them.

And now the assignment to Bratsk. A Russian winter, and goodbye tomorrow morning and hello the 16th of February.  It'll be a new adventure. Learning to be (as Moses named his son), "a stranger in a strange land." I've been thinking this morning about the profound ways God used Moses because he was willing to be that stranger in the strange land, was willing to obey God, when God led him away from his home and people and everything familiar. God just kept moving him and never closed the door until He finally led Moses to a bush that burned without becoming ashes.  God met Moses first when Moses was farthest away from his lovely life in the palace where he had all the creature comforts one can imagine and if he didn't have them, he certainly could get them with a snap of a finger.  God had to lead him away from all those things in order to mold Moses into the man He intended him to be.

So this morning, as I contemplate my brother's long flight tomorrow (and Monday--he won't reach Bratsk until Tuesday) I'm not all that interested in the job he's been hired to do there. Those kind of things have always been a little outside of my box, as all the engineers in my family would tell you. But I'm immensely excited to hear what God intends for my brother while he dwells in a land so far away. I am absolutely convinced that God kept that dang door open with a cement block because He meant my brother to go to this place to hear Him, to see Him, to become His in a whole new way. And that, my friends, is worth all the travel in the world.

Traveling mercies, RWC III. God will meet you at the end.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Go light your world

It's dark out there.
We've been learning that this week.  And when it's dark, life is hard.  We've learned that as well.
This isn't really news, of course. I remember how I felt about the dark when I was a child. I wasn't one of those children who needed to sleep with the light on (like the sister with whom I shared a room); however, when we were at the family cabin on Whidbey Island and I had to go to the bathroom at night the dark was rather...well, dark.  There was no light near that 'bathroom', you see. Nothing but a flashlight to guide me out the door and down the path to the outhouse. And you know what was flying around out there in the dark?  BATS. We saw them one summer evening just at dusk and ever after I was certain if I walked outside in the dark I'd run into a bat. And, obviously, that was VERY scary!

But there is some truth to the idea that there are things to be afraid of in the dark. Or, at least, that we were not made for the dark. We are NOT bats, and our eyes don't see well in the dark. Our ears (or whatever it is that bats use) don't hear sound well enough to guide us when we cannot see.

We need light. We need it like we need air to breathe. The amazing, radical "I AM" of John 8 may be the foundation of all of them. If  "I AM the Bread of Life" connects Jesus to the manna given to the Israelites in the wilderness, in saying, "I AM the Light of the World," Jesus draws us clear back to the creation of the world.  In Genesis 1, God says, "Let there be light." Now Jesus says, "I am the light of the world."  It's like He's taking a laser beam to reveal that He was at the creation of the world.  He was involved with all that began with God's first words.  The groundwork of who Christ is has to do with Him being the light. John makes this clear in the prologue when he says, as the Message puts it (so eloquently), "What came existence was Life, and the Life was Light to live by. The Life-Light blazed out of darkness; the darkness couldn't put it out."

So Jesus is the Light of the world. But He isn't just a giant flashlight or a shining neon globe. When He says He's the Light of the World, He's speaking to us, and teaching us to walk in Him. Listen to Him. When Jesus spoke again to the people, He said, "I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." (John 8: 12)  There are two distinctive marks of His followers that come from following the Light of the world.

 First, we won't walk in darkness, and will be able to combat the schemes of the one who is the prince of darkness, the enemy. The enemy would like us to believe that our issues (mine or yours) are too difficult to be overcome. In fact, he'd like us to believe that he doesn't even exist. But in this simple statement, Jesus declares emphatically that yes, there is darkness but that we aren't subject to that darkness. We are "children of the Light (as He calls His followers in John 12:35)." We have been given everything we need to combat the enemy in this single clause in this powerful sentence: "will have the light of life." It isn't what we do ourselves that manages against the enemy or against darkness, it's that we 'have the Light of Life." We have Jesus. That's it. That's the thing, the one thing.

And that's my second point. Darkness cannot overcome light. You can't take a light into a dark room and have the dark overpower the light. Light always overcomes darkness.  As a single match lights up a whole room, so His name can light up the darkness when the enemy tries to smother us.  And that one name, that one HOLY Light-filled "I AM" is enough.  It's the light of the world.

 As children of the Light of the World, we're surrounded by people who don't see the Light of the world at all. Some of those we meet, talk to, and work with each day are people still living in darkness. I've been thinking a great deal about this this week. As we sat in that lock-in unit, I wondered about those who occupied the other rooms and what their hard stories might be. As we sat in the dining room at the elders' retirement facility, I wonder at those who sit at other tables, even those to whom we are re-introduced each time we appear.  Do they see some kind of glow akin to a torch in a dark room when they see us? Is the Light of the World shining out of my conversation? Out of my attentiveness?

And, finally, John tells us in his first epistle, "If we walk in the Light, as He is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another."  So it's walking in such ways that His Light shines out of us, walking so that we reflect Him that fellowship becomes a reality.

Light-- at creation, in darkness, in dealings, in fellowship.
That about says it all.

The Bread of Life

Tonight, while I was pondering this post, the house has been permeated with the smell of freshly baked bread, because Beve was baking our weekly loaf of bread, loaded with flax, oats, millet along with the whole wheat. I love this bread. It's about the best thing since...well, sliced bread, I guess. A thick slice of it, with some chunky peanut-butter and honey? I mean, it's like dessert, it really is. But what is really great about it is how amazingly good for us this bread is. I've been eating two slices of it a day since last April, and I'm feeling like a whole new (much more healthy, smaller) woman.

And whenever it is baking, no matter how soon after dinner, or how recently I've had my last piece, I want more.  It wafts through the house and makes my mouth water, because there's nothing like a good piece of bread straight from the oven, cut when it's warm, the butter (of course, butter!) melting through it. I didn't have a piece tonight. I'm a whole lot more careful with my bread-intake these days, but I watched Beve eat every bite, and I'm telling you, it made me really, really hungry.  Makes me hungry right now.

The first of the "I AM"s begins with that most basic of human needs: hunger.  And Jesus takes this most basic need and draws our attention to the more deeper need we try to satisfy with bread alone.

John 6: 30-35,41,48,51 is the passage I'm referring to here, where Jesus says, "I AM the Bread of Life."

But the context of this passage is important. The night before (chapter 5) Jesus has this discussion with the Jewish leaders in which He says this first so provocative statement, He had fed the 5000. When a whole crowd of people had gathered on a rocky hillside to listen to Him speak about the Kingdom for hours on end, Jesus had taken a boy's lunch and made it stretch to feed 5000 people. Wrap your brain around that for a moment. Beve's high school has about 1200 students in it. So if about 4 such  high schools (plus a couple hundred teachers) got together for an all-day assembly, that's about what it'd be like. And without a single bit of food between them, except one lowly freshman who'd brought a sack lunch his mom had packed that morning. She'd known it was going to be a long day, so she'd made it plenty big for him--five small barley loaves of bread and two small fish--that's plenty of lunch for a 15-year-old but about like a drop of water in the ocean for what's needed to feed the entire crowd sitting around  for all those hours, hanging on every word Jesus spoke. But that measly lunch was all the disciples could round up when Jesus noticed the restlessness of the people and heard their stomachs growling.  They handed over that lunch, though not certain what on earth Jesus could do with so little, and Jesus simply took the sack lunch, gave thanks for it!!! and passed it around. And everyone ate until they were full, and there was more left over than there had been to start.
Talk about abundance.

Of course it's important that He could multiply that lunch. Of course it's the great miracle of the feeding. But His giving thanks ahead of time is just as important. Jesus already knew--with no doubt ever--that there would be provision for those people.  He demonstrated it with the fish and loaves.

And then He spoke it to the Jewish leaders in the conversation less than 24 hours later (or the next chapter). These Jewish leaders have come to Jesus asking for a miracle. "Show us a miracle and we'll KNOW you are who you say you are." Then they even go so far as to tell Him about the manna miracle, the one where the Israelites were given manna in the wilderness.  This strikes me as funny (in a not-so-funny way). Though Jesus has just replicated the manna miracle in short order by giving bread and fish (and they undoubtedly either knew or were even among those who had eaten some of those fish and bread), the Jewish leaders feel compelled to teach Him about the history of God providing exactly the same thing. It makes me wonder how Jesus could have responded to them so kindly, why He didn't get more frustrated with them more often.

But Jesus is Jesus. He doesn't get into a pissing contest (as I most certainly would have been tempted to do!).  He simply and truly point them to the first essential truth--"I AM the Bread of Life." Think of how radical this sentence must have been to His listeners who first heard it. It's a never-before kind of phrasing, using the same set of "I AM" beginning that links God's name--"I AM" (see Exodus 3) to something completely new. In other words, Jesus is drawing a full connection between Himself and God the Father in a way that those Jewish leaders would not have missed.  And He also points out that, as the most important basic provision for food, He can meet all human needs. It's profound. World-changing. "I AM the Bread of Life." Not simply manna for this day, but for all of life. Everything you need you will find in me. That's what is contained in this succinct statement.  I can't imagine how it could have kept those men on their feet.

Yes, Jesus meets our human need for material things, but is interested in more than just the physical needs of people, though He does meet those as He proved so clearly when He fed the 5000.  The physical need met, however, He wants to make sure that the deeper, eternal need is recognised. That is the need He is most interested in:
 "If you believe in me, you will NEVER go hungry or thirsty again.


Jesus uses an absolute here. NEVER is a pretty big word. It's a word we are often (and should be) loathe to use. So it must imply a pretty profound answer to our deepest need. If the great lunch meal of the 5000 is a picture of how He cares about our welfare, we can trust that He will also care for our greatest spiritual desire. So the question is--what is your deepest spiritual desire? Do you allow your imagination to run wild with what you want from Him?  Are you hungry for Him in such a way that you can't live without Him?  These are the desires He wants to satisfy. In fact, I'd go so far as to say, this is His chief aim--to satisfy our deepest hunger and thirst for Him.

This "I AM" also points us toward the Last Supper, of course. We can't possibly think of Jesus as the Bread of Life without thinking of Him speaking to His disciples that last night. Holding a loaf of bread, He says, "This is my body given for you." What He says that night in the upper room is almost a repeat of what He says in verse 51 of John 6: "I am the living bread which came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world."  Jesus spends His entire ministry always drawing our eyes back to His purpose--that He came to give Life.
And that He came to give His life--His body--for ours.

The Bread of LIFE. What do you hunger for? And how do you live in response to the Bread of Life that dwells within you?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A much needed regounding

Life is better here today, less fraught with crisis.  One would expect, therefore, that I'd be more calm as well. But 'one' would be wrong. I've been a mess today. A living, breathing, falling-apart mess. I had to stop by Beve's office to give him something and when I walked in, he was having lunch in the conference room with his counseling colleagues. They were happy to move around the table and make room for me, and I certainly enjoy all of them a lot most days. But this isn't most days. No, today I took one look at them sitting there laughing, and couldn't stand it. I mean, Beve has people, people to yuck it up with even in the middle of all this--or that's how it felt in that moment.

Instead, I walked into his office and fell apart. And poor Beve, who'd gone to the trouble of actually buying me lunch when he'd bought his own, couldn't quite figure out what was wrong with me, why I didn't want to talk about it, or to them. To him it like we were those young married kids we used to be--and I'd get so upset that he couldn't figure out why I was upset. And he had no earthly idea.

These days--this week--he understands a whole lot better. He knows me, knows the strain we're under, knows how much this season has taken its toll on us. When we finally had a conversation about it hours later, we both acknowledged that we're so exhausted from the latest crisis we hardly know how to think, but I'm such a mass of emotions that I feel everything, while he's so much more rational that he simply shuts it off.  And we just have to press on with all the other things going on.

But what finally came to me this evening is that I need to ground myself in the person of Jesus Christ.  That is, I've been very much a supplicant of late, asking Him to DO for me. But it's of prime importance that I remember who He is; indeed, I must pay attention to HIM for Himself for this season. If I forget, I'm in danger of seeing Him as a giant slot machine in whom I put in my nickel of faith so that He'll pour out the jackpot of my desired outcome. And that is the one thing true Christian faith cannot be.  Our adherence is to a PERSON, not to an idea, a result or anything for ourselves. It's only--always--about being in relationship with Him, no matter what comes into our lives.  This hits home as clearly as anything in difficulties. It's because of who He is that I love Him. So I must re-orient myself to that more especially now than ever. As I said, no matter what.

So...who is HE? And what does it mean to me, who already knows and loves Him? Frankly, there's only one place to go to really do this re-grounding necessary.  The gospel of John.

 One of the reasons I love the gospel of John is because that's where we hear Jesus speak directly about Himself.  Even when He does miracles He does so in order to tell people who He is.  And, amazingly, He describes Himself much like we do when we're asked, in large groups, to describe ourselves.  "I'm creative," I might say. Or, "I am not very good at math." However, the LARGE distinction between our self-descriptions and Jesus' are that His aren't simply character traits but are so radical that they transform the world. There are seven such statements, of which Eugene Peterson says " [they] crash the boundaries of death and summon all to a resurrection." Seven times in the gospel of John, Jesus gives us amazing insights into Himself--and each time, that insight not only has to do with who He is TO US, but has the power to change us.

And this is what I most need to be reminded at this moment. There are implications of those powerful seven statements, those glorious, life-altering "I AM's" of Jesus for how I live in this critical moment, and for how we conduct all our dealings in the most lovely (and dreamed of!) ordinary of our days.  So for the next seven days (give or take), I'll be looking at the seven "I AM's--the Bread of Life, the Light of the World, The Gate for the Sheep, The Good Shepherd, The Resurrection and the Life, TheWay and the Truth and the Life, The True Vine."

My prayer--for myself and for you--is that we will see Jesus in a renewed light, and not merely what He has done, but  who He is will empower you to serve Him.

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders us and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with endurance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy set before Him He endured the cross, scorning the shame and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."  Hebrews 12:1-2

Monday, January 9, 2012

Another surreal day

This post might be the hardest post I've ever written, and that's saying a whole lot. But a couple of minutes ago, my son told me I should post about today, so here goes.

J's ever-changing battle with depression and anxiety has taken a turn for the worse in the last month. In fact, such a bad turn that a couple of nights ago, when he texted me close to midnight, it kept me awake and contending for his life for much of the night. Then last night J came here and I sat up with him for the entire night. Yes, I'm serious, I didn't go to sleep until after Beve and I had a conversation as he was walking out the door to work this morning at 6:30 AM.  J fell asleep about 1:30 AM, so exhausted by the toll of simply trying to stay alive and fight the demons within that he couldn't last another moment, but I held watch.  It's what mothers do. Plus I'd had a fully-caffeinated latte at 10 PM for the express purpose of being with my son when he needed me.

So today, we took our son to the hospital.  Even J admitted that he was in danger.  So we crowded into that emergency room with a cast of a thousand others (or so it seemed) who had maladies of so many kinds one can hardly imagine.  Fortunately, Beve had spoken to J's psychiatric nurse earlier and she'd called ahead so J didn't have to stand at the triage desk, with a mass of humanity leaning in, and explain that he was in danger of killing himself.  When he was finally taken to the first check-in room, I leaned against the counter while the nurse said, "So you want to hurt yourself."
J looked at her strangely. "That's not exactly how I'd put it," he said. "I'd say what were passive suicidal thoughts have become active."
"Do you have a plan?" The woman asked.
"Yes."
"And what is it?"
At that I had to leave the room and make Beve alone listen.  I am a coward. I simply cannot hear these words.  But when I came back in and the nurse walked past me, she reached over and hugged my shoulder.  That gesture spoke volumes to me.

A while later, J was taken up to the lock-in ward where people at risk of suicide are 'housed' with people who are high, detoxing, etc.  When we were let in (via a card fob) the room in which he sat on the bed was stark and depression enough that I wanted to turn and run.  There was the lone bed, two chairs, a metal [non-working] drinking fountain very firmly attached to one corner and patches on the wall from some kind of violence.  No posters, a horrible color and absolutely nothing that spoke of comfort or care. J said, "Now I know what prison feels like."

We waited in that room for hours.  Many, many hours.  A nurse brought J a sandwich (two slices of bread with turkey--no condiment of any kind, even loathsome mayonnaise!), and some apple juice.  A doctor told us a social worker would give him a psych eval and make a recommendation.  So we waited, and I felt those walls creep in on me.

To pass the time, J and I began to talk about sports, religion, whatever we could to keep our minds off the place and purpose of our 'visit, while Beve drove to Costco to tell J's employer why he wouldn't be at work for a while.  J says that one of the biggest helps is talking rationally about things outside himself, because those things anchor him in the present.  When he's alone, he tends to fixate on past failures or the future which seems hopeless.

Finally, when the social worker came to interview him, I once again stepped away, after telling her I am too emotional about it all to listen.  J understands and Beve (long back by then) is much better at such things from having heard them so often--even though this IS completely different.

When I was finally 'fobbed' back into the room, J and Beve told me that J would be coming home. Like the last suicide-watch, he's better off in our home than in any facility. "Those places will make you MORE depressed," she told him. "Your support system is very well in place."  She also must have said something about his intelligence, because afterwards both Beve and J said, "If only we were a little stupider!"  I heard him speak about his situation often enough today to know he's very conversant in both the issues and what has been tried to help him.

So he's home, and as he put it, "There's one thing to cross off my bucket list."
It was NOT an experience ANY of us wants to repeat.  He seems better tonight, though I know 'better' is a superficial thing.  But for this mother's heart, at least I know he's okay for now.

But there's a long ways to go before we are out of the woods.  I don't even know what out of the woods means any more.

I'm tired. Physically, emotionally and spiritually.  God has to intervene, and the Holy Spirit has to intercede.
And Jesus has to save.

And I have to sleep.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Lesson learned

Sometimes I forget. Sometimes I get so caught up in the roller coaster that has been our lives since about 2005 that I forget.  It really does seem like we've been trundling up one hill, cresting for a mere second before something else happens and we're falling into the next valley of crisis. Sickness, depression, dealing with a parent, sibling, child, self. An unending roller-coaster ride  for so long that I can't remember what it's like to get off, to stand on solid ground and simply walk at a pace slow enough to catch my breath.  So I forget.  Or maybe it's like being on a ship in a storm tossed ocean, the waves overwhelming, the troughs deep and no way out but through it.

So I forget. We just have to keep steady on through this storm, or keep riding the roller coaster. Holding on to the bar of the roller coaster or the ship's wheel as if we had a hope in heaven of steering the thing--which we don't. But we keep trying, at the mercy of it all.

Early this morning, however, while I was standing in my kitchen doing the dishes, God reminded me. I'd gotten side-tracked after dinner with this thing and that, then it was well after midnight and I couldn't figure out why Jackson was poking around in the living room, trying to outlast me rather than settling back on his bed for the night. Then I walked into the kitchen to all our shepherd's pie fixings still sitting on the counter. No wonder. He was hoping against hope I'd go to bed and leave him to get at them. So at 1 AM I found myself doing dishes.  This probably tells you more than I'd like about how disinterested I am in domestic pursuits, but there you go. Anyway, as I washed, I was mentally writing a New Year's letter about all the hard things we've struggled with in the last year. And just as I was reaching my stride, God began reminding me of what He HAS done for me.

And I was caught short. Had to grab the sink to keep from falling. Really. Though it should have pressed me to my knees.  In repentance and awe.
Because, of course. Duh! How dare I forget. How dare I be fixated on what has gone wrong, how we live from crisis to crisis that I don't taste and see that the LORD IS GOOD?

So with my hands sunk in soapy dishwater, I began to list those ways in which I most feel God's presence in my life:
My relationship with Beve, without whom I cannot imagine doing life
JESK (or E, J, SK in age order) who are the best gifts God ever gave me
My family of origin (and, by extension, their children and spouses)--who, after my first 4--are the most vital people in my life
Living where I live--this home, this life, this place
The specific gifts of writing, speaking, thinking that come from Him and (hopefully) return to Him
Relationships with friends old and new--and the deep, rich conversations that spring from those relationships
The opportunity to minister in many and varied--even unexpected--ways
My health, as quixotic as it is--as an unending opportunity for God to reveal Himself
The final days with the elders--that, as hard as some of those days are, we are here for them
Quilting-- my 'prayer-quilting', as one of my friends calls it

And, of course:
The Word of God
Prayer
THE HOLY SPIRIT
JESUS, THE SON
GOD THE FATHER

Here's the most amazing thing. This morning when I opened my Bible, the Psalm for this day is Psalm 118.  Verse 17 says, "I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done."

"EXACTLY," He tells me. "Just what I want you to remember. Today and every day, proclaim what I have done!"

As E would say, lesson learned.

Friday, January 6, 2012

A list of books

So finally my long-promised list of books that have informed my life. In order to keep my post (and list) a manageable length, I've chosen two- three from each of several categories.
 Christian classics:

  • Augustine's Confessions

     I came lately to this marvel,; didn't read it until I was at Regent College, then was completely stunned by its power.  There are sections that are completely original thought, like his take on time. But the long section of his coming to Christ, and his recognition of his long painful life--and the torture to fling that life away. WOW. Surrender in a way I'd never dreamt. That was the first time. I go back to it again and again.


  • Julian of Norwich, Revelation

     This anchorite nun who closeted herself in a hut against a wall of a church in the middle ages has been one of the most important influences in my life.  She was so bold as to ask God for pain. To actually ask Him to allow her the privilege of bodily illness and actual wounds so that she could understand Christ's suffering better. As I've suffered in my own small way, her thoughts regarding pain have been transforming for me.  So to has been her equally keen desire to know the love of God as expressed through Christ on the cross, not merely in her head but as THE single most real thing in her life.  This hermit has done more for me than all the scholarly theologians throughout the centuries in aiding me to love Christ more, and to get--fully GET--that His great action on earth was the single most important thing that has ever happened in history.  And, dare I say it? Her words, "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all shall be most well..." are perhaps my very favorite non-scriptural quote ever.


  • Brother Lawrence, Practice of the Presence of God

      This is probably the first Christian 'classic' I ever read. And it energized my prayer life. The uneducated kitchen monk who simply lived with Christ rather than compartmentalizing devotional time away from other daily tasks has repeatedly reminded me of how to "walk in a manner worthy of Christ, pleas[ing] Him in every respect." It is a slim volume, easy to return to again and again, in every season, should I (and I do!) need a refresher in the real  life of prayer.

Current Christian Authors

  • Eugene Peterson, Leap Over A Wall

I arbitrarily chose this book from among his many fine works because he gave it to me, signed, along with a copy of a review written about it.  Eugene Peterson just had to be first because he's a friend and whenever I read one of his books, I can hear his voice so clearly it's like he's the one leaping from over the wall between author and reader.  That aside, this volume, about the life of David and its correlation to the life of a believer and the Body of Christ, is finely written. The chapter on Ziplag, for instance, which is about church, is very convicting about how we approach those with whom we worship. One of the things I love most about Peterson is that he's immensely readable, loves story so even his most scholarly works are accessible to all of us.  Recently, I've finally gotten around to reading his memoir, which I've put off because I wanted to savor it, and it's life-giving. It's called Pastor, and really has pieces of most of his best books. Or, if you like the idea of short pieces, Subversive Spirituality is worth the time.


  • Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline

 My copy of this book has been through the war. At least that's how it looks. Certainly it's been through about a dozen moves since I bought it back in college in Eugene, Oregon and read it straight through when I should have been studying Old Testament Survey or Chaucer or some such thing. It is another book, like Brother Lawrence's, that changed my life. The 'inward' practices of meditation, prayer and study that I practice today were, in no small part, learned from this book (though I must clearly give a shout out to the adults who definitely also had a hand in teaching me such practices! And I must also admit that fasting was less successful as it helped propel me into an eating disorder. Sigh.).  It's so worth the read. For individuals and church congregations all together.  Thirty-plus years later, I still fell what it meant to me then.


  • Frederick Buechner, Telling the Truth

Frederick Buechner has written so many treasures it was difficult to chose one, but this slim volume is about the gospel, juxtaposed with King Lear. The full title is Telling the Truth, The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy and Fairy Tale and speaks to both sides of myself. Of course you might infer that I'd be drawn to it. However, it was on the reading list for my entrance to Regent College, and because I am who I am, I was determined to read everything on that list before I actually began. That spring my parents were in Portland, Oregon and found this book at Powell's bookstore (a truly AMAZING place!!!!!).  On their way home from Portland (a sevenish-hour drive) they took turns reading this book aloud. They just couldn't put it down. MY PARENTS.  My dad reading a book aloud in a car. You didn't know him, but this was NOT normal behavior, and tells you everything about this book.  It's worth finding. Worth reading. If you want, you can borrow mine. Really. You won't regret it.

Novels
I've been staring at that word 'Novels' for five minutes. How on earth can I distill all the impact from all the novels I've read in the last forty years? And choose just three that have meant the most?  An impossible task for a person like me who reads novels 'religiously.'  Every person who reads novels chooses them for different reasons, of course. For escape is one of the main reasons--at least that's what we most often hear.  When I chose Regent College as the seminary to attend (or perhaps I should say, God revealed it to me), it was because there is a whole area of study devoted to the study of Literature as a means to see God working. My Masters' degree in Interdisciplinary Studies is at precisely the intersection of Literature and Christianity. One of my first (and perhaps very favorite and most important) classes I took a seminar called, "Christianity and Fiction." As background, I was only on the wait list the first day of that class, because my dad had died the week before, making me late for everything at Regent. The prof had told me I could come to the class that day, but he doubted I'd get in because so many were ahead of me.  With about 25 crowded into a seminar room meant for 12, we went around the room speaking of our relationship with books. I was, oddly, the last person to speak.  Many said, "I don't really read very much, except for school." Or, "I just needed a seminar to graduate." Or, "I had to read novels in high school but I don't like them much." And then there was me. After I spoke (though I don't quite remember what I said, having an undergraduate degree in English Literature, meant I'd read all but two of the novels in the course), there was a break. As the prof walked past my chair, he kind of leaned in and whispered roughly, "You're in."

But though I'd read those books, it hadn't been with a view of them as Christ-haunted.  I was surprised by how new and fresh and profound even those I knew were. So I'll simply mention one unexpected author who completely radicalized how I think of her, and of writing 'non-Christian' literature: Flannery O'Connor.  She's NOT for the faint of heart, I'll tell you that right upfront. Her novels are considered southern 'grotesque'. However, she has informed my way of thinking about writing more than any  'how to get published' book I've ever been given. If I hadn't already written this much I'd tell you why. But perhaps I'll leave it at that for today. O'Connor deserves her own day.  My favorite quote by her is:
 "When you assume that your audience holds the same beliefs you do, you can relax a little and use more normal means of talking to it; when you have to assume it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock--to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost blind you draw large and startling figures." (Flannery O-Conner, Mystery and Manners, 33-34)

The point in all this is to read. To let God use more than just the Bible teach you, even more than just current books to impact you. And yes, even more than just non-fiction to work in your life. There are treasures to be mined and He will use them all to work Himself into you.  If you let Him.