Saturday, March 29, 2014

The fragrance of worship

The hyacinths are blooming in our garden now. I love hyacinths. They're fragrant and gorgeously colored; it's just a bonus that their barrel shape reminds me of myself. We had a bumper crop of them this year, too, so I cut three, put them in a vase in the center of our dining table. I don't cut very many flowers from our garden. Let me rephrase that--I almost NEVER cut flowers from our garden. It isn't that I don't like flowers. I do. I like them very much. I just like them living and growing and want to see them out in the yard where they will continue to do both as long the growing season lasts.

But sometimes I can't help myself. When it's been particularly dreary and, according to the forecast, there's no sign of let-up in that dreariness anytime soon, the only possibility is to bring some of those flowers inside.
So I cut three hyacinths.

And they are making our whole house smell like wonderful. 'Like the costliest perfume,' I thought as I walked down the hall a couple of hours ago. Yes, that's what they smell like. Of course that made me think of Mary's encounter with Jesus. You remember Mary, of Mary and Martha fame. Sister of Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead?  I was going to write about this encounter tonight, but began thinking that my words were sounding slightly familiar, so I've deleted them and looked up old blog posts. Guess what? I wrote about this 4 years ago.

Rather than re-invent the wheel (or re-write the words!), since it is 10 'til midnight, I think I'll repost that post. It says what I'm thinking. After all...I did write it.

Without further ado:
John 12 says that a dinner has been given in Jesus' honor.  All the disciples presumably reclining around the table with Jesus a few days before they'd eat together in the city.  Lately-dead Lazarus was lying there too, alive and well.  It was a party of Jesus' closest friends, people who really knew and loved him.

Then in comes Mary.  Mary, the attentive.  In one motion, she pulls out a pint of nard, which is a fragrant oil made from a flower of northern India (the spikenard flower) [ed note from 4/29/14: maybe it's like hyacinths only more expensive?], and was both rare and expensive--the year's wages that Judas suggests it is worth is no exaggeration. She pulls out the bottle, uncovers her long hair, pours it over Jesus' feet--his road-weary feet--and wipes it off with her hair.  Her uncovered, unbound hair.

"And the house was filled with fragrance."
And immediately there's an objection.  Judas claims it should be sold and the money given to the poor.  John tells us that Judas didn't really care about the poor, but was actually dipping his hand into the pot, so this perfume could have lined his pocket.  Pretty audacious of Judas, however, isn't it?  Right to Jesus' face.  It's like he didn't even know who Jesus was.  A person makes a comment like this and you can tell--you can just tell--that he didn't know who he was dealing with. Because Jesus knows his heart, and Jesus knows his actions.  Just like all those folks at church who get up right during a worship service to complain about something. It's just common sense that HE knows what their motive is, isn't it?  And if it isn't pure...well, that's on them.

Anyway, that was yesterday's story.  Today I'm talking about the fragrance of worship.  The pureness of it, when it comes streaming out of a person.  Here's what I see in Mary's amazing picture of worship:
1. She's completely smitten with Jesus.  A.W. Tozer uses a phrased called, "God-smitten."  And I love this phrase, which rings true of Mary.  In every picture we have of her, she's gazing with love at Him, hanging on His every word.  She just plain loves Him.  His words, His being, and His incredible, life-altering gift of giving back her brother to her.  Can you imagine how she feels?  Ephesians 3:18-19 speaks of us being able to grasp how wide and long and high and deep the love of Christ is, and of being able to KNOW THIS LOVE that surpasses knowledge.  Mary has gotten it.
2.  She's bold.  Hebrews 4: 16 tells us to approach the throne of grace with confidence--with boldness.  Mary doesn't give a rip who else is in the room, or what anyone in the world might think of her action.  She doesn't even see anyone but Jesus.
3.She's willing to make a fool of herself.  1 Corinthians 4:10. "We are fools for Christ." Not thinking about what's going on beside us, not thinking about what's to be gained, but simply, utterly giving.  She doesn't even want anything from Jesus--she just wants to give to Him.
4. It's prophetic.  Jesus says that the perfume has been 'saved for this day.'  Mary was participating in what Jesus had come to earth to do.  Her worship was part of His master plan. That's what worship does--it participates in His master plan.  It declares that He is who He says He is.  That He is Lord.
5.  It cost her something.  The expensive perfume, her hair, her modesty.  Worship that costs.  There's something about Jesus that matters so much that she doesn't care what it cost her.
6.  "The house was filled with fragrance."  Worship sweetens everything around it.  In fact, it invades everything around it. Imagine it:  Mary's hair was obviously flooded with that expensive perfume.  It clouded her face--the smell of that worship.  And that smell brought out a response in Judas:  Worship does that as well--it divides true worshippers from false ones.  Imagine how not only Jesus, but Mary stunk up the place wherever she went after that.  Everyone smelled her coming!  So she did get something from it--but it was from her own act, her own surrendered action of loving Jesus.

We should be Mary in worship.  All of us.  This is my point. Jesus, the very reality of Him, the very undeniable, not-because-He's-done-anything-or-will-do-anything-for-me reality of Him--THIS is what she was adoring.  She wasn't asking anything.  She only adored.  Willing to  lay a costly sacrifice at His feet because, after all, He is Jesus.

Are you willing to be Mary?

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Praying for Oso

About half way between our town and Seattle and a little to the east lies a hamlet that's living a nightmare right now. Other towns in other parts of the country have had their shares of nightmares, I know. Tornadoes, Hurricanes, Fires, Floods. Natural disasters come in all forms. This time a hillside gave way and tumbled down on top of people casually watching cartoons, enjoying a cup of coffee, babysitting a grandbaby or any one of a thousand things one might do on an early spring morning when the sun is shining and the day promises hope.

Instead, without any warning at all, mud and trees and a whole hill toppled on top of houses, moved barns onto a highway, and has left a little town, Oso, and its slightly larger neighbors, Darrington and Arlington (who are the epitome of neighborly), in tatters. We feel it all over this region. The debris field in Oso is a square mile wide, and about 4 stories deep, I read today.

What has struck me about this tragedy, aside from the fact that it's in my neck of the woods, is that there was no warning Saturday morning. Oh there have been warnings about that hillside, general warnings that it was unstable. Back in '06 there was a slide (I sound like my grandfather, don't I?) that rerouted the Stillaguamish River (and yes, I know how to pronounce that word). But nothing in the last months, hours or days, even minutes, gave any warning that the hill would give way when it did. A woman was driving on the highway one moment, the next she was gone. That's how fast it went.

So we've been consumed by Oso's tragedy up here. Oso's tragedy is Darrington's and Arlington's. The road between them is gone at the moment, fully blocked by this mud and debris field, wherefriends and family, community members have joined the National Guard (or maybe I should say the National Guard joined them!) comb the muck, looking for anyone.

So wherever you are as you read this, won't you stop a moment and pray for Oso?
Thank you.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Becoming a giant

It shouldn't surprise you to learn that Beve was a large newborn. He was almost nine pounds when he was born. But here's a hypothetical for you: If the two of us had been born a day apart, rather than a year and a day apart, and our parents had lived in the same city, we might been born in the same hospital, Sacred Heart, in Eugene, Oregon. Twenty years later, after all, I walked past that hospital often. There were heating ducts outside locked doors on the west side of the hospital where my friends and I sometimes stood on cold winter nights while we thought up our next adventures--dessert at the Excelsior? Studying at Denneys? Dunkin' Donuts? A midnight movie? The possibilities were endless and that enclosed, heated doorway was as good a place as any to concoct a plan.

If Beve and I had been born at Sacred Heart Hospital in Eugene, Oregon, and set side by side on the scale, he'd have looked long but scrawny compared to me. I weighed 9'5", but was only 19" long. Yep, I was short and fat. Really fat for my size. My mother told me I had so much water weight in my little body that she could  the dents in my skin every time she picked me up in the beginning. My face was fat and my eyes were slits. All that water came from being three weeks over due and I lost it almost immediately.

Beve, on the other hand, started growing and never stopped. 
In fact, if--in our hypothetical story--Beve and I started at approximately the same size, what Beve did is all about the remarkable genetics of his tall family. All of his siblings began their lives at about the same size as the other babies who were born to parents on the same days. But Beve and his brother and sister grew faster and taller than any of those other kids their ages. It isn't like they got a jumpstart, it's just that they had something inside them that made them grow extra-ordinarily taller.

For example, when Beve was about 10, his mother gave him money to go to the matinee down at the local movie theater. The manager wouldn't let Beve in because he didn't have enough money. He was certain Beve had to be over 12 years old and therefore, owed the adult price. Beve's mom, who never backed down from anything, called up the manager and told him a thing or two in her very confident, very stately voice. She was too dignified to yell, but too honorable to let it pass. The movie manager never questioned Beve again.

This is a picture of Beve with his 8th grade basketball team.  I remember this team, of course. They were my classmates, too. There was no such thing as AAU basketball where we lived, so this was the first year of organized, interscholastic sports for boys. Beve stands out as the the tallest boy on the team. He was the tallest boy in our school. He was the tallest boy in school from 4th grade on, as a matter of fact. From this age on, Beve remembers two things about his growing: that his knees always hurt, and that he was always hungry. In fact, he never understood why other people weren't always looking for food. He never, EVER, felt full. Beve and his brothers were on their way to becoming legal giants and it both hurt and took a lot to fill them.

I was thinking about his growing last night. When we first answer Christ's call, we tend to grow quickly. It's like we have what parents and doctors call 'a growth spurt.' But what struck me about Beve (and his siblings) is that they never really had growth spurts, they simply grew steadily and strongly. I think about the hungry Beve felt, and the way it actually hurt that he was growing so quickly. There's a spiritual principle here. We aren't hungry enough, perhaps. We don't have the desire to become giants in the faith. We're willing to be just enough but no more. 

Why is that? What I realized last night, to use a different analogy, is that we're holding on to an icicle and calling that God, or our relationship with Him. All the while we're actually sitting on an iceberg or Antarctica itself, and we never even notice. That's how large God is. That's how much He wants to reveal of Himself.
So the question is, how much do you want to grow? Do you--do I--want to become a giant disciple of Jesus Christ?

You, God, are my God,
    earnestly I seek you;
I thirst for you,
    my whole being longs for you,
in a dry and parched land
    where there is no water.  Psalm 63:1

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Taking stock at the end

It happened last night. For the last week, I've known it was just a matter of time.
Yesterday when I opened my blue notebook journal, I realized it would be the last entry I'd write in such a blue composition book. Since I realized I was starting the last book, I've been on the hunt for more of them, but have been unable to find them anywhere. Apparently with the rise of computer/online work for students, such composition books have been rendered obsolete. So it was with a strong sense of sentimentality that I wrote yesterday. You might be able to imagine this. 36 1/2 years and 77 notebooks will do that.

So I thought I'd just lean in today, lean into the moment and take stock. Every now and then it's right to look back. 120 pages each, 37 lines a page, approximately 11 words a line: that's 3,760,680 words. I'm not kidding. My daughter E let her Iphone do the math (which is good, because I was trying to do it myself--math and I are like oil and...well you know, we don't mix!). My point is, it's a whole lot of words. I've written a lot in those thirty plus years.

I've chronicled life on three continents, a dozen countries, and many states. My first word was written when I was 20 and single, away from home for the first time, a college transfer student getting two degrees at two different colleges. I chronicled being single and having a serious boyfriend who broke my heart (about a dozen times), traveling to Europe and reconnecting and falling in love with the man who I now call the Beve. Marrying and learning to be a part of a pair, then becoming the mother of each of the chublets who are now adults (today's our son's 27th birthday!). I write this so quickly for the long serious thought each of these things demanded in my journals as they happened.

In these journals all the cycles of life are contained. Marriages besides ours (I was a bridesmaid 7 times before I was a bride), births of many babies--these were joys I faithfully praised God for along the way. But there were heartaches, too. Marriages ended. Lives were cut short. Our parents died, as did siblings and friends.

You can find mentions in these notebooks of Sunday school we taught, Young Life clubs and Bible Studies we led. Mission trips we led or of which we were part. YWAM, of course. So many forms of ministry are contained in these journals--moments when we prayed with people, times we had people living in our home, conversations and dinners and parties we went to or had or times we gathered with others.

But all these things are the external things, the circumstances of my life. You won't find what I ate, what I wore, and very seldom how I wore my hair (unless I got a very bad or very good hair cut!). There are reflections on sermons, world events, books, sporting events, weather, family (my mother!), reflections on my weight (sadly!), my flaws and shortcomings, reflections on Beve (and his strengths and shortcomings;)).



Tools of my trade--Bible, pens (a different pen each day), journal, Kindle devotional for the year.
But primarily, MOSTLY, these blue notebooks have been where I come to meet God. As I've put my pen to page, He's joined me. He's listened to me rant, allowed me to grieve, brought me to hope, led me through my questions, helped me with my theology. I don't know for sure who I'd be without them but I think it would be a weaker, thinner, watered-down disciple. Yes, that's it: there'd be less substance to me. These blue notebooks--the calm, ordinary continuity of them--have been the order necessary for spiritual discipline in my life.

One of the desert Fathers, Abba Moses, said, "Go into your cell and your cell will teach you everything." I believe these journals have functioned as a cell for me. They've been His instrument in teaching me about who He is. There have been many times when I've come to them, screaming inside. By writing to Him or about Him or both--He reveals His truth, His love and I come out the other side with peace. He meets me at the end of my pen. I realize this sounds strange to people who do not write or journal, but this is true for me. Over and over I've experienced it: I begin to write, not knowing where my words will go, not necessarily even knowing where the next sentence will go. But He guides that pen. Even in the deserts as dry as Death Valley, wildernesses as barren and cold as Antarctica, sooner or later He shows up on the page. I am sometimes very surprised by what is written. The only explanation is that He was there all along, guiding my fingers no matter what I know.

So I praise God for these blue notebooks. I'm a little melancholy that the long season of them is over, but it's pretty silly to think He's limited to my blue notebooks, isn't it?

I'm expecting God to show up in this new kind of journal. It looks different on the outside (I've had it sitting around since college when my mother bought me three of them in different colors, so I'm starting with the easiest transition), but I KNOW it'll be the same on the inside. Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus, come.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Mere Christian

The end of this week is a holiday of sorts for most of my family (I know, not you, SK). You know what I mean if you're a basketball fan. It's the NCAA tournament time!!! Basketball games will be on TV from before morning 'til midnight and that's no joke. It's an endurance race for fans, but Beve, E and J wouldn't miss it, or wouldn't if they didn't have to work for a living. E's actually taking vacation so she can come up here and luxuriate in all our cable channels carrying the tournament. She'll have her brackets filled out, hold the controller in her lap, move back and forth between games and check scores on her smart phone. I know how this works. I've seen it before. Who am I kidding? Apart from filling out the brackets, I'm right here beside them, watching all the games, picking a team usually only when the ball is tipped. I don't have any particular team in the tournament this year; not really. I just like watching the games. I'm a basketball fan, a mere fan of the game.

This got me to thinking this morning about the great work of CS Lewis called, Mere Christianity. Lewis's source for the title came from some obscure (16th c?) poet named Baxter who wanted to be a 'meer Christian, pure and simple.' It's a wonderful, important idea, one that we sometimes forget. When I went to the hospital, for example, I was asked what 'religion' I was, I said I was a Christian. "What denomination?"
Just a Christian, I answered. And today it occurs to me it's like being a mere basketball fan. I don't have a team in the fight just now, so I can write this easily, without bias. In the years since I've been a Christian, I've been a member of the Methodist, Evangelical Free, Four-Square, Presbyterian and a couple of non-denominational churches. And I've worshiped at so many more kinds I can't begin to list them, everything from Roman Catholic to Eastern Orthodox to Baptist to Disciples of Christ to fledgling home churches.

I'm no longer a member of any church. I don't know that I want to be a member again. I love the Church of Jesus Christ, wherever it is found. And it is found in both organized and completely disorganized places. I remember sitting on a cement floor in New Delhi, India, singing worship choruses with a simple group of people who had removed their sandals and were ready to open the word together. That's being a mere Christian, simple and pure. But I've also heard the word of God preached by servants of Christ in ornate cathedrals. One of my all-time favorite Christmas Eve sermons was by a priest in a old brick Catholic church in a tiny town in the snow-covered eastern Washington wheatfields where my sister's husband's family has worshiped for four generations. We didn't know when to kneel, cross ourselves, stand up, sit down or most of anything else, but Christ was there and we worshiped Him that night. I've never forgotten.

Lewis says that the phrase, "mere Christian" is like a hallway in which there are many doors to different rooms. Each of these doors has a different name on it, names of different ways to worship. But make no mistake, the goal is worship. John 4: 23-24 says, "Yet a time is coming and now has come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and His worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth." 

So this is the truth: that we worship through the Spirit. How we worship can be different. We can have many rituals or few, lots of hymns or none, celebrate the Lord's Supper weekly or only once in a while. From where I stand, these are 'up for grappling' issues. By that I mean, people will always be grappling with them but God doesn't necessarily pay that much attention. He's more interested in whether we're worshiping, whether we do it in His Spirit--in His Holy Spirit--and in truth.

Truth. Are we honest in our worship? Do we mean it? Do we join enter the room through the hallway of being a 'mere Christian'? That is, do we enter whichever church we chose to attend as a real believer, fully His, living each day as His, not just when we're in that room? Then is the worship about the TRUTH. In the Way that is Jesus, in the Truth that is Jesus, in the Light that is Jesus Christ?
If the 'room' you're in isn't about Jesus...well, you better think long and hard about what you're doing there. This just isn't up for grabs.

But we're also called to join together. Not just stand in the hallway.
And here's another of my end of the branch confessions for the year. I've been unwilling (yes, I use that word purposely because it IS a matter of obedience) to join in. Personal circumstance, health, a myriad of reasons have kept me from attending church in the past several years. I hesitate to say how many. Let me just say that it's been a monastic time for me spiritually, a time alone in the wilderness, in a sense. And I've been loathe to return to a church. I've loved being a 'mere Christian.' It's evidence that I know how wrong this is that I haven't been willing to tell many people about it. But today I tell you. I know. I believe God has met me so fully in this place where I've been. And He's done great things. However, He invites me to change. My confessing this is part of that change.

I will always be a mere Christian. Simple and pure. Christ and Christ alone. The church Beve and I attend is Presbyterian, but if yours is a different part of the Body of Christ, I say, we are all one. The wholly, Holy Catholic (as in universal) Church.
Amen.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The waterline--repost

It's been a quiet time in blog land, I'm aware. My spirit isn't quiet, but in a kind of meditative state that makes it difficult to write. Several attempts have withered, or deleted, on the proverbial vine. Instead of letting my fingers flail again, I thought I'd re-post this entry from about 4 years ago. Though I'm definitely NOT in a spiritual desert at the moment, the main point of this story rings as true today as it did then. In fact, no matter what kind of season each of us is in, this is always true.
Enjoy:

A conversation with a friend reminded me of what I'd intended to write here today.  We were talking about the desert we're both in these days.  Some seasons are like that, we reminded each other.  And we've had the unique pleasure of His company more often than not in these long lives of faith we're each living.  The inexpressible joy of His presence--beyond all that we could ask or imagine.  And I think it's perhaps also true that we thought that way of living with that Sacred Presence was the norm of this pilgrimage we're all on.  And, speaking for myself, probably something I took for granted more often than I'd like to admit, certainly more often than I wish, thinking about it from here, from this Sacred Absence, I suppose one might say.  It was a good conversation with my friend.  She cried a little speaking of it. She's more of a crier than I am even at the best of times but I told her I don't have many tears these days, it's like this desert has dehydrated me.  There aren't tears to squeeze out.  But the conversation lightened each of us, I think.  It reminded us that we aren't alone in this place.

But I was also reminded of something I'd intended to write this morning, before the day and life got away from me.  I was thinking about the green, fiber-glass canoe my dad built in our garage one year.  I really loved that canoe,  loved the way it was so smooth and quiet across the water, loved how my oar felt in my hands as I dipped and pulled it, and, with barely a ripple, could turn the canoe, even if I was alone in it.  We launched it first at Spring Valley Reservoir, where we'd taken a picnic lunch to enjoy while each of us had a turn.  We swam in the shallow water, and paddled out deeper.  I became a proficient canoe-ist over the course of that canoe's life.

And that proficiency enabled me to participate in a long canoe trip one summer at the same camp where I first met Jesus.  We canoed up the Coeur de' Alene River.  And I remember one very specific moment on this several day trip--a certain bridge that looked mighty high to me from beneath it.  We stowed our canoes, climbed the bank, then up onto the bridge, and one by one, jumped into the river.  Now I was a good swimmer, always was.  But that bridge was higher than any high dive I'd ever jumped off of, and that water darker than any pool I'd ever dove into, and believe me, I was a bit daunted.  I'd felt safe and secure when I was paddling above the water's surface, skimming the waterline, so to speak.  But I climbed over the barrier when it came my turn for one reason, and one reason only.

In our group was a teenaged boy whose name was Dallas, and he was blind.  Up on that bridge that sunny August day, Dallas had no hesitation.  Sure, you might say, it was easier--he didn't know how far below the water was, or how deep gravity would take him.  But I didn't think of that, that day.  I only saw that this boy, who couldn't see where he was going, had faith that he'd be okay, that this adventure would be fun.  Worth the doing.  Even if he dropped deep beneath the waterline all the way to the bottom.  So he jumped.  And he fell deep.  Really deep, I can tell you.  Two counselors were waiting to help him find the shore.  But a minute later, those two counselors were still there to help me find the shore when I jumped.  Because I did.

Hitting the water was hard, and I remember how gravity propelled me downward.  I remember how dark and cool it was beneath the surface.  How silent it was.  But there was light above, and, almost instantly, arms to pull me, clap for my accomplishment, to point the way back to my safe little canoe.

And what occured to me when I was thinking about this earlier, and again, talking to my friend, is that there may be silence beneath the waterline, but that's where real work happens.  So much more of God is beneath the waterline of our lives, beneath the surface where we live and work and laugh and cry.  It may be dark, may feel even lonely, but there He is, in the silence, in the depths, still reaching out to show us the way.

I liked being above the waterline, in a gently moving canoe, I really did.  But what has stayed with me is what it felt like to plummet the depths. I don't want to live my life above the water line, only skimming the surface, content when it's easy, when He's paddling with me--present with me.  I want to dive to the depths, learn what His depths have for me.  Even if it seems silent.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

These last three months

Today was the three month mark. Three months since the neurosurgeon sliced open my neck and put a piece of hardware in it. It's been three months of hibernating with tea and movies and lots of time with my feet up. Three months of no driving, no lifting, no quilting.

My health is good. My neck has more movement than it's had in a decade, less pain than I can EVER remember. I'm serious. Even when I was a teenager, I remember not being able to lie on my stomach to read while I tanned because having my neck bent at that angle gave me a headache. Not so now. So I'm in awe.

And now free to get about the business of living again (except for this pesky right foot still in the lovely black air boot), this is a moment to consider what these last few months have taught me. While I've been sitting in recliners, my feet up, bone marrow growing in the new titanium plate in my neck, God's been teaching me how to impact this world disproportionate to my place. It's been my nature, as a person who serves Him, to want to DO for Him. To Go for Him. To speak and teach and share whatever testimony He gives me to share. But most of the last three months, He's asked me to be still before Him, to sit quietly and then to pray for those whom He gives me to pray. They aren't always MY concerns, but His. And this has revolutionized my prayer life.

See, it's easy--normal--to get caught up in my own concerns. It's what we all do, I think. But to get outside of oneself, to actually not think of self at all in the prayer, this is HIS way of praying. Most of the time, those for whom I've been praying aren't related to me on any but the most superficial level: they've crossed my path for a season, or we share genetic material. But I usually know nothing about their lives, their hopes, dreams or worries. I am only HIS vehicle.

And as I daily pray for others, there's a greater longing for this kind of deep prayer life. I don't want this gift to end. What if tomorrow I awaken, and there's no name given? What if I don't know for whom I am to pray? What if I go back to my old way of being, where it's only my own desires that I'm stuck with?

This is the ministry of a quiet season. And a grateful soul says thanks be to God for it. As this season ends, I earnestly hope that at least this grace does not. It's been a rich and fertile land.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

A thoughtful prayer from Thomas Aquinas

A beautiful prayer for your Sunday from Thomas Aquinas, who said, "If then you are looking for the way by which you should go, take Christ, because He Himself is the way."
There are places in this prayer that are, as my son would say, 'full stop' moments, meaning I can't move beyond them but repeat them over and over--"May I not rejoice in anything unless it leads me to you; may I not be saddened by anything unless it turns me from you." Whoa, these are strong words. Can I say them? Dare I? What kind of heart can say such words? What will strike you, I wonder. It's full and deep and strong. And I do have the courage to pray it...only because HE prays it in me.
And what I pray as we begin to read it together is that it may it tug on your spirit as it tugs on mine.

For Ordering a Life WiselyO merciful God, grant that I may desire ardently, search prudently, recognize truly, and bring to perfect completion whatever is pleasing to You for the praise and glory of Your name.Put my life in good order, O my God.Grant that I may know what You require me to do.Bestow upon me the power to accomplish Your will, as is necessary and fitting for the salvation of my soul.Grant to me, O Lord my God, that I may not falter in times of prosperity or adversity, so that I may not be exalted in the former, nor dejected in the latter.May I not rejoice in anything unless it leads me to You; may I not be saddened by anything unless it turns me from You.May I desire to please no one, nor fear to displease anyone, but You.May all transitory things, O Lord, be worthless to me and may all things eternal be ever cherished by me.May any joy without You be burdensome for me and may I not desire anything else besides You.May all work, O Lord, delight me when done for Your sake and may all repose not centered in You be ever wearisome for me.Grant unto me, my God, that I may direct my heart to You and that in my failures I may ever feel remorse for my sins and never lose the resolve to change.O Lord my God, make me submissive without protest, poor without discouragement, chaste without regret, patient without complaint, humble without posturing, cheerful without frivolity, mature without gloom, and quick-witted without flippancy.O Lord my God, let me fear You without losing hope, be truthful without guile, do good works without presumption, rebuke my neighbor without haughtiness, and—without hypocrisy—strengthen him by word and example.Give to me, O Lord God, a watchful heart, which no capricious thought can lure away from You.Give to me a noble heart, which no unworthy desire can debase.Give to me a resolute heart, which no evil intention can divert.Give to me a stalwart heart, which no tribulation can overcome.Give to me a temperate heart, which no violent passion can enslave.Give to me, O Lord my God, understanding of You, diligence in seeking You, wisdom in finding You, discourse ever pleasing to You, perseverance in waiting for You, and confidence in finally embracing You.Grant that with Your hardships I may be burdened in reparation here, that Your benefits I may use in gratitude upon the way, that in Your joys I may delight by glorifying You in the Kingdom of Heaven.You Who live and reign, God, world without end.Amen.
----Thomas Aquinas, 13th C scholar

Friday, March 7, 2014

Laughing at the enemy

I'm fashionably late to the Random-Journal-Day party, but that just makes for a grand entrance, right? So, as my youngest daughter spent her childhood saying, "TA DA, here I am!" And there are some new features over at our intrepid hostess's place: Dawn's featuring one creative journal-keeper per month. You have to check out my lovely friend Pam. Seriously, she's sweet and true and straight to the core of the gospel. You'll like that about her. Check it out here.

Now for my own contribution to the party:

Wouldn't this be a sweet treat to bring?
Not exactly my own words, not my own journals, but they live in my house, and most belonged to my great-great grandfather. And they're much more colorful-looking than these:
Don't you agree?
But then, my blue notebooks make a strong case for scriptural concept of "Man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at what's in the heart."
It seems like every time I open one of these notebooks, there's something rather enormous of consequence that we're wrestling with around here. I wish I could find a passage of light and freshness and simple sweetness, but we've been in a hard season...for about 8 years now. So you get what you get. And, amazingly, God speaks and acts and moves around in these words in ways that overwhelm me. Move me to tears.
I won't tell you the particular, but here's a period of time when we had had much struggle, pain upon pain, sickness and death and loss:

Speaking of Beve, he passed a kidney stone Friday night/Saturday. Exquisite pain for him--like he hasn't had enough. It makes me wonder how many more ways we can be attacked. But rather than feeling like we have a bulls-eye on our backs, we laugh. Years ago, I remember _____ telling me that the enemy loathes our laughing at him. His goal is to make us fearful, doubtful, angry and lashing out at our circumstances. So to laugh at what he does, to find his ploys ridiculous, is to render him impotent. There are seasons in life that are so beyond our imaginings, in terms of what we have to endure, that we cannot possibly summon the strength. If we are to survive, God must shore us up. And to have satan pile MORE trials on top of such trials at THOSE times only shows how wrong-headed he is. I already know I'm in over my head. ALL of this is beyond Beve and me. If God is working, if HE is my source, guide, strength, ONLY ability--which He must be these days--the enemy is outmatched. satan might have a chance with me. he has NONE with God. So Beve and I laugh. Easily.
     There is no other possible reaction to our lives. Sure, more could be lost. I also know this. We are essentially whole, healthy, safely kept. And believe me (Lord, really, right now I ask!), when I say, I earnestly ask for protection from any more. I cry "uncle" to all of this. But...in the end, I mostly pray that God is that guide will turn our valley of Baca into a place of springs. Yes, I pray that this very day.

And now, if you'd so desire (please), head on over, and check out the other artists, writers, creative minds and let them know you've tasted and seen that the Lord has been good through their work. Here's the link

Turn your head around


This picture was taken on my family's property when Beve and I were there for our short visit last month. And I know what you're looking at. Of course. It's what the eye is drawn to. We can't help it. I meant it that way. When I was growing up--until after my dad died, which means until we moved to this neck of the woods, to be punny--we didn't have indoor plumbing at the cabin. We had two outhouses. One was an three-sided, open-to-the woods one which everyone preferred (less smell and a kind of ambiance one doesn't normally associate with such places) and this one. This is the two-seater out-house. Yep, I'm not kidding, a two-seater. This made perfect sense for our large family because I'm the second oldest of 23 grandchildren, and my youngest cousin is 22 years younger than me. And my oldest nephew just 3 years younger than him. So there was always a parent (or older sibling) needing to take a baby. Or cousins who playing together who didn't want to wait in line. This little building got, shall we say, a generous amount of use back in those days. It still stands because now and then, when we have our enormous family gatherings or one of us hosts parties, we need more than the septic can hold (again with the pun, sorry). I also have to explain that it didn't always stand out in the middle of  open field as it does now, but my care-taker cousin has been making our acres look like a giant gorgeous park, so there it is. I'm a little ambivalent about this being a sentinel as it is, but generally speaking I love what he's done. 

And for my purposes today, this picture works.

Because our eye goes directly to that outhouse. We just can't help it.. That's what happened to me: I walked around the corner of the bunk-shed and there it was, bathed in sunlight. All I saw was the outhouse. But you know what's in front of it? Can you see those branches in that top picture? No? Well, here's the glorious trunk.

It's a cedar.
A cedar.

This morning, as I read Psalm 86:11, "Give me an undivided heart that I might fear your name," I got to thinking about this moment at the family property. So often what I see on what should actually should be eliminated from my life. It's just plain crap, if you'll excuse my language. But I spend my time thinking about it, worrying about it, fixating on it. But behind me--or even in me, right IN me--is this cedar. The cedars of Lebanon, according to scripture, were the most valuable of all near Eastern trees. They were used for making temples and palaces. Temples. Like the Temple where the Holy Spirit dwells. 

This is truth: that He builds us with the most valuable of materials. When He's working on me, He's replacing what should be eliminated with what isn't merely available. He doesn't use what He can get at a discount. He uses the most most valuable of qualities because He dwells withing us. So who we are becoming isn't put together with junk but with The master builder's finest materials. That's a revelation, isn't it? It doesn't matter what your past has been, or what crap needs to be destroyed from your life, our Tri-une God's work is to rebuild you. "He who started a work in you is able to complete it," we're told. And He means it. He starts with the richest of materials--the blood of Jesus Christ. He adds His grace and mercy, and, wah-la, there's a foundation. Before you know it, we're being rebuilt into something more like Him than we were in the beginning, which is amazing considering that we were made in His image in the first place...well, before all that crap got in our way. The thing is, God is never limited to what got in OUR way. Or what gets in our way. He isn't limited to the materials of our past. He uses what HE has to use--truth and righteousness and goodness and honor and...LOVE. And He rebuilds us into a temple where He is the chief resident. It may be a life-long process, but I'm encouraged today by the mighty cedar in the center. 
So today--while we are each a work in progress--just turn your head around. Shall we? Turn away from the outhouse in your life (whatever that is), and toward the beautiful grounds of the park (where there is beauty and joy and He is alive and well). Look at the mighty cedar in the center that will make something beautiful out of our life. Praise Him.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Being Mastered

I've been having computer issues for the last couple of days. As I said in my last post, when I think of writing, I still think of pen and paper and hand across the page. It's taken me years to place my fingers in the correct position on a keyboard in order to make my brain work quickly. So when said keyboard refuses to cooperate and I have to try the same thing with an Ipad, something gets twisted up inside. I think I'm just too hard-wired the way I am.

But the world moves. It's a completely different place than when we were the age of our children.

Beve and I have been talking about this a lot recently. I'm not talking about computers and cells phones and all the ways these devices have connected us, I'm talking about what is considered acceptable for Christians. When Beve and I were in our mid-twenties, we were single Young Life leaders, working with kids. Living in two different cities on the west coast. We each had pretty large circles of friends and a large social life. Beve played a whole lot of basketball, too, of course. And we each went to church, Bible studies, worship services, etc. What we didn't do was drink. Ever. In those days, Christian young people just didn't drink. Young Life leaders had to sign forms saying they wouldn't drink. But I doubt we'd have needed that form. It never crossed our minds to touch alcohol when we were young.

Even now, both of us feel a slight hitch inside when we think of drinking. And I realize that it's something in us. The Bible obviously doesn't say it's wrong to drink alcohol. Jesus certainly didn't say, "This grape juice is my blood." He was pouring wine that night, make no mistake about that. But my youth rises up to clutch at my belief system when I think of even more than a single drink. And that's just silly. What is wrong is TOO much. TOO much alcohol, too much food, TOO much.

Over-consumption is the issue that is addressed in scripture. Over and over. And I forget this. I overlook it. I allow what I was taught, what I first believed to color what I know to be true. And that is just plain wrong. I can sit in front of my computer all day long, over-indulge in that and not think a thing about how I've gotten 'drunk' on such a practice. I've wasted my time when I might have spent just a little time then done something more valuable. There are many, many ways to 'get drunk,' I think. Or to over-consume.

What can I not live without? Who is my master? That's how Paul puts it.
The answer can be very telling. If it's a computer, I'm probably in as much trouble as if it's alcohol.
Or if it's a cell-phone.
We're talking about addiction.

"I have the right to do anything, you say--but not everything is beneficial. I have the right to do anything--but I will not be mastered by anything." 1 Corinthians 6: 12