Thursday, January 24, 2013

Oyster Lemonade

"He found one that was very valuable.
So he went away and sold everything he had. And he bought that pearl." 
Matthew 13:46

I'm glad the pearl is my birthstone because I've always appreciated its beauty and spiritual symbolism.  I wonder if Jesus used the pearl to represent the kingdom of God because of where and how it forms.  While most gems are dug out of their hiding places in the earth,  pearls develop in living organisms - mainly oysters. (Which begs the question: How did the pearl referenced in Matthew 13:46 come to be in a field?)  Pearls are the lemonade oysters make from foreign objects (lemons) that manage to wriggle their way into the shell then lodge in the soft, inner flesh. To protect itself, the oyster shell produces a substance called "nacre" with which it coats the "irritant."  Layers and layers of nacre eventually produce a smooth shell around the unwanted substance and problems become pearls.

Pulling pearls from the water requires specific skills. So does pulling pearls from a day.  

When something gets under our skin and digs into our peace, we're faced with the choice of leaving it exposed and painful or turning it into something beautiful.   God wants us to recognize daily frustrations as potential pearls and to wrap them in holy nacre.

"My brothers and sisters, you will face all kinds of trouble.
When you do, think of it as pure joy."
James 1:2

Here are a few frustrations you may have already faced today:

*Interruptions - There's usually a living being behind any interruption which allows us the opportunity to prioritize people above goals and tasks.  We could take a few minutes to connect and listen, then find a definite time we can and will get with them later if it's impossible to stop what we're doing.

*Disappointments - Plan B often turns out to be better than Plan A if we can stop fussing long enough to find out how to make it work.

*Loneliness - We can wrap our loneliness in the nacre of reaching out to invite someone else in. Everyone is lonely sometimes.

*Needy people - We only add to our frustration and hurt when we discard these acquaintances. We can take charge of setting parameters for how much time we can invest in them without letting them take over our lives.  Praying with them helps declare God, not ourselves, as the Problem Solver.  Praying with other people also adds a thick layer of nacre to our own growing faith since we're "putting God on the line."

*New people - We can work a little harder to find common ground - it's there somewhere.

*Strained relationships - "Blessed are the peaceMAKERS" means we're to offer an olive branch, a smile, or at least a warm greeting as a layer of nacre on these distressing thorns.  

Learning to transform thorns-in-the-flesh into pearls means one day we'll lay strings of these costly gems at Jesus feet and hear, "Well, done, my good and faithful servant. Add them to the gates -the pearly gates - of heaven."

“I have told you these things, so that you can have peace because of Me. In this world you will have trouble. But cheer up! I have won the battle over the world.”
John 16:33

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

All - Deep - Ever

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart.
"Do not depend on your own understanding.
In all your ways remember Him.
Then He will make your paths smooth and straight."
Proverbs 3:5-6

I enjoy seeing a project through from beginning to end, a list checked off from top to bottom. This task-orientation works for many areas of life  - running errands, cleaning house, grocery shopping, getting dockets done for work, studying to teach a lesson, painting a room - but, woe to me and you if we think we're going to arrive spiritually anytime soon. Thank goodness God doesn't view us as projects but as His own children with whom He wants relationship. Three words pop up regularly in scripture to keep us tied into God's power and strength for this never-ending  spiritual journey.   

1)  The word "ALL," a little word covering the width and breadth and circumference of life leaves no excuse for our half-hearted efforts.  For example: "All your heart;"  "All your ways;"  "All your mind;"  "All your strength" "Casting all your cares on Him," "praying about all things," "giving thanks in all things," and on and on because "all" means all.  We'll never check it "all" off our lists.  We may have trusted Him for something 20 years ago, but "all" means we trust Him with every bit of today's messes and needs.

2) The word "DEEP."  How deep is deep when God is infinite? When His love is higher than the heavens and deeper than any reachable place? Deep, deep and deeper we may go in Him, but we'll never burst through to the other side of God's Presence.  "Deep" means we can keep trusting His heart when we seem to be stuck in a forever problem.

3) And, the word "EVER."  If I lived all my life for God today and managed to know Him deeply and personally, what about tomorrow and next week?  Simply overwhelming if we picture ourselves trying to drum up that kind of determination and focus from our own power and understanding.

We may never turn it "all" over to Him, but we can add a little more to the pile,  go a little deeper in His Word and in heart-obedience,  and we can live one more day depending on Him to the end of the day.  

"But I am like a healthy olive tree.
My roots are deep in the house of God.

I trust in Your faithful love for ever and ever."

Psalm 52:8

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Month Between

"I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe." 
Ephesians 1:18-19

Christmas is now 11 months away (I heard that sigh!). 

When I was a little girl, Christmas always seemed to be 11 months away, until Thanksgiving, when the promise of Christmas began fulfilling itself.  Lists, lights popping on here and there in the city, gifts displayed behind glass store windows, and  televised Christmas specials all pointed to nail-biting arrival of Christmas.  Finally, about a week before Christmas the tree went up and our hopes soared that the day was really, truly and finally arriving.

All this Spirit of the Season began in earnest at Thanksgiving, launched at a dinner table stacked high with our favorite foods and encircled by familiar faces.  Our gratitude for God's blessings opened the gate to the true Spirit of Christmas, the blessings of giving and receiving.  The month between Thanksgiving and Christmas was filled with giving to charities, missions, and to families who had less than we did.  

Then, in the blink it took for one year to transform into a new one, January hit like an Arctic blast of reality until February brought the warm fuzzies of Valentine's day. 

Christ's return is closer than ever before, although it may seem like ages away.  We're living in the month between Thanksgiving and His return.  Today we can choose to look at what we have, not at what we want. Today we can choose to minimize our needs and maximize our blessings; to consider what and how we'll give rather than what we want or need.  Gratitude begets giving and giving begets joy. 

While I've re-stored the holiday decorations in the attic, I'm calling on the "surpassing greatness of His (God's) power"  to leave the joy and generosity of the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas shining in my heart and our home until Christ returns for the greatest gift-opening ceremony of eternity.  I
"For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory 
that far outweighs them all. 
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, 
since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."
2nd Corinthians 4:17-18

Father, show us how to give like Christ gave, in Your will and power.  Open our eyes to see our "momentary troubles" compared to eternity.  Mold our hearts to be generous.  May we not store Your Spirit with the manger scene. Empower us to let You live through us day by day, moment by moment.   Thank You for every blessing this day has brought and will bring.  Blue skies and sunshine between the gray days - that's what today has brought.  Food in the fridge, health in the body, family in the home or at the other end of the phone call, friends we can depend on, income with which to honor You, love in every direction, opportunities to grow in You, mustard seeds of faith You'll water, and joy in Your Presence wherever we are.  
In the Name of Jesus, our Gift, the Gift above all others!  Come soon, Lord Jesus! 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Distressed Beauty

"Praise the Lord! For it is good to sing praises to our God;
For it is pleasant, and praise is beautiful." 
Psalm 147:1

Have you ever spotted something in someone's home you think they should reconsider owning, much less displaying?  Sure enough, that will be the item they're most proud of, the conversation piece, the character piece with the best story behind it, and you leave wishing you had one because now you see what they see in it.

Pinterest can teach you to "age" or "distress" items to give them surface character, while also offering tips on giving "new life" to outdated items (you know, the ones that are distressed or aged). 

God's not interested in outward beauty, but works from within because coats of varnish and whitewash aren't His style. He's into authenticity and breathes new life into what was dead, then builds character into His new creation.  

"He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also given men a sense of what He’s been doing down through the ages. But they can’t completely figure out what He’s done from the beginning to the end." 
Ecclesiastes 3:11

Feeling distressed from your most recent character-building sessions? Needing a break to enjoy beauty? Authentic praise, built-in and always in style helps us see beauty in who we are and where we are - both physically and spiritually.
"Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous! For praise from the upright is beautiful." 
Psalm 33:1

We praise You, God, because our finite brains can't figure out how in the world You've gotten us from where we were (or could have been) to where we are now. Where distress marks were, we now see faith.  Sometimes Your reflection even shines in us after a high gloss polishing.  Thank You for deigning to live in us, to breathe and move in us. Thank You God for growth in rain, for forests rising after flames, for faith from difficulty, for brotherhood in crises. We praise You for Your tough, purposeful love that brings out the greatest and most unique beauty in us.  You are forever faithful, forever righteous, and forever good.  There is no one like You and You make each of us so there's no one else like us.  Wonderful God! Amazing Creator!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Windows May Not Be All They're Cracked Up To Be

There is no window in the office I share with Valarie.  We're getting our updates from those who come through: "It's sleeting;"  "It's snowing now;"  "Roads are slick;"  "Winds are picking up."  Both our husbands have called, "What's the plan if they let school out?"   "You might want to warm up the car before you leave for lunch - no, I'll just come get you."  A co-worker down the street just told me someone fishtailed by the courthouse.  Photos and warnings from local friends are popping up by the second on Facebook and it does look dangerous.  

"But when Peter saw the wind, he was afraid.
     He began to sink.
          He cried out, “Lord! Save me!”
               Matthew 14:30
Slick - slippery - messy - wet - cold - icy - gray - dangerous, but we'd never know it in this heated, quiet coccoon of an office. We have an extra heater going and it's pretty much business as usual, except that we've heard what's out there.  We're like personnel on a submarine - hearing blips, but not seeing it for ourselves and there are two ways to look at our situation:

First, we're missing out on seeing the sleet and snow fall, and that's tough on me because I'm a decisive weather junkie.  I like to see sun shining brightly, rain raining down hard, and snow blowing in gusts.  Overcast, gray days that can't make up their minds what to do are my least favorite. I've walked down the hall to look out the window a couple of times just to enjoy the sight of sleet blowing across rooftops and roads, but when I get back to work, that scene slips out of mind.

Which brings up the second way to see our submarine situation. We're getting along just fine, accomplishing what we need to accomplish and forgetting the threats of the outside world.  Knowing me, a window would distract (weather's too pretty or too bad, etc.) and keep me guessing at which way today (and tomorrow) might go. The way things are, we'll work til quittin' time then deal with what's left of it instead of all the what ifs beforehand. 

"Let us keep looking to Jesus. He is the author of faith. He also makes it perfect. He paid no attention to the shame of the cross. He suffered there because of the joy He was looking forward to. Then He sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."
Hebrews 12:2

Scripture after scripture tells us to keep our eyes on Jesus and our spiritual ears sensitive to His Voice.  Speculating about waves of potential future problems only distracts us from what He calls us to do today, right now, this minute.  The Apostles counted the cost for the moment, not necessarily for their lifetimes or they might not have walked away from paying jobs.  When Gabriel announced God's plan to Mary, she allowed herself to speculate on how the immediate problem of pregnancy would be solved, not on the million of other potential worry points.

Windows are nice, but they may not be all they're cracked up to be if what we see through them brings more anxiety than joy.  Maybe this explains why God allows us only small windows when it comes to the future but large, day-sized windows as a rule. 

"Don’t worry about anything. Instead, tell God about everything. Ask and pray. Give thanks to him. Then God’s peace will watch over your hearts and your minds because you belong to Christ Jesus. God’s peace can never be completely understood." 
Philippians 4:6-7


Monday, January 14, 2013

We the People

     Tom and I listened to the worst possible documentary before trying to sleep Friday night: How Nazi mass murder methods began and evolved during WWII.  Germans who were still licking their wounded pride after losing WWI, were looking for a scapegoat and for ways to regain their foothold in the world. They were ripe to hear Hitler's views that other races and nations were less civilized. He despised Russians and Poles for their poverty and communism.  He played on his nation's hunger for blame and retribution, claiming Jews had conspired against Germany in WWI. He fostered and encouraged distrust and hatred and his propaganda fell into darkened ripe hearts. 
    The Nazi regime started with abuse but quickly escalata to  murder. They used stronger captives for hard manual labor while starving, beating, torturing and killing the elderly and weak, women and children. When gas chambers were later put into place, one Nazi leader's journal revealed he could sleep better since the newly devised method of murder made life easier for his soldiers.  
    Tom and I both asked, as you do when you're reminded how blatantly evil people can be, "How?"  "Why did people follow Naziism and Hitler?"  "How could they do those things to other human beings?" "How could others allow such things to happen?"

     My sleep disturbed, my mind filled with images and questions, I dreamed ugly dreams.

     So, it was early to rise, meditate, pray and ponder on Saturday. With coffee steaming in the mug and a bruised heart ready to hear God speak, I was disappointed to realize I left my "go-to" devotional books at the office. I fingered through what's here at the house, skimming past Kay Arthur's, "Search My Heart, O God," and decided to read from God's Word first. 
     The heavy hardback Bible fell open and the following verses leapt off the page:

"Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting. " 
Psalm 139:23-24

A Godwink! Of all the verses in the 66 books of the Bible, Scripture pointed me back to Kay Arthur's book. I opened it to Sauturday's entry and read the first question (because it's a book of helpful questions to search our hearts): 

"Do you want to weep when you see the suffering, the pain, the sin?
The abortions performed daily in this nation?"

"Yes, yes, Lord, I do! That's how I feel right now - like weeping because of what we the people are capable of doing to each other - to our own babies - to other nations and to those we don't accept or understand."   
That's when I glance back at the open Bible and see the verses following Psalm 139:23-24
"Rescue me, O LORD, from evil men; protect me from men of violence, 
who devise evil plans in their hearts and stir up war every day.
They make their tongues as sharp as a serpent's; 
the poison of vipers is on their lips.
Keep me, O LORD, from the hands of the wicked;
protect me from men of violence
who plan to trip my feet.
Proud men have hidden a snare for me;
they have spread out the cords of their net
and have set traps for me along my path." 
Psalm 140:1

It all started and starts in hearts: Hitler's hateful heart, but also in the hearts of prideful people ready to receive his rantings, in the hearts of weak people ready to take the poison others are drinking, and, in the hearts of those too frozen by the fear of persecution to stand up to him.  

 "They make their tongues as sharp as a serpent's; the poison of vipers is on their lips." 

We the people do terrible things when we allow Satan's poison to penetrate our pride. The first example? Eating the one forbidden fruit because we don't want to be less than God. Another? Keeping our mouths closed in the face of evil rantings because we'd rather fit in than be persecuted for taking a stand for what's right. 

"'Even now,' declares the LORD, 'return to Me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning. Rend your heart and not your garments.  Return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and He relents from sending calamity."  Joel 2:12-13
Search our hearts, O God, and root out the anger, bitterness, pride, fear, and attitudes of entitlement that leave us vulnerable to evil traps, snares, and nets.  Help us recognize how our pursuit of acceptance, safety, comfort, pleasure, money, knowledge, intimacy, less responsibility, more responsibility, power, control, fame, and revenge leave us wide open to Satan's traps.  Deliver our minds, desensitized and darkened by a constant barrage of compromised godliness, by evil, and by the sharpened tongues of self-guided people.  Wake our vigilance over any root of evil in our own hearts and
embolden us to uproot it.  Protect us from falling in with Your enemies and make us courageous to face sure persecution when we stand on Your Word.  Don't let us fool ourselves into thinking we're superior to those before us who thought they were superior, but keep us guarding our own hearts. Help us learn from history. Search us and bring us to our knees in repentance and to our feet to act as You lead us.
In the Name of Jesus Who wept and fasted, Who died for the least of these, and for "we the people"

Friday, January 11, 2013

Endless Prayer Sandwich - Hold the Nay-O

My friend and spiritual sister, Rosanne, recently wrote the following in an email to me:
I’m not always consistent these days with a quiet time, but I find my daily life is one constant prayer to the Father to sustain me, provide my immediate needs, get me through the busy moments of mothering/homeschooling five children, wisdom to train my older ones, etc.  I don’t know how anyone makes it through the day without a constant dialogue with the Father.  Does that count as a devotional?  I think so.  Trying to live my life as a constant worship to Him….do not always succeed but I have a goal. 

Does it count? Only for eternity.  When believers learn to pray and worship as we go and as we do, we've learned to pray without ceasing and how to commune with our Father.  We've learned to taste and see that the Lord is good by building and biting into the best thing on  any day's menu: the Endless Prayer Sandwich presented in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18:

16Always be joyful.
17 Never stop praying.
18 Give thanks no matter what happens. God wants you to thank Him because you believe in Christ Jesus.

On the Bread of Life we slather a joyful spirit which says,  "God, I trust You. 
I believe what You say. I know You love me and I love You. I don't have to be anxious because You're listening and You already know the ins and outs and everything needed."

Next comes a pile of prayer - a thin-shaven stack of small prayers concerning  everything and everyone in our day.  Non-stop praying says, "God, You're always with me. You don't clock in or clock out, and neither will I.  You care about every aspect of this day and You're always working in every detail, always in control and reigning, even in the messy moments."

Finally, heap on the gratitude - even when the request we lay before the Lord presses painfully on our spirits.  Our thanks may be the most precious ingedient we add as it is produced from fresh faith in Jesus.  If we're still using the same examples of God's faithfulness from 20 years ago, we imply God hasn't worked in our lives since then.  Stale faith leaves a bad taste, but gratitude for answers yet unseen keeps us looking up, watching for how He'll work in His way and His time.

"Spend a lot of time in prayer. Always be watchful and thankful."
Colossians 4:2

With these simple ingredients stacked onto God's Faithfulness and held together in Christ - the Bread of Life - we have all we need to lead nourished, godly lives. No secret ingredients in this sandwich.

                                 "God’s power has given us everything we need to lead a godly life.
All of that has come to us because we know the One who chose us.
He chose us because of His own glory and goodness.

He has also given us His very great and valuable promises.
He did it so you could share in His nature.
He also did it so you could escape from the evil in the world.
That evil is caused by sinful longings."
2 Peter 1:3-4

Lord, we empty life and make it hard when You intended it to be filled and delicious.  Today, we come to You with joyful spirits because we recognize Your Presence with us means Power for what we face. Thank You for the promise of You with us, always.  Thank You for the people we'll see today and help us stop and really see them.  May we realize You've crossed our paths to bless, to work.  Thank You for the work and ministry at our fingertips.  Thank You for the messy moments that remind us how much we need You in the moment.  May we never only delegate a chunk of time to You, but help us learn to make our lives one endless prayer and worship service. 
In the Name of Jesus, Bread of Life, Word Who holds all things together

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Moving My Tent

"Moses entered the cloud as he went up the mountain,
and he remained on the mountain 40 days and 40 nights." 
Deuteronomy 24:18

What is it about kids and tents?  I remember making tents from bed clothes, carving out crannies, hiding in nooks, curling up in a corner, leaning against a tree- anywhere I could create personal space and sanctuary. Even in high school and college, unseen forces pulled me to the same booth or table in the cafeteria, and I had a favorite study carroll in each library for concentrated concentration. 

Peter must have been a kid at heart because his Plan A was to build tents: 
'Suddenly, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him.

"Then Peter said to Jesus, 'Lord, it’s good for us to be here! If You want, I will make three tabernacles (also translated shelters) here: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.'
While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said:
'This is My beloved Son.
I take delight in Him.
Listen to Him!'"
Matthew 17:3-5

A shelter becomes a prison when designed to hide us from trouble, responsibility or even God, but tents we build as tabernacles, where we hide in God rather than from Him -nourish us with His Presence, Peace and Joy. 

Most days, including today, I set up my tent, my tabernacle, at my desk, because this is where I need to be.  This is where I draw down the curtains and allow God to speak to heart and soul. Computer keyboards and the copier provide background music. Calendars, post-its, and memo pads serve for stained glass. If Paul and Silas could sing from a jail cell, Jonah could praise from the belly of a whale, David could compose prayers in caves, Daniel could rest in a lions' den, and the people of Israel could move the first, physical tabernacle from one sandy spot to another, I can certainly plant stakes where I am here and now and hear God now.

“The virgin is going to have a baby. She will give birth to a son. And He will be called Immanuel.”  The name Immanuel means “God with us.” Matthew 1:23

Lord, remind us again today, that You are wherever we find ourselves.  Help us joyfully take up the challenge of finding You in the most unlikely places, of listening for Your Voice in the din around us, of putting You first when other duties call.  Time in the tabernacle is never wasted.  Your Presence fills us to do the rest with purpose. Thank You that we don't need frills to worship and commune and dialogue with You.
In the Name of Jesus, our Immanuel  

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Hurrier I Go, The Behinder I Get

Lewis Carroll's wild White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland is credited with the quote, "The hurrier I go, the behinder I get."  A soul can't concentrate when rushed, and, as Ann Voskamp (One Thousand Gifts Devotional) says, "Haste makes waste. The hurry makes us hurt." 
Think about that:
We sabotage our own days when we hurry through them:
     forgetting things we need,
          misplacing what we had,
               missing out on details,
                    accomplishing mediocrity,
                         redoing what we could have done right the first time,
                              eating poorly,
                                   exhausting our minds and bodies,
                                        staying irritable with people who aren't in the same hurry . . .
Surely, by now, we've learned we can't do it all.  As believers, we do understand that "busy-ness" doesn't equal significance, right?

When we recount our days, what will stand out in a blur of activity? How will others remember us? 

Looking back on the life I've already lived as a parent,  I remember significant moments:
     making ice cream sundaes just because it was Sunday;
     riding bikes on bike trails and the causeway;
     worshiping at candlelight Christmas Eve services and caroling to neighbors;
     eating at our own table with our china and candles lit;
     taking our art supplies to parks and pretendingto be "real" artists;    
     packing snacks and heading into a field to leisurely look at the stars;  
     playing at the beach with pails and shovels;
     sitting in our yard to watch the garbage and recycling trucks use their "arms" to lift and dump;
     gathering by the fireplace - some reading, some snoozing, some playing;
     trekking through nature trails;
     rocking feverish, needy children while praying for their health;
     picnicking at the marina at sunset,
     hiking in the mountains;
     laughing as we played UNO Attack at the mountain cabin.

These times rise to the top of my memory because we were fully engaged in the moment.  Each experience gathered us closer together and led us to praise and thank God. No one hurried and not a second was wasted.

If anyone has ever had the right to feel urgent, Jesus did. Yet, at 33 years old, after three years of public ministry, on the night He knew He would be arrested, tried and executed in less than 24 hours, He invested His remaining minutes in ways we still celebrate. That night He served and taught His disciples. He worshiped and sang with them, and while waiting for soldiers to storm in, Jesus prayed in a garden.  The next day He died so we could have abundant, eternal life.  (Matthew 26, 27; John 3:16, John 10:10)

The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. John 10:10

Is any circumstance we face more urgent than His?  Do we have the right to use "urgency" as an excuse for living less than abundantly, for wasting rather than spending it?  Does every moment count? In Christ, yes.                   
"Life is so urgent it necessitates living slow." - Ann Voskamp

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

For My Music Director, My Husband

"For the director of music. A song of the Sons of Korah. For alamoth.
God is our place of safety. He gives us strength.
He is always there to help us in times of trouble."  Psalm 46:1
Friday night Tom and I sat in the holding area of a restaurant waiting for lights, sounds and vibrations to erupt from our handheld device announcing a table was ready for us. We heard two young couples to our left discussing adventures in parenting young children. To our right a senior adult man and his wife, wearing an oxygen tube, shared an ottoman and waited quietly to be called.  Appropriately, we sat between them,  parents of a teenager, enjoying our status as new grandparents, and seasoned in marriage. While I was entertained by humorous tales of childhood mischief coming from the left, Tom spoke with the gentleman to our right. They discussed their favorite restaurants and where to get the best meal deals. Soon, Tom discovered the man and his wife were celebrating their wedding anniversary, too. He said, "Congratulations, we're celebrating thirty years! How about you?"

"Sixty-one," said the man smiling. "And she deserves the congratulations for putting up with me all these years."

Sixty-one years together and still "putting up" with each other. In spite of fading health, they were up and out, celebrating each other and togetherness. God used this sweet couple to provide a new goal for us "seasoned spouses."  They became a carrot in our run to keep us going, to stay the course, to stick together and sing together for thirty more years, for better or worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health. May God use Tom and me one day as the carrot to spur other couples to stay in the race.

Below is my prayer for my Music Director, husband, and best friend:
"May the God who gives hope fill you with great joy.
May you have perfect peace as you trust in Him.
May the power of the Holy Spirit fill you with hope." 
Romans 15:13

A cool carrot: my parents celebrated 55 years of marriage
on Christmas Eve, 2012.
There's some ham in this carrot:
Tom's folks, married 56 years.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Syllabus for Saints

Then they asked Him, 'What must we do to do the works God requires?'
 Jesus answered, 'The work of God is this: to believe in the One He has sent.'"
 John 6:29

Yesterday's sermon was "Faith That Impresses God," based on the Roman centurion who amazed Jesus with his faith (Matthew 8).  Last night our preacher prayed for all students, school staff, administrators and teachers returning to school this morning.  In the morning, Pastor Rick identified true, active faith, and last night he prayed those students and faculty (and all believers) would live out their faith on a Monday. Identify and apply. Easier to study than to do. 
As believers, our CORE class throughout life is "Identifying and Applying Faith."  This class comes with a universe-sized laboratory and no graduation date. Graduation only happens when we bend our knees at Heaven's throne and faith becomes sight.  Today, Monday, (or whichever day offers you the greatest challenge) we may have forgotten that class is in session.  Look at the board to see our learning objective and the exercises God has for us in Jesus' own words:  
Faith 101:
"The work of God is this: to believe in the One He has sent." 
John 6:29
Easy-peasy. No wonder it's Faith 101. Done. Check it off. Next class.

Faith 102:
"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, 
who have been called according to His purpose." 
Romans 8:28

All things? And thus begins the difficult work of trusting that God works for our good on Mondays, in frustration, without funds, under pressure, and with obstacles.  The verse rolls off our tongues and our heads say "true," but our hearts drag their feet when it comes to believing God uses "all things" for our good.  After all,  you and I both have histories from which we've emerged still asking "Where's the 'good' from that?" without seeing the "good." We will have to repeat this class several times.

Faith 201, 202, 203 and 204
"but be filled by the Spirit,
speaking to one anotherin psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs,
singing and making music
from your heart to the Lord,
giving thanks always for everything
to God the Father
in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
submitting to one another
in the fear of Christ."

Not so easy peasy after all.  Memorizing the material is nothing compared to applying this information in life's lab.
1) Remembering to invite God to fill us?  That takes time, work, and relationship.
2) Making music in our hearts? Requires focus, love, learning a melody.
3) Giving thanks always, for everything?  We're going to be busy this semester.
4) Submitting to one another?  Is it too late to drop this class? 

Faith is . . .
     more than words,
     more than a creed,
     more than a favorite Scripture.

Faith is a laboratory of opportunities to "believe in the One He has sent" from our hearts all the way through our actions. 

Lord God, we like living at our leisure like students on holiday, but nothing compares to life's laboratory for fine-tuning our faith.  Remind us to ask You to fill us with Your Spirit and Your Song.  Prompt us to thank You for every gift, great or small. You send every good gift.  And, Father, the hardest exercise of all may be to trust You enough to submit to others and to situations You allow for our good. In submitting we exercise faith that You see, You know, You understand, You shape, You use, and You reign.  May we seize this day's opportunities to trust You.
In the Name of Jesus Who could submit to others because of His Faith in You

Friday, January 4, 2013

Delivering the Good In Spite of Wasted Contractions

"May the God who gives hope fill you with great joy.
May you have perfect peace as you trust in Him. May the power of the Holy Spirit fill you with hope."  Romans 15:13

My firstborn just before she med her firstborn.

I remember the day our firstborn entered the world. It was a day procrastination didn't pay. My water broke at 4:00 a.m. and we were completely unprepared as Julie would make her appearance a month early. We had no suitcase packed, no gas in the car for the hour drive to the hospital, and to top it off, we hadn't attended the last two birthing classes.  Don't ask me why because this gal and her non-morning husband didn't know nuthin' 'bout birthing babies. Picture me in the car at dawn cramming for this upcoming final exam, studying the "How to Breathe" section of the brochure from the class. Between my squeals of joy ("We're having a BABY today!!") and cries of fear (We're having a baby TODAY!!"), not a bit of the information stuck and there was no going back. 

As I lay on the hospital bed 13 hours later, cluelessly contracting, the doctor I had hoped would be in Hawaii when our baby was born, walked through the door.  He stared at me writhing at the mercy of my body and told the nurses in disgust, "She's wasting contractions. It will be at least another 45 minutes," and left.   

So many emotions knotted in me at that moment.  
1) Anger at this man who showed contempt for my plight and hadn't bothered to tell me how to do it better.  Idiot! Saying what he did in THAT tone to a woman in labor! If I had known how to control my body I would have rolled after him and bitten his ankle. 

2) Frustration that pain, nausea and the bizarre out-of-control feeling wouldn't end sooner.

3) Fear that this process would tear my baby or my body apart.  

4) Humiliation that I was failing as a birthing mom.  

5) Joy hovered quietly in the background since we would see our baby's face sooner than later - maybe even in 45 minutes.

6) Peace slipped in, since billions of moms had historically (albeit, hysterically) birthed babies without the benifit of classes or brochures.   

Kind nurses gave me a crash course in focusing better and flailing less. Julie Dove arrived and we rejoiced at her sweet red, squalling little face, ten fingers and ten toes. All my negativity melted into a stream of thankfulness as I heard myself repeating, "Thank You, God!"

Today, we may find ourselves stretched to our limits to bring forth good from first-time challenges and possibilities before us. Nay-sayers and humiliators will step in to distract us from trusting God, but somewhere in our believing hearts hover joy in God's presence and peace in God's purpose. 

Lord, we ask Your mighty help in learning to focus on gratitude and in replacing our natural reactions of flailing, blaming, and biting ankles with simple trust in You.  Deliver us from anxiety, worry and pride and deliver us into Your joy and peace.  Whatever character traits and fruit You're developing in us, may we rejoice that the trials come and go with purpose.
In the Name of Jesus, Savior Who faced Nay-Sayers and Humiliators to Deliver Us 

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Bon Appetit!

"‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.’"
Luke 10:27

     Top New Year's resolutions hardly change from year to year for Americans.  As usual, "Lose Weight/Get in Shape" still holds a top three position in 2013.  We must not be a very resolved people, but with each new year, comes new hope along with a flood of magazines, manuals, blogs, websites, newspaper articles, and talk shows dedicated to health and dieting. Workout equipment clogs the entrances and aisles of department stores. Gyms post special prices and healthy cookbooks bloom in bookstore windows with recipes featuring the ten "good-for-you" foods.
Hey, whatever it takes to enjoy food!
     Ironically the one suggestion that has worked for me in the past is to enjoy my food. We may think enjoying food is the problem, that we enjoy it too much. Not true! We substitute large quantities for savoring quality.  Maybe I'm the exception, but my mind only fully engages in one sense at a time.  I don't taste what I'm eating when I'm working because my brain switches from tasting to working rather than dividing its attention equally between the two activities. These mealtime experiences prove so tasteless and unsatisfying that we forget we ate and we eat again.
     Why do we so often close our eyes to kiss, to imagine, to pray, to solve a problem, to remember specifics, or to inhale pleasing aromas?  Because temporarily eliminating the distractions of one sense increases the joy and effectiveness of another sense.  Might this be the path to enjoying God more? To finding more joy in His Presence - to loving Him with all our hearts, minds, souls and strength and to use each sense to enjoy more thoroughly each gift He gives? 
"Taste and see that the LORD is good. Blessed is the man who goes to Him for safety."  Psalm 34:8

"Your words are very sweet to my taste! They are sweeter than honey to me." 
Psalm 119:103
"Because I do what is right, I will enjoy your blessing.
When I wake up, I will be satisfied because I will see you." 
Psalm 17:15

"‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and love our neighbor as yourself.’"
Luke 10:27

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

How Long Is Long Enough?

"Those who look to Him are radiant with joy;
their faces will never be ashamed."
Psalm 34:5

We saw a movie preview last night in which two people stood looking across the Grand Canyon. Their conversation went something like this:
First person, "I've always wanted to see the Grand Canyon."
Second person, "Yeah, me too."
(5 second pause)
First person, "So how long are we supposed to look at it?"
Second person, "Well, I think at least ten minutes. I mean, it's so majestic, it deserves at least ten minutes, don't you think?  We should look for at least ten minutes."
(another 5 second pause)
First Person (antsy), "But, who would know?"

We stand in the Presence of an eternally creative God.  Are we impressed?  Do we stay still and humble ourselves before Him long enough to be amazed by His majesty, glory, omniscience, almighty power, and untouchable holiness? 

How long are we supposed to look at His majesty?

Long enough to transform. Long enough for joy to build before bursting open our cocoons and cubicles. Long enough to absorb His Light, to hear His complete sentences and to relax in trust and obedience. 
If we're too sophisticated to be impressed with God's creations and revelations of Himself, we're too sophisticated. When majestic mountains, lucid lakes, rolling rivers, sunny shores, a toddler toddling, the time-marked hands of a loved one, a flickering candle flame, snow on rooftops, the smell of rain on pine needles,  and a canopy of constellations in our back yard fail to lead us to worship, we've not looked long enough to even glimpse God. 

And, who else would know whether we glimpse or whether we gaze?  Again, we underestimate God's glory because when we allow ourselves to be stunned by Him and His handiwork, He shines in our attitudes, through our character, and from deep behind our eyes.

Lord, thank You that though I cannot travel far and will not see all of Your creation in this lifetime, You show me enough where I am to earn my complete awed amazement and worship. Shadows of dancing trees, light through windows, drumming rains, patches of pure white snow, purple haze of twilight, morning peach of sunrise, perfect blades of grass,  loving eyes, gentle hands, thoughtful gestures:  You're here with me and I want to look long enough to radiate You into this hurting, sophisticated world.  Give me all the time in the world to be still and know.
In the Name of Jesus, Who spoke of flowers in the fields and birds of the air