Friday, February 15, 2013

Wide - - - And Deep

Nobody but God could have created the universe - even if He used a big bang to get it all started.  Nobody but God could hang stars in the sky, part seas, stop earth's rotation, dam the Jordan River for a day, call down Jericho's walls, raise up an army from skeletons, send down fire from heaven to lap up a flooded altar, feed five thousand from a sack lunch, fill nets to the breaking point in an empty lake, raise decaying bodies back to life, raise Himself from death to life, and ascend to heaven.  Our faith says, "Way to go God! Hallelujah! He reigns!"

Those biblical miracles happened a long long time ago, but we stand firm in their reality.  Our faith is more likely to get shaky when it comes to the personal today-details. Could such a God be called on to help me with my minutiae?

A friend called yesterday as she navigated the city. She had lost her directions and was nervous about the meeting ahead of her. We prayed on the phone, she found her directions, attended her meeting and life flows.  A modern-day miracle.  We lose things we need now, but does losing something merit prayer? merit God's miraculous intervention?

One day I was writing a lesson on forgiveness when someone called, picked a fight, made me mad as a hornet, then hung up on me.   I fumed back to the computer which abruptly crashed.  God wouldn't let me keep writing about forgiveness until I practiced it.  After a time of release, prayer, and preparation for the call that would come, the phone rang, forgiveness was practiced and the computer was "healed."  it might be tempting to call all of that a coincidence, but I couldn't,  God's Word says,  
"His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!'”  Matthew 25:23
Would we see more wide-scale miracles if we were faithful to recognize the daily miracles of God's Presence? Maybe we're calling them coincidences when they're God's stepping stones to greater miracles.

"For with God, nothing will be impossible." Luke 1:37   Some of His most "impossible" acts are deep within us, for our eyes and hearts alone.

"Now to Him Who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen."  Ephesians 3:20-21
As we look through telescopes and see how wide the "exceedingly abundantly above all" God has done and can do, let's live believing He ministers and miracle-izes deeply under the microscope of each of our lives as well. 

God of Gods, You're amazing and wonderful. The scope of Your abilities - well, there's not one because it can't be measured.  We raise our praise for all You've done - creation itself and all Your past works are worthy of our forever thanks.  But, help us recognize the miracles You send today and how You're ministering today - here in this heart and that heart.  Thank You for going deep and wide with Your miracles.  We love You for loving us enough to keep working in amazing ways right where we are. Just help us embrace the everyday miracles.
In the Name of Jesus, Savior of each as well as Savior of All

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

If You Don't Like My Driving, Stay Off The Sidewalks

I suppose my most embarrassing driving experience happened when I was showing off.  Yep. I still flush crimson and break out into a sweat when I think about it.  

I was 15, newly initiated to a learner's permit, and in the middle of the driver's education course at North Cobb High School.  My mom sat in the passenger seat and generously let me drive to church one Wednesday. It was a gloriously sunny spring day in north Georgia, and I was feeling pretty sure of myself as we crossed the railroad tracks into "downtown" Kennesaw.  

That's when I saw a favorite teacher walking down the sidewalk and wanted her to see me behind the wheel.  I beeped the horn and sure enough she looked up to see me waving and grinning.  I'm also pretty sure she heard  Mama scream, at that point. The scream jerked my eyes back to the road where I discovered the car in front of me had stopped in the few seconds I had glanced away.  Who knew slamming on brakes would cause the car to rock jerkily back and forth, squeal tires, and come to a dead stop a millimeter from the devious car ahead of me?  I slid down, down in the seat, wanting to disappear, and ready to hand the steering wheel over to whoever would take it - Mama, my eight-year-old brother - anybody.

When my focus changed, safety became an issue for everyone in the car

"Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, 
on Whom our faith depends from beginning to end.
He did not give up because of the cross! 
On the contrary, because of the joy that was waiting for Him, 
He thought nothing of the disgrace of dying on the cross, 
and He is now seated at the right side of God's throne."  Hebrews 12:2

I saw the following saying on Pinterest yesterday: 
"Think positive because thoughts 
are the steering wheel 
that moves our life in the right direction."  

Nice saying, but my self-manufactured "happy thoughts" aren't enough to keep me in the road when sickness, death, persecution, betrayal, failure, and fear throw their shadows on my path.  

The thoughts that have the power to keep us in the right road are the same ones that kept Jesus on His path up and through Calvary: The joy waiting for Him down the road, on the other side. 

God promised to take hold of our right hands and help us. Remembering and returning His grasp is a sure-fire method to keep our eyes safely on the road ahead of us.

"For I am the Lord your God
    who takes hold of your right hand
and says to you, Do not fear;
    I will help you." Isaiah 41:13

And by the way, I've discovered it's not just new drivers who are prone to taking their eyes off the road. We, older, more experienced drivers can get just as cocky and think we don't need a Hand to hold every day. 

Father, our Lord and God - thank You for wrapping Your Almightiness around us and for promising us joy after the tunnels.  Thank You for the Power You embed into our beings, for the Love that holds onto us no matter where we are on our journey, or how well we're following Your directions.  Help us keep our eyes on Jesus - focusing on how He lived and following His example with confidence. Thank You for catching us when we fall, comforting us when we're frightened, and keeping us company when we feel alone. You are magnificent in every way.  May we know what it means today to be filled with Your goodness and lost in Your love.
In the Name of Jesus Who endured the road of suffering so we could know You

Monday, February 11, 2013

Satan's Linen Closet

Tom sleeps with a pillow over his head to block out the light.  A friend wears one of those soft sleeping masks.  When Julie, Nick and Addy come to visit, I find Addy's window covered with blankets to keep out the light so baby girl sleeps longer and parents can sleep in. Experts agree that a dark room fosters deep sleep. 

Darkness is the absence of light. We can only create darkness by blocking out light.

Satan's the master light blocker. He pulls the wool over our eyes and reminds us how harsh the Light can be, how Truth reveals our flaws and needs. He soothes us into the deep sleep of thinking we don't need God; that we can live one more day the way we've been living; that we don't want to examine our weaknesses or address our needs. And we give in,  preferring to sink down under the heavy blankets of sedation, surrounded by the fog of ignorance, . . . of compromises . . . of lukewarmth . . . of sin. 

Satan says, "Dream and sleep, you can't do anything about yourself, much less the rest of them." So, we give up and give in like we do in those frustrating dreams of paralysis, when we struggle to respond to danger, to voices, to knocking. The struggle to move, to change, to extricate ourselves, seems impossible.

Satan's linen closet is filled with a wide variety of shackles disguised as masks, pillows, blankets, and blinders designed to keep us inactive and our eyes from growing accustomed to Light and Truth. Here are a few:

*If I give a few dollars to feed the poor, I've done all I can do and even feel better about myself.

*If I attend church, I've done my duty, kept up appearances for my family and friends, and kept fellow church members from calling.

*If I'm civil to those who hurt me, I've done more than many - no, more than most.

*If I say a blessing at mealtime and call out to God when trouble hits, I'm praying.

*If I thank God for the good things that happen, and even drum up a few extra reasons to be thankful at Thanksgiving, I'm doing all right.

*If I look, act and think like the world, it's so Christians don't get the reputation of being weird fanatics.

*If I fill my head with noise and lights and the gyrations of Satan's music and his brand of entertainment, it's because there's nothing good on television these days.  Really.

*If I fill my ears with easy theology instead of looking for Truth with all my heart, well, who am I to question spiritual experts? 

*If I live comfortably and seclude myself from the hopeless pain of my fellow human beings, it's because I'm one person and what can one person do?

The Son of God offers each of us Eternal Light and Abundant Life (with accompanying Joy, Peace and Rest) as we trust and obey His Word while Satan's handing out pillows, sleeping pills and cheap flashlights. 

"Life was in Him, and that life was the light for all people. The light shines in the darkness. But the darkness has not understood it."  John 1:4-5

"Think of what he went through; how he put up with so much hatred from sinners! So do not let yourselves become discouraged and give up."  Hebrews 12:3

Lord, wake us up from whatever we've fallen for. Sound the alarms and keep us from the temptation of living lukewarm.  Be the boss - we give you full reign.  Use us today to make a real difference with Your Power and Guidance.  Let us be uncomfortable, but don't let us settle!
In the Name of Jesus, the Light, the Life, the Resurrection

Friday, February 8, 2013

Lost: One New Red Phone Adorned with Gold Duct Tape

"Therefore, since we are receiving a kindgdom that cannot be shaken,
let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe."
Hebrew 12:28

Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro.
Yesterday, Nick lost his new red phone decorated with gold duct tape.  Maybe on the bus. Maybe at school. His nonstop stream of texts with his girlfriend just screeched to a halt. Messages from friends near and far are piling up in cyberspace, unanswered.  His phone doubled as his alarm clock, so he was late to school today.  We need him to have a phone for when he's home alone or needs us to pick him up from practices and activities.  A lost phone seems huge at this point in his social life, his finances, and his safety. 

After we looked everywhere and prayed to find it, he said, "Maybe God's telling me I spend too much time on the phone."

Was this God's answer to Nick's unspoken "Why?"  It's a rather mature way to look at the loss, to think and meditate on how God might redeem an inconvenience for good and mold him for better.  Even this morning, when I dropped him off near the office to get a tardy slip, he shrugged and said, "Well, while I'm in the office anyway, I'll check lost and found." 

Nick's learning to look for redemption in his difficulties. Unfortunately (or gratefully?) he'll have many more opportunities to dig deep for this truth and come up stronger. 

Faith reverently thanks God for all things because we know He redeems good from bad, creates something from nothing, finds what's lost, saves what's condemned, offers second chances to failures.  No pat answers or cliched comforts carry us through darkness - only the light of faith that a loving God can and will redeem something good from even the deepest pits. 

Redeemer, increase our faith to trust You to redeem whatever tragedy, problem, or circumstance that tries to eat us alive.  Thank You that because Yours is a purely good character, we can trust You completely.  Thank You for loving us with a working, transforming love - not the shallow love of indulgence.  We beg for ease and comfort - but You know what that lifestyle produces - lazy faith and low character.  You love us too much to leave us as we are.  Your purposes require our refining, so thank You for the pounding and the kiln, as long as we're in Your Hands.
In the Name of Jesus, Who lives in broken temples and resurrects the dead

"My spirit, why are you so sad?
Why are you so upset deep down inside me?
Put your hope in God.
Once again I will have reason to praise Him.
He is my Savior and my God." 
Psalm 42:11

"We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him. He appointed them to be saved in keeping with his purpose.

God planned that those he had chosen would become like his Son.
In that way, Christ will be the first and most honored among many brothers.
Romans 8:28-29

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Let The Drain Begin!

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." 
Matthew 11:28-29

Heavy hands, hearts and shoulders weary the soul - even when the weights we carry seem appropriate, good or inevitable. Jesus calls us to lay the burdens down and lift our empty selves for His blessing of rest.

Abraham emptied himself of his heritage and left the land of his fathers and their gods to be directed and filled as the father of a new nation who worshiped the one true God.

Ruth released her identity, leaving her family to stay with her mother-in-law to worship the God she came to know as faithful. She became the grandmother of David and part of Jesus' lineage.

Hannah poured out her grief about not having children at the altar and God filled her with a child, a spiritual leader for God's people in dark, uncertain times.

Moses gave up his excuses and self-conscious lack of gifts  for God to fill him with wisdom and power. This shy guy led the Israelites to witness miracle after miracle.

A sinful, repentant woman emptied an alabaster jar of extravagant perfume on the feet of Jesus.  In return, people criticized her harshly, but Jesus fulfilled her need.  She left the house with a drained jar and a new heart - forgiven, free, and at peace.  She's now part of our story of grace. (Luke 7:36-50)

Jesus Himself is the greatest example of the self-emptying we're to practice: 

 Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus,

 who, existing in the form of God,
did not consider equality with God
as something to be used for His own advantage.
 Instead He emptied Himself
by assuming the form of a slave,
taking on the likeness of men.
And when He had come as a man
in His external form,
 He humbled Himself by becoming obedient
to the point of death—
even to death on a cross.
 For this reason God highly exalted Him
and gave Him the name
that is above every name,
 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee will bow
of those who are in heaven and on earth
and under the earth
 and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:5-11

Then there are the others: 
Martha held on to her kitchen gadgets. As her hands busied themselves, her heart became resentful and accusing - critical of a sister who fed on Jesus' teaching. Martha traded knowing Jesus in that moment for maintaining her reputation as a superb hostess.  We've named a syndrome for her. 

The rich young ruler held on to his money and his self-righteousness instead of grasping eternity. Now he's known as someone who walked away from Jesus and nobody knows his name.

Judas grasped his own plans above God's plan for Christ. Filled with sin and remorse, he hung himself and I don't know anyone named Judas, do you?  

You, me - we tightly grasp our:
    regret, worry, control, 
    identity, work, excuses, 
    grudges, habits, attitudes, 
    relationships, locations, stuff . . . 
when He asks us to pour it out at the altar of His feet.

"Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing."  
1 Timothy 2:8

Lord, God, let the drain begin. Pry open our clenched fists.  Help us give every drop of what we value to You. May we lift empty, holy hands as clean, roomy vessels for You to fill with Your best - for always.
In the Name of Jesus Who emptied Himself for our sake and for God's glory!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Real Zapper

"The way a sinful person thinks leads to death.
But the mind controlled by the Spirit brings life and peace."
Romans 8:6

     Yesterday, I heard my co-worker and friend, Valarie, laughing at something on her computer. Not wanting to miss out, I turned to read about a man who bought his wife the anniversary gift every wife needs: a taser gun to protect herself. Please read his story for yourself (minus a few choice words I felt would be innappropriate for the purpose of this blog): 

What I came across was a 100,000-volt, pocket/purse-sized taser. The effects of the taser were supposed to be short lived, with no long-term adverse affect on your assailant, allowing her adequate time to retreat to safety and every woman needs something to protect herself with, right??

WAY TOO COOL! Long story short, I bought the device and brought it home. I loaded two AAA batteries in the darn thing and pushed the button. Nothing!

I was disappointed. I learned, however, that if I pushed the button AND pressed it against a metal surface at the same time; I'd get the blue arc of electricity darting back and forth between the prongs. AWESOME!!!

Unfortunately, I have yet to explain to Julie what that burn spot is on the face of the microwave.

Okay, so I was home alone with this new toy, thinking to myself that it couldn't be all that bad with only two triple-A batteries, right?

There I sat in my recliner, my cat Gracie looking on intently (trusting little soul) while I was reading the directions and thinking that I really needed to try this thing out on a flesh & blood moving target. I must admit I thought about zapping Gracie (for a fraction of a second) and thought better of it. She is such a sweet cat. But, if I was going to give this thing to my wife to protect herself against a mugger, I did want some assurance that it would work as advertised. Am I wrong?

So, there I sat in a pair of shorts and a tank top with my reading glasses perched delicately on the bridge of my nose, directions in one hand, and taser in the other. The directions said that a one-second burst would shock and disorient your assailant; a two-second burst was supposed to cause muscle spasms and a major loss of bodily control; a three-second burst would purportedly make your assailant flop on the ground like a fish out of water.  Any burst longer than three seconds would be wasting the batteries.

All the while I'm looking at this little device measuring about 5" long, less than 3/4 inch in circumference; pretty cute really and (loaded with two itsy, bitsy triple-A batteries) thinking to myself, 'no possible way!'

What happened next is almost beyond description, but I'll do my best...?

I'm sitting there alone, Gracie looking on with her head cocked to one side as if to say, 'don't do it dummy,' reasoning that a one second burst from such a tiny little ole thing couldn't hurt all that bad. I decided to give myself a one second burst just for heck of it. I touched the prongs to my naked thigh, pushed the button, and . .

I'm pretty sure Jessie Ventura ran in through the side door, picked me up in the recliner, then body slammed us both on the carpet, over and over and over again. I vaguely recall waking up on my side in the fetal position, with tears in my eyes, body soaking wet, both nipples on fire, testicles nowhere to be found, with my left arm tucked under my body in the oddest position, and tingling in my legs?

The cat was making meowing sounds I had never heard before, clinging to a picture frame hanging above the fireplace, obviously in an attempt to avoid getting slammed by my body flopping all over the living room.

A minute or so later (I can't be sure, as time was a relative thing at that point), I collected my wits (what little I had left), sat up and surveyed the landscape.  My bent reading glasses were on the mantel of the fireplace.
The recliner was upside down and about 8 feet or so from where it originally was. My triceps, right thigh and both nipples were still twitching. My face felt like it had been shot up with Novocain, and my bottom lip weighed 88lbs. I had no control over the drooling. Apparently I pooped on myself, but was too numb to know for sure and my sense of smell was gone. I saw a faint smoke cloud above my head which I believe came from my hair. I'm still looking for my testicles and I'm offering a significant reward for their safe return!!

P. S. My wife loved the gift, and now regularly threatens me with it!  If you think education is difficult, try being stupid.'

Note: If you ever feel compelled to 'mug' yourself with a taser, one note of caution: there is no such thing as a one second burst when you zap yourself! You will not let go of that thing until it is dislodged from your hand by a violent thrashing about on the floor..

Funny stuff, when it's about tasers, but I couldn't help applyng this story to sin.  Pride convinces us we can handle a "one second burst" of sin, remain in complete control, get over it, ask forgiveness, then move on as if it never happened.  However, many sins need only that one zap to take hold, lodge deep, and begin destruction.  Sin begins by disorienting us from Truth before dragging us down, down, down. 

It's the oldest story around: Good people make stupid mistakes. Godly people sin. God's people think they're safe enough to dally in the occasional "one second burst" of sin.  And before we know it, we're in a fetal position on the floor begging for mercy.

But here's the real zapper: 
     Even when we willfully do stupid things we know will bring no good;
          Even when we're lying in a painful heap of self-destruction;
               Even while we're paying deserved consequences for chosen sin;
                    Even when we refused the way out He provided;
God, Who is Love, is with us - not to say "I told you so," but to strenthen us in the safety of His Presence, to hold us as we pay the consequences, to bring us back into fellowship with Him, to bind our wounds, to forgive us, and to place us gently back on the Spirit path of peace and life.  We, like Peter who denied the Lord, need only to go to Him.  Or, we can foolishly keep zapping the life out of ourselves.

"God is our place of safety. He gives us strength. He is always there to help us in times of trouble.  The earth may fall apart. The mountains may fall into the middle of the sea. But we will not be afraid."  Psalm 46:1-2

Lord, God, we don't deserve Your great love when we're making right choices - but for You to love us when we're flailing in the sin we've chosen - God, we're humbled under the floorboards!  To be Love, to love us as You do and when You do is beyond our understanding. We're eager to point out others' mistakes and faults.  We nod self-righteously as others pay their consequences. Our pride leads us to overestimate our own willpower and to push wrong buttons we're sure we can handle.  Lord, forgive us and thank You for forgiving us time and again every day. Thank You for all the times You've called us and we've listened and avoided pain.  Thank You for the "way out" You provide for every temptation.  Thank You for the path of the Spirit that leads to life and peace. Help us see sin in its ugly fullness.  
In the Name of Jesus Who died for sinners, even as they spit in His Face

Monday, February 4, 2013

More robin in me than I knew

May the Lord bless you and take care of you;

May the Lord be kind and gracious to you;
May the Lord look on you with favor and give you peace.
Numbers 6:24-26

Solitude and spring-like weather yesterday led me to take my lunch to the river to absorb the wonder of God's creation.  There, in nearby tree tops, I saw a flock of robins and realized how little I know about my namesake bird, since I've always thought of robins as more independant than others birds.  What I did know about them, I liked. For example:

Robins, nicknamed "harbinger of spring," generally flock in wooded areas of their breeding grounds through winter.  Although always nearby, they don't venture out of the woods much until spring, which is why we associate their sightings with the change of seasons. (Like robins, I prefer to flock with family and friends by my fireside through winter months.)

The robin song sounds like "cheerily, cheerily." (Couldn't agree with them more - what's the sense of spreading gloom and doom when singing makes things better?)

What I didn't know surprised me:

Female robins choose their mates by plumage, quality of territory, and singing ability.  Male robins grow temporary black head plumage for the breeding season. Then they lose these feathers in between.  (Now, that I think about it, when we met Tom had a little extra head plumage, lived by the beach, and had an unrivaled talent for and love of music I found irresistible.)

Male robins, like other male birds, fiercely protect the nest - swooping down on cats, dogs, and even humans when they feel encroached upon. (Did I ever tell you how Tom came charging into the fray of carjackers surrounding our car when I happened to be in it?  Or how he courageously keeps on keeping on, no matter what kind of day he's having or how he's feeling?)

Female robins take charge of building and lining the nest, although male robins help collect what's needed. (No explanation needed - I do tend to direct the lining of our nest.)

I guess there's more robin in me than I knew. 

On an  unseasonally spring-like yesterday, I found beauty, fellowship, community, time to reflect, knowledge, rest and peace by the river.  Everybody needs a glimpse of spring in the middle of a long winter. God used a flock of robins to give me mine.    

Tom's enjoying this week in Savannah, Georgia, with other church musicians.  May You speak to him and minister to his heart and soul, reviving and refreshing him in that beautiful place.

Nick spends more and more time with friends. May You bless him with joy, grow his faith and make him a righteous leader among his peers.

Julie and Addy are missing Nick Akin, while also sealing that lovely mama-daughter bond.  May You provide moment after moment of sweet kisses, memorable books, cuddle time, dress up, comfort, and all that makes the mama-daughter bond sacred. 

Nick Akin and his family are traveling home after ministering this weekend.  May You continue to bless their music, their spirits, their words, and their message of hope in the gospel. 

And those reading this prayer? May You bless them with time to retreat into You and Your fair creation to learn something of You and to get a glimpse of spring to chase the chill of whatever winters they face for a time. 

In the name of Jesus, the Life and Resurrection!