Tuesday, December 30, 2008
The table in the dining room was one seat too small for our crowd of guests. Rather than split up the group, we pulled benches and chairs around the big table in the kitchen. Conversation flows more easily at our big round dining table for 11 rather than the long version for 12. But having our friends at the head of our table was a joy.
The counter was messy with prep, and it’s the first time in a while that I was working away practically on top of company, rather than tucked away from view. But it was so nice to feel like our circle was complete again with the girls and their parents joining us for a family meal. Kristi and Dae bee-lined for the bench where I was going to send the newlyweds. The girls are tiny and slim, and they used to be the only ones who fit on the bench together. I didn’t have the heart to move them to more comfy seating: they were cute as two birds on a perch and it brought back happy memories for me. Rather than popping in and out on the conversation, I was in the room to hear what they did for Christmas and updates about the grandma we’ve prayed for over the past two years.
I’m not sure our own kids already realize the privilege of having ‘family’ around the world – whether these dear Indonesians, Ivan or Sumathi from India, or relatives and friends in Europe, Brazil, Russia, Kenya, Malawi, Ethiopia and elsewhere… God’s work and his role as our heavenly Father bonds his Church and lets us stick our feet under the same table with an instant relationship as friends and spiritual relatives. For W and me, it was a high honor indeed to have sat and eaten on Sunday with these dear brothers and sisters.
*The living, the living—they praise you as I am doing today; fathers tell their children about your faithfulness. The LORD will save me, and we will sing with stringed instruments all the days of our lives in the temple of the LORD. Isaiah 38:19-20 NIV
*As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been [ill] begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, "Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you." So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed. Mark 5: 18-20 NIV
*In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers. He says, "I will declare your name to my brothers; in the presence of the congregation I will sing your praises." Hebrews 2:10-12 NIV
Sunday, December 28, 2008
The house is a jumble from lots of company, happy conversations, and multiple meals. One child is moving back home tomorrow. Another is visiting from out of town and will pick up her girlfriend from the airport tomorrow. I’m realizing that time is the most precious commodity I have – and giving it away is the biggest sacrifice of this season. I love my kids, my family, and my friends and love to spend hours with them. But there’s a little voice in my head that is counting down the calendar for work I may not get done.
Jesus modeled what is important for me as a Christian – people, not information or projects. So even as I have occasionally chafed internally at days flowing by without a lick of study, or as I’ve woken in a cold sweat at night, wondering when I’ll get things done, I’ve had to put my time in God’s hands. I’m reminded to rest in his provision, content that the days he gives will be long enough and empty enough, and that I’ll have enough clear thinking to do the tasks he’s put on the calendar.
It will be a Happy New Year in a few days, because he walks into 2009 with us.
*I trust in the LORD for protection. So why do you say to me, "Fly like a bird to the mountains for safety! The wicked are stringing their bows and fitting their arrows on the bowstrings. They shoot from the shadows at those whose hearts are right. The foundations of law and order have collapsed. What can the righteous do?"
But the LORD is in his holy Temple; the LORD still rules from heaven. He watches everyone closely, examining every person on earth. . . .For the righteous LORD loves justice. The virtuous will see his face." Psalm 11:1–4, 7 NLT
* Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Christ. Moved by the Spirit he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
"Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for the revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel." Luke 2:25-32 NIV
*Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Colossians 3:16 NIV
Friday, December 26, 2008
Our house was full overnight on Christmas Eve: the kids came over after service to eat a casual meal, created as we went along, pulling stuff from the fridge. We laughed and talked and opened Christmas stockings. Jeremy’s girlfriend joined the fun of our first year with married kids – Timothy and Melissa. It snowed a few times during the day, so everyone slept over: filling both guestrooms and Jer and Jono on the two Ikea sofabeds in the LR.
W and I started Christmas Day at 6am. While I peeled potatoes and carrots, W rinsed and stuffed the 22-pound bird, which had swum in the sink overnight in a brine of 1 c. sugar, 1 c. salt. The kids started arriving in the kitchen at 7 for cider, tea, and coffee. By the time everyone was roused and ready to eat at 10, pancakes and breads were ready. Then everyone headed outdoors, the guys to shovel the snowfall off the 100’ driveway, the girls to the back porch to build a snowman with a surprise snow-woman profile on the back side. Carrot nose, stick arms, apple ears, green leaf hair, and pine-cone eyes… it was a 6’ delight, smiling at us all day from outside the dining room doors.
After a few false alarms that parts of the family wouldn’t be able to come down from Canada (snow, and more snow!), everyone turned up in the end – siblings, cousins, parents, and even a four-year-old niece who kept one adult after another busy during the day. (Happily, she wore herself as well as the rest of us out by nightfall.)
Eighteen friends and family thanked God for the food and enjoyed a tender turkey dinner, complete with mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, rotkohl (a German specialty Mom made), veges and salad… topped off with baking, courtesy of the Grandmas and a friend. All the kids helped set up, and Melissa cleared and helped reset for supper. (Marilyn, you would have been SO proud of your daughter!!) Between, one group visited in the LR, another in the kitchen nook, and another bunch played Wii in the guestroom.
W and my brother picked up our daughter Kirsten from the airport and arrived back in time to eat at 7pm in time to open presents. We sang a few carols before the troop marched back out the door, leaving W, K, and me to a quiet house. We finished cleanup, W gave our daughter the Dad-update of his latest gadgets and electronics, and then we went to bed.
I woke in the night thinking of the scripture story of Mary and Martha. Mary remembered to sit at Jesus’ feet. Martha was so busy in the kitchen that she forgot the best – sitting with Jesus. Our annual Christmas tradition is to have various ones read the story of Christ's birth between carols. It gives us time to sit together around the meaning of Christmas. Yesterday we left it too late – everyone streamed out the door with the most important thing left undone.
I’m usually the one who makes space to pray and read scripture. Growing up, I watched my mom do the same, working behind the scenes to feed spirit as well as body. Yesterday, I got distracted by cooking, spur-of-the-moment decisions, and young company. Sure, someone else could have remembered. How I wish they had.
With the opportunity to introduce a new friend to Christ and his birth, I got wrapped up in the kitchen. When I woke with a start at night, it was with joy at having wonderful family time. And great sadness at perhaps having neglected the most important part, like Martha in the gospel story.
Aren't you glad that Christians can serve God without fear? Our God is loving and kind, forgiving our lapses. I’ll be looking for the next opportunity to share Good News, asking him for open eyes, ears, and heart.
*So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them ,"Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests." Luke 2:4-14 NIV
*Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and redeemed his people. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us--to show mercy to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham: to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days." Luke 1:68-75 NIV
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
The Word of the Day from MW for August 22 is: quiescent \kwy-ESS-unt\ adjective
*1 : marked by inactivity or repose : tranquilly at rest
2 : causing no trouble or symptoms
The storm was over, and the quiescent waters betrayed no sign of yesterday's turbulence.
I want my life to be marked by periods of rest that refresh me and those around me. I’m pretty good at dropping out when I feel overwhelmed. But in the throes of the university start-up, it’s easy to lose sight of tasks as God’s work on God’s schedule. Today, a faculty wife and I host the parent lounge. I walked up yesterday to see what was what in the big new space we’ll be in. It felt cold and a bit sterile, but the modern furniture and clutter-free space is inspiring. Great for a Health and Science Center.
After work last night, W and I picked up two freebees to warm up the space for today. God had dropped into my heart to ask for a shag area rug last week. Remember shag carpet from the 70s? Well, it’s back in all the trendy magazines and commercial spaces. I admit that the building manager had blanched a little when I mentioned what came to mind.
I posted “WANTED: big area rug for non-profit lounge. Must be clean, good condition. (Kirkland)” in the www.freecycle.org header. Then I waited to see what would happen. [For those of you not in the know, Freecycle is an international website where people recycle “too good to toss” stuff to others who need it. Check it out for your region.]
Someone emailed me that they had an 8’X10’ brown shag rug, used a few months, in perfect condition. Did I want it? Of course, since I'd thought "shag rug" for the first time in years during prayer. Although "brown" could be anything. I tried to imagine what color it would be… “Trust me,” came the familiar voice. The homeowner’s husband helped put it in the Blazer.
“What on earth do you want this for?” Waldemar asked, heaving it into the garage from our car after work. “I’ll put it in the garage so I can dry off after a swim if it’s not the right thing for Northwest,” I assured him. “The edge binding is new.” (We didn’t unroll it.)
Then we went to another house in the evening to pick up the “OFFER: glass coffee table (Lake City Way)” I was leery about that one, too. What if it was tippy? The voice assured me. It had two small concrete pedestals that didn’t look like they’d support the table top. Oh well. Planter bases. They’d be good for that.
We brought the freebees in with us early this morning. Waldemar and his hand cart moved a 12’ Norfolk Island pine from its outgrown space in the Alumni Lounge. We unrolled the rug in front of the fireplace in the new lounge. Vacuumed it. The edges lay flat.
It’s absolutely the perfect color. Its between-taupe/brown/neutral-that-I-wouldn’t-have-picked-out-in-a-store matches the furnishing as though a decorator picked it. (All God’s colors match.) We pulled two maple end tables into the centre, very sturdy… they slid under the glass topper with a half inch to spare, as though custom fitted. The glass top has rounded edges so it’s safe as well as stable. And it doesn’t mix up the design. Who knew?! We pulled a few red armchairs around – and the fireplace lounge is a classy, contemporary space that feels welcoming. (Ok, so I moved around the rest of the furniture into conversation groups, too.)
The project manager came running out after me as I was on my way to the car. “It’s great!” he said. Which was what I was thinking in pure astonishment. I’m resting at my desk for a few minutes. In a quiescent space of pleasure at God’s good eye and choices for us. Amazed that he allows us to co-create for free when we show up with what’s at hand. When I have time to take a picture, I might send it your way.
Read more: (Thanks, Tillie for the verse of the day)
The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.
All you have made will praise you, O Lord; your saints will extol you. They will tell of the glory of your kingdom and speak of your might, so that all men may know of your mighty acts and the glorious splendor of your kingdom. Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures through all generations. Psalm 145:8-13 NIV
After working at home in the morning, I decided to take a walk to the grocer. It’s not far, maybe a few miles, round trip. The hill from our driveway to the main road was steeper than I remembered because I’ve had hardly any exercise since coming back from summer travels. My legs pulled me up the slope.
I’d forgotten that the Speedo flip-flops that cushion my heels also blister the top of my foot where the strap crosses the arch. Halfway to the store, I took off my shoes. Oh, the sound of walking, the thud of the heel bone hitting sun-warmed pavement, that travels up the spine to the base of my skull. The shhhhh of not lifting high enough so that the foot slides across an elevation in asphalt. And the swish of grass slipping between toes when cleaning the feet to go back into the shoes. After that, the clup clup of rubber landing on the hard, polished floor of the QFC was nowhere nearly as interesting.
A body’s ability to filter and ignore unneeded stimulus – visual, auditory, or tactile – is amazing. It’s good to hear cars driving up, to measure with the eye how high a step is, and feel the ground under my soles. I got to thinking how overwhelming it would be see, hear, and feel everything, all the time, all at once.
And how wrapped up we get by letting in things that don’t matter. Mind clutter. Spiritual junk. Once in a while it’s good to take the mind’s shoes off and listen for what’s going on. To appreciate what we take for granted. What we don’t need to pay attention to. To filter so that we can focus on what is true, and right, and beautiful, and holy.
Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations. Psalm 100 NIV
The Word of the Day is:
objet trouvé \AWB-zhay-troo-VAY\ noun : a natural or discarded object found by chance and held to have aesthetic value
Did you know?
"Objet trouvé" comes from French, where it literally means "found object." The term held that any object could be a work of art if a person recognized its aesthetic merit. "Objet trouvé" can refer to naturally formed objects whose beauty is the result of natural forces as well as to man-made artifacts (such as bathtubs, wrecked cars, or scrap metal) that were not originally created as art but are displayed as such.
Sometimes I think about how obviously each of us is an objet trouvé, something found and reworked into art. Even people who are rough around the edges, who on initial contact aren’t attractive for whatever reason, (mannerisms, their interests, or maybe they just grate on us,) become good friends. Instead of seeing them as different, our similarities become common ground.
This morning, I read the weekly blog from my college roommate – about truth-telling. About being real before God and other people. She encouraged us towards honesty and integrity, especially in a church setting. The desire to hide our flaws is common ground between people, that’s for sure.
But opening up to what we are and how God is transforming us shows everyone that we are God’s objet trouvé. A work of his grace and love towards “found objects.” He doesn’t expect perfection before we can come to him. Not even goodness.
Because our efforts fall so far short of what is needed, we just come as we are and depend on him for everything wholesome and right. How good to know that he not only polishes us up but makes us entirely new, and sets us on display for all the world’s wonder and amazement.
An open rebuke is better than hidden love! … As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend. Proverbs 27: 5, 17 NLT
"You have eyes—can't you see?" … Jesus took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village. Then, spitting on the man's eyes, he laid his hands on him and asked, "Can you see anything now?" The man looked around. "Yes," he said, "I see people, but I can't see them very clearly. They look like trees walking around."
Then Jesus placed his hands on the man's eyes again, and his eyes were opened. His sight was completely restored, and he could see everything clearly." Mark 8:18, 23–25 NLT
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:4-7 NIV
A Christian friend and I were talking about heaven and the big question: What if we’re not good enough and when we get there, entry is refused?
“Thinking about heaven makes me scared to death that I will go there someday and none of my family will be there. Heaven scares me more than it draws me. Most days I think I won't make it in either with all the ‘It is easier for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle than to get into heaven’ stuff out there and condemning stuff. I will probably end up in Hell just for the way I am as a father and husband.”
Here’s my reply, with this disclaimer – I don’t have answers. I have a gut response and my anticipation of what heaven may be like is based on God's full knowledge of us and his provision for our future:
You are no more broken than the rest of us. Think of the guy hanging on the cross beside Jesus, stealing, breaking people's trust all his life. His crimes were bad enough to earn crucifixion, but Jesus turns at his simple request and says, “Ok, come. I'm enough for you! Today you’ll be with me.” God’s provision in Jesus… totally unearned and undeserved.
Then there’s Paul, assuming he was serving God by being "good" and keeping all the rules... while killing people who believed in Christ. When Jesus meets him, he says, "I'm enough for you, too."
I know Christ has turned his face to me a few times to say the same! “I’m enough. Even for you.” That’s a good thing, because if there were even one "perfect" point we had to earn for God to let us in, I'm out out out! I'm totally depending that the One who made the world and everything in it has figured out what to do with a 'hopeless sinner' like me.
“What about family who doesn’t believe? I’m not sure I’d want to be in heaven without my family.” Imagine! The Almighty God who fills the universe will be ours without the restraint of our human limitations between us. Our God, our mother, father, sister, brother, our everything. I think all those human ties seem to be broken when all the Family of God is united. Can't quite figure out how that will happen, but if even husband and wife intimacy is replaced by something more intimate and more loving, more connected... wow - going to be interesting.
Descriptions of heaven sound like we still know each other, but it also seems like the love for others grows to be equal to our best loves. In heaven all are knitted into God’s family. It may be like adding a child to a marriage - you don't lose love for your partner; rather, your love for the new addition grows and enriches the former love.
Don't you sometimes feel like we're looking and looking and can only see in limited black and white a coming world of incredible color and shapes and imagination. I feel that way, thinking of heaven. Can't wrap my mind around much of it, but if even a fraction of the promise is true, it's going to blow these minds right into a new space and understanding.
Some days I get so homesick I just want to GO to be with God. Living in God’s presence, no holds barred.! Hope to see you there when the times comes – if you’re willing to hang out with someone who needed grace as much as I do.
Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." Psalm 46:10 NIV
He leads me beside peaceful streams. Psalm 23:2b NLT
So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God's holy people. You are members of God's family. Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit. Ephesians 2: 19-22 NLT (again, same as yesterday)
"For I know the plans I have for you," says the Lord. "They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you," says the Lord. "I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land." Jeremiah 29:11–14
Every time we read those verses, we can breathe a sign of relief. God is not out to get us. Not some mean parent waiting for us to step out of line so he can slap us. Not brooding over our inconsistencies and failures so we can be punished.
He’s looking out for us. Scripture assures us that when we pursue him with all our hearts, we find that he’s already working, loving, planning for good and not harm.
I look at world religions, with their gods who must be placated and am sorry that we as Christians have followed their lead instead of leading them to simple scriptural truth. We try to be good enough, but scripture reminds us that we can never earn God’s favor – we’re too messed up to ever balance the “good enough” scales.
“I’m a schmuck!” I can say without much qualification. Sure, I try to do good and be nice. But I know – and friends and family know – that I’m not dependable. Ornery moods and disobedience with actions that don't match God’s character make me unreliable.
If you’re like me, you’ll soon find we have to depend on him every day. Every minute, actually. Trusting that what he said is honest and right: he has planned our character development, relationships, and circumstances for our good and His mission among mankind. And he’s paid for my sin and failure.
I sigh with relief again, knowing we and our whole day are in his care.
So let's not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don't give up. Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith. Galatians 6: 9,10
“I want to be the best piano teacher in all of Potsdale,” she said. Carla was 36, mother of two girls, and pastor’s wife in a church of several hundred. She was never going to be the best musician: she didn’t have the talent for it.
How surprising, I thought. Why would you want to be the best at that? And what would it cost you? I was a piano teacher in the same area, and had been since I was 13. Carla was a few years younger than I, and her driving ambition to exceed others, to compete with me and my betters, astonished me. I was a more natural pianist, and my students enjoyed coming for lessons. But there were two outstanding teachers in town to whom I sent my outstanding youngsters, and whose students won the competitions and got scholarships. Had I wanted to be “the best teacher?” Ever? I think not.
There were even times when God set me aside on the shelf, for a year, for another year, and then for years. At a recent women’s conference, the topic was those “hidden years,” when no one knows our talents, no one cares that we are well-trained for this or that, and we do no work in the area that defined us previously. The speaker said this was time that shakes us loose from our limited self-definitions. “Hidden years” train us to look on the praise of God for our obedience and love for him, rather than on the approval of people for what we do.
When Jesus calls us to be the salt of the earth, we are a grain of salt among many, seasoning interactions in the greater community, affecting people with our kind words and manners, politics with our votes, the homeless with our volunteer hours. When I taste my oatmeal, I don’t want to encounter a lump of salt. I want the subtle flavor enhancing my porridge.
When he calls us to be light, we are not always the city on a hill – some of us are a streetlight in the city that is the Church shining into the world, and it is always his light that shines through us. Our responsibility is to be what he’s designed for the day and the hour. If that’s enough for God, perhaps that should be good enough for us, too. Even if someone else looks better, does more outstanding work, and is “the best” at what we do.
And when we pursue the best "us" as God has designed us - in our place, with our opportunities, with our best efforts - the pressure is off. And God's approval is best of all.
Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done. Sing to him, sing praise to him, tell of all his wonderful acts. Glory in HIS holy name: let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice. Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always. Psalm 105:1-4 NIV
And this is his commandment: We must believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as he commanded us. Those who obey God's commandments remain in fellowship with him, and he with them. And we know he lives in us because the Spirit he gave us lives in us. John 3:23–24 NEV
I know a lot of people think that a day of rest belongs to the Old Testament rulebook. But I'm still working that out, since Scripture tells us about a day of rest before the law was given.
Besides, something about doing no work at all is a gift to self.
Your word, O Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens. Your faithfulness continues through all generations; you established the earth, and it endures. Your laws endure to this day, for all things serve you. If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction. I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have preserved my life. Save me for I am yours. I have sought out your precepts. Psalm 119:89-94 NIV
The Lord our God has secrets known to no one. We are not accountable for them, but we and our children are accountable forever for all that he has revealed to us, so that we may obey all the terms of these instructions. Deuteronomy 29:29 NEV
I watched a film on Freemasons and their secrets last night. I am amazed at how often throughout history people have sought to create a self-perpetuating, secretive society. It’s apparently attractive to be part of an inner circle with rituals and symbols and liturgy from which others are excluded.
So many human organizations are clever counterfeits of what God has set up—a society apart (one definition of holy is “set apart”), serving God and mankind by caring for fellows in all aspects of life, physical, emotional, spiritual, mental, social. But why not go with the design for which we are made? Why not be satisfied to be part of a living Church, the body of Christ on earth and his hands extended?
It sometimes puzzles me why it is so difficult for us to humble ourselves enough to ask God what he wants, instead of trying to redesign life to please ourselves and make up life in our own image. And then I find myself putting myself in the driver’s seat rather than following what God requires and has revealed in scripture. It’s a constant struggle to balance an instinct to create with the desire to follow closely the voice of the Shepherd.
*Instead, take the lowest place at the foot of the table. Then when your host sees you, he will come and say, "Friend, we have a better place for you!" Then you will be honored in front of all the other guests. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. Luke 14:10–11 NEV
* I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he will hear us. And if we know that he hears us--whatever we ask--we know that we have what we asked of him. 1 John 5:13-15 NIV
You can’t tell everyone everything. In fact, when it comes right down to it, you can hardly tell anyone anything.
My mom always told me to be cautious about who knew what. Some people guard our secrets like their own, praying and holding us accountable to live well. I love this kind of friend and counselor.
Then there are those who ask about stuff in the guise of “prayer requests” (and share it as such) to get the scoop on the latest gossip. Still others store up words as ammunition to be used against us in the future. Sometimes legalists are judgmental, and once we expose an imperfect—dare I say human—side, we’re off their “holy enough to hang out with me” list.
I’m broken. I think that should make me very accepting of others, rather than trying to compete and compare on the moral plumbline. Knowing I can’t measure up to God’s standard gives me permission to step back and let him deal with others as kindly as he’s dealing with me. It lets me be real. Unmasked and transparent with trustworthy mentors. Exposed—flaws and all—to the light that comes through the members of Christ’s body, the Church. And guarded with those who are unsafe.
I can pray, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,” loving other imperfect people because I know who I am… and I’m completely forgiven.
That doesn’t mean I blurt my junk everywhere. But it does make me careful to do my best and leave the rest—the annoyances, the imperfections, the failures—mine and others’ - to a loving Father in heaven, whose name indeed is hallowed and set apart from our own.
Read more: (thanks, Tillie)
*O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. Psalm 51:15-17 NIV
*Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples.
For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise. Psalm 96:1-4a NI
The church I attend includes a brief reading from the liturgy in the Sunday morning service. I love the words from the Book of Common Prayer, confessing sins and rejoicing in God’s provision as a community.
I read something that resonated with me this week, from two missionaries who teach in a Catholic seminary, Bevans and Schroeder. They write about God’s nature of three-in-one, that “radical communal nature” which ”overflows into an involvement with history [and] aims at drawing humanity and creation in general into this communion with God’s very life.” When I think about that, I read, “God includes us in a conversation with himself.”
About the Church, the authors write: “The identity as members of Christ’s body and sharers in God’s communal life is renewed and re-created as the church celebrates the liturgy, particularly as it celebrates the Eucharist (Lord’s Supper). As Christians participate in communal prayer, singing and ritual action, as they experience their unity through the communion of the one bread and one cup, they are caught up anew in Gods life and his giving.”
I love going to church, saying words that have been said for hundreds of years by farmers, priests, pastors, housewives, merchants, and sailors. I get to be part of an ongoing conversation with God and his family.
These are things every human heart knows: we are separated from God until he draws us to himself. In the way he has chosen, through Christ his Son. He loves us enough to design a way to himself, and to put himself out in nature where we can begin to enjoy his beauty even before we are his friends.
* The eternal God is your refuge, and his everlasting arms are under you. he drives out the enemy before you; he cries out, "Destroy them!" So Israel will live in safety, prosperous Jacob in security, in a land of grain and new wine, while the heavens drop down dew. Deuteronomy 33:27–28 NEV
*But very early on Sunday morning the women went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. They found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. So they went in, but they didn't find the body of the Lord Jesus. As they stood there puzzled, two men suddenly appeared to them, clothed in dazzling robes.
The women were terrified and bowed with their faces to the ground. Then the men asked, "Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive? He isn't here! He is risen from the dead! Remember what he told you back in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men and be crucified, and that he would rise again on the third day."
Then they remembered that he had said this. So they rushed back from the tomb to tell his eleven disciples—and everyone else—what had happened … But the story sounded like nonsense to the men, so they didn't believe it. Luke 24:1–9, 11 NEV
Word of the day: fungible \FUN-juh-bul\ adjective
1 : being of such a nature that one part or quantity may be replaced by another equal part or quantity in the satisfaction of an obligation
*2 : interchangeable
3 : flexible
Jessica believes her unique skill set makes her an indispensable member of the company rather than just one of many fungible employees.
When the word first popped up in my inbox this morning, I thought “fungible” would have to do with mushrooms (fungus). Shows how much I know about words.
The second thing that occurred to me was that I am fungible. My gifts and placement in life are as unique as yours, but God can—and will—still get his work done any time I become incapacitated or am unwilling to do the work for which he has designed me.
I’m not only talking about my full-time job. Fungibility extends to all my other roles: wife, mother, church member, musician, friend, advocate, mentor, student…
Sure, I know I’m irreplaceable as a unique person. But God does not depend on me—or on you—as his sole solution for his plans in our family, friendships, churches, or work. Even so, he has chosen to invite us our participation in what he is doing. Amazing grace indeed! What value he must place on us to offer us partnership with him.
My husband once appealed to me not to depend on him as though he were God, “I can’t be everything to you. Get some girlfriends!” What great advice. I both took him off a god-pedestal and found girlfriends who have mentored and shaped me the past fourteen years. Other mentors have come and gone, and I seriously consider their input along with my husband’s, ever since he refused to be god to me.
Over the year, my roles have changed from work-at-home mom of toddlers to employee with grown kids. As Mom, I see God using many people to do his work in my children. Even in that area, it is a relief to be fungible. Never mind all the other pots God dips my stir-stick into.
*One day when Samson was in Timnah, one of the Philistine women caught his eye. When he returned home, he told his father and mother, "A young Philistine woman in Timnah caught my eye. I want to marry her. Get her for me."
His father and mother objected. "Isn't there even one woman in our tribe or among all the Israelites you could marry?" they asked. "Why must you go to the pagan Philistines to find a wife?"
But Samson told his father, "Get her for me! She looks good to me."
His father and mother didn't realize the LORD was at work in this, creating an opportunity to work against the Philistines, who ruled over Israel at that time. Judges 14:1-4 NEV
* (Thanks, Tillie!)
Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?
He whose walk is blameless, and who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from the heart and has no slander on his tongue, who does his neighbor no wrong and casts no slur on his fellowman, who despises a vile man, but honors those who fear the Lord, who keeps his oath even when it hurts, who lends money without usury and does not accept a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things will never be shaken. Psalm 15 NIV
*Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life. John 3:6 NEV
“Normal” pops up to define the view on my computer. I think the programmers meant “default,” “plain,” or “everything-crunched-up-starting-in-the-left-corner.” Normal? For whom? I’d probably choose another view, like the print view, for “normal.”
Come to think of it, there are a lot of things labeled normal, that I don’t think are the norm. Stages kids go through because they’re not being corrected (pre-schoolers slapping their parents, for instance.) Teens being promiscuous (the urge is normal; the action, not so much.) Adults cheating on their taxes or stealing from work. Just because it happens doesn’t mean it’s ‘normal.’ Who’d want that kind of norm or average, anyhow?
I’d love if “normal” began with a safe, happy place for kids to grow up, where Mom and Dad loved each other and cared for their children. Work normal would mean loving our jobs, doing our best, and working hard to succeed, enjoying the challenges. Friendship normal would be kind, interactive peers who encourage, mentor, and support. Church normal would be a place where anyone could come, bringing others with them to hear, share, and grow in faith.
By those definitions, I have a pretty normal life. Although the culture around me might think otherwise. The contrast between their normal and mine is ok, though. My intent is to conform to Christ, not to let the world press me into its mold.
*"[The king] must always keep that copy [of the law] with him and read it daily as long as he lives. That way he will learn to fear the LORD his God by obeying all the terms of these instructions and decrees. This regular reading will prevent him from becoming proud and acting as if he is above his fellow citizens. It will also prevent him from turning away from these commands in the smallest way. And it will ensure that he and his descendants will reign for many generations in Israel." Deuteronomy 17:19–20
*Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever. Psalm 118:1 and 118:29
*Jesus replied, "Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life." John 4:13–14 NEV
Apparently having less control of the halving of our brain, removing inhibitors to “normal” behavior, and disabling the constrictors that help us focus opens up areas of the brain that are unavailable to us. “Privileged access to lower level raw material,” is what the professor calls the student’s access to information. The suppression of higher education and the freeing of instinct is apparently beneficial in some ways.
Interesting: what if heaven allows the full use of our minds by removing human inhibitors, taking away the constrictors of culture, human learning, and presuppositions to allow us free expression of worship and understanding of the world as it really is? But without damage or harmful consequences which such freedom brings on earth.
*Ascribe to the Lord, O mighty ones, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness. Psalm 29:1, 2 NIV
*Then Jesus explained: "My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work." John 4:34
* Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:15-17 NIV
There’s a heating pad warming my feet, cushioned between crisp sheets under a few fluffy blankets. The little lamp on the bedside table hasn’t flickered… not even once. And my tummy is full of homemade turkey soup, spinach salad, and two cups of mint tea. It’s time to go to sleep in this warm brick house on a quiet side road in Springfield, Missouri.
The missionaries told lots of stories around the conference table this week. They bantered back and forth about the most embarrassing, the funniest, the most awful times on the field. They were matter-of-fact about the hardships and culture shock their families live with over the years.
Sitting around the dinner table, the veteran missionary with whom I’m staying shared a few experiences of her own. For a year in the ‘90s, she and her husband lived in an 8X10’ room in Asia, saving money to help nationals build churches. She’s seen hardship, deprivation, and served hundreds of overseas visitors without a thank you or remuneration.
“The hardest things were small, like finding American candy wrappers tossed in the garbage by thoughtless guests. They never shared, never considered how much something like that would have meant to us and our children. Over the years, the big-name evangelists and pastors who stayed with us never wrote to say thanks. If they didn’t stay with us, they’d live in the best hotels. Yet they never left behind any of the hundreds of dollars they saved by having me cook and not staying in those accommodations.” Nancy wasn’t complaining, just remarking on the state of things.
There were also funny memories, like the evenings in the tropics when she and the kids captured the huge bugs that flew around the dim kerosene lanterns and stuck them on pins to dry. “Some looked like sticks. Some had monkey faces. We caught all kids of insects!” They’d slip them into the envelopes and send them to supporting churches, along with their newsletters.
“We like to hear from you, but please don’t send the bugs,” begged one squeamish pastor’s wife.
Nancy is still active in ministry with her husband, but the kids are grown and married. “When we’re together at Christmas, we’ll laugh and talk about things we used to do. For instance, after we’d light the two little wall lamps after dark, the kids would amuse themselves with ‘lizard baseball.’ They’d watch the lizards stationed at each light, and shout out the score of the number of insects snapped up, first this side, then that.”
There are all kinds of experiences I’ll never have. What richness God brings to each life! And what a joy it is to hear of the hundreds of churches planted because the sacrifices of women, men, and children like Nancy’s family. She and her husband are still active missionaries, still traveling to teach around the world, and still raising support for national work.
I appreciate that they go in our place, while we live in comfort and plenty. If your local church doesn’t support missionaries, I know a lot of people like Nancy and Bill who really pinch those pennies for Kingdom service. I’d love to point them out to you if you can squeeze $10 from your monthly Starbucks budget. (They’ll take more too, of course.)
*A simple man believes anything, but a prudent man gives thought to his steps. A wise man fears the Lord and shuns evil, but a fool is hotheaded and reckless. The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, turning a man from the snares of death. Proverbs 14: 15, 16, 27 NIV
*Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:1, 2 NIV
Everyone seems to be looking for enlightenment. I have a few friends who are squinting here and there, looking for the solution to their darkness. And in times when I don’t follow scripture’s injunctions on loving and seeking God with all my heart, I experience life as shadow as well.
Last weekend, I sat on the plane next to a woman who told me she was doing a course on “Miracles! Have you seen it? It is eight weeks of learning to see the miracles everywhere and opening ones self to the universe. I’m on an exploration of Buddhism and this is part of it.”
I looked her straight in the eyes and said, “I think that’s nonsense. Who’d want to work really hard at not feeling anything… in the hope of checking out at the end of life into “Nothingness” (Nirvana)? Seems to me life is designed to be lived to the full. The Bible says when we die we get to see the One we’ve served – our Creator God who absolutely loves us.”
She blinked a few times, downed another rum and coke (she’d had two already so I wasn’t afraid to offend her by blunt speech) and said, “Well, yes. I suppose I want to live life well, too.” And then went into some other New Age diversion. She definitely wasn’t interested in the salvation offered in the Bible.
But I’m hopeful. She mentioned she is reading through the Bible as part of her search of wisdom literature. “Of course, I don’t believe in a God like people wrote about in the Bible. I think authors just wrote whatever they thought.” She was intent on disabusing me of the notion that she might be swayed by scripture passages of consequences for sin or disobedience. “I just pick and choose whatever sounds good to me.” She is a child of today’s culture, wandering here and there looking for illumination.
Maybe God’s word will shine light into her searching heart. That’s my prayer, anyhow. I am thankful for every ray and beam of light that God has given us through his Son and his Word.
Read more: (Thanks, Tillie)
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. Isaiah 9:2 NIV
*This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Joseph, her fiancé, was a good man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement* quietly. As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. "Joseph, son of David," the angel said, "do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."
All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord's message through his prophet: "Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means `God is with us.'"
When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife.25 But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus. Matthew 1: 18-25
I’m thinking about the words of the Christmas song that include, “Joy, great joy!” The angels sang to shepherds who were in the fields among the sheep, not to the king sleeping among attentive servants in a comfortable bedroom of his palace.
The Magi brought gifts of wealth and significance to a child born to poor parents who would soon flee as immigrants to a foreign country. After all the promises and hopes, Joseph was warned to leave everything and everyone with his young family. Some joy.
And yet, God brought joy to all of mankind in the midst of the poverty, discomfort, and transitions of Joseph’s family. We are reassured about his care for us as the New Year approaches, no matter what it will look like.
O Lord, our Lord, How excellent is Your name in all the earth. You have set Your glory above the heavens. When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon, the stars, which You have ordained, what is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him?
For You have made him a little lower than the angels, and You have crowned him with glory and honor. O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is Your name in all the earth. Psalm 8:1, 3-5, 9 NKJV
And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David's ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, his fiancée, who was now obviously pregnant.
And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.
That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord's glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. "Don't be afraid!" he said. "I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger."
Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, "Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased."
When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, "Let's go to Bethlehem! Let's see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about." They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger.
After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds' story were astonished, but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them. Luke 2: 4-20
I had a conversation that intrigued me yesterday. A friend and I talked about why ideas brought to her team meeting were rough, ill-formed, and loosey-goosey (my term, not hers). In contrast, proposals discussed at her team leaders' board were well-defined, thoroughly researched, and thought through.
Seems to me that the blurts and germs of ideas grow and become clear at the team level. Someone suggests an idea that may be wacky, funky, or out-of-the-box. It might be gathered from another conversation, overheard at a convention, or plucked from a website. Everyone on the team chimes in to brainstorm. The concept gathers shape and momentum, then gets sent back for further research and morphing… or it gets tossed as a bad fit. Trash-binned. However, tossing it without the group's interaction may mean it never comes to life, because the best proposals are sometimes formed in community..
It reminds me of an exercise at a ministry leadership retreat. We did a spiritual gifts test, and then were grouped by our strongest gifts. Administrators sat in their well-defined circle, prophets were talking loudly together, hospitality people held their cup of coffee, resting their elbows on the table, and mercy-givers huddled in a warm fuzzy section all their own. The riddle to solve: “We have received a $100,000 gift which your group can spend as you like, anywhere within this ministry. Where should the money go?” We were given ten minutes for discussion before our delegate presented our proposal.
Everyone was passionate about their solution. The evangelists purchased a van and tracts to reach more people for Jesus. The hospitality people upgraded the kitchen and bought coffee carts to enhance the church’s fellowship. The administrators controlled the sum, delegating to their committees with specific goals in mind. Givers put it in the bank in a short-term, high earning account, with a plan for spending the interest only. (They immediately invested, rather than spending. The rest hadn’t even thought in that direction.)
Each gifting brought its ideas, completely unrelated, to the group. Amazing. The diversity was almost shocking. “You’re all correct. You have just experienced the Body of Christ at work,” said the session leader. “This is why team and board discussions can be rancorous and all-over-the-place. One member wonders how on earth the other could come up with such odd ideas. But God sets different gifts in the Church, so there will be checks and balances, vigorous discussions, and brainstorming that allows us to do the will of God.”
Messy? Of course. Tense and confrontational? Sometimes. Invigorating and full of new – sometimes strange and exciting – ideas and solutions? Yes, when each member is highly valued. Allowed to bring their ideas and gifts freely, regardless of human title or position. Shared servanthood allows a great team’s working process. And such interactions are normal for the healthy Body of Christ.
No wonder the team leaders can shine, bringing their teams' excellent, well-honed ideas to the decision-making table!
Oh God, you are my God, earnestly seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water. I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and glory. Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands. Psalm 63:1-4 NIV
**Make a joyful shout to the Lord, all you lands! Serve the Lord with gladness; come before His
presence with singing. Know that the Lord, He is God; it is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.
Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name. For the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting, and his truth endures to all generations. Psalm 100 NKJV
The Christian God is not like them. The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20) is not as much prohibitions as alignment with his nature. Worship God alone, because He is unique, the Only One, not mediated through idols. Don’t use his Name lightly, but approach God with great care, because “I AM” is set apart (holy).
God cautions, “Respect your parents, because I am your Father in heaven. Don’t steal, because I own everything and you can’t take what isn’t given to you. Don’t give false testimony, because I am Truth. Don’t cheat on your spouse, because community and relationships are sacred and essential to God who is Three in One, an eternal community. Don’t envy anyone anything, because I know how to care for you, and what I will give you is enough.”
I’m glad God is not capricious, changing his mind from day to day. He left us a record in scripture of what he is like, and how he has provided for us to know him. We know right away – from the first story – that we’ll never measure up on our own. We also read that he has given everything we need… if we’ll accept it.
I want to live in harmony with him in the world he has made. Ah, a reasonable God, who interacts with us because of his unfathomable love… who gives more grace than we deserve, who stays engaged when we are unfaithful. What other faith boasts of such sweet access and fellowship with our Creator?
*Come now, let us reason together," says the Lord. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; Though they are red as crimson, they shall be as wool. If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land; but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword." For the mouth of the Lord has spoken. Isaiah 1:18-20 NIV
*[When asked by religious leaders,] “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments" (Matthew 22:36-40).
*If we endure, We shall also reign with Him. If we deny Him, He also will deny us. If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself. 2 Timothy 2: 12-13