Thursday, March 31, 2011

Lent Day 20: Family traits

The day has slipped by. My brother and his kids came for a visit - they live in Edmonton, so it's a rare treat. Being with family is renewing and reminds us of who we are inside, before the expectations of work and friends shaped us.

Our parents made sure we stayed in touch when we started our families, and so as adults we know each other, like each other, and enjoy the individuality of our callings as well as the things we have in common.

Dad just put his Super 8 movies on DVD. What a laugh it's been to watch my little brothers put on an unselfconscious show (cello and violin). My older brother looks disinterested (at age 14), a typical lanky teen, bored at being conscripted for photos. He'll be the one who picks up the baton and makes a career out of music. In all the pictures, I'm restless, uncomfortable on camera.

The old films show how we work together when the family plays music: my dad tucks his violin under his chin and the rest of us fall into line. We often have no music, just a, "Let's play this tune." No one looks very stressed or anxious about notes because we all play by ear. We're doing what we've done dozens of times, harmonizing together.

The music is an inborn trait: my husband's family and mine grew up singing and playing.  I'd hoped our kids would do the same, make music, perform, bond as a unit. But we never had an orchestra to play with, and my husband didn't take much of an interest in the kids' lessons. After we changed churches, the children refused to get up in front of strangers. Gradually the music fizzled out as they went to college and the lessons stopped.

Maybe our kids will torture their own children with music lessons. It takes a lot of stamina and determination, not to mention a financial commitment. The discipline is all on the part of parents when kids hate practicing. Watching the next generation at lessons would be the best revenge, after all the trips I made as a student and as a parent of students.

It's interesting to see family traits in God's household, too. Some of us perpetuate the good things - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness... and some are still hard at lessons, struggling to fit into the band of brothers and sisters. We have an elder brother who modeled the family character so we could follow his lead.

God is kind. He watches over us with tender affection and cheers us on to do our best, no matter how excellent or distressing the performance.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Lent Day 19: Reveling in the view

Sometimes we could just jump for joy! Thankfulness overwhelms us as we look around at everything we have and know. God seems so near and precious. Oh, it's wonderful to be a Christian. We sing, "Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised in the city of our God, in the mountain of his holiness. Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion, on the sides of the north, the city of the great King." (Psalm 48:1-2 KJV)

It's worth celebrating those mountaintops. Life in its series of ups and downs has stunning vistas, where it seems sunglasses or at least rocks in our pockets are all that keep us from being blinded by light or flying away with delight. 

I'm sitting in Third Place at a table beside an architect and a contractor. They're excited to start a new project, working through the challenges that lie ahead. If the partnership continues with the same fervor, they'll be celebrating in the end, reveling in what they created from vision to reality. 

Jesus paid attention to the building of God's kingdom. "Build wisely," he told his followers. Whatever the Architect has for us today and in coming weeks and years, let's listen, refer carefully to his plans outlined in his blueprints (the Bible), ask good questions, and get to work with skilled tradespersons! At each step of completion or accomplishment, let's praise and thank God for his faithful vision and help.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Lent Day 18: Aging well

"I'm finally middle-aged!" I crowed to my friend Marilyn, twenty years ago.

She rolled her eyes. laughed, and said, "Hardly, you young whippersnapper." She was a few years older.

I'm officially a senior at age 55 (at least at Ross' Dress For Less, should I ever go there). I'm disturbed by a trend I'm seeing in people my age. No, I don't mean the crooked eyebrows we can't see well enough to paint on straight. Nor those ugly 80s leggings that we swore no one would ever want to wear again! (Seriously, this is a current photo, not from the 80s.)

I'm talking about trends of doubting and leaving the faith, trends that draw away people in the years of maturity, just about the time when we'd been led to expect strength, courage, and wisdom.

"I don't know if I'm really saved, sometimes!" exclaimed a friend. "With all the pain we're going through in our family and finances, I am so discouraged that I don't even know what I believe anymore."

Though my salvation is not in doubt, his grief at not feeling secure and steady in faith is familiar. We should be more mature, stronger, boldhearted, should we?

But the knocks of life take their toll. Someone dies, another fights chronic illness, a business is wiped out, investments dive. All the preparations and dreams for the future suddenly disappear. And we find that our security has been resting on a pipe dream rather than on the Everlasting Arms.

Praying without receiving wears me out. Jesus said, "Ask and you will receive," except nothing seems to happen in reply to prayers. The ceiling between us and heaven is made of brass and no requests penetrate to God. Or if he hears, we feel like he turns away to let us stew in sickness, anger, loneliness, or grief.

I feel like such a baby. Like I should be grown up, and ready to "take it," whatever happens. We were raised on scriptures that promised a good life if we served God. Yet the hard times have come and gone, and some are here to stay. Instead of ease and rest, we are overwhelmed by new challenges, worries, and frustrations.

In those times, we need "Jesus with skin on," as someone once said. We need that hand extended to share good news of God with us. Rather than condemnation or pep talks, we need the kindness and understanding of Christian brothers and sisters who have suffered and emerged with perseverance, character, and hope.

I think of Abraham in the silent years, between ages 80 and 90, between revelations and promises. Day after day. Waiting. Watching. Loving Sarah, accumulating stuff, moving around, doing his best. But unfulfilled.

Struggling against doubt and bearing one another's burdens are all part of aging well. I say to my friend who feels like he's drowning in conflict, "I know what you mean," and pray on his behalf, when he can no longer pray for himself and his family.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Lent Day 17: "It could never happen here!"

"Are you in or out?" they asked the pastor. "Will you help us spy on the country and assassinate the leader, if necessary?"

The gripping story of ethical dilemmas, civil disobedience, conscience, and history kept us on the edge of our seats on Saturday night,  at Taproot Theatre's "The Beams are Creaking," the story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. If you see one production this year, see this one.

A great story, it was entertaining, thought-provoking, and philosophically challenging. I recommend it for teens and older. (Take your kids if you want a lot to talk about on the way home! They'll understand history as more than dry facts.)

Our heritage is German so we've heard various viewpoints on WWII from relatives and non-German friends. The actors portrayed the chaos and uncertainty of ordinary people and academics who were swept up in new jobs, watched a "great" leader with a plan to boost and enlarge his country, and had no access to media outside of the official press. In my little review book, I kept writing, "Convincing! Convincing," (acting, story line, pace, music, transitions). The only thing that made me blink: I've never seen a German old-timer in a three-piece suit that wasn't made of one fabric, never mind a plaid jacket.

Douglas Anderson's award-winning script is superb! and kept us riveted. Matt Shimkus brought Bonhoeffer to life as pastor, thoughtful ethicist, romantic fiance, pianist, scholar, smoker... who knew? We met an ordinary man wracked by moral dilemmas, led by his faith in uncertain times. The accents resembled our immigrant acquaintances, the set design was superbly minimal -- one change at intermission, just enough to support the cast, directed by Karen Lund. We easily followed multiple scenes blending on one stage. Piano music and radio broadcasts transitioned us through the story.

Most dreadful in the production for me was Bonhoeffer's mother's remark: "It can't happen here, I can't believe it. Not in Germany!" I know "good people" and well-intentioned German Christians who had no idea of what was being done to Jews and others, regardless of how they are painted by broad historical brushes. I kept thinking, what is to stop similar government control and targeting of a people group in highly regulated countries like the USA? Most people would go along, hoping for personal benefit or to keep from being harmed.

Jesus said, "Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won't collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn't obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash." (Matthew 7:24-27)

When life's storms come -- and they will -- such advice, coupled by experiences and memories like this Taproot production, will remind us that a few things are important, VERY important, while all the rest is  temporal. Don't miss "The Beams are Creaking," running through April 23.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Extra, extra!

Passing along great news for theatre buffs and their kids! Don't miss the fun.

play and learn at Taproot Theatre’s Acting Studio this summer

SEATTLE – March 25, 2011 – When school gets out for the summer, the fun is just beginning at Taproot Theatre’s Acting Studio. There’s something going on virtually every week, from musical theatre camps to Shakespeare camps, and even sessions that teach young actors the art of comedy and the skills they need for auditions! With over two dozen camps for kids and teens in grades Pre-K through 12, there’s something for everyone!

Summer quarter runs from June 20 through August 26. Registration is open now. Camps are held at Taproot Theatre (204 N 85th St.) and Phinney Ridge Lutheran (7500 Greenwood Ave. N) in Seattle. Registration and class descriptions will be available soon at, or contact Taproot’s Acting Studio at (206) 529-3668 or

About Taproot Theatre Company’s Acting Studio
Taproot Theatre Company’s Acting Studio offers year-round classes for youth and adults taught by local theatre professionals. Budding thespians will find classes to help them develop their acting skills, while more seasoned actors can build on their knowledge and learn new techniques. Taproot Theatre Company is a professional, non-profit theatre company with a multi-faceted production program. Founded in 1976, Taproot Theatre serves the Pacific Northwest with Mainstage Productions, Touring Productions and Acting Studio. Taproot exists to create theatre that explores the beauty and questions of life while bringing hope to our search for meaning. Taproot Theatre Company is a member of Theatre Communications Group (TCG), Theatre Puget Sound (TPS), and the Greenwood-Phinney Chamber of Commerce.

Special thanks to our media sponsor, ParentMap. Seasonal support provided by The Charles Simonyi Fund for Arts and Sciences, The Seattle, Foundation, 4Culture, ArtsFund and PONCHO.

Lent Day 16: Living in relationship

Two guests in W's masters level class this weekend shared their non-traditional churches. Without consultation with each other or W, they shone the spotlight on community and relationships as key for connecting with and serving today's disconnected societies.

"Follow me," said Jesus, more often than, "Learn from me." Why? In following Jesus, we learn all the things we need to know. We see how the Spirit moves and works, how God among us treats others, values friendships, and invests himself in humanity. He cares for the poor, demonstrates God's nature with strong character, and accepts others regardless of their quirks.

Jesus gave his friends and disciples a heads up that the journey ended in tragedy and sorrow. But he didn't send them away from experiencing life with him, in good times or bad.

The German wedding formula we grew up with said, "Shared joy is doubled joy. Shared sorrow is halved sorrow." Many people, lonely and friendless, find that joy dies for lack of someone to celebrate with, and sorrow becomes overwhelming because no one helps bear our burdens.

Whatever God calls you to do today, be sure to include other people. Whether writing a letter or email, doing repairs on the car, house, or computer, cooking or baking, cleaning the apartment for company, ...or just hanging out, why not let others into your life and your space?

"You have been made rich in every way, so that you can share your blessings with others," said Paul to the Corinthian church. With whom can you share your God-given wealth this weekend?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Lent Day 15: Looking here and there

Julia Roberts stars in Eat, Love, Pray, a Western woman's attempt to make sense of her chaos and failures at marriage, love, life, and self by immersing herself in travel, food, relationships, Hinduism, and Buddhism.  By the end of the movie, she has taken the "let go" advice of people who are similarly adrift, and is drifting into another "loving" relationship with a nice guy with a history of broken marriage. The credits roll, leaving the viewer wondering how long this go-around will last.

I watched it last night with amazement at the statement of the movie: life is without meaning. Just do the best you can and temporarily you will find love and happiness. There's just the here-and-now, until it happens again.

The attempt to "find myself" and "know my purpose" pulls humans into many quests and ambitions. But how can such an important search be successful without an origin, without knowing who made us and why? Security and meaning must begin with the assurance that humanity's Creator knows us, is pleased with us as a person, and satisfies our need for community. (Cartoon:

How sad when the search begins and ends with "maybe this time around," or "oh well, put the bad things out of my mind and hope this works..." Optimism and disillusionment, time after time. 

Entire religions are built around a humanity's suffering and attempts to endure the meaninglessness of life without a relationship to a personal, loving God. Buddhist, Hindu, and New Age religions add to human emptiness with the resignation of supposing another chance to redo life if this one is lousy. Emptiness becomes a goal, so suffering will be bearable. Who cares if this life doesn't feel right and I've treated others disrespectfully or unkindly? If I'm hurting, I have to grim and bear it the best I can. Zone out. Refuse the pain. Maybe in the next life I will take a better crack at happiness.

Jesus had an entirely different life to offer. "Abundant life," he said to his followers. "I've come to bring life, and that more abundantly." Don't shrug off the pain. "Bring it to me, all the weariness, sorrow, and suffering, and I will give you rest. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." He promised freedom and openness to creativity and goodness when we yoke our lives with his.

It's easy to distract ourselves with useless searches and the futility of human religions. Paul said our non-conformity to the world included leaving behind worldly solutions. embracing embrace God's abundance and renewal: "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." (Romans 12:1) Then, and only then, we can know the perfect, acceptable, and satisfying purpose for which we were born, live, both here on earth and after death.

Are we still trying to find our own way? Hoping this time we do better, will be more loved and loving, or acquire more goods and power?

"A train can only function as a train on the rails," my husband told his students this week. "Without tracks, you only have wreckage, random carriages, and no possibility of getting to the next station."

A train without guiding rails sounds like the characters in the movie I watched yesterday... past wreckage, more hurt to come, and missing the abundance and joy of being fully human. No matter how beautiful the cinematography or sentimental the story, it's awful watching people running here and there, picking up when "it doesn't feel right," and leaving brokenness and confusion in their wake. They can never rest secure in love or loving in the safehaven of one spouse and a close-knit, trustworthy family, as designed by a Heavenly Father.

I'm cracking open the instruction manual (my Bible) again today, to see where the tracks and rails God made us to ride lead.

Read more: 
The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness. Jeremiah 31:3 NIV

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Lent Day 14: Eyes wide open

I love the song, "I've been keeping my eyes wide open." I don't know who sings it, who composed it, or anything about it except that when it comes on the radio, I'm inclined to listen. [These eye photos and others can be found at the amazing blog: Village of Joy.]

People read meaning and value into the use of eyes. Yet, depending on our culture and status, we get conflicting messages: "Look at me when I'm talking to you" (child in American culture), or "Never look at a man" (women in Muslim culture), or even "Look into my eyes to see how I love you" (Western lovers).

It's hard to imagine a world without seeing shape and color. God-given senses enable us to maneuver without banging into things, aware of textures, size, and perspective. We make snap judgments, looking at people, food, clothing, and nature.

Our perception of color is unique to ourselves. What my mother sees as blue, I may argue as green. Artists paint, draw, and sculpt in ways we would not have imagined, recreating their view of the world according to their inner eye.

When any part of eyesight or seeing is hindered, our bodies compensate, not fully understanding what others see. We use sight as metaphor for comprehension: "He's blind to the truth," or "I should have seen that coming."

Jesus kept his eyes on his Father as well as his surroundings. As a follower as well as a leader, he focused on relationships that drew him closer to God and to others. He didn't let distractions, whether material or spiritual things, divert his attention on being and doing God's purpose.

I'm not always good at knowing what God wants. Sometimes I miss the impossible solution, trying to see the future.

In the Bible, people as finite as we in having limited information, asked questions, afraid of the future.  Some are called "heroes of the faith" because they believed without seeing.

Trudging up the hill to sacrifice his heir in obedience to God, Abraham's heart might have been breaking. He never wavered, knowing God had every circumstance under his watchful eye. Here's the story:

Isaac turned to him and said, "Father?"

"'Yes, my son?' Abraham replied.

"We have the fire and the wood," the boy said, "but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?"

"God will provide a sheep for the burnt offering, my son," Abraham answered. (Genesis 22:7-8a NLT

And God did provide -- a ram caught in a thicket. Had Abraham been blinded by tears or turning away in disappointment, he could not have seen God's provision. He would never have gained the reward of his trusting obedience, his distinction as the father of many nations, and the life of his beloved son.

Where are our eyes focused today? Are they wide open to the humanly impossible, to what only God can do? To the intricate and unimaginable that God has planned for us and those we love?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Lent Day 13: If he had faltered even once...

I am reposing this with permission from Kevin. I couldn't say it better. More of Kevin's poetry at Desiring God Blog (click link below).

Desiring God Blog
A poem to ponder during Lent:
They spit upon His meekness, 
And struck Him in the face. 
Their floggers swung with hatred; 
They stripped Him in disgrace. 
Deep worked the Roman anger 
That tortured Him, a Jew; 
Yet this His contemplation: 
“They know not what they do.” 
His people cheered “Hosanna,” 
Then had Him crucified. 
They freed corrupt Barabbas; 
To sentence Him, they lied. 
He hung outside their city, 
Where leaders mocked Him too; 
Yet this, the hurt He carried: 
“I would have gathered you.” 
No angels came to help Him 
When Heaven on Him fell. 
The Devil tried to reach Him 
Through ev’ry lie in hell. 
Unthinkable the anguish 
As Father crushed the Son, 
Yet this His firm conviction: 
“Thy will, not mine, be done.”
No selfishness, no hatred, 
No spitefulness was there. 
No unbelief, no cursing, 
No pity from despair. 
One sinful thought; one failure, 
And Love would not succeed. 
The ransomed souls of hist’ry 
Must His perfection plead. 
If He had faltered even once, 
In flames of hell would men abide. 
Then ponder Christ, and praise at length 
The strength of Him there crucified.
               -- K. Hartnett, May 2007
Kevin comments:

I wrote this one backwards, i.e. having the idea for the last four lines before writing the rest.  Verse one highlights Christ's physical sufferings; verse two, His emotional/mental and verse three, His spiritual.  The colossal irony that the very men who tempted Him to failure were among those He died in perfection to save captures my imagination - and praise.

Kevin Hartnett works for NASA at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, overseeing the science operations activities of the mission. He was selected in 2003 from a thousand candidates as the “Poet of the Year” by the Fellowship of Christian Poets.

Read more:
But now, this is what the LORD says
   he who created you, Jacob,
   he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
   I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
   I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
   they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
   you will not be burned;
   the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the LORD your God,
   the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
Isaiah 43:1-3A     NIV

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Lent Day 12: Lifelong learning

Not every student group is equal. Not every teen or young adult "needs to know" in the classroom. The educational machine of the USA drives post-high school students to college, when perhaps more of them would be happier and more successful in vocational school or apprenticing for a trade.

I had research books and papers spread across the table last night, sitting in the back of the church classroom where W as teaching. During breaks, students walked over to chat. We talked about the reason they were in class, what they had learned so far, and what they planned for the future.

I enjoyed my great "window" seat yesterday, with its view into the way God has made us. Unique, special, beloved.

Watching the students, I was struck between the difference in the scope of their questions and the queries of older university learners. At break time, they shot Nerf arrows at each other and chased each other around the room. W's music videos, bringing culture and information together, were just background noise to the fun they were having.

Not everyone has to be brain-smart (though some of these students are). Many of us have craftsman's hands, servant hearts, and a sense of fun that may enrich the world more than more books written by scholars ever could.

Each of us learns throughout life, observing, serving, and practicing what God brings our way. A church that values all the gifts of the Body of Christ makes everyone feel welcome and useful to the Kingdom. Ideally, it also provides opportunities for all kinds of intelligence - interpersonal, handyman, hospitality, and academic learning.

Jesus astonished the academics of his day with his wisdom and knowledge... when he was a young teen and later, as an adult. He hung out with tradespeople, made close friends with fishermen, and debated with the scholars of his day. He knew that common experiences like sheep herding, farming, and saving money (lost coin) made it easy to tell God's story.

Oh that we would be as wise when sharing Good News, no matter what last certificate of learning is stashed in our file.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Lent Day 11: Small church, real church

It's the sort of place Jesus would have hung out to meet people and tell them about his Father. It looked like a BBQ restaurant, but what a wonderful surprise lay waiting inside!

Over the weekend, I got to preach at a young church plant. The pastor's heart and love for her flock warmed us all. As I entered the door and walked into the room, people introduced themselves and each other to me. Someone had brought an abundant breakfast of bagels and sweet pastries. Coffee was on. From baby Hunter, to teens, to the oldest persons, I felt welcomed, among friends.

The worship was intimate and compelling... and really really good! Trust me, the worship leader sings and plays with a rare intimacy and heart for God. The youth group reported on a conference they had attended, and we prayed and studied scriptures. In other words, "We had church!"

Diane, I salute you and the strong call of God on you! The New Testament records the beginnings of similar small groups of believers who met together to explore their faith in Jesus. From little start-ups to community influencers, these assemblies multiplied and fanned out to share Good News and change the world.

Most accomplished preachers, musicians, and leaders of large churches have had their beginnings in such congregations. I could never have played piano for thousands if I had not learned to accompany worship leaders of dozens and hundreds.

If you want to know more about this church north of Seattle, want to attend, or have the resources to support a small congregation with a big heart with a one-time gift or regular contributions, contact

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Day 10: Better and better

Today we attend a wedding and a 50th anniversary. Tonight, some friends who have been married a few years are coming over for tea. We're somewhere in the middle ourselves, in year 33 of marriage.

Jesus celebrated weddings with his friends, as we are reminded at marriage ceremonies. Yet he never married, never had children, never saw his grandchildren grow up. We assume that he was part of an extended family of brothers and sisters, that his home life was normal, at least until Joseph died (he is absent from the story of Jesus' adulthood).

Families are the safety net and the pressure cooker in which character is formed. We had dinner with my brother last night, talking about families. He's sells homes, so has a front-row seat at the interactions of blended, scrambled, and occasionally whole, families during times of stress and negotiation.

"Our family is like (pause) ...maybe one in fifty," both he and his fiance said. When I pressed them on what they thought was different in other families from our own, they didn't hesitate:
  • families don't eat supper together
  • everyone goes their own direction and does their own thing
  • siblings act like strangers coexisting in a house
  • it's rare to have one mother and one father
  • few families get along, where there's not at least some tension and competition between siblings. 
  • some siblings haven't talked to each other or their parents for years.
That's incredible to us: my husband's family and mine celebrated last Christmas at our house -- without fights, without complaining, and without arguments. That feels normal for us, not extraordinary. Scripture says God puts the lonely in families. But our culture steals away God's good intentions through human selfishness and sin, turning families into lonely places.

As we attend the wedding today, we'll be praying for the young couple. Hopefully they'll keep their vows to love and cherish each other throughout their lifetimes. We trust that God will give them children who learn to love him and serve others by their parent's example. And we hope the parents don't bail out on responsibilities for teaching their children to seek a relationship with a God who is holy (separate) as well as kind and caring, especially in the doldrums of marriage years when teens create a vortex of family energy for themselves and their activities.

They and our newlyweds can learn from people like the anniversary couple. Over fifty years, they, their children, and grandchildren have borne good times and hard times. Faithfully, carefully, they have tended and nurtured their own family as well as many friendships. They'd be the first to say marriage is very hard work, that they're still imperfect spouses and parents. But they are still in love and have build on a foundation of trust. Because of their persistence, we all look forward to celebrating with them. Those of us at the party will congratulate them: "Well done, good and faithful lovers! Your relationship is a good model for us."

Turning to my own husband, I affirm, "Life together gets better and better."

Friday, March 18, 2011

Lent Day 9: The great mercy of the ordinary

Our warm bed and quiet home released me into the day. A leisurely stroll with the dogs, then breakfast, then the weekly scrub of the kitchen, before heading upstairs to study. It's been an ordinary day, so far.

For us, that is. From our safe vantage point, we can follow the news about Libya, Japan, Israel, China, and other parts of the world. Most shocking is watching infrastructures and modern cities disappear into rubble, whether by warfare or a natural disaster. We can build no defenses secure enough to ward off disaster when life turns upside down. In the back of our minds, we also realize that between the headlines, many people groups in turmoil never appear in sanitized spots on the BBC or NPR.

Venturing out onto the streets this morning, I thanked God for the peacefulness of our town. No one shot at me, spat at me, or broke into our house because of my faith in Christ. No earthquake, flood, or fire swept through our neighborhood. I was stunned by the beauty and tranquility of this ordinary day.

I wonder how Jesus felt, walking with his disciples and talking to crowds who came to listen to him. Did he look around in wonder at nice buildings, the markets filled with fruit and meat, the women grinding grain, and the men building homes? Knowing that everything would be devastated and his own life would come to a violent end, did he appreciate each ordinary day as God's mercy?

I like to think he did. There is a sense of gratitude and reflection in the "Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be thy name..."

The apostle Peter, suffering many things, chimes in with thankfulness for the greatest mercy of all, which cannot be touched by external traumas: "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fadekept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time." (1 Peter 1:3-5 NIV)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Lent Day 8: A narrow life

Christians are often accused of being narrow-minded. That's not necessarily bad. Keep in mind, narrow-mindedness is not only true of us, but of everyone else in one aspect of life or another.

Depending on how "broadness" is defined, narrowness can be a good thing. Every task and vocation needs its definitions and delimitations. We need specialized information and practices that provide safety and direction.
  • I'd rather have a waiter in a restaurant with a food certificate than one in calculus or home decor. 
  • I don't think I'd like an airline pilot who was so broadminded that she treats a 747 with the same flexibility as a jet fighter. 
  • I really don't want my doctor to be so broadminded that he experiments on me with unproven medical techniques.

There are limits in our relationship with God, too. God, being the creator, gets to define those limits and lay out the boundaries for what pleases him and moves us closer to him.

Jesus, beloved by many and hated by others, walked a fine line of inclusion and separation. He warned his followers, "You can enter God's Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.'" (Matthew 7:13-14)

The road to peace and harmony with God may be steep, but anything worth doing has a price. Eternal life is worth giving up temporary comforts, bearing every rejection, humiliation, and accusations of narrow-mindedness with a focus on the prize ahead.

It's vital to evaluate if the company we keep follows that narrow way or is swarming happily toward destruction.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Lent Day 7: Doing to others

I'm feeling guilty. I'd want someone walking by my windblown recycling bin to put papers back into the pile for me. Sure, I did reload a few newspapers, but I didn't do it all. I strolled onward, walking the dogs. Was I obligated to do more?

Apparently, since I remember something left undone. Scripture holds believers to a high standard of doing, not as a "earn-salvation" plot, but as a reflection of all God has done for us.

Buddha and other religious leaders warned their followers not to do to others what they wouldn't have done to themselves.

Jesus was much bolder: "Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets." (Matthew 7:12)

I would have liked someone to clean up the mess left by wind and weather. Next time, I plan to do better to others, remembering everything Jesus did for us - for beyond people's expectations - because he set out to please his Father above all.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Lent Day 6: A father's confidence

I grew up with absolute confidence in my father. We kids were thrilled by how he loved Mom and treated her as his sweetheart. He embarrassed us as youngsters when he came home from work and danced Mom around the kitchen to kiss her. "Ooooo, yuck!" we'd scream, covering our faces to hide our happiness and embarrassment.

He has always believed in the potential of others, and conveyed his optimism about what we would accomplish. "You can be whoever you want to be," he communicated, though he is a man of few words.

Each of us children had the freedom to find our diverse callings. We tried all kinds of endeavors, some successful, some not. Through it all, Dad's wise words summed up the experience and encouraged us. I got fired from a summer job as a food server, and came home in humiliation. Dad shrugged it off with, "Well, I guess God hasn't called you to be a waitress, has he?" That settled down my wounded pride and squared my shoulders for the next task.

My younger brothers have a definite flair for their jobs: the youngest, a computer consultant, works from his office in Canada for a British firm. The middle brother, with a high people IQ, makes everyone feel welcome and included, working as a successful and sought-after realtor.

My oldest brother and I are officially in ministry, though not in the traditional sense. He wanted to do music, and nothing but music. He learned to play one instrument after another, loathing his post-high school job at a building supply and running a thriving retail business into the ground. When he heard God's call, he bought plane tickets dated seven weeks hence, picked up his wife and two kids, and moved to Europe without pledges of support or guarantees. Thirty years of God's provisions later, he continues to compose, arrange music, and design special-events productions. He leads worship in the most creative, missional ways I've ever heard of. His touring "big band" consists of a small cadre of volunteer musicians who play in towns where churches are dying and need renewal or where churches are being planted. Local musicians (often professionals) join the team to play his big band arrangements of World Music. The audience, whether in taverns, theatres, town squares, or churches, sing and dance along, opening their hearts to stories of the gospel and God's love ("testimonies," between songs.) The IHS Orchestra has traveled the globe, including Africa, Cuba, Israel, and Europe.

I learned early that when God called, the only answer was, "Yes, please speak, Lord, for your servant is listening." My father taught me what Jesus' father taught him: a father who believes in you invests his character, resources, and confidence in his children.

Our heavenly Father can be trusted to take care of the details of provision and care, leading us from one place to the next. In the process of maturing us for Kingdom service, he may lop off beloved appendages that are unhelpful to the missio dei. He may place us into hard schools to train us and shape our gifts. He oversees our development, not to control us, but to release us into the freedom of being fully human.

Jesus assured us that God responds to our needs and knows what is best for us and for his whole Family: "You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him (Matthew 7:9-11)."

Today, our Father in heaven has confidence in us. But do we have total confidence in him as our parent—who knows us, believes in us, and calls us to tasks impossible to do without his help?

Has he called us to life and ministry that seem beyond our capability? Perhaps he knows things about us as his children that we haven't yet recognized or accepted. Let's trust him completely, as a child trusts a good father (someone like my dad!)

Monday, March 14, 2011

Lent Day 5: Is there a purpose to suffering?

Last week, the world watched, horrified, as the earth heaved and the water swept away people, jobs, and living essentials in Japan. We saw the death of hopes for throwing off a fist of oppression in Libya. The insanity of suicidal fanatics killed many in Iraq and Afghanistan. Behind each death and loss are families, friendships, and neighborhoods.

During the same week, our niece and nephew bury their infant son, who lives only for a day. Our daughter struggles to drive us around town as we visit, her shoulders crippling with arthritis. A friend continues chemotherapy, waves of nausea engulfing her days. A widower friend remembers the death of his wife, one year later.

"What is the point of this suffering? And why does God not intervene?" Many of us ask these questions, for which we have no answer.

Scripture encourages us not to give up living, even in the midst of despair, trial, or wounds. "Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened," said Jesus (Matthew 7:7-8).

What we receive, find, or what the door opens to may literally be "what you ask for." However, in most cases, something completely unexpected shows up. Something we did not know we needed or wanted.

With God's permission, suffering arrives to shape our character. It transforms us from self-absorbed to God-centered... if we choose to move toward rather than away from Him.

We become pliable through trust and willingness to suffer when God allows hardships and pain to come our way. We harden our hearts by blaming God, resenting his lack of intervention, or turning away in fear from uncontrollable experiences.

Sometimes there is an ebb of conflict when we think we are in control, just before life comes crashing apart. In the wreckage of our plans, hopes, and dreams, our responses will determine the effectiveness of suffering in building up or tearing down relationships and futures. In loving foreknowledge, God works purposefully in all things, far beyond our comprehension and finite wishes.

Do we trust him enough to let go of everything but his loving hand as we ride the tsunami of life?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Lent Day 4: Persistence

I remember when Saturday mornings meant sleeping in a bit, having a leisurely breakfast, and then tackling chores. My weekend jobs as a teen included dusting and vacuuming the house. For a few years, we lived in an old Victorian, which Dad fixed up enough to make habitable while building a new house.

The front stairs were the bane of my existence. The deep blue carpet remnant that outlined each step captured flecks of lint from socks, laundry, and an active family that included parents, three brothers and me. Each week, I spent half to three-quarters of an hour scraping little pieces of fluff into the vacuum, knowing next week would be the same. I hated cleaning that carpet and have never since purchased a dark single-color rug for the floor.

Some Saturdays, I wish I were back on hands and knees, balancing the canister on the stairwell. Life was simpler then. When chores were done, the bliss of an open day stretched ahead. I'd read, relax, or hang out with friends and family.

Today, I'm in conference meetings all day. At lunch with an adviser, we'll be working on the unending saga of my dissertation proposal. (Her comment: "It seems to be getting more confusing, not clearer. Seems like you've lost your way." Uh, yeah, as well as rapidly losing interest in a ballooning topic.) In the afternoon, I'll present a paper to a small cohort of scholars who may or may not be interested in what I've researched. It's not the Saturday of my childhood nor the weekend respite of my dreams.

Persistence in walking or crawling forward moves us along this faith journey. I hope the weekends may again be restful some day. However, watching the failing health of friends or their care for parents and grandchildren, I suspect those days may be gone forever. Rather than increasing ease, the spiritual life offers no retirement plan and no guarantees of lazy days ahead.

Jesus' faithful efforts and persistence took him to the cross. Can we expect anything else for ourselves as his followers?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Lent Day 3: Health, happiness, and wisdom

In a little tea shop, I read the advertisements for products. "Gifts with Meaning: Exotic Treasures Rich with Symbolism" is the title on the brochure. Their headlines:
  • Love and Beauty - pink teapots, strawberry teas, and boxed sets
  • Longevity, Strength, and Happiness - blue and gold teaware and blueberry teas
  • Hope, Friendship, and Peace - orange and purple porcelain and lavender white teas
  • Wisdom and Enlightenment - clay iron teapots, Oolong teas, and a set of crane-decorated teacups
Beautiful photos and text, but deceptive. No pretty tea cup or pot, no sips of dried leaves, and no imaginative advertising can bring the quality of life to which the clients of this teashop aspire.

Only in Christ do we find the fulfillment our hearts long for. As we reflect the way of the cross, we find God's marvelous peace and love accompanying us on our journey. Jesus is God's Gift of Deepest Meaning. Following him, we drink in and pour out God's love, joy, peace, patience, kindness... and so much more.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Lent Day 2: Christ and followers as scholars

I wonder if Jesus would have come to this conference. So far, I've heard a few papers that seem to have little to do with Jesus' mission. When I think about the hours spent preparing our papers, I wonder how Christ has been formed in us through the process.

The role of the scholar is important in scripture. Without the writing of historians, poets, and prophets, we would know little about God. The act of writing and copying has preserved God's revelation of himself to humanity. Jesus studied scripture well enough to be fluent in both scripture and tradition. He taught competently enough to be called rabbi. Considering his upbringing in an ordinary peasant household, he took advantage of opportunities for education.

In contrast to some of today's scholars, Jesus never lost sight of his life purpose. He used what he had learned to expand the kingdom of God. I'll be listening for that kind of intentionality as I sit in the theological sessions.

Some of the words go right over my head. Others capture my mind and imagination. What i'm longing for is a word to stir my heart and move me to greater surrender and service.