Friday, March 27, 2015

Off the grid

I know it has been way too long since I have posted. Life gets that way sometimes.  I have not dropped off the face of the earth, but for more than a week, I have been off the grid. With the exception of a few minutes of a weak data connection on my phone, I have been disconnected from the internet.  Even this brief message is being tapped out on the teeny tiny screen on my phone, a few words visible at a time.

A few days ago,  I was finally able to carve out a pocket of time to write.

I carried my books and papers and the aging laptop to the screen porch, a little dusty from its winter hibernation, but still a place where I don't have to make excuses just to sit.  There is always something else urgent to do, things left waiting, orphan tasks calling loudly from the other room. But even to those urgencies, I shut the door and hung a proverbial sign "Back later."  I was off the grid in more ways than one. No answering emails, no all-consuming technical distractions.

And I sat. For a long while, I just sat. I did not read. I did not feel compelled to write. I didn't have to make excuses just to watch the trees and listen to the early spring birds. I sat. I prayed. I listened. I thought.

Off the grid?  No, I think, just on the right one.

Be still,
and know that I am God.

             Psalm 46.10

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Seeing beyond the fog

It is very early morning.  Unable to sleep well last night, I went ahead and slid out of bed while it was still dark.  I turned on the lamp in the family room.  It appeared that dense black sheets were hanging over the windows.  I made a pot of coffee and wove my way through my scripture reading for the day.

I was sitting in a dark shrouded room.  And even before the faint dawning light, the birds began to sing. Even before I could recognize hope, God's Word spoke to my heart.  In the Old Testament, I read verses about God guiding through a narrow place.  In the New Testament, serving Him without fear.  And in the Psalms, how God breaks the grip of what makes us afraid.

How appropriate were those rays of light in a dark place.  It was no coincidence that I read these verses this morning, passages that were written down for me -- for each one of us -- centuries ago.  God's Word does that.  New every morning, fresh every reading.  Not to help me cope or to smooth over the rough places, but to strengthen and help me to see my situation differently.  I am not alone.

...even the darkness is not dark to You,
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with You.

                      Psalm 139.12

I looked up from my reading, and it was as if the thick dark curtains were replaced with pale white ones.  The dawning light was defused by a dense surrounding fog.  I couldn't see anything beyond the windows. But even in that kind of blindness, I know what is there -- the porch, the steps, the little dead tree by the driveway, and the house across the street.  I don't have to see them in order to know their presence.

And He is here too.  I don't have to know God's purposes to trust Him in them.  Sometimes there is severe grace in not knowing too far ahead, sometimes that is how God protects us from distractions or from fear. His thick grace is like that impenetrable fog that is not so impenetrable afterall.  And that which sought to bring me down strengthens me instead.

I just need to seek Him through it.  And trust God for the blue skies and His mighty purposes hiding powerfully underneath.

...that we,
being delivered from the hand
             of our enemies,
might serve Him without fear,
in holiness and righteousness before Him
all the days of our life.

                           Luke 1. 74-75

Monday, March 16, 2015

St. Patrick and the super heroes

Marvel Comics are not the only ones with super heroes.  I write today about one who lived an adventure of intrigue, narrow escapes, and who conquered hordes of adversaries, armed with only a shamrock and the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. 

I am posting a day early about St. Patrick because your kids need to know -- indeed we need to know-- about this man of faith who lived passionately for God in the face of palpable adversity.  His incredible story is not just great and exciting; it is true. 

St. Patrick (389-461 AD) was kidnapped as a boy and taken to Ireland as a slave.  Years later, he miraculously escaped, but compelled by God, he returned as a missionary to tell the Irish people about Jesus and literally change the course of the world. 
The famed shamrock we associate with his holiday has nothing to do with luck, but everything about Christian doctrine.  Patrick used the shamrock as a visual aid to teach about the Trinity in a way that people could understand, the three in one, the one in three. 

As the Bible reminds us, if we do not pass on to the next generations the true life stories of the faithful, they will soon be tragically forgotten.  These individuals are not merely historical characters, but people of faith who spelled out the reality of God across the centuries.  This is what a relationship with Christ does to a person. This is what redeemed looks like, living what would be impossible if it were not for God.  Christ with me, Christ within me.
Patrick spoke with great gentleness about the grace of Christ to everyone around him for more than thirty years. In the year 433 AD, he composed a prayer which came to be known as "Patrick's Breastplate," a cry for protection in a time of certain hostility and opposition.  Patrick was not naturally courageous. The LORD was his strength.

I had never before heard the powerful words of Patrick's prayer, and it was read responsively at church yesterday.  The phrases appeared on a screen, recited by five hundred voices strong in unison, and the lyrics washed like a deep current over us, the words no longer belonging to a distant past, but invigorating and fresh. 

Let the words of St. Patrick's ancient text surround and challenge you on this holy-day.

I bind unto myself today
The strong name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One,
      and One in Three.

I bind this day to me for ever,
By power of faith,
      Christ's incarnation;
His baptism in the Jordan River;
His death on the cross
       for my salvation.
His bursting from the spiced tomb;
His riding up the heav'nly way;
His coming at the day of doom;
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself today
The power of God
            to hold and lead,
His eye to watch,
            His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need;
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide,
             His shield to ward,
The word of God to give me speech,
His heav'nly host to be my guard.

Against all Satan's spells and wiles,
Against false words of heresy,
Against the knowledge that defiles,
Against the heart's idolatry,
Against the wizard's evil craft,
Against the death-wound and the burning,
The choking wave, the poison'd shaft,
Protect me, Christ, till thy returning.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the name,
The strong name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One, and One in Three,
Of whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word.
Praise to the Lord of my salvation:
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.

For a more detailed account of St. Patrick and his impact on the world, I suggest reading the book How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill, or check out "Wearing of the Green," posted on Nightly Tea on St. Patrick's Day 2013.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Dog-eared pages

page 85  The very trials that befell her were turned to means of strength for her;  by them she proved her Father.  For "if the work be of God, He can make a stepping stone of the devil himself to see forward the work."

page 145  I knew, not by faith now, but as it were by sight, that our Lord Jesus Christ can do anything, keep anyone, shine anywhere, succor in spite of all the forces of the enemy, comfort in any circumstances. Verily, circumstances are nothing to Him.  He is King of them all.
These two quotations come from the book Mimosa by Amy Carmichael, a single woman missionary who served in India from 1895 until her death in 1951.  For a few years, a friend has been urging me to read this book, which was originally published in 1924.  It is an incredible true story of faith in the face of the impossible.  On my first reading of it, I have already marked up my copy.  I recommend it highly.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

A Certain Default

Computers function most efficiently when a trustworthy operating system has been designed and downloaded.  When a need arises or a problem presents itself, the computer knows what path to take to find the answer or solve the difficulty.  The computer functions best when it already knows what to do.

But when I do not specify a designated mode of operation, the computer automatically focuses on another option, one that is adopted by necessity and my neglect to tell it what to do.  That automatic behavior is called a default.  It is a failure to fulfill an obligation because no choice has been made.

When moments of despair arise in the middle of my day or awaken me at 4 a.m., my mind often reverts to a panic mode.  "Time to worry!" my heart shouts when faced with suddenness and extremes.  Have I gone there so often that I think that is the only option?  Is fear my default?

In this past year of many changes and choices, I have learned that panic prevails if I am not already prepared with an option.  When overwhelmed, my default is to panic... unless I change my settings.

Let Scripture become your default.  Listen and let God speak to you from His Word.  Allow the power of Scripture not to talk you down or help you to cope, but to strengthen and heal.

Do not be afraid of sudden panic,
or the storm of the wicked,
                  when it comes;
for the LORD will be your confidence
and will keep your foot
            from being caught.

                     Proverbs 3. 25-26

When the LORD is your default,
    worry becomes only a reminder
                                 to pray.
And surges of panic are transformed
          into an awareness
          to follow God into the situation.

The other night I awoke in deep waters of anxiety.  But before the waves overcame me, Scripture verses came to mind and kept my head above the surface until I could touch bottom again.  I recited verses not so much to deliver me from, or to get me through, but to sustain me despite what was swirling around me. Memorized scripture is an internal floatation device, a learned behavior, and the foundation for a new operating mode.  Do this, not that.

But I call upon God,
and the LORD will save me.

                     Psalm 55. 16

God tells me, "Don't panic; you know how to swim."

And so, instead of flailing about in a place too deep to touch bottom, I float on an ocean of verses and pray my way through.  God's Word heals and strengthens and reminds me of the reality of His Presence.  "You are NOT alone."  

One specified setting leads to another.  Instead of going from panic to fear, the Scrpture I embrace leads me to pray for others.  When I am listening, God places people on my heart to pray for, sometimes even those I haven't thought about in years, sometimes those I don't even personally know, people on my path or those I have seen in the news.

And maybe, just maybe, what woke me up was not a stirring to panic, not about me after all, but to pray specifically at that moment for someone in their time of need.

Change my default settings, LORD,
      to align my heart with Yours.

In peace I will both lie down
                    and sleep;
for You alone, O LORD,
make me dwell in safety.

                       Psalm 4.8

Peace I leave with you;
My peace I give to you;
not as the world gives
     do I give to you.
Let not your hearts be troubled,
neither let them be afraid.
                        John 14. 27

Come to Me,
all who labor and are heavy laden,
     and I will give you rest.

                        Matthew 11. 28