Sunday, March 31, 2013

Dog-eared Pages

With other religionists, their tombs become shrines of worship.
With Christ, however, the empty tomb is a place
              where Christians rejoice.

                            -- Paul Little
                                Know Why You Believe

Friday, March 29, 2013

March Madness And Moms On The Court

I enjoy watching college basketball.  The athletes are in it, not as pro's for million dollar salaries, but for the love of the game.  And I delight in the surprises of little-known schools coming quite suddenly out of nowhere to clinch a game or two.  It is indeed March Madness. We groan with missed shots.  We rejoice with the underdogs. We come to our feet for those three-pointers in the last seconds of the game.  The stands are jammed with enthusiastic fans, cheering on their teams.

But not once have I seen a mom on the court.

As excited as they are, the moms are scattered throughout the stadium in assigned seats where they can cheer enthusiastically for their grown sons as much as they want.  The Coach designs the plays.  The players gather around the Coach.  If you are going to play full court sanctioned basketball, no moms are allowed, except in the stands.  If you want to win the game, listen to the Coach.  He knows what he is doing.

God grants us, as moms, a season to teach and to train and to live our faith out before our children. But we are also working ourselves out of a job by pointing them to the Coach.  Help them learn to listen to the LORD.  

If God is going to work full court in our grown children, I cannot stand in the middle, trying to manipulate the plays and dictating exactly how to shoot and where to move.  I will always be a mom, but I have a new position that requires my full-time attention -- cheering and praying  --not standing on the court, blocking what God is doing.  Let God be their Coach.  Let God be their hero.  Let Him play full court in their lives.  He redeems in ways I cannot know.

Let me be the mom who is always cheering and praying.

And let God be God.

Now to Him
who by the power at work within us
is able to do far more abundantly
than all that we ask or think...

                        Ephesians 3.20

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Not Up For A Vote

God's Word is not up for a vote,
nor subject to popular opinion,
nor swayed by
      the prevailing winds of change.
   through thousands of years,
it has not been very popular at all,
   even among God's people,
   maybe especially among God's people.
But it is still Truth.
People have twisted it
    to justify their own selfish ways,
abused it for personal power,
misquoted it to win arguments,
ignored it when convenient,
and tried to bury it as dead.
But God's Word always prevails.
His Truth emerges from the very ground
     even in the bleakest landscape
                 of man's deceit.
God's Word lasts forever.
That is what God intended all along.

The grass withers,
       the flower fades,
but the word of our God
    will stand forever.

                  Isaiah 40.8

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

When A Story Is Not Just A Story

Years ago when we lived in a neighborhood that was bursting with young children, there was usually a neighbor child or two at our kitchen table after half-day kindergarten.  I don't know how many peanut butter and jelly sandwiches I have made through the years.

One spring afternoon when rain prevented the children from playing in the back yard, we piled on the couch and read books.  We ended up reading the Easter story, you know, the REAL Easter story, the one with Jesus, not the cute little bunnies.

When we had finished the story, the neighbor boy sat up, astonished, "I had NO idea Jesus had anything to do with Easter!"  he said, as if he had made a great discovery.  He couldn't wait to get home to tell his mom, who somehow in her careful preparations and decorating just assumed he had made the connection.

Small children have a difficult time differentiating between what is real and what is imaginary.  We use the term "story" loosely whether a story is about Dora, Thomas the train, or from the Bible.  Make sure that you teach them that some stories are real and some are not.  Help them know the difference.  Assume nothing.  Teach them what is true and what is made-up.  It both affirms the truth and stimulates creativity.  Even Jesus used stories about common life so that people could comprehend the truth.  

Jesus is real.  Make sure your children know the truth -- from the stories of the Bible and the story of your life.  Jesus changes everything.

The Easter story?  It doesn't get any more exciting than that.

But the angel said to the women,
"Do not be afraid,
for I know that you seek Jesus
who was crucified.
He is not here,
for He has risen
                      as He said.

                          Matthew 28. 5-6


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Dog-eared pages

How important it is to share with our children our own personal scrapbook of the faithfulness of God -- the different ways He has led us, provided for us, and sheltered us.  Our children need to hear again and again... Then they, too, will come to depend upon Him personally, knowing He will also be ever faithful to them.

 --Ruth Bell Graham
Footprints Of A Pilgrim

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Just Because

It is Palm Sunday, when we celebrate Christ's triumphant entry into Jerusalem, riding on the back of a donkey.  The people waved palm branches and cried out "Hosanna!" which does not mean "Hurray!" as I once thought, but "LORD, please save us."

But we seem to forget the moments before that procession, when Jesus told two of His disciples to go to a certain house, and there would be a certain colt tied outside to a certain door post, ready and waiting.  He told them  if anyone asks, say, "The LORD has need of it."

I think of the donkey's owner, getting up early to feed and groom and lead that young animal to a distinct spot.  He had no idea what was yet to come, why he was doing it, nor how God would use it in a powerful way, still remembered two thousand years later.  But he did it.  And the donkey was ready.

The previous week, a householder felt compelled to clean a rarely-used room above the stable, scrubbing and preparing it, as if for company.  I imagine his wife working alongside him, saying, "And why exactly are we doing this?"  He had no idea, but the Upper Room was ready.

And  a year before, a young mom pushed a hastily-made lunch bag into her reluctant son's hands as he was leaving for the day.   "I don't need this," he said, spotting a snack of fish and rolls in the sack. "Take it anyway," she said, wondering herself why she had even bothered making it.

Late that night, I imagine the son rushing home, shouting, "Mom, you wouldn't believe what happened today."

It is not always our place to know what and where and why, but to be prepared for God's leading, even in that which may make no sense to us at all.  Even the most ordinary efforts and days, God will redeem for His extraordinary purposes.

There are times when God says, "Go."  There are times when God says "No."  And there are times when He says, "Just get it ready."  And we have no idea for what.

Just because...The LORD has need of it.

Friday, March 22, 2013

If I Could Be Young Again, I Wouldn't Choose Junior High

I dressed for a run yesterday early in the morning.  The afternoon was waning before I could get out the door.  I was reluctant because the temperature hovered only in the mid-20s.  But I was surprised.  The deep afternoon sun. a cloudless blue sky, and a lack of wind seemed to banish the cold.  Again, my fear of "what could have been" almost robbed me of the joy of "what actually was" outside my door.

I rounded the last half-mile home, just in time for dismissal of the local junior high school.  The sidewalks were jammed with clumps of girls pretending to be older than their years, all dressed in the exact same jackets, leggings and boots.  The boys pushed each other off the sidewalk, letting loose their energy restrained for the past seven hours. Some awkward teens lagged behind the others, those who surmise their solitude is eternal.   I ran in the street, dodging the buses and carpools.

I have NEVER met anyone who said that junior high was the best years of their lives.  For most of us, our junior high experience is located somewhere between the ninth and tenth circles of Dante's Inferno.  I wanted to cry out to those kids on the sidewalk:  "There is hope.  You will live through this, I promise."

For me, junior high was living through a reign of terror, where there was but a misplaced hair between cool and cruel.  The self-acclaimed "popular" girls conformed so tightly to an invisible standard that even carrying too many books, and you were out, cast forever into a social abyss.  There is only one thing worse than junior high exile, and that is the fear of it. 

When I was in junior high, being in style included miniskirts, fishnet stockings, and white go-go boots, nothing more ridiculous looking than that.  But I need not apply.  My mom had discovered the blue light specials at a new store called Kmart which was the cultural equivalent of signing your own fashion death warrant.

But I survived junior high.  I wouldn't have believed it at the time.  I often walked to school with a stomach ache from being so shy.  But the very same God I clung to then, to Whom I cried in the night, is the same God who still sustains me, through valleys a lot deeper than the angst of junior high.

My only regret is that I didn't trust Him more.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

What Can I Pray For You Today?

Each morning as my husband leaves for work, I remind him how much I love him and also ask him, "What can I pray for you today?"  Many times he asks me to pray for God's wisdom and grace for a situation at work or a dilemma to untangle.  Sometimes he just says, "the usual."

But this morning as he grabbed his toast and phone to head out the door, he looked up and said,  "the extraordinary."

When God guides our day, that is what happens.  Even that of which we are unaware, even on a day of what appears to be small things, He works mightily in the deep, far below the surface.

Pray the extraordinary today and know that He is working it.  When you follow God fully, He changes you and impacts everyone around you as well.

...He said to Simon,
"Put out into the deep
   and let down your nets for a catch."
And Simon answered,
"Master, we toiled all night
      and took nothing,
but at Your word
      I will let down the nets."
And when they had done this,
they enclosed a great shoal of fish,
and as their nets were breaking,
they beckoned to their partners in the other boat
to come and help them.
And they came and filled both boats.

                              Luke 5. 4-7

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Dog-Eared Pages

Our doubts are traitors,
And make us lose the good we oft might win
By fearing to attempt.

                -- William Shakespeare
                    Measure for Measure 
                    (written in 1603)

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Lion Under My Bed

When I was a tiny little girl, there was a ferocious lion who lurked under my bed each night, waiting patiently to devour me if I so much as touched the floor.  The closet light sent spooky shadows across the walls. The wooden floor creaked.   And I dared not move.  Fear stopped me in my tracks.

I thought about that lion this morning.

I have needed to get a tooth of mine fixed for about six months.  I entertained my deepest fears of going back to the dentist to get the work done, indeed inviting those dark thoughts to move in.  And with them came their cousins, excuses of every size and shape.  "Not the right time," "It doesn't really matter," and of course, the big boy of them all, "That is going to inflict pain.  A LOT of pain."

Just about every day, I was going to call to schedule the appointment, but something conveniently popped up to distract me.  It didn't take much to avoid that dogfight.

A couple of weeks ago, I met my oldest brother for lunch.  He looked me in the eye and said, "Make the appointment.  Get it done," as only a big brother can do, like a "double-dare you" from our childhood.  I called the dental office the next morning.  I almost backed out when I read the fine print about the procedure which basically said that the dentist could do anything he wanted and not be held responsible, and by the way, there were dangers and risks involved that could be life-threatening.  Just sign here.  Oh, great.

I awoke this morning to 31 degrees and freezing rain.  When I arrived for my appointment, I told the doctor that I would have preferred running a marathon in that sleet than sitting in this chair.  "Oh," he smiled, "this will be a lot more fun."  Mad scientist or not, by that time, he had numbed my mouth and wielded what appeared to be a jackhammer for breaking up large blocks of concrete.  "Don't even think about what he is doing," I told myself.  I closed my eyes to shut out reality.  I kept waiting for sharp stabs of pain.  He used several noisy tools, one by one.  Get ready for the big one, I thought as I braced myself.  "Ok, we're done," he said.  What?  That wasn't so BAD.  And despite a half year of total fear, I. did. not. die.

Within an hour of arriving, I was pulling out of the parking lot.   I had wasted a LOT of time worrying about pain and agony that did not bother to show up for the appointment. 

Thinking about doing something is harder than actually doing it.  I have danced that number a few too many times in my life.

I have heard that the admonition "do not be afraid" (or its equivalent) appears 365 times in the Bible, enough for every day of the year    I have also realized that the foes and enemies mentioned in the Psalms can cover anyone or anything of which I am afraid, both real and imagined.

I could have slain that lion under my bed with a single prayer.  It was only fear with a big shadow and no teeth at all.  I often struggle with unnecessary monsters who cannot touch me.  We all do.  But God never meant us to go it alone without Him.

What part of  "no fear" do I not understand?  Forgetting that God is with me all the way.  

Even at the dentist. 

With God,
      we shall do valiantly;
it is He
      who will tread down our foes.
                         Psalm 60.12


Sunday, March 17, 2013

Wearing of the Green

I am always astonished by the stories behind the holidays that we celebrate, amazed to discover that these holidays were meant to be the commemoration of  holy days.  The underlying stories are not made up tales, but truth deeply entrenched, the chronicles of God's faithful.

And so, today's posting is a repeat from St. Patrick's Day, two years ago, just in case you might have missed it.  God radically redeemed the life of a young man whom we celebrate today.  May the generations yet unborn find us as faithful.  Here is the real story behind this holiday:

We celebrate today not green beer and leprechauns, but one man’s radical obedience to God, through whom God used to change the course of history.

Patrick was born in 387 in Britain, which was part of the then-crumbling Roman Empire.  He came from a legacy of faith; his father and his grandfather were spiritual leaders in the early church and served as deacons.

When he was 16 years old, Patrick was kidnapped by Irish raiders, taken to Ireland, and sold as a slave.  What seemed as a tragedy in a young man’s life, God used for tremendous good.  In the long hours slaving as a shepherd in the wilderness taking care of his master’s sheep, Patrick spent long hours in prayer and meditation.

In his own words:   “But after I reached Hibernia I used to pasture the flock each day and I used to pray many times a day. More and more did the Love of God, and my fear of Him and faith increase, and my spirit was moved so that in a day [I said] from one up to a hundred prayers, and in the night a like number; besides I used to stay out in the forests and on the mountain and I would wake up before daylight to pray in the snow, in icy coldness, in rain, and I used to feel neither ill nor any slothfulness, because, as I now see, the Spirit was burning in me at that time".

Also in this time of exile, he learned the Celtic language and became well-versed in the pagan culture of Ireland, as his master was a high Druid, an important leader in Irish religion and culture.  All these things God fashioned into tools in Patrick’s life which later would be used for His Kingdom.

After six years of enslavement, being prompted in a dream that “Your ship is ready,”  Patrick escaped and fled on foot for 200 miles and found a ship, ready to sail.  He returned to Britain and studied to be a priest.  Nudged again by God in a vision, he returned to Ireland, the land of his captivity and a place of fierce opposition to the Gospel, to be a missionary to the Irish people.

After 30 years of evangelism, he died on March 17 in the year 461.  One of his tools of evangelism was the three-leafed shamrock, which he used to teach unbelievers about the Trinity.

But that is only the beginning of the story.  Patrick’s obedience to God then reverberated throughout the known world.  As chronicled in Thomas Cahill’s book How the Irish Saved Civilization, God used Patrick as a catalyst for literacy and learning in Ireland while Europe was being invaded and destroyed by barbarians in a period of time we know as the Dark Ages.

So wear the green proudly today in honor of what God can do through one man’s faithfulness to Him.  And as a challenge that we may live obediently for God.  Yes, it matters.  It matters a lot.  More than we can ever know.

I thank my God through Jesus Christ
for all of you,
because your faith is proclaimed
in all the world.
               Romans 1.8

Friday, March 15, 2013

"My Pleasure"

I was helping someone several days ago, squeezing the task into my afternoon schedule, pushing aside other items on my agenda to find room to do it.  "She didn't seem very appreciative," I thought outloud in the car.  The joy of my effort began deflating like a flat tire.  And  I started going to that dark place where selfish feelings abound, grumbling, "I'm doing this for you."   But before I had descended into that cellar of mental gloom, I remembered rather vividly a young man named Sam, bowing ever so slightly at the waist.

Last Friday, my husband and I went out to dinner, a rare event for those who know us well.  We went to our favorite restaurant, a small establishment where the menu changes daily by the whims and creativity of the chef.  A dark-haired young man greeted us at the table.  "My name is Sam," he said. "I will be serving you this evening."  Not:  "I'll be taking your order."  Not:  "What do you want?"  But: "I will be serving you."  That comment alone set the tone for the evening.

The flavors and the unusual combination of ingredients of our entrees became part of our conversation.  Fried okra on a salad?  I never would have even thought of doing that.  But it was so good, in fact, that I would have licked my plate clean, had it been appropriate.  We sat and talked for almost two hours, unhurried,  lingering finally over a shared piece of brown sugar pound cake and mugs of steaming coffee.

But something else stood out for us in our time there, tangibly expressed in the very last gesture of our waiter.  Sam had cleared away our dishes.  As Bill signed the check and we thanked him for an outstanding meal, our server Sam gave a little bow, smiled, and said, "My pleasure."

He had not waited for us to ask him to refill our water or to even bring an extra spoon.  He anticipated our needs and enjoyed his serving.  It was a blessing to us.

I thought of his little bow as went about my own task.  And quite suddenly, I intentionally altered my mindset, seeing this job with different eyes, not as a chore but as an opportunity to love someone.  The task was the same, but my intentions now rose above the miry bog.  "My pleasure," I said outloud.  And something very significant changed in me.

May my life beat with a serving heart.
May my soul quicken to needs unspoken.
May I be that energized by the opportunity to serve.

As I told someone about Sam, she remarked, "Oh, but he was being paid to do that," as if to discredit his work.  But there is always something deeper when "a job" becomes the means of extending grace.  It brings blessing to all involved, including the one who serves.

At all times, even invisible unnoticed actions are powerful enough to turn around someone's day and mighty enough to transform a life.

We can never know how God can use us,
even in what we consider daily, mundane,
            and not appreciated.
      Service is largely inconvenient,
                      rarely recognized at all,
            but powerful as raw grace.

When our girls were little, I used to tell them that a good deed didn't count if it was done with a bad attitude.

Yesterday, as I was preparing the house for our small group Bible study -- cleaning toilets and erasing fingerprints off the refrigerator door like a crime scene -- I realized that my efforts would be mostly invisible and unnoticed by those who came.   I was not doing it for applause, nor to win the Good Housekeeping seal of approval, but to create a comfortable, welcoming place for the Word of God to be studied.  It did not change what I was doing, but why.

"Thanks for having us," one couple said as they were leaving.

"My pleasure," I responded.  And indeed, it was.

May it be our pleasure to serve others.
And may we find pleasure in serving.

Serve the LORD with gladness.

                       Psalm 100.2

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

I Dreamt That My Entire Desk Was Clean

For truly, I say to you,
if you have faith as a
          grain of mustard seed,
you will say to this mountain,
"Move from here to there,"
and it will move;
and nothing will be impossible to you.

                     Matthew 17.20

I took that verse with me into my day, thinking about the words of Jesus and what they mean to meWhat impossibilities do I face?  What sheer cliffs terrify me?  What is so overwhelming that I feel paralyzed?

With those thoughts rambling through my brain, I climbed our stairs to the little attic workroom where I write on an old scratched dining room table that serves as my desk. When I pushed aside some papers to set down the computer, I noticed the smiling face of a woman on the front of a file folder, and it stated in colorful bold letters:  "I dreamt that my entire desk was clean."  

Faith to move mountains?  Well, the pile of papers on my desk would be a good place to start. I was confronted by a small hill of excuses, mounds of great intentions, and a lot of good ideas never engaged.  Over time, papers and projects have accumulated into a man-made mountain range.  I have no one to blame but myself.  There is a sledding hill in the area where I grew up, nick-named Mount Trashmore, as it was ingeniously created from years of trash gathered in one place.  I hope the pile of papers on my desk does not follow suit.

How many "mountains" do I face that are of my own making? 

I don't deserve any help, but that is where God's grace comes in.  I can ungraciously pray "God, get rid of this problem," or I can fall on my knees and pray "Help me, LORD."  Indeed, His deliverance may not be plucking me out of the trouble I'm in.  It may be His will for me to work my way through a difficulty in order to realize His mighty hand, or navigate me around as a means of changing my course, or grant me the strength to conquer this mountain -- whatever it may be -- this fearful imposing edifice, once and for all.

A long time ago, I wrote in my journal, "One does not feel the victory of scaling the heights, unless he has a mountain to climb."  I have hiked in the mountains, sweated up trails laid out by those who have gone before me, felt the burn in my legs as the elevation rises, and wondered how much farther I have yet to go, surely the end is around the next bend in the trail.  Those doubts, fears, and pain evaporate into thin air when I reach the top.  I have no words to describe the beauty.

God can move my mountains.  He specializes in impossible situations, so that I know that He is the LORD God Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, Lover of my soul.   I need not stand before them alone.  He grants me wisdom and strength.  And He may use me to move them.

"Ain't no mountain high enough," sang Diana Ross in the 1960s.


Sunday, March 10, 2013

Those Who Know It All

I recently read the profile of a young professional who rose steadily in media management in Manhattan.  Even as a college student, she was marked for success.  Landing a summer internship at her local paper, she already possessed a trait that set her apart and paved her way to significance..  "She soaked up information like a sponge," her first editor recalls.  "She took instruction well." 

Those who know the most, know that they don't know it all.  The wise are easy to spot, not by their superior knowledge, but by their teachable hearts.  The character of a person is not revealed by accomplishment and acclaim, but by criticism or reproof.  Those who are wise listen carefully, accept criticism as a learning opportunity, and recalibrate their actions to improve.  They listen, learn and do.

The fool is even easier to identify.  When confronted with his own blame, mistake or inability, a fool will dispute and argue.  You can't teach him a thing.  Indeed, the word "fool" comes from the Latin meaning "windbag."  The Bible goes even further.  The Hebrew word for fool is "moron."

A wise heart responds.  A fool reacts.  How teachable am I?

"She took instruction well."   It reveals more than you know.

Do not reprove a scoffer,
     or he will hate you;
reprove a wise man,
      and he will thank you.
Give instruction to a wise man,
       and he will be still wiser,
teach a righteous man
and he will increase in learning.

                          Proverbs 9. 8-9


Thursday, March 7, 2013

Ten Thousand Reasons

This past two Sundays, I attended two different churches.  In both services, a week apart, worship included Matt Redman's beautiful worship song Ten Thousand Reasons.  You may know it more by the words, "Bless the LORD, O my soul..."

When we worship the LORD, something happens.  Worship ALWAYS has a residual effect in our lives.  Worship changes us.  It recalibrates our hearts to Him.  I should always be conscious that I am a little bit different as I leave church, because of worshiping God Almighty.  We see life differently;  we live life differently.

Worship becomes the soundtrack of my life.  It carries over into the rest of my week -- in how I treat those around me, indeed, I see them through His eyes.  In what I say, filtered through His love and grace.  In how I do my job, because ALL I do is a form of worship to God.

I have been mindful these past two weeks of these truths, because the soundtrack of these days has been that song.  I have found myself singing it as I move about my day, whatever I am doing, whether rocking my brand new grand baby, driving my car to an appointment, seeking wisdom in my work and doing it for God with all my heart and soul and mind and strength.

"...Worship His holy name."

My soundtrack. In all things.  In all ways.  Among all people.
For His Glory.  Always.  Only.

Friday, March 1, 2013

And That Is Enough

Three years ago on our most recent move, we searched for a house for several months.  Finally, we found one that we liked.  It had been on the market for more than a year.  It would require some work to update, but the space was good and location very convenient.

We came into town to make an offer.  Our realtor called to make a final appointment.  "Oh, sorry," she was told.  "The sellers decided to take the house off the market last night."  Despite our realtor 's pleas, the sellers would not reconsider.  We had prayed for guidance.  And although we were a bit confused, that door was obviously closed.  We ended up with another place to live a few miles away in a neighboring town.

Today as I was running through snow-clogged streets, I ran past that other house.  "We may never know why we didn't get that house," I thought.  And further down the block, "But we know God had a good reason.  And that is enough."

God's plans have no detours.  There are no glitches in His designs.  It is not just that there is a reason, but that GOD had purpose in it.  I don't have to know that purpose, but just to know that He has reasons deeper than I can comprehend.

And that is always enough.

But I trust in You, O LORD,
I say,
        "You are my God."
My times are in Your hands."

                         Psalm 31. 14-15