Friday, January 31, 2014

Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see?

One of my youngest grandson's favorite books is Eric Carle's Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?   Last week when I was spending precious time with Adrian, we read the book over and over again.  I also discovered a great way to get this active, curious little boy to take his nap.  I sang the words very slowly and quietly to a little tune that I made up.  Two times through the book, and he was snoozing.  Every time.

That book also reminds me of a time in high school when one of our daughters was going through the tough dark tunnel of adolescence, when EVERYTHING seemed to be going wrong.  "Look for the joy," I advised her.  "Even one good thing today."  It is not that her joy was dependent on circumstances, but in this little exercise, she became aware that God's goodness surrounds her in a lot of different packages.

What do you see?
I see God who is looking over me.

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
His mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is Your faithfulness.
                    Lamentations 3. 22-23

Thursday, January 30, 2014

My dad, the inventor

All I wanted was a normal dad who played games with the family and catch in the backyard with my three brothers.  I didn't know our family was so different until I went to school and began visiting friends in their homes.  Didn't everyone have a large trough in the family room?  My dad had concocted a massive indoor planter for my grandmother to have a year-round garden.  Our basement walls were covered, not with traditional plaster or wood  as other homes in that era, but paper-covered chalky panels that could be painted.  Dad was in the process of inventing wallboard, and of course, there was no better place to try it out than his own house.

Much to our dismay, one autumn before the deep cold of Chicago set in, he spread out large sheets of plastic in our backyard -- a material that was rarely seen in the 1950s. What looked like a yard to most people was transformed into an outdoor laboratory for Dad. When freezing temperatures descended, he flooded the backyard with water and created a skating rink between the garage and the swing set.  Our yard became the hit of the neighborhood that cold winter, much to our delight.

This was the same man who as a young boy in the Great Depression, living in urban Brooklyn, built a miniature golf course with scraps of wood in their small yard.  He charged a few clothespins apiece for children to play the course.  And then every Monday (wash day), he sold those clothespins back to the neighborhood mothers.

Dad embraced difficulties. They were like a game to him.  He never stopped thinking of connections.  He sought to solve and resolve.  Dead ends were his specialty, because they directed him closer to an answer.  In his mind and demeanor, there was always a better way to do something.  And he would bury himself in a laboratory until he found something new to try.

Three years ago when he was in hospice, I entered his room quietly after a short lunch break.  His eyes were closed.  I touched his hand to let him know that I was back.  "Dad, are you sleeping?"

And in classic style with his eyes still closed, he replied in a loud voice, "No, I'm thinking."

We too should be so creative when it comes to glorifying God with our lives.  Think about it.  How else can I do that?  What other way can I look at that problem, or love that person, or handle that situation?  How can I apply grace to it?  How deeper can I pray?  What is God's perspective on that?  What is a new way I can serve this need?   How can I best live His truth today?

...serve Him
         with a whole heart
and with a willing mind...

                   1 Chronicles 28.9



Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Negative degrees...and yet

Right now, it is negative four degrees outside. I didn't even have to check the temperature to know the coldness, because the snow still squeaks when it is walked on.  In the mountains, native Americans knew the extent of coldness by the evergreen leaves of the massive Rhododendron bushes.  Its leaves curl up, depending on the outside temperature.  In frigid weather, they look like cigars hanging from the branches.

It is bitterly cold and bleak, a black and white world with only the splash of redness from a cardinal or two to indicate that color itself has not departed to retire permanently in Florida.  The trees are crazy black lace across the sky, the air too cold even to snow.  The grass is still there, blanketed and invisible.  The bushes are buried under a canyon of snow along the driveway.  I can't see them, but they are still there.

But we know that in a couple of months, the trees will bud, the grass will grow, the snow will melt and soak slow and deep into the soil, no longer a frosty inconvenience, but that which nourishes and nurtures every living thing. We cannot see it yet, but we know this perennial design, frost being transformed and incredible beauty taking the time to get ready for a spectacular show.

We cannot see it yet, but we know.  That is what hope is, not "wishful thinking," but that on which you can stake your life.  God is there, right there with you and me.  How differently would we love and live if we staked our lives on His Presence, even on the bleak days, when it feels like harshness will last forever. What may appear invisible on the surface is actually God working in every dimension behind the scenes, getting everything in place, right on His schedule.

You can trust Him through it.
God is there,
                 even in this.
Follow Him into it.

We don't live with mystery,
     but in the unfolding of His purposes.

God is faithful.

For in Him
     all things were created,
in heaven and on earth,
              visible and invisible,
whether thrones or dominions
or principalities or authorities -
all things were created through Him
                        and for Him.
He is before all things,
and in Him
          all things hold together.

                       Colossians 1. 16-17


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Checklists and Gold Stars

When I am driving long distances, I enjoy scanning through local radio stations, singing along to old familiar tunes and catching a few speakers on talk radio.  The stations fade in and out as I pass from county to county like chapters of our lives, moving from one to another.

Last week in rural Indiana, I was pleased to catch a few brief minutes of one speaker who was encouraging people to read the Bible each day.  I salute that endeavor.  But then the speaker offered a "special" Bible that printed each day's designated readings with a "convenient checklist" to make it through the Bible in a year.  "Just check off each day," the announcer declared.  "It is easy as that."  I cringed as I remembered the chart my first-grade teacher displayed, complete with gold stars for good behavior.

The goal of reading the Bible every day is not to click through a daily schedule or complete a to-do list for the day, nor is it about accomplishing a pre-set plan as if in some kind of elite competition.  The goal is not a "goal" at all, but the transformation of my heart.  The Bible is the very words of God.  God will change you through it.

I heard the late preacher E. V. Hill state one time, "Learn to read the Bible slowly."  What am I learning?  What is God teaching me through it?  Think about these things, even take a verse with you through the day.   

What you learn by heart,
                    changes your heart.

But not if you are in a race.

A schedule is a great way to guide your reading.  But not if the schedule itself becomes the focus.

Make God's Word first in your day,
and your time
                  will be multiplied.
God will bear fruit through it
    in more ways than you can know.

...nourished on the words...
Train yourself in godliness;
for while bodily training is of some value,
godliness is of value in every way,
as it holds promise for the present life
and also for the life to come.
                           1 Timothy 4.7-8


Monday, January 27, 2014

Why is there evil in this world?

Take six minutes of your day
             and watch this incredible video
about what has been broken.

One of the classic lines in the text:
"Satan always fakes genuine concern."

This moving multi-media presentation
    spells out not just why there is evil in this world,
but why we need a Savior.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Dog eared pages

From the memoir Surprised By Oxford by Carolyn Weber,
the long journey of an unlikely student coming to faith in Christ:

p. 97 
"Tell me," I finally got out, grappling for a light switch in the dark.  "Is there a word for wanting to forget this God and Jesus and the whole mess?  For wanting to forget it all?"  I pinned him with my eyes.

"Despair," he reminded me, draining his glass.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Much bigger than me

Those who thrive
        don't have things easier than others,
their circumstances may not appear favorable at all.
But they
          see things from a different perspective.

Joseph is one of those people.
          (Genesis 37-50)
He lived the reality of God's Presence
wherever God led him:
        thrown in a pit as a teenager,
        sold to slave traders by his brothers,
        worked as a household slave in a foreign land,
        unjustly accused and imprisoned,
        forgotten in jail,
and when life appeared the bleakest,
                        God redeemed it all
                        for His great purposes.

Joseph was not thrown by circumstances,
because he knew the sovereignty of God
                           is never random.
Joseph was faithful in every situation,
      knowing God always works from goodness.
Yes, even in that.
Not for personal gain,
not even for the common good,
     but for God's greater purposes,
something much bigger going on here.

And when Joseph finally came face to face 
with his brothers,
he was still faithful to God.
He never let bitterness
                    sour the outcome
       nor his relationships.
Joseph saw reality from 
           a different perspective.
"God, use even this."

And he told his brothers,:
"As for you,
       you meant it for evil,
but God meant it for good,
to bring it about
that many people should be kept alive,
as they are today."

                         Genesis 50.20

God redeems it all,
in ways that extend far beyond
            what I can imagine,
His purposes are always greater
            than what concerns me.


Thursday, January 23, 2014

My Way or the Highway

I left home early the other morning, the sky bright and the roads clear and dry.  One interstate led to another.  I could see clouds up ahead on the horizon, but what were a few clouds on a blue crisp day like this?

And as soon as I came across the state line, I drove into a snow storm so thick, every car and truck went from the speed limit to a virtual crawl.  The snow was so deep on the pavement, I questioned if we were even traveling on lanes at all.  I saw cars on the shoulders, unable to traverse any further. The ramps were lined up a half mile ahead of time, people desperate to escape, thinking perhaps it would be easier another way.

I kept my course, excruciatingly slow.  One car pulled into a "free" lane, pulling past as if it had a waiver.  Within a hundred feet, the car was up to its bumper in snow and moved no more, like a ship run aground. The long slow line of cars and trucks passed slowly by.

I snuck in behind a large Fed-Ex truck and let him lead the way.  This twelve mile section of road took two hours and fifteen minutes to traverse.  I watched the digital clock in the car move even slower than the traffic. The images of vehicles passed in and out of sight like people in a dream.

Finally, I saw the exit sign for my next highway.  I followed "my" truck, hoping it was not headed directly into a field, because I would have no way of knowing.  Quite suddenly, traffic began to rouse itself like sleepy teenagers getting up for school.  By the time I reached the next exit, traffic was moving at a near-speed limit pace, the roads clear but wet.  I exited, pulled into a parking lot, cleared my now-almost-inoperable windshield wipers of thick crusty ice, stretched my legs, and started on my route again.  The next seven hours were blue skies and dry roads, as if that short section of blizzard never existed.

When we obey and follow God's way, He guides, provides, strengthens, and delivers -- even through a thick mess.  And it is in the struggle that we realize that we do not abide in our own strength, but His.  The world will make you hard.  Jesus does not make you tough; He makes you strong.

His way is always the High way.  Even when I don't understand what is happening, I can follow Him through it.

LORD, make me faithful even in mystery, running full-speed or creeping along on my knees, full of Your strength and living in Your grace.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways My ways, says the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are My ways higher than your ways,
and My thoughts than your thoughts.

                                      Isaiah 55. 8-9

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

All the way through

In the next few weeks, many of us will be remarking, "Wow, how did he do that?"  And yet, each of us knows that Olympic athletes don't just suddenly appear every four years, fully equipped and dressed with ability for the challenges of their course.  It is not their country's uniform that makes them strong and able.  They may possess a tiny amount of giftedness, but their strength is all in the training, the every day building up and the fruit of their rigorous labors.

I attended once a luncheon where women spoke of their memories of good times.  Even while others were speaking before the group, there was a bit of chitchat going on, not much attention being paid to the nostalgia offered like an overly sweet dessert.  But when it was one woman's turn to speak, the room became suddenly silent, all eyes turned and all ears tuned to her every word.  This was not a woman who basked in glory, but who, in the past few years, had not just come through some horrific struggles, but had emerged even stronger than before.  She did not just name the name of Jesus, she did not just claim a few scattered verses of Scripture, but she had literally been to the edge and back again.  And Jesus was right with her.  These women wanted to know -- indeed, needed to know -- that God is real.  He is there afterall.

My friend's strength did not emerge from success and favorable circumstances, not from the luck of the draw nor in personal ability, but in God alone.  She had learned to trust Him in the every days, and when the crisis came, well, she learned to trust Him through that as well.  God is in that too.  He is there.  You are not alone, Jesus said over and over again.

A passage of Scripture caught in my thoughts this morning as I read it, like a tune that repeats in a continual loop.  Notice what makes the difference in these verses, certainly not the circumstances.

He reached from on high,
He took me,
He drew me out of many waters.
He delivered me from my strong enemy,
and from those who hated me,
       fpor they were too mighty for me.
They came upon me
                  in the day of my calamity,
     but the LORD was my stay.
He brought me forth into a broad place;
He delivered me,
            because He delighted in me.

                              Psalm 18. 16-19

...but the LORD was my stay.

God may literally pluck you out of the flood,
or He may guide you right through it.
Deliverance comes in many shapes and sizes.
But He is there.
He loves you.
He delights in you.
Learn to trust Him,
       not your own strength,
       certainly not the blue skies of life
                       nor the storms.

Train now in trust.

Trust Him in all ways
          and all the way.

I don't know what you are going through, my friend,
       but you can trust God through it.
God is real.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

All in

"If a man is called to be a street sweeper,
    he should sweep streets
    even as Michelangelo painted,
    or Beethoven composed music,
    or Shakespeare wrote poetry.
He should sweep streets so well
    that all the hosts of heaven and earth
    will pause to say,
here lived a great street sweeper
                    who did his job well."

               -- Martin Luther King Jr.
                   January 15, 1929- April 4, 1968

(Bring glory to God
 in everything you do)

Whatever your hand finds to do,
        do it with your might.

                       Ecclesiastes 9.10

Whatever your task,
work heartily,
        as serving the Lord and not men.

                        Colossians 3.23

Saturday, January 18, 2014

A nudge on a Saturday morning

We woke up our usual early Saturday morning after a long hard week.  We anticipated an unstructured, unhurried day.

But God was nudging.

There was a seminar at church starting in an hour.  "Do you want to go?" we asked each other, hoping the other would make the decision, both of us waffling whether to go or not.  Justifications not to go rushed to the forefront of our thoughts, like children choosing teams on the playground. And on the other side of the equation, well, there was just that lone undefined nudge.

Fifteen minutes later, we were in the car on our way.  If you had asked me why, I don't know if I could have told you.

Not even 30 minutes into a four-hour seminar, I silently thanked God for that nudge.  Thank You, LORD, that we were not deceived by the sin of convenience and pre-made plans.  O, how much we would have missed out, if we hadn't followed You into it.

It was exactly what was needful.

And once again, I was reminded:
      Obedience always bears fruit,
              sometimes even that we will never see,
     but disobedience chops down the orchard.

Value is not determined by how much something costs,
           but that which exceeds worth.
What is most precious is not marked with a price tag.
There is an old saying,
        "If you have to ask,
             you probably can't afford it."
In my heart that has changed to:
          "If you have to ask,
              you are not willing."
Trust Me into it,
                    God says.
Beware of justified actions,
        because that is often the path
        of disobedience.
God's way doesn't always make sense to me,
                  but there is always deeper purpose in it.
And it might be all about
          someone I don't even know
God will redeem.

Many are the plans in the mind of a man,
but it is the purpose of the LORD
                  that will be established.

                                   Proverbs 19.21

For I know the plans I have for you,
                     says the LORD,
plans for welfare and not for evil,
to give you a future and a hope.

                                      Jeremiah 29.11

Friday, January 17, 2014

A Dog's Guide to How to Win Friends and Influence People -- And What We Can Learn

"Wag More,
Bark Less."

Sage advice for any relationship.

Outdo one another
      in showing honor.

                      Romans 12.10

Thursday, January 16, 2014

But I don't want to

Obedience is not about rules,
        but about relationship.
Most of all,
       it is not even about my will
                       or His,
       but of trust.

When I trust,
      I gladly follow.

Earlier this week, I overheard a conversation
between my daughter
     and my very two-year-old grandson.
She had asked him to come upstairs.
"But I don't want to," he said.
"Well, you are going to miss out,"
                                  she replied.
            is not getting my way.
Disobedience is missing out.

Obedience to God
        is not power over us,
but His presence within.

Has the LORD as great delight
    in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
as in obeying the voice of the LORD?
          to obey is better than sacrifice,
and to hearken than the fat of rams.

                       1 Samuel 15.22

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Expiration Dates and Deep Cleaning

From the pantry to the file cabinet to the little storage space beside our furnace, I am sorting through what has accumulated largely over the past four years.  Some are documents that need to be saved for taxes or records, but oh, why did I save that?

It is new year therapy to organize the mess in the closets and examine expiration dates on items that not only shouldn't be kept, but not eaten at all.  I know all too well how clutter can take on a life of its own.  Two locations ago, I realized that we were moving to a house without a basement.  And out of necessity, most of those things that I held onto "because we might need it someday" were passed on to someone who could actually use them.  Even the boxes and boxes of meaningless trophies from the self-esteem 1990s when "everyone gets a trophy." found a new purpose by an organization that re-uses them for their urban sports ministry.

The new year is a good time to clean up and let go. more ways than one.

We serve a God of newness, a God Who doesn't just recycle and reuse, but redeems.  And part of that redeeming, that newness, is forgiveness.
The dictionary that my father began using in 1931
 states that forgiveness:
     " ...not only lifts the punishment or consequences
                                      from the offender,
      but restores him
            to an unresentful place
      in the affections of the offended."

Forgiveness is not just a letting go,
      a forgetting,
      a willful looking past,
but the re-establishment
                 of what has been broken.

In that same dictionary, right above the listing for forgiveness is the word "forget."  They are listed close-by not just because of alphabetizing, but because they go hand-in-hand.  Forgive, forget.  You don't see one without the other.   Forgive lets go.  Forget finishes the task by ceasing to retain the offense in one's memory.  Don't let it clutter up the chambers of your heart.

The heart is stubborn and willful.  Use that same strong will to forgive and forget. If you have offended, ask forgiveness.  But if you are the offended, go to God alone. Let go of the bitterness.  And  "restore that person to an unresentful place" in your affections.

Forgiveness doesn't just happen.  It is a decision to release the offender and declare, "You don't owe me," says James MacDonald, pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel. "And after you have forgiven them, never bring it up again before God, before others, or before yourself.  Release them and live it out."

And as my dear four-year-old granddaughter says:
            "Forget about it!"

It will not only change your relationship with the forgiven,
it will change your relationships with others,
it will change your relationship with God,
it will change you.
Forgiveness even impacts your grandchildren.
It imparts grace to the next generation
               instead of unresolved conflict.

And forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.

                             Matthew 6.12

I love how Jesus did not just come to earth
with a set of rules
or even to reinforce the commandments
                 to love God and love others,
but to fulfill them.
Jesus calls us to go beyond,
         to exceed the norm,
                and to pursue the unexpected.

Then Peter came up and said to Him,
"Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me,
and I forgive him?
As many as seven times?"
Jesus said to him,
      "I do not say to you seven times,
but seventy times seven."

                              Matthew 18. 21-22

          and forget about it.
God will redeem.


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

OK, God, I can take it from here

Yesterday, I ran for the first time in three months.  My foot is not completely healed, but at my last physical therapy appointment, I was given clearance to run only on the treadmill, slowly, alternating with walking, a prescription I clasped joyfully.  Yesterday, I walked five minutes, ran for five minutes at a metered pace, walked another five, and so on, fulfilling the therapist's directions.

As I ran slowly, I thought about this long healing, and what I have learned through it, most of which had nothing to do with my foot.  God did not take away running from me, but He put it in its rightful place.  "Use my running," I would pray, "for Your glory."  He took it to even deeper dimensions, even in my inability to run, even in my brokenness.

When I was injured back in September, at first I stubbornly worked my way through the pain, figuring my foot would get better on its own.  The real healing began, not when I finally went to the doctor, or even when I reluctantly signed up for physical therapy, but when I came to the point of trusting that "yes, they may very well know what they are doing," even when I did not initially see results.   Don't push through the pain, don't quit, but slow it down. 

When I ran my third interval yesterday, well, my foot still felt good.  No problem, I thought.  I can keep going.  This is better than I thought.  I ran beyond my prescription.   Halfway through the fourth running segment, I felt a slight twinge.  In the fifth interval of running, I stopped.  My foot hurt.  And I limped around the rest of the day.

Needless to say, there was no running today.
I realized that my freedom to run
    was not based on how fast I go,
                   nor even how far,
   but the obedience.
We all very well know,
when pride kicks in,
at that point when we say in our hearts,
"OK, God,
     I can take it from here."
That is when we veer off the path.
There is a reason for obedience,
     most of which I cannot know.
Follow Him into it.

The healing pales in light of what God reveals.
It always does.
There is always a deeper purpose in miracles,
      a healing not of feet,
             but of the heart.

How much do I trust Him?

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Choose Your Rut Carefully

The first house in which my husband and I lived, an ancient and eccentric structure, backed up to an alley, the heartbeat of any urban neighborhood.  That is how we maneuvered through the matrix of intersecting roads and maintained community with our neighbors.  You can always tell a lot about a neighborhood from its alleys.

About this time of year, in the frigid depths of January, the ice and snow in the unplowed alley became like a treacherous journey to the South Pole.   As we would turn from the busy street into the alley, we would say out loud, "Choose your rut carefully.  You are going to be in it for a long time."  There were large ridges where other cars had pushed through.  Some ruts would allow your car to get to the other end, and yet most, left your vehicle immobile, requiring backing-up or the passenger to PUSH the car through the icy tundra.  After awhile, we would determine the most likely ruts that traveled through, sometimes those that were not so obvious.

About this time of year, opportunities arise
that promise and appeal as great uses of my limited time
                                                       and attention.
Beware of what takes residence in your life,
    those occasional guests who are revealed to be
tyrants in disguise,
            in whatever form that it may be.
Walk away from anything
     that makes you yearn for every episode,
consume the whole box, 
that which fills up all your spare moments,
overrides the needs of others,
and takes captive your thoughts.

Choose your rut carefully.
You will be in it for a long time.

The world claims these things as harmless obsessions,
as it packages them in even bigger portions.
But God calls anything that has power over me,

But oh,
       we LOVE those ruts.
And we even LOVE to complain about them.
We get comfortable,
          treat them as good old friends,
we welcome them in the front door,
serve lunch
and offer them the recliner
    to make them even harder to give up
and to make it seem like treason
                to even think about abandoning them.
"This is who I am,"
      we justify as we tighten the shackles
around our wrists
               and add more around our ankles.

These pursuits and activities may all be "good things,"
and that is great,
    but not when they run my life.
That is why one of the fruits of the Spirit
                         is self-control,
      an odd one added to love and peace,
but that which provides the strength to discern
            and the courage to walk away.
Christ came to give us freedom
                       even from ourselves.

All things are lawful,
but not all things are helpful.
All things are lawful,
but not all things build up.

                  1 Corinthians 10.23

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Where are You?

A man and his wife were driving along in their car, decades ago when there were bench seats in front and no seat belts at all.  At a stop light, they noticed in the car next to them, a couple sitting closely together, his arm around her shoulders.

"Why don't we sit that close like we used to?"  the wife lamented out loud, envying the other couple's intimacy.

To which, her husband replied, "Who moved?"

God is there.
  He has not moved,
                      but we have.
We have fallen for the deception
     that God is to be
           placed on a list of things to do,
ranking time with Him
      as something we can afford or not,
trying to translate "obedience"
             into the easy convenience
       of letting Him ride along with us,
not following Him into His day for us
              but fitting God into our day,
                            our own agenda,
     and deciding today,
          if He even fits in that crowded backseat at all.
And then in desperate moments,
          we cry out,
    and wonder where He is.

Why do You stand afar off, O LORD?
Why do You hide Yourself
             in times of trouble?

                                   Psalm 10.1

Who moved?

Draw near to God,
and He will draw near to you.

                                  James 4.8

Friday, January 10, 2014

Random Acts of Gospel

It happened after our third daughter was born,
and I was re-hospitalized with a medical emergency.
Without fanfare, people came out of the blue to help us.
Some people, we didn't even know, brought meals.
Others helped take care of our two active toddlers and
               our newborn baby.
And in the midst,
the countertop full
            and the doorbell still ringing,
 my mother-in-law declared,
         "This is what the Church should look like."
People were extending kindness to us
           for no other reason than we were in need.
There are no Christian labels on casseroles,
      and a homemade pound cake is always
                           a clear extension of grace.

Whatever I am doing,
      in whatever I do,
I am sharing the Gospel.
What I do,
how I do it,
      and why I do it.

Random acts of Gospel
are not random at all
         but full of purpose
   by all means possible.
These opportunities don't just show up,
                 but are always
                       divinely appointed.

Every kindness proclaims the Gospel
           and reminds us what God is like.

A single act of grace
           can change the hardest heart.
Even in the doing.
Even mine.

    do not be weary in well-doing.

                        2 Thessalonians 3.13

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Return On Investment Guaranteed

Time spent in God's Word
         never returns void.

If you think it doesn't matter,
you will never know how much it could.

The law of the LORD is perfect,
                 reviving the soul;
the testimony of the LORD is sure,
                 making wise the simple;
the precepts of the LORD are right,
                 rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the LORD is pure,
                 enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the LORD is clean,
                 enduring forever;
the ordinances of the LORD are true,
                 and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
    even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
    and drippings of the honeycomb.
by them is Your servant warned;
    in keeping them
                           there is great reward.

                                   Psalm 19. 7-11

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Full Schedule

The new year is not a empty slate,
   a cavernous vacuum,
         blank pages of another calendar
     waiting to be filled in
                              and filled up.
But these next twelve months arrive completed,
            overflowing their banks already
       not with busyness and activities
but with God's divine appointments,
His goodness,
        His purposes,
                His glory
   written even in the margins.

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

                           Psalm 31.15

The LORD will fulfill His purpose for me.

                           Psalm 138.8

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

A mess of my own doing

I am an occasional seamstress, a stitcher of necessity.  I mostly repair seams that have come apart, small tears, and replace random buttons, those literally hanging onto life by a thread.  A small pink plastic bin holds the things I need such as needles, thread, rick-rack, and pieces of past projects that might come in handy.

It is, indeed, a mess of my own doing.

A couple of weeks ago, the seam of a winter coat needed repair, a gym bag handle required reinforcement, and an old quilt called for a quick mend.  I pulled out my old sewing bin and promised myself this year I will get it organized.  I pushed a few things aside, looking for the right color of thread, a near-impossible task.

And there at the very bottom of the bin, right in the middle of the mess, a small metal cross appeared.  How did that get in there?  What is Jesus doing at the bottom of my mess?

Since the beginning of the new year, I have listened, prayed, and counseled so many close friends who are holding tight to Jesus in the face of great tectonic heart aches, financial situations, and "I-don't -know-what-to-do" circumstances.  They are dealing with bins of deep regrets, unraveled intentions, straggling threads of failure, broken zippers unable to hold anything together, messes of their own doing and undoing, and the blunders that just seem to follow all of us around and gang up at inconvenient times.

What does Jesus have to do with this overwhelming situation?  How could He possibly help me now?

But this is why He came.
We are all in one fashion or another
 caught up in a knotted mess
          at the bottom of a miry bog of despair,
              a weary wilderness journey,
                a lonely place of exile,
with no way out.

But that is where Jesus meets us.
That is where Jesus lives.
Because that is when we utterly,
        turn to Him.

And that is when the redeeming

At the bottom of despair,
at the end of my rope,
        His grace is revealed.

It is not that "it will all work out."
Or even, "God will work it out."
      God is already working.
      He is already there.
God doesn't just resolve the problem,
   but He redeems it
                    all the way through.

But You, O LORD,
      are a shield about me,
my glory,
              and the lifter of my head.
I cry aloud to the LORD,
and He answers me from His holy hill.

                          Psalm 3. 3-4

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Real 2014

From advertisements to personal emails,
        most correspondence in the past couple of weeks
has been signed,
                       Happy New Year,
a greeting typically discarded by the end of the month,
          along with gym memberships
          and clear plastic organizational bins.

      I read an email that closed with the simple phrase,
Welcome 2014.

Ahhhhh, that's better.
Because when we seek God,
life is so much deeper than a "happy" year,
     but packed with incredible daily stories
                         of God's faithfulness,
        and fulfilled.

Welcome not another year,
       but embrace the reality that God is already in it.
The next twelve months will not be decorated with colorful balloons
                and clear blue skies,
but carry some tough stuff.
                                (Fill in the blank here.)
The good news about the new year
                is not dependent on a wishful plastic happiness,
     but that God is there too...
            on the steep slopes,
        on the mountaintops,
 and in the valleys strewn with failures
           that are victories in disguise,
           just waiting to be redeemed.
Even in those miry bogs,
                  both real and imagined,
      His purposes are revealed.
used for His glory.
All eyes on Him.

It is not elusive circumstances that make you blessed,
      but living in the reality of who God is--
Wonderful Counselor,
Mighty God,
Everlasting Father,
Prince of Peace,
Creator of the Universe,
Maker of you and me,
the gentle Shepherd,
the living Water,
Savior of the world.

His love hasn't changed at all.
Welcome 2014.
Thank You, God,
     for another new year.
And each day,
      even though,
      even when,
      even in this,
                Your faithfulness gets all over it.

The LORD is my shepherd,
I shall not want;
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me beside still waters;
            He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
            for His name's sake.
Even though I walk
    through the valley of the shadow of death,
            I fear no evil;
for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff,
                          they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil,
            my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
            all the days of my life;
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
                                    for ever.

                                                Psalm 23

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Nothing on the radar

We helped pack boxes, loaded a trailer, and helped our daughter move this past weekend.  Far away.  We left early Friday morning before dawn, and by 3.30 in the afternoon, we were unloading the Uhaul at her new apartment in a new city. 

Right before supper, one of our other daughters called from yet another city far away and alerted us to an expected weather front coming through the next day.  When we checked the forecast, we realized that we couldn't stay.  We needed to leave the next morning.  Time for Plan B.

Saturday dawned a crisp blue day, well above freezing.  Do we really have to leave?

We hugged our daughter, jumped onto the interstate highway, and headed back the same way we drove nine hours the day before.

For most of the drive, we wove along on dry pavement under clear blue skies, the temperature hovering in the mid-40s.  The afternoon moved slowly by.  And still, no storm in sight.  I checked the online weather report on my phone.  Nothing on the radar.

Did we make a mistake?  Could we have stayed longer like we had planned?  Like we wanted to?

After eight hours of driving, an hour from home, we stopped for gas.  Back on the interstate, before we even reached the next exit, it was like we had driven right into a thick white curtain.  We crawled along unplowed roads the rest of our way.  The last hour's drive turned into two.

But we made it.

We awoke this morning, and it was even worse.  And when we looked up the weather radar today, we saw what we would have been going through.  We realized what we had avoided.


God knew what was coming.  I'm glad we heeded.  The dry roads did not mean a mistake in God's leading.  Just His protection.

Following God fully
                  means even when...
   even under a clear blue sky,
   even when it doesn't make sense,
   even when I don't want to.
Following God fully
                   is behaving
       as if I knew what was coming,
trusting Him that much,
       in what He knows
                           and I cannot.
The sky was blue,
the road dry,
the temperature not even close,
         right down to the last hour.
My heart was questioning,
    had we been duped by a faulty forecast?
And then....
         when we least suspected,
         when we were almost home,
  it hit.
The clear conditions were not a mix-up
                in communication.
It was His shield,
       His protection over us.
I had no idea.
                 We usually don't.
But I know
             I can trust Him through it.
God's purposes
         are even deeper than that.
God's path leads us through the storm
                    even before it is,
sensitive to His leading,
trusting His purposes,
following even in mystery.
          it is not a mystery to Him.
It is not even Plan B.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
    and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways
                   acknowledge Him,
and He will make straight your paths.

                            Proverbs 3. 5-6

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Antidote for Anxiety

There is a God.

And that reality
         makes all the difference.
God is in control,
        and I am not.

Stake your life on that truth
and follow Him fully into it.
God is faithful
       and always good,
even when we cannot see it
God redeems
              in incredible ways.

He is before all things,
and in Him
         all things hold together.

                         Colossians 1.17

Do not even be tempted by it.
To paraphrase 1 Corinthians 10.13:

No anxiety has overtaken you
that is not common to man.
God is faithful,
and He will not let you be anxious
                 beyond your strength,
but with the anxiety
will also provide
             the way of escape,
that you may be able
              to endure it.

Walk away from anxiety,
     be not distracted
              or enslaved by it.
God has greater things
     for you to tend.

 There is a God.
         And He is in control.
Abide in Him.


Friday, January 3, 2014

First things first

     is not thinking less of yourself,
but thinking less about yourself.

Love God.
Love others.

Do nothing
   from selfishness or conceit,
but in humility
count others better than yourselves.
Let each of you
look not only to his own interests,
but also to the interests of others.
                         Philippians 2. 3-4

...He adorns the humble
                    with victory.

                          Psalm 149.4

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Dog-eared pages

Do you thank God for Friday.
but forget
     to thank Him for Monday?

                -- Marcus Goodyear.
                    senior editor,
                    The High

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

This one thing will change your year

I have been listening to the news lately,
      "the experts" who say
         to implement something different this year,
                         do one thing in that direction,
not tomorrow
     or next week
or when things settle down
        (for that alone
          you will be waiting forever),
but today
        one thing in that direction.

Change comes in taking little baby steps.

I challenge you to make that one thing
      to read God's Word everyday
      this year.
This challenge comes with a lifetime guarantee.
            It will change your life.
It doesn't have to be at daybreak
            or at any specific time,
    but just a daily appointment.
If you trust Him in it,
        God will provide you a pocket of time
     at some point in your day.
I have never heard anyone
      struggle to "find the time"
   to check Facebook,
       or Pinterest,
            or Instagram.
You just do it.
God will reveal His pocket of time for you.
      Be ready to jump in.
You can even read Scripture on your phone.

Give God ten minutes.
He will more than enlarge that time.
Take a verse with you into your day.
Engrave it on your mind,
put it in your pocket,
let it seep into your thoughts,
     let God change your life through it.

God uses His Word to change me,
change everyone around me,
change my day,
          its divine appointments,
                        and outcomes,
and change the world.
It is not because I give Him
            ten minutes or twenty,
but because God spends that time with me.
Being with Him
        cannot help but change my life.
It will not make you "a better person,"
    but through that daily engraving of His Word,
    I realize more who I really am:
                             beloved by Him.
And that changes everything.

Obey God in this
        and see what will happen,
see how He uses that obedience,
see how God doesn't just apply His Word in your life
                 but weaves it in,
see how He uses you as a result,
see how He changes you.

And as an old woman told me
       in the very busiest time of my life,
"Make God's Word first,
       before you read anything else."
Nothing has impacted me
                  more than that.

God will change your life
       in more ways than you can know.
His Word never returns void.

Blessed is the man
   who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers,
but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
            planted by streams of water,
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.

                           Psalm 1. 1-3

God will fill you.
God will fulfill you.

Joyous new year!


Resolutions, Radar, and Reality

A fresh twelve months arrived at the front door this morning,
like a clan of energetic children ready with boots on,
              waiting to burst forth with zeal.
It matters not what I am going to do
                    with these next 365 days,
what I will accomplish,
what I seek to achieve,
but what will make this year different
           is laying my life before Him
     and trust in what only He can do
                        with this time,
                        with my efforts,
                        with my life.

The best way to start the new year
is not with a list of resolutions
but with a repentant heart.

I look back on last year,
         already wrapped up and stored away,
and I realize that the most profound things of all
were not even on my radar twelve months ago
                                    when the year started.
I do not face this new year
      with a grocery list of behaviors,
or the mindset to be a better person,
but with the heartset
                to be forgiven and faithful.

Let God transform my burdens,
my thoughts,
my actions,
my successes and that which falls short
       and redeem them
            --cash them in --
into what He can use for His glory.

It is not that God should be a part of my life,
like a blip on my radar,
or even hold a prominent place,
               but be preeminent in all things.

I can attempt to resolve,
                      but only God can redeem.
He will reveal Himself
              step by step
       as we follow Him into it.
The reality of God
                       goes on ahead.
The reality of God
                       changes everything
Because He is.

And so if there must be a list to do and be,
                 let His Word saturate it all: a life worthy of the Lord,
fully pleasing to Him,
bearing fruit in every good work,
and increasing in the knowledge of God.

                           Colossians 1.10