Tuesday, April 29, 2014

There when you need it most

Sometimes there are seasons we don't expect.
And sometimes reasons too deep for us to comprehend.
And God redeems it all.
His purposes are not dependent on my understanding
          or my approval.
And even the mysteries to me
     are no surprise to Him a bit.
And God redeems it all.

I read a Psalm this morning
that will always stand to me
as a reminder of God's faithfulness.

I was eighteen.  All my friends had left for college, conquering exciting new frontiers. I was still at home, our family struggling with an unemployed father who had big dreams of starting his own business and no money to do it... and certainly no money for me to go to college.  This was not quite what I had pictured, but it was reality.

When faced with incredible struggles, my grandmother never wasted time on asking "why me?"  She poured her energy into "ok, well, what can we do about it?"  She was one of the most creative people I have ever known.  She could turn an empty cupboard into a feast, literally and figuratively.

Instead of traveling to the small college that accepted me, I found myself on a different road, commuting through a wilderness of sorts, 45 minutes each way to take classes twice a week at the community college. That was financed by living at home, working part time at a factory the other three days of the work week, and yet another job ushering at the symphony and theater all weekend.

And on those long commutes to school and work in a car without a radio, one ordinary day, I began to memorize Psalm 100.  And those words began to seep into my heart and change it.  God's Word never returns void.  It didn't just give me something to do or to distract me from total boredom, God used it to strengthen me and keep me from despair.  I could not change my circumstances that year, but God changed how I saw my situation and redeemed it.

Psalm 100 was part of my reading this morning.  And I found those joyful words still engraved in my heart and mind, a pathway rubbed deep from many times traversing it.

God's Word emerges from the very ground and embraces with a strong hug, no matter what wilderness where you may find yourself.

Make a joyful noise to the LORD,
              all the lands!
Serve the LORD with gladness!
Come into His presence with singing!
Know that the LORD is God!
It is He that made us,
    and not we ourselves;
we are His people,
    and the sheep of His pasture.
Enter His gates with thanksgiving,
    and His courts with praise.
Give thanks to Him,
                bless His name!
For the LORD is good;
His steadfast love endures for ever,
and His faithfulness
            to all generations.

                        Psalm 100


Monday, April 28, 2014

Stories all around us

Everyone has a story.

A sweet friend shared a powerful message with me this week, that which happened in her church after the Easter sermon, that which happens because of the Resurrection.  These are people she worships with every Sunday, ordinary people with extraordinary stories of redemption. Click this link, and see what God does best.

He changes lives.

The world says we are stuck.
But God proves differently.

I am crucified with Christ;
it is no longer I who live,
but Christ who lives in me,
and the life I now live in the flesh,
I live by faith in the Son of God
who loved me
     and gave Himself for me.

                  Galatians 2.20

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Surely God calls us all to that

Do not withhold good
    from those to whom it is due,
when it is in your power to do it.

                       Proverbs 3.27

God places people on our path
and surrounds us daily
with opportunity to do good,
quickened in us
    only by the grace of God.

Nothing little is ever done,
every kind word and deed
just another stitch reinforcing
                   His redeeming
   and manifesting His love.

Surely God calls us all to that.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Things don't just happen

Our young grandchildren are very much aware that things don't just happen.  Someone makes supper, someone built their swing set, someone did the work. They are young.  But that much they know.  "And you?"  I ask them.  "Who made you so special?"  "Why, God, of course," they both replied.

In the world,
we notice patterns,
and purpose,
because that is how God creates.
God has reasons for it,
   so complex
that man cannot replicate,
and not even improve.
And the things that man makes
use what God has already provided.
The theory of evolution
            is strictly utilitarian.
There is no explanation for benevolence,
     or awe.
When God created, He did not say,
             "This is useful."
He said,
              "It is good."

Ascribe to the LORD
        the glory due His name.

                        Psalm 96.8


Friday, April 25, 2014

Ramp speed

On my long travels this week, the roads were particularly occupied by large trucks.  As these huge vehicles exit the highway, there is a long lane to slow down their speed in order to safely and purposefully reach their destination.  They cannot just speed through, no matter their mindset or mood.

In family or work situations when, not if, tensions arise, it is also wise to de-accelerate.  When one of our grandchildren gets caught up in emotional turmoil, her other grandmother has taught her to count 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.  It gives this little girl the margin to put on her internal brakes, think about what she is doing, and what would be a better way to approach the situation. Our granddaughter now has a valuable tool in her toolbox that she can use for the rest of her life.

De-accelerating provides an incredible sense of freedom.  Think and pray it through first to a very different outcome.

Show me, O LORD, Your way in this.

Then they cried to the LORD
               in their trouble,
and He delivered them
        from their distress;
He made the storm be still,
and the waves of the sea
                       were hushed.
Then they were glad
             because they had quiet,
and He brought them
      to their desired haven.

                   Psalm 107. 28-30

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Watches in the Night

It is in the little wakings in the night,
coming up from a deep sleep
          to the surface,
when dreams melt away.
And standing by the side of the bed
        is a loud,impatient crowd
          of anxieties and worries,
all clamoring for attention
like toddlers shouting,
      "Oh good, she's awake."
And awake I stay,
tending to each and every one,
dwelling on every aspect,
memorizing every detail,
examining multiple angles
         and what each means to me,
translating each worry
         into fourteen different languages,
following each thread
    that leads to yet another thought,
a new dimension,
     and lastly to a cousin
       with all kinds of related fears.

But as my friend Laurie says,
"If you know how to worry,
you already know
       how to meditate on Scripture.
You are just dwelling
              on the wrong thing."

Redeem those watches in the night
by reciting Scripture,
meditating on it,
praying the words,
dwelling on it,
marinating on God's Word,
and listening to Him
      instead of fear.
On what am I dwelling
     that is His rightful place?

...I think of You upon my bed,
and meditate on You
     in the watches of the night,
for You have been my help,
and in the shadow of Your wings
                I sing for joy.

                     Psalm 63. 6-7

Monday, April 21, 2014

Dog-eared pages

The proof of desire
     is in the pursuit.

      -- Chris Davis
          Downtown Presbyterian Church
          Memphis, TN

Sunday, April 20, 2014

What changed?

The stone was moved.
The burial shroud of Jesus
     was still wound up
     and discarded in an empty tomb.
And angels,
I imagine the very same ones
who announced to the shepherds,
            "He is here!"
now proclaimed,
"He is not here,
for He has risen,
             as He said."
We can read the Scripture accounts
     of what happened that Easter morning.
But there is even greater
         evidence of the Resurrection.
For behind locked doors,
   His disciples cowered in fear.
All was lost.
Jesus was not
     who they thought He was,
a political figure to overthrow the Romans.
        Jesus was not that at all.
Jesus came
         to overthrow sin.
People wanted a Messiah
    to rise up against political oppression,
and instead,
           Jesus rose from the dead,
delivering us from the oppression of sin.
Jesus did not proclaim political overthrow,
   but called for personal repentance,
an infinitely greater victory dance.

And therein lies
the most vivid proof of the Resurrection:
          the changed lives of His disciples.
They were transformed from cowards
                into martyrs.
No man willingly dies
for what he knows to be a lie.
But the truth of the Resurrection
                changed them completely.
Jesus was who He said He was
                                    after all.
And He proved it by doing the impossible,
            by defeating death.
And that changed everything.

The greatest proof of the Resurrection
was changed lives.

It still is.

Be proof.
Let the reality of the Resurrection
       be manifest in you.

Joyous Easter,
     in all you do and say,
in work,
and relationships,
and life,
not on a holiday in April,
but every day of the year.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Easter decorations

The outdoor Easter decorations this year are but a promise of what is to come.  Tiny buds line the boughs of trees like strings of lights not quite finished.  And the perenials buried deep in the ground are just now beginning to shake the long winter sleep from their heads as if teenagers not quite awake in the morning.

And inside the house, it appears I have but a half-eaten bowl of jelly beans displayed as a reminder of this holiday celebration.

This Saturday waits awkwardly between Good Friday and Easter, a day that marks the between-ness of the crucifixion and the resurrection.  It was the day when the disciples despaired and thought it was all over, this leader of theirs dead in a borrowed tomb, and they who ran away are now hiding behind locked doors.

And it is the day when satan rejoiced,
because he thought he had won.

But this day is not a time for hopelessness, but the shedding of our mourning clothes for that which is completely new, not what is to come, but the reality of who He is.

At Christmas,
celebrating the coming of our Lord,
we go all out decorating
and then take it back down again,
stored for another year.

At Easter,
bowls of jelly beans are consumed,
no leftovers
          but a ham sandwich or two.
What really remains
     is more than Easter finery
     worn for a day
  and hung again in the back of the closet.
For now we bear
          lives changed forever,
not looking for hope,
                     but living it.
There are no decorations to take down,
       but a newness within
                 His grace indwells,
       and the transformation begins. 
Nothing will ever be the same.

I came that they may have life,
and have it abundantly.
                   John 10.10

Friday, April 18, 2014

A nature path, butterflies, and what was redeemed

We meandered along paths shaded by enormous mangrove trees, and a great variety of tropical trees and bushes that created a tapestry of color and texture. Tiny lizards scampered across our path, and it appeared that hundreds of butterflies were throwing a party.  It was a nature preserve carved out in the middle of a town, a place of refreshment and delight.

And when we came to the end of the path, back to civilization so to speak, I stopped to read the signs alongside the trail.  And that was the wonder of it all.

This place of beauty had been the town dump for decade upon decade, not only for the disposal of reeking garbage but where raw sewage was dumped into its waters.  By 1953, it was the place of the dead, so putrid that it was declared a forbidden zone.

Decades later, a group of people declared that this place of blight need not be deadened in that way.  And they proceeded to redeem the land, restore the waters, reclaim the native plantings, and recreate it the way God intended.  It was the same place, but redeemed.

And as I left that place of coming back from the dead, I realized that is what resurrection looks like in our own lives, allowing us to realize how God sees us, so precious and beloved.  God redeems, restores, reclaims, and recreates.  That is what He does best.

if any one is in Christ,
he is a new creation;
the old has passed away,
     the new has come.

                2 Corinthians 5.17

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Tales of the Resurrection

Jesus often used parables to explain spiritual realities.  Stories of "real life" brought home the enormous truths of God.

Back in April 1988, I was in a very different season of life.  Focus on the Family published a true story about the resurrection that I have never forgotten.  Indeed, I still have the pages of that story in my file.

A few days ago, I remembered that article and found it in another online publication.  I hope that it touches your heart as it did mine.

Click here to read the story.

He is not here,
    but He has risen.

                 Luke 24.6

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Know your exits

It is hard to imagine wanting to voluntarily leave
     such a place of beauty and warmth.
But those who have been around
know what savage tropical weather can do
and what to do about it:
     hurricane shutters over windows,
     emergency water and provisions,
and knowing not just when to evacuate
                                    but how.

And at some point,
 everyone faces the storms of life. 

When trouble is bearing down,
there is no time to carefully evaluate.
Emergency plans are just knowing
                               ahead of time
         how to handle a volatile situation.
Panic distracts
                 and escalates itself.
Fear just trips you up.

Wherever God leads you,
        be aware of the exits,
not in a quitting kind of way,
but when the sweet-smelling breezes of temptation
lull you into staying in a place dangerous for you.
May your heart be trained
     to differentiate what strengthens
     and what destroys,
when to stand firm
                       and when to FLEE!

...for those who have their faculties
                trained by practice
     to distinguish good from evil.
                          Hebrews 5.14

Be aware of your surroundings
   but even more,
                      God's leading.
Sometimes God calls us
   to walk through an impossible Red Sea,
sometimes to stand in the breach
     where others dare not go,
sometimes to go forth and fear not,
and sometimes,
    God says, "Run for your life!"

Teach your children,
rehearse the scenes,
practice the words,
that they would know
   both the courage to intervene,
       and the freedom
              when to turn and walk away,
not if trouble comes,
                      but when.      

Know the evacuation routes,
know your exits,
        aware as the flight attendant says,
"the nearest one may be behind you."

It may save your life,
but even more so
    God may be intending for you
                  to lead others to it.

When life gets dicey,
unpredictable and potentially dangerous,
the Holy Spirit always provides
           a way through it.
And Satan always tries to make you think
                          all the doors are locked.

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

                        1 Corinthians 10. 13

Monday, April 14, 2014

All about the waiting

A couple of weeks ago, I was stuck.  I had a whole list of things that I needed to get done, but I couldn't do any of them, because I was waiting on a mulch quote.  I could not leave the house until the estimator arrived. Twenty minutes to go.  It was not enough time to get too deep in a project, but well, I could do something. I finished up with obvious dangling needs ...and then, I saw a few more things that cried for attention.

Twenty minutes were filled with fruitful work, and then a bonus fifteen minutes, as he was late.  And while those things were not necessarily urgent or pressing, they got done.  And the rest of the week was going to be busy.

Later that afternoon, I found out that someone was arriving unexpectantly.  Oh, I was so glad I was ready for them.  Over the years, I have learned to redeem the little unexpected pockets of time God has given me. I have never regretted doing something ahead of time, but there have been many times I have regretted not getting it done.

Waiting is not a passive activity.

And as in my case with the mulch guy, the real reason for waiting was not biding time for the guy to show up, but what I was able to do in the waiting.

Waiting sometimes bears a greater purpose than what you are waiting for.

...but hold yourself
       in all readiness.

                Joshua 8.4

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Bi-focal glasses, longer arms and the coming of age

It happened suddenly and without warning.  I was standing in the vitamin aisle in a WalMart in Kansas City, comparing ingredients on two different brands.  I could read the bold-face word "ingredients," and then it was just a grey blur.  When did all the manufacturers decrease the font size on their labels?

The first sign of aging is not just squinting or holding the text as far as one's arms can bear, but when the conversation turns to the subject of eyesight.  Bifocal lenses? Oh no!  I might as well have AARP is stamped on my forehead.

I passed that place a long time ago.  And bifocals, well, one can finally see again.  Things resume proper shape, and it enables us to perceive the truth about an object.  Yes, that shirt is definitely wrinkled.

The physical ability to see is not just light rays entering the eye.  Any lecturer knows full-well the blank stares of students looking but not seeing.  Vision happens when those rays are transformed by the retina into signals that are transmitted to the brain.

The key is the transformation.

The key is always transformation.  That is what God does best.  He makes things right again, and suddenly, we see all of life differently.  He does not fit us with lenses, but takes off those hideous rhinestone-studded rose-colored glasses we have been using to try to make sense of life.

We are able to know God differently.
We are able to see ourselves differently
                    because we know Him.
And we can finally see
how He sees each one of us:.

And that changes everything.

Because you are precious in My eyes,
and honored,
           and I love you...

                       Isaiah 43.4

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Impossibility of Trees

I walked through a gathering of trees,
trespassing on sacred ground,
these woods all standing
                 tall and impossible.
I cannot so much build a tower
           of Legos and blocks
       without its leaning
              and crashing to the ground.
And here,
that which is manifest before me
I can never fully understand.

These mighty plantings of God
do not just defy gravity and wind,
        those foes set against them;
but God designed the trees to be
    strengthened by those forces
    that should bring them down.
The trees are only stronger for it.
Indeed, if you listen closely,
       there is laughter
       in the rustling of leaves.
Their limbs stretch out
    not to balance themselves,
    nor hold onto each other for support,
but hold their hands high in praise,
pointing to the One
      who made them useful
               and of great beauty,
no matter the season of life,
as they exchange worry
                    for worship.

This witness in the woods
reminds me that this is
just the beginning of what God can do
            in any one of us.
I think I shall never see anything
      as impossible as a tree.

And God can redeem
         even more
     in everyone of us.

Blessed is the man
         who trusts in the LORD,
whose trust is the LORD.
He is like a tree planted by water
that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
For its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious
         in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit.

                         Jeremiah 17. 7-8

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Dog-eared pages

"Your capacity to say No determines your capacity to say Yes to greater things."

   -- E. Stanley Jones
Missionary and theologian

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The look of disdain, the realization of hope

Truth has an incredible way
    of emerging
right out of the ground,
no matter how deeply it is buried
          in the miry bog of disdain.

And in little ways,
on the most ordinary of days,
   hearts are moved by kindness
   or even a simple song which transcends
                               like this,
an exhibit of unfailing grace
in the line of fire.

Do not let ridicule distract you
from your appointed joy
      to love God and love others
every which way you can,
worshipping God in all you do.
Let His grace in you
       be the element of surprise
       and the evidence of His Presence.

Be that choir in the lives of others,
bringing glory and singing grace.

And in whatever you do,
whatever instrument He has given you to play,
          there is yet an audience of One.
Live in such a way
    that makes no sense
    but for a relationship with God.
May doubts about God be doubted
        by what is made manifest,
not just by a stellar performance,
               but by lives of His redeeming.
This is who God is.
This is what He can do.
He can change you too
For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples,
but the LORD will arise upon you,
and His glory will be seen upon you.

                                 Isaiah 60.2

Monday, April 7, 2014

An artificial order

The last time I visited this stream,
 tourists had waded into its cool rushing water
                           and moved the rocks,
lining them up in a pattern of their own doing,
             artificial and stark.
It was obvious that someone had rearranged the order.

Their intervening alignment forced the water
into an efficiency it was never meant to have
and diverted the natural current of the water.
The afternoon recreation of a few people,
while I am sure was satisfying
               to the symmetrically-inclined,
changed the direction of the flow,
increased the force of the water,
began the slow process of eroding the banks,
and confused the commuting trout below the surface,
     leaving them without places of refuge or rest
                                           on their journey,
     no place of serenity to replenish their strength.
And this rushing rearrangement
 diminished the beauty
              and peace from God's creation
                                for the rest of us.
          Something was not right,
          that much we all knew.

This winter, hardy forest rangers
 waded in the icy stream
          with justice and cold hands
          and undid the damage,
                  making it right again.
Why would not the stones have been laid out in efficient lines?
God always has purposes
even when the rocks of our lives
are not in the order we would designate.
Why does something have to be
so difficult,
so radical,
so impossible
    before we recognize
    God's power in it?

God's faithfulness is not always in what I recognize or understand.  But He is still faithful.

The water is energized
        by the rocks in its path,
a victory dance
not afterwards,
    but in the middle of the struggle.
The way is not blocked,
and there is rarely
        just one way through this,
but one exit connects to another,
the beauty rippling,
a strength
   that the timid didn't know it possessed,
a hilarity,
seeing not an obstacle,
             but a joy ride,
a redeeming I dare not ruin.

Your way was through the sea,
Your path through the great waters,
yet Your footprints were unseen.

                         Psalm 77.19

Saturday, April 5, 2014

My Favorite Way to Recycle Christmas Cards

Christmas celebrations have been relegated to memories,
the decorations stowed in plastic tubs in the attic,
but I never have known what to do
            with the cards of family and friends.
This year, when we received them,
     each card was taped to the screen porch door,
and a sweet fellowship greeted me each morning.
When I took them down at the first of the year,
I tucked them in the cubbyhole of the treadmill
    in order to read through them again,
    one by one.
And as I did, I prayed for each person,
       for families,
       for their joys
            and for strength through their struggles,
because I know that beneath the smiles,
       we all wrestle with something.
I would move the cards, one by one,
         from one cubby to the other to keep track.
It is April,
         and I am still praying.
The cards are a reminder to me
         of fellowship
         and prayer
  and that God loves you
             far more than I ever can.

We give thanks to God for you all,
constantly mentioning you
                       in our prayers...

                 1 Thessalonians 1.2

Friday, April 4, 2014

Take one step

My grandmother was diagnosed at the age of 35 with rheumatoid arthritis in 1923.  She had a four year old daughter and a husband who was soon to be debilitated by a stroke.  She was told she would spend the rest of her life in a wheel chair.

She spent the next 45 years doing everything to stay out of one.  And over the years, she learned when faced with impossible situations to just do something.  I know.  She lived with us.  I would often wake at night to the sweet aroma of brownies baking or the whirring of her sewing machine.  Her aches and pains kept her from sleeping. "No sense in just laying there," she would tell me.  There were many things she couldn't do, but "I can do something."

She passed away many decades ago, but I can still hear her voice.  When I don't know what to do, take one step.

Whether faced with something way too enormous
                       or the roar of emptiness,
heading into the rush of a proverbial interstate
                       or an unmarked trail into the unknown,
seizing an opportunity within my ability
                       or something far beyond me,
embarking into a clear direction
                       or walking right into
                       the thick black clouds of a storm,
going frantic by the number of choices
                       or paralyzed by them,
understanding what is going on
             or standing right in the middle of mystery,
the world spinning way too fast
         or the clock tick, tick, ticking slow,
take His hand
and take just one step.

What is ONE thing you can do
                             right now?
put on your shoes,
         and take one step.
You may not be able to do anything
       more than one step and yet another.
But then again,
           that is what walking is all about.
Take one step.
And He will show you the next.

We do not know what to do,
but our eyes are upon You.

                       2 Chronicles 20.12

Thursday, April 3, 2014


It was late afternoon, and I was scrolling through the news
and some emails when God stopped me in my tracks
with this video.  

Every life is precious in His sight.

Watch this story of how God touched a woman's heart,
turned some lives inside out,
              right side up,
and how that even in mystery,
            God reveals His deeper purposes.

I suggest having a Kleenex in hand.

For consider your call, brethren;
not many of you were wise
according to worldly standards,
not many were powerful,
not many were of noble birth,
but God chose what is
        foolish in the world
        to shame the wise,
God chose what is weak in the world
                    to shame the strong,
God chose what is low and despised
                              in the world,
even things that are not,
     to bring to nothing things that are,
so that
no human being might boast
                         in the presence of God.
He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus...

                            1 Corinthians 1. 26-30

(If you click the word "story" above,
it will direct you to the link.)

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Dog-eared pages

"Everybody thinks of changing humanity
and nobody thinks of changing himself."

                           -- Leo Tolstoy

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

An Unexpectant Box

One of our daughters is moving this week from a townhome into a house.  For the past few weeks, she has been packing their belongings and trying to keep her one-year-old from unpacking it all.  It is both scary and humbling to go through one's closets and realize what phantoms have been lurking within -- clothing rarely worn, possessions from time past that have outlived their usefulness, and always the things that have been hidden in plain sight, some a delight to find, and others, well, time to move it on.

One of our other daughters lived with them about two years ago.  There were a couple of items that she was missing, in particular a small box that contained four glass mugs.  She had scoured the attic previously and even told me to keep my eye out for a mug-size cardboard box, but I never saw it.  I figured that it would rise to the surface during a move.

This week, in one of the final closets to be packed, there was a large unidentified box way up on the shelf.  Not wanting to take anything superfluous to their next residence, our daughter opened the container.  There was not only the box of mugs, but a much-needed duvet, some clothing, and art supplies.  Those things were there all the time.  They all had just been searching for something very different.

I was perusing a book about prayer yesterday.  In it, the author advised not just to pray, but to expect something amazing to happen.  And yes, indeed, we should always pray expectantly.  But "something amazing" may take a different form than what you expect.

What is most profound of all may actually be in a different size box.  It's not that God didn't answer, but you were looking for something else.  You may miss the outcome entirely by pre-ordering His response, looking for the spectacular fireworks display, not His still small voice.

Seek God, not an answer.  He will reveal Himself to you.  With God there is no box of your own imagining.  Don't miss what He is doing.  He may lead you in ways you would never expect and always for much deeper purposes than you had in mind. 

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