Saturday, December 26, 2015

Don't let the Grinch Steal Christmas

It is the morning after Christmas.  There are bits of wrapping paper under the couch.  The tree is shedding its needles at a rapid rate.  In a couple of days, we will pack up the decorations and make exchanges, and a new year will commence.

But Christmas is not over.  Christmas is never over.

Don't leave Jesus in the manger.  Don't put Him away in the attic for next December.

Life does not just go on. Jesus changes everything.

That is why He came.

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

                        John 10. 10

That joy is not based on a season
     or favorable circumstances,
          but on Him.

Jesus came,
    and nothing can ever be the same.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas!

The angels still say,
     "Do not be afraid.
       He has come!"

And that changes everything.

Hope is no longer wishful thinking,
    but Christ
    on Whom we can stake our lives.
His grace is not
            what must be earned,
but that which embraces us.

You are loved.
You belong.

For God so loved the world
that He gave His only Son
that whoever
      believes in Him
shall not perish
but have eternal life.
For God sent the Son
           into the world,
not to condemn the world,
but that the world
might be saved through Him.

                   John 3. 16-17

Jesus loves you.
Never forget it.

Merry Christmas, my friend!


Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Christmas Crunch and What Do I Need to Focus on Today?

I awoke this morning, my head still stuffy with a cold that has clung on for weeks now, coming and going like an unwanted visitor.  I felt a moment of panic for all the things I need to do yet, company arriving tomorrow, and yes, I forgot two essential ingredients at the grocery yesterday.  Of all the things I've lost, I miss my mnd the most.

O LORD, guide my thoughts and my actions this day.

I swallowed the last of my coffee, turned around at the kitchen island, and said to my husband Bill, "Let's make a list."  He grinned, he who literally thinks in lists and spreadsheets.  "We can determine what we need to focus on, what is essential today and what can wait a couple days," I said.

And before I could even reach for a pen, I was stopped in my tracks, because when I looked up to speak to Bill, my eyes were drawn across the room by this.

In the shadows hung the busy-ness of the holiday, the stockings and garland, ornaments and other decorations. The intensity of the morning light was pinpointed on the Christ child, on Whom I need to focus all of my preparations for Christmas and all of my heart.

The familiar carol says "prepare Him room."  Jesus is not just an add-on in the background of Christmas, but He who came to earth to save us.  He is the Gift.

For unto us
     a Child is born, 
unto us a Son is given...

                  Isaiah 9. 6

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Press the reset button

When I was a little girl, quite often there were appliances dismantled and even the insides of our black and white television in pieces on the living room floor.  One of my younger brothers was the culprit, and he was the same one who fixed them and put them back in working condition.  No one trained him how.  He just figured it out.  His mind just worked that way.

To put it kindly, we all are gifted, just in different ways.  That gift is not one of mine.

My husband also thrives on unraveling such problems.  One of the helpful hints he has suggested to help me navigate our increasingly technological world is to reset.  If something isn't working the way it should -- be it the dishwasher or a computer screen that is frozen -- go all the way back to the beginning and start over. Reset and start again.  Nine times out of ten, that fixes the problem.

That is actually a very Biblical principle.  Forgiveness and redemption form the foundation of a Biblical worldview.  And it impacts every dimension of life.

The late Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship, saw that life-changing truth in his own life and those he came to know in prisons around the world.  Over and over, prisoners would say to him, "I never thought my life could amount to anything -- but maybe it can."  Colson did not give them hope, he gave them Christ. And that is what the gospel is:  the good news that God will not just fix your life, but He will make you new. 

Ask for God's forgiveness.  And let Him redeem.

It is not a reset button, but a re-life mechanism that empowers me to go all the way back, let the sacrifice of Christ cover it, and then move on in my walk with Him.  No need to be stuck.

The LORD sets the prisoner free.

                           Psalm 146. 7

and go forth renewed.

That which only God can do.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

It's ok to say it

I was finishing a transaction at a store, when I realized, it is December.  And that it is kind, loving, and perfectly ok to tell the clerk, "Merry Christmas."  And anyone else who God may put on my path.

Saying something as simple as "Merry Christmas" is a reminder in our culture that there is something deeper going on here.  I am not just buying random gifts.  It is not just a retail holiday created by Hallmark and Target. It is a holy-day.  The angels proclaimed the good news, "He is here." And three decades later, the angels proclaimed even greater news, "He is not here."

When sharing the gospel, St. Augustine once said, "when necessary, use words."

I would say, "in addition, use your words."

Over the Thanksgiving break, some members of our family were able to attend the Christmas show at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, complete with full orchestra, 3-D glasses, music, dancing, and extravagance.  As the show progressed with great showmanship, I began to think that with all the hoopla about the season and the perfect gifts, it would take God Himself to keep someone from being terribly disappointed on Christmas morning.  I chuckled at the irony.

And then suddenly, on stage in full array, complete with camels, sheep, donkeys, and a suspended angel surrounded by laser lights, the nativity story was narrated in sight and sound, the account of the birth of Christ not made up or glamorized by a script writer, but the Scriptures in Luke 2 clearly read out loud. Nothing more profound than that.

May our lives --and our words -- point others to Christ.

I cannot summarize the good news of the gospel in two words.  But I can leave a reminder, like an unmistakable stick-it note, "Merry Christmas," every which way I can, in word and deed.

And the angel said to them,
"Be not afraid,
for behold, I bring you
good news of a great joy
which will come to all the people;
for to you is born this day
           in the city of David
a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

                      Luke 2. 10-11

Saturday, December 5, 2015

How am I going to do this?

I woke in the early darkness that day, reluctant to face what was quite literally on my course for the morning.  I slipped out of bed a little earlier than I needed to because of what I really needed.

I pulled on my clothes, already set out the night before.  I headed up to the attic space where I would stretch out my legs and let the LORD lay out His day before me by reading His Word.

And there at the end of one chapter, right at the end of my reading, my heart was caught by a verse.

Our help is in the name of the LORD,
who made heaven and earth.
                           Psalm 124. 8

Running through my thoughts on a repeated loop had been the question, "How am I going to do this?"

And it was as if God had replied to me through His Word, "Not by yourself."

I was running a marathon that morning.  And over and over throughout those hours, those words came to the surface of my thoughts and gave me His strength as I repeated them.

We all face a lot of things much harder than a marathon.  And in the course of my life since that day, God reminds me of His Presence.  Don't even try to do this on your own.

No need to.

On Whom do I call, to Whom I pray, on Whom I rely, not just for this day, but on Whom I can stake my life.

Don't ever forget it.

This verse should be my first response in time of trouble, my daily prayer at the break of day, no matter what is set before me. How am I going to do this?

Not by myself.

Our help is in the name of the LORD,
who made heaven and earth.

                           Psalm 124. 8

Engrave on your heart.
Repeat as needed.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Look for the helpers

Our two year old grandson pointed out to me a place on the wall where light and dark had created a design. "What is that?" he asked.
"Just a shadow," I replied.
"That's scary," he said.  He is not sure what "scary" means, but he heard in some conversation or a children's book that shadows are something of which to be afraid.  And I prayed that he would not be paralyzed by what has no substance at all.

I feel like I have wasted a lot of my life being afraid of shadows. 

When one of our daughters was five, she was reciting the Ten Commandments.  She had named most of them, when she hesitated for just a minute.  I could almost see the gears in her brain moving.  "Do not ...," she started.  And then with great excitement and a strike of brilliance on her part, she finished, "Do not be afraid!"

"That is not one of the Ten Commandments," I pointed out.

"Well, it should be," she said.

Indeed, woven throughout history and throughout Scripture, God says, "Do not be afraid."  Because fear paralyzes us from doing what is good and right. It attempts to extinguish every vestige of hope.  And fear keeps us from trusting our sovereign God.  Trusting God opens doors.

Many people know of Fred Rogers as a beloved children's television pioneer. What few people realize is that Mr. Rogers, as he was known, was first a Presbyterian minister who desired to teach and display moral truth in pictures and stories that small children could understand.

"When I was a boy," said Mr. Rogers, "and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers.  You will always find people who are helping."

Stories are how moral imagination grows in the hearts of children.  This is what doing what is right looks like.  This is what telling the truth looks like.  This is what being kind looks like.  By seeing morals played out in stories, a child learns not just what they are, but how to do it too.

"Look for the helpers.  You will always find people who are helping."

This is how to respond.  Don't just look for the helpers, be one.

"If we do not do the running steadily
                   in the little ways,
we shall do nothing in the crisis."

                   Oswald Chambers
                   My Utmost for His Highest

That which is sewn stitch by stitch into the fabric of our everyday lives is evident in time of dire need.  What am I practicing? Fear?  Or the grace of God even in this daily task?  Even in this daunting appointment? Am I aware of others? Am I learning how to respond? 

As for you, brothers,
do not grow weary in doing good.

                   2 Thessalonians 3. 13

Monday, November 23, 2015

A bad case of the "what if's"

My busy day commenced at 5:14 a.m. in the pre-dawn darkness, full of preparations for the coming holiday and even including a short hike in the woods on a chilly afternoon, the sunlight waning through the canopy of skeletal trees.

So, when I finally climbed into bed, I expected a quick drift into slumberland.

But not so.

A noisy and unruly crowd of "what if's" lined up on my side of the bed.  I turned my back to those aggravating thoughts and loose ends and scary monsters crawling out from the dust ruffle.  And I lay there, listening to my husband's measured breathing.  I was not able to sleep.

I had a bad case of "what if's, triggered by what I had yet to do, don't forget to stop the mail, bring your gloves, what shoes would be best for walking, and do I really need that coat.  Those thoughts were egged on and sustained by getting a subway pass and traveling from the airport to the city with two toddlers, a stroller and suitcases.  And finally, I also added to the fray those things totally outside of my control and fear that has been broadcast daily on the media of what is going on in the world...and what could happen. My imagination is never more awake than in the middle of the night.

And I thought of the childhood song, "Five little monkeys jumping on the bed."  It was too crowded to even turn over.

When we have a project before us, or a situation we are working on, or a problem to be unraveled, it is accompanied by a surge of energy that God supplies to carry us through.  But God never meant that provision to be used for anxiety.  When we feel that surge coming on, we all too often identify it as anxiety, when all along, God means us to recognize it as His strength to go forth.

When that surge of energy comes, instead of complying to a default of stress and fear, instead of investing in anxiety for which there is no end, instead of setting up my tent in the miry bog of despair....what if?

What if I trusted God with that energy instead?  What if I trusted God instead of that phantom of anxiety?  What if I trusted God that much?  

What if, instead, I focused my thoughts on His faithfulness, staking my life on God to bring me through and dwelling on a peace provided by the Almighty God, no matter what is going on.

In God's kingdom, "what if" is not based on fear,
but the "what if"
         of His extravagant goodness,
not the impossibilities,
          not even on possibilities,
but the reality of His Presence.

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

                     Ephesians 3. 20

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Burnt Rolls and other Thanksgiving Traditions

None of us can remember the first time it happened, but along with my mom's green beans that had been cooked to death, the annual burning of the rolls became a Thanksgiving tradition when I was growing up.

"This year," mom would promise and proclaim, "this year, it won't happen."  But it did.  The store-bought dinner rolls were slipped into the oven in their little aluminum trays, and well, there was always some kind of distraction.  The blessing went on a little too long, there was jockeying for position at the table, someone's water glass tipped over, or the rolls were simply forgotten.

And then, with exact timing 3-2-1, we all heard Mom's shriek from the kitchen as she discovered the charred rolls.  More than once, the smoke detector alerted us to the obvious.  The back door was opened to let out the smoke into the bitter Chicago air.  And the bread, now appearing as lumps of charcoal, once again was deleted from the menu, ending up still smoking in the trash.

Mom would look surprised for a moment as if "how did that happen?" and then, she would laugh.  And we would chuckle with her, grace not covering up her mistakes, but redeeming them.

Realizing that Thanksgiving comes suddenly upon us next week, a family email was circulated among our daughters yesterday, soliciting Thanksgiving menu requests.  Let the creativity commence.  And may the cornbread dressing retain its rightful place of honor..

My husband's request for the meal?  "I am just glad to be together," a rare and precious time now that our family are scattered across two time zones.

It's not about the perfect table, or perfect food, or a perfect family, but thankfulness to God for what we do have, for what He has done this year, and for Who He is.

Many friends have shared with me their anxieties about the holidays, and it doesn't have anything to do with the menu, but bitter grapes, long-seasoned animosity, and overcooked bad attitudes, things that don't belong. Breaking those traditions means taking the high road there and bringing a huge plate of grace to the table.

Saying grace refers to a short prayer or an expression of thankfulness to God, traditionally said before a meal.  It is not meant to be a recitation, but a realization of God's favor.

Bringing grace is a state of being that results in an intentional mindset and heart prepared to express a love that is not earned.  Grace releases us from expecting perfection in others, and fills in the cracks with an impossible love.  The most important person in the room is not you, but the one that needs your love the most.

Who is saying grace this year?
More importantly,
               am I bringing grace?

 Grace covers it all, even when provoked.  Grace changes it all, especially me.

A commercial last night showed a family joyously arriving for Thanksgiving dinner.  "It's going to be perfect," the narrator said. 

Think instead:  "No, it's going to be grace."

Because that is what God has given us.

And from His fullness
we have all received,
                  grace upon grace.

                                 John 1 16

If I want things to be different,
        something has to change.
And that would be me.

Finally, brethren, whatever is true,
whatever is honorable,
whatever is just,
whatever is pure,
whatever is lovely,
whatever is gracious,
if there is any excellence,
if there is anything worthy of praise,
        think about these things.
What you have learned
and received and heard
and seen in me,
and the God of peace will be with you.

                             Philippians 4. 8-9

Practice grace in this.

May we not just say grace as a formality,
    but bring grace as a personal gift.
It is not that it will be the perfect holiday,
   impossible with imperfect humans all in one room,
                     but that is what grace is all about.
Do not forget why we come together:
           not to be thankful,
           but to thank God.
He is the honored guest.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

What we cannot know and what we can

I have been without words since late Friday afternoon, paralyzed in my writing.  My thoughts and my prayers have been spinning out in a thousand different directions.  None of us can comprehend the evil displayed in Paris last week. We have all been impacted by it. Deeds do not exist in a vacuum, but reverberate to encompass the world.

And we are all connected in some degree by the actions of those we do not even know.

Listening to the news, or even checking my email, was about the farthest thing from my mind on Friday.  We had helped our sick daughter that day by taking care of our two in-town grandchildren.  They played, they napped, and they left a trail of crumbs in the kitchen.  On our way back to their house late in the afternoon, my mother-in-law called to ask about one of our other daughters who had been traveling for the past week.  I heard just snatches of my husband's conversation with his mom.  "No, we hadn't seen the news... No, we haven't heard yet from her....We'll let you know."

We had no idea what was happening.  We snapped on NPR in the car.  The first shocking reports of the atrocities in Paris were coming to the surface.  No one seemed to know what was going on, except that it appeared that the unspeakable was still going on.

About fifteen minutes later, we received a text message from our daughter:  "Just wanted to let you know we're safe."

No sweeter words could we have received at that point.

Hours before the terrorist attacks began, our daughter and her friend had left Paris to finish up their trip in Lyon and fly home from there.  They had been staying very close to where the shootings occurred... and now, they were a two hour train ride away.

They had made those travel plans months and months ago, not realizing at the time that their idea to complete their trip in Lyon may have saved their lives.

Who knew?

God did.

There are things we cannot know at the time, narrow squeaks we slip through, devastating incidents we never see, like a truck that just misses us, or incredible encounters like sitting down next to a stranger who becomes a good friend. Or even a crazy idea to go to Lyon for something seemingly remote as a better airfare, or another art museum that needed exploring, or nothing in particular, just that it might be a fun thing to do.

There is nothing random at all.

"Never allow that the haphazard is anything less than God's appointed order, and be ready to discover the Divine design anywhere," says Oswald Chambers in My Utmost for His Highest.

There are so many things like this that we cannot know.  But there is something we can know, even in trouble, even in hardship, even in danger, even in grief:

Great is Thy Faithfulness.

Fear not, I am with you.
Be not dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you,
I will help you,
I will uphold you
     with My victorious right hand.

                       Isaiah 41. 10

Please keep praying for the people of Paris as they grieve the loss of precious, sacred lives.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Quality of Mercy

The quality of mercy is not strain'd.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives, and him that takes.
'Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown.
His scepter shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptered sway;
It is enthroned in the heart of kings;
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God's
When mercy seasons justice.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

You've Got This

Last week, we visited our daughter and her family who recently relocated for our son-in-law to attend seminary.  

The elementary school and a city park are located just a few blocks from their house.  One morning as we picked up our granddaughter from kindergarten, we lingered with her little brother and sister at the playground for fifteen minutes or so, before we headed home for lunch.  Two of her schoolmates joined them on the play equipment.

Maggie was practicing her skills on the monkey bars, learning to work her way across the rings to the other side.  The first few rings are within her abilities, but then about the third ring, she is stuck.  She swings her body and hangs on with both hands, but she cannot quite YET get past that point.  Her friend Sophia moves quickly across without hesitating and seemingly without effort.  It is obvious that she has been at this for awhile.  Sophia tried to encourage her friend.

“You’ve got this, Maggie!” she would shout from the other side.

But as much as Maggie really wants to make it, thinking positively or not, or trying to convince herself, the strength is not yet there.  Practice a little more.  Each week a little further.

It occurred to me as I watched her swinging her legs and grasping the rings how often I am stuck at that same spot in trusting God.  Those first couple of rings – no problem – I can really do those on my own.  But then…. when it comes to trusting God with the harder stuff, I grip even more when I should be moving forward.  And the hesitation makes trusting Him with the next ring that much harder.  And I get stuck.

We all face “monkey bars” in our lives.  We all face things that which only God can do – in His strength, in His timing, in His sovereign control.  And that does not mean a passive “You do it, LORD,” but a very active relying on Him, “You’ve got this, LORD.”  Help me through this.

I don’t have to attempt the entire span at once, but God nudges me, “Trust Me one more ring.”

And in the trying over and over, in the grasping, in the falling, in the climbing back up and trying again, God builds His strength in me, by knowing Him more.  I can trust Him in this.  He takes me to a deeper dimension in my relationship with Him, each strength building on another. 

And when we master this feat,
when we learn to trust Him in this,
         we are strengthened for the next,
one hand over another.

Because life gets a little harder
        outside the fence of the playground.
And when we get there,
     God has already equipped us.
It  is not our strength after all.
But  His.

GOD, the Lord, is my strength;
He makes my feet like hinds’ feet,
He makes me tread upon my high places.

                             Habakkuk 3. 19

Not trying to convince myself,
        you've got this,
but acknowledging out loud,
   "You’ve got this, LORD".

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Your room is ready

We were away when some friends arrived in town for her father's funeral.  There was no space for them to stay at her sister's, and the hotel where they were staying seemed cold and businesslike.  They did not just need a room to attend a funeral.  They needed a refuge in their grief.

When our daughter told us what was happening, we told her to give them a key to our house. They could have free reign of the house and a place to rest without distractions.

"We can't do that!" the wife protested.  "We can't just show up and stay at someone's house without warning.  They are not even home."

And her husband quietly responded, "But maybe they are already ready for us."

Indeed, that is a lesson I have learned over the years.  Clean sheets and towels in place.  New toothbrushes in the bathroom drawer.  A spare key already made.

God has placed many people on our path at the last minute and often with little or no notice, including a medical student checking out residencies, a variety of missionaries passing through, and once, an elderly couple we had never met.....and that's an amusing story to be shared at a different time :)

Sometimes we were home, quite often we were not.  But we were ready.

And what about on ordinary days?  Am I ready for those people God puts on my path today?  Not just for a place to stay or another chair for supper, but a listening ear, a kind word, or even noticing and acknowledging those who are seemingly invisible around me.

It has been said that we make time for those things most important to us.  And many times in our culture, there doesn't even seem time for those things.  For awhile, a viral video on the Internet summed it up, "Ain't nobody got time for that."

But as a Christian, I am called to do things differently.  I am called to see things differently.  I am called to respond to people differently. Because as a believer, "it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me." (Galatians 2. 20).  There is a huge freedom in that.

How differently would we view these incidents or opportunities if we saw them in terms of the Gospel?

I don't have to carve out huge pockets of time, but just be aware, willing and ready, to pull out a snack for someone, pull up another chair to the table, and put out the welcome mat in every form and dimension. Kind words out of my pocket, a toothbrush in the drawer.  It's all the same.

And so, when Paul admonished Philemon to "prepare a guest room for me," (Philemon 1. 22), he knew that it was not a matter of square footage but a heart condition.  Not space for a guest, but a willingness for God to work through me.  It is no different than if the LORD had said, "prepare a guest room for Me."

The world calls it margin.  The Bible calls it grace.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A box of paper towels and other such mysteries

Our daughter was swamped with a big project which involved her working from pre-dawn to almost midnight yesterday.  With what little I can help and when I am available, I attempt in those situations to fill in the gaps.

I was on dog duty, going over to her house twice yesterday to let her dog out.  No big deal.  Glad to do it.

Since it was pouring rain all day, I took with me a box of paper hand towels to wipe off wet paws before her dog could decorate the house with excess water, grass clippings, and possibly mud.

When our daughter arrived to her home at midnight, there was the box of paper towels, sitting on top of the garbage can right by the back door.  She had no idea what they were for or why they would be there in that unlikely spot.  But as she told me this morning on her way to work, "Knowing you, mom, I knew that there must be a reason for it."

When I told her its purpose, she said, "That totally makes sense."

How often God places a person or situation on our paths that appears out of place, without obvious function, possibly inconvenient, uncomfortable, and illogical.

And God always has not just a reason for it,
           but purpose in it.
Something that may not be in my plans at all,
                        but in His.

I may not get it,
    but His fingerprints are all over it.
There is nothing random,
          or for naught,
in God's economy.

And our response is not a matter
of seeking an answer for a difficulty,
explaining away a mystery,
or concocting our own imaginings,
        but to seek Him through it.
I may never know why.
God just calls me to be faithful in it.

Knowing You, O LORD,
there is not just a reason,
    but purposes too deep to comprehend.

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

                 Colossians 1. 17

Even in this.

We would stand astonished
                if we knew.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Surprises in My Reluctance

It happened once again several weeks ago.  I was presented an opportunity to see a movie with some friends.  I didn't want to go.  And throughout my life, I have discovered that when I start lining up a litany of  lame excuses to not do something, I know that I need to just go ahead and do it.

All my excuses crumbled, nothing to cling onto.  And so I reluctantly agreed to go.

My sister-in-law and her three sisters were attending the movie War Room which was released at the end of August.  I admit an inherent prejudice against cheesy Christian movies.  But I went.  We sat down in the theater.  And God brought me to shame.

I will not say anything more, but the powerful message in this movie just might change your thinking on a lot of different levels, a message that very well may change the course of your life...and everyone around you.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Wasteland and the Wilderness

I woke this morning with the words of an old hymn running through my thoughts on a continual loop.

"Guide us, O Thou great Jehovah,
      lead us through this barren land."

And as the words and tune repeated themselves in that early morning darkness, the rain steady outside my window, I realized that when I turn to You, O LORD, it does not appear such a wasteland at all, but a place of opportunity to serve You, one step of obedience leading to the next, not reluctant tasks, but ways to worship You.

Desolation and despair want me to believe they are the only ones who live there.

And I am called to find the splendors
         of the wilderness
filled by His Creation,
full of His Presence.

The difference is in which direction I stand
        and in whom I trust.

Near where we live in the mountains, there is a planned federal roadway through the valley of which its construction has been delayed for decades.  Other roads have been paved, houses have filled in the empty fields, livestock and small businesses thrive there.

"It is not obvious to me," I said to my husband, "where exactly that road would go."

And Bill replied, "If you get to a higher elevation and look down, you can see it."

Find His higher perspective in this.

Some things are not so obvious at the time, but God's deep purposes always prevail.  We have only to stay faithful to Him.  It will not just happen, but God will bring it.

But seek the welfare of the city
where I have sent you into exile,
and pray to the LORD on its behalf,
for in its welfare
        you will find your welfare.

                         Jeremiah 29. 7

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

Beyond our comprehension
     and marvelous in His ways.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Great Instead

One of our daughters texted me a week ago about a big test she was about to take the next morning.  "Please pray about my exam tomorrow and for my studying for it tonight."


In the next couple of days, I found out the results.  She missed passing by one question.

O LORD, I cried out.  Missed by one question? She could have seen Your power in this.

And God stopped abruptly that line of thought in my heart.

If she had passed by one question, WOW, surely God's hand would be evident in that.  We would all have rejoiced.  But to MISS passing by one question?  Why is that anything less than God's hand?  God knew this.  God is working a lot deeper than a set of answers.  God is redeeming even this.

The great instead
    is how God works it.

I can trust Him
        even when I don't understand the outcome,
because He is not done yet.

As Steven Curtis Chapman says in one of his songs:

"God is God,
              and I am not.
I can only see a part
       of the picture He's painting.
God is God,
              and I am man.
So I'll never understand it all,
       for only God is God."

O the depth of the riches
and wisdom
and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable are His judgements
and how inscrutable His ways!
For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been His counselor?
....For from Him
          and through Him
    and to Him
            are all things.
To Him be glory for ever.

                     Romans 11. 33-36

God works instead
    something so much bigger
than I can grasp.

Monday, October 19, 2015

A story you won't believe

For a couple of days, we are visiting my in-laws.  When we arrived yesterday, my mother-in-law caught me glancing at a hardback novel placed on a table. "Have you read that book?" she asked.  "It is the most incredible story.  I couldn't put it down."  And pointing to my father-in-law, she said.  "I made him read it too."

"I couldn't even sleep until I finished it," he added.

It is one of our most basic affections to be drawn to stories, those written and those unfolding all around us.  That is how we learn, that is how we grasp the big picture of where we are and who we are, and that is how we come to know God more.

It is not so much in books that we experience those truths, but in realizing that we are each living in a story you won't believe, a story of God's own redeeming.

Incredible stories are God's specialty, a profound narrative from the beginning of time, the chronicles of real people with real problems woven together in God's Word, no glossing over imperfect actions, but the seamless fabric of God's redeeming in the lives of ancient peoples.

And as God intends for me to see, redeeming even my own.

Both writers and voracious readers know the pattern of what is known as "the story arc."  The elements of the story build upon each other, layer upon layer, character by character, the tensions are not arbitrary but intricately designed.  The crisis is not random, but an integral part of the story. Intrigue keeps us turning the pages.

And then ... the redeeming.  All the pieces suddenly come together.  What doesn't belong makes sense after all.  It is all connected, the hand of the master storyteller, the hand of the Author of life itself.

And so, when things seem impossible
   and the pieces don't make sense,
and "how in the world is this going to work out?"

God says, "Ahhhhh, you are just getting to the good part."

One of my favorite memories of our daughters was when they would burst in the door after school with great excitement in their voices, "Oh mom, you wouldn't believe what happened today!"

Live that way
    even in that which you don't understand.

You are in the midst of the most incredible tale,
            a story you wouldn't believe.
It is not that you will somehow make it through,
it is not that things will work out,
           but God is bringing it.

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

                          Ephesians 3. 20

Your story is not over,
      but bursting with profound hope.
There is something deeper going on here.

Watch how God redeems every detail.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Blue skies, big rocks, and the storm in the forecast

 A few weeks ago when one of our daughters was having a particularly difficult time with her job, I told her I would be praying that she would have a nice day at work.

“Mom,” she said kindly.  “I appreciate your encouragement, and I appreciate your prayers, but it is not going to be a great day.  With everything I have on my plate today, it is going to be a rather difficult one.  That is already evident.”

She stopped me in my tracks.

What puny things have I been praying?  Praying for  “a nice day,” when she is in the thick of battle and slogging through the miry bog and squeezed between the proverbial rock and hard place?

 Shame on me.  “Have a nice day?”  Where is God’s strength in that?

 God does not want her to “look on the bright side of life,” and to pretend all is good and easy in the midst of the turbulent storm.  God wants her to know the reality of His Presence when life is tough, to know the strength and peace that only He can give in impossible situations.  He wants her to know that He is her Redeemer, no matter what is happening.  God is sovereign, even in this. He wants her to possess deep roots in Him, no matter the landscape, no matter the drought, no matter the storm.  God is her Rock.  God is her stronghold in the day of trouble.  God is the Almighty God, not a warm fuzzy feeling when the skies are blue and everything is going my way.

Recently I went hiking with friends along a rushing mountain stream.  The path was strewn with huge rocks, the water danced wildly between the boulders, the leaves revealed their true colors against an azure sky.  Our sights were drawn upward to the waterfall ahead and to the boughs of the deep forest reaching high as if in praise of the Creator.  But as we hiked up that stony trail, I began to notice huge trees alongside of us, living trees that were growing out of sheer rock, defying all reason to even be there, let alone thriving in that absurd place.  “You should not even be able to grow there,” I said out loud.  But they do, and they are stronger for it.

We pray for our children to be those luscious green trees that send down their roots by streams of waters.  But I am convicted that we should be praying for a faith that thrives even out of sheer rock, not dependent on favorable conditions, but rooted instead in a God who is there no matter what.  “…so live in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith… and to grow with a growth that is from God.” (Colossians 2.  6-7, 19)

God’s strength transcends all circumstances.

Though the fig tree do not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
    and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet  I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
He makes my feet like hinds’ feet,
He makes me tread upon my high places.
                                      Habakkuk 3. 17-19

Pray like that.
Live like that
                 in the high scary places
                 in the miry bog
           even in what seems impossible
with a strength that is not your own.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The refugee crisis, a book of displaced persons, and a granola bar

I turned on the television to catch the news while I was preparing supper.  Pictures of desperate refugees streamed across the screen. 
In the face of so much global and local need, an abyss looms in my heart. “What can I do?” I do not have medical training.  I cannot translate.  But this I know, in the words of Oswald Chambers, “Obey God in the thing He shows you, and instantly the next thing is opened up.”

I signed up as a volunteer at a medical clinic in town that cares for the underserved.  Every Monday morning, newly-placed refugees and immigrants arrive for medical examinations and documentation.  Eyesight is checked, blood pressure is taken, and health assessed.

As I crossed the threshold of the clinic that morning, small groups of people had already arrived, conversing around folding tables, their languages blending together like so many voices in a beautiful chorus.  And a grace prevailed in the large crowded room, so palpable I could feel it.

Quite suddenly as I scanned the room, the scene became profoundly familiar, like a series of black and white photographs that I had seen many times before.  I chuckled.

Is this what he saw every day?   Not strangers, but people coming to a new home?

For a minute or two, I saw this room through the eyes of my great grandfather Harvey Snider.  From 1900 until he retired 34 years later, Harvey worked as the night superintendent at Ellis Island, the incredible portal for 12 million people who entered America until it closed in 1954.  

I remembered his old photographs of newly-arriving immigrants in the Great Hall.  From the stories that my father told about him, Harvey knew operable words in 41 different languages.  He knew the power of familiar words in one’s native language to inform, guide and comfort.  

God reminded me that from cover to cover His Word is a book about displaced people.   “Love the sojourner” even before he becomes your neighbor (Leviticus 19.34).  Remember you were a stranger too, the LORD says.  

At the Monday clinic, nametags were already prepared, handed to each one as they came through the door.  Each person was known not by an impersonal government code, or a numbered place in queue like at the bakery, but by one’s own name. These people were not refugees being processed and documented, but individuals who were warmly welcomed and greeted and cared for. 

A different kind of party was going on.

The world sees hospitality as the entertaining of friends.  But the Bible defines it as the love of strangers.  God enables us to respond in a way that is unexpected by the world, not from a sense of obligation or necessity, but out of a gut-wrenching compassion for those around us.   These people before us were not strangers at all, but simply those whom we do not yet know. 

 I passed out white paper bags that morning, containing items like shampoo, toothpaste, soap and granola bars. “I have some gifts for you,” I told one beautiful young Iraqi woman, not realizing how to explain with hand motions the function of dental floss and stumbling over how to describe a Clif Bar to someone whose previous address was a refugee camp. 

I was not even able to engage in conversation with our new friends.  “Welcome,” I wanted to say.  “I’m glad you are here.” 

I do not have even the limited proficiency of my great grandfather in 41 different languages, but ironically enough, that morning we served exactly 41 individuals, and I learned that a smile translates perfectly into every language around me.  

How do I know?  Because they smiled back.