Saturday, January 31, 2015

A collection of unusual dishes

In about every church I knew as a little girl, the lower level of the building was not deemed the basement, but the ubiquous Fellowship Hall, a place where the people came to eat, to celebrate weddings with cake and coffee, and to do life together.  I witnessed jello mold salads and every chicken casserole known to man and desserts of which there were never enough.  Big long rectangular folding tables and cold metal folding chairs emerged from the storage closet, all in beige.

And we ate.

These gatherings were known as potlucks, a word synonymous at the time with "church."  It was a time not of meeting, but of meeting needs.  As we ate, we talked and learned to love each other even more, across generations, cultures, no matter family size or singleness.

These potlucks are not just a memory for me, but a strong reminder of what church family should be.

Three months ago, we moved to a new location.  Last night, my husband and I attended a potluck in our new church.  It was a potluck disguised as an annual chili competition.  Chairs in the sanctuary had been moved, long tables ran down both sides of the hall, groaning under the myriad of slow cookers with some of the finest chili anywhere around.  And of course, desserts decorated the end of the line, crowding up against the entrees like children jostling for position.

My own "chili de Dios" didn't stand a chance against the competition of those including cinnamon chipotle chili, another made of bison, and one entitled  "chili, chili, bang bang."  We all laughed and ate and talked and let fellowship work its strength in us.

A collection of unusual dishes had convened, but even more as I looked around the room, a collection of people, all of whom are precious in His sight.

It was not an "event," but a gathering together.  And that's the way it should be among family.  We need each other.

By the end of the evening, nearly all the food had vanished.  And we left, not just with empty platters and crock pots, but with a table full of new friends.

I have never regretted making the effort to be with God's people.  Sometimes it is hard to jump in, sometimes not so obvious a reason, but God uses it for His powerful purposes.  And that sometimes means it is not about me at all and sometimes exactly what I need.   Relationships are what God uses most of all.  That is why He sent His Son.

Let us consider
how to stir up
        one another
to love and good works,
not neglecting to meet together,
as is the habit of some,
but encouraging one another,
and all the more
as you see the Day drawing near.

                Hebrews 10. 24-25

Because worship
         and fellowship
are in the same fleet.

Friday, January 30, 2015

What dwells underneath

It is the dead of winter, the end of January, and a greyness has settled upon the land.  Some places are covered in snow, deep and thick.  In other locations, it is simply a dreariness that comes from the cold.  We check the forecast to no avail, because when it comes down to it, we wear the same old coat anyway.

When I was a little girl at the end of January in Chicago when the frigid temperatures were too low to even register on the thermometer outside the kitchen window and all seemed bleak, my father used to say:

"Every day is just one day
            closer to spring."

My father was not an optimist at heart, but a realist.  His voice reverberated with words of experience, one who had come through the things in life that were a lot deeper than snow and a lot more harrowing than walking to school in bone-chilling temperatures.

You will get through this.

But his words did not just speak of enduring, but of redeeming.  The world defines hope as wishful thinking.  The Bible reveals hope as that on which you can stake your life.

Hope is not based on IF,
    but preparing for WHEN.
Not even a looking forward to,
      but what is before me
      even today,
      even in this,
a deeper design,
        a vision beyond,
a common grace. 

The enormous sycamore tree in our neighbor's yard appears today to be a goner, offering nothing that would indicate that it is even going to make it.  But in all actuality, it is more alive than ever.  Because winter is not a season of death for trees, but the time of greatest growth.  It is when tree roots grow deeper, the blanket of snow providing not a protection for the roots, but a slow seeping of moisture, which turns out to be the best way to water a tree.  It is a season of gathering what the tree needs for the greatest show on earth -- spring.

There is a hymn that has been forgotten in this new generation that speaks of what this hope does.  The chorus says:

Because He lives,
I can face tomorrow.
Because He lives,
     all fear is gone.
Because I know
     He knows the future.
And life's worth the living,
     just because He lives.

This cold cloudy weather is a time of deep healing and restoration.  Spring just reveals what has already been redeemed.

Those who live in hope
    have a secret joy,
that which dwells underneath,
unchanged by the forecast,
strengthened by what
     has yet to appear.

Why are you cast down,
          O my soul,
and why are you disquieted
           within me?
Hope in God;
for I shall again praise Him,
my help
        and my God.

              Psalm 42.5

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Learning the words

The radio was blaring in the car.  "Are you listening to what they are saying?" my mom asked my brothers and me, more than once.

And like a mantra, more than once, we repeated as if she couldn't understand:  "We're not listening to the words."

She raised her eyebrows of motherly wisdom.

Strapped in a dental chair last summer for a three hour ordeal, an "oldies" channel kept up a constant barrage of tunes from my teens.  In my mind, I could see my mom looking at me when I was a naive teenager.  I pretty much could have sung the words to every song I heard that day, some of which I had not even heard in decades.

My mom was a musician.  She knew the gift of music and its power to engrave in one's heart and mind.

I also remember a woman in a church we attended when our girls were so young.  She was not a professional musician like my mom, but she was often assigned to teach Scripture verses to children.  No matter toddlers or teens, she used music to do it.  She KNEW that if you attach a tune to the words, they will not soon be forgotten.  She would sometimes just make up a melody on the spot as she taught the word of God, nothing fancy but a simple memorable tune.

It gave a deeper meaning to the Psalms that encourage us to sing a new song to the LORD -- not perhaps for His benefit, but ours.  Not the same old dirge, but time to change my tune.

He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
   and put their trust in God.

                      Psalm 40. 3

Our girls are now grown.  And I can still remember her rendition of Ephesians 4.32, not just the tune, but the Scripture attached, every word in two dimensions.

I am not a singer by any stretch of the imagination, but often when I am strolling with our grandkids, I will sing a spiritual song or two. Last week as I began to sing, our not-quite-two year old grandson shouted out in recognition, "Momo!! Momo!! Mommy sings that!"

He is not yet old enough to know the words or to understand their depth, but note by note, God's truth is being engraved in his little heart.

And it is awesome to realize that when he is old like me, he will remember every word.

Music is like that.

God's Word even more.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Dog-eared pages

"Whatever I did, there was always someone around who was better qualified.  They just didn't bother to do it."

--author James Michener
New York Times magazine
September 8, 1985

Monday, January 26, 2015

Bracing for a monster storm

The Northeast is preparing today for an enormous blizzard which will already be on the ground by the time many of you read this blog posting.

I texted our daughter in Manhattan who already has her snow boots by her apartment door, ready and waiting, preparing to work at home Tuesday, if need be.  We are not talking the slight possibility of snow which so paralyzes the hearts of those who live in the South, that which produces panic and clears off the shelves at every Kroger in town.  The forecast for New York is calling for multiple FEET of snow.  And they are ready for it.  Bring it on!

Living in the North nurtures a mindset of expectation, and snow is at most an inconvenient reality for adults and a delight for the children.  In the South, the very thought of snow creates a state of emergency.

The difference is all in the preparation.  The storms will come.  Even in life.  Am I prepared or taken by surprise?

Being a believer does not grant me a waiver for difficulties, just the assurance of not going it alone.  It is a matter of preparing for the storms, not if, but when.  And they will come in some form or another.  It does indeed snow on both the just and unjust alike.  (Matthew 5.45, my paraphrase :)

Being prepared with His Word dictates how we respond, not just barely squeaking through the hard places of life, but letting God redeem them for great good. Bracing for the monster storms of life takes place in the every days when the forecast is favorable and life is good.  And then in the crisis, God will use His Word in you as a shield and strength, no matter what is swirling around you and no matter the opposition.  God's Word changes you, and as a result, impacts everyone around you.

"God's Word is such that the more time we spend in it, the more it sinks into us -- into our hearts, into our thoughts, into our impulses, reactions, and conversations.  Are you mining daily from this treasure? Make sure Satan has to climb over a lot of Scripture to get to you," writes pastor and speaker John MacArthur.

Whatever storm you are facing
          both real or imagined,
          inside or out,
be ready,
your boots by the door,
     His Word in your heart.

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

                     Proverbs 3. 25-26

A kindness remembered

Long ago, as a graduate student, I was interning at a news service in downtown Washington DC.  I was a hunter and gatherer of stories to be published in small town newspapers.  It required a lot of lonely tasks, attending congressional committee meetings and news conferences, meeting deadlines and typing up articles late at night after everyone else had gone home.  I felt like a lone swimmer in a winter ocean.

And adding to my isolation, I was living in the YWCA, an inexpensive destination for sojourners and the down and out.  For my three months there, it was a place I could afford, an austere collection of cell-like rooms.  It was all I needed.  But there were lives of clear hardship staying on those floors.  I once heard a young woman weeping by the hallway pay phone.  She did not have even the dime she needed to make a collect call home to her mother to say she wanted to come home.

Downtown Washington at that time was not the clean slick metropolis as it is today, but still ravaged and not yet restored from the rioting and burning of buildings during the turbulent 1960s.  I passed skeletons of structures every day.  And as a young single woman, I had to walk blocks out of my way to avoid blatantly unsafe areas.  At the end of my day, I scurried back through the early winter darkness back to my room at the Y.

I was hungry for fellowship.  Through some friends back home, I connected with a young woman who lived across town and had a car.  She offered to take me to church one Sunday.

I stood that day in a huge cathedral-like church among God's people.  It was just what I needed.

After the service as we were putting on our coats, an older couple behind us leaned over and asked, "Would you girls like to go to lunch with us?"  It was a kind gesture, and my driver quickly agreed.

Standing in line at the crowded cafeteria, I was a little nervous.  On a very strict budget, this was not something I could afford.  I had been eating in my room to save expenses, heating up water in a little electric pot for soup, tea and oatmeal.  And now, I was in a really awkward place.  The other girl was loading up her tray.  I slid my empty tray along, thinking perhaps I could feign that I was not hungry and just get by with a cup of coffee.

The sweet older woman sidled up to me and whispered in my ear, "Oh my dear, you choose absolutely anything you want.  This meal is on us.  You are our guest."

In the Bible, hospitality is defined as a love of strangers.  I experienced that face to face that day, a kindness not quickly forgotten.

That old couple never knew how much that meal meant to me.

They were sensitive to a stranger who was just sitting in front of them that day.  And responsive not just to God but to an invisible need.  I am sure it was not the first time they responded that way, nor the last.  They had set their hearts in that direction.  And practiced the extraordinary.

The Scriptures instruct us.

Practice hospitality.

          Romans 12.13

Practice hospitality,
every which way you can,
every which way He leads.

A single kindness in His name
              changes the world.
In the movie Four Feathers, the main character asks the tribesman who had sacrificed so much for him, "But why did you help me?"

"Because God put you on my path," he replied with a chuckle.

Who has God placed on my heart today?

Saturday, January 24, 2015

What can I do with THAT?

The Wall Street Journal reported this week significant layoffs at the film company Dreamworks because its feature division has "fallen short on the creative side."  And as a result, fewer movies will be made.

When I read that news, I thought of my grandmother.  She would have laughed at even the thought of a decline in creativity.  

Being creative was a daily reality for her.  She inherited her parents' legacy of faith and a strong resolution in the face of dire need.  She did not recognize what she did not have, she did not waste any time even thinking about it.  Her mind and her heart shifted immediately from the need at hand to "what can I do with that?

She lived out the feeding of the 4000.

And the disciples said to Him,
"Where are we to get bread enough
                in the desert
to feed so great a crowd?"
And Jesus said to them,
"How many loaves have you?"

                     Matthew 15. 33-34

Bread enough?  My widowed grandmother would have just added another "s" to the desert and thought of a way to make a dessert as well.

She did not have much materially to give, but she knew how.  She had a little secret and a lot of hardcore experience.  God does not add.  He multiplies.  He does not just make it enough, but even provides leftovers for another meal.

And He uses His people to do it.
God uses His people to bless others.

The modern dictionary defines the word "create" as to cause to exist or bring into being, such as "She pieced together a quilt."

But my father's old dictionary from the 1920's paints a bigger picture:  "that which is made, produced, brought into existence, specifically the universe."

And the Bible?  God calls into existence the things that do not exist. (Romans 4.17)

Limitations did not restrict my grandmother in any way.  Indeed, that which appeared impossible created only a jumping off place.  "What can I do with that?"   As I grew up, I watched that first hand.  An old dress was hand-tailored into another outfit or made into a quilt.  A near-empty cupboard somehow served not only our family but unexpected guests who appeared suddenly on our doorstep.  She had a box of loose unwanted items that always found a new use.

Creativity to her was a type of generosity.  It was a mindset and a heart condition.  She gave hilariously.  Indeed, she was energized by it.

Let's see what God does with that!

Being faithful is not just laying it before Him,
   but following Him into His purposes.

And watching Him multiply.

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,
to Him be glory...

              Ephesians 3.20-21

Friday, January 23, 2015

Exhibit A: There are no words

The heavens are telling
      the glory of God,
and the firmament
      proclaims His handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech,
and night to night
         declares knowledge.
There is no speech,
    nor are there words;
their voice is not heard;
    their voice goes out
           through all the earth,
and their words
           to the end of the world.

                     Psalm 19. 1-4

When we were looking for a place to live last summer in yet another city new to us, no one ever told me what would become my favorite place in the house where we now live.  I discovered it suddenly late one afternoon when I was working in the single bedroom on the upper floor.  As I glanced up from my work, a masterpiece unfolded before me, a brilliant sky hand painted by God.  I was speechless.  The pools of color faded quickly with the promise to come again the next day and the next.  That is what hope looks like, I thought.

In a court of law, the prosecutors and defense carefully craft their verbal arguments. For days and sometimes weeks, words fill the courtroom, the jury cast about by currents of opinion like so many beach goers wading amidst turbulent waves.

But when the physical evidence is produced, often no words are necessary to proclaim what is truth.  Proof is right there before everyone in the courtroom.

What I viewed outside my window was not a once in a lifetime event, subject to explanation and dismissal, but that which occurs every morning and every evening, nothing short of splendor, inherently speechless and right on time.  Accurate sunrise, sunset, twilight times and moon information such as tides can be calculated precisely for any location in the world past, present, and future.

But even beyond the exactness of mathematical calculations, there is the incredible element of wonder.  G. K. Chesterton said it best in his 1908 classic book Orthodoxy:

"It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore. "

One's very breath is replaced by awe.  No words necessary.  Except to praise.  And to know the LORD is God, creator of heaven and earth.

Ever since the creation of the world
His invisible nature,
   His eternal power and deity,
has been clearly perceived
in the things that have been made.

                    Romans 1. 20 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Something hidden from view, unexplained and sacred

As a college student majoring in history, I scrimped and saved and sacrificed to travel one summer with a study group to Eastern Europe and Russia, yes, both still at the time behind the Iron Curtain.  I was attending a fiercely secular university at the time.  The trip was offered by a Christian college, led by professors who were Christ-followers.  I wanted to see first-hand the integration of faith and academics, and to grasp the spiritual dimension of history, those facts and incidents somehow conveniently omitted from textbooks.

It became evident from the onset of the trip that this was no luxury tour.  We had been forewarned that we would be staying in urban hostels and rural campgrounds for the duration of the journey, traveling in a caravan of three very rattly Volkswagen vans.  The details had been somewhat muted.  We ate peanut butter and jelly at least twice a day and rested in sleeping bags everywhere from partitioned gymnasiums to rustic wooden shelters, and once, in a parking area alongside a highway in the middle of the night, our sleeping bags lined up on the grass in the shadow of the moon.  We awoke at dawn with dew in our hair and Polish truck drivers looking quizzically at what appeared to them as a disheveled group of lost refugees.

In a particular campground in the middle of Russia, conditions were primitive at best.  Rural was an understatement.  We were quite literally in the middle of nowhere, studying the relics of magnificent cathedrals which stood like a reminder of an ancient culture. We pulled into our designated campground late one evening, a makeshift collection of unadorned huts so crudely constructed that the cold night wind whispered through the cracks and electricity had not yet been discovered.  I wondered about the history of this place, and those whose hard lives had been written on these dilapidated walls.

The other people staying at the campground stared at us as if we were aliens from another planet, and yet as young people facing unknown futures, we too were transients in time and season.  This was a place of nomadic people, some who stayed only a night, and others as long as they were able.  It appeared we were dwelling not in a campground but traipsing page by page through a decades-old issue of National Geographic magazine, complete with unidentifiable smells, dialects and the sounds of cooking over wood collected from the forest around us. 

I loved the aroma of the pine needles as we searched for firewood, the idyllic outdoors spread out underneath a canopy of stars.  But there was another side to living in this place.  The bathrooms were violent in odor.  The toilets consisted of two cinder blocks and a hole in the floor.  A few dirty sinks provided a flow of cold water, for drinking, doing dishes, and the closest thing to a bath we would see for a week.  One did not linger.  I could barely breathe the noxious air. The floor was adhesive with something I dare not think about.  Toilet paper had not yet been invented here.  We rationed what we had brought by ourselves, square by square.

Early one morning, I dashed through the door of the bathhouse only for necessity.  As I washed my hands in the ice cold water, my toothbrush fell out of my pocket.  The world came to a standstill as my fellow travelers stared.  You would have thought an heirloom vase had been shattered on the concrete floor.  We were at least a hundred miles and several scheduled days from a store.  I didn't even want to pick it up, let alone ever use it again.

A chuckle broke the silence.  "Oh, so that's why," one of my friends laughed.  "Follow me," she said.  From her duffel bag, she pulled out a brand-new toothbrush, still packaged.

"My mom insisted that I bring this with me in case I needed it.  This has been taking up space in my bag now for seven weeks.  I had been wondering why I was carrying this unnecessary toothbrush through Europe.  I thought that I would finally prove my mom to be wrong.  I didn't need it.

"But you did."

This incident occurred a lifetime ago, but God still reminds me from time to time what I am carrying, what I am experiencing, what I have been given, may not be about me at all.  God may have placed it in my life for someone else.  And most likely He did.

I need not know the reason
        for how God can use it. 
But He does.

Not an unnecessary experience,
nor a mystery after all,
        but His divine purposes taking root.

God will redeem.

And God is able
to provide you
with every blessing in abundance,
          so that
you may always have
enough of everything
and may provide in abundance
    for every good work.
As it is written,
"He scatters abroad,
He gives to the poor;
His righteousness endures

          2 Corinthians 9. 8-9

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A Living Mystery

"To be a witness does not consist in engaging in propaganda, nor even in stirring people up, but in being a living mystery.  It means to live in such a way that one's life would not make sense if God did not exist."

These words were penned at a time when even the slightest suspicion put one's life at risk.  And for so many, indeed, it did.  The writer was Cardinal Emmanuel Celestin Suhard who had the privilege of serving God as the archbishop of Paris from 1940 until his death in 1949.  That period of time included the German invasion and the Occupation of France when nearly 76,000 Jews were sent by trainloads to the German death camps.

The Christians in the small village of Le Chambon-Sur-Lignon chose to live such a mystery as that.  From December 1940 to September 1944, this village of 3500 residents provided refuge for an estimated 7000 Jews, sheltering them in their homes and farms.  They quite literally put their own lives on the line.

Years ago, I came upon an interview with some of those surviving residents.  When asked why they would sacrifice their lives for strangers, they looked at the interviewer, as if not understanding his question.  "Why would we not?" one woman answered.  "It was the right thing to do."  The entire story of this remarkable group of people is chronicled in the book Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed by Philip Hallie.

To the world, their actions did not make sense.  Indeed, it did not even make sense to those who sought refuge.  "Nobody asked who was Jewish and who was not.  Nobody asked where you were from.  Nobody asked who your father was or if you could pay.  They just accepted each of us, taking us in with warmth, sheltering children, often without their parents -- children who cried in the night from nightmares," stated one of the refugee children, now an adult, as quoted at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

What stands out so clearly to me is that these courageous people did not just suddenly in life-threatening difficulty begin to live that way.  "If we do not do the running steadily in the little ways, we shall do nothing in the crisis," says Oswald Chambers in My Utmost for His Highest.  

Who or what one worships is revealed in the crisis.  Not just what motivates you, but who is at the core?  That which is true, that which is real, that which you value, is all manifest in behavior.  And it all comes to the surface not just in dangerous moments but in the every days of life.

May everyone around you recognize God's redemptive work in you.  He is all about who you are.  He is all over what you do. 

What am I doing today -- this week -- this year -- that would not make sense unless God exists? that they were astonished,
and said,
"Where did this man get this wisdom
and these mighty works?"

                    Matthew 13.54

Live in such a way that those around you
are compelled to ask

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Plant Big Trees

The kingdom of heaven
is like a grain of mustard seed
which a man took
    and sowed in his field;
it is the smallest of all seeds,
but when it has grown
it is the greatest of shrubs
      and becomes a tree,
so that
the birds of the air come
   and make nests in its branches.

                 Matthew 13. 31-32

In so many locations our family has moved, there are unsold lots or undeveloped fields around us, waiting to be dug into houses or planted with seasonal crops.  The trees that the developers choose are almost always skinny like so many junior high boys, lanky and awkward, just waiting for a growth spurt.  The trees that are planted are intentionally selected as fast-growing, which means sadly that after a sprint, they will lag in the future, their thin bark attractive to greedy insects and their short roots vulnerable to sudden storms.

God calls me to plant today
   that which the world deems insignificant,
a sacred sowing of grace
        that takes a deep rooting
   and bears fruit not for me.
Even the smallest kindness,
the smallest act of undeserving,
the smallest obedience
          changes the landscape.
May God redeem
        even what I cannot know
        beyond the horizon of my life

As writer Wendell Berry so profoundly states in these few words from his poem Manifesto:  The Mad Farmer Liberation Front:

"Invest in the millennium.
Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest that you did not plant,
    that you will not live to harvest."

And so, my friend, in all attitudes and actions and words and energy today, plant not spindly trees that decorate a yard for a season, but plant the smallest seeds that grow into a forest -- that which will outlive your time on earth and that which you can only see from the Other Side.

O God,
     use us to change the landscape.
Enlarge our vision
deepen our hearts
      that we see what is precious
      in what appears an empty barren field.
Help us to grasp
             the enormity of the forest,
    the vastness of transformed dirt. 

Plant big trees.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Life is too short to live a mediocre Christian life


In the late 1600's, Brother Lawrence worked faithfully for more than three decades washing dirty dishes by hand and repairing old battered shoes in a monastery, not dwelling about what he could or should be doing, but embracing the work that God had given him.  We know nothing of his superiors or those who held significant positions at that time and place, but only the faithfulness of Brother Lawrence in whatever God placed before him. God used him to impact his world.  God is still using him in incredible ways to show us what faithfulness looks like.  Practicing the Presence of God, a book compiled of his thoughts and writings after his death, is still being published more than 325 years later.

In a friend's Christmas letter one year was written an encouragement to live fully for God.  "Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well-preserved body.  But rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in hand, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming, "Woo Hoo, what a ride!"

I recently came across a quotation from Lorry Kilinski Lutz, a missionary in South Africa for more than twenty years:
"Now at 80. will I resist the temptation to stop taking risks?
...God has never yet directed me to take a risk that He did not reward."

Because in God's sight, risk does not mean taking chances.  It means trusting Him.

And what for each of us?  Because even in what appears to be the most ordinary of days, God's adventure is embedded, and the smallest details are each profound.

Mediocre is not an option.  God never intended life to be that way.  Because with God, nothing is ordinary and commonplace.

How do I respond to what God has laid before me today?

In the book of Genesis, Joseph was found faithful to God in every day tasks, in impossible situations, before kings, and in the deepest adversity.  How did he do that?  Why did he do that?  Because Joseph knew that God was at work.  Yes, even in this.

Joseph answered Pharoah, "It is not in me, but God..." (Genesis 41.16)

In the dictionary, adventure is defined as the attitude toward what is to come, a daring feat, a bold undertaking, an exciting or extraordinary experience, a risk-taking.

From cover to cover, the Bible defines adventure as "Follow Me."  And that alone encompasses all of the above.  How you see life, how you see God, how you see others, what you see and how you respond to anything and everything will never be the same.

Live like that.

I have been 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, January 18, 2015

Little Nudges from God

Listening skills comprised a feature article in the Wall Street Journal this week.  The advice was not so much about hearing, but listening to those around you.   It is a matter not of wave lengths entering the ear, but honing one's sensitivity to the needs of others.

But listening to God -- well, of course, God takes that to another level.  Listening to God does not just mean receiving.  It means adjusting my heart -- not just my ears-- so as to respond quickly.

Over her 38 years in ministry in rural India, missionary Mary Geegh learned that kind of sensitivity to what I call "little nudges from God."  One day in struggling with a difficult co-worker, she sought God for a solution to the problem.

Mary recalled that one morning early she asked God for guidance:  what could she do to dissolve the critical feeling she had in her heart for this woman?  "Take her a fresh egg," came a thought. 

And as it is proven over and over, God's little nudges are almost always followed in our minds by a long list of excuses to not follow Him into it.

Mary dismissed the very idea.  And later when she came home midday, a chicken wandered into her little house, hopped up on a chair, and laid an egg before her.  How much more obvious could God be?

Mary still struggled with the ridiculous idea that seemed to make no sense.  What turned out was that it made no sense to her at the time, but the outcome was totally a design from God.  For when Mary reluctantly obeyed and finally delivered the single fresh egg, the woman was so grateful.

"Oh! That is just like God!" the woman said.  "He knew I had nothing to eat this day.  There just wasn't enough food for all, so I went without.  Then you brought the egg for me."

And then, that little act of what Mary thought was ridiculous obedience took root.  The egg did not just satisfy the woman's hunger that day, but impacted that family's walk with God, and as Mary discovered, "all the friction in my heart was gone."   A close relationship was nurtured between them.

That story from so far away and so long ago reminds me of those little nudges from God that I have ignored or responded too late to do anything about it.  Little do I know how God plans to use that crazy idea, if only I simply obey.  And sometimes it may be only for me to discover how much I trust God with my life.

To know the reason why is not my job.  Just to be faithful to Him.

How has God nudged me today?
How has He nudged me to obey?

And the LORD will guide you continually...

                             Isaiah 58. 11

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

                             Proverbs 3. 27

Saturday, January 17, 2015

See that time with different eyes, see that task with a transformed heart

"I wish it need not have happened in my time," said Frodo.
"So do I," said Gandalf, "and so do all who live to see such times.  But that is not for them to decide.  All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us."

So J. R. R. Tolkien penned these words in his epic story The Hobbit.

And what of the story God is writing in you?  How are we responding to the time that God has given us?

I was moved to tears over this news story (to view, click this link) of the tragedy and redemption of a young man's life.  The outcome was incredible.  But what was even more remarkable to me was the faithfulness and love of his parents in taking care of him for a dozen years without knowing the outcome. 

God does not call us to be successful or significant, but faithful to Him.

For some of us, that means following God into a dark wilderness without knowing where we are going.  For others, that means following God right where we are, being faithful and available for His divine appointments and purposes without knowing the outcome.  How can anyone of us know what is "significant?"  Who is to know how God is using you?  Whether the corner office or changing bedpans, He calls us to be faithful.

For His glory,
   for His glory alone.

Whatever your task,
work heartily,
as serving the Lord and not men,
knowing that from the Lord
you will receive
the inheritance as your reward;
you are serving the Lord Christ.

                  Colossians 3. 23-24

Friday, January 16, 2015


I pulled up my emails yesterday morning and scanned through the plenteous junk mail for messages from REAL people and sites with information I need.   It is like searching through an enormous crowd for the faces of those I really love. The computer is a great source of communication, but, as I have discovered, it provides an even greater source of distraction.

A line of superfluous emails awaits me every morning.  And most of the time, I spend a few minutes deleting all of them.  It doesn't take too long, but it is a few minutes I could spend instead on what really matters. 

Yesterday, amid the pressing commercial cries of "open me or you are going to miss out," I began to push back.  I began to unsubscribe. While it may appear impossible to back out of this barrage of emails -- sometimes sent more than once a day -- there is an escape route at the very bottom of each email in the teeniest tiniest font, a barely visible "click here to unsubscribe."   I am tired of the clutter in my inbox and the urgency of "you really need this."  If I want things to be different, something has to change.  And that time is now.

What I really need is to be not distracted by the mundane any longer.

As I clicked the first "unsubscribe" button, I noticed how many retailers acted like junior high girls who have been offended, stating in so many words, "well, I don't want to be friends with you either."  Some retailers begged for reconciliation, "how about only once a week?"  " A month?"  "Special events?" And the supposedly heart-rendering "so sorry to see you go."

You are not my friend.  Don't pretend to be.

I looked up the word "subscribe" in my father's old dictionary.  The first meaning is "to write one's own name in one's own hand."  It is a promise and a commitment of precious time and treasure.

When I choose to unsubscribe
     from a covetous lifestyle
or an enslaving website
               of any kind,
      it releases me.
It is a turning from what draws away
    and a focusing on
                a higher calling.
I am choosing to subscribe
           to something different,
to Him who has written my name
         on His hands.

And in that fresh margin of time,
God sharpens my heart
                 to His purposes.

All things are lawful for me,
but not all things are helpful.
All things are lawful for me,
but I will not be enslaved
                       by anything.

              1 Corinthians 6.12

Thursday, January 15, 2015

A pocketful of kindness

A young woman stood up suddenly in a morning Bible study and excused herself because she was not feeling well.  As she walked into the church lobby, she collapsed onto the carpet and died.  It was sudden and shocking for all of us.  Everyone knew her as a loving person, but when her minivan was finally retrieved from the parking lot, the evidence of her heart was revealed.

Inside the minivan was a box loaded with gallon-size zip-lock bags.  Each of the bags contained an assortment of cereal bars, a plastic bottle of water, and an item such as a knit hat or a pair of socks.  She was not just a kind person, she was prepared for the opportunity to be kind.  When she saw a needy person, she had something to offer to meet them in their need.  Sometimes it was a zip-lock bag.  Sometimes it was a compassionate conversation.  Need is not a respecter of persons.

That box was living testimony about her relationship with God.  Good deeds do not save us.  They are just the evidence of what God's redeeming does to a person.  God changes our hearts, He changes our minds, He changes the focus of our lives from me-centered to God at the core of who I am.

She spoke freely about the love of Jesus.  Her life conversed about her Savior even more so.

And whoever gives
   to one of these little ones
even a cup of cold water
because he is a disciple,
truly, I say to you,
he shall not lose his reward.
            Matthew 10.42

A ministry of small things bears that which is profound.  There is nothing too big for God.  There is nothing too small that He cannot use for His eternally significant purposes. God changes lives that way. There is no higher calling or reward than being used by God  for His glory.

Aware of it or not, skeptics around you are not watching to see if you mess up or if you are perfect, but hoping beyond hope to see if this God of yours is real. 

It is not a matter of "ought to" or even a willingness to be used by God.  Am I ready with a pocketful of kind words?  Am I ready to be inconvenienced to listen to someone?  Do I look for opportunities with eyes that see beyond the obvious and a heart ready  to respond?  Am I that kind of ready -- heart set and pockets loaded -- to love those who God puts on my path today?  Even those I live or work with?  Yes, even them.  Desperate hearts are often the best disguised.

Am I that kind of loving?

Think about it.
Pray through it.
Prepare to
    practice grace.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

A different agenda

I have returned to Nightly Tea from a land where a successful day is declared when everyone sleeps through the night and the adults can get a shower.  What is "important" fades in the light of a baby's smile and laughter emerging from the basement.  It is a time when exhaustion is overruled by the cry of an infant.  And relationships are nurtured.

When our first grandchild was born and I held her for the very first time, I was struck by a overpowering responsibility.  The Bible speaks about the next generations and "those yet unborn."  This is it, I thought.  Everything I do, everything I pursue, my relationship with Christ -- all have a direct impact on this child.  And the reverberations extend to the furthest generation.

And so, this past week, I left Nightly Tea at home, and my husband and I loved on three of our grandkids for several precious days.  We sang and read Bible stories, frolicked in the snow, played restaurant and hospital, swords and knights, and raced little plastic cars.  The toys will soon be forgotten, but the TIME will not.

I wish I had realized that more when I was the mommy and the girls begged me to come play with them.  "Be there in a minute" became my first response, not as a promise but a way to put them off while other more "urgent" things swallowed up that time.  And more often than not, that "minute" meant not at all.  At the time, I would think how much I got done, but it was indeed my loss.

Singer Gloria Gaither once told a story about her young son who ran inside and called her to "come quick to see this."  She was up to her elbows washing dirty dishes. "Mom, mom, mom, mom, you are going to miss it!" he insisted.  With a great sense of irritation at her son, she followed him into the backyard.  And there before her was the most magnificent sunset.  In another minute, it was gone.  And had she hesitated even a moment, she would have missed not just the sunset, but the sheer joy of sharing that precious experience with her child.

And so, last week, I did not write.  I played.  And loved on those kids every which way I could.

We will not hide them from their children,
but tell to the coming generation
the glorious deeds of the LORD,
                 and His might,
and the wonders which He has wrought. teach to their children
that the next generation might know them,
        the children yet unborn,
and arise and tell them to their children
so that
     they should set their hope in God...

                     Psalm 78. 4-7

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

A Year in Books

One of my early childhood memories is getting my first library card, the only requirement was that I was able to scrawl my name on that little tiny line.  Another memory is hiding under the covers with a flashlight, reading long after bedtime, braving the warning that I would ruin my eyes.  My mom's most effective form of discipline was to take away my library books.

A recent article in Forbes magazine described the rapid pace of technology in the past few years.  "In very much the same way, life today will look very different in the not-too-distant future. By 2030, our technology will be a thousand times more powerful and by 2045, it will be a million times more powerful. Things that seem futuristic today, like virtual reality, will be old hat by then."

Fifteen years from now?  I will still have a stack of books on my nightstand and kitchen counter and a line of books on my desk.  And the grandkids will still dig through my basket of Little Golden Books and beg "read another one, gramma."

I read things online and sometimes on a Kindle, but I will always love the feel of a real book in my hands. One of my daughters claims that you are never more than three feet from a spider.   I live almost that close in proximity to a book. 

I had a crazy schedule last year, but here is the list of books I read in 2014, in no particular order. 

You’ll Make It Through This by Max Lucado (2013)
Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber (2011)
Holy is the Day by Carolyn Weber (2013)
Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair by Anne Lamott  (2014)
Talk Like TED:  The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds by Carmine Gallo (2014)
Encounters with Jesus:  Unexpected Answers to Life’s Biggest Questions by Timothy Keller (2013)
The Spiritual Danger of Doing Good by Peter Greer (2013)
An American Childhood by Annie Dillard (1987)
The Miracle of St. Anna by James McBride (2002)
The Good Lord Bird by James McBride (2013)
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd (2014)
Daily Rituals:  How Artists Work by Mason Currey (2013)
In the Name of Jesus by Henri Nouwen (2001)
Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino (1972)
Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry (2004)
The Knowledge of the Holy by A. W. Tozer (1961)
The Pursuit of God by A. W. Tozer (1948)
Lila by Marilynne Robinson (2014)
Seeing Through the Fog:  Hope When Your World Falls Apart  by Ed Dobson (2012)
What Are You Afraid Of?  by David Jeremiah (2013)
Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God by Dallas Willard (1984)
Running for My Life:  One Lost Boy’s Journey from the Killing Fields of Sudan to the Olympic Games by Lopez Lemong (2012)
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie (1936)
Practicing the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence (1691)
The Bible

“It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between.”  C. S. Lewis, God In The Dock

Monday, January 5, 2015

That ought to be enough for today

Back to reality this morning, despite the last vestiges of the holidays that remain around us - a box of ornaments that still needs to be put away, the mound of Christmas trees discarded at the recycling center, the last piece of cheesecake taking refuge in the back of the fridge.  Even the living room looks like something is missing.

And what of today, what of this new year?  If we want things to be different, something has to change.  That is a banner we can all rally around, until we realize the obvious problem.  If I point a finger of blame at  those around me or my situation, four fingers are pointing back at me.

A list of resolutions will only get me to the end of January.  But changes in my heart will transform me degree by degree.

Lead me, O LORD,
    in Your righteousness
because of my enemies;
make Your way
    straight before me.

           Psalm 5.8

The problem is that I want directions from God
       for where I want to go,
when He wants to direct my paths
       in ways
              and to places
beyond my wildest imagination.

And what do I set before my eyes?
A to-do list
      ranked by urgency?
A list of "ought to's?"

Or focus my eyes
        every morning on His Word? lead a life worthy of You,
fully pleasing to You,
bearing fruit in every good work,
and increasing in the
         knowledge of You.

                    Colossians 1. 10

He will direct my paths,
He will order my days,
He will teach me to think differently,
He will change my heart.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

All who wander are not lost

Some long-time friends of ours joined us on New Year's Eve for a evening walk in the park, a new little twist on ringing in the new year.  It was cold.  It was dark.  And our grown kids, once again, questioned our sanity.  But we thought it was a great idea.... and we viewed a "hike in the dark" as an appropriate metaphor for our past year, navigating so much uncharted territory.

We dressed in layers and brought along our flashlights and headlamps to guide our way. The parking lot was completely desolate.  A nearby swingset stood motionless in the haze like a faded childhood memory.   Large shadows crisscrossed the forest floor.  We headed up the path like entering the unknown of a new year.

But soon our plan for a quick walk in the dark turned out to be something entirely different.  While only in the upper 20's, the air was chilly but not unbearable, not the suck-the-oxygen-out-of-your-lungs kind of cold that we former-Chicagoans know so well.  While dense woods surrounded us, our eyes adjusted almost immediately to a strong grey light around us.  Our flashlights remained in our pockets, unneeded and unused.  We walked in the outrageous presence of a silent midwinter's moon, unhindered and wild in its beauty.

And I was reminded of Psalm 139.12:  "Even the darkness is not dark to You."

I had hiked this trail before, but at night it looked a little bit different. We missed the turn-off that would have brought us back quickly to the car.  Instead, we meandered around a long ridge, surrounded by immense age-old trees, and we looked down at times on car lights like so many white and red ribbons winding on invisible roads through the hills.  The air was quiet and calm and devoid of fear.

For a time, we didn't know where we were, but the trail went on.  And then quite suddenly around a bend, I recognized an intersection where two paths came together, a place where I had been before in the daylight.  It was like walking in mystery and emerging into sudden understanding.

We intended to walk a couple of miles.  Instead, we traveled about five.  When we arrived at the car, it was like coming back to the same place a little bit different. 

Were we wandering after all?  Or exploring?  Or following what we could not yet see?  In his novel Jayber Crow, Wendell Berry described how I felt.

"...looking back at earlier times, it seemed I had been wandering in the dark woods of error.  But now it looks to me as though I was following a path that was laid out for me, unbroken, and maybe even as straight as possible, from one end to the other, and I have this feeling, which never leaves me anymore, that I have been led."

In 2014, my husband Bill and I traversed new territory, paths we had not taken before, and like our night hike, not knowing where we would come out.  Our roads were not paved, nor familiar.  An adventure, indeed.  And once again, God underlined the truth that what I don't know makes me rely even more on Him.  His leading is both deliberate and incomprehensible, "yet Your footprints were unseen." (Psalm 77.19)

And as God reassured me on our hike, last year was not traveling into the unknown after all, but just what I couldn't see yet.  Trust is where the adventure begins.

J. R. R. Tolkien once said, "All who wander are not lost."  To that I would add on this unfamiliar journey into another year, God is just taking us to a new dimension of knowing Him.

"You do not know what you are going to do;
the only thing you know is that
God knows what He is doing.
...God does not tell you
what He is going to do;
He reveals to you
Who He is."
              --Oswald Chambers
                 My Utmost For His Highest


Friday, January 2, 2015

Putting Christmas Away

The time has come.  The guests have gone.  Even the little plastic tubs of leftovers in the fridge look forlorn, having been reheated a few too many times.  Drifts of evergreen needles appear every morning on the living room floor like sand dunes after a storm. The ornaments on the tree are faded, weary and ready to get settled down for a long winter's nap.  Even the nativity will get packed gently into its carton, nestled and safe, accompanied by the waning strains of carols. The empty boxes are ready at the top of the stairs.  The season has passed.

But it is not time to put Christmas away,
                   it is time to put it into action. 

Jesus did not just come as a sweet little baby;  He came to save people from their sins (Matthew 1.21).  He came to change us and to make all things new.

I don't need to put Christmas away.  I need to walk with Him right into the reality of the new year. 

And how do I do that?  I have no idea what is ahead of me in this new year.  But because of Christmas, I am ready.
No matter the difficulty of my situation, no matter who God places on my path today, no matter how bleak or love-deprived or seemingly hopeless.  Take the love of Jesus there, as theologian Henri Nouwen says in his book In the Name of Jesus

And the only way to do that is to abide in Him.  Not as a decoration hung around one's neck, nor an accessory to put on, but at the core of one's heart, Jesus infiltrates everything.

Abide in Me,
          and I in you.
As the branch
  cannot bear fruit by itself,
unless it abides in the vine,
neither can you,
unless you abide in Me.
I am the vine,
you are the branches.
He who abides in Me,
         and I in him,
he it is that bears much fruit,
for apart from Me,
    you can do nothing.

                    John 14. 4-5

It is not time to put Jesus away in the attic.

It's "go time."

Thursday, January 1, 2015


It is the first day of 2015.
We worship a God
      Who specializes
not just in new starts
               but in new hearts.

I read this morning
the very first verse in the Bible
that talks about newness.
"In the beginning
God created the heavens
and the earth."
          Genesis 1.1

That verse alone
      changes everything
I think and know
about life,
     and God Himself.

God is faithful.
With that truth,
I can look into this newest of years
        that is full of His goodness
and thankfully,
               His grace.
On Him alone,
      I can stake my life.