Saturday, February 28, 2015

Many layers of sound

Last evening, we attended Mahler's ninth symphony, performed by the Nashville Symphony.  Before the performance, a lecture was offered to tell about the background of the composer, his mindset at the time, and the intricacies of this complicated piece of music.  The piece all works together down to the last few astonishing measures when there is no longer sound but an incredible silence resounding in the concert hall.

The orchestra was unusually large for this performance, and the instruments were placed in different arrangements for the blending of sounds.  The violas and cellos had changed places, the woodwinds dominated front and center, and two harps graced one side.  This was not a random placement of musicians, but designed for specific audio dynamics.

Before we entered the auditorium, I noticed a large photograph on the lobby wall of a group of people at the symphony in what was probably the 1950s.  I recognized the era by the number of women wearing hats. Front and center was a young girl wearing a dress with puff sleeves and a sash, slouching down in her seat with a reluctant look on her face as if she had been coerced into coming.

It was not me, but it could have been my younger self.  How many concerts did I endure through my growing up years?  The rehearsals, the recitals my mom performed on her violin, the performances in halls both small and large?  At the time, my mind wandered.  I counted people, instruments, even tiles on the ceiling to keep myself occupied.

But I listened.  The layers of sound, the intricacies of classical music, the merging of the individual instruments into a common pursuit, all worked its way into my ears and engraved my mind.  I did not appreciate it at the time. I am sorry, mom.  You gave me a gift, even if you made me do it.

Each of the musicians are directed by a single conductor, each part vital to the whole.  Each individual instrument has its own sound.  Every one is not just playing the same piece of music, not even just on the same page, but they are even coordinated on the same measure.  Different parts, different notes, but in the same key, bound in the same tempo, and the complexity pulled together by the conductor.

Just as a single musician cannot produce piece of that magnitude on his own, I cannot do life alone.  When things are easy, I may think I can, but I need direction and guidance and the emergence of many layers of meaning and purpose that can only come from a God who loves and leads and produces dimensions I don't even know can exist.

If all I hear is a simple melody, I have missed out immensely.

...for not by their own sword
       did they win the land,
nor did their own arm
       give them victory,
but Your right hand and Your arm,
and the light of Your countenance,
for You delighted in them.

                         Psalm 44.3

When my eyes are on Him,
God guides me in my day
   and gives me strength
          how to do it well.
His indwelling changes
    not only me,
    but the outcome.
Follow His hand,
know His strength in it,
and He will pull it together,
     His purposes bearing the beauty.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

A patch over one eye

Somewhere in a box of old family papers and images in our attic is a pair of light blue glasses that I wore as a tiny girl.  No photographs exist of me wearing them as if my mom was afraid those ugly glasses would impact how I saw myself.

The irony is that those glasses DID impact how I saw not only myself, but everything around me.  On a trip to see relatives in faraway Texas when I was a preschooler, an uncle pointed out to my mom that something appeared to be wrong with my eyes. When we returned, my mom searched diligently for an eye doctor who would even address the needs of a small child.  Back in those days, there was neither the scrutiny nor the resources that are available today.

It was not that I could not see at all.  I didn't even know anything was wrong.  I didn't know anything different.  I just thought that was the way the world looked.

It is one of my earliest memories, going to that doctor over the course of probably a year or two, riding the elevator in an old building, the mass of instruments in the examining room, and the opthalmologist peering into my eyes.  My left eye was an overachiever, the right one didn't bother to do any of the work, a "lazy eye," it was deemed.

But the doctor didn't just make a diagnosis.  She did something about it.  She placed a dreaded patch over one eye of a pair of glasses, forcing my lazy eye to pull its weight.  And then she commenced a training program for me.

Three times a day, I sat in front of the mirror at my mother's little makeup table in her room.  My job was to follow the light of a little pen flashlight as my mom moved it in different patterns, mostly on the periphery of my vision.  It was like calisthenics for my eyes, stretching and strengthening them.  It didn't take too long for my eyes to begin working in sync with each other.

I saw everything differently.  No more double vision, a new sense of depth perception, and those little black squiggles on the pages of my older brother's Dick and Jane books became actual words.  Up until then, I just memorized what I heard.

I no longer need those glasses with one patch, but I am still aware of my need for deeper vision.  I have found a daily reading of God's Word as what stretches and strengthens my eyes and the muscles of my heart. God changes me through His Word.  It is not that I couldn't see before, but now each day I can see differently the people, situations, and glaring need that I might never have noticed before or even to know how to respond.

As a young girl, I needed that daily training for my eyesight; I need it now even more for my focus on God. And that changes everything, all the way down to the core of who I am.

We don't know what to do,
but our eyes are upon You.

            2 Chronicles 20.12

As a little girl, I had no idea what I was missing.  I didn't know there was anything more. What dimensions of God around me am I now missing?   In Scripture, the eyes and the heart are always connected.  Daily training in Scripture -- reading, thinking about what I read, taking a verse with me -- helps me to see beyond the obvious and know that there are eternal dimensions in it all.  His purposes go even deeper than what I can see to what I can know about Him. 

It impacts how I see God,
how I see others,
how I see what is around me,
and how I see myself.

Follow the light.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Great Ice Storm of 2015

The mild winters of which Southerners boast disappeared this February under inches of ice, snow, freezing rain, sleet, single digit temperatures, and a mysterious moniker called "wintry mix," which translated from the local dialect means "we have no idea what it is, but stay inside if you can."

I imagine that the people of Boston or Minnesota laugh at the turmoil a few inches of snow and ice create in the South.  But then again, Northerners balk about any kind of hardship that rivals their own, even among themselves.  In the North, bragging rights could be legalized as a sporting event. Incredible survival stories dominate most conversations in the winter, firmly enmeshed in a kind of "I can beat that" mindset, even from one side of town to the other. 

In the past couple weeks in Nashville, schools were closed due to snow and ice storms, and churches were opened, taking in anyone and everyone who needed a place to stay for the night. Newscasters urged listeners to check up on neighbors. Police combed the city for people living on the streets.  Southern hospitality prevailed, even in the crisis.  So many churches opened their doors, providing warm clothing, food and shelter that there was far more than needed.

Ice storms are not uncommon in the South, but they are almost always followed immediately by a warming spell.  And hence, when they happen, people just wait for the ice to pass in a day or two at most.  But this time, that did not happen.  Ice was followed by snow, sub-zero temps and even more ice, hard and thick and immovable. 

But today, a warm breeze blew into town.  It is not yet spring, but it is beginning to feel that way.  And that thick ice which was so destructive and impossible has finally begun to dissolve.  The great thaw has begun. The ice-jammed gutters, the slick roads, the ice covered driveways began to melt, drip by drip.

Just waiting for time and warmer temperatures to alleviate ice that is inches-thick might work with the weather.  But in life, time alone will not melt difficulties in relationships that have grown rock-hard over time. If anything, time and avoidance just add layer upon layer to volatile relationships.    

Only forgiveness can melt away resentment, bitterness and hardness of heart.  It doesn't happen all at once, but drip by drip.  How can I bring my own forgiving heart to this impossible relationship or situation?  Forgiveness does not mean an accusatory "I forgive you for doing that to me," nor condoning an action or condemning a person, but letting go of the bitterness and moving on.

In the midst of the winter storms, the public was warned to be prepared to venture into the bitter cold -- to dress warmly, carry a cell phone, blanket and food in their cars -- so that they would not be caught unawares if stranded.  Even so, we should go forth into icy-cold relationships prepared with kindness, forgiveness, healing, and compassion in our hearts, minds and hands.  How can I approach this differently?

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

If a little melting can move a glacier, what can kindness do in our relationships?  Forgiveness changes my heart.  Forgiveness changes the landscape.

The ice is released one drip at a time, losing its grip and changing its very nature.  

The Bible does not talk about ice storms
but it tells the story of forgiveness
from beginning to end,
the steadfast love of the LORD
           and the softening of hearts.

Let the melting begin.

Above all hold unfailing
your love for one another,
since love covers
        a multitude of sins.

              1 Peter 4.8

Be kind to one another,
forgiving one another,
as God in Christ
                forgave you.

               Ephesians 4.32

Monday, February 23, 2015

Stay With Us

The Oscars ceremonies on Sunday night honored those who tell stories, through so many dimensions --acting, visual effects, music and writing.  But it seemed odd to me that so many real life stories were buried and unspoken.   Amidst all of the thank you's to family members, co-workers and even pets at the Academy Awards, and even amidst those who chose to use the platform for fame and other agendas, there emerged a single powerful story behind one of the awards. 

When the young 33 year old Graham Moore was awarded best adapted screenplay, he began with the usual litany of thanks.  And then quite suddenly in an unrehearsed moment, he turned to the microphone and briefly mentioned his own untold story, not for personal attention but as a lifeline for others.

"I tried to commit suicide at 16 and now I'm standing here," he said. "I would like for this moment to be for that kid out there who feels like she doesn’t fit in anywhere. You do. Stay weird. Stay different, and then when it's your turn and you are standing on this stage please pass the same message along." (quoted from a news story from the Huffington Post.)

He couldn't see the future from where he was standing when he was 16. He thought he was the only one who was weird, when indeed we are all different in one way or another.  Despair has a way of closing the blinds, blocking out the light, and making life look very bleak indeed. 

But there is a future.  There is always a future.  And most likely, that which you cannot YET see.

When the iconic comedian Robin Williams committed suicide in August 2014, I read an article published by Krista Tippett in NPR's On Being.  She quoted the last few paragraphs of  Stay:  A History of Suicide and Philosophies Against It, authored by Jennifer Michael Hecht.

"None of us can truly know what we mean to other people, and none of us can know what our future self will experience. History and philosophy ask us to remember these mysteries, to look around at friends, family, humanity, at the surprises life brings — the endless possibilities that living offers — and to persevere. There is love and insight to live for, bright moments to cherish, and even the possibility of happiness, and the chance of helping someone else through his or her own troubles. Know that people, through history and today, understand how much courage it takes to stay. Bear witness to the night side of being human and the bravery it entails, and wait for the sun. If we meditate on the record of human wisdom we may find there reason enough to persist and find our way back to happiness. The first step is to consider the arguments and evidence and choose to stay. After that, anything may happen. First, choose to stay."

While Hecht's book is not written from a biblical worldview, it recognizes the preciousness of God-given life.  Each one of us is so loved by God, who is our forgiver, healer, redeemer, and savior.  He redeems our past, He walks with us in the present, He is there in the future, even in that which we cannot yet see.

Choose to stay.

For I know the plans I have for you,
                 says the LORD,
plans for welfare and not for evil,
to give you a future and a hope.
Then you will call upon Me
and come and pray to Me,
             and I will hear you.
You will seek Me and find Me;
when you seek Me with all your heart,
     I will be found by you,
     says the LORD.

                  Jeremiah 29. 11-14  

I waited patiently for the LORD;
He inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the desolate pit,
          out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
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 the LORD.

                   Psalm 40. 1-3

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Frodo, A Ring, And What He Didn't Know


On a few cold nights this January, we devoured the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy on DVD, watching the story unfold evening by evening, one right after another to get the full impact of J.R.R. Tolkien's epic tale.  In the very last segment, "The Return of the King," Frodo struggled to finally let go of the precious ring.  He literally and figuratively tottered on a precipice.

And while Frodo wrestled, unbeknownst to him on a battlefield far away, the forces of evil threatened to annihilate the last vestiges of good in Middle Earth.  Outnumbered and overwhelmed, the ragtag army was surrounded.  Evil was closing in.  It became evident that Frodo's internal battle and the desperation of the besieged army were inextricably enmeshed.

"Let go of the ring!" I begged, outloud.

As Frodo hesitated, buffeted violently by his own greed, he had no idea the impact of his inaction on the lives of his beloved friends.  Barbaric orcs were bearing down upon them,  a circle of violence tightening around them.

Finally, without a moment to spare, when Frodo cast the ring into the mountain of fire, the evil oppressors evaporated into thin air.

I sat on the couch, the credits scrolling across the screen, stunned by the truth that my obedience to God matters even more than that.  

How often am I deceived by something so trivial,
a ring of selfishness that distracts me
from the seriousness of my actions?

"Let go of the ring!"
Faithfulness to God
       always impacts others.
A single act of obedience
      bears fruit for a thousand generations.

If I only realize that truth,
    how different would I live?
If I only knew the outcome,
   would there be any hesitation at all?

When you do what God tells you to do,
following Him into His design for you,
God multiplies it in dimensions
       you don't even know exist. 

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

                    Ephesians 3.20

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

What If?

Image result for wild kratts
Our oldest grandkids love to watch a show on PBS called Wild Kratts.  Each episode features a particular kind of animal, some of which are totally unfamiliar to me, and others even in their familiarity reveal new aspects of their God-created design.

As the Kratt brothers introduce the designated animal or species at the beginning of the show, they start off the episode by stating boldly, "What if?"

For them, that simple question launches an exciting half-hour adventure.

All too often, our own questions of "what if?" are driven by utter fear. "What if...!!??"  What we see may be scary, but the unknown generates even more fear. "What if?" is the conversation of despair, particularly in the middle of the night when the shadows are deep and irrational phantoms hold a loud dance party.

But with God, "what if?" opens doors of possibility.   I just need to take Him up on it.  Even in mystery,  God is fulfilling His plans. God is already at work in amazing ways.

Trust in the LORD,
          and do good;
so you will dwell in the land,
and enjoy security.
Take delight in the LORD,
and He will give you
    the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the LORD,
trust in Him,
         and He will act.

                  Psalm 37. 3-5

"What if" I followed the LORD like that today?
Not just for a half-hour episode
     but a lifetime of adventure with Him.
How would that change me
and tomorrow
and a year from now?
Trust Him,
take delight,
and commit my way to the LORD.
God redeems
      beyond the limits of my own imagination.
It is not just thinking outside the box,
but staking my life on what God can do,
          Creator of the universe,
          Creator of me.

What if?

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Here is a call to pray

My husband and I have been challenged and convicted this year to pray for the world.  We have a spiral calendar on our kitchen counter to remind us of the countries of the world.  These are not just remote locations with often unfamiliar names, but people who are precious in His sight.  Prayer reveals the faces.

Our other reminder to pray arrives every morning on our driveway. I am learning to pray through the newspaper.

We are spending this week helping out my husband's parents. Last evening in the midst of a North Carolina ice storm, the national television news interrupted the local reporting of treacherous roads.  Across the screen appeared a line of orange-clad men and their hooded executioners on a beach in Libya, moments before these men were beheaded -- as it was reported-- "simply because they were Christians."

Last night I could not shake that image from my thoughts. I could not sleep for that pervading picture of darkness.

Pray for My people, I felt God urging me.

"Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus."  Revelation 14.12

May the words of the Psalms cover God's people -- wherever they are -- with a very real refuge, a shield, and His strength. Persecution of God's people is nothing new. Neither is His deliverance.  The Bible is filled with cries for God's mercy and incredible stories of His redeeming impossible situations.  Pray for them.

Christ also calls us to pray radically and aggressively  for the oppressors that their hearts would be turned to the God of grace and mercy.  Jesus died for each one of them too.  He knows their names.

Jesus said, "But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you..."  Matthew 5.44

Pray for them.  

Even in what seems so impossible, no one stands too far from the grace of God.  I am reminded how God turned the heart of Saint Paul -- he who at one point was "breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord..." Acts 9. 1

Someone prayed not against Paul, but for him.

Let God help you to see the world differently
and use the news to change your heart
and the focus of your prayers.

"What can I do against such darkness?"
Pray every which way you can.

Here is a call
      not to dismay,
but to pray without ceasing.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Valentine's Day revisited

Today is a repeat of a Nightly Tea posting from Valentine's Day 2011.

For the record:  St. Valentine is not the patron saint of greeting cards, Dove chocolates, or restaurant dinners.  Indeed, there are probably very few young people who even associate Valentines Day with a  saint, let alone a “religious” holiday.

Valentine, known as Valentinus, was a priest who lived in Rome in the mid-200s AD when being a Christian meant certain death.  He aided Christian martyrs during their persecution, and as a result was arrested and imprisoned.  He survived in jail for a year before he was brought before the emperor  Claudius the Second who offered Valentinus to save his life if he worshipped the Roman gods.  Valentinus refused.   He was condemned and martyred on February 14, 270 AD, beaten by clubs, stoned and beheaded.  Hardly a Hallmark moment.

Legend tells that before his death, Valentinus fell in love with the blind daughter of the jailer, who along with her father had converted to Christianity.  As a way of saying good-bye on the eve of his death, he wrote her a message and signed it, “From Your Valentine.”  The jailer and his daughter were also later sentenced to death by the emperor.  Chocolate and soft music did not enter the picture until centuries later.

And it seems very appropriate that a holiday that is associated with love is also associated with God.  Valentinus risked his life and died a martyr’s death not to earn God’s favor or gain points with God.  Valentinus did it because he loved God.  He knew what God’s love meant.  It was not something he deserved or earned, but because that is how God revealed Himself to us.

But God shows His love for us
in that while we were yet sinners
Christ died for us.
                          Romans 5.8

Red is the color of sacrifice.  And there is no one who loves you more.

Recently I read about a family who fostered a little boy who had come from a horrific background.  Not knowing how long they would be able to nurture and love this little one, they cared for him deeply.  Every night when they tucked him in bed, they would ask him, “What does God say when he  sees you?”  They taught him to say, “I sure do love that little boy!”

God loves you that much too.  Don’t ever forget it.

Happy Valentines Day, sweet friends.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

What happens along the way

At the time, three of our girls were in elementary school.  Before school was out for the day, I needed to take our pre-school daughter to a gym class and simultaneously prepare for a neighborhood Bible study that I would teach the next morning.  I could do this.  I just needed to stay focused and take my Bible and notes with me to the gym.  Forty-five minutes, and I'd have it done. Classic multi-tasking.

But God had other things on my schedule.

I took a place on the bleachers.  My Bible was open, and I began taking notes.  I looked up every once in a while to cheer for our three year old.  And I noticed a very pregnant woman slowly jogging around the outskirts of the gym floor.

A few minutes later, she stopped.  When I looked up next, she was climbing up the bleachers to where I sat.

"I noticed your Bible," she said.

For the remainder of the gym session, we talked about her own spiritual journey.  I told her about our Bible study, a cobbled-together group of neighborhood women in many seasons in life. She was so thirsty for that kind of fellowship.

She joined us the next morning and continued studying God's Word with us for the remainder of the school year.

I am no longer surprised by the appointments God weaves into our every days, the divine encounters that God places on our paths in sometimes the most unusual places.

Modern dictionaries define the word "available" as "not otherwise occupied, free to do something," as if those who are available simply don't have anything better to do.

But the root word for available means "to be of value."  So when God places someone on our path, or on our radar, or impresses something upon our heart, being available is serving a God-ordained purpose.

It doesn't just happen.  It is not a matter of laying my day before the LORD, but to go into His day for me with my eyes, hands and heart wide open.  His day has no interruptions, just divine appointments.  God does not maneuver around the big rocks in my schedule, He redeems them, and when necessary, moves those mountains for His purposes.

Whenever and wherever Jesus was headed, He was aware of people on His path.  He always stopped to speak to others.  No matter who they were or what was the need, Jesus always responded.  Some needs were visibly evident, some verbalized, some not so obvious, but very real:  a funeral procession, the blind men, the lepers, the woman who pushed through an impossible crowd to touch even the hem of His robe, the woman at the well.  Notice in the gospels, the profound ministry of Jesus while He was on His way to somewhere else.

Jesus was not pressed for time.  He fulfilled it.  He was always available.

The most significant thing I do today
may not be what I check off my agenda,
     but being available
               to His purposes.

When a friend of ours is asked what kind of ministry he is involved in, he replies with a smile, "Being available."

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

                    Proverbs 19.21

Make your plans,
but don't miss out
       on what God has appointed
       along the way.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The shower door and the invisible shield

Last summer as we were moving to new location, we viewed  houses for sale, one after the next.  In one house we toured, there was a large clear glass shower door in the main bathroom.  "A maintenance nightmare," I remarked to the realtor.

"Oh," she replied.  "It doesn't have to be that way."  I raised a skeptical eyebrow.

"Just once a month, clean the door with Windex, and then spray it with RainX," she suggested, referring to an automobile windshield product.  "The water will run right off.  There will be no hard water build-up, and best of all, no need to squeegee every morning."

Promise? I asked her when I realized that this was the house we were going to buy.

"As long as you apply it once a month," she pointed out.

I set the first of the month as my day to spray, even when it doesn't look like it needs it.  It takes about 15 minutes, protected for another four weeks.

This sprayed-on shield is invisible to the eye, but it protects the shower door from the daily onslaught of tiny invisible particles that literally glue themselves to the glass door. By the time a hazy gray buildup is visible, well, trust me, it is a nearly impossible to remove.

When we had very young children, an old woman in our church gave me advice about a shield that protects more than shower doors. "Read the Bible first," she said.  "Don't pick up a catalog, a newspaper, or even read the mail, until you have read your Bible."  She knew the impact it has on daily life.

Daily immersion in God's Word does not apply a protective coating on the surface of our lives, but provides a daily strengthening, a shield that soaks all the way down to my heart.

It matters a lot.

God's shield does not make me impervious or insensitive to tough situations, but equips me with the strength to go forth.  His shield does not just hold off the adversary, it actually repels what seeks to bring us down.

...the shield of faith,
with which you can quench
all the flaming darts
of the evil one.
               Ephesians 6.16

God's shield is not just strapped on in a time of crisis or need, but a daily strengthening through the reading of His Word and letting Him lay His day before me.  It does not mean that I will never be afraid, but just that I know how to trust Him through it.

The LORD is with you.
Do not fear.
           Even in this.
His shield is not an invisible coating,
    but an all encompassing reality.

The LORD is my strength
         and my shield;
in Him my heart trusts;
so am I helped,
and my heart exults,
and with my song
   I give thanks to Him.

                   Psalm 28.7

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Prayer flags

It was a heated battle, a matter of life and death.
"Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed; and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed." Exodus 16.11

As I read those verses this morning, I was encouraged to never stop praying for a particular situation and several varied individuals.  Never stop praying for them. 

Our prayers matter more than we can possibly know.  Sometimes we might see just the edge of the outcome, but mostly not at all.  The results go a lot deeper than my prayers and far beyond my lifetime.

In pictures taken in the Himalayas, strings of small colorful triangular flags decorate the mountainsides, blowing in the wind.  Originating hundreds of years ago in Tibet and Nepal, the printed cloth flags were marked with prayers and flown to attract the attention of the gods.

Our God does not need flags to hear our prayers.  But I feel like it is God who needs to post flags to attract MY attention -- "Over here!"  God waves a bright colorful flag, "pray for her!"  "Pray about that situation!"  "Pray for him right now!"

Who has God placed on my heart and my radar today?   Where has God placed those flags to remind me to pray?

When our youngest daughter was an infant, waking frequently through the night, I would get up and walk the halls with her to lull her back to sleep.  At first, so tired, I would grow in frustration, desperately begging her to go back to sleep.  The tension wasn't doing either one of us any good at all.  And then, as time went by, and I was awake anyway with her, I began to pray for whoever God placed in my heart.  I would pray for world leaders, celebrities, neighbors, teachers, whoever flew through my radar, believers and not.

I have no idea the outcome of those prayers, but God made it evident how I needed to use that time.

Lately, as I comb through the daily news, I have been praying my way through it.  An article about Boko Haram?  I pray for the people in Nigeria, for protection for the believers there, even for the leaders of that terrorist organization that God would soften their hearts.  A newscast about two young men recently convicted in a trial?  I saw the remorseful and terrified look of one, knowing that he will be spending decades in a horrible prison.  Oh, God.  Draw him to You, place Your shield over him.

Several years ago, a friend of mine moved to a strange new neighborhood.  No one even spoke to her.  And so, she and her young daughter began walking up and down the blocks every morning, praying for the families in those houses, praying for God to invade this community where He had placed them, praying that they would be good neighbors to those around them, sensitive to their needs, and love them well.  In the course of time, God did not just change the situation, He changed their own hearts toward that place.

When I was in junior high school, an ancient woman in our church Miss Edith, hobbled up to my father after the evening service one Sunday.  "What can I be praying for you, Bob?" she asked him, point blank.  "Nothing," he replied.  "Surely. there is something," she insisted.  "Well, our house in New Jersey has not yet sold, but that is not something to bother God about," he said.

She just smiled at him.

Two days later, there was a contract.

I don't fully understand prayer, but I do know that God uses it in mighty ways.  Prayer is not handing God a grocery list of sorts.  Prayer is not telling God what to do.  It is a crying out to a personal God who loves. It is watching and listening and being still.  I have no power in it, but through it, God aligns my heart to His and in a sense, I join forces with Him for His glory.

I am in a situation right now where the only thing I am able to do for a friend is to pray.  And I realized this morning, that is the most powerful thing I can do for her.

Who has God placed on your heart
      and on your prayer radar?
Where has God placed a banner
         "pray over here!"?

The prayer of the righteous has great power in its effects.

                                       James 5. 16

Pray constantly.

           1 Thessalonians 5.17

Never stop praying.



Monday, February 2, 2015

Out of my comfort zone

My husband and I are a little bleary-eyed from a missions trip today.  It is not jet-lag from an overseas flight, but shifting our schedule to accommodate a local need.

We were part of a motley crew from our church in the predawn darkness this morning, serving breakfast and cleaning up at a local church which also serves as a homeless shelter.  Many churches in the city take turns to provide the food and the manpower to staff this facility.  This week was our church's turn.

One of the things I love is how God pulls His people together from all walks of life and all over the city to serve His purposes. Bill and I were joined this morning by a 70 year old retired postal worker and two young men, one of whom was a Chinese mathematician and the other an engineer in a tooling factory.

We arrived at the facility at 4.15 this morning, the city streets wet and abandoned, the traffic lights blinking in rhythm without an audience. The homeless men were already getting up at that time, putting away the mattresses, dropping the sheets and towels in a laundry basket.  We set up breakfast and a pot of coffee on a long folding table on one side of the room.  The men mumbled good morning and poured steamy coffee into white Styrofoam cups.  They were polite and clean, their clothes having been laundered by volunteers.  

In addition to preparing breakfast, other volunteers had made more than enough sack lunches for the men to take with them for the day, brown paper bags with Scripture verses stapled to the top, little bits of hope hanging on. There were twice as many lunch bags as men.  One by one, the lunches disappeared into back packs and duffel bags until they were all gone.  The most uncertain men took two, and some even three, a shield against the unknown.

The television news droned on one side of the room.  The men sat in front of the screen, eating their breakfast, the crisply-dressed newscasters passionate about events that did not even translate into their world.  Commercials for car dealers and February carpeting specials might as well have been broadcast in a different language. 

Their bags bulged with extra clothes, lunch bags and fervent untold stories, their brokenness hidden under hand-me-down clothes.  One man with an aluminum walker wore a suit vest over a knit shirt and carried a tattered brown briefcase.  Dragging his walker down the narrow hallway, he asked Bill if he would button the vest for him.  He didn't want to let go of his bags. 

Another man with three layers of shirts frantically searched his pockets.  "I'm missing my good pen," he exclaimed.  One of the volunteers found a pen in the hallway and brought it to him, a ballpoint with the name of a company inscribed on the barrel.  He was joyful at the discovery.  "You don't want to lose a good one like this," he pointed out.

At one point when I walked into the room with a pitcher of water to make more coffee, I could not distinguish the volunteers from the evening guests. And I was reminded that God sees us all the same, precious in His sight.

Along with the scent of crumbly ham biscuits and brewed coffee was an air of growing desperation.  About 5 am, the homeless men became restless and anxious to get back to the main rescue mission.  "We need to get in line," one insisted to my husband.  "If we don't get there soon enough, all the places for tonight will already be taken."  It only takes one time to be left out in the severe cold to shape that kind of despair. 

"No need to hurry," replied another in a University of North Carolina sweatshirt who appeared much younger than the rest.  But just a few minutes later, I noticed this young man was the first one slipping out the door.  He didn't even wait for the church van to transport the group at 5.45 in the still dark February morning. 

As the men left to board the van, they gathered their things and thanked us.  "God bless you," one told me as he shook my hand.  I felt ashamed.  Their day had begun.  I was going home.  They were going to get in another line. And the next day, yet another.

And I didn't even know their names.

Our work was done by 6.15.  And on my heart in two short hours, God imprinted faces on the definition of "needy."  I didn't have to go halfway around the world.  Just twenty minutes from my comfort zone.  

In his book Radical, author David Platt challenges his readers to "use one year of your life to radically alter the remainder of your life."  Focus on one year, one year only, and see how God changes you. 

One of Platt's five components is to "spend your time in another context."  Do something different.  That does not mean taking up hang-gliding or another hobby, but getting outside your comfort zone.  As God changes your heart, He changes your eyes and your actions.  And "loving others" -- which we know as the Gospel -- becomes a much larger loop.

Jesus said to go into all the world. 

And that starts right where you are.

"If we are going to accomplish the global purpose of God, it will not be primarily through giving our money, as important as that is.  It will happen primarily through giving ourselves.  This is what the gospel represents, and it's what the gospel requires," Platt points out.

Not just doing the gospel, but being it, a journey that starts one step at a time.  It doesn't just mean being flexible, but being available.

I was definitely stretched this morning.  And that one little step changed my heart a little more. I look forward to the next. 

Start little if you must, but start.  One of the most distinctive marks of the early Christians was their radical love for others.  They went toward the crisis, while everyone else was running away from it.  This kind of love is not derived from obligation or duty, but from transformed hearts.

A new commandment I give to you,
that you love one another;
even as I have loved you,
that you also love one another.
By this
all men will know
that you are My disciples,
if you have love
         for one another.

             John 13. 34-35

How is God enlarging your heart this year?
Where will God take you?

Sunday, February 1, 2015

It's Not About Football

When our four daughters were growing up, football was somewhere far in the background, occupying barely a blip on their radar.  They attended the Friday night high school football games, but then again, that was usually more about other dimensions than what was happening on the field.

When they were in college, I can remember asking what they were doing about the great American "holiday" called the Super Bowl.

"Nothing," one of them replied.  "I was invited to a Super Bowl party, but Mom, I don't even like football. I'm not going.  I have plenty of other things to do."

"The Super Bowl is not about football," I replied.  "It's about relationships."

Over the years, I have repeated that same phrase on more than one occasion, beyond the Super Bowl, not even just to our girls, but sometimes to my introverted self when I am reluctant to pursue uncomfortable social endeavors.

"It's not about football," I remind myself.    
"It's about relationships."
And even more,
it is about my relationship with God.

I had coffee this week with a young sweet friend whom I have not seen in five years.  She poured out her heart about where she works among despairing people who wear air-brushed all-encompassing masks.   "What am I doing there?" she asked.

In his profound book In The Name of Jesus, Henri Nouwen dares the believer to:

"...claim his irrelevance in the contemporary world as a divine vocation that allows him or her to enter into deep solidarity with the anguish underlying all the glitter of success and to bring the light of Jesus there."

It's not about the job, it is certainly not about making a name for oneself or doing what the world considers significant. It's about bringing the light of Jesus there.

It's not about football.
It's about relationships,
yet another opportunity
          to love others.

It's not about trays full of
buffalo hot wings,
but bringing with you
platters brimming with healing
and grace.

It's about bringing the light
of Jesus there.

Love them well, so radically that others can't help but ask why.

We love
    because He first loved us.
                  1 John 4.19

Be not distracted by the football,
the job,
the environment,
or the significance.
God has placed you strategically
for His purposes,
wherever that may be.

Bring the light of Jesus there.