Friday, March 27, 2015

Off the grid

I know it has been way too long since I have posted. Life gets that way sometimes.  I have not dropped off the face of the earth, but for more than a week, I have been off the grid. With the exception of a few minutes of a weak data connection on my phone, I have been disconnected from the internet.  Even this brief message is being tapped out on the teeny tiny screen on my phone, a few words visible at a time.

A few days ago,  I was finally able to carve out a pocket of time to write.

I carried my books and papers and the aging laptop to the screen porch, a little dusty from its winter hibernation, but still a place where I don't have to make excuses just to sit.  There is always something else urgent to do, things left waiting, orphan tasks calling loudly from the other room. But even to those urgencies, I shut the door and hung a proverbial sign "Back later."  I was off the grid in more ways than one. No answering emails, no all-consuming technical distractions.

And I sat. For a long while, I just sat. I did not read. I did not feel compelled to write. I didn't have to make excuses just to watch the trees and listen to the early spring birds. I sat. I prayed. I listened. I thought.

Off the grid?  No, I think, just on the right one.

Be still,
and know that I am God.

             Psalm 46.10

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Seeing beyond the fog

It is very early morning.  Unable to sleep well last night, I went ahead and slid out of bed while it was still dark.  I turned on the lamp in the family room.  It appeared that dense black sheets were hanging over the windows.  I made a pot of coffee and wove my way through my scripture reading for the day.

I was sitting in a dark shrouded room.  And even before the faint dawning light, the birds began to sing. Even before I could recognize hope, God's Word spoke to my heart.  In the Old Testament, I read verses about God guiding through a narrow place.  In the New Testament, serving Him without fear.  And in the Psalms, how God breaks the grip of what makes us afraid.

How appropriate were those rays of light in a dark place.  It was no coincidence that I read these verses this morning, passages that were written down for me -- for each one of us -- centuries ago.  God's Word does that.  New every morning, fresh every reading.  Not to help me cope or to smooth over the rough places, but to strengthen and help me to see my situation differently.  I am not alone.

...even the darkness is not dark to You,
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with You.

                      Psalm 139.12

I looked up from my reading, and it was as if the thick dark curtains were replaced with pale white ones.  The dawning light was defused by a dense surrounding fog.  I couldn't see anything beyond the windows. But even in that kind of blindness, I know what is there -- the porch, the steps, the little dead tree by the driveway, and the house across the street.  I don't have to see them in order to know their presence.

And He is here too.  I don't have to know God's purposes to trust Him in them.  Sometimes there is severe grace in not knowing too far ahead, sometimes that is how God protects us from distractions or from fear. His thick grace is like that impenetrable fog that is not so impenetrable afterall.  And that which sought to bring me down strengthens me instead.

I just need to seek Him through it.  And trust God for the blue skies and His mighty purposes hiding powerfully underneath.

...that we,
being delivered from the hand
             of our enemies,
might serve Him without fear,
in holiness and righteousness before Him
all the days of our life.

                           Luke 1. 74-75

Monday, March 16, 2015

St. Patrick and the super heroes

Marvel Comics are not the only ones with super heroes.  I write today about one who lived an adventure of intrigue, narrow escapes, and who conquered hordes of adversaries, armed with only a shamrock and the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God.

I am posting a day early about St. Patrick because your kids need to know -- indeed we need to know-- about this man of faith who lived passionately for God in the face of palpable adversity.  His incredible story is not just great and exciting; it is true. 

St. Patrick (389-461 AD) was kidnapped as a boy and taken to Ireland as a slave.  Years later, he miraculously escaped, but compelled by God, he returned as a missionary to tell the Irish people about Jesus and literally change the course of the world. 
The famed shamrock we associate with his holiday has nothing to do with luck, but everything about Christian doctrine.  Patrick used the shamrock as a visual aid to teach about the Trinity in a way that people could understand, the three in one, the one in three. 

As the Bible reminds us, if we do not pass on to the next generations the true life stories of the faithful, they will soon be tragically forgotten.  These individuals are not merely historical characters, but people of faith who spelled out the reality of God across the centuries.  This is what a relationship with Christ does to a person. This is what redeemed looks like, living what would be impossible if it were not for God.  Christ with me, Christ within me.
Patrick spoke with great gentleness about the grace of Christ to everyone around him for more than thirty years. In the year 433 AD, he composed a prayer which came to be known as "Patrick's Breastplate," a cry for protection in a time of certain hostility and opposition.  Patrick was not naturally courageous. The LORD was his strength.

I had never before heard the powerful words of Patrick's prayer, and it was read responsively at church yesterday.  The phrases appeared on a screen, recited by five hundred voices strong in unison, and the lyrics washed like a deep current over us, the words no longer belonging to a distant past, but invigorating and fresh. 

Let the words of St. Patrick's ancient text surround and challenge you on this holy-day.

I bind unto myself today
The strong name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One,
      and One in Three.

I bind this day to me for ever,
By power of faith,
      Christ's incarnation;
His baptism in the Jordan River;
His death on the cross
       for my salvation.
His bursting from the spiced tomb;
His riding up the heav'nly way;
His coming at the day of doom;
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself today
The power of God
            to hold and lead,
His eye to watch,
            His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need;
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide,
             His shield to ward,
The word of God to give me speech,
His heav'nly host to be my guard.

Against all Satan's spells and wiles,
Against false words of heresy,
Against the knowledge that defiles,
Against the heart's idolatry,
Against the wizard's evil craft,
Against the death-wound and the burning,
The choking wave, the poison'd shaft,
Protect me, Christ, till thy returning.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the name,
The strong name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One, and One in Three,
Of whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word.
Praise to the Lord of my salvation:
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.

For a more detailed account of St. Patrick and his impact on the world, I suggest reading the book How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill, or check out "Wearing of the Green," posted on Nightly Tea on St. Patrick's Day 2013.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Dog-eared pages

page 85  The very trials that befell her were turned to means of strength for her;  by them she proved her Father.  For "if the work be of God, He can make a stepping stone of the devil himself to see forward the work."

page 145  I knew, not by faith now, but as it were by sight, that our Lord Jesus Christ can do anything, keep anyone, shine anywhere, succor in spite of all the forces of the enemy, comfort in any circumstances. Verily, circumstances are nothing to Him.  He is King of them all.
These two quotations come from the book Mimosa by Amy Carmichael, a single woman missionary who served in India from 1895 until her death in 1951.  For a few years, a friend has been urging me to read this book, which was originally published in 1924.  It is an incredible true story of faith in the face of the impossible.  On my first reading of it, I have already marked up my copy.  I recommend it highly.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

A Certain Default

Computers function most efficiently when a trustworthy operating system has been designed and downloaded.  When a need arises or a problem presents itself, the computer knows what path to take to find the answer or solve the difficulty.  The computer functions best when it already knows what to do.

But when I do not specify a designated mode of operation, the computer automatically focuses on another option, one that is adopted by necessity and my neglect to tell it what to do.  That automatic behavior is called a default.  It is a failure to fulfill an obligation because no choice has been made.

When moments of despair arise in the middle of my day or awaken me at 4 a.m., my mind often reverts to a panic mode.  "Time to worry!" my heart shouts when faced with suddenness and extremes.  Have I gone there so often that I think that is the only option?  Is fear my default?

In this past year of many changes and choices, I have learned that panic prevails if I am not already prepared with an option.  When overwhelmed, my default is to panic... unless I change my settings.

Let Scripture become your default.  Listen and let God speak to you from His Word.  Allow the power of Scripture not to talk you down or help you to cope, but to strengthen and heal.

Do not be afraid of sudden panic,
or the storm 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

When the LORD is your default,
    worry becomes only a reminder
                                 to pray.
And surges of panic are transformed
          into an awareness
          to follow God into the situation.

The other night I awoke in deep waters of anxiety.  But before the waves overcame me, Scripture verses came to mind and kept my head above the surface until I could touch bottom again.  I recited verses not so much to deliver me from, or to get me through, but to sustain me despite what was swirling around me. Memorized scripture is an internal floatation device, a learned behavior, and the foundation for a new operating mode.  Do this, not that.

But I call upon God,
and the LORD will save me.

                     Psalm 55. 16

God tells me, "Don't panic; you know how to swim."

And so, instead of flailing about in a place too deep to touch bottom, I float on an ocean of verses and pray my way through.  God's Word heals and strengthens and reminds me of the reality of His Presence.  "You are NOT alone."  

One specified setting leads to another.  Instead of going from panic to fear, the Scrpture I embrace leads me to pray for others.  When I am listening, God places people on my heart to pray for, sometimes even those I haven't thought about in years, sometimes those I don't even personally know, people on my path or those I have seen in the news.

And maybe, just maybe, what woke me up was not a stirring to panic, not about me after all, but to pray specifically at that moment for someone in their time of need.

Change my default settings, LORD,
      to align my heart with Yours.

In peace I will both lie down
                    and sleep;
for You alone, O LORD,
make me dwell in safety.

                       Psalm 4.8

Peace I leave with you;
My peace I give to you;
not as the world gives
     do I give to you.
Let not your hearts be troubled,
neither let them be afraid.
                        John 14. 27

Come to Me,
all who labor and are heavy laden,
     and I will give you rest.

                        Matthew 11. 28

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Something old, something new

It is on the most ordinary days, even amidst the most mundane of tasks, that God breaks through with something new.  In a situation that took place about twenty-five years ago, I was vacuuming the stairs in preparation for a group of people coming over that evening.  The problem was not so much the condition of our house as it was my state of mind.  It was not so much what I was doing, as my sour attitude toward it.

And quite suddenly, as I vacuumed and as I contemplated what other duties I had yet to do, I felt Jesus nudging me, "And what if it was Me coming over?"

"O LORD, that would be so different," I responded.  "I would gladly do anything for You."  And immediately, it was as if Jesus raised one eyebrow.  I was immediately humbled. "Even in this, you are doing it for Me."

Whatever the job, whatever the task, it is to no avail, if I bring a bad attitude to it.  I used to tell our girls, "It doesn't count if you complain about it."

There is nothing mundane
                  in God's eyes,
nothing He does not use
in profound ways.

What am I bringing to the task before me today?  Author, speaker and pastor Chuck Swindoll says it powerfully:

"The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life.  Attitude, to me, is more important than facts.  It is more important than the past, the education, the money, than circumstances, than failure, than successes, than what other people think or say or do.  It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill.  It will make or break a company...a church...a home.  The remarkable thing is we have a choice everyday regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day.  We cannot change our past...we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way.  We cannot change the inevitable.  The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude.  I am convinced that life is ten percent what happens to me and ninety percent of how I react to it.  And so it is with you...we are in charge of our attitudes."

Help me, LORD,
to see what is before me today
    with fresh eyes
                and a new heart.

It is not even how I do something,
or what I do,
or even why I do it,
       but for Whom.

Put Your name on it, LORD.

And whatever you do,
in word or deed,
do everything
in the name of the Lord Jesus...
Whatever your task,
      work heartily,
as serving the Lord
                 and not men...

          Colossians 3. 17, 23

Monday, March 9, 2015

And what happens along the way

For several weeks now, I have been looking through our things for a sketch I want to frame and hang in the study.  I know exactly where it was squirreled away in our two previous houses.  And that is where the trail ends.  We have been in our new location now four months.  And the picture is nowhere to be found.  

Moving into another house is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle without the picture on the box to guide you.  Sometimes it even feels like all the pieces are face-down.  The tweaking continues. The desk here, the table there, and the bed against the far wall.  No, that doesn't work.  Try it between the windows.  At this point, all the boxes have been unwrapped and the contents put away.

Today, I renewed my search, looking for that large manila envelope a second and third time in all the obvious places.  And I still can't find it.

I have looked between sheets of music and on the bottom of drawers.  I have moved beyond where it should be to where it possibly could be.  And still to no avail.

But along the way, I have discovered some pictures that I didn't know I had, a couple of baby items I need to give to one of my daughters, and a handwritten autobiography that our oldest daughter composed when she was eight.

As I search, I pray for God to direct me. And in my looking, a lot happens along the way.  No rock remains unturned.  No crazy thought ignored.  I have seen too much in my life to discount what does not appear to make sense.  And I discover a lot more than what I think I am looking for.

When I need guidance in life, God does not just place a shrink-wrapped answer on my doorstep.  He directs me not just to the object, but to Himself.  Part of guidance is praying for help.  Part of the praying is waiting on the LORD.  Part of that waiting is listening to God.  Part of that listening is actively looking.  Part of that looking is the journey itself.  Part of that journey is finding another dimension of God in it.  And the outcome is not always what I thought I was looking for.

More often than not, God places something quite different on my radar, aligning my heart with His and enlarging my vision.

Flannery O'Connor's epic short story "Parker's Back," talks about how one's course can be quickly altered by the smallest details:  "It was as if a blind boy had been turned so gently in a different direction that he did not know his destination had been changed."

What are you looking for?

Realize that God may have a deeper design.  We have only to follow Him into our search step by step, drawer by drawer, box by box. 

And come to know God more through the pursuit. 

But seek first
His kingdom and His righteousness,
and all these things
shall be yours as well.

                    Matthew 6.33

It is not just what happens along the way,
                       but what God brings to it.

Eye has not seen,
     nor ear heard,
neither have entered into the heart of man,
the things which God has prepared
              for them that love Him.

               1 Corinthians 2. 9


Saturday, March 7, 2015

Dog-eared pages

Evelyn (Judy Dench): "Nothing here has worked out quite as I expected."

Muriel (Maggie Smith):  "Most things don't.  But sometimes what happens instead is the good stuff."

                                                 --The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,
                                                    2012 movie

Friday, March 6, 2015

Melting the hardness away

It is only 20 degrees outside right now, but there is a brilliance in the sky that we have not seen in weeks.  And with all the plowing and mountains of salt spread on the roads, nothing is better than those rays from the sun to melt away the hard stubborn ice.  The air is cold, but the radiant heat from the sun is doing its wonders.

The sunshine streaming through our windows this morning helped me to see the day differently, banishing the bleakness of a long grey winter.

In my Bible reading this morning, one verse in particular stood out.

The LORD bless you and keep you:
The LORD make His face to shine upon you,
         and be gracious to you:
The LORD lift up His countenance upon you,
         and give you peace.

                        Numbers 6. 24-26

I am all too aware that to seek His face in the dawning of the day helps me to see the day differently.  God melts away the hard stubborn ice of my heart, and brings me to a place where I can see the wondrous works of His hand, to dwell in His grace, no matter what is swirling around me.

And to know that spring is coming even now,
        just like His redeeming.

You have said, "Seek My face."
My heart says to You,
    "Your face, LORD, do I seek."

                          Psalm 27.8

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Until then, we are stuck

We awoke to three inches of new snow this morning, a laughable amount to a northerner, until one realizes that a solid sheet of ice covers the roads underneath. Schools throughout the state were scheduled to be closed, even before it started to snow.  "O LORD, have mercy,"  southerners respond to this kind of weather.

In the north, forecasters say, "deal with it."  In the south, one is urged to "stay home."  The newsman this morning talked about a warming spell and sunny skies coming this weekend and stated "until then, we are stuck."  It is already March, but don't put away your space heater yet.

Three inches of snow is not the issue, but what lies underneath. What appears beautiful and white on the outer layer only disguises what is treacherous in reality.

What lies beneath the surface in our situations and relationships? What is the real story here?  When we watch a movie, I am sometimes interested more in the "special features" --how the movie was made -- than in the story that is portrayed.  Sometimes that is the deeper epic.

Everybody has a story underneath. 

Why is she acting that way?  What would possess him to do that? What is the slick sheet of ice that I cannot see on the surface?  There is always a reason for it.  Desperate people do desperate things.

What lies below the "fresh snow" -- deep wounds, scars that have not healed, destructive patterns of behavior, and despair? Mistakes, miscommunication, or even irrational fears?

The reality underneath impacts everything about you and everything you do.

But God does not intend for us to be paralyzed by that.
Just redeemed.

That's why Jesus came.

If we confess our sins,
He is faithful and just,
and will forgive our sins
and cleanse us
     from all unrighteousness.

                  1 John 1. 9

And then
       what lies below the surface?
Exactly what is at the core of who I am
                -- a life forgiven.

Unlike Nashville in a March ice storm, I am not stuck by what has happened in my past, nor even by what I face today, but strengthened by what only God can redeem.

It starts with, "O LORD,
             have mercy on me"
and following Him
  into the forgiveness
  that is already there.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

And today's forecast is .......

Before I get dressed every morning, I check my schedule for what I call "big rocks," those planned appointments and responsibilities that determine the structure of my day.  And then I check the weather forecast to make sure what I am wearing is both appropriate for what is planned and for the weather.  I look ahead to what I can know and prepare for what may not yet be on my radar.

As I go into my day, I want to wear the right shoes, the right jacket, and the right attitude.  There is rarely the time to change any of those in the middle of the day.

And I know that like my schedule and the weather, my plans are tentative, subject to change.

I have told many a frustrated young mom, "From now on, your middle name is "flexibility."   I don't just need to get used to things going awry, but embrace them when they do.  I can have every detail aligned and tied with a bow, but then comes something over which I have no control.

And that's when I realize that I am not in control, but God.  It is not even a matter of laying my carefully crafted day before Him, but sitting still --no matter the tumult around me or before me -- and accepting God's design and divine appointments.  And follow Him into His day for me.

Get on the bus, but be prepared for what God has placed on your path today.  Eyes wide open, heart softened and teachable, ready to stop where you did not plan, prepared to go down a trail you do not yet know.  God will not just direct you.  He has already gone before.  And He goes with you.

When I go into God's day for me, there are no accidents or interruptions.  Just His design.

The most profound thing I can do today is to be found in Him. That way, the focus is not on the doing, but on the being.  Because when I direct my attention to the being, the doing falls right into place. God knows that my heart needs to be right first, or the doing is always misaligned.

In God's economy, there is nothing big or small, just what is faithful.

"The real test of the saint is not preaching the gospel, but washing disciples' feet, that is, doing the things that do not count in the actual estimate of men but count everything in the estimate of God.  Paul delighted to spend himself out for God's interests in other people, and he did not care what it cost."  (Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest)

The most significant thing I do today is probably not even on my radar yet.  And most likely, something I may not ever realize.

Even before I check my schedule or the weather, I check with God, praying and drinking in His Word.  Because He will direct me into His appointments.

What is before me today?

All I need is You.

... be found in Him.

         Philippians 3.9