Friday, March 31, 2017

Shelter in place the place which the LORD will choose,
to make His name dwell there.

                      Deuteronomy 16. 2

As I contemplated the day before me, and sought the LORD in His Word early this morning, this verse popped out to me in the first couple of sentences I read.  A good reminder, I thought. Where should I go today?  What should I do?

I had underlined those words before. As we were raising our family, we were like a nomadic tribe as my husband was transferred to many places for his job.  There were dates jotted down in the margin.  One date from 1987 had the words next to it "news of another move."  I remember that place. At that time, I could not wait to get to the next location.  I guess I had claimed this verse in anticipation of pulling up our stakes yet again.  A new place?  Sure, LORD, when do we go?  I'm ready.  Get out the moving boxes.

As I thought about that date, I realized that in real time, we did not move for another two years from then.  I was ready to go, but God was not.  He had other purposes in mind.

And this morning, as I continued to read the chapters in front of me, I read the same words again and again and again, as if God was making sure that I didn't miss them.  Indeed, the same phrase appeared nine times in two chapters. 

A Bible teacher once pointed out to me that when the same word or phrase is repeated two or three times in a short passage, God means to highlight these words:  Don't miss this.  But repeated NINE times?   Did I get what God was saying yet?

As I wrote out the verse in my journal this morning to engrave it into my mind and my day, I thought about where God wanted me to go and where He was leading me, "the place where He will choose."

And the thought stopped me cold, "Why do I always think that is someplace else?"

I am thinking about going.  God is talking about dwelling.

"Shelter in place" is a term that is used in light of danger and disasters, such as finding a refuge in the face of an impending storm or tornado.  Don't go anywhere.  Stay right where you are.  Stop focusing on another place, the next thing, that other pasture, what someone else is doing.

Dwell here. Not just in my physical location, but in my mind, my heart, my attitudes, my vision.  And wherever I find myself today, as Henri Nouwen once wrote, "Bring the name of Jesus there."

God has deep purposes right where I am, His faithfulness all over it.

help me not be distracted from the present
by what is yet to come.
Fulfill your plans for me
              right where I am today.

Shelter in place.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Pockets of time

Even so long ago, in the busiest seasons of my life, God made me aware that He invented time, 24 hours in the day. How was I going to use those precious minutes?  With the blessing of four young daughters, working from home, running the household, I was often overwhelmed not by what I was doing, but by how much was still left undone at the end of the day.  At that point in my life, I felt like when I woke up in the morning, I was already trying to catch up.

One of my favorite people at that time was a mom who had seven children.  She got things done.  She had time for people.  She served faithfully at the church.  She appeared to have margin in her day for what God would bring on her path.  She did not seem frazzled.  She gave the impression of not being overwhelmed at all, but overflowing into the lives of all those around her.

And so, I watched, as it says in the Bible to "mark those people," the faithful ones (Psalm 37. 37).  Watch who they are, what they do, how faithfulness to God is stamped on their days and in their lives.  How did she do it?

My friend did not have huge swaths of time allotted to her, her hours were no more than anyone else.  It was just how she viewed them. Time was not a battle, but a sweet gift from God. And from her, I realized her "secret sauce" was being aware of pockets of time -- and being ready for them.

God was not just a priority in her life.  He was not just prominent.  He was preeminent.  "He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together." (Colossians 1. 17)  Notice in the space of one sentence, "all things" is repeated twice.  "All things" in the original Greek means "all things."  Even now.  Even in this.

And so she saw all of life from a different perspective.  She rolled with opportunities that I would view as interruptions or dead ends.  And she was prepared and ready when a pocket of time rolled into view, no matter how few minutes came in the package.

Once when I asked for time to talk with her, she said, "Great.  Get in the van."  And so, we had a heart-felt conversation for a whole precious hour while she went about her day, picking up one child from school for a dental appointment, taking a meal to someone else, and picking up that same son and taking him back to class.

Between the front seats of the van, I noticed a briefcase.  That, she said, was her "office."  When a few minutes presented themselves, waiting in the carpool line, waiting in a doctor's office, or for someone to show up, in the face of delays, cancellations, disruptions, instead of getting stressed out or irritated, she was overjoyed for a few minutes to get something done.

She carried around with her a Bible to make sure she had yet bathed in God's Word for the day, first things first, and even to refresh a passage of Scripture she was memorizing.  She also carried in that briefcase:   bills that needed to be paid, correspondence to be answered, preparing a Sunday school lesson to teach, lists of people to pray for, the latest book she was reading, and her children's schedules lest she forget practices, appointments, or a kid waiting in front of the school.

She did not waste time.  She used it.  She knew the value of pockets of time, the treasury of hidden minutes.  And when they appeared in unexpected places and in the busiest of days, she was ready.  "If I have to think about what to do," she advised me, "I've already lost the time."

I had one of those occasions this past Sunday afternoon.  There was not enough time to go home between a church meeting and a baby shower, leaving about a 20 minute gap.  I took my things with me, sat in the car where I needed to go next, and prepared my lesson for Bible study this week.  It was not much time. I was not able to get it all completed, but I am already this week 20 minutes ahead, instead of 20 minutes behind.

Pockets of time.  God is faithful.  You can never comprehend how much you can do -- how much God can do --with the gift of a few minutes lodged between the big rocks.  Those minutes are deeper -- and more profound -- than you can imagine.  Go forth prepared.  And keep an eye on your radar, not for if they come, but when.

But I trust in You, O LORD,
I say, "You are my God."
My times are in Your hands...
                        Psalm 31. 14-15

Friday, March 24, 2017

Whatever it is

I went to bed anxious last night.  Not a good thing.  Because anxieties are never singular.  They travel in an unruly mob.  I lay stiff, wounded, and not knowing what to do about a particular situation.  "O LORD, give me peace, or give me direction," I prayed.

I was internally hoping God would just evaporate my feelings and let me get some rest.  But instead, two words kept a unending loop in my thoughts, "forgive and love."  And as I pulled up each feeling, each infraction, each wound, the same two words, over and over again.

Forgive and love.

Despair was getting me nowhere.  It never does.  But those two words, forgive and love, softened me.  And I was reminded how, earlier yesterday, I had encouraged someone to bring forgiveness to a toxic relationship and an impossible situation.

And it was like God was saying to me, "Your turn."

I can't say that those two words lulled me to sleep, but they began unraveling the tightness in my heart.  And remarkably -- this woman who like David in the Psalms is awake in the watches of the night -- I slept until my husband's alarm, so deeply that I couldn't figure out what that noise was.

God granted me the peace.

And then, through reading His Word this morning, God gave me direction.  As I read my passages for the morning, I was amazed at the words in this ancient book thousands of years old, as if each verse this day was written personally for me.  Because it was.

Verse after verse was applicable to my situation.  Verse after verse encouraged me not what to do, but how to trust Him.  As hard as it is to figure how to work something out, it is even harder to trust Him through -- to follow Him in this, and not with my own patched together solution.  Because while I want to fix it to avoid the pain, God wants to heal it and redeem it for His glory.  And the only way to the redeeming is by my forgiving and being forgiven.

And as I have often quoted my friend Crawford Loritts, "The only thing harder than waiting on the LORD is wishing that you did."

I read in 2 Chronicles 20. 12:  "For we are powerless against this great multitude that is coming against us.  We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on You."

My eyes, my heart, my mind, my attitude.  Help me to follow Your slender scarlet thread through these volatile places and be prepared for the storms that don't even appear on the radar.

And immediately I saw God's reply three verses later:  "Fear not, and be not dismayed at this great multitude, for the battle is not yours but God's."

I don't need to fight this.  I need to follow You in this.

There is always a lot more going on below the surface than I can ever know ...or need to know.  If I don't respond with "forgive and love," I will always be in the midst of a battle.  Battles never end well.  Forgiveness always does.

Give me Your peace, O LORD,
      and give me Your direction.

Trusting God takes me to a different outcome, leads me through the thicket, and creates a path for others to know Him, and let His glory unfold.

I have no idea what you may be facing, and we all struggle with something.  But whatever it is, forgive and love.  And let God proceed with the redeeming.  He is faithful.  Always and forever.

Friday, March 17, 2017

St. Patrick and his shield

This is a story -- the real story -- about St. Patrick that I posted two years ago.  It bears repeating.  I remind myself every year there is a deep reason for this holiday.

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 this account 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 on Sunday.  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.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Show me what it looks like

The door opens and lets in the wintry air.  Shy individuals walk into the large room, the struggling families, the small children, war-torn fathers, grieving mothers, young adult men and women who have known nothing but living in displacement camps, indeed many of them born there.  They troop through the doors of the clinic for their initial health screening in this country.  To them, they expect just another clinic, the lines, the long waiting, the grey strangeness, the enduring, the impersonal --the things they have come to face living as a refugee, without a familiar place, without a home, and treated too many times as a person, it seems, without a name.

I see it on their faces as they enter the reception room.  They see the tables and the molded plastic chairs.  They already look tired.  And it is only 8 in the morning.

But there is something different here.  A gentleness, a peace, some have said, a place where everyone is welcomed by name.

The room is crowded with the senses -- the colors, the smell of weary travelers, the flowing scarves, Hello Kitty t-shirts, new shoes that don't quite fit, many languages blending into a symphony, and here in this place, kindness is the main interpreter.

I have come to love Monday mornings when I volunteer at the refugee clinic.  These people from many nations around the globe have suffered so incredibly much.  They are easy to love.  I am not a medical professional like so many others here who are volunteering their time.  I only weigh these new friends and mark down their height.  And I check their eyes, using a chart taped to the wall 20 feet away from a blue line on the tiled floor.

Because of the language barriers, the many different alphabets and unfamiliar letters, we use a chart where our friends can simply point in the direction of the figure:  to the right, down, up, to the left.  No reading is necessary, no speech, just pointing... until they hesitate just a bit where the figures suddenly fade into just a grey line.

Image result for snellen eye chart

Some use large sweeping motions with their arms to point in the appropriate direction, some just subtly tilt the palms of their hands , and the shy ones, use a barely perceptible index finger pointing in the right direction.

Some refugees are familiar with the procedure, having done it before. For many, the interpreters give instructions.  And for others, well, a lot of instruction can be communicated simply by hand signals and smiles.

Yesterday, a shy little six-year-old girl from the Congo stood on the blue line.  I indicated for her to cover one eye.  And then, I pointed to the figure at the top of the chart.  It was obvious that she had no idea what this was and what to do.  I asked an interpreter to give her some instruction.  He spoke to her.  We tried again.  She did not understand. The chart meant nothing to her. The translator spoke to her again, this time a little louder. He was frustrated and ready to give up on her.

"Perhaps," I suggested, "perhaps, if she watches someone else do it, she will understand -- if someone can not just tell her, but show her what it looks like."  The interpreter motioned for her brother who was a year or two older to stand on the line with his sister beside him.

The boy had already watched his father take the eye test.  And this little boy marched right through, pointing like he was a general, directing his troops.

He finished.  And the little girl took her turn, now easily pointing her way through the chart.  She understood.  She just needed to see how it was done.  The directions were, in a sense, translated into a language she could see and understand.  It was like a light bulb had turned on in her head.  "Oh, so that is what it looks like."

And I thought about so many people around me to whom the name Jesus means nothing to them, and Christianity is just another religion, a different culture, and even something it is not.  They don't understand my worldview any more than a chart of figures that doesn't make sense or spell out words at all.  They don't understand the radical grace of God that Jesus came to reveal.  It is like a foreign language to them. 

All I have to do is stand next to them and stand with them to show what the gospel looks like, revealed in what I do, in kindness, gentleness and grace.  It comes from Christ and how He has changed me.  What love is.  Who God is.

Speak the gospel in words, with the Word, in stories, and in kindness.
But show the gospel, what the love of Jesus looks like, not just in deeds, but by loving others.

 "Show me what it looks like."

when did we see You hungry and feed You,
or thirsty and give You drink?
And when did we see You a stranger
                      and welcome you,
or naked and clothe You?
And when did we see You sick
     or in prison and visit You?"
And the King will answer them,
"Truly, I say to you,
as you did it to one
of the least of these My brethren,
         you did it to Me."

                   Matthew 25. 37-40

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Cutting the shore line

I awoke in the night, surrounded by so many proverbial pre-schoolers vying for attention, prodding me awake.  I came to the surface of sleep, opened one eye to catch the time 2:38 a.m., (insert "groan" here), but I was not quick enough to feign sleep.  And the entire crowd of phantoms cheered, "She's awake!"

It was as if there was a rather large disturbance in the universe -- at least on my side of the bed -- while my husband slumbered away, undisturbed.

Of course, there are always the familiar fears that lead the parade, terrifying situations and the usual notorious suspects that I thought I had tossed out the front door a long time ago.  "Surprise, we're baaaaack!"  Hurt feelings, rejections, harsh words, sprinkled with razor-sharp bits of panic.  They were all there, along with their first and second cousins, some of whom I had not yet met.  Over and over, they churned around me with their accusations and bullying cries.

"O LORD," I prayed.  "Give me Your peace, or give me direction."

The hours ticked by.

As I turned over one way and then another, listening to the wind howling outside, waiting for the first shadows of dawn, the disturbance continued.  But now as each word and situation came to the surface to testify against me, instead of fighting against them, trying to justify, trying to forget, trying to go back to sleep for even a few minutes before the alarm rang, I felt like the LORD was whispering, "Forgive it.  Forgive it and let it go."

I would pull up another fear or anxious thought.  "But what about this?"  Forgive it and let it go.  "But what about THAT?"  Forgive and let it go. "Even that?"  Even that.

Forgive as you have been forgiven.

Forgive them back.  Forgiveness starts the healing.

After two hours of tossing and turning, I sneaked out of the bedroom, made the morning coffee, and this is what I wrote down, the words spilling over each other in my journal:

Forgiveness doesn't have to wait for someone to ask for it. I can go ahead and in my heart forgive the person, forgive the offenses and the wrongdoings, and the harsh words meant and unmeant, and not keep accounts.  Forgiveness is not saying "Oh, that's OK," condoning the storm, but letting go of the bitterness before it metastasizes like berserk cancer cells on a campaign of their own, before the hurtfulness hardens into ammunition for another battle, before it builds an impenetrable wall in the way of relationship.

Forgiveness means you are more important to me than anything.  Forgiveness acknowledges that we all mess up, all we like sheep going AWOL.

Forgiveness is not snapping a plastic shield in place to keep from being hurt again. It is not like the non-stick coating on my frying pan that gives the appearance of "I don't care."  But instead significantly, forgiveness forms the stickiness of relationships.   

"Confession and forgiveness are the concrete forms in which we sinful people love one another," stated Henri Nouwen in In the Name of Jesus.

Forgiveness is the highest form of love.  I love you no matter what.  My love for you is not based on you performing to my standards, not based on your lack of perfection or mine, but just because you are you, and I love you.  Just like God loves us.

On my bathroom mirror right beside my ragged typed out passage from Romans 12. 9-21, I scribbled on an index card another quote of Henri Nouwen from his thoughtful book Home Tonight"But constantly forgiven, we have power to love others more." 

I have read those words and repeated those words and engraved those words in my heart for the past three months.  Because I am forgiven, I can love again.  Constantly forgiven, I can love even in this.  I can love.  Because He first loved me. (1 John 4: 19)

But after my reluctant "conversation" in the middle of last night, I feel like I need to add, "But constantly forgiving, I can love others more."  Again.  And again.  And again.  Forgive and let it go.  Not time to move on, but time to stop picking at a wound already forgiven.

I DID ask forgiveness.  I don't know if I was forgiven.  "Doesn't matter," I felt like God was saying, "Forgive and let it go."  Before their asking, before even recognizing the wrong, before acknowledgment of the hurt, before realizing what was done -- maybe even without EVER realizing the devastation that was caused --.  forgive it in my heart and let it go.  Start the healing,.  "IT STILL HURTS," I cry to God.  Yes, I know, says my Savior who died for me.

There are no small forgivenesses, nor any too big for God to redeem.

Am I the one in need of asking God's forgiveness?  For not forgiving others, or asking their forgiveness?  For even my "5 percent of fault" in what escalated, or how I responded, or to what I am still clinging?

"Our agony comes through the willful stupidity of our own heart.  We won't believe, we won't cut the shore line, we prefer to worry on," notes Oswald Chambers in his classic My Utmost for His Highest.

Forgiveness cuts the shore line.

Am I the one not letting go?  To let it heal?  To allow God to redeem?

After all that time last night, it turns out it was not fear or anxiety that kept me from sleeping.  It was not the adversary's accusing rant.  It was God's still small voice and some unfinished business with Him.

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

          Ephesians 4: 32

       and let it go.