Friday, September 22, 2017

Pride and Dignity



Our culture celebrates pride.  We are supposed to be proud of ourselves, our bodies, our traditions, our ethnicity and our choices.

I think when our culture glorifies pride, the assumption is that pride means feeling good about yourself and accepting yourself.  Pride is believing in yourself.  Pride is telling yourself, "I am a good person.  I am worthy.  I am deserving."

Although there may be a surface appeal to this philosophy, the Christian in me must protest.  There is a part of me that has a knee-jerk reaction that says, "This is wrong!  This is utterly contrary to the gospel!"  And it is.

But.

Sometimes we Christians get the gospel a little bit mixed up, too.  Because in the self-deprecating idea that we are miserable, undeserving, stinking, low-down sinners, we lose the idea of the dignity inherent in the fact that humanity was created by God, in His image.

Created by God.

In His image.

The Bible says that everything God created was good.  God created us, and pronounced us good.

Original goodness preceded original sin.  How often do we ponder that?

We were created by God, for friendship with God.  We were created out of God's love, to receive God's love.

There is dignity in that.  We truly are special.  It's not marketing puffery.  God created us.   He did good work when He made us, and He was pleased with His creation.  He pronounced us good.  There is an intrinsic goodness in us that sin can never completely erase.

Ah.  Sin.

Sin originated in pride, flowing out of those who believed in themselves rather than in God.

God created all things good.  As He went through the process of creating, He continually examined what He was making and saw that it was good.  Everything was good.

Into all this goodness, God placed a man and a woman.  Then, He saw that His creation was not only good, it was very good!

In God's good creation there was a beautiful garden, and in the garden there were many different, beautiful, fruit-bearing trees.  In the middle of the garden, God placed a tree called, "The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil."  This is the first we hear of evil.

C.S. Lewis says that there is no evil that was not first something good.  Evil does not exist independently.  It is merely a perversion of what is good.  This is why, even today after so many years of living with the consequences of sin, we are shocked and appalled when we see news stories about heinous crimes that people have committed.  God created people for good, and it bothers us when people do horrible things.  "What is wrong with people?" we ask.

Sin.  That's what is wrong with people.  Sin came into the garden when Adam and Eve chose to eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  The irony is that they already had the knowledge of good (Colin S. Smith pointed this out, and it is true).  God told them not to eat the fruit, because He wanted them to be protected from the knowledge of evil.  The only thing God had denied them was the knowledge of evil.  Who would even want to know evil?  Satan, the deceiver, came along and gussied up evil like a flashy prostitute, to tempt them. "Your eyes will be opened if you eat this fruit," he beguiled. "You will be like God, knowing good from evil.  You won't die!"

"You will be like God," he said.  And their pride rose up in their hearts.  God had something they did not have.  God was keeping something from them.  They wanted it.  They wanted everything.  They wanted to be like God, great and powerful and wise.  How could a loving God refuse to share something with them?

"You will be like God, knowing good from evil," said Satan.

So they ate the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, and since they already knew good, they learned about evil.  They experienced evil.  Evil grabbed hold of God's creation with a power Adam and Eve had never imagined.   Winds turned harsh.  Gentle rains turned into violent storms.  Lions started eating lambs, and bacteria began to spread diseases.

"You won't die!" promised Satan.

They did not die immediately, that day.  But they eventually died, just as God had said they would, and Satan is a liar.  Before their own deaths, they saw other deaths.  Because they were naked, God made clothing for them from animal skins, from animals that died, animals whose deaths they witnessed, animals whose deaths benefitted them.  They also saw one of their sons kill another of their sons.

They ate the forbidden fruit, and they experienced evil.  They experienced sorrow and fear and death.

Thus, the curse of sin entered creation and contaminated all of creation.  Sin and death rule our world, and every person born arrives marked with the mutation of sin.

Yet, even in the earliest beginning, God made promises: "I will cause hostility between the snake and the woman, between her offspring and the snake's.  The snake will bruise the heel of the Seed of the woman, but the Seed of the woman will crush the snake's head."

The snake would be trampled, and the curse would be undone.

Someday.

Because God loves His creation, loves humanity, loves people.

God values people, and from the beginning, He planned to rescue us, to go to unfathomable lengths to redeem and restore us.  He created us good, and He has perfect plans to restore us to goodness.

Pride says, "I believe in myself.  I can live perfectly well without God.  I can figure out my own standard for good and bad."  This is a lie.  It's quite obvious.  If all of us try to figure out our own standards for good and bad, there will be millions of different standards, and nobody will agree, and everybody will fight.  Life cannot be good if we don't have a universal standard for goodness.  It is hard enough to cooperate if we have a universal standard for goodness, but it is fundamentally impossible if we don't have one.  Meanwhile, Satan slithers around in the background, gleefully whispering to each proud heart, "You are the one who is right about this.  Believe in yourself.  Nobody can tell you what's good or bad.  Nobody has the right to judge you."

Unlike pride, dignity says, "There is a true goodness that I can aspire to.  There is a good God who loves me and wants to reveal this goodness to me.  There is a quest for true goodness that I can embark upon, and God will meet me and teach me, because He loves me.  I believe in God and His good plans for creation."

Pride says, "I am a good person."

Dignity says, "The Lord loves me, and He is in the process of purifying me for His good purposes."

Pride says, "I am worthy: worthy of respect, worthy of reward."

Dignity says, "The Lord Himself has redeemed me, at the price of His own precious blood.  Although I was of little worth, He saw my potential and bought me out of slavery to sin.  I am a fixer-upper, and He is the best renovation artist ever.  In the opinion of the God of the Universe, I was worth dying for, even in my sinful state, because He knows the plans He has for me, to make me valuable in His Kingdom.  His work in my life produces beauty in me and proves my worth to Him."

Pride says, "I am deserving. I deserve all the good things.  I should have comfort, health, happiness and approval."

Dignity says, "Although I was captive to foolishness, godlessness and sin, the Lord graciously saved me and gave me hope and a future.  When I deserved to be cast aside, He drew me into His arms.  He opened my eyes to reality, brought me to my senses.  He showed me the destructive end of sin, the dire consequences I had racked up for myself.  Then He graciously pulled me up out of the slimy pit of mud and mire, and gave me a firm place to stand.  He put a new song in my mouth, so I could thank Him and praise Him and experience fullness of joy.  When I deserved hell, Jesus offered me heaven."

One of the greatest ironies of life is this:  Pride, while pretending to offer you dignity, actually robs you of your dignity.

Dignity comes from understanding that we were created in the image of God, for the glory of God.  Sin has thrown some kinks into the equation, universally staining us from birth, but under God's powerful hand we can be made new and pure.  This purity comes first through the forgiveness that is possible because Jesus took the penalty that we deserved.  Yes, if you want to talk about what we deserve, we deserve permanent separation from God--in other words, hell.  But Jesus experienced hell in our place, to save us from eternal damnation.  "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" He cried from the cross.  He died for us, taking our punishment on His own body.  By spilling His blood for us, He has enabled us to be declared righteous before God.  Then, when He rose again, He enabled His very Spirit, the Holy Spirit of God, to be poured out into our hearts.  The Holy Spirit works to purify us day by day, helping us to understand what is right and good, and empowering us to do what is right and good.  Dignity says, "I belong to the King of the Universe, and He loves me."

Pride denies God and refuses to worship Him, refuses to glorify Him, refuses to thank Him.

Dignity sees creation and gives thanks to the Creator, wondering at the mystery of His power, beauty and love.

Pride becomes darkened in its thinking, foolish and futile, fixated on defending its own wrong perspective.

Dignity sees by the illuminating light of the Holy Spirit and grows in knowledge and truth.

Pride casts aside the Creator and instead worships created things.  Eventually, pride worships mere images of created things, becoming more and more degraded as it worships increasingly worthless and harmful things.

Dignity aligns itself with the Creator and Redeemer and praises Him in gratitude, drawing worth from the Glorious One it worships.

Pride behaves in destructive, disgraceful ways that lead to shame.  Pride tries to battle shame by pretending that there is no shame, by claiming that shameful things are good, by lying.

Dignity is clothed in the righteousness of Christ, empowered by the Spirit of Christ, and transformed into the likeness of Christ.  Dignity bears the good fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  Dignity walks in the power of Truth.

God offers us dignity, in place of our miserable, deadly pride.

But you, O Lord,
are a Shield about me,
my Glory,
and the Lifter of my head.
Psalm 3:3 (ESV)





Thursday, September 14, 2017

Humility



That's a bad picture, the one I put up at the top of this post.

Humility is not about posting bad pictures.  Yet, pride can be about only posting beautiful pictures, only showing what you want to show, presenting an image that only reflects the best light.  "The me I want you to see," that's pride (also, it's social media).

The Lord seems to be teaching me a lot about humility lately.  Although, by virtue of what humility is, one can never become exactly adept at it, or comfortable in it, or proficient.

What would it even look like to be proficient in humility?

One thing I've learned that humility is not: Humility is not pre-emptive self-deprecation.  A lot of us can fall into doing this, this pre-emptive self-deprecation thing.  We apologize in advance for our shortcomings, the ones we are aware of, in hopes that people will then go soft on us, understand that we already feel bad about ourselves, desist in looking deeper for further flaws, since they've already been presented with some really outstanding flaws to distract them.  Yes, I do this.  It's a self-protecting technique.  It rises out of insecurity, and it is not humility.

Humility is the opposite of pride.  Sometimes when it is hard to understand a concept, it helps to look at the thing opposite it, to determine what it is not.

Pride is believing that you are important.  This may not mean that you think you are important to the world, like a king or a queen or an army commander.  It means that inside your head, you operate under the assumption that your feelings are very important.  You may not consciously realize it, but you think that people ought to treat you as you wish to be treated, fairly and kindly and respectfully.

Unlike a proud person, a humble person does not assume that he is entitled to be treated well wherever he goes.  Instead, a humble person thinks about how he is treating other people.  He is much more attuned to whether he himself is being fair, or kind, or respectful than to how others are treating him.

It's tricky, too.  Because it becomes pride again if, while thinking about the other person's perspective, you start to focus specifically on how the other person perceives you.  It's not about your image in the other person's eyes.  It's about the other person's feelings.  You have to lose track of yourself, and be attending to other people, if you are to escape pride.

This sounds pretty good.  The idea of thinking about the needs of others, and being able to get one's eyes off one's own needs, actually sounds pretty freeing.  In fact, I'm sure it is very freeing.

But it's also stinking hard.

They have always said, "Don't pray for patience.  You'll get all kinds of experiences that test your patience."

Well.  Let me tell you.  If you pray for humility, you may find yourself having experiences that humiliate you.  Humiliate, shame and embarrass, not necessarily in that order.

Still, if God has chosen to grow you in humility, you won't escape the process by not asking for it  (that would be the proverbial you, which is to say, me).  The same holds true for patience, and any other virtue.  God will do what He needs to do.

It will probably hurt a lot.  But it will be good, profitable, worth every agony.

If Jesus emptied Himself of all His divine glory and became a human with a body of skin, bones and blood, we need to be willing to empty ourselves of our ideas of what is due us.

If Jesus humbled Himself to death on a cross, we need to be willing to make personal sacrifices and pour ourselves out for the good of others.  (Oh how difficult this is.)

If Jesus was raised and glorified following His obedience, we can have hope that our faithful God will also raise and glorify us, after we have served in obedience, and there is great joy to come in the future, certain joy that gives us strength to carry on.

In humility.



This post is based on Philippians 2:1-11 and Hebrews 12:1-3.



Thursday, August 31, 2017

My new favorite Bible story



Back in the day, when I taught Bible study, I remember how my ladies used to laugh at me, because I was always saying, "This is my favorite Bible story!" or "This is my favorite scripture!"

Some of my favorites include:


  • Joseph (Genesis 37, 39-50)
  • Gideon (Judges 6-7)
  • David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17)
  • Elijah on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18)
  • How Jehosheba saved the line of David by saving baby Joash (2 Kings 11, 2 Chronicles 22:10-23:21)
  • Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace (Daniel 3)
  • Esther (book of Esther)
  • Jesus raises a widow's son (Luke 7:11-17)
  • Jesus heals a sick woman and raises Jairus' daughter (Matthew 9:18-26, Mark 5:21-43, Luke 8:40-56)
  • The risen Jesus appears to Mary in the garden (John 20:10-18)
  • Jesus cooks breakfast for his disciples, after rising from the dead (John 21:1-14)
  • Jesus explains the Old Testament, incognito (Luke 24:13-35)
  • Peter escapes from prison (Acts 12:1-19)
  • Paul and Silas triumphantly get out of prison (Acts 16:16-40)
  • Psalms 27, 33, 37, 46, 57, 63, 73, 84, 86, 90, 91, 92, 103, 104, 111, 115, 121, 131, 139, 145
  • Isaiah 40, 53, 55
  • Jeremiah 31
  • Ezekiel 36
  • Hosea 14
  • Romans 5, 8, 12
  • Ephesians 1:1-2:10
  • Philippians 4 (or really all of Philippians)
  • Revelation 21-22


Well, that's not exhaustive, but I'll just stop.  (Although I'd invite you to read through those!)

You get the idea.  I have a lot of favorite parts of the Bible.

One of the greatest things about the Bible is that you always find new things in it, no matter how many times you reread it.

In my last post, I wrote about new things I'd seen in the parable of the Sower, how the Lord continually plants and replants His seeds of truth and righteousness in the hearts of men.  When the seeds don't germinate, He reworks the soil of the heart, plowing, tilling, preparing, making ready.  He patiently persists, knowing that every part of His process is valuable and important.

Still carrying these thoughts in my mind, I forged ahead in the book of Mark, and came across my new "favorite" story:

     They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him.  He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village.  When he had spit on the man's eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, "Do you see anything?" He looked up and said, "I see people; they look like trees walking around." Once more, Jesus put his hands on the man's eyes.  Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.  Jesus sent him home saying, "Don't go into the village."   (Mark 8:22-26 NIV)

It is always beautiful and exciting when we read about Jesus doing a miracle of healing.  Jesus is our Healer, the Great Physician.  He knows how to fix the bodies He created.  I love to meditate on His healing power.

But I promised to tell you about the new things I saw today.  Here we go:

 . . . some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. . . (Mark 8:22 NIV)

Some people brought a blind man and begged.  This reminds me of a post I wrote some time ago, about some friends who carried a paralyzed man on a mat to Jesus for healing.  In both cases, we know nothing about the infirm person, except that he had a serious infirmity.  Was he willing and cooperative as his friends brought him to the healer?  Was he too lost in his malady to either cooperate or resist?  We don't know.  What we do know: People who loved him brought him to Jesus.  People who loved him begged Jesus to help.

Our intercessory prayers matter.  They make a difference.  This man did not ask for healing.  His friends asked for healing for him.  We can do the same for our friends.  We can ask for their physical healing, but we can also ask for their spiritual healing.  Our compassionate Lord heals people in every way.  He has special concern for those who are spiritually blind and cannot see or accept the saving truth that He offers.  We can bring these precious, blind souls into the presence of the Lord and beg for mercy and healing.

Additionally, these people begged Jesus to touch their blind friend.  Why did they want Jesus to touch him?  Jesus could heal with a word, or even a mere thought.  Jesus could even command a healing from a distance.  However, the people asked Jesus to touch the man.

Let's consider Jesus' response to this request.  Did He touch the man?  Well, first it says that Jesus "took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village."  There is the first touch: gentle leading, by the hand, to a new place.  Then, when they arrived at Jesus' chosen location, Jesus spit on the man's eyes.  How extraordinary.  Jesus actually bestowed some of His own bodily fluids on the man's eyes.  He did not need to do this; it was a strange grace.  I imagine that to the man, it felt something like eyedrops.  I imagine that the saliva of God is a holy, healing, soothing substance.  Jesus spit on the man's eyes, and the Bible also says that Jesus touched him.  In effect, we have three touches here: the leading by the hand, the soothing drops of saliva, and the deliberate laying on of hands.  Jesus responded by doing what the people asked of Him, and more.

Then a pause occurred.  Jesus asked the man if he could see anything.  The man gave an odd reply, indicating that he could see somewhat, but that his eyes were not completely right: "I see people, but they look like trees."

This reminds me of the post I recently wrote about a sunrise that sort of didn't happen.  Of course, it did happen; the sun always rises.  But that day, we didn't see the sun come up.  We waited and watched, but we didn't see it happen.  Nevertheless, daylight came, and we enjoyed a new day.  In my new favorite  Bible story, Jesus graciously administered abundant healing touches on the blind man, but the result was not immediately complete.

Here was a chance for faith to rally.  Sometimes God delays a result to keep us focused and dependant on Him.  Sometimes God chooses to display His persevering power, rather than His perfectly instant power.  Perhaps He wants us to see how He perseveres, so we will be encouraged to persevere as well.

Once more, Jesus put His hands on the man's eyes.  Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.  (Mark 8:25 NIV)

I find this incredibly encouraging, because Jesus kept on working with the man until his sight was restored.  Jesus didn't say, "Oh well, good enough.  You were blind, and now you can see some stuff.  What do you want, anyway?"  Instead, Jesus put His hands on the man's eyes yet one more time, patiently, persistently, lovingly, expectantly.  Jesus finished the job.

Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on until completion until the day of Christ Jesus.    (Philippians 1:6 NIV)

Jesus responds to intercessory prayers, our requests for the ones we love.  Jesus is not stingy in His responses: He goes above and beyond what we ask for, although it may come in a strange and unexpected form, like spit.  Above all, Jesus carries on until completion and gets the job done.

Jesus gets the job done.

Thank you, Jesus, 
that I can trust you because you are faithful and good.
Your will be done.
I look forward to seeing what wonderful things you will do.  
I thank you for the wonderful things you will do.
Thank you that you are totally faithful, good, wise and powerful.
You can and will get the job done perfectly.
Amen




Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Soil, rototillers, and hearts

Shawn and I have been trying to figure out how to tame the yard at this house, ever since we moved in four years ago.

The day we got to Illinois and, for the first time, laid eyes on the home that was destined to be ours, we arrived at our new address ahead of the realtor.  Thus, we were locked out.  So, we walked around the yard, and I held back tears.  The weeds in the landscaping towered over our heads.  The former owners had left two pots of red geraniums, and some white petunias planted by the front walk.  But beyond that, everything was overgrown and weedy, entirely unkempt.  We were looking at literally thousands of unforeseen dollars in landscape projects, were we to hire it done.

We've discovered that hiring a mowing service is more reasonable than hiring landscapers.  So this summer, we've been paying Luis to mow, and we use our evenings and weekends to landscape.

We also bought a rototiller.


We finally tamed the lower tier of this garden.  When we arrived in 2013, it boasted a solid, formidable crop of weeds, although the following spring a few peonies surfaced here and there.  This mystified me, as peonies need full sun, and this garden is in full shade.  We moved the peonies to slightly sunnier spots at the end of that season.

We have used the bed as a catching spot for all the leaves that continue to fall after the last leaf pick-up date each autumn.  Our soil is fairly heavy clay, so I figured any humus we could glean from decaying leaves would make it loamier.

Shawn turned the soil with a shovel a number of times.

At one point, we sprinkled a package of wildflower shade mix over the bed.  It came up in bursts of flowers and weeds, hopelessly entangled together.  At that point, there was no path through the bed, so pulling weeds was well nigh impossible.  Midsummer brought a lusty crop of volunteer maple trees, offspring from a profusion of maple seeds that had fallen in May.  At least it was green?

We piled more fall leaves, and turned the bed again the next spring.

This spring, we bought the aforementioned rototiller.  After turning the bed again, with a shovel, Shawn rototilled it two or three times.

And then, finally, we placed stones for a path.  This is the key.  You must be able to access your garden if you are going to be able to care for it.  After we got the stone path in, we planted a thoughtfully selected group of plants that should survive with minimal sun.  We dug, sprinkled bone marrow into the holes, placed the plants, patted them in with backfill, watered and mulched.
Voila!  A garden.

It's doing pretty well.



At the very back of our yard, bordering on an intermittent stream that runs through a culvert and down into our lake, this garden may not look impressive.  You have to understand what it was like before.  Layers of weeds, roots and rocks had stubbornly embedded themselves in layers of petrified landscape fabric.  I worried that Shawn might give himself a heart attack, pulling, yanking, tearing, slicing, digging and removing all the unsavory growth and debris.

Again, the rototiller saved the day.

Shawn rototilled numerous times, breaking up chunks of soil, sifting up roots and stems, chopping, lifting, filtering out detritus.  Our next door neighbor sauntered past and remarked, "Now that's work."

Eventually, we achieved hospitable soil, so we planted ajuga in the front row, daylilies in the middle, and black-eyed Susans along the back: tough, hardy, shade-tolerant plants.  We didn't mulch, so I go out and hoe every now and again.  Hoeing isn't so bad, if you don't wait too long between times.

I write about this because I came across the parable of The Sower in my Bible reading again the other day.  This time I was in Mark.

In case you are not familiar, the parable of the sower tells about a farmer who went out to plant his seed.  Some fell on the hard road, and birds came and ate it up.  Some fell among rocks, where there wasn't much soil--it grew quickly, but almost immediately withered under the scorching sun, lacking deep roots.  Some fell among weeds and thorns, and was choked out by the competition.  And some of the farmer's seed fell on good soil, where it grew to produce an abundant crop.

I've always read that parable and worried about what kinds of soil people might be, people with whom I try to share the truth about Jesus.  "Hard soil" that rejects out of hand?  "Rocky soil" that responds but quickly burns out, lacking deep commitment?  "Weedy soil" that produces some growth, but the growth is choked by competition, and fails to thrive or produce a crop?  What if I, myself, am rocky soil?  Will my faith fizzle under duress and be lost?

However, in working on our gardens this summer, I realized something:  Soil can be improved.  Farmers go out in their fields in the spring and pick rocks.  Laborers work hard, pulling weeds or chopping them with hoes.  Plows traverse the rows of a field, furrowing, disking the soil, breaking it up, preparing it to receive the seed.

In the case of our lower terraced garden, we planted it a number of times, reworking it between plantings, before we achieved a desirable result.  We kept at it, persevered.  Now we have pretty plants growing there, but we still have to go out regularly and weed.  We even installed a path so we can do this maintaining work!

Here's the transferable truth:  God doesn't only sow the seeds of His Truth one time.  The sowing goes on and on.  If the seed doesn't germinate, God may go back and do more work on the soil of a man's heart, preparing the ground for the next planting season.

This is what the Lord says to the people of Judah and Jerusalem: "Plow up the hard ground of your hearts!  Do not waste your good seed among thorns."      ~Jeremiah 4:3 (NLT)

I'm not entirely sure, but I think the idea of breaking up unplowed ground and pulling weeds, applied metaphorically to the human heart, could indicate a painful process.  I'm not talking about the exertion experienced by the one who plows.  I'm talking about the pain experienced by the heart that is plowed.  Perhaps this is one reason why we should rejoice in suffering.  It is the preparatory work before the planting of truth, truth that will grow into abundant spiritual fruit--love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control--beautiful characteristics that adorn the life of a believer.

I said, "Plant the good seeds of righteousness, and you will harvest a crop of love.  Plow up the hard ground of your hearts, for now is the time to seek the Lord, that he may come and shower righteousness upon you."     ~Hosea 10:12 (NLT)

Our merciful God desires to save.  Jesus did not come to condemn the world, but to save it (John 3:17).  The world was already condemned, but Jesus came, the great Rescuer, to bring life and hope.  The seeds of the Word are as infinite as Christ Himself; there is no end to God's supply of truth and life.  Jesus will not make one half-hearted effort to toss out the offer of salvation, and then abandon all those who were too damaged to receive it.  Jesus is zealous for the salvation of humanity.

Truth doesn't change, but hearts change.  Soil can be turned, crumbled, refined, enriched.  Praise God, even the rockiest of hearts can be plowed up and replanted!

Pray that the Lord will work miraculously in the hearts of those who need to receive His seed of truth.  Pray that God will supernaturally enable these souls to undergo productive heart-plowing, surrendering to the holy work of His perfect hands.  Pray that we who believe will be brave when our own hearts are plowed, and full of compassion and wisdom when others experience deep work in their hearts.

"And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you.  I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart."  ~Ezekiel 36:26 (NLT)

We've lived here for four years, but we never made much progress on the landscaping, until we bought a rototiller.




(End note:  I never explored the significance of the metaphors of paths and hoes, but these are also very important.  I invite you to think it through on your own.)







Saturday, August 26, 2017

Parenting with no guarantees



Recently I watched an online video called, "Gospel Parenting," by one of the Tripp brothers. (Confession: I don't know the difference between the Tripp brothers.)  It was really good.  Really good.  I agree with him 100%. (Confession: I only watched half, because it was incredibly painful.)

Why would a person watch parenting videos, after it's over, after it's too late?

Oh, the guilt.

Oh, the regrets.

I tried, I really did.  I loved my children wholeheartedly, and still do.  More than anything, I wanted them to grow up loving and serving Jesus.  I also wanted to get some sleep sometimes, and to have a reasonably clean, organized home.  I also wanted peace within family relationships: obedience, and siblings who did not fight with each other.  Wanting these things--rest, order, peace--sometimes resulted in selfish parenting, parenting from a heart that was personally unhappy with the way things were, rather than because I was trying to teach my children about the grace of God through Christ.

Mr. Tripp speaks about this other kind of parenting: parenting the heart, intentionally, with an emphasis on grace and redemption.  I actually tried to do this.  I read some Tripp books before it was "too late."  I tried to learn and implement grace in the way I related to my children, but I wasn't very good at it.

I messed up.  A lot.

And yet, I still hold out hope.

Because it isn't about me.  Even if I had been a perfect parent, which is an unfeasible goal, there would be no guarantee.  Because we do not save our children.  Jesus saves our children.  We can try to parent a heart ("Shepherd your child's heart," Mr. Tripp teaches) -- but it is only God who can change hearts.  Only the Father can draw a soul into His eternal kingdom.  Praise God, it depends on Him and not on me.

This is not to excuse mistakes and failures, but it is to hold out hope.  We have an almighty, sovereign God who loves the world (John 3:16) and desires that everyone would understand the truth and be saved (1 Timothy 2:3-4).  If God is for us, who can stand against us (Romans 8:31). . . or against the children we love?

There is a thing.  I'm sure I used to fall into it myself.  It's this thing where we look around at the people with the prodigal sons and daughters, and we analyze what they did wrong, so we can be sure we don't do that.

We bring all these charges:
They let their kids eat too much sugar.
They let their kids watch too much TV.
They don't monitor what their kids are doing on the computer.
They don't let their kids get dirty.
They hover over their kids.
They don't pay enough attention to their kids.
They put their kids into too many extracurricular activities.
They work all the time, and don't do anything with their kids.
They don't have family devotions.
They make family devotions long and boring.
They spank.
They don't spank.
They punish for irrational things.
They are angry all the time.
They don't explain consequences clearly.
They think their kids are always right.
They don't follow through with what they say they will do.
They skip church.
They buy their kids everything they want.
They get their kids out of trouble when they should let them learn a lesson.
They let their kids take their phones to bed.
--And on and on and on--

It's a litany of explanations for parental failure.  We analyze and evaluate, and then we determine that we will not fall into any of those errors, so we will be assured that our children will grow up to be smart, beautiful, God-fearing, productive citizens with good jobs, who will always have the best of relationships with us, because we have parented so effectively.

But there is no guarantee.  No guarantee.

I've been on both sides: the side of self-righteous judgment of other parents, and the side of spectacular failure of my own.  (I am sure, under the sovereign rule of God, that this is no accident.)

It's the sin of Job's friends.  Job's friends looked at Job's suffering, and they were horrified to see his pain.  This is how their minds processed it:  "Job is suffering terribly.  I am not suffering the way Job is suffering.  I do not want to suffer the way Job is suffering.  Clearly, Job is being punished for a grievous sin.  I will not commit a grievous sin, because I do not want to experience such horrible suffering.  I will exhort Job to confess his sin and repent of it, so that God can end his suffering."

Do you see?  Do you see the parallel?

We want to know how we can control outcomes, so we look at other people's misfortunes, and we determine that we will not make the mistakes they made that got them there.  Like Job's friends, we want to consider the parents of rebellious children and assure ourselves that we have not made the mistakes that landed them in their predicament.

Job said again and again that he was blameless, that he had not sinned.  We know absolutely that he was not a sinless man, because all men are sinful.  There is no-one who is righteous apart from the grace of God.  Job was not implying that he was a perfect person.  What he meant was, "I've not done anything in particular that God is trying to teach me not to do.  I've not sinned more--and, in fact, I've possibly sinned less--than you, my friends."

This made his friends crazy.  Why?  Because they wanted to be able to know that they were exempt from the risk of going through what Job was going through.

As parents, we want to know that we have done all the things to make us exempt from going through what the parents of prodigals go through.

But there are no guarantees.  It isn't about our performance as parents.  There is no legalistic formula that parents can follow to get perfect kids.

Now, there is value in learning from other people's mistakes.  Certainly.  Similarly, we cannot take the truth that, "There are no guarantees," and use it as justification for not trying to do our best.  We have to try to teach and influence to the best of our ability, by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit.  Sometimes we will do well, and sometimes we will falter, and regardless of our performance, outcomes will vary.  But we have to strive--with God's help--to discern a good path and walk it, because our actions are what we, personally, are accountable to God for.  We are accountable for our actions, not the outcomes of our actions.

If we love our children and faithfully do our best to shepherd them, repenting of our errors and asking for forgiveness, God will be glorified in our efforts, regardless of how our children turn out.

If we parent selfishly and badly, and are unrepentant about our shortfallings, then that is on us.  Even if our children turn out well, growing up to love and serve the Lord, their success does not vindicate us.

I don't know anything.  What I thought I knew, I suspect was not right--at least, not entirely.  I know I was sometimes harsh when I should have been gentle, and I sometimes caved in when I should have stood fast.  At times, I cried when I should have laughed, and I despaired when I should have trusted in the Lord.  I also loved my children deeply, worked hard, poured out as much as I could, and seriously prioritized their needs.  I made intentional efforts to teach them about Jesus and to get them involved in places where they would be encouraged in the faith by others.  I prayed without ceasing.  I tried hard, and sometimes I still fell flat on my face.

All the advice I have at this point is based on what I wish I had done better:

  • Be gentle and kind.  Encourage.
  • Learn and model humility.  
  • Remember how much Jesus has forgiven me, and extend that same grace.  
  • Always hope, because God is faithful and good.  
  • Be thankful, and let thankfulness overflow in observable joy.  
  • Thank God for the future.
  • Trust God, because everything is in His hands.



Wednesday, August 23, 2017

What's the matter?

People are hurting.

This world is a savage place, ripping souls and sending them forth to hemorrhage all over other broken hearts.

Children are cruel.  Youths are ruthless.

Adults may be better at hiding their daggers, while still using them.

Sometimes I just want to scream, "What is wrong with people?"  Why do families prey on their own offspring?  Why do children turn on their own parents?

We see it, you know, when a father pimps out his daughter, or a mother steals her child's psych medicine for her own recreation.  The gross selfishness is repulsive, nauseating.  The perverted personal indulgences make us cringe and gag.  We see it so clearly in the microcosm of a small family system.  We are horrified when a 20-year-old college student, whose father died in a tragic accident years earlier, goes home from school one day and kills his mother with a knife.

But on the larger scale, we all belong to the family of humanity, yet we prey on one another in ways we never even consider, those of us who think we are good, who still live selfishly: grabbing, hoarding, amassing, gloating, flaunting, rationalizing.

It isn't safe to live unselfishly.  It is reckless to give away our treasure to those who will not treasure it, who will use it for a short time, and then cast it on the rubbish heap.  Us and them, and we're all so flawed, so wounded, so selfish and afraid.

Yet, there is beauty.  God does not leave us without a remnant of His beauty.

Venus, the morning star, shining radiantly before
sunrise,
crescendoing birdsong,
dewy grass,
newly opened flowers,
blue sky,
cumulus clouds (glorious creamy dollops),
clean air,
shadows and dappled light,
forests of grand, quiet trees,
river stones,
the warmth of a young dog,
tiny eggs in a nest,
golden honey,
ripe fruit,
refreshing waterfalls,
snowy mountains,
vast oceans,
solar eclipses.

No wonder it's healing to escape into nature.  Immerse yourself in God's creation. He will heal you there, away from humanity and its byproducts, be they factories, fast food wrappers blowing down the street, or fractured bones from a domestic dispute.

Watch a butterfly on a coneflower and let the Lord restore your soul.



There is no answer in fretting, in anger, in taking offense, in being offended.

The most egregious aggressors harbor the most deeply damaged souls.

The only answer is to hold out grace, to give at great cost, to make ridiculous sacrifices.

The only answer is to do what Jesus did for us, and lay down our lives for others.

But it's terrifying, full of risk.  It will hurt.  They might not appreciate our gifts.

No.  They might not appreciate us.  In fact, they probably won't.

But they might, and if they do, it will make the world a different, better place.  A place of grace, which is the only way.

They might not appreciate us, but Jesus appreciates every cup of cold water offered in His name.  He is the one we serve.

We serve the gracious one.  He sees, and He loves us.

If God is for us, who can stand against us?

Dear Lord, please pour your Holy Spirit into us so we can spread your grace throughout the world.  Fill us.  Overflow from us.  Teach us how to heal by the power of your love.

Your kingdom come, your will be done.






Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Give us this day our daily bread

Being gluten free, I struggle to find affordable bread that I like.
Gluten free cornbread is more like normal cornbread
than most gluten free bread is like normal bread.




Bread nourishes.
It fills our mouths and our bellies.
"Filler," I've heard it called.
Bread lacks the protein of meat
and the vitamins of fruits and vegetables,
but it is packed with consolation.

Indeed, what is better
than a hunk of crusty fresh bread,
hot, tender in the middle and crisp of crust,
slathered with butter, melting--
or dipped into savory soup broth--
or sopping up a delicious marinara sauce
from the bottom of the plate?

Bread fills us, comforts us, and keeps us going.
It is gentle, settling to the stomach,
a buffer for acidic foods.
Toasted, with tea,
bread can be almost medicinal.

Jesus says that He is the Bread of Life.
He fills us, comforts us, sustains us.
He heals and feeds.
In love, He offered Himself for our benefit,
--a baby in a feeding trough--
that through the consumption of Christ
we would find life and fullness of joy.
(John 6:32-58)

Jesus promised that He would not leave us as orphans,
but that He would come to us,
that we would be in Him,
as He is in His Father,
and He would be in us.
(John 14:18-20)

Jesus is in us.
Like a lovely, thick slice of bread filling a formerly hungry stomach.

Give us this day our daily bread.

He fills us by His Spirit.

"I am the Lord your God
who brought you out of Egypt," He says,
"Open wide your mouth and I will fill it."
(Psalm 81:10)

"If you know how to give good gifts of fish and eggs to your children,
how much more will I give the Holy Spirit to those who ask,"
He says.
(Luke 11:11-13)

The Holy Spirit is Christ in us, the hope of glory.
(Colossians 1:27)

Something about this temporal life
forces the need for constant refilling.
Physically, we need to eat every day.
Spiritually, we need the Holy Spirit every day.
I do not exactly understand this.
Faith brings believers into the new birth of spiritual life
just as birth brings a baby into physical life.
But as a baby needs food to live and grow,
so we need the Holy Spirit, daily,
for our spiritual life and development.

Daily, we need to come into His presence,
feast on the scripture He illuminates for us,
remember the gospel story, remember hope.
In remembering hope, we grow in gratitude--
for life, for love, for forgiveness,
for His great salvation and His gentle compassion.
Hope leads to gratitude which leads to joy
which leads to confidence and power.
The power of the Holy Spirit.
The fuel of the Bread of Life.

Daily, we pray that God, our source of hope,
will fill us with His peace and joy
because we trust in Him--
and then we begin to overflow with confident hope
by the power of the Holy Spirit.
(Romans 15:13)

Jesus, the Bread of Life,
in us by His Holy Spirit
which He pours out on us,
filling us.

Jesus, let us find joy in each new day.
Fill us with your Spirit, fill us with the bread of life.
Sustain us with your joy, which gives us strength.
Let us walk in step with your Spirit today, strong and confident.

Give us this day our daily bread.




This post is a sequel to this post.







Thursday, August 10, 2017

Welcome to my August

It is a fantasy, to imagine someone I love appearing, unannounced, on the doorstep for cake and tea.  Of course, if it were unannounced, the cake would not yet be made, but we could nip on chocolate while we waited for it; there's always a store of chocolate.  Or we could have a bonfire in the backyard, with hotdogs roasted over open flames.  And long, sweet conversation with lots of laughter.

I keep the beds made up with clean sheets, and I stock the guest bathroom with my favorite soap, moisturizer and shampoo.  There is even a stash of new toothbrushes in the bottom drawer!

Oh, the dream of a balm for loneliness.

August is so pretty, when the flowers finally reach their full bloom.

This is the walk to my front porch, crossing in front of my wild tangle of growing things.  Do you see the magnificent rosebush from our 30th anniversary?  There's another on the other side of the garage, but that one only has five or six blooms.  They make my heart overflow with gratitude.

Here is a closer shot of this fabulous bush in its prime.

And a close up of a gorgeous rose.

And another!

This is the bush as it stands today.  Each day, I tell myself, "Today I must deadhead it so it can go again."  And each day, I decide to wait one more day.

Just around the corner, my hummingbird feeder hangs nestled among red four o' clocks.  
The hummingbirds like the four o' clocks even better than the syrup. 
(1 cup boiled water plus 1/4 cup white sugar)

The cosmos are always slow, but hope springs eternal for these lovely blooms.

Further down the line, mini zinnias.  
Last year's zinnias were supposed to top out at 48 inches, 
but they surpassed 7 feet!  
Shawn doesn't like really tall flowers, so I got these minis.  
They offer me a precious surprise each day, 
tucked between four o' clocks and marigolds.

My front door in early morning light, 
while the four o' clocks are still mostly open.  
These flowers are at their best between 8 pm and 8 am. 
and they smell divine all night long.

A riot of four o' clocks

More four o' clocks

Pink four o' clocks at about 8:30 or 8:45 a.m. as they are closing up for the day.

This is how my front door looks most of the day, without early morning light or open flowers.

My front yard lamp-post island garden. Oy, have we worked to remake this!
We'll take a tour around the circle:

Luscious cleome winding in and out of pink coneflowers.  Coneflowers are perennials, and cleome self-seeds, so this is some low-maintenance joy for me.

Coneflowers are so photogenic, I can't stop myself photographing them.

Here we have coneflowers in front of purple salvia.  
I bought the salvia for super cheap this spring, because it had been frostbitten.  
I cut it back and planted it.  It's grown and bloomed like a champ ever since.  
Makes my heart swell a little.

More of my survivor salvia.

And a close up, just because I love this plant.

Here it is in context, between a lily and a daylily (which are both done), 
and in front of sedum (yet to bloom), yellow four o' clocks, and coneflowers.

Beyond the sedum, an obedient plant 
(the one with white flowers--it's also called false snapdragon) 
which I was thrilled to find at the nursery.  
I had one of these in NY and loved it.  
This time, I bought three!

Another view of the obedient plant.

Apricot coreopsis.  I also had coreopsis in NY, and it was a favorite.  
I always seem to plant this guy on the side of the bed 
that I have to walk around to see, but in this case it is also the street side, 
so I hope it does well and gets appreciated.

I adore these pink asters, and they are adding to the butterfly appeal of this garden.  
(This bed holds a collection of plants that attract butterflies, 
and the monarchs have already been visiting!) . 
Unfortunately, I am allergic to these beauties, 
and had a bit of a reaction after deadheading today.

 This is a new plant that I have no experience with.  Malva zebrina.  The literature says it is tough and easy to grow.  Almost invasive, says one source.  
I can only hope that such a pretty (and butterfly attracting) plant will be invasive!!

That's my front yard, my August joy.

When I'm lonely, I can putter in the dirt.
I suppose it is not a strange thing that older women 
turn to plants and pets 
when their children leave home.  
Something to fuss over and care for.



Monday, July 31, 2017

Purifying toxicity.



I've noticed a trend on social media: link after link to articles about purging the toxic people from your life.

The gist of the message is this:  You are important.  You are good.  You are too good and important to be weighed down by toxic people in your life.  So do yourself a favor and flush them away.  You deserve it!

Can I just point out?  This is entirely anti-Christian.  It makes me sad.

People.  Guys.  Please hear me.

We are all toxic.

We are all toxic.

It is only pride and self-righteousness that cause a person to think that the others are the toxic ones, and he, himself, is fine.  Remember Matthew 7:3-5, about taking the plank out of our own eye before we attack the splinter in our brother's eye?

Now, I'm not talking about abusive people.  There is a point at which people's sin can become dangerous to others, and when you are in a relationship with a dangerous, abusive person, it is good to set boundaries which will protect you and hopefully help the other person come to his senses.  I'm not talking about danger and abuse.  Notice: danger and abuse are not the terminology that is in popular use here.  The popular terminology is "toxic," which sounds really bad, but I warrant it might be a bit of a hyperbole, a ploy to gain credibility for actions that are selfish and prideful.

Also, be careful, because abuse is a term that we overuse these days.  You should not call it abuse--emotional abuse, verbal abuse--every time you have a disagreement with someone, ending up with an unsatisfying conclusion that hurts your feelings.  Did the other person label you as something you didn't like?  Are you tempted to call that abuse?  Can you honestly say that you've never labeled someone as something that he might not have liked?  Did you just call him an abuser?  But that was okay... why?  Because it was you, and you are a "good" person, and he shouldn't hurt your feelings?  Sorry.  No.  We all have disagreements, and we all slip and speak unkindly at certain times, particularly when we are feeling defensive.

The whole world is toxic.

We all need grace.

We all need to give grace.

The whole world is toxic, but for the purifying love of Jesus.

He's been hounding me about this, Jesus has.

It started about three years ago.  I was studying Matthew, which is the gospel that focuses most on Jesus as the fulfillment of the Law.  Matthew 5:18 tells us that Jesus came to fulfill every jot and tiddle of the Law, perfectly, so He would qualify as the perfect sacrifice to purchase our forgiveness.  Jesus loved and respected His Father's Law.  He came to complete it, not to undo it.

Yet, just a few pages further along, we read in Matthew 8 about how a leper came to Jesus for healing.  Jesus reached out, touched him (Matthew 8:3), and made him well.  Now, this is a beautiful, compassionate miracle.  However, it seems in direct opposition to what the Law says.  The Law warns that lepers are unclean and need to stay away from the people, outside the camp.  Lepers were not to be touched.

I cogitated on this for awhile.  Did Jesus disobey the Law, and sin?  I came to a realization.  God gave the Law for the people's protection.  The Law showed Israel how to live as safely and prosperously as possible in a sin-defiled world.  God taught His beloved people to recognize and avoid unclean things that could lead to sickness and death in their society.  He provided regulations for dealing with infectious diseases and biohazards.

It was all for their protection, but Jesus did not need any protection.

Jesus was God in human form, but fully God, with all the purifying power of the love of God surging through His flesh.  Jesus did not need protection from diseases.  Jesus was the healer!  When Jesus touched the leper, there was no risk that He would contract leprosy.  When Jesus touched the leper, He eradicated the leprosy.

This is beautiful.

The theme keeps recurring again and again.  In May, in Ohio, I heard a sermon on how Jesus healed Jairus' daughter and the woman who had been bleeding for twelve years.  Jesus had contact with a ceremonially unclean woman and a dead girl's body, abominations.  He touched what should not have been touched, and the result was healing, restoration, resurrection.

Two weeks ago, we studied the Gospel of Luke with Michael Card for a week.  I was about bowled over by how this precious gospel shows Jesus getting his hands dirty again and again, always with a triumphant result.  Fevers, leprosy, death, blood, prostitutes and demoniacs.  Jesus forges right on into each messy situation, bringing glorious healing and relief.  Michael Card calls it "reversing the flow."  I love that.

Jesus reverses the flow of corruption.  The ordinary flow says that if you touch something dirty, you become defiled (Haggai 2:12-13).  But where Jesus goes, when He touches something dirty, He purifies it (Zechariah 3:4-9).  This is a miracle.

A miracle.

But wait, there's more!

Jesus lives in us, through His Holy Spirit.  Christ in you the Hope of Glory (Colossians 1:27).  Christ in us, in me, in you.  Christ dwells in our hearts (Ephesians 3:17), and He strengthens us with power through His Spirit in our inner being (Ephesians 3:16).  Jesus did not leave us as orphans when He went back to heaven.  He sent His Holy Spirit.  Through this precious Spirit, Jesus, who lives in God, also lives in us, and we live in Jesus (John 14:18-20).

In John 15, Jesus gave us a picture story to help us understand.  Jesus is the vine, and we are the branches.  We are one organism with Christ, rooted and established in Him through faith (Colossians 2:6-7).  Jesus actually somehow forms the link, the bridge, the ladder between us and God the Father.  The Living Water of the Spirit of God flows from God into us because of the connection through the trunk that is Christ.

I do not exactly understand this, because it is spiritual truth and all of our physical analogies are imperfect.  I do not understand it completely, but I understand this much: the Spirit of Jesus lives in me, and because He does, I too can contribute to the coming of the Kingdom of God by reversing the flow.

By the Spirit of God in me, I can love.  I can speak peace.  I can walk in joy and thanksgiving.  I can bring hope where there was despair.  When I do these things, I produce fruit and medicinal leaves for the nourishment and healing of the nations (Ezekiel 47:6-12, Revelation 22:1-2).  I can get my hands dirty without fear of contamination.  I can walk in the power of God, bringing purification and healing to this battered world.

Satan doesn't want us to know this.  Satan wants us to live in fear of contamination.  Satan wants us to hide our lights under buckets.  Satan wants us to think that we are clean, better than others, but tenuously so, and insulate ourselves from "toxic" people.

Jesus has so much more for us.  Jesus came to give sight to the blind, to make the deaf hear and the lame walk, to set the captives free.

Jesus left us with the indwelling power of His Holy Spirit so we can continue the work.

Oh, dear ones, may that same sweet Holy Spirit grant us understanding, power and courage to go forth.  May the Lord God trample Satan under our feet (Psalm 60:12).  May we walk in victory, today, and may His Kingdom come!





Saturday, July 29, 2017

Sunrise

I may have written about this before.

I think about it fairly often these days.

I'm sorry.  I just don't have it in me to look through all the things I've written and check whether this is redundant.  Redundant.  Circling thoughts, unresolved issues.  Just writing.

(the sun at 8:00 am in my neighborhood this morning)

Sunrise.

Back in the day--
back when we all lived together on Sugar Pine Circle,
sleeping under the same roof,
eating lots of soup and homemade bread,
sloppy joes on Thursdays--
back when we were together,
laughing, fighting, apologizing,
sharing stories,
doing school projects,
driving to events and practices,
participating at church together,
praying,
memorizing Bible verses taped to the sliding glass door in the kitchen,
processing tons and tons of laundry
and practicing musical instruments for hours,
goodnight kisses and
scrambling not to miss the bus in the morning--
back in that day,
we used to go to the beach for a week in the summer.
Together.
The six of us.

Beach vacations were a blessing, salt and sand and a whole house to relish.  We combed the eastern tip of the island for ocean treasures, shook sand out of our beach towels, walked for miles in the edge of the surf.  We bobbed in the swells, our eyes and mouths filling with salt water when waves broke at unexpected moments.  We washed our feet with a hose underneath the house, rinsing toes and flip flops before going inside to air conditioning, showers, aloe gel, maybe even chili dogs and watermelon.

The weeks went Saturday to Saturday.  David and I developed a tradition of getting up while it was still dark one morning, and walking out to watch the sunrise, just the two of us.  We did this near the end of the week, usually Thursday.

Our alarms would go off, and we'd meet in the living room, pulling hoodies over our shorts and tanktops, stepping into flipflops awkwardly with the clumsiness of somnolence.

Sometimes we went out far too early.  5:30 am on the beach can take your breath away with its damp chill.  Cold, damp and dark, the early ocean aura elongated time, and our walk up the beach towards the east seemed interminable.  Yet, we walked on, sometimes asking one another, "How long do you think it will be?" or, "Can you see any light on the horizon yet?"

If it was low tide, we'd sit down on the cool, packed sand, its chill dampness seeping up our tailbones and into our spines.

And we would wait.

And wait.

And, the time I remember most clearly of all is the time when the sun never did come up.

David and I waited and watched, but never saw anything.  Eventually twilight lightened into day, but still we saw no sun.  Nevertheless, it was nearly 7:00, and the grandmothers were beginning to bring the early-rising toddlers out for their first romp.  Under indirect illumination, we reversed direction, walking west whence we'd come.

Upon reaching the boardwalk that would take us home, we turned and looked back to the east.  In the sky, well above the horizon, hung a half-sun, the top of a pale red circle.  Its bottom half, which also would have been well above the horizon by then, was invisible, cloaked in some kind of white mist or cloud that seemed to run all across the horizon and blend with the overcast sky.  Half a red sun, in the middle of the eastern sky, on an overcast day.

When I pray for a miracle to dawn in someone's heart, in my life, I want it to come up like a beautiful clear sunrise, gleaming golden rays exploding over the inky edge of the earth.  I want to see the periphery of that fiery yellow star peek over the curve of the sea's boundary, spreading its reflection in a glorious streaming line across the surface of the deep, as it grows bigger and bigger until it finally detaches and mounts triumphantly, blazing in the blue heavens above.

That's what I want, but it doesn't always happen that way.

Sometimes things happen slowly, imperceptibly.  Sometimes, even when we're watching carefully, we cannot see the changes, cannot perceive the progress.

That day of anticlimactic sunrise, the mists eventually burned off, and the sky was clear and bright by noon.  We ended up enjoying a perfectly lovely beach day.  It was fine.

It was fine.

You can't stop hoping, just because change is slow and hard to see.  I think about this often, this idea and this story, together.

I will not stop hoping.

Nothing is too hard for God.

He makes the sun rise.



Thursday, July 27, 2017

Power to make me strong

A rocky path, with light shining up ahead.

What are you struggling with today?

We are all wounded.

I've met people who actually say, "Everything is good.  I don't need anything.  No prayer requests."  I figure they must be lying, whether or not they realize.  Maybe they just think the stones on their path are small enough for them to deal with on their own.

Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on us.

We are wounded, and we struggle, writhing around in our pain and confusion, tripping, turning our ankles, limping along the path of life.

Jesus, forgive us our sins and give us joy.

Joy comes from hope, and hope comes from a solid faith that there is light ahead, that God's promises are true.

He has delivered us from the domain of darkness
and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son,
in whom we have redemption,
the forgiveness of sins.
~Colossians 1:13-14 (ESV)

That has long been one of my favorite scriptures.  Today as I was reading, God highlighted what comes before it:

May you be strengthened with all power,
according to His glorious might,
for all endurance and patience
with joy,
giving thanks to the Father
who has qualified you
to share in the inheritance
of the saints in light.
~Colossians 1:11-12 (ESV)
Sometimes scripture is so beautiful, we don't need to explain it.  We only need to respond to it.



Dear Lord Jesus, 
Please strengthen me with your power --
for without you, I am hopelessly weak.
But you are mighty, and you are on my side.
So, please strengthen me with your power
and make me strong to endure and wait patiently,
rejoicing.
Yes, help me to rejoice as I wait.
Strengthen me with joy in the wilderness.
You are the Deliverer.
You are the Redeemer.
You are the one who forgives and rescues, 
the one who shares eternal life and light with your people.
Thank you, Jesus.
Amen