Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Late December Assessment

I gun for 100 posts per year.  I've never accomplished it, and won't this year either.  I'm falling short, which I'm sure is a blessing for anyone who reads here.  Perhaps a better goal would be 64: 4 posts per month, except during Thankful November when I'd shoot for 20.

Sorry for the lack of photos lately.

A friend of mine is moving away, which is tragic, because I just met her and she is amazing.  The last time I saw her, she said, "My goal right now is to become un-offendable."  That struck me in the heart.  I'd never thought of such a thing.  How beautiful would the world be, if we just didn't take offense at one another?  It would be terribly difficult to become completely un-offendable, but I do think we could all work to become less offendable, to choose not to be offended.  We can choose not to be offended by other people's bad moods, awkward comments, unfortunate actions and questionable choices!  What wonderful news!

This past weekend, an ice storm coated our city and its environs with slick, gleaming surfaces.  Arctic temperatures and hazardous roads stranded people at home over the entire last weekend before Christmas.  I woke up on Saturday morning at 4 a.m. with a headache, perhaps due to the low pressure.  Discouraged, I drank some water and went back to bed to try to sleep it off.  At 6 a.m. I awoke again, my head throbbing harder than before.  Again I tried to sleep it off, fitfully, but by the time I tried to muster the forces and become productive at 8 a.m., I had developed a full-fledged migraine with convulsing waves of excruciating pain.  The morning was swallowed up in ibuprofen, caffeine, ice packs, an epsom salt bath, deep breathing, forcing liquids, gagging on oatmeal, lying still with a shade over my eyes and finally getting the pain under some sort of control.  Shawn was a champion nurse.  We did zero Christmas errands.  On Sunday, the headache still hovered in my forehead and pressed on my eyes, although it remained at bay.  Church and home again was the limit.

Yesterday was Monday, and I went to the mall.  Mainly, I was going there with the intention to walk.  It was a Very Bad Choice.  You see, on Monday, the weather had cleared.  It was still cold, cold enough that they cancelled school, 4 or 5 degrees.  The sky beamed blue and radiant as only an arctic sky can do, while the ice on everything sparkled and crackled, ten million pins of light piercing the eyes of the world in stark contrast to the stormy gray days of the weekend.  It sparkled, but it did not melt.

Across this ice plane, under the clear and brilliant sky, our entire population--school being cancelled--skidded to the mall and filled the parking lots to the very last corners.  Everyone had to catch up the entire last weekend before Christmas.  I did finally find a parking spot, and headed in to walk with a friend, whom I located near the Gap.

Mall walking was not as bad as you might imagine, given the number of people there.  I guess they were in the stores.  The sales were tremendous.  Who knew merchandise would be marked at 75% off, on December 19?  Near the end of our walk, we ventured into some stores and were shocked at the bargains that abounded.  We decided to split up and buy some things before leaving.  I found a few (very few) small (very small) items and proceeded to wait nearly 30 minutes in a Very Long Line to purchase them.  I nearly fainted at one point, and had to squat down on the floor, there being nowhere to sit.  When lupus strikes, I have no dignity.

Upon finishing and escaping, I went out into the deep freeze and located my van.  The vehicles scrunched together like pickles packed tight in a jar, so I climbed in carefully, making sure not to bang my door on the next car.  Starting the engine and craning around to watch behind me, I slowly backed out of my spot until I was nearly in the middle of the lane.  Then, before turning hard on the steering wheel to execute the final maneuver, I turned forward to check the nose of the van and make sure it wasn't going to hit anything on its end.  Satisfied, I reverted to my rearward view so I could finish backing up, only to be horrified by the sight of a pickup truck backing out across from me, straight toward my van.  He was moving slowly, but he was not stopping.  I paused a split second as I ascertained that, indeed, he was not stopping.  No.  He was creeping steadily towards an impact with my prone vehicle.  Gulping air, I depressed my horn, but the beep did not deter him.  Frustrated, I then honked two more times, loudly, obnoxiously.  He stopped.

I breathed, both relief and embarrassment spreading over me.  Three or four pedestrians, walking up the hazardous lane toward the mall from their remote parking spots, stopped to survey the situation, jockeying between the hind ends of the pickup and my van.  The pickup pulled sheepishly back into its spot.  I was mortified that all these people had seen me honking, and I felt desperate to leave.  I wondered how long I was obligated to wait for the pedestrians.  They seemed to be shrinking back from the scene rather than forging ahead, so I decided to seize the day and get myself out of there.  Yes sir.  Out of there I went, still very carefully, but once I was able to change my gears from reverse to drive, I did not look back.

Un-offendable, eh?  Shawn tells me that it is different, that being offended is not the same as acting in self-defense.  He says it is a good thing I honked, because the pickup driver wouldn't have wanted to hit me any more than I wanted to be hit.  I'm not sure if I was offended; I was a little perturbed that anyone could just go ahead and back up in crowded parking lot on an icy day without looking carefully in all directions.  But mostly I felt embarrassed that I had honked like a maniac in the midst of a crowd like that; I felt offensive.

Assessment?  I might have done better to quickly shift the van to drive and pull back into my spot and out of the way of the pickup, had I thought quickly enough.  Honking is embarrassing, but Shawn is right, it beats car repairs and insurance claims.  Christmas shopping is the cause of much stress and even conflict.  Malls can be very scary, on many levels.

How could we maintain the spirit of love and generosity at Christmas time, while reducing stress and financial strain?  I had an idea:

What if we just gave everyone an ornament that symbolized something about the year, along with a dated letter explaining the significance of why we had chosen that ornament for that person, that year?  We could keep the letters in Christmas Files, and each year as we retrieved the ornaments, we could read over the memories in the files.  Christmas could become a time of remembering our lives' milestones and commemerating them together as we decorate and review.  On Christmas Day, we could unveil the new ornaments and read the letters aloud to one another like benedictions.  What do you think?

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Christmas List Update

Last weekend, I lost my list at the mall.

Once I lost the master list for Jonathan's graduation party.  I was beside myself.  Shawn was working at home, and he was on an important call.  I wrote him a note in my most tragic handwriting, tears streaming down my face, "I lost my list."  Since he was busy, I went away to fold laundry.  There was always laundry, back then.  Shawn finished his call and came to find me.  "Would that be the list that you told me it would be the end of the world if you lost it?" he asked.  I nodded.   He continued, "The one I scanned for you so we would have a copy if this happened?"  I had totally forgotten about that.  He produced a computer printout of the list and I went merrily along with party planning.  Weeks after the party, I found the original list plastered into the bottom of a defunct Aldi box in a corner of the garage.

The list I lost at the mall was not a master list, and, in fact, some items on the list had become irrelevant due to my husband encouraging me to hire someone to do some things I'd been intending to try to do myself.  Still, losing a list leaves an empty feeling in my hands and at my side and in the corners of my brain where I wonder what thoughts will never be retrieved.  For the rest of the time we were at the mall, after I realized the list was gone, I found myself looking at my hands and rubbing the tips of my fingers down the insides of my thumbs.

Today I completed all of the items on my List for Today which was scrawled on an ancient pharmacy receipt that had been stapled to a prescription, and which I had retrieved from the bowels of the pantry because we were trying to figure out some health insurance things before we quit in search of a better attitude.

It's going to be okay.  As long as God grants us peace and good weather and health, it will all be wonderful.  I can't really say what God will do, because He is God, and His ways are not my ways.  But He is kind and compassionate and faithful, so I can always hope that my next lesson will be an opportunity to learn through seeing His mighty hand work on my behalf, rather than an opportunity to learn through adversity, which is always more difficult to be thankful for, at least in the middle of it.

Time to start tomorrow's list.  (Writing it.  Not doing it.  Not yet.)

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

What about those who fall away?

A few people in my life have fallen away from the Lord in the last few years.

I really hate this.  Hate is not too strong a word.

I want people to love Jesus, to appreciate His great sacrifice on our behalf, to know His peace, to look forward to eternity in a perfect, redeemed creation, reunited with God and all His goodness.  I want us all to be together, living in fellowship, community and love under the care of God Himself.

Scripture has some scary things to say about believers who fall away.  I don't like that, either.  Quite literally, it makes me feel sick to my stomach.  I don't know what these things mean, Mark 3:29 and Hebrews 6:4-6 and 1 John 5:16.  These are terrifying passages.  I suppose everyone must have a part of the Bible that makes him recoil, that he hopes does not mean what it appears on the surface to mean.

I've been taught that we can interpret the difficult passages in the Bible through the lens provided by the passages that are easy to understand.  When we do this, we must be careful not to confuse "difficult to understand" with "difficult to accept."  This requires greater intellectual honesty than most of us can regularly muster.

At the end of the day, all we can do is trust God to do what is right, because of His character which He has revealed to us through His word.  I go back to His attributes.  He is able, almighty, beautiful, bountiful, caring, compassionate, our Deliverer and our Delight.  He is eternal, faithful, forgiving, gracious, gentle, good, holy, our Helper and our Healer.  He is invisible, immortal, joyous and just, kind, our King, and full of love.  He is mighty and majestic, and near to all who call on Him.  He is omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, powerful, perfect, yet quiet when He approaches us.  He is our Redeemer, righteous, sovereign, triumphant, true and unfathomable.  He is victorious.  He is wise and wonderful.

God is xerophilous--He makes life flourish in barren places.  He yearns for His children, and He is zealous for their salvation.

These are only some of God's characteristics, His attributes.  He has revealed these things to us throughout His word.  He redeems.  He forgives.  He heals.  He restores.  He makes new.

I think the one sin you cannot be forgiven for is the sin of rejecting Jesus, and I hope that this sin is not final and unforgivable until the end of a person's life or the end of our present creation.  Otherwise, why would we be given the parable of the Prodigal Son?  He rebelled.  He fell away.  He left his place in his father's home.  But he came back, and he was received with joy.

God's word teaches hope, redemption.  God's word teaches us to forgive over and over again, because God Himself forgives over and over again.  Forgiveness is His pattern, the focal point of all that God accomplished in Christ.  I cannot believe that coupled next to His great forgiveness would be the message: if you ever fall into a wicked and blasphemous attitude toward your Savior, you can never return.  What about Psalm 25:7?  ("Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to Your love remember me, for You are good, O Lord.")

I've been told that in loving and interceding for a rebel who is not availing himself of God's merciful forgiveness, one often learns a great deal about one's own heart before God.  "You learn a lot more than they do," I've been told.  My initial reaction was, "But I don't need to learn as much as they do!"

Which, of course, is the putrid unveiling of pride.  The pride in me is so gross.  Sometimes I weep before the Lord, in despair and fear, wondering what He will have to do to me, how far He will have to crush me, in order to purify the pride out of me.  I don't want my pride, but it's so insidious, such a sneaky, quiet part of who I am, that I rarely see it until after it has me by the neck in an embarrassing situation.  Oh, dear Lord Jesus, have mercy on me.

I'm digressing.  My soul is in turmoil, and this isn't what I meant to write about.

I meant to write about what keeps people who think they are seeking the Lord from finding Him.

A number of people who have fallen away have expressed that they spent quite a lot of time in anguish, begging Jesus to show Himself to them, or to speak to them, but He would not.  So they determined that He was not there.  This testimony did not match my experience, or the Biblical promises. "You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart," (Jeremiah 29:13).

After pondering, I decided that the hitch must be in the part that says "When you seek me with all your heart."  You have to let go of yourself when you are seeking God.  You must surrender to Him.  You can't hang on to your own terms and conditions.  You can't demand that God be good according to your definition of goodness.  You can't say, "I'll believe You when You show Yourself to me, and You have to accept gay people in their homosexuality as You created them and let them fulfill their homosexual inclinations, because I know that they are nice people."  You can't say, "I'll believe You when You take away this problem that plagues me so I have an easy life and don't have to struggle and depend on You every day."  You can't say, "I'll believe You when You instantly change my desires so I never have to grapple with my sin nature again."

You can't tell God, "I'll believe You when You act in accordance with what I have determined is good and fair."  You simply can't.  It doesn't work that way, for He is God.  And you are not.

God, in His perfect, immutable nature is the very essence of goodness.  We, as mortal, stained-with-sin humans cannot change that.  Nor should we.  But my point is that we absolutely can't, regardless of any other factor.  Just as surely as I couldn't go out into my driveway and jump to the surface of the moon--actually, more surely than that--we cannot change the perfect goodness of God, whether we like it or not.  Basically (and this may not sound very nice, but it is the truth), if your idea of what is good differs from God's idea of what is good, then you are wrong, and if you refuse to be corrected, you will go to hell.  So that, I suppose, is the unpardonable sin.  Ouch.

People who fall away from the Lord have somehow forgotten who He is.  A root of pride has grown up in their spirits, choking out their ability to surrender to the wisdom and counsel of the Almighty Creator of the Universe.  Imagine a willful two-year-old in a state-of-the-art research laboratory, scribbling on lab notebooks, pushing buttons on equipment, spilling solutions and breaking beakers.  "No!" he screams, "I'm going to do it by myself!"  This illustrates only a fraction of our folly before God when we refuse Him.  His thoughts are not our thoughts, nor are His ways our ways.  As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are God's ways higher than our ways.  This is not a cop out, a cliche or a silly platitude.  This is the literal truth.

The thing is, God loves us.  We needed Him, but we didn't know that He was what we needed, didn't even know to ask.  Yet, in His great love, He has been working since the dawn of history to reveal Himself to us.  We couldn't reach out to Him, but He reached out to us, providing His word, full of truth and promises and hope.  Ultimately, He reached out to us through Christ, the Yes to all His promises, His own divine essence humbled into human flesh, emptied of glory but full of perfection so He could die, the only perfect sacrifice that could ever pay our sin debt.  He did this for us because He is good.  He wants to save us from sin and death and damnation, to deliver us with glorious celebration into the Kingdom of the Son He loves.  Yet, we somehow think we have some human right to go back and quibble with Him over what is a sin and what is not, and what kind of comforts and indulgences He owes us before we get to heaven.  Hello?

Pride is such a stinker, such a wicked, nasty, creeping deceiver.  In every person, pride is there, striving to blind us so we cannot see God, cannot apprehend truth, cannot accept reason, cannot recognize who we ourselves are before God, cannot say we are sorry for what we have done wrong.

Oh God, send Your Holy Spirit to illuminate, to give understanding, to reveal truth so we can repent of our sins--especially our pride--and avail ourselves of Your great gift of salvation through Christ. Help us, for we cannot help ourselves.  Deliver us, heal us, cleanse us, restore us.  Dear Lord Jesus, enable us to receive Your peace and Your joy.

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God 
through our Lord Jesus Christ, 
through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. 
 And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.
Romans 5:1-2

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Thankful for sleep

 . . . for God gives rest to His loved ones.
~from Psalm 127:2

Do you ever wonder about what sleep is?

We all know what it is, sort of.  We all sleep: some more, and some less.  When we were little, our parents were always trying to get us to go to sleep.  Then we grew up, had babies of our own and learned, first hand, the unutterable beauty of a sleeping child.

It can feel tremendously good to sleep, to fall into bed when you are tired, and drift away to an unconscious state.

If we weren't so used to it, it would be creepy, though, the loss of consciousness, the way daytime memories and experiences morph into dreams, the way we don't perceive what is going on around us, outside of us, while we are asleep.

Studies show that most growth and healing occur while people are asleep.

We just take it for granted, for the most part.  At least, we take it for granted until we are unable to sleep.

Different things keep us awake.  Pain.  Worry.  Distress.  Sorrow.  Even excitement.

I wonder what actually happens to our bodies and our minds while we are sleeping.  I wonder what happens to our spirits.  I wonder if God speaks through dreams.  I suppose He must, sometimes, although I doubt if He does routinely.

I've been through some traumatic events, and by the grace of God, He's virtually always enabled me to get at least a few hours of sleep even when despair and fear have run deep.

On the other hand, I have often had incredible trouble falling asleep in a strange bed, despite how comfortable I may have been or how happy I was to be there.

Nevertheless, I am thankful for sleep, for the rest and refreshment that come from a good, solid eight hours under the covers.  I am thankful for night, and the opportunity to snuggle down into feather pillows and warm blankets, to close my eyes and rest my head.  I am thankful for quietness and darkness.

I am thankful for sleep.

In peace I will lie down and sleep,
for You alone, O Lord, will keep me safe.
~Psalm 4:8

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Thankful for a message about waiting

Advent is about waiting.

The pastor said that bound up in the meaning of advent are both the "already" and the "not yet."

Faith is being convinced about the "already," so we can hope securely for the "not yet."

I have a big "not yet" in my life.  Some days it seems almost as though it's going to kill me, bearing down in darkness and despair.

But God.

Those are some of my favorite words:  But God.

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins . . . 
But God, being rich in mercy, 
because of His great love with which He loved us, 
even when we were dead in our transgressions, 
made us alive together with Christ
(by grace you have been saved).
Ephesians 2:1, 4-5

God became flesh and dwelt among us so that we could behold the glory of the Father, and especially so He could fulfill the Law of Righteousness and then die in our place, the sinless one in the place of sinners, the Redeemer.

He spilled His perfect, priceless blood to pay our sin debt, to purchase men for God.  The payment has already been made.  Whoever will come is eagerly invited to come, to be forgiven, cleansed, healed and delivered from darkness.

Sometimes you may have thought that someone was already covered under the blood, redeemed and counted as one of God's children.  And then that person falls away both in lifestyle and in the declaration, "There is no God who cares anything about me."

You remember a different time, a different reality, a different declaration.  That is the "already."  In the midst of billowing blindness and rebellion, you claw away at the clouds that only Jesus Himself can break through, because you know His mark must be there, and His truth.  He was the Creator in the very beginning, and He will be the Judge at the bridge to the next life.  Despite all other confusion, these two facts seem to remain in the consciousness of the rebel.


But God.

And so you wait, and pray.  Advent.  Waiting for the light of hope to dawn in a sick and stricken heart.  Waiting for the living waters of the Spirit to begin to flow again, and bring flourishing life to a barren environment.  Waiting.  Hoping.  Expecting.

Waiting is hard.  Waiting requires patience, and patience requires trust.

With God, all things are possible.

Often, nothing seems to be happening, not in your limited, human perspective.  When nothing seems to be happening, when a treasured soul is on a trajectory towards destruction, fear can well up like a plague in the belly.

When I am afraid, I will trust in You.
Psalm 56:3

I never used to understand that verse, but now I think I do.

Patiently waiting.

Trusting that because God is God, everything will be all right as His perfect will comes to pass.

Thy will be done.

I never noticed before that the passage in Isaiah 40 is about those who wait for the Lord.  It's a promise to the hopeful waiting ones, the trusting ones.

Yet those who wait for the Lord
will gain new strength;
they will mount up with wings like eagles,
they will run and not get tired,
they will walk and not become weary.
Isaiah 40:31

Waiting and hoping, these are good disciplines, and they strengthen us.

I am thankful for this source of strength, thankful to be reminded that I have this hope, thankful that my God is always faithful to His promises.

Thankful for a message about waiting.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Thankful for my family, and a glorious family Thanksgiving

We got them all together.  It was beyond wonderful.

I had worked and worked to make sure we had adequate sleeping arrangements for everyone.  When everyone was here, all together, under one roof, bedtime was deliriously satisfying as I climbed into my bed knowing they were all here, snug in their own beds.  I do not know why this phenomenon is such a big deal to me; I suppose it is a throwback to the days when it felt so good to get lots of little people settled down and put to bed.

I am thankful for my family.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Thankful for fingernails

At this time of frantic food preparation, I am thankful for my fingernails.

Although I hate it when I slice into one of my fingernails with a knife on the chopping board, I am undeniably grateful that they have saved my fingertips over and over.

Incidentally, I think this is an argument for creation by God.  He knew our fingertips would need protection from knives, long before knives were ever invented.  If we'd been depending on evolution, the fingernail might not have had a purpose until it was too late for it to develop.

I am thankful for fingernails!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Thankful for soap

I love my showers, the hotter the better.

I love to soak in a long, warm bath.

I even love to wash my hands, especially when I arrive home after a tiring shopping trip.

Soap makes washing a sensory experience, with smooth, slippery soapsuds and usually a delightful scent.

I am thankful for soap that loosens grime, dissolves greasiness, and flushes away germs and unpleasant odors.  Soap cleanses, freshens, purifies.

I am thankful for soap.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Thankful for water

I am thankful for water.

It's a source of life, for one thing.  Amazing.  Where there is water, things grow, and where there is no water, things shrivel up and die.

On a simple plane, water is a good beverage, the healthiest one.  Who would have thought that the healthiest beverage would also be the least expensive one, often available for free?  You'd think it must be too good to be true.

I am thankful for water.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Thankful for the Bible

I'm thankful for the Bible.

There are two ways that God has made Himself accessible to humanity.

One is through the person of Jesus Christ, who in an unfathomable miracle joined the divine essence of God into a flesh and blood human body.  The Almighty Creator and Sovereign Lord of the Universe somehow inexplicably made Himself human.  He came to experience life on a fallen, broken, sinful world, to know what it is to be mortal and to suffer the effects of sin.  He came to bring hope.  He healed, comforted and taught people about the Kingdom of God, even though hardly anyone could understand what He was saying.  Ultimately, He died for our sins, paying the devil's price, in blood, the ransom for our redemption.

The other way God makes Himself accessible is through the Bible, where the story of His plan for all of history is recorded in amazing synchronization, through the collected writings of 40 or more different writers over a span of 1500-2000 years. There is no other world religion that has a resource anything like this.

Amazingly, both Jesus and the Bible are known as "The Word of God" (see John 1).  Jesus is the center of everything, so if the Bible is named after Him, it is very significant indeed.

Back to the Bible:  whenever I am tempted to doubt any of the truth about Jesus Christ, I can ponder on the origin of  the Bible.

Except for the miraculous provision of God, there is simply no way that a collection of discrete writings compiled over such a span of time could fit together to explain our origin and our problem, and then point in astonishing harmony to God's solution: Messiah, Jesus Christ.

I believe that even the "mistakes" in the Bible attest to its truth.  Yes, the writer of 1 and 2 Chronicles puffs battle numbers compared to the writer of 1 and 2 Kings.  Yes, the four writers of the gospels each have slightly different versions of what the sign over Jesus' head on the cross said.  These details must not be particularly important to God as details.  The point is that the Israelites were able to defeat their enemies against great odds when God was fighting for them.  The point is that Jesus was crucified as King of the Jews.  The differences show that real, fallible men were keeping these records.  More than that, the fact that the differences remain after centuries during which the manuscripts were being copied and recopied by scribes, long before photography or computers were a part of the publishing world, attests to the validity of the documents.  If this were a construct, humanly crafted, somebody would have fixed the inconsistencies long ago.  However, those who worked on these pages understood them to be the Holy Word of God, so that even when an inconsistency would crop up, they had too much respect for the identity of the Bible to change it in any way.  The Bible is not like dentures, pure white plastic formed into rows of perfectly shaped, perfectly straight teeth.  The Bible is real teeth.  Real pearl.  Real diamond.  Everyone knows that real things are essentially different from their "perfect" imitations.

I love the way the Bible tells the story of a merciful God who created a beautiful world, and then set out to save it when it turned against Him.  I love how the Bible shows God calling a special people, the nation of Israel, to be the ancestors of His only begotten Son, Messiah, who would come to pay the price to redeem the world.  I love the way the Bible admits the shortcomings of Jesus' ancestors over and over, even the people who were most pleasing to God, such as King David, the "man after God's own heart," who committed adultery and murder.  This is not to excuse or condone sin, but to demonstrate that the very best among us are still in desperate need of a Savior.  I love how forshadowings of Christ exist in every book of the Old Testament, regardless of when it was written or who wrote it.

I love the way God gave us not one, but four stories of the life of Jesus, to round out our view and open our eyes to multifaceted perspectives on one single truth: Christ fulfilled all the prophesies and brought the hope of redemption to this miserable sin-stained world.  I love the promises in Revelation (and a number of the epistles), that at the fullness of time Jesus will return to deliver us into a perfect new heaven and earth, unbroken, unmarred.  Until then, we soldier on, those of us who believe, shouldering our responsiblity to help in the task of bringing God's children into right relationship with Him while there is still time for them to hear and respond.

I am amazed by the Bible, its beautiful, intricate treatment of God's plan for us, revealed for our salvation.  There is no other book like it.

I am thankful for the Bible.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Thankful that I didn't get a parking ticket

No picture today.

I try not to do that in November.  But today was one of those days.

While shopping in town--yes, downtown--I parked at a meter and deposited enough quarters for nearly an hour's worth of legal parking.  Then I popped up my umbrella and happily skipped away in the rain.  A lady ahead of me on the sidewalk dropped her package into the UPS box, and while she was doing so, another lady approached her from the other direction, holding out her umbrella generously.  "Can I walk you back to your car?" she asked.  The first lady looked a trifle surprised, but smiled.  "Thank you!  You're very kind," she replied.  This is yet another reason why I love the Midwest.  Strangers in the Northeast do not generally offer to share umbrellas or walk people to their cars.

I got engrossed in shopping, but finally finished and snagged Jonathan for a late lunch.  As we walked back to the van, it occurred to me that I'd completely forgotten to track time.  "I hope I don't have a ticket!" I told Jon.  When we arrived, the meter was blinking, "EXPIRED," but there was no ticket.

No ticket!  Hooray!

I am thankful that I did not get a parking ticket!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Thankful for light

I am thankful for light.

Light helps us see, but it is also beautiful in its own right.

I love the sunshine, and daytime.

Daylight hours are shorter this time of year, making them more precious than ever.

I'm going to walk the dog while the sun is out.  Hey!  It's in the seventies today!

I will not go so far as to say that I am thankful for global warming, but I think it is okay to enjoy the perks of a long, warm, fall season.

I am thankful for the gorgeous autumn light.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Thankful for black-eyed Susans

I'm thankful for these flowers.

Flowers bring color and joy to life.

My friend Melinda gave these to me.  She jabbed a shovel into her yard and lifted out some little plants with root balls.  We wrapped the roots in a plastic bag and set them into a box in the back of my van.  I drove home and stuck them into the ground at my house.

They grew.

Such things are always miraculous to me.

I am thankful for growth, beauty and friendship.

I am thankful for my black-eyed Susans (even though they're done now -- they'll be back next summer).

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Thankful for roads

I've written about this before, but it bears repeating because my gratitude for roads has been a painfully acquired taste.

Travel is not my favorite.  Travel throws off my groove and makes me feel sick.  Sleeping, eating and other basic body functions become problematic for me.  I get headaches.  I get grouchy.  I get forgetful and tense, panicked and exhausted.  Overwrought.  Rashy.  I want to go home, but I do not want to undergo the additional travel required to get there.

Therefore, when travel is required in order for me to be able to see my loved ones, I struggle with my attitude.

My life goes like this:
No contact with loved ones.
No contact with loved ones.
No contact with loved ones.
No contact with loved ones.
No contact with loved ones.
Long trip... Live on top of loved ones in their space, throwing their schedules and ours into a tizzy, creating stress and havoc... Long trip home.
No contact with loved ones.
No contact with loved ones.
No contact with loved ones.
No contact with loved ones.
No contact with loved ones.

This is the antithesis of what I would hope for.  I would hope for a cozy life where my loved ones are a regular part of the rhythm, where a "visit" means stopping by to drop off some extra cookies I made, not moving in and crowding the bathroom for days.

I don't sound very thankful, do I?

That's probably because, historically, I haven't been thankful.  I've been grumbly.  I pack up the van and sigh, moan, think, "Why me?  Why do I have to live so far away?  Why do I have to get carsick every time I want to see my family?"

I have slumped in the passenger seat, filled with discontent, hating the road, my seatbelt, the weather, the other traffic on the road, the billboards, the fast food restaurants, and especially the gas station restrooms.  I have actively spewed hate at all of it.  I hated it for twenty-five years while I lived in New York, and then I moved to Illinois.  In Illinois, I found myself still a significant drive from my extended family; but now, now I am distant from my kids as well.

Bet you can't even imagine why God would take her kids away from a grumbly woman like me.  [This is sarcasm.  I find that it is helpful to point out when I am using sarcasm.  And hyperbole.  Oh my word, do I get into trouble with hyperbole.]

I have three heart desires that I am trying to give to the Lord (back to literal truth here).  One of them is to live in close proximity with family, and to have family relationships be an integral part of everyday life.  I am so tired of missing people.  I used to call it homesickness, but that's not exactly what it is.  It's just plain missing people, the pain like an amputation that starts to ache beyond what you'd think you could bear in the evenings after the sun goes down, and on Sunday afternoons.

The Bible says, "Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart."  I understand that this does not mean I get a beautiful, toned and athletic body, plus all the delicious chocolate milkshakes I want.  Not only are these desires incompatible with one another, each is also selfish and idolatrous on its own.  We cannot "delight ourselves in the Lord" as an item on a checklist, in order to then gain some other earthly desire that exists outside of Him, even if that earthly desire is proximity to one's children.  We must truly delight in the Lord, and then when He is the delight of our heart, we have gained the desire of our heart.  Jesus is enough.

And yet, the Bible also says that God sets the lonely in families.  Families are good.  Relationships are good.  Fellowship and company and community are good.

Sometimes, much as we mourn the distance, roads are good.

Roads are what connect the distant points.  Roads allow us to get to where our loved ones are.  Whether it is a dusty country road, a tree-lined avenue in a neighborhood, or a busy interstate, roads bridge the gap between one location and another, and without them, we couldn't travel to see our distant loved ones.

Forgive me.  I'm tired (this always takes a toll on my perspective).  We were away driving for four days straight, visiting loved ones.  It was a blessing to see them, to touch them, to converse face-to-face.  I asked Shawn, "What was your favorite part of the trip?" and he replied, "Hugging the kids."  I have to agree.

Yes, I mourn the distances, but I am thankful for the roads that allow us to come together.

Also, airplanes that bring people to us.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Thankful for this picture

I am thankful for this picture that hangs in my front hall.

It was a gift from a dear lady who used to come to Bible study with me.  I mentioned once how I wished I had a picture of Jesus and the children, like the one I remember our Sunday school teachers showing us back in the day, when they told us the story of how Jesus took the children into His arms and blessed them.

The only such picture I had was in a Bible story book that I really liked and did not wish to tear apart for framing purposes.

So, my friend procured this picture for me. At first, I wasn't sure how I felt about the historical inaccuracy, showing children of many races and perhaps even time periods, instead of middle-eastern children from the first century.  But the little blond boy reminds me of David when he was that age, and really, Jesus loves all the children, then and now.

In fact, this picture reminds me that even though I am 50 (almost 51!), I am as precious as a little child to Jesus, and when I approach Him with childlike faith and confidence, He delights to hold me close to His heart and bless me.

So, I'm thankful for the picture, thankful for my friend, thankful that I am Jesus' beloved child, and thankful that Jesus is more wonderful than we can ever ask or imagine.

(Tomorrow I will tell you about why I was offline for a few days, and how I am thankful for that, too.  That is, I will tell you if a certain picture I emailed to myself comes through.  Technology hasn't been behaving very smoothly for me.)

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Thankful for the natural process of healing

I am thankful that God created us to heal, and to be healed.  By this, I mean that we heal routinely throughout our earthly lives, and we will be healed once and for all, eternally.  I am thankful that God is the greatest healer of all, ever.  Healing is what He does, along with redeeming, saving, delivering and restoring.

Healing on earth usually takes time, and often the rehabilitation process is painful.

However, with time and effort (especially time), healing comes to pass, until we find ourselves at the brink of our final, complete healing when we pass over to our eternal life where all things will be perfected and made new.

God is the great healer, and thus there is always hope.

"In this world you will have trouble," Jesus gently warned us,"but take heart, for I have overcome the world."

In the perfect, new world that Jesus has gone to prepare for us, there is a river of life running down the main street.  On each side of the river stands the tree of life.  The Bible doesn't say that the boulevard is lined with trees; it says that The Tree of Life stands on both sides of the river, and its leaves are for the healing of the nations (see Revelation 22:2).  I'm not sure what this means, but I think it might be something like this:

The river of life stands for the Spirit of God, spilling out to produce lush, flourishing growth wherever He goes.  The tree of life is many things, including Jesus, the root of Jesse, who called Himself the True Vine. The tree of life could also encompass the people of God, who are branches spreading out from the root of Christ, planted next to the river where there is an eternal, infinite source of life from the Spirit.

It's all a bit confusing and symbolic, but the point is that God is life, and He longs to share His life with us by healing us, and then, through us, healing the nations.

In this broken, sin-stained world, dandelions stubbornly force their way up through asphalt and concrete, golden blooms on savory greens, even in the most barren of habitats.  Babies squeeze brutally through birth canals into the bright lights of hospital rooms, and begin to squall, mingling pain and blood with the unspeakable wonder of fragile new life.  Love surges in the heart of a lover for his beloved, a mother for her child, a brother for his sister, a soldier for his comrade.  Winter snows melt away to the upcropping of daffodils, and the sun rises every morning, bringing light every day, even when that light may be dimmed by cloud cover.  These are all profound messages of the care and renewal of God, coming to play despite the curse of sin that constantly provokes deterioration and decomposition.

One day, everything is going to be all right.  Until then, we live in an ebb and flow of destruction and restoration, deterioration and healing.  God has never abandoned us, and this is why we heal.  We always heal.

When my Grandma died, my world was rocked.  I thought, "How can life go on, without my Grandma in the world?"  And yet, it did.  I drove to the store to buy milk for my children.  Shocked, I saw a whole bunch of other people out in their cars, driving wherever they needed to go, to work, to school, to the store like me.  The sun climbed  higher in the sky as the morning progressed.  It was amazing to realize that on this most earth-shattering day, the trucks had still delivered the milk to the stores from the farms and the bottling factories.  We ate.  We worked.  We drove and cooked and did math problems.  We washed dishes and put gas into the car and paid the bills.  Night came and we slept.  Meanwhile, Grandma lives in glory with Jesus.

Life goes on.  We keep doing what needs to be done, and we heal through the process of learning a new normal, all the time remembering that Jesus is Lord, and in His time He will heal everyone who will surrender to His loving hands.

I am thankful for healing.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Thankful for the redwood trees

I am thankful that God made the redwood trees.

I am thankful that I had the opportunity this summer to fulfill a lifelong dream and visit the redwood forests of northern California.

Again, I hesitate to share this thankfulness, because I waited so long to see these trees.  Before I got to go, whenever I heard about others who had seen them, I felt a trifle jealous.  When I viewed pictures of redwood forests, I was filled with intense longing to be there.

While I was there, my heart about overflowed to bursting with the wonder of it.  So far beyond what I'd imagined, God's creation brought tears to my eyes and a long-lasting lump to my throat.  The sheer beauty of the roads we traveled to get there was enough to make me almost sick, and numb, and punch drunk.  I remember pressing my hands to my collar bones as Shawn drove up the winding 101, each curve seeming to reveal a new, breathtaking vista of glory.  I remember whimpering, "I can't absorb it all.  I don't know what to do. I just can't absorb it all."

I remember standing in the forests, in the stillness beneath the giant trees, sensing the slow pulse of life through the roots in the ground while mysterious dappled light glowed green through the foliage.  Deep, rich scents of earth, bark, leaves and spring wildflowers (it was May).  Looking up, so far up.  Being there.  Surreal.  Holy.

I am thankful for the redwood trees, and for the fulfillment of a dream, and for God who sheds grace on earth through the beauty of His creation.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Thankful for the seashore

Like the sky, an expanse of ocean reminds me how small I am and sets me to thinking about the vastness of the Lord.  The seashore is the edge between things familiar and an immeasurable unknown.  It symbolizes the line between earth and heaven, mortality and immortality.

I am thankful for the times I have been blessed to walk along the shifting line of water washing back and forth from sandy beach to salty sea.  Warm and foamy, the surf bathes my toes before streaming away.  Then back it comes, constant, relentless, expected yet unpredictable.

God is so good to give us beaches where we can relax, refresh our spirits, minds and bodies.  At the beach, schedules and economics seem irrelevant.  We forget about the grind of life as we throw our heads back in the wind and breathe fresh air, digging our feet down into soggy, shifting sand.

I am thankful for seashore, and I am thankful that I have been blessed to experience it.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Thankful for Schubert

I am thankful that I still have a sweet little dog who wiggles with frantic happiness whenever I come home.  He brings much joy, and he keeps me warm when he snuggles in my lap while I read or watch TBG (that's what he calls TV; no matter how many times I tell him it's TV, he still says TBG).

I think if everyone experienced the simple, unconditional love of a dog, this world would be a much better place.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Thankful for the sky

I am thankful for the sky.

It is such a gift, to be able to look up at the vast expanse and ponder space, time, eternity, the existence of the Creator God.

The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
~Psalm 19:1

Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory
    in the heavens.
~Psalm 8:1

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, 
so that people are without excuse.
~Romans 1:20 

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.
~Ecclesiastes 3:11  

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Thankful for toilet paper

Yes.  Really.

In this time of preparing for holidays and houseguests, I'm planning bedroom arrangements, experimenting with recipes, and stocking up on things we'll need to have around.

On one shopping trip, it occurred to me that we will not want to run out of toilet paper.

Honestly, can you imagine a world without toilet paper?

Let's not think too deeply about the unsavory implications of such a fate.

Let's just be thankful for toilet paper.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Thankful for White Stilton

Let me preface this by saying that I am morally opposed to being thankful in a way that could be construed as gloating.

I do not, in my thankfulness, want to dwell on something I have that others may not have, especially if it would cause jealousy to arise in someone's heart.

However, and please forgive me, but . . .

Today a miracle occurred.  I visited a new grocery store in town, and I found something that I have not been able to enjoy for over three years.  Over three years.

I found WHITE STILTON CHEESE.  This particular variety was sweetened with blueberries.

Not since we moved away from Wegman's have I been able to enjoy White Stilton.

Today I bought a small chunk, and I ate the whole thing.  Yes, I did.  And I do not regret it.

It was delicious.

By some miracle, I saved a nub at the end to photograph before I finished it off.

There are some wonderful pleasures to be experienced on this earth, fallen though it may be, and White Stilton is one of them.

I am thankful for such a special treat!  (And it's gluten free!)

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Thankful for grace

Today I do not have a naturally thankful heart.  I've had an unwelcome surprise and some technical difficulties with my phone.  No biggies, but you see . . .

These things, though very minor in the scheme of things, make me feel cross.  The worst of it is that then I act cross.  When I act cross and thus sin in my behavior, it begins a downward cycle of discouragement which leads to an increase in general crankiness, which leads to more outright sin, which leads to more discouragement.

Romans 7:21, 24
So I find this law at work: when I want to do good, evil is right there with me . . . What a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from this body of death?

The answer is Jesus.  Romans 7:25 answers the question: I am rescued through Jesus Christ my Lord.

Jesus loves me.

Jesus loves me even when I am miserable and ridiculous.

Jesus has grace for me when I am ugly and rotten, and nobody else wants to love me.

Jesus will never leave me nor forsake me, no matter how many  times I stumble.

As long as I confess my sins, He is faithful and will forgive me and cleanse me.  Cleanse me!

These are Jesus' promises.

I am thankful for Jesus, for His faithfulness, His promises, His forgiveness and His grace.

He's working on me, forming me through His grace into someone who will someday bring Him glory and praise with a radiant face.

I am thankful for grace, because it's the thing that leads me to repent and try again.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Happy November 1!

I love All-Saints Day.

It's when we pause to reflect on all the believers who have gone to heaven to be with Jesus before us, a day of triumph.  This world is not our home.  Death is not the end; it's the beginning of life everlasting.  It is when we get to leave behind the cares of this world, and live forever with our beautiful Lord and Savior, Jesus.  Problem free, pain free, just plain free for all eternity.

November is when we begin to think about these things, and thinking about such things makes us grateful, thankful.  November is a month of thankfulness, culminating in a great feast where we celebrate the provision of God through this year's bountiful harvest.

Today was a glorious sun-soaked autumn day, and warm.  The temperature climbed into the upper 70s.  I didn't need a coat.  I wore a sweater, but I barely needed that!

There were about 3,000,000 things to be thankful for today, but I'm just going to dwell on the day itself.  I'm thankful that today was a beautiful day!

My baby hydrangea bushes display lush blue blooms.  We just planted these in mid July, during a heat wave.  A miracle.

A friend brought me a pot of mums back in the spring.  I stuck them into the garden and here they are now!  Talk about a trick and a treat!

Looking west up the boulevard, eyes feast on deliciously rich colors, like butterscotch, caramel and cranberry.

Trees make me happy all year.  They are like black lace aganst the bue sky when their bare twigs stand stoic through the cold of winter.  In spring, they grow misty and green with new life.  Summer trees spread tall and kind, blessing us with shade.  And autumn trees whisper and  glow golden in the late afternoon sun.

The lake glistens on this Indian Summer day.  How could a person not be thankful in the midst of it all?

Thursday, October 27, 2016


Before we can blink, November will be here.  Already, blustery days impel us to turn on our furnaces.

A puff of enveloping warmth greets us as we come in the door after a walk with the dog in the park.  Although I always grieve the end of summer--no more flowers, warm feet, birds feasting on the feeders in the backyard--still, there is a splendid coziness to autumn.

Today I have a lovely roast in the crockpot with vegetables, and I baked a country apple cake, chock full of buttery, delectable MacIntosh apple slices surrounded by walnuts, cinnamon and a tender, gluten-free batter.  The house smells divine.  Well, perhaps not divine.  The divine probably smells of fresh air, lilies, soapsuds and crushed ice.  My house smells homey: cinnamon, vanilla and apple with a light undercurrent of roasting meat and savory vegetables.  Warm, crusty brown scents, not fresh, airy white ones.

I sit here in my kitchen on a laptop--not my favorite computer, but a perfectly serviceable one--drinking decaf chai tea and listening to my furry brown dog growl low and menacing at the leaves blowing outside the front door.

I am content.

Sitting on the table next to me is a long list of things to do.  I will do some of them today, some another time, and perhaps there are some I will never tackle.  It's okay.  I am content.

They say that Socrates said, "He is richest who is content with the least, for content is the wealth of nature."

Raffi used to sing, "All I really need is a song in my heart, food in my belly, and love in my family."

When Shawn and I were on a trip back in the spring, we found the incredible comfort of a simple cup of hot tea with a small piece of chocolate.  These are things you can usually procure even when you are far from home.  The warmth of the tea and the sweet richness of the chocolate provide a comfortable sense of being at home, even when you are not, especially if you can find a a nice place to enjoy them, a hotel bed where you sit side-by-side, backs against the headboard, shoulders touching, feet tucked snug under the blankets.

One of my happiest memories from childhood is a strangely simple one.  We were out playing, the neighborhood kids.  I don't know what we were playing, or where the other kids had gone, exactly, but I was left in the row of pine trees between Reifenbergers and Pearsons, stirring mud soup in a plastic bucket.  It was dirt, rocks, water, pine cones and pine needles.  I stirred with a stick, something torn from one of the pine trees and oozing with sticky pine sap.  It was twilight, and the sun was fading, the air cooling as it so often does in Minnesota.  Usually, in the world of children, I was not the one who would get to have control of something as interesting as the stew pot in a game of make believe, so that twilight evening, I felt blessed beyond measure.  Little Timmy Reifenberger may have been bringing me pine cones and rare crushed weeds to thicken the soup, but most of the others had gone off to scale greater heights, climbing tall trees and strategizing battles.

Alone, I knelt over the bucket of mud soup, engrossed with the rhythm of stirring, the texture of the thick, sloppy mixture, the sharp scents of pine and wet dirt and crushed grass. I felt the light dimming around me, yet I continued pumping the branch through the solution, almost in a hypnotic trance, grateful, content, at peace.  Eventually, my arm tired and my fingers chilled, so I went home.  When I think of my childhood, growing up in Anoka, Minnesota, this is always the first memory that pops into my mind, so insignificant, yet so deeply etched.

Contentment.  Gratitude.

November is coming, when I aspire to complete the discipline of celebrating one simple thing for which I am thankful, each day.  November posts are usually short, which is another good discipline to practice:  thankfulness and brevity.

Friday, October 21, 2016

What's coming?

Look at the nations and watch--
     and be utterly amazed.
For I am going to do something in your days
     that you would not believe,
     even if you were told.
               ~Habakkuk 1:5

This is a verse that people often use erroneously, even pastors and missionaries.  They quote it to prove that God is capable of doing amazing things.  They use it as a great encouragement:  "God has wonderful plans!" they exclaim.  "We cannot even imagine what He has in store for us!"  I suspect that sometimes they even feel a little bit proud of themselves for having found such a glorious verse of promise in the Old Testament, in the Minor Prophets of all things, in Habakkuk.

Unfortunately, if they would read even one sentence further, they would see:

"I am raising up the Babylonians," proclaims the Lord, "that ruthless and impetuous people, who sweep across the whole earth to seize dwelling places not their own."

This verse is about impending judgment.  God, who had been patient for generations, was finally executing His promised judgment on Israel (Judah, to be exact), and allowing them to be conquered by an enemy kingdom--Babylon--because of their continual unfaithfulness to Him.  God warned about such a consequence all the way back in Deuteronomy 28, and He had issued many more warnings through the prophets over years and years.  This should not have been a surprise, but God's people were so steeped in their sins, they had lost all sensitivity to their Lord.

At the beginning of chapter 1, Habakkuk cried out against the sins of his people, asking God how long He was going to tolerate all the wrong.  God answered in verses 5-11, explaining that He had a plan, and it wasn't at all what Habakkuk would expect: He was going to send in the ferocious Babylonians to teach His people a lesson.  Habakkuk, in essence, responds to this news in horror, asking, "Really?  Seriously?  The Babylonians?  They're even more evil than we are!"

God judges sin.  Like Israel, our nation may have reached the point where the stench of our sin demands purging.

Let me be clear: I do not think that the USA is or ever has been "God's Chosen Nation."  It seems that many people assume that America is God's nation, and that the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are addendums to His Holy Scripture.  I do not agree.  Yes, our nation was founded on Biblical truths and principles, and much of the structure of our government was patterned on Biblical wisdom.  However, God never made any promises specific to America.  Furthermore, the rights claimed in the Declaration of Independence are never guaranteed to anyone in the Bible (seriously: The right to the pursuit of happiness?  When did God ever even make an allusion to anyone having the right to pursue his own happiness?).  Fighting for our rights is an anti-Biblical idea.  Jesus did not teach us to demand our due.  Jesus taught us to give away our coats, to turn the other cheek, and to go the extra mile (Matthew 5:39-42).

The entire teaching of the New Testament encompasses the idea that we are not of this world, we will be hated and persecuted, and those who walk by faith, persevering under trials and persecution, will be rewarded in heaven.

"Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way, they persecuted the prophets who were before you."  (Matthew 5:11-12)

"All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved."  (Matthew 10:22, also see Mark 13:13, Luke 21:17)

"If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first . . . I have chosen you out of the world.  That is why the world hates you . . . If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also . . . " (from John 15:18-20; the whole passage of John 15:18-27 pertains)

"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world."  (John 16:33)

The book of Acts tells the story of the beginning of the church, the people who believed in Jesus and walked lives of faith in God.  Throughout that story, we see persecution.

"The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name." (Acts 5:41)

In Acts 7, Stephen was stoned for preaching the good news of Christ.  Following the stoning of Stephen, we read:

"On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria."  (Acts 8:1)

Paul lived a life of persecution and imprisonment, which he detailed in 2 Corinthians 11:16-33.  His letters contain a steady stream of encouragement for believers undergoing persecution.

"For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all," (2 Corinthians 4:17).

"For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for Him," (Philippians 1:29).

"Therefore, among God's churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring.  All this [how they flourish in spite of persecution] is evidence that God's judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering," (2 Thessalonians 1:4-5).

Peter talks about it, too:  "Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trials you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed," (1 Peter 4:12-13).

Suffering is also a major theme of the book of Revelation.  God gave us many words to prepare us and help us stand firm in suffering.  We should expect suffering and persecution.  It is normal, not something strange.

For many years in the USA, we have enjoyed religious freedom and the opportunity to be respected and allowed to assemble, to participate in government, to openly express our beliefs.  I believe that, unfortunately, this freedom has often resulted in a fat, complacent, self-justifying, self-serving, unloving church that is neither pleasing to God nor reflective of His character to those around us.  Because we have the "right" to worship, we also seem to feel that we have the "right" to be accepted by the world, to be mainstream, to be esteemed, to be considered appealing and relevant and trendy.  None of these presumptions can be found in the teachings of Christ.  Jesus never said that we have the right to assemble and worship without fear.  Jesus said that we would be hated for His sake.  When we courageously stand firm for Jesus during oppression, this proves the genuineness of our faith.

It may be time for the Lord to sift, winnow and purify His church.  It may time for Him to teach us what it really means to walk by the Spirit, to abide in Christ, and to love.

Rather than fighting for the right to refuse to sell cupcakes to a homosexual couple, perhaps we should prepare the prettiest, most delicious cupcakes we can fashion, and then offer them at a price where we barely break even.  Maybe showing some radical love would be a better way to fight for the kingdom of God than stubbornly provoking a lawsuit.  Maybe this is what Matthew 5:42 is about.

Rather than fighting for laws to restrict abortion, maybe we should seek ways to love people away from abortion: shower grace on single moms, help parents of children with disabilities, and adopt children who need good homes.  Laws have never helped anyone's heart, anyway.  God already proved that centuries ago; He knew we were utterly unable to obey His law without His Spirit in our hearts (Ezekiel 36:27).  In a democracy, laws are merely a barometer of where the hearts of the people are.  When people's hearts change--through the power of the Holy Spirit--then people will change the laws, or even render them irrelevant.  The other way around simply does not work.  This is an especially hard one, because lives are at stake; but ultimately, to be effective, we must change hearts, and passing laws does not change hearts.

Rather than freaking out about the horrors of the sins that are in the world--sins that other people do, the ones that don't particularly tempt us--maybe we should take a look at the planks in our own eyes.  Someone close to me recently remarked, "They point the finger at homosexuals all the time, but when was the last time you saw people organize to rally against pornography?"

We are called to love, to abide in Christ, to walk by the Spirit.  "Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. . . Love does no harm to its neighbor.  Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law," (Romans 13:8, 10).  These are huge things.  If we would actually dig in and work on them, we might not have so much time to go around pointing the finger at other people's sins.  If we figured out how to love as God asks us to, we might have more compassion for people who haven't yet found the remedy for their sin, who are seeking the living water, but drinking sewer water by mistake, a gruesome substitute.  If we approached people with love, compassion, willingness to give and share and sacrifice, maybe more of them would be able to see Jesus in us and respond to Him.

This election, American Christians may lose some of the religious freedoms that have been historically granted to us through our earthly government and man-made Constitution.  Perhaps we deserve to lose them.  Perhaps we have not wielded them well.  Perhaps we have loved our Constitution more than we have loved God's Holy Scripture.  Perhaps we have worshiped freedom more than we have worshiped God, whom the freedom was supposed to enable us to worship.

I still pray for God's mercy.  "In wrath remember mercy," I plead, returning to Habakkuk (3:2). Perhaps our Lord will do a miracle.  Maybe He will enable a third party candidate to achieve something that has never before been achieved, and bring decency back to our government.

Or, maybe the Lord will give us a ruler who seems wicked beyond imagination, like the Babylonians, and we will be humbled and purified through persecution.  Take heart, for God directs the heart of a ruler like a watercourse, wherever He pleases (Proverbs 21:1).  If God could accomplish what He accomplished through Nebuchadnezzar and Cyrus, He is certainly capable of using anyone who is elected as president of the United States.

No matter what happens, I think we need to stop trying to "spread our faith" by imposing Christian values on non-Christian people through legislation, and start bringing the Kingdom of God through life changing acts of sacrifice and love to individuals, one at a time.  The enemy has no power against love.

We need to stand firm for Jesus, faithful to His name.  He is our hope, and we must trust in Him alone.

"Some trust in horses, and some trust in chariots, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God." (Psalm 20:7)

We trust Him not to grant us earthly justice, riches, freedom and happiness.  We trust Him for eternal joy, the opportunity to stand humbly before Him in paradise and hear Him say, "Well done, good and faithful servant."


Most of the scripture quotes are NIV, or loose NIV from my memory, where they may be scrambled with KJV.

I do not know how I dare to say what we should be doing, as I am not the least bit accomplished at doing these things.  If ever there was a stay-at-home and don't-dirty-your-hands Christian, it is me.  So the challenges I write are as much to myself as they are to anyone.  We have not arrived, but may Jesus help us, at least to head in the right direction.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Gluten Free Pie Crust

I have developed a gluten free pie crust that I like.  A lot.

Full disclosure: It was delicious yesterday when it was fresh, so good I almost could not stop eating it.  This morning (yes, I eat pie for breakfast; judge me), the crust of the apple pie, which had been stored overnight on the counter, was still very good.  The crust on the pumpkin pie, which had been stored in the refrigerator, had toughened.  It still tasted good, but it had lost its delectable tenderness.  I guess the moral of the story is: eat the whole pumpkin pie the first day.  Shucks, huh?

I think there may be plenty of decent gf pie crusts if you use rice flour.  The crust I developed was a take-off from rice flour recipes.  Rice flour is not my favorite, for a number of reasons, some of which I will spare you (TMI), and also because it is tasteless.  Tasteless.  Textureless.  Nasty.  However, if you happily use rice flour, google Gluten Free Gigi and Amerca's Test Kitchens, and you will find nice pie crust recipes.  Gigi takes out other allergens as well.

In my first attempt, I substituted 2 cups of oat flour for 1 cup of white rice flour and 1 cup of brown rice flour.  The result was actually very pleasant.  It was an apple pie, which I never refrigerated, and the crust held up nicely over the couple of days that the pie lasted.  The flavor was buttery and delectable (I love oats).  The texture sort of went to porridge in one's mouth as one chewed, which I did not find horrifying, but I wondered whether someone else might.  Jonathan told me that he liked it that way, and that he thought it was better than regular crust.  Indeed, it was a very nice crust.  I underbaked the pie, by my standards, and the apples were not as soft as I like them.  I also somehow put in too much nutmeg.  (Why did I put in any nutmeg?  I know I hate nutmeg in apple pie.)  So in the end, the only reason I ate more than one piece of that pie was because I liked the crust.

However, the crust, though tasty, was rather viscous and swollen, in my opinion.  As it baked, the fluting drooped down a bit over the edges of the pie plate.  And the way the texture broke down to a moist, porridgey consistency during chewing indicated that this crust recipe could use something to make it a bit more firm and dry.

(pardon the unedited phone pictures)

I decided to try using 1 and 1/2 cups of oat flour with 1/2 cup of sorghum flour.  This worked better than I ever imagined it would.  Oh.  My  Word.  That was some fabulous pie, out of the oven.

Here's my recipe:

GF Pie Crust

1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks)
1 & 1/2 cups oat flour
1/2 cup sorghum flour
2/3 cup potato starch
1/3 cup tapioca starch
4 tsp. dry milk powder (you could leave this out; I forgot it the first time when I used 2 c. oats)
1 tsp. powdered psyllium (or 1/2 tsp xantham, but I had the psyllium on hand)
1 Tbsp sugar (if it is a dessert pie, or omit for chicken pot pie)
1 tsp. salt
6 Tbsp ice water
3 Tbsp sour cream
1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar

1.  Cut the butter into small cubes and place on a plate or saucer in the freezer while you proceed with the next steps.
2.  Measure ice water, sour cream and vinegar into a small cup and stir to mix.  Set aside in an ice water bath, or refrigerate, or both.  Also, keep the ice water handy because you may need more.
3.  Place flours, starches, dry milk powder, psyllium, sugar and salt in food processor and pulse until well combined.
4.  Scatter butter over the top of the dry ingredients and pulse until crumbs are uniform, about 25 times.
5.  Add half of cold liquid mixture and pulse 3 times.  Add the rest of the cold liquid and pulse about 20 times, until a ball forms.  If it is not getting clumpy at all, you may need to add more ice water, 1-2 Tbsp at a time. It may not exactly form a ball, but it needs to clump up.
6.  Divide dough into two pieces and form into disks about 5" in diameter.  Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least an hour or up to 2 days.
7.  If you refrigerated for a longer length of time, you may need to let the dough soften on the counter for 30 minutes before rolling it out.
8.  Roll out between wax paper.  You may want to dust the wax paper with something (this would be a way to use up your nasty rice flour).
9.  I sprinkled some cornmeal in the bottom of the pie plate before laying in the crust.  Bake as directed in your pie recipe.
10.  This makes two one-crust pies, or one double-crust pie.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

So much pain

There is so much pain in the world, sometimes I don't know how we make our way.

This morning, the 25-year-old son of some friends of ours died.

I guess he actually died last week.  He was working, and a concrete wall fell on him, crushing him.  He's been on life support at the hospital, but this morning they removed his ventilator after a certain period of monitoring his brain activity (there wasn't any).

My heart is broken.

It's been a hard autumn.  Today it is raining, which seems fitting, a relief almost.  Perhaps all creation is weeping with those who weep today.

Earlier this month, the 44-year-old brother of a friend of mine died from alcoholism.  His was a long, slow death, and I suppose the death certificate reads something else, like sepsis or kidney failure.  A tragically painful life took its final downturn.  Unrealized hopes and dreams, joys never experienced.  Yet, in this case, a day or two before he departed, he prayed with the hospital chaplain and asked the Lord to forgive him and save him.

God help us all.  God have mercy on us all.  Some days I just repeat this over and over, thankful that I can.  God, Father of mercy, sweet Lord Jesus, please help us all.

Earlier this fall, a young couple from New York lost their baby, their gorgeous 2-year-old baby boy, in a drowning accident.  Face down in an otherwise picturesque pond, their pride and joy.  If it were me, how many times would I relive that day, the hours that led up to the tragedy, thinking through all the details I could have changed, and how any one of them could have prevented the accident?  How many times would I wake up in the middle of the night with my heart pounding?  How many times would I lie in bed trying to push unwelcome thoughts out of my conscious mind, trying to sleep, yet afraid to dream?

There you have it.  In the case of the 2-year-old there is a mirage, a presumption that someone ought to have had control of the situation, but we never have control.  We do not number our own days, nor do we number the days of anyone else.  We love, tend, nurse, wash and feed.  We sing and rock, tickle and groom.  We do our best to protect.  In the end, we simply cannot be there every minute.  We cannot see everything that happens, and we cannot hold back calamity.  This is the truth.

In the case of the 25-year-old, I struggle with my greatest fears, because I have two sons, and one is 25.  The other is 21.  I pray for them every day, but this event reminds me that I have no control.  I am not present to protect them in any way; I am physically removed from the overwhelming majority of their lives.  I must relinquish them to God and trust in Him, however He chooses to number their days.

Dear sweet Jesus, how I recoil from the thought of getting a phone call that tells me, "Your son has been in a bad accident.  Please come quickly."  Oh, dear Jesus.  Please help all the people.  Please help us all.

I know that the holy scriptures tell us that our hope is not in this life.  In this world we will have trouble, He tells us, but take heart, for Jesus has overcome the world.

Dear sweet Jesus, it is so hard for us to take heart.  We are only dust (Psalm 103:14).  Please help us.

Jesus wept, the Bible tells us (John 11:35).  When Lazarus died, and Jesus saw the people mourning, He wept for them, for us, for the pain we experience in the dark brokenness of this world.  He knows all the glory and joy that He has prepared for us in the future, but He understands our pain in the present, and He has compassion on us.

"As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him." (Psalm 103:13 NIV)

"For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet was without sin.  Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." (Hebrews 4:15-16 NIV)

Jesus Himself faced a trial that seemed too overwhelming.  He faced the cross.  On the night of His death, shortly before He was crucified, Jesus prayed that, if it were possible, His Father would take the cup from Him.  He was in anguish.  He pleaded and sweat drops of blood.  God the Father did not take away the cup, because there was no other way for His purpose to be accomplished.  However, He did send an angel from heaven to help Jesus through the night.

Help us, Lord Jesus.  Please send your ministering angels to help us in our pain.

Jesus died so that we could live.  His death bought us eternal life.  He suffered under our sins so that we could be clothed in His righteousness.

We also suffer so that others can attain eternal life.  We suffer because the world goes on.  The world will be broken until Jesus returns, ushering in the New Heaven and the New Earth.  Once the New Creation comes, all the old things will be gone, passed away.  It will be too late for any more people to repent.  This is why the broken world goes on, with all its pain and sorrow: because after this world is replaced, after all that is broken is fixed, no more people will have an opportunity to turn to the Lord.

The Lord's desire is that all men should come to a saving knowledge of the truth and put their faith in Jesus (1 Timothy 2:3-4).  He is not willing that any should perish, but He waits patiently for people to be saved (2 Peter 3:9).

Jesus knows all of our troubles.  Jesus knows the right time to act.  Jesus knows the perfect time to act.  Jesus never makes mistakes.  Someday, when we get to heaven, we will see how all these dark, painful circumstances weave into the tapestry of God's plan to create beauty and joy.  He promises that He works all things for good (Romans 8:28).  Such a difficult promise to grasp, when so many things are ugly and awful.

Please, Lord Jesus, help us when the pain clouds our vision and the darkness threatens our faith.

"Today you shall be with me in paradise," said Jesus to the thief on the cross (Luke 23:43).  He is the Savior of the world, pouring out abundant grace on all who will receive it, waiting and watching and calling for His children to come home to Him.

It doesn't matter what you've done, or what's been done to you, or where you've been, or how long you've been away.  You can even come to Him the day or the minute before you die (although you lose out on a lot of peace and joy if you wait).  All who call on the name of the Lord will be saved.  He will bring us home.

"Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them.  They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and will be their God.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."  (Revelation 21:3-4 NIV)

Help us, Lord God, Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, Healer and Deliverer.  Help us to hope, to believe, to walk in faith until the day when we see You in Your unveiled glory, facing us.