Saturday, October 30, 2010

Total thieves

I dropped my IPhone between the car and the restaurant at noon. An eyewitness 2 tables over described it - black IPhone with white protective surround. She saw a young woman in med. brown long hair picked it up, show it to her male companion, and walk toward the bar entry. The couple must have changed their minds about a lunchtime drink: the security camera doesn't show them entering the bar.

They took my phone! "The gal looked right at me, which is how I remember her face. I would remember her," said Nadine, who saw the couple.

Of course I closed down my phone account, changed as many passwords as I could remember being on it, and filed a police report. AT&T didn't charge us for the immediate 2 hour call to Romania, either.

Not long ago, our daughter worked her last day before beginning a few months of disability. None of her coworkers remarked that they'd miss her, wished her well, or paid any attention to the extra hours she put in the final week. Her body wracked with pain, she ramped up her output, knowing she'd be out of the office to rest and recover. She could have just taken the week off, according to her docs, but didn't want to leave the company hanging. No one seemed to care, either about her or her efforts.

These two incidents reminded me of the times several public school moms would grill me about how our home-schooled children could be properly socialized, without constant interaction with peers. "I think they'll be fine," I said, watching their own kids growing up. Those "well-socialized" peers look through people they pass on the sidewalk, would never stoop to say hello to a stranger, and have no time left over to care for others. Big generalization, I know. But hopefully our kids notice the hurting. I know they'd turn in a lost IPhone without hesitation.

It's the conscience -less effrontery in American society that makes me catch my breath. The core value of "It's all about me, all of the time, unless I get some benefit from helping you" upsets me. My parents, my husband, our children, and I did not grow up hearing we were "the prettiest, the strongest, the smartest, and you're better than other kids." I hope we have a realistic view of our capabilities and healthy self-esteem, but we know our limits. There's always someone more needy and many people more proficient than we are - so we enjoy input from others and serving others.

Jesus told us to care for our neighbors. But "positive affirmations" without substance have produced a selfish culture that cultivates its own interests, ignorant of the implications for a healthy society. It's made us total thieves of others' time, resources, and energy in pursuit of our own happiness. And made us (and sister UK) among the most selfish, unhappiest nations in the world, according to recent studies.

Yeah, I'm ticked with the thieves, but I'm also angry at my generation, who taught them "Do your own thing. It's all about you, baby!" (BTW: I look for websites of "free photos" for illustrations.)

Read more:
*Whoever loves pleasure will be a poor man; he who loves wine and oil will not be rich. Proverbs 21:17 NLT

*Whoever says "I know him" but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. 1 John 2:4-6 NLT

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

God with us

"95% of those who have come through counseling are back in ministry," says Jack. "This is necessary work."

A group of us listens intently, sitting around the table after our sandwiches are consumed, chips crunched, and crudites swallowed. We think about Immanuel. God with us, always. When we cannot help ourselves, our God visits us through the caring words and hands of those willing to weep and laugh with us.

Many of us feel abandoned by God if we're in moral failure, ministry collapse, or family chaos. "How could he love me, stay with me, care about me, since I..."

I admit that I marvel each time I read how Jesus came to save sinners, rather than affirm the self-righteous. The Apostle Paul claimed to be chief among sinners. He had murdered, persecuted, and hunted down people because of a difference in belief. Yet God forgave him and gave him an honored, influential place in Church history because he was willing to let go of the past.

I thank God for the explicit picture in Scripture of King David - charismatic leader, adulterer, soldier, and the power behind a wrongful death. David kept repenting and growing in his understanding of God's ways. He realized that God never gives up. Never abandons. Instead, God walks us through pain and sin to wholeness and abundant life. God called David a "man after my heart" because David desired to please God, admitting his failures and turning repeatedly from his human frailty to God's strength.

When life circumstances, ministry pressures, or poor personal choices bring ruin and devastation, missionaries and ministers turn to Missionary Renewal International (MRI), birthed along with Missionary Renewal Asia Pacific (MRAP).

The dream of MRI/MRAP's founder Dr. Jack Rozell, former pastor and missionary to Asia, is to provide a safe haven to heal the hearts of God's servants. To return the wounded to God, to family, and back into ministry. MRI and MRAP allow the broken to be real and transparent, so they can be restored. Every week, trained counselors and psychiatrists walk alongside hurting servants of God, drawing out their grief and balancing their suffering by extending God's forgiveness and love.

MRI and MRAP need your help, too. Their impact in missions and local churches is unique and substantial. Most counselees return to ministry in harvest fields where they are desperately needed. As the need for Missionary Renewal's services continues to grow, they'd appreciate your generosity on behalf of the very human adventurers who have bridged cultures between the world and the Church.

Don't put it off, please! Any amount you give will be put to great use! The donation link is a bit slow, but your patience may mean the difference between life or loss for another. Thanks.

Read more:
"Comfort, comfort my people," says your God. "Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the LORD's hand double for all her sins. A voice of one calling: In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.

"Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken."  Isaiah 40:1-5 NIV 

*As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love.I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. John 15:9-14 NIV

*After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands,  and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” All the angels stood around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying:
  “ Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom,
      Thanksgiving and honor and power and might,
      Be to our God forever and ever.
Revelation 7:9-12 NKJV

Monday, October 25, 2010

Fish frenzy

There are three fish tanks in the house. Two are reef tanks. One's doing well. The other constantly battles for chemistry balance and against algae. The simplest is a little freshwater tank, sitting beside me as I write. 

After raising four children, fish are relatively maintenance free. Every two days, I swish a cube of brine shrimp or other frozen food through the saltwater. Nearly every day, I pull back the tab on the fish flake jar to sprinkle a meal into the freshwater tank. Besides water changes and occasional glass cleaning, fishkeeping is pure enjoyment. 

Though I care for them each day, the fish don't know me. They have no idea that I am a student, a wife, a mother, a friend, a writer. Actually they could care less. They feed in a frenzy in their safe environment. They swim unaware of dangers of a broken glass or being out of water. I take care of the threats so they can live in peace.

Some of us are like my fish, living in a bubble of blissful ignorance. When life is easy, it's all about us and our comforts. We have little interest in the Creator and Sustainer who protects and guards life. We scarcely notice others who move and breath and suffer around us. We just want our share of food and resources, playing around without a care. 

When food runs short or disease threatens, we swim in panicked circles. When a big fish is added to the tank, we become cautious. We are fearful when we get sick. When our kids rebel. When life brings difficulties. Strangely, many of us blame God for our misery, though we have scarcely thanked him for plenteous provisions. Still wrapped in ourselves, we flail about as though he were unaware of us and our needs.

Let's take time today to "count our many blessings, naming them one by one." Then, "it will surprise us what the Lord has done." And how carefully he watches over us, whether we are grateful for or oblivious to his tender love. 

Read more:
*Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. I have taken an oath and confirmed it, that I will follow your righteous laws. I have suffered much; preserve my life, O LORD, according to your word. Accept, O LORD, the willing praise of my mouth, and teach me your laws.

Though I constantly take my life in my hands, I will not forget your law. The wicked have set a snare for me, but I have not strayed from your precepts. Your statutes are my heritage forever; they are the joy of my heart. My heart is set on keeping your decrees to the very end.  Psalm 119:105-112 NIV

*In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. John 14:2-3 NIV 

*Blessed (happy, to be envied) is the man who is patient under trial and stands up under temptation, for when he has stood the test and been approved, he will receive [the victor's] crown of life which God has promised to those who love Him. James 1:12 (Amplified Bible)

Friday, October 22, 2010

Happy on the range

The Rangers won! They're off to the World Series for the first time. We watched the end of the game with a bunch of strangers. Most of them were sitting around the bar surrounded by screens, and we were at a table nearby. For a moment, everyone enjoyed the victory together.

Somewhere a child is dreaming of the day when he will play in the World Series. "Dad, can we play ball outside tomorrow?" he asks as he gets tucked into bed. Drifting off to sleep, he'll be celebrating the big win of the American League, along with his heroes on the Texas team.

Dreams are funny things, often spurred on by our parents' interests and failures. Dad didn't make it to the big leagues? Maybe Junior has a chance instead. Mom didn't get to university? She'll make sure Sissy gets her turn.

I wonder what dreams God lays out for us, and how many of those we understand and work toward. Or do our own visions of who we want to be--or the goals that others want us to accomplish--get in the way of what could be? 

Read more:
*I said to myself, 'Come on, let's try pleasure. Let's look for the "good things" in life.' But I found that this, too, was meaningless. So I said, 'Laughter is silly. What good does it do to seek pleasure?' After much thought, I decided to cheer myself with wine. And while still seeking wisdom, I clutched at foolishness. In this way, I tried to experience the only happiness most people find during their brief life in this world.

I also tried to find meaning by building huge homes for myself and by planting beautiful vineyards. . . . I collected great sums of silver and gold, the treasure of many kings and provinces. I hired wonderful singers, both men and women, and had many beautiful concubines. I had everything a man could desire! 

So I became greater than all who had lived in Jerusalem before me, and my wisdom never failed me. Anything I wanted, I would take. I denied myself no pleasure. I even found great pleasure in hard work, a reward for all my labors. But as I looked at everything I had worked so hard to accomplish, it was all so meaningless—like chasing the wind. There was nothing really worthwhile anywhere. Ecclesiastes 2:1–4, 8–11 NLT

*Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.

But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing ithe will be blessed in what he does. James 1:21-25 NIV

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Shocked but not surprised

This week, Mr. Russell Williams has been sentenced. For killing 2 women and admitting the rape of 2 others,the judge stripped away his standing in the community, and the Armed Forces took away his medals and titles. Russell will spend the rest of his life in prison. He was handed 2 life sentences. (Capital punishment is not popular in Canada.)

He used to be Colonial Williams, a highly respected officer in the Armed Forces. His men thought him tough, fair, and worthy of his leadership role. His wife said he was a good husband. But in his neighborhood, he was a stealthy sex predator, feared and hated by all.

The heart is full of wickedness, says the Bible. So, though everyone is shocked that an upstanding member of the community could do such evil, believers in Christ are not surprised. Those of us willing to be utterly honest know the depth of our own hearts, along with the murders and immoralities and perversions we are capable of. Our relationships to human needs - food, shelter, clothing, sex - have been totally corrupted by our sinful natures. Under our veneers of respectability lurk the horrors of depravity.

The grace of God can't be fathomed, pulling us into his orbit fully cleansed by the blood of his Son. His gift of forgiveness lifts our heads so we can walk down the street unashamed, knowing who we would be without him, even when we remember who we used to be.

One of the best things about being a Christian, fully devoted to the Savior, is knowing how incapacitated we were by sin. We live in this wonderful freedom, unable to explain the delights of mercy to those who have not experienced it. Angels long to know what we know, the pleasure of a heart replaced and continually washed.

Remember to share the bliss of following Christ with a heart that is hurting around you. Inside, we all long to be fully clean and pure. Don't believe it? Look at all the religions, cults, and self-improvement books on your local bookstore's shelves.

Read more:
*"So I decided there is nothing better than to enjoy food and drink and to find satisfaction in work. Then I realized that these pleasures are from the hand of God. For who can eat or enjoy anything apart from him? God gives wisdom, knowledge, and joy to those who please him. But if a sinner becomes wealthy, God takes the wealth away and gives it to those who please him. This, too, is meaningless—like chasing the wind. … So I concluded there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can. And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God." Ecclesiastes 2:24–26; 3:12–13 NEV

*Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst." John 6:35 NLT

*For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 NIV

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Farra- what?

farraginous\fuh-RAJ-uh-nus\: consisting of a confused mixture: formed of various materials in no fixed order or arrangement. Example: The large box at the hotel's lost and found desk contained a farraginous assortment of hats, umbrellas, cell phones, and other personal items. 

Sometimes our Christianity is farraginous, rather than "pure religion and undefiled." MW's Word of the Day spotlights what religious scholars call syncretism. When we mix faith, surrounding culture, upbringing, and worldview into our understanding of the Bible, we get a hodge-podge that looks plain weird to outsiders. And to some insiders, too. Really,
  • Who wants to dress like the 1950s to go to a meeting with other people dressed like the 50s?
  • Who wants to sing pop tunes with lyrics that repeat banal sentiments over and over? (If you can swap in "Oh, Baby!" without a quiver, it's probably not great worship music.)
  • Anyone want to sit in wooden or padded rows for a weekly concert and lecture, year after year? (This Reformation custom from the C16 endures.)
I'm being very hard on conservative Western Christianity, I know. It's what I grew up with and participate in because it's comfortable and familiar. However, I don't "believe in it" as though church-any-other-way would be non-Christian. 

I've been examining my own faith over the past decade. So have many of my peers. And we're uncomfortable with church as status quo. We're wondering, "While we're busy at choir practice and baking cookies for small friendship groups, are we overlooking Jesus' care for the orphan and widow in their distress?" 

Do we blithely pass by those in need, forgetting even a sympathetic prayer for neighbors in financial crises or experiencing family trauma. Forget about a personal visit, dropping off a meal, or asking when we meet at the mailbox, "How are you doing?" More than a cursory involvement might make us miss our routines of "church" activities.

Here are the questions I'm asking myself. "Rosemarie,

  • What parts of my faith are based on the Bible? What parts come from my assumptions or my reading into the text with personal hopes and aspirations?
  • How have I served those Jesus would serve if he lived at my house? (For that matter, how comfortable would Jesus be, using my house as his base of ministry?)
  • How would Jesus and the early Church take care of family and nurture spiritual maturity in those they love?
  • How many of my neighbors are close friends, or are my best friends from church circles?"
I just fell flat on my face with every answer.

However, I'm getting up again today, asking for forgiveness. I need supernatural grace to be and do, trying to live in alignment with Christ's lordship. He compels his servants to integrity, but there are a lot of areas that are incongruous in my nature and lifestyle. Maybe you find the same is true of you.

How loving is our God, who is both merciful and constant! This morning offers us another opportunity to please him in thought, attitude, and action. Let's seize the day.

Read more:
*Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. Psalm 139: 7-10 NLT 

*“I, even I, am the LORD, and apart from me there is no savior. I have revealed and saved and proclaimed I, and not some foreign god among you. You are my witnesses," declares the LORD, "that I am God.” Isaiah 43:11-12 NIV 

*Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert. 

Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. 

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen. 1 Peter 5:6-11 NIV

Friday, October 15, 2010

Time's a'ticking

"Where did time go?!" Today my college roomie and I met in LaConnor. We catch up on our families when we meet every few years. But mostly, we love to talk about what God is doing in and around us.

Seems time is a'ticking. From delivering our firstborn sons within months of each other, we've tracked each others' kids from toddlers to elementary school, through high school and into careers and college. E and B have another wedding coming up soon; W and I have two married sons. 

She was the best roommate I could have wished for. After enduring a semester with someone who closely tailed me around campus, B was an independent breath of fresh air. Mind you, our room hosted a steady trail of people wanting to chat... though happily, they slouched onto B's bed, not mine. 

B still teaches Bibles studies, comforts and encourages, and has found the simplicity of a life devoted to Christ and living without pretense. She radiates contentment in her walk with Christ. She is not threatened by the possessions or accomplishments of others. How refreshing!

Some people remain constant through the years, reliable in deep friendship and sharing kindness again and again. She's one of those special people in my life. B, I'm so grateful to God for you! 

Read more:
*A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot. Proverbs 14:30 NLT

*Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. 2 Corinthians 9:6-8 NIV

*The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 1 Peter 4:7-8 NIV

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

My Adversary

"Lord Jesus Christ. I AM. My Friend." The phrases scroll through my head at the beginning of our exercise class. I always choose a characteristic of God to reflect on during our one and a half hour session. Lord, Immanuel - God with us - Messiah. I revel in the power of God who is for us.

I feel suddenly restless... and a clear thought pushes aside my peaceful meditation. In place of "Lord Jesus Christ," I hear "Adversary!" 

"Adversary. I AM. My Friend." Startled, I tremble to think of I AM as my Adversary. Surely God is for us, not against us! My body freezes, examining the implications of God as foe. 

The Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior and Friend, is also the greatest opponent to sin. The world recognizes this, attempting to paint the gospel as a narrow, legalistic, and hateful religion to make the demands of the gospel unattractive. By instinct, humanity detests the idea that a relationship with Christ demands capitulation to his Lordship. Such surrender means we have to die.

In all things within us that oppose God, Jesus is our Adversary. His cross and empty tomb stand between us and the wrath of Almighty Perfection. They demand the death of selfishness, the abandonment even of the ruins of Self.

Can any woman or man lay down the rubble and devastation of egotism? On our own, is there any possibility of setting aside the sinful nature so that God is utterly pleased with us?

No - we need our deadly Adversary to kill self-interest and our will. To hang in triumph with our death certificate nailed to his cross. To burst forth into morning glory, leaving behind our corruption in his empty tomb.

Only then is our friendship with God assured. Harmony is restored as the fresh, innocent birth meets the new day. It may take a while for muscles knotted by sin to unclench, for twisted attitudes and habits to unleash their hold. But each newborn life is carried by strong hands and guided by the faithful grip of the Conqueror. 

"Our Adversary -- I AM -- Our Friend." Hallelujah. 

Read more:
*You have a mighty arm; strong is Your hand, and high is Your right hand. Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; Mercy and truth go before Your face.

Blessed are the people who know the joyful sound! They walk, O LORD, in the light of Your countenance. In Your name they rejoice all day long, and in Your righteousness they are exalted. For You are the glory of their strength, and in Your favor our horn is exalted. For our shield belongs to the LORD, and our king to the Holy One of Israel. Psalm 89:13-18 NKJV

*And I know that whatever God does is final. Nothing can be added to it or taken from it. God's purpose is that people should fear him. Ecclesiastes 3:14 NLT

*As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. 

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:1-10 NIV

Monday, October 11, 2010

The quiet heart

"What's holy yoga?" asked a friend. 

"Isn't that an oxymoron?" asked another. Meaning, those are irreconcilable terms - choose one or the other, but not both!

Last weekend, I attended a Christian "body and soul" retreat on the shores of Lake Washington. The Catholic sisters who live on the grounds attempt to live out their mission of justice and peace. The women hosting the retreat are devout and mature believers. And yes, we did yoga exercises throughout the day.

My favorite part? I enjoyed the sessions, the Bible verses, readings from Christian books, and the meditation on scriptural heart issues. The vegetable bean soup and mescalin salad lunch was delicious and sustaining. Several women knew me from the past or through mutual friends, so the friendships were uplifting.

But the best part of all? Taking a Bible outdoors to find a dry spot under the fir tree that overhung the glossy wet boards of the dock. I sat down alone for twenty minutes, thinking and praying Psalm 63. No one nearby. Not a soul in sight. No boats gliding over the rippling waves. No pedestrians on the Mercer Island beach opposite.  

"Because your love is better than life..." (63:3) His love is better than life itself? My mind reeled, my heart swayed in that love, my soul was captivated, and I was taken aback. 

"Is your love truly better than life to me?" I whispered to God. "Is your love what I want, more than food or drink? More than health or sleep? More than success or resources? Is your love everything to me?"

The waves suddenly crashed against the shore as I sat stunned. "Is your Love ... Everything?"

Returning to the meeting room, an arrow named "Labyrinth" caught my eye. "Take the side trip, of course," my impulse called. A blessed detour, walking gently and steadily inside olive green lines painted on a concrete patio. There was nothing special about the paint or cement. But oh, the grace of solitude. 

The older I get, the more I relish space beyond the rush and busyness of life. No hustle and bustle. No pressure to achieve or strive. I sometimes dream of living in a small uncluttered home, bathed in intimacy and quiet.

I felt renewed Saturday, though not by the meditation or reflections led by others. Except for the scripture readings, the talking and laughter of companions was distracting. It took the rest of the weekend to unwrap the stress of meeting a crowd of strangers.

This morning I found myself doing the same exercises while an instructor intoned instructions. Off to the side of the class, God's love enveloped me. My heart marveled at his eternal search for relationship with us and embraced his holy word. Verses and choruses learned with others swirled inside me. And I felt renewed to the core. 

"Lord, you have my heart," my inner being sang again and again, attuned to the music resonating inside my head. The wood knots grouped and spaced in the support beam above my head reminded me, "Lord" "Jesus" Christ"     "So" "Loved"    "The" "World" - a worthy meditation indeed. I was surprised by the last exercise. Already? An hour and a half had gone by.

I lay on the mat, exhaling the hard physical work, yet exhilarated by the presence of God with us. Secure that each of us is deeply, intimately, completely, "So" "Loved." 

Read more:
*Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. Deuteronomy 6:5 NIV

*O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water. I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. 

   Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands. My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you. On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night. Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.
   They who seek my life will be destroyed; they will go down to the depths of the earth. They will be given over to the sword and become food for jackals. But the king will rejoice in God; all who swear by God’s name will praise him, while the mouths of liars will be silenced. Psalm 63

*Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Matthew 5:8 NIV

Thursday, October 7, 2010

World changers

"If I could change the world, I..." Finish the sentence in 250 words or less, I instruct the writing class.

Hmmm. When I get home, I'm stumped. The sentence is too overwhelming to complete. There are so many things I want to change about the world. I want God to heal all the sick and feed the poor. (I often appeal to God to "fix" us and our problems.) I want government to be honest and business to profit everyone. I wish warmongers would die on their swords.

But wait! What would a family, a neighborhood, a city, a world look like if every person told the truth, was faithful to promises, looked out for the interests of others, cared for the needy, acted with honor without looking for personal benefit... What a crazy, amazing, wonderful change that would be! Wouldn't most problems be resolved if humanity acted in alignment with God's character?

If we understood God and his love for us, selfish ambition, manipulation of the weak, and violence under the guise of religion would disappear. The powerful would care for the powerless. The rich would support the poor. We would work with diligence and play with joyful energy. Marriages would endure, and children would grow safely, beloved within their families. There would be no graft, no snatching food from the mouths of the hungry to heap the plates of the well-fed. 

Can we change the world? Young people set out with red banners flying above golden hopes. And old people sit back to watch and reflect on graying dreams, knowing positive world change is rare within a lifetime. 

Still, maybe changing the world is not what we are called to do. Truly holy revolution begins small, emerges from within. Wholesome influence flows through those who are renewed and reborn. 

Perhaps loving God with all our might, following all we know about his ways, and doing good to others can change this corner of world for us and those who know us. And that may be enough.

If I could change the world, I surely would have begun by letting God change me.

Read more:
*For the wise and the foolish both die. The wise will not be remembered any longer than the fool. In the days to come, both will be forgotten. Ecclesiastes 2:16 NLT

*But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. Luke 6:35-36 NLT

*I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13 NLT

*You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. 1 John 4:4 NKJV

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Frustrating faith

"Trust him! He can do it!" How many times have we heard those phrases, and turned again to implore God? 

We cry out, desperate for relief, whether physical, emotional, financial, or otherwise. "Lord of lords, please do something! You know what we need, and our confidence and anticipation is in you.

Our prayers rise continually, our knees and hearts become callused, and our souls feel weary with pleading. Though fellow believers join us in a habit of prayer, there is no reprieve. The pain remains. The years of distress intensify. Our knees begin to buckle under the brutality of life's burdens. 

Is this the time to give up? Is this the season to give in and throw away hope? Darkness envelopes us as we grope our way through the valley of the shadow of death.

"Where can we go? Only you have words of eternal life," Peter acknowledged. 

We find no alternative to our prayers. What sacrifices to gods, universal karma, or spirit beings can bring relief? None. Alone among the gods, only our Creator loved humanity enough to be bruised and crushed. He hung bleeding, dying to bring salvation and healing to his people.

Our trust and discouragement mix into the holy incense of worship. We understand that our God can intervene with his supernatural power. Only he is able to change days and nights of agony into hymns of praise and loud thanksgiving. 

True faith is substance, not guesswork. We believe with confidence, not on shaky ground. Our fears and futures mingle into the smoking cauldron of prayers that arise to God. We offer ourselves and our needs, agreeing with milllenia of fellow saints who persevered through trials and midnights of the soul. 

Today, let's trust God to hear and answer. His has never reneged on his promise to do more on our behalf than we could ask or think.

Read more:
*Blessed be the LORD who has given rest to his people Israel, according to all that he promised. Not one word has failed of all his good promise, which he spoke by Moses his servant. 1 Kings 8:56 NLT 

*Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to Godthis is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will ishis good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:1-2 NIV

*Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:16 NLT

*Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.  For by it the elders obtained a good testimony. By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible. Hebrews 11:1-3 NKJV

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Hidden in plain sight

Most of us hide from ourselves in plain sight of others.

Last night I dreamed my way through the hours. I met people I hadn't seen in years, did daring things I'd never attempt in waking hours, and behaved in sinful ways I wouldn't allow myself even to think about in public. Agitated, unkind, and calculating. I was cold-hearted to people who frustrate me. Unhappy at little slights. Impatient with the faint of heart. 

After my teens, I learned to change dreams to make them more pleasing. If I was headed for harm, I swerved into a safer situation, aware that, "This is only a dream. The outcome and process is up to me." No more getting lost in the Junior High hallway or forgetting my locker combination!  

As an adult, I usually let the dreams run their course. My unguarded self teaches me what I am afraid of, wary about, and where my unprotected  nature is compromised or immature.   

Waking during and at the end of the dreams, my heart felt broken. Very few of us know ourselves as others knows us, because looking deeply inside causes such grief and distress. We've made so little progress, in spite of the lavish grace and love God pours on us! After all these years as a believer, I'm still leery of looking myself in the mirror. 

We may think we hide our sins, weaknesses, and flaws from others. But we are hidden in full view, and our character eventually lets everyone see us clearly. What is veiled emerges in plain sight. Jesus said our concealment is temporary: things done in secret will be told openly. 

When I awoke to face the day, I was praying for God's covering. For his shelter and healing blood to wash me clean again. I asked, "Would I trust myself as a best friend, choose to tell me dangerous secrets, or let God expose my inner thoughts for all to see?" 

Really? Can I risk full disclosure, knowing what I know this morning? Over and over, I need to remember that there is no inherent goodness in me, beyond the common image of God in all humanity. As I look at others, I know there is nothing in me that would elevate me above my fellows or exempt me from any judgment or verdict I'd pass on another!

Who is in your line of fire today? 

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*"If you plan to do evil, you will be lost; if you plan to do good, you will receive unfailing love and faithfulness." Proverbs 14:22 NLT

*Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Ephesians 6:10 NLT 

*This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. 

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives. 1 John 1:5-9 NIV

Friday, October 1, 2010

Alignment with Truth

I am at peace in the classroom. Thirty-some years of teaching filled my past, and though I am a student again, who knows what lies ahead? Currently, I'm subbing for a teacher who is beloved by her class and by years of alumni.   

Yesterday, I assigned a quick blog to students. "Choose the style in which you will write, on a topic related to John 8," where Jesus says that his followers will know the Truth, and the Truth will set them free. 

The blogs are fascinating. Most students focused on self-development as related to a life centered around Truth himself. Here's what I wrote in my own 10-minute stream-of-consciousness. (My student partner's comments are below.)

Today if I were aligned with Truth
- in other words,

totally sold out
not holding back
not caring what others think
not measuring against past failures
not posturing for acclaim or to be noticed
without selfish planning for future advantage

full of the Spirit's gifts and empowerment
content with who God made me
looking for the image of Christ in fellow believers
trusting the image of God in humanity
aware of my limitations in call and ability
willing to risk my reputation and success for obedience
wholehearted about pleasing God

loving without reservation
forgiving as completely as I've been forgiven
pushing others into the limelight and stepping back
serving even when it's not convenient
speaking or being silent as I understand God's promptings
immersed in scripture and good, pure, reading
open to anything God puts in my journey
utterly devoted to Truth -

I would be blessed.
And a blessing.

The student noted the shape of the words became a funnel. God pours in, fills, and pours out. What a lovely (if unintentional) picture of alignment to Truth! She commented that the blog begins with discarding personal rights and self, moves to knowing God and receiving his work in us, and continues with attitudes and service that are an outcome of our walk with God. The summary is our heart's cry, "Hear our prayers so that we can bless others!" 

I am amazed at the good work of her teacher in opening the understanding and evaluation skills of students. I get the feeling that ongoing alignment with truth and steadiness in following Truth will produce a rich harvest of spiritual and mental freedom in this crop of young writers!

Read more:
*The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him, my father's God, and I will exalt him. Exodus 15:2 NIV

*I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every wayin all your speaking and in all your knowledgebecause our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful. 1 Corinthians 1:4-9 NIV