Monday, February 28, 2011

One more time...

Anything worth pursuing is worth hard work. Maybe even worth excruciating effort! That's a common assumption, along the lines of "No pain, no gain."

I think Christians in various fields forget that it is not our duty to make things harder for people to succeed. Just because something is challenging in our past, we don't have to make others' paths more difficult. As part of the same family, loving and working to build the Kingdom of God, we should be striving to make God's words and work more accessible for those inside and out.

Two of us are working toward the same goal. Neither of us are mentally inept. We like the people we're working with. But we're both having trouble understanding written instructions and conversations designed to help us with our project. Rather than making our task easier, every interaction seems to muddle our thinking more. We get one part right, only to be asked for additional changes in the other areas (more than once or twice). Part of the problem is that our project and its guidelines are evolving, a bit of a moving target as the team searches for clarity and focus.

When I suggest to my coworker that the instructions themselves might be the problem, I hear a sigh of relief via IM. "You just gave me a virtual hug," said my friend. "I thought I was going crazy." Yeah, so did I.

Some people - like my husband - are excellent at converting convoluted realities into simple truths. They provide administrative freedom along with clarity of task. They are fun to work for... and with, because it's easy to track progress, understand instructions, and move toward clearly defined goals.

Have you ever had a boss or coach with these skills? If so, how did that affect the quality and speed of your performance? If you're in process, what would you like to hear from those overseeing your work?

Or if you're the overseer, how can you be more clear and specific in mentoring or assigning tasks? What resources could you make available to streamline a process and help people move ahead?

Meanwhile, our duo is reworking the project one more time. "Maybe this is what they want?" we say to each other hopefully.

Read more:
*I lift up my eyes to the hillswhere does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot sliphe who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.

The LORD watches over youthe LORD is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD will keep you from all harmhe will watch over your life; the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.  Psalm 121 NIV

*For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11 NLT

*If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 NEV

Friday, February 25, 2011

Career confusion

Studied: Communications. Works at: Meat packer.
Studied: Biblical Literature. Works at: Waiter.
Studied: Business. Works at: Pastor.
Studied: Education. Works at: Self-employed artist.

I find it amusing to read Facebook profiles. There's no telling how our calling, upbringing, and education will be related to our career. There are few things more confusing to a young graduate than job interviews. A degree doesn't necessarily match job openings, and sometimes "the perfect fit" slams shut in our face before we even get our foot in the door.

My husband and I have done a lot of different jobs over the years. Not all of them seemed related to our call to Christian ministry. Gas station attendant. Preacher.  Sales clerk in the men's department. Bible teacher. Harpist. Dog walker. Writer. Physical ed teacher (both of us. really.) Real estate office receptionist. Piano teacher. Library page. Principal of a Christian school. Motivational speaker. Summer preschool worker. Administrative Pastor. Door-to-door government census taker. Alumni director. Landlady. Choir director. We hunted down employment, but some work found us.

Our policy has been, "Yes." That makes for an interesting life.

We've been open to whatever God has for us. My husband was working within his calling and field within a decade, but my own path has been more circuitous. We've learned from every task God has put in our paths and from every tool shaped to our hands.

It can get very discouraging to find dreams disappearing and feel trapped in the routines of work, year after year. Many people give up and think they've missed their calling in life. Some plunge into the sea of possibilities and swim with the fishes. Others abandon safety nets and wash up on the shore in a heap of wreckage. Only God, who renews us daily, knows what lies ahead. 
  • The product that you thought would sell itself and now fills your garage? God knew. 
  • The boss who seemed so open to ideas and turned out to be cautious and obstinate? God knew. 
  • The classroom full of bright faces who turned out to be willful troublemakers? God knew. 
  • The church that seemed so exciting an opportunity and now seems just a drudgery? God knew.
  • The hopes of making a difference in a community when you feel like you've faded into the background? God knew.
Our responsibility is not to be famous or well-known. We are expected to be God's letter to the world, wherever he places us. No matter how unexpected the current context, God calls us to faithfulness in line with our gifts and training. Sometimes his plan for us doesn't look anything like what we'd thought it would... but would we have been willing to engage life if we'd known all the details?

We'd love to  hear about some of the jobs you've held, and what your job title is today.

Read more:
*The poor are despised even by their neighbors while the rich have many 'friends.' It is a sin to belittle one's neighbor; blessed are those who help the poor. Proverbs 14:20–2 NLT

*Through the LORD’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.

“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I hope in Him!” The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him. It is good that one should hope and wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD. Lamentations 3:22-26 NKJV

*Clearly, you are a letter from Christ showing the result of our ministry among you. This 'letter' is written not with pen and ink, but with the Spirit of the living God. It is carved not on tablets of stone, but on human hearts.

We are confident of all this because of our great trust in God through Christ. It is not that we think we are qualified to do anything on our own. Our qualification comes from God. He has enabled us to be ministers of his new covenant. 2 Corinthians 3:3–6a NLT

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The cost of belonging

Deuteronomy, Ezra, the beginning of Nehemiah. I flipped on UCB Bible (radio) and drifted above sleep to the readings. The sun hadn't come up yet, but W was prepping for his day of teaching, and I'd had a restful night.

I listened to the blessings God promised his people. Followed by... "You will be cursed if..." (idolatry, intermarriage with non-Israelites, etc.) The people had wandered out of slavery with few manners and no godly culture. They were prone to building idols, sacrificing improperly, and treating others poorly. Moses set up a code of law in conjunction with his relationship and communication with God. Many of the laws might have been a response to bad behavior, like today's civil laws tend to be.

But the laws and restrictions also functioned as separators from other cultures. There were many unique aspects of living in the nomadic tribe that God had chosen. Not all of them were easy or intuitive in daily living. In fact, many of them were opposed to natural human desires and a mystery to the Israelites. They kept going back to what seemed right to them, disobeying and reaping the consequences.

I got up thinking about that it costs us EVERYTHING to be truly, holistically Christian. I asked myself some questions about my own relationship to God and the world:
  • Have we asked God for the benefits of his provisions and his blessings without expecting to use those to bless others?
  • Do we expect his interventions in our troubles without  surrendering to the lessons and disciplines of hardship and trials?
  • What would it cost us to live with total integrity among people who hate what God demands from humanity? Are we willing to stand apart from our friends and neighbors on the "unpopular pedestal" with Jesus?
  • What compromises have we allowed to have a comfortable life rather than living out our radical, transforming faith?
 Read more:
*Then God said to Abraham, "Regarding Sarai, your wife—her name will no longer be Sarai. From now on her name will be Sarah. And I will bless her and give you a son from her! Yes, I will bless her richly, and she will become the mother of many nations. Kings of nations will be among her descendants." Genesis 17:15-16 NLT

*As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the LORD is flawless. He is a shield for all who take refuge in him. For who is God besides the LORD? And who is the Rock except our God? It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect. He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he enables me to stand on the heights. 2 Samuel 22:31-34 NIV

*LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?
  • He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous,
  • who speaks the truth from his heart and has no slander on his tongue,
  • who does his neighbor no wrong and casts no slur on his fellowman,
  • who despises a vile man but honors those who fear the LORD,
  • who keeps his oath  even when it hurts,
  • who lends his money without usury and does not accept a bribe against the innocent.
He who does these things will never be shaken. Psalm 15 NIV

*Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinnersof whom I am the worst.

But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen. 1 Timothy 1:15-17 NIV

Monday, February 21, 2011

Creative wool-gathering

I flipped open a notebook from six years ago, filled with diagrams, creative writing, ideas, and observations. It used to be a natural part of life to jot things down "just in case," and "for some time later," as a matter of course. I was taken aback at the wide range of interests and thinking in my little grey book.

Somewhere along the way, I got tired. Routines, permissions, and parameters wore down my norm of creativity and unfettered roaming of the brain. In the process, I got smaller, constrained by boundaries, and less inclined to free range in the world and its possibilities.

When I pulled out my little book, I almost shouted aloud with glee. Somewhere, buried not too deeply, I must still think in terms of potential rather than merely toeing the line of propriety and others' expectations. I'm not out to set the world ablaze just to see an explosion, but fire might sometimes be just the thing to warm and light my corner of the world. What I hope to have learned is the possibility of producing without burning down the house. And my heart knows now that God isn't pleased when I blow out the candle he gave me because someone else fears the flame.

My notebook reminds me that no person is like another. God is pleased with us all as we live out his plan for us. He sends some of us to tend the sheep, some of us to shear them, some will gather and card the wool, and some of us spin it into cloth. Some of us even get to draw the pattern so others can cut and sew a garment. Not one effort is wasted. No specialty of education and experience can be valued above the other, although perhaps only the tailor puts her name into the finished coat.

The trick is to love our own part of the process and not put anyone else down for doing what they are called to do. After flipping through my ideas, I feel like slinging a bright red coat over my shoulder today, delighting in the color, cut, and texture. How about you? (The photo left made me laugh, too! None of my notebook covers are this noisy.)

Read more:
*Beware lest you say in your heart, 'My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.' You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day. Deuteronomy 8:17-18 NLT

*Trust in the LORD and do good. Then you will live safely in the land and prosper. Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you your heart's desires. Commit everything you do to the LORD. Trust him, and he will help you." Psalm 37:3–5 NEV

*For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledgethat you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. Ephesians 3:14-21 NIV

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Come to life

It takes a while for some ideas to come to life. Some propositions fall into the conversation many times, rejected as impractical, silly, or unworkable. Then someone picks up the idea again, turns it in a new direction, and it is suddenly brilliant!

Many scientific hypotheses and theological speculations started that way. Gradually as they are explored, they come into the mainstream, not only as possibilities, but as logical reality. The law of gravity, planets revolving around the sun instead of the sun moving around the earth, God as Creator... these--among many other ideas--seem far-fetched or well-accepted, depending on the culture and time in history. They have been hotly contested. Some people still don't believe them, sticking to childhood fantasies over evidence, faith, and probability.

What's glaringly obvious in my life that has still to be embraced as truth? What are you holding onto, either from the past or from lack of information, that is shaping your reality? 

Read more:
*For God speaks again and again, though people do not recognize it. . . . He whispers in their ears and terrifies them with warnings. He makes them turn from doing wrong; he keeps them from pride." Job 33:14, 16–17 NLT

*Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand. Proverbs 19:21 NLT

*Be very careful, then, how you livenot as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery.

Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Ephesians 5:15-21 NIV

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A good reputation

Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.

~ John Wooden

USA culture used to be based on a man or woman's word, and a handshake as a firm promise in business or personal life. In a BBC article, all kinds of factors were cited decrying the demise of the United States as a nation that other countries admired. There was banking failure, overspending and military interference, and all the usual hot buttons pressed by international peers.

But I was struck more by the positive things that made this nation great. A belief in opportunity, the value of the person next door as a friend and brother, and legal and moral systems built on Judao-Christian faiths. As those eroded through moral devaluation, corruption, political maneuvering, and wealth disbursement back to the rich, new values emerged: "free" love, looking out for #1, and the one with the most toys wins, among others. Others lost their respect for us as we became selfish and self-centered.

Christians build character by looking always to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. We compare ourselves to him, not to the world around us. It's hard to stay focused in a materialistic world, where getting brings more prestige than being.

But we stand out among our friends and acquaintances with good reputations, not by being slightly better than others, but by being different. Honest. Kind. Loving. Even when telling the truth is to our detriment. Or when kindness costs us ease. Or when love demands sacrifice. In other words, our reputation must be built on sound character.

That's the kind of reputation I'm interested in having. How about you?

Read more:
*And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness. The unclean will not journey on it; it will be for those who walk in that Way; wicked fools will not go about on it. No lion will be there nor will any ferocious beast get up on it they will not be found there.

But only the redeemed will walk there, and the ransomed of the LORD will return.They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away. Isaiah 35:8-10 NIV 

*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 NIV 

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Not so fast

I thought today was Ash Wednesday. My body needs a rest from all the rich food we've been eating, and Lent is a good time to combine mental and physical health with spiritual disciplines. Since Lent fell on Feb. 17 last year, I figured today was the day for this year. Nope, we have 3 weeks to go until the memorial days begin.

As a Protestant, I didn't grow up with Lenten observances. Our church fasted Good Friday with a special service in the morning and evening. I seem to remember most of them being rainy and blustery, appropriately yucky weather for the darkness of the remembrance. Easter, which was nearly always sunny, started with a Sunrise Service at the local cemetery and progressed through several church services into the evening.

But no Lent. When I studied for my Masters degree, I prayed Catholic and Orthodox prayers for a season, familiarizing myself with other Christian practices. I reveled in the richness and beauty as the Spirit breathed into the old traditions!

Lent came alive that year as I accepted a new discipline of daily Lenten writing. As I read through the scriptures, I posted observations to an initial list of 150 people (before blogging was popular). The list grew into my blog, first on a now-defunct site, then at xanga, now at

Some years I love writing, some years I dread the merciless demand of each new morning at the computer keyboard. As I read through those years, I marvel at God's faithfulness in opening scripture and allowing spiritual disciplines to shape my life. (Though today I'm glad I don't have to begin fasting nor daily writing because of a three-week reprieve.) 

I'm looking forward to meeting God again within the special attention that Lent offers, starting March 9 this year. I need the solitude, meditation, and examination more than ever, after the challenges of the past year. How about you? 

Read more:
*O LORD, be gracious to us; we long for you. Be our strength every morning, our salvation in time of distress. Isaiah 33:2 NIV

*I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD’S great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”

The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.

It is good for a man to bear the yoke while he is young. Let him sit alone in silence, for the LORD has laid it on him.  Let him bury his face in the dust—there may yet be hope.  Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him, and let him be filled with disgrace. For men are not cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love.  Lamentations 3:19-32 NIV

*Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Matthew 5:4 NIV

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

No secret code needed

Insider clubs thrive on secrets. There are rules to follow, handshakes or body moves, and codes. From first grade at school, some kids emerge as natural leaders. Those who want to be their close friends have to imitate them and follow their lead.

Churches tend to start with an warm, "Everyone welcome!" As organization develops, it gets a little more restrictive. Membership means looking and acting a certain way. The group becomes identified with a style of worship or a dress code, usually stuck with dated preferences even after the founder moves on. Even most "emerging" churches have their own restrictions and younger, hipper "look" that seems dated within a few years.

Jesus wasn't into a certain mode of travel on his faith journey. He seemed to fit in with everyone. His assurance of pleasing God came from his time away from people, listening to God's voice. He wanted to do the will of his heavenly Father, not crack the secrets of political power or social climbing.

He developed no insider code. No secret formula. No rule upon rule. Nope, Jesus called out "Everyone come!" to his last breath. In fact, dying, he pleaded mercy for the ignorant: "Father forgive them, because they don't know what they're doing."

His disciples affirmed, "To as many as received him, he gave power to become the sons (and daughters) of God, even to those who believed on his name." There's no trick, no culture to crack, and no secret doorway to heaven.

Jesus, the way, the truth, and the life, stands and knocks at the door of our hearts. There's no painting, sanding, or refinishing needed before he comes in. 

He won't leave us in our messes though. He changes us from the inside out. It's constant, sometimes demanding, work to conform to his likeness, but we know we're accepted, flaws and all. God's children can never be outsiders in his family. He loves and cares for us as he finds us. Then he transforms us, day by day, with loving attention and discipline.

Let's be like our Father, extending that same "Welcome! C'mon in!" to those searching for God's peace, truth, and forgiveness. 

Read more:
*He has showed you, o man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8 NIV 

*My child, don't reject the LORD's discipline, and don't be upset when he corrects you. For the LORD corrects those he loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights. Proverbs 3:11-12 NLT

*For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes on him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not come into this world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved. John 3:16-17

Monday, February 14, 2011

Filing, on love day

On a rainy Valentine's Day, I've been wondering over the differences in couples. My goal today is to create order in my computer files, so I can work efficiently on my studies. Somehow there are many duplicates, "almost-done"s, and "Oh, no, not downloaded again!"s, that have snuck onto my laptop. I'm nearly overwhelmed by the amount of data collected, and despair of sorting it out.

My husband, who excels as a messie in physical space, is a fanatic at organizing information. His computer files are pristine, and he can access whatever he needs quickly and effectively. He's also great at work deadlines, getting student assignments graded within a day or two and putting administrative stuff on the right desk before time runs out.

Meanwhile, I love order and beauty in physical spaces. Decorating is a relaxation and pleasure, especially when helping friends who need a redo or upgrade of their places. We've often used old furnishings, art, and accessories to totally revamp rooms into new, pleasing, and functional areas.

I guess I have to think of computer spaces as possibilities rather than obstacles. Here goes... something. If my brain filing system resembled my husband's, I'd beg him for help. (Sadly, I never find anything he sorts for me...)

Meanwhile, I'll be considering where God is at work, reordering my interior life, while I'm categorizing and filing ideas and computer notes.

Read more:
*For the Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life." Job 33:4 NLT

*Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 1 John 4:7-11 NIV

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The whole picture

My friend gave me a wicker pot with two little stumps poking out, separated by moss. It didn't look like much was going on. "Moisten the soil," read the instructions.

So I watered it faithfully, putting it into the light, waiting for something to happen. It was a few weeks before life started to emerge from the brown bulbs. Stubby green shafts stretched into long leaves that drooped under their own weight. One morning, I noticed a thick stem pushing up from each center, with enlarged tips that grew day by day.

Over the past few days, several flowers have unfurled on each stalk, dimming from hot red to gentle pink as they open. The stamen swing gracefully from the centers, and the plants pulse with beauty that takes my breath away.

Who knew such plainness could erupt into graceful flowers? The gardener who tended the bulbs did. My friend, purchasing the planter as a Christmas treat, believed his/her report. Since I'm not new to gardening, I've seen the staggering change of amaryllis bulbs before. There was no doubt in my mind, though I didn't know the kind or color.

But for these flowers to bloom, the gardener worked the fields. Martha found the gift and brought it to my house, knowing I love gardening and beauty. I followed instructions and tended it. Any of us would have ruined its glorious potential with neglect or harm. We could have ignored the habits of the specific genus, drowning it or drying it out beyond its needs, giving it light too soon or not at all. To come into full flower, each of us cooperated. No one of us could have done this alone, yet God brought about its potential through our mutual labor.

The fullest realization of any effort results from obedience and faithful care to bring a promise to fulfillment... in a garden or a well-tended life. We are called to faithfulness whether we are entrusted with a spouse or a child, a family or partnership, a job, a task, or a ministry God puts on our horizon.

The amaryllis reminded me that only one of us is enjoying its beauty in person. I get to share its glory with you via photos.

Many hands worked together to make this experience possible. Likewise, sometimes we see in part why we're involved in a person's life or put on a project. Occasionally we never find out what happened as a result of all our hard work. Sharing freely and without stinting our gifts and work, we allow God to bring about the full beauty of his creativity.

What is in your hands to do today?

Read more: 
*He decided how hard the winds should blow and how much rain should fall. He made the laws for the rain and laid out a path for the lightning. Then he saw wisdom and evaluated it. He set it in place and examined it thoroughly. And this is what he says to all humanity: 'The fear of the Lord is true wisdom; to forsake evil is real understanding.' Job 28:25–28 NLT 

*Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed. Proverbs 15:22

*Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. 2 Timothy 2:15 NIV

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Office blues

My office walls are blue, a holdover from Kirsten's decorating days. Under her deep rich colors hide little hand prints from when Timo and Jono shared the room. The boys dipped their hands in paint and placed them on the wall in lieu of wallpaper. It was bright and cheerful. (But not something Kirsten could live with when she moved in!)

I love color and am grateful to a God who created it and gave us eyes to enjoy it. But I haven't repainted the room to a shade of my own. My office organizer asked why I was keeping the blues. No other room in our house has blue paint, though I love white and blue schemes in magazines. Partly nostalgic, partly happy with one less chore, the color remains. But I'm thinking of moving on. 
  • Pure white? None of our other rooms has this either.
  • Green? Already have one. Too laid back.
  • Red? Too energetic.
  • Yellow? Most of the house has a yellow tint. Maybe a brighter shade?
For now, my office is staying with the blues.  I'd love to hear what your favorite office color is. Suggestions please!

Read more:
*I will proclaim the name of the Lord, O praise the greatness of our God! He is the Rock, His works are perfect, and all His ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is He. Deuteronomy 32:3, 4 NIV

*Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:15-17 NIV

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Full house, empty heart

Are we filling our houses and closets because our hearts and hands are empty?

On a recent - and rare - trip to the mall, I was astonished at all the shoppers. Part of my surprise was because I mostly shop online, so shopping is not a social activity or regular part of my routine. When I do get to a store, I browse or stream past 'stuff' until something catches my eye, if I try it on it's "Quick quick," is it "Yes or no?", and out we go. A quick look at the sale rack, and I'm usually done.

It seems like a lot of consumers disagree. I remember when my mom shopped regularly, bringing home clothes and goodies for all of us. She found it a pleasure, a diversion away from housework and a passel of children.

Meanwhile, our household has too much stuff already, and that has spoiled the fun of mall-cruising for me. Plus,  Craigslist, Woot, Freecycle, and lots of other places let others' excess and cast-offs become our new-found treasures.

I've always found it ironic that most of us work so hard to pay for our stuff that we don't have time for company. No one enjoys our beautiful accumulations with us or benefits from our specialty kitchen (or garage) gadgets. The Crate & Barrel catalog is not the only series of rooms without people in them!

I had to wonder, walking past hundreds carrying shiny plastic bags and new, unopened cardboard boxes, "Is this making us happy? Are we depending on the stuff when we're hoping for substance?"

Talking to a good friend today, we marveled at how differently our priorities and lives might be ordered if we were following Jesus with undivided hearts, souls, minds, and strength... and in a non-consumer culture. Our houses might be smaller. Our closets less crowded. Perhaps I would have bought less teacups and less picture frames, and used the money for eternal priorities.

Now that it's here, what should we do with what we've got? Your suggestions are welcome!!! 

Read more:
*Oh, give thanks to the LORD! Call upon His name; make known His deeds among the peoples! Sing to Him, sing psalms to Him; talk of all His wondrous works! Glory in His holy name; let the hearts of those rejoice who seek the LORD. Seek the LORD and His strength; seek His face evermore! Psalm 105:1-4 NKJV

 *Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense. Proverbs 12:11 NLT

*Wealth is a crown for the wise; the effort of fools yields only foolishness. Proverbs 14:24 NLT

*So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13 NLT

Monday, February 7, 2011

The bigger picture

Wading through 42 chapters of Job takes a while. The book starts with the happy, successful middle-aged guy who has it all: the honor of his peers, health, wealth, a strong faith, and a close-knit family that likes each other and is respected in the community. 

When the saga gets underway, the spiritual drama is hidden to Job, his wife, and friends. Job loses everything but his marriage and his health. Until Phase 2. That's when it goes from ugly to brutal. Everything he has, even the support of his spouse and his personal happiness, is suddenly gone. Blown away. Winked out. Stomped into the ground.

I was listening to Alexander Scoby read Job (KJV). UCB radio has a Bible reader that cycles between OT and NT books. Usually I like to read for myself, but last night I couldn't sleep, and Job caught my attention again.

It was nearly 1 a.m. by the time Job returned to health and prosperity. Only a few hours of my time, but I lay awake, thinking about the months or years of suffering between Chapters 1 and 42. His friends tried their best to understand, but could only come up with "Confess your sins to God. These horrific losses must be your fault, even if you can't think of why." God is angry with the friends for imposing on Job and God their understanding of faith's journey. The youngster with chapters of wisdom simply disappears after all his talking is done. ("Now listen to me, I have it figured out, since you older people haven't got the answers.")

His wife didn't leave him, but she was so grieved and pained that she thought it would be best for Job to die rather than suffer such agony. God doesn't chastise her, but she has the comfort of more children and a restoration of wealth, along with Job. (At least, we assume Job has the same wife: she's not mentioned again.)

In the end, there are 10 more kids. Did Job ever forget his first family? Did he trust people the same way after youngsters from families who wouldn't have dared to talk to him before his tragedy reviled him and mocked him? What did he know about humanity as well as God when he was through?

There is double the wealth, and much honor. He regains everything he has lost. Well, sort of. I cry every time I read that he is back in the community. It makes me so angry that people just abandon the weak and helpless, and run from those who lose money and status. How awful and selfish we are in our relationships.

But there's no personal vendetta in Job or in his writings. He offers sacrifices to God on behalf of his friends, which tells you something about the incredible, encompassing scope of forgiveness.

Though I sometimes feel like Job, caught in the middle as things are falling apart or not getting better, I really want to be like him at the end of his life. Steady. Respected. Loving God and others no matter what life throws at us. Grateful Not forgetting, but not holding a grudge for each day and new blessings when the old blessings have withered and died. or memories of the past so tightly that they choke today's wonders and provision. 

When it's all said and done, we know Someone came to suffer our pain, to take our losses. We can't run from life, and there's no getting around the path set out for us. On the way, God teaches us compassion and patience, so that we can comfort others, too. 

Read more:
*Some time later, the LORD spoke to Abram in a vision and said to him, "Do not be afraid, Abram, for I will protect you, and your reward will be great."

But Abram replied, "O Sovereign LORD, what good are all your blessings when I don't even have a son? Since you've given me no children, Eliezer of Damascus, a servant in my household, will inherit all my wealth. You have given me no descendants of my own, so one of my servants will be my heir."

Then the LORD said to him, "No, your servant will not be your heir, for you will have a son of your own who will be your heir.' Then the LORD took Abram outside and said to him, 'Look up into the sky and count the stars if you can. That's how many descendants you will have!" Genesis 15:1-5 NLT

*For God speaks again and again, though people do not recognize it. . . . He whispers in their ears and terrifies them with warnings. He makes them turn from doing wrong; he keeps them from pride. Job 33:14, 16–17 NLT

*Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one anotherand all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:19-25 NIV

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Saturday night Odyssey

The Greek myths are a tangle of heroism, infidelity, and adventure. I confess that I've had a hard time keeping the stories of Homer's Odyssey straight. Until yesterday, that is.

My friend Kim shared an extra ticket to the Taproot Theatre production of the Odyssey. We headed into town, detouring through neighborhoods to avoid the crippled freeway down to 85th (accident at 45th on I5 southbound).

I don't know what I was expecting, but the packed room (seats maybe 150?) with close proximity to the action made the production an adventure for the audience.

Odysseus the hero, who left home to conquer Troy 20 years before, is on his way home. He shows and tells his adventures along the way. Finally, the Sirens (hilarious lines), the Cyclops (love those props!), and the roles of kings, islands, and oarsmen make sense. With great lighting and sound, Taproot makes this weird trip home interesting, exciting, and almost believable. We rooted for the hero, even while groaning at his frail mortality.

On the sidewalk en route to the parking lot, Kim and I commented how mystifying it is that scholars base real characters and history on a few surviving copies of myths told by Homer and other Greek authors, while rejecting the hundreds and thousands of fragments of scripture that have survived. I guess most of us we choose to believe what causes us the least personal change and discomfort.

Who should see this? For sure, students in elementary and high school, college kids muddling their way through the classics, and people who love to read but get stumped by the translations and wordiness of Greek literature. Probably wouldn't hurt anyone interested in cultural literacy.

Looking for a special gift for Valentine's day? How about a year's subscription for you and your friend at an intimate theater with a great variety of plays? Take the youth group on a cultural outing that helps spur conversation? Good fun, learn something new, and get inspired by your own faith.

Click here for a guide to the show

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Bible Belt to Stroke Belt

Seems eating all that "good American food" sends us to heaven sooner than we might think. The New York Times  reports that the Bible Belt with its deep fat frying and bad eating habits could  be renamed: Stroke Belt.

Preachers name all kinds of sins and their congregations know they should repent. Lying, stealing, drunkenness, cheating, disorderly conduct... Yeah, we confess our faults and ask God to help us do better.

Gluttony. We pig out as though this privilege of eating and drinking is ours to abuse any way we want. Big greasy breakfasts. Large and hearty lunches. Huge buffets of appetizers, followed by a main course, stuffed down our gullets with dessert. Oh, rather, main courses, then desserts. Washed down with calorie-rich drinks.

Some of you may call me judgmental. Uncaring. Unkind even. But it's not me... it's scripture that calls gluttony a sin and failure before God.

Why do so many of us overindulge in this pleasure and call it good, while shaking our finger at the abuse of sex, drinking, and other things? It's not as though God likes us better if we're eating healthy! But are we living as holy temples of the Spirit when we deliberately ruin our bodies and defy medical evidence for the benefits of moderation in eating and the need for exercise? Are we wise stewards of God's investment in us when we tie up health resources and gulp pills because we've eaten and drunk to the point of needing medical intervention?

I'm reading USA history of temperance and emancipation after the 2nd Great Awakening (Finney, Moody, etc.) The church took its responsibilities to society seriously, and tried to legislate away the abuses of alcohol and slavery. Some of our Christian fellows try to do the same with morality today. 

Removing slavery and apartheid from the American legal system took over 100 years, yet many hearts are still hard today between those whose families enslaved and those who were enslaved. Prohibition led to home-brew and secret drinking clubs for those who wanted alcohol. So I'm not suggesting we make it illegal to eat more than 2500 calories a day for all but athletes and construction workers. Morality is a matter of heart rather than law, though the law can act as a tutor.

In Seattle, one of the cultural values is fitness. Some of our sins are easier to hide than others, and everyone can see that fat means eating more than we exercise (with a few rare exceptions. Let's not exclude the responsibility of people who ruin their glandular system by overindulgence - and then blame their medical issues on their glands.) Seriously folks, what kind of a testimony is it to outsiders who come into a congregation of unhealthy believers? Do they want to be like us? Can others judge our lack of inner discipline by our outer lack of care for our bodies? Maybe, maybe not. But they do... I've heard and overheard such conversations.

Ok, I'm convicted. (This is actually what God has been dealing with me about this week, so don't be mad. I was venting my frustration at the requirements of scripture for MY life today.)

Eating healthy doesn't guarantee a long life. Also, we can't compare ourselves to others and say, "Better than they are!" I'm not looking at anyone's sins because I know how broken my own heart is in this and other areas. I love to eat unhealthy foods, drink pop, and sit around.

God says he holds each of us accountable for our own life, and our days are numbered. "I'm talkin' to you, Rosemarie!"

SO, I'm removing the Swiss chocolates from my desk as soon as I hit "Send." And alright already, Jimminy Cricket. I'll get up early for that exercise class again on Friday. Ugh. Ugh. I'd rather sleep in!

What's for dinner tonight? 

Read more:
*Lot took a long look at the fertile plains of the Jordan Valley in the direction of Zoar. The whole area was well watered everywhere, like the garden of the LORD or the beautiful land of Egypt. (This was before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) Lot chose for himself the whole Jordan Valley to the east of them. He went there with his flocks and servants and parted company with his uncle Abram. 

So Abram settled in the land of Canaan, and Lot moved his tents to a place near Sodom and settled among the cities of the plain. But the people of this area were extremely wicked and constantly sinned against the LORD. Genesis 13:10-13 NLT

*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 transgressionsit 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 faithand this not from yourselves, it is the gift of Godnot 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 2:4-10 NIV

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Cold but sunny out there

I headed out in the sunshine this morning, bundled up as though I was hitting the frigid streets of Winnipeg. Long lined trench coat. Fleecy suede boots. Ski gloves. Wool hat. Scarf. Even the dogs had double fleeces on. The thermometer read 25o.

When the sunshine hit my face, I took off my gloves. Whatever the temperature was on the official chart, it felt like 50o on hands and face. I was thrilled to be in the cold.

Life is like that, too. When God's light and hope shine on our faces, challenges feel more bearable. Sometimes our struggles even seem to diminish.

On FB, someone asked, "What has made you grow in your spiritual life?" Friends offered all kinds of answers, including accountability, silence, solitude, and spiritual disciplines.

For me, I grow by comparing life with and life without God. Basking in God's love, it's easier to care for others and bear our own burdens. We grow as we are filled with the Spirit, bringing to life qualities of care and neighborliness above and beyond human capacity.

Who needs your attention and sunny disposition today?

Read more:
*I will bless the LORD at all times;
         His praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul shall make its boast in the LORD;
         The humble shall hear of it and be glad.
Oh, magnify the LORD with me,
         And let us exalt His name together. Psalm 34:1-3 NKJV 

*But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other. Galatians 5:22-26 NIV