Thursday, September 29, 2011

Blogging our way to beautiful surroundings

In the next few days, I'll be posting a few favorite blogs that I follow on Google Reader. Today's topic: design and decor.

One of the great blessings of blogs is the ability to enjoy beauty through artistic eyes from all over the world. This morning, I'm smiling over these US-based observers:
God has vested his own love of beauty and his creativity in us. Why not take in some visual sustenance today!

Read more:
*Praise be to you, O LORD, God of our father Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, O LORD, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. Wealth and honor come from you; you are the ruler of all things. In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all. Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name. 1 Chronicles 29:10-13 NIV

*Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea.Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; here shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” 

Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.”And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son. Revelation 21:1-7 NKJV

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

God's surprises

Reading through the Old Testament is spirit-changing. Many of our assumptions are shattered as we study humanity from its origins through the interaction of God among us. 

So often Christians read the stories of Jesus and the writings of Paul, John, Peter and other apostles as though the New Testament sprang up without a precedent. However, in the OT, human nature parades all its ambitions, vanities, and pretensions. We have situational ethics at their best and worst... and it seems like not much has changed from then until now. Technology advances. Human nature remains unchanged.

Take for instance the story in 2 Kings 11-12 of Joash, one of the kings of Judah who served God and transformed his culture. When he was little, his mom went crazy and killed all her sons. Joash's nurse kidnapped him and hid him until he was seven years old and crowned king of Judah. Joash came under the mentorship of a priest named Jehoiada, who taught him the ancient paths and reminded him of God's laws. "Joash did what was right in the eyes of the LORD all the years Jehoiada the priest instructed him." (2 K.12:2)

When his adviser died, Joash went off the rails and sold off the treasures from God's house as a bribe to an invading king. His son provoked a war with Israel that killed many of his own people. Judah still sacrificed on the high places, though God's warnings in the Law were clear. In secret, sacrifice to idols and violence to appease gods of other nations continued, with resulting lawlessness and corruption.

The BBC reports today that 40 children and 74 lamas have been excavated at a temple in Peru, where human sacrifices similar to Aztec rituals were discovered. The children's hearts had been cut out, and supposedly the lamas, buried on top of the youngsters' bodies, helped transport them to the afterlife. My heart broke to think of the mothers crying for their children, the family beds lying empty after the kids were killed. And such a heinously high cost brought no peace or satisfaction to the people.

Our hearts are ever wandering, says the hymnist. And so it is. In every civilization, humanity seeks our own way to fulfillment and justification from sin. The more sophisticated the society, the more brutal its payment required to appease the gods it worships, whether spirits or self. We can't pretend we are exempt in the West: those of us who serve Capitalism often suffer ill health, ulcers, and estranged relationships as we serve our master Mamon (money and power) with overtime, uber-competitiveness, disregard for the environment, and our fierce determination to succeed at any price.

The NT, which many of us know better than the old, affirms our the need for redemption and freedom from sin (the condition of broken relationships with God and others,) and sins (acts of punishment resulting from our broken relationships).

My meditation today was on the God who constantly seeks wholeness and fully-realized humanity, in relationship with himself. I felt like weeping, considering my own penchant to leave the God I love. Inside we are ruined, undone, turning our backs on the joy and friendship God offers, seeking it in desperate futility elsewhere.

In contrast to God's beautiful and righteous paths, we keep trying to figure out life so we don't have to obey and follow God's ways. The exercise instructor kept telling us this morning, "How good you are, to do this exercise for yourselves. Just think, you are taking time to heal your own bodies," etc. Yeah, yeah, fine. Good for us for stretching and working out. But what profit is there to bodily exercise, if we are deluding ourselves into thinking any finite efforts can buy us grace and peace?

Even in the most trying circumstances, God introduces hope and glorious freedom into our frailty and bondage. Touches of genius remind us that our own efforts are not all there is. Another BBC video spotlighted a blind, autistic young man (32) who can play anything on the piano that he hears once. Art, life, and songs of praise erupting... perhaps because Derek is broken enough that he cannot help but worship with his body through the songs God has implanted in him.

As leaves turn color and we enjoy again the splendors of autumn, let us remember that dying produces great beauty for all to enjoy. Leaving self behind to live for God brings love and harmony into our relationships, releasing us from self-consciousness and self-aggrandizement, and setting us free to be fully human.

I thought this morning how surprising and MARVELOUS it would be to live even one day in full alignment with God's purposes for me. Oh Lord, let it be so... today. Amen.

Read more:
*"The blessing of the LORD makes a person rich, and he adds no sorrow with it." Proverbs 10:22 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

Monday, September 26, 2011

Who's the Ideal Husband?

"I was wondering why people were hanging around my house the other day," joked a friend when we told him we were going to Taproot Theatre's production of An Ideal Husband. Yeah, well, they would have shown up at our house too, if that were true :-)

The story line, of a husband trying to live up to the impossible ideals of his adoring "perfect" wife, is one of playwright Oscar Wilde's most insightful and compelling. Who hasn't had to admit to past mistakes and imperfections? If you're like me and have had to -fess up more than once or twice, you'll love An Ideal Husband, no question about it!

“To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.” ~ Oscar Wilde
We arrived to the usual buzz in the little theater on 85th. There's not a bad seat in the house, though it's usually full. We were lucky to move over a few seats when the guy next to us propped his foot up to block our view of a corner of the stage. My polite ideal mate wouldn't ask the man to put his foot down, but we didn't want to miss a thing. I appreciated the media tickets and am delighted to present you with this review:

“An acquaintance that begins with a compliment is sure to develop into a real friendship.” ~ Oscar Wilde

As usual, Taproot does great job of casting. I especially enjoyed the clueless matron, Lady Markby (Pam Nolte), Mabel Chiltern (Anne Kennedy Brady), and Lord Goring (Aaron Lamb). Though Lamb doesn't dazzle in the first bit, he snuck up on us as a convincing rake and ne-er-do-well. Karen Lund's directing continues to showcase her experience and quest for excellence, both with the dramatic material and the theater's space. The actors made full use of the stage, telling us terrible truths about ourselves with wit and humor. How they made us laugh with their characterizations of "beautiful idiots and brilliant lunatics!"

Oscar Wilde's psychological insights into human nature, class, and the culture of his day astonish: he captures his peers' (and our) foibles and efforts at life in conversations filled with hilarity, sarcasm, and irony. Those one-liners kept rolling off the lips with convincing British accents... we perched on the edges of our seats wondering what was coming next. Since we've lived in the UK, the dialogue details jumped out at us with added realism. Sometimes audience chuckles drowned out a line or two - we tried to be good, but the play - and Taproot's portrayal of C19 Victorian life - was too funny to resist a few belly laughs at ourselves.

One of the things I enjoy most about Taproot is its costuming and staging. Since the stage is small, surrounded by people, and visible from three sides, the layout demands uncluttered simplicity and good dramatic support. With a few pieces of furniture, wonderful outfits, and good casting, the play came alive. I've seen Wilde's play a few times, but I can't every remember enjoying it more.

"When the gods want to punish, they answer our prayers." ~ Oscar Wilde

The people sitting next to us were first-timers to Taproot. "We live in the neighborhood," they admitted. "But we've never been here before." The husband was new to Wilde as well, and judging by comments and laughter between the couple, they had a great time. Both promised to return soon. We agree: a thoroughly satisfying and convincing evening out. Don't miss it!

The show runs through October 22. Tickets available here. (My son noticed that "under 25s" tickets are only $10, so why not make it a date?)

If you love drama, would like to support a small local theater, and think it's important to encourage excellence in entertainment, consider a subscription so you can enjoy the whole season. Tickets make great birthday or Christmas gifts, too!

Photo credits: Erik Stuhaug

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Beauty all around

I love the desert's sunshine on sage grasses, violet shadows, and its heat. We just spent three days in Winthrop, ensconced in a luxury resort, thanks to a raffle ticket from the university where W works. Though it was cool at night, day temperatures were pleasant, obviously September rather than July.
Beauty ambushes those who pause to look. We gazed over valleys from behind deer-proof flower and herb borders planted on the edge of the mountain. Far below, cars ran their courses like toys, while above the hawks swooped over the fields where deer grazed. "So much blue!" exclaimed my husband, enjoying the vista under its big sky umbrella.
The town nearby (Winthrop) is slow-paced and artsy. We strolled the streets, watched a glassblower make a pumpkin, complete with twisted stem, and dropped in on "Sage Hens," a small gallery run by two women who have raised kids and are playing and working at art. Wonderful stuff, all of it. W bought me a painting I couldn't forget, 2 chickadees swept onto branches by the artist's brush. The shop was closed when we stopped by on our way out of town, so we called... sure enough, one of the "hens" was on her way in. Lovely!
We may go back some time, perhaps for a special anniversary. That God gave us this gift seems extraordinary, and we were determined to enjoy it fully.  We are not "luxury" spenders, either for vacations or for work. The pleasures of driving back through the forest that hems the asphalt, the crisp mountain air of the North Cascades Pass, the sheer abundance and variety of plants, rock, and water along the way... 
ah, we came back refreshed and grateful for the beauty God lavishes on us. We are thankful for eyes that see, noses that smell, tongues that taste, ears that hear, and fingers that touch. Our small Sabbath renewed us as no mere sleep could. We came away from our routines to listen and admire God in his splendor, playing among his creatures in nature. How Good he is to share his love for beauty with us!
Read more... *For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. 2 Chronicles 16:9 a NIV

*Your love, O LORD, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies. Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your justice like the great deep. O LORD, you preserve both man and beast. How priceless is your unfailing love! Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light. Psalm 36:5-9 NIV

Friday, September 16, 2011

Joy in scarcity, not a spirit of poverty

Jesus said a rich person would have a hard time getting to heaven. "How can that be?" asked the disciples. I asked myself that today, too. Why is that true?

In a country of incredible abundance, we are hooked on food (or avoiding it), money (or lack of it), and sex (or a perversion of it). How do we serve God in the middle of his lavish provisions?

We get distracted by the cares of life and by acquisitions. I recently read a  blog on "The Benefits of Scarcity", written by a guy who's not a Christian. When they ran into debt, they sold their house (they moved to a great apartment in the city, close to everything,) sold the car and take public transit or walk (good way to meet people, to really see those around him, as well as exercise.) The family also sold their excess furniture (ah, the ease of sitting in an uncluttered room, the relaxation of not having to move junk when cleaning.) They volunteered their extra time not spent shopping and maintaining things (felt useful serving, and had fun besides.) And finally, he talked about the health benefits of cutting back food (he cut back to eat 2 meals a day to remember those who don't have enough to eat.)

In summary, in the process of shedding extra stuff, he became appreciative of the few things that remain, lost 60 lbs, is in great health, and enjoys his neighborhood. He wrote that their family has never been happier than living in what others might term "scarcity." Just enough. Abundance without piles of "stuff." I was amazed, reading it, surrounded by thousands of papers and lots of things in my office.

Christians sometimes feel entitled to More, to Lots of Stuff, and to The Best. We feel cheated when we lose our house, experience financial stress, and can't purchase the latest fashion. We are consumed by things that should serve us. Overwhelmed by too much. Distracted by trivia that interests us only until it joins the other superfluous possessions in our houses.

"Faith without works is dead," my husband reminded me in a conversation about who is "saved." So if we just say we've made a commitment to Christ without being different from those around us..., so what?! If our lives and priorities don't change from cultural greed and materialism to loving/serving God and others, we show that we are not serious about living in a relationship with God.

I'm not talking about a spirit of poverty or deprivation. God promised a life of abundance, though abundance depends on a focus on God. It includes serving others with what we are given, and taking our portion rather than the portion of others.

It's healthy to ask ourselves, "Are our things distracting or helping us to serve and love God?" What can we give away, share with others, resist purchasing, or sell off to narrow our gaze on Him who is lovely? What can we put aside to see the lonely and needy around us? 

Read more:

*Then Daniel praised the God of heaven and said: “Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his. He changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning. He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him. 

I thank and praise you, O God of my fathers: You have given me wisdom and power, you have made known to me what we asked of you, you have made known to us the dream of the king.” Daniel 2:20-23 NIV

*Then Jesus said to his disciples, 'I tell you the truth, it is very hard for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. I'll say it again—it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!'

The disciples were astounded. 'Then who in the world can be saved?' they asked

Jesus looked at them intently and said, 'Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.' Matthew 19:23–26 NLT

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Eternal peace or insecurity?

My husband is writing a paper on the idea of "once saved, always saved," an issue that seems contentious at worst, confusing at best. How nice to have a theologian in the house - his work and passion to know God inspire me to a closer walk with God, too.

I read Scripture this morning, still mulling over last night's conversation about some theologians who want to give us peace in following Jesus. They so passionately want us not to fear that we'll "lose our salvation" that they are willing to say, "If you've ever made a commitment to Christ, you're safe, no matter how badly you behave thereafter." ("Hell be damned, I'm gonna live like the devil because I'm in!") Other teachers are so worried of us sinning that they say, "If we fall away, we deceived ourselves and were actually never saved in the first place." ("Holy insecurity!")

Yet I read in God's Word:
         Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father-to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.

Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him.  So shall it be! Amen.

"I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, "who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty." Revelation 1:4-8 NIV

Here's what I understand:
  • God, holy and magnificent above what we can grasp, is utterly terrifying to humanity.
  • Our Maker restored the possibility of a relationship between us, based not on our merits or works, but on his amazing provision through a Sacrifice that satisfies his justice and demonstrates his love.
  • Woohoo! We are free; we live in harmony and beauty; we are pardoned from anything we have done or will do. (Yeah, my heart is dancing with joy!)
  • When he comes back, we will understand the past, present, and future grace and peace he extends to us. THAT will be a celebration unlike any other for those who love him. (In contrast, the realization will be an unthinkable horror for those who rejected him.)
  • It's an honor to live as God's kings and priests among our fellows, inviting them by words and by peaceful, moral, exuberant lives, into relationship with our God.
  • God will examine how we lived and reward us in absolute justice, according to our choice to live in him or spurn his friendship.
Am I insecure? Can I lose intimacy with God like a letter I drop on the way to the post office? Nope, I'm safe in the hands of a mighty Lord who keeps me. However, he expects me to press in, to align with his character, and to serve him and others as his emissary. He also lovingly allows me to walk away and reject him, even when that means I deliberately choose to end our relationship.

We choose Life! To THE ONE, who was, is, and is to come, be glory, honor, power, dominion, authority, praise... over all, and in you and me... as we worship with right living and joyful retelling of his goodness. AMEN.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Peace like a river

The inflatable kayak floats across the ripples, our paddles dipping on either side. The water laps against the prow where Missy sits, queen of the boat.

We had a good laugh Saturday after we took a turn around Green Lake. When W began to deflate the kayak near the car, Missy jumped on the prow. W wiped the bottom of the kayak clean and started to roll it up. The dog sat on the end until the last minute: "What? You think you're done already? I want some more!" She loves sitting on the front, watching the ducks float by, relaxing in her life jacket.

We all like being on the water. It's calming exercise that feels like fun, and sweet time together. Reading Isaiah this morning, I thought of the cleansing water God provides for our souls. Unlike other World Religions who atone by sacrifice or good works, or teach their adherents to ignore and live beyond their sins, Christians find forgiveness and new life in Christ.

The sacrifice has already been offered and accepted, once for all. Yet how difficult it is for us to accept that without adding our own work to salvation! Today, obeying and resting in God's provision, we will find contentment and peace. God calls us to examine his wonderful proposal, to ask questions, to reason with him. He promises that we will find everything we seek and long for... in Him alone.

How do your plans for the day embrace his offer?

Read more:
*People who accept discipline are on the pathway to life, but those who ignore correction will go astray. Proverbs 10:17 NLT

*Come now, and let us reason together,” says the LORD, “ Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land, but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword”; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken. Isaiah 1:18-20 NKJV

*Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 NKJV

Friday, September 2, 2011

Not too old after all

"Moses was eighty years old, and Aaron was eighty-three when they made their demands to Pharaoh." Exodus 7:7 NLT

Wow, Moses was an old guy - and so was his brother - by the time God called them to lead the people. They had the power and authority of old people, too. They knew who their God was, after many experiences and challenges. They probably knew what they were and weren't capable of... yet God overrode those expectations by giving them stamina for the drudgery of travel and doing incredible miracles through them.

Though Moses objected to his stuttering, he never complained that he was too old for leadership. In today's culture, where senior leaders (even in churches) discard experienced staff for young'uns "who get it," we could learn a lot from God's choice.

God did not seek out a hot youngster with the energy and drive to ride the trends and think "out of the box." The slaves were headed into the desert, for crying out loud. Wouldn't a creative thinker have been great? The Israelites might have had better success with someone who could figure out a direct route across the hot sands! Instead, God chose a seasoned man with past failures that had disqualified him for leadership, a quick temper, a world-class education, and the patience to herd sheep for 40 years.

Caleb and Joshua were not yet ready to take the helm when Moses took the ship's wheel. It would also take them 40 years to understand God's heart, to be proven faithful, and to fight battles that scarred and toughened them and set their faces forward for war and peace.

While you've been beating the bushes for Joshua and Caleb, who's been sitting in your ranks, wise and knowledgeable, waiting to be called to lead the pack?

Is she or he as trustworthy as Moses, unafraid to mentor the next generation through their own growing seasons so they are ready for serious responsibilities?

Maybe we're the ones, looking around and saying, "Hey, are you sure, God? I feel I'm past my prime and no one will listen to me. I'm too old for this. My energy is waning. My memory is going..."

When God says, "Get up. GO! NOW! I AM with you," will we follow him, so that he can lead others through us?

"Nearly all men can stand adversity, 
but if you want to test a man's character, 
give him power." - Abraham Lincoln

"Example is not the main thing in influencing others; 
it is the only thing." - Albert Schweitzer