Friday, March 30, 2012

Lent Day 32: Thankful for security in strange times

I've begun reading scripture with renewed curiosity and wonder. Studying makes you question everything – the assumptions of childhood that God is magical and at our beck and call, the confusion of teen years when only God knows what's going on, and the vigor of young adulthood that believes anything is possible if you feel it should be done.

The one thing that has remained is utter security. I'm certain that – whatever I know or don't know – God hasn't changed.

As I read the news in tandem with scripture, I'm amazed by the return to wickedness and immorality. There were times in American history when entire towns shut down their businesses so people could attend revival services. In the present-day USA, the Ten Commandments must be removed from places of government because they might offend someone.

History records that an American President received the first copy of the New American Standard Bible with gratitude and prayers. Today, Western cultures shudder at the term "sin" as self-righteous judgment of others and the mention of "wrong" as intolerance.

How strange!

This week, President Gauck was sworn in as Germany's new president. In a cheerful article listing his qualifications, coolness factor, and his confirmation by an overwhelming majority in German parliament, "Germany in Class" headlines bubbled that "the former pastor and rights activist, arrived with his partner, Daniela Schadt, at the presidential residence on Monday, March 19." Former pastor. Partner. In the same sentence, with no moral quiver.

I remember the ongoing indignation of my grandma, who was saved during the holiness revivals in Germany after WWII. She decried any hint of sin, any move away from conservatism in churches, and any ideas that seemed to lower standards for believers. She didn't fuss too much with those outside the Church because she thought God could deal with them. She believed that if Christians lived upright and righteous lives, sinners would be drawn to the Good News.

Reading this morning, I wondered what effect this "former pastor" Herr Gauck had on his congregation. Did some of them find the path to reconciliation with God? Did any hear the Word of Life when he preached? Did the scriptures speak to him personally, confronting his broken nature as it confronts mine?

Whatever I am called by others, I want to be tolerant and loving. I know those who do not follow Christ don't hold to the standards of Jesus. But I won't compromise by calling evil good or upholding immorality or looking away from destructive acts among those who claim His name.

I'd be insecure all day long if I considered human judgment and self-justification more important than God's disapproval. Pretending that His standards have changed would mean that His nature was transient and untrustworthy. That would make life more awful and terrifying than I can imagine. Grandma's wrath would be only a tiny foretaste of what is coming.

Read more:
*O LORD, you have searched me    and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.

Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD. You hem me inbehind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there;    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. Psalm 139:1-10 NIV

That which had not been told them they shall see. Isaiah 52:15

And the disciples went out and proclaimed the good news everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it. Mark 16:20

Moravian Prayer: Like those early disciples, may we be so committed to serving you that the world will surely see you in the deeds we perform. Empower us to be your agents of justice in an unjust world, agents of healing in a sin-sick world, agents of welcome in a bigoted world and agents of peace in a war-torn world. Amen.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Lent Day 31: Thankful for healing oil

I'm fending off the flu on a rainy day with one of Dad's magic remedies: oil of oregano. It's been over a year since I've been sick. The blog this morning is a ramble. Just a warning.

My body began to wilt yesterday at the birthday table (@Szechwan Chef in Bellevue.) We ate rice and peppered fish and my energy revived until nightfall. (The menu item, Szechuan boiled fish, sounded awful when the server recommended it on our first visit. Though we and our kids are not big seafood eaters, we risked it. It was fantastic and we've had it there ever since.)

I don't know if the oil and medicinal teas will help but I need my full day for editing. I can't wait to clear off my desks. I have a 3X5' table with 6 stacks of books (by category) plus an L-shaped desk where my computer and pages wait for edits. My file cabinet and paper file are full. At some point, when the writing is done, I get to purge and restore order. Ahhh. T'will be a happy day.

I'm optimistic about a tidy office. However, let's get real: though I'm drawn to the clean idea of minimalism, I won't ever be a minimalist. I have only a few medicines: oil of oregano, tea tree oil, baking soda for toothpaste, and Vicks Vapo-rub. Old standards. I stock up on a few cleaning supplies, the multi-purpose basics. (W stashes specialty items; I'd ask him if I needed them.)

The things I use often are obvious: our tea cupboard is filled with leaves in dozens of glass jars for liquid restoratives. Two cabinets of spices wait beside the stove, sealed containers ready to share smells before their tastes unfurl in food.

And it's the season to rejuvenate our living room. W oiled the dry wood tables this week and they look refreshed. Yesterday, I treated myself to two wonderful blankets from Pier 1 Imports. When I flung them over the sofas, the colors were perfect. I bought them because I liked them; the color-match is a bonus.

One has a muted front: the lime in the store becomes golden green in the gloomy lighting of the morning. But the cheerful fringe shouts to guests arriving at the front door. The pom-pom corners make me smile though I expect them to last until only Kinsey gives them a tug.

The other blanket has bright felted floral and bird appliqued on a creamy white to compliment the pillows. (You never know until you try. It's nearly always worth the risk, isn't it?)

The tired old cushions on the DR chairs have been consigned to the wash, replaced by bright beaded ones (@$2.38, reg. $24 each). Nope, those don't really match either. There are 5 of one, 3 of the other. Somehow it looks wonderful in place. [photos below: before and 2 afters. no surprise which is which.]

Life brings unexpected harmony, too. We start with ideas of how we will match this activity to that time and place. Then surprises derail our plans. Sickness or financial constraints limit our energy.

It's good to stay open to possibilities.

Somehow the details always work out. We look back to say, "God is good and I'm still here."

I'm trusting that the day will bring good work and solid progress. Steady efforts and small steps along with the oregano oil, I tell myself. I might have to pick up the pace since my dissertation revisions are due this weekend.

I'm looking ahead, beyond the obligations. The living room is waiting for me to snuggle up with a book among the restful "it's-almost-spring" tones.

Read more:
*Inquire first for the word of the Lord. 2 Chronicles 18:4

*Jesus also said, "The Kingdom of God is like a farmer who scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, while he's asleep or awake, the seed sprouts and grows, but he does not understand how it happens. The earth produces the crops on its own. First a leaf blade pushes through, then the heads of wheat are formed, and finally the grain ripens. And as soon as the grain is ready, the farmer comes and harvests it with a sickle, for the harvest time has come." Mark 4:26–29

*Continue in what you have learned and firmly believed. 2 Timothy 3:14

Moravian Prayer: Guide us, dear Lord, in our efforts to discern your will for our lives. As we turn to the scriptures, your guide for our faith and life, may we use all the resources at our disposal to understand and interpret their meaning for us. Keep us from shallow faith and unquestioning obedience and instead, help us to use our questions and doubts to be able to grow
in our commitment to you. Amen.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Lent Day 30: Thankful for differences

We're almost finished with 20 episodes of "Secret Garden," a Korean comic romance series. Its typical plot contains a few atypical twists and turns - as the rich guy tries to win the poor but feisty girl. Amusing story, no tawdry bedroom scenes, and repetitious music that gets stuck in my head.

Sitting next to W, watching the exhaustion of dating and family melodrama, I'm happy for the day's new insights. I like learning about culture from the stereotypes scriptwriters present about themselves; Korean series explain a lot about their culture's imbedded values. The underlying importance of shame, pride, money, and power run deeper than the words translated into English. The expectations are veiled in sidelong glances and bows at precise angles and speeds––with shoulders hunched or straight, head held rigid or soft. As an outsider, I marvel at the overt and subtle social messages given and received.

I've been in culture shock again this week (after living in the USA for 26 years), watching the responses to collective shame of slavery that ended 150 years ago, imposed on a confused and uncertain population. Many peoples have been slaves in the past without continually memorializing it. Something unusual about this issue remains unforgiven in American history.

I've been reading news from many POVs, asking "What just happened?! this week?" If a gangster-dressed teen of any ethnic background strolls my neighborhood or exhibits suspicious behavior, I'm going to be on guard and call the police. If he or she attacks me and slams my head into the pavement, anyone would fight back or run away. (Who cares in the moment if the attacker is Asian, Hispanic, African-American, Caucasian, or any other blend of human mongrel?) Where I come from, we don't erect a monument and canonize a slain attacker, no matter how nice he or she was to family or friends. And where I come from, no one rises up in collective outrage to protest an ongoing social issue based on a mugging. (I admit my fellow citizens are not big into group protests unless they're unionized. And I hate guns used against other people. More personal cultural baggage.)

We've each grown up with––or inherited––traditions from our culture group that we think are superior to other people's. Guess what? Those others think similar "less-than" things about our worldviews.

I've encountered unshared and puzzling expectations from "other" ethnic groups who make assumptions about me. I've been the only person with my skin color or accent in a room full of people. I've been surprised at being served meals that my mom never cooked in her kitchen.

Such experiences always remind me of the wonder of the many and the beauty of our differences as we've spread across the planet and multiplied into families and villages. I'm not always comfortable but I'm always filled with awe at God's love of creativity and his pleasure in designing us with likeness and difference.

The roots of the same family tree anchor your genetic lineup and mine as humanity has intermarried and intertwined. To a third-culture person like me, it seems obvious that no group of us has achieved more than others. Some tribes are better engineers or gardeners or musicians or artists or boat-builders or writers. Others are better preachers or care-givers or scientists or mathematicians or swimmers or hunters. But tribes rise and fall in history according to the survival skills needed at the time.

Unashamedly, I see mongrel and mutt genetics in all our varied surface wrappings of "black" or "white" or other "colors." God joyfully stamped his image on each of us as he blessed us with human DNA. Whose blood is "pure" something or other? Not one of us. The ongoing "race card" and "African-American vs. other" divide of the USA––which makes the nation shudder and ethnic groups reel against each other over and over––is not part of my childhood story.

I look like many Americans. Middle-aged, blond, fair-skinned, moderately fat, eye-brows penciled in. Yet when I encounter ongoing cultural difficulties as an outsider––those issues that insiders haven't resolved––I'm really taken aback. I read historical documents about American prohibition, slavery, emancipation, suffrage, and riots over industrial exploitation in mines and on railroads. My German and Canadian upbringing doesn't remember any of them and my parents' comments to me in childhood don't bring any of those to mind. But because I look like those around me, others assume I share their values and their collective shame.

Nope. Our clan stereotyped "others" as less spiritual, less tidy, and less hard-working (= less-than our values). My tribe was ruined by barbarians overrunning other barbarians, hidden concentration camps, and immigrant fighting their way from poverty with hard work, much scrubbing, Grimm's fairytales, and careful attention to detail. That's my story. Dirty, glorious, shameful, full of power struggles and God's grace in centuries of terrors and trophies.

We have a hard time forgetting the past and living in the present, and thus, we "bind on earth" what heaven has called us to release.

Part of the glorious hope of our salvation is that some day, when we know ourselves and each other as God knows us, we will be able to set aside our prejudices and the unforgiving presuppositions of our distorted worldviews. Meanwhile, I'm thankful to live in a foreign culture where so much is pleasing and good, where so much progress has been made toward reconciliation. Where conversation continues, however disturbing and puzzling (to me) the ways in which indigenous peoples try to work out their grievances.

Though our fallen natures pull us toward the pit of division and anger, God constantly challenges us to draw near and accept his love, grace, and forgiveness. As he extends his hand to us, we become able to reach out to those who feel hurt, disadvantaged, and dis-graced.

From the beginning, since God made humanity––after all will be said and done––ALL OTHERS are our blood relatives, flesh of our flesh, and bone of our bone. We are brothers and sisters, whether our own wounded hearts know it or not.

For me, family is everything. Including YOU.

Read more:
*Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth. Sing to the LORD, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day.
Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples. For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods. Psalm 96:1-4 NIV

*And when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, "This is the way; walk in it." Isaiah 30:21

*Jesus said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." John 14:6

Moravian Prayer: Lord Jesus, you are not our interpretation of your way, but YOU are simply the way. Knowing this, we commit ourselves to you anew this day confident in knowing that it is you who opens the gate. We seek your guidance in being open about the interpretations others use regarding the details of that way. Amen.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Lent Day 29: Thankful for relatives

Jesus had parents, siblings, aunts - and lots of friends and acquaintances. We don't know exactly how big Nazareth was, but it's a fair guess that most people in town knew each other. They would have known family histories, silly games of childhood, and all the strengths and weaknesses of their neighbors.

With many people choosing not to endure the hard work of marriage or fleeing dangerous situations, we have a self-spawning culture of combinations and re-combinations called blended families.

I just heard that two of our acquaintances are splitting up as a couple. Nah, we don't know the whole story, but from what we've observed, a big part of it is a lack of maturity, forgiveness, and grace. They've had a rocky road off and on and one of them is fed up. Calling it quits. Unwilling to work any more at what has been a steep climb. Supposedly, they still "love each other." Whatever.

I look into another life window, where a friend's spouse is at death's door, the victim of cancer. They won't have the lifelong connections in common as one leaves the other behind. They had no choice and when they are parted, it will take time for the grieving partner to find a new normal.

One of the gifts of a long marriage, no matter how much work or stressful some years have been, is the mutual memory bank. W and I love each other more now than in the beginning (and than we did in parts of the middle!) We have many friends in common; he tells me about colleagues at work or church. I update him on FB friends and people who grew up with us in the church's youth group. You don't get those kind of memories or proven marriage benefits by running away to "find yourself" elsewhere.

I'm grateful for my folks. They've stayed married for nearly 60 years, through thick and thin: poverty and wealth; challenges with their parents and children; exciting adventures and boring chores. We've been married 34 years. Our kids have begun their marriages with a strong commitment to their spouses, too.

It's not easy to stay married without the social and religious pressure to keep a covenant in good and bad times. Among my first cousins, 6 of 24 have experienced divorce or abandonment. W and I also might not have made it through some very tough seasons without both of us honoring our covenant before God and buckling down to family expectations.

Today I'm thankful for all the aunts and uncles, the cousins, nieces and nephews, and other family members who have stuck it out. The extended web of friendships and trust remind us of God's faithfulness and the importance of self-discipline and perseverance. Life is not always easy, but it is worth doing with all our hearts and strength.

Loving others is second only to loving God, according to Jesus. And you do that by changing yourself (since you can't change others.)

The fact that my husband turned out to be my Prince Charming is an unexpected bonus.

Read more:
*Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars! For he commanded, and they were created. Psalm 148:3,5

*Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27 NIV

*You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created. Revelation 4:11

Moravian Prayer: We offer thanks to you, Creator God, for all good gifts - the seasons of the year and of the spirit, and the experiences of joy, pleasure and gladness. We offer thanks also for the sorrow and grief and solitudes of life and for the strength through which we are able to meet them. We pray for those who work hard to preserve relationships and we commit ourselves to work with them this day. Amen. 

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Lent day 28: Thankful for Saturday

I'm glad the week is almost over. Sometimes that's enough. Have a great weekend.

Read more: 
 *Once again Jesus began teaching by the lakeshore. A very large crowd soon gathered around him, so he got into a boat. Then he sat in the boat while all the people remained on the shore. He taught them by telling many stories in the form of parables, such as this one: 'Listen! A farmer went out to plant some seed. As he scattered it across his field, some of the seed fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate it. Other seed fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seed sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow. But the plant soon wilted under the hot sun, and since it didn't have deep roots, it died. Other seed fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants so they produced no grain.

Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they sprouted, grew, and produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted!' Then he said, 'Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.' Mark 4:1–9

Friday, March 23, 2012

Lent Day 27: Thankful for recovery sabbaths

"Do you ever rest?" my sis asks me. The simple answer is yes. Deeply, deliberately, and defensively.

After each big event (whether that's been hosting big events, watching my grandbaby born, or defending my dissertation), I shut down production and ignore work for a mini-sabbatical.

Instead of hitting the trail, I putter. After a day of exhausting stress Tuesday, I read the Bible, baked bread (easy method below), walked the dogs, napped, and incorporated the celebration leftovers of kale and cauliflower into a ramen supper Wednesday. Nothing I did had a measurable impact - except in recovery.

My mom remembers a neighbor commenting on my teen energy, "Sie hat sieben Ziegen an einem Schwanß" (She has 7 goats by the tale). I've left such unflagging enthusiasm behind, obviously.

The secret of clear thinking, sound decision-making, and good work lies in seasons of meditation and rest. World religions focus their meditations on achieving "nothingness" and emptying the mind. In contrast, Christ calls us to revive our souls from emptiness by filling up with his abundance.

It takes solitude and quiet to hear the voice of the Shepherd. When stress, grief, or change unbalance our focus on God, we need to draw into silence and renew our strength in God's presence. It took me two days of drawing away from studies to refocus. I could have panicked about the deadlines looming, but my body and soul needed to step away.

I took a walk in the sunshine and had a healthy breakfast this morning. Now I'm ready to tackle dissertation revisions. On the clock, I'm two days behind. Yet, while the deadline hasn't changed, my heart is happy and excited to do good work.

The gospel writers spotlight a few events from Jesus life while admitting that the world's books could not contain everything he accomplished. They took time to record nights of prayer and times away with his disciples that might have been Jesus' sabbath seasons. He also celebrated the weekly Jewish day of complete rest.

Who are we to think our work is more important or our bodies more capable than his? Don't let anyone force you into living like you're super-Jesus. Such a blasphemy of overwork pays only in collapse and burnout, not in better ministry or healthier persons.

Read more:
*Lord, there is no one like you to help the powerless against the mighty. 2 Chronicles 14:11 NIV

*The LORD directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives. Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the LORD holds them by the hand." Psalm 37:23-24 NLT

*Jesus said, "The farmer plants seed by taking God's word to others. The seed that fell on the footpath represents those who hear the message, only to have Satan come at once and take it away. The seed on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and immediately receive it with joy. But since they don't have deep roots, they don't last long. They fall away as soon as they have problems or are persecuted for believing God's word. The seed that fell among the thorns represents others who hear God's word, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life, the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things, so no fruit is produced.

And the seed that fell on good soil represents those who hear and accept God's word and produce a harvest of thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted!" Mark 4:14–20 NLT

*Paul wrote: My God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:19 NLT

Moravian Prayer: Christ Jesus, you are our mighty fortress and in you we find our sin and evil is conquered. Thank you for breaking the rod of the oppressor and winning our salvation. We dedicate ourselves anew to you this day. Amen.

BREAD: leftover dough from making pizza (I saved 1/2 c. Trader Joe's pizza dough). Add 2-3 c flour, 1-2 c water, and (optional) 1 tsp sugar and 1 tsp salt. Use your hands to stir and knead until the flour is absorbed. If it's runny and wet, add a few tbsp flour. If it's hard and dry, add a few tbsp water.

Cover. Let sit on counter 1-5 hours. Put in fridge or break off the piece of dough you'd like to bake. Always leave 1/2-1 c dough in the bowl as starter, to which you add flour, water (and maybe sugar and salt). Repeat the steps above endlessly.

  • Preheat the oven to 400 (softer crust) or 425 (crisper crust). 
  • Sprinkle on the middle of a clean baking sheet: 3-5 tbsp of any combination of cream of wheat, cornmeal, rolled oatmeal (or other grains), sunflower seeds, flax seeds, etc. You can use more or less, depending on how big you want to make your bread loaf or bun.
  • Pinch off the amount you want to bake from the dough, then roll it in the grains and seeds. Make sure there's enough on the pan so the baked bread won't stick.
  • Let it rise to about 2/3 or double the size. I put the pan over a bowl of hot water to make it rise faster. (Don't touch the water but let the heat rise under the bread.)
  • Bake (approximate baking times below). When bread is done, a knock with a knife sounds more like a tap than a thud. 
  • Set the dough = Softer crust: wrap in a clean dishtowel for 20-30 minutes. Harder crust: cool on a wire rack for 20-30 minutes.
  • OH YUM YUM YUM. Hot fresh bread.
Hints: use the middle rack of the oven with a regular cookie sheet. Use the bottom rack of the oven if you have a bread pan, or non-stick or double-layered cookie pans. If you don't have a convection oven to circulate heat, put another preheated clean cookie sheet on the upper rack (above the bread) to heat the top of the bread.

Baking times:
@400: 20-25 minutes for a bread bun or small loaf; 35 minutes for a medium loaf; 45-50 minutes for a large loaf
@425: reduce baking time by 5 minutes.

Bread-baking is an art. An easy one though. You'll have fun with this and get the "feel" of bread without hours of kneading. Then, be creative:
  • Mix and match the flour portion by subbing whole grain, soy, teff, etc. flours
  • Add unusual seasonings like 1 tbsp of olive oil and 1 tbsp of Italian seasonings (rosemary, basil)
  • Add mashed potato flakes and 1 tsp black pepper.
  • your creative ideas here!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Day 26: Thankful for good direction

"I heard you say ... but can you explain how your plan moves you toward that goal?" she asked me.

"Ummmm. I'm not sure it does." = Time to backtrack and rethink.

Jodi Detrich was one of several who have coached my academic and spiritual direction in the past few years. Tillie Porter sent daily verses for meditation. Such spiritual directors pinpoint strengths and weaknesses, how things fit together as we are growing in faith. They nudge (and sometimes push) us forward.

Mentors and friends like Jim and Jeannie Lowell, Joy Qualls, and Barbara Houger, who had completed doctorates, encouraged me to keep going:
  • "This experience is part of the academic process. Don't be discouraged."
  • "We also felt overwhelmed and muddled in the beginning. Things become clearer. Keep moving."
  • "Don't give up. Find out what the committee wants and write to that."
  • And one that I really appreciated: "The goal is not perfection but finished."
Along the way, my life mandate has become clearer. I've had many opportunities to connect people to relationships and resources.

I will write. I will teach. And whatever the next job is––should there be one––though the job description may include exchanging facts and information, it must include helping others to find the answer to these questions:
  • "What has God called you to do?
  • "Who are you willing to be––and what are you willing to do––to fulfill that calling?" 
  • "How can we get you there?"
  • "What barriers can we remove?"
  • "Who do we know who could help? inform? make a path for you to get there?" (BTW: Alumni, ministers, and missionary cohorts are awesome circles of connections. My warmest thanks to alums and fellow students for everyone you've boosted when I sent them your way!)
I love to encourage others to move past fear, worldview barriers, and self-limitations to embrace their calling. It thrills me to watch someone plunge with all their might into the future while living fully in the day. I can hardly breathe for joy when I see others find the balance of worship, work, and play, no matter what their career path holds. After all, the point of life is not outward riches but the inner wealth of a life in harmony with its design and the Designer.

Thanks especially to those who continue to help me find the path God has marked out for me. The question came up yesterday three times, "Now what? What are you going to do with this degree?"

My answer?
Don't know.
Not worried.
Looking forward to it.

Life is good because God is great.

Read more:
*As for God, His way is perfect; the word of the Lord is proven; He is a shield to all who trust in Him. For who is God, except the Lord? And who is a rock, except our God? The Lord lives! Blessed be my Rock! Let the God of my salvation be exalted. Psalm 18:30-31, 46 NKJV

*May your eyes be open toward this temple night and day, this place of which you said, "My name shall be there." 1 Kings 8:29

*Jesus said, "Do not make my Father's house a house of merchandise!" John 2:16 (NKJV)

Moravian Prayer: We give thanks, O God, for the church that has nurtured us, helped us to grow in faith, supported us with its love and accepted us when we are rejected by others. The church has been your hands and your heart to us and has accepted us with all our hypocrisies, doubts, and fears. Amen.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Lent Day 25: Thankful for the next day

"Are we there yet?" If you've traveled with kids, you know the routine. Everyone starts out happy to be on an adventure. After a while, you pull out the toys, play travels games, and snooze.

Then comes the inevitable exhaustion and boredom. Everyone gets restless and cranky. At this point, many parents would rather turn around and go home ... except they may be further than halfway or the destination is vitally important.

In the last month, I've been asking God, "Are we there yet? Will this part of the journey ever be over?"

I successfully defended my dissertation yesterday, with some revisions required. Within 2 weeks, I have to have the amended document to my advisers––and within 4 weeks, the approved dissertation has to be at the copy editor. So ... while the goal is not yet reached, the end is in view. April 15, here I come.

On life's journey, we can be tempted to throw in the towel. Dr. Jack Rozell preached a sermon I remember from 25 years ago. He noted: "Eventually, as you walk with God, there comes a place where you look around you. It may be discouraging, you may feel defeated, and you may be worn out. But you realize, 'I'm too far along to go back now.'

"It's like an airplane ride. Even though the engine is skipping and the fuel is low, you have to keep going rather than turn back. It's the same way in the Christian faith. You know you've committed your life to Christ and the reward is in sight; it would be foolish to go back now."

I was afraid that with all the reading and thinking, I would lose the main focus of life––serving and pleasing God. Fearful that head knowledge would displace heart conviction and spiritual passion. Thanks to good counselors and mentors, life returns to balance again and again, even in the middle of sorting human ideals and ideas.

I'm grateful today for academic help in a spiritual context:
  • from AGTS faculty and advisers who have helped me refine my research and writing. 
  • I'm thankful for Joy Qualls, an Evangel prof who took time to inform and cheer me on and sat on my committee.
  • I appreciate the copious study files of Barbara Cavaness, who opened them to me and pointed out what still needed to be learned.
  • Help was ongoing from Gloria Robinett who became a dear friend at the AGWM archives, and Darrin Rodgers and Catherine McGee at the FPHC.

So far, so good. There's more work to do but the end is in sight. Thanks be to God.

Read more:
*Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. Proverbs 3:7

*So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10 NIV

*Christ Jesus became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption. 1 Corinthians 1:30

Moravian Prayer: Forgive us for our pride, dear Lord, and for thinking so highly of ourselves that we miss the essence of your grace. Restore us and lead us into deeper faithfulness and righteousness so others will get a glimpse of you in us. Amen.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Lent Day 24: Thankful for chocolate

I doubt that Jesus needed chocolate like I do. Aren't we blessed to live at a time and place where the world's delicacies and foods come to us? Chocolate informs me that all is well in my surroundings: the beauty of the complex tastes roll around my mouth. If I'm eating chocolate, I'm near a home stash (a happy place), I have found a moment for meditation (chocolate is, after all, best enjoyed in a pause), and it's not yet night (caffeine keeps me awake).

I'm grateful for many many blessings, and chocolate, though a small one, reminds me how good life is.

I defended my dissertation to my committee today and received excellent suggestions on "making it better." The seminary computer system went down this morning so we had all kinds of complications in getting started. I called them when the scheduled time for defense came and no one had contacted me. (We're having trouble, so shall we use the phone - no, we're back online, use Skype - but how? I log in - oh, it's taking too long as I get a new password - log in, figure it out - let's use WebX - yay, I can do that easier.) And finally we are connected and we begin. My heart pounds with the anxiety that only a struggle with technology can produce.

There's a 4-5 second delay during the whole defense. As the profs speak, their mouths and bodies move 4-5 seconds before I hear them speak and sometimes they have to repeart what they have said or asked. I miss their conversation to each other. Worst of all, as I'm speaking, the feedback of my previous words overlap from the committee room. It's very disconcerting and makes it hard for a "one-sense-at-a-time" person like myself to think. (I typically don't hear the music background while watching a movie; I can't write a music score if someone's talking or playing; if a piano is off by a semi-tone or more I have to disconnect my hand shapes from what I'm hearing ... )

When I'm done, I wonder what on earth I told the committee while I was listening to what I had said. Because of the echo, I couldn't use my speakerphone and record it. Holding the phone, I couldn't flip through the dissertation to find items, either. Oh bother. I know what I knew.

I call my husband, who consoles me and asks if he can take me for a wonderful supper. Well, yes! We decide if the feedback from committee is good, we'll splurge at our "Special Celebration" restaurant. If not, I'll have him bring home chow mien from the Safeway deli. (Yikes, you know which one I prefer. We go out; the dissertation is accepted with revisions.)

I hang up the phone, break an edge from a chocolate loaf cake, and indulge. I don't want the whole slice; all I need is a little taste. The dark sweetness comforts me, my blood pressure lowers, and I thank God for the encompassing prayers of friends, the pleasures of learning, and all the blessings of living in this day and age.

Read more:
*O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you. Psalm 63:1

*Christ says, "Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness,
and all these things will be given to you as well." Matthew 6:33

Jesus said: "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” John 14:1-4   NIV

Moravian Prayer: Most holy Lord and God, to you we give all honor and praise. Help us
always to seek first your kingdom and its righteousness as instructed by
our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Lent Day 23: Thankful for pauses

Jesus took time to catch his breath. In his steady focus on doing his Father's work, he moved through countryside and towns. We read that he ate, drank, exercised (lots of walking!), had conversations, and times of prayer just like everyone else.

"Aren't there 12 hours in a day?" he asked a group of followers. That makes me shake my head at the imbalance we perpetuate, trying to do 16-18 hours of work before crashing into bed. No one rewards us for killing ourselves and it sets a bad example, as though God demands a killing pace and unending drugery. If Jesus could bring salvation to humanity in a 12-hour day, what makes us think we need more time?

I love Jesus' prayer pauses, the times for worship, and the simplicity of his meetings with others.

Music and speech need pauses to make sense. Life is no different. Having done all God asks, why can't we rest in his provisions?

In less than 24 hours, I defend my dissertation. I'm thinking of all that is undone and what I'd like to re-memorize. Soon I'll be listening to and speaking with my committee. God is able to bless this day and tomorrow and I'd appreciate your prayers.

Let's also pray that the beautiful pauses in Christ's life would be part of our daily rhythms. Let's invite short times of reflection as well as hours set aside for study and prayer. God is good and will help us find the balance that restores and renews.

Read more:
*I remember the days of long ago; I meditate on all your works and consider what your hands have done. I spread out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.

Answer me quickly, O LORD; my spirit fails. Do not hide your face from me or I will be like those who go down to the pit.

Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul. Rescue me from my enemies, O LORD, for I hide myself in you. Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground. Psalm 143:5-10 NIV

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Lent Day 22: Thankful for the Living God

"I keep looking for your aha moment," said my dissertation adviser. "What is it that you learned?"

I defend the dissertation next week. It's been written, rewritten, and revised over and over. I've learned a bit of this and a lot of that. But I started asking the question during prayer, "What is the aha moment? For what have I spent all this time?"

So ... this morning, it hits me like a thunderbolt. What IS significant from all my studies? From reading the endless historical material and wading through Evangelicalism, which interests me less than a fig? What stands out from a few years of studying early Pentecostals in all their chaos and earnest efforts?

This is it: the story I have to tell is a simple understanding and an affirmation of similar experiences that transformed my own life during my childhood and teens =

Ordinary women encountered the power of the Living God. Regardless of what they faced thereafter––legalism, gender bias, or suffering––they could point back to a time and place where they spoke in tongues as proof of empowerment. God was personally invested in them and was greater than anyone or anything they would meet or endure.

Today, that power of Spirit baptism is available to you and to me. Appropriate it for yourself: it's God's free gift for all those he has rescued from darkness into the light of his presence.

Read more:
*Those of low estate are but a breath, those of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath. Psalm 62:9

*Christ says, "Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it." Mark 10:15 

*And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. Romans 8:28 NKJV

Prayer: Thank you, Jesus, for loving even us. In childlike faith, we come to you and ask for your power, to live for you and do your work. Take away our pride while reminding us that you find even us worthy of your loving favor. Thank you, Jesus. Amen.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Lent Day 21: Thankful for riches

My spiritual meditations center around riches today––not just the wealth of friends and health and life in a peaceful town. Today it's money-talk that may offend some, though I hope it points out a fatal flaw of expectation and Western culture.

When we moved to the USA, W and I were shocked at the privacy that surrounds personal money. We grew up in a small congregation that posted an annual report of membership giving, distributed to all church members with itemization for church expenses, missions, designated funds, etc. We enjoyed reading who gave what; it gave us a picture of generosity beyond salaries. It taught us the privilege of abundant giving and that everything belonged to God. We learned to celebrate the stewardship of God's people and to strive to give more than we had before.

We joke about money as the true Western god. But Jesus took very seriously God's distribution of wealth. He talked about employees receiving fair wages and not renegotiating settled agreements. He explained that those who were given much would gain more through faithful stewardship of "talents" (sometimes preached as responsibility for one's gifting = perhaps can be inferred ... but remember, Jesus was talking about money.) He invited a rich young man to leave his wealth for a life of significance.

"Oh, the Church just wants our money," people snort. Nonsense: that's a myth held over from Catholic sales of indulgences and prayer in medieval times. Most churches want to minister and keep their doors open!

Preachers and missionaries dread having to ask for money to fund basic ministries. Most church leadership hates to request support from stoney-faced and greedy congregants. Yeah, let's call us what we are.

We splurge on cars and houses and get fat on meals eaten out. Our mortgages and credit card debts prevent us from responding to missionary appeals or underwriting church costs. Our estate plans and wills make no provision for extending the kingdom.

Wealth is transient. In a day or two, the rich can lose everything and become impoverished. Natural disasters, market fickleness, and circumstances beyond our control easily wipe away treasures built on earth. A poor person can be singled out to receive money beyond their imaginations. It happens.

What we decide to do with our little or much is part of our "free will," another generous gift from God. We'd be wise not to spend what belongs to God only on ourselves or on things that don't last. God will require careful accounting from me––and from you. Let's make no mistake about it. Money only stays our dirty little secret for a while.

Most of us are thankful for money, food, housing, and all the rest of GOD'S abundance. But are we willing to take the risk to honor God with our money? Today, I'm throwing out a challenge. Let us:
Still unconvinced or unwilling? Read more:

*It is better to be godly and have little than to be evil and rich. For the strength of the wicked will be shattered, but the LORD takes care of the godly. Day by day the LORD takes care of the innocent, and they will receive an inheritance that lasts forever. They will not be disgraced in hard times; even in famine they will have more than enough." Psalm 37:16–19

*My child, give me your heart, and let your eyes observe my ways. Proverbs 23:26

*Jesus, looking at [the rich young man], loved him and said, "You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." Mark 10:21

Moravian Prayer: Generous and giving God, we confess today that we are not always good stewards of our hearts or our resources. Forgive us and help us realize all that we possess belongs to you. Create within us sharing and giving hearts. Amen.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Lent Day 20: Thankful for milestones

Today's the halfway mark of Lent. I miss my night snacks, a bigger discipline than one might suppose. Writing a daily Lenten blog gets tiresome about now, too. I'm not suffering; the point of the exercises is to remind me of Christ's sacrifices, living among poor villagers, walking from town to town, sharing good news with those who refused to be saved. And then dying. That awful dying. Before the glorious resurrection that proved his mission and God's power to redeem us. The disciplines help me to remember.

It's blustery and pouring rain, a good excuse to stay inside and study today, instead of walking the dogs. In our hilltop neighborhood of firs and tall maples, branches crash to the ground so high wind walks are a dumb idea. The cedars whip across the property line outside my office window. Our baritone chimes ring on the back deck, shouting joy and strength instead of complaining to the whistling air. (Click on audio to listen.)

I need that melodic encouragement as one of the biggest milestones of the last five study years approaches. Next Tuesday, I'm scheduled to defend my dissertation before the seminary committee.

I'm afraid. Anxious. My body's on high alert, tummy packing on a little fat roll, back knotted, and feet bouncing in nervous rhythms. My inner conductor stays in full swing, songs tumbling through my head night and day.

By this time next week, I'm hoping to be writing revisions. As the milestone of the defense approaches, I'm praying for focused study, quickened thinking, and clear speaking. I'd appreciate your prayers, too.

What milestones lie on your horizon? Some of you have medical treatments, financial deadlines, and relational challenges. Post a comment and we'll pray along with you that the fire of the Spirit will illuminate your path and your flight.

Read more:
*The Lord will give strength to His people. Psalm 29:11 (NKJV)

*Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 NIV 

*In Christ Jesus you have been enriched in every way - in all your speaking and in all your knowledge. 1 Corinthians 1:5 (NIV)

Moravian Prayer: Gracious Redeemer, we thank you for empowering us today to speak for you. May we listen closely so the words we speak are truly the words you would have us speak. In addition, may our actions state an unmistakable message from you. Amen.