Monday, April 30, 2012

Party time

Do you ever look forward and then backwards at the same event with a smile?

Yesterday I had the privilege of celebrating a milestone with family, friends, encouragers, and mentors. As I walked from one group to another, I remembered stories of their faithful love for God, diligent integrity, and care for other people.

Each of the guests has known the highs and lows of life. They have risen to challenges, swept victories under their belts, and climbed impossible mountains. They have also persevered as they suffered illness, loss, and ruin in many areas.

My folks and I talked about the wonderful people W and I know in Seattle. Many of them have accomplished more and influenced more people than I could imagine, while remaining simple, humble friends. Some are incredibly smart: we often wonder what we're doing in such a crowd. (Mind you, Einstein claimed, “I am neither especially clever nor especially gifted. I am only very, very curious.”)

In light of the friends who bless W and me, my mom reminded me that any gifts God has given––ease in speaking to few or many, playing piano as easily as breathing, the instinctive desire to connect people and resources, the ability to learn and write, even the enjoyment of mentoring––will never produce a sense of prideful accomplishment. Faithful stewards recognize that those things don't belong to us ... they're simply God's gifts.

Mom reinforced the attitude we have seen in our most talented friends. The ones most dear to us hold loosely their gifts and accomplishments. They lavish their lives and resources on those around them––for the glory of God. They inspire me to do the same, considering my life verse: "From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more." (Luke 12:48b = Jesus' warning after saying a servant who did not use the talents given by the Master deserved flogging. Ouch!)

W and I read the cards and good wishes last evening with grateful hearts. Our celebration included acknowledging that God is good. He is faithful and kind. How we thank him for the many special, multi-gifted friends who enrich us day by day!

Read more:
*But I trust in you, O LORD; I say, “You are my God.” My times are in your hands; deliver me from my enemies and from those who pursue me. Let your face shine on your servant; save me in your unfailing love. Psalm 31:14-16 NIV

*The Lord executes justice for the oppressed; he gives food to the hungry. Psalm 146:7

*Jesus took the seven loaves, and after giving thanks he broke them and
gave them to his disciples to dis-tribute; and they distributed them to the crowd. Mark 8:6

*Jesus says, "I am the good shepherd. The good
shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." John 10:11

*Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. 1 Corinthians 4:1-3

Moravian Prayer: Dear Lord, with your love, our sighs turn to song, and through darkness we can walk toward light. Our spirits wait for you, our living Word. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Admiring the air plants

We've all met them, people who seem to thrive by osmosis. They're the best kind of extroverts, radiating and gathering energy without becoming parasites.

In the natural world, they resemble tillandsias. These "air plants" or epiphytes absorb nutrients through their surroundings - through the sun, water, and dust that settles on them.

Tillandsias are all the rage in nurseries and floral shops in winter. I hung three globes with various plants in my office window, where they rewarded me with blooms and constant green for the mere effort of a daily squirt of water. (When researching and writing, you don't have much energy beyond a press of a trigger and the aim of a water nozzle.)

Going to the network conference, I saw many pastors and church workers thriving on visits with their peers. Surrounded by friends and those trying to get close to them, they laughed, chatted, and connected. Others hung around the fringes of the foyer and sat alone in corners of the hall, hoping to be noticed ... or happy to be alone.

By God's design, when we follow him, we shall bloom where we are planted. Some of us need deep roots to hold us steady in strong gales of life. We may be introverts who bloom only once a decade.

Others flower often. Whenever they're around people, they respond with love to those around them. They reward any friendship or contact.

Both temperaments are useful in the Church to showcase the generosity and faithfulness of a Good God.

Read more:
*Your laws are perfect and completely trustworthy. Your promises have been thoroughly tested; that is why I love them so much. As pressure and stress bear down on me, I find joy in your commands." Psalm 119:138, 140, 143

*Say to those who are of a fearful heart, "Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God." Isaiah 35:4

*These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again, "I know your afflictions and your poverty - yet you are rich!" Revelation 2:8-9 (NIV)

Moravian Prayer: Shepherd Jesus who knows our afflictions and our poverty, we praise you for the richness beyond compare that your life, death and resurrection gives us: a hope and a promise far greater than anything our small minds can imagine. Amen.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Wierd places with the Shepherd

Have you wondered where the Shepherd of souls is leading you? (Note the nailprints in the icon?)

Among my friends and acquaintances, Jesus is leading through:
  • Promotion at work
  • Death of a child
  • Cancer-free report
  • Diagnosis of MS
  • Shot at while in the car
  • Graduation from MA and doctoral programs
  • Being fired from a job
  • Pregnancy
  • Birth of a healthy baby
  • Collapse of adoption plans
  • Remarriage after widowhood
You and your friends have your own list of "Wow!" seasons, both positive and negative. Life is like that

One of my regular reads is a blog by a young woman who has chosen "A Different Kind of Happy." She writes though some of her dreams have been shattered. Others are coming true in completely unexpected ways. Click here to meet her.

As you face the journey with the Shepherd today, remember that he tenderly cares for his flock = to those who are committed to follow him anywhere he leads.

Most of us have asked, "Why her? Why him? Why us? or ... Why me?" during times of hardship and transition. If that's you, let the Shepherd talk to you today about his plans for you, as you read John 10, below.

The Good Shepherd and His Sheep

[Jesus said,] "Very truly I tell you Pharisees [people who tried to live by religious rules and customs], anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice.

"He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.

Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.  All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

"I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

"I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father —and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.

"The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life —only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

Thursday, April 26, 2012

My hero Jeffery Portmann and other things I learned at Network Conference

"Jeffery, we're going to skip your report, if that's okay with you." The Network Superintendent was trying to stay within the schedule at the annual Washington/N. Idaho district business meeting. "I know you're prepared, but we're running out of time. Can we just say, 'It's all good?' You're doing a great job."

The network youth director nodded, smiled, and stayed in his front-row seat while he was passed over so other could give their reports.

Above all the things that I saw and heard at the regional conference, Jeffery's gracious submission to leadership has stayed with me. If you or I had prepared a summary of our year's work, would we feel sidelined? Would we be gracious and submit to a leadership decision rather than being upset?

We watched Jeffery model humility and graciousness. Both the Superintendent and Jeffery exhibited a high degree of trust: the leader knew his coworker well enough to risk offending him by cutting his time. The director trusted his supervisor to make decisions based on overall goals. It was obvious that Jeffery understands the respect his leadership team has for his work and doesn't feel a need to prove himself before a larger audience. I salute you, Jeffrey, as the servant-leader of Christ for hundreds of youth pastors in our region.

What else I learned:
  • We arguably have the best AG leadership team in the USA. After 10 years in the same post, the Supt., the Assistant Supt., and the rest of the team work in harmony even when negotiating details. They arbitrate decisions based on pastoral and missional goals. They present a united front when leading and teaching others. 
  • Because the team is respectful of each other and united in purpose, they can focus on helping pastors and churches thrive. (On the website, the team is listed by alphabetical rather than hierarchical order. That says something right there...) It's easy to respect leaders who don't hog the spotlight but let others shine. They showcased some bright lights from the network!
  • Councils or conferences are really fun with good leadership that has its done homework to prepare for smooth elections and business sessions.
  • A theme helps unify information, education, and other interactions (="multiplication" this year).
  • It's fantastic to have likeable leaders. The best leadership grows in the combination of spiritual disciplines, godly authority, and a love of God and people.
  • It's easy to follow and submit to leaders who wholeheartedly follow and submit to God. Role models are easier to mimic than lectures and ideas.
  • Gracious hosts pay attention to details. New Life in Renton recruited a slough of volunteers and staff helpers who made us feel welcome at their facility.
  • Missionaries are passionate about reaching people for Christ. Their zeal is contagious.
  • Wonderful to see 22 people ordained, 9 of them Children's Pastors.
  • Repeating a phrase several times in a sermon emphasizes an idea, even when the intention was to distance self from the idea. (Saying, "I'm not ... XorY" 4X makes people think, "Is he actually XorY and just covering that up?")
  • Between us, W & I know--and like--many people in ministry. It was fun seeing you all: students, alumni, coworkers, and friends!

Read more:
*May the LORD answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you. May he send you help from the sanctuary and grant you support from Zion. May he remember all your sacrifices and accept your burnt offerings.

*The righteous are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. Psalm 1:3

*May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed. We will shout for joy when you are victorious and will lift up our banners in the name of our God. May the LORD grant all your requests. Psalm 20:1-5 NIV

*You will know them by their fruits. Matthew 7:16

Moravian Prayer: Dear God, in this time of spring when the earth shows new growth, help us to grow in love and witness to you in the world around us. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Artist date

What's your hobby? How do you refresh your soul?

Every once in a while, I take an artist date. After church yesterday, I played with W&N watercolors at a Daniel Smith "Travel Journal" workshop. Since W and I will be traveling here and there this summer, it seemed appropriate to play while learning something new.

I'm a complete beginner who "does" art in occasionally workshops or classes. Why? Probably because I can't sit still long enough to "finish" anything that seems so optional and fun ... but requires a few hours of focus. I have the Sitzfleish [ability to sit still] of a gnat.

I found a photo of Dutch houses on a canal in Curacao and played around with that for a while. The pleasure of holding a paintbrush settled on me like a warm cloak.

I'm so grateful for a God who invests his creativity in us. I'm glad I come from a family of musicians. My husband flings his "can-do" skills at construction, music, computers, and words. Our sons design computer stuff; our daughter was born a fashionista and decorator; our daughters-in-law include a genius at accounting and an amazing people connector. Most such gifts and skills are acquired by ongoing work and practice.

What is your family's primary "art?" Numbers? Painting? Engineering? Wordcraft? Hospitality? Preaching? Construction? Thank God for his lavish love in spreading out gifts among the children of humanity.

Read more:
*Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you.
Psalm 33:22

*I will add to their numbers, and they will not be decreased; I will bring them honor, and they will not be dis-dained. Jeremiah 30:19 (NIV)

*When the mustard seed is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade. Mark 4:32

*By grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. Ephesians 2:8

Moravian Prayer: Faithful and steadfast God, our gratitude is too great for words. You have offered us the gift of grace and you have shown us by your son's birth, death and resurrection how to accept this gift through faith.

As we see small sprouts return to earth in springtime, evidence of new life's return after the winter, remind us of the good gifts sent from you, the promise of eternal life with you. Amen.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

I know nothing!

Ever wished you knew less than you do?

When W pastored, we agreed that he would tell me only things that concerned me. That gave me freedom to chat with everyone in the foyer or on the phone, ignorant of church politics and gossip.

We spent a wonderful season at another church that seemed to be in great shape. "Dear God, please don't let me know what's going on behind the scenes," I prayed when we arrived.

Sadly, we soon found out more than we wanted to know. It confirmed that knowing less is usually better, and that every person in the pew or behind the pulpit is broken and fallible.

Some of us think we know more than we do. A friend recently remarked how obviously arrogance and humility showed up in graduate-level papers he was grading. The humble? "Those still learning." The arrogant?  "Those who think they know everything about the subject."

At the end of this degree––probably the end of my formal education––I admit that I know less than ever. My narrow focus of study is clearer but the world got bigger and smarter while I was buried in paper and blinded by my computer screen. The best scholars know they are further ahead in some ways and much farther behind than when they started.

Scripture promises us the illumination we need. Thank God!

Read more:
*The fear of the Lord is instruction in wisdom. Proverbs 15:33

*One generation shall laud your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts. Psalm 145:4

*The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them. But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the amazing things that he did, and heard the children crying out in the temple, "Hosanna to the Son of David," they became angry. Matthew 21:14-15

*Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him. 1 Corinthians 8:2-3

Moravian Prayer: Father, you know us and love us still. Grant us the courage to serve you and the wisdom to choose your path.

Gentle Physician who cures the blind and lame, we give praise and honor to you. We magnify your name by telling the world of your works. Help us to serve you by serving others in your name. Amen.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

New every morning

Is your life an adventure or ho-hum day after day?

I've experienced both kinds of seasons. In one, you know the routines, get in the car at the same time each morning and return each evening, while attending meetings and fill out forms between. In the other, you wait to see what the day brings and how God will speak to and through you.

My checklist today:
  • type at least 10 pages from Alice Wood's diary (from her handwritten notes)
  • translate at least 10 pages from Uncle Erich's autobiography
  • work on Harmonnaires and family reunions (1/2-1 hour)
  • play piano at a CHRISTA luncheon (2 hours)
  • option: watch 2 episodes of My Girl (Korean drama)

I love this season! Ralph Waldo Emerson said it well:
“Be not the slave of your own past––
plunge into the sublime seas,
dive deep, and swim far,
so you shall come back
with self-respect,
with new power,
with an advanced experience,
that shall explain
and overlook
the old.”
Is it any wonder I don't miss the "olden days"?
Read more:
We wait in hope for the LORD;  he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love rest upon us, O LORD,  even as we put our hope in you. Psalm 33:20-22   NIV
 *You shall be called priests of the Lord; you shall be named ministers of our God. Isaiah 61:6

*You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 1 Peter 2:9

Moravian Prayer: Dear Father, we pray that we may serve as your ministers, showing love and peace to those around us, sharing faith and hope to all in this world. Empower us with your gifts. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Humility or humiliation?

Have you ever been called on the carpet for boasting or self-aggrandizement? It's utterly humiliating.

I once passed along an effusive note of thanks that came to me but belonged to someone else. The person was away from the office so I left it on the admin's desk. Later, that person lambasted me for puffing up my accomplishments by  the note.

"You know our office did that work," s/he said. "Why did you think we'd want your 'thank you' for what we did? You're always trying to be noticed."

EEEEEEk! I felt like crawling away with embarrassment. What had just happened?

I quickly explained that the 'thank you' belonged to others. The note landed on my desk because of a personal connection to the writer in another context. Since the "thanks" didn't belong to me, I'd scribbled, "This is for you," across the envelope and passed it on. The person apologized and we shook hands.

What a contrast between humility and humiliation. Humiliation tears down. I felt shamed because of the assumption that I'd brag about a job well done (and not even my job at that.)

As I walked back to my office, I asked God about the nasty surprise. The meeting exposed an ugly thing, my apparent pride about doing good work. It also broke trust with someone I'd admired, yet who'd felt I would accept credit that was due elsewhere. What had that person heard or seen to make such an assumption?

I worked harder and tried to be wiser. My job involved public speaking and presence so I couldn't remain in the background even if I wanted to. Thereafter I remained guarded at the company and only passed along kudos face-to-face.

Unlike humiliation, humility rests on the foundation of God's sufficiency, his pleasure in how he made us, and his guidance to our vocations. Humility is the ongoing recognition that we––and others––are fallible and incomplete without God's help.

Humility acknowledges that we work for God rather than others. Whether we are praised or humiliated, Christian stewardship demands persistence and honing of skills so that our craft improves and is more and more useful where God employs us. The way we throw ourselves fully into the task at hand demonstrates our gratefulness for God's abundance in giving us a job and providing our needs.

Nearly all of us have a similar story to tell. How has God used humiliation to produce in you godly humility and wisdom?

Read more:
*I will bless you as long as I live; I will lift up my hands and call on your name. Psalm 63:4

*The very essence of your words is truth; all your just regulations will stand forever. I rejoice in your word   like one who discovers a great treasure. Those who love your instructions have great peace and do not stumble." Psalm 119:160, 162, 165 NLT 

*I will pray with the spirit, but I will pray with the mind also; I will sing praise with the spirit, but I will sing praise with the mind also. 1 Corinthians 14:15

Moravian Prayer: Father, we pray to you with our hearts, minds and spirits. Hear our prayers and lead us as we share your story with those around us. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


Do you ever find yourself going in 101 directions, unable to concentrate on the person in front of you or the one thing that needs your attention?

With so many options, it can be hard to find our focus. Our minds and bodies get worn out because of over-stimulation. Often we're interrupted just as we're honing in on a task or idea. Away we go to the distraction, forgetting that we need to work deliberately and sequentially on what is important to create something of lasting value.

Sometimes we need one person who will listen and empathize because the rest of our lives are so scattered and no one will stop long enough to hear our stories. Or, we may find it hard to circulate at an event because someone is monopolizing our time with trivia, desperation for attention.

These and other symptoms of busy-ness keep us from living life to the fullest. Though we have "more," our heart feels "less." With a plethora of online "friendships" and event possibilities, we end up lonely and tired. Friendless (because friendships take face-to-face time and ongoing attention).

God's kindness allows us to reinvent ourselves every day. We are allowed to change those things that do not serve Him or us. Stepping into the light of his grace, we say no to everything that does not align with his purposes for us. We welcome those things that nourish and protect our souls, our families, friendships, and communities inside and outside the Church.

How can you live today in the single-minded newness of life Jesus promised?

Read more:
* I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them. Ezekiel 11:19

*So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has be-come new! 2 Corinthians 5:17

Moravian Prayer: Creator God, give us clear vision to see that you make all things new. Give us courage to understand your new creation even when it seems so much more comfortable to keep the old. In Christ's name we pray. Amen.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Small peaces

Do you have a favorite small appliance? One that makes you sigh with happiness because it works well and causes no trouble?

Among mine is the Jibere 1875 hair dryer. Kirsten and I both love it for its quiet, light-weight efficiency. My once-upon-a-time stylist recommended it 7 or 8 years ago, just about the time I decided to do my hair myself. It worked so well and cost so little that I bought a replacement, which I haven't needed.

This morning as the wind from the dryer whipped my thin locks dry in 2 minutes, I felt thankful. It took me 3/4 hour to color my hair ... without having to get dressed, go out in the rain, or listen to chit-chat about fashion trends. I like the color: I streaked a red base through my hair during the last 5 minutes of processing. (After a while, a not-so-great color choice is apparent even while wet.)

A quick glance proves my suspicions. The last clip turned my good haircut into an old-lady do. When art energy works itself up in a few days, I'll hack a triangle into the back of my hair to fix that. Nice thing about doing your own hair is there's no fear about getting it wrong. Don't like it? Re-sculpt it.

Friends of mine who cry over a bad color or cut? Let's just say, "Don't understand you, girls!" (BTW that's not me in the old-lady photo below, but my current cut is similar. Needs weight off the back, right?)

Sometimes we forget to thank God for simple conveniences and days full of small peace-s. We neglect gratitude for soul satisfaction and rest. This morning I'm counting my blessings, one by one.

What small peaces are refreshing you today? List 3 or 4 on a post-it and stick them near your computer screen where they make you smile and remind you to be grateful to God for every mercy and blessing.

Read more:
*The Lord grants peace within your borders. Psalm 147:14

*I will make peace your governor and righteousness your ruler. Isaiah 60:17 (NIV)

*Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Matthew 5:9

*Everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. 2 Corinthians 4:15

Moravian Prayer: Dear God, lover of peace, thank you for showing us paths to peace in our daily lives. Help us to show others by our words and our lives that living peaceably is sharing your love. Lead us to share the news of your grace to all those around
us through our words and ac-tions. May we thus glorify your name.
In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Hello hello! beautiful rest

Do you remember the transitions after reaching your goals? I'm in one of those heavenly lulls after a steep climb.

"So what are you doing now?" people ask me.

It feels like I'm doing nothing. The pressure is off, though I'm writing, mentoring, and planning events (a reception, 2 summer reunions, and a couple of occasions between).

The list of to-dos is long and getting longer. But the deadlines are weeks apart and I get to decide how those goals are reached. YAY.

I love seasons of productive rest. I've checked everything off the must-dos today and it's 6pm. Supper dishes are done.

PJs and feather duvet it is! I'm off to watch a few episodes of a Korean drama with a cup of peppermint tea and leftover tinned chocolate Christmas cookies. Those of you with kids will never know how sweet this time of life is until you get here :-)

... Just sayin' ... "You were right, Mom. This really is the best time of all."

Read more:
*God saw my affliction and the labor of my hands. Genesis 31:42

Indeed, you are my lamp, O Lord, the Lord lightens my darkness. 2 Samuel 22:29

*Christ says, "I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness." John 12:46

*Paul wrote, Be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. 1 Corinthians 15:58

Moravian Prayer: Christ Jesus, let your light continue to be a beacon to us as we move from darkness to the hope and joy and peace of your light. Illuminate our way with your grace. 

Steadfast Lord, show us of small vision that our work for you is never in vain. Show us you are our rock and we know we can trust in you forever. Amen.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The hard conversations

Have you ever had to confront the past in order to move forward? It can be scary.

I had two difficult conversations this week. Both brought up memories of failure and uncompleted tasks. However, I laid to rest my obligations to be honest about the past with leaders. Thankfully, now it's time to move on.

When we fail, watch a collapse or dissolution despite our hard efforts, get fired from a job, or are prevented from fully using our gifts at work or church, we feel frustrated. Afraid. We may be hurt or disappointed. Grief may overwhelm us when we touch the wounded place.

But slapping a bandage on instead of doing a biopsy may allow the cancer to embitter us against future effectiveness.

Each experience of success or defeat can be a lesson. Wiping the brow and walking away with, "Oh well, glad that's over. Let's move on," doesn't help us. Without a careful examination of the failure, we are no wiser. We remain vulnerable to similar mistakes and blind to our own gifts and weaknesses.

Some of us make assumptions about our strengths. We're not as good at some things as we thought, and a wipe-out shows us that a different ministry or job would be a better fit. Or we're too aggressive in a gifting, overwhelming others and defeating teamwork. We ignore the choppy waves in our wake or blame others.

Some of us make assumptions about our weaknesses. We assume responsibility for failure when someone else may have blocked us from using our gifts. We fear that we are not enough to fulfill God's purposes.

And we're too afraid to ask others to confront us and hold us accountable for failures and successes.

Hey, here's good news. God likes you. He likes me. He actually made us as we are so that we can carry out his own plans. When we fall flat, we must ask others to help us scrutinize what happened. People of integrity are not ashamed to tell the truth about my part in failure ... or yours. I love friends who will honestly point our weaknesses as well as praise and nurture strengths.

Once we know about where we've come from, we can jump into the future with confidence and the release of the past. God's forgiveness and the accumulation of wisdom makes it possible.

What hard conversations do you have to have with yourself and others before you are released into full bloom in the future?

Read more:
*Can mortals be righteous before God? Can human beings be pure before
their Maker? Job 4:17

*The teaching of your word gives light, so even the simple can understand." Psalm 119:130

*The LORD is righteous in all his ways and loving toward all he has made. The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them. The LORD watches over all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy. My mouth will speak in praise of the LORD. Let every creature praise his holy name for ever and ever. Psalm 145:17-21 NIV

*Jesus Christ gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds. Titus 2:14

Moravian Prayer: Gracious Savior, refresh and purify our hearts and minds to lead us to service in your name. Remind us gently that humility, not hubris is the path to serving you. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Monday, April 9, 2012

What if C. S. Lewis talked to Sigmund Freud?

I didn't know what to expect. I'd heard several excellent reports on the Taproot Theatre production of "Freud's Last Session." (But you never know what to expect from what others say.) Two people on stage for 75 minutes? Could be good. Or, on the other hand ... well, I had to see for myself.

Imagine if Sigmund Freud and C. S. Lewis had an hour to expound and question each other about personal accountability, the meaning of life, and ultimate destiny. That's the premise of the award-winning play by Mark St. Germain (Best 2011 Off-Broadway Alliance Play).

The play drafts Lewis (Matt Shimkus) in his 40s––coming into his full philosophical and literary power, and Freud (Nolan Palmer) in his 80s––at the end of his life, suffering from oral cancer. The set of a mid-century London studio replete with antiques, a chaise longue, and Oriental rugs was beautiful enough to make several of my neighbors sigh with contentment.

Freud and Lewis spar: if God were good, wouldn't we always be happy? What is the purpose of suffering? Can we choose to end our lives or is suicide the ultimate selfishness.

"Perhaps, if pleasure is God's whisper, pain is his megaphone," responds Lewis. Perhaps, he suggests, instead of being absent as atheists suppose, God appears to us incognito, surrounding us and inviting us into relationship.

Freud shrugs off the recognition of a greater purpose as the two circle the stage, parrying, asking, and admitting their finite grasp of life's Questions.

The frequent interplay of actors and historical props (including radio broadcasts) makes Taproot one of our favorite companies. The snippets about Lewis, Tolkien and the others in their Inklings' literature group, the settings of WWII, and insights into peer personalities like Weldon helped me to contextualize other information I've picked up by reading and watching movies.

The usual white-haired Saturday matinee crowd was liberally sprinkled with college and middle-aged attendees. It was fun to watch varied responses to the repartee on the stage: we sat riveted by the circling and clash of the actors. The audience packed the space; I appreciated my media tickets.

I like to listen to eavesdrop during intermission (this play had none) and afterwards in the foyer. However, people slowly walked out of the theater to the street, thinking but not speaking. Not until we were a block away did I began to hear both thoughtful and agitated comments on what we'd seen.

Adults who wonder at the contrast between the world's beauty and God's reticence to intervene in life's unpleasantness and pain will identify with the discussion from both sides. Older teens and college students will love the frank and often humorous exploration of human choices, conscience vs. parental repression, the origin of our beliefs, the influence of fathers, and current issues that haunt us, like suicide. Some explicit language makes this inappropriate for children. (Let them sit this one out with a babysitter.)

You have three more weeks to see "Freud's Last Session" in Taproot's 85th Ave. theater. It closes April 28. Don't miss it! You can get tickets for this and the upcoming show "Leaving Iowa" on Taproot’s Website.

Photos by Erik Stuhaug.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Lent Day 40: Thankful for grace

Another Lent season is drawing to a close. I didn't get to my computer yesterday, making it 3 or 4 days that I missed in my writing discipline. Plus I fell flat on my face into a habit yesterday that sidelines me spiritually. Time again for regrets and repentance.

I am grateful for Don Ross' blog on how to recognize genuine repentance. I don't need it for others. Such guidance works best when I'm facing myself in the mirror.

Imagine never having to say your sorry, not because you're a jerk or actually unrepentant. Imagine living life to the full - laughing, crying, working, playing - without ever hurting yourself or others. Jesus lived that kind of a life.

Today, in the reflective pause between Good Friday and Easter, I'm thinking about the silence of God when I deserve punishment. Christ has died for me. God considers the death I deserve paid in full.

Easter is coming! My heart begins to sing with the relief and release of forgiveness. He has done it!

You and I can forgive all that has been done against us because of Easter, too.

Read more:
*The mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed, says the Lord, who has compassion on you. Isaiah 54:10
*For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 NIV

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

*This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. 1 John 3:16 NIV

Moravian Prayer: Lord, as St. Francis prayed, make us instruments of your peace. Guide us to console more than seeking consolation, to pardon more than asking for pardon and to know that in death we are born to eternal life. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Lent Day 38: Thankful for love

Love is a driver. The old song says we do things like "walking in the rain and the snow when there's nowhere to go..."

When young men court women, they charm their girlfriends with homemade baking or meals, go shopping, sit for long hours chatting, and restrict their time for online games. I warned my prospective daughters-in-law that such attention would change after marriage. (I like them too much to want them to be surprised by the cycle of courtship.) Love continues to grow but the undivided male focus surely swerves back to a new normal.

Jesus' love got stronger and more demonstrative as he approached the end of his life and the redemption of his Bride. He sat down with friends to talk (Bethany), took time to explain miracles (the fig tree), and finally––in his most awful and wonderful expression of love––he died for us.

Please listen to my favorite song about the amazing scandal of God's mysterious Love. Love, all loves excelling, remains a model for us in marriage, family, and other relationships. (Click here.)

Read more:

*In your great mercies you did not make an end of your people or forsake them. Nehemiah 9:31

*As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command." John 15:9-14 NIV

*The Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." 1 Corinthians 11:23-25

*When Jesus saw his mother standing there beside the disciple he loved, he said to her, "Dear woman, here is your son." And he said to this disciple, "Here is your mother." And from then on this disciple took her into his home. Jesus knew that his mission was now finished. John 19:26–28

Moravian Prayer: Father, forgive us for our sins of ignorance and restore our hope as we remember the suffering, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. In his name we pray. Amen.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Lent Day 36: Thankful for the cross

If you could relinquish some part of your life, what would you give over to death? Would you be willing to lay on the line your health, finances, relationships, or reputation? Christians emphasize the peace of God but we know living out that peace will cost us everything.

Jesus gave everything up for us. He was not called the Man of Sorrows without reason.

I'm thinking of the horrors and benefits of dying today, after listening to radio reports about the increasing persecution of Family members (Christian believers) in India. They are being driven from their villages, maimed, and killed for the sake of the gospel.

Are you and I willing to forsake all for our faith in Christ? That's always been the way of the cross. Following Jesus means identification with a bloody price that reconciles us to God but alienates us from those who hate Him.

Among all the parties and candy and Easter eggs, let's not forget the awful beauty of the cross. It point to the path of denying self to love God and others beyond reason, beyond human logic––because of faith and hope in the resurrection power.

Read more:
*The Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace. Numbers 6:26

*And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7

*I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” Galatians 2:20-21 NIV

Moravian Prayer: May the Lord bless us and keep us, lift up his countenance upon us and give us the peace that surrounds us and emanates from our hearts. In the name of Jesus. Amen. 

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Lent Day 35: Thankful for endings

You probably have deadlines looming. Something that you can't wait to finish. I'm there too.

Jesus walked into Holy Week determined to stay on task. He did not abandon his followers, knowing the hardest obstacle was on the horizon.

Imagine knowing that by week's end you will have been killed in a horrible way, disgraced by the manner of death, and deserted by those in whom you've invested your life. Would you have the stamina to give your best teaching, show love most deeply, and graciously give your betrayer an opportunity to repent before exposing your knowledge of his intentions?

This Tuesday, thinking of Good Friday  and the wonderful Easter celebrations ahead, I can hardly fathom God's love for us. His determination to offer us––as his betrayers and antagonists––the chance for reconciliation staggers me to my knees in worship.

What hard thing has God called you to, for which you need his patience, self-control, and perseverance today?

Read more:
*Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for. Isaiah 40:2 (NIV)

*I call upon God, and the Lord will save me. Psalm 55:16

*Your eternal word, O LORD, stands firm in heaven. Your regulations remain true to this day, for everything serves your plans. Psalm 119:89, 91

*On God we have set our hope that he will rescue us again. 2 Corinthians 1:10

*Christ himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness. 1 Peter 2:24

Moravian Prayer: God of the ages, you have been faithful. We confess our faithlessness. As we call upon you today, we know that you have rescued us. You are our hope. Thank you for your grace and love today and every day.

We are so grateful that our debts have been released through the grace of your son, Jesus Chr-ist. May we strive to pay forward the grace and love you have given us. In his name. Amen.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Lent Day 34: Thankful for sorrows

I'm reading the familiar passage of Jesus wounded for us.

If I had no sorrows or pains to bear, would I be as grateful that He paid the debt and lifted the burden of them from me?

A speaker at NU told of the view of China's government officials that the United States was blessed because it followed Christian principles. They see the decline of America as a consequence of abandoning those values.

Yet we are blind. We are full. Sated with our perception of "the good life," so that we forget the Man of Sorrows and are surprised at any grief or hardship. Outsiders often see what a culture misses. May we return to the cross and its wealth this week––with grateful hearts that love God and love others as ourselves.

Read more:
*He is despised and rejected by men,  
A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed. Isaiah 53:3-5 NKJV

*Let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice. Psalm 105:3

*Why do you look for the living among the dead? Luke 24:5

Moravian Prayer: Blessed Savior, hear our prayer of rejoicing for your gift of the promise of new life. Let us learn to trust in your path and lighten our hearts with joy. In Christ's name we pray. Amen. 

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Lent Day 33: Thankful for foot-in-mouth forgiveness

Have you ever said something you wish you could retract (on the spot!)? Reading Matthew 16-17 is an interesting exposé of Jesus' tolerance for foot-in-mouth disease, which strikes most of us occasionally.

In Chapter 16 of Matthew, Peter understands and responds to the role of Jesus as Messiah, the long-awaited Christ: "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!"

Jesus applauds his understanding and sensitivity to the Father's revelation.

Then in the next chapter, Peter is privileged to see Jesus transfigured and conversing with Moses and Elijah, representatives of the law and the prophets. Foot-in-mouth, here he comes.

"Can we build you a few cabins so you can stay awhile?" he asks Jesus, who seems to ignore his outburst. Oops.

Jesus rebuked Peter for his words of self-interest another time, saying, "Get behind me, Satan." (Mark 8:33) Sheesh. Talk about good intentions that go the wrong way.

Some of us are savvy with words and guard our tongues carefully. Others get in trouble by speaking at the wrong time or to the wrong person. God, who knows the intentions of the heart, will hear and can forgive what we speak in the coming week. We may need that forgiveness.

Those of us shouting "Hosanna in the Highest" on this Palm Sunday need to guard against crucifying and denying Christ with our words at other times.

The Holy Week before Easter brings many reminders to watch what we say. Sometimes we have bad intentions behind our rhetoric. For those times, we need to repent and watch carefully, to discipline our speech.

Other times, others who don't understand us may hear words inappropriately spoken and attribute us with bad motives. In those times it's good to listen before we speak, to be able to say those things that bring healing and reconciliation when we have brought hurt.

Read more:
*See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God; and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God. Deuteronomy 11:26-28

*The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it. Matthew 13:45-46

*Jesus said, 'How can I describe the Kingdom of God? What story should I use to illustrate it? It is like a mustard seed planted in the ground. It is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes the largest of all garden plants; it grows long branches, and birds can make nests in its shade.'" Mark 4:30–32

Moravian Prayer: Holy Redeemer, we thank you for the blessing of grace and for showing us the eternal promise through the life, death and resurrection of your son, our pearl of great value. In the name of Jesus. Amen.