Thursday, November 29, 2012

Feeling 50 items lighter ... just in time for Christmas

I bought into the challenge to "Throw Out Fifty Things," offered by Gail Blanke. (Link here) I also decided to keep track of the first 50 things I tossed or donated or sold between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

After a week, I'm only on #12. Mind you, we count 20 magazines as "magazines" (= 1 item not 20.) It's not like things haven't been moving out of the house before that, either. This past year, every time "the Blind" or "Disability Services" or whatever charity called, I promised them at least one bag of stuff. You know, I can't remember what was in those bags. I haven't missed any of it.

Many of us feel gorged by stuff. We've purchased without thinking ahead, adding to our collections instead of replacing the old with the new. Now we're drowning in things. Consider this:
  • Possessions take time to clean, store, and use. Therefore, they take time from relationships and other priorities.
  • Things may offer false self-esteem. People won't like us more because we set a pretty table or drive a fancy car.
  • Stuff costs money, which we earn by working. Before buying, consider how many hours of your future you'll invest in your new plaything or clothes.
  • Gluttony is not just about food. We can over-indulge in God's blessings, encouraged by materialism and advertising. Then we feel food, obese and unable to move, trapped by too much "good stuff."
  • Could we invest in others as we clear out our lives? Can we bless someone less well off who needs our excess bedding or furniture? If we have adequate resources, would someone unemployed be able to sell our collections and live off the proceeds? (I have a few of these: any takers?)
  • Consider a No-Purchase month. Mine is until Christmas. I admit I've filled several online shopping carts, then hit the delete button. WHEW. Purchasing is addictive and I need to STOP IT! How about you?
My house clearing started two years ago by shedding 18 bags of books and magazines from ONE enormous bookshelf. Since, I've dumped clothing, furniture, rugs, bedding,  lamps, fabric, cleaning supplies, and more. The house is still full. (Let's not talk about the basement and garage.)

I can breathe in a few rooms. The living room and dining room now usually await guests, tidy and picked up. I'm rarely embarrassed about the state of the kitchen, though hosting last Sunday's lunch while the walls were being painted was a challenge. (Things normally on the walls and counters lay in piles, helter-skelter.) My office wouldn't please a perfectionist but everything I need is at hand and the floors and desks are clear. Our bedroom is emptier.

I'm pleased by the progress to date. I'm also aware that there are more things that need sorting and giving away. After Christmas, I'll purge more ornaments (currently down to 9 bins from 15, lucky me. I know. I know. But our tree is 10' tall! Let me know before Monday if you need gold ball ornaments and I'll have one bin less.)

I gave several of our kids the annual ornaments Grandma and I bought for them each year. They weren't grateful. Or nostalgic. It was just stuff. One couple traditionally has a 1' tree, hardly big enough for 25 years of two ornaments a year. Whether they keep it or not is up to them: once one becomes an adult, "precious" things get to be your own decision! "Keep or toss. It's up to you, kids!"

What are your challenges as you look through closets and examine your rooms and offices? Have the blessings become burdens?

What are you going to do about it? Why not start with the Throw Away Fifty Things workbook: find it here. I'd love to hear about your initial reaction and any progress in the comments below.

You could be a winner!

Powerball Lottery
This morning two people woke up very rich. Very rich indeed. They'll share a $550,000,000 prize from the Powerball Lottery, the second-biggest win in USA lotto history.

Let the fighting begin.

Let the lawyers collect their briefs.

Let the estranged family and distant acquaintances gather to the fray.

"You're too cynical," says my dear reader. However, studies show that lottery winners seldom keep their earnings ... or their friends. They are worse off than before winning, not better. (Click here for a report.)

Some of us treat salvation like a winning lotto ticket. Bingo! We won! WE won! WE WON!!! We've gained eternal life. We expect that things will go well from here-on in. We will be happy. God's on our side so we'll be prosperous. Content. Congratulated by the masses. Beloved by our bosses at work. Like the prodigal son in Jesus' story, we throw party after party.

Except that trials come. Troubles swarm us just as they did before. We lose our jobs and friends wonder if we've gone nuts. We've splurged here and there on spiritual speculations and emotional highs, following our desires and instincts rather than God's plan for us. So we feel spiritually empty.

Instead of investing in our salvation and exploring the heights and depths of God's love, we've squandered the Pearl of Great Price as though it was ours to spend freely. We've ignored wise counsel and the disciplines of discipleship to run here and there as "King's Kids," spoiled brats who squawk at the slightest inconvenience or pain.

When we run out of good will, out of wisdom, and feel abandoned by the friends who first cheered us on in our spiritual quest, we tend blame God or accuse others of hypocrisy. We cast away our hope and walk away from the greatest treasure of all, the only valuable that endures -- a relationship with God and his Church.

In contrast to the prodigal son who wasted his treasure, how can we carefully nurture and care for the Gift of New Life entrusted to us?
  • Value the Giver. Acknowledge that this treasure, given to us in 'earthen vessels' (according to Paul) is a gift only God can bestow.
  • Value the Gift. Cherish salvation and life with God. Recognize its unique ability to bring peace on earth and goodwill among people on whom God's favor rests.
  • Invest the Gift. Read, pray, meditate, plan, and spend wisely. The way you handle the treasure God has give you determines not only your future but influences the decisions of those around you.
  • Be willing to give all you have to keep the Gift. Treasuring God's Gift may cost you all temporal things, even life itself. Relationships. Friendships. Family ties. Money. Time. Salvation and a relationship with God may cost you EVERYthing.
Paul said many run races, but one winner gets the prize at the finish line. Whatever the course God has marked out for you or me to run, let's make sure we don't stumble or throw away our confidence that this Gift - this mysterious life with God - is worth the training. Worth panting with exertion. Worth hardships. Worth staggering with fatigue and getting up time and time again to complete the course.

Then God will say, "Well done, good and faithful servant! You've won the right to be with me forever."

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

In the morning, when I rise ...

What's on your mind, first thing when you wake up? Do you wake refreshed and raring to go? Are you sloughing off dreams? Grateful the insomnia of night is past? Full of new ideas and plans?

I read today about things some people do in their sleep: eating, texting, and walking around, to name a few. In the morning, they have no memory of what they've done. The kitchen is littered with wrappers, their friends are texting back ??? , doors are unlocked, and there's mud on their shoes.

People with music in their heads find themselves waking night and day with tunes and rhythms. I improvise, focus in on a looping song, or conduct with my feet. On mornings after I've been attentive to God, I wake with hymns or choruses scrolling. Most of the time I'm not even zoned in to the music: it's just there. I tune in some mornings to find out how the night went by.

Studies show that women sleep more lightly than men and have more trouble falling back asleep. Meanwhile, men are noisier and more physically active during sleep. Great - he moves and she wakes up. That's the reason many couples begin to sleep in separate beds or rooms. (Separate duvets in the same bed in the same room works for us most of the time!)

So .... how do you improve your sleep and your waking mood? Begin to keep track of how you wake and what influences your sleep. Then work on minimizing sleep deprivation:
  1. Watch your physical intake. Chich foods, drinks, and eating patterns support deep and long sleep?
  2. Watch your mental intake. Sleep studies say that the blue screen light of electronics hinders sleep. Ban the TV, phone, or tablet from your sleeping area. And shut off the computer an hour before bedtime to let your mind relax.
  3. Watch your spiritual intake. Are you feasting on scripture as your last act of the day? Closing your eyes with a prayer of gratitude for God's presence and provisions? Or do you agitate your soul with unforgiveness, grinding through decisions made that day, or worrying about the future?
  4. Thank God for the night. He created humans with a pause to regenerate our bodies, souls, and spirits. Receiving the hours of sleep from His hands allows us to rest and renew ourselves in Him.
King David understood the rest only God could give, even when his enemies were in hot pursuit: "In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety." (Psalm 4:8)

His son Solomon wrote of the futility of efforts without God's help: "Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat—for he grants sleep to those he loves." (Psalm 127:1, 2)

To summarize the believer's life of rest and assurance, read Psalm 121:

1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip—
    he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you—
    the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
    nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm—
    he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
    both now and forevermore.

I wish you sweet dreams. And wise and rested risings in the morning!
 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

(Plan and) Build carefully!

Ever felt like you started forward with a great idea, only to watch it get buried under a deluge of unexpected complications? Felt like a torrent of problems was sweeping away your previously smooth operation?

Flooding in the centre of Bradford-on-Avon,
near Bristol, stops work on this UK construction site
Above is a real-life example. England recently experienced a spate of flooding. BBC photographers snapped a construction site under water. The architects, builders, and planners did their part and started the project in good faith. Looking at the water swirling over their hard work is daunting.

Surely, this was an unexpected twist to a project that was doing well. How on earth could one regain ground after such a catastrophe? I bet the contractor and architect will meet with City Council to discuss the flood zone. Does one rethink plans for this low-lying area? Redo the buildings' foundations to make sure they don't wash away in the next overflow? Or clean up and carry on?

It's easy to be enthusiastic when thinking of possibilities. "Idea People" get frustrated with apparent naysayers who insist on working out all the details before they proceed. On the other hand, cautious managers want answers before their team leaps into action, no matter how wonderful the proposal. How do you work with opposing views? And how can you recover from catastrophic interruptions?

1. Every gate we enter represents increased freedom or restriction. You can rarely go back to where you were, whether that's a safe or risky place. Choices today open new possibilities and burn bridges behind us. However, status quo (doing nothing) is usually more dangerous and unfulfilling than alertness and motion. Only dead and weak fish let the current take them without a fight.
2.  Consider the past as well as the future. How have we proven ourselves. Are we
  • optimists ("Everything will work out,")
  • painstaking researchers ("Who knows what will happen unless we think it through?"), or
  • project managers ("What steps need to be taken for success?") 
  • Has your intuition pushed you into greatness or caused injury? 
  • Has your wariness saved you from harm or caused stagnation? 
  • How does that affect your future decisions?

3. Diversify the team so gifts of vision,  detailed record-keeping, and implementation provide balance.
  • Jumpers: be willing to think before you jump. Partner with someone who is careful and will help you think about the cliff you're about to tackle. (You'll begin to understand the ramifications beyond the initial leap.)
  • Bookkeepers: be willing to carefully consider how an idea could revolutionize the world as you know it.  (You'll expand your repertoire of possibilities and skills.)
  • Implementers: be willing to compromise on the process when you're working with someone who has proven success. Partnering with people who have great ideas, energy, and enthusiasm keeps you current. It changes life to an adventure rather than offering boring routines on a secure treadmill. (You'll help keep those visionaries focused, make the accountants happy, and round out your CV with new accomplishments.)
4. Evaluate. We must be willing to take off our blinders to see what's really happening before and during a project.
  • Have we taken proper precautions? 
  • Are we tipping into a danger zone?
  • Are we stalling a really good idea because of fear? 
  • Burying progress under rules and technicalities?

5. Pour heart and soul into the decision. Once we (individually or as a team) decide to move ahead, we commit to doing our best. That way, we move with skilled efforts, regardless of the outcome.

6. Recognize that success and failure are two sides of the same coin. When we've done our best, whether we get accolades for an outstanding win or have to start from the beginning, every attempt teaches us something. Don't get so scared that you never try anything again!

7. At the end of an idea (whether it dies or comes to life), consider the next step. Is this a winner that needs to explode into broader possibilities? Did you scrape through by the skin of your teeth so it's time to end here? Did you lose the shirt off your back? Ask, what lessons did we learn? What skills did we acquire? On a team, who is weak and who is strong? Whom can we count on and who let us down?

And then be willing to ask, "WHAT'S NEXT?" as you wait for God to bring his creative and meticulous direction, working in the world ... through you.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Plain good fun: Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Christmas Carol

One of the pleasures of Taproot Theatre is the gift of attention. Sitting in the small theater provides relief from Seattle's culture of auditory and visual bombardment. At Taproot, we strain forward to hear, lean back to laugh, and sit up to watch the actors bring the stories to life.

Last night, W and I visited Taproot for the return of Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Christmas Carol, two years after the play's debut to an enthusiastic audience. I wasn't sure what to expect though I've found Taproot's choice of plays varied and exciting in the past.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to eavesdrop on the past, while truly seeing the present and anticipating the future. What have we forgotten about growing up that has informed today's choices? How are the small decisions of the day shaping the future of those we love and those who love us? Do our lives make a difference?

Sherlock Holmes gets to explore those musings in The Case of the Christmas Carol. Edward Moore convincingly centers the action, drawing us from reservation about Holmes to enjoying his humanity, surprising us with his likeability. Pam Nolte, playing Holmes' landlady, the First Spirit, and the Doctor, transitions easily from one part to another, though I occasionally found her fluttering ghostliness distracting. Stephen Grenley deserves mention for his performances in anchoring roles of Watson, Mycroft, and the Third Spirit.

With a minimal backdrop and no set changes, great costuming, and emphatic lighting, the stage came alive under the direction of Scott Nolte. The story intertwines Dicken's Christmas Carol and a reintroduction of Holmes after his reported death three years earlier. It was great fun to see "Tim" of Dickens' story, interacting with Arthur Doyle's Sherlock characters. Playright John Longenbaugh, sitting right in front of us, must have been delighted with the audience participation on Opening Night. At the end, the audience cheered the cast with two enthusiastic curtain calls.

Need something to get you in the mood for Christmas? Looking for a way to celebrate the season? If you'd relish a date night, a family outing, or just love drama, I highly recommend tickets (click here) to this production. (Save on dinner before the show as we did, started our evening with a fabulous dinner at Gorditas: we split a monstrous burrito -- and wrapped up half for leftover, too -- before heading across the street to Taproot.) HAVE FUN and enjoy the show!

Reviewer tickets provided by Taproot.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Black Friday of the heart

The sign of Thanksgiving is a turkey, a reminder of gratitude for the food that helped American pilgrims survive a harsh winter nearly 400 years ago. I doubt that the survivors would recognize their simple feast in our gluttony of food and deserts. Thanksgiving gives cultural permission to eat too much among the comfort of family and friends. I'm glad we have the abundance here to enjoy the feast!

After Thanksgiving, the country goes mad. The sign of post-thanksgiving is "Retail = $X; BUT SALE = $x" on what we call Black Friday. I joined the fray a few years ago to see what the "fuss and fun" was about. The jostling, anxious faces, and greed appalled me. I've never had the stomach to participate again.

Some families or girlfriend groups make a sporting tradition of the occasion, taking the day to compete for bargains and shop together. That's cool -- sort-of. Great that it gets families together. Great that it helps the economy shake off a lethargic fall sales. But ...

I'm going to issue an unwelcome challenge today, based on this question: "Are our traditions and celebrations built more around American values than God's pleasure?"

Every tradition celebrates a core value. Thanksgiving demonstrates our gratitude for God's provisions and human relationships. In the Church, the Eucharist (or Communion) celebrates the death and resurrection of Jesus and our ensuing salvation. Baptism showcases the commitment of believers to live for God within the community of faith for the rest of his/her life. We have valuable family traditions, community traditions, and national traditions.

But what does Black Friday memorialize, with its rituals of spending precious life/time marking out deals and routes to stores? Of lining up in the early morning hours for the best bargain? Of spending beyond our budgets to buy things we want but don't need? Of pushing others aside for our "right" in a competition to snatch up temporal goods?

How much time have we (myself included) spent mapping out how to reach our neighbors for Christ? Have we arrived early to church to volunteer for set-up or to welcome those coming to our community of faith? Have we spend beyond our budgets to meet missionary appeals or support church projects? Have we pushed other volunteers and attendees to the forefront for recognition that they are serving and worthy of notice, regardless of our part in serving (or do we snatch the glory "due us" as volunteers or coworkers)?

SOME of you have! And kudos to you. God recognizes the honor due you and will reward every deed done in secret, every effort done for his Glory. He has said he will not share his glory with any others, gods or human. So when we glorify ourselves and stuff, how will God respond to us?

Confession time: I've overspent on things I want, just like you have. When my husband has noted our credit card entries, I have given him "good reasons" for expenditures. But God has been speaking to me about the values of time spend earning that money, time invested in maintaining the goods acquired, and the clutter in our lives because I've focused on acquisition of goods rather than on "treasures in heaven," things that matter to God.

At SBL last week (a conference of Bible scholars), presenters commented on the rituals of societies. Like us, the peoples of scripture celebrated passages of time, rites of birth, puberty, marriage, and death, and other significant times of life. The Canaanites of biblical times ritually sacrificed humans, as did later Aztecs, to appease their gods and ensure prosperity.

Today, on Black Friday in the USA, I'm examining the expenditures, the full house, and time spent on things that don't last. We've set up the tree and hauled the decoration boxes into the living room. A friend comes Monday to celebrate the beginning of the season by helping me decorate it. However, I will take time today for soul-relief, quietly reflecting on scripture, searching my heart to consider the month ahead in light of my spiritual formation. I'm asking:
  1. What is important? - to God - and to His Church - and to us / me? Do these values align?
  2. How am we demonstrating our core values? Has the world pressed us into its mold?
  3. How can we glorify God and bless others in the coming Christmas season by living by true and eternal values?
  4. Once the shopping season and Christmas celebrations are over, what will remain? Trash and wrapping paper? Excess stuff jammed into closets and cupboards? Fights over who got the best gift? Disappointment that we didn't get the present we hoped for? 

Will you and I waken to the New Year with a sense of satisfaction, brimming with soul treasures and memories of God-among-us in His Presence and Glory? That's my desire! What's your deepest wish for Christmas this year?

Read more:
*God said, “I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.” Genesis 9:13

*Show me your glory, I pray. Exodus 33:18

*Then Jesus took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to the disciples, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” Mark 14:23-24


*Jesus revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. John 2:11

Moravian Prayer: Lord, we admit that it is often personal glory that we seek. Today let us seek your glory; for when we see it fully we will be blessed. That blessing is far greater reward than any personal achievement. Together we look both outward and inward to see your presence.

Father, you give us signs of your promises each day. Help us to be aware of the signs you show us today. Amen.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

What next?

"So, what will you do next?" people keep asking me. (That's the question they've been asking since I started the doctorate, never mind since graduation in May.)

I'm weighing options. After a weekend in Chicago at the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL), I'm thinking about going back to teaching. I've always loved to share info and learn with others. (Teaching is about learning, after all!) But until recently, I was tired enough that the thought of grading and committee work dampened any enthusiasm for classroom engagement.

A few things I've studied and ideas I'd like to pass along have me reconsidering. The recent interaction with scholars was a lot of fun. Everyone pursues their specialty with great enthusiasm. "Plunge in with both feet," said my peers at the conference. "Teach with all your heart."



Here are a few things to consider during life or work transitions:
  1. What comes naturally? I've been a teacher since I was 13, starting by teaching piano lessons and Sunday School. I've taught Bible courses, spiritual formation, music, communication, teaching methods, etc. etc. from home, at church, and in colleges in the USA, Canada, the UK, and Asia. Sometimes it's been a paid post; sometimes I've done it because I love to teach. What have you done that you'd do regardless of pay or accolades?
  2. What is the opportunity ahead of you? Is the open door possibly a good fit? My inclination is to explore new options before saying yes or no ... always leaning toward "Maybe so!" Are you cautious or adventurous when the winds of change blow your way?
  3.  What do you love? The "aha moment" when someone grasps an idea or seizes on new resources thrills me. I love exploring the Christian life, being part of Christ's Church, mentoring others, and gathering and sharing information. When do you get goosebumps from participating in or designing something?
  4. What do you avoid at all costs? I avoid being micro-managed or balancing a checkbook. Give me freedom to play and explore with a group though ... and I can bear almost anything. What would make you abandon your post?
  5. What is God speaking into your heart? I've always been passionate about teaching and mentoring inside and outside the academic community. I value the learning process and admire those who devote their lives to their students. I've watched my husband's delight in continuing to learn while he teaches. We've never taught the same subjects but our different interests might be beneficial: instead of competition, we've mutually offered support for whatever the other does. What possibilities is God whispering into your listening ear? Is it something familiar? Maybe it's something you've never previously considered.
Another of Real Simple's "Daily Thought"s
If you're thinking of tackling a new challenge, God is able to open gates that are locked. He can lead you on paths you worry are too steep or winding. And He certainly has invested in you the gifting and skills that you need to fulfill his purposes for you and the Kingdom work around you.

Take courage. Move forward. And please let us know what happens in the future -- or how this has already come true for you!

Read more:
*Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. I have taken an oath and confirmed it, that I will follow your righteous laws. I have suffered much. Preserve my life, O Lord, according to your word. Accept, O Lord, the willing praise of my mouth, and teach me your laws. Psalm 119:105-108 NIV

*Do as the occasion demands; for God is with you. 1 Samuel 10:7 (NKJV)

*There is none like you, O Lord; you are great, and your name is great in might. Jeremiah 10:6


*Do not seek your own advantage, but that of the other. 1 Corinthians 10:4

*Every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:11
Moravian Prayer: Lord, we build our lives upon you, our solid ground and cornerstone. Living in this way is a witness to you, and the way, the truth and life that comes to us when we turn to you. Keep us steady on solid ground.


Help us to seize the day! Help us to see how we can put the gifts you give us to work now in the ways you ask us to. Let there be no waiting. Amen.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The necessity of defensive fire

Israeli soldiers throw a blood-stained table from the
apartment window where Gaza rockets killed 3 Israelis

"Israel is always under attack," said our tour guide last summer. "Rockets shoot from Gaza into nearby communities every week." Hundreds of rockets land in neighborhoods and fields near the Gaza border annually. Everyone but the Palestinian militants is sick and tired of conflict, of having their homes and businesses ruined by strikes and counterstrikes.

"Imagine if 100 rockets landed in [Seattle]. Would the American government let that go on without trying to stop them?" Hardly. Obama or Bush or Clinton wouldn't have been as patient as Israel has been. Our guide explained how Israel's "Iron Shield" radar pinpoints launch sites and how warnings go to communities outside Gaza when bombs are coming their way.

A Palestinian rocket shoots from Gaza toward Israel
I can't imagine living like that. The land of Israel is coming back to life with the water systems developed by Israelis. Plantations of mangos, dates, and citrus trees flourish where there was only desert. As people settle the wilderness, their communities grow. Schools, businesses, and social services spring up.

Palestinian complain that settlements are on their land. Yet the entire Middle East is no longer a nomad's wandering ground or a "stake-my-claim" open landscape. National borders prevent groups from crossing freely between Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Syria, and other countries though complaints are lodged mostly against Israel. Arab nations push settlers off their land to build suburbs and towns.

Likewise, Israeli communities seem planted "in the middle of nowhere." They are usually planned to reclaim land in undeveloped wastelands or deserts. Water brings the ground to life. (Bit of historical comparison: when Europeans took over from American natives, did we compensate them well? When France went into Africa or England into India, was there concern about land appropriated? Currently, Israel compensates generously for any deeded land. Palestinian cannot take the money: their honor demands refusal and ongoing challenge for where they have squatted or pastured their animals. On the other hand, Israel says it's reclaiming ancestral territory promised by God ... unlike other colonial acquisitions.)

Israeli soldier watches counter-attack
It's a no-win situation. As far as the Arabs who funnel arms to Gaza are concerned, Palestinians serve a useful function, fomenting ongoing agitation and unrest for the Jews. Those same Arabs give limited humanitarian assistance and bar Palestinians from settling in their own countries.

This week, Israel said, "ENOUGH!" to Gaza attacks. The defensive destruction of Gaza rocket launch sites began a few days ago. Many targets are in Gaza's residential areas, demonstrating how Palestinians use their citizens as human shields. Before starting their defensive strikes, Israel's Army dropped leaflets in residential areas, warning civilians to move away. (We hope the American or Canadian governments would do the same if targeting terrorists in civilian areas: human life is sacred from the Judao-Christian viewpoint.)

No one expects the retalitation to solve anything, but Israel hopes to remove ammunition and terrorists that would have attacked and killed people in the future . The heartbreak of families on both sides chills me. Mothers and fathers losing sons and daughters. Families wiped out by a lack of reconciliation and forgiveness between blood brothers.

Palestinian man in the wreckage of his home
Once again, I ponder, "Sarah, what were you thinking when you anticipated God's promise to Abraham by asking him to impregnate Hagar?" By trying to make things happen through her best efforts, Sarah set off an ongoing conflagration between the sons of Abraham.

"Lord, may we please not do the same, claiming promises that are not ready for realization and jumping the gun before Your perfect timing brings Your promises to life." And we pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

Read more:
*Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people both now and forevermore. Psalm 125:1-2 NIV

*Then Daniel praised the God of heaven and said: “Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his. He changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning.

He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him. I thank and praise you, O God of my fathers: You have given me wisdom and power, you have made known to me what we asked of you, you have made known to us the dream of the king.” Daniel 2:19-23 NIV
 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

God of the night

In my 20s and 30s, I tried to be thankful and open to God. I often heard people say, "I'm so grateful for dark days and difficulties. I was scooting through life without thinking about God, but trials have made me aware of His provisions and his presence." I read about "the dark night of the soul" and wonderful saintly experiences of God-with-us during torture and martyrdom.

So I reasoned, "Why invite (or tempt) the coming trials? I want to know and appreciate God in good times so that I never wonder if the ugly days are punishment for my inattention when times were good." After all, I grew up in a holiness church where God rewarded your good behavior with good things and smacked your disobedience with pain worse than Job's.

Since our daughter became ill, we prayed our way through many nights. We sought God's face and depended on His strength for each day. We've found no medical solutions and God has not healed her. We've spent weeks at her bedside, wondering at the pain she endures and God's "heartlessness" at her suffering. I honestly don't feel very grateful during those times or when I see others suffer. I rejoice that God stays close and life is short.

Sometimes I've prayed, "This too is from your hands. You alone could help, yet you choose not to. Give us contentment and endurance in suffering."

I've pleaded, "Hope You know what You're doing. We're in the dark when You are supposed to be the God of Light. If there's 'no shadow of turning' in You, why do we feel like You've turned away?"

Or wept, "Enough already, don't You think?"

Watching reports of famines and floods, or sitting at a hospital bedside, I've even prayed, "Glad You haven't allowed it to be worse. Why don't You just kill us all now. Heaven will be relief from this misery."

The cry of a mother's heart (when I think our child can't bear another surgery or painful day or I can't absorb reports of others' traumas) isn't very rational. It's heartfelt though it may not sound very respectful to outsiders.

God hears us and understands human despair. Jesus prayed, "If it's possible, let this cup pass from me. Yet not my will but thine be done..." If the Son could hardly bear his cross, why would we think it's going to be easy for us?

Others go through "far worse" than we have. However, comparing pain is impossible. If you're in pain, you hurt regardless of what others feel.

I've always known God cares and will get us through the night. However, that doesn't make life easier though the process of loss and grief is simpler: I'm more resigned to human helplessness. I'm quicker to acknowledge, "Here we go again. You're still enough for the day. Whether we live or die, we live or die to You."

I may never look forward to pain as exhilarating closeness with God: "Thank you, God, for what I know about you now. You are more faithful, more wonderful, and greater than I knew." As I age, I seem to have more doubts about God's will to intervene rather than more faith in his desire to rescue His children. I'm more aware of the brokenness of the world and the stamina of humanity. While He is GREAT, He does not keep the storms from breaking down the house. Life seems more incomprehensible than ever.

Especially, I am amazed that people who never think about God in good times have the nerve to blame him for those awful days when you want to rip out your heart and throw it on the sidewalk to say, "Enough. I give up."

This I am sure of: during the bright days, let's celebrate the gifts of sunshine and beauty. I don't want to wait to seek God in times when we're at dead ends or become mired in tunnels of darkness.

Knowing God is Good and that we have received many blessings from His hands helps us to claim Job's confidence: "The Lord GIVES and he takes away. Blessed be the Name of the Lord." I'm grateful for so many things.

Especially, I'm glad our daughter is coming home for Christmas 2012 without a surgery planned. Though she suffers greatly in Seattle weather, we'll be together. We don't know what the future holds for her or us, but we know Who holds the future.

Read more:
*Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands. Deuteronomy 7:9 NIV

*The word of the Lord is upright, and all his work is done in faithfulness. Psalm 33:4

*[Jesus said,] "At that time you won't need to ask me for anything. I tell you the truth, you will ask the Father directly, and he will grant your request because you use my name. You haven't done this before. Ask, using my name, and you will receive, and you will have abundant joy." John 16:23–24 NLT

*Jesus also did many other things. If they were all written down, I suppose the whole world could not contain the books that would be written. John 21:25 NLT

*By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised. Hebrews 11:11 (NASB)

Moravian Prayer: Steadfast God, we strive to believe but pray for help in our unbelief! Move close to us on those days when we do not feel your presence. We claim your promise that you will be with us to the end. Strengthen our faith. Amen.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Living familiar patterns rather than new life?

The beautiful back salon of the boat
rocks in harbor
My desk is rocking on gentle waves. I'm having a hard time keeping my fingers on the keyboard as my office sways back and forth.

Actually, the trees outside the house aren't even moving. It's dead calm. Tea waits quietly in the teacup on the glass desktop.

But when I least expect it, I feel like the chair moves back and forth, up and down. We just spent 4 days cruising the coast on our friends' boat. We didn't feel unsteady when we walked ashore to eat or shop. But once in a while, usually when seated at a restaurant, someone would ask, "Do you still feel like you're on the waves?"

And another would respond, " I think my chair is swaying."

Waldemar sets the bumpers
after leaving the dock
Sometimes our habits are so familiar, traumas from childhood so ingrained, or old patterns so deeply set that we act as though we have no choices. Like the imagined swaying of my office walls, we follow the old grooves in unguarded times:
  • We lie to present ourselves favorably instead of answering quick questions with the uncomplicated truth.
  • We interact with others as "our best self" (who we think we should be - or as we think others want us to be) rather than being honest about our preferences, backgrounds, or giftings.
  • We compromise intimacy in marriage by fantasizing rather than enjoying and building up the spouse who loves us. If we have been traumatized by others, we may not trust ourselves to give our whole heart and soul to our mate.
  • We're dishonest at work, claiming benefits that belong to others or stealing supplies and resources that belong to others.
  • We pretend to diet at meals or when we eat in public while snacking all day where others can't see us, because food is our comfort or friendly go-to when stressed.
  • We lie to ourselves about our strengths and weaknesses, focusing on what we do not have so that we cannot benefit from the beautiful ways God made us and the gifts God gives us.
Waldemar and Terry head for the crab pots
I know where I get off the rails, where my little engine jumps the tracks to ugly, familiar destinations. And when I am hungry, angry, tired, or depressed, it's easiest to get derailed into destructive comforts rather than stay the course.

"Not one of us has achieved the goal of the high calling of God," Paul warned. "Let the one who thinks he/she stands be careful lest he/she falls."

God calls us to new life but salvation is not a magic trick where everything we've known or done disappears so that life becomes perfect. This newborn life has to be defended, guarded, and built upon!

How are you learning to live our your salvation? Here are some guidelines that help me:
Waldemar and Debbie navigating
our course
  1. Recognize myself. God called me from where I was, as I was, to follow him.
  2. Acknowledge God's power. He is able to transform what we have ruined, to create anew what sin has broken.
  3. Thank God for his gift of free will. God lets us choose to obey or disobey. He partners his strength and wisdom with our faith (trusting obedience).
  4. Form good habits over time to replace wrong thinking or destructive patterns. Little by little, line by line, one day at a time, we are being transformed into the image of God's son (Romans 12:1-2).
  5. Trust that God is enough for each day. When we fall, let's repent. Get up and move forward, believing that God knows you and me inside and out and willingly walks with us on life's journey. If he chose you as his child, he already knows the days you will fail as well as the days you succeed!
Read more:
*Praise the Lord. Praise, O servants of the Lord, praise the name of the Lord. Let the name of the Lord be praised, both now and forevermore. From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, the name of the Lord is to be praised. Psalm 113:1-3 NIV

*[Joab said,] 'Now go out there and congratulate your troops, for I swear by the LORD that if you don't go out, not a single one of them will remain here tonight. Then you will be worse off than ever before.'

So the king went out and took his seat at the town gate, and as the news spread throughout the town that he was there, everyone went to him." 2 Samuel 19:7–8 NLT

*For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:9

*Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 1 Corinthians 13:12

Moravian Prayer: Chief Elder, we elect you each day to be the guiding force in our lives—your ways are so much better than our ways. Help us to trust that you know fully, and if we seek to be like you we will be living life to the fullest. Amen.

Recognizing undeserved gifts

Sometimes we act as though all the good gifts of God were earned. Deserved. Coming our way because we did something to achieve them.

I read about a pastor on a mission trip. He saw a starving Indian man pushing a wheelbarrow. As the wheelbarrow passed him, he saw inside it another man, almost dead, pleading with his eyes for food and care. The pastor almost fainted from "transferred hunger" but did not help. He wrote that the gift of compassion he felt was his greatest gift from his India trip.


I've been thinking about that story for a few days. My first question, because the pastor had food, was, "Why didn't the pastor help? Why not share, giving the little he had to those who had none?" Was he overwhelmed by needs everywhere so he did not see the point? Is learning compassion enough? Was sharing his resources thwarted by caste (could the men accept his food)? Did religion prevent the sharing of one person's bounty with another's dearth?

I began considering were the underserved favors that come our way by God's hand. Why was the pastor (and I) well-fed, while the two men lived at death's door? Why was one educated and working in a rich land while the others subsisted in poverty? I have no answers.

My list of undeserved benefits is long. For example:
  • We attend a church where freedom of worship is encouraged and the pastor examines scripture with us
  • We recently spent a relaxing weekend with friends, boating the islands, talking about God and his ways
  • Our children serve the Lord
  • I find ministry in unexpected places, that fits the gifts God's given
  • Networking is a joy and God often surprises me with connections that I or others need
  • We have so much food that we could throw out some if we wanted
  • Our house is warm, my office nice, and we have useful work
  • We enjoy "bonuses" like finding the exact futon model for our guest room - free on www.FreeCycle.org
There are too many other abundances to count.


So, how do we gratefully accept the undeserved gifts?
  1. Recognize that life itself is a gift. Not a day can be added or taken away by sickness, health, or other circumstances. God knows how long we'll live.
  2. God has put us where we are. If we live in the West, we live among abundance, regardless of our bank balance. Wherever we reside, we may be surrounded by a big family or a loving community. We may have work that uses our gifts and talents. None of these can be taken for granted.
  3. God has given us everything we have, whether or not we've "worked for it." The psalmist says the cattle on 1000 hills are his. Many others work harder, longer, and have crushing stressors beyond what I could bear ... yet I may have more than they do.
  4. God alone protects us, the ones we love, and our stuff. When God removes his covering shelter, lives and wealth are swept away in an instant. All the burglar alarms and police in the world cannot protect us if God does not.
  5. God gives abundance that may not be obvious at first glance. We may not have a lot of money, but do we have friends? I may have lost your job, but do I still eat? I have wish for things you can't afford, but do are my true needs met? 
Let's be grateful. On this weekend when we've celebrated the freedoms won and preserved by our countries' soldiers, we acknowledge that the world is both dangerous AND wonderful. Freedom of spirit and body cannot be taken for granted. It is hard-won, whether by spiritual giants or military engagement.

And no good thing in life is deserved or can be taken for granted. It is the gift of God, whose everything is and to whom everything belongs.

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 NLT

*Mortals look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart. 1 Samuel 16:7

*As he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct. 1 Peter 1:15
*Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your
requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.


Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:4-9 NIV

Moravian Prayer: Lord, you find that little spark inside of us that grows into a burning flame for you. We want to work for you, the one who knows us inside and out. We know you have given us everything we need to complete the tasks you call us to. Amen.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Walking WITH God

The book I'm reading is titled simply, "With." It explores our journey of faith and encourages readers to find themselves on a journey WITH God. Many of us live "under God," trying to follow rules to coerce God to act on our behalf. Some live "over God" as though He were the prime Mover in creation and has paid little attention to us since. Skye Jethani encourages us to rethink our walk with God.

Paul and others describe healthy Christian life through lists of behaviors and spiritual fruit (not fruits) that emerge when we walk WITH God, in partnership with One who is able to transform us from the inside and outside. If you claim to follow Christ, how have these qualities begun to grow in you? Are others eating the sweet fruit of them? Or have you developed a bitter root that spoils what people get from your life?

  • love
  • joy
  • peace
  • patience
  • longsuffering
  • kindness
  • goodness
  • humility
  • selflessness
  • gentleness
  • compassion
  • friendliness
The scriptural lists are long and specific. I have some fertilizing, watering, and basking in the light of God's presence to do to let the fruit grow strong and tasty. You?

Read more:
*Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, God of truth. Psalm 31:5 (NKJV) 

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

*All belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God. 1 Corinthians 3:22-23 

*Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Colossians 3:12 NIV

Moravian Prayer: Jesus, we put all of our eggs in your basket, all our trust in you because we know you love us. Help us to live a life that shows we always trust in you. Amen. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Happy morning to you

I read and re-read the Moravian prayer for this morning (below). Then I determine to rejoice in the Lord and to live as a good alien in a foreign land.

Small and wonderful pleasures along the way:
  • I love the smell of lavender crushed in my palm, plucked from a plant overhanging the sidewalk.
  • There was no rain on our walk. No sun, but no rain either. Thank you, God!
  •  Our friend, in surgery today, will soon be breathing easier and walking better.
  • The dogs trotted along nicely, dragging the leash. They're freshly groomed and their hair is soft.
  • Those ghastly drifts of maple leaves making the roadsides a slippery mess will soon be raked away or dissolve into mulch.
  • The apple plucked from the tree along our driveway was crisp and cold. Pure delicious-ness.
  • Yesterday's wind played a rowdy tug-of-war with the trees but some leaves proved tenacious and are still waving their goodbyes.
  • A smoky bitter lapsang suchong refreshes me with its darkness.
And an enormous pleasure:
  • They're done with presidential elections for 2 years.
Read more:
*The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird on strength. 1 Samuel 2:4

*Paul wrote: I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 2 Corinthians 12:9


Moravian Prayer: Almighty God, we are strong when our strength comes from you. Help us in moments of weakness to remember that we can call on you and all that works against you shall be broken while we will be made whole. Amen.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Living in the mystery

The world is awash in mystery. Science seeks it out. Religions dive in to explore it. And people both fear and desire interaction with things they don't understand. 

We have a lot of questions:
  • Does my life have a purpose? If I didn't exist, would it matter?
  • Why have people hurt me? How should I respond to them?
  • How much free choice do individuals have? Does it matter if our choices harm others?
  • The world became chaotic, just when I thought  was getting a grip on things. Is anyone in control?
  • Nature seems to be going mad. How do I understand my place in my surroundings?
  • Does it matter what path I choose or whom I worship? Does it all sort itself out in the end?
  • How do I respond to (or explain things) I don't understand?
Everyone looks for meaning and comprehending these mysteries of life and more. Most people make excuses to find answers ANYWHERE except in the Bible and through belief in the Christian God. We may have various reasons to avoid the Mystery of becoming Christ-followers, including:
  • We prefer to invent our gods. We don't want anyone or thing in authority over us. It's more appealing to pick and choose from religious traditions to imagine a perfect scenario of cosmic appeasement ... with our Self at the center.
  • The Christian God makes demands on his adherents - to follow him, we must fall in with him and his expectations. He refuses to come alongside us as a magic genie who responds to cosmic manipulation. (i.e. "If I live well, he must bless me and do what I want/need/desire.") 
  • Christians are a funny bunch. God has chosen "the weak things of the world" to show off the marvels of his universe and his generous love. We don't necessarily want to be identified as "one of those kooks."
  • It's politically incorrect and intolerant to believe - never mind to say - "This is God's way. The only way to heaven." (And who even believes in a Christian heaven and hell anymore?) 
  • We may have been disappointed with Christians or the Church in the past. We might have experienced an abuse of power, hypocritical believers, people who don't live up to our expectations, a church that gets off into weird sectarian doctrines, etc.
Don't look everywhere but God's offer! It's worth checking out the Bible's claims of God seeking us out, the Mysterious Creator wanting to connect with us, providing a way to know a God who is altogether holy, just, AND loving.

I'm encouraging those who are already in the faith to plunge in wholeheartedly. For those exploring their options to consider traveling the road of life, please open wide to the possibility of "GOD WITH US" in Jesus Christ. How?
  • Read through the Bible. Not just once, but many times. Grab a Bible handbook and study guides along the way. There are many versions from easy to academic, authored by people who have thought deeply about the faith and can explain culture and customs that are confusing to readers. Or choose an online reader with research resources in it. Click here.
  • Listen to podcasts about theology (thinking about God). One version: my husband's been a theology prof for 20 years and has a series on "Basic Christian Thought" here, including thoughts on heaven and hell, God and the angels, the Trinity as holy dance, creation, the place of humans, etc.
  • Host or join a group that explores scripture. I like the range of groups here but a local church near you probably has groups as well. If they're kooky, don't give up. After all, you don't give up eating just because you hit a lousy restaurant!
The adventure of life is worth exploring to the max. The mystery of life is worth examination and interaction. Though we can't fully understand God and his ways, he invites us into relationship. That mystery is the deepest of all for me! Have fun on the journey and let me know how it goes.

Read more:
*
Do not bow down before their gods or worship them or follow their practices. You must demolish them and break their sacred stones to pieces. Worship the Lord your God, and his blessing will be on your food and water. I will take away sickness from among you, and none will miscarry or be barren in your land. I will give you a full life span. Exodus 23:24-26 NIV

*We have heard with our ears, O God, our ancestors have told us, what deeds you performed in their days, in the days of old. Psalm 44:1

*Though you have not seen Him, you love Jesus Christ, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls. As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries. 1 Peter 1:8, 9-10 (NASB) 

*And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things
in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ. Ephesians 1:9-10 NIV


Moravian Prayer: Lord, it is by faith that we know and that we are called. May we follow your call as strongly as those who walked side by side with you. We hear of your works and are led to do your work as well. Amen.