Monday, December 27, 2010

My Gift at the Manger

We were on our way to the Christmas morning worship service and I was not in the mood to worship. I could trace the problem to its source. The grumpiness had started on December 22nd, when I first heard a Christmas song on the radio that had the Baby Jesus saying “Ho, ho, ho.”

Bah, humbug.

The racoon who ate the pumpkin pie off my back deck during the Christmas Eve service didn’t help any. Nor did the discovery, later in the evening, that my jar of poultry seasoning was empty. It could have been on my fruitless pilgrimage around town that night, looking for an open grocery store, that I lost the right front hubcap off my new volkswagon.

So, driving to church on Christmas morning, listening to my husband’s idle musings about which of the three curbs I had bumped in the last four days might have dealt the death knell to my hubcap, I was in full grinch form.

“Merry Christmas,” I said (pointedly) to him in the middle of his one-sided discussion of the missing hubcap. Being, as he is, consistently oblivious to subtle hints regarding proper topics of conversation when I am in a funk, he continued the conversation until I told him, without subtle nuances or vague metaphorical references, that I needed a few minutes of peace and quiet “because I am not in the mood to worship and it’s being very hard for me to get myself there.”

During the next few minutes of brooding silence, I dragged my reluctant heart to Jesus, laid my insignificant frustrations at His feet and pried my heartstrings away from the bitterness trying to take root in my spirit.

I came close to tears when I realized, once again, after all these years of basking in the light of His unconditional love, that I still have nothing worthwhile to leave at the manger on Christmas morning.

At church, the pastor told us the true story of the little church in a small town that decided to take a chance and bring real animals to its Christmas Eve service. A local farmer lent them a cow, a sheep and a goat, and the animal rescue facility down the road sent them a donkey.

It seemed to be working. The animals, and the people, were behaving well. Just as on that famous night, all was calm. Until the donkey got too close to the empty baptistry and fell in.

Finding himself trapped in the unfamiliar “stall”, the poor beast flailed and brayed until the pastor gave up on his message and called the care giver from the animal rescue facility. The man came, took off his shoes, got into the tub, covered the donkey’s head with his coat, whispered sweet comfort into his ear, and finally crouched down on all fours so the donkey could use him as a stepstool to climb out.

“It’s a perfect metaphor,” the pastor explained. “That’s why Jesus came.”

My mind wandered now and then. I was still trying to find a worthy gift for the baby in the manger. Maybe the prayer I prayed in church last Sunday. Several people said they were touched by it. Or the Tim Horton’s card I gave to my lonely friend. Or the time I spent talking about the Bible with the sweet young woman who had just become a Christian. Those things would be good gifts for Jesus.

“No.” I heard Him say, distinctly. “The first gift you gave me—that’s all I want.”

A broken and contrite heart.

The only gift a sinner has to offer a holy Saviour.

Yes, Christmas is about giving. But it’s not about our giving. It’s about God’s giving. I knelt at the manger that morning and received His gift—the true peace of Christmas—with a heart open and subdued.

Then I went home to subdue the five grandchildren who were running around our house, high on Christmas candy, and the thirty-pound turkey I’d wrestled into the oven that morning.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Significant Trivia

When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.'"
Matthew 2:3-6

A bit of shepherd trivia.

Shepherds, in Jesus' day, were considered one of the lowest classes of people. They were so suspect as liars and thieves that their testimonies were not accepted in a court of law. Yet they were the ones to whom the angels first announced the birth of Jesus, and were probably the first to begin spreading the word to others.

Shepherding was the chief industry of the little town of Bethlehem. The animals were raised to be sold in Jerusalem, to pilgrims who needed them for sacrifices in their religious ceremonies. Lambs were killed to atone for the sins of the people who gave them at the temple for sacrifice.

So this little town is where the Lamb of God was "produced"--the lamb whose sacrificial death on the cross was pre-ordained to "take away the sin of the world." (John 1:29)

With the destruction of the Jewish temple in 60 A.D., the practice of animal sacrifice was discontinued, and has not been re-instituted.

I love Christmas!

Friday, November 19, 2010

A Whisper in the Wind

This discussion on hearing from God has raised a raft of questions for me. I’m shy about sharing some of them, because I’m not sure they even make sense. Both the questions and the answers are still incubating. But Jenifer’s comment on my November 18th post, interestingly enough, speaks to the first of my questions, recorded in my journal on November 15th.

Jenifer says: “God is always speaking to us. Sometimes it is in the big things and sometimes it is a whisper in the wind. The more aware we are of Christ in our daily activities, the more we will notice when He speaks to us.”

My November 15th journal entry asks this question: Does God speak specifically to me every day, or are there only some times when I need to hear specific words? Are there some days when we just walk together in companionable silence?

Jenifer’s statement is obviously true, and I want to especially note her reminder that “the more aware we are of Christ in our daily activities, the more we will notice when He speaks to us.” But how does God speak? Is it always specific?

So here’s my mind trying to work out this truth:

God speaks all the time.

I know He does. He thunders on the mountaintops and he whispers in the wind. But what does that mean? Does He speak specific words in those sounds? Or does he just give us an intuitive sense of who He is—a majestic, powerful God, or an infinitely gentle One?

Psalm 19:2 says that the heavens declare the glory of God, day after day and night after night. God speaks to us constantly through the natural world.

He speaks constantly through His written word too. Every time we open the Book we read God speaking, even if nothing we read connects specifically with where our minds are at the moment.

And I’ve also come to believe that He is constantly whispering “I love you” in our hearts, as if those words are constantly being broadcast on some kind of spiritual airwave. Whenever we happen to tune into that station, we hear them.

But the kind of speaking I’m trying to listen to right now is more personal, more specific. How often does God want to take one of His eternal truths and apply it to my life, for a specific reason, at a point in time? How often does God want me to experience this kind of realization of Him?

God also speaks specifically at particular points in time and space.

One day when I was walking alone along a forest trail, He pointed out a flower that He said He’d put there just for me. I needed a flower that day, but I didn’t want to pick it because then it wouldn’t be there for someone else. He said, “It’s yours. Pick it. I can make more.”

When I was in agony over some things that were happening, or NOT happening, in my church, I wondered if God’s Spirit had departed from us—given up on ever being able to use us again. I picked up the Bible and read Haggai 2:5: “Be strong, and work, for My Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.”

And every time I ask Him for a random word, for no specific reason except to be reassured He is there, I hear an instant response: “I love you.” I know that’s true, but for some reason it surprises me again every time He says it.

So maybe my question about how often He speaks specifically is nonsense. Maybe I just need to keep my ears tuned, as Jenifer has said, and let Him speak however He wants.

Maybe I need to hear His voice in the thunder, the wind, the giggles of my grandchildren, the sigh of a friend, but also make my ears available for a specific word that says, “This is the way. Walk in it.” when I turn from the left to the right.

Thanks, Jenifer, for stimulating my thinking about this.

And, Kristen, God does use you. Keep up the good work.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

An Amazing Truth!

The LORD confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them. Psalm 25:14

God confides in us. That's amazing!

One more blog post from my personal journal, to show how God has spoken specifically to me in the last week:

I think I’m getting more of a sense of God’s urgings, in even the littlest things. I may be wrong about these urges, but I don’t think it will hurt anything if I step out on faith, as if they are from God. This morning I picked up my Bible from the nightstand and Prison to Praise was under it. I felt I needed to pick it up too, as if God might want to say something to me from it.

I always think it’s best to read my Bible first, before any other book in my quiet time, but this time as I asked God where I should read I felt Him say to read the book first. I turned to my bookmark and started reading [the author's] chapter on the power of praise—really the heart of his message. It was a powerful read, and again I sensed the urging of the Spirit to blog a passage from the book. So I got up and did it, afraid if I didn’t obey immediately it might get lost somewhere in the shuffle.

My blog posts are coming so much easier and more frequently since I relinquished my right to play Spider Solitaire! I’m convinced I can’t develop the discipline to do what God wants me to do until I exercize the discipline to quit doing the other things that get in the way. So I wonder if that blog post has a specific purpose in God’s Kingdom, since it seemed so specifically inspired? I might never know, and that’s all right.

Later I added this:

I said above that I might never know if the posting of this blog was God’s idea, but in the depth of my spirit I asked God for some kind of confirmation. A little while later I checked my e-mail messages and got this message from Lisa:

“I really enjoy reading your blog. In fact, I sent part of it to a friend who is feeling overwhelmed today. Thank you for posting this! I want to always bring the sacrifice of my praise to Jesus.”

I learned several things from this experience:

I was reassured that God does speak to us specifically if we make the effort to ask Him for specific wisdom AND if we take the time to listen for Him to speak. He spoke to me in prompting that blog post. He spoke to Lisa, asking her to send it to her friend, and He spoke encouragement to Lisa’s friend through her obedient action.

I realized that when we feel God’s prompting, we need to obey instantly. If I had waited to write that blog post, it might never have happened. I know, because I’ve lost good ideas like that before. The idea comes, and I think I’ll do it later, and it never goes any farther.

If Lisa had not responded immediately to send the message to her friend, she might never have done it, and her friend would have missed that blessing.

Lisa was doubly obedient to God’s prompting. Her encouraging message to me had impact because she sent it right away. If she had waited a day or two, I would not have had the specific confirmation I asked God for.

I also saw a demonstration of God’s love here. God went out of His way to encourage Lisa’s friend. He prompted me to write the blog post. He prompted Lisa to read it, and then to send it on to her. When God goes to a lot of trouble to say, “I love you,” the message is powerful. This friend of Lisa’s must be greatly loved by God, and He wants her to know that.

Next post will move away from these personal experiences. I want to talk about three other ideas before I leave this subject. I want to discuss how God speaks, what kinds of things He says, and I want to ponder the “sound” of His voice. I hope those discussions will help answer the question, “Is it really God speaking to me?”

I love the comments I’m getting. If you have something you’d like to share with others, please e-mail me (see the sidebar for my address). I can then include your comments in the body of the blog posts.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

It's Not About Sofas

So I’m having fun with the current topic of hearing from God. I think I'll post some examples of the experiences I'm having. Here's one from a week or so ago:

I am looking on Craig’s List for furniture for our front room. I find an ad that looks promising, contact the person who is selling, and make arrangements to go see it tonight. She is leaving town in the morning for ten days and has to get rid of her things before she moves permanently at the end of the month.

On the way to her house, I begin to wonder if God might have a greater purpose in the encounter. I ask God to guide and use the situation for His purposes.

We meet, and I look at the furniture. It’s not what we’re looking for, but my spiritual eyes have been moved to a bigger goal than finding a sofa.

I ask her if her move is a happy one. She says yes, that she travels a lot with her work and she’s hoping to settle in this new city. I tell her I will pray for her on her trip, that God is going with her and that He loves her. She receives the message with a smile.

For the next several days I find myself praying for Jill (not her real name). I feel this contact is definitely of the Lord, probably just for the prayer and the word God wanted her to have.

I love this new awareness that God wants to be intimately involved in my life, speaking to me and letting me hear Him, using me for His purposes.

Every day, not just now and then when I remember to ask Him if there’s anything I can do.

Every contact we have with anyone, God is there, and we need to be alert to it.

Now, I need to see if I can remember this the next time I get a phone call from a telemarketer. I wonder if anyone ever tells them that Jesus loves them?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Even in the Silence

Yesterday, after posting the Praise Power message, I opened the novel I’m reading (Yes, I’m one of those confused, neurotic people who have at least five books on the go at once.), and found the following passage. It seemed to fit so well with yesterday’s post, I thought I’d quote it for you.

While We’re Far Apart, by Lynn Austin, is set in WWII, so it made good reading over the Remembrance Day holiday. I recommend it for the picture it gives of life in the U.S. during WWII, for both Jews and Gentiles, and also for its honest examination of the age-old question, “Why Did God Let This Happen?”

From Chapter 23, pp204-206:

“Do you think it does any good to pray, Mr. Mendel?”

The truth was that he was still too angry with Hashem to pray. But just as his newspaper photos had fueled Esther’s fear, he saw that his lack of faith would have an influence on her, too. It would be very wrong to lead these children into the dark, hopeless world where he lived. Should he tell them not to come anymore? No, Jacob had grown very fond of them. They were the only bright spot in his life right now. He groped for a reply.

“Sometimes, Esther, it is wrong to judge the effectiveness of prayer by looking at the immediate results. Do you know the story of Joseph from the Bible?”

She looked thoughtful for a moment, “You mean the boy with the coat of many colors?“

“Yes. Exactly so. In the story, everything looked very bad for Joseph—sold as a slave by his own brothers, living far from home. He was even locked in prison for a while, falsely accused of a crime he did not commit. His father feared he was dead.” Jacob had to pause as grief strangled him. He closed his eyes, thinking of his son and the cart full of Jewish corpses, thinking of the detectives who had come to his apartment making false accusations. The police wanted to put Jacob into prison, too, for a crime he did not commit.

“All that time,” he said when he could speak, “all that time Joseph prayed, and it must have seemed like Hashem wasn’t listening.”

“Is that God’s name, Hashem?”

“No, Hashem means ‘The Name.’ One of the Ten Commandments says it is wrong to take His name in vain. We believe that His name is so holy that we must never speak it. Instead, we say Hashem—The Name.”

“So, Joseph prayed to Hashem?” Esther asked.

“Yes, I am sure that he prayed something like, ‘Get me out of this prison! Get me back home to my family!’ Hashem may not have answered Joseph’s prayers the way that Joseph wanted Him to, but it turned out that Hashem had a very good reason for keeping him in Egypt. Of course, Joseph could not see how it was good until many years had passed. But Hashem was at work all that time, raising Joseph up to become a leader in Egypt. And when famine came to the land of Israel, Joseph’s family came to him there and were rescued.”

Peter wrote something on his piece of paper and pushed it across the table for Jacob to read: Mama used to tell us that story. Jacob thought of Rachel Shaffer and his own Miriam Shoshanna, and several moments passed before he could speak.

“Hashem may not answer our prayers the way we want Him to,” he said, clearing his throat. “He did not deliver Joseph from prison right away. But Hashem was there with Joseph, even in the silence.”

“Is that true, Mr. Mendel? Does God—Hashem—really hear our prayers?”

Esther and Peter were looking to him for answers. And for hope. He felt none. Why had he ever opened his door to them? Should he lie?

“’The righteous shall live by faith,’” Jacob finally said, remembering the rebbe’s words. “Faith is believing, even when you cannot see it. Like Joseph did. He never stopped believing in Hashem. And in time, his prayers were answered in ways he never could have foreseen.”

Do you see how this fits with the Praise Power idea? Or is it just me?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Praise Power

I've been re-reading an old book called Prison to Praise, by Chaplain Merlin Carothers. He is reminding me of a great truth I need to hear repeated again and again. He says:

Jesus didn't promise to change the circumstances around us, but He did promise great peace and pure joy to those who would learn to believe that God actually controls all things.

The very act of praise releases the power of God into a set of circumstances and enables God to change them if this is His design. Very often it is our attitudes that hinder the solution of a problem. God is sovereign and could certainly cut across our wrong thought patterns and attitudes. But His perfect plan is to bring each of us into fellowship and communion with Him, and so He allows circumstances and incidents which will bring our wrong attitudes to our attention.

I have come to believe that the prayer of praise is the highest form of communion with God, and one that always releases a great deal of power into our lives. Praising Him is not something we do because we feel good; rather it is an act of obedience. Often the prayer of praise is done in sheer teeth-gritting willpower; yet when we persist in it, somehow the power of God is released into us and into the situation, first in a trickle perhaps, but later in [a] growing stream that finally floods us and washes away the old hurts and scars.

Philippians 4:6 says: Be careful for nothing; but in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God.

Ephesians 5:19-20 says: Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-19 says: Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit.

Do I really believe these truths?

How often do I quench the Spirit by my lack of vision and lack of faith?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

My Approval Ratings

I’m in an introspective mood. Maybe it’s the influence of what I’m reading. John Eldredge’s book, Walking With God, journals his experience of listening to God and walking with Him on a daily basis for one year.

I can only take so much of this kind of navel gazing before I get bored, or uneasy. If I were John Eldredge I’d be wondering why that’s true. He’d probably say I’m afraid to look under the hood (see page 60, “Being Willing to Have a Look”), so, before I give up on this approach, I probably need to look at a few things.

The thing I notice right now is that I am constantly trying to impress myself. Or impress others with myself. Wanting them to know how witty I am, or how inteligent, or good, or clever, or right, or even how beautiful. If there’s a group picture, I look for myself first. I want to know how good I look. I’m usually disappointed. I keep expecting that someone as special as I am should look more beautiful than I do.

There’s something wrong with living this way. It’s not how Jesus lived.

Jesus never tried to impress anyone. Why? Because He knew who He was. He had this quiet, sure confidence about His identity from the beginning. You see it when he was 12 years old, in the forthright and matter-of-fact way He asked and answered the questions of the religious rulers in the temple. You see it, especially, in the way he responded to His “parents” when they asked where He had been. “Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?" (Luke 2:49)

Jesus was God’s son, and as such he had His Father's approval. He needed no other affirmation than that.

Because of Jesus, I am God’s child too. That’s my identity. That’s the reality of who I am. I am accepted in the Beloved. When I live in this reality, the affirmation of others, or even of myself, is not necessary.

There is no room for pride in that vision, or insecurity, or guilt. It’s just the way it is. Everything I am and have comes from Him and belongs to Him, and that’s enough.

I want to live in that reality.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Pastor Who Scolds

Last week my Pastor scolded me.

I had sent him one of those funny e-mail jokes. Where on earth I came up with the brilliant idea that the other deacons in my church and the pastors would enjoy an internet joke that involved Jesus, I’ll never know. My pastor gets so much electronic mail he hates messages anyway. I knew that. It was just one of those sloppy, brain-dead moments when you snatch a glance at something someone’s spammed you with and immediately, without sober second thought, spam it forward, to a group list, no less, of the most spiritually sensitive people in your church.

In all fairness, my pastor didn’t know he’d scolded me. I had to tell him about it later, after the scolding had done its redemptive readjustment of my internet priorities. He was surprised, and pleased, to find out God had used him to discipline me, but he had no idea his question, “Why on earth do you read this stuff?!” would sound like a reprimand.

He was probably just curious, but it sounded like a rhetorical question to me. You know, like the ones Jesus used to ask his disciples: “How long must I put up with you?” That kind of thing. But it’s hard to interpret e-mails because you don’t get the body language. Anyway, the e-mail had obviously caught him at a bad time. He’d probably just come out of an hour-long meeting with Jesus where they’d been discussing matters involving the Kingdom of God, or something equally significant. Naturally, in that case, he could have missed the humor in the joke.

I replied to his reprimand, asking him if the joke was sacrilegious or something. He said, “No, just profoundly ignorant.” That didn’t sound much better than sacrilege to me. I thought about pointing out to him that “profoundly ignorant” was an oxymoron, but decided I’d better not push my luck, especially since I’d not seemed to have much of it so far anyway in this conversation.

But the end result of the whole thing was amazing. For weeks before this I’d been in a spiritual slump. I had no appetite for reading the Bible. I had no faith in prayer, and even the little arrow prayers and praises that used to add salt and pepper to my spiritual life were missing.

My pastor’s response to the spam changed all that. I have no idea why. Maybe because it shed a new, strong light on the influence the internet has in my life. I realized that spam in and spam out had become a regular, unconscious part of my psyche. I began to be aware, not only of what I read every day, but what I, in turn, clutter my friends’ mailboxes with.

So the reprimand has changed me. I’ve decided there are enough frivolous words floating around out there in cyberspace, and I’m determined not to contribute any more to the flotsam and jetsam. I’m using the delete key more often, and sooner—before I read, instead of after—and I’ve slowed down my reaction time before hitting the “forward to” key.

And, glory be!, my taste for the Word of God has revived. I find myself eagerly going to quiet times every morning and every night. The prayers and praises have returned, as well as beautiful calls to intercession resulting in some powerful, eternity-changing conversations with Jesus.

I love it that my pastor isn’t afraid to chide me. We need that kind of pastor. October is pastor appreciation month, and before the month went by, I wanted to say that I thank God for my pastor. He’s a gem, and his sensitivity to the Holy Spirit, in this case, has rekindled my spiritual life. It has cleared the junk off the sofa in my heart so there’s room, again, for Jesus to come in and sit down.

Thank you, God, for pastors who aren’t afraid to lecture us.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


I don't want the kind of peace that comes from feeling like I have everything under control. I want the peace that comes from knowing God is sovereign, even though I'm not in control.

Don't fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God's wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It's wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.

Philippians 4:6-8 (The Message)

Friday, September 17, 2010

Losing Heart

I struggle, today, with the disappointment of unanswered prayer. Why does it seem, so often, as if my prayers make no difference? Does prayer really change things, as the plaque on the wall in my bedroom states?

I know the answer to that question with my mind. God often says “wait” when we ask for something, and His timing is perfect. And when He says “no,” it's always so He can give us something better instead. But in the moment it's heart-breaking to feel the door shut in my face.

So what do I do in the midst of my disappointment?

Do I give up on God and decide my walk with Him is all a waste of time? I can't do that. There's too much richness in that walk—too much truth and grace. I can't deny His faithfulness in the past.

Do I wallow in self-pity and self-doubt, wondering if I've done something that keeps God from answering my prayers? It's not a bad idea to ask God to examine my attitude and my motivations, but if nothing comes to mind, I can't stay in that place. It's depressing and counterproductive.

Do I quit asking God for things, or at least quit expecting He will answer if I do? I could just say “Thy will be done,” and leave it at that—no specifics. That way I will avoid the hurt of disappointment. But then why pray at all? Why ask God for something He will do anyway? Where is the intimacy of communion, or even the delight of communication in that kind of prayer?

No, I have to avoid all those solutions. They're not solutions. They're coping mechanisms, and coping mechanisms don't belong in healthy relationships. I want a healthy relationship with my God.

So I go to the Word.

I read about people like Joseph, who spent years in prison for something he didn't do, only to be released at the right time to fulfill God's purposes of salvation, for Egypt, and Israel, and ultimately the whole world. People like Moses, who labored for years in the wilderness tending his father-in-law's sheep before God sent him to deliver the children of Israel from bondage in Egypt. Daniel, the captured slave of a pagan king, who remained faithful to God and so influenced the history of the world during two great secular empires.

I hear Job say, Though he slay me, yet will I trust him, and Habakkuk declare, Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.

I read Paul's words in 2 Corinthians: We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned, struck down, but not destroyed.

Why was Paul not defeated by his disappointments? Because we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Cor 4:18.

My vision is so incomplete. I cannot afford to lose heart just because I can't see far enough ahead. I will not harden my heart. I will keep pressing into His side. I will keep presenting my requests to Him and allowing the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, to guard my heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:4-7. I will not lose my heart.

Sunday, September 5, 2010


Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20

"Our Lord makes a disciple His own possession, He becomes responsible for him. 'Ye shall be witnesses unto Me.' The spirit that comes in is not that of doing anything for Jesus, but of being a perfect delight to Him. The secret of the missionary is--I am His, and He is carrying out His enterprises through me. Be entirely His." Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, September 4 reading.

God calls for complete surrender of our lives to Him.

Some things we lay on the altar He will burn up, because they aren't good for us and never will be.

Other things He will purify, and sanctify, and give back to us. But we have to let go of everything.

God is good and He is sovereign. We have to trust Him, and we can trust Him.

Monday, August 16, 2010


in my thinking. .

About things—not what I can get, but how simply I can live.

About leisure—not escape from something, but entering into something.

About food—not what I have to give up, but what is good for my health.

About tithe—not what I lose, but what God's Kingdom gains.

About vacation—not doing whatever I want, but changing my pace.

About time—not immediate and urgent, but restful and trusting.

About God—not far away, but up close; not condemning, but loving; not emotionally distant, but relational.

About salvation—not my doing, but His.

About being loved—not getting hugs, but giving them.

About church—not what I get out of it, but what I put into it.

About life—not down here and short, but up there and eternal.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Something Went Terribly Wrong Here

The view from below:

Mark 15:1-15 (around 30 AD)

Early the next morning the chief priests, the nation's leaders, and the teachers of the Law of Moses met together with the whole Jewish council. They tied up Jesus and led him off to Pilate.

He asked Jesus, "Are you the king of the Jews?"

"Those are your words," Jesus answered.

The chief priests brought many charges against Jesus. Then Pilate questioned him again, "Don't you have anything to say? Don't you hear what crimes they say you have done?" But Jesus did not answer, and Pilate was amazed.

During Passover, Pilate always freed one prisoner chosen by the people. And at that time there was a prisoner named Barabbas. He and some others had been arrested for murder during a riot. The crowd now came and asked Pilate to set a prisoner free, just as he usually did.

Pilate asked them, "Do you want me to free the king of the Jews?"

Pilate knew that the chief priests had brought Jesus to him because they were jealous.

But the chief priests told the crowd to ask Pilate to free Barabbas.

Then Pilate asked the crowd, "What do you want me to do with this man you say is the king of the Jews?"

They yelled, "Nail him to a cross!"

Pilate asked, "But what crime has he done?"

"Nail him to a cross!" they yelled even louder.

Pilate wanted to please the crowd. So he set Barabbas free. Then he ordered his soldiers to beat Jesus with a whip and nail him to a cross.

Something went terribly wrong here.

The view from above:

Isaiah 53:5-12 (800 years before Christ was born)

He was wounded and crushed because of our sins; by taking our punishment, he made us completely well.

All of us were like sheep that had wandered off. We had each gone our own way, but the LORD gave him the punishment we deserved.

He was painfully abused, but he did not complain. He was silent like a lamb being led to the butcher, as quiet as a sheep having its wool cut off.

He was condemned to death without a fair trial. Who could have imagined what would happen to him? His life was taken away because of the sinful things my people had done.

He wasn't dishonest or violent, but he was buried in a tomb of cruel and rich people.

The LORD decided his servant would suffer as a sacrifice to take away the sin and guilt of others. Now the servant will live to see his own descendants. He did everything the LORD had planned. By suffering, the servant will learn the true meaning of obeying the LORD.

Although he is innocent, he will take the punishment for the sins of others, so that many of them will no longer be guilty.

The LORD will reward him with honor and power for sacrificing his life. Others thought he was a sinner, but he suffered for our sins and asked God to forgive us.

Lord, remind me, when things go terribly wrong in my life, to ask for the view from above.

Scriptures taken from the Contemporary English Version of the Bible

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Always Temporary

Belonging to Jesus doesn't mean nothing terrible will ever happen to you. It just means terrible things are temporary.

That's enough.

Revelation 21:4

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Not Jonathan Livingston

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment. Isaiah 64:6

I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. Romans 7:18

You were washed. . .you were sanctified. . .you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God. I Corinthians 6:11

Perfect because of My splendor which I bestowed on you, declares the Lord God. Ezekiel 16:14

I'm so proud of this photo, even if it was an accident. I just wanted a picture of a sea gull, and I grabbed it, not knowing if the bird was even in my sights at the time.

I love what was caught by my camera lens in that fraction of a second.

Yes, it is just a seagull. That unimpressive, annoying bird who struts awkwardly up and down the beach, looking at you out of the corner of his eye with that half defiant, half apologetic expression, as if he knows you don't like him and are about to shoo him away.

The one who scuttles up to steal from your chip bag when you aren't looking, then scurries off, leaving his dirty germs behind.

But in the air, soaring toward the light, against the blue, blue sky, he's beautiful.

I think it's a metaphor.

Disclaimer: This bird is not related to Jonathan Livingston Seagull, who was created to explain (and does so very aptly) the christological doctrine of the Mormon faith.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A Simple Cure

Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun. Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him. . . (Psalm 37:3-7)

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. (1 Timothy 6:17)

I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destry; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (Jesus, in John 10:9-10)

I hate when people tell me what's wrong with my life but don't tell me how to fix it. Yesterday I talked about what was wrong. Today I want to suggest a way to fix it. It may not be difficult. Most of our idols, at least as Christians, are not intrisically bad things. They're just good things in the wrong place.

“God gives us, richly, all things to enjoy.” This is a glorious truth we can embrace wholeheartedly. We can embrace His gifts as well. We just have to make sure we don't squeeze too tightly, and, even more importantly, we have to remember where the gifts come from. Repenting from idolatry may be as simple as rearranging our priorities. We need to make sure the gifts come below the Giver in the hierarchy that governs our lives.

Too often, in our lives as broken human beings, the gift slips into the place of the Giver. The means to joy becomes the end instead of just a stepping stone to the real destination. Jesus is the “end” of all true joy—the apex, the final resting place. That's why, when our focus slips down to the gift, we live with the vague uneasiness that something is wrong. It is wrong. It's not the gift that's wrong, it's just that the gift is out of place.

When I spend time on my computer, it needs to be for the right purpose. When Jesus is looking over my shoulder, participating in my activity, it's holy, whether it's writing a blog post, or editing my novel, or playing Spider Solitaire. But when any of those activities becomes the focus, rather than the presence of Jesus in them, they become idols.

Does the presence of Jesus always have to be conscious? I don't think so. But I find when I stray too far from that conscious awareness, I begin to feel antsy. That's when my life seems formless and void. It's then I need to take some time to be still before Him.

It happens at least once a day for me.

Life worshipping the One True God is gloriously exciting. When He fills my vision, I am on top of the world. It doesn't take much to give me that joy, but it also doesn't take much to spoil it.

My prayer is that I will be so sensitive to His presence in my life, and so eager for His blessing, that I can't stray a millimeter away without recognizing the presence of a thief in the sheepfold.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Jeremiah Was Not a Bullfrog

Hear the word of the Lord, O house of Jacob, all you clans of the house of Israel. This is what the Lord says: “What fault did your fathers find in me, that they strayed so far from me? They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves. They did not ask, 'Where is the Lord, who brought us up out of Egypt and led us through the barren wilderness. . .' The prophets prophesied by Baal, following worthless idols.” (Jeremiah 2:4-6, 8)

Lately I've been wondering if Jeremiah's prophecy against the children of Israel might also be for me—for us as Christians in North America especially. I don't want to think so. How can it be? We love Jesus; We cry out to Him every day; We want Him to be our only God.

But so did the Israelites. God said, “I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me and followed me through the desert.” (Jeremiah 2:2) This describes me. If this prophecy is still in the Bible, and the Bible describes the human condition, and human beings are still human, maybe I need to consider if this book of Jeremiah has something to say to me today.

I often feel lost, spiritually. I feel like the culture around me has absorbed my spirit, has robbed me of my confidence in God's victory over evil, has immobilized me. So much of the time I don't feel on top of my life, free and full of the joy of the Lord. I wonder if the idolatry Jeremiah speaks of might be my affliction as well?

An idol is anything I trust in other than the Lord. What I worship is the thing that captivates me, that occupies most of my thought and my time. It's what I spend the most money on. It's the screen saver, or the desktop background of my mind. Is that, for me, the One True God, the God of Israel, or is it something else?

I'm not sure. It's so easy for me to trust in my own ability or power or inclinations. So hard to relinquish that control, turn it over to God.

What occupies most of my thought and time? These days, it's the computer, and not always the kind of soul searching I'm doing on it at the moment.

What do I spend the most money on? I use money to buy “things” that will make life more comfortable, more interesting—things to distract me from the vague sense that there might be something missing in my life.

Where does my mind wander when the mental demands of living relax a little bit? Usually to the next thing I should be “doing,” which leads to my “to do” list. It's on my desktop, and it lists everything except the most important thing.

The most important thing is spending time with the One True God. Time reading the Bible, not just a verse snatched here and there but a chapter, or even a book now and then without interruption. Time sitting and meditating on what I read. Time quietly listening, in case there's a specific application the Holy Spirit wants to make to my life. It's important that I pray with a focus on the One who is listening instead of on the tangled messes I'm bringing before Him to unravel. I need to take time to be still.

I don't like Jeremiah. I'd rather read the Psalms. Or the Gospels, though even they are sometimes a little unsettling; Jesus sounded a lot like Jeremiah in some places. I really only want to hear things that make me comfortable. But Jeremiah was not a bullfrog. He was a bull horn. He shouted God's message loud and clear. I think I need to listen, whether I want to or not.

Friday, July 30, 2010

God's Love is Not Soft

We can never overestimate how much God loves us, but we can, and often do, misunderstand how His love operates in our lives.

My grandaughter is nearly three and she runs all the time. Consequently, she falls lots. Every day she gets a new bruise or cut on her shins. And when it happens, you'd think the world was ending.

She screams and holds the affected limb in both arms protectively. No adult is allowed to get near the injury and, to listen to her howl, you'd think there would never be a cure for what ails her. She absolutely refuses to let anyone wash away the dirt, because that will make it hurt worse, and it's all about the pain, after all.

We smile, but we're often like that in our own lives. God, in his love, lets us romp around, knowing full well we're going to get some scrapes and bruises as a result of our wholehearted enthusiasm about whatever we're doing. He loves to see us run. When we fall, He wants to pick us up and treat the injury, but we yell and scream, as if it's the end of the world, and we won't let Him touch it.

In his book, War Child, Emmanuel Jal says that we, in North America, have a romanticized view of children. Though he wishes every child could be free of pain and suffering, he realizes that the circumstances of life sometimes prevent that from happening. He prays and works for peace in the world, but he doesn't waste time lamenting his own pain as a child of war.

We North Americans have a romanticized view of pain in general. Our wealth gives us the means to control the amount of pain that enters our lives, so when something hurtful worms its way into our comfortable world, we are shocked, offended, as if it had no right.

But pain happens as a natural part of a healthy life in this unhealthy world we have created. The pain is part of what God uses to grow us and stretch our spiritual wings. God's love is not soft. It is not sentimental. That doesn't mean He won't happily take us on his lap and hold us when we need it. He does that whenever we let him. But His love doesn't protect us from all pain and suffering.

I've heard people say they could never believe in a God who lets bad things happen to good people. What they're really saying is that they can't believe in a God who would allow people the freedom to live their lives according to their own choices. These people want a God who legislates love.

The real God is above that. The real God allows his creatures to make evil choices, and He will not negate the results of those choices. But he died to give us the freedom to repent of those choices if we choose, and He will redeem the evil as it affects our lives if we let him. Often, however, we are too busy screaming and protecting our wounds to let him.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Knowing the Unknowable

We can never overestimate how much God loves us. His love is boundless.

We can do nothing to make His love for us bigger or smaller. We can receive His love or reject it; we can give Him praise for it or take it for granted; we can use or abuse it. Through everything the love stays the same. He loves us no less or no more when we do all those things.

We are free to walk away from God's love, but when we turn back, it's always there, just behind us, waiting for the turnaround.

Amazing. Incomprehensible.

Paul writes, “...And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:17-19, emphasis mine).

There's a kind of “knowing” that leaves us awash with the love of God. That knowing goes beyond mind and words. It's a knowing that takes our breath away, like jumping off a mountaintop wrapped in a paraglider.

The kind of knowing God wants us to experience demands that kind of breathless risk-taking. He dares us to take advantage, to test the limits, to find the love limitless, and to rest against it.

I want to receive that love. I want to be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. I want that love to wash out over the whole world.

Monday, June 14, 2010

God. . .Vulnerable?

I had a strange experience the other day. We were sitting in a meeting, quietly waiting on God in prayer. At first, as I was listening for God's voice, I heard nothing. Then one word began impressing itself on me, the word "Father."

I had been thinking recently of my human father, who was killed when I was a child, but this "Father" seemed to refer to God instead. As the repetition of the word became more insistent, I saw a figure that was God, standing at a distance. He began moving closer to me and as He came, I felt our relationship changing, becoming more intimate. He became for me more familiar as He drew nearer, and more vulnerable.

That's the strange thought. That God would be vulnerable.

Is He?

I think so. Love makes a person vulnerable because love involves risk. Love is dangerous to the lover. At least the kind of love God has for us—free and unconditional. He takes a chance that we will not respond to His love. He risks being hurt, deeply. The deeper the love, the deeper the potential hurt, and the greater the risk he takes.

A vulnerable God. An awesome thought.

Is this a model for the way we should love? Are we willing to give our love wholeheartedly, unconditionally to another, aware of the risk, and willing to take it, for the sake of love? For the sake of the loved one?

A Vulnerable God

I had a strange experience the other day. We were sitting in a meeting, quietly waiting on God in prayer. At first, as I was listening for God's voice, I heard nothing. Then one word began impressing itself on me, the word "Father."

I had been thinking recently of my human father, who was killed when I was a child, but this "Father" seemed to refer to God instead. As the repetition of the word became more insistent, I saw a figure that was God, standing at a distance. He began moving closer to me and as He came, I felt our relationship changing, becoming more intimate. He became for me more familiar as He drew nearer, and more vulnerable.

That's the strange thought. That God would be vulnerable.

Is He?

I think so. Love makes a person vulnerable because love involves risk. Love is dangerous to the lover. At least the kind of love God has for us—free and unconditional. He takes a chance that we will not respond to His love. He risks being hurt, deeply. The deeper the love, the deeper the potential hurt, and the greater the risk he takes.

A vulnerable God. An awesome thought.

Is this a model for the way we should love? Are we willing to give our love wholeheartedly, unconditionally to another, aware of the risk, and willing to take it. For the sake of love?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Everything I Need to Know About God I Learned in Sunday School

Jesus love me, this I know.
For the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to Him belong.
They are weak but He is strong.

Yes, Jesus loves me.
Yes, Jesus loves me.
Yes, Jesus love me.
The Bible tells me so.

Jesus loves me when I'm good.
When I do the things I should.
Jesus loves me when I'm bad.
Though it makes Him very sad.

Jesus loves me, He who died,
Heaven's gates to open wide.
He will wash away my sin.
Let His little child come in.

Yes! Jesus loves me.
Yes! Jesus loves me.
Yes! Jesus loves me.
The Bible tells me so.

Jesus Love Me

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Zinovy at the Cross

Today, it seemed appropriate to post an excerpt from my novel, "Something About The Joy." Zinovy is reading from the little red book his colleagues have been studying in the evenings as they rest from their travels. The book has become a dangerous distraction, slowing their progress toward their destination. Zinovy decides to see what all the fuss is about:

Zinovy didn't know where his reading left off and the vision began. He saw the man hanging on a rough wooden cross, the man who had been called God's 'Passover Lamb' at the beginning of the book. The 'Lamb' was hanging by his wrists.

He was fastened to the cross by large metal spikes that had been driven through the arms just at the base of the hands, where they would hook on the bones, preventing the flesh from ripping further and the body from falling.A small wooden platform about sixty inches above the base of the upright beam supported the feet, which were crossed at the ankle and secured with one large metal spike that had been driven through them both.

The man was nearly naked. Zinovy could see the skeleton of the ribs standing out from the quivering flesh. The joints connecting the limbs were enlarged and grotesquely twisted, the bones pulled out of their sockets by the weight of the body as the cross had been dropped into its seating in the hard ground. The head was bowed over the chest. A crown of twigs circled the brow. Large thorns protruded from the wreath, the ones on the inside pushing into the scalp.

But the most mesmerizing sight to Zinovy was the blood. Bright red and dripping, it was everywhere. It percolated around the spikes in the wrists and the feet, dropping below to form dark pools on the ground beneath the cross. It trickled from jagged punctures on chest and abdomen where lashes from a cat-o-nine-tails had left the marks of a recent beating. It seeped from the head wounds, coming from behind the thorns, running down the face in rivulets, dropping from the chin onto the heaving chest below.

The man was innocent. According to the book, he had miraculously healed the sick, opened the eyes of the blind and brought dead people back to life. He had scolded the religious leaders, and spoken gently to the poor and the weak. He had told his followers that the Creator loved them, and that love was the most important thing.

And now he was dying, almost gone, nailed to a cross by men who stood below mocking him, gambling to see who would win the robe they had taken from his body before they had impaled it.

Zinovy closed his eyes, shutting out the sight, but the blood remained. It seeped into his memory and mingled with the blood on the path he had stumbled over after his mother's death. It mingled with the innocent blood of the baby chicks he had loved as a child, and with the blood of the dead lions they had found on the trail.

He opened his eyes once more and, for the first time, he looked into the face of the man on the cross. Into those other eyes. Anguished, yet piercing, they returned his look. Sheer agony was reflected in every drop of blood and sweat that dripped from his chin.

But it was something else that horrified Zinovy. In that brief instant he recognized the face. It was the face of the stranger, a face streaked with tears at Zinovy's grief over the memory of his mother, a face distorted in anguish at the memory of the girls Zinovy had taken. A face, now he remembered, a face from long ago, that had looked on him in love over his mother's shoulder as she explained to him the meaning of his name.

Now that face was distorted, not from the pain of the torn flesh of his hands and his feet, or the rough wood against the lacerated back. Zinovy knew the look of physical pain on a human face and this was not it. And not from fear either. Zinovy knew that look as well. The eyes were filled, instead, with a grief that went clear to the man's soul. Something like horror, a deep revulsion, drew ragged lines around the mouth.

A heartbroken resignation, a resolute determination, and a deep, deep loneliness pierced straight as a sword into Zinovy's own soul, because he had seen that look before.

He had caused that look.

Zinovy's heart melted. It ran onto the ground before him, mingled with the blood from the cross, and was lost in the dark pools of the dying man's sorrow.

"Zinovy" is a Russian name that means, "Walking with God."

Friday, April 2, 2010

A Very Good Friday

I had plans for this day. Yesterday I'd looked through the newspaper flyers and found a sale on a little children's picnic table I'd been wanting to get for my grandchildren. At a very good price.

"Sale starts Friday," the flyer said. Good Friday.

This was a store famous for running out of sale items ten minutes after the store opened on sale day, so I made my plans: wake up early and head for the store before someone else gets my picnic table.

I woke up this morning, happy about my day. Several items I needed were on sale, and I was going to get some good deals. I had a bite to eat and sat down for a sweet quiet time with the Lord.

Reading in John 17:19-20, I was touched by his prayers for us: "I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. All I have is yours, and all you have is mine." Then, in the garden, his prayers for Himself: "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." (Luke 22:42). Then, he left the garden for the cross. Not his chosen plan for the day, for sure.

By the time I had left that amazing world of Jesus' life and death, my shopping trip seemed out of place. Incongruous, somehow. On that first Good Friday, I'm sure many people went shopping. They wandered among the booths in downtown Jerusalem, squeezing the fruit, haggling over prices, then plunking their treasures in their baskets and heading home, satisfied with their bargains. It would have been business as usual for many of them.

But others didn't go shopping. Instead, they followed a bleeding man, who walked up a hill, stumbling under the weight of a heavy wooden cross. Those people missed all the bargains that day, but they ended up being eye-witnesses to the most incredible, the most significant event in the history of the world.

I pondered the loss of what I would miss if I didn't go shopping. Maybe the picnic table would still be there on Monday. It didn't really matter. I'd lost my taste for sales today. I put my list away and turned to other things.

* * *

In a few minutes my five-year-old grandson comes up from his family's apartment downstairs. We sit down to open up, once again, the carton of plastic Resurrection eggs I'd found at our Christian bookstore earlier in the week. Our grandchildren delight in this little, newly discovered, Easter ritual.

Each egg holds a small treasure. The first, a tiny donkey, a symbol of Jesus' ride into Jerusalem. The second, a few silver coins, the price Judas received in exchange for Jesus' life. (A real bargain, as it turned out.) The third, a cup, representing the one Jesus had asked his Father to take away, but had ended up drinking instead.

The next egg, the praying hands, represents Jesus' prayer in the garden.

"Wait," my grandson says, "If Jesus is God, how can he pray to God?" Good question. So begins a little discussion on the nature of the Trinity, at a five-year-old level. (This is, of course, the level at which we all carry on this particular discussion.)

"It's a mystery," I explain. "God didn't give us heads big enough to understand how he can be one God and three persons at the same time. We just have to trust Him."

The little face looks up at me, eyes bright with the wisdom only a child possesses, a small smile on his face. "Maybe when we get to heaven we'll have heads big enough to understand," he says.

I didn't go shopping today. I walked up Calvary's hill instead, hand in hand with my grandson. I tremble to think what I would have missed if I'd been in the store this morning. God had a much greater gift in mind for my grandchildren than the one I had my eye on. A much greater gift for me.

It's been a very Good Friday.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Pushing God Too Far

I've been enjoying some light, kinda fun bedtime reading that's also challenging and encouraging. It's the book, The Deliverer, by Linda Rios Brook.

The book claims (all right, pretends) to be the diary of a demon who's been assigned to observe Moses in the wilderness and report back to Satan, so Satan can find out something about what God might be up to with the Israelites.

The demon has just watched the terrible anger of God spill out over the Israelite camp, killing thousands of people, and now he's watching Moses deal with the aftermath of their great sin of worshipping the golden calf.

Moses has roundly scolded everyone over the incident, and they're trying to work out how to bury their dead, but now Aaron and Hur have come to Moses anxious that he do something. They are afraid the low morale of the people is leaving them vulnerable to attack by their enemies. They plead with Moses to plead with God for his forgiveness and deliverance in this situation.

The story continues as follows:

Moses told Joshua to follow him at a distance as he trudged up the mountain in search of God. He wasn't hard to find. The mountain still manifested the glory of God as the fire and smoke billowed upward. Moses went to the last place he had been when God talked to him, sat down on a rock, and waited. It wasn't long before God revealed Himself and spoke to Moses.

"They are a rebellious people."

"Don't I know it?" Moses stood up and paced back and forth with his hands on his hips. "This is terrible. They have sinned an enormous sin! There's no excuse for it. It was the mixed people (Egyptians who came along into the Wilderness) who made the god of gold for them, but Your people are responsible for their willingness to worship it."

"Aaron is also responsible."

"Yes, I know, and believe me, he feels horrible about it. He's admitted his fault and has asked for forgiveness."

God did not respond. Moses waited a few minutes and then tried to move the conversation along.

"And now, if You will only forgive their sin."

"I will not," God interrupted.

Moses dropped to his knees with desperation written all over his face as he tried to persuade God to forgive.

"If you cannot forgive them, then erase me as well out of the Book of Life You've written."

"I'll only erase from My book those who sin against Me."

"If you don't forgive them, then I have failed You. My sin is greater than theirs, for I have been with You."

God remained silent. Moses closed his eyes and rocked back and forth on his knees, determined to wait for God to speak. After five minutes, he couldn't stand it. He opened one eye and whispered.

"Are You thinking it over?"

"All right. For now, lead the people to where I told you. My angel is going ahead of you. On the day, though, when I settle accounts, their sins will certainly be part of the settlement."

Moses nodded eagerly as if in total agreement.

"Now go. Get on your way from here, you and the people you brought up from the land of Egypt. Head for the land that I promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I will send an angel ahead of you to the land flowing with milk and honey, and I'll drive out the Canaanites and the rest of your enemies before you. But I Myself will not go with you. They are such a stubborn, hardheaded people; I might destroy them on the journey."

(the demon speaks here) I was mesmerized. God spoke to Moses the way neighbors talk to each other over the backyard fence.

But Moses wouldn't quit. He kept right on pleading with God, just exactly as I'd told Satan he would.

"Lord, first You tell me, 'Lead this people,' and now You've changed Your mind and aren't going with us? You don't even let me know whom You're going to send with me. An angel? It's not the same. And it's not what we agreed to. You tell me, 'I know you well, and you are special to Me.' If I'm so special to You, let me in on Your plans. Don't send me where You won't go. How can I know You're still pleased with me if You make me go on without You? Don't forget; this is Your people, Your responsibility. I never wanted this job in the first place."

"Whoa there, Moses," I almost said out loud. "Take a good look at who you're talking to."

Moses didn’t' seem to be worried about pushing God too far. He paused for a moment and then kept right on going.

"If Your presence doesn't take the lead here, and if You won't go with us, let's call this trip off right now. How else will it be known that You're with me in this, with me and Your people"

He paused again, waiting for God to respond. When He didn't Moses just kept pushing. I wondered how far this might go before God had enough.

"Well, what's Your answer? Are You traveling with us or not? How else will we know that we're special among all other people on earth?"

I began to get nervous when God didn't say anything. I was afraid He might have left. From the beads of sweat on his upper lip, I knew Moses feared the same thing. After another unnerving minute, God finally spoke.

"All right. Just as you say; this also I will do, for I know you well, and you are special to Me. I know you by name, and I will go with you."

Moses clasped his hands together and waved them at God.

"Thank You, O Lord, for You are great and mighty and faithful to Your word."

Doesn't that beat all? God agreed to forgive the grievous sin of the people because Moses interceded for them. Isn't that just what I told Satan would happen? I was right; I didn't think it was fair, but I was right.
Intriguing. I wonder, is it possible to push God too far?

Is it possible for us to NOT push Him far enough?

Good questions. I'm going to ruminate and post more on this topic. Meanwhile, comments, anyone?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Podium for God

I know I've blogged about this topic before, but it keeps coming up in my life. A recurring theme, it seems.

Today, my daughter and I were talking about how we hear from God. In our post-modern age, even in terms of our faith, we lean more and more toward listening to God in a mystical sense. We tune our ears to what the Bible calls God's still, small voice, rather than simply paying attention to what He says directly to our eyes in Scripture.

That may be okay. What God wants to say to us is certainly not limited to the written Word. It is still true that the written Word is the only reliable Word of God. Still, small voices can come from other sources, and what we hear from them must be tested against the Truth of Scripture. But, having said that, God does speak to us from inside our minds and hearts.

So why don't I hear from Him that way more often?

One reason may be that my life is so full of intruding distractions that He can't get a word in edgewise. I need to prepare a place for Him in my mind. I need to provide Him with a podium, and give Him an attentive audience.

In practical terms, what does that mean? It means I need to spend time apart from the distractions. I need to turn off the TV. Sit down with my Bible instead of watching a video. Abstain, for a period of time, from computer games. Or put away my list of things to do for a while.

I'm not good at this. Distractions fill my life. I go from one to another of them. I feel uncomfortable without them. I have to be doing all the time. Absorbed in something, even if it's the most meaningless occupation.

So if God wanted to speak to me, how would He have to go about it?

He might have to send me an e-mail. Or write something on my wall in Facebook. I check both of those communication channels obsessively.

He's certainly capable of doing that, but I suspect it's not His preferred modus operendi. He prefers the still, small voice, I'm sure. To hear it, I must be still. The other noises in my life must become small. This is still a growing edge for me.

Lord, help me to continually obey the command in your Word to be still, and know that You are God.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Re-turning Every Day

I've been feeling spiritually "off" lately. Lost the spark. In the doldrums. Stuck inside my own skin and not liking the company in there. So last night I finally sighed, closed the Scrabble game I was playing on FB (after playing a Bingo worth 74 points, ahem), and opened my Bible.

Randomly. (Nothing is random.)

To Hosea. That ugly/beautiful story of God's unconditional, redeeming love. At the end of the book are scribbled sermon notes from a message Barb Mutch gave at our women's retreat last year:

"Daily returning. Not a big deal but the biggest deal in the world. Allow God to change us. A lifetime of turning. Daily disciplined work of spirituality. Connecting ourselves to God every day. Show up, each day, for God. Re-turn over and over."

I have re-turned, again. I plan to re-turn tomorrow too. I am amazed at how easy it is, how well it works, to simply hold my cold, blackened wick up to the fire for even a minute.

Hosea says, Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God. Your sins have been your downfall! Take words with you and return to the Lord.

The Lord says, I will heal their waywardness and love them freely, for my anger has turned away from them. I will be like the dew to Israel; he will blossom like a lily. Like a cedar of Lebanon he will send down his roots; his young shoots will grow. His splendor will be like an olive tree, his fragrance like a cedar of Lebanon. People will dwell again in his shade. He will flourish like the grain. He will blossom like a vine, and his fame will be like the wine from Lebanon.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Risky Business

I woke up this morning wondering what would happen if God managed to goad me into doing something before I had a chance to put up all the security checks and safety nets around it.

He'd have to act pretty darn fast.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

About Yesterday's Post

"A Thin Place" was an entry in an essay-writing contest I discovered yesterday. We were to write about a situation in our lives where the veil between heaven and earth was so thin that we seemed able to touch heaven in almost a tangible way. My grandmother's death was an incident like that.

Those incidents are more common than we realize. My mother experienced one when my father was killed at his workplace when I was a child. They brought her to the hospital and into the room where my father's body lay. She bent over to cry, but heaven spoke into her tear-filled heart: "Why are you standing here crying? The angels are singing."

She straightened up and turned to repeat the message to the doctor she supposed was still in the room. The doctor had left, but when she turned, the room was full of a light brighter than anything she had ever seen. That place was so thin that the glory of heaven shone through, erasing the tears for the moment, even though there would be more later on.

Heaven is so near. Joy is just around the corner for all of us. I look forward to the day there will be nothing between my grandmother, my father, my mother and myself.

Can you remember a thin place in your life? Will you comment about it?

You can read about the contest here:

Friday, February 12, 2010

A Thin Place

I hold her hand. It’s my turn. We do it in shifts. We know she is going soon.

“Walter came to me last night,” she said last week. My father, her first child and her only son, is already there, on the other side of the thinness, waiting. I have grown used to living without him. The grief has subsided into a gentle loneliness. But I still miss him, especially when the veil seems so paper-thin.

Subdued noises filter through the doorway from the living room. From the room where the living wait. My grandmother is not aware. Or is she? Do we know what people hear when they’re hovering between these two worlds? Perhaps she hears more than I do. Perhaps she hears things on both sides of the thinness.

I hear a sob. It’s my aunt Mary Ann. This is hardest on her, because she believes it is the end. I know it’s not. So does my grandmother. She settled her future years ago and now approaches it with anticipation. The real living will begin for her when she is gone from this place.

I look once more at her quiet face. I wonder if each breath will be her last.

One inhaled breath. Before it leaves her body, a vibrating hum sings from her hand into mine. I know, before it’s time, that the next breath will not come.

My father has taken her other hand. I feel his life flowing through her, touching me, loving me. Through the thinness I feel the touch of eternity.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Only One Life

“Only one life, ‘twill soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last.”

I grew up hearing this truism. Eventually it became a trite statement. People rolled their eyes when it was quoted. Too bad how ideas that are good and true, and important to remember, become relegated to the Sally Ann box in our minds, just because we hear them often.

It’s probably because I’m getting older, but lately I find myself dragging things out of the Sally Ann box and putting them back into my life. As I look back at the old year, and ahead to the new one, I wonder how many things I have done, or will do, are things that will last.

Jesus tells us we should lay up treasures in heaven, where moths don’t eat and rust doesn’t corrode. I am shocked when I think how many things I concern myself with every day will be eaten or corroded by this time next year.

What can I do this year that will last?

The only eternally significant things we deal with in this life are not things. They are people. That means anything I do to contribute to the eternal well-being of others will last. Everything else will not.

Does this mean I have to do great and mighty things every day of my life? No. Human beings are not blessed by great and mighty things. They are blessed by small, loving words and actions that, little by little, stretch out their souls to make room for God.

They are blessed by little prayers, spoken as I wash dishes, or mark papers, or drive to the grocery store—prayers that, without my awareness, are storming the gates of hell, and opening the gates of heaven so that people can enter into God’s joy-filled presence. God’s presence is where things last.

The Apostle Paul says we are to set our minds on things above, not on things that are on the earth. He doesn’t mean we are to neglect the things of this life. We have to function here. We have to be responsible in how we use our bodies and the material world God has created for us to live in. But we are not to set our minds on these temporal things. We need to look beyond them to eternity.

I want to be mindful, as I go into this new year, of what I am creating that will last. I want to do every earthly activity with a heavenly purpose. I want everything I do to be for Christ.

Scriptures from Matthew 6 and Colossians 3.