Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Friendly Fire {A Poem}

She kicked open the door
Like a special agent:
Gun drawn,
Expecting hostility.

What she sought,
She found.
Rounds of sarcasm and bitterness
Alleged self-defense.

Fear leaves two lying wounded,
Surrounded by spent shells.
Gunpowder words cannot be recalled.


Agape love, God's love, "is not provoked;
does not keep a record of wrongs;
...bears all things,
believes all things,
hopes all things,
endures all things" (1 Cor. 13:5b, 7, HCSB).

One cannot discuss the Christian practice of love for very long without also mentioning forgiveness. The forgiveness at the heart of the Christian gospel message also lies at the heart of the Christian life.

In my experience and observation, the practice of forgiving love is learned first not in the grand displays of reconciliation in Rwanda or Corrie ten Boom's forgiving the Nazi prison guard, but in the little niggling offenses in the workplace, the household, the church, and the small group. Such things hardly seem worthy of forgiveness. Too petty or minor to cause any trouble. And yet they do.

If left unforgiven, they accumulate like miniscule snowflakes on a hillside, coloring future responses to even innocuous interactions, until an avalanche buries the relationship and only God's grace can restore.

I thank Him that His grace can restore.

And don't grieve God's Holy Spirit, who sealed you for the day of redemption. All bitterness, anger and wrath, insult and slander must be removed from you, along with all wickedness. And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ (Eph. 4:30-32, HCSB).

Walking with Him and the Holy Experience community, considering the practice of love...

...and congratulating Emily on her new arrival, even though there's no Imperfect Prose link-up this week:

Monday, July 25, 2011


O God, You are my God;
earnestly I seek You.
My soul thirsts for You;
my flesh faints for You,
as in a dry and weary land,
where there is no water.
Psalm 63:1, ESV

We in north Texas are talking much of two things right now: heat and water. Today is predicted to be the 24th consecutive day of temperatures higher than 100F, and my city has had no rain at all this month.

The grass in the parks is August-brown already. The crepe myrtles, usually a bright spot in the green-brown landscape through Labor Day, are losing enthusiasm, too.

Water rationing has begun, and many homeowners are choosing to protect their lawns or their foundations, which tend to shift as our clay soil expands and contracts with changes in water or heat.

Even Ebony is lagging in his morning walks.

Every glance outside reminds me of our dependence on God. Even the wealthiest and most powerful nations on earth are powerless against the problems of too much or too little water. Only the God who made the heavens and earth can give the hydration needed to sustain life here.

The thirsty plants remind me, too, that my deepest hunger and deepest thirst are not for health or beauty or professional significance, but for God Himself. My soul thirsts for Him; my body faints with longing for Him.

And that thirst He promises to satisfy. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but in this life partially and Someday in full.

Then the One seated on the throne said, "Look! I am making everything new." He also said, "Write, because these words are faithful and true." And He said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give to the thirsty from the spring of living water as a gift.
Revelation 21:5-6, HCSB

{see also this song from Nichole Nordeman}

Thanking God today for more of His gracious gifts:
~visual reminders every time I look outside that my primary thirst is for my Creator and Redeemer, the God who is my salvation

~Asiatic lilies, more sunflowers, and zinnias providing bright spots in an otherwise sunbleached, drought-fatigued landscape

~Isaiah 40-43: "Do not fear; I am with you," over and over again
~your prayers for me and mine
~transportation lined up for the first two weeks of August's physical therapy (in case it hurts or wears me out too much to drive safely)
~the two women from church, one who knows me only a little and the other not at all, who have offered their time and energy to meet that need
~Allen taking a personal day to support me through the first therapy session and the predicted pain increase afterward
~3 months with no antibiotics for any problem (longest stretch since November 2009)
~our governor's call for a state day of prayer and fasting August 6
~celebrating a birthday with family (thanks for your prayers!)
~cowboy boots a size too big
~superhero hugs
~Grandma hugs
~the way my sister tells a funny story
~party blowouts as weapons
~birthday cake
~trick candles
~cars, trucks, and things that go
~baseballs, beach balls, bouncy balls
~friendly neighbors and their prayers
~good memories of my grandfather and his love for reading and Tootsie Rolls. He would have been 95 yesterday.
~redeeming a Groupon for grocery delivery from small local vendors
~courage to keep doing the prescribed exercises even when they increase discomfort
~a whole week, Lord willing, with no medical appointments on the calendar
~watching the sky

(from the gratitude list, #1016-1043)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Amy Carmichael on Divine Love

Amy Carmichael was an Irish missionary to India in the early 20th century. She has also been an ink-and-paper mentor to me ever since my first introduction to her through a recording of an Elisabeth Elliot message. Lately I have been slowly rereading her book If, a meditation on Calvary love. The passage below proved ineffably comforting and encouraging to me; I pray God blesses you through it, too.
No vision of the night can show, no word declare, with what longings of love Divine Love waits till the heart, all weary and sick of itself, turns to its Lord and says, "Take full possession." There is no need to plead that the love of God shall fill our heart as though He were unwilling to fill us; He is willing as light is willing to flood a room that is opened to its brightness; willing as water is willing to flow into an emptied channel. Love is pressing round us on all sides like air. Cease to resist, adn instantly love takes possession. As the 15th century poem Quia amore langues says, 
Long and love though never so high, 
My love is more than thine may be. 
More, far more. For as His abundance of pardon passes our power to tell it, so does His abundance of love: it is as far as the east is from the west, high as the heaven is above the earth. But words fail. Love soars above them all.
To look at ourselves leads to despair. Thank God, the Blood cleanseth.
Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Also through Him, we have obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. This hope does not disappoint, because God's love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us (Romans 5:1-5, HCSB).

Dear Crumble, your empty places are opportunities to know more of God's love. May your hearts unfold and open to a fuller inpouring of divine love today.

Considering love with the folks at A Holy Experience today...

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Suffering by Comparison

"Blessed is a man who endures trials, because when he passes the test he will receive the crown of life that He  has promised to those who love Him."
~James 1:12, HCSB

The comment thread on Saturday evening's post reminded me that we all experience trials, and we all can look to someone else and think, "My suffering is nothing compared to ____." I don't have to look farther than my own family and friends to be one-upped. The chain of comparison continues to escalate until we reach the suffering of the Lord Jesus.

His suffering on the cross on our behalf far exceeds anyone else's because in addition to the intense physical suffering, He bore the spiritual weight of the sins of mankind. Compared to that, anything else is just a paper cut. My response to suffering humbles me.

Therefore, it is not to make much of my health trials that I share them with you, but because I need the support of body of Christ to find His strength in my frailty.

As regular readers know, yesterday an orthopedist assessed my low back pain. The diagnosis was sciatica (nerve pain in the approximate area where the torso meets the leg) with probable lumbar disk involvement. The potential complications of the disk involvement more or less freaked me out, with panic driving out trust, hope, and peace, and I wasn't good for much the rest of the day. Not a becoming or faithful response for a believer, but there it is. Today is somewhat better so far. Charles Spurgeon's "morning" words for today were perfectly timed encouragement.

It was no accident, either, that another blogger linked yesterday to these words by evangelical Anglican bishop J.C. Ryle on lessons from the sickbed:
Beware of fretting, murmuring, complaining, and giving way to an impatient spirit. Regard your sickness as a blessing in disguise—a good and not an evil—a friend and not an enemy. No doubt we should all prefer to learn spiritual lessons in the school of ease and not under the rod. But rest assured that God knows better than we do how to teach us. The light of the last day will show you that there was a meaning and a “need be” in all your bodily ailments. The lessons that we learn on a sick-bed, when we are shut out from the world, are often lessons which we should never learn elsewhere.
The doctor has prescribed some stretching exercises and a month of physical therapy (which begins August 1). His assistant warned me to expect pain to increase rather than decrease as the maladjusted muscles are retrained.  (I have obtained an additional pain medicine to help bear this.) The doctor also exhorted me on the necessity of proper body mechanics to help my body heal.

Please pray

  • with thanks for God's sovereignty over all of this.
  • with thanks that my chest pain has been less than usual yesterday and today,
  • for our strength of body, soul, and spirit to follow through on the prescription,
  • for my peace and confidence in the goodness and love of God (sacrifice of praise again),
  • for effectiveness of treatment with no further complications, if God wills,
  • for the doctor and therapist assigned to me, and
  • for provision and creativity regarding the behavioral adjustments I need to make and any outside transportation assistance needs for the therapy appointments.
Thank you for your kind prayers, comments, and e-mails. I have read and do appreciate all of them and the affection behind them. For right now, my computer time is limited and sporadic as we problem-solve an ergonomic workstation setup compatible with both chest and back pain needs, so I may not be able to respond to your responses as usual. Thank you for understanding and grace.

" that I would not exalt myself, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to torment me so I would not exalt myself. Concerning this, I pleaded with the Lord three times to take it away from me. But He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness." Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may reside in me. So because of Christ, I am pleased in weaknesses, in insults, in catastrophes, in persecutions, and in pressures. For when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Cor. 12:7-10, HCSB).

Monday, July 18, 2011

Sacrifice of Praise

"Therefore, through Him [Christ], let us continually offer up to God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of our lips that confess His name" (Hebrews 13:15, HCSB).

After this verse popped up in several unrelated places over the course of two days, I decided to play along and choose it as my memory verse for the next two weeks, even though it really felt like the verse was choosing me. Does that ever happen to you?

It is already teaching me so much, and I'm only getting started. Slowing down makes such a difference!

"Through Him" - The offering up of praise sacrifices is through Christ. He is the reason and means of my offering; through His cleansing my worship is acceptable to God.

"Let us" - What does that "us" mean? The letter to the Hebrews addressed a group, not an individual, so in the original context the plurality is obvious. In church also, the corporate nature is obvious.

Even alone in my home, though, my praise invisibly joins with the praises of other Christians all around the world in the concept historically known as communion of the saints. This is not something I normally think about, but even in my morning reading today I read in Psalm 148 how all kinds of things, creatures, and persons were called to praise Yahweh. Perhaps my praise is not as solitary as meets the eye?

"Continually" - We are to offer praise through Christ at all times. All. Continually. Over and over.

"Offer up" - Praise is a free gift, arms outstretched, hands open and not grasping. As You wish, Lord.

"To God" - Not to the universe, fate, or mother nature. God is the one to whom our praise is due.

"A sacrifice of praise" - A sacrifice is costly. Sometimes in Leviticus it costs a life; at least it costs convenience and the reallocation of something I value (money, grain, oil, crops). Praise is a sacrifice; it costs my convenience and the reallocation of something I value; it will at some point mean laying down my ideas of what life ought to look like and declaring by faith that God's are better.

"The fruit of our lips" - Most of my prayers are silent ones. Is there some kind of added value in speaking or singing them?

"That confess His name" - My praise should confess (agree with, acknowledge) His name.
Adonai: Lord, Master.
Yahweh Jireh: The Lord will provide (or see).
El Olam: Everlasting God.
Rapha El: The God who heals.
Yahweh Mekoddishkem: The Lord who sanctifies.
Yahweh Tsidkenu: The Lord my righteousness.
Yahweh: I am. I am who I am. I will be who I will be.
Praise agrees with God's revelation of who He is (His name) and confesses that who He is is good.

"Therefore, through Him [Christ], let us continually offer up to God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of our lips that confess His name" (Hebrews 13:15, HCSB).

God, I thank and praise You for
~Your Word
~Your name
~the (inexplicable) value You place on our worship and praise
~Your pleasure in Your people (Psalm 149:4)
~Your promise to beautify the afflicted ones with salvation (ditto)
~a rough week improved as it went along
~pain keeping me ever-mindful of my dependence on the Lord
~the sharp-edged gift of hip pain while we discuss bell sheep and broken legs
~access to medical care for all my various and sundry needs
~more pink roses (red are more elegant, I know, but the pink ones make me happiest)

~funny little yellow orchids with their baby dragon faces sticking out forked tongues at me

~cicadas playing percussion outside all day long
~dragonflies zooming back and forth in the evening as though they were World War I flying aces
~drought reminding us to pray for rain to the One who governs it
~a friend sharing her chronic illness experience and empathy with me this week
~unexpectedly finding an article by another friend on a blog's linky list and "hearing" her voice as I read it
~opportunity to trust Your boundaries again for my desire to attend a family celebration coming up Saturday
~lots of post ideas, more ideas than time or strength. No writer's block.
(Gratitude list #910-927)

Still counting God's endless gifts with the gratitude community at Ann's place,...

with Laura at The Wellspring,...

and with Jen at Soli Deo Gloria...

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Balance Sheet: Profit and Loss

One year ago today (July 15), my rheumatologist confirmed that my two weeks of chest pain and breathing difficulty were due to a lupus flare in addition to the asthma previously diagnosed.

He put me on a higher dose of steroids and commanded no exertion, no sun (which is a lupus trigger), for at least a month, since he suspected inflammation of the lining around the heart.

The heart? Really?

My mom was with me at the appointment, and she asked tentatively, "But her youngest nephew's first birthday party is Saturday. It's only an hour or so away. Can't she go over there just for a little while? If she lies down in the car? She really, really wants to celebrate with him."

My very reserved doctor visibly became angry, or maybe not angry...fierce. He leaned back in the chair, crossed one leg over the other, and pantomimed smoking a cigarette. "I can't help what she wants to do. If she wants to smoke a cigarette, she can smoke a cigarette. But I can tell you this:

"Decisions have consequences."

We drove home from the appointment in a bit of shock. I knew I felt the sickest I'd ever been, but bed rest? My heart? Really really, Lord? I guess I hoped the doctor would make it all better.

Last July's family events were only the first of many losses in this last year. Celebrations I couldn't take part in, family needs we couldn't help with, knowing that my needs kept A. away from meeting needs in his family of origin. Inability to give back by earning income or even do most of my homemaking responsibilities. Missing and longing to see family members who only live an hour or hour and a half away. Missing lots of church services, learning opportunities, fellowship opportunities. So many things relinquished or reshaped by these new limitations.

My body and circumstances are so much better than a year ago:

Last year at this time I was so weak I was afraid to shower without someone in the house (someone, that is, who could dial 911 and not just bark and lick my face if I passed out). For weeks more I would at least text my mom, "If you don't hear back from me in 15 minutes, call for help and come over."

Today I drove to Target to pick up prescriptions. Extending the outing for the Starbucks drive-through or bank felt like pushing it, though. I still need back-up for lots of things, but not basic hygiene.

The asthma is stable, other health concerns have improved, I can go to church sometimes and participate in occasional, judiciously chosen family events, and the pain is less than it was, although I am still waiting and praying for a pain-free day.

After many tests and ruling out other possibilities, the diagnosis of the chest pain is costochondritis, an inflammation of the cartilage connecting ribs to sternum. As my doctor says, "It is just pain." Just pain. Not my heart or lungs. Not life-threatening.

All the diagnostics also revealed an unrelated, asymptomatic heart valve issue the doctor needs to watch.  Now we know, and it's under professional medical care.

Still, it's easy to focus on the losses instead of the graces, which are significant:

My husband has loved me well this last year. If I had any insecurities about his commitment, his service and care have erased them.

Kindness, friendship, and support have come from surprising places.

"I can't do this. Will you please help?" may yield surprised or confused looks but usually also yields compassion and assistance. And it's good for me to die to pride that way.

I have been more available to pray for and listen to others.

My desire for corporate worship has grown stronger through the times of absence from it.

I think I am learning to know God better by writing here and listening to your comments.

Maybe, perhaps, just a little, I am growing better at letting go of my wishes and way.

Thank you all for making this last year better, for your presence here, for the prayers you graciously offer. I'm grateful for you.

P.S. The low back pain has returned, despite all the anti-inflammatory and pain medicine the chest pain requires. Monday I have an appointment to investigate this. I would be grateful for any prayers God leads. We are praying for discernment for the doctor, a simple and remediable explanation, and perhaps some new advice for the chest pain, too. Again, I'm thankful for you!

Friday, July 15, 2011

If It's Been a Hard Week

This prayer has been encouraging me this week, so I'm passing it along.

O God,
I bless thee for the happy moment
   when I first saw thy law fulfilled in Christ,
   wrath appeased, death destroyed, sin forgiven, my soul saved.

Ever since, Thou hast been faithful to me,
   daily have I proved the power of Jesus' blood,
   daily have I known the strength of the Spirit,
      my teacher, director, sanctifier.

I want no other rock to build upon than that I have,
   desire no other hope than that of gospel truth,
   need no other look than that which gazes on the cross.

Forgive me if I have tried to add anything to the one foundation,
                     if I have unconsciously relied upon my knowledge,
                         experience, deeds, and not seen them as filthy rags.
                     if I have attempted to complete what is perfect in Christ;
May my cry be always, Only Jesus! only Jesus!

In him is freedom from condemnation,
                fulness in his righteousness,
                eternal vitality in his given life,
                indissoluble union in fellowship with him;
In him I have all that I can hold;
     enlarge me to take in more.

If I backslide,
     let me like Peter weep bitterly and return to him;
If I am tempted, and have no wit,
     give me strength enough to trust in him;
If I am weak,
     may I faint upon his bosom of eternal love;
If in extremity,
     let me feel that he can deliver me;
If driven to the verge of hope and to the pit of despair,
     grant me grace to fall into his arms.
O God, hear me, do for me more than I ask, think, or dream.
Yes, Lord, do for these readers more than they ask, think, or dream. Whatever their need today, may they find in Christ its fulfillment.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Return of the Bell Sheep

seek Your servant,
for I do not forget Your commands.
Psalm 119:176, HCSB

Needless to say, I am the bell sheep of the story.  Two decades ago, long before the current season of illness that is its own sort of breaking, the Lord brought me through a period of brokenness greater than any other I have yet known.  A mentor presented the bell sheep story to me in the midst of that pain, and the parable gave me hope that brokenness was not the end of the story.  By placing my brokenness in the midst of a larger narrative, the bell sheep comforted me:  this uncomfortable place of shattered dreams was part of God’s good plan and meant to prepare me for a hopeful future. The Biblical persons of Joseph, Moses, Job, and Peter also encouraged me as examples of those whose wills and strength needed breaking in preparation for the fulfillment of God’s call.
For part of that difficult season, He removed opportunities for formal ministry involvement. I fought this until the mentor who introduced me to the bell sheep also introduced me to the idea that even the generally “good” thing of Christian service can become an idol. Much of my “ministry” had been driven by the pride of accomplishing “great things for God,” whereas He designed me to be satisfied only in Himself.  In mercy, He pried my fingers off the lesser good so He could take my hand and lead me to the greater. While He did not delight in my pain, He delighted in me too much to allow me to continue unchecked in patterns which would do harm to myself and other.
In that dark valley, I learned the preciousness of the simple truth that “I am my Beloved’s, and He is mine.”  My greatest delight had previously been being useful to Him, but through brokenness He showed me in His Word how He can and does use anyone and anything, from Moses’ rod to Balaam’s donkey to Jonah’s great fish to a pagan king’s sleepless night; from Daniel’s unswerving obedience to Mordecai’s semi-obedience to Judas’s outright betrayal. More than my usefulness, He simply wants me.
Brokenness slowed me to the pace relationship requires, that I might grow in knowing Him who knows me and yet loves me. The pain drove me to go deeper into His Word and prayer, not just to learn about God or as good religious things to do but as means of knowing the infinite-personal God.
When the brokenness began to heal, it left me with a new ministry paradigm, although I often and sometimes badly slip back into the old ways. The shift was complex and the principles not universal or absolute, but here is an attempt to capture some of the distinctions I experienced:
·         My unbroken service was driven by the agenda of self (or flesh or ego); “belled” service seeks to be Spirit-led.
·         Unbroken service ultimately seeks glory for me; belled service seeks to exalt Christ, “ringing the bell” to draw other wandering sheep to the Shepherd.
·         Unbroken service acts independently out of strength; belled service acts dependently (on God) and out of redeemed weakness and broken strength.
·         Unbroken service operates out of pride and what I can do for God; belled service operates out of humility and what He wants to do for and through me. The youngest piano student sounds good playing a Steinway (the piano, not the dog), but only the greatest artist can bring forth beauty from an out-of-tune nursery school piano.  His choice of me, with all my sins and frailties, as one of His instruments produces more glory to Himself as the Master Musician. 
·         Unbroken service is works-oriented, seeking performance-based acceptance; belled service arises from grace, producing acceptance-based performance.
·         Unbroken service enslaves to the opinions and approval of others and to the burden of saving the lost; belled service is free (freer) to rest in God’s smile and plan and to stick close to Jesus the only Savior as I lift Him up.
·         Unbroken service is ambitious, always seeking more, bigger, greater; belled service seeks faithfulness where God leads me, even if it seems no one sees but Him.
·         Unbroken servants get uppity, wanders from the Lord, and falls short of God’s will and standard; belled servants get uppity, wanders from the Lord, and falls short of God’s will and standard. Brokenness accomplishes many things in the Christian, but perfection is not one of them.
As I aim to follow Him, listen to His Word, and yield to His working in my life, He does not fail to bring opportunities – in formal ministry or otherwise – to bear witness of that, to ring the bell of testimony to point to the Shepherd who saved me.  He often brings people across my path whose needs uniquely fit the pattern of my experience of Him, and whose hearts He has already prepared to respond.  As one former trustee of Dallas Theological Seminary phrased it, “Ministry is what we leave in our tracks as we follow the Lord.”  Serve Him?  Yes, I do desire to serve Him, but not as my primary pursuit.  Rather, as I pursue Him, He leads me to the good works He has prepared beforehand. Sometimes, as with our invitation to co-lead and then lead a youth Bible study, that looks very different from what I thought I wanted, but what He gives instead is always more blessed. Sometimes there’s also an ease to belled service, like drafting in a cycling event. 
Also, let me go on record that this is just a parable, although based on an actual shepherding practice. Like all parables, the comparison breaks down if the details are overly pressed. The bell sheep story is not meant to advocate inactivity or passivity in the Christian life but a different quality of activity. Neither is it intended to present a theory of God's role in all suffering; it is a story from the agricultural world intended to offer hope that brokenness is an opportunity to know Christ more deeply and that it is not the end of ministry but the beginning of a different sort of ministry.
Furthermore, God’s pattern of brokenness is as individual as a fingerprint. For every soul who undergoes an excruciating, bell-sheep breaking, there are no doubt many more who experience a chronic but perhaps less intense breaking, others whose lives are punctuated by breaks, and even some graced with compliant spirits who only need the initial “breaking” of conversion and from that point are tender to God’s gentlest discipline. May we all be so tender and pliable in His hands!
Wherever you are on the journey, may the Lord meet you there. If someone reading this has never yet become part of God’s flock, may the Lord open your heart to believe the good news of salvation through Christ. For those who are in the midst of the agony of brokenness, may you find comfort in the Shepherd’s nearness and good purpose for this pain. For those who have never known deep brokenness and may find this story troubling or frightening, I pray that God would reassure you with peace and move this concept to the back burner of your memories until and unless you need its reassurance at some future date. For those on the belled side of brokenness, may you remember the lessons of the pain, stay close to your Shepherd’s side, heeding His voice, and find many abundant opportunities to testify of Him wherever He leads you each day.
“Now may the God of peace, who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus—the great Shepherd of the sheep—with the blood of the everlasting covenant, equip you with all that is good to do His will, working in us what is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen” (Hebrews 13:20-21, HCSB).

Resources for additional reflection:
  • The Biblical accounts of Joseph, Moses, Job, and Peter
  • A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, W. Phillip Keller - for a Christian perspective on shepherding
  • The Calvary Road, Roy and Revel Hession - for more details on living according to the Spirit vs. living according to the flesh. The Kindle edition of this one is free, as of July 12, 2011.
  • The Prodigal God, Timothy Keller - reflections on the gospel from the familiar parable of Luke 15
  • The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out,
    Brennan Manning - on walking humbly before God and receiving all as grace from His hand
  • He That Is Spiritual, Lewis Sperry Chafer - more on walking according to the Spirit instead of according to the flesh. (This one is also less than a dollar in the Kindle edition.)
  • No Little People, Francis Schaeffer - a collection of sermons by one of the twentieth century's great Christian thinkers. The title sermon looks at bell sheep ministry ideas in a sheepless framework.
With love and gratitude for you Crumbles,
Your fellow sheep tinuviel

Monday, July 11, 2011

Arrival Day

Three years ago today, Ebony joined our family. After Somo died around Memorial Day 2008, Steinway and Allen were lonely. For at least a week, Steinway would sit on the mat staring at the front door as though waiting for his buddy to return from a walk. Allen missed his fuzz therapist and personal trainer. I missed him, too, but I was still somewhat shell-shocked from his final days and not as quick to look for his successor. Whenever the time came to adopt another, I was already asking God for a healthy dog who would be a good and loving companion for us both.

As soon as Allen had returned from a mission trip to Central America, however, the search commenced. We scavenged for candidates and kept detailed bookmark folders of our favorites. We considered Chiweenies (Chihuahua-dachshund mixes), dachshunds of all varieties, terrier and beagle mixes, and we drove around town meeting and greeting a few but without agreement.

Finally we saw a dachshund mix named Rex. The description said he was super-sized; as it turned out, he was around 35 pounds, considerably bigger than Somo or Steinway or the other pint-sized candidates. After a little research into the shelter where he was living and other possibilities there, we planned an evening visit.

The volunteer couldn't find him at first. A black dog pressed against the back wall of his crate on the bottom of double-decker kennels proved well nigh invisible. Checking and double-checking the tags against the print-out we'd brought, she finally found him and was astonished she hadn't met him before in his four-month residence.

She led him out to the courtyard and handed him off to us. He was tentative at first but quickly warmed up to the Milk-Bones we had brought along.

We interviewed a couple of other candidates. The other strong possibility was a brown, Benji-like terrier mix with a very outgoing personality.

After talking the decision over at home, praying together, and "sleeping on it," we decided on Rex the super-dachshund. Well, actually, Allen recognized I was smitten and honored my preference.

The next day, July 11, 2008, I brought Rex home while Allen was at work.

No, he wasn't in trouble already. The shelter advised using the crate for housetraining him.

Also, we decided he would be safer there until Steinway decided he was a friendly.
We renamed him Ebony. Not only did he ably fill the roles of buddy for Steinway, fuzz therapist for Allen, and personal trainer extraordinaire for both of us, he has also become our court jester on many needful occasions.

Ebony also inspired one of the very first blog posts here, the poem "Sermon on the Sofa."

Thanks be to God today
~for all His good gifts, including family and pets
~for our three dogs, each so distinctive and loved
~for a happy, healthy too-smart-for-his-own-good Ebony dog
~for a short work week for Allen last week
~for his industry spending time off by painting the outside of our house (still a work in progress)
~for excellent customer service with a faulty grocery item
~for a broken garage door
~for our amazing garage door service provider (If you live on the north side of Dallas and need a referral, please e-mail me.)
~for one minor problem bringing him out to our house in time to discover the spring was about to break, too
~for lunch with a new friend after many unsuccessful attempts
~for the fellowship of fellow sufferers
~for dinner out with my beloved
~for grilled salmon (see above)
~for summer fruit
~for pink roses and yellow orchids on the table
~for cloud cover taking the edge of a hot day
~for good news from a distant friend
~for a new, low-risk supplement to try to increase my bone density
~for blood pressure on the decrease
(from the gratitude list, #801-19)

Giving thanks to God our Father with the community at Ann's...

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Parable of the Bell Sheep

Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones You have crushed rejoice.
(Psalm 51:8, HCSB)

A mentor introduced me to the following idea almost two decades ago. W. Phillip Keller's classic book A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 provided her source material. The image has reemerged in my thinking in multiple circumstances recently, so the time seemed right to share my storification of it with you.

            Once upon a time, a good, wise, loving Shepherd bought a foolish and bedraggled little sheep to save her from the slaughterhouse her wicked former owner intended for her.  Finding her in dangerous woods, He drew her to Himself, quickly winning her love and obedience by His tender care.
After awhile, though, she grew tired of simply following the Shepherd and enjoying His presence and began to wander about in search of opportunities to help and serve her Master.  Eagerly, she would trot off in search of imperiled sheep who had gotten lost or hurt.  Unfortunately, she often ended up lost, too, in the attempt to bring them back.  She never minded her trials, since through them He found other lost sheep, as well.  More than once, she herself was wounded by wolves or bears (or her own foolhardiness) attempting to rescue other wounded woolies.  Never complaining, she wore her war-wounds proudly as emblems of her dedicated service.
Without fail, the Shepherd rescued her and brought her back, but the wayward, well-intentioned little lamb grieved Him.  His desire was for her more than her wearing herself out in effort to please Him, and His greatest delight was in having her follow close by His side.  Since she had never taken the time truly to know Him, she remained ignorant of His sorrow, until He finally stopped her wandering by breaking one of her legs.
Bleating in pain and astonishment, she kicked and bit and refused His kind overtures of comfort.  Eventually, however, she grew too exhausted from the struggle to fight anymore.  In her silent, helpless weariness, He bound up her wounds and cradled her tenderly, carrying her in His arms until her leg healed and she could walk again.
As she recovered, she learned to know the Shepherd’s heartbeat.  She grew to love the mere pleasure of His nearness.  Far greater than the superficial adrenaline rush of her former labors, her greatest joy became simply that of belonging to Him.
When her leg healed, and the Shepherd set her down to walk again, she no longer desired to wander from His side.  In recognition of the change and as a reminder of her own brokenness, her Shepherd placed a bell around her neck.  This way as she followed close by Him, the bell continually testified to the presence of her Good Shepherd.  Wandering sheep often heard the bell and followed its ring back to His side.  Wounded or cast sheep heard His approach and bleated for help, and the bell sheep would trot along beside Him, ringing the good news that helps was on its way, as He went to their rescue.
This “service” proved far more satisfying, as the glory all went to the goodness of her Shepherd.  Moreover, He used her to accomplish His work without her ever leaving His side.  While she never wanted to repeat the brokenness, she would never have traded the lessons learned through it.  She finally discovered her Shepherd was all she needed when He was all she had, and the pain of the process paled in the beauty of His preciousness.

The LORD is near the brokenhearted; He saves those crushed in spirit.
(Psalm 34:18, HCSB)

Monday, July 4, 2011

A Prayer on Our Nation's Birthday

First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good, and it pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:1-4, HCSB).

King of heaven,
Lord of lords,
Ruler of princes,
Thank You for this land of my earthly pilgrimage;
For the faithful Christians among the founders of our nation;
For the multitudes, from colonial days to the present, who have sought and found freedom here to worship You openly;
For that freedom to gather in Your name without fear of police raids, imprisonment, or execution;
For Your protection of this land and its people.

Even so, despite the rich blessings You have given us, we are a nation of sinners, I myself at the head of the line.
Have mercy on us, for the sake of Christ,
For trusting in human wisdom, riches, and might instead of in You,
For cherishing political independence more than spiritual dependence,
For seeking the expedient more than the obedient,
For the oppression of the few by the many,
For failing to live within the abundant means You have provided.

Have mercy on me, Lord, for my sad neglect of Your command to pray for rulers and all who are in authority.
I am quicker to complain than to intercede; forgive me.
If we lack Daniels in our government because we have not asked, Lord,
I ask You now, for Your name's sake:
Raise up faithful Christian men and women to lead this nation, the nations of the world.
Equip them with courage to make hard choices
And integrity to serve You by serving this land.
Remind Your people, including me,
To ask and ask and ask again.

Thank You, Father, for the encouraging examples of spiritual revival in our history.
Would You do it again in this generation?
Revive me, Lord God,
My family,
My neighborhood,
My city,
My state,
This nation,
Your church among all peoples.

May Your kingdom come,
Your will be done on earth
As it is in heaven,
In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

(Gratitude list #739-744 woven into the prayer)

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