Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Advent I: Kingdom

The Kingdom of God came,
eternal King of endless realm
an embryo in a virgin's womb,
a baby laid in an animal's crib,
angel-announced Savior
adored by shepherds,
worshiped by wise men seeking the King of the Jews,
hunted by a wicked king fearing a coup.

The King came
preaching the good news of His Kingdom,
healing broken bodies and souls,
breaking bread to feed multitudes,
blessing, breaking, giving Himself for our sins.

Pilate asked Him, was He a king?
He said without saying, He was.

The King came
on a cross,
thieves His courtiers,
a placard bearing His only crime:
"Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews."

The Kingdom of God comes
in the risen, ascended Jesus
sitting at the right hand of the Father;
pouring His Spirit into those who trust Him,
worship Him, follow Him;
in His power in their weakness;
in His light radiant in their brokenness;
in healing some wounds, redeeming all.

The Kingdom of God is coming
when the restoration of all things arrives,
the King on a white horse in salvation-soaked robes:
Faithful and True,
Word of God,
King of kings and Lord of lords;
death, last enemy, defeated;
His palace a forever, tearless, deathless, darkless tabernacle:
no brokenness there,
no loneliness,
only light, life, healing, glory.

Come to the King, O broken one.
Enter His Kingdom through the cruciform gate.
There is yet time.

Let the people of the Kingdom pray,
"Thy Kingdom come,
Thy will be done."
Come, Lord Jesus.
We wait for You.

Linking today with Jen and Michelle (better late than never) and tomorrow with Ann:
(And celebrating 200th published post! Thanks be to God.)

Monday, November 28, 2011

Tastes of His Goodness

Taste and see that the LORD is good;
How happy is the man who takes refuge in Him!
Psalm 34:8, HCSB

Tastes of God's goodness for which I'm thanking Him:
lowest pain day when I most wanted it
waking up to voicemail from one of the TNTS youth
sister's family coming to visit
nephew hugs
three silly Snoopy-spinners
soft places to land
four hands (or six or eight) on the piano keys
surprise visit from aunt, cousin, and cousin's little girl (second cousin?)
turkey and fixings
three pies, sister-made
leftovers to take home
Cheetos for the last course before dessert??
Ticklemonster alive and well
flowers still blooming
visit and meal with same TNTS young man, home from college for the weekend
endurance enough for church
long nap afterward
Penderwicks books from the library
memories of adventures with my own sisters
Christmas decorations slowly coming together
gifts to wrap
Nativity scene set out
wise men wandering
making my Nonni laugh

(from the gratitude journal in the 2200s)

I hope your Thanksgiving, if you celebrated it, was full of joy. That was my prayer for you Crumbles. Where have you tasted God's goodness lately?

linking up with Ann and Laura today...

Monday, November 21, 2011

Thanksgiving Thanksgiving (Thanksgiving Squared?)

A grateful spirit should ever be cultivated by the Christian; and especially after deliverances we should prepare a song for our God. Earth should be a temple filled with the songs of grateful saints, and every day should be a censor smoking with the sweet incense of thanksgiving (Spurgeon, Morning and Evening, Morning, November 20).
Whether you are celebrating American Thanksgiving this week or not, may God grant you a heart full of song and weeks full of that "sweet incense of thanksgiving."

(If you are not feeling particularly grateful right now, this post on Ecclesiastes and Thanksgiving might interest you.)

God has "blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavens in Christ," but He has also given so many gifts in the here and now. This week I'm returning thanks to Him for the following and more:
~a grateful heart
~implant finished at last and mouth adjusting well
~oral ulcers responded very quickly to treatment and weren't caused by lupus
~unexpected grace
~half-inch rain (twice!)
~mourning with mourners
~challenging words calling to growth
~husband enjoying new friendships
~first batch of cranberry sauce
~my grandmother's quilt
Ebony apparently likes it too.
~peppermint Oreos
~earworms, when they're pleasant ones
~kind inquiries and prayers
~mud-happy, cat-chasing canine "fun" outside
~hot tea on a chilly day
~prayer updates, some hard eucharisteos
~enjoying new BookSneeze review book
~husband's counsel to troubled sister
~sad trials made harder for friends, trust
~dissatisfaction making ready for growth
~laughing together over an old Cosby Show episode
~Christmas presents for my little Longhorn nephews
No spoilers here. They don't even know what a blog is. :)
~"Pioneer Spirit" rose still budding with beauty

~an amazing answer to prayer for a cancer patient's release from the hospital for Thanksgiving
~two meals' worth of husband-grilled chicken
~quiet weekend with no overtime for him
~celebrating a friend's good news
~you lovely crumbles!
(gratitude journal, #2216-2243)

{If this proves my only post for the week or I seem quiet in the comments, please don't worry. I'm trying to behave myself and rest before family time Thursday.}

Linking to dear Ann at Holy Experience:

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Some Earworms Are Made for Sharing

Let the message about the Messiah dwell richly among you,
teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom,
and singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs,
with gratitude in your hearts to God
(Colossians 3:16, HCSB, formatting mine).

The following anthem by John Rutter, "For the Beauty of the Earth," has been one of my very favorite choral anthems ever since a children's choir in which my sister took part sang it in the rotunda of the Texas Capitol. (For those who have not been there, the acoustics resemble those of a grand old church.) I was in junior high then, and the piece has only grown in my affections since.

This morning this song bubbled up in me, seemingly from nowhere or perhaps from the beauty around us, as Ebony and I strolled by the pond in the newly brisk autumn air.  To have it stuck in my head seemed apt in light of Thanksgiving in the U.S. next week, all the more so since making music is one of my native expressions of gratitude. I pray it pours a bit more thanksgiving to the Lord of all into your own heart as you listen.

How about you? How do you express your gratitude to God? Do you have any special practice for Thanksgiving (or otherwise) to facilitate this? It would be my pleasure to learn from you in the comments.

(If Rutter's work is new to you and you'd like to hear more, this link sends you to the John Rutter YouTube playlist, and this one links to the Amazon page for the album I own which  includes the song mentioned in the post. This Christmas album is also delightful.)


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Yes and No...

When they came to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia [in Asia], but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. So, bypassing Mysia, they came down to Troas. During the night a vision appeared to Paul: a Macedonian man was standing and pleading with him, "Cross over to Macedonia and help us!" After he had seen the vision, we immediately made efforts to set out for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to evangelize them (Acts 16:7-10, HCSB). [This became the first recorded entrance of the gospel of Jesus Christ into Europe.]
When we married, we "tried to go" to India as missionaries. Prayer and research had pointed us in that direction for our home base from which to train church leaders in that nation and the countries to the east. We had spent a month in New York City receiving training in cross-cultural ministry to Hindus; I had learned to tie a sari and cook curry; we became mostly vegetarian; we had begun to learn Hindi with Rosetta Stone software.

In the last six months of our preparations, we shifted gears to move to Bangkok instead. I don't remember exactly how that happened, whether perhaps visa issues influenced us, only that circumstances and the inner witness of the Spirit said no to one and yes to the other.

A decade ago, after a library purge that still makes me wince and the even more difficult good-byes to family and Steinway, we moved to Bangkok to live. Eleven months of language study and medical appointments later, we moved back to Texas to my hometown. Through lupus symptoms and difficulty obtaining a diagnosis, God said no again.

Even though the responsibility for the decision ultimately lay with Allen and the return made medical and relational sense, I felt tremendous guilt as well as grief about the turn of events. Our return meant redirection of a whole team who had intended to join us later and Allen's redirection to a new career, as our sending agency did not have a position available in the home office.

We adjusted, more or less, to that new normal, but God's "no" still lingered in our hearts, or at least in mine.

In December 2005 Allen served with others from our church in New Orleans. They "mucked out" Katrina-ravished homes in preparation for rebuilding. During the long drive and hard work, he became friends with his co-workers.

Early in 2006 the youth minister called Allen on the phone. One of the men from that trip happened to host a high school Bible study in his home. The youth minister happened to need help and an occasional substitute teacher for the study, and the man happened to recommend Allen.

When Allen talked to me about it, if memory serves, he said something Nathanael-like, "Youth?! Can anything good come from youth ministry? We don't even need to pray about it, do we? That's not our strength."

The invitation was initially just for a come-and-see visit to meet the young people in question. I had actually enjoyed working in a high school for a year, so I suggested that we didn't really have anything to lose just by visiting one week. Who knew? It might not be so bad as he thought.

We did visit, and the students were an amazing, unique group. We were Tailor-made for each other. Very soon after that first visit, Allen taught the class alone. Not long after that, the youth director was reassigned to children's ministry and we received sole responsibility for this group.

Thus the Tuesday Night Tangent Society was born. At first, that was my private nickname for them because of our corporate proclivity to go off-topic and chase rabbits of distraction. Allen accidentally let the moniker slip at a meeting, and the youth latched hold of it. We even had t-shirts made. (I'm wearing mine now.) Appropriately, we often ended up meeting on Thursdays instead.

During the next 3 1/2 years, multiple youth directors came and went (with much weeping and gnashing of teeth), and the youth's favorite worship service was canceled at short notice. We turned out to be their most stable non-family adult influence for the majority of their high school careers. Allen even co-led them on a mission trip to Guatemala before all was said and done.

Now several are in college. One is himself a missionary. Another is a firefighter. They were a blessing to us and, I hope, we to them. We finally saw the yes behind the no.

But it all started with a no.

Your turn:
Have you ever received a no from God that later turned out to be a yes to something completely different and perhaps better? How did that affect your trust in Him? Alternately, are you in a no season right now and waiting for that yes to follow? If you wish to comment, please, let's encourage each other in His faithfulness.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Yielding Our Most Precious Things

This concluding quote from Sunday's sermon keeps me pondering:
It costs much to obtain the power of the Spirit:
it costs self-surrender and humiliationand the yielding up of our most precious things to God;it costs the perseverance of long waiting,and the faith of strong trust.But when we are really in that power we shall find this difference,that whereas before it was hard for us to do the easiest things,now it is easy for us to do the hardest things.(Adoniram Judson Gordon, The Holy Spirit in missions: six lectures, pp. 209-210,accessed 11/14/2011, formatting mine)

"The yielding up of our most precious things to God..."

"The perseverance of long waiting..."

"The faith of strong trust..."

Here in the long waiting, needing strong trust, what "most precious things" have I not yet yielded to my Creator and Redeemer? What part of self am I still holding in reserve? This dream, that relationship, this plan, that acquisition...

All of it, Lord? You really want it all?

Yielding, perseverance, faith - I don't much like these things. (Where's the dessert cart instead?) But easy to do the hard, power of the Spirit, presence of the Spirit - yes, yes, that would be nice.

Today I'm in the waiting, the listening, the weighing, seeking to learn from these wise and challenging words. Perhaps I'm not the only one?

May God grant grace for us to yield what we think most precious in order to grow in knowing Him who is above all most precious.

Linking with Laura, Michelle, and Jen today:

Monday, November 14, 2011

Just the List, Ma'am

Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good;
His faithful love endures forever.
Psalm 107:1, HCSB

Today I return thanks to Him for these tokens of His affection:
~ability to support a friend at a celebration of her cancer journey
~nothing suspicious found at my annual skin cancer screening
~Allen rearranging bookshelves for a roomier feel in my office/workshop/physical therapy center
~good news that my sister's family is coming to my town for Thanksgiving
~a pot of gift mums from 2007 is flourishing in the garden and in full bloom just now

~birthday roses from 2010 blushing happily in the cooler weather and autumn rain

~ups and downs of strength and pain teaching me to abide in the true vine
~another friend recovering well from major surgery
~good conversation
~God's patience and grace with me
~praying for friends
~no bee population crisis in our garden

~monarchs decreasing but still splendid
This one's for you, Amy. :)
~honeycomb words
~Ebony's gentle complacency with the neighborhood children's eager attention (not the case with our previous dogs)
~peppers and tomatoes which missed the memo that it's November

(still counting gifts, #2168-2183)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

By His Wounds...

Yet He Himself bore our sicknesses,
and He carried our pains;
but we in turn regarded Him stricken,
struck down by God, and afflicted.

But He was pierced because of our transgressions,
crushed because of our iniquities;
punishment for our peace was on Him,
and we are healed by His wounds.
Isaiah 53:4-5, HCSB

Monday night, my mom and I attended a Survivor Art Show at the local oncology center. A friend was one of five breast cancer survivors to tell her cancer story through the collage she'd created in the therapy class.

The women amazed me with their courage, resilience, humor, and gratitude. Our friend seized the opportunity to boast about the support she'd received from her church family, several of whom were there. Almost all the women shared about how wonderful their husbands had been through the ordeal. One brought laughter to the crowd through her story of how her son shaved her head when the time came, how he gave her a punk 'do, a clown head, a mohawk, how hard they'd laughed. Another brought tears through her testimony of "3 months to live" stretching out to 6 years, during which her grandson was born.

The last woman to speak was unique. She was the only one without a husband's support, although her family and friends had been wonderful. She was the only one of Jewish descent, which she highlighted in her presentation as she honored her religious community. She was also the only one visibly afraid, having received the news only that week that the cancer had spread to her bones.

When the presentations began, the crowd parted ways to open an impromptu stage in front of the paintings. In the process, I was separated from my friend's team and found myself in the middle of a Middle Eastern family speaking a language I couldn't even identify, let alone understand. We had exchanged smiles and politely shifted about so the right people could see at the right moments.

The fifth woman, the one whose cancer had progressed, had been standing or sitting to my left through all the preceding presentations. When she told her story, my heart went out to her. When she said she was Jewish, I was stunned.

You see, over the preceding week I had heard five different sermons on Jewish evangelism. (I doubt I had ever in my life heard one prior to last week.) That had been the emphasis for missions week at Dallas Seminary, the school we attended and whose chapel podcasts I listen to regularly. It had also been a key component of the Sunday sermon at church.

My mind flashed back through what the Messianic Jewish speakers had said, wishing I'd taken better notes:
  • Love your Jewish friends, neighbors, and co-workers. They are people just like you.
  • Pray for them.
  • Fly the flag of your faith in Jesus the Messiah. Speak openly about your relationship with Him.
  • Isaiah 53 is the one chapter in their Scriptures they can't refute.
Love them. Pray for them. My heart had been in my knees, to paraphrase George Herbert, all week for my Jewish doctor and the family of boys I once tutored, for the middle son whose Bar Mitzvah speech I'd edited and celebration I'd attended, for the youngest son who asked me once "why you guys wear that sword around your necks."

In that context, when I discovered myself surrounded by this wounded, loving Jewish family, I felt there was something I must do. "Why did You place me here, Lord? What do You want?"

When the woman, whom I'll call Miriam, returned to her family and they surrounded her with hugs and encouragement, I moved to touch her arm to get her attention. She looked up, surprised.

"Excuse me, please? I'm not Jewish. I'm a Christian, but would it be okay, would you mind if I prayed for you, for what you're going through? God can do what the doctors sometimes can't. I will write your name on my prayer list so I remember. So... would that be okay?"

She beamed, "Of course! Of course that would be all right."

Someone translated, I think, to the mother who had come from Israel and only spoke Hebrew. The friend nodded at me and said, "Nice."

Embarrassed, I made my way through their group and rejoined my friend's team, wondering all the while, was that the right thing to do? Was it enough? I could have just prayed and not said anything. Should I have given her my contact information, or would that have been too much?

The opportunity passed. We celebrated our friend, now cancer-free. The group smiled for the camera, relished the tiny pumpkin tarts from the refreshment table. Mom and I drove home through sheets of rain. I wrote Miriam's name on a sticky note by my List in the kitchen and later on my prayer list. My heart has been in my knees for her since, that God would heal her cancer if that would bring her to know her Messiah, by whose wounds believers are healed in the most important way. If not, I ask that Adonai (Hebrew for "Lord") would sustain her life until she has come to know peace and true life through Jesus, Yeshua, Messiah.

God is able to water the oh-so-tiny seed of this Gentile stranger offering prayers for an ill, frightened Jewish woman. May He cause it to grow and bring forth fruit to His glory.

Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved (Romans 10:1, NIV 1984).

If you would like to learn more about ministries seeking to share the good news of Messiah with Jews around the world, please visit the Web sites of Chosen People Ministries and Jews for Jesus.


Monday, November 7, 2011

Peace of Christ to You

In the evening of that first day of the week, the disciples were [gathered together] with the doors locked because of their fear of the Jews. Then Jesus came, stood among them, and said to them, "Peace to you!"

Jesus said to them again, "Peace to you!"

He Himself stood among them. He said to them,"Peace to you!"
(John 20:19,21; Luke 24:36, HCSB)

The notes in the study Bible I'm using this year pointed out that the greeting Jesus used in these resurrection appearances to His disciples was probably the same greeting Jews use today: Shalom alekem. This intrigued me, since shalom carries a slightly different weight of meaning than our English "peace."

According to The Nelson Study Bible notes, shalom "conveys the idea of completeness and well-being--of being a perfect whole" (p.682). Wholeness, well-being, completeness... so much more than just absence of conflict and distress (although the semantic range includes those elements, as well)...

Seven hundred years before the nativity of Christ, the prophet Isaiah predicted that Messiah would bring his people this shalom:
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53:5, NIV1984).
On the night Jesus was betrayed, He promised His followers peace:
"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid" (John 14:27, NIV1984). 
When He had been crucified and resurrected, He appeared to His frightened, demoralized disciples, and He spoke peace to them. Shalom.

Paul the converted rabbi extends this peace to all who have trusted in Jesus as their sin-bearer:
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand (Romans 5:1-2a, NIV1984).
Peace. Shalom. Wholeness, healing, reconciliation with God through the blood of the Lamb. Such a simple greeting, isn't it? "Peace to you." Yet how much power in that brief prayer. Dear Crumbles, this is my prayer for you on this grey November Monday. Peace to you. The peace of Christ to you. Shalom, friends.

I'm still counting with the community at Ann's, numbering the ways God says He loves me:
~peace in Christ
~finishing this year's reading of the Gospels... not wanting it to end
~Jewish evangelism focus for DTS missions week messages and our Sunday sermon
~Isaiah 53 fulfilled in Yeshua our Messiah
~this Irish-Italian Texan being grafted into Israel's tree
~the beauty of faithful suffering
~Christian witness on the local evening news
~finding surprises to brighten someone's tough week
~receiving a surprise myself, a gift of Indian ghee candy from one of Allen's co-workers I've never even met

~praying for friends and readers
~Disqus comment conversations
~affirming text message and comment just checking to see how I was doing and blessing me
~seeing my sister sing professionally
~the glorious music of Bach
~double date with my parents
~trying to cheer him up, even when it doesn't work
~puppy-dog eyes

~monarch migration

Butterfly photos by A. Moore

~the mallard fathers, so sober in their clerical collars, gathered for morning prayer with their tweed-clad wives

~Gandalf the Grey

~Galadriel (great white heron) in flight
~new birds in the neighborhood

~trees with henna highlights
~Ebony Special Agent Hoover successfully driving the nefarious Dr. Miao's "muscle" out of the yard. Or at least up the fence.

~honeycrisp apples in season
(#2094-2118 on the gratitude list)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Whose Burden?

"I have glorified You on the earth
by completing the work You gave Me to do."
John 17:4, HCSB

When The List becomes a burden and overwhelms (as it will more frequently as the year hastens toward its conclusion), it helps me to pause, to step back, to look up, to evaluate:
Whose burden is this?
These items on the list, these burdens in my pack, are they really God's portion for me for this day? Or have I added them out of my own ambition and proud drivenness to achieve? Or have others' expectations added them to my pack? Or is that pressure I feel the world system trying to squeeze me into its mold? Or am I simply trying to carry the whole week's load at once, as is my wont?

Have I left room for put delight in God and His Word on the list before everything else?

In truth, I'm not very good at this. It's easy to overwhelm myself with good plans and projects that are not my assignment, at least not right now. My ideas almost always exceed my resources.

Today, though, or at least this moment, my pack is lighter for having stopped to discern. Some things are set aside for tomorrow; some, perhaps indefinitely. On another day, the remaining burden may still be too heavy for my shoulders. In either case, in the midst of the day's duties I may rest in the confidence that Jesus is my yokefellow and that God's grace is sufficient, somehow, for the carrying of His appointed load for this day. The impossible can become possible through His strength, and through the attempt He is glorified and my trust grows stronger. When my best efforts fall short, I can rest in His unchanging acceptance and continuing labors while I sleep.

"Therefore don't worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."
Matthew 6:34, HCSB

These words from Anselm (1033-1109) humble and encourage me in practicing trust and rest today:
Come now, little man,
turn aside for a while from your daily employment,
escape for a moment from the tumult of your thoughts.
Put aside your weighty cares,
let your burdensome distractions wait,
free yourself awhile for God
and rest awhile in him (quoted in D. Jeffrey Bingham, Pocket History of the Church, 87).
Alternately, here is David's expression of the same invitation:
Rest in God alone, my soul,
for my hope comes from Him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation, 
my stronghold; I will not be shaken (Psalm 62:5-6, HCSB).
Dear friend, may you find the rest Jesus offers today, no matter what you find in your pack and on your list. Busy or quiet, may God fill your heart with His peace and security.

P.S. My lovely friend Amy is hosting a tea giveaway at her blog in honor of her first blogging anniversary. If you like tea as we of Wits' End do, won't you bless her by stopping by to leave an encouraging comment? If you do so by Sunday at 4 pm (US CST), you might be the one blessed with her generous gift.