Thursday, April 28, 2011

Outcomes

Our front lawn is in sorry shape, and it has been that way for some time.  More than one year of drought compounded by the heavy foot traffic and piles of excavated dirt from foundation repair killed most of the grass.

This is the year we try to get our lawn back.  Allen is the gardener of the family.  He researched what species would work best in the shade of the live oak with minimal watering, found sources for the seeds, placed his order, scheduled delivery of a truckload of mulch and compost/soil mixture from the city, and waited for a free weekend.

Last weekend was his moment.  He spent two days of a three-day break aerating the soil, amending it with the compost mixture, and sowing seed.  The mulch he wheelbarrowed into the flower beds, front and back.

It was long, hot, back-wearying work, requiring many refills of water and sports drinks and at least one dose of the asthma inhaler.

All that work, and it may or may not work.

He obeyed and did everything under his responsibility to restore the health of the lawn, and he continues to water it on the days we don't have rain, but the outcome is ultimately in God's hands, not ours.  We can only watch and water and pray and wait.

It's not so different from managing chronic illness or parenting or driving around town or the rest of our endeavors.  We have responsibilities to learn and honor the laws of God and man and to seek good medical care and follow the doctors' prescriptions.  We stumble and fail even on our best days.  In our faithfulness and failures, the outcome is in God's hands.

To tell the truth, this lack of control tempts me to fear.  I want to believe that following the rules guarantees positive results.  Then, however, there would be no need for trust, and the Lord values our trust more than our success.

For me the best support for trust is to remember the Object of my reliance.  Many of my Scripture memory verses are selected with this in mind.  As I learn or review God's own trustworthy revelation of His character, I can entrust outcomes to Him who is my "steadfast love and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield and He in whom I take refuge, who subdues peoples under me" (Ps. 144:2).  I remember that the LORD is "a God merciful and gracious, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin" (Ex. 34:6-7).  His unceasing love and fresh-daily mercies help me relax my grip on the outcomes I desire and surrender them to Him.

His goodness and unfailing love anchor my trust that, whatever the outcome, it is in His hands and therefore will work for my good and the good of His people.

May the Lord strengthen us to obey in hope and trust His loving sovereignty for the outcomes of whatever duties He has assigned us today.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Gentleness of the Risen Christ II

In the church of my upbringing, Easter Sunday was the liturgical highlight of the year.  The organist literally pulled out all the stops in fanfare; choristers of all ages, 4 to fourscore, crowded onto supplemental risers; orchestra with requisite trumpets supported the singers; Easter lilies and azaleas shouted their own silent alleluias from the steps.

We celebrated with grand spectacle "the Lord of life who triumphed o'er the grave/and rose victorious in the strife for those He came to save" (Matthew Bridges, "Crown Him with Many Crowns").  In truth, the wonder of Christ's Resurrection deserves the most glorious worship we can offer Him.

When I read the Gospels' accounts of the reality of the event, however, the quiet lack of spectacle astonishes me.  Jesus rises and shows Himself with the same unassuming humility He displayed in His birth.

Having laid down His life and taken it up again, the Good Shepherd seeks out His scattered sheep and calls them by name:

To Mary, weeping at the tomb, He comes as though a gardener.  She knows Him by the way He says her name.

To the fearful disciples hiding in a locked room, He enters speaking peace.

To the pilgrims on the Emmaus road, He comes as stranger and teacher of Torah.  They know Him in His breaking of the bread at supper.

To Thomas the doubter, He puts His finger on the questions Thomas didn't know He heard. Thomas knows Him by His wounds and His knowledge of his heart.

To Peter the demoralized, who vowed that even if everyone else abandoned Him, he never would, Peter who denied Him three times shortly thereafter, Peter who chucks three years of discipleship and goes back to the boats and the nets but finds disappointment follows him there, too--

To Peter He comes as the same Christ who called him.  Peter goes back to the beginning, and Jesus meets him there with another miraculous catch of 153 fish and breakfast on the beach.

No spectacle.  No divine special effects.  No trumpets.  Oh, but what tenderness!  The risen Christ makes Himself known to His children by the way He knows them yet seeks and loves anyway.

Wherever this finds you today, dear Crumble, weeping by the tomb, cowering in fear, held captive by stubborn doubts, too ashamed to continue on the road of discipleship, or even celebrating Resurrection joy, may the same Jesus who rose from the dead and sought His first followers seek and find you today.  May you recognize His voice in His word, His providence, and His people and follow where He leads you.

(Based Jesus' resurrection appearances recorded in Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, and John 20-21)





Monday, April 25, 2011

Smooth Stones

Brandee Shafer, who writes about her very full life of family, church, and friendships over at the Smooth Stones blog, is my first stranger-become-friend through this blog.  She has surprised me over and over with the generosity of her prayers and affection and especially with the gift of herself to someone she's never met.

Her post for today is lovely and poignant, especially for anyone who has watched a loved one fade away through age and dementia.  Yesterday she graciously republished her favorite essay from this blog on her own site.  Due to technical difficulties and family commitments, I'm apparently starting out the week a day late, but I don't expect Brandee will make a fuss.  She's understanding that way.

Without further ado, here is the post she chose:
Little over a dozen years ago, I sat in my first class, 601 Spiritual Life, of my first full-time semester of seminary.  Dr. Bill Lawrence, with abundant energy and clear enthusiasm for his subject and students, was a good way to begin. He told us over and over, "Repetition is the key to learning," and perhaps he was right.  Again today, as I read the account of the feeding of the 5,000, I heard his voice reminding us of what he called "the lesson of the loaves."

The first clause of the lesson describes the problem in the passage: more than 5,000 (if women and children were also present) hungry people in a remote wilderness, late in the day.  What does Jesus say?  He tells the apostles to feed this impossible multitude with five small loaves and two tiny fish.  In Dr. Lawrence's words, "You must do what you cannot do with what you do not have. . . ."

Please click below to visit Brandee's place and read the rest of "The Lesson of the Loaves":
http://brandeeshafer.blogspot.com/2011/04/crumbs-from-his-table-guest-post.html

Also, since it's Monday, I'm returning thanks to God for (gratitude list #86-101)
~the resurrection of Christ!
~turning around the cross in the garden so it proclaims, "He is risen!"
~Easter hymns and church webcasts
~the kindness of friends
~time with family to celebrate the cross and empty tomb together
~family with common faith
~a 4 year-old nephew wanting to ask the blessing at supper and thanking God for the aunts and uncle coming to play with him
~little boys, Easter eggs, blowing bubbles, and new tee ball gloves
~carrot cake
~loan of a more comfortable car for the drive back and forth
~God's protection of our travel on night of spring thunderstorms
~"chatting" by text with a sister-in-law on the way home
~Ebony's happy dance when we return
~this interview with the beautiful Dr. Helen Roseveare
~babies at the park
Photo credit: Big Al
~our new neighbors
Stanford and Maybelle Cardinal
Atticus and Molly Finch


Friday, April 22, 2011

In Defense of Bodies

Snow Barista in Temple, Texas, Easter 2007
Four years ago, my husband and I held our Easter worship driving north on I-35 through snow-covered bluebonnets.  We had left his parents' home before church to detour to my grandfather's hospital room.  He had just been diagnosed with kidney disease that would require dialysis.  That visit on Easter afternoon was the last time my husband saw him and the last time I saw him strong enough to engage in dialogue.  It turned out that lymphoma had caused his kidneys to fail.  He passed away Tuesday, April 24.

This year Easter coincides with the anniversary of his death and Holy Week seems more than usually haunted by words and ideas of death in my reading and listening (not intentional on my part).

Yesterday on the phone, my grandmother said that after she goes to Mass Sunday she will go to the cemetery to see him.  "When we used to go visit [the graves of our neighbors], Nonno would always say, 'They're not here, you know.  These are just shells.' I know he's not really there either, but I go anyway."  She spoke apologetically, as though needing an excuse for her actions.

The strands of my thoughts were too entangled to respond the way I wanted to at that moment, but upon reflection this is what I wish I had said to her:

It's okay.  Bodies matter.  His body matters.

It is with our bodies, largely, that we sin.  With our bodies and not only souls or spirits we serve God and neighbor, obey or disobey, comfort or wound.  With our bodies we love.  It is our bodies we are called to present as "living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship" (Rom. 12:1, ESV).  It is my grandfather's gruff, smoky (though he never smoked) laugh that I miss, his broad, square hand patting my shoulder as I left, his form standing in old slippers in the doorway as we drove up.  Even in the case of my little dog Steinway, gone almost two years now, it's his smell I miss, the feel of his fur, his specific gravity in my arms, not some amorphous essence of Steinway-ness.  Bodies matter.

It was in a body, a real body, that the eternal Son of God, second Person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, was born and lived; it was His body which suffered, bled, thirsted, accepted nails and thorny crowns; it was His body which cried out, breathed His last.  His dead body laid in a new tomb rose again the third day.  Mary wept in the Sunday dawn because His body was missing; she tried to cling to His risen body when He said her name.  The risen Christ was no disembodied spirit being but spoke, ate, could be touched, and still bore the wounds of nails and spear.  Because of His Incarnation, Passion,  Resurrection, and bodily Ascension to the right hand of the Father, our bodies matter even more.

Because He died and conquered death in resurrection, the remains filling the cemetery my grandmother visits, the remains of all who have died in Christ in all the world, will someday rise again at the last trumpet.  They will rise again, renewed, redeemed, reclothed with resurrection flesh in the likeness of the risen Christ.  If I understand the Scriptures correctly on that (and always, that is an "if"), in the new heavens and earth yet to come, we will not be disembodied spirits but like Christ will have new bodies, untouched and untouchable by death, disease, and decay (see 1 Corinthians 15).  Bodies matter.

The Good Friday Christians around the world observe today is only good because Christ "himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; 'by his wounds you have been healed" (1 Peter 2:24, NIV1984, emphasis mine).  Without His death and resurrection, I would still be in my sins and my own death would be without hope.

I don't know if my grandmother would understand this; for that matter, I'm not sure I do.  But if the subject arises again, this is what I would tell her:  "It's okay to visit the cemetery.  The remains in that grave do matter. Bodies matter.  They matter to God as well as to you."

Besides, what better place to look back to Jesus' resurrection and forward to ours?  Cemeteries are quiet now, but they will be a sight to behold on that "great gettin' up mornin'."  I don't know about you, friend, but I can hardly wait.
For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His gloryby the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself (Philippians 3:20-21, NASB, emphasis mine).

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Easter Lily: A Poem



In unseen Saturday silence
Petals unfurl,
Mute trumpets crying out
With rolled-away stone:

"Take hope!  Take heart!
Why do you seek the living among the dead?
He is not here; He is risen!

"Your trust, your toil, the promise are not vain.
Death will be swallowed up in victory.
This body of death,
This broken life,
This night of tears are not the end.

"At last trumpet's fanfare
Dead shall be raised,
Dustless,
Deathless,
Glorious."

White heralds soundless sound:
"Christ has died;
Christ is risen;
Christ will come again."
Hallelujah!


  When [Jesus] came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:
  “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”
  “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
  Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”
  “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”
(Luke 19:37-40, NIV)












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Monday, April 18, 2011

Remembering: A Poem

Roses after spring storm


Yesterday was an anniversaire of
Few knew;
No one remembered;
But twenty years ago,
The angels danced.
~crm, 4/18/2007

Today I'm quietly, thankfully remembering God's grace in opening my eyes 24 years ago yesterday to my sin, His holiness, and the sufficiency of Christ's death and resurrection for me.  I cast myself on His mercies--how could I not?--and life has never been the same.


Starting fresh again, still giving thanks to God in community. . . 
. . . salvation, Christ, Gethsemane, Golgotha, empty garden tomb. . .
. . . joy in heaven, transformation on earth, Him holding me fast with every reason not to. . .
. . .grace. . .
. . .visiting with family from out of town, out of state, out of country. . .
. . .storm sirens rousting us out of bed in the middle of the night, shelter in interior room, our houseguest a good sport. . .
. . .primrose and larkspur meadow in back garden, roses blooming like crazy. . .
. . .in all this changing life, "Give Me Jesus"

(Gratitude journal #1-16)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Coming Home: A Poem

Drifting. . .
Wandering from my Father’s home,
Playing about the fringes of His grace,
Across the street,
            Down the block,
                        Around the corner.
My own way,
            My own strength,
                        My own resources.

Homeless. . .
Far country,
Miry clay,
Inheritance spent for hog slop.
Disillusioned,
            Desperate,
                        Destitute.

Longing. . .
For “someplace where me and things go together,”
A home,
            A haven,
                        Un abri.

Remembering. . .
A warm fire,
            A full belly,
                        A loving Father.
Abba, I have sinned.

Discovering. . .
Vigilant grace with open arms,
            A warm embrace,
                        A shower of kisses.
Robes for rags,
            Filet mignon for locust pods,
                        Sonship for servitude,
His life for my death,
His life for my life.

Home.



Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Tolkien, Metanarrative, and Easter

In recent weeks, I've been reading "On Fairy Stories," an essay by the late Professor J.R.R. Tolkien (better known today as the author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings).  Towards the end of the essay, he discusses "the Consolation of the Happy Ending" as "the true form of fairy-tale, and its highest function" (22).

The climax of a tragedy would be the catastrophe, the pivotal point in the story when everything falls apart for the hero.  For fairy-tale, Professor Tolkien coins a new word, "eucatastrope," for "the sudden joyous 'turn'" of events.  (The "eu-" means "good" and sounds like the word "you.")  This would describe the moment when Luke Skywalker destroys the Death Star, when the prince kisses Snow White to awaken her, when the Velveteen Rabbit discovers he has become real. In Tolkien's own work, eucatastrophe occurs when Aragorn and his army fight valiantly in the shadow of Mount Mordor though all hope for Middle Earth appears lost, and suddenly Sauron and his empire disintegrate when the Ring is destroyed.

Tolkien says that this quality is not an attempt to escape the world's sorrows.  On the other hand, he writes,
. . . it is a sudden and miraculous grace, never to be counted on to recur.  It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophy [tragic ending], of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium [good news, gospel], giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.
It is the mark of a good fairy-story. . . that however wild its events, however fantastic or terrible the adventures, it can give to child or man that hears it, when the 'turn' comes, a catch of the breath, a beat and lifting of the heart, near to (or indeed accompanied by) tears, as keen as that given by any form of literary art (22-23, emphasis and additions mine).
If I'm understanding the professor correctly, we love and value happily-ever-after endings because they point towards the Happy Ending, the triumph of Christ over sin, death, and all the other brokenness of the world.

The Bible itself is one grand, unified, beautiful, true story as well as a collection of smaller ones.  In this overarching Genesis-to-Revelation narrative (or metanarrative), Easter is the eucatastrophe and best understood in that context.  On Good Friday, all the disciples' hopes for God's kingdom seem dashed as Jesus Messiah is dead and entombed.  The rolled-away stone and resurrection turn that despair on its head on the third day.

Easter is the great Happy Ending from which all others proceed, the eucatastrophe not only of a fairy story but of all history.  The empty tomb looks dyscatastrophe in the eye and triumphs over it.  What's more, in many ways Easter is not an end but a beginning of a new era, a new story for all who believe in the risen Christ; as Professor Tolkien writes, "there is no true end to any fairy-tale" (22).  As Paul says it, "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come" (2 Corinthians 5:17, HCSB).

Some years ago, I made an attempt at capturing the flow of the Scriptures' unified salvation history in a few pages.  If this idea of the Bible as a single, whole narrative is new to you, I pray that this offering would help your preparations for Easter in some small way and that it whets your appetite for God's own words.

If you have stuck with this post so far, please click on the following link for the essay:

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  According to His great mercy,  He has given us a new birth  into a living hope  through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (1 Peter 1:3, HCSB).  May you walk in the reality of this joyous living hope today.

Christ is risen; the Lord is risen indeed.  Hallelujah!

Preparing for Easter in community. . .

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Tuesday Thanksgiving

To those of you who kindly prayed for my oral surgery yesterday, thank you ever so much!  Aside from a bit of trouble with my veins and the IV right at the beginning, the procedure went exceptionally well, with very little bleeding and therefore fewer stitches and lower risk of complications and infection.  So far this has been much, much less difficult than I anticipated, and the surgery pain medicine has helped my lupus chest pain, too.  The Lord granted real peace, and I know it was in answer to kind prayers on my behalf.

Thank you, crumbles!  May the Lord bless you with strength and peace in whatever He has appointed for your day.

Love in Christ,
tinuviel

Monday, April 11, 2011

Eucharisteo and What the Cat Left


Today (Friday) after the doctor and a bite of lunch, Ebony and I went outside for him to chase the squirrel out of the yard and me to take some photos of everything blooming.






As I was trying to frame a shot of him sweeping the perimeter of the property for signs of Dr. Miao and her evil hench-cats,* I noticed a smear of yellow-green pollen on his shoulder.  He looked up at me from behind the compost heap, dropped the other shoulder, and proceeded to roll on the ground.

So much for the Kodak moment.

I loudly made the noise we use (what must the neighbors think?) when we want him to stop doing what he's doing and not do it anymore.  It's like a vocal imitation of the game show "Thank-you-for-playing-but-please-try-again" buzzer:  annoying, and intentionally so.  Actually, it's also similar to the end-of-cycle buzzer on my dryer.  Hmmm.

He looked at me, continued rolling for 2 more seconds, and then stood and bounced toward me, clearly pleased with himself for having rolled in what was apparently cat poop.  Plain dirt just doesn't smell that bad.




As we headed toward the shower, my Self is talking to me, "All right, then, Miss Gratitude-Is-Good-Medicine.  What are you going to do with this one?"  She was smirking; I could just feel it.

And then I remembered Betsie ten Boom thanking God for the fleas in the barracks of the German concentration camp where she was interned with her sister Corrie.  Later, long after her prayer of thanks, they learned that the flea infestation kept the guards out of the bunkhouse and thus left them free to hold prayer meetings and Bible studies unmolested.

And I remembered our other two dogs, how ill they were at the end, how they couldn't even get out to the grass unassisted, let alone explore and roll in anything stinky.

When I refuse to give thanks, to practice eucharisteo as Ann says, I take for granted that "different" would be "easier."  I complain about washing cat poop off the dog because in my entitlement I assume that the alternative would be the dog staying on the grass and not the dog being too weak to misbehave.  Or the dog being gone entirely.  I complain about the fleas because I don't see the benefit God knows and I don't.  In short, I don't trust that He knows and gives what is best for me at that moment, and "best" means "best designed to conform me to the image of Christ," not "best designed to gratify my every whim."

[Deep sigh]

I remember all this, I look up, and I say, "OK, God.  Thank You for Ebony rolling in cat poop."

After all, it could have been skunk.

*Dr. Miao has been seen but so far evaded the security cameras.  I looked for pictures of the others and did not find them in the first 5 minutes so gave up. The photos of the hench-cats have mysteriously disappeared from the hard drive.  We will continue the surveillance and keep you informed.

Thank You, Father, for. . .
~a healthy, curious, active dog
~Your sense of humor
~grace to laugh at myself
~ability to bathe him myself when I needed to
~Ebony's compliance to come into the shower and submit to a washing without bellyaching
~stink washing down the drain with the suds
~last week's marquee medical appointment was with my favorite doctor
~the encouragement of him telling me, "Patients like you are why we do this." (Really??!!)
~finding good loose tea with a current date on clearance for less than half price
~the woman at the taco drive-through seeing my braids and not the grey at my temples and calling me "baby girl."  Some people would find this condescending; I am not one of those people.  After all, this is Texas.  "Honey," "sweetie," and "darlin'" are just the singular forms of "y'all."
~a quiet afternoon of reading on the sofa
~feeling Ebony against my legs, twitching and breathing more deeply in his dreams
~husband taking care of me on oral surgery day
~kindness of elder's wife bringing supper to us afterward
~first job interview for unemployed loved one
~commenters who show me God's love
(from the gratitude list, #4269-85)


Saturday, April 9, 2011

Souls, Like Bones

Bones are made to work.  To be healthy, they need impact:  walking,  jumping rope, climbing stairs, chasing the moon, running after little ones, doing a happy dance, anything that pounds the pavement.  Healthy bones need to bear a load:  a pack full of books, bags of groceries, toddler on the hip, scared dog in a thunderstorm, hot casserole for a potluck, briefcase full of the day's labors, . . . not too much, but something.  Bones like tension: ligaments and tendons tugging as muscles work hard, resistance from weights or elastic bands or a child playing horsey on a bouncing leg; pulling and tugging and opposition make bones stronger.

My bones are unhappily underemployed these days.  A bone density scan confirmed this at the end of March.  They are losing mineral density, which means the doctor is unhappy, too.  I have a year to get healthy enough to put them back to work, or else we will start one of the prescription medicines for synthetic strength.

The same phenomenon is mysteriously happening in my mouth.  One recalcitrant tooth root has pulled away from the jaw so that the molar is loose.  This is not news; the dentist and I have been scratching our heads about it for several years, but there was no decay or pain, just mobility where bones disconnected.  As it happens, the jawbone needs that root pulling on it; the opposition keeps it strong.  My jaw has lost bone and will keep losing until something gets a grip on it again.  Monday morning, Lord willing, a surgeon will remove the offending tooth, replace some lost bone, and implant a root replacement.  Eventually, a synthetic tooth will cap off that titanium screw, but the urgent need is to arrest the bone loss.

Hips, spine, jaw, teeth, . . . . They need impact, ballast, resistance to stay strong.

As much as it pains me to say so, my soul is the same way.  No news flash here.  The Scriptures are full of testimony to the benefits of affliction.  I just was hoping  never believed those passages were talking about me.  These past 9 1/2 months are doing good work in my soul, though, even when I can't see it.  If nothing else, they are exposing and diagnosing problems.  My "outer self wasting away" is not the whole story; it's not even the most important part of the story.  Insofar as my body is breaking down, that is the load, the impact, the resistance whereby "my inner self is being renewed day by day."

As a sister has been reminding me, so I remind you, dear readers:  whatever load has been entrusted to you today (and I know many are much, much heavier than my own), do not lose heart.  Someday in Jesus' presence we will see the eternal weight of glory being produced through these trials, and when we do, they will be only momentary, light afflictions by comparison.  Let's put heart into one another to keep our focus on those unseen, eternal realities that together our souls, like bones, might grow stronger through the struggle.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Cor. 4:16-18, ESV).

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Gideon

The curtain rises on Gideon's story in a time when the people of Midian have been pillaging and plundering the crops and livestock of Israel for seven long years.  The raiders steal and destroy crops, lay waste to farmland, and leave no animals in the barns.  The Israelites have had enough and cry out to Yahweh.

The Lord sends a prophet to state the obvious, or what would have been the obvious if they had listened to the laws given through Moses:  "This is what the LORD God of Israel says: 'I brought you out of Egypt and out of the place of slavery. I delivered you from the power of Egypt and the power of all who oppressed  you. I drove them out before you and gave you their land. I said to you: I am the LORD your God. Do not fear the gods of the Amorites whose land you live in. But you did not obey Me' " (Judges 6:8-10, HCSB).


(So. . . would that be a no?)


We meet Gideon, our hero, hiding from the Midianites.  He is threshing his family's wheat in a wine press near an oak on his father's land.  Has he outsmarted the bad guys?  How long has this strategy been in place?  Has it worked before?  In my imagination, he would have taken some circuitous route, doubling back, watching over his shoulder, making sure to lose anyone who might be tailing him.  Maybe he transported the wheat under cover of darkness, even in small batches he could conceal in his robes undetected.

There he is, working away in secrecy, when he hears a Voice: "The LORD is with you, mighty warrior."  The text doesn't say, but I have to wonder if he started in surprise or even cried out, if it took his pulse a few minutes to return to steady and normal.

At this point, Gideon seems anything but a mighty warrior.  The brains of a military operation maybe, but certainly not the brawn.  The Angel of the Lord appears to this very one hiding in a wine press and calls him a mighty warrior.  Moreover, He commissions him to deliver Israel from the Midianites oppressing them.

This story puts heart into me for my own battles.  The God who spoke into existence the Aurora Borealis, the Pleiades, Orion, the Big Dipper, a Texas summer sunset, speaks into Gideon valor and strength he does not yet possess.  Just as with Abraham, Sarah, Israel, Peter, and Paul, God calls into being that which does not exist, "naming" someone what they will be, not what they are.

As Gideon's history unfolds, he becomes what God has called him.  The Lord graciously answers questions, provides signs of assurance and confirmation (both asked and unasked), reduces his resources to humanly impossible odds, and shows Himself faithful again and again.  God calls, God leads, Gideon obeys (though sometimes with halting, hesitant steps), and Gideon becomes the call.

Sadly, his story does not have a Hollywood ending, and he eventually sets his people on their way toward the next cycle of sin and oppression.  In the end, Gideon proves a cautionary tale, illustrating the dangers of believing the accolades and forgetting who brought the victories, losing sight of the memorial stones.

Still, I love the way he begins.  I love that God sees him as he will be in grace and not as he is in himself.  I love God's gentleness leading him out of that self into bold trust.  I love that Gideon's God is the same today, still seeking, knowing, and transforming.  There's hope for me yet!
Be courageous concerning this, O Christian! be not dispirited, as though your spiritual enemies could never be destroyed. You are able to overcome them--not in your own strength--the weakest of them would be too much for you in that; but you can and shall overcome them through the blood of the Lamb. Do not ask, "How shall I dispossess them, for they are greater and mightier than I?" but go to the strong for strength, wait humbly upon God, and the mighty God of Jacob will surely come to the rescue, and you shall sing of victory through His grace.
                             ~Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Morning and Evening, evening of April 6


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

"As You Wish"

     "Buttercup was raised on a small farm in the country of Florin.  Her favorite pastimes were riding her horses and tormenting the farm boy that worked there.  His name was Westley, but she never called him that.
     "Nothing gave Buttercup as much pleasure as ordering Westley around. . . .  'As you wish' was all he ever said to her. . . . [One day when she asked him to fill buckets with water] she was amazed to discover that when he was saying, 'As you wish,' what he meant was, 'I love you.'  And even more amazing was the day she realized she truly loved him back."
               -The Grandfather, an opening scene from The Princess Bride

"If you love Me, you will keep My commandments."
              -The Lord Jesus Christ to His disciples, the night before His crucifixion, John 14:15


   My Father asks me, invites me:


   "Will you trust Me with this dear one facing unexpected job loss with a mortgage and hungry little mouths to feed?"


   "Will you trust Me with these faithful disciples facing the long, arduous recovery from a stroke, all their resources strained?"


   "Will you trust Me with this friend, longing for a womb filled with child but facing instead a body filled with cancer?"


   "Will you trust Me with these gospel workers you love, weary with heartache and toil beyond their strength, these ones whose needs you cannot supply?"


   "Will you trust Me with your body, with illness and health, with the collateral damage from both the inactivity and medicines prescribed for your recovery?  With the impact of your weaknesses on others?"

   "All these problems you cannot solve. . . 


   "Will you trust Me?"


   Faith responds, "As You wish,"  and "as You wish" means, "I love You."


   "As I wish" breaks the first and greatest command to love the LORD my God first, with all, nothing held back.


   "As I wish" thinks too highly of the illusion of my own wisdom and judgment and too little of the steadfast love, faithfulness, goodness, and mercy of God.


   "As I wish" forgets my Savior in the Garden of Gethsemane, sweating blood and praying as He faced the cross, "Not as I wish, but as You wish."


   "As you wish" means, "I love you."

"I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep" (John 10:11, HCSB).


"No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13, HCSB).


Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He loved us  and sent His Son to be the  propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:10, HCSB).


We love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19, HCSB).


Abba, Father, forgive me for withholding love from You by fighting for my wishes instead of Yours.  Thank You for the example of Christ, who chose Your will for love of You and for love of Your children.  Even for love of me.  I repent in dust and ashes.  Let His Spirit in me strengthen and change me to pray and truly mean, "Abba, Father, as You wish."  In Christ our Lord, Amen.


Please click below if you'd like to meet more bloggers walking with the Holy Experience community towards Gethsemane, Calvary, and the empty tomb.

Monday, April 4, 2011

A Family That Plays Together


    "We need to understand that God does at times give us an infusion of joy even in our bitterness and hard-heartedness.  But that is the abnormal situation.  God's normal means of bringing his joy is by redeeming and sanctifying the ordinary junctures of human life.  When the members of a family are filled with love and compassion and a spirit of service to one another, that family has reason to celebrate.
". . . Joy is found in obedience.  When the power that is in Jesus reaches into our work and play and redeems them, there will be joy where once there was mourning.  To overlook this is to miss the meaning of the Incarnation" (Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, 193).
Thank You, Lord, for. . .
4207. Lovely weather and a shady spot for Dad's family birthday picnic
4208. My sun protection umbrella arrived in time for the time outside
4209. Ability to take part in the family gathering
4210. Husband, parents, sisters, brother-in-law, and nephews all together for celebration
4211. Hugs
4212. Birthday cake two weekends in a row
4213. Recovered equilibrium from two bits of negative health news this week
4214. Not always getting what I want
4215. Dental insurance
4216. Doctors with nurses' lines available for advice
4217. The One who made my bones to begin with is able to sustain and strengthen them
4218. A lovely, spontaneous e-mail conversation about books with a friend working in the Middle East
4219. Another unexpected e-mail conversation with a high school friend with a different autoimmune disease
4220. She "gets it" without my having to explain
4221. A wonderful, wise, grace-filled novel I'm just meeting for the first time
4222. A comment and a note confirming that God is answering my prayer-desire to serve and encourage cross-cultural workers in this place
4223. The joy of community through Ann Voskamp's Monday Multitudes and Walk with Him Wednesday lists
4224. Waking up to thunder and heavy rain today in a dry year so far
4225. How did I forget? Three generations of boys playing with Grandpa's childhood train set :)


Friday, April 1, 2011

"Our Father. . ."

This essay originally appeared in our newsletter in 1999 or 2000, as we were preparing to leave Texas to spend the rest of our working lives in Southeast Asia (or so we thought).  I  offer it to you today in honor of my Dad's birthday this weekend.  I am so very grateful for the gift of another year with him!  Daddy, I'm proud of you.  Happy birthday!

            Back on my knees confessing my ignorance and impotence in prayer, I asked the Lord, “Teach me to pray.”  Almost immediately, the Spirit reminded me of our Lord’s instruction to His disciples, “Pray, then, in this way:  ‘Our Father who art in heaven. . .’” (Mt. 6:9-13).
            Just as quickly, a memory invaded my heart, as has happened so often lately in anticipation of leaving home and family.  This one showed me a Daddy, sitting with his oldest daughter on the bed on a Saturday afternoon, teaching her this pattern for prayer.  Patiently he would read one phrase at a time, then return to the budget and bills until I was ready for the next.  I can still picture the yellow legal pad with his orderly printing.  Back then, when I was just in first or second grade, it was mere rote, of course, part of the ceremony of Sunday “grown-up” church.  Years later, after the Lord made me His child through faith in Christ, it took on new meaning and became my primer on prayer.
That’s just one of many precious memories of my precious Daddy (and yes, no matter how many years the Lord gives me, he’ll always be “Daddy”).  All my life, he has sought out and taken time just to be with my sisters and me, to listen to all the ramblings and dreams of our girl-hearts.   Some of my other treasures are the drives with him to and from ballet and piano lessons, and whole summer days spent at his office.
Beyond that, it has long been his delight to plan special treats for his girls according to his unique knowledge of each of us.  Even when finances were tight, he usually found a way to give us a vacation, even if it was simply day-trips to do all the tourist things Dallas natives don’t normally do.  Other years, we were able to travel – by plane, train, or automobile – to farther regions of the U.S..  On a smaller scale, he vigilantly observed our preferences and favorites, listening for any hints of our desires and remembering them even months later for Christmas or birthdays.  From time to time he would surprise us with our favorite treat of the moment, whether tea, candy, fruit, or nuts, just to say he loved us and was thinking about us that day in the midst of his other responsibilities.
If we had a special desire or need or problem, we always knew we could go to him with it.  If he could solve the dilemma, he would; if he could meet the need, he did; if the desire was a good one, it was often granted.
Is my Daddy perfect?  Of course not.  In fact, it has only been in the last five to ten years that we have seen his life transformed by the grace of God.  He is limited in knowledge, ability, and even love, as he would be first to admit.
Even so, his father-love toward me helps me understand how my heavenly Father, from whom every other Father in heaven or on earth is named, loves me.  The prayer my Daddy taught me begins, “Our Father who art in heaven,” and through him I can begin to understand what it means to approach God in that way. 
Like my Dad, His desire and delight is our pure enjoyment of His presence.  He longs to live life with as well as in us.  From the mundane details of daily life to the special, extended times of solitude with Him, it is our privilege just to be with Him.  The faithful father of the parable told his older son, “You have always been with me, . . . and all that I have is yours” (Luke 15:31, emphasis mine).
From His heavenly vantage point, His knowledge of us exceeds even our knowledge of ourselves.  He knows our needs; therefore we can pour out our hearts before Him in simple confidence.  We need not persuade or convince Him of our needs:  He knows (Mt. 6:8).  Outside the prayer closet, His knowledge of us frees us from anxiety about the details of life.  He who gloriously clothes the wildflowers and feeds the birds is our Father.  How can we doubt His even better care for us?!  Surely He will give what is good to His children as we ask (Mt. 7:11), and unsought treats as we seek His kingdom (Mt. 6:32-33).
As our Father in heaven, we are also assured of His infinite resources to meet our needs.  Our Father is the King of heaven.  He can solve our dilemmas, and will; He can meet our needs, and does; if our desires are good (i.e., match His), He promises to grant them.  In His Fatherly goodness, He delights to give us what is good; as heavenly King, He is able to do so.
This is not to suggest that He slavishly complies with our petulant demands!  His knowledge penetrates our fa├žades to discern true from false and holy from unholy.  His wisdom reaches beyond our shortsightedness to His ultimate goal of glorifying Himself and us by conforming us to the image of Christ.  As a result, we can say of Him as of Aslan, “Safe?  Of course He’s not safe.  But He’s good.”  Or in the unnoticed profundity of the child’s grace at table, “God is great.  God is good.”
Always this great and good God remains Abba Father, Daddy, to all who believe in His Son Jesus Christ.  It is this relationship to us which forms the basis of our prayers:  “Our Father in heaven. . . .”  Perhaps to grow up in prayer, then, we need to go back to childhood, to the elementary simplicity of the Scotswoman’s advice, “Go to the Father and tell Him what you need.”  May He impress this truth on our hearts and prayers and teach us to trust His Father-love.

***
Sharing this also for Bonnie's Faith Barista Jam about Father's Day, June 16, 2011:

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