Friday, June 28, 2013

Eyes on Jesus

keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith
Hebrews 12:2a, NET

...the Holy Spirit turns our eyes entirely away from self:
He tells us that we are nothing, but that "Christ is all in all."
Remember, therefore, it is not thy hold of Christ that saves thee—it is Christ;
it is not thy joy in Christ that saves thee—it is Christ;
it is not even faith in Christ, though that be the instrument—it is Christ's blood and merits;
therefore, look not so much to thy hand with which thou art grasping Christ, as to Christ;
look not to thy hope, but to Jesus, the source of thy hope;
look not to thy faith, but to Jesus, the author and finisher of thy faith.
We shall never find happiness by looking at our prayers,
our doings,
or our feelings; 
it is what Jesus is, not what we are, that gives rest to the soul.

Keep thine eye simply on Him;
let His death, His sufferings, His merits, His glories, His intercession, be fresh upon thy mind;
when thou wakest in the morning look to Him;
when thou liest down at night look to Him.
Oh! let not thy hopes or fears come between thee and Jesus;
follow hard after Him, and He will never fail thee.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Cast Sheep and God's Great Love

From time to time, a sheep will wander off after its own devices and become cast.  This means it rolls over onto its back and cannot right itself.  If help does not arrive within minutes, fluids accumulate in its lungs and it will suffocate.  Only a shepherd’s vigilance, alert to the location and situation of all his sheep, can prevent his flock from perishing this way over time.  Immediately he upon noticing one missing, he entrusts the rest of the flock to an undershepherd and goes off in search of the lost one, knowing only he can set it back on its feet and rub the circulation back into its legs.

It is when we wandering souls are flat on our backs like a cast sheep that we learn the true essence of prayer:  “the helpless soul’s helpless look unto a faithful Friend”[1]  Here alone do we learn the blessedness of spiritual bankruptcy:  only empty hands and hearts are ready to be filled with all the fullness of God.

Ever since my first significant "cast sheep" experience, I have loved Psalm 107.  Over and over, the pattern repeats:  people have become cast, they cry out to the Lord, and He delivers them.  The lost and homeless, dying of hunger and thirst, cry out to the Lord in their trouble, and He delivers them.  The prisoners sentenced to hard labor for their own rebellion and disobedience cry out to the Lord in their trouble, and He delivers them.  The foolish trapped in the consequences of their own folly cry out to the Lord, and He delivers them.  The sailors overwhelmed by storm and waves cry out to the Lord, and He delivers them.  No matter the reason for their desperate straits, when they finally turn to the living God in the their desperation, He hears and answers. He may not answer in the way or timing we'd like, but He does answer. He comes to their rescue in His loyal love.

The rest of the psalm presents a series of paradoxes which leave no doubt:  the place of our need, that two o'clock in the morning place, is the place we meet God.  We are poorest when we think we’ve got it made, and on the brink of true riches when we realize our helplessness and cry out to God.

Let us give thanks to this Lord for His unfailing love and His wonderful deeds for us, for He alone satisfies the deepest hunger of our souls.  He alone can set us free from the false refuges which become our prisons.  He alone can rescue us from our foolishness.  He alone can calm the storms of our souls and guide us safely Home.  He alone seeks and saves His cast sheep.

“Whoever is wise, let him take note of these things!
Let them consider the Lord’s acts of loyal love! ” (Psalm 107:43, NET).

[1] Ole Hallesby, Prayer (Augsburg: Minneapolis, MN, 1994), 59.


Thanks be to God for His acts of loyal love toward me and mine this past week:
for my adoption as God's child;
for His wisdom to know my needs and goodness to grant them;
for His hallowed name;
for some positive (but mixed overall) results from first attempts at deep-water jogging;
for blackberry cobbler made from the berries in Allen's own garden;
for kind compliments on last week's photos;
for several nights of not waking the first time until 4:45 am;
for a new swimsuit;
for our UPS delivery man's hard work;
for my mom graduating to a sling without a "pillow" to adjust the angle of her arm;
for progress on Rocky's blanket;
for waiting for guidance;
for my almost 16 years of Steinway;
for good blood pressure readings;
for laughing together at Mythbusters;
for a providential encounter with an old acquaintance at the grocery store;
for a friend's grand-nephew "adopting" Amore and me at church;
for paper and pen in my purse to entertain him for a whopping 15 minutes;
for Amore's hard work and diligence reseeding our lawn again;
for honest heart-sharing by text message;
for a needed emotional boost for a struggling loved one;
for "immeasurably more" (Eph. 3:20-21).

from the gratitude journal, #723-817

Monday, June 17, 2013

Bright and Beautiful

All things bright and beautiful,

All creatures great and small,

All things wise and wonderful:

The Lord God made them all.

Each little flower that opens,

Each little bird that sings,

He made their glowing colors,

He made their tiny wings.

The cold wind in the winter,

The pleasant summer sun,

The ripe fruits in the garden,

He made them every one.

He gave us eyes to see them,
And lips that we might tell
How great is God Almighty,
Who has made all things well.

~Refrain and verses 1,4, and 6 of "All Things Bright and Beautiful" by Mrs. Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-1895)

This morning after Amore left for work amid the first splashes of more than two hours of slow, steady rain, I uncharacteristically opened the patio door, closed the screen, and lingered before the Lord. As I listened to the sounds of the welcome rain, the wind in the trees and a neighbor's wind chimes, the chirping of a cardinal and the cooing of the mourning doves, the croaking of the frogs in another neighbor's pond, and Ebony dreaming of chasing something a few feet to my right, there was nothing hard about my thanksgiving. It welled up effortlessly, which itself is cause for gratitude.

(This is north Texas, y'all. Cool, wet mornings in mid-June are precious commodities.)

Things might easily have been otherwise. By the time the first set of tubes were placed in my ears (age 4, perhaps?), I had lost 25% of my hearing. The minor surgery restored that, but if the loss had been permanent the whole ensuing decades of my life would have been different. I don't remember a time without playing the piano or reading my own books, and the former would have been much less likely, at least to the level I studied it, without healthy ears.

How many others do not have that choice? Not all can listen to the sounds I enjoyed this morning; not all can enjoy watching the birds and the progression of the flowers and fruits through spring and summer; not all have means or access to surgery to correct problems with sight and hearing before they take permanent hold of earthly bodies. Remembering those simple blessings I often take for granted, this children's hymn (specifically, John Rutter's musical setting of it) came to mind and grew my thanksgiving into worship.

Many things in my life have not changed. My mother's arm is still immobilized in a sling for at least the rest of the week. Multiple areas of chronic pain still shape my daily choices; I'm still experimenting with exercise at home and at the pool in hopes of finding something I can do which does not increase pain in any of the trouble spots. Several heavy prayer burdens I cannot share here persist unabated. My "land of my sojourning" continues to struggle in many ways. But neither have God's might and greatness changed. He still makes all things well. He is good and does good, as the author of Psalm 119 writes. Those unchanging things embolden me to thank Him for all the rest, too.

Today I offer thanks in community to God Almighty, as is our wont here on Mondays:
for His greatness;
that He has made all things well, as we someday shall see and now take by faith;
for eyes that see all things bright and beautiful;
for ears that hear;
for the creatures, great and small, which share my days;
for cool, rainy June Mondays;
for an extra hour of (over)sleep;
for three more visits to the public pool last week;
for time in the flesh with much of my family of origin for Father's Day;
for a phone visit with Amore's dad;
for a good dental check-up;
for courage to obey God in a bittersweet decision;
for a warm and loving church family;
for a quart bag of blackberries in the freezer awaiting one more pint before the whole lot becomes cobbler;
for Bluebell blackberry cobbler ice cream in the mean time;
for birds and butterflies;
for the delight of watching our dogs sleep over the years, especially when they dream;
for praying friends;
for time to tarry with the Lord;
for a new-to-me audiobook of an old ink-and-paper friend, the autobiography Evidence Not Seen;
and sweetest of all, for the deep, deep love of Jesus.
(from my gratitude journal, #702-722)

Q: If you should choose to comment, would you consider thanking God for one ordinary blessing you might be tempted to take for granted?

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

On This Day in June 2013

FOR June 12, 2013

Outside my window...
Amore's grass seed is sprouting and slowly filling in bare patches beneath the live oak. A recent substantial pruning of the tree allows more light to reach the lawn, although at the cost of some cover for the birds.

I am thinking...
how nice it has been to have a lull in medical appointments these last two weeks, even taking into account an unexpected one for Ebony Friday.

I am thankful...
for a quiet day to stay home today, for a phone visit with my Nonni earlier, for a quiet dishwasher that works, for Ebony's quick recovery from an upper respiratory infection, and for sweet ordinary moments with my Amore.

In the kitchen...
the dishwasher will soon be ready for emptying, new toaster oven pans sit air-drying, and salmon is thawing in the refrigerator for supper.

I am wearing...
the scent of chlorine, which soap and water apparently can't completely eliminate; a denim skirt, a black sleeveless button-down shirt, and the hiking boots my ankle requires.

I am creating...
a new (bigger and lighter weight) blanket for Rocky, my youngest nephew. It may or may not be finished by his birthday next month, but I'll just have to crochet extra to keep up with his growth if it's not completed on time.

I am going...
to the pool three times a week so far this month to see if that allows me to "move without pain" again and get a bit of exercise, since my ankle still won't let me walk far at all.

I am wondering...
at the talent and musicianship of the Cliburn finalists. They were all so gifted and so young! Amore no doubt grew tired of my exclamations of "How did he do that?!" and "Wow, did you hear how she just developed that phrase?" They were a wonderful example for me of what the late Edith Schaeffer called the "leftover beauty" of this fallen Creation. We are still created in the image of a creative God, and these young men and women moved me to worship that gracious Creator.

I am reading...
We Shall Have Spring Again by Andree Seu Peterson, Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas, Job, and John's Gospel.

I was reading the new Khaled Hosseini novel, but a third of the way through the story and tone were just too dark for me to continue. On the other hand, the new memoir Joni and Ken, which I finished reading last week, is just right for me in this season... hard in its way, too, but ultimately uplifting and encouraging.

I am hoping...
Mom's shoulder recovery continues well, youngest sister Terza receives good news from her physical therapist and ankle doctor Friday, and Mezzo finds adequate employment soon.

I am looking forward to...
"the other side" of my dental check-up tomorrow. :) A dear friend who lives south of the border will be in the US later this month, and it will be nice to hear her voice on the phone again.

I am learning (or trying to)...
So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed (Ephesians 4:17-19, NIV).
Cheery, right? Can you see why I'm a little stuck here? There's no moving on to happier parts of Ephesians until I get these verses down, so I'm slowly chipping away. When Paul puts it like that, who would want to live so??? And yet I'm sure I do. Search me, O God....

Around the house...
Clutter is giving way to better order as I prepare for our cleaning helper to come tomorrow. (We just pay her to clean, not tidy up and organize, and it's easier to clean when things are put in their places.) Ebony has not strayed from his usual place in my blue wing chair, within reach of my left hand when I'm at the computer. He is not shy about reaching over and pawing my hand if I go too long without scratching him behind the ears.

I am pondering...
what it looks like for me right now to "quiet and calm my soul like a weaned child."

A favorite quote for today...
...the fundamental things apply in cataclysms as well as in calm times. To wit: Do the right thing; one foot in front of the other; one piece of the problem at a time; take lunch, exercise, sleep. I remember the counselor Jay Adams saying that the trouble is not usually that we don't know what to do but that we don't do it long enough. We give up just before the breakthrough would have come. Like Screwtape said, "It is so hard for these creatures to persevere." But persevering is what it's all about. Persevering is just faith with [sneakers*] on (Andree Seu Peterson, "Three-Two-One," We Shall Have Spring Again, 45). 
*The source uses a brand name here, and I don't have permission to do so. Not knowing all the ins and outs of trademark law, I'm making a substitution instead, at the cost of some of the sentence's elegance. Thanks for grace.

One of my favorite things...
watching so much of the Cliburn International Piano Competition the last two weeks, witnessing classical music fans yell and clap for their favorites like they were in a sports arena instead of a concert hall, and seeing my two personal favorites take gold and silver. Vadym Kholodenko's Mozart concerto was exquisite, but unfortunately that performance is not available to stream any longer.

(Spending time with loved ones is also very, very high on the "favorite things" list, but thankfully that pleasure comes around more often than once every 4 years.)

A few plans for the rest of the week:
Our house helper comes tomorrow, followed by a trip to the dentist for regular cleaning. Lord willing, I will go by the bigger recreation center after that to get an ID card that decreases the cost of trips to the pool.

A peek into my day...

This photo comes from last week, but I just saw another monarch in the butterfly weed a few minutes ago.

Sharing with Peggy Hostetler's The Simple Woman's Daybook today

Thursday, June 6, 2013

As Thou Wilt

And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me, yet not as I will, but as Thou wilt" (Mt. 26:39).

From the very outset of my Christian life, it has been my experience that to insist before God on my way and my timing for the answer to my prayers only breeds anxiety and tension. As long as I am praying with clenched fists, as long as I reserve something--"Anything but that, Lord"--I will not have peace.

Only when I look the thing I most fear squarely in the face and pray, "If it is possible, let this cup pass, yet not my will but Thine be done," only then does He give rest and peace. As Amy Carmichael wrote, "In acceptance lieth peace." Like ointment applied to a wound, this takes the sting out of any affliction God gives. A heart of Acceptance-with-Joy keeps me mindful that, if He gives to me whatever it is I'm dreading, it is because He has a purpose which would be accomplished in no other way.

If there had been any other way to cleanse me and other sinners like me from sin, if Buddha or Mohammed or crystals or crawling up a rocky hill on bleeding knees or simply trying harder could have bridged the gap between God and man, Jesus would not have had to die. Through His death and resurrection, though, He has given eternal life to those who trust Him. He made it possible for His Holy Spirit to make His home in the hearts of all who believe, to enable them to live out Christ's life in their own. He struck the death blow to Satan, the accuser of the brethren and enemy of souls.

If Jesus could trust His Father's hand in that ultimate of worst-cast scenarios, how much more can I trust that--even if the pink slip does come, even if I don't see my loved one come to Christ, even if God doesn't bring healing of this physical body--He will be with me and use even this for my good and for His glory. I pray that He enables us to pray with open hands, knowing that "there is no pit so deep that God's love is not deeper still," to quote the late Corrie ten Boom. And I thank and praise Jesus for saying, "Thy will be done," for His yes has given me life.

originally distributed to the crumbs from His table e-mail distribution list, March 18, 1998

Monday, June 3, 2013

Enter with Thanksgiving

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
Serve the Lord with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!

First monarch sighted in our garden this year

Know that the Lord, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

hollyhocks (here and below)

Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!


Asiatic lily

For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.
(Psalm 100, ESV)


Thank You, Father,
for You are good;
Your steadfast love endures forever;
Your faithfulness lasts for all generations;

Thank You for decreased low back and shoulder pain this week;
for restored sleep all night in the bed, not needing to move to the recliner because of pain;
for two customer service "wins" in the same day;
for hearty laughter together;

for alerting us to the electrical problem with a closet light before we went to sleep;
for Amore's patience, initiative, and wisdom in working out a temporary safe fix and handling the interactions with the electrician;
for protection from dangers seen and unseen;

for the first half-dozen monarch sightings in the garden for this season;
for the peace of watching moonflowers open at dusk on an overcast night;
for two lunches with my parents;
for cupcakes;
for beautiful skyscapes;

for a deeply Christ-centered sermon Sunday;
for a new senior pastor for a congregation after 19 months of grief and transition;
for courage to follow my doctor's suggestion to try water exercise;
for 40 minutes of movement (not much actual swimming this time) without increased pain;

for the astonishing creative gifts and skill of the Cliburn pianists and the composers of the music they play;
for moment-by-moment opportunities to abide in Christ and in His love (John 15:4-5, 7-10);
for His promise of fullness of joy (John 15:11).
(selected from this week's gratitude journal, #457-553)