Thursday, April 27, 2017

Spring at the Pond

Canada goose and ruddy duck

Mama Mallard and her ducklings

Muscovy duck

Stuck the landing ;)

Monday, April 24, 2017

"Lead on, Great Shepherd!"

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name's sake.
Psalm 23:1-3, ESV

"As in the East the shepherd always precedes the flock, to discover the greenest patches of grass and the least stony path, so does Jesus ever keep in front of the soul that trusts and loves Him. And it is our art to allow as small a space as possible to intervene between His footsteps and our own....

"Let us not judge God by an incomplete or unfinished scheme; let us have patience till the end shall justify the path by which we came. In the breaking dawn of eternity we shall discover that God could not have brought us by another route which would have been as expeditious, or as safe, as the one by which we have come....

"Would that we had the faith to look up from every trying circumstance, from every fretting worry, from every annoyance and temptation, into the face of our Guide, and say, 'It is the right way, Great Shepherd of the sheep; lead me on!'"

(F. B. Meyer, The Shepherd Psalm, Kindle locations 390, 437, 440)

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Bluebird of Happiness?

Amore discovered the hideout of an Eastern bluebird along the trail where he walks the Ebony Dog. I drove to the area, lured it by playing its calls from our birding app, and smiled wide with thanksgiving when the Lord granted these photos. I pray they give you a smile too.

Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?
Matthew 6:26, ESV


Monday, April 17, 2017

When Providence Serves Up More Than You Can Chew {The Wren and the Peanut}

Since the Friday before Valentine's Day, my hips have joined the joint pain party with bursitis. A pair of injections helped one hip some but the other not at all. Imaging confirmed that nothing more serious is going on, which is good, but for now we're in waiting mode. Rest and ice are my best friends, and it's painful to stand, walk, or drive very long. Some days are so much better I feel encouraged that maybe I've turned a corner. Then I wake up the next day or stand too long fixing breakfast and getting ready and that progress is gone again. We don't even clearly know what caused this since there were no traumas to the area, but the working theory is that autoimmune disease is making my connective tissue very easily irritated and slow to heal.

(Oh, and I probably failed to mention that I dislocated the right side of my jaw. Biting down on a piece of chocolate. Yes, really. Thankfully, that has improved a great deal with a soft diet and significant adjustments to my bite splint that's normally only for sleep.)

As with my other joint problems, at this point the situation is "not serious, just painful." Even knowing that, the slower pace and increased limitations have triggered a fair amount of anxiety, especially since the other challenges in our extended family and with my previous problem joints continue. The Lord keeps stripping away my healthy coping mechanisms--yarncraft, piano, walking--so here I am writing to you. (Sorry about that.)

One morning when I was hurting and feeling discouraged, a little Carolina wren came to visit our back porch. I so enjoy these little birds, especially when they sing, but they are not regular guests at our feeders. That makes them the more precious when they come.

This one on this day settled down to work on something down on the concrete between the door and the feeder. He certainly seemed busy, but what was he foraging for there on the concrete? They don't eat leaves. Were there tiny bugs in the leaves?

Then I saw it: a peanut! When the woodpeckers visit the feeder, they pull beakfuls of seed out of the ports until they get the peanuts they like best. The smaller birds are intimidated by that woodpecker but quick to come and forage among his discards once he leaves. Somehow, this peanut escaped the notice of both the woodpecker and all the scavengers, and the wren won out.

Little bird, big peanut. I trained my camera on him and watched to see how my wren friend would manage this. Would he give up and eat the smaller, easier seeds instead? No, not at all.

With painstaking patience, the wee bird arched back his head like a rearing horse, swung his body forward to spear the legume with his sharp beak, and proceeded to pound it on the concrete until a small piece broke off. Then he would eat that tiny morsel and spear the rest again.

Like a mason breaking apart a rock with hand tools, the wren chipped away at his prize, his persistence slowly paying off. Fascinated, I watched for 5 minutes, until a blue jay swooped in and spooked the smaller bird into abandoning its breakfast.

His diligence in this too-large task reminded me of the old joke about eating an elephant (though who would want to?):
How do you eat an elephant?
One bite at a time.

Crumbles, right now it often feels like the Lord in His providence has served us an elephant, or that we're wrens trying to eat a plate of peanuts. The challenges seem too big and too many, and new ones keep piling on without the removal of any of the old. It's overwhelming when I look at the pile. So very many things beyond our strength. So very many things to entrust to the Lord.

And now we have taken on another challenge, and it's a big one. Lord willing, we are moving out of Wits' End at the end of this month and into a home nearer my parents. The long-term goal is worth the short-term cost, and we believe the Lord has led us to this step. Still, it's a pretty daunting challenge for the little bird writing to you, and we are very grateful for those the Lord leads to pray for us in this transition.

Remembering this petite bird helps me press on, and I pray it does you also. The Lord doesn't call me to eat the plate of peanuts all at once. I ask, "What one small thing does He want me to do right now?" Then I seek His grace to do that one next thing (preferably without hurting myself), act in obedient faith and the strength He gives, and thank Him for the grace.

What next? How?
Grace, Lord!
Trust and obey.
Thank You, Lord.

And repeat.

Always, always, in this process I am learning to preach the gospel truth and promises of God to my heart when I feel anxious and overwhelmed about our challenges.
"We must do what we cannot do with what we do not have, but He will do through us what He can do with what He does have."
"Courage, dear heart!"

Feelings lie, but God's Word doesn't:

"Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand" (Isaiah 41:10). 
"And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work" (2 Cor. 9:8).
"Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words" (Romans 8:26). 
"It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed" (Deut. 31:8). 
"Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength" (Isaiah 40:28-29).
"But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me" (2 Cor. 12:9).

May you find encouragement here to press on in your own challenges, dear Crumble. The Lord will not fail to give you grace for the portion He assigns to you. May He keep us mindful and diligent to preach the gospel to ourselves and our sisters and brothers in Christ. May He grant us grace today to glorify His name by accomplishing the work He gives us to do and has prepared for us beforehand (John 17:4, Eph. 2:10).

Courage, dear hearts! If walking with the Lord (or crawling or being carried...) these 30 years has taught me anything it is that He is much bigger, kinder, stronger, and wiser than we want to need to discover that He is. The Lord is good. His steadfast love and faithfulness endure forever.

Friday, April 14, 2017

As a Sheep Resting in Shepherd's Care

So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father;and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”
John 10:7-18, ESV

"And now, O timid soul, be at rest! The blood-red brand which is upon you is a sure token that you are safe. He cannot have done so much for you to lose you now. In all moments of peril or dread, softly murmur His name, Jesus! Jesus! and He will at once comfort you by His presence and by His voice, which all the sheep know; and this shall be His assurance: 'My sheep shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand' (John 10:28).

"Hand over to Him all that breaks the stillness of your spirit, though it be but a gnat sting; and take from Him His own deep sweet rest."

~The Shepherd Psalm, F. B. Meyer, Kindle locations 271 and 305

Tuesday, April 11, 2017


Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong (2 Cor. 12:10).

"The literal translation of this verse gives a startling emphasis to it, and makes it speak for itself with a force that we have probably never realized. Here it is: 'Therefore I take pleasure in being without strength, in insults, in being pinched, in being chased about, in being cooped up in a corner for Christ's sake; for when I am without strength, then am I dynamite.'

"Here is the secret of Divine all-sufficiency, to come to the end of everything in ourselves and in our circumstances. When we reach this place, we will stop asking for sympathy because of our hard situation or bad treatment, for we will recognize these things as the very conditions of our blessing, and we will turn from them to God and find in them a claim upon Him."
--A. B. Simpson

From Streams in the Desert, April 8

O Lamb of God, I come. I come!

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Scandalous Surrender

And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he wasreclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard,very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me.

Unclenched hands
Drip fragrant shards
Of scandalous surrender.
Substance, security, and very self
Spill out upon His feet.

(Written sometime since 2012. I don't remember writing it, but the paper it's on makes May 2012 the earliest possible date. You never know what you'll find when you're cleaning out your files.)

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Problems Are the Price of Treasure

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field."

Matthew 13:44, ESV

the unfortunately named yellow-rumped warbler, stopping off at Wits' End in his winter meanderings

"Our problems cannot always be fixed, but they can always be accepted as the very will of God for now, and that turns them into something beautiful. Perhaps it is like the field wherein lies the valuable treasure. We must buy the field. It is no sun-drenched meadow embroidered with wildflowers. It is a bleak and empty place, but once we know it contains a jewel the whole picture changes. The empty scrap of forgotten land suddenly teems with possibilities. Here is something we can not only accept, but something worth selling everything to buy."
From Elisabeth Elliot's book Be Still My Soul, p. 127

Crumbles, how would it change our perspective on our problems if we believed this? May the Lord open your eyes to the "treasure in the field" of your afflictions today and transform them into something beautiful. Grace to you, friends.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Chauffeur Surprise {From the Archives}

as originally posted in 2012

Last week our pastor mentioned, in a sermon on family, that a secular study has found that the thing teenagers most want from their parents is time. That surprised me, because I never remember my dad lacking time for me.

It seems we spent a lot of that time together in the car: driving to his office in the summers when I worked with him, driving to and from ballet and piano lessons, and of course driving on family vacations. Sometimes we listened to Barbra Streisand or Man of La Mancha; sometimes we talked about books or school; sometimes we talked about nothing in particular.

He was willing to be interrupted when he was in his spot on the sofa paying bills, and we didn't hesitate to call him for help when one of my sisters got the stapler stuck to her hand.

He did not shrink from hitting the tennis courts with me nearly every evening of the semester I took tennis for physical education. He was a tennis champion. I was trying to hit the ball accurately enough to pass the class. It must have been exasperating for him, but he kept coming out with me, and at least it was time together. (He coached me into a B for the class. I still enjoy watching the game but have not stepped onto a court since. He fared better with my sisters in the athletic department.)

He also has a knack for making us feel special. At the end of my senior year of high school, the generous parent of one of my Sunday school students gave me a pair of orchestra seats to see West Side Story at the music hall. With two sisters and one seat to fill, I invited my best friend from those years, and we decided to make an evening of it, dress up in formals, and dine at a fancy restaurant.

Dad was smart enough not to let us drive ourselves around Big D alone late at night, so he said he would drive us.  He left work early, but instead of his Chrysler LeBaron, this Lincoln Continental was in our driveway:

He wanted to chauffeur us properly in a limousine, but this was the closest he could rent.

Like a proper driver, he went to my friend's door, walked her out to the car, and helped her in. He took us to the restaurant, ate his own sack lunch in the car, drove us to the musical, and waited (probably with a book) until time to drive us home. I think Mom accompanied him to keep him company, but I don't remember for certain, probably due to the imaginary glass barrier between the front and back seats.

These photos lay in a box I recently sorted, and the memories made me smile as a typical example of the thoughtfulness of my dad and how well he has cared for us.

In the last two decades, he has also lavished that care and attention on children in local apartment complexes, orphans across the ocean, and the staff and congregation where he serves as deacon in a painful season of transition.

My dad is a gift from God, and it was a gift to spend the afternoon with him yesterday. It has never been difficult for me to understand the Father-love of God because of the way my dad loves me, and for that I'm so very grateful. If you did not know that kind of love from your earthly father, may the Lord dazzle you with His healing love and delight. Your Father is very fond of you.

The LORD is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger and rich in faithful love. 
He will not always accuse us
or be angry forever. 
He has not dealt with us as our sins deserve
or repaid us according to our offenses.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is His faithful love
toward those who fear Him.
Psalm 103:8-11, HCSB

Happy birthday, Daddy!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Alive in Him {Book Review}

Gloria Furman's new book Alive in Him: How Being Embraced by the Love of Christ Changes Everything  provides an accessible, effervescent overview of the main themes of Paul's letter to the Ephesians. You might call it a devotional commentary, but it reads more like time over coffee discussing Ephesians with an interesting, well-read friend. The author's subtitle captures the gist of her main idea, which she states fully in the Prologue:
"Ephesians describes in broad strokes and detailed lines how being embraced by the love of Christ changes everything."

Furman manages to pull off the impressive feat of clearly communicating profound theological truth in clear, conversational language. She includes quotations from the likes of William Cowper, Richard Sibbes, and John Owen. At the same time, she uses frosted cupcakes and caterpillars as illustrations and chooses section headings like "Whoa--This Is Heavy," "The Narrative That Eats All Other Narratives for Lunch," and "[Paul Drops Mic. Body Walks This Way]." Cultural references include zombies, Back to the Future, and The Office. If anyone is tempted to write off a book on Ephesians as dry or boring, Gloria Furman is the one to prove that idea wrong.

Her years of missionary life also add the exotic spices of global geographic and cultural references. She recognizes that the lives and experiences of Christians vary from place to place and peppers her thoughts with acknowledgements of the global church's diverse expressions of the one body of Christ. We don't look alike, sing alike, speak the same language, or enjoy the same kinds of refreshments at church gatherings, but we are all parts of one body with one crucified, risen, and ascended Head, Jesus Christ the God-Man, and we are all called to walk like Him. As a former missionary and wife of a missionary kid, I deeply appreciated this for personal as well as theological reasons.

Those distinctives only touch on the style of the book, which is winsome. They are her way of putting the cookies on the bottom shelf. In this case, the cookies are the beautiful, life-altering truths within Paul's letter. This book does not include lengthy quotations from the book of Ephesians itself; the author states at the outset that she wants the reader to experience the beauties of the Biblical text firsthand with her book as a sort of travel guide. She writes in a way that invites the reader to fall in love with Ephesians and its divine Author as she has and, in so doing, to be changed. In her own words, "My goal is to lead you deeper into the text of the Bible so that you can see for yourself just how wide and long and high and deep is the mind-boggling love of Christ (Eph. 3:18–19)."

Here are a few of my favorite quotes:

We hang onto the “But God” of the gospel by faith through grace, because in that gospel we trace the echo back to the source of all things. We find Joy himself. And O, what kindness we have been shown by God in Christ Jesus! For we were not even looking for him when he found us. Our deadness is interrupted by rich mercy, and we are raised to life in the throes of un-looked-for upheavals of joy. This kind of tasting and seeing of God’s goodness tells us that there is more to life than what we can taste and see. Then we become hungry for more and more of it. And our eyes will not stop searching the horizon of eternity, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Beloved who promised that he would return for his bride. (72)

Our obedience to God is not the kindling for the fire of our salvation but the heat emanating from the fire that God started and fuels. (73)

The single most mind-blowing, life-altering reality of being in Christ is that we no longer need to hide ourselves from the presence of the Lord God; in Christ we may walk with God in perfect fellowship now, and ultimately forever in the garden city that is to come (Gen. 3:8) (82).

...“the existence of the church is God’s cosmic booyah to the Devil” (98).

In this garden of community we are all seeking the flourishing of the others. We want others to see and savor Jesus and to know his love that surpasses knowledge. It becomes our chief interest and aim to help others to know Christ, removing the rocky obstacles out of the way so that their roots can find anchor (101).

There is no time to waste complaining of our “chains,” for we are prisoners of Christ himself. He is the one who has set us in our current circumstances, whatever they may be, for his good purpose to glorify himself. Like Paul, we see our chains as opportunities and not hindrances (Eph. 6:20). 169-70

Our strength comes from the Lord. Paul has already told us what the Lord’s strength is like. His power is immeasurably great and it is for us who believe. The Lord’s great might raised Jesus from the dead. Raised. From. The. Dead. It’s the same power that seated Christ— the Son of Man (a human being!)—at his right hand in heaven. It’s the same power he used to kill the hostility between Jew and Gentile at the cross. It’s the same power that is stronger than anything we can imagine that is working inside of us (see Eph. 1:19–20; 2:16; 3:20). No, beloved, do not worry whether you will be strong enough. God is strong enough (163).

Immeasurably great power is irrevocably accomplishing all his holy will (173).

Gloria Furman has experienced the embrace of the love of Christ that changes everything, and the enthusiasm she conveys in her newest book is contagious. I pray this taste makes many within the reach of this review reach out for their Bibles first, to renew their hearts in the Ephesian letter, and for her wise and winsome book second, to appreciate Ephesians better and fall more deeply in love with its divine Author.

N.B. I received a free advanced reader's copy of this book from the publisher, with the invitation to share my thoughts if I enjoyed it. If there are discrepancies in wording or page number between this post and the final published version, I apologize, but this is why.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Oneness with Christ

"I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."
Galatians 2:20 ESV

"It makes no matter where He places me, or how. That is rather for Him to consider than for me; for in the easiest positions He must give me His grace, and in the most difficult His grace is sufficient....

"So, if God places me in great perplexity, must He not give me much guidance; in positions of great difficulty, much grace; in circumstances of great pressure and trial, much strength? No fear that His resources will be unequal to the emergency! And His resources are mine, for He is mine, and is with me and dwells in me. All this springs from the believer's oneness with Christ."
Hudson Taylor, Hudson Taylor's Spiritual Secret

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Lesson of the Loaves {from the Archives}

    The apostles  gathered around Jesus and reported to Him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, "Come away by yourselves to a remote place and rest a while." For many people were coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat. So they went away in the boat by themselves to a remote place, but many saw them leaving and recognized them. People ran there by land from all the towns and arrived ahead of them.  So as He stepped ashore, He saw a huge crowd and had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. Then He began to teach them many things.
    When it was already late, His disciples approached Him and said, "This place is a wilderness, and it is already late! Send them away, so they can go into the surrounding countryside and villages to buy themselves something to eat."
    "You give them something to eat," He responded.
    They said to Him, "Should we go and buy 200 denarii worth of bread and give them something to eat?"
    And He asked them, "How many loaves do you have? Go look."
    When they found out they said, "Five, and two fish."
    Then He instructed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in ranks of hundreds and fifties. Then He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke the loaves. He kept giving them to His disciples to set before the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. Everyone ate and was filled. Then they picked up 12 baskets full of pieces of bread and fish. Now those who ate the loaves were 5,000 men (Mark 6:30-44, HCSB).

Near the end of the last century, 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.  My pastor at that time compares the quantity of bread and fish of the original Greek to "granola bars and sardines." In other words, Mark isn't talking about 5 loaves of sandwich bread and 2 whole salmon but an even greater degree of impossibility. In Dr. Lawrence's words, "You must do what you cannot do with what you do not have."

How many of us feel that way on an almost daily basis?  Whether the "must do" involves mothering, a difficult job, the lack of a job with financial pressures that will not let up, health problems, or just the ordinary pressures of life, most of us understand this feeling of overwhelming demands and inadequate resources.  I certainly do. In the Scripture passage, though, it is Jesus who places the demand on the apostles, so in that instance, at least the impossibility was His will.

Thanks be to God that the lesson doesn't stop there!

The second clause from Dr. Lawrence provides the solution: "BUT He will do what He can do with what He does have."  Jesus takes His followers' inadequate resources, blesses them, breaks them, and gives them to the disciples to distribute.  In His hands, they become not only a start, not only enough, but too much.  The great crowd eats until satisfied, and still 12 baskets of leftovers remain. "He will do what He can do with what He does have."  Jesus' resources are adequate for the overwhelming demands of following Him and seeking to serve those He brings us.

This morning I was feeling like those disciples: the list of responsibilities, projects, paperwork, and prayer requests longer than the day ahead and far greater than the strength in hand.  Reading Luke's account of this event in my daily portion reminded me of my teacher's words, and I found courage to bring the needs to Christ and take His strength, one basketful at a time.  It only felt right to pass the basket on to you.

That doesn't mean the needs will feel any less overwhelming or more possible. Feelings may or may not change. If the Lord is the one putting the needs on our plate, however, He will not fail to give grace enough to match them, one crumb at a time, as we keep going back to Him for more.

Dear Crumbles, whatever your overwhelming need today, take heart:

"You must do
what you cannot do 
with what you do not have,
He will do through you
what He can do
with what He does have."

I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.  I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me (Philippians 4:11b-13, ESV).

Monday, March 20, 2017

Dandelion Grace

And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.... Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word (Acts 8:1,4, ESV).

"The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church" (Tertullian).

Gusts of affliction
Scatter grace
Like dandelion seeds.

As we pray for our brothers and sisters who are suffering, whether from persecution, displacement, or other trials, let us not forget to pray for God's glory and kingdom through believers' suffering. Let us (me!) not forget that the Lord intends to use our own suffering for His glory. Your pain is not wasted, Crumble. God has a plan and means it for your good, the church's gain, and His glory. May you find hope in that!

Thursday, March 16, 2017


“It doesn’t matter, really, how great the pressure is,” [Hudson Taylor] used to say; “it only matters where the pressure lies. See that it never comes between you and the Lord - then, the greater the pressure, the more it presses you to His breast.”
from Dr. and Mrs. Howard Taylor, Hudson Taylor's Spiritual Secret, p. 139

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Tenderness of Our Shepherd

Ewe and lamb, Dall sheep, Denali National Park, Alaska
"O trembling heart, look away, and look up! Your sorrows have been multiplied indeed, by looking at difficulties and second causes. Now cease from all this. Talk no more about the walled cities and giants; about the rugged paths and dark valleys; about lions and robbers. But think of the love, the might, and the wisdom, of the Shepherd. Love that spared not its blood! Might that made the worlds! Wisdom that named the stars! Your salvation does not depend on what you are, but on what He is. For every look at self, take ten looks at Christ. Cease using the first pronoun, and substitute for it the third....
"He has a shepherd’s tenderness; no lamb so tiny that He will not carry it; no saint so weak that He will not gently lead; no soul so faint that He will not give it rest. He pities as a father. He comforts as a mother. His gentleness makes great. He covers us with His feathers, soft and warm and downy; and under His wings do we trust" (F.B. Meyer, The Shepherd Psalm).

Friday, March 10, 2017

Strength in Weakness

Yellow-rumped warbler (female, we believe)

One might fairly substitute "brokenness" or "meekness" for "weakness" in the following quote:
“…It is amazing how strong we can become when we begin to understand what weaklings we are! It is in weakness that we can admit our mistakes and correct ourselves while confessing them. It is in weakness that our minds are open to enlightenment from others. It is in weakness that we are authoritative in nothing, and say the most clear-cut things with simplicity and consideration for others. In weakness we do not object to being criticized and we easily submit to censure. At the same time, we criticize no one without absolute necessity. We give advice only to those who desire it, and even then we speak with love and without being dogmatic. We speak from a desire to help rather than for a desire to create a reputation for wisdom” (Fenelon, Let Go, Letter 29).
Reading these words this morning, on a day when I am aware of my weakness with every step I take, reminded me of how far I have to grow in realizing its intended fruit. Amore and I welcome your prayers for the Lord to heal my painful joints and provide His restored strength. The last four weeks have brought new difficulties in that regard, and we have yet to discover the medical explanations for them. If the Lord prompts you to pray for us, please also pray that weakness, hardships, and "calamities" (to our limited sight) would do their good, gracious, refining work in us.

We are so very grateful for your friendship and prayers over the last six-and-counting years!

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10, ESV) 

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Sufficient Grace

...a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Corinthians 12:7b-9, ESV)

"God’s grace is illustrated and magnified in the poverty and trials of believers. Saints bear up under every discouragement, believing that all things work together for their good, and that out of apparent evils a real blessing shall ultimately spring—that their God will either work a deliverance for them speedily, or most assuredly support them in the trouble, as long as he is pleased to keep them in it. This patience of the saints proves the power of divine grace.... He who would glorify his God must set his account upon meeting with many trials. No man can be illustrious before the Lord unless his conflicts be many. If then, yours be a much-tried path, rejoice in it, because you will the better show forth the all-sufficient grace of God. As for his failing you, never dream of it—hate the thought. The God who has been sufficient until now, should be trusted to the end" (Spurgeon, Morning and Evening, Morning of March 4).

See also: The Gift of Thorns

Friday, February 24, 2017

"Day by Day"

Snuggle time

Although or because it's a difficult pain day here with anxiety over this afternoon's medical appointment tapping at my heart's door, the Lord brought this hymn to mind early this morning. It challenges and invites me to entrust myself and my loved ones day by day, moment by moment, to Him. I associate it with my maternal grandmother, so it may also have been one of the hymns she used to play.

Day by day, and with each passing moment,
Strength I find to meet my trials here;
Trusting in my Father’s wise bestowment,
I’ve no cause for worry or for fear.
He, whose heart is kind beyond all measure,
Gives unto each day what He deems best,
Lovingly its part of pain and pleasure,
Mingling toil with peace and rest.

Every day the Lord Himself is near me,
With a special mercy for each hour;
All my cares He fain would bear and cheer me,
He whose name is Counsellor and Pow’r.
The protection of His child and treasure
Is a charge that on Himself He laid;
“As thy days, thy strength shall be in measure,”
This the pledge to me He made.

Help me then, in every tribulation,
So to trust Thy promises, O Lord,
That I lose not faith’s sweet consolation,
Offered me within Thy holy Word.
Help me, Lord, when toil and trouble meeting,
E’er to take, as from a father’s hand,
One by one, the days, the moments fleeting,
Till with Christ the Lord I stand.

~Carolina Sandell Berg (1832-1903), trans. A. L. Skoog

Lest the reader think Mrs. Berg knew nothing of real suffering to have written such words, such is not the case. Her father fell overboard and drowned before her eyes when she was 26. By God's grace, after that tragedy hymns overflowed from her heart and pen. Her name is largely unfamiliar to American believers, but she is as beloved in Sweden as Fanny Crosby is in the States.

Even in the hard, crumbles, our Father is good and loves His children. Especially in the hard, perhaps. May the Lord give us, also, songs in the dark nights of our souls. 

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Through A Shadowed Valley

Psalm 23:1-3, ESV

A Psalm of David.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name's sake.

Cindy at a family gathering in 2014
My sister-in-law Cindy Davis is an accomplished artist and photographer. Three of her works grace our home. Like Amore, she is a missionary kid who spent much of her youth in East Africa. She married another missionary kid, and they served together as missionaries for many years in Zambia and Papua New Guinea. They also spent a decade in vocational ministry in the United States between missionary assignments.

In 2012 they relocated in order to move in with our Moore parents and provide the care they needed to continue to live at home safely. Jim has full-time paid employment and serves on the preaching team at their church, so Cindy is the primary caregiver.

A year ago, Cindy was diagnosed with peritoneal cancer, even as Dad Moore's health was declining and needing more of her time and energy. After months of cancer improvement with chemo, her cancer stopped responding to the first course of treatment. She is still fighting, now with the help and support of Cancer Treatment Center of America in Phoenix. Please pray with us for her complete remission. Prayer is the most important part of this fight, and we are grateful for everyone who fights alongside us in that way.

If you would like more details on her journey and how you might help, the family has set up the following site for her (or see the sidebar of the blog):

Update, 7 March 2017:
Cindy is in Phoenix again for her second treatment. Thanks to the generosity of many people, her financial need for this course of treatment is nearly met. Her tumor marker is still high but has dropped by 45% because of the first round of treatment. Please continue to pray for her to receive complete remission and withstand the miseries chemo inflicts on the body. Thank you for reading and praying. Medical updates are being shared at the website above, under the "Fundraiser Updates" section.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Refiner's Fire {From the Archives}

Missionary Amy Carmichael wrote in Gold Cord about what she learned on an outing with the Indian orphans in her care:

One day we took the children to see a goldsmith refine gold after the ancient manner of the East. He was sitting beside his little charcoal-fire. (He shall sit as a refiner: the gold or silversmith never leaves his crucible once it is on the fire.) In the red glow lay a common curved roof-tile; another tile covered it like a lid. This was the crucible. In it was the medicine made of salt, tamarind fruit and burnt brick-dust, and embedded in it was the gold. The medicine does its appointed work on the gold, "then the fire eats it," and the goldsmith lifts the gold out with a pair of tongs, lets it cool, rubs it between his fingers, and if not satisfied puts it back again in fresh medicine. This time he blows the fire hotter than it was before, and each time he puts the gold into the crucible the heat of the fire is increased: "It could not bear it so hot at first, but it can bear it now." "How do you know when the gold is purified?" we asked him, and he answered, "When I can see my face in it [the liquid gold in the crucible] then it is pure" (pp.69-70.)

For a variation on the theme from my poetry stash, try this on for size:

Sonnet from the Fire
How hot the flames burn round my alloyed soul!
My heart churns wildly—restless, tossed with fears,
Dross rising to the surface, bathed in tears.
I cry out, “Jesus, cleanse me; make me whole!”
The skilled Refiner’s hand still stokes the fire;
The flames I think unbearable climb higher.
Still more dross rises; will there be no end
To fiercer heat that purges hidden sin?
“Dost thou not know?” the Master Smith inquires.
“The kettle bears the fiercest heat, not thee.
Thou know'st no flame save that which scorches Me.
I know thy nature; thou wilt stand the fire.
Thou shalt not perish, but shall shine forth grace
When once I look on thee and see My face.”
~crlm, 7/1997

Beloved, if this finds you in the midst of the heat of affliction, may God grant you comfort in His presence in the furnace with you, in His wisdom to know exactly how much will refine and how much will destroy, and in His sure promise that eternity will reveal the brevity of these trials and the greater glory gained through them. I don't know what you are walking through, but the Lord Jesus does, and He is near to all who call.

You may also like: Sifted

Friday, February 3, 2017

The Scars That Have Shaped Me {Book Review}

Twenty-one surgeries by age thirteen. Years in the hospital. Verbal and physical bullying from schoolmates. Multiple miscarriages as a young wife. The death of a child. A debilitating progressive disease. Riveting pain. Abandonment. Unwanted divorce.
Vaneetha Rendall Risner begged God for grace that would deliver her. But God offered something better: his sustaining grace. 
In The Scars That Have Shaped Me, Vaneetha does more than share her stories of pain; she invites other sufferers to taste with her the goodness of a sovereign God who will carry us in our darkest of days.
The folks there also put together a video introduction in which we can glimpse Vaneetha and her family and hear her own voice:

Vaneetha Rendall Risner's occasional blog posts at had already won my respect and provided me much help, so even without those introductions I knew that her first book, The Scars That Have Shaped Me: How God Meets Us in Suffering, was one I wanted to read, and soon. The book, adapted from material first presented on her personal blog, did not disappoint.

If you have found encouragement in the words of Joni Eareckson Tada or Amy Carmichael, writing as they have from suffering into suffering, you will probably appreciate Mrs. Risner's words as well. If you are groping for a candle in a dark season of pain, you will find one here.

My eBook is replete with highlights. At some point, the markings lose some of their meaning and the question becomes, "Okay, what's not highlighted?" Here are a few of my most favorite passages, in the prayer that they will encourage you and pique your interest enough to read the whole book.

On lament:
Lamenting keeps us engaged with God. When we lament, we invite God into our pain so that we can know his comfort, and others can see that our faith is real. Our faith is not a fa├žade we erect to convince ourselves and others that pain doesn’t hurt—it is an oak tree that can withstand the storms of doubt and pain in our lives, and grow stronger through them (Kindle Location: 409).
On knowing God:
God is valuable not because he makes our lives easier. He is valuable because he is the Lord of the universe and knowing him is better than anything in this life. Knowing him is the ultimate joy. Knowing him is worth any ordeal we may endure. This is a God worthy of worship (Location: 918).
On how to work through the spiritual deserts:
So what do we do when we feel drained and empty? When no one understands our suffering and no one seems to care? When we feel discouraged and tired and unbearably lonely? Read the Bible and pray. Read the Bible even when it feels like eating cardboard. And pray even when it feels like talking to a wall. Does it sound simple? It is. Does it also sound exceedingly hard? It is that as well. But reading the Bible and praying is the only way I have ever found out of my grief. There are no shortcuts to healing. Often I wish there were, because I’d like to move on from the pain. But in many ways, I am thankful for the transformative process I undergo. A process requiring that I read the Bible and pray (Location: 1039).
On suffering for the kingdom and glory of God:
God’s glory is on display for the angels and demons when people demonstrate that their hearts are satisfied in God alone rather than in his gifts. When we declare that God is more precious than our health, our happiness, even our very lives, we highlight his supreme worth to an immense, invisible audience. That message helped me through years of struggle. I speak and write about suffering, and sometimes my words inadvertently make it sound wistful and romantic. Almost noble. Talking about “crying myself to sleep” sounds a lot more beautiful than what it really is—feeling nauseated in a dark, lonely room, with an empty box of Kleenex and a raging headache from sobbing. There’s nothing even remotely appealing about raw pain. When no one sees or knows or even seems to care. When morning brings a cold numbness that permeates your soul and makes you feel completely dead inside. When every day seems harder than the day before, and you wonder how much longer you can go on. When life seems grueling and gritty and even gruesome, and death seems like it would be a welcome relief. And yet, in the midst of crushing circumstances, we know something else is going on. Something bigger than we can imagine. Something that puts our pain into a larger context (Location: 1192).
 On the merits of grace that comes daily like manna:
Delivering grace or sustaining grace. Which is more precious? We Need Both
In delivering grace, we see God’s glory. Everyone can see the miracle he has wrought for us. And usually our lives are easier as a result. We have what we asked for. And we thank God for it. But after a while, we go back to the business of living. New difficulties come up. And we may even forget about what he’s done because we aren’t continuously going back to him. Sustaining grace also showcases God’s glory. But with sustaining grace, people can see the miracle he has wrought in us. Our lives are easier because our perspective is different. With sustaining grace, we must continually go back to God. This grace is not a one-time thing, just as manna was not a one-time event. We need it every day. And it keeps us dependent on God. With sustaining grace, we get more of Jesus. His comfort, his nearness, his very presence. Both delivering grace and sustaining grace are essential in the Christian life. They are interconnected. Delivering grace is vital. We need to pray for it. It’s biblical. Life can be relentlessly hard, and we need to know that deliverance is possible. That our prayers are effective. That our situation can change. Without the possibility of deliverance, we’d lose hope. We might stop praying. We could succumb to total despair. But it is in the asking, even begging, for deliverance, and in the subsequent waiting for it, that we get sustaining grace, the grace to press on in the blazing heat. And this grace is accompanied by the intimate presence of the living God. So when I am sustained but not delivered, God is inviting me to see the miracle I have received. It is a more precious answer to prayer than I ever realized. Manna, my daily bread, the Bread of Life himself. He alone sustains me in the desert (Location: 1329).
My only (and very minor) quibble with this book was that there were some formatting issues in the Kindle book. For me these were not deal-breakers, but I mention it because I know there are some readers for whom that would be enough of a distraction that they would prefer the paperback because of it.

In short, Mrs. Risner is a bell sheep, one who has listened to the heartbeat of the Shepherd who sustains her and who now rings her bell to point others to His presence, even in the darkest valleys. My heart goes out to her and her family in the intense suffering they have endured and are enduring, but I praise the Lord for the miracle of His sustaining grace in her life and the bell-ringing testimony in this book.

The link in the first paragraph is a blogger affiliate link. To purchase from Desiring God instead, here is the link: