Monday, February 28, 2011

Be Mary First

Mondays are the days I'm most tempted to overdo, even though yielding means paying the consequences for at least the next several days.

Sometimes it feels like all the to-dos gather in the living room overnight Sunday, waiting to ambush me.  When I walk in Monday morning, they all crowd and clamor like unruly students:

"Pick me!"

"No, me first!"

"No, I was here first.  Get back in line!"

My natural inclination is often to silence the many distracting things by slipping on Martha's apron and getting down to business straight away.  Rationally, I know it is neither possible to do a week's tasks in a day nor beneficial to attempt it; sometimes, however, the pressure to produce shouts louder than reason.

The to-dos will never all be done.  If I hold off on worship and prayer, the one thing truly needful, until they are, then the one most important responsibility of my day will never be done.

Today, I seek to be Mary first, even if it means shoving all those to-dos in the closet and locking the door.  I seek to seek God's face before folding laundry, putting beans to soak for supper, or editing a document for a loved one.  Not all the list will be done today, but the only way for me to know what today's portion is (or what the next thing is), is to stop, ask, and listen to the One who made this day and me, the One who knows the limits of my time and strength and all the contingencies as yet unknown to me.

My morning reading encouraged that choice and shaped my prayers for us:

The LORD sits enthroned over the flood;
   the LORD is enthroned as King forever. 
The LORD gives strength to his people;
   the LORD blesses his people with peace.

The Lord is still on His throne today.  He is big enough for whatever the day holds.  May He grant strength to His people.  May He bless His people with peace.

Now, if you'll excuse me, it's time to attend to that banging in the closet.

From the gratitude list, #3962-3970:
-The LORD sits enthroned over the flood
-Courage to choose the important over the urgent
-Skills to help a family member in a tough transition
-Grace to listen more than speaking in a conversation
-Parents' safe, on-time return from mission trip
-Lots of extra communication with a sister
-Full pantry and freezer
-Clean bill of health for the blog dog at his dental cleaning and check-up

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Sermon after the Sermon

Text and sermon unspooled with the familiarity of long acquaintance.

The adulteress caught in mid-sin,
scribes and Pharisees conspiring to trap Jesus,
the woman their bait,
Jesus' clever wisdom turning the tables on the accusers,
eluding their snare,
freeing the woman from condemnation without condoning her sin--
the pastor worked through the text skillfully, with clear interpretation and application.

The problem did not lie with the sermon.

Nevertheless, this passage remained for me as it had been, about the Other.  I could recognize the old me in the proud and critical accusers, but the woman herself was a stranger.  After the sermon I closed my heart and put it back on the shelf.

Then the thought arose, "You are the woman."

I shrugged it off.  Me?  Really?  Merely talking to a man beyond the family circle unnerves me.  My faults and temptations are many, but to this point adultery has not been among them, by the grace of God.

The thought persisted, "You are the woman."

Then the connection dawned.  Throughout the Hebrew Bible, the Christian Old Testament, sexual immorality is the metaphor used for spiritual unfaithfulness.  When God warns His people against idolatry and later indicts them for it, He names it even more harshly: prostitution.

Law, Psalms, and prophets agree:
"You are to never bow down to another god because the LORD, being jealous by nature, is a jealous God.
    "Do not make a treaty with the inhabitants of the land, or else when they prostitute themselves with their gods and sacrifice to their gods, they will invite you, and you will eat of their sacrifice. Then you will take some of their daughters [as brides] for your sons. Their daughters will prostitute themselves with their gods and cause your sons to prostitute themselves with their gods" (Exodus 34:14-16, HCSB).
They [Israel] shed innocent blood—
the blood of their sons and daughters
whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan;
so the land became polluted with blood.
They defiled themselves by their actions
and prostituted themselves by their deeds (Psalm 106:38-39, HCSB).
The language of the prophets expands the metaphor considerably and graphically, with key passages including Jeremiah 3, Ezekiel 16 and 23, and the central narrative of Hosea.

Both sins are breaches of covenant.  Both were punishable by stoning to death under Israelite law.

Yes, I am the woman of John 8.  Every time I look to created rather than Creator for satisfaction, security, and significance, every time I pour out the love of heart, soul, mind, and strength on that which is not God, every time I trust myself or the seen things more than His character and Word, then I am the woman, caught red-handed in unfaithfulness to my Husband and Maker.

I, too, stand condemned and deserving of it.

To me, also, Jesus says, "'Neither do I condemn you. . . .  Go, and from now on do not sin any more' (John 8:11, HCSB)."

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1, NIV).

Monday, February 21, 2011

Perfect Sacrifice

This year's Bible reading calendar has me in Leviticus right now.  Even though most of the book comprises laws and regulations for community life and worship, rules I might be tempted to skip or skim as not applicable to me, the first half of the book reveals much about the ugliness of sin and the cost of forgiveness.

It has struck me in this reading how costly, bloody-messy, and incessant the sacrificial system was.  Only the best of the livestock, oil, and grain were material for sacrifice.  Forgiveness of sin was costly.  The core animal sacrifices required the worshipper placing hands on the animal's head and cutting the throat himself.  The priests served as butchers, burned up most or all of the meat on the bronze altar, and often sprinkled or smeared some of the animal blood in specific places in the worship space or even on the worshipper herself.  Forgiveness of sin was a bloody mess.  Certain sacrifices occurred daily; others, according to the calendar; others, as needed.  In a nation of millions of people (extrapolated from the approximately 600,000 adult Hebrew males listed in Exodus 12:37-38 and Numbers 2:32), sacrifices must have been continuous and incessant.

"Was all this necessary?  What a waste of life and food!"  This might be my first response as an American in the twenty-first century, but Leviticus answers that objection in the explanation of the dietary law against eating blood:
For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life (Lev. 17:11, ESV).
The New Testament book of Hebrews says even more clearly, "Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins" (Hebrews 9:22, ESV).  In other words, yes, it was necessary; forgiveness requires bloodshed.  This is how ugly and costly sin, my sin, is.  Another life must bear the cost for me to be released from paying it myself.

How thankful I am that these requirements are finished!  That same chapter of Hebrews teaches that the Lord Jesus Christ is the once-for-all, final, sufficient sacrifice for sin.  He is the consummation and fulfillment all those ancient sacrifices pointed toward.
But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, . . . he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption (Hebrews 9:11-12, ESV).
He [Christ] has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself (Hebrews 9:26, ESV).
Forgiveness of sin is a costly, bloody business and an endless need.  Thanks be to God that Jesus the sin-bearer, whose very name means "Savior," paid the cost, shed His own blood for love of humankind, and did so sufficiently for my every need!

Ways I've experienced God's love this week (gratitude list #3857-70):
~A good time studying Leviticus this week (That's not something one writes every day!)
~Jesus' perfect sacrifice for us, for me
~Forgiveness of sin
~Our faithful High Priest granting access to the Holy Place
~Tasting in small ways "the hard eucharisteo" in the midst of discomfort, impatience, and frustration
~Stories and books that take me out of myself and my circumstances
~Parents on a mission trip
~Gift for them of a day's rest in transit because of flight delay and missed connection
~Talking to my grandmother and both sisters this week
~A surprise Valentine from a distant friend
~Husband-bought groceries
~Two weeks without pre-scheduled medical appointments
~All the many medicines I need are playing nice with each other and not causing serious side effects.
~The last piece in the puzzle

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Living Prayer

This song, "A Living Prayer" by Ron Block and recorded by Alison Krauss and Union Station, has been encouraging me this week.  Songs that verbalize my heart's longing have been great graces in my life.  This is one of those, and I was grateful to rediscover it at the right time.  May the Lord use it to comfort and encourage you, as well.  Here is the refrain:

In Your love I find release,
A haven from my unbelief.
Take my life, and let me be
A living prayer, my God, to Thee.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship (Romans 12:1, NIV).

Monday, February 14, 2011

Glorious Weakness

"Lupus patients are just weak.  That's just the way it is.  They can't exercise much, they have to be afraid of the sun, they get sick a lot. . . . That's just how it is. They are just weak."

My doctor's words were true, and I know he was using "weak" clinically, medically, and not as an accusation, but hearing this said out loud stung like a slap.  We were discussing my frequent upper respiratory infections and the ENT's concern that some undiagnosed immune problem underlay them, and my rheumatologist (lupus doctor) was offering his feedback.

The accuser loves to find fresh material for harassing the saints, however, and the words were still echoing in the back of my mind the next morning.  "It's true; I am weak.  Even a year ago before this flare, my parents and 88 year-old grandmother could outwork me.  Now, I lack even that much strength, and others pay the price." When I opened my Bible to my place in the Psalms, these words greeted me:
Be gracious to me, Lord, for I am weak (Psalm 6:2a, HCSB).
Has that always been there?  I must have read it many times before, but I guess it never entirely registered that these words were talking about me.  They reminded me that shame festers in the dark, that I am still Eve hiding from God in the garden, that the only refuge is dragging the weaknesses and sins into God's light, that because of Jesus and grace there is no condemnation for me (Romans 8:1).

"Yes, Lord. Be gracious to me, for I am weak!"

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

Weakness is not a reason for shame for the Christian, but an opportunity to boast and lean on Christ's power.

"So because of Christ, I am pleased in weaknesses. . . .  For when I am weak, then I am strong."

While I'm not yet to the point of boasting in my weaknesses or taking pleasure in them, at least now I'm facing in the right direction for transformation.

If anyone reading this is likewise feeling frustrated by or ashamed of weaknesses, insults, catastrophes, persecutions, and pressures today, may God's grace comfort you; may the power of Christ reside more fully in you; may you find His strength in your weakness; may the truth of His Word put the enemy to flight.

Some ways God has loved me this week. . . (#3768-3780)
~comfort, grace, and correction from God's Word
~His power in my weakness
~sticky, muddy, wonderful nephew hugs
~gift of a dream hug from the grandmother whose body we buried twenty years ago this month
~real hug from my other grandmother
~lovely Valentine's Eve date with my husband, cozy at home with quiet, candles, and twinkle lights instead of crowds
~his grace to accommodate my weaknesses
~wider variety of birds visiting the new "squirrel-proof" bird feeder
~laughing at the squirrel's comic attempts to flee when we scared him off said new feeder
~the best February weather anyone could wish these last few days
~helpful appointment with new doctor
~God's continuing provision for our needs
~family supporting each other in sorrows and joys alike

Friday, February 11, 2011

Book Review: Sabbath by Dan Allender

In his most recent book, Sabbath, counseling professor and seminary president Dan Allender explores the character and purpose of Sabbath observance for the Christian.  He reframes the discussion from the usual emphasis on what Sabbath excludes to an emphasis on what should fill it: the Hebrew word menuha, which he says means not only "rest" but "delight."

This book, which I received compliments of the Booksneeze blogger review program, is full of profound insights beautifully expressed.  It is learned but not pedantic.  I enjoyed it, and the ideas have returned to mind often.  That said, I could not embrace the ideas wholeheartedly as I wanted to.

The introduction and first chapter were especially well-done.  Dr. Allender discusses Sabbath as a commandment, not an option, and analyzes the reasons (sins) behind our failure to keep it.  His comments on Americans' cultural pride in busyness resonated with me deeply.  His musings on time and the nature of God also provided food for thought.

When the book shifted to what a "day of delight" would include, I became less certain of his conclusions.  There were still plenty of passages flagged and highlighted, and his recommendations often seem healthful and wise from a counseling perspective, but I am not confident that they pertain specifically to the discipline of Sabbath.  The wordcraft of the bulk of the book is excellent, but perhaps the thoughts would be more apropos to consideration of the spiritual disciplines of celebration, slowing, or rest.

The Hebrew word menuha, which Jewish commentators have associated with Sabbath observance, seems to support most of the weight of Dr. Allender's thesis, and I am not convinced that it is sturdy enough to do so.  He writes, "Menuha is the Hebrew word for rest, but it is better translated as joyous repose, tranquility, or delight" (p.28).  It may have delight as a nuance of meaning, but my limited Hebrew study tools make no mention of that.  What would seem the more hermeneutically important word, Sabbath itself, receives little attention.  (It means "ceasing" or "rest.")  In Scripture itself, menuha does not occur in direct relation to the Sabbath.

For another perspective, Lauren Winner in Mudhouse Sabbath describes Sabbath as the Jewish practice she has missed most since her conversion to Christianity.  She describes it as "queen of days," a phrase Dr. Allender also uses, but characterizes it as abstinence from creating.

In summary, this is a well-written book that would provide rich fodder for group interaction about what Sabbath means.  I appreciate Dr. Allender's assertion that the Sabbath should be a day of delight, but I am ambivalent about his elaboration of that idea.  If corporate worship, Bible study, and prayer (which the book minimizes) are not delightful to me as ways to spend the Sabbath, I suspect that the deficiency lies in myself and not in those practices.

I review for BookSneeze

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the  book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255  : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Suitcase: A Poem

With timorous faith
I tiptoe toward Your throne
To tender my request—
Too large for me to carry,
Like Daddy’s suitcase*—
As salvation.

Therefore since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens—Jesus the Son of God—let us hold fast to the confession.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tested in every way as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us at the proper time (Hebrews 4:14-16, HCSB).

Monday, February 7, 2011

But Before the Spring. . .

Spring IS coming, unless Jesus comes back first.  First, however, we have the rather intensive reminder that it's still winter for now.  Sometimes, things get worse before they get better, but that doesn't negate our hope or the promise that sustains it.

Last Tuesday morning, we in north Texas awoke to this:

The sleet was predicted, so we had opportunity to provision the pantry and protect the pipes.  Once the precipitation ceased, the birds came out to feed, not having had the same anxious preparations.

The expected winter storm stretched into three days of widespread closures, one day of intermittent blackouts, and nesting in our homes as much as possible.  Much of the country faced far more severe effects, but the worst consequences here were the disruption of Superbowl week tourism plans.

Instead of the thaw and inch-or-less of snow predicted for Friday, we woke to inches of snow on top of the first storm's ice.  Ebony went out reluctantly when absolutely necessary, but he was in no mood to linger and build a snowdog.

Saturday we finally received gorgeous blue skies, melting snow and ice, and a visit to the park for the boys to walk and me to look around.

Today again promises beautiful blue skies and more thaw, but more winter may lay ahead on Wednesday.  All of this, again, is creation testifying that we are not in control of the fulfillment of our plans and agendas and that sometimes things get worse before they get better.

The same theme has caught my attention in my Bible reading, in Exodus right now.  When Moses obeys God's call to return to Egypt for his part in God's deliverance of the Israelites from slavery, initially things get worse, much worse, for his already suffering brothers and sisters.  His request for a brief journey to worship their God results in intensified labor and beatings for the foremen.  When the plagues begin, Israel apparently experiences the first three along with the Egyptians, since no distinction is mentioned until the fourth (flies) plague (Exodus 5-8).

The people complain, Moses cries out to Yahweh, and eventually God brings about a deliverance all the more glorious for the delay and hardships.  The Egyptians fill their hands with silver and gold "plunder," and the Lord displays His glory in the plagues, the Passover, and the Red Sea victory (Exodus 7-15).

God spectacularly fulfills His promises, but first the people and their leaders are tested by delay.  What was true for them holds true for me, too: when God has promised good to me and things seem only to be getting worse, will I count the coming spring as sure because He spoke it?  Or will I follow the Israelites' example and whine and complain and quarrel with God for having forgotten me?  Will I despair in winter's trials or drink in the melting snow to nourish my roots for the spring ahead?

Sometimes things get worse before they get better, but spring will come, dear Crumbles.  May God strengthen you today to persevere with hope and joy.

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, 
for he who promised is faithful.

And since it's Monday, let me thank God for His good gifts (#3663-3680):
~Winter storms
~Husband working from home two days
~Heat, hot water, and electricity
~The surprising quiet of snow-blanketed world
~Watching the birds in the stark landscape
~Talking to my grandmother twice
~Red collar, black dog, white snow
~Blue skies again
~Warm laundry fresh from the dryer
~My beloved making pancakes for Saturday breakfast
~Wool socks
~Wrapping presents for loved ones
~A note from a friend to start the week
~Sharing books with my sister
~God's mercies ever new

Friday, February 4, 2011

Peter Kreeft on Joy

In the same vein as the last Cultivating Celebration post. . .
No one who ever said to God, "Thy will be done" and meant it with his heart, ever failed to find joy—not just in heaven, or even down the road in the future in this world, but in this world at that very moment, here and now. . . .
Every time I have ever said yes to God with something even slightly approaching the whole of my soul, every time I have not only said "Thy will be done" but meant it, loved it, longed for it—I have never failed to find joy and peace at that moment. In fact, to the precise extent that I have said it and meant it, to exactly that extent have I found joy. 
The entire essay, "Joy," is found here:
Acknowledgement: Ann Voskamp's book One Thousand Gifts brought this essay to my notice.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Book Review: One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp

Joy is the realest reality, the fullest life, and joy is always given, never grasped. God gives gifts and I give thanks and I unwrap the gift given: joy.
...Gratitude for the seemingly insignificant--a seed--this plants the giant miracle. The miracle of eucharisteo, like the Last Supper, is in the eating of crumbs, the swallowing down one mouthful.  Do not disdain the small.  The whole of the life--even the hard--is made up of the minute parts, and if I miss the infinitesimals, I miss the whole.  These are new language lessons, and I live them out.  There is a way to live the big of giving thanks in all things.  It is this: to give thanks in this one small thing.  The moments will add up (p.57).
 One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are is the new book of memoir and meditation by Ann Voskamp of the blog A Holy Experience. This Canadian farm wife and homeschooling mother of six writes beautifully and candidly of the transformation occurring in her life through the intentional practice of gratitude (eucharisteo in the Greek of the New Testament) to God.  Beginning with a dare from a friend to count a thousand things she loved, Ann started noticing more, fearing less, loosening her grip, and falling in love with her Lord.

This practice of thanksgiving did not emerge from a naturally ebullient, optimistic spirit.  Ann shares of the accidental death of her sister when she was four, her battles with agoraphobia and general anxiety, and other griefs and losses in her immediate family.  She began practicing gratitude as a choice to act and speak and notice contrary to her native temperament.  Through the doing came the becoming.  Her sacrifice of thanksgiving encourages me, too, with the possibility of transformation.

Photo from

Having eagerly awaited this book for months, ever since Ann's blog announced its coming, I wanted to devour it whole, in one sitting, when the package arrived on my doorstep.  Once I was able to tear myself away from the beautiful cover image, I found words and stories so richly intense in their beauty that a chapter at a time was the most I could bear.  This book is the verbal equivalent of the packet of handmade chocolate truffles my sister gave me for Christmas: so nuanced and satisfying that a morsel is a feast.

As a reader of Ann's blog, I should have expected as much, but still it surprised me.  For any Crumbles unfamiliar with Ann and her work, let it suffice to say that she is a poet who happens to work in prose and photos.

This is one of the best books of 2011.  Yes, it's only February, but it's one of the best new books I've read in a decade, so this seems a fair prediction.  More than that, it can hardly help but become an instrument in the transformation of those who read and heed it.  In keeping company with Ann through these pages, we might just find ourselves falling more in love with the Savior who loves her.