Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A Heart in Perpetual Bloom

a bouquet from my uncle's family
"My soul! Seek from God the spirit of thankfulness, and cultivate habitually the grace of praise. It is a soul-purifying and a God-glorifying grace. It keeps the heart in perpetual bloom, and converts the life into a daily psalm!"
~Octavius Winslow, Consider Jesus

a decorative fall birdhouse from a Bible study friend

Last Thursday, my chronically inflamed gallbladder was surgically removed. Considering that I only fainted once and no one else did, we're calling it a success. (I told the nurse I was a tough stick!)  The recovery crawls along, but no apparent complications have arisen, and the eating restrictions have not been problematic. Eventually my body will learn to digest fat without that little bile pouch, but right now it doesn't know how, so I need to protect it with low dietary fat intake.

Wouldn't it be nice if the chronically inflamed parts of our soul and spirit could be excised in a matter of a few hours under anesthesia? Fear, gluttony, pride, covetousness, lust, anger, gossip, . . . gone in a morning? Then again, perhaps I wouldn't be able to bear the post-op pain for such a soul surgery.

I'm living slowly this week, waiting for pain to subside and strength to return, but I wanted to touch base with you and thank God for His care in these recent days. Thank you for your prayers. May the Lord adorn your life and mine with perpetually blooming hearts full of praise and thanksgiving.

Thank You, Father, for
2307. Your protection and provision in my surgery
2308. Confirmation that this was the cause of my abdominal pain
2309. My surgeon praying with my family and me before I was taken to the OR
2310. One less body part to misbehave
2311. Your presence at home with me
2312. Loving husband working from home 2 days to look after me
2313. Loving husband who knows how to scramble egg whites and not burn toast ;)
2314. Mom and Daddy keeping tabs on me and coming by just for hugs
2315. Ebony's instinctive vigilance
2316. A wren coming to visit the garden yesterday
2317. Flowers from family
2318. Visit from Mezzo
2319. Abundant kindness from my Bible study friends in providing meals through next Monday
2320. One of them bringing a little birdhouse along with the food
2321. Pain medication to help me rest fairly comfortably so I can heal
2322. Sleeping well every night so far except the first one
2323. Every excuse to read a novel
2324. The prayers of God's people
2325. The living God who hears them


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Remontant {A Repost}

In the current "pruning" season for my family and me, my thoughts keep returning to this post. It was composed in spring at the end of the first blooming of our roses; in the current fall season, the severely pruned roses have begun to bloom again after months of shaggy branches and bare rose hips. The blooms remind me of God's hope. He does not discipline His children to cast them away, beloved. "For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it" (Hebrews 12:11, ESV). If you are in a season of discipline and pruning, dear Crumble, may the Lord strengthen you to "lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees" to press on, eyes fixed on Jesus, in the race of life (Heb. 12:2, 12).

1. (of certain roses) blooming more than once in a season.
2. a remontant rose

May blooms so new she still blushes at the attention,
Yet first frenzied flush of flowering already fades,
Sere calyxes bereft of glory.

The catalog assures, "R - repeat bloomer,"
Time to deadhead, then,
Sharp shears in sure hands
Nipping just above a growth bud,
Spurring spent shrub to sprout new stems,
To bloom again,
Bloom much,
Bloom longer.

The wound but paves the way for glory.
       ~crm, 5/6/11

A fresh bloom from one of our remontant roses

"I am the true vine, and My Father is the vineyard keeper. Every branch in Me that does not produce fruit He removes, and He prunes every branch that produces fruit so that it will produce more fruit. My Father is glorified by this: that you produce much fruit and prove to be My disciples" (John 15:1-2,8, HCSB).

Monday, October 21, 2013

Butterfly Blessings

What the caterpillar calls the end of the world,

. . .the Creator calls a butterfly.

In the roller-coaster ride of the last two weeks, the arrival of the autumn butterfly migration has proven a perfectly timed gift. Butterflies remind me that God sees and knows me and that what seems a tomb in this life may be the place where wings are grown. I pray our winged visitors' images in this place encourage you and remind you of the hope begotten by the resurrection of Christ.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory (1 Peter 1:3-8, ESV).
Thank You, Creator of the birds and butterflies and wildflowers,
that You who provide unstintingly for them will do no less for Your blood-bought sons and daughters,
for Your sovereignty over weather and timing,
for Amore's labor and foresight in making a garden the bees and butterflies enjoy,
for a believing surgeon with praise music playing in his waiting room,
for confirmation that my abdominal pain this last month requires surgical remediation,
for completion of all the paperwork on time,
for companionship in a very long first appointment with my new rheumatologist,
for the compassion of the physician's assistant who took my history,
for giving them insight (we think) and a plan, pending lab results, to help me heal,
for Your wisdom, foreknowledge, providence, and sovereignty over two pieces of hard employment news in the same day for a loved one,
for an unexpected encounter with and hug from a pew neighbor at Subway,
for grocery shopping with Amore,
for my dad and husband working together on a house project Saturday afternoon,
for more space in the garage than a week ago,
for my first visit to my Nonni's new home yesterday,
for her happiness in this great change,
for a few thoughtful gifts she selected for us in her moving preparations,
for my aunt and uncle's hard work and hours (likely days) of assistance to her in this process,
and for a promising, timely series on Psalm 46 begun today on Revive Our Hearts.
(gratitude list # 2224-2242)

Praying friends, please pray for us this week as we trust God with another outpatient surgery for me Thursday. We're grateful for you! You are always free to share your own prayer requests with me in the comments or by email at crumbsfromhistable [at] gmail [dot] com.


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Finish to the Story

"Is it not true that again and again in the biblical picture of things, the story has to be allowed to finish?

"Was it not the case with Lazarus's household at Bethany, and with the two en route to Emmaus? And is it not the case with the Whole Story, actually--that it must be allowed to finish, and that this is precisely what the faithful have been watching for since the beginning of time? In the face of suffering and endurance and loss and waiting and death, what is it that has kept the spirits of the faithful from flagging utterly down through the millennia? Is it not the hope of Redemption? Is it not the great Finish to the Story--and to all their little stories of wandering about in sheepskins and goatskins as well as to the One Big Story of the whole creation, which is in itself groaning and waiting? And is not that Finish called glorious? Does it not entail what amounts to a redoing of all that has gone wrong, and a remaking of all that is ruined, and a finding of all that has been lost in the shuffle, and an unfolding of it all in a blaze of joy and splendor?

"A finding of all that is lost? All sparrows, and all petitions and tears and vigils and fastings? Yes, all petitions and tears and vigils and fastings.

"'But where are they? The thing is over and done with. He [Elisabeth Elliot's second husband, in this case] is dead. They had no effect.'

"Hadn't they? How do you know what is piling up in the great treasury kept by the Divine Love to be opened in that Day? How do you know that this death and your prayers and tears and fasts will not together be suddenly and breathtakingly displayed, before all the faithful, and before angels and archangels, and before kings and widows and prophets, as gems in that display? Oh no, don't speak of things being lost. Say rather that they are hidden--received and accepted and taken up into the secrets of the divine mysteries, to be transformed and multiplied, like everything else we offer to him--loaves and fishes, or mites, or bread and wine--and given back to you and to the one for whom you kept vigil, in the presence of the whole host of men and angels, in a hilarity of glory as unimaginable to you in your vigil as golden wings are to the worm in the chrysalis.

"But how does it work? We may well ask. How does Redemption work?"

     ~Dr. Thomas Howard, "On Brazen Heavens," in his sister Elisabeth Elliot's essay collection On Asking God Why, 26-27, emphasis mine.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Moonflower Prayers {Reflections on Prayer}

Moonflower prayers
Trumpet fragrance into darkness,
Blooming unseen, past expectation,
From day-sown seed.

Thanks be to God, who gives mercies like manna, apportioned according to each day's need. From the past week:
God's steadiness supporting me in a roller coaster of a week,
landing hard a few times on the Rock of refuge,
enjoyable family dinner last weekend,
a very smooth HIDA scan Monday,
a visit from our little neighbor girl Monday night,
my second-youngest nephew trusting Christ for salvation Monday evening,
my grandmother's courage to leave her home of 51 years,
God's provision through my grandfather of a very nice new home for her,
the happiness in her voice lifting some of the sadness I felt,
ghosts of many good memories and a few tearful at the empty house,
the butterfly migration arriving at just the right moment,
a timely emailed encouragement from a reader I've not met,
blessed fellowship at our last Ephesians Bible study,
test results showing clearly the reason for my abdominal pain,
two new doctors this week,
21 pages of paperwork yet to be completed,
good, inexpensive copiers at the office store for medical records,
rich, encouraging fellowship with a seminary friend over a three-hour lunch,
honeycomb words,
picking up a friendship after a few years out of touch with each other,
praying together to close our time,
hopeful interview for a loved one in need of employment,
blessed rain moving into the area,
time with my beloved this evening.
(gratitude journal 2132-2155)

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Militant Prayer {Reflections on Prayer}

What images come to mind when we reflect on intercessory prayer? Do we picture a cozy, comfortable fireside piety we will practice someday when we’re retired or too old and infirm to do any “real” (by which we mean active, official, or visible) ministry? Or do we picture the courage and spiritual vitality of an elite special forces military unit striking under cover of darkness, their names and purposes known perhaps only to their commanding officer? Is it possible that too often our practical theology leans toward the former, even if our theoretical doctrine holds the latter?

Writing as one of those “infirm” folks hindered from playing the piano for worship week on week, teaching VBS, or flying halfway around the world to shepherd an orphanage full of children, I find myself at times begrudging my limitations and strategizing ways I might be able to serve in a more active, official, (and honestly?) visible, and humanly affirming sphere. Sometimes it feels as if prayer is second-class or less important service, and that's a lie.

More and more preachers are acknowledging the cultural and spiritual warfare facing the contemporary church. Beloved crumbles, at such a time let us not by our daily practice relegate militant prayer to the province of those whom we think have no other ministry options available. Blessed be the name of the Lord for those who do turn ill health or advancing age toward seeking Him in more earnest prayer. May He add to their number, however, an army of all generations who recognize that prayer is the foundation of all other service and a ministry in and of itself. If the church will see revival in my lifetime, our prayer lives must wake up and rediscover the vigilant vigor--adventure, even--of intercessory prayer.

The kindling for such musings on this particular day derives from Colossians 4:2-4, 12. In the New American Standard translation it reads this way:

Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned. . . . Epaphras, who is one of your number, a bondslave of Jesus Christ, sends you his greetings, always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God.

This passage calls me today to several shifts of my perspective on prayer. According to the Holy Spirit speaking through Paul the apostle, militant prayer is
  • Persistent prayer;
    “Devote yourselves to prayer,” he says. The Greek behind this English translation is the command form of a verb meaning “to adhere to, to persist in, to busy one’s self w[ith], to busily engage in, to be devoted to.”[1]

    Search my heart, O God. Is there anywhere I’m tempted to (or already have) given up on a prayer You don’t seem to be answering? Actually, I don't really need to ask. I know there is. Strengthen my slack hands, and make firm my feeble knees to keep pressing on and in toward Your will in this matter.

  • Watchful prayer;
    “Keeping alert in it” points this out. At least one translation says “vigilant” here. The original word includes both ideas but most literally the idea of staying awake. It is easy to fall asleep literally in prayer sometimes. (Maybe more often than that.) The disciples fell asleep on Jesus’ prayer the night preceding His crucifixion, and I am certainly no better.

    Lord, what changes do You want me to make in my days to stay physically awake in prayer? Quicken our spirits to be more spiritually sensitive, vigilant, watchful, and alert to what You are doing in our world and in the lives we encounter day by day. If You should wake us in the night as a call to prayer and not simply a sign we had too much caffeine, place on our hearts the souls for whom You would have us pray.
  • Thankful prayer;
    “With thanksgiving” or “with an attitude of thanksgiving” needs no clarification. The Greek and English match here.

    Lord, when the prayer battles intensify, keep us thankful that the war is already won. You are sovereign. You are our victory. No enemy can withstand Your power. Christ has already crushed the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:16). Encourage us to wage war in that confident trust.

  • Missional or evangelistic prayer;
    Paul asks his Colossian readers to pray “that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ” and to pray “that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak.” Do I view prayer as foundational to outreach? When was the last time I prayed for missionaries and for myself that God would open up opportunities to speak clearly about our Lord Jesus Christ? Do I spend more energy worrying about the right way to explain the gospel to someone or asking God for clear words in the moment of opportunity? Surely if He has opened the door, He will give us what we need to walk through it.

    We ask now, Lord. I ask now. Open a door to speak of Christ this week. Give us the desire for such opportunities. Open doors for my friends in countries hostile to Christianity to share Your truth with the people they know. Give us clear words. If we need more training and equipping, guide us to the right resources at the right time. Thank You for Your fruitful Word and for revealing in it the mystery of Christ’s incarnation, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and “soon” return.

  • Undaunted prayer;
    Paul writes of the gospel message as that “for which I have also been imprisoned," and yet he prays for more open doors to keep on proclaiming Christ. Following in Paul's footsteps, believers around the world today lose freedom and even their lives for the sake of Christ. One of Amore’s pastoral training students in a southeast Asian country did not graduate with his classmates because he was in prison for his Christian faith and ministry. In that same country, we witnessed secret baptisms and the measures taken by believers to be able to worship without police harassment or arrest. In another nation in that region, the daughters of our pastor friend had little to no chance of university study because of their father’s ministry. As I write this, an American citizen of Iranian heritage, Pastor Saeed Abedini, is in his second year of imprisonment in Iran for his refusal to convert to Islam. Here on American soil, multiple corporations find themselves embroiled in legal difficulties simply for their conscientious objection to a provision of the new federal healthcare laws. Unless God intervenes, the day seems fast approaching or even already here when the American church’s Christian profession will come at significant personal cost.

    Pour strength and courage into the persecuted church, Father. Embolden them. Embolden us. Let Your Word run and be glorified through them. May their suffering, like Paul’s, bear gospel fruit. For us who have never yet been called to suffer persecution for the name of Christ, grow deep root systems for us. Establish our faith to withstand whatever lies ahead for us. Give us courage to follow You, no matter the cost. Your Kingdom come, Lord.

  • Struggling prayer;
    This point derives from Paul’s description of Epaphras in 4:12 as “always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers.” The Greek verb translated “laboring earnestly” here is a form of agonizomai, the same word which gives the English language “agonize.” It conveys earnestness, struggle, and intensity. This is wrestling prayer, Jacob with the angel of the Lord until the break of day or Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (which in Luke 22:44 uses a related Greek word). Do I care about prayer and those for whom I pray that much? Do I exercise my spirit in fervent prayer?

    Lord, have mercy on me for my sloth in prayer. Sometimes it seems too hard, or perhaps I’d rather invest the energy in my own way. Forgive me. Revive me. Energize me to love my neighbor by laying down my self-life in prayer for him, for her. Strengthen me for truly earnest prayer.

  • And finally, discipleship prayer.
    For what is Epaphras praying with such commitment? He is praying for his Colossian brothers and sisters in Christ “that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God” (4:12). In other words, he prays for their spiritual maturity (“mature” being another possible translation of the word given as “perfect” here) and for their confident obedience. By his prayers, he participates in the Great Commission injunction to make disciples.

    Father, forgive me for praying more for superficial “felt” needs than I do for spiritual maturity. Thinking of one particular crisis among my loved ones at the moment, I know that, left to myself, I would fix their problems even if it hindered their spiritual growth. You invite us to ask for such things, and You know that I do, but change me to want and pray for their progress into Christlikeness more than I want and pray for their relief from distress. Realign my values with Yours, Lord. Open my eyes to the greater work You are doing when You withhold the answer I think I want. Thank You for knowing best and for Your love underlying the pain in our lives. Thank You for replicating the pattern of crucifixion and resurrection in our lives so we can know Christ in the fellowship of His sufferings as well as the power of His resurrection. You are good and do good. Always. I bless Your name.
Do you hear it too, dear readers? Do you hear in these brief verses the call to take up arms in our prayers for God’s church? Please forgive me for the times I have dropped my sword and hidden from the conflict instead of watching your back. Let us not leave one another behind in this battle but beg God on behalf of our brothers and sisters. Let us fight for each other in persistent, watchful, thankful, missional, undaunted, struggling, and disciple-making prayer. May God forbid that His heavenly arsenal stays full simply because we have not asked.

[1] Fritz Rienecker and Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, 1980.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Another Month, Another Multitude. . .

Last week, as September 2013 raced toward the finish line, my gratitude journal turned the page on gift #2000. To be clear, I did not count one thousand in one month, although God gave many more than that. It just seemed fitting to have crossed that mark near the turn of the calendar page.

Thank You, Lord, for all Your blessings:
for Your faithfulness through another month,
for the roses Amore brought home,
for 3 more weeks from today in my walking boot (or until the ankle is no longer tender to the touch),
for protecting my little nephew Thunder from any worse harm than 2 extracted baby teeth and emergency oral surgery due to a trampoline accident,
for lunch with a Bible study friend,
for lunch and Sunday worship with my parents,
for full days demanding conscious reliance on You,
for no problems with a fasting diagnostic test last week,
for another one ahead next week and the assurance of companionship there,
for the flu vaccine,
for one lone butterfly in the lantana yesterday,

for this irresistible face,

for our state senator's commitment to stand for his beliefs even if that stand doesn't seem to "pay off" in political terms,
for a brief phone conversation with my youngest sister,
for my grandmother's recovery progress from an upper respiratory infection,
for the gift of a weekday lunch with Amore, complete with cupcakes,
and for the welcome gift of the right message at the right time for me.

(still counting...#2024-2040)