Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Real Deal

--
His weathered and rugged face was hard to read. His blue eyes were clear and calm below his hat, but they gave nothing away. He was a cowboy. He was the real deal.


"Have you ridden before?" he asked as he looked down the line of saddled stable horses wearily waiting to begin the next trail ride, most of them with heads low, looking bored and listless. They had the dull, sorrowful look horses get when they've been ridden too much by people who don't know what they're doing.

"Yes," I said, "I grew up on horses."

"Have you ever fallen off?"

I laughed out loud and said without excuse or explanation, "More times than I can count!"

Everything that had shielded his thoughts before fell instantly away and his smile went all the way to the sun-browned crinkles at the corners of his eyes, and he went inside the barn and led out a horse with a lively step, bright eyes and eager ears pricked toward me.

I had passed the test.

In my mind's eye I could imagine how many times the cowboy must have asked some first time wannabe that same question only to get the telltale, "Never!" I could just see the city slicker standing there in his too new cowboy hat, too splashy, too clean, un-scuffed boots, the smug tilt of the head and the too cool expression, thinking the cowboy would be impressed and think him a real expert if he had never fallen off a horse before. Instead, the real cowboy would know immediately that this was no expert--anyone who's never fallen off hasn't ridden very much.

So often we are like that new-boot-wearing city slicker, putting on fancy costumes, wearing plastic expressions, not wanting our weakness to show, not wanting to show who we really are because we think we'll look weak if people see that we fall sometimes. The truth is, there is no shame in inexperience, no shame in honest weakness, no shame in not having arrived yet, and certainly no shame in needing help to get back in the saddle. In fact, having fallen off more times than we can count and having the courage to say so, we may just stand a little taller and be a little more trustworthy in the eyes of others who know about the tumbles of life. Maybe being honest about the falls we've taken and giving God the credit for all the ways He helps us get back on the horse will let people know that they can trust us when we tell them that God is the original Real Deal!

“'My grace is enough for you: for where there is weakness, my power is shown the more completely.' Therefore, I have cheerfully made up my mind to be proud of my weaknesses, because they mean a deeper experience of the power of Christ . . . For my very weakness makes me strong in him.” 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (PHILLIPS)

Me on my horse, Miss Velvet Storm (the show name I gave her), in 1973, one of our first horse shows.

1976, Velvet and me, fast friends forever! I miss you, girl!

There are two things worse than falling off--
never getting on in the first place, 
and not getting back in the saddle after a fall.
You were not made to stay on the ground!

How do you overcome the urge to hide behind a mask?
How do you respond when others show you who they really are?
Have you ever fallen off? 
________________________________

Joining Ann Voskamp in counting His graces for her Multitudes on Monday
I hope you'll join in if you haven't already!
In the counting of the endless gifts I say with C. S. Lewis,
"This also is Thou!"
Counting my next 1000 Gifts, joining Ann in The Joy Dare--like a scavenger hunt for graces, gifts and glory!! Wanna come along?  I dare ya!!

The continuing JOY DARE: 
#1317-1337 (April 15th through April 21st)

15. A gift in a bag, in a box, in a book
The birthday gifts I can't wait to give She So Sweet!!
The envelopes Drummer Boy bought me because he knew I was out of them
Scardagger & Slashreap--devilish characters in a new book I'll be reviewing soon (watch for the giveaway!)
16. 3 hard eucharisteos
Monday morning after Spring Break
"The hurrier I go the behinder I get." Lewis Carroll
The chaos that perpetually encroaches on cosmos, and the fact that it requires me to beat it back into some semblance of order.
17. 3 gifts woven together
A jumble of numbers, in the hands of our capable accountant, woven together into a coherent and accurate tax return (another hard eucharisteo)
Minutes and hours and days and weeks woven together into this crazy wonderful life we share
Thoughts, things learned, things taught, and things understood that are woven together into knowledge and wisdom
18. 3 gifts inherited
An Irish heart full of whimsy, good humor, and delight in my Creator in His creation
A German mind that is precise and organized
The battle between the Irish and German that I share with my mommy--a bit of a blessing AND a bit of a curse--hard to tell which sometimes
19. 3 gifts square
A rainbow of sticky notes!
A tax hiccup squared away properly by our expert accountant--thank you Paulette!
Old LP record covers that hold great music and so many memories
20. A gift stacked, stashed, stilled
The pages of my school e-textbooks, printed for free, 100 pages at a time
Odds and ends, bits and pieces of life tucked here and there in my desk that so needs to be cleaned
My angst about getting a school question answered--finally!
21. 3 gifts found in Christ
Peace that passes understanding
The only Name by which anyone can be saved
Extravagant, unfathomable love

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A heartfelt thank you to these generous bloggers
who make these communities available!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Illumination

--
I came very close to titling this post "Never Skip a Bible Verse," but I think I'll ask you to think of that as the subtitle instead.

There are verses in the Bible that we are all tempted to skip entirely, or at the very least we skim over them, considering them to be the verses to move past to get to the good stuff. I think of certain long passages of Leviticus outlining laws that seem persnickety and far removed from our 21st Century life, 
or long ago census records that list the names of the Twelve Tribes of Israel and the numbers of people in each one, or genealogies filled with generations of names we can't pronounce (they used to be called "the begats"--anyone old enough to remember that?)

What about this one?

"James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
   To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations:
   Greetings." James 1:1 NIV

At first glance, this verse may seem merely a polite introduction, a salutation necessary to the proper beginning of a formal letter. As my pastor pointed out yesterday, maybe not.

Look at one more:

"Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,
   To God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia," 1 Peter 1:1 NIV

Do you see a theme here? These two New Testament church leaders, James in Jerusalem, and Peter in Rome, are writing to believers who are scattered throughout the world. I like the emphasis that can be more clearly seen in this translation of James 1:1:

"From James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.
   To all of God's people who are scattered everywhere in the world: Greetings." James 1:1 NCV

The Jewish believers were not the only ones scattered everywhere in the world. We too are scattered, dispersed throughout a broken planet that groans and strains under the weight of millennia of sins that have been compounding over all that time into the worldly system that works against us at every turn. The  letter James wrote to scattered believers in his time is also written to us, the latest generation of God's scattered people, and when you read this letter in that light, the book of James is powerfully encouraging. That is why I say, "Never skip a Bible verse!" (Not even the begats!)
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
During a lifetime of churchgoing, including 2 years of Bible college, I have often heard references to people feeling a little beat up after a close study of the book of James. While it is truly a book that will bring conviction, I think it is far more encouraging than it gets credit for.

James talks a good deal in this letter about suffering, trials and temptations and gives some pretty direct talk to believers about how to and how not to behave toward one another. That could be the reason the book gets a bit of a bad rap, but when you look at the words James wrote, inspired by the Holy Spirit, in light of his framing idea of believers being scattered in a hostile world, exiled even, you get a completely different tone.

James knows that in this world, there JUST ARE trials and struggles--he doesn't sugarcoat it and say otherwise.

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance." James 1:2-3 NIV

Notice he says, "whenever" and not "if." We know that this life does come with trials and temptations--that isn't news! But what is news is that trials and temptations do not have to be meaningless! That is GOOD news!

God neither causes nor abandons us in our trials and times of temptation. The trials themselves are the natural dark side of this ruined world. But God will not leave us to suffer alone, nor will He allow our trials to be wasted. Into the midst of what is dark and born of evil, God lavishes His good and perfect gifts to help us, and to redeem what otherwise would have no value. 

"God is light; in him there is no darkness at all." 1 John 1:5

With shutter clicking and whirring this morning, God's light illuminated my understanding through my so-dark-it's-almost-black purple iris (my favorite flower). This is what it looks like in the stark light of day:




THIS is what it looks like when the light is shining through it from behind:
--


What was so dark as to look foreboding before, is now a thing of glory I wouldn't know how to wrap in words! It is still deep and dark and saturated with pigment, but God's light transforms everything!

Whether you are facing challenges on a scale large or small, I pray that you will look for God's good and perfect gifts in the midst of them, and His illuminating work that will light up the darkest places. Be encouraged, knowing that your loving Father refuses to let your trials be meaningless!! You mean everything to Him!!


Need one more reason to hang in there???

"Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him." James 1:12 NIV


________________________________

Joining Ann Voskamp in counting His graces for her Multitudes on Monday
I hope you'll join in if you haven't already!
In the counting of the endless gifts I say with C. S. Lewis,
"This also is Thou!"
Counting my next 1000 Gifts, joining Ann in The Joy Dare--like a scavenger hunt for graces, gifts and glory!! Wanna come along?  I dare ya!!

The continuing JOY DARE: 
#1296-1316 (April 8th through April 14th)

8. 3 gifts rising up
Easter music and the sound of the pipe organ
Fever that is trying to knock out whatever is making me sick (hard eucharisteo)
Comforting steam in the shower
9. A gift hiding, held, heard
The sun, hiding behind high grey clouds
My kids who both still love to hug their momma
Hero Husband's resonant voice, the first thing I heard this morning
10. 3 gifts opened up
New class on Health and Wellness at school!
New way of accessing my textbooks!
My mind to so much knowledge and learning
11. 3 gifts budding/blooming
3 different colors/varieties of Iris--my very most favorite flower!
Orange blossoms
Apple blossoms
12. 3 gifts worn
Faith wrapped around the shoulders of Drummer Boy who was so unfairly treated at his job (and two days later, A NEW JOB!!)
The tattered recipe card that holds our family's brownie recipe
My heart in the smile She So Sweet wears today, her 16th Birthday!
13. 3 gifts bright
Sunbeams breaking through storm clouds
16 glowing candles on my baby girl's ridiculously rich and decadent birthday cake
Crazy-bright lightning, such a rare treat here!
14. 3 gifts found looking up
"Raindrops keep fallin' on my head . . . "
Pale, soft rainbow
Dramatic thunderheads in beautifully stormy skies


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A heartfelt thank you to these generous bloggers
who make these communities available!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

O Cross That Liftest Up My Head

--

If I write the words, "On a hill far away . . . " what comes to mind?

What about, "When peace like a river . . . ?"

Try this one, "Mine eyes have seen the glory . . . "

Chances are, at least for many of you, these line fragments will start a cascade of words and mental images that follow because the hymns they belong to are engraved deep in your hearts from much repetition. For those of us who grew up in churches where hymns were sung, these phrases are like keys that unlock whole worlds within them; we can scarcely hear the opening phrase without the rest of the hymn springing to life in our memories.

Jesus may have been doing the very same thing in this familiar passage:

From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, 'Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?' (which means 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?').”  Matthew 27:45-46

Surrounding the cross, Jewish hearts must have brightened with recognition--where had they heard that before? Of course!

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? 
   Why are you so far from saving me, 
   so far from my cries of anguish?" 

Could it be that instead of accusing His Father of leaving Him, Jesus was giving the Jews at the foot of the cross the first line of Psalm 22, knowing that the rest of the Psalm would tumble through their minds like a brook rushing down a mountain in springtime? What does the rest of Psalm 22 say? I encourage you to go read it for yourself--contained within its words penned by David are some of the most detailed and accurate descriptions from the Old Testament of exact events that happened to Jesus. Could it be that Jesus was calling to mind that particular Psalm to show them that He was fulfilling prophecy in their presence?

There is another question, a dark and foreboding question that comes to mind.

Did God really abandon His beloved Son when His suffering was deepest? Did He really leave Jesus to suffer alone?

The traditional view goes something like this: When the sin of the world was laid on Jesus for Him to take our punishment, God, because of His holiness, could not look on Jesus and had to turn His face away, leaving Jesus forsaken and alone. Perhaps, of all the horrors Jesus suffered that day, this was what hurt Him the most.

I no longer hold the traditional view. Consider a moment with me?
  • In John 16:32, Jesus knew His disciples would scatter but that His Father would be with Him.
  • Jesus talked to His Father throughout His time on the cross (Luke 23:34, Luke 23:46)
  • In the very Psalm Jesus was quoting when He borrowed David's words to express the anguish of bearing God's wrath for us, the very Psalm Jesus wanted them to consider as they witnessed its fulfillment, verse 24 says this:
"For he has not despised or scorned 
   the suffering of the afflicted one; 
he has not hidden his face from him 
   but has listened to his cry for help."
Psalm 22:24 NIV [Emphasis mine].

Some look to Habakkuk 1:13 to support the traditional view that God had to turn His face away because He is too pure to look at evil. If we think about that, we might understand those words in a more figurative sense. God looks at evil every minute of every day as He observes our fallen earth--of course He can look at evil. What He can't do is condone it. What He can't do is abide it having the upper hand in our lives forever. What He can't do is let it go unnoticed. It matters to Him. Think about it: does God flee from sin or does sin flee from God?

I now believe that instead of abandoning Jesus to suffer alone, God stayed with Him every moment, simultaneously laying the punishment for all sin, past, present, and future on Jesus, and suffering a Father's anguish at the horrendous suffering of His Son. The whole Trinity suffered together as Jesus accomplished the rescue they had planned together in order to save the world they loved too much to abandon. 

We do not have a God who abandons, who forsakes! We have a God who went to lengths we cannot even fathom to come to our rescue! On this glorious Easter morning, I pray that we see anew the immeasurable love displayed by each member of the Godhead in the crucifixion and the resurrection and the profound transaction that happened in between. If you have never given your heart to Jesus, I pray that you would see how deeply you can trust His love.

"O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be."
Final verse of the hymn, O Love That Will Not Let Me Go


Happy Easter to each and every one of you!
HE IS RISEN!!
HE IS RISEN INDEED!




If you would like to hear more about this view, my pastor has done an excellent message laying it out. As with everything I write here, I hope you don't take my word for it, but that my words cause you to want to study it out for yourself.
________________________________

Joining Ann Voskamp in counting His graces for her Multitudes on Monday
I hope you'll join in if you haven't already!
In the counting of the endless gifts I say with C. S. Lewis,
"This also is Thou!"
Counting my next 1000 Gifts, joining Ann in The Joy Dare--like a scavenger hunt for graces, gifts and glory!! Wanna come along?  I dare ya!!

The continuing JOY DARE: 
#1275-1295 (April 1st through April 7th)

1. 3 gifts round
My camera lenses
Tires that carry us safely to and fro
Communion chalice
2. 3 gifts white
Comfy socks
Pages in a book
Sudsy soap
3. 3 gifts surprisingly found
The wonders of the walrus
Missing piece of Drummer Boy's cymbal case
Two for the price of one
4. 3 gifts in His Word
Faith
Hope
Love
5. 3 gifts @ 11 AM, 2 PM, 6 PM
That She So Sweet confided in me when something ugly happened at school.
A vice principal who responded swiftly and with strength on her behalf.
Stormy skies painted peach and salmon and blushing rose
6. 3 gifts nailed together
My desk that is my classroom, my darkroom, and my publishing house for these little word offerings of mine
This house that God has kept us in through years of economic turmoil
My Savior and the cross where He saved me
7. 3 gifts waited for
Quiet
Progress
Relief

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A heartfelt thank you to these generous bloggers
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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

On Receiving the King

--
First, I beg your patience with my inconsistent posting schedule--I am juggling a crazy life (good, but crazy) right now and it just may be this way for awhile, but I love you all and so appreciate your presence here!! Now, more than ever, your comments keep me inspired, so please share your thoughts and feedback with me as you wish!!


We all felt the hum of excited anticipation in the air as 1200 high school students filed in and found seats in the gymnasium bleachers. For once, everyone was on their best behavior (under threat of dire consequences if we didn't behave like angels), and all markedly more attentive than usual for an assembly. It seemed we had all taken a little more care with choosing our clothes that morning and hoped it was something close to a good hair day. We looked around and took in the gleam and shine of the freshly painted, colorful new design on the walls and the near-mirror finish of the highly polished gym floor. The whole school had been cleaned and buffed to a spic-n-span sparkle and everything was ready.

Ready for what, you wonder? 

What would cause such attention to detail and such an air of anticipation that morning in 1978 (I think) when I sat with my fellow students, waiting in an unnatural hush?

Duncan Cameron / Library and Archives Canada / C-46600
Restrictions on use: Nil
Copyright: Library and Archives Canada
We all watched the door with eagle eyes and finally with an influx of suited strangers and accompanied by stately music, the guest of honor arrived and strode with great dignity into the room.  Pierre Elliott Trudeau, then the Prime Minister of Canada, had come to visit our high school! I'd venture to guess that most of us had never been in the presence of a world leader before, and many of us who were there that day have never again been in the presence of a world leader. As teenagers, our knowledge of, and interest in politics was limited, but we knew it was a big deal to be visited by someone as important as the leader of the 2nd largest (by land area) nation on earth! We knew that it was a distinct honor for our high school to be singled out to receive a visit from him, and we did feel honored.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I thought about that day this past week as I was anticipating Palm Sunday, thinking about what it might have been like to be on the road into Jerusalem that day. In similar fashion to how my high school received our national leader into our midst, the people of Jerusalem received Jesus into their midst.


The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, 'Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!'”

As I alluded to in a recent post, we (here in America, anyway) are about 236 years out of practice with our king-receiving protocol, but maybe we should refresh our memories. Maybe there is something we can glean from my experience in high school that we can apply to our preparations and attitudes toward receiving King Jesus. Is it possible that we have thought of receiving Him as a one-time event from which we move on, like the Jews who welcomed Him to Jerusalem did? What if the receiving is ongoing and we need to receive His Kingship daily, to acknowledge His right to reign in our hearts every day as the good and loving King He is. I don't mean that we get saved over and over again--genuine salvation is secure; but each new day brings us a fresh opportunity give Him our rapt attention and to lay our palm branches and cloaks and freshly scrubbed hearts at His feet, reckoning Him too holy to trod on mere dusty ground. 

To receive this King is unlike any other! Jesus was the Carpenter-King, the Fisherman-King, the Servant-King. He walked where we walk, in a life of ordinary, and He transcended all that ordinary means. He is utterly trustworthy and wholly true--may you joyfully receive Him this week as we celebrate Him, the King of Kings!

If you have never received Jesus as your King, I pray that this would be the day you do!
If you have received Him, what helps you to receive Him on a daily basis?
________________________________

Joining Ann Voskamp in counting His graces for her Multitudes on Monday
I hope you'll join in if you haven't already!
In the counting of the endless gifts I say with C. S. Lewis,
"This also is Thou!"
Counting my next 1000 Gifts, joining Ann in The Joy Dare--like a scavenger hunt for graces, gifts and glory!! Wanna come along?  I dare ya!!

The continuing JOY DARE: 
#1232-1274 (March 18th through March 31st) 

18. 3 gifts red
My simple, un-SMART, scratched-around-the-edges, still-works-for-me cell phone
New leaves on the shrubs that make me sneeze
Frozen cranberries
19. 3 gifts eaten
Eggs for breakfast--my favorite
Cottage cheese with salsa--a yummy, healthy snack
Pasta with meat sauce
20. 3 gifts that made you laugh
Watching silly videos at 4:30 in the morning with Drummer Boy
A funny line in this week's episode of Hawaii 5-0
Precious, adorable, kids-n-their-horses pictures in an email from my Mommy
21. a gift salty, a gift sweet, a gift just right
Lawry's Seasoned Salt
Whipped honey from Canada--I could eat it like candy
Peet's medium lowfat, decaf mocha, double chocolate, no whip with an added regular shot--perfection!
22. 3 gifts found in His Word
"Bear one another's burdens."
"Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are lovely . . . "
"Sing to the Lord a new song"
23. 3 gifts found in women today
My teammates on my Learning Team who are working so well together
The lady in the passport office, who was sympathetic and helpful in the middle of a surprisingly silly situation
She So Sweet's friend, who has survived so much, and who amazingly looks back and still sees good in people who failed her, and looks forward wanting to give to a world where love is possible.
24. 3 gifts spoken
Gratitude from giggly girls
Assistance from a telephone banker to untangle a tangled up PIN number
"Drive careful," from Hero Husband.
25. a gift sung, a gift written, a gift painted
"O Happy Day"--LOVE that song, especially with Drummer Boy on drums like this morning!
Blessings in emails from my classmate, and that we both know that God is good!
The glorious post-storm sunset (hard eucharisteo in not having my camera with me)
26. 3 gifts almost gone
23rd year of marriage, hello 24th!
The pile of tax-related papers that will soon be out the door and GONE from my desk!
The pain in my knee and foot that have kept me from being as active as I need to be--going, going, GONE!
27. 3 gifts redeemed
Stale cookies made into crumbs for a cookie-crumb pie crust
"Made in the USA" tag that came on my new frying pan--I just like it, so it's hanging above my desk
Time spent waiting turned into time spent productively in school work
28. 3 gifts entwined
My limbs at my first Zumba class
Our lives with a parade of regulars at "our" Peet's
Mixed emotions about She So Sweet going on a fun weekend trip with her Auntie--missing her already, but so excited for the memories they're going to make!
29. 3 gifts of His promises
He will never leave me nor forsake me!
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever!
No one can snatch me out of His hand!
30. 3 gifts uncovered
Drummer Boy's sense of humor that was hidden under layers of frustration after a difficult day at work
New exercise machine--really hoping this is the perfect tool for me to use!
Basket of fresh eggs from my beautiful neighbor
31. a gift heard, a gift held, a gift hoped for
New song Drummer Boy is working on
Hero Husband's hand
Good grades!

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A heartfelt thank you to these generous bloggers
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