Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Prince of Peace, but First, the Sword

The Star of Bethlehem shines over the stable. 
Joy to the World. The Prince of Peace is born.
Hmm...Are you sure?
What did the angel first say to the shepherds before he said anything else?
Be not afraid.
The Savior has come, and He will bring peace but first, He will make you afraid.
Christ was born as a child, but when His time came to speak, His words did not all console:

I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.--Matthew 10:34

Christ's peace is Himself--both the peace and the sword.
We will have peace, but first we will have turmoil, resentment, death, and repentance.
Easy peace is delusion. Ease and comfort is the world's peace, not Christ's.

Christ's peace does not come naturally.
To get at Christ's peace, I have to tear down the delusion of my fallen humanity, and it will hurt.
I have to know the sword before I can sit in the Son.
It's like those nesting dolls...

I must be dismantled all the way down to the center, all the way down to the source of the star that shone so brilliantly they could see it in the daytime. I have to find, in my own center, the brilliance of Christ.
That's where the star of Bethlehem originates. In the heat of a star far hotter than the sun.
In the flame of God.
The flame that purifies.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

What Angels Say

The dark of night in Bethlehem.
He's born.
Mary and Joseph hold their newborn baby in those first hours, counting fingers and toes, watching those first hungry searchings, listening to those first snuffling coos. The first private moments of their parenthood. But not for long.

They have company.

Angels kept them company.
Angels. God's messengers. Whenever they show up, pay attention. God has something to say.

Mary and Joseph's ancient world was a mess just like ours. Herod ran rampant, already issuing orders for the murder of children to eradicate any possibility of a challenge to his authority. Men labored achingly all their lives. Women served them with no governmental or societal equality. Only half of children lived to adulthood. Poverty reigned. Few could read. Kings held whole continents under thrall. Many died young from diseases we easily arrest today. Ignorance and prejudice and greed bred war.

But the angels brought a message from God:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout O daughter of Jerusalem; behold, thy King cometh unto thee...--Zechariah 9:9

Imagine them, in a barn--no, less than a barn--a cave, sharing space with animals. It was not a gentle setting. They had hay, and a manger, but no heat source, no convenient water, no facilities whatever. Just each other, the rudeness of animals, and faith in what they'd been promised.

It'd been a long time since the angel's first proclamation to Mary that she would bear a Son and that son would be Emmanuel, God with us.

She'd had nine months to think about this, to bear up under public derision, to witness Joseph's doubt, to watch Elizabeth bear her own miracle, to herself grow big and heavy and weary. To know, but to sometimes wonder.

We do it, too. We do not hear God's promise daily. It comes emphatically sometimes, when we cannot mistake it, but often it only whispers, a sigh we too often miss. But on some blessed mornings, in some dark stables, on some beds of pain and tears, it comes with announcement.

This is the promise, said the angel. This is your salvation. This is not only your son. He is Christ the Lord.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

"Joseph--the Baby's Coming"

It's been more than forty years and I still remember them.
Those first pains, that squeeze, that urgency.
And I knew.
The baby was coming.
And it always started at night.

It was likely late in the day when Mary and Joseph came to Bethlehem. 
They could find nowhere to sleep and they were desperate.
While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born...there was no room for them at the inn.--Luke 2:6&7
I would have been desperate, too, if I had come to the hospital, and they had turned us away saying there was no room, and sent us back out into those dark nights.

It was no different for them.
Before that night, and for thousands of years, people had walked in darkness. 
All of us. Waiting. 
We knew who and what we were. We knew what we needed. Where was He? When would the savior come?

"Now," Mary said. "Now."
There will be no more gloom for those who were in distress...the people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of darkness, a light has dawned.--Isaiah 9:1,2

And there it was--the star.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

My Soul Magnifies the Lord

She didn't expect to end up sixteen, unmarried, and pregnant.
But she was.

Mary may have been blessed among women, but that blessing did not come with ease or confidence in her circumstances.
Nothing, absolutely nothing, turned out the way she imagined it would. 
She did not end up a common Nazareth housewife.
She did not end up safe all her years in a home that her industrious carpenter husband built for her.
She did not end up safe in her own bed surrounded by her mother and other women when her baby came.
She did not end up with a lap full of frolicking, carefree children who, in their turn, would bring her sweet smelling grandchildren.
Her firstborn son did not outlive her--at least not the way she thought they would.

But what did she have to say about it?
My soul does magnify the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.--Luke 1:46-7
In other words,
Thank you, God, for this confusion.
Thank you for this embarrassment.
Thank you for all the derision and doubt.
Thank you, too, for all the eventual pain.

In other words, Mary knew.
She thanked God for the life He'd ordained for her, whatever it included.
And why? Because in it, she knew she would find Him.
Not just the baby she would someday hold in her arms.
Not just the sweet child.
Not just the man who became her Lord.
But all of it.
God the Father who made and planned for her.
God the Spirit who spoke to her.
God the Son who grew in her, was born from her, and saved her.

Mary rejoiced in God. All the time.
She saw Him in every work, every word.
She didn't have to understand.
She trusted.

That is why we hail her, as did the angel, and acknowledge that she is full of grace.
Grace--where God meets His creation, and where our rejoicing proves we see Him there.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Where is Our Comfort?

Jerusalem. Herald of Good News. Fear not to cry out.*

It's not Christmas yet. 
There is no babe. There is no manger, no lowing cattle, no peaceful Mary pondering the mysteries of God in her heart. Not yet.
There is only a promise. And the desolation of the present.

A voice cries out: Prepare the Way of the Lord. Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God.*

Prepare. Get ready.
Aren't you doing it already? Buying gifts? Cleaning? Baking?
These are preparation of sorts--preparation of our home and for our family feast.
But they do not prepare our hearts.

A voice says, "Cry out!"*

This is our advent preparation. 
Cry out to God.
Then the Glory of the Lord will be revealed and all people will see it together.*

We will not find Christmas under the tree or on our dinner table or even in the smiles of our children.
The Glory of God revealed to us.
That is our comfort.
That is Christmas. 

*All scriptures taken from Isaiah 40.

Comfort Ye, My People--

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Who Are We Waiting For?

Ah. The Christ child.
That little baby in the manger.
O come, O come Emmanuel. God with us.
So sweet, so innocent.
Are you sure?

Ancient Jews didn't share that expectation.
They looked for someone quite different--

Who can abide the day of His coming? Who can stand firm when He appears?--Malachi 3:3

In other words--Look out. God is mighty and will come in all of that might. He will test us--
He will be like a refiner's fire--Malachi 3:4
Hot and destructive.

He comes not only with mercy and forgiveness, but He comes as a
Spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord.
He shall strike the ruthless with the rod of His mouth and with the  breath of His lips He will slay the wicked.--Isaiah 11

He is one God, you know. One. 
The Baby. The Healer. The Savior. 
but also The Judge. The Avenger. The Sword-wielder. The Dread Horseman.

Jesus, even as a baby, is not cute or safe.
He says, Follow Me, but if we don't, will eventually sweep us away in a firestorm.
He forgives. He has mercy, but that mercy has bounds. Eventually, He tires of waiting.
He brings us along, but when we try to interfere with what is, after all, His plan, He doesn't hesitate to tell us to "Get thee behind me, Satan."

He came to save and did it--without help, and without hesitation.
Who can, indeed, abide the day of His coming?

Saturday, December 7, 2013

For the Glory
For over all, Your glory is shelter and protection.--Isaiah 4:6

That's it.
That's what I'm looking for.
God's glory.

Why we praise God.
Why we gather around His table.
Why we sing.
Why we yearn.
Why we hope.
Why we sink into anywhere we think we might find it.

God's glory is our home and we want to go home.
We will be safe there and nowhere else.

Everywhere God is, we find His glory.
And His glory is the only fellowship He offers.
He is the King of Glory and of nothing else.
Listen and hear Him--

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Wait for It...

The joy of anticipation. Panting, yearning for what is coming.
Planning a wedding. The months of pregnancy. Studying in anticipation of a career. Saving for a new car.
Who would want to miss the joy of them?

We would, apparently.

What happened to Advent, anyway?
Waiting for Christmas.
Just waiting for it.
I don't know about you, but I can't listen to Christmas carols yet.
Or put up my tree, or decorate my house, or wrap gifts.
Christmas can't come yet. It's not time.
I need to prepare. I need to think, and pray, and remember.

I need to join Mary, who waited nine months for Jesus.
I am the Lord's servant...--Luke 1:38
And Elizabeth, who waited for John.
..the baby leaped in her womb...Luke 1:40
And Zechariah, who waited with her.
He has raised up a horn of salvation for us...--Luke 1:69
And Simeon, who waited his whole life. now dismiss your servant in peace, for mine eyes have seen the Savior...Luke 2:29-30
And the Jews, who waited thousands of years.
And He shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace--Isaiah 9:6
And the whole of mankind, who has waited since God's angel barred the gates of paradise with a flaming sword.
I rejoiced because they said to me, We will go up to the house of the Lord--Psalm 122:1

And I can't wait one month?
Christmas will come. God promised that it will.
But, if I am not careful, I might miss the glory of the wait.
That pause, that inhaled breath, that moment of absolute stillness before the victorious crescendo.
Without it, we diminish the gift.
Stop. Take a breath. Turn off the carols. Turn down the lights.
It has a sound.
Wait for it...

Saturday, November 30, 2013

I Made This...

God made us.
He made us good and clean and in perfect, uninterrupted communion with Himself.
He made us like Himself, with a desire to create.
And, with all that beauty and heritage of glory, what did we make?

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good, and pleasing to the eye, and desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.--Genesis 3:6

We made a whole new human being, one who had not existed before.
We made a sinner.

Since then, our entire journey in this life is making our way back again, abandoning what we made and finding what we left behind, what God made.
No wonder it's so hard.
No wonder it feels like I'm ripping off parts of me and discarding them reluctantly along the way.
No wonder it feels like I'm leaving unprotected flesh exposed, stinging all the while with the pain of it.
It feels that way because that's exactly what's happening.

What mankind has built through long centuries, what every voice other than God's tells me is right, what Satan lays on at every opportunity--this is the person God did not make.
My first creation.

But God is still in me. I know He is. Somewhere.
I still bear His Spirit--and the woman He made in Eden, before she asked,
Did God really say....?--(Genesis 3:3)
--before she reached out her hand for that bitter fruit.

I can find that woman again, the one God made, because He wants me to.
...put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.--Ephesians 3:24

The new me...really the old me after all.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

What I Am Not Thankful For

I know what to do on Thanksgiving.
Count my blessings.
And it's not hard at all.
Life. Faith. Health. Family. Safety...So, so much.
Thank You, God.  Thank You so much.

Wait, God says. 
You are thanking me for the wrong things. 
Try looking at blessings from my point of view.
My blessing isn't comfort and confidence.
Blessed are the poor in spirit.--Matthew 5:3
My blessing isn't happiness.
Blessed are those who mourn--Matthew 5:4
My blessing isn't ability and confidence.
Blessed are the meek.--Matthew 5:5
My blessing isn't plenty and a full belly.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.--Matthew 5:6
My blessing isn't safety and the comfort of friends.
Blessed are those who are persecuted or my sake. --Matthew 5:10

Of course, good things, things I like, come from God, too.
But those things I call good, the comfortable, happy circumstances of my life, look like goodness from my point of view, not God's.
God sees a very different view and, if I truly want to be more like Christ, I need to look at blessings that way, too.
I don't want to be thankful for poverty, hunger, or persecution, but God is. 

So tomorrow, when we bow our heads at a table groaning with plenty, I need to be thankful not only for what is before me, but for what in my life is denied, is sad, is painful.
Thank you God. Thank you for it all.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Before the Tablets

Most of us know that God gave Moses the tablets of the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai.
But that wasn't the only thing God did there.
In fact, it wasn't even the first thing.

Before God gave Moses the Commandments, He gave Moses something to tell the Israelites.
God told Moses to tell His people what He expected of them.
And characteristically, His instructions were short and to the point:
Now, if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession.--Exodus 19:5

He told them two things:
Obey me.
Keep your promise to me.
If they did these two things, God would open up the very heavens to them. He would make them His treasured possession. He would make them His. He would make them Holy.

Sure, He gave them the Commandments, but only as exposition of what He'd already said--words that exposed His heart of love and desire for His people.
God doesn't just want us to follow a bunch of rules. 
God wants us to want Him. 
That's the importance of the Commandments.  
 The Commandments are signposts to the heart of God.
And His heart is where He wants us to remain.

God offered to the Israelites a look at His own heart.
And God's offer to the Israelites is made to us, too--through Jesus, who said,
"Come to me...."--Matthew 11:28

That is the offer at the heart of the commandments.
Come to me.
God's commandments, first etched in stone, then the same message written in Scripture and preserved for all ages, are not rules. They are His very arms opened wide in invitation.
Come to me.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

What Scars Have to Say

I still have them. 
Painful reminders of my hurts. Throbbing echoes of hurts I caused.
And they don't go away.

Heal me, I plead.
And God hears.
The bleeding stops, the wound closes--
But the scar remains.
Evidence of the hurt. Proof of the guilt.
Why doesn't it all go away?
I ask God: Why doesn't healing come with forgetting?

And God says: This is who you are.
Every hit you've taken, every blow you've given. They are part of you now.
Remember, He says. Remember your nature. Remember your origin:
From the sole of your foot to the top of your head there is no soundness--only wounds and welts and open sores.--Isaiah 1:6
My scars. Who I am. What I have done. What has been done to me.

Nobody gets to leave them behind his side of heaven. Nobody.
Even Christ wore His scars.
He stood in that room with His best friends, bright in His resurrected body. Alive again. Clean, victorious, and healed.
But those hands. That side.
Put your finger here. See my hands.--John 20:27
Still there. All the places of His own mortal wounding. Not smoothed over, not vanished beyond memory. Not comfortable.
But visible, both to Him and anyone who looked close enough.
His wounds, like ours, remained with Him.
Not for re-opening, but as witness. 

Christ's wounds bore witness to His perfection, His godhead.
My wounds bear witness to Christ in me.
My scars still stand ready to accuse, but they can also proclaim victory. 
Look at me, they say.
I have healed. I stand. I live.
I have known pain. I have inflicted it. See this ugliness? This is what it looks like.
Don't look away. You have them, too.

But this is the difference.
Because of Christ, I will not die from them. 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Got Hunger?

How many times have we heard it?
"I'm starving. When do we eat?"
More than we can count.
And we've said it ourselves, plenty of times.
"I'm hungry."
Like it's something bad.

Actually, God likes hunger, and wants us hungry.
He does.

But I don't. I prefer satisfaction. I like the easy, comfy feeling of being full.
But, there's a problem with that.
When I'm not hungry, I'm not looking for anything other than what I've already got.
I'm complacent.

Hunger, on the other hand, is uncomfortable.
It makes me feel weak and incomplete.
And I don't like that.

In God's book, however, weakness and discomfort can be good things because they mean we know we need Him.
When I am full, I need nothing and no one.
Hunger, however, is a tool, a gift our bodies bring so that, rather than satisfying ourselves, we can find our satisfaction in God.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled--Matthew 5:6

Next time you have a meal, push away from the table before you're full.
See what it feels like to remain constantly unsatisfied.
See how long it takes before you look around for more.
And then...look to God.
Stay hungry, my friend.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

But Did He WANT To?

Jesus saved us.
It's true, and most of us already know that.
But He was not just God--He was man, too, and I don't know about you, but I don't always want to do what I'm supposed to do.
It occurs to me today that maybe He didn't either.

I will not reject anyone who comes to me because I came down from heaven not to do my own will, but the will of the one who sent me and this is the will of the one who sent me--that I should not lose anything of what he gave me, but that I should raise it in the last day.--John 6:37-38

Is it possible that Jesus, as  man, was not always crazy about saving us?
That He did not always want to have mercy on the impenitent, on the ungrateful, on the clueless?
That unwillingness was one of the temptations to which He was subjected when He took on flesh?

Was Jesus sometimes tempted to let us have exactly what we deserve rather than to do as He was commanded? Did He sometimes have to grit His teeth to heal another ungrateful petitioner? To preach to yet another unhearing crowd?
And if He did, is it any wonder that I often feel the same?

I do not always want to love, want to forgive, want to extend my hand in kind patience. Today, I find solace in the possibility that Jesus, human like me, might sometimes have felt the same way. Jesus may have saved us, not because He always wanted to, but simply because His Father commanded Him to.

There is glory in this obedience, I think--to do what we do not want to do, what may not even make sense, simply because our Father in heaven has commanded it.
And, in the process, know that even Jesus did the same.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Don't Try to Pray

Do you have trouble with it?
Don't. It's simple.
That's right. Groan.

The Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings that cannot be uttered.--Romans 8:26

If we are to pray, we have to want God.
This is not a casual relationship. It's like the desire we have when we first fall in love, when we think we will die every instant, like what we feel will not fit inside our skin.

Reading a book about it won't work.
Have you ever read a book about how to fall in love? And why not?
Because it's not necessary. Love lands on us like a ton of bricks.
No book can explain it.
No lesson can teach it.
It's the same with prayer. We pray because we can't help it, because we can't face a life without God, because He matters more than what we are doing, who we are seeing, and whatever else we are thinking.
That is prayer--the groanings and glories of love.

If you can't pray, don't ask someone to teach you.
Go and find your God.
He will draw you in so close that you won't be able to help it.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Believing It Will Rain

Noah. Almost everybody knows his story.
God told him to build a boat and, in it, put all the animals two by two because He planned to flood the earth. And Noah did.
It wasn't an easy job, though. The boat had to be one and a half football fields long. It took Noah 100 years to finish the job. His neighbors made fun of him, of course, but he remained faithful to the task.
I always thought Noah was an example of perseverance, but I was wrong.
Noah is an example of faith.

By faith, Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, took heed and constructed an ark for the saving of his household; by this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness which comes by faith.--Hebrews 11:7

Remember, faith is believing in what we have never seen. So what was Noah's leap of faith?
He had never seen rain.
In his experience, water had never fallen from the sky.
Now, that gives the whole boat building thing a new twist. How could he explain to anyone--his wife, his kids, everyone he knew--what he was doing? There was no way. It would make more practical sense for me to build a rocket ship in my backyard. At least I'd be able to point to the sky and the stars and say, "See? I'm going there!"  Not Noah.

So that begs the question, if Noah is an example of faith, what is my ark? Where is my promise of rain?
That is easier.
A God I can't see. A heaven I can't touch. An inner knowledge I can't explain.
My ark. My rain. My faith.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Why Do They Get all the Good Miracles?

A pastor in Libya is rescued from a firing squad.
A child in Zambia is healed overnight from tuberculosis.
Christ appears to a man in an Egyptian jail who comes to believe.
Here, my sweet, believing friend dies from cancer.
Here, my father dies before acknowledging the truth of the gospel.

Why do they get the miracles and we don't?

Hm... maybe because we don't need them in the same way.

After all, God gave us, here in the U.S., different stuff.
We have relative safety.
We have abundant wealth.
We have good health care.

The people in Libya and Zambia and Egypt don't. They have active war, and famine, and poverty, and rampant disease. I don't know why, but it's true.
So when they look for God, where do they find Him? In the places they need Him most.
And He shows up there.

And how about us? Where do we need God most?
It's not in the same places.
My friend who died got excellent medical care because God made that possible. And she didn't die in a fly-blown grass hut, alone and in excruciating pain. She died in a nursing home surrounded by caring nurses and loving family.
My father did not grow up in a Muslim nation that executed Christians, but in a place where the truth of Christ poured out all around him from nearly every member of his family, and by which he was consequently well-loved his whole adult life.
My friend and my father did not need the same kind of miracles.
And they didn't get them.

So where do our miracles come? 
Where do we most need God to intervene?

Consider the lilies, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. Do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, or be of anxious mind. For all the nations of the world seek these things; and your Father knows that you need them. Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.--Luke 12: 27, 29, 32

God gives us what we do not already have because there we will be most likely to see Him and His kingdom.
Only when we come to the end of our own resources will God make a miracle.
He has already given us gifts and expects us to use them.

Looking for a miracle?
Look to that place where gifts end, where strength fails.
Look to that place where only hope remains.
There is the stage set for a miracle.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Put the Book Down, Will You?

So--we're watching "The Mummy", you know, the first one. The movie's about 2/3 over--Evie is defending herself against the just-revived, dessicated Anck-Su-Namun, Rick O'Connell is whacking away at dusty but determined Egyptian priests, and then there's Jonathan. Oh yes, Evie's aimless brother. He's on the periphery of the action with the all-important Book of the Dead, the book that holds the key to destroying the scary and dangerous Imotep. And Jonathan is, well, irritating.

There he is, book in hand, essentially out of danger, and his only job is to READ SOMETHING. I mean, how hard can it be? And he's COMPLAINING about it. And while he's doing it, and slowly, mind you, Rick and Evie are subduing real bad guys--dismembering them and scattering them to the winds. And what are they doing at the same time? HELPING JONATHAN.

That's right. Here they are, swords flying, giving the guy who risks nothing hints and help, all while keeping flesh-hungry mummies at bay. And while they do it, they are patient, articulate, and brave. Duh. What's wrong with this picture?

Well, nothing as it turns out. This, ladies and gents, is the way of our world. We are Jonathan. Yes, we are. I mean, really....when was the last time you ever had to really defend anything or anyone? When have you been in any real danger?

In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood.--Hebrews 12:4

No we haven't. And we're still complaining.
It's too hard, Lord.
Why me, Lord?
Give me, Lord!

And there's our God, sword in hand, defending us, or hands stretched out on the cross, dying for us.
We ought to have only one thing on our lips.
Humble thanksgiving.

We don't necessarily have to put down our own work, but maybe we ought to recognize what's really going on outside our little world, don't you think?

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Quick to Judge: A Study in Black and White

It just seems so easy for some people.
Right and wrong, I mean. Some just see it so clearly, with no fuzzy edges, with no confusing alternatives, with no options to reconsider.

Deciding right from wrong sounds like it should be easy, but it isn't. Not for a lot of us.
Most people will tell you that lying, for instance, is wrong.
But what about lying to save someone's feelings or their reputation or their life? Is it still wrong?
And how about harming someone? Is that always wrong?
How about protecting someone from attack? How about the times when civil courts exonerate the obviously guilty? Who protects their next victim?
And then there's obedience to authority--when can a child question? When a parent instructs them not to tell? When they teach a child to buy them drugs? When they say it's OK, just this once?

I think there's a reason some of these questions seem so easy for some and so hard for others--
People who judge quickly have often had to.
Some of us have grown up with the luxury of relative ease and security. Not so with everyone. Some people are born into a battle that they have to engage day by hard day, even from childhood. Their antennas always have to be up. Survival can depend on it.
The more often a person has had to make hard, life-changing, even life-saving decisions, the quicker they judge. They have had to. 
Someone in immediate danger can't pause to contemplate. They act.
A hard life can necessitate a habit of fast, hard decisions.

God, for His part, appreciates people of decision:
...he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed like the wind.--James 1:5
He says He will show us what to do and expects us to do it.
This is the way. Walk in it.--Isaiah 30:21

God is saying that He's given us all we need already. He expects us to do something with it.
Judge when you have to. 

Yes, some people judge more quickly than others, but before you point an accusing finger and quote a Bible verse, find out why.
Maybe they've lived a life that necessitated extra practice.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Breathing in, Breathing Out

The ins and outs that measure life.
Our breaths number thousands upon thousands, and we count only the hard ones--the first, the labored, and the reluctant last.
But our breaths all belong to God.
Each one communicates God's own identity, a confirmation of life carried to us from very heaven.

Breathe in, and receive God Himself.
Breathe out, and do what?
First, a cry. Later, a laugh.
Sigh. Moan.
Promise. Lie.
Pray. Curse.
Sweet pillow whisper.
Sweaty sickbed soothing.
Blow a bubble.
Play a flute.
Extinguish a candle.
Have a smoke.
Ho-o-old it....

And then they're gone. A whole life of breathing.
How have I spent my breaths, my second-by-second gifts of Spirit?
There's only one good way. I must give them back.
Everything that has breath praise the Lord.--Psalm 150:6

Do you want to remember that you belong to God?
Breathe with Him. In and Out. Every day.
And Jesus said, Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you. And with that, He breathed on them and said, Receive the Holy Spirit...--John 20:21-22

And, at the end of all our days, may we offer up even the last of breaths to Him in a sacrifice of praise.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Why You Can't Hurt Me Anymore

Some days, I wish I wore shoulder pads.
I am tired of hurting.
It's the accumulation, I think, that piles up over long years, the catalog of hurts that comes with living.
What do I do with them?

I know this--I must choose my protection carefully.
I can put on shoulder pads, but not erect barriers.
If I protect myself too much, I will miss my life. I am going to have to endure some risk, and some hurt, if I am going to do any living at all.

The key is learning to recognize real danger.
Do not be afraid of those who can kill the body but not kill the soul.--Matthew 10:28
There is, after all, only so much another person can do to me. If I am to live at all, I will have to accept a measure of hurt.
My defense, though, is really a good offence.
I do have the power to kill old hurts and consign new ones to their proper place: it is the power to forgive.
Forgive as the Lord forgave you.--Colossians 3:13
And how do I do that?
I do it by remembering that, to some degree, I hand people the sticks with which they beat me.
If I hold on to hurt, it holds me captive in return.
If I take hurt in stride, chalking it up to the brokenness of this world and the people around me, I can reach out to, and be consoled by the only consolation truly available.
The Lord will protect you from all evil. He will keep your soul.--Psalm 121:7

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

My Real True Love

This is the irony of age--that I have spent  a whole lifetime caring for and satisfying a body that slowly falls apart. 
And I can't do a thing about it.

Let's face it.
I love myself. More than I love anyone else and more than anyone loves me.
I am my own best friend.
But my affection is misplaced. I am also my own betrayer.

My hands hold tight to what does not last.
The man who loves his life will lose it...--John 12:25
My head trusts my own reason above all others.
For the wisdom of the world is foolishness in God's sight.--1Corinthians 3:19
My heart leads me to destruction.
The heart is deceitful above all things.--Jeremiah 17:9

So what do I do with this body, this life--or what is left of it?
How do I focus on what does not crumble to dust?
How do I live in blood and bone and skin, emotion and thought, but disdain its rule over me?

There is only one way I know--
I must live not to find satisfaction in indulgence, but joy in denial.
I cannot become like Christ and, at the same time, pamper my flesh. I have to go past it, through it.
This is life's purpose, its real journey.
If I can do this, then I will still die, but I will not die with my body. I will live with my Lord.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Where are You?

I'm wondering--
Who prayed the first prayer?

Simply defined, prayer is conversation with God.
But something else may be implied here, I'm thinking.
After all, Adam and Eve kept company with God in Eden, and that company was, presumably, easy and companionable.
The man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as He was walking in the garden in the cool of the day.--Genesis 3:8

It sounds an awful lot like Adam and Eve often walked with Him, that they conversed with God, who showed them the world He'd created for them. Maybe they discussed heaven. Maybe they talked about what each fruit tasted like. Maybe they tossed around names for the animals.
But those conversations weren't prayer, were they?
I'm thinking not.

Prayer implies separation, a conversation held with effort across a chasm. 
Prayer started after God's question,
Where are you?--Genesis 3:9

They always knew how to find one another before that. Adam, Eve, and God, walked easily together before, but this time,
...they hid from the Lord among the trees in the garden.--Genesis 3:8

And God said to them what He is still saying to us--"Where are you?"
We are still hiding, still in the process of finding and being found.
That's where prayer begins, I'm thinking.

That's why it's so hard to pray, so slippery.
God is out there somewhere, and we hear Him sometimes, hear His sweet invitation in the cool of the day, but can't quite get there.
Maybe we're still afraid.
Maybe we're unsure.
Maybe we're still so mortified by our sins.

It doesn't matter.
Prayer is our connection to God for now, but not forever.
Some day, we will see Him face to face, clean and easy again.

Those will not be times for prayers, for not-quite-connected communication.
Those times will bring the same sweet fellowship Adam and Eve once knew--up close and personal.
That is God's biggest promise--Himself.
Your eyes will see the King in His beauty...--Isaiah 33:17

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

How to Hate the Sin

We are supposed to hate the sin but love the sinner. 
We hear it all the time, but the whole idea produces more blank looks and shaking heads than almost any other. How in the world are we supposed to do that?
 Well, like any other biblical principal, maybe it's best to start with ourselves.

I sin.
So do you.
But do I hate my own sin? 
And how do I know this?
Jesus tells me:
If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off.--Matthew 18:8

Did He really mean this? 
Well, He did, or He wouldn't have said it.
He probably meant it as a metaphor, of course, but the example serves to illustrate the force with which we are to approach sin. We are to hate it enough to cut off our own hand to get rid of it.

Jesus says to "take up your cross" (Luke 9:23) and "die every day" (1 Corinthians 15:31).
He leaves no room for excuses, no safe harbor while sin still reigns in us.
This is what He does say:
In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.--Hebrews 12:4
This is how much we are to hate sin.

Does this sound cruel?
It is not cruel to insist that we put to death strong, sinful desires.
It is not cruel to deny that it's OK for either ourselves or anyone else to give in to what is clearly forbidden.
We are to love both ourselves and others with self-denial.

Examine your own strong desires.
Do you indulge, rather than fight them because it's just so darn hard and you know that God, in the end, will forgive you?
I do.

The hand I must cut off is the hand of strong, habitual, sinful desire.
And it will hurt. A lot. A real lot. I will scream from it. I will not be able to envision what is on the other side, who I will be without it, how I will live, what I will do without the emotional crutch.
But, if I believe that heaven, and freedom, await, I must whack away, doing whatever it takes.
And then, pointing with my own bloody stump rather than a filthy, still-intact, accusing finger, I can learn to truly hate the sin and love the sinner because I have done so with myself.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Broken by Myself

I know that Christ died for me, but I don't believe it. Not really.

If Christ had to do that--die--really die--to fix me, then there must be something drastically wrong with who I am.
And He died, all right. I believe that. But because of me? Really?

The Bible, after all, says that I am made in the image of God, right? How messed up, then, can I be?
Enough, apparently.

This is hard to understand. But until I do understand, really understand, this miserable necessity of Christ having to die because I am so broken, I can't understand anything else--not about God, not about me. So long as I hold onto even the smallest inkling that I might be OK just as I am, I cannot know God.

I don't like this idea. Not even a little.

I am good, and patient, and kind and all the rest. Most of the time. I am. I sometimes even look in the mirror and think, 'Hey, you're OK, girl.' But inevitably, just about then, I crash and burn. Anger, deception, and selfishness crowd out all the good stuff. Again.

And I see Him there--Jesus--hanging, bleeding, dying--saying nothing, saying everything.

Is He accusing me? No. But neither does he shrink from the truth like I do. He wears the truth.  He carries it, lays down on it, and dies on it.

I am not OK. Not alone. Not without Him. Not ever.

He bore the punishment that makes us whole.--Isaiah 53:5
You were bought with a price--1 Corinthians 6:20

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Putting Pain in its Place

Sam and Anne
I like to listen to first-time moms when they talk about the pain of childbirth. Really. There is a kind of community in this, something we all share and, as for every intense life experience, we all learn something from it. Some women bear their pain patiently, some resentfully, but like me, most of us try to forget it as soon as possible and, in the wake of the joy that usually follows, we can.

Not my friend Sam, though.

Now, Sam loves her daughter as much as any other new mother. She bubbles with the joy of her. She hasn't however, sidelined the memory of pain in getting there. Instead, Sam continues to stare her pain in the face, to call it by its nasty name, and commands it to its appropriate place in her life. Sam refuses to let her pain pretend to be anything other than what it is--hard, unpleasant, and temporary. 

Sure, she remembers that her labor hurt a lot, but also, defiantly, that it did not hurt forever. The pain never mastered her because she knew it had a purpose and when its purpose was fulfilled, it would end. In doing this, she got to keep the memory of the pain and the lasting gift it left her. Today, she can look at her daughter and say, 'You cost me a great deal, but you were worth it.'

In doing this, I think, she has discovered pain's purpose. What, after all, does pain bring? If we apply it correctly, it brings more than discomfort. Pain, if we let it, can bring sure knowledge that we can endure it and understanding that some things bring a hard cost. It can also bring vision of and hope for a future of health and wholeness.

Christ knew this, too--hence, the cross. He endured pain because He had a job to do that overshadowed it. His pain took a back seat to His purpose. He knew that the effects of His purpose would long outlast His pain. It happens the same for us. When God allows us pain, we can, if we choose it, come to know both the cost and the value of its greater purpose. By this knowledge, both the pain and the gift of it, we can join with Christ.

For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.--Hebrews 12:2

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Living in Debt

Bills. I don't like them. You probably don't either. And I have too many.
House. Car. Heat. Lights. Food. Clothes. School. And on and on.
I owe so much, and those are just the practical debts--the ones I can pay with money.
I have others, too.

I also have debts I can't pay. These are the hardest ones to live with.
I owe my parents, who gave without expectation for my nurture and training.
I owe soldiers, who gave their lives for my freedom.
I owe teachers, who gave more than anyone asked for my education.
I owe my family, who suffered my sins and returned forgiveness.

I can never pay them back, any of them.
Worse yet, I take them for granted.
I've lived so long in the luxury of what they gave that I no longer notice it's even there.

'Thank you' is not enough. Ever.
But what else is there?

And then there's God.
What does God want for all He gives?
For life. A world to live it in. Salvation and the promise of heaven.
How can I pay Him back?

I can't.
Not God. Not my parents, my family, not anyone who sacrificed for me.
I will owe them forever.

So if I can't pay them back, what, then, do I do?
What do those I to whom I owe so much want from me if it is not recompense?
I know what God wants because He says so:
And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.--Micah 6:8

That's what God wants. Just action. Merciful love. A humble walk toward Him.
In one word, God wants appreciation.
And I imagine they all do.
They don't want repayment. They want love.

I will always be in debt.
Now, if I can only love...

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Return to Me

God made man.
He made us good--very good.
God made us to know Him, to share with Him, to walk with Him on a common ground.
But we don't.
After the catastrophe in Eden, a basic flaw keeps us apart.
He is perfect. We are not.

God knows this, of course, so He set out to fix the situation.
Come home, He says. 

Return to me, declares the Lord Almighty, and I will return to you.--Zechariah 1:3

Did you hear that?
Come to me. Return to me.
He wants to have us back, to remake us into the very good human beings He made originally.
But He will not change Himself to do it.
He will not become like us.
We have to become like Him.

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the LORD, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the LORD, the Spirit.--2Corinthians 3:18

Our way back to God is laid, and it is through the cross.
Jesus opened the door, but we have to walk through it, and keep on walking.

I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.--John 8:12

The light of life...what God is, and what He wants us to be again.
The seed is within each of us still. God knows it, and wants us to know, too.
He spoke His own identity over us in creation:
Then God said, Let us make man in our image, in our likeness--Genesis 1:26

What He spoke in an instant, we will spend our lifetime answering.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Walking on What Remains
I'm old enough now to know that I will not do everything I planned to do. 

But I am not alone in this. It happened to King David, too.
He was coming to the end of his life and he hadn't built a temple to God, a place to worship, a place for Israel to meet the magnificent King of Heaven who had kept David company all of his life.
And he would never do it. God denied it to him because, although he was a man after God's own heart, he was also a man whose life had covered his hands in blood, too much blood to make them suitable for the job he so wanted to do.
And David, like the rest of us, did not get life do-overs. 

But this is his lesson and mine--we are not always given the work we expect, but we are always given work under God.
For David, the temple preparation became his work, and he set to it with all his might.
And so it is with me, and maybe with you, too.
There are some things not permitted me because of some of the sinful paths I've chosen. However, not all ways are sealed. Some remain.

Though much is taken, much abides.
And though we are not now that strength which in old days moved earth and heaven,
that which we are, we are...*

Although we are often unfaithful, God is not.
With age, our life's stage shrinks, but until we die, it does not disappear.
My stage is no longer as broad as it once was, but I can still walk on what remains.
God still gives life in generous handfuls, and means for me, for all of us, to live it.
And, when the end does come, that living will allow me to echo David's joy:
I can sing this song every day without exception. No day lacks the beauty of God. My time will never run out. It is in Your hands.--Psalm 104: 23,24,31,3,34

*Tennyson, "Ulysses"

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Altar in Our Heart

What are they made of?
Satiny polished marble. Smooth glowing wood.
Or random piled-up sticks. Or rocks.
We put candles on them, and pictures, and carved images to remind us of God.

But altars have less importance as objects than as places of activity.
Altars are places of sacrifice and worship.
They accommodate joy and pain, celebration and death.
God's people kill in their shadow, then raise the slaughtered lamb in offering.

Ancient priests did it.
Roman soldiers did it.
And every time we raise the knife to our own selfishness, we do it, too.
Mount Moriah. The Jerusalem temple. Calvary.
Altars, all.
And the altar at which we worship today does not reside in our church's sanctuary. We have built it, every one of us, in our own hearts.This is where we know the joy and pain of real sacrifice and, when the sacrifice is complete, the peace.

Make an altar of earth for Me and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, your sheep and goats and cattle. Wherever I cause My Name to be honored, I will come to you and bless you.--Exodus 20:24

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Is Anybody Home?
The Tent of Meeting.
That's where You met Moses, Lord.
Before the tabernacle.
Before the temple.
Moses put up a tent and whoever wanted to talk to You went there.
Now Moses used to take a tent and pitch it outside the camp some distance away, calling it the Tent of Meeting. Anyone inquiring of the Lord would go to the tent of meeting outside the camp.--Exodus33:7

Moses used to carry this tent around with him. It didn't stay in one place. The tent went with him wherever he went.
I'm thinking, Lord, that if Moses could do this, why can't I?
And, if I can, what does it look like?
Where do I meet you? Where do you come to me?

Can it be in the red glow of a summer sunset?
Can it be in my baby's smile?
Can it be in the smell of fresh bread?
Or a candle's glow? Or the morning sun through stained glass? Or that small circle of bread held above a cup of wine as Your body and blood?
You are there, in all these and more, if I have the wit to see you.

I need to find my Tent of Meeting, the place where You show yourself.
And then I can say, like Moses did:
Now show me Your Glory!--Exodus 33:18

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Not-So-Great Commission

The Great Commission? Honestly, I'm not always a fan.
At least not the way I normally see it done.
Yes, Christ told us to take His gospel into the world.
In only one place in the Bible does He give us these instructions:
Go and make disciples of all nations...teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.--Matthew 28:19-20

But He didn't say HOW.
He didn't say TELL them.

Why can't we teach by showing them?
Why can't God speak up for Himself?
The Bible seems to think He can.

Are you going to plead Baal's cause? If Baal is really a god, he can defend himself...--Judges 6:31

Baal couldn't, of course, but the God of Israel can and does:
No plan of Yours can be thwarted.--Job 42:2
Our God is in heaven; He does whatever pleases Him.--Psalm 115:3

God does not need us to preach.
In preaching to unbelievers we too often look and sound exactly like those with whom we disagree--with atheists, for instance. An atheist believes as fervently as I do, and he or she wants the same thing I do. He wants to convince me he's right.
"Agree with me," he says. "Admit I'm right, or you will pay the price of your folly."
That, my friend, is preaching boiled down to its simplest component.
And we, trying to fulfill what we think Christ commanded, often do exactly the same.

Better, I think, to do what Christ told us to do not once, but many times:
Believe. Obey. Follow. Love. Forgive. Serve.
In doing these, we will not only speak the Gospel. We will BECOME the Gospel.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Swatting the Gnats

We all stumble in many ways...--James 3:2
That's for sure.

Temptations surround us all. And some of them are pretty obvious. Ten Commandment stuff.
Lying, cheating, stealing, wanting what is not ours, hating....we know them, and we know they end in sin.
But reading and studying the Bible?
Stumbling over the Word of God?
Are you kidding?

No, actually.
Even deep, careful study of the Bible has its snares.
We miss the mark when we revere the words more than their Author.
You strain out a gnat, but swallow a camel.--Matthew 23:24

We pick, and poke, memorize and philosophize, the words themselves. But where is God in all of that?
The Lord says, These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me.--Isaiah 29:13

There is a heart to the Word of God, a heart we must wear before one memorized verse will have any effect at all.
God gave us His Word not to first to memorize it or pick it apart in study, but so that we can know, believe, and follow Him.
We have to know God, not just His Words.
Gnats, after all, hover because something attractive has called them. They do not bring anything of value at all.
The words of the Word of God are small, too, and serve as indicators, as warnings, as signs, of a much greater Presence.
The power does not belong to them, but they point to it. 
Look beyond them, or they will trip you up.