Monday, February 28, 2011

Don't worry about wrapping it....

"Do not neglect your gift"
1 Timothy 4:14

More thoughts from the Symphony...

The other night my mom and I attended a concert where the Norbertine Fathers from a nearby Abbey performed.  They were doing excerpts from the 9th symphony of Anton Bruckner, and in between, the conductor was sharing tidbits of information about Bruckner.  This symphony was his last, and one critic of the time had said he composed it "as if he were trying to prove himself worthy to enter paradise."

And that got me to thinking.  Of course, we absolutely do not have to audition for heaven.  It is based on nothing other than sincere belief in Jesus as one's Lord and Savior.  But let's imagine you didn't want to go empty-handed.  Each of us has been gifted by Him in some way.  It's not a talent show; it's a heaven-warming present.  What gift would you present... as your gift?

It might be something that the world considers a talent:  like performing or creating something.  Or it might be that which brings you joy.  Eric Liddell is the Scottish runner whose story became "Chariots of Fire."  In the movie, he is quoted as saying, "I feel God's pleasure when I run."  When do you feel God's pleasure?  What makes you feel alive?  Is it when you are working with children?  Or when you are out enjoying nature and all His creations?  And how can you make that joy of yours a gift to Him?   If you could do anything, say anything, be anything, how can you give that to Him?

And until that day comes, how can you make Him a part of that which is your passion?   If this joy is not already in your life, why isn't it?  As long as you are on earth, receive the gift of your gift from Him, and revel in it.  Enjoy every aspect of it, for that is why He has given it to you.  And that is precisely why you should give it back to Him.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Tiiim-berrr!!!

"a time to uproot"
Ecclesiastes 3:2




I am not a gardener.   My thumb is closer to brown than green, and the plants at Home Depot have been known to pull away when I reach out for them...   So I don't always know when is the time to uproot, or even to prune a plant.   Only when a plant dies do I know it's time to uproot.   (Master of the Obvious, aren't I?)   Or I might decide I don't like a plant, and I want to plant something else, and so I decide it's time to uproot.

But often, the time to uproot is for reasons that are hidden.  My father had a group of pine trees in his backyard that contracted a disease, that is caused by a bug.  The only way to stop this disease from spreading is to uproot the tree.  A tree with the disease cannot be saved.  And if he had known that, he might have lost only one.  But he didn't know it was time to uproot that tree, and consequently, the whole group of trees died.

Or there was the time Wise Husband and I came home from dinner out, to discover a small flood in both bathrooms.  The culprit, we discovered later, was pipes that had stopped up due to tree roots.  We had not known it was past time to uproot that tree.

But am I just wishing I was a better gardener?  Or am I praying about how to apply this verse in other areas of my life?  It's an important prayer, to ask God for the wisdom to know when He would have us remove something from our lives; or even remove ourselves from a given situation.

Proper understanding of this verse is not just an acknowledgement of there is a time to plant and a time to uproot, but a plea for the wisdom to know the difference.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

You gotta have heart

"Rules taught by men"
Isaiah 29:13

The definition of routine is "a sequence of actions regularly followed."  Sounds innocuous enough, doesn't it?  Routine is comfortable and even comforting.  And it can be beneficial, knowing what's expected of us, or what's coming up next in a given situation.

But routine can also be a bad thing.  Routine can be mindless... monotonous.   "In a routine" can easily become "stuck in a rut."  I know there are times when I have felt trapped by the feeling that I absolutely have to do what I'm expected to do.

This verse in Isaiah speaks of ritual.  "The Lord says:  'These people come near to me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are from Me.  Their worship is made up only of rules taught by men.'"  Because ritual, if there's no heart behind it, is merely repetition.  And religion is a danger zone.   The songs we sing, the words we pray, even the motions we make with our hands can become meaningless.  For me, I know sometimes, even when I'm singing worship songs, my mind is on anything but God.   It's something the Pharisees were famous for.  "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees," Jesus said, "You hypocrites!  You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence."  Ritual for the sake of ritual is cleaning the outside of the cup and the dish.

But ritual, when backed by heartfelt devotion, can be a beautiful thing.  Have you ever seen a group of soldiers when the National Anthem is played?  To them, it is not just a ritual before the first ball is thrown.  Recently my wonderful mom and I went to a symphony performance where a group of Norbertine Fathers from a nearby abbey performed in Gregorian chant.  Before going into the concert hall, they sang in the lobby, and people gathered around them.  Mom and I went up one level where we could hear better.  The view, and the music, were beautiful.  



At one point, they bowed their heads for several seconds, then rose again, all while singing.   Mom and I discussed afterwards, what might have been the words they were singing when they bowed their heads.  Were they singing about the crucifixion?  Or maybe about God's might and power?  Well, at intermission, we happened to see one of them, and he told us that they bow their heads when they invoke the Trinity.  Now, of course, I cannot be sure that their hearts were in a place of reverence and devotion, but I think the odds are pretty good.   And I think for most of us, there is some aspect of God, or some realization of Him, that makes us appreciate Him more, whether it's the Trinity, the crucifixion, or simple awe at His power and majesty.   And that appreciation should engender a response in us.  And whether that response is bowing your head, raising your hands, singing a little louder, or even tearing up a little, it's a beautiful response if it comes from your heart ~ even if it happens routinely.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Keep climbing! The view gets better!

"a mountain great and high"
Revelation 21:10

Recently my thoughts were on the mountainous country in the Promised Land, and how rewarding the effort would be to claim that land.  Today, I got to thinking about the mountains themselves.  The Israelites were not about climbing mountains, they were about inhabiting the area.  But sometimes, simply living a life pleasing to Him and growing more like Him, seems like climbing a mountain.  There are many places we can stop, and be pleased with our progress, but we won't have reached the pinnacle He has called us to.

When climbing Mount Everest, all climbers must stop at the Base Camps. There are four of them, and they are a chance to rest and refuel from the climb they have made thus far.  It's also where they acclimate to the altitude, and re-supply for the climb that remains ahead of them:  food, water, and supplementary oxygen.  The Base Camps are at 17,709 feet; 21,300 feet; 24,500 feet; and 26,000 feet.  I imagine the views are spectacular.  But those aren't the view the climbers came for.  The most arduous journey is yet to come, and the reward is far better than what they've already achieved.  The view from the top, 29,029 feet, is even more spectacular.

The life of a Christian is a climb.  As we grow, we are rewarded with a better view; an understanding of the Lord that we did not know before.  We receive the Bread of Life, and the Water that will keep us from ever thirsting again.  But there is more we can achieve, and more rewards ahead.  Yes, the effort will be more intense.  We will need more oxygen:  the Holy Spirit, the breath of God in us.  But the achievement, the view from the pinnacle will be more glorious, more beautiful, more awesome than we can imagine.

"And he carried me away in the Spirit
to a mountain great and high
and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem
coming down out of heaven, from God"
Revelation 21:10

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Our God is an Awesome God

"Though He slay me, yet will I hope in Him"
Job 13:15

I'm thinking about fear again today.  But it's a whole nother (tmesis alert!)  kind of fear than what my poor dog is suffering from.  Which makes me think, yet again, that the English language is not always the best for communicating.  Because while I love my husband, and I love peanut butter & chocolate ice cream, I do not feel exactly the same about them...   Do you know that in the Netherlands they have one word for pouring something dry, and another word for pouring a liquid?  And the Germans, would you believe, have a word for "linking arms with the people on either side of you, and swaying in time to the music."  We need a word for that here in America, don't we?

So today, I'm thinking about fear, but it's the good fear.  So it ought to have a different name.  The word "fear" comes from a word that means "fright", but also means "revere".  And this is the fear we should have.  Fear of God.  I know there was a time in my life when I struggled to understand why I should be scared of God.  Because He's all about compassion (Psalm 116:5), and He created sheep (Ezekiel 34:31) and He loves the little children (Matthew 19:14).  But He's also awesome, and mighty, and powerful.  If you don't know why you should fear God, then you should read the Old Testament.  And Revelation.

 But when you're done reading all that, then come back to this verse in Job, which perfectly sums up the relationship that God's children should have in Him.  Reverence and awe in His power, but also faith and trust in His love.  Or as I once heard it, "Look up in awe, and look out for judgement".  If we properly fear Him, then indeed we have nothing to fear.


~ Where there is reverence, there is fear ~
Socrates

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Lessons from my dog

"God has not given us a spirit of fear."
2 Timothy 1:7

I hate learning from my dog.  I love learning, but there's something embarrassing about learning from a creature I like to call, "A Dog of Very Little Brain."   But if I'm going to be teachable, I need to be willing to learn from my kids, and from clouds, and yes, even from my dog.

And truthfully, she's not a dumb dog.  She is smart and obedient ~ to a point.  (Aren't we all....)  She knows and responds to "sit" and "stay" and "come", as well as knowing when we want her to go into her crate, and when I want her off my bed!  She knows that she's not allowed on the couches, and will refuse even if the kids try to call her up there!

Our biggest complaint with her is her barking.  She's a rather timid dog, and her response to fear is to be as ferocious as possible, which is pretty much every time she's faced with anyone other than her four favorite people.

Therein lies the lesson.  Courageous Husband and I were sitting and talking in the living room, and Holly (whose full name, of course, is Holly-lujah) was lying down nearby.  Dozing happily in the presence of her adored Master.   Looking at her, Hubby kind of rolled his eyes a little and said, "Man, that dog has a cushy life..."   And I realized that he's right.  She has very few needs, so it doesn't take much to meet those needs.  She is warm, she is fed, and she is loved.  All's right with her world. The only problem in her life, is her anxiety.  Someone walking by the house (would you believe she's barking out the window even as I type??); someone knocking at the door; any noise she can't identify makes her anxious.  And she won't believe us when we tell her there's no reason to be anxious.  That those people are only "borrowing" our sidewalk to get where they want to go.

And what's more ~ she looks for reasons to be worried!  She sits on the bed, looking out the front window, waiting for someone to walk by so that she can be afraid when they do!  She is choosing apprehension when she could be doing so much more with her life!  Like sleeping!  Or.... eating.

So the only bad thing in her life ~ is entirely in her head.  Her trust in us, or her understanding of us when we communicate with her, does not extend to her anxiety.   Her faith in us is not strong enough to overcome her fear of the unknown.

Now, that is not exactly the case with me.  My fears have very real foundations.  I know a lot more than the world around me than Holly does, and my senses, and my intelligence are telling me I have good reason to be anxious.

What?

Oh.  I'm not convincing you, either?   Yeah, it sounded hollow to me, but I thought you might.... nevermind.

Lesson from my dog:  more faith, less fear.    Amen.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

If you wanna see the view, you gotta do the climbing...

"It is mountainous... it is wooded... and there are strong inhabitants with iron chariots.
But it shall be yours."
Joshua 17:18 (paraphrase)

This verse is part of Joshua speaking to the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, the children of Joseph.  The Promised Land is being divided up among the Israelites.  That's a good thing.  Anytime you are getting something that God has promised you, it's a blessing.  But this verse, in its entirety, seems to be:  promise, then warning... promise, then warning... promise, then warning...  It reads:  "the mountain country shall be yours.  Although it is wooded, you shall cut it down, and its farthest extent shall be yours; for you shall drive out the Canaanites, though they have iron chariots, and are strong."

Taking possession of the Promised Land was not going to be easy, for any of the Israelites.  The land itself presented challenges, and there were already people living there.  There were many battles, and much hard work ahead of them.

But the truth is, there are precious few good things in this world, that don't come with some effort, or some pain.  Paychecks come only after the work is done.  Babies come only after labor.   Promotions, good test scores, and really, growth of any kind, comes after a struggle to achieve.

Are you better than you used to be?  It wasn't easy, was it?  Learning to walk, whether as a baby, or a Christian learning to walk in the Spirit, is accomplished only with a lot of falling down.  But the reward will get you places you couldn't even dream of, when you first started.

The promise is waiting for you.  But it's not going to come to you.  Getting there will not be easy.  But you will inherit the blessing He has for you.




{To Rabbit:  Happy Birthday!}

Monday, February 21, 2011

Whatever you do, don't do nothing!

"In the morning.... Jesus prayed."

Mark 1:35

Remember those old Nike ads?  "Just do it," they said.  It was a great tag line.  It was pithy, motivating, and very true.  I know for me, I hesitate to begin an exercise program because I don't know exactly what to do.   Muscle building, or cardio?  How much?  How many times a week?  For how long?  Should I check with my doctor first?  And so, I succumb to analysis paralysis, and do nothing.

For a long time, the idea of Morning Quiet Time had the same effect on me.  I had to capitalize it there; to emphasize its officialness.  Because it does sort of feel like it's one of the commandments.  Almost everyone I know, who is trying to grow in their faith, has Morning Quiet Time.  Or at least they all say they do.  Or they try.  Or at least they say they try....   Anytime the conversation comes up, all I can think about is that everyone does it everyday - except me.  So I change the subject.  

Not really.  And I'm a lot better than I used to be.  Because I used to be all caught up in the what.  Do I read a chapter of the Bible?  Just one?  What if it's a short one?  Which book?  Start at the beginning?  Or a gospel?  A psalm?  How long should I pray?  Should I pray before or after I read?  Should I read a devotional, too?  Should I have worship music playing?  How quiet does it have to be?  Do I really have to get up while it's dark?  How dark?  Should I do it where my kids can see me, so I'll be a good example?  Or should it just be between God and me?   I read once, "a good example can inspire us, but it cannot enable us."  Nope.  Completely disabled.

So I did nothing.  For a long time.  Oh, I'd try a few things, in fits and starts.  But I could never get into a rhythm because I was sure I was doing it wrong.   And God just shook His head and me, and grinned a little....  Because He loves me.  In a very compassionate, pitiful way.  (I'm pitiful, not Him.)  And it's not like we never talked.  We had a good relationship in other ways.

But one day while I was stressing about how everyone I knew was perfect in this department, and nothing worked for me, even if I copied someone else exactly.... one day He said to me, "Just.... Do.... Something."  And it was like when Helen Keller understood the concept of "water".  (If you don't know that reference, check out "The Miracle Worker" sometime.  Basically, it means Helen Keller finally comprehending that all those finger movements Annie Sullivan had been doing in her hand were about communication.  Language.  And her whole world opened up.)  Yup.  My whole world opened up.  God was saying He didn't really care that much what I did.  Since then, it has come to be a perfected routine of.... whatever it happens to be that day.  Now, don't get me wrong.  I read the Bible every day, and I pray every day.  Sometimes first thing in the morning, sometimes later.   Sometimes I read a devotional along with it.   Most days I end up with a verse that sticks with me, and I find myself sort of chewing on it all day.  I love that....

And you know what else?  I find that this concept ~ Just Do Something ~ applies in a lot of areas.  Exercise, house-cleaning, organizational tasks, projects.... Why do I continually find myself surprised that His wisdom is wise?   Sure makes me eager to find out what He'll have to say to me tomorrow.  And oh yes ~ I'll be listening!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Shhhh......

Psalm 46
~ the way it was meant to be understood.

My favorite verse in this psalm is verse 10:  "Be still and know that I am God."  So much so, that when I hear the words, "Be still," my mind automatically finishes:  "and know that I am God."

But there are 11 verses to this psalm, that expand and multiply that verse of peace, really, to a degree that cannot be measured, because it depends how deep the valley is, at the time of reading it!

Here, I believe, is the message of Psalm 46:

Be still and know
     that I am God.

Be still and know
     that I am your refuge and strength;
     an ever-present help in trouble.

Be still and know
     that you need not fear,
     though the earth give way
     and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea...  
     though its waters roar and foam
     and the mountains quake with their surging.

Be still and know
     that there is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
     the holy place where the Most High dwells.

Be still and know
     that God is within that city; she will not fall...
     God will help her at break of day.

     Though nations are in uproar, and kingdoms fall;
Be still and know:
     He lifts His voice and the earth melts.

Be still and know
     the Lord Almighty is with us
     the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Be still and see
     the works of the Lord,
     the desolations He has brought on the earth.
     He makes wars cease, to the ends of the earth
     He breaks the bow, and shatters the spear
     He burns the chariot with fire.

Be still and know that I am God.

Be still and know
     that I will be exalted among the nations.
Be still and know
     that I will be exalted in the earth.

Be still and know
     that the Lord Almighty is with us
     the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

He made the sea, and everything in it

"Speak to the earth, and it will teach you; or let the fish in the sea inform you."
Job 12:8

How long has it been since you've played Charades?  It's been awhile for me.  My family used to play a lot when I was in high school and college.  And this was not your grandmother's Charades.  This was Extreme Charades.  Titles like:  "Kissinger:  A Compendium of Thought on the Man and the Politics".

But this won't be that hard.  And I promise not to go too fast for you.  It's just one word, so I'm going act out the whole concept.  Okay, are you watching?   What am I?


Right!  I'm a clownfish!  Rather cute, aren't they?  I mean, as fish go.  Certainly more attractive than, say, this fellow:


At any rate, I've got clownfish on the brain lately.  I watched something on the Travel Channel about the after-effects of the eruption of a volcano on Indonesia.  It destroyed the coral reef, but then it makes a great place for a new one to form.  And one type of creature that makes its home on a coral reef is the clownfish.  

Most people are familiar with the clownfish, thanks to a certain movie a few years ago... And one of the fascinating things about them is that they live in sea anemone, which is poisonous to other sea creatures, and does eat fish - but not the clownfish.  On the contrary, the clownfish thrive there.  They get their food from the sea anemone, as they eats the remains of any fish that has been the anemone's lunch.  And clownfish are protected by the anemone, as they are able to hide among its fronds, as well as the fact that the sea anemone's poison would kill anything that would venture into it to prey on the clownfish.  

This relationship that the clownfish has with the sea anemone made me think of my reliance on the Bible, and how I benefit from it.  First of all, it feeds me.  Deuteronomy 8:3 says, "Man does not live in bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God."  And as we learn in the Lord's prayer, we must seek daily bread.  Scripture has what I need to get me through every day, but only if I read it.  

Like the sea anemone, God's word offers me protection.  The world around me - tv, movies and the like - as well as my struggles in the world, are trying to pull me away from the path of faith I am on.  I don't know about you, but all I'm trying to do is live my life to please Him, being the wife, mother, student, friend, etc. that He has called me to be.  But daily struggles threaten my trust in Him, and the temptations of life are constantly trying to rearrange my priorities, enticing me to put thoughts of Him in the background.   The Bible is protection for my heart and my mind.    Psalm 119:11 says, "Your Word have I hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You."  The best picture of this protection comes from Jesus Himself, when He was tempted by satan in the desert.  Three times He was tempted, and three times He responded with Scripture, including the passage from Deuteronomy that I quoted above.  

God's Word will both sustain us, and protect us, if we rely on it.  
And Proverbs 2, has a how-to that I love, in a nutshell: 

"Receive My words" ~ read the Bible
"And treasure My commands within you" ~ memorize Scripture
"Incline your ear to wisdom, and apply your heart to understanding" ~ study the Bible
"And lift up your voice for understanding" ~ pray 

The God who designed the amazing relationship between the clownfish and the sea anemone, is the God who created us.  And just as He designed every creature on earth with a way to get food, and a way to protect itself, so He did for us.   All we have to do is take advantage of it.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Wanted: Hardworking tentmakers

"He was a tentmaker"
Acts 18:3

If you asked a group of people to describe Paul in one word, you'd probably get responses like, "apostle", "saint", "evangelist", and "preacher" but I bet none of them would say "tentmaker."  It's just not something that comes immediately to mind when we think of Paul.  But I wouldn't be surprised to learn that it was how Paul described himself.   Because although he knew preaching was his calling, he was also a man of humility.   But what is there for us to learn from this, other than knowledge that might serve us well if we ever join in a game of Bible-themed Trivial Pursuit?

Well first of all, tentmaking was another way of serving people.  People need shelter.  Perhaps there were times when Paul himself needed shelter, and it was his way of blessing those who traveled with him.  James  2 says "If you say to someone, 'go in peace; keep warm and well fed,' but do nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead."

Also, Paul believed in supporting himself.  Acts 20 tells us that he said, "I have not coveted anyone's silver or gold or clothing.  These hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions."  Although there is no shame in being supported by your ministry, Paul apparently was not at peace with this option, and he acted accordingly.

Lastly, it was not pretty work, but it needed to be done.  Paul was not above what I assume was hard, dirty work; far from glamorous, and maybe even hard to reconcile with someone that many see only as a man of words.   For us, that means emptying the trash, straightening chairs, throwing out coffee cups that have been left behind...  and not just at church, but at your place of business, in your school, in your home...  Acts 20 also says, "In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work, we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus Himself said: 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'"  Recently, at my church, four men were added to the Board of Elders.  As they were announced to the congregation, these gentlemen stood on the altar with the Pastor, and I realized, these are the men I see emptying the trash every week.

We don't know how often Paul worked as a tentmaker.  Maybe it was a constant; maybe he only did it when they were running low on funds.  And it's right that we think of him first as an evangelist.  But we also need to remember that he was a tentmaker.  And that whatever our "calling" is from God, we too, need to make tents.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Heavens Declare the Glory of God

"Clouds... the wonders of Him..."
Job 37:16

I'm feeling sciency today.   Topic?  Clouds.  I love clouds.  I love how they give the sky personality.  I mean, I like blue as much as the next person, but a sky that's nothing but blue just isn't as interesting to me. Unless I'm at Dodger Stadium, where the sky is bluer, and the grass is greener than anywhere else on earth!  :)

On a recent drive, I noticed not only all the clouds in the sky, but also the differences between the clouds.  There are four general classifications of clouds, and I got to thinking of how they tell us about God.



Cumulus clouds are the big, puffy clouds; rounded and heaped on top of each other.  These remind me that He is a God of abundance; that He came that we might have life, and have it to the full.
2 Corinthians 9:8 "God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all you need, you will about in every good work."






Stratus clouds are the layered ones, often seeming stretched out for miles.  These make me think of the fact that He is unchanging.  Remember the story of Joseph and the Pharaoh's dream?  Seven years of abundance followed by seven years of famine.  Genesis 41:31 says that the famine was so severe that the time of abundance would not even be remembered.  But it didn't change that the abundance had existed, right?  Most often, we think of God in terms of our current circumstances ~ as a shelter during times of trial; as our Provider during times of want ~ but He is completely God all the time.
Hebrews 13:8 "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever."




Cirrus clouds are the ones that are thin and wispy.  They often have a little curl to them, and look like they've been swept across the sky with a paintbrush.  These remind me of His gentleness, and that it's God's kindness that leads us to repentance.
Galatians 5:22-23 "The fruits of the Spirit are kindness... goodness... gentleness..."




Nimbus clouds are the ones that bring us rain.  They are darker, and of course, full-looking.  They speak of His power and strength and remind us that nature answers to Him.
Jeremiah 20:11 "The Lord is with me like a mighty warrior."
Job 37:6 "He says to the snow, 'Fall on the earth,' and to the rain shower, 'Be a mighty downpour.'"


~ We often praise the evening clouds, and tints so gay and bold,
But seldom think upon our God, who tinged these clouds with gold ~ 
Sir Walter Scott

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Promise of Joy

"consider it pure joy when you face many trials...."
James 1:2

Little word study today, focusing on a fairly well-known verse in James.  James is a short book - only five chapters - but it packs a punch.  I kinda can't wait to meet James in heaven.  I love how he writes.  I love how he gets right to the point, and that he makes me think.  I can just picture myself in heaven someday, stammering and mumbling as I ask him for his autograph.  But realistically, I'm pretty sure Jesus will be my focus, so maybe not...

Anyhoo, let's look at James 1:2.  "My brethren, consider it pure joy when you face many trials."  I think the first time someone reads this verse, they are probably astounded.  "Joy??  In trials??"  But I also think that those who are well familiar with it, also struggle in the face of it.  "I'm in a trial, and I know I'm supposed to feel joy, but I don't."  And although I normally study the New King James version of the Bible, the wording here is New International.  I like the instruction it gives.  For instance:

"consider it"...
To consider means to give thought to, or to ponder.  Most of the time, joy in trials is not readily apparent.  It might take some work on our part to recognize the joy.  It might take prayer,  and meditation, and the faith to ask Him to show it to us.  But every trial that comes your way has been allowed by God.  Decide to receive it with joy.

"consider it pure joy"...
The tricky part of this is the word "joy".  Two reasons:  first of all, we're not just talking about joy, we're talking about "pure joy."  God's joy.  Unadulterated, life-impacting, blessing-producing joy.  Perfect joy. He can impart no other kind.  Secondly, God's idea of joy is not the same as our idea of joy.  To us, joy is a feeling, like happiness.  And if we don't feel that feeling, we think something is wrong.  But the word "joy" also means "something that brings joy".  So while you may not feel it now, the joy is coming.    He allows nothing that is not for our growth, and His glory.  Verses 3 and 4 of this chapter explain it beautifully.  "Consider it pure joy when you face many trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.  But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect, and complete, lacking nothing."  There is a promise there.  That which will bring you joy is upon you now.  The feeling of joy will come later.

Finally:  "consider it pure joy when you face many trials"...
My Amazing Boy, when he was about four years old, said to me one day, "Momma, I don't ever want to go to school."  When I asked him why, he said, "Because they give you tests."  And I heard the Lord speaking my words to me as I answered him, "But sweetie, they don't give you the test until they've taught you what you need to know."  This is how God is.  We face our trials.  They do not ambush us.  It may feel that way sometimes, but in truth, we are ready.  He has prepared us.  And certainly, we can find joy in that knowledge.

Consider the joy.  Face your trials.  Your obedience will bring the promised blessings.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

On your mark...

"Abigail lost no time"
1 Samuel 25:18

This is such a short sentence, but I feel there is such a valuable lesson here.  Abigail's husband had insulted King David, and she knew she had to take steps to rectify the situation.  David was on his way to kill her husband, Nabal, and his men.  She knew what she had to do, and she wasted no time.

I admire Abigail in that she knew what she had to do.  I envy that knowledge, or decisiveness.  Sometimes I try so hard to do the right thing that I end up doing nothing.  Or the moment has passed, and it's too late.  Gentle Husband and I call it "analysis paralysis."  Maybe I need to pray for wisdom and discernment before the time comes to make a decision.   Maybe that's what is meant by "hiding His word in my heart."  It's like the old Boy Scout motto; only God's wisdom can help me truly "be prepared."

While I admire Abigail's wisdom in her situation, I also truly want to emulate her obedience.  When she knew what had to be done, she "lost no time."  Time is valuable; lost time is lost forever.  If I fail to obey His plan for me in a given scenario, I may forfeit forever the blessings that could have been gained; blessings both for myself, and for others He might place in my path.

There is a time for everything, and a season for every purpose under heaven.  When the time is right, waste not a moment.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Is one of us supposed to be a dog in this scenario?

"We are God's handiwork"
Ephesians 2:10

Did you see any of the dog show last night?  For years I've loved tuning in every February to the two-night competition of the Westminster Kennel Club.  I wouldn't even really consider myself a dog person, but I'm fascinated with the different breeds; the numbers of them, and the variety within a group.  There are seven groups, including "Herding" and "Terriers" for instance.  And then each Group is further divided, by breed.  Though every breed within a group has something in common, there can be striking differences.  The Hound Group, for instance, includes both the Irish Wolfhound (up to 150 lbs; 7 feet tall) and the dachshund (avg 11 lbs; 11 inches tall).  And the judge of each group is supposed to choose the dog that best represents the best of that breed.

What the judge does not -- cannot -- take into account, though, is how well that particular dog does what that breed is supposed to do.  A Chesapeake Bay Retriever, as you might imagine, is bred to be not just a retriever, but a water dog.  Its coat repels water, and it has webbed feet.  A bloodhound, on the other hand, is bred for its scenting ability.  When its nose is to the ground, its ears "capture" and "deliver" the scent to its nose.

In the same way, each of us been purposed by God for something specific.  He has given each of us gifts, abilities and characteristics that are unique.  We may have interests or talents in common with others, but like snowflakes, we are exactly like no one else.  This verse in Ephesians is one of my favorites, because it reminds me that God knows me so well.  We are, as Psalm 139 says, fearfully and wonderfully made, and not only does He know the number of hairs on each of our heads, He knew in advance what our gifts would be.  This verse in Ephesians goes on to say that we are created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.   Blessings and challenges and opportunities await each one of us ~ chosen and prepared especially for me, and especially for you.

So whether you're a snowflake, popcorn, or a Curly-Coated Retriever, be the best one you can be!



Sunday, February 13, 2011

All present and accounted for!

"... not a man of us is missing."
Numbers 31:49

This statement comes after a war that the Israelites waged on the Midianites.  Verse 4 of this chapter says that a thousand men from each tribe were sent to war.  The Lord gave them victory in the war, and they were even able to take as spoils all the cattle, all the flocks, and all the goats.  The numbers are astounding: 675,000 sheep; 72,000 cattle; 61,000 donkeys; and 32,000 people taken captive.  Clearly a decisive victory for the Israelites.  The Lord said to go to war, they obeyed, and the Lord showered them with blessings.  But then comes the even more astounding number; the bigger blessing.  The officers of the army came to Moses, having taken a count of the men under their command, and reported that not one man was missing! There was not one casualty of that war in all the Israeli army!  Our Lord does nothing halfway!

When I read that verse, I remembered a similar statement that Jesus had made while on earth.  In John 17, Jesus prays an extended prayer; a precious and lengthy communion between Him and His Father.  In this prayer, He prays over His disciples, and He says in verse 12, "Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost...."  He is the Good Shepherd, and He takes very seriously the role of protecting His sheep.

The feeling of amazement  I have upon reading of the complete return of the Israelite army is exceeded only by the feeling of comfort I have upon the reminder that I belong to the Lord.  I am protected by He who has overcome the world.  And though we are promised struggles and trials, we are also assured of victory... that in all these things, we are more than conquerors through Him who loves us.

Don't just take care; give it!

"Cast your cares on the Lord"
Psalm 55:22

For most of my life, I interpreted this verse to mean that we should give the Lord our anxieties, but when I became a mother, it took on a new meaning.  One of the definitions of a "care" is "an object of concern or attention."  By that definition, anything that concerns one, or has one's attention, is a "care".   For a child, that's pretty much everything.  From the moment they are born, they assume everyone within earshot is just as concerned about their feelings as they are.  Hungry, tired, wet, cold, gassy... in whatever way they're not happy, they gonna let you know.  And generally speaking, their needs are then quickly tended to, which certainly supports their assumption...

As they get older, they continue to assume that whatever is important to them is automatically important to you.  Interrupting your shower to tell you their crayon is broken; interrupting your phone call to show you their drawing; interrupting your sleep to tell you they can't find their blanket with the chickens on it, or their stuffed kitty....

Most mothers take these things very seriously.  I know I did.  I hastened to find a new crayon, ooh and aah over the drawing, and groggily pick up the blanket from behind the bed.   And frankly, unless I was really, really sleepy, I was happy to do it.  I saw it as my part of being a mom.  My kids are that important to me: if they care about something, so do I.  They cast their cares upon me, and I gladly accept.

Well, my Amazing Boy, who has been playing little-league baseball for years, is getting a shot at ice hockey this month.  It has never seemed the right time financially (equipment is expensive) but hockey-loving hubby found a rink nearby that is offering four "learn to play" sessions that are free this month.  So AB played last Saturday, and absolutely loved it.  Yesterday was his second time, so my Thoughtful Husband suggested that I take AB this week, so I could watch.  Well, AB was thrilled.  He must have said a dozen times, "I'm so excited that you get to see me play!"  I kind of laughed to myself every time he said it, wondering if he was happy for himself, that I'd be there with him, and instead of just enjoying hockey, he could be enjoying hockey and Mom.    Or was he happy for me, assuming it would be my joy to enjoy his joy?   I'll bet, to him, it didn't matter.  Because as far as he's concerned, if he cares about it, I care about it.   Whatever he was thinking, he was right.  I had a wonderful time.  I loved watching him play.

I think this verse gives us a glimpse into how much the Lord loves us.  We really can give him our anxieties, and our concerns.  Philippians 4:6 tells us to not be anxious about anything, but to present our requests to God.   But that's not all.  That should not be the extent of our relationship with Him.  James 1:17 says that every good and perfect gift is from above.   The Lord gives us gifts and experiences because He knows we will enjoy them.  How much more will we enjoy them if He's part of it with us?  If we pray our appreciation to Him, and realize that the ability, or the opportunity is from Him.  How much would He love being included in the things that are important to us?

Share both your sorrows and your joys with Him.  He cares about your cares, because He cares about you.

Friday, February 11, 2011

There's no such thing as an ordinary day...

"This is the day the Lord has made."
Psalm 118:24


I went to a funeral yesterday, for a friend of my folks', who had become a friend of mine, too, over the years.  That's the beautiful thing about growing up - your parents' friends become your friends, too.  The church was packed, which is always nice to see.  The music was beautiful, and the words spoken by the priest were sincere, compassionate, and loving.

After the service, as we drove to the home where the reception was, I found myself looking out the window, and seeing plants and flowers I'd seen a hundred times before, but somehow they looked different to me.  I love flora of all kinds, so it's not to say that I was noticing things I never had.  But a few times in my life, when I'm in the midst of something emotional, I've had a different view.  The first time I noticed it was after my Awesome Girl was born.  We were driving home from the hospital, and I was seeing beautiful flowers along the road, and I was convinced -- still am -- that they had grown for her.  Sure, some talented landscaper had placed them in the ground at some point, and sure, maybe those blossoms had been there for a couple days already, but that's only because they'd been prepared.  God had made sure of it, because He had known that I would look out the window and see flowers in a whole new way, because I was a mother now.  And what's more, I wondered if the cars driving near us knew that that day was not an ordinary day.  Because I was a mother now.   I'm not self-involved at all.  No I'm not.  No I'm not.

Yesterday, as I looked at the plants we were passing, and even a few people doing everyday things, I marveled that they did ordinary things as if today was an ordinary day.   Have you ever felt that?  Have you ever gone to the grocery store wondering if strangers can tell something's going on in your life?  Yesterday, probably, for everyone I drove past, was an ordinary day.  But not for all the people in that church.  For them, this day was about celebrating one person.  Remembering and appreciating, with a little crying, and a little rejoicing.

But the truth is, everyone you pass on the road, everyone you chat with at church, the dental hygienist, the grocery store clerk, the school secretary, the person in line in front of you... everyone is going through something.  What if we all wore shirts that explained that?  "My father's funeral was this morning"...  "I've been diagnosed with cancer"... "My wife has Alzheimers"... "My husband has left me"... "I have a two-year-old"... "I have a teenager"...  Would we treat that person differently?  Would we say, "nono, you go ahead," or "I understand; I went through it, too," or "here, let me help you with that," a little more often?  

Someone you don't know is going through something you don't know.  Maybe it's the best day of their life; maybe it's the worst.  But for someone in your life, the flowers look different today.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A time to be silent...

"If only you would be altogether silent!  For you, that would be wisdom."
Job 13:5

This verse is spoken by Job, to his not-so-helpful "friend" Zophar, after Zophar had opined for 20 verses, which was after Bildad had given his thoughts for 22 verses, which was after Eliphaz had shared his two cents for 21 verses.... Seems like Job had good reason to feel like he was being lectured unnecessarily.  And unhelpfully.

Now, please understand I believe it is vital to understand God's Word in context.  Taking bits and pieces of it, "cafeteria-style" will lead to our not understanding His message, and it can even cause us to "create" our faith the way we think it should look.  Job 13:5 needs to be understood in the context of all of chapter 13, which needs to be understood in the context of all of Job, which needs to be understood in the context of all of Scripture....  I think you get the point.

But I also believe, as is obvious from the nature of this humble blog, that individual words and phrases and verses can hold wisdom and value for us.  Sometimes, as we read, something will leap out at us, and will make itself applicable to our lives in some way.  And so this verse did for me.

I think I could be classified as a "talker," although there are circumstances where I can be shy.  But I would be willing to bet that my husband, my Awesome Girl and my Amazing Boy all feel there are times when "less" would be "more" when it comes to my talking.  Certainly, what I feel is helpful instruction might often be construed by my kids as lecturing.  And they sometimes joke with me that they're afraid to ask me a question, because my answer is going to begin with, "Well, honey, after God created Adam and Eve...." and might include a few more details than they really wanted.   And it's also possible that when I am sharing what I think is something fascinating with my husband, all he's thinking is that he wishes he could concentrate better on whatever he's working on.

For many of us, our times of prayer becomes about what we have to say to God, not about hearing what He might have to say to us.  But it's called "Quiet Time" for a reason.  In silence, He can convey peace, guidance, encouragement and even a little discipline.

In Saratoga Springs, New York is a lake called - logically enough - Saratoga Lake.  Mohawk Indian legend says that the stillness of the lake is sacred, and that if a voice is uttered on its waters, the speaker's canoe will sink instantly.  Now, I don't know if that's true, but maybe it's a good thing to think of some situations as sacred, and treat them as such.   For me, that would be wisdom.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

One Way or Round Trip?

"Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish, from the presence of the Lord"
Jonah 1:3

Why Tarshish?  Was Tarshish really the place to go to flee from the Lord?  Is it still?  If it were, I think it would be the most crowded place in the world....

I believe people still seek Tarshish today.  They would love nothing more than to find a ship that would take them there, and they would be more than willing to pay the fare.  For those who haven't asked Christ to be their Savior,  they might feel that "God-shaped vacuum" in their heart, and it scares them into wanting to run from that feeling.  Those who have given their lives to Jesus, like Jonah, might seek a kind of amnesia; a place where they no longer even remember what was the service of the Lord they were avoiding.

Perhaps when you arrive at Tarshish, you can leave your "carry-on" of the Holy Spirit back on the boat.  Perhaps, when you are assigned lodging, you receive back the part of your heart that you gave to Him.  The deal is off, and you can relax, free from whatever He is calling you to.

But no.  In His wisdom and unfathomable love, He has assured us that, try as we might, we cannot flee from His Spirit.  In heaven or in hell, on the wings on the morning, in the uttermost parts of the sea.  We belong to Him, we know His voice, and His right hand shall hold us... shall lead us.

Ah, amazing grace.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Good things come to those who wait.

"Give me success today."
Genesis 24:12

I find myself aware of timing again today.  Yesterday it was God's timing, and how often He is reminded of His covenant with His children.  Today I am thinking about my timing.  I was reminded of a story in Genesis, and it made me wonder ~ not for the first time ~ how often my timing is off.  How often do I jump the gun on what God has planned for my life?

The hero of this story is Abraham.  Abraham had been promised, by God, that he would have a son, and that his descendants would number more than the sands on the shore.   But as we know, it took a long time before Abraham became the father of that son, Isaac.  As much of a joy as it must have been when Isaac was born, that was only part of what God had promised.  If there were going to be myriad descendants, Isaac was going to need a wife.  And here is where Abraham impresses me.

During those long years when Abraham was waiting for Isaac, he made the mistake of trying to handle the timing himself.  At Sarah's suggestion, he became the father of Ishmael.  This was a decision with complicated and long-range consequences.  But several years later, to his credit, he did not waver when faced with the idea of sacrificing Isaac, so clearly there was growth in Abraham's faith, which is all any of us can ask for, isn't it?

And I think Abraham's wisdom reaches a high point when the time comes to find a wife for Isaac.  In chapter 24 of Genesis, Abraham sends his trusted to servant back to Abraham's relatives to find a wife from among his family.  I read this story again today and found myself amazed that Abraham was only now taking steps to accomplish this crucial task.  Verse 1 says that Abraham was old and advanced in years (old and well advanced?  Ouch!).  So why did he wait this long?  Marriages were often arranged when the parties involved were still children, and I think it shows such patience and faith on his part.  It's obvious he doesn't feel as strong a need to handle important things his way, as he did when he was young and not-so-advanced in age.  It was God's promise, and He appears to be confident in God's fulfillment of it.   And the servant was immediately successful in finding a wife for Isaac, showing that God indeed blessed Abraham's plan, because Abraham was relying on God's plan.

I admire this show of trust on Abraham's part.  My prayer is often the same as in today's verse:  "Please, God, give me success today."  But I'm saying it in my timing.  It can't be success if it's not God's perfect plan.  And I'm of two minds about whether Abraham had it easy or not.  I envy his being given a clear promise in regards to his son and his descendants.  I wish I had more of an idea of God's plan for my life.  I feel like I could be more patient in the hard times if I knew what the goal was.  But on the other hand, maybe it would be harder to wait if I knew what I am waiting for.   I know I often don't tell my children about something exciting until right before it happens, because I don't want the waiting to be too hard.

Waiting is never easy.  But I certainly should be able to take a cue from Abraham on what to do while waiting.  Sometimes, what God wants us to do while we're waiting is just, well, wait!  Be still, and know that He is God.  The time will come for action, and we need to trust that He'll let us know when that time is.

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Rainbow Connection

"I will remember..."
Genesis 9:15



This verse is one of the handful of times that God uses the words, "I will remember."  And would you believe that every one of those times, what God remembers is the same thing?  "I will remember My covenant."  Don't you just love that He forgets our sins, (Hebrews 8:12, Jeremiah 31:34) but He remembers His covenant with His people?  But what struck me about this passage is not what God is remembering, but when.  But we'll come back to that.

The covenant that God is remembering here is His covenant with Noah.  Noah and his family have disembarked -- get it?? disembARK??  (Did you know the word "disembark" actually comes from the Latin word for "boat"? Okay, let's focus again.)  Noah and his family have landed and disembarked, and God is now establishing His covenant with Noah and his descendants (that means you!) that never again will a flood destroy the earth.  But He goes one step further with His promise.  He sets His rainbow in the clouds, as a sign of that covenant.

I know this story well, and so of course, whenever I see a rainbow, I think of the story of Noah and I remember that promise.  But I only get to see a rainbow a handful of times a year, which makes it such a treat, doesn't it?  I can't be the only one who goes outside when the conditions look right, for the express purpose of finding a rainbow  And I love how the rainbow is always in the darkest part of the sky.  God knows all about contrast, doesn't He?

But now come back to the idea of "when".  Because the "when", for me, is a handful of times a year.  Or once a day, if you're visiting Kauai...  But what God said is, "Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I remember My covenant between me and you and all living creatures."  Whenever a rainbow appears, God remembers.  I wonder how often there's a rainbow in the sky, somewhere on earth.  I know that sometimes a rainbow can be seen only in a small area, so there could be some near me at times I don't even know it.  But He does.  He knows every time a rainbow appears anywhere on earth, and that is way more than a handful of times a year.  How frequent must rainbows be in the rainforest, or rainier places than I live?  And then the realization forms in my mind that if He remembers that covenant every time a rainbow appears, then He must be constantly remembering.

I find that very reassuring.  And very beautiful.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

... what that word means... (Part 2)

Hi!  Hope you enjoyed the Super Bowl - and at least some of the ads - wherever you were.   Here's part two of a slightly different look at the Beautitudes!

"Blessed are those..."
Matthew 5

"Blessed are the pure in heart." ~ "Blessed are the katharos of kardia."  If you are free from sin and guilt in your soul and mind, you shall behold the only and true God.

"Blessed are the peacemakers." ~ "Blessed are the eirenopoios."  If you love and desire peace, you will be called a child of the only and true God.

"Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness." ~ "Blessed are those who are dioko for dikaiosyne."  If you have been mistreated, harassed or troubled for living a life of integrity and virtue, approved by God, then yours is the kingdom of heaven.

"Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and say evil against you because of Me." ~ Blessed are you when you are oneidizo, dioko, or pas poneros."  If you have been undeservedly reviled, harassed, or subjected to every kind of peril to your faith, then rejoice exceedingly!  Exult! For many, much and large are the rewards God will bestow upon your endeavors.

God's standard is high, no doubt about that.  But His promises are extravagant.  If we strive to live our lives according to what He expects of us, it will be well worth it; now and for eternity!


Saturday, February 5, 2011

"I do not think that word means what you think it means...."

( Name that movie! )


"Blessed are those..."
Matthew 5

Let's do a little word study of the Beatitudes.  I'm going to break these up into two batches, half today and half tomorrow, so ideally we'll have a chance to really think about what they mean, and whether or not they describe us.  And I'm hopefully going to make you look at them in a new way, by changing some of the words to the original Greek, since sometimes things get lost in translation.  Ready?  Okay, then join me!

"Blessed are the poor in spirit."  ~ "Blessed are the ptochos in pneuma."  It means to be begging for the Holy Spirit.  Are you desperate for His Spirit to be your Counselor and Comforter?  Then yours is the kingdom of heaven.  

"Blessed are those who mourn."  ~ "Blessed are those who pentheo".  If you suffer in sadness, then you shall be parakaleo: consoled, encouraged, strengthened, or taught.

"Blessed are the meek." ~ "Blessed are the pra├┐s."  If you are gentle, and meek toward God, you will inherit land that will be productive for you.  (Man, I love that promise of productivity!)

"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness." ~ "Blessed are those who peinao and dipsao for dikaiosyne."  If you long for and seek with eager desire to be acceptable to God, then your desire will be satisfied, and you will be filled.

"Blessed are the merciful." ~ "Blessed are the eleemon."   If you have mercy on others, helping those are are troubled or suffering, then compassion and mercy shall be shown to you.


See you tomorrow!  Or as they say in the Greek:  Tha se dw avrio!
... and in the French:  A demain!
... and in the Pig Latin:  Ee-say ou-yay omorrow-tay!


Okay, I'm done now....

Friday, February 4, 2011

The more things change, the more He stays the same.

"The Alpha and the Omega"
Revelation 1:8 and 21:6

"I the Lord do not change."
Malachi 3:6

We're gonna do a little math today.  What's that property of mathematics that says if A = B and B = C, then A = C?   Okay, I just looked it up; it's the Transitive Property.  So let's apply the Transitive Property to God.  He has always been; He will always be.  He does not change.  So whatever He has always been, He will always be.  Have I lost you yet?  No?  Okay, good.

So now let's put it into tangible terms.  For instance, to Adam and Eve, God was a Creator.  Although we're too late to see the universe come into being, we can still see Him creating.  Nature, newborns, and even us.  ~ "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation" ~ 2 Corinthians 5:17

To Noah, God was a protector.  He will be that for you, too.  ~ "You are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble." ~ Psalm 59:16

For Joseph, God had a plan.  He has one for you, too.  ~ "For I know the plans I have for you... plans to prosper you and not to harm you; plans to give you a hope and a future." ~ Jeremiah 29:11

To Moses, God was a miracle who could not be explained.  Be amazed. ~ "He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted." ~ Job 5:9

To David, God was forgiveness.  He still forgives. ~ "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins." ~ 1 John 1:9

To Daniel, God was to be worshiped.  He still deserves that.  ~ "Worship the Lord with gladness; come before Him with joyful songs." ~ Psalm 100:2

Whatever characteristic of God that you see;  whatever word you could use to describe Him as you read through Scripture, you can expect that of Him now, and in the future.   ~ Merciful ~ Patient ~ Just ~ Provider ~ Majestic ~ Redeemer ~ Truth ~ Wisdom ~ Shepherd ~ and yes.... Forever Unchanging ~

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Do these sunglasses make me look fat?

"He brings the deep shadows into the light."
Job 12:22

I love shade.  When I sit in my car, waiting at baseball practice, or sit on a blanket during volleyball practice, I need, need, need to be in the shade.   Direct sunlight is not comfortable.  Makes me hot or squinty, or worst case, it causes a sunburn on just one part of me, making me look like half of a farmer the next time I wear anything sleeveless...  And if you do let that happen, then you're stuck like that for months!  I can still see the line of demarcation where I sat in one position for too long a beach birthday party last August.  Shade, baby.  It's where it's at.  Or where it's not, if "it" is the sun....

Anyhow, when I read this verse, I was sitting in the sun.  I was sitting outside the house where AG   (Awesome Girl) is taking French.   Normalement, j'attend avec elle, mais je suis malade.  (Normally, I attend with her, but I am sick.)   *Le cough*  I parked my car in the sun because I wanted to be able to access the French teacher's wi-fi, and because I knew it would only be awhile before the sun went down behind the house.   (It took 27 minutes.)  So I sat in my car, and thought about the fact that I eschew the sun.  (You can expect to see that word under "words that fascinate me" very soon.)

And as I thought about it, I realized how much I love it, if I'm not directly in it.  And I think it has to do with this verse in Job; with what He reveals in the sun.  Like the fact that my cat, Hazel, looks like a black cat until you see her in the sun.  I didn't want a black cat (too boring) but when I took her into the visiting room at the Animal Shelter, the sun was shining in there, and I realized she's not black.  She's a deep, dark chocolate brown.  Velvety brown, like a mink.  So much more interesting than she first appeared.  But then, aren't we all....  ;)

And my daughter's hair.  Beautiful highlights that are some combination of the highlights in my hair, and those in my sisters'.  Is there anything more wonderful than realizing that your kids are entirely unique individuals, and yet somehow an amazing amalgam of many people in your family?

And my car.  My car is a wonderful color that I call "Chesapeake".  Less creative folks, like those at Chevy, would call it "teal".  I pray for those folks...  I think my car is at its most beautiful on foggy or cloudy days, but when you see it in the sunlight you catch the beautiful gold sparkles that hide there.

My mom's car, too.  Hers is what she calls "Sky Blue Pink".  Can you appreciate that?  If your mind cannot color you a picture of that, then I really do pity you.  But don't worry, you'll see that color when you get to heaven, I'm sure.

And clouds.  I love what the sun does to clouds, especially at sunset.  Every minute is different from the last.  Blues and golds and pinks and oranges and purples.  And yes, sky blue pink!

And trees.  When I get up in the morning, I go sit in my chair in the living room, and concentrate on blinking, until it no longer feels forced.  And I love to look out the window.  I can see the trees that are directly outside our backyard, and beyond them are the trees that are across the street.  Beyond those are the trees up that hill across the street.  Beyond that, there are more trees, and I don't even know where those are.  The front yards of those houses over there?  Maybe that park that's back there somewhere?  But the way the sunlight hits them is fascinating.  The farther away the trees are, the sooner they get the sun.  So the leaves on the far-away trees become a yellowy-green, while the leaves closest to me are still a shady, bluey-green.

He reveals things in the light, and I'm thankful I can see them, and I hope I never stop appreciating them.  If you'd like to join me, I'll be the one on the blanket in the shade ~ but facing the sun!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

But I don't think He's grading on a curve....

"I know, my God, that you test the heart and are pleased..."
1 Chronicles 29:17

I heard God through my son today.  It happens frequently with my kids.  I think I'm so aware of the fact that while I'm a mother, I'm also a daughter to God, that sometimes when I'm giving them a share of my hard-earned wisdom, I can hear God saying it to me at the same time.  Which is to say, I'm seeing how He applies it to something going on my life, or how a truth of math or friendship or chores also applies spiritually.

Case in point:    AB (Amazing Boy) came out and asked me if he could, essentially, cheat on his math homework.  He didn't think of it as cheating, though, cuz he's not that kind of kid.  He just thought of it as speeding up the work.  And who's not all for that, right?   He was supposed to identify numbers as being either prime or composite, and then if they were composite, tell me what the factors are.  (Or as we call them, the "ingredients".)   And he wanted to use the multiplication table, that grid standby, and if a number wasn't on there, he'd know it was prime.  But I told him, no, the point is for him to figure out if it's prime or not.  And I reminded him of the "tests" to see if a number is divisible.  Is it even, does it end with a 0 or a 5, etc.  So off he goes, grumbling slightly, but with a "well, I gave it a shot" grin....

Several minutes later, I went in to see how he was doing.  He had about half of them done, and he looked up at me and said in a very down voice, "I'm not doing great with these...."  So I sat down next to him and checked what he had done so far:  "Right.... right... right... right.... right.... right.... right!"  And in a totally different voice, he said, "I'm doing perfect with these!"

As I walked out of his room laughing, I thought maybe sometimes God wants me to know that I'm doing pretty well, too.  I would never have given AB this homework if I didn't know he was ready for it.  Doesn't mean it's not going to be hard, but I know he can do it.  Schoolwork is all about being not too easy, and not too hard, isn't it?  Well, I think that's how God is, too.   That's what He gives us.  Not so easy we wouldn't grow stronger from it, but not so hard it crushes us.

But what struck me today was the thought that He's pleased with me more often than I know.  When we really want to do well on something, then all we see are our errors.  And I'm working on something that doesn't feel like it's going well, but He's got the answers, and He can tell already that I'm gonna score pretty well on this particular test.   And if I would check with Him more often, instead of trying to grade myself, when I don't have the Answer Key, I just might hear that from Him.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Is This Thing On?

"The Lord did not answer..."
1 Samuel 28:6

King Saul started off okay, but when he started to slip, it was quite a downhill slide.  1 Samuel 15:10 says "Now the word of the Lord came to Samuel, saying: "I greatly regret that I have set up Saul as king, for he has turned back from following Me, and has not performed my commandments."

This verse leaves me cold.  But it's nothing compared to chapter 28, verse 6, which says, "And when Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord did not answer him."  This verse fills me with dread, as I thought of what it would be like if God were silent to us.  Sometimes we feel as He is, but I don't truly think that He is.

In the time of Saul, there were two ways that He generally revealed His word and His will to His believers.  One was through dreams and visions, and the other was through prophets; sometimes a personal prophet, like Nathan was to David.  He also spoke through the parting of the Red Sea, and through a burning bush, but He doesn't speak to us that way anymore.  He's already done that, and anyway, it would scare the heck out of us.

As I think of the myriad ways God speaks to us, I wonder how it would be manifest if that ceased.

What if He didn't speak to us through fellowship?  What if going to church left us drained and empty, as if we just finished filling out our 1040 form?  What if the sermon was done in another language, and we sat there, straining to hear a familiar word?

What if He didn't speak to us through our children?  With their simplicity, and being so fresh from God, they can often see a tree when all we can see is the forest.

It makes me ache to think of the void there would be in my life if He didn't speak to me through the Bible.  I remember when my children were learning to read, and what if that's how the Bible looked to me, all gibberish and letters I recognize, but in no coherent order?

Or what if they were words, but entirely uninspiring to me, like reading a very personal letter that is meant for someone else?

What if He spoke to us only by appointment?  Communicating with us is not something He has to do.  There will come a time when He won't.  When He will have given all the chances He's going to, for sinners to listen.  Proverbs 1:24 says "I have called and you refused; I have stretched out My hand and no one regarded."  And in verse 28, "Then they will call on Me, but I will not answer; they will seek Me diligently, but they will not find Me."  Psalm 32:6 says, "Therefore, let everyone who is godly pray to You while You may be found.  Isaiah 55:6 says, "Seek ye the Lord while He may be found.  Call upon Him while He is near."

Right now, He may be found, and He is near.  He does speak to us.  He speaks to us in fellowship, and through others, and through His Word.  He speaks to us in the very world He has created for us.

The mountains point to the heavens, and speak of His majesty.

The birds sing His praises, and remind us to do the same.

We see a sunset we feel was for us alone.

The grapevine in the field is more than just a grapevine, but speaks to us of our need for dependence on Him.

The staggering array of flowers, insects and animals in our world speak of His imagination and creativity.

He created butterflies that speak of His gentleness, and elephants that speak of His power.

And He sends us rainbows that speak to us of a God who keeps His promises.

Sometimes, if He doesn't answer the way we expect Him to, we don't hear the answer at all.  But the answers are all around us.  Answers like, "Yes, My child," and "No, My child."  Answers like, "Wait" and "Stop thinking about that."  His answers are everywhere - we have only to listen and look for them.  In the vastness and grandeur of the universe, He says, very simply, "I Am."

If the only time when we will listen is when we're desperate, He can arrange that.  We need to say frequently and fervently, "Speak, Father, for your servant is listening."  (1 Samuel 3:10)