Thursday, October 31, 2013

What to do, what to do....

"please give me success this day"
Genesis 24:12

I love Wednesdays

Well, I love all days.  They each have their own schedule and personality, and I appreciate each one's routine and opportunity.

Wednesdays are special because they are the day when I take a breath.  Mondays and Tuesdays are busy, in a wonderful way, and Wednesdays are sort of a recovery day.  It's a catch-up day for anything that fell through the cracks on Monday and Tuesday.

Needless to say, I have a pretty healthy to-do list on Wednesdays.  And varied.  House stuff, school stuff, family stuff, ministry stuff...  And depending on how crazy my Monday and Tuesday went, the list can seem overwhelming. 

I know it might seem odd that I love a day that can be overwhelming, but I do.  It can be very fulfilling to accomplish things around my house and for my family.

But sometimes when the list seems overwhelming, I find myself doing less important things just to be able to complete something.  Don't you sometimes just want to call something finished?

Or to avoid doing something, I do what's in front of me, even if it's not a priority.  Maybe it's easier than what needs to be done, or maybe it's just been sitting there longer.  Of course, the reason it's been sitting there longer is because it's not a priority...

Sometimes what's in front of us matters more than it should.  It's visible, it's squeaky, and it tempts us with the feeling of accomplishment.  I think it's the same thing in us that responds to the earthly more than the heavenly; the fleeting rather than the eternal.

But our hearts and minds should be set on the things above, not on things on the earth. (Colossians 3:2)  Our goals should be His, and we should remember that if we are living out His plan in our lives, then even days that seem like we are accomplishing nothing are steps in sync with Him.

I guess that's why it's a good idea to start every day, every project, every decision with prayer.  Maybe that's why He commanded us to pray without ceasing.   Maybe my To-Do list would be better off as my "What Would You Have Me To Do?" list.  It's a little clumsy sounding, sure, but it's a far more certain path to fulfillment.

~ "Seek first the kingdom of God
and His righteousness,
       and all these things shall be added unto you." ~
Matthew 6:33

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Power of a Name

"My great name"
Jeremiah 44:26

I was chatting with a friend of mine the other day about names.  She has three daughters, two of whom are married, and their married names seem to fit so perfectly with the first and middle names their parents gave them.  For instance, one of the daughters is named Maria, and her new last name is Martinelli (or something like that).  Both girls' new last names seem to have been planned.  

I, on the other hand, have a married name that doesn't jive with my first name at all.  No flow, really, because my first name and my last name originate from different parts of the world.  But when I laughingly said that to her, she replied, "But your name is so American!"  I love that idea.  I can remember, years ago, watching an Olympic ice hockey game, and noticing the last names of the players on the two teams.  It was probably Sweden vs the U.S., and everyone on Team Sweden had names like Samuelsson and Johanssen and Larson.  The American team, on the other hand, had names like McCormick and Tikkanen and Roi and Pak.  This is the nature of America, and always has been.  And my name is a reminder of that. 

It got me thinking about names, of course.  The Bible talks a lot about that.  Names mattered a lot in Bible times ~ they spoke to one's character, or history, or the parents' hope for the future. 

And then of course there's God's name.  In the 3rd chapter of Exodus, Moses said to God, “When I come to the children of Israel and say to them, “The God of your Fathers has sent me to you,’ what shall I say to them when they say to me, ‘What is His name?’”  And God said to Moses, “I AM.”

In the Garden of Gethsemane, when the authorities came to arrest Him, Jesus went forward and said to them, “Whom are you seeking?”  They answered Him, “Jesus of Nazareth.”  Jesus said to them, “I am He.”  And when He said that, they drew back and fell to the ground.  What felled this detachment of troops and officers, with their torches and their weapons?   The sound of that powerful name, “I AM.”  

I forget, sometimes, the majesty and power in His name.  I forget to honor it as it should.  I'm not the type to use "OMG" in my daily conversation, but neither do I reverence His name. 

His is the name above every name.  And at the name of Jesus, every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  Beautiful, powerful, and sweet to my ear. 

“Some trust in chariots and some in horses, 
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”
Psalm 20:7 

“Our help is in the name of the Lord, 
the Maker of heaven and earth.”
Psalm 124:8

“The name of the Lord is a strong tower; 
the righteous run to it and are safe.”
Proverbs 18:10

“All who call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 
Joel 2:32, Acts 2:21, Romans 10:13  

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Recognizing Your Creativity

"What are you making?"
Isaiah 45:9

I went for a walk the other day, and there was a house in the neighborhood that had decorated for Autumn by putting pumpkins in their garden.  I thought it was such a unique way to use pumpkins, which are a fun bit of seasonal decor, as well as being delicious!  But when I first saw them, I thought, "Huh... I never would have thought of that..."  I'm just not that creative.

We went to a friend's house for dinner the other night.  It's a new house for them, so we got a tour, and we admired the way she had decorated.  Furniture, placement of art, etc.  Because of her husband's job, and their need to travel back and forth, they kept their home in Arizona, so they didn't bring much of their belongings here.  So she went to a few consignment stores for furniture, and a couple of other places for pretty little tchotchkes to place here and there.  So this wasn't a lifetime of art and knick-knack and furniture collecting here, it was a need to furnish a home relatively quickly.  But everything was so lovely, and I appreciated the way things were matched and grouped together.  And I thought, "Huh... I don't think I could have put all this together so nicely."  I'm just not that creative.

We also got to talking about some of the art on her walls.  This was my daughter, my friend and myself, which was fun because I just love conversations about art with my daughter.  She's an artist ~ a very talented one ~ so her input is so interesting to me.  She sees things about lighting or reflection or color that I might not notice.  And she appreciates the feel of art differently than I do.  Of course, we all probably react differently from one another when it comes to art.  But when my girl looks at art, she at least has the option of thinking, "I wonder how I'd go about creating that same thing..."  All I can think is, "Wow.  I could never do that.  I'm just not that creative."

But you know what?  I love cooking.  I love to get ideas, and try things and add and subtract and substitute in the kitchen.   And more often than not, I'm successful.   I am fairly creative when it comes to food.

And I love teaching.  I like finding new ways to provide my kids with the education they're required to have by the state, plus the things God wants them to know, while adding the things they want to know, all the while trying to make learning as enjoyable as possible. 

I also love organizing.  As much as possible, I like to have a place to store everything in our home (whether or not it actually gets put away is a whole 'nother question) and I like for books and files and even spices to be in a way that makes sense.  And in our fairly small (but just fine for us) house, that sometimes takes some creativity.

It's easy to look at our skill set and decide we don't have the gifts that our friend or neighbor or sibling does.  Or we can look at our abilities, and not see them as unique gifts.  It's just "how we are".  And even more than appreciating the abilities that make me me, I love to recognize them as forms of creativity.  Cuz that's what He does.  God is the Creator, and we are made in His image. 

Gardening, music, woodworking, needlework, troubleshooting appliances.... take a new look at what you love to do, and how you're good at it.  There's something about you that's unique ~ cuz He's creative about how He creates!

~ "put on the new man 
   which was created according to God,
     in true righteousness and holiness" ~
Ephesians 4:24

Monday, October 28, 2013

Walking and Seeing

"the base things of the world"
1 Corinthians 1:28

I've taken a couple of walks in the past few days, that were so pleasant.  A friend of mine was out of town with her family, but her father-in-law, who lives with them, did not go with them.  So my son and I visited a couple of times to take the dog for a good long walk, and to check on Grandpa.

My friend lives in a lovely little section of Suburbia ~ albeit a different lovely little section than the one I live in.  There are nicely manicured, slightly cookie-cutter homes, with plenty of trees, a neighborhood park, and a view of a good-sized ravine (or a small canyon, one of the two) leading into the foothills of the nearest mountains.

And it's Southern California, so the lawns are green, and there are flowers blooming in a variety of colors.

But it's also Autumn, so the leaves on some of the trees are starting to turn colors, and maybe even starting to fall.  We had to look a little bit sometimes, for the signs of Autumn, but they were there.

In many cases, however, those signs of Autumn were man-made.  Or at least man-placed.  Fake tombstones on front lawns, fake spider webs attached to trees and roofs, skeletons and bats and witches and bloody who-knows-what hanging from trees.  I gotta be honest, it was not all that pleasant. 

It was not easy, sometimes, to look past the spook and the ick, and appreciate what was beautiful around us.  The lovely was there, but the unlovely was so much more noticeable.  Plus, once you try not to notice something, of course it's more obvious than it was before.

As we walk through life, the stuff we don't want to see is very apparent.  Paul says in Philippians 4, "whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is lovely... think on these things."  I love that verse, but I'm constantly reminded of how hard it is to keep my thoughts on things that please Him, when all the things the world thinks are important keep crowding my field of vision.

I can't always choose what I see, but I can choose what I look at.  I can choose what I focus on.  Beauty is everywhere, and reasons to thank Him are plentiful. 

~ "behold the beauty of the Lord" ~
Psalm 27:4

Sunday, October 27, 2013

"All" means "all" and that's all "all" means

Matthew 28:20

So, did you read the Bible today?  Did you study it?

It's two different things, you know.  I'm studying Proverbs in Bible Study, and Genesis in church, but I'm also reading Song of Solomon because we're going to be studying that in a few weeks in Bible Study, and I'm also reading Paul's letter to the Romans because I've had a hankering for that lately.  I think it's just been a while since I read that, and I'm experiencing mild withdrawal symptoms. 

I know people who prefer only to be in one book at a time.  The book they are studying at Bible Study is the one they read in their Quiet Time at home, too.  And I can see how one could do a very in-depth study that way.  But I like the surprises I get when I'm wondering and wandering in more than one book at a time.  I make connections or get understanding that I might not otherwise.

Now, of course the pinnacle of understanding is when the Bible explains the Bible, but sometimes there are other ways He uses.  A comment a friend makes, or something in a book I'm reading... I just love tying those lessons to Scripture. 

But every once in awhile I find myself understanding, or being reminded of something I didn't want to know.  One of those reminders that hits you right in the selfish.  Like "forgive seventy times seven".  That one's a bummer when you've just been wronged, isn't it?

Well, a recent occurrence of this for me consisted of a Bible verse that came up in a daily devotional, and a poem a friend sent me. 

The poem I've seen before; it's been credited to Mother Theresa.  This is not the whole thing, but here are the highlights ~

People are often unreasonable, irrational and self-centered.  
Love them anyway. 

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.
Be kind anyway. 

People need help, but may attack you if you try to help them.
Help them anyway.  

That gives you the gist of it. 

The Scripture I read was this:

"Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.  Amen." (Matthew 28:20)

And what caught my eye was two little words, "all things".

And those three little words, "love them anyway"

I had recently spent a few hours with a friend of mine that I sometimes have trouble loving.  We don't have much in common, and our chemistry isn't quite in sync, or something.  But our paths cross every once in awhile, and I get the chance to practice my "love thy neighbor".  But lately our paths have crossed more than usual, and I was having a little trouble with the nonstop loving I was having to do.  And worse, I realized I was thinking of perfectly good reasons not to.  Reasons that justify my being impatient or irritated. 

But there was the verse.  And the reminder.   "Observe all things... Love thy neighbor... I have commanded you."

The power to obey comes from Him.  But the willingness to obey has to come from me

~ "You shall love the Lord your God
with all your heart, 
with all your soul,
and with all your mind. 
This is the first and great commandment.
And the second is like it:
'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'" ~
Matthew 22:37-39

Saturday, October 26, 2013

When the third time isn't a charm

"I pleaded with the Lord"
2 Corinthians 12:8

I had a conversation with a friend today, that reminded me of a conversation I had with another friend, a few days ago, and together they reminded me of a conversation that Paul had with God.

Of course I only know about that one, second-hand. 

The friend today is a fairly new friend.  We went to lunch together and got to know each other a little better.  And one of the things I found out about her is that her husband is battling a chronic illness.  He was diagnosed six years ago, and was afflicted for eight years before that, before they were able to pinpoint what he has. 

The other friend is someone I've known for several years.  Her daughter has been battling intestinal issues for a few years now.  They've pretty much got her stabilized, but her system still gets thrown off by eating the wrong foods, catching a cold, or stress.  Then they have to pray again, and make more decisions about prescriptions and diet.

Anyhow, one of these women happened to mention the comfort she gets from 2 Corinthians 12, regarding Paul's "thorn in the flesh".  No one really knows what this was in Paul's life; he's not specific.  He calls it "a messenger of satan to buffet me".  And he also says ~ and this is the part that got me thinking today ~ that concerning this thing, he pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from him.

And I thought, "Three times?  That's it?  Only three??"  Anyone I know who's walking through life with a chronic complaint has asked a whole lot more often than that.  Weekly, daily, maybe several times a day, the prayers go up.  They're earnest.  They're sincere.  Maybe even pleading.  They pray and they cry and they ask and ask.

Why did Paul only ask three times?

Now, it's possible that that sentence isn't literal; that "three" is a symbolic number rather than an actual count of how many times Paul asked.  But Paul's next sentences support the idea that he had made his peace with the fact that his affliction was there to stay.  There's a lot to admire in that.

There's a parable Jesus spoke, in Luke 18, about the persistent widow, who cried out for justice until it was granted her.  Verse 1 of chapter 18 says that Jesus spoke this parable, "that men always ought to pray and not lose heart".  It's a parable of crying out to Him, "day and night".  (verse 7)  So clearly God's okay with nagging.

Well, persistence.

I don't know what the secret is.  I don't know how we know when to persist, and when to just accept what He has allowed in our lives, and just rely on His strength to get us through.

Maybe the secret is simply remembering that while it's okay to ask ~ encouraged, even ~ we also need to acknowledge that it's His call.  That we need to thank Him if He takes away our affliction, and thank Him if He doesn't.  And no matter what, find our strength in His grace.

~ "And He said to me, 
'My grace is sufficient for you,
for My strength is made perfect in weakness.'
... Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities,
in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, 
in distresses, for Christ's sake. 
For when I am weak, 
then I am strong." ~
2 Corinthians 12:9,10

Friday, October 25, 2013

A Lesson from Three Guys Who Have Never Been in my Kitchen

"that righteous man, dwelling among them"
2 Peter 2:8

Okay, I'm gonna go out on a bit of a limb here, but if you stick with me, I think the point will be worth it.  At least, it was to me.

Abraham's nephew Lot
Alex Nsengimana
Erwin Rommel

What do these three men have in common?  Other than the fact that none of them have ever been in my kitchen?

Well, what they have in common is bad.  Bad situations, evil men, and the world around them seeming without hope.

Lot, as you probably know, was the last one out of Sodom before God unleashed shock and awe.  Or as it used to be termed, fire and brimstone.  Sodom was an evil place, as we see in Genesis 18 and 19.  Not even ten righteous men could be found.  Bad.  But in the midst of that was Lot.  2 Peter 2:7 tells us that Lot was righteous, and oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked.

Alex Nsengimana you've probably never heard of.  I read about him in an update from Franklin Graham's organization, "Samaritan's Purse".  Nsengimana is Rwandan, and in 1994 he watched his grandmother and uncle die in the Rwandan genocide.  He was raised in an orphanage.   Today he has a degree in pastoral counseling, and is taking steps to plant a church in Rwanda.  He grew up a victim of evil, but has chosen a life of light.

Now at this point, you might be thinking, "Erwin Rommel??"  I know it might seem odd to include one of Hitler's generals in a piece about good men and bad situations.  But hear me out.

Erwin Rommel, known as the Desert Fox, was a German Field Marshal in World War II. He was a very successful general, and as he was working for Adolf Hitler, that's not a good thing. 

But Rommel was respected even by his enemies, was never accused of war crimes, and treated captured soldiers humanely.  He ignored orders to kill Jewish soldiers and civilians.  In a 1941 article in a Nazi newspaper, it was reported that he was a member of the Nazi party.  Rommel insisted on a retraction.

And he was discerning enough to know that the end was coming, long before it did.  In November of 1943, Rommel told his associate, Hans Von Luck, that the war was lost.  And in October of 1944 he was forced to commit suicide after conspiring to overthrow Hitler.

War is an ugly thing.  Death and pain and fear and misery on all sides.  And the best thing you can say about any soldier who acts with honor, is that he believed he was doing the right thing when he did his job.  I have no idea if Rommel's life would allow him to be received in heaven, but I do know that when I read about him, I was reminded that there is good in bad things, and that there are good people in bad situations. 

No hopeless situation is truly hopeless.  God is on His throne.  It's true that every cloud has a silver lining ~ {at least it's metaphorically true.  I don't know if it's meteorologically true.}  And it's equally true that in every dark place, there is light to be found.

If you're in a dark place, and you can't see the light, keep looking.  He is there with you.  And if you keep looking and can't see the light, find a mirror.  Perhaps the light He has put in the dark place is you.

~ "The people who walked in darkness
Have seen a great light;
Those who dwelt in the land
of the shadow of death,
Upon them a light has shined." ~
Isaiah 9:2

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Things are looking up!

"Abraham lifted his eyes and looked"
Genesis 22:13

We've been studying Genesis in church, and last Sunday we arrived at chapter 22, in which Abraham's faith is severely tested by God.  It's a favorite passage of mine, not only for the substance of it, but because I taught it several years ago, which means I read and re-read and studied and researched and prayed over it.  And there's simply no better way to experience the Bible. 

One of the things that was new to me, when I studied it, was my focus on Isaac.  I'd always seen this passage from the viewpoint of Abraham, but I think that was also because I grew up believing that Isaac was a small child when this even took place, and that he didn't really know what was going on.  My research into language, and the opinions of scholars, took me to a new understanding.

We see Abraham and Isaac arrive at the place to which God directed them.  They’d been traveling for three days, talking about what, the weather?  How the crops were doing?  They’d presumably been stopping for meals, and to bed down for the night.  Had they been praying together?  Laughing together?  Enjoying some guy time away from Mom?  Yet all the while, Abraham knew what was ahead.   

Then they stopped, and Abraham instructed the two young men to wait for them.  “The lad and I will go and worship, and we will come back to you.”  I love Abraham’s choice of words.  First of all, the faith inherent in the words “WE will come back to you.”  Hebrews tells us that Abraham believed, up until he took the knife in his hand, that God would resurrect Isaac, even though it had never happened before.  But Abraham had already seen a miracle: from a man and woman as good as dead, God had brought life.

It is also significant that Abraham said “We are going yonder to worship.”  I do not believe this was just what he told them to keep them from stopping him.  His obedience to God’s command was worship.  “Worship” means "to perform an act of reverent love and devotion" and it is not confined to bowing down before a statue, or to the first 20 minutes of Sunday morning church service.  Performing the act that Abraham was preparing to could only be done out of reverent love and devotion, and I believe that is what was in Isaac’s heart too. 

In verse 7 we hear from Isaac for the first time, as he asked his father the question that affects all of us.  “Where is the lamb?”  And verse 8 is one of the verses that remind me why I love to study this book so much.  Abraham’s answer was that God would supply the sacrifice.  But in the King James version it says, “God will provide Himself, the Lamb…” Abraham is answering Isaac’s question, but he is also prophesying the gospel, though he does not know it.

When they arrive, Abraham built an altar, and arranged the wood on it.  How many times had Isaac seen his father build an altar, or offer a sacrifice on one?  But this time is different.  Never before has his father gone to make a sacrifice, without an animal to offer.  And here is where I believe we see Isaac perform his act of reverent love and devotion.  Verse 9: “Abraham bound Isaac, his son…”  

Now, theologians do disagree on exactly how old they believe Isaac was at this time, but I didn't read anyone of the opinion that he was a young child.  Some say late teens, some say in his twenties.  One commentator said 33.  In verse 5, Abraham referred to him as a “lad”, which only tells us he was unmarried.  At any rate, we are talking a young man, probably at his peak of strength, and his 120-ish year old father.  I’m not sure Abraham could beat Isaac at arm-wrestling, much less a struggle to bind him. 

I have no choice but to understand that Isaac acquiesced to what he must have now realized was happening.  Abraham heard God’s voice.  Isaac had only a sinful, flawed, earthly father as his guide.  I’m reminded of the effect Lot’s words had on his daughters and his sons-in-law as he urged them to flee Sodom.  Lot had no authority in their eyes because of how and where he chose to live his life.  But Isaac saw in his father a man faithful... and righteous… 

There’s a poem that says:
I would rather see a sermon than hear one any day.
I would rather have you walk with me
       than simply point the way.
The eye is a more ready pupil than ever was the ear.
Advice may be confusing, but example is crystal clear.

Abraham’s example to Isaac was not perfect, but Isaac saw submission modeled, and his response was to submit.  In many ways, Isaac is a picture of Jesus not only carrying the wood for the sacrifice, as Jesus carried His cross; but also submitting to the will of his father, as Jesus Himself was obedient to His Father, even unto death.

As the Angel of the Lord called out to Abraham not to harm Isaac, Abraham looked up and saw something unexpected – a ram caught in a thicket by its horns.  This was not the solution he anticipated.  He had been thinking that God would raise Isaac up.  To Isaac, he spoke of the lamb that God would provide.  But what he saw was a ram. 

The fact that Abraham saw a ram instead of a lamb tells me that this is not the fulfillment of Abraham’s prophecy in verse 8.  The question that Isaac asked, “Where is the Lamb?” would not be answered until John the Baptist answered it, saying of Jesus, “Behold!  The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” 

Now, Abraham was not instructed to offer this ram instead of Isaac, but I imagine that God knew Abraham wasn’t leaving that place without sacrificing something, so He provided an alternative, and Abraham knew God’s solution when he saw it.  

This is one of the advantages to being, as Abraham was, a friend of God.  Being with God, in His Word, and in prayer, enables us to think as He does.  The Israelites, trapped between Pharaoh and the Red Sea, could not possibly have foreseen the solution God provided, but Moses knew to lead them.  The Hebrew soldiers, taunted daily by the Philistine giant Goliath did not recognize God’s solution when they saw it, but David was a man after God’s own heart, and he knew what to do.   

What about us?  Abraham saw the ram because he lifted his eyes and looked.  How often do we wonder “why?” or “how” without ever sitting down with Him to hear the answer “I’ll tell you why….” Or “Here’s how…”

To see the solution, we need to lift up our eyes to Him.  We need to trust His promises, and then walk out that trust in our actions.  Remember what God has done, and believe in what He is going to do.  Be ready.  Be excited.  

And don't take your eyes off of Him.  You don't want to miss what's coming!

~ "And Abraham called the name of the place,
The-Lord-Will-Provide" ~
Genesis 22:14

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Words from His Words

"I have put My words in your mouth"
Isaiah 51:16

I received an email from a friend a few weeks ago, with prayer requests for a ministry with which we are both involved.  In it, she used a small section of the Bible  ~ specifically one sentence of Jesus' in the Gospel of Mark ~ and expanded upon the meaning of the words to create a prayer of her own.  It was beautiful, and very intriguing.  It opened my eyes to the idea of praying His words back to Him.  And with her permission, I wanted to share it with you.

This is from Mark 14:36 ~

"And He said, "Abba, Father,"
         Because we all have one Father, we are brothers and sisters
                praying for our brothers and sisters across the world.
                There is urgency to this work we do for our family.

"all things are possible for You."
         We believe in the absolute sovereignty of our Father.
                He alone is directing the affairs of men,
                important for us to remember,
                especially when we get frustrated with delays.
                His timing is perfect.

"Take this cup away from Me;"
         This is the heart of our request to our Abba, Father.
                For Jesus, knowing the horror of what
                He was facing, His humanity cried out for release.
                For us personally, it might be the healing or salvation
                of a loved one; agonies for us.

"nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will."
         A transaction takes place when I utter the word "nevertheless".
               With this one word, I breathe out the angst of my own desire,
                and breathe in the assurance that my loving Father,
               Who never loses control, will answer my prayer for my best
                and His glory.  It is in this one word
                that I find the peace of surrendering to His will.


I think the possibilities of praying this way are endless.  Things like the Lord's prayer, or the "Love" chapter in 1 Corinthians leap to mind.  It's a beautiful way of parsing the words He has given us, and getting the most out of them.

He wants our thoughts to be about Him.  And He wants us to learn from His Word.  What better way than using His words to us, to guide our words to Him.

~ "Give ear to my words, O Lord,
       Consider my meditation" ~
  Psalm 5:1

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Will the real George Herbert please stand up?

"to their surprise"
Judges 3:24

I read an interesting quote a few weeks ago, and jotted it down in my Quote Book Notebook. 

It's not really called that, but I should totally get one of those!

Anyhow, I also wrote down the name of the gentleman who said it, but when I further researched him, I discovered that I didn't really have enough information about him. 

His name was George Herbert, but I don't know which George Herbert, and according to the internet, our choices are:

a Welsh poet (1593 - 1633)
an English Egyptologist and 5th Earl of Carnavon (1866 - 1923)
an English MP (Member of Parliament) for Monmouthshire (no dates given)
an English MP for Glamorganshire (d. 1580)

I also had my choices of the 11th or 13th Earls of Pembroke; the 8th Earl of Carnarvon; the 2nd or 4th Earls of Powis, an Anglican priest, a British Conservative party politician, or a gang leader from Belize.

I'm gonna go with the Welsh poet.

photo credit: The National Portrait Gallery, wikipedia

So, George Herbert the Welsh poet (who was also an Anglican priest, but at a different time in history than the other Anglican priest who was my choice) was in fact a metaphysical poet who attended Trinity College before serving in Parliament and holding a position at Cambridge. 

Three years before his death, he took his holy orders, and became rector of the small parish of ~ are you ready for this? ~  Fugglestone St Peter, in Wiltshire, England. 

He is commemorated on February 27 in the Anglican church.  That was my grandmother's birthday.  She wasn't Anglican; she was Catholic, but I've always liked that day, as it makes me think of her.  And he has a window honoring him (or "honouring him" as the Brits would say) in Westminster Abbey.   I wish I'd known that when I was there, but I'll make a point of noticing it if I ever go back to England.  

What am I saying ~ I have to go back to England someday so I can visit Fugglestone!

Okay, brief bio on George Herbert finished.  Now to the quote which caught my eye:

"Surprise me, Lord, as a seed surprises itself."

Now, to be honest, I was a little taken aback by this thought at first.   Is a seed surprised?  If we pretend for a moment that a seed is capable of emotion, does it not know what to expect from its growth?  Does an animal know what to expect from its metamorphosis?  An "ugly duckling", a tadpole, a caterpillar, an acorn... If you asked them what they would look like later in their lives, would they know?

I thought, at first, that they would not be at all surprised.  There are, after all, extremely limited possibilities for what a seed will become.  It has only one choice. 

But then I thought how many variations there are on that one choice.  How tall will the plant grow to be?  Will it flower?  Will it fruit?  How long will it live?  All of these questions are answered not by the genetics of the seed, but by its surroundings.  Sun, water, soil, pruning, weeds... All are factors beyond its control.

And how about George Herbert?  Not a terrifically unique name, as you can see.  Each George Herbert was the product not only of his genetics, but of his surroundings ~ the time in which he lived, his education, his health, the opportunities he had.  Each young George Herbert knew he would grow up to be George Herbert.  Much else would unfold for him.

You and I could look at many different seeds, and not have any idea what they would turn into.  They have to be planted, they have to be tended to, and we have to wait.  Then all of a sudden, one day ~ unexpected beauty. 

Wondering what God has planned for you?  You'd be surprised.

~ "If you are Christ's 
  then you are Abraham's seed,
    and heirs according to the promise." ~
Galatians 3:29

Monday, October 21, 2013

A Lesson from Goober Peas

"like chaff before the wind"
Psalm 35:5

So I sat at my kitchen counter a few weeks ago, shelling peanuts....

Photo credit:, because I didn't think to take a picture of the peanuts I was shelling...

I needed chopped peanuts for a recipe, and there was no way I was going to pay for chopped peanuts when I could shell and chop my own, and nibble along the way.  Who wouldn't prefer that?

And as I shelled, putting the empty shells in one pile and the peanuts in another, I thought.  Because that's what I do.

I thought about three things ~ first I thought about Georgia, the nation's #1 producer of peanuts.  Turns out 45% of the country's peanuts come from Georgia.  Thank you, Georgia!  I'll take mine roasted and in the shell, please.  Or in crunchy peanut butter, thank you very much.  And because I was thinking about Georgia, I thought about my friend Bob, who lives there.  {Hi, Bob!}  Georgia is one of the 13 states in the Union that I've never been to, and I'm looking forward to going someday!

I also thought about George Washington Carver.  A few years ago we went to Missouri for our family vacation.  Our motivation was to see the St Louis Cardinals and the Kansas City Royals, but we also visited the homes of Laura Ingalls Wilder, Mark Twain, Daniel Boone, Walt Disney, Harry Truman and George Washington Carver.  Interesting state, Missouri!  Anyhow, we learned a great deal about Carver's work with peanuts ~ researching and promoting the crop to poor farmers as a way to put nutrients back into the soil when it had been depleted by crops such as cotton.  To this day, it's hard for me to think of peanuts without thinking of Mr Carver.

photo credit:

The third thing I thought about was the Bible.  I just love when Scripture permeates the everyday things in my life!  And the verse that came to mind was Luke 22:31 ~ "And the Lord said, 'Simon, Simon!  Indeed, satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat.'"

The visual given here, of sifting wheat, is a process in which the chaff is blown by a light wind, causing it to rise to the surface.  This makes it more visible, which in Jesus' analogy, would make Peter's weaknesses more obvious to satan.  But I've always thought this was sort of an intriguing verse because in a way, this is what God does, too.  As He grows us and challenges us, He highlights our flaws so that we can see how far we are from where He wants us to be.

The danger is in who's doing the pointing.  If it's satan showing us how flawed we are, that can be discouraging and depressing.  But if it's God, we can know we're in good hands ~ the hands of the Potter. 

Peanuts are good in so many ways.  Tasty, healthy, full of protein and good for the soil.  And there are so many ways to use them in cooking and eating.

We, too, have great potential.  {Yup.  I went there.  I just compared you to a peanut.  Hear me out, though.}

We need to trust Him and allow Him to blow away the flaws and grow us to be more like Him.  Then we will be more and more useful to Him, to serve Him by loving others in ways we cannot imagine.

~ "He makes peace in your borders,
      and fills you with the finest wheat" ~
Psalm 147:14

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Words of Truth from Days Gone By

"Nor is there salvation in any other, 
for there is no other name under heaven 
given among men 
by which we must be saved."
Acts 4:12

I love old books.  I love the look of them ~ the simplicity of the covers, the subdued colors, the jagged edges of the pages... I love the smell of them ~ a little musty and, well, old.  I love the titles which often just sound like titles from way back when. 

Whenever that was...

I was just given the gift of several old books from a friend of mine.  She and her husband are downsizing, and she's getting rid of some stuff, and asked me if I wanted a few things.  So I've been having fun exploring these books ~ familiarizing myself with the authors, trying to find publication dates (who knew there was a time when those weren't printed on the title page with the Library of Congress catalog number!)

Of course, the best thing about old books is the language.  Some old books just sound old.  Like Dick and Jane.  I mean, partially you can tell it was written in a different time because there are fewer boys named "Dick" these days.  It would have to be "Jake and Brittany" nowadays.   Or maybe "Josh and Kaitlin".

But sometimes you can just tell a book was written when life was a little simpler.   I mean, can you imagine a detective in a mystery novel today, using just the phone book, old newspaper clippings and his gut?  No internet, no smartphone, no forensics?

So, along those lines, let me share with you something in I read in an old Bible commentary.  It is from the Heidelberg Catechism, written in the mid 1500s. 

It's just a question and an answer.  (The Heidelberg Catechism is a series of questions and answers.)  At first reading I thought it was a little simplistic.  I like chewing on the meat of Scripture; finding deeper meaning and underscoring the depth of a passage with other passages elsewhere.  But sometimes I find myself studying a tree so closely, I forget about the beauty of the forest.

So please ~ read and enjoy.  Revel in the simplicity of thought, and meditate on the immensity of the impact on your life.

"How many things are necessary for thee to know, 
that thou, enjoying this comfort, 
mayest live and die happily?"

"Three.  The first, how great my sins and miseries are;
the second, how I may be delivered from all my sins and miseries;
the third, how I shall express my gratitude to God for such deliverance."

See?  A sweet and unadorned reminder of the truth.

"Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations"
Luke 24:46-47

"But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God."
1 Corinthians 6:11

"through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins"
Acts 10:43

"For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another.  But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life."
Titus 3:3-7

"Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?  Certainly not!  How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?"
Romans 6:1-2

"For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.  Walk as children of light for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness and truth, finding out what is acceptable to the Lord.  And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them."
Ephesians 5:8-11

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Sin by any other name

"sin dwells in me"
Romans 7:17

I haven't watched a lot of news lately.  We've had family in town so we've been over at my folks' house a lot, hanging out with them.  And when we are at home, we're doing school or housework, and rushing to get stuff done so we can go be with our family.

So though I normally keep an eye on the news on a fairly regular basis, I haven't been doing that as much this week.  I only knew the government opened again because someone who owns a smartphone (which is pretty much every adult in the house except me) happened to mention it. 

But before I took a sabbatical from my TV for a week, the news was shutdown, shutdown, and more shutdown.  Ad nauseum. 

Of course, a lot of what comes from Capitol Hill has to do with nauseum...

But frankly, news originating from Washington, DC is my favorite kind.  I rarely watch local news, and even national news, if it has to do with crimes, I'm generally not interested.  Or more accurately, I can't take it.  People causing other people pain is just so hard to understand.  I know it exists; I'm not burying my head in the sand.  But I'm not going to listen to them repeat the details on the 4, 5, 6 and 11 o'clock news. 

A few months ago there was a particularly gruesome trial going on ~ the Kermit Gosnell trial in Philadelphia.  Every day on the "current events and politics" show I watch, there would be an update, but before giving it, the anchorman would warn the viewers that the upcoming content "would be graphic or disturbing".

Then they'd finish the story, and move on to the next thing, which at the time was most likely an update on the investigation into the deaths of four Americans at the US Embassy in Benghazi, Libya.  But that story is just as disturbing.  Perhaps, in its own way, more.  Those babies were helpless.  Their lives taken from them in a horrific manner before they had a chance to live.  The Americans in Benghazi, on the other hand, while they at least could defend themselves, were not able to do so successfully.  And while I can't speak to the feelings or emotions of a pre-born baby, I feel comfortable saying that Christopher Stevens, Tyrone Woods, Glen Doherty and Sean Smith experienced a great deal of fear in the hours or minutes before they died that night.  And yet they never warned the viewers before those updates, that the topic was going to be hard to hear.

This is not a political post.  After all, this is not a political blog.  But I honestly don't know why they don't start every story on every newscast with the warning: "The following material is depressing and discouraging and will violate your innocence." 

We get desensitized to it all, don't we?  Violence and death and commandment-violation galore.  And maybe we feel the same way about our own sins... desensitized.  I recently read the following quote by CS Lewis:  "I have heard others, and I have heard myself, recounting cruelties and falsehoods committed in boyhood as if they were no concern of the present speaker's, and even with laughter.  But mere time does nothing either to the fact or to the guilt of a sin." 

Isn't that so true?  We often think back on sins not with shame, but with the attitude of "no big deal".  Is that just because everything is relative?  The sins we committed in childhood ~ snatching pennies off of dad's dresser, sneaking sweets before dinner ~ pale in comparison to what we now know exists in the world. 

For that matter, we think the same way about our present sins.  Five miles above the speed limit, a couple of pens taken home from the office... those certainly aren't stories that would be reported on the evening news.

But it's not our standards that matter.  He has laid down the Law ~ literally ~ and He laid down His Son's life because He knows we cannot successfully live by the law.  And He's right.  We can't even go a day without sinning.  And each of those sins is abhorrent to Him.  It's not relative.  It's just sin.

~ "There is therefore now no condemnation 
to those who are in Christ Jesus...
for the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus
has made me free from the law of sin and death" ~
Romans 8:1

Friday, October 18, 2013

Beauty Unseen

"seeing it is wonderful"
Judges 13:18

This summer, a friend of mine went to England.  When she got home, she shared the photos she had taken, which was especially fun for me, because I was fortunate enough to have visited Great Britain twenty years ago.  She went to some of the same places (in London and York) and it was fun for me to relive my visit a little. 

But she also took this beautiful picture:

Isn't that lovely?  But more than that, it's unexpected.  I would have taken a picture of the lake in the background, or the greenery surrounding it, or the variety of grasses in the foreground.  If I had included the fence in the shot, it would have been the "good" part, not the broken part.  But I love that this is how she framed the shot.  I love what she saw, that I would have ignored.

My Awesome Girl takes photos like that.  She's an artist (like her father.  And frankly, like her brother.)  And one of the things she excels at is photography.  She takes pictures of things that don't seem like art until I see the photo.   So over the past couple of years, as she has experimented and grown in the craft, I have developed an appreciation for what else is in the photo, when I look at photos...

A friend of mine took this while on a missions trip in Honduras.  If it were me, I would have taken a picture of the kitty, but I would have zoomed in, and only seen the cat through the lens.   What I see in her photo is the home, and the bench.  I see a family, though they aren't in the picture, with a simple life, and a contented cat. 

The same friend took this photo.  I think if I were standing in that place I would have seen two dusty roads going in two different directions.  But as a picture, it evokes wonder, and possibilities.  And it makes me want to re-read Robert Frost's The Road Not Taken.

My daughter took this last year.  I have no idea who these people are.  And you know what I was doing while she was taking this?  I was sitting next to her, watching a baseball game.  She was watching life.   A sweet shot, isn't it?

This was taken in 2010, when we attended the Winter Olympics in Vancouver.  This was the area downtown where the Olympic torch was.  A great place to people-watch.  But she, I saw afterwards, was not just people-watching...

This is her.  I know; she's taller than you expected, right?  How often do you even notice your shadow, much less appreciate it?  This is art.

And she took this one outside the La Brea Tar Pits a few years ago.  I saw this patch of bamboo, but all I saw was, well, bamboo.  Now I see green and yellow and brown and texture and varying degrees of verticality.  Oh, and some bright green new growth over there on the left.  So much more interesting than I realized!

The lesson for me in all this was about trying to see what I don't see.  But it also reminded me of how much more there is to know in a given situation than I'm aware of.  There's foreground and background and what's off to the left or right.  And there's what's gonna happen, and what has happened already.  All this, God knows. 

I see from these pictures, that what I don't see, is beautiful.  God must find so much joy in every aspect of our lives, and every corner of this world He created.  I think we just need to relax and enjoy what we can see, while we trust Him for what we can't.

~ "God made the world and everything in it;
He is Lord of heaven and earth" ~
Acts 17:24

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Gorgeous Gourds

"days and months and seasons"
Galatians 4:10

Pumpkins.  It's one of my favorite things about Autumn.  And I have a lot of favorite things about Autumn.

I love the cooler weather, and the clothes I get to wear ~ warm, comfy, the colors, the patterns, the textures...

I love the changes in the landscape ~ the colors on the leaves (for as much as that happens in Southern California.  But I'll take what I can get.)  And I love when trees lose their leaves entirely.  There's a jagged, lacy look to the branches that is just beautiful. 

I love the way the sun slants and lights up the world in a different way.  It's gentle and warming.

I love the food.  I love the apples and squash and gourds... soups and breads and interesting chili recipes and stuff cooked in the crock pot. 

And pumpkins.  Now, to be honest, I'm generally not a big fan of pumpkin-flavored food.  A friend of mine was telling me the other day that for all the pumpkin muffins and pumpkin lattes and pumpkin granola we see in the stores this time of year, there's really very little pumpkin involved.  Mostly it's foods that have the spices we associate with pumpkin ~ cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, etc.   I thought that was interesting...  But mostly, I just like pumpkin bread.   Well, and the smell of all those spices.

But oh, the pumpkins themselves.  We just bought a couple this weekend, and it was so hard to pick.  Tall ones, short ones, small ones, fat ones... I don't like them flawless, I like them with character ~ little "imperfections" or uneven sides or funny stems.  Fortunately, we weren't at a store, where the best looking ones have been trucked in.  We were at a pumpkin patch about an hour away, and we picked our own.

The kids have always liked carving jack-o-lanterns with their dad, but I like to just set a couple pumpkins here and there around the house, for as long as they'll last, and then cook them and puree them for pie or bread. 

So that's what I'm looking at right now.  My same living room, with the same furniture I always own, but with a few autumn decorations, and a couple of lovely, friendly pumpkins.  Unique, interesting and appreciated.  Much as we are to Him, I think.  Don't you love being loved?

~ "you shall be a special treasure to Me" ~
Exodus 19:5

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Creation Celebration

"cattle and creeping thing and beast of the earth"
Genesis 1:24

Yesterday the kids and I ~ along with my sister and my nephew ~ went on a field trip, to the San Diego Safari Park (formerly the San Diego Wild Animal Park).  I've lived in Southern California for a lot of my life, but I've never been there before.  I thought you might like to see some pictures, and celebrate creation with me.

Can you see those younger flamingos in the middle?  They're not pink.  I mean, I know a lot of animals look different when they're young, but I can't believe they go from grey to pink.  Do they turn white in between?  Don't know.  Lovely creatures, though.

Okay, seriously, what was God thinking when He created the armadillo?  What an adorably weird, awkward animal.   Somehow, it's hard not to love it.

I have no idea what those are, but the colors are so rich and deep!  Gorgeous!

Meerkats soaking up the morning sun.  Stop. the. cuteness.

I can't believe how big a pelican is, up close. 

Speaking of big.... large, imposing, and very serious-looking gorilla.  Don't look him in the eye.  Seriously.  They hate that.  But I'll be honest, it's hard not to.

This little one, on the other hand, didn't seem to care if we looked directly at him.  In fact, he seemed to want us to! 

Lovely lemurs.  Man, I wanted to pet them!  But they frown on that...

How about this one?  You think you're just looking at the blue sky and rolling hills of San Diego...

... and then you zoom in and ~ look!  Giraffes!

And then we got closer.  There's something so graceful and... I don't know, almost liquid about the way giraffes move.  Beautiful.

Majestic.  Awesome.

And, of course, the Missus.  Giant, frightening, powerful kitty-cat!  Meow!

Again, no idea.... Can you see the white stripes running across his back?  So interesting!

How about this beauty?  So lithe and sleek.  And then she lay down and rolled on the ground like my cat does at home.  Charming and gorgeous!

Not charming or sleek or graceful or anything like that.  But powerful and strong and interesting enough that you want to stay there for hours and watch him.

I don't know what these are either.  I'm sorry; the names made sense when I was reading the signs, but they've left my head now... Love the deep brown of these fellows, and of course, their striking horns.

A beautiful blue macaw.  God had such fun with colors, didn't He?

These guys did nothing the whole time we watched them, and yet they were fascinating.  I just wanted to keep studying them.

But of course, beauty is not confined to the animals!

Lucky Adam.... Lucky Noah.... Lucky us!  He is the Master Creator, and it's our pleasure and privilege to learn about and enjoy His creatures!

~ "And God made the beast of the earth 
according to its kind,
cattle according to its kind, 
and everything that creeps on the earth
according to its kind. 
And God saw that it was good." ~
Genesis 1:25