Saturday, December 25, 2010
Saturday, December 18, 2010
Last weekend our church held its annual Christmas Concert. It is a huge effort, with choir rehearsals starting in September, and the audio and visual team working long hours in the days before the first presentation. Of course many churches have similar presentations with every bit as much work preceding the actual event.
In our case, the music was ethereal, combining a large chorus with beautiful orchestration and even a gospel group to ramp up the worship and the swaying of bodies and arms. They filled us all with special joy for they were from an area college, and though sounding like they represented the First Baptist Church of Jackson, Mississippi, they actually were a blend of fair Caucasian faces and their lovely darker counterparts.
Enhancing the worshipful music was the team of media workers, my dear friends, for we labor side by side every Sunday. They had slides that arched across the ceiling of the church and down the sides, spots of various colors, video, unobtrusive smoke-generating machines, and at one point silhouettes playing jazz instruments in rhythm with the musical score. It was most impressive!
When I returned to school Monday, filled with happiness that everything went so well, that there were no major disasters, that it was over, and in hopes that through it all, the Lord was glorified and the pastor’s message heard, within five minutes of my arrival a fellow worker came to my door – someone who had never been to my church, and only attended the concert at the invitation of a church member. She spent the first moments reviewing everything I wrote about above – and then she spent the rest of our considerable time together telling me how amazed her family was by the PEOPLE. The man next to them, an elder, who welcomed them, embraced them and entertained them. The row of respectful teenagers behind them, choosing to spend their Saturday night at church rather than partying. Those around them who greeted them, chatted with them, swayed with them, and invited them to return.
That is what they took away from our concert – welcoming, loving, joyful people. The body of Christ. The music and special effects came and went. The precious aroma of God’s people lingered. The first way to understand the incredible grace, mercy and love of Jesus, is to see it reflected in those who follow Him!
Thursday, December 9, 2010
Sometimes in our church bulletin there are quotes that inspire me, or challenge me, provoke me or convict me. Sometimes they make me laugh, especially when they are written by children, or church secretaries who may have misplaced modifiers or typing errors. Or, I might find a thought that so intrigues me I want to remember it, so I post it on my refrigerator since I spend a lot of time there. I didn't stop to think they might be great fodder for discussion!
Twice in the recent past, guests read my refrigerator and called me to account. As I type this I am reminded of Paul's words, "Preach the Word. Be prepared in season and out..." 2Timothy 4:2. "Be prepared, that's the Boy Scout marching song." Note to self, "Be prepared. Remember that."
Both quotes are short. My brother, who is not yet a Christian, read this one and took immediate offense. "Until men know themselves better, they will care very little to know Christ at all." John Owen 1616-1683 "How come this says until "MEN" know themselves better. Why single out men for this accusation? What's the big idea?" I felt the hair go up on the back of my neck, and quickly I sent up an arrow prayer.
My brother is no slouch. He has his Ph.D and was the chancellor of a fine mid-western college for years. "You are right," I said. "Absolutely, right. It should say, 'Until huMANity knows itself better, it will care very little to know Christ at all.' Point taken." And Whoosh...the wind went right out of his sails! Gender studies must have been a big part of his college curricula.
Later, my son and his wife, who are also not yet Christians came to visit from California. This is the quote that had them laughing hysterically. "A woman's heart should be so hidden in Christ that a man should have to seek Him to find her." No author given. I love that! Maybe it helps to be a Christian to take a crack at understanding it. I'm not sure I understand it, but I sure like it! "If that were true," my son said, "it would have taken me another 6 weeks to find my wife." Laughter. "If that were true," my daughter-in-law said, "He never would have found me!" More laughter.
(Insert another arrow prayer here) "Make fun if you like," I said, "but don't forget when trials come to me, as they surely will, Christ will carry me through, so I don't have to bug the two of you!" Ooooh...that seemed to sober them up pretty fast and the conversation suddenly became a tad accusatory. "Why do you Christians refuse to hang around sinners?" my daughter-in-law asked. "What? I AM a sinner and I have to hang around with me! Christianity says we are all sinners. The Gospel says, "In Jesus, God forgives us." Sometimes with synical not yet believers you have to be quick and right to the point!
"You can't shake her." my son said. "You might as well quit trying." "Hallelujah!" I thought. "Thank you Jesus, for keeping me!"
Saturday, December 4, 2010
I just returned from China, where I spent the last two weeks visiting my son and his family. While there, we traveled to Beijing and spent Thanksgiving in a small village in the shadow of the Great Wall. What an amazing construction that Wall is. All the superlatives are true!
It is over 10,000 miles long, and marches along the ridges of the huge mountain range that separates China from Mongolia – uphill and downhill, never ending, disappearing finally into the mists of the horizon – with ancillary walls that break away. Periodically along the way, watch towers interrupt the road along the top of the wall, a road wide enough for several horses to pass together. All this manmade effort was to hold back the Mongolian hordes from invading the emperor’s capital.
Interestingly, because of the dramatic twists and turns in the convoluted world of mountain ranges, it is very hard to tell which side of the wall is China and which is Mongolia. There is one clue - water drainage pipes. They always descend into China, where the water was used for irrigation – and never into Mongolia, where the pipes would have provided traction for an ascent by the enemy.
All that effort – and the strategy did not work! Why – because the guards could be bribed. The wall was often breached – not because of faulty construction, but because, as Pogo said so long ago, “We have met the enemy, and he is us!” As I walked the Wall last week, shivering in the cold of the Gobi desert, I couldn’t help but consider the parallels today. We build protective walls all the time – around ourselves, and to hold back those who think differently. Our walls are national, political, social, emotional and religious. They march up and down and all around and are ultimately futile, because the problem lies within.
The 12th chapter of Corinthians reminds us that as Christians who accept the Bible as holy Scripture, there is one body, the Church, with one Head, Jesus. Though we have different gifts divinely given by God, we are baptized with one Spirit, for one purpose, common good. “And the walls came tumbling down!!”
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
From these verses of Scripture I see two things: Christians are to preach the gospel and we are to baptize those who are made disciples in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But we cannot convert them. This inward experience is the work of the Holy Spirit. We can publicly baptize which is an OUTWARD experience of the INWARD work of God.
1Corinthians 12:13 and Acts 2:38 describe the inward experience of baptism by the Holy Spirit. This is often referred to as being "born again" by the entrance of the Holy Spirit into the heart of a new believer. This is how the believer is "sealed" forever with God's own name as Paul explains in Ephesians 1:13.
What am I to do? "Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husband so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives....Do what is right and do not give way to fear." 1 Peter 3-1, 6b. Live the gospel. Be obedient to it. Teach it and preach it when I can. Trust that He will strengthen me to do the work He has given me to do. And pray.
Just before I reached home a song by Babby Mason came on the radio. It was such an encouragment; divine encouragement! Here is part of it.
"When your questions go unanswered and your prayers may seem in vain,
Pray on, tear the mighty strongholds down,
Friday, November 12, 2010
Today our middle school Farmhands prepared a nearby barn for the arrival of our sheep, some piglets and a small puppy who will grow up to be a sheepherder. It was a beautiful day, but the outside warmth and sun did not reach far into the 19th century building. Except for a few diffused rays, it was dark, dank and chilly. To add to the inner chill, the carcass of a raccoon was leaning against one of the many musty bales of hay that a long-ago farmer left behind.
As we used a crow bar to pry open doors with rusted hinges, the November sunshine began to penetrate a space darkened for the last 40 years. Millions of bits of dust, straw and webby powder filtered through the air as the students, released from the prison of classroom walls, romped around, acting like the preschoolers they once were.
I stood by quietly, watching, smiling at the ruckus, imagining what livestock filled the barn over its history. Suddenly a flash of red caught my eye. I leaned over, and saw an amazing sight hidden down low, partially obscured by mounds of bird droppings – an old Coke can, with an unabashedly flaming crimson heart. Immediately an old Barbra Streisand song went through my mind - “Love Comes from Unexpected Places.”
How true that is – whether it is human love, or the agape love of God. God finds us in the most unlikely places and offers His unconditional love, wrapped in forgiveness, mercy, compassion and grace. It is rarely happens when we are looking our best, dressed in finery and success. Most often He stoops to woo us, a "friend in low places" - dusty, bleak, chilled, and obscured by waste. In the glow of our own self-glory, we miss His Light. In the shadows, His radiant love seeps into the emptiness of our souls.
Saturday, November 6, 2010
I have always loved the concept of the “agora” in ancient times. Long before I started reading the Bible, I learned that people met in the agora of their town - that it was a place where the community gathered, where commodities were bought and sold in arcades and shops, where children played, housewives shared gossip, politicians gave speeches, ideas were exchanged, and life ebbed and flowed.
Then when I began studying the New Testament, I learned that people first heard in the agoras about a man who performed miracles of healing, who taught wisdom through parables, who cleansed them of their sins, and spoke about his Father in heaven. Later his followers made their way to the agora where they talked about their resurrected Christ and debated matters of their faith with skeptics. One of my favorite stories about Paul takes place at the agora in Athens were he reasoned with the Stoics and Epicurians, acknowledged their statue to an unknown God, and then spoke with passion and compassion about his God.
These thoughts are with me today because last week I was in New York. One day I met my sister-in-law at a favorite restaurant from childhood, the Oyster Bar at Grand Central Station. As I entered that magnificent building, built in 1913 in the Beaux Arts style, I looked around and wondered. There is a huge marble staircase, long glass windows letting in amazing light, and an azure ceiling adorned with constellations. But the building paled in comparison with the people – some rushing to catch trains, some waiting to meet friends, some dining in fabulous eateries or shopping in a wondrous food market, others, many others standing around and talking – a modern day agora for sure.
How I pray that we always have our agoras – that we refuse to let the media dictate what we believe from afar. May we always exchange ideas in public, sharing, proclaiming, exclaiming, reclaiming logic, reason, freedom of speech and thought. May we stand tall against the talking heads of radio, TV, print news and the internet with their own agendas. May we remember that even our God in Isaiah said, "Come now, let us reason together."
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Eventually most of us will ponder these questions. What amazes me is how many people answer them on a license plate. RU12XL? Or how about IRIGHTI? These are expressions of individual personalities.
Last Sunday we heard a message from 2 Corinthians 12: 9-10. "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak then I am strong." Romans 8:26 says, "In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express." We are weak but He is strong, and when we depend on God and trust Him, His strength is manifested in our weakness.
Our culture tells us the opposite. We should be strong. We should learn how to "get over it." We should not fail, but go from success to success and teach our children the same.
When my children were small there was an all out effort to boost childhood self esteem. A popular song began this way, "The most important person in the whole wide world is YOU and you really ought to know it. The most important person in the whole wide world is YOU and you really ought to show it." In Isaiah 9:10 out of their arrogance and pride God's people say, "We will rebuild." "We will replace." But God says, "What will you do on the day of reckoning?"
Exiting church, talking about these things, we saw a license plate that said "Numbr 1 Mom." "Probably," we said, laughing lightly, "the children insisted on that as a Mother's Day gift!" But it was an apt summary of all we'd just heard. Yet, God wasn't done putting a ribbon on that sermon. Minutes later we saw another, "Glorify God."
How about you? What would your license plate say? I'm guessing it would not say, IRIGHTI "Right between the eyes."
Monday, October 18, 2010
When you think of salsa, what adjectives come to mind? Hot, spicy, fiery, zesty, piquant (from the Spanish “picar” meaning “to sting”). Salsa is currently the condiment of choice for a majority of Americans. It has a tomato or tomatillo base, with onions, garlic, lime juice and peppers to fill in the spaces. Then a creative cook can add whatever ingredients are handy – black beans, corn, avocado, cilantro, cumin. Yum!
However, there are variations on the basic ingredients, which cause a completely different dish to emerge. Heretics have been known to chop up mango, pineapple, papaya, melon, strawberries ginger, mint and other options, creating a delicious mixture, which simply can’t be called salsa.
You may be wondering where this ode to legitimate salsa is going, and what it has to do with two mid-sixties friends who delight in sharing the gospel. It has to do with a class that I am teaching at my school called Farmhands. As well as caring for lambs, bees, herbs and veggies, our students occasionally prepare fresh foods for students to enjoy – most recently, salsa. Against my better judgment, I bought the standard ingredients, and also the deviant ones. As they chopped and tossed, weeping openly over the onions, they filled two bowls to the brim.
As one student passed by, she commented, “Oh look – one bowl is so vibrant; and the other is so muted.” My first response was pleasure that a 7th grader would use such adjectives; my second to unravel the applications for a Christian. What do our congregations, prayer groups and Bible studies look like? Vibrant, or muted? Are we fiery and zesty as we make much of Jesus, or sweet, flowery and delicate? Though I recognize that there is a place for both, at the table and in the pew, it is the sharp pungency that most often encourages our spirits, catches the attention of others, and strengthens our bodies, minds and souls!
Saturday, October 9, 2010
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
A number of blog entries ago, I wrote about the color yellow. I was reminded of that entry as I drove through my beautiful Valley a few days ago. The eye-catching yellow corn, so vibrant in the summer sun, has faded. All that remain are husks, and a few dried kernels that the birds have missed. I felt wistful and a bit melancholy. So many people say they love fall; but for me, that pleasure is always tinged with dread, for I know what follows fall in northeast Ohio, and I experience an anticipatory shiver.
These reflections took me to my youngest granddaughter, Matilda. A couple of weeks ago, she started her two-year-old program at school. The ensuing days have been a challenge – to Matilda, her parents, her big brother and her grandparents – everyone who wants her to settle in and be happy. The teacher reports that she “has trouble with transitions.”
That’s it, I thought! We have trouble with transitions!! Transitions take us out of our comfort zone; they are wilderness times, when we long for the familiar, and don’t look forward to what is coming next. Forgetting that God is in control, that he has spoken promises, and that there are blessings even in the wilderness, we become confused. I understand, sweet Tilda – your Grammie has the same ambivalent feelings about retirement!
But (a pivotal word in the Bible, and in life), I turned the corner on my Valley drive, and I saw such a sight that I braked, got out of the car, and nearly fell to my knees among the pumpkins in gratitude – for I have a new favorite color – orange! Gingery, carroty, persimmony, peachy orange. A color filled with the happiness of yellow, coupled with the passion of red. The Bible is filled with people who looked ahead and saw desiccated stalks of corn. I pray to be like Joshua and Caleb in Numbers 14 who looked ahead and saw God's land of milk and honey!
Saturday, September 25, 2010
Thursday, September 16, 2010
Last week I was in New York celebrating the birthday of my grandson, born Sept. 9th. On this trip I experienced the inescapable presence of 9/11 at my daughter’s apartment in Lower Manhattan. I never considered it when I made the reservations. I simply put in the Saturday return. Sept. 11th in the evening, after the birthday party.
When we arrived, I was aware of American flags everywhere; especially on the fire engines that seem to sweep through the streets regularly. The fire station down the street was draped in bunting. So were the trash trucks. I was oblivious. Friday evening we went out for dinner – a foursome headed in the twilight to a chic restaurant in Tribeca, the last neighborhood before the financial district. When we emerged after dinner, my heart turned over.
In front of us were two beams of light, so close that I felt I could touch them, two magnificent, soul-stirring columns reaching so high that it was hard to say whether they went from the earth to the sky, or from heaven to earth. It was a stunning reminder and we stopped in silent tribute.
The next day was anything except silent. The apartment was filled with five year olds delighting in a magician’s sleight of hand. But one boy’s shirt said it all – “I love New York, more than ever.” After the party we descended into the chaos of a New York street fair, filled with resilient humanity, stands with food from around the world, trinkets for sale on blankets, music floating smoothly through the air - jazz, salsa, pan pipes, a sitar, reggae, rap. Above us, the sky was cobalt blue, reminding everyone old enough to remember about that cobalt blue sky nine years earlier.
As our plane took off in the 9/11 evening, my eyes searched the sky. There they were, the beams again, cutting through the low clouds, and again I was confused – were they from man, memorializing a tragic moment? Or were they from God, saying, Here I am. In your sorrow, as in your joy.
Ah, you finally got to God, a reader of coffeepotgospel may say. But God is everywhere in this blog. God has made promises to his people – promises about his grace being sufficient, that all things work together for good for those who love and serve him, that he will supply our needs, that there is sure victory over death to those who believe, and that he is with us in the pit, in the fire, in the storm – in the faces of diversity on city streets, in the courage of a city that refuses to cringe, in love – more than ever.
Monday, September 13, 2010
This woman had no clue. Her response to Jesus when He asked her for a drink was typical. "Hey, you Jews don't associate with Samaritans. Why then, would you be asking me for a drink?" "If you knew who I am you would ask ME for a drink," He responded, "And I would give you living water. Again, typically, and perhaps characteristically, she combined cynicism with a history lesson. "...where will you get this 'living water?' According to her faith Jacob gave her and her people the well, so who does this man think he is anyway?
How kind Jesus is! He expands His explanation. He says the water in the well will leave her thirsty later, but the water He can provide will live forever "welling" up inside of her to a spring of eternal life.
She calls His bluff. "Sir," she says, "Give me this water so I won't get thirsty anymore and keep having to come back here for more."
Jesus changes the conversation. "Go, call your husband." Huh? She tersely replies, "I have no husband." "You are right....you have had five husbands and the man you have now is not your husband."
Now she is shocked. "Sir, she says, "I can see you are a prophet." She argues about where to worship perhaps hiding behind the unimportant to buy time to think. Dodge...counterdodge. Jesus lets loose and says, "...a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is Spirit and His worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth."
She weakens somewhat, but is still strong in her reply, in her faith. "I know that Messiah is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us. Pulling out all the stops, Jesus says, "I, who speak to you, am He." Wow.
Here is why we call her Gloria. She totally forgets her water jug, and runs on winged feet back to town where she is a woman of highly questionable character, and tells everyone, "Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?" she asks. The next thing we know in John 4:39, "Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in Him because of the woman's testimony." 'He told me everything I ever did.'"
Oh, to have her zeal! Her joy! Her influence! Her effectiveness! Her power! What did the Samaritans see? Were people different then? Many conversions followed. Like our Gloria, they understood, God is the fountain of life. Spiritual renewal for a carnal woman from a God who chose to teach her "God is Spirit." How ironic!
Monday, September 6, 2010
Today is my 66th birthday! I have to admit that even now, when September 6th rolls around, I still get a shiver of excitement. I have friends who give a little shudder when the subject comes up, and they wish the event were not happening; but for me, even at this advanced age when I qualify both for Medicare and Social Security, I am a little girl anticipating her special day.
As I lay in bed this morning, smiling for the walls of the room to see, I tried to analyze why it continues to be a sweet day. Though presents are fun (see, still a little girl!), the best part is the greetings, and best wishes – this year, telephone calls from Shanghai and Manhattan; cards from New Jersey, New York state, and locally; emails from Brussels, Canada, from my media team from church and the school where I work, and again, dear friends and family around here, and the latest – e-cards!
Today is even more special, for the entire nation is pausing! Well, not exactly for me, though I can pretend. It is Labor Day, a funny name, for it is a time where labor ceases, and everyone plays – reflecting on the summer about to end, and looking forward to autumn smells, colorful leaves, fires, football games and cozy sweaters.
However, like the icing on a birthday cake, I am saving the best for last. When I got out of bed, praising God for the day and thanking Him for abundant blessings, I raised the shades. Though I first saw clouds on the horizon, sunlight broke through the eastern sky and illuminated the steeple outside my window with such a glow that I swore it had been transformed into pure gold. I felt the presence of God as surely as Jacob did at the River Jabbok. I remembered his promises to his children – that as high as the heavens are above, so great is his love; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed my transgressions; that he knows how I am formed – in fact, he knit me together in my mother’s womb; and he is with me from everlasting to everlasting.
In the presence of such amazing grace, how could I ever flinch on September 6th, or any other day! Instead I went downstairs to fresh coffee brewing, a smile on my slightly wrinkled face, a dance in my step, and joy in my heart!!
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
How sweet is the Word of God! She draws a conclusion from all of this and reaches back. She makes a slight change. "His eye is on the sparrow and I know he watches us."
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
As I was driving to school last week, I began to think about the color yellow. Earlier this summer my granddaughter had gone around a room filled with family, asking people about their favorite color. Everyone jumped in either with the basics (blue, green, purple), with the exotics from those with Crayola crayon familiarity (magenta, indigo, burnt umber), and with the predictable (from 2 year old granddaughter, pink). I was the last one, and I said yellow. It always has been my favorite choice, though basically ignored by the population at large. So before I go on, dear reader, what about you?
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Sunday, August 8, 2010
The Outer Banks of North Carolina, August 2010. Sun, sand and surf with son, daughter, spouses and 5 grandchildren. What a wonderful, happy time together. Oldest granddaughter Lia always arose first, crawled into our bed and snuggled, offering and accepting kisses, warm and sweet smelling. Youngest granddaughter Matilda was indomitable, not at all intimidated by her cousinly and brotherly elders. When challenged, she roared like a lion, literally. Towering above us, visible from almost every window was the Currituck Lighthouse. Whenever I looked it, I heard music - the mariner's hymn, sung at the funerals of so many of our fathers, both literal and figurative. Jack Kennedy. Ronald Reagan. John Wolcott.
Who bidd'st the mighty ocean deep, Its own appointed limits keep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee, For those in peril on the sea!
Who walked'st on the foaming deep, And calm amidst its rage didst sleep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee, For those in peril on the sea!
And bid its angry tumult cease, And give, for wild confusion, peace;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee, For those in peril on the sea!
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Ever since she was a little girl my daughter-in-law has dreamed of having an Airstream trailer. She saved paper dolls who inhabit an Airstream of their own, the way other girls might save Barbies or Cabbage Patch dolls. Her home is loaded with pictures and books about Airstreams their history, their glory days, their future. She painted ceramic plates and wooden trays with idyllic scenes of happy families camping in an Airstream and gave them away as gifts.
When she married my son, he caught the fever. A couple of years ago, they even vacationed at a campground in Oregon, where they live, in a rented Airstream. What a thrill that was! For the last 9 years they saved every extra penny they had to make that dream come true.
The phone rang. The call came. The dream came true! They bought a perfectly perfect 2003 Airstream International and were walking on "airstreams" all week planning for and awaiting its delivery on Friday.
We were all there. My son and his wife from California and my husband and I from Ohio had planned ages ago to meet in Oregon that weekend. We got to be a part of the welcoming committee! The delivery man came. They signed papers. He left. We all oohed and awed in rapt bemusement and wonder that this dream came true!
And the Lord threw a curve ball.
As my son opened a large window on the side of the trailer it exploded out with such force, sound and fury that thousands of teeny tiny, little pieces of glass were literally blown up and out scattering over a wide area. We were all struck silent, stunned by what had just happened. Shocked, no one moved. No one. Until my daughter-in-law came running out from the house to see what happened. She threw her hand over her mouth and ran back inside. And no one moved.
There is a happy ending! No one was hurt! None of us, including the baby was hit by flying glass. Praise God! Praise God! The dealer will replace the glass and the Airstream will be fixed. But it reminded me that like glass, life is fragile. It can change in an instant. And like glass, sometimes our dreams shatter, or are changed in significant ways. That is why the Lord tells us over and over and over again some 350 times in a variety of ways and circumstances, "Do NOT FEAR."
"Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned." Isaiah 43:1-2
Glass breaks. Dreams shatter. Life is fragile. But "I will be with you." is a promise. And the Lord keeps His promises.
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Last week I had such joy, for my family from Shanghai was here in Ohio. Almost 40-year-old son, his beloved wife, and three grandchildren, ages 8, 5 and 3. We spent the day at a beautiful nearby lake and played and picnicked in the sun-dappled grass. Then we went to a sandy beach where everyone swam until the lifeguard called all swimmers out for a break. In the ensuing calm, the children did what all children do when a sandy beach is at hand – buried a friend.
I love the photo – and the reminder of the parable about those who build their houses on sand, rather than rock (in Matthew 7 and Luke 6). When Jesus told it, he was speaking to his followers. Some were sick and sought healing; some were fascinated by the miracles he performed; most heard his words day after day – but how many truly embraced his important lessons?
The answer to that question depended on their actions – their hearts. Jesus spoke about two men, but they represent all of us who profess to believe. The first man in the parable built his house quickly, with little attention to foundation. He simply threw it up on the nearest piece of sandy soil. The second man took his time. He applied what he knew about foundational matters. He built on solid rock. Then the storm came. The battered house on solid rock stood firm; the house built on shaky sand crumbled.
This lesson has little to do with the laughter and sweet fellowship of that sunny day with dear grandchildren and their friends. Truthfully I just wanted to share the picture! But as I watched, I remembered that wonderful gospel song from summer camp – “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness… in every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil… on Christ the Solid Rock I stand! All other ground is sinking sand!!”
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Monday, July 12, 2010
My Name is Anna
I ask the tall gray-haired lady if I may copy the poem and share it with friends. She grins from ear to ear and says, "Oh! Please do!"
Psalm 139: 13-16 "For You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made." Mark 9: 36,37 "He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in His arms, He said to them, 'Whoever welcomes one of these little children in My name welcomes Me; and whoever welcomes Me does not welcome Me but the one who sent Me.'" Deuteronomy 11:26 "See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse." Proverbs 21 "Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails."
AMEN to God's purposes and plans! And AMEN to those who heed them!
Monday, July 5, 2010
Two weeks ago I had a wonderful experience, for I returned to the beautiful northern California of Jack’s and my early married years. Though I stayed in San Francisco, I spent most of each day at a conference in Berkeley, land of creative architecture, whimsical gardens, affordable restaurants, and free-spirited people.
The conference had a high-minded focus on ecology and sustainability, which if you have read previous blogs, you know directly relates to my new job at my school as resident beekeeper and gardener. But I try always to have an additional focus, which is how I connect everything I learn with my faith, and then use that insight to connect with others.
There was ample opportunity to find authentic links, for the conference focused on clarity of purpose, building relationships among those who are like-minded and even more among those who are not and, especially, on our place in God’s world, and the transitions in nature from life to death to life again. But something even better happened. The best lesson that I learned during my 5-day sojourn did not take place in the classroom. It was in the garden, in the sunshine, among bales of straw. (See the attached photo, including the stretched out legs of my traveling companion)
We are designed to rest after work. Our bodies require it, but even more, our spirits long for it, and we are called to enjoy it. God rested after six days of creation. Not because he was exhausted and burned out (of course not – He is God!), but because He was setting forth a model for us, and He called it GOOD! At the beginning of the Bible: “…on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy…” and at the end: “… for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his.”
I am writing this early in July, dear readers. It is summer! Take time to rest. Delight in the wonders of the natural world. Smell the scents, taste the treats, find a figurative bale of straw, and above all – listen!
Monday, June 28, 2010
Shocked, disappointed, sad, and sorry, I had sidelined Christ. Sat Him on the bench. How can I forget who I am? Whose I am? 2Corinthians 5:17 says, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! ...We are therefore Christ's ambassadors as though God were making His appeal through us." Where was the new? What kind of an ambassador leaves his new clothes hanging in the closet and forgets his purpose?
The following day was Sunday. The pastor preached on Mark 9:14-29, the healing of a boy with an evil spirit. A man had brought his son to Jesus to be healed of seizures that threw his son to the ground, made him foam at the mouth, gnash his teeth and become rigid. The disciples tried to heal the boy but could not, and the father was desperate. While there are an abundance of lessons here, the lesson for me that day was when the disciples asked Jesus why they couldn't drive the demon out Jesus responded, "This kind can come out only by prayer."
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about conversations with God. I failed to practice what I preached. I had not prayed. I left the Lord entirely out of the evening long before the evening began. "This kind can come out only by prayer" "...only by prayer." By grace, faith and prayer we are healed. By prayer we can help others. By prayer we are reminded who we are, whose we are. By prayer we remain close to God. By prayer we are forgiven, encouraged, lifted, inspired, corrected, comforted and loved. By prayer we comfort and love as we are comforted and loved.
It is a lesson I learned once long ago. It is a lesson I need learn again. And again.
"Jesus, kneel beside me
In the dawn of day;
Thine is prayer eternal
Teach me how to pray!"
Master, work beside me
In the shining sun;
Gently guide Thy servant
Till the work be done.
Saviour, watch beside me
In the closing light;
Lo, the evening cometh
Watch with me this night!
Saturday, June 19, 2010
The truth was that most of the time, I actually really pulled one over on the grown ups – they were thinking quickly, thinking of many things, not listening carefully, and offered the quick and incorrect response. I discovered this week that the adult behavior of long ago is me today!
For the last week I spent just about every waking hour with a 5 year old and a 2 year old - grandchildren Max and Matilda. Every moment was filled with revelation, contemplation, and exuberance. Max paid rapt attention to the daily newspaper, a decomposing snapping turtle, train whistles, fleur de sel cupcakes, attaching a lid to a wooden box using hinges, whispered adult conversation and my bees. Matilda never missed an ant walking across the sidewalk or our kitchen floor, yellow flowers, anything pink, wearing her sunglasses, lounging in her Adirondack chair, putting on her own shoes and all creatures great and small.
When did I exchange the holy now for the hurried next? How have I so often lost the sense of wonder? Why have I condemned myself to missing quiet time with God, dwelling in His Word, and delighting in His people as I exchange such precious selfless moments for hurrying, scurrying, and my self focused agenda?
One of my favorite verses comes from Psalm 46. The first two words are, “Be still…” That is enough to get my attention every time I read it, but it is the next six words that really send me to my knees – “…and know that I am God.” They go together. I can’t be still until I remember who I am and who my Lord is. Then I can relax, shrug off worry, set aside personal agendas, appreciate all He has created, and glorify Him. He is in control. I can relax and enjoy the ants!
Thursday, June 10, 2010
Praying can be extremely humbling. My Lord, Savior and Friend is also Almighty God, Creator of heaven and earth, who could conceivably cast me away from His presence forever. But He doesn't precisely because He is who He says He is in my life. We come to the Father through Jesus the Son by the guidance of the Spirit. Wow.
Sunday, June 6, 2010
Very early yesterday morning, I participated on a Relay for Life team. This is an organization that raises money for cancer research by encouraging people to put together teams who obtain pledges, and then walk, think, pray and laugh together over a 24 hour period. As I fitfully slept the night before, waiting for the alarm to go off, listening to the thunder and rain, selfishly being grateful that I was under dry covers while my darkest-of-night teammates were walking (doubly selfishly justifying my thought by saying they are half my age), I had no idea what a moving experience awaited me.
When I arrived, the skies were just opening up to the rose and lavender of a beautiful sunrise. Coffee was waiting, and as I started my loops around the track, some of the faithful were holding a sunrise service. A lone woman sang Morning Has Broken. As her voice rose above the walkers, the words grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. Cat Stevens couldn’t have done any better.
Sweet the rain's new fall, sunlit from heaven, Like the first dewfall, on the first grass; Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden; Sprung in completeness where his feet pass.
Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning; Born of the one light, Eden saw play; Praise with elation, praise every morning; God's recreation of the new day.
I passed hundreds of luminaries with names on them, some those who have passed, and some who are survivors. Every name spoke of heart-wrenching challenge, but also of love. There were walkers and their supporters all around me, some looking bleary-eyed, some goofy in attire guaranteed to promote laughter, some chatting, some solitary – but all united in brave purpose.
It made me weep with sorrow and joy. I was so proud to be a small part of this collective good – but I also thought about the other great needs in our world. Secular ones, like the tragedy along the Gulf Coast; political, like the anger that spews from the airwaves and from regular conversation; and above all spiritual, like the deep loneliness experienced by those not anchored in faith. Two verses kept running through my mind from Hebrews, verses which are part of every Christian’s Relay for Life - “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” and “let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus.”
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
Paul is unwavering as he faces down his own Jewish brothers, some of whom want to maintain certain requirements of the law for themselves and new believers. This meant circumsion in order to be in compliance. Paul argues passionately it is unnecessary. Jesus Christ fulfilled the law perfectly for all and conquered death so that all may have life. But tradition, power and the human need be in control of our own destiny and the destiny of others make this hard to accept. Pride and power get in the way.
If you want an historically accurate, yet beautifully dramatized scoop into the personal, strenuous, enormous struggle these men and women undertook, you will find it in the pages of this book. Thank you, Judy!
Thursday, May 27, 2010
... I will blog again! (can you find the subject of this blog in the photo?)
Two caterpillars are sitting happily on a log. They look up and see a butterfly float by overhead. One turns to the other and says, “No way you’ll ever catch me up on one of those things.” I can imagine them grinning at each other, and continuing to chew a leaf, ignorant of the process of metamorphosis and the fact that soon they themselves will be soaring.
I was once that caterpillar. I was happy in my grounded life. I watched people head off to worship each Sunday, as I drank my second cup of coffee and dug deeper into the New York Times. I had a collection of Bibles gathering dust on my shelf, though I delighted in the heritage of strong Christian ancestors which they represented. I took pride in my Episcopal background, and deeply loved allowing the familiar cadences of the Book of Common Prayer roll over me. Churches and cathedrals represented the highest of architectural design, stained glass beauty, and acoustical harmony.
Then, when I was fifty years old, something happened. I can’t explain it. I changed. I couldn’t get enough Bible study. Sunday mornings (and evenings) at church were the highlight of my week. I listened to Christian music as I commuted to work. It was not a result of my good works, holy attitude or deep study. Trying to explain it was like trying to explain where the wind would next blow. Jesus says to the seeker Nicodemus, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit." Go figure. Try and explain that one!
There is one thing for sure. I would never want to go back. And I have to think that soaring butterfly feels the same way when she looks down and sees two earthbound caterpillars watching her from their low point on the log. I am eternally grateful for that inexplicable wind, called the Spirit. The apostle Paul used to drive me crazy when I was a caterpillar. I didn’t understand his passion. Now when I read, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” I know he was speaking from personal experience, as I am today.
Saturday, May 22, 2010
At the school where I work, I have worn many hats over 30 years, but one of my current jobs is the most fun – gardener and beekeeper. Any readers of this blog will see many entries on these subjects over time, for there is so much of God in nature, as there should be, since He is Creator as well as Lord.
This week, Carolyn and I traveled up to the Botanical Gardens in Cleveland, which was an inspirational experience. One of my favorite places there was the Children’s Garden, where they have taken old, undesirable throw-aways and recycled them as planters for lovely flowers. This model of reversing construction, taking materials that in the past were destined for landfills and creating something beautiful makes good sense, for it is socially responsible and sustainable – and it makes God sense, for it reminds me of some of my favorite verses in the Bible – verses that I have asked to have read at my funeral.
The verses appear in two places, and their location has offered ministers volumes of sermon material over time. The first place is in the Old Testament, in the magnificent book of Isaiah: "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn, to console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; That they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified."
The second place is in the New Testament gospel of Luke, where after being tempted in the wilderness, Jesus quotes these words at his home synagogue in Nazareth. He opened the holy scroll, read the words, sat down, and said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Beauty from ashes – prophecy and fulfillment. Darkness and sin exchanged for hope, joy, grace, mercy, love. Do you see, gentle readers, why these words are funeral-worthy?!
Monday, May 17, 2010
There are some common beliefs about the orgin of "Bless you!" after a sneeze although none are definitive. One is familiar to most. Legend says people once believed the heart stopped beating during a sneeze and a hearty bless you encouraged it to start again.
One reaches back to the bubonic plague. According to Wikipedia, Pope Gregory I was installed about the time the plague was reaching Rome. To fight off the illness he ordered unending prayer and parades of chanters through the streets of Rome because sneezing was thought to be the first symptom . People prayed for God's blessing and favor to keep them safe.
Another says people believed the soul was thrown from the body during a sneeze leaving the body open to invasion by Satan or his minions, or conversely that the evil spirits already possessed the body and this was its way of expelling them. Either way, to be blessed was to be protected from evil.
When our pastor mentioned this a couple of weeks ago, it got me thinking. As a Christian is that all the witnessing I do? Is all I can muster a hearty "Bless you!" as a way of communicating to others that I believe in God and they should too? What about Jesus? I have left Him out entirely. How pathetic is that? It occurred to me, I am the one in desperate need of courage and conviction.
Recently, a guest pastor from India preached passionately about Christians in his country and many countries who are so hated for their beliefs they are killed. Others are subject to brutal beatings, family members might be killed, or their livelihoods destroyed and their churches burned. How are they known for their faith? They say so. Publicly. In the square.
What am I afraid of? Offending someone? That IS pathetic. The Bible says in Galatians 5:11 that people don't want to be told they cannot manage their own salvation. Some don't acknowledge they need salvation, or that there is salvation at all. Our pride and arrogance don't want to admit we cannot save ourselves, or that there is something to be saved from. The cross is offensive. So is its exclusivity.
Christians believe only the Holy Spirit working through the heart of man, can save. Revelation 3:20 says, "Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with Me." But we have responsibility too. Jesus laid it out in Mark 16:15. "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation!" Message to self, "Say so!" Oh, and by the way, may God bless you heartily, whether you sneeze...........or not!