Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Transitions (by Judy)

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

Who Is This King? by Carolyn

A couple of days ago our pastor gave a message on Jesus in the temple with the moneychangers. He talked about all the commercial exploitation and financial skullduggery going on in a house of worship. The temple had become a den of robbers and hypocrites. People were fleeced in the name of religion. This was nothing new. It had been going on for a long time

In retelling the story of Jesus' righteous anger at the wordly commerce in the temple and His outrage at how the chief priests and scribes were taking advantage of the people, the pastor helped us visualize each in our own minds, the face of Jesus. His face, which often must have had a calm and gentle look, changed. It became stern and firm. How His jaw must have been set against the sin in His Father's house. This was the temple He'd visited as a boy. No doubt, even then, Jesus had been disturbed by what He saw.

As I listened I could almost see that this was not the pale, thin skinned, somewhat effeminate, blue-eyed Jesus often portrayed in art. This was power and authority under control. I imagined dark eyes flashing with anger. A brow furrowed with passion. His mouth pursed with determination to rid the temple of such things as He tipped over the tables, coin boxes and fearlessly drove everybody out.

I remembered a book by J. I. Packer called "Knowing God." It contains a warning. "We should not look to pictures of God to show us His glory and move us to worship; for His glory is precisely what such pictures can never show us. His glory is jeopardized when images are used in worship." Pictures are unworthy for what they fail to display.

When God talks to us through His Word He talks to each of us individually. It is a personal conversation, an intimate one. When we rely on other people's images and pictures we allow a buffer or an obstacle to come between us and our Lord.

While it's true that we were made in His image, and He came to us in human form, "We must not think of Him existing in ours. To think of God in such terms is to be ignorant of Him, not to know Him." Our pastor's message, and Packer together help us remember that we should not limit our Lord. His glory knows no bounds! Who is this King? "See" for yourself!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

I Love New York, More Than Ever (by Judy)

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

Gloria by Carolyn

That's what we dubbed her, Judy and I. She is the Samaritan woman at the well who fell under God's huge blessing. By going to the well later in the day, when the other women would not be there, she bumped headlong into Jesus who was alone at the well. Imagine! What will you do, what will you say when you come face to face with Jesus?

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 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

Hello God, It's Me, Judy (not Blume)

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

His Eye is On the Sparrow by Carolyn

I have an elderly friend who lives in a nursing home. When we visit she tells me about her beloved Nikki. Nikki was the beautiful black cat who shared his life with her for twenty years. She tells me what a skinny, little, frisky kitten he was tearing all over her house, running away from imaginary evil beasts, stalking moths inadvertently caught in her shag rug, and in his sights, and how he tossed his toys high up in the air and jumped up even higher to catch them before they hit the ground. His zest for life knew no bounds!

Critters outside beware! Nikki is there! He knows where you live. He knows your habits. He is on high alert! Instinct tells him if you aren't very careful, your life is in his paws!

Together they lived in companionship and love. She was never lonely with her Nikki. When she retired for the night, he did too. He slept in her bed beside her head. When she awoke, he did too. When she left for the day, he was at the door when she came home greeting her with enthusiastic meows and wrappping himself around her legs waiting to be picked up and loved. When he developed diabetes and kidney ailments, she gave him his medicine and shots extending his life beyond his veterinarian's ken.

When he died he had a bum leg.

She misses him. She looks out the window in her little room constantly. Then one day, there he was! He was dragging his bum leg, coming through the grass right toward her window! He jumped in and sat on her bed just like he used to. He was there! He was real! And then...he was gone. She is woebegone. She looks high and lo throughout the nursing home and gardens convinced he will come back again.

What can I do? How can I help? Distract her with a message from Scripture that might somehow fit. "The Lord looks high and lo too," I say, " for the lost and for His own." "For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him." 2Chronicles 16:9 "The eyes of the Lord are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good." Proverbs 15:3 "For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayers." 1Peter 3:12

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."