Tuesday, December 16, 2008

What If?

What if Mary, Jesus' mother, wasn't like we've always pictured her to be?



What if she was still a chunky teenage girl who hadn't yet lost her baby fat and was accustomed to the torments of girls her age? Perhaps then, that was, in part, why God chose her. She'd handled ridicule well, and there was bound to be even more as an unwed pregnant girl in that culture. Furthermore, her name means "bitter." Living life with that moniker might have made her one tough broad. She may have had a strength of character that surpassed her youth.

What if she was less "cheerleader" and more "softball catcher"? Her dad and mom may have been thick, stocky people and mom may have been a fantastic cook, too!

What if she wasn't blue-eyed? Few Jewish girls are.

What if she would never have been chosen Homecoming Queen? She may not have been incredibly attractive. Her Son certainly had nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him (Isaiah 53:2).

What if she wasn't a sweet, demure, acquiescent child but a robust, confident, stubborn young woman with deep convictions?

So often, when we hear her name, we picture a pansy-like demeanor subtly accepting "the will of God." But look again at Luke 1:26-38: she's a thinking person. She wants a logical answer for how in the world she's going to have a baby, and isn't afraid to ask. Furthermore, what if there's an unrecorded pause between verses 37 and 38 where she has to consider all the implications and decide to trust an unseen God before she says, "I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said." And I love the fact that she fully recognizes this is being done to her. She's not naive and assumes it will all work out with no complications or difficulties. She understands this will have a profound effect on every aspect of her life as it stands right now.

What if she was shoveling manure in the barn when the angel came to her? Let's face it, we usually picture her stirring a pot over an open flame, feeding a lamb or darning socks. Women in that culture had to do the dirty chores, too.

Were any of these "what ifs" true, they wouldn't change the fact that above all else, Mary is obedient, and humbly recognizes her place as servant of the Most High God. Confident or insecure, lovely or unattractive, shy or gregarious, she willingly gave all she was to all that God needed her to be. No reservations, no holds barred, for better or worse.

God, some days I fail so miserably at giving all of myself to you, but for this moment, know that all I am deeply desires to be your obedient servant today.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Success! Sorta.

We caught Mickey tonight (using marshmallows, BTW). However, apparently we have a Minnie, too. The hunt's still on.

Mouse Update

We still haven't caught the fuzzy creature. We've now fed it four helpings of peanut butter and two peppermint pieces. The problem appears to be it's so small and light that it is able to eat without springing the trap. We're going to make a couple more attempts, but we're seriously considering buying glue traps, next. If I weren't allergic to cats, we'd ask to borrow one.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Twelve Days of Christmas

Last Tuesday night, I had the pleasure of attending the Ladies Teacup Exchange, as I've mentioned before. One of my favorite parts of the evening was the interactive, animated and amusing singing of the traditional carol, Twelve Days of Christmas. If you weren't there I can't describe to you how funny it was to see Ruth Price holding her cell phone as she sang, "Four calling birds," or Delight Bristow with her hands extended over her head as though she were a pear tree, or Mary NeSmith "creatively moving" as one of the dancing ladies. And whoever told those women at table five they could sing about golden rings should be shot.

Nevertheless, in commemoration of the wonderful event, I thought I'd post some trivia about the song. Unknown to most non-liturgical, or "free" churches, the twelve days of Christmas actually has ancient Christian roots. Epiphany, January 6, is a holy day observed by the Church for centuries, traditionally believed to be the day the wise men, or Magi, presented their gifts to the Christ. Thus, for the twelve days between Christmas Day and Epiphany, it became popular to give gifts and/or celebrate in some way.

The song as we know it today has a variety of stories behind it, but my favorite is that the lyrics were a memory poem and game much like our modern, "I'm going on a picnic" game. Each person mentions something new, but must also recite all that was spoken previously by other players. Thus, if you were person #7, reciting The Twelve Days of Christmas, you had to say, "Seven swans a-swimming" and remember and recite the rest of the items stated by persons 1 through 6, as well. Not too hard, since we've put it to music, but I bet I couldn't do very well without humming the tune!

Anyway, here's a link to how much all those bagpipers, dancers, birds and stuff would cost in 2008 (to get to each item, click "next" in the bottom left corner). The grand total? You'll have to sing the whole song to find out!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Don't Read This While You Eat

We saw one yesterday. It wasn't big; it wasn't frightening. It was just one of those. Scurrying past Darin's feet at a lightning pace, furry and agile, a mouse is cohabiting our garage.

I guess it's the free room and board that appealed to him. He was trying to get into the dog's food when Darin first caught a glimpse of him. Thankfully, he didn't achieve his objective, and the Puppy Chow has been saved. But I guess I've found there is one disadvantage to living by a pasture.

The only other battle I've personally fought against mice was in grad school. The rickety shack on Drew Street in Ft. Worth housed my roommate Kathy, myself, and a horrible vermin we named "Whitey." He found the pantry pretty quickly, delving into such culinary delights as oatmeal and Cherrios. I was prepared to let him have his way with our food supply just so I wouldn't have to deal with the nasty creature. Besides, I don't like oatmeal, and I could survive without Cherrios! However, when Whitey found the Kool-aid mix, Kathy announced, "I HAVE HAD ENOUGH. We have got to do something about this mouse." Cheering delightedly, enraptured by her passion and zeal for this mission, I somehow missed the fact that "we" meant "me."

Kathy, a die-hard liberal and advocate for women's equality suddenly turned into a delicate southern belle from South Carolina. There was no way....she couldn't possibly...it was out of the question that she should set a mousetrap. So, she did the next best thing: she offered to buy the mousetrap. Gee, thanks.

Well, she did, and after reading the instructions (no kidding), I set the trap. Cheese was the bait of choice, and that night around 2 AM we heard the SNAP! "Good, our mission is accomplished," I thought as I curled back under the covers. I was wrong. The next morning, I discovered Whitey had made off with the cheese. So, that night, we used peanut butter. I figured he might stick to the trap if nothing else. Sure enough, around 3 AM, we again heard the ominous SNAP! I jumped out of bed to see if we'd succeeded this time. Kathy heard the sound, too, and timidly poked her head out of her bedroom and followed me to the kitchen.

Mousetrap instructions don't include what to do with the captured creature. I think Kathy planned to leave him to rot in the trap, but intuition told me that wasn't the best plan. So, armed and shielded with rubber gloves, I prepared to open the pantry door as Kathy went screaming back into her bedroom. (I'm not exaggerating. She high-tailed it out of there.) Opening the door, I saw Whitey, eyes bulging and bloody-lipped. One arm (leg? paw? whatever), was broken from the force of the spring, and a glob of peanut butter was stuck on the floor. I wasn't one hundred percent certain he was dead, so I decided that it couldn't hurt to leave him another four hours to really die, and I went back to bed. (This is a true story.)

The next morning, again armed with rubber gloves, I picked up the end of the mousetrap, and carefully carried Whitey's dead carcass to the dumpster in our apartment complex. Then, without even a eulogy, I threw him in. Mousetrap and all.

I set two traps in the garage today. I figure since I've never claimed to be a women's libber, if and when we do catch our furry friend, Darin gets to remove him this time.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Dependence Day

As I've mentioned before, each Advent/Christmas season it seems as though the Lord has a particular facet of the nativity and incarnation about which he wants to enlighten me. For weeks, verses, sermons, songs, pictures, and comments will come to my attention focused on one aspect of the coming of Christ. Sometimes, it's a character: like when I played Mary in our church pageant. Experiencing the emotion and crisis of faith through her eyes was deeply moving for me. Sometimes it's about his character: like the year I was confounded by his mercy. Sometimes it's about my character: like the year I recognized selfish attitudes creeping into my giving. Sometimes it's about biblical veracity: like last year when I considered the foretold and incredibly accurate prophecies surrounding Jesus' coming. Then sometimes it's about theological doctrine. Deep stuff, but nonetheless applicable for real life. That's what it is this year.

Last night at our Ladies Ministry Teacup Exchange I had the privilege of singing and playing Chris Rice's Welcome to Our World. For more than a week, I've been mulling over the lyrics and considering them in light of scripture. The theological implications have staggered my mind. My favorite lines from the song are these:
Fragile fingers sent to heal us, tender brow prepared for thorn
Tiny heart whose blood will save us - unto us is born, unto us is born.
So wrap our injured flesh around you, breathe our air and walk our sod
Rob our sin and make us holy, perfect Son of God.
Having a newborn in our home this year definitely heightened my awareness of the incredible dependency of humanity. We think we are so self-sufficient, so invulnerable. As we mature, pride and egocentricity tear down opportunities for recognizing our inadequacy on a day-by-day basis.

Even my goofy dog reminded me of that this week. Anxiously standing by the door to come in from outside, he couldn't do for himself. He was literally incapable of opening the door. I mentioned to Darin how helpless a feeling it must be to not be able to even enter a room; to be so dependent upon another for even getting from point A to point B. Immediately I was struck with the thought of our omnipotent, powerful God choosing to humble himself (see Phil 2:5-8) to the form of humanity. But not just any form of humanity - a newborn, an infant. And here's the theological part: The independent, dependable God chose to become dependent upon an undependable creation. He needed someone to change and feed him, clothe and bathe him; to teach him to walk. He needed others to teach him language, reading and math. (Hey, as the son a carpenter, he definitely learned math, which only further proves Heb. 2:17-18 - he does understand our suffering!)

As an adult, Jesus needed others to do their jobs of making bread, milking animals, tending sheep, catching fish, manufacturing textiles and pottery and constructing clothing and buildings. He even depended upon the religious authorities - corrupt though they were - to lead in worship. He needed people, the same way I do. I am not a self-sufficient creation. And like Jesus, not only do I need what others can do, I need them. Who they are. Their very persons, personalities and characters. Relationships. Not in a creepy, co-dependency way, but in a genuine exchange of life lived together on this planet. Most days, I'm still trying to figure out what that looks like, what it is to know genuine relationship without pretending to be "best-friends" with everybody (a true impossibility), but I know it begins with authenticity and honesty. Two things Jesus was really good at. Oh, and there was a third thing he was really good at: forgiveness. Even though he knew they would screw up, fail him, disappoint him and ultimately hang him on a tree, he still chose to live with and love on them. And hanging from that cross, he cried out for their forgiveness and mine (Luke 23:34).

So how do I apply all this theological stuff? Daily practice authentic, honest relationships. First with him, and second, with each and every person he puts in my path. (I'm warning you, though, I'm gonna goof this up real well some days.)

Various nations around the world celebrate Independence Days, yet the day Christ was born was his Dependence Day. And he has been dependent upon this unreliable creation of humanity ever since. Even today, he depends upon me to share with others that salvation comes through him alone and to disciple believers in the truths of his word. He is bound to us as only a Servant King can be.

Welcome to our world.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Deep Thought

I came down with a cold Sunday evening, and it has gotten me to thinking: If you can have post-nasal drip, can you have pre-nasal drip?

Isaiah 43:2

I can't take credit for the following thoughts--I heard them in a sermon once, but can't remember who was preaching. Nevertheless, I was reminded of that message again as I read Isaiah 43:2 this morning:

"When you go through deep waters, I [the LORD] will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown."
Why did God include references to two bodies of water in this passage--deep waters and rivers? Because both are dangerous in their own way.

Every human being walks through long and difficult periods of life that seem hopeless and daunting. Extended illness of oneself or a loved one, financial difficulties, or the consequences of a bad choice may cause us to feel we're drowning in deep waters. Exhausted, we simply tread water to keep our heads above the surface - the water's edge is a mere mirage any more; we doubt we'll ever see land again. Yet with a personal pronoun, the God of heaven and earth, Maker of time and space, the Covenant-Keeper, says, "I will be with you." No maybes. No conditions.

But not all of life's difficulties are lengthy and prolonged. Sometimes, they come at us like a rushing river, bowling us over with no warning or time for preparation. A trust is suddenly broken, a loved one hurts and disappoints us, a catastrophe or natural disaster occurs and we are knocked off balance by the powerful stream that runs over us, leaving us gasping for a breath before we go under again, all the while struggling to get our feet underneath us. Yet this same God of heaven and earth, Maker of time and space, and Covenant-Keeper says, "you will not drown." No maybes. No conditions.

I don't know where you find yourself - in the deep waters or the rivers of difficulty, but moment by moment today trust in his character as you tread water or gasp for breath, remembering he said, "You are precious to me. You are honored, and I love you" (Is. 43:4).

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Worship Bloopers

Darin recently printed some bulletin bloopers on his blog, and that got me to thinking about some of the funny things I've experienced in worship services. While it's generally a good idea to have a well-planned, orderly method to corporate worship, it can get a little boring, even predictable at times, and in that our hearts lose any opportunity for spontaneous joy. I think that's why God, in his sovereignty, allows goofy things to happen!

About 2 months ago, right at the beginning of the service, sitting near a window in the sanctuary, a red wasp whizzed by my head. From that point on, I knew I and others around me would be less interested in heart-to-heart time with God, and more concerned and distracted about the location of that wasp. So, I decided to quickly and quietly do something about it. When he landed on the window sill, I crept over to where he sat, removed my shoe and proceeded to quietly smush it - for a minimum of 3 minutes. Either my strength or the sole of the shoe wasn't enough to crush it. Instead, every time I thought, "OK, it's got to be dead by now," and lifted the shoe, the tenacious creature wriggled and squirmed still more. What was supposed to be an oblivious, covert solution to the problem drew the attention and giggles of that entire quarter of the sanctuary! But I'm happy to report that although I missed the entire choir special, the wasp will not threaten another soul!

Another favorite memory occurred when I was in high school. I was part of a traveling choral group, and while visiting FBC Andrews, TX, we were blessed to participate in their morning worship service. To get to Andrews, however, we'd ridden on a charter bus all night, netting about 3 hours' sleep for each of us. Now, I don't know if you've ever been around 20 sleep-deprived teenagers, but everything they see and hear necessitates a giggle. Unfortunately, the church was scheduled to observe the solemn and sacred Lord's Supper that day. You can see this isn't going to go well, can't you?

Seated in the choir loft, we maintained the greatest dignity and respect for the solemnity of the occasion, until a deacon with squeaky shoes came to deliver the bread to us. Each step he took on the linoleum floor echoed above the organist's playing and rang out through the sanctuary. We snickered a bit, but after the "you're-going-to-die-very-soon" look we received from our director, we got ourselves under control. Moments later, that same deacon returned to the choir loft with the juice, squeaking all the way. As he took his departing step back onto the carpeted platform, he whispered, "Next time, I'm going to wear house-shoes!" We lost it. We broke into flat-out uproarous laughter - in the middle of Communion! All eyes in the sanctuary were on us at that point, and the somberness of the moment was lost. We truly felt awful about our disruption, but since then, I've often envisioned a subdued and thoughtful deacon wearing fuzzy pink slippers into the choir loft!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

I Can Do That

I'm still mulling over John 6:22-33.

For centuries, people have asked the question, "What does God want us to do?" (vs. 28). Oddly enough, most of us ask pastors, parents, relatives, friends and Bible study teachers before turning to the One Who really knows the answer. At least these people recorded in John 6 went straight to the horse's mouth (so to speak). Jesus simply and profoundly answers them: "Believe in the one he has sent." So simple. So direct. So uncluttered with "to do" lists. Too elementary for most of us. We think God wants our hands and feet first. Doing stuff. Nope. It's our hearts and minds he desires, because he knows the rest of us will follow if he has that much (see Luke 6:45).

Yet, as typical humanity, we play the "tit for tat" game. "You must show us a miraculous sign if you want us to believe in you. What will you do for us?" (vs. 30). As if giving us our very lives and breath for the moment isn't sufficient enough. We are a demanding creation, aren't we? Never satisfied with how we got what we got, we need a more impressive way of getting more. Then, we'll be confident in the character and provision of God.

And all the while, Jesus is simply saying, "Believe."

We all need this reminder from time-to-time, because people will occasionally say our efforts at obedient ministry have been insufficient according to their standards. I know I'm certainly not the only one who has felt the sting of not "measuring up" to religious rule-makers. Honestly, in those times, I'm tempted to look at God and say, "Fix this situation, and then I'm trust your character." But he has proven so faithful - he sacrificed himself - what further evidence do I really need? His grace is sufficient (2 Cor. 12:9) and his love unfailing (Ps. 59:10). I'm so imperfect, those others may be right in their assessment of me, but each of us can only obey to the best of our ability, and stand accountable to God alone.

I'm so thankful that the One Who is the Judge of all humanity, space and time has made our job so simple. He says to us, "Believe in the one [I] sent." Direct. Uncluttered. Elementary.

Believe? OK. I can do that.

Give Credit Where It's Due

I love reading a passage of Scripture that is familiar, only to find new jewels of truth as I meditate and contemplate the verses again.

John 6:22-33 has done that for me this morning.

I laughed out loud as I read and imagined the interchange between Jesus and the crowds in vs. 31-32. They say to him, "The Scriptures say, 'Moses gave [our ancestors] bread from heaven to eat.'"

Just imagine Jesus' face! Mentally, he's got to be saying to himself, "WHO DID?" But, instead he says aloud, "Moses didn't give them bread from heaven. My Father did." Now, let's just be honest for a moment: misquoting Scripture to its very author isn't the brightest idea I can come up with. Nevertheless, Jesus gently corrects faulty thinking in regard to Biblical truth. [Exodus 16:4 and Psalm 78:24 both clearly state that God provided that manna, not Moses' magic wand.]

Too often, we're quick to acknowledge humanity (yes, ourselves, too) as the source of blessing. It was somebody's quick thinking or our hard work that brought about the good thing. I think that's because we worship and serve an invisible God, and our minds struggle to attach tangible blessings with an intangible Lord. And sometimes when we do acknowledge God as the giver of "every good and perfect gift," it comes across as though we could have eventually gotten it on our own, but we just needed God's extra "push" to get us over the hump and into this place of blessing. (The "Lord is my helper.") How arrogant! How foolish! How sinful.

Giving appropriate and generous credit to where it is due requires a humility that stretches us beyond the comforts of our own pride. That's why expressive worship is so hard for some of us. Even in the privacy of our own homes, many of us can't laugh with God or sing to Jesus with spontaneity or sincerity, because we don't want to be humble enough to recognize how unworthy and unimpressive we really are. And get those same people in a corporate worship setting and watch the excuses fly! Certainly, we are valuable; we're made in his image. But Eve's first sin was believing she could be "like God." We fall for the same lie every time we elevate our involvement in our accomplishments and blessings.

Just as we're annoyed by braggarts, I imagine God gets a little weary of such behavior from us, too. Read Job 38-41 as though God is a prosecuting attorney; you'll get humbled real fast. But with Job, give credit where it's due and respond in submissive worship: "I know that you can do anything, and no one can stop you. . . . I was talking about things I did not understand, things far too wonderful for me. . . .and I repent" (Job 42:2,5).

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Define "Democracy"

I've rarely been one to express comment on political opinion or legal issues, but as a student of history, I can't help but feel something about a statement I read today on Yahoo news from an Associated Press article regarding the California amendment against gay marriage.

Evan Wolfson, a gay-rights lawyer who heads a group called Freedom to Marry, was quoted in this article as saying: "There's something deeply wrong with putting the rights of a minority up to a majority vote. If this were being done to almost any other minority, people would see how un-American this is."

I'd like to ask Mr. Wolfson: "What is a democracy, if not the opportunity for a majority to express its opinions, whether or not the minority accepts or approves of those opinions?" By definition, a democracy is the rule of the majority of people (see Mirriam-Webster.com). Our founding Fathers weren't interested in the preferences of the few over the declaration of the many. Isn't that why they declared independence from Britain in the first place? So that laws could not be made that were not supported or approved by the majority of citizens?

I'm certain that Mr. Wolfson is differentiating "rights" vs. "preferences," as the basis of his argument, but I even question the idea that it is anyone's "right" to marry. It is a privilege, perhaps, but if it is a "right" then 12 year-olds should not be required to have parental approval, because it is their "right" as a human being. Rights are limited to those things that are inalienable for all humanity (e.g. life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness) regardless of age, race, etc. I don't remember marriage listed among those in the Declaration of Independence. And, as a student of history, I prefer to stick to those things our founding Fathers included without assuming what they might have meant. And for those things that require further clarification (such as the inclusion of the Bill of Rights and other amendments to the Constitution), I'll stick with the plan they concocted of majority rule by which we acquired those amendments.

Ultimately, the best news is that God alone is still sovereign, regardless of the opinions of the majority or minority people groups. So, until Mr. Wolfson is able to de-throne the Almighty, I'll rest assured tonight. Hope you will, too.

I Didn't Know I Was Supposed to Follow You

Norris and Kathy have four sweet kids: 3 girls and a boy. The youngest, a 1st grader, Clayton, is quite the maverick. With three older sisters, I'm sure he gets plenty of "bossy-ness" to rebel against! One Sunday recently, however, it wasn't his sisters he circumvented, but his Dad.

Norris told us in Bible Study he'd gotten out of their van talking to Clayton, and as he walked the long way around the building to enter, he'd continued their conversation. Yet, when he turned around to hold the door for Clayton to enter, he found his son conspicuously absent.

Just short of panic, Norris retraced his steps, then combed the halls looking for his son. He found him happily involved in an activity in his 1st grade room. Approaching him, relieved, but a little annoyed, Norris asked him where he'd gone and why he hadn't entered the building behind him. Clayton innocently responded: "I didn't know I was supposed to follow you."

Norris had no reply. His son was safe and right where he needed to be, so admonishment wouldn't have served much purpose. He hadn't told Clayton to follow him, he'd just assumed he would. Shrugging his shoulders, Norris left the room.

When he shared this story with us, Norris rightly pointed out we DO know we're supposed to follow Jesus. He's commanded us to do so. Yet when we consider all the excuses we come up with for taking a "slightly" different direction, not to mention the blatant choices to disobey, we can't innocently turn to the Lord and say, "I didn't know I was supposed to follow You." He's made the expectation of obedience abundantly clear.

The truth is, Norris did take the long route around the building, and Clayton did make it to his classroom just fine taking a short-cut. But Clayton unwittingly missed the interaction with his dad; that's time they'll never get back. When we take "short-cuts" in the path the Lord wants us to follow we really might end up at the right destination, but we will have missed the fellowship with him along the route. Jesus may want to take us the long way around sometimes, just for the conversations it will bring. But when we take our own "short-cuts," we lose opportunity to spend time with him. Life is too short and our relationship with him too sacred to sacrifice his will on the altar of time and selfish preferences.

I want Jesus to say about me: "[She] greatly revered me and stood in awe of my name. [She] passed on to the people the truth of the instructions received from me. [She] did not lie or cheat; [she] walked with me, living a good and righteous life, and turned many from lives of sin" Malachi 2:5-6.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Real People, Not Actors

Perhaps you, like I, have been amused at the latest round of Windows Vista ads on TV. As they interview individuals using their software for the first time, a tiny caption appears at the bottom of the screen: "Real people, not actors."

Now, clearly they are trying to convey these individuals are not paid to pretend they like something, but I can't help but laugh every time I see those words. (Are actors not really people? Lassie doesn't count.) Nevertheless, so much of our world is artificial, Microsoft finds it necessary to put disclaimers on their advertisement. And why not? With air-brushed models on magazine covers, plastic cakes in bakery windows, and disposable marriages in every other home, our culture (myself especially) is skeptical to believe or trust in truth and reality.

I've thought about this caption relative to Jesus, too. I wonder if he wanted to put a label on each person he healed: "Real miracle, not an illusion," or over the tomb: "Real death, not a swoon or faint." Most importantly, did he want to shout, "Real salvation in me, not according to what you can do."

Unfortunately, even parts of the church are artificial. People pretend to not struggle with areas of sin, believers act like their agenda for the well-being of the church is the only "God-approved" one, brothers or sisters in the faith snub or ignore one another while others get their feelings hurt each time the wind blows, and expectations for what you should be doing for God's kingdom or how you should be behaving at all times are based on human intellect, not Divine instruction.

Meanwhile, those outside the body of Christ see these behaviors and think, "I can't believe what I read about Jesus, these people are just living in a fantasy world of self-aggrandizement, not self-sacrifice." Artificial. Fake. Unreal.

And Jesus cries out again and again, "Beware of these [hypocrites]! For they like to parade around ... and love to receive respectful greetings .... And how they love the seats of honor .... Yet they ... pretend to be pious .... Because of this, they will be severely punished" (Luke 20:46-47).

In other words, Jesus wants to put a caption on us that reads: "Real person, not an actor." I wonder how many of us could honestly wear that label today?

Monday, November 3, 2008

On the Blog Again . . .

Just can't wait to get on the blog again . . .

We're happily getting settled into our new home. With all the packing, moving and unpacking, blogging has taken a back seat in priority. But, we actually put a picture on the wall Saturday night and we only have two more boxes in the kitchen looking for homes, so progress is definitely being made. Even Dodger is beginning to believe that we're not going anywhere else, and he can safely bark at the cows in the back pasture.

One of the things I love most about our new home (besides the jacuzzi bathtub and newly installed granite countertops in the kitchen), is the ability to stand on the back porch at night and marvel at the stars. When I was a kid in southeast Louisiana, we lived on property surrounded by undeveloped acreage. In that environment, we had adventures in the woods during the day and watched the sky become littered with stars at night. And here, as it was back then, we're surrounded by wonderful neighbors sharing a sense of community and offering a watchful eye for one another's well-being. I can't tell you how well I've slept over the last week.

Some years at Thanksgiving, I've honestly had to think really hard about what I'm most grateful for, because of the difficulties and unpleasant circumstances the year brought with it. I've got no questions this year - our new house has brought a joy and peace that is indescribable, and a reminder that every good and perfect gift is from my loving heavenly Father.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Almost Unpublishable

I didn't know that working with the governmental powers that be meant you voluntarily gave away your right to freedom of speech. That's why I didn't write for a long while; I couldn't figure out what I could and could not say. When you are a foster parent, you are not supposed to acknowledge to the rest of the world that foster children live in your home (we learned that rule after-the-fact). I'm not even sure I was supposed to tell you their names if we met on the street. And having them loved on by the members of our family and church family was probably a violation of some rule somewhere. According to the state, everything that was real and true in my life for four months was just in your imagination.

But it wasn't. There were some very real children in need of a loving, safe and clean place to play and eat and learn and rest their heads. And by the grace of God, Darin and I got to provide that. They will probably never know we even existed in their lives, since they were so young, but perhaps the ministry we offered them at a critical juncture will lay a foundation that draws them to the Christ who loves them inifitely more than anyone else ever can or will. They left here knowing that a "wise man built his house upon the rock" and "little feet" should be "careful where [they] go," (and "the wheels on the bus go round and round!"). They each heard the name of Jesus from us, Sunday School teachers, nursery workers and countless other believers who held them close. Maybe those tiny seeds were planted deep enough that they'll take root in years to come. That even without daily watering, one day they'll hear the name of Jesus again and subconsciously remember that his name once brought with it happy smiles and loving arms, and they'll call upon him and run to his arms, wherever they are.

I couldn't publish this blog entry when they were with us, and for all I know I may be in trouble for it now, but I'll hire an ambulance-chasing lawyer and stand on the 1st amendment. I guess I was supposed to stick to safe topics like abortion, politics, and religion, because talking about the realities of my life, feelings and home were taboo. What a crazy world we live in. Thank goodness God's still in control; I don't have the foggiest idea what I'd do if I were in charge of cleaning up this mess.
I played the piano today. With the exception of a cumulative 15 minutes, I haven't played since June. It was cathartic to move my fingers over the keys and sing songs of joy and comfort. I have no doubt that God himself ordained those piano lessons years and years ago. He knew I'd need the soothing touch of music on this very day in 2008.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Superhero

I wonder if Jesus ever felt like a superhero. Having never been a superhero myself, I don't have an actual frame of reference for that experience, but in all the movies, shows and comic books I've seen (which isn't a lot), there's an element of loneliness. Although people appreciate their work against the forces of evil, the mystery of their power and illusiveness of their identity frightens away most people (Lois Lane being an exception, of course).

The reason I ponder this thought is due to a passage I read this morning: Luke 9:18-27. Jesus was alone, talking with the Father. What in the world were they talking about, I wonder? Could it be that Jesus was expressing his feelings over this "superhero" problem? (He'd just fed over 5000 people with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish.) Perhaps he was struggling with the conflict between his true identity (God Incarnate) and who people thought he was (Miracle Working Rabbi-Priest Who Works On Demand). Because the next question to his most trusted friends and followers was "Who do people say I am?" Then, he asks, "Who do you say I am?"

I don't for one minute think he was seeking validation from these people he loved (God can't have an identity crisis). But I do believe he longed to hear from their lips the confession of what others and they themselves thought about him. Because although Jesus is God incarnate, he is also fully human, and, I believe, struggled with the same problems of loneliness and security in relationships. When we're feeling alone or misunderstood, we frequently go to those who know us best and love us most for their thoughts about who we are. I think Jesus was doing the same thing. He'd just finished something amazing that rocketed him to celebrity status, but he was finding it "lonely at the top." So, as we should, he went first to his Father to talk about it and then called upon the thoughts of those he trusted, knowing that (by walking with him) they were people who were in good relationship with God.

When Peter correctly answered that he knew Jesus to be the "Messiah sent from God," Jesus knew that his close friend understood the truth of who he was, even if he didn't understand all he did or even the implications of the confession. Jesus tried to explain to Peter and the other disciples what would happen to him in the days to come, if only as a warning. True friends want the best for one another; surely the disciples, when they heard these terrible prophecies lived in denial of their reality.

But then Jesus offers another heart-stopper: we, too, can be superheroes. We can sacrifice ourselves and everything we know and hold dear, to follow him. It may be a long and lonely road where we encounter people who misunderstand us and have unrealistic expectations for who we are and what we can do, but if by the testimony of our words and/or example someone comes to know him as Savior and Lord, we've not only saved a life like Superman, we've saved an eternity. Superheroes act in the best interest of others, even if it exposes them to kryptonite. But by giving up our lives for Jesus' sake, we find that we have saved ourselves. So, in spite of the loneliness or misunderstanding that may come with it, Lord, make me a superhero this week for someone who needs you to work through me. (But please don't make me wear a cape.)

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Enigma of God's Character

As we've been studying the doctrines we believe about God each Sunday night, I've found much with which I agree, and lots I'll never understand or comprehend. Most specifically, the goodness, or moral purity of God as reflected in his righteousness. My tiny mind can't comprehend the confluence of a couple of the points brought out:
  • God commands only what is right and will, therefore, have a positive effect upon the believer who obeys.
  • Because of His supreme righteousness and holiness, He must put His own glory first.
I totally agree with both these points individually. When viewed together, however, my narrow perspective on humanity as experienced on this planet (as opposed to some other planet, I guess!) knows full well that sometimes there isn't a win-win situation. In other words, for God to get the glory he is certainly due, I may have to experience some "un-positive" things.

For example, last week, I met a lady who recently lost her 16 year old nephew in an automobile accident. Because of the young man's life and testimony, several of his peers have begun attending her church, expressing interest in spiritual matters. In this situation, God is receiving glory (she said so), but the experience of loss has certainly not been a positive one. And the continued absence of the young man's presence is not likely to have a positive effect on her as a believer for the remainder of her life on earth.

See what I mean?

But, I also know that you can't isolate the characteristics of God from one another, because he is a whole, other, unique Being, and each of those traits must work in conjunction with one another. Although I am made in his image, I am not comprised of all that he is. And, unlike his creation (i.e. me), he can isolate the feelings he has about something from his response to it, if necessary. Nine times out of ten, my actions are prompted by a feeling I have, even if that feeling is merely a sense of responsibility, and not a "like" or "dislike" matter.

I probably look like I'm talking in circles, now.

I think the crux of the problem, though, is that I want each "positive effect" to have my hand-print, or seal of approval, according to my standard definition. If God gets glory, great, but not at my expense. I don't want to be "used," even by God. (I mean that kind of "used" where you get what you want out of people regardless of the effect on them.) But therein is the contradiction, because that type of selfishness is sin that cannot dwell in his presence, so I am therefore (logically speaking) outside the will of God when I purely desire my own will. Furthermore, I am the creation, not the Creator, and he's got a grand play of humanity to stage where I'm not the lead character!

When I was in seminary, taking systematic theology (which is a fancy way of saying the study of God in a systematic, piece-by-piece manner), we had to identify what we believed to be the root character of God from which all his other traits flowed. Although my professor based his theology of God's character around God's love, I wrote a paper centered around God's holiness. I still believe that my theory was a sound one, because only One who is holy can love perfectly and thus orchestrate time and space perfectly in that holy love. But, I think I understand better why my professor centralized the love of God. Only a loving God would desire relationship with his creation, not just their functionality. There's something reassuring in knowing that the One who must put His own glory first is so loving. For in that love he will work all things together for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose (Rom 8:28). I just don't need to expect to understand or approve of it.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Prayer

Prayer is a precious commodity nowdays in my life, and I've been blessed by two Michael Card devotionals on the subject. I thought I'd share a couple of them:

Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. Psalm 46:10

Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer discipled a group of young men in a secret underground seminary during World War II. The regimen required students to meditate on a passage of Scripture for two hours a day.

After only a few days, some of the men complained to Bonhoeffer that their minds were wandering. It was unreasonable, they told the amused Bonhoeffer, to require this of them when they had so many worries at home. He told them to stop trying to fight it. “Follow your mind wherever it goes,” he said. “Follow it until it stops and then, wherever it stops, make that person or problem a matter for prayer. The struggling only leads to more noise and inner turmoil.”

I know I'm guilty of their rationale. If my mind wanders in prayer, I assume I am mistakenly negligent toward God. I never considered that God may be directing my wandering mind for the specific purpose and intent of enabling me to commit all my thoughts to him. For every thought to be captive in obedience (2 Corinthians 10:5). I guess that's God's logical antidote for worry. If I'm dwelling on an issue or person, even subconsciously, when I allow that to be brought in full light and attention into his presence, I recognize my need for his intervention and/or my active obedience to whatever his instruction may be.

The other thing of which I'm terribly guilty is doing more talking than listening in my communication with God:

One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray,and spent the night praying to God. Luke 6:12

Though Jesus’ divinity possessed the very mind of God, his humanity continually sought out the Father in all-night prayer sessions. In the account of those sessions we hear very few words, so we can assume that there was much listening. But not listening for answers, for information. Prayer, for Jesus, seems to have been a time for simply sharing the presence of his Father, listening to the silence of his breathing. When his cousin John is murdered, he flees to the arms of prayer. When he is confronted with the conflict of wills between his Father and himself, it is precisely his Father he flees to in the garden.

Jesus’ life of prayer teaches us that we do not merely listen for words; we must learn to listen to the silence.

Silence is golden, unless we're waiting to hear from the Lord isn't it? I've always known that the most genuine friendships in my life are those in which, from time-to-time, we can be silent together in assured peace and contentment. Where neither is expecting the other to accomplish something, entertain, or even interact verbally. Why would I expect anything different from my heavenly father? Isn't he my closest friend and confidant? Can't he just "be" with me without having expectations imposed upon him, demands made of him and constant noise from my mouth interrupting our time together?

Help me hear the "silence of [your] breathing" Lord.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

You Just Never Know

A month ago I attended the nuptials of a precious young woman from my past. Emily was a vibrant, intelligent sixth grade girl when I last had the pleasure of being around her. I was her Children's Minister at the time, and I loved her immensely! Since then, she's graduated with her master's degree and is now married to a godly man she met through her church. Their wedding was truly an experience of worship of the God who brought them to one another, not just a ceremony connecting two lives.

What was the greatest blessing for me personally was the hand-written note she included in her wedding invitation to me. I wept as I read about the impact she felt I'd had in her life and journey with Christ. Even now, I can't believe God was so gracious as to use me so influentially. And it amazes me to think that a new solid Christian home has been established in this crazy, mixed-up world, in part, because of someone I loved and invested in a decade ago. You just never know.

There's also a serendipitous part to this story. The minister performing the ceremony was a guy who worked with my Dad's ministry in another part of the state about the same time I knew Emily! Then, while seeking a table at which to sit at the reception, I prayed my standard prayer whenever I walk into a new environment alone, "Lord, please show me where you want me." I found an empty spot next to a couple about the age of my own parents. Sure enough, it was God-ordained. They were the parents of a friend of Darin's - Ross King - from youth ministry days gone by! Not only that, but they shared with me about the journey of adoption Staci and Ross have walked and offered encouragement as Darin and I seek whatever the Lord has in store for us someday. (Plus they gave me Ross and Staci's blogspot address which I've added to my favorites!)

What a wonderful day! You just never know what the Lord has in store!

Illusive Rest and Blessed Peace

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. Matthew 11:28-30

These verses have been rambling around in my head for a couple of weeks, whether through devotionals I've read, or simply waking up to the thought of them. And in meditating on them, seeking to be obedient to the words of this passage seemed absolutely impossible. When can I find the time or opportunity to rest, Lord? The mere idea of rest is illusive at this point. When one thing is settled, two others have need of my attention. Immediately.

So, I decided that if God were going to ask this of me, to "come to" him, he would provide the means by which to be obedient to his own request. And he has. Twice this week, I've had the blessed un-interruption of nearly three afternoon hours to be at peace in my heart, mind and soul. And you know what I've learned? That sometimes, the rest God promises is not only a spiritual serenity ("Serenity Now!" for all fellow Seinfeld fans), but also an actual, physical, corporeal rest. Case in point: I got a nap one day. Oh blessed slumber.

Then, Saturday afternoon, God used Darin to give me the greatest gift I've received since Christmas: an afternoon off-the-clock. I didn't have to do anything. He cooked, cared for the house and all other responsibilities. All I literally did between 2 PM and 7 PM was sit on the couch watching the Olympics, fall asleep in his arms, and spend time reading my Bible and writing a new devotional. (It is to be published on the internet during Advent through the North American Baptist Fellowship, and I was an invited contributor! That must mean I didn't screw up the Sunday School lesson I wrote for BaptistWay Press! Yipee!)

Finally, I'm actually writing on this blog today - more blessed time to be at peace with my Lord and think and write about him.

Anyway, I've memorized this passage from Matthew now. If for no other reason than in my recitation to hear the voice of God calling to me, personally: Come to Me, Julie. I know you are weary and heavy-laden; I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your soul. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. No matter what burdens others may place on my shoulders, Jesus' expectations, his yoke, is the simplest - follow me. That means I don't have to forge the trail. He's clearing the path ahead with each step. What a blessed peace.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

All Things Are Possible

A couple of mornings ago, I awoke with a mixture of verses running through my head. I knew they didn't actually go together, and I was probably combining the phrases, so I took a second to check my concordance and read the verses accurately within their contexts. One of the passages, I'm still mulling over - Mark 9:14-29.

Just after Jesus, Peter, James and John have had a (literal) mountain-top experience with the transfiguration, they descend to join the other disciples in the midst of an argument with scribes surrounded by a large crowd.

"Welcome back!"

It's like coming home from a vacation only to find the air conditioner is broken, the toilet's stopped up and the washing machine has flooded the utility room. What a downer!

But this intriguing passage takes an unexpected turn as it reveals the power of Jesus to remove an evil spirit from a man's son. This spirit had caused him countless injuries by forcing him to slam to the ground and jump into fire and water. Prior to Jesus' arrival on the scene, the man had requested his disciples cast it out, but they were unable. Jesus explains that their failure has something to do with a lack of belief (vs. 19).

I find it interesting that Jesus, in his omniscience, asks the man to explain how long his son had experienced this horror. Could it be he wanted to allow the man to think about (one last time!) this long and seemingly unchangeable journey he'd walked? This was not some brief ailment that could be corrected with two aspirin and a good night's sleep, this was a traumatic and terminal malady. And by verbalizing it aloud, the testimony of what was about to happen could be shared for generations to come.

The part that most resonates with my heart is the father's request. He has already come to Jesus for help, so he knows that healing for his son is at least possible. But, like me, knowing from the depths of his being that Jesus is fully competent and trustworthy, he states in v. 22: "If You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!"

Jesus responds, "If I can? All things are possible to him who believes." The man begs, "I do believe; help my unbelief."

My life circumstances right now include some things that I just don't see how God is going to resolve. We've been living this journey of life with some of them so long and they seem so unchangeable, I can't imagine workable solutions. I don't even have any suggestions to offer God! (Like he needs them.) In desperation, I've cried out, "If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us!" And Jesus is saying to me, "If I can? All things are possible to him who believes."

I do believe, Lord Jesus; help my unbelief.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Who's On First?

I felt like I was in an Abbott and Costello routine yesterday afternoon. As we drove toward a friend's house to swim, we passed a field of recently baled hay. Ace, ever observant and informative, said, "Momma, cows!" I corrected him, saying, "No, that's hay."

"What's that?" he asked from the back seat of the car.

"Hay," I responded.

"Hay!" he said.

******

"Momma, what's that?"

"Hay," I answered.

"Hay!" he said again.

"Momma, what's that?" ...

We continued this conversation for several repeats, when I suddenly realized his "Hay!" was a "Hey!" He thought I was greeting him, not answering his question.

I know how much I hate it when someone won't answer my inquiries, so, to his final "What's that?" I answered him most profoundly:

"Stuff."

"Oh," was his appeased reply.

Friday, July 18, 2008

What Will I Remember?

God, in his infinite wisdom, made it impossible for humanity to remember anything before the age of two or so. Case in point: if I had to remember someone sticking an aspirator up my nose to clean out the funk, I'd grow up and live in this world with a huge chip on my shoulder. What an awful experience! And it's got to be bad for the kid with it in his or her nose, too.

One of my earliest and most precious memories is the only recollection I have of my maternal grandfather - Luther Humbles. Grandpa carefully sat me on the kitchen counter and gladly and lovingly fed me a spoon of peanut butter. I don't know exactly how old I was at the time, but I was almost 3 1/2 when he passed away, so it was definitely before he got sick and went to the hospital several weeks before. Oddly enough, to this day, I'd rather have a spoon of peanut butter than just about anything. I don't know if my love for the condiment is tied to that very happy memory, but I'd like to think so.

Sometimes, I wish our memories as adults weren't so good. I think Paul felt the same way. He knows some memories can hurt us more than they help and delight. This is especially true in spiritual matters. While it's important to remember the milestones of God's faithfulness and activity in our lives, why is it we can't shake the disappointments, unmet expectations and unkindnesses? Even worse, why can't we get over ourselves: "our" accomplishments, "our" preferences, "our" successes, "our" importance, "our" inside scoop and "our" social prominence?

After listing his impressive credentials to the Philippian church in 3:5-6, he very crudely states that all those things are "rubbish" (vs. 8). That's the polite, American English interpretation for feces, manure, or yes, crap. I don't know about you, but neither the size of the crap nor its color impresses me. It may get my attention, but it's certainly not good attention.

Paul also says he is "forgetting" what lies behind (vs. 13). I think there's a good reason that he uses the present tense, there. He could have chosen to say, "Brethren, ... I've forgotten all that stuff." But instead, he says he's "forgetting." I truly believe he said it that way because pride was a likely struggle for him. He knew that such credentials could gain him a foothold with political and religious leaders, but that wasn't what his identity was built upon. His righteousness, he knew, came not from his own doing, but through faith in Christ (vs. 9). For Paul, that was a humbling thought that he had to adopt daily. Time and time again, perhaps multiple times a day he had to remember to forget how "impressive" he was and remember to consider the "infinite value of knowing Jesus Christ" (vs. 8).

What am I going to remember today? Will it be my own laurels or Christ's power that raised him from the dead. My own self-assurance or the fellowship of His sufferings (v. 10)?

Please God, don't let Paul's words be about me. With tears in his eyes he said "there are many whose conduct shows they are really enemies of the cross of Christ. They are headed for destruction....they brag about shameful things" (vs. 18-19).

Monday, July 14, 2008

Finding Balance?

I did get to spend those couple of hours with Jesus last Tuesday, and what a blessing they were. My world has seemed so off balance over the last month; I needed the time to connect with the one who calmed the sea! I'm sure to people passing by on the highway, I looked most peculiar with my arms outstretched in worship and my head bowed over the picnic table. But I didn't care in the least. The truth is, in that solitude, in that stillness, in that nobody-else-exists-or-matters-but-Jesus-and-me moment, I found myself again. And my identity, although MIA over the last month, was found still set securely in him, as his daughter, servant and friend.

I think that's because, as much as I wanted to focus on my feelings and my needs, I tried very hard to focus on Who he is. (Not an easy feat.) I spent time in Bible study and prayer, honestly reflecting on a couple of instructions he has given in his word, and whether or not I am being obedient to those commands. Then, I plugged the ear buds into my ears and played two songs over and over that simply talked about him. One was Hillsong's I Adore. Look at the lyrics:
The universe is at Your feet
Gives You praise evermore
The stars will light the sky for You
Always, God be praised
And we sing
The Lord is on high
The Lord is on high

I adore You; I adore You
And there's none that compares
To Your majesty, oh Lord
I adore You; I adore You
And I stand in the wonder of Your love

We will crown You King forever
Living Savior, Jesus Redeemer
Lord of heaven, Robed in majesty
Crowned in glory, creation adores You

Holy, holy God almighty
And forever the Lord is exalted
Hear the angels shout His anthem
Ever living,
God we adore You
Not much room for me in there, huh?

I also prayed this song by Watermark: Captivate Us.
Your face is beautiful
And Your eyes are like the stars
Your gentle hands have healing
There inside the scars
Your loving arms they draw me near
And Your smile it brings me peace
Draw me closer oh my Lord
Draw me closer Lord to Thee

Captivate us, Lord Jesus
Set our eyes on You
Devastate us with Your presence falling down
And rushing river, draw us nearer
Holy fountain consume us with You
Captivate us Lord Jesus, with You

Your voice is powerful
And Your words are radiant bright
In Your breath and shadow
I will come close and abide
You whisper love and life divine
And Your fellowship is free
Draw me closer O my Lord
Draw me closer Lord to Thee

Let everything be lost in the shadows
Of the light of Your face
Let every chain be broken from me
As I’m bound in Your grace
For Your yoke is easy, Your burden is light
You’re full of wisdom, power and might
And every eye will see You
John the Baptist said, "He [Jesus] must become greater; I must become less" (John 3:30). While I know he was making reference to Jesus' public prominence versus his own public ministry (and therefore instructing us to act in the same humility), I think this principle still applies in our thought lives, worship and prayer, too. If I'm self-absorbed as I sing songs about what he's done for me and think and pray only about what concerns me or those I care about, you can hardly call that worship and adoration of our Creator. I'm still exalting myself; I'm still putting myself in a "greater" place of prominence. Certainly he tells us to bring our needs before him, but too often my "worship" is unbalanced, whether surreptitiously or unintentionally, I prevent myself from "becom[ing] less."

I wonder if my life would be more balanced if my worship were. It's certainly worth trying.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Real Truth

Growing up, my mom gradually taught me, at appropriate intervals, various aspects of housekeeping: making my own bed, dusting, vacuuming, laundry, cooking, etc. She claimed it was to develop my character and responsibility as well as prepare me for adulthood. I now know the real truth - she was tired and wanted some extra help.

If a two year old could reach the dials and switches on the washing machine, I'd teach him to do laundry, too. Of course, the sorting process might be a little rough, if you're still working on colors.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Meeting With Jesus

I took a bath today. Not a quick, scrub-clean shower, but an honest-to-goodness, immerse-yourself, luxurious, bubble-laden soak.

Let's just say it's been a while since that happened.

Although my troubles didn't wash away with the water, my mind and body sure felt better after that 30 minute sop. I'm hoping the time I'll get to spend with the Lord this afternoon will do that for my spirit and soul.

I'll have some uninterrupted time to be with Jesus at the park today, and I know I need it!

It's amazing the refreshment that a long, hot bath can provide. It's also amazing the refreshment that a long, hot afternoon alone with my Savior can provide. I had the same opportunity last week, but had a bunch of paperwork to catch up on. Today, I'm ready to experience the beauty of his holiness, to hear joy and gladness and have the joy of my salvation restored once again. Like David, I won't bring a sacrifice, for that's not what he takes pleasure in. Rather, I readily come with a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart (Psalm 51).

For I know the Lord my God is with me, and he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in me, he will quiet me with his love, he will rejoice over me with singing (Zephaniah 3:17).

Quiet me in your flood of delight and quiet peace. Sing to me Jesus; I'm listening.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Not Provision but Presence

The following devotional from Michael Card speaks volumes to me as I'm walking through this new and challenging journey of foster parenting. I've need his presence in fullness and richness like never before. Through the sufferings of illness, exhaustion and frustration, God is undoubtedly with me. Too often, though, I've looked to my own strength and hopefulness for sustenance. All the while, he is crying out, "I'm here. I'm with you. I'm sufficient."

"Who is Jesus for you? How is faithfulness written on his face? Might he impossibly be the very image of the God whose disturbing faithfulness to us looks like incarnation? Could it be that he came not to wave the magic wand and make the cancer go away, but to enter into our sufferings? Could it possibly be true that the best show of faithfulness is not the healing or the unexpected check, but the unthinkable truth that God has chosen to be with us through it all? Could it be that the greatest miracle is not provision, but presence?

"In what situations do you most need to know that God is with you? What are some practical ways you can do to remind yourself of his presence?"

And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28:20)

Monday, June 30, 2008

8:54 And All's Well

Today, with the help of a couple of faithful, brave (and crazy) friends, I went to Target and Walmart. It won't be a regular outing.

In truth, everybody did very well, especially since we're still getting over illness. But I couldn't have done it alone; I know that with complete assurance. That's because they took care of things while I actually got the shopping done!

For the most part, we seem to be on the upswing from the strep throat that has plagued our home. (I bought three cans of Lysol, today). Darin and I still aren't at 100% capacity, but we're definitely better off than we were. Thanks, Lord!

My biggest hope and prayer is that we'll get a good night's sleep. Maybe we were able to wear out everybody from our adventures! I know I'm pooped!

For some reason, the Lord has centered my heart on the book of Ephesians this week. It's honestly not one of my favorite books of the Bible, but I've been blessed as I've read through it a couple of times (aloud, once as I read someone to sleep!).

Mostly, I've clung to the third chapter, verses 14-21. In reading it aloud, I could hear Paul praying for me in my exhausted, weary and discouraged state. Paul prayed for the Ephesians and for me to be strengthened with power through the Spirit in my inner being (vs. 16) - boy, do I need that right now! He prayed I might grasp how wide and long and high and deep Christ's love really is (vs. 18) that I might be filled with all of God's fullness (vs. 19). I need that, because my personal supply is running on empty. I don't have much left in the well to be poured out. And Paul assured me this week that God is able to do immeasurably more than all I ask or even imagine (vs. 20). I need an amazing God who can provide for needs I don't even know I have, according to his power that is at work within me, not according to what I can muster up.

So, even though I got less than four hours sleep last night, I can say with assurance that it's 8:54 and all's well, because my God is still bigger than my world and still loves me with unfailing, immeasurable love. I don't have to be a powerful "superwoman;" I get to be my exhausted, overwhelmed self in the presence of my comforting Daddy - the God of all creation.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Olympic Athletes .... Pssh

I think caring for children must be incredible preparation for the Olympics. Since we've had the kids:

I've sprinted to catch streaking babies
I've hurdled baby gates to protect one child from another
I've had to dive to the floor to save the dog
I've contorted my body in gymnastic feats to hold down squirming bodies
I've lifted dead weight into the bathtub

Meanwhile, this marathon of sleep deprivation is taking every ounce of strength within me to keep from being the cranky, unpleasant person I usually am when I'm exhausted!

So, good luck to all those who will begin competition in Beijing in August, but I've got enough to keep me occupied here. And although I'll never win a gold medal; I wouldn't mind if the gold street that houses my mansion one day in heaven has a spa on the same block.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Breakthrough Diet Taking the World By Storm!

Tabloids are exploding with the news of the latest diet straight from the pits of hell itself! Success is guaranteed, or your soul back!

You don't have to buy a book, follow certain food restrictions or even count calories or fat grams. This simple 3- step program begins by depriving yourself of as much sleep as possible so your immune defenses reach an all-time low. Next, develop a viral illness that brings on nausea, causing you to avoid meals at all costs - this is essential to the program. Finally, take medication that has side effects of vomiting and diarrhea. Yes, it really is that easy!

Julie Wood testifies: "This diet is life-changing! I lost 9 pounds in only 10 days!"

Follow these four easy steps and you, too, could find yourself needing a smaller pants size in only a week!

*Please consult your doctor before beginning any new diet or exercise regimen.*

For the record, I am doing better since the fever has begun to come down!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Down and Dirty

In John 10:11 Jesus describes himself as "The Good Shepherd." While that was a picturesque description for those who lived and breathed in 1st century Israel, it doesn't speak with quite the same volume in 21st century U.S.

I've heard lots of sermons and read books that explained the work of a shepherd, in order to help communicate what Jesus meant by that self-description, but I think I'm getting a clearer picture, now. Naturally, our world has a new axis on which it turns: three kids in need of love, provision and discipline. Yet, we can't forget that the central foundation of our home is Darin's and my love for one another and the Lord.

The Good Shepherd was the same. He changed his axis point by revolving his world around us: "Though he was God, he did not cling to his rights as God. He appeared in human form" (Phil 2:6-7), but he kept his foundational point of intimate relationship with his Father central to his purposes. What strikes me most is not the details of being a shepherd - the tasks and responsibilities, but rather the simple fact that shepherding is dirty work (as is changing diapers). Jesus got dirty (so to speak) when he took that human form. He walked around in the literal dirt of Israel's soil and in the figurative dirt of a corrupt society's social and religious structure. In the grime of our sinful pride and foolish logic. We're pretty dirty sheep.

The question then begs itself, "Who are we to think we should not humble ourselves among the 'dirty' of the world?" Is their dirt more filthy than mine? Are there categories of "dirtiness"? Soil is dirt whether it's fill dirt, potting soil, sand or clay. God doesn't look at me and say, "Oh, well, Julie's dirt is cleaner than _______." Rather, he holds up Jesus next to me and says, "This is what it means to be created in my image" (Michael Card).

Adam and Eve were created from the dirt of the ground - we're all dirty people, in need of a Good Shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep. Jesus is asking me right now to get down and dirty with some little people in our church; who needs you to get down and dirty with them today?

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Those of you who've read Darin's blog probably have no doubt why I haven't written lately. I'm surrounded right now on either side by kids in high chairs filling their tummies with bananas and Cap'n Crunch.

Wow. My world has changed.

The 1st century Christians were accused of turning the world upside-down. These kids have done that for me!

I didn't get to spend any time with the Lord (other than begging for help) until yesterday afternoon. I whispered Psalm 103 aloud to read "Ace" to sleep. I don't believe it was merely coincidence that the Word of God soothed him to sleep and assuaged my weary soul simultaneously.

Then, last night, to get "Champ" calmed for bed, I played classical music and quoted Psalm 23 over and over (and over and over). He fell asleep in less time than he has since he's been with us.

God's Word will never return void!

Friday, June 6, 2008

More Than Ten Years Ago

More than ten years ago, I knew a woman you'd have liked. Most people did, anyway. She was well-regarded by those around her and fairly popular. Fun-loving and witty, she had lots of acquaintances and a small circle of close friends whom she trusted implicitly. She was known as a very good person who tried to live according to biblical principles.

More than ten years ago, I knew a woman never too prideful to admit error, she was readily willing to say "I'm sorry." But quite frankly, she was usually right. I heard her confess one time, in honest humility, she didn't know what it was like to be wrong a lot; she'd lived life so long in obedience to the expectations of God's word, she averted a lot of mistakes. And because she was right and good, people spoke highly of her, and went to her when they sought biblical counsel or wisdom, receiving assurance of her love and prayers.

Over the years, that woman became accustomed to being right and good. She prayed carefully for others' needs as well as her own, she worshiped God in the fullness of what she knew of him, gradually expanding her understanding of him as he revealed more of himself, but as though "on approval." She had to agree with God's depiction of himself. If she didn't, she ignored that aspect of him because it didn't match her frame of reference. But it didn't really matter, because what she knew of him already was right, and wasn't that sufficient for now?

More than ten years ago, I knew a woman who began to believe her own press. She wasn't intentionally self-righteous, she just couldn't see that a thick film had begun to develop over the eyes of her heart (her conscience, or sensitivity to the Holy Spirit, so to speak). This film was a layer of pride which prevented her from seeing herself with clarity. It wasn't thick enough to blind her, just enough to make her perception hazy. Oddly enough, it didn't really dim her understanding of others, just herself. Like looking into a steam-covered bathroom mirror after a hot shower, she could look around and see others with clarity, but the truth of her own reflection was indiscernible.

She became a champion of "truth" as she saw it; but only to those who "needed" to know. And quite often, she was right to tell; they did need to know. This further validated her "goodness" and caused her to believe she had deep wisdom and insight from God himself.

More than ten years ago, that woman was ... me.

I wish I could say I had a miraculous turning point that instantly dropped the haze from my eyes, but it didn't happen that way. One day was the catalyst for start of my healing, though. Jesus used a friend to ask me a tough question about myself for which I had no answer.

That question prompted a brokenness in my spirit that led me to examine my heart and mind in ways I'd never delved into before. Through a painful process of confession and repentance, I began to allow God to wipe away the steam from the mirror of my life. It wasn't an immediate revelation or recognition, rather it was gradual, like the healing of the blind man in Mark 8:22-25:
Some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man's eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, "Do you see anything?He looked up and said, "I see people; they look like trees walking around." Once more Jesus put his hands on the man's eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.
I think it's interesting that others brought the blind man to Jesus. He couldn't get to him on his own, because he couldn't see. We sometimes need others to get us to Jesus; my friend did that for me. We all need people in our lives who will tell us the honest truth about how far we are from where God wants us.

Also notice Jesus took him outside the village to begin this healing process. Sometimes, we're too close to home to allow God to work effectively in our lives. The noise and distraction of the familiar keeps us in the routine of life and unable to step into a new level of honest self-evaluation. I certainly wouldn't say I can see everything in my own life and character clearly today, but I know that I'm at least seeing "trees" walking around. One day, my eyes will be fully opened: For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Monday, June 2, 2008

Rumor Has It

A lot of things simply aren't true. Particularly when people label others' motives and intentions or misrepresent their behaviors. Then, of course, rumors fly and the next thing you know, someone is sacrificed on the altar of the tongue. Yes, altar. An altar glorifies the person, god or idol for which it was built, and what is sacrificed on it is ascribed less value than the thing being worshiped.

When we verbally accuse someone of improper motives or misrepresent their actions to others (in order to salve our own consciences), we have sacrificed them in worship of our own ideologies. God has never accepted human sacrifices; Satan regularly receives them. So I guess the question becomes, then, who am I fundamentally honoring with my lips? God or Satan?

For years, Mrs. Cleaver was accused of setting a stereotype for the "ideal" homemaker. Every woman is supposed to wear a dress, heels and pearls while washing perfectly clean dishes. What a lot of people don't realize is that Barbara Billingsly wasn't trying to set a standard for women. She suggested to the producers that she be allowed to wear the pearls regularly because she had a noticeable surgical scar on her neck. To wear a choker strand of pearls concealed it from the cameras. I've actually heard people speak derogatorily of Barbara and her portrayal of June Cleaver without knowing what she'd been through to cause that behavior and choice.

Rumor usually has only half the story, because the one who started it has an axe to grind. Therefore, those who perpetrate what they've heard are only sharing half-truths (a.k.a. lies), because they've deduced the motives and intentions of the involved parties without knowing what's happened to bring them to those behaviors and choices. Meanwhile, another person is sacrificed on the altar of the tongue and the testimony of believers to a lost and dying world is corrupted again. Or maybe that's just a rumor, too.
There are six things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to him:
  • haughty eyes,
  • a lying tongue,
  • hands that shed innocent blood,
  • a heart that devises wicked schemes,
  • feet that are quick to rush into evil,
  • a false witness who pours out lies,
  • and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers (Proverbs 6:16-19).

Am I Sick?

I found this quote from British Christian G.K. Chesterton on a friend's blog. Chesterton was a witty journalist, poet, novelist, playwright and apologist of the early 1900s. I've not been able to get it out of my mind, so I thought I'd share it, especially since Darin's sermon yesterday dealt with pride.

"The one spiritual disease is that of thinking that one is quite well."

I hope I'm not sick with this. The only antidote is humility, and it's usually applied intravenously, with a sudden, giant needle. Unfortunately, the diagnosis usually goes undetected for years on end, because we're too busy recognizing symptoms in others to see how near-death we are.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

In the Shadow

Throughout scripture, God uses visual images to help us connect with intangible concepts. Sometimes I'm too thick-headed to get them, as simple as he's made them. But I got one today.

I took Dodger to the backyard this afternoon to take care of some "business." While waiting for him in the 91 degree heat of the sunshine, I gradually made my way toward the shade of a large oak that stands on our property.

I never even stood under the tree. I didn't have to. I simply stood in the shadow of the tree, and it was 10 degrees (or more) cooler; I was no longer exposed to the grueling torture of the excessive heat. Yes, I was still vulnerable to the damaging rays of the sun, but that sense of misery and oppression that the Texas heat can inflict was gone.

Psalm 91 says we can "rest in the shadow of the Almighty." When we're there, we're still exposed to the damaging attacks of the Enemy and others, but we can cast off that sense of misery and oppression by recognizing how great his love for us is. And, he casts a very long shadow that never turns (James 1:17) so there's plenty of room for us all, forever. And we don't have to move or adjust our location to stay with its covering.

The rest of the psalm continues, explaining the benefits of being under God's wing, letting him be our dwelling and refuge. I'm sure there will be other days I'll gain greater understanding and appreciation for those images, but for today, I'm going to enjoy his shadow; it's a wonderful place to hang out.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

My Half-page Homework

As promised, here are my homework assignments from the conference of 150 words/half a page. Every word had to be one syllable unless 1) it was a proper noun, 2) it had 5 letters or less, or 3) it was a contraction. I think I managed to abide by those rules. Don't count the words, though, I used the "half a page" guideline.

Darin

My spouse is the best friend I have, for he makes each day a joy. We laugh and smile. We share our hurts and those things that grieve our souls. Plus, we share praise and prayer to our great God.

It took a while for us to meet and marry. He turned one score and twelve the day after we got hitched. I was one score and six. But since most of our friends were hitched while we were still in school, we each dealt with being alone for many years.

We were great friends while I was in grad school and shared that kind of love for five years. God's time is ideal, though. I was through with school, and Darin was ready to begin a new level of work at school when we felt God’s call to marry. Since we had to wait so long, we know the value of each other both for these last eight years and ever.

Since then, I’ve never wished for any thing other than to walk the road of life with Darin and the Lord. Sure, it’s had some bumpy spots, but my faith in them both is strong.

My hope as a young woman was to marry my best friend. I got to do just that, and I am the most blessed woman I know.


Dodger

We have a new puppy, Dodger. He’s a black ball of curls and fur, with dark brown eyes and a happy stump of a tail. He loves to lick the faces and hands of all, and is so glad to meet new ones that he will tinkle all over the floor [I don't like the word "pee," so I made this exception]. He’s lived with us only one month, and he is a true part of our lives. We’ve been on our trip twelve days, now, and we miss him.

His best toy is a stuffed gray hare. He puts it in his mouth and growls, “rrrrr,” while he shakes his head from left to right.

Dodger was close to being trained to go “out” when we left. We gave him a treat when he did what he should. I hope he won’t lapse when we get back. [He has.]

For now, he spends each day with Duane, Mary, Taylor and their dog Gizmo. The dogs like to play and hump each other. That’s gross; they’re both males.

We’ll be home soon, Dodger.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Jesus' Ideas

Reading this morning Mark 4:35-41 (Jesus calming the sea), I noticed a simple element of the story. It was Jesus' idea to go to the other side.

Profound, huh? It speaks volumes to me. You see, I generally err on the side of believing that all the "storms" that come into my life are my fault. I've done something wrong to "deserve" the difficulty. From time to time, that is truly the case; I'm living with the consequences of my sin. But that isn't always reality. There are occasions when I'm genuinely living in the will of God, confessed up, and he has an idea that I implement and suddenly "a furious squall" (v. 37) arises.

I don't for one minute believe that Jesus wanted to "teach them a lesson" about trusting him, even though I do believe he knew what was about to happen. I think he just went along for the ride. I say that because Jesus doesn't say how he wants to get to the other side, he simply gives the directive. "They took him along...in the boat." The disciples chose the mode of transportation. I'm not suggesting they chose poorly. In fact, evening had come and they were probably thinking expeditiously, "We've got to get to the other side before it gets any darker." It could be Jesus preferred to go by land (he was a carpenter, after all, not a marine biologist), but he let them chose their favorite method (1 of every 4 disciples was a fisherman). On the other hand, perhaps their hurry to beat the clock wasn't what Jesus initially intended. Maybe he wanted to walk around the edge of the lake so he could encounter more people in need of teaching. Who knows? The point isn't their travel, though. The point is that Jesus didn't want to stay in the same place, and he doesn't want us to remain in the same place spiritually or even physically, either. Stagnant Christianity is probably the number one killer of a life lived in faith and submission, and thus, the number one killer of churches. When we're individually and corporately content to stay where we are, no one gets effectively ministered to, and we miss out on all kinds of blessings, as well as the chance to observe his amazing power at work (v. 39).

Notice, it doesn't get much better on the other side. The minute they step out of the boat, they're met by a demon-possessed man (5: 2)! Great. But Jesus doesn't let them get back on the water, either, not until they are asked to leave town (5:17). Jesus' call to be his follower means we sometimes get to choose various means and methods to be obedient to his ideas, with no sure promises about the ease of the journey. I think he's just glad when we do something, make some move to getting to where he wants us to be. Doing the things we love and have interest in, for His kingdom's sake, is a great place to start. Even if a storm arises in the middle, at least we were headed to the "other side," and I think that makes him very proud. The results are then up to him alone.

Monday, May 26, 2008

The End.

We're back in Tyler, awaiting our wonderful friends who have agreed to retrieve us from the airport on this hot and humid day. It was a great trip, and we have so many memories from the 1710 miles we put on our rental car.

We started yesterday early - I guess we wanted to fit in as much as we could - visiting the Parthenon (a Nashville art museum), Vanderbilt University and the Opryland Hotel, all before going to church at Two Rivers Baptist. Following worship, we returned to the Opry Mills Mall for Darin to find a souvenir Tennesee Titans shirt. Then, we headed back to the Country Music Hall of Fame for a banjo demonstration, which we didn't get to see, because we misread the flyer - it ended at 2 PM - we thought it began at 2. Ooops. So, we made our way to Ryman Auditorium where we saw Minnie Pearl's hat and stood at the stage as though we were about to be "discovered." (Notice, we're home, no discovery.)

We bought a cowgirl hat for me (pictures later) and enjoyed the best BBQ and hamburgers Nashville has to offer at the Wildhorse Saloon, then headed back to the hotel to pack up and rest up for the trip home today.

We did have a lot of fun at the ticket counter this morning. We had two suitcases we knew were wavering at the 50 lb. margin (you have to pay extra for bags over that weight). Sure enough, one of them was 47.5 lbs, the other was 53.5 lbs. A game ensued as we shifted items from one bag to the other, trying to balance the weights to 50 lbs or less. As you may have guessed, if you like to do mental math, we had one extra pound. So, we found a bag of toiletries to cram into the duffle bag and several t-shirts to shove into the golf bag! We had another passenger cheering and an employee laughing as we managed to bring it all into balance. Glad we could make an impression before we left.

P.S. Where, O where, are you tonight?
Why did you leave me here all alone?
I searched the world over and thought I found true love.
You met another and pfft, you were gone.


I forgot to mention one of my other favorite parts of the visit to the Country Music Hall of Fame: Hee Haw! We got to stand next to (part of) the cornfield from the show and see clips from the many years it aired. Grandpa Jones spectacles, suspenders and vintage Civil War boots were there, too (he was my favorite character). Sa-lute!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Nashville News

We've been in Nashville two days and had a great time exploring the city. We've both been here before, but never for this length of time together.

We got in yesterday too late to visit any sites, so we went to see the new Indiana Jones movie. Eh; we weren't as impressed as the critics.

Following the movie, we visited the "Aquarium" restaurant at Opry Mills Mall. The place has two tanks filled with tropical fish and other sea creatures. You're paying for a lot of atmosphere, but it was really cool.

The best part of today's time around town was the visit to the Country Music Hall of Fame. I must admit, although I genuinely like country music, I'm a nominal fan at best. But I thoroughly enjoyed the history, music and discoveries of today's time at the museum. Our visit also included a stop at RCA's Studio B, the place where numerous chart-topping hits were recorded between 1957 and 1977. I'm sitting at the piano played by Elvis and Roy Orbison, just to name a couple. I don't care who you are, or what style of music draws you, touching that kind of history is incredible!