Tuesday, December 31, 2013

On This Last Day of 2013

Anyone who knows me knows I hate New Year's Resolutions.
Perhaps it began as rebellion against pointless school homework.
Maybe it's because I generally hate change.
Or my inborn anxiety of the future.
I'd like to think it has more to do
with a distaste for navel-gazing, and self aggrandizement.
Also, I never saw the point of sitting around
thinking about all the ways I am not good enough yet,
and how to really buckle down and be perfect.

This year brought massive unforeseen changes into our life as a family.
I am writing this from the other coast,
and mere weeks from giving birth to a surprise baby.
My parents and siblings have been geographically scattered this year.
We began last year in only two places: New England and Africa.
By fall we were scattered into five.
I didn't see that coming.

I hoped some day we could take our kids to see the country.
We took the 4700 mile route to the new state,
stopping in various places to spend the night and eat a meal or two with family.
My kids told me that Niagara Falls was even more amazing than Disneyland --
both of which they got to visit this year.

I dreamed of train travel,
and in the spring my daughter Elisa and I got four days of train travel
like heroines of old.
That was not in my plans.

Christmas Day, I dug out the four journals that covered 2013, and began reading.
These are where I write things down.
Funny things the kids said;
devastating fears that I pour out and beg God for rescue from;
Scriptures He soothes me with;
hopes for my family;
confessions of failure and my need of mercy;
prayers for my husband, children, parents, grandparents,
brothers, sisters, in-laws,
brothers and sisters in the Lord,
churches on three continents,
friends who are suffering,
enemies who are hurting me;
anxieties that are overwhelming me;
praises for answered prayers;
inadequate thanks for blessings I don't deserve;
records of phone calls received out of the blue;
and notations of positive pregnancy tests,
and movements of new life felt.

You see, I have a story to tell.
A story that has been going on a long time, and that isn't ended yet.
A story of weakness and loss
filled with strength and hope.
A story of infertility crowned with children.
A story of trembling faith going forward anyway.
Of unexpectedly expecting.
Of saying 'yes' in spite of fear.
Of God's faithfulness and light.

It has encouraged my mind and my heart to read my fears and prayers,
the promises of God I wrote down,
and how He helped me this last year.
I have few resolutions for this coming year.
I hope I trust Him better,
because He is trustworthy.
I hope I love Him better,
because He has loved me so.
I hope I know Him better,
because He knows me: all my fears, all my failures, and all my hopes.
He has been faithful to me,
and He astounds me with His kindness.
And all my fruit is found in Him.

Perhaps I will continue this useful practice --
looking over the year as I recorded it,
taking note of fearful expectations and merciful realities,
of my prayers and His helpings,
and marking the lessons He taught me.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

A Chosen Part

After reading my Bible the other morning,
I guess my mind drifted off.
I wasn't reading anything about them,
but I found myself daydreaming about Mary and Martha,
just pondering what happened that day.

Now it happened as they went 
that He entered a certain village; 
and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house.
And she had a sister called Mary, 
who also sat at Jesus' feet and heard His word.
But Martha was distracted with much serving,
and she approached Him and said, 
"Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? 
Therefore tell her to help me." 
And Jesus answered and said to her, 
"Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. 
But one thing is needed, 
and Mary has chosen that good part, 
which will not be taken away from her."

I have heard many teachings on this over the years,
usually at women's events.
And while mentally I gave assent to the need to sit at His feet and hear Him,
I have always had this confused appreciation for Martha's position.
I mean, the woman just had Jesus and His entourage drop in for food and rest.
What: is she supposed to let the food prepare itself?
Mary's not helping -- how will it get done?
How does Martha even have a choice in it?
And, being the woman of my house,
and the oldest of a large family
(where I was often pressed into service I would happily have forgone
to sit with people and talk),
I sympathize with Martha's annoyance at her sister.
So it's with some troubled crinkling of my brow
that I ponder this story, always.

Martha was engaged in frantic service of her own contriving 
for the purpose of caring for the Lord.
I have to conclude from what Jesus said to her,
that she chose her part.
This is obviously a woman who does much.
A hospitable woman.
A woman with food on hand.
She is a responsible lady.
And as I thought about her, I thought,
Surely she had some pita and hummus on hand.
Olive oil for dipping.
A bowl of olives.
A store of wine.
Dates. Almonds... you get the idea.
But I think she wanted to Pinterest out the spread.
And her zeal for tasks she chose for herself
was making her angry and judgmental,
and keeping her from His presence.

Jesus said Mary had chosen a better part.
She had chosen quietness at His feet.
Open ears.
Fellowship while it was available.

Martha had a misplaced urgency.
The time was short, but it wasn't meal time that was the pressing matter.
It was time spent with Him before He was gone from them.
She became a critic in her self-ordered anxiety to serve.
She pointed her finger, and unleashed her tongue,
and complained about her sister.
And idle Mary, who wanted to hear Him,
heard Him defend her presence at His feet.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Even in the Unsuccessful Things

I was out all afternoon outfitting children with snow boots that fit them,
and generally making sure they wouldn't suffer frostbite tomorrow.
I picked my husband up after a few hours,
and having succeeded in finding at thrift stores
boots for two of the three who needed them,
we headed over to another store
to attempt finding an economical pair for the last one.

I was not successful, but we wandered into the grocery section,
where samples of pear slices were being handed out.
The children wanted some, so we stopped and waited
while the sample lady sliced some for them.
We smiled and thanked her, and went on our way.
About fifteen minutes later,
we passed her again headed another direction, and she called out to us,
"Do they want anymore pears?"
They did, so I stopped again, and thanked her again.

We had not been able to locate the day old bread rack,
although we were looking for it.
So I turned back to her, and said,
"Maybe you know... where is the day old bread rack?
I haven't been able to locate one."
She left her station, and came and showed me where it was.

A few minutes later, we were still looking the rack over,
when she came back and gestured to Jeff and I to come over to her.
The kids started to follow, and she said, "I don't want your kids to know,"
so Jeff stayed back with them, and I followed her around the corner.
"Give me your address," she said.
I was confused by this direct demand from a stranger.

She started talking kind of fast, obviously excited.
She told me she goes around and does these sample things all over,
and she did one last week where her product didn't arrive until a day late,
and when she talked to the company,
they told her she was just going to have to dispose of it herself.
"What am I going to do with 600 of these?!" she said.
"So I have been praying about who to give them to," she told me.
And I know I am supposed to give them to you for your kids."
I started to tear up at this sweet little reminder
that the Lord sees us and cares for us,
and I pulled out a notepad and wrote down my name and address for her.

"You're a Christian, aren't you?" she said.
"Yes, I am," I answered, "I just moved here."
"See? The Lord wanted me to give you this," she said. "I can tell.
The Spirit is all over me, and I know."
I hugged her, and said, "Thank you," yet again.
I told her where I live, I didn't even get her name.

And walking away, I thought about how He leads us,
even in the unsuccessful things.
My daughter can wear her brother's old boots:
they'll do for a day.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Together as Friends

I have always dreaded reading some of the letters
to the churches in Revelation.
I want so much to be a included in a letter to a good church,
and not one of the ones so fearfully rebuked.
But in my Bible reading this morning,
I read two letters -- the one to Philadelphia,
and the one to Laodicea.
I was surprised to find myself encouraged.
To Philadelphia, He said,
"I know the things you do, 
and I have opened a door for you that no one can close. 
You have little strength, 
yet you obeyed My word and did not deny Me."
Philadelphia is one of the good churches.
But here He mentions their weakness.
Could I be weak and still an obedient child He is pleased with?
Could I be too small to open doors for myself,
but He opens them for me anyway?
He goes on,
"Because you have obeyed My command to persevere,
I will protect you...
I am coming soon.
Hold on to what you have,
so that no one will take your crown."

To me, perseverance is great strength.
Pressing on through pain, and adversity.
But He has already mentioned their small strength.
Can you see it?
This is one of the weak things through which He displays His strength.
One of the things which are not.
This church is a conqueror that is not strong.
Isn't He wonderful?

And then I came to Laodicea.
This was a church that felt it had arrived.
They knew how to live.
They were spiritually rich, they thought.
Stockpiled larders: no needs.
Self-sufficient and self-righteous.
Clothed in their own righteousness,
their perfect coverings and medicinal applications.
Somehow they saw themselves as something they weren't.
In reality, they were wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.
(Just to set the scene I remind you of this background.)
But this morning I noticed the promises.

"Buy gold from Me," He says to them.
"Then you will be rich."
"Also buy white garments from Me 
so you will not be ashamed by your nakedness,
and ointment for your eyes so you will be able to see."

It's funny (or maybe tragic) how we revel in us.
Our righteous accomplishments,
our righteous coverings,
and our righteous contrivances for spiritual health.
But compared with His real righteousness,
we stand there naked and blind and unhealthy.
Completely exposed because our coverings don't change us.
They only look good to other blind men.
Anyone with His healing in their eyes can see the holes.
But He offers Himself -- the Lord our Righteousness --
the Light of the world, come into the darkness.
The Treasury of Heaven there for our plundering.
"If you hear My voice and open the door, 
I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends."
Open ears and open doors, and fellowship with Him.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

He Sees How We Calculate

Two children sat sniping at each other,
though each had work assigned
that was not getting accomplished while they criticized.
Said one to the other,
"You are never going to finish your work or get ahead,
because you are behind in your readers,
and I know you are behind where you should be in school."
The instructor was brought into the conversation
by the tears of the one who felt stupid.
The assignments accomplished so far by the 'behind' one
were exactly what the child had been given to do by the instructor.
More was not expected, but the child was ashamed
when compared to someone else's standard.
The one doing the mocking was actually two years behind in math,
but had not been made aware of that,
because the instructor knew the diagnosis,
and was happy enough to see progress, even if it was slow.
But the mocking was mean, and wasn't going to be tolerated.
"If you want to make others feel like they are stupid and less
because of something that is not your business to evaluate,
you ought to know that you are two years behind in your math,
and you have no business judging the shortcomings of those
who are doing exactly as I told them.
Your business is to encourage and love one another,
not to tear each other down."
The instructor heard a genuine apology a few minutes later --
not the one that had been forced
before the child understood its own failure.
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said something so hypocritical."

How often we gloat over our 'accomplishments' which are natural abilities,
not knowing how far behind we are in areas others sail through.
We begin to look around, thinking we're ahead of the game,
and we discourage those who are doing their best
at the task assigned to them
by the One who knows their needs and abilities.
He may be quite happy with them,
even knowing their grade placement and their age.
And He may be quietly keeping us from knowing how far we fall short,
since we are progressing toward His goals for us --
even if the tasks are far below our grade placement and age averages.

How much better for both if they had been merciful to each other,
encouraging each other and rejoicing over the good.
Comparing ourselves against each other is no way to improve.
Our Teacher, our Helper, our Father
knows our needs, our shortcomings, our progress
(even if it looks like a shortfall to others).
Our eyes should be toward Him for our assignments.
For our correction.
For our promotion.
He knows better than we do -- and better than our fellow students --
where we are at in His estimation.
He's seen our test scores.
He sees the areas of brilliance,
even while He works to improve where we appear to be fools.
He hears the good reasoning we used to come to a wrong conclusion,
and has a plan for how to train our minds to calculate better.
He knows the calculating was done in our heads,
and it was a complicated problem,
and we don't have the skills to jot down our thoughts
because our hands need training and strengthening.
And our math will improve with our handwriting.
Practice this 'a' again.
He sees how we calculate with nearly perfect outcomes,
but don't understand what any of it means --
and He's concerned that our high scores don't reflect real knowledge,
just memorized formulas.
He knows we're behind because we took a slower path,
because there were others who needed help, too,
and our pace was matched to theirs.
And He knows that once the basics are mastered, we're going to excel.
So He isn't troubled by our grade level,
though we are now troubled by someone else's chiding.

For we do not make bold to rank or to compare ourselves 
with certain of those commending themselves, 
but they, among themselves measuring themselves, 
and comparing themselves with themselves, are not wise, 
and we in regard to the unmeasured things will not boast ourselves, 
but after the measure of the line 
that the God of measure did appoint to us--to reach even unto you; 
...not boasting of the things not measured, 
in other men's labors, 
and having hope--your faith increasing--in you to be enlarged, 
according to our line--into abundance,
...and he who is boasting--in the Lord let him boast; 
 for not he who is commending himself is approved, 
but he whom the Lord doth commend.
2 Corinthians 10:12 -18

Another child, who speeds through the work assigned
with time to spare every day, came and said,
"She is having trouble with math. Would it be alright if I helped?"
"Why, yes. Yes, it would. And I am so glad you would like to."

Friday, December 6, 2013

Among Those Who Had Not Dared

I read another chapter in The Making of a Man of God this morning.  
Vanquishing the Enemy, it was titled.
It was about David's conquering of Goliath.
These things ministered to me:

'Saul's idea was to dress him up and make him as much like Goliath as he could.

'Of course, the most wonderful thing of all is this: that the victory of David was the victory of Israel. Every Israelite -- mark this carefully, and may the Lord give you the thrill of it in your soul -- became a conqueror that day because of David's triumph. They all shared in his victory.

'In Saul's mind, God was absent from the whole conflict; He didn't enter into it.

'David was strengthened and sustained by the Word of God, and by faith he was successful in the battle. He knew perfectly well it was no use imitating the enemy by dressing up like him and going out in Saul's armor -- he saw the futility of that. Rather, he must put on the whole armor of God that he might stand his ground in that evil day.

'In our concluding glimpse of this story, have you noticed that there was a spectator? His name was Jonathan, the son of Saul, who naturally watched the whole battle with great concern. He had been among those who had not dared launch out into the fight, but as he watched David go out and fight Goliath in the name of the Lord, his soul was knit to David's, and he loved him as he loved his own soul...

'Then Jonathan "stripped himself of the robe that was upon him, and gave it to David, and his garments, even to his sword, and to his bow, and to his girdle". In other words, that day he saw the principle of victory, and he was identifying himself with that principle by which David had won. He was giving away all the carnal weapons of Saul's armor that he might cast himself in faith upon David.'

Jonathan was a man who had already had victory before.
But he found himself standing as a spectator
who didn't venture out against the giant.
I love that Redpath pulled this in to this chapter,
because sometimes we too, stand back and tremble
even though we've fought before.
And it is just so stunning to me to think of this warrior
taking the robes of his status, and his weapons of victory,
and everything that identified him as the son of Saul,
the flesh-king of Israel,
and stripping them off and giving them to David,
the shepherd who was not a warrior but conquered anyway.
He threw away the inheritance of the flesh.
He threw away his right to the throne.
He cut off his privileged kinship to become David's brother.
Redpath goes on:

'We have nothing except -- and what glorious exception -- the Word of God, the power of His Spirit, the anointing of the Holy Ghost upon a life which has surrendered all confidence in the flesh.

'Child of God, you may have victory yet, in spite of defeat, as you recognize the power of Goliath and his tremendous strength, if you, like Jonathan, love the Lord Jesus with all your soul and just put down at His feet every weapon, every confidence in technique and program, and recognize that the battle is won not by might, nor by power, but by the Spirit. If you come to Him in total submission, He will give you power from on high, because the Lord's victory is your victory.'

Though I be the offspring of Saul, Lord,
accept me as Your own flesh and blood,
and make my offspring Your own, crippled though they are.
You are the rightful King --
the victorious Champion and Defender of Your people.
You fought the battle we had no strength to fight.
You won the victory we could not even attempt.
Help us to lay down all the weapons of flesh
and go in Your strength, and not our own --
to be clothed in Your favor and Your anointing --
to gain victory through Your Word, Your power, and Your anointing.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

We May Magnify The Grace

I picked up an old book this morning I've been thinking about lately.
Opened to the forward and read this: 

"The Bible never flatters its heroes. 
It tells us the truth about each one of them 
in order that against the background of human breakdown and failure 
we may magnify the grace of God 
and recognize that it is the delight of the Spirit of God 
to work upon the platform of human impossibilities. 
As we consider the record of Bible characters, 
how often we find ourselves looking into a mirror. 
We are humiliated by the reminder of how many times we have failed. 
Great has been our stubbornness 
but greater still has been His faithfulness... 
My own heart has been searched to its depths 
as I have been brought face to face with my own frailty 
and the abundant mercy of my Savior... 
The conversion of a soul is the miracle of a moment, 
the manufacture of a saint is the task of a lifetime. 
It is the matchless marvel of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ 
to take a life from the dunghill and set it among princes -- 
to replace the bias of degeneration by the bias of regeneration, 
and to cause a man who has sunk to the depths to cry to God, 
'Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me... 
Then I will  teach transgressors Thy ways; 
and sinners shall be converted unto Thee.'"

~Alan Redpath, 
Forward to The Making of a Man of God, Studies in the Life of David

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Power of His Inscription

My grandmother had a habit
of discounting complaints about people when I voiced them.
It wasn't just me she did it to.
There was something about tearing other people down
that she just didn't want to join in on.
Even if the ugly about them was obvious,
she would pipe in with something good --
no matter how small and insignificant the good was.

There is yet another story circulating about some unnamed Christians
who mistreated their 'homeless' pastor.
These stories bother me.
Because we are so quick to tear down our brothers and sisters,
in an attempt to stir them up.
(Or is it just to judge them?)
But the story is put out there with a false picture,
and a false narrative,
and whatever good it aims for is darkened by its untruth.

Have you ever read the story of Noah?
He was a man who had the grace of God upon him,
who had escaped the judgment that was the end of his world,
and whose family had escaped by his faith, too.
There he was: he had managed to take in a harvest of grapes
after so much loss.
So much change.
Perhaps the atmosphere of the new environment
had changed the nature of wine.
Or maybe the elevation he was at
affected him differently than where he lived before the flood.
Maybe it felt like his harvest was the only good thing on the face of the earth
after so much devastation:
and he'd worked hard to grow it,
and he was tired,
and he just wanted a little more of it.
Whatever it was, when he drank the wine, he got drunk.
And the very son saved by his father's faith and his righteousness,
and his uniquely personal friendship with God,
found him uncovered and mocked him.
Wanted to write a news story about it.
To take pictures of his foolishness,
and laugh about it with his brothers:
to shame his father.
He was cursed for it.

Another story comes to mind.
One of exposure.
There was a woman who had a trap set for her.
And she was caught in it.
Guilty and uncovered.
And the trappers dragged her in shame
before the Son of God to get judgment.
But He looked down.
And He bent lower.
And He put His hands in the dirt
and wrote things there.
And we don't know what He wrote.
But the power of His inscription
caused the damning stones to fall from the hands of her accusers,
and embarrassment to inspire them to slink away.
It seems they had been reminded of their own uncleanness.
"Where are your accusers?" He asked her.
"They've all gone," she choked out.
Neither do I condemn you;" He said, "go and sin no more."

The apostle Paul was complained against by the Corinthians
(a truly remarkable thing, considering the state of that church).
His ministry was judged
and his delivery unfavorably compared with the eloquence of Apollos.
Paul said, "But with me it is a very small thing 
that I should be judged of you, 
or of man's judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self. 
For I know nothing against myself; 
yet am I not hereby justified: 
but He that judgeth me is the Lord. 
Wherefore judge nothing before the time, 
until the Lord come, 
who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness, 
and make manifest the counsels of the hearts; 
and then shall each man have his praise from God. 
Now these things, brethren, 
I have in a figure transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes; 
that in us ye might learn not to go beyond the things which are written; 
that no one of you be puffed up for the one against the other. 
For who maketh thee to differ? 
and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? 
but if thou didst receive it, 
why dost thou glory as if thou hadst not received it?"

I marvel that in the very thing that men wrongly judge,
Paul said the judged would receive commendation --
that the Lord, in examining motives,
would have anything good to say about those judged of men.
Perhaps because He sees our faith,
where others only see our fumbles.
Paul encouraged the Corinthians
to stop passing judgment on things
that weren't their business to evaluate.
All our gifts are gifts from Him,
and it is His business to evaluate our use of them.
And if I may use the term:
judging from history,
it would appear that Paul's 'contemptible speech'
left their beloved eloquence silent.

I think of my Grandma,
and the praise she was apt to heap on the undeserving,
and I am encouraged to hold my tongue,
or say something nice.