Eye-candy. Isn’t that a great word to describe something that is visually attractive? When something appeals to our eyes, it’s like a vision of a sweet, mouth-watering, colorful confection.
The greatest saints are not those who need less grace,
but those who consume the most grace,
who indeed are most in need of grace—
those who are saturated by grace in every dimension of their being.
Grace to them is like breath.
I continue to be amazed at how stubborn and self-willed I am… I know very well that I need God’s power, but when I face a stiff challenge, I almost always reach for my own strength first. It’s baffling, isn’t it? Why not start with dependence on God instead of having to first exhaust our own efforts?
It should be simple, but it’s not. And lately, I think I’m discovering part of the reason why. I don’t rely on myself because I think I’m stronger or smarter than God, but because I want to feel in control. I trust God to help me, but I’d rather he let me lead the way and lend his strength.
In other words, I’m willing to let God be my higher power as long as he does my will.
I gave up my membership to the Christianity club. I’m not interested in proving myself and I don’t care whether or not I look the part. I’m not shined up – not all the time. And when I am, I had absolutely nothing to do with it.
But I like it so much better out here on the outskirts, hanging out with Jesus – messy and honest.
…something remarkable has changed – I’m sitting beside Jesus now – not performing for him.
I don’t want to be the perfect Christian because I realized that for me, there’s no lonelier place in the world. I’d rather be a messy Christian, full of honesty and desperately in need of some grace.
I want to be the kind of person that believes she’s loved by Jesus – not because of me, not because of anything I do,
Usually we read stories about drunks who then become Christians. That’s the encouraging progression we’re used to seeing in people’s lives. But it doesn’t always work that way. Sober Mercies by Heather Kopp is the memoir of a Christian who became an alcoholic. Continue Reading…
Dr. John Witherspoon, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and president of Princeton lived a couple of miles away from the college at Rocky Hill. Every day he drove horse and buggy to his office at the college.
“One day one of his neighbors burst into his office, exclaiming, ‘Dr. Witherspoon, you must join me in giving thanks to God for his extraordinary providence in saving my life, for as I was driving from Rocky Hill the horse ran away and the buggy was smashed to pieces on the rocks, but I escaped unharmed!’
“Witherspoon replied, ‘Why, I can tell you a far more remarkable providence than that. I have drive over that road hundreds of times. My horse never ran away, my buggy never was smashed, I was never hurt.’
“So we must beware of thinking that God is only in the earthquake, wind, and fire; of thinking that manna but not grain is God’s food. Most of God’s gifts to his people are not dazzling and gaudy but wrapped in simple brown paper. Quiet provisions of safety on the highway, health of children, picking up a paycheck, supper with the family—all in an ordinary day’s work for our God.”
Dale Ralph Davis in Joshua: No Fallen Words
“One day my father-in-law asked me who I thought the richest man in the world was, and I mentioned some names. He said, ‘You’re wrong, it is the man with a satisfied mind.’”
Joe Hayes, writer of the song “A Satisfied Mind”:
“How many times have you heard someone say
“If I had his money, I’d do things my way”
But little they know that it’s so hard to find
One rich man in ten with a satisfied mind”
Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!
I’m up to Exodus in my chronological Bible reading Last month, just in time for the Passover Seder, I read the account of God bringing the Israelites out of Egypt. It’s a wonderful story. They cry out and God rescues them from 400 years of hard slave labor. But faster than one can say, ‘deliver us from Pharoah’, the Israelites start to grumble against Moses. “What are we going to eat? What are we going to drink? It would have been better to die in Egypt.”
It was stunning for me to read how quickly they became discontent. God freed them, but that wasn’t enough for them. They mumbled and grumbled at Moses, even after he pointed out to them that they were really grumbling against God. When I finished reading the passage, I rolled my eyes at the Israelites’ inability to put things in perspective. I wished I could have given them a shake and told them to have a little backbone and a lot of gratitude.
Then I realized I’m no different from them.
Often what comes out of my mouth in the course of the day is not thanks or gratitude or praise. Instead, you’ll hear grumbling, murmuring, and sometimes downright complaining. In the last four months, a lot of this grumble time was taken up with the weather which I’ve found to be too cold, too wet, too cloudy, too dark, and too rainy to my liking.
When I lived in the states, I took turns grumbling about the quirky co-workers at my job, the songs we sang [or didn't sing] at church, politicians, and the tulip-eating deer in my garden. Now living in a developing country, I’ve moved on to other topics. At the grocery store, I grumble about my broken shopping cart that refuses to go in a straight line; about the sudden disappearance of [choose one] evaporated milk, decaf coffee, or oatmeal; about how hard it is to open the plastic grocery bags at the checkout.
If I stop grumbling long enough to look around, I can see how fortunate I am. Unlike a majority of people here, I don’t have to complain that my roof leaks when it rains, or that my clothes are damp because I don’t have a drier. I don’t have to complain that I have to eat the same dish of porridge for supper because I can’t afford anything else. I don’t have to complain that I’m cold at night because my blanket is so thin. I don’t have to complain that I have to walk to work because it doesn’t pay me enough to buy a car. I don’t have to complain that my tooth hurts because I don’t have money for the dentist.
The easy solution is to focus on being thankful for all God has done for me and given to me. And for the past five years it’s been my daily habit to write down what I’m grateful for. Every day I have at least a half-dozen items and I think this practice has made a difference.
But I still find myself grumbling. Partly that’s because I have a casual attitude about it. It’s hard to see how a little complaining does any real harm. I treat it like a sport or a little dramatic performance.
However, grumbling is serious business. Psalm 95:8-10 says that the Israelites’ grumbling in the wilderness had two very bad consequences. First, it resulted in the hardening of their hearts. They stopped listening and went their own way. Second, their testing of God made Him angry. Given that God is slow to anger and rich in love, this must have been some major grumbling.
So what can I do to eradicate grumbling from my life besides faithfully writing my list of daily thanks?
It seems to me that the most grumble-free people I know have a different way of looking at life than I do:
- They don’t expect to be in control.
- They don’t expect other people to be perfect, or for things to always run smoothly.
- They are satisfied. Period.
So along with thanking God every morning, I need to remind myself:
- There is a God and it’s not me.
- Something will probably not go right today.
- Someone will probably act badly.
- And I can still be content. For God has given me an endless supply of grace.
Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. Philippians 2:14-16
What about you?
How full do you see your glass?
Do you ever find yourself grumbling about what’s missing in it?
And if you hear me grumbling, will you give me a nudge?
We are Redeemed, to be the hands and feet and mouths and brains of the Body of Christ. We are sanctified, so that through and in and with and by us the whole world is brought into God’s eternal Kingdom.
Don’t look for big things. . .just do small things with great love.
The love of other people helps us to know and accept God’s love for us.
If we have not been held close to another’s heart, we are unlikely to experience God holding us in a firm embrace.
We need the palpable experience of unconditional love from another human being
to encounter the unfathomable depths of God’s abiding love.
“How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asked. “Go and see.”
When my recently widowed mom became ill with double pneumonia, I felt the common regret of living far from family. She was in one country, I was in another with 3430 miles of stormy Atlantic Ocean between us. Continue Reading…
Bring me a worm
that can comprehend a man,
and then I will show you a man
that can comprehend the Triune God.
“Do not be afraid,
O worm Jacob, O little Israel,
for I am myself will help you,” declares the Lord.
God is greater than mind itself. His greatness cannot be conceived.
Nay, could we conceive of His greatness
He would be less than the human mind which could form the conception.
I was out walking in a field one moist morning, captivated by the beauty.
I took some pictures, and then some close-ups.
What I didn’t realize until I looked at the pictures later was how the drops of water held reflections.
Who knew that something so small could hold something so big?
This one drop only shows a few trees from a single forest. Imagine trying to contain a reflection of the whole world in it. That would be as difficult as me trying to comprehend the all-powerful, all-loving God. He is too big for me to take in and I am much too small, like a mere drop of water that dries up in the noonday sun. My view is limited, and I’ll never be able to fully grasp who He is or understand Him completely.
I need to remember this when I read something in God’s word that doesn’t make sense to me, like how His wrath and His love exist together. There are mysteries I have to trust Him with because He’s the Creator, I’m the created. He is the Shepherd, I am the sheep.
You turn things upside down,
as if the potter were thought to be like the clay!
Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it,
“You did not make me”?
Can the pot say to the potter,
“You know nothing”?
What about you? What don’t you understand about God? What mystery do you need to trust Him for?
[edited from the archives]
Lift eyes from mud. Look up for rainbows, brilliant and glorious
Reflected by a well-washed and shining prism: saintly faith turned toward the light of truth.
Set your focus on things above, not on earthly things
Gaze on the Throne where darkness never dwells, to the King whose rule is Love
To His right side, where the Redeemer Son intercedes to purify the Beloved Bride.
If there’s no resurrection, there’s no living Christ, then all you’re doing is wandering about in the dark, as lost as ever. …if all we get out of Christ is a little inspiration for a few short years, we’re a pretty sorry lot.
I look death in the face practically every day I live. Do you think I’d do this if I wasn’t convinced of your resurrection and mine as guaranteed by the resurrected Messiah Jesus? ……It’s resurrection, resurrection, always resurrection, that undergirds what I do and say, the way I live.
I Corinthians 15 :13, 16, 30-32 The Message
Now the holy rays of the light of Christ shine forth,
the pure stars of the pure Spirit rise, the heavenly treasures of glory and divinity lie open.
In this splendor the long dark night has been swallowed up and the dreary shadows of death have vanished.
For us who believe in Him a glorious day has dawned, a long unending day.
Hippolytus of Rome
When was the last time you saw a rainbow? Not a Disney or cartoon rainbow, but a real sky-spanning rainbow?
For me, it was last week. When we left the house an hour before sunset to meet with friends, I caught sight of a multi-colored streak in the sky at the end of our street.
We turned onto the main road and I thought that would be the end of it.
God walks ‘slowly’ because He is of love. If He is not love he would have gone much faster. Love has its speed. It is an inner speed. It is a spiritual speed. It is a different kind of speed from the technological speed to which we are accustomed. It goes on in the depth of our life, whether we notice it or not, at three miles an hour. It is the speed we walk and therefore it is the speed the love of God walks.
Let me come with these donkeys, Lord, into your land,
These beasts who bow their heads so gently, and stand
With their small feet joined together in a fashion
Utterly gentle, asking your compassion.
Richard Wilbur/Frances Jammes
Dear God, we pray for another way of being,
another way of knowing.
Across the difficult terrain of our existence
we have attempted to build a highway
and in so doing have lost our footpath.
God, lead us to our footpath.
Lead us there where, in simplicity,
we may move at the speed of natural creatures
and feel the earth’s love beneath our feet.
Lead us there where, step-by-step,
we may feel the movement of creation in our hearts.
And lead us there where, side-by-side,
we may feel the embrace of the common soul.
Nothing can be loved at speed.
God, lead us to the slow path;
to the joyous insights of the pilgrim;
another way of knowing;
another way of being. Amen.
We had a wonderful service of praise on Palm Sunday. People from the nations processed around the church as they waved palm branches, singing and dancing with joy. It was a celebration fit for a king.
Yet I’ve never seen palms used for a festive occasion in this country. It makes me wonder how citizens would view using them to fete the arrival of someone important.
I have no doubt though what they would think about an acclaimed leader coming in on a donkey. They would see it as a dishonorable, even shameful act because a donkey is considered dirty and unclean. Used as a beast of burden, frequently overloaded and sometimes whipped, a donkey would not be worthy to carry such a person.
So it makes you wonder what Jesus had in mind when He rode into Jerusalem at the start of Holy Week on a young donkey. Was He making a pointed commentary about pomp and power? Because there is something inherently ironic about a grown man riding a small donkey.
If you couldn’t afford a horse, you would at least get your friends to carry you above the crowd on a ceremonial chair.
Yet riding the donkey turns out to be the highlight of the week for Jesus. It goes from bad to worse, with betrayal and arrest, trial and beating. Soon He is walking to his death, dragging the cross behind him. He has become the beast of burden.
He dies a criminal’s death.
And then at last comes the moment of triumph. The biggest enemy of all, death, is vanquished and defeated. Jesus rises from the dead.
In any standard hero story–take The Lord of the Rings for example–the conquering king always returns in a proud parade accompanied by his trusty companions. As he rides through the city, he is greeted by cheering citizens paying tribute to his bravery and valor.
So you would think that even if Jesus bypassed pomp on Palm Sunday, at this point, having risen triumphantly from the dead, He would be ready to return in glory.
But Jesus does not follow the usual storyline. Even at the climax, He chooses the quiet way. He slips back without any fanfare, walking alongside His friends on the road to Emmaus.
There are no crowds. There are no trumpets.There is still no earthly crown for the King of Kings.
Everything is finished, but here in this world the journey remains.
Jesus returns as a wise, listening Friend, coming alongside of us as we plod on.
The pace stays slow and steady, the speed of love.
Say to the daughter of Zion,
‘Behold, your king is coming to you,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’
Look at Jesus! He rides no stallion, which is a war animal,
and he comes not with fearful pomp and power,
but sits on a donkey, which is no war animal but which is ready for burdens of work that will help human beings.
Thereby he shows that he does not come to terrify people, to drive or oppress them,
but to help them, to carry their burdens and take them on himself.
Without the cross, the Christian life and faith becomes something obvious and explicable,
Jesus becomes an idol whom we can comprehend, predict, and domesticate.
But a Jesus who could be mocked, spat on, and stripped is different.
Jesus, the favorite Child of God, is persecuted…
Without his accusing anyone he is considered an accuser,
without his condemning anyone he makes people feel guilty and ashamed,
without his judging anyone those who see him feel judged.
In their eyes, he cannot be tolerated and needs to be destroyed,
because letting him be seems like a confession of guilt.
When we want to become like Jesus, we cannot expect always to be liked and admired.
We have to be prepared to be rejected.
From our second story terrace, we get a bird’s eye view of local animal life. Flocks of sheep and goats feed on the far hill and sometimes come to the lot on the other side of our wall.
In the springtime, these flocks will have a few wobbly-legged lambs with snowy white wool. They live a peaceful, pastoral life, grazing under the care of their mothers and the shepherd who keeps a watchful eye.
The other week I walked in the opposite direction to our local butcher shop. I was making mechoui and I needed a lamb shoulder.
The butcher went into the small walk-in freezer and brought out an entire lamb, skinned from head to tail. He hung it on a hook and began to cut it with long strong strokes of his knife.
It was, to say the least, a very vivid experience to see at close range an earthly lamb that had sacrificed its life for me, just like Jesus did.
But there was one major difference. Jesus first put aside His privileges before He became defenseless as a lamb. He “made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant…and humbled Himself and became obedient to death.” [Philippians 2]
Before He went to the cross however, He experienced public humiliation and shame. He was called a bastard (John 8:41), a drunkard (Matthew 11:19), a blasphemer (Matthew 26:65), and a devil (Matthew 10:25). He received death threats and narrowly escaped being stoned. “He was despised and rejected by men . . . as one from whom men hide their faces . . .” (Isaiah 53:3).
Then He was arrested and killed.
What a mystery. The King of Kings who has the power to give life allowed Himself to be mocked, spit upon, and insulted, then put to death, of His own free will.
“It was our sins that did that to Him,
that ripped and tore and crushed Him—our sins!
He took the punishment, and that made us whole.
Through His bruises we get healed.
We’re all like sheep who’ve wandered off and gotten lost.
We’ve all done our own thing, gone our own way.
And God has piled all our sins, everything we’ve done wrong, on Him.
Isaiah 53:5-6 The Message
Who can explain this?
We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for,
and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice.
But God put His love on the line for us
by offering His Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to Him.
Romans 5:7-8 The Message
The image of that lamb in the butcher shop has stayed with me as a reminder of what it really means for the perfect, all-holy Son of God to become the sin-bearer of the world.
No wonder angels numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand sing:
Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
To receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise.
The Son of God appeared oe earth in the body, He was raised in the body, in the sacrament the believer receives the Lord Christ in the body, and the resurrection of the dead will bring about the perfected fellowship of God’s spiritual-physical creatures.
The believer therefore praises the Creator, the Redeemer…for the bodily presence of another believer.
The prisoner, the sick person, the Christian in exile sees in the companionship of a fellow Christian a physical sign of the gracious presence of the triune God.
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess,
for He who promised is faithful.
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds,
not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing,
but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
The Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him.
He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged,
for by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truth.
He needs his fellow believer as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation.
In New England where I grew up, you know it’s cold when you look out the window and see frost on the grass. Here, it’s when you wake up and see your breath.
Ok, that’s a bit of an exaggeration but without central heating, a cool morning outside can make a chilly morning inside. That’s when I head to the shower. The water is heated directly by gas rather than stored in a hot water heater. That means I could take a three hour shower and never run out of hot water–not that I’ve ever tried. However there are mornings when I soak under the warm spray for a very long time, reluctant to get out. Eventually I’ll step out of the shower–and then dawdle more in the bathroom’s steamy cocoon.
I thought of that last week when a 4-person team from South Africa came for an evening of prayer. Our time together was like relaxing in a spiritual spa. The salon was filled with people sitting on our Moroccan couches which are perfectly suited to lingering.
I’m not sure how often itinerant prayer teams make the rounds in the states. Here living on the frontier, spiritually speaking, there aren’t a lot of resources. So when someone comes traveling through, we’re happy to have them share with us. Sometimes it’s preachers, but this time it was pray-ers.
The night started with each South African sharing a little about how they have been seeing God work through prayer. Then they began to go around the room and pray for people individually. Obviously this took some time. But the rest of us weren’t bored. We waited patiently, joined in prayer, chatted with those around us as if we were enjoying at evening at the local hammam [public bath]. The atmosphere was low-key without any spectacular spiritual fireworks; simply warm and restful. Even after a few hours of prayer, no one wanted to leave.
I wasn’t going to go for prayer but Emmanuelle nudged me. “You should go.”
“But I don’t have anything specific .”
“Neither did I, but it was really good for me.”
So I went over to one of the South Africans and she began to pray for me. I felt like I was sitting under a warm shower of God’s love, hearing blessing and encouragement and affirmation. Afterwards, I felt refreshed and uplifted. And thankful for those who were willing to travel and minister to people in this country.
As I’ve reflected on the experience, a few things have stood out.
We sometimes complain that God doesn’t speak audibly to us. We can become frustrated that we can’t talk to Him like we do with another person. Yet He put us in the body of Christ and when we pray for each other, we have the chance to become the voice of God into another person’s life.
That’s an awesome responsibility, and these South Africans were not novices. They had been trained [discipled if you like] in this prayer ministry. They were comfortable praying for people they knew nothing about.
Sometimes we need prayer for something specific. Those are like hammer prayers where we keep hitting the nail, and that night there were many particular requests that were prayed for. But other people, like me, were prayed for ‘just because’. I’m learning there is value in the gentle soaking of this kind of prayer, including the gift of spiritual friendship as we come before God together.
Soaking takes time
Another benefit of the evening was the time to relax in fellowship. Instead of rushing around on tasks and programs like Martha, we were imitating Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus. Now I think Martha sometimes gets short shrift. I don’t think anyone complained about the meals she made, the clothes she washed, or the cleaning she did. But what Jesus told her is a reminder for us too. Activity is not the sum total of our life in Him, including church activity. Our spiritual busyness can keep us from receiving the refreshment He wants to give us. To set aside an entire evening is a good way to slow down.
Time to step out
Just as Mary didn’t remain at the feet of Jesus forever, the evening finally came to an end. The people from South Africa traveled back home. The rest of us entered another week at work, going on with the tasks of our lives. But we now carry with us the memories of that sweet fellowship.
For I will pour water on the thirsty land,
and streams on the dry ground;
I will pour out My Spirit on your offspring,
and My blessing on your descendants.
They will spring up like grass in a meadow,
like poplar trees by flowing streams.
Isaiah 44:3, 4
“It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before Him in their worship.
John 4:22-23 The Message
I’m “thankful today for the freedom You give us to bring our raw feelings to You. You’re the only one with whom we don’t have to pose or pretend about anything.
Because if we don’t bring our painful emotions to You, we will take them somewhere. Somebody will feel the brunt of our anguish and anger. Stuffing and dumping these feelings always brings destructive consequences. So grant us good gospel freedom as we come before You today.
Heavenly Father, only You have the big enough heart, deep enough wisdom and broad enough shoulders to walk with us through the chaotic and conflicted seasons of life. We praise You for the constancy of Your welcome. … Meet us with the promise and provision of new covenant grace.
So, friends, we can now—without hesitation—walk right up to God, into “the Holy Place.” Jesus has cleared the way by the blood of His sacrifice, acting as our priest before God. The “curtain” into God’s presence is His body.
So let’s do it—full of belief, confident that we’re presentable inside and out.
Hebrews 10:19-22 The Message