Archives For grace

The Beauty of Broken

November 2, 2016 — Leave a comment

I read Elisa Morgan’s “The Beauty of Broken” a few years ago–and thought I posted about it. But I can’t find it in the archives. It’s an excellent memoir about the gap between dreams and reality in parenting. The Kindle version is on sale for $2.99. Definitely worth it. And maybe some day I’ll get the post in my head onto the screen!

The only problem with “Alive,” a song from All Sons and Daughters [on their Season One album] is that it is too short! This video clocks in at 2:17 minutes–and it’s a wonderful complement to the music and lyrics.

“Alive”

“This is a call to all the dead and disappointed
The ones who feel like they are done
This is a word to all the ones who feel forgotten
But you are not
Oh you are not

‘Cause we’re alive alive alive and we’re singin’
We’re alive alive alive and we’re shakin’
We’re alive alive alive alive in You

We are soaked in all the grace that we’ve been given
Unchained from all that we have done
Your mercy’s rising like the sun on the horizon
And we’re comin’ home
We’re comin’ home

‘Cause we’re alive alive alive and we’re singin’
We’re alive alive alive and we’re shakin’
We’re alive alive alive alive in You

‘Cause we’re alive alive alive and we’re singin’
We’re alive alive alive and we’re shaken
We’re alive alive alive alive in You”

usa sept 09 139

A wonderful hymn about the triune Lord

Wonderful, merciful Savior
Precious Redeemer and Friend
Who would have thought that a Lamb
Could rescue the souls of men
Oh You rescue the souls of men

Counselor, Comforter, Keeper
Spirit we long to embrace
You offer hope when our hearts have
Hopelessly lost the way
Oh, we’ve hopelessly lost the way

You are the One that we praise
You are the One we adore
You give the healing and grace
Our hearts always hunger for
Oh, our hearts always hunger for

Almighty, infinite Father
Faithfully loving Your own
Here in our weakness You find us
Falling before Your throne
Oh, we’re falling before Your throne

[perhaps I should retitled this series ‘songs from Sunday’–this is another song we sung at church]

“Acceptance frees us from bondage to the law. God isn’t mad at
us.
When we live under the law, we are forever trying to appease
God so he won’t be mad at us. We can’t do this for very long
without getting angry at ourselves, either toward God for being
so strict or toward ourselves for failing. When we finally
understand that God isn’t mad at us anymore, we become free
to concentrate on love and growth instead of trying to appease
him.”
Henry Cloud and John Townsend in “How People Grow”

♦◊♦

“Grace overcomes shame, not by uncovering an overlooked cache
of excellence in ourselves but simply by accepting us, the whole of us,
with no regard to our beauty or our ugliness, our virtue or our vices.
We are accepted wholesale. Accepted with no possibility of being re-
jected. Accepted once and accepted forever. Accepted at the ultimate
depth of our being. We are given what we have longed for in every
nook and nuance of every relationship.

We are ready for grace when we are bone tired of our struggle to
be worthy and acceptable. After we have tried too long to earn the
approval of everyone important to us, we are ready for grace. When
we are tired of trying to be the person somebody sometime convinced
us we had to be, we are ready for grace. When we have given up all
hope of ever being an acceptable human being, we may hear in our
hearts the ultimate reassurance: we are accepted, accepted by grace.”
Lewis Smedes in “Shame and Grace”

♦◊♦

“Self-acceptance begins to take over
self-hate as we accept our emptiness before God and see
how he loves us in spite of our pride, vanity and petti-
ness. His love does not let us be overwhelmed, but rather
we begin to know we are truly accepted in him.
The giving out of love to God and receiving his love
in return is the most needed and most healing experience we can have.
Margaret Therkelsen “The Love Exchange”

♦◊♦

“Acceptance creates safety to be and experience ourselves.
Many people are stuck in their spiritual growth because they
can’t be completely themselves. They may be able to be real
about their opinions, humor, or care for others. But they think
that their depression, sad times, addictions, or neediness are
unacceptable to God or people so they live their lives as though
these parts didn’t exist. We need to experience all of our soul,
whether good, bad, or broken. Otherwise what is not brought
into the light of God’s love and relationship cannot be matured,
healed, and integrated into the rest of our character.
Henry Cloud and John Townsend in “How People Grow”

Easter in August

August 24, 2016 — Leave a comment

Lately, I’ve been pondering what the cross means. So after Christmas in July, perhaps it is time for Easter in August.

What has particularly drawn me to the cross has not been God’s forgiveness for me but my struggle to forgive those who have wronged and hurt me.

In the midst of these reflections, I ‘happened’ to attend a worship concert where we were invited to write down the name of someone we were finding it hard to forgive. Then we went forward and nailed the slip of paper to a large wooden cross. It was a powerful moment for me as I realized the sins Jesus took on Himself included sins done against me.

“We are invited to put our pain and any senseless suffering of the world into the wounds of Jesus. Jesus went to the cross so our sin and pain wouldn’t just stick to us. It has somewhere to go, somewhere it can be transformed rather than just transmitted. There are no tears and sorrow too deep for God to transform. Put your pain into the wounded hands and feet of Jesus. Watch him turn an act of unjust violence into hope and life.”
Adele Ahlberg Calhoun in “Invitations from God”

P4220025

“The Cross is the word through which God has responded to evil in the world. Sometimes it may seem as though God does not react to evil, as if he is silent. And yet, God has spoken, he has replied, and his answer is the Cross of Christ: a word that is love, mercy, forgiveness.”
Pope Francis

Murreagh, Ireland

Murreagh, Ireland

“At the cross the world sinned its sins into Jesus Christ.
And what happens? Jesus forgives.
Why? Because God is like that.
In the defining moment of the cross Jesus defines what God is really like.
God is love—co-suffering, all-forgiving, sin-absorbing, never-ending love.
God is not like Caiaphas sacrificing a scapegoat.
God is not like Pilate enacting justice by violence.
God is Jesus, absorbing and forgiving sin.
At the cross a world of sin is absorbed by the love of God and recycled into grace and mercy.”
Brian Zahnd in “Water to Wine”

jesus on cross arms up

“The image of God is the image of Christ crucified.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer in “The Cost of Discipleship”

Pouring it all out

April 21, 2016 — 1 Comment

“Trust in Him at all times. O people.
Pour out your hearts to Him for God is our refuge.”

Psalm 62:8

I love how trusting God and expressing the feelings in my heart go hand and hand. Trusting God is not some robotic, ‘cut yourself from your mind and heart’ action. It is opening my heart and pouring it out to Him…the same action Mary did, pouring perfume on Jesus’ feet.

Perhaps in some way, the feelings we store in our hearts and then pour out to our Father are like perfume to Him too. Because to be honest with someone, to be truly open and vulnerable with them, is a great gift. And that is a gift we can give to God.

Pouring requires opening. When my heart is open, I can pour out my feelings, my worries, and my concerns to Him.

And then, with my heart open, He can pour Himself, the Spirit of grace and truth, in my life.

The love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit” Romans 5:5
2016-01-12 444

Pouring is not a timid action. It is the action of leaning forward, and letting the stream begin to flow.

“This is what the Lord, the one who made you, says –
the one who formed you in the womb and helps you:
“Don’t be afraid, my servant Jacob,
Jeshurun, whom I have chosen!
For I will pour water on the parched ground
and cause streams to flow on the dry land.
I will pour My spirit on your offspring
and my blessing on your children.

Isaiah 44:2-3

Just for today, Ashley Cleveland’s memoir, Little Black Sheep, is free as an ebook.

I’ve written about her memoir here: Zig zagging step by step
“..she grew up white in the refined, rich, and religious south of the United States where going to church was what nice people did–along with living secret broken lives. Ashley tells her journey from respectability to grace, with a whole lot of detours in between. When she was a teenager, she decided to follow Jesus, but she kept stepping off the path. Again and again, she gave in to her particular temptations: drugs, sex, alcohol. Again and again, she’d return to God and ask forgiveness. Again and again, God took her back. For years, her life was one endless zig zag. Zig onto the path, zag off the path….”

And you can find some quotes from her book here: Speaking of taking it one day at a time

It’s a powerful story of what hope can look like in someone’s life over the years: true, desperate, gritty, unfailing, impossible, redeeming.

Here is the Davd C. Cook publisher link which will point you to several ebook retailers, and gives a video where Cleveland talks about the book. You can get the Kindle version here on Amazon.

[And for those of you who are music lovers, I’d recommend her album, God Don’t Never Change ]

“If you cannot make yourself what you would wish to be, how can you bend others to your will? We want them to be perfect, yet we do not correct our own faults. We wish them to be severely corrected, yet we will not correct ourselves. Their great liberty displeases us, yet we would not be denied what we ask. We would have them bound by laws, yet we will allow ourselves to be restrained in nothing. Hence, it is clear how seldom we think of others as we do of ourselves.

We may learn to bear with one another’s burdens, for there is no person without fault, no person without burden, no person sufficient to himself nor wise enough. Hence we must support one another, console one another, mutually help, counsel, and advise.”
Thomas à Kempis in The Imitation of Christ

♦◊♦

Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own?
No one—for God Himself has given us right standing with Himself.
Who then will condemn us?
No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us,
and He is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.

Romans 8:33-34

♦◊♦

“The church is not made up of spiritual giants;
only broken people can lead others to the cross.”
David J. Bosch

♦◊♦

“Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do.
I have come to call not those who think they are righteous,
but those who know they are sinners.”

Mark 2:17


I’ve decided if I ever start a church, I’m going to call it First Stone Church.

A few weeks ago I was chatting with some friends, talking about this and that. Before I knew it I was throwing stony judgments left and right, trashing and bashing people for breaking vows, being greedy, ignoring the poor, being judgmental [that’s a good one, isn’t it?].

Then a friend mentioned something he had heard about the book of James.  The main message James wants to get across is that instead of me being concerned about my needs and other people’s morality, I should do the reverse. I should worry about my morality and other people’s needs. Ouch.

I was convicted that much of my conversation has this mixed-up focus. I worry too much about other people’s morality and righteousness, or my own needs [including the need to feel justified, right, and self-righteous].  Conveniently this means I don’t have time to deal with my own morality–or the needs of others.

As I thought about all the judgmental comments I had made, I thought of John 8 and the woman caught in adultery. Jesus told the people who were ready to stone her: let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone. Well, that definitely counts me out.

In my self-rationalizing moments, I’d like to think that I wasn’t throwing stones that day when I was chatting with my friends, just pebbles. And then I remember the standard Jesus gave in the Sermon on the Mount: we’re to give up not just murder but anger, not just adultery but lust. So I am pretty sure He’d say that not throwing stones isn’t just about big stones but also little ones. Big sins and little sins both count.

 

various prayer journ 044
Once all the woman’s accusers had left, Jesus told her He didn’t condemn her, and to go and sin no more. He didn’t say adultery wasn’t a sin, or that the woman hadn’t done anything wrong. He wasn’t changing the law or trying to make it smaller or more palatable.

“Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved… But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!” [Matthew 5:17-18, 20]

Jesus is not looking for me to change the law; instead He wants me to change my response to people who break the law. He doesn’t want me to throw stones at them or to condemn them. In other words, He wants me to imitate Him.

We wear crosses to remind ourselves of the way Jesus died when He gave us His righteousness. But someone once said that a cross is an outmoded symbol for us. Back in Jesus’ day that was how the death penalty was carried out. Now it would be more relevant to wear a miniature gas chamber or hypodermic needle or gun around my neck.

Or I could start wearing a stone on a string as a symbol of the first stone, the one I’m never going to throw because I too am guilty and deserve to be condemned.

That’s why in my First Stone Church, as a reminder, I’d have a basket of stones at the entrance. Because the gospel is about putting down our stones, and dealing with our own sin. Because I need God’s grace and mercy as much as the person I’m throwing stones at. Because Jesus came to call the sick, not the healthy, those who deserve to be stoned, not those who think they have no sin. Because I too need to go and sin no more.

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment! James 2:12-13

[edited from the archives]

“Grant us your light, O Lord, that the darkness in our hearts
being wholly passed away, we may come at last to the light
which is Christ.
For Christ is the morning star,
who when the night of this world has passed,
brings to us the promised light of life,
and opens to them eternal day. Amen.”
Saint Bede

11 21 10 thai 4 loi krathong 038

Today is the feast of Epiphany, the celebration of when God the Son was revealed as a human being in Jesus Christ [epiphany means manifestation.] Traditionally, this is the 12th day of Christmas, and marks the end of the festive season celebrating the incarnation.

IMG_9852

The Christmas lights and decorations are being put away. The delight we experienced 12 days earlier among our family and friends has begun to fade.And for those of us the northern hemisphere, we are living in winter light. The days are shorter. At night, the frigid air seems to sharpen the darkness. Spring seems a very, very long way off.

IMG_9856
Perhaps that is why Epiphany is one of my favorite days. I love yet another reminder that there is hope for the dark days ahead, a hope that is woven through Scripture.

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.
Isaiah 9:2

vcca 3 145

But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord,
I wait for God my Savior;
my God will hear me.
…Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light.

Micah 7:7

vcca 3 375

Because of our God’s tender mercy the dawn will break upon us from on high
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Luke 1:78-79

IMG_7238

I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.
John 8:12

11 2 10 dawn and dew 016

I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope He has given to those He called—His holy people who are His rich and glorious inheritance.
Ephesians 1:18

roses 089

“Light, glorious light
I will go where You shine
Break the dawn, crack the skies
Make the way bright before me
In Your light I will find
All I need, all I need is You”
from the song “Oh How I Need You” by All Sons and Daughters

In praise of lament

December 9, 2015 — Leave a comment

We once had a children’s bible one of our daughters dubbed The Happy Bible, because the word ‘blessed’ was translated as ‘happy’. “Happy are the…” read the beatitudes in Matthew. Even, “Happy are those who mourn.” Frankly, I think we all found that a bit jarring, because we knew better.

But truthfully, when I began to follow Jesus, I expected less sadness in my life. I read the verse in Revelations about the hope of heaven when all the tears will be wiped away, and I wanted that now. Many Christian speakers and authors have been happy to oblige me, offering a false faith that acts like a magic button: you press the button with faith and presto! No need to feel sad.

It is true that we have hope of joy in eternal life. It is true that,”The evil one is pleased with sadness and melancholy because he himself is sad and melancholy and will be so for all eternity. Hence, he desires that every one should be like himself.” [Frances de Sales]

The trouble is that “Jesus saves” quickly turns into “I shouldn’t feel sad because faith in Jesus means perpetual sunshine.” The evil one may be pleased with melancholy but he is also pleased with the lies of shallow happiness:
• Believe in God and you will be happy all the time.
• If you have enough faith, enough hope, and enough love, you won’t feel sad.
• If you are sad, don’t be, because God loves you and Jesus fixes everything.
• When you feel sad, just praise God instead.

Thanks to C.S. Lewis and “A Grief Observed”, we have come to believe we can grieve the loss of someone we love. But when a vague sadness moves in like a thick cloud cover, it’s easy for us to view it as a failure of faith.

IMG_7411

It’s not a failure though. When I feel sad, it indicates loss in my life–not only from the loss of a person but from other losses as well: failure, lost dreams, rejection, broken relationships. Given the state of our sin-infused world, there’s more than enough justification for us to feel a heart-wrenching melancholy.

In fact, you could argue that shallow happiness is a far greater danger in turning us away from God. First when the intoxication of happiness makes us believe we don’t need Him, and then when we feel a bitter anger because our happiness has been replaced by suffering .

I remember when a friend of mine, after years of trying to become pregnant and undergoing three in-vitro treatments without success, finally had to face the reality that she and her husband were not going to have a baby. She was exploring Buddhism at the time, a philosophy whose approach to sadness is detachment. Get rid of desire, and you get rid of sorrow. [I should add that the false ‘happy, happy’ approach some Christians promote sounds just as hollow as ‘give up your heart’s desire’.]
But the view of detachment wasn’t working for her. My friend felt the depths of sorrow over her unfulfilled desire and I mourned with her.

God knows and understands this. Reading through the psalms that deal with lament [over a third of the psalms fall into this category], it is clear that God values truth in our inmost parts. These psalms are filled with the heartfelt cries that the world is not the way it is meant to be.

O Lord have mercy on me in my anguish. My eyes are red from weeping; my health is broken from sorrow.Psalms 31:9

The holy reaction to feeling sad is not to ignore it or bury it. Pushing the sadness down and pretending it isn’t there is not a healthy spiritual response either. There isn’t an easy ‘fix’ for sadness. But a start is to let the feelings surface and share them with my loving, heavenly Father. I find a deep comfort knowing that I can pour out my heart to God. What He desires most of all is that I am authentic, not respectable, with Him. He knows the fissures of sadness that seep in the dark places of my heart, even before I tell him.

One day He will wipe every tear away from my eyes. But until then He will listen to me as I cry. He is present with me in my sadness and comforts me. He mourns with me.

“Jesus wept” is the shortest verse in the entire Bible and also one of the most profound. God incarnate was moved to tears. Later, he looked over Jerusalem and cried. And on the cross, I imagine, he cried as well. This is what “Emmanuel, God with us” really means. He came to the darkness we walk in, and experienced, as we do, all the sadness of this world.

This is who I share my sadness with–“a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief, the One who understands.

2013 3 26 rabat rol 046
Where is there sadness in your life?
How is God present with you in it?

“And if I weep may it be as a man who is longing for his home.”
Rich Mullins

My favorite mealtime grace these days [sung to the theme from Superman]:
Thank you Lord, for giving us food
(actions: raise right arm overhead as Superman flying)
Thank you Lord, for giving us food
(actions: raise left arm flying)
For the food that we eat
(actions: standing with both arms over head, to the left)
For the friends that we meet
(actions: standing with both arms over head, to the right)
Thank you Lord, for giving us food!
(actions: move both hands in fists to hips and stand strong like Superman)

IMG_4571

“Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who in His goodness, grace, lovingkindness, and mercy nourishes the whole world.
He gives food to all flesh, for His loving-kindness is everlasting.
In His great goodness, we have never lack for food; may we never lack for good, for the sake of His great Name.
For He nourishes and sustains all, He does good to all, and prepares food for all His creatures that He created. Blessed are You, Lord, who provides food for all.”

IMG_7099

“Peel an orange. Do it lovingly–in perfect quarters like little boats, or in staggered exfoliations like a flat map of the round world, or in one long spiral, as my grandfather used to do. Nothing is more likely to become garbage than orange rind; but for as long as anyone looks at it in delight, it stands a million triumphant miles from the trash heap.”
Robert Farrar Capon

2012 1 29 ric favor farewell 041

The hungry orphans in the movie adaptation of Dickens’ “Oliver Twist” sing one of the best songs about the glories of food:
“Food glorious food
What is there more handsome
Gulped swallowed or chewed
Still worth a kings ransom
What is it we dream about?
What brings on a sigh?
Piled peaches and cream about six feet high”
[complete lyrics here]
IMG_6965

IMG_7020

A few months ago, I read a memoir of sorts, “Washed and Waiting” by Wesley Hill. I’ve called it the struggles of a saint, not because Hill is extraordinarily holy, but because saint means ‘one who is made holy’, and we, the beloved of God, made holy by Jesus, are called to be saints [Romans 1:7].

null_jpg_7853

“The fresh start of the gospel is God’s Groundhog Day. Only everyone around us has a memory as well. And yet each day God gives me another chance. Each time each moment I come to God and ask forgiveness I am washed. There is never, ever, a refusal on his part.”

♦◊♦

“Jenna described that dark time and told me something that has remained with me ever since: “I just wanted to be whole again, Wes, and I thought that by pretending it wasn’t there, the depression would just go away. But ignoring is not the path to redeeming. If I wanted this depression to be redeemed, I had to face it head-on.” I tried to swallow the lump in my throat, realizing those words were for me. Ignoring is not the path to redeeming.”

♦◊♦

“Once Tara described an experience she had had while studying in England for a semester. She had been striving to understand and be what she thought she should understand and be. Finally one night, in a service at Coventry Cathedral, she relaxed and submitted to God’s wound-mending embrace. She felt that God loved her just as she was. I read Tara’s description of that night at Coventry several times, and I realized, with a cold, smarting sense of mingled sadness and helplessness, that I knew very little, firsthand, of what she was describing. My first thought as I got out of bed every morning was not, I am the beloved of God. I had not mastered the discipline, as N. T. Wright calls it, of looking to the cross of Christ and seeing evidence there that I am loved extravagantly and inexorably by the self-giving triune God.
…It has taken years for me to learn, bit by bit, this spiritual practice of meditating on the love of God and to understand that it is central to my struggle… I consciously began the daily effort to view myself as God’s beloved, redeemed by the self-gift of Christ.”

♦◊♦

“When I cannot feel God’s love for me in my struggle, to have a friend grab my shoulder and say, “I love you, and I’m in this with you for the long haul” is, in some ways, an incarnation of God’s love that I would otherwise have trouble resting in.
…No longer was I simply struggling; I was learning to struggle well, with others, in the presence of God.”

♦◊♦

“I’d suggest that living with unfulfilled desires is not the exception of the human experience but the rule. Even most of those who are married are, as Thoreau once said, “living lives of quiet regret.” Maybe they married the wrong person or have the pain of suffering within marriage or feel trapped in their situations and are unable to fulfill a higher sense of calling. The list of unfulfilled desires goes on and on.”

♦◊♦

A friend said to Hill:
“Imagine yourself standing in the presence of God, looking down from heaven on the earthly life you’re about to be born into, and God says to you, ‘Wes, I’m going to send you into the world for sixty or seventy or eighty years. It will be hard. In fact, it will be more painful and confusing and distressing than you can now imagine. You will have a thorn in your flesh…that is the result of your entering a world that sin and death have broken, and you may wrestle with it all your life. But I will be with you. I will be watching every step you take, guiding you by My Spirit, supplying you with grace sufficient for each day.
And at the end of your journey, you will see My face again, and the joy we share then will be born out of the agonies you faithfully endured by the power I gave you. And no one will take that joy— that solid resurrection joy, which, if you experienced it right now, would crush you.’
God is the author of your story. He is watching, supplying you with his Spirit moment by moment.”

“I am struck by the reason given for Israel’s frequent slides into idolatry. We are told that, over and over, they forgot what God had done for them, and began to worship other gods.
Doesn’t it seem strange that turning away from God is blamed on a failure of memory? What about, “The children of Israel found the worship of a fertility goddess more interesting”? Or, “The children of Israel got tired of traveling all the way to Shiloh to worship the Lord, and longed for the convenience of an Ashera pole”?
But no, the Bible tells us they strayed because they forgot. Without the bright truth of Yahweh’s covenant before them, the prevailing beliefs of their time must have seemed reasonable, even practical.
I believe God knew this would be a struggle for His people, and that’s why so many of Israel’s faith traditions – the feasts, the fasts, the tassels, and tefillin – are devoted to remembering. It is why we were given Holy Communion, and the reason behind many of our Christian holidays.”
James Witmer

♦◊♦

“Memory is one of the highest powers in our nature. By it day is linked to day, the unity of life through all our years is kept up, and we know that we are still ourselves. In the spiritual life, recollection is of infinite value.”
Andrew Murray

♦◊♦

Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one from each tribe, and said to them, “Go over before the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.”
Joshua 4:4-7

♦◊♦

blog 038

“Like the Israelites, we could collect stones–small ones, that is–for each item of thanks that we listed in our prayer journal. We could put them in a glass jar that could be left out in plain view. Every day we would see it and remember what God had done for us. So I bought a set of jars, and we started filling them.” from Our stone jar

Post it: God at work

September 30, 2015 — 2 Comments

The humble post-it played a supporting role in a movie I recently saw, “Still Alice”, about a college professor who develops early-onset Alzheimer’s. To help jog her memory, Alice begins to post reminders to herself around the house, particularly in the kitchen and the bedroom where she will be sure to see them. Those reminders are themselves a poignant reminder–they show how important our memory is in the daily routine of our lives.

IMG_6390

A few weeks later, I visited a church that had just finished a week of VBS for kids [does everyone know that acronym for Vacation Bible School?]. On both sides of the church, long sheets of white paper were hung up, covered in colorful post-its.

IMG_5951

The youth pastor explained that the post-its were God-sightings from the week. Any time someone saw or experienced God at work, they made a note on a post-it and put it on the roll of paper. Now on Sunday the entire congregation was able to see the evidence of God’s presence and care.

I don’t know how long the church will leave up these sheets plastered with bits of testimonies, but I hope it’s longer than a week. With the start of school, and the pace of life returning to a faster hum, it’s a challenge to stop and take the time to consider the grace and faithfulness of God that is at work in our daily lives.

We run the risk of developing what Pope Francis calls “spiritual Alzheimer’s”, ‘a progressive decline of spiritual faculties where people forget their personal history with the Lord and lose their memory of the ‘first love’ of their encounter with Him.’

In the daily press of activity, it may not seem so crucial to remember what God has done. But when trouble comes, being able to remember His care and how He has worked in the past becomes vital. It encourages us to know that He is continuing to work, even if we aren’t aware of it yet.

03-17 Lucy and Mimi 176

That’s what the psalmist did during a time of great distress when he felt abandoned and his soul would not be comforted.
My heart meditated and my spirit asked:
…Has His unfailing love vanished forever?
Has His promise failed for all time?
Has God forgotten to be merciful?
Has He in anger withheld His compassion?”
Then I thought, “To this I will appeal:
the years when the Most High stretched out His right hand.
I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
yes, I will remember Your miracles of long ago.
I will consider all Your works
and meditate on all Your mighty deeds.”

Psalm 77:6-12

I think it’s significant that the deeds of the Lord which the Psalmist remember were not limited to events he experienced personally. Since we belong to a world-wide and historical communion of faith, learning about what God has done and is doing in the lives of others is just as important as what He is doing in our individual lives. That’s why it was a blessing for me to see the wall of God-sightings at the church. I was encouraged to witness all the different people who had been touched by His grace in a single week.

IMG_5949

Not all the notes were about spectacular sightings. Sometimes, God works in a big way, doing a miracle like parting the Red Sea. Other times, we see a sign of His gentle faithfulness, like a hand on someone’s shoulder, or the simple beauty of a wildflower. IMG_5598
“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?
Matthew 6:28-30

A few God-sightings from my life recently include:
*Driving up a big hill just as a family from church was walking, so I could give them a ride

*Reading about how You have worked in a woman’s life here

*Listening to a friend share about how to draw closer to You

*Hearing gospel music playing at the vegetable stand
IMG_5950

Where have you seen God at work in your world this week?
How do you want to make note of them?

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.
Psalm 42:1
2013 6 9  432
There’s a short video* going around that shows how powerful our words and actions can be on the people we interact with during the day. Based on the children’s book, “Have You Filled a Bucket Today?” by Carol McCloud,* it illustrates the simple truth that we can build someone up with affirming words or tear them down with unkind words.

It’s a lesson even a kindergartener understands. An impatient word can suck the life out of me; an encouraging word brings a lightness to my heart that can last the whole day.

cjs 2 111

After I watched the video clip, I realized that’s one reason why I need and want to spend time with God. As I read His Word, He tells me how He cares for me. When I listen to Him, I’m getting my bucket filled. My cup overflows. And because my bucket leaks [thanks in part to the accuser who takes delight in saying bad things about me], I need to hear from my Father every day.

Do not fear for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with My righteous right hand
.
Isaiah 41:10

Even to your old age and gray hairs I am He, I am He who will sustain you.
I have made you and I will carry you;
I will sustain you and I will rescue you.
” Isaiah 46:4

“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget, I will not forget you!
See, I have engraved you on the palms of My hands;
your walls are ever before Me.

Isaiah 49:15-16

“I have loved you with an everlasting love;
I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.”

Jeremiah 31:3

bucket

“The Lord your God is with you, He is might to save.
He will take great delight in you,
He will quiet you with His love,
He will rejoice over you with singing.”

Zephaniah 3:17

Your sins are forgiven…
Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Luke 7:48, 50

“Why are you troubled and why do doubts rise in your minds?
Look at My hands and My feet.
It is I myself!
Touch Me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.

Luke 24:38-39

“For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world,
but to save the world through Him.
” John 3:17

Hope does not disappoint us,
because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit,
who He has given us.”
Romans 5:5

Which one of these blessings is God speaking to you today?

With whom can you share His encouragement?

cjs 2 109

Links
Video clip on how to be someone who fills buckets

Have you filled a bucket today?

From “When Sorry Isn’t Enough” by Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas:

“When we apologize, we accept responsibility for our behavior, seeking to make amends with the person who was offended. Genuine apology opens the door to the possibility of forgiveness and reconciliation. Then we can continue to build the relationship. Without apology, the offense sits as a barrier, and the quality of the relationship is diminished. Good relationships are always marked by a willingness to apologize, forgive, and reconcile.”

♦◊♦

On repenting:
Another “step down the road of repentance is implementing the plan. A plan that is not implemented is like a seed that is not planted. Making the plan work requires thought and action. I have often found it helpful to write on an index card the changes I am trying to implement and to post them on the mirror where I shave in the mornings. It is a way of keeping them on the front burner of my mind. I am more likely to make the changes if I am consciously aware of what I am trying to do differently today.”

♦◊♦

On asking for forgiveness:
“When an offense occurs, immediately it creates an emotional barrier between two people. Until that barrier is removed, the relationship cannot go forward. An apology is an attempt to remove the barrier. If you discover that the person’s primary apology language is requesting forgiveness, then this is the surest way of removing the barrier. To that person, this is what indicates that you genuinely want to see the relationship restored.
“A second reason that requesting forgiveness is important is that it shows that you realize you have done something wrong—that you have offended the other person, intentionally or unintentionally. What you said or did may not have been morally wrong. You may even have done or said it in jest. But it offended the other person. He or she now holds it against you. It is an offense that has created a rift between the two of you. In that sense it is wrong, and requesting forgiveness is in order, especially if this is the person’s primary apology language.”

Recently I have been lamenting [and what an apt word that is] the deep pain and hurt I have caused in someone’s life. The damage rose out of my selfishness which, like ordinary mold, comes in thousands upon thousands of varieties. In its myriad forms, my selfishness generates both sins of commission and sins of omission. On a daily basis, I caused hurt by my unloving actions as much as by my unloving failure to act.

This morning as I lamented, I turned to the day’s entry in “God the Enough”, a little devotional guide by Selwyn Hughes. There was God’s incredible response to my lament:

But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Romans 5:20-21

Hughes goes on to ask:
“Is there enough grace in the heart of God to meet and overcome the difficulties created by evil?”

That is a question I have been wrestling with on a personal level. Is there enough grace to meet the difficulties of *my* evil?

The answer is “Yes, in Christ.” And three weeks into Lent seems a good time to ponder how God brought this grace into our world. Hughes explains it like this:

“Sin is without a doubt the biggest problem God has ever had to deal with. When we read the four gospels we see something of the pain God has gone through in order to defeat sin and its consequences. They spell out in terms that are crystal clear how much anguish sin brought to the heart of the Deity. The theologian Martin Kahler worded it like this: ‘The four Gospels are shaped as passion narratives with long introductions. At the heart of each Gospel is a pool of pain.’

Throughout the centuries, Christians have always evaluated the horror of sin by the suffering needed to atone for it. Cornelius Plantinga, in his book Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, spells out the issue in these poignant words:

‘The ripping and writhing of a body on a cross, the bizarre metaphysical maneuver of using death to defeat death, the urgency of the summons to human beings to ally themselves with the events of Christ and with the Person of those events, and then to make that Person and those events the center of their lives—these tell us the main human trouble is desperately difficult to fix, even for God, and that sin is the longest running of all human emergencies.’”

I was struck by the idea that sin is not just my problem, it is God’s problem too. I think I’ve viewed my sin akin to losing at musical chairs. I tried, I failed, and I had to leave the game.

But God viewed my wrongdoing [and everyone else’s] as a problem for Himself. Not only did I suffer the loss of His fellowship, He suffered the loss of mine because the loss brought on by sin goes both ways.

His love for me is not all about me. It’s about Him. Why else would He want to make things right again? Only Love would be willing to sacrifice in order to rescue the lost beloved.

This brings me back to my lament. I see that God is able to sympathize with my sorrow over sin because He also experienced this. But His “pain of searing loss” was on a different level. His sorrow over the suffering of Jesus was pure, undeserved, gracious. He knew beforehand how exquisitely painful the experience would be, yet He was still willing to endure it. Not only for my sake, but also for His.

I am more than ever in awe of His amazing, holy love for me. For this love generates grace abounding, grace all-sufficient, grace increasing without end. Amen.

Speaking of my Father

February 12, 2015 — Leave a comment

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!
I John 3:1

♦◊♦

“How great is a Father’s love to his children! That which friendship cannot do, and mere benevolence will not attempt, a father’s heart and hand must do for his children. They are his offspring, he must bless them; they are his children, he must show himself strong in their defense. If an earthly father watches over his children with unceasing love and care, how much more does our heavenly Father? Abba, Father!
…There is heaven in the depth of that word–Father! There is all I can ask; all my necessities can demand; all my wishes can desire. I have all in all to all eternity when I can say, ‘Father.'”
Charles Spurgeon

♦◊♦

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]

♦◊♦

  “Calling God “Abba” is entering into the same intimate, fearless, trusting, and empowering relationship with God that Jesus had…Calling God “Abba, Father” (see Roman 8:15; Galatians 4:6) is a cry of the heart, a prayer welling up from our innermost being.  It has nothing do with naming God but everything to do with claiming God as the source of who we are.  This claim does not come from any sudden insight or acquired conviction…it is the claim of love.”
Henri Nouwen

♦◊♦

“One Thing Remains”

Higher than the mountains that I face
Stronger than the power of the grave
Constant through the trial and the change
One thing… Remains

Your love never fails, never gives up
Never runs out on me

On and on and on and on it goes
It overwhelms and satisfies my soul
And I never, ever, have to be afraid
One thing remains

In death, In life, I’m confident and
covered by the power of Your great love
My debt is paid, there’s nothing that can
separate my heart from Your great love…”

“The underlying sin behind every sin is treason against the One who made us for love and flourishing. Sin is insanity and destroys what is good, right, and true. Sin makes no sense, is not rational, nor can be reasoned with. Sin thrives in darkness and hates the light. Sin opposes everything God loves and is compelled to ruin God’s plans and purposes to put this world right.

Though the whole human race participates in this defiance, God is unshakably committed to extending his healing grace as far as this deadly curse is found. … He does so, not by acts of military might or zealous terror, but by swallowing the curse like a bitter pill. He enters this fractured world, places himself in our guilty place and endures the strength and horror of evil on a Roman cross until it is fully exhausted through him. He bears the full blast of God’s wrath against all the powers of hell aligned against us.”
David Fairchild

♦◊♦

“The salvation of God … stands on the sacrificial death of Jesus…
Sinful men and women can be changed into new creatures,
not by their repentance or their belief,
but by the marvelous work of God in Christ Jesus which is prior to all experience.”
Oswald Chambers

♦◊♦

“That hand which multiplied the loaves,
which saved sinking Peter,
which upholds afflicted saints,
which crowns believers,
that same hand will touch every seeking sinner,
and in a moment make him or her clean.
The love of Jesus is the source of salvation.
He loves,
He looks,
He touches us,
we live.”
Charles Spurgeon