Thursday, May 24, 2012

Make mine pistachio

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of a messenger who proclaims peace, who brings good news, who proclaims salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God rules!” Isaiah 52:7

I live a besieged life. The Enemy is around and about and I am indeed surrounded and harried.  Which is not all bad, as Matteo reminds me, as the LORD is in the process of peeling away that which is worthy to be lost as we learn to love Him for who He is and not the easy gifts.  However, I know well those hours just before dawn.  It is dark.  And cold.  And it has been a long night.  Everything in me waits for Adonai more than guards on watch wait for morning, more than guards on watch wait for morning. 
And I wait.  

There is movement in the silent crowd.  A faint whisper of hope sparks in the chilled gloom.  It grows.  Swells.  And sweeps across the uplifted faces.  Allegro.  (Cheerful and brisk and upbeat, explained Igor last night, as we celebrated his high school graduation at the local gelateria.) And in the distance, the reaching daybreak glimmers and highlights the approaching messenger.  Agile and adept, He leaps the boulders and small ravines.  Beautiful.

And what is the message He proclaims?  Peace.  Not as the world gives you.  Do not let your heart be troubled.  

This is indeed good news.  Good news in the profound sense, in the same sense as in the beginning when God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good.

Salvation is here.  He has come in triumph to drive out the remnants of the Enemy, heal the brokenness, and plant new vineyards. The created order is being restored.

And I should live in this truth.  With celebration.  The voice of your watchmen—they lift up their voice; together they sing for joy.  They sing for joy because the news that the messenger brings is that the battle has been won.  

Therefore let me sing.  Well, at least in my heart.   Let my step be light as I move through the day.  Peace.  Good news.  Salvation.  

And be grateful for the easy gifts from His hand.  A morning capuchino with a sprinkle of cocoa.  The floaty white clouds.  The fountain gurgling in the greenhouse. Delicious gelato in so many flavors especially salted caramel served with enthusiasm and eaten with beloved friends and family on a breezy summer night.  They are many.  And good.  A foretaste of what is to come.  

Dropping a popped balloon into the trash can where it belongs

The earth will wear out like a garment, and they who dwell in it will die like gnats; but My salvation will be forever, and My righteousness will never be dismayed.  Isaiah 51:6

It’s all about perspective.  What is true and what is not true.  And sometimes, like a lot, I get caught up in stitching up frayed edges and spending way too much time sewing on patches to such worn fabric that it only rips out a bigger hole.

“Listen to Me, you who know righteousness, the people in whose heart is My law; fear not the reproach of man, nor be dismayed at their revilings.”

And sometimes I buy into their system.  The mocking, and let me tell you we of faith, we who know righteousness, do indeed rightly open ourselves up to mocking and reviling, shakes my confidence a bit.  Is it all some complicated made-up game “with the hallmarks of an evolved behavior, meaning that it exists because it was favored by natural selection. It is universal because it was wired into our neural circuitry” (NYT).

That all sounds fancy fine and maybe a little scary, but really what these anthropologists are discovering in the Oaxaca Valley in Mexico is the hole in our heart that only God can fill.  We were created to be one with Him, and nothing else can fill that spot.  No matter how hard we try.

And it only takes one act of Him revealed to smash the plate glass which holds me prisoner from the Real World, His salvation forever.  The materialistic world holds no place for aberrations that deviate from the norm.  One single act pops the balloon.  One leg stretching into wholeness in Nicole’s hands, one foretold dream solidifying, one life transformed.  

I know what is true.  Therefore I will choose not to be dismayed, I set my face like flint against the dictionary definition of consternation and distress, typically caused by something unexpected.  And everlasting joy shall be upon my head; I shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

Listen to Me.   

Therefore I have set my face like flint

The Sovereign LORD has given me His words of wisdom, so that I know how to comfort the weary. Morning by morning He wakens me and opens my understanding to His will.  Isaiah 50:4

I am the weary.  And yet somehow.  Every morning after morning, this Servant wakens me, and makes His word fresh. He opens my understanding to His will.  Perhaps it is because I am simple, or perhaps it is because I am truly weary, but the daily offering of manna is enough to sustain me.  The “What is it?” of His word, what is it that you want me to carry with me on this rock-strewn path today, just for today.  

Part of Jerry’s plan of developing me into a competent Executive Assistant is a daily reading assignment.  Yesterday’s reading was all about envisioning the future, writing down the next ten years and making it happen.  Really, this has not been my experience. Actually, it wasn’t the author’s experience either- and he full out admitted that there were only the faintest hints of his ten-year plan in his ten-year reality. Something inside me balks at the pat you-got-to-make-it-happen tone.  There is certainly a flat-out warning here as well about equipping yourself with your own burning torches. You shall lie down in torment.  Maybe that is all those sleepless nights when we spin our own ideas.  Kindling our own flames?  We get burned.    

But as for me, I marvel in amazement at the unexpectedness of life, the unforetold vistas that open up as I push through a particularly darkly shadow rift into the light, to an overlook of the valley and the clarity of hindsight.  

Therefore, I ask for my daily bread.  His will for today.  

Because I know that tomorrow morning, as I stumble out of bed, behold, there it will be again, upon the face of the wilderness, there will be something for me as light and fine as hoarfrost on the ground.  And it will sustain me.  And the morning after.  And the next.  For the next step.  The lamp unto my feet, hanging low, so that the next footfall holds true and steady.  

Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the voice of His Servant? Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God.  Isaiah 50:10

With a brand new Sharpie

Jesus taught us, saying: “No one sews a piece of unshrunken cloth to an old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and the tear gets worse. And nobody puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost and the skins too. No! New wine into fresh skins!” Mark 2:21–22

Marco wrote this morning or last night or something.  It was a big day in Lugo, Italy yesterday, beyond the news of the earthquake an hour away.  Everybody in every church and in every public place had to bring things for the 250 poor families of Lugo. The name of the event was "man does not live by bread alone,” and the purpose was to collect the sorts of food and stuff to give more dignity to the poor (tomato sauce, meat, yogurt, milk, and soap).

It turned out very nicely: everybody actively participated. But the main thing was that during the First Communion, kids had to write letters to Jesus.

The priest read one in front of the assembly:

Dear Jesus, 

Today I have to write you on this totally white piece of paper, and I am definitively excited about meeting you today, but I feel that the white paper has to be me, so, dear Jesus feel free to write on me. 

See you.

It was also a big day in Tucson, Arizona, beyond the somewhat tepid display of a solar eclipse.  Our friend Frederic was baptized in the rather odd pool hidden under the back rows of folding chairs at the Vineyard.  We all gathered around, with what I suspect were very broad smiles.  And Fred stood up tall, calm and clear, with that wry understated vulnerability with which he has taken to speaking.

I feel happy, loved, and different. I noticed I can call myself a Christian now.  God is always with us, with me. I have crossed over from death to life. I heard His words and have faith in His promises. He listens to each prayer and forgives us our sins. He doesn’t love me more or less because of my deeds. God is a giver and he is always accepting. I see things from a different point of view now and I am so thankful. I am eager to learn more, because God has become the priority in my life.

And faithful Alex, not so calmly and clearly, prayed a blessing, and with one hand behind his head, and another gripping Fred’s hand, let him slide all the way under water, and rise up again to loud cheering.

With eegees and no frisbee at Himmel Park afterwards.

Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you

Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?

Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me. Isaiah 49:15

Ah, a verse I get.  I understand this one with all that I am.  My children do not even have to be of my womb and I carry them engraved on the palms of my hands.  I totally realized this yesterday evening at some hippie bar woven together from old VW parts and vintage door frames- playing old time rock n roll with a belting bluesy woman up front– wonder why it was selected from all the music joints in Austin for Mr. Voelkel?

Anyway, as I watched Ali twist in his familiar way and turn to explain an important point to his father Hussein, I knew what it means to carry him engraved on the palm of my hand.  Or the broad smile that fills me to hear Mateo’s voice on that silly little cell phone that never works.  Or the roses on the dining room table from Max and Andrea.  Or the gChat query from Heather: hey how's your day going today? Why is Marco posting an alligator story on Facebook?  Yes please Cameron the door is open. Chaska sends me suggested summer reading.  The beat goes on.  

And I am His nursing child.  Wrapped in His protective arm, His smile as He watches my least flicker because I am beautiful.  Not because of cleverness or goodness or charm, but  from the body of my mother He named my name.  He knew me and formed me from the womb to be His servant.  

This is the compassion in which I can rest, for the Lord who is faithful has chosen me.  


Friday, May 18, 2012

He Who leads you in the way you should go

Oh that you had paid attention to my commandments!
Then your peace would have been like a river,
and your righteousness like the waves of the sea. Isaiah 48:18

Indeed my neck is an iron sinew and my forehead brass; my thoughts are obstinate.  How many times do I have to wrest my thoughts away from the fretting or frustrations or spinning plots which occupy them?  

His commandments and paths are for my own good.  Over and over my actions and thoughts show that I believe otherwise.  It is out of love and my best interests that He longs to lead me beside still waters and make me lie down in green pastures.  

Ali’s father, (BTW his parents are so very gracious and full of kind smiles and, I think the best word for them is genteel - which is striking when one considers all that they have been through together... remembering that Ali was born in Saddam Hussein’s prison) asked me yesterday, as we sat at a round picnic table at the and ate barbecue pork and beef ribs, and beef brisket, and sausage, and chicken, and turkey and cole slaw and baked beans and potato salad and bread and huge styrofoam cups of iced tea, seriously all that, while listening to a trio sing about why they would never leave Texas on an upright bass, a snare set, and a finger-flying gueetar.  Anyways, the conversation had drifted to the heaps of college applications that Ali and Max and I had filled out for Ali oh-so-long-ago, and Ali’s father asked me, “Did I think that Ali had ended up at the best college?

I paused.  And the answer rushed over me, much like this river of peace.  Oh yes.  Oh yes.  The LORD God Almighty, who from the beginning of time has carried Ali Rawaf, now Ali Abdul Karim because of a goof-up at passport office, in His heart and hand is in control to work His good purpose.  And Ali’s father agreed with me, once Ali had translated my response to Arabic.  This is true.  And we can simply stand back and be amazed.

It does not mean that Ali did not have to work long hours at two or three jobs and take classes in the summer and at two schools and receive weird phone calls from vaguely crazy refugees at all hours of the night, and that he should have sat by twiddling his thumbs while God moved mountains, but it is clear that the Almighty did the heavy lifting. 

They did not thirst when he led them through the deserts; He made water flow for them from the rock; He split the rock and the water gushed out.

And He is our peace.  And our righteousness which shines like noon day. 

They wander about, each in his own direction

You felt secure in your wickedness,
you said, “No one sees me”;
your wisdom and your knowledge led you astray,
and you said in your heart,
“I am, and there is no one besides me.”  Isaiah 47:10

This is a world of tumbling dominos.  JPMorgans hit the news on a daily basis.  A steady stream of CNN word bites.  Flipping through this morning’s pages of the New York Times turns into a twisted found poem of sorts: abandoning, turmoil, scramble, void, investigation, neglected, drastic, disaffection, pervert the course of justice.  

And the tumbling dominos do not simply take down the rich and powerful; they crush the hapless bystander as well, the widows and orphans of Isaiah 47.  Earthly wisdom, according to James 3, is full of bitter jealousy and selfish ambition that causes mental confusion and disarray and outward disorder and every evil thing.  

And then there is wisdom from above.

Wisdom from above produces a harvest of righteousness, sown in peace by those who make peace.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.

From ancient times things not yet done

...these things you carry are borne
as burdens on weary beasts.  Isaiah 46:1

Here the prophet Isaiah is speaking of the gods that the Babylonians carried with them into captivity.  They stoop, they bow down together, they cannot save they cannot save.  And while I do not so much lavish gold and weigh out silver from the purse to craft a god, there are other places where I place my hope.   

Certainly one cannot hope that the political systems in America, nor of the world at large, will bring justice and truth.  If it’s not one thing it is another, choked with corruption to protect and maintain the powerful.  Justice and right are but trinkets to be manipulated by the powers that be.  

Not the church.  The church is full of broken sinners just as myself.  Strangled by complacency and the engrained patterns.

Not in common decency, in promises made and civil discourse.  Surely that is not too much to ask.  Indeed.  Life is not fair.  

Not in stuff.  That’s for darn tootin’.  My little Mac’s warranty expires in three weeks, and I am sure that it is not far to follow.  Tom’s Shoes, most noble of brands, never responded to my email bewailing the hole after just three weeks of wear.  And my Service Now light is flashing every time the Rabbit hops even though I just serviced it a week ago.  

Not even in my beloved family, extended over the miles and beyond the limits of DNA.  Defined more by how quickly they will jump out of bed at two in the morning to answer a phone call than by actual blood ties.  But as my momma knows, Things Fall Apart.  Pots of gold evaporate.  And of course the broken sinner thing again. 

Which segues into especially not myself.  I am not trustworthy.  My followership is fraught with timidity that bespeaks poorly of what do I really believe and the sort of wavering walk that is not wisdom from above.  Wisdom so clearly described in this most simple of translations: pure, friendly, gentle, sensible, kind, helpful, genuine, and sincere. And my little clay pot that I carry it all in is cracking: the memory is fading, the knees are creaking, the eye is twitching.  Not so very dependable.

Therefore.  Therefore I must remember and stand firm, recall it to mind.  Me the transgressor.  

I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me,
declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, “My counsel shall stand,
and I will accomplish all my purpose,”

even to your old age I am He,
and to gray hairs I will carry you.
I have made, and I will bear;
I will carry and will save.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

But woe to that man by whom the offense cometh

The LORD changed rivers into deserts, and water-springs into thirsty ground, A fruitful land into salt flats, because of the wickedness of those who dwell there...  Whoever is wise will ponder these things, and consider well the mercies of the LORD. Psalm 147:3

I reread Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Speech yesterday and noticed what he said.  

 One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war... Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."

God will not be mocked.  His justice will be done.  And it is for our sake that He acts, for the sake of all the nations and all the peoples, that you “may know and believe and understand that I am He.”  

He does not choose the painless and straightforward path, “an easier triumph.”  He is at work and there is none who can turn it back.  

Yet we are told to fear not,
“Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”
I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud
and your sins like mist;
return to Me, for I have redeemed you.
Sing, O heavens, for the Lord has done it;
shout, O depths of the earth;
break forth into singing, O mountains,
O forest, and every tree in it!
For the Lord has redeemed and will be glorified.  Isaiah 44:23

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Saturday in the park

But now thus says the Lord,
He who created you, O Jacob,
He who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are Mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. Isaiah 43:1-3

It is a beautiful morning in Washington DC.  Straight up above a half moon rests.  Quietly after its glorious bouts a week ago. The hurried head-down marching into battle black suits are not here.  It is Saturday morning.  Sill too early for even the joggers under the oak trees and past the heaped-up berms of blooms.  The subway rattles and squeaks in the distance. The man dressed in brown unload five-gallon buckets of HaaganDaz ice cream through the front door of Ted’s Montana Grill with real buffalo burgers. That’s where I ate a few nights ago, long tables pushed together with lots of laughter or grave conversations, depending which end of the table one was at.  I was in the middle, sort of tracking with both sides.  

We all pass through waters, with the waves splashing our very nostrils as we wade tippy-toe, trying not to lose our balance and be swept away.  We all pass through the flames that burn away the dross, leaving us a bit singed around the edges but clean.  Sean said yesterday that it is a big fat lie that God will not take us through any test or trial too big for us, and if we hear some preacher dude lay that one on us, we should pack up our hymnals, grasp each child by the wrist and head for the door.  What is true is that God will not take me through any test or trial that is too big for Him. Him at my side, a shielding wall of protection, a healing balm of restoration.  

And as I led the closing prayer last night, praising God for each and every one of those bright-eyed but absolutely individual middle school spellers I was struck that it is His joy to redeem us, to redeem me, to be my high tower, to protect me under that shadow of His wing, to be my refuge in time of trouble.  

May His name be praised. 

Suddenly the number of dog-walkers, and lightly shod runners, and people with phones pressed to the ear, and airplane pilots dragging small wheeled suitcases, and guys after the workout at the gym have multiplied.  

Time to head back to the chandeliered ballroom and the nervous man running the show, simply praying that there will be no disasters.  No disasters too big for Him.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Sort of like a very berry oatmeal at Caribou’s

He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed He will not break,
and a faintly burning wick He will not quench;
He will faithfully bring forth justice.
He will not grow faint or be discouraged.  Isaiah 42:2-3

This is the Servant, filled with the Spirit, chosen and in Him the LORD delights.  

I too long to be His servant in whom He delights.  Here it is laid out so very clearly what my life is to look like.  Quiet and steady, dependent on His upholding hand.  Gentle with the bruised and faint-of-heart.  Faithful, with eyes fixed on the goal, choosing Truth and not discouragement.  Taking control of every thought so I can pray.

And as I was reminding Frederic this morning, He has many servants who rise up early in the morning and set out about their seemingly mundane tasks.  For instance, his history teacher at Tucson High.  Not much glory in the day-to-day.  Lots of papers to grade, gum to scrape, daily plans to be trompled by the reality of young restless souls.  But she can place a hand on a shoulder, affirm, and post a verse on his Facebook page that is exactly a breath of hope to a smoldering ember.  It’s not fancy or fine, but it satisfies.  Sort of like a very berry oatmeal at Caribou’s.  Because He is the one who satisfies, it is He who keeps.  It is He who has chosen, in spite of all His glorious splendor, to bring forth justice and righteousness through such humble clay as myself.  

Thus says God, the Lord,
Who created the heavens and stretched them out,
Who spread out the earth and what comes from it,
Who gives breath to the people on it
and spirit to those who walk in it:
“I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness;
I will take you by the hand and keep you.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

All the iPads are out

When the poor and needy seek water,
and there is none,
and their tongue is parched with thirst,
I the Lord will answer them;
I the God of Israel will not forsake them.
I will open rivers on the bare heights,
and fountains in the midst of the valleys.
I will make the wilderness a pool of water,
and the dry land springs of water.  Isaiah 41: 17-18

In the world of black suits, white shirts and shiny shoes.  The powerful and poised on all sides.  The guy next to me has hair just a tad longer that curls over the tops of his ears and his suit is grey herringbone.  Must be a college professor.  Drinking Ginger Ale at Caribu’s. Some sales man has just flown in to meet with him but had a little problem with an accident on the expressway.  A veritable parade of somber suits have gathered on the other side.  A lot of striding outside into the brisk wind to catch important phone calls.  Glossy folders being distributed for perusal.  Scanning the charts, tables and graphs.  Texting.  Everyone is very serious and brows are absolutely furrowed.  Except for the bustling Executive Assistant.  Subdued murmuring from all sides.  Nope, he’s an architect.   Listening to the pitch with a bemused look.  “We have our own way of doing things.” The young wannabes don’t know about ironing the creases out of the sleeves if you can’t afford dry cleaning. 
And so the earth spins.  Those who strive shall be as nothing.  

There is a sign posted in front of me.  For only $1.59 you can Save. Heal. Feed. Hope.  Change the Score.  Another brown suit joins the grey suit.  The folks on the left are all black suits.  

And as He works.  And keeps His promises.  I will fear not, for He is with me.  I will not be dismayed, for He will help me.  He will uphold me with His right hand.

That they may see and know that hand of the LORD has done this.

“And when I took over the Navy account, in 2007, my goal in life was to...”  And the Executive Assistant is left straightening up the chairs and empty water bottles.  

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Lift up your eyes on high and see

Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
His understanding is unsearchable.  Isaiah 40:28

It is really quite remarkable that He does not grow weary.  Grow weary of us.  His lambs.  We are so ornery and stumbling about in every which way but after Him.  Distracted by the least little weed in the path.  Tripping up over the least little obstacle.  

To whom then will you compare Me,
that I should be like him? says the Holy One.

His ways are not our ways.

It is He who sits above the circle of the earth,
and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;

And yet.
He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might He increases strength.

He is for us. He is not against us.  It is not antipathy or indifference that lifts Him so far out of our realm of comprehension.  It is His love and mercy that we cannot wrap our minds around.  But we do not have to understand.  We simply need stop gamboling about.  And wait.  
Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.  Isaiah 40: 28-31

And the LORD will guide you

A voice says, “Cry!”
And I said,“What shall I cry?”
Go on up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good news;
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good news;
lift it up, fear not;
say to the cities of Judah,
“Behold your God!”  Isaiah 40: 6-9

Sometimes the voice of God is clear.  And it is but ours to say, “Speak, LORD, your servant is listening.”

So you can love the least of these, even Me

He will tend His flock like a shepherd;
He will gather the lambs in his arms;
He will carry them in His bosom,
and gently lead those that are with young.  Isaiah 40:11

Surely tend and tenderness come from the same root word.  And as of late, I am struck by His tenderness for each of us, His beloved sheep.  Each of us is wounded and aching, longing to be swept up into His bosom.  

Last night I watched The Way, the Emilio Estevez movie with Martin Sheen.  (Huh, I didn’t realize that they were father/son in real life, which adds another layer to the movie, that was dedicated to the grandfather.)  The chatting led to a conversation about metaphors, but there it stopped, due to weariness of mind and body.  

But yes, the ultimate metaphor.  The road of life.  Each of us on a pilgrimage of sorts, with our assorted burdens, yearning to be set free from that which binds us.  Most of us, me for instance, pretty much set our jaw and trudge as quickly as our blistered feet can carry us.  

And each so beloved.  Cameron touched on this yesterday during worship.  The need to truly believe and accept His love before we move forward to live, to love others, to serve.  

We don’t quite believe it.  We each feel deep down that we need to carry our pebble, tucked into our pocket, to pile beneath the cross, to tip the balance in our favor.  

But that is a lie.  He declared on the cross, “It is finished.”  There is nothing more to be done.  

And thus I can stop.  Put down my pebbles, the ones I throw at other sheep when I am not stacking them up in tidy heaps to prove to myself and the other pilgrims that I am worthy.  Allow Him to scoop me into His arms.  And pour oil over my wounds.  And rest in His love.  

He will not be mocked

Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers, and read it; and Hezekiah went up to the house of the Lord, and spread it before the Lord. And Hezekiah prayed to the Lord:  “O Lord of hosts, God of Israel,enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth. Incline your ear, O Lord, and hear; open your eyes, O Lord, and see; and hear all the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to mock the living God.  Truly, O Lord, the kings of Assyria have laid waste all the nations and their lands,  and have cast their gods into the fire. For they were no gods, but the work of men's hands, wood and stone. Therefore they were destroyed.  So now, O Lord our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone are the Lord.”
And the LORD God replied, 
“‘Have you not heard
that I determined it long ago?
I planned from days of old
what now I bring to pass."
“Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the king of Assyria: He shall not come into this city or shoot an arrow there or come before it with a shield or cast up a siege mound against it. By the way that he came, by the same he shall return, and he shall not come into this city, declares the Lord.  For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.”  Isaiah 35
And so today, as I join Hezekiah, laying out my requests before the LORD of hosts, spreading them before His presence, He reminds me, “I Am.”  He is at work, from the days of old.  And I can rest in that assurance.  

Perfect submission, all is at rest,
I in my Savior am happy and blest,
Watching and waiting, looking above,
Filled with His goodness, lost in His love.

swirling stars overhead

The Lord is exalted, for He dwells on high;
He will fill Zion with justice and righteousness,
and He will be the stability of your times,
abundance of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge.  Isaiah 33: 6-7

One of our favorite family things is popping down the lid of the Safari and do a drive about, down Speedway, speeding (relatively, remember this is the Safari) out and and away from it  all, wending past the last of big houses, up Gate’s Pass, out and out further through Sahuaro East, turn around now and look back; those ridges were in a dozen movies, lined with the shadows of the indians just before they swooped down on the hapless cowboys.  And the lost hubcap is also part of the memories now.  Swing around, past Dove in the Desert, and then the final ascension, up A Mountain, which I presume Dustin now knows, cactus by cactus.

And there it lies, spread out before us.  The quiet.  The lights, piled close together in the center, until they dissipate one by one into lonely foothills in all directions.  The streaming lights down I10, connecting one busyness with another.  Bright sports lights and small uniformed bodies moving a soccer ball back and forth.  Dark park patches.  The cemetery is dark as well.  A few other bodies jostle and settle along the roadway and join us in watching.  All is calm.  All is at rest.   It’s all a matter of perspective.  

He who dwells on high sees it all.  Nothing takes Him by surprise.  He is still in His presence.  Exalted.  And He will be the stability of my times.  And I can join His quiet and rest in His abundance of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge.


Thursday, May 3, 2012

I can't carry it for you, but I can carry you.

As for the scoundrel—his devices are evil; he plans wicked schemes to ruin the poor with lying words, even when the plea of the needy is right. But he who is noble plans noble things, and on noble things he stands. Isaiah 32: 7-8

Ah, yesterday there welled up in my heart a great desire to be about noble things.  There is no glorious sweep of broad gleaming vistas nor firelit tales of epic merit in the daily patter of Art Festivals or teacher certifications or stopping by Sunflower to pick up some bananas for Igor and Greek breads for Alan.  

And yet.  I am reminded by Sam Gamgee that we are each part of the unfolding grandeur, and even my quiet little bit, plucking a path through the boulders as the setting sun casts dark shadows, has a role, steps to the final climax.  Sam reminded Frodo of “...the great stories... The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end... But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow... A new day will come, and when the sun shines, it will shine out the clearer... Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn’t. They kept going because they were holding onto something... That there’s some good in this world... and it’s worth fighting for.”

Marco just called. It was a rough day.  Some young twenty-year-old whippersnapper who was doing postgraduate work at his Johns Hopkins program was like, “And what are you doing in this program?  Do you think you have any business here?  Do you really think you are going to get a job at the United Nations?  Here is my phone number if you need my help.”  And as he stood fingering this slip of paper (there is some artistic license here because it was a very bad connection) waiting by the train station, another woman approached him.  She was from Zambia and in the same program.  And even though they do not know much about each other, she started a conversation. “We are called to be light, and even if you don’t feel like doing it, you just have to do it because you are not doing it for yourself, you are doing it for others.  Righteousness is not about yourself.  It’s like smiling, you don’t smile for yourself, you smile for others.” She added something about rich people and the eye of the needle, and disappeared into the crowd.  But this was enough for Marco.  Enough to settle down in front of the stack of textbooks, and start memorizing all of the economic theory and business intricacies, word for word.  Perfectly.  To do it for others.  

We are all characters in the one story, the story of redemption.  And perhaps my job is to just stir up a little rabbit stew, longing for a little salt and herbs, and spoon it out.  Cup by cup.  Spoonful by spoonful.  Until the very last page, and I arrive to step inside the door, and say, “Well, I’m back.”  

How long

“Ah, stubborn children,” declares the Lord,“who carry out a plan, but not mine, and who make an alliance, but not of my Spirit...” Isaiah 30:1
How long will I seek support, wisdom and attitude from the world and its incessant prattle, rather than the face of God?
Seek My face.
Your face will I seek.  
For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel,“In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”  Isaiah 30: 15

Pounding on the door

 And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide Himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.  Isaiah 30: 20-21

A promise.  A promise made to a stubborn people.  But beloved.  He is ever eagerly waiting to be gracious, and “He exalts Himself to show mercy.”  The act of mercy gives glory and honor and praise to Him.  Rightly deserved.

And thus, I like the widow woman in Christ’s story, will pound at the door, and ask this for His children.  For He is but good, and gives good gifts to His children.  

Perhaps the dark is just in my mind

Deliver me, O LORD, by your hand from those whose portion in life is this world.  Psalm 17:14
Ah, you who hide deep from the Lord your counsel, whose deeds are in the dark, and who say, “Who sees us? Who knows us?” You turn things upside down! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, “He did not make me”; or the thing formed say of him who formed it, “He has no understanding”?  Isaiah 29: 15-16

Therefore my only prayer should really be, “LORD make me soft clay, tender and pliable to Your touch.”

You would think I would learn sometime, from the many times that I stand back and am amazed at His work around me, and in me.  And even through me though I be the least of these clay pots that hold His treasure.  

And as I wrestle with how I should pray this to the LORD God Father of mine, I am very aware of something else: He turns things upside down.  His values are not the world’s values, His ways are not the world’s ways.  And so often, I am left speechless, with only His Spirit aching within.  Perhaps not often enough.  

Las tres hijas

To whom will He teach knowledge, and to whom will He explain the message? Those who are weaned from the milk, those taken from the breast? For it is precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little. Isaiah 28:9-10

Unfortunately, knowledge is not easy.  One would like to think that quick Wikipedia facts would count for it all, and whenever the need arises, we could punch a button and have the problem solved.  

Inline image 2     Inline image 3    Inline image 9

It is a long slow process requiring diligence.  Like Alan building that adobe wall out front.  Really, I think he worked on it for about two years. Or any of these art projects of his.  Shovelful by shovelful.  Brick by brick. Every day after work, he would add another layer.  Or frame something.  Shift things a little bit.  Just slightly.  So everything could slide into its place.   

And every now and then, there is the “Ah ha!” moment, when there is a jolt which clarifies a whole new understanding of the message.  The Big Point.  But not so often.  It’s more here a little, there a little.  To build something meaningful, and sturdy, and beautiful.  

And we have a patient God, who has been since the beginning of time, revealing His truth, and Who will stop at nothing to make it clear.  May His name be praised.  

Pity? It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity and Mercy.

One is calling to me from Seir,
“Watchman, what time of the night?
Watchman, what time of the night?”
The watchman says:
“Morning comes, and also the night.
If you will inquire, inquire;
come back again.”  Isaiah 21: 11, 12

All the scary stories that point accusing fingers at the hateful, vengeful Old Testament God miss a major point, the Jonah point. (“And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”) This is the God who stops at nothing to bring back His people, the work of His hands.  Even as the breaking dawn of justice reaches up past the dark horizon, He is pleading, “Come back, come back.”

May I be filled with the same mercy today as I wend my through life, filled with His people, the work of His hand.