Monday, October 29, 2012

And they straightaway left their nets and followed Him

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.  1 John 1:1-3

So, a long time ago, I sort of wrote a book for someone else.  His name went on the cover and he did all the fancy book tours and talked on Oprah and Geraldo and CNN.  But really I didn’t care because I learned a lot about memory and false memory and how the mind works.  And how really retelling stories erases the old tape, and all that remains is the retold and thus reality can shift over time.  

And we all know that we sift what we see and hear through our preconceptions.  Take the political debates.  Please.  Are we almost done yet?  But before the debater even has time to take a second breath, pundits of all persuasions are ripping into the text that we all saw and heard and retelling it, sweaty lip by furrowed brow, to fit their plotline.  

So what makes John’s story any different?

It sort of makes me think of Alan’s recent political shift.  Well, he says he did not move one iota, but that everyone else scooted over.  But really he was pretty set.  All about personal and fiscal responsibility, hard work, standing up for the individual, particularly the ones with no voice and all against mindless bureaucracies taking over the world inch by inch, form by form, file by file.

But then he started looking at what he knew.  What he knew really well, like education.  Like illegal immigrants.  And listening and watching.  And the stories didn’t fit- the way things were and had always been were suddenly were blown open and he started seeing and hearing with a new perspective.  And was free to listen to both sides of the stories now, because the ball had started rolling.  At a small level.  Obviously politics, well, we are talking about very broken man-made systems stumbling along with lots of power and money and craziness.  But we are talking about a paradigm shift.  Which is not the way people work.  We like to make decisions and stick by them.  It makes everything simpler.  Avoids controversy.  

Now one thing that Paul knew was Jewish law.  Every jot and tittle, every discussion point and every applied implication.  He had a plan and he was on the road to somewhere.  Damascus.  And suddenly with one bolt of light he gained a new perspective.  So he had to take three years out of his life and sort through things again, wiggle the boards that built his platform and pull out the rotten planks.

Peter and John were fishermen.  And they absolutely knew their business.  And life had a sweet rhythm, up early, notice the sky and the wind because weather was paramount, and where to drop the nets, this was their field of expertise.  Until one day this guy shows up and tells them to toss the nets on the other side of the boat.  And um, somehow the winds and the waves obeyed Him.  No way.  That doesn’t happen.  And trees shriveled up overnight.  And fish coughed up tax money.  Over and over again.  Three years of smashing down old stories of how things are, until there was not one single preconception left standing.

People who know me, even those who love me, will pretty much agree that my very most annoying habit is interrupting.  I stop listening, start thinking about the next thing, and finish sentences for whoever is speaking.  That’s really ugly.  Unpleasant.  And foolish.  Yeah, yeah, I know.  

And John is saying here, “I thought I knew.  But I was wrong. Life is not the same old same old.  And I have seen.  I have touched.  He has reclined against my chest.  This real.  I waited and listened to the whole story.”

May I too wait. With a closed mouth.  And an open heart.  So I may know the Truth and be set free.  That my joy may be complete.  

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Way, with a detour or two

Happy are the people whose strength is in you! whose hearts are set on the pilgrims’ way.  Psalm 84:4

What does it mean to be happy?

I can think of two sorts of happiness right off the bat.  One comes from the confidence that no matter if I stumble or head down the wrong ravine, I will be able to eventually end up well, I know where the sun rises and sets, and really this enough. This is a deep satisfaction that the ground underneath my feet is solid.  That even if the moment by moment sometimes dashes straight through the prickly underbrush I am confident I can find my way home.  

And the other happy are the springs of water along the way, if I bother to notice.  Promised yet sometimes difficult to discern, unless one is alert and intentional.   It really helps to have a camera around my neck, to look at the world through a lens that cuts out all of the clutter and frames life clearly.

So a couple of weeks ago Giovanni had fall break and not much to do.  So mom dropped him off at the Sabino Canyon parking lot and pointed him east, to Seven Falls, which should be plenty a fairly safe and relatively entertaining way to pass time for an almost seventeen-year-old.  He had a bottle of water, a sandwich or two, and that’s about it, but he had looked at the map and sort knew what’s what, and all was good.

But the problem is that just as he was about to turn down the path marked on the map, two girls told him, “No, no, it’s the next one,” so off he went. Way off.  Like ten hours hiking by himself in the Sonoran desert in late summer.  Yes, the first week of October is still summer in Tucson, because it’s still 100 degrees.  In the shade. 

And when he got back he had a lot of stories.  A question about the water quality that one finds in a small puddle after one’s own water ran out three hours ago.  The one guy he did meet who was very effusive about the beauties of the Santa Catalinas.  And waved his arms around a lot.  And pretty much the rest of the time it was just Giovanni and, well, because he has done El Camino de Santiago with his father before, he was aware of God.  A spiritual pilgrimage.  He got it.  But to me, the most important thing Giovanni had with him was his camera.  So he saw things differently that someone worrying about the sun and the heat and the aloneness and where the heck was he and why.  He was focused on the small beauties.  And the springs and pools.

As they go through the Valley of Bitterness
they make it a place of springs;
the early rain also covers it with pools.

They go from strength to strength;
each one appears before God in Zion.
Inline image 1
And at the end of the day, when I, who was imagining Giovanni pleasantly paddling about in seven cascading falls with sweet young things with tiny bikinis and all of my motherly advise had been about not smoking dope and nothing about people dying all the time in the Sonoran Desert without water, finally received the call to go pick him up at last, just as dusk was settling, I found a very cheerful young man, absolutely pleased about the unexpected turns of his path.  Happy.  Both kinds of happy.

So for the rest of my life, I have pictures. Pictures framed in truth.  With light.  And happy are they whose strength are in You.

Shutting the door behind me

Of Jesus, it is written: “In the morning, long before dawn, He got up and left the house and went off to a lonely place and prayed there.” Mark 1:35

Without solitude, it is virtually impossible to live a spiritual life.  Solitude begins with a time and a place for God, and Him alone.  If we really believe not only that God exists but also that He is actively present in our lives– healing, teaching, and guiding– we need to set aside a time and a space to give Him our undivided attention.  Jesus says, “Go to your private room and, when you have shut your door, pray to the Father who is in that secret place.” -Henri J. M. Nouwen, Making All Things New

The nights are long and quiet when Daddy stays here. A good quiet.  I know I don’t want to think about things, because I desperately need rest so I can be perky in the morning.   so it is a gentle release, release, release of all the loose thoughts that come tumbling in.  A stillness, with just a tiny edge of alert to spring off the couch and into action.  

And as I think about this aging process, for myself and for my parents, so very personally, and in the abstract of the world around me, as each of us slides into the unwanted and unsought after, it is very clear that it too is a gift from God, one more opportunity, to release.  To admit There is a God, and I am not He.  To be led into the tiny steps and humble dependence where there is peace.

And yesterday, when Nicole called while I was juggling a bunch of almost crashing balls, we reminded each other of this truth, that peace is never from the circumstances, it is from the release.  Our trust in His masterful goodness bringing all things together, working through all things, reconciling all things to the glory of Christ.The anguish is all in my head.  

And what did He pray?

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Your Name. 
May Your kingdom come, and Your will be done, on earth as in heaven.

In each and every tiny step.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Shushing the voices in my head

I will walk in the presence of the LORD in the land of the living. Psalm 116:8

A spiritual discipline, is the concentrated effort to create some inner and outer space in our lives, where obedience can be practiced.  A spiritual discipline sets us free to pray or, to say it better, allows the Spirit of God to pray in us.  -Henri J. M. Nouwen, Making All Things New

The question is how is this journey like a gift, and how has it been flat out hard work.  

Today is Giovanni’s birthday.  So I am thinking about gifts.  Giovanni really doesn’t want any gifts... he has his parents’ bottomless credit card, really, so stuff doesn’t matter.  It’s kind of funny, a just turning seventeen-year-old asking for a family dinner for his birthday.  And when I asked him to pick a day between right now, or when his high school chums were having a party, he said that really, he would like both nights.  Especially if he could make the food.  So last night we had bread and olives and real mozzarella cheese and chocolate and berries under the twinkly lights to celebrate his birthday in Italy.  And it was good.

The thing about a gift by definition is that it is undeserved.  It is a reflection of the giver and not the receiver.  It is not a reward nor is it a prize.  It is freely offered.  And all the cost is borne by the giver.  

The hard part is the decision to receive the gift.  Over and over.  That’s what Jesus lived.  The temptations in the desert.  The early morning prayers.  Setting his face to Jerusalem.  Not my will but your will be done.

Once I have shushed the voices in my head, the rest is easy.  He does all the heavy lifting with His grace and strength and love.  It’s just that moment, pause.  Beat.  Yes.  And kneel down and pick up my cross and follow Him, in His presence as long as I have breath, in the land of the living.

Interesting.  That old rugged cross is the gift, in so many ways.

In the midst of the clicking and tapping wind storm

There he came to a cave and lodged in it. And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and He said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, thrown down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” And He said, “Go out and  stand on the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 1 Kings 19: 9-13

From all that I said about our worried, overfilled lives, it is clear that we are usually surrounded by so much outer noise that is is hard to truly hear our God when He is speaking to us.  He have often become deaf, unable to know when God calls us and unable to understand in which direction he calls us.
Thus our lives have become absurd.  It the world absurd we find the Latin word surdus, which means “deaf.”  A spiritual life requires discipline because we need to learn to listen to God, who constantly speaks but whom we seldom hear.
When, however, we learn to listen, our lives become obedient lives.  The obedient comes from the Latin word audire, which means “listening.”  A spiritual discipline is necessary in order to move slowly from an absurd to an obedient life, from a life filled with noisy worries to a life in which there s some free inner space where we can listen to our God and follow His guidance.
Jesus’ life was a life of obedience.  He was always listening to the Father, always attentive to His voice, always alert for His direction.  Jesus was “all ear.” That is true prayer: being all ear for God.  The core of all prayer is indeed listening, obediently standing in the presence of God.  -Henri J. M. Nouwen, Making All Things New

So I am in this cool little, well, I was told it that it was a book club, but really... a lot of the times, the book is something like James.  And it is with a few other women who are the thoughtful and open and pushing each other further in and farther up and it is something to look forward to every other Monday night.  We just finished working through Heather’s Listening Prayer study, and now we are headed into the world of Devotional Classics edited by Richard Foster.  

And I have a very nice story about listening and obedience and how it all fits together.  In real life.  

So my little hobby, as everyone knows, is messing with other people’s Curriculum Vitae and scholarship applications and cover letters and letters of recommendation and that sort of thing.  Wali will stop by in the afternoon for a bowl of anything and a little polishing of a 250 words or less “Why I believe in education.”  Or a recommendation for Joella so she can study in Ireland.  Or Matteo for Sweden.  It’s almost as much fun as going myself.  And Marco, who is getting his Master’s in International Development in Beijing and is sending off resumés to UNICEF and Doctors Without Borders, also needs to do practical things like... eat, so he is doing odd jobs like modeling backpacks for magazines and strutting in urban art shows.  And in the middle of a long back-and-forth exchange of how to wrap a life of running youth camps and small Peruvian villages up with a bow for the corporate world, I got this email: 
Today I went for a job interview, English teacher in primary and middle school, and almost immediately the director told me I was going to have a demonstration of my work in 15 minutes, with a real entire class of real Chinese eight-years-old kids.  I literally panicked, starting sweating, and not knowing what to do at all. I felt inadequate and wrong and lost and miserable, I just want to be a model, make money... but the moment I stepped into the classroom, I just felt totally at home, the entire class had so much fun, and I did it too, I am very thanksful. 

A couple of days later, there was a Skype call... I just got a job offer and I would get to travel, all expenses covered and get paid 500 euros for three days’ work.

Wow, great.

But.  The job is spreading expensive cream on the faces of rich ladies.

Um, well someone has to do it.  

But.  This goes against everything I have lived for.  At what point do I draw the line?

It’s only three days.

And these are rich ladies; it’s not like I am hurting poor people.  And it must work, or they wouldn’t spend so much time doing it.  But.

Suddenly the lightbulb in my dim head went on.  Oh.  Marco, if you have any hesitation about doing this, don’t do it.  I think the most important thing in life is learning to recognize the still quiet voice of God and to immediately obey it.

I will think about it.  Click.

So the next day I chatted, tacked onto yet another resumé, So what did you decide to do? 

I  am going to ktv, no job


And then today, as I sat here at the dining room table with my cup of coffee and I Kings and Henri Nouwen, I got one more email: Funny and ironic enough I got interviewed and started working as a teacher this past Monday. I may have been doing aesthetic whitening treatment to Chinese ladies instead.

And thus dear LORD, may I step into a deeper understanding of obedience which really means listening.  Slowly and silently may I pause long enough to hear Your voice.  For You are faithful and good.

I heard, but I did not understand

“But go your way till the end. And you shall rest and shall stand in your allotted place at the end of the days.” Daniel 12:13

Daniel keeps asking How Long and What Shall Be the Outcome? 

And the answer is, “Trust.”

And beating through the circumstances, crazy and horrifying as they are, of shattering and utter destruction and kings bent on doing evil, beating steadily is the heart of God.  I care. I am in control.  This is part of the plan set before the beginning of time.  

And did you hear me?  I care.  You are blessed.  

Go your way till the end. With God we will do valiant deeds.

Almighty and everlasting God, in Christ You have revealed Your glory among the nations: Preserve the works of Your mercy, that Your Church throughout the world may persevere with steadfast faith in the confession of Your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen

Stumbling is part of the process

And as for me, in the first year of Darius the Mede, I stood up to confirm and strengthen him. Daniel 11:1

Wandering around through the commentaries of the internet this hefty prophesy confuses all but the most dogmatic crackpots.  But at the very least, this prophecy conclusively shows God is in control and world events happen according to His plan and purpose.  

And that when kings do what they will, the righteous will suffer.  And they will mess up sometimes, and that's to be expected.  And some of the wise shall stumble, so that they may be refined, purified, and made white, until the time of the end, for it still awaits the appointed time.

And the tangle of political intrigue is part and parcel of life here on earth.  He shall seduce with flattery those who violate the covenant, but the people who know their God shall stand firm and take action.  But woe to those who put their trust in this system, for when the time comes, he will come to his end, and he will have none to help him.  

But beyond general “Buck up, cheerio” admonitions, and hope in these most disheartening of political times, I am going to meditate on and put into practice the idea that if the archangel Gabriel came down to confirm and strengthen Darius the Mede as he struggled to lead an ornery people in challenging times, I too, can stand up to confirm and strengthen and pray for those in leadership around me.  

Saturday, October 20, 2012

And behold a hand touched me

Again one having the appearance of a man touched me and strengthened me. And he said, “O man greatly loved, fear not, peace be with you; be strong and of good courage.” Daniel 10:18

What pleases the LORD is a humble heart.  A heart that seeks to understand.  And I too am greatly loved.  

A good spot to start the day.  

Stand upright.

Make Your face shine upon us

For we do not present our pleas before You because of our righteousness, but because of Your great mercy.  Daniel 9:18

It is certainly true.  We have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled.  Not just me, but my city, my state, my country... the sin ripples outward across the globe with heartbreaking circumstances.  Blaring out in detailed full color news clips hour by hour on the hotel television which joins me for my breakfast of oatmeal and black coffee.  Articulated from around the world in the complimentary and newly formatted USA newspaper stacked neatly on the counter.  

The span of our life is seventy years, perhaps in strength even eighty; yet the sum of them is but labor and sorrow, for they pass away quickly and we are gone. Who regards the power of your wrath? who rightly fears your indignation? So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.

May my heart be broken.  May I join Daniel, seeking Him by prayer and pleas of mercy.  For He is merciful.  And although we do not deserve His love, He cannot but love us, because He Is Love.  He cannot act against His nature.  

O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Scrubbing with an old sponge, because it's all I have

And to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him; His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom one that shall not be destroyed. Daniel 7:14

So Jessica Ridgeway, a ten-year-old walking to school, was kidnapped by a stranger, killed and chopped into pieces by killer still at large... and fourteen-year-old Malala Yousafzai, remains in critical condition after her attempted murder.  And these are just two names of the myriad faces who suffer injustice and humiliation and inconceivable pain on a daily basis.  

My sweet sister Jenny writes, “I really, really don't know how to absorb it, to swallow it as part of "free will" and what does any of it mean and how do we understand who and how and why and where God is.”

And Charly burst out of her bedroom as the twin towers exploded into flames, and shook her fist at the world, and said, “This, this, this is why I don’t believe in God.”

And it all feels very academic to sit around a lunchtime table devotions and parse the concept of My Ways are Not Your Ways, and a God who would ask Abraham to kill his beloved son Isaac, when these names and faces are on our hearts.  The New Living Translation says, "And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine,” says the LORD.

Yep.  And yet.  When I metaphorically scrub at the glass through which I only see dimly or darkly, sort of like Nicole’s windshield that I just hosed down and rubbed with an old towel, I don’t simply see wanton misery and random luck of colliding particles.  Peering back at me through the shadows I see love.  Clear and undeniable moments of grace and rightness and yes, even love.  My human angst and, could it be, the fiery darts of the Evil One would attempt to brush past them.  But that would be untruth.  Because even one smashing breakthrough of light and power wrapped around even me demonstrates that Truth exists.  

And I don’t get it all.  I don’t get very much at all.  Even Daniel, Mr. Faithful and Thankful, wrote, “As for me, Daniel, my spirit within me was anxious, and the visions of my head alarmed me.” And that’s OK.  Who would want to serve a god as cloudy-brained and short-viewed as myself?

Thus, I confess that His thoughts are not my thoughts.  But I will choose to say that with confidence and joy.  Because while I can lose sight of hope, even when on tippy toes, He does not.  He has a much bigger perspective.  He stands on a higher vantage point and sees clearly beyond the forest and over the misty mountains.  

King of kings forever and ever
and LORD of lords hallelujah hallelujah
And He shall reign forever and ever
Hallelujah hallelujah

When faced with bared teeth

But they could find no ground for complaint or any fault, because he was faithful, and no error or fault was found in him.  Daniel 6:4

“Son of man, when a land sins against me by acting faithlessly, and I stretch out my hand against it ... even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would deliver but their own lives by their righteousness, declares the Lord God.  Ezekiel 14:13-14

When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously. Daniel 6:10-11

 One of Alan’s questions at our Community Cafe Saturday night for the sundry folk gathered around the backyard table, huddling near the first fireplace of the season, under the infamous white knit blankets was this: Who is someone who walks well, who manifests the Life of Christ as a model to follow?  And we heard the list of regular suspects: Mother Teresa, Francis of Assisi, and Mike Begley, twice.  

The Prophet Ezekiel shared God’s Top Three List of Those Who Lived Rightly with a people who had lost their understanding, with a people whose values and priorities had been so roundly infected with those of the surrounding society that a great stench rose up that demanded purification, justice. 

And to me, who sometimes loses sight of what’s what, it is good to be reminded. Of what right living entails.  Here we see that Daniel was faithful, blameless before God and man, and thankful.  

And when circumstances swelled over and up out of control, signed and sealed with the irrevocable law of the Medes and Persians, beyond all possible hope and despair, Daniel knelt down before God and gave Him thanks.  

And I am reminded that Jesus told the healed leper that faithful and thankful were the same thing.  Faith is demonstrated, put into action, through the action of praise.

And the result of this faithful action of thankfulness?  

Daniel was delivered from the roaring circumstances.  Through no belabored action plans or disciplined personal finesse or wit, but by the clear hand of God.

And the name of the LORD God was lifted up, for He is the living God, enduring forever.

He will be known.  

Maybe I should tape it to my forehead

...light and understanding and wisdom like the wisdom of the gods were found in him...  Daniel 5:4

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.  James 3:17-18

I think that Nicole was doing some sort of spring cleaning of the soul and mind last night.  Getting rid of the clutter which stacks so high in all of our hearts and minds so very easily.   Tossing out grudges, and impatience, and proving yourself, and cleaning the cobwebs off of humility, gratitude and gentleness.  

And life is not easy ever.  Surely part of God’s plan to be known... as I bury my face into His chest and plead at last for Him, and Him along.  All the stuff of the world is absolutely dust that crumbles into emptiness in my outstretched hand.

And Belshazzar had been weighed in the balance and found wanting.  

And he had praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone, which do not see or hear or know, but the God in whose hand is his breath, and whose are all his ways, he had not honored.

Let there be no divided way in me.

Open, Lord, my eyes that I may see. Open, Lord, my ears that I may hear. Open, Lord, my heart and my mind that I may understand. So shall I turn to you and be healed.

I always loved dissecting the tendons on a chicken wing

Till you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom He will.  Daniel 4:17

He will be known.  

That was my favorite part about being a science teacher.  Well, besides the fact that kids actually liked coming to my class because who would know what was going to happen, whether it was pacing off Pluto down Speedway if the sun was a yellow balloon tied on the front gate, dumping out the garbage bins and weighing and recording the waste, making parachutes for eggs to toss off the gym, carrying small insects in their habits (I had a black widow that laid fourteen egg sacs and took out someone’s preying mantis in the big show down) around with us for seven days and making 490 separate observations (and Mrs. Van Egmond made a bunch of quarters babysitting crickets and snails and lizards during recess), or even, maybe if we were lucky, getting both the fire and police department at the same time because of our dry ice experiments.  My real favorite part, well, I also liked telling the kids the truth, that they were my great big old science experiment, trying to figure out the best way to get them to think like scientists.  So, anyways, my REAL favorite part was peeling back layer after layer of His dominion.  I taught at a very small, rather humble middle school, who had one (me) science teacher for all grades, all subjects: Geology, Astronomy, Ecology, Physics, Biology, Chemistry.  So, that meant I had to study and prepare all day Saturday every Saturday and take a jillion classes at the University and figure all of this out.  And awe, true and unadulterated awe overwhelmed me.

The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth.

And at last Nebuchadnezzar, lifted his eyes to heaven, and his reason returned to him, and he blessed the Most High, and praised and honored Him who lives forever.

Mateo wrote me this morning, well, he wrote me sometime and I read it this morning, and he is somewhere in Europe with sixty people, playing the violin nine hours a day.  And he wrote: touch, see, know, hear. YES. I do agree. We need a world view of Truth... everyday... I am so obvious sometimes... keeping repeating the same things like a child, always surprised about the same things.

And yes, the childlike things.  I remember bouncing in the back of a pickup truck on one of our many trips back and forth and back and forth from Mexico to Tucson to Mexico.  This time with Paul Shabaz.  And he asked me how I could believe.  And I remember looking at my hand, that could open wide and wiggle fingers and then close up tight into a fist and touch and feel and heal.  And I knew.  He is.  

And what, twenty-five years later I still marvel.  I am still surprised at the wonders of my hand.  And that is just the beginning. 

Bless the Most High, may His name be praised and honored forever.  

Thursday, October 11, 2012

And who is this god?

And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?” Daniel 3:15

Who is this God indeed?  Really, is that not the point of It All?  That He might be revealed and known?  The glorious pouring out of creation in all of its magnificent detail and marvelous, as in Stand Back and Be Amazed, beauty and drama and connectedness.  Reaching from eternity to eternity.  From handing out Nobel prizes for exploring the most fragile of quantum states, the relationship between light and matter, to the Hubble shots of a galaxy that may be 12 billion light years away, we seek His face.  And everything in between.  Say whatever you may about Facebook, part of my heart is wandering today from the steppes of Mongolia, through the Georgia backwoods and cotton fields, past malaria pills and monkeys in an organic, sustainable farm in India to Nyeri, Kenya where Mariah reads stories to Moses, Peter and Rose in a children’s home.

The revelation of Creation, His eternal power and divine nature, only leaves man without excuse.  Nebuchadnezzar,whose great golden statue represents all the aspirations and pride and power of man, has been totally schooled in the fiery furnace.  But there is something more.

Last night, for whatever reason, as Alan sat in his hammock reading Uncle Ted’s underlined Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and discussed what mixture of Classic or Romantic Thinkers we were, I picked up C. S. Lewis and Mere Christianity to peruse from the round woven chair.  Maybe because Fred wrote yesterday and said he finished it at last, and passed it along to his mother.  

In the same way we must think of the Son always, so to speak, streaming forth from the Father, like light from a lamp, or heat from a fire, or thoughts from a mind. He is the self-expression of the Father-what the Father has to say. And there never was a time when He was not saying it... Before going on, notice the practical importance of this. All sorts of people are fond of repeating the Christian statement that 'God is love.' But they seem not to notice that the words 'God is love' have no real meaning unless God contains at least two Persons. Love is something that one person has for another person. If God was a single person, then before the world was made, He was not love... the living, dynamic activity of love has been going on in God forever and has created everything else.

And for this, so that we might know and experience this unspeakable love, God gave us the walk and talk of His only begotten Son.  Who not only lived this love, but died it, to smash through the aspirations and pride and power of man-who-would-be-god, and bring us into this relationship, this dance... And that, by the way, is perhaps the most important difference between Christian and all other religions: that in Christianity God is not a static thing - not even a person - but a dynamic, pulsating activity, a life, almost a kind of drama. Almost, if you will not think me irreverent, a kind of dance.

In the secret, in the quiet place
In the stillness you are there
In the secret, in the quiet hour
I wait only for you
Cause I want to know you more

I want to know you
I want to hear your voice
I want to know you more

I want to touch you
I want to see your face
I want to know you more

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

That you may know the thoughts of your mind

Then Daniel replied with prudence and discretion.  Daniel 2:14

The thing about Daniel is that he didn’t fluster.  He didn’t fluster because he truly believed that the God of heavens not only knows, but reveals.  It’s one thing to believe that One has woven together the universe in all wisdom and power and beauty, but it’s quite another to believe with unshakable peace, that He reaches down and invites man to join Him.  

That we can ask and receive.

He gives wisdom to the wise 
And knowledge to those who have understanding;
He reveals deep and hidden things;
He knows what is in the darkness,
And the light dwells with Him.

The magicians, the enchanters, the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans were flustered.  Indeed.  They did understand that life asks too much from us.  It is too big, and too complicated, and too difficult for us to bear, alone.  But they did not understand that the true God does indeed step into the lives of men to dwell with them.  So they panicked.  

Peace, like joy, is one of those tangible fruits of the Spirit that you can bring out your meter stick and scales and measure.  Am I living in that sweet spot in the palm of His hand, or have I stepped out into the abyss of my very own limited understanding?

Another plate of veggies, please

But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king's food, or with the wine that he drank.  Daniel 1:8

There are ever-so-many ways to dirty ourselves up- whether it be the food we eat, the activities with which we occupy our time or thoughts or the garbage-in, garbage out aspect of our mind.  To stray into off-trails and brambles of life.  Rather, what brings honor and glory to God?  That’s the bottom line, throughout the day, over and over.

Not only did Daniel make the initial decision, but he followed through. Even when he was hungry and the sweet and savory flavors drifting past his nostrils.  And weary after a long hard day packing in all the literature and wisdom of Babylon.  Lots of small decisions, over and over.  What brings honor and glory to God?  That was the bottom line, throughout the day, throughout the night, over and over.

And we all mumble things about grace and forgiveness and second chances and nothing we can do can lessen or deepen His great love for us, which is all true.  We really don’t earn brownie points for our sash to flaunt across our chest.  But the little things do matter.  They matter to me, to who I am becoming, and how I am becoming.  The patterns.  The preparedness.  At the end of the time, in every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom.

And in what God has placed on my heart, His calling for me, I too want to be faithful.  

Funny, my verse for the day: With my whole heart I seek you; let me not stray from your commandments. Psalm 119:10

Always set an extra place

The native people showed us unusual kindness, for they kindled a fire and welcomed us all, because it had begun to rain and was cold. Acts 28:2

Really, in many ways, this is my favorite part of the Bible, the bits told by Luke, Dear and Glorious Physician, which by the way was one of my favorite dorky fourth or fifth grade books when I didn’t know how to do anything except read.  

This is real life.  The Bible mostly chunks up life into Moses forty years herding sheep in the wilderness of Midian, and Joseph was in prison two more years, or Rebekah was barren for twenty years.  And it is hard to imagine or relate to this sort of record.  But you remember the moments, such as When Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and put them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened on his hand.

And Luke who carefully investigated the stories, and recorded all the details so that we might have certainty concerning the things we have been taught, noticed the small acts of kindness.  Not random acts of kindness, but deliberate outpouring acts of unusual kindness that were vaguely inexplicable and undeserved but important in the flow of life.  

And once again, it was the heathens who received them with hospitality. Their minds and hearts were open, and all who had diseases came and were healed.  While the big religious leaders, not so much; their hearts had grown dull, and their ears that could barely hear.  And really, all of the expounding in the world was not going to change a thing.  Their eyes were closed. And they would not receive the healing held out by the Lord Jesus Christ.

 And Paul, who welcomed all who came to him, reminds me once again that the big table in the backyard under the strings of twinkling lights is a good thing, and that the other stuff, not so much.  

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Tossing away the dross

And when the ship was caught and could not face the wind, we gave way to it and were driven along.  Acts 27:15

If it ain’t one thing, it’s another.

The little journey to Rome, the place that God made perfectly clear to Paul that he was to go, pretty much feels like my day-to-day.  Or as Sophie pointed out last night, as our community group shared trials that have been resolved and trials that we are in the midst of, what is common to mankind. ...winds were against us... we sailed slowly for a number of days... arrived with difficulty... the wind did not allow us to go farther... voyage was now dangerous...  the harbor was not suitable to spend the winter in... soon a tempestuous wind, called the northeaster, struck down from the land...Although Alan reminded us that it could be a lot worse; after reading about the nice, cheerful young man who lost his arms and legs in Afghanistan, his day-to-day murmuring shifted into low gear.

And Elizabeth underscored the if necessary, as in, In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials.  Our Loving Father knows that the testing by fire purifies and refines our faith, which is more precious than gold. This testing is not random dumb miserable luck, but it is intentional, deliberate, in order to produce strong, healthy, vibrant lives that persevere.  That’s the hot thing in education journals this week, “The promise of noncognitive factors... that focus on the idea of developing students’ “grit” or perseverance in challenging work.” (University of Chicago, June 2012)

I certainly have one of Alan’s ever-present metaphors clearly in mind.  Those smashed Land Rover bits and pieces dragged up and over the Dominican countryside to be unceremoniously dumped into the flame, hotter and hotter, carefully measured by the fancy new thermocouple sent from the States, until the dross and random nuts and bolts are scooped out, tossed aside, and the shimmering molten mass is poured into a tamped down mold, to emerge as a glistening vessel, ready for service.

So even though we all mutter the “Please, God, help me find a good parking spot,” prayers, deep down we must know that we don’t want fat sit-on-the-couch-of-life existences, or even glowing hobbit lives consisting of at least six meals a day and an endless loop of exchanging birthday presents.  

And even though sometimes the only thing we can immediately feel about the trials passed through is relief from the constant broken-heart pain, we are rejoined to Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, when we encounter these various trials of many kinds.  And it not about Dostoevsky’s Man from the Underground’s “I suffer, therefore I am,” three cheers for the dark cellar sort of stiff-upper-lip striding through life.  

Paul, Mr. Bound-In-Chains Paul says, “Pure joy.”  

Friday, October 5, 2012

Word order is everything

“To this day I have had the help that comes from God.” Acts 26:22

Sometimes my daddy garbles up his word order, and things don’t make much sense even though the strung together words are big fancy Vanderbilt University editor-with-stacks-of-dictionaries-on-his-desk-to-select-the-most-correct-nuance sorts.  And his listeners sit there helplessly, not even having a clue how to respond beyond a rather quizzical, “You are exactly right?”

So last night, when Alan asked him to lead grace at the dinner table he smiled happily, because asking grace is one of the very few things he totally understands these days.  So Gio, Alan and I all reached and held hands over the chicken and rice and zucchini (which means little pumpkins, plural, by the way) and he took a long pause and started, “Father, You are ours.”

And all of our eyes popped open.  Because one hundred percent of the time, my dad starts and finishes prayers exactly the same, “Father, we are Yours.” Every time, and now he has mixed up the one thing he knows how to do.

Here Paul is able to look Agrippa the king straight in the eye without flinching and declare, “To this day I have had the help that comes from God.”  Draped in chains, a back nicely scarred from all the beatings, standing in the midst of pointing fingers demanding his immediate death.  And he spoke with such conviction and clarity that Agrippa, sitting up on his soaring fancy throne, did flinch and was almost persuaded.  

And as I reflect upon my life, complete with the flies and cockroaches and crowds rocking the prison walls and dead bodies on the back forty and other stories told around the fireplace, and as I reflect on the long twisting strand of DNA that connects my daddy and me, and amidst the floods and fires and earthquakes and snow blizzards, I know one thing, he is exactly right.  

He is ours.  

Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul

“When I get an opportunity I will summon you.” 
When two years had elapsed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus. And desiring to do the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul in prison.  Acts 24:26-27

Perhaps I leap into things too quickly.  But it sure seems like most of the world sits around twiddling their thumbs while the world is crashing around them.  People are hungry today; why do we have to sit around and discuss it and think of maybe assigning committees and then pray about it and then draw up a tentative plan and then let it rest a while and then meet and finalize and then have everyone think about what their role will be and when should we start and the beginning of the school year or the fall break or the holiday season is upon us so let’s put if off until after that.  And does anyone want to go out for ice cream afterwards?

I bet wiggle worm Paul was trying to figure out the big chunks of pause in his life.

And so he hung out with friends, and waited.  Maybe he wrote a little, who knows.  According to the charts, he wasn’t writing letters.  And he waited.   And waited.

How do I use my wait time?  Churning and grinding?  Or do I use it to my advantage, strengthening my weakness, burnishing my strengths. Do I fall asleep?   Am I alert and of a circumspect mind?  Looking all around and ready to move, should the signal come?

So last night I read through Christianity Today’s cover story, “50 Women to Watch.”  Very cool stuff for the kingdom inspiring youngsters in the classrooms of Detroit, tooling around the African savannas, peering through massive telescopes trained on the skies, or tromping through the mud of the family farm and then counting up to a thousand.   And I wash up the few dishes cluttering the counter, sweep the popcorn off the floor and head off to another day of answering the phones and placing coordinators in activity subgroups.

Such are chunks.  And it is a good thing to be circumspect.  And to listen to the farmwife counting thousands of things, like the sun glinting off of the clouds if I sit up very straight in my desk as I look out the window.  And actually, I am grateful for the tick of the clock, dink, dink, dink, marking the moments, the gifts of life.

It is well with my soul.

With extra sturdy cords

The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage."  Acts 23:14

So how do I step into the sweet spot, where I release the me and the voices in my head, and hear only His voice and step into only His strength?  As I have mulled over this question particularly in the past few days, I think part of it is, "Take control of every thought so you can pray."  When the conversations start playing out in my mind, around and around, always me against Them, grab those thoughts, bind them up, and toss them out.  

Step into the quiet stillness of His rest.  

Squinting into the bright light

And now what are you waiting for?  Acts 22:16

Paul certainly had set his course.  And he was determined to finish.  Pushing aside all well-intentioned warnings, even dramatically-acted-out messages straight from God, he was going to Rome, no ifsands, and especially buts.  

And he stepped right into the mudpile.  Stepped up to roaring crowd and silenced them with a single word of Aramic.  But no mincing words.  He called it like he saw it and dug right into the “Gentiles” word.  As he was able he compromised, he had made his friend get circumcised, he had shaved his head, he had worked toward peace with traditionalists who clung to customs over the moving of the Spirit, but then, at one point, enough was enough.  

But he kept his head in all situations, as he later cautions Timothy.  It’s fine to endure hardship, but do it for a purpose.  His purpose was to stand in front of the king and declare the name of Jesus.  So he did it.

I on the other hand, feel muddled in my direction.  It is difficult to finish, when the course is not set.  I who so often preach the how and not the what, might indeed consider the calling.  

What shall I do, Lord?’ I asked.
“Get up,” the Lord said, “and go.”

May I understand the voice from heaven and all that I have been assigned, not like the companions who were distracted by the bright lights.  

Monday, October 1, 2012

What then is to be done?

And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed. They are all zealous for the law, and they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs. What then is to be done? Acts 21:20-21

So things have never been simple in the church, this getting along thing. We all have our customs, we have our priorities, we have our burning passions– for example, Paul was headed to Jerusalem and no one could dissuade him.  And simply believing in Jesus does not suddenly clear up all of the misconceptions or prejudices or bad way of doing business, like shouting and uproar and crying out, “Away with him!”

What then is to be done?  

As much as I am able, “make every effort” I am told, I need to be at peace with all men.  Everyone.  And to watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble me, corrupting many. To not let the evil or even the goofiness overcome me, but overcome with goodness. 

And Paul went along with it all, paying everyone’s fees, shaving his head, doing everything he could to get along, and it didn’t do one lick of good, except the important thing, that he had made every effort.  He did what he was able, and that is that.