Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Is He listening through the pebbled sprayed on foam ceiling above me?

But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; I will trust in the LORD forever and ever.  I will praise You forever because You have done it, and in the presence of Your saints I will wait on Your name, for it is good.  Psalm 52:8-9

What has He done?


He created the heavens and earth and declared it good.  And somehow in the midst of the bad and the ugly, my heart recognizes the good that is all encompassing: the pulse of life at the cellar level, the throb of particles in the molecular level, the ripples of energy through the spaces in between.  

The crooked smile of the kid reaching for the recyclable bit of trash under the purple Texas Ranger, “My teacher would be so proud of me,” and the piled up masses of rain clouds heaving silently over the rumbling freeway both promise hope in the dry desert of life.  

And as I wait, silently, in this slightly frayed Ramada Inn with the rattling refrigerator and the lingering hint of stale cigarettes and the ever-present and equally frayed Gideon’s Bible, I will praise His name.

I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; I will trust in the LORD forever and ever.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?

According to Thy name, O God, so is Thy praise unto the ends of the earth: Thy right hand is full of righteousness.  Psalm 48:10

Righteousness is the combined force of rightness and justice.  The Hebrew word for righteousness is tseh'-dek, tzedek- which according to Strong’s Concordance means righteous, integrity, equity, justice, straightness, upright, just, straight, pure, innocent, true, sincere. It is best understood as the product of upright, moral action in accordance with some form of divine plan.

So Charly and Marcus drove up to Phoenix yesterday to interview Joe Arpaio, not just “America’s Toughest Sheriff,” but now the self-proclaimed “World’s Toughest Sheriff.” And walked away with signed pink underwear and signed posters of him standing in front of Tent City. He does like publicity; his website says that he has been profiled in over 4500 U.S. and foreign newspapers, magazines, and TV news programs.  Charly and Marcus said at first consideration, Joe appears to be a righteous man: upright, straight, true, sincere.  He seems like a genuinely nice guy.  Criminals should not live in luxury.  They have chosen to commit crimes; they should pay the consequences.  

Charly and Marcus then visited Tent City, a sprawling compound of wallless tents, metal beds far too short to lie on, lined with barbed wire.  The mantra “no comfort items,” includes pillows.  If an inmates rolls up his towel to put under his head to rest, it is taken away.  There is no privacy, no walls on showers or toilets, and there is a constant parade of gaping visitors.  He has the cheapest meals in the U.S. too. The average meal costs between 15 and 40 cents, and inmates are fed only twice daily, to cut the labor costs of meal delivery. He even stopped serving salt and pepper to save tax payers $20,000 a year. Mugshots of all those arrested (about 300 per day) in Maricopa County are posted on the Sheriff’s website as they are booked and processed into jail, before trial. Human dignity is not a big issue.

These effective measures have won him reelection year after year: 2000, 2004, 2008, 2012.  In spite of an analysis by the Maricopa County Office of Management and Budget, completed in April 2011, that found Arpaio had misspent almost $100 million over the previous 5 years.The analysis showed that money from a restricted detention fund which could only legally be used to pay for jail items, such as food, detention officers' salaries and equipment, was used to pay employees to patrol Maricopa County. Arpaio's office kept a separate set of personnel books detailing actual work assignments, different from information kept on the county's official human-resources records.  The analysis also showed a number of inappropriate spending items, including a trip to Alaska where deputies stayed at a fishing resort, and trips to Disneyland. Separate investigations by The Arizona Republic uncovered widespread abuse of public funds and county policies by Arpaio's office, including high-ranking employees routinely charging expensive meals and stays at luxury hotels on their county credit cards. 

Charly and Marcus were there to talk about his illegal immigrant policies.  On December 15, 2011, after a 3-year investigation, the Justice Department released the findings that under Arpaio, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office has "a pervasive culture of discriminatory bias against Latinos that reaches the highest levels of the agency." Arpaio has said of his anti-illegal immigration efforts, "Ours is an operation where we want to go after illegals, not the crime first...It's a pure program. You go after them, and you lock them up." There’s that pure word again.

What is God’s divine plan with which we are to align our upright and moral action?  The Psalmist talks about His laws and precepts. A lot.

Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord.
Blessed are they that keep His testimonies, who seek Him with the whole heart.
They also do no iniquity: they walk in His ways.
Thou hast commanded us to keep Thy precepts diligently.
O that my ways were directed to keep Thy statutes!

Charly and Marcus tucked an umbrella under their elbow as they walked out the door this morning.  Today they are with the Samaritans, people who according to their website, are of faith and conscience who are responding directly, practically and passionately to the crisis at the US/ Mexico border. They are a diverse group of volunteers that are united in our desire to relieve suffering among our brothers and sisters and to honor human dignity. Prompted by the mounting deaths among border crossers, they provide emergency medical  assistance, food and water to people crossing the Sonoran Desert. In the last six years they have directly aided hundreds of people, some of whom were in dire medical need. Volunteers feel that even if they have only saved one life or helped one exhausted suffering person then their efforts have been worth it. It is not illegal to provide water, food and medical assistance to another human being in distress. 

What is this righteousness held in His right hand, the combined force of rightness and justice?  

When the lawyer, the expert in the Law of Moses, wanted to know– how do I inherit eternal life and who is my neighbor– Jesus told a story.  A story about loving God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself, that we might have life.  Jesus seemed unimpressed that the priest was supposed to be ritually clean, an exemplar of the law.  If the person lying there was a nonJew the priest could be risking defilement, especially if the person were dead. That didn’t seem to matter.  Rather he tells of unclean man caring for the wounds of another. There are no to do lists, no sacraments to perform, no doctrines to agree with, and no prayers found in the back of a Four Spiritual Laws pamphlet, even though I love that prayer and heard a happy-heart story this week of a twelve-year-old girl going out into the desert and praying those very words to God and it changed her life forever.  That’s not what Jesus answered when asked What do I do to inherit eternal life?  

Worship practice is going on in our living room.  It’s pretty much my favorite way to spend Saturday mornings.  Serving cookies and coffee to worship practice.

Dwell in the midst of us
Come and dwell in this place
Dwell in the midst of us
Come and have Your way

Dwell in the midst of us
Wipe all the tears from our faces
Dwell in the midst of us
You can have Your way

Not our will, but Yours be done
Come and change us
Not our will, but Yours be done
Come sustain us


Make me more like Jesus, fill me.
Lord, I want to be with you.  
Because I know You are worthy 
and You are working within me.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Rip off the coat sleeves because they just get in the way

Clap your hands, all you people. Shout to God with joy. The Lord Most High is wonderful. He is the great King over all the earth! Psalm 47:1-2

Think globally. Act locally.  

Don’t you think God knows what it’s really like out there in the real world? Do you really think His good news is weak? He has bared His holy arm in the sight of all.

That all the ends of the earth may know the salvation of our God.

He is able to save. He is filled with mercy and compassion and He says, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” 

He is the King. The triumphant King of the old stories that fill our heart with longing and unspoken joy. None of this black and white print petty cliff hanging deals of tax benefits for certain motorsport racing track facilities that will cost more than $100 million over the next seven years. He is King, not a politician.  

I reckon I am indeed urged to clap and shout with joy.  For He is full of wonders.  Over all the earth.  And then bare my arm in His strength and head out for the day-full of wonder, alert to His reign breaking through.

A very cheering thing is to read through the CHIRPA posts.  No wonder Dustin comes home happy every day.  His arms are bared, albeit underneath a sagging trailer floor with broken sewage pipes.

Or to read through the article on the third-year law students at University of Chicago, and their bare-armed acts of strong mercy.

However, as I sit here in the stillness with predawn leaking in through the greenhouse banana leaves, I know that even more powerful than a torque wrench or even a jackhammer is the power of forgiveness.  Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. As we forgive those who sin against us.  Following in the footsteps of our King, who in His final moment of bared arm triumph forgave, for they knew not what they did.   May I live in this triumph.

For my heart is still.  He is God. He will be praised in all the nations; He will be praised throughout the earth.

BTW an great blog by The Voice translation:

Another glance at the headlines

Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth. Psalm 46:10

Don't you know? Haven't you heard? The LORD is the eternal God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not grow tired or weary; and His understanding cannot be fathomed. Isaiah 40:28

So maybe, just maybe, I can pick up that old newspaper with hope and joy.  He is the eternal God.  And I am not.  I am not sure whether fasting changes the world around me or just how I see it.  How I see Him.  But I do know that it is encouraging, as in filling me with Courage.  

He will be exalted among all the nations.  As in As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. He is at work and does not grow tired and weary.  I cannot wrap my finite brain around His understanding.  But even the small glimpses of His power, even a single closed fist uncurling and lifting into praise, is far beyond my scope and reveals His glory.  

Be still, oh my heart.  

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

My stomach curls up in a little tight ball when I pick up the newspaper

In God we have boasted continually; Our heart has not turned back, nor have our steps departed from Your way.  Psalm 44: 8, 18

We, collectively, are so easily deceived.  

We will answer, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?”

And His answer will be, “You did not see Me.”  You were so blinded by your fears, your bottom lines, your borders between Us and Them, your speck-picking and your “God, I thank you that I am not like other men,” that you did not see my beloved sheep that I came not to condemn, but to seek and to save, sparing nothing, so that none may perish.  

They seek me daily
    and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that did righteousness
    and did not forsake the judgment of their God;

‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not?
    Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’
Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure,
    and oppress all your workers.

Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
    and to hit with a wicked fist.
Fasting like yours this day
    will not make your voice to be heard on high.

“Is not this the fast that I choose:
    to loose the bonds of wickedness,
    to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
    and to break every yoke?

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
    and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
    and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?

Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
    the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.

Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
    you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’
If you take away the yoke from your midst,
    the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,

if you pour yourself out for the hungry
    and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness
    and your gloom be as the noonday.

And the Lord will guide you continually
    and satisfy your desire in scorched places
    and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
    like a spring of water,
    whose waters do not fail.

One never knows what is waiting outside that door

O send out Thy light and Thy truth, let them lead me. Psalm 43:3

His light shows me the very next step, the way wherein I should walk, and His truth is wrapped around my core, to gird my loins, that I may walk forth with constancy and firmness, without wavering or fear, because I am at rest in His strength and faithfulness.  

Let them lead me.    

So sometimes I get a little grumpy.  And tired. And a little bit discouraged. And I just want to sit there by the fire and stare.  And while that’s not so great, maybe there is nothing really wrong with that.  Unless.  Unless I am being prodded to step forward and into the fray, with a lamp unto my feet less I stumble and a sturdy confidence.  So maybe last night I didn’t exactly leap into obedience, but sort of grumbled.  But I did walk out the front door and He met me in His full glory.   That one step.  I have a pretty good understanding that keys were turned in rusty old locks and iron portals were kicked open into the joyous sunlight.  And it will make all the difference for now and rippling into eternity.

Maybe, just maybe next time I will hop right off the couch.  

What do you think? A man had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ The boy answered, ‘I will not.’ But later he had a change of heart and went. The father went to the other son and said the same thing. This boy answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did his father’s will?

Monday, January 21, 2013

The pounding surfs rolls over me

As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. Psalm 42:1-2

Who are You, Oh Living God?  

Verily I seek to know You.  To know Your heart.   To see as you see. To love as You love. To live as You lived when You walked the earth wrapped in flesh.

Jesus answered, To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the Truth. Every one that is of the Truth heareth my voice.

I really have no interest in the constructs of man, of the Pharisetical scaffolding pounded together with ever-so-many hammers and nails, yet wobbly and blocking the view North.  And dangerous to the soul, which has sent many an unsuspecting crashing to the jagged rocks below.  

Listen! It's the voice of someone shouting, "Clear the way through the wilderness for the LORD! Make a straight path through the wasteland for our God!

Through the wasteland of the human experience there is a voice calling, a tender voice, a bruised reed shall He not break, and the smoking flax shall He not quench.

[Roaring] deep calls to [roaring] deep at the thunder of Your waterspouts; all Your breakers and Your rolling waves have gone over me.Yet the Lord will command His loving-kindness in the daytime, and in the night His song shall be with me, a prayer to the God of my life.

The Spirit is the One Who guides us in all Truth, along this path through the wilderness and His presence is clear: love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, meekness, temperance and faith.  And the greatest of these is love.  


Sunday, January 20, 2013

I waited patiently for the Lord;
And He inclined to me,
And heard my cry.

He also brought me up out of a horrible pit,
Out of the miry clay,
And set my feet upon a rock,
And established my steps.

He has put a new song in my mouth—
Praise to our God;
Many will see it and fear,
And will trust in the Lord. Psalm 40:1-3

So what does a new song sound like? 

I awoke with a start at the same old same old too early predawn. Comfortably warm with no need to bound up and out into a swim parka.  Recalling a brief conversation from the evening before and a steady voice of instruction to pray.  So I did.  And another.  And another.  Life by life, name by name, this voice spoke. In peace, but with urgency.  

Lucy woke out of the deepest sleep you can imagine, with the feeling that the voice she liked best in the world had been calling her name. -Prince Caspian, C. S. Lewis

Sort of like that.  

I had heard this voice earlier last night during the flickering candlelit Be Thou My Vision, to pray Holy Spirit speak through me.  A strange little prayer, but word for word.  And even though I knew that I was supposed to go write it down and put it in the prayer basket and I didn’t, how does prayer work anyways?  And prayer baskets?

I have not hidden Your righteousness within my heart;
I have declared Your faithfulness and Your salvation;
I have not concealed Your lovingkindness and Your truth
From the great assembly.

Is this the new song? 

Sacrifice and offering You did not desire;
My ears You have opened.
Burnt offering and sin offering You did not require.
Then I said, “Behold, I come.

“Will the others see you too?" asked Lucy.
"Certainly not at first," said Aslan. "Later on, it depends."
"But they won’t believe me!" said Lucy.
"It doesn’t matter.” Prince Caspian, C. S. Lewis

From whence comest my strength

I am feeble and sore broken: I have roared by reason of the disquietness of my heart. Psalm 38:8

The Psalmist is having a rough time of things.  The Slough of Despair is a very real place with a great sucking sound of thick dark muck.  All of the grasped at twigs and weeds along the shoreline pull up by the roots.  Every effort is wearisome and somehow one’s own struggle only drags you in more deeply, up to the nostrils and gasping for air. For hope.  

In Pilgrim’s Progress, Help comes along and pulls out the pilgrim and sets him back on the path of life. And such has been my experience.  The mud washes clean, the air dries my jeans, and my core is strengthened as I turn and face the ranging purple with glints of gold to the North.  

The light of mine eyes has returned.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Deeper than just another coat of paint

The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and He delighteth in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the Lord upholdeth him with His hand. Psalm 37:23-24

With due apologies to my dear children, I am quite sure that among the other more traditional motherly mantras that I laid upon their young shoulders about being a leader for good and about cleaning their rooms at least once a week, Life is Not Fair was also underlined with a big black crayon.  Which is unfortunate because it is a Big Fat Lie.

Circumstances are not always fair.  People are not always fair. Rules certainly are not always fair.  But life itself is underpinned with justice, the justice of an Upheld Hand.  

And that is where I am to reside, somewhere there, somewhere in the quiet of my heart. At rest. In trust. Delighting myself also in the LORD. Ceasing from anger and forsaking wrath. Fretting not.  

I do not understand Scripture, nor how it is wielded by the Spirit sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.  But sometimes, no, even most, no, perhaps even all of the time, it pierces right through, shall I say, all of the, um, crap of the world and rightly discerns the heart.  

And sometimes, like Saturday for instance, I was humming a little happy song about kindness and postcards from Assisi and fixing my mom’s internet problem with the old unplug it plug it back in brilliance, when suddenly wham, the rest of the day’s verse about kindness and tenderheartedness sliced right through the blasting warmth in my little black car.  Forgiving one another, forgiving one another, forgiving one another.  Even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you. And with absolute clarity I realized that there was lack of forgiveness dug in deep into my heart, a rotting putrid thorn bush poisoning my soul, almost unawares.  And the act of forgiveness ripped it out right by the roots and I am quite sure friends and family will agree that there is a new lilt to my fuzzy black-booted feet.

So, as I was neatly setting two packs of cloth diapers on top of the duffle bag of possessions including a skillet and four plastic plates and four plastic cups (why I do not know, but Bernabé said to bring EVERYTHING I would need for two years in one bag), a very well-intentioned woman bustled right into my life and lit into me about being responsible and reasonable and sensible and what was I doing taking my five-month old belly to a refugee camp.  And she did a great job of making my sputter helplessly and fumble for an explanation beyond, well, uh, God spoke to us?  Smack dab clearly, with no discussion.  No research of facts.  No pro/con lists. We didn’t even “pray about it.”  He said go, and we said yes. 

And then from nowhere, well from somewhere, but from nowhere expected the Spirit sliced through the stuttered embarrassment. And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive an hundredfold.  Random.  But not out of nowhere.  I guess pretty much out of the storehouse of Scripture that I have known from a child. And I knew in my heart that He was faithful and true and that I would indeed  live this promised hundredfold. 

Charly is coming tomorrow.  Charly from Germany who sort of sums up the path we have led, a first leap into the hundredfold, of knowing that I did not even have to ask Alan if she could come live with us for a year starting tomorrow.  And as I remember my last memory of her, stretched up and across the back wall, disentangling bougainvillea thorns from her face while she cheerfully painted the wall yet one more color in preparation for Heather and Dustin’s wedding, I am struck by the so very trueness of being blessed a hundredfold, again and again, multiplied.  And this crazy house of ours always has room for one more, even though my dad is going to sleep on the couch tonight, and even though I cannot get rid of the creepy cockroaches and the cold pushes through the cracks in the handmade Joesler front door and the very funky but almost dysfunctional iron windows.  And now the front bedroom has undergone a Nicole transformation and I am not quite sure how she visualizes beauty out of every thrift store in town but she does.  
And as I pray through Psalm 37 today, for Nicole and for others in the hundredfold, I am convinced of His Upheld Hand. I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.

 Trust in the Lord, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed.
Delight thyself also in the Lord: and He shall give thee the desires of thine heart.
Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in Him; and He shall bring it to pass.
 Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him.
And He shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday.

and the Catalinas soar upward, pointing north

Your Love, Oh Lord
Reaches to the heavens
Your faithfulness
Stretches to the skies
Your righteousness
Is like the mighty mountain
Your justice flows like the ocean's tide

I will lift my voice
To worship You my King
And I will find my strength
In the shadow of Your wings

Your Love, Oh Lord
Reaches to the heavens
Your faithfulness
Stretches to the skies
Your righteousness
Is like the mighty mountain
Your justice flows like the ocean's tide

I will lift my voice
To worship You my King
And I will find my strength
In the shadow of Your wings

sometimes you can see the stars shining overhead through the fog

O Lord, who is like You, delivering the poor from him who is too strong for him, the poor and needy from him who robs him? Psalm 35:10

Our souls cry out for justice in a world strife with injustice.  Does He hear, does He see, or did He simply start this ball rolling and step back to let us tear into each other with our behavioristic claws?   

I have been reading this story, of the LORD stepping in: 
One night the only food my wife and I had was a small portion of macaroni. My wife prepared it very nicely. Then one of her friends knocked on the door. I told myself, The macaroni is not sufficient for even the two of us, so how will it be enough for three of us? But because we have no other custom, we opened the door, and she came in to eat with us.

While we were eating, the macaroni started to multiply; it became full in the bowl. I suspected that something was wrong with my eyes, so I started rubbing them. I thought maybe my wife hid some macaroni under the small table, so I checked, but there was nothing. My wife and I looked at each other, but because the guest was there we said nothing.

Afterward I lay down on the bed, and as I slept, Isa came to me and asked me, "Do you know who multiplied the macaroni?" I said, "I don't know." He said, "I am Isa al Masih. If you follow me, not only the macaroni but your life will be multiplied."

And the sweetness of his story mingled with the equally bitter bits fills me with hope.  That perhaps the headline “A Desert Cold and Wet Multiplies the Misery of Syrian Refugees” has more nuance than shutting my mouth up quick about scraping ice off my windshield and my cold fingers and my dead sweet pepper plant outside my front door.  Me, me, me.

Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? 

And may I too step, following Your footsteps, into the gap.  And not grow weary.

Monday, January 14, 2013

and those sun-bleached trailers are just one more thing that makes my heart break

The Lord redeemeth the soul of His servants: and none of them that trust in Him shall be desolate. Psalm 34:22

Thinking of desolation: maybe that strip of freeway just before you it San Diego after having passed through those very cool Algondones dunes outside of Yuma.  Nothing stinking grows there except for maybe a random creosote bush wicked black with its brittle branches and poky thorns.  Because of leaf and stem alignment, creosote bush provides little shade during the full desert sunshine. It occurs on calcareous, sandy, and alluvial soils that are often underlain by a caliche hardpan. During dry periods, creosote leaves fold in half to cut their exposure to the sun. During severe drought periods, the creosote bush drops its leaves entirely and remains somewhat dormant until adequate precipitation arrives. The creosote bush is alone in the desert because it exudes growth-inhibiting, allelopathic compounds to the soil. It can also be poisonous to livestock that are naïve enough to eat large quantities of it. However, poor palatability usually prevents animals from browsing it.  

In spite of all this, the creosote is my very favorite plant, and I used to drag classes of seventh grade biology students out to the trash-strewn wash running under the Pantano Bridge to observe and notice and draw detail-perfect scientific illustrations of my prickly friend.  The creosote emits a sweet rain smell to welcome even a hint of moisture in the air and it is tough and adaptable and nothing can kill it ever because of the long, long tap root that goes down deep, and even though it reproduces clones through a system whereby the inner stems die and new stems appear on the periphery, and a circular pattern of genetically identical plants is produced with the rings expanding outward about a meter every 500 years, it is a good picture of desolate. 

And the point of all this is that I will never be creosote bush desolate, with only an occasional isolated bedraggled and very peculiar house trailer surrounded by broken smashed-window cars that makes you wonder about who in tarnation lives there angled nearby, because even if my thoughts and hopes wander off, they will return to Him.  I am tethered by His love.  He redeems my soul.  


Saturday, January 12, 2013

He wraps His arms around me with you

The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit. Psalm 34:18

So something that is really nice when the day is kinda rough is simple kindness– exchanging chit chat pleasantries with old friends about everyday sorts of things is good, a thank you for teaching someone how to write is good, and bumping into a gracious Century Link mall employee after 48 minutes of being on hold and getting disconnected and possibly being hung up on, is a good thing as well.  And then there was a postcard tucked in amongst sundry fliers and the TIME magazine with a special greeting from Assisi, the city where Francisco’s life of FAITHFULNESS is still making flourish billions of youth after eight centuries.  May his guide, Jesus make you flourish as well.  And a kind sisterly email is really an extension of the presence of the LORD– a reminder that He is nigh.  

And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.

Why do you ask me about what is good?

Come, ye children, hearken unto me: I will teach you the fear of the Lord. What man is he that desireth life, and loveth many days, that he may see good? Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile. Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it. Psalm 34:11-14

Ah, such restful beauty in this.  Or beautiful rest.  Or both.  

And for me, silence is often the best path.  

Do good.  Seek peace.  Over and over, the choice I must make to see good.  Do it.  Seek it.  Pursue it.  

My brother Scott took a spin off of my stories this week, which speaks to the action verbs aspects of good in a world of evil.  

So when my parents read: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress, it was perfectly obvious what they needed to do. They bought and gathered food and shoes and Spanish bibles and hauled this to a bevy of orphanages that clung to the squatter hillsides of Tijuana and Ensenada. Every other weekend, month after month, year after year, they packed their four kids into a Plymouth station wagon with as much cargo as could fit in the back and under our feet and on the roof of that car and drove across the border to deliver. My mother chased rats out of the pantries, my sisters gave haircuts to kids who had lots of lice, my father did plumbing and repaired roofs. My brother and I mostly just goofed off and played with kids.

I tell this story because it illustrates what I think Jesus meant when he told us to, “...continue in my word.” I don’t think that “continue in my word” means to keep reading our bibles, although there is certainly great potential in reading our bibles. I think that to “continue in my word” means to make the word that we hear from God extend into our lives–into our visible lives, the ones that we live out there on the streets and in our free time and in our station wagons and with our dollars. The effect for my parents was this: they learned that following Jesus set them free. They became free to take adventures into Mexico with their kids. They became free to give without calculation. They would tell you that they became free to live an abundant life from that day to this day–free indeed.

We ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed. 

Let us think often that our only business in this life is to please God. Perhaps all besides is but folly and vanity. –Brother Lawrence

Thursday, January 10, 2013

I can run but I cannot hide

The young lions do lack, and suffer hunger: but they that seek the Lord shall not want any good thing. Psalm 34:10

This verse is all about where do I look to fill myself up: my own strength and wisdom and rather limited insight, even if I were to be virile and wild and filled with taut power, it is not sufficient.  

And everything in our society urges us to spring forth and rip into It on our own, digging our claws and teeth into It– and yet He whispers Wait and Rest and I Will Lead you.  

Claro, there were many moments last night as I experienced Les Miz last night: Eponine’s willingness to love the idea of love and hope even though she was left standing outside alone: Why regret what could not be? The love of a father for his daughter, or in Alan’s case, daughter, she young men clambering to light the flame, and for me, most of all, Jean Valjean’s willingness to release, Not my will but Thine.  

It is not a happy world, with disheveled masses reaching, reaching through iron bars for illusive morsels, nor is it pretty– the tear-stained smears of paint on a woman, so many women, crumpled and weeping of dreams that are not to be.  But there is beauty even in the face of small body lying stiff on the pavement stones.  And good.  Goodness unleashed by mercy, for mercy is of Him, freely given to those who seek His face.  

I can run but I cannot hide

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good;
Blessed is the man who trusts in Him! Psalm 34:8-9

This was the “O” verse on round one.

So my dad made these flippy 3x5 cards for us all when we were little.  Flip, flip, flip, right through the alphabet.
And be sure your sins will find you out.
Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.
Casting all your cares upon Him for He cares for you...
Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.
No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him.
Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good; Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!

And after we learned them all, he made a new set, so we all knew 52 verses as well as we knew the multiplication tables.  Sort of.  The thing is, I use the multiplication tables all day long, every day. Over and over.  Seamlessly into practically every aspect of life.  

Is that true for Scripture?
Thy word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against Thee?  

I have such a vivid memory of picking my way across the powdery dust dirt with lots of mixed in gravel that is left over from making a highway, which was the stuff of pathways through Barrio Nuestra Esfuerza.  And I do not exactly remember whether I was coming back from the feeding center, or from visiting a sick baby, or probably maybe just coming back from visiting Ramoncita in her backyard sipping a tiny cup of freshly roasted over an open fire thick black expresso, maybe sorting rocks out of the beans for the next day’s meal.  Whatever.  What I remember is that this idea of tasting and seeing that the LORD is good had been in my thoughts all day.  And in that moment, suddenly I got it.  In the shouts of a baseball game over at the “play,” in the tattered clothing draped over barbed wire fences to dry, in the quiet smiles from dark doorways from little ones clutching their momma’s knees, this was the tasting and seeing.  The LORD is good.  And how very blessed we were – His children– in that moment.  Seven hundred and thirteen, seven hundred and fourteen, seven hundred and fifteen.

Chris is working our way through the idea of God’s Word Still Speaks this month at the Vineyard.  So I am considering this idea of Still Speaking even as I am listening to someone on NPR discuss, well actually tirade, there is no discussion about it, the inconceivability that any sane and healthy person could still hold the Bible as true, I gotta say that even though I don’t get it, I know it.  Somehow
For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. 

I remember when I was a smarty-pants nineteen-year-old who smugly decided that these Words hid in my heart were mere cultural trappings and fables passed along in the same vein as the truism passed along by my father, who wears a size 13 shoe, that big feet are a sign of intelligence.

So I tried to march off into my own paths, lit by my own inner light, but something happened.  I smacked into Life.  And I discovered Truth, in the same way that the memorized multiplication tables all the way up to 25 x 25 are true and are measurable and applicable and woven into the very nuclear strands which hold everything together and cannot be avoided no matter how hard one tries to avoid mathematics.  Pretend all you want to.  It’s there.  Everywhere.  And there is a Shepherd determined to make me lie down in green pastures and lead me beside still waters.  Gonna chase me down.  Each of us down.

and thus, LORD today I pray that You may
Open Thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of Thy law. 

Round two.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

If you can't feed a hundred people, then just feed one

This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them. Psalm 34: 7-8

Larry Ward was a crying man.  The pain sprawled across the world broke his heart over and over again, one life at a time.  And then the moment arrived, when he once again he was shaking his fist at this God he could not love or understand through these tears, a vision rolled out and a voice declared: But Jesus said, 'You feed them."  And so he dedicated his life to these walking orders: He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry, and when someone wrote a book about his life and the millions of lives that he helped one at a time, because they die one at a time, and were transformed because of his obedience, including mine,  it was titled, This Poor Man Cried.

I remember one moment, well, one of the many moments, when I was mentally shaking my fist at God, and asking where in the heck did I fit into the Big Scheme of Things in a world seething with holes to be plugged, a voice declared quite audibly: For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward.  And rolled out on the pastor’s whitewashed wall was a very crisp Blue-Ray vision of me standing there at a kitchen sink, filling up cups of water and handing them to the longest line of dirty-faced kids imaginable, that stretched out through the open door and over the horizon.  Which at the time did not make any sense at all because really, the only three kids in the world that I particularly loved, much less liked, were my little three towheads with pretty dirty faces.  But that was a long, long time ago.  And that door to my heart has been propped open and the butterflies have come in.  

My sister is shaking her fist at God these days.  It is a long haul and there are no rolling visions, which really don’t solve The Problem, but are simply action plans that break it down into lots of small problems.  And she is choosing to believe that God really is good and powerful and wise and lovingly involved in each of the situations, and all of the millions of people in harm's way all day every day ARE being lovingly noticed, not just crushed like bugs under a heel.  Even though we can't see the eyes and heart of the One who sees....and are looking for evidences of His love.  Mostly it is coming to that part of finiteness that we will never understand some things until heaven, and in humility we have to get be where we are OK with that, instead of childishly demanding answers that we couldn't comprehend even if they were given.

But we are children.  His children.  And something that I have been hanging onto these days as the newspaper headline blast ugliness into my face, are the very clear Joshua rocks of His action and intervention– very real and very tangible– that are a memorial to me that He is encamping around me and delivering me.  And if me, I can extrapolate to the millions of people because when I wander the streets of New York City, which to me feel and smell and sound like the streets of the world, my heart breaks with tenderness for each and every person who pushes past me. Because His heart breaks.  

No need to be so confused, By all the fires you have to walk through
They're breaking you, and making you, And building you to be
Soft enough to love the least of these, Even me.

And there was a moment of silence in the church service Sunday, a long moment punctuated by the most heartbreaking sobs imaginable, deep gasping sobs that made every single stomach tie up in knots except for Valerie Begley’s, because her arm was around the woman, bringing her in close.  And after this long, long silence, Cameron and Bill Inbodin on the harmonica slid into the 23rd Psalm, Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death and pain, You are with me, I knew that this was one of those rock moments.  It is true.  The LORD hears.  The LORD saves.  Blessed be the name of the LORD.  

Sometimes you meet someone and you know from their gleaming peace

They looked unto Him, and were lightened: and their faces were not ashamed. Psalm 34:5

This is part and parcel of the previous verse, I sought the Lord and He delivered me of my fears.  The completion of the pattern, parallelism, part of the rhythm.  The If Then statement.  

If I look to Him, my face will shine, radiant being a common translation, because He has delivered me from all my fears.

I am not permitted any qualifying, “Well, except for the...” clinging to my joy.  He is indeed alive and active, at work in things and through things.  And then, I will be a blessing, a shining candle illuminating the surrounding darkness with a sense of hope and peace.  


it's a little hard to ignore the buzzing in my ear

I sought the LORD, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears. Psalm 34:4

All those fears– the what-might-be’s and what-could-be’s– that sneak into unprotected lulls in thought or otherwise complacent dreams or darkly shadow an outlook.  I think that is part of the burden-is-light part of following Jesus. 

I can take my big bundle of fears- both unnamed as well as those that fingered like a rosary– and dump it as His feet.  And leave it.  There.  

Although with reflection, perhaps it is good to name them.  Take control of every thought so you can pray.  Take ownership of the gnats buzzing in my ears, smoosh it with a name, and it is His.  So often we are focusing on the gnats when the LORD God Almighty is waiting to be sought. Although sometimes they don’t feel like gnats but rather a big ugly black wasp that needs watching.  But still smooshable.  

My late night or early morning or flitting thoughts driving down Speedway are to be about Him and not the fears that build up into an ugly crescendo of distraction.  

libens volens potens.  He is there.  Ready, willing and able.  To deliver me.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Come and go with me

O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt His name together. Psalm 34:3

There’s a new book out this year about children falling pretty far off from the familial apple tree, but that sure isn’t me, which was only confirmed by my brother Tom’s detailing his spiritual, emotional and intellectual journey as we sat sipping tea in Vermont.  We certainly share the same sturdy roots twisting into the same rocky soil with both core strengths and lots of room for growth and change.   

And I am pretty sure that I first memorized and wallowed in Psalm 34 because my mother loved it so.  She had that verse about magnifying the LORD with me hanging above her heaped-up-high desk at Calvary Missionary Press as her constant reminder about what she was all about, and then Scott mounted it on a sanded board and hung it over the living room entrance as a declared mission statement on living through one day after another in a place that she never imagined or hoped for.  

And I overheard a conversation she had with Heather last night at family dinner, about working outside of the home after the children were born.  And she said that she spent so much time reading and studying the Bible after she stepped into Christianity, that it might as well have been a full time job.  That’s the thing about my parents choosing Jesus as all-grown-up adults with no religious preconceptions to push through and overcome- they leapt into the Word as if it were indeed true and applicable with no qualifying habits of complacency.

So when my dad read: Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress, it was perfectly obvious that he needed to start The Mexican Christian Children’s Fund and gather and haul food and shoes to a veritable bevy of orphanages clinging to the squatter hillsides of Tijuana and Ensenada every other weekend, month after month, year after year.  And we children joined them in the blue push-button-geared station wagon every other Saturday, and gave the kids our Halloween candy and cleaned the rat-filled pantries and shaved the lice-filled heads of hair because that’s what is pure and faultless.  

And when my mom read: Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels, it was perfectly obvious that she should open up the kitchen table to all sorts of people, mostly very strange missionaries dressed in missionary-barrel shifts and boots and very strange people sitting alone in the back pew and very strange kids who got kicked out of their parents’ homes for staggering home drunk one time too many or for an awkward pregnancy or whatever.  And I know that I didn’t always appreciate sharing my bathroom and my time and space with these strangers and I promised myself that I would be different, but no, plop, I fell right under the apple tree because deep down inside I knew that it was good and made my life so very full and rich and bubbling over with flavor and grace.

And as I set out the trinkets from every possible bit of the world that clutter the fireplace mantel after neatly folding the Christmas stockings and stacking up the Christmas books swirled around the round plaster table by the front door and sweeping up the Christmas pine needles that found their way into every possible crevice, I know that this grace still bubbles, sending a sweet fragrance throughout my life.  No regrets, even after all the Moldovan Christmas jokes this season.  

So Jinsheng Wang arrived.  And he got the traditional welcome, Pippen wiggling unwelcomed at his feet, orange cat leaping onto his bed, a warm tasteful lunch with Jack and MaryAnne and the Alan Safari tour.  And after quite a few hand motions and careful, slightly too loud enunciation, I figured out that he would like some milk and sweetly handed him a glass...complete with one of those creepy brown cockroaches which fill me with continual despair and humiliation.  Drats.  

And who knows what the year will bring.  I will choose to not feel dismay with a very weary shell-shocked sixteen-year-old who doesn’t seem to be able to dig up any of his hard-learned English lessons.  I don’t know what any of it will look like, but from experience I certainly know that it will be unexpected and far more wonderful than I could have guessed.  That’s the good thing about being a bit of a Puddleglum.  It only gets better.  What I do know is that I want him to join in the picnic under that old apple tree, O magnify the LORD with me, let us exalt His name together.  

And yesterday, as Zach hugged me goodbye as he heads off to the big big world of not-falling-too-far-from-the-apple-tree, first stop Guatemala City, he hugged my jacket too.  The Mexico Outreach jacket.  Oh man, I think about that place often, he whispered.  I do too.  And one of the songs that I remember singing under the stars with thousands of tired but happy people was one with lots of jumping up and down and hand motions, 
Come and go with me to my Father's house.
It's a big, big house with lots and lots of room.
A big, big table with lots and lots of food.
A big, big yard where we can play football.
A big, big house, it's my Father's house.

All I know is a big, big house with rooms for everyone.
All I know is lots of land where we can play and run.

All I know is you need love, and I've got a family.
All I know is your all alone, why not come with me.

Perfectly obvious.  

scraping the ice off the windshield of my soul so that I may see

My soul shall make her boast in the Lord: the humble shall hear thereof, and be glad. Psalm 34:2

The nice thing about freezing mornings at the pool is the fog swirling up from the pool, muffling all sight and sound.  Except for the bright red clock piercing the cloud and the prickly whiff of chlorine, I am alone.  My eyes are fixed on its steady standard.  I look nowhere else to measure my progress.

And if truly my vision is fixed upon Him, humility falls into place.  He is humility, the complete knowingness of place.  Lewis says, “God is not proud...He will have us even though we have shown that we prefer everything else to Him.”  Because I AM.  

There is a place of rest and peace in humility.  An authenticity that speaks more than word or deed, a God-given grace.  He resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.  That speaks volumes to a world weary of elbow-shoving and hustle bustle.  There is no pushing through on one’s own strength to create a façade.  

Lewis adds, “To even get near [humility], even for a moment, is like a drink of cold water to a man in a desert,” because it is all He, and none of me.  

Perhaps that why we are to come unto Him as a child, for such is the kingdom of God.  Flipping through some Marco shots yesterday, I was struck by the children’s joy of selflessness that gladdens the heart of all those who are near. 

May it be so.