Tuesday, April 30, 2013

I lift my eyes to the hills, again

We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowlers; the snare is broken, and we have escaped! Psalm 124:7

  Sometimes I feel trapped, flopping helplessly, bound with tight strands and no hope of escape. 


My help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

Are You able to save?
I am able.
Are You willing to save?
I am willing.

How long Oh LORD? How long?
Am I trapped by circumstances or relationships, beyond my being?

Or rather am I trapped by my fear?  My sense of hopelessness? My cowardice?
Looking to outside horses and chariots?

To You I lift up my eyes,
    O You who are enthroned in the heavens!
Behold, as the eyes of servants
    look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a maidservant
    to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the Lord our God,
    till He has mercy upon us. Psalm 123:1-3

I gotta say, if this is where You want me, this is where I am.  With no outside encouragement or resources, creativity or logic.  Stripped and naked.  Kneeling before Your love.  

I remember this moment, so many years ago.  Violently ill.  Alone.  Not even two centavos to my name.  I wish I remembered the provisions from Your hand.  I do not.  But I remember that You were able and willing.  Are you ready? 

Have mercy on me.

Monday, April 29, 2013

A soaring reminder of what is true

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth.  Psalm 121:1-2

This is one of my daily verses.  The muttered prayer under my breath as I head into every day...the turn north on Wilmot to Grace and Desert Christian, the turn west as I headed away from the rising sun into the Tucson Mountain range toward Wildcat, sometimes, often, with tears of helplessness in my eyes, and once again, every single morning as I face the small, unassuming ACSI office.  I thank God often for the mountains that march around Tucson.  

There is no sense, really, in lifting one’s eyes to the jagged black line that traces the divide between dawn and the awakening world beneath.  I really get it that  the LORD who made heaven and earth does not live in some hut away up high. (BTW, the grammar police in me does not like the impersonal “which” nor the separating comma which signifies that the information provided by the clause is not required to identify the person or thing–His creating heaven and earth is like a major factor in His LORDshipness, in my mind.) 

But as I have mulled over this verse over the many, many years, it has become a personal declaration that the hustle and bustle and push and shove and scrabble and fret of below is not my Help.  This verse signifies my decision, my choice, to lift up mine eyes, to look upward and outward to the eternal significance of that day.  And, well, I do get distracted from this Truth.  Sometimes almost immediately as the hooks of the day dig into my flesh.  But what a grace that when I step out of the door or glance out of the window, those sweeping hills are there to remind me of His love, of His power, and of His perspective from up on high, above time and space.


Sunday, April 28, 2013

diagramming sentences can instill a love of logic and relation

Your hands have made me and fashioned me;
Give me understanding, that I may learn Your commandments. Psalm 119:73

Pretty much all that I am thinking about...daydreaming about these days in those free moments that open up on my way trundling across town or folding clothes into neat stacks or emptying the dishwasher yet one more time, those kind of moments, is how to be the best English teacher ever: how can I engage my students with the truth so that they will become worldchangers, that they will find their joy walking in the footsteps of Jesus? 

How can I get their selves, their souls, to engage with the things of eternal value, when life twists and shouts so much inconsequential vapidness?

Psalm 119 is a lot like the 1000 Gifts list I am creating; verse after verse reminds the writer of the Truth: God made me, loves me and knows what is best for me. He explores the imagery, nuances, ramifications of this Truth, 178 times.  

Psalm 119 is an acrostic poem of twenty-two stanzas, following the letters of the Hebrew alphabet; within a stanza, each verse begins with the same Hebrew letter. The structure forces the writer to slow down and consider His subject, much like writing a sonnet.  This is no quick text or tweet or Facebook like.

Psalm 119 is a discipline.  A choice to be intentional.  To engage.  And make a difference for generations stretching into eternity.

So be it.  

Thursday, April 25, 2013

si, hablo algo de español

Te doy gracias y alabo tu grandeza, porque tú eres mi Dios. Den gracias al Señor, porque él es bueno, porque su amor es eterno.  Psalm 118: 28-29

So Alan has this little wry observation that he shares upon occasion:
Haven’t you heard, English is the language of men, Spanish is the language of God, Italian is the language of lovers, and German, well, German is what you speak to your dog.

Yesterday I went to three Christian school chapels.  In a row.  Which can certainly be a marginal experience.  But God gripped me, my heart, until tears of joy ran down as that music throbbed, led of course by a crowd of kids in black.

Como un trueno escucho 
desde el cielo tu voz
Fuego eterno en tu mirada
que a la tierra estrecmició
como un trueno escucho
desde el cielo tu voz
fuego eterno en tu mirada
que a la tierra estremecieo
Tú me cuidas y me libras, 
me escondiste en tu amor
Confiado en ti estoy.

And it occurred to me, My God language is Spanish. In Spanish, I am absolutely childlike, stumbling along in my toddler fluency and tangled syntax.  I am constantly humbled and very aware of my limitations.  I am in a place of awkward dependency, and yet, there is a bunch of freedom in that spot.  I am what I am without pretension.

And.  God has met me in my profoundest need in Spanish, faithfully and in abundance because of this desperate need.  In English there are all of these false support systems of comfort, family, friends, education, sort-of-cultural-awareness, and water faucets that work every time. Our culture tells us all sorts of lies about Who is in charge of what and Oh, yeah, I can handle this one on my own and Rugged Individualism that just don’t exist in my personal Spanish world.  Rather I have stories of writhing bodies resting in peace, engines running on empty, a village surrounding an uplifted child in love, staring down demons without fear and even watching peanut butter sandwiches multiply like bunny rabbits.  

As I head downstairs, into the taxi and off on a nineteen-hour trip home, may I carry more than some snot fruit for Alan back home from Colombia.  

Confiado en ti estoy.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Oh, oh, call on me

Return unto thy rest, O my soul; for the Lord hath dealt bountifully with thee.  Psalm 116:7

Little Evie knows how to rest.

She has no doubts whatsoever that Heather and Dustin will meet her every need.  She has no doubt in their supreme love and power.  And at some level she knows where to go for everything she needsabsolutely no confidence in herself to produce streams of sustenance and comfort.  

We must learn to believe like a child.  Children are supremely confident of their parents’ love and power.  Instinctively they trust.  They believe their parents want to do them good.  If you know your parents loves and protects you, it fills your world with possibility.  To just chatter away with what is on your heart.

I works the same in the world of prayer.  If you learn to pray you learn to dream again.  I say,“again” because every child naturally dreams and hopes. To learn how to pray is to enter the world of a child, where all things are possible. Little children can’t imagine that their parents won’t eventually say yes.  But as we grow older, we grow less naïve and more cynical. Disappointment and broken promises are the norm instead of hoping and dreaming.  Our childlike faith dies a thousand little deaths. Jesus encourages us to believe like little children by telling stories about people who acted like little children, the parable of the persistent widow and the unjust judge and the man who badgers his neighbor for bread late at night.  

On the rare occasion when Jesus encounters an adult who believes like a child, he stands on a soapbox and practically yells, “Pay attention to this person. Look how he or she believes!” He only does this twice; both times the person was a Gentile, a person from outside the community of faith, the Roman centurion and the Canaanite woman whose child is possessed by a demon. –David Powlison

My days have been filled with dark-eyed curly-haired children who rest in this love.  They march and shout and sing and laugh out loud and raise their hands and wiggle their fingers with joy.  “I know the answer, me, me.”

Thus LORD, I come to you.  With my ever-growing list of names.  And with the swelling unspoken dreams in my heart that have not even been articulated to myself.  Let me speak them to you.  Not in the back corner, leaning against the wall, shy and doubtful, but up front, tugging on Your sleeve.  

O praise the Lord, all ye nations: praise Him, all ye people. For His merciful kindness is great toward us: and the truth of the Lord endureth for ever. Praise ye the Lord. Psalm 117

Monday, April 22, 2013

Although sometimes it comes with room service

Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy name give glory, for Thy mercy, and for Thy truth's sake. Psalm 115:1

I believe that there is only one truly courageous thing that each one of us can do with our lives: to love unconditionally. Going into the hard places, entering into the sorrow.  On the other side of sorrow is wisdom, and more sorrow, and joy. -Katie Davis 

Traveling is always good for my soul.  I am ripped out of my small world and small concerns into the Big Perspective.  He is always so much Present in my soul when my structures and rhythms and people are not there to hold me up.  There is no rushing onto the next thing.   

Heather wrote that Saturday Dustin planted a honey mesquite in the side yard for Everette to climb on and put in a ton of irrigation so that we can beautify the area...Evie and I mostly just swung on the hammock together and watched the finches....I kinda feel guilty not being productive since obviously she doesn't NEED me to sit there as she sleeps, but my, I just got so much pleasure from not doing anything but kiss her little wrinkles.  :)  

That’s pretty much what I took away from reading Kisses for Katie on the plane over here, basically a story told by a wealthy young Nashville thing who discovered that she was unable to walk by anyone without kissing the little wrinkles.  And she just happened to be in Uganda.

And I am reading yet another book on prayer and it’s really about lingering: Learning to pray doesn’t offer you a less busy life.  It offers you a less busy heart.

We keep forgetting that God is a person. We don’t learn to love someone without it changing us. That is just the nature of love that reflects the heart of God.  The second person of the Trinity now has a scarred body.  The Trinity is different because of love.

As you develop your relationship with your Heavenly Father, you will change.You will discover nests of cynicism, pride and self-will in your heart.  You will be unmasked. None of us like being exposed.  We have an allergic reaction to dependency, but this is the state of the heart most necessary for prayer.  A needy heart is a praying heart.  Dependency is the heartbeat of prayer. So when it starts getting uncomfortable, don’t pull back from God.  He is just starting to work. Be patient.

The sky is fading into lighter shades of grey rising over the tiled rooftops of Bogotá.  My tiny balcony overlooks a brick courtyard full of darting black swallows. The traffic is starting to rumble up again.  But my heart is at rest.

I do not know what it will look like, as I consider The place God calls us to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet. This articulates nicely the theme I suggested for the May Vineyard devotional, and I received Dana Mahan’s submission just a few moments ago.  And how can I but smile at his leading verse: But Moses said, ‘Pardon your servant Lord.  Please send someone else.’ Exodus 4:13 

He goes on to detail his general reaction to this place where God has called him: Not an easy word to translate, Eish.  If you combine Lord Have Mercy, with For Crying Out Loud, or maybe You Have To Be Kidding Me, then you get close to what people mean when they say Eish.  You might shake your head and roll your eyes at the same time to complete the expression.

What a perfect term to capture what Moses must have felt when he received his calling from God.  I wonder if there is some similar word in Hebrew, some turn of phrase he might have muttered under his breath when he ran out of excuses and allowed providence a foothold.

And while it is true that on the surface Dana’s calling is not what he had originally hoped for–absolutely lacking in any sort of glory whatsoever, I suspect Dana has found that sweet spot.  

Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy name give glory, for Thy mercy, and for Thy truth's sake. Psalm 115:1

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Longing to splash in the fountain

Tremble, thou earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob; Which turned the rock into a standing water, the flint into a fountain of waters. Psalm 114:7-8

A fresh Spirit is blowing, a Spirit of dreaming dreams and seeing visions.  Aslan is on the move.  And while, as the prophet Joel declares, it is a time of unspeakable horrors, it is also a time of repentance, of hearts turning to the LORD our God and Maker in repentance.  The earth is trembling at His presence and revealed power. And rightfully so.  

The question for me: Is not is He able? But rather does He indeed reach down into my dusty world.  Thus the rock gushing pools of water, even flint, the substance so much an anti-theoretical hard that to strike it creates sparks, becomes a flowing fountain is the boldest promise.  

Signs and wonders are not to be pounded into walls of doctrine.  Rather they are declarations of His love.  His humility.  His love wrapped in humility.  Just as the swaddled Everette.  

As I wander the Los Angeles airport I marvel at the number of clutched children trundling after a hurrying mother.  Straddled on a father’s shoulders.  Children are the human experience.  And each and every one is a testimony of The wait.  The pain.  The marvel that is Life. 

Thus I can draw a line in my dust.  In my dunghill.  And invite Him in to work His wonders.  I will sing How long because I am a human bound in time.  It is my nature.  But let me declare with joy and confidence, Welcome LORD, may Your presence be manifest.  For all to see and know.  

For Your honor and glory.  Amen.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

First, count the fingers and toes

 The LORD is high above all nations, and His glory above the heavens.
Who is like unto the Lord our God, who dwelleth on high,
Who humbleth Himself to behold the things that are in heaven, and in the earth! He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth the needy out of the dunghill.He maketh the barren woman to keep house, and to be a joyful mother of children. Praise ye the LORD. Psalm 113:6-9

Here the Psalmist compares the glory of the Almighty God to the rising pulsing source-of-all-life sun. Overarching, He sets the very rhythms and nature of forevermore high above the heavens.  

And yet He humbleth Himself even into the intimacy and mystery of the tiny scrunched up babe who brings joy to those who wait.  Who wait without hope. The arrival of Everette Tess yesterday at 3:06 a.m. caused family and friends to reflect on many things. There is nothing to tie together the common experience of humanity more tightly than that of bringing forth a baby.  The Birth Center was full of reminders of this truth. Odd, peculiar reminders and very vivid reminders.

There were a lot of times in the past week that our hopeful waiting gave out.  As illogical as it was, we all pretty much decided that little Everette wasn’t going to show up once she missed the three theoretical according-to-scientific-reason due dates.  Well, eventually she did start to come. Of course not how we expected or predetermined. Really in those predawn hours once again all of us, particularly the very engaged parents, gave up hope. Totally irrational, but true.   She would never come.

The LORD God Almighty does notice. He, who holds the spinning galaxies in one outstretched hand, beholds both heaven and earth. And keeps looking, even peering through the open window to the barren woman sitting alone by her hearth, rocking back and forth in loneliness.  Each of us is that woman with a faltering faith and a waiting womb.  We each have our own dunghill. Do You see me?  

I am reminded of the father who instantly cried out, "I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!" when Jesus asked, "What do you mean, 'If I can’? Anything is possible if a person believes."

And now I am jiggling little Everette Tess on my knees as she watches the shifting lights and pokes at her eyes with her long fingers.  Her little grabbing reflex works just fine and she grasps my thumb. And of course she is the synthesis of the power and glory of the LORD with her dark blue eyes and little bow mouth.  A marvel indeed this crowning jewel of His creation.  

I am unsure exactly how to answer the question, “So what is it like to be a gramma?”  

Lots of answers ramble around in my head.  And this is one of them.  With Little Tess jiggling on my knees I think about power and glory revealed and yet, this humility. Who not only notices my situation and raises me out of the dust.  But He made himself of no reputation, and with all humility took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men  Who jiggled on His mother’s knee.  

Who is like unto the Lord our God?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed

Unto the upright there ariseth light in the darkness: he is gracious, and full of compassion, and righteous. A good man sheweth favour, and lendeth: he will guide his affairs with discretion. Psalm 112:4-5

So the New York Times has an article today on the lack-of-justice-system in the Bronx, New York City.  It is a story with heartbreak and hopelessness twisted into every strand. The net of sorrow spreads out wide, pulling in the affected.  Even me.  I am now part of the story.  Because now every morning I am going to lift up to the LORD a small troop of upright men and women who have chosen to live with grace and compassion in a dark underworld: the Bronx Defenders.  

And each of us, particularly me, flip flip flip through the headlines.  Every morning.  I barely hesitated at Boston Marathon Blasts Kill 3 even though I know from Facebook that Dana Mahan in South Africa who went to Harvard surely knows many of the grieving souls.  And U.S. Practiced Torture After 9/11, Nonpartisan Review Concludes made my stomach tighten but I did a quick build-a-hedge-of-protection excuse around my heart. But I stopped at “For 3 Years After Killing, Evidence Fades as a Suspect Sits in Jail” because I know something about suspects sitting in jail in the Bronx.  Max and Andrea are moving there in August to defend them.  

And my heart broke for the busy public defender who will be Max’s compadre.  If she doesn’t give up by then because she has a caseload of one hundred Chad Hook stories. Camille M. Abate, on the staff of the Bronx Defenders, provides free legal representation to indigent defendants under a contract with the city.

It took three weeks for the police to settle on their suspect. The police showed a neighborhood drug dealer pictures from a security camera of the teenagers streaming out of the building on Southern Boulevard. At first the drug dealer, who had been shot in the shin five days before Mr. Lawyer was killed, told detectives he had been high and had not seen who shot him. But he later identified Mr. Hooks. He said the man had killed Mr. Lawyer too.

Some of the early descriptions of the killer were of someone 5 foot 8 and heavy; Mr. Hooks is 6 foot 3 and slender. There were no fingerprints. No gun was found. There was no evidence that Mr. Hooks knew the victim, making the question of motive vague.

The passage of time made nothing clearer. Nearly three years after identifying Mr. Hooks as the killer, the drug dealer swore to a new statement. He said that detectives had written his first statement implicating Mr. Hooks and that it was false. “The man is innocent and he should not be in custody,” the new statement said.

There were what would be more than 30 pointless court dates, as one side or the other would be busy with other cases or there were no judges to conduct the trial. At Rikers, Hook’s records showed a slide toward despair and violence. As the months in jail became years, Mr. Hooks sometimes seemed desperate. In 2010, after long stretches in a tiny room at Rikers where he spent 23 hours a day, he told a doctor he had tried to hang himself. “He has spent the last 11 months in punitive isolation following frequent fighting with both inmates and staff,” his hospital records said.

The longing in each heart is to be known.  To have the camera panning the audience pause, hesitate, and consider.  Hi Mom!  Look at me!  Mothers are good at that sort of thing.

But God?  The Word who spoke the swirling cosmos into being.  The One who declared it was good. Very good. Does He pause, hesitate, and consider?  

That is the story of Jesus.  Incarnate.  The ultimate pause– lifted up, He defeated death.  He defeated brokenness.  It is finished.  His grace is poured down around us to be experienced as reality.  That was the Story of Pi. God’s continual mercy and provision in his solitary pilgrimage.   And now Pi’s mission is clear, to tell his story, the story of a self-giving God of love who brings salvation for all of creation.  
And we as those who believe.  Who have come to know this self-giving God have a mission as well.  The gospel.  The good news.  To live out and live into that beautiful Jesus story and continue to invite others into that story, as well. We can’t just tell someone what to believe, anymore. It’s not that easy in this Burning Man generation. We have to tell our story, connected to and a continuation of the Jesus story we love, and simply say, “Which story do you prefer? Which is the better story? … And so it goes with God.” I have to tell my story.  To live it out and live into that beautiful Jesus story.

He shall not be afraid of evil tidings: his heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord.His heart is established; he shall not be afraid. He hath dispersed, he hath given to the poor; his righteousness endureth for ever.

This is the light in the darkness. Gracious, Full of compassion. Righteous.  

Monday, April 15, 2013

One more taste of sweetness

The works of the Eternal are many and wondrous!
    They are examined by all who delight in them.
His work is marked with beauty and majesty;
    His justice has no end.
His wonders are reminders that
    the Eternal is gracious and compassionate to all. Psalm 111:2-4

Which story do you prefer? Which is the better story? … And so it goes with God. 

I was definitely too tired last night to grasp the metaphysical implications. After a low-key but determined cleaning-up-after-the-party mode of returning the two backyards to some sort of normal status, we gathered around leftover deliciousness that we had been too busy to enjoy the night before and Alan and Gio’s amazing hot salad with tofu and cilantro dressing, packed with just-picked garden greens and then, the freezer is chock-full of six flavors of leftover gelato from the gelato stand so of course we all had to taste each one.  And then maybe just one more bite.  Or two. After all that we watched Life of Pi.  I didn’t fall asleep, which everyone guessed would really happen barely after the credits rolled. Rather I was swept into the many and wondrous works of the Eternal.  

I was smack up close to examining His works... laying on the couch right under the projection wall. Sloths hung, monkeys swung. Snakes slithered, and um, meercats dithered.

And as the camera swept over the teeming masses of image-bearers who are beloved, with all of their colors and scents and sounds, my soul swelled with joy in this graciousness and compassion to all. And as the camera swept over the shimmering ocean’s mingling with the horizon of swirling heaps of clouds and the rising and falling dance of the sun and the moon and the stars, my soul filled with song, which will carry with me through the day.

Your love, oh Lord
Reaches to the heavens
Your faithfulness stretches to the sky
Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains
Your justice flows like the ocean's tide
I will lift my voice
To worship You, my King
I will find my strength
In the shadow of your wings

I will find my strength in the shadow of your wings.


Saturday, April 13, 2013

Standing on the edge about to take the plunge

With my mouth I will give great thanks to the Lord;
I will praise Him in the midst of the throng. Psalm 109:30

Well, maybe I did extricate this psalm out of context, but my context today is a throng. Sergio and Jonelle’s throng to be precise.  In the Reid Park Rose Garden at 6:00 p.m., and in our backyard at sunset, to be precise.  And sit-down dinner tables for two hundred are set, and thousands and thousands of twinkly lights wrapped by Sergio’s kinfolk twist around every tree, and we have two brand new flamelighters for all those hundreds of candles wired around mesquite branches that are set in little concrete bases so we will be in a veritable forest of flickering flames.

And LORD this is my choice, that I will give great thanks to You; I will praise You in the midst. 

And I remember Sergio in sixth grade.  It was my first year of real teaching.  And really none of my students’ parents wanted their kids in my classroom, with the new teacher.  Everyone wanted their kids with Mr. Bowen, the coolest teacher ever, and I remember my first before-school-starts meeting with the parents, and this one family kept standing up in the middle of my forced cheeriness, saying, “Excuse me.  You don’t understand.  We are going to pull our son out of this school if he is in your class.”  And I asked them to sit down and we would talk about it after the meeting.  And we talked about it after the meeting, and Mr. Rhodes made all the staff people put their kids in my class so the paying customers could have Mr. Bowen.  And that included Brad and Michael and Sergio.  And we had the best time ever as I figured out this teaching stuff and what Bible and History and Literature looked like all rolled into one.  And we debated whether Attilia the Hun was a Christian, and we lived fifteen minutes without any rules to see if the Ten Commandments were a gift from a loving God and some of the kids ended up crawling under the desks because things were too crazy and then someone (and everyone knew who he was but we couldn’t prove it and he ended up in juvie) snuck into the room after school and shot all of the Robin Hood arrows into the classroom wall and the holes are still there when I drive by the now boarded up and abandoned building that holds so very many memories.  

And I remember when Sergio was in seventh grade and he said that he wanted to do something important with his life and maybe go to Harvard and sometimes his choices had consequences but today he is going to marry Jonelle and she is truly lovely inside and out and they are going to commit publicly in front of everyone their desire to live for You and follow You.  Together.  

And I remember after the last wedding in our backyard.  And there was a taco stand and a stageful of musicians and an after-wedding-float-in-the-pool with dozens and dozens of people because there was a full moon and it was a hundred degrees and we all so happy.  So anyways, I woke up nice and early as usual to go start sweeping and picking up broken goblets and bits of paper and ribbon and candy wrappers from the Tigger piñata.  And as I was going out the back door, Sergio was coming in.  With the Krepps brothers.  And the yard was all tidy and the chairs were stacked and they had stayed up all night as a sweet gift to me.  

 And may the entire day bring You joy and honor as we have so very many to do lists tacked up and sometimes people don’t quite follow directions and there is so much yet to be done, and boxes to be unpacked and glasses to be washed and maybe even hang the disco ball.  And Everette Tess now weighs eight pounds and today was the day I picked on the Guess Baby Schaber’s Birthday poster hanging in the living room.  And Mary Anne is supposed to come home from the hospital this morning and may You surround her with Your peace and calm and she won’t even sense the activity in her backyard that is spilling over into her porch. And then we are going to eat carne asada and Julia’s famous salsa and drink white and red wine in the garden and smash a piñata and celebrate Your goodness.

The sky is clear.  The air is fresh. And Nicole and I are going for a swim. 

And I will give You great thanks. And I will praise Your name in the throng. With my mouth, out loud.

Friday, April 12, 2013

A deadly thrust

Give us help from trouble,
For the help of man is useless.
Through God we will do valiantly,
For it is He who shall tread down our enemies. Psalm 108:12-13

So I just got an email from a friend, asking for prayer for a big huge test that she was not quite ready for no matter her grandest efforts.  And I prayed this prayer for her.  

Can over-the-top tests be our enemies?  Yep in the sense that it is weariness and doubt.  Tread them down.
I am reminded once again that we do not battle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 

Once again, it is our thinking that needs to be taken captive by the fetters of love and truth.  And we need to duck behind the shield of faith which protects us from the fiery darts of Satan’s lies. And his accusations, the pointing of the finger towards others and ourselves, and to our faith.  This is his weapon, the sly questions he slid under the heart’s door to Adam and Eve, “Did God actually say?” He even tried his sneaky lies with Jesus in the wilderness, “If You are God’s son...” Who combated with the sword of Truth.  When Christian battled Apollyon, he nimbly stretched out his hand for his Sword, and caught it, saying, Rejoice not against me, O mine Enemy! when I fall I shall arise; and with that gave him a deadly thrust. Thus when I question myself, those around me, and even Him, let me remember helThrough God we will do valiantly, For it is He who shall tread down our enemies.

In His name, 


Thursday, April 11, 2013

His mercy endures forever

For He satisfieth the longing soul, and filleth the hungry soul with goodness. Psalm 107:9

Psalm 107 is a traveler’s guide to the pilgrim’s way.  Not so much, “Stay at this bed and breakfast or don’t miss this waterfall lookout” sorts of counsel. More along the lines of, “They wandered in the wilderness in a solitary way,” and “He led them forth by the right way.”  A little later on, “Such as sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,” and then, “He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death and brake their bands in sunder.”

The chorus is twofold that repeats itself throughout the tale, the tale of Him gathering the redeemed out of the lands, from the East, from the West, from the North and from the South,

Then they cried unto the LORD in their troubles, and He delivered them from their distresses, and, closely linked in the Psalmist’s rhythm is the Therefore: Oh that men would praise the LORD for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men.  

As I pick my way through the boulders and gravely slopes and pricker bushes and sometimes I just have to chug up that steep incline, facing the soul-melting troubles and the end of my wit, may I be wise and observe these things, and even understand the lovingkindness of the LORD.

And Mary Anne is at Tucson Medical Center resting comfortably after a small heart attack last night after her prayer meeting and she is not to have any visitors except for family and we are still waiting for Miss Everette Tess Schaber to show her pretty face and Grandpa is spending the night tonight and I was thinking of taking him to the Upper Room because it makes him so happy and Panchita is cleaning today which is always an adventure in itself and last night the Phoenix school’s self assessment for their accreditation arrived in my In Box at 10:55 p.m. that is three weeks late and now I have to sift through it and make sure it’s all there before I forward it to my team today and there is the Tucson Christian Early Educators’ luncheon today at Northminster and I made plans for Bryan Gillooly to pick me up at the airport in Bogotá in two weeks and Nicole is putting the final touches on the backyard for Sergio and Janelle’s sit down wedding reception for 200 Saturday night.

But I just pulled meters and meters of cool water and that is the most relaxing thing ever and it’s not at all about me, but it’s all about they cried unto the LORD in their troubles, and He delivered them from their distresses and Let all the people say Amen, praise ye the LORD.


And maybe I will cancel my blood donation at Red Cross today at four.  

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Stand back and be amazed

And He gave them their request, but sent leanness into their soul. Psalm 106:15

Sometimes God gives us what we ask for: second best.  

Balaam had such a story.  He seems to have done the right thing when the big fancy fine people offered him riches and honor; he sought God’s guidance.  But he didn’t like the answer, and asked again.  And again.  And finally God gave in, and things didn’t turn out so well–it turns out that a donkey was more attuned to God’s will than he, and he never got his reward and his name is forever linked to that of an ass.  

And Abraham whose faith somehow sets the standard simply didn’t want to wait.  And God gave him a son, Ishmael, through Hagar his handservant.  And that didn’t turn out so well either.  And maybe ol’ Lot might have had a better ending if he hadn’t taken the shortcut.

The lean anxiety of sifting and weighing and snatching up the burden once again. Rather than leave it in the grave where it belongs.  Christ has set me free; Let me not be entangled once again in the yoke of bondage.  

Give me a fat, happy soul.  

That moment on Easter evening, where I wiped my mouth both literally and figuratively.  Just after that one last bite of homemade vanilla bean ice cream so I could swirl a shot of expresso into its sweetness.  There was no more room.  Contentedness until it sloshed over the rim.  And I had done nothing.  Just opened up my mouth and He filled it.  

A settledness of It is finished.  He is enough.  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the LORD foreverness.  

Monday, April 8, 2013

"But, like all happiness, it did not last long..." -- Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

O give thanks unto the Lord; call upon His name: make known His deeds among the people.
Sing unto Him, sing psalms unto Him: talk ye of all His wondrous works.
Glory ye in His holy name: let the heart of them rejoice that seek the Lord. 
Seek the Lord, and His strength: seek His face evermore.  Psalm 105:1-4

So sometimes, not all of the time, but sometimes it is possible for me to get discouraged.  The “When LORDs?” start to stack up in my mind and topple. He is not a Coke machine that produces our requested icy can with a push of a button with only an occasional jiggle or shake.  I do my thing, put in the required coins and offerings, and rattle boom, my very reasonable-in-my-mind requests are granted. Nope.  Not happening.

Psalm 105 goes on to list His deeds amongst His chosen people, beginning with the calling out of Abraham and His oath of an inheritance, even when they were very few in number...actually old Abraham was just himself without the progeny, no fruit of his loins.  And Jacob working his seven years plus seven.  Then Joseph whose feet were hurt with fetters until that time when he should be made ruler of all his substance and teach his senators wisdom.  And Moses and Aaron and their water into blood and abundant frogs and divers sorts of flies and lice and flaming fires and who could see His grace in all that, but it is all about grace, for He brings forth His people with joy, and His chosen with gladness.

And I am not the only one who marvels at the hard heartedness of the people of Israel who ask, and He brings quails, and satisfies them with the bread of heaven. He opens the rock, and the waters gush out; they run in the dry places like a river, and then somehow those people forget all of this by the flip of the next page. And what’s with that?  

 Not even twenty-four hours have passed since recounting the delightful celebration of joy under the twinkle lights, the electronic page has not even flipped yet, and I am asking, “How long?” with a leeks-and-onions grumble in my voice. And what’s with that?  

I have my own tales of abundant frogs and divers sorts of flies and flaming fires and I am told to make known His deeds, to chronicle them and not keep silent.  And to glory in His name and rejoice.
  1. For a community group with hard questions, transparent answers and great snacks under the spring sky.
  2. For water which if I even pay attention is for an instant is an inexplicable marvel of creation yet is accessible at the turn of a handle. 
  3. For the simple elegance of an old moon hanging in the early morning dark blue. 
  4. For Jincheng’s broad smile as he tries to follow my how-to-live-better instructions.  
  5. For sweet early morning chit chat emails from my so-very-dear sister
  6. That I will never see olive oil and hard cheeses the same after Giovanni.
  7. For the chirping birds doing somersaults through the greenhouse window 
  8. That even though it is a long journey through a barren land, there are some young souls who are choosing to remember the moments of gushing water.  
  9. For the haunting passion of Ryan Coykendall when he leads worship; who woulda thunk?
  10. That now when I drive up and down Speedway every morning and every night I can plot attacks of engagement.  How can I effectively communicate the urgency of each day?

So this all means, His ways are not my ways.  His ways are not my selected soda can.  But they are indeed wondrous works. And he brought forth His people with joy, and His chosen with gladness.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

It seems like everywhere I go The more I see The less I know

 Bless the Lord, O my soul. O Lord my God, thou art very great; thou art clothed with honour and majesty.

He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that He may bring forth food out of the earth;

And wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengtheneth man's heart.

That thou givest them they gather: Thou openest thine hand, they are filled with good.

So dinner on Friday night with a few friends spun out into a full-bore event with flapping tissue flags, candled branches, a kiddie coloring table under sweeping tapestries and an invitation posted on Facebook.  And how very sweet it was.  

We kept squishing in just more around the curving table until at last a reinforcement table and chairs had to be brought in from next door, but it was just fine.  We really didn’t need a fire in the mirror-crusted fireplace on such a balmy night, but who could resist its crackle and spark? And as the handheld circle of thankfulness finished, Alan of course did an official welcome and introduced the dinnertime discussion question: What do you value best about yourself, of yourself? (crossing out the easy answers of “friends & family & Jesus”).

And after we could eat no more and the water pitchers and bowls of beans and rice and salsa and tortillas and ropa vieja and more French fries than you could imagine had been passed around and around with bottles and bowls of ketchup, we encircled the stage in chairs and mostly blankets on the ground, and reflected on bringing this best to the table of the Lord All-Powerful, because "from the east to the west I will be honored among the nations.” And after communion with fresh-after-five Safeway loaves and a jug of Gallo wine or for those who prefer, Welch’s grape juice, the beat went on.  Between Cameron’s “Here is the church, here is the steeple, we are all God’s chosen people” to Giovanni’s “Say hey I love you,” everything beautiful and soaring billowed out to the night sky. How could every single person at the Upper Room be an amazing musician but it’s true. Percussion instruments were distributed all around while conversations of poetry and dance nestled under the twinkly lemon trees, and yet another table of chocolate cheesecakes with whipped cream and raspberries and shaved chocolate and cookies and sweet breads was set up in the cleared space under the arch, and I will sing unto the Lord as long as I live: I will sing praise to my God while I have my being.

My meditation of Him shall be sweet: I will be glad in the Lord. Psalm 104

Walking in my daddy's footsteps

Bless the LORD, oh my soul, and all that is within me.  Bless His holy name.
The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy.
He will not always reprimand: neither will He keep His anger for ever.
He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. Psalm 102: 1, 8-11

 May I live today as His child, slow to anger and plenteous in mercy.  May all that is within me honor and celebrate His holy name.  Bless the LORD, oh my soul.  

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Peeking through the fingers covering my eyes

Of old hast thou laid the foundation of the earth: and the heavens are the work of Thy hands. They shall perish, but Thou shalt endure: yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shalt Thou change them, and they shall be changed.  Psalm 102: 25, 26

I was just flipping through the artwork of a Brazilian photographer who had spent six years documenting human misery in refugee camps and famines and disasters of every kind.  And his heart was broken; he couldn’t go on.  In seeking healing and restoration and hope, he and his wife spent the next nine years trekking the wilderness, documenting the Genesis spots of creation, the 45% of the world that as of yet unstained by human activity, that is not yet in tatters like an old garment. It mostly seemed to be filled with penguins and friendly whales, and peace.  An echo of a fresh creation. And a foreshadowing of what is to come.

And as I spoke yesterday to two chapels of bright-eyed and only slightly squirmy children yesterday, I was once again struck by the power of the verse: For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross.  This is something that the eyewitnesses watched, but could not wrap their heads around, the deliberate turning of their beloved Rabbi towards Jerusalem and to sure death with the confidence that this was part of the Plan. He knew the end of the story, the happily ever after ending, because He wrote it.  He is the Word.  They didn’t get it, but they noticed that He did.  And their hearts burned within them.

And sometimes, when I am wading through a book that seems particularly heavy and hopeless, I cheat, and read the last page, just to find out how it all ends, to see if I should bother to wade through the angst and pain.  And this is the end of our story: For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace; the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Isaiah 55:12

Forever and ever, Amen.  

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

He is good indeed

For the Lord is good;
   His steadfast love endures forever,
    and His faithfulness to all generations. Psalm 100:5

So my light started to flicker a little bit yesterday late afternoon, while Jenny and Nicole whipped up some amazing leftovers and a brand new crispy salad and I helped Gio analyze a “The Soldier” poem (and taught him my little middle school English teacher trick that “soldier” has the word “die” in it, which I hate) and figured out on the online U.S. Post Office how much it costs to send a postcard to Italy and enforced... reinforced... enforced with love and cheerfulness the new policies I wrote up for Jincheng last night at 2:30 a.m. so that he does not spend the next two years of his life lying on bed texting China.  And just as we pushed back from the table, well, even moments before we pushed back from the table, there was a knock on the door and Kevin Jalali and his beautiful brand-new wife from Iran stood smiling, all dressed up and ready to take us out to dinner.  And it sort of dawned on me that I hadn’t read his email very carefully.  And I had forgotten about the new wife, and had planned ice cream and chocolate sauce for Kevin and his two rambunctious kids who like to pound on Alan’s drum sets. And I wanted to curl up and crawl under the bed, but Jenny gave me a hug and a pat on the back, and I actually combed my hair and put on a grown-up jacket and headed out the door.  

And it isn’t that these haven’t been like the most amazing, wonderful, delicious days in so many ways I can’t even begin to count them, but maybe I should add them to The List.  It’s just that I ran out of ends of my candle to burn.

But God is faithful, albeit a little ironic, and I am to teach two, count them two chapels at Desert Christian Elementary and Middle School this morning at 8:15 and 9:00 a.m. on this verse: 
If you obey and do right,
a light will show you the way
and fill you with happiness.  Psalm 97:11

So in my free moments yesterday, as I fussed at the school coordinator for the AdvancED accreditation I am chairing with love and cheerfulness and urgency because it is less than a month away and her unfinished report was due two weeks ago, and put together a Creative Writing Anthology and read a welcoming note to Bogota, Colombia, and by the way, it is culturally important that my shoes are clean and polished, and looked at the next month of activities and blanched a bit when asked when I was going to take my Comp days but then cheerfully answered the moment Miss Everette Tess decides to show her face, I got ready for today. And I tied it in with my other verse, Happy are the people whose strength is in you! Whose hearts are set on the pilgrims’ way. Psalm 84:4, and put together a PowerPoint of Giovanni marching through the 100 degree desert singing loud, off-key songs of joy, and I kind of memorized my twenty-minute talk all day long yesterday, about setting one’s heart.  

And if you obey and do right.

And I set my heart as I headed out that door.  And God filled me with His strength.  And I spent a wonderful two hours sipping water and lemon at Old Pueblo Grill with the most lovely Elaheh and we talked about how to learn English and she smiled and laughed and I was filled with His happiness.  And even if that won’t be part of my story that I tell the kids in an hour.  

It is the story He tells me. 

For the Lord is good;
   His steadfast love endures forever,
    and His faithfulness to all generations.

Monday, April 1, 2013

It is finished

The heavens proclaim His righteousness,
and all the peoples see His glory.
Light is sown for the righteous,
and joy for the upright in heart. Psalm 97: 6,11

This was perfectly clear, as we all once again sat under the big Easter tent on the front lawn of the Vineyard, full of homemade sweet rolls and fruit salad.  Dustin and Heather had read, as only they can read, a back and forth call and response of the story of man and God.  

And this was clear as well, that the curtain between sinful man and the Holy of Holies was thick.  In fact, the Veils before the Most Holy Place were 40 cubits (60 feet) long, and 20 (30 feet) wide, of the thickness of the palm of the hand, and wrought in 72 squares, which were joined together; and these Veils were so heavy, that, in the exaggerated language of the time, it needed 300 priests to manipulate each. 

And yet, when Jesus cried out in a loud voice of triumph, “It is finished,” behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent.

And His glory is revealed to all the peoples. Bursting forth in a shout of triumph. The power of sin, the dividing wall, has been destroyed once and for all.   He is revealed now in truth and beauty and righteousness.  Let us proclaim the Good News unto all the peoples.  The Kingdom is now, even in our midst.