Getting the Word

1Timothy 2:1-3 The first thing I want you to do is pray. Pray every way you know how for everyone you know. Pray especially for rulers and their governments to rule well so we can be quietly about our business of living simply, in humble contemplation. This is the way our Savior God wants us to live. (The Message)

Each year I use the week between Christmas and New Years to intentionally seek the “theme” that God would use as a guide for me in the new year. One year it was the word contentment, another time surrender. Last year it seemed that God wanted to reinforce in me the thought from Psalm 23 that “I have all I need.”

I hadn’t really even begun to give thought to the process when God broke into my quiet time this morning with the scripture quoted above. Initially, I thought that the verse was merely there to set the tone for my search, but I quickly realized that the first part of verse one was the answer to the question I had yet to ask.

So it looks like it’s going to be a year of prayer. As I let this soak in some specific thoughts bubbled up:

-Pray first. My standard practice of allowing worry to drive me to prayer will no longer suffice. Before worry, before complaint, before anything: prayer.

-Pray for leaders. I must confess that I am quite tired with all the grumbling and negativity associated with our current governmental leadership as well as with those seeking to be considered for leadership. I really feel that I am being asked to be silent in the conversations that will be raging and instead be prayerful.

-Prayer is going to lead me into living simply, humbly, and contemplatively.

 My thought is to write about this journey. I intend to read about prayer, and about pray-ers. I want to be able to look back see what the terrain of this year-long journey has been. And I will be recording that here (interspersed with other reflections, especially during Lent). To that end, if there is something that I can be praying for you about, please leave me a note. If it’s a private matter, perhaps we can email about that.

I’m excited. I expect I’ll be stretched. I don’t anticipate that this will be easy. But growth rarely is, and I believe I will grow.

It’s Christmas!

Well, the waiting is over.  When you awoke this morning what did you feel?  Excitement? Relief? Exhaustion? Anything? For some, this morning could bring a huge let down, disappointment over long hoped for items not found.  Sadness over things lost.  Emptiness.

The one true way to be sure to not be let down, it to have come into this day realizing that the greatest gift has been given.  It’s a gift that always fits, is always in style, never wears out, and won’t ever break.  The gift of God, Emmanuel with us.  God coming into our existance.  I love the way Paul put it to the Philippians:

5You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

6 Though he was God,[a]
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges[b];
he took the humble position of a slave[c]
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,[d]
8 he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

9 Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
and gave him the name above all other names,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

That kind of love gives the perfect gift.  I hope that you have recieved it.  I pray that it will fill you life with all the joy that you can hold.  It can.  He will.

Many blessings to you this holy day.

Advent: Quiet

 12-24-11 Quiet

15For thus the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, has said, “In repentance and rest you will be saved,in quietness and trust is your strength.” But you were not willing,

When our first grandchild, Penelope, was born I created an ABC lullaby that was quite effective at calming her and lulling her to sleep. She heard it nearly every day for six months and then she and her mommy moved away. My second grandchild, Caden didn’t get to hear the song much since they lived away from us when he was little. When Asher came along he lived with us and even when he and his mommy got an apartment he came to see us nearly every day. Needless to say, Asher heard the lullaby almost daily. As calming as it was for him, singing it also calmed my spirit.

I have come to appreciate quiet and not just the quiet that comes after the kids are gone. I mean the stillness of a fresh morning when I whisper even to God. This has not always been the case. For far too many years I had way too much on my on my plate. Keeping myself busy, taking on more and more tasks earned me recognition at work and seemed to impress people. So I kept at it, all the while feeling a niggling in my spirit that whispered of my need for quiet and rest. But I was not willing, and the result was tragic. I’m still trying to put the pieces back together, but some days it really doesn’t feel like there any pieces to work with (see Isaiah 30:14).

Recently Asher was obviously needing a nap, but desperately fighting to stay awake. He had crawled up into my lap so I started to sing the ABC lullaby. Knowing that he didn’t want to go to sleep, he put his hand over my mouth and said, “No, Mema.” He knew if I continued to sing he would fall asleep and he just couldn’t afford to miss anything. Or so he thought. He had a miserable afternoon which resulted in his spending some time in Time Out where, finally alone, he fell asleep.

Just like I knew that Asher needed a nap, God knows what we need. He knew what the children of Israel needed, too. They foolishly wanted to put their confidence back in Egypt. They didn’t want to trust in God or his word. The prophet is warning them that they needed to return and find their rest, their satisfaction in God and his plan. They needed to surrender their disquieted spirit and find their strength in him. But they weren’t willing. Are you?

Advent: Gifts

 12-23-11 Gifts

A group of us were discussing how grace is like a gift. One person in the group noted that they really couldn’t understand how anyone could turn down a gift. Another said they didn’t think people refused gifts. I had to unfortunately disagree.

The first example that came to mind was my grandson. While he was yet a toddler, my husband began the daily habit of giving him a Matchbox car. Asher loved this. It was like a game to him. As time progressed, Nelson tried to introduce other gifts into the mix and they were met with a fit of tears and protests. Now, we may not stomp our feet when we don’t receive what we want or expect from God, but take inventory for a moment. Have you ever had your own spiritual tantrum or pouting party when God didn’t come through like you wanted?

The other thing I’ve noticed is from adults. This probably stands out more to me because I have in recent years been more on the receiving end of people’s generosity. I have witnessed folks trying to help others and those would be recipients turning down the gift when it wasn’t exactly what they wanted/needed. They were offered a couch or bed and the gift was declined because it wasn’t the right size, style, or color.

Perhaps I’m thinking more about gifts because of the season we’re in now,or because the holidaysforce us to focus on thankfulness and God’s great gift to us. Perhaps, but really, for me it’s  just that I’m seeing every day as a gift. I have truly taken to heart the words of Jeremiah in Lamentations 3: The steadfast love the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness (vs. 22-23)

I’m not foolish or naive enough to believe that everything that comes my way is going to feel good or be exactly the thing I want or the way I want it. But like Paul in his words to the Roman church so long ago: he (God) works everything for good. The best news in that is that I don’t have to see that right now. I just have to know it and trust it. He really is the giver of all good gifts.

Advent: Satisfied? Satisfied.


12-22-11 Satisfied

I remember being asked, quite sarcastically when I was younger, “Are you satisfied now?” Typically the question came when I was being perceived as annoying and it often resulted in my mother crying or becoming enraged. Being satisfied, then, was never associated with a good thing.

So it was pretty amazing when I was in seminary and studying the Beatitudes to come across this: 6″Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. (Matt. 5:6, NASB). The word for satisfied is often translated filled, but it is a richer word than that. The root refers to an enclosure, or pasture-ground. The verb means to feed or fill with grass; to fatten; to satiate or gorge.

Now a couple things jump out at me immediately with this. First, when was the last time you were gorged? With having just come through Thanksgiving dinner and all the holiday parties we get to graze through, it shouldn’t be too hard to come up with a time. You know how it goes, we’re already full from a wonderful meal and yet somehow we find just enough room to squeeze in a few bites of dessert, with whipped cream, please. And pardon me while I loosen my belt. Hold onto that image and now answer me this: when was the last time you were that satiated spiritually? Are you hungering and thirsting for the things that will truly satisfy?

Then I was thinking about the root word, pasture-ground and enclosure. My mind drifted back to the image of the Good Shepherd (see Psalm 23) who leads his flock to lie down in green pastures. He knows where to put us so that our spirits can be fed, and fed to the fullest. His promise is that if we will hunger after him, he will completely fill us. If you’re not feeling satisfied, full on God, it’s about you—not Him!

So, I’m wondering today: Are you satisfied now? It really is a good thing!

Advent: Wonder


12-21-11 Wonder

Today’s word is wonder. I sat here, at my computer, yesterday and watched videos about wonder. I walked around my house and sang “O, the wonder of it all.” I thought about it a lot today. When did we lose the wonder?

I remember standing at the Grand Canyon, speechless, trying to absorb the magnitude and the beauty. I held my grandson seconds after he was born. I have experienced a depth of love and forgiveness from people who could have leveled heavy justice and judgment. O, the wonder of it all.

Recently I’ve read a statement and heard it in sermons. The author is most often cited as unknown, but I think he or she gets this idea of wonder. S/he said, “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.”

I imagine that standing out on the hillside being serenaded by an army of angels, the shepherds had their breath taken away. Looking into the face of the baby born to take away the sins of the world must have taken away Mary and Joseph’s breath. And humble as they were, it must have been breath taking to witness three magi bowing before their child and bringing extravegant gifts to pay him homage.

How’s your wonder when it comes to the Christmas story? The miracles of Christmas? Can you still come to the manger with the wide-eyed wonder of a child? O, the wonder of it all.

Advent: Participate

 12-20-11 Participate

Are you an observer or a participant? I know, it depends on what’s going on. My extroverted personality tends to get me involved. My lack of boundaries causes me to say yes to things I don’t always “want” to do. And because I’m somewhat ADD, well, I just don’t sit well. I like to be where things are happening. Unless the “happening” is in the kitchen or on a sports field of play. I do know my limitations.

Ah, limitations in participation. They are pretty much self-imposed, wouldn’t you agree? We have our list of “can’ts” that we are quick to recite when with really can’t or don’t want to do something. When I was a kid and my grandmother wanted to teach me to knit and crochet, I was quick to use the excuse that I was left handed and therefore couldn’t learn. I’m not exactly sure where I got that, unless it was from my first grade teach who I absolutely exasperated as she struggled to teach me how to write my letters. Perhaps she determined and announced that I was unteachable because I was left handed. Anyway, it was an excuse that served me well on summer days when I was clearly more interested in playing outdoors than learning to knit one and purl two.

All this thinking about participation, reminded me of one of my favorite passages in scripture. It was penned by Peter:

3His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. (2 Peter 1:3-4, NIV)

I found this passage early on in my faith journey, thanks to a small book by Bob Benson entitled, “Come Share the Being.” You can borrow my copy, but I want it back. In it he invites to really contemplate that we have not only been invited, but we are equipped to share in the divine nature of God. You and me, with all our stuff—good and bad—have been given his great and precious promises so that we can participate in the divine nature of God. Does that give you chill bumps, or knock you upside the head, or break your heart? Think about it!

Now, given that we’ve been given ev-er-ee-thing (hear that word broken down and pronounced in a slow exaggerated manner) that we need, how (how, how, how) can we continue to throw up excuses and can’ts when God asks us to do something? It is so time to stop letting a few do the work while we observe. It is time to participate. If you’re ready to plunge right in, by all means go ahead! The water’s great! But if not, if you’re feeling a little more timid, if you need a little more confirmation (if your cousin’s name is Gideon), than stick your toe in and watch what he will do. When the Hebrew children were willing to put their toes in the Red Sea or the Jordan River they parted. You have been given everything, his precious promises, to be able to participate in his divine nature. And yes, that does mean you—no matter what your first grade teacher, or mom, or boyfriend, or boss have said!

I don’t know what time the clock says as you’re reading this, but I know it’s time to stop observing and start participating. What are you waiting for? You have everything you need.

Advent: Undivided


12-19-11 Undivided

Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name. Psalm 86:11, NIV

I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 11:19, NIV

I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord. 1Corinthians 7:35, NIV

I don’t know about you, but I used to wonder why we drilled so much on math. No wait, when I drilled it was called arithmetic. I just had to use my little phrase to even help me spell the word: a rat in the house might eat the ice cream. And now there is no such thing in studies as arithmetic. But I digress.

When I would groan about spending time on my multiplication tables or working out long division, be sure to show your work, my father would always tell me that I would need it someday. Well, at that moment someday looked a long way off when all I wanted to do was go out and play. So even when it came to math I had a divided heart.<

We may not think about the Divided Heart Syndrome, but we live with it every day. Our case may not be as bad as Paul’s (read Roman’s 7 for his symptom description), but we know the way it impacts us: we feel torn between what we know we should, ought, or need to do and what we want to do. This may be as simple as needing to clean out the garage but wanting to sit in front of the TV soaking in every sporting event on a Sunday, or trying to ignore the laundry so that you can sit down with a good book. Those examples probably won’t get you into too much trouble unless your wife wants to park her car in that garage. Where we really get into trouble is when these mundane choices bleed their way into our spiritual life.

I spent a lot of years chasing after perfection in my faith. I thought that if I just read enough scripture, attended enough worship services or Bible studies, prayed hard enough, and devoted myself to service I might achieve it. I really took to heart what I thought Kierkegaard’s “purity of heart is to will one thing.” But the harder I tried the more I wrestled like Paul, the thing that I wanted to do I could not and the thing I didn’t want just seemed to keep on happening. I felt so divided I must have been Humpty Dumpty’s sister.

Slowly, it began to dawn on me that perhaps that to “will one thing” was not the same as to do one thing. I started to believe that the heart of flesh that God wanted to give me wouldn’t necessarily result in a perfection of actions or maybe even attitudes, but it would result in a cleansing of my desires. David writes in Psalm 37:4 that if we will delight ourselves in Him that he will give us our heart’s desires. I no longer see this as God donning a Santa suit and filling my grown up wish list, but that he will put in my heart the desire to desire things he desires. And then, I will find the will to will one thing.

So are you feeling a bit scattered? Oddly enough, ‘tis the season. How crazy is that? In the season when we should be the most focused, we find ourselves the most out of focus. When a spirit of Thanksgiving should waltz us right to the manger, we find ourselves quick stepping all over the place.

My prayer for all of us today is that we would be willing to stop the division and allow God to place in our hearts the desire to live by a unified spirit. He does an amazing job of bringing the pieces together if we’ll let Him.

Advent: Undoing


12-18-11 Undoing

7 A fool’s mouth is his undoing, and his lips are a snare to his soul. Proverbs 18:7

5Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. James 3:5-6

18Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. 19This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence. 1 John 3:18-19<

I think out loud. It’s not good. I mean it works okay, but it is not without its difficulties. I end up apologizing a lot because the things I say haven’t been processed or fine tuned. It reminds me of a saying I must have heard a bazillion times from my dad: Engage brain before opening mouth. It was great advice, but really hard for someone with my personality and tendencies.

The word from John’s epistle seems to be a partial antidote to the problem. If we depend on our mouths and words to convince people that they are loved and treasured, we’re going to be sadly disappointed and a big disappointment. We need to balance and back up our words with actions. It really is true that people can’t hear what we’re saying because of what we’re doing.

It is also true that when our actions negate our words we have a problem. People are watching us for consistency and integrity. These are the currency of love. Will we take the time to invest or spend thoughtlessly?

As we move more deeply into holiday times and family gatherings, my prayer is that we will be more conscious of the words we speak, the actions that we share, and the love we want to communicate. God could have just told us his plan, but instead: God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. (Romans 5:8)

Advent: Vision

 2-17-11 Vision

Where there is no vision, the people perish. Proverbs 29:18

     Early in my first pastorate I was told a story about a church that died. As the last few faithful were cleaning out the building they came upon an old plaque that appeared to have been made during VBS. Someone had picked the proverb about vision from above and glued macaroni letters onto a board and spray painted them gold. The child’s art project was very telling, perhaps even foretelling. On this dusty plaque, ignored and hidden, the message read: here there is no vision, the people perish. The meaning for changed, but true, with the loss of one letter.

     Recently my friend Heidi handed me a book and told me I had to read it. There was such passion and sincerity in her words I couldn’t not comply. I want to buy a case and hand it out to everyone. The book is by Donald Miller and is entitled: “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, What I Learned While Editing My Life.” I can’t afford to go buy a case so when you get your Barnes and Noble gift cards get your very own or check it out of the library. He’s a little rough around the edges, but I get what he’s saying. Here’s something I read today:

     I was watching the movie “Star Wars” recently and wondered what made that movie so good. Of course, there are a thousand reasons. But I also noticed that if I paused the DVD on any frame, I could point toward any major character and say exactly what that person wanted. No character had a vague ambition. It made me wonder if the reasons our lives seem so muddled is because we keep walking into scenes in which we, along with the people around us, have no clear idea what we want. (p. 113)

     As I was thinking on these things, the wondering that seemed to bubble up in me was this: have you allowed God to give you a vision? Do you know what you want? What he wants for you? What he wants to do in you and through you? Don’t be like the people at the church and perish for a lack of a “w”…for lack of vision.


%d bloggers like this: