Thursday, December 19, 2013

Treading Water


This morning I woke to messages chiming on my phone. I scrolled through them; I stopped and read through one. Twice. A prayer for me. A woman stopping in the middle of her hectic morning schedule and taking the time to pray for me. What a gift—an utterly precious gift.
She often bathes me in prayer. She anointed me early in the morning so that I might begin my day not with her, but with Him. Isn’t that the way of it? Isn’t that the way the Body is meant to spur and encourage and exhort?
Her prayer prompted my spirit to rise in prayer. Her prayer nudged me to open up my heart this morning—this five days before Christmas. And I prayed with her, attaching my heart to the end of hers. May you attach your heart with us today. May you attach your prayers to ours. May they become a train of sweet incense rising to Him.
My friend’s prayer:

Father…help Tamera and I see You, hear You and feel You today. Envelope and cushion our minds and hearts as we tread these waters trying to be what would please you. Some days are hard, Father. Help us. Amen.

My prayer attached to hers:

Father, I hate treading water. I don’t like trying to just keep my mouth and nose above the water level. Yet, what are you wanting me to learn as my arms and legs spiral in these cold waters? What do You want my eyes to see? What do You want my spirit to recognize? Please help us to know that this treading does have purpose—contrary to our perception it’s not an idle place. No, the longer we tread our muscles will strengthen--surely this is a benefit. But it is when we grow tired and we have come to the end of our own resources that is the most important.
Oh! To come to the end of us so that we might find the beginning of Him. Please. Please, we ask. Our minds are fractured during this season. And then there are the added things, the extras that chase and hound us. They rob us of the sweet joy of your coming…of your staying—You With Us.
Help us to know your joy…your strength. Show us. Show us. Help us to trust you enough that we stop the spiral of legs and arms and we simply sink into You. Help us to trust you that much. Enable us to stop the striving, the flailing and the floundering so we might rest in You.
Help us, oh precious Savior! Oh, sweet Immanuel. Come beneath us and push our heads above the edge and surface of the waters. Lift us up. Lift us up on your capable and broad shoulders.
Come. Oh, come Immanuel!
Amen and amen.  

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Rabbit Holes and Car Trunks


Oh, Bother!
One of the lessons I have learned, repeatedly it seems, over the last six or seven years is how to laugh at myself, how to try not to take myself so seriously.  I am glad the Spirit is not daunted by the task of instructing me over and over in this life lesson. I do take myself far too seriously. Every little thing weighs on my heart and my spirit. And I have to work hard to let it go—to audaciously cast it on his shoulders rather than lay it reluctantly in his lap.
This Christmas season has been different already. But isn’t that the paradox and conundrum of Christmas? It is the same, sometimes even mundanely so, yet it is never exactly as it was in years before. We long for normalcy and tradition to carry us through the stress and the chaos. We long for peace and the lack of strife. But everything changes so the story goes.
This year we are doing many things differently. We drew names this year. First time ever. We put the immediate family names in an envelope and drew out the person we would buy a present for. And so starts my lesson of learning to laugh at myself--again.
It’s a Pooh kind of story so my husband says. I’ve never equated myself with Winnie the Pooh by any stretch of the means, but I guess this Christmas season he and I share similar scenarios.
I knew exactly what I wanted to get my person I got in the drawing. I knew with the price range set I would never be able to find one except by a miracle, but I wanted it for them. So, I went to our local Peddler’s Mall (my favorite shopping place, I have to put a limit on my spending when I go there). I went with a plan. If I found this item, a large one, within my price range and criteria I was going to bring it home. The likelihood really was far-fetched.
I traipsed up and down the aisles—zigzagging. I saw two of these items, but they were far, far beyond price range. I kept looking. I got momentarily distracted by finding several other things and tossed them in my cart just in case (I never remember where I saw something in these places.). I rounded a corner and there was just what I was looking for sitting in the middle of one of the booths. Excitement mounted, but I held it at bay. Remember, Tamera, you are on a budget. I turned the price tag over and it was one penny less than our allotted measure! I didn’t miss a beat. It wouldn’t fit in my buggy so I pulled it along behind me. I purchased it and then got ready to put it in my car.
Then I remembered. My trunk latch was stuck. The key won’t work and the inside lever won’t release it. Now, what was I going to do? I remembered the back seats of my car fold down and allow access to the trunk.
Ahh, grand Idea. (Famous last words, right?)
I would go through the back seat, hit the manual release. I pulled the back seat down. It was dark in the trunk. I pulled out the assistant light on my phone and held it into the dark cavern. Through the light I saw the lever.
Now, here is where I stopped thinking and just started doing—bad plan. I crawled into the trunk through the hole in my backseat. My arm did not have enough reach so I slid further into the Camry cave. Finally, the tips of my fingers could touch the lever and I pulled down hard. The trunk popped and a sliver of light filtered down to me. Silently I cheered.
Silently because I realized that if anyone were to walk by all they would see was my legs and back side sticking stiffly out of the side door of my car.
I tried to scoot backwards. I wriggled and scooted trying desperately to go back the way I came.
Alarm came when I realized I wasn’t making much progress. Tilted slightly down into the trunk I began to understand that this tilt which had helped me get into the trunk was going to impede the process of me getting out of the trunk.
Now, you must understand that as I am telling this story to a few others I am cracking up. Almost snorting as this whole scene plays out again in my mind. They didn’t think it was nearly as funny as I did. Perhaps, you don’t either. But remember the lesson here. Don’t take yourself so seriously.
My arm was stuck. I couldn’t get the leverage I needed to propel my body backwards and out at the same time. By this time though I was laughing so hard that it is a wonder I could do anything at all. I just kept thinking that someone was going to walk by the car and see this body protruding at such an odd angle that they would call 911 or at least the police.
I shimmied. I wiggled. If ever I learn to do the worm then I got my practice here.
There was a moment of panic. My arm was stuck under me and I needed it, but I couldn’t get it into a position to help me because of my angle and my laughing.
Finally, something gave. Not sure exactly what, but it did. And I popped out onto the back car seat.
My hair was stuck to my face. My shirt was askew halfway up my body.
I scooted back out of the car and stood.
Oh, the air. Oh, the large space. Freedom.
And all the while I was laughing—loudly.
Now, again my husband wasn’t thinking this was nearly has humorous as I did. I want to hope that it was out of concern for his kinetically challenged wife, but I don’t think so. Being the logical, practical engineer that he is he looked at me and said, “If you got the truck open why didn’t you just crawl through the truck and out?”
I looked at him. Just looked at him. Then I said, “Because my backside wouldn’t fit through the opening. That’s why!”
At that moment my husband lost it. He laughed so hard he had to remove his glasses and wipe the tears away. He continued to laugh. And continued. He slowed somewhat, looked and me and then laughed even harder.
Then of all things he said to me, “You make me think of Pooh and the rabbit hole! He couldn’t go in and he couldn’t get out.”
Well, I started to be offended. I really did, but I couldn’t hold on to that offense for very long. I laughed as hard as my husband. 
 
 
 
(Here's a clip of the fiasco too!)
However, six years ago I was in a similar place (cannot tell that one here). I was in an embarrassing situation and I had to decide to withdraw or to laugh at myself. God taught me to laugh. During my latest fiasco God helped me remember that lesson: we need to laugh at ourselves. We are to examine ourselves soberly, but we are to take ourselves lightly.
We are just little people who get caught in rabbit holes and have a hard time going backward or forward.
And that is where I am right now.

I’m stuck.

I am not sure whether to go backward or forward. I’m in some very tight places.
Pooh had to wait. Remember? He had to stay in the hole until he lost some weight around his middle. And so I have to wait until I learn to hand over some weights to him and allow him to make room for me in tight places. Only He can do it.
Many people will be in tight places this Christmas season: relationally, emotionally, spiritually and financially. They won’t’ be able to move backward or forward. They will feel stuck.
In this Christmas season let’s see what we can do to help. Let’s remind people that God is incredibly good at extracting us from tight places.
He wants to bring us out into a spacious place.
God sent his Son at Christmas because all of mankind was in a tight place. Half in and half out. God sent his Son because we weren’t moving forward and there was no chance of going backward.
God sent his Son because we were stuck.
This season it is my prayer that everyone reading these words will be freed.
Freed from the tight places, from the constrictions of our self-imposed regulations and the man-imposed expectations of others. Freed from the narrow rabbit holes of thinking. Freed from the small apertures of tradition. Freed from taking ourselves far too seriously.
May He make room for you in tight places this season.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

A Rad Kind of Thing


Life is a strange and wondrous thing. It is full of laughter and tears and hurts and pains and joys—sometimes they are wrapped up in one day.  A vacillation of emotions.
This week we attended a memorial service.
Memorials services and funerals are hard. They are emotional. They are sad. They are stressful. They are depleting.
This one was more so. This remembrance celebrated the life of someone we love. Very much. Especially my husband. Steve’s father passed away earlier this week.
His name was Rad. And Rad he was.
His sons said so.
I considered using this space to talk about Rad. To tell about his successes. To tell about his achievements. To tell about investments. There were many. But I want to share something different.
Several scenes and quiet events roll in my head like a silent slideshow. Each picture causes a small jilt in my heart. The moment I witnessed them I knew I was seeing God’s kingdom fleshed out as he has asked us to do. Many believe to live out the kingdom we must do great things. Many believe monumental things seem to have the greatest affect. As I grow older I realize that what has the greatest affect is what is done by and through love. Simply because it is the very right thing to do. Simply because it is the good thing to do.
I witnessed several of these moments this week.
Two sons and a mother. Two giant sons flanked their statuesque mother. She leaned into each one, leaning first one way and then the other. They stood looking at their father, her husband. Fifty –five years represented. The room was quiet. Hushed. It was hard to watch because in some ways we felt like we were intruding on their grief. It was a quiet grief. Those great shoulders of those giant sons quaked and shook. This triad was achingly hard to watch because we hurt for them. Grieved for them in the midst of our own grief. But the gentleness and care and respect these sons showed their mother touched us. Deeply.
Two sons and a mother. A storm. Thunder and lightning. Rain and freezing cold. A father’s remains to be placed in the ground. The minister asked us to stand. The three stood to pray and the wind pulled and whipped the flaps of the tent and caused the rain to pour in on the grieving three. Both sons stepped in closer to their mother, arms around her to shelter her from the harsh, unrelenting elements. But the tallest son, the youngest, lifted his long arm and placed his hand on the tent flap. He kept the rain from his mother. In that moment I saw the hand of God. In this life we will often be in a tent of grief. The storm will swell and rise around us. The rain will pour, the tent flaps will shudder, but the hand of God will shelter us. Right in the midst he will put his great arm up and he will protect us from the onslaught.
Three sisters. Two grieved for the other. Arms wrapped around the other’s shoulders. Tears spilled in floods. Grieving is such hard work; and I watched these two sisters attempt to help their oldest sister carry a burden almost too hard to bear.
A brother-in-law and a sister-in-law. They huddled against the wintery blast of rain and wind. The cemetery tents shook and scattered the cold splashes on the people inside. The sister-in-law shook in the cold. Her brother-in-law pulled his scarf from his own neck and gave it to her. The exchange was unseen by most. Unheard. No fanfare. Just this brotherly concern that fleshed out in an offering.
Four nieces and nephew.  All four bent and turned to comfort and help their aunt. Normal things. Everyday things:  Washing dishes. Cleaning bathrooms. Hauling trash. Doing laundry. Decorating a Christmas tree. Servants simply doing little things that needed to be done.
Five grandchildren present. Four girls and a boy wrapped in the loss of a grandfather and loss of words. Silent tears. Glances at their fathers to gauge stability. Glimpses at each other to decide how to navigate awkward, hard and painful moments. In kitchen conversations these siblings shared sweet memories of their grandfather. Their gentle tenderness for their grandmother caused deep pride and appreciation in their dads.
Two sons. Both sharing memories about their father. One verbal. One written. Both sets of words caused us to cry and to laugh. Both sets of words commemorated their father’s investment in their lives. Both sets of words declared the same—this quiet man helped mold them.  And it is a molding they do not want undone.
I saw Jesus this week. In the midst of loss and grief I saw him. In the little things. In the unseen things. In people who loved this man.
I think Rad would be very pleased.
And I am quite sure that when Rad reads this he will smile and shrug his shoulders.

Radley Rehnborg
June 27, 1939-December 3, 2013
 
 



 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Spilling Over: I Am Rich


Father, this morning I am thankful, utterly thankful, that you allow me to enter your Presence. The words enter his gates with thanksgiving, enter his courts with praise are far more than words to me.
I think about the enormity and density of coming into your Presence—of me a simultaneous sinner and saint—and I am silently overwhelmed.
Father, for so long I searched and looked to find something good and something real. I looked to find something far greater than myself. But I did not find something. No, you found me. I did not find you. You found me. Lost and meandering. Directionless and clueless. Empty and starving.
You found me.
I consider all the times I have failed, all the times that surely I must have disappointed, the many ways I could have chosen you and I didn’t.
I grieve the years I squandered and wasted. I regret all the times I judged others even though you showed me great mercy. I rue the times when I viewed someone else’s perspective less valuable than my own. I lament the times when I saw someone angry and reacted in like manner. I sorrow for being like the priest and Levite and walking on by the wounded, fearing to get my own hands dirty.
But today, this day, I am thankful because you didn’t dismiss me from your Presence. No, you did the opposite. You said, Come into my Presence and I will enable you to make good choices. I will lead you to what will prosper you. I will give you the strength to do things differently. I will change the heart of stone in you; I will make it tender. I will make it flesh.
And this sweetness of You drew me.
Praise you for your goodness to me. Thank you for your faithfulness that knows no end. Thank you for your patience with and for me. Thank you for your long-suffering toward me. Thank you for your love—the depth, the width, the height and the length of it—because you extend it to me daily. And I am rich.

Thank you.

Amen

 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Spilling Over: Bulletin Boards


I am amazed by so many things; I am so thankful that through all of my years of corruption and waywardness somehow God has preserved in me this wonder over the smallest of things. I have been enthralled by babies’ births and anthills and bumble bees. On a daily basis I usually find something regardless of how simple to interest me, some thread of seemingly nothing to someone else.
On our refrigerator we have two bulletin boards. They are white boards with a cork inset and a black magnetized marker attached. My third daughter bought these back in September and they have been on the bottom of the fridge door ever since. No one in the house would consider moving them. These boards are two of my favorite things in the house.  
Why?
They aren’t used to remind us of calendar events or daily chores or grocery lists.
These boards are used to remind us of who we are.
Really, Tamera, aren’t you being a little over dramatic? (Who would dare accuse me of such a thing?)
Seriously.

I’ve only written on these boards twice since they arrived. My youngest daughters, who still live with us, fill the white space with black letters. They are the ones who do most of the messaging, and I always know which one because their handwriting is so distinct.
I am so grateful.
These boards are erasable, but the messages are indelible.
These boards hold messages: scripture verses, quotes, song lyrics and notes. To me. To Steve. To each other. To themselves.
Reminders.
Beautiful reminders of the truth God desires for us to remember about him, about others and about ourselves.
Some mornings I stand in front of the refrigerator and laugh. Right out loud. Sometimes I need to sit down on the stool behind me, floored by the insight before me. Sometimes I just stand in the middle of the floor and cry because of the vulnerability and transparency.

These girls know how to encourage. They know how to bolster someone’s spirit—not with flattery, but with honestly raw words. They know how to turn a word or phrase so it exhorts without ever being pushy or overbearing or sappy.
The length of the messages varies. The intervals between new messages fluctuates. One message may remain for a week. A message may be three words long or it may start on one board and spill over to the other.
Last night when I got home one of the boards said—

Hope unswervingly


Today I am thankful for bulletin boards.
Today I will attempt to live out those four words. I am reminded of my motivation and my purpose.
Partly because of four words written on a white bulletin board on our refrigerator.
 
 
 
 
 
 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Spilling Over: As Iron Sharpens Iron


I sat here tonight and wondered how to narrow and compress into a few short paragraphs the many things for which I am thankful. How do I distill all the richness of my life into such a short space?
I didn’t even know where to begin. So, I just started with the immediate: what I was thankful for within the sphere of where I sat. And as always when you are thankful for three things you find gratitude for thirty.
Tonight I am thankful for dinners prepared together. For warm blankets and chocolate chip cookies from the oven. For light falling across floors and the hum of the furnace. For the tick of the clock and the spin of the washing machine. For the muffled snores of a dog long old. For the turning of thin book pages and the power of reading glasses. For the phone ringing and familiar voices speaking.
Tonight I am thankful for friends. Honest, real friends. People we do life with. People who share life with us—the good, the bad and the ugly.
I am so thankful for these people who know our weaknesses and do not exploit them. People who know our strengths and do not abuse them. People who help keep the edges of us sharp. People who help us maintain a keen awareness of what the Spirit is speaking. They sharpen swords with us, not against us. They are people who care about the integrity and character of us. These friends stick closer than a brother. They hurt with us. Cry with us. But most of all they rejoice with us. You see, it’s not quite as difficult to grieve with those who are hurting as it is to rejoice with those who are prospering.
I am thankful for the sharpness of our lives. This sharpness is directly related to the people who do life with us.
People in our lives who are iron.   

Father, tonight I thank you for the strength of the iron in my life. Thank you for all the couples who  sit in each other’s living rooms and kitchens and sharpen each other. Thank you for these friends who have loved us through hard places, tight places, dangerous places and abundant places. Thank you for the iron in them that sharpens the iron in us.  Thank you, Father. Thank you. Amen.

 

 

 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Spilling Over: The Word



I love words. As if that is a new revelation to you who are reading this post. I do. I have favorite words. I avoid words. I have a list of taboo words: said, that, pretty, cute and it (this is just the shortlist)

Since I was a little girl reading the encyclopedia I somehow understood that words were so very important, but rarely insignificant. Valuable, but often cheap. 
Words are full of potential and pregnant with power. Words can be weapons. Words can be surgical implements of healing. Words can be tools of construction and destruction.
Words cannot be retrieved once said. Once voiced they cannot be withdrawn. Words can hold life and death. Physically, emotionally and certainly spiritually. 
What I am so very thankful for today are the words in Scripture. They hold life.  
They hold life.
I am full of thanks-giving that the Mighty God of the Universe chose to talk to me through these life-words. His written word. He left me words—words that I might know him. Words that I might experience him. Words that I might know blessing. Words that I might know instruction. Words that I might know salvation.
Through his words I have come to life. I, who once was dead, am alive because his word told me salvation was available to all who asked. I, who once was sin-burdened, am free because his word told me that the Son came to free the captives. I, who once was condemned, am pardoned because his word told me Jesus paid my penalty. I, who once was lost, am found because his word told me Jesus came to seek and save the lost.
I am thankful for God’s word because it fills the dehydrated, emaciated, empty parts of me.
I am thankful for God’s word because it soothes the raw, torn and bleeding parts of me.
I am thankful for God’s word because it disciplines the rebellious and contentious parts of me.
I am thankful for God’s word because it encourages the timid and cowardly parts of me.
I am thankful for God’s word because it exposes the dank, dark parts of me.
I am thankful for God’s word because it reveals the motives and inclinations of me.
Today, this day, I am thankful for the written revelation of God’s beautiful, full-arching, far-reaching and all-encompassing plan.  I am thankful for this word left for me—this living, active word, sharper than any double edged sword. It penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)
 
Galatians 5:11-6:8 in my NIV Study Bible
 

Father, your Word has literally been life to me. In the midst of ugliness and squalor your words have been beauty and richness. In my poverty your words have filled me with wealth. In my weakness your words have filled me with strength. In my famine your word has nourished me.  In my confusion your word has offered me clarity. In my despair your word has given me hope. In my anger your words have been my steam valve. In my sorrow your word has comforted me. I bless you. Oh, how I bless and praise you that your words have been for me, and I hold them dear. All the words on the thin skinned pages of my Bible you meant for me. They were meant to show me you. Thank you, Father. Oh, I thank you. Amen

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Spilling Over: Noni's Boys

 (They are not exclusively my boys. Many, many others love them, but indulge me for today.)
 
Elijah David

Judah Nathaniel
 
E

veryone warned me. Many people explained that there would be no experience quite like this one. Several people even told me it would be the best thing in my life.  Not quite a year and a half into the journey I agree with them in many ways.
Grandchildren.
In my case this grandchildren phenomena arrived in the bundles of two little boys born in September 2012. Elijah arrived and then Judah. I wrote about both of them when they were born and have written about them since. They provide more writing material than I could ever use. And my world has never quite righted itself.
Apparently it is quite acceptable for grandmothers (in my case Noni) to be terribly biased: to believe their grandchildren are the most beautiful, to think that their grandchildren are the most intelligent, to determine their grandchildren to be the most advanced and to just know their grandchildren are the sweetest and cutest. I am no exception.
Yes, I am that kind of grandmother.
Oh, how wise our good Father is. He knows what will soften our hard hearts. He knows what will smooth the edges of our jaded attitudes. He knows what will readjust the warped planes of our minds. These beautiful little boys have changed me, and I am so thankful.  
How have they changed me? Too many ways to count or tell. Their influence in three areas must be measured exponentially.  
Prayer.  At least one day a week I keep each of the boys while their mamas work. I anticipate those days. Wednesdays and Fridays are my favorites.  About midmorning on these days Elijah and Judah grow very tired, and I get to rock them to sleep. While their sweet eyes grow heavy, and their breathing evens and lengthens I lean my head down to their sweet little ears and I pray. Their eyelids lower slowly and I just keep praying. Their eyes close completely and I just keep praying. Whispering hope on these little boys. Pleading grace on these someday men. Speaking peace on their now gentle spirits. When their great big little boy bodies grow limp—legs and arms sprawled across my lap—my prayers slip into praise. As I peer down into their little faces—skin unblemished and smooth, lashes dark against their cheeks, sweet lips lax in deep sleep—I am overwhelmed. Overcome.



 
Purity.  As we grow older we forget what it means to be pure. To not yet be jaded and cynical. We forget to look at the world as brand new. We no longer remember what it is to see snow for the first time, to hear the deep woof of a dog for the first time, to taste blueberries for the first time, to understand the concept of hot for the first time. Often when the boys are here, or I am with them, I simply watch them. I try not to interrupt them with my words, but observe their innocent purity. Their beautiful eyes are so full of light. My protective instincts poise ready; prepared to strike if anything endangers that innocence.  Watching them helps me to remember God has called me to be pure of heart like Elijah and Judah. He doesn’t want me to look at people and the world with a skeptical cynicism. He wants me to see this world in wonder. Eyes wide. Mouth open. Hands outstretched.


 

Pleasure. Elijah and Judah teach me to enjoy life. They remind me to savor this daily living of mine, to relish every moment, every detail regardless of how insignificant it may seem. These little boys understand pleasure. They relish food as it was meant to be—popping blackberries and blueberries in their mouths and saying, “ummhh”. Elijah and Judah have both been taught to be gentle. Their sweet hands brush your face in a downward stroke as they watch your face. They give open-mouthed kisses generously and their heads lay on your shoulder or chest—sometimes with arms wrapped around your neck—in a pulling-the-heartstrings hug. These little boys laugh with abandon. No inhibitions. No curbing the volume. And when they belly laugh I come unglued. The flyswatter and Noni swatting crazily at flies caused raucous fits and chortles with Judah. Noni’s version of the big bad wolf blowing the little pigs’ house down caused Elijah to throw back his head and chuckle. These little boys are good teachers. They gently remind me of how often I neglect this gift of pleasure God has given us. I forget that laughter is such good medicine. I fail to remember how affection can be healing.


 


 

Today, on this Thursday a week before Thanksgiving I am thankful for Elijah and Judah.

Father, I bless you and praise and thank you today for Noni’s boys. For Elijah and Judah and the richness they bring to my life. Thank you for how they have expanded the capacity of my heart. Thank you for the reasons  they give me pause—to wonder, to gaze, to laugh, to enjoy, to ponder and to breathe. Thank you, Father, for these little boys who will become men.  My mouth cannot speak what grips my heart. Father, there are no words for this heritage I see in Elijah and Judah—this continuing of generations and family. Father, I am undone when I see Elijah and Judah’s mamas’ faces in theirs. Father, there is no ability in me to fathom what your plan holds for them. But I ask, I pray, for you to carry all you have planned for Elijah and Judah to completion. Thank you. Thank you. Amen

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Spilling Over



Colossians 2:6-7 NIV
So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thanksgiving.

Colossians 2:6-7 The Message
My counsel for you is simple and straightforward: Just go ahead with what you’ve been given. You received Christ Jesus, the Master; now live him. You’re deeply rooted in him. You’re well-constructed upon him. You know your way around the faith. Now do what you’ve been taught. School’s out; quit studying the subject and start living it! And let your living spill over into thanksgiving.

 

Eight Days until Thanksgiving. Do you have these days counted out and counted down? My guess is not. I didn’t until today.
This national holiday was once a major event in the United States, but now is often overlooked and neglected and relegated as the interim between Halloween and Christmas. It seems to be a token holiday, an archaic tradition that no longer seems quite relevant. Let’s eat turkey, watch football and fall asleep on the couch.
Let me make something crystal clear right now. I have NO problem with eating turkey (it’s not my favorite, but there’s always other options), I have no issue with watching football (it’s not even on my radar, but it is on my son-in-law’s and for him I’ll try to figure out what it means to be on the something-something yard line), and I most certainly do not have a problem with napping on the couch (especially if I am tucked into my husband’s side under a fleece throw and my own eyes are closing).
Hopefully we are clear that I am not bashing some of the “sacred” traditions of Thanksgiving.
But these are by-products of a holiday meant to help people, a nation, to remember. This holiday was a holy day set aside to help us revisit the struggles and provisions of the year past. Thanksgiving is not just a day in November; it should be a statement in our lives. Thanksgiving Day should be a day to celebrate what we have been doing all year—living out thanksgiving for the blessings, the provision, the comfort, the care we have received.
My guess is you will read and hear a great deal about being thankful over the next eight days. You will be coerced and shamed into expecting more out of November 28, 2013 than turkey, stuffing, sweet potato casserole and (God forbid) an uninterrupted nap on the couch.
For the next seven days I want to remember.
In Scripture this word does not simply mean to call to mind. This remembering is a call to action based on your remembrances.  Remember me in prayer many of our older generation asked. Don’t just call me to mind, but pray for me. Ask the Father on my behalf. Intercede for me. Many times I have had friends who have traveled across the ocean. When they did I asked them to remember me—to shout my name at the shore. Or to stand on the Ephesian soil and bring me a stone so I might add it to my own cairn here at home. These friends have remembered me. Returning from their sojourns they come and see me and tell me they whispered my name, prayed for me or brought me something. I was remembered. 
In the next seven days I want to remember what my sweet God has done for me. What he has provided. What he has given. What he has bestowed. What he has poured out so freely.
Please join me. Ann Voskamp has paved the way for us with her beautiful book: One Thousand Gifts. If you haven’t read it I’m sorry. Thanksgiving is the under breath of Ann’s life. She encourages all of us to understand that everything can be filtered through giving thanks. Everything. And when we give thanks, when we choose to be grateful, our hearts fill to the brim.
Once we see three things to be thankful for we begin to see thirty.
For the next seven days I want you to experience the spill over of God’s abundant grace. As I share my spill over, perhaps you will see and recognize your own.
We’ll begin today.  Today’s remembrances are a list.  A list of ten.
Ten things I am thankful for today.

1.      Blueberries and pomegranate mixed in my morning yogurt.

2.      Henry (our dog) being so patient with my grandsons.

 

3.      Folded laundry.

4.      Ice in my water.

5.      Thursday night date with my oldest and youngest daughters—and the three tickets for the premiere of the movie we will see at midnight.  

6.      My daughter asking me to make her a grilled cheese sandwich for lunch.

7.      The scent of Granddaddy’s bread baking in our kitchen.

8.      Text prayers.

9.      The phrase “Hey, Mama.”

10.  My corner sanctuary.

 


 

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

 

 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Mountain Lessons: About God


He is

 never changing. He is immutable. He is the same yesterday, today and forever—the constant. As the Scriptures declare to us there are no shifting shadows in him.
But our knowledge of him, our knowing of Him, continues to unfold and enlarge. As we come into a deeper and deeper relationship with him more is revealed to us. Through intimacy we learn who he is. More and more I understand why the metaphor of marriage gives a limited, yet very beautiful visual of our relationship with the Father.
The revelation has to do with us—not him.
He is the same God Abraham knew, Hagar knew, Moses knew, Ruth knew, David knew, Ezra knew, Esther knew, Saint Francis knew,  Bonheoffer knew, C.S. Lewis knew, Mother Teresa knew, Billy Graham knows, Beth Moore knows, Donald Miller knows, John Piper knows and Kay Arthur knows.
The very same.
They were and are not such saints that they have an exclusive revelation of who God is. They were not given an inside track, a back door or initiated in by special rites. These aforementioned people have not been given some special revelation the rest of us are not privy to know. These people were and are not saints as it is defined today. They were and are flesh and blood sinners. They were and are bought and brought into the kingdom by the blood of Jesus. We come in the very same way today. And the God they knew is the one we can know.
This is the God we can know.
There is something to this knowing. Often in the Bible this word was used as a metaphor for the sexual union of a husband and a wife—and he knew his wife. It is more than just informational knowledge, more than academic pursuit and more than head facts. This knowing is intimate. It is revelatory. It is exposing. It is baring. It is experiential.
Since I was seventeen this knowing of Him has been offered to me. God wooed me when other lovers attempted to turn my head. He chased after me when I strayed. He found me when I lost my way. He carried me when I was weak. He washed me when I was filthy. He fed me when I was starving. He pursed me when I ran from him.
And there is such sweetness in this. Such beautiful sweetness in the heart and character of God. (Sweetness has been connected with Shirley Temple, puppies, new babies, and newlyweds—this is not the sweetness I mean.)
This beautiful sweetness is the marrow of who God is. When you break open the shell of a pecan or walnut—the nut-meat is sweet. Not sugary sweet, but deep savory and nourishing sweet. This is why Scriptures says many times: Taste and see the Lord is good.
Even in this God is asking us to know him. To experience him. Taste and see he says. Participate. Engage. Enter.
God wants us to know him.
I have tasted this sweetness of him.  And each taste of the reality of who He is and what He is sinks into the flesh of me.  Burying and yet, unearthing.
Coming down from that mountain our hearts (mine and Terri’s) burned. Burned as we discussed the reality that there is no other God like this one. There is no other.
Listen, I have looked.
There is no other who will pursue us. No other who will seek us. No other who will come to rescue us. There is no other who will reach down in the filth of our human excrement and pull us out and up into his arms.  
All other gods will ask, “What will you do for me?”  All other gods will demand a sacrifice of us which we would not give if we could see it in its entirety, in its full length. Other gods demand a reckoning we do not immediately see. Other gods, idols, will be tolerant initially; but they will keep a tally—black marks of what you owe them. And they will extract it from you.
But, you see, our God wants to be known. He longs to reveal himself to his people. Did you catch that?
Longs. Not demands. Not commands. Not coerces. No, he longs to show himself—to us. We, these vile and ugly creatures (and yes, we are. We, the innards of us, can, might and will be ugly. Really, you don’t believe me? Read CNN for five days in a row.)
We are given the chance and choice to know him. Our race does not hinder us, our gender does not hinder us, our age does not hinder us, and our pasts cannot prevent us.  Nothing can separate us from the love and sweetness of God.
When this truth becomes embedded in our hearts, when we realize he abides in the ugly place we just talked about, when this truth penetrates the stone flesh of who we are—it will change us.
The sweetness of God will change us.
Rules, regulations, laws and moral codes do not change us. They only momentarily alter our behavior. The law shows and points out where we do not meet the standard. It is a witness against us so that we might know our lack.  That we might understand we are not holy.
But it is the sweetness and the grace of God which transforms us.
Taste and see that the Lord is good.
Just taste.  
Please, just taste.

 

 

 

 

 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Mountain Lessons: Not About Me (Or About You)


I

n the last Mountain Lesson we talked about confession—agreeing with our God about the sins and the calling of our lives. Confession that is centered in returning to a right standing with God is healing.  It promotes the health of our spirits. It prevents infection and decay. It cleanses us.
Another revelation?
This Christian life?
This relationship I am in with the Father? this faith I proclaim?
It is not about anything I do.  
It is not about what I do to become or be a good Christian. It is not about what I sacrifice, what I offer or what I bring to the table. It is not about my morality or doctrinal stance. It is not about my adherence to man-made traditions. Or human expectations. The Christian walk is not about my misguided stabs at trying to find salvation. Over and over I have stabbed in the darkness with so many things: bible study, church attendance, prayer, devotions, quiet times and moral doctrine.
Many times my bible study has been seasonal and random and rarely retaining, my church attendance has often been a reluctant duty with no life or energy, my prayers have often been as stale as a long opened bag of chips, my devotions dry as saltine crackers, quiet times full of din and static and my doctrinal beliefs rigidly and horribly misguided.

None of these will save me or you. None of them.
No! This Christian life is about what God did through Jesus.  My salvation and redemption does not pivot on my performance. It hinges on the willing sacrifice of God’s Son to buy his people back. To buy me back.
I can do nothing for God, but because of what he did for me I can do everything for him. Nothing I do can earn my clear conscience. Nothing I offer can put peace in my spirit, Nothing I do can produce goodness in me. Nothing I can say or do will erase my shame.  Nothing I do can or will transform me. Nothing. But glory to God, he can do all these things and has.
We tend to make salvation and its story man-centered. People-centered.  We try to strain and stretch this story, this long-reaching act of ransom, so that we become the heroes and heroines.
We are not the heroes and heroines. God help the story if we are.
We are the ones needing to be saved.
Our hair has grown too long, we have lost our glass slippers, we have eaten far too much of the gingerbread house, we have given up our voices in order to obtain something we aren’t even sure will want us, our houses have succumbed to wind and flames and we have been deceived by the wolf far too many times.
We want to be the powerful protagonists of the story.
We want to be flawless characters (which of course would mean that we are static).
But everyone, and I do mean everyone, is a flawed character in this story. The absolute reality is that at any given time all of us—I do mean all, there is no exception—are flawed.
We should never be persuaded to believe otherwise.
We are not the voice in the narrative.
This is God’s story.
Period.
This is His plan of salvation.
And we can try to add to it, but our attempts will never be enough, because that is all they ever are: attempts. Futile tries.
Adam and Eve attempted to cover their nakedness with fig leaves. They tried to cover their bareness with torn and broken leaves far too small. Why? Because they suddenly saw ugliness where before they saw only beauty. They tried to write their own story; the deceiver told them God was holding out on them.  
They believed the subtle, slick and silky snake.
We do too.
The deceiver tells us we can write our own stories. He implies that God is holding out on us. He convinces us that it is about us.
He wants us to believe this lie.
He tries to convince God’s people that salvation is our story, but it is not. 
It is God’s story.  
He is the hero.  
All our attempts to live this Christian life are like stringing fig leaves together to cover a nakedness we no longer understand.  Our endeavors to create and design an acceptable wardrobe is in vain. We are like the emperor who paraded down the streets in his nakedness believing he was wearing royal robes.  
 
Only the willing sacrificial offering of Jesus covers us.
 
This is our salvation.

That’s it. Nothing else.