Tuesday, January 28, 2014

My Best Friend

First an apology – last week I had an issue with back spasms, so obviously didn’t do any writing.  However, thanks to my heating pad and some happy pills (muscle relaxers) I am doing much better.
Now, on to my thoughts today.  For the last four weeks, my morning reading was about prayer, but now the topic at hand is prayer, and I want to share an amazing quote from my book, A Year With God, “ The mid twentieth century minister and writer George Buttrick refers to prayer as ‘a friendship with God.’

Now, there’s thought to chew on.  My mother’s view of God was that Being so high and lofty that no human could really have a relationship with Him; you just had to do your best to honor Him and obey Him, and not dishonor Him.  That last part was important to her, so soap in the mouth was the remedy for careless speech or cursing, using the Lord’s Name in vain.  Maybe you have heard the song that has this line in it, “St Peter, don’t you call me….” I can’t remember the rest, or “Do Lord or do Lord, oh do remember me,” and somewhere there is a line with Lordy in it.  Anyway, those were off limits because they did not honor God….so that was my first view of God, kind of too far away to be reached or to care personally about me. That God had a long white beard and looked down His nose at me.
Then, for many years I learned and believed things that made me fear God, that I would mess up, and be punished by God, or that I wouldn’t stay confessed up, and that would cost me.  Or that He would return and catch me in sin, and that would not go well.  God was to be feared, and I was afraid of Him.  And that God had anger in His brown eyes!

Then, I came to understand more fully what it meant to be loved by God.  John 3:16 says that God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believed in Him would have eternal life.  I learned that Christ paid my sin debt, all of them.  Now that is some kind of love!  Maybe it took parenting, and understanding and living out a bit of unconditional love to really understand that kind of love and to understand the reality and possibility of my relationship with God. 
He is my perfect loving heavenly Father, no matter what!  He is my friend!  I am His friend.  And all prayer is – is communication with Him, the same kind of conversation that I would have with any friend…any best friend. Now there’s a thought!  God does not want me to be afraid of Him; I am His child.  He loves me, personally, warts and all.  He wants only that which is best for me, and just as I miss my children when I do not see or talk to them, He misses me and wants to hear my voice.  What a thought!  A God Who is personal!





Monday, January 20, 2014

The Voice in Your Head

“If it’s not yours, don’t touch it.”  “If you cannot say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”  “Take care of what you have.”  “Nobody can take your education away from you.” “Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain, and don’t sing songs that don’t honor Him.” “Keep busy, it doesn’t hurt as much if you just keep busy.”  “You can’t get your purity back.”  Well, the voice didn’t say that in those words, but it did mean that.  “Don’t take rides from strangers,” and “Don’t talk to strangers,” the voice said.  “You can get hurt in ways you cannot ever fix,” and I knew, sort of, what the voice was saying.

I used that last ones when I was on my way home from seeing Jim at his Army basic training.  I was in the Harrisburg bus station, and it was very late at night.  I ordered a cup of tea and found a table in the light where I could read, or at least look like I was reading, so no one would bother me.   But this guy did and he asked me where I was going and said he could drive me and get me there much sooner.  But the voice was there in my head and it came out like this: “My mother told me not to talk to strangers and not to ride with strangers, and I don’t know you, so no thank you.”
You see, for me the voice I still hear in my head is my mother’s even though I lost her forty-three years ago this week.  Yesterday I was cleaning off the shelf over my desk and pulled down a thick manila envelope filled with old pictures.  There were lots of me at all ages, and one where my husband described me as “slim of stature.”  I think I weighed seventy pounds in that one.  But there was also a great one of my mother and my sister Susan the day of her wedding, probably one of the last pictures of mother dressed up…a lady, my mother always looked like a lady, and she would have even without that great hat.

All of this makes me think about the voices in my children’s heads.  I wonder if they hear anything good.  I know how my mother’s voice marked me.  She valued education.  She valued acting like a “lady.”  She made much out of little, and it seemed like normal – you didn’t have to spend a lot of money to set a nice table and serve an attractive and appetizing meal. Some days I want to tell her that I really did learn from and value the voice she put in my head.  I want her to see that my children have turned out to be hard-working achieving adults, but I can hear her voice, if I tried to say that…as long as they know you love them, that’s what’s important.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Mean Girls (and boys)

I never saw the movie Mean Girls, the first or the second, but I can imagine what it is about. Well, actually I googled it, so I do know what it is about.  The media has also been filled with spots about mean kids, bullies, and yesterday I watched a piece that talked about little kids bullying other little kids.  So kind of hold that thought in your mind, kids as young as five or six actually intentionally being mean to another child, and encouraging other kids to be mean to that child.
This morning I read these words, Jesus praying in John 17, “I ask  not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one…that the world may believe that you sent me.” OK,  so the way we live should confirm the message that God loved people in the world so much that He sent His Son to die for our sins, because that is the message we say we believe.  Our lives should be so marked by unity and love that others want what we have.

Now, how do these two paragraphs meet?  They meet where people identified as Christians disagree, where Christians have power over others, whether in the workplace, the church, or the neighborhood. Man, we get ugly when people disagree with us.  OK, that is an overstatement! Some professing believers get ugly when people disagree with them. 
This morning a friend posted a review of a book on facebook, and hesitantly, because I have friends and students who are really ministered to by the book, I posted a few of my thoughts.  Hmmm, I think we are too quick to take offence, at least some of us are.  And that might say we find loving each other hard, and we don’t feel loved if someone disagrees with us.

I grew up in republican country.  My parents served on the election board, so you know it was deeply ingrained.  I didn’t know, growing up, that you could be Christian and democrat, and I know a lot of people who still believe that way.  How shameful, that we could allow something like that to divide us.  Loving each other means that sometimes we have to make the effort to look through the other person’s eyes, their experiences, and maybe we could understand their perspective better, rather than judge and convict them with no real fair hearing or evidence. 
Can we not allow others in the family of Christ to practice their faith differently than we do, and still love them?  I guess this thing about love is that, as far as I can tell, we really should be loving people in general.  Remember one of your first memory verses back in the day, “Be ye kind to one another.”  Kindness is a demonstration of love. 

I’m rambling, but I think that no one ever taught those mean girls about the significance of kindness or loving one another.  I think that sometimes Christians in power, any kind of power, need a refresher course on the importance of being kind to one another and loving one another.

Anyway, thoughts that came to me as I rehearsed Christ’s prayer in John 17.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Thirty-three Years a Prisoner, by His Own Will

I was a teenager when I read Black Like Me written by John Howard Griffin, a Texan who, under the care of a physician,  changed the color of his skin from white to black and then traveled through the South for six weeks, journaling about his experience along the way.   People who knew him as a white man did not recognize him as a black man. Regardless of how mannerly he behaved, he was viewed as less than, even sassy when he attempted to offer his bus seat to a white woman.

That book challenged me, as a young white girl, with the injustice in the world, and my inability to do much about it, especially since there were no black people in my world in rural Pennsylvania nor people all that interested in racial injustice.  But it made me think about what it must have been like for him, and for all black people, to be judged by your skin, the real you, the essential person, caged by the color of your skin.
Then this morning in my reading in A Year with God, a similar challenge hit me when the author asked “How has the reality that God took on human flesh and lived among us changed your life?”  For thirty-three years, he voluntarily took on the prison of a human body.  He got tired, hungry, thirsty, perhaps frustrated, was ignored, persecuted, chased, humiliated, unfairly judged and finally killed. For thirty-three years, he lived in a human body; can you imagine the Divine God living in the body of an infant, a toddler, a child, a teenager, a young man, chased about by his parents, siblings, and perhaps eligible young women?

He did it all so He could honestly say that He understood our needs.  The writer of Hebrews puts it this way in chapter 2, verse 17-18: “For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”
My God in the person of Jesus Christ allowed himself to be caged in a human body, to look out through the eyes of God and know how we might feel and experience life.  What love!  What sacrifice – certainly His death on the cross in satisfaction of our sin debt was a sacrifice we as humans cannot really comprehend, but the years of sacrifice before that – caged in a human body, how can we understand that?

I guess we can best understand it when we recognize that we too are strangers in this world.  Indeed this world is not our home. Peter writes this in I Peter 2:11-12, “Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in this world, to abstain from sinful desires which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans (unbelievers) that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”
I wanted so much to find a way to honor the black people back then, but didn’t do very well finding that way.  But today, we can find ways to honor our God, “Who, being in the very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped but made himself nothing taking the very nature of a servant, being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-even death on a cross.” Phil. 2:6-8.

We can consider the reality of what He did, and learn from it, not just assent to it.
All Scripture is from the New International Version
Picture is from the cover of the book

Monday, January 13, 2014

22, and she died!

There is something about having a living mother, someone who loves you unconditionally, someone who is always there, even if miles separate you.  And no matter how old you grow, there is something about having your mom in your life.  Maybe it is that when she goes, you are the oldest, the one people will need to turn you; the mantle of responsibility is passed on…or maybe it is just that your mom has a good shoulder and she loves you.

I was 22; it was forty some years ago this month that my mother had her final heart attack.  She was 59.  And she was my mom, and whether she is sick or not, there is something about knowing your mother is at the other end of the phone line. I did have an older sister who filled, sort of, that role.  At least, I knew I could call on her for advice, and I knew that she loved me, and I am ever grateful for her.

But for all of these years, there remained an emptiness when other people talked about their mothers and doing things with their mothers.  Twenty-five years ago, we moved to Clarks Summit and BBC and I met a woman who modeled godly motherhood in a very remarkable way. Her name was Eleanor Mosher, and when I moved into the Office for Student Development, her desk was just outside my door.  We were encouraged to pray together as an office, but because of schedule conflicts, generally it was Eleanor and me…then it was just Eleanor and me who prayed most days just before 8:00 am.

Today, every time I get into the elevator at school, I think of Eleanor and the weeks and months we prayed for an elevator at BBC, so people with special needs would feel welcome there and could attend classes.  We prayed for our students’ travels every break, and you know, we never lost one.  We prayed for the sick, and those who needed jobs, and for those with heartbreak.  We prayed for our colleagues in our office and the staff and faculty at BBC, and we prayed for our families and for each other.  We prayed for wisdom and discernment and patience. Praying with Eleanor was like sitting together on a loveseat in the presence of God, talking with someone who loved me to someone who loved me.

Photo: Thinking of Grandma, and praying for the family tonight.
Yesterday, she left this life. I knew she was ill, and I had been praying for her and her family, that they would have the grace to walk these days through the end of her life.  I didn’t let myself think about how much of a loss I would feel when she left us.  You see, I knew Eleanor continued to pray for me, that she and her husband e very day prayed for God’s work on the campus of BBC.

And today, I feel that aloneness again.  I am so grateful that we all know where Eleanor is, in the presence of God, without pain, rejoicing, laughing, praising God and singing.  I can hear her, if I let myself.  Nonetheless, her Kenny will miss her terribly, and I will pray for him, as I know she would.  Her children and grandchildren will miss her, and anyone who ever prayed with her will miss her.

Loving someone brings great joy, but it also brings deep pain.  You cannot have the one without the other.  Today, I am happy for Eleanor, and I am happy for the blessed hope we have of seeing her again.  And I sense, mixed in with the grief that we feel, that responsibility to continue to pray, to find her shoes as a prayer warrior and honor her, by trying to walk in them.
picture borrowed from Eleanor's daughter Sharon's facebook post

Friday, January 10, 2014

Where is he?

The author writes, “Do we see God  as a presence comfortably within reach, as a mysterious presence whose power is fearful, or as a presence we know through our study of what is right and wrong?” The passage for the day is from I Kings 8: 10-13, but I read the whole chapter.
At the time Solomon is speaking in I Kings, God dwelt among men in a thick cloud in the Holy of Holies, a place God allowed Solomon to build.  The text says that there was a thick darkness or cloud, such that the priests had to leave; they could no longer perform their services.

I can see that in my mind, the darkness and perhaps even a stinging of their eyes, certainly a sense of the auspicious, and perhaps fear.  But today God dwells in us.  I have long loved and been comforted by the gospel of John, and these verses especially bless and challenge me this morning:
John 14: 15-17  If you love me, you will obey what I command.  And I will ask the Father and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth.  The world cannot accept him because it neither sees him nor know him.  But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.

John 14: 25-26 All this I have spoken while still with you.  But the Counselor , the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things, and will remind you of everything I have said to you.
How blessed we are to have the indwelling Spirit of God to teach us, to help us recognize right from wrong, ever present. Those God-believers of Solomon’s time must have felt so alone, dependent on the priest to take care of their sins.  We can do business with God whenever we want wherever we are.

I think of the times that I have felt alone, and today I can be tough on myself – foolish you, you were never really alone.  God never left you!  But I do admit to being weak, and in some tough circumstances forgetting that I am never alone.  The Comforter is ever with me to teach me, to bring to my mind what I need for the moment.
I think about how easy it is for me to be critical of Christian worriers; after all, they have God the Holy Spirit too, God who loves them…and worry never accomplished anything good.  But honesty compels me to admit, that there are times that I too have fallen into that trap, building a darkness around me that causes me to forget truth: My God will never leave me nor forsake me.  He is always comfortably within reach.

quote in the first paragraph from A Year With God, Day 10.


Wednesday, January 8, 2014

A year as a/an: Old Testament Believer, a vegetarian, a green life advocate, eating at Mc Donalds????

I was journaling this morning, noting especially blessings from yesterday, and the last thing I wrote kind of birthed this: The presence of God in reality – noticing it afresh because of “A Year With God,” a book I am reading this year. 

As I jotted those lines, it occurred to me that “A Year With God” ought to change me. It’s not that God has not changed me in the past, nor that I don’t anticipate growth in my life.  You kind of never stop growing, or at least should never stop growing and learning until you die.  We read books, we talk to people, we watch TV, not all TV is educational, but you can learn things there.  We travel, we surf online, we take or teach classes, all of those activities are opportunities to learn and grow.
But, I anticipate that this book, this journey, will grow me in a specific way, change me in a specific way, make me more like Christ, or at least a lot closer to Christ, to God. 

Every day there is a challenge of some kind and today the challenge is to “remember the Lord your God, for it is he who give you power to get wealth.”  And the related challenge: beware of the complacency of success…  When life goes well, we forget God because we don’t think we need him."
Unfortunately I know this is true, at least in my life.  My time in prayer, and therefore awareness of God skyrockets when I or my family faces tough times.  But God wants our attention, our faces, our fellowship all the time.  So, unfortunately, he is forced to allow tough times into our lives to bring us back home.

I have to add a PS here, all times of challenge are not because we have lost fellowship with the Father.  Sometimes he allows such difficulties into our lives because he knows we can be trusted with them.  We will so live through them that we will point the way to others.
But my point today is that God, our Father, desires fellowship with his children.  Today, he is present with us, and I think he wants to hear from us.  I think he likes it when I record my blessings.  He knows then that I have taken time to notice how he has worked in my behalf. You see, I did not come from money.  And we have never pursued money or economic success in our adult life, but God has blessed us beyond measure.

So, I am off, to “A Year With God.”
 Psalm 30
I will exalt you, Lord,     for you lifted me out of the depths and did not let my enemies gloat over me.
Lord my God, I called to you for help, and you healed me.
You, Lord, brought me up from the realm of the dead; you spared me from going down to the pit.

Sing the praises of the Lord, you his faithful people; praise his holy name.
For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may stay for the night,
    but rejoicing comes in the morning.

When I felt secure, I said, “I will never be shaken.”
Lord, when you favored me, you made my royal mountain stand firm; but when you hid your face,
    I was dismayed.

To you, Lord, I called; to the Lord I cried for mercy:
“What is gained if I am silenced, if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it proclaim your faithfulness?
10 Hear, Lord, and be merciful to me; Lord, be my help.”

11 You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
12 that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent. Lord my God, I will praise you forever.


Monday, January 6, 2014

Messes and Piles

The With-God Life
That’s the focus this first 25 days of A Year With God, noticing the presence of God.  Funny, as I was meditating on that, the reality of God being present with me in the room, my first thought was, “What a mess! God is here in this mess.”  I have been cleaning out clothes storage closets; the largest one serves more like an attic and has clothes I fear back to 1998.  Had clothes back to 1998.  Now most of them are in white bags destined to the Salvation Army, but I digress.

My first thought was fear and shame, that God would have to find a seat somewhere in the mess and the piles of these two rooms, my home office and the guest bedroom, beds now nearly invisible under sorted piles.  Then, it came to me; that’s not God, to be angry about my mess.  He loves me, with the same unconditional love I have for my children.  He sees through the mess to me, to my heart, to my needs, and He knows I love Him, flawed and imperfect love that it is. 
My first instinct, first thoughts were from the evil one I know.  Just this morning I had looked up some passages on God’s presence like Hebrews 13:5 where God says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” John 3:16 says those wonderfully familiar words, For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should have everlasting life.

I have long loved the gospel of John, and today I find such great comfort therein.  I love John 14 -16, where John speaks of our relationship with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. One God in three persons, they work together to care for me.  So today, I am with God, here in my house, and it is a wonderfully comforting thing.  Regardless of how anyone else feels about me, He loves me, and my mess is OK with Him.  He knows all about it, and He still loves me.  And He loves you too.
image from http://uberhumor.com/a-mother-duck-carrying-her-babies

Friday, January 3, 2014

New Resolutions! Or Not?

Day 3

Every year the gyms across America are jammed, new memberships and renewed memberships at this time of year. Diet and exercise books fly off the shelves, and resolutions mark new aspirations and the celebration of a second chance, kind of a “do-over.”
As I was read today’s entry in A Year With God, the prayer at the bottom of the page caught my attention: “Father God, so often I prefer to dwell on everything in my life that I would like to change rather than thanking you for all of the blessings you have given me and my family.”

The prayer goes on, but it was those few words that really caught my attention. Instead of marking the beginning of the year with the making of new resolutions that too quickly fall by the wayside and lead to discouragement and a sense of failure, (I heard yesterday that fewer than 10% of new resolutions actually are carried through) there has to be a better way.
And perhaps this is it, as Ann Voskamp encourages in One Thousand  Gifts and and Oatman and Excell write in the beloved hymn “Count Your Blessings,” we should give greater attention to the blessings that God has given us than what we do not have or are not.  I wonder which would make the greatest difference and change in our outlook – the New Year's resolution or the acknowledgement of the blessings we already have.

Another line in the meditation, “God calls Abram into relationship, and life with God begins anew.”  Wow, what a thought!! Relationship with God, a new life!!  I wonder what a difference that could make, cultivating the awareness that we are in relationship with God; we have a new life. 

Dramatic sun flare lights a snow scene on a bright winter day in Alaska Stock Photo - 9487263
The sun is shining brilliantly today, sparkling diamonds in the snow, glowing golden beside me, shadows of the wind invisible in the air but dancing across the cushions, God at His easel.  Inspiring writers, of Genesis thousands of years ago, and Foster and Roller in this century, God at His desk encouraging me.  My family, warm in their homes, food in their cupboards, God the provider blessing me.  I thank Him this morning!

photo from http://www.123rf.com/photo_

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Looking For God

Day 1 Looking For God
Product DetailsThis year I am reading and working through A Year With God: Living Out the Spiritual Disciplines edited by Richard J. Foster and Julia L. Roller. Years ago I read Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth by Richard J. Foster, and God used that book in my life, so this one looked like a good choice for the new year.

Today’s passage is Gen. 1:26-28, 31a.  Then God said, Let us make man in our image…….God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.” And the author’s challenge at the end of the reading is to ask yourself, “Where did I see God today?”
I considered the reading and the challenge, but what struck me most was the thought that what God made got messed up pretty fast, kind of like our best intentions do sometimes.

When God made creation, he took a whole day to rest and to consider it. He who is perfect determined that his handiwork was not just all good, but very good.  Then too soon, that perfect creation was damaged.  Temptation and sin entered into the world, and that which God had identified as “very good” was suddenly scarred, poisoned, and screaming for redemption like the little girl with blood streaming from scraped knees and bloody hands, mud staining her torn white Sunday dress.  Mama had said “No running,” and now the child must face the consequences.
What I had not thought about until today was how God felt when Adam and Eve made those awful choices, when God realized the pain of the coming consequences.  I think of that mommy of the little girl with the scraped and bloody knees and hands, the ruined dress, how the mommy hurt for her child because nothing would be the same: a ruined dress, scarred and sore knees and hands yes, and a Sunday morning’s peace and joy destroyed.  And then I thought of God’s pain, He who loved perfectly knew all the long-term consequences of those garden choices – such agonizing pain He must have felt, and continue to feel when He sees us make the wrong choices.

Oh, I know that my analogy is not the best maybe, but still there is the parallel, of a mother’s love and God’s perfect love.
So where did I see God today?  That same loving and forgiving God in the comforting and patient eyes of my husband, at the end of prayer pleading for peace, and in the pages of a book as I searched for meaning. God had been there waiting all along, loving me even when I could not see Him. In case you think some earthshaking event happened and you’re worried for me, please don’t. It was just really cool to see how God used this reading today to remind me of His presence.
Where did you see God today?