11/30/14

The Coming

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here, 
until the Son of God appear.

This time of year is so festive.  I enjoy the decorations and gift buying/making.  I love the baking even though I don't do much of it anymore.   This morning, outside, the ground is white with frost so I know that it is cold out.  The Christmas lights on the houses are coming out and they were even before Thanksgiving.  All the shops are decorated and massive amount of people are there looking for the perfect gift.  My house is turned upside down.  Not only is the transition from Thanksgiving decorations to Christmas in swing but I have four to five projects that I'm working on scattered about.  The wrapping of gifts is done in our bedroom and there is no fixing the mess until after the wrapping is done (usually on Christmas Eve or later).

But, today is the first day of Advent.  This probably doesn't mean much to most people but to the believer in Jesus it is the start of remembering why we celebrate Christmas in the first place.  When I remember Advent all of the fun of Christmas becomes more crisp and brighter.  Because of Advent I can shop looking for that gift for that loved one with joy.  Remembering Advent even helps me navigate the crowds and keep the frustration to a minimum.   The sparkle of the lights on the tree  remind me of the star in Bethlehem so long ago that brought me the ultimate Gift.  The moments of wrapping all the presents can be over whelming but when I remember Advent, even though I can't replicate the gift of Jesus, I can decorate the present with extra ribbon and make the gift look pretty.  

Putting Advent in front of all I do for this season gives it meaning far above just what is fun and enjoyable.  It magnifies all of the moments of Christmas so that each memory is imbedded in my heart and continues on long after the season is gone.  I guess I also need to remember Advent when it is time to clean it all up too.

Often, we go way overboard at Christmas.  The whole family is guilty of this.  We have all tried to scale down or, at least, that is what we tell ourselves.   But it never comes to anything.  It is so enjoyable to give a present.  I'd like to think that in the giving we are reminded that we can never out give that ultimate Gift of the Saving One.  This is a noble thought and I'm not that fooled by my own motives.  God, help me to remember Advent!

So, here it is in a nutshell:  The reason that Advent is so precious is because I am a sinner in need of a Savior to be close to God.  I couldn't do it on my own.  Didn't even know that I needed to.  But Jesus, in His extraordinary love for His people,  came to us (imagine Deity confining Himself to a womb) and took our place of judgment.  
O come, thou Rod of Jesse, free
thine own from Satan's tyranny;
from depths of hell thy people save, 
and give them vict'ry o'er the grave.


It is a wonderful time of year.  Today Dan and I went and cut down a tree (well, I watched as Dan cut down a tree).  It is now in the corner where our Christmas tree is every year.  Dan has put on the Christmas music and I write this with a bit of nostalgia.  So many Christmases have come and gone since the first one.   Yet, every Christmas is dependent on that very first Advent.   There is such a sense of gratitude and over whelming wonder in pondering the coming of Jesus.  It really does help put all things Christmas in perspective.
Rejoice! Rejoice! 
Emmanuel
shall come to thee, O Israel.


May you enjoy this wonderful season as you remember His advent and coming.




11/26/14

Conveyor

". . . . let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus . . . . "
Hebrews 12:1b

She sat in her rocking chair a bit stunned by what had just happened.   The information that Honora had received, surely, must be a mistake.  But no, she had her new orders right there in her hand so it wasn't a dream or a mistake.  The new orders read thus:
You are now a rider.
Report to duty on the 1st day of the month.
By order of the MC

Honora was by no means a young woman anymore.  In her youth she had ridden with the best of them.  She remembers riding fast, almost flying.  The thrill of it brought back feelings of freedom.  Of course, years ago there was no fear in the ride.  It was all excitement as the horse and her became one with abandon.  But so many years had past and she wasn't young anymore.  What would it be like now?

Of late her orders had been to guard her daughter and help her see the light.   This, by the grace of the MC,  had been accomplished and the mother had wondered what she would do next.  Both of her children had been given new orders long past.  Her husband was now a commander.  Honoria would get to see him as often as he could come home.  These were pleasant and cherished times.  But most days she spent doing what she had done for so many years.  The garden needed tending and the flock needed to be cared for.  There was wheat in the field that needed to be brought in and farm hands to be fed.  Now with the new orders so much had to be done in a small amount of time.  One cannot just leave a working farm.  

Itchy, the farm cat, meowed at her as she passed by on the porch.  It's as if he knew that Honora would be leaving soon.  She scratched behind his ears because he always was itchy and talked to him as she always did.  Loving words to the master of keeping the mice at bay.  Itchy also had a job to do and he did it so well.  She would miss Itchy.  His purring brought comfort to Honora like the sound of the ocean crashing against the shore.  It was rhythmic.  Many nights the older woman would scratch and Itchy would purr.  Now her feline friend would be left behind.

Two weeks ~ that's all the time she had before the first of the month.  Her head was swimming with details.  Details for organizing what is to be done on the farm.  Who should be in charge while she is gone?  All of her farm hands were trusted, friends actually, as they had worked side by side for so many years.  Not only did they work together but shared burdens and carried each other's sorrows.  It would be a difficult decision for all were capable of the responsibility.  Honora knew that she wouldn't be getting much sleep in the coming nights because of all the decisions that she had to make.  And this was just concerning the farm.  She also couldn't stop thinking about her own packing.  What should she leave and what should she pack?  It couldn't be much as most of the time she would be conveying messages back and forth from the castle to the battlefield.  One can't take much on a horse.

By the end of the first week much had been accomplished.  Honora had decided, after much prayer, that the Burdeborns would be in charge.  Not because they were more equipped to do the job but for the simple reason they needed more space for their growing family.  They could move into the farm house and work from there.  This also seemed to please the crew as Mrs. Burdeborn was an excellent cook and they knew what that meant for their digestive happiness.

It was a bit harder for Honora to pack her own bag.  As she walked through the house she tenderly touched mementoes of a life well spent.  Loving memories in the form of a picture or glass figurine.  The rocking chair had been in the family for centuries and it showed the marks and scraps of the years of holding babies and knitting socks.   Honora meandered to the front porch and stood breathing in the crisp fall air.  Well, she better pack things for warmth because even now she could feel the changing of the season.  It would be getting colder and wetter.  So, by the end of the second week her pack was full of mostly wool clothing.  She would wear her sturdy boots and bring another pair just in case.  The only memento that she stuff in her back pack was a picture of her family.  The rest she would have to commit to memory.

Early in the morning on the first day of the month she awoke and got ready to leave.  She was surprised when, slipping out the front door, she was greeted by all of the farm crew.  They had said their goodbyes the night before but such was the fond respect for the owner of the farm that they wanted one last time to see her.  One last moment to encourage  and impart whatever strength they had to this woman who had already fought so many battles even on their own behalf.  It was hard to leave but she couldn't stay.  So with goodbyes said again she started down the road that would lead to the castle and her new life.  Those left to the farm continued to wave and shout until Honora was around the bend and out of sight.

To the woman's amusement, Itchy followed her.  Oh well, she thought, the cat knew the woods well and would travel back and forth from the farm to the castle often anyway.  It was nice to have a companion even though it was her cat.  At least she wasn't alone on the walk.  The farm really wasn't that far from the castle.  At a certain place in the field one could see it.  Honora's walk wouldn't be long.  She found it to be enjoyable as the autumn leaves would fall around her.  She remembered all those autumns collecting leaves with the children and the joy of all the fall colors.

As she came closer to the castle all thoughts of the season and memories of times past began to fade away.  The future was becoming more predominant and questions started to fill her mind.  There was a certain trepidation as she took each step.  She could sense the fear starting to rise up in her.  With each movement forward she would swallow as if to keep the fear at bay.  Talking to herself with the remembrance that the MC always, always knew what was best.  If He had decided the direction she must go then all was good.  Fear of the future would just have to take second seat to the obedience of the Master Commander and the furtherance of the Kingdom.  Even in trepidation each step was sure with determination.   And Itchy seemed to approve.

The next day Honora was detailed with directions of what her responsibilities would be.  It was as she thought ~ she would be running information from the castle to the battlefield.  It was pretty straightforward.  She would go with information and then come back with information.  The details came in the coming and going.  Today she would meet her mount, the horse that would transfer her and the precious information that would be conveyed.  In reality, she was of lesser consequence than her horse because it was the swiftness of the journey that lay in success.  Everything rested on a horse that was faster than the wind, smart and unafraid.  All Honora had to do was hold on.

In the distance she saw him.  He was as brown as the dirt that lay underneath him but with a glow of the sun.  He practically sparkled of bronze.  There was a hint of black on his mane and tail but one hardly noticed because of the sheer glow of his stance.  This horse was every bit a war horse as he stood proudly waiting to be noticed.  As Honora came closer the two locked eyes.  The bonding began as horse and rider sized each other up.  The rider raised her hand to touch the warrior horse's forehead and he bowed as if knowing that this was the one who he would carry.  In that moment Honora knew that they would work as a team.  The horse and his rider would be as one.

Normally, there would be a month of working with horse and rider before they were sent out.  But in a weeks time it was evident to all around that this union was something special.  It was as if the horse knew it's rider's wish even before it was commanded.  And so, after this short time the order came.  Honora's first dispatch would be in the morning.  Early she would get up, prepare herself and her horse and leave for the front of the battle with the very important papers from the castle.

The fear came over her again but this time like a hurricane.  All the "what if's" imaginable haunted her.  She needed sleep and with great force laid herself down for the night.  On her bed she recounted promises given:

"Fear not, for I am with you;
be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold  you with my righteous right hand."
Isaiah 41:10

Surprisingly, she slept soundly and woke refreshed.  She knew it was a gift from the MC who gives his beloveds rest.  Gathering the few things that she could take with her she quickly headed toward the horse's area.

The old woman heard the war horse before she even saw him.  It was as if he was calling to her to hurry as he was ready.  Honora smiled as she came closer and spoke gently to this stead whom she was becoming to care deeply for.  The war horse had been given the name of Abiddon by the MC.  Strange, to be sure, but Honora had come to find out it was a combination of two names:  Abide and Abandon.   She had quickly learned that this horse could run with abandon.  And yet, with further time and energy spent together there was an abiding, a togetherness that was uncanny.  The horse was not only strong but steady and sure.  He made her feel safe and secure.  All of these qualities were of great necessity and would be stretched to the limit in the coming days.

Everything was ready as Honora sat high in the saddle on Abiddon.  He pranced sideways in eager anticipation of the race before them.  The aged palms were clammy underneath her leather gloves.  She gripped the reins and tightened her legs as she commanded her ride forward.  They went through the gate and toward the headquarters where the precious papers/commands would be handed to her.   Then they would be off, practically flying to their destination.

"Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded,
set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you
at the revelation of Jesus Christ."
1 Peter 1:13


*Every day is filled with the choices of getting on the horse or choosing not to ride.  Everyone has a race to enter.  Do we ride for the Kingdom or for a race of our own making?  May you enter the race that He sets before you this day knowing that He will give you the perfect horse to ride. 





11/15/14

Valley Wisdom

"Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, 
and for as many years as we have seen evil.
Let your work be shown to your servants, 
and your glorious power to their children.
Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, 
and establish the work of our hands upon us,
yes, establish the work of our hands!


For years, maybe ten, I have had knee pain.  It has gotten so bad that on the 7th of October I actually had knee surgery.  The doctor did say that I am a bit too young for this (I like this doctor) but my x-rays show that I'm a prime candidate for it.  So under the knife I went and now am in the process of healing.   One would naturally think that you should rest and recover after such a surgery.  But, nooooo, they get you up the same day walking.  The same week I had my first physical therapy session.  Yes, it hurts but I have to admit that after I could walk better.  I'm already scheduled to have the other knee done in December.  So, it's looking like the rest of 2014 will be looking like pain is gain kind of thing.

It is an odd concept that we have to have pain in order to get better. You've heard the saying, "no pain, no gain".  I've never really appreciated this slogan because it always referred to exercising and I'm not fond of exercising.  Right now, though, I have no choice but to exercise because if I don't the knee starts to seize up and becomes more painful than the exercising itself.   So, with each day passing my knee becomes stronger and I can walk better.

"I have said these things to you,
that in me you may have peace.
In the world you will have tribulation.
But take heart, I have overcome the world."
John 16:33

We don't have to look to far and there is always someone who is hurting.  It can be physical, emotional or other.  And the question isn't, "Will I suffer?" but "When will I suffer?".  Ever since the Garden of Eden when our first parents ate the fruit, suffering and pain were introduced into the world.  This affects our own world and there is no getting around it.

Some do suffer more than others.  My knee pain has no comparison to my brothers and sisters in other parts of the world who are dying for their faith.  Any pain and suffering that I encounter doesn't even come close to that.  Nevertheless, what we do go through in our lifetime, whether good or bad, has it's effect on us.  Those experiences that come into our lives mold us and shape us, help us to turn right or left, gives us perspective in the long run.  We don't like it and would rather have a life of ease and comfort.  I've told this to friends before:  really what I want is room service.  Which is absurd because for one, it isn't realistic nor is it healthy for the human experience.

Thinking of pain and suffering brings a certain amount of fear.  Most likely it is fearing the unknown in the midst of all of that.  So, logically, if one can omit any so-called bad circumstances then the fear will cease.  As a young mother, years ago, I remember trying to bargain with God asking him to spare me a list of painful circumstances.  I was afraid of the future and what that would mean for my family.  The sovereignty of God wasn't part of my thinking even though He was very much a part of my life.  So it went something like this:  "I will serve you like this if you will spare me and my family from this".  Foolish, to be sure, but was part of the fear I felt for any possible future catastrophe.  For some reason I didn't want John 16:33 to apply to my own life.  I don't really remember what was on this list that I had concocted but I wouldn't be surprised that now I have experienced a good portion of it.

Does this mean that God is unkind to this fearful creature?  Not at all!  For I am learning from many of these circumstances that the mere going through them has taken part of the fear away.  Hard times and unpleasantness is not fun.  I really don't ever want to go through bad times again even though it's probably just around the corner.  But what I can say for sure is that the Lord gives grace in the midst of unpleasant circumstances.  Hard providences can and are a tool of a loving Creator who has my best interest at heart.

To be brave and courageous in the face of suffering does not mean one isn't afraid.   The mental picture to consider is this:  A child walking in the darkness.  His heart starts beating faster and the breath is shorter.  The undeniable feeling and temptation to flight comes over him.  In that instant his hand reaches up to grab hold of the one who is bigger, stronger.  As the larger hand engulfs the smaller one the panic that was felt starts to subside.  Maybe it doesn't totally go away but he knows he isn't alone.  To be brave in the face of suffering is not to run away.  No, it is to reach for the One who is stronger as you keep moving forward.

"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
Psalm 23:4

Pain and suffering are inevitable.  At some point in our lives we will experience it.  Whether it is caused by outside influences or by the choices we make it is part of the rhythm of this mortal life.  Of course, I'm not saying that we should look for trouble or pain.  Jesus did say that, "Sufficient for the day is its own trouble."(Matt. 6:34).  But when it does come to you,  turn to the One who will be your sufficiency and comfort.  There is wisdom to be gained in the valley.

So, come December 11th, right before I go under anesthesia (which also causes some anxiety), I will again commit my life to the Lord asking for strength and courage to go forward.  It's going to hurt and I will probably cry (I had to apologize to the physical therapy guy last time).  But I am confident that, come next spring and summer,  I will be walking differently.  I will be able to look back at the hurt and say, "It was worth it".  

At the end of it all, pain and suffering are not the goals.  They are just tools, opportunities or stepping stones to bring us closer to the only real heart's desire.  Hebrews 12:2 says, "looking to Jesus, . . . .  Consider him . . . ."  In the same way a child runs to the parent when they are hurt, we are to turn to the Savior in our moment of need and all the other moments of our lives.  

Jesus, what a guide and keeper!
While the tempest still is high, 
storms about me, night o'er takes me,
he, my pilot, hears my cry.
Hallelujah, what a Savior!
Hallelujah, what a Friend!
Saving, helping, keeping, loving,
he is with me to the end.

  








9/11/14

The Quilting Bee

"There is neither Jew or Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  And if your Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise."   ~ Galatians 3:28-29

When I married my husband his Swedish grandmother said, "Well, at least it improves the bloodline."  Doesn't sound too good but I think it was a compliment.  My husband has a Heinz-57 sort of ethnicity where I am fully Norwegian (ya, you betcha!).  It is probably true about the Swedish/Norwegian rivalry.  Gram and I would joke about it from time to time even though we secretly knew that our own ethnicity was better.

My father actually had to go to school to learn English.  He told us once that as a kid they would have fun on the playground because the teacher never knew what they were saying.  To his dying day he had a Norwegian accent.  I used to think that I was never taught the language because mom and dad would talk in the native tongue when they didn't want us kids to know what they were talking about.  That's just what I surmised but in reality, when asked, my dad said he never taught us to speak Norwegian because we were Americans.

My mother came from farther north in Minnesota than where my dad lived.  So when he brought his new wife home she was an outsider.  Even though she was fully Norwegian herself she didn't fit in.  Mom tells the story how her new mom-in-law took her under the wing and helped mom become one of them.   One lesson was going to the quilting bee.  Grandma Anna told mom that if you don't stitch in the ditch to where the stitches are invisible you wouldn't be invited back.  In fact, if you were a lousy stitcher the women at the quilting bee would rip out your stitches (after you left of course) and that would be a serious strike against you.  My mother became an excellent stitcher.  As time went on she also began to fit into the community of tight knit Norwegians.  Even though the heritage was the same there were levels of acceptance.

I have been thinking about acceptance and belonging.  Especially in light of all the racial tension that we see in the world.  Seems like everyone has a solution to the problem.  I've even seen Christian leaders get on the band wagon.  But I feel like something is missing in much of the talks and the  promises (not that I'm smarter than anyone else because that would be silly).  There is more to the equation than laws and rules, although these are necessary because of the failure of the human heart (Matthew 15:18-19).

Where does one fit in with so many fractures even in true ethnic groups?  My newest grand daughter is beautiful.  Her skin is golden brown and she has black hair with the widest eyes ever.  Her ethnic background goes something like this:  Irish, African American, Spanish and I think a bit of German (there might even be more).  Where does my beautiful Ezminna fit in to a world with so many divisions?  Of course, it would be foolish to say that racism doesn't exist.  Because it does.  But it isn't easily confined to one group.  Dan and I spent a night with a very nice couple in Idaho a couple of weeks ago and the gentleman was telling the story of the Indian tribes on the plains that, to this day, fight amongst each other, hate each other.  It's not as savage as "back in the day" but the root feelings are the same.

We were asked, when in the process of adopting Lydia (ethnic background = African American and Navajo Indian), how we would raise her in her ethnicity.  The first thought was if we do that we will create a child who is confused to who she is.  So our response, which seemed to appease the adoption agency, was that we will train her to grow up in a world that is hostile.  Not so much because of her skin color but because of the hardness of hearts and sin in the world.  Training her that since the fall of Adam men's hearts are wicked unless changed by the Holy Spirit through the saving work of a Redeemer.  Her survival in this world is not through any kind of ethnic cleansing like we see in the tragedies in the Middle East or the Sudan.  But it comes by giving her life away to that Someone who will keep her to the end.

Even in the church there can be dividing lines.  I wonder if it isn't a way of thinking that we are okay if, at least, we are better than someone else.  Of course, this should not be as this is contrary to the message of the gospel.  Remember the story of when Jesus was invited to the Pharisee's home?  How ironic that it was the wanton woman who really ministered to Jesus by washing his feet with her tears.  The Pharisee couldn't understand why Jesus would even allow such a person to touch him.  Yet Jesus forgave her.

As I see it there are two types of people:  those that belong to Christ and those that don't.  True, there are dividing lines of race and color but in the grand scheme of things that doesn't matter when you fit into the category of belonging to Christ.  It's not as much a race issue as it is a heart issue and one will never go away without the other.  This is probably simplistic and naive.  But even rules and regulations are broken by people who want their own way.

Today is 9/11 and on that day, in the wake of devastation there was no discussion on who to try and save based on who they were.  It was Americans helping Americans because the need was great.  Out of the horrific loss and nightmarish happening people came together, sacrificing life and limb for people they didn't even know.  The best of humanity came out because of the desperation of the moment.  The human race was suffering and the human race responded.  The Lord made man for good.  It is in our rebellion and selfishness that brings tension between peoples.  God created ethnic groups for good.  Your skin color is good and wonderful.  The very hair on your head is good and numbered.  At the end of time there will be a great multitude from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages that will stand before the throne of Jesus (Revelations 7:9).

Seriously, we are the same.  We are the human race.  What makes the human race better is Jesus and only Jesus will break down the barriers of race, social status, cliches and clubs.

"May I grow in thy love and manifest it to mankind." 
~ Valley of Vision



7/30/14

Sweetness



"Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!
Blessed is the man who take refuge in him!"
Psalm 34:8

I have been making jam.  First it was strawberry jam.  And then, to make room in the freezer, I used the frozen blackberries picked from last year to make blackberry jam.  It is a bit messy until you come up with a system that works for you.  Even though we have A/C I tend to get too warm canning.   It is a bit unpleasant for me but the draw to the yummy goodness outweighs my physical discomfort.  It also gives me some joy to share it with others (albeit I'm not taking any orders).

I have to admit the smell, though, is absolutely lovely.  One could probably make money off of just the smell.  The berries in themselves are sweet.  But it is when you add that dreaded white stuff ~ sugar that makes you salivate.  I haven't tried it out yet except for that one time I had to wipe up the drop with my finger.  Really, I had to and yes, it is good.  But then anything with sugar added tastes good.  We all wished it didn't so we wouldn't be tempted by it.  The American culture has a love affair with sugar (I say this just after eating a piece of chocolate!).

So for us the jam is like ambrosia in a jar.  Its pretty to look at and pure happiness to the taste buds.

"How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!"
Psalm 119:103

Why is it that when describing something good we say it is sweet instead of savory?  I've never heard someone describe their love for someone as salty.  Nor have I come across the expression of someone saying, "Saavoory" when something good happens.  For instance, just a couple of weeks ago, I'm texting my daughter, Esther, to tell her that Nate's wife had gone into labor.  Her response, "Sweeet"!!!  I understood her response was one of goodness and gladness.  It was a happy thought.

Did you know that the human tongue has 3,000 to 10,000 taste buds?  Within this number of taste buds there are five known elements of taste perception:  salty, sour, bitter, sweet and umami (I'm not smart so I got this information from Wikipedia).  I find this to be fascinating.  Why did God give us taste buds?  Or feelings for that matter?  If you think about it when we taste something it does bring a feeling to our senses.  Dan ate the first plum off of one of our fruit trees.  The meat of the plum was sweet. But then seconds later his senses from his taste buds noticed the skin of the plum was sour.  His response: to pucker and shudder.

We denote that sweet is pleasant and bitter is not so.  There are other tastes in between these two.  Sometimes I prefer salty to the sweet but I always come back to that which is sweet.  Of course, we all have our preferences but none can deny that what is sweet to our taste buds is pleasurable.  This is something that I believe God has designed.

Bitter is a word that helps us to see that which is distasteful.  For instance:  It is better to live in the attic than with a bitter woman (paraphrased from Proverbs which really says quarrelsome instead of bitter);  "Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice."  ~ Ephesians 4:31  We understand that the word "bitter" means more than just the tasting of the tongue puckerness.  It also has the emotional aspect of it meaning that which is in the heart.  Nobody wants to be bitter and we fight against it because it causes all sort of unpleasantness.  This not just for ourselves but even for those around us.

Seemingly, on the opposite end is the taste of sweetness.  This also has a double meaning.  We would never go up to a baby, lick their face, and then say, "Ohhhh, isn't she (or he) sweeeet!"  But we can automatically call them sweet just by looking at their adorable faces.  Even actions can be called sweet. It is always awfully sweet when my husband brings me flowers.  How about when a friend sends you a note on that particular day you needed encouragement.  Of course, it was sweet of her.

I suppose that I didn't need to go rambling on about definitions of bitter and sweet.  When scripture talks about tasting to see if the Lord is good we don't have to have definitions to explain it to us.  It is helpful, I think, to put a picture to words, though.  I was humming a song the other day that a friend of mine has written based on Psalms 34.  Here are some of the words:

*"Taste and see the Lord is good.  He will satisfy the soul.
Empty, broken, He will feed, when we see it's Him we need.
This is my theme, this is my song, to praise the Lord my whole life long.
He took the water of my life and turned it into sweetest wine."

Turning water into wine was a definite show of Jesus' power at the wedding of Caanan.  He didn't have to do that but it demonstrated something good.  People were happy to have it, drink it and marvel that it was the best.  Tasting and seeing are two physical responses that give us an emotional or psychological reality.  We can know that God is good because of the descriptions that we are given.  And then when we can't feel (physical) the goodness of God we still have the knowledge that He is.  But, oh the sweetness when we actually feel the kindness and goodness of God towards us.  It can bring us to our knees (which it should), make us cry (usually my response) and then give us the faith to move that mountain that looms so large in our lives.

My hope for you this day is to sense the goodness of God in Christ Jesus.  He is the only One who can revive the senses and feed the hungry soul.  It really does taste good!


*Trudy Poirier, Pear Tree Music










6/7/14

The Great Adventure

He had travelled such a long way.  So many steps that made up the journey thus far.  He wasn't quite convinced of his destination but he did know that he couldn't stay where he was.  So he walked and he walked.   Something called to  him.  Something out there saying, "keep on going".  So he did.  One step after another until there were a hundred steps behind him with a hundred steps before him.

On some days his feet hurt with the extensive use of his limbs.  How do you keep moving when everything in you screams to stop and give up.  And yet, one foot would keep moving in front of the other as if to say, "I can't stop even if I wanted to".  So the movement was always forward to some better destination.

He might not be sure of where he was going but he sure remembers where he had come from.  His was the city that drained every ounce of goodness out of him.  He might have woke up in the morning encouraged but by the end of the day it all seemed like gloom and doom.  The streets were dirty and even when the sun did shine one couldn't feel the warmth from the it because of the smog and grime.  He was sure that his health had declined significantly because of his years there.  The proof was in the nagging cough that persisted.  Why hadn't he left earlier?  Probably because he didn't know that one could leave.  Everyone that he knew lived in the city.  Come to think of it he can't remember anyone smiling in that place of discouragement either.

When he had decided that he had had enough of this life in the city he started packing.  The friends, or should I say acquaintances, all laughed at him as if he were crazy.  Right now as his feet burned he wondered if they were right.  But there was a force, like an aching hunger, compelling him to go.  He was embarrassed and distressed about what his "friends" said.  They told him that he was going to starve or be eaten by wild animals.  Where would he sleep at night?  What about clean water (even thought the city's water was so polluted that you couldn't drink it)?  So, as he rose on that first morning to leave, there was no one saying farewell, no going-away party and certainly no one offering to go with him.

The first night away was a torment.  Frightened and alone he was sure that someone was looking at him, following him to end his life.  But morning came and with it a light in his step as if to say that this was indeed a good idea.  As each day came and went, and as the feet began to swell it wasn't as easy going as at first.  There were days that he was  hungry and thirsty.  Amazingly, at the moments of dire need provision was made.  He couldn't explain it but the moment he thought he could go no further without a drink of water a stream would come into view.  Even with something to eat the game would, as it were, just lay down before him as if to say, "I offer myself to you so that you will live."  At every corner of need it would seem that there was Someone taking care of him.

It was a lonely path that he had chosen.  Although at times it seemed like Someone else had chosen the path for him.   He longed for a comrade, a friend to talk to, ask questions of.  At first there was no one.  But as he traveled on there would come a person here and there.  This was a great encouragement to him at times.  Yet, at other times it would wound him to the soul.  There would be those who would offer a hand only to want something valuable from him.  Then there were those wonderful moments that a true friend would come and journey with him.  These were excellent times indeed!  They might seem short lived though as the friends journey would take a different path.  The traveler had come to learn that there are friends that are always friends and there are others who are not.

Time went on and so did the miles.  With each day the traveler would get a clearer glimpse of where his heart was leading him.  His body got older and so he wasn't as strong as at the beginning of the journey.  This didn't matter to him anymore because he had to keep going.  There was no turning back for he did remember where he had come from.  This journey had taken him to mountains so glorious no words could describe it.  The valleys had also been beautiful but in many ways so soul wrenching that they weren't his favorite place to be.  He knew that each place had it's significance.  The memories of them stayed with him to the end.

Towards the end of the journey the traveler came to a meadow.  It was so incredibly beautiful that it took his breath away.  In this meadow was a young girl with a smile that eased any physical pain that he was feeling.  She beaconed to him to come and rest at her and her mother's cottage.  There, a young girl washed the traveler's feet and put ointment on his blisters.  Her mother made food that would restore his soul.  He was almost home, he could feel it.  If the voice hadn't continued to call to him  he might have been content to just stay in this place of rest.  But the voice called saying, "keep on going".  And so he did.  He said goodbye to these faithful servants of the Master Commander and headed true north.

The traveler finally reached his destination and was greeted with such a celebration.  The journey had been hard at times but so worth it.  The pain in his feet no longer existed.  His raggedy clothing was exchanged for a glorious robe.  He was clean, no more blisters.  He felt young again with a new body.  And, oh how he rejoiced.  He had never danced before but now that is all he did.


"May I arrive where means of grace cease and I need no more to fast, 
pray, weep, watch, be tempted, attend preaching and sacraments; 
where nothing defiles,
where is no grief, sorrow, sin, death, separation,
tears, pale face, languid body, aching joints,
feeble infancy, decrepit age, peccant humours, pining sickness,
griping fears, consuming cares;
where is personal completeness;
where the more perfect the sight the more beautiful the object,
the more perfect the appetite the sweeter the food,
the more musical the ear the more pleasant the melody,
the more complete the soul the more happy its joys,
where is full knowledge of thee."
                                                                             ~ Valley of Vision

"It is this breath of Heaven which we want."
                                                                           ~ Charles Spurgeon
                                                      
                  
*In loving memory of Larry Agnew who has finished this one great adventure only to start the best adventure ever.









6/2/14

Sunrise, Sunset

When Nate and Lydia were little Dan would put them to bed at night.  Their favorite was when their dad would tell them the stories of "The Adventure Kids".  These were stories that Dan made up, on the fly, at the moment's notice.  It always involved two kids by the name of Nate and Lydia.  The stories always bordered along the suspenseful to the very heroic.  Of course, Nate and Lydia loved it and would always want to hear more.   As time went on some of the grandkids were also part of "The Adventure Kids".  Ethan would hear about his great exploits as well as Tucker and Lily.  As our two youngest got older these stories weren't told as much unless the grandkids spent the night.  I think that Georgi and Gideon got in on some of the adventures too.    I hadn't heard about these adventures for a long time until I was in the car with Tucker and some of the other grandkids.  Tucker promised to tell them an "Adventure Kid" story if they would be quiet.  This just made me smile.  The tradition was being carried out by another generation.


"I don't remember growing older.
When did they?"

May has come and gone and with it a lot of memorable moments.  Mother's Day, a birthday and then the birth of the newest in the family ~ Gilbert Boone.  Time, as it seems, is in a race to flash by me.  I don't remember growing older and, yet, here I am at the beginning of old age.  My babies are now having babies (or have had babies) and even some of those babies are practically grown.  I was watching my oldest interact with her oldest on Mother's Day weekend and it made my head flip (in a good way of course).   It delights me and stuns me all at the same time.  

Lydia is graduating this year.  The party is in a couple of weeks.  Nate and his wife are having a baby next month.  I vividly remember bringing both of them home.  Lydia had amazing hair at two weeks old.  Nate was a chubby, roly-poly baby at 3 months old.  So much life happened from then until now but it seems like it was just yesterday.  

When did she get to be a beauty?
When did he grow to be so tall?
Wasn't it yesterday when they were small?

Life just happened.  I can't explain it but it seems to be happening at top speed.  There is no slowing it down or even speeding it up (heaven forbid!).  I really don't mind growing older but I do wish the body parts would cooperate.  There are still things to do and accomplish.  Maybe things seem to be going at a faster pace, though, because I have slowed down (even the metabolism isn't what it used to be).  Whatever it is I am much more cognizant of the fact that I am not what I used to be, physically or mentally, and not what I strive to be spiritually.

Older age does have its vantage points.  Sure, who wouldn't like to have a younger body at my age?  And yet, life's experiences have been a good/hard teacher.  This can be said for most anybody in the human race.   But my vantage point is strictly from a Christian perspective and life experiences take on a whole new meaning. 

From the cradle to the grave the Christian has "precious and very great promises" (2 Peter 1:4) from the One who created everything.  I might not know what is in store for me in the future but God does.  So each day comes with a promise. A promise to carry me through what may come.  It might be a good surprise like the birth of a new grandchild.  Or it might be a sadness like the death of a loved cousin.  Either way a sustaining Hand is what is needed and what is given.

Yes, I am getting old.  Many times I feel old but the future is always promising.  Because He is faithful and He has promised.

"Listen to me, O house of Jacob,
all the remnant of the house of Israel,
who have been borne by me from before your birth, 
carried from the womb,even to your old age I am he,
and to gray hairs I will carry you.
I have made, and I will bear.
I will carry and will save."
Isaiah 46:3-4

3/29/14

Monsters

"For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world.  And this is the victory that has overcome the world -- our faith.  Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?"

Frailian sat near the fire to grasp any bit of warmth that she could.  The wind was howling and the coldness swirled and danced outside.  She shivered but not from the cold.  The night had come and with it the shadows that seemed to plague her mind and control her body.  There were shadows everywhere and her peripheral vision seemed to play a nasty trick as the shadows moved and became the monsters that she knew were lurking in the corners of the room.

She can't remember when the shadows came.  And Frailian couldn't remember the last time she wasn't afraid.  The daylight was a relief but even with the sun shining there were shadows somewhere.  So Frailian was afraid of the day and of the night.  The night was a particular torment to her because the monsters would come in packs ready to devour her very being.  The poor girl had lost so much sleep in the years past and this showed on her face.  Gaunt, ringlet eyes that seemed to be hollow with no glint of life.

There was a self-loathing in her heart.  Her weakness disqualified her from being a warrior.  Warriors were brave and fearsome, ready to fight and conquer any monster.   Her twin brother, Bravadin,  was a warrior and so different from herself.  He had a zest for life that was infectious.  That is why, at an early age, Bravadin went off to fight in the great battle with his father.    Now, the girl was all alone to fight the monsters.  This, of course, wasn't entirely true.  But when all you see are the monsters in the shadows even those who want to help and have tried to help are non-existent.

When they were young the twins were inseparable.  The monsters would still come but Bravadin always fought them off.  Frailian, even though scared at times, felt safe and secure.  How she longed for years gone by because  she would remember the sound of Bravadin's laugh.   There wasn't and hadn't been laughter for a long time.  She was lost in a world of torment where there is no room for even a smile.  Even still those moments long past with her courageous brother were a special place that she would go to when her battles were fiercest.  Frailian never realized that she was a warrior in her own right.  Her thought was that warriors were never afraid.  Sadly, she was shamed by her fear and this caused a sense of disqualification.  This didn't stop the panic that came with fear mounting up each time the monsters appeared.  Her flesh would seemingly turn to stone.

Honora was the girl's mother who stood by helplessly.  So many times she had tried to help but as the years went by determination turned into despair as she watched the daughter she loved struggle against the evil that plagued her.  Honora had her own monsters that she battled.  Worry and anxiety over so many things came at her like a humid evening wind, ready to pull every inch of life from her.  Too many troubles, really, to fight on her own and then multiplied with the monsters that she fought on her daughter's behalf would bring her to her knees.  There Honora would stay, partly because she was so tired and partly, mostly, because that is where she met the Master Commander.  There were many times that she, too, felt alone.  So incessant were her feelings that over time she had learned not to trust them.  The aged mother knew for certain that He was with her and this gave her the ability to face another day and, at the right time, to face the next moment.   Honora was like the women of old who not only tended the hearth but wielded the sword to fight and defend those she loved.  There were wounds too many to count.  Some that had healed but others that were just scarred over and tender underneath.   It didn't matter though because here she stood between her daughter and the monsters fighting another day for hope.

Frailian had no idea of the battle her mother was fighting for her.  It was as if her mother were invisible because the monsters were so real and so big.  There were moments, however, that seemed like a dream.  Frailian would see her mother, stooped over on her knees and weeping.  In that moment a strong figure would be there instantly and would scoop her mother up in His large arms and hold her tight.  All at once the room would seem warm and something like strength would be transferred to her mother.  Just as quickly as it came it was gone.  The room was dark again and Frailian was alone.  No mother, no strong figure, only the darkness and the shadowy monsters.

Could the dream be real?  Was there a Someone so strong that could scoop her up in His large arms?  What comfort could be found!  What security and what strength!  Then she, too, could be a warrior.  Even if the monsters never went away their power would be of no consequence to Someone so commanding.  Frailian knew this is what she needed.  There had been times, many times, that she thought she heard a whisper.  Or was it a song?  Just like the dream that she would imagine it would come to her.  Sometimes she could almost understand the words.  Always she felt a meaning, some kind of stirring within her.

Morning came and with it a glint of sun shining through the window.  It had rained the night before and as the sun came through the window it sparkled with the drops of late night moisture.  The light through the droplets looked like diamonds glistening on the glass pane.  They beckoned to Frailian to draw nearer and nearer still. Whispers, calling to her saying, "I am the Light, behold the Truth, come this Way."  So, she followed.  With each step the glistening came closer.  And as she drew near the light permeated her body so that she became illumined from inside.  Frailian felt warm  from the tip of her head all the way down to her toes.  A strangeness of courage started to rise up until it was if she were taller, larger.  Back in the corner of the house she could hear the monster screaming as if in pain.  Strangely enough this didn't scare her.  In the place of fear was anger and she turned on the monsters with vengeance.  "No longer will you torment me," she cried.  And then as naturally as if she had done it before the song came to her and she couldn't help but sing aloud the words, "Arise my soul,  shake off your guilt.  Arise my soul, no longer fear. . ." As she sang the dance came filling her with a joy beyond imagination.

The horse pulled against the plow that was digging into the dirt.  Honora had been plowing in the south field all morning and the muscles in her body bore witness to the strain.  She heard the song before she saw her daughter.  The song that Honora sang every night to a daughter who could neither hear or see her.  As the weary mother looked up from the plow she saw the sight that she had been longing and praying for such a long time.  As she watched her daughter dance for joy moisture came her eyes.  Just like the glistening moisture of diamond looking drops that had called to Frailian.  Tears of joy for hope fulfilled.  So full was Honora's heart that she stood transfixed on the scene.   Now she could feel the victory cry of the battle.  For this had been her battle and where the Master Commander had stationed her.   "Stay and fight for her," said the Master Commander.  "It will be a fierce battle but know that I have gone before you and have fought for you".  So Honora had pledged her life to this and would have gone down fighting to her last breath.  Oh, but what a sweet victory!  To see the youngest of her many beloveds hearing the song and partaking in the dance.   Finally, they saw each other.  The distance between the two was covered in a matter of seconds.  This was one of the happiest moments ever!

In the shadows of the house the monsters withered in pain.  They had lost a strategic battle and they would have to regroup.  The superiors would not be happy and they knew there was hell to pay.  This only added to the pain they were already suffering because of the loss.  "We will just have to fight harder" they said to each other all the while knowing that the major battle had been lost.

"And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
we will not fear for God hath willed his truth triumph through us.
The prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him; 
his rage we can endure, for lo! his doom is sure;
one little word shall fell him."*

And as the monsters cried out in defeat the armies of the MC raised their voices in triumph knowing that another warrior had come home.

May you find peace in the knowledge of your Savior going before you.  At the same time may you find courage to face the particular battle you are facing at this very moment.  Pick up the implements of war that God has given you and turn your face to the gathering storm.

"May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light."       ~ Colossians 1:11-12

*A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, Martin Luther, v. 3, based on Psalm 46


3/1/14

Walking on Water

"Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water".   He said, "Come."  So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus."                                   ~ Matthew 14:28-29

This is astounding and yet so many times I read over it like was yesterday's to do list.  What would it be like to walk on water?  I can't even comprehend it because it defies the laws of this natural world.   I read about it in the Bible and I believe the Bible.   So it seems like I believe in contradictions.

Peter must have been an interesting man at best.  He is the one that we admire and are disappointed in all at the same time.  He reminds us of someone.  Who could that be?  Oh yeah ~ ourselves.  One minute we can be defending the Savior to the death.  The next minute we are cowering in fear to the pain.  I would imagine that Peter's personality was one of great highs and deep lows.  And yet,  Peter walked on water.   Of course, one has to keep reading to see that as soon as Peter took his eyes off Jesus, he sank and almost drowned.   Double meaning?


When we consider the impossibilities of our lives we have a couple of choices.  As I look back on mine I realize that sometimes I have drowned in the wake and given in to the death of my own capabilities.  I have not kept my eyes on Jesus and dreamt of the impossible. I know that there is a whole world out there that I don't see and have a hard time comprehending.  Walking by faith and not by sight can be a scary business because we are so oriented to the senses.  But, what if we would keep our eyes on Jesus and the eternal and see through those lenses.  I submit that the possibilities, which we have assumed were impossibilities, are endless.  I am not suggesting that you go out and try to walk on water.  But the thought that comes to my mind is that there are things happening in this world that we don't see but if we could we would be amazed.


Where is the Holy Spirit working?  If you had the eyes and heart to see it what would be your response and how would you act?  Paul Miller, in his book A Loving Life (I have not read this book but got this quote from a review of the book) said this, "But if an unseen hand is shaping the day, then the day becomes an adventure."  Our ordinary lives are an adventure!  I'm not talking about being extra biblical.  Our lives must always line up with scripture.  But I am suggesting that there is more to life than meets the eyes.


I wonder if in our gospel saturated culture we haven't become accustomed to His grace.  Yeah, yeah it's wonderful, astounding and marvelous.  Do you remember when you were first saved and the awesomeness of it all.   What do you suppose it looks like to be a mature Christian with a child-like faith?  Don't you just want that?  I want to be smart with the knowledge of the Holy One and walk in the realm of the Holy Spirit.  It is a tall order, I know.  But I am willing to spend the rest of my life working towards the goal.


The wonderful thing in all of this is that it doesn't matter who you are in this world.  This Spirit calls us to follow His leading whether you are great in the eyes of society/culture or seemingly unnoticed.  We have work to do ~ spiritual work that honors our God.  Spiritual work doesn't just mean work for the church but whatever your hand finds to do.  We can be outstanding even when no one is watching because He is watching and being pleased by our efforts.  Live life fully right where you are.  You might not be the one who changes the world but you might be that someone who changes one person's world.  And in the process our world changes and becomes bigger than who we are.


I was reading in Carolyn McCulley and Nora Shank's new book The Measure of Success last night about the wife of Martin Luther, Kathryn Von Bora.  I don't think she went out to change the world but in what God gave her to do it did change the world.  Her life centered around ordinary tasks just so that the Luthers could survive.  I find this fascinating understanding that there are unseen forces working in and amongst the natural everyday life.  And then today we were listening to Garth Brooks (there is nothing like a little Garth to clean house too) and one of the songs caught my ear in light of what I have been thinking.  Here are some of the lyrics:


"Too many times we stand aside

Let the waters slip away
'Til what we put off 'til tomorrow
Has now become today
So don't you sit upon the shoreline
And say you're satisfied
Choose to chance the rapids
And dare to dance the tide."

Seize the moment.  Listen for Holy Spirit possibilities.  Keep your eyes on Jesus.  Then finish the race with worn out shoes and broken down bodies.


"But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.  For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance of death to death, to the other a fragrance of life to life."      ~ 2 Corinthians 2:14-16

1/10/14

Reflections

"For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope."    ~Jeremiah 29:11

"Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.  You will seek me and find me.  When you seek me with all your heart, "  ~ Jeremiah 29:12-13

The possibility of compiling so many things from the year 2013 is more than I want to do and would be more than you would want to read.  So, instead of breaking it all down I thought that I could give a sense of overall feeling (okay, maybe just a few events of the year too).

For many Christians (for most Christians) we travel through a series of events and emotions throughout our life.  It goes from  high hopes to disappointments which causes us to turn to God for whatever help we need.  We are comforted and get back on track then more disappointments or sorrows come which can lead to anxiety and fear for the future  But, we once again turn to God and our hearts are in a good spot once again.  Just when we think we have it figured out around the corner something else happens and we are back to being upset and crying out to God which causes us to cling all the more to Christ for hope and encouragement.  Hopefully, as the years go by and as we get older, we learn to trust more and be discouraged less.  An unbeliever might think that this is a futile attempt at living one's life but for the Christian it is a progression of learning and growing in grace.


The scripture Jeremiah 29:11 is hanging in our home in a nice frame.  It has beautiful writing and is a familiar Bible verse that many of us Christians hold on to.   Honestly, it is in the moments or seasons of life when I might not feel too whole physically, wonder about the future and the hope I have is hang-dangling that I remember this verse.  In reality, all the little or big moments of our lives boil down to God and His love and care for us.  He has ways of working that out in our life so that as we progress in years and experience Christ becomes more real to us because of what we have gone through.


It is interesting to note that the book of Jeremiah is all about justice.  God is calling the nation of Israel to come back from their wandering and worship of other things instead of the one true God.  There are words of condemnation and judgement in the book of Jeremiah but in the  midst of it are the verses that I quote above.  I suppose that one could make a case out of this saying that if you stay close to Christ you will be happy, healthy, wealthy and wise.   But that is not what I am saying.  Life has moments of joy and sorrow.  The rain falls on the just and the unjust.  God calls us to live good and upright lives but that will not guarantee a care free life and save us from hardships that are inevitable.


What I am saying is that in the joys of this life Christ is there with us.  Also, when the hardships come and life is a disappointment Christ is there too.  Our contentment isn't  dependent on our circumstances but upon Christ who shares in our joys and sorrows.  Our wholeness comes from knowing a Savior who sustains us through the good or the bad.  Our future lies in the hope of Christ who promises His presence and guidance.


It is easy to sense God's good kindness in happy events.  For instance, this past December we had the joy of seeing our son married to a lovely girl.  The event was over the top beautiful and really capped the season's festivities.  Two of our daughters and their families were able to buy homes on acreage.  Though the process of moving is never pleasant they are now enjoying the fruit of their labors and God's blessings.  We have the joy of the new coming into the family and the oddest feeling of our oldest grandson having his driver's license (yes, we are that old).  Our youngest daughter is in the last stretch of high school and will graduate, not only with her high school diploma, but also with an AA degree.  We can definitely say that the Lord is good to us when we look at all of the good things in life.


How hard is it to say that God is kind to us, though, when circumstances don't look as good in our eyes?   I  want to be able to trust in the verse of Jeremiah 29 even when I can't see it.  In my weeping over heartaches or difficulty in health issues I want to believe that the Lord has plans even for me.  I want to trust that my life and the lives of those loved around me have hope and a future.  This is where the "rubber meets the road" and there is no doubt that this too is the Lord's doing.


I am sure that 2014 will have its share of good and seemingly bad.  But, in reality, with Christ's presence even the hard stuff can produce good results.  So, with confidence, we can look to the future without fear knowing that in Him we live, move and have our being (Acts 17:28).