Tuesday

Hanukkah





Happy Hanukkah!


Today is the first day of Hanukkah. All over the world Jewish people will celebrate the Festival of Lights. It is a time of remembrance - it is a commemoration of the rededication of the Second Temple at the time of the Maccabean revolt in the second century BCE.


Read about it here.


Click here for readings and meditations on Hanukkah.

Friday

The Christmas Crazies

A couple of years ago, I was diagnosed with an illness that I know I have had for some time. Is this illness contagious? Yes. Is it fatal? It could be, depending on how far advanced it becomes. Do I have to change my lifestyle? Yes. Is there a cure? I think so.

The illness is what I call the Christmas Crazies. I diagnosed myself with it a few years ago and I've been trying to overcome it ever since.

So what are the Christmas Crazies?

The Christmas Crazies are brought on by ... Christmas. The disease reappears each year before Thanksgiving (sometimes as early as September) and fully involves its victim by Black Friday. Its symptoms include both compulsively impulsive and planned obsessive spending, high degrees of frenzied baking, making things, shopping, decorating, party-going and eating. Christmas Crazy victims feel an uncontrollable urge to drive to the mall or some other store, send Christmas cards to everyone in their address book, decorate every room in the house or even make their own wrapping paper. They also make sure that their houses are the the best-lit on the block, even to the point of causing power outages. Other symptoms include high irritability, which is often seen most when driving or waiting in long lines; zoning out; obsessive list making, and the need to stay up late at night to work on projects. Those who suffer from Christmas Crazies may even become severely irritable or depressed if a lack of money or time prevents them from fulfilling these deeply felt urges. Christmas Crazy victims may call in sick to work when they are not ill or may skip church in order to sleep in or work on projects. Not all Christmas Crazy victims exhibit every one of these symptoms but most suffer from at least two. My symptoms include obsessive baking and making things, although I haven't tried making my own wrapping paper - yet.

So what is the cure for this onset of craziness that usually ends in a heap of exhaustion on December 25? Practicing the discipline of simplicity. According to www.renovare.us, "Simplicity is the joyful unconcern for possessions we experience as we truly 'seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness' (Matt 6:33). Persons living in simplicity realize freedom from anxiety by viewing possessions as gifts from God, remembering we are stewards to care for God’s gifts to us and making our goods available to others. Simplicity is a declaration of war on materialism and it reorients our lives, perspectives, and attitudes."

Simplicity is lived out in the Christmas story. As we see in the scripture, the Holy Family did not have many possessions. They even had to resort to delivering the baby Jesus in a stable because there was no room for them in the inn. Yet, Joseph and Mary were both righteous and obeyed God by allowing him to use them to bring his son into the world. It is an amazing story - one that convicts and encourages me every time.

Although poverty forced Mary and Jospeph into a simplistic life, they did not resent it. We as American Christians must strive to practice freedom from materialism. As we attempt to do this throughout the year with the help of the Holy Spirit, I believe we will sense a spirit of freedom by Christmas that we have never previously felt. Somehow the bondage of having to do so much and buy so much will be lifted and we'll enjoy the holiday for what it is - the birthday of Jesus. I am going to strive toward this for next year (because I've already blown it this year). Will you?

Tuesday

Keeping Christ in Christmas

During your Christmas celebrations, remember our brothers and sisters in Iran. It seems like they are making a dent and are about to be dented themselves. This just in from Crosswalk:

Pre-Christmas Rise of Threats and Intimidation Against Iranian Christians

Reports show a sharp increase of activities against Christians in Iran in the weeks leading up to Christmas, including the interrogations of house church members and activists at local state security offices, ASSIST News Service reports

A number of Christians in Tehran and six other cities have been ordered to show up at the state security centers after the Islamic police were instructed by a senior general to "be on guard to find out the reasons behind this massive and country-wide distribution of the Bible. It is obvious that this illegal act could not have been done without the help and cooperation of Christian businessmen, and we are looking for proof of their involvement." 

Iran's top Islamic leaders say they will continue to follow the Supreme Leader's direct orders to prevent the spread of house churches in the country.

Here in this country Christians feel persecuted because the clerk at Walmart wishes us a happy holiday rather than a Merry Christmas. In light of what our Iranian brothers and sisters are going through, our complaints about greetings and about replacing the word Christ with an "X" in the word Christmas seem microscopic by comparison. "Pathetically petty" does not seem too strong to me, especially when contrasted against the vision of ordinary people being dragged out of their homes by Iranian secret police, or the mullahs' "Islamic police."

In fact, before complaining about "X" replacing Christ in Christmas, I encourage you to read this article:

The origins of Xmas

from the Christian Resource Institute.

Even if people are trying to replace Christ with an X because they don't like him their plot has been foiled by the historical context, wouldn't you say?

The best way to keep Christ in Christmas is to keep him in our hearts and remember those who are less fortunate, as our imaginary pal Ebenezer Scrooge found out in Charles Dickens' work "A Christmas Carol."

God bless your day.

Friday

All is not well in Egypt

A few months ago the world was shocked to see that Egyptians were rebelling against their government in hope of a better life. Now we see, however, that a better life only depends on who you are, and in Egypt, you'd best not be a Coptic Christian.

Here is what I read on Crosswalk news this morning. You can sign up for daily news at this site.

Egypt: Thousands of Muslims Attack Christians, Kill Two

Thousands of Muslims attacked and besieged Copts in the majority-Christian village of el Ghorayzat, killing two and seriously wounding others, as well as looting and torching homes and businesses, ASSIST News Service reports. A property quarrel between a Coptic man, John Hosni, and his Muslim neighbor, Mahmoud Abdel-Mazeer, on Nov. 28 led to Abdel-Mazeer calling some extremists to set Hosni's store and home on fire; Hosni then hit Abdel-Mazeer on the head, leading to his death later in the hospital. Fearing backlash, Hosni fled the village with his family, and in revenge, a Muslim mob stormed the village, murdering two Christian brothers and going on a rampage of looting and burning Coptic-owned homes and businesses. "This is not revenge; this is simply an excuse to kill people because they are Christians, as well as loot their property," an eyewitness said. Despite the attack, the Muslims insist they have not yet avenged Abdel-Mazeer's death, and they have refused to bury Abdel-Mazeer until they kill "all Copts in the village."

Pray for our brothers and sisters in Egypt. The heritage of the Coptic Christians can be traced back to the gospel writer Mark.

Thursday

People are like trees

Today's reading: Psalm 1

1 Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
2 but whose delight is in the law of the LORD,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.
4 Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

6 For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.


Today's Psalm reminds us that the righteous will be blessed. They will be like a tree that lives next to a stream - a tree that is well-watered, healthy and vibrant. By 'healthy' I do not necessarily mean in a physical sense. There are many believers who are not physically healthy, nor are they financially secure. Some people will tell you that these believers are not real if they lack health and finances, but that is simply not true. Jesus did not have riches when he lived on earth, so why should we expect to have them? There are also believers out there who are gravely ill and who are a blessing to others because the roots of their hearts extend down into that fresh flowing stream of faith. They have used their illness as a way to get close to God and it shows. They can't help but spill God's goodness out onto others. I think'healthy' in this sense refers to one's spiritual health.

Psalm 1 reminds us that the wicked - or those who choose not to walk with God - will be punished. This is a common theme in the Psalms, perhaps because the writers of these poems were often oppressed by more powerful people. These people may seem triumphant for a time, but Psalm 1 tells us that they will one day blow away like dust, or chaff, in the wind. Their ways will eventually lead to destruction.

The longer I live, the more I see that this last principle is true. People who disobey God on a regular basis do not thrive. They may appear okay for a while and they may be happy for a time, but eventually, without the help of the Holy Spirit, life and the choices they make beat them down. They may grow depressed or bitter. Old habits may catch up with them. They blame others for their problems. People either hang around them to get something from them or they may have driven everyone away. At the core, they are not happy.

Those who do obey God on a regular basis, may have difficult times, but they are able to rise above them. They may struggle with depression but they are not self-centered. They may suffer terribly but their attitude is generally positive. At the core of their being they are contented people. Their roots, like our tree in the scripture, are rooted in fertile, well-watered soil.

The reason I have used the phrase "on a regular basis" in regards to obedience and disobedience is because these acts have to be cultivated regularly in order for a person to be known righteous or wicked. In order to be like the righteous person the Psalm describes, one must accept Jesus and then practice righteousness. Of course salvation is not by works, but how can we please God if we are not faithful? God sees us as righteous once we accept Christ, but there is a lot of work that needs to take place on the inside. Once we are healthy on the inside it shows on the outside.

Just like a tree is identified by careful examination of its leaves, trunk, bark, etc., a person can be recognized as righteous or wicked by careful examination. That fits with what Jesus said in Matthew 7:

"By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. "

Thus, a righteous person is known by what he or she does and a wicked person is known by the same. Of course it is not good to judge someone just because he or she commits one sinful or righteous act. We must get to know people first.

Mike and I like to take nature photographs; however, we have found that it is not so simple to distinguish one tree or plant from another. It takes careful examination. For this reason we have bought books that describe and picture the flowers, trees and shrubs that are common in Colorado and the southwest. As a result, we've learned a few things about what we're photographing. We've also learned that we were not identifying some plants correctly.

This is true of people too. Someone who may look righteous, may be disparately wicked in his or her heart and vice versa. As the old saying goes, we can't judge a book by its cover.

As I've been studying and reflecting on the Psalms in my journal I've been amazed at what thoughts they provoke. I hope you enjoyed reading some of my thoughts on Psalm 1. What are some of yours?

Quiet, but not silent

I've been pretty quiet lately as far as the blog goes. I don't know why but I lost my zeal to write on it for a little while. Plus, I've been on Etsy a lot trying to get my business up and running.

I've been quiet, but not silent. Almost every night for the last few months, I've been reading a Psalm and writing about it in a composition notebook I picked up at Walmart for 25 cents. Now I'm on to my second notebook. This project has been completely captivating. The Psalms are so powerful and they are alive even in our day and age of non-judgmentalism and political correctness. I say that tongue and cheek because - I suppose you could call me negative - we are just as judgmental as any age has been in the past. We just try to be more politically correct about it.

This is why the Psalms resonate with me so. I just finished Psalm 72, which ends David's writings, and I have identified with them so closely at this point in my life. It's almost like David allowed us to open his private journal to read what's inside, only his "journal" wasn't private. Most of his psalms are written to a director of music for the purpose of public worship. See, even back then King David knew that people felt just like he did about life's issues. The good thing about his psalms is that they convince us to have faith in the Lord. No matter what, according to David, God is good all the time.

Who could say it better? David was betrayed by his friends, chased all over his country by a rabid king, and had to flee for his life on several occasions. That is something with which I cannot identify, but I do identify with betrayal and feeling depressed. I also identify with the extreme goodness of the Lord.

There's more I want to say about the Psalms, but I think I will hold off until later. I want to talk a little about the benefits of journaling. Journaling is a spiritual practice that has been going on for thousands of years - probably since people drew carvings on cave walls. It is also, for some, a hobby.

There are also different types of journals. There are journals in which people just write (that's what I do most of the time) and there are art journals. Art journals are usually made from scratch or are developed from an existing book. In an art journal, the author uses all sorts of different mediums like paint, text, bling, pictures, etc., to create symbols for what he or she is feeling.

If you are interested in this type of journaling, I have found that this is a very good book for beginning:



Art Journals and Creative Healing: Restoring the Spirit Through Self-Expression by Sharon Soneff.

There are photo journals, travel journals, sketch journals, business journals, the list goes on. The main thing all these journals have in common is that the journalist is writing or creating something in a book of some sort. He or she is recording something that is personally important. Whether or not the author shares is completely up to him or her. The journal itself can be as inexpensive as pieces of paper gathered in a folder, or it can be as expensive as a journal with a cover made of wood or leather. It's up to the person who is journaling.

So why do people journal? Why do I journal? Journaling is a way to empty the soul of the day's garbage. It's also a way to focus prayer. God doesn't care how well you write, God cares that you speak with him. Journaling is a way to record what has happened to you. In the spiritual realm, it's a way to record what God has done. There's nothing like looking backward in your journal and reading about what God has done in certain situations. It builds faith and it inspires confidence.

Perhaps this is what the Psalms are about. David knew that by sharing his thoughts, his private thoughts perhaps, that his people would be encouraged to follow God and to stick with it no matter what difficulty had arisen in their lives. I believe that is one of the reasons why the Psalms were included in the scriptures.

What do you think?

Friday

A Powerful Psalm

In July, I started studying the book of Psalms. I have found that they inspire great confidence in God. I have found this to be especially true of Psalm 46.

In Psalm 46 two verses have received much attention in Christian churches. The first is "God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble," and "Be still and know that I am God."

Both are great verses that help believers internalize important facts about God; however, when the verses are read within the entire context of the Psalm, they really inspire confidence.

"God is our refuge and strength ..." the Psalm begins. It then goes on to describe God's adequacy as a helper during the midst of a cataclysmic catastrophe similar to what the characters in a disaster movie like "2012" would suffer. "Therefore, we will not fear ..." when the earth literally collapses beneath us; when Judgment Day comes or, when our own personal worlds fall apart. This Psalm alludes to all of those scenarios.

Psalm 46 also gives us a shocking view of God, in light of the focus we moderns place on God’s loving nature. In Psalm 46, the earth melts at the sound of his voice. This is meant to be symbolic - all trouble fades away when God comes on the scene. The psalmist seems to be extremely confident of this - so much so that he or she quotes God as saying, "Be still, and know that I am God.” The term “be still” does not mean that we quit moving and sit quietly. It simply means, "Trust me. Don't fear what you see going on around you, no matter what it is.” It means “… still your fears, your concerns, your worries … “ … and know that I am God.” What fear do you need to turn over to God this week?

Tuesday

A little chicken scratch

Chickens seem to be the thing this year. For some time now our feathered, egg-laying friends have appeared in art work, baby's hats, bibs and decor for the house. If you love the country or primitive decorating schemes, there is a good chance you have a chicken or rooster somewhere in your house.

This year, the love for chickens has reached new heights. People are now keeping chickens, real chickens, in their backyards because they want fresh eggs. On Etsy yesterday, I found this chicken coop:



Pretty fancy, huh? You can find them at America's Finest Chicken Coops. They even have coops with linoleum flooring. What will they think of next?

I've been amazed by the fact that people are keeping chickens. In eastern cities they even have people who will "chicken sit" for a mere $15 a day if you are away. When we were in Barnes and Noble recently there was a pile of books about keeping chickens. There were also other books about turning your backyard into a productive farm-like area, canning and preserving, and other country almanac type books.

Perhaps if you already live in the country this seems rather silly to you, but for someone who lives in a large city, this is revolutionary since most of the items one would grow or raise are abundantly available in stores. Country folk do this stuff because some items aren't readily available. Out here on the eastern plains of Colorado, some towns are isolated. They are at least 60 miles from the nearest Walmart or Safeway, it makes sense that they would grow things and raise chickens out of necessity.

What I think people are looking for in the cities, however, is  fresh food, and they want to know from where their food comes. I can't blame them. I like to know those things too and there is nothing like eating fresh from your garden. I've never had fresh chicken before. Maybe keeping chickens is something we might want to consider someday. Mike says he can have a coop up for me over the weekend, and he'll show me how to 'prep' them.

All this talk about chickens has a point. This morning while reading Psalm 17, I came upon these verses:

I call on you, my God, for you will answer me;
turn your ear to me and hear my prayer.
Show me the wonders of your great love,
you who save by your right hand
those who take refuge in you from their foes.
Keep me as the apple of your eye;
hide me in the shadow of your wings
from the wicked who are out to destroy me,
from my mortal enemies who surround me.


(I bolded the verse that has to do with chickens.)

For protection from his enemies, the Psalmist (David, most likely) asks God to stretch out his wings like a mother hen and protect him from his enemies. It is a touching example.

Since I don't own chickens and therefore do not know their habits I did some research and found this on Wikipedia (not the best place, I know, but this article is accurate):

"The hen will usually stay on the nest for about two days after the first egg hatches, and during this time the newly hatched chicks live off the egg yolk they absorb just before hatching ... After hatching, the hen fiercely guards the chicks, and will brood them when necessary to keep them warm, at first often returning to the nest at night. She leads them to food and water; she will call them to edible items, but seldom feeds them directly. She continues to care for them until they are several weeks old, when she will gradually lose interest and eventually start to lay again."


As you can see, it did not take long to find out why the Psalmist related God's love to a mother hen who "fiercely guards her chicks and will brood ("... to protect by covering with wings ..."- Free Online Dictionary) them when necessary ... "

In Matthew 23: 37, Jesus also uses chickens as an example:

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.

I have also found an example of this in children's literature. In a book about the childhood of Rose Wilder Lane, the daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder, the Wilders had moved to Missouri and experienced a flood. After the flood when they were looking around to see what could be salvaged, they found a dead hen in the brooding position. Upon lifting up the hen, a brood of little chicks poured out from under her, peeping and calling out. In the midst of great danger the hen had given her life to protect her young. The biblical imagery came to mind immediately. God in his desire to see his creation live abundantly, sent his son Jesus to die on a cross in order to free us from sin. It is like the chicken giving up her life. The little chicks came out from under her wings and went on living in the way their mother taught them to do before she died. Once we as humans accept Christ's sacrifice, we go on living. We live a rich life learning to do and then doing what Jesus taught us. Eventually we will see Jesus, but for now we live in his ways. This results in an abundant life.

Fortunately, unlike the chickens in the Wikipedia article, Christ does not lose interest in us. He does, however, expect us to grow and live like he said we should. And, unlike the little chicks, we never fully grow up completely. Christ will always be there brooding over us and hiding us under his wings when times get rough. All we have to do is ask.

So I hope you've enjoyed my little diddy about chickens today. I wasn't sure why they were on my mind, but now it all seems to come together.

Thursday

God is in the small things

Did you know that it is possible to find God's presence in the necessary tasks of life, like in doing laundry?

Household chores in general are not my favorite thing to do. I don't keep the house obsessively clean; I'm comfortable with a small amount of clutter and I don't mind if the laundry piles up during the week. I'd rather do it in one fell swoop on one day rather than devote bits of time to it during the week. I think this drives my husband nuts. He would devote bits of time to doing the laundry during the week if he could.  Sometimes, he will even put in a load when I'm not looking and then tell me about it as he leaves for work. Bless his heart. At least he's not above doing the laundry.

Dishes are especially not my favorite, but these are all things that need to be done so they get done. That's one of the reasons for letting the kids do it. They need to learn these things, right?

Anyway, back to laundry.

In our house, the kids do their own laundry and we all have days of the week especially set aside for this. For instance, Stephen does his on Wednesday, Jon on Saturday and Andrew on Sunday night. I do mine and Mike's on Friday (and whenever Mike sneaks in a load). I don't mind this schedule, in fact this summer I've rather enjoyed doing laundry. No. I'm not mentally ill, really.

Ever since energy rates have skyrocketed, we've made some changes at our house and the way we do laundry is one of them. The big change is we're not using our dryer. It's proved beneficial. In June we saved $60 from not using our dryer. Oh yeah, and the oven. With the heat we figured it would be more beneficial to run our air conditioner and use the grill. The dishwasher, on the other hand, was not even considered in this deal. We are still using it. I haven't gone completely mad. You're welcome, boys.

Using our clothesline for laundry has proved beneficial in more than just saving money. It has helped me slow down a bit. It takes time to hang clothes on the line and while doing this I enjoy some quiet time and the beauty of nature.

It hit me the first time I took a basket of clothes outside. On that day, the sky was a deep blue. There was a gentle breeze and since summer wasn't in full gear yet, the sun felt warm and inviting. I that moment, I thanked God for what he had created. And then I got a good chuckle from the birds. They were scolding me from  the treetops for interrupting their feast on the birdseed we put out everyday. They had flown away when I came outside.

"Just wait. I'll be gone soon," I told them.

A few days later I was out in the yard and two blue jays were eating at the bird seed trough. The other birds flew away, but those two stayed. I watched them from the clothesline for a while. They didn't even care that I was there and for some reason, I felt energized and a little closer to God because of this.

And when our wildflowers began blooming, I got to enjoy the blue sky, the gentle breeze, the squawking birds, the warm sun and colors of the wildflowers all at the same time. It's amazing how delicate and perfect the wildflowers are. Each one is unique in itself - just like us.

So why would a task like hanging laundry and enjoying nature have such an life-giving effect?

Author Michael Phillips put it this way in his book "Dawn of Liberty":

"The Fatherhood of God is one that must not merely create, it must continually imbue with life, it must generate his own life."

Perhaps that is why.

Phillips also wrote "Men and women are drawn to the earth; many do not even know why. They cultivate gardens and tenderly care for its trees and flowers and shrubs. The wise among them, however, acknowledge what gives the garden its glory. Kneeling down to plunge their fingers into the moist earth, they recognize that the miracle of God's very creation is before them. When they pluck a blossom from a cherished rose, to offer in affection to a loved one, they perceive their participation in the greatest truth in all the universe - that the goodness of the Creator has been lavished abroad upon the earth for his children to behold, discover truth from, and then enjoy ... if they will but look up, behold his face of love, and learn to call him Father."

Nature - the birds, the flowers, the leaves blowing in the wind, etc. - like humans, are a part of God's creation. When we quiet our hearts and enjoy the beauty around us, we experience a feeling of oneness and we open ourselves to the quiet lessons about God that nature has to teach us.

No wonder Paul said: "For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse."

Nature is tangible evidence of God. Nature itself shows God's divine fingerprint on everything. No wonder we feel so close to God when we incline our inner ear to its teachings.

Who knew that hanging laundry on a clothesline could bring about such a positive experience?

One of the good things about hanging laundry, too, is that the smell of the outdoors lingers on your clothing. This was especially noticeable to me when I opened my backpack on vacation. The clothes, which had been enclosed inside for several hours, immediately gave off the scent of outdoors. When the aroma reached my nose I was reminded of my time outdoors and I thanked God again.

Hanging laundry. Who knew??

Wednesday

Be the change

Here's a pretty cool prayer that a pastor prayed at a NASCAR event:



Under the video there was a comment made by Water4Jeremiah that two people liked on Facebook. It said:

"If all Christian pastors loved and appreciated life this much I'd still be a Christian."

I've heard this type of comment a lot and I can see why people say it. Many times we Christians take ourselves too seriously and burden people with a brand of Christianity that is not biblical. However, this person's comment also causes me to ask whether or not he or she is letting other people dictate his or her relationship with God and the church.

I speak from experience on this matter because I've been in the church since early childhood. I've heard and believed the Word, been loved by wonderful people, been active in almost every position imaginable except church treasurer and repair person. I've also been a pastor's wife. That position brought me within close proximity of some pretty awful stuff wrought by so-called saints of the church. These were the people that others seemed to look up to. The popular people. The movers and shakers.

On the surface these people appeared wonderful. However, underneath they were full of hatred, anger, malice and they spread gossip more smoothly than margarine spreads on bread. These were the saints that also hurt my family.

After my husband died and I was out of the ministry - thanking God everyday that I was out of the ministry, not that my husband had died - I realized that I had a lot of pent up anger inside. I'm going to be very honest here and admit that if it wasn't for my children I would have drifted away from the church. I had a good relationship with God and reasoned that I did not need a bunch of hypocrites in my life.

This was because I was hurt and as a pastor's wife, I had no way to express my feelings. Remember that I had a good experience in the church as a child and teenager. As an adult leader though I was blind-sided by people who claimed to be saved and sanctified; people who didn't understand that living a holy life meant that you still confessed sin and asked the Holy Spirit to renew you on a daily basis. These people did not understand that a life of love is intentional, not something that was magically brought about just because he or she had made two trips to the altar.

It has taken several years to come to terms with this reality, but I believe that I have done so, though it is still a work in progress to varying degrees. Through this experience I think I have learned to be more forgiving, compassionate, quietly prayerful and outspoken at the same time. I have learned that living at peace with people doesn't necessarily mean that I have to put myself in a vulnerable position with them. Sometimes this means that I don't talk to them beyond "Hi. How are you?" unless necessary.

I have also learned that I must work to be the change that I want to see happen in the church. Discovering the faults of others has caused me to look in the mirror and ask "Do I do that?" then ask for forgiveness and seek to change if the answer is "yes".

This blog is another way I become the change I want to see happen because it allows me to speak out against the hypocrisy I see on a wider scale. This hypocrisy is happening all over the place. If anything, the little comment I read this morning proves it. We used to say in the newspaper business that if one person was saying something, ten more people felt the same way and we were usually right about this. In this situation, however, I don't have to guess. There are blogs all over the place like mine and there are books regarding these matters.

If you are in a church that doesn't have these problems, wonderful. Thank God for that. But also, pray for those who are in churches where the hypocrites seem to run the show. Pray for the strength of the pastors and for those who are trying to live the Christian life for real. It is through the prayers of others that those who are suffering at the hands of other "Christians" will be able to rise up and lovingly say, "This isn't right," and then hang in there for the fight. As a result, the hypocrites will either repent, leave or be effectively neutralized.

If you are suffering in the church, hang in there. Pray and ask what God would have you do. Sometimes it means that you need to go somewhere else, but oftentimes it means that God may call you to be the change that you want to see happen. Seek out other Christians who feel the same way you do and pray together. Start keeping a journal about the subject and write about your angst either through art, the written word, or maybe a recording (that you should keep well hidden). In this way you can pour your feelings out to the Lord rather than dumping them all over people who may not be able to handle them.

The main thing is to follow the advice given in Hebrews 10:25: "Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching."

Tuesday

Take a break!

One of the keys to living an abundant life is taking time off.

We all get tired. We all need a break from the norm, so whether it's a short coffee break in your favorite spot - a ten-minute vacation, if you will - or an actual let's-leave-the-house-and-travel vacation, or somewhere in between, all are valuable to one's spiritual growth. These breaks give us a chance to back up and see life from a different perspective. Breaks give us a chance to evaluate our goals and to look at the direction in which we are heading. Breaks allow us to see if our daily activities are actually moving us toward our goals or if we have somehow strayed.

An actual vacation can also renew our spiritual vigor. It is equivalent with filling the ol' car up at the gas station and can be just as expensive!. What would happen if we were cruising down the highway on an eighth of a tank with the dummy light flashing? At some point the tank will empty and we'll be in serious trouble if we can't get off the road in time. This too can happen in our lives. There are so many activities and so many expectations we can literally run out of gas as we are cruising down the highway of life. Running out of gas may show itself through general irritation over things that don't usually bother you, emotional outbursts, a sense of dullness or melancholy, a sense of anxiety, a loss of interest in the normal activities of life, mild depression and in a worse case scenario, could result in severe depression or a mental and/or physical breakdown.

This is why I believe that taking a break is sometimes the most godly thing one can do. In college one of my psychology professors said that he changed something major in his life every seven years, whether it was his job, his location or whatever. He felt that this was crucial to his emotional health and I agree for the most part. The important thing, he emphasized, was to follow the biblical example of change that we find in the Law. Every seven years people were to pay off debt, free slaves, not grow crops, etc. Even Jesus took time off to pray.

The point is to not grow stale.

Recently, Mike and I were blessed by being able to take a vacation to North Carolina. We've been doing this for the last three years to visit his family who live on the eastern coast. This time we revisited one of our favorite spots, Shackleford Banks.

Shackleford Banks is an island off the coast near Beaufort that is approximately 10 miles long and 3/4 mile across at its widest point. And, although the National Park Service takes care of it, the island is really rustic. There's only one bathroom that I know of and there is no fresh water unless you want to dig for it. In other words, you have to pack everything in and take whatever trash you have out. People are usually pretty good about taking the trash out so the island is a rather pleasant place.

Mike and I went there on a beautiful, sun-splashed day with very low humidity. We arrived by ferry at 9 a.m. and took off walking on the sound side of the island, with our cameras, plenty of water and snacks for later. I also had an extra bag for shelling since this is an activity that the Park Service allows.

Here is a pic of the sound side that Mike took:



It was a very pleasant morning with the wind blowing in from the north. Mike and I chatted while we walked and took pictures. We saw blue crab scurrying along in the water beside us. We watched boats come in. People were fishing and swimming but we couldn't understand why they would blast their radios in all that beauty.

One guy thought he was taking a break, but I don't think he really was:



Maybe he had a good reason for talking on his cell phone, but I couldn't help wondering what the point was of surrounding oneself with beauty without leaving the world behind.

Mike and I walked up the coast for an hour or so (we ended up walking about 7.5 miles that day) before we saw three of the island's horses.

Yes. Horses.



Shackleford Banks is the home of about 100 or more horses that have descended from steeds first brought over by Spanish explorers more than 400 years ago. These horses are wild and have never done a day of work for humans in their lives. They are quite magnificent and are not afraid of people (although I would still exercise caution with them. They are wild and don't need people feeding or harassing them).

They seemed perfectly content to pose for pictures:



The harem's (that's what horse families are called) mother and I seemed to connect:



Maybe, since her child was with them, she was wondering where mine were. Who knows? I just remember feeling happy and peaceful as we looked at one another. Maybe she sensed my anxiety over my oldest son graduating from high school. Maybe God was telling me through her that kids leaving the nest is natural, to relax, to go with it.

Yeah, I think that's what it was. Do you believe that God can speak through nature? Scripture tells us in Romans 1: 20 that God makes himself known to the world by way of nature. It is a doorway through which one can hear from God if you recognize the very basic truth that he created it all - not how long it took or how he did it, just that he did it.

After we left the horses, Mike and I continued up the coast. Our goal was to walk through the interior forest of the island and then walk back to the ferry landing by way of the Atlantic Ocean side of the banks.

See how the salt spray has gnarled the oak trees?



The forest is quite dense.



Spanish moss and vines hang from the trees. Sunlight is filtered through the trees and creates interesting patterns on the forest floor that dance when the wind blows through the tree tops. The forest floor is covered with leaves and piles of horse poop.

As we were walking into the forest, the cicadas were buzzing in the tree tops. They ceased buzzing the further we walked into the forest and there was a quietness all around. I would say stillness, but that would not be correct. The forest was alive. Birds sang, the wind blew in the tree tops and occasionally I heard a horse breathe nearby; Mike caught strong whiffs of their smell but we never saw them. As we neared the edge of the forest the cicadas were back, buzzing in all their glory. We could still hear them as we headed out onto the dunes. Here is what it looked like as we left. Like I said, it was dense. I got a few scratches from tree branches, but they were worth it



Here's Mike on the dunes, just as happy as he could be:



Walking was a little slow going here. There were nettles on the ground in some spots, but there were also flowers and grass. The island is a wonderful place to bird watch as well.

As we walked on the dunes, we got whiffs of salt air and every now and then we could hear the ocean waves crashing against the shore. I couldn't wait to get there. By this time I was ready to eat something and wanted to dip my feet in the water. I was not prepared for the beauty I saw as we crested the dunes.

Here it was. To our left:



And to our right:



I've never seen anything like it. Miles of untouched beach with no people and shells so thick on the sand that we had to wear our shoes just to walk on it.

It was magnificent! I had a Psalm 19 moment.

In Psalm 19, David - I don't know if he was watching a sunset or a sunrise or what - is writing about the beauty of the sun, the perfect order of its course and it's all-encompassing scope. As he did this he began to reflect on God's word and its perfection.

David said that nature speaks about God yet it has no voice. We feel this speech in our hearts whenever we are pleased by beauty, or when we feel wonder over the complexity and perfection of plant life, insects or the beauty of a newborn child. All we have to do is recognize that God created it all in order to make that feeling complete, to fully revel in the moment.

I must confess that Mike and I were quite happy on our walk back to the ferry landing. We ate apples and then he fell asleep on the sand while waiting for the ferry, and I looked for more shells. It was very wonderful.

In the Psalm David didn't stop reflecting once he acknowledged how perfect God's law was. He then began to turn his focus inward asking God to check him out. David was so caught up in the beauty and wonder of God's world that he could only feel naturally humbled by it all. And, that is where the refreshing comes, from recognizing God's place and my place and realizing that as long as he is in control of my life everything will turn out for the good. No matter what happens. The horses on that island - who have survived hunger, thirst, storms and other disasters - are proof that life goes on. God has cared for them and will continue to do so just like he cares about us. We just have to let him.

Wednesday

Why can't we agree?

The other day I read this from a religion news feed I receive:

Resolution Affirms Biblical Doctrine of Hell

"Southern Baptists approved a resolution affirming the Bible's teaching on hell during the Wednesday morning session of their annual convention. The resolution on hell, which urges faithful proclamation of the Gospel to those who face eternal suffering, was one of six passed by unanimous or nearly unanimous votes upon recommendation of the Resolutions Committee. Baptist Press reports that the resolution on hell came as part of an ongoing response to the publication earlier this year of Michigan pastor Rob Bell's book 'Love Wins.' Bell's controversial book 'called into question the church's historic teaching on the doctrine of eternal punishment of the unregenerate,' as the resolution described it. Messengers in Phoenix affirmed 'our belief in the biblical teaching on eternal, conscious punishment of the unregenerate in Hell.' The resolution also urged Southern Baptists 'to proclaim faithfully the depth and gravity of sin against a holy God, the reality of Hell, and the salvation of sinners by God's grace alone...'"

The aforementioned book is this one:



It's on my shelf. I've read the first four chapters but then I got hooked on "Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy" and put it down.

So far, from what I see in Bell's book, he's only trying to open a conversation. Does he challenge traditional thinking on hell like the Southern Baptists claim? Yes, but I don't see anything wrong with what Bell is writing. I'm not saying that I completely agree with him because I have not reached any conclusions on the matter. I have to finish the book. For now, I will say that his book is intriguing.

To me, Bell seems to be challenging the unloving and careless attitude that a lot of Christians have about people going to hell. This was portrayed by former governor Mike Huckabee when he welcomed Osama bin Laden to hell after the terrorist was killed by Navy Seals. We think that evil people deserve to go to hell and perhaps rightfully so, but do we mourn for their souls and care for them while they are on earth?

I've also seen this in the church: People who have been going to church all their lives are upset with death bed confessions, saying that it is not fair that they had been living the for so long and suffering so much when all a person has to do is accept Jesus on his or her death bed and get in to heaven with the same benefits. That attitude reeks of a works attitude: "Dog gone it. I deserve to go to heaven! I've given up smoking, drinking and dancing and going with girls (or boys) who do and that person did everything he or she wanted."  It's almost, as  Mike says about that attitude, "Screw you buddy, I got mine ... why should you have any of it?"

But when we compare ourselves with a holy and perfect God do any of us deserve to go to heaven? It's by God's grace, not man's grace, that souls are saved. It's clearly God's decision, not ours; it's just our job to present the gospel and let the Holy Spirit do the work.

I understand what the Southern Baptists are doing. They want to make sure that their people know that they are not letting go of their doctrine of hell as being a place of eternal, conscious punishment for those who are unregenerate. They want to make sure that they do not lose the perspective that sin against a holy God is serious business. I applaud that. Sin is serious business. It ruins our lives and the lives of people around us. It keeps us from living abundantly here on earth.

The Naked Pastor had an interesting cartoon:



This is certainly not the real attitude of our loving Christ, but it seems that many Christians must think it is, otherwise they would not act in such unloving ways.

Recently, in honor of the day G.K. Chesterton went to be with the Lord, I blew the dust off his book "Orthodoxy" and read some selections. In it he talked about George Bernard Shaw, a friend of his, with whom he disagreed on almost everything. That phrase caused me to stop reading for a few minutes. He disagreed with his friend on almost everything? That's certainly not the way things are done today. Usually we are most comfortable with the people with whom we agree. It's hard for us to even respect people who disagree with us. This is one reason why Washington can't get it together and another reason why the church is not as strong as it should be. We find it very hard to live at peace with one another (Romans 12:18). You see, it's not a new problem.

On the other hand, over in 2 Corinthians 13:11, Paul encourages us to agree with one another. It seems like he's almost begging his readers to agree so that there won't be any divisions among them (1 Corinthians 1: 10). Why? Because division stops the work of Christ and ruins the communion of the saints. Can we lead others to Jesus if we are divided? Can we enjoy each others' company when we are divided?

It is a quandary. No two humans will agree on everything. If they agree on everything then one isn't necessary (I don't remember who said that but I like it).

Good debate, even disagreement sharpens and fine tunes the soul. People are better when their views are challenged. Unfortunately, however, we tend to get angry and sullen when someone disagrees with us. When this happens we waste time affirming what we already believe rather than opening our heart and concentrating on how we can be more productive.

In the church we would be better off agreeing to disagree on some subjects; have healthy debate, avoid debate when we are angry and agree on this:

Apostles' Creed


1. I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth:
2. And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord:
3. Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary:
4. Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried: He descended into hell:
5. The third day he rose again from the dead:
6. He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty:
7. From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead:
8. I believe in the Holy Ghost:
9. I believe in the holy catholic* church: the communion of saints:
10. The forgiveness of sins:
1l. The resurrection of the body:
12. And the life everlasting. Amen.

*Note: this means the church universal, which includes Catholicism and Protestantism


For further reading about God's grace, check out Matthew 20: 1-16 and Ephesians 2: 8 and think about what you're reading. I'd love to hear your views in the comment section.

Friday

Abundant living

One of my favorites of Jesus' sayings is found in John 10:10b:

"I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly."

Now normally on this blog I quote the New International or the New Revised Standard Version, but for this quotation I am using the King James because I like the way it is worded and because that's how I memorized it before my church adopted the N.I.V. back around 1983, about 10 years after it was published, Speaking of which, have you ever noticed that a lot of churches run at least a decade behind? But that's a rabbit trail to another story, and that's the end of the rabbit trail, I promise. For now.

Because I love this saying, I decided to use it in the redo of my blog. I've been thinking about a redo for a while. I kept the name Yahbut because that still fits me. I'm still arguing with the way the church does things and with some of the beliefs we have that are not biblical; however, the Recovering Fundie aspect of my personality is changing. No longer am I trying to come to terms with the new things that God is showing me. I embrace them and because of this I have received a more abundant form of belief - a much happier, less legalistic version. This, I believe, is one of the things Jesus meant when he talked about abundant life. And so now on this blog I want to explore what abundant life means, and how we can go about achieving it.

Many people believe that the abundant life begins after death. They say that there is too much sin and sorrow in this world and that they cannot overcome their sinful nature so there is really no chance to have abundant life.

I respectfully disagree. We can overcome our sinful nature through the power of the Holy Spirit and we do not have to sin in word, thought and deed every day. Christ can help us overcome the temptations in our lives that lead to sin and we can be free (see 2 Corinthians 5:17 and I Corinthians 10:13).

A beautiful thought, isn't it? Or, perhaps you're thinking that I am one of those Christians who says that I've never sinned since accepting Christ. If you are, you'd be wrong. I may not sin everyday but I do slip up more often than I want. For instance, I am a worry wart. This is a weakness in my nature that I can't seem to defeat. It's like what Paul called a "thorn in my flesh" and I have to ask the Lord's forgiveness quite often. I have also asked God to remove it from me, but he seems to say that his grace is sufficient and that I'm going to have to learn from that particular trial and tribulation. Does that mean that God has not overcome worry in my life like I so boldly mentioned earlier? That's a difficult question because we all have hang ups, don't we?

In 2 Corinthians 12: 9, Paul wrote: "But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me."

Scholars don't know for sure what Paul's weakness was but I know what mine are and if this verse is true God's power overcomes my weakness. I still have them, but maybe God wants me to use them to rely on him more.

For example, some people are delivered from desires right away after they accept Christ. One may be released from the desire to smoke cigarettes. Another may have to pray and use all kinds of methods to quit. They have to be disciplined and depend on God and as the desire weakens God proves his strength.

Back to worry. If this sinful behavior seems to be part of my makeup how can I overcome it? Didn't God make me that way? I don't believe he did, but somehow I have learned it over the years (maybe it's in my genes passed down through family connections!) or maybe it was modeled by so many people that I just thought it was the way things were done. Whatever the reason, it is something that I have to trust God about. Eventually it will be overcome through maturity and in the life to come. Some things just take time. To these we must trust that God is showing his power through us.

I know this post is getting long, but I just thought of an example of this. When my first husband Gordon was going through his battle with pancreatic cancer, I seemed to rise above it all in regard to worry. I just knew that God would take care of our family and he proved it over and over. It was amazing. It was the kind of thing that destroys people, yet I've never been that strong before. Or since, for that matter.

In comparison to cancer and losing a spouse, the things I worry about now seem inconsequential. I just have to keep reminding myself of that fact.

As for sinning everyday, if we are maturing in our faith why do we keep on voluntarily sinning? Doesn't the very definition of "sin" as found in the free online dictionary indicate a choice born of free will?

a. Deliberate disobedience to the known will of God.
b. A condition of estrangement from God resulting from such disobedience.
c. Something regarded as being shameful, deplorable, or utterly wrong.

The whole reason Jesus died on the cross is to save us from sin. Part of living the abundant life is getting help in overcoming sin in our lives. Sometimes we need counseling, sometimes we need to be accountable to our fellow Christians and sometimes we just need to stop when it is in our power to do so. God, in all the grace provided through Jesus, is there to help us and to light the way so that we can be free.

But what about sin committed by others and the resulting sorrow it wreaks in the world? Can we still live abundantly in the midst of it? I believe so. We may not be happy with our circumstances but we can always find something for which to be grateful - even if it's just the fact that your coffee tasted extra good that morning or maybe just because you had coffee. And there is always the gift of the day itself.

I love the story that Corrie ten Boom told in her book "The Hiding Place." Corrie and her sister Betsy were prisoners in a Nazi concentration camp which was plagued with fleas. Corrie was upset about the fleas, but Betsy helped her see that the fleas were keeping the guards out of their barracks and because of this they were able to share their faith with the other prisoners. Isn't that a good attitude? It may be a little sickening at first, but if your mind is in the right place Betsy's point makes sense. In this way she was living abundantly despite deplorable circumstances. I think many people confuse "abundant life" with an abundance of material things. But we see from Corrie ten Boom's experience, it's really an abundant spiritual life, and material things may or may not accompany that.

Right now I am reading Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas. It is a brilliantly written biography of one of the church's greatest theologians, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer, whose life was cut short by a Nazi executioner for participating in a plot to assassinate Adolph Hitler, lived an abundant life. However, I found that he also fought depression and he seemed to accept that his life's mission could end in seeming failure. Read something he wrote:

"And we simply cannot be constant with the fact that God's cause is not always the successful one, that we really could be 'unsuccessful': and yet be on the right road. But this is where we find out whether we have begun in faith or in a burst of enthusiasm."

That statement really seems to knock down the "God wants you rich" theology doesn't it? But that confidence that Bonhoeffer had of being on the "right road" seems to be connected to living the abundant life.

More about waiting

Earlier this week I wrote about awaiting the good. Here is something that I wrote in my journal a few weeks ago as I thought about Romans 8:28:

"The verse doesn't say: 'And we know that God will snap his fingers and everything will work out well for those who love him.' It says 'God works toward the good.' There's a lot of free will involved in that because I can screw up what God is working toward. God works toward, it doesn't say that God succeeds every time. It says that we should have faith in God because he is working everything out for the good. He's a behind the scenes kind of God. We can count on him even though we can't see what he's doing."

To add to this thought, the verse says to me that I need to get in step with what God is doing in my life and submit. I don't want to thwart his plans. That, my friends, is part of the abundant life.

In closing, here is a verse I read in my morning devotions:

"I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob." *

Blessings!


*The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. Nashville : Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989, S. Dt 30:19-20

Wednesday

Awaiting the good

Hi, everyone. It's me again.

I realize that I have not posted since the day after Mother's Day. The month of May was absolutely insane around here. First, my oldest son Andrew graduated from high school so there was a lot of preparation going on for company and our open house. I also did not anticipate the emotional drama that accompanies this life change. I'm afraid that I've been whacked ever since!

In spite of this whackery we managed to keep things pretty simple at the open house and I had a lot of help for which I am still grateful. I guess breaking two from-scratch cakes in half in the same day was the Lord's way of saying "Just buy one. Save this for another time, honey." I was going to be super mom and decorate the cake as well. Oh well, c'est la vie!

I have also been crafting and creating greeting cards. While we were in North Carolina last week on vacation, I sold two ten-card sets of "A Day Down East" to Kim, the owner of Davis Shore Provisions General Store. She believes that the people over there will enjoy my photographs that were transferred to card stock via a chemical process. I also hope to have some available on Etsy by the end of this week so you can see them too.

Thank you, Kim! And if any of our readers ever drive through Davis, North Carolina stop in to the store. They have wonderful products and they sell fabulous pastries and lite rolls with cheese. Yum!

Along with North Carolina pics, Mike and I are also working on cards that will feature Colorado (some will even have recipes), different birds and wildflowers. Churches will be another feature. You can find galleries of our North Carolina trip linked from posts on  "View from the Pizer."

While growing up, I watched my mom sew and after reading the "Little House" books I tried to sew my own rag doll (It really did look like a rag after I was done!) and in school we made gifts for our parents at Christmas so crafting has always been a part of my life. My grandmother and aunt also made quilts and Christmas ornaments for each of their grandchildren to use when they left home. Grandma always made sure that I received some type of crafting device for Christmas. I think she wanted me to try different things so that I could find my niche. This happened when my first piano teacher introduced me to needlepoint, I was hooked. Ever since that time creating items for gifts has always been enjoyable.

Even though I don't needlepoint anymore I still love to make things. Now I crochet and create with paper. I enjoy the altered book process as well but I've only dabbled in it.

Here are some items I have created. They are for sale on Etsy:

Bright Day Journal, $10






















Simple Journal, $10





















"From My Heart to Yours Card Set", $10





















And, "Sweet Baby Crocheted Blanket", $40














So, will writing go by the wayside? I don't want it to. This year, since I quit my job at the paper, has been a journey of discovery. It has not been easy, but it has definitely been worth the effort. Somehow, the Lord assures me, it all works together.

In the King James Version, Romans 8:28 says:

"And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose."

The Lord is showing me that this is true but it takes time. Good doesn't always happen right away but it is worth waiting for.

Monday

Reflections on Mother's Day

Another Mother's Day here and gone. This is my 18th year as a mother so I thought that I would talk about the blessings of the day and my kids.



Meet (from left to right) Stephen, Andrew and Jonathan. Aren't they handsome?

I am a blessed mother. My kids are normal teenagers, a bit aggravating at times, but they are not in trouble with the law nor are they doing anything that makes me sad. They do their best in school and they have dreams and aspirations. I'm grateful that they are healthy and that they are active in life. Andrew, Jonathan and Stephen are the lights of my life and now I have four grandchildren to add to that glow. Michael, Tayler, Elena and Ethan are a lot of fun and I am very proud of them.



Another handsome bunch ... in the back we have Michael and Tayler; in front, Ethan and Elena.

Yesterday we all got together and ate a wonderful lunch here at the house. Dee (my stepdaughter who is an awesome mom) made a really easy potato dish and I assembled another easy dish of mixed veggies with cream cheese, butter and spices. Mike marinated a brisket and slow cooked it in the roaster all morning long. Wow. It was good. We had ice cream sundaes for dessert - no extra cooking there. The kids gave me some crafting supplies and Jon recorded three songs that he played on his bass guitar. Mike gave me the new book about Dietrich Bonhoeffer - now I just need time to read it!

We like celebrating Mother's Day in a simple manner. No restaurants, no traveling (right now anyway, eventually - in a decade or so - there will be more grandchildren and great-grandchildren to visit), just a simple get together. This year on Saturday there were so many school sporting events that Mike didn't take the kids shopping like usual. Andrew, who just got his driver's license this year, took care of that.

Last night Mike and I took a walk out in the country. It was hot yesterday and the wind was blowing, but the sky was a brilliant blue and the way the wind blew through the newly planted crops made them look like flowing water. When we reached Timpas creek there were two ducks swimming upstream. They were kind of glancing at each other and quacking quietly as if in deep conversation over whatever ducks talk about when they are together. Watching a movie with Mike and the kids at the end of the day just topped it off perfectly.

I don't know why God has blessed me so much, but I am grateful. We've had some hard years. The boys and I lived through the death of their father and now God has blessed us with more family. Mike is a wonderful husband who works hard to make sure that I am well taken care of. And, of course, my parents are still living and as active as they can be in our family all the way from Arizona. It's just a good life and I thank you, Lord.
I hope you all had a nice Mother's Day and even if it wasn't everything you wanted it to be, remember that God is with you and understands your heartache.

Meanwhile, thanks boys for making me a proud mother. I love you with all my heart. I now look forward to a new chapter in motherhood - graduation and the first departure from the nest. I'm sure there will be more on that later!

Wednesday

Praying with the newspaper and the Bible

Balancing prayer with the newspaper and the Bible

I've been pretty quiet lately. For those who like my blog, I apologize for the lack of posting but I've been concentrating on making some things to sell. During my short hiatus, however, the news has supplied plenty of thinking material and opportunities for prayer.

Karl Barth, the great German theologian, is attributed with saying, "read the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other." There is no solid proof that he said this but someone wise has changed this quote to say "pray with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other." This is a good quote to remember lately, don't you think?

Usama bin Laden

The first thing that comes to mind because it is the most recent is the death of America's enemy Usama Bin Laden. I, like every other American, felt a wonderful sense of pride in our armed forces and in our resolve after I learned that it happened. I'm still glad it happened, but I've come down a bit from the initial reaction.

How should we as Christians respond to the death of an enemy? Here is a great blog post on the issue: Alise Write. Alise, I don't know you, but you say it well.

Killing bin Laden was good for our country but we shouldn't go overboard in rejoicing over the fact that our enemy is dead. The things that he did were evil and he was a lost soul. As much as we want to deny the fact - because it doesn't fit in with our "favored Christian nation" rhetoric - God loves bin Laden and every other terrorist on the planet just as much as he loves we law-abiding citizens. The Bible says so, does it not? Of course we need to defend ourselves against such people and we're glad that the vein through which evil did its work through bin Laden has been cauterized, but we still should mourn the fact that another sinner will face punishment.

Praying with the newspaper in one hand alerts us to issues outside of our own sphere that need prayerful attention. We don't know if others are praying, but if we feel drawn to pray for an issue we should do it. Praying with the scripture in the other helps shape our minds and hearts so that we can pray for our enemies and even bless those who curse us, as Jesus said. This is not an easy thing to do, especially when so many bad things happen because of the evil that people do. We will be blessed if we do this because our actions will not be fueled by hatred or anger; they will be motivated by love and compassion.

The Ravaged South

The plight of the people in the South who were recently ravaged by a scourge of tornadoes calls for this type of balanced prayer. Without the newspaper - or the newscast blaring in the background - we would be unaware of their plight. Their plight has been overshadowed by bin Laden's killing, which I think is rather cheap, but they are still in need both physically and spiritually. I say "spiritually" because it is at these times of great disaster that the question comes: "God, why did you do this?"

One person on the news who went through the tragedy seemed to believe that God was simply showing his great power to we puny people. That reeks of the "we are worthless" theology that I wrote against a while ago. Do we really believe that our loving God would wreak havoc on his creation that he so dearly loves? This thought seemed comforting to the person who said it, but to me it seems a cheap fix to guard against the questions and the anger that one must feel after this type of event. Wouldn't you be hopping mad at God if your neighborhood were destroyed and possibly some of your loved ones had died, especially if you felt like he caused it? But is it a reasonable anger? Did God really do that? Pat Robertson said that the earthquake in Haiti was nothing more than God punishing the Haitians. Do you believe that is true? Following Robertson's thinking, should we believe that God was punishing the people of Alabama or anywhere else in the South?

Of course there is the issue that God, if not causing these events, then allowed these terrible tragedies to occur. Look at Job. God allowed Satan to do everything he could to make Job lose faith. Job lost his family, his possessions and his health yet he still trusted God. He even trusted God after the Almighty basically told him to mind his own business when Job questioned God. "I had my reasons," God seemed to say. Note that the Bible does not condemn Job's questioning as sin. Remember that "Doubting Thomas" remained one of the disciples even though he initially doubted Christ's resurrection.

My late husband Gordon had to make a decision to trust God after his two-year-old nephew was tragically killed in an automobile accident. Years later Gordon told me that he tried to walk away from God because he was so angry. "It was the most miserable time of my life," I remember him saying. Finally, one day God whispered to his spirit: "You can either go through this with me or without me." It was a moment of decision and Gordon chose to go through it with the Lord. He remembered what a great relief it was to finally give up his anger at God.

Tornadoes, destruction of homes and communities, the death of loved ones - none of these are easy to deal with. The only answer I can give is to trust God anyway because the Bible says that God is good and loving. I have also had to believe this in my own life, and this has been my experience, as well.

As for Job, the one thing I take heart in is that God heaped blessings on him after the tragedy -some might say "trial" - was over. We can only hope that it will be this way for our friends in the South. So we pray for that and trust the Lord for this outcome.

Prayer changes us

Prayer does not change God, but it changes him who prays. ~Søren Kierkegaard

Praying with the newspaper in one hand will certainly give us much to do, but we must remember too that having the Bible in the other hand is the only way to balance the nagging doubts that come when we pray this way. We must understand the Scriptures and allow God to use them to shape our thinking. By doing so we will be endowed with godly compassion - a compassion that allows us to pray for the bin Ladens of the world and the people who have been caught up in tragedy without condemning them as sinful and in need of divine retribution. These are issues that we should consider deeply, and avoid following the thinking of Christians who revel in a harshness they attribute to God's judgment.

Thursday

Maundy Thursday


This blog entry was written last April by my husband Mike, who is pictured at left, for his own blog Observations, Chit Chat and Idle Gossip in the Smile Hi City. I thought this blog was appropriate today. Enjoy!

Today is Maundy Thursday.

That's one that gives the kids giggle fits. "Monday-Thursday"?

Nope. Actually, it has to do with one of the most significant of Jesus' acts, but one which today is missed by many who claim to be practitioners of the Christian faith(s).

Christians like to cite John 3:16 as the cornerstone of why we should Believe. You can even get golf balls, Christian golf balls - or perhaps they are Gospel Balls - with John 3:16 imprinted upon them. One can only presume that swatting such balls will get you on God's foursome.

But without John 13:34-35, which cites Christ's New Commandment, does John 3:16 have any real substance? Without at least a good faith attempt on the part of the faithful to comply with Christ's commandment, does a simple belief in him do the trick? Does a simple belief in John 3:16 carry an implicit acknowledgment of that New Commandment - and more importantly, an acceptance of Christ's charge to his disciples? If it is implicit, is it perhaps too subtle for many people? Christ was pretty direct when he laid the commandment on, but the focus is always on John 3:16 - those golf balls, again - rather than John 13:34-35.

BTW ... you won't find John 13:34-35 on any golf balls.

Maundy Thursday has to do with that New Commandment, which Christ symbolized by the washing of his disciples' feet. "Maundy" is derived from the Latin for "command" or "commandment". Peter initially refused to have Christ wash his feet, but was told, "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me." Why?

Some churches actually do have a foot-washing service, but generally, Maundy Thursday and the ritual foot-washing as a symbolic display of acceptance of the New Commandment are not observed by most churches, at least in this country. Why? Too much focus on getting out to the golf course after the Easter service and swatting a few of those John 3:16 balls?

Wednesday

Food for thought

Well, I didn't return on Tuesday like I thought I would and I don't have much time to write today. However, I thought I'd leave you with some food for thought. I read this quote on Sunday from "Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals." Hope it gives you some light for your journey:


Eighth-century martyr Andrew of Crete wrote, "Let us say to Christ: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, the king of Israel. Let us wave before him like palm branches the words inscribed above him on the cross. Let us show him honor, not with olive branches, but with the splendor of merciful deeds to one another. Let us spread the thoughts and desires of our hearts under his feet like garments, so that he may draw the whole of our being into himself and place the whole of his in us.


Pretty good, huh? Kind of like succulent Porterhouse steak nicely seasoned and straight off the grill to your plate.

Monday

Grand Theft Donkey?


This is Holy Week. And, with its onset, our family is having some interesting discussions at the dinner table. I don't know about your family, but ours likes, or often gets into, religious discussions. So last week with Palm Sunday coming up - it was yesterday - Mike wanted to know if Jesus committed a crime by having his disciples take the donkey from the house of whomever it belonged.

My instant reply was, "Of course not."

And he returned with "Don't you think you're replying that way because of everything you've been taught? Why don't you think for yourself?"

It went downhill from there, but Mike has a tendency to ask questions that I'm sure not many people think about and I like that. As for the boys, Jonathan likes to get into it, but the other two usually remain silent. However, I hope that in their silence they are listening and absorbing what we discuss because they are good times to teach the kids how to give answers to other people outside our family and "always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks (them) to give the reason for the hope that (they) have ..." I Peter 3:15.

So using some of the discussion for Grand Theft Donkey as my basis, I will show you some of the basic principles that we are trying to teach the kids. We usually don't spell them out but here they are.

1. Read the Bible.

It sounds so simple, but how many times do we defend something we have always believed without actually knowing where, or if, it's found in the Scriptures? These days it's pretty easy to find any verse if you have Google, but for those who don't, or for those who do not want to use the computer, there is usually a concordance in the back of many Bibles.You can also skim through the passages if you have an idea where the verses can be found. The Triumphal Entry is pretty easy to find. Most Bibles have headers so you can just skim through those to find the story. For this question, I checked all four gospels because I knew the story was in all four and because each writer includes different details - amazingly so - about the alleged theft. Observe:

Luke 19: 28 - 35: "After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’” Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They replied, “The Lord needs it.” They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road."

John 12: 19: "Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written ..."

Matthew 21: 1-3: As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.” Some footnotes may include that the Lord will send it back right away, or something similar.

Mark 11: 1-3:
"As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 3 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’”

Mark's account is the clincher. The disciples said they would return the donkey shortly. But why didn't the other gospel writers say this?

Differences of opinion
First of all, we must remember that each gospel writer was a different person with a different personality who was writing with a different audience in mind. Some details may have not been as important to Luke's audience as they were to Mark's, for instance. Also, Luke and Peter (whom many believe was telling his story to Mark) have very different backgrounds, and very different educational levels. All of that comes into play when writing. We must also remember that they were Jewish men living in the first century. We run into trouble if we discern what people did in the Bible with 21st century American eyes because there is a huge difference in our perspective. Mike, as a retired police officer, tends to examine the gospels as he would witness statements. He looks for conflicts and inconsistencies, and questions them. On the other hand, a first century Jew may see these statements as par for the course according to their customs, or it may have something to do with what all the writers have left out - whether or not Jesus made prior arrangements with the owner. We don't know any of this for sure. Some of it is clearly conjecture. All that is truly important to the writers is that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey in fulfillment of the prophecy in Zechariah 9:9:

"Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey."


I can almost hear what some of you may be thinking. Isn't scripture inspired by God? Yes, it is, but God didn't sit down with the gospel writers and dictate every word they were supposed to write down. The differences in the gospels show this plainly. As Paul describes in 2 Timothy 3: 16 - 17, Scripture is "God-breathed." In other words, it worked for them like it works for us. We sit down to do something and we feel "inspired." We may even feel God directing us either through thoughts or impressions. Ever have that feeling? That's what I think it was like for the Biblical writers because they were people just like we are whom God was using for his purpose.

2. Read commentaries

After reading the scripture, go to the commentaries. There are plenty online from a variety of perspectives or your pastor would probably be glad to let you read from his or hers if you don't have any. Some people may disagree with me saying that scripture alone is sufficient. However, reading the work of people who have studied scripture in the actual languages in which they were written brings a refreshing and sometimes a better perspective to anything we may think of ourselves. I am often amazed by how the Holy Spirit brings my thoughts together after I read the work of another person.

3. Discuss ... But do this with gentleness and respect

There are two issues that most people do not like to discuss: religion and politics. Why? They are like time bombs. People usually get really emotional over these two subjects and before you know it, the conversation explodes leaving bits and pieces of human wreckage everywhere. However, these are two issues that really need to be discussed so the latter part of I Peter 3: 15 - "but do this with gentleness and respect" - is timely and timeless advice for anyone who loves these topics. This is especially true when discussing the scriptures, because if you speak arrogantly it will turn the other person off. By speaking with gentleness and respect, we also give the other participants time to share their feelings. They will be more likely to listen to us and consider what we say. We do this out of love for Jesus and for the other person. Wouldn't you agree? By speaking with gentleness and respect, we also allow room for the Holy Spirit to work in the life of the other person.

4. Pray

This is my final suggestion. We cannot hope to understand scripture or to explain it to someone else without connecting to the one who breathed scripture to its writers. We also cannot hope to speak about such an emotional issue without gentleness and respect unless we have spent time with God so that he has time to develop these attributes in our lives.

Have a meaningful Holy Week. I will be back tomorrow.