Forgetting Brought Blessing

THIS year I made sure I remembered to bring my iPod docking station to have plenty of volume for the songs I planned the women to sing during the devotions I was to give. I planned so thoroughly – I thought – until I dug into my suitcase on Friday night  at the retreat center and realized what I HAND’T packed: my ipod with the music!

Panic hit me like a hammer, and chagrin at realizing I’d left it on the clock radio charger beside my bed that morning. Humbled, I pressed into God – the only thing a meaning-seeking, analytical,  faithful servant (see my tongue in cheek now, but then I was serious ) could do.

The retreat theme was “God is Able.” Was he?

“Maybe, Jesus, you just want to hear our voices? Maybe, God, you’re teaching me that Jesus is enough, and we don’t have to sing to hear your Spirit. Or maybe, God, you just want us to hear you singing over US like in Zephaniah 3:17?”

Humbled up, I told the prayer team my dumb mistake. “Hey,” one of the women I didn’t know smilingly cried,” I have my iPod. I may have the song you need! What is it called?”

My face lit up like the Verde Valley sunset outside, and I told her I’d get her the name, for in all honesty, I couldn’t remember it off the top of my head. I checked my handouts and told her I needed “How Great is Our God.”  She wasn’t sure she had it because as she advised, she regularly dumps old music to ad new.

Sigh. Okay, God, I thought, I’m still prepared to believe you want just our voices accapella, or you just want to sing over us  . .  . “ I knew it would be fine either way, and even thought how much better it would be without the accompaniment.

I was so much in that frame of mind, in fact, that the next morning when another prayer team member, Kathy, extended a Cd into my hand, I almost refused it. She was dumbfounded herself. “last week I was in the Christian bookstore buying CD’s. I hadn’t planned to buy this one, but I saw it and the thought hit me that I should get it along with the others. I really don’t know why I did.”  Right in my face was Chris Tomlin’s CD with the title “How Great is Our God!”

I still can hardly believe that I was so caught up in the “Oh, it will be okay” reverie I almost refused to borrow the CD! Reality hit me that God was putting manna in my hand. Was I going to be “so heavenly minded that I’m no earthly good?” I laughed out loud as I spoke that chuckling “tsk, tsk” from the Holy Spirit, and yes I incorporated the humorous story as the introduction, and  we sang along to the miracle CD on Saturday morning.

Sunday morning was a different story. It was 7:15, the devotions started at 7:30,and I still didn’t have the final song I wanted to use that morning. Written on the handouts was a song I couldn’t do accapella – I tried, and it wasn’t going to be pretty. “Okay,” I sighed, “we can just say the words. . . . or maybe I can find a different song.”

The worship leader had some CD’s in a stack near the CD player, so I threw one in and frantically started skipping through tracks.  At track 5 I caught my breath.: “Be Unto Our God.” I love that worship song, a hauntingly beautiful waltz tempo. A thought leaped into my mind: “Could I? Do I dare?”

My message revolved around my blog post entitled “My Father’s Sweater,” all about standing at my father’s workbench wearing my Dad’s old brown sweater (and yes I’d remembered to bring a brown sweater), and  how we now stand at our heavenly Father’s workbench robed in Christ’s righteousness. I set my mind to ask the women to do something abandoned and silly and daring, and to heck with the consequences.

““I know you’re Lutherans,” I began, ”but you’re loosed Lutherans. Did any of you ever stand or dance on your father’s feet?” I asked, and at a few nodded heads and quiet  affirmations told me I was okay to go for the audacious. “Then I want you to get up, move around so you have enough space to move, because we’re going to dance on our Father’s feet!”

The lovely melody lifted from the speakers, and oh, my heart raced! Lovely daughters of the King of Kings began to sway, twirl, spin and waltz  in the arms of their God! Tears flowed, heads lifted in a wave of validation affirmation, invitation celebration!

“This was the best mistake I ever made,” I gratefully prayed as I danced along and enjoyed the laughter of Heaven. If I’d remembered my iPod, none of these miracles would have happened.

“Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, Worthy is the Lamb who was slain. Highest praises, honor and glory be unto Your name, be unto Your name.”

Note to self:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  Romans 8:28

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in All things at ALL times, having ALL that yo need, you will abound in every good work.  1 Corinthians 9:8

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever.! Amen.   Ephesians 3:20

A “. . . BUT . . .” to move:  God, you have such a sense of humor and fun, and you can do SO much more than I could ever even think to do by my own efforts – definitely more than my mistakes! Step in, take this dance of my latest mistake in __________________________________________________________________ and make it a beautiful waltz of your Glory and goodness!

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Shake Off the Snake

Seventy-five unsupervised and rambunctiously excited kindergarteners sat in a circle on the concrete floor in the echoing auditorium, hands reaching out to touch the St. Helena Mountain king snake I held about five inches behind its head as I walked around their group. This lithe little snake had enough and told me so – snap – in the flesh between my thumb and index finger.

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Great – now I had an angry snake latched painfully firmly to my hand and wide-eyed children still waving “I want to grab you” hands. All I could think to do was try to shake off the stressed snake, hide my bleeding hand, and put the irritated reptile away. It worked, until five feet later when the still-agitated snake still told me I wasn’t retreating to it’s transport quickly enough and nailed my hand again.

“This isn’t the job I signed up for,” I thought as I came back into the room with a cuddly by comparison hedgehog in my gloved hands. But it was exactly what I signed up for, though I never realized when I took the job at he Zoo that being bitten was an occupational hazard inherent in inspiring Zoo guests to amazement at the adaptations in wildlife. My praise to Jesus, I came to no harm from that serpent’s two bites, and the next day the marks were as good as gone.  No other snake in the programs collection ever bit or attempted to bite me.

I never dreamed being bitten by the enemy was in the job description when I gave my life to Jesus, either. No pastor or priest ever gives the benediction, “May the Lord bless you and keep you. Beloved of God, go in peace, and now you have a target on your back,” but it’s true. The day I gave myself wholly and forever to God through Jesus, I crossed a line and took a side that makes the Devil more than slightly agitated.  The Bible describes him as a thief, serpent or snake:

The great dragon was hurled down – that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray.  Revelation 12:9

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I (Jesus speaking) have come that they (we) may have life, and have it to the full.”  John 10:10

How does the snake latch on to us? The devil’s venom is lies and offense: he lies about our identity, accuses us and bring up condemnation as though the Blood of Jesus isn’t more than enough to truly wash away and cleanse us from all sin, injects us with offense when someone wrongs us, and plants fear that God isn’t faithful to His promises, as though His Word isn’t powerful and God is a liar with less than overwhelmingly loving and good plans for each of our lives.  

When Peter in his first letter to the church exhorted believers to humble themselves before God, cast their anxiety on God, and be self-controlled and alert, he likened the devil to a prowling lion looking for someone to devour, and he was doing it then and still doing it now to believers. Peter doesn’t end on that note of warning, but concludes by saying, “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast.”  (1 Peter 5:5-10)

I remembered the snake incident at the Zoo today in a rush of recognition that, of course, the devil isn’t happy that I’ve forgiven my betrayer and have continued to forgive and pray for him. I must have a huge red bulls-eye that reads, “bite this one” on my back. Well, of course we’re targets, and the more damage we do or will inflict on the devils plans through our forgiveness, unrelenting love, faithfulness, and praise to God, the more irritated and madder that “adder” will get. But then which do I want: to fall into bitterness to placate the devil and anger my Father and Savior, the Living God, or would I rather anger the devil and please, obey and honor God?

The apostle Paul encountered the devil in the exact form of a poisonous snake on the island of Malta when the ship carrying him to Rome ran aground in a severe storm.  Paul’s companion and physician Luke recounts the incident:

The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold. Paul gathered a pile of brushwood and, as he put it on the fire, a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand. When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other, “This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.” But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects. The people expected him to swell up or suddenly fall dead, but after waiting a long time and seeing nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god.  Acts 28: 1-7

And thanks to Jesus, the Devil may bite, but he can’t inflict any permanent damage on us, either, when we choose to believe the truth that God’s love is everlasting and his Word and character are faithful and true:

For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. .. You will tread upon the lion and the cobra; you will trample on the great lion and the serpent. “BUT I’ll “shake off the snake” of accusations and fear from the lying devourer and just tell the serpent taking aim at me to “TALK TO THE HAND!” By that I don’t mean mine, but “THE HAND OF JESUS, THE HAND THAT BEARS THE SCARS OF THE NAILS” that drew the Blood that paid for my complete forgiveness and forever righteousness in Yeshua the Messiah, the conquering King of Kings.

The seventy-two (disciples of Jesus, whom he had sent out to do his work) returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”  He (Jesus) replied,” I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Luke 10:17-20

A “. . . BUT . . .” to move:  Lord God, I never wanted to become a target of Satan’s anger, but being on your side means I’m not on his. I know that means he won’t be happy, BUT I know that means you WILL ________________________________________________ because YOU PROMISE TO ______________________________________________________________________. As I shake off the snake, today I tell him “Talk to the HAND who delivers and conquers, gives me authority to command you to submit and ____________________________ and who writes My name in heaven!

My Father’s Sweater

 

I’m not sure how old I was when I claimed for my own and started wearing my Dad’s old brown cardigan sweater. I think I was around eleven, but I do know I continued to wrap myself in it till I was fifteen. I think I must have felt like I took on something of my father’s nature when I wore his sweater. It was soft with wide, flat ribs and moth holes in the sleeves – definitely not a “Mr. Rogers” sweater, but perfect to wear on chilly nights out in the garage.

That’s where you could find my Dad almost every night: at his workbench repairing something one of us had broken or building something amazing. I thought my Dad was the smartest man on the planet. None of my friends’ fathers sent Morse code messages on a radio or made science-fiction movie sound effects with a home-built Theremin. None of my friends got to watch miniature lightning shows in their garages from a Van Der Graaf Generator!

Somehow I felt secure in that sweater (and in on some great secrets) standing beside my father at his workbench, even when I had to stand on tiptoe to see what he was doing. I still associate the smell of hot solder and freshly sawn wood with Dad and can hear the sound of his table saw ripping through boards on their way to becoming furniture. He built a split-level ranch-style doll house for me, complete with a fireplace with hand-carved “bricks”, a chandelier that worked, and real tiny shingles on the roof. Dad went through several very 1960’s phases, too, most of which involved the overpowering (and probably brain chemistry altering) fumes of melting plastic that became bunches of grapes and the clacking, conservation of momentum and energy-demonstrating plastic spheres of a “Newton’s Cradle.”

My father let me help him plane wood, drive nails into odd bits of scrap wood, and sweep up sawdust, all while wearing his old brown sweater. When I was a sophomore in high school, Dad helped me draw out, saw, sand apply sealer to, and wrap with copper wire a walnut hardwood bangle I put on a necklace that looked, very much before its time, very much like the Nike “swoop.”  I felt so proud that my father was a builder and creator who guided me to create as I stood beside him, wearing his sweater, at his workbench, and by his side as he built our family cabin, me on the other end of the two-man saw when he cut up tree trunks, and holding a bag of nails as Dad hammered.

Maybe those hours spent in Dad’s sweater standing at his side account for some of my freedom and desire for intimacy with God, my Heavenly Father. Oh, if I could, I’d love to stand beside my Father God at HIS workbench and see what HE is creating!

Do you know what’s cool? My Father God lets me help with his projects. In fact, he WANTS me to get involved! Those amazingly validating times when I get to speak some word of affirmation to another person or meet someone’s need absolutely delight me, because I sense that I’m standing at my Father’s side and can almost see him smile. What amazes me, though, is what God my Father gives me to wear while I’m at his bench: not an old brown sweater, but the righteousness of Jesus! “God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:21

“But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” Romans 3:21-22

“I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness.” Isaiah 61:10

It takes my breath away sometimes when other people see my Father through me! Oh, God, let me stand beside you at your workbench as you create beauty, goodness, honor, kindness, integrity, compassion, truth, love, and living faith in the lives in this world so precious to you. Guide my hands and heart and words and prayers to help you. And wow, thank you that through faith in Jesus I get to wear a garment that looks like YOUR nature! You ARE the smartest Father in existence, and I want to be more like you. Thanks that you invite me to spend time by your side!

A “. . . But . . .” to pray: Oh, ABBA, Daddy, Father, you are incredible! You make “the music of the spheres,”  and real lightning .  You created vine, flower and grapes, the laws of motion and conservation of energy! Jesus, you told us you are creating not just a cabin, but many mansions in Heaven for us. You repair and rebuild what your children break. All creation, all wisdom, all power, all authority, all goodness, all truth, all justice, all righteousness, all life comes from your hands that are still building, repairing, creating. I may feel small, untalented, inarticulate, incapable, BUT standing by your side wearing YOUR righteousness, I know you’re calling me to ______________________ beside you and I know you’ll teach me how as I put my hands and heart to your work of  _____________________________. I hope others see YOU in me!ImageImage

WHOSE Blood Bought Me?

I’m reposting this from four years ago, on another Palm Sunday, because I need the reminder and you may, too, so that we don’t take Jesus’ sacrifice and this Holy Week for granted or make it less than the monumental move of God’s incomprehensibly great mercy, grace and untiring love that it was and will always be. That Almighty God not only puts up with us, but gave Himself bring us back into living relationship with him through the costliest offering ever made makes me fall on my face again, just as I did in  the teachers’ workroom where I came upon Vy Canis Majoris and it threw me to the floor,  and then in my living room where this thought exploded in me four years ago and put me on my face in totally sold out wonder and gratitude.  I admit fear of man threw me off track a month after this, but I come again to look to the ONE who’s kept me in the last four years despite my stumbling. THAT is the unmerited merciful GRACE OF GOD!

How I treasure those brief flashes of deep, gut insight that hit me much less frequently than I long forDo you know what I mean: times when you feel for a Nano-second that you’ve touched a deep truth about God, and you wish with everything in you that it would engulf you so you could immerse yourself in its power? Frustratingly, those moments never linger long enough.

The latest one that grazed my consciousness on Palm Sunday, March 24th, entered the orbit of my subconscious during the week before as I searched YouTube for some exciting video and information about relative sizes of objects in space for the third grade class I assist in. Some facts about VY Canis Majoris absolutely astounded me: a red hypergiant, it’s one of the largest stars we know of, with a diameter of 1,227,000,000 miles (that’s billion, if you don’t want to count the place value yourself), or 1,975,000,000 kilometers.

To give you a better sense of that immensity, if VY Canis Majoris was at the center of our solar system, its surface would extend at least beyond the orbit of Jupiter, and perhaps as far as the orbit of Saturn. What grabbed my attention in the video was the comment that if you could fly in a jet at 900 miles per hour, it would take you over 1,000 years to fly around the star! It’s so distant that the light of VY Canis Majoris takes 3,9000 years to reach us.

I sat in bed at 5 a.m. that Sunday and tried to cold-start praise to the King of Kings as Holy Week began.  A realization rose slightly above the horizon of my consciousness: WHOSE blood bought me? WHOSE blood?  Yes, Jesus’ blood – that rolls of my tongue almost tritely sometimes – but WHAT blood is his?

“And God said, ’Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night,’ . . . And it was so. God made two great lights . . . .  He also made the stars. . . . “  Genesis 1:14-16

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? . . . On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?”  Job 38:4, 7

“He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name.” Psalm 147:4

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God . . .. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” John1: 1, 3

“I, Jesus, . . . am the Root, and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.” Revelation 22:16

The “gestalt” of VY Canis Major fused with these Bible verses and blazed into a whole much bigger than the sum of its parts. The Blood that bled for every speck of sin in my life coursed through the veins of THE ONE whose voice spoke the inferno of VY Canis Majoris into existence. THAT blood! The most precious fluid and outrageous gift in the universe because it was the Blood of the ONE who imagined, then spoke blood itself into being and who bound the vastness of himself within the confines of a completely human body to spill HIS blood instead of requiring mine.

And HE, PURE LOVE, PURE RIGHTEOUSNESS, PURE HOLINESS, PURE LORD OF ALL CREATION,  willingly gave it for me.

Oh, I wanted to grasp the enormity of that love in every cell of my body and neuron of my understanding!  Like a meteorite, infinite love tore through the atmosphere of my finite comprehension. Why in the world do I think I’m not loved? Why do we think we have to, or ever could, earn that love? And engulfed by that love, why in the universe am I ever afraid?

“His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns . . . and his name is the Word of God…. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS!” Revelation 19:12,13,16

Even now I feel like I’m writing an ionic plasma breath of truth with hands and understanding of concrete, but O God, let me burn with that reality one day! Brand my heart with it now: I AM YOURS! YOU SOUGHT ME AND BOUGHT ME! 

I WORSHIP, ADORE, PRAISE AND LOVE YOU!

A “…BUT…” to pray: Oh FAther God, Everlasting  Love, Jesus my LORD, I’ve believed you died for me to pay for my sins, but today I’masking YOU to help me feel the enormity of this truth in my heart, in my spirit, in the core of my being. I need you, ABBA Father, to invade my intellectual understanding with the visceral fact that I NEEDED to be saved or I’d be bound for Hell,  because in and of myself I have no righteousness AT ALL to stand before HOLY GOD, the Refiner and Fire who created the infernoes of the stars. And yet YOU LOVE ME! Invade, penetrate,  speak through my spirit into my heart, Holy Spirit. Here are my words of worship inviting you in __________________________________ In Jesus’ name, amen! (And the AlmightyGod your Father smiles and replies, “I’ve been waiting for you to ask me this….. I’m glad you did!) _____________________________________

 

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