Connect the Dots

dscf0669Dots on the donut … dots in a dot-to-dot book, one of the few toys my three-year-old grandson had when his  family  was air-evacuated for his baby sister’s two-month-early arrival.There he and I were in the tiny apartment every day, not much but Grandma, books, the dot book and our imaginations to play with. A highly intelligent child,he could count to 100 by the time he was two, but faced with something he’d never tried before, he was hesitant to connect the dots in the book by himself. I decided to help him overcome his anxiety by starting,connecting the first two dots, then handing him the pencil to connect dot #2 to dot #3,  then I’d connect to  dot #4,  he’d draw to dot #5, and little by little,  he  overcame his hesitancy and soon was asking me to draw dot-to-dot pictures in my little notebook. I hope part of what he learned,  beyond connecting dots, was how much his Grandma loved and loves him just  for who he is, anxieties and insecurities and all. I see who he can be and the success he can achieve,  given little encouraging nudge.

Can I confess I’m not much different from my grandson when it comes  to connecting the dots and finding meaning and reason  in the jumbled craziness  life often brings? A  friend mine recently posted on a social media site that he believes each of us is still a small child inside looking to be loved. I agree totally. I know part of me is, despite all I’ve accomplished and learned to handle in my more-than-I-care-to-admit decades of living.

So what does this have to do with God Almighty? I know  why we call him Father! All through my life, and  more pointedly in the last two decades, I can see God connecting dots all over the place in my life. I have a strong hunch God is doing the same thing  for me that I was  doing for my grandson: showing me he loves and cares about ME, not my insecurities or anxieties or hang-ups ,and he sees potential in me.

Some dots  I’ve seen God connect in the  past:

Moving  me,via a radio show my husband heard, to a new church where I’d get  an unimaginable connection and chance four year’s between dots later to write books with the senior  pastor.

Moving us across the country, where God connected  me with Dana  and Loretta  (in their next-to-last Sunday at that church) who connected me  with Hiroko to help Hiroko, but via their obvious “you should be here” connection, God connected me to Julia, whose mother across the world would meet me ten years between the dots later at the airport to help me find/connect  with my son and  his family,  some 36 hours after the emergency evacuation.

Connecting me with Marilyn, who connected me with Donna, who allowed me to write leaders’ guides for her incredible ministry about five years between  dots.

Connecting me with “Ken,” who incredibly lived as a child with his mother  two blocks up the street from where the grandmother of Mark, Julia’s  husband, lived, and  Mark’s grandmother knew of “Ken’s”  family. Now we’re talking 60 years between the dots!

On the heels of “Ken’s” tragic death, connecting me with a woman during the memorial ride at the informal service I did on the street corner – I don’t even remember her name now – who connected me  with the chaplain in the county jail ministry who put copies of the devotional book  “Ken” encouraged me to publish into the county jail. No way, God! Were those broken hearts your intended audience/readers for this book all along?

Connecting me with “Dan,” who drove me to a meeting because of my connecting with “Ken.”Dan connected with the barber who cut his hair during my meeting,  who connected “Dan” with his church, where the  next week I connected with Donna, who asked  if my kids knew “Dr. John” half  a world away. A week later via a call  my son says yes,they know “Dr John” very well from their small group! Two weeks later I get a text from Donna’s husband who tells me “Dr John”will be speaking in a church a two-hour’s drive  from me, a church I know of from a connection 36 dots-worth of years earlier wjem O did youth ministry, and I drive up and get to meet and surprise “Dr John”and meet his daughter who is in the same grade at the same school with my grandson half  a world away, and his daughter who is in the same class with my granddaughter there. The next week at the church where I met Donna, God connects me with a young woman whose father happened to work  decades of dots ago  way up north with the husband of my best buddy “Patty,”whom I met fifteen dots  worth of years ago at my church in the middle of the state.

What in the  world am I to make of all this? I CERTAINLY don’t see a comprehensible picture emerging yet from all of this, and I have to make peace with the truth that I may not see the entire “picture” till I  sit with Abba God  in  Heaven looking at the dot-to-dot page of my  lately weird  and  wild life. What I CAN make of this is that God DOES love me, doesn’t despise my insecurities and anxieties,  somehow  amazingly sees potential in me to “draw”the picture with him as I hopefully let him lead me from dot-to-dot into his blessings, even when part of my heart still hurting and healing from some traumatic turns in my life. Abba Father, help me look into your kind, caring, loving, patient, all-seeing (omnipresent) and all-knowing  (omniscient) and I pray by faith all-powerful (omnipotent) eyes to trust my small not-omnipotent hand, heart, life and future into your hands. You hold one  huge pencil. I’m grateful your pencil has a huge eraser, and I make mistake in connecting dots, you’ll forgivingly, grace-filled-ly erase my goof and help me connect to the next, right dot in your plan for me.

That’s called love, and the little  girl in me desperately needs to know your love will never,never fail or forsake me. You keep your promises!

7You are my hiding place; You preserve me from trouble;
You surround me with songs of deliverance.
Selah.
8I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go;
I will counsel you with My eye upon you.

9Do not be as the horse or as the mule which have no understanding,
Whose trappings include bit and bridle to hold them in check,
Otherwise they will not come near to you.

10Many are the sorrows of the wicked,
But he who trusts in the LORD, lovingkindness shall surround him.

11Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, you righteous ones;
And shout for joy, all you who are upright in heart. Psalm  32: 7-11 NASB

And in reflecting on Psalm 32,connecting the  dots of these verses: ‘Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. 2. Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile.’ –PSALM 32: 1, 2. This psalm, which has given healing to many a wounded conscience, comes from the depths of a conscience which itself has been wounded and healed. One must be very dull of hearing not to feel how it throbs with emotion, and is, in fact, a gush of rapture from a heart experiencing in its freshness the new joy …
Alexander Maclaren—Expositions of Holy Scripture

16″Come near to Me, listen to this: From the first I have not spoken in secret, From the time it took place, I was there. And now the Lord GOD has sent Me, and His Spirit.” 17 Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, “I am the LORD your God, who teaches you to profit, Who leads you in the way you should go. Isaiah 48: 16-17 NASB

And  dot-to-dot commentary: Matthew Henry Commentary
48:16-22 The Holy Spirit qualifies for service; and those may speak boldly, whom God and his Spirit send…Whom God redeems, he teaches; he teaches to profit by affliction, and then makes them partakers of his holiness. Also, by his grace he leads them in the way of duty; and by his providence he leads in the way of deliverance….Spiritual enjoyments are ever joined with holiness of life and regard to God’s will. It will make the misery of the disobedient the more painful, to think how happy they might have been. And here is assurance given of salvation out of captivity. Those whom God designs to bring home to himself, he will take care of, that they want not for their journey. This is applicable to the grace laid up for us in Jesus Christ, from whom all good flows to us, as the water to Israel out of the rock, for that Rock was Christ

 

A “…BUT…” to pray: God Almighty, Father, I can’e see thread  ahead of me, I’m not sure of the direction you want to take, BUT you p;promise to teach and instruct me in the way i should go and guide me with your eyes upon,so I  say out of my heart _________________________________________________________ Holy Spirit, I’m listening, and Father, I’m watching for your hand of  leading, in Jesus’ name,amen!

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Of rocks and “rolls”…

poppin_fresh_pillsbury_doughboy copyright Pillsbury

Oh, drat, a rock in the toe of my Tevas!   Occupational hazard when you’re walking on a street in the foothills in the desert. But instantly a thought flashed into my consciousness, a thought of all the people of old who walked deliberately with a rock in their shoes where it would hurt the most to show God their penitence and piety, to do penance for their sins. I thought of the people I’ve read and heard about who crawled on their hands and knees to a shrine, arriving bloody to show God how sorry they were for things they’d done. And just as quickly I thought of the scornful taunts Jesus endured, the crown of thorns on his head, 39 lashes of the whip that Jesus took for me, the nails in his wrists and feet, the spear through his heart. Who in the world would I think I was to think anything I could do to cause myself pain could in ANY way add to or make more sufficient what Jesus did for me?

Before I throw any of those stones in my shoe at those people, though, Lord knows, and the Lord does know, how quick I am to self-flagellate with regrets, “if only’s,” all too conscious of the mistakes I’ve made even inadvertently. It’s a twisted form of pride masquerading as humility, and it does God absolutely no honor at all for the ALL-SUFFICIENT sacrifice He made for me through Jesus.

“The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. Otherwise, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins. It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said:

‘Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased.

 Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll— I have come to do your will, my God.’

First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them”—though they were offered in accordance with the law. Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” Hebrews 10:1-10 NIV

https://youtu.be/XgjJ_CR9oEY

The Lord is compassionate and gracious,

slow to anger, abounding in love.

He will not always accuse,

nor will he harbor his anger forever;

he does not treat us as our sins deserve

or repay us according to our iniquities.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth,

so great is his love for those who fear him;

 as far as the east is from the west,

so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

 As a father has compassion on his children,

so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;

 for he knows how we are formed,

he remembers that we are dust.

 The life of mortals is like grass,

they flourish like a flower of the field; 

the wind blows over it and it is gone,

and its place remembers it no more.

But from everlasting to everlasting

the Lord’s love is with those who fear him,

and his righteousness with their children’s children—

with those who keep his covenant

and remember to obey his precepts. Psalm 103: 8-18 NIV

 

 

Jesus told us to go make disciples, not penance:

 

 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28: 16-20 NIV

Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give…. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.” Matthew 10: 6-8, 42 NIV

THAT is my reverence, that is my response, that is my job description now. Soo …I sensibly, gratefully took off my shoe, shook out the pebble, and thought about the responses God does want from me for his freely given totally all-sufficient gift of forgiveness. Stones? I could sweep them from my neighbor’s sidewalk. I could buy some new tennis shoes for a child who has to walk barefoot to school. Crawl on my knees? I could gladly bend down and reach under my car to get the ball the neighbor kids accidentally rolled onto my driveway.

Give a cup of cold water? Here is where the rubber meets the road, the gratitude and freedom sets me truly free. I could take a jug of ice water down to the homeless people in the park, hand out cups of cold water, say, “In Jesus’ name I bring you this water,” as if I, the blessed, was stooping down to them, the oppressed, out of my own magnanimity, and think I’d fulfilled righteousness – but that would be just another disguised stone in my shoe. In truth and honestly, you know what I’ve learned in the last five months? That wouldn’t be the right thing to do at all … unless I sat down with those people, looked them in the eye, asked their names, understood their heartaches and frustrations and their own perhaps deeply held self-condemnation, listened to their stories, ate one of the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches I’d brought with them as I listened, held their hands and prayed with the ones who wanted prayer.

Now, lest you think I am being “holier than thou” here, let me hasten to admit it took me over 50 years to come to this realization. Yes, I pick up math pretty quickly, but in some of the things of God, I’m a terribly slow learner. Fifty years ago I went with the other junior high and high school girls in our World Friendship Girls group, the junior version of the Women’s Society of Christian Service at our church to the Wesley Center downtown. We’d spent weeks blowing out dozens of eggs, dying the shells, filling them with confetti and gluing crepe paper frills on top to make cascarones for people at the center to give out as prizes in the game booths at their fund-raising fall fair. But did I ever strike up a conversation with any of the girls at the center? Yes we put on an overnight slumber party for the girls, but did I ever get the phone number of a girl so I could talk to her again or take her to the movies with me sometime?

It took me over 50 years to finally get it that God wanted me to sit down with Harlan and Betty in the park, learn who they are, treat them as equals, laugh with them, and pray for them as we ate together. I am a slow learner, but I hope, like “Poppin’ Fresh, the Pillsbury Doughboy,” or rather like “Little Poppy,” I’m still soft and pliable enough in God’s hands, even at my advanced age, for the Lord to poke me in the belly sometimes. When he does, I hope I can and will giggle, or at least smile, that God is still concerned about me and loves me enough to keep conforming me more to his heart, his compassion, his truth, his passions, what matters to his heart.

I guess I’m not “done” yet ….

https://youtu.be/RnpoD0hlqpQ “The Scandal of Grace”

 

Grace, what have you done?

Murdered for me on that cross

Accused in absence of wrong

My sin washed away in your blood

Too much to make sense of it all

I know that your love breaks my fall

The scandal of grace, you died in my place

So my soul will live

Chorus:

Oh to be like you

(To) Give all I have just to know you

Jesus, there’s no one besides you

Forever the hope in my heart

Death, where is your sting?

Your power is as dead as my sin

The cross has taught me to live

In mercy, my heart now to sing

The day and its trouble shall come

I know that your strength is enough

The scandal of grace, you died in my place

So my soul will live

And it’s all because of you, Jesus

It’s all because of you, Jesus

It’s all because of your love

And my soul will live

Chorus:

Oh to be like you

(To) Give all I have just to know you

Jesus, there’s no one besides you

Forever the hope in my heart

 

Any rocks you need to shake out of your shoe today?

Need a loving poke in your belly? God, our Father God, gladly, kindly will.

 

A “…BUT…”to pray: Oh, Father God, loving Lord, I see now that I’ve held onto shame, guilt, regret over _______________________________ BUT you truly, absolutely, forever removed that from me when Jesus took it upon himself. Jesus, I won’t minimize what you did for me by trying to ”make up for it” by my own actions, so God, I will thankfully, gladly let you _________________________________________________ in me, through me, for me. yes, please poke me in the belly when I need to be more pliable and ____________________________. I know I’m not ”done” yet, so Holy Spirit, I’m listening _______________. In Jesus’ name, make it so, amen!

 

IMG_1083.JPG

Tandem Blessing – No Kidding!

“You have to be kidding me…” I thought when Ken asked me to clip into the pedals on the back of the tandem bike he’d joyfully bought for the two of us. Never more than a casual biker until I met Ken, part of my marriage commitment to him was purposing to get stronger, so fears and anxiety set aside, I clipped in and rode 25 miles – for me challenging and heart-pounding after the first 16 – with him every Friday. “Stoker” is the word for the rear rider, but “blind truster” is more accurate, because where he went, I went; my feet had to go as fast as his, and if he fell down, I fell down too. He did agree to put straight handlebars and a softer seat on the back for me, simply glad I was willing to try to become a fuller part of his world and passion.

 

Eight months later, “You have to be kidding me….” flashed through my mind when the sheriff’s deputy standing in my driveway bluntly told me Ken had been killed just two hours earlier in a cycling accident while leading a group of cyclists visiting from out of state. My world, my new hopes, my life toppled over in the gravel as surely as if ken and I had run off the edge of the road on the tandem. Nothing in my life seemed stable when my heart was torn and bleeding.

 

But, and thank God he always has a “… but…”, four months later my friend Deb’s husband Rob stood in my garage looking over the tandem to buy, I thought, for tandem rides and races with a fellow cyclist. “You have to be kidding me …” I gasped in delight when Rob told me he’d just decided to volunteer for a veterans’ cause and actually wanted the tandem so he could take disabled veterans on bike rides with the group VeloVets, a nonprofit started by Guilianna, a young woman Ken had introduced several years earlier to the cycling club he belonged to.

 

Full circle, I thought. Ken was an Air Force veteran himself, and I couldn’t think of anything that would make him happier than knowing blind and disabled veterans would get the chance to fly down the road behind Rob, wind in their faces, hearts pumping, feeling whole and vital, valued and accepted.

 

“Rob, the bike is yours! Take it, oh my gosh, please take it and know Ken must be beaming in Heaven!”

 

God’s timing was impeccable. Sunday I’d texted Rob about coming to look at the bike, Monday he met Guilianna at his own cycling club meeting and decided to volunteer with VeloVets, Tuesday he drove to my house to check out the tandem, and Tuesday the miracle happened. Wednesday the miracle continued when a local TV reporter heard about the tandem’s donation, and I was able to honor Ken’s generous, giving, encouraging spirit and his deep Christian faith on the local news.

 

Tears of joy still flow when I think about the improbability of all of the elements of this true miracle coming together. I could barely see through tears to mount my bike a few weeks later when Rob and Dr. Les, a blind veteran, took off down the bike trail in the hot summer night with a group of avid riders. The smile Les wore was brighter than the evening sun.

 

Coincidental? Accidental? I can’t possibly believe so. Ken and I were part of something bigger than the two of us. We’d thought so from the early days of our relationship, and this glorious gift of new meaning and purpose poured into my heart with joy that eased the pain of my grief. Ken was still giving joy into my life, and I know he always will. I have no clue what other surprises and miracles of meaning God will reveal to me, but I’m clipped in with him now as I ride into each day, going where he goes, my feet pedaling to keep up with God’s passionate love and value-giving purposes, breathless again for a new reason. No kidding! img_1203

“Leave your table looking like …”

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA(No, I am not scolding him; I’m actually praying a blessing on each child)

Reward, success and insight come in the  strangest places.

In the third week one of my least favorite jobs, I listened to the assistant principal decisively tell the room full of fifth graders that if they didn’t clean up their table and sweep the floor after their lunch period,before the sixth graders came in, they’d be sitting in his office. That went over like the proverbial lead balloon, and I thought, “I’d better find another way to inspire these kids  or it’s  going to be a very, very long semester for us all.” I give the Holy Spirit credit for the  thought that came to me. I began going table to table, cheerfully and positively telling the boys, “You’re young men of valor,courage, integrity, commitment, teamwork, strength, and honor. I know you want to leave your table looking like a man of that true strength was sitting here,” and to the girls, I said, “You’re beautiful young women of honor, virtue, strength, courage, compassion and kindness. I know you want to leave your table looking like that kind of  beautiful woman was sitting here.”

Completely puzzled looks met me, but I simply smiled and moved to the next table,and  repeated the process for every grade level that came into the multi-purpose room for lunch. One eighth-grade  girl had the surprised confidence to respond, “Miss Jackson, nobody ever talks to us like that!”

“Well, I’m going to tell you that until you believe it!” I  replied,  and her face lit up. Encouraged, I repeated the process for the rest of the week, for fun throwing in situations to the boys like, “You’re the pit crew, and you want to take care of  this ‘car’ and leave the pit ready for the next crew, looking like dedicated, capable,  smart, honorable men were just here,”and similar  girl-themed situations for the girls. Table after table, boys raised their hands and asked if they could be pit boss, and girls asked if they could be the head attendant at the coronation.

For three weeks,  grade by grade, twenty-minute lunch period by  period, I repeated character affirmations to the girls and boys, young men and women, from fourth grade up to seniors in high school, and in those three weeks, something wonderful happened: children started asking me for the rags, spray bottles, and brooms.  No threats of detention, no raised voice, no wagging  finger, just an affirming call to be someone higher, greater, and to have the power to lead by a servant-hearted example of true strength and grace. The assistant principal was surprised by how clean the room and tables were, I was enormously glad  that my venture worked, the students  felt good about themselves, and even more importantly and delightfully, I began to develop good relationships  with quite a few of the children.

It occurred to me at the same time that I was also telling myself something important about myself, as well as others: this is precisely what Father God wants for us and from us as His  children: to conduct  ourselves in such a way that  we leave our corners of the world looking like women of inner beauty, valor, value, honor, strength, kindness and compassion were “sitting here,”and men of courage,  strength, integrity, commitment, teamwork,  and honor were “sitting here.”

There was not time and no place in the multi-purpose room for, “It’s not my job. Oooh! That’s yucky! I don’t want to. Somebody else can.” May I propose that there is no time and no place in our  families, friendships, relationships, work associations, neighborhoods, churches, cities or world  for those kinds of self-centered, self-serving, weak, uncaring, and flatly irresponsible attitudes either. God may not call us into his “office” or wag his finger in our  faces, but we can be assured of  this certainty the Apostle Paul wrote to the Roman believers:

You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written:

“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
‘every knee will bow before me;
every tongue will acknowledge God.’”
So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God. Romans 14:10-12 NIV

Sadly I see a spirit of taking offense and entitlement rising in our nation, perverting the idea of individual liberty (which ought to include individual accountability and responsibility) into narcissism. This  attitude is nothing new,and sadly, it isn’t limited to immature children. Jesus dealt with this attitude among his disciples.

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”

“What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.

They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”

“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”

“We can,” they answered.

Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”

When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10: 35-45 NIV

We should take  Jesus’ words very seriously, but can we put the same affirmative spin on this command that I put on cleaning up the lunch tables? Can we live out our lives in the strength, beauty, dignity, honor, commitment, kindness, and courage of  humbled service, knowing how it positively impacts others,  how glad it makes our Father God, and how much  true strength, validation, and outright joy we will find within ourselves when we live our lives with an eager, enthusiastic, “May I please have the rag and spray bottle?” attitude? If it was good enough for Jesus,  theKing of KingsandLord of Lords …. then there is true greatness in  every act of giving, listening, sharing, forgiving, mess-cleaning helping, and walking alongside one another.

And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. Matthew 23: 9-12 NIV

I know the children  at that school with a high academic reputation were and are not  simply brains to be filled, but lives to positively, affirmingly, enthusiastically shape for a lifetime of real valor, courage, strength, kindness, beauty, dignity, commitment, compassion,and serving.

IMG_5439

 

A “…BUT…” to pray: Father God,I  admit I’ve looked down on people who work at jobs like ______________________ and I’ve drawn back from_______________________ because I thought it would be yucky,time-consuming,  no fun, someone else’s job, beneath, or __________________. I seen I have missed opportunities to rise to true strength and dignity, integrity, honor, courage,inner beauty,commitment, and compassion,  BUT you never tell me it’s too late or I’ve missed and messed up too much. Awaken me to opportunities to live  my life in Christlike ways. Holy Spirit, what could I to today,this week? Where and for whom could I “leave this home,job, relationship, community, world looking like a man/woman of  those  values was ‘sitting here’?” ______________________________________________________________ Please  remind me to pick up the “broom”  or ask for the “spray bottle” where and when I can, and help me remember that bending and sweeping and wiping and serving lifts me up to the greatest I could possibly be within me, not justified by works, but reflecting the character and powerful love of Jesus.

Little Boxes on the Hillsides

IMG_1135So began an irreverent song in the 60’s, but as I walked back down the hill toward my house in the foothills today, a thought I’d had  earlier in the week driving home struck me again. What are the conversations going on in the minds of the people in these  custom and semi-custom houses? In reality, all they are is boxes.

Unvoiced perhaps, but perhaps subconsciously thought, going up from these boxes: “ My box is bigger than your box… My box sits higher up the hill than your box…. I’m glad my box isn’t down there below the river …My box is full of more stuff, fancier stuff than your box… My box makes me important… My box tells the world who I am and why I’m important…” and perhaps some voices  down below the  river: “I wish I had a bigger box up on the hillside … I deserve a better box than this … .” Surely, and true, many people may be grateful for the boxes they have, that they have a box lid over their  heads, that  they have a place to sit and eat and sleep.

Yet up here on the hillside (and even down below the  river)  nobody asks who the real lien holder on the land is, who holds your hill in his hands, who created the minerals in that mine far in the background, who can call in the loan at any time.

Genesis 1:1
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

Psalm 33:6
By the word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth.

Psalm 24:1
A Psalm of David. The earth is the LORD’S, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.

Psalm 50:10-11
For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills.
I know all the fowls of the mountains: and the wild beasts of the field are mine.

Job 41:11 Who has first given to Me, that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heavens is Mine.

Nehemiah 9:6
“You alone are the LORD. You have made the heavens, The heaven of heavens with all their host, The earth and all that is on it, The seas and all that is in them. You give life to all of them And the heavenly host bows down before You.

Haggai 2:8 —

” ‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”

John 1:3

Through Him all things were made, and without Him nothing was made that has been made.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 — “You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God in your body.“

Colossians 1: 15-17 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in Him all things were created, things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities. All things were created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.…

Walking down this hill that my mind and hand could never make, that no land developer or geologist or  architect or construction engineer could ever create from pre-existing molecules,let  alone from nothing. I bow in holy awe of the One who spoke, “Let there be earth,” shaped these hills, spun the earth to create day and night, gave me cells and DNA and breath and life, because without His Spirit and breath, I’m the same as the sand beneath my shoes.

“Everlasting, Your light will shine when all else fades! Never-ending, Your glory goes beyond all things! And the cry of my heart is to give you praise – from the inside out, Lord, my soul cries out to you… consume me from the inside out.” Be all you are in me,and how totally implausible is that for me to ask of God Almighty? I have no right to ask that, EXCEPT that through Jesus I am adopted into God’s family,called his own,  filled with his Spirit, loved, no matter  what  size or shape box i live in, how it is filled, how empty it may be, or who shares it with me.

And when I stand before Jesus, I wonder, will he ask me how big my box was, how much I had in it, how high on the  hill it sat? Or will he ask me  what I did with the time and the life and resources I had, all that He  gave me, while I was here? Will He ask,”Who did you love? How did you love? To whom did you reach out? To whom did you give a ride to their job? To whom did you give a loaf of bread? Whose child did you clothe? Who did you comfort in their grief? Who did you share me and my love with?”

“‘When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’”

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25:38-40 NIV

Jesus speaks a sobering word as I sit in my box and  look out at  the boxes around me down the hill:

Matthew 25:15-29English Standard Version (ESV)

To one he gave five talents,to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’  His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’  And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’  His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’  He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed,  so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’  But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed?  Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.  So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.

I hope, I pray, I have answers for those questions that  will gladden the heart of God.

Lord God, I am eternally grateful for a roof over my head, a place  to sleep, food to eat,clothing to wear, family and friends  to love, and, improbably, for my very life, a  gift from you. Help me to manage all that you give me with love and faithfulness,  out of love for who you are and all you’ve already given: the priceless blood of your son Jesus as a  ransom for my life and soul, my righteousness, my life  forever with you in your house.

Coming home into my box, I fall on my face on the floor in reverent awe of the Holy One who created, differentiated, gave life to, and sustains it all and us all.

 

A”…BUT…” to pray: God Almighty, I may not have much in the sense of possessions, or I may have more than enough, BUT no matter what I have or lack, I have YOU as my Creator, Sustainer, Provider, Provision, Father,  Savior, Loving Lord,and that give me  value no one can take  from me. You say I am yours, and that alone makes me ___________________________________________________________________ and I thank you for your Spirit within me! Holy Spirit, I’m listening, and who can stop the Lord Almighty?

Bowerbirds,Sparklies, and the “Birdbrain” in Me and You

bowerbird1 Satin_Bowerbird_Ptilonorhynchus_violaceusWhen I worked in the education department at the local zoo, I wrote curriculum for the summer kindergarten track of Camp Zoo. “Animal Artists” was one week’s theme, and I researched animal behavior to reflect painters, sculptors, weavers and architects. Bowerbirds came up in my search of nest builders, and the courting behavior of male bowerbirds made me shake my head in wonder at the similarities between animals and human beings. Males build a nest, or bower, on the ground, and place shiny, sparkly, colorful articles around it to attract females. According to an encyclopedia article:

 

The most notable characteristic of bowerbirds is their extraordinarily complex courtship and mating behaviour, where males build a bower to attract mates. There are two main types of bowers. One clade of bowerbirds build so-called maypole bowers, which are constructed by placing sticks around a sapling; in some species, these bowers have a hut-like roof. The other major bower building clade builds an avenue type-bower made of two walls of vertically placed sticks. In and around the bower, the male places a variety of brightly colored objects he has collected. These objects — usually different among each species — may include hundreds of shells, leaves, flowers, feathers, stones, berries, and even discarded plastic items, coins, nails, rifle shells, or pieces of glass. The males spend hours arranging this collection. Bowers within a species share a general form but do show significant variation, and the collection of objects reflects the biases of males of each species and its ability to procure items from the habitat, often stealing them from neighboring bowers. Several studies of different species have shown that colors of decorations males use on their bowers match the preferences of females. Mate-searching females commonly visit multiple bowers, often returning to the male several times, watching his elaborate courtship displays and inspecting the quality of the bower.

 

Sparkly, shiny, colorful objects, the more, the better. And how, I ask myself, is that any different from the world of online dating or the world of human behavior in general? Yes, I had to venture into the fields and forests of online dating sites, and the simple and silly truth is that people – both men and women – build profiles much like bowerbirds build nests, with ”sparklies” like their income, education, possessions, interests, and travels, and the more stuff and flirty quips, the better. Photos posed in exotic locales, at a bar or table with a glass in hand, on the golf course, standing beside a fast car …Sadly, that’s what we look for in others all too often. Equally sadly, that’s what we want others to see in us to attract them.

 

I wasn’t hugely successful in the world of online dating, probably because I was looking for more than shine and sparkle and a resume of accomplishments: I was looking for real substance: integrity, faith, honesty, kindness, generosity, humility, purpose, warmth. I wrote an openly honest assessment of myself, including my wrinkles from 21 years of hiking with two Boy Scout sons, and when I read other profiles, I Iooked for key words like those in a man’s self-description. Hmm …rare as hens’ teeth, as my mother used to say.

 

What does God want us to value in each other? He certainly tells us something important through the words of Samuel as he searched for God’s choice for Israel’s king:

 

 

The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.”  But Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears about it, he will kill me.” The Lord said, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’  Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do. You are to anoint for me the one I indicate. Samuel did what the Lord said. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town trembled when they met him. They asked, “Do you come in peace?”

Samuel replied, “Yes, in peace; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Consecrate yourselves and come to the sacrifice with me.” Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice. When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:1-7 NIV

 

He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight. Luke 16:15 NIV

 

All a person’s ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the LORD. Proverbs 16:2 NIV

 

“‘Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly. Leviticus 19: 15

 

Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, But a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised. Give her the product of her hands, And let her works praise her in the gates. Proverbs 31: 30-31 NIV

 

Your adornment must not be merely external– braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God. 1 Peter 3:3-4 NIV

 

I have to check myself daily, fighting the impulse to value others by how much money they make, how much education they have, what job they hold, what car they drive, how they speak, what church they do or don’t attend -that I don’t judge the people I meet by their appearance – including tattoos, piercings, and unnaturally colored hair – and by their income or house or job status. Compatibility comes from shared values and character much more than externals. What good would it do me to be married to a man who scorned Jesus, loved money, looked down his nose at the homeless, but made a six-figure income and loved to travel in his Ferrari? That would be a match made in hell. How counter-cultural is that?

 

Oh, Father God, deliver us from our bowerbird nature! Give us Your eyes to see the value in one another, appreciate character, kindness, and honesty above wallet and neighborhood and facelift. Give us hearts of wisdom, O Lord.to view ourselves in the light of the way You see us, in truth and humility, and teach us to value others for what You placed in them and see in them. Give me the grace to receive a hug from a homeless person with the same gratitude I’d receive it from a billionaire.

 

As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years,

Or if due to strength, eighty years,

Yet their pride is but labor and sorrow;

For soon it is gone and we fly away.

Who understands the power of Your anger

And Your fury, according to the fear that is due You?

So teach us to number our days,

That we may present to You a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90: 10-12 NIV

 

A “…BUT…”to pray:   Oh ,Lord, search me and know my heart, try me and know my anxious thoughts, see if there is any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.   God Almighty, I know I shouldn’t judge, BUT I do, based on __________________________________________. Yes, bowerbird as charged, BUT you can give me new eyes. Help me to see ________________________________________________ not simply because it’s the right thing to do, but because You want the best for me and in me, out of Your purity, righteousness, and love. So, Holy Spirit, dig deeply, root out the insecurities, sparklies and shinies that I push out in front of me so others think I’m valuable and desirable, and help me to dig deeply to find the true value you invested in me _______________________________________________. In Jesus’ name, Amen. Holy Spirit, I’m listening _______________________________________________

Not a post, just my favorite new praise and worship song

Yes, you may see my candle held high in the sequence with Bill Bright and Billy Graham at Explo’72 in the final scenes in “Woodlawn,” and somebody else was there  with me, too,holding a candle high right after we mutually said,”I do … till death.” Well … I tried to keep my promise.The bigger truth is that the ONE who loves us with relentless, fiery, passionate,never-ending love, the One we were holding our candles high for, still loves me and gave a piece of His heart to love with everlasting love, so in a  way,I win even in my loss.

Johnny Cash sang several times at Explo ’72. Boy, I admire his faith ands and June’s lasting love. Yes, self-confessed Jesus freak here, and even though Country music isn’t on my iTunes playlist, a few weeks ago I woke up with this song going through my head. Instantly I  realized it’s a wonderful  song for  worship, everything  true about twelve Johnny sings about being truer still about the two-way love affair we’re meant to have with God through Jesus.

So,  for all of you Country fans out there,and for  those of you who aren’t, here’s a new way to look at Johnny’s immortal ballad:

I Walk The Line

By Johnny Cash
I keep a close watch on this heart of mine
I keep my eyes wide open all the time.
I keep the ends out for the tie that binds
Because you’re mine,
I walk the line
I find it very, very easy to be true
I find myself alone when day is through
Yes, I’ll admit that I’m a fool for you
Because you’re mine,
I walk the line
As sure as night is dark and day is light
I keep you on my mind both day and night
And happiness I’ve known proves that it’s right
Because you’re mine,
I walk the line
You’ve got a way to keep me on your side
You give me cause for love that I can’t hide
For you I know I’d even try to turn the tide
Because you’re mine,
I walk the line

 

Yes, I did, and would have eternally with the first one,  will with a new one, and thanksgiving ever to the ONE who’s always walked with me, Yeshua,  Jesus,  however you speak  his name in your language,  still the faithful Lover of  our souls.7701932_SMK5n