Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Castles, Sieges, Propagandas of Fear

The king ran out of his palace, racing through the ancient city. Already his people looked demoralized and afraid. Violent skirmishes and battle losses were everyday news now. All of his kingdom's cities had been taken except this last city --his city, Jerusalem. The Assyrians had stopped their armies 30 miles away and were employing their best preemptive strikes: propaganda and fear.

Like dropping parachutes of bad information into the camps, the enemy Assyrians stood outside the city walls, speaking loudly in a language that could be understood by the king's own people. "You can't defeat us. No one has. We will besiege you. Famine will come to your land. Your people will be forced to eat and drink the unimaginable just to survive. You can't beat us. Give up. Your god can't save you. No other gods could either."

King Hezekiah amazes me by what he does here. He grabbed the threatening letter he had received from the enemy army commander, and raced out of the palace, through the city -- a city bristling with soldiers and siege-preparations, and scattered with fearful-eyed civilians -- to the Jewish temple. Striding into this house of worship, he spread the letter out before his God, and prayed. This was a tangible act that required effort on his part. He didn't just stay in his throne room. Compelled by despair and strong emotion, he ran to the heart of God, spread the paper list of needs out before him and cried out to him.

The prayer that follows excites me. First King Hezekiah breaks out into huge worshipful prayer, listing the large awe-inspiring things of God. "O Lord Almighty, God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you alone are God, over all the the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth."

Isn't this where we need to go when life looks desperate, when things look hard and the obstacles overwhelming? Run to the Creator of the Universe, the one who sits enthroned on the rim of the earth, who made the sun and moon, who knows the stars by name and calls them out each night.

Then the desperate king pours out his petition. "Give ear, O Lord, and hear; open your eyes, O Lord, and see; listen to all the words Sennacharib (the enemy king) has sent to insult the Living God."

"It is true, Lord," the king continues... "It is true that the Assyrian kings have laid waste all these peoples and their lands.." I love that when we are on our faces before God, with the tangibles written out on paper that lays between us, that we can honestly list the obstacles. It is true, Lord, that ...

--This section of Isaiah 37 has been on my mind several times this week. It captured my attention at the beginning of this week when I felt a huge need to pray for relatives of mine who don't know Jesus and who seem to be walking further from him. Scrawling their names on paper beneath a railing quote, I spread the paper out before my God, crying out to him throughout the day. "It is true, Lord, that their hearts seem far from you and that they seem closed off to you."

Yesterday and today that Isaiah 37 passage comes to mind for other reasons. I love that I can honestly tell God, "It is true.." and then list the obstacles that at times seem insurmountable.

So King Hezekiah in ancient Jerusalem raced across the city, tangibly spread his letter out before God, burst into praise about the bigness of God, asked God to hear, see, listen, and then Hezekiah listed the staggering truths about the situation. It seemed dire. All could be lost, should be lost, except for one thing-- one ace in the hole. Hezekiah's God was not like the other gods who had been destroyed. "...They were not gods but only wood and stone fashioned by human hands," Hezekiah prayed. "Now, O Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all kingdoms on earth shall know that you alone are God!" Now, O God...

Thirty-nine year old King Hezekiah ended his prayer and waited.

What do you need to write across your paper today? Etch onto that sheet whatever seems hard and insurmountable. List "It is true..."  Then, make the effort to get alone into God's presence, away from distractions and others. Lay your letter out before Him, step back to see how huge and amazing our God is, shout those things aloud to him in love, worship and faltering trust. End with the desire to have God's truth and presence be glorified huge in your life for His sake, for His name and renown.

Then wait, with the praises still ringing on your lips, still echoing in the room; wait.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Jazz, Prayers, and a Translation in Progress

Quiet jazz music flows around me at the kitchen table here tonight. Hot water in my favorite mug warms and relaxes me. Three year old Daniel just downed two yogurts. “I hungry, Mom,” he had declared earlier.

I love being a mom: hearing his requests, striving to meet them if they are good for him, and then snuggling beside him as he tells me about his day in kid-speak. Often we have to stop and translate his words for others, since everything is not intelligible yet.

A few weeks ago, my husband taught a lesson on the Lord’s Prayer to our youth group teens. In Matthew 6:9-15, it says,

“This, then, is how you should pray:
‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.'"

My husband pointed out to our teens that the first line encapsulates the two extremes of God’s character –huge, Creator of the world, worthy of being hallowed (praised as holy); and yet we are to call Him Father. Such an intimate personal term. Freedom yet reverence.

Verses 9 and 10 deal mostly with large, cosmic issues: God’s authority and the instant obedience that happens in heaven; the odd tension here on earth of the “earth’s being the Lord’s” and yet it being enemy-occupied territory for a season while the evil one has a limited time here (2 Corinthians talks about the “god of this age has blinded their eyes” to the Truth, and 1 John 5:19 states that “the whole world is under the control of the evil one”).

The next verses of the Lord’s Prayer step away from the abstract cosmos, getting more personal and quotidenne. I am told to talk to God openly about my basic physical needs; to enlist his aid in making the healthy emotional choices of forgiveness, releasing resentment; and to run to him honestly in spiritual issues of temptation.

Wanting the teens to better grapple with the Lord’s Prayer after this teaching, my husband asked them to write the prayer in their own words. Laughter, murmured thoughts aloud, and silent reflection reigned on the mismatched couches in the youth area for several minutes. Then bit by bit, they read their paraphrased prayers aloud. It was beautiful.

Trying to put God terms into human words sometimes leaves me grasping for words like a preschooler with some unintelligible words. I’m so thankful for my Abba Daddy who knows kid-speak and can translate for me. He knows my needs, teaches me, and then snuggles up to hear about my day. Here’s my paraphrase of the Lord’s prayer from that night.

“Our big strong heavenly Dad,
Great is your name—great is your glory.
We look forward to you kicking out the evil one; and our world no longer being an occupied fallen territory. I can’t wait until the stain of sin is lifted off the earth to be pure and clean like in heaven.
Please provide our food and needs each day. Forgive us and help us forgive others.
Help me to recognize sin and hate it, staying away from it. Protect me from the evil one.”

What about you? Want to join me in this fun exercise? You can post your paraphrase below as a comment or feel free to blog about it and then link back to me here, so we can share it together. It’s a helpful way to reflect more on the Lord’s Prayer. Plus, how was your Thanksgiving? What was your favorite dessert then?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Turkey Travelers: Heroes in Disguise

Snow lines my front steps, nestles into my leaf-strewn grass, and clings icily to the streets, creating new adventures for my novice stick-shift-driving skills. Striding into the grocery store, I hear the metal clanging of the season's first Salvation Army bell ringers. Minutes later, the pie tins and pecan pie ingredients in my grocery cart convince me that Thanksgiving is really here.

I spent this summer and fall reading Ann Voskamp's book One Thousand Gifts and practicing this new refrain of choosing moment by moment to pause, see, and name God's gifts back to Him --this romancing of us by the Lover of our souls. Suddenly having a single day to pause, focus, and name His gifts seems a natural continuation of this thought. This week, therefore, we slow down. We look and savor, naming, and thanking the Giver.

Thank you, God,
-for a husband who researched and repaired our dishwasher
-for a wonderfully warm house
-for His peace amidst change
-for delightful discussions with teen and toddler children
-for laughter with my husband
-for God's word being alive and active
This week, as you travel for Thanksgiving, join me in being heroes in disguise, will you? Remember the story a few posts ago of a simple phone call that helped bust a thirteen state human trafficking ring and rescued ten minors trapped in prostitution? By printing out and posting a few free posters in rest area bathrooms, and travel center plazas, we can help! Click print and then tape up 1-2 posters in bathrooms on your way to grandma's house this week. Please share this post with everyone you know. Let's be heroes in disguise this Thanksgiving. Thanks.

What about you? What are three things you are thankful for today? Let me know too if you print and post these posters along with me, will you? I'd love to rejoice with you in doing something helpful.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Mornings, Trains, and Crimson Cherry Tea

Toppling brightly-colored blocks, winding wooden train tracks, and engaging in occasional property disputes, my youngest plays happily alongside his older cousins. The next generation of kids are willowy grown up teens, who can drive away for shopping runs, and descend into the basement for music jam sessions. Guitar, piano, voice and violin meld in worship songs that we can hear and hum along to upstairs. Family board games, movie nights on the couch, and relaxed multi-generational conversations are also what makes this vacation time with relatives so sweet.

Hot crimson cherry tea or fresh ground fair trade Ethiopian coffee are both welcome accompaniments for escaped times in God's word. Reading, working through my newest Beth Moore Bible study book, or just time in the book of Isaiah refresh and rejeuvenate me.

LORD, be gracious to us;
we long for you.
Be our strength every morning, [...]

The LORD is exalted, for he dwells on high;
he will fill Zion with his justice and righteousness.
He will be the sure foundation for your times,
a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge;
the fear of the LORD is the key to this treasure. (Isaiah 33:2, 5-6)

What are you drinking right now, and what have you been reading this week?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

A Gash Transplanted, Beauty Unfurls

“I haven’t seen them bloom yet. I don’t know what color they’ll be,” she said. Fragile velvety African violet plants were balanced in the hands of a fragile, soft-cheeked grandma from my church. “Would you like some?” Yes, please. I was honored to have two of them.

After decades in a home that they built, she was packing up, moving to a retirement home several miles away. In this master gardener’s hands, delicate slips of African violets were sliced off healthy plants, re-potted into fresh dirt, and grown to large producing plants. A glance at her window sills over the years had always revealed African violets bursting with deep purple, light violet, and even buttery yellow blossoms.

This athletic grandma bicycled for hundreds of miles each summer, hosted tea parties for local girls, mentored countless of us younger women at church, and filled her backyard with sunflowers and blooming plants of all kinds. Once a seamstress at a prestigious Grand Avenue wedding shop, even her retirement days have been filled with word-of-mouth projects and lush silken wedding gowns by the dozens.

Years passed; age creeped up; bicycle spills and family health took its toll. The garden grew smaller, the bike trips shorter, and family health concerns grew. Through it all, she blesses me by her honesty and transparency, by her marriage, and by her love for God.

In her empty kitchen that day, we talked and cleaned together. I stood on tall counters and washed out cabinets. Old fashioned lemon oil soap scented my hands and made my fingers slippery, as I maneuvered on the footstool.

I love this woman, this friend. She teaches me so much. In Sunday School each week, I watch her and her husband sitting beside each other, sharing a Bible, gently helping jackets on and off, speaking respectfully and warmly of each other.

In the kitchen there, and throughout this last year, my grandma friend has spoken of God’s faithfulness and new-morning mercies. Familiar hymns are second nature to her, giving voice to emotions and prayers.

The cabinets were soon clean. The woodwork wiped down, and the insides washed out. We hugged and walked towards the door. The empty house echoed slightly; imprints in the carpet showed where familiar furniture once stood; and my friend’s husband was waiting to drive them both to their new home.

Two African violets, beautiful, fragile, growing in new pots came with me to my car. Gently placing them in the bottom of my car, I drove gingerly home, careful not to injure these plants from my dear friend and realizing that these may be precious mementos sooner than I think.

For two weeks, the African violets have been adjusting to my home, sitting in sun-splashed spots in my kitchen. Just this weekend, I squealed to see blooms slowly unfurling from the lighter green leaf plant. Clusters of tiny white/yellow blossom balls are uncurling and starting to open towards the light, their final color and splendor yet to be seen.

New life growing from the destruction of a sliced gash. Beauty in new dirt, in a new pot. Beauty as they turned towards the light. Beauty slowly unfurling, oblivious to all but the Light.

Who is someone in your life that unfurls beauty to you? Who points you toward the Light? Write a quick comment or post about them and link to it here.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Neighborhood Memo and MOPS Sessions

I woke up this morning to discover that all neighborhood trees had gotten the same memo. Leaves fell overnight obediently, carpeting the grass in citrus yellow. Last night's intimate MOPS session had gone wonderfully, and I was eager for this morning's MOPS session too. What a gracious group of women they have there at Messiah Lutheran Church's MOPS. I was honored to join their leaders and mentors in prayer beforehand, and to meet new friends, enjoying the unity and kinship we can have. I savored the sweet tiny faces of newborns and toddlers, wanting to kiss their little faces; and I rejoiced to hear the gentle laughter and voices of women sharing lives together. What a beautiful thing. 

God graciously spoke through me -- thank you, God! And we women got to study God's word together on the topic of Nurturing a Generous Heart in Today's Materialistic Society. Wow, God's word is convicting and beautiful. The Father describes himself using strong terms like "lavished in grace" and "lavishing his love on us" and "rich in mercy." He models how to live generously, sacrificially, giving in ways that costs something to himself, with risk, and the possibility of not even being recognized or appreciated.

Then he invites us to test him in this, to try him! Whew, any of us who were raised in church are familiar with the stern admonition to "not to put the Lord your God to the test," but here God says something different, inviting us to test him in this.

Malachi 3:10 (NIV)

10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. 

One verse that really grabbed my attention later too was

Proverbs 11:24-25 (NIV)
 24 One person gives freely, yet gains even more;
   another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.

 25 A generous person will prosper;
   whoever refreshes others will be refreshed. 

Wow! Need to be refreshed? In God's radical, counter-intuitive strategy, "she who refreshes others will herself be refreshed." 

Hi, thanks for praying with me for these two talks at MOPS this week. What a delight it was to be with them. How are YOU? What has your week been like? How can I pray for you today?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Cow Tongue Football, Polar Bear Plunge, and Digging Deep into God's Word

Hello, my friends! Sorry for a week of silence. Last weekend's youth group retreat, and preparing for two MOPS sessions for this week have grabbed my time and attention.

The youth retreat went wonderfully. Nerf guns through the conference center; cow tongue football, a frigid, electrifying polar bear plunge down a luge slide deep out into the dark lake; four great chapel sessions; and youth-led worships. The joy of seeing senior high teens interact with junior high; students focused in worship; Bibles opened on laps; hearts choosing to lay bare; masks thrown aside; and commitments made.

On the last chapel session on Sunday morning, all fifty of us spread out through the camp, finding tree trunks to lean up against, quiet nooks by the glassy lake, crunchy leaf spots, and in warm corners indoors. Alone with God, our Bibles and some writing materials, the next half hour was a date with Him. Silence reigned. Smothered coughs and sniffs were the only noises.

Thirty minutes later, all the teens gathered in the chapel for more worship and a chance to share what God had whispered to them. His word is so active! Students shared verses that were meaningful to them, observations, praises about the Artist's creation, quiet convictions, and a few poems.

I love that our God whispers to all his people, and that his word is active, alive, vibrantly going viral! The same God that whispers to Billy Graham was whispering to my junior and senior high teens this weekend, and will today too, if they listen.

What's he whispering to YOU today? Where have you been enjoying reading in God's word this week? Whew, I have been enjoying digging deep into word studies on generosity and selfishness in preparation for my MOPS messages this week. The verses convict and encourage me! Pray for me this Thursday and Friday, will you? I am looking forward to meeting and studying God's word together with these sisters.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

My Sixteen Year Old Son Writes a Letter Back through Time

In cramped angular letters on blue lined notebook paper, my son wrote a letter to a young single mom.

This woman received nothing but judgment and scorn from the people in her town. Alone for three years in a new frontiers town with no word from her husband, she feared he was dead. Finding friendship in a gentle man, they fell into temptation and into an affair. Found out to be with child, the town erupted against her.

Are you familiar with this story? Set in New England in the 1700s, Nathaniel Hawthorn, author of The Scarlet Letter, paints a sad stern picture of Puritan values. Different from the humbly beautiful Puritan works that I have seen, Hawthorn must have seen only strict legalism and a fear of revealing personal shortcomings. His Puritan leaders hide their own sin, shame others, and seem to know nothing of redemption and forgiveness.

Hester Prynne, the single mother, and her daughter lived on the outskirts of town. Hester was forever forced to wear a large embroidered A for adultery, and her daughter grew up chased and shunned by neighbor children, morphing into a fearfully broken and bitter child.

This American Literature book that my son and I are reading aloud together for school is so sad. We break from reading and burst out into discussions of what should be happening instead of what is happening in the story.

"John," I finally said this week. "Write Hester Prynne a letter. That's your assignment for today. Tell her all the things God would be telling her... about how people are treating her here, about how God sees us, and about the hope she can have."

Grumbling a little bit about his homschooling mom's odd assignments, he nevertheless grabbed a notebook and headed downstairs to the quiet of his room. Later he emerged with this letter (and gave me permission to use it).

Hi Hester, 
I'm sorry for how people treat you. I feel bad when I read about when people make fun of you and ridicule you for what you did. It makes me annoyed when they keep talking about your sin and act themselves as if they are holy. It's so stupid. Everyone has sin and falls short of the glory of God. 

When that happens in life and when people ridicule you, always remember that they're not perfect either. When you see other people, don't think on what they have done to you or can do to you, but think on how much God loves them, just like he loves you. Think of them as other sinners that God loves and that they're not any better than you. 

Also remember that God can bring glory and goodness out of sin. What you did was sin! But God can overcome that sin and make it into a rainbow with every color showing off God's awesomeness and forgiveness. And also remember that God is the perfect father for your daughter and yourself. 


Wow! What fun to see my son understanding glimpses into God's huge redemptive character. He's right too that we all wrestle with sin.

Sometimes we Christians still fall into a trap of thinking that we need to look as if our acts are all together and that we have no sin. The truth is we all have sin and junk in our lives that God is working on in us. Our scarlet letters may vary per day. Today my letters were C for critical spirit, U for ungrateful, I for impatient, and Q for quarrelsome.

Thankfully when I bring these letters to God and ask my Abba Daddy for forgiveness, he gives it lavishly. Then, he strips off my letters and throws them away.

Extravagant love. Lavish grace. Wild second and third and fourth chances... Dear Hester Prynne...

What about you? I'm so glad you are here right now. What are you thinking about today? What letters did God strip off you today?