Friday, March 24, 2017

Snug in Papa's lap

"Over all,"  we'd call it a successful  "snuggle" of "Papa" and granddaughter Eleanor (photo by Eleanor's mother)
When our new out-of-town granddaughter arrived for her first visit to Papa and Nana’s home, she wore—as promised—her little girl “overalls.”  And Papa was prepared with his, which he wears when he gets into really grubby work.  We hadn’t seen her since she was three weeks old (and now she was four months), so that “reunion photo” was a special occasion!

Babies are such snugglers. My grandsons, now 2 and 3 ½, “cuddle” with “Nana” from time to time, wrapped in a favorite blanket for songs and small talk. And every time that happens, a little part of my heart goes back to memories of me, at 31, “snuggling” with my Heavenly Father. My parents had died just months apart, and this grieving “orphan” had to empty their home and settle their affairs. In that house of hard memories, I’d often curl up in my dad’s old rocker, Bible open as God wrapped me with His comfort and wisdom. 

Coincidentally (which is how God arranges things!) I’d recently felt a nudge to re-read a book that’s among my personal treasures, Amazed by Grace, by Lucinda Secrest McDowell. We met at Wheaton Graduate School about 1980, and in subsequent years I watched her grow into an internationally-known author and speaker. In this, one of her earlier books, she shared teaching about “sonship” that she received from missionary speakers. Instead of sons and daughters of God, the missionaries said, we live defeated lives—like orphans--when we act as though believing these:

*I am all alone and therefore it is all up to me.

*I am full of felt needs but want help from no one.

*I live on a success/fail basis.

*I am full of fears and have little faith.

*I am defensive and a poor listener.

*I have a complaining and thankless attitude toward God and others.

*I feel trapped by circumstances and that no one cares.

In contrast, McDowell related, living in freedom as a son or daughter of God is marked by displaying these characteristics:

*I have a growing assurance of God as my Father because of a true understanding of the cross.

*I am building a life partnership with God based on the gospel and not self-effort.

*I’m more forgiving, less judgmental and condemning.

*I rely on the Holy Spirit to help me use my tongue for praise and not complaint or gossip.

*By faith I see God’s sovereign plan over my life as wise and good.

*I learn to pray, claiming the promises of God.

*I seek daily forgiveness and cleansing from my sins.*
Such are the insights that can only come from those deep “snuggle times” with God: Bible open, heart listening.  He also has a way of reinforcing His truths through people who care about us and are praying for us.

Do you know a spiritual orphan? That status has nothing to do with whether parents are still living. It has everything to do with our willingness to be embraced by our Heavenly Father, and to do what He asks us to do to grow spiritually. Baby overalls are cute, but they’re not to fit us all our lives. Heaven’s closets have “robes of righteousness” waiting!

 *Quoted by Lucinda Secrest McDowell in Amazed by Grace (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 1996, pp. 55-56.  McDowell cited her notes from “Sonship Week” Bible Course, Jack and Rose Marie Miller, lecturers. Used by permission of the author.

Friday, March 17, 2017


We have a collection of small-fry puzzles for when our grandsons, 2 and 3, come to visit. Some are super-simple, with pieces exactly cut to the holes. Others (like the Elmo one below) require a little more discernment about corners and edges.  People who have problems fitting together the pieces of faith remind me of the “Elmo” puzzle.  Believe it or not, the Bible agrees with that. No, there’s no furry red creature from Sesame Street in scriptures, but there’s a Greek word, suniemi, for “understand,” which means:  "the assembling of individual facts into an organized whole, as collecting the pieces of a puzzle and putting them together.” That insight was shared by teacher-author Beth Moore in her book on the life of Paul, To live is Christ (Broadman, 2001, p.  194) as she discussed Paul’s explanation of the prophecy in Isaiah 6:9-10:

Go to this people and say, ‘’You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.” (Acts 28:26)
Paul was trying to point out that when Jesus came, even as the prophecies came together in His life and ministry, the Jews were so calloused that they wouldn’t “get it.”  Even though the prophetic pieces “fit” in Him, they just kept ignoring corner and side pieces and saying it was “impossible” that He was the one for whom they’d waited so long.

You’ve probably run into, as I have, people whose spiritual  understanding is so messed up that they basically invent a new (and puzzling)religion. They think faith in God should result in a painless, wonderful life. But history and the Bible emphasize that “peace with God” doesn’t always mean earthly peace.  I’ve had my share of difficulties, tears, and hurt. But I trusted God to keep me going forward to what He had planned.  We don’t always see a tidy conclusion in this life.  I just got an E-mail from a friend with an overseas ministry area.  It includes a country where a Christian husband and dad has already served nine years in prison just for witnessing about Jesus.  Given the hostility of that area’s government, he may die there.  And he’s just one of thousands (millions?) who are suffering for their faith. Moore observes:
When we continue to resist what God has for us, we may cripple our ability to understand how the pieces of our puzzle fit together. We will continually single out our experiences rather than understand them as parts of the whole...Although we will not understand everything until we see Christ face-to-face, God often blesses us by letting many things make sense during our lifetimes. (p.195)

At this point, my little grandson Josiah, 3 1/2, does not like the Elmo puzzle (though he is quite friendly with our collection of “Elmo” children’s books). His spatial development isn’t mature enough to work this level of puzzle. Someday, though, his puzzle-ability may come to the level of optical art or mosaic scenes that end up on a card table for several weeks of “solving.”

I want to believe that will be true of me, too.  I have a lot of “puzzle pieces” of hardship and difficult people that just don’t make sense right now. But I know God sees the bigger picture, and in His wise way, the true picture will, in the end, make sense.  Or, to put it another way, in Heaven there may be a Room of Puzzles, all completed, and all splendid because God designed them!

Friday, March 10, 2017

Broken up is hard to be....

Icy driveway--see tire tracks at left
Snow on top of sleet, on top of more snow and sleet, left us with an ice skating rink for a driveway a few weeks ago. The immediate solution was the tedious one: slamming a shovel into the ice to break it up. As I was taking my aggressions out on the slab of ice, of all things, some old pop song lyrics came to mind: “Breaking up is hard to do.” They came from Neil Sedaka’s 1962 #1 hit (for one week) titled, “Don’t Take Your Love Away From Me.” I was a high school freshman that year, more interested in classical music than the current pop tune, but somehow  random exposures to that era’s pop culture found a niche in my brain. Technology that was a pipe dream fifty years ago allowed me to “google” it and hear the whole song (with a grainy black-and-white video) on Youtube.  Oh my, how times have changed. The singer was nicely groomed in pants and a sweater. Behind him, modestly “grooving” to the music, were young men in suits and girls wearing dresses or skirts and blouses! 

Those were the days, when it was big to “go steady,” which a girl announced to her world by wearing a guy’s class ring on a neck chain. Eventually, there was the inevitable “breaking up” and returning of the ring. Somehow, as an academia nut with no boyfriends, I missed all that adolescent trauma. But as I emerged into adulthood and found my spiritual moorings in truly embracing Jesus as my Savior, I discovered a deeper, more transforming “breaking up.”  It’s what God does in our lives to take us away from shallow and worthless things and into a deep and abiding love relationship with Him.

If you haven’t guessed, I am a reader, with three to five books going at a time. Recently I read Henri  J.M. Nouwen’s Life of the Beloved, commended as “must read” by another book “in process” on my pile, one by George Verwer, founder of the world-wide mission outreach “Operation Mobilization.” Nouwen found himself in dialog with a discouraged secular Jew who questioned the value of any religion.  Out of that came Nouwen’s insight that brokenness can be a gateway to joy when we realize it carries the opportunity to purify and deepen God’s blessing on us. The apostle James said the same thing: to consider testings of our faith as “pure joy” because these are part of the maturing of our faith (James 1:2-4).  In other words, to rejoice in brokenness because it prepares the way for a deeper faith.

To return to that pop song of half a century ago, but with a spiritual angle, getting “broken up” is hard to go through. But it’s how God woos us from the “crush” or love of the world’s slippery values to bring us for our true love and Savior, Jesus.

Friday, March 3, 2017

What's your 700?

I was so tired, I could hardly wait to get to bed.  But I was minutes away from reaching a long-sought goal. So I pushed the needle with its long tail of yarn once again into the quilt, tied and cut it, pushed it again, and again. Finally, I  finished my 700th baby quilt to donate to a local hospital for a baby from a family in need.  For the last five and a half years I have sewn these blankets  from materials found at thrift stores, yard sales, and store clearance bins. I originally thought I’d stop at 10, 50, then 100, then 500...while my family chuckled, “You’re not done yet.”  After 700, I’m ready for the break.

I started this project after learning that our hospital served some families so impoverished that they  had little to nothing to take their babies home in.  For some, “home” was a car, shelter, or relative or friend’s crowded house. In previous years, I’d randomly donated home-sewn baby blankets to our local pro-life clinic.  But this was a bigger need.  Plus, I got an elbow in the ribs from Galatians 2:10, about remembering the poor. Paul (author of that book) said he was eager to do that as part of his ministry.

Like the patches in my quilts, God has a way of putting things together. I thought recently of the account in Genesis 24 about Abraham’s servant traveling to the ancestral land to find an appropriate bride for Abraham’s son Isaac. They certainly did “courtship” differently back then! But I have long appreciated the humble servant’s reaction when he found the young woman who seemed to be “just right.”  He didn’t pump his fist or call a town hall. He said, “I being in the way the Lord led me” (Genesis 24:27). In other words, as he committed himself to "the way" of a grueling faith trip and sought to keep a sensitive heart,  God brought it about.

As for the blankets, I constantly experienced God “leading” me. Yes, I opened my wallet to buy discounted “essentials.” At one estate sale I came across a huge roll of batting—almost as big as me.  As I wobbled down the street to my car with it, I wondered if I would ever use it up.  I did, within a few months.   I was also blessed by many who gave me fabric or batting, including a woman dying of cancer whose fabric-scraps gifting resulted in fifteen blankets.  One older lady and her daughter brought by a big box of serger cone thread in various colors. I rigged up a way to use it on my sewing machine.

Why 700? As other things needing time and emotional energy have come into my life, I sensed the need to fix a “goal.”  The number “7” is considered a perfect number in the Bible. God created in six days and rested on the seventh.  We still have a seven-day calendar.  He had Noah bring seven pairs of “clean” animals into the ark (just duos of all the rest).  Joshua marched about Jericho seven times before the walls fell.  Daniel and Revelation are full of prophetic sevens.

Our world bleeds with heart-breaking hurts, particularly for women, children and infants. I honor those who are there to help the helpless in my community and across the nation, and across the oceans at the front lines of disaster and war.  For a season, I felt God leading me to help my community’s poor,  even through such a simple thing as a baby blanket.

Care to share what God has called you to do?  I’d welcome feedback in the comments section.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Hemmed in!

 Oh! Our poor neighbors! Two of their street-parked vehicles weren’t moving anywhere soon. Our street’s second sweep by a plow hemmed them in with an ice berm--front, side, and back.  They have other vehicles to get to work, and because these were parked on the street a long time before snow, I suspect they are temporarily disabled. 

“Hemmed in”—the phrase was so familiar to me, and I quickly remembered why. Years ago, I read Psalm 139 in a newer translation that turned up the light for me. At the time, I was grieving the deaths of my parents six months apart and, as a 31-year-old single woman, tasked with emptying the very-full family home for dividing inheritance. The Bible was a sympathy gift from friends who’d seen my well-worn older Bible. I read the newer one voraciously every day when not sorting or cleaning.  Coming to Psalm 139, about God’s intimate knowledge of me even in the womb, I paused at verse 5:
You hem me in—behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me.
Reading that, I envisioned myself on a path full of hazards, but safe between two giant hands, one before, and one behind.  How I needed that picture of God’s encompassing care.  Other translations rendered it:
“You are all around me.” (Today’s English Version, 1970)
“You both precede me and follow me.” (New Living Translation, 1996)
“Thou hast enclosed me behind and before, and laid thy hand upon me.” (New American Standard Bible, 1973)

Another picture of “hemmed in” came in Acts 23, when the apostle Paul ran into violent opposition from Jewish religious leaders upon returning from a major missionary trip. Fearing for Paul’s safety, the military commander hurried Paul away from the riotous scene to a safe place in his barracks. Then Paul’s nephew overheard the Jewish leaders’ plot to kill Paul. The lad was taken to the commander, who believed his story and decided to foil the plot by a night march to move Paul 70 miles away to Caesarea. There, Governor Felix could settle the matter. 

Okay—the “behind and before.”  Acts 23:24 says the commander ordered up 200 soldiers, seventy horsemen, and two hundred spearman to depart that night at 9 p.m., moving under cover of darkness.  Oh yes, Paul got his own horse, too. What a sight that must have been! The loud clopping of horses and heavy steps of hundreds of soldiers—for one prisoner!  I’m guessing Paul was riding in the midst of all this.  And I pity the soldiers who had to make the journey by foot!

This verse came back to my attention (thanks to those icy berms) as I prayed about a difficult “spiritual attack” situation in my life. Again, I needed the assurance that God is my protector. And surely, that is His character, affirmed in another favorite verse:

The LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore. (Psalm 121:8 NIV)

Friday, February 17, 2017

Humblin' history made here

It happened here—a hall corner between my daughter’s and son’s bedrooms--where I tried to “train up” my children in the way they should go regarding relationships. Proverbs 22:15 says, “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him.” I didn’t get out a “discipline rod” to resolve petty arguments, but I did use “time out” in their bedrooms before coming to this spot in the hall to apologize and ask forgiveness.  At times their hugs and “sorry’s” were quite wooden, but I trusted that this discipline would reinforce truths about living God’s way. They grew up to be responsible adults with many friends.

As I thought recently about “apologies,” three powerful Bible examples came to mind.
Insincere apologies—“Sorry you had a problem about it....” As King Saul geared up for a major battle at Gilgal, he had a problem. The prophet Samuel told him to wait a week for Samuel to come and offer the proper pre-battle sacrifices. When Day 7 arrived with no Samuel in sight,  Saul panicked and performed the sacred “sacrifice” of animals himself. An appalled Samuel showed up just as Saul finished. Saul’s excuse was full of “I” words, ending, “I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering” (1 Samuel 13:12). Samuel scolded him: “You acted foolishly.”  From then on, Saul’s days as king were numbered. 

Cover-up apologies—“Sorry I messed up, but don’t make me look bad.” A few chapters later, the prophet Samuel told Saul to completely destroy the Amalekites: people, cattle, sheep, camels and donkeys. But Saul and soldiers disobeyed, keeping some of the animal “booty.” Plus, Saul put up a prideful monument in his own honor! When Samuel came and heard all the noises of the Amalekite livestock, he condemned Saul for not following the orders for annihilation. Samuel declared:
To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. (1 Samuel 15:22b-23a)
Saul’s reaction: “I have sinned.  But please honor me before the elders of my people and before Israel” (v. 30).  (Read that again! The nerve of it floors me!) 

Sincere apologies—“I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:13). King David succumbed to lust, committing adultery with a married woman. Learning he got her pregnant, he arranged to have her husband killed in the heat of battle. He tried to hide his secret until the prophet Nathan pulled a confession out of him. The best mirror for David’s confession of this incident is his Psalm 51:
“Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Psalm 51:4)

I see these applications for today:
Insincere apologies—The pouty “s-o-r-r-y” which tries to appease an offended person.
Cover-up apologies—The insincere “s-o-r-r-y” that says, “Sorry, you don’t agree with me, but I had to do it.  It’s all about me, after all.”
Sincere apologies—The humble “I am so sorry” that expresses: “God has convicted me of my sin in (description of offense). I was wrong and know I have sinned against you. Could you find it in your heart to forgive me and give me a second chance?  I want to obey God in every way, and this struggle is part of my journey to a life of pleasing God.” 

True, life-changing “I’m sorry” goes along with growing in Christ.  It’s the real thing because the Real Thing is just ahead. Someday, instead of standing in the hall between siblings’ bedrooms, we’ll kneel before the throne of Almighty God. He has seen every single action of our lives, and judges rightly and righteously—even considering how we have said, “I’m sorry.”

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Hard and soft hearts

A "heart" of stone!
I was glad to see him as I exited our worship service this Sunday—a friend who is recovering from surgery that saved his life after a heart attack. Age and disease “broke” his heart but now it’s “mended,” an adjective survivors like him are glad to claim. With reminders of Valentine’s Day all around—from candy and flowers to jewelry and clothes—I decided to add an extra entry to my blog schedule. For some reason God reminded me of “heart” verses I’d read long ago in from Ezekiel, that Old Testament prophet known for amazing, symbolic visions (like dry bones, chapter 37).

If you really want to boil the message of the prophets to one word, you need to go with “heart” and the “heart problems” that led to the downfalls of Judah and Israel hundreds of years before Christ. Ezekiel’s message from God was bad news followed by good news of somehow returning to their homeland.  God said:
I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them: I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.  Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.  They will be my people, and I will be their God. (Ezekiel 11:19)

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.  (Ezekiel 36:26)

Do you see Jesus in these verses?  I do. He waits for us to turn to Him, admit we have hearts of stone, and allow Him to transform us with hearts that beat in sync with His. The apostle John saw a lot of love and hate in his long life of proclaiming the truths about Jesus.  But he always came back to the transforming love of Christ. I’ll never forget the comment by a Christian co-worker from a newspaper where I once worked. He had come to Christ out of a rugged background.  When I asked him his favorite Bible verse, he quoted 1 John 3 and expressed amazement that he was now a child of God.  His voice broke as he quoted verse 2: “We know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”

So maybe those little plush bears clutching soft red hearts—displayed all over stores these days (including this one I spotted at a thrift store)—have it theologically right. Our world needs Christ-softened hearts, not hard, selfish ones. Today, while going into a grocery store, we spotted a friend who is going through a very difficult time. After she shared and became quiet, I asked if she could use a hug. She said yes. Her long embrace reminded me that God needs more “soft hearts” out there. We’re praying for her, too.

Feeling a bit beat up lately as a result of someone’s hard-hearted behavior? Tell it to Jesus.  I did, and today, out of the blue, I recalled some powerful words from a church choir cantata I sang forty-some years ago. The song expressed how Christ’s wonderful look of love “broke and won my heart.” When I turn my attention to Jesus, He puts His nail-scarred hands on my pain, and I know His love.
Coming in Friday's blog: forgiveness.