Friday, August 28, 2015

The Junk Jungle

I hesitate to use the words “treasure chest” or “bargains galore,” but about an hour’s drive away there’s a junk store we always visit when in that town.  My husband walks around back to the recycling area where he can harvest parts off broken bikes for less-broken ones he’s trying to restore to usefulness.  I step carefully through the guardians of the front door: tired sofas, television shelves and other furniture ingloriously stored outside in all sorts of weather.  Want to reupholster furniture?  Have they got a deal for you.  Inside, the warehouse is crammed. Mattresses are stacked sideways like slices in a loaf of bread, and you weave down aisles between mountains of stuff on top of stuff on top of stuff.

Then there’s the “kitchen room,” with its teetering shelves of kitchenware, baskets, frames, and knickknacks.  Dusty? That’s understatement.  I venture in there in search of older cast iron fry pans for a friend who cleans and re-sells them in an antique mall. But as I round the corner to go out, I have conflicting feelings about the conglomerate of little figurines, cookie jars, china tea cups, and other decorative things dumped here.  Most were likely leftovers from emptying a home after death. At one point, they represented something to the person who owned them.  Now they’re like those recently unburied terra cotta soldiers in China--relics of mystery.
The “junk jungle” brings two big ideas to me.  One is that we keep so much stuff!  We attach great importance to things that cannot love us back.  Yes, I have some “tokens of memories” around.  But trying to dispose of my late mother’s enormous salt and pepper shaker collection cured me of taking up a hobby that involved amassing “like things.” I wonder what sort of things people collected in Bible times. We know that women wore headpieces or jewelry with gold coins as part of their dowry, a real-life insurance policy if something happened to a spouse.  And people probably just liked “nice” things. I think of the rich young man who said he was spiritually “right” by keeping all the commandments since his youth.  But when Jesus asked him to sell all he owned and give to the poor, he couldn’t do that.  “Stuff” and riches held him back (Mark 10).
The second thought that comes as I circle that cluttered “junque” room is the unfathomable love of God.  We may feel like rejected, dusty, chipped trinkets that nobody wants any more. But God doesn’t see us that way. What the prophet Isaiah said of God’s value system (here, regarding Israel, but in the bigger picture also us) helps me envision Him going in that junk room and taking one dusty, neglected piece after another and saying, “I have chosen you. You are precious to me.”  Or, as the scripture passage puts it:
You are precious and honored in my sight....I love you. (Isaiah 43:4)
Many of the items at that thrift store have no marked price, so when you go to pay, the person in charge of the cash register says what he or she feels is an appropriate price.  Sometimes you can bargain, but usually not.  And here’s where the analogy breaks down.  “Stuff” has little value in the junk store. But we're not unwanted castoffs. We're are so valuable to God that He paid the highest price imaginable for us—the death of His son, Jesus.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Harvest of righteousness

Rolling wheat fields mark much of the land alongside the highway we take to visit our daughter. As we drove past harvesters in action recently, I noticed the conditions of fields. Some had green weeds poking up through the grain.  Others were free of intruders. I remember hearing of how my late Uncle Pete, a drylands farmer in eastern Montana some sixty years ago, took pride in crops that were weed-free, meaning a lot of hands-on work to pluck out the intruders.
As I admired the undulating golden hills, I thought of the Bible’s many references to harvest, particularly James 3.  Throughout this letter, James urges believers to make sure their walk matches their talk.
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.
James said the believer’s walk should have no room for the “weeds” of envy or selfish ambition, which feed into disorder and “every evil practice” (v. 17). Here’s what a believer’s life should “grow”:
But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.  Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness. (vv. 17-18)

Sometimes it’s easier to understand those traits by naming what they are not. One of the “keepers” in my personal library is The Calvary Road by Roy Hession, published in 1950 by Christian Literature Crusade. In his passion for revival in the church, Hession names sins of the “self-life” that we need to ask Christ to cleanse from our lives. They include self-energy, self-complacency in service, self-pity, self-seeking, self-indulgence, self-consciousness and “self” behaviors like touchiness, resentment, worry and fear. Christ can’t fill with His living water a “dirty cup” fouled by such sins. Revival comes with cleansing.

However you see it—a weeded wheat field, or a washed-clean cup—I can’t have that “harvest of righteousness” without honest self-examination and confession. It’s God’s way, and the best way.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Storage by God

Okay, I went back on my word. I'd once said, “That’s a good number to quit on” when I finished my 500th patchwork baby blanket of a three-year effort.  These I had donated to three local hospitals for “special needs,” mostly impoverished families with little or nothing for their newborns. The recipients were not known to me, though a nurse friend told of giving one to a crying woman who came in alone to deliver her 5th baby.  Because of a language barrier, nurses assumed a difficult family situation and unwanted baby. Others went to homeless families.
When I first started, I thought making fifty baby  blankets was a stretch.  I didn’t count on God’s storage containers.When word got out of my project, He opened the trap doors at the bottom of the “supplies elevator.”  From what people gave me or I found for a pittance at yard sales or thrift stores, the project kept growing. My “goals” reached 100, then 250….well, I’m now at 519 and have the raw materials for three more. One thrift store is especially dangerous for me; they get a lot of fabric from estate situations.  While my husband browses for books (he likes to donate quality children’s books to schools), he leaves me alone to dig through the fabric piles.

On one recent trip through farmlands, I had to smile when I sensed an analogy between my “blanket ministry” and the grain storage towers along the route.  I thought of that famed verse (used for many tithing sermons) from Malachi 3:10:
“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 you will not have room enough for it.”
Malachi was right about “not have room enough for it.” We live in what’s called a “starter home,” meaning small, about right for a couple. We raised two children in it and now it’s full of grandkid play stuff and books. I don’t have the luxury of a sewing suite, so the supplies get stuffed under beds or tucked behind my clothes in the closet. Having little storage means I sew the blankets up as quickly as I can.

Oh, the ways people “supplied”! One woman I met at a yard sale gave me four bulging garbage bags of flannel scraps from dozens of pajamas she had sewn (I think as a business).  I had to piece them, but seventeen baby blankets resulted.  Another time I found two garbage bags full of fabric scraps left at our house. A third woman delivered boxes of fabric she cleaned out from her quilting hobby.

I think God grinned as He poured it out. As I neared my 500th blanket, I learned that other seamstresses had taken up the cause. As though He was removing this “ministry,” both the compulsion and supply eased up, except for a few from time to time.

My sewing skills aren’t anything famous. But I’ve learned God can even use the lesser-skilled for assignments that you’d say “no way!” if God wasn’t in it to prod you on and pour down the materials.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Hiding-My-Face Book

The “Jeanne Zornes” you might find on “Facebook” isn’t me, but someone else who lives in Seattle, half the state away. We met when she came to town to visit relatives. Younger than me, she’s an energetic mother of four grown sons and a daughter. Her internet presence includes her photography business. But don’t look too far in “Bing images” for us. Besides the two “Jeanne Zornes” head shots, there are images of people I know nothing about, including some police “mug shots” of sour-faced men!  Yikes!

The internet can be an amazing tool, connecting me with information and people. But it has a dark side, too, probably greater than I realize. My security software tries to keep me “safe,” but it’s sad how prevalent the malevolent are. Even Facebook is susceptible to misuse and misinterpretation. Insecure people are vulnerable to connecting their “value” to how many Facebook “friends” they have. But “lurking” isn’t the same as “bonding,” and mouse-click connections don’t provide the face-to-face skills necessary for building nurturing and lasting friendships.  

By choice, I am not part of the “Facebook” community at this time.  If I had a page, I’m sure it would have its share of grandchild photos! But I have chosen to “fast” or abstain from this media tool as a reminder to pray for someone with a disabling internet addiction. Ironically, if you want to learn more about this obsessive compulsive disorder, you can search the term on the internet!  But it is a real problem, and making its way into medical manuals catching up with the internet revolution.

I’ve pondered what Jesus would do with “Facebook” and the culture associated with it that emphasizes “looking good.” Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would have “no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:3). When He actually did come, his contemporaries questioned whether someone from Nazareth could possibly be the Messiah (John 1:46). We’re not drawn to Jesus by His looks (which are not known), but by His heart.

In seeking to use social media wisely, we need to remember that God sees the real me, not the “virtual me” I want to portray. He sees into my heart’s deepest places, right through pretension and excuses. His Word, the Bible, is “sharper than any double-edged sword…it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart....  Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:12, 13).

I’m looking forward to the ultimate “Facebook,” one expressed in these lyrics by Fanny Crosby, the prolific lyricist who had no memory of faces in her ninety-plus years of life. She was blinded in infancy. The chorus of “Someday the silver cord will break” goes:
And I shall see Him face to face,
And tell the story—Saved by grace.

Let’s hear it for Gracebook!

Friday, July 31, 2015

Confessions of a Blue-zilla

 Hydrangeas top the list of my favorite flowers, probably thanks in part to growing up with a hydrangea bush outside my childhood bedroom window.  Though largely neglected, every year it filled with huge pompoms of blue or purple blooms.  Orphaned by the time I married in my mid-thirties, I opted for a simple, low-cost wedding.  I wore a simple home-made gown and borrowed veil, and carried one white rose nestled in hydrangea, picked from someone’s yard.  For this frugal bride, there was no “bride-zilla” trauma to find the just-perfect designer gown and florist’s bouquet.

I still like blue. Our bedroom and quilt are blue. So are my kitchen and favorite recliner. I wear a lot of blue. And I have several hydrangea bushes in our back yard, including one that this year produced this amazing bloom. 

I'm prejudiced, but I think blue is one of God's best colors.  He brushed the sky and oceans blue. When He gave plans for the furnishings of the tabernacle, He assigned blue and its spectrum neighbor purple for their colors. In our culture, blue has come to symbolize loyalty, hence the term “true-blue,” meaning “staunch, unwavering in one’s faith or beliefs, unchanging, loyal.” I actually thought about that symbolism  in deciding on what to put in my garden-fresh bouquet.  What better trait than “loyal” to have in marriage?

Not that I have been perfect.  I take comfort in knowing that Peter, after three years of intimate follow-ship with Christ, lost it at the worst time.  As Jesus awaited the trials that would lead to his death, Peter cowered in the shadows, denying any relationship with his Lord. Paint him yellow. But Jesus didn’t write him off.  After Jesus’ resurrection, He came to His disciples at the Sea of Galilee, providing them with a huge haul of fish from which they could fix lunch. “Simon Peter,” Jesus asked repeatedly, “Do you love me?”  Simon squirmed around the more intimate, true-blue meaning of Jesus’ choice for the Greek word “love.”  Could he, the cowardly one, ever be worthy of His Savior again? Yet through this exchange (recorded in John 21), Jesus indicated He wasn’t giving up on Peter. 

 This same Peter wrote a struggling church, "If you are struggling according to God's will, keep on doing what is right, and trust yourself to the God who made you, for he will never fail you” (1 Peter 4:19 TLB).  In other words, stay true-blue to Jesus.  He will never fail you.

As though an illustration of this concept, the “blue” in hydrangeas comes from an acid soil environment.  The pink and purple varieties rise from a more alkaline soil. Similarly, those “acid” times for our faith have the potential to “true-blue” our faith.  As fellow disciple James put it, “Whenever trouble comes your way, let it be an opportunity for joy.  For when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be strong in character and ready for anything” (James 1:2-4 TLB).

There are other blue flowers—periwinkle, lupine, lobelia and columbine come to mind—but I will always be partial to hydrangea. Any serious Christ-follower will have those “acid” testing times. But to bloom forth with brilliance is the right and true-blue response we need in living out our love for Christ.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Oh, those robber robins!

Robins were not my dad’s favorite birds, at least when they tried to harvest the crop off his small blueberry patch. He had planted about six bushes by his work shed, and as they matured, the plump, tasty berries became a banquet hall for the local bird population. Finally, he caged the entire patch with chicken wire, an enclosure that was six feet tall with a door so we could still go in and pick them. Sometimes, however, a little gap at the bottom of the enclosure was all it took for an enterprising robin to sneak in and feast away.

Despite the haul of bandit birds, we picked enough to freeze for our enjoyment through the year. My memories of fresh-picked blueberries resulted in planting a few bushes at the back of our garage. And guess what.  The robins found them. Although these berries lacked the size and flavor of those from my childhood,  the bushes still brought the enjoyment of summer’s “blue gold."

I couldn’t build a wire cage for them, so draped them instead with bird-deterring netting. The robins still found a way in, but I settled for a less-than-perfect system.

My “berry guard” system got me thinking about spiritual guards.  Psalm 91 speaks of God guarding us when surrounded by evil. But the scripture I cherish most about “guarding” is from Philippians, written by a weary apostle who was “guarded” by hardened Roman soldiers as he served out an indefinite sentence for preaching Christ.

“Rejoice!” Paul wrote, likely as chains clanged from his wrists. “Be gentle!  Pray about everything! Be thankful! Tell God your needs!”  And then:

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7)

One of the misconceptions about being a Christian that I had to work through in my early faith walk was that all would be hunky-dory once I crossed the line to say “Jesus is my Savior.”  Some problems will fade as our values and priorities change to good. But we live in a fallen world, and problems will come. Instead of robins after blueberries, those pesky crows and vultures of “fallen-ness” will attack when we least expect.

What are we to do? Rejoice! Be gentle! Pray! Be thankful! Tell God your needs! So doing will “guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” And the sweetness of knowing the Savior—far sweeter than the plumpest blueberry, for sure!—will help feed a Christ-hungry world.

Friday, July 17, 2015

The buzz on "busy"

A busy bee got my attention one day when I looked out my office window at the blooming rhododendrons.  As he floated from one blossom to another, I thought of a children’s book I’ve been reading my grandson Josiah. It follows a diligent bee who says “no” to farm animals inviting him to play with them. “I’ve got work to do,” he says, buzzing to the next flower. The bee finished his work by the last page when he rewarded the farmer with honey—and the book’s electronic cell rewarded the reader with a happy “buzz.” Toddlers love those surprises in their books!
“I’ve got work to do” often comes out of my mouth. The work ethic modeled for me in childhood continued into my working life as a reporter with its stressful deadlines requiring focus and productivity. I still remember the loud clatter of old-fashioned typewriters in the newsroom, the mechanical version of buzzing bees. Now, juggling housework, writing, and care of others keeps me buzzing from project to project.

 Sometimes I think about how busy the Bible’s Martha felt, especially when Jesus dropped in for a visit. What a privilege to have Him come.  But she didn’t have a microwave to zap Him and His companions a ready-made meal, or an “app” to have one delivered from the pizza parlor. In those days, everything about homemaking was labor-intensive. I “get” her desire to serve a meal worthy of this amazing Person.  But I also understand Jesus’ admonition, “Only one thing is needed,” to mean that a simple meal, not a showcase menu, was okay. Yes, she got a bit snippy toward Mary, who wasn’t helping. But stomachs would have rumbled if they’d both sat at Jesus’ feet.

We need the balance of Martha and Mary in our spiritual personalities. In his book The Attentive Life (IVP, 2008), former Graham team evangelist Leighton Ford explained how some of us lean toward the mundane things of life, and some toward the so-called “spiritual,” but both traits are necessary. As an example, he quoted Mother Teresa, talking of the work of the Sisters of Mercy in caring for the dying poor in India: “Do not think of us as social workers,” she said, alluding to the “Martha” side.  “We are contemplatives in the midst of life. We pray the work” (p. 107).

Like Martha, we need to be diligent about serving God (akin to the bee making honey). James 4:17 says we sin when we know what we ought to do, and don’t do it. But we also need the “Mary” side that savors the spiritual nectar in God’s Word, “sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb” (Psalm 19:10).