Tuesday, June 28, 2016

"Dwelling Places"--a taste. PLUS contest for free book

You'll want to read my friend's newest book
alongside your Bible.
Yesterday I shared the background of a new book by my writer/speaker friend Lucinda Secrest McDowell, titled Dwelling Places. Here's a taste from her book, a chapter called "That Time a Nest was my Refuge."

I awaken to the sound of heavy rain encompassing me. This second floor sleeping porch contains one piece of furniture – a King sized bed surrounded on three sides by floor to ceiling windows, setting me high amongst the trees.


Sliding down into the soft sheets, I pull up the covers, thankful for my cozy refuge from the outside world. Nothing, it seems, can touch me here.

For the first time in my life, I have the sensation of being in a nest, dwelling in the shelter of God’s wings.

And I remember that in the original language of the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for “to dwell” is sometimes translated as “to nest.”

“He will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you will find refuge.” (Psalm 91.3-4) I recall how baby chicks rush under the mother hen at the first sign or sound of danger. Because she holds them tightly, they can nestle into a sense of safety and security.

I believe this is exactly how God wants me to feel about Him — my true Refuge.

Nesting in my bed, I recall reading a favorite book to my precious grandgirl- “Are You My Mother?” by P.D. Eastman. The story is simple but it cleverly reinforces the sheltering refuge of the home nest to those who are lost and wandering. In that story, after asking every creature she encounters, “Are you my mother?” the baby bird finally ends up safely back in the nest only to realize that her mother is the one who nourishes her and shelters her.

So often I relate to the psalmist’s yearnings, “I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings.”  (Psalm 61:4) David wants God to be his forever nest. He’s had enough of running and hiding and maneuvering and outwitting. He just wants to snuggle under those wings and be safe.

Is this the longing of your soul as well?

If so, all you have to do is call upon the name of the Lord. And that’s pretty simple. It can even sound something like “God, are you there?” or “Dear God, help me.” Or you could just groan and He will understand.

Hannah Whitall Smith discovered this the hard way when tragedy came. “The secret of His presence is a more secure refuge than a thousand Gibraltars. I do not mean that no trials come. They may come in abundance, but they cannot penetrate into that sanctuary of the soul, and we may dwell in perfect peace even in the midst of life’s fiercest storms.”

It’s time to stop asking everyone you meet some version of “Are you my refuge?”

And start dwelling –nesting – under the shelter of the One who knows you best and loves you most.

©2016 Lucinda Secrest McDowell Excerpted from “Dwelling Places” by Lucinda Secrest McDowell (Abingdon Press)
 

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Monday, June 27, 2016

Where a friend has "dwelled"

We live on opposite ends of the nation, but have known and prayed for each other for half our lives. I’d like to introduce my friend Lucinda Secrest McDowell, author of many outstanding Christian living books, including the newest, Dwelling Places. We met in the early 1980s when students at Wheaton (Ill.) Graduate School, studying communications. As I walked its halls and paths, I often thought of the college’s role in shaping missionary martyrs, like Jim Elliot, killed in 1956 along with four others by Ecuadorian tribesmen they sought to reach with the Gospel.

There’s an interesting word, “serendipity,” which can be loosely defined as “wow!”  And that was my reaction when she connected with a group of graduate women who decided to meet weekly to study the book of Daniel and pray for one another.  We learned Cindy (I know her by that nickname) had recently lived with Jim’s widow, esteemed author Elisabeth Elliot, when Cindy was a student at a nearby seminary. Cindy’s role was to help Mrs. Elliot with correspondence and shuttle her to the airport for speaking engagements.  After I earned my master’s degree at Wheaton, and Cindy moved on in her role with an international evangelism conference, we kept in touch.  She later married a widower with three children, birthed a daughter, and moved back to the East coast where her writer and speaking gifts bloomed as she raised her family and fulfilled a role as a pastor’s wife. 


Cindy describes herself as a “story-teller,” and she is that and more.  She’s also well-read in classic and contemporary Christian literature, a deep thinker of scripture, a lover of hymns, and able to turn the phrase that opens up Biblical truth.  Her most recent book is one you’ll want by your thinking/praying chair to read during your devotional times.  In two brief pages, each based on a word or phrase, she provides thought-provoking devotional thoughts and an uplifting God-conversation.  I'll let her speak for herself in the following interview.
 
How did you come to write this book?
 LSM: So…. how did I come to write a book called “Dwelling Places?”  Honestly, this one-word-a-day devotion (meant to both inspire and teach) came out of my own need to know. And to grow. Every year I choose a “word from the Lord” and find myself marinating in what it means to my life on all levels — spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically. Last year the word was DWELL and as I explored the many facets of DWELL, I recognized my own desire to learn how to dwell in peace and serenity and joy and hope; rather than spend my time in exhaustion and hurry, chaos and confusion.
 
 Turns out God’s Word is full of dwelling places – those sanctuaries of refuge and abiding. In my new book “Dwelling Places” I offer 130 of those words and unwrap their meaning through storytelling, biblical teaching and hundreds of quotes from hymns and godly people who are my own teachers. 
There are actually four sections which can be read at any time, but they include 30 days for Advent and 40 days for Lent if you’re interested in trying out that special discipline during the church year. DWELL (Fall) SHINE (Advent) RENEW (Lent) GROW (Summer). OR just read any word, any page at any time.
I loved writing this book and felt each word and verse were truly given to me. I absolutely know the benedictions at the end came straight from God through my pen. I am humbled and grateful to be able to share these words. 
Which word in “Dwelling Places” was the hardest for you to unpack and write about?
LSM: There were several but “unseen” was one of them (day 31 in Renew/Lent) using Paul’s words found in 2 Corinthians 4.18 “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” Our culture lifts up the seen, the prominent, the successful. But here Paul is reminding us of what truly matters – that which, though unseen, lasts forever. Those kinds of qualities and endeavors. I began to pray and ask God to show me what that might mean in my own life. I discovered a story about a once-famous worship leader who had a stroke and now serves in the stock room of Trader Joe’s. His interview about a huge paradigm shift from highly visible to literally unseen helped me understand a bit of why Paul calls us to treasure the unseen characteristics and efforts. Because our Heavenly Father always sees…
Why should people read “Dwelling Places” ?
LSM: My observation is that people everywhere are hungering for refuge. A safe place. A true home where they can live authentically. Ask the hard questions, and receive all the grace and mercy needed after devastation. In my speaking and writing I long to help show that all throughout God’s Word the precious concept of “dwelling in His constant presence” is lifted up. In the Old Testament we are directed to sanctuary, refuge, and called to Be Still. In the New Testament we are encouraged that Christ wants to make His home in our hearts.
So I decided to write a devotional that lifted up these concepts – each day based on One Word in a key verse. My goal is that throughout the stories that are shared, the biblical and historical profiles mentioned, the hymns, poetry, and even children’s books will all work together to help teach the reader how to live the deeper “with God” life. But at the same time enjoy the process of knowing where to find hope, grace and mercy. In other words, these are words that touch a hurting world. Everything I do must have a practical aspect so I hope there is a takeaway each day on how to live the word you have just been reading about. Also, I felt compelled to offer a short benediction, as though God were now giving His blessing and charge on your going forth, now strengthened with His Word in your heart and mind.
What is the main message of your “Dwelling Places”?
LSM: The triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – offers His presence, power, purpose and provision for a full life if only you will trust Him in faith and obedience. Allow Him to be your Refuge, your Guide, your Healer, your Teacher, your Inspiration and your Hope. Soak up all His words offered to you – at least once each day – thus making spiritual deposits that will reap a lifetime of fruit.
What was the hardest part about writing nonfiction?
LSM: Sharing vulnerably true stories of parts of my life which illustrate the word for the day. But because that flows out of the unique Story God has called me to live and to share, it also becomes the most empowering and joyful part of writing (and speaking) non-fiction.
What is one thing you learned while writing “Dwelling Places”?
LSM: I assure you, I always learn far more than my readers ever do. When I write a book, it literally becomes a tutorial in life for me on that subject. Honestly, focusing on how all the ancient spiritual disciplines (quietness, solitude, worship, journaling, prayer, Bible study, etc) has widened my world in ways that are helping to transform me into a person who seeks to listen more, take risks, trust God’s sovereignty and embrace my limitations. I also learned about embers, Native American busking ceremony, the Wesleys’ struggles in Georgia, homeless choir in Dallas, David Brooks Dartmouth graduation speech, the original meaning of many, many biblical words, taproot system of Kudzu, what ‘konmariing’ is, angels in Siberia, trapeze artists, how dumb sheep really are, the consequences of aphasia and lots more!
Tomorrow, a taste of "Dwelling Places."
 
 
 
 
 

Friday, June 24, 2016

Think tank: "of good report"

With hedge-like foliage and less-dense blossoms, these "bush roses"
provide a boundary for the front of our yard, hopefully adding
to a "good report" impression of the people living here!
A series on Philippians 4:8.
Ah—words from the past, back to my childhood. Who said them to me, I can’t remember, but I can still hear the haughty tone in which the youthful speaker delivered them:  “If you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all!”  Words have the power to lift or to wound, and children are especially adept at the wounding skills. The apostle Paul certainly experienced “wounding.” In listing the good, bad and ugly he’d been subjected to as a Christian leader, he said he’d been target of “bad report and good report” (2 Corinthians 6:8).

I wonder if he had those reports in mind when he penned his list of things to think about, and included “whatever is of good report.” The original Greek word is euphemos, from which  we get our English word “euphemism,” defined as “the substitution of an agreeable or inoffensive expression for one that may offend or suggest something unpleasant.”  You’ve probably heard the witty story of a family that hired a writer to put together a family history.  They didn’t know what to do with a black sheep family member who was electrocuted after being convicted of murder.  So this is what the writer came up with: “He occupied the chair of applied electricity at one of this nation’s well-known institutions. He was committed to his position and literally died in the harness.”

Okay, done with jokes.  The Bible’s euphemos has a more positive spin, referring to “words or sounds of good omen.”   The “sounds” may refer to non-verbal ways, like grunts or sighs, to indicate agreement. 

I find each of Paul’s “think on these things” challenging. But this one really ties together the thought-life and the mouth-life. When I run against something negative, can I hand it over to God for help in finding that kernel of “good report”?

About thirty-five years ago I went through a discouraging, negative situation. I was unemployed, grieving, and working as hard as I could to empty out my parents’ home after their deaths so it could be sold. One day a former colleague called, asking me to do a special writing assignment for her publication. I was so discouraged and doubtful of my abilities that I tried to turn her down.  She wouldn’t accept my “no.”  Wisely, she knew accomplishing something outside my negatives would be helpful in my long journey to wellness.  “I have a Bible verse for you,” she said.  I could almost see this short, intense older woman standing hands-on-hips with a finger wagging at me. “It’s Nehemiah 8:20, ‘The joy of the Lord is your strength.’”  I accepted her rebuke, and the assignment, and it turned out a good thing for me to do. She turned my “bad report” (of my emotional state) to a “good report” of hope for how the Lord would help stretch me and heal me.

Turning “bad reports” into “good reports” is a lifelong learning process.  It helps to keep eternity’s purposes in mind.  Jonathan Edwards, the famed Puritan preacher, had a list of “resolutions” he followed, and one was this: “Resolved, never to do anything which I would be afraid to do if it were the last hour of my life.” Our ability to faithfully share “good reports” that glorify Christ  will impact others long after we’re gone.

Next: "virtue"

 

 

Friday, June 17, 2016

Think tank: "lovely"

Part of a series on Philippians 4:8.
What can be lovelier than a rose? I write this from my recliner within sight of a “get-well” bouquet of orange roses my husband gave me.  He watched me cough and struggle for breath for more than week, and finally took me to the clinic where I was diagnosed with pneumonia  and given a powerful prescription to fight it. How grateful I am for the hope of a “cure” in modern medicine. 

I never tire of watching roses as they unfold in sublime beauty. We have more than a dozen bushes ablaze with single-stem roses in our front yard.  Plus we have a rose hedge dotted with dozens of pink blooms.  Our rose garden, besides bringing beauty to our home, allows us to pick bouquets to communicate “congratulations” or “we care” to people in our lives.  This grace of “sharing” reminds me of an etched-in-stone message in the arboretum at the University of Idaho in Moscow, Idaho.  Amidst the splattered shadows of its pathways is a stone bench with this carved message: “The fragrance remains in the hand that gave the rose.”  In poetic brevity it reminds me of the truth that whenever I touch or serve someone in the name of Christ, I am blessed, too.

So whenever I am reminded through Philippians 4:8 to think about things that are “lovely,” I once again am taken to the life of Christ.  Someday I will see His face, and I am sure it will be so pure, compassionate and lovely that I can barely contain myself with amazement and appreciation.

Our culture defines loveliness as a composite of features considered beautiful, painted, poufed or cut into culturally pleasing combinations. The beauty industry is huge.  Little girls watch the “Miss America” pageant wanting to look like those young women.  (Hey, I did!) Or they adore the doe-eyed Disney cartoon princesses. But the Bible’s definition of “lovely” looks at character.  Here are definitions I found for the original Greek for “lovely”:

*”That which is admirable or agreeable to behold or consider.”
*”Pleasing, agreeable, lovely.”
*”Lovely and lovable.”
*”Gracious.”

Men can be lovely when the character and wisdom of Christ comes forth through their demeanor.
Women can be lovely...”paint or no paint”...when the character and wisdom of Christ comes forth through their demeanor.  One of the loveliest women of my life was a squat, gray-haired woman who wore a little lipstick “for Sundays.” But I most remember her for spreading the fragrance of Christ’s love in my life. She was part of my young adult life for less than a decade, but I will never forget her diligence in studying scripture and encouraging me with her prayers.

Think about whatever is lovely?  I can do that in savoring the beauties of God’s creation.  I can also do it in remembering those who “gave the rose” to my life.
 
Next: "of good report"

Friday, June 10, 2016

Think tank: "pure"

Canterbury bells--they also come in pink and blue.
I grew up with two brands of bathroom soap. Most prominent in the tub’s soap dish was a coral-colored brand touted for its deodorant properties. Occasionally it was used wash sassiness from children’s mouths, a practice I didn’t take to my own parenting!  The other was a white bar that claimed to be 99 44/100% pure.  It’s still sold today, though the market has turned in favor of “cleansers” with oils that stave off wrinkles. Almost 100% pure, they’re not.
 
But the little, enduring white bar still attracts buyers looking for something pure and simple. Its “whiteness” no doubt adds to its impression of being the right soap for cleansing away dirt. When I’m told in Philippians 4:8 to think about whatever is pure, I’m to focus on something that’s not contaminated.  “Pure” implies thinking about high moral character. While our culture drenches us with all that is “unclean,” we’re to rise above that, to come away from it.
 
I grew up in what has become a rare home: with two parents who loved God and made sure their children were regularly in church and Sunday school with them.  I went through the youth instruction classes, dutifully memorizing the answers about the church’s doctrinal teachings.  I didn’t engage in any major teen rebellion and studied hard, graduating fifth in my high school class of some 450. If you had then asked me to describe myself as a bar of soap, I’d be that “almost pure” white bar.  Knowing pride to be a sign, I left room for growth.  Ha!

Despite all the training in my childhood church, I didn’t really “get” the idea of a personal Savior until I became a young adult and moved to a new town for my first job.  I’m sure the salvation message—of Jesus dying for my sins--was part of early religious education. But there was also a strong emphasis on “works”—that if you do this or that, you will find favor with God and go to Heaven when you die.  Wrong! Finally, I heard teaching that connected the historical Jesus, who went through a horrible death for my sins, to the resurrected Christ waiting to be my personal redeemer.

I met Jesus as my Savior when I realized my “almost-pure” life was unbelievably sin-dirty by Heaven’s standards. I also learned of His extravagant forgiveness for the worst of sins.  King David, for example.  Here was a man tapped to be king, who spent his early life composing praise music, who tried to do right while waiting for his time to become king.  Years later, all that came crashing down.  Lust fulfilled. Murderous plan accomplished.  Finally, after miserable years, the King confessed his sins and prayed what is a model for us:
Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.  –Psalm 51:7b

So how do we curb anxiety by thinking of things that are pure? By looking to the Savior who never sinned, who lived in purity and love. For me.  For you.
 
Next: "lovely."

 

Friday, June 3, 2016

Think tank: "just"

One of the most symmetrical of cultivated flowers, the iris seemed
 to me to best represent the balancing scales of justice.
Part of a series on Philippians 4:8.
“Lady Justice” is among classical statues greeting visitors to the Supreme Court building in Washington D.C. She is blindfolded (for blind justice), and holds balanced scales (for fair judgment of good and evil) and a sword (for punishment for evil). She symbolizes the hope of law: that decisions will be balanced and fair, and that wrongdoing will be punished. In other words, that there will be justice.  When Paul wrote to urge believers to think about things that are “just” (Philippians 4:8),  he used a Greek word meaning “righteous toward God and man,” “right by divine or human standards,” and “not dualistic.”

So how do we “think on” things that are “just”?  My first thought is to dwell on God, whose justice is linked with undeserved mercy:
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and purify us from all righteousness. (1 John 1:9)
What a verse for someone who thinks he or she has “sinned too much”!  One evening I got a phone call from a distraught young woman who had been in our home Bible study group. I rushed to her apartment and found her emotionally out of control after her boyfriend talked her into having sex with him.  Gone was her dream of saving herself for her groom on her wedding night. She was ready to confess and accept God’s forgiveness, but didn’t think she deserved it. Then I shared with her Psalm 103:12, which says God removes that confessed sin as far away as the east is from the west. East and west never end; they just keep encircling the earth. Because she feared God might punish her for this sin for as long as she lived, she found this a freeing hope. She broke up with that man, moved away, grew in her faith, and eventually married a Christian man.

 God is just!  He is also our Justifier through the death of Jesus for our sins. That bedrock of faith, long ignored,  gripped the heart of Martin Luther who helped return the church to Biblical truth in a movement that became known as The Reformation.  Luther’s rally cry--“The just shall live by his faith”—came right out of scripture:  Habakkuk 2:4, Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11, and Hebrews 10:38. That truth exposed the lies of working for or paying for salvation, which the church had added on to fatten the clerical purse.

A just God is also one who opposes that which is not just. An extreme illustration of that is believed to be at the bottom of the Dead Sea. In the time of the Abraham, a terribly wicked and sexually immoral city, Sodom, existed in that area. God wanted to obliterate it. Enter Abraham, who asked God to spare Sodom for the sake of his nephew Lot and family, who lived there. Appealing to God’s mercy, Abraham said, “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25). Finally, God agreed spare Sodom if ten righteous people lived there. Not even ten righteous were found, so God in His blazing holiness extracted justice and punishment in a cataclysmic event. Only Lot and his two daughters survived as they fled; Lot’s wife perished as she looked back in a momentary yearning for the old life. A just God will not wink at sin.  He will “do right” and judge it.

Meditating on “just” is a reminder that God’s holy standards never change. At the end of time, He will fully judge good and evil in absolute fairness.  As I watch the world’s moral decline, the prospect of holy justice gives me hope…and a reason to keep telling about Jesus.

Next: “pure”

Friday, May 27, 2016

Think tank: honest

Second in a series on Philippians 4:8.
One of spring’s earliest bloomers, the lupine stalk bubbles with blossoms as its tip reaches to the sky. A member of the pea family (a genetic cousin is the sweet pea), its wild cousins are stunning as among the first flowers to sprinkle local hillsides. Simple and honest, they bring to mind the second Philippians 4:8 command to “think on” things that are honest (KJV).

One day at the grocery store checkout I got in line behind a woman with just a jug of milk.  Lifting it to the counter, she told the clerk, “This milk was on the bottom of my cart when I checked out and I forgot to show it to you. I saw it when I was loading my groceries into the trunk and knew I had to come back and pay for it.”

Honesty.  What a testimony!

Other, newer translations have chosen other words for the KJV’s “honesty,” semnos in the original Greek. It’s “honorable” (NLT), "noble" (NKJV), “worthy of reverence” (Amplified). One classic commentator suggested “nobly serious.” That brings up an image of wise, perhaps older, respected people. When we think on things that are “honest” we may think of people committed to uprightness. Like the lupine, they point up to God.

They are sources of godly wisdom.  Models of spiritual behavior. Lovers of God. Servers of God.  Some call them “mentors.”  I’ve had several in my life. Some became tight friendships, almost like a parent. Others threaded their golden wisdom in and out of my life as God wove the unique tapestry that is me.

In reading 1 Timothy 5 lately, I thought of such people in every church. In this passage, Paul was giving young Pastor Timothy a “performance review,” like so many of us have had in our jobs.  Paul’s counsel hints that Timothy, as pastor of a large church, may have been tempted to be too proud of his “training credentials” under famed apostle Paul. Listen to Paul’s advice:

Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father.  Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity. (5:1)

Paul didn’t say, “Let ‘em have it, Timothy. Cut ‘em down to size.  Show ‘em who’s boss.”  Instead, he reminded Timothy to respect the wisdom that comes to older men and women with spiritual growth, and to leave no room for criticism from his generational peers.

As my husband and I discussed people we knew who were “semnos” or honest and spiritually mature, we recalled aging pastors and conference speakers who were part of our past. Their lives were open books that reflected God’s holiness. They left us an example—and a challenge. Are we pointing up to a holy God in all that we do?