Friday, July 22, 2016

Chill!

My now-adult children taught me a new vocabulary word, “chill,” implying cool it, let it go, leave me alone. My son’s housecat, “Rosebud,” expresses it better than anyone (or any critter) I know. She seems to consider it her royal privilege to take over the recliner and “chill,” despite the presence of two busy little boys, 18 months and three years, in the same room.

Oh, cats.

But I’m leaning that stopping to “chill” isn’t all that bad.  With the memory lapses of aging, I find myself writing a lot of “remember” or “do” lists. Those lists glare at me and point fingers as they say, “You can do this, don’t be slack!”  But even as I check off my tasks, underneath all that busyness rumbles concern for friends and loved ones troubled by family problems, illnesses, and disappointments.

But sometimes I get tired.  Out of steam.  I need to sit down in my favorite recliner, get those feet up, sip some water, and take a life break.  Do I continue to mull over those problems? Well, yes--until the Lord reminds me to “chill.”  Take a time-out, with Him, and in my nearby Bible.

One of my favorite psalms admonishes me:
Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for Him. (Psalm 37:7 NIV).
“Be still” is also translated “rest” in the King James and New American standard versions.  It’s an interesting word in the original Hebrew, daman, and used only one other place in the Bible, in Job 30:27.  There, it is paired with a negative so means “not rest.” Job is complaining about his circumstances and his unsympathetic friends, so much so that he can’t “be still.”  Here’s how "not"-daman (not rest) has been translated (along with possible digestive issues they imply):
“My bowels boiled, and rested not.” (KJV)  [The "trots"?]
“The churning inside me never stops.” (NIV) [IBS? Bloating?]
“I am seething within, and cannot relax.” (NASB) [GERD?]

When I watch Rosebud “chill,” she certainly isn’t worrying herself into an upset stomach.  Sometimes she’s purring, happy to have a place for a time-out, at least until a busy little guy interrupts her solitude. Then she's off to another quiet place rather than fret (or growl) over the problem. (Sometimes, that "other place" is her S-curved scratching post.) Interestingly, the phrase “do not fret” occurs three times in the first eight verses of Psalm 37.  I think God is trying to tell us something about how we approach life....maybe that sometimes we need to take a “chill” break--with Him--for perspective.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Paul's Think Tank: final instructions

Last of a series on Philippians 4:8.

An older neighbor who is battling renal failure and other
complications of diabetes gave us this orchid with a
note to "remember me by it." She gave specific
instructions of how to keep it blooming for years. I thought
this plant was the best way to finish illustrating
Paul's counsel to counter anxiety and worry  with thoughts of
God's love and wonderful future for believers!
When I was sick with pneumonia this spring, I was ready for any advice the doctor could give. He knew best: a powerful prescription and a strong cough syrup to better control my “cough-your-insides-out” hack. As I write this, a week after the worst of the illness, I’m grateful for the medical care available to me. As I’ve been thinking and writing about Philippians 4:8, I’ve come to see it as a “prescription” for the germs of anxiety and unbelief that can infect Christians and leave them miserable.

Paul knew the best medicine: to keep your eyes on Jesus. Paul suggested practicing this by rejoicing in all things, seeking to be gentle rather than troubled or harsh, and praying with thanksgiving. Then he added a second “medicine” for fear and anxiety: to get your eyes on the skies, thinking less about troubles and more about the praiseworthy attributes and works of God. And so the “think on” list--certainly not complete, but a good start for realigning our spiritual focus: true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy.

In considering what this looks like in real-life, I quickly thought of someone who has every reason to complain. A teenage diving accident broke her neck, leaving Joni Eareckson Tada paralyzed from the neck down. Today she’s known as a best-selling author, respected mouth-artist, and active advocate for the disabled. But fifty years of paralysis has taken its toll, and she suffers with chronic and often excruciating pain. In an interview with Today’s Christian Woman (Nov. 21, 2015), Joni was asked what helps when she’s in pain and unable to do anything about it.  Her answer: she asks her caregivers to pray for her, and she sings or quotes a scripture over and over in her head. She especially likes hymns because the tunes stick in her mind and heart through the day. At the time of the interview, the second stanza to “Be Still My Soul” especially helped her “think on” the right things:

Be still, my soul, Thy God doth undertake
To guide the future as he has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul, the waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while he dwelt below.

Not until Heaven will we know a perfect world. But that doesn’t diminish God’s power or trustworthiness when life’s problems leave us frustrated, fearful, or anxious. Swedish hymnist Lina Sandell Berg, who helplessly watched her pastor-father drown when he fell off a boat in a storm, knew what it was like to trust God in unimaginably difficult circumstances. In one of her better-known children’s hymns, she expressed the challenge we all face: to trust God in whatever comes:
Neither life nor death shall ever from the Lord his children server;
Unto them His grace He showeth, and their sorrows all He knoweth.

Reject anxiety. Think on these things.  Praise God for all that He is!

Friday, July 8, 2016

Think tank: "any praise"

The "flowers" of hydrangea are actually the "bracts" or stem ends. They
seem to explode with praise for their Creator!
A series on Philippians 4:8.
In her book Calm My Anxious Heart, Linda Dillow tells the story of a military wife whose romantic notions of living overseas were soon cloyed by the language barrier, loneliness, and everything strange about another culture. She was done, done, done—and ready to move home to Mama.  Then Mama faxed her just two lines:
Two women looked through prison bars;
One saw mud, the other saw stars. --(NavPress, 1998/2007, p. 29)
Through that little couplet, the wise Mama reminded her pouty daughter that we make choices about how to look at life, even when we feel imprisoned by our circumstances. The view out the window is either mud or stars…our choice.

I think that’s part of what Paul was getting at as he wound up his list about “things to think about” as antidotes to sinful anxiety and worry. When the “negs” nag on us, we can choose to turn from them and find things worthy of praise. 

The whole marvelous plan of salvation should be at the top of our lists of things “worthy of praise.”  We have a God who:
*will never leave us nor reject us.
*calls us His beloved.
*has a plan for our lives.
*helps, not hinders us.
*can transform disappointments to joy.

 “The older we get,” wrote Charles Stanley in How to Reach Your Full Potential For God (Nelson, 2009, p. 29), most of us can look back at our lives and see how God’s purposes have unfolded over time.  If you and I have chosen to obey and live in right relationship with Him, we can look back and say, ‘I have done things I never would have thought I was capable of doing or would do.  I have things that I have never thought I would have.  I have achieved things I never dreamed of achieving.'”
 
His comment made me think of Paul’s declaration, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  And where is that? In Philippians 4:13, just a few verses past his lengthy list of “think on these things.” For when we retune our minds to Christ’s thinking patterns, God has a slate on which to write amazing life stories.

Anything worthy of praise in your life?  Feel free to bless the rest of us with a comment in the reply section.
 
Next: final instructions.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Think tank: "virtue"

Rhododendron--a short-lived beauty in our climate, but oh! How amazing!
Returning to a series on Philippians 4:8.
We tend to clothe the word “virtue” in high-collared long dresses with lots of buttons and lace that a household of maids kept mended and ironed. Really, it’s not a Victorian thing that’s gone the way of suffocating corsets and other indignities of long-ago fashion.Virtue is very contemporary.  It’s a total expression of a godly lifestyle. Dwight L. Moody, the great 19th century evangelist, once said, “A holy life will make the deepest impression.  Lighthouses blow no horns, they just shine.” Biblical “virtue” is moral excellence. 

Virtue starts with our standing for Christ, and proceeds with His standing beside us. The first is salvation; the second is what some term “sanctification.”  It’s the growing process of becoming Christ-like in what we do and say. 

In his book How to Reach Your Full Potential for God (Nelson, 2009), Charles Stanley identifies that progression. He noted that research has determined that our minds process about 12,000 thoughts a day.  That’s 4.4 million thoughts a year.  We determine what thoughts will become action. As Christians we need to take charge of our thoughts and choose to dwell on those that honor Christ and His call on our life.  Stanley suggests:
*Thinking about what Christ has done for us by dying on the cross: forgiveness of sin, freedom from guilt and shame.
*Contemplating our future home with Him in Heaven.  That’s all and everything “virtuous” in one amazing package!
 
Besides these good and hopeful thoughts, Stanley warns against choosing dark, negative thoughts:
Impure, demeaning, angry, bitter, resentful, lustful, manipulative, and greedy thoughts are not part of who you are in Christ.  Don’t relive your hurtful experiences. Avoid bringing them up from your memory to chew on them again.  Ungodly thinking doesn’t fit the profile of a godly person, so turn off any ideas that could take root and lead you astray. (pp. 82-83)

If there be any virtue…we surely find it in the Bible’s composite of a godly woman, the “Virtuous Woman” of Proverbs 31. Busy lady! But the verse that always stands out to me is the one describing how her thought life and her mouth reflect virtue:
She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. (Proverbs 31:26)
This lady knew how to live honorably and weigh her words!  If there was any virtue, she thought on those things…then spoke golden words.

 Anyone up for a Proverbs 31 review?
 
Next: "any praise"

 

 

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"