Wednesday, October 31, 2012

strain the gnat, swallow the camel

I'm reading through Matthew this month, the book where many of Jesus' heaviest rebukes are recorded.  Yes, written by Matthew, the detested former tax collector who left it all in the booth to follow Him at the mere invitation; the one who threw a party immediately after, inviting his friends to meet and follow this Jesus too.  Who more appropriate than Matthew to record the guile of hypocrisy, and Jesus' detest of the sins that required rebuke as opposed to those which merely required an invitation to leave them?

Pastor Mark Batterson (National Community Church) has often said, "Sometimes as Christians we major in the minors and we minor in the majors."  My friends, this should not be.  In fact, if we are truly Christ-followers and not modern-day Pharisees, it will not be.  

Because tithing on mint and neglecting justice is innately repulsive.  As I tell my son who is still learning socially appropriate behavior, "Nobody likes that."

The bottom line is this - the longer we follow Him, the more we should look like Him.  Talk like Him, act like Him, work like Him.  Heal like He did, teach like He did, love like He did.  Care about the things He cared about, and dismiss the things He didn't.  Invite the lost to be found, the forgotten to be remembered, and the broken to be restored.  And how about our friends straining the gnat and swallowing the camel?  Perhaps a rebuke would be in order for these who think they know Him intimately but have never even laid eyes on the hem of His cloak.  

Because they make God repulsive too.  

And I love Him too much to allow it.  Not on my watch.

So what's the difference between a sinner and a hypocrite?  I'm glad you asked.  Humility.  Not sin, for we all sin.  Not the literal can't-follow-through-faithfully-in-what-I-believe.  We are none of us perfect.  No, the difference is one's willingness to appear lowly and to associate with the lowly.  In truth we are all lowly.  It's when we pretend we're not all ragamuffins that we become the hypocrites and the Pharisees.  

Not me. For the record: I am a sinner in need of a Redeemer ... every day. No longer a slave to sin, but nonetheless so utterly fallen.  I don't have all the answers, but I have some of His answers. The lessons I learn the hard way I pass on to others so they can learn through me the easy way.  I make mistakes on accident and I also rebelliously and purposefully, knowingly disregard His plan for me.  O God, forgive me. 

"This saying is reliable and deserves full acceptance: 'Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners'—and I’m the biggest sinner of all." - 1 Timothy 1:15 

I want to see the camel, the plank, the sickness that takes me to the Doctor.  No more of this wasting heart beats on gnats and splinters and putting on make up to look healthy.  

Oh, Jesus I'm desperate for You again today.  Life is painful and confusing and sometimes this storm just rages on and on, and I feel like I can't see You.  But You rescue me every time.  You are my anchor and my Father, and You came and died to save me.  I need your forgiveness today, again.  I feel like I'm the biggest sinner of all.  Help me, God - deliver me from this sinful life that chokes me every day.  Save me from temptations and evils.  Help me to focus on the issues at hand that really matter and to throw off those minute incidentals that won't amount to a "hill-o-beans" in eternity.  Oh, God thank You for the invitation to follow Your Son.  There's nothing I want more than to follow Him so closely that I feel the warm wake of His love.  

Friday, October 26, 2012

Fridays are for Writing ...

So, let's get to it!

Grab your keyboard or a notebook and spend at least fifteen minutes with this today.  If you feel brave, share it here in the comments portion.  No pressure to be polished - just let that creativity flow.  Trust me, it's therapy for your soul.  After fifteen to thirty minutes, stop.  Go back and read, edit if desired, and then pray. Thank You, God for these words and thoughts.  Do you want me to do something more with this?  And then obey what you hear.  Sound fun?

Ready ....

"It was completely out of left-field ..."

Happy writing!

Thursday, October 25, 2012


"What's that mean?" people ask when they see my ribboned journal with all the pretty papers.  

Paper is a bit of a passion of mine.  My face begins to break into an uncontrollable smile when I walk through that aisle in the craft store, and I rarely leave empty-handed, therefore I rarely go.  The prettiest papers make the prettiest journals, and this is what I had decided - being thankful for His best called for writing it down on my best.

The best I speak of is His grace.  According to Ann Voskamp in One Thousand Gifts, "All is grace."  Yes, even the trials, even the pain, even the rain, even the abundance.  If I have anything at all, it is from the Giver, our Lord and Father.  Not what I deserve or what life owes me, but what is bestowed because He chose it for me ... because He is good and He defines good and if He puts something in my hand and calls it good, who am I to say it's not?

Jesus took some bread in his hands and gave thanks for it. He broke the bread and handed it to his apostles. Then he said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Eat this as a way of remembering me!” -Luke 22:19

He gave thanks for the bread.  Thankful for the whipping.  Thankful for the punches.  Thankful for the sharp crown.  Thankful for the nails and the spear and the mocking and the spitting and the shame and the weight of my sin.  Thankful.  He. Gave. Thanks.  Thankful for the death.  Thankful for the victory of Resurrection.  I wonder how many of those went through His head when He broke that bread.

And I am thankful too.  For all of that and for every day more and more grace.  More and more gifts.  More and more blessings, and yes they are all blessings.  Even the trials are blessings.  Because He defines Good, and He only gives me Good.  

Like these ...

- Miss W.'s class - tiptoeing down the hall with smiles, each one

-Mr. B saying K has a lot of my mannerisms - an observation he makes gladly and I take heavily - oh how I want to be a good model-mom

- the lyrics of "Even If" by Kutless

- the privilege of being my husband's listener

- the dark, rich green color the grass turns in the fall, a perfect bed for all this glorious leaf massacre

- the again (?!) struggles and attacks, and Your faithful answer of patience, another portion of forgiveness, and another helping of hope to overcome this again

- Isaiah 40:31 in the Amp. version - waiting on the Lord in expectation to be renewed 

- Paper - lovely in pages of books and crafts too.

This has been Thankful on Thursdays.  Join me for your own eucharisteo [thankfulness for grace - and all is grace] ... ?

(and if you'd like a pretty journal of thankfulness too? ... let me know ;)   )

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Review - The Ragamuffin Gospel

I thought I might try my hand at a few book reviews - I hope to be objective and honest.  I won't be reading just to read - my time is just as precious as yours.  Hopefully God will help me to choose wisely and review according to His good standards.

The first in what I hope to be a weekly series (on Mondays): The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning.

So, this book sat on our bookshelf for at least five years, along with several others we won as a prize package from a Church Planting seminar.  Oh how I wish I would have read it sooner...

The author shares candidly about his disreputable past, including his battle with alcoholism and his journey to find Christ despite several Catholic hurdles in his path.  The basic premise is that all of humanity - each and every person - is a ragamuffin in need of a redeemer, and Christ alone can be that for every one who would respond to His radical grace.  When recommending this book to my husband, I described it as "on the opposite side of the spectrum as Frances Chan" (whom I love, but whose stomp-all-over-your-toes style my dear sweet husband tends not to care for so much).   This book is not about what we do as followers of Christ, though I do believe every bookshelf ought to shove over some room for a few of those, too.  However, The Ragamuffin Gospel is not one of those books.  

Rather, it is a love story of the response in a person's heart when faced with the painful realization of humanity's deplorable state.  When one reaches the conclusion, often after many useless attempts to find fulfillment in life, that life's only true fulfillment for the screw-up lies in the open Hands of the God who offers mercy.  And, in case you didn't know, we're all screw-ups.  He didn't come for the healthy, but for the sick - and we're every one of us so hopelessly sick.  Hopeless, that is, until Jesus arrives on our scene.

The writing of this book ( (c) 1990) is [pleasantly] surprisingly formal, by comparison to some of the newer non-fiction on today's Christian literary scene.  I found Manning's imagery and metaphors to be haltingly thought-provoking.  (And by that I mean I literally had to close the book mid-page and think about it - I LOVE when a book can make me do that!)  Here are two of my favorites:

"... when we accept ownership of our powerlessness and helplessness, when we acknowledge that we are paupers at the door of God's mercy, then God can make something beautiful out of us." (italics added)

"Honesty... is always unpleasant, and usually painful, and that is why I am not very good at it.  But to stand in the truth before God and one another has a unique reward.  It is the reward which a sense of reality always brings.  I know something extremely precious.  I am in touch with myself as I am.  My tendency to play the pseudo-messiah is torpedoed." (again, added)

Be it proper, however, the writing is nonetheless personal.  Manning is honest and vulnerable with his own story, and shares vulnerable stories of others as well, including a scandalous testimony about a man who was broken to humility in the middle of an AA meeting the author attended.  I can assure you I'll never forget Max's story in chapter seven for as long as I live.   He shares many quotes from famous writers and preachers such as C.S. Lewis, Mother Teresa, Henri Nouwen, and Nikos Kazanzakis, which add diversity and validity quite convincingly to his persuasive prose. 

My favorite chapter -though it's difficult to choose - was most likely the one entitled Grazie, Signore.  Maybe I like it best because of it's practicality - because once I've been reminded that I'm just another ragamuffin in need of rescue, I want to know my part (typical control-freak, I know).  And Manning spells it out beautifully: Response, Trust, and Gratitude.  Once this scandalous grace has been offered by this bloodied God, one must respond in free-willed choice to receive the mercy extended.  Take it in hand and hold tightly, regardless of the stumbling we may do along the way.  Second, we trust Him and not ourselves for every second, every breath.  We believe what He says, because the love on the Cross compels nothing less.  Third, the ragamuffin's action is to give thanks to God for doing what he never could have even attempted.  And that is all Manning says of the "doing."  Most of the rest of the book is a glorious rendition of ... well, of The Gospel.  The real, living, truth of God's extravagant, even embarrassing love for people, messy and bedraggled through the grime of sin though we are.  

The bottom line of this book (because, if you didn't know, I'm really just a "gimme the bottom line" kind of a girl) is gorgeously summarized in this quote, though I really hope you'll read the whole thing:  "Christianity is not primarily a moral code but a grace-laden mystery; it is not essentially a philosophy of love but a love affair; it is not keeping rules with clenched fists but receiving a gift with open hands."

So, I hope you'll go get your own copy of The Ragamuffin Gospel and ... happy reading!!

Friday, October 19, 2012

why not try your hand at this?

Writing on Fridays.

I'll give you a prompt, and you use the words you have, and maybe some the Father puts in you.  Hands are for writing [among other important things], so let's do it!  Start with some BIC (Butt In Chair) writing, and see what happens.  No fear of an editor or critical eye - it can be just for you and Him, or share here in the comments box, if you like.  As I like to say to my writing group, 100% of what you don't write will be left as only an idea in your head.  And who's to say your ideas were meant to stay there? (*wink*)  I encourage you to "freewrite" first for 15 minutes, meaning just let the words flow unedited, and then go back an edit if you want after that 15 minutes, continuing as you have time and muse.

Ready ...?

Write a poem, short story, or prose about the following observation:

Courage can only be realized in the face of an obstacle of fearful proportions ...

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Thankfulness on Thursdays

I thought I'd make a new pattern for the "nest" here and instead of  starting on Mondays (who does that?), I thought I'd get the ball rolling with "Thankful on Thursdays."  Join me?

- for the breeze blowing all these lovely deaths of leaves into an amazing carpet of glory

- for J's comment to his friend as I helped in library class this morning, "Dude, you should smell my mom, she smells so good!"  *blush*

- for the way kids get excited about new books to read

- for a neighbor/friend/prayer-partner who drops by and isn't offended by my germs or the fact that I can't really hug her today

- for a good employer who treats me well and is understanding of working moms (Tuesday was Boss's Day)

- for pumpkin pie from my "sister-from-another-mister" - my breakfast this week of rushing mornings

- for pretty red and white flowers, cut out and ready to decorate China-bound candy boxes in C's suitcases, less than a week until Grace

- for encouraging texts to and from girlfriends, and the privilege of loving others

- for a husband who prays with me

- for the smile on K's face on Tuesday when she was well enough to go back to school

- for laughs and giggles with both of my kids about baby pictures on the computer, and the hope that someday I'll make books out of them

- for mercy in the secret places, and hope to overcome all of this

I've been on this Thankful Journey for over a year now, when A gave me a copy of One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp.  A journey that has been life-changing and eye-opening, and even those words are not enough to describe it.  Every day I count my gifts of grace, and as Ann says, "all is grace."  Even the hard things, even the painful.  Thanking the Creator for it all, counting the endless blessings He pours into my open hands and giving Him back glory in the recording of them.  The acknowledgement of them.  The Love of them.  I've chosen Thursdays to share a few with you, my friends, and I hope you'll share a few with me too. Because this truly honors the Giver.  

"One of them, when he realized that he was healed, turned around and came back, shouting his gratitude, glorifying God. He kneeled at Jesus’ feet, so grateful. He couldn't thank him enough..." - Luke 17:16 (Msg)

I want to be that one.

Join me?  ... post a few of your count-ings here by clicking on the comments button.  

Today, God, just as I did yesterday - I want to thank You.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Though He can do anything, there are somethings He won't ...

Confusion is particularly painful. For me, anyway.  I want to figure it all out, know who and why and when and how these things like murder and rape and abuse and addiction can be resolved.  I want to take the thing in my hand and untie the knots of disorientation until there lies the straight, unbinding yarn of sense.  My sense.  My order.  My control.  So when will I learn that some knots are not meant to be untied, and even if they are, it is rarely meant to be done by me?  

How about today ... today seems like as good a day as any.

Do I believe in a God who can?  Of course I do.  And yet - this last week brought news of the worst.  A friend's friend murdered while she spoke to him on the phone; another precious girl-mother trapped in the lie of exotic dancing as her only means of earning enough; a prisoner who will not see her father again before he's taken by terminal cancer; addiction robbing lives and futures from sons and mothers alike; the wife of a friend's neighbor - stolen away too early by disease.  How can anything but confusion invade these neurons when this is my world, and That is my God?  The God who can, but does not untie this knot of disaster all around ...

So, what conclusions can I draw on this exasperatingly white slate?  Though I'm not yet sure, I doubt drawing conclusions can be worse than jumping to them, so I'll want to take my time.  Wait.  On Him.  To answer.  When He sees I'm ready.

Because premature answers poured into the shallow dish of inexperience would only be spilled anyway.

After C.S. Lewis lost his wife and the love of his life to cancer, his pain was so deep and confusing that sometimes all he could do was journal.  The writer wrote.  Not of Lions or Witches or Wardrobes, but in his journal of pain, which was later published in a book called A Grief Observed.  Down in the dark pit of loss and confusion, Lewis - a great believer and often-quoted man of faith - penned these honest words:

"Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God.  The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him.  The conclusion I dread is not 'So there's no God after all,' but 'So this is what God's really like.  Deceive yourself no longer.' "

Nearly 34 years on this fallen earth has caused me enough experience to ponder similar thoughts of painful confusion.  I want God to be fluffy and happy and warm.  But my God is not a kitten.  Fortunately.

No, He's neither safe nor predictable.  But He is good, and He alone defines good.   Even when my conclusions would draw otherwise, His hand covers mine and we illustrate onto the white together - a handsome portrait of His character that takes into account even the worst, which He allows in order to display the best in beautiful contrast.  For without the dark, the light would not be gorgeous, and without freedom to disobey Him, we'd never know the bliss of being His slaves.

Grief brought Lewis closer to knowing God, just as it had caused him to question Him.
"And so, perhaps, with God.  I have gradually been coming to feel that the door is no longer shut and bolted.  Was it my own frantic need that slammed it in my face?  The time when there is nothing at all in your soul except a cry for help may be just the time when God can't give it: you are like the drowning man who can't be helped because he clutches and grabs.  Perhaps your own reiterated cries deafen you to the voice you hoped to hear ... After all, you must have a capacity to receive, or even omnipotence can't give.  Perhaps your own passion temporarily destroys the capacity."

Oh God, I beg You - give me the strength not to clench fists, but to open my hands for Your capacity.

A friend stopped by today and we ponder what's to be done for this mutual sister facing her post-trauma.  A card? A visit?  It all seems but trifles.  She stares off into the orange and red flames of leaves burning up my neighborhood in autumn glory, and I'm at a loss too.  Her next words cut through, but she can't know why. "My husband said it all points back to the consequences of not having fathers."

And without meaning to, it's all about me again, and I'm sorry, but my pain counts also.  Too many times I lied to myself and told my bleeding heart it didn't count, and too many times those bottled tears exploded like gasoline.  How has not having my father affected me?  Who would I be if he were here?  What good is being held from me in not having knowledge of where or how he is?  It's a familiar spiral and I'm slipping on it again, though I know the signs and I also know how to step back from it.

The same way I step back from all of Satan's traps - with Truth.

"You hear, O LORD, the desire of the afflicted; You encourage them, and You listen to their cry, defending the fatherless and the oppressed, in order that man, who is of the earth, may terrify no more." - Psalm 10:17-18

Though some of us are fatherless, we have a Defender.  Not a kitten, but a formidable King.  Who alone knows this moment from eternity, and alone holds the wisdom of what it will take to get us from here to there.  Like a Good Surgeon who cuts only enough of the infection and doesn't stop until it's finished; like a Good Dentist who drills away the decay whether we scream or pass out.  He holds my hand when my dad won't or can't, and no begging on my part will cause this Good God to pull back His plan now.

He won't forsake me.  Won't force me to love Him, frightening Lion of Judah  though He is.  Won't snatch control out of my feeble hands, but waits for me to surrender it (even daily).  Won't withhold grief or sorrow for the sake of my whining.  He won't ever change His character that is ever faithful, loving, and true.  And this, my Prince, won't ever leave me stranded without hope.

Yes, He can do anything.  But I am so very thankful that there are some things He won't ever do.

Friday, October 5, 2012

without it, I would not have known

Without darkness, I would not have known light,
Without shame, His Grace would not have seemed so bright.

If not for seeing lack, mere cents left alone,
How ever could joy in abundance be known?

Sickness churning deep and scrapes dripping red,
If not for these, no compassion for how You bled.

Hungry in fasting, yearning and desperate.
Not to feel empty, food lacks delight of it.

Were I never the distressed, no despair -
My eyes unable to drink The Rescuer there.

No black night ... no orange dawn
No decaying trunks ... no new green moss
No sharp pain ... no thankful healing
No fear of battle ... no sweet triumph

If I had not opened my hands to what You gave...
I cannot bear the thought of these paths unpaved.

"What I tell you now in the darkness, shout abroad when daybreak comes. What I whisper in your ear, shout from the housetops for all to hear!"  -Matthew 10:27 (NLT)

Oh, God - I beg of You to bring glory to Yourself through my broken, dirty, fallen vessel.  Only a God so wonderful as You could do that.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

sometimes you just have to call out for help ...

When I was a freshman in college I got lost alone in the woods in the middle of the night.  I don't remember being more afraid at any other time in my whole life.

About twelve of us were on a backpacking trip as part of the "freshman experience" into the mountains of Colorado, hiking one of the 14-ers, as we natives fondly refer to some of the Collegiate Peaks of the Rockies that rise over 14,000 feet above sea level.   I believe it was the night before we were to breach the foot of Mount Yale when I woke up from a dead sleep needing to empty my bladder.  Using all of the safety precautions I learned from my upperclassmen leaders, I carefully donned my coat and boots, remembering my flashlight and forgetting my fears.  The flashlight beamed out onto the path in front of me and swept illuminating circles to my flanks as I searched for the perfect private place where none of my fellows would hear my stream or see my moon. I tried to remember some landmarks along the way so that I could get myself back to my tent.  Really, I tried.

But after emerging from behind my hundred-ton boulder and walking back in the direction I remembered trudging from for approximately the same amount of time I had previously traveled, my tent was nowhere my flashlight could see.  So there I was, in the middle of freezing darkness, afraid of being lost, but even more frightened of embarrassment.  You see, pride is bigger than boulders when you're an 18-year-old Colorado Native among other liberal-arts students who are like you, without parents or authority for the first time in your whole life.  I was most likely only a few degrees off my path, and not too far from the camp, close enough for them to hear me if I called out, but the martyr in me often screams louder than logic in the recesses of my reasoning.  I didn't call for help because I didn't want to be a bother to someone who was needing sleep more than needing to show me the way.

And so I doubled back and kept walking.   I continued on, trying to find the camp in the middle of my loud silence where my heart was pounding and my fingers were crying.  The rocks all looked the same, and I lost all sense of time in my searching.  My compass was tucked safely under my pillow back in my tent, as if I could have even used it in the dark.  At one point I sat down on a hillside and resolved to wait there until morning light and find my way back.  I tried to sleep on the frosty, dry grass.  Visions of mountain lions kept my eyes from closing, so I got up and walked some more.

Suddenly, I stopped short so as not to fall into the abyss in front of my light that was a cliff dropping into a canyon below.  Funny, I don't remember anything like that near our camp last night.  I pictured everything that could go wrong and my fears of the elements began to scream louder than my pride.  Without a shred of awareness of the time or location of my being, thoughts of my mother crying over my frozen, starved body finally found after days of searching helped me to find the vocal cords to yell, "Help!"

At first it was surprisingly faint.  Was that loud enough to wake them?  Am I too far away now for them to hear me?  And I shouted again.  "Help me, please!"  After a few more shouts I heard another voice, far off and to my left.  She was so far away, I could hardly believe it.  "I hear you.  We're coming."

My pounding heart stopped as I exhaled the breath I'd been holding since leaving my boulder.  My pride faded like last year's report card and I realized my folly as clear as writing on the wall.  True, I had woken them and they would have to sacrifice a few minutes of rest to find me and guide me back by the sound of their voices, but - and there it loomed on the wall - that's what they were there for.  To help me if I got into trouble.

And isn't that what we're all here for?  To help each other?  I can't tell you how many people I meet who admit openly, "It's so hard for me to ask for help, even when I know I need it."

Why?  I don't know their reasons - maybe they're different from my reasons that night.  All I know is I was trying to sacrifice my needs because I had made the choice for the rest of my group that their comfort was more important than my need.  In those hours of not calling out, I put self-sufficient pride before the freedom of community, and stole purpose from my leaders as I ran with only the riches of fear in my little getaway.  Was it worth it?  Sure, just like years in prison are worth it for a bank-robber.  The value is in the lesson learned.

A few months before this trip I had surrendered my heart to Christ and made a commitment to Him.  This was the first time the commitment had nothing to do with my parents or my friends.  It was when I told Him, "I want You - whoever You really are, and I want to love You with my life the way You loved me with Yours."  To come to that decision I had to get to the point of realizing that my life was doomed if I was to be the one in control of it.

For a capable native of the mountains of success, that is a big deal.  It's pride, sacrificed and bloody on the altar of self.  It's surrender and open-handed living in the wake of a lifetime of taking matters into my own hands.  For me it continues to be one of the most difficult daily lessons He must teach me over and over.  Like the past decade of teaching my children to put away their belongings, it continues to be a source of God's instruction to my stubborn heart.

You need help.  I never made you to do this by yourself.

"Instead, in order that none of you be deceived by sin and become stubborn, you must help one another every day, as long as the word “Today” in the scripture applies to us." - Hebrews 3:13 (GNT)

And I've gotten slightly better at calling out for help since that cold night in the mountains.  Whenever I feel myself putting up protective walls of self-sacrifice and martyr-like pride, I recall how gracious my leaders were when our voices and flashlights had led us back to one another.  They asked if I was alright and I said, "Just a little cold.  Sorry to wake you up."  She shined her flashlight right into my face and I shined mine right back at hers.  The look in her eyes was nothing short of compassionate relief.  "Not at all - we're glad you did."

Yes, glad.  Happy to help.  Ready to do what they came out to do - keep the individuals within the strength of the flock.  Seek and save the lost.  Assist those who have lost the path and who shake alone in fright and shame.  Bring them back to the health of doing life together.  Extend shocking concern where they might have expected perturbed huffing.

Help.  It's what God does for His kids:

"For I hold you by your right hand—
    I, the Lord your God.
And I say to you,
    ‘Don’t be afraid. I am here to help you.' " -Isaiah 41:13 (NLT)

Also, it's what His kids do for one another.  And please don't forget - we're glad to.

When have you had to call out for help?

What stops you, even when you know you need it?

What can you do to reach out, even when it's hard?

I'd love to hear the stories of your learning too...