Sunday Scripture ~ Psalm 119:18

August overwhelms the senses with brilliant hues of color and light; the vibrant aroma of growing things alongside their fresh taste and crunch; bird song in early morning; the persistent peepers in the evening; and the haunting cry of a loon after dark.

Maybe it’s because of all this–or because we fill our summer daylight with busy-ness from dawn to dusk–that this prayer from Psalm 119:18 belongs on the front page of our summer song books:

Open my eyes that I may see
Wondrous things from your law.

There is no beauty to rival Truth, wondrous in all seasons.

Anticipating a fresh dose of truth on this Sunday morning,

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The Work of the Garden

There are no minutes in the garden–
Only rows,
A measure not of time, but of task.
In the first garden, Adam was given the task of naming:
Zebra and musk ox;
Cheetah and gerbil.
He punched no clock, but poured out creativity, fulfilling his role.
Eve may have pruned apple trees for optimal fruition, but she wore no floppy sun hat.
There were no obligatory tick checks at day’s end.

In the garden,
without wasteful frenzy, the job gets done.
So when I say,
“I’ll weed for a half hour, and then I’ll come in and start supper,”
what I really mean is,
“Supper might be late tonight.”

And there I will be,
Under a floppy sun hat,
Soaking in bright afternoon rays which generate a heat amounting to just about what the tomato plants ordered.

The beets I replanted after torrential rain are sprouting,
but so are the weeds.

And those five rows of cucumbers…
I’ll hill two of them right now, and then stand in the shade to drink water
and admire the work. 

Is this how time will move and be measured in eternity?
In God’s forever garden?
When arms and legs accomplish what the heart and mind have conceived,
the hands of the clock will 
tick tock
no more.

All that will matter is the work of the garden,
The work our hearts and hands were made for.


With love from the garden,

Michele


 

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Your Battle Plan for a Holy War

From the first syllable of Austin’s prayer, her words caught my attention. The urgent tone implied warfare, and she invoked Ephesians 6 fighting words in her pleas for protection as our team prepared to lead a group of one hundred youth on an outreach project. Austin knew we were embarking on an adventure, a holy war. We had trained the teens, prepared our equipment for face painting, crafts, and games, but our battle plan depended more on the power of our message than the preparation of our messengers.

With this same warrior heart added to her military background, Natasha Sistrunk Robinson summons readers to prepare for this kind of fight. A Sojourner’s Truth is her call to choose freedom and courage in our divided world, even if the choice involves uncomfortable moments of taking our stand in a wilderness place.

War? What War?

Here in Mid-Coast Maine, in my predominantly white church family, the small scattering of brown faces belong to my friends, and they have sat at my table and enriched my life, so the war Robinson describes in vivid detail is invisible to me.  I needed to read the poignant narratives from her childhood and stories from the inside, which shine the light of truth and lend much needed perspective. For example, the white poverty of my own childhood is different from the economic disparity experienced by black Americans.

It takes courage and commitment for those of us who are safe and comfortable to accept an invitation into the wilderness. However, as the mother of four sons, I am coming to realize their bodies would be at great risk if they happened to be encased in dark brown skin.  Natasha writes about this injustice but exhorts readers about the dangers of unfettered anger and makes the heartbreaking connection between sin and death.

The Rules of Engagement

Moses was the leader God had chosen to prepare Israel for conquest, and his instructions had all the marks of a battle plan:

  1. Do not be afraid of your enemy because God is with you. (Deuteronomy 20:1)
  2. The leaders must step up. (Deuteronomy 20:9)
  3. The commanders’ strategy was to go in peace at first. (Deuteronomy 20:9-18) (143)

New Testament instructions for wearing truth, taking action, and guarding our hearts reinforce holy war strategy that “is not against flesh and blood.” There are unseen battles on many fronts, and the church will only engage effectively if we recognize our role as sojourners and citizens of God’s unseen kingdom. Every loss will not be restored and every injustice will not be set to rights in my sight and in my time, but even so, the God who causes “righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations” is at work in his people.

He has told you, O man, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God?”  (Micah 6:8)

How will you and I respond to his call to speak truth and to choose freedom for all?

May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you,

Many thanks to Intervarsity Press for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.


I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees. If you should decide to purchase A Sojourner’s Truth: Choosing Freedom and Courage in a Divided World, simply click on the title within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

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How Parenting Exposes Our Need for Faith

Whether we’re making meals, changing diapers, or shuttling kids to baseball practice, parents are doers. Always in protective mode, we apply sunscreen and Band-Aids as needed, and when we hit a wall with a need we can’t meet ourselves, we consult with the experts.

Long before parents could ransack Google or WebMD for medical advice, the distraught dad of Mark 9 wore his son’s need day and night–until the day he carried it in hope to Jesus. With disappointment written plainly on his face, he stepped out of the crowd and met Jesus’s level gaze. One arm protectively encircled his son’s shoulders, but any family resemblance was obscured by the son’s disfiguring burn scars, patchy hair, and missing eyebrows. Love and anguish constricted the man’s voice as he explained his dilemma to Jesus:

“I went to your disciples, but they couldn’t help. A demon has stolen my son’s voice, and he throws the boy to the ground, into the water and into the fire. Please. If you can help us…”  (Mark 9:17-18, 22)

Before he could finish the story and fully convey his frustration and need, his boy hit the ground right there before Jesus’s compassionate eyes.

Mark alone of the four Gospel-writers records the father’s anxious response to Jesus’s certainty that “all things are possible”:  “I believe!” he says. “Help my unbelief!”  With an eye to portraying Christ’s humanity and emotional responses, Mark departed from his usual spare, just-the-facts-ma’am narrative style to document a father’s expression of faith diluted by doubt but emboldened by desperation. In his outburst, we hear the lingering horror of near drownings, the blurted exhaustion of continual vigilance.

Parenting does that. Like nothing else in my following life, mothering has taken me to the edge of what I know for sure about God and how to follow him well. Parenting has continually exposed my need for a stronger faith.

Capture

That’s why the story of the Mark 9 dad stopped me in my tracks during this year’s read through the Gospels. Desiring God is graciously sharing my rendering of this story and its application to our own desperate parenting moments. It would be a gift if you joined me over there today…

Grateful for you,


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When Your “Perfect” Plan Has Crashed and Burned

It all started as a strategy for outreach. We sat around a table and began to dream out loud, trusting that the fire of shared passion and the wisdom of group process would yield creative ideas for communicating the love of Christ to our community.

I don’t mind confessing that I loved my dream. We would offer free oil changes to those in need: the poor, the elderly, single parents, come one, come all! Coffee and brownies would make the most of the waiting time as those of us less talented with a wrench would fill cups and keep the conversation flowing. We prepared colorful informational brochures about our church and its programs. We bought supplies, spread the word, and waited.

Not one person signed up.
Not one person called to inquire.

The spectacular crash and burn of my dream rang in my ears for a long time. In fact, it was all I could hear, and it was ages before my idea spigot found its way back to the on-position once again.

Tell me, have you had this kind of experience? When failure veers into your perfectly laid plans from out of nowhere, it’s hard to recover–and hard to trust again. I’m sharing my story in full today over at Rachel Lee‘s writing home, and it’s my pure joy to invite you to join me over there for the remainder.

 

Rachel Lee

 

And while you are there…

Rachel is hosting a summer series featuring Stories of Hope from women who have found hope in Christ in the context of suffering, divorce, chronic illness, church hurt, mental illness, and much more. Click here for details about the many topics addressed in the series.


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I link-up with a number of blogging communities on a regular basis. They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week. I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Wonder 101: What Your Kids Can Teach You About Delighting in God

My grandson’s favorite grape tomatoes ripen to a vivid orange in the sunshine on one of the outside rows of my garden. He literally quivers with delight when we pick them together, filling container after container with their bright beauty–and a small one to stow in his cup holder for the ride home. Children do not take for granted that small orange balls of deliciousness show up in the summer time, that they burst with flavor between your teeth, and that they produce with ridiculous abundance for a short season, and then are gone with the first frost.

As we delight together in the miracle of fruition in my garden, my grandson is schooling me in the practice of awe. In The Gift of Wonder: Creative Practices for Delighting in God, Christine Aroney-Sine has produced a curriculum of awe, reminding readers of spiritual practices which can be as natural and as much a part of our life as eating a ripe tomato. For example, when I’m walking the dog and the bees are hard at work ransacking the honeysuckle bushes for all they are worth, it is an act of worship to stop and listen to their buzzing productivity. The small insects’ devotion to the task at hand instructs me in unity of purpose and focus for my own calling.

Imagination as a Pathway to Loving God

Our big picture thinking ends up shaping the minutes of our days, and the inclusion of delight, playfulness, imagination, and love of nature becomes a scope and sequence that shapes our thinking about God. Embedding the spiritual practice of noticing God at work in the beauty around us sharpens our prayer life and leads us to worship in the present moment. Aroney-Sine works this out personally by taking regular Wonder Walks with her husband, and has introduced me to this spiritually seismic question:  “What has God enjoyed today about who I am and what I do?”

The imaginative practice of painting names and inspiring phrases on rocks to serve as prayer reminders is an alternative to structured list-making. Using colored markers and clipboards for note taking during a sermon can heighten comprehension and retention for some listeners. As a gardener, I find that God’s voice comes to me more clearly when my hands are in the dirt.

Finding God in the Present Moment

My grandson’s enjoyment of grape tomatoes is not lessened by the fleeting nature of the season or by foreshadowings of the coming frost. He takes every flavorful bite as it comes, and this ability to live in the present is a gift to the very young, but not inaccessible to adults. Christine gently inquires:

“What distracts you from the Divine Presence and prevents you from fully appreciating the revelation of God in this never-to-be-repeated moment?” (126)

Creative spiritual practices reassure the believer that God is not a workaholic–even as he is always at work! Therefore, the invitation and the example are one. He longs for us to enjoy him and to enter into his singing, buzzing, fluttering,  splashing creation as co-creators–lovers of God who bring maximum glory to him.

Many thanks to Intervarsity Press for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase The Gift of Wonder: Creative Practices for Delighting in God, simply click on the title within the text of my review, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a very small commission at no extra cost to you.

Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash

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I link-up with a number of blogging communities on a regular basis. They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week. I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Sunday Scripture ~ Psalm 90:17

“Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us,
And establish the work of our hands for us;
Yes, establish the work of our hands.”  (Psalm 90:17)

In his book Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminded his readers that “without the burden and labor of the day, prayer is not prayer, and without prayer, work is not work.”

Our times of prayer remind us that life is not simply about work, while our work reminds us that life is not simply about prayer.

To our great surprise, we see that God, who waits on high to have compassion on us, longs to be gracious to us.

When I walk the dog and give thanks for the vast blue sky and the bracing wind in my face, God is there.

When I am ironing the collar of a shirt and folding my son’s jeans still warm from the dryer, God is there.

By turning our attention purposefully toward God in the midst of our ordinary days, we demolish the wall between sacred and secular.

Our work becomes an offering to God as we meet him in the ordinary moments of life.

May the beauty of the Lord our God be upon you today,