Musings — April 2017

Returning from a family vacation (and a blogging break!), it’s great to be rested and to have stored up some delightful memories with my patient husband, our two youngest sons, and with dear friends who love us so much and so well that they even welcomed our big slobbery dog!

Did you know that the roller coaster was invented by the French in 1817? Two hundred years later, our guys enjoyed this “history lesson.”

 

Obviously, the cool people are sitting on each end.

On the Nightstand

Not because I deserve it, but because God is gracious, I have a friend who has stuck with me through a dozen or more years of reading Scripture together.  Even though we are geographically far apart, we read the same passage each day and hold one another accountable to the practice of showing up in the presence of the Word.  Our plan for the foreseeable future is to read through the book of Jeremiah, using Eugene Peterson’s Run with the Horses as our road map.

“Before I shaped you in the womb,
    I knew all about you.
Before you saw the light of day,
    I had holy plans for you:
A prophet to the nations—
that’s what I had in mind for you.”

Jeremiah 1:5  (MSG)

Already, the first chapter is breathtaking with its reminder that we are known before we know, that we have been enlisted by God before we were even qualified for anything.  Then, since “giving is the style of the universe,” we have been given to our families, our friends, our neighbors — and to our enemies.

“Our life is for others. . .  We don’t think we can live generously because we have never tried.  But the sooner we start the better, for we are going to have to give up our lives finally, and the longer we wait the less time we have for the soaring and swooping grace of life.”

This was true of Jeremiah, and it is certainly true of believers in 2017.

On the Blog

In April I shared my first offering as a contributor to God-sized Dreams, an on-line community where you can say your dream out loud and find the glorious encouragement of others who are also familiar with the joys and pitfalls inherent to dreaming.   When fear threatens to extract all the air from my dreams, I’m thankful for the courage and strength that come from an upholding God.  You can read more here about letting your fear drive you to the One who casts out all fear.

Ruby Magazine included a couple of my book reviews in their April edition.  I always enjoy sharing children’s books, and, of course, the best part is test-driving the books with the adorable grandson.

The most viewed post in April was my review of Gary Thomas’s book, Cherish:  The One Word that Changes Everything for Your Marriage.  Gary encourages his readers to go beyond merely loving our spouses and to live our way into “a marriage that feels more precious, more connected, and more satisfying.”

Just for Joy

What is it about fiction and the imagined words and experiences of well-developed characters that can leave the heart aching with the beauty of truth?

In The Maytrees by Annie Dillard, Toby leaves his wife Lou and moves to Maine with Deary.  Twenty years pass, and with Deary in the process of dying, Toby falls, breaking both arms.  He returns to Lou and asks her to care for them both.

Spoiler alert:  She says yes.
All incredulity aside, this excerpt from Lou’s processing of the decision stopped me in my tracks:

“At this age, forgiveness could be child’s play if you know the ropes.”

Is this “knowing the ropes” another word for grace?
Am I better at forgiving now than I was twenty years ago?

What are you working on these days?
Are you seeing evidence of God’s knowing, choosing, and launching you into His agenda?
I’d love to hear your thoughts, and am thankful for your eyes in this place at the end of another month.
Blessings and love to you.

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The Broken Reaching Out to the Broken

Six years ago, Ann Voskamp took the dare to dive deep into a lifestyle of gratitude.  Could she record one thousand gifts from God and let her heart be changed by the knowledge of all the ways that God loved her?  She wrote about the dare in her first book, and suddenly the Greek word for thanksgiving, eucharisteo, was on everyone’s lips.

In 2012, I began my own gratitude journal.  By Thanksgiving Day, I will have recorded my five thousandth gift, so the release of Ann’s book about another dare is timely for me, especially since I recently heard Katelyn Beatty’s quip on a CT podcast that writers should “go vulnerable, or go home.”  Without a doubt,  The Broken Way jumps into the deep end with Ann’s memory of cutting her own skin with shards of broken glass as a young woman, her own makeshift release valve for all the anguish that had nowhere else to go.  This latest offering chronicles Ann’s living her way into the answer to the question we all ask from time to time:

“How in the world do you live with your one broken heart?”

Her answer?

“You give it away.”

This is a strong argument, because hurting people are not interested in hearing about anyone’s “perfect” life.  They are not encouraged by the knowledge that I’ve checked off every single item on my to-do list (I haven’t) — or that my boys all do their chores without complaining.  (They don’t).  They want to hear about how I handle disappointment and about all the times I have had to apologize to my kids for losing my temper.  Offering up my own brokenness kills perfectionism and opens the way for a true communion in Christ — who redeems everything.

When gratitude has paved the way to acceptance and peace, but the broken world rubs up against the rough edges of your own broken heart, the broken way, the cross-shaped life, becomes the way of abundance:

“If eucharisteo had been the first dare, the first journey of discovery into a life of letting God love me and counting all those ways, could this be a dare for the next leg of the journey, the way leading higher up and deeper in, daring me to let all the not-enough there in my open hands – let it be broken into more than enough?  A dare to let all my brokenness — be made into abundance.  Break and give away.  The broken way.”

The truth is that relationships on this planet are a matter of the broken reaching out to the broken, and Ann’s message tumbles out in a series of personal stories supported by poignant metaphors:

  • We remember Christ in communion, and in coming together around His broken body, we affirm that we are a “remembering people,” and in the gathering, our own broken hearts become re-membered.
  • One day, on a whim, Ann picked up a pen and inked a cross over the scars on her arm.  Daring to live a cross-shaped life reveals that the “bad brokenness is broken by [the] good brokenness” of Jesus’ sacrifice.  The Beatitudes gently reinforce this beautiful truth about an Upside-down Kingdom:  dare to be poor in spirit, to mourn deeply over your sin, to meekly come to Jesus with a hunger and thirst that can only be satisfied with His righteousness.
  • An old blue Mason jar full of wheat kernels becomes an image of our span of life, our one container of days.  Just as the grain must first be broken before it becomes bread, “the way to break time’s hold on me is to be broken,” to live an inconvenient life in which I may be called upon to be sown into the broken ground of another of God’s image-bearers.

One of my favorite features of Ann’s writing is her ability to riff on gospel themes in ways that take me right to the core of the Truth — but in a new way.  Let this one soak into your tired heart:  “The wondrous order of Christianity isn’t ‘go and sin no more and Jesus won’t condemn you.’  The order of Christ and Christianity is ‘neither do I condemn you — go and sin no more.'”

Ann’s celebrity has taken her into hundreds of personal stories about gratitude and the positive changes that have grown from “eucharistic living.”  She has also been invited into the deep hurts of this world, and she responds by opening her own life and allowing readers to sit with her in her brokenness: a parking lot disappointment over a careless son’s failure to love; a broken-hearted mama loved Velveteen with tears running down cheeks like wrinkled silk; a texted rebuke — the faithful wounds of a true friend who doubted the reality of Ann’s highly polished love.

To “live given” is to live with vulnerability and humility — but out of that risk grows a harvest of true, biblical fellowship.  The message of The Broken Way  is that there is great yield from our yieldedness.

From the moment of conception, with the first cell division, the broken way begins.  Because tender hearts get scarred, coping mechanisms are implemented early on, and we seek warmth and light around our own small self-ignited flame — until, by grace, we learn the daring path into abundant life. The koinonia of mutual burden bearing,  forgiveness of the unforgivable, and the turn-around-in-your-tracks of repentance, Jesus first word of the Gospel, become the broken way home to God.

“Out of feeling lavishly loved by God, one can break and give away that lavish love — and know the complete fullness of love.

The miracle happens in the breaking.”

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Oil and Dew: Two Reasons to Give the Church Another Chance

When my husband and I were still a “young couple,” we used to laugh over an imagined scenario at our church:

“What ever happened to that young couple with all the boys?”

“Haven’t you heard?  They divorced – someone said that they just grew apart, that they didn’t know each other anymore.”

“No!  They were here at church all the time!  How could something like that have happened?”

Truly, it’s not funny, but we laughed because we knew that even though our church family loved us,  if we had said, “Yes,” to all the ministry opportunities that were pressed upon us,  it wouldn’t be long before this was our fate.  Fortunately, we were able to remember their love for us as we made decisions to become the guardians of our own margins and boundaries.

For many people, the church has a reputation to overcome.  It’s hard to trust The Body when you’ve been burned by its members.  For various reasons,   believers are staying home on Sunday mornings, and the experts say that only 20% of Americans attend church regularly.  Certainly, anyone who has done time in the pew can find a reason to gripe:  lack of appreciation; not liking the pastor/the music/the sermons/the color of the carpet; unsatisfying or turbulent relationships.   All of this should be no surprise to us, for even the healthiest, most vibrant fellowships are populated with . . .  well, sinners.  There’s really no one else to come to church!

[Please note:  I’m not talking about cases of spiritual abuse in which people who have no business being in ministry use their position to take advantage of others in order to meet their own needs.  I’m referring to interpersonal conflict, disagreements of style and method, and the misunderstandings that often lead to grudges.]

Even if you feel as if you have been burned by the body of Christ, the church is still God’s means of providing fellowship and spiritual food for His flock.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a single man whose life was cut short by a Nazi noose while he was still in his thirties, managed to capture the essence of fellowship in the body of Christ with these words:

“The Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him.  He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself . . .”

To me, this “speaking God’s Word” to one another is the way we stay on the path, the way we persevere in the life of faith.  In his book, Life Together, Bonhoeffer referenced Psalm 133, an anthem that celebrates unity and community, and, in the psalm, two metaphors emerge:

 1.  Oil:  a sign of God’s presence and a symbol of the Holy Spirit.

“Life together” for Dietrich Bonhoeffer meant that the believer is anointed by the Spirit to speak truth into the life of another because “Christ in his own heart” provides stability, making him a “bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation.”

When I am allowing God to work in me, the oil of the Spirit lubricates my rusty, crusty, and complaining relational joints.  He keeps me from throwing sparks, and He smooths the places where my ideas rub roughly against another’s.

“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is For brethren to dwell together in unity!  It is like the precious oil upon the head, Running down on the beard, The beard of Aaron, Running down on the edge of his garments,” (Psalm 133:1,2)

To be honest, my stain pre-treating, laundry-doing, 21st century heart quails at the mention of all that oil running onto Aaron’s robes, but for the sojourner, traveling to Jerusalem and singing Psalm 133 on the barren and dusty Judean roads, the song would have carried a message of refreshment and relief.  Likewise, the work of the Spirit in those who believingly follow Jesus in my church community provides renewal and refreshment for me.  Sharing the way God’s Word is changing them, testifying to the evidence of His active presence in their circumstances, they are precious oil, for even during times when God seems silent in my own world, I am encouraged by His “very present help” in their lives.

 2.  Dew:  a symbol of refreshment and blessing

Mount Hermon, with an altitude of over 9,000 feet, would have seen some dewy mornings, much to the envy of those living in barren, dry Jerusalem.

It is like the dew of Hermon, Descending upon the mountains of Zion; For there the Lord commanded the blessing— Life forevermore.  (Psalm 133:3)

In the same way, I am refreshed and renewed by the enthusiasm and spiritual hunger of the women in my Sunday school class.  From my “forever young” octogenarian to the twenty-somethings with their passion for outreach, each week their love for learning God’s Word and their compassionate impulses fuel my flagging spirit.

“How can I send help to that family who lost everything in the flooding?”

“Can we put together a special encouragement package for our pastor’s wife?  I’ll bring the basket!”

Oh, honey, yes!  Bring the basket!

Bring on the dew!

Let the oil of the Spirit run, and let this delightful community of faith flourish under His renewal, His strengthening, and  His encouragement!


Image credit:  Many thanks to Jen Ferguson.

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“Are We O.K.?”

 

Early in our marriage, my husband and I stumbled onto a means of cutting to the chase in determining the state of our union.  Protracted silences, a perceived “mood,” a brusque response, or an air of impatience always triggers THE QUESTION:  “Are we o.k.?”  Of course, the success of this little drill presupposes a level of honesty, transparency, and a willingness to change on both sides, but it has been a path toward maintaining our marital peace for nearly twenty-five years.

In Chapter 13 of John Owen’s Mortification of Sin, he warns against a false peace in our relationship with God.  “Take heed thou speakest not peace to thyself before God speaks it, but hearken what He says to thy soul.”  The impression I gained from this rather lengthy chapter was that our Christian life must be viewed as a relationship rather than as a transaction.  There is a tendency to base the entire foundation of one’s faith on a prayer that was prayed at the age of six, and, therefore, “I’m safe!  I can do as I please and know that I’m forgiven.”   This reduces the blood of Christ to a token that is slid into a vending machine for the prize of forgiveness.

The kind of thoughtful, discerning attentiveness to the Master’s voice which John Owen describes in Chapter 13 comes only through relationship.  “Faith knows the voice of Christ” in the same way the sheep know the shepherd’s voice.  If the relationship is otherwise sound and being maintained through regular communion in the Word of God and a right understanding of it, a vibrant prayer life, and a ready obedience, then the least grain of sand in the works of that relationship will bring the gears to a grinding halt, prompting the question:  “Are we ok?”

When forgiveness of sins is transactional instead of relational, it is possible for the wound of sin to be healed lightly.  However, if the heart of the believer is committed to “acquaintance and communion with Him, you will easily discern between his voice and the voice of a stranger.”   If prayer is a formula in which forgiveness of sin is listed along with a variety of other requests, then the voice of the stranger may be our own feelings, speaking peace to us because of a callous conscience.  (What would you do to a friend who lied to you as often as your feelings have?)  But if prayer is a time in which the heart is present to God in submission to the searchlight of His Spirit and the washing of His Word, the conviction of peace can be trusted.

Joining with friends at #livefreeThursday!  Won’t you meet us there?