Nature’s Hymn

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Most mornings now when I walk down, the river has taken to wearing a silky wrap as if to ward off the cold. The temperature drops just before the sun makes a welcome appearance. The buzzards are holding court up high in the trees, waiting for the sun to warm their wings. Sometimes if it’s dark and they haven’t yet taken their place in the trees, the white egrets are there. All I can usually see is their white shape against the pre-dawn foliage.

Sometimes hymns have words and sometimes they don’t.

It strikes me that Nature is something we can all get behind. In this world of war and argument and discord, we can all still stop in wonder for an eclipse. I capitalize nature because to me it’s synonymous with God. However you explain it or Him away, the beauty disarms us just the same.

David Nevue fills the background as I settle into the warmth to tap these words out. “How Great Thou Art” comes on and I sing tangible words of worship and I feel again the wonder and miracle of what we celebrate this season. He……came……for……us. Count them all with me:

Heavens opening to the Shepherds watching their flocks in the dark

A baby announcement that came in the form of a sign in the Heavens that wise men followed for months.

A baby named John filled with the Holy Spirit even before birth.

Animals blowing frost in a sub-zero stable and a young girl giving birth to God.

I could go on and on and on………..what’s your particular miracle today? Each day does have several if we only stop and reflect in the quiet pauses that God wants us to take. Each moment can become a “Do this in remembrance of me.”

Moment upon moment until we reach Eternity that’s within our grasp right now today.

I know your seasons may be hard, but know this today: Jesus went through the hardest one of all so that ours might be more bearable. He is praying for you even now my friend. And so am I. This world needs Him more than ever.

 

What Nabeel taught me

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“If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday……” Isaiah 58:10

Nabeel Qureshi 1983-2017

I read this book several years ago and since then I have followed Nabeel Qureshi’s podcasts and speeches via the RZIM website. (On the bottom is the tribute written by Ravi Zacharias who knew Nabeel very well).

I write this today because as many others who followed this young man via social media, I was deeply saddened to learn of his cancer and subsequent death earlier this year. Nabeel taught me something very important, and that is that a part of me needed healing. Through his actions of love toward everyone, including those who intended him harm and even rejoiced in his death, he reminded me of how Jesus wants us to love and that I needed more of that in my heart. Even love for the most radical, the most hateful.

The kind of love Jesus had even as He was being nailed to that ugly cross.

Nabeel taught me that as much as I might want to, I can’t use a wide brush to cover over a certain religion or people group. He loved until it hurt. He always debated eloquently but always answered hate with love. He met people on their terms, where they were. Nabeel allowed me to get past my hate of what Islam stands for and see the person behind the religion. The person as an individual.

There is a big old house that I used to pass by on my way to work. I am sure at one time it was a beautiful building, but now it houses a large group of Muslim men (I never see any women). Every now and then I see them gathered on the front porch. It’s a sad-looking building, neglected.

Usually the windows are closed, shades drawn. I found myself wondering what was being planned, talked about behind those walls. I found myself resenting their presence in our country. I thought of my Grandmother’s family who came here as immigrants with nothing. They asked for no healthcare or handouts, they just wanted to come here and make a positive contribution.

And then the day before I was going to post this, there was another incident. That kook in the truck yelling, “Allahu Akbar” mowing down innocent people on the bike path at the World Trade Center. I refrained from posting this. I couldn’t.

I returned to listening to Nabeel’s messages and then to his beautiful wife Michelle, who is carrying on his legacy since his death. I felt something break free in my mind and heart. I no longer felt the old ugly feelings. It’s no longer my battle who is supporting who. God is fair and just, and He is the one who blesses me so that I can pay my bills.

What Nabeel taught me is that there are hurting and lost among all people groups. What we all need is Jesus. Nabeel believed when it cost him his whole family. He believed and followed when the stakes were highest. And he never wavered.

Nabeel is missed by many people, including his wife and little girl. I don’t understand why such a bright shining star would blink out of this world so young. I don’t think God needed him in Heaven. I hate when people say that. But someday I know the picture will be complete and we will have to answers as to why some people leave this earth so soon. Until then, we can try to learn the lessons others teach us by their legacy of love and forgiveness.

Thank you Nabeel……….until we meet in Heaven.

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2017/september-web-only/ravi-zacharias-nabeel-qureshi-apologist-rzim.html?start=1

******Further resources: I have recently finished another book called “Standing in the Fire: Courageous Christians Living in Frightening Times” by Tom Doyle. I feel it’s a must read for every Christian in America.

In the Quiet

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This morning I was surprised by a world cloaked in fog. It was ghostly as I walked down the little path that leads to the river’s edge. It was still dark and there was no sky that I could see, everything had been swallowed up. I loved it.

The crunch of the leaves underfoot was the only indicator I was walking on anything, it was a bit scary and comforting at the same time, an insulated world. I sat for a moment after reading my devotions and in between prayer I listened.

Sometimes I think a big part of prayer is just listening, don’t you?

The trees dripped as dawn came closer, and the little bamboo wind chime gave a clunk every now and then. An owl called nearby. The coffee steamed as I poured, the candle flickered in the corner and the heater warmed my feet. These are the Holy moments. These are the moments where anxiety is suspended momentarily. When we remember the promises. 

Maybe, just maybe it’s possible to just string these moments together and eliminate anxiety and fear all together?

I found this online this morning and it kind of fit what I was feeling. It’s from an old devotional dated October 18, 1956 and the prayer is by Ella Syfers Schneck, here’s a fragment:

“Lord, in the quiet of this morning hour I come to Thee for peace, for wisdom, power to view the world today through love-filled eyes. To be patient, understanding, gentle, wise. To see beyond what seems to be…….”

I wish peace for you this morning in all you do. Turn your heart inward to find that quiet place in the midst of your soul, even amidst the clamor of the world. And remember that joy belongs to us, not just for a moment but an eternity.

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures for evermore. Psalm 16:11

Thank you Father, for your marvelous works. Amen.

The God of Everything

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God is never complacent, or nonchalant, or middle of the road like I am. I look out at the world and His creation and I see that nothing ever stays the same. God is always doing something miraculous. Recently I went back to Yosemite again, the place where I spent so much time as a kid and young adult. I missed it as I missed an old friend and it was a bit emotional with all the memories tied up together with it.

Yosemite is one of those places with WOW factor and even though the falls were just a trickle compared to the tumbling cascades of summer, the leaves made up for it. They were shouting. On the way into the park we gasped at the bright yellow and red splashes at every turn. In all my time there I had never seen it quite so brilliant.

I remembered when my Mom used to send me leaves from there in the fall when they would go and so I collected some for her to place on her table. Yes, we are leaf crazy.

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It was a great day and I was awestruck once again by the grandeur of those granite peaks that rise from the floor. I found myself praising God for His marvelous works, for creating all this beauty for us to enjoy. When you look at nature as an extension of God, you see that He is never not doing anything. The earth is a stage and no matter what we create as humans, we can never match the ocean, or the moon, or a place like Yosemite.

Do you ever feel complacent? Like you are just not doing enough big things for God? Ever sensed you are outside the circle? That somewhere out there in the world of faith is a ring of fiery people doing wonderful things for God and for others and here you are doing nothing in particular but trying to live your life the best way you know how? I know exactly how you feel.

But here is what I have learned from nature:

God is God of the big and the grand, but He’s also the God of the tiny and minuscule. No act or creation or person is too small to escape His notice.

Yesterday I found a little leaf. I almost sat on it it was so small, but there it was. A perfect replica of the big oak leaves that are fluttering to the earth right now. I think He let me find it to remind me that I am just as big a miracle as that big oak standing in the middle of my Aunt’s yard.

He whispers things like that to me.

And when we praise Him and thank Him for being fearfully and wonderfully made, something is set right within myself and the world me. My perspective changes. I find that gratitude and praise are the steps that bring us close to a God who has already proven how much He loves us; a God who has always had His arms open to us.

He accepts stumbling, halting, half-hoping words, in fact He loves them. Prayer can be a cracked window in our hearts that reaches all the way to Heaven. “If you are there” prayers, can sometimes start the mountains moving. He is waiting to hear from you!

Blessings on your Sunday today, friends.

 

 

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For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain……..The Apostle Paul, Philippians 1:21

Almost from the time we are born, our hearts and souls are acutely aware of a sense of loss and the fear that stems from it. Life, at its most painful becomes synonymous with loss. Loss of a job we loved, loss of a loved one, death of a marriage, physical loss, loss of a home. Sometimes one loss turns into another. Such as when a deep loss turns into a bad habit. Then we have to kick the bad habit and we have that loss to deal with too.

But here is the big hope rests within and through all this. Here is where the story gets happy. That at the other end of this spectrum of loss, there is gain, without which we wouldn’t know loss at all. And that little word, gain, is what God is, and has always been concerned with.

That when we were determined to ruin ourselves and each other, God said, “No, I won’t let the story end this way.” He didn’t just write a happy ending. He came in physical form to become our happy ending. He came to fill that, as C.S. Lewis so rightly said, “God sized vacuum” in our hearts.

On a final note, I wanted to address those who seem to think the California fires are the result of God’s judgment due to the fact that sin is so rampant in this state. My God doesn’t go around setting fires and starting earthquakes and floods. That’s Satan’s job (if you believe in him and I do because Jesus certainly did).

To some, California may be an example of what they feel is wrong with the world, but no state or geography has cornered the market on evil; that territory starts within the heart of us all and there is only one cure:

Jesus himself. He’s our only prescription with a permanent cure for heart trouble:

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have not told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?” John 14:1,2

Please join me in praying for all those who have lost homes, businesses, and lives in this beautiful state I call home now.

Kinda like Heaven

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My brother and I with Thunder, circa 1965 or so……

There used to be a row of houses on the next block over from where I lived. We knew every family that lived there very well. The houses were owned by the adjacent hospital but I never knew that.  About 10 or 15 years ago now, one by one all the current occupants moved out and the houses themselves were physically moved to a neighboring town.

Growing up, I spent hours inside every one of those houses. Some of them many, many hours. Starting from left to right, there were the Meier’s, then the Matsumoto’s, (whose kids were almost part of the family since my Mom watched Rhonda and Jeff when their Mom went to work.) Next to them were the Merry’s, then the Dillon’s. It was quite a spectacle to watch those houses be readied for a move.

I was reminded of all this yesterday when I took Mom to the store and saw Harriet and Sam Matsumoto. Sam has cancer now, on chemo. I can remember when he used to drive Rhonda and I to school sometimes, he would turn on the vents and stuff would fly out.

I was thinking of those houses, those people, this morning at 3:00 AM when I couldn’t sleep. In my memory I see every house, every family. I remember the night our dog got hit by a car and we mourned the loss sitting in Rhonda’s room. I remember the day I was swimming in the back yard of the Meier’s when the Dollinger boy came with a boa wrapped around his neck. I remember Todd Dillon running home when he cracked his chin in our driveway. So many memories.

I was thinking that in those days I could have knocked on any one of those doors and would have been welcomed. Offered a cooky or ice-cream bar. I would have listened and respected those parents like my own.

It struck me that must be a little of what Heaven is like. Being able to knock on any door and be welcomed. Now it seems few neighbors know each other. My folks just about have to flag the younger people down to talk to them before the garage swallows them up in the evenings. It’s sad.

I am not in John Lennon’s camp, even though I loved the Beatles back in the day.  I love to imagine Heaven because for me it’s just as real as this world, more real in fact. The Bible says in Heaven we will be fully known.

No worries about money, no mortgage, no war, no death, no homelessness, no crime, no pain or sadness. No loneliness or heartache for what might have been. No disease or any kind.

And God will wipe every tear. That sounds pretty darn good to me right now. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of good still left in this world, and much to celebrate. But I don’t think anyone would argue that it needs some redeeming right about now.

What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love Him…….1 Corinthians 2:9

When even the ocean is not big enough……..

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Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”

I stood at the shore and waited for that feeling……..that eraser, elixir that would make all the present circumstances melt away. But it occurred to me that sometimes even the ocean is not big enough to do that. Even if it were fresh water and we were dying of thirst, it could save us but we would still thirst again, just as Jesus explained to the Samaritan woman at the well:

………but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.

But nature has always had a way of making God close for me, and I relaxed and let it do that. I looked hard at everything, and we ate good food and had some wine too. I foraged for shells and saw some magnificent patterns in some sand dollars and drew them in my book. For me, the ocean is God’s way of saying, “Here you go……explain this one.” And all I can say is that He is bigger than everything, even anyone’s problems including my own.

Even when it feels like the small things you do are like dumping a cup of water into an ocean of grief, God is the multiplier. When it’s all you can do, He makes it more than enough.

I am finished with my one year commitment to LOEL center and this weekend is the start of a little break before I begin the next phase of retirement. I am still a little ways off from Social Security and so I work for at least three and a half (counting) more years.

Sometimes I close my eyes and remember how my room looked from the right, and from the left. When I felt like everything in my life was secure and I had the umbrella of a big company over me. But maybe that was an illusion. I still have God over me, over us.

And this place by the river is truly a tremendous blessing. It is feeling like home  I am learning here to take one day at a time and receive it with a grateful heart. Maybe that’s what God is trying to tell me, that I don’t have to have everything mapped out and planned. How many people can walk down to a river in the morning after all?

The four days at the beach did its magic. I will remember the boat ride through the slough and our walks and so many birds this year, more than we’ve ever seen.

For a little time we were suspended:

It’s easy to think that at 3:19 AM it’s just us here alone in this place and I want to remember the peace of this moment. The staccato seal barking on the pier, the seagull I just heard. Even though it’s chilly I always crack the window to stay in touch with the ocean so big and still out there like God. Each drop of time is precious. An engine starts nearby, a night fisherman going out or coming in. You fighting off a cold nearby, fighting for breath and Briggs purring in my ear with his paw on my shoulder. Just is just us down here God, don’t forget us. Just beyond, over the bridge is where we left some of E’s parents ashes. The ocean breathe in and out, until God says “No more.”

And when we pulled back into town we put everything back on like a heavy pack and I have to remember Jesus other words, just before He went to the cross:

I am leaving you with a gift–peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.

And I think of Him on that terrible cross taking on my sin and the sin of the whole world and I know I can trust Him.