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.

 

God’s Lost and Found

 

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The fire of the wild white sun has eaten up the distance between hope and despair. Dance in this sun you tepid idiot. Wake up and dance in the clarity of perfect contradiction. Thomas Merton, “A Book of Hours,” Thursday. 

This is why I love Thomas Merton. This little book has been a constant companion for several years and I am glad I reopened it today. It spoke to my heart which has felt a little forgotten by God lately. I needed a reminder and maybe you do too. It’s possible to know, really know that you are never forgotten by God on one level and on another feel like you’re six years old again feeling uncertain and lost, looking for your parents.

Ever feel like you ended up in God’s lost and found bin?

But no matter what the enemy whispers in the dark, I have the light of truth ever before me. It’s everywhere. In what I see around me, in what He’s done before, in how I can know through the word that His promises are true. In the quickening of the Holy Spirit which resides side by side with all the other garbage I subject Him to on a daily basis.

I like to imagine His face as He assures His disciples from the mountain just before He goes back Home, the last part of Matthew 28:20, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” I love how He uses surely and always…….He knew these times of uncertainty and fear would come. I can also imagine the faces of the Disciples as the clouds swallowed Him up.

I can imagine it felt like when I was a kid and I saw Mary Poppins say goodbye and lift off. The emotions were so real to me. I remember the sadness, the emptiness. The what now?

There goes the best friend I ever had, there goes the magic, the goodness, the music, the love.

When God made a surprise visit on Pentecost, all the magic, the joy, the music came back like a flood. The hard times didn’t disappear, but neither did God. And so shall it ever be until He comes again.

When I hold all the impossibilities He’s brought me through up against the Light, it no longer matters that I can see all the way to the end. I may not be able to see around the next bend, but I know the road is secure. I know the builder.

Responsory:

O great God, Father of all things, Whose infinite light is darkness to me, Whose immensity is to me as the void, You have called me forth out of yourself because you love me in Yourself, and I am a transient expression of your inexhaustible and eternal reality. I could not know You, I would be lost in this darkness, I would fall away from you into this void, if You did not hold me to Yourself in the Heart of Your only begotten Son. Thomas Merton:  “Book of Hours” 

 

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.

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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

Hard Stop

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Funny how things can come into focus when you’re still. When you’re quiet enough to let that stillness wrap itself around you and you start to believe that it really will be okay. There are those today reeling from loss, whose homes are no longer a reality, but only a reflection. I identify a little bit. I miss my home and the security that went with it every day. And yet I know that my true security lies in God and nothing else. Homes will come and go but He stays forever.

Last Friday I sat by the river and thought great and wondrous things. At least five of them. Later when I tried to capture them I couldn’t remember one, but the feeling of peace stayed behind. I was so grateful for that because there have been times this year when scenes of great beauty bounced off my soul like teflon and that troubled me. For I’ve always been able to find my way back to God through His beauty in creation.

We slip and fall headlong into our worries and problems and then He wakes our soul once again and I think it’s because He wants us to feel the gift of Gratefulness again.

All around us, nature is enfolded in a great drama and it never stops. She invites us to partake and be more than a bit player, and the rules are simple. We have to do a “hard stop”

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A hard stop is when we allow our worries and cares drift away like this leaf who fell twisting in the wind. It didn’t think of falling, it didn’t even try to fall, it just fell. And in that simple act it had a power it didn’t even know it had. Its little presence announced that a change is coming, the first of many reds and golds and browns that will rain down in the coming months.

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Psalm 55:6 says: “Oh that I had wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest.”

I have a friend who used to say that when he flew, his problems seemed smaller. They weren’t really, but from the air his perspective changed. My flying usually involves driving to the beach. We all need a place where we can see clearer, feel calmer. But we can do that from anywhere with prayer.  Jesus has the peace we so deeply crave. It’s His free gift…….though it cost Him plenty He was happy to do it.

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And when we accept it by stopping our striving and wrestling and open our hearts to His love He is honored. When we do that, It makes Him feel like it was all worth it. Like a parent who has had to sacrifice so many times they feel their battered ripped to shreds heart may just give way this time. Then the child realises he or she is not the only one in the world, that someone loved until it hurt for them. When that love is released, hearts can start to mend.

Do you see a heart here, or just a dead tree?

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Accept the invitation that God sends through His nature friends. I can assure you of a reward. A wise man named John Muir said this:

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.