Wholly Holy

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This morning, I found it impossible to go to my usual place of prayer. I had to go out and greet the day, be there before the sun crested the Superstitions. I was on the search for a whisper of air and I needed to be physically present when the day began. I crumbled up some bread and left it in the usual spot. The grackles were the first to find it.

I wandered out front and swept the area in front of the doorways, part of my Holy ritual….I would have been a good little oriental shopkeeper, part of the morning should always be spent setting things aright…..making the bed, sweeping the porch. After I did that, I cleaned the cat box, not so Holy but just as necessary.

I went inside then, and grabbed my mug of coffee and three little books, journal, Jesus Calling, and Frederick Buechner’s Sacred Journey. When I went to go outside I noticed that around 20 assorted quail and dove had found the bread. Being me, I couldn’t disturb them so I quietly took the “prayer chair” from the shop and brought it around the other side so I could be outside and see them but they wouldn’t see me.

I finished Sacred Journey……I heartily recommend it. I highlighted many places in the book that I know I will go back to. As I sat there listening to quail and dove cry, I watched the clouds turn pink from the blush of the sunrise.

An hour of worship outside, though it’s not a substitute for church, I find it just as meaningful and just as necessary a part of our walk with Christ. And as I sat there, another Holy thing happened. A hummingbird came to the red yucca I was sitting right next to and took his time going from bloom to bloom, even stopping the beat of his wings to light on the branch as he drank. As I looked at his little curled feet as he hovered there, I thought what a little gem of a bird he was.

And I thought, if I had been in my usual spot, I would’ve missed him.

How incredible are God’s works; how wondrous His eye for detail in every little thing. It’s the day before my 56th Birthday and I can say that out loud. In reverence, praise and gratitude I thank Him for bringing me thus far on the journey.

Wholly Holy.

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The Universal Language

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The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
    night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
    no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
    their words to the ends of the world.

In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
    It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
    like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens
    and makes its circuit to the other;
    nothing is deprived of its warmth.

Psalm 19:1-6

If you’ve ever spent any time in nature, any serious study of it at all, it would erase all doubt forever that there was a God who set it all into motion. King David spent much of his youth outdoors, many nights out under the stars watching over his family flocks. His writings reflect that. Some of the most beautiful passages of Scripture come from the Psalms. I truly believe one of the best thing parents can do for their kids is give them an early exposure to nature. I will be forever grateful that my childhood was filled with camping trips and days spend by the sea.

And think about it, nature really is the universal language that God used to try to get us to look toward Him. Some people still miss Him entirely. They are so dazzled by nature that they forget to keep looking further to the One who fashioned it (and them) all together in a perfect symphony of rhythm that repeats itself day after day. Night after night. We just have to open our eyes to see it. And keep seeing it.

Sometimes when the world makes no sense, I go out and gaze up at the moon. It reassures me that God is still in control.

The Father, Son and Holy Spirit worked together in perfect unison and spoke it all here out of a great love. Everything we see here is because He loves and continues to love.

And everything we see that has marred His great creation is because we have failed to love.

C.K. Chesterton had it right:

“The main point of Christianity was this: that Nature is not our mother: Nature is our sister.”

Sports as a Religion

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We went to a game last night at Chase Field, the home of our baseball team, The Arizona Diamondbacks. It used to be Bank One Ballpark, which is how I still think of it, but that’s another story. It’s all about big business, mergers, big money and banks. And yet…..when I go there, despite all the hoopla and fanfare and technology, I am transported back to a simpler time. When it was just “the game” and not “the fame.” There’s magic in it still.

I agree that its gotten completely out of control, the fanaticism with sports, not only in America but around the world. I say, pay them what teachers make and see how many would still play the game. We build these huge facilities while schools are closing, and it’s just not right.

And yet, there I was. Paying too much for food and drink that I could have made at home. All because, well let’s face it. I’ve had almost a kind of romance with baseball ever since I went to my first game at the old Candlestick Park in San Francisco. Maybe it’s all the great movies about baseball. I mean, “Field of Dreams” and “The Natural?” Kevin Costner and Robert Redford…..I could go on and on. And maybe it’s just part of American tradition and I want to feel like it’s still all good out there.

The truth is, sometimes it’s just good in our crazy world to go along with the crowd. To go eat some bad food, maybe have a beer, wear your team jersey and cheer like crazy. And let’s face it, this is a really cool stadium…..it actually opens up!

I love seeing three generations with their arms around each other during “God Bless America” and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” You can still see that, even now. Last night was no exception. It was just good fun, and even though there were many LA Dodger fans in the house, things never got out of control between fans. It was a friendly rivalry.

There is something deeper in all this, though, and that is what I really want to focus on. The fact that deep down, there is something within us that wants to band together as a community and worship something bigger than ourselves. And when you attend a fame, the players, the game, the stadium……all of those things are bigger than ourselves at that particular moment. At that moment, we all join as a collective group and root for who we want to win. The thing that is bigger than ourselves. The thing that allows us to escape our jobs…….our problems…..that lifts us out of the mundane.

This is an innate desire in us. And there is nothing we can do about it, because it was placed within us by God Himself. So when we don’t attend church or practice a particular religion, we must find a substitute.

Maybe for you, it’s not sports, it’s music. Or movies and entertainment. Or nature.

Whatever it is, unless you turn that attention and focus to God Himself, that desire will never be fully satisfied.

Last night was a good night. And despite the fact that the seats in the Diamond level were less than desirable (we were right next to a wall) and they waited to long to close the roof (it was warm) it was a good night. We won, 6-10.

Happy 60th Birthday game Elaine! Thank you for introducing me to the love of the game long ago.

Lent: Into the Desert

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Then Jesus, being filled with the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness,  being tempted for forty days by the devil. And in those days He ate nothing, and afterward, when they had ended, He was hungry. Luke 4:1-2

Growing up in the Baptist Church, we didn’t celebrate or think much about Lent. That was for Catholics or Episcopalians. In recent years, I have grown to appreciate the beauty and wisdom of Lent, those 40 days leading up to Easter. I don’t necessarily “give anything up” it’s more like scouring out a little space in my soul that says, “These days are different, significant……set apart, pay attention to what the Holy Spirit might be preparing you for.” Like a Spiritual yield sign if you will.

At any rate, I will be doing something I have never done before on this blog. I am going to really, really try to post something each of the 40 days leading up to Easter.

Don’t worry, the readings will be short and the intent will be to lead us all closer to the Cross, right along with Jesus.  I don’t know about you, but I have felt like I have been in and out of the wilderness ever since January 4. Thankfully, I have companions in it and for that I am extremely thankful. What’s your wilderness today? Be comforted, God is walking with you.

It is necessary that at the beginning of this fast, the Lord should show Himself to us in His mercy. The purpose of Lent is not so much expiation, to satisfy the divine justice, as a preparation to rejoice in His love. And this preparation consists in receiving the gift of His mercy—a gift which we receive in so far as we open our hearts to it, casting out what cannot remain in the same room with mercy.

Now one of the things we must cast out first of all is fear. Fear narrows the little entrance of our heart. It shrinks up our capacity to love. It freezes up our power to give ourselves. If we were terrified of God as a terrible judge, we would not confidently await His mercy, or approach Him trustfully in prayer. Our peace, our joy in Lent are a guarantee of grace.

And in laying upon us the light cross of ashes, the Church desires to take off our shoulders all other heavy burdens—the crushing load of worry and guilt, the dead weight of our own self-love. We should not take upon ourselves a “burden” of penance and stagger into Lent as if we were Atlas, carrying the whole world on his shoulders. Thomas Merton, an excerpt from his essay, “Ash Wednesday.”

God loves you even more………

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I guess I love sparrows because even though they are so small……so common,

so ordinary.

They aren’t really at all.

They are a miracle……..a veritable work of art, and so are you friend…….And not one of them falls to the ground without Him knowing.

Or caring.

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows……Jesus (Matthew 1:29-31

Yesterday I was enjoying a sliver of solitude out in the patio at work. The first to join me was a brown thrush, well, I call him “Hop-a-long” because he only has one foot. He does amazingly well just with the one.

Next was a chattering school of assorted sparrows and other little brown birds, maybe finches, all lined up begging for food. It’s amazing how close they got. They do really well at Intel, they are all fat and fluffy like the birds you see on the Marjolein Bastin greeting cards. Have you ever looked, like really, really close at a common sparrow? They are amazing. When you look close you can see about 30 shades of brown and grey. Up close you can see how all their feathers are perfectly aligned, and their little feet can land and grip just about anywhere.

I was enjoying myself out there. Some were all lined up on the bench and some were gathered at my feet seeing how close they could get, wanting to be the first to get the crumb. I guess you could say it was one of those everyday Holy moments. It was just the birds and I and God. Anytime we reflect on the wonder of His creation, we are worshiping and honoring Him.

And you know what is amazing? He cares for you and I more than those sparrows. He sees each of us in our own individuality and He wants us to see ourselves the same way. We are valued! The next time you feel just like a number, or just another bit player in this big Universe, just remember that God Himself doesn’t see you that way at all.

He sees you as I see those sparrows……….little common brown miracles of wonder, each specifically design to give Him glory just by walking around doing what He made us to do.

Sparrows

 

Can I get a witness?

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Devotional: “Hold my hand in childlike trust, and the way before you will open up step by step.” Sarah Young, “Jesus Calling.”

This morning prayer time was something of a miracle. Well, they all are really, but some more than others. Sometimes I just go out there and sit. I know He is there, He just doesn’t make Himself known. It still amazes me how I can come out here with all my junk, all my worries and fears and He reveals Himself to me. And for just a little awhile, it’s just Him and me. I recognize Him and I feel a little bit like Mary Magdalene in the garden…….as she gasps, “Rabboni!”

Or John as he turns to Peter and says, “It is the Lord!” And there’s Jesus on the shore stoking a campfire asking if they’ve caught any fish. And sitting there in prayer, it feels a little bit like Easter.

There is something Holy in being present when dawn colors the sky. Being a witness to it is beholding His Glory here on earth. As if to second that, from the rooftop a mourning dove coos. That doesn’t always happen but today it did.

I am learning that even things like despair have a purpose, God never wastes anything. For in it, there is no denying that those sparks of joy are coming directly from You Lord.

It was a good prayer time today, well they all are really.

And after months of not attending church, of having my own church where and when I can have it, I need to hear the words……I need to hear the songs.

“As for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; I will tell of all Your deeds.” Psalm 73:28

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It’s a “God Thing”

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The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  (1 Corinthians 1:18)

This beautiful cross you see above comes with a story. It’s one I have great pleasure in sharing because it is a perfect illustration of how the Holy Spirit brings strangers together and makes them friends. The maker of this very special cross happened across my blog one day and something I said struck a chord because he wrote a beautiful comment of encouragement which blessed me tremendously. It was one of those “God Things.”

Time and time again I marvel at how the Holy Spirit uses people and circumstances to give us just the encouragement we need at just the right time. It’s happened over and over again and it surprises me, even though I should know better by now. Now I will tell you a little story about how this particular cross came to me. It’s another “God Thing.”

I had expressed an interest in these handmade crosses made by Mark McCullough via his Etsy website which you can find here. Then, right around Christmas time, I get a surprise email saying that one of these crosses was going to be shipped to me as a gift! In the accompanying message he asked if he could share the why and how of the story. I was like, “Hello…..of course you can!” He described how he wanted the crosses to go to three individuals for specific reasons. One of whom was me. Here are his words:

You told me in our first email exchange that you sometimes wondered if you shouldn’t just leave the blogging to others, which is something that I think would be a terrible loss for our world.  I wanted you to have a cross, something like a combination of potential inspiration and an expression of my gratitude.  I know that a cross that comes to live with you will find a way to reach out into the world—that’s what I want for all of my crosses, that wherever they go, they touch someone, somehow, and carry the message forward.

So I knew who I wanted the crosses to go to, but I told everyone that it would be a random drawing, and I felt that I had to honor that. I also decided that I was willing to make more crosses if I needed to, to ensure that these three people each got one.

I wrote all the names on little pieces of paper, folded each one up, and dropped them into a gift bag that was sitting next to my desk.  I wouldn’t say that I actually prayed–more like just a “Okay God, here we go” statement.  I shook it up and pulled out a name.  It was Friend #2, whose father is ill.  I drew a second name—you.  I drew the third name, and it was Friend #1.  It would seem that God approved of my choices!  I sat here at my desk for a long while just marveling at the way it had worked out.

After I read his note, it was my turn to marvel. Here is a man working in his workshop miles away, using his talent and creativity for God’s glory and to bless others, and here is me at my computer hammering out words, all because we can’t stop the flow of gratitude that the message of the Cross brings. It’s all about God’s grace and how it flows through each and every one of our lives, and through each other via the Holy Spirit.

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The pictures don’t do it justice, friends. But each time I look at it, I will think of the hands that fashioned it just the way He fashioned all of us. And how wood from all over the world was lovingly joined together to make one perfect whole. Just the way He longs to redeem not just part of the world, but the whole wide world. The cross is the bridge that unifies all people into one Holy family.

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This little cross giveaway became a much bigger thing for me that I ever imagined it would. I figured that a few friends would say, “Sure, I’ve got a place on the wall. Why not?” I thought the whole thing would be lighthearted—just good fun on Christmas. Mark McCullough (The Cross Maker)

It was a “God Thing” and I am humbly grateful.