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.

What can it possibly mean?

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I woke early this morning and it was cold. Cold for here anyway. Wrapping myself in the huge robe guaranteed to ward off any chill, I slogged out the door in my slippers to look at the temperature which read 46 degrees. All you people in the snow, I don’t know how you do it. I wimped out of praying in my usual spot out in the shop. I came back inside and settled back in my easy chair and turned the heat up. I felt a momentary sadness knowing that tomorrow I would be spending Christmas at work, but that sadness was fleeting.

On December 26 all the frenzy will be over, but Christ will remain, big as life. As I gaze figuratively at the face of the babe in the manger, I ask myself all over again what it really means. This God coming to earth. Who can possibly understand that kind of love? Who can truly grasp it? The love of a God who would voluntarily come down here to this planet rife with turbulence and every kind of heartache and sin.

How can I feel anything but unbridled joy, knowing He would do that for me? For you?

What it means for us Christians is that we pick up our crosses all over again as we do everyday, knowing that He will never expect us to carry as much as He did. My little cross, whatever it is will never lead to Calvary, but ultimately to Heaven. How can it possibly be?

The babe in the manger scares me sometimes to be honest because I look at that baby and I ask myself how my life would change if I really truly believed as I say I do? The manger means hard questions sometimes. Look what it meant for those to whom He came then……..

Mary was afraid.

Joseph wanted to divorce her quietly.

The Shepherd’s were shaking in their sandals on that night.

Herod was so threatened he murdered all first-born babies up to two years old.

The wise men journeyed hundreds of miles just to worship Him.

As I sit here in my chair pondering all this, I am overwhelmed with thanksgiving for a God that would love so much that He would risk it all, knowing we might still push Him away.

Every light is lit and the tree casts a glow that fills the room. Even these two old cats have caught my joy. They have turned into kittens momentarily, playing tag and dashing back and forth. I smile at their play as I opened to my devotional and read these words:

Lord, you have been our dwelling place
    throughout all generations.
 Before the mountains were born
    or you brought forth the whole world,
    from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

You turn people back to dust,
    saying, “Return to dust, you mortals.”
A thousand years in your sight
    are like a day that has just gone by,
    or like a watch in the night.

Yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death—
    they are like the new grass of the morning:
 In the morning it springs up new,
    but by evening it is dry and withered.

Psalm 90: 1-6

The question remains: What can it possibly mean? To me it means saying yes all over again. Sometimes it’s a feeble yes, sometimes a shaky yes. But it’s always a yes.

Merry Christmas from Lori’s Prayer Closet. I pray you know the joy of the Savior today.

Thoughts at week’s end

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You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you! Isaiah 26:3

There is a day set aside for all activity and clamor to cease. Sunday is a day to take a deep breath, look back on the week and breathe a prayer of thanks that God got you through it all. That’s what I did this morning. I think it’s important to have one day singled out where we: “Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

We live in a loud brash world, and each day it crashes in on us. Yet throughout the workweek there are those moments of peace that come. One night on my way home I was sitting at a stop light waiting for the green, when overhead there came a flock of Canadian geese. I watched as the lead goose took his place at the front. I watched their perfect flight formation and I marveled at how God has created them to do that. What is it about nature that makes us stare in astonishment at times? It’s as if the whole world stops for a moment.

Or maybe that’s just me. Nature has always brought me a strong sense of wonder, but that wonder only creates in me a powerful sense of God Himself. Some people just marvel at nature and stop there. While that is possible, I believe we miss something huge when we don’t then turn that marveling into Worship and Praise to the God who created it all.

How hard is it to imagine eternity when you are standing at the edge of the ocean? I believe God gives us these moments in order to point the way to something even bigger, even more perfect. I can just hear Him say, “If you think there is beauty here, just wait until you see what I have prepared for you in Heaven!

Now, all the noise, all the rushing, all the driving, all the phones are silent.

Today, I receive God again here in the place of pausing. Once again, He has brought me through another challenging week as He always does.

Selah.

Today I fly out to California to see my family. I am looking forward to the moment I see those faces, and one very excited girl……..her “Aunt Nori” is coming.

Eventide

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As shadows lengthen and the day stretches behind us, we pause. The last bird calls to the others tree to tree, as if he’s calling them all home. They know it’s time to find a place to huddle together heads under wings, feather to feather in the dark boughs.

All day they have taken flight and we have taken ours. Here and there, crisscrossing roads and skies.

But now the moon and God say: “It’s done.” The stars concur  from where they shine high in the sky. Now I wonder as I often do, what’s going on in Heaven where there is no night and not for the first time, it feels just as real as being here down below. For that’s what Sabbath is: Knowing that Jesus is our Sabbath wherever we go. Now and forever more.

“Father, as I reflect on this day, I see the faces of my loved ones near and far. Thank you for keeping us all safe another day. Thank you as we live and breathe to enjoy another evening benediction.”

The breeze has stopped and it feels as if the earth is taking a deep breath. There is not a sound, save motorized vehicles here and there and every so often that one pesky mosquito buzzing my ear out for blood.

Still I persist. I don’t want it to end. Some days are just like that.

One more stinging bite on my ankle and I am gone………….the curse of the Fall nips at my heels even as Heaven fills my heart.

Day is done……..And it was evening, and it was the seventh day……and it was very good.

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Deep calls to deep

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Some people think nature calls in a soft voice. I think it shouts quietly. There’s a difference.

What’s it shouting you say?

Things aren’t always what they seem…….like this bloom from a lowly thistle we know as the artichoke plant.

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Do you see the bee? I almost missed it, and I took the picture a year ago.

There is a whole universe wrapped up in your back yard.

Just step out the door and open your eyes.

And you will see God.

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He is waiting to fill us……so that we may never thirst for anything else. He calls us to the deep end.

It’s easy to tread water when you know you can touch bottom.

He’s calling us to swim further out.

Better yet, just jump.

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He has never once failed to catch me.

Tired of treading water in the cesspool of worry?

Stop treading and float, my friends.

I took my troubles to the LORD; I cried out to him, and he answered my prayer. Psalm 120:1

God speaks……….

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The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; By understanding He established the heavens; By His knowledge the depths were broken up, And clouds drop down the dew.” Proverbs 3:

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“The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; Acts 17:24

 

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“He who made the Pleiades and Orion And changes deep darkness into morning, Who also darkens day into night, Who calls for the waters of the sea And pours them out on the surface of the earth, The LORD is His name.” Amos 5:8

 

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“But now ask the beasts, and let them teach you; And the birds of the heavens, and let them tell you. “Or speak to the earth, and let it teach you; And let the fish of the sea declare to you. “Who among all these does not know That the hand of the LORD has done this, read more.In whose hand is the life of every living thing, And the breath of all mankind?” Job 12: 7-10

 

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God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. And He has made from one bloodevery nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings,  so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us;  for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’ Acts 17:24-28

 

What a wonder that this God should want to know me personally, and wants us all to know Him the same way. He is the God who walked with Adam and Eve in the cool of the evening……and who came to this earth as a man, walked where we walk, had conversations, ate food, had dust on His sandals and went back into Heaven where He intercedes for us to this day. His Spirit rests with us here and now, giving us strength and empowering us to do beyond what we ask or think…….the fact that we can experience Him here and now and say with confidence as we pray in a little quiet room or in our car, on the way somewhere, “I am with God and He is with me”……that is the miracle of the Christian life and experience. That is our reality. Who in the world would not want that?

 

No road-kill on the golden streets of Heaven

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It was laying there feet up by the fountain when I got home. E had called and said there was a dead pigeon in the garden and for some reason she couldn’t deal with it. This is the bravest woman I know. She wrapped up my foot when it was sliced all the way to the tendon and told me, “Oh, it’s not that bad.” She’d lived out in the patio room at 100 plus degrees so her Alzheimer’s stricken Mom could have her room. She’s also never met a vehicle she couldn’t operate no matter how big.

But from a young age, her Grandmother instilled in her a deep-seated reticence about touching birds: “They all have lice,” she remembers her saying.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized she must have meant a dove and not a pigeon; she gets them mixed up. She knows how I love doves, how I appreciate the backdrop of their cooing when I pray out in my shed. That’s why it made her sad.

I said, “I hope at least it was single…..not old enough to have a mate.” I have read they are one of the few animal species that mate for life; I don’t know if it’s true, but it’s a romantic notion anyway and one that makes me appreciate the fact that you hardly ever see one dove without another by its side.

“Use the shovel!” she said. I didn’t listen. It was surprisingly weightless as picked it up. I wrapped in lovingly in a paper towel, much like my own Grandmother did when my parakeet Peppy died on her watch. She saved it for us for when we got back from vacation; lovingly preserved in a strawberry crate coffin covered with a paper towel for its burial shroud.

I can’t imagine what my Mom thought about that………..

As I gathered the little form in my palms, I said a prayer of thanks to God for its short but meaningful sojourn on the earth; for the joy that it gave with its song in the morning, and at the peaceful close of day. And again I marveled that there will be no death at all in Heaven, not any. You won’t find any road-kill on the golden streets of Heaven.

As I said the prayer, I thought of how I have always loved the Native American’s deep-seated appreciation and gratitude for animal life, and the humility with which they took a life, knowing that the animal had made a sacrifice to sustain their own preservation. They never took more than they needed and nothing was ever wasted.

God created all life, and it’s through His grace that we all live and move and have our being. By His word the Heavens and Earth and all living things came into existence. Let Heaven and nature sing His praise:

He appointed the moon for seasons;
The sun knows its going down.
You make darkness, and it is night,
In which all the beasts of the forest creep about.
The young lions roar after their prey,
And seek their food from God.

Psalms 104:19-21

I leave you with this Lakota prayer I found today……it’s a good meditation for it shows us how small we really are in the realm of creation, but also, how very loved we are. How thought of by God himself. Not a sparrow (or dove) falls to the ground without Him knowing…….

Oh, Great Spirit,
whose voice I hear in the winds
and whose breath gives life
to all the world, hear me.

I am small and weak.
I need your strength and wisdom.

Let me walk in beauty and make my eyes
ever behold the red and purple sunset.
Make my hands respect the things you have made
and my ears sharp to hear your voice.

Make me wise so that I may understand
the things you have taught my people.
Let me learn the lessons you have hidden in every leaf and rock.

I seek strength, not to be superior to my brother,
but to fight my greatest enemy – myself.

Make me always ready to come to you
with clean hands and straight eyes,
so when life fades, as the fading sunset,
my spirit will come to you without shame.

– Chief Yellow Lark, Lakota, 1887