A morning like this…….

My future belongs to Him

Sitting in the dark this morning, I imagine what it might have been like; a morning much like this one. Maybe the stars were still out as they started on their way to the garden tomb, moving quietly with their little bundles of materials and spices up the path.

We all start the day a little like them, don’t we? With a mix of trepidation and grief and a little hope mixed in that what He said was really true. I sat in the quiet this morning, in the dark, the stars still visible and the Holy pink of dawn just starting to color the sky.

Sitting there, I imagined the little Holy processional……I heard the crunch of feet on the rocky pathway. I saw each head bowed down in sadness, watching the path as pink dawn just began to touch the earth with Holy light.

I imagine they heard the first bird too, just as I did, singing of hope despite everything. He always does. I continued to sit, and wait. I needed to start my day, I needed to get going. Still I sat. Some things are more important. I think of this world as it is today, the Miracle has already happened.  Still only part of the world has truly grasped it.

The women rounded the corner and as they did, the earth rumbled and shook. The guards struck dumb as beings of impossible light sat on the stone and said those words that lit Heaven and Earth with all the hope we will ever need:

“He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying.

In fear and trembling and joy, they ran back to tell the others. Their little bundles were useless, for now they carried something far more important, tangible hope. And we’ve been running back to try to tell the others ever since. Sometimes we don’t tell it right, and sometimes we don’t live it right, but we’re still trying.

Some still don’t want to hear it. And there are times we fall prey ourselves to the same conspiracies that started way back then. We get sucked under by everything we see and hear and forget the living hope we still have. But it’s still there. Because He’s still here.

At that very hour after His resurrection the stories swirled, and conspiracies were cooked up. The stories have been swirling ever since except now they swirl faster and even more furiously. Back then they invented a big lie and as the Bible puts it, “a very large sum of money” was changed hands and the rest is history.

Stories, lies and large amounts of money. Sounds like our modern politics. Some things just never change.

As for me, I know the truth. I’m throwing my useless bundle of death to the side and embracing Hope. Time to get this day going.

 

 

 

We are all One in Christ Jesus

Love one another

But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise. Galatians 3:26-29

I remember when the Berlin wall came down. It was a historical moment. Here is a little snippet of Reagan’s infamous “tear down that wall” speech:

General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!

I understand the fear of war and the pain of division that afflict this continent– and I pledge to you my country’s efforts to help overcome these burdens. To be sure, we in the West must resist Soviet expansion. So we must maintain defenses of unassailable strength. Yet we seek peace; so we must strive to reduce arms on both sides.

Jesus was the original “wall leveler.” He smashed walls right and left, and it got Him into a lot of trouble. He addressed women, as equals, he ate and drank with tax collectors and sinners. He mingled with the rich and poor and he approached lepers and the outcasts of society. He never refused anyone who came to Him.

It’s been said that the ground is level at the foot of the cross and I believe that. There are no levels in Christianity, you either are or you aren’t. We are all clinging to the cross each and every day if we are to be honest with ourselves. I don’t know why, but we tend to grade each other and ourselves, but Jesus never does. God really doesn’t care how many times a week we go to church. He cares about the motives of our hearts. This needs to be said.

Paul spoke about walls and divisions when people in the church were starting to break themselves up in different “camps.” And we tend to do the same thing with our Pastors and each other. It’s just human nature I guess.

But this is the truth…….we are all in just as much of a dire and desperate need of Jesus as when we first believed. If we think differently, then we are deceiving ourselves. Most of the time, we fall somewhere between Billy Graham and Mother Theresa and the prodigal son and Peter when he hacked off the Roman’s ear. They were all in different places in their journey throughout their lives and so are we.

Christianity is simply this, that each day we come anew to the cross. Each day we celebrate a new Resurrection from death to life. Each day we try our best and admit our utter failure in ourselves and our utter belief in Jesus.

Jesus is praying for unity. He is praying that we love, and forgive. We are all on a journey to meet Jesus face to face someday. This means you, if you have ever said yes to Him. Look around, there are no “Super-Christians” here. Just people who have humbled themselves and responded to the Invitation.

In the quiet of night when only God saw.

In the middle of a church service.

With your arms around a fellow believer.

Even after you said you never would.

You get up, and you go. Against the odds, with all eyes upon you.

This means you, if you’ve ever felt the lump in your throat and tears spill over at Amazing Grace, or How Great Thou Art.

If you’ve ever known the unmistakable tug of the Spirit in the middle of the day.

This means you, even if you haven’t darkened the door of a church in a while. He knows you’re His and there is nothing you can do to change that.

You, who no longer have to be judge jury executioner of your own life, that’s so exhausting isn’t it?

I love how the Message puts Romans 3:21-24:

But in our time something new has been added. What Moses and the prophets witnessed to all those years has happened. The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become Jesus-setting-things-right for us. And not only for us, but for everyone who believes in him. For there is no difference between us and them in this. Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.

I like to think of it like this. When you are out on a hike, there is a kind of rule. It’s unspoken but it’s there. I like to call it the grace of the trail. We are all on different levels, but we respect each other just for being out there under God’s blue sky. We give each other grace, we step aside so the faster ones can pass. Always, we try to greet each other with a smile of encouragement.

This is what we need to do as for each other as believers.

So grab a walking stick and come along with me. Extending a hand of Grace is a lot easier at the foot of the cross, the trail-head always starts there.

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Days when you feel stuck

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Sometimes, when we are in the darkness or someone we love is, we feel paralyzed. We wonder what to do. When it’s someone we love, we reach back into the wellspring of our own memories and remember how it felt being in the bottom of that well. It’s not a good place, we don’t want to go back there.

I remember that a miracle started my walk back to the Lord, and I also remember that even though He provided that huge first step I needed, He taught me that I needed to keep on walking toward Him, no matter how I felt. In my case, I needed to heal my mind before I could cooperate with God in healing my body. I needed to get up and take a courageous first step.

I remember those early days, exercising in the dark of the morning so no one would see me. Faithfully, I went out, day after day. Finally, my body started to reward me by showing me results. My mood improved, my confidence increased, and I started to attend classes with other people. I traded in my baggy clothes for bright colored leotards (and leg warmers, yes forgive me…….after all, it was the 80’s!)

God has never let me forget how it felt to be in that place of darkness and I am grateful for that, for now I can be empathetic to those who are there now. My advice might seem meager and overly simplistic, but there is great power in it. Because I’ve been on the road, I know the road out.

These days when I feel paralyzed, I stop and seek the Lord. I pray. The beauty of prayer is that you can stop and pray anytime and anywhere.

Then I thank God for the new day and I thank Him simply because He is with me in it. It’s a process of reaching for the light, sometimes over and over again throughout the day. That process alone is a conscious effort of choosing joy. Light over darkness. There is plenty on any given day to feel hopeless about, all we have to do is watch the news.

After I pray, I open the Word and ask God to reveal the power and hope in its pages. I always find what I need there. Satan will try his best to keep me from doing that, because he knows once I start giving God gratitude in the midst of my circumstances and opening the Word, he knows he has lost the battle.

Then, I just start moving around in the day, starting with little tasks like cleaning the cat box, starting the laundry, emptying the dishwasher. I have found that Holiness resides in little tasks when it costs you an act of faith just to take that first step.

Then I start looking for the light. In every little thing I can find…….from the frozen bird bath, to the sun shining through Mr. Briggs whiskers……….

There is a darkness called depression and it’s very very real to many people. When you are there in that place, there is nothing anyone can say that will make a difference. Those easy platitudes will only make a depressed person feel worse, almost like its their fault. Believe me, they are usually kicking themselves around the block and back, wondering what is wrong with them.

In those instances, it may be that medication is needed, or counseling, or both. But in all those situations, God is there ready to meet you. If someone you love is in a dark place, pray and keep praying. If you are that someone, know that hope is near. And it’s for you, not for everyone else.

Look to the Light today, take just one step forward and I will stand with you. Together we can walk out of the land of the shadows.

Because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us   from Heaven…..Luke 1:78

 

 

Resurrection in the Desert

There was a chill in the air this morning that sparked a feeling of being awakened to new life. It conjured all kinds of memories of fall and the holidays and warm socks and pumpkin pie and sugar cookies at Christmas, and Bach playing while fire-colored leaves twist and fall like rain to the earth. There were a few days earlier this fall where it was chilly, but we knew those times were flukes fashioned to tease us, because we still had a few triple digits to come after.

Now, however, the chill and the hope are real because we know that the monstrous heat is gone, having released its death grip on us until next year.

While most of America turned their clocks back, our clocks remained steadfastly fixed where they were. Arizona is one of a few rebel states that doesn’t participate in daylight savings time. There is a little self-satisfied pride that comes with this I think. A kind of thumbing our nose at everyone else, because it’s the one little independence we still have to separate us from the status quo. Maybe that’s just me.

 This morning I walked in the dark with a sweatshirt, a welcome change. Fall here means that life begins again. Winter visitors come back and spruce up their yards and repairs are made to bicycles and fireplaces and BBQ’s alike spark to life. Everyone comes outside.

Advent feels closer. Even saying it conjures peace. Soon I will put my little Christmas tree in the shop so I can have my quiet time with its cheery brightness sparkling from the little shelf where it shines to remind me of when Christ came near, when He touched down on this earth so long ago. And how He prays for me from the depths of the unapproachable Light of Heaven even at this moment.

Yes. It’s good, this time of year.

We Arizonans know it maybe more than most.

I turned Christmas music on today but it felt like betraying Thanksgiving, so I settled for some David Nevue on Pandora. It fit.

When your cup of sacrifice feels like it’s overflowing

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Sometimes it seems like your cup of sacrifice is overflowing. You want to hold your hand tightly over the cup, never mind that it’s spilling down your arm. You want to say, “When….when……enough already! Those who are caregivers, feel this. They live it daily. I see it. Everyday I see a daughter’s love overflow in terms of sacrifice. In terms of love that hurts.

I see the Walgreen’s bag and I think all these thoughts. I think that most people don’t know the backstory, but God does. He always does. I take the Lay’s potato chips and the Snickers and the coke and put them in their places until her next visit to her Mom in Room 8.

I see that bag and think of all it represents…….I think of about 100 bags just like that over the past two years since her Mom has been in the Alzheimer’s facility and I think of all the in-between years leading up to it. A best friend knows.

The back story. We all have one. Hers was a difficult childhood. I guess you could say that her Mom was pretty much emotionally and many times physically not available. Chicken-scratch poor and married at 17, she was ill-equipped for parenting. She says, “Mom did the best she knew how.” But when best is sorely lacking you grow up with some scars.

You see, her Mom didn’t deal in emotion. You learn early not to cry, to stifle emotion when you’re told “Crying never solves anything.” So you bury, and submerge, and try harder to not mess up, since everything you do is watched with a critical eye and nothing you do ever seems to measure up.

When all the good you do is passed over and the one mistake is brought out into the limelight, you learn to keep trying for that golden ticket of praise that never comes.

But that didn’t put a damper on the bright spark of your personality. Living with a mean brother meant there was always chaos. Yelling and screaming were the norm. It was a fight or flight existence. So you went out and got to know all the neighbors. Did their lawns almost from the time you could walk.

And all along, you dreamed of somewhere quiet, somewhere safe. A refuge to call your own.

Later in life you stepped in front of your older brother when he thought it was okay to start beating his wife and kids, and even his own Mother. You took the blows for that, then your Mom got mad because she couldn’t understand why you didn’t want to pick him up from jail.

When you were 17, before you graduated, they left for overseas and didn’t come back for 13 years. You took care of the bills and the house and the yard, and then got kicked out when your Mom said you had to make way for abusive brother and new wife to move in. After all, he had a family.

You moved into the condo they left trashed and then he had the nerve to ask for rent.

And then there was the money your folks borrowed for the house you both lived in, the settlement money from the terrible accident that broke your back. After the house was sold you never saw that money.

For years you walked around with all that past, until the day you went to that river and held it under along with a lot of other things. You finally found that quiet place of peace in the person of Jesus. Your Mom was there and your Dad too, wondering why anyone would be crazy enough to be baptized in a river. But they were there.

All these years later, I watch you give your Mom back her dignity day after day. You replace incorrectly matched shoes, and 2 extra pair of underwear. You cut her hair and nails.

You learned a long time ago that the best way to heal is by making peace with the past.

Please know this. This post of mine is by no means meant to downgrade or disrespect your Mom, in fact, the opposite is true. For in light of everything else, there is one very important thing which she did incredibly right. She had you.

She had you even when they recommended an abortion. She had you, even though she was sick and they gave her those terrible drugs, even with all the risk,  she still said yes to having you, to giving you life. And for that, I will be eternally grateful; for that she gets my praise.

As your best friend for 26 years now, I stand in awe and amazement at how you have lived your life all these years. How you have lived out your faith by taking care of your family and putting yourself last too many times to count.

I watched as you sacrificed by taking a lower paying job so you could be nearer your Mom and have more time to take care of her. You took that job and made it into a ministry of love for the kids you drive to school every day.

So this is for you Elaine, because you never give yourself credit, I will. It’s what best friends are for.

I dedicate this post to sacrifice in all its many forms. We have a duty, those of us who write, to tell the back stories. All those who died 14 years ago today had back stories too, and we must keep those stories alive for their children and grandchildren and all of us who remain. And to Jesus Christ who paid the ultimate price so that we all might live.

A Soul at Rest

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O Lord, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty;
Nor do I involve myself in great matters,
Or in things too difficult for me.
Surely I have composed and quieted my soul;
Like a weaned child rests against his mother,
My soul is like a weaned child within me.
O Israel, hope in the Lord
From this time forth and forever.

Psalm 131

It’s a wonderful thing to think about isn’t it? That our soul can be completely quieted by resting in the Lord, as rested as a weaned child. I love when I stumble on a verse I either haven’t read in a long time, or don’t remember reading at all. It’s like it opens up a brand new vista just when I need it most. This morning, I asked for a word because I had nothing and then after prayer the words flowed out without me even trying.

Jesus said,  Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone?

Yes, indeed. This morning was a gift, as I sat outside in the breeze I quieted my soul by noticing little things……a dried leaf skittering across the ground. The sound of the little bee wind chime which has a delicate sound that the big clanging buoy bell tries its best to drown out. A hummingbird chirp was coming from somewhere but I never saw it. When the world is turned down and the soul is quieted, you can hear these things.

Last night I went out and gazed at the bright wedge of moon and thought that faith in God is very much like that moon without anything shining on it. We know it’s up there but only when the sun is shining on it do we see it. Every day I see faith living itself out in the land where the shadow of death hangs.

I see the man who comes preaching and singing to Joyce’s care home. What a tough crowd, half of them have their heads down on the table. But He is doing what God calls him to do, and I don’t know how he does it week after week but he does. And with joy too.

I see Elaine having to change her Mom’s clothes, a thing that horrifies them both but they do what they have to do. And I don’t know how she does it, but she does. Faith living itself out no matter what, because like that moon, we can’t see Him but we know He’s there and there is hope because He lives and He’s with us, every step we take however painful.

Right now I am reading a wonderful book I  found called “The Green Desert” a silent retreat. It’s written by Rita Winters. She quit her high stress advertising job and went on a 3 week retreat in the Sonoran desert. I highly recommend it. As I read her descriptions of the desert I know so well, I thought how blessed I have been to have lived here in this Hermitage I call my home for 8 years now.

The desert speaks to you if you let it. It teaches you what no other place can, it speaks of lonely sun-scorched places and turns the quiet up in your soul. The death in the landscape all around you, the severity of it all makes it that much more beautiful when it surprises you with life. Powerful resurrected life that has the power to take your breath away.

And it gives you the sense at night when you look up at all those stars amidst the shadow of those towering sentinels, the Saquaros, that they are bearing witness to something older and bigger than you.

You recognize there is another side to it all and you can sense it. Beyond the blackness, beyond space there is a ring of light so brilliant we aren’t prepared to see it yet. Our eyes are still too attuned to this world, but just the same they are there. The crowd of witnesses the Bible talks about is there. And just today I realized I didn’t have to question if they can see us, because a witness sees who and what it’s witnessing.

And like the moon, like God, just because we can’t see them unless the light is shining on them, doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

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The Art of Resting

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There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God;  for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience. Hebrews 4:9-11

This morning I have been reflecting on just what it means to have a “Sabbath rest.” Jesus did many “works” of healing on the Sabbath. He also walked many miles on Sabbath days. He didn’t follow the traditional Jewish Shabbat of not lifting a finger and he was sharply criticized for not “honoring” it the way the Jewish religious community thought He should. But honor it He did. Each Sunday, we celebrate all over again that He rose from the dead on that day. I can’t think of a better way to honor the Sabbath.

Each person must decide in their heart how best to do that by looking at the examples found in Scripture. Some people decide not to shop or go to stores. For me, it’s more important that I spend some quiet time reflecting, and resting my mind (and body) thinking about what it all means. To carve out a special day is a Holy thing. It’s a way of saying, “This day is different from all the rest.”

It’s hard sometimes to slow the mind down. Harder for some than others. One way to do this is by refusing to think about the task list I have set up for the next day. Another of my favorite ways is by taking a walk. When we went on our recent road trip, I took a walk one morning on a meandering path along the beach. All along the way, someone had left some memorial stones. If I had been distracted I might have missed them but I am so glad I didn’t. It was a Holy walk.

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Jesus is, in fact our very own Sabbath rest. Without Him, there is no rest. He is rest personified.

Happy Holy day to you all…….leave your burdens outside the door. Still your mind and know that you are part of a miracle.

The world is outside……many voices clamoring for attention and the headlines all seem to be screaming. But……the Lord of the Sabbath is still here.

 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30