Sunrise

I finished my assignment and sent in the files to Bible Reading Fellowship today. When I was archiving the new files on my computer, I saw the files I had sent in last year. I couldn’t remember what I had written, so I opened them up and reread them.

I found that I had deliberately started my devotionals back then with the same sentence three days in a row. The line was: If the sun rose this morning, you may be sure God has a plan for the day. 

I liked it so much I modified it slightly and made a poster out of it.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Being in the dark

Hebrews 11:13  All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.

Today I wrote a short devotional about this Bible verse for the Good News Daily published by the Bible Reading Fellowship. The devotional will not appear in print until after New Year’s Day of 2019.

(By the way, I recommend this little leaflet publication that fits inside a standard church bulletin. It provides a one-minute devotional for each day of the week along with the daily scripture references from the Revised Common Lectionary. It’s a great tool to share with your congregation each week.)

Right before I wrote out the devotional meditation to go with verse in Hebrews, I had posted an old blog entry on Facebook. It was one I had included in my collection published as On Pelican Wings:

In Gerald May’s book on the 16th century classic from St. John of the Cross, The Dark Night of the Soul, he points to one of John’s unexpected conclusions.

“Sometimes the only way we can enter the deeper dimensions of the journey is by being unable to see where we’re going.

“John says that in worldly matters it is good to have light so we know where to go without stumbling. But in spiritual matters it is precisely when we do think we know where to go that we are most likely to stumble. Thus, John says, God darkens our awareness in order to keep us safe. When we cannot chart our own course, we become vulnerable to God’s protection, and the darkness becomes a ‘guiding light,’ a ‘night more kindly than the dawn.’

“Let me say it again: whether we experience it as painful or pleasurable, the night is dark for our protection. We cannot liberate ourselves; our defenses and resistance will not permit it, and we can hurt ourselves in the attempt. To guide us toward the love that we most desire, we must be taken where we could not and would not go on our own. And lest we sabotage the journey, we must not know where we are going. Deep in the darkness, way beneath our senses, God is instilling ‘another, better love’ and ‘deeper, more urgent longings’ that empower our willingness for all the necessary relinquishments along the way.”

With the thought of God making things “dark” on my mind, I thought about how it would be 21 months before regular readers would see what I had put down for that day’s entry. I was living out the same experience described for those long-ago saints. I had made the effort but could not hope to see results any time soon.

A favorite line from Rick Warren’s book, The Purpose Driven Life, came to mind. Rick starts his first chapter with the aphorism, “It’s not about you.” I have quoted this line many times. But now a variation took shape in my thinking. I think the familiar phrase is a good way to summarize the principle of having a Christian servant-heart. God calls us to serve, not to be served.

But we can’t serve others at all if we are not there to begin with. People won’t be reading my little devotional entry for many months yet. But they can’t read it at all if I don’t get to work and write it now, long before it gets to their hands, and long before I have any way of knowing who they might be.

I adjusted the aphorism a bit. “It’s not JUST about you.” There’s a part for me to play, responding to the Lord’s direction. And he already knows who he intends to touch with the fruit of my labor. I don’t, and don’t need to know. I can do my part without knowing the rest of his plan.

Sometimes, lest we sabotage the journey, we must not know where we are going. It’s enough if God knows.

*****

UPDATE: Melanie has also reflected on the Rick Warren quote at her blog.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

God’s intentions, Cain’s intentions, and mine

Genesis 4: 3 Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD.
 4.  But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering,
 5.  but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. 

Both God and Cain faced the same problem: what to do with the reality of free and independent wills when the will of another does not agree with your own.

I do start with the presumption that Cain’s intention was right to begin with. He came offering a gift representing his best work, his hard work. I am not surprised he found it hard to be rejected. Was God disbelieving Cain’s heart intentions? Weren’t Cain’s intentions the same as Abel’s in bringing God a sacrifice?

Yet God appears to be considering more than the interior intentions. The ways those intentions were expressed were also important to God. It seems to be the case that how you say it is just as important as what you say.

I have pondered the dilemma myself in a way that surprised me. In the past two and a half years I’ve met a dozen or so different therapists who tried to help me recover from the stroke. They would carefully describe moves, and closely watch me, as I tried to follow their instructions. When I revisited them in the days following, they would correct and tweak my movements if I was not following their original instructions. I wasn’t trying not to listen. But I was  fascinated by the growing collection of variations I was being shown by different therapists in very similar exercises. Everyone had the same intentions. And everyone had different benchmarks they believed were the key to my progress. I had no way to tell who was right. My progress — what there was of it — didn’t seem, to my eyes, to vary all that much regardless of whose instruction I was trying to follow.

I realized it was pointless to argue about it. I was happy to stipulate that their intentions were good. I didn’t doubt their good faith in trying to hand on what they had been taught. These therapists were professionals who had earned the right to be listened to.

Their best efforts had, in a sense, nothing to do with the results I was seeing or not seeing. I began to think that results in my physical recovery were not what God was using these experiences for. I was supposed to learn the simple lessons of submission, patience, obedience. Learning those lessons was important even if I remained physically crippled (for now).

The same lessons were there for me to learn after the therapists left and Melanie tried to pick up their instructions and keep them fresh in my mind.

The intentions were the same, even if the results, or lack of them, also seemed the same.

I got to thinking God had the same problem as Cain because God’s intentions (of a close relationship with Adam and his children) was also being frustrated. What God had done in the Creation was all good. How come the results now were not?

Because Cain thought he had an equally good idea, even a better idea. And I can recognize the pattern. “Your intentions are fine but listen to my idea!” My idea might even be fine for one set of results. But they will not build the connection, the relationship, that God is more interested in.

What is important is what He wants, not what I want.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Seasons

In the middle of the night an old song came back to me. It’s 40 years old and I haven’t heard it in awhile. It used to bring me to tears. It did again.

You feel like you’ve lost control,
And the valleys seem so low,
Well it’s not forever, just a season of the soul.

seasons

When I looked up the song this morning, that butterfly escaping the cocoon image lifted my heart. Again.

The Omartians were among the first artists I heard when I started working in Christian radio. This particular song was not one I heard right away. The track runs nearly 7 minutes, more than twice as long as the usual radio-length songs of the time. But when I finally discovered it in the music library it became one of my personal favorites. The lyrics grew out of Stormie’s personal battles, of which I knew nothing at the time. The song is a sober, serious consolation and encouragement for those facing the oh-so-familiar struggles of life. There is no quick healing or solution promised. It is just a call to be steadfast in the day facing you.

A time to cry, a time to sing,
There’s a time for everything,
Nothing lasts that long.
Don’t look at what you see,
And just keep your eyes on Me.
I won’t let you go wrong.

The description of life consisting of seasons was an image that has stayed with me. At the time I first heard the song, my experience was mostly that of new seasons beginning and coming into bloom. Now, after many years, I’m aware that those seasons have begun to close, one after another.

I realize, even as I think fondly of seasons past, that they are truly past. The eternal future at home with the Lord remains somewhere up ahead. The immediate prospect is more like a growing twilight, with shadows spreading over what was familiar on the journey so far.

When you look for the voice that you’ve known, and no one’s there,
And when it seems the caretaker’s heart just doesn’t care,
It’s the seasons of the soul.
It’s the seasons of the soul.
Well it’s not forever – ….

But right now we must admit: forever is yet to come. We’re still dealing with the day before us.

In the 1970’s Michael released several highly original Christian albums performing songs written with his wife. They helped define the new contemporary Christian music scene that was fueling a new era of Christian radio. Stormie went on to write a number of books on prayer and intercession. Michael became one of the most successful pop music producers of the 1980’s. He was behind such huge hits as Sailing by Christopher Cross and She Works Hard For the Money by Donna Summer. It was a new season for him.

As I was digging up the memories online, I came across one of Michael’s last releases as a lead performer. It was another album of Christian songs written with Stormie. I found another old favorite from this Christian couple that provided a grace note to finish my earlier meditations. It was a statement of closure and assurance, regardless of the day I faced or the dimming light.

The work has all been done
And He’s already called you by name

It is done
Don’t you know that it is done
The battle has been won
It is done
It is done.

When I was halfway through writing this blog, I had an accident. I was standing in the bathroom, leaning for support on my walker. Suddenly I had to sneeze. I had no warning time to brace myself. For the first time in more than a year, I fell, hitting my back against the toilet seat. Fortunately, although the tile floor is a hard one, I broke nothing. My back will probably display a rainbow of colors the next few weeks.

Melanie’s sister had been visiting for lunch. They both hurried when they heard me cry out. Melanie waited until she was sure I was not injured seriously and had helped me to my feet. Then she broke into panicked tears and we hugged.

Another day in a long season. But

Don’t you know that it is done?
The battle has been won!
It is done
It is done.

**********

SEASONS OF THE SOUL

Lyrics by Stormie Omartian
Music by Michael Omartian

Whenever Summer dreams start to fade and lose their light,
And when the Spring in your heart seems so cold, it can’t be right,
And you feel like you’ve lost control,
And the valleys seem so low,
Well it’s not forever, just a season of the soul.

If you could step away just to see how far you’ve gone,
If you would take the time just to be what you’ve become,
You could have the time to grow,
There would be a chance to know
That it’s not forever, just a season of the soul.

Oh, it’s the season of the soul
It’s the season of the soul,
It’s the season of the soul,
It’s the season.

Walkin alone in the desert at night, searching for the rain,
How can this happen to me — it’s not right, when Jesus is my friend,
Everything was going fine,
I was standing on the line,
Where did I go wrong?
Suddenly the sky was gray,
Looking like it was gonna stay,
Far too long.

Up on a mountain I heard His sigh, like an angel’s call,
If you don’t rest when the Winter is here, what will you bear in the Fall?
A time to cry, a time to sing,
There’s a time for everything,
Nothing lasts that long.
Don’t look at what you see,
And just keep your eyes on Me.
I won’t let you go wrong.”

So when you look for the voice that you’ve known, and no one’s there,
And when it seems the caretaker’s heart, just doesn’t care,
It’s the seasons of the soul,
It’s the seasons of the soul,
Well it’s not forever – It’s the seasons of the soul.

 

IT IS DONE

Michael And Stormie Omartian

You’re just along for the ride
Kicking all your dreams aside
Acting like He never died
So you could freely dream them
Spent and overdrawn
Things that you’ve been banking on
Thinking you’re the only one
Ever to redeem them again

Can you be satisfied
Walking in through life’s backside
When the front door’s open wide
Ready to receive you
Let your blindfold drop
You’re standing on a mountain top
Jesus has you lifted up
And He will never leave you alone

It is done
It is done
The battle has been won
It is done

Will you just ride on the rim
Talking like your hopes are slim
When you could be reigning with Him
In power that won’t fail you
Should your heart grow numb
Waiting for your time to come
When the work has all been done
And He’s already called you by name

It is done
Don’t you know that it is done
The battle has been won
It is done
It is done

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The veiled icon

A few years ago on a day trip to Tarpon Springs icon-closedwith Melanie, I picked up a small icon triptych at one of the shops there. There is a central image with two hinged panels on either side that can be closed over and cover the central image. This is done during the season of Lent, as a sort of “fast” from the icon during that time. This triptych stands on a table by my bed.

As I learned more about the history of the Christian church I came to appreciate the non-verbal testimony such traditional works of art contributed. The rest of the year, icons of various saints are a reminder that we have their intercessions and examples to support us. Covering them during Lent is a way of underlining the time of repentance and self-sacrifice we are called to as we approach Easter. For the same reason, the crucifix carried in procession at the worship services is covered with a veil during Lent.

A side note: The picture above is the first one I have taken with my camera since I had the stroke. The last pictures I had taken, one week before that, were of Melanie being awarded the Judges’ Prize at a church food fair. Since the stroke my hands are too shaky to hold the camera safely. I don’t get out of the house much and, when I do move around, my hands are needed to grip the handles of a walker to keep from toppling over. When I pulled out my camera today the battery was dead and needed to be recharged.

Just as well that my icon saints had their eyes covered. My season of fasting continues.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Lent 2012

I have been recalling an Ash Wednesday service from five years ago when, at the altar, I placed the ash cross on the forehead of a young boy. Here is what I wrote at this blog back then.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Devotionals

Some days God just piles up the devotional readings for us. It started with this one:

Mark 11:1-11  ENTERING JERUSALEM
Writing for a Gentile audience, Mark mostly skipped over explaining the details of how Jesus was fulfilling one prophetic scripture after another. For example, he makes no comment on the timing of the arrival at Jerusalem in the week of Passover. Zechariah 9:9 foretells the arrival of the Messiah riding on a donkey. Mark describes the fact as if it is just a humble, colorful detail…

Mark notes that Jesus departed the city to stay overnight in Bethany, the home of his dear friends, Lazarus, Martha and Mary. Mark does not bring up the extraordinary history with that household or how it foreshadowed what was about to unfold in Jesus’ own life. The stories that Mark had already written down were extraordinary enough on their own to grab the attention of his readers.

The choices Mark made are themselves a lesson for us as we give our own testimonies. We must find the details that are essential and most likely to earn the attention of our listeners. It is certain we will remember many details that were deeply meaningful to us in all our experiences with Jesus. But at different times, with different people, it may not be necessary to tell all those details. The Holy Spirit will do the work of conviction even with the briefest summaries that lift up and glorify the Name of Jesus.

I had begun that day staring back at myself in the bathroom mirror. I had been trying not to grit my teeth at how stroke-broken my body remains after two years and four months. I had been thinking how I needed to bite my tongue and not write another blog focusing on my own condition. People must inevitably get tired of the details that Melanie and I live with 24 hours a day. “At different times, with different people, it may not be necessary to tell all those details.” I wobbled down the hall to breakfast, thinking to myself, “This is the day the Lord has made… for His own purposes.”

Melanie read and played our morning menu of devotionals while I nibbled carefully at my food. I had read the one on Mark as part of my voice exercises. Now Melanie turned to the Pray As You Go web page.

Our desire to be in charge of our own lives is strong and surely, at least to some extent, a gift from God.  However, does not God sometimes seem demanding?  Where your heart is, there your treasure shall be!  What price human freedom, if God always has the last say?

I worked at swallowing without choking. When I do choke and gag, I can tell Melanie tenses up. I hate doing that to her. But I’m very grateful she stays at the table with me, long after she has finished her breakfast. My breakfast usually takes an hour or longer.

Melanie went to John Piper’s Solid Joys web page.

Many of us need the reminder, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12). It isn’t strange.

God seemed to have something He wanted me to hear this morning.

Melanie picked up a small booklet of daily readings we’ve been using this year by Bruce Bickel and Stan Jantz called Keeping God in the Small Stuff.

It is easy to see and hear God in the big events of life. But monumental or cataclysmic events don’t happen very often. If we expect to hear God only in the spectacular moments we will miss most of what He is trying to say to us.

Melanie had a new name to add to our prayer list. Most of the people on our prayer list are in worse shape than we are. This was another one like that.

A girl Melanie went to church and grade school with had sent a Facebook message. Melanie had posted a picture of the dresser next to our dining room table. It had held all my liquid food and medical supplies when Melanie was feeding me through the stomach tube. That tube was removed last month. Melanie wanted to sell the dresser now that it was no longer needed.

Nancy, her grade school friend in Michigan, saw the picture and wrote her.

“We started tube feeding two weeks ago,” she wrote. We learned her husband has been dealing with cancer. He is on oxygen and has a drip feed going from 6 p.m. until 6 a.m. every day. Nancy has to give him insulin shots every four hours. Between times, she sleeps on the floor next to her husband’s recliner. Melanie had introduced them to each other. They’ve been married 50 years.

“Any advice?” Nancy asked.

That night Melanie spoke to her at length on the telephone. From the next room I heard her describing the bits and pieces of the lessons Melanie and I have learned the past two years of our journey. She encouraged Nancy to let her local church help. “People want to help. They just don’t know how unless you let them know.”

That morning when Melanie played the audio devotional from Our Daily Bread, the first words from the announcer were,

Never call it quits in pursuing Jesus.

Because he’s not done with us, or done with making the day yet. He’s still looking for help in the harvest. And He’s able to use us in our present condition.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment