Thanks for stopping by, whether you got here by a link or hitting "next blog" -- I am glad you are here. I've also done some writing on homeschooling, and what I learned thinking I was teaching.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Winter Grace – Try Harder, OK?

The cold weather blew in the last night of the session – dropping the comfortable Texas temperatures to the low teens. Stepping out into the bracing breezes, I wondered about all that I had heard in the worship services – what am I supposed to do next?  Their theme was Deep into the Heart -- Wide into the World. Dr. Tim Keller and Fernando Ortega guided three worship services that addressed who we are – that is the church; how Christians integrate our faith and our work; and, what do our words look like in action.   (Link to the three sessions)

What I took away was, quit whining about how hard, scary, or unfair life is and make myself useful – be a part of the church, and lavish my time, talents, and resources on the poor.  The message to me, as part of the body of Christ, was: Give, not just to relieve the sufferings of the poor – but to empower them to rise above their circumstances. (Deuteronomy 4:5-8, 15:1-15) We have the position – a royal priesthood; the wherewithal – all kinds of jobs in which we may serve others while earning our keep; and we have a mandate that transcends Bible times.


Whew -- This is a tough message to hear in the times in which we live – my fear of running out of money, health, wisdom, or even time itself,  frequently sidelines me. That, and plain old, garden-variety selfishness. (Luke 12:15-21)

Dr. Keller wasn’t waging a new war on poverty. The church can’t change the world, Dr. Keller said, carefully; we will have the poor among us.  But, we can make disciples who can do some changing, and who will serve the poor, do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God.  (Micah 6:8) Our giving -- time, resources, love and prayers -- must be abundant, for who of us can say we pulled ourselves out of our problems by our bootstraps? 

Suddenly, Dr. Keller’s decidedly low-key confrontation of the self-absorption that can consume me, made me think of a question the pastor asked the previous Sunday. If my faith sounded forth as a song, how would my kids describe the song of my life? 

Hmmmmmm.  I am not sure astonishing generosity to the poor would be its title or refrain.   

Walking out into the cold, reflecting on what I have withheld more often than given, Bible passages, exhortations, gently unyielding, and music blew around my brain:    
Do I hear you professing to believe in the one and only God, but then observe you complacently sitting back as if you had done something wonderful? . . . Do you suppose for a minute that you can cut faith and works in two and not end up with a corpse on your hands? (James 2, The Message)

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

I think I’ll take hold of the gift that time is – remembering I really can’t out give God. But I could sure try harder.  

This good day – it is a gift for me! Once more, Sing with me!

If rainclouds come, or cold winds blow –
You’re the one that goes before me,
                  and in my heart I know -- 
This good day, it is a gift from You;
The world is turning in its place because You made it to . . .
I lift my voice to sing a song of praise for this good day. *

*Fernando Ortega

Sunday, January 19, 2014

There Are No Shortcuts to Anywhere Worth Going

Beverly Sill's Tombstone 
I wrote out some notes on Leviticus yesterday – carefully saved them. (I thought) And I prepared to email them to a friend who asked me to develop a few points on chapters 8-10, not the happiest story Scripture records. Only, when I attached the file – I saw there was no file – no record of any notes – no nothing. I could not retrieve them. Nor, could Doug. It was as if the computer said, I ate them and they are gone.

I’ve never lost any file so completely since my computer crashed this time last year.

So, back I went into Leviticus, Chapters 1-10. I reworked the notes, reviewing once again the unhappy end of Nadad and Abihu, the first priests, men who took shortcuts in worship, and the consequent grief of Aaron, the high priests and his other sons and priests, Eleazar and Ithamar. (Leviticus 10:1-3) And for the first time, I thought how their fiery death affected Moses and the people of Israel who saw fire blaze forth from the Lord’s presence and upon these two men, outing them to death.
But the story did not end with the first priests’ fiery execution.

Moses was careful to record how God reestablished Aaron and his sons and what He said:

The Lord then spoke to Aaron, saying, “Do not drink wine or strong drink, neither you nor your sons with you, when you come into the tent of meeting, so that you will not die—it is a perpetual statute throughout your generations— 10 and so as to make a distinction between the holy and the profane, and between the unclean and the clean, 11 and so as to teach the sons of Israel all the statutes which the Lord has spoken to them through Moses.”

God also made provision for Aaron’s family in subsequent generations, understanding and even affirming Aaron’s grief.  

I am tempted to turn away from such a deity – for I know many shortcuts I take in my spiritual life.  And for all those I remember, means I surely have forgotten or ignored many, many others.  So, given my propensities, maybe I needed to reconsider how God wants His priests to behave. (1 Peter 2:4-10

My habits –or preferences -- may make me think I am worshiping when I’m not.  Maybe I needed to reread what holiness and right worship look like – and maybe I needed a goad to remember that if there are no shortcuts to anywhere worth going, (Beverly Sills) there are even fewer shortcuts to holiness or worship.  

·      A well-beaten path does not always make the right road. (Author unknow)
·      There is no pleasure in life equal to that of the conquest of a vicious habit. (Author unknown)
·      We are quite ignorant of the real power of our habits until we try to give them up. ~ Clive Staples Lewis (1898-1963)   (Source of quotes)

Now that we know what we have—Jesus, this great High Priest with ready access to God—let’s not let it slip through our fingers.
 We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin.
So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give.
Take the mercy, accept the help. (Hebrews 4:16-19, The Message)

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Back in the Saddle, So to Speak.

Christmas is officially over – we arrived back in Dallas to see all the Christmas decorations that stir up happy hopes, gone until the day after Halloween 2014. Our wreath remains, though – and hey, since it’s not drooping or brown, it stays!

I am not quite ready to pack away even the minimal decorations . . . an anomaly for me.  Only a few are ones we had in Maryland – but they along with ones we “inherited” from Doug’s mom, or collected on our estate cruises, they quietly remind me Christmas need not end because one day is over.   

Our Cards!
A simple pleasure this morning was opening the Christmas cards that accumulated in our absence – God has given us wonderful family and friends! It’s a delight to be remembered – and to remember.    

Slowly sipping coffee, and reading the newspaper – another satisfying anachronism, I learned that American Idol returns tonight and that the government has figured out a back door into my computer – not exactly news. I think I prefer knowing about the return of a  talent show than the reality that the horse is long gone out of the privacy barn.

Be thankful we're not getting all the government we're paying for.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Reviewing a Book Not Quite Finished

This time last year I was reeling because an older acquaintance ended her life, leaving her family stunned and grieving. This year I am again reeling because a young friend died unexpectedly from an aggressive form of cancer. Last year, one woman wanted her life over, the other fought with all she had to stay alive.

Early in my friend’s battle, I sat with her in the ER as she struggled against pain. She was young enough to be my child, and her fight astonished me into silence, as I sat alongside her, watching her struggle against pain the disease inflicted. Unseen powers – the cancer and the meds -- clashed within her and robbed me of words to describe the impression of being permitted on holy ground.

I had just started Timothy Keller’s book, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering shortly before my friend was diagnosed. I couldn’t remember anything worth repeating! But, she wanted me to sing – hymns of comfort . . . croaking was all I could manage.  

I am reading Dr. Keller’s  book slowly; aware of her struggle, but also with the awareness that so many people are hurting, and Bible-speak  is no comfort!  People don’t want victory chants or verses – we want a hand to hold, a shoulder to lean upon – a guide who knows the way through dark, scary, hurtful places; a friend who is faithful. Fancy arguments and religious jargon can quickly become like gibberish or weapons. (Remember Job’s friends?)

I thought I knew most of the arguments Dr. Keller would advance in his book. However, seeing my young friend and her family suffer reminded me how inadequate my understanding is – especially when no words properly describe the anguish disease inflicts.

. . . Suffering takes away the loves, joys, comforts that we rely on to give life meaning.  How can we maintain our poise, or even our peace and joy, when it happens? The answer is that we can do that only when we locate our meaning in things that can’t be touched by death.” (p. 40)

But what thing could ever be untouched by death – or decay?  

So far, reading through the book has been like studying a huge quilt, skillfully pieced together so that I can discover again God’s personal handiwork. Dr. Keller shows us the big picture of how humans cope, how Christians cope, and how individual Christians cope – Philosophy, religion, and faith views. Describing a diversity of views on suffering – contrasting them with that the Bible says about why people suffer –   he has pieced together a work that is as useful and necessary as a warm quilt on a cold night.  Some see pain and suffering as a crazy quilt of anguish; the Bible sees an order and purpose – and often with a dimension that is not discernible in the here and now.  The Bible tells me, a person, not a thing, gives meaning and purpose to what looks senseless. (Isaiah 45:7) God is the border of the quilt, and He is its center point. And God stitches it all together. 

I hear Christ ask Martha, Do you believe this? (John 11:25-26)

Whenever or however death ends life, it changes how we who survive live. So far, in the book, I can see that I can come under this quilt for protection, or stand outside of it, critiquing the handiwork. 

“I can’t help them; God can; and I will let Him . . .” (p. 229)

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

This is the day!

The first day of this New Year, 2014, is crisp, sunny and clear – but the prospect of a good old Nor'easter looms.  Such storms have changed many of our plans over the years, snowing us in our homes for days at a time . . . In 1996, our son returned from his first semester at college in Michigan, and found [to his dismay] just as much, or more, snow as he left.

True to some instinctive impulse, we went to the store yesterday and bought a few essentials so we won’t starve – peanut butter, soup, coffee and milk, which neither of us drinks. We Marylanders have been known to mob stores just before a storm whose predictions are worse than their reality – depleting it of coffee, milk and toilet paper. Living in Texas has not moderated the urge.  If I am not careful, listening too closely to the Weather Channel, could keep me stocking up on stuff I will not live long enough to use.

Fear is a powerful motivator  -- and it motivates me to say and do things that are counterproductive.  Words can’t overcome fear . . . any more than stockpiles of coffee and toilet paper will protect me from a storm or tornado. Preparedness, however wise, may not always protect either.

When I came into Al-Anon’s rooms, I was surprised to hear that 90% of what we fear will happen, rarely does; it’s the other 10%, of which we rarely thought, that messes us up.  I worried a member of my family would take the whole family down with their drinking (causing me enormous shame). It never crossed my mind that a power greater than myself could and would intervene in their life and mine.

Almost forty years ago, I came to believe that a power greater than myself could do what I could not . . . and what the God of my understanding did when I let go of projecting my fears on the future changed my present. And He gave me the daily choice -- how to live in the present, letting go of fear and regret.  That’s 14,000 days mas o menos to have chosen whom or what to serve. (Joshua 24:15)

Too often, I chose to serve fear.

Fear may be a false god – but that doesn’t make it any less real.    

Whatever commands your hope will control your heart, and what controls your heart will direct your words and behavior. (Paul Tripp)

Happy New Year to thee and me, gentle reader. Hoping and praying that God of my understanding, the One who is, will guard and equip us to keep the faith He freely offers through storms, real and imagined.  (Hebrews 13:20-21)