Monday, February 6, 2017

Tangled

Winter has a firm grip on us here in the Adirondacks and it is nothing short of gorgeous.


I love a day like today when I can sit in my red chair by my huge window looking at the frozen lake and snow capped mountains in the distance under a sunny blue sky for as long as I want. Day off - woohoo!

Remember last year in many posts here I wrote about themes that pop up in the Bible as we read it cover to cover? Can you handle more?

For 2017 I decided to start with the New Testament for something different. After all, in December we celebrate the first coming of Jesus to the earth, why not jump right into the narrative on his life? Well, as always, it is not disappointing. Reading the Bible never is.

Being a word nerd, I can't help but pick up on frequently used words. My favorites this time around are believe and describing how the eyewitness of Jesus' life and ministry repeatedly responded, astonished, amazed, marveled, astounded, adding beyond measure, greatly, utterly and exceedingly to really drive the point home. That's a lot of enthusiasm.

I may have no choice but to add the spiritual discipline of marveling to my New Year's list. If you don't know what I'm referring to, catch up here.

Well, I can get off track pretty quickly. Ahem.

Anyway, I just finished the book of John. I do believe I have found a favorite section of the Gospels - John 14-16. These three chapters are jammed full of important truths and promises God has made to us through Jesus. Want to have a little nerd fun with me? (This is where you go get a cup of coffee and plan to spend 20 minutes with me.)

Notice the repetition and intimacy in Jesus' words:

14:1 “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.”Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”...
 
12 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. 13 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.

15 If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.
18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”  
22 Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” 23 Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father's who sent me.
25 “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you...

 15:4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.

7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full...

15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. 17 These things I command you, so that you will love one another.

18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours...
 
26 But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. 27 And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning...

16:12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

I know that was a lot. But did you see it too? The Father in Jesus, Jesus in us, the Spirit in the Father and Jesus, the Spirit in us. Mine. Yours. Ours. With you. Never leave you. Make our home with. In you...and on and on. Brings a song to mind, "We're all in this together....".*

God is not a far away God looking on from a distance, wishing us well, hoping we figure it out. No, He is close.

Tangled. He wants to be tangled up within us and has made it possible so many different ways. (study passage above) If we put our faith and trust in Jesus as the only Savior from our sins and hope for eternal life, we are all tangled up. Tangled up with the Father. Tangled up with Jesus. Tangled up with the Spirit. There are no gaps. No separations. I love the image of this so much.

Taking all this in a few words come to mind. Marvellous! Utterly and greatly amazing! Astounding beyond measure! I'm exceedingly astonished!

I believe.

I've been tangled up in quite a bit of junk in my life. None of it offered this closeness. This intimate involvement. This love. It's everything you and I have dreamed of and longed for.

The Bible says everything God has He gives to us. Everything. We are joint-heirs with Jesus, our brother. The Spirit dwells within us to help by reminding us of everything Jesus has taught, to convict us of sin and to comfort us in our times of need (among many other things).

Confession. One of my pet peeves is when a fellow believer tells a great story of how God has shown up and then declares it a 'God thing'.

Based on the passages above, everything is a God thing. To God, the distinction between secular and sacred doesn't exist. He's in it all. For us.

Which once again makes Him trustworthy. Loving. Good.

If you already know Him, imagine in your mind how tangled up God wants to be in every area of your life. Don't compartmentalize what you think He is about or not interested in. He wants to be in all of you. Receive this reminder especially for you today.

If you don't know Him yet, I dare you to believe and get tangled up in the greatest love you'll ever know.

*(poor High School Musical reference)
_____________________

And now, by special reader request, gratuitous grandbaby pitures.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

A Question If You Dare

Every year around our anniversary, I ask my husband a question. "Knowing what you know now, would you marry me again?"

I realize it's a little risky and takes some manner of guts to put myself out there as such, but I know me and that I need the assessment.

You can imagine the diverse answers I've heard over the 26 year span of our marriage, depending on his mood and my 'behavior'.

I think one reason I annually ask is because of a question my mother posed me when Scott and I were engaged. "When are you going to let him see what you're really like?" She meant it as a joke, I think, but you know there's usually a little truth in every joke.

Which is confirmed with my answer, "After the wedding".

As I attempt to read through the Bible in 2017, I've decided to start with the New Testament for a change. Since December is all about the birth of Jesus, why not jump right into the account of what happened next?

Quite often my anniversary question, with a twist, has popped into my head and I wonder what my answer to Jesus would be if He asked.

"Knowing what you know now, do you trust Me more than you did at the beginning of our relationship?"

I hope 32 years later my answer is a resounding yes. But is there evidence in my life that reflects it?

I mean, I've seen a lot. God has more than proven His faithfulness to me personally not to mention what I've seen in others' lives and in the world as a whole. And I'm just speaking of my lifetime, not centuries of past history.

But

What if He chooses to do something uncoventional and unpredictable? Will I still believe?
What if He asks me to walk another road of pain, disappointment, rejection, darkness? Will I follow in trust?

Does knowing what I know now play a part?

As I finished the Gospel of Mark this morning, I couldn't help but enter in to the disciples' response to Jesus' death and reported resurrection...

"When they heard that He was alive and had been seen...they would not believe it.
After these things, He appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking in the country. And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them" 16:11-13

Sheesh! They were eyewitnesses. Hadn't they seen and heard enough to convince? Backing up for a second, in almost every chapter, Mark repeatedly tells us that the people (including the disciples) were amazed, marvelled and were exceedling astonished at what Jesus taught and did. Those are some pretty strong adjectives. Did they forget?

I feel the sting.

Good news and bad news for the disciples.

Bad news - "Afterward He appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at the table, and He rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw Him after He had risen." v. 14

Good news - "And He said to them, 'Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.'" v. 15

I will never stop marvelling at how Jesus always sees our potential over our failures. At such a crucial moment after completely missing and refusing to believe the greatest miracle they'd ever witness, Jesus did not disqualify them. Instead, He invited them to the Great Adventure.

Sitting in my red chair by the window in the early morning quiet, my response is two-fold.

1. Oh Father, how many times have I hardened my heart and chosen not to believe what you've done or what you can do? I wonder how much I've missed. I'm so sorry!

2. Knowing what I know now, I refuse to doubt anything you present from this day forward. Please give me a larger capacity to believe even the most outrageous (and glorious) possibilities.  

Enter Luke 1 - (this is why we must read the whole Bible through) - two women who dared to believe.

Elizabeth, Zechariah's wife, old, barren, way past the age of child-bearing, but upright before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments (1:6,7):

"...Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, 
'Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.'" v. 24,25 She believed.

So much so that when her niece Mary surprised her with a visit, this happened. 

"...the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, (able to discern that Mary was pregnant and Who she was carrying), ...and declared, 
'Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of 
what was spoken to her from the Lord.'" v.41-45 

Speaking of Mary, a young engaged virgin, when visited by an angel telling her she has been chosen by God to deliver the long-awaited Messiah through a supernatural pregnancy, believed 'nothing is impossible with God'.(1:26-38):

"Mary said, 'Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; 
let it be to me according to your word.'" v. 38 

Two women. Not rebuked. Blessed.

What's your impossible today?
Knowing what you know now, do you believe what God can do?

If you've walked with Him for some years and you take a little time to consider what you've seen, I bet you have enough to go on.

If you are new to faith or not quite ready to put your trust in God, read the Bible and ask older believers to tell their God-stories. 

Then choose to believe. And be blessed.

2017 - a blank slate for us to see amazing.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Spiritual Discipline of Keeping Spiritual Disciplines

Addy Grace Burtis wishes you a Happy New Year!  I mean, have you ever? Yes, I bought her a tutu. I knew it was a good decision when my 22 year old co-worker saw her and responded, "Suddenly I feel like I need to wear a tutu." Yes.

Did you have as beautiful a December as we did here in Speculator, NY? Lots of white, piles of snow, frozen everything. Perfect. The exact opposite of December 2015. I couldn't be more thankful.

I hope you had a sweet, meaningful Christmas season as well.

All of our people were home with us and have since departed. But not before our annual after-Christmas family talk. It used to be centered around this box, given to us many years ago.
For at least a dozen Christmases, all five of us wrote down on a piece of paper a gift we planned to give Jesus that year and put it in the box. It's fun to read them years later.

I promise not to tease my sister anymore.
I promise not to freak out at my brothers.
I want to pray everyday.
I will read the Bible through this year.
I will try to obey my parents.
I want to share my faith more. 
And so many others....

Now that our littles are grown, we've modified this tradition a bit. Based on conversations with friends who inspire, Scott and I challenged ourselves and our kids on Thanksgiving to show up at Christmas ready to name and pursue specific spiritual disciplines in 2017. Our birthday gift to Jesus.  

To get us thinking, a few examples I'd heard from others:

The spiritual discipline of not having to have the last word.
The spiritual discipline of arriving early.
The spiritual discipline of a daily quiet time.
The spiritual discipline of underspending.

(I started one early and daily through Advent, just to get into the groove - the spiritual discipline of hand writing a note to someone who matters to me. Specifically, those whom I haven't been in contact with in a while.) 

I fully enjoyed remembering and telling each recipient what they've added to my life. Then I prayed and wrote what I was praying for each so they could know. Result? Fixed my mind on others through the entire month. Not to mention, I later learned, God would have many receive the note on a day when they particularly needed to know He was aware of them. He is so good! 

You may have noticed that almost none of the list above are spiritual at first glance, but I'm a firm believer that if we attempt anything with the intent to find God and display His reflection, it becomes spiritual.

All six kids agreed to participate. Fast forward to New Years night, our last together for awhile, the great reveal. 

We didn't want this to be a private thing, but rather a family gesture that we could pursue collectively, agreeing to check in on each other.  

The conversation started slowly, but ten minutes in and the kids were naming healthy behaviors faster than I could write them down. (We all know if we don't write down a resolution/goal, we'll forget it two weeks in. Am I right?)

I love what they want to work on, weaknesses they struggle with perhaps. I  marvelled at their honesty and vulnerability. I'm inspired by them.

Are you curious? Ok, you twisted my arm, here are a few:

The spiritual discipline of talking to Jesus before I talk to any other person when I'm hurt or upset.  
The spiritual discipline of giving everyone the benefit of the doubt.
The spiritual discipline of not judging or assuming the worst.
The spiritual discipline of offering grace to everyone, especially those closest.  
The spiritual discipline of reading books that will help my faith grow.
The spiritual discipline of not always putting my headphones in, but embracing the sounds or silence around me. 
The spiritual discipline of journaling thanks. 

Next, I read a little something that flowed from my pen into my journal earlier that morning as I considered the beginning of a new year.

Going into 2017, this I know for sure

Jesus loves me.
God is in control of everything that concerns me.
The Spirit is with me no matter what.
God's faithfulness and purpose will lead me.
Goodness and mercy will follow me.
In Him I already have everything I need.
I have nothing to fear.

I think it's good to write down what we know. To prepare our minds. Like every calendar year, many things happen to us - good, bad and ugly. I don't want to lose my footing in 2017. 

Before calling it a night, we prayed together, dedicating ourselves to serving Jesus through these initiatives as best we can in the new year, asking Him for help and success. What a tremendous blessing for these two parents to witness and be a part of.

A collective cracking up ended this holy moment as Addy Grace took to blowing raspberries while all our heads were still bowed and eyes still closed.

 A baby changes everything you know.


P.S. Naturally, because I'm an annoying type-A woman (don't you feel sorry for them?), this happened and found their way into the suitcases.

Parents of grown or almost grown children, don't stop guiding or including your kids in your own spiritual pursuits. Their participation might surprise and delight you.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Willing to Dabble....Just a Smidge

Five days until Thanksgiving. Seems like the older I get, the quicker the holidays and the passing of time.   
Because this is my favorite time of year, I'm up to my eyeballs in lists, and loving it. I have lists for what to pack for our upcoming road trip, the menu, groceries I need to buy upon arrival, and of course, my year round daily list of gifts. This one never ends and serves to keep me from my natural tendency to complain or feel entitled.
 
The practice of gratitude is everywhere and quite fashionable these days. Of course we know to be thankful in November. All the cool kids are doing it. So I'm not going to talk about that today. 
As Thanksgiving Day approaches, we as consumers are constantly tempted to rush into Christmas. You know it's true. I find many people are quite passionate on both sides of the aisle about it too. There seem to be two camps of people. The die hard "No Christmas until after Thanksgiving" And those who dive right in, blending both with joy. I have two friends who describe each well. One insists "no co-mingling" the holidays and is a purist - no red and green until brown and orange have fulfilled their place on the calendar.

Another, who has known much pain and difficulty in life (connection, maybe?) is a true co-mingler. She insists that Thanksgiving and Christmas are the holidayS. Plural. She has no problem joining the two together. She says the Christmas season is too short and it brings so much joy. Why wait? 

I get this. I'm actually kind of jealous of yet another friend, born in Canada, who is free to launch into Christmas right after Halloween because they've already celebrated Thanksgiving in mid-October. Yes!

I usually land in the middle somewhere. Not one who cares too much about Halloween, I'm all for extending the Christmas season. Four weeks is simply not enough time! People are generally happier, mellower and eager to bless others during the season. We need more of that, don't you think? I think we should petition lawmakers to move Thanksgiving up. Why does it have to be so late in November? I mean, if it's meant to commemorate harvest time, the 4th Thursday is much too late.

Still, the truth is I don't decorate for Christmas until after Thanksgiving, but I am willing to listen to a tiny smidge of Christmas music on the radio (when we lived in civilization where we actually had radio stations), saving my coveted and much loved CD collection until Black Friday. (You know how I feel about the practice of delayed gratification!)

I start out the family with both MercyMe albums (as loud as possible to wake them up), then move on to the Carpenters, Michael Buble and a new favorite if you can imagine, Rod Stewart. And so, so many more. 
My latest justification to become a co-mingler is that I work full-time. For 23 years, I was a stay-at-home mom and had as much time as I needed to search for new holiday dishes and dessert recipes, find crafty items to make with the kids, and create my own homemade gifts. I walk 4 minutes to work everyday, therefore, spending no time driving around listening to the familiar songs. Not to mention having plenty of hours to watch all the non-negotiable Christmas movies.
 
I am limited now. I don't have enough time! I'm tired at the end of the day. Waaaaa. Earlier this week I read that there's only 36 days until Christmas - what???

So here's my confession. I charged up my Christmas ipod a few days ago. And I listened to it. Yes, I have an ipod dedicated to the most wonderful time of year. In our family, Mommy gets all the kids' hand-me-down, outdated, cast aside electronics. Works for me. Now I don't have to change the songs out. The kids used to do this for me but now my faithful husband puts up with, I mean, lovingly appeases my wishes, making sure I'm fully stocked and ready to shuffle.

The thing about Christmas music is the deeply meaningful phrases. Sometimes in the familiarity we miss them.

A few that have captured my attention and affection the past few years:

The soul felt its worth

The thrill of hope; the weary soul rejoices

The wonders of His love 

The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight

He's the savior we have been praying for
In our humble hearts he will dwell
God is in us, God is for us, God is with us, Emmanuel*

Here is our Promised One, Jesus our Hope has come
With the angels we sing Glory to God in the Highest
He has brought this great love unto us**

Typically, I can be resistant to new music. All genres. I have my faves and I stick with them. Did I mention how many Christmas songs I already have (615 on the ipod to date)? I don't really need any more. But I'll take that back in a New York minute if Carrie Underwood puts out a Christmas album.

Alone in the car last night an unfamiliar song started. I was aghast! What was this? I didn't authorize this addition. I recognized the voice but didn't immediately place it and definitely had not heard the song before.

It was amazing. I fell in love. I cried. I hit repeat about 17 times.

I burst into the house and told Scott of my discovery.
 He gave me the side grin. 
"Have you heard it?"
"Who do you think put it on there? I knew you wouldn't listen any other way."

Well, that makes me seem a little stubborn. I reject this. 
Faithful to my loves is more like it.

At any rate, I had to tell someone so I sent the song to my daughter-in-law because she is trying to become a co-mingler but is married to her father-in-law's clone. Certain other family members would not have shared my joy. Ben, I'm looking at you.

I played it 8 more times for Scott before turning in for the night. I heard him singing along. I think he is quite pleased with himself. He's so sneaky though.

Oh how I love a new favorite thing. Want to hear it?  Click here
Go ahead, I'll wait.

See what I mean? Amazing!
Talk about phrases that capture and delight...

pick any from this amazing song Christ With Us by Todd Fields:

God is with us
He has come to save us
Mercy lights the darkness
Christ is Here

God is with us
Healer of the broken
Word of Heaven spoken (!!!)
Christ is here 

All rise, in His presence we are free

His love has shown that we are not alone

And that's the best news of all, before Thanksgiving or after. We are not alone, God is with us. Receive it today without hesitation.

PS. If you must wait six days to listen to it, that's fine, but don't forget to come back and Click here 

*God is With Us by Casting Crowns
**Unto Us by Matthew West

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Feast for the Eyes and a Feast for the Soul

 This is Utah from an airplane.  A few weeks ago we had a conversation. Do we save money or accept a long time standing offer to go visit friends we haven't been in the same room with for almost twenty years? 

I thought for sure I knew what Scott's answer would be. I was surprised and delighted when he said, "I think it's time we treat ourselves to reconnecting with an important friendship". So we booked our flights.
When you marry a person, you can get thrown into some of their relationships already in progress. Scott introduced them as two of his closest friends. I hoped I would measure up to their expectations for him. Sometimes you click and sometimes you don't. Turns out that together they would become one of the biggest blessings in my life.
Early in our marriage we spent a good amount of time in their home. We played cards, the women shopped while the husbands played video games, we ate terrible but delicious food and started raising our families together. Those were fun, good days that ended too soon.
I often say that he unofficially discipled this young wife and mother. He was the strong leader of our little group, often calling us who were a smidge younger to step up and grow up. I learned so much from him and quote those lessons often.
For years to come, he would be the go to phone call in time of crisis or need of advice. When my Dad died and I was asked to speak the eulogy, he proofread my first draft.
When we were in a dark season of wondering what God was doing with us, he skyped encouragement with Scott on a regular basis, which carried us through.
I'm a reader today because of his influence. I might possibly be a softer person because of what they've taught me about grace. My thinking is always expanded and usually corrected when we have time to go deep.
None of us had any doubt that even with two decades since our last face-to-face, there would be no awkwardness and we'd pick up where we left off. It was sweet. It was silly. It was refreshing. It was fun. We played cards, we talked about our kids, we reminisced about past memories, and we ate terrible but delicious food. We got to attend their church, participate in the service even, and meet their people.

The bonus glory was to feast on God's beautiful creation out west. Breathtaking everywhere you look. And snow in October on top of the biggest mountains I've ever been on.
These are the two men who have taught me more about God and life and ministry than any others. I'm forever grateful for their friendship with each other. I brought with me some questions I was wrestling with because I knew I would get answers and insight.

I came away with new book titles and homework.
Someone said, "There's something special about hanging with people who share your same worldview about most things. Biblical fellowship." It's certainly what this couple travelled 2,150 miles to enjoy.

Once home and reading one of my new books, I came across these words.

"...we all need some people in our lives that really want to know how we are - and who we can trust with the truth. People who know us well enough that when they speak into our life, it fits our reality, not our image...where the upside of positive peer pressure spurs us on to greater heights, and where we're positioned to receive the help we need the moment we need it."

"...be open to the help and insight of other believers. The Bible calls this seeking wise counsel.  By checking in with others, I have the ability to pick up what I missed on my own and to discover and correct what I might have misunderstood...It's amazing what another set of ears can do. Each of us picks up something different...The same power of collaboration can bring clarity when God's leading seems unclear or hard to decipher...seeking the help of others can bring to light things I miss - or even more importantly, things I thought I heard quite clearly but in reality missed quite badly."

Yes. This is why I'm grateful for a longtime, honest friendship where there is no need to put on a facade or rearrange or hide what is in my heart to project a better image of self.

I'll take this kind of sharpening over that any day of the week.

Saying goodbye wasn't easy. Before we returned home to our very different, but equally beautiful mountains, a pledge was made to not wait another twenty years for the next visit.

Here at CAMP-of-the-WOODS where we live and serve, we use the phrase 'a vacation with a purpose' quite often. That's what our trip to Utah was. Feast for the eyes and feast for the soul.

It's not even Thanksgiving yet and we are stuffed with gratitude.  


Quotes from A Contrarian's Guide to Knowing God: Spirituality For the Rest of Us by Larry Osborne