Monday, April 30, 2012

The Law of Your Love and Grace

The Psalms are poetry. They're songs, hymns actually - the music of God's people. Six months ago, I began an unusual study of Psalm 119. As I began to study the first eight verses of the psalm, I was inspired to write a poem. The experience was so amazing that I knew I had to meditate and respond to the rest of this psalm in kind. I'm not retelling scripture, but responding to it's message.

 In my poetic response to Psalm 119:89-96, I found myself understanding God's Word as being a message of love and grace. In Luke 10, we hear that we are to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself." This is how the Lord intends us to live - in and with love and grace from God and for our fellow man. Enjoy and be blessed.
The Law of Your Love and Grace
How sad it must be for the Father above
To watch us hurt and kill
instead of love.
To see our self-righteous pride
reject and destroy
the blessings He gave 
all for the sake of the sin we crave.
Before the beginning
He set in his mind
to share of Himself,
His love and His grace,
and carefully crafted this human race.
Brothers and sisters
we all are in His name
bonded in Spirit
through Christ’s blood –
For God’s Word went out
proclaiming His love and His grace.
The Voice that spoke the heavens
and earth into being
has spoken forgiveness
and my sins are erased!
We all want to know joy
to be loved
and secure
a longing created by God to bring us near.
A desire distorted by sin with
regret, shame and fear.
God’s Word is not about perfection
but love and grace.
Condemning my brother
would be my disgrace.
No matter the hardships
I may face in this time
and this place
I pray my faith stay firmly set
in the law of Your love and Your grace.

About the pictures:
Pittsburgh Zoo (April 2012)

Monday, April 23, 2012

How Do You Find a Word in the Dictionary If You Can't Spell It?

Dear friends,
I hope you enjoy this peek back at this great lesson from Oct. 2009.

A few days ago, a friend asked me if I knew the correct spelling of a particular word. I said yes, turned to my computer, phonetically typed the word and clicked spell check when the red wavy line appeared. I hit the change button and spelled the word for my friend as I read it from my screen. Before word processors and spell check, people used a book called a dictionary when they needed the correct spelling or definition of a word.

When I was a child, I remember asking my mother how to spell certain words. Her immediate response was, “Go look it up in the dictionary.”

Now this was disconcerting to me because I knew that she knew how to spell these words. It would have been faster and much easier if she had just answered the question I asked by spelling the word for me.

I’d whine to her, “How am I supposed to look it up if I don’t know how to spell it?” Because, let’s face it, you really have to know how to spell a word to find it in an alphabetical listing!

She’d answered, “Sound it out. What’s the first letter? What letter sounds like it comes next?” I’d answer and then she would say, “Okay then. Start there and go look it up.”

I’d, of course, storm off to my room, pull my dictionary off my bookshelf and half-heartedly look through a few pages and then march back downstairs and announce in a frustrated tone, “It’s not in here!”
She’d take the dictionary from my hand, rifle through some of the pages, and then guide her finger down the list of words on a page. When she found the word in question, she’d close the book, hand it back to me and say, “Yes it is. Try again.”

Often, I would have to start at the beginning of a letter section and work my way through hundreds of words to find my word. Sometimes, I had to look through the whole section several times because I’d miss it the first time. I should note here that my mother was right – the word I was looking for was always in there – I just had to search until I found it. As I look back on this experience now, I realize how much I learned in the process. I didn’t just find the spelling of the particular word I was looking for. The spelling of words I knew was reinforced and I learned new words every time I worked through the familiar alphabetical listing. Perhaps this experience also kindled my passion for writing. It at least gave me the tools I needed to not only pursue my passion, but to communicate with the world around me. The time spent as a child with my dictionary has also helped instill in me a drive and the confidence to work through those little challenges I encounter each day.

Okay. This is where I compare my childhood experience with my mother and the dictionary to my faith life. Let me just first say that I’ve reached a point in my Christian walk where I’ve read the Bible enough that often, it’s a little too familiar to keep my attention. Yet if I needed to find a particular scripture, it’s not familiar enough for me to be able to locate it in a reasonable amount of time. I’d rather turn to some one who knows God’s Word better, let them give me the answer I seek, and be done with it. As a result, I’ve let my regular reading time become sporadic and too often, I find myself half-heartedly reading to fulfill some imaginary quota instead of searching for what God is saying to me in those familiar words. This is a challenge I’ve been facing for a while now.
My experience is that God hardly ever gives me the easy answer. He guides me to work through the challenge at hand and usually, it includes going to a book – the Bible! What I know from my experience with the dictionary is that if I keep searching for a particular verse, or story, or concept in the Bible until I find it – I will find it. And in that search, I will find much more. I will become familiar with what I read through on my way to what I’m looking for. It is in the search for God’s wisdom in his Word that my passion for God’s presence in my life is kindled. The tools to interact with the world around me are contained in its pages. Also, as with any endeavor, the more I work at it, the more confident I will become in the process and the better equipped I will be to face life’s challenges. So tonight, I’m going to sit down with my Bible and read. Not because I should, but because I really need to if I’m to be prepared for the challenges of tomorrow.

About the pictures:
Fichter Fairy Garden (June 2011)

Monday, April 16, 2012

Sometimes the Truth Hurts

For the last two months, I’ve been working hard to deal with and let go of a deep rooted pain that I’ve been holding onto all of my life. It’s no secret that I’ve been battling the demons of low self-esteem and depression since I was a child. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t believe that I wasn’t a complete waste of flesh. All I knew was that I was defective and worthless and I would never do anything right or worthy of praise. I honestly believed that everything I touched or was involved in was doomed to fail. Nothing I loved or was good at was relevant and eventually everyone I knew would see I was a waste of their time, hurt and humiliate me, and finally abandon me. The love communicated, compliments given, and confidence expressed in my abilities by others just bounced off of the walls I’d built up and fell to the ground unheard because I couldn’t reconcile them to my terrible self-image. It’s awful to live your life like that and, were it not for God’s grace, I would have ended it long ago. While I have already experienced so much of God’s healing in many ways in my life thus far…this was the one place I hadn’t let him touch or go near until recently.

There is a story in John 5 about Jesus at the pool of Bethesda. Jesus singles out one man from a large crowd of the blind, lame and paralytic, an invalid for thirty-eight years, and asks him, “Do you want to get well?” I always thought that was odd. Why would Jesus ask that question? Wouldn’t anyone who’d been suffering most or all of their lives not want to be well, to be healed? Yet Jesus asks, “Do you want to get well?” After this week, I think I understand a little better why he asked the question. There is some healing that is just so extreme and so painful, that you have to want it – really want it. I have a friend who had a knee replacement some years ago. I can tell you that the pain after the surgery was just as excruciating, if not more, than before the surgery. And don’t we all know someone or about someone who has gone through chemo treatments for cancer. Tell me that doesn’t hurt. Some people put off treatments and surgery indefinitely for fear of the pain or that they may not gain the healing they are hoping for, and even for fear that they will lose the health they do have in the process.

Emotional healing is always painful which is why this week was so difficult for me. I had to face some very hard truths and as you know – sometimes the truth can hurt…a lot. My prison of misery and depression may have been created by someone else, but for a very long time now, I have voluntarily chosen to live my life like I am still in that terrible place that now exists only in my past. I made the choice to live in my pain by allowing myself to believe so strongly the lies of my worthlessness and deficiency that I couldn’t see things any differently. What I learned is that I can’t change the past and I can’t change anyone else but me. Most abusers have an excuse for their bad behavior, but at some point, they have to make their own decision - continue the cycle of abuse or stop it.  Innocent children get hurt for no reason and as hard as one might try – there can be no sense made of it. And while my past may have had a hand in molding who I am today, I cannot, and don’t have to, allow it to define me as a person now. If I am to have the abundant life that Jesus intends for me, I need to start seeing myself through his eyes and not through the twisted lies of my past. I've allowed those lies to claim too much of my life already.

This week has been hard and painful and today there is still a small ache in my heart, but even now, I will tell you that it was worth it. Sometimes the truth hurts, but then God’s healing can take hold and renew your heart and your life. His healing brings the peace and joy we all long for and too often find allusive. Sometimes the truth hurts, but always, lies will eat away at you like a cancer until you don’t remember what it’s like to be happy, to be free, or to know the joyful and abundant life Jesus always meant for us to have.

What about you? What lies are you so sure are true in your life that you’ve stopped questioning them? If you take a hard look at your life, will you see your beliefs, your attitude, and your habits bringing you closer to Jesus and the abundant life he wants for you or farther away? Are you truly living the abundant life God has called you to or are you living a shallow reflection of it, resorting to those same old tired rationalizations to justify a less than thriving relationship with the Lord?

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Greatest Love Story Ever

Ahhhh. Monday. Easter week is over and I survived the many trips to church and family gatherings. Now I can settle back into normal life until the rush of Memorial Day weekend chores and family barbeque arrives. If you’re like me at all, you can’t wait to slip back into the comfort of a routine schedule again. As happy as I am to get back into my normal everyday life, I am hesitant to leave Easter behind.

Easter is, after all, the greatest love story ever and I love a good love story. It has everything a good story needs – suspense, great characters to which the audience can relate, a moment where all looks hopeless, then a huge challenge to overcome, and let’s not forget the amazing hero who in the end saves the day and gets the girl!

What makes the Easter story different from other great love stories is that the hero in most stories just sort of falls into the role. It’s not something he was planning. Usually, in the beginning he’s just meeting the object of his affection for the first time. Then someone or something throws a wrench into the relationship and he has to figure out a way to win her back. He faces struggles he doesn’t anticipate and in the end manages to stumble upon the one act of love that wins her back or saves her life and they live happily ever after… at least until the sequel.

But the Easter story isn’t like that at all. God knew and loved us from the beginning of time. He knew exactly what would need to be done, and when, to win the day and never wavered from his plan. In the end, his great act of love saved his beloved and that story continues today. The Message by Eugene Peterson explains it this way:

Long before he laid down earth's foundations, he [God] had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son.

Because of the sacrifice of the Messiah, his blood poured out on the altar of the Cross, we're a free people—free of penalties and punishments chalked up by all our misdeeds. And not just barely free, either. Abundantly free! He thought of everything, provided for everything we could possibly need, letting us in on the plans he took such delight in making. He set it all out before us in Christ, a long-range plan in which everything would be brought together and summed up in him, everything in deepest heaven, everything on planet earth.

It's in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone.
(Ephesians 1:4-12)

So maybe it is Monday and things will go back to the daily routine I find comfort in – but I refuse to let Easter be over in my heart. Christ’s dying on the cross and rising from the dead for me deserves my undying love and gratitude every day, not just Easter week. So each day I wake up, I hope to celebrate Easter. I want it to be my greatest desire to know him better, to want to live a life pleasing to him, to meet him in his Word often, and have the courage to let his love shine through me wherever I am. I want to live in him and have the abundant life he died  and then rose to give me. That, after all, is the promise of the empty tomb – eternal, abundant life in relationship with the God who created me, who came as a man to take my punishment and rose from the dead to bring me into new life. What girl can resist that?

May you carry Easter in your heart all year round.
He is risen!
He is risen indeed!

Monday, April 2, 2012

What Was Jesus Thinking?

As you read this poem, I hope you will know deep in your heart that Jesus really did die for "you." It was not the Roman guard or the religious leaders that caused him to be on that cross - it was your sin and my sin. It was not the nails that fastened him to the wood, but his steadfast love for each of us. And it was not his own fate he pondered in his last hours, but ours. May you be blessed this Easter week with the joy and victory Jesus died and rose from the dead to give us. Rejoice! He Is Risen!

You Thought of Me
With every wicked word they cast on you,
You stood in silence,
your thoughts on me.
In every flesh-tearing sting of a whip meant for me,
each crushing blow of the rod rightfully mine,
beyond the painful torment,
you thought of me.
Each drop you bled under my crown of thorns,
each agonizing step
you struggled to drag my cross
and when one more step you could not take,
in your resolve,
you thought of me.
You willingly climbed upon my cross
and pictured my face
as they drove each nail.
Every pain-filled scream declaring your love,
Each disgrace endured to remove my shame,
and in the silent stillness of a tomb,
you thought of me.
Meeting the dawn of Easter morn
You rose to shut death’s ominous door.
Strolling away from the grave’s embrace
A heavenly smile.
A victorious stride.
Your eyes gleaming with eternal love’s light
and your thoughts are of me.

Blog reposted from April 1, 2010

About the pictures:
Phipps Conservatory (April 2009)