11 March, 2017

A Process - 2nd Sunday in Lent

Cross posted from my Lent Blog site... Fortyfaithful.blogspot.com

It was summer and our son, Nick who was 9, had just returned from a two-week camp in
Texas.  It was his dad's job to clean out the trunk that held all the clothes, gear, uneaten food, ants and nastiness only a little boy can bring home from a camp experience!  The process was moving along fairly well as Ray dug through the trunk when he came to a layer of clothes that seemed to have never been worn.  They lay there in perfect foldedness (a new Hayes word).  As he removed them, he came to other basic items one of which was the soap dish. (Now, these were the days before the creation of body wash.... one simply used bar soap).  Ray took out the soap dish and opened it.... there lay a perfectly, NEVER used beautiful bar of soap emblazoned with the word, D-O-V-E!  This precious boy of ours had been away for two weeks yet his one bar of soap had never been touched! When questioned, Nick told Ray that he had been swimming every day!

Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me Psalm 51:10

Scott led us to this verse last week and I've been pondering it ever since.  To 'create' takes time and takes a subject willing to be molded, changed, remolded, tweaked by the creator.
My son's intention was for a clean body but he took a shortcut.  When I read this prayer from David as he poured out his heart to God, it resonates with me.  It speaks to my soul and I too want a clean heart to be created inside me....
But like my son, I'm afraid I often make a different choice.
Was Nick not aware that he needed soap?
Was he too busy?
Was bathing just a low priority?
Was he anticipating that the process would be too slow?

Can we draw parallels from this childhood story? Like my son, perhaps I need a new definition of clean!  For I've tried and tried to become clean in my spirit.  I've said the words, I've prayed the prayers, I've earnestly desired this cleansing yet I still feel stuck in the words.  So, I read further in the Psalm and noticed that David continues his writing as if he senses that this clean heart deal is a process.

Verse 12, reads Grant me a willing spirit to sustain me... 
Verse 17, the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart...
(just a heart with the correct priority, i.e. God on the throne on my life instead of the bossy, needy me that usually rules my life).

Could these two verses be the HOW of a letting God create in me and in you a clean heart?  
By letting Him do the cleaning in His on time and in His perfect manner...
By being willing to give my own needs and selfishness to Him every day...

Is this second week of Lent such a time in my life?  We're busy people.  We go and we go and yet we all are still seeking something more.

This creating of a clean heart is a process inside each of us.  Am I ready to let Him do His work inside me?  Am I willing?
Or do I think I just don't need the cleansing?
Am I too busy?
Is such spiritual work a low priority in my life?
Is it taking too long?

Create and keep creating a clean heart in me, Oh God.

01 March, 2017

Lent 2017: "Lord, Teach us to pray"

Cross posted from:  Fortyfaithful.blogspot.com

One day, Jesus was praying in a certain place.  When he finished, one of his disciples said, "Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples." (Luke 11:1, NIV)

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.  For the next forty days, we are called to "reflect," to "inspect," and ultimately to "resurrect" on Easter Sunday.

While some observe this season by ceasing to do something as a representation of "sacrifice," Lent is often taken as an opportunity to adopt a new practice, or renew an old one.  For the next several weeks, we have chosen to consider the practice of prayer.

We will share our questions about prayer, our "successes and failures" in prayer, and what we have come to understand about prayer up to this point in our lives.

What we won't be able to share is "all the answers," because we definitely don't have them!  We are just travelers on a journey who are willing to share, "just as we are!"

Will you join us for these 40 Faithful Days?  There will be a new posting each Sunday, first from Scott on March 5, then from Kathy on March 12...and we will continue our alternating pattern all the way through the Lenten season.

We will use prayers found in scripture as a structure for our reflection and writing, including...

...Create in me a clean heart, O God...
...Our Father in heaven, holy is your name...
...Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses...
...O Lord, why have you forsaken me?...

We hope you will join us and invite others to do the same!

In Christ,

Kathy and Scott

23 December, 2016

Are you in Wonder?

Cross posted from Adventagain.blogspot.com

Wonder in a child's eyes is a spectacular sight.  The open amazement and awe is so very beautiful to behold.  In fact, one of my Christmas joys is to see our children experience the wonder of their gifts.  I look to see if they 'really like' their gifts; I look to see the wonder in their eyes.  And I know immediately if we have slightly missed the mark for the look of appreciation is so very different from the look of wonder or awe.  And today, even with our grown children I want them to experience wonder!  Perhaps they are too old now.  Perhaps wonder is a child-only event.  In fact, in looking for a picture to express 'wonder' for this writing, I struggled.  And it perplexed me that all the pictures labeled as 'Christmas wonder' were of children.   I could not find one single picture of an adult expressing wonder.  Why is that?  Are we so mature, so hard-hearted, so immune that our wonder has vanished?

Do you feel wonder in your life?  Will you feel wonder on Christmas Eve at your church service or on Christmas Day as you formally celebrate Christ being born into our world?

I daresay that we've lost our wonder.  Michael Yacconelli in his book Dangerous Wonder, said "the most critical issue facing Christians today is dullness. ‘We have lost our astonishment. The Good News is no longer good news, it is okay news. Christianity is no longer life changing, it is life enhancing. Jesus doesn’t change people into wild-eyed radicals anymore, He changes them into ‘nice people’.  But radical Christianity wasn’t nice; it was category-smashing, life-threatening, anti-institutional; it spread like wildfire through the 1st century and was considered by those in power to be dangerous. ‘I want to be filled with an astonishment which is so captivating that I am considered wild and unpredictable and ... well ... dangerous’. I want to be dangerous to a dull and boring religion. I want a faith that is considered dangerous by our predictable and monotonous culture.’

We've somehow lost the wonder of Christmas.  We've lost the wonder of what we celebrate!  We have embraced Baby Jesus coming into the world but have we let him remain as a baby in our hearts and minds?  Yes, He came humbly, He came quietly, He came in human form - all so that we could somehow begin to comprehend Him and welcome Him into our lives and hearts.  BUT....we cannot keep Him in the manger.  Our wonder today rests solely on who He is today, was yesterday and will be tomorrow.  And who is He?

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
And the government will [a]rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.  Isaiah 9:6

He is our Wonderful Counselor. He is our Mighty God.  He is our Eternal Father.  He is the Prince of Peace.  These are not just words from 2700 years ago.  These are the personal qualities of the Christian God.  I ponder today whether I've sold him short?  That's right, have we sold God short?  To sell short = to underestimate the true value or worth of something or someone.  Is your God still in a manger scene?  Has your God been defeated and destroyed amidst all the chaos in the world today?  In those dark, lonely moments have you forgotten that He is your Counselor?  Did you leave Him at your church last week, last month, last year?

The God I strive to serve IS the Counselor.  He IS a mighty God.  He IS eternal.  He IS Prince and King of Peace.  And you what else, He's waiting to see me on Christmas morning.  He waiting to see if my eyes behold wonder as I open my gift from Him.  Just like us parents, he too desperately wants to see the wonder in our eyes.  He waits to see if we truly have wonder in our eyes on Christmas morning!

We may offer Him the look of appreciation but it's WONDER He wants!  And it is wonder we desperately desire.

11 December, 2016

No Room

Cross post from Adventagain.blogspot.com
Whew!  What a few weeks we've had in our family! We've experienced overwhelming joy and
overwhelming tragedy.  And yet, life keeps moving, the sun is still rising every morning.  And a Christmas tree stands in my den so here we go again!  The turkey is still in my freezer and the calories are still on my hips but I've got to make room for more activities.  And if my Christmas activities and happenings are not enough I can also work on our daughters upcoming wedding plans!!  (we are so excited for those two to be wed).  But truly, I find myself thinking I have no room for anything else.

Or do I?  I certainly have no room for another scone or piece of pie....but somehow I make room!  I certainly have no more room on my calendar but somehow things keep appearing and we make room.  We make room for what's important to us or expected of us, right?

Mary made room...certainly her life was interrupted but she made room.  Joseph did too and they were clearly going waaaaayyyyy against the norm!  But, why didn't the Innkeeper make room for Joseph and Mary?  If he had only known Whom he had turned away...
While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth.  And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.  Luke 2:6-8 New American Standard Bible
In the book, Christmas from the Backside, Ellsworth Kallas offers a good picture of what 'inn' life was like 2000 years ago. The inn: "It was probably a series of thatched rooms built around a central courtyard-looking more like covered porches than like rooms.  Travelers brought their own food-and the pot in which to cook it-their own bedding, and often their firewood.(Handel Brown, "When Jesus Came," in The Light of Christmas).  The hotel in Bethlehem was probably a shabby sort of place, perhaps several hundred years old.  They were usually dirty, uncomfortable, badly kept, and badly managed.  Innkeepers in those days had a generally unsavory reputation, probably because their places were so often use for immoral and criminal purposes. (A. C. Bouquet, Everyday Life in New Testament Times).

So what are we to think?  Poor, foolish innkeeper?  Poor Mary, Joseph, and unborn Jesus?  Perhaps we are to see that Jesus' entrance into the world was humble.  His entrance was rather quiet but His entrance was for everyone.  He came to this world in an unlikely manner and in an unlikely place.  It was a place full of unwanted people, unsavory characters.  Yes, even the Innkeeper.  And yes, even you and me.

When you read the Bible do you jump into the cast?  Can't we do that?  Isn't the Bible called the LIVING Word of God.....active today, tomorrow, yesterday, forever??  So when we read let's not just read an old story and barely see the words but instead let's jump into the story and find ourselves.  How are we the Innkeeper?  Or more personally....in my life today, who have I shut out?  When the Christ-inside-of-me knocks on the door of my heart, do I say, 'Sorry, no room'.  Or more truth here...how often do I say, No Room.

Or am I so used to my deep-south, American life that when Jesus comes to people who look different than me or who are unsavory or who live in other countries with other faiths, I simply walk-away and say No Room in my heart and attitude.

This baby born of Mary came for e v e r y one of us.  And He came in love not in condemnation.  Is there room inside of you?  Can we stop the Christmas music, the shallow Christmas celebrations and scream from the top of our lungs.....YES, THERE IS ROOM INSIDE OF ME.  COME LORD JESUS COME.  COME IN.  COME CHANGE ME.  COME FILL ME WITH YOUR TYPE OF LOVE.

Thank you Lord God, that your Love is unconditional.  Thank you that you came to save me, the innkeeper....the unsavory one.

27 November, 2016

Why Christmas?

Cross post from Adventagain.blogspot.com
There are many joys to being in friendship with people from other countries.  We talk about
customs, fashions, family routines and EVERY other subject.  But one of my favorite times is when foreign visitors ask questions that are both completely simple and completely complex.  These type questions absolutely stump me.  Let me give a few examples:
•Ms. Kathy, why do people in the US put trees in their homes during the Christmas season?  And what do those round objects on your front door symbolize?
•Ms. Kathy, I enjoyed your church environment but why is everyone so sad?
•Ms. Kathy, could you explain the Holy Spirit?

These questions are real examples.  But today, I want to ponder this question: Why do you celebrate Christmas?  What's all the fuss about? Why was/is there so much excitement about a baby being born?

Why indeed?  Ellsworth Kallas, a favorite author of mine, calls our celebration of Christmas the Christmas scandal.  He contends, and I agree, that our need for Christmas started in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve and their desire to choose themselves over God.  And ever since that one selfish act mankind has been trying to find his way back to the God of creation.

Trying to find our way back to God...what?  What if you realize that all your candle lighting, all your church going, all your good deeds will never be enough?  What if, on your journey to get back to God you realize the task is impossible.  What about the emptiness inside each of us, an emptiness just waiting to be filled?  And, what if we lived in the time before Jesus was born into the world?  Can you imagine the forlornness they must have felt?  Can you imagine the waiting for the gift that would reconcile people to God?  People had waited for hundreds of years for the promised Messiah.  And finally, on one lonely night... a baby was born.  And suddenly real Light had appeared in our world.  New hope, new life had come to earth. That is the scandal of Christmas.  Our self-centered natures, or sin, caused the miracle of Christmas Day...He came to save us.  No wonder the song, "Come Thou Long Expected Jesus," resonates in so many Advent church services.  For many, many people He was the long awaited and expected Savior.

So how about us?  Is the Christ Baby our long expected Savior?  Or is He just a baby in a manger, is he just the 'old Christmas story?"  I want my spirit to be stirred by the anticipation and excitement of finally receiving a precious gift.  I want my spirit to rejoice that Light has come to my completely darkened, blind eyes.  I want this Christmas to be scandalously glorious.  For it is my sin that He came to save me from and to lead me back to my true place in God.  Now THAT'S a Christmas gift!

I've often wondered why new Chinese Christians are SO dedicated to their faith.  They take nothing for granted, they walk a faith walk that inspires me.  Why? I wonder.  And the answer I believe, is that before they learned of this Jesus they lived without any hope, without any spiritual awareness and found themselves surrounded by darkness.  Perhaps they had rituals and had heard fairy tales of a god but these notions seemed senseless and incomplete.  But once they met the Light of Christ they ran to greet Him.  And now, their lives reflect that Light.  And they now lived amazed at this Christmas gift.  For when all you know is darkness, Light shines oh, so bright.

Advent is time for me to realize just what Christmas Day means.  I mean, do we recognize why Jesus  left heaven and came to this broken place we call Earth?  I do not want to forget my role in this story,  my selfishness and my self-centered choices that make Christmas needed. Without this Christmas birth, we would still be waiting to somehow get out of our hopeless lives.

Christmas happens for each of us!  "Come, Thou long expected Jesus / Born to set Thy people free; / From our fears and sins release us, / Let us find our rest in Thee.… "
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. John 1:6-9