Friday, April 18, 2014

A Puritan Prayer

This Puritan prayer was used in our Good Friday service tonight. I leave it with you without added unnecessary words, just reveling in the closing words, "His death for my life."

O Lord of Grace,

The world is before me this day,
And I am weak and fearful,
But I look to You for strength;

If I venture forth alone I stumble and fall,
but on the Beloved’s arms I am firm
as the eternal hills;

If left to the treachery of my heart
I shall shame thy Name,
but if enlightened, guided, upheld by Your Spirit,
I shall bring Thee glory.
Be thou my arm to support,
my strength to stand,
my light to see,
my feet to run,
my shield to protect,
my sword to repel,
my sun to warm.

To enrich me will not diminish Thy fullness;
All Your lovingkindness is in Your Son,
I bring Him to Thee in the arms of faith,
I urge His saving Name as the One who died for me.
I plead His blood to pay my debts of wrong.

Accept His worthiness for my unworthiness,
His sinlessness for my transgressions,
His purity for my uncleanness,
His sincerity for my guile,
His truth for my deceits,
His meekness for my pride,
His constancy for my backslidings,
His love for my enmity,
His fullness for my emptiness,
His faithfulness for my treachery,
His obedience for my lawlessness,
His glory for my shame,
His devotedness for my waywardness,
His holy life for my unchaste ways,
His righteousness for my dead works,
His death for my life.

Taken from ‘The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers,’ edited by Arthur Bennett.

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Monday, April 14, 2014

The Shelter of Family

In the cookies of life, sisters are the chocolate chips. 

Siblings. I've been thinking about mine all week as one friend after another posted sibling pictures on Facebook for National Sibling Day. I have but two, a sister and brother.

My daddy told me once the thing that would hurt him the most is if, as adult children, we would to fight with each other. And we don't. Of course we each live our lives differently and we don't always agree, but we love each other, and in that love there is the ingredient of respect. 

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To the outside world we all grow old. But not to brothers and sisters. We know each other as we always were. We know each other's hearts. We share private family jokes. We remember family secrets, family griefs and joys. We live outside the touch of time.    ~Clara Ortega
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Craig is six years my junior, yet somewhere in the midst of adulthood has become more like a big brother. Always caring, ever verbal about his love for me.

Melodie has always been the big sister. Typical first born with a hint of bossiness.  She will still spit-shine me, yank on my clothes and fix my hair. But she will also help me fight my battles, will actually listen when I talk, and is my best friend. 

The only thing I think Craig hasn't forgiven me for is the row of black and blue knuckle marks I left on his arm. Boys don't hit girls, you know, so I was assured retaliation wouldn't occur. 

Melodie hasn't forgiven me for crunching carrots in bed while I read as she tried to sleep. Oh, and maybe for chasing her with a dead rabbit. (I don't remember my two-year-old self, but the home movies are hilarious).

There's just nothing like your very own siblings. And in the family of God, we have brothers and sisters, too. We don't always agree, but we love and respect.

Some of our brothers and sisters are younger in the faith. Others are older. Sometimes they hurt us, other times they flat annoy us. There are even times they chase us with their convictions until we want to yell, "stop!" 

But they are our very own spiritual siblings. And it grieves our Heavenly Father when we fight among ourselves. Paul asks, Where do you think all these appalling wars and quarrels come from? Do you think they just happen? Think again. They come about because you want your own way, and fight for it deep inside yourselves (James 4:1).

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Disunity is not just fighting over personal preferences. It’s not just gossip that tears down other members of the body. It’s leaving needs unmet. It’s failing to love people the way God would have us love. Unity is lived out in caring concern for others. ~Brent Tomlin                         
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Selfishness is at the core of all fights. I believe that if we love, we won't feel the need to argue every point. Instead let's strive to obey these words, Stay on good terms with each other, held together by love (Hebrews 13:1).

Oh, how I love you, my brothers and sisters. We may not always agree, but we must cherish being held together by love -- the love of our Heavenly Father.

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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Sheltering on Roller Skates

Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around. Leo Buscaglia

I remember Melanie helping Emily learn to roller skate. Melanie was a pro by the time Emily was three and and asking for roller skates. She could fly around the blacktopped campus, yet slowing down long enough to help her sister, holding hands to steady her and pulling her up when she fell. Now it's Melanie's Ethan slowing down long enough to help his brother Camron skate, holding hands to steady him and pulling him up when he falls.

Solomon in Ecclesiastes tells us that if someone falls when he's alone, he's in real trouble. Two people are better than one...If one person falls, the other can reach out and help (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10). 

I think the easiest way for Christian women to fall is in the area of discouragement. Our lives are filled to the brim of expectations -- from ourselves and others. It's easy to feel overwhelmed and to look at ladies who appear to be able to "do it all." Add to that the pressure of perfection, and we often fall under the load.

How beautiful to have a Christian friend who understands. I have a couple friends whom I can text for prayer when I'm down -- When the house needs cleaned, laundry is piled up, hours of writing calling and a migraine is starting. Other times I need to focus and a few words of encouragement or a listening ear refuels my I-can-do-it determination.

Here are a few ways to pull up a discouraged friend:

1. Pray. Stop what you are doing and pray immediately. 
2. Listen. Sometimes we just need someone to hear our heart.
3. Deliver a Starbucks. Just go to the door, hand it over and leave.
4. Text a prayer. RB has a friend who responds with a written prayer, and he treasures them. 
5. Give verbal praise.  In our discouragement we tend to focus on what we perceive to be failures. We need to be reminded of the ways we are succeeding. 
6. Give chocolate -- Dark. Smooth. Chocolate! 

Pulling your friend from discouragement doesn't require a grandiose gift or action. It doesn't even have to talk a lot of time. It's just the knowledge that someone cares. That makes the biggest difference. John Holmes said, "There's no exercise better for the heart than reaching down and lifting others up." And we all need the exercise.

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Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Joy of Love Letters

At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done. We will be judged by "I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was naked and you clothed me. I was homeless, and you took me in. ~Mother Teresa

For three years they came almost every day -- stamp upside down and sealed with a kiss. Sometimes addressed to Pam, other times Pamela or Pamelove, it didn't matter which -- I was just happy to see the familiar and artistic handwriting. With each letter I found myself falling in love a little bit more with the author.

Just so with the love letters from God -- a faithful reading every day brings a greater love for the author. The more I know about God, the more I long to know more about him. As I study his letters, I find reading is not enough. My faith in who God is requires more than a cursory reading of his letters, it urges me to be a participant -- to have a faith fruitful in works that James talks about. Isn’t it obvious that faith and works are yoked partners, that faith expresses itself in works?(James 2:22).

What happens next is amazing. In my doing, I actually become a letter from God to the world around me. You are a letter from Christ...not a letter written with pen and ink, but by the Spirit of the living God; not one carved on stone, but in human hearts (2 Corinthians 2:2-3).

It's in giving of my possessions, time and self; relinquishing selfishness; showing compassion; and denying myself to bless others that I am clearly read. It doesn't mean I water down God's truth or change it to be politically correct or more accepting of others and their agendas. Rather it means I embrace the truth and live it with joy! 

The Spirit of God, living in me, writes his letter on my heart. It's my desire that those whom I touch each day will hear the whisper of "You've got mail." 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Sheltering Tree

I love my mother as the trees love water and sunshine - she helps me grow, prosper, and reach great heights. ~Terri Guillemets

My Mother
The tree beckons, and I realize how much I need its sheltering. Scooting to rest my back against the tree, bark uneven pressing into my back but bringing comfort as its familiarity reaches my heart, I feel my body relax. I am home. Home where I am accepted and loved unconditionally. 

This tree is like "trees along a riverbank bearing luscious fruit each season without fail." The roots are ever deepening in the Father's will and love. 

Listening closely, I hear the rustling of  leaves reminding me to search for beauty, find the special in the everyday, and treasure those I love.

It's a listening tree. I know I'm safe in pouring my heart -- my disappointments, dreams, and even the nonsensical. This tree is interested in the books I'm reading, the new magazine I've discovered, and the decor I've changed.

Eleanor's Mother
I hope when I grow up my tree shelters like Mother's. The two I birthed need a rooted tree to sit under when days are hard. They need a tree when their heart is full of joy. And on the days in endless patterns -- one like the last -- they still need a mother-tree.

And I think of my friend, Eleanor, and wish she could spend some time under her mother's tree. I ask God to shelter her with memories from a Godly mother.

For maybe when the tree is cut and the rings counted, the roots remain in the form of memories. And we graft our own trees to shelter a new generation.
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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Grace in a Pile of Rags

When God's righteousness is mentioned in the gospel, it is God's action of declaring righteous the unrighteous sinner who has faith in Jesus Christ. The righteousness by which a person is justified (declared righteous) is not his own but that of another, Christ. ~Martin Luther

I opened the laundry room door and was assaulted with the pungent blast of strong cleaning agents. No wonder! My rags had been soaking in a mixture of bleach and detergent. A few hours later I was folding clean, white rags -- smiling.

Well, smiling until I got to the two orange-oil stained cloths. The two that won't come clean no matter how long I soak them. As I stared at them, I was reminded of the filthy rags Isaiah talked about: We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags.

How often do we try to bleach our way into righteousness? We look like a Christian on the outside, but what about our heart? We compare ourselves to the sinful lives of others and declare ourselves righteous.

Our Heavenly Father does not compare us to those around us, but to His own righteousness. It is who He is -- holy and just. Our access to Him would be impossible except that in His great love for us He offered grace.

I kept my oil-stained rags because I saw them as useful, even though in my best plan they would be white. God's best plan was that we would be sinless, righteous. Consequently, in His grace, He made a way for us. We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are (Romans 3:22).

Regardless of how many good works we perform, how we look or what we profess, it is only through Jesus that God sees us as sinless -- righteous through the blood of Jesus and His forgiveness of our sins. 
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Saturday, March 15, 2014

Of Saint Patrick's Day and Such

Happily-ever-after is not a fairy tale -- it's a choice.

Melanie's 11-year-old Leprechaun
With a leprechaun nearby watching, Melanie's Shawn asked her to marry him. The piano he gave her, now gracing her music room, has played through the hymnbook many times, has endured piano students stumbling through the notes and her own children practicing with one-finger notes to, in nine-year-old Ethan's case, a first place ribbon.

Engagement Picture
Just so, the last eleven years started with tentative baby steps in this thing called marriage. In a world full of broken vows and failed marriages, their bond grows stronger. It speaks of a man leading and a woman submitting.  It's a beautiful picture, this submitting -- not in a cowering harsh way some try to place on the word, but lovingly guiding and choosing God's best for their family.

As with the piano, marriage is full of quarter notes, half notes and rests. Some days the music is one long allegrezza dotted with appassionato, other times it may feel like a one finger martellato. But keep working. God intends our lives to be a duet, the low notes of the husband mingling with the upper register scale of the wife performing a harmonious waltz of praise to the Creator of marriage.

Melanie's Saint Patrick's Day Idea

Melanie found this idea at My Sister's Suitcase

Melanie inherited Grandma Cessna's love of blessing others. Just this week she fixed a meal for a church friend, filled a cool mug with tiny gifts for a lonely teen and prepared these Saint Patrick's Day treats for the kids' church class friends. 

And, of course, one of her cute helpers!

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