Lenten Musings

This has been the most unusual Lenten season that I have ever experienced because of everything that is happening all around me. Yet it somehow seems appropriate. Lent is often described as a time of preparation and an opportunity to go deeper with God. Indeed this season many of us are driven to the feet of the Master. And we are not disappointed as this year with the pandemic that moving throughout the country Lent has become the bright spot of hope and assurance that is shining out into a very dark world of fear and loneliness. I cannot help but think how miserable life would be at this time without this bright hope and anticipation of Good Friday and Easter.

With Covid-19 surrounding us with death and fear of death I am reminded of Bonhoeffer’s words:

“The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Cor. 15:26). Dealing with dying doesn’t mean dealing with death. The overcoming of dying is within the realm of human possibilities; the overcoming of death means resurrection. Based not on the art of dying, but on the resurrection of Christ, a new, cleansing wind can blow into the present world. . . . If a few people really believed this and let it affect the way they move in their earthly activity, a lot of things would change. To live on the basis of resurrection—that is what Easter means.

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. God is on the Cross: Reflections on Lent and Easter (p. 74).

A new, cleansing wind….just what we need. Just what will come at just the right time. Just the right time according to the calendar but also for those who wait in expectation and anticipation. Eyes fixed on our Light of hope and salvation and living life on the basis of resurrection.

Since we have been confined and separated, unable to gather together as a congregation for worship, I have been reading and worshipping privately and share with you a couple of items from the archives of past Lenten observances that have touched me especially today.

John (a dialogue)

I am John, a fisherman, the son of a fisher­man, the brother of a fisherman. Years ago I saw before me the life of my father and brother, stretching as wide and clear as the Sea of Galilee. There were nets to mend and boats to repair, fish to be sorted and sold. Life had a texture as comforting and reliable as the passing of seasons. 

Then he came. He called, “Follow me” and we could hear no other voices–not the sea, not our friends, not even our father and mother. And so my brother James and I left the nets and followed him, unsure of our motivation, knowing only that we could not resist his call. We would become fishers of men, he said. We didn’t know what he meant, but we followed just the same. 

He called others, too, until there were twelve of us. Not all were fishermen.  Some were learned, some were not–we were philoso­phers, businessmen, trades­men, rebels. But we were all seekers and we followed him, looking for answers even before we had fully formed the questions. 

For three years we walked and talked and lived with him as he taught us things unfamiliar to our Galilean minds. It was not always easy to understand him; but he was patient like a father working with an eager, but less-than-brilliant child. And we tried to learn and understand because we loved him more than our own lives. 

Then he left us. It happened almost before we knew it, although we should have known. The signs were there all along. Always under the surface lurked the hatred, the anger, the scent of murder waiting for its hour. But love never wants to believe in evil, and we refused to see the signs. We talked of faithfulness and greatness in a kingdom yet to come; and he spoke of suffering and crucifixion; and we ignored him. But he knew. He always knew. 

When they came, led by the traitor, Judas, to take him away, we scattered like frightened children. Long forgotten were our vows of loyalty. We left our promises in the dark of Gethsemane. 

Kenedy, Pam (2003).  Beneath the Cross.  The Stories of Those Who Stood at the Cross of Jesus. Nashville, TN:  Ideals Publications

Must Jesus bear the cross alone,
And all the world go free?
No, there’s a cross for everyone,
And there’s a cross for me.

How happy are the saints above,
Who once went sorrowing here!
But now they taste unmingled love,
And joy without a tear.

The consecrated cross I’ll bear
Till death shall set me free;
And then go home my crown to wear,
For there’s a crown for me.

Upon the crystal pavement down
At Jesus’ piercèd feet,
Joyful I’ll cast my golden crown
And His dear Name repeat.

O precious cross! O glorious crown!
O resurrection day!
When Christ the Lord from Heav’n comes down
And bears my soul away.

Thomas Shepherd,
George N. Allen

Unseen Altars

 Joshua set up at Gilgal the twelve stones they had taken out of the Jordan. 21 He said to the Israelites, “In the future when your descendants ask their parents, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 22 tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ 23 For the Lord your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over. The Lord your God did to the Jordan what he had done to the Red Sea when he dried it up before us until we had crossed over. 24 He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always fear the Lord your God.” (Joshua 4)

Much of Scripture is about remembering. And much of worship, in both Jewish and Christian contexts, is also about remembering.

Passover is about remembering the miraculous hand of God in freeing Jewish slaves from Egyptian oppression. The Jewish Feast of Pentecost is about remembering God’s faithfulness in bringing the harvest year after year. The Feasts of Purim and Succoth look back upon events in the history of the Jewish people and how God intervened for their protection in the times of Esther and during the wilderness wanderings. Even the celebration of the Sabbath is remembrance of God’s creation and His rest on the seventh day.

Christians gather for worship on the first day of the week in remembrance of Christ’s resurrection. And the ritual of Eucharist is a celebration of remembrance of Jesus’ Last Supper with His disciples.

So let us consider Joshua 4 (I would encourage you to read the whole short chapter.) and the above text and do so immersed in the notion of remembering–remembering what God has done. One of the ways that the Hebrew people enabled this remembering was by building altars:

  • Noah
  • Abraham, at Shechem and at Bethel
  • Jacob at Bethel
  • Moses
  • Joshua
  • Samuel at Mizpeh
  • all told, 356 times in the O.T.

“What do these stones mean?” What is interesting here in Joshua is that these stones–although not called an altar–were to represent. First of all they were to remember the word of the Lord. “What the Lord said” is used often in this chapter for what the Lord says is important and we should pay attention to it.

We are in the midst of a political campaign for the presidency. We all know the power of words and the effects that they can have to wound or heal, instruct or disinform. These days words are being printed and spoken in such volume and in such a way that people are beginning to wonder if words have any value at all. Not so God, when, Jehovah speaks, it is never just words. For it is by the power of God’s word that life and creation comes forth. And remember, Jesus Himself is called “the Word” by John in his gospel.

So be reminded of the importance of the Word of God and recall what it is that God has instructed us to do in “His Word.”

“What do these stones mean?” They mean to remember the word of God and remember the results of obedience.

Obedience always merits the blessings of God. Obedience allows us to navigate the turbulent waters of difficult circumstances and “cross over on dry ground.” Obedience allows us to possess the Promised Land: ‘possessing the Promised Land’ is an Old Testament “type” of holiness, experiencing spiritual milk and honey even though surrounded by the forces of evil. And obedience to God prepares us to wage battle against the forces of darkness in this world.

Remember, “to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.” (1 Samuel 15:22) God delights in the faithful obedience of His children.

“What do these words mean?” They mean to remember the faithfulness of God.

The salvation of the people of Israel–and indeed our salvation–owes entirely to the mercy of God in providing for our escape from bondage. Israel crossed the Jordan and the Red sea on dry ground because “the Lord your God” did something miraculous for your salvation.

How could we not recall, during these days of Lent, the extent of the miraculous endurance of Christ for our salvation!

Remember that we could no more secure our own salvation from sin than Israel could have crossed the Jordan without God’s intervention.

Remember that God, who is faithful in our salvation, is as faithful in caring for us as He was faithful in providing for Israel.

Once, on a day, was Christ led forth to die,
And with the crowd that pressed on him joined I.
Slowly they led him, led him to the tree,
And I beheld his hands no more were free.
Bound fast with cords, and this was his distress,
That men denied those hands outstretched to bless.
Sacred hands of Jesus, they were bound for me;
Wounded hands of Jesus, stretched upon a tree,
Ever interceding, mercy is their plea.
Their effectual pleading brings grace to me,
Redeeming grace to me.

(Song 129, Salvation Army Song Book)

“What do these stones mean?” They mean to remember–remember the Word of the Lord; remember the results of obedience; and remember the faithfulness of our Heavenly Father.

The Lord’s Prayer

Our Gather in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:9-10)

My read prayer written by Lloyd John Ogilvie for today:

God, give me the desire to do what I already know of Your will, so that I may know more of it and make it my will. I want to be a positive, open, receptive person who willingly receives Your guidance for each new challenge. You have shown me that discovery of Your will comes from consistent communion with You. And I also know that such communion is vital for helping me to prepare for all the big decisions ahead of me in the future.

I recognize that today’s obedience results in tomorrow’s guidance. Action is the nerve center of my spiritual life. Motivate me to do what You have called me to do in the mundane details of life so that I will be ready to do Your will when momentous opportunities arise. Keep my soul fit with the consistent practice of Your presence. And may prayer throughout the day be as natural as breathing.

I am filled with awe and wonder…gratitude and praise…that You who are Creator of the universe and Sovereign Lord of all nations would use me to carry out Your will in my small realm of influence.

Through Christ, through whom I am reconciled with You forever and recommissioned to serve You daily.

Amen.

Humility

One of the blessings of retirement is being able to go through programs, sermons and devotionals that one has written over a career spanning 43 years. Recently I came across a previously missed cache of sermons and devotionals. I thought that I would share some here.  And, truth be told, some of them will never see the light of day again without a good bit of editing!    

My husband and I have worked closely over the many years of our service and at times collaborated often on sermons, articles, workshop and retreat presentations.  In addition, we have often used each other’s sermons (if it was a topic that we needed). Thus I arrive at this point with a bit of a dilemma as some of the presentations I plan to use I cannot say who was the first author; which is not really important to either of us but I felt that before sharing I should make this point because I may or may not indicate which of us is the author of a particular writing and I did not want to give myself sole credit when it is not warranted.

If you are still reading, thank you.  I can definitively tell you that what I share now was written and presented in chapel at SFOT.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interest, but also to the interest of others.  (Philippians 2:3-4)

Hudson Taylor was scheduled to speak at a Large Presbyterian church in Melbourne, Australia.  The moderator of the service introduced the missionary in eloquent and glowing terms.  He told the large congregation all that Taylor had accomplished in China, and then presented him as “our illustrious guest.” Taylor stood quietly for a moment, and then opened his message by saying, “Dear friends, I am the little servant of an illustrious Master.”  

Taylor illustrated the perfect definition of humility. Humility is not denying the power or gifting you have but rather knowing and admitting that this gift is from God and that the power simply passes through you and not from you.  The noted preacher, Charles Spurgeon, defined humility as,” (making) a right estimate of one’s self.” 

Let me illustrate this through the happenstance experiences of others.

It had been a long day on Capitol Hill in 1973 for Senator John Stennis.  He was looking forward to a bit of relaxation when he got home.  After parking the car, he began to walk toward his front door.  Then it happened.  Two people came out of the darkness, robbed him, and shot him twice.  News of the shooting of Senator Stennis, the chairman of the powerful Armed Forces Committee, shocked Washington and the nation.  For nearly seven hours, Senator Stennis was on the operating table at Walter Reed Hospital.  Less than two hours later, another politician was driving home when he heard about the shooting.  He turned his car around and drove directly to the hospital.

In the hospital, he noticed that the staff was swamped and could not keep up with the incoming calls about the Senator’s condition.  (Remember this is 1973 only dial phones no cell phones and no 24 hour cable news channels.) He spotted an unattended switchboard, sat down, and voluntarily went to work.  He continued taking calls until daylight.  Sometime during that next day, he stood up, stretched, put on his overcoat, and just before leaving, he introduced himself quietly to the other operator, “I’m Mark Hatfield. Happy to help out.”  Then Senator Mark Hatfield unobtrusively walked out.  The press could hardly handle that story. There seemed to be no way for a conservative Republican to give a liberal Democrat a tip of the hat, let alone spend hours doing a menial task and be “happy to help out.”  (Knofel Stanton, Heaven Bound Living)

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature[b] of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:5-8)

On a visit to the Beethoven museum in Bonn, a young American student became fascinated by the piano on which Beethoven had composed some of his greatest works.  She asked the museum guard if she could play a few bars on it; she accompanied the request with a lavish tip, and the guard agreed.  The girl went to the piano and played out the opening of the Moonlight Sonata.  As she was leaving, she said to the guard, “I suppose all the great pianist who come here want to play on that piano.”

The guard shook his head, “Paderewski (the famed Polish pianist) was here a few years ago and he said he wasn’t worthy to touch it.” (unknown source)

Wisdom’s instruction is to fear the Lord, and humility comes before honor. (Proverbs 15:33)

It is an interesting aspect of the kingdom of Heaven that when we try to appear greater than we are, we only succeed in making ourselves smaller. On the other hand, humility pleases God wherever it is found.

“Jesus knew on the evening of Passover Day that it would be his last night on earth before returning to his Father. During supper the devil had already suggested to Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, that this was the night to carry out his plan to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had given him everything and that he had come from God and would return to God. And how he loved his disciples! So, he got up from the supper table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his loins, poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel he had around him.” (John 13:1-5)

…And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8) 

Jesus never insisted on His rights and privileges to be honored, understood or viewed rightly, rather he emptied Himself even of His reputation. He was content to be seen as ordinary and did not seek to be esteemed.  

Let me finish these thoughts with a prayer penned by AW Tozer: “Now, O Lord of heaven and earth, I consecrate my remaining days to Thee; let them be many or few, as Thou wilt. I accept hard work and small rewards in this life. I ask for no easy place. I shall try to be blind to the little ways that could make life easier. If others seek the smoother path I will try to take the hard way without judging them too harshly. I shall expect opposition and try to take it quietly when it comes. Or if, as sometimes it falleth out to Thy servants, I should have grateful gifts pressed upon me by Thy kindly people, stand by me then and save me from the blight that often follows. Teach me to use whatever l receive in such manner that will not injure my soul nor diminish my spiritual power. Let me never forget that I am a man with all the natural faults and passions that plague the race of men. And if in Thy permissive providence honor should come to me from Thy Church, let me not forget that I am unworthy of the least of Thy mercies.” 

Amen.

You Were Right

My son, Kevin a wonderfully creative poet wrote a special poem to me that I thought I would share. Read and be blessed…and maybe one day I may share a bit of the story behind this poem.

I've been saying it for years now
It was only difficult to admit that first time
And now
Now when I say it
Or even when the thought skates fleetingly through my head
It is followed immediately by amusement
That kind of amusement that comes from being in on the joke
Having the first clue
And just being a party to the wisdom of life
The amusement doesn't often show
Often sitting at the periphery
And occasionally giving nothing more than a brief twitch
A sudden tick
A light tremble of the mouth
And sometimes I can't help but smile
And play the grinning fool in my amusement
As I once again am forced to say it
You were right
Your were right, Mom
You were right

(Love you too, Kevin.)

The Gift of Music

How far is heaven? Let’s go tonight
I want my daddy to hold me tight.

As Kitty Wells began singing these words I was sitting at my sewing machine working on a project when I was suddenly transported back over the years. I recalled vividly running into my mother’s arms after she told me that my daddy was dead. My eyes blurred with unshed tears as I recalled the pain of that moment.

How is a nine year only child supposed to process such information? I was daddy’s little girl and now daddy was gone…

God has given us a most precious and powerful gift. Music. A gift that teaches truth; a gift that brings joy and lifts the spirit; a gift that soothes our hurts; a gift that gives expression to our unspoken needs and wants. This precious gift allowed a nine year old girl process her father’s death.

A little girl was waiting for her daddy one day
It was time to meet him, when she heard her mommy say
Come to mommy darling, please do not cry
Daddy’s gone to heaven, way up in the sky

How far is heaven? When can I go?
To see my daddy, he’s there I know
How far is heaven? Let’s go tonight
I want my daddy to hold me tight

He was called so suddenly, and could not say goodbye
I know that he’s in heaven, we’ll meet him by and by
The little girl she trembled, her tears she could not hide
Then she looked towards heaven and I heard her cry

How far is heaven? When can I go?
To see my daddy, he’s there I know
How far is heaven? Let’s go tonight
I want my daddy to hold me tight

I sang that song almost constantly. I was too little at the time to understand the effect that my singing that song might have on my mother but never once did she ask me to stop. I would sit on the porch step and sing it; I would sing it as I rode in the car; I sang it sitting on a tree branch in the side yard. Every time I needed comfort I sang it.

In recent days I have been reminded of the power of music to evoke memories and to soothe the pains and disappointments of life. But I have also been reminded of how music can tap the into the joy that undergirds it all.

“Music… will help dissolve your perplexities and purify your character and sensibilities, and in time of care and sorrow, will keep a fountain of joy alive in you.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Last week while sitting at a country music concert I was able to experience the joy of my childhood. Thank you, Lord, for music and all that it gives us.

No More!!

“But the Holy Spirit also witnesses to us; for after He had said before, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them,”  then He adds, “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”  Now where there is remission of these, there is no longer an offering for sin.” Hebrews 10:15-18

No More! Is it a sad lament or a shout of glory? If there is “no more” of a good thing—like that chocolate cake—then it is a sad lament.  But if “no more” rids us of negatives (like no more bills to pay), then we shout “NO MORE” with a note of glory.

The promise of Scripture is NO MORE MEMORY. God promises to forget our sins and iniquities; to remember them “no more”. They are thrown into the sea of forgetfulness when God pronounces them forgiven.  If our sins are forgiven, they are forgotten.  God has NO MORE MEMORY of them. NO MORE OFFERING will ever be necessary for our sin. Jesus has satisfied the demand for a sin offering once and for all.  The sacrifice of His sinless perfect life on the Cross of Calvary suffices for all sin for all men for all eternity.  NO MORE OFFERING is necessary for our sin than the offering made by Jesus.

Because of Jesus’ atonement, we can approach God’s throne of grace with NO MORE FEAR! The veil of the temple was torn in two, giving us access into the holy of holies—“the holiest”—by Christ Jesus.  We need not fear as we are invited to enter “with boldness”. We can come with NO MORE FEAR because our hearts are purified from evil conscience by the sprinkling of Jesus’ blood.

Thou art coming to a King

Large petitions with thee bring

For His grace and power are such

None can ever ask too much.

The Salvation Army Song Book, 1987
Song 563 vs.2

We come with NO MORE FEAR knowing that, because Jesus has paid the price, there need be NO MORE OFFERING for our sin—and when God forgives, He has NO MORE MEMORY of that sin. 

 HALLELUJAH!

Autumn Reflections

Autumn is a gorgeous time of year.  It is a time when nature surrounds us with vivid colors and the air becomes cool—tangy and crisp.  Autumn is that time of year when fallen leaves blow wildly every which way around the yard and up and down the streets. As the leaves settle in the streets and on sidewalks people begin to shuffle along through them crackling and crunching as memories of childhood take over.

For those who live in the New England area, autumn is just a beautiful breath-taking time of year when nature takes out her paintbrush and goes to work getting rid of the sameness of green. An interesting thing begins to take hold of us in this bright and beautiful season for along with its beauty it brings with it a sense of purpose that touches us all in different ways:

But for me autumn has also a time of reflection; a time for me to gain perspective and to think about and evaluate my life and situation.  In years past it was a time of program preparations for ministry; in retirement it has become simply a time of reflection.  Autumn is a good time of year to do a spiritual check-up. It is good to take the opportunity of the season to check our spiritual connectedness to my source of spiritual nourishment and power and my spiritual condition period. During these days of reflection what I want to know particularly is, “how are my roots?”  Are they deep and well nourished? Am I producing fruit? And most painful of all, what needs pruning away? 

I remember when our son was graduating from college, I decided to make him a scrapbook of his school pictures, activities, and report cards. In the process I discovered that a photo album is like a magic carpet ride into the realm of memory. Like leaves of October tinted with the red and gold colors of autumn, snapshots are colored with the rich colors and pastels of previous events and people. Saturday Review editor Norman Cousins writes this in his book, Human Options:

“A man (woman) comes to know himself through the pictures he takes … in … reviewing the hundreds of pictures I have taken … in many parts of the world … I learn … the camera is more than a box that records an external situation … it is also turned inwards.”

I discovered the truth of that statement as I recognized that I was not the same person that I was in many of the photos that I was gathering for David. We won’t talk about age or weight as that was irrelevant at the moment, but more importantly, I was not the same spiritually. Thank you, Lord, I began to realize that I had grown spiritually, not only grown but had blossomed, and having endured the hard times of pruning the Lord was making “something beautiful of my life.”

In the harvesting season we tend to be more impressed with the fruit of the harvest. Not so God. He cares about more than just the end result—He’s watching over the roots and the process of their development.  We like the product but God emphasizes the process. It is the Spirit Who plants right seeds and nurtures them. In due course, in His time, “fruit” appears.

Remember: “God Who began the good work within you will keep right on helping you grow in His grace until His work within you is finally finished.”  (Phil. 1:6, TLB)

This promise is at the root of God’s purpose for us, it’s a guarantee that the One who started “the good work within you” won’t leave the task unfinished. We can continue to grow and flourish—and be pruned—in the sure knowledge that God will never fail us. For you see, while we may be in the autumn season we know that there are other seasons in which to live that help us to fulfill the promise that we can live life abundantly. 

The rich variety of seasons is an example of how the Lord uses time to work out His purposes in our lives.  Ruth Thomas expresses it best in her poem, “The Untried Way” when she writes: 

“The same Yesterday – the God behind me, the God of the ages

The same Today, the God beside me, with His guiding hand

The same Forever – the God before me in the dim, unknown future.

Theologian Helmut Thielicke expresses his trust in the God of seasons when he writes, “It is true that I do not know what is coming, but I know who is coming. Therefore, I can drain the moment in which I live, laughing and weeping … with the face of God shining on me … we can catch a fleeting glimpse of the magnitude of the future by the down payment we have already received.”

As autumn continues to progress expect your roots to deepen and grow.  Reflect on the Lord and as He makes you aware of His creation, through the vivid colors and the bare trees of this season, remember God is at work. He is working with you and in you to bring out the beauty of your life.

Preach

Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:14)

God called me to do ‘my preaching’ through The Salvation Army as an officer. I was fearful of this call for so many reasons but the greatest worry for me was that I was terrified to speak in front of people.  (I was so painfully shy that as a child I would skip school on the days when oral reports were to be given.) Nevertheless, with the intent to obey Christ’s command I answered God’s call to officership.

I will never forget the first sermon I ever preached.  It was as a cadet during my field training assignment at the Times Square Corps.  It was bad enough that I had to stand at a pulpit and preach to a group of people in the chapel, but I also had to contend with the fact that it was broadcast outside.  While the message (and the meeting in general) was going on inside, there were cadets outside handing out tracts, talking to people (about the message, etc.), and inviting folks to come inside.  This assignment to preach became a powerful turning point for me.  

As I stood to read the scripture, I was so scared that I was shaking all over and could barely speak—I could even see out of the corner of my eye that the bow on my bonnet was shaking! I sat down in great fear and near panic. As the next item on the program was taking place, I began imploring God. I prayed this simple prayer: “God you have called me, and I want to be here, but I can’t do this without your help. Please, help me!”  At that moment I felt the peace of God envelop me from the top of my head to the tips of my toes.  No more shaking, no more fear. The band finished playing and I stood and delivered that sermon with confidence.  I even remember the opening line: “Have you ever stood in the midst of a crowd and felt completely alone?”  Now I don’t know how effective that sermon was for anyone else (or the grade I received) but it was a game changer for me.  God showed me very clearly that He had indeed called me and that He would equip me and help me to do the work and ministry involved in that calling. 

“Don’t underestimate the power of God in you, nor yet what you, by working quietly and steadily with Him, may accomplish” (Samuel Logan Brengle) I well learned the truth of that statement that evening in Times Square. I think that sometimes we overestimate our abilities and/or inabilities and forget that God will see us through each and every situation.  I recall one particular situation that was way out of my depth.  I had been an officer for about nine years and generally felt fairly competent to handle most things regarding my calling. I was in the office on a Saturday trying to catch up on some things when the phone rang. As these were the days before cell phones and caller ID…at least on our Corps Office phone…I answered because I thought it might be my husband. It wasn’t. It was someone who had randomly called the Salvation Army as they sat contemplating suicide. The first thing that hit me was pure unadulterated terror. Then with an SOS prayer to the Lord. I began to converse with the person on the other end of the line and we talked and talked and talked.  I don’t know how long I was on the phone I just know that when the call ended, I was exhausted and felt like a limp rag.

I slumped back in my chair and just let the Spirit’s comfort and assurance wash over me.  As I thought about bits and pieces of that conversation, I began to realize that the Lord had indeed been using me in spite of my weakness and inabilities. He placed in my mouth the words to say, the tone to use, helped me focus on the individual and pushed my panic aside.  

Christians are called to preach the gospel. To preach the reality of it, the possibility of it, the grace of it, the love of it and the Person of it. To tell others that God who does not simply supply us with information about how we are to live but gives us Himself so that in every circumstance we have all that is needed to see us through.

Let me leave you with a quote from one of my favorite authors, Fredrick Buechner. “Let the preacher tell the truth. Let him make audible the silence of the news of the world with the sound turned off so that in the silence we can hear the tragic truth of the Gospel, which is that the world where God is absent is a dark and echoing emptiness; and the comic truth of the Gospel, which is that it is into the depths of his absence that God makes himself present in such unlikely ways and to such unlikely people that old Sarah and Abraham and maybe when the time comes even Pilate and Job and Lear and Henry Ward Beecher and you and I laugh till the tears run down our cheeks. And finally let him preach this overwhelming of tragedy by comedy, of darkness by light, of the ordinary by the extraordinary, as the tale that is too good not to be true because to dismiss it as untrue is to dismiss along with it that catch of the breath, that beat and lifting of the heart near to or even accompanied by tears, which I believe is the deepest intuition of truth that we have.” (Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale)

Hope

My computer is in desperate need for a “clean-up” so I’ve begun going through files and deleting or archiving them off the computer.  In the course of doing this, I have come across some articles, blogs, and papers that I have written.  Some of them still seem to be relevant so I thought I would begin sharing them here. (I’ve tried all sorts of ways to use this blog and am on the verge of giving it up but thought I would give this thing another shot!)

As a Leader I believe that it is especially important to study Scripture both in a theological context as well as a contemporary context. (Scripture doesn’t change but the individual and circumstances do, so graciously the Lord provides fresh insight for current circumstance using past experiences with Him as a touchstone or benchmark.)

January 2012 I was dealing with difficult personal circumstances and pressures at work when I was given the news that my oldest sister, Judy was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. The lens and filter I was using to view the material I was reading changed in the blink of an eye. My sister who had just been diagnosed with cancer was required to undergo aggressive treatment.  Having a sense of the battle and the ramifications caused me to view my reading and study through the lens of pain and fear. It is this filter that led me to Tozer and 1 Peter.  (O, Lord, you know what my need will be for tomorrow even as I live in today’s moment!)

As my sister was in hospice I the Spirit gave me Nouwen for comfort and encouragement. But it is not about my sister that I write but the hard and difficult circumstances that come to us and the authors he sent my way to help me through them.

I am presently reading Tozer (Fiery Faith) and feel as if I am visiting an old friend but yet discovering new topics of discussion and learning. Amazing how that works.

One of my favorite quotes by Tozer: “Whatever comes into your heart and mind when you think about God is the most important thing about you.”  I remember that the first time I read this it stopped my mind short.  When my mind turns to God, what thoughts come?  I confess that I was a bit ashamed of my thoughts.  You see, I discovered that the first things that came to mind were my needs, my wants, etc. — that my thoughts about God were through a selfish lens if you will…. Not that anything I thought was a bad thing, but my perspective was skewed.

My struggle with this came while we were in a difficult appointment. It was one in which my motives, my officership and my actions as a mother were constantly questioned and ridiculed.  So, naturally, I was constantly “crying” to God for relief.  It was all about me not about concern for the spiritual state of individuals who could behave in such hurtful and destructive ways.

God in his tender mercy–while soothing my pain–taught me to not only work through that pain but, while doing so, practice the art of Christian love — Christian love that wants and works for the best good of others no matter what they do or think about you in return. No easy task but when you begin looking at others, especially those that use and abuse you, through the eyes of Christ…..your heart begins to soften by the knowledge of just how much they are hurting themselves and that they can only hurt you if you let them. Make no mistake, others can cause you pain and disappointment, but they cannot hurt you. All they can do is drive you closer to the Lord who brings comfort, peace, courage and strength.  Annie Johnson Flint reminds us that we are covered and armored with the Love of God.

He giveth more grace as our burdens grow greater,              
      He sendeth more strength as our labors increase,
      To added afflictions He added His mercy,
      To multiplied trials he multiplies peace.

When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
      When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
      When we reach the end of our hoarded resources
      Our Father’s full giving is only begun.
 
      His love has no limits, his grace has no measure,
      His power no boundary known unto men;
      For our of his infinite riches in Jesus
      He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.

A verse of scripture that God gave to me while attending SFOT:  

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. (1 Peter 5:10)

In that difficult appointment (and many since) I have had to come back to this promise.  No matter my circumstance, God will bring me through … and not only that, make me stronger — both personally and spiritually.

Let me finish this post with Tozer’s words:

“God is personally concerned about you.  God is not too high or lofty to remember that His children are in the land where illness is prevalent.  Where accidents happen every day.  Where there are loss of jobs and financial worries.  Where people are betrayed by their closest loved ones.  Where there is separation, as for instance, when the boy who has been close to us for so many years, shakes our hand with a grin that is not quite real and walks down the sidewalk and waves at the corner on his way to report to the military service.  Separations come, some never to return to us again.  God knows it and says, ‘Now, I know that’s the kind of world you live in, but I have laid hold on you forever, and I know every detail of your trouble and all your problems, and I’ll anticipate every act of the enemy and every act of every enemy I will anticipate.  I will go before you.’” (Tozer, Living as a Christian, pp. 206-207)