December Listening

100_6687I love how God works in the hearts of men, and how He provides for His will to be accomplished, and men to be called, by using all the world that is at His disposal.

How easy it would be to let centuries of humanity snuff out the power of His message of hope. Our selfishness and distractibility would be our undoing. All would be lost, if it not for our wise and insightful Father. He uses all the world that is at His disposal, including the passions of a 17th century composer, and generations of musicians that came after him.

It would be easy for these words of power and hope to be kept on fragile scrolls, or confined to dusty pages of unopened Bibles. Instead, He allowed the heart of one man to be inspired and create a refrain that would echo in the hearts of others for centuries. He uses concert halls, radios, and flash mobs to remind us of His Message.

My December devotions have a particular purpose. I seek to peel back the often suffocating layers of culture and humanity and cling to what is true about God in all seasons. I don’t want to get lost in the colored lights, or lists, or excess and lose the closeness of walking with Him. I don’t want to be like a parent that spends so much time managing the life of a child that he or she neglects to build relationship with that child.

Let us cast off the tinsel for a moment. Let us still the rustling of shopping bags and the rolling of pins over ginger dough. Remove all judgment of the musician and commercial context. Lay down the instrumental clutter. Listen. Listen past the orchestral swells to the Message in these words that were written long before they were put to choral triumphs:

“His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace!” Isaiah 9:6 (RSV)

WONDERFUL, MIGHTY, EVERLASTING!

God’s words still proclaim power and hope. They still point to Jesus. They still call men to Him.

Who DOESN’T desire a source of life wisdom—a counselor who listens and guides with infinite understanding and your best interests in mind? God trumpets Christ’s power here. He is a leader we can trust, who can bring victory in the gravest of battles. He is faithful and doesn’t disappear when the sale is over, the season is done, or the relationship loses its glow. He outlasts them all.  It is He who brings peace to our souls and reconciles the warring forces of sin and holiness by His grace and sacrifice.

Today I am thankful that God is faithful. I am thankful that He uses the natural world, human creativity, the internet, and even those who do not choose Him, to draw my heart to Jesus. Today, and going forward, I will ask His hand to push aside the commercials, the shiny paper, the demands of parenting and working, and focus on the Truth as it is proclaimed in all of that. I will look for Him in all the usual and unexpected places.

Do you care to join me? There’s always room.

“In that day the root of Jesse shall stand as an ensign to the peoples; Him shall the nations seek, and his dwellings shall be glorious!” Psalm 11:10 (RSV)

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Deep Roots

I’m sitting here in dark quiet, gathering strength for the hours ahead, arming myself with God’s righteousness for what comes in this day

…and I spill an entire mug of coffee all over my already-dressed-for-work self.

At rapid speed, the following internal combustion takes place:

*The outfit I laid out the night before and donned in my early morning sleepiness—can it be salvaged?

*Can an entire mug of coffee be adequately sponged off of my pants and shirt?

*What other outfit do I have, clean and hanging in the closet, that requires the least amount of changing and decision? What else goes with grey trouser socks and black flats?

*Is it worth giving up some of my quiet time to change now, or can the damp be undistracting?

*I do NOT want to give up the time to redecide and redress—these are precious moments to me, my time here in the Word and in prayer.

*Is the whole day going to be like this?

I didn’t have a ready answer for any one of those questions except the last, and most important one.

The answer is no. The whole day is NOT going to be like this, because I choose otherwise.

There was a time—a long and ever-pervasive time—when I would have allowed this small thing to open the floodgates of agitation and to frame my day. It would have been difficult to shake the irritation and frustration off. It would have colored my thoughts, my speech, my actions—even how I walked. I would have clung to the negativity and stewed, only magnifying its importance. I would have allowed it to grow in power and excuse for my tone, my decisions, and my faults in the minutes and hours that followed. Crabby and unsettled might best describe it.

Today gets to be different, and I rejoice in that difference and acknowledge He who made that difference.

I can feel my roots hold strong.

The other day, while tromping in the autumn woods by the river, my husband marveled at how, over time, the swirling waters wear away at the granite boulders and carve them smooth. This process takes decades, but with the investment of nature’s time, the result is stunning.

So, what’s the difference? I ask myself. There was a time when I had come to expect the instant flame of (FIRE PICTURE FROM CABIN) aggravation to ignite and linger, so I could stoke it with the logs of negative self-talk. I was ready to list all the heavy things weighing on my mind in the last days—all the relationship snags and lackings, my unmet needs, all the work frustrations, the worries, all the household demands screaming– from the marred flooring, dust-filled surfaces to the mounting must-dos. Isn’t it strange how one minor incident that has no real life-impact can be the proverbial finger in the dike that is removed, allowing a flood of unrelated negativity to pour over our souls and drown our spirits?

But this time the flame did not rise. 100_5479

Instead, I felt the roots grown deep, and hold my heart steady, even in this minor gust.

I have been rising early, way earlier than I ever thought consistently possible for this girl who needs a crowbar to eject herself from bed every morning. In the discipline of rising, I have sat with God, lit only by moon silver, and taken in His word, written His word, shared His word. Each day I have armed myself with affirmation of His Presence and grace.

THAT’S the difference.

I can feel the roots holding strong, and each one of them has a name:

Hope. Grace. Peace. Perspective.

What matter is it, really, that my clothes were sodden? My real garments remained.

“I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For He has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness…Isaiah 61:10 RSV

What good comes from wallowing in the agitation? This moment is not my real place, and is already gone.

Brethren, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature be thus minded; and if in anything you are otherwise minded, God will reveal that also to you. Philippians 3:12-16 RSV

Several years ago, we had a strange and violent wind storm rip through our area on a February night. The wind came from an unusual direction. The tall and thick pines that fill the landscape of New Hampshire, keeping steady company with our maples and oaks, were accustomed to a differently directed force. Their root systems had grown strong on the side of their trunks where there were predictable, prevailing winds.

But sometimes God sends the unexpected. Sometimes He allows a gale to rip through our neatly ordered lives. Sometimes the Enemy changes tactics and claims the element of surprise—the wind direction suddenly changes.

Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water,
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.

The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff which the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

Psalm 2 (RSV) 100_4870

Where would I be if I hadn’t buried my roots deep on all sides?

Without roots sunk deep toward the life-giving water, how could I withstand the either the sudden gusts of small aggravations that open the floodgates to crabbiness, discontent, despair, or the full-blown storms? How can the guard on my mouth be in place if the guard is not armed and ready? How can my heart receive and calm its unsolicited guests like Disappointment, Frustration, or Discipline, if my soul-house is not in order?

Today’s resolve is to stay firmly planted. To stretch my roots down deep toward the water of life. To prepare by drinking daily.

It is worth the sacrifice of sleepiness. It is worth dressing in the cold and dark. It is worth the sacrifice of an extra hour of sleep. It is worth the purchase of a few more crowbars. Sometimes I need the big ones.

I pray today that God bless you with resolve to plant yourself by His stream daily-that you meet with Him to dwell in His presence and fill yourself up with His word. Whether your time be carved out of morning slumber or afternoon toddler-naps, late-day dinner prep, or nighttime routine, meet Him there and drink deep.

I know you’ll be blessed. Your roots will grow long and strong. The dike will stay plugged more often. You will prosper and the fruits of your prosperity shall be named Peace, Steadfastness, Wisdom, Courage, Perspective, and Hope.

By-the-way…as for the sodden clothing?
After my rapid leap upward, I noticed with relief that most of the coffee had spilled on the fleece blanket covering me. I had a few soggy spots that I sponged off and did not change my clothes. I figured I am always scurrying around the classroom so fast, I’d take the chance that no eight-year-old would notice a barely-there mark if one remained. No one did. The only casualty was my beloved rice beanie that I heat to keep my toasty. I made another one.

Small things.

Posted in Deflecting the Weapon of Discouragement, Prayer, Spiritual Transformation, The Walk, Trials, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

When Leaves Fall and Autumn is Breathed In

I am pondering aromas today. It might have something to do with the fact that I am sitting here quiet, surrounded by a darkened fall morn, hoping to infuse the day with one of my favorite Yankee Candle scents, Autumn Leaves. One might wonder why I enjoy the smell of dead foliage, or why I don’t just fling open the kitchen door and bury my face into the plentiful piles of leaves covering the driveway and lawn. The answer to the latter is easy: It’s 6:00 AM, dark and 37 degrees out. If I dare to snuffle a pile of autumn with my face close, I don’t know what cold, damp aspect of nature I’ll find clinging to my nose after a good long inhale. Turning Leaves TApgar2013

As for the former, why do I love the smell of autumn leaves? Because it is more than the smell of a sleeping tree. It is what the fragrance represents. It is the woodsy-mixed-with-piney scent of all that IS New England autumn: the Indian summer days tinged with crisp evening cool, ruby red apples hanging off a gnarled branches, school buses laden with newly-shoed children, soccer balls driven into nets while parents cheer, fat orange pumpkins standing guard on doorsteps. 100_7839

It is both endings and beginnings, as seasons overlap. It is the first soft sweater pulled overhead, the blaze of bonfire and sip of cider with friends.

Scents are a marvelous trigger of memories for me.

The smell of the heat first kicking on means it’s cozying up with tea and fleece time—all those lazy stolen moments on the couch with dogs and now grown children on Sunday afternoons.

A new box of Crayola crayons is first and second grade all over again, sitting before Miss Marinel, waiting for her to tape prizes to papers that were well done.

A whiff of banana bread transports me, draped in an oversized apron, to a kitchen chair, where I stand helping Mum pour and stir while singing silly songs. “There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza….Hello Maddah, hello Faddah, here we are at, Camp Wanadah!…” It is childhood.

Scents are a survival tool God has crafted in all of His creations. Scents are how living beings find food, or water, and discern safety or danger. Some aromas are pleasing, others are repulsive. We even have different sounding  words to categorize them, the pleasant ones roll off of our tongue, whispering sweet associations, while others evoke nose crinkles, frowns– a turning away and avoidance.  aroma, scent, fragrance, bouquet…..odor, stench, smell…

This autumn scent has me thinking about 2 Corinthians 2:15. I am holding aroma in my hand today, turning it over, examining it from every side…

“For we are to God, the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.”

If I read that correctly, as God inhales our lives, He smells His Son. And it pleases Him. Oh, I pray that it does!

Usually when I read that verse, I am drawn to the BEING CHRIST among others. Typically, in a sermon or study, the focus is on how to be Christ among those that don’t know Him well, if at all. Today I read that a little differently.

First it is TO GOD that we are an aroma of His Son. Yes, it is to others, but first and foremost, we are a pleasing fragrance to God. It is only then that we can be wafted out to others, and not only to those who are lost, but notice that God reminds us here that we are an aroma to each other—to fellow believers and members of His family. Like an athletic proving ground, His church is where we test the waters of our living faith, and hone it by practice and response– to be a pleasing aroma that we live with the lost.

I am humbly grateful that I do not have to craft my own soul scent. Invited to the wedding between God and His Beloved Bride, to be part of the Bride, His church, I am infused with the scent of Jesus by God’s own grace. With grace-covered living in faith and obedience, my fragrance is sweet to God.

How delightful is your love, my sister, my bride! How much more pleasing is your love than wine, and the fragrance of your perfume more than any spice! Song of Solomon 4:10 NIV

I shudder to think of the alternative, and the consequences of God inhaling an odor less than worthy of His embrace. If I leave the fragrant covering of Jesus, then God will be repulsed by the odor that wafts to His nostrils. There will be no more beautiful words to describe how I smell, and like my face when it’s my turn to haul the week’s refuse to the barn for disposal, God will have every right to turn away in disgust.

Instead of fragrance there will be a stench;
instead of a sash, a rope;
instead of well-dressed hair, baldness;
instead of fine clothing, sackcloth;
instead of beauty, branding.
Your men will fall by the sword,
your warriors in battle. Isaiah 3:23-25

I don’t even like to read those verses, let alone live them.

My dog, Libby, uses scent to discern what she may interpret as unfaithfulness. She knows when I have ‘been with another dog’. I get a thorough nasal examination if I return from a friend’s house with the smell of one of my other puppy friends clinging to my pant legs. She knows I’ve been sharing my affection with someone else.

How much more discerning is God’s sense of smell?

Today, I want to be more aware of the perfume I wear.

“…put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” Romans 13:14

“For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” Galatians 3:27

It is a daily struggle to make godly, discerning choices about what I let into my life and while walking here on the soil of my temporary home, I will make thousands of decisions a day. I pray that I will attune my ears to the Spirit, measure my choices alongside God’s word, and live bathed in Christ. I can do this, knowing my competence to choose rightly and live the aroma of Christ comes from God. I thank God that the aroma of His Son is stronger than my poor choices.

Such is the confidence we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God… 2 Cor. 3:4,5

Come along on the journey with me? Sniff the air, fill your life with sweet aromas, and let them draw you into His arms.

Just trying to be a better sheep over here in a New England autumn–smelling the pines mixed with beginning-to-doze maples… and trying not to stink.

100_7898

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When You Fall in an Unguarded Moment

I don’t like being startled. It brings out my ugliness.

I am sitting here in the early morning semi-silence of compromise, praying. Scott is whirring away on the exercise bike and Libby is gnawing noisily on her bone. Those are sounds I have worked to be accustomed to and not distracted by. It hasn’t been easy. Carving out this quiet spot as my meeting place with God was my work, my choice, my space. I guard it jealously. Like a land grant of time, I homesteaded and put up a heart-fence of stone to protect it, first on the early mornings of Saturdays and vacation days for years, now every day before work. Red leaves on wall TApgar 2013

Unfortunately, a conflicting need has arisen. My husband’s work-induced stress levels are such that if he doesn’t find healthy ways to arm his body defensively, he will implode. So, this need to share my time and space comes from a good thing. Every other morning he shuffles downstairs and enters ‘my’ space. I have to work hard to cast Resentment aside. Resentment is heavy and my muscles are sore from holding it away. God’s work continues and His Spirit moves me toward joy that my husband is working positively toward mental and physical health. I am proud of him, and tell him so nearly every workout session.

Then the TV news blasts on, harsh and loud, and my reaction is to snap at my husband. Why? The jarring sound came without warning, and is in such contrast to the semi-silence. And it’s in MY moment. I was praying, and now I am totally distracted and feel agitated.

“I’m being as considerate as I can. I want to see what happened.” Is he, really? I ask myself. I think not, not in this moment. But in general, absolutely. Still, now we’re both a little grumpy. *sigh*

How to smooth the ruffled feathers and regain the peace?

Pray and meditate on God’s power: Rejoice in His nearness. Nestle in to the dwelling with Him in me. Stay there until the change comes.

Get up. Move toward my husband. Climb over mySELF, who is looming large and scowling. Ignore the desire of my heart which does not match what I know is the right thing to do. Reach out and start a regular conversation, showing interest in what he wanted to hear. Tickle and tease him a little bit, until we both smile.

This does not happen without Jesus and His Spirit’s help within me. This is the hard heart work that comes in the unexpected moments. It is the hard work of marriage. It is the Grass at Gould Hill TApgar2013sweaty, easily avoided work of church fellowship. It is the draining task of being an employee, a coworker, a neighbor, a family member.

I had to stop what I was doing. It took effort, even in this small thing, to tame the lion of selfish anger that is so easily awakened. I am ashamed and frustrated that still, after all these years of the Spirit’s work in my heart, I so easily snap.

It’s so easy to be good when things are going my way. It’s so hard to do the right thing, even in the smallest of moments, when the situation conflicts with my personal interests.

I wonder how many times Jesus had to climb over and out of His humanity—the part that screams loudly to put self first—and be the Spirit-balm to a person that sparked the aggravation?

How many times did He need to “count to 10” and unclench His fists as His dearest friends, those He was mentoring, argued among themselves and tried to derail His plan?

How many times did He watch Judas, who He had welcomed and taught and loved, deal dishonestly with the funds of the group and live duplicitously? Did the man in Him have to work hard at holding his tongue in the grasp of grace instead of resentment?

Surely the Pharisees got under His skin. They claimed to know the Truth that He treasured, and that He was, but didn’t live it, over and over and over again. There was a little (ha!) bit of arrogance to work around in that particular religious leader camp.

In our women’s Bible class, we have been discussing God’s love in us, and living it with sandpaper people. You know them- those that just seem to rub you the wrong way. Maybe it’s their tone of voice, or bossy attitude. Maybe they always turn the conversation toward themselves or ‘one up’ you. Maybe they don’t consider your ideas or they talk over your voice all the time, or monopolize the conversation. Perhaps it is difficult for you to see any worth in what they’re saying because it’s buried in sarcastic arrogance.

All we can do is ‘be Jesus’ to them and in those situations. Climb out and over our humanity and be Jesus.

Satan’s attacks don’t come with flashing red lights that warn of imminent danger. We already got that warning. They sneak up on you, when you are tired, or hungry, or completely preoccupied.

Whoever would have thought the lion would pounce during prayer? Apparently I wasn’t paying attention while studying Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness.

Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8,9

So, there I sat, heart pounding from the startlingly high volume of the television news blasting its way into my dawn prayer.

Resist him, firm in your faith. Turning Leaves TApgar2013

Resist the devil and he will flee from you. James 4:7,8

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.  Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.

So submit I did. It took many more minutes than I would like to admit, but I sat there, breathing slow, praying my way to claim the peace that had been thrust from my heart and mind.

Here’s what happened: The Spirit did His healing work. Made me wait. Helped me calm. Made me able to move my feet and heart to my husband in that sandpaper moment.

Here’s what I hope, what I pray I will do the next time (and we all know there WILL be a next time…and another…): I pray I can stop. I pray I can submit to the time the Spirit calls me to take and calm my spirit. I pray I can climb out of my human selfishness and reach out to touch the sandpaper with Jesus.

Blessings on your day, and all your inflaming sandpaper encounters.

 

 

[Scripture quotations are]from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Posted in One Another, Sharing Jesus, Spiritual Transformation, The Walk, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

He’s In the Smudge

True confession time: I can be a little obsessive.  I can get easily become fixated on certain things that are out of order: a crooked seam in a quilt, papers at school stacked up a certain way, crooked pictures hanging on the wall. Sometimes I am able to fix them, and Mushroomstapgarsometimes I can’t. There are times it takes all I have to force myself to move on and believe that my day or the success of the project does not rise and fall by how lined up something is. Making my daughter’s wedding dress was interesting, as you can imagine. So is preparing materials to teach.  I recognize that this occasional compulsion comes both from a need for external approval—to appear good, capable, and strong– and a desire to control the outcomes of my actions. If I gather all the papers and materials for the school day, and lay them out in perfect order, the day will run smoothly and seamlessly. Anyone who works with children and in a school system is laughing right now as they read this. They know that aiming for a smooth and seamless day that proceeds exactly as you planned, is much like laying a beach blanket out on the sand– flat and clean, corners straight– and expecting it to stay that way. Five minutes with children at the beach has it curled up and damp with salt-sticky footprints running through its center.

One day I was sitting on the farmer’s porch, trying not to feel rushed, praying, when I glanced down and noticed that one newly polished fingernail was smudged. All that layering of lacquer and splaying of fingertips while waiting for things to dry was unsuccessful. I knew I’d be ridiculously distracted by it all day as I sat through school district inservice. I didn’t have time to repolish and dry the nail before I left for work. So, here’s what I decided:

God was in the smudge. I put Him there.

I decided that everytime I glanced at it or rubbed it, I would pray. I would meditate on His glory in the midst of my 8 hour long workshop day and turn it into a worship day.

So THERE! Just see if I allowed my job to take time away from Him and distract me! I will turn the distraction into a call to His heart!

I need to do this more often—turning irritations and dissatisfaction into an invitation to God to dwell with me in the moment. Stained and marked kitchen floor, dog hair tufts rolling like tumbleweeds throughout the house, a protesting and whiny car steering mechanism, an in-your-face social weakness of a child—they can all become objects of invitation to God’s presence. He’s in it all anyway, I am missing something if I don’t acknowledge it and absorb it’s power.

While not exactly a weakness, a smudged fingernail did ‘keep me from being conceited’. It did cause me to recall God’s grace and power in my own imperfections. This small, insignificant irritation turned into a reminder of how God speaks to us:

*even in the small things, He calls our hearts to Him

*life’s bumps and mountains, the irritations and trials, both big and small, are places where God works

Here I am today, a bleating sheep, inviting the Shepherd into the small things.

Blessings on your day. Indianpaintbrushtapgar

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 1 Cor. 12:7-10 NIV

 Abide in me, and I in you. John 15:4 RSV

Posted in The Walk, Uncategorized, Worship | 3 Comments

Preparation (Still Aiming not to Skim!)

It’s Saturday morning. The (hopefully) restful end to a busy week. It is the day before Sunday, though I don’t often think of it that way. But today I am, and I am preparing my 100_4844heart for worship.

In all truth, I have been preparing since at least mid-week, and even longer still. Still wrestling with the skimming heart-practices that fall short of God’s glory and desire, I am looking toward tomorrow and asking: Am I ready? Is my heart prepared? I don’t want to skim in worship.

God is always with me, He is always with us. He abides in us. (John 14:15ff) My whole life is a living worship. But the Lord’s Day, this once weekly meeting time is special. It is to be a unified, coming together of grace-covered souls that remember, that GIVE, that OFFER to God what is due Him. This special time is not a time of taking, of need-filling. This is to be a time set apart. It is a time of trust-filled worship that empties self. This loving trust knows that God will fill our needs and then lays them aside with quiet confidence to focus instead on Him.

What sacrifices shall I bring? What do we, as a body, bring? What are our “burnt offerings” whose aromas rise to the nostrils of God and smell right and good?

Humility… awe…gratitude…praise…love…repentance.

Today I am preparing my heart because I know that tomorrow my humanity will want to bend to the earth-demands of schedule, routine, and hurry. I know my thoughts will want to be more of me and less of Him. So I get ready today. And the days before. I plan to get up on time so hurry doesn’t strain my focus. I determine in my heart that no to-do list or retail need will distract me. No dissatisfaction with plans or fellow souls will diminish my concentration. No social connection or lack of it will derail my thoughts. No heart-hurt or concern will turn my focus inward. I walk with God in those every day, so I can lay them aside for a time.

I pray that those that lead us in this sacred time are deliberate, thoughtful, and open their hearts up to the Spirit. I pray they select songs of praise and repentance, love and adoration. I pray that they lead our lips and hearts with deep joy and infectious passion and don’t distract us with  conversation, musical technicalities, or a casual air. I also pray for those that gather us around the Lord’s Table in remembrance of Christ and His sacrifice. I pray they will help us recall God’s grace deeply. As God’s words are read from His Book, I pray that I, that we, will drink of them deeply, as refreshment for parched souls.

May this time be less about me and us and more about YOU, Oh God!

Getting ready over here (and looking for you!).

Hawaiian Sunset, Oahu, TApgar

Those who sacrifice thank offerings honor me,
    and to the blameless I will show my salvation.” Psalm 50:23

 Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. Hebrews 13:15

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:1,2

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: A broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise. Psalm 51:17

Posted in Spiritual Transformation, The Walk, Uncategorized, Worship | 5 Comments

When Earth-habits Bleed into Heart-habits

I am still pondering the fine art of skimming, and I am thinking about prayer.

Dictionary.com defines the word skim as: to take up and remove floating matter from the surface…to move or glide lightly along…to read, study, consider, treat in a cursory or superficial manner.

Superficial. Cursory. So much in this life seems like a drive through. We can get our food and our money without stepping into a restaurant, barely stopping to exchange words and coins. With transponders mounted on our car windshields, we just slow down, never really stopping, to pay the tolls on our journeys. I find myself skimming hundreds of channels with the remote, watching seconds of shows in an effort to find something worthwhile. We mount tour buses to whiz us through the highlights of a vacation spot. 100_6458

What I live while tethered to this world, these habits I form, they bleed over into what should remain sacred, set apart from this world. This is a dangerous truth.

Sometimes, my heart is so burdened with the task of taking my own requests and those of others before God’s throne, that I can forget to slow down and listen– to slow down and have a deep conversation with God about the details of that person or situation. I don’t want to neglect offering a person’s suffering (or joy) up to God, but the list is so long that sometimes I barely touch on a name and offer a “God, you know what’s going on, so please take this situation” tumbled phrase. Not that that is wrong, but what am I robbing from that conversation? I may be missing something with this habit of skimming.

Sometimes I am so involved in the tumult of words and thoughts that I generate, I don’t reign myself and and listen for the Spirit’s calm, but insistent, prompting in my heart as a response to the situation. I can miss the call to let Him work through me. Sometimes my prayers become less of a conversation and more of a Post-it note to God.

These habits? They bleed over to the whole church. Our words reveal our hearts, even when we don’t know them ourselves.

Have you heard (or spoken) this?

“Let’s have a quick prayer before we ____” “…a short prayer…”, stated like it’s a promise that our time speaking with God won’t be inconvenient to us. What is most offensive to me here is when we hurriedly slur the name of Jesus-the Holy One- in our conversation. We slur the sounds of His sweet name together and barely hear it. Barely whisper it. It’s as if He is an afterthought, instead of the reason we have this privilege of drawing near to our mighty God as a child, instead of an unholy mess.

” In Js-s’ name, amen.” Js-s. Here’s my list God. Please hear it. Please listen to our needs. Then we sign off as though it’s a 2 minute advertisement on the radio and we must state the name of the sponsor. Like we don’t have the time to proclaim Jesus as part of the conversation. Consonants only. Almost one syllable.

But Jesus’ name is sweet. And holy. And deserves proclaiming every consonant and vowel with humbled love and gratitude.

Oh that we would not skim His name in prayer!

God calls me to His praying servants and the psalms He wrote on their hearts. Even the shortest ones go deep. The prayers whispered or shouted loud are from deep roots sunk into a soul that knows what it is like to spend time with God, a soul that seeks God- that loves and trusts God. A soul that knows prayer is acknowledging God’s abiding Presence, and drinks it in.

Blessed is the man…his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on His law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. Psalm 1 There is delight and security in deliberately and slowly weaving God into the consciousness of our days and nights.

But know that the Lord has set apart the godly for Himself; the Lord hears when I call to him. Psalm 4:3 There is confidence in this conversation, and though it may seem so to our human mind, it is never one sided.

Thou has put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound. Psalm 4:7 There is deep, joyful emotion in relationship with God.

Meditating with God on His promises, His hope, His discipline, His love—this is not a drive-through conversation. It is one that takes time. It is one that explores the depths of the heart—full of pain, suffering, joy and hope- and takes the time to look for God in all. And to listen.

Such is prayer. Even the while-I-am-on-the-highway kind of prayer can go deep. Deep in feeling. Deep in communion. 100_4462

Today I resolve not to skim. I resolve to bring my heart into my conversations with the Lord God. To dwell on His name and realize how precious Jesus is to be a part of it. To take the time not to skim, but to dwell. I pray that those that lead us in prayer in worship, before meals, before activities, during coffee, before the Lord’s table…I pray they will lead us to take the time to dwell deeply in conversation with our God, and not reduce our corporate throne-sits to superficial punctuations in an order of worship.

Still striving to be a better sheep over here. Always seeking His face.

Join me?

Posted in Prayer, Spiritual Transformation, Uncategorized, Worship | 4 Comments