Thursday, May 30, 2013

Until Then

Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror;
then we shall see face to face. 

Now I know in part; then I shall know fully,
even as I am fully known.

1 Corinthians 13:12

     I sighed when I saw the e-mail. The subject said it all. My friend was still living in a boxing ring taking hard blows and fighting to stay on his feet. All I can do is encourage him from the sidelines until the bell rings, signaling the end of this round and for his sake I hope he can take off his gloves and rest a while. 

     This personal trial as well the scary stuff I see on the news has me shaking my head and wondering why. I want to see the end of my friend's trials and I want bad things to stop happening to innocent people. I know it's futile to even ask but I can't help it. I feel like it's not just a poor reflection, due to the dust of pain and suffering but there's a crack going through it as well, a crack called evil. 

     What I see now brings tears that will be washed away Then. What I don't know now, will have meaning Then. But for now I must deal with the dust and the cracks that distort the picture. For now all I know is that people hurt people and it makes me long for Then more and more every day.

     Until Then I will take the polishing cloth of His promises and run it over the dust being careful not to cut myself on the crack. 

Identity Theft

     "He calls his sheep by name and leads them out. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand." (John 10:3b and 28 NIV)

     I have one name but many identities. My birth certificate identifies me as Henry and Delores' daughter. My marriage certificate identifies me as David's wife. The DMV identifies me as legally able to drive in California, well the DMV and AAA combined. Kaiser identifies me as one of their patients and to the library I am a patron. I used to work for one of the largest school districts in Orange County and volunteer for a company whose motto is "embracing quality of life." 

     But all those identities mean nothing in comparrison to who Jesus says I am. He says I am His and that's never going to change. As the pastor was saying words similar to this a few weeks ago the Life Lock commercial flashed in my head. For a fee, this company will protect me from crooks who seek to steal my identity, creating a credit crisis and possibly ruining my good name. Even if that happens, my most important identity will not change. 

I am a child of God, my place in Eternity locked in place by His Son's very life. And so are you if you believe. 

Polished Praise

"Sing to the Lord, you saints of his; praise his holy name." 
(Psalm 30:4)

     The lyrics were displayed on the screen of the church formerly known as a movie theatre. Some were standing but some for health or other reasons stayed in their fold-down red cushioned seats, the offering envelope tucked in the cup holder beside them. The worship leader and her team were all in their places up on stage. Some hands were lifted, palms up paralel with the shoulders. Some were raised in full surrender. Some would have reminded my college professor of the days of Hitler. Some hands found the lent in their pockets very interesting.

     Still for all intent and purposes if a stranger walked in from the back he would think he was witnessing a worship service--with the volume turned down. We just weren't giving it our all. Pastor Chris came out and apparently seeing the looks on our faces said that if we didn't like worship now, we'd be bored in Heaven. It's praise 24/7 and we'd better be getting ready. And he was right. I think we mean well but let our humanity get in the way. We can't sing well enough so we sing quietly. Or we're unsure of the song. Okay, that works for the volume but why did our pastor think we were bored? I wasn't bored. I was smiling but perhaps worry was showing on other faces. Or else people really were bored. I don't know.

     But if we weren't singing because we felt less than capable, what are we waiting for? I looked at many verses and none of them said: Sing if you can make all 4 judges on The Voice turn their chairs withing seconds of your first note. It doesn't have to be polished, it just has to be. Praise. So next time you're in a worship service, sing out for an audience of One. Sure it may be rough and unpolished but if it's from the heart it's beautiful to Him. I used to have a rock tumbler that promised to take plain old rocks and turn them into stones similar to those above. It was a long, noisy process involving sand paper and water. I couldn't get the machine to keep its promise.

Maybe that's where I am now, in the tumbler belting out my praise, knowing when the process is over and I am Home, it will be polished.  

Hope Springs Eternal

"Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; 
Be still, and know that I am God;"
Psalms 62:5a and 46:10a

In his Essay on Man, Alexander Pope says that, "Hope springs eternal." It's a nice, oft quoted sentiment but do we really believe it? We have hopeful anticipation when the indicator line is a plus sign, when a nervous groom-to-be pops open the lid on the ring box, when the eager college graduate has his first job interview but do we live in hope? Hopeful anticiaption differs from hope for it is based on circumstances. 

Like the popular spring toy hopeful anticipation needs a catalyst to be put in action. It depends on circumstance. Now I know the happy little spring joyfully descends stairs but hopeful anticiapation is not a downer. Nervewracking moments are present to be sure but there's still hope--there's still joy. Then the spring hits the bottom of the stairs with a birth, a giggly yes, a handshake from the new boss and hopeful anticiaption is over. Or rather it's just sitting there waiting for a new catalyst, a new circumstance.

Sadly we treat hope just like hopeful anticiapation but this time when the spring hits bottom we misinterpret its meaning and think hope is gone. But hope is not gone. It is just still and in that stillness we can find God. Those who put their hope in Him need not wait anxiously for the next catalyst to find joy. We can let ourselves be still, knowing God is with us in all things. He's there when life is making a whooshing sound on the stairs and when it lands with a boinging ker-plunk. 

Hope is not a temporary event. It is not dependent on circumstance. Hope simply is. And it is found in God. 

In God there is eternal hope springing forth from His infinate Mercies which are new every morning.

Praising In The Chasm

"I tell you," he replied, "if they keep quiet,
the stones will cry out." Luke 19:40
     A long year brought me to this spot on the rugged trail, a guide and handful of other woman stopped to rest. Considering I was the lagger, the stop was probably for my benefit. It was a beautiful day. For me it was a fought for day. I battled poor health to be able to hike that day. The year before I was winded just walking around the retreat center and it was relatively flat. 
    Being out of shape had become my giant and I'd battled it. I still have a ways to go. I haven't conquered it but I'm not going to let poor health conquer me. I thought of David and Goliath as I looked at the stones in the path that day. When others laughed and said you can't, David said my God says I can. I was already thinking about this new blog so took a picture.
     A funny thing happened on the way to the keyboard. I read Luke 19:40 and had a new perspective. I happened to look across the room at my bookcase and noticed Max Lucado's Facing Your Giants. Hmmmm, I wondered, what if the stone released from David's sling was singing praise as it flew through the chasm of fear between the people and Goliath? 
     We are called to praise Him in all things. What if we hurled praise at our problems while standing in the chasm life has placed us in? Whether it be a chasm created by poor health, lost jobs, divorce, or grief--what if we just praised God in it? It would call God into our pain, and it would serve another purpose. There's a certain Giant out there that can't stand to hear God's praises so when the praises start he takes his scaly little self and slithers away. 
     So next time you're facing a giant, pick up a stone and let it sing praises through the chasm and join in the song.

Behold The Rebel

"Here I am! I stand at the door and knock.
If anyone hears my voice and opens the door,
I will come in and eat with him, and he with me." 
Revelation 3:20

For whatever reason, the contractor removed this old door knocker from my mother's home when he remodeled it in 2006. He was using the same door and filled in the hole, sanded it smooth and painted the whole thing. I salvaged the old piece of hardware. It was full of memories of the friends that came to visit. As you can see, I did not polish it. To do so would erase their fingerprints so to speak. It would be to forget that my parents invited them in to relax in the living room and enjoy each other's company.

When I see that old door knocker sitting on my shelf, I think of the verse in the book of Revelation and usually I think of Jesus knocking. But not today. Today I am thinking about that hole in the door that was left when the contractor decided to take the knocker/peep hole out and maybe the only reason he took it out was because it was tarnished and didn't match the new look of my remodeled childhood home.

Jesus didn't come to the world polished, and by polished I mean following the rules of the time. No, Christ was a rebel with a cause---a Kingdom cause. He broke the rules of the Sabbath by healing, He touched the untouchable, He told the leaders things they didn't want to hear.

If the door referred to in Revelation 3:20 is the heart of man then what is to be said of the removal of the hardware? Think of it this way. That little piece of brass is Jesus' private knocker which no one else can use. Sometimes mankind gets tired of hearing his knocking so they think removing the knocker will silence Him. And for a while they are fine with the hole.

His knocking was unbearable to them. It echoed off the walls of a scarred heart. A heart scarred by pain. What they didn't realize is that He came to heal that pain. And now they're left with pain and a hole where others can look in and see it. So they try to fill it. They keep busy at work, they self-medicate, they indulge in self-destructiove behavior, anything to fill the hole and hide the pain. 

But Jesus doesn't walk away. He doesn't need a fancy knocker to knock on the door of a heart. He's still knocking, but now it is muffled by the noise of those fillers. Man sits there on the other side of that door with a choice: keep ignoring, or surrender and invite Him into the mess. Oh, I know the mess is embarrassing. We'd never dream of inviting someone into our real home if the living room was such a mess. 

But Jesus comes to comfort as He makes Himself comfortable. He won't condemn you for the mess. Nor will He ignore it, but He will help you deal with it. It may take a while and won't always be easy but it will be worth it.

The Rebel is knocking on that old tarnished piece of brass that matches your heart. Won't you let Him in?

Sin For A Season

"He (Moses) chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to 
enjoy the pleasures of sin
for a short time." Hebrews 11:25

I don't know what's in it or how it's made. I'm pretty sure the box labeled "Nutrition Facts" is a misnomer because there isn't any. The small print even says, "Not a significant source of other nutrients." But who reads the small print. I certainly don't.

I don't read the small print or care about the nutrients, or rather the lack thereof. I don't even wonder if this little stick of gum has any harmful effects. I just know it tastes good and I trust the claim of long lasting flavor on the front of the package. That's not in small print. The manufacturer wants you to know his product is the best. I'm pretty sure the nitrition information was put there by some legal department. 

So I take off the shiny silver wrapper and if I'm in my car drop it in the cupholder. If I'm out a purse or pocket will due and then I put the sugar free sperarmint piece of gum in my mouth. It freshens my breath. It takes away any bitter taste that was there before. It is chewed and enjoyed. Until ...

Until the flavor is gone.

Isn't that how sin is? We don't worry about the consequences, don't think about the compromise. We just want what we want. We want pleasure to soothe our pain. We've bought into the claims of long lasting pleasure, never counting the cost. Moses knew the cost and he chose not to sin. He read the bold (but small) print that said "Contains Phenylalanine" and took it as a warning. I'm not sure why my gum package says that. I'm sure it's some chemical that people need to be aware of. Maybe it's a known alergin. That doesn't stop me from chewing. When it comes to gum, I do not have the resolve of Moses.

But I wouldn't mind having some of Moses' DNA running through me when it comes to sin. My head knows the fun won't last: that guilt, shame and other consequences must also have their seasons in due time. Yet, that shiny wrapper lies crumpled in the cupholder as I endulge, as I let my sinful nature drive me once again. But there's one other season that will come. It's the season of redemption and it starts with repentance---turning away from my sin.

So what season are you in?

Stop Staring

"Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past." Isaiah 43:18

      I reach up and adjust the rearview mirror on the PT Cruiser and I remember a Facebook post by a friend almost a year ago. If I remember correctly, he was venting about the way he'd been treated, but a friend admonished him to stop looking in the rearview mirror. I had to disagree with the friend. 
     Rearview mirrors have their place. No, we are not to dwell on what we see and that is why they are smaller than the windshield. (I took the picture of the smallest rearview mirror I've ever seen at a car show.) Still they serve a purpose when it comes to safety as we take a quick glance before backing out of the driveway. 

     In life we are not to dwell on the past. Still I believe we need to look back to find the lesson in what lay behind and search for the triumph in the tragedy. Then as we turn our focus back to the road ahead it is our job to carry the message that comes out of the mess. At the time my friend was just processing but I'm trusting he'll find the message.

     Then there are days like today when the rearview mirror is all you have. I am drafting this post on the anniversary of my father's passing. It's not that there is no future in this relationship because there is in Heaven ... someday. But for the last 31 years the only way I could see him is by looking back.
     There's no mess, no tragedy, and what lay behind are pleasant memories. I do not dwell on my childhood memories but once in a while I reach up and adjust a mirror that is sticky from the syrup on silver dollar pancakes, smells of old leather, and sparkles like the stars in the sky.
     The Isaiah passage goes on to talk about how God is going to do a new thing for His people. That new thing lies up ahead. God, wanting what's best for us, wants us to look ahead, focus on the bigger picture. He doesn't want us to glamorize the past because it devalues the present. 
     The beautiful thing about trusting God is that those cherished memories in the rearview mirror are safe, the message is safe, and the future, which will one day be in that little piece of reflective glass is safe as well.
     That's what rearview mirrors are for--safety. Just make sure you're glancing, not staring.

Throwing Away The Cards

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened,
and I will give you rest." Matthew 11:28

When I think of solitaire this little snippet of a pop song by Laura Branigan comes to mind: "Solitaire, it got so lonely. Solitaire, no one to hold me. Where were you when I played solitaire?"

Yeah, it's a break-up song but that is not the point. The point is that solitaire is a game played by one. It's a game my father loved to play in the evening after dinner but he wasn't lonely. It was just his way of unwinding after a long day at work. 

I remember watching him deal out the cards. I think they had a simple red pattern on the back. They certainly weren't like the decks I've collected over the years with pictures of places I've been. I watched Daddy put the Aces up in the top row when he found one and keep flipping and turning cards moving some on top of others.

He dealt three at a time playing the top card or moving on. Unlike games played with two or more players there is nothing discarded in Solitaire. The hope is that all cards will eventually be played with a king on top of each of the 4 piles started with a singular ace. But sometimes the cards you need stay hidden and the game is lost.

I've played plenty of solitaire in my time both with decks of cards that still have fingerprints of my family on them and on the computer. There's a line in Laura Branigan's song about the guy leaving her alone to play solitaire but the truth is, Solitaire was a game of my choosing. Whether playing with vacation souvenirs or a mouse I dealt the cards. I chose which ones to play.

And sometimes I cheated.

When things weren't going my way I'd look through the deck to get the card I needed. If I saw it I'd do some creative shuffling so it'd come up the next time through. I can't do that on the computer but there is an un-do button. If I have a choice between two cards to move in the playing field and my first choice doesn't work out, I can take it back and hope the other choice is better.

In the last year I've played a lot of Solitaire both physically and spiritually. It is a game of my choosing. Or is it? From April of last year until about February of this year, I wasn't really myself. Something or someone had a hold of me that drove me to isolation right when I needed to be seeking others out.

I played Solitaire and it cheated me.

In the last couple of months I've caught myself saying, "I'm back." People around me don't really get my meaning because to them I've never left. But I knew Lisa was gone, damaged physically and spiritually by playing a game dealt by the deceiver. I was powerless to cheat and make the game go my way.

I was powerless until the day I threw the deck of cards at the foot of the cross. Yes, I lost almost a year of interacting in a positive way with my family. My health suffered from too much idle sitting. I ruined a friendship. But today is a new day.

I've come to Him weary and heavy laden and been given rest. That rest has renewed me physically and spiritually. I can look back and know that I am forgiven for my doubt---for the times I cried out, "Where were You when I played Solitaire?" I can look forward with renewed determination to remain faithful, not letting anything or anyone else choose how I shall live except for my King.

He'll never leave me or forsake me and together we shall cheat the deceiver's games.

Embossed With Love

"Let love and faithfullness never leave you;
bind them around your neck,
write them on the tablet of your heart."
Proverbs 3:3

That lovely green piece of metal is Mom's slate and the tool with the worn wooden handle is her stylus. They are used for writing Braille and this set dates back to her college days. Braille is written on cardstock weight paper--strong enough to handle the embossing without being pierced through and the heavy-weight paper holds the shape of the raised dots better than notebook paper. It can stand up to multiple readings but is not read until the writing is done because it is embossed so the writer is writing on the backside of the paper (and backwards, BTW.)

I think the tablet of my heart must be just as sturdy. God is faithful but sometimes the only way to learn this is through trials. His stylus embosses our tablet and it may hurt but when we turn the tablet over, when we see the other side, there written on our heart is a message of love. It will stand up to multiple readings because it needs to. 

One of the things that can destroy Braille is water. When I worked in a class for blind students one of them was quite upset one day because he had to re-do his homework. The page had gotten wet and illegible from the rain. That happens to our hearts too. Tears and sorrow drown out the message. Instead of another trial though, God just gently replaces the dots, reminding us of His faithfulness. 

Braille can get worn down. I'm not sure how many readings an average page has but over time and if the reader scrubs the page rather than skims it gently the raised dots can get flattened. While He will always be faithful, the message can get dulled by life's circumstances. Rough handling of our hearts (i.e. carelessness) dulls us and the message isn't as easy to read anymore. We need to be careful how we live and continue to be in fellowship with Him through reading His Word and prayer. These things reinforce the message. 

If God's writing on your heart today and it hurts a little, just wait. Let Him finish. The message on the other side is worth it.