Thursday, November 13, 2014

To love with a passion unabating
Into a heart that scans the heights, waiting
As a plunge pool longs for the waters above, 
To drink in the cascade of unending love.

Waters entwining to flow together 
Running the course of a mighty river:
This is the union, the filling, the giving
That turns mere existence to joyously living.

Two bodies, one flesh; two spirits, two souls,
Two lives come together in God's perfect whole.
Yes, this is a promise just waiting to be
When His love builds our love forever and free.

The meaning of marriage: the blending, the bending,
The raw, breathless beauty of love never ending.

Monday, June 24, 2013

May I Have This Dance?

Early on a Sunday morning I gave Jesus an invitation: ”Do what will bring YOU joy, Jesus. Come and dance in my life! Do what will delight you in my life today!”

In the middle of praying, reading the Bible and singing praise songs, I felt the urge to text a friend who plays bass guitar on a worship team. “No, you shouldn’t interrupt the flow of worship.” I told myself. “Pay attention to the Holy Spirit!” But against my better religious judgment, I went to my phone and sent the text saying I was dancing with Jesus to “Praise to the Lord, The Almighty” on the worship CD of the praise band he plays in and prayed Jesus would dance in joyous delight that morning at church through my friend and his team. Bear in mind that I hadn’t contacted this friend in over four months when I write what then happened.

I returned to my own singing, and sure enough, I felt somehow that I’d missed the moment, spiritually speaking. I went on to another train of thought in my prayer journal until a jingle from my phone told me I’d received a text message. My friend texted something that stopped me in mid-journaling: “Your timing is impeccable. I’m preparing to play all three services at Bel Air this morning for the first time in a couple of months. Thanks so much!”

Jesus, YOU did it! YOU were leading me in a dance of blessing in my friend’s life, and I never suspected I was dancing with you when I texted him!  My prayer journal page morphed into a drawing of a wild series of footsteps punctuated by the words in capital letters “DANCE ALL OVER ME! DANCE ALL OVER MY LIFE! Every place your feet dance, there lives and resides and rules and reigns your GLORY!”

Oh, Lord, never let me be so ”religious” that I miss the blessings you want to pour out to and through  and for me!

Take center stage, Jesus! Zephaniah 3:17 reads: The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing. The Hebrew word for rejoice in this verse implies mirth, gladness, and twirling dance.

Do I ever realize, truly get in my gut, that God rejoices over his children? Can I envision the great I AM giddy with delight when we let him enter into our lives and direct our feet or our texting fingers? I have a strong hunch that Jesus wants to dance with me and in my life much more frequently than I extend the invitation to him. – that my God is much less “religious” than we think – at the very least, much more intimate and joyful than we ascribe to him -  and much more the passionately loving Father who genuinely cherishes his kids. I need to give him more freedom to be himself in my life for his own pleasure.

Radical, I know, when we also have to hold in our consciousness at the same time how truly holy and set apart God is. I think my limited pound of brain tissue can only think of him in one frame of reference at a time, so I’ve decided I need to be more intentional about giving Jesus center stage on the dance floor in my devotional time. I don’t want to become so familiar that I lose sight of his holiness, but I don’t want to become so “religious” that I deprive my Creator of his deepest joy.  Maybe that’s what Jesus had in mind when he told his disciples we have to come to him as little children.  I loved to see my earthly father grin at me. What a grin I want to see some day on the face of my Heavenly Father when I take that running leap into his lap and let him twirl over me and with me “for real.”

In the meantime, Jesus, yes, you may certainly have this dance! You have impeccable timing, and your footwork in connecting and blessing would win first place in ”Dancing With the Stars.” Come to think of it, you probably do!

A “ . . . BUT . . . “ to move:  Sometimes, Jesus, I keep you at such a holy distance that I know I don’t allow you to enjoy my relationship with you. It’s hard to think of my God rejoicing over me with singing, BUT today I choose to let you _____________________________________________ in and over and through my life and guide my steps every day.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Popsicles or Presence?

Once again I have to be amazed that it’s when I’m speaking to a child or a child speaks to me that I recognize a truth about God’s character as our Father. I spent eighty minutes each week in the spring semester at the school where I work tutoring Jacob, whose native language isn’t English, in reading while his classmates have their Spanish lesson. The previous aide in this classroom advised me that the only way she’d been able to get Jacob’s cooperation in reading was to reward him with candy, so I continued her policy when I took over her position and “inherited” Jacob and his reluctance to study.

As we walked down the hallway toward the school library for our last session of the semester, Jacob began complaining that the students in Spanish were having a party that day.  “Why don’t I get a treat? They’re getting Popsicles!” he asserted. 

Using the “love and logic” approach to discipline, I returned a question. “Jacob, do any of the other students in your class get candy for reading?”


“And what do you say when the other children ask why you got candy and they didn’t when we come back into the classroom?”

Silence and a glare from eyes hooded by his wrinkled brow.

Grudgingly Jacob admitted they didn’t get a candy reward for reading, but he still was incensed at the “unfairness” of his situation. I could see that words alone weren’t going to open his eyes. Jacob resentfully pulled out a chair at the library table and plopped down, his arms folded.  I took out the log of our reading sessions and asked him, “Jacob, can you count by two’s to help me count how many pieces of candy you’ve had since we started meeting together?”
“Two, four, six . . . ” he counted as I kept turning pages in our log, “ . . . eighty, eighty-two, oh, eighty-four.”  In silence I let that truth seep into his awareness before I asked, “How many treats do you think the other children are getting from the Spanish teacher today?  Are they getting eighty-four?”

“No,” Jacob admitted, and his uncrossed arms showed me he was beginning to get the message.

"Jacob, you've had a party every day."

He sighed heavily. I understood his childish frustration that could only see how the other students were partying back in the classroom today while I was asking him to read, something that feels like work to him.

"Jacob, you can read any book you want to read today, even the easy Dr. Seuss books that you like so much."  I knew how he loved to read books with silly words and rhymes. I saw the value in asking him to pick out rhyming words, including rhyming nonsense words, and make new rhymes with them. Even those books could be a challenge for his fluency.  Jacob zoomed over to the shelf and brought back the easiest book he'd read this semester, no challenge to him now, but I knew he needed some joy and success today. He flew through the words. Then I offered what I knew would surprise him.

"Jacob, why don't you choose a book you'd like me to read to you today."  In disciplining with love and logic, you can't omit the love.

 Jacob directed me to a story we'd never read about a silly chicken in New York, and I let all the actor in me take the stage as I ever read the Yiddish in a voice like a chicken. 

But as I read, I was hearing a familiar voice in my heart reciting a story in theBible I’d read many times about two brothers. the younger one took his inheritance early, left his work at his father's house, left home and wasted his life and the money. The older brother wasn't at all happy when his brother returned, broken and truly sorry, and their father threw a lavish party. “The older brother became angry and refused to go in . . . . ‘But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’  ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours . . ..’” Luke 15:28, 30-31

How often I yell, "Unfair!" and feel I need a "treat" every time I see someone else blessed. Good grief, I already have the biggest, sweeties blessing: I  get to live in my Father’s “house” every day, enjoying an intimate relationship with God that is in itself a treat and treasure and party. Even when God's teaching me and asking me to stretch and work, he showers me with unexpected provision, people in my life, and the rejoicing I feel when the love he promises me in the Bible takes root in my heart. The Father IS the party!

Why am I concerned about how other people who “do me dirty” seem to be enjoying today’s  “popsicle” when I’ve already inherited assuredly more than eighty-four blessings straight from my Father’s love? How many times has God's Spirit connected me wonderfully with someone who needed to hear of his love, with someone who had a word for me straight from God’s heart to mine? Who's the one enjoying a party every day? Me!

And I – in righteousness I will see your face; when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness.  Psalm 17:15

You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.  Psalm 16: 11

Right in the middle of a reading lesson, I reminded myself of the most well-known and beloved Psalm in the Bible:

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.   Psalm 23: 5-6

With an overflowing heart I cried out to the Father of love, “You are my celebration! Living in your love is my reward. Bring the lost ones home to know you, too!”

I gave Jacob the rest of the bag of candy to tuck into his backpack and take home. And guess what – the Spanish teacher gave him a Popsicle, too.

The greater truth is this: neither of us teachers, and none of the rewards we gave, could ever out-give or even begin to compare with the abundant riches of knowing and dwelling in God’s presence daily, the security of his character as a mightily giving Father, and the party I can have when I let him love me every day.

A  ". . . BUT . . . " to move:  Father God, I get so miffed and even angry sometimes when people who don't honor you seem to prosper, or when other people get victories and blessings I don't, BUT I'm reminding myself today of two truths: I get to spend every day as your child you choose to honor with working in your fields for your kingdom to come, and I have the joy of living in your presence every day. You are the party, so I'll uncross my arms, lift up my eyes, and listen to you tell me, your child ________________________________________________________________________________ . I want to throw a party to celebrate YOU, Father!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Sandwich Hugs

Children speak so eloquently straight from the Spirit.  Smelling the cinnamon rolls my older son was baking for breakfast, I showered and dressed for church on Mother’s Day morning at his house. From the master bedroom I heard my six-year-old granddaughter’s invitation, “Grandma, come and cuddle!”  She’d spent the night in the big king-size bed with Daddy and Mommy so I could sleep in her bed overnight, and that’s where I found her curled up against my daughter-in-law.

Dressed or not, how could I refuse such a wonderful request? I crawled under the sheet and snuggled up next to Elsa for a big hug.

 “Hey, we’re making an Elsa sandwich,” I laughed. Elsa is well acquainted with sandwich hugs, securely squished between Daddy and Mommy, and often with her brother Evan as part of the “filling.” Sandwich hugs were part of our family ritual on weekends when my boys were growing up, too.

On guided tours, night camps and during summer camps when I worked at the Zoo, we always made “instructor sandwiches” to keep the groups of children safely between us adults so no one got lost. I told the children they were the peanut butter, jelly, lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, pickles, salami, onions, olives, mustard, mayonnaise – whatever they wanted to be, and they always called out plenty of disgusting combinations to make things fun. I enjoyed encouraging them because it built camaraderie between us. No, we didn’t bunch up into one big hug, and granted, the “filling” tended to ooze out the sides, but we never lost a camper when they stayed between us.

I asked Elsa what kind of filling she was, and she replied, “Cream cheese.” We put our heads together, literally, and tried to decide what Evan might be. “Jelly? Or bologna (or rather, baloney)?” I joked. We tried to figure out how to fit the entire family into one sandwich hug and decided the best “bread” to be between is God our Father and Jesus the Bread of Life.

“One day we all WILL be!” I offered. “Hmm, but what about the Holy Spirit? Are we a triple-decker sandwich? ”

“Oh, he’ll be sprinkled on top of us like poppy seeds,” Elsa smiled, “or like olive oil!”

What a hug that will make with the oil of the Holy Spirit poured out on us! And yes, I do believe in a God so intimately loving as Father that he probably can’t wait to have us all safely in his arms. I suspect that’s where we are in this life too, when we make him our Father, whether we feel it or not.

Let the beloved of the LORD rest secure in him, for he shields him all day long, and the one the LORD loves rests between his shoulders.  Deuteronomy 33:12

Then Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty . . . All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.” John 6: 35-39

Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you . . . He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.”  John 14: 20-21.

Do I feel lonely since I lost the man I loved? Yes, of course I do, painfully so sometimes, and I long for arms to wrap me again securely in faithful love. But till that time, and even after, I sometimes do truly feel God’s presence and always will believe the one with me is the One who reminds me, “The one the LORD loves rests between his shoulders.” He doesn’t want any of us lost.

I call that a hug to be cherished, don’t you?

Six-year-old arms are pretty wonderful, too: “Grandma, you and Mommy are blueberry bagels today.”

A “ . . . BUT . . . “ to move:  God, I feel so alone sometimes. Even in the middle of a crowd, and even in the middle of family, still I long to truly feel your arms around me. I want all my family with me in that hug, BUT no matter how far they are or how far I feel from you, I’ll let you be the bread of life and dare to believe that you want to ____________________________________________________________________________________. Scandalous intimacy, I know, but a scandalous love wraps me in an eternal sandwich hug!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Forgetting Brought Blessing

THIS year I made sure I remembered to bring my iPod docking station to have plenty of volume for the songs I planned the women to sing during the devotions I was to give. I planned so thoroughly – I thought – until I dug into my suitcase on Friday night  at the retreat center and realized what I HAND’T packed: my ipod with the music!

Panic hit me like a hammer, and chagrin at realizing I’d left it on the clock radio charger beside my bed that morning. Humbled, I pressed into God – the only thing a meaning-seeking, analytical,  faithful servant (see my tongue in cheek now, but then I was serious ) could do.

The retreat theme was "God is Able." Was he?

“Maybe, Jesus, you just want to hear our voices? Maybe, God, you’re teaching me that Jesus is enough, and we don’t have to sing to hear your Spirit. Or maybe, God, you just want us to hear you singing over US like in Zephaniah 3:17?”

Humbled up, I told the prayer team my dumb mistake. “Hey,” one of the women I didn’t know smilingly cried,” I have my iPod. I may have the song you need! What is it called?”

My face lit up like the Verde Valley sunset outside, and I told her I’d get her the name, for in all honesty, I couldn’t remember it off the top of my head. I checked my handouts and told her I needed “How Great is Our God.”  She wasn’t sure she had it because as she advised, she regularly dumps old music to ad new.

Sigh. Okay, God, I thought, I’m still prepared to believe you want just our voices accapella, or you just want to sing over us  . .  . “ I knew it would be fine either way, and even thought how much better it would be without the accompaniment.

I was so much in that frame of mind, in fact, that the next morning when another prayer team member, Kathy, extended a Cd into my hand, I almost refused it. She was dumbfounded herself. “last week I was in the Christian bookstore buying CD’s. I hadn’t planned to buy this one, but I saw it and the thought hit me that I should get it along with the others. I really don’t know why I did.”  Right in my face was Chris Tomlin’s CD with the title “How Great is Our God!”

I still can hardly believe that I was so caught up in the “Oh, it will be okay” reverie I almost refused to borrow the CD! Reality hit me that God was putting manna in my hand. Was I going to be “so heavenly minded that I’m no earthly good?” I laughed out loud as I spoke that chuckling “tsk, tsk” from the Holy Spirit, and yes I incorporated the humorous story as the introduction, and  we sang along to the miracle CD on Saturday morning.

Sunday morning was a different story. It was 7:15, the devotions started at 7:30,and I still didn’t have the final song I wanted to use that morning. Written on the handouts was a song I couldn’t do accapella – I tried, and it wasn’t going to be pretty. “Okay,” I sighed, “we can just say the words. . . . or maybe I can find a different song.”

The worship leader had some CD’s in a stack near the CD player, so I threw one in and frantically started skipping through tracks.  At track 5 I caught my breath.: “Be Unto Our God.” I love that worship song, a hauntingly beautiful waltz tempo. A thought leaped into my mind: “Could I? Do I dare?”

My message revolved around my blog post entitled “My Father’s Sweater,” all about standing at my father’s workbench wearing my Dad’s old brown sweater (and yes I’d remembered to bring a brown sweater), and  how we now stand at our heavenly Father’s workbench robed in Christ’s righteousness. I set my mind to ask the women to do something abandoned and silly and daring, and to heck with the consequences.

““I know you’re Lutherans,” I began, ”but you’re loosed Lutherans. Did any of you ever stand or dance on your father’s feet?” I asked, and at a few nodded heads and quiet  affirmations told me I was okay to go for the audacious. “Then I want you to get up, move around so you have enough space to move, because we’re going to dance on our Father’s feet!”

The lovely melody lifted from the speakers, and oh, my heart raced! Lovely daughters of the King of Kings began to sway, twirl, spin and waltz  in the arms of their God! Tears flowed, heads lifted in a wave of validation affirmation, invitation celebration!

“This was the best mistake I ever made,” I gratefully prayed as I danced along and enjoyed the laughter of Heaven. If I’d remembered my iPod, none of these miracles would have happened.

“Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, Worthy is the Lamb who was slain. Highest praises, honor and glory be unto Your name, be unto Your name.”

Note to self:
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  Romans 8:28

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in All things at ALL times, having ALL that yo need, you will abound in every good work.  1 Corinthians 9:8

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever.! Amen.   Ephesians 3:20

A “. . . BUT . . .” to move:  God, you have such a sense of humor and fun, and you can do SO much more than I could ever even think to do by my own efforts – definitely more than my mistakes! Step in, take this dance of my latest mistake in __________________________________________________________________ and make it a beautiful waltz of your Glory and goodness!

Shake Off the Snake

Seventy-five unsupervised and rambunctiously excited kindergarteners sat in a circle on the concrete floor in the echoing auditorium, hands reaching out to touch the St. Helena Mountain king snake I held about five inches behind its head as I walked around their group. This lithe little snake had enough and told me so – snap – in the flesh between my thumb and index finger.

Great – now I had an angry snake latched painfully firmly to my hand and wide-eyed children still waving “I want to grab you” hands. All I could think to do was try to shake off the stressed snake, hide my bleeding hand, and put the irritated reptile away. It worked, until five feet later when the still-agitated snake still told me I wasn’t retreating to it’s transport quickly enough and nailed my hand again.

“This isn’t the job I signed up for,” I thought as I came back into the room with a cuddly by comparison hedgehog in my gloved hands. But it was exactly what I signed up for, though I never realized when I took the job at he Zoo that being bitten was an occupational hazard inherent in inspiring Zoo guests to amazement at the adaptations in wildlife. My praise to Jesus, I came to no harm from that serpent’s two bites, and the next day the marks were as good as gone.  No other snake in the programs collection ever bit or attempted to bite me.

I never dreamed being bitten by the enemy was in the job description when I gave my life to Jesus, either. No pastor or priest ever gives the benediction, “May the Lord bless you and keep you. Beloved of God, go in peace, and now you have a target on your back,” but it’s true. The day I gave myself wholly and forever to God through Jesus, I crossed a line and took a side that makes the Devil more than slightly agitated.  The Bible describes him as a thief, serpent or snake:

The great dragon was hurled down – that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray.  Revelation 12:9

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I (Jesus speaking) have come that they (we) may have life, and have it to the full.”  John 10:10

How does the snake latch on to us? The devil's venom is lies and offense: he lies about our identity, accuses us and bring up condemnation as though the Blood of Jesus isn't more than enough to truly wash away and cleanse us from all sin, injects us with offense when someone wrongs us, and plants fear that God isn't faithful to His promises, as though His Word isn't powerful and God is a liar with less than overwhelmingly loving and good plans for each of our lives.  

When Peter in his first letter to the church exhorted believers to humble themselves before God, cast their anxiety on God, and be self-controlled and alert, he likened the devil to a prowling lion looking for someone to devour, and he was doing it then and still doing it now to believers. Peter doesn’t end on that note of warning, but concludes by saying, “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 5:5-10)

I remembered the snake incident at the Zoo today in a rush of recognition that, of course, the devil isn’t happy that I’ve forgiven my betrayer and have continued to forgive and pray for him. I must have a huge red bulls-eye that reads, “bite this one” on my back. Well, of course we’re targets, and the more damage we do or will inflict on the devils plans through our forgiveness, unrelenting love, faithfulness, and praise to God, the more irritated and madder that “adder” will get. But then which do I want: to fall into bitterness to placate the devil and anger my Father and Savior, the Living God, or would I rather anger the devil and please, obey and honor God?

The apostle Paul encountered the devil in the exact form of a poisonous snake on the island of Malta when the ship carrying him to Rome ran aground in a severe storm.  Paul’s companion and physician Luke recounts the incident:

The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold. Paul gathered a pile of brushwood and, as he put it on the fire, a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand. When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other, “This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.” But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects. The people expected him to swell up or suddenly fall dead, but after waiting a long time and seeing nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god.  Acts 28: 1-7

And thanks to Jesus, the Devil may bite, but he can’t inflict any permanent damage on us, either, when we choose to believe God's Word and love are true and faithful:

For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. .. You will tread upon the lion and the cobra; you will trample on the great lion and the serpent. “BUT I’ll “shake off the snake” of accusations and fear from the lying devourer and just tell the serpent taking aim at me to “TALK TO THE HAND!” By that I don’t mean mine, but “THE HAND OF JESUS, THE HAND THAT BEARS THE SCARS OF THE NAILS” that drew the Blood that paid for my complete forgiveness and forever righteousness in Yeshua the Messiah, the conquering King of Kings.

The seventy-two (disciples of Jesus, whom he had sent out to do his work) returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”  He (Jesus) replied,” I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Luke 10:17-20

A “. . . BUT . . .” to move:  Lord God, I never wanted to become a target of Satan’s anger, but being on your side means I’m not on his. I know that means he won’t be happy, BUT I know that means you WILL ________________________________________________ because YOU PROMISE TO ______________________________________________________________________. As I shake off the snake, today I tell him “Talk to the HAND who delivers and conquers, gives me authority to command you to submit and ____________________________ and who writes My name in heaven!