August 27, 2015

Open for 2015 {Week 32}

Hey folks!  I really feel like I've got nothin' for ya this week, so we'll see how this post unfolds.  Being out of the blogging routine has me forgetting to look for ways the Lord wants me to be OPEN.  I wonder what I've missed!  In January, for accountability, the routine, and the fun, I committed to blogging twice a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays.  Summer as utterly derailed me!  Perhaps the fall will revive the routine.

Thankfully good things have been taking the place of writing. August has been a peaceful, low-commitment month with the family, and I've been enjoying more regular reading, exercise, and Bible study.  We resumed school early this year so we could keep hosting Monday morning playgroup, so we're nearing the end of week three.  Speaking of which, can I just give God a big word of praise for how He is bringing moms and little ones into our home every week?  I am in awe and so thankful!

Last week, I finished up Purity of the Heart is to Will One Thing, by Soren Keirkegaard.*  I joked with my husband that now I feel like I'm off the hook for reading anything for, like, a year.  Serious brain-stretcher!  Suddenly in the middle of a day I'll be thinking about some theme from the book that snaps me out of over-focus on the temporal and on myself.  Kierkegaard talked so much about "the Eternal," i.e. God, and the many ways we think of Him wrongly or deal with Him deceptively or fail to comprehend that none of life is to be lived in comparison to anyone else.  The latter point is the one that really gets me.  Kierkegaard rightly, but painfully, reminds the reader in the closing chapters of the book that when all is said and done, it will be each individual before God.  We are each responsible to God.   He states, In eternity you as an individual will only be asked about your faith and about your faithfulness.  p 210

That's a real humdinger, isn't it?!

The thrust of the whole book is that to be pure in heart, we must forsake all double-mindedness will only one thing, the Good.  He gets the root of the idea from James 4:8,

Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

Kierkegaard flushes out the many ways we are double-minded: willing other things or pretending to will one thing but not, in fact, willing one thing.  And he argues that to will one thing, we need to be conscious of who we are, which means we need to have space in our lives for contemplation and confession.

While the text is convicting, it by no means leaves the reader feeling hopeless.  That reminds me of 2 Corinthians 7:10,

Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.

Early in the book, he speaks of the two companions God gives us to help us on the narrow way of willing one thing: repentance and remorse.  It is the Lord who leads us to repentance that we might know better His love - He always forgives! - and desire more to live in His way.

Hm, I guess this speaks to being OPEN to purity of heart: to be transformed by God through quieting my mind, to be willing to acknowledge and confess my sin, to desire to will one thing.  For I do believe that as we move toward willing one thing, we walk into living life as we were designed to live it.

Time to Take Action:
I'll leave you with James 4:8 again and a couple of Kierkegaard quotes for personal meditation.
"Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded."
"Father in heaven!  What is man without Thee!  What is all that he knows, vast accumulation though it be, but a chipped fragment if he does not know Thee!  What is all of his striving, could it even encompass a world, but a half-finished work if he does no know Thee: Thee the One, who are one thing and who art all!"  p 31 (opening lines of the book) 
"For confession is a holy act, which calls for a collected mind.  A collected mind is a mind that has collect itself from every distraction, from every relation, in order to center itself upon this relation to itself as an individual who is responsible to God.  It is a mind that has collected itself from every distraction, and therefore also from all comparison.  For comparison may either tempt a man to an earthly and fortuitous despondency because the one who compares must admit to himself that he is behind many others, or it may tempt him to pride because, humanly speaking, he seems to be ahead of so many others."

There, that should keep us busy!  Blessed be the Eternal One, who is our Faithful Companion and Loving Father.  Come near to Him!

*Special thanks to my dad for giving me this book, many years ago!

August 20, 2015

Open for 2015 {Week 31}

Two things came together this past Sunday.  Our pastor is working through a summer-ending series called "What In the World is Going On?" addressing some major cultural issues and sharing how Christians can respond.  When I first saw the email about the upcoming topics, I shot him a quick note to say I'd be praying for his preparations and sermons.  I mean, really, who wants to tackle major cultural and political issues from the pulpit, or from anywhere for that matter.  (Have I mentioned I'm a conflict avoider?!)

Here's what has emerged from those sermons, now that we're three weeks in.  Pastor Hurley has reminded us over and over that regardless of how much it seems like evil is on the rise and/or winning, THERE IS A REDEEMER.  We have hope, life, joy, and peace to offer to anyone.  We have been saved from the pit of hopelessness, death, despair, and strife.  God has given us new, abundant, and eternal life in Christ.  As we walk along in this world, we can invite others to "Look up to the Redeemer!" with us.  Incredible.

Sunday morning, in addition to the pleasure of participating in worship, I started another three-week cycle teaching youth Sunday school.  The topic?  The Church.  I am very excited about this topic, as the Church (capital C, God's people all over the place and all over time) is a subject dear to my heart.  Even better than a great topic, though, was new insight from the curriculum!  The first lesson in each three-week grouping sets the stage, giving a big picture view.  For the Church, passages from the Old and New testaments were included to show the connection between God calling Abraham, then Israel, and later New Testament Christians.  God established His Church the moment he initiated a relationship with His people.  The lesson highlighted priestly language from both Exodus and 1 Peter.

Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the descendants of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

The commentary explained that the primary job of Israel's priests was to lead the people in worship.  So, if God calls His people a kingdom of priests and a royal priesthood, guess what the church should be doing in the world.  LEADING PEOPLE TO WORSHIP!  The Church is God's community of worship leaders!

I connect these two experiences - the sermons and the Sunday School lesson - because they both communicate the same message.  As God's people, our primary calling is to point people to God!  Like it says in 1 Peter, we can do this by declaring the praises of Him who called us out of darkness into His wonderful light!  We were orphans walking apart from the family of God; now we are His children!  We don't deserve mercy, but we have received it, from God, whose praise we can declare.

Maybe evangelism is really this simple:  "Hey, wanna 'look up' with me?  Check out the amazing God of the universe who makes orphans His children and wretches like you and me objects of His mercy!"  Or, like Philip said to a cynical Nathanael about Jesus, "Come and see!"

Being OPEN to do this means a few things:
  • "Looking up" to our Redeemer, every day, every moment.  We cannot share what we are not experiencing.
  • Looking back to remember how we needed redemption and the Lord was the rescuer.  We cannot sympathize with weakness if we forget our own.
  • Looking ahead because the Lord will come again.  We cannot be properly oriented if we forget that our eternity is secure and glorious, and will be here sooner than we think.

Time to Take Action:  I think the above list is enough to keep us busy, reflecting on how God has and does work in our lives and in our world!  God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - is so worthy of worship, but it is so easy to get lost in temporal trivialities.  Be encouraged by these words to worship and to invite others to get in on the action with you!  I know I sure have some practicing to do.  May God give us each opportunity to feel His intervention in our lives and to share with others how good it is to worship Him.

The peace of Christ be with you!

Photo Credit

August 14, 2015

Open for 2015 {Week 30}

Wow, August has done something to my blogging mojo!  My rhythm has been interrupted and I am having trouble getting back into it.  Nevertheless, here I am with very little to say for last week, except that it was a real treat.  My husband and I got to spend three days traipsing around Pittsburgh, just the two of us!*  Pretending we were young and carefree, we walked almost everywhere, ate loads of delicious food, and played around town like tourists.  So much fun!

What really made the time special, was thinking about our history.  On Monday we celebrated thirteen years of marriage.  Each of those years has its share of delightful memories and dreadful moments.  Married folks, can I get an 'Amen' on that?  How many times have we laughed in those years?  Too many to count.  How many times have we needed to forgive or be forgiven in those years?  Way too many to count!

Marriages are built day by day on the foundation of the commitment, the vow that was spoken before witnesses.  Man, it takes a lot of work!  Life never slows down.  We can't put our feet up for too long before there's another decision to make together or another obstacle to face hand-in-hand.  There are days we want to quit, because we're human.  But there are days we're so in love and happy, because while marriage takes work, it is not always work.

The glue that really holds this operation together, however, sustaining and providing all we need so we can keep on loving one another, is "the third strand."

Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
When it comes right down to it, neither Colin nor I, nor the two of us together, can take credit for these thirteen years.  God alone has kept our strands tightly woven together and we trust Him to do the same for however many more years, decisions, fun, and obstacles we have ahead of us.

What does any of this have to do with being OPEN?  I hadn't really thought about it in those terms last week, but I guess despite all that is behind us, I must be OPEN to pressing on in the commitment and to trusting the Lord to see us through whatever will come our way.  One of my friends, (Hi, Kristen!), said celebrating Anniversaries is funny because while it seems like you have arrived at something worth celebrating, you still have to keep doing the same thing "till death does you part."  An Anniversary is not an end, simply a milestone.  Anniversaries offer an opportunity to awe and wonder at what the Lord has done in sustaining a marriage through all of the mess and beauty!  What a time for thanks giving.

Time to take action:  Married folks, I don't know where you find yourself on the marriage-feelings spectrum today.   You may be in one of those blissful phases or you may be wondering if there is a way out.  No matter where you are, stop.  LOOK TO THE LORD and ask Him to OPEN your eyes to what He has done and what He is doing.  SEEK HIS FACE, asking Him to show you where you need to repent and to fill you with faith to believe He has not abandoned you and your spouse.  GIVE HIM THANKS even if it is hard.  He has not let you go; He will not let you go.

Before this day is through, do something just for your husband or wife, any large or small expression of love that God brings to mind!

*A shout out of thanks to my in-laws who took the kids for us for those days so we could pretend we were in our twenties again!

August 7, 2015

Open for 2015 {Week 29}

With the end of the musical the two older kids were in this summer, the end of July approaching, and the first stretch of sunny days, it finally felt like summer vacation started last week!  Since we finally had rehearsal-free days and almost nothing on the calendar, I decided the kids and I needed to have a vacation week.  We went to the pool almost every day, saw the Minion movie, played mini golf, enjoyed relaxed mornings at home, and spent a day at an amusement park with dad and grandparents.  Of course, in the midst of it we still had to grocery shop, wash clothes and dishes, prepare meals, and tidy the house now and then, but in the relaxed context of a "vacation week" even the chores didn't seem so daunting.   What a beautiful week it was!

I was so tickled to gaze on the blankness of the end of July and all of August calendar.  What peace for my frantic soul!  There was an opportunity for the kids to try out for the second summer play at the Playhouse, but for our sanity I made the decision not to let them try out.  My heart was a bit pained, knowing they would miss out on The Fantastic Mr. Fox, which is such a fun story.  But we have been working our way through the book Margin in Sunday School, and I knew Wisdom was telling me we needed to get back to family dinners and evenings together in August, before everything picks back up in the fall.  A margin in our time would provide that.  Of course, I was still disappointed I couldn't have my cake and eat it too: a peaceful schedule with play participation!

Mid-week, the temptation came.  I received a message from the previous show's director that there was still a need for actors for Mr. Fox.  Ooooh, such a great opportunity!  Should we just do it?  There is a need.  Maybe I was wrong about not participating.

Temptations don't have to be evil, you know.  There are many good things that can pull us away from what is best.  I knew the right thing was to decline the good thing for something better - something I needed, something the kids needed, something the family needed - a free August.  Remembering that our friends had not gotten a chance to try out, I told the director our kids were not available, but perhaps our friends were still interested.

Man, I really hate to feel like I am letting someone down.  And making decisions for your kids that are wise is not always easy; THERE ARE SO MANY COOL THINGS TO BE A PART OF!  Being open last week meant being willing to "choose the better over the good," a little phrase I heard someone share at a leadership training camp I went too way back in year 2000.

The biggest challenge is letting the Lord guide us in wisdom, so we can make decisions that honor Him.  I have gotten back into reading a chapter of Proverbs a day and I love how the opening chapters talk so much about wisdom and how good she is to those who seek her.  I will leave you with these verses from the beginning of Proverbs 2 for contemplation:
My son, if you accept my words
and store up my commands within you,
turning your ear to wisdom
and applying your heart to understanding—

indeed, if you call out for insight
and cry aloud for understanding,
and if you look for it as for silver
and search for it as for hidden treasure,
then you will understand the fear of the Lord
and find the knowledge of God.
For the Lord gives wisdom;
from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.

He holds success in store for the upright,
he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless,
for he guards the course of the just
and protects the way of his faithful ones. 
Then you will understand what is right and just
and fair—every good path.
For wisdom will enter your heart,
and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.
Discretion will protect you,
and understanding will guard you.

Time to Take Action:  Are you in the midst of needing to make some decisions right now for yourself or your family?  Ask the Lord for wisdom to see the better rise to the top over the good things.  Ask Him for the strength to say confident yeses and nos where needed.  And then trust Him, by making the decisions to which He guides you.  May He bless you as you seek Him!

July 28, 2015

Open for 2015 {Week 28}

On Saturday, our family had plans to visit the four covered bridges in our county.   The kids and I had taken a driving tour to see them shortly after we moved here two years ago, but my husband had never been.  The drive affords one a chance to take in some of Western PA's beautiful countryside and each bridge offers a brief history lesson, making one wonder how many carriages passed over them, what their riders and drivers talked and worried about, and if the past was as quaint as we would like to believe.  Well, I don't know if my children were thinking about those things, but I was.

Earlier in the week, I was so thrilled we had a free Saturday morning and plans to go on a family adventure.  When I woke up Saturday morning, however, the but-you-could-get-so-much-done vice began to tighten its grip on my thoughts.  Delight disappeared and all I could see were the myriad things  I "really should" do with that empty morning.

But the morning wasn't empty, we had plans!  The hours were already accounted for and I was going to get to be with my family.  People, I had to talk myself back into the plans I was so excited about just a couple of days before!  Aren't our emotions and minds strange like that?  I mean, really. I am embarrassed to admit that I was going to let unnecessary concern about tasks - that could be done at any time - keep me from some good, quality, summery family time.

Not long ago I read a quote that said something like, We need to learn to live with the undone.  The gist was that there will constantly be things left undone or things needing done that we cannot get to at a moment.  I struggle with this a great deal.  I choose, wisely, to spend my time in the morning one way, then spend my afternoon regretting that I didn't spend it in a "more productive" way, even if I had a fantastic time doing the other thing.  I am a silly girl and need to learn to value rest as much as I do productivity, or the illusion thereof.

Anyway, back to Saturday.  I talked myself out of even suggesting to my husband that we postpone.  Into the car we climbed with a small bag of snacks, five water bottles, the camera and tripod, and directions.  The day was glorious, the company was my own personal fantastic four, and we had a wonderful morning together, ending in the early afternoon with a visit to a farm market that was new to all of us and a Wendy's lunch.

How foolish it would have been to stay home and do chores!

I guess Saturday's lesson was practicing being OPEN to what is before me, not changing plans for fear of what I might miss out on or might make me feel more accomplished.  I know it doesn't always work out this way, but funnily enough Saturday morning was so relaxing and fun that when we got home I had energy for tidying up, vacuuming, and dusting!  I would not have believed you if you had told me in the morning that the day would turn out that way.  Not. at. all.  The Good Lord is trying to help me deal with my idols and I'm so thankful He got through to stubborn me this past weekend allowing for time with family and time to restore order.  Grace upon grace!

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.
Proverbs 3:5-6

Time to Take Action:  Do you have a hard time resting?  Does it make you feel guilty?  Do you feel like you're "supposed to" use every blessed second to get something done?  The irony of this style of life is that not resting usually leads to less productivity!  The Lord instructs His people to rest from physical labor and to spiritually rest in Him.  We can express our trust in Him and our love for Him by being the finite ones we are and obeying His instruction.  After all, it is most wise to let the One who is God be God.

July 23, 2015

Two Questions to Point You to God and Deepen Relationships

Catching up with a friend at an swim meet last weekend.
She went right past fluff to real stuff.  So refreshing!

Don't you love those moments when you find yourself in a social situation where you want to move past small talk but have no idea how to do it without sounding nosy or awkward?  It is so easy to talk about the weather, ask what someone did over the weekend, or the triumphs of the local sports team.  But then what?

If you dump too many of your own problems on someone, they may never come back, even for small talk.  Or if you ask too probing a question, they also may never come back, even for small talk!  How are we supposed to go deeper in relationships if we can't move past the small talk?

One of my priorities in conversation is to try to draw out the other person, so I (try to!) avoid talking solely about myself.  I listen for things in the conversation that lend themselves to further questions.  For example, if someone is sharing about a difficult situation with their spouse or kids, I might ask how they respond emotionally.  I know how I would react, but they are not me and I can learn a lot about them, and from them, by asking such a question.

Another approach I like to take, is to have a few open-ended questions ready to ask: what they like best about their job, describe what a normal day in your life is like, or what do you do for fun.  Anything to make the conversation advance past how much it has been raining or how quickly the summer is flying by!

As I was cooking eggs to feed the masses one morning before rushing out to Summer's Best Two Weeks, I was thinking about good questions.  Here are the two that came to mind:

What is great about you? 

What is your most-difficult-to-discuss struggle?

Both of these questions reveal a lot about us and how we think about ourselves.  Meditating on them also convinced me that these two questions can point us straight to God; yep, even the one about what is great about us!

You see, what is amazing about who we are and the life experience we have had is all a gift from God.  The Bible says he knit us together in our mother's womb and He knows all about every aspect of our being and our living.  None of it is an accident.  What is great about you is an opportunity to praise the One who made you and has provided experiences and education for you!   What we are proud of or happy about who we are is an opportunity to worship.  We cannot take credit for the myriad things that have been providentially given, so we can give credit where credit is due.

Now, how about that second question?  What is your most-difficult-to-discuss struggle?  Is there anyone in your life with whom you discuss it?  Have you even dared to open up that part of your heart to the Lord?!  It is scary to be vulnerable, even with the One who already knows how bad it is!  But lean in, my friend, that which is most difficult at the moment is an opportunity to entrust yourself to God and watch Him work in astounding ways!  What we struggle with and burdens us is an opportunity to worship.  We can't handle it, but we know the Lord can; we honor Him by talking with Him about it and placing it in His hands.

Before you go asking these questions of someone else, answer them for yourself!  Most of us don't take the time to know ourselves well enough; the tyranny of the urgent is always consuming us.  If we can answer these questions, though, it will launch us to new depths of faith and, as we invite others to consider the same, new depths of friendship.  Will you give it a go today?

Praise the Lord, my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Psalm 103:1

If you feel brave, I would love to hear your answers so I can join you in worship, pray for your struggles, and get to know you better!

July 21, 2015

Open for 2015 {Week 27}

Finding myself in a reading void, I pulled a book off the shelf to give it another go.  In 2002 my father gave me Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing, by Soren Kierkegaard.  My previous underlines stopped about three chapters in, i.e. I never finished.  Starting anew, I know why I never got through it.  What strange writing!  I feel very challenged trying to sift my way through his words: the style of argumentation and the repetition.  This time, though, I will conquer; I'm on chapter 6, approaching the half-way mark.

Despite the challenge, the main point is coming through, purity of heart is the opposite of double-mindedness. And as I am confronted with my double-mindedness, my fortress of pride is taking a beating.  Here is the verse from which Kierkegaard's treatise was birthed:
Come near to God and he will come near to you.  Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.  James 4:8

If I want purity of heart, which Jesus said will allow me to see God, I need to let go of (or, better, be rescued from) my double-mindedness.  Being OPEN to purity of heart means being OPEN to exposure, admitting my double-mindedness to myself, God, and others.  Mr. Kierkegaard addresses some of the ways we are prone to double-mindedness: wanting reward more than God, living for God out of fear of punishment, and other chapters I have not gotten to yet.  Already I feel beaten up by the truth in his words, not sure I want to go on to those chapters!  Knowing that he closes the book with several chapters under the heading "WHAT THEN MUST I DO?" is the driving force pushing me through the tough stuff; at least there's hope coming.  I hope!

After several days of ego-bruising reading with my Danish philosopher buddy, our pastor got up in the pulpit on Sunday and had the audacity to talk about idols!  Geez, Lord, are you trying to tell me something?  The pastor is in the middle of a sermon series on work, and this Sunday he did not shy away from talking about the idolatry of work, preaching out of the story of the tower of Babel in Genesis 11.  He specifically highlighted two ways we idolize work: money and fame.  As with all idols, what makes them such is when a good thing becomes the ultimate thing.  With almost everything Ryan said I was able to shake my head in agreement: I know what you mean; that's me, too; yep, that hits the nail on the head.

Idols are pretty, shiny, alluring, and seem to offer the satisfaction our hearts desire.  Instead, they always leave us longing for more, if they don't destroy us.  How much money is enough?  Just a little bit more.  How much prestige and honor is enough?  Just a little bit more.  Something good happens to boost our faith in our idols, but too-soon we find ourselves wishing the boost had been juuuust a little bit higher.

I have always found this verse from Jonah 2:8 convicting:

Those who cling to worthless idols
forfeit the grace that could be theirs.

Every idol is worthless.  Every idol keeps us from God's loving-kindness.  

Our idols keep us from the Lord, so far from Him.  The verse from James 4:8 reminds us of our need to have our hearts purified for us to see God.  Our double-mindedness, as we try to love and serve other masters along with God, leads us further away from Him, not to mention how it keeps us from what He longs to give us and how He wants to use us.  Recognizing our idolatry is an invitation to repent!  Verses nine and ten of James four continue in this way:

Grieve, mourn, and wail.  Change your laughter to mourning, and your joy to gloom.  Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
He will lift you up!  What a promise!!

God is not looking for success stories.  He is looking for humble servants who know they can trust their Lord.  He can free us from idols that chain us to worry, doubt, and fear, for He knows our needs before we even ask Him.

Running through town this morning in the quiet of the early hour, I thought about how desperately I want to be free.  Those who belong to Christ are already free; our place as heirs in the Kingdom of God is secure.  Blessed truth of the Good News!!  But we are not Home yet, so we must learn to keep our eyes fixed on our Father, forsaking all other pretty, shiny, alluring idols that try to turn our head.  Purity of heart starts with purity of sight, eyes only for our Lord.

James, earlier in chapter four, reminds me of one BIG way to keep my eyes steady:

What causes fights and quarrels among you?  Don't they come from your desires that battle within you?  You want something but don't get it.  You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want.  You quarrel and fight.  You do not have, because you do not ask God.

You do not have, because you do not ask God.  We are often at war with ourselves and at war with those around us, and we - believers, saved by grace, loved by God, oh so secure in Him - forget about God.  We forget that we can seek and trust Him for forgiveness, for hope, for restoration, for guidance, and for provision.  I spent too many hours last week worrying, warring within myself and at war with my family and my circumstances.  I was so thankful when my eyes passed over those words: You do not have, because you do not ask God.

Feebly, I am asking, ashamed that I wait so long, every time, to remember my God.  I plan to keep asking and see if we can't shed some of these idols together.  Boldness will come, so will glory - His!

Time to Take Action
What do you want that you do not have?  What are you longing for?  How are you worshiping at the feet of idols waiting for them to fulfill you and your requests?  What is going on in your heart?  I can direct you to only one place, a person.  He is safe and He is able.  Humble yourself and He will lift you up.  May you know freedom in Him.