Monthly Archives: July 2015
Surprises are a mixed bag. Some are welcome, some not:
an unexpected birthday party,
a positive pregnancy test,
a letter from the IRS, months after you’ve paid your taxes,
a bouquet of flowers when it’s not your anniversary or birthday,
a deer that leaps in front of your car at 60 mph.
This week I was surprised–pleasantly–by sunflowers.
Six feet tall, seven at the best–that was all I expected. According to the description on the back of the sunflower seed packets, these varieties shouldn’t be this tall.
The Mammoth Russians I knew would grow eight to twelve feet high, but I was surprised to be looking up at the Evening Sun and Autumn Beauty sunflowers towering four feet above me, reaching into the eaves of the garage.
When I get more than I bargain for,
more than I expect,
more than I deserve,
it warms my heart, triggers happy tears, and drops me to my knees.
These are the surprises that amaze and astonish.
And the greatest surprise, the epiphany that prompts hands raised in praise?
I am surprised to be loved by God.
I am in awe of the great wonder of Jesus’ saving grace and His startling love for me. It is more than I could expect, more than I deserve.
But me he caught—reached all the way
from sky to sea; he pulled me out
Of that ocean of hate, that enemy chaos,
the void in which I was drowning.
They hit me when I was down,
but God stuck by me.
He stood me up on a wide-open field;
I stood there saved—surprised to be loved!
Psalm 18:16-19 MSG
God continues to bless me with the wonder of the unexpected. This week, as I photographed the sunflowers (those I could reach), I noticed the scarlet shape of a male cardinal sitting on the garage window sill, half hidden behind the thick stalks. Then I startled into flight a bright, mating-season yellow goldfinch, that had been perched on a ripening seed head.
I had received another surprise, a gift wrapped in beauty with a “card” signed, “your loving Father.”
We’ll never comprehend all the great things he does;
his miracle-surprises can’t be counted. Job 9:10
My prayer for us all:
May Jesus himself and God our Father, who reached out in love and surprised you with gifts of unending help and confidence, put a fresh heart in you . . . 2 Thess. 2:16-17 MSG
How has God surprised you this week?
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My thanks go to blogger Walter Bright. I was inspired by his post “Surprised by His Love,” commenting on Psalm 18:16-19 MSG.
the “I do” that changes to “I don’t,”
the 3 am phone call,
the job that evaporates,
the no-win choice,
the friend’s betrayal . . .
The deep hurts that
make us ask
Why is this happening to me?
make us plead
Take it away. Make it like it used to be.
make us groan
It makes no sense. I don’t understand.
make us yearn
I need to hear from you, Lord. I strain to hear your voice.
What if God is taking the seeming chaos of our lives, the heart-aches, the disasters and making them into something beautiful, but we couldn’t see it from where we are? What if we’re too close to our problems? What if we lack long-term perspective?
What if the Lord is trying to speak to us through the crackling interference of our stormy lives? What if we need to listen and then listen some more to learn to recognize the Savior’s voice?
Georges Seurat’s most famous painting, Sunday Afternoon on the Grande Jatte, is nearly 7 feet tall by 10 feet wide (2 x 3 meters). In order to take in the entire scene from a park in the 1800s, you might need to stand back, across the room. If you were to walk closer to this famous work of art, you would see that it is painted with tiny dots and dashes of oil paint. From a distance the small spots of color blur together into different tones. Tiny bits of blue next to yellow will be seen as green–your eye does the mixing. Seurat is famous for this technique of painting, called pointillism, from the French word for points.
dots and dashes
We can’t stand far enough back to see the whole painting of our lives. All we often see is a canvas full of splotches of oil paint. We can’t make out the pattern and have to trust that God is making exquisite art of our days, and that someday we will see and understand it all.
Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.
I Cor. 13:12 NLT
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dots and dashes
If you’re a ham radio operator or a Boy Scout, you might have learned Morse Code. Some of you might even recognize the SOS distress signal because you have seen it in a movie or read it in a book: . . . – – – . . .
Most of us, however, would have no idea what a series of dots and dashes mean.
– – . – – – – . . . . . . . . – . . – – – . . . – . (God is love)
Morse Code teachers found that students learn better when the code is taught as a language that is heard, instead of read. We need to listen repeatedly to the dits and dahs of letters and words in Morse Code to begin to make sense of it.
In Morse Code, if “CQ” is broadcast, it means “seek you” (I’d like to converse with anyone who can hear my signal). God is sending out a “CQ.” He wants to talk with us, to guide us, to be with us during the dark and painful times.
When we listen and listen and listen some more, we begin to hear letters and words take form from the garble of dots and dashes. We begin to recognize Jesus’ voice because we hear it so often.
I learn the pattern of your righteous ways. Psalm 119:7 MSG
My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. John 10:27 NIV
My prayer for us all:
May God take the dots and dashes–the small, the painful, the messy bits of our lives and make something beautiful. May He change the static and indecipherable patterns into the clear truths spoken by the gentle Shepherd’s voice. May we have eyes to see and ears to hear!
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shepherd and sheep photo by Barb Briggs,
As children in elementary school, we were taught that the word “Iowa” meant “beautiful land,” and Iowa is a beautiful place in early summer. Rosy, morning skies and gilded sunsets punctuate the days. Fat, cumulus clouds tumble across acres of corn and soybeans. Golden oat fields sway in afternoon breezes. Wild roses, half hidden in the grasses, unfurl pink petals to uncover a yellow heart. Meadowlarks’ liquid calls pour over the fields. All this beauty speaks to me of a Creator, the Holy God.
Just as the weather vane on the top of our big shed points to the direction from which the wind is blowing, creation points to its Maker.
I speak to you continually. My nature is to communicate, though not always in words. I fling glorious sunsets across the sky, day after day after day. I speak in the faces and voices of loved ones. I caress you with a gentle breeze that refreshes and delights you.
I speak softly in the depths of your spirit, where I have taken up residence. You can find Me in each moment, when you have eyes to see and ears that hear. Ask My Spirit to sharpen your spiritual eyesight and hearing. I rejoice each time you discover My Presence. Practice looking and listening for Me and more of your moments. You will seek Me and find Me, when you seek Me above all else.
–Jesus Calling: Enjoy Peace in His Presence by Sarah Young
Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory in the heavens.
Psalm 8:1-4 NIV
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge. Psalm 19:1-2 NIV
Look about you: the beauty of the rose or the glorious sunset–these and others are meant to proclaim His Presence in the world. –Sarah Young
And [the seraphim] were calling to one another:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.” Isaiah 6:3 NIV
My prayer for us all:
that God may sharpen our “spiritual eyesight” so that we may discover His presence in a world full of His glory.
An open letter to survivors of domestic s.e.x trafficking, who are being restored to Light and Life at centers like Wings of Refuge:
Dear brave Sisters,
I don’t know your names, and you don’t know mine, but that’s ok. I have heard about your courage and the hard work you’re doing in your journey toward healing. Please, don’t quit. Stay on the path even when things get rough.
Verses in the first chapter of Colossians (9-14) express some of what I wanted to say. I paraphrased and elaborated:
Since the day I heard about you, I have been praying for you and asking God to fill you up to the brim with understanding of His will for you.
I pray for wisdom, too, so that you will know how to live your life, how to make good decisions about your future.
I pray that you will be like a beautiful tree in a garden, bearing fruit and growing stronger and taller each day.
When the road get rough, I pray the Lord will give you endurance and patience. Then one day you’ll be walking down the path and realize joy is there, walking with you.
The Lord has rescued you (and me–all of us, really) from the domain of darkness so that now you can live in the kingdom of Light.
That kingdom belongs to God’s Son (the Son He loves), and we get to be part of it because we have forgiveness in His Son, Jesus.
The Lord bless you
and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you
and give you peace.
Numbers 6:24-26 NIV
I pray this blessing for you, one of Light and Love and Peace. Amen.
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My sincere apologies to those of you who received a draft version of today’s post again. I am so embarrassed!
Thanks to Barb Briggs for sharing her photos of crocus and the crown of thorns.
I have something in common with Nehemiah, and I’d guess you do, too. Nehemiah who? Remember the faithful man who was cup-bearer to King Artaxerxes of Babylon, where the unfaithful Israelites had been taken as captives? The man who received the King’s permission to return to the land of his ancestors and rebuild the wall around Jerusalem? Still don’t remember? The Old Testament book of Nehemiah between Ezra and Esther? Oh, that Nehemiah!
Like most of you, I’m a list-maker, penciling on paper scraps (or my planner) lists of groceries, errands, prayers, books to read . . .
Today’s to-do’s will become tomorrow’s recycling, but Nehemiah’s detailed lists have been preserved for over 2500 years.
He recorded lists of exiles who returned to Jerusalem after being in captivity. He counted their servants (7337), singers (245), horses (736), mules (245), camels (435), and donkeys (6720). He also kept track of donations (how much and from whom) of gold, silver, and garments.
Although Nehemiah’s attention to detail amazes me, the list that has inspired me lately is his descriptive chronicle of those who rebuilt Jerusalem’s wall and gates. Although it isn’t in bullet points or enumerated “1, 2, 3,” he records the names of all who helped repair and rebuild the wall and its gates, in consecutive order starting and finishing with the Sheep Gate.
Nehemiah lists the high priest and fellow priests, rulers, goldsmiths, perfume makers, merchants, men from small towns, and a few women. Some worked on a small section of wall by their home. Some rebuilt 500 yards. Regardless of class, occupation, or gender, people worked together to finish the wall in a remarkable 52 days. There were a few exceptions, and their names are missing from the list.
The next section was repaired by the men of Tekoa, but their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work under their supervisors. Nehemiah 3:5 NIV
Every person repairing the wall of Jerusalem was needed and wanted. Every stone and brick fit together to make the whole: small stones, large stones, corner stones, capstones; gates done elaborately and gates constructed with only utility in mind. The only bad stone would be no stone at all.
It is a picture of the church today, where each of us has a function. How sad that the noblemen of Tekoa thought they were above manual labor!
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. I Cor. 12:27 NIV
Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. I Thess. 5:11 NIV
Few of us will be sought-after pastors or in-demand speakers or best-selling authors. We all want to feel special and unique–and we are–but there is a great need for hundreds and thousands of seemingly similar bricks and stones. There is a great need for good mothers and fathers, good workers, good husbands and wives, good friends. We can serve our local body and our communities in so many simple ways.
Imagine what we can build, together!
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Wall photos by Barb Briggs
We all stumble in many ways. James 3:2 NIV
Maybe I need to go back to school with my grandson, who will be starting kindergarten this fall. I seem to not be able to tell the difference between the “Save draft” button and the “publish” button on my blog.
So, again, I extend my apologies if you’ve received a draft version of this post. One mistaken click has had a cascade of regrettable effects: chasing down and deleting the lamentable words on various social media sites, answering emails from mystified readers, and rushing to finish today when I’d planned to post tomorrow.
I am so thankful that the unplanned release of a few words on this blog are “merely” embarrassing (more like slap-my-forehead-and-groan “not again” humiliating) to me and not hurtful to anyone else. Since the first time I read Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, I have found hope in Anne’s rhetorical question.
Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet? –Anne of Green Gables
I am waiting for a clean and fresh new day–literally. Smoke from lightning-sparked wildfires in northern Canada has been pouring into the Midwest, making the skies hazy with suspended particulates. Doctors have warned that those with breathing problems may be affected and urged them to take precautions.
This hazy photo was taken at 6:30pm, over two hours before sunset. This is the smoke from forest fires hundreds of miles away, not twilight or fog.
Our words can be like sparks that lead to fires. They have consequences at the source of the blaze and downwind. James knew just how powerful our tongue can be.
A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything—or destroy it! It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke . . . James 3:5,6 MSG
In a post I read yesterday, Lysa TerKeurst reminded me of the verse later in James.
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. James 3:9 NIV
The question she posed to her kids applies to us all. Before I speak, I need to ask myself:
Are my words true?
Are my words kind?
Are they necessary?
If my answers to these questions were being graded, I’m afraid there are days where I’m not working at an age-appropriate level. I should be back in kindergarten. I’ve listened poorly, spoken quickly, and chosen my words haphazardly. I’m not playing nicely with others.
I need to apologize and (try to) clear away the smoke.
Perhaps you would like to join me in this prayer:
May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. Psalm 19:14 NIV
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As I write this afternoon, the wind has switched directions, and bits of blue sky are peeking out from grey, splotchy clouds. There’s hope and and a chance for healing. Lungs will breath easier, and hearts will be opening as the smoke clears.
I’ll try to watch my words (spoken and written) and where I click.
Clean the slate, God, so we can start the day fresh!
Keep me from stupid sins, Psalm 19:12 MSG