Monthly Archives: October 2015
The Styx, the Iowa, and the Jordan
A gentle reminder:
In Greek mythology the River Styx formed the boundary between the world of the living and the dead. The ferryman, Charon, would transport the deceased across the river, but only if they had a coin for the fare.
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When we planned the schedule for our church’s women’s retreat, we set apart the hour before lunch on Sunday as time to spend alone. Some found a quiet place outside to pray, read, or reflect on the morning’s message.
Some women left the green lawn surrounding the lodge, chapel, and cabins to hike the walking trails. I slung my camera around my neck and followed a path that cut down the western face of a ravine, leading to the Iowa River.
The trail is too narrow for a vehicle, but wide enough for two to walk side by side. Fallen leaves carpeted the path, hiding stones. I stumbled on rocks occasionally, but if I had left the trail, I would surely have tripped on gnarled tree roots.
The path snaked farther downhill, in and out of shadow, in and out of light.
The breeze that had rattled dried foliage at the beginning of the trail was gone. I heard only the crunch of fallen leaves under my boots.
Large red “X”s plainly marked trees that were a danger and would need to be removed.
I stopped for a moment on the trail and remembered to look above me at the clear, azure sky and the brilliant, leafy canopy overhead.
I realized this path is like my life:
- wide enough to walk with the Lord, if I choose
Now you’ve got my feet on the life path, all radiant from the shining of your face. Ever since you took my hand, I’m on the right way. Psalm 16:11 MSG
- there are obstacles I need to watch for
Train me, God, to walk straight; then I’ll follow your true path. Psalm 86:11 MSG
- some days, some seasons will be dark, some filled with light
- there are dangers to be identified and removed
So—join the company of good men and women, keep your feet on the tried-and-true paths. Proverbs 2:20 MSG
- the deeper into the valley I go, the less I hear and see of outside distractions
- others have walked this way before me
- when I take time to stop and look up, I am refreshed by the beauty overhead and moved to worship
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As I continued down the trail, I began to glimpse streaks of blue river between gray tree trunks. Golden leaves on lower canopy trees pointed the way. I felt compelled to hurry downhill to the river at the trail’s end, felt drawn to explore the “undiscovered country” on the other side.
I ached for that land for which I was made, for the final Home. I sympathize with Paul’s dilemma.
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me . . . I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Philippians 1:21-24
I heard the distant peal of bells, perhaps from a nearby church. It was noon, time to return to the lodge for our final meal of the retreat, time to turn from the “desire to depart and be with Christ,” time to return to the “fruitful labor” of our ordinary, everyday, beautiful lives.
I turned around and trudged up the hill to be welcomed by the warmth of the lodge and into the chatter in the dining room.
Someday I will return to the end of the trail, to the river Jordan that borders the eternal Promised Land. The bells will ring again, and the ferryman will come to port me to the other side.
Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. John 5:24 NIV
I won’t need to take a coin to pay Charon to ferry me to the other side of the Styx. My way is already paid.
I will cross the river–from life, through death, and to life everlasting.
Paying in blood, you bought men and women,
Bought them back from all over the earth,
Bought them back for God. Rev. 5:9 MSG
. . . An open casket was centered against the wall. We had come to see him one last time, to “pay our respects,” to say good-bye.
As the time for the small, family-only burial service neared, everyone left the viewing room and gathered in the main entry area, discussing directions to the cemetery. I stepped back in and looked at my nephew’s still face a final time.
Oh, Nathan, Nathan, what have you done? . . . read more
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Today solideogloriasisterhood.com is sharing my post about our extended family’s experience with suicide.
We hope and pray that God redeems our pain, and that those who need help and comfort will find it.
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bleeding heart photo credit: Heather Johnson of truelifewithgod.com
Heather has also written many tender and insightful posts on mental illness like this one.
The Stuff of Miracles
I am grateful for small things today:
- diminutive crab apples, food for hungry birds
- fine curlicues on a yucca plant
- delicate veins of a husk cherry
- seed head of a stunted purple coneflower
- gossamer “wings” of milkweed seed.
The sun sets so early now that I didn’t think I’d have time for a walk outside before the light failed, but I decided a short stroll was better than none.
If I hadn’t gone, I might not have discovered the silky filaments of the milkweed.
If I’d believed the lie that a small amount of time was worthless, I would have missed a comical robin hopping branches, gobbling crab apples.
I wouldn’t have seen the setting sun ignite a translucent oak leaf.
The wooly bear caterpillar would have inched away unobserved, miniature pumpkins would have remained hidden under frost-withered leaves, and the year’s last violet might have been mowed instead of celebrated.
If I hadn’t I hadn’t taken advantage of the few minutes available, I might have missed these small gifts of grace and lost the opportunity to give thanks.
And I would have missed the miracle of joy that came with a grateful heart.
Small things, the stuff of miracles . . . do you remember this story?
a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish John 6:9
Jesus . . . took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish. John 6:11
Gratitude peels away the veil of the mundane, whether it’s fishes or flowers,
and reveals the miraculous. Gratitude opens a way to experience a joy that satisfies. The people in the crowd were seated (they stopped); they heard or watched Jesus give thanks (gratitude); and they ate as much as they wanted (joy and contentment).
For small things, the stuff of miracles, I’m grateful.
Revisiting a post from 2013
Morning by Morning
Since I no longer have kids in school and no longer work outside the home, my daily schedules have deteriorated, and my morning devotion time has suffered. I’ve been more concerned lately about getting on the internet before our data cap begins than I have been with consistent prayer and Bible reading. Sometimes my devotional time has been in the evening, sometimes in the morning, and sometimes not at all.
I confess–I talk the talk better than I walk the walk.
So today I’m preaching to myself. If you need a little nudge to create or restore a regular habit of morning devotions, join me in visiting some scriptures that will remind us what we might be missing.
Listen, God! Please . . . I need your help . . .
I lay out the pieces of my life
on your altar
and watch for fire to descend. Psalm 5:1-3 MSG
Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
Teach me to do your will,
for you are my God;
may your good Spirit
lead me on level ground.
for to you I entrust my life. Psalm 143:8, 10 NIV
If you wake me each morning with the sound of your loving voice,
I’ll go to sleep each night trusting in you. Psalm 143:8 MSG
[Wisdom says,] Mark a life of discipline and live wisely;
don’t squander your precious life.
Blessed the man, blessed the woman, who listens to me,
awake and ready for me each morning,
alert and responsive as I start my day’s work.
When you find me, you find life, real life,
to say nothing of God’s good pleasure. Proverbs 33-35 MSG
He wakens me morning by morning,
wakens my ear to listen like one being instructed. Isaiah 50:4 NIV
What if devotions in the morning just won’t work for you? Is God displeased? I don’t think so. For years I had a spiritual “quiet time” when my kids had their afternoon physical quiet time (naps). You are so precious to Him, He wants to hear from you and spend time with you, any time, anywhere.
But for me, in the season of life I am now enjoying, morning prayer and study time is where I should be. I need to form a consistent habit that will work for my current set of circumstances.
What about when we forget or when we willfully spend those allotted minutes on Facebook instead of Philippians?
God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out,
his merciful love couldn’t have dried up.
They’re created new every morning.
How great your faithfulness! Lamentations 3:22,23 MSG
I’ve been humming the hymn based on these verses today:
“Great is thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness! Morning by morning new mercies I see.”
My prayer for us all:
May the clear light of the Scriptures and a consistent time of prayer with God brighten our days and burn away the mists that cloud our thoughts.
Ragged pieces of dry, chopped corn leaves swirled in a dust devil’s tight embrace at the edge of the paved road, but this dust devil carried no dust. The only evidence of the turbulent wind was the debris it had picked up in the newly combined corn field.
Perhaps you’ve never seen what those of us from the Midwest call a “dust devil.” Imagine a tiny tornado on a warm, sunny day.
The whirlwind I saw was maybe a yard across and only fifteen or so feet high (less than a meter across by five meters tall). Since it was swirling over the grassy ditch, only the lightweight harvest debris was captured by the dust devil. Without it I wouldn’t have known that the air was rapidly rotating.
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You know well enough how the wind blows this way and that. You hear it rustling through the trees, but you have no idea where it comes from or where it’s headed next. That’s the way it is with everyone ‘born from above’ by the wind of God, the Spirit of God.” John 3:7,8 MSG
Here on the plains we hear the wind rustling through grass, and we watch it rippling like waves over green fields. We see the wind turning the blades of windmills that are relics of the homesteaders’ water pumps as well as the modern-day giants that are generating electricity.
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I have been attending a series of courses on creativity, and on the day I saw the dust devil the speaker had explored the topic “Inspiration” and shared his personal journey with creativity. This is a community course, not church-sponsored, so I wasn’t surprised that neither the speaker or audience mentioned a Creator as a source of creativity or the work of the Spirit in inspiration.
As a believer, however, I am convinced that the Spirit exists. Although I do not see the Spirit (or the wind), I see its effects in nature, in my life, and in the lives of others.
But the basic reality of God is plain enough. Open your eyes and there it is! By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can’t see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being. Romans 1:19,20 MSG
Our English word “inspire” comes from a Latin word inspirare, which means to “inflame or blow into.” The root word for “inspire” is the same as the one for “spirit.”
The Hebrew word ruach (from the Old Testament) means breath, wind, or spirit. In medical usage “inspire” means “to draw in breath or inhale.”
So we breathe in the invisible breath of God, and it brings us life. It inspires us. It changes us.
We see the world in new ways. The product of the invisible Spirit’s presence in our lives may be in echoing God’s creativity. He is pleased to share that part of His character with us.
Despite the dust devil’s regrettable name, the little whirlwind has taught me a lesson about
- looking for the visible signs of an invisible Spirit and
- the source of and inspiration for God’s creative work in my life and my creative response.
The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. John 3:8 NIV
It’s Harvest Time!
Autumn has arrived dressed in gold and lavender. Aster blossoms explode in tiny, purple fireworks. Black-Eyed Susan’s chocolate-colored heads droop under clear, azure skies.
Fall is here. The last red raspberries of the year plump up, sweet and juicy. Red apples hang heavy and low, warmed by the October sunshine.
The long, growing days of summer have faded. The cicadas’ raspy love song has stilled. The afternoon sun, now more smolder than blaze, no longer clears the top of the ancient cottonwood tree.
The time for harvest has come. The last hay bales of the year–dried summer days–sit huge and round, waiting to fuel bovine, winter dreams.
Dust roils up from the bean head as the combine harvests soybeans, and tractors pull wagons filled to nearly overflowing.
Farmers must harvest many acres in the next weeks in the days between rains, in the hours before the dew condenses, making the stalks tough and difficult to combine.
Jesus understood harvest time. He recognized the size of the task, how much grain needed to be gathered in and how few there were to do it. Right after he had talked with the Samaritan woman at the well, He spoke to His disciples about the harvest of souls.
I’m telling you to open your eyes and take a good look at what’s right in front of you. These Samaritan fields are ripe. It’s harvest time! John 4:35 MSG
Is God calling me to help with the harvest of souls? Where? How?
Is it in a place or among a people I didn’t think would be receptive to the Gospel?
“What a huge harvest!” he said to his disciples. “How few workers! On your knees and pray for harvest hands!” Matthew 9:37,38 MSG
Have I prayed for more people to help with the harvest? Have I prayed for those who already are?
Do you remember what happened in Samaria after Jesus talked with the woman at the well?
The spiritual harvest was a bin-buster, full and overflowing!
Many of the Samaritans from that village committed themselves to him because of the woman’s witness: ‘He knew all about the things I did. He knows me inside and out!’
They asked him to stay on, so Jesus stayed two days. A lot more people entrusted their lives to him when they heard what he had to say. They said to the woman, ‘We’re no longer taking this on your say-so. We’ve heard it for ourselves and know it for sure. He’s the Savior of the world!‘ John 4:39-42 MSG