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Archive for August, 2012

Days when there is only one verse listed in my Lectio reading are often difficult. If I know the context well already, then I find I can indeed simply meditate awhile on a sentence or two. But other times I can’t keep my mind from wandering around to the other verses to see what they say. (Do they say anything better? Anything more interesting?)

Sometimes this works in my favor.

When it does, I think it may be a God-thing.

Like today.

Hebrews 11:1

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Simple enough, right?

Almost too simple. I ran through it several times but then my mind wandered. Where? Well, further into chapter 11, of course! After all, that’s where the writer describes what faith looks like…

But my mind didn’t stay there.

It was too familiar. Too easy.

So I went back up the page, to the end of chapter 10.

Which is when I realized – for the first time – that there is much more to this faith talk.

Vs. 32-34 recounts how the recipients of this letter endured sufferings in the early days of their faith. Then starting in v. 35:

Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.

For yet in a very little while,
He who is coming will come, and will not delay.
But My righteous one shall live by faith;
And if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him.

But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.

Don’t throw away your confidence, the writer instructs.

In my Bible “confidence” is cross-referenced back to 10:19 which says, “Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus.” Which reminds me of Hebrews 4:16 which I memorized as a child, “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need”

You need that confidence, the words in 10:35 seem to say, and you need endurance.

Press on.

Then there is the quote from Habakkuk, giving us our first use of the word “faith” in our verses in the well-known, My righteous one shall live by faith.

“Press on,” we are urged, “we aren’t the kind to shrink back, we are the ones who will have faith and persevere.”

At which point you can almost hear someone posing the question, “but what is faith?”

And Hebrews 11:1 responds, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

Leading into the rest of the chapter which describes how faith looked in the lives of those who came before and leads into more encouraging to press on in chapter 12. (I wrote of “faith” a bit and how it connects in chapters 11 & 12 here.)

But my mind kept going back to three words:

Confidence. Endurance. Faith.

They seem to be tied together here.

Not throwing away our confidence. Our confidence in God. Look at God’s track record. In the Bible. In our lives. Don’t throw away that confidence.

Endure. You need endurance. There is a long road ahead and you must endure, doing the will of God, so that you make it. Don’t give up. Don’t give in. Endure.

The righteous shall live by faith. We are of those who have faith. Faith. The assurance of things hoped for (like those promises of God mentioned back in v. 36…) and the conviction of things not seen (like the presence of God which is more often than not intangible to our human eyes…). Have and live by faith.

Confidence. Endurance. Faith.

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Fade Resistant

There’s an old picture of my great-grandmother on our living room wall. The portrait was painted when she was just a girl; chubby cheeks, golden ringlets, blue dress and the cutest dimples.

Even from the time I was small and it hung in the rarely-used “good room” of our old house, that framed work has fascinated me. Not because of how her youth in the picture contrasted wildly with how I saw her as an old woman. Not because of how her childhood image could be seen reflected also in my grandmother, my mother and my cousins (and, to a point, in me, though I tend towards my father’s side of the family in looks these days). Not even because of the ornate brassy-golden frame or how the picture had faded from its original vibrancy.

What caught my eye was how the bow-ties in her hair never faded.

The rest of the picture is easily understood to be decades old, likely even a century old at this point. I can’t tell if the background ever held a color, the only way to describe it now is dull. Her brilliantly blonde hair looks dingy, the rose in her cheeks has faded, the blue of her pretty little dress is more like grey and even the white collar is tanned and old.

But not the bow-ties that are holding up her ringlets.

They are still the brightest, most brilliant blue you ever did see.

They stand out drastically compared to the rest of the painting.

And they always catch my eye.

Now, I’m fairly sure I’ve heard tell before that at various times and for various reasons, particular pigments of paint got mixed with something special that would make them fade resistant. And if I ever get an artist, curator or restorer to look at the piece, I may learn why that particular blue has never faded. But not today.

Today it simply stood out to my eye, brilliant as ever, when I looked up after sitting dizzy in the recliner listening to the Daily Audio Bible.

The New Testament scripture for today was from 1 Corinthians 3. Including verses 10-15:

By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.

The passage had stood out in the listening. Paul speaking of building foundations and then of other builders building upon that foundation. And in the end, whatever materials the builders use will be seen for what they are, tested through the fire. The one who builds with lasting materials (the gold, silver, costly stones) and the one who builds  lazily, cheaply or half-heartedly with wood, hay or straw will both make it in the end. The former with reward, the latter smelling of smoke and singe. But the buildings reveal the work. For one will be gleaming and pure and the other reduced with only the foundation left.

And I know Paul speaks here of building up the Church, of discipling Christians. But today it also made me think on a personal level of those who take following Jesus seriously and continue to grow in their relationship with God versus those who are content to seek only God’s saving grace and attend church and give a bit here and there but never truly experience all that God would have for them.

And I want to be the former.

I don’t want to give into laziness or half-heartedness in my relationship with God. I don’t want to be content with cheap substitutes and shoddy work.

I want the stuff in my life to last.

And when I opened my eyes after the reading and saw the painting on the wall it only reinforced that desire.

I don’t want my relationship with God or my faith to fade.

Nor do I want the out-workings of that faith and relationship – the work I do, the art or writings or mimes I produce and any impact I may make on others lives – to fade either.

As time and fire pass over my life after I am gone, I want my faith in God and my obedience to His call and the fruit of my life to last.

Shimmering like a gold, silver and costly stone built building.

Standing out like fade-resistant paint on a portrait.

Still and continuously revealing and giving glory to God.

O Lord, may my life lived for you be fade resistant.

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on being still…

Today I am dizzy.

Level 3 dizzy.

Dizziness, you see, has been an off and on again symptom of my fibromyalgia. But it’s been at its worst for the past 3 years. Therefore, now that I have restarted the protocol properly, I am reversing back through it all at dizzying speed (bad pun intended). And over the course of time I’ve realized there are different types, different levels, different grades of this dizziness.

Level 1 is being woozy. It is having a poor day when wooziness (the feeling of imbalance; of sight and depth perception not being quite right, where things sort of shift when they shouldn’t be moving) comes and goes in bouts and fits. But it’s relatively mild. I can still drive and I can still get most normal tasks done. I just have to be a little extra careful and pause now and again when it hits.

Next comes level 2. This is a constant woozy with a few spurts of dizzy (dizzy means things are moving or actually spinning). Days like this it is dangerous to drive, but if others cart me around and give a little help I can still get to work or out to eat or even get small errands accomplished. If I’m careful not to bend over, turn my head in the wrong direction or move at the wrong speed, I can still operate at my desk, in the bathroom and, often, even in the kitchen. Over the years, with determination and utilizing my mime training – and by the grace of God – this has become a fairly functional dizziness.

Then there is level 3. This is an almost-constant dizzy. There is very little relief from the imbalance, the seeming movement of objects and rooms and/or the spinning. In addition to movement, it is also often affected by light and sound. Days like this I try to sleep off the dizziness but often end up with dizzy dreams. So I usually end up sitting in a dark, quiet room, speaking quietly if at all and keeping my body and especially my head perfectly still. If I need to move to the bathroom or the kitchen or anywhere else, I cling tightly to immovable walls and tables and the like.

Worst of all is level 4, what I would call a true vertigo. It is the feeling of spinning constantly, fast and every which way. Like those wheel within a wheel within a wheel ball-like contraptions they strap people into at fairs and spin them around. I’m thankful that level 4 has only happened several times to me and is not the most consistent level I face. I’ve had weeks where I am stuck in my bed, have to crawl slowly on the floor to my bathroom and need people to make sure that food and drink are within arm’s length. So I am very thankful level 4 does not happen often.

But today was a level 3.

I knew when I awoke that I was either at a level 2 or level 3 dizzy. I was hoping for 2. So I bypassed my writing hour for extra sleep. When I awoke again I attempted a shower, only to collapse back into bed afterwards because I was so weak, shaky and dizzy. But, wanting to be a good girl and push through it, I thought my meds and another short rest would help push it through. By 8:00 I knew I had to text my boss with something. But I was not ready to admit to a level 3 day. Surely, surely I could have a good productive day after some more rest! So I told him I was dizzy but working on it and that I’d check in again later.

And then I slept some more.

And I had more dizzy dreams.

At 10:00 I forced myself up. I stumbled into my room to see if I could handle sitting at a desk and working at a computer. If I could and could find a way to work, I’d be good to go! No unhappy boss. Well, really, no unhappy me! So I worked on an e-mail and browsed Facebook a little, but had to keep pausing because of the dizziness. Almost any little movement set me off. I complained to a friend on chat how I much I hate dizziness. Especially days like today because when I remain perfectly still, I’m not really dizzy and feel like I have all this energy and could just jump up and do anything! But when I do move, the world spins. And when I do get up, even just to go to the bathroom and back, I get so weak and shaky. And then I sent her a link to this blog I had read via a Facebook link about meditation and being still. I thought it was a good link because both this friend and I struggle with being still before God.

Me: I struggle with acedia and I think you do, too. [Note: acedia was mentioned in the blog, and I was speaking purely in a spiritual context)
Her: hmmm. I think your sentence there could have a great deal of depth…
Me: oh yeah?
Me: [realization dawning] meaning I’m meant to be still?
Her:  it’s a theory, anyway

I laughed. Here I was, fighting against my dizzy, trying to push through it and making it worse, upset because I felt great when I was perfectly still but got dizzy if I moved, plus I was speaking about being still before God… and I had never made the connection!

Why do I fight being still?

Why is it so hard?

Whether in my time with God or in life in general when my body so desperately needs it?

Long story short, I left the computer to go rest. I had simply made myself too sick trying to sit up and be active. I spent the bulk of the day after that sitting – spending increasing time simply being still. Sometimes with my soft “truth songs” playing lowly. Sometimes in perfect quiet. Not moving my body, but praying and talking to God and even listening to the Bible.

And you know what? It was good.

It was really good.

God brought a lot to my attention and made several connections I hadn’t seen before.

And I found myself so very grateful that my eyes were open to see all that God had for me today – wondering how much I miss on a daily basis because I am simply too busy to take notice to it.

I’m still dizzy. These late afternoon and early evening hours I’ve been bouncing back and forth between level 2 and level 3… and I think after two blog posts (this one and a draft to be published after this one) my sitting up at the computer time has run out…

But I am learning.

Slowly.

But learning.

Learning to be still.

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Sometimes I have the most random thoughts as I stand in the bathroom on any given morning doing teeth-brushing and hair-styling and all that goes along with a young lady getting ready for her day.

This past Sunday was no exception.

I was chatting away with God in the midst of my morning routine and figuring out what I was going to wear and what I could grab to eat before church. Praise music was playing in the background and as my thoughts wound around what I was doing and had yet to do and found quieter moments to return to my heavenly conversation, our talk included prayers for friends and ruminations over what has been said or shown recently.

I’m too far removed now to remember what exactly sparked the thought in question, but it came down to this: God is faithful.

Mei Mei has been talking about it a great deal recently and even in my own life, my own lectio times and my own gratitude journal – not to mention in the music I listen to – it has been recurring frequently here of late.

2 Timothy 2:13 says, “if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself.”

That’s when it hit me.

I’ve known that verse since I’ve been a child!

Over my past couple of decades it has resurfaced time and again, the truth ever unfolding and being demonstrated in my life.

I pondered then, when I memorized it as a child, did I believe it? Did I grasp it?

Part of me, seeing now its truth again as though for the first time, wants to say, “no! I didn’t get it!”

And part of me recoils at the thought, screaming back, “yes! I did get it! I did see! I did believe!”

I think both are true.

Somewhere in the more lovely and imaginative parts of my mind I could suddenly hear the cries of the Pevensie children and other Narnians, one excitedly calling after another, “Further up and further in!”

I think the final chapters of C.S. Lewis’s The Last Battle are some of the most beautiful in all his books. Once the old Narnia is gone, they find themselves in what appears to be Narnia, but it is different. Somehow the colors seem deeper, the familiar landscape shapes more distinct and everything is more… real. But that isn’t the end. As they go further up and further in they pass through “Narnia” over and over again, each time finding it more real and more true than the last. It’s all rather Platonian (with direct reference to Plato even within the book). The Narnia they knew was but a shadow, they are passing through shadows and forms, each becoming closer to the Ideal Narnia… the true Narnia.

I think that while we are here, in this already-not-yet phase, we experience little bits of what the Pevensies and Narnians did at the end of The Last Battle.

Every time that 2 Timothy 2:13 and the truth of God’s enduring faithfulness has struck chords within me, every time it dawns on me as though for the first… well, each time I’m going further in to its truth. I’m experiencing the truth on a deeper level.

It’s not that I didn’t understand the truth the first time or that its connections and realizations somehow weren’t real then. Or that I had somehow forgotten it…

But instead that this time I’m seeing more clearly, the truth is more vibrant, it is engraining into my being even deeper – it is more real.

Every time.

And with every truth.

As I grow in my relationship with God, each realization of each truth shines brighter (often indeed feeling like a new dawn) and therefore it is more vibrant, more life-giving… seeming more tangible, more real and with so much more depth!

I am reminded of several Chronicles earlier, in Prince Caspian, where Lucy comes upon Aslan only to find the Lion has seemingly grown. This somewhat surprises her because she has grown so much over the past year. But Aslan responds, “…every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”

And I wouldn’t want it any other way.

May my heart never be satisfied with stagnant or shadowed truth. May I be ever growing, ever going deeper, ever having new realizations and new dawns of God’s truths.

Further up and further in!

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Some days when I read my lectio scripture, it is a simple retelling of truth which refreshes my being. Some days a word or phrase or truth stands out so strongly and as I meditate on it there are new connections as the Spirit takes me deeper in. Then some days, like today, I have a random train of thoughts as I read through the passage, thoughts that lead to praise or renew my will to praise, to follow, to serve, to obey or to press on…

Today’s scripture was Romans 1:18-20

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,

This verse speaks of God’s wrath and led my heart to cry out that I would never suppress the truth and incur that wrath.

And then I thought of God’s jealousy and how beautifully a friend had once described it (in story) and how our jealousy (especially in love and relationships) stems from our pride and control. But God’s jealousy comes from His great love – wanting the best for us (and He is the best)!

because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.

Then I noticed how “suppressing the truth” in v. 18 leads into this “it is evident” in v. 19. I realized that they are suppressing that which they know to be true – not what they don’t know or are unsure of…

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.

And, of course, verse 20 is used in my talks on worship and the arts and God is creative and creation reveals the characteristics of God (thunderstorms!) and shouldn’t that lead us to respond and to worship?

Which is when my eye caught “give thanks” in v. 21…

For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.

Back to eucharisteo. And when we don’t give thanks nor rightly honor God, there are consequences. Just look at my own attitude struggles! Is it so hard to see a correlation between not giving thanks and “futile thinking” and “darkened hearts”? Of course not! Therefore, I will give thanks and honor God!

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If you’ve been following my blog posts since early May of this year, you know that I was told I had regressed in my treatment, that I’d have to start over again, that I was to have no more tea… and then that over the past few weeks that has becoming increasingly more difficult, causing me to ask God again about the veracity and timing of the vision I was so certain was God-given.

If you’ve been following my blog since its inception a few years ago, you may have noticed several times over the years when I realized I tend to commit to too much and overbook myself, not realizing my own limitations and then telling myself I was going to stop it. Only to never really follow through…

Today I received some good news and then I took a walk with God wherein we had a good talk. And by that I mean I actually listened and heard rather than only pouring out my heart and mind.

To attempt to make a long story very short, today I e-mailed my doctor’s nurse (and co-author) for clarification over reading both that we are to have no tea because “teas are leaves and leaves come from plants” and that it is the camellia sinensis plant that is the problem because it is higher in salicylates than many other plants. Which left me questioning if rooibos and tisanes (ie. herbals) were okay to consume (still in small quantities and made “weak”). Her response was yes.

I can have some rooibos.

I can have some chamomile… and lavender… and fruit tisanes!

It is hard to describe the full depth of my excitement over this.

I can have non-tea teas again!

So I decided to go for a walk. I wanted to walk and talk with God. Well, mostly I wanted to give thanks. Lots of thanks. I was beaming. So I put my “truth songs” playlist on and headed out.

I began with thanks. And then the acknowledgement that I must not go overboard with the rooibos or the tisanes. I have to be disciplined.

Which is hard for me in many areas.

Like food and tea limitations.

Especially when I’m sickly and moody.

And I found myself singing along with Scott Dyer’s “Not I But Christ” and still grinning ear to ear and being jubilant and praising… and then I began to realize what I was singing:

Not I, but Christ.
Not mine, but His.
It’s in His strength alone that I truly live.
I’m dead and gone, I’m crucified;
He’s raised me up to His eternal Life.

It’s all about You. It’s not about me.
It’s living by faith in You, abundantly.

It struck me then that that was what discipline was all about.

It’s not about me.

Stewardship of my body isn’t about me.

It’s all so much bigger than that.

And it is in God’s strength alone that I truly live… and that I can be disciplined and be a good steward of my body.

So God and I got to talking about my discipline and how at the beginning of the year I told myself “no cheating” (on my blood-sugar diet) except for Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas and tea parities this year. (Oh, and my birthday!) And how I never quite kept to that…

And we talked about my tea dream and how it seems reconfirmed but how I feel so idle with it right now and how restarting the protocol has really taken the life out of me and how I need to learn to better handle rest and time and tasks but am never good at learning such things and how long do I have to put up with this “rest” and “idleness” as my body takes big steps towards healing and is it really idleness and a waste of my giftings or is there something more…?

And God kept bringing me back to The Message version of Matthew 11:28-30 that I had come across earlier this week:

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.

There it is.

Unforced rhythms of grace.

Get away, it says… I’ll show you how to take a real rest… learn the unforced rhythms of grace… keep company with me.

This time I’m in right now is a time of learning a new rhythm of life. It is a time of healing and rest and preparation… but, as I saw clearly tonight, mostly a time to learn life in a new rhythm.

So, with my focus on “not I, but Christ” I seek to make the final 5 months of the year what I started out intending: Being disciplined and a good steward of my body (especially with what I eat) and my time. Making no time commitments or taking on any new projects through the end of the year. Keeping company with my Lord and learning the unforced rhythms of grace.

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Eleventh Hour Altars

Last Sunday our pastor preached on criminal conversion; that most famous of eleventh hour salvation stories wherein a man rightly condemned to die uses his last breaths to seek life from another dying man because he recognized that this other man was something more – and someone who could grant life evermore. You can find the story here.

Our pastor pointed out how the thief asks Jesus to remember him “when you come into your kingdom.” When, not if. That’s faith. And though it’s not in the notes, I remember him saying something about how we “do” salvation today. Altars and prayers… and most of us would look at such a messy and inarticulate request and think it not the “proper” way to “get saved.”

And what the pastor was saying caused me to flip over my sermon note page to the blank backside and scribble a thought of my own:

Is it possible that we make “getting saved” too complicated and too easy when it’s meant to be simple and hard?

I think we tend to complicate matters by constructing formulas and reviewing checklists and making people jump through hoops and making sure to get all the “right” words in when saying the “sinner’s prayer.” And then that’s it. Easy peasy. Say the prayer and receive a hug and a pat on the back and you’re good to go. Too complicated and too easy.

But isn’t our faith supposed to be as a child’s? Simple. We call, God answers. We repent, God saves. God did all the hard work and provided the way so that it wouldn’t be too complicated for us. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. After all, salvation does mean repentance. Repentance means not just being sorry for your sins, but turning away from them. And God asks us to believe, to trust, to follow, to obey. And that sometimes includes dying for that belief. Commitment.

It made me think of Bonhoeffer* and his rant on cheap grace. Here are a few portions of it:

Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system. It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian ‘conception’ of God. An intellectual assent to that idea is held to be of itself sufficient to secure remission of sins…. In such a Church the world finds a cheap covering for its sins; no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin. Cheap grace therefore amounts to a denial of the living Word of God, in fact, a denial of the Incarnation of the Word of God.

Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. Grace alone does everything they say, and so everything can remain as it was before…

Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.

Let us not make too complicated and too easy what should be simple and hard.

*from The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer which is a read I very highly recommend. You can check out the full “cheap grace” excerpt here.

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