Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Amazing Grace

On an evening in March, 1796, a popular new opera premiered in London. Several members of the British Parliament were strategically given free tickets to attend, resulting in their absence from a crucial vote to abolish British participation in slave trade. The bill was defeated 74-70, with the swing votes swaying to the tunes of an Italian musical comedy. William Wilberforce, who had already dedicated nine years of his Parliamentary career trying to end the repulsive commerce, was discouraged and devastated to the point of physical illness, and he was just about at the point of giving up. It is here that the movie Amazing Grace begins, recounting his compelling story, creatively mixing backstory with history.

The story is centered on Wilberforce, but the peripheral tale of how and why the song, Amazing Grace, was penned by John Newton, plays out as accompaniment. Newton, once regrettably himself the captain of a slave ship, was one of the driving influences in Wilberforce's life, and it was he who passionately charged Wilberforce to not give up. He told Wilberforce that, just as Esther and Daniel had been strategically placed in positions of influence, so was he. So, Wilberforce rallied, and was champion of the cause for another 11 years until he saw the measure passed in Parliament in 1807, the year that John Newton died.

Bruce and I went to see the movie this week. It was a poignant story, with a powerful message. One person, strategically placed by God, and motivated by an overwhelming sense of purpose and destiny, can change the world. This may sound trite, as an overworked theme, but the story is true, and creatively portrayed as quality cinema. So many great lines I wish that I could have written down... I understand many of them were direct quotes from Wilberforce & William Pitt.

The bill which the British Parliament passed in 1807 outlawed British participation in international slaving, and impacted the rest of the world. The United States passed similar legislation that same year, led in part by John Jay, a good friend of William Wilberforce.

Every song has its story. Every generation has its hero.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

When Words Fail...

That Tower of Babel thing really has had a lasting impact. I have an inherent interest in foreign languages, and I am truly in awe of people who have mulit-lingual skills, because I know learning other languages is not an easy task.

Bruce's mother's side of the family is Greek. His materal grandparents emigrated from Greece a century ago. I'm not Greek, and while they welcomed me warmly to the family, sometimes, because of language, I stood out like a sore thumb. One summer, a large contingency of Yia Yia's (Grk. for grandma) family came to visit from Greece, and they didn't speak English. Yia Yia hosted a dinner that we all attended. After dinner, I wanted to be impressively helpful, so I volunteered to go around to all of the tables to offer coffee refills. I had purposefully learned how to say "would you like more coffee" in Greek, and was very proud of myself. The theas and theos smiled at me gracously, and responded, "Neh, Neh...", so I just smiled back ... and walked away, thinking they weren't big coffee drinkers. I was acutely aware of strange reactions and puzzled stares, but I wrote it off to cultural differences. Later that night, I was proudly telling Bruce about my linguistic prowess and he started laughing. Turns out "Neh" in Greek means 'yes', and they were all no doubt wondering why I offered them coffee and then just walked away.

A few years ago, Bruce and I were in Paris for a few days. I had lovingly taught him how to say a few phrases in French, in case he got lost or something ;) When we needed to ask for directions or information, I would take extra time to mentally form the question perfectly because I was rusty in my speaking skills. Invariably, Bruce would grow impatient waiting for me to speak and he'd spout off his few conquered phrases, to which the French would respond, ...in French. I was still busy formulating the perfect question in my mind, so I missed their reponse, and embarassed, once again, I just smiled and ...walked away, acutely aware of strange reactions and puzzled stares. I stoicly glared at Bruce, rather than kick him.

So, a little bit of knowledge can be a precarious thing, especially when it's combined with pride or pretense. Before stepping out to ask the questions, we should've prepared ourselves to interpret the answers. Or perhaps we should've stuck with what we knew. It's been said that the most exhausting thing you can do is to not be yourself :)

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Avenger

Delay is not denial. That's a statement I heard many years ago relating to a reason for persistence in prayer. In the 18th chapter of Luke, Jesus tells a parable to show his disciples that they ought to pray and not lose heart. He had already taught them how to pray, and this illustration encourages them to persevere in prayer, and not quit in the face of discouragement or obstacles.

In Luke 18: 1-8, we're told that a woman persistently comes before a corrupt judge asking for justice, and after repeated attempts, she wears him down. Jesus points out that if a corrupt judge will give her attention, how much more so will God do for His elect who pray ..."I tell you that He will avenge them speedily."

In a message about "Boldness in Prayer", Jack Hayford addresses this passage, and defines the word 'avenge' in the original Greek to mean that God will do/make/create justice. But he goes on to say that the verb tense describes an action that will begin in the present, and keep going on until it's complete. The term can be illustrated in the cultural context of that time as a description of the progress of fruit that ripens sooner than you expect it to, at an accelerted pace. Where praying people pray, a creative process is instantly set in motion, and it ripens, but with God's avenging, it's on a supernatural time table.

Often we'll pray long for or about something, and in the process we are changed. If we allow Him, God builds into us a heart that cares about things the same way He does. We persevere not because we think He didn't hear us the first time, but because perseverance can develop in us a heart and passion for what God wants.

Psalm 145: 15-16 says, "The eyes of all look to You, and You give them their food at the proper time. You open Your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing." Isaiah 48:3b says, " ...then suddenly I acted, and they came to pass." We may persevere in prayer for a while, even for a very long time, but if we seek to know His heart and we don't give up, He will avenge the matter speedily. God's resolution to our situation can come about quickly, at an accelerated pace.

As Hayford puts it, it's kind of like "happy whiplash" :)

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

S.O.A.R.

I was working on a publication last week entitled S.O.A.R. It was a Human Resources project, but seeing the words across the top of the page reminded me of a familiar scripture verse, Isaiah 41:30, which says but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. This was significant to me because over the past 2 months, I've been coming across that verse, but I'm seeing it in a new light.

My familiarity with Isaiah 41:30 had previously focused on the weary part... the need to renew strength 'lost' from disappointments, or during the often long process of waiting on (hoping in) the Lord. I'd sometimes even inwardly cringe when I'd hear someone quote the verse, or I'd kind of skim over it when reading that chapter in my Bible. To me, it wasn't what I'd call a 'faith-builder'. Rather, it described a consequence of hope-deferred.

But over the past several weeks, we've been singing a song in church based upon Isaiah 41:30. And as I've been worshipping, the image of an eagle soaring has repeatedly come to mind. That image almost startled me, but it alerted me that my previous perception was a carry over from the subtle cynicism I've since rejected (Empty Rooms). The image of the magnificent, strong, gliding hawk has now become a new piece of brain furniture!

In his book, Dreaming With God, Bill Johnson says, "Something happens in our time of communion with Him that brings life to our capacity to dream and desire. Our minds become renewed through divine encounter, making it the perfect canvas for Him to paint on." God painted a picture of a soaring eagle in my mind, and it changed my focus and my outlook. My hope and my strength are renewed. Johnson says, "Our dreams are not independent from God, but instead exist because of God. He lays out the agenda... and then releases us to run with it and make it happen."

I think that means soar.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

CleanTown USA


I went to the car wash today. It's so cold here, I hated to do it because they say locks, doors may freeze, etc. But the sun was shining, and my car was so dirty. As I was riding through the car wash on the conveyor belt, I laughed at a memory I had of the first time we took Leah and Ashley through a car wash. They were about ages 4 and 2; we'd thought they'd love it. Nope... they hugged each other and screamed in terror the whole way through. Now, one of Leah's favorite places to visit is... the carwash. Cleantown, USA. Go figure. Ashley, too, has recovered, tho' she joins us in mocking Leah's ardor for Cleantown, USA. What can possibly be so wonderful about a carwash?? CUSTOMER SERVICE.

And, Cleantown, USA really does it right. Even on a day like today, every employee was friendly, courteous, and smiling! They made me feel like they were actually happy to have ice crystals on their eyelashes, just so they could dry MY car. And they don't accept gratuities, so they aren't gushing for tips. When I leave there, I feel like smiling at someone, letting someone cut in line in front of me, or sending someone a Monk-e-mail.

Good Customer Service is a good idea for eveyone. Our church works hard at it, and succeeds, I think. Ministry without mitzvah is ineffective. Good Customer Service doesn't just give 'service', but gives good customers. I am more likely to gravitate toward places that make me feel welcome.

This is important in a personal sense as well as in business. Perhaps you've seen the commercial for Comcast, in which an office worker makes a small, but snide remark to a co-worker, and the domino effect soon results in an all-out office brawl. Comcast implies, of course, that their Internet services would've prevented that. It's a reach. I'm thinking that a kind word, aptly spoken, and a beautiful smile, are much more effective in promoting good will, and actually contributing pleasntness to someone's day. Proverbs 3:17 says, Her ways are ways of pleasantness, And all her paths are peace. There's Wisdom in that!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Sweet and Simple

When you think about Valentine's Day, thoughts of love and flowers come to mind... and hearts... chocolate hearts. Yum. We used to own a chocolate factory. Honest. No Oompa Loompas, but all the chocolate we could ever want. Good chocolate, too. Our children grew up having been taught how to discern good chocolate from bad chocolate (yes, there IS such a thing as bad chocolate). They couldn't tell you the cocoa butter content, or how many hours the chocolate spent in the conche, or if the cacao beans were from South America or Africa, but they could identify quality with one taste. They acquired this discerning palate through experience... by actually eating the good stuff. Their daddy would also point out the nuances of aroma, velvety texture and appearance, but mostly they learned it by taste.

I'm re-reading a favorite book of mine, Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby. Specifically, I'm in the chapter which describes how God speaks to us, and in response to the question of knowing if we are really 'hearing from God', Blackaby describes the method used by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to train their people in anti-counterfeiting work. Trainees never see a counterfeit bill, but so thoroughly study the genuine thing that the counterfeit currency stands out as fake. Blackaby points out that when something doesn't line up with God's Word, or if it goes counter to what we've learned of His Character, then it's counterfeit. It's been said that you may not always be able to discern what God is saying, but you can tell what He isn't saying. He always acts out of His love for us.

On one of our vacations, when Leah and Ashley were small (ages 6 and 4) they were so excited when they were given chocolate bars upon our check-in to the hotel. But, they took one bite of the bars, and threw them away. What they were tasting didn't measure up to what they had come to know, by experience, as good chocolate, so they passed it by.
Sweet 'n simple.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Empty Rooms

Last week, I re-read all of my blog entries. I've only been blogging since November, so that wasn't a big task, yet just enough of a representative sampling to reveal a pattern to me.

My mind went back to the months just before I began this blogging venture... I had heard a podcast message about Dreams. Not about the kind we have when we are asleep, but the kind we have when we are very much awake, the kind God plants in our hearts and minds. The message was a very good one, and while it was an encouragement, and an uplifting word, I cried the whole way through it. I became painfully aware that I had become cynical, and I had allowed the subtle scourge of disappointment to taint my expectations of God's working in my life. I cried because I knew that I should know better. I spent that whole day wrestling with my 'self'. I sought His forgiveness, and asked Him to fix me.

I see that 'fixing process' subsequently unfolding in many of my blog postings, especially because I can remember what was going on when I wrote them. My very first one had to do with having the courage to dream again. Many of the entries beckon my own heart, little by little, to reaffirm what I know in the depths of my soul to be Truth, things muddled by the effects of discouragement. Over the past several months, God has brought insights from people, books, and even my own memories that have been fixing me. And, today those thoughts kind of all came together in a "Eureka" (breakthrough) kind of moment as I was reading a book (The Supernatural Power of a Transformed Mind by Bill Johnson).

In his chapter discussing our 'spiritual inheritance', Johnson uses Luke 11:24-26 to illustrate a point. The passage refers to Jesus's description of an 'unclean spirit' leaving a man, but coming back to find the abandoned area swept and in order, so it brings its nasty friends and they set up camp again. Johnson says that when a person gets set 'free', they have a responsibility to manage that territory, or they'll lose it. "When the victories of [the] past... go unoccupied, they become the platform from which the enemy mocks...launches an assault... to erase from their memories their inherited victories. When we back off of the standard that God has set, we literally invite the devourer to destroy." He was actually purporting that Christians often don't 'occupy' their inherited spiritual territory won through prior spiritual victories. I understand his point, but I actually got something more from Jesus's parable, that really applies to me:

I believe that disappointments are unoccupied territory. They can become encampments for the enemy, who mocks hope and taunts with twisted truisms... UNLESS, I exercise my responsibility to occupy that territory with the testimony of Truth. I thought I was being stoic and strong by closing the door on disappointments, putting them behind me, ...but I was leaving an empty room. What I've needed to do is to redecorate. I need to refurnish that territory and occupy it, by actively applying the Word of God to my daily life, my emotions, and especially the things that hurt, and by reaffirming who and what I KNOW Him to be. My disappointments left me feeling betrayed, but I know that is false. And so I must occupy that empty feeling with the truths of encouragement, so that discouragement doesn't live there instead.

Interestingly, much of what I blog about is part of that refurnishing process, reminding me of His Character and His track record, renewing my mind. And, I think I'll go listen to that podcast once again.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Superman Don't Need No Airplane

In Exodus 24, there is an amzing account of Moses, Aaron and the 70 elders of Israel sharing a meal with God (v.9-11). God had invited them to 'come up' to him (v.1) in confirmation of His covenant with them. 'There they saw the God of Israel... And though these nobles of Israel gazed upon God, he did not destroy them. In fact, they ate a covenant meal, eating and drinking in his presence!' After that, Moses and Joshua went further up the mountain and stayed for 40 days. The others returned to their camp, and shortly thereafter, they tired of waiting for Moses to return; soon there was the 'sound of singing' round the fiasco of a golden calf.

These guys had just been with GOD! He invited them! They communed with Him face to face! And lived to tell about it! And instead of feeling humbled by His Glory, they brought His glory down to their level and exchanged it for the image of a bull (something they had learned in Egypt). Where did they go wrong? I'd like to think that if I were in their shoes, I'd go back home and be so spiritual. But then again, more likely, I would've been just like them, afflicted with an acute case of spiritual pride, putting God in my box, shaping Him in my image, on my terms.

I read an article recently by John Ortberg about "curing grandiosity". He points out that we all suffer from it at some time or another because it's part of our nature. It's such a temptation to believe our own press clippings, especially when we are doing something 'for God'. Ortberg says, "Fighting the subtle sin of grandiosity means learning from Jesus how to do ministry in a way that draws me toward him. For there was no grandiosity in Jesus at all. That's one reason why people had such a hard time recognizing him."

I want to remember this, and to live it. Spiritual pride is a subtle attack. Coming off a month of prayer and fasting, our church is poised for, and anticipates, a mighty wind of God. I want to remember that it is He who is at work, and that we are joining Him. I am very encouraged and motivated by my pastor, who recently said, "Without Him I can do nothing. That is not an exaggeration. It's a fact. The more I understand that, the more at peace I live. Total dependence is the place to be."

How unlike the story of an incident involving Muhammad ("I am the greatest") Ali. He once allegedly refused to fasten his seatbelt on an airplane, telling the flight attendant, "Superman don't need no seat belt." She is said to have replied, "Superman don't need no airplane."

Psalm 25:9 "He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way."

Monday, February 5, 2007

Anniversaries and Birthdays

Soren Kierkegaard said, "Life must be lived forward, but can only be understood backward."

I love people who look for reasons to laugh, to smile often and to celebrate! That's one way to understand life... looking backward at events we commemorate, and celebrate. Anniversaries and birthdays are like that. We can have 'anniversaries' in any increment (right Sal├ža?), and celebrating them makes us feel special. So, why not birthdays??

Our daughter, Leah, is 10,000 DAYS old today. Right about now, actually.

Not long ago, she read on another blog site that your 10,000th day of life falls about 1/3 through your 27th year. And... so we have another opportunity to celebrate. We gave her presents... she smiled, we laughed! Her friends are taking her to dinner!

And her sisters, too, are calculating THEIR 10,000th day. Too late for me, tho', and I don't think I'd even want to admit to being 20,000 days old... when that day comes, ...uhhh came...

Friday, February 2, 2007

Family Ties and Ground Hog Day

On the day before Samantha had to return to college for Spring Term, Bruce and I gathered Leah and Samantha and went out for dinner to Chili's. We had a great time, reminiscing and laughing about prior events we'd shared as a family. More than once that evening, I found myself thinking how very blessed I am to really LIKE my kids. I'm certain that I would LOVE them, no matter what, but I honestly LIKE them, and if they weren't my kids, I'd seek them out as friends.

Later, we watched the movie Invincible and then had a game night. Game nights usually start out well, but ultimately deteriorate, because one of us (Bruce) never wins any game except Trivial Pursuit. After about 10 minutes, this person (Bruce) starts giving ridiculous answers, or sabotages the outcome, and we have to quit, or agree to play ... Trivial Pursuit. As a compromise, we dug out Trivial Pursuit Pop Culture. Even the coolest among us (not Bruce) had a tough time with that one, so we switched to Bible Balderdash, thinking SURELY we'd get all of those right. Nope, not one. Without looking it up, would you know what Jokmeam is?

Being a parent has had the biggest impact upon me in my understanding of God, the Father. I can empathize a bit with how He must feel when we make Him proud, how He hurts when we hurt, and how He wants the best for us. I have a better grasp on unconditional love, and and a great appreciation for unconditional like.

(It's Ground Hog Day...)
On the day before Samantha had to return to college for Spring Term, Bruce and I gathered Leah and Samantha and went out for dinner to Chili's. We had a great time, reminiscing and laughing about prior events we'd shared as a family. More than once that evening, I found myself thinking how very blessed I am to really LIKE my kids. I'm certain that I would LOVE them no matter what, but I honestly LIKE them, and if they weren't my kids, I'd seek them out as friends. Later, we watched the movie, Invincible, and then had a game night. Game nights usually start out well, but ultimately deteriorate, because one of us (Bruce) never wins any game except Trivial Pursuit. After about 10 minutes, this person (Bruce) starts giving ridiculous answers, or sabotages the outcome, and we have to quit, or agree to play ... Trivial Pursuit. As a compromise, we dug out Trivial Pursuit Pop Culture. Even the coolest among us (not Bruce)had a tough time with that one, so we switched to Bible Balderdash, thinking SURELY we'd get those all of those right. Nope, not one. Without looking it up, would you know what Jokmeam is? Being a parent has had the biggest impact on me in my understanding of God, the Father. I can empathize a bit with how He must feel when we make Him proud, or how He must hurt when we hurt, and how He wants what's best for us. I have a better grasp on unconditional love, and a great appreciation for unconditional like.On the day before Samantha had to return to college for Spring Term, Bruce and I gathered Leah and Samantha and went out for dinner to Chili's. We had a great time, reminiscing and laughing about prior events we'd shared as a family. More than once that evening, I found myself thinking how very blessed I am to really LIKE my kids. I'm certain that I would LOVE them, no matter what, but I honestly LIKE them, and if they weren't my kids, I'd seek them out as friends.Later, we watched the movie Invincible and then had a game night. Game nights usually start out well, but ultimately deteriorate, because one of us (Bruce) never wins any game except Trivial Pursuit...

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Seeking Henry

Henry Blackaby was scheduled to be in town today and we were all set to go listen to him speak. When we got there, we found that the event was cancelled because he had been ill and was recouperating.

I sent Leah a text message telling her not to come because she was supposed to meet us there. I told her that he wasn't here.

She sent me a text message back a few minutes later, and it said... "We need to find out where he is, ...and join him."

I'm still laughing.