Thursday, December 05, 2013

Set Apart

Isolate me, if Thou must
Train my heart to love and trust
By the arrow's inward thrust
I am reminded Thou art mine

I'll cleave to Thee, I'll not let go
For Thou alone, my heart doth know,
Hath sent this wound to bid me grow
And remind me I am Thine

—Vicki Baird

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Proof Against Adversity

"God gives, even to the poorest and least instructed of us art, science, literature, appealing not only to the senses but to the soul. By the aid of those teachers of mankind we may, if we choose, build such houses and palaces within us as shall be proof against adversity--bright fancies glad memories, noble histories, faithful sayings, treasure-houses of perfect and restful thoughts, which care cannot disturb, nor pain make gloomy, nor poverty take away from us. These He gives us as the foretastes of the many mansions which He has for us in His home above."
~excerpted from Streams in the Desert Volume 2, September 4

Yesterday, we re-embarked on our homeschooling journey after our summer break. The ranks are thinning; my youngest daughter is my only student this year! It is a delight to see her begin her high school studies, to witness her eagerness and her self discipline. When I came across this quote in an old devotional book, it struck me as the perfect summation of what I hope to accomplish in our homeschool.

I remember sitting in school and watching the clock tick slowly, itching for the bell to ring and to be FREE! Sadly, I didn't fully enjoy learning until I was an adult, when I began to connect it to beauty and to virtue and especially to God. Storing up beautiful things in the heart against the day of adversity seems a very worthy goal, don't you think?

Saturday, August 31, 2013

My Love Affair with 3x5 Cards

Writers sometimes experience a conundrum when they face a blank computer screen, or when they pull out a fresh, white piece of writing paper. On the one hand, the blank canvas presents delicious possibilities; but the flip side is that the yawning expanse, waiting to be filled, is a bit overwhelming. Where to start?

The lowly 3x5 index card can be the anecdote to the dilemma. Its small size narrows the field and helps a writer mentally scale down the possibilities to a manageable size. Speaking of size, the cards are aesthetically pleasing because they are proportioned according to the famous "golden mean," the mathematical ratio that the human eye finds beautiful.

For me, writing on a 3x5 card is also a tactile pleasure. Good quality cards have a creamy finish and it is a pleasure when the nib of a fountain pen glides silkily along its surface.

The cards are great for journaling, whether you adhere to the one-line-a-day school of thought or are a little more prolific. They can be dated and boxed for posterity at the end of the year.

Serious writers find index cards convenient for sequencing. If you are writing a story or novel, the elements of the plot can go on the 3x5 cards and you can play with arranging and rearranging them until it fits together the way you like. Similarly, college students writing a research paper can place their research data on the cards and then order the bits of information logically before writing the first draft.

I have found that a 3x5 card is also a great reading companion. It can serve as a bookmark, a place to jot down a quick quote that I want to remember, and a straight edge for underlining. The best of the quotes will find their way into my stash of pink 3x5 cards, and I pull one out every day for viewing. Today's quote is, "The broken become masters at mending." It's a great way to recycle worthy words and keep uplifting thoughts in view.

Believe it or not, index cards can be a great tool for uncluttering the mind. Does your mind ever get full to the bursting point? Right now I have some of these random and disjointed thoughts rolling around in my head: I need to get a birthday card in the mail for my friend, it's time to make my next dental appointment, I've got to get a quote on new shades for the living room, need to write down the name of that book I want to read before I forget it, etc. Carrying around this alphabet soup in the mind drains my creativity and also detracts from my ability to stay focused on what is most important. Unloading these thoughts on a 3x5 card is very freeing. I put only one thought on a card and later I can take action, starting with the highest priority item.

In my purse I keep a few 3x5 cards, held together with a binder clip in true Hipster PDA fashion. They are always handy for making a  grocery list, jotting an address, or taking notes at a meeting. Unlike a notepad, you can toss them when you get home or file them if they contain info you want to keep permanently.

During my 16 year homeschooling season (which is still on-going), I've used tons of index cards. Every morning I wrote a card for each student containing  daily chore and assignment list. When the kids were young, I'd use colored cards and attach fun stickers. They carried them around all day and checked off their assignments as they finished them, before presenting them to me at the end of the day. We also found them useful for making quick flashcards, memory games, and word banks. I'd definitely place 3x5 cards near the top of my list for homeschool essentials!

There is a rather elaborate home management system that centers around the use of 3x5 cards, popularized in the 1980s by the book Sidetracked Home Executives.  It is really a variation of the timeless tickler-file system, but with some color coding and twists especially relevant to home managers. One great advantage of this system over the more techno-savvy apps available today is that only ONE card with one action point lies in your view. You aren't tempted to run off on a bunny trail, surfing the net instead of focusing on the thing that needs to be done.

Finally, I have to mention the vintage recipe box in my cupboard that is crammed full of  recipes handwritten on 3x5 cards. Although there are some definite advantages to keeping recipes on a computer file, I could never part with the recipes penned lovingly by Grandma Jordan, my Mother-in-law, my Mom, and far flung friends. Some are splotched with food stains, some are dog earred, others proudly proclaim "from the kitchen of . . .," and a few have roosters stamped in the corner. Back in the day they were convenient to slip in the purse to be shared at church and today they remind me of wonderful shared meals, holiday feasts, church suppers, and Sunday potlucks.

Yes, I have a history with 3x5 cards. How about you? Do you find them useful or outdated?

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Shortest Poem

Do long poems make you yawn? Here is one that you can read in a jiffy:

 by Aram Saroyan, 1965

You read that right! It qualifies for the "minimal poetry" category, sure enough. Not meant to be pronounced, its impact lies in the seeing. By manipulating the spelling of the word "light," Saroyan created something which seems to radiate forth in the same manner as light waves. Do you see it?

This poem not only emits light waves, it also created waves of controversy back in the 1960s because the poet was awarded $500 from the National Endowment of Arts when it was selected to be a part of a published anthology of poetry. An Iowa congressman thought it wasteful and reckless on the part of the government to be paying out good money for one word, and a misspelled word at that! He tried to get the chairwoman of the NEA removed. George Plimpton, the one responsible for selecting the poem for inclusion in the anthology, reportedly said, "You are from the Midwest. You are culturally deprived, so you would not understand it anyway." [OUCH! says this midwestern girl.]

The "it" to be understood was the style of poetry called "concrete poetry," in vogue in the 1950s and 1960s. Concrete poetry was structured in a way to create a visual impact. Since George Herbert employed this device in his poetry back in the 17th century (see "Easter Wings" here), it could hardly be called avant-garde. Lewis Carroll, ee cummings, and Ezra Pound also played with the visual sculpting of words on paper. Why then, a firestorm over this little one word poem?

Timing. Our nation was experiencing deep division during the 1960s over Vietnam. The older generation didn't understand the shaggy haired hippies. There was cultural upheaval brewing, and "lighght" brought to light the differences in thinking: traditional vs. outside-the-box thinking, government support of art vs. private support, status quo vs. "flower power."

I think it fascinating that one little word--if it can even be called a word--could stir up such strong feelings! Lines were drawn over whether this word symbolized the degrading of culture or the expansion of culture. What do you think?

One thing I think we can all agree on : words are powerful. Language is the gift that sets us apart from all other creatures, and wielding words wisely calls forth a maturity that few can claim to possess. As the ancient writer James declared, " For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body."

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Dead Men Walking by Bryana Johnson

 Peter and John Running to the Tomb by Eugne Burnand 1850-1921

Dead Men Walking

(For Peter and John)

And we were dead,
stark in our trespasses,
your unseeing eyes wide,
--mine, too,
the smell of the grave on our lips,
It is the way of things,
the coursing of the world:
death begat death begat death begat death

We went racing,
our hearts and our toes
thudding in time together
--I beat you.
She said there was nothing,
and I found the nothing first.
There was nothing.
You and me, how could we understand that?

cracked into regrets,
sobbing, "I love you, I love you,"
--too late.
Me, spluttering
choking on the taste of deadness,
all my ideals spattered
into tears upon The Skull.

We went like that
dead men walking,
running, running, running!
How could we know
the missing One had come
to love all our corpses
into the land of the living?

by Bryana Johnson from her book Having Decided to Stay

Bryana is a talented young poet. Please visit her blog and purchase her book.
Her poetry is vivid, bold, and a delight to read. Highly recommended! 

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Consider the Lilies

John Singer Sargent, Study of the Vickers Children

On Easter Day the lilies bloom,
Triumphant, risen from their tomb;
Their bulbs have undergone rebirth,
Born from the silence of the earth
Symbolically, to tell all men
That Christ, the Savior, lives again.
The angels, pure and white as they,
Have come and rolled the stone away
And with the lifting of the stone,
The shadow of the cross is gone!
~ June Masters Bacher ~

Friday, March 29, 2013

A Psalm for Good Friday

Good Friday Photography by Thomas York

The Psalms

A Cry of Anguish and Song of Praise
To the chief Musician upon Ai'jeleth Shahar, A Psalm of David.
1 My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
Why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?
2 O my God, I cry in the daytime, but thou hearest not;
and in the night season, and am not silent.
3 But thou art holy,
O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.
4 Our fathers trusted in thee:
they trusted, and thou didst deliver them.
5 They cried unto thee, and were delivered:
they trusted in thee, and were not confounded.
6 But I am a worm, and no man;
a reproach of men, and despised of the people.
7 All they that see me laugh me to scorn:
they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying,
8 He trusted on the LORD that he would deliver him:
let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him. 
9 But thou art he that took me out of the womb:
thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother's breasts.
10 I was cast upon thee from the womb:
thou art my God from my mother's belly.
11 Be not far from me; for trouble is near;
for there is none to help.
12 Many bulls have compassed me:
strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round.
13 They gaped upon me with their mouths,
as a ravening and a roaring lion.
14 I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint:
my heart is like wax;
it is melted in the midst of my bowels.
15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd;
and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws;
and thou hast brought me into the dust of death.
16 For dogs have compassed me:
the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me:
they pierced my hands and my feet.
17 I may tell all my bones:
they look and stare upon me.
18 They part my garments among them,
and cast lots upon my vesture. 
19 But be not thou far from me, O LORD:
O my strength, haste thee to help me.
20 Deliver my soul from the sword;
my darling from the power of the dog.
21 Save me from the lion's mouth:
for thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns.
22 I will declare thy name unto my brethren:
in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee.
23 Ye that fear the LORD, praise him;
all ye the seed of Jacob, glorify him;
and fear him, all ye the seed of Israel.
24 For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted;
neither hath he hid his face from him;
but when he cried unto him, he heard.
25 My praise shall be of thee in the great congregation:
I will pay my vows before them that fear him.
26 The meek shall eat and be satisfied:
they shall praise the LORD that seek him:
your heart shall live for ever.
27 All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the LORD:
and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee.
28 For the kingdom is the LORD's:
and he is the governor among the nations.
29 All they that be fat upon earth shall eat and worship:
all they that go down to the dust shall bow before him:
and none can keep alive his own soul.
30 A seed shall serve him;
it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation.
31 They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness
unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done this.

This is one amazing scripture! Written a thousand years before the crucifixion, it chronicles with amazing detail the suffering of the Messiah upon the cross. It is instructive to lay this Psalm alongside the actual historical record of the crucifixion, found in the gospels: Matthew 27, Mark 15, Luke 23, John 19. According to Pastor Chuck Smith, "If you take just the prophecies of this one psalm alone and work them out with the law of compound probabilities, the chances of one person fulfilling them all would be one to 1 in 10 to 17th power (100,000,000,000,000,000). Yet Jesus fulfilled each one of these, in addition to over 300 prophecies concerning Him."

 I'm thankful that God left a prophetic footprint, one that satisfies the mind as well as the soul. I'm thankful for the sure word of prophecy and for the accurate record that has been passed down to us. Most of all, I am thankful for Jesus and that He willingly gave Himself to be crucified, to be buried, and to rise again the third day.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Michael's Prayer

Today I am remembering and reminiscing because my cousin, Michael, has crossed over to the other side in death. He was a trooper! Diagnosed with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy at a young age, he endured years in a wheelchair, then an iron lung, and then in bed connected to a respirator. His Mother, my Aunt Alice, went to nursing school in the 1960s to learn how to take care of him at home. This she did with alacrity and she kept her nursing license current until just last year, when she turned 80. It is a credit to her amazing care that Michael attained the ripe old age of 61, while many muscular dystrophy patients die in their early 20s. 

Do you have a Michael in your life? Perhaps he or she is not plagued with muscular dystrophy, but is disabled in some other way. I have come to believe these people are a gift from God to us, but so often we don't recognize that. We do not know how to relate or how to help and we feel awkward around them. But we can learn. We can take the time to listen, to extend eye contact, to slow down and sit a while with that person. We can learn to love.

Michael wrote a prayer before he died, and I think it is worthy of a slow read. I offer it here in his memory, but also with the hope that it will increase sensitivity to those special people in our lives who are placed there by God to call forth our human compassion and understanding.

Michael's Prayer

Lord God, Father and Creator of us all, You made us male and female, so-called normal as well as disabled. We are all Your children and fearfully and wonderfully made. Lord, why do so many normal people look at me and not actually see me?

So many people have their eyes on my disability or their own feelings of sadness and fear, they can't see the person I am. I can sense their discomfort because they don't know where to look, what to say, or how to act around me. Instead of talking directly to me, they talk to my parents as if I wasn't there or as if I need an interpreter.

Some who do talk to me, speak in a loud voice as if I were hard of hearing or they explain something to me as if I were unable to understand. Others seem so preoccupied with their own lives, it is impossible to express my thoughts and feelings to them, or they seem too impatient to listen and hear me with my slow, measured speech.

Sometimes, Lord, I almost ache for an intelligent adult conversation about things that matter to me. I thank You for the gift of "special people" in my life who are interested in me, who I am, and what I have to say. Especially I thank You for the love, understanding, and tender loving care of my devoted family, for truly, they are, "The Wind Beneath My Wings."

Father, help everyone to see me and others like me in a  new and different light, give them a spiritual insight, a kind of vision of the heart, that looks beyond the physical appearance to the real person. Help us to see we are more alike than we are different. We all have much the same life experience as far as family, feelings, interests, hopes, and dreams are concerned. Everyone needs to love and be loved for who they are. Help us all to see one another as You see us.

Lord God, I praise and exalt Your holy Name for all Your mighty works. I thank You for sending Your Son, Jesus, to be my Lord and Savior. Through Him, I have the strength and courage to face the heartaches, disappointments, and trials in my life. Thank You for the joy, peace, and contentment I have found in Him. There can be no more "special person" in anyone's life than Him.

In Jesus' Name,
In Loving Memory, Michael Young 1951-2013

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

How the Jesus Movement Affected a Non-Hippie Part II

The Jesus Movement (roughly 1970s and 1980s) largely took place outside of the organized church, though in time some churches and para-church organizations moved to embrace it. The Baptist church of my youth injected an occasional "Jesus song" into their traditional service, inviting hippie-types in as guest musicians. For me, this was always a breath of fresh air. Remember, there was no such thing as contemporary Christian music back then! It was being invented, born out of the spontaneity of worship fueled by the Holy Spirit.

The Missionary church in Shambaugh, Iowa embraced the movement by contributing a meeting house, an old two-room schoolhouse dubbed "The Shack." This was just one example of how churches moved to support the burgeoning sweep of the Holy Spirit that was happening all over the country. Churches that refused to embrace the movement found themselves missing out on the opportunity to disciple a whole army of new converts.

Pastor Chuck Smith, of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, is sometimes called the "Father of the Jesus Movement" or the "Pied Piper of the Jesus Generation" because he recognized the movement as a true revival and welcomed the hippies inside of the church. He initially met with some opposition, as the older members of the congregation worried that the metal rivets on the hippies' blue jeans would scratch the wooden pews. Chuck's response was, "then we'll remove the pews!" 

"Chuck Smith went out of his way to befriend hippies, to listen to them and try to understand them. He told his congregation: 'Our church lost a whole generation of young people with a negative, no-movie, no-dance gospel. Let us at Calvary not be guilty of the same mistake. Instead, let us trust God and emphasize the work of the Holy Spirit within individual lives. We want change to come from inside out.'" quoted from For the Love of Mike

"Our fellowship began with twenty-five members who represented mainline, traditional America. Yet God called us to share with the youth from the counterculture. This outreach took a miracle of love and acceptance. But as each group accepted the other, both sides grew in number. There was a vital sense of God stepping into the picture and as lives changed before our eyes. The sense of being in the middle of a miracle kept feeding itself like a bonfire. When some hopeless heroin addict throws away the needle and goes to the beach to convert three people to Christ in an afternoon, it's a pretty strong boost to the faith of everyone involved!" Pastor Chuck Smith, quote from Harvest

Word of the blossoming work at Calvary Chapel filtered back to my world, Iowa, in the late 1970's. My husband and I heard first hand testimonies of people who had experienced the massive ocean baptisms and the informal Bible teachings taking place in southern California. Their glowing accounts were summed up in the word "love." We were interested but also felt it to be just a Southern California phenomenon.

The music, however, was something we much more readily embraced. The first albums we owned as a married couple were "Sail on Sailor" by Mustard Seed Faith and "Love Song," groundbreaking Jesus People music. We heard that "Little Country Church" from the Love Song album was descriptive of Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa* and again, our interest was awakened but we would not experience the fulfillment of that awakening until some years later when the Lord would uproot us from our home and traditional church.

*Concerning the song, Girard explained, “Fred would bring me some amazing chord line with cool chords that I would never think of, and just leave me alone to supply the words and melody. The band was in Northern California, staying in a private home for the afternoon before a concert. Fred brought out the guitar, and began playing the chords to “Little Country Church.” I looked up on the wall and there was this sepia tone photo of a rural church that caught my eye. I began to sing "Little country church on the edge of town…”
“As I went on, I realized that what was shaping was really the story of Calvary Chapel. Calvary wasn't strictly a "country" church, but it was out in a field and I realized that this song represented the whole Jesus movement. It was about the open-minded attitudes of the pastors like Chuck Smith who had the courage to embrace the hippies and allow a new thing to happen in the church. They permitted new musical styles and didn’t judge the hippies for their look. They realized that God changed the heart.” 


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Our New Little Friend

Joy and her yet-to-be-named puppy

When our Yorkie died at the turn of the new year, we all felt a loss, but Joy felt it most of all because Mac was her dog. After a season of grieving, she began the search for a new puppy. She looked at a lot of dogs, but fell in love with this little Lhatese. Never heard of a Lhatese? That would be part Lhasa Apso and part Maltese. She is adorable. 

Gladys Taber sums up my thoughts nicely:

Some people do tell me dogs and cats are too much bother. We never found it so. When everything goes wrong with human relationships, which happens at times, there is comfort and restorative power in the soft muzzle laid gently on your lap, an ecstatic tail wagging, or a small head rubbing against your neck while a purr-song says, "How absolutely wonderful you are."
--from the book Country Chronicles

Monday, March 04, 2013

Welcoming the Light

". . . I think your windows are the most important part of your home. Whether your furnishings are Louis Quatorze or cast-offs, your windows overlook the matchless blue of the sky, the silver glow of a young moon, or the black-purple of piled storm clouds galloping. Looking out keeps you from fretting because the chores aren't done or the washing machine won't work or it is time to change the beds again (a chore I absolutely hate). The vast outside brings a sense of proportion to you and a kind of quietness."  -Gladys Taber, from her book Country Chronicle

When I read Gladys Taber, it reminds me of conversations I used to have with my mother-in-law. She could talk about anything and would meander from subject to subject in a soothing voice. I miss her and I miss those conversations. Gladys is a great stand-in, from the same generation and with eclectic interests. The only drawback is that it is a one-sided conversation! So I'll use my blog to "answer" Gladys and especially her comments about windows being the most important part of the house.

I'm thinking of the window in the 1890s Dutch Colonial house, where we lived when my children were babies. The wavy glass in the panes brought in so much light and pleasure to this tired mama. I nursed babies from a rocking chair and watched the huge old apple tree through the carousel of seasons. From pinkish-white blossoms to mature fruit, I took delight in it each and every day to the point of feeling it was my special friend. It also gave rise to much meditation, as I thought upon the budding personalities in my charge and the hope of one day witnessing their fruitful maturity. 

Upstairs, in that same house, we could view the top of the apple tree from my bedroom window. Squirrels would often leap from the tree to the rooftop and my toddlers enjoyed watching their antics. One day an especially violent thunderstorm rolled through and I remember my oldest daughter and my son sitting with me at that window, spellbound as we watched the hail fly and the wind bend the old tree. We were hushed as we watched, with the window open, and there was imparted a special something into our souls: the awe of the Creator who holds the hail in His storehouse. 

In our current house, we have a large window by our dining table that allows us to enjoy beauty each and every time we sit down to eat. Purple clematis, lilacs, and a peace rose may be seen blooming during the spring and summer. One year, I planted huge sunflowers right in front of the window and we delighted to watch the goldfinches alight on the huge blossoms, oblivious to our  presence. 

I've seen the replica sod houses that the pioneers lived in, especially here in Nebraska, and I wonder, how did the family make it through a long dreary winter without the light of a window? I shudder to think of how dreary that must have been. 

When I get up in the morning, early, before the rest of the family, the first thing I do is open the shades and curtains to let the light into my home. I love that job---welcoming the light. While it seems a small thing, it is indicative of the great opportunity I have as a homemaker: to be a gatekeeper for the light. Let it shine!

Friday, March 01, 2013

An Old Friend on Cooking

I've been revisiting Gladys Taber after a 15+ year absence. When I was housebound in the winter with young children, her nature descriptions were a breath of fresh air, the second best thing to being outside myself.

 It's funny that when you read a book a second time, many years later, you see it from a whole different perspective. This time around, the  author's opinions on cooking and food and hospitality are standing out.  Gladys has definite and strong opinions:

"I deplore a dinner where the hostess leaps in and out during the whole meal. Genuine conversation is impossible. And, after all, it is the talk that should nourish the spirit, no matter what is on the platter."

Homey recipes are sprinkled throughout the book, substantial Yankee food to be cooked in cast iron with fresh ingredients. "My Dutch oven is my best friend," she says. I smiled at what she had to say about Julia Child, who was her contemporary:

". . .I listen to Julia Child. By the time the hour is over, I am exhausted just watching her dice and slice and knead and roll and throw things around in a kind of Olympian abandon. Julia is the most vigorous cook I have ever observed. . .The only thing we have in common is that both of us have written cookbooks. . ."
Even though her recipes are dated---heavy by today's standards---her substantial offerings are infused with love. Her unhurried preparations remind me of my Mother-in-law, who always hummed while she peeled the potatoes.  I've honed my cooking skills through the years, and although I enjoy an occasional gourmet meal, I tend more toward "Gladys style" than "Julia style" cooking. But I think the highest compliment any cook can receive is to have her family or guests taste the secret ingredient: love.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Art for Book Lovers

The Librarian. c.1566. Oil on canvas. Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1527–1593), Italian.

"There can be no great art without great fable. Great art can only exist where great men brood intensely on something upon which all men brood a little. . . (snip). . .Since the newspaper became powerful, topic has supplanted fable and subject comes to the artist untrimmed and unlit by the vitality of many minds."-John Masefield, English poet 

We are studying the golden Greek age of Pericles in our homeschool and noting how Greek myth--stories deeply entrenched in national thinking-- became the impetus for the great art, sculpture, and architecture that came forth from that era.

 At one time, the Bible was the one great story that was a uniting factor in our culture. We cannot fully appreciate our past history or our Western culture without a knowledge of the Holy Writ; our forefathers "brooded intensely" over it and made liberal references to it in their writings. Shakespeare's works are sprinkled with Biblical quotes and allusions. I have a friend who sagely comments, "Biblical illiteracy is a chosen misfortune." Do you agree?


Monday, February 11, 2013

How the Jesus Movement Affected a Non-Hippie Part I

Forty years is a Biblical generation, and it is from the vantage point of 40 years that I now look back at the Jesus Movement and how it has affected and shaped my life. Nailing down my personal history seems wise as I seek to know the "measure of my days." Psalm 39:4 and looking back gives clarity as I look to the future. The Preacher of the ancient book of Ecclesiastes says that God has set eternity in our hearts, and I want to have the wisdom to search out that which is eternal.

At first glance, it might seem that the Jesus Movement was anything BUT eternal. It was a short-lived spiritual awakening that took place in our country roughly between the late 1960's until early 1980's. Like all revivals, it ignited hearts and burned brightly for a short season. Man has never learned to manage revival fire and all attempts to do so are destined to put it out, and then, mysteriously, it leaps up again in another place and time. "The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit." John 3:8  I hope to see it leap up again on behalf of my children and the next generation.

This is my story. In the early 1970's I was a good church kid. Although I wore tie-dye shirts and elephant flares, I was never a hippie nor did I aspire to be one. Sundays, you'd find me at the Baptist church playing hymns on a huge organ for the congregational singing. At some point, I started tuning in to the radio on Sunday mornings while I was getting ready for church. It was WOW radio out of Omaha, 590 AM and from 8:30 to 11:30 they aired the "Scott Ross Show." 

 I was captivated. Here was fresh Jesus music, which never replaced my love for hymns but supplemented it. Scott Ross introduced me to Phil Keaggy, 2nd Chapter of Acts, Larry Norman, Keith Green, Honeytree, and many other artists of the day. The music awakened a hunger in me, a longing that I couldn't express or understand.

I had a shoebox cassette tape player and I sat it in front of the radio and taped the program. During the week I'd replay it again and again, savoring the testimonies that Scott Ross shared but especially reveling in the music. That music became a part of me, and to this day there is a chord deep within that resonates when I hear it. For some reason, a snatch of lyrics from Phil Keaggy's As the Ruin Falls has had a lasting effect on me: "I never had a selfless thought since I was born. . ."  It was years later that I would discover C.S. Lewis and his writings, and by serendipity learn that those lyrics were taken from his poetry.

In 1974 I went off to Bible College, a straight-laced midwestern school that required me to wear dresses and nylon stockings. The bell bottom jeans, smock tops, and tie-dyed shirts were packed away but on the week-ends I'd sometimes go home and don them--my alter ego?

I remember one warm fall week-end, I got wind of a youth gathering in Shambaugh, Iowa. Shambaugh was a teeny-tiny rural community, it had a population of about 200. It was within driving distance of where I lived and I decided to check it out. Etched on my memory forever, there was something special about that night. Hippie-types converged from every direction, many were barefoot and had long hair and they were streaming to the church in large numbers. I knew very few of them and suspect they came from all of the surrounding rural communities. Once inside, there was a young man (who?) sitting on a stool, strumming a guitar and crooning a Larry Norman song, I Wish We'd All Been Ready. I don't remember anything about his musicianship, which is remarkable because I tend to always be critiquing. I don't remember much else about the evening at all, but the one single thing: Jesus was there. The Holy Spirit was living and active and so palpable that I was caught into the timelessness of eternity.

I had tasted Him, and that single taste would set me on a journey to find a spiritual community where I could find Him continually. Little did I know then where this journey would lead, but looking back I can trace the edges of His ways. He has unmistakeably lead me in paths of righteousness, and in future installments I'll share the next leg of my journey.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

A Study in Contrasts

The notorious Jonah provides an interesting contrast to the story of Jesus calming the angry sea (Mark 4 and Matthew 8).

  • In both cases, God's will was very clear. To Jonah, God said, "Arise, go to Ninevah, that great city, and cry out against it. . ."
  • And to the disciples Jesus said, "Let us cross over to the other side."  There could be no argument in either case, His will was presented in a straightforward manner.
  • Jonah acted in direct disobedience to God's will and went down into a ship headed to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord. The disciples, however, followed Jesus into the boat (Mt 8:23).
  • For Jonah, "The Lord sent out a great wind on the sea, and there was a mighty tempest. . ."  The disciples encountered the same circumstances.  "And suddenly a great tempest arose on the sea, so that the boat was covered with waves." 
  • The mariners guiding Jonah's vessel were afraid; the disciples of Jesus experienced that very same fear. 
  • In both cases, the sailors carried on board a sleeping passenger. Jonah was fast asleep in the lowest parts of the ship; Jesus slept on a pillow in the hinder part of the vessel. 
  • Finally, the sailors experienced peaceful calm only after offering up desperate prayers. In the one case the sea quit raging after they heaved Jonah overboard, and in the other story the calm was achieved at the Word of the Master.

Are there useful nuggets of truth that I can glean from this study in contrasts?

God is master of every storm, and can use them to chasten disobedience OR to exercise the faith of His obedient disciples. It behooves me to evaluate when I find myself in a tempest. Is this storm sent to chasten my disobedience? If so, I can take courage in the fact that He preserved even the recalcitrant Jonah. " The Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son." Hebrews 12:6 His unchangeable character assures me that as He was merciful to Jonah, He will be merciful to me.

On the other hand, I may be walking in 100% obedience to His will and yet experience a tempest. Will I hold onto faith even when Jesus appears to be asleep, unresponsive to my dire need? Or will I capitulate to my fears and encounter the rebuke of Jesus, "How is it that you have no faith?" The very clear choice is fear or faith. They are mutually exclusive.

Jesus may seem slow in arising to the rescue, but better to wait for Him than to mimic Jonah, who was slow to repent. He waited until AFTER the great fish swallowed him before he began to pray. How much wiser to follow the example of the disciples, whose desperate, "Lord, we perish!" awakened the Master to action. 

My heart, let not the noise of the tempest drown out the voice of prayer. 

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

The Eleventh-Hour Savior Part II

"Away despair; my gracious Lord doth hear.
Though winds and waves assault my keel,
He doth preserve it: he doth steer,
Ev'n when the boat seems most to reel.
Storms are the triumph of his art:
Well may he close his eyes, but not his heart."
~George Herbert

Storms may be the "triumph of his [Jesus'] art" but they sure do wreak havoc on mere mortals. Even for the rugged adventurist, a storm is a challenge, forcing him to relinquish his grip on the controls. A storm, like the "great tempest" experienced by Christ's disciples (described in Matthew 8 and Mark 4), reduces even the seasoned and worldly-wise sailors to helplessness, causing them to cry out in desperation, "Lord, save us!" 

Mark's account adds a little reproach along with their plaintive plea for help: "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?"

Why is Jesus so maddeningly slow to act? Why is it He waits until the eleventh-hour to arise to their aid?

This question is especially perplexing in light of the fact that the disciples found themselves in this extremity precisely BECAUSE they were following Jesus. In Matthew's account, Jesus had issued the challenge to "Follow me," and the disciples took up that challenge by doing just that: "Now when He got into a boat, His disciples followed Him." Surely their obedience should have merited a safe, smooth passage across the lake?

Instead, their obedience earned them a fight for their life. A great tempest arose and their vessel was swamped. They were sinking fast, while Jesus slept peacefully on a pillow in the hinder part of the ship, the picture of perfect tranquility and apparently oblivious to their epic struggle. 

I can picture the disciples straining at the oars, feverishly bailing the water out of their vessel. They didn't want to awaken Jesus and at first they *thought* they could handle it. They were experienced fishermen, after all! They would prove themselves worthy, prove themselves competent to shuttle Jesus to the other side. Perhaps there was a little pride involved, perhaps they thought, "We can handle this one ourselves, no need to wake the Master." 

At last, having spent every ounce of their strength and exhausting every inner resource, they knew they were licked. Time to admit defeat and awaken Jesus. How could he sleep through such turmoil??

"Lord, save us, we perish!" followed by, "Don't You care that we perish?"

One can feel the desperation in those words, along with a tinge of reproach.

Jesus immediately rises to the need, rebuking the wind and waves and achieving perfect calm at His Word. Then He turns to rebuke the disciples, not for waking Him, but for their fearfulness and lack of faith.

It is an impossibility for a soul to be full of fear and faith at the same time. When one enters, the other must leave. Jesus' rebuke revealed the expectation He held for His disciples: that they would keep hold of their faith even in a tempest. How was this possible for them? How is it possible for me, a disciple of another generation, to maintain faith in the midst of a tempest?

The fact that Jesus expects faith reveals that it MUST be possible to achieve. A careful look at the text gives some clues that help the seeker find the key to success. First, the command of Christ in Mark 5:35 was, "Let us pass over unto the other side." As already noted, the disciples followed that command in obedience. The fact that Jesus used the pronoun "us" indicates that it was clearly His will for the entire crew to pass to the other side. Can anything thwart His will? Can any storm prevent Him from His stated purpose? Of course not, but the disciples had apparently forgotten this Word in the noise of the storm. 

The storm not only caused them to forget His stated purpose, but it also revealed a bit of insecurity, a doubt within their hearts. Did Jesus really care about them? If so, why had He abandoned them to this squall? Their inability to believe that He truly cared for them was a greater breach of faith than their inability to believe He could calm the storm.

And so it is I find myself identifying with the weaknesses of the disciples. Often I have embarked upon a mission, fully knowing that it was a God-ordained assignment. Sure enough, I've encountered tempestuous circumstances in opposition to my work, causing me to focus on the storm and to momentarily forget that my work was commissioned by the Master. Emotions falter, negative thoughts flood into my soul as fast as the water was flooding the disciples' vessel. 

"Jesus, where are You? Why aren't You helping me? Have you left me alone to be destroyed by these adverse circumstances?"

It is said that even steel can withstand only so much pressure, and will break if tempered too long. Disciples are tempered by their experiences, and Jesus knows exactly when we've had enough, exactly how much pressure is too much to bear. At that moment, and not one moment too late, He steps in and calms the storm and stills the tumult. 

The disciples had the advantage of the bodily presence of Jesus, visible to their sight and providing a certain measure of security. I don't have that, but I have something even better. "It is to your advantage that I go away," Jesus tells His disciples, "for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you, but if I depart, I will send Him to you." John 16:7

In the midst of the storm, the Helper bears witness with my spirit that I belong to God (Romans 8:16). He calls to my remembrance examples from scripture, like the above story of the calming of the storm, to remind me of His character. By these enablings I can cast out fear--not only the fear of the storm, but the fear of abandonment, of feeling that I am unworthy of His intervention.

Disciples usually don't have any problem believing that God is BIG enough to calm storms, the difficulty lies in believing He wants to do this FOR ME. This is a blatant lack of faith and displays an under-confidence in His love, and it is the thing that warrants a rebuke from Jesus. May God help me to lay hold of this truth: that because I believe in Him I shall not perish in the storm, but He shall delight to rescue me because by His blood I am accepted in the Beloved. 

Rescued, loved, thriving ever after. . . I love happy endings, don't you?

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Eleventh-Hour Savior Part I

In reading about Jesus and his dealings with the sisters Martha and Mary, and their brother Lazarus (John chapter 11), it occurred to me that the timetable Jesus kept was often out of sync with that of his human counterparts. He was not punctual by human standards; He delayed two days before setting off to help His dear friends.  The One who transcended time and space operated according to His own timetable and I doubt He would have carried a Day-Timer or used an iCalendar, had they been available to Him. 

Why did He choose to be late in so many cases? Yes, it appears to have been a deliberate choice, and He must have had a reason for it. I would like to explore this issue by cataloging, in a series of articles, some of the instances in which Jesus chose to be "late." 

First, a story from the book of Luke, chapter 8 verses 40-56. Jairus, ruler of the synagogue, implored Jesus to come to his house and heal his only daughter, twelve years old and the apple of his eye. Willingly, Jesus followed the man but on the way was interrupted by another needy person, the woman with the issue of blood. After she surreptitiously touched the hem of His garment, she was miraculously healed. Jesus stopped and in an unhurried manner coaxed forth the woman's testimony of healing and made proclamation of her faith. This little incident stole precious minutes from the urgent errand of Jairus, who accordingly received the dreaded news, "Your daughter is dead. Do not trouble the Teacher."  

Jesus, however, refocused His attention on Jairus' need and reassured him with the words, "Do not be afraid; only believe, and she will be made well." And indeed, the spirit returned to that little girl and she arose and ate and was restored to her parents.

The delay of only a few minutes was the difference between life and death to that little girl. Jesus must have known the urgency, must have seen the desperation in the eyes of Jairus. Why did He allow Himself to be detained by the seemingly insignificant touching of the hem of His garment?  

Here is also a study in contrasts. The woman with the issue of blood would have been considered unclean and was therefore not permitted to worship in the synagogue. Conversely, Jairus was the ruler of the synagogue, one who had daily access. Jesus chose to minister first to the outcast, to allow her to be more important for that moment than the "important" synagogue ruler. He, the one who was by position in the forefront, had to step aside for the woman who was the outcast. He had to wait for her needs to be met first. 

Jairus was forced to take the lowest place, to be placed on the bottom shelf. As ruler, he was now relegated to the position of least. Perhaps Jesus was giving him a lesson in "he who is first shall be last" and "he who is greatest shall be servant of all." Servant leadership was Jesus' specialty. He modeled it consistently.

What lessons for those of us in positions of spiritual authority? What lesson for me? 

  • A delay is not fatal, contrary to outward appearances. 
  • Go to the back of the line, rejoice in the victories of others ahead of me.
  • My need will be abundantly met in His own good time.