Thursday, April 30, 2009

Friday Fiction: TO MY MOST BELOVED

I am delighted to be the hostess for Friday Fiction this week. Friday Fiction is a meme originated and organized by Patty (otherwise known as Peej) at Patty’s Patterings. If you would like to participate, just post your original fiction on your own blog and link up to Mister Linky at the bottom of this page. Don’t forget to leave a comment as well, and read and comment on all of the other great fiction posted by today’s participants.

I wrote the following letter as a Faithwriters entry for the historical fiction genre. I had just finished reading St. Augustine’s The Confessions, so I decided to research the historical practices of the time, including letter writing form and attitudes toward marriage and concubines. I also found more information on Augustine, including the information about his son and betrothal. I found it both sad and intriguing. It also helped me to see how we as Christians are influenced by our culture and the times in which we live. The letter is written as though from the concubine.

It is with heaviness of heart that I await my return passage to Carthage on this first day of summer of the year of our Lord three hundred and eighty five. Can it be that thirteen years have passed so swiftly and now must end?

I gaze at Adeodatus, our “gift from God,” as he strolls the dock, and affirm what I know is true. At twelve, he is nearly as tall as I. Shall I ever know the full stature our son attains? After my ship leaves the harbor and when the ink has dried upon these leaves of papyrus he shall deliver my parting thoughts into your hands.

I can scarcely imagine life without my precious Adeodatus. He needs a father, of course, and he shall have the better life with you and your Christian wife. You must see that he respects her. I have petitioned God to remove from me all jealousy and malice. Yet my heart is rent to shreds as I am sent away. It is almost more than I can bear.

It was never my intention to love you. We were young and I knew full well my low estate. And yet you treated me with respect and kindness. I daresay you loved me, too.

The tears that now flow as freely as the ink of my pen are not bitter tears, but grateful ones. Thirteen years of love and passion is more than I ever dreamed possible, though I knew from the beginning it could not last. For you, my beloved, are a man of integrity and honor; and I a mere concubine. The Christian marriage your mother has arranged shall assure your success, while I am but a hindrance in that regard.

You have taught me to look to God for strength, and so I shall continue in the way of faith. Since I cannot be properly wed, I take this day a pledge of celibacy before God. Though others may judge me for my past sins, God is the only true judge and I, even I, a lowly concubine, have found favor in His eyes. This is a great and marvelous mystery.

Selfishness causes me to hope that you shall not forget me; but forget me you must if you are to look fully and unashamedly upon the face of God. I pray His blessings on your home and your marriage, and that you shall be useful to His service.

Fare thee well always, and pray for me; but do not grieve, most dearly beloved and holy man of God.

You are forever in my heart.

Aurelius Augustine spoke highly of his unidentified concubine, grieving her departure and admitting his shame in abandoning her for his own welfare, even though that was the accepted practice of the day. He immediately took up with another woman while waiting for his Christian bride to “come of age.” His lust and lack of restraint weighed heavily on him, however, and as he grew in his faith he determined to take a pledge of monastic celibacy instead of marrying the young girl to whom he was betrothed.

Eventually, Aurelius Augustine became Augustine, Bishop of Hippo. He was canonized in 1303. The Confessions, available in many translations and adaptations, continue to inspire true believers everywhere to come humbly and often before the throne of God.

Saint Augustine, translated by Maria Boulding O.S.B., (2006) The Confessions (7th ed.). New York: New City Press, pp. 156-157.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Fun, Fluff ,and Friendship

This post is mostly for fun...a little fluff, if you please. Its purpose is to promote friendship among fellow bloggers, and I am all for that, since I am just getting acquainted with many of you.

Before I get to that, however, I just have to share a thought with you that I came across in my devotional yesterday. It concerns a more important friendship: my friendship with God. This jumped off the page at me, so I think I needed to hear it. Maybe you will benefit from it, too.

“There is nothing easier than getting into a right relationship with God except when it is not God Whom you want, but only what He gives.” ~Oswald Chanbers

“Search me, O God, and know my heart. Try me and know my thoughts. And see if there be any wicked way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.” Psalm 139:23

Okay, back to the fluff! I was tagged by Patricia on her blog Caregiving and Beyond to participate in 8 Things. She wanted to get to know me better and this is a fine way to get started.

Here are the instructions for 8 Things:
Mention the person that tagged you
Complete the list of 8 things
Tag some wonderful bloggy friends
Go tell them you tagged them

8 Things I Look Forward To:

• The birth of my third grandchild this summer
• My missions trip to Uganda in June
• Every Friday night (our regular date night)
• Gardening
• The next time our whole family is together
• Ministry with my son’s youth group in Dallas this summer
• Reading the books I’ve received as gifts but haven’t had time to open
• Heaven

8 Things I Did Yesterday
• Fed and cuddled my cat
• Taught preschool
• Bought a beautiful hanging basket for my front porch (see photo at the top of the page)
• Took a nap
• Made chicken parmesan for dinner (yummy!)
• Watched the evening news
• Spent two hours, along with my husband, mentoring a couple we are working with (I’ve never been prouder of my husband...he was great!)
• Prayed, spent time with God

8 Things I Wish I Could Do:
• Sing in a group (I’ve done this in the past, but would love to do it again)
• Play guitar
• Adopt more children (my husband is the voice of reason on this one)
• Lose some weight
• Have more of a ministry among unbelievers in my community
• See my Texas kids more often (this will be especially true when that new baby arrives!)
• Be more prepared with the right words for the right moment. I always kick myself later, thinking of what I should have said.
• See God work miraculously in giving my youngest son and daughter-in-law a child

8 Shows I Watch:
I am not a TV watcher, so I guess I will list 8 of my all-time favorite books (besides my obvious favorite: The Bible!)

Hinds Feet in High Places by Hannah Hurnard
The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer
What’s So Amazing About Grace? by Phillip Yancey
The Sacred Romance by John Eldredge (I’m not as big a fan of some of his later books, but this one is really good!)
If I Perish by Esther Ahn Kim
A Chance to Die by Elisabeth Elliot
The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis
Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery

8 Bloggers Tagged
• Sarah (my DIL) from Everybody Here Loves Camp
• Pat from Pat’s Porch
• Catrina from A work in progress
• Beth from Laughing at the Days
• Teresa from Her Whitewashed Heart
• Kathleen from Heart to Heart
• Mary from Divinely Designed
• Julie from The Surrendered Scribe

I'm fairly new at this, so if you have already participated in "8 Things" before, or if you simply can’t spare the time, I understand. Still, I’ll be looking forward to reading your eight things, getting to know some "old" friends better, and also forging some new friendships. Have fun, and sure to let me know when you post your list.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Feeling Again

"The way you think
determines the way you feel,
and the way you feel
determines the way you act.”
~Rick Warren

When I was in high school my family attended a church with a dynamic and outspoken pastor. He was complemented well by his graceful, subdued wife, Ruth Helen. I admired both of them, but Ruth Helen seemed to carry with her an air of mystery and intrigue.

Because my family moved often, I had attended a variety of churches in my life. However, this was the first church I attended in which emotions were freely demonstrated. It was not uncommon to see men cry. Hugging, and even kissing were common greetings among church members, as well. Among my family members, emotions were often suppressed or masked, so I was quite impressed by this. I have always felt that God brought me into that church at just the right time of my life, as I was beginning to question some aspects of my family life and formulate my own values for faith and relationships.

I suppose I might have become overly caught up in the emotional aspects if it hadn’t been for Ruth Helen. I clearly remember the time she filled in for our regular Sunday school teacher and talked to our class about facts and feelings. I was all ears.

“Feelings are important,” she said. “You need to pay attention to them, but you also need to remember that they have their place. Think of it like a train.” She picked up a piece of chalk and drew three rectangles with wheels on the chalkboard. The first rectangle was a little taller, the last rectangle a little smaller, and the one in the middle was medium-sized. Finally she labeled them: the first one was fact, the one in the middle was faith, and the last one was feelings.

“Truth is always the engine. Its job is to direct your faith and your actions,” she said. “Feelings are important. But like the caboose, they should never run the train.”

I could see the wisdom in the train illustration, and I often drew on that wisdom throughout my life. A few years later, I learned that this illustration was used widely by Campus Crusade and other groups, as well. There were some differences, however. Whereas Ruth Helen had emphasized that feelings were important, others made comments such as this, “The train will run with or without the caboose. However, it would be futile to attempt to pull the train by the caboose."

Something always bothered me about that statement. Still, I found much practical wisdom in the example, and it served me well in several real-life situations. When it comes to issues involving obedience to God’s Word, this formula works. I remember a wise friend counseling me in regards to my unloving feelings for my father. “When the Bible says, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ are there any stipulations? No. We aren’t told to honor them IF they are honorable, or IF our feelings toward them are warm. In fact, in those cases, we wouldn’t even need to be told.”

I came to see the act of honoring my father and mother as an act of obedience and love toward God, who had commanded it. The more I honored them with my actions (even when I didn’t necessarily feel it), the softer my heart became toward them. I will be forever grateful for the advice that brought me to that place. The train illustration has broad applications in real-life situations.

Unfortunately, we humans have a way of taking our formulas to the extreme, leaving the living God out of the equation. I have spent most of my life among Christians who are extremely cautious about showing emotion. Strangely, emotions easily surface in response to things like political issues and athletic competitions, but in the context of biblical truth and worship, they lie in check.

I bought into this approach for many years, until God literally sent me to my knees in repentance one day. In a moment of godly revelation, I became aware that, in living this formula out to the extreme, my heart had grown cold. I still read God’s Word and KNEW the truth, but I had suppressed my emotions to the point that I had lost my first love. As a result, nothing stirred my heart any more, including God, Himself.

Since that day, God has been at work, putting the fractured pieces of my heart back together, and I have stopped looking to other Christians as examples of how I should or should not display my emotions. Instead, my emotional responses are directed to the Lover of my soul. I came to see my self-consciousnesses, my holding back of what is rightfully His, as sinful pride.

I was reminded of David, the man after God’s own heart, who danced before the Lord with all his might, wearing only a linen ephod. When Michal chastised him out of her own embarrassment, he replied, “I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes...” (II Samuel 6:22 NIV)

As I began to allow God to stir my heart again, I felt a sense of regret for what I had missed. In response, I wrote the following poem.

Feeling Again

I know how it feels not to feel a thing.
I’m hollow inside and it’s hard to sing.
Nothing moves or evokes a tear.
Laughter is shallow and fails to cheer.
Events don’t delight, impress, or excite.
Night turns to day and day to night.
Predictable, routine, and so mundane...
Thoughts, words and feelings seem inane.

I know how it feels to feel again;
Feelings flow freely from heart to pen.
Sorrow, exuberance-- both are embraced,
Filling the space that not-feeling erased.
Appreciation of detail abounds:
Intricate textures and complex sounds.
Melodies dance inside my soul
And blend with the senses to make me whole.

I wish I could tell you where to start
To renew the passions that once thrilled your heart.
It seems trite to tell you not to despair,
To set your affections on the God who cares.
Yet He is the Author of hope for the heart,
Wonderful Counselor, “How Great Thou Art!”
Delight in Him; desire the Lord,
And a life of passion will be restored.

~Sharlyn Guthrie

Over the years since I began "feeling again" my awakened senses have stirred me to action, making me more effective as a Christian. With my zeal renewed, I am more aware of the needs of others, and more responsive to the Holy Spirit in trying to meet those needs. Therefore, I can see the wisdom in Rick Warren’s statement. Indeed, the way I think often does determine the way I feel, and the way I feel, determines the way I act. The statement is useful in understanding why I sometimes behave the way I do.

Still, I am reluctant to reduce this abundant life that I live according to the wisdom of God’s Word and the power of the Holy Spirit, to any man-made formula. I have been there and done that.

For links to more discussion on this same quote, please visit Debbie's blog, Heart Choices. She is today's hostess of In Other Words.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

I Am Still Confident of This

I Am Still Confident of This
By Sharlyn Guthrie

Her long strides barely matched his short-legged sprint. Tugging excitedly on her arm and her heart, he pulled her through the long, noisy hall. “Welcome to Kindergarten,” proclaimed the apple poster on his classroom door.

“Bye, Mom!’ Her eyes glistened as she listened for any hint of trepidation. There was none. Blowing her a kiss, he scuttled through the melee, depositing his backpack in the cubbyhole with his name printed above. Through the glass she observed him glancing around the room, and then brightening at the sight of the block corner. With easy confidence he rushed to join several other novice builders.

“Father, watch over him today and throughout his years of education. May he always be as eager to learn as he is this morning.” The lump in her throat eased as she prayed, stepping out into the sunshine of her first day without him at her heels.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“Hidden Valley Bible Camp,” read the sign swinging in the breeze, marking a path that descended into underbrush. They had driven three hours to find this place and now her stomach lurched, more from her own anxious thoughts than from careening down the steep hillside.

A smile remained fixed across his freckled face as wide eyes scanned the primitive surroundings. “I can’t believe that you and Dad are letting me spend two weeks here! This is the best!”

Assigned to the same cabin as two others in the registration line, he ran ahead with his new-found friends while she drove to the cabin, then watched him hoist his sleeping bag overhead, claiming the top bunk.

No need to embarrass him with unsolicited displays of affection. She waved and smiled with more sincerity than she felt and ascended the lane, praying as she drove. “Father God, thank you for blessing our son with strength and confidence. Use this time and the people here to create in him a hunger and thirst for you. I entrust him completely to Your care. Amen.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

He was easy to locate in the procession of graduates identically adorned in shiny robes and tasseled hats. He stood a little taller, a little straighter, every measured step exuding quiet confidence.

Her moist eyes were trained on the boy she had raised who, today, looked more like a man. Clutching her husband’s muscular arm, she listened attentively as a uniformed Marine outlined their son’s accomplishments and welcomed him into the armed services. No summer camp this year. He would report for basic training in two weeks.

“It’s what I have to do, Mom,” he had argued. There was no refuting him.

So this is what letting go feels like, Lord. It is more painful than I could have imagined. But he is Yours, Lord. Only You know where this commencement will eventually lead. We offer him, Your precious gift to us, to use for Your honor and glory.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Suppressing waves of nausea, she clung to the pew in front of her, seeking stability where there was none. Red, swollen eyes were outward indicators of her inward turmoil. Anger, hurt, confusion, incredulity…attempting to label the jumble of emotions was futile. She strained to envision his familiar freckled face with squared jaw and shaved head, smiling his usual confident smile as he waved goodbye. She recalled his tenacity as he hugged her, planting a kiss on her forehead. Why, then all this talk of her son in past tense? Surely he would march in, joining the ranks of his somber-looking comrades very soon.

Grief and reality joined cruel hands, gripping her as the account was read of his final moments –his warning shout, the ambush, an explosion, the last words from his lips, “Help me, Jesus!”

Finally the voice of her son spoke directly to her in the words of David being read from Psalm 27. “I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.”*

And she whispered, “Help me, Jesus!”

*Psalm 27:13-14 (NIV)

I wrote this story in July, 2007 for a Faithwriter’s entry on the topic “Confident.” It placed 9th in the Masters level for that week.
For links to more great fiction, visit Yvonne at My Back Door.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Faith: A Precious Gift

“Give yourself permission not to know
and be satisfied knowing the One who does.”
~ by Joyce Meyer, I Dare You

Apostle, prophet, teacher, administrator, tongues, healing, helps, faith, prayer, knowledge...Do you know what the things on this list have in common? They are all spiritual gifts. As Christians, we are each given some of these gifts at the time of our salvation, and it is our responsibility to discover, exercise, and put to use the gifts God gave us.

It was only after marrying my husband that I became aware of one of my most treasured spiritual gifts –the gift of faith. My wonderful husband, John, is an engineer. Everything in his world has to make sense in order to work. He truly loves the Lord, but he struggles with faith. John’s tendency is to take everything apart piece by piece, examine it, and then fit it back together. I constantly find myself telling him, “Neither life nor Scripture are like that. In both we come upon things we simply cannot explain. That’s where faith comes in.” I often feel bad for him, wishing I could ease the conflict he so often feels, but I can’t. He has his own spiritual gifts, of course, and I often wish I could see things more logically, and understand how things actually work. Still, as time goes on, I become more and more thankful for my gift of faith.

Seven years ago my faith was put to its greatest test. All three of our sons were married to lovely Christian girls, two of them sisters. I had longed for the day when I would no longer be the only female in the family, and we welcomed our daughters in law with open arms. All were in constant contact with us, and very involved in their churches. So we couldn’t have been any more shocked when our oldest son, Travis, called one day to say that his wife had left him, saying she didn’t want to be married any more. He was absolutely stunned and devastated. Of course this rocked our entire family, in part because her only sister was still married to another son. If that wasn’t enough of a blow, we learned within the day that another son, Tristan, and his wife had lost the baby that was to have been our first grandchild.

I was soon on a plane to Texas, since both sons needing comfort lived there. I prayed and prayed, but couldn’t stop crying. God comforted me by bringing to mind verses of Scripture I had memorized over the years, and the words of hymns that came easily to mind.

I remember telling my son, Tristan, who was in seminary at the time, (he was also the one grieving over the loss of his first child), “I know how God wants Travis’ story to end. If this marriage can be saved, it will bring more glory to Him. So He will surely answer our prayers, and bring them back together.”

I still see in my mind’s eye Tristan’s sorrowful expression as he replied, “We live in a fallen world. God sees and cares, but He doesn’t always intervene. He allows us to make choices contrary to his will. Illnesses and death still occur. There is nothing we can do about many of those things but trust Him to help us through it.” Perhaps his words should have shaken my faith, but they strengthened it instead. I realized immediately that my faith had been misplaced. My faith needed to be in God, Himself, not in the outcome.

The next several months were so difficult, but with Travis looking to us for wisdom and comfort, I felt a responsibility to deal quickly and completely with my own grief and to seek God’s face like I had never done in the past. It was a bittersweet time as I grew in my faith by leaps and bounds, but I came to realize that the marriage would not be saved. Neither would Tristan and his wife be able to conceive again for a couple more years. I began to understand how hard it is as a parent to see your children suffer through trials that I would have gladly suffered myself, if only I could have spared them the pain.

It also helped me to understand how God, our Heavenly Father must feel when He sees me hurting and struggling in this imperfect, sin-wrecked world, and how He ultimately sacrificed His only Son to spare me from a life-sentence of certain death. That is where my faith, my hope, and my comfort lie. Now, seven years later, I can see many ways that God used those awful experiences for His glory, and for good in all of our lives.

A few years ago I taught a Ladies’ Sunday school class on the attributes of God, using the book, The Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer. If you have never taken an in-depth look at who God is, what He cannot help but be, because He is God, I encourage you to do it without delay. The truth of God’s character, combined with His faithfulness that I have experienced in the midst of trials gives me something solid to cling to when I am faced with questions I cannot answer. I may not know how a certain passage of Scripture fits into God’s plan for me or the world He created, but that uncertainty can’t shake my faith in the great I Am. He has always been, and will always be who He has claimed to be. It is almost beyond comprehension that I have the opportunity to draw near to this amazing God, and that in so doing, He will draw near to me. (James 4:8)
Here are some song lyrics that illustrate beautifully Joyce Meyer’s quote and the things I have shared:

After the Last Tear Falls (by Andrew Peterson)
After the last tear falls
After the last secret's told
After the last bullet tears through flesh and bone
After the last child starves
And the last girl walks the boulevard
After the last year that's just too hard

There is love
Love, love, love
There is love
Love, love, love
There is love

After the last disgrace
After the last lie to save some face
After the last brutal jab from a poison tongue
After the last dirty politician
After the last meal down at the mission
After the last lonely night in prison

There is love
Love, love, love
There is love
Love, love, love
There is love

And in the end, the end is
Oceans and oceans
Of love and love again
We'll see how the tears that have fallen
Were caught in the palms
Of the Giver of love and the Lover of all
And we'll look back on these tears as old tales

'Cause after the last plan fails
After the last siren wails
After the last young husband sails off to join the war
After the last "this marriage is over"
After the last young girl's innocence is stolen
After the last years of silence that won't let a heart open

There is love
Love, love, love
There is love

And in the end, the end is
Oceans and oceans
Of love and love again
We'll see how the tears that have fallen
Were caught in the palms
Of the Giver of love and the Lover of all
And we'll look back on these tears as old tales

'Cause after the last tear falls
There is love

Thank you, God, that You are the Giver of love and the Lover of all. Thank you for the gift of faith with which You have blessed me. Thank you for sustaining me with this gift, and using it to help me to grow in awe of You. For those I love, and those reading this who may find it hard to trust You completely, I pray for a greater measure of Your faith, and a very real knowledge of who You are. I know I will face many more unknowns in this life, but I also know, and fully trust, the One who will see me through them.

I am participating in the Tuesday meme, "In Other Words" hosted today by Nina at Mama's little Treasures. Please visit her blog for links to more discussion on this quote.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Witness By Design

You will be a witness for Him to all men of what you have seen and heard. Acts 22:15 (NASV)

Saul had just been dazed and amazed by Jesus’ appearance in blinding light on the road to Damascus. Later, when Ananias restored his sight and then spelled out God’s plan (Acts 22:15) for this despicable persecutor of Christians, Saul, whose name was changed to Paul, was both confused and apprehensive.
“Lord, they themselves understand that in one synagogue after another I used to imprison and beat those who believed in You. And when the blood of Your witness Stephen was being shed, I also was standing by approving, and watching out for the coats of those who were slaying him.” (Acts 22:19-20
It is easy to understand Paul’s apprehension. His life had taken a drastic turn. His future was filled with uncertainty. And yet he had seen Jesus and heard his voice. Of that he was most certain.

As a child I remember listening to the dramatic testimonies of other believers and thinking, “Nobody will ever be interested in my testimony. I accepted Jesus in the kitchen of my family home at the age of four. How exciting is that?” I certainly had never seen Jesus, or even heard His voice.

God’s changing power in my life was far less dramatic, and was revealed more slowly over time. Yet, it was no less a testimony to God’s power than Paul’s conversion, or the conversions of those other believers whose testimonies I secretly envied. (Imagine being envious that I had no claim to a former life of debauchery!)

As I have grown and matured in the Lord I have come to realize and appreciate that each one of us has our own story, written by the Author and Finisher of our faith. Because of that, we each have our own set of things about which to testify. We have seen and heard the things that God used to bring us to faith. In testifying about those things, we can encourage the weak, and perhaps cause others to see God’s saving grace, helping them to believe that He can work in their own lives. I truly believe that God goes ahead, preparing the hearts of those for whom my story will make a difference! I also realize that even without the drama, my conversion is no less miraculous than Paul's. Without Jesus, my heart was just as stained as his.

Maturity in Jesus Christ comes at different rates for each of us. I want to share with you an essay written as an assignment by a very mature eighth grader who attends the Christian school where I teach. Her Bible teacher, Robin Cline, submitted the essay to me for publication in our school paper, “The Husky Heartbeat.” As you will see, it is written on the same topic of being Jesus’ witness, but from a verse that appears later in the book of Acts.

Here’s a little background. Shanay Gonder was born and raised in Australia. A few years ago, however, her father accepted a position in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, with Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Their family sold their home in Australia and nearly all of their belongings, arriving in the United States with just the bare necessities. Once here, they had to raise support for the new ministry position. They were able to rent a house, but sought help from our Christian community to provide them with the furnishings they needed. I recall at the time being impressed by their humble and gracious attitudes. I am even more impressed with what the Lord has taught Shanay in her young life.

What does it mean for you to be Jesus’ witnesses
in Judea, Jerusalem, Samaria, and to
the ends of the earth? (as in Acts 1:8)

At the moment this phrase was commanded, there was probably apprehension, and today when this is spoken there is still apprehension –apprehension to give up what we have known for a lifetime and leave it. Whether this moves us to a state 600 miles away or to another country 2,000 miles away, this apprehension comes with a great sense of pride, the thought that we as Christians have been chosen and commanded to live out God’s work to the ends of the earth. When we grasp the true meaning of what this means for us: total elimination of self, and all exploitation of all worldly things that once formed our identity, we discover what this phrase truly foretells.

For me, the only way to fully do God’s work is to fully let go of any distractions that might be misleading my focus. When we, as Christians, are commanded to do something by the one who created hairs on our heads and has pre-ordained the futures of billions of people, I feel that we should listen.

My apprehension dissolves when I put things into perspective. This one command given out of Acts literally commands my actions, my thoughts, and my aspirations completely.

If our main purpose is to glorify God, then why are we scared to live out a life God has designed for us? When you really think about it, if we are living a life aside from that, then that should be our source of apprehension.

--Shanay Gonder, 8th grader

Shanay’s final sentence says it all. We all know what Paul’s decision was when it came to being a witness for Jesus Christ, and we know that it cost him dearly. But he lived the life God called him to, and took great joy and godly pride in the testimony of the cross. As Shanay has suggested, shouldn’t my source of apprehension be in making the opposite choice and living a life outside of the one God designed for me?

NOTE: I posted this essay with Shanay’s permission. Please feel free to leave comments directed to her. I will make sure that she sees them.

This is my contribution to Monday Manna, which is hosted bi-weekly by Joanne at An Open Book. Please visit her blog for links to other articles on this topic

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Counting My Blessings

Count your blessings. Name them one by one. Count your many blessings, see what God has done. –Edwin O. Excell

These lyrics invaded my thoughts this morning, even though I haven’t heard or sung that old gospel song for many years. It must be time for me to enumerate my blessings, and yet I hardly know where to start! Here goes, anyway...

1. I am blessed to serve a risen Savior, who is the giver of every blessing!

2. I am blessed to be an American. As I have been preparing for a missions trip to Uganda this summer I am reminded many times over how much I take for granted living the life of safety, comfort, and privilege that I enjoy in the United States.

3. I am blessed with good health. I have plenty of strength and energy to work, to participate in many ministries, to meet the needs of my husband and our expanding family, and to care for our home.

4. I am blessed with sweet relationships husband, my sons, my daughters-in-law, my grandchildren, my students and their families, my co-workers, and many precious family members and friends.

5. I am blessed to have three sons all walking with and serving the Lord, along with their wives.

6. I am blessed to have two beautiful grandchildren that I get to see often and spoil a little, along with another grandchild expected in July. Although that grandchild will live farther away, I am blessed in knowing that I will most likely be able to see him or her (I’m dying to know which it is!) several times a year.

7. I am blessed to live where I am surrounded by beauty and the change of seasons...reminders of God’s power and exquisite detail in creation. Our pond attracts beautiful birds, and I have plenty of space to grow brilliant flowers and delicious vegetables. I love being a co-creator with God!

8. I am blessed with creativity. What a blessing it is to prepare an attractive and mouth-watering dish, to arrange flowers from the garden, to decorate my home, to design a bulletin board for my classroom, to share God’s love through the power of the pen, (“Power of the pen” is so much more poetic. Don’t you think?)

9. I am blessed with some musical least enough ability to appreciate good music and to entertain myself. Yes, I share my music sometimes, too, but I mostly offer it up as worship.

10. I am blessed by each of you who read this blog and share your thoughts with me. Truly, I am! Each and every moment of our days are so valuable, that I am honored that you deem reading my blog worthy of your time.

If you think that my list of blessings sounds boastful, please refer again to number one.

Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.
James 1:17 (NASV)

If you think that I must be a saint, or that I have done something to justify receiving these blessings, think again. It is simply God revealing His grace.

But You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth. Psalm 86:15 (NASV)

If you wonder whether I have ever experienced loss or a broken heart, I assure you I have. In fact, it is only through the murky lens of suffering that I can clearly see God’s purposes and experience His blessings.

Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. I Peter 3:14

After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you. I Peter 5:10

Today I have been blessed by this very act of counting and considering my blessings. I assure you it is a satisfying and worthwhile endeavor. So go ahead...count your blessings, too, and let me know where to find them if you do, so that I can, in turn, be blessed through you. (Did I mention that I'm a poet? Sometimes I just can't help myself!)

In case you can't see the details of the photo at the top of this post, it is my three-year-old grandson, Noah, enjoying his favorite activity...writing numbers on the driveway! Behind him is a long string of numbers, and next to him a "69." We count everything when we are together, and I certainly count him as one of my most precious blessings.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Can God Use Me If I Fail?

“God’s promises are never affected by our failures. He can use us at any age.”
~Michael Youssef from Leading the Way.

How thankful I am that God’s promises are not affected in any way by human beings! Even those among us with the best intentions have failed at some time or another to carry out our responsibilities or to keep our promises. God’s promises have no power whatsoever apart from the truth of who He is. It is solely because I can count on God that I can count on His promises. Of course the reverse is true, as well. If I have a difficult time believing God’s promises, it simply means that I haven’t yet come to know Him fully; for if I knew Him, I could never doubt Him.

“Thus says the lord, ‘Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness (covenant love), justice, and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,’ declares the Lord.” Jeremiah 9:23-24 (NASV)

I, on the other hand, am human, and therefore flawed. I may carry with me a certain amount of credibility, based on my reputation, but even if my character were absolutely pure (which, I assure you, it is not), there are many things in this world that are beyond my control. My body may break down, the bank may fold, my support system may fall apart... any one of these things could cause me to fail. Nothing, however, is beyond God’s control, which is exactly why He is unaffected by our failures.

“To be used of God, to sing, to speak, to pray
To be used of God, to show someone the way
I long so much to feel the touch of His consuming fire
To be used of God is my desire.” ~Audrey Mieir

I remember singing this chorus as I was growing up in the church. The lyrics are inspiring, to be sure, but so easy to misunderstand or misapply. For years I sang these words with the inaccurate understanding that being used by God would confirm my worth. I truly believed that if God used me in some significant way, I would then be assured that I had arrived at my spiritual destination. While others may believe the same thing, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

My confusion over this belief began as I started realizing that God uses flawed people...sometimes deeply flawed people, for His purposes. This revelation rocked and challenged my faith.

As I have shared previously, my father molested me and my three sisters as we were growing up in our Christian home (see “Thanksgiving for Dreadful Deeds”). In many other ways, however, my father was an example of a good Christian. He knew the Bible well, taught Sunday school classes, and even preached at times. He raised vegetables and generously shared his crops with others. He wrote inspirational poetry. Many have told me how blessed they were by my father, and how much he taught them about Jesus.

For quite some time it upset me terribly knowing that my father had a positive impact on others for Jesus Christ. I also wondered if perhaps it was wrong for me to be honest about what had happened in our home, thinking that it might discourage those he had impacted from walking with Christ. However, as I have grown in my knowledge of God, I have come to know Him as a God of both truth and grace. Nothing is hidden from His eyes, and we are to live our lives transparently, as well. Neither is anyone exempt from his pure, undiluted grace. The more undeserving we are, the more perfect His grace appears. The fact that God used my flawed father in the lives of others simply confirms God’s greatness in using any of us despite our weaknesses.

In the lives of biblical saints who were used by God, we find many failures and character flaws as well. Moses, Jonah, and David all struggled against their human tendencies, and even caved to temptation at times. Peter was as unreliable as they come. Still, God used all of them mightily. If I am still tempted to elevate these servants in importance simply because God chose to use them, I only need to consider Balaam’s donkey, which possessed no sparkling spiritual tendencies, but was used, nevertheless.

Being used by God is a powerful and awe-inspiring experience, to be sure. But in light of God’s character, I am immediately humbled upon realizing that He has chosen to use me for a particular task. I am overwhelmed by His grace, and I am also charged with responsibility. It sends me to my knees, asking God to make me aware of my frailty so that I will lean more fully on Him. Instead of being proud, as I once imagined I would be, I tremble, praising Him for His grace.

Yes, God chooses to do most of His work on this earth through people (not to mention the occasional donkey). He can and does use people of any age, and even those of us who have failed, but that is due entirely to His character, not mine.

I am participating in the Tuesday meme, In Other Words, hosted today by Karen at In Love W.I.T.H. Jesus. Please visit her blog for links to more discussion on the above quote.

Friday, April 10, 2009

A Tale of Two Craftsmen

A Tale of Two Craftsmen
by Sharlyn Guthrie

He trudges through the underbrush, keen eyes scanning the forest. Passing up trees as gnarled and bent as his worn fingers, the forager searches for those standing tall and relatively straight.

He works alone by choice –his choice mostly, though he knows how he is perceived by his countrymen and neighbors. He is nearly as offensive as the product of his hands. His is a lonely profession.

Can the crafting of crosses be called a profession? Unlearned, unmarried, unskilled in all but the basest of tasks, the man barely ekes out a living.

Call it a passion instead. The irony of such a thought! His eyes are hollow, his face void of emotion. But something drives a man to deliver to the despised the means of a brutal death.

He stops, sizing up the tree before him, envisioning a bleeding, twisted human form upon it. Is it tall enough to make a spectacle of the imposter who believes he’s a king? “ King of the Jews, indeed!” Emphatically, he spits on the ground.

Backing up to the trunk, he contemplates the circumference –not too wide, nor too narrow. The supposed son of God must be capable of carrying his cross at least part way through the city. Once impaled upon it, he should be afforded plenty of exposure and little upon which to rest.

Is the wood pliable enough to accept seven-inch nails, yet sturdy enough to support the weight of the thirty-three year old Nazarene? The crafter pounds a nail into the tree and flexes, hoisting his own weight upon it. “…claims to be seeing to his father’s business. His father was only a carpenter, no better or worse than mine.”

Rough, ragged bark, unsightly and coarse –this will add insult to injury for the would-be Messiah and his gullible followers.

The hunt is over. The tree is well-suited to settle once and for all the question of kingship. Thieves and pirates know they are despicable characters. This Jesus fellow will know, too. “It’s what he deserves for thinking he’s something, when he’s not!”

A ringing of metal on wood resounds as the axe cuts deep into the tree’s base. Finally it is felled and its branches trimmed away. A crossbeam is cut and fastened into place high on the longer beam. It is a fine, albeit formidable specimen of the cross builder’s craft.

Men look away as the ragged craftsman enters the city, dragging his offensive specimen behind him. Women and children move briskly to the other side of the street, while their impassioned cries from earlier in the day still ring in the craftsman’s ears. “Give us Barabbas!”

He straightens, heaving the cross-beam higher onto his shoulders.

The Praetorium is chaotic. Mockers shout insults as tormentors tear at Jesus’ flesh. Emboldened, the cross bearer lugs his handiwork toward the object of ridicule and drops it at His feet.

Those eyes! They pierce through the man for what seems like eternity, conveying tremendous sorrow and matchless love.

It is too much. Regret wells up from deep inside the craftsman’s weathered, wounded soul. Ashamed, he slinks away. But his broken heart stirs within him a need. He feels compelled to gaze once again into the eyes of the Son of God, this time seeking forgiveness.

The cross crafter loiters, milling among the scoffers.


He trudges through the streets of Jerusalem, tender eyes scanning the crowds. Passing by sinners as rigid and hardened as the burden on his back, the Savior seeks for one who is bent and broken.

I am participating in Friday Fiction, which is being hosted today by Joanne Sher at "An Open Book." Visit her blog for links to more great fiction.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Heaven Must Be In Me

I am very late joining “In Other Words” this week, which is a Tuesday meme, hosted this week at Shorty Bear’s Place blog. Visit her blog for more discussion on the quote below.

The quote for this week is this:

"Heaven must be in me, before I can be
in heaven."
~ Charles Stanford

What a profound and poetic quote! It immediately brings this verse to mind:

“For our citizenship is in Heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Philippians 3:20

The verses leading up to this one speak of walking according to a godly standard, rather than the pattern of this world. If my citizenship is in heaven, then I will not be at home in this world. Instead, my identity will be in the Lord Jesus Christ, and I will eagerly wait for Him to return to take me to my heavenly home. It will affect everything I am; everything I think; everything I do.

Like Charles Stanford I believe that I should walk every day on this earth with heaven in my heart, like a bride longing to take up residence with her bridegroom; otherwise I will be tempted to live as if I belong to this world.

Chapter eleven of Hebrews makes an even stronger case for heavenly-mindedness, relating it directly to faith. Following the long list of old testament believers who were recognized for their acts of faith, verses 13, 14, and 15 say this:

“All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them, and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own....but as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.”

What a legacy these Old Testament believers left for our consideration! It is one that I desire, as well. When I die I hope that those who knew me well on this earth will say, “She never lived as if she was comfortable here. She was always seeking a better country, a heavenly one. Surely God was her God.”

Lord, I am a stranger and an exile in this world. Help me to love you wholly; to treasure the things that have eternal value; and to live each day as a citizen of heaven so that you will never be ashamed to be called my God.

(all scriptures quoted are from the NASV Bible)

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Tried and True Oreo Cookie

"Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer." Romans 12:12

Maybe it’s because I am hungry, but the more I contemplate this verse, the more it reminds me of an Oreo cookie. Now I realize that doesn’t sound very spiritual, but stay with me. I’ll try to explain.

An Oreo cookie has two sides held in place by the filling; or perhaps it’s the other way around –a filling, held in place by its two sides. Either way you look at it, it’s a time-tested recipe. It works!

The creamy center filling of Romans 12:12 is “patience in affliction.” Afflictions are common to all of us. When a trial or affliction comes my way, there is often little I can do but endure it. Of course I could choose to complain about my situation, lashing out at God and everyone around me, but that would only expose my character, rather than shape it. If instead I endure my afflictions patiently, I will be enriched and grow; I will stick with it and persevere; and God will be glorified. Patience is the sticky, sweet ingredient in afflictions, just as corn syrup is the sticky, sweet ingredient in the filling of the Oreo.

My filling clings on one side to the “faithfulness in prayer” cookie. It is often because I am “stuck” there in the center of my affliction that I find myself repeatedly calling upon God for strength, endurance, and deliverance. Nothing increases the urgency and faithfulness of my prayer life like an affliction or trial. It works the other way, too. Remaining faithful in prayer increases my ability to remain patient in afflictions.

On the opposite side, my filling clings to the cookie of “joyfulness in hope.” Regardless of what the affliction is, it stirs in me a hope for Heaven, where there will be no more afflictions, no pain, no sorrows or trials. This hope produces joy, because no matter what, I know the ultimate end of the story.

I am always thankful for the cookies on each side of the filling when I eat an Oreo cookie. Besides being delicious, they give me something solid to hold onto. What could be more solid in the Christian life than hope and prayer? Without those two essential elements, it would be nearly impossible to patiently endure the trials that are sandwiched in between. Attempting to eat the filling by itself could get quite messy. In the same way, my life would be messy if I had to deal with trials without the benefit of prayer and hope.

There you have it: short, sweet, and stuck together in a neat little package just like a delicious Oreo cookie. Think of the Oreo and remember God's tried and true recipe for success the next time you find yourself facing an affliction or trial: "Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer."

Now, if you will excuse me, it’s time for a snack. I think I’ll start by pouring myself a nice tall glass of milk.

Today I am participating in "Monday Manna," hosted by Joanne Sher at An Open Book. Visit her blog for links to more discussion on Romans 12:12.

Friday, April 3, 2009

May I Have This Dance?

I am once again participating in Fiction Friday, although technically, my story isn’t fiction. I chose to share this story about my mother-in-law, Lillian Guthrie, who went to be with Jesus two years ago this week. I have been thinking of her this week, and thought this would be a way to honor her. Pease visit Patty Wysong’s blog, Patty’s Patterings, for more great fiction.

May I Have This Dance?

We regarded each other from opposite sides of the table: I through blue-tinted contacts, and she through the upper portion of her bifocals. “I’m taking my two favorite women to dinner,” her son had informed us on that first Valentines Day. It wasn’t exactly the dream date I had anticipated, but there we were, nevertheless.

Although she had left her fifth grade classroom hours before, a commanding presence accompanied his mother to dinner. She was, and would always be a teacher. That was my first lesson.

Soon after our triangular date, Lillian approached her son. “Isn’t it about time you asked that girl to marry you?” And so he did; partly, I’m sure, because it would have been harder to tell her no.

Despite her clarity on most matters, our early relationship resembled the shuffle. Both a little uncertain of our place and position, we mainly tried to avoid stepping on each others’ toes. Like the opposite sides of the table we initially occupied, we often took opposite sides of an issue. She liked large, bold prints, while I enjoyed floral pastels. She preferred the curtains drawn. I preferred no curtains at all. My idea of a perfect Saturday was sleeping until eight o’clock and drinking coffee until ten; hers was rising at dawn’s first light and immediately tackling a huge task.

As time went on, we settled into an easy two-step; each taking our turn to advance and retreat. I came to appreciate Lillian’s sense of humor, if not her fashion sense; her industry, if not her incessant instruction. She tolerated my laid-back approach to parenting and daily living, which was so unlike her own. I began seeking little ways to please her, such as placing fresh flowers on her nightstand when she came to visit. She often pleased me by making my favorite dish, her potato salad, when we visited her home. At our house she allowed us to sleep. At her house, we all arose early to the aroma of waffles and syrup.

Our two-step evolved into the swing as we warmed up to one another and began discovering things in common. Like her, I became a classroom teacher. We both enjoyed writing poetry, playing piano, and growing flowers. She delighted in her grandchildren and, of course, I was pretty fond of them myself. We also shared a strong faith in Jesus Christ, and she taught me much about expressing and respecting our differences in regards to faith. Once, I discovered her pink Romantic England dishes, and threw a spontaneous tea party in her honor. She saved coleus slips in the fall and presented them to me at planting time the following spring.

I don’t wish to be misleading. Lillian and I faltered and even stumbled at times during our thirty-two year dance. She was quite generous with her opinions. I stubbornly clung to my own. Although I looked forward to her visits, I was usually relieved when she left. When circumstances brought her to our home to stay, we sadly discovered, but all agreed, that a joint living arrangement wasn’t going to work well for any of us. She moved into a residential care center, leaving behind her Romantic England dishes because she knew I would use and treasure them.

A year ago I sat by Lillian’s hospital bed holding her feeble, ninety-one year old hand. “I worry sometimes that I haven’t done enough,” she whispered. “I’ve tried to love God and do good things, but I just don’t know if it’s enough.”

“You could never do enough,” I replied. “That’s why Jesus did it all, so you wouldn’t have to. All He wants is your love, and your love for Him has always been evident to me.”

She relaxed then and gave my hand a weak squeeze. “You’ve been the best daughter-in-law I could have hoped for.” I kissed her on the cheek, sensing correctly that our final waltz was over.

Not long afterward, my husband and I spent a week with our son and his girlfriend. She and I had some lovely conversation as we sat side by side on the beach. As our week came to a close I pulled my son aside and asked, “When are you going to ask that girl to marry you?”

And so, one month later, he did.