Friday, April 29, 2016

Certain of Jesus

Hey gals,

I've been thinking a lot this week about Identity, and wanted to share something that the Lord etched into my mind and heart as I was processing questions related to "What Will I Be?"  "Who Have I Become?"  "How Will I Become X?"  

These thoughts have stemmed from conversations with some of you about the boundary lines of life, trying to figure out our unique, individual identities in the midst of families, or preparing for marriage/engagement, etc., or simply trying to discern next steps in our careers or professional/personal interests.  

1 John 3 says "Beloved, you are God's child NOW; and what we WILL be has not yet appeared; 
but we KNOW that when He appears, we shall be like HIM, for we shall see him as He is."

Of this, Utmost for His Highest writes, 

"Certainty is the mark of the common-sense life: gracious uncertainty is the mark of the spiritual life.  To be certain of God means that we are not uncertain in all of our ways; this is breathless expectation.  We ARE uncertain of the next step, but we are certain of GOD.  Immediately, we abandon all to God, and do our duties, and He packs our lives with surprises.  We are not uncertain of God, but uncertain of what He is going to do next.  When rightly related to God, life is full of spontaneous, joyful expectancy.  Leave the whole thing to Him -- it is uncertain how He will come, but He WILL come.  Remain steadfast to Him."

It is truly His grace, but lately I've been feeling such a tremendous sense of peace and joy in knowing that I can be so certain of who God is, His love, His wisdom, His power, His desire to bend and bless, His heart that knows each one of us so so intimately, and His kind, perfect timing.  Am I uncertain of certain circumstances in my life?  Of course.  We all are!  I don't know the outcome of the current chapter, let alone the chapter 100 pages ahead in the story of my life.  BUT, I can live in joyful, free, spontaneous expectancy because my Father is the most certain thing I can ever depend on.

Also, it is so comforting to think that as we live in the present reality of being God's child - His beloved, protected, blessed child -- we can live without fear of the future of what we will be.  What we will be hasn't yet appeared -- and the future is HIS.  But we know that the point isn't about our own Identity.  The point is that we are becoming more and more like Jesus, the author and perfecter of our lives and faith and legacy.  And one day, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He truly is, and what our lives were in light of His glory and plan and love.

Thinking about this has brought me to tears this week.  The kind of heart tears that ache in your chest, because I just can't get over the fact that God would give us such certainty and hope in Him in the midst of a dreary, uncertain world.   I am so worried sometimes about my future, my career, whether or not God will bring me a husband, what I will be TOMORROW, if my dreams and visions will become realities. But all Jesus wants is for us to give Him our hearts TODAY, and find rest in His love and provision and daily bread.  

Still, I dream, and wrestle, and desire what He isn't giving me right now, and everything can feel so scary and uncertain sometimes.  "Leave the Whole Thing to Him."  Really, Lord?  The WHOLE thing?  Can't I just peek around the corner of uncertainty and see what is going to happen?!  And at the end of the day, I know what He is calling me to do.  Lay it down, every single day. Worship Him, His certainty, His goodness, His perfect power and ability to come through at the last minute when I need Him to the most.

Lauren Daigle sings this amazing song called Once and For All.  

God, I give you what I can today,
These scattered ashes that I hid away,
I lay it all at your feet.
From the corners of my deepest shame,
The empty places where I've worn your Name,
Show me the Love, I say I believe!
Help me to lay it down, 
Oh, Lord! I lay it down

Oh let this be, where I die -- 
My Lord, with Thee, Crucified.
Be lifted high, 
As my kingdoms fall.
Once and for all, once and for all.

There is victory in my Savior's Laws,
In the crimson flowing from the Cross,
Pour over me, pour over me.

Oh let this be, where I die -- 
My Lord, with Thee, Crucified.
Be lifted high, 
As my kingdoms fall.
Once and for all, once and for all.

I love you all, and pray you have a restful, faith-filled weekend in the certainty of the Father.

You can hear the song at this link:
Once and For All

Sunday, March 27, 2016

I want to smell good, and strong!

Reprinted from a letter from my dear niece, Emily.

Friends and family!  Happy Easter.  I pray the Lord filled you with Hope today as we remember the new life we have been given in and through Christ.

You're probably wondering why the title of my e-mail is so random...and bazaar.  I suppose it's because I have been thinking about SMELLS all day long.

The smell of french toast frying in the cast iron skillet this morning as I awoke in my parent's guest room to the sound of little feet stomping downstairs.  The smell of coffee.  The smell of poopy diapers and baby powder.  The smell of sugar, and the lemon-ricotta cupcakes.  The smell of sweat as we did a killer Abs/Arms Kayla workout before church. The smell of mint as I brushed my teeth.  The smell of my Mom's luxurious Michael Kors perfume :)    The smell of pork loin roast sizzling for lunch.  The faint scent of flowers sitting on the granite countertop.  The smell of rain coming.  The smell of Nora's amazing potato-leek gratin baking.  The smell of feta and tahini in my salad.  The smell of our delicious red wine.  The aroma of the kids' dirty shoes and feet after their Easter Egg Hunt.  And the funny moment when Mom says to me on the way home from church, "Em, how many sprays of your Chanel Chance perfume did you put on!?  I mean, it smells amazing, but it's a little over-kill...!" ;) 

Smell is so powerful.  They say that smell contains the strongest 'throw-back ability' to your memory, and that it can often lead you right back to the pinpoint of a specific moment.   I believe it.  This past week, I had this weird flood of memories to my Oma's perfume (she died this week 15 years ago) while in Macy's, Tim (my ex-boyfriend's exact cologne) on a man I passed in the street (weird), the faint scent of cedar and rose lotion in my Grandmother's house while I visited her this week, spices that reminded me of Africa (cardamom, etc.), and a host of other memorable smells...

Sometimes I marvel at the uniqueness of smell among the senses -- if we hear or smell something somewhat far away, it draws and allures us towards itself (unless it is a skunk), because we are curious and HAVE to SEE what is going on.  In a lot of ways, Smell is a sense of Faith, not sight at all.  If we smell something lovely from someone's house, or a fire-pit going, we trust (from afar, without seeing) that something nice is taking place, or in progress.  It draws us in, and towards the object from which the scent and aroma is forming.  We can't SEE smells, but we can associate them with a thing, a person, an object, a food, etc.  I remember my Oma's house in Saybrooke -- she would have me over on Sunday nights for "minute steaks," little baby potatoes with tons of butter, green beans with nutmeg, and applesauce (chunky, please).  I could hear the vent outside her kitchen under the awning as I came up the back steps, and my mouth began watering as I smelled those steaks sizzling in her fry pan.

But, aromas can be over-powering at times, right?  Especially if it smells bad, it is just a complete turn-off.  Like the smell of arrogance or anger.  My brother-in-law is amazing at picking out perfumes and colognes for specific people -- and, there's nothing worse than a bad perfume that just doesn't smell good on you, right?  You have to pick the right scent - for yourself.  Or, that crazy Bath and Body Works lotion that came in like "Seabreeze" and "Juniper" and "Dazzle-berry," and we were all so proud of smelling like, well, extremely ridiculous :) Even good aromas can be over-powering.  Have you ever been inside of say, Shake Shack or some big American restaurant, and the oil being fried is so so strong, that it turns your stomach, and you lose your appetite, because even though you WANT to eat those fries, you know the oil is such a strong smell?  Or, we pass by those guys who have on SO much cologne, we think, "Geez, I know you want to leave your scent behind to attract the ladies, but I got the message already -- from 10 feet away!" :)  

Where am I going with this?  2 Corinthians 2:14 says, "But, thanks be to God, who IN Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us, spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.  For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved, and among those who are perishing.  To one, a fragrance from death to death, to the other, a fragrance from life to life.  Who is sufficient for these things?  For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God's word, but as [wo]men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God, we speak IN Christ....such is the confidence we have towards God -- not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us competent to be minsters of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit.  For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life."

I want to be this life-giving fragrance and aroma to my unbelieving friends and family and co-workers.  I want to smell of kindness, love, sincerity, hope, faith, peace, joy and freedom.  I want to smell of patience, and truth, and generosity.  I want to smell of confidence, because Fear is stinky.  I want to smell of worship, because idolatry is putrid.  I want to smell of trustworthiness, because deceit makes us sniff trouble.  I want to smell of unconditional Love, because selfishness is like trash that needed to be taken out yesterday.  I want to BE the aroma of Christ.  Did not Mary anoint Jesus at Bethany, with a pound of expensive healing ointment, and anoint it on Jesus's feet?  The whole house smelled of the perfume, John says.  The disciplines could only think of the cost and the waste of this perfume.  But, Jesus smells a beautiful fragrance of love, and sees not a drop of waste in her action at all.

What does this mean for us?  How in the world, do we like Mary, pour out our best - our most cherished perfume - on others?  I've been thinking lately about how it isn't a waste to invest in the pouring out of our best perfume and not hoarding it for ourselves.  Imagine if someone bought you the most expensive perfume from some exotic place off the island of Tahiti, and you cherished it for yourself, enjoyed it, used it with moderation, etc., but always kept it a secret from others, and NEVER shared it.  But, then you realized that all of those little samples weren't cutting it in your outreach and evangelism, in terms of being the Aroma of Christ?  They just weren't 'rubbing off' on those friends and family you want to see come to Christ in the way you expected.  Should we not then open up our exotic perfume, and pour it out with complete freedom and joy, knowing that not only does the Lord see our faith, love, and sacrifice, but that He will reward us for pouring out our best to others?

You see, the thing is, the smell of life isn't of us. The aroma we spray and wear every day is of Jesus himself.  I'm sure the disciplines wondered if the Tomb would have a horrific smell after three days when Jesus emerged from his grave.  But, Jesus smelled of life, and freedom, and everlasting joy.  And, somehow, in the triumphal procession of our daily lives, we are spreading this incredible fragrance EVERYWHERE - on the bus, on the metro, in our office, across the bus-stop, by the beach, across the dirt roads of Africa.  Not only to fellow believers, but to those who are literally perishing, and rotting away in their sin, and despair and pride.  Would we not think it silly if someone wore a scent called Walking Dead? :)  Of course!  But, the fragrance of life would always smell best/better than the one of death.  And, wearing that fragrance, we act sincere, committed to the Gospel and His Kingdom, and in the sight of God, we speak in Christ, with confidence.  Our sufficiency to be evangelists - to co-workers, our children, your husbands, your friends - is rooted in God.  And, to seal it all off, we have been given His resurrection power in the Spirit!  

Why do I say all of these things?  Because for some time now, I've sensed God's Spirit prompting me for action and emptying of self-protection.  I never in my life seasons have been surrounded by so many dear and new friends who don't yet know Jesus, that I want to see come to Christ in this lifetime, that are seeking/questioning/searching. I ache for them, I cry for them, I pray for them.  It's the dear friend I've known for 5+ years who sees the hypocrisy and the limit of the law, but doesn't yet want to embrace Grace in Christ, because he knows he'll have to leave behind so many cultural paradigms.  The girl I've just been introduced to through another friend who is asking questions about how to become a Christian and join Redeemer, that comes from a broken Jewish family.  My yoga instructor who is spiritual, but accepts all religions, but grew up in a charismatic church that turned her off to the Gospel as a young girl in the Mid-west.  My friends out West who are searching for answers in their marriage.  My co-worker whose wife is a Catholic believer, but he isn't, and he is yearning for a deeper faith and genuine relationship with God.  My other friend who is exploring Christianity with her Christian boyfriend, but whose parents will ostracize her from her own family if she converts to Christianity from being a Muslim.  

The list goes on and on.  I must admit, I feel a daily battle in my soul as I wake up and fight for what I believe on the streets of DC and in the corners of my office. Situations have arose in the past several months where my faith and belief in Christ has not only been questioned, but where I have also been disappointed in my own "dullness" to provide sound, clear, articulate answers in the very moment of questioning.  Or, where I have felt the scent of the world drawing ME towards itself, yearning for me to come find out what aromas I haven't yet smelled that I might be missing out on.  And, yet, I am yearning for this aroma of Christ to be so sweet - so attractive - so alluring - so memorable to these friends, that they keep coming back to smell more of the goodness and glory of God...not because of my own words or actions or evangelism, but because I am allowing Christ to fill the room of my heart with His fragrance, and allowing it to seep out into my countenance, actions, words, smile, kindness, listening ear, compassion, and example at large every day.

I'm sure you all have people in your own life like this too, and I want you to know that I am praying for you in all of your spheres of ministry and work - please feel free to share, and I will gladly pray!   I am so desperate, ladies.  I feel such a weakness these days to know what to say, when to say it, and how to say it to these people.  I know that everyone is hurting somewhere deep down, and perhaps it's that raw faint stench of fear and pain and loss and sorrow and insecurity that we must "triumph" over with our fragrance of life and healing and love.  If you think of it, please pray for me as well.  I am truly learning what it means to believe what I believe, but also to remember that God alone is the Redeemer, the Healer, the One who saves and opens hearts.  Please pray that I will be ready, that I will be patient, and that I will be surrendered to God's plan for these friends' lives.  Let us not grow weary of doing good, either, for at the proper time we will truly reap a HARVEST, IF we do not give up!

Blessings to you all this Easter Sunday - 

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Resources for Bible Study

A lady friend at church has loaned, given, and passed along many study resources for me. One of them is a little book called How to Study the Bible, by Robert M. West. (Thanks, MaryAnn!) Good little book, covering some important topics...readying our hearts to study, various study methods, interpreting Scripture, and pitfalls (for example, a quote from David Cooper: "If the plain sense makes good sense, seek no other sense or it will result in nonsense.") His assertion that we always need to look at context, and not pull single verses out of their context, and that we always need to look at what the original author intended to say and mean, I thought was very good. Certainly a good reminder for our own studies.

At the end of this little book (it looks like one that you would find in a grocery store rack, small book) there is a list of Internet resources for Bible study, so I thought I would explore them a little. There are lots! And many of them are so exhaustive that you could easily spend days in each one.

So I thought I would report and pass along some of these resources to you, once or two at a time, and let you know about them.

This first one, is worth exploring. It has a study tool called Lumina, that gives notes on any Bible text, notes alongside the text about the original language (Greek, Hebrew) that looks pretty sophisticated, but which you might find useful for deep study. There is a section for Women's studies, and that looks very good, (bottom of opening page) adhering to the principles of Observation (What does it Say?), Interpretation (What does it mean?) and Application (How does it apply to me?) with a ton of different authors and study topics, both Old and New Testament. Some of these studies cover weeks, so it's not just light reading. At the bottom of the opening page, there is a link called "What's New" and that will lead you to sermons and writings, some of which are audio, so good to listen to while your hands are engaged (painting for me, knitting?, crocheting? for some of you, maybe)

I can't vouch for the doctrinal purity of all the content, but what I listened to and read seem spot on to me. I think you'll find it worth using.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

A Debtor to Mercy Alone

I've talked about the daily devotionals from Truth for Life before, how I like them so much.(You can sign up for them here.)I thought today's email was rich, such food for thought. Here is part of the message..."And more than all, the privileges you might have enjoyed, if you had never sinned, are yours now that you are justified. All the blessings that you would have had if you had kept the law are yours, because Christ has kept it for you. All the love and acceptance that perfect obedience could have obtained belong to you, because Christ was perfectly obedient on your behalf and has imputed all His merits to your account, that you might be exceedingly rich through Him who for your sake became exceedingly poor. How great the debt of love and gratitude you owe to your Savior!
A debtor to mercy alone,
Of covenant mercy I sing;
Nor fear with Your righteousness on,
My person and offerings to bring:
The terrors of law and of God,
With me can have nothing to do;
My Savior's obedience and blood
Hide all my transgressions from view."
I found a version of the song on YouTube that I thought was good. You can hear the song here:
A Debtor to Mercy

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

A Comforting Thought

From my perch on the sixth floor, facing south, I get to enjoy both glorious sunrises (if I lean a little over the balcony), and beautiful sunsets. We have lovely sunshine all day through our two double sliders onto the balcony. Here is a little sunrise progression from the other morning:

 Still pretty dark, just starting to get light...

The sky had some lovely lavender shades in it, so much more stunning in real life. Our Father gives us these delights on a daily basis, always new, always a little different. How blessed are we?

I know I've given you quotes from Jan Karon before, but I just find some of the words in her novels so comforting. Here's another snippet that I just love, from Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good:

Father Tim speaks to a lady named Kim:
 " 'Let me pray for you.'

 'Please. I need help of any kind. I was raised Catholic, but somehow it never stuck. I couldn't imagine that God would be interested in me.'

' He's more than interested in you. It's a pretty radical notion, but he actually made us for himself, for his pleasure. He wants to hear from you anytime, about anything. Try to know that.'"
(bold and italic added)

Isn't that a comfort? That He made us for His own pleasure? And that He wants to hear from us anytime, about anything? Let's try to know that, and have a grand day in that comfort.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Thoughts on Romans 7

I've never had a real understanding of Paul's exposition about sin and the law in Romans.

Verse 7: Yet, if it had not been for the law, I should not have known sin. ...9 I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died; 10 the very commandment which promised life proved to be death to me.

Clear enough in the reading, we understand the words, right?
But maybe not really the meaning, not by experience anyway. I know I didn't.

But I got a personal glimpse this morning. I love Bible study, I really do, so when I was given a Bible study workbook that looked interesting, I thought it would be great to do. This particular workbook was first published in 1954, and things have changed a lot in Bible studies since then. I started to get into it, and felt this awful, but very real spirit of rebellion rearing it's ugly head. "You will, you will be expected to, you will complete, you will memorize, you will provide, you will master....." said the study guide. "Oh, I will, will I?" said my spirit. And caught myself short, realizing it was an example of exactly what I had been reading in Romans. The rebellion wasn't there, until the orders came.

Bible study writers that I've experienced lately make a point of identifying with their readers, give suggestions, give encouragement, offer urgent reasons why it's important to do this or that. This study simply assumes that you are in it for the work, and says "Here's the work! Do it!"

I thought it was an interesting revelation. 
Now I can go back to the study armed with this bit of realization, watching out for this rebellion (sin.)
I'll let you know how it goes.

Friday, January 22, 2016

The Parables

I've just finished reading a great book, called The Parables, by Gary Inrig. It's here, on Amazon.

And I wanted to share a couple of small excerpts.

" The parables calls us to know our God, to enjoy and to obey him. Over and over, I meet a God whose love is unending, whose forgiveness is unfailing, whose power is transforming, whose ear is attentive, whose reward is unmerited, and whose home is open to all who trust Him."

"Our world threatens to drown us in information; meanwhile, our souls thirst for wisdom. Our deepest need is a recognition of the grandeur of God in His grace and greatness.....May God in His grace give you a delight in His person, a passion for His glory, and a confidence in His love."

Imagine if we all had a real delight in His person, were delighted to spend time getting to know Him, delighted to spend an afternoon with Him, delighted to speak with Him, to listen to Him....may God in His grace give us this delight.