Singing for Joy in the Temple

Overwhelmed by a sense of joy in the Lord, I wrote this quick post and want to share its moment of exultant praise with you!

February 27, 2019:  It is a beautiful morning and I have received a wonderful and unexpected gift:  this warm, sun-filled morning with many different species of birds passing through, singing and wing-flapping and chirping on the way.  Psalm 84:1 reads…Fall-Winter Journal, 2018-19

bird on feeder roof macro

2019: The Year to Transform Our Thinking and Discourse from “Anti-” to “Pro-“

IMG_7787It’s mid-January.  The snow falling outside may not be leaving particularly deep mounds of white on the ground, but the air is swirling ferociously with the conflict of storm fronts colliding and wind streams circling around one another in perfect ambush.  Dancing, falling, whipped-around snowflakes both drift and plummet downward as unseen forces manipulate and twist their normal course.

It is a nasty day outside.

And in my estimation, it rather closely mirrors the political climate in our country, right now.

So much so, I am strongly feeling that leaning into focused prayer should be an immediate response regarding a growing intolerance towards publicly living and celebrating a faith-based life.  I am inspired anew by the admonition in I Tim 2:1, “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all godliness and dignity.”  (NASB, italics added)

I believe that the “we” in this scripture is both a personal “we” – you and I – as well as a collective “we” for those who had come to know Christ in that era.  In our present case, here in America, a collective “we” – as in, “We, the people.”IMG_7295

While flipping through emails, I read the heading, “They Will Come for the Churches Next” and immediately clicked in to a politically foreboding article authored by Matt Walsh.  It was a follow-up piece to a day-before article regarding the startling amount of publicity being given to Second Lady Karen Pence’s return to a former employer as a current part-time employee.

When I first heard that announcement, I had two reactions of surprise:  first, I didn’t realize that the position of “Second Lady” would allow Pence to take on a “normal job” simultaneously, primarily for security reasons.  Secondly, I assumed she already had a full schedule of doing those goodwill-gesture and support activities necessary to whatever-it-is Second Ladies choose to highlight.  I found her choice a little puzzling, but thought it was rather down-to-earth and remarkable of her to engage in private-citizen employment while maintaining a public-citizen role.

Then followed a variety of Pence-focused announcements released on different days by different media sources, all of which easily summarize as pretty much one single statement — “Vice President’s Wife Takes Job at Anti-Gay Private School.”

And the descriptive twisting of facts almost made the truth of the issue unrecognizable.Concealing storm

Yes, Karen Pence was returning to work in a school she had already worked for, in former years.  Yes, it was a private school, the very school from which her daughter had graduated years earlier.

However, it is not an “anti-gay school.”  It is a pro-Christian-morality school.  And because we who identify as Christ-ians are constantly being described as “anti” rather than “pro” when represented by those who are not-Christ-ians, I believe we have fallen into a self-injuring trap:  we define ourselves in the same way, as being “anti” rather than “pro.”  We are therefore re-active to their agenda and narrative, rather than pro-active to His.

And therein lies the problem.  Here’s an example:

Pro-life…that would mean anti-abortion, I can hear the conversation shift.  No, “pro-life” is pro-life…pro-unborn, pro-just born, pro-toddler-through-adult, pro-geriatric, pro-working-years and pro-retirement-years, pro-adoption into both natural families and Jesus’ spiritual family. Pro-you-moving-forward-positively in wherever you fit in any of those scenarios.  Pro you-discovering-the-purpose-and-giftings-of-your-life.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10, NASB, italics added) The Common English Bible translates Jesus’ phrase as, “I came so that they might have life—indeed so that they could live life to the fullest.”

Silhouette of pine branch2Yes, pro-life – verbally and actively supporting those principles, laws, philosophies and theologies that allow for abundant life, “life to the fullest.”

Our thinking and discourse are significantly limited, tainted, and shrouded by the restrictions of working within an “anti” mindset. It turns a reality of “us, together” into a perspective of division, you-and-me-on-opposite-sides.  Thus, we end up speaking from a defensive or holier-than-thou posture when talking to others.  Yet in a pro- stance, we are better able to stand firm as representatives of Jesus’ Kingdom, gladly extending His open invitation for all to believe in Him and step into the Light to join Him there.   We are encouraged by Jude 1:22-23, “Try to help those who argue against you.  Be merciful to those who doubt.  Save some by snatching them as from the very flames of hell itself.  And as for others, help them to find the Lord by being kind to them…” (The Living Bible)

It is now the start of February.  In the last two-plus weeks, much publicity has revolved around four Covington High School Catholic teenagers wearing MAGA hats to the Right to Life March and the various encounters that occurred.  Judicial nominee Brian Buescher was verbally grilled regarding his charitable volunteering through the KnightsDownload April 18 031 of Columbus and how his political views may be impacted by serving in a faith-based organization.  New York State has signed into law legislation that allows for “legal” abortion to be performed right up to the minute of a baby’s birth, and other states are pursuing similar laws.  On January 1 of his year, Hawaii became the eighth state/province in America to allow assisted suicide for the elderly.

None of these – nor the dozens of issues that will erupt over the next year – are no-opinion issues about which we should be prayer-less, complacent or silent in expressing a pro-life opinion, not an anti-this-or-that opinion.  Jude 1:3 encourages us, “Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith that was once for all handed down to the saints.” (NASB)

Once for all.  Our pro-humanity, pro-generational Abba contends for us, singing and speaking Truth into every circumstance.  Let us do the same regarding the issues that impact our freedoms, our witness, the soul of our country

Thoughts on Being Blessed, Post-Thanksgiving

As I’m changing out my fall-themed coffee mugs for those reflecting the Christmas and winter season ahead, I work around the single autumnal-themed coffee cup kept in the cupboard year-round.  It is not creative in shape or size, but amidst a background of rust-and-yellow-leaves and fanciful flourishes the word BLESSED scrolls across the front of the mug three times.  Once for each Person in the Trinity, I think to myself.

BLESSED.

Blessed – by the love and guidance of the Father.

Blessed – by the Life-instilling, reconciled-with-God work of the Son.

Blessed – by the indwelling Presence and daily ministry of the Holy Spirit in my life.

That coffee cup is a visual a reminder of this truth – a truth that needs constant reinforcement as I go about the inroads and outroads of my daily life.

Merriamwebster.com shares general definitions of the word, separating out the category of “religion”:  venerated, hallowed, beatific.  The rest of the descriptions include “of or enjoying happiness; bringing pleasure, contentment, or good fortune.”  Vocabulary.com   includes the context, “highly favored or fortunate (as e.g. by divine grace); if you say you’ve been blessed, you feel lucky to have something—health, love, fame, fortune, talent, etc.

Feeling lucky to have something; enjoying happiness or contentment:  while not necessarily inaccurate, these are perceptions that can be stripped from us like sheets from a bed.  Perception and feeling are as passing as are shadows with the movement of the sun…so we find the truest clue of the word’s meaning within the parenthesis, those three little words:  by divine grace.

“Blessed” is not in celebration of what we feel, things that can be unceremoniously removed, not “livin’ the life,” “rolling with the good times” or even experiencing a temporary 14-er height of ecstacy in God’s Presence.

It is a truth about us which He has created and sustained.  I believe we are to tenaciously and persistently seek, walk, live, and breathe in the amazing awareness that He has made us something we were not, and instilled upon us His favor, extended His divine grace into every fiber of our being.

God blessed Creation in Gen. 1:19-22, transforming what was “formless and void” into what was His sovereignty and creativity actively manifested and grand, spectacular and awe-inspiring; He blessed the creation of Man, male and female, in Gen. 1:27-28; and “of dust from the ground” (Gen. 2:7) completed the physical creation of Man, “made in Our Image, according to Our likeness” (Gen. 1:26).

Likewise, He takes those formless and void areas of our lives, the areas which have been reduced to dust, and blows the breath of Life into them, that they may live.

Paul greeted the saints at Ephesus by saying, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him.  In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.” (Eph 1:3-6)

Blessed, indeed…so that we, like, Paul, may proclaim “we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.” (2 Cor. 4:8-10).

There is much in this world that afflicts, perplexes, and persecutes.  Because we are blessed, the abundant life of Jesus is ours to embrace as well as release to others, to strengthen us and provide the breath of life to those around us.

We are the Elect in God’s Elect-ion

November 6:  Election Day.

I have linked to a really interesting article I chanced upon while researching Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote that the government created for America was “A Republic, madam, if you can keep it.”  The article was written in 2010 so the 2008 survey it quotes is a little dated – but from listening to the current political discourse among various groups of people over the last year, I would guess the statistics that indicate “what people don’t know” have expanded since 2008, not decreased.

As the article highlights, a majority of people no longer can define the differences between a Republic and a democracy.  I would say I’m surprised…but the truth is, I’m not.  I am finding that many of our future government leaders (aka, today’s young people) are even hard-pressed to explain the differences between democracy and socialism.  Let alone the points of difference between socialism and communism, nor why any one of them is preferable to governance than any other.  My opinion:  this is a truly dismal situation that needs desperately to be corrected.

However, this is not a political blog, so let me move on to my “spiritual” point:  the clear parallel I see between great masses of self-governing people not understanding the difference between republicanism and socialism, and great masses of people created in the image of God having no understanding of Who God is, any of His attributes/characteristics, nor the difference between the ways of this world and the ways of His Kingdom.

And that’s a problem.  No good will come to either group of people found to be in such a state.  It is a problem in both national self-governance just as it is a problem in representing the body of Christ in a local fellowship.

One of Thomas Jefferson’s well-documented quotes states, “God…has formed us moral agents…that we may promote the happiness of those with whom He has placed us in society, by acting honestly towards all, benevolently to those who fall within our way, respecting sacredly their rights, bodily and mental, and cherishing especially their freedom of conscience, as we value our own.” (1814)*

When I ponder this quote from one of our Founding Fathers, it brings me a new dimension in appreciating Paul’s teaching in I Timothy 2:1-2:  “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.” (NASB)

Too often, I believe this is a prayer spoken with fear, as if taking a preventative medicine.  We do not want to find ourselves in a perpetual whirlwind of tumult, not tranquility; of traumatic events rather than quietness; and with nonstop assaults on both the concept and embodiment of godliness and dignity.

Though Jefferson wrote these thoughts in a letter to a friend, I find it powerful and thought-provoking to present it as a prayer:  Lord, increase our influence for good as we stand as Your moral agents, promoting honesty, benevolence, and freedom of conscience among those who view life differently than we; Give us wisdom and insight to vote in, and support, those leaders throughout our country who use their morality to cherish individual rights, promote harmony and well-bring, walk in integrity and honesty, protect and defend our personal ideals and dignity, and honor You as sovereign God; for these things we give You thanks and offer You our country, to guide and protect, and through which You pour out your blessing of wisdom and uprightness to all nations, cultures, ethnicity, and peoples.

Six times in the New Testament (NASB translation), we who have come to known Jesus are referred to as “the elect.”  On Elect-ion Day, I find it both tremendously uplifting and humbling to remember that before the foundation of the world, the Father, Son and Spirit elected to create a family for fellowship, indwelling, and impact on the world.  He – all Three! – elected to adopt us.

I Peter 2:9:  “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous Light.”  (NASB)

Selah.  We have a great calling and there are masses of people who need to hear that  message.

* https://famguardian.org/Subjects/Politics/ThomasJefferson/jeff0200.htm

Peaches in October

It’s passing the middle of October.  Yet I am still attracted to the carefully-organized peaches on display at the grocery store.

My slow-walking-then-stop is accompanied by an internal conversation between common sense and my desire for yet one more delicious fruit….peaches in October?  They’re not going to be any goodstill, they don’t look too bad on the outside and I think I can smell a peach scentwhat if these were late-harvested peaches, and they really aren’t so old?

 Two peaches-in-October were carefully placed into the plastic produce bag and carted off to the brightly lit check-out stands.

The next morning, I discovered that the first peach gave me an “OK” eating experience.  Not as juicy or peachy as I would have liked; but peachy-tasting enough, a decent texture, and not too bad…for mid-October.  Then came Peach Number Two the following day:  the odd-colored flesh around the seed gave me warning #1.  The equally odd texture when I sliced it gave me warning #2.  Still, I took a bite…and I don’t know what the flavor actually was, but it definitely was not peachy, and it flew speedily into the nearby open trashcan.

Yep—in my book, peach-buying season really had officially ended.

The reality, of course, is that “peach season” had truly ended at least a couple months earlier.  I had hoped-against-hope that there were still a few “good ones” out there, although I knew the quality would be lacking, the flavor would have declined, and the texture would not be the same as an in-season, truly fresh peach.  Even armed with all these facts, however, the peach still looked so good from the outside I decided to give it a try.

And I felt like the Lord whispered, that’s how compromise gets its traction.  The enemy is a deceiver and what he offers is empty.

The seriousness of His statement gave me a jolt.  It was a weighty and unexpected thought when contrasted with my simple pondering regarding out-of-season peaches.

CompromiseSuperficial appeal.  I could picture myself standing with Eve in the Garden of Eden, contemplating that fruit as “a delight to the eye.” (Gen. 3:6)  The enemy always uses the same strategy — deception, misrepresentation.

Then Proverbs 25:26 came to my mind:  “If a godly man compromises with the wicked, it is like polluting a fountain or muddying a spring.” (Living Bible)

That description provides a vividly graphic mental image.  Although there is no moral consequence to unwisely betting on the quality of October peaches, with moral compromise does come consequence:  to our soul.  To our judgment and perceptions.  To our freedom and honesty in our walk with Him.  To our witness of Him to others.

The Message translates 2 Cor. 6:14-18 with Paul exhorting, “Don’t become partners with those who reject God.  How can you make a partnership out of right and wrong?  That’s not partnership, that’s war.  Is light best friends with dark?  Does Christ go strolling with the Devil?  Do trust and mistrust hold hands?  Who would think of setting up pagan idols in God’s holy Temple?  But that is exactly what we are, each of us a temple in whom God lives.  God himself put it this way:  ‘I’ll live in them, move into them; I’ll be their God and they’ll be my people.  So leave the corruption and compromise; leave it for good,” says God.  “Don’t link up with those who will pollute you.  I want you all for Myself.  I’ll be a Father to you; you’ll be sons and daughters to me.”

When I think of the phrase “gaining traction” I picture a car on the side of a road, slowly trying to enter the established lane.  It’s a deliberate, strategic, well-timed act that requires some element of friction between surface and tire to enable momentum forward.

In our lives, situations and people that generate friction seem to be abundant.  The momentum of the enemy to move forward into the lane of our lives is often easily achieved through simple and random interactions.

When Paul taught the Ephesians, “do not give the devil an opportunity,” (Eph. 4:27 NASB) it was preceded by several instructions, one which is phrased two different ways:  “Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another.” (Eph. 4:25)

Laying aside falsehood.

Speak truth each one of you.

Don’t pretend your October peaches were picked in June.  Granted, that’s not scripture…but the principle is the same.  Don’t deceive yourself or others about the nature of what you contemplate. Through forgiveness and truth, compassion and  humility, keep your fountain clear, your spring of His life unclogged, and your lane of life cleaned of traction-enabling debris.