From Rejected to Accepted

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

–Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

November 19, 2018

In the midst of foolish times some could aptly call “the winter of despair” along with its darkness and confusion, I want to celebrate wisdom, belief, light and hope. Will you join me for my party?

46518717_1623868977713059_8402171433706323968_o

Snowy Colorado Morning. By Marsha McLaren, 2018

Presents from Heaven

Besides the anticipation and fun of Christmas morning, what’s better than a birthday party? Friends, cake, ice cream and presents from loved ones. I have never grown up and still love birthdays–others as well as my own.

Memories of my previous 73 birthdays linger in my mind. On my third birthday, I was really disappointed because eight of my friends brought me the same bracelet, but we had a great time anyway.  The next year, I invited them for a sleepover with plans to have a Barbie Doll Fashion show following breakfast. Instead, Mother canceled the party the day before because I came down with a painful ear infection and had to lie still with a series of warm drops in that ear for 24 hours.

But the worst party ever was in high school when I had invited a lot of friends for a dance party in our dining room. Mother and I had moved out all the furniture and I decorated with crepe paper streamers. She made my cake and prepared punch while I brought all my 45s out and laid them next to the record player. That year, my celebration included welcoming a friend who had just come home from boot camp. He and I had corresponded a lot in the months that he was gone; he led me to believe he planned to give me his class ring at the party.

Two things happened, first he disappeared for a long time and when he returned to the party, another girl who wasn’t on my invite list walked in on his arm, wearing that ring. The song, “It’s My Party and I’ll Cry If I Want To” played on the phonograph at that moment, and I felt betrayed. However, self-pity didn’t last long because suddenly two towering football players walked in through the front door and confronted my friend, Laura (a stunningly beautiful girl) and her date. They began pushing him around. Utter chaos descended when he landed hard on the floor. Curses and shouting flew everywhere. Mother came running and sent them all home. I was left alone standing in the middle of a mess with a humiliated heart.

Later, on my 30th birthday, I was hospitalized and in traction for 10 days.  Five years later on the way to dinner and a movie with my husband, President Reagan was nearly assassinated.

The birthday I am celebrating today has nothing to do with my first birth, except that I was already in existence at the time this one happened. I am remembering the 53rd anniversary of my second birth when Jesus saved me.  Every year on November 19, I remember the events leading up to and culminating in God’s conviction of my rebellious soul and its deliverance. I believe what Jesus said: “Count on it—there’s more joy in heaven over one sinner’s rescued life than over ninety-nine good people in no need of rescue.” Luke 15:7 Msg

Heaven celebrated my being found after being lost in darkness for the previous 19 years. I, too, celebrate that event, but I wonder, would it be presumptuous to say that Jesus doesn’t forget the kingdom anniversaries of His children and that in itself is another cause of celebration? I live as if He remembers, anticipating that He always sends the most meaningful and lasting heart gifts to encourage me.

Let me give you a perfect example. Last Friday, my husband and I were passing through Mesquite, NV at 6 a.m. on our way from our daughter’s home in Las Vegas to ours in Perry. We had an hour set aside to reconnect with our long-time friend, Sue––and what a reunion it was. Ephesians 5:19 says it best as we began a conversation at the table that continued all the way home and into the night through our texts. New purpose for each of us keeps us in touch everyday now, sharing our “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in our hearts to the Lord.” God brought us together. It was His gracious gift!

This morning, I heard a message centered on the truth that Scripture is God’s will, His Owner’s Manual for mankind. When He commands something, it’s for our good. Following His Word leads us into contented lives, while rejecting His ways, leads us into sorrow.

Then I read a few blogs to which I have subscribed, and today’s Daily Devotional from Zondervan especially called my name. The writer focused on Psalm 18, the psalm of David “often referred to as the grateful retrospect.” Retrospect is such a compelling word. It simply means “a survey or review of a past course of events or period of time.” I’m into remembering, so I read on with interest as the writer rehearsed the years that David fled and escaped from Saul’s wrath. The author says, “Now Saul was dead and David was about to be king. He sat down, looked back, and wrote a love letter to God.”

A love letter! On my birthday, what a great idea! Like David, I will write this love letter to God in gratitude, defined as the “readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.” He gave lavishly. I am privileged to return His kindness by allowing it to flow out to those whom He brings into my life. He enables me, if I am willing, to live a life worthy of His calling so I can work alongside Him for what He is doing in my family, community, state, country and the world.

The years of His faithfulness and provision, the abundant grace and direction which He has freely given me in Jesus fill the lyrics of my song––if I only could carry a tune. So instead of actually singing, I sit here at the keyboard and worship the One who has given me everything.  However we choose to express our gratitude, we can count on God’s will and purpose for us as His Kingdom citizens:

“But you are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people, God’s instruments to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you—from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted.”  I Peter 2:9-10 Msg

 

Thou hast given so much to me,

Give one thing more––a grateful heart;

. . .Not thankful when it pleaseth me,

As if Thy blessings had spare days.

But such a heart whose pulse may be Thy praise.

George Herbert (1593-1633) from his poem, “Gratefulness”

Advertisements

Piecing Together

Chewie 2018.jpg

“God can use the words of a teenager, the prayer of a senior citizen, or the candid remark of a child to convict you of the need to make changes in your life.” ––Henry T. Blackaby, Hearing God’s Voice

Lessons from Puppy School

I think you will appreciate this––I was going to say, “You won’t believe this,” but I know you will, since there are no coincidences with God. Tuesday night, my husband and I went with our son-in-law, Josh, and his son, Ian, and their new puppy, Chewie (Chewbaca) for his second session of Puppy School. It’s such fun to watch the dogs meeting, greeting and chasing each other around, but it’s also unnerving at times since Chewie is the smallest student, a mixture of Shih Tzu and Yorkshire Terrier.

A new Great Dane puppy had joined the class. She has to be twelve or more times taller than Chewie and was so excited about being part of a free-for-all playtime. The Dane’s leaping and loping around with her big feet (and a big smile I’m sure) reminded me of Pixie, a beautiful colt born to my mother’s mare, Cinderella. Pixie was equally enthused with life, but never could be gentled. I wonder if there were colt schools back back in the 50s, because she desperately needed one.

Playtime at the Puppy School was brought under control periodically by Liz, an experienced instructor for all things canine. She began with the puppy circle, instructing owners to sit on the floor and hold their puppies on their backs. After a few minues, each dog was handed around to one or two other owners in preparation for being at ease at the Vet’s office and with other people. Rewarded with calming hands, assuring voices and treats while their paws, teeth and ears were examined ended by being released to socialize and play. The Dane was curious about Chewie, but not aggressive or menacing.

During the week, Chewie had mastered sitting and lying down and he received a lot of praise and treats at home and from Liz that night when he demonstrated his accomplishments. But a new challenge was added on top of those two vital skills. The puppies had to follow their owners without a leash, up and down the room to six different orange cones. At each destination cone, they had to sit on demand, receive a treat, then immediately get up and follow their owners to the next cone. At the end of the course, Liz announced their final time.

I felt confident that Chewie was up to this since he follows Josh everyday during the morning chores, feeding and watering the chickens, birds, and goats. But in the din of this new circumstance with so many distractions, smells and noises, he lost track of  Josh’s voice and got sidetracked because of the puppies’ clamoring for his attention. He’d forgotten that his name was Chewie, I think, and that he would receive a special treat from Josh for mastering the skill. Our ultra-social-and-fearless one loves to play.

I didn’t realize that Puppy School would become my object lesson for pulling together insights garnered over the past few weeks in Bible study, reading, and meditation until this morning when I was writing to my friend about it. Only later did I remember what the poet, William Stafford said about his writing process:  “If I put down something, that thing will help the next thing come, and I’m off. If I let the process go on, things will occur to me that were not at all in my mind when I started. These things, odd or trivial as they may be, are somehow connected. And if I let them string out, surprising things will happen.” (The Way of Writing)

As I sent off my note to my friend about what happened at Puppy School and the connections I’d been making, I realized I’m in my own School of Learning, being trained first to listen to the voice of Jesus, to treasure what He says and promises, and to follow Him.

“For thus the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, has said, ‘In repentance and rest you will be saved, in quietness and trust is your strength.’”  Isaiah 30:15

He has a plan and the best way to train me to stay close to Him, to remember what He’s taught me and to heed where He’s leading me now, is to practice the Presence of God in the quiet. Cooperating with Him prepares me to follow Him consistently in the din and mayhem of everyday life.

And best of all, the treat He gives me is Himself. He is the Rewarder and the Reward for faith.

“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.”  Hebrews 11:6 NASB

“When God speaks, He does not give new revelation about Himself that contradicts what He has already revealed in Scripture. Rather, God speaks to give application of His Word to the specific circumstances in your life. When God speaks to you, He is not writing a new book of Scripture; rather, He is applying to your life what He has already said in his Word.”  –Henry T. Blackaby, Hearing God’s Voice

Seen Anew

 “For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves.”   II Corinthians 4:6-7

 My Treasure

For the last several months, our Women’s Bible study group has been studying the book of Revelation, followed by a four week-study written by our teacher, Dorothy Catlin, entitled, Christ In me, the Hope of Glory.  Looking back over the hours spent verse by verse, I have learned anew that I cannot live by sight but by the gift of faith and grace, trusting that God’s will and plan for all mankind and the believers in His Son whom He has adopted into His family will be accomplished.

Fretting over the chaotic evil of this world has detracted from the glory He has in mind for us as citizens of His Kingdom.  I have seen anew that the mission and message of Jesus is as pertinent today as it was then and that when He said that He has sent me just as the Father has sent Him, it means He has called me to believe and pass the message on:

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.”  John 3:16.

Throughout Scripture and especially in Revelation, He commands men and women everywhere to repent and believe, follow Jesus and receive the Words the Father has given Him. He desires for us to relish our eternal relationship with Him and to surrender our wills to His so that His life flows out from the sanctuary of the Holy Spirit within us to the world for which He died. 

I have seen anew that the Bible, the full counsel of God from Genesis through Revelation, is all about Jesus our Savior and His mission of love, mercy and compassion. That mission hasn’t changed since He ascended to His Father and sent out His apostles into the world. He has commissioned all of His children as ambassadors with God’s invitation to be reconciled.

“Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.  He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”  II Corinthians 5:20-21

What kind of love is this that calls, equips, and opens doors for ordinary people like us to share the Good News?   

One of the greatest insights coming from our study has been discovering how God sees me in Jesus and what He has done already to prepare me for walking with Him in this world in preparation for Heaven. His view of me is far above how I have perceived myself throughout my 72 years. Paul said, “We have this treasure in earthen vessels.” This treasure is Almighty Jesus by His Holy Spirit living in me, and through Him I am being sanctified, led, guided, comforted, encouraged and transformed day by day. God satisfies me fully at every level. His Joy is the delicious frosting on my Grace Cake, something once tasted has never left me.

Recently, I had cataract surgery on my right eye. The old lens had clouded over gradually and I wasn’t even aware of the changes until I failed my eye exam. The day after surgery, walking out into the bright morning, I was stunned that the grass and trees, roses and the sky were so brilliant and that I could perceive everything in 3-D. I had lived in a muted world with an altered depth perception and had no idea what I’d been missing. I’m gradually getting used to the new changes, still careful how I walk. This newness demonstrates how long I’ve lived in a muted spiritual world of not really knowing Jesus as He is. 

My Treasure ChestIn 1993, I bought a very small tooled leather chest during a visit in Venezuela. It’s not big enough to hold much, but the precious words in Ephesians 1:3-14 written by Paul that describe this assurance of salvation, calling, eternal life and inheritance, etc would fit on 2.5 x 4 inch cards. And I could keep them within reach, just by opening the lid to select one verse a day to remind me of the Treasure Who lives within me––a very small container filled with His glory. 

 

 

The Benefit of Collaboration

 

“Your very lives are a letter that anyone can read by just looking at you. Christ himself wrote it—not with ink, but with God’s living Spirit; not chiseled into stone, but carved into human lives—and we publish it.”  II Corinthians 3:3  Msg

Showcasing Sanctification Stories is a Joy!

Take a minute to read through Main Street Church’s latest edition of City Lights. May each passage, story and photograph be an encouragement to you. I pray that you will consider writing down what the Lord Jesus has done for you and share it with me.  Such stories make my day!

http://mscbc.org/pdf/city-lights-2018-05.pdf

Looking for the Glory to Come

 

Transitions

“Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord—for we walk by faith, not by sight—we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.”

II Corinthians 5:6-8  NASB

 

Foggy morning

A very emotional day, last Friday, April 20, 2018––saying goodbye to Uncle Lefty as his ashes were inurned at Ft. Logan National Cemetery in Denver. Family and friends drove or flew in from various places and we all came together in the Aspen Chapel to celebrate Lefty’s 95 years.

Having lived 500 miles away for nearly a half century and not returning home often enough, I have missed out on so much of what was happening with my closest ones as they grew older, raised their children, participated in their professions and maybe retired. That morning, I felt like I’d entered into an inviting but strangely unfamiliar zone in which I was the oldest cousin but oddly very short in comparison with other family members. I had trouble with names and relationships and wondered who I could ask.

Speaking of transitions! You know how irritating it was growing up and meeting an ancient aunt after a long time and hearing, “Wow, you have grown so big!” I tried not to say that, but really, where did the time go? How have we all made it this far?

My cousin, Patrick Ferry is an ordained Lutheran pastor who has actively served Christ as the president of Concordia University in Mequon, Wisconsin for several years.  On Friday, however, he stood behind the podium as the son of Lefty, cousin Pat, who would deliver a message of comfort to his family and the friends who had joined us.

He said, “It is my special privilege to lead us in worship as we derive comfort and consolation not only from the company of friends and relatives, but especially from the Word of God and the Lord’s promises to us all.”  The Word of God: Ears, are you listening? After a few minutes, he said, “I will tell you right now, this message is not going to be about the legendary Lefty.  It will be about Jesus.”

He had my attention. This was not going to be the typical funeral we have become used to in Utah where by the end of the service the deceased had become nearly deified in the many eulogies and praises about his accomplishments, moral purity and strength of character in the service of the dominant religion.  Sometimes  a sharp contrast to the truth of his life.  I always remind myself: it’s what you do in the dash –– that reveals truth:  19__ – 20__. God knows our dashes!

I believe that eternal life can never be earned no matter what our intentions or accomplishments. Salvation is all from God in His gracing us with faith and the power to accomplish what He has established for us to do. No one can boast.

Back into the present moment, each of Pat’s siblings, the kids I used to play cowboys and Indians, or war games with as a child stood up one by one to share the declarations and promises of Scripture.

Bill began with  “The LORD is my Shepherd, I shall not want” followed by the assurances of His immense provision, leading, restoration, guiding, protecting, comforting, empowering, and the eternal grace He lavishly pours all over the Shepherd’s flock.

Kim read II Corinthians 5:1-21, beginning with: “For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens,” concluding with the amazing declaration, the foundation of our faith, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

Then Bob read John 14:1-6, “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.”

Believing that Jesus, “the Way, the Truth and the Life” leads us into His presence as the Apostle John stated in the final verse of that reading, I saw the journeys of our lives once begun in simple faith would in fact lead to maturity, a continual transformation designed by God throughout our days, no matter what those days brought us.

Pat concluded by saying that although sin lurks in “every little corner of our lives,” God loves us all the same and just as He was “willing to swap places with” Lefty, to save him, He will do the same for us.  The response in me was joy and tears. So glad that at the end of the pew where I was sitting between my brother and my husband I found a full box of Kleenex!

Back to Square One

 

 

“Never doubt in the dark what God told you in the light.”  

–V. Raymond Edman

Hearing Aid

Have you ever had this experience? You’re busy with a project and remember that something you need is in the basement and you run down there only to find yourself without a clue what you’re looking for. It’s then that I begin thinking of the hereafter:  what am I here after? Apparently, I’m in good company with many others, including Mark Twain who said, “Out of all the things I have lost, I miss my mind the most.”

 Because this often happens to me, I’m learning how to recall. I pause and walk back up the stairs to where the thought to move first occurred. I visualize myself in the midst of my project and try to pick up the triggering thought-thread which will connect me with the reason I took the stairs.  Usually, seconds pass before it suddenly dawns on me. Like my stepfather used to say when I’d ask him where to find something, “It will be in the last place you look.” 

Some might call this old age. I don’t like to admit that no matter how my 70s have crept up on the rest of my body, so I propose a larger overview; it’s more the case of a mind on whole-loaf-duty or one on overload. It’s easy to put my mind in neutral, coasting along, encountering one obstacle after another, stumbling over emotions, circumstances, dashed hopes. It’s that conclusion that tackles me: you do not have the will to be deliberately aware. It’s impossible to hear the still small voice of God Who speaks to all of us: ”Be still and know that I am God.” 

Those days when I’m too busy and stillness is not even a second thought, the mornings I shoot out of bed into the world of others’ needs, the clock’s dictates, and a schedule loaded with things to do. On days like that, I rarely have much time to even pause and consider, much less listen properly. Prayer is short-changed and find my mind circling and folding back on itself constantly.   

But there is so much hope as I hear and obey God’s simple command and His promise: 

“’Call to Me and I will answer you. I’ll tell you marvelous and wondrous things that you could never figure out on your own.” ––Jeremiah 33:3  MSG

When Henry Blackaby said in Hearing God’s Voice, “The willingness to obey every word from God is critical to hearing God speak,” I believe it. Being willing to hear what God says and then listening in order to do it is God’s way for me.

A few months ago, I heard a message about the full armor of God and the “Sword of the Spirit which is the word of God” in Ephesians 6:17. The speaker said the Greek word for this “word of God” is not Logos–the whole Bible–but Rhema. Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words defines Rhema as “the individual scripture which the Spirit brings to our remembrance for use in time of need, a prerequisite being the storing in the mind with Scripture.” 

So how does one go about storing this Word, the one the Spirit uses for my good? I believe the first step is determining to have a receptive mind with the goal of knowing Jesus and loving Him more. It is responding to Jesus commands to abide in Him and let His Word abide in me (John 15:7-9). And it is deciding to take God’s words to heart, memorizing and rehearsing them often so I know how walk worthy of Him. David explained the concept clearly in Psalm 119:9-11, a passage I memorized in 1966:

“How can a young woman keep her way pure? By keeping it according to Your Word. With all my heart I have sought You; Do not let me wander from Your commandments.  Your Word I have treasured in my heart that I may not sin against You.”

I am convinced that setting aside a few moments for quiet and receptivity each day, to specifically call upon God for His wisdom and direction will lead me to deliberate awareness, and the joy of receiving His surprising answers.

Learning to Connect

  • Examining My Basket for Clues

My mind is a well-worn scrap basket, specifically designed to hold, sort, and reflect. On any given day, I have collected a variety of intriguing bits and pieces that at first don’t hang together, but a connection sometimes surfaces, like some sort of message I need to receive. An underlined, highlighted conversation I’d never know otherwise if I didn’t pursue it.

Let’s start with the Word, I tell myself. What’s in your basket so far? Life and death, and Jesus knowing: “His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.” He knew “that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father.”  He knew “that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God.” He knew the one who was betraying Him,” and He knows “the ones [He has] chosen” (John 13).

The line that jumps out at me is Jesus’ declaration: “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” I’m saving that for later.

Besides this Word, I have found remnants of the movie, Lion, which tells the story of Saroo, the lost five-year-old boy in India who narrowly escaped cruel corruption and destruction before being adopted by an Australian couple. He never lost his desire to find his mother but had no memory of his birthplace, except for key landmarks. His laborious exploration of India with Google Earth finally led him home to his mother after 25 years.  

My husband and I—we’re always searching for our long-lost childhood homes and families. Like Saroo in the movie, Suresh searches the landscapes of his childhood with Google Earth and rides trains all over India by Youtube.com. I scan photos in my albums to prompt my memory, and in those faces and places frozen way back in time, I try to make sense of my loss, still wondering where I fit into God’s will.

Tucked into my basket early this morning, a few lines from a documentary about United States Poet Laureate 2010-2011, W. S. Merwin. Somehow it connected with Saroo’s search in Lion. Merwin was passionate about  listening and waiting. He spoke of finding a peaceful place to live and improve. He loved the land. I wondered about his stern and cold pastor father and what that must have done to the beginnings of faith that didn’t rest in Jesus. Merwin talked of his search for a Buddhist teacher. Although I couldn’t fully identify, I liked his images and the power of his words about the coming day of his passing. I wondered about my own. Will it be on a Wednesday?

For the Anniversary of My Death

BY W. S. MERWIN

Every year without knowing it I have passed the day   

When the last fires will wave to me

And the silence will set out

Tireless traveler

Like the beam of a lightless star

Then I will no longer

Find myself in life as in a strange garment

Surprised at the earth . . . .

I loved the lines “Then I will no longer/Find myself in life as in a strange garment.”  Indeed, my garment has been altered and patched so many times, it is strange and a unique roadmap of my earthly journey.

So I asked the Christian poet, Luci Shaw what she had to say today and included it with my other finds.

God’s Act in Acts

A blast of wind grates its weight
across our church’s slate roof, tugs
at the stained glass windows. And just at
this moment a wild morning sun blazes
through the nave like a signal, blessing
the altar, lighting the preacher’s face.

And I remember the ancient story–
about a sacred wind that carried Your
hot breath. A wildfire, it licked
the heads of the locals, formed words,
spread in a conflagration of gospel speech,
grew until whole languages roared
beyond all borders.

Strike our dull matches. Light us today
even if our dark wicks only flicker in a corner.
Translate our lives into Your words.

I dump these items out on the table so I can see them together, so I can select the most meaningful. While underlining, it feels like I should actually be cutting and pasting to find a surprising synthesis. “Strike our dull matches. Light us today/even if our dark wicks only flicker in a corner./Translate our lives into Your words.”

That’s my prayer.

If experience holds true, taking the time to reflect in writing about what strikes me as important, a new insight will surface. And I know it will throw light on the one line that has been drawing me these last days: “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” 

Yesterday afternoon, I went out to our mail box and found a padded manila envelope containing a book by Frederick Buechner. I have no idea who sent it, but the title gives me a fresh lead to come and learn from Jesus and be sure I don’t miss a lead. The title:  The Remarkable Ordinary: How to Stop, Look, and Listen to Life.