Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Profound Love...

I am thankful for an abundance of, well, an abundance of upper respiratory bodily fluids???
That didn't sound exactly the way I meant it to...
But I am grateful for a minor inconvenience that has turned into something so over and above what I would have experienced without it. (For those who are seriously ill, please don't think that I'm saying illness is good or that I don't dread illness as much or more than the next person).
But this has been a light virus (which perhaps unfortunately has exhibited itself in an overabundance of written words... There are viruses... and there are viruses...)
I am a comfort-seeking creature... And this is never more true than when I am sick enough to justify being lazy but not too sick to enjoy all the attention and comforts of home...
I want chocolate, Jane Austen movies, chocolate, a warm blanket, chocolate, and a snuggly (ornery) little dog beside me in my favorite chair.
I want ice from Sonic and a legitimate excuse not to cook. And I want to enjoy napping without all the guilt and above all I want to read what I want to read - mostly murder mysteries, not to put too fine a point on it.
And so I have been reading for pleasure and it was with a bit of a sigh that I realized Sunday night that I would soon need to put the "fun" stuff aside and get back into my new Bible study - whose daily lessons were turning out to be a lot more time consuming than I expected. A LOT more time consuming....
I mean the first four daily lesssons were about 10 times longer than the whole chapter they were meant to delineate. I mean... honestly.. in answering those questions, I'm pretty sure that i wrote more than the apostle John did eons ago when he wrote the first chapter (all ten verses) of his first letter.
And yet...
And yet...
Yesterday morning I sat down with my plethora of multi-colored pens and highlighters, my Bible study notebook, and my Bible - comfy chair, blanket, and Gracie beside me. My plan was to knock out the last lesson from week 1 - I was behind - and then go on to do days 1 and 2 of this new week.
But that didn't happen because somewhere along the way, God arrested my attention and I found myself spellbound, really contemplating words I thought I knew. I managed to get through day 5 and that was all.
But it wasn't. Because now I couldn't wait until the evening when I could start on week 2, day 1. I looked forward to a quiet evening after everyone was in bed, a time when I could curl up next to the vaporizer in the spare room, snuggle down (this time with a different dog, Buddie... smile emoticon, and just let God be God. I felt an anticipation that somehow, as cheesy at it sounds, that eternity would once again light up my little cluttered room here in the 'hood.
And it did. Not in the way I expected. This time I found all my deep questions coming to the surface; I found myself pouring out all the "whys" that are part and parcel of the baggage that I subconsciously carry. But the question marks weren't punctuated by whines or self-pity - only a certainty that God had invited me (and all of us) to call unto Him, giving us His unbreakable word that if we do that, He will hear us and He will tell us things that are too great and mighty for us to discern on our own. And I fell asleep in that assurance - that He heard me and that He would reveal whatever I needed to know.
This morning I woke up with that same sense of expectancy - of meeting Him once again in a quiet house with a quiet heart. I opened my notebook which now has every ink color in the rainbow traced on every page that I've read and I knew He had something for me.
And He did.
His answer to my questions? Himself.
I read the other day that when Martha and Mary were grieving over the death of their brother Lazarus, Jesus didn't explain everything. Instead he offered Himself as the balm to their deep hurt by saying, "I am the life." (John 11:25)
At the time that I read that, it didn't make a lot of sense to me. This morning it did.
But that wasn't all...
If you are willing to set aside some time (you can always pray for a small virus...)
OOPs... Let me try that again!
If you are willing to set aside some time because you recognize a need to make a quiet space in your life for Jesus, because you need to hear from Him - then I highly recommend Kelly Minter's study guide "What Love Is".
I have loved/enjoyed just about every Bible study I have ever done. But there are only two that I would describe as profound.
And this is one of them.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Minor Inconveniences plus Worry... :(

I don't mean this in an arrogant way at all.
We've all been sick at our house, one at a time.  My husband was diagnosed with bronchitis this past Tuesday and that was a blessing.   The medicine is working and he's up and around again, back at work, missing only two days - and he really, really needed the rest even before he got sick.
I ended up going to the doctor Friday - nothing major at all, just a sore throat, sinus stuff, mild fever, enlarged tonsils - not even serious enough to have a name!  :)

I opted for cortisone pills instead of a shot and realized that was a mistake about 2 a.m. this morning while I was trying to keep down my sixth pill for the first day plus my second antibiotic.
And I thought about loved ones who have gone through chemo and I found I could give thanks for 8 small pills in 10 hours.
So first came my (naturally) whiny thoughts: my stomach is messed up... I'll never get to sleep... yada yada yada
And then the belated recall of how others whom I love have suffered tons more with far less "poor me" thoughts and I was humbled.
So my thoughts were back  on track - being thankful for what I had (and didn't have) and putting everything into proper perspective.
And then my thoughts took a nose dive again... If I can't handle a little cortisone and an antibiotic, how would I ever handle chemo? All the "what ifs" came crowding into the spare room like gremlins to keep me company. "You know you aren't getting any younger..." "Most people get cancer sooner or later... " Yada yada yada.

So first I had rank ingratitude and some over dramatization of my basically comfortable situation. (As long as I can sit up and read, I'm really okay).
Then back on track with thanksgiving and thinking of others.
Then nosediving into fear of the future - when God only gives us grace for today.
And the "poor me" as well as the "what ifs" are really basically sin. They are the opposite of having faith in God.
I read somewhere - John Piper, I think - that worry is a sin in that it's like having muddy rain splashed on your windshield. Suddenly you are navigating along with low visibility, barely able to see where you are going by faith.  Sin clouds our vision.

Corrie ten Boom agrees. In her stellar little book - the best one she wrote in my opinion - called Jesus is Victor (part of an anthology called Corrie ten Boom: Her Story), she said this:
"Worry is Sin"
"I had to learn that worry is sin before I could get rid of the worry. First I tried to "fear not" as an act of obedience. It was as successful as trying to kill a lion with a toy gun.Then I began to learn the secrets. First you must ask forgiveness for your sin of worry. Then you need to accept the cleansing of the blood of Jesus. Finally you need to let God fill you with the Holy Spirit. When you are filled with the Holy Spirit, the spirit of fear will flee, forced out by power and love and a sound mind."
In another place in this little gem of a book, she talks about how she had two speaking engagements in Canada. A woman volunteered her husband to drive Corrie to Ottawa, not knowing that her husband had been drinking and, as Corrie put it, it was not a little that he had enjoyed! The roads were icy and treacherous and as they began the journey the car was sliding from one side of the road to the other.
Corrie was worried as you can imagine. But they were driving at night, in the middle of nowhere, and she had no other alternative. Finally she told the Lord that she would never be able to speak at her next place if she continued to be tense and worried. She finished her prayer and then turned to the driver and told him she couldn't do the driving for him so she was going to sleep and leave it in the Lord's hands. The man agreed to her bargain smile emoticon. He drove. She slept. And when she arrived at her next meeting at 8 P.M., she was ready to speak for the Lord.
In times of great stress, that story comes back to me.
In times of minor stresses, I need it just as much.

Finally... :)

And now we get to steps three and four:
Live the life.
And share it.

That's the last two steps.
Live the life.  You know... if you are married, you live like a married person...  You don't take your ring off and flirt with other people. You don't join single chat rooms.  You don't stay gone for extended periods of time without letting your spouse know where you are...  that type of thing.

Instead, you come home at night to the same house and the same partner.  You work with them, take note of what pleases them, and love them.   More than that, you identify with them.  "My husband..." "My wife..."  "My Savior..." Oh, but wait...I'm getting ahead of myself...

Anyway, it's the same thing if you have a job:   you conduct yourself during business hours (and often during  non-business hours) in keeping with that profession.      You live your job by dressing, speaking, and working according to company rules and guidelines.

Our son is a personal trainer and one day, as I was talking to a lady he trains, she looked at me and said, "The proof is in the pudding. When I looked at your son, I thought:  he knows what he is doing."   She wanted to train with him because he obviously works out and looks the part.

Another example:  my sweet sister-in-law tried a new hairdresser (a healthy young woman) who is bald.  She said that the woman's baldness didn't inspire confidence in her skills somehow, explaining that it was like  an oxymoron to her.   The bottom line is that she'll be finding a new hairdresser :)

Living the life simply means living out what you profess to believe and value.  And that really comes back to the Word.  If you know what God values and you  let His thinking saturate your mind, your thoughts (which are lower than God's) will begin to change and your image (which is much lower than God's) will begin to conform to His. (Romans 12:1-2)  You'll begin to think His thoughts after Him and the Holy Spirit will begin to change your conduct as you yield to Him.

And then the fourth and final step will follow - sharing your lifestyle and the rationale behind it with others.

I am an overweight, geriatric woman.  I hate exercising. Seriously.

But I'm in the gym now almost every day.

Why?  Because I live in a house with a gym rat, a personal trainer, an advocate of exercise and healthy dieting. (He hasn't convinced me about the diet yet but he does have me on vitamins...)

Our son isn't real outgoing and maybe it was hard for him to broach the subject of going to the gym with his overweight, sedentary, bookish mom.  But he did it.  Again and again.  Why?  Because he believes in it.  Because he has seen what this lifestyle is doing for him.

As Christians we have an even better reason for sharing our lifestyle and beliefs with others:  Jesus commanded it.    He told His followers to go and make disciples (Matthew 28:19).  Paul wrote in II Timothy 2:2 that we are to bring in people so they can raise their hand, get saved, and be added to the church roster...

Oh, wait.. No that's not right.

 Paul actually said to learn the Scriptures and then find someone who has the potential to lead others and teach them, invest in them, disciple them... So that they can disciple others.

For our son to disciple me in physical training, he talks to me about it and he stands with me while I'm at the gym - directing me from this machine to that, adjusting the weights (to zilch... ) to accommodate my current weakness, explaining the benefits of each form of exercise, and encouraging me - "Keep your back straight... perfect!"   "How does that feel?"   "Let's don't do everything today since you don't feel well... Let's just keep it light..."  "Tomorrow we'll..."

At times I feel like I must be an embarrassment to him but when I apologize for being so out of shape, he just says, "Mom, you are in better shape than most of the others out there driving by simply because you are in here and you are trying..."  He's extremely fit but he never makes me feel bad because I'm not - he just takes me where I am and works with me, reminding me that in the end it will be worth it.

In order to do all this with me, he  schedules time to train me - he makes it happen.   Evenings, afternoons - whenever we can work it in. (Neither of us is a morning person so that's basically out.  However, I have seen him get up daily at 4 a.m. in order to train someone at 5, fitting his schedule to theirs.  I would say that is living the life...).

And I wonder: are we making discipleship happen?

Without that fourth element, the other three are good but not complete.

Dawson Trotman used to ask people: who will be in Heaven because of you?

It's a good question to consider at the beginning of 2015.   May we all use our time wisely so that this time next year we'll have an answer that pleases us as well as our Savior.

Friday, January 23, 2015


     Following on yesterday's blog, I'd like to say a little about the second vital ingredient to spiritual growth: prayer.
     Talking to God.  Respectfully.  Yet honestly. And listening. Obediently.
      There is something that bothers me about church.  (And,yes, I love going to church,  but still...)  It  is when people wear their church faces - you know, all squeaky clean spiritually speaking - when they wear that sanctified look Sunday after Sunday after Sunday after Sunday...   If Nehemiah could look sad in the presence of the king, I think we can too.  I mean, joyful is good!  But not when it's a facade, a lie, a cover-up.  
      God is light and in Him is no darkness.  Deceit of any kind is darkness.
      But even more than that, the King of all Kings invites us to come to Him, not when we have it altogether, but when we are heavy burdened, worn out, perplexed (but not despairing...struck down but not destroyed ala II Cor. 4:7-8.  Sorry.. I couldn't help but burst into a little Scripture there...).

      This same (and only) God  listened to Elijah who, worn out from great spiritual victory, collapsed emotionally and spiritually and wailed (sort of), "This is it! I am done for! And I'm the only one left!!  And that Wicked Queen is going to killlll  meeeeee!!!!!!"  (My paraphrase.. ha!)

      According to my Bible, God didn't  turn a deaf ear or say, "Elijah!!  Get up off your duff!!!  Repent!!!  And sing, "I love the wonderful feeling that I feel when I get together with God's wonderful people..."  ten times!!!!   Boy! PUT that sanctified smile back on yore face!!!"   Instead He told Elijah to rest beside a brook and He sent ravens to feed this worn-out, gut-honest man of God.

     So prayer begins with reverence - remembering who God is and giving Him the praise He deserves. But it goes on to what is in the heart - your heart.  And ends with what (and whom)  is in/on His heart.

    And Scripture is key to all of that.
   The Word of God is powerful, able to divide soul and spirit and also able to reveal the thoughts and attitudes of our heart.  Hebrews 4:12.
    How many times have I started to pray what I ought to be praying ( a nice prayer)  when suddenly the Spirit would arrest my words in mid sentence and gently say, "Cathy, here is the real issue, the real need, etc."  And then, lo and behold, there would be my heart - laid open for me to see -  and there would be the issue I had been studiously avoiding, the real source of my anxiety, my tears, my fears, etc.
    For me, prayers of healing begin with God's word flowing through my heart and mind.

    Also, we have this promise in I John 5:14 - 15, that if we ask anything according to His will He hears us and if He hears us, then we can know that our request will be answered.
    But how can we know His will if we don't know His word?  If it isn't flowing through us?
    I thought of this scenario:  what if your child came to you and said, "I really want a pet rat.  J.B. has one and it's so cute! And smart too!  And you can train it and feed it and I would take good care of it!"  
    Some parents would be okay with that.  As it happens, this parent wouldn't be because rats aren't high on my list of things to train, nourish, and love.    I know other things about rats that would trump any argument any child of mine could dredge up...
    My point is that if this hypothetical child knew the parent's will in this situation, they could marshal their arguments to better purpose, asking for a pet that coincides with the parent's list of pets-that-are-okay-to-keep.
   Okay.  Sometimes we come to God asking for things that are covered in glitz, like Cinderella's Coachman, who was really a glorified rat....   This is the deal:  God knows if  the thing (or person) we want is really a rat in disguise.  He sees the things we cannot.
   If you can delight yourself in the Lord and  soak in His word, then  I doubt you'll be insisting on getting the livery-coated rat of your temporary heart's desire.  (Psalms 34:7)    If that makes sense.
    And then there is this: ultimately prayer is not about what is on your heart but it's about what is on His heart. And what is on His heart is revealed in His word.  And when we get that, the ultimate prayer - "Lord, please put on my heart what is on your heart; cause what brings joy to Your heart to bring joy to my heart and let what breaks Your heart break mine too!" - the ultimate prayer  is inextricably tied to... yes... to  His Word.



Thursday, January 22, 2015

Soapbox... :)

I remember those days when my feet dangled above the floor whenever I sat on a church pew. At that time, I was sure that this would be my situation for the rest of my life - everyone else would have long legs and mine would always be short.
Although this did not turn out to be the case, at every stage of my development I still feared that my friends would keep on growing while I... somehow... would not...
I wonder why we don't fear the specter of "not growing" when it comes to our Christian development?
Most of us know that there are four key elements in spiritual growth:
One is to be in the Word: to do daily devotional reading.

Devotional comes from the word "devote". Synonyms for "devote" include: dedicate, entrust, pledge, give away....
The idea is that we dedicate ourselves to Someone, to our Heavenly Father, to our Abba. That we give away our heart to our ultimate Love. But on a lengthy reading plan I can find myself devoting myself to a schedule, a task, an assignment,a check list, if you will. And not to the God of the Universe who loves me and, inexplicably, wants to fellowship with me. (I John 1:3)
And then, when I'm done with my check list, I promptly forget what I read and begin to pursue my favorite mental activity which is fretting. I could win an Olympic medal for fretting... seriously. Maybe you don't know how to fret but I do...
And, yet, fretting is a skill... sort of. And what can be used for the negative can be turned into something positive.
So here is a suggestion for devotional reading for 2015. Take the portion you are going to read tomorrow and start reading it tonight before you go to bed. (Or, if you are like me, after you go to bed but before you are ready to sleep.).
When you get to a verse or phrase that speaks to your heart,say it over and over. Or write it on a card and prop it up by your reading lamp where you can see it. Meditate on it as you fall asleep*. (Meditating on Scripture is synonymous with the phrase "good fretting"... Truly! You can keep on fretting -i.e., wearing a groove in your mind...! Only now you are creating mental pathways that are positive and productive instead of debilitating because you are sowing God's truth into your mind before and during sleep).
Then the next morning finish your devotional reading, looking for any other verses or phrases that go along with the phrase you meditated on the night before. You will be surprised at how many times God will bring the same concept to mind, reinforcing that truth on your heart.
As you meditate on that phrase or verse, consider memorizing a whole verse once a week. Or two! Write the verse(s) down. Sing them. Pray them. Whatever... (As someone has said, if you can remember your name, your address, and your birthday, you can remember one verse a week).
AS you read, memorize, and meditate, you will find yourself going automatically into the second key to spiritual growth which is praying. You will find yourself automatically praying the Scripture back to Him as you meditate on it.
But that's the second step - for another day, another blog entry. Got to go soak my head, literally... ! Love sinus stuff in winter time!!!
*I got this idea from a book called, appropriately enough, "Meditation" by Jim Downing.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Which Is Easier?

Reading this morning in Matthew 9.
A paralyzed man was brought to Jesus and Jesus spoke comfortingly to the man, telling him that his sins were forgiven.
This ticked the pharisees off b/c they knew only God could forgive sins. So they understood Jesus was saying He is God.
But that was only half the problem in their eyes. I mean, if Jesus is God, then why doesn't He heal the man, hmmmmm?
Jesus called them on their snide thoughts.
And then He healed the paralyzed man.
We all know the story, right?
But I didn't notice until today that when Jesus busts out their hidden arrogance - He asks them a question: Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise and walk'.
Obviously they thought it was easier to say, 'Your sins are forgiven' than to actually speak decayed and useless limbs into life and movement. Maybe deep inside we think the same.
And it would be easier if, when Jesus spoke those words about removing sin, nothing happened supernaturally. If the man's sins were still weighing on his conscience, if he was still carrying the normal human load of "coulda, shoulda, woulda...", if Jesus' words were just words and nothing else, the pharisees would have been right.
But for those sins to actually be shifted off this man's conscience and onto the Savior, to be totally removed as far as the east is from the west never to be brought up again - that apparently requires more power than to make neurons and spinal fluid and nerves and blood suddenly come together in harmony to orchestrate life where there was no physical movement or response before. Which means that sin is more devastating than a broken spinal cord, not too put it too bluntly.
Sin isn't: "I didn't do my best today."
Sin is: "I didn't measure up to Holy God's standard today."
Jesus' answer to that is, "I know you didn't. You can't. And so I came down from Heaven and did it for you."
All the religions in the world can pretty much be broken up into two camps:
Man's efforts to reach up to God.
God reaching down to man.
The first is called "works" - i.e., working hard to establish and maintain a relationship with God.
The second is called "grace" - i.e., trusting in what God has done for you and living a life of faith and gratitude because of it.
This week I sat with an extremely moral, loving, hardworking person - someone I highly respect - and listened to that person brokenly sob off and on for a couple of hours. Why? Because the sins of parents some three decades ago are still with my friend.
When my friend does their best and life happens and things still fall apart b/c of circumstances beyond human control - at those times my friend still sees the anger in a parent's eyes, still remembers the blows, still hears the messages: you could have done better, you should have known better, you could have worked harder, you can be perfect, people in our family always succeed, if you do your best, things will work out, God helps those who help themselves, yada yada yada...
And I realized that sin has long tentacles made out of tough fibers called lies, half-truths, and deceptions- tentacles that can stretch out over decades and do harm for a lifetime. ANd beyond.
And today I understand that,yes, sin is harder to get rid of than physical paralysis. And I thank God that He can do both.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Right Diagnosis....

I've been thinking... and that can be dangerous... 
Most know that 19 years ago my mom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in stage four and given 3 months to live. (She went on Hospice and lived 6 months).
A few months after she died, I found myself chatting with a woman who, it turned out, was rejoicing that her doctors had found her cancer - also pancreatic - five years earlier by accident. It was stage one at that time and she had just received her 5 year cancer free report.
It sounds like a simple story at this point - one lady lucked out and my mother didn't- instead she had the outcome that many pancreatic patients have b/c the cancer truly is a silent killer.
But it's not that simple.
Four years before she was diagnosed, my mom had three severe bouts with pancreatitis. Each time a young doctor at the med center, a resident or intern, checked her out and told her it was nothing to worry about.
EAch time she was relieved. And in time the doctors discovered the cause of the pancreatitis - she had scar tissue from an ulcer that was causing problems with her stomach. So the doctors tackled that problem and eventually told her she would be fine. Three years later she was back in the ER, admitted to the teaching hospital, exposed to a series of tests,and given an estimated time for how long she had left on earth. In four years she went from, "'You are fine' to 'you are terminal.'"
The young doctor who misdiagnosed mom - to his credit - looked us up in the hospital and he apologized to us as a family. I respect him to this day b/c he acknowledged (without our seeking an apology or any redress) that he had not taken her illness four years earlier as seriously as he should have and that if he had, the outcome could have been different. That took courage.
Everyone makes mistakes - it's not so hard to accept when a teacher loses a kid's paper (and has to have the kid do it over again). Or a secretary temporarily misplaces a file. Or a spouse accidentally backs into someone else's car on the parking lot. It's just so much harder to accept when a medical person does it because they deal with issues of life and death.
AT first I was very angry with that young doctor, but then God clearly spoke to my heart and I knew that this was simply HIs time to take her home. Once He impressed that on my heart -while I was waiting at the hospital for the results of her tests - I never had any anger towards him again - it vanished instantly.
And truly the issues of life and death belong to God and to Him alone. Doctors - most of them - do their best. But they aren't gods; their skills are limited.
But tonight I've also thought about this. When mom was told in 1990 that her pancreatitis was not something to worry about, we were relieved as you can imagine. We rejoiced and she went on with her daily life on the strength of that assurance and the fact that the bouts didn't last long, didn't happen often, and could be handled with a careful diet, etc.
But her emotions and her daily actions - feeling happy, not worrying, getting on with the daily routine, planning for the future - the relief she felt and the sense of security she felt were pleasant. Unfortunately they were not rooted in the truth.
I fully understand that if you fear that you have a dread disease in your body - that you want to go to the doctor and hear good news. But if you actually have a serious disease and the doctor doesn't tell you... or gives you the wrong diagnosis... later you will wish you had gotten the truth from the get go, no matter how unpleasant it might have been.
What is true for the body is also true for the soul.
There are many pleasant teachers and religious organizations that will give you some truth, half truths, or distorted truth. Deceptive teaching always sounds palatable and it usually leads us along pleasant paths where we look good, feel good, etc.
But a life lived on the foundation of spiritual half truths or no truths is the spiritual equivalent of someone who has cancer and has been told they are fine.
My brother once told me: if someone will lie for you, they will lie to you. In other words, if a person or group will lie or deceive in one area, they will do it in another. And if they can take in someone else with their mixture of truth and deceit, they can take in you as well when the time comes simply because you trust them and believe it can't happen to you.
I would encourage everyone who has never done this to set aside preconceived notions and read the New Testament a chapter at a time this year, starting with the gospels. Read the gospels all the way through prayerfully and ask God to show you what is true and what isn't. Don't take someone else's word for it; go straight to the Source.
Because in the final analysis, a life lived on half truths or no truth is really no life at all.