The Broach

January 19, 2016

IMG_0449After my mom passed away, in August of 2015, we found something amazing among her things. It was a silly little broach. By itself, it wasn’t worth a dime — nothing more than marbles, rocks and metal. But it must have meant something to my mom. She kept it for about 55 years.

She wore that broach in one of our family pictures. I couldn’t have been more than five at the time the photo was taken. But, there it is, proudly holding her scarf in place.

My mother lived to be one hundred years old. Though her recent memory was clouded, to the very end she was a stickler for tidiness. She had us straightening her bedspread, getting rid of trash and picking things up off the floor right to the very end. When my father passed away, she had his closet empty before I could drive from Puyallup to Mt. Vernon. Nothing gathered moss at her house.

Mom2

But after almost sixty years the broach was still there.

When I was about five, I remember shopping at a jewelry store near our home. I must have been alone during the trip, because I went home to my mother and said, “Can I have five dollars?” She asked me what I intended to do with the money. “I want to buy this beautiful pin for you for mother’s day.” I told her all about how lovely the pin was and how it would be so perfect for her. She had me get five dollars out of her wallet, and I went back to buy the broach.

I was so happy to buy it for her. It gave me such pleasure that she would wear it. All the time, it was she who had bought the broach.

And after she was gone, when I found it among her things, I realized that it must have given her the same pleasure. That makes me smile.

You know, we believers often present ourselves to God as a great gift. “Here I am Lord. Use my life! Whatever you desire!” We think we’ve done something pretty spectacular, letting him have all of us.

But like my mother’s broach, we’ve only given Him what was already His in the first place. Our life. He gave it to us, and we give it back.

But I suspect that doing so pleases our Daddy God, in exactly the same way my mother was pleased. If God had a jewelry box, your life, your sacrifice would be among his most precious treasures, for all of eternity. That makes me smile!

Some Drivel

May 19, 2015

womanbeach

She disappeared,

And I noticed,

But I did not call.

Turkey and pie and family came.

And went.

I wondered;

But I did not call.

Creches and lights

Gave way to fireworks,

And resolutions.

I remembered;

But I did not call.

Ice gave way to leaves,

And leaves to flowers,

I considered;

But I did not call.

I did not text or email.

I did not Facebook, nor Instagram.

I did not call.

Because truly,

I must not love.

The Value of a Sword Fight

May 11, 2015

I had a fight recently. A war of words, really, with someone about whom I care very much. The subject of our battle doesn’t really matter. It wasn’t a central issue—at least not to me. Strangely though, I admit that it’s left me feeling almost bereft. You see, ideas matter to me. And ideas about God matter very, very much.

So this fellow and I went at it. We were supposed to be working on a project together, but in the middle of our work, this mountain rose up and we could not hike our way around it. The good news is that our battle left me thinking—not bleeding. You see our words weren’t personal. (Well to be truthful, I did let a few slip that I wish I could take back. I did apologize.). For the most part, we argued in a civil way, with civil words, using ideas, scripture, examples. We continuously affirmed our appreciation for one another, in spite of the fact that we had our Biblical Swords drawn. I would not be ashamed to have the recording played on YouTube.

As does every arguer, I believe that I am right.

And that has left me wondering how someone I respect so very, very much could be so completely off base. It’s almost as if he’s read a different New Testament than I. How could he be so good, so loving, so fruitful and so wrong all at the same time? (Do remember friends that I am NOT opinionated, right?).

As I’ve been reading in II Kings, I think I have the answer. Over and over we have examples of really, really bad Kings, like Ahab. They turned away from God in such a way that we could paint them with a broad black brush. Bad, we say, and turn the page. But then we find other kings, like Amaziah, son of Joash. The Word tells us he followed the example of his father, but “Amaziah did not destroy the local shrines and they were still used as places for offering sacrifices.” (II Kings: 14)

Let me make myself clear: my friend is NO bad king. He isn’t bad at all!

But scripture seems to show us that somehow we humans are able to absorb the world around us so much that we no longer question its truth or value. This King lived with daily idol worship happening everywhere around him until he no longer even saw it. It was normal, part of the city street scene. It’s the same way with many Christian leaders I think. They have lived with and around so many human, even sinful qualities that they eventually don’t see them anymore. What is frequent becomes normal, which becomes acceptable given enough time and exposure.

The lesson here is not one of permission. I’m not advocating for sin. And please don’t misunderstand; my friend isn’t dabbling with sin. Neither am I. However both of us have been bathed in our point of view until we no longer see it as optional. Frequently repeated has become normal, which has become acceptable, which has become right. Neither of us questions the truth we believe.

This, I think, is how well-meaning, good people are able to go so far astray. People are not black and white. People do good things—and those same people do bad things. People hold good and truthful points of view—and those same people adopt, and teach ideas which are either directly or indirectly opposed to the Truth.

Personally, in this lesson, I learned the importance of a good argument. It forces us back to scripture. If we allow it, it makes us come to our own conclusions all over again. It makes us reevaluate what we’ve been told since our “first days” in the faith. When done with love, ideas and discussions can drive us to the One who made us, asking for His opinion on the important issues.

And it can teach us the danger of allowing sin to have a place in our lives. A good argument can reveal a foothold. It can set us free.

As a result of these long discussions, I’m still thinking about what I believe, rooting out truth from culture. What about you? Has a good argument ever opened the door for you?

 

 

 

 

Without Effort

April 3, 2015

seabirdLast week I enjoyed my quiet time on the tiny deck of a Florida Condo. Every morning, as I faced the Atlantic Ocean, I watched sea birds flittering through the mangrove forests edging Key Largo. On Thursday, a weather disturbance brought heavy winds from the south. What I witnessed reminded me of a passage in Isaiah:

But those who trust in the LORD will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:31

I first noticed a bird floating above the ocean. Paying closer attention, I realized that the bird didn’t flap her wings. Instead, she glided, effortlessly soaring above the trees. I expected that she would have to flap for adjustments in altitude and direction. I waited, and waited, and waited. She didn’t. For what seemed endless moments, she soared.  As I thought about the science of lift and the design of airplane wings, I realized that she had put herself directly into the path of the prevailing wind. The wind gave her lift. No flapping, no jet engine needed for forward propulsion.

What seemed so remarkable was that the bird didn’t stay in one place. She made progress. Effortlessly, though gradually, she used the power of the wind to propel her down the coastline.

The wind didn’t stop her. It wasn’t an obstacle for her. It was a tool, an asset, an energy saver. She used the wind to move forward.

Today is the day that we remember Jesus’ death. Those who witnessed his crucifixion had no clue as to what would come next. For them, it was the end, the destruction of their most precious hope, their future, all gone in a single extinguished heartbeat.

But they waited.

And then came Sunday. And the resurrection. And the understanding. And the hope.

If you are facing a tough prevailing wind, remember those Florida sea birds. And remember what it must have been to wait through that dark Easter weekend. If those first Jesus-lovers could wait it out, so can you. Then perhaps you too will see that the wind, which seemed so harsh, so destructive, so hope-dashing, is the very thing that will lift you up on wings like Eagles. Jesus death and resurrection (we cannot have one without the other) became the wind power moving Christianity through the centuries.

Happy Friday. I wait with you for Sunday Morning.

Bette

 

The Year of Ugly Yarn

December 30, 2014

These last days of 2014 find many of us thinking about the New Year. Some of us make resolutions. Others just hope for the best. A few of us look ahead with the certain knowledge that nothing will really change. For these folks, things won’t get better; they may not even stay the same. They will probably get worse.

If you are one of these, I have a photo for you.

firstSpin

This is my very first attempt at spinning yarn from loose fiber. No. That isn’t art yarn. I made it after my first spinning class. Frankly, I’m amazed I saved it. I found it while I was digging through the table in our family room. When I made that stuff I was doing my darndest to get real yarn. Smooth. Consistent. Usable. What I got instead was over-twisted junk. Uneven. Out of control. Some of it so bulky as to be mistaken for the lines you’d use to tie down a cruise ship. If you did that kind of thing.

I was pretty discouraged about the whole thing. So discouraged, in fact, that for several years, I quit spinning. I just don’t like being a failure. (Call me a perfectionist!) But then, early one morning on the way to a run, I spied a spinning wheel sitting at a garage sale. For twenty-five bucks, I figured I could afford to give the whole thing another try.

I got the wheel repaired by a pro. I bought more fiber. I watched some instructional videos. I made progress. Barely.

Then, I called a professional. I took a lesson. My teacher adjusted my wheel again. I bought different fiber, an easier variety to spin. Under her tutelage, suddenly I got the feel of letting the fiber roll through my fingers, controlling the twist as I fed yarn onto the bobbin. Oh yes, there were still globs and breaks and curlicues. But I had begun the great spinning adventure. I spun more varieties of fiber. Merino. Blue faced leicester. Merino-silk. Coopworth. Some surprise packages.

And this is what my last yarn looks like. It’s an undesignated wool, purchased at a local fiber fair. I bought it to make a striped Christmas hat for my son. Turns out the yarn doesn’t work with the green that I’d spun originally. So, instead it has become a cable knit beanie.

latestyarn

At this point, you may wonder if you’ve been transported from a Bible blog to a craft blog. You haven’t. My point is this:

As you face the new year, don’t let old defeats determine your course.

I didn’t start out making smooth consistent yarn. With the best intentions, I made junk instead. Yards and yards of junk. Gradually, the junk began to resemble something useful. I’m not done yet. I hope to grow my spinning ability. But it won’t happen without practice. Lots and lots of practice.

And the same is true for you. You will never experience change without perseverance. Romans promises results, provided we continue in the process.

“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)

So, as you think about 2015, give up on quick fixes, easy answers, and the no-sweat approach to change. Don’t give in to despondency or passivity. Instead, fix my ugly yarn in your mind and remember: Nothing worth pursuing comes easily.

Consider 2015 as another year to persevere in the pursuit of change!

Lightning Strikes

November 11, 2014

annaimage

These days I’m in a small group trying to learn how to make the Word come alive on a daily basis. We’re adding tools to our basket, tools that help us interact with scripture.

The point, for us, is not to study, or memorize, or to analyze. Instead we are trying to interact with the God who dwells in the Word. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God.” I believe He wants to speak to us in his Word.

Last night, I worked on my homework. The task was to “notice a detail.” I was in the book of Luke, reading the passage about Mary and Joseph offering the sacrifice for their new son. And what I saw hit me like colliding with a brick wall at 60 miles an hour. Like a lightning strike.

Though I’ve always known the story of Simeon and Anna, last night I observed a couple of details included in the passage. Of course, I knew that she was a long-time widow, that she served with prayer and fasting, and that she was always in the temple. Anna is described as a “prophetess.” And then this phrase hit me like a brick wall.

“. . . she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38)

Do you see it? That one detail that changes so much of how we must interpret passages in the New Testament? Speaking of a woman, the passage says, “SHE SPOKE ABOUT THE CHILD TO ALL.” She didn’t speak only to children. She didn’t speak only at women’s events. Anna, the prophetess, (gasp: a woman) spoke to all.

In fact, the truth in this passage is this: God chose a woman to be the VERY FIRST HUMAN to announce the messiah’s arrival to the world.

Recently, I’ve really been struggling in a world where my gender inhibits my value. The official line is that I’m valuable. But the truth is, I’d be more valuable—more usable, more useful—if I were a man. I haven’t been given to the planet to fight about this issue. I don’t have time for that. My job is to use my gifts where they are welcome. In some ways, I have recently surrendered to the way things are.

The truth is that when men discount the gifts given to women (by the One who made them both), they create deep pain. I’m teaching these women that God wants to talk to us about our pain. It shouldn’t surprise me that God wants to talk to me about what hurts most in my world right now. I think He may be saying, “It hasn’t ever been MY plan to discount women. I chose a woman to announce it first.”

I take comfort in that. What about you?

Bette

Interaction

October 30, 2014

conversation

I’m doing something new. I’ve begun leading an “us group.” At our church these very small groups enable women to work and grow together on a very specific faith issue. Some study prayer. Some study food issues. Some establish mentoring relationships focusing on conquering areas of sin. Our group is learning to interact with the Bible.

Not study it. Not memorize it. Not read through it in a year. Interaction. That’s our focus. At the end of their time in the word (which I hope will grow to daily) I want my peeps to feel as though they’ve had a little conversation with God. I want them to experience God (via the Holy Spirit) in the text.

I’ll confess that I have almost no plan for our group, other than these rules:

There are no rules. No minimum amount of reading. No best time time of day. No translation. No maximum amount of reading. No formula. No magic opening prayer.

I’m hoping that because they are each uniquely created that their unique creator will lead them to the techniques, times, processes that will work for them.

I’ve told them that we’ll simply work on guided practice, though I’m not even sure what that means. I’ve told them that I’ll give them a new skill every week. (I hope I can come up with that many). I don’t have a book. I’m not following some mentor. I’m winging it. Flying by the seat of my pants. Pure and simple.

This week, beginning with chapter one of Luke, we were to use the skill, “Become someone in the story.” I did my homework yesterday and I have to admit, even I was a little shocked by what the Holy Spirit did for me.

I didn’t even get four verses in before I decided to become Luke himself. I envisioned myself sitting over a table, quill in hand, candle flickering in the darkness. I hadn’t gone very far before I noticed these words, “Many people have written accounts about the events that took place among us . . . Having carefully investigated, I have decided to write a careful summary for you . . . “

And suddenly, I was identifying with Luke as a writer (yes, I do think of myself as a writer). Notice that others had already taken on the job he was doing. (Like others before me have written about my subjects to my generation). Notice that HE DECIDED. In every other version this phrase is translated similarly, with some saying, “It seemed good to me.” Though Luke thought he was off doing his own thing, God was, in fact, using him to create a document that would be part of the most celebrated book in history. Luke apparently had no clue. So many details of Luke’s writing life matched mine.

Now I have no supernatural exposition to share here. But interaction followed my four verse quiet time. “Wow Lord, Luke wasn’t even writing about something new and different.” (as our publishers insist that we should) And “Wow Lord, he didn’t even know he was doing something in your plan.” And, “Could it be that once in a while you use me to write some little thing that is part of your big plan, even when I don’t know it?” Then the Lord and I had some words about that.

THAT, my friends is letting the Word come alive. (Perhaps better said: That is letting the LIVING WORD express Himself in your life). That is interaction. That is letting the Word speak, and you listen. Then you speak and the Holy Spirit listens. Then he leads you further down the road toward reflecting his image to the world.

What could be better? By the way, if you think of it, pray for me. I’m not sure what “skill” should come next. Any suggestions, friends?

Bette

Alone.

October 21, 2014

IMG_0045

Recently I read I Kings 19, and I have to admit, it stumped me.

The story, as you remember, tells us about the prophet Elijah who has just challenged the prophets of Baal to a sort of spiritual duel on Mt. Carmel. In the process, God gloriously proves Himself, utterly humiliating the prophets of Baal. The people recognize the Lord, and Elijah leads an aggressive charge to purify Israel, killing the false prophets.

The problem? Glorifying God comes at a price. Jezebel, Ahab’s wife, promises to kill Elijah. In fear, Elijah flees. The distance from Samaria to Beersheba as the crow flies is almost eighty miles. Poor Elijah flees Beersheba to the desert, where he arrives exhausted and discouraged.

And now, to my way of thinking, the story gets really interesting.

In the desert, the story tells us that an angel brings Elijah bread and water. Elijah eats, sleeps and eats again. The angel tells him that he has a long journey ahead. Eventually, the prophet flees to Mt. Sinai. Hiding in a cave, the LORD asks Elijah, “What are you doing here?”

Elijah’s response is very real, and brutally honest—though not quite factually accurate. “I have Zealously served the LORD God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your prophets. I alone am left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

For days, God’s response baffled me. He asks Elijah to go out and stand on the mountain. There, Elijah experiences a mighty storm—one so severe that it blasts rocks loose. After the wind, an earthquake. Then, a fire. The NIV, the NASB and the NKJ all make this observation, “The LORD was not in the wind,” (or the earthquake, or the fire) The experience was so frightening that it must have driven Elijah back into the cave, because his next experience brings him out of the cave.

Elijah hears a gentle whisper. He wraps his face in his cloak and stands at the cave’s entrance. Again God asks, “What are you doing here?” Again Elijah reveals his fear and discouragement.

One of the ways I discover depth in a Biblical story is to place myself inside it. This leads me to statements like this: “If I were Elijah, I’d want God to be in the powerful wind, the mighty earthquake and the fire. Elijah’s in deep trouble. His life is in jeopardy. He needs a powerful protector.”

But this is NOT what God does for Elijah. Instead, God reveals himself in a gentle whisper. Why? While God was not IN the wind, or earthquake, or fire, He certainly showed his power OVER the wind, the earthquake and the fire. Was that His point?

Perhaps that is part of it. Notice that in the story, none of God’s power displays move Elijah forward. Instead, only God’s quiet voice enables Elijah to take up his call (again) as prophet. Only after reassuring Elijah of his presence does God begin to correct his facts. Elijah is not alone.

Does the whisper represent relationship? Does it represent God’s quiet presence with the man? Does the whisper represent God’s loving direction? Maybe a bit of all these things!

Perhaps this is my lesson: While God’s power is certainly His to use in protecting His kids, it is His quiet whisper that enables us to serve Him. In relationship with Him, we get our instructions. His direction gives us the courage and the specifics we need to obey.

When Elijah arrived at Sinai he may have believed that he needed the POWER of God to save him from Jezebel’s threats. By the time he left, he had discovered that God’s relationship provided all the protection he would ever need.

This morning, I’m feeling a little like Elijah. His prayer might have sounded like mine:

“All I’ve ever wanted Lord was to influence the world for you. But the doors and windows are closed and locked. No one wants what I have to offer. No one responds.”

And like Elijah, I must remember. His presence with me is Enough.

Looking for Grace In All the Odd Places

October 8, 2014

Most of you know that I plow through the Bible in my devotions in a fairly routine pattern. Though I don’t read as much every day as I used to, I’ve found that a slower pace brings deeper meaning and sometimes astonishing discoveries.

Recently, I found the most profound display of grace in the book of 1st Kings.

crown

You’ll find the passage in 1st Kings 11:38. And it’s the remarkable context of the passage that makes the content entirely astounding. At this point in the story, because of his association with non-Jewish wives, women have turned David’s son Solomon’s heart from the Lord. The Lord is angry enough to take away the kingdom from Solomon; but for the sake of his father David, he leaves ONE tribe (Judah) under the kingship of Solomon’s son.

The context is correction, God’s justifiable wrath at human defiance, and the consequence of disobedience. It marks an ugly milestone in the history of the Jewish people. The splitting of the tribes and the establishment of a Northern Kingdom precedes the Assyrian and Babylonian captivity. Who knows what might have happened had Solomon obeyed God?

And yet, God’s grace.

God has appointed the next King, the one to whom he will give the northern tribes. The new king is a servant and warrior in Solomon’s household. Here is the passage where God chooses him as king:

“However, as for you, I will take you, and you will rule over all that your heart desires; you will be king over Israel. If you do whatever I command you and walk in obedience to me and do what is right in my eyes by obeying my decrees and commands, as David my servant did, I will be with you. I will build you a dynasty as enduring as the one I built for David and will give Israel to you. I will humble David’s descendants because of this, but not forever.”

Did you recognize those promises? Do they sound familiar? They should. The promise is the same, nearly word for word, as the promise God gave David and the promise God made to Solomon.

I’ve read this passage dozens of times, and I’ve never caught it. Here is what shocks me: Even in the midst of correction, of second choices, of failed kingships, God extends divine grace. If you will . . . I will.

How remarkable! How kind! How out of the ordinary is our God! Who would imagine that after all that has gone wrong, our God still has the compassion and the desire and the commitment to bless the new king, (of the second choice kingdom), with the same conditional (but generous) blessing that he gave David, and Solomon before him.

Have you found yourself facing the consequences of failure? Are you suffering through correction? Are you struggling for the courage to ‘fess up and turn away from that which holds you?

Consider looking for Grace in the midst of it. If God chose to supernaturally bless a faithful Israel — even when He meant to have a single kingdom reflect his God-head — then certainly God can choose to bless you as you repent and begin again.

In correction, there is hope. In failure, there is Grace.

Faith is a team sport

June 17, 2014

Image

Some of you know that I’m hoping to run a 10 K this summer. I’ve been training with good buddy Deanna Stoltenberg. These days, we’re running 5.5 miles every Saturday, just .7 mile from our event goal. At this point, I’m pretty certain we could finish a 10 K race without too much difficulty.

Two Saturday’s ago, God taught me another lesson.

Deanna was sick and couldn’t run. I set out without my training partner to finish our usual 5.5 mile route. But you know what? I couldn’t do it. Without her, the voices in my head took over. Instead of Deanna’s usual chatter, I heard this endless litany:

“I don’t want to do this.”
“My knee hurts.”
“I didn’t get enough sleep.”
“This is so boring.”
“My hips hurt.”
“I just can’t make it up this hill.”
“I need to walk for a while.”

And do you know what I did? I walked. I didn’t make it the full distance.

You don’t train for a long run by walking. And apparently, I don’t train well alone. I need the distraction of a good friend. I need someone whose voice quiets my own inner pain and exhaustion. I need someone to cheer me on, to believe that I can conquer a hill. Someone who won’t slow down, and won’t allow me to slow down either (unless, of course, cardiac arrest is imminent—after all, Deanna is much younger than I).

I need someone who helps me keep my eyes on the goal. Someone who pushes me forward and ignores my self-centered complaints.

And so do you!

Those who try to run the “faith race” alone do so at their own peril. The little discouraging voices are louder when you are alone, harder to disregard. It’s difficult to press forward. I. Don’t. Want. To. seems stronger, tougher to ignore. The pain is more significant. The boredom is nearly overwhelming.

This is the reason we are encouraged to live in community. “Don’t forsake the gathering of the brethren,” we are advised. “Encourage one another all the more . . .” Use your gifts, Paul tells us, so that the whole body grows into the stature of Christ.

When Paul faced death, he told Timothy that he had fought the good fight. Run the race. But even Paul didn’t run his race alone. He partnered with Barnabus, Silas, Dr. Luke and many others as he ran his difficult race for Jesus.

How about you? Who is your training partner in the faith?

 

 

 


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