Monday, September 24, 2012

Open heart, open hand

2Chronicles 21:18-30

Here we have the tale of David messing up again (bless his heart)- he wanted the people counted for selfish reasons - to feel like the important king of zillions of people.

God was not amused.

An avenging angel began striking his people - the very ones David had counted to puff himself up - with a plague.  Finally, the first real sign of repentance bursts from David's lips "what have these sheep done?  It was me, my sin - let your hand be against me and my house, not against the innocent !"(my rendering)

The moment this came from his lips, God stayed the angel's hand.

Right at the threshing floor of Ornan.

In 2 Samuel 24 he is called "Araunah" - the pre-Israelite/Canaanite name for the same thing.  Calling him "Ornan" implies that he has put himself under the care of the Hebrew God - perhaps between the writing of 2 Samuel and 1Chonicles.

I like this guy.

His 4 sons are with him threshing grain - when the avenging angel stops, right at his property!  The 4 sons hide.

Not Ornan. Our hero goes right on with his threshing.  Why wasn't he also afraid?

Perhaps he'd been to the temple that morning and offered sacrifices for himself and his sons, and knew that he was "prayed up".  Perhaps he was feeling the joy of the newly forgiven, content to continue his work until a) the angel took him to Abraham's bosom; b) the angel recognized his forgiven status and passed him by; or c) he wanted to model for his sons courage and trust in his new-found God.

Whatever the reason, David comes upon him and wants to buy his land to sacrifice to God.

Now, a little background.

This couldn't be Ornan's ancestral land, or it would go back to him @Jubilee, and this doesn't.  In fact, this becomes the land upon which the Temple is built.  So it must be part of the city land that Ornan had bought for the express purpose of threshing - the grain was tread upon by oxen, loosening it from its stalks and crushing the outer hard layer.  The grain was then tossed into the air and the wind blew away the chaff.  This land was on the top of Mt. Moriah, the winds would hit the top of the mount with unimpeded strength: perfect for a threshing floor.

This must have been a major purchase for Ornan - he was not a rich man, or he wouldn't be doing the threshing himself with his four sons. Servants/hirelings would be doing it. So this represented a step up for him, a smart purchase of valuable real estate. Which makes what happens next all the more amazing.

When David tells him he wants the land to sacrifice to God, Ornan doesn't miss a beat: he immediately responds "It's yours.  And look! How fortunate! Here's two oxen for the sacrifice - and oh! Wouldn't the yoke make great kindling?  Oh! and here is grain to complete the sacrificial offering.  Here - take it all.  I give it to you, free and clear." (My paraphrase)

In one translation it says, "...and Araunah, like a king, gives all he has to King David..." (2Sam 24:18-24) And God, in His delight over Ornan's open hand (and heart) -  over this ordinary, middle class worker bee, just going about his life ( and shining like gold in the eyes of God ) - God thinks so highly of Ornan that He records it for all posterity.

Because Ornan held back not a single, solitary thing - not an ox, not an expensive, custom made-so-they-don't-rub-the-shoulder-raw wooden yoke, not a single grain of wheat: not one thing.  I hear excitement in his offer, see shining eyes, a heart full of joy that something of his would be worthy to be offered to God in the name of his king!

But David knows that a sacrifice is not a sacrifice if it's free.  He would not offer to his God that which cost him nothing.

Lion heart to lion heart. Deep calling unto deep. Child of God giving to God from his heart, not just his pocket.

Every time I read this section, I am humbled by it.

As a CI, I don't have much.  And what little I have, truthfully, I have not always held with an open hand.  But if I really think about it, all of it belongs to Him in the first place.  What I "hold onto" (tightly) is an illusion - should God choose, like the chaff, He could blow it away with a single puff. He can also choose to provide more.

The challenge this presents to me is to consider this: Here I am, standing in front of my meager little pile of flotsam and jetsam, holding to my heart useless remnants of the world.  Do I continue in this stance?

Or do I have the courage to step aside, flinging my arms wide, fists open, palms facing up, in a glorious abandonment of self, and "like a king" give my all to Him, holding nothing back?

Do you?

Just a little something for both of us to ponder....

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Everlasting Arms

When I was a girl, my uncle had a home in a tiny town on the Wisconsin border.  It had 2 churches, 3 saloons and 4 feed stores,  and the population was something like 100.  Growing up in California, I had yet to be enchanted by fireflies and their magic spell, or the friendly sound of cricket choirs chirping in the soft darkness. I had never heard church bells ringing on a Sunday, or a sky so full of stars it took my breath away. It was the end of summer, and the nights were no longer full of mosquitoes or the oppressive humidity that left you turning over your pillow looking for the cool spot and shifting your position to catch the faintest of breezes through the open windows (no air conditioning in those days!)

I was given the privilege of sleeping on a cot in the basement, which also enchanted me - we didn't have basements or attics in California either, and the earthy smell and cool feel of the cement on my bare feet became the instantly recognizable scent and feel of summers in the Midwest. One whiff in the years to come, and I was instantly back in Stitzer.

I sat out front on the stairs while the adults chatted inside.  There were very few houses near the town, and the quiet intrigued me.  The air felt as soft as velvet, and all sound had a muted quality, so that when you spoke, you found yourself speaking in hushed, quiet tones. God's cricket choir serenaded the dew; somewhere a back screen door slapped against its wooden frame; a lonely dog gave a single bark as if to remind his owners that he was still there, in case anybody wanted to come and give him a pat.  It seemed to me I'd sat there for hours when I first heard it, faintly, in the distance: the aching, lonely sound of a train whistle nearing an intersection (the town only had one).  It seemed to capture everything I was feeling; all the pent up emotion that had been stuffed inside for the last year came bubbling to the surface:

For on the previous Christmas Eve morning I had awakened to the sound of my Grandmother's keening, calling my grandfather's name in Swedish (altho he'd been dead for 11 years) and my mother's counterpart crying of my father's name.  He was groaning, eyes open, staring into eternity, not conscious. My mother was begging him not to die.

But he did.

I was 16 years old.

I remember nothing else about that day except that nothing seemed real.  A neighborhood friend just recently filled in the blanks for me - how I'd come to her house and in a deadpan voice told her my father was dead.  It seemed all I wanted to do was walk around in the neighborhood, it didn't matter where, just walking.  She was a good enough friend to stay with me and let me talk - mostly about my dad.  We wound up eventually in my garage where I showed her the things my father had designed and built for the upcoming mandatory science fair. For me.

I remember none of it.

I had just begun to realize my dad was a man - I mean besides being father to four children and going to work every day.  Just beginning to know him as a person.  Just beginning to ask for advice - and listening earnestly to the answers.The summer before we had painted my bedroom together, and he had taught me the proper way to move the brush so no streaks showed; how careful to be cutting in, especially on windows; how to clean the brushes with turpentine, again and again and again, until all traces of paint were gone from the brushes.

And then he was gone from my life forever.

Jesus had not yet come into my life and I didn't know where to put my grief.  For the longest time I couldn't cry, couldn't put on a show for the relatives who had come from all points to the funeral, only to find the stunned Unfeeling Daughter Who Wouldn't Cry. The sound of the train's long, low, drawn out horn in Stitzer stirred it all up. From that day forward, the sound of the midnight train sounding its horn and its kindred spirit of the single, crooning bass note of the foghorn as it sounded warnings across the bay, settled over my shoulders with a warm sense of melancholy. I felt as if the sky itself had its arms around me, that at last I was understood, and, finally, I could cry.

I still miss him.

And then, in my 20's, I met Jesus, met my Heavenly Father, and the Holy Spirit filled me with the knowledge that He owns me forever, and nothing I can do will change that.

After 15 years of walking with Him I got sick.  Really sick.

Then God, in His graciousness, had my doctor go to a continuing education conference the night before I saw him - and could instantly diagnose me and send me on to a specialist, when a host of other CIs with the same illness took years.  Both doctors filled out endless paperwork to assure that I was provided benefits when most others were being turned down; God put it into their hearts to fight for me. At one point one of the docs said to me, "I think I lost your benefits - this guy called me and I got into a shouting match with him.  I'm so sorry."

The next day I was notified that my claim had been accepted.

From that day forward, God has walked before, behind, and beside me.  He provides parking places close to the door on days when I am particularly weak.  Parking places in the shade when here in the desert it is over 100 degrees and as dry as an oxen's skull.  A doctor I trust who studies whatever information I give her about my disease and frets with me that nothing cures it, and I take a zillion drugs that treat symptoms only - and take other drugs to counteract the side effects of the first ones. 

He has carried me through the deaths of 5 of the 7 of us that gathered round the kitchen table of my youth.  The latest was the death of my baby brother, 9 years younger. I had changed his diaper, helped him learn how to walk.  Kept his spirits up when he had an emergency appendectomy at age 6.  Mourned with him through a series of murders he had witnessed and narrowly escaped at age 15. He had grown up to be my caretaker, doing grocery shopping, picking up Rx's, carting me hither and yon. There was no warning.

I was at a retreat I had awaited with great anticipation when the directors found me and told me I needed to call home. I did, and my remaining brother told me he had died.

I thought this blow would be fatal. It felt like my child had died.

For weeks I felt as if I couldn't breathe.  I fretted constantly about his eternal address as I knew he hadn't been walking the walk.  I found myself crying and weeping as one who had no hope.

Then God said to me, "There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus..."  

For that night I was fine.  The next day the fear returned, churning up my heart, tearing at my peace.  I began to sob, the pain so deep I thought my heart would burst. I remember I tried to muffle the sounds with the pillow, burying my head in it.

And into that furor came a resounding Voice that brooked no opposition.

With the most clarity I have ever heard God speak, He said, "It is impossible for Me to lie."

In the deep silence that followed, finally, I was able to rest - truly rest - in Him.

Why am I telling you this?

Because all of us, CI or AB, act sometimes as if Scripture isn't true. We don't say it, but our actions imply it. And I was one who, not meaning to, had called God a liar by my actions.

That doesn't mean I never cried again, or grieved over his absence; it means I never grieved without hope again.  And God is so gracious that He impressed a picture on my heart of my brother with hands upraised praising Him, then turning to me and winking.  Weeks later I found He had sent the same picture to my nephew. 

It sets me to wondering how many times I have called God a liar in my life - and I'm trying to reduce that number in the future.  When I fret over something - although His Word tells me He is in control.  When I silently fume that someone is stepping all over "my rights" or when someone "sins" against me and I hold onto anger instead of comparing that "slight" to the mountain of sins I have been forgiven. I am doing it when I have been left out, yet again, and gather the hurt to my heart - instead of choosing, as Amy Carmichael did, to "see in it a chance to die" [to self] and realize I must forgive and let God.

As a CI it is more difficult than ever to relinquish control (even though any control I try to wield is really an illusion).  Anything that messes up our carefully planned days is disconcerting, to say the least, when you know that that small thing can possibly have big consequences. 

The only way I have found to fight the "fear of the precipice" that lives in every CI, is to trust Him - with gritted teeth, if necessary - and remind myself that when the day comes for me to fall from that precipice (and it will)  the Everlasting Arms will be underneath me.

The word I have chosen to characterize this year was "teachable". One thing that I have learned is that trusting Him is the basic, essential ingredient of the Christian walk.  For those of you who are joining me on this journey, I pray that your deep knowledge of the eternal Arms underneath you will give you the courage and the joy to face each day - and even the precipice - with Him by your side.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Oh Danny Boy

Daniel 10:10
"O Daniel, man greatly beloved..."

That is how the angel in Daniel's last vision addressed him.

I'm so jealous.

I can't imagine the honor of being addressed in such a way - obviously this angel had heard God call Daniel this - and in my mind's eye (or mind's ear) I hear tenderness in the voice of God saying " Go tell my greatly beloved and faithful servant Daniel what will happen in the last days..."

I so much want to be a good and faithful servant.

I so rarely am either one.

How is it possible to be privileged to know the King of the universe, the Creator of all things, the One Who died rather than live without me - how is it possible to be distracted from that great Gift?  How can I possibly complain about anything in my life when the great mystery of my existence (that God chose me from before the foundation of the world - for reasons only He knows) is there, shining fiercely , radiating eternal Love?

I should be thanking Him for each breath, for the gift of eternal Life, reigning and ruling with Him for 1000 years in Jerusalem, and not going to hell, where I belong.

No, I am not a sinner of "big" sins - just an ordinary, everyday, garden variety sinner.  Yet in God's eyes, I was as black as night - or, rather, drenched in scarlet - and He made me white as snow.  How can it be that I am not face down before Him, thanking Him every single second of my life for paying my way into the Holy of Holies? [see April, "The Price He Paid"]  How is it that I am indifferent to His majesty, going about my grocery shopping in a more intent manner than I "practice the presence of God?" How am I not overwhelmed by the ability to call this Being, this Unfathomable One, "Papa"?


I have no answer. 

To my shame.

Papa, please light a torch inside of me, one that blazes through the universe with Love for You.  Place a compass inside my heart that always, always points me to You  (and as I pray that prayer, I realize He already has: He's called the Holy Spirit.) Teach me Your ways, that I might be always pleasing to You.

I saw a cartoon the other day, with a giant mosquito in it.

The caption read, "I want to be so filled with the Holy Spirit that when a mosquito bites me, he flies away singing "There's power in the Blood..."

Make it so, Papa, oh please, make it so.


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Is it worth it?

 In Thee do I put my trust. Psalm 7:1

The weekend of the 1st,  I got a treat.

Thanks to my sil, I was able to get out of the house and go to the Utah Shakespeare Festival.  We try to go every year.  I grew up in San Diego with the Old Globe Theater, and I thought when I moved to the desert that was all over.

But, surprisingly, we discovered that within a 3 hour drive, there was Shakespeare!

To get there, my sil drove both ways.  Usually we stay overnight there, but since the plays we wanted to see were 48 hours apart, we decided to drive home and then back again.

Bad move.

I didn't think twice about it - not realizing that that meant 16 straight hours from here to the play and back again, getting home about 130 am.

I was exhausted.

And 48 hours later I got to do it again!

By the end of the second marathon day I felt like a puddle on the floor with my eyes sticking out.  The next morning when I awakened, I was so dizzy I couldn't stand up.  I was severely nauseated and every muscle screamed. It was scary.  I haven't had a rebound that severe in a long time. I had to call my sil for help it was so bad.

Praise God, it only took less than 24 hours in bed - in fact, by that evening I could get up by myself and the anti-nausea drugs were working well.

And I started to think about what certain things are worth.

Had I known what the aftermath would be, what would I have chosen?  Well...I would have gone anyway.  The productions at USU are top notch - and Merry Wives of Windsor is a favorite play - with front row seats yet!  The theater is built to the specs of Shakespeare's theater in England, the acoustics wonderful, the open-air setting perfect for an end-of-summer night - in the low 80's, the feel of dew in the air, the fresh scent of new-mown grass, a million stars overhead, and a sweet, gentle zephyr of a breeze that wandered in and out of the theater.  Plus, a surprise show-stealing actor that made Falstaff, the usual buffoon of the comedy, pale in comparison.  It was a perfect Shakespearean evening.

Yes, I would have chosen to go.

As I look back over the 3+ decades of walking with my King, I see the difficulties and the setbacks, the pain and sorrow, the bleak days that seemed endless with some unknown disease stalking me, the loss of a profession I loved.

Had I known, would I have chosen Him?

My heart answers with an unequivocal, resounding YES!

The "Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble..." (couldn't resist quoting Shakespeare!) of this life are nothing compared to the joy and comfort of His presence, the sure knowing that the One Who has chosen me to be His can be trusted, that the lessons woven into the pain are worth deciphering, that His presence in my life turned it from black and white into Living Color.

And the interesting thing, to me, is that when I look back over the years, it wasn't all that hard, really.  He made even the things I considered unbearable bearable.  When my heart had been rendered what I considered a fatal blow, He picked up the pieces and put me back together - the hole, to be sure, is still there, but it is no longer a jagged-edged crater.  The edges have healed into smoothness, the shrunken hole a testament to His faithfulness, the pang of remembrance no longer a twisting knife. He has taught me not to be afraid of the darkness, for He will always light a candle in that darkness to lead me Home.


He is worth more than anything this world can throw at me.

And that is why I can say with no reservation : "In Thee do I put my trust."