Monday, October 07, 2019

The Beauty of Inefficient Presence

  I went to a conference put on by the Navigators recently. It was on being a neighbor and how to love your neighborhood. It was deeply encouraging and I had good practical things to take away from it. But it ended with this quote that I feel sums up so much of what I feel like I tell others. 

“It is a privilege to have the time to practice this simple ministry of presence. Still, it is not a simple as it seems. My own desire to be useful, to do something significant, or to be part of some impressive project is so strong that too my time is taken up by meetings, conferences, study groups, and workshops that prevent me from walking the streets. It is difficult not to have plans, not to organize people around an urgent cause, and not to feel that you are working directly for social progress. But I wonder more and more if the first thing should be to know the people by name, to eat and drink with them, to listen to their stories and tell your own, and to let them know with words, handshakes, and hugs that you do not silly like them, but truly love, them.” ~ Henri Nouwen

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Is not Jesus enough?

A friend recently reminded me of Lilias Trotter, missionary to Algeria and watercolor artist. I had a book of hers that I had mostly ignored since I first received it in college. I’ve been going through it and finding it incredibly rich — including this passage and the accompanying attached painting. 

“The thought of Christ’s intercession has taken on a new preciousness these last days.  I was reading how God had given a wonderful gift of prayer to two friends.  They would fight through together till His answer came over in showers.  And the thought came – oh that we had someone among us here able to pray like that.  Then with the vividness of an audible voice almost, the thought came:  ‘Is not Jesus enough?’  Since then the sense of praying with Him alongside has been so beautiful.”     
23 March 1904

There is so much delight as I pray for you, knowing that I have Jesus alongside me interceding for us!

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Golden Bowls Full of Incense

Last week, I played with paints and did a first draft of an image that has long been stuck in my head as incredibly beautiful. I’ve tried to re-create my internal vision so many times, but nothing matches what I imagine from this verse in Revelation. And just from the bolded portion.  

And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. ~Revelation 5:8

The Old Testament is full of imagery about pleasing aromas from sacrifices, and then the New Testament adds how we are the aroma of Christ (who is our sacrifice). But that our prayers could fit into the same category of producing a pleasing aroma before God? Whoa! 

So I pray without really understanding everything that’s going on… and that’s ok.

Sunday, March 03, 2019

The Pleasing Aroma

The first place Scripture talks about the pleasing aroma is Genesis 8:21. Noah offers a sacrifice and the Lord smells the pleasing aroma and makes a promise never to again curse the ground because of man.

But over and over again in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers the "pleasing aroma" comes up. The daily offerings, monthly offerings, each feast and festival, all have sacrifices that are burnt as a food offering, a pleasing aroma to the Lord. And it's not just the smell of barbecue; the pleasing aroma is also tied to grain offerings. (Maybe it's not really about the smell but what it represents?) Honestly, the repetition here feels a little monotonous at first and then I remember how many times I have to hear things before I really take notice. (Like... LOTS!)

Finally, however, we make it to Ezekiel and things get all dark. The Israelites were offering their pleasing aromas to idols instead of God. Interesting that their offerings were not equated the burnt animals, but that the essence of the offering was actually the pleasing aroma.

Then Ezekiel 20:41 uses the phrase as a simile to describe the restoration of Israel saying, "As a pleasing aroma I will accept you, when I bring you out from the peoples and gather you out of the countries where you have been scattered. And I will manifest my holiness among you in the sight of the nations." Here the people themselves will be accepted in the same way as the Lord accepts the pleasing aroma of the sacrifice. Nice, right? How does that even work?

Shazaam! The New Testament explains!

2 Corinthians 2:14-16. "But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?" 

1. The aroma is still to God.
2. It's not always pleasing to people (for some it's life for others death).
3. The aroma is still of the sacrifice: Christ Jesus!
4. It is the aroma of his sacrifice that we carry with us that grants us welcome to God, thus fulfilling Ezekiel 20:41.

There are other verses that expand on this related to the fragrant offering of Christ, but this popped out to me with just the word "aroma".

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Amazing Things

Joy is when a Middle Eastern friend lets you help her in her kitchen.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Two Feasts - Joseph and the Passover

Genesis 40 ends with a feast for Pharaoh's birthday. And if feasts are often catalysts for something, this one fails. God's servant, Joseph, is NOT let go. The cupbearer, once restored to his position of honor, forgets to mention him to Pharoah. Bummer.

But then the story before this feast caught my attention. We have a cupbearer and a baker, the wine and bread represented, the blood and the body of communion. Why then does the cupbearer get restored to honor and the baker get hanged? Aren't both important to the story? But reading on into Exodus we explore the Passover and this is where the bread is tossed. All the leavening and leavened bread are removed from the house. Bye, bye, Baker!

This connection in itself is a bit tenuous. (I still have lots of questions about this story and what it means on a deeper level.) But nothing is in Scripture by accident. And that's when the contrast hit me. After the feast of Passover (the first one!), the Israelites ARE LET GO, unlike Joseph who remained for years in prison.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Two Feasts - Abraham and Herod

Sometimes you read two passages next to each other that you never have connected before. Then something happens. You realize in a flash that they are sort of similar. Then the dominos keep falling and suddenly they are both about the same thing at the heart.

Tonight it was Genesis 21:8-20 and Mark 6:21-28.

Both passages begin with a feast. In the first, we have the feast commemorating the weaning of Isaac. In the second, the feast is for Herod's birthday. Both feasts are not the point but rather the catalyst for something to happen.

At the party for Isaac, Sarah decides that it's time to kick out Hagar and Ishmael and Abraham does. The earlier born but "backup" son has to go to make way for the true child of promise. His expulsion is ugly and brutal and feels utterly unfair.

At the party for Herod, Herodias decides that it's time for John the Baptist to die and Herod follows through. The earlier born relative and prophet came to prepare a way for the true Messiah of promise. His death is ugly and brutal and feels utterly unfair.

In both stories, the feast is the beginning of something important. In both, the someone is moved out to make way for the true promise.

A few other things struck me, too.  Ishamael is soon threatened with death as he and Hagar wander in the wilderness. But God rescues him. Isaac is later threatened with death as Abraham prepares him for sacrifice. God rescues him as well.

This contrasts with John and Jesus, both of whom are killed. The earlier story is only playing pretend. It doesn't know the seriousness of what it will become.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

My Hope is Built on Nothing Less

I feel alone, apart, adrift. I thought I had an anchor but I cannot feel its tug. Does that mean it is no longer there? And so I fear, doubt, and become even more tossed to and fro by the wind and the waves. 

I cry out but Jesus does not speak the words I would choose for him. He does not speak "Peace, Be Still" to the chaos of my life, my own storm. I know he could as easily he controlled the Sea of Galilee. Why? Help!

And then he does speak. He whispers, "Peace, Be Still," not to the wind and waves but rather to the turbulence of my own heart. The roiling worries have no place despite the waves. This is my miracle, my anchor holds. 

"When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil."

Saturday, February 07, 2015

The Perfect Game

I love games. I grew up playing board games with my family and when we'd finally exhausted Monopoly and a dozen others we started trying to make our own board game. We've picked it up again a few Christmases over the past fifteen years, and we did again this past Christmas. It was hysterical and fun.

For the first time in our gaming history we came up with a functional game that had a beginning, a middle, and an end. It worked. But like a fifth grade creative writing project, it lacked depth. It wasn't something we ever really wanted to play again. This led my sister and I to think through more and more about what made a game great. This is a topic we're still working on and while we have some ideas, it isn't a perfect science either.

This train of thought led me into other questions of whether or not games have purpose and whether or not my delight in them is well-founded. After all, games are not terribly practical. Their main purpose is pleasure. I play them for the delight they bring in the challenge, the friendship, and the story.

There are more dots in the connection than I can explain, but I eventually rabbit trailed this into seeing this as yet another metaphor for life. Life is God's game with us, not in a malicious or spiteful way. But it is full of challenge, friendship, and story. I should see those things in life with the same kind of delight and perseverance, the same kind of sportsmanship in winning and losing, the same appreciation that I have for board games.

And it all comes back to my phrase for the year: "For the joy set before him..." and thus "For the joy set before me...".

May we all look to the joy set before us, right in front of us as well as stretched out ahead past difficult things.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Again with the Doctor Who... I know.

 “Do you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make any difference?” ~The Doctor

I admit that this line almost made me cry. I have spoken with so many people who break off relationships with other people at the slightest jiggle of the shopping cart. I have known people whom I knew I would disappoint at some point and they would cut me off. And they did, because that's what they do to every person who's not perfect... and well, I'm not either.

But sometimes people cut off others for reasons that seem legitimate. I won't go into those and it's not those I care about. It's this: that Jesus loved me so much that betrayal, that being his enemy, didn't make a difference in whether or not he would die for me.

Having tasted a bit of the bitter dish of betrayal, I know that's no easy hurt to swallow.