Gobsmacked

“Jesus is leading us to the death of illusions, and illusions die hard. Jesus is leading us to the death of self-will, and self-will is a stubborn survivor. Jesus is leading us to the death of sin, and sin is a cat with nine lives. Jesus is leading us to the Lenten death that will catapult us into the Easter resurrection.”

Today is Thursday, the seventeenth of March, 2022, in the second week of Lent.

Peace be with you.

Day 23,380

Today is also St. Patrick’s Day. March is a busy month. St. Patrick’s, Ides of March, my birthday, Spring Break, and the Vernal Equinox. Oh, and the change to fake time, which may be on the verge of being permanent real time.

It was a pretty quiet day at the library, yesterday. I didn’t know what to expect, it being Spring Break. But it was also a beautiful day outside, so that may be why we didn’t get a lot of traffic. I’m off today, and will be back in the Computer Center, tomorrow.

The weather is pretty nice again today, with a high of 78 predicted, but possible thunderstorms late this afternoon.

TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL AND PRAYERS

And the Lord said: “Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men, therefore, behold, I will again do wonderful things with this people, with wonder upon wonder; and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.”
(Isaiah 29:13-14 ESV)

Today I am grateful:

1. for a growing sense of awe, wonder, and mystery surrounding my Father in heaven
2. for the utterly astonishing mercy, unconditional love, and faithfulness of God; I am gobsmacked
3. for the community of saints; oh, how we need each other
4. that, though I may not be the wisest, the mightiest, or the richest, I can boast I know the Lord (Jeremiah 9:23-24)
5. that Jesus teaches me to die so that I can live

Today’s prayer word is “glorious.”

Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name.
(1 Chronicles 29:13 NIV)

There are a lot of things that we might think are “glorious.” But truly, our God is the only One worthy of the adjective. One of the definitions is, “having a striking beauty or splendor that evokes feelings of delighted admiration.” There are many things in our physical world that might evoke such feelings. A beautiful sunset, the ocean waves crashing on the shore, whether it be rocks or a sand beach, a beautiful mountain range, or a dense, green forest. I have seen all of these things.

I have not “seen” God. Yet I know that He is beautiful; He has a striking beauty and splendor that evokes feelings of delighted admiration in me. Therefore, He is glorious. In the words of one known only as “Susanna,” “I am stunned by His mercy. I am gobsmacked by His unconditional love. I am awed by His faithfulness.” Yes, she said “gobsmacked.” That’s a British adjective that means, “utterly astonished; astounded.”

I, too, am all of those things in the presence of God.

(From Pray a Word a Day)

Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.”
(Jeremiah 9:23-24 ESV)

Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'”
(John 7:38 ESV)

Moreover, I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, even there was wickedness, and in the place of righteousness, even there was wickedness. I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every matter and for every work.
(Ecclesiastes 3:16-17 ESV)

Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from a man’s envy of his neighbor. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.
(Ecclesiastes 4:4 ESV)

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
(Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 ESV)

It’s only two paragraphs, so I’m going to quote the Peterson reading in its entirety.

“A gospel paradox: in getting us ready to live, Jesus gets us ready to die. First he gets himself ready to die so that he can live. Then he gets us ready. Our habit is to think life first, then death. Jesus radicalizes our perceptions: first death, then life. This death is not primarily biological, although it will eventually include that.

“Jesus is leading us to the death of illusions, and illusions die hard. Jesus is leading us to the death of self-will, and self-will is a stubborn survivor. Jesus is leading us to the death of sin, and sin is a cat with nine lives. Jesus is leading us to the Lenten death that will catapult us into the Easter resurrection.”

“Death, Then Life” is the title of this reading. Just as we have traditionally gotten evening and morning reversed in our thinking (the ancient Hebrews considered evening as the beginning of the new day), we may have the whole death and life thing reversed. In order to truly live, a lot of things must die first.

(From On Living Well, by Eugene H. Peterson)

As I continue looking at Augustine’s writing on fasting, I see that he uses a word that is not used much these days. “Ostentation” is indicated as something that should be avoided in fasting. What is that? It means, “pretentious and vulgar display, especially of wealth and luxury, intended to impress or attract notice.” I’ve seen the word “ostentatious” a number of times, and confess that I was unclear on its meaning. Now I’m more clear.

Jesus spoke of this in the Gospel accounts, in the Sermon on the Mount.

“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
(Matthew 6:16-18 ESV)

So, instead of ostentation, we are to exhibit joy when we are fasting, not sadness or gloominess. If we practice fasting in order to attract the attention of others, Jesus is quite clear that that will be the extent of our reward.

“In his fasting, therefore, let a man rejoice inwardly in the very fact that by this his fasting he is turning away from the pleasures of the world to make himself subject to Christ, who in the words of this precept wants him to have his head anointed. With the same intent he will be washing his face, that is, cleansing his heart whereby he is to see God.”

(From Spiritual Classics, by Richard J Foster and Emilie Griffin)

Father, indeed, you are glorious, and I am, indeed, “gobsmacked” by Your mercy, faithfulness, and unconditional love. It is all of these things, along with Your great kindness, that lead me down the ongoing path of repentance, constantly revising the way I think about reality. And reality, for me, is what I run into when I am wrong. And I’m wrong a lot. Oh, how I love You, Lord! Your glory is everlasting and beyond my comprehension. The word “glorious” isn’t even adequate to describe You.

I am so very grateful that I know You, Lord, and that is the only truth in my life that is worth boasting about. Well, maybe not the only truth. I feel justified in boasting about the things in my life that You have placed there, such as my loving wife and family. But all of the things that I could boast about have come from You, and are from nothing “good” that I did. I am not very wise, not very mighty, and my “riches” are made up by much more than material things.

I praise You that I have been, for the most part, delivered from any kind of envy about anything that my “neighbor” might have. I am, by Your grace and Holy Spirit, quite content with all that I have. I am also praising You for the relationships that I have that make life so much easier, beginning with my family, and continuing into the community of saints, and I use the definition of saints that says that it is everyone who calls on the name of Jesus.

Thank You for teaching me how to die in order to live. We’re still working on that, because there are plenty of places I have not yet surrendered to You. But, like I said . . . we’re working on it, and for that, I thank You for Your great, and seemingly infinite (thought I think it probably isn’t) patience with me. Help me to eradicate illusions, self-will, and sin in my life.

All glory to You, the One and only glorious God, through the Son and by the Spirit.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

Everything comes from him; 
Everything happens through him; 
Everything ends up in him. 
Always glory! 
Always praise! 
Yes. Yes. Yes. 
(Romans 11:36 MSG)

Grace and peace, friends.

Of Cats and Crocuses

“To become like him, we must be changed, shaped, and deepened by the Word of God.”

Today is Saturday, the twelfth of March, 2022, in the first week of Lent.

Peace be with you!

Day 23,375 (and my last day to be 63 years old)

And, for my birthday, I get to lose an hour of sleep. For it is time, once again, for us to convert to Daylight Saving Time for most of the rest of the year. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

Today is my normal Saturday off from the library, so the day is wide open. We supposedly have someone coming around 11:00 to get our old bedframe and mattress set. I hope they show up, as it is taking up quite a bit of room in our garage. Groceries are scheduled for delivery between 1-2, and C is going to pick up a cookie cake for my birthday, around that time, as well. At some point, I have to decide what I want for dinner tonight, as I’m pretty sure I don’t want to cook burgers. But we will see.

I’m going to go ahead and jump into the devotional, now.

TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL AND PRAYERS

Two things I ask of you;
    deny them not to me before I die:
Remove far from me falsehood and lying;
    give me neither poverty nor riches;
    feed me with the food that is needful for me,
lest I be full and deny you
    and say, “Who is the Lord?”
or lest I be poor and steal
    and profane the name of my God.
(Proverbs 30:7-9 ESV)

Today I am grateful:

1. that we got none of the freezing stuff that was predicted, yesterday, and it's well above freezing, today
2. for the way God chisels away at me, perfecting me (eventually), making me more like Jesus
3. that we have enough
4. for crocuses and cats
5. for the example of Jesus on how to be human

I had to go back and re-read yesterday’s blog on transformation. And there is something that was in yesterday’s Daily Guideposts reading that I didn’t include in yesterday’s blog, which gave me great pause and something to ponder deeply.

The whole reading revolved around someone who, when playing soccer, was content to pass the ball to the others who would then score. The writer of the page compared this to a common phrase known as “servant-leader.” “A servant-leader thrives on making the great pass and even on seeing cheers for the one who scores. A servant-leader doesn’t need praise from the crowd but knows that the good he does is seen in heaven.”

As I continue to ponder these thoughts, I am drawn to confession; to confession that I have struggled with envy when others have received praise for doing similar things that I have done, when I perceive myself to be better. This is human emotion and desire overshadowing spiritual, godly emotions. My goal is to rise above such things. If I am called to “pass” to someone else so they can score, what of it? I am the vessel of the King, who has the right to craft me however He wants. And I must be, should be satisfied to know that He sees the “good” that I do, even if no one else does.

I pause to remember the words of Jesus who cautioned us to not give our offerings for praise of men, because, if we do that, then the praise of men will be the extent of our reward. I can’t truthfully say that I don’t want reward. But my reward is in heaven, and my reward is to spend eternity in the presence of my Father and my Savior, whatever that will look like.

Today’s prayer word is “morning.” There is a quote from Analiza Garcia, and I cannot find anything to say who that is. “Morning is the best time to thank God.”

At the risk of sounding critical, I don’t agree with that, and that is the kind of thinking that led to the legalistic practice of stressing “Quiet Times,” back in the seventies and beyond. It became something to check off on the list, you know.

Of course, that being said, I always try to begin my day with thanksgiving and some form of worship. But all times of day are the best times to thank God. And I get the intent of the day’s reading. The idea is to not jump into the day’s tasks before taking time to be thankful and pray. “Each morning is an awakening of a new day and the beauty God has surrounded me with. I am grateful,” says “Carolyn.”

And this, I do not disagree with. However, don’t ever let anyone tell you that you have failed if you don’t start your day with such thoughts. Anytime is the best time to thank God.

When you are disturbed, do not sin;
    ponder it on your beds, and be silent.
(Psalm 4:4 NRSV)

Another thing the new day brings, each morning, is a new perspective on life. We often hear the admonition, “Don’t go to bed angry.” While that may be a good practice for married couples, it’s not always possible. God’s Word says it’s okay to ponder our anger while in our beds, as long as we control ourselves and maintain silence.

It is also good to see the context of that verse in the entire Psalm.

Answer me when I call, O God of my right!
    You gave me room when I was in distress.
    Be gracious to me, and hear my prayer.

How long, you people, shall my honor suffer shame?
    How long will you love vain words, and seek after lies?
Selah

But know that the Lord has set apart the faithful for himself;
    the Lord hears when I call to him.

When you are disturbed, do not sin;
    ponder it on your beds, and be silent.
Selah

Offer right sacrifices,
    and put your trust in the Lord.

There are many who say, “O that we might see some good!
    Let the light of your face shine on us, O Lord!”
You have put gladness in my heart
    more than when their grain and wine abound.

I will both lie down and sleep in peace;
    for you alone, O Lord, make me lie down in safety.
(Psalm 4 NRSV)
God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out,
    his merciful love couldn’t have dried up.
They’re created new every morning.
    How great your faithfulness!
I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over).
    He’s all I’ve got left.
(Lamentations 3:22-24 MSG)
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished.
(Matthew 4:1-2 NRSV)

In the reading called “On Growing,” Eugene H. Peterson speaks of how difficult it is to be human. First he compares us to a crocus.

“It is easy to be a crocus: no decisions to make, no schedules to keep, and no disappointments to endure. The crocus sleeps all winter, and then as the snow recedes and the sun warms the earth, the crocus breaks through the ground with blossoms that bring standing applause from all of us.”

He then compares us to cats (dangerous ground, in my opinion).

“It is easy to be a cat: no anxieties about aging, no perplexities about world affairs, and no guilt about real or imagined adulteries. The cat grooms itself on the carpet, purrs on any convenient lap, and holds the opinions of the servile humans in haughty disdain.” Obviously, brother Peterson had experience with cats.

In comparison, being human is not easy. “The seasons do not automatically develop us into maturity. Our instincts do not naturally guide us into a superior contentment. We falter and fail. We doubt and question. We work and learn. And just when we think we have it figured out, something else comes up that throws us for a loop.”

Our best example, of course, is Jesus (who didn’t see that coming?). “We look at him and see the incredible attractiveness and profound wonder of being a woman or a man. We also see how difficult it is. We see him in contest against every force that would diminish us into something less than human. We see him confront and deal with every influence that would divert us from living to the glory of God.”

We can get the best example of these things by looking at the things He did during those forty days of temptation. “To become like him, we must be changed, shaped, and deepened by the Word of God.”

(From On Living Well, by Eugene H. Peterson)

And, of course, during those forty days, Jesus was also fasting. And those forty days are the inspiration for the practice of Lent. The question is brought forth, in Spiritual Classics, “Who do I see the correlation between fasting and prayer?” I see them intricately linked, almost inseparable.

Sure, I can pray without fasting, and I can pray effectively without fasting. But, I believe, if I fast without praying, I am not effectively fasting; I am missing the point.

I saw a Facebook meme the other day that showed someone’s ignorance of what Lent was all about. It said something to the effect of (and this is not a direct quote), “Maybe what people should give up for Lent is the idea that giving something up for Lent makes God love us more.”

My friends, that is NOT the purpose behind giving things up for Lent. The purpose for Lenten fasting is for prayer. It is to the end that, when tempted to indulge in something from which I am fasting, my spirit is moved to prayer. Maybe it is to pray for strength to continue the fast, but hopefully, it is to bring us to simply the idea of prayer, perhaps praying for friends, brothers, sisters, the world, countries who are in the midst of war and oppression, and things like that.

So, if I am fasting for any reason other than prayer (for example, fasting to lose weight), I am fasting for the wrong reasons. And, while I have spoken somewhat about my current Lenten fasting, we are actually not supposed to bring attention to ourselves regarding the fasting. So I repent of that, today.

As Jesus showed, in His temptations, fasting is also tied in with “spiritual warfare” (unfortunately, that is another one of those “trigger” phrases for me, not unlike “breakthrough”). But let it be known that modern man did not “discover” spiritual warfare. John Henry Newman shows us that, as a nineteenth century writer. He most definitely viewed fasting as “an accompanying means to the work of prayer; that is to say prayer is the overarching category under which fasting functions.” Note the word “means” in that sentence. Fasting is never the “end,” it is not more important than Scripture. It is “subordinate . . . in the ongoing life of prayer.”

(From Spiritual Classics, by Richard J Foster and Emilie Griffin)

Father, I am thankful for cats and crocuses, and how they can help us see the difficulties in being human. I am also thankful for the work of Jesus, as He showed us how to be human, perfectly. While we will never be able to completely mimic Him, it is not beyond us to at least try. And that is my goal, my sole purpose in life, to try to walk in the steps of my Savior, and to try to live by His words. My desire is to allow my heart to be “changed, shaped, and deepened by the Word of God.” And that “Word of God” is, indeed, Jesus Christ.

So may my life be always being changed by Him and the words He spoke and taught us. May my fastings, whenever they occur, be for the correct reason, to engage in prayer, and to, in the spirit of spiritual warfare, conquer evil as it applies to me. In the spirit of Jesus’s model prayer, lead me not into temptation, but deliver me from the evil one.

I also oh, so grateful for those new mornings and those new mercies that come with each day. I am thankful for the new perspective that morning brings to my life, as I stop and ponder You and Your Word each morning. But I am also thankful that we are not locked into the legalistic idea that our devotions to You must happen at a certain time of day or they don’t count. What a silly notion, silly and “human.”

Help us humans, Father. We need all the help we can get, for we are selfish and contrary. We are also quite hypocritical, the lot of us. Help us, above all, to love one another the way Jesus loved us, in that He gave His life for us. I don’t think that we all have to physically die for each other, but we most definitely could do a better job of denying ourselves, carrying crosses, and considering each other more significant than ourselves.

Oh, and help me, please, be more willing to “pass the ball” so someone else can “score.”

All glory to You, through the Son, and by the Spirit.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

O Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world, 
have mercy upon us.
O Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world,
have mercy upon us.
O, Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world,
grant us Your peace.
(Agnus Dei)

Grace and peace, friends.

One Thing

Today is Thursday, the tenth of March, 2022, in the first week of Lent.

Peace be with you.

Day 23,373

There is a lot more than “one thing” in this post . . . that should make sense by the time it’s all over.

Our home has a complete new heating and cooling system. The good people of Air King arrived yesterday morning around 10:00 AM, and finished up somewhere around 7:00 PM. If they had any problems or issues, I don’t know about them. All of our old equipment was hauled off and we basically can’t tell they were ever here.

And so far, the new system works great. The new “smart” thermostat actually has a setting (I had only dreamed that this could be possible) that automatically switches between heat and cool. And it connects to Wi-Fi, so we can control the temps from our phones, as well. How cool is that?? Allegedly, this new system will save us up to 35% on our electricity, this summer. We shall see, right? We’re due for a new billing contract soon, so we’ll see what kind of rate we can get.

The day is wide open for me, so I don’t have any real agenda. I hope to finish the book I am currently reading, an ARC version of The Lights of Prague, by Nicole Jarvis. I have about fifty pages left. After that, I will likely work on finishing This Wicked Darkness, a selection of short stories, also an ARC version that I got in exchange for a review. I also have two library books checked out. And a stack sitting on the floor next to me. Not to mention shelves and shelves of books in the house. I should be caught up in about eight hundred years.

I have just discovered, this morning, that the time change to DST occurs this Saturday night. Since I am attempting to fast from being critical, that is all I’m going to say about that.

TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL AND PRAYERS

Meanderings,” by LightWriters

Slabs of river ice
play water music
symphonies of Spring

©2022 S. Michaels
Another Springtime
(Haiku 5-5-5)

You can see more of her wonderful poems at the link provided. Also, there is always a lovely picture that accompanies the short poem, which enhances it that much more, so it’s worth clicking the link.

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
    whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
    of whom shall I be afraid?
(Psalm 27:1 ESV)

Today I am grateful:

1. for the heart of gratitude that God has formed within me; it makes life so much easier to bear
2. for celebrations of birth, both into physical life and spiritual life; there  are beautiful similarities between them
3. for the fact that my security in Christ gives me strength against evil spirits in this world
4. for the reminder, today, that I need to clothe myself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience
5. for the encouragement I've received today to practice my focus

As I conclude John Henry Newman’s selection on fasting, today, he gets into the territory of “spiritual warfare,” to a degree. He speaks of the security of being in Christ, and its effect on our spiritual life. Says Newman, ” . . . evil spirits, instead of having power over us, tremble and are affrighted at every true Christian. They know he has that in him which makes him their master, that he may, if he will, laugh them to scorn, and put them to flight.” Note the word “true” before the word “Christian.” And then consider this passage from the New Testament:

Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, “In the name of the Jesus whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.” Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. One day the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?” Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding.
(Acts 19:13-16 NIV)

But, if we are “true Christians,” the evil spirits, or demons, will attempt to frighten us and gain power over us. “Therefore, let us be, my brethren, ‘not ignorant of their devices’; and as knowing them, let us watch, fast, and pray, let us keep close under the wings of the Almighty, that He may be our shield and buckler.”

We get a bit too frivolous with the concept of spiritual warfare, in my opinion, almost as if it is a game, or a box to check off on their Sunday School envelope. The whole purpose of fasting is to bring us closer in fellowship to the Lord. It does not get Him to love us more. That is impossible. But it calls to mind that we need to pray more. The point is, whenever I find myself tempted to partake or participate in that from which I am fasting, I am supposed to, at that very moment, stop and pray. The prayer might be about the thing I’m fasting from, or it might be for someone or something else, about which I have knowledge. Or, it might be, as Newman suggests, that He might “make known to us His will – to teach us our faults – to take from us whatever may offend Him – and to lead us in the way everlasting.”

(From Spiritual Classics, by Richard J Foster and Emilie Griffin)

In a short essay called “On Birth,” Eugene Peterson compares physical birth and physical birth. The comparison, to me, is fascinating. “Our first birth thrusts us kicking and squalling into the light of day. Our second birth places us singing and believing in the light of God. By acts of love previous to us, we are launched into ways of seeing and being that become truly ours. We are launched into life.”

In both circumstances, new life is involved. And the thing that really caught my attention was that bit about “acts of love previous to us.” In the physical realm, it is the physical love of two people that results in a birth into new life. And in the spiritual realm, it is the love of God in Jesus Christ that results in a birth into new life.

(From On Living Well, by Eugene H. Peterson)

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
(Colossians 3:12 NIV)

This verse has been on my radar since the mid-eighties, during a particularly spiritually volatile time in my life. I enjoy being brought back to it, from time to time. I don’t always enjoy the way it makes me feel, because I’m usually not living by it when it comes back around.

Going back to that bit about spiritual warfare up there . . . too many folks are all too willing to talk about putting on that spiritual armor, the “armor of God” that Paul talks about in Ephesians. They’re all about that “belt of truth” and “breastplate of righteousness.” They’ve got that “shield of faith,” ready to extinguish those “flaming arrows of the evil one.” They’re ready to spread the gospel, although I’m not so sure they’re into that bit about “peace.”

But you will not find those same people being all that excited about putting on these elements that Paul mentions in Colossians. I truly believe that, in their minds, compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience = weakness. But they are wrong. What those elements do equal is meekness, which is an entirely different thing.

I believe I find myself with more “fuel” for prayer, today.

Peter gives us a similar list:

 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
(2 Peter 1:5-8 ESV)

And, of course, it can all be summed up in love.

Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him.
(1 John 3:18-19 ESV)

Today’s prayer word is “focus.” I think it can go quite well with yesterday’s word, which was “ponder,” for to “ponder” something, or meditate on it, is to focus on said topic for a period of time.

I believe our culture has lost, or at least is in the process of losing, the ability to focus. The average, or standard, length of a TV commercial, these days, is fifteen seconds. I remember when they used to be a full minute. Then thirty seconds. Now fifteen. One source claims that some Internet ads are even down to only one second.

This is a reflection on the attention span of our culture. I confess that I have fallen into it, myself, as it is a struggle for me to maintain enough focus to sit and read a book for very long. We are always doing something else when we watch a TV program. We might be eating, we might be playing a game on a phone or tablet or laptop. Or we might just be scrolling through Facebook. I lose count of how many times I have to rewind a program on Prime Video or Netflix, saying, “Wait, what just happened?”

A Zen proverb is quoted at the beginning of today’s reading. It says, “When walking, walk. When eating, eat.” That’s all it says, but it can be applied to everything we do. There is a lot of stress put on “multitasking,” these days. Personally, I believe multitasking to be a myth. Oh, sure, I can do five things at a time. But am I doing any of them well? And, am I fully focused on any of them?

The answer, of course, is “no.” And, of course, these bad habits cannot help but effect our prayer lives. If I can’t focus enough to read for a length of time, or watch a TV program with my full concentration, I also am unable to pray for any serious amount of time.

A perfect example is what happens to me when I try to do this blog with Facebook and email tabs open in my browser. It is currently 10:47 AM. I started this blog well over two hours ago, and I’m not finished yet. Granted, I look at four different resources (not counting my Bible reading plan), but I still get much too easily distracted.

So there’s what I need to work on. Focus. One thing.

(From Pray a Word a Day)

Father, there is much to pray over today. I give You praise for being my Father in heaven, and for the grace and mercy that You have lavished on me. I pray for Your name to be glorified in all the earth, for You to be lifted high and worshiped.

I thank You for the discipline of fasting, to help me to remember to pray more effectively. Help me to be more adept at both practices, as well as knowing my strengths that You have placed within me. Gratitude is one of those strengths, and showing this, constantly, helps keep me humble (not that I am all that humble, mind you).

Thank You for the miracle of birth, both physical and spiritual. I cannot stress one over the other, for if it were not for physical birth, there would be no spiritual birth. They are too closely tied together. May we all be better at recognizing the beauty in both events.

Please help me to keep myself clothed in compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. I need all of those in equal measure, for none is more important than any other. I pray that it all be tied together in love within my heart and soul.

And in all of these things, please help me focus better. Keep me mindful of the need for “one thing.” One thing at a time.

All glory to You, through the Son, and by the Spirit.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

I will recount the steadfast love of the Lord,
    the praises of the Lord,
according to all that the Lord has granted us,
    and the great goodness to the house of Israel
that he has granted them according to his compassion,
    according to the abundance of his steadfast love.
(Isaiah 63:7 ESV)

Grace and peace, friends.

Turn, Turn, Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus

Today is Wednesday, the ninth of March, 2022, in the first week of Lent.

May the peace of Christ reign in your hearts today.

Today’s header photo is courtesy of Paul Militaru, from Romania. Please check out his awesome photography at the link provided.

Day 23,372

The A/C and heater people are supposed to arrive, this morning, between 9 and 10. The work should take most of the day. It is currently pretty cool outside, at 36 degrees, but should get up to around 60 by mid-afternoon.

An update on my computer situation. I finally got all of the files moved to Dropbox, but when I opened up the PC, I couldn’t tell which part was which. I’m also not 100% sure which part is making the noise, so I’m not going to try to swap out the hard drive myself. I have talked to the Computer Center manager at the library, so when I go to work Friday, I will take it with me, and he has agreed to look at it. I’ll take the new hard drive with me, as well.

There’s not much else to talk about, this morning. I’m starting a new devotional book, as I finished Symphony of Salvation, yesterday. The new one is also by Eugene Peterson, called On Living Well.

You might notice that I have not addressed world events that are going on. That is intentional. There are plenty of places you can read/hear about that. My purpose here is to present the Word of God in the best way I can, as positively as I can. My goal is encouragement, not discouragement. I know that I occasionally point out issues and shortcomings in the Church. But that is because I love the Church and I want to see her flourish.

TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL AND PRAYERS

Because you have made the LORD your dwelling place -
the Most High, who is my refuge -
no evil shall be allowed to befall you,
no plague come near your tent.
(Psalm 91:9-10)

Today I am grateful:

1. for the Church, the community of saints, faithful and true 
2. for angels who minister to the saints
3. for Salt of the Sound and their beautiful, inspiring music
4. for the way God works in my devotionals
5. for those times when the things of earth go strangely dim

John Henry Newman speaks of Daniel’s two recorded fasts. The first one, I believe was for ten days, in which neither Daniel nor the three Hebrews we know as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, ate any meat or any of the king’s delicacies. The second was for three weeks.

The result of the first fast was that Daniel and his three friends were all stronger and healthier than the king’s people. On the second fast, Daniel was visited by an angel.

Newman keys in on the angel visit, and notes that, when Jesus was fasting in the desert for forty days, He was visited and helped by angels. “And so we too may well believe, and take comfort in the thought, that even now, Angels are especially sent to those who thus seek God.” Newman then takes note that Elijah, as well, was strengthened by an angel. We also have record of Cornelius, the Gentile, being visited by an angel when he was fasting.

For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.
(Psalm 91:11-12)

The devil is well-aware of this promise, says Newman, “for he used it in that very hour of temptation. He knows full well what our power is, and what is his own weakness. So we have nothing to fear while we remain within the shadow of the throne of the Almighty.”

A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
(Psalm 91:7)

(From Spiritual Classics, by Richard J Foster and Emilie Griffin)

“Forget about what’s happened;
    don’t keep going over old history.
Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new.
    It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it?
There it is! I’m making a road through the desert,
    rivers in the badlands."
(Isaiah 43:18-19 MSG)
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
(Jeremiah 1:5 ESV)

“The Word was first. The Word was previous to everything else. Before we were conceived and took shape in our mothers’ wombs, before we were born, before anything happened, there was the Word.”

Before anything else existed, sun, moon, stars, trees, flowers, fish, governments, hospitals, schools, “there was the Word.”

I can’t paraphrase this stuff . . . it’s too good.

“If the Word were not first, everything else would have gone awry. If the Word were second – or third or fourth – we would have lost touch with the deep, divine rhythms of creation. If the Word were pushed out of the way and made to be a servant to the action and program, we would have lost connection with the vast interior springs of redemption that flow out of our Lord, the Word made flesh.

“When the Word is treated casually or carelessly, we wander away from the essential personal intimacies that God creates . . . by his Word.” (Emphasis mine)

(From On Living Well, by Eugene H. Peterson)

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.
(Ecclesiastes 3:1 ESV)
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
(Romans 8:38-39 ESV)

It is the season of Lent. We are “supposed” to give up something. I did see a TikTok by a reverend that I respect and follow, suggesting that, maybe, instead of trying to force ourselves to give up something, perhaps we should try to add something positive, such as trying to pray for a person every day.

But this is a “season,” as indicated in Ecclesiastes 3. Almost everyone is familiar with the next ten verses or so of that chapter. Pete Seeger helped us all with that. The Byrds probably made it more famous than Pete, but he wrote the song.

I’ve read over this many, many times, in my life, but it is always “time” to look them over again. The many “times” or “seasons” that the writer of Ecclesiastes notes are as follows:

A time to for birth and a time for death
A time to plant and a time to reap
A time to kill and a time to heal
A time to destroy and a time to construct
A time to cry and a time to laugh
A time to lament and at time to cheer
A time to make love and a time to abstain
A time to embrace and a time to part
A time to search and a time to count your losses
A time to hold on and a time to let go (there's a whole bunch of us who need to learn that one)
A time to rip out and a time to mend
A time to shut up and a time to speak up
A time to love and a time to hate
A time to wage war and a time to make peace
(I used The Message for these)

And, as we work our way through the season of Lent, perhaps giving things up and perhaps adding things, there is one thing that we need to do. We need to “Turn” our eyes upon Jesus. It is always time for that.

Today’s prayer word is “ponder.” Isn’t that fitting, based on what I’ve just written?

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
(Philippians 4:8 NIV)

“Ponder,” of course, means “to think about.” To think about carefully, to chew over, to meditate. Unfortunately, we tend to ponder over the wrong things, sometimes.

I have to interrupt myself and simply be awestruck over how my Father works these things out, how all of this works together, this morning. The writer of today’s reading, identified only as “Becky,” writes about trying to go to sleep at night, but as soon as her head hits the pillow, she starts pondering her day, her family members, and then the world and the future and . . . well, you get the picture.

In her case, “ponder” is more like “worry.” And I have most certainly been there. But the writer of Philippians would have us ponder different things. And I’m sure, if he were around today, he would agree with the song above the purple line, and say that all of the things in that verse are summed up by saying, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus.” Because, most assuredly, when you do that, the things of earth grow strangely dim.

(From Pray a Word a Day)

Father, help us all to turn our eyes upon Jesus, during these times, so that the things of earth will grow strangely dim. Not that we stop caring, may it never be! But that we stop worrying, fretting, fearing. We are Your children . . . have mercy on us . . . teach us how to obey Your commands to “fear not.” Help us to live Isaiah 41:10 every day, ever minute, throughout all of those many “seasons” listed above. There is NEVER any reason for us to fear, Father!

NOTHING can separate me from Your love in Christ Jesus. None of the things mentioned in those two verse, nor anything else that we could possibly imagine. And, most beautifully, not even my sin can separate me, because of the powerful and efficacious work of my savior Jesus Christ, my Lord! Your Word made flesh, existing before there was anything else, and who will come again to make all things right.

All praise and glory to You, my Father, through the Son and by the Spirit.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

Grace and peace, friends.

Wisdom and Forgiveness

Good morning! Today is Friday, the fourth of March, 2022, in the season of Lent.

Peace be with you!

Day 23,367

Today’s header photo is courtesy of Paul Militaru. Please check out his other photography at the link provided.

We had a successful and uneventful trip to get Mama, yesterday, and she is safely back here in Fort Worth, with us, for a little while. We dropped off a mail hold form at the Post Office, and left her tax documents with her CPA, and I also grabbed a couple cases of Crazy Water while in town.

The only “incident” that occurred was that my tire pressure light came on, in the car, before I got out of Fort Worth. Everything felt okay, so I didn’t stop to check it until I got to Mama’s house in Mineral Wells. The lowest tire had 30.5 (after driving that distance), so I wasn’t terribly worried about it. I just checked it, this morning, and it has 26, which is about seven pounds low. I’ll keep an eye on it, and, unless it drops drastically more between now and then, I will put some air in it Sunday afternoon.

Today is a normal work day for me, at the Hurst Public Library, in the computer center. Tomorrow is my Saturday to work the circulation desk. Sunday, our house church is not meeting, so I am going to take the opportunity to attend a Lutheran church in Grapevine, with my friend and former pastor. I’ve never been to a Lutheran service before, so this should be interesting.

The Lenten fast continues to go fairly well. As expected, keeping critical comments out of my vocabulary has been much more challenging than not eating candy. I have not been 100% successful, but am being more aware of when they occur, and able to stop them in their tracks.

TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL AND PRAYERS

“Nothing Called My Own,” by Daryl Madden

I know I’m in danger
But need not of fearing
If I remember
That I am nothing

I’ll know that danger
Can take nothing from me
When I feel afraid
I forget, nothing I be

And If I remember
I’ve nothing called my own
That will not be lost
At the end of life shown

That only what’s not mine
But God’s will ever live
And free me from false fears
With a heart to give

(based upon words by Thomas Merton)

This poem really spoke to me, this morning, as I recall words from a little book by Horatius Bonar, called How Shall I Go To God? It opens with the line, “It is with our sins that we go to God–for we have nothing else to go with that we can call our own.” Please check out Daryl’s poetry at the link provided.

The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
(Psalms 27:1 ESV)

Today I am grateful:

1. for the WordPress community; I am constantly encouraged and uplifted by my blogging friends
2. for the safe trip to Mineral Wells and back, yesterday
3. for the wisdom taught in the book of James, difficult as it is
4. for the lineage of faith that is in my ancestry
5. for the strength of God that is helping me in my Lenten journey

The book of James is a tough book to swallow. Every time I have to read it, I cringe, because it doesn’t just step on my toes. It crushes them.

But one thing we learn from this difficult book is that “Christian churches are not, as a rule, model communities of good behavior.” The outside world looks at that statement and gives out a hearty “Ya think??”

Part of the problem, though, is that 1) the outside world seems to have the mistaken idea that the Christian church should be a model community of good behavior; and 2) the Christian church often tries to deceive the outside world into believing that it is a model community of good behavior.

James would have us believe otherwise. And, as Eugene H. Peterson points out, “Deep and living wisdom is on display here, wisdom both rare and essential.” This does not necessarily involve knowing truth, although that is helpful, because “what good is a truth if we don’t know how to live it?”

Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor.
(James 3:17-18 MSG)

James was traditionally known as a man of prayer, spending much time on his knees. He lived what he wrote:

If you don’t know what you’re doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You’ll get his help, and won’t be condescended to when you ask for it. Ask boldly, believingly, without a second thought.
(James 1:5-6 MSG)

“The prayer is foundational to the wisdom. Prayer is always foundational to wisdom.”

Every desirable and beneficial gift comes out of heaven. The gifts are rivers of light cascading down from the Father of Light. There is nothing deceitful in God, nothing two-faced, nothing fickle.
(James 1:17 MSG)

(From Symphony of Salvation, by Eugene H. Peterson)

Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.
(Matthew 18:22 ESV)

Or, if you prefer:

“No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!
(Matthew 18:22 NLT)

Speaking of wisdom, in this passage of Scripture, we see the wisdom of forgiveness. And we see Peter, thinking himself extremely righteous by offering to forgive someone seven whole times, having his toes crushed by Jesus’s James-like wisdom, telling him, essentially, don’t count how many times you forgive someone.

“God – on Whose repeated forgiveness I depend – requires that I do the same for others and that they do the same for me. Not grudgingly, but from a sincere heart. . . . Forgiveness is a wisdom near to the heart of God.” (Carol Knapp)

Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.
(Micah 7:18-19 ESV)

Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
(Matthew 6:9-15 ESV)

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
(Colossians 3:12-13 ESV)

(From Daily Guideposts 2022)

Today’s prayer word is “link.” I almost passed over this one, but I got to thinking about it. Laurence Overmire, an American poet who is also a genealogist, is quoted as saying, “All of our ancestors give us the precious gift of life.”

There is not a word of Scripture in this reading, nor is there any reference to it. It is entirely about someone’s lineage.

And when I think about my lineage, I am blessed. God didn’t have to birth me into this family. But He chose to place me in it. (Remember yesterday’s prayer word?)

My family has a long history of God-loving people in it, and I am very grateful for this. My spiritual life would likely have been much different otherwise.

(From Pray a Word a Day)

Father, I praise You and thank You for placing me where You did. What a blessing to have been born into this family. Random luck, some would say, but I don’t believe in “luck” or “coincidences.” It was part of Your plan, and I am very grateful for this. And You kept it going, even when I tried to leave (or at least wander off) the path. You always kept me on the path, sometimes nudging me, other times outright shoving. There may have even been a few times You had to tie me up and carry me over Your “shoulder.”

Father, as Your Church continues trying to survive these years, I pray that You help us in several things. Help us to forgive the way Jesus told us to forgive, not the way Peter tried to. It is unlimited. Jesus didn’t mean seventy-seven times or four hundred and ninety times, at least that is what we believe. He seems to have been indicating that the amount of forgiveness is as unlimited as Your love. And praises be that You don’t stop forgiving us at seventy times seven times!!

I also pray that You help us, as a Church, to get along in wisdom, the way James is trying to teach us. We are strongly divided, these days, and we need Your help. There are factions that are focusing on the wrong things. We need to be focusing on Your love, the love of Jesus, and our love for each other. Maybe it really is “all about love.” And, while I wouldn’t go quite as far as the Beatles, we definitely do need love and more of it. Help us to remember that our jobs are to love You and love people, not to judge people and condemn people. That is actually Your job, and Yours alone. But You also have promised that, in Christ, there is no condemnation. Thank You for that, as well.

We are broken, Lord, all of us. So we need Your “fixing.” Give us wisdom, give us love, give us one another. And help us, as brother Daryl reminds us way back at the beginning, that we really have nothing that we can call our own.

All glory to You, through the Son, and by the Spirit.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
(Micah 6:8 ESV)

Grace and peace, friends.

Jesus Only

“One of the first things we learn in experiences of fasting is how it reveals what controls us. You see, we cover up with food and other good things what is inside of us, but in experiences of fasting these come to the surface.”

Good morning. Today is Thursday, the third of March, 2022, in the season of Lent.

May the peace of Christ rain down on you today.

Day 23,366

I’m a little behind, this morning, apparently. It is almost 10:00 AM, and I’m just starting this thing. I actually slept until almost 8:00, this morning, which was nice. And I slept much better than the night before. I still had, typically, a couple of long awake stretches, though.

As soon as I finish this, I’ll be heading to Mineral Wells to bring Mama back here for an extended stay. We don’t know how long. That is TBD.

My first day of Lent went pretty well. I had no candy. I even resisted some Oreo cookies at work, but that’s not candy. I had some ice cream at home, that had chocolate flakes in it, but that doesn’t count as candy. Candy = M&Ms, Reeses, Heath bars, and so on. Pieces of chocolate in ice cream is not candy. As for the criticism, I did pretty well. I forgot myself for a few minutes, during a conversation with C, but was able to acknowledge what had happened and stop. (I was not criticizing her, by the way.) And I resisted talking about a scenario or two at work that would have resulted in me being critical or judgmental. So that’s good.

What needs to happen, though, in order for this “fast” to be effective, is that, when I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me . . .

Oops. Sorry. My fingers just took off on their own.

When I find myself being tempted or craving candy, or when critical thoughts pop into my brain and threaten to come out my mouth, I need to stop and be thankful for something; to consider my blessings and be grateful. The idea is to divert the temptation or craving or thought into something positive.

Enough of that, let’s get on with the devotional.

TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL AND PRAYERS

Your beauty and love chase after me every day of my life. I’m back home in the house of GOD for the rest of my life.
(Psalms 23:6 MSG)

Today I am grateful:

1. for a good night's rest and a day off work; praying for a safe trip to Mineral Wells
2. that circumstances have worked out the way they have, so that I/we can do things for Mama
3. for the spiritual benefits of fasting, both from certain types of food, and from other things, like being critical
4. for the beauty and love of the Lord that chase after me every day of my life
5. that I am chosen to be one of God's children, and that is totally by His good pleasure, not for anything that I did to deserve it

I’m going to share Richard Foster’s reflections on the writing of Catherin Marshall on fasting.

“The central idea in fasting is the voluntary denial of an otherwise normal function for the sake of intense spiritual activity. Now, when we understand fasting from this perspective we see its reasonableness as well as its broader dimensions. The Catherine Marshall reading helps us see these broader dimensions by teaching us about a way of fasting that is not from food but from a critical spirit. Then as she chronicles her day we see the intense spiritual activity she enters, especially as it relates to the young man for whom she was praying.

“One of the first things we learn in experiences of fasting is how it reveals what controls us. You see, we cover up with food and other good things what is inside of us, but in experiences of fasting these come to the surface. Did you notice how true this was in Catherine Marshall’s experiment? She learned how dependent she was on criticism even to feel like a whole person and how utterly bankrupt her critical insights were at creating positive change in anyone or anything. She saw what was controlling her, and this released her to begin moving in a new direction, a direction free from a critical spirit. The same will be true for you and me.”

Two major points I see here. First is the idea that we find out what controls us when we embark on a fast. This is so true. What is harder for me? To not eat candy (difficult) or to not be judgmental (virtually impossible)? So what is it that controls me? Not so much the desire for sweet treats. I have proved before that I can squelch this. But this need to judge people . . . does it make me feel superior? I have prayed desperately that this is not the case. I have no desire whatsoever to feel superior to anyone.

Or do I? That is the big question, isn’t it?

The second major point involves the lack of ability to create positive change. Being judgmental or critical, especially in a negative way (judgment is rarely if ever positive, where criticism can be), I think it is safe to say, never creates any kind of change. One only has to look at social media for a few minutes to see that. Many opinions being forcefully stated, and no minds being changed, largely because both sides of any given issue insist that they are the only ones with any brains.

So this is where I find myself today, with a “promise” to God to try to eliminate candy from my diet for forty days, and to try to not be judgmental for forty days (that one I would prefer to be a permanent change).

The suggested activities and/or questions in the chapter involve enlarging one’s ideas about fasting. This is something that I have already accomplished, as evidenced by the two things I am fasting from for Lent. But I didn’t always think like that. Up until about a decade ago, fasting only involved food, in my mind. But if one is considering embarking on a fast, there are different types and lengths and concepts.

One suggestion is to consider a fast from criticalness for one day. Well, you can see that I’ve already gone beyond that one, looking for a complete life change in that regard.

But here is one that I find intriguing, and worthy of contemplation. “Pray over a particular personality trait of yours, one from which you would like to ‘fast,’ and consider writing in your journal about it. Express your struggle as a dialogue between you and the Lord.”

One such personality trait that I might find myself praying over is my tendency to be late, like I am this morning. Granted, I have no scheduled “appointment,” but I did have a self-imposed goal for leaving the house, and it looks like I may not make it.

(From Spiritual Classics, by Richard J Foster and Emilie Griffin)

Jesus Christ is “the centerpiece of everything we believe” (Hebrews 3:1 The Message). “Our main and central task is to live in responsive obedience to God’s action revealed in Jesus. Our part in the action is the act of faith.”

But we tend to become “self-important along the way and decide to improve matters with our two cents’ worth.” This results in “Jesus-and” theology. When I was in college, we defined a cult as anything that added to Jesus. In other words, anything that produced “Jesus-and” thinking.

Sad to say, if we went by that definition today, almost every major “Christian” group would be classified as a cult, because very few of them are “Jesus only.”

In the book of Hebrews, according to Eugene H. Peterson, it was “Jesus-and-angels, or Jesus-and-Moses, or Jesus-and-priesthood.” Today, he says, “it is more likely to be Jesus-and-politics, or Jesus-and-education, or even Jesus-and-Buddha.”

But the unknown writer of Hebrews warns us:

Don’t be lured away from him by the latest speculations about him. The grace of Christ is the only good ground for life. Products named after Christ don’t seem to do much for those who buy them.
(Hebrews 13:9 MSG)

And, perhaps more importantly:

Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God.
(Hebrews 12:2 MSG)

“When we do that, the focus becomes clear and sharp again: God’s action in Jesus. And we are free once more for the act of faith, the one human action in which we don’t get in the way but on the Way.”

Now that we know what we have—Jesus, this great High Priest with ready access to God—let’s not let it slip through our fingers. We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help.
(Hebrews 4:14-16 MSG)

(From Symphony of Salvation, by Eugene H. Peterson)

Still, when I tried to figure it out, all I got was a splitting headache . . . Until I entered the sanctuary of God. Then I saw the whole picture:
(Psalms 73:16-17 MSG)

How often have we struggled through a week’s events (or two years??), feeling defeated and, sometimes, useless. But then, we enter into that sanctuary, that place, whether it be a huge cathedral, a tiny church building, or a house, where God’s people gather, and it all comes together. “Fellowship occurs. Stability returns. The Lord is near. And I am blessed.”

Your beauty and love chase after me every day of my life. I’m back home in the house of GOD for the rest of my life.
(Psalms 23:6 MSG)

I’m asking GOD for one thing, only one thing: To live with him in his house my whole life long. I’ll contemplate his beauty; I’ll study at his feet.
(Psalms 27:4 MSG)

(From Daily Guideposts 2022)

Today’s prayer word is “chosen.” It’s a dangerous word, true. We can get a little caught up in the pride of being “chosen.” It happened to Israel, right?

Tim Hughes, English songwriter and worship leader, is quoted as saying, “But at the heart of the gospel is this truth, we are called and chosen by God to join in with the dance of the trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”

For many years, now, I have loved the idea of our relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit being described as a “dance.” As stated by a writer known only as “Heidi,” “My part in this dance of faith is small, but important. Without me, God’s song would be incomplete. He chose me specifically for the part I play, and I’m honored.”

Yes, we are chosen. Whether this indicates predestination or not is not the topic of today’s devotional. But we are chosen by God to be His people. And He “needs” (that’s in quotation marks because God truly “needs” nothing) every one of us . . . okay, I’m going to change that. He requires every one of us for the picture to be complete. That’s why it takes all kinds of people to be the Church. That’s why we are so diverse.

(From Pray a Word a Day)

Father, remind us, today, that we are chosen. Help us to remember this when we pray, not to produce pride, and make us think we deserve something. Rather, the truth should humble us and give us humility and grace in in our prayers. The idea that I am chosen for Your Kingdom makes me more humble and creates a greater gratitude within me, especially when I know that this choosing had nothing to do with anything that I possibly could have done to deserve it!

Help me in this fast, Father, to accomplish the purpose that You desire. Remind me, when I really want a piece of candy, to be grateful for something else in my life, or to pray for someone who needs prayer. Stop me when I’m about to be critical and give me something to praise about, instead. Help me to find positive things to say to and about people. Yes, even those people.

Lord, forgive us when we add things to Your great grace and action in Jesus. Please teach us and remind us that our faith involves Jesus only, not Jesus-and-anything. Remind us that, anytime we add anything, we “dilute the purity, clutter the simplicity” of Jesus and Your grace.

And thank You for Your Church, with whom I can always gather to help me figure things out and bring my focus back to what is important.

All of this through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

Everything comes from him; 
Everything happens through him; 
Everything ends up in him. 
Always glory! 
Always praise! 
Yes. Yes. Yes. 
(Romans 11:36 MSG)

Grace and peace, friends.

“Remember That You Are Dust”

Good morning. Today is Wednesday, the second of March, 2022, in the season of Lent.

May the peace of Christ be with you today!

Day 23,365

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Lent is the forty-day season leading up to the celebration of Easter, or, as I prefer to call it, Resurrection Sunday. The Fat Tuesday parties are over, the revelry is complete. Today, the fasts begin. Many people will give up meat for Lent. I understand that is a common practice, especially among Catholics.

If you recall yesterday’s blog, I discussed a few things I might be looking at “giving up” for Lent. The thing is, I don’t believe it to be a coincidence that I read the selection on fasting that I read yesterday, of all days. And while I realize that the purpose of that specific selection was not necessarily driven by the idea of being critical, it certainly struck home for me.

This year, for Lent (which I do not always technically “observe”), I have two goals in mind. One is physical. I am giving up candy for Lent. Laugh or chuckle if you want, but candy has been a serious downfall for me, in recent weeks. M&Ms, Heath bars, Hershey “Nuggets,” and other forms of chocolate, mainly. Those will be eliminated from my diet for at least forty days.

I also have a spiritual or mental goal. I plan to fast from being critical for at least forty days. That’s right. I’m going to try to not criticize anything or anybody for at least forty days. If you know me, you know that the only way I can accomplish this is by the power of the Holy Spirit. I don’t promise that I won’t have any critical thoughts, mind you. Sometimes, those thoughts can’t be prevented. However, as Dallas Willard reminds us, we humans have a unique ability. We are the only creatures on the planet who have the ability to control what we allow our minds to dwell on. So that means that, when a critical thought pops into my brain (and I say “when” not “if”), it will be my duty to stop it in its tracks, “nip it in the bud,” as it were.

We got our new bed, yesterday, and got it assembled before I went to work at the library. It’s very nice, and works just like S’s bed and the one we got for Mama’s room (I wonder . . . will we still call it R’s room?). Head and feet raise and lower, and it has vibrator massages on both ends. Plus each side has four USB ports for device charging! I didn’t sleep real great, last night, sadly, but I don’t think it has anything to do with the new bed. Hopefully, tonight will be better.

We also made the decision, yesterday, after conversing with the A/C tech, to go ahead and replace our systems. We will be getting a 5-ton A/C unit that provides, I believe, 18 seer (I have no idea what that means), and is variable speed instead of single speed. That means it should be more efficient and save us somewhere in the neighborhood of 30-35% on our electricity in the summertime. The work will be done next Wednesday. Total cost for the whole shebang is roughly $12,500. Yikes.

Before I head into today’s devotional, I want to share an article by one of my long-time favorite singer/songwriters, Carolyn Arends. I remember her from years ago, when she broke into the CCM arena after having been a staff songwriter for a label. She had a number of successful albums and singles and then kind of faded (or so I thought) for a bit. Or maybe I just lost track, I don’t know. She resurfaced a decade or so ago as a major player in one of my favorite Christian organizations, Renovare. And by “major player,” I mean leader. I’m not talking about musically, I’m talking spiritually. And Carolyn has really shined (shone?) in this role. Well, what I want to share, today, is a recent article she wrote about Ash Wednesday. It’s called “I Was An Ash Wednesday Rookie.” It really resonates with me because our backgrounds are similar, at least church-wise.

I probably won’t be attending an Ash Wednesday service today. I wish I could, but it’s my Wednesday to work at the Hurst Public Library (circulation desk), and we don’t leave the library until 6:15. All of the services I can find start at 6:30, and I don’t think I could make it in time. Maybe next year, because I would really like to attend one, someday.

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL AND PRAYERS

"Almighty and everlasting God,
you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent:
Create and make in us new and contrite hearts,
that we,
worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness,
may obtain of you,
the God of all mercy,
perfect remission and forgiveness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God,
for ever and ever.
Amen."
(Collect for Ash Wednesday, The Book of Common Prayer)
Jesus said to them again, 
"Peace be with you. 
As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you." 
And when he had said this, 
he breathed on them 
and said to them,
 "Receive the Holy Spirit. 
(John 20:21-22 ESV)

Today I am grateful:

1. for the season of Lent, as we prepare for Resurrection Sunday
2. for the many saints in my life that have inspired me and brought me to the spiritual place I am today
3. for the life and peace that Jesus breathes into us
4. for the reminder that I am dust
5. that life doesn't end here
'Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?' Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. 
Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high. 
Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the LORD? 
"Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? 
Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. 
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, 'Here I am.'  
(Isaiah 58:3-9 ESV)

This is the scripture passage that is brought forth in Spiritual Classics, after presenting the selection by Catherine Marshall that I summarized yesterday. The people question the fact that they fast, but it seems to get no results. God answers by questioning the validity of their fast.

The purpose of the reading, again, was not so much to highlight the critical nature (although that is what spoke so loudly to me), but to center on the discipline of fasting. And what better time to arrive at this place than the beginning of the Lenten season?

And, as I read the passage from Isaiah, one of my initial reactions tends to lean toward being critical toward the church of today, but I am stopping those thoughts and not going there. Rather, I will focus on what I can do to accomplish this “fast” of which the Lord speaks. What can I do to help loose the bonds of wickedness, to break every chain, and free the oppressed? What can I do to share my bread with the hungry and my home with the homeless (there’s a scary thought, right there), and to cover the naked? The passage indicates that, when we are successfully doing these things, our cries will be heard.

As the week progresses, there will be questions and suggested activities, and a final thought from one of the writers of the book.

(From Spiritual Classics, by Richard J Foster and Emilie Griffin)

There is a common misconception that our “religion” is a “private matter.” And while much of what goes on in “religion” concerns matters of the heart, it cannot help but spill out into real life.

“Every movement we make in response to God has a ripple effect, touching family, neighbors, friends, community. Belief in God alters our language. Love of God affects our relationships. Hope in God enters into our work. Also their opposites – unbelief, indifference, and despair. None of these movements and responses, beliefs and prayers, gestures and searches, can be confined to the soul. They spill out and make history. If they don’t, they are under suspicion of being fantasies at best, hypocrisies at worst.” ~ Eugene H. Peterson

The book of Philemon is a perfect picture of the truth of this. One of the single chapter books of the New Testament, it involves a letter from Paul to a slave owner named Philemon, who is a brother in Christ. It turns out Paul has come in contact with a runaway slave of Philemon’s, named Onesimus, who has, apparently because of Paul’s ministry, also become a Christian! As Paul writes to Philemon, it is apparent that this relationship between Philemon and Onesimus has to change, because they are now brothers in Christ. And Paul is sending Onesimus back to him, with instructions on how this has to change!

It is in situations like this that Christianity is proved to be real or, as Peterson said, “fantasies . . . hypocrisies.”

Does our belief in Christ spill out into our lives? It is my belief that the separation of “sacred” and “secular” is a myth. I cannot compartmentalize my life. If I can be “Christian” on Sunday, at “church,” but can act like a heathen at work, or treat my family terribly at home, my “Christianity” is not real.

(From Symphony of Salvation, by Eugene H. Peterson)

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; 
according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. 
Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. 
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. 
Against you, you only, 
have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; 
so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge. 
Surely I was sinful at birth, 
sinful from the time my mother conceived me. 
Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; 
you taught me wisdom in that secret place. 
(Psalms 51:1-6 NIV)

The prayer word for today is “life.” What a powerful word, full of meaning!

Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.
(James 4:14 NIV)

“Life” is fragile. As we have observed, so many times in our past, a loved one is “here today, gone tomorrow.” We are described, in Scripture, as a breath, a mist, as grass, that is here one minute and burned in the fire the next.

We don’t really notice this, as children. When we are children, life is forever, and the main goal is fun. As young adults, we think ourselves indestructible. But as we grow older, the frailty becomes reality. Death is imminent. We think about it more.

May God help us to treasure this thing called “life.” The good news is that it doesn’t end here. But the time here is, by comparison, short, just a breath, a wisp of smoke.

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Father, what beautiful reminders, this morning, of the beauty of life with You! Yes, I am dust, and to dust shall I return, assuming Jesus does not return before my physical life on this planet ends. But “life” as we know, does not end at that point. We will carry on, in some form which we know not, for eternity, in our lives with You.

I pray for all who are embarking on a Lenten journey today. As we “celebrate” Ash Wednesday, whether we get cross-shaped smudges of ash on our foreheads or not, may we remember the truth that we are only dust. Help us all to accomplish whatever “fast” You have put on our hearts today. For me, I ask that You strengthen me, more for the elimination of judgment and criticism than candy, although I desire success in both realms. But, to me, the criticism is the more important aspect. Help me to “take captive” those thoughts as soon as they enter my brain, and not to entertain them, and especially not to let them escape through my mouth or fingertips.

So, Lord, I just realized that I’m focusing on what goes in my mouth and what comes out my mouth. That’s rather ironic.

I also pray that my faith always works itself out in reality, and is not something hidden, that no one else can see. It must be, in order to be authentic. It is not private, and I cannot separate “sacred” and “secular.” My life is in You. All of it, every aspect of it. Christ must be all and in all.

Glory to You, through the Son and by the Spirit!

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

Grace and peace, friends.

Fixers

The moment something “bad” happens to us, “people start showing up telling us exactly what is wrong with us and what we must do to get better. Sufferers attract fixers the way roadkill attracts vultures.”

Good morning. Today is Monday, the seventeenth of January, 2022, in the second week of Ordinary Time.

May the peace of Christ be with you, today!

Day 23,321

Six days until Hamilton!

We had a nice gathering, yesterday, for our house church. There were six of us in person, and two on Zoom. We only managed to get through one Psalm (52), but had some good discussion, and great fellowship. I really feel that we are closer to what the first century church did at their gatherings, anyway. We talk about our lives, read some Scripture, and pray together. Occasionally, we also break bread together. One thing I’m missing, though . . . we haven’t taken the supper in a while. I need to bring that up.

C is working from home, this week. She still doesn’t feel great, but feels better than yesterday. We feel like that terrible wind on Saturday blew in some junk or stirred it up in the air. Not even a hint of fever, for any of us, though. I’m sneezing and sniffling a bit, this morning, but have felt pretty much fine for a few days.

There is nothing much on today’s agenda. Tomorrow, I have an appointment to pick up my new CPAP machine, at 11:00 AM. Once I get that and get it set up, I may be looking at changing doctors. C’s doctor has moved from the clinic he was at, along with a couple other associates. I may be switching over to them. I haven’t decided, yet. It’s a lot easier for me to find time to visit a doctor’s office, these days, so they don’t have to be real close. Their new office is on South Main in Fort Worth, close to the “hospital district,” about twelve miles from my house. That’s not too bad, and is about fifteen to twenty minutes, depending on the time of day.

All the wrong teams won, yesterday. The Buccaneers blew out the Eagles, the 49ers beat the ‘boys, and the Chiefs beat the Steelers. I’ll probably be rooting for the Bills from this point on. It feels like rooting for the end of the world, though, so I don’t know. The Cardinals and Rams play tonight, and I literally could not possibly care less who wins that game.

TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL AND PRAYERS

Now John's disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. And people came and said to him, "Why do John's disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?" 
And Jesus said to them, "Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. 
The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. 
No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. 
And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins." 
(Mark 2:18-22 ESV)

In this passage, Jesus and His disciples are being criticized for not doing “religious things,” such as fasting. They are being compared to two different groups, neither of which had much in common. It is worth noting that Jesus, in His response, refers to Himself as “the bridegroom,” and seems to indicate that his “taking away” will be of a violent nature.

As I read this, I consider the idea of “religious things,” and how I feel about them. There is certainly nothing wrong with ritual. I’m somewhat a fan of it, actually. I am drawn toward church settings that employ ritual and liturgy, even though the current setting that I attend does not. I have not, however, ever been able to get a firm grip on the ritual of fasting. I have fasted before, but not on a regular basis.

But when ritualistic things are done “religiously,” without focus on the object (i.e., the “bridegroom”), they are meaningless. Ritual for the sake of ritual is worthless.

I will confess that I have never quite understood the examples of the cloth and the wineskins. I get the technical descriptions and understand the truth that, if you patch and old garment with a piece of new material, and then wash it, the new material will shrink, and destroy the work that was done. And I understand that fermenting wine swells, which would burst a wineskin that had already been stretched out.

What I’m not sure of is how this applies to people and their relationship to Jesus and the Father. I’m looking at some commentary at the moment, in particular by Alexander MacLaren, and it says that, “The attempt was made to keep Christianity within the limits of Judaism; it failed, but not before much harm had been done to Christianity. Over and over again the effort has been made in the Church, and it has always ended disastrously,-and it always will.” This makes sense, and I can see, as the New Testament progresses, that similar disagreements arose, especially concerning things like circumcision.

I would welcome any other thoughts or suggestions regarding this. And as we, as the opening song suggests, turn our eyes upon Jesus, may the things of the earth truly grow strangely dim.

(From Pray As You Go)

I find it interesting that, in Symphony of Salvation, Eugene H. Peterson takes four chapters to go through the book of Job. Today, I’m in the third of the four, which deals with Job’s “friends” who come try to “fix” him, during his suffering.

And who among us has not experienced something similar to Job? The moment something “bad” happens to us, “people start showing up telling us exactly what is wrong with us and what we must do to get better. Sufferers attract fixers the way roadkill attracts vultures.” I actually love that last sentence!

And, you might notice, these people are usually full of “advice” from God’s Word! They tend to play “fast and loose” with biblical quotations. The question is, though, “Why is it that for all their apparent compassion we feel worse instead of better after they’ve said their piece?”

Many of the things that Job’s “friends” said were “technically true.” But it is that “technical” part that spoils them. “They are answers without personal relationship, intellect without intimacy. The answers are slapped onto Job’s ravaged life like labels on a specimen bottle.” And here is how Job defended himself:

Then Job defended himself:
 "I've had all I can take of your talk. 
What a bunch of miserable comforters! 
Is there no end to your windbag speeches? 
What's your problem that you go on and on like this?
 If you were in my shoes, I could talk just like you. 
I could put together a terrific harangue and really let you have it. 
But I'd never do that. 
I'd console and comfort, make things better, not worse!
(Job 16:1-5 MSG)

“The book of Job does not reject answers as such. There is content to biblical religion. It is the secularization of answers that is rejected – answers severed from their Source, the living God, the Word that both batters us and heals us. We cannot have truth about God divorced from the mind and heart of God.”

And all the believers lived in a wonderful harmony, 
holding everything in common. 
They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person's need was met.
(Acts 2:44-45 MSG)
"Let me give you a new command: 
Love one another. 
In the same way I loved you, you love one another. 
This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—
when they see the love you have for each other."
(John 13:34-35 MSG)
And may the Master pour on the love so it fills your lives 
and splashes over on everyone around you, 
just as it does from us to you.
(1 Thessalonians 3:12 MSG)

Father, as I turn my eyes toward Jesus, this morning, I pray that my focus may stay sharp. By this point in my life, I am surely an “old wineskin,” but have I been fully stretched to my maximum capacity? I think not. I believe there is still room for me to be stretched, and You continue to do so, as each year goes by. I pray to You, constantly, that You would teach me Your way, that I may walk in Your truth. And just when I think I’ve got Your way figured out, You take me a little deeper and show me something that, while it may not be “new,” it is new to me. I pray that I will continue to be receptive to that wisdom and knowledge, as it comes.

I also pray that I would never fall prey to the temptation to be like Job’s friends. We all think we’ve got all the answers, and it is very easy to sit around and instruct someone who is suffering, to tell them why they’re suffering, and what they did wrong to get there. When, truthfully, we have no idea whatsoever. I pray that, when I encounter suffering in others, I would have the wisdom to know what to say and how to say it. I also pray that I might have the wisdom to not “say” at all, but to merely sit and listen, or simply be with the person, sitting in silent support. May we not be guilty of citing chapter and verse without having Your mind and heart on the matter.

On this Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Father, I pray for continued work in the area of racial reconciliation. We seem to have moved tremendously backward in recent years, and, sadly, driven largely by people claiming to be followers of Christ! May it never be, Lord! Help us, Your people, to be compassionate people who fight for the equality of all men, especially considering how we have been graciously given the salvation that began with Israel! Were it not for Your compassion and Your equal treatment of all people, we “Gentiles” would be permanently lost! Oh, how we seem to have forgotten this. God have mercy on us and help us!

Finally, in the spirit of yesterday’s readings, I invited Jesus to intervene and intercede in our world today. Jesus, please bring forth healing. We beg You to eradicate this plague from our world, and I pray that Your people would demonstrate more willingness to stop thinking selfishly and make sacrifices for the greater good.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

Today I am grateful:

1. for the salvation that has been granted us and made available to people from every race, tribe, tongue, and nation
2. for people who know the mind and heart of God and can truly be helpful and compassionate to those who are suffering, without trying to "fix" them
3. for a mind and heart that desires to see equal rights and treatment for all people
4. that God continues to stretch me with new understanding of biblical concepts
5. for the mind and heart to be more devoted to God than to religious things
And now to him who can keep you on your feet, 
standing tall in his bright presence, 
fresh and celebrating— 
to our one God, 
our only Savior, through Jesus Christ, our Master,
 be glory, 
majesty, 
strength, 
and rule before all time, and now,
 and to the end of all time. 
YES. 
(Jude 1:24-25 MSG)

Grace and peace, friends.

Into the Deep

Today is Wednesday, the seventeenth of February, 2021.

Peace be with you!

Day 22,987

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lent Season. It is also St. Patrick’s Day. In the past, I would try to wear green. But then, it was pointed out to me that, since I am not Catholic, I should wear orange. I’m wearing grey this morning.

I am typing on my PC in my studio, this morning! Yes, our power returned at approximately 2:30 PM, yesterday afternoon. It was slightly comical, actually. Let’s begin, though, with the firewood story.

It was 53 degrees in the house. It had gotten down to 52, but that’s as cold as it got in our house. We attribute this to the fact that our house has always leaned toward the warm side, which makes it tough to cool in the summer. However, after the last 48 hours, I will not ever complain about that again, because I know some folks who had temps in the thirties in their homes.

We had two fake fireplace logs. Yes, we were pathetically unprepared for this. I promise we won’t be caught off-guard like that again. Some good people brought us some firewood. A family in our little church, who lives across the street from the house where we meet and have nights of worship, has a large amount of wood in their back yard. Brandon and Terry, the other two leaders in our church, along with Brent, who lives across the street, loaded up the back of Brandon’s truck and brought a huge amount of wood to us.

So we were able to have a nice fire going. We rearranged the furniture so that our long couch was facing the fire (about five feet away), and C’s recliner was right there at the end of the couch. So we were enjoying the heat of the fire. We had had our lunch. C and S had sandwiches, and I had a can of tuna. We also had cold, leftover Pecan-crusted chicken. I held my two pieces of the first on a fork for a few seconds. It didn’t warm it a whole lot, but gave it a nice, smoky flavor.

All of a sudden, something beeped. Tessie (dog) barked. I turned to look toward where the beep had come from, and said, “What was that?” expecting another smoke alarm failing, or something like that. It didn’t even dawn on me. Then I saw C’s face, and I realized what had happened, just as I heard the sound of the fan from the bedroom. The power was on!

There was a brief moment where we almost wept for joy, but even that joy was tainted by not knowing if it would stay on. We sprung into action. C ran into the kitchen and turned on the coffee maker. I grabbed electronic devices and got them plugged in to charge. I turned the heat thermostat down to 68, as recommended by the PTB’s. I figured we had endured 53, so 68 should be a walk in the park, you know. I went ahead an reset the clocks on the stove and the microwave.

You know what we did next? Instead of jumping on our computers or turning the TV on, we sat back down on the couch and recliner, in front of the fire and enjoyed it a little while longer.

It is now 8:00 AM on Wednesday. The power stayed on all night. I suppose, after I finish my blogging, this morning, I will bring the food in from the back porch. I know that there are still some folks who don’t have power, yet, so we will be praying hard for them, today, and seeing if there is anything we can do to help. There are horror stories on TV . . . icicles hanging from ceiling fans in homes, water raining down from the ceiling of the Fort Worth Hilton, churches completely flooded.

Most of Galveston and the Gulf Coast is without power, as well. It was 23 degrees in Galveston, yesterday, and the beach was white! The winter storm warning spanned the entire state of Texas! It’s going to take some time to recover from this. Yet another chapter in what has been the strangest twelve months of my life.

Obviously, I’m not at work, this morning. We have been told that we are expected to be there tomorrow, if at all possible. We received communication that, if we could not make it in on Thursday, we would be charged PTO. This makes me think that we will not be charged PTO for these three days. However, I’m also not sure we will be paid if we don’t use PTO. That is unclear at this point. So, tomorrow, I will get up and get ready, and see how the roads look. It is only supposed to reach 30 degrees today, according to one weather app, but another says only 27. I don’t think that’s going to be enough to clear things up. We got more snow, overnight, but not a lot in Fort Worth. Denton and northern areas got more.

I’ll move on to the more important part of my morning.

TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL AND PRAYERS

“Enter, Lord Christ–
I have joy in Your coming.
You have given me life;
and I welcome Your coming.
I turn now to face You,
I lift up my eyes.
Be blessing my face, Lord;
be blessing my eyes.
May all my eye looks on
be blessed and be bright,
my neighbors, my loved ones
be blessed in Your sight.
You have given me life
and I welcome Your coming.
Be with me, Lord,
I have joy, I have joy.”
(Celtic Daily Prayer)

May he grant your heart’s desires and make all your plans succeed. May we shout for joy when we hear of your victory and raise a victory banner in the name of our God. May the LORD answer all your prayers.
(Psalms 20:4-5 NLT)

Today I am grateful:

  • For electricity; for lights, for heat, for COFFEE
  • For wonderful brothers and sisters in Christ; we help take care of each other
  • For conveniences that we often take for granted
  • That we never had any water issues at our house
  • For the season of Lent
  • That through everything that has happened in the last twelve months, if we are truly paying attention, You are drawing us deeper

Scriptures and Prayers from Seeking God’s Face: Praying with the Bible through the Year

“For you were made from dust, and to dust you will return.”
(Genesis 3:19 NLT)

As we enter into the Lent season, it is important to realize the purpose. It doesn’t have to be joyless, but it is an intentional entering into the suffering of Jesus, through fasting or other forms of self-denial. This is something that is growing less and less popular in our culture.

“The spare and sober nature of Lent is healthy for the heart and true to the gospel, scrubbing away frothy spirituality by calling us to say no to ourselves in order to experience a greater yes in Jesus.”

LENT – DAY 1 – ASH WEDNESDAY

INVITATION

The LORD is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.
(Psalms 145:8 NLT)

BIBLE SONG

For the director of music. A psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge. Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place.
(Psalms 51:1-6 NIV)

BIBLE READING

Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy hill. Let all who live in the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming. It is close at hand— a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness. Like dawn spreading across the mountains a large and mighty army comes, such as never was in ancient times nor ever will be in ages to come.
(Joel 2:1-2 NIV)

“Even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.
(Joel 2:12-13 NIV)

DWELLING: SILENCE AND MEDITATION

Psalm 51 is always a great confessional psalm, and is certainly a good prayer for the Lent season. “Have mercy on me,” is always a cry worthy of the child of God. “Wash away my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.”

Of course, the thing is, post-Jesus, our sins are always cleansed. But the major point of this comes in the next verses. We must be aware of our sin. “I know my transgression,” says David. This is an important perspective as we enter Lent. We have to be aware of our transgressions. This, again, is not a popular sentiment in our culture.

If we observe the season, even in times outside of Lent, we can learn this wisdom from God, “in that secret place.”

The passage in Joel calls us to repentance, to “fasting and weeping and mourning.” It was a common practice to tear clothes in sorrow, but Joel calls us to “rend” our hearts, rather than our clothing. But I love the reasoning for returning to the Lord. “He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.”

This is the perfect time to consider all of these things. I am looking forward to this Lent season. I seem to be in a better place to observe it, this year, as I feel like I have made significant spiritual progress in the last year.

I believe I have determined what I will “give up” for Lent. I won’t say, here, except to say that it is not a tangible thing; it’s an attitude, something mental/emotional.

Father, even though the season of Lent is not something specifically called for in Scripture, I am glad for the opportunity to embrace the suffering of our Savior and enter into an attitude of self-denial, even if it is for something small and seemingly insignificant. It may not be insignificant for me, though. Maybe it is a part of my life that needs to be permanently eliminated. Give me strength during this forty-day period, and remind me minute by minute of what I have purposed to do (or not do) in my spirit. I am thankful for the inspiration for the season. And I pray for everyone who has purposed in their heart to give something up for this period, whether it be tangible, such as a kind of food or drink or other activity, or something spiritual or mental. All glory to You, Lord!

"Holy God, 
corruption is everywhere.
For too long sin and disobedience has been our master,
ever since the fall of Adam and Eve.
And still today,
I look around and see this sin
that poisons our life.
We're all natural born sinners,
corrupt from conception on.
And I stand among another generation of
such born sinners.
Lord, have mercy.
Amen."
(Heidelberg Catechism 7)

BLESSING

Redeem us from all wickedness, purify us and make us your very own, eager to do what is good.
(see Titus 2:14)”

And there by the Ahava Canal, I gave orders for all of us to fast and humble ourselves before our God. We prayed that he would give us a safe journey and protect us, our children, and our goods as we traveled.
(Ezra 8:21 NLT)

When Mordecai learned about all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on burlap and ashes, and went out into the city, crying with a loud and bitter wail. He went as far as the gate of the palace, for no one was allowed to enter the palace gate while wearing clothes of mourning. And as news of the king’s decree reached all the provinces, there was great mourning among the Jews. They fasted, wept, and wailed, and many people lay in burlap and ashes. When Queen Esther’s maids and eunuchs came and told her about Mordecai, she was deeply distressed. She sent clothing to him to replace the burlap, but he refused it.
(Esther 4:1-4 NLT)

Then the LORD spoke to Jonah a second time:
“Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh, and deliver the message I have given you.”
This time Jonah obeyed the LORD’s command and went to Nineveh, a city so large that it took three days to see it all. On the day Jonah entered the city, he shouted to the crowds:
“Forty days from now Nineveh will be destroyed!”
The people of Nineveh believed God’s message, and from the greatest to the least, they declared a fast and put on burlap to show their sorrow.

When the king of Nineveh heard what Jonah was saying, he stepped down from his throne and took off his royal robes. He dressed himself in burlap and sat on a heap of ashes. Then the king and his nobles sent this decree throughout the city: “No one, not even the animals from your herds and flocks, may eat or drink anything at all. People and animals alike must wear garments of mourning, and everyone must pray earnestly to God. They must turn from their evil ways and stop all their violence. Who can tell? Perhaps even yet God will change his mind and hold back his fierce anger from destroying us.”
When God saw what they had done and how they had put a stop to their evil ways, he changed his mind and did not carry out the destruction he had threatened.
(Jonah 3:1-10 NLT)

“But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first! Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to me and do the works you did at first.”
(Revelation 2:4-5 NLT)

We are now moving into the text of the actual letters to the seven churches, in Revelation. First up is Ephesus, and the book chapter is entitled, “The Test of Our Love.”

Peterson begins by pointing out the magnificent accomplishes of human beings. Unlike animals, we are not simply content to “fill our stomachs, find shelter, mate, and frolic a little in the sun on occasion.” We build large, impressive buildings, we create huge rockets, capable of traversing thousands and thousands of miles in space, we build super-computers (ironically getting smaller and smaller in size), we accomplish amazing physical feats of athleticism, we create inspirational and mind-boggling art and music, and we have accomplished amazing medical things. We have also learned how to grow food to feed a hungry world.

But, Peterson, opines, the best thing we do as humans is love. “When we are living at our best, with all our energies focused, all our abilities alert and involved, doing what we were created to do, we love.” On the other hand, no matter what else we accomplish, if we do not love, “it is not satisfactory.” Paul addressed this fact in the famous chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians.

The question remains, though . . . “Why don’t we love more? Why aren’t we better at it? Why do we settle for so much less? Why do we get diverted and distracted from a life of love?”

We will attempt to answer those questions as we continue in the book.

(From This Hallelujah Banquet, by Eugene H. Peterson)

May the God of your father help you; may the Almighty bless you with the blessings of the heavens above, and blessings of the watery depths below, and blessings of the breasts and womb.
(Genesis 49:25 NLT)

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon,
“Now go out where it is deeper, and let down your nets to catch some fish.”
“Master,” Simon replied, “we worked hard all last night and didn’t catch a thing. But if you say so, I’ll let the nets down again.”
And this time their nets were so full of fish they began to tear! A shout for help brought their partners in the other boat, and soon both boats were filled with fish and on the verge of sinking. When Simon Peter realized what had happened, he fell to his knees before Jesus and said,
“Oh, Lord, please leave me—I’m such a sinful man.”
For he was awestruck by the number of fish they had caught, as were the others with him. His partners, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were also amazed. Jesus replied to Simon,
“Don’t be afraid! From now on you’ll be fishing for people!”
And as soon as they landed, they left everything and followed Jesus.
(Luke 5:4-11 NLT)

But it was to us that God revealed these things by his Spirit. For his Spirit searches out everything and shows us God’s deep secrets. No one can know a person’s thoughts except that person’s own spirit, and no one can know God’s thoughts except God’s own Spirit. And we have received God’s Spirit (not the world’s spirit), so we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us. When we tell you these things, we do not use words that come from human wisdom. Instead, we speak words given to us by the Spirit, using the Spirit’s words to explain spiritual truths.
(1 Corinthians 2:10-13 NLT)

Jesus told Simon to cast his nets “out where it is deeper.” The fish were not located in the shallow water. When Simon did what Jesus said, they got so many fish that their nets began to tear.

“The blessings of God aren’t found in the shallow waters.”

This is something we all need to hear. Many Christians don’t ever get out of the shallow waters. I have spent way too much time there, in my own life. Recently, though, I have begun to get deeper. And it has a positive effect on my life. It also makes some things that used to be important not so important, any more.

We like to stay by the “shore,” where things are more comfortable. Sure, we read the Bible, but we only see the surface, “the shallow of the Word.” We pray, but our prayers stay shallow, typically dealing only with physical problems. We even tend to stay in the shallow parts of God’s love, which, as the poet expressed so well is so deep that, if we were to write it all down with ink that filled the oceans, it would drain the oceans dry.

“But if you want the blessings of God, you must leave the shallow and launch out away from the shore, away from its distractions, away from the old and the familiar, and into the deep . . . into the deep waters of faith, the deep waters of His presence, the deep of His Word, the deep of worship, the deep of His joy, the deep of His Spirit, and the deep of His heart. That’s where your blessings are waiting to be found.”

And, “miracles so big that your net will break.”

We have spent time, in the past year, wondering why we don’t see some of the miracles that the Apostles did in the book of Acts. Of course, we know that the Apostles, themselves, did no miracles. They were simply channels. Nevertheless, why do we not see such things today. Perhaps because we have not launched into the deep.

The Mission: Launch out into the deep waters of God today. And there let down your net that it might break with His blessings.”

(From The Book of Mysteries, by Jonathan Cahn)

Father, I read this, and I think, “I want to go deeper, but I don’t know how to swim” (from a song by Delirious). Is it fear that keeps us from going deeper? It’s like venturing out into the waves of the ocean. It’s fun, it’s exhilarating, but we don’t know where the ledge is, where we take a step and plummet into the depths, over our heads. Well, I think I’m ready to plummet, Father. This week has, hopefully, taught me some things. Last night, as we celebrated having power for the first time in almost 35 hours, we realized that we had made it through, and made it through well. We didn’t break down. We didn’t fight; we didn’t yell at each other; we didn’t EVER despair. We were certainly tempted to. But the whole time, we were focused, thinking, “We will get through this. We are okay.” We kind of just hummed along. It was uncomfortable, but there are others who are more uncomfortable. There are still people without power, and there are some who, just this morning, have lost power for the first time.

Draw us deeper, O Lord, deeper into Your well of the Spirit. Show us how to find the “blessings” that will break our nets. However, may we be seeking You and Your Face and Your Name, more than we seek blessing. I am certainly interested in blessings. But I am more interested in becoming who/what You desire for me to become. I believe You are more interested in what I become than in what I do. During this season of Lent, show me what I need to find in You. Draw me deeper.

Lord, I lift up communities, both local and national, and especially in the areas that are effected by this huge winter storm outbreak. Please restore power where it needs to be restored! We need Your supernatural help, because our governments are inept. I lift up the continent of Africa, today, praying for all general needs that occur in their countries. And I pray for those who work to lobby for justice and peace in our land and in our world.

I pray for peace in our nation, peace in our world. I pray for racial injustice to end, and I pray for the pandemic to be over. Above all else, though, I pray for Your will to be done, on earth as it is in heaven. For Yours is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

Grace and peace, friends.

Riding On A Merry-Go-Round

“In the struggle with self-hatred, we obviously do not like what we see. It is uncomfortable, if not intolerable, to confront our true selves, and so, like runaway slaves, we either flee our own reality or manufacture a false self, which is mostly admirable, mildly prepossessing, and superficially happy.”~~Brennan Manning

Good morning. It is Sunday, September 14, 2014. It is 64 degrees, and there is only one day over the next ten that has a projected temperature of at least 90 degrees. I think I’m going to cry.

Today is Eat A Hoagie Day. That actually sounds kind of good. Maybe I’ll do that.

Christi wound up having vertigo yesterday afternoon, so she didn’t make it to church. I’m thinking it was a combination of exhaustion from running around all morning, plus mama drama, as well, as her mother has been “misbehaving” this week. Hopefully, we will have a good day of rest today. There are a few things that Christi wants to get done today, but otherwise, it should be a nice day, with what has become sort of a tradition of steaks and baked potatoes for dinner, to close out the weekend.

I had a nice conversation yesterday evening with the younger brother of the young man who passed away on Thursday evening. Jordan had posted a few things on Facebook, and I simply responded by telling him that we had a lot of people praying for them. He responded by asking me to call him, so I did. Mostly, I just let him talk. I think he’s going to be fine. Most of the words he said were spot on, right in line with the grieving process, and he spoke quite seriously about being strong for his mother. I pretty much just affirmed and encouraged him. While Christi was finishing up her stuff, Stephanie and I went to Fogata’s for lunch (Christi told us to go without her). Jared, the young man who passed, worked a brief stint at Fogata’s as a waiter. When we told Mike the news, he was almost overwhelmed, as was another one of the waiters who remembered Jared. Mike was so upset and moved, that he offered to send a fajita dinner to the family last night. I contacted the lady who has been setting up the dinners, and we were able to make that happen. So, if you’re in the area, be sure and give Fogata’s some business! They are good people.

(Source: Christian History Institute)

It was on this date in 1741 that George Frederick Handel completed the oratorio, The Messiah, which he had only begun working on 28 days before. “The manuscript is remarkably free of errors considering its length, the speed with which it is composed, and his own infirmity—he has already suffered a stroke.” Here is the ending of the oratorio.

Today’s birthdays include Andrew Lincoln (who happens to be married to the daughter of Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson), Amy Winehouse, Sam Neill, Clayton Moore, Joey Heatherton, Ivan Pavlov, Faith Ford, Walter Koenig, Mark Hall, Morten Harket, Jessica Brown Findlay, Margaret Sanger, Bowzer, Mary Crosby, and Steve Gaines.

Two actors I would feature today. Walter Koenig turns 78 today. He is most famous for playing Chekov in classic Star Trek, alongside Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner. I once met Mr. Koenig at a Comic-Con. He is a tiny man, and most gracious. A very friendly man.

The other is Sam Neill, who turns 67 today. My favorite role of his is, of course, Dr. Alan Grant in Jurassic Park. Here is my favorite clip from that movie, which still ranks in my top five favorite movies of all time.

TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
James 1:22

(From The Divine Hours)

. . . and in his temple all cry, “Glory!”
Psalm 29:9
Contend, O LORD, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me!
Say to my soul, “I am your salvation!”

Psalm 35:1, 3
Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things.
Blessed be his glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with his glory! Amen and Amen!

Psalm 72:18-19
Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting! Amen and Amen.
Psalm 41:13
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”
For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.
A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.
You will only look with your eyes and see the recompense of the wicked.
Because you have made the LORD your dwelling place— the Most High, who is my refuge—
no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent.

Psalm 91:1-10

The Prayer Appointed for the Week
O God, because without you we are not able to please you, mercifully grant that your
Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule my heart; through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Today’s Gospel Reading

“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
Matthew 6:16-18

This is a concept that is not so common among modern-day Christians. We don’t fast very much. There are certainly some who do, but it is not a widespread practice. It seems to have been a legalistic thing in Jesus’s day. I have read reports that said that Jews fasted on Mondays and Thursdays. I don’t know how accurate those reports are. But it was certainly more common, and it was expected of a good Jew. In addition, a habit seems to have developed that a person would purposefully not anoint their head on a day when they were fasting, so as to appear more pious than others. Anointing of the head was, according to the Reformation Study Bible notes, a symbol of rejoicing. Well, one can hardly expect to be “rejoicing” when one is walking around hungry all day, can one?? Actually, yes, says Jesus. One can be expected to rejoice, because of the true purpose and nature of real fasting. It is not to draw attention to yourself. It is for the purpose of prayer and devotion, and should be a private thing, just like helping the poor and praying. Interestingly, Jesus uses the exact same phrase for the third time, at the end of this passage. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. The message is clear. If we do anything at all with the purpose of being noticed and applauded by men, that will be our only reward.

Today’s reading in Reflections for Ragamuffins is “Wearing Masks.”

“In the struggle with self-hatred, we obviously do not like what we see. It is uncomfortable, if not intolerable, to confront our true selves, and so, like runaway slaves, we either flee our own reality or manufacture a false self, which is mostly admirable, mildly prepossessing, and superficially happy.” We inevitably employ defense mechanisms in this maneuver. Those defense mechanisms distort our perception of reality, while protecting us from “fear, loss, and emotional pain. Through the smoke screen of rationalization, projection, displacement, insulation, intellectualization, and generalization, we remain on the merry-go-round of denial and dishonesty.” I love that last sentence. Read it again.

“Through the smoke screen of rationalization, projection, displacement, insulation, intellectualization, and generalization, we remain on the merry-go-round of denial and dishonesty.”

We who ride this merry-go-round wear a thousand different masks “to disguise the face of fear.”

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.
For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.

1 John 4:18

Father, I don’t want to wear masks. I want to be transparent, and I believe that I pretty much am, most of the time. Anyone who knows me at all, knows that I can’t hide what I am feeling. Not one bit. If I don’t agree with something, it is all over my face. If I’m upset over something, it is visible. I pray for the wisdom of the Holy Spirit in all situations, that I might not be guilty of manufacturing a false self in order to protect myself from fear, loss, or emotional pain. I have no desire to ride on this “merry-go-round of denial and dishonesty.” This also means that I don’t want to be guilty of pretending to go along with something when I don’t believe or agree with it. Give me wisdom, Lord, as I struggle with my own faults and “self-hatred.” Help me to confront my true self with honesty and the grace that you have shown me in Christ. Then, help me to turn around and direct that same grace to others.

I pray for this day. Christi has a couple things to do this afternoon, involving her mom and step-dad, and I pray that she would have grace and strength throughout. I pray for good rest this evening, as we prepare for another work week. I am grateful that my cellulitis seems to be pretty much gone. Help me to take better care of myself in the future, in order to, hopefully, avoid this condition.

I continue to lift up the Knight/Hogan family, as they grieve the loss of Jared, who was close to all of them. May your comfort and peace overwhelm them in this time of overwhelming loss. May they truly find that your grace is sufficient.

leisure-land-merry-go-round

Let’s get off of the dismal “merry-go-round of denial and dishonesty,” and throw off the masks. May Christ shine through in all we do, as we struggle with ourselves.

Grace and peace, friends.