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.

Pause . . . Pray

Good morning. Today is Tuesday, the eighth of March, 2022, in the first week of Lent.

May the peace of Christ be with you!

Day 23,371

Yesterday was an interesting day. I had scheduled a grocery delivery (a rather large one) to be delivered between 10-11 AM. This was set up the night before, as C, Mama, and I sat around discussing the grocery order. The order arrived right on time, but as I brought everything in, it appeared that some things might be missing. So I checked items off of the receipt as I put them away. Sure enough, it appeared that the driver (or a store associate . . . I will never know exactly whose fault it was) didn’t get a couple of bags. All of the cat treats were missing (oh, the horror!!), and none of the items that would be from the area by the pharmacy were there (toothpaste, ibuprofen, and so on). I was also missing one of the three Healthy Choice meals that I ordered.

I found a customer service number on one of my emails and called them. They helped me quickly and courteously, and said they were going to process a refund. After finishing my blog for the day (the grocery delivery interrupted that), I was getting ready to go to a grocery store and pick up the items that were missing, and I got a text telling me that my Albertson’s order would be delivered in a few minutes.

Wait, what?

Apparently, they found the missing bags at the store and immediately arranged for them to be delivered. Everything was there except for the Healthy Choice meal. So I took off my hat and shoes and had some lunch. As of this moment, I have seen no evidence that the refund was ever processed, so I’m glad about that. I don’t want to have to deal with trying to get me to charge me again for those items.

In the meantime, I was also wondering if a scheduled appointment with Milestone was going to happen. When the electrician made the repairs last week, he set up an appointment for a plumber to come by, yesterday, to look at my outdoor faucet in the back yard. The window as 11-2. By noon, I had heard nothing at all, not even a confirmation of the appointment, so I had assumed that they weren’t coming. But around 12:30 or so, I got a text and a phone call telling me that someone was on the way.

He arrived, and was extremely professional and friendly. However, after going over what needed to be done, and then giving the estimate, we elected to not have them do the work. They are outrageously high on their prices. We probably won’t be calling them again. They wanted over $500 to fix the outdoor faucet, and C found an average price of around$150-$300. I think, when the A/C folks are here tomorrow, I will ask them if they have any plumbing recommendations. Or I may check with our “handyman,” who doubles as a Walmart store manager. Hahaha!

Today, I don’t have much going on. It’s a normal Tuesday for me, which means I work this evening, 4:15-8:15. I’ll run out and get Subway for lunch for S, Mama, and me, and pick up stuff for them and C to have for dinner. I might get something for me to have for a late dinner, as well.

Winter is giving a final gasp (I hope?) at the end of this week, as we will have yet another bout of freezing temperatures overnight on Friday to Saturday morning, with chances of rain and snow showers. Actually, some of the snow could occur while I’m at work on Friday afternoon. Yuck.

My Lenten fast continues to go fairly well. On the physical side, I have had no candy. On the spiritual/emotional side, I have not been perfect, but have made progress. Last night, in fact, I stopped myself, mid-sentence, just about to say something critical about someone. C and Mama both approved, and also stopped talking about what we were talking about. It was a cool moment.

TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL AND PRAYERS

When I am afraid,
    I put my trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise,
    in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
    What can flesh do to me?
(Psalm 56:3-4 ESV)

Today I am grateful:

1. that today is a new day; none of yesterday's anxiety is welcome; none of tomorrow's worries are allowed; it is today, and it is the best day; it is all we have
2. for the power of worship
3. for the scenes of worship in the book of Revelation, especially those that include people "from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages"
4. for the pauses that God places in my life
5. for the wisdom He gives me to notice those pauses and to pray through them

John Henry Newman gives us three examples of Old Testament fasting. First, he mentions Jacob, whose account occurs in Genesis 32. Jacob had separated his entire camp into several groups, in preparation for meeting up with his estranged brother, Esau. Jacob was scared. He was sure that Esau was out for revenge.

After crossing the Jabbok, with his wives, children, and a few servants, Jacob spent the night wrestling with “a man.” It doesn’t specifically mention fasting in this context, but if he was wrestling all night, he was fasting. And the end result of this was a blessing.

Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” 
(Genesis 32:28 ESV)

The next example is Moses, who, after coming down the mountain to find Israel worshiping a golden calf and generally partying, went back up the mountain for forty days and nights, to intercede for them.

“So I lay prostrate before the Lord for these forty days and forty nights, because the Lord had said he would destroy you. And I prayed to the Lord, ‘O Lord God, do not destroy your people and your heritage, whom you have redeemed through your greatness, whom you have brought out of Egypt with a mighty hand.'"
(Deuteronomy 9:25-26 ESV)

The end result of this fast was that God didn’t wipe out Israel. Would He have done that, anyway? I don’t know. You don’t know. None of us know.

Tomorrow, we will look at the third example, which is Daniel.

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

The final chapter in Eugene H. Peterson’s Symphony of Salvation is, rightfully, on the book of Revelation, and called, “Worship.”

“The Bible ends with a flourish: vision and song, doom and deliverance, terror and triumph. The rush of color and sound, image and energy, leaves us reeling. But if we persist through the initial confusion and read on, we begin to pick up the rhythms, realize the connections, and find ourselves enlisted as participants in a multidimensional act of Christian worship.”

It starts with the four “living creatures” in chapter 4, who are said to be chanting night and day, never taking a break,

Holy, holy, holy
Is God our Master, Sovereign-Strong,
THE WAS, THE IS, THE COMING.

And, with the twenty-four elders joining in,

Worthy, O Master! Yes, our God!
Take the glory! the honor! the power!
You created it all;
It was created because you wanted it.
(Revelation 4:8, 11 MSG)

By mid-book, all the “saved ones” have joined in:

Mighty your acts and marvelous,
    O God, the Sovereign-Strong!
Righteous your ways and true,
    King of the nations!
Who can fail to fear you, God,
    give glory to your Name?
Because you and you only are holy,
    all nations will come and worship you,
    because they see your judgments are right.
(Revelation 15:3-4 MSG)

Regardless of everything you have ever read about the book of Revelation, the central theme of John’s book seems to be worship. I love how Eugene Peterson has brought this out, in his different writings about Revelation. John was worshiping when he received the vision, and is responsible for “a circuit of churches on the mainland whose primary task is worship.”

“Our times are not propitious for worship. The times never are. The world is hostile to worship. The Devil hates worship. As Revelation makes clear, worship must be carried out under conditions decidedly uncongenial to it. Some Christians are even killed because they worship.”

Consider this scene from chapter 19:

I heard a sound like massed choirs in Heaven singing,

Hallelujah!
The salvation and glory and power are God’s—
    his judgments true, his judgments just.
He judged the great Whore
    who corrupted the earth with her lust.
He avenged on her the blood of his servants.

Then, more singing:

Hallelujah!
The smoke from her burning billows up
    to high Heaven forever and ever and ever.

The Twenty-four Elders and the Four Animals fell to their knees and worshiped God on his Throne, praising,

Amen! Yes! Hallelujah!

 From the Throne came a shout, a command:

Praise our God, all you his servants,
All you who fear him, small and great!

Then I heard the sound of massed choirs, the sound of mighty rapids, the sound of strong thunder:

Hallelujah!
The Master reigns,
    our God, the Sovereign-Strong!
Let us celebrate, let us rejoice,
    let us give him the glory!
The Marriage of the Lamb has come;
    his Wife has made herself ready.
She was given a bridal gown
    of bright and shining linen.
The linen is the righteousness of the saints.

And Peterson doesn’t even mention on of my favorite Revelation passages:

I looked again. I saw a huge crowd, too huge to count. Everyone was there—all nations and tribes, all races and languages. And they were standing, dressed in white robes and waving palm branches, standing before the Throne and the Lamb and heartily singing:

Salvation to our God on his Throne!
Salvation to the Lamb!

All who were standing around the Throne—Angels, Elders, Animals—fell on their faces before the Throne and worshiped God, singing:

Oh, Yes!
The blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving,
The honor and power and strength,
To our God forever and ever and ever!
Oh, Yes!
(Revelation 7:9-12)
God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.
(Ephesians 1:5 NLT)
But you, O Lord,
    are a God of compassion and mercy,
slow to get angry
    and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness.
(Psalm 86:15 NLT)
For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children.
(Romans 8:16 NLT)

Today’s prayer word is “comma.” Another good one, when taken in context, here. Obviously, the word is likely not in the Bible anywhere. I’m not going to go to the trouble to verify that right now, but I don’t think it is.

The quote at the beginning of the reading is from Christian musician TobyMac.

"Practice the pause. 
When in doubt, 
pause. 
When angry, 
pause. 
When tired, 
pause. 
When stressed, 
pause. 
And when you pause, 

pray."

Commas are interesting. I remember an English class I had in college, taught by a TA. I would write an essay for an assignment, and there would be a note written in the margin, “Comma not necessary.” Then, the next time, “You could put a comma there.” I was, like, “MAKE UP YOUR MIND!!”

But that’s the funny thing about commas. I’m a staunch supporter of the “Oxford comma,” so I use more commas than some. I was going to launch into this long, drawn out example, but there’s nothing spiritual about that, so never mind. But a comma in a sentence is a place to pause, perhaps to breathe.

Sometimes, God puts commas in our lives. Sometimes, those commas are at very inconvenient places. Over the last couple years, we have had a very large comma, haven’t we?

As written by one who is only referred to as “Barbranda,” “[God] inserts a comma in various spots in my life because He wants me to stop and rest or learn a lesson. Sometimes I recognize it as such; other times I think I’m facing a defeat or the end. But it’s only the Lord’s comma – a pause, not a period.”

We would all do well to ponder this, especially the next time a “pause” is forced upon us. I’m not necessarily an “everything happens for a reason” person. But there are times when those things do happen for a reason. Side note: that reason is, in my opinion, never to make you feel guilty or helpless or anything like that. But that’s a discussion for a whole ‘nother day.

(From Pray a Word a Day)

“Step out of the traffic! Take a long,
    loving look at me, your High God,
    above politics, above everything.”
(Psalm 46:10 MSG)

Father, thank You for the pauses. I’m even grateful for this gigantic pause we have had since the beginning of 2020. That doesn’t mean that I am thankful for the million deaths we have had in our country. It doesn’t mean I am thankful for Covid-19. There are, unfortunately, some who would read that that way. But I am grateful for the “reset” that has been forced upon us, the opportunity to step back and realize that there are most definitely things that we can live without. And, when some of the things we like are not available, we survive . . . we can adapt and get by. We can do without! Thank You for showing us that.

Thank You for the magnificent displays of worship that we see in the book of Revelation. And I thank You for the work of Eugene Peterson, who, at this moment, is likely enjoying one of those scenes of worship, in helping us to reframe our perspective on the difficult book of Revelation. It isn’t quite as difficult after hearing Eugene talk about it. You know, Father . . . I love worship, and I miss the act of worship in my life. This past Sunday was, for me, a great time of worship. I know that not everyone responds to the kind of worship setting that we were in, but my soul resonates with it. Help me to get back into the habit of worship, especially in my daily life. And that’s not a call for more music or singing, although I could definitely do more of that. It is a call for my life to be worship. For I believe that worship is something that are, more than something we do.

Thank You for the way my fast is going, and I pray for strength to continue it and to improve. Thank You for adopting me as Your son, through Christ Jesus. I believe that this adoption is permanent, and that no man can snatch me out of Your hands, per the words of Jesus. I praise You for this. Keep me growing in You, and learning more about You.

By Your Spirit, help me to pause and pray more often, today.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!”
(Revelation 5:11 ESV)

Grace and peace, friends.