If I Had a Hammer…And I Do

“Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” Jeremiah 23:29

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As a teacher, I loved seeing my students make “progress” in their writing skills. I used to hammer this idea into their brains: Good writing reflects clear thinking. Writing is thinking on paper. If you ain’t thinking deeply, you ain’t going to write deeply. I knew that if I could guide my students towards complex thinking, they’d eventually progress in their writing skills.

Progress is a good thing, right? Moving forward and not backwards. Moving from the rotary telephone to a portable device able to manage our own private worlds is progress, right? The ability to stream endless entertainment to our flat screens, tablets, and portable-private world-managing devices is progress, right?

Lately my old brain has been wrestling with the idea of progress and being progressive. Now this word is political. The implication of a “progressive” party versus a “conservative” party is the idea that one party is moving forward while the other seeks the status quo, or even a backwards movement. Maybe there should be a couple of new political parties: the cautiously progressive party and the optimistically conservative party. Or some such nonsense. I shudder as I watch this political circus unfold.

How did ordinary words like “progressive” and “conservative” develop into such divisive trigger words? Oy to the vey.

I prefer to  think of myself as neither. I think of when the Pharisees and Herodians tried to trap Jesus into making incendiary remarks against Rome by asking a seemingly ordinary question about paying taxes to Rome. Jesus asked to see a denarius. “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” Duh. Caesar’s. Jesus then replied: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” (Mark 12:13-17 ESV and mine) In light of this passage, I say that first, I belong to God. It’s in Him that I move and breathe and have my being. Second, I’m an American who respects the law. But first I’m God’s. Always first.

Right now I’m watching a beautiful goldfinch hang on tightly to a blowing tree limb. It’s a momentary distraction from hard thoughts. That such beauty exists in a world where terrorists kill around 200 people in one weekend deserves a pause.

 Maybe I’m just feeling my age. Maybe I am a dinosaur and completely irrelevant to social progress. But maybe I see more clearly. Our culture keeps marching us towards a secular definition of progress…a social change that fights to make morality relative. As a result, I see chaos and hatred fueled by intolerance on all sides. I see God pushed to the side as if He is an elderly man with an addled brain unable to grasp humanity’s superiority to its creator. We struggle and strive to make sense of the world and our purpose in it, and then praise great human minds for answering the unknowable for us. As if…as if we can fully know the mysteries of God. But we keep striving to know and to explain in order to gain truth and push an elderly, inept God aside. (See Job 38)

Progress is equated with a movement away from God’s truth. The more societies push aside God’s moral law, the more depraved, angry, greedy, and violent we become. Christ followers! Where are we?

Jesus warned us to be wary and alert. He told us not to be surprised at what was going to happen around us. And my old brain keeps thinking, “salt and light, salt and light, salt and light.” Jesus knew what was coming. He has always known that cultures would move towards darkness rather than towards light. He used metaphors like salt and light in order to permeate our self-centered hearts and remind us that we shouldn’t expect anything different from those who don’t follow Him; but we—as followers of light—must always be beacons of light. Salty folks permeating the darkness, preserving Truth, and offering Hope.

In him (Christ) was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (note the use of present tense verbs!)…The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. John 1:4-10

I’m writing this from the solitude so familiar to me now. And comfortable. I don’t mind my enforced solitude, though I long to be out in the community doing something “salty” for the kingdom of God. But my Lord keeps telling my heart to rest. I have another surgery coming—one I dread—so there is no moving from the solitude just yet. Instead I’m devouring God’s Word. It’s a hammer that pounds my conscience and breaks apart my illusions. It tears at my heart and shapes the way I view the world.

I see a Church that has become too comfortable with itself. One that allows us to stay safe within its confines. We go to Bible studies, small groups, prayer groups, and mission trips to foreign places. We give money to help missions and to feed the poor and to rescue human trafficking victims. Church: It is a haven from a volatile culture. I think Jesus might be right in the middle of the volatility. He never shied away from discomfort. If He is my example, then why am I playing it so safe?

I hesitated to even publish this particular writing because I don’t like to be confrontational. I hate hurting people. But Jesus showed us that we can show truth in love. And we must. We have to be salt and light to a world drifting further and further away from God’s Word for our life. We’ve allowed culture to shape our understanding of God’s Word. We hesitate to use the word “sin” in a culture that rejects the term and rejects the folks who use the term.

Christ followers, we have to quit dwelling in comfort. We have to step outside our Bible studies and small groups and move into the brokenness. I don’t know what that looks like, but I believe it has to happen and that God will direct each of us according to His good purpose.

As our culture progresses and moves away from God’s truth, I have to stand on His eternal Word. I have to trust in a God whose throne is righteousness and justice. I have to be uncomfortable and touch the untouchable and love the unlovable—just as my Savior did. I have to be salt and light in middle of the storm. I must be a living metaphor for Jesus. “Amen. Come Lord Jesus!” Rev. 22:20

Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. John 16:32-33

Small Kitchen Theology

IMG_3055I’m learning to live with quiet and a more restful spirit. I’ve been railing against my enforced solitude and non-working status for almost two years now…striving to find something to fill me the way teaching did. Truth is: teaching consumed me. I missed so much of my family’s touchstone events because I believed that what I did was more important than anything else. Ok, I didn’t consciously believe it, but I acted as if I did. My actions were those of a woman entangled with her own sense of self-importance. My identity rested with my ability to do my job well. Exceptionally well. And I was dedicated to my craft and perfecting it. I was also dedicated to my students whose love fed my need for purpose and meaning.

As my life flew away from me three years ago, I began to fight against the loss of meaning and purpose. I clung to a vision I’d had since I had returned to college as a 32-year-old single mother of three: I wanted to teach at the college level. I still had visions of writing my master’s thesis on WWI poetry and how it reflected an ideological fracture that expressed itself in new modern art and writing styles. I had planned to work as a teaching assistant while I finished my PhD and then find a wonderful university where I would get to teach my favorite things to sponge-like undergraduates who would savor every lecture.

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One delightful clump of irises.

It sounds ridiculously naïve when I read it in print. It sounds like a romantic novel’s innocent heroine. It sounds like a woman’s need to hold fast to a dream that was anything but her reality.

It was a necessary dream at the time, but dreams have a way of dissolving themselves…and sometimes God dissolves the dream so He can make something more purposeful from a life spiraling out-of-control quickly.

Yesterday was one of those yucky days I get sometimes now. My body has a mind and mood of its own, and yesterday the pain and exhaustion overwhelmed me. I kept pushing forward doing small tasks. My life has become quite small now. And quiet. And lonely sometimes, but mostly it’s quiet. After my husband leaves for work, I have a pattern: take shower while listening to podcast (usually Ravi Zacharias or Kay Arthur); do upstairs chores while listening to podcast; do lower back exercises while listening to podcasts or music*; do Bible study (in silence); finally, I pray. Yesterday it was hard to do anything. I just wanted to lie down and close my eyes and wait for the day to pass. But I didn’t! I persevered! HAH! But I did move forward and tried to follow my routine.*NOTE: Apparently I need podcasts to fill the silence!

After lunch my energy started to return, as did the sun. (Let me just say that I love the sun in Colorado. Northern Colorado’s spring season starts later than it does in Oklahoma-my home state. It’s the first of June and mornings are still 40 degrees. Highs are in the mid 60’s or 70’s. Zilch on the humidity. In the last two weeks, the trees have filled out and my garden is opening up.)

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A small window box my hubby made out of old wood and antique door.

I’ve been refinishing an antique window to use as a frame for family photos, and I needed to finish distressing the window and then add a little antiquing wax to emphasize the grain of the wood. The sun acted like a tonic on my old bones and I spent the afternoon listening to Schubert and finishing the window. In between coats of wax, I read a novel and drank an espresso (made in my fun, Italian moka pot). As suppertime got closer, I decided to start chopping tomatoes, onions, and peppers for a salsa I’d put on top of the fish tacos I’d planned. Quiet, right? Unassuming? Non-tumultuous? No lesson plans. No essays to grade. No conferences to attend.

Here’s the thing I’m noticing about my new life as an unemployed teacher living in a new town: I like it. I like the deliberateness of chopping the veggies for salsa while looking out my kitchen window and watching the irises blossom in the backyard. I like letting my thoughts wander without worrying about what I must achieve in order to feel valuable to the world. I like having my husband help me when he gets home and then hug me because he appreciates the supper.

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My kitchen window. Rosemary, the pig, contains–what else–rosemary. What can I say…I like pigs.

These are all things I missed before . . . before the small kitchen and the small life and the smaller dreams. It sounds corny, but I love listening to the birds—even the squawky blackbirds that chase off the smaller birds in order to eat at my bird feeder. I like sanding a piece of old wood and turning it into something new. I like to hear the children’s chatter and laughter as they play now that school is out. My new quiet life feels like a gift today.

And that’s the revelation. I’ve been striving internally for months now trying to figure out the next stage of my life once my back gets strong again. I’ve been begging God for answers and for purpose. Then today I finally “got it.” The gift. Anyone who really knows me and knows my history, also knows the nightmare my life was in my 20’s and 30’s. They know the despair and the rejection and deep sorrow. The helplessness and hopelessness. They also know that my children, family, and job provided me with the healing I desperately needed. And thus the Gift. I heard God tell me (in that still, small voice that I can only hear when I’m quiet): Cindy, be still. Your purpose rests in Me. Your dreams are secure in Me. It’s time for you to rest, heal, and be amazed at the life I have given you. Be still my daughter. Be still my child. Be still.

Suddenly, ZAP, just like that I realized that this quiet year has been God’s gift to me. A relief from the last 26 years of college, teaching, raising children, surgery, more college, and a move away from the familiar and comfortable. Instead of worrying about my financial future, God is telling me to enjoy this time. Relax in it. Don’t see it as a pause button until my real life begins again, but as a well-earned vacation.

I still strive, of course. But today the sun is out again and my garden is calling me. Weeds continue to bloom and I must be diligent in my weeding so I can keep gazing out my small, kitchen window and watch the birds fly and the irises bloom.

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More irises and Jeremiah, the gnome. 

 

 

 

Prayer: Not for the Faint of Heart

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My “Wall O’ Prayer Post-Its” 

A Passive Aggressive Prayer:

Heavenly Father,

It’s been a hard week (month or year) and, I’m not sure why I’m praying…it’s not like you can do anything, can you? Or will you? I’m just a lowly creature whose problems don’t mean much in the scheme of the universe. Do you even care? I mean, why should you? I’m a pretty awful example of a Christ-follower. But I’m praying anyway hoping you’ll actually listen and move. But I doubt it. You’re just going to do what you want to do anyway. Sometimes it seems like you’re a tyrant god who likes to watch us squirm so we can see how incapable we are without you. Right? But I’m going to ask anyway…just in case. But I don’t expect much. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

And so it goes.

I never thought of myself as a passive-aggressive person. I don’t try to manipulate people to do what I want them to do through subtle derogatory remarks intended to zing or pinch. Well, sometimes I do. It’s a cowardly technique. I should just say I what mean instead of trying to get someone to feel the way I want him or her to feel. Even writing it sounds tacky, but I do it and I practice it with God sometimes.

I’m trying not to do it anymore. My New Year’s resolution for 2016 was to develop a prayer discipline that was consistent and focused. I resolved to read Christian authors I respect and study the scriptures regarding prayer, from Old to New Testaments.

I also determined to keep “prayer promises.” Whenever I tell someone, “I’ll pray for you,” I do. I write it on a post-it note and stick it on my prayer wall. I have a big sheet metal board that my hubster made for me a few years ago. It hangs over my desk and I used it to keep my teaching plans organized. Since I don’t teach anymore, it has become a catch-all for “meditation notes,” pictures, quirky magnets, coffee sleeves from favorite coffee shops, and now it’s also covered with family photos and post-it note prayer requests. I may need another board…

I wish I could say that in these last four months I have discovered some great prayer insights. Maybe even a step-by-step process into manipulating God into answering prayers. I didn’t though. Some of my prayer post-its haven’t changed at all, while others have been removed and altered. But the big ones have stayed in place. No movement from Heaven that I can see.

However…do I walk by faith or by sight? Does the character of God change just because I don’t see answers? Is He a Father of love who listens and moves, or is He a judging, condemning Father who likes us to suffer so we learn to be stronger individuals?

(Quite frankly, I prefer not to have anymore “character-shaping” moments. I prefer being weak and wimpy if it means life goes more smoothly. In fact, I kind of like my “ostrich faith.” Sticking my head in the sand so I don’t have to feel fear, disappointment, anguish, or grief. My character is shaped enough, thank you very much. God disagrees.)

Prayer is more complex than all my whining. It isn’t a “fix,” but nor is it empty and fruitless. It is an essential component—even “THE” central component for a Christian. But be forewarned! Diligent—and sometimes urgent—prayer requires concentrated time and effort, and it will reveal your true self while also revealing a fearsome glimpse of the God who created all.

Here is a bit of what I have learned: 

  1. Prayer reveals the status of my own heart first, and it can be a very painful experience. I don’t say this lightly. It is very painful. During this prayer process, I’ve become acutely aware of my own failures. My “dirty-ness.” It’s like I’m looking at an overview of my entire life and seeing all the places that I’m ashamed of—all the things I thought were secret play out again and again. Emotions I thought I had dealt with long ago resurface. It’s crushing. I am not the person I thought I was. I am a frail, sinful person who hurt people I loved over and over again—not through intentionality, but through my choices and behavior patterns. Oy to the vey. This is not what I expected to have happen through disciplined prayer. I guess I thought I’d become respected and admired for my righteousness. Woe to me. A Pharisee by nature; however, I am a child of God through Christ. Prayer has tuned me into my base nature and thus my need for a Savior.
  2. Prayer doesn’t always have to be an emotional heart cry. Sometimes it will be, but when I look at my prayer board, I see a journey I need to take everyday, and it’s hard to keep that emotional state going daily. Nor should we. Prayer is disciplined. Emotional outpourings are also necessary and will occur, but most days, prayer will be a steady procedure anchored in faith that God hears and Heaven moves according to HIS will and not mine. And some days, I merely plod through my wall in a circular pattern because I promised I would do so. Usually during my plodding, more sincere and even new revelations happen that shift my prayers slightly. But sometimes it doesn’t happen. Sometimes it stays a steady plod forward. That’s ok…I hope. I’m trusting God that He still finds pleasure in my supplication even when I don’t feel that emotional pulse that exhilarates.
  3. Bible study is essential. Experts continually write books that explore the Lord’s Prayer, the Gethsemane prayer, Jesus’ quiet times in the wilderness (40 days and nights), fasting, the Psalms, Daniel’s prayers…seemingly every prayer written in God’s Word. These writers analyze and pull biblical prayers apart at the seams trying to decode the secret to making things happen. Prayers for prosperity and healing leave hurting people cynical when their formulaic prayers aren’t answered. So many well-intentioned folks try to figure out why these prayers aren’t being answered and often turn the blame back on the pray-er. There must be secret sin in your life. You’re not praising God enough before you make a request (as if God doesn’t understand when He’s being manipulated). There’s a tinge of condemnation and self-righteousness in those remarks. I’ve been on the receiving end of those well-intentioned folks, as have so many that I love. I have found this to be true: the only authority on prayer is God. And it follows that the only way we can know God is through His Word. The character of our creator is spread out through 66 books written by man, but inspired by God. He has given us everything we need to know about His character through His Bible. Nothing added. Nothing taken away. The more I understand who God is and what His plan is for the world and people He created, the more I can pray with assurance that God will not act outside of His character. He is an unchanging God, full of love, compassion, mercy, and holy justice. I am to stand in awe of Him, and the Bible shows me why He is deserving of my awe. Read the Word. Bill Hybels (Willow Creek Community Church of Chicago) talks about “chair time”—15 minutes a day in God’s Word. I love that.
  4. Pray with a sense of the eternal: The soul was not created for the body, but the body for the soul. We are eternal creatures stamped with the image of God. We defiled that image, so now we are but poor shadows of what God intended for us to be. But we will be like Him. In a moment. In a twinkling of an eye (God does love poetry!). My life feels so rooted in the “right now,” but I’m also very conscious of an ache for something more. Something purer. I think that is part of our eternal longing. Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 3:10-11: “What does the worker gain from his toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” We long for something that we can’t name (but advertisers certainly can!). I notice it most when I’m in nature. Colorado is so beautiful and majestic, but people continue to defile it and make it less so! Stop it! An example: Steve and I went on a short traipse the other day—a trail we had been wanting to try for a while. We parked the car, got out and started walking. The grasses were high and the red-winged blackbirds sat on them without bending them. We could hear their songs, as well as the rustle of critters scurrying around us. But shading the sounds of nature was the steady thrum of traffic. All those cars and trucks flying down the road depleted my joy. Then as we headed back to our Jeep, the wafting smell of pot from a nearby truck sealed my mood. I became very aware of a sense of the eternal. Cars became symbolic of man’s need for more and more while depleting natural resources and finances, and pot…well, outside of medical usage, it’s just another drug used to alter a state of being rooted in dissatisfaction or unhappiness. God has placed eternity in my heart—a longing for Eden. For what was intended. When I pray, I try to remember that God has eternal purposes that I can’t see. I let that shape my prayers so that I don’t pray without hope.
  5. Prayer “tunes me in” to God’s will. The older I get, the more I understand that religion is man’s feeble attempt to understand God. God is not religion. Jesus did not come to earth, die, and then return to Heaven in order to create a religion. He came that ALL men and women might know God and repent–to serve the one true God and only the one true God. We mess things up by trying to make God completely knowable. Sometimes I think religion tries to shape God in order to make him smaller. We set up rituals and doctrine to explain the character of God. There is nothing wrong with rituals and doctrine as long as it is rooted in biblical truth. Yes, I am one of THOSE Christ-followers who believe that the Bible is inerrant. Everything that God needed us to know is in His Word. And if you study it—really study it with a searching heart—He reveals Himself. I taught books for years. It’s my identity, I’m afraid: A teacher of books. I love great writing whether it’s classic or whimsical, but literature only reveals truth about mankind’s nature; it can’t reveal the nature of God. Only the Bible can do that. The more I pray, I find myself getting a glimpse of our world through God’s eyes. His word becomes a filter through which I see the heartbreaks and joys of life. As I watch our culture move so far away from God, I can’t help but contemplate what the world would have been like had Jesus never come. And the vision I get breaks my heart. Such darkness and hopelessness. Such hedonism and selfishness. Such desperation and searching. I hesitate to make this statement, but I must: the Church has failed to be salt and light as Jesus commanded. Culture will go the way cultures will go, but Church—we should have been salt and light. We should be praying and seeing through Jesus’ lenses. Loving the poor and broken, not lashing out at them in fear. There is no fear in God. And there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. We should be proclaiming this truth instead of condemning first and then trying to justify our condemnation. No, I don’t agree with the direction of our culture. Making everything morally acceptable is not how God wants us to live. But how will they know if we don’t tell them? How will they know if we don’t show them by our actions through love…not fear. Consistent and disciplined prayer, with Bible study, allows me to glimpse the world through God’s eyes and for just a moment, I feel His agony for a lost and striving people. God’s eternal purpose moves me to action and prayer.
  6. Unanswered prayer. This is my last category because I could write another 10 pages on prayer and never get to a conclusion! Unanswered prayer can defeat us and cause us to turn away from prayer in cynicism and disappointment. One of my favorite teachers is Amy Orr-Ewing. She is an apologist out of England who works with Ravi Zacharias. One of the many “meditation notes” on my prayer board is a quote from a YouTube video I watched of her. It says “Disappointment can blind us from seeing Christ.” When our prayers go unanswered, we begin to doubt that they even matter. We doubt that God is in action for us. When healing doesn’t occur, when that pregnancy doesn’t happen, when a wave of depression or anxiety overwhelms once more, unanswered prayers turn to anger and rejection. It seems safer to reject God than to trust Him in circumstances that appear hopeless. Despair is dangerous, and unanswered cries to God can build a wall in our hearts that is difficult to tear down. It’s easy to travel along our path of anger and disbelief because God has not performed. The world cries, “If God exists, why did he let _________happen?” Yesterday—Mother’s Day—two young brothers drowned in the Big Thompson River in Lyons, Colorado. They were both under the age of 10. The police spokesman was shaken when interviewed.Those on the recovery and investigation teams were clearly devastated. I think of that mother and what she is facing today as she wakes up and realizes her sons are gone. Where was God? Why couldn’t He have prevented this? I don’t know. Such tragedies happen every moment across the world. Suffering is a common thread across humanity. Yet God reigns. He wins in the end. And because He wins, I can face the unanswered prayers and questions about the future. My hope must rest in Christ alone. It must. Right now, a dear family member is in isolation at a hospital in Arkansas fighting to defeat the cancer that has invaded his body. He is a good man. A good husband. A good father. A good son. People need him. We pray for healing every day. We pray the transplanted stem cells will start doing whatever those stem cells were created to do. Prayers for healing haven’t been answered yet, but we remain determined in our seeking for God’s hand in this dear life. Yes, he struggles, but as he struggles his emails show all of us how God is sustaining him through this time. I picture our prayers as God’s hands holding him close, and I feel a sense of urgency to pray and pray, as if our prayers keep God’s hands in place.

Are my prayers actually moving God? When I ask myself that question, I remember the character of God: loving, compassionate, merciful, just, fearsome, and above all, HOLY. Ultimately my prayers connect me to my Father. They empower me to move through this tumultuous life with hope that is based on the truth of God’s unchanging character. I may never know or see the results of my prayers. I doubt the angel, Michael, will show up as he did for Daniel and say, “Cindy, your prayers have moved heaven!” I’m just an itty-bitty light (as my Bible study ladies said) with an itty-bitty voice. A speck on the earth for a brief moment of time. An itty-bitty blink. But God’s Word—His sacred covenant—promises that I am a child of God. And He loves me with an infinite love that I can’t even fathom. His character is my promise, and prayer reveals that character even when He is silent.

I’ve learned so much more than this and may write a “Part Two,” but right now, my prayer board is calling. Time to pray.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A More Desirable God

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A few of my poetry books…I will not be separated from them! Now, I must determine which child should get them when I die…any takers?

Towards the end of December, a dear friend started me on a journey of prayer. Real prayer. Not just the casual God toss up: “Oh yeah, I said I’d pray for so and so…Dear God, help precious so and so today in Jesus name, amen.” My friend’s New Year’s resolution was prayer, and something pricked my heart and mind.

I wasn’t working anymore due to some silly discs in my lumbar region deciding to act up, so I thought I’d give prayer a serious effort, or as my favourite British television detectives would say, “Give it go, Cindy.” So I did. I am. And it’s changing me, shrinking the ME and teaching me to see the specific needs of others.

Another part of concentrated prayer is that it requires concentrated Bible study with an intensity and urgency I haven’t ever experienced. It’s a different urgency than that of teaching. As a teacher of all things literary, I examined short stories, novels, and poetry with an intensity bordering on obsession. I wanted to “KNOW” –I wanted a depth of understanding that would help me be a better teacher. I needed to be the best—to thoroughly grasp and grapple with T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” or the short stories of Flannery O’Connor. I spent hours poring over texts and commentaries; requesting books from the library that were in storage for lack of use became a badge of honor for me. I wanted to be an expert in something.

Funny, the more I studied, the more I realized that becoming an “expert” was an impossible achievement. Besides, was it really so important that I understood Eliot’s poetry? How was it relevant in my daily life journey? And more importantly, was I giving God’s Word equal attention and persistence?

I’m in a place of stillness right now, which is very conducive to both prayer and in-depth Bible study. I’ve been going through Luke as a continuing review of the Gospels. Since kindergarten, I’ve been learning about Jesus. I remember the large pictures of Jesus with

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You can get these at Etsy! Vintage! Ah, Google is amazing.

the children. Soft, wavy, long brown hair, brown–sometimes blue eyes, and a very clean beard. He was often dressed in a white robe tied with some sort of rope—kind of like a monk’s robe. There were also pictures of David with his slingshot, and a young Daniel in the lion’s den (Daniel was actually about 81-83 years old when he was tossed in with the carnivores), and of course, baby Jesus in the manger. I remember these stories, but when you’re a child, they are presented out of context with no connection or chronology provided. It’s easier for children that way, I guess. But now, 50 years later, it’s time for me to really KNOW the Gospels. I want to see how they each connect to each other, and how God uses different voices and perspectives to tell His story. It’s much more real and believable that way.

So Luke. An Antiochian. A physician who traveled with Paul, and who states in the first verses of his book that his purpose was to write a “complete narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught. “ Luke 1:1-4. I’ll leave it to you do discover who Theophilus was. It was a fascinating rabbit trail to follow.

IMG_3117I have filled up one notebook so far and have just hit Luke 17. I follow the cross-references, look up the original Greek (I actually have The Complete Word Study Dictionary for the New Testament by Spiros Zodhiates, Th.D. It’s so awesome and fun!) I used to teach my students to study an author’s tone by looking at their word choices. Then I’d have them “slash” out the word to look at its nuances and connotations.

Here’s an example: knowledge/epignōsis/acknowledged/confirmation/truth: An acknowledged, confirmation of truth. Cool.

It’s fun…and turns a single chapter into an investigation of customs and Old Testament connections. It’s inductive, sorry Sherlock.

At the end of my first notebook, I got stuck on Luke 17:5. “The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’” Wowsers. Though they heard them teach and saw his miracles daily, they still had doubts—He wasn’t at all the warrior Messiah they had expected. They seemingly ignored Old Testament prophecies like the words of Isaiah 53 written almost 800 years before Christ: “He grew up before him like a tender shoot and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces, he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”

By ignoring the prophecies, they had molded and shaped the Messiah into the god they needed at that moment—one who would free them from Roman oppression and give them back their Promised Land.

“Lord! Increase our faith!”

We do that, don’t we? Shape a god to fit our needs for the moment. I had a good think about this and created my own “god list.” I can’t use a capital “G” for god here because I’m not talking about the one true God—I’m talking about the one I want. The one I create for myself.

My desirable god:

  • Doesn’t care how I act as long as my good outweighs my bad.
  • Doesn’t allow tragedies to happen in the world, i.e. tsunamis, earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes…NATURE MUST BE IN HARMONY WITH MAN!
  • No more turmoil in the Middle East. No ISIS or Boko Haram or Bashar al-Assad’s…
  • No more cancer, or Zika, or AIDs, or heart disease, or DIABETES (for my Katie), or any of that awful stuff that erodes our health and sometimes our faith.
  • Gives health and wealth to my family and me as long as I stay within His boundaries most of the time. He should provide my family and me a sort of protection bubble.
  • Gives me the perfect job and house that includes an “open kitchen” with quartz countertops. And room for horses or alpaca. Or sheep.
  • Gives me enough money to travel the world (now peaceful since it’s ISIS-free).
  • I’d also like my new god to miraculously give me a longer neck and legs, and erase the minor tributaries running around my eyes, chin, and neck.

*Oh, an addendum: Please, please could this new god keep us from creating a political and social culture that allows people like Donald Trump to be an elected despot!!

Sure, it’s not an exhaustive list; I have more specific requests that are too personal for public consumption. Things about eradicating past mistakes as a woman, mother, wife, and even as a teacher…

As I look as my desirable god list, I see Eden. What once was and what God wanted us to maintain. Nature in harmony with man and itself. Man and woman in harmony with each other and their Creator—not just striving for an identity outside of what He has designed. We’d be secure in who we were created to be—secure in His love and perfection.

But like children are wont to do—we scramble after a different sort of life then what God intended.

Ultimately, He desired us to desire Him. I recently heard a great take on the concept of “relationship.” There is no relationship without choice. Even parenthood does not guarantee relationship—ask any parents with teenagers or adult children. Nor does marriage promise relationship—ask any man or woman who has gone through a divorce or who plods through a marriage lacking love. Relationship takes daily effort—putting love first and forgetting our need to be loved. Instead actively loving.

And so God—not my desirable god, but the one true God—gave His creation a choice. He loves without condition and waits for us to respond. He forgives, sacrificing Christ so we’d have a redeemer who waits for us to repent—or turn—so He can throw our sins as far away as the east is from the west (I think it’s somewhere in Australia).

Through my study of the Gospels, I gave up trying to create an idol god. I gave up my perceptions of who Jesus was and basked in the truth of who He is. I chose—and choose—relationship with Him as most valuable. Above all things.

Still I cry, “Increase my faith (Greek—pistis—conviction of truth)!” But it’s ok if I do ask because Jesus—the true God—provides the faith I need to move through even the darkest parts of this life journey.

 

 

Prodigal Dog: A Strange Parable

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Zoey “sleeping it off.”

Finally! Spring is here. Since this is only my second spring season in Northern Colorado (or NOCO, as the locals call it), I keep expecting some daffodils and tulips in March. My eyes aren’t used to winter brown when it should be spring green. But yesterday…yesterday was glorious! Virtually no wind and a warm sun moving the thermometer to 70 degrees.

So, I did what any native Coloradan would do: I put on my shorts and tee shirt (baring my oh so white legs) and harnessed my dog Zoey for a long walk.

I live east of Ft. Collins—about 10 miles east. The land around me is cluttered with a mixture of farms and tract homes. Horse farms, cattle farms, and sheep farms all lend their fragrance to what I call the NOCO aroma. My little tract home is close to a gravel trail that takes me past open fields and lots of fracking stations. Not beautiful, but the mountains are clearly visible to the west, and my soul leans towards their beauty during my walks.

Yesterday I wanted to wander “lonely as a cloud”(Wordsworth came to mind). I wanted to head away from civilization and breathe in a NOCO aroma-free day. Not exactly the Lake District Wordsworth was so fond of, but I could imagine.

Zoey wanted to wander, too. We headed straight south toward Greeley, but I decided I want to turn east and make a giant loop back to our neighborhood. As I pulled Zoey to my left side, she slid out of her harness—a new one that didn’t go around her neck. She slid out right onto the road as a car headed straight towards her! And she wouldn’t move! She stared at the car and me as if we were playing with her.

Thankfully, the car stopped but Zoey did not. She made a sharp west turn into an alfalfa field. An overgrown, briar-filled alfalfa field. And thus began a humorous chase.

There I was—a bespeckled, wild-haired, white-legged middle-aged woman chasing a small puggle through the alfalfa fields. It was a war of wills. I would walk off like I was leaving her and she would follow—but not too closely. Just close enough to feel safe, but far enough away that I couldn’t touch her. Occasionally, I’d sit down on the ground and she’d stare at me, circle just out of reach, and then plop down on her belly, warily. Watching.

I did this several times. The sitting. The plopping. I always got up and start moving again, hoping she’d follow and I could catch her and save her from an awful death, because I knew if I didn’t catch her, she’d get walloped by one of the many giant trucks that zoom up and down the country roads as if no human–or dog–would dare walk nearby. Oy.

So I crossed that field again and again, even criss-crossing a recently plowed garden. I stomped through the field behind a water treatment facility (trying not to breathe in that particular odor), and jumped over small fiords. At one point I even carefully balanced over a rather ratty old board–conveniently laid over another briar-filled fiord by a previous wanderer–that provided the only quick route back towards home.

And Zoey? She followed me through the fiords, avoiding the board and instead carelessly attacking the briars, smiling her defiance, probably thinking I was crazy. I finally gave up, sat down, and called my hubster.

About five minutes later, I saw his Tahoe spinning a wake of dust clouds as he tried to locate his loony wife who was waving him down with the red leash.

Zoey came running as soon as she saw who it was. DADDY! She ran right up to him…and then stopped. Just out of reach. She ran around both of us as if to show us that she was in control of this game.

Steve finally said, “Cindy, go get in the car.” We both headed to the car and Zoey ran ahead and jumped right into the front seat. The air conditioning was running and she plopped on the passenger seat as if she’d had all the hot air she could handle and we could drive her home now in style.

I. Was. So. Freaking. Mad. And hot. And dirty. My curly hair frizzed in all the wrong places and my waterproof mascara defied its label running black circles under my eyes. We all drove home and Zoey pranced into the house as if nothing had happened. Oh the arrogance of that dog!

I refused to look at her. She gulped down water from her dish and then plopped on the floor looking at me with a smile as if to say, “That was all great fun, wasn’t it?”

I refused to smile back. Instead I washed my face, replaced my dirty clothes, and went to my small kitchen to start dinner. A roasted chicken with lemon, butter, garlic, potatoes, carrots, and fresh rosemary. Thank you Barefoot Contessa.

I chopped and seasoned with a righteous vengeance. How dare Zoey run off that way! Why didn’t she appreciate my tummy rubs, her lovely bed with a squashy blanket, the occasional treat from the dinner table?! Why wouldn’t she come when I called her? What was so appealing about romping through the bristly, overgrown alfalfa fields? Didn’t she understand I was trying to protect her from the coyotes and giant, menacing trucks?

Of course not, she’s a dog. A spoiled, undisciplined dog who has owners that don’t know how to train her to “stay” or “come.”

She is the prodigal dog.

You might think I exaggerated this two-hour debacle, but I didn’t. Just ask the teenagers on spring break sitting outside their tents across the way. They had a perfect view of the entire ridiculous episode.

But there is a parable in all this: God has let us off leash. We are free to wander through whatever fields we choose. We can stare at Him, smile with our silly human smiles as if to say, “See! I’m free! I can do whatever I want to do. I can choose my own trail and chart my own life course! I can run into the streets and dare trucks to hit me! I can proclaim my own freedom and my own ability to save myself! I can shake my fist at You and declare You irrelevant!”

I can defy God’s “boundaries” saying there is no moral law in my heart that I didn’t create for myself.

I am the prodigal child.

I have been that prodigal child. I know what it’s like to break boundaries and tell God I don’t care what the Bible says—I’m hurting and the magic God formula doesn’t work! You know the formula: Pray. Have a “quiet time.” Be good. Don’t cuss, have sex, smoke, or do drugs. I have been obedient and life still hurts.

I weep for the prodigal child I once was. I thank Him that he let me come back to Him without condemnation and great mercy and love.

I weep for all the prodigals I know and love. There is mercy and grace and love with Christ.

God says, “Come home.” He leaves the 99 for the one who is missing.

“So I [Jesus] tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” Luke 11:9-10.

Dear prodigals, come home.

 

You can find the roasted chicken recipe at the link below. (It was absolutely delish! I added a little chicken stock, fresh rosemary, dry white wine, and some lemon pepper! I also only roasted some chicken breasts and legs instead of the whole chicken.)

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-/garlic-roast-chicken-recipe.html