Thursday, August 18, 2011

You Alone

My Lord, I know not what I ought to ask of You.

You and You alone know my needs.

You love me more than I am able to love You.
O Father, grant unto me, Your servant, all which I cannot ask.
For a cross I dare not ask, nor for consolation;
I dare only to stand in Your presence.
My heart is open to You.
You see my needs of which I myself am unaware.
Behold and lift me up!
In Your presence I stand,
awed and silenced by Your will and Your judgments,
into which my mind cannot penetrate.
To You I offer myself as a sacrifice.
No other desire is mine but to fulfill Your will.
Teach me how to pray.
Pray You, Yourself, within me.


~ Philaret of Moscow

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Freedom in Captivity

This past week, my daily scripture reading brought me to the book of Daniel. Also this past week, the stock market became wildly manic swinging 400 points up, then down, then up and then down again. I think the whole world became seasick on that crazy ride. Other things happened, too, this week - America mourned the loss of 30 Special Forces in Afghanistan, a field of Republican (mostly) hopefuls flocked to Iowa for the Straw Polls all touting ideas and principles strongly opposed to our present government policies, and the phone call we had hoped to get about a job never came. So what do those things and the book of Daniel have to do with one another? Quite a lot, actually.

Consider Daniel and his friends. They and a host of others were taken prisoner from Jerusalem when it fell to Nebuchadnezzer, king of Babylon, the mightiest nation on the earth at the time. The scripture says that the boys were youths, most likely in their teens. They were chosen to be trained as servants to the King, and thus were to be re-educated in the ways of Babylon. They were even given new names. Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah became Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Their identities as Israelites, God's people, were to be erased and they were to be absorbed into the fabric of Babylon. These young men, however displaced, continued to put their trust in God, and through wisdom and discretion continued to serve God in a heathen nation before a ruthless king, ultimately leading that King to declare of God, "His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion endures from generation to generation." Daniel 4:3.

Despite the dangers of political intrigues, Nebuchadnezzer's ragings, fiery furnaces, and lions' dens, Daniel and friends remained faithful to their God even as they served a heathen king in a heathen land. Because of their faithfulness, wisdom, and discretion, they became leaders in Babylon, to the praise and glory of God. They continued to lead righteous lives even as the Babylonian throne changed hands over and over again, so that when the time of Israel's captivity ended, there were still faithful men and women living in the land (see Esther), who were ready to go back to Jerusalem and rebuild 70 years later. (Nehemiah)

In many ways, Believers today - though freer than most - live lives of certain captivity. Our nation retains only shadows of its Christian heritage and we are to mind our P's and Q's politically and culturally speaking. More and more our government encroaches on our freedoms to where we cannot even mention the name of Jesus at public school events, many public gatherings, and even at funeral services in Veteran's cemeteries. All aspects of our lives have become and are becoming more and more regulated by public policies designed for "our national good". Healthcare, the car industry, banking, energy, manufacturing, education and more have seen more government regulation, and indeed out-and-out takeover.

These are frustrating times for the Believer. We can beat our heads against the wall fighting the arbitrary ways of men, or we can, like Daniel, remember that it is God who is sovereign, it is God who orders the way of men and nations, and that if we walk faithfully with wisdom and discretion, we will see that God's purposes are never thwarted, that he doesn't need perfect conditions in which to show forth his glory. He will see his people through.

In John 14, Jesus tells us, "Let not your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me." and "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid." In John 15, Jesus reassures us that we can live as Daniel did long ago in Babylon when he tells us, "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you." The promises of God are not dependent on any particular political, economical, or cultural condition. They are dependent upon God Himself, for "I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world." (Jn.16:33) Because of this I can be courageous, be at peace, live righteously in all things, serve the king, live in the land, and know that our sovereign Lord holds all things in his hand.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Shield of Humility

Have you ever experienced that flush of anger, of pride hurt, when facing accusation? It can be the emotion of fierce self-defense or of deep, aching sorrow if the accusation is unjust. What can I do when I face accusation, whether just or unjust? How do I resist the temptation to inflict my own justice? I want so much to be understood. Thomas a Kempis comes to my aid, helping me get my thoughts together so that I may see a bigger picture.

In "On the Passion of Christ" a Kempis writes "On Jesus before Annas the high priest."

"Lord Jesus Christ, Guide of our life and Author of our salvation, I bless and thank you for your first arraignment before the high priest Annas, where, after you had been interrogated about various things, you were harshly struck on the cheek for your humble and truthful response.

I praise and glorify you, Christ, glorious King, for enduring the insulting and disgraceful affront by the hand of a shameless servant; when the response left your lips, he directed a heavy blow to your face, saying: Do you thus answer the high priest?"

Kind Jesus, ever calm in spirit and speech, you did not hesitate to answer him with gentle words: If I have spoken evil, give testimony of that evil, but if well, why then do you strike me? O vile and wicked servant, did you not fear to strike the lovable face of your Creator with such hateful hands?

My revered Jesus, how wonderfully you manifested your inexpressible meekness on this occasion, rather than immediately avenging so heinous an insult, you deliberately and calmly corrected the one who struck you.

You, who are one of Christ's followers, reflect and ask yourself whether for the love of God you are able to endure such a slap on the cheek? You, who are unable to endure harsh criticism without yielding to anger, how can you bear such a blow in the face?

You are saddened because of the unjust treatment shown your Lord, but yours is still greater sadness because you feel yourself incapable of bearing even small injuries for the honor of Christ.

You set great goals for yourself and let your thoughts float on high; but at the first words of reproach that you hear, you become terribly disturbed and discover that you are weaker than you first thought. Therefore, go to Jesus and plead more earnestly with him for the virtue of patience.

Good Jesus, strength and power of a soul suffering tribulation, teach me to accept all criticism and reproof with a calm spirit, and let me never show resentment in defending myself because of complaints unjustly made against me. Rather, let me respond to them with gentle silence and, if I must speak, then let me answer my accusers in a pleasant and friendly tone. When I am in the presence of my enemies, put the apt and right words on my lips, and when the hand of the wicked is raised against me, kind Jesus, let a humble, calm, and constant mind be my invulnerable shield."

John 18:22-23

Saturday, March 19, 2011

On How the Lord Jesus Went to Meet His Betrayer

I am so easily distracted, even from the most important things. Perhaps especially from the most important things. During Advent Season, devotional books are pretty easy to come by, but devotionals for Lent on the Passion of Christ? Not such a cozy story, is it? It's just not as easy to find a good devotional tool to help my distractive nature during this time of contemplation and repentance. But I did find one ...

Thomas a Kempis (1380-1471) wrote an extraordinary little book entitled "On the Passion of Christ - According to the Four Evangelists". His book makes one of the best Lententide devotionals that I've found, and I'd like to share Chapter 4 with you:

"LORD JESUS CHRIST, Savior and Deliverer I bless and thank you for your readiness and willingness to undergo your Passion. After you had offered your thrice-repeated petition to God, your cruel enemies arrived amid the night's darkness, with your betrayer the evil Judas-a large crowd with staves and swords, arms and torches, as if to apprehend a thief.
At that moment you went out to meet them saying: Whom do you seek? ... I am he. If you seek me, let these others go.

At your first word, so filled with power, their proud defiance was discomfitted and brought to utter confusion, and immediately they all fell backward, collapsing to the ground. What would have happened if you had summoned twelve legions of angels? Since you had come among us to suffer, you chose not to use your divine power but to make known your benign patience. By a single word you showed what power is actually yours, and for a time you permitted the impious to have the upper hand in grievously insulting you. Thus you made it clear that you were willingly entering upon your Passion to bring about our redemption and, thereby, to fulfill the writings of the prophets.I praise and glorify you, Jesus Christ, most innocent Lamb of God, for your unspeakable meekness and overwhelming kindness in not being aroused with wrath against your most deceitful betrayer or angrily turning away from him. Rather you kindly deigned to engage him in friendly conversation calling him, in your usual gentle manner Friend, and you gave him, though unworthy, a tender kiss with your lips and lovingly said: Friend, why have you come?With such words as these, you admonished his rashness, his iniquity, and his disloyalty: Judas, do you betray the Son of Man with a kiss? Even more sadly, he, who once was numbered among the apostles-neither fearing the divine justice nor swayed by your friendship-did not refrain from extending his hands to the most heinous of crimes, and now, as head of this band of ruffians, he gave them as the signal: Whomever I shall kiss, it is he. Take hold of him. O most wicked disciple and most loving Master! O base servant and most faithful Lord!
How admirable your behavior, how wonderful your patience, most gentle and kind Jesus! In the very act of his carrying out this shameful betrayal, you did not forget your old friendship and affection, but in return for so great an injury done to you, you exercised your healing power, for when a disciple cut off the ear of one of the high priest's servants, you restored it by the touch of your sacred hand.You restrained Peter, then defending you from those attacking you, saying: Put back your sword where it belongs. Am I not to drink the cup which the Father has given me to drink? Thus it is to be.

I now ask you, my God, grant me, since I am but a frail reed, greater patience amid my trials, and may sudden anger never overwhelm me, nor the spirit of revenge inflame me, when my enemies utter insults against me, or when accusations are made of which I know I am innocent. Grant me not to fear my accuser but to receive his allegations in good spirit and to look upon him, who so discourteously blames and slanders me, as a friend.
Let no indignation arise in me for any harshness shown me, nor let any remembrance of unjust offenses remain in me. May your most benign bearing of such evil treatment strengthen my will by granting it patience, as well as the desire to endure even greater trials for love of you.

John 18:7-8, Matt.26:50, Luke 22:48, Mark 14:44, John 18:11

Sunday, March 13, 2011

A Providential Visit

Sometimes we think we've planned things out so well ... and then we discover that we were just fitting in with God's plans the whole time. This past weekend was a good example of that. Several weeks ago, we scheduled a visit with Eric, Kelly, and Omari, so off we went on a Thursday for the visit. During the drive there, Eric called to say that he'd just learned he is deploying in 3 weeks rather than in July! Once we got past the shock, we were so very thankful that the Lord had ordained our trip, for that particular weekend was the only weekend it could have possibly worked for us to visit.

So we had a wonderful, bittersweet time together, celebrated Eric's birthday, and enjoyed Omari over and over and over again!

One of Omari's favorite things is a balloon, and this windsock looks an awful lot like one!
For his birthday, Eric wanted to play 9 holes, so off we went to the municipal course. It was a beautiful day and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves - even us non-golfing types!
Omari watches his Papa drive that ball down the green.
Omari and his Mama.
Look! There goes PapaJohn ... let's go, too!
We were celebrating John's birthday, too; and he celebrated big by hitting an Eagle on a Par 4! Woohoo!
And I saved the best for last - our little man of a thousand expressions bids Adios!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Barns on Hillsides

We've lived here at High Meadow Farm for 19 years and how quickly that time has flown! It's been long enough now that when I look about our land, I see many memories and hear many stories. Children were raised here and now grandchildren come. Our children's friends that came now come with their own children, taking riding lessons on the same pony that my children rode. What a blessing to my soul!

Our farm is only 10 acres and is evenly split; 5 acres of flat land in front, and 5 acres that consist of a hill in back. Our home sits down on the 5 flat acres, along with paddocks, kennels, gardens and a tiny orchard. The horse barn and pasture sit on the hillside. Originally, about 100 years ago, the barn was a dairy barn. About 25-30 years ago, horse-owning residents did some remodeling to make the barn horse-friendly, and we've done more redmodeling over the years, too. It's a pretty cool barn all-in-all, but having barn and pasture on a hill is a continual battle against the effects of nature.
As has happened many times, we had a hum-dinger of a storm roll through a few days ago dumping a few inches of rain in a short period of time. The gravel lane rutted out - again - washes were evident in the barn and pasture - again. And again we have to go back to work to restore the damage. Not that we didn't work hard to prevent the damage in the first place! It seems we are constantly striving to maintain a barn and pasture on a hillside!Another big storm is predicted for this evening, so this morning I was busy doing all that I could to prevent further washouts. As I was lugging rock around, it occurred to me that it will be the land that wins in the end. It will be the forces of nature that win in the end. Despite all our work, we cannot make nature take another course.

It brought to mind the words of God to Job, who had questioned God's justice and goodness. In various places in the book of Job, God said, "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?" (38:4) "...who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb?" (38:8) "Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place?" (38:12) "Have you entered into the springs of the sea, or walked in the recesses of the deep?" (38:16) "Where is the way to the dwelling of light?" (38:19) Have you entered the storehouses of the snow, or have you seen the storehouses of the hail?" (38:22) "Who has cleft a channel for the torrents of rain and a way for the thunderbolt?" (38:25)

Towards the end of the questioning, God asks Job, "Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it." (40:2) And Job answer Him later, "I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted."

And we toil on, working hard to live within the forces of nature, but never able to fully tame her. So how is it that so many believe that what we do in our daily lives will kill the planet? Should we be good stewards of God's good earth? Yes! Christians should be the first to proclaim it, but do we really think that mankind can cause the glaciers to melt and the oceans to rise? We think far too highly of ourselves when we do, and we ignore example after example that we are not the ones in charge of natural forces. Too many earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, floods, tornadoes, blizzards, and on and on tell us that we are small indeed.

And yet God invites us to Himself. He establishes us and gives us a hand in the glory of creation. We see this in what the Psalmist has written:

"When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?

Yet you have made him a little lower
than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.
You have given him dominion
over the work of your hands;
you have put all things under his feet ...

O LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!" (Ps.8:3-6, 9)

So we will keep working to make our own little garden a glory to God and a haven for man. But in the end the land will win, and all of it - including us - go back to Him who gave it.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Vaya con Dios

They come to us helpless, weak and utterly dependent. Their very survival is our responsibility. Training them to be God-loving, humanity-loving people is our responsibility as well, and it's a very sobering, life-consuming, all-encompassing parental mission.
For 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, month in, year out, we give our all to raising these little gifts of God; and often we feel as though we're lurching around in the dark hoping that we're going the right direction! We have golden successes and abysmal failures, but every molecule of our being and every beat of our heart goes into raising our children. And then we have to let go.

As completely as we welcomed them, we must completely let them go. Having experienced both ends of that stick, I can tell you which is harder and it isn't welcoming that helpless babe into your arms; it's sending that young man or woman out into the world. Far harder. Love is a paradox. It embraces and it sets free. These things have been on my mind a lot in the last few months. A son is deploying again. It will be the 2nd deployment in less than a year and he has to bid adieu to the young son who was born while he was away the first time. My heart breaks for him and his little family.A daughter has faced dire financial challenges far from home and far from our ability to help. Major life decisions await her as she works hard to find her place. Another daughter lives across the ocean with two young sons and a new baby daughter. Her husband is deployed, too, serving those who serve. We want badly to assist and support in person, but we can't.Another son has chosen to serve his country, too, and will be deploying before the spring is out. He will be gone for a year to a land filled with challenges and difficulties, and we won't be able to help him there."Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!" ~ Psalm 127:3-5"And as for me, this is my covenant with them," says the Lord: "My Spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your offspring, or out of the mouth of yours children't offspring," says the Lord, "from this time forth and forevermore." ~ Isaiah 59:21Children are a gift from God. It is God's covenant that is with them; His Spirit that is upon them; His Word that will never depart from them forevermore. Therefore it is possible to let them go, for they only go with God. Vaya con Dios, mis ninos.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Bird Observances - Three Stories

We began with twelve Guinea Fowl last summer and here in February are left with only two. I expected to lose a few to hawks and owls, but I think I've lost them mostly to their own lack of intelligence. A Guinea's head is quite small compared to it's body, hence it's brain is even smaller; about pea-sized would be my guess. Perhaps this is how the Pea-Fowl family earned it's name!

We have thick pine trees and shrubbery here for the Guineas to roost in, but they chose to roost atop an old basketball goal by the Little Barn, effectively transforming the flock into a Guinea-popsicle for any resident owls. Their number began to dwindle quickly. They moved their night roost to our roof. Same result. Finally we were down to four, they began to roost in a tree, and the attrition rate seemed to stabilize. That is until two of them, on two different occasions, decided for some odd reason to fly into the dog run where Labs were being boarded. Those Labs now think that High Meadow Kennels has greatly improved it's offering of doggie-fun! So then we were down to the two lone survivors.

We've put in a dog park, and yesterday a young, huge German Shepherd was romping in there. One of the Guineas decided to check it out and flew up on the gate to peer down at the dog who loved the idea of a toy coming his way! I knew if I ran over there to try and rescue the dumb bird he would fly right down into waiting jaws, so I began calling him with the dinner-time call - "chick, chick, chick". He turned to look towards me and began to clumsily turn himself around on the top of the gate. It was a precarious few moments, but he made his turn, hopped down and ran over for some feed. Whew! Dumb bird.

We've been luckier with chicken-attrition and have five out of six left. When we got them, the idea was to let them free-range all over our acreage and in the adjoining woods. But where did they choose to go? To the flower and veggie beds! You wouldn't believe how quickly a chicken can de-mulch entire flower beds. So we built a chicken yard to contain the girls - they can roam around and my beds stay mulched.

Then they discovered they could fly out since we hadn't built a roof, so I began clipping wings. Every time one escaped they got a nice little haircut. One of them, a redhead named Lucy, continued to fly out despite all configurations of wing-clipping, and I was getting really perplexed as to what to do about it. I'd clipped her wings so much that I'd was down to the quick and could see it hurt her. What to do???

Having a pilot for a husband pays off. As I considered the little knowledge about flying that I'd learned from him, I remembered that it takes more than two wings to fly - it takes a tail, too! So, off came her tail feathers and she hasn't flown out since! Now I occasionally call her Baldy as well as Lucy.

And finally, a story about one of the most beautiful bird behaviors I've ever seen. In fact, I'd never witnessed this before. It was a rare mild winter day that Saturday, and John and I were out working. I was going up the hill to the horse barn and heard the oddest noise. I knew it was some type of bird-calling, but could only guess that it was the Guineas down below. It was a calling, a chattering-type of sound that I'd never heard before.

Then I saw it. A flock of geese very high in flight, and they were heading east. Now I've heard countless flocks of geese honking as they flew over - it's loud and carries a good distance, but this was something totally different, something chattery. As I stood watching and listening I began to hear it again, somewhere else, very far and faint in the distance. At that same moment, the flock that I was watching heard it, too, and suddenly wheeled their flight north. Then again I saw it.

Another flock, so far up I could barely see it, was heading north and making that chattering call. As soon as the east-bound flock wheeled towards them, the north-bound flock found a thermal and began circling and circling. Not until the formerly east-bound flock joined them in the thermal did they continue flying north, both flocks together. It was amazing to watch and I was thankful to have seen the beauty found in migrating geese.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

My Ordinary Sin

Ordinary things are wonderful. A good cup of coffee, conversation among friends, daffodils peeking through the snow. Ordinary things can also be the things we daily tolerate or excuse, not realizing that they are actually sin.

In our Women's Bible Study this winter, we've been going through Jerry Bridges' book Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate." Ouch. It's amazing that what I pass off as normal behavior is really sin in the sight of God, things like: frustration, discontentment, unthankfulness, selfishness, irritability, anxiety, judgementalism, and - oh, dear - sins of the tongue. Either spoken or written, I would assume. As I am confronted by these "little" sins in my life, it's helped me to see how far I continue to fall short of what God intends for me, but it's also helped me to see how patient, faithful, and loving the Lord is to me as He daily enables my sanctification. He is a tender Shepherd after all.

The latest chapter we've gone through dealt with the sin of anxiety. Double, even triple, ouch! As this particular study was being taught, it occurred to me was that this is a hard one for most people, not just me, because: 1. The Lord is always telling us in Scripture "Do not fear." and 2. it was a very lively class discussion! Our teacher described anxiety as "fearful uncertainty about the future", and what really struck me through the heart was when she noted that anxiety is a lack of trust in God, i.e. saying to God, "Sorry. You can't cover this one for me." In my heart, I fell on my face before God in repentance as the truth of her statement sunk in. I had elevated myself above the Lord Himself by thinking and acting as though I were outside of his care, too much for him to handle. The God who made heaven and earth and holds all things together in Christ is not big enough to care for me? Hardly; and not only that, He tells me that's not so;

"Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him because he cares for you." ~ 1 Peter 5:6-7

Anxiety is also my lack of accepting God's providence in my life. Despite the fact that Christ suffered and died to pay the penalty of my sin, do I really think that He doesn't care what happens to me? That events in my life are random and purposeless? Ah, repentance time again! Anxiety causes me to take my eyes off Jesus and focus on myself and my circumstances, and that's when I lose all equilibrium of faith and trust. I must intentionally peel my eyes off of myself and look to Him, remembering Who he is and that he fashions my difficulties in such a way as to bring about my good.

Realizing these things and repenting of them, how on earth do I now live so that I don't continually fall back into sin, but instead learn to trust God? He tells us how in Philippians 4: 4-7

"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. ... The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

Ask the Lord for help, tell him of your trouble, and be thankful - rejoice! He is with you. (Note to self: look at your hand. That's how close the Lord is.) Additionally, I - in cooperation with the peace of God - am to guard my heart and mind in Christ Jesus. This is the actual retraining of my thoughts that are so susceptible to corruption by the world and the devil, and like athletic training, it's hard work! I must continually, intentionally run back to the Word to remember who God is and that He cares for me. It's in the Word that I'll find the truth of the matter. Philippians 4: 8 goes on to instruct us:

"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."

So, this week I made a little card to post on my bathroom mirror to remind me of all these things. (We never really outgrow flash-cards, do we?) As I commit the words on the card to my heart and mind, I am confident that the truth of those words will set me free from my sin of anxiety. I also am sure that I'll fail, and worry, and sin again; but thanks be to God
... the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you." - 1 Peter 5:10

So what have I to fear?

And the words on my little card?

"As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions (anxieties, worries, frettings) of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct (and in all my thinking) ...knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways you inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot." 1 Peter 1:14-15, 18-19