Friday, October 30, 2009

The promise: intimacy

For years, each of us has studied Hebrews 11, and with each example of fidelity and trust in God by the heroes of the Bible, we learn. We apply their tactics of strength in the face of opposition and trust in the face of doubt, following the whisper of God where we cannot discern the next footstep on our own. Faith is taking hold, taking possession of the title deed that we cannot see, but is more real than we are.

BY FAITH, Abraham. BY FAITH, Moses. BY FAITH, David. They did amazing, worthy, historic acts. But is that what pleased God? No, it wasn’t what they did – it was what they believed about God: that He was able to, and cared enough to, fulfill His promises.

When I needed reassurance, I read Hebrews 11 and sucked in my tummy, dried my tears, and let out a cleansing breath. It was all good until I got to the end of the chapter, and then my resolution collapsed. There we learn that people of faith held out despite torture and death, waiting for their promise to be perfected (matured).

That’s where the book says that “Not one of these people, even though their lives of faith were exemplary, got their hands on what was promised. God had a better plan for us: that their faith and our faith would come together to make one completed whole, their lives of faith not complete apart from ours.” (Hebrews 11:39-40 MSG)

But not one got their hands on the promise? Not one of those amazing heroes literally took hold of the title deed to what God said would happen? But they still believed?

So what was the promise? Was it for wealth and land, successful crops and fertile livestock, a loving spouse and happy children, freedom, security, long life, influence and power, beauty, or physical perfection?

The promise was repeated throughout the ages, in all the scriptures. In the Garden, God walked and talked face to face with our parents (Genesis 3). Immanuel, God-With-Us would come and live with us (Isaiah 7 and Revelation 21). God would be our God, and He’d be intimately known by us (Jeremiah 31:33-34). There would be a Ruler from among us who can approach God’s Presence (Jeremiah 30:21-22). Christ in us is life (Galatians 2:20, Romans 8:10). He will appear a second time to save those waiting (Hebrews 9:28). And we will not only worship Him, but actually partake of His holiness (Hebrews 12:10).

The new covenant is this: “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Hebrews 8:10-12 NIV.)

The new, superior covenant is that God offers intimacy, instead of being separated from us by prophetic symbols, analogies, types, and a written code of regulations. Those things, like toys and art supplies, were given to teach us what God is like, but not to distract us from what His heart is saying. Instead of being separated from us by a temple veil, He became the open Door, the Way in to Abba’s throne, the mercy seat of grace. Now God is real to us.

The promise that millions have died for and believed in was that Jesus is the reality when all else is shadow or reflection. What we humans perceive as solid and measurable is the vapor; and the God we can’t see or touch, define boundaries for, or understand – is the reality. We are aliens in this physical world, but we are citizens, the royal family, in His kingdom of love.

To our finite minds, this concept is upside down and inside out, that what God offers is intimacy. We’ve seen Him as remote and untouchable, harsh and judgmental, and by beholding that lie, we’ve been changed! But seeing God’s compassion, mercy, forgiveness and boundless love is why those heroes of faith were willing to go through such trials, such pain, such separation from what they loved, but held loosely. For the promise of intimacy, close contact with the Most High God, they held tightly to His hand, they obeyed the Voice, they lived as nomads and settled new territory, they braved the best-equipped armies on earth with songs of praise – and won!

Whether married or single, we crave close contact on every level, and the need for intimacy is as vital as air and water. We want to be touched emotionally and physically by those we trust. A friend says that her elderly mother wells up with tears of joy when her son-in-law takes her into his embrace.

We want to be known in more than a superficial glance, more even than for the image we project, but for the secret heartbeat of our God-given passions and obsessions. We want to be KNOWN. Intimately known by a trustworthy person. We need to be loved and touched, to connect on every level.

And that is what God offers. That is what those heroes lived and died for. They knew it. They had the Promise in their hearts, the Promise that Immanuel would walk and talk with them as a personal Friend; that He would tenderly wipe away their tears with His own hand.

“Regarding [your name here], I can't keep my mouth shut, regarding [you], I can't hold my tongue, Until her righteousness blazes down like the sun and her salvation flames up like a torch. Foreign countries will see your righteousness, and world leaders your glory. You'll get a brand-new name straight from the mouth of God. You'll be a stunning crown in the palm of God's hand, a jeweled gold cup held high in the hand of your God. No more will anyone call you Rejected, and your country will no more be called Ruined. You'll be called Hephzibah (My Delight), and your land Beulah (Married), Because God delights in you and your land will be like a wedding celebration. For as a young man marries his virgin bride, so your builder marries you, And as a bridegroom is happy in his bride, so your God is happy with you.” (Isaiah 62:1-5 MSG.)

Who doesn’t want to hear the divine whisper in our ears, “You are my delight”? Who doesn’t want to be a cherished, precious jewel, held high in the hands of God for all to admire its beauty? That unimaginable privilege is offered to you as a gift.

And the only way you can accept the gift is by trusting that Jesus Christ is the reality when all of this world is shifting shadows. That is faith. When we are filled with that love, our hearts expand to take in more, and the love spills over to those around us. It’s not only a good feeling, love. It becomes a choice and an action, helping the unloved, the desperate, the needy, the lonely – the lost, whom Jesus came to seek and save.

“It's impossible to please God apart from faith. And why? Because anyone who wants to approach God must believe both that he exists and that he cares enough to respond to those who seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6 MSG)

He cares. He responds. He offers what you crave. Why resist? Reach up and take hold of the Promise.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The parable of the weeds

They will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil…. Matthew 13:43 NIV

Last July, I took out some really big weeds growing behind the vegetables. These weeds were huge. Treelike. Their stems were an inch across, and woody. They topped the six-foot fence. I pulled and tugged, and perspired heavily while batting away gnats. When those roots wouldn’t loosen from the east side, I dived through the thick green pine needles to get to the west side and pull from that direction. I did finish the job, but was too late to prevent the weeds from seeding the plants that I need to pull now. The seeds were almost invisibly tiny, borne on the wind with white cottony fluff.

When I first moved here, I planted a blue morning glory vine. It was truly beautiful, but it took over the yard and climbed the fence (and grew through the wood slats), as if making for the Canadian border. It can grow a meter a day on every runner! It invaded the avocado tree, stunted the pine tree, and choked out other plants. So I tried to eradicate it. I killed the main stalks, but the runners have taken hold everywhere, coming up 30 feet away from the source. It’s a never-ending job. I can’t pour poison on the vine or pull it up without killing the desirable flowers and food-bearing plants that co-exist in the yard.

Until now! This is harvest time for the annual plants, and like Jesus’ harvesters, I let the plants and the weeds grow together, then collect the weeds to be destroyed. (Unlike Jesus’ field, my weeds will be back next year, but for now, it looks clean and orderly, and the winter sun can reach the soil and prepare it for the spring plants.)

Jesus said that weeds, symbols of the sons of the evil one, are pulled up and burned in the fire, but the good grain and fruits, representing the sons of the kingdom, are harvested by the angels. “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil…Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” Matthew 13:40-43 NIV

Even a city kid like me understands that parable! Won’t it be wonderful when Jesus comes to collect us in His grand harvest and glorifies our bodies to fit His kingdom? The promises He has made, He is faithful to fulfill.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags. Isaiah 64:6 NIV

My late mother said not to use the word “cootie.” I’m about to disobey, not for the first time. Cootie is slang for louse, but to every eight year-old, it just means that someone is untouchable, contagiously germy, or emanates uncool vibes. I’m a few decades past eight, but I still use the word. If you greet someone at church with a smile and explain you have cold cooties, they understand the greeting, but not to shake your hand.

We knew cootie people in school. There was always at least one class geek whose clothes were dirty, had body odor, knew every arcane bit of trivia but couldn’t keep a conversation progressing, or played alone because they were shunned by the cool kids. I was not cool, but not cootie-ridden, either. I felt sorry for the cootie kids and treated them kindly but distantly. But I’m glad I did, because some cootie people became good friends.

It’s still that way. We know loners, social misfits, and nerdy adults at work, church, begging at the freeway onramp, possibly in our neighborhoods or extended families. Horror of horrors, maybe you’re a cootie person right now!

You know what? You are. We are. And have been since Adam and Eve tripped over their first bramble. “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.” (Isaiah 64:6 NIV) Filthy, shriveled, windswept. Definitely cootie-ridden. In Romans 3, Paul said no one is righteous of themselves.

But hear the word of the Lord: we have been given Christ’s own robe of righteousness to replace our rags. “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Romans 3:22-24 NIV

By creation and redemption, we are doubly children of God, and royalty of the universe. Sometimes it’s good to be “all washed up.”

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Birthday musings

This post ran on my Rooting for Ancestors blog in October 2008.

Most of my ancestors in medieval times never lived to be 50 years old. In fact, 35 was pushing menopause, and if a woman had had 12 or 15 pregnancies, she was either extremely robust and lived to be 85 – or she’d die giving birth at 25 or 35. Many of the men died in middle age, too, not always from war injuries.
John of Gaunt died at age 59 of natural causes. Reverend John Robinson, persecuted pastor of the Puritans before they sailed to America on the Mayflower, died in 1625 at age 50 in Leiden, Holland. Once my ancestors emigrated to America, their lives stretched into their 70s and 80s. My grandparents lived into their 80s, and Grandma Opal Carter Robinson was 98 when she died.

I was 29 when my mother turned 50, and I was 34 when she died of chronic lung disease at 55. Although she was extremely ill, and suffered more from her medication side effects than the asthma and emphysema, she lived a remarkable life.
Judith Anson Robinson only had a high school diploma; and although she had an academic scholarship offer to university, she was unable to use it with her extreme health challenges. She married Kenneth Robinson at age 18, and after a year they moved to Phoenix, Arizona, where the air was dry and breathable. Judith always had a stack of library loaners and how-to books across many subjects, and she took extension classes with the local PBS station and a syllabus.

She was self-taught at bookkeeping, but she successfully managed the family business and finances, took on the IRS in court, and won.
She was an accomplished, award-winning artist who worked in acrylic paint, chalk pastels, watercolor, ink, clay, and other media. Some of her artwork is photographed HERE.

She only had a few years of piano lessons from a small-town nun who was quick to rap knuckles on mistakes – but she became a wonderful piano teacher who taught on a piano earned by selling cosmetics. In fact, while my dad’s income was managed carefully, and we always lived on a cash basis, the piano teaching money paid the tuition for my brother’s and my Christian-school education.

Judith was either too sick to attend church often, or was warned by the doctor not to, because of her compromised immune system. But she knew her Bible intimately, read Christian books, and watched Christian TV. She had strong views on right and wrong, and could have
taught an ethics course on the community-college level. She was always interested in the “why” of behavior and thinking.

And she started with an inherited, inaccurate family tree and turned it into a pedigree so large and complex that software programmers in Salt Lake City had to enlarge version one of the Personal Ancestral File because her vast body of research wouldn’t fit into their parameters. She began in the 1960s and blew away the programmers with her little 128K Macintosh in 1984. No Internet. Just land-line phone and snail mail.

So my mom did all this and more in spite of her illness. When I’ve had a cold or flu, and I’m feeling rotten, I wonder how she got anything done, much less her list of accomplishments.
I’ve followed my mom’s lead in many ways: love of history and genealogy, performing church music, teaching music, expressing my creativity in writing and graphics, a tenderness for animals and nature, gardening, and lots of other interests.

But I wonder if any of this has affected anyone but me. What has been the effect of my existence in this world? Have I lived up to my potentia
l – done all that it’s possible for me to do with the advantage of excellent health and advanced education? Has my writing touched hearts or changed thinking? Have my music students’ lives been enhanced by my counsel and my teaching? Have I been an inspirational example to one person? Has my friendship or fellowship enriched another person, and how? Have I been an instrument of God, to bless others?

My 21-year-old mother kept a journal of the last few weeks that she was pregnant with me. She and my dad visited a model home that they moved to when I was a few months old. They visited friends from their young-people’s group at the Baptist church. Mom fretted that I was three weeks late in coming; and she was embarrassed to be so heavily pregnant and buying castor oil to hurry the onset of labor, when the pharmacist knew what it was for. (Oh, the shame!)
Mom even took the little red journal with her when she went to the hospital in labor with me.

Here’s the journal entry for October 15, 1958, the day I was born:
I’ve loved my baby for such a long time. Yet the joy I feel today as I hold her in my arms is beyond words. Praise God for the blessings and the happiness that we have in Christy, and we pray, with grateful hearts, to do the Lord’s will in raising her. Regarding the choice of her names: Christy is a feminine derivative of Christ, meaning “follower of Christ.” Kay is the word “rejoicing” in Old Teutonic. It is our hope that the name will truly describe her life.

On October 16, 1958, my mother wrote:
Between you and me, Baby, you might as well know that nobody in the world has ever loved a baby like you’re going to be loved by your mother. I’ve been saving up a part of myself for a long time and I’m going to start spending it on you. Surely this must be similar to the love Jesus has for us. I can see beyond the pink face and little slanty eyes to a beauty within you. It makes me so happy to look at you that it feels as if something in my chest will burst.

I wish I could talk to my mom and ask for her assessment of my 50 years of life. Have I created a worthy body of work? Have I proved my worth to my employer, church, friends, and society in general? Do I have a legacy? Have I fulfilled Mom’s hopes? Have I been faithful to the calling of God? Do I have a beauty of spirit? Do I have a measure of my mother’s taste and style? Is my thinking process logical and deep, or just quirky, lazy, and shallow? What about my relationships? Do I
have the qualities of compassion, love, mercy, and justice that God requires? Have my fluttering butterfly wings displaced any air?

Fifty is just a number. It’s seven in dog-years. As one of my birthday cards says, it’s three and a half in giant-redwood-years. But it’s also the next check-box down the survey, a less-desirable demographic to marketers and sociologists.
My ancestors, even if they died young and we know nothing about their lives, nevertheless passed on their DNA and influence, for good or ill, to their children.

What will I leave in my wake? Maybe I have the same amount of time left to live as I have lived already. Maybe I’ll go earlier from accident or disease.
There’s an axiom that says to live every day as if it’s your last. Now how is that possible? We must plan and act as if we have decades left. We have responsibilities and commitments to friends, family, and community that will pay off both now and down the road.

But maybe that’s
my sense of responsibility rearing up, and realization of the fact that I’m single, independent, and have no backup but God. (Which is not a bad thing!) I doubt that those 13th-century ancestors thought their progeny would think of such things, 800 years later.
My mom was about 26 in that photo, old enough to be my daughter, if I'd had children. But it does make one think about generations and what-ifs, not to mention: If every woman becomes her mother, does she eventually become her grandmother? Or does she become a composite of her foremothers at a certain point in her human development?

One of my blogger friends turned 30 three days after I turned 50. She described her domestication from intense college student to settled and satisfied wife and mother, becoming comfortable with finding bargains, gaining some baby weight, and (literally) juggling baby and computer keyboard. One of her friends mentioned feeling comfortable in her skin.

There are times I’ve been comfortable in my skin. And times when I’ve felt my skin itchy and tight, as if the relative humidity is in single digits and there’s not enough moisturizer in the world to soothe me. Those are the times when, like a reptile, it’s time to shed the old skin and step out into a new era, vulnerable to change. And predators.

When I was almost 18, it was time to leave my childhood friends, and to some degree, my family, and move 360 miles away to university. I was a little homesick for a week or two, but quickly adjusted to the enervating experience. As a musician, I went from big fish in small pond, to guppy in a lake. But I found my own jobs, fought my own battles, changed my major from music education to communications/print media, matured in my thinking, learned who and how to trust, and discovered some techniques for dealing with people that I still use today. On my visits to my parents’ home, I saw my 40-year-old mother as a woman with a college-age daughter over whom she was losing control and influence. (What my mother didn’t realize was how much influence she would regain as I aged.)

After university, I moved to Los Angeles to work with college friends. I was severely injured in a fall at age 23, and moved back to Phoenix to restart my life. My parents moved my furniture back from California, and were thrilled to have me back under their roof for a year and a half until I finished physical therapy and could move out again.

When I was 26, I loved a man with all my heart for several years, but he didn’t return the sentiment. After my parents, this man has had more influence on my thoughts and actions than any other human being. He taught me critical thinking (ironically, in a roundabout way), and that has affected every area of religion, politics, my writing, and relationships with others. At the same time, my world opened up with the introduction of new friends and activities, a change of career, and a general blossoming of opportunities. This was a similar age to my mother’s in that picture. In real time, my mother was 47 when I was 26.

I became very involved in church activities and became the Arizona singles ministry leader for my denomination. At the same time, I was teaching music at a Christian high school and elementary school, as well as taking students in my home. Over about 10 years, I worked for several churches as keyboardist and choir director. I edited and designed brochures, newsletters, and magazines for several organizations.

Then, in a short period, I was forced to shed my skin again. I was replaced at the Christian high school by a crony of the principal, and lost more than half my music students. Another cluster of students had to quit because of the recession that followed the Gulf War. A couple of female friends turned on me and I lost their fellowship. My financial-mainstay freelance editing job of six years was given to someone else after the president of the organization lied to me and about me to others. My spiritual and intellectual mentor moved to Australia. My mother, who’d nearly died one year before, became even more ill and passed away 11 days after Christmas. A car pulled in front of me and my car was totaled, and I re-injured my bad knee. Any one of those things is a risk factor for fatal illness!

The Lord was looking out for me, and although finances were tight, I was never in danger of failure. I had wonderful friends (in fact, we’re still friends after more than 20 years). I had a townhouse mortgage and a decent vehicle. Some of my lost teaching income was made up by a part-time job as church secretary at my family’s church. But the deeper one is involved in an organization based on deeply-held beliefs and values, the harder it is to compartmentalize one’s worship and one’s job. I’d be driving down the freeway on my way to church (for service and worship), and feeling road rage. Then some people in that toxic congregation got power-mad and made some assumptions about me that were untrue. So my skin got tight and itchy again!

At that point, a couple of friends and I spent an afternoon and evening in fellowship and prayer – about me – and my life changed again. I applied for positions in communications in California, and was asked to interview. One freelance writing job led to an interview nearby, and that became a job offer.

Uprooting my life, home, four elderly cats, and leaving my students and families, and the (nice) church where I worked as music director was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. Getting established in a community where I knew no one was very lonely – and expensive! After two years in a rental house, I was able to buy a nice house in a beautiful neighborhood. Eventually, there was recognition, trust, and friendship. A nearby university, my alma mater, headhunted me, and I changed jobs.

But 19 months later, despite high ratings for the quantity and quality of my work, I got a new boss who decided to replace me with his brother-in-law. The weasel used his subordinate to “resign” me while he was out of the country. And I became jobless for seven months. Wow, there goes another skin, if not another cat’s life!

While I was vulnerable and tender again, I learned something very deep. I trusted a few Christian friends (of several denominations) with my deepest feelings and asked them to pray for me. They actually thanked me for the confidence and trust I’d placed in them; and said that they were privileged to be used by God to help me.

Although I had some emergency savings, some vacation pay, and a little unemployment, it was only enough to live on for three months, tops. But I always had enough money to pay bills, mortgage, and offerings at church during those seven months. God has a different math and accounting system than humans can figure out.

I was offered a job as writer and editor for an international Christian organization, and was given latitude to do quite a lot with it – until the administration changed over my head again. Do it this way, we love your work, but change it, no change it back, take this out, put this in, you can’t do that unless it goes through many layers of administration, we’re reorganizing the corporate structure and changing your title (to a lower level), etc. There was a wide variety of projects, though, from producing a bimonthly magazine to writing and editing books, video scripts, display ad design, and many other media assignments.

And at the church where I’ve been highly involved in music and other activities, there are some very real problems with people and finances. Based on studying the fundamental beliefs of my denomination, I’ve decided that there are several that I cannot support. My friends, my culture, and (until recently) my job are tied up in that denomination, and I remain there for reasons of fellowship and relationships. Perhaps God wants me to remain in my local church so I can continue to influence and inspire. But my skin is feeling tight and itchy and uncomfortable. In fact, my hands and feet feel like sandpaper on silk.

So turning 50, I’ve decided, isn’t about feeling comfortable in one’s skin, but being flexible instead of spastic. It’s recognizing that life comes in fits and starts. A birthday is just another turn of the flywheel, or another season in the endless cycle of seasons. That’s what maturity feels like.

Maybe this is what I’d tell my 26-year-old mother, the pretty woman whose gentle hand protectively covers the little hands of her children.
...Keep on keeping on.
...If you feel strongly about justice, then don’t worry about being “nice,” just stand up and do what needs doing.
...Don’t procrastinate: the job only gets harder, the longer you wait.
...Don’t go out without nice clothes and makeup because you can’t make a first impression a second time.
...Work hard and do your best for your own sake. You always represent your family, so be honorable at all times.
...Your name has a meaning, so live up to it.
...Treat your pets and garden tenderly.
...No one can resist having their hair ruffled and back tickled until they go to sleep.
...Love nature and not man-made amusements.
...If there’s no word for what you want to say, invent one.
...Don’t waste your brainpower with stupid entertainment – there’s little enough time to learn valuable, useful information.
...The difference between knowledge and wisdom is application and experience.

But those are things I learned from my mother. So how could I teach them to her? How did she learn them? Is there something to the “inherited memory” belief? (The concept seems paranormal or occult to me.) Is there such a thing as native intelligence? Was she a genius, or did she maximize average intellect?

Knowing her as I do, and as a daughter turns into her mother in so many ways, I believe that her interests in humanities and her study of relationships and genealogy gave her a sense of who she was, her place in the universe, her standing with God, and a real pride in all the thousands of lives that synthesized into the chromosomes of one being named Judith Anson Robinson.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Written in the dust

In far-north England, as I drove along Hadrian’s Wall westward to Carlisle, I burst out laughing. My fellow traveler drove a lorry (delivery truck) covered in dust and dirt. Someone had drawn with a finger in large letters on the filthy roll-up door: “Also available in white.” The joke was that the lorry was painted white underneath the grime.

O LORD, the hope of Israel, all who forsake you will be put to shame. Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the LORD, the spring of living water. Jeremiah 17:13 NIV

To write in the dust is to know that the words and the people or actions the words symbolize are impermanent. It’s a contrast to carving your legacy in stone, as people have done since prehistoric times.

Often, people say they feel as though they’re wandering in a dry, dusty wilderness, alone and without hope. Any gust of wind could vaporize them. Even in mature Christians, this is an experience we sometimes go through, especially after trauma.

If you have ever felt alone and comfortless, I encourage you to seek out Christian companionship in your local church or Bible study group. Let the arms of God enfold you through His body, the church. Let the people of God minister to your dry and barren life. Let down the projection that you have everything together all the time, and allow yourself to be vulnerable. The Lord will work for you through His people.

Jesus said that He would never leave us, nor forsake us. No matter what we feel, we must trust that Jesus is close by, longing to be in communion with us. Don’t turn away from Him. Turn toward Him, and He will give you living water to quench your raging thirst (John 4:14). He begs you to come, lay your burdens on Him, and rest. He loves you, and He is preparing an eternity of joy and love for you.

So let Jesus wash away that dust with His living water. In fact, dive into that river and rejoice in His gifts. He will bring you through.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Set in concrete

I'll remove the stone heart from your body and replace it with a heart that's God-willed, not self-willed. Ezekiel 36:26 MSG

A co-worker makes a plan, but allows wiggle room by saying, “Yes, but it’s not set in concrete.” You remember finding fresh, damp concrete, with no guard around—perfect for kids to scratch their names or “Skooter + Pookie” in, hoping to make an eternal mark.

It’s been said, “Some minds are like concrete, thoroughly mixed up and permanently set.” We all know those people. (Not ourselves, of course. And don’t cast your eyes about the room just now!)

Concrete sidewalk and driveway sections can trip you when the inexorable tree roots heave them upward. All around seismically active Southern California we see cracks, raised or sunken sidewalks, crumbled places where trucks crushed a curb, freeway barriers broken from impact, old bridges being replaced, concrete-lined rivers with sections washed out… the list is endless. Concrete is not permanent. It erodes, breaks, even tumbles down flood channels.

The thing is, just about the only way to change concrete is to destroy it. We read in Exodus 7:13 that Pharaoh’s heart (mind) was hard and repelled the lessons of God. Solomon had low regard for the concreted mind when he said in Proverbs 27:22 NIV, “Though you grind a fool [one who is morally deficient] in a mortar, grinding him like grain with a pestle, you will not remove his folly from him.” And: “Stone is heavy and sand a burden, but provocation by a fool is heavier than both.” Proverbs 27:3 NIV

So what’s the plan? Although it’s important to stand solidly on moral ground and to build your foundation on the Rock, remember to balance those worthy goals with a soft heart, on which the Lord can write His law of love. Surely Paul was remembering Ezekiel 36:26 when he wrote: “You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” 2 Corinthians 3:3 NIV

Would you rather be set in your ways, or a living love letter from Christ?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Past and present

On a vacation in September 2006, I lived in the past, visiting cathedrals, parish churches, national parks, archaeology sites, castles, and farmhouses in England, Wales, and Paris. This was my third pilgrimage to where my ancestors lived, worked, and worshiped. I have an unusual hobby: finding and photographing the medieval burial effigies of my ancestors, and discovering their roots. The photo here is of the effigy of my ancestor, William Longespee, Earl of Salisbury, 1176-1226, illegitimate son of Henry II and Ida de Tosny. (This tomb could be that of his son William Longespee, but he's my ancestor, too, so I'm OK with whichever William is interred there!)

On that trip, I drove to the tiny village of Sturton-le-Steeple, home to ancestor Rev. John Robinson (1575-1625), minister to the Puritan Pilgrims in England and Holland before they emigrated on the Mayflower to Plymouth, Massachusetts. I stood at a hedgerow and looked out at the harvested fields, much as John and his parents must have done at the end of a day's work. But John was a religious rebel. He resisted even the reformed English church as being too comfortable with saints and a liturgy by rote. He and the believers who became the Pilgrims attempted to emigrate to Holland, but they were betrayed by a ship captain, their possessions confiscated, and he spent months in a prison cell. Eventually, he was able to join family and flock in Holland, but his health was too poor to make the perilous journey to America. His son Isaac emigrated to Massachusetts in 1631.

I enjoyed a Bach concert at St. Martin’s-in-the-Field church in London, where ancestors Mary Barrett and William Dyer were married before emigrating to America. (They sailed to Boston only a few months before bubonic plague ravaged their parish in England.) After 25 years of active resistance to what was expected of her, and being a missionary to Puritans and Indians, Mary was martyred on Boston Common in 1660 for preaching the Quaker gospel to Boston Puritans who had expelled her numerous times. More about them at my other blog: Mary's beliefs, in the dark and repressive 1630s, were surprisingly representative of the New Covenant of Hebrews 8:10-12, that the Lord would teach his will and speak grace to our hearts and minds. Her "inner light" made her stand out from the crowd.

At a Salisbury, Wiltshire church, only four parishioners, the vicar, and I were blessed by a lovely prayer service in the very chapel where my Ayre ancestors are buried and memorialized in marble sculpture of the Elizabethan era. I was impressed that the liturgy moved from praying for missionaries and faith communities around the world, to their own government, to their parish, and they even made it personal for the American visitor in their midst. Four hundred fifty years after my Ayres were buried under the floor, their daughter communed with God in that sacred place.

While our ancestors were deeply convicted and willing to live and die for their beliefs in God, post-moderns believe that if there is a God at all, they just don’t care. Religion is a pack of fairy stories and superstition, Europeans have told me. Nine hundred-year-old churches in cities and villages, empty of worshipers, are historic landmarks, or buildings to remodel as fire stations and restaurants. God still has faithful followers, but they're not plentiful.

I think denominationalism, and possessive and distinctive beliefs ("I'm special, I'm chosen, I'm the remnant, I'm correct--but YOU are not!") isolate us from our fellow members in the Body of Christ. But quietly sharing what God has done for us in everyday life, and performing simple kindnesses, bring us together and glorify the Lord's reputation among those who believe in luck, fate, and coincidence. God still speaks to us (conscience, creative juices, inspiration of nature or art) and still acts through us (support for the hurting, hugs, healing, kind actions), as He has done for eons.

It is heartening to see how God has led us in the past, to glimpse what He has for the future, and to have the certainty that now He holds us in His loving hands and cares about every detail of our thoughts and emotions. The Eternal God, Who was, and is, and ever shall be, is directing our steps, and He is with us always.


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