Tuesday, January 27, 2015

DRINKING FROM MY SAUCER

Note: The most frequent question friends ask me in this new year is "What are you writing next?" In answer, this is to let you know that I plan for two books to be published electronically first, (in ebooks) before they will be published in print. Both are already written pending final proofreading. The first I will explain below. The second, in a later blog post.

Introduction to COME DRINK FROM MY SAUCER

Our God is an “over-blesser.” Whatever He does is lavish, munificent, bounteous, unsparing, and abundant. God has an unparalleled record of faithfulness in providing for the needs of His own people. Beyond that, He outdoes Himself in generously giving us far more than we need, even to granting the desires of our hearts if we delight ourselves in Him. (Psalm 37:4) He is the God of overflow.

As a result of His creative overflow to me while I was writing my recently published book STILL MORE! FLOURISHING ON MY SUMMIT, the third book of my spiritual autobiographical Trilogy, I obviously flourished overly much! I had to perform syntax surgery by cutting the word count in half before publication. Several analogies come to mind to justify publishing this book.

The birth of twins

I look upon each book I write as if it were another child—a brain child or a heart child. While writing the above book, I was unaware that I was “pregnant with twins.” I thought it was one rather large “baby.” As I neared “full term,” I realized, editorially speaking, that this word-child was not a single birth. I had to delay the birth of the second twin. Although this is not possible in natural childbirth, it is possible in the editorial world. Here the analogy breaks down. I resume in wordsmithing terms:

The syntax surgery I had to perform on my manuscript was painful and painstaking. What should I retain and what should I reserve? I wanted to include all of the topics because of their importance. They had already gone through the final editing and proofreading. It didn't seem feasible to leave out entire chapters since each had a theme in continuity. I sifted prayerfully through each chapter to decide which topics could be omitted. The process left me sharing with my readers only half of what I wanted to say. I was stopped in mid-sentence, so to speak. 

In this book are the collected, omitted topics plucked from each of the original chapters of my STILL MORE! book. In a word, I am offering still more of STILL MORE!

Gathering up leftovers

A second analogy is that of conserving the leftovers. All four Gospel writers mention the miracle of the loaves and fishes. On one occasion Jesus took seven loaves of bread and multiplied them to feed 4,000 people. Seven large baskets full of leftovers were collected. He had previously blessed five loaves and fed 5,000, and the disciples gathered twelve baskets full of leftovers. Leftovers were of concern to Jesus.

I was faced with a decision about leftovers. Since Jesus has always given me more than I need, I should be a good steward and not waste the bountiful, equally nutritious leftovers with which Jesus has blessed me. I should find a way to share them generously with others rather than let them languish in a document on my PC and consign them to oblivion without blessing anyone. I waited for clear guidance from God. It felt it would come via feedback from readers of STILL MORE! who let me know whether they found the original book to be spiritually challenging enough to want a “second helping.” That has proven true!

Therefore, in this twin book are gathered up the nutritious leftovers tucked into twelve baskets full and divided into twelve new chapters of MORE.

Drinking from the saucer

I mused over a third whimsical analogy remembered from my childhood. I was blessed with two Czech grandmothers in my early growing years in the Iowa heartland. One grandmother lived with us; the other we often went to visit. 

My most vivid sensory recollection was of the overpowering fragrance of coffee in Grandma Anastasia's house so evident upon entering her front door. A large, blue-speckled enamel coffee pot was set on the wood stove brewing coffee for Grandpa Jed and for anyone else who might drop by to visit. The aroma of freshly baked kolaches, a fruit-filled, yeast dough, traditional Czech bakery, mingled with the powerful scent of coffee. 

Grandpa drank coffee throughout the day. He liked it piping hot and wanted his cup filled all the way to the brim. The pot was heavy and had a wire handle so it was a bit unwieldy for Grandma to manage, so she usually misjudged the amount she was pouring. Invariably the coffee spilled over the brim of Grandpa's cup. The runoff collected in the saucer. Grandpa never complained. On the contrary, he smiled and said it tasted even better from the saucer. He was fond of drinking the saucer overspill first. I think he deliberately made a lot of noise sucking it up because it made his little granddaughter giggle.

This book represents what I hope is the fragrant and generous overflow into the saucer from the original cup, my book STILL MORE!
The bubbling, overflowing cup above is the illustration I plan for the front cover of COME DRINK FROM MY SAUCER.

Monday, January 26, 2015

MARSHMALLOW MORNING

(View from my back door)
by Leona Choy

While I slept soundly
snow fell lightly last night
as if God were in Heaven’s kitchen
making an angel food cake.

He sifted it in heaps over the hills
spreading it smoothly like frosting
over every bare branch
beating white peaks of meringue
against our shrubbery
and making a marshmallow mound
of my deck furniture
and my Chrysler in the lane.

He swirled powdered sugar
with abandon down our sledding hill
while all life came to a standstill
in our deep-freezer pond.

But today the winter sun broke forth
and our world is a marble cake:
chocolate chip mud morsels
dot our lumpy lawn and fields
cocoa-splashes mar the pristine purity
of last night's spectacular beauty
of God’s divine cuisine.

Our crusted, rutted road is brown-sugared
with maple syrup puddles.
A lone duck splashes about with delight
in the thin, watery edges of the pond
quacking at the melting sight.

Who knows?
(Certainly the weather forecaster doesn’t!)
God may send a second angel
to fly down and silently add
another fluffy white layer
and frost it again tonight
spreading a frothy, finishing fillip
of whipped cream snow
to top His marble cake
or silver-crust it all with slippery ice—
even that would be nice!

I don't dream longingly
oh well, maybe occasionally
for Florida's predictability.
Come what may, I'm here to stay
I delightfully thrive
on God's culinary variety
in Virginia country winters!
****

Sunday, January 25, 2015

PLANNING WITHOUT PRESUMPTION

 

If it is really a truth, it can be found anywhere. The Scripture says, “Whatever things are true...if anything worthy of praise...let your mind dwell on these things” (Phil. 4:8). Sometimes I find it in unexpected places. I came across a truth on the last corner of the cover of my college alumni magazine. A young professional, a graduate of the college, wrote,  

“I think of my life as a very small plot of land that's been given to me, that I didn't make, and I can't sustain by myself. I want this little plot to reflect God's glory, and so long as I can accomplish this [through her God-given gift and academic training in the arts] I'll continue to explore it thoughtfully and share the experience with others.”

Good stuff! A worthy analogy. I want to explore its application to my own life—perhaps the reader can find it has meaning for himself/herself as well. It fits into the theme of my recent blog posts. What difference does my life make anyway? Is my “footprint” of any significance?
 
What have I been doing with that “little plot of land” that is my life? For sure my life and my circumstances were given to me by the Lord. They are not of my own making, and I can't till the ground by myself; I need the help of others. Am I neglecting to plow and plant my life-plot just because it's little and so leave the ground unplowed? Perhaps it is larger than I know! God expects me to bloom where He planted me; He chose the location and my orbit of influence. He has given me the “tools” to make it fruitful. 

Is my little plot reflecting God's glory? Am I sharing the fruits of my spiritual experience with others to draw them to God? Or have I looked down on my gift and my scant opportunities and buried them in the ground like the one talent hidden in a napkin in Jesus' parable?

Cultivation takes planning and work and time. Weeds grow rapidly by themselves, but crops must be patiently sown and cared for.
I admit that I don't have trouble with the planning. It tends to be my strong point. I'm good at setting goals long term and short term, aiming for deadlines, charting my course full steam ahead. But I realize people are different and not everyone does that. Some just let life happen and then they respond to it. My strong point may also be my weak point. I'm inclined to make my own plans, to map it all out, and try to control the outcome in my time frame. I'm sort of a mover and shaker.
 
James 4:13-16 is my flashing red light.  

“Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.' Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.' But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil.” James put his finger on our incredible presumption that we know what the future holds, even short term. Only God is all-knowing.

Yes, I'm responsible for my little plot in life. Yes, I should plan and not just merrily row, row my boat gently down the stream. God has given us all free will; we don't dance like puppets dangling on a His string. He has given us minds and judgment and choice with that freedom so we can plan. “Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails” (Prov. 19:21). A man's mind plans [devises, designs] his way but the Lord directs his steps and makes them sure [establishes them]” (16:19). 

God allows me to plan and devise and work my little plot in life in a way that seems good to me and as if it all depended on me. At the same time I should not be so presumptive as to take the future for granted. “If God wills” I shall cultivate my plot in stewardship because He owns it and has placed me here for His time frame and purpose. I happily understand that the Lord is over all and directs my efforts in the way that I should go!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

OUR “FOOTPRINT”

Having been involved in radio broadcasting for decades, I am familiar with that term. It means “the area on the surface of the earth within a satellite's transmitter or sensor field of view.” In more user-friendly terms, our “footprint” meant how far the radio signal frequency could reach; how many potential ears could be listening.

In human terms, we understand our footprint to be a mark left by the foot, as in earth or sand. If my foot makes an impression in the sand of the seashore, it soon disappears. If the footprint is in the mud or soil, it can last somewhat longer. It means that someone has been there. (When a super-size footprint is found in the forest, “Bigfoot” is thought to have stomped by.) Like a fingerprint, an impression of the sole of a person's foot may be taken for purposes of identification, as a newborn for a birth certificate. 
 
When I was four years old, my parents built a new house and had me put my little foot in the cement of a step leading into the back porch. It was still there when I left home to get married.

I want to explore still another meaning of our footprint: “the impact or impression that a particular activity, person, or group makes.” What footprint or impact am I making by my life while on the earth? No matter how long I will live or how short my life will have been, it is but a tiny dot when compared to eternity. 

Nevertheless, God has entrusted me with life and expects me to be a good steward of it. I am to make a unique footprint for Him, an impression worthy of Him, an image of Him left upon the lives of other people.

Not a selfie-footprint that will be washed away with the tide. A permanent one. Just as our prayers are everlasting when we release them up to God, and our thoughts are recorded in God's book of remembrance, so my impact on every person I have ever encountered is everlasting—and I am impacted by their footprint. Every step I make in life is as if I made it in cement. Footsteps can be heard and footprints can be seen. Every word I say, every deed I do, as well as every word I forgot to say, or act which I neglected to do. Yes, every discouraging or negative word, every unworthy deed also leaves a footprint in cement. What a sobering thought!

Footprints are supposed to lead somewhere; they are meant to be followed. The footprints God expects me to make should lead others to Him by way of the Cross and the Empty Tomb. They are meant to draw people upward not lead them downward. When Jesus called men to discipleship, He beckoned “Follow Me.” Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me” (Matt. 16:24). People can no longer see Jesus' visible footprints on the soil of Planet Earth, but they can see my footprints. I am responsible for where my footprints lead others.

Saint Paul offered himself as a model for early Christians taking their first steps in their new faith. “For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example, because we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you...” (2 Thess. 3:7-9). Yes, Paul, your footprints were worthy and wonderful. But I am only a humble twenty-first century follower with often unworthy footprints for anyone to follow. Nevertheless, I have no choice. I make footprints daily. 
 
When I was a child I was closely bonded to my Daddy. I stuck to him like a burr. Whenever he did yard work I would follow him and try to put my small feet into his big footprints. Likewise, I must stick close to my Father in Heaven and put my feet in the footprints of Jesus if I in turn hope that people will follow me to Him. 

"If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also” John 12:26).

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

BEYOND “HERE I AM, LORD”


Just to show up and make myself available to the Lord, as young Samuel was instructed to do, is good but it is the bare minimum. I must go further--to listen attentively to God's voice and then obey. 

The mother of Jesus simply instructed the servants at the wedding feast in Cana, “Do whatever He tells you.” It is not enough even to call Jesus “Lord, Lord.” When I hear His voice, I must do His will. 

I belong to God because He created me and also because He purchased me at such great cost on the cross (1 Corinthians 6:19). God wants my body as well as my soul. When God asks for my body (Romans 12:1), my only acceptable response to His appeal is to say YES to all that He asks of me. 

Saint Philip Neri (1515-1595) reminded us that the only response acceptable to God when we experience losses, illnesses, disappointments, adversities, and problems of any kind is, “Yes, Lord!” 
“We must accept the adversities which God sends us without reasoning too much upon them, and we must take for granted that it is the best thing which could happen to us. We must always remember that God does everything well, although we may not see the reason for what He does.”

When I surrender myself to God, it involves total acceptance and a continual “YES!”

Receive whatever God gives me—with joyful heart and continued thanks.
Yes, Lord, I thank You for Your goodness” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
Be content with what God withholds—companionship, health, material things, even life itself.
Yes, Lord, I bow to Your loving will and plan for my life” (Psalms 84:11).
Endure what He allows in my life—in His strength, not my own.
Yes, Lord, without complaint” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Hold all things of earth loosely—living with Eternity’s values in view.
Yes! Even so, come Lord Jesus!” (2 Peter 3:11-12).
Live today for Jesus only—celebrate each moment as a love-gift from God.
Yes, Lord, to the praise of the glory of Your grace” (2 Corinthians 5:15).

A little chorus is still tucked into my memory backpack from my early walk with the Lord. It is just as good in the vintage season of my advanced calendar years--perhaps even better:

Yes, Lord, YES! to Your will and to Your way
Yes, Lord, YES! I will trust You and obey
When Your Spirit speaks to me
I'll listen attentively
With my whole heart I’ll agree
And my answer will be:
YES! LORD, YES!”

I make it a habit to repeat this little prayer-chorus mentally or in a whisper as I drift off to sleep after checking in with God: “Here I am, Lord, speak to me while I sleep if there's been too much static during the day to hear Your voice clearly. My answer will be “YES! LORD, YES!”

Monday, January 19, 2015

"WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES IT MAKE ANYWAY?"

This quote in the context of the court hearing about the Benghazi tragedy: “What difference at this point does it make?” went viral in every form of media and continues to be applied to every imaginable situation. But I want to explore it in a spiritual context, namely intercessory prayer. I adapt it from a topic in my second LAND OF MORE Trilogy book, LIVING THE TREASURES.

Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, a holy early Christian who died in 387, wrote, "Be of good cheer, only work, pray, and strive cheerfully for nothing is ever lost. Every prayer of yours, every psalm you sing, is recorded. Every alms, every fast is recorded.

Could Saint Cyril ever have imagined what technological recording systems would be invented in the twenty-first century to enable man to record in voice and view in full color something that was happening even in a far-off corner of the world—and to disseminate it by satellites through space, and replay it instantly anywhere, and store it permanently? Perhaps God did reveal it to him as an accurate analogy in the spiritual world, and it is for us to marvel that such recording has been taking place in heaven since before creation.

What difference does it make?
A tremendous difference! 
 
God not only hears every prayer but keeps a permanent record! Whenever I pray, my prayer doesn’t just vanish into thin air, disappear with time, or ever lose its power. Every prayer is indestructible; it is eternity long, it keeps working forever. I never pray in vain. I launch my prayers out into the universe to the Throne of God, wherever that is. God does not misplace my prayer in some heavenly filing cabinet, overlook it, toss it in the circular file, or set it aside because it is either too trivial or impossible. Received and permanently recorded, my prayer is always answered by God in the fullness of His time and in His perfect way. Even if it takes centuries or eons of time. That would include every prayer in Scripture, the prayers of Jesus, the apostlesancient formulated prayers, every spontaneous request, every sign of the cross meant as prayer, and every other form of prayer including the simplest lifting up of my thoughts toward God.

As I expand my understanding of the Communion of Saints as declared in the ancient apostolic creeds, that would also mean that every prayer prayed by my godly ancestors or Christians throughout history, men and women of faith through the ages, the prayers of those who populate heaven, continue to be efficacious for generations to come—forever—and efficacious for me now in real time!

What difference does it make? A tremendous difference!

In some mysterious manner difficult for my human mind to grasp, even every conversation about the Lord, and by inference every communication, every letter, every e-mail related to our faith, every deed of mercy and love and encouragement, according to Malachi 3:16, is also recorded. I quote from the Amplified paraphrased version: “Then those who feared/revered the Lord talked often one to another, and the Lord listened/gave attention and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him of those who reverenced and worshipfully feared the Lord, and who thought on/esteemed His name.” How awesome to realize that God is listening in on my conversation when I talk about Him with friends, and leaning over my shoulder, so to speak, to see what I write about Him! Or even that God is aware of every time I think about Him!

What difference does it make? A tremendous difference!

Truly I would like to have a big, thick Book of Remembrance to present to the Lord as a love gift by the time I leave Planet Earth! God may have assigned a special contingent of angels to serve in some Heavenly Communications Studio to supervise that gigantic recording process that continues through the ages. Heaven must have a huge library with endless storage space for all those Books of Remembrance—unless the angels convert them to celestial micro-chips or there is a designated, endlessly expanding “Storage Cloud.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

THE MISSING HALLMARK CARD


Greeting cards can be purchased for nearly every possible event and occasion you can think of. “Get Well Soon” cards are more than plentiful.


Despite well-wishes or prayers for getting well, not all of us will get well soon--or at all. God really does heal today as Jesus did while on earth--but not always. And if we do get well through human or divine intervention, our healing will only be temporary. We are mortal. 

This is pretty heavy, but there is only one way to enter heaven. Jesus declared unequivocally, “I AM THE WAY.” But the manner in which each of us arrives at the gate of heaven varies. We get there either through illness, age related disorders, accident, martyrdom, being killed, or dying "of natural causes" in one's sleep. (Committing suicide is not acceptable.) There is one exception to entering heaven through the death route and that is in the end times at the return of Jesus Christ. We can't, however, choose the manner of our inevitable demise.

One-size-fits-all “Get Well” cards are not realistic. “But we have to talk about cheerful stuff. We can't be morbid,” some of us may counter. “Keep it light. We don't want to scare people, discourage them, or cause them to lose hope. We sure don't want to talk about death—that's a downer!” Yes and No. True and False. It's a Both/And situation.

 Our society seems to be in cultural denial about human mortality. If you avoid talking about it, it apparently doesn't exist. Nevertheless, there is no escape route or pretense that death only happens to someone else. All of us are terminal regardless of age or station in life. This world is not our home; we are pilgrims just traveling through, some more rapidly than others.

This past year it seems that I have had more than usual the number of close friends and relatives who passed into eternity. Last year at this time death wasn't even on the fringes of their minds. At this very moment I have many more friends who are at death's door. Some may recover but the prognosis of others may be only a few more weeks or months. Generic “Get Well” cards are not appropriate. There is little time to waste on unrealistic recovery talk if they are getting close to laying aside their “earth suit,” their body of flesh.

Some may be reluctant to admit it but they might be fearful of the unknown and longing for someone to have down-to-earth “Going Home” discussions with them. Many people avoid such talk because they are uncomfortable with spiritual conversation. It might help to role play what that final hallway to the door into God's presence will be like. The fact is, when we actually arrive at the point where our lives are ebbing away, our minds might no longer be clear because of medication, and our awareness may be slipping. 

Isn't it NOW, while we are still lucid, that is our prime time to grapple with what we want to say to loved ones, and what witness to our faith we want to leave behind while we are still able? Above all, each of us should want to make sure while we are of sound mind whether we are headed in the right direction. We want to know what heaven is all about, what Jesus said about it, how to get there, and what Scripture teaches about eternity.

Those of us who are Christians are preparing to face the moment toward which all of our lives have been heading—our launch into the new spiritual dimension where we will spend the eternity that Jesus promised. Shouldn't we be eager to put on the immortal, to exchange corruptible, weak, and painful flesh for the incorruptible? To experience all the marvelous, incredible things beyond man's imagination? Our expectation should overshadow any apprehension or dread. It is time for us to joyfully anticipate actually seeing the Beloved One in Whom we trusted for a lifetime, who never let us down, who promised He was preparing a Place for us “in His Father's House.” 

Along with some light encouraging talk, why shouldn't we talk openly about all those urgent eternal matters too? Shouldn't someone design a card with a cheerful “Bon Voyage!” motif? A card that will focus on the ecstatic expectation ahead of Seeing God, the Welcome Celebration, and joyful Reunions that await the faithful children of God whose spirits will soon take off and fly out of our sight into a new life of greater reality than they ever experienced? 

Jesus didn't promise that all of us would “get well soon.” He gave us the greatest, the very best promise of all: “He that believeth in Me shall never die!” Can we doubt the sure words of the One who created the universe with all its galaxies and far flung stars, Whom the Almighty Father sent to redeem the people on this tiny speck of a blue Planet? Can't we trust His perfect and marvelous plan for our life after life?
   
Hallmark, you're missing the boat with those exclusive, well-meaning, but sugary, sentimental and generic “Get Well” cards. There's something better than getting well—or perhaps "getting well" needs a better definition. You need a new marketing plan that will target all those soon-to-be space travelers who just can't wait to lift off from earth's launching pad on their Heavenly Journey!

"O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?" (1 Cor. 15:55)