Sunday, May 29, 2016

A Master Sculptor's Touch


It happened that this evening we had a dish of Chinese cabbage, bok choy, on our dinner table. And a Facebook friend referred to the jade sculpture of the vegetable in his post. An interesting coincidence?

The National Palace Museum in Taipei, Taiwan stands on a hilltop in the center of the capital city. I have been there. It houses hundreds of thousands of exquisite art objects from China's imperial courts, the world's largest permanent collection brought here by then President of China, Chiang Kai-shek, when he fled the communists to the island in 1949. The most famous masterpiece, however, isn't an elaborate scroll, a landscape painting or a heavy piece of jewelry. Rather, it's a little bok choy cabbage made of jadeite. Jade was reserved as a gift to be given to the imperial royalty in China to adorn their palaces. 
 
Hardly larger than a human hand, this jadeite cabbage is a perfect carving made out of an imperfect, cracked and rippled stone. Sculpted by an anonymous artist, it measures only 7.4 inches long by 3.6 inches wide by 2 inches deep. The way it is displayed is spectacular. At the center of a large, darkened room, glistening in a glass case, the cabbage's dark green leaves furl around a katydid and a locust, and the stalk pales into a translucent white. Two pale green bugs rest lightly on its leaves.


This simple cabbage is a masterpiece of perfection because it stands apart from a long tradition of idealized perfection in jade carving. What a sculptor ordinarily looks for is a piece of flawless jade of one solid color without cracks. It is among the hardest stones to work with. This piece of jadeite not only was cracked but had cloudy, opaque patches, which are visible in the white part of the cabbage's stalk. It's also a relatively young work, barely a hundred years old.

The cabbage's anonymous creator had to painstakingly grind away using the sand of even harder rocks, like rubies or garnets. There's none of the chiseling associated with carving marble, for example. That makes the two tiny bugs, with their reaching antennae and their long spindly legs that stand unsupported, especially remarkable achievements. He was a obviously a master carver who produced a masterpiece by using the weaknesses he found to make something strong and perfect. This valuable, diminutive piece of art is making an international tour to be displayed in famous museums of the world.

What a striking symbol of how our Master Creator works on us who are His weak, imperfect, flawed, common humanity! The bok choy cabbage is the most common and lowly vegetable on any Chinese table. It grows in a wide variety of shapes and sizes and combinations of white and shades of green. 

The Master Sculptor sees us not as we are, a cracked and unusable block of jade. He visualizes us as what we can become when we surrender to His skill. “But the Lord said to Samuel, 'Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature...for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.'” He takes our failures and defects and blemishes and makes something beautiful and priceless from something so mundane and ordinary.

One day we too will be found in the palace of the King of Kings.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

YOU ARE SURROUNDED!

In pioneer days in America covered wagons were the primary across-the-country mode of transportation. Wild animals roamed the rugged terrain and Indian attacks were common. When pioneer families traveled, it was in a caravan in the company of other pioneers. 

Upon stopping to make camp for the night, the shout was heard, "Circle up the wagons!" Each wagon was put in its designated place around a tight circumference and a bonfire was usually started in the center. No gap was left between the wagons to prevent any stranger, enemy, or creature from sneaking through. The circle served as a safe haven. During the night, watchmen were selected from among the families to keep guard. They often sang songs loudly around the campfire to ward off potential enemies. Surrounded by fellow travelers, the parents and children could lie down in peace and sleep in security.

Some Christians in our day try to be “Lone Rangers” in the sense of ignoring God's loving provision of safety and strength and growth spiritually in the company of other believers. “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25). That is as foolish as it would have been for a pioneer family to attempt traversing the wild plains and forests and mountains alone on their uncharted Westward journey. Such Christians tend to isolate themselves from fellow believers in times of trouble and need, reluctant even to ask for support in prayer.

Jesus Christ established His Body, the Church, with its many and various parts, to be dependent upon and receive help from the other parts of His Body for mutual strength. God means us to be interdependent, to look after each others backs, and give of ourselves sacrificially for others. We are meant to pray for and encourage one another and “bear one anther’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ,” the law of love. 

I'm ever so thankful for my group of “First Responders,” eager an d faithful brothers and sisters in Christ scattered all over the country and the world, who quickly and joyfully surround me in prayer in my time of need or intercede for an urgent need expressed by someone else. They are my circle of strength like the circle of pioneer covered wagons.

In times of darkness and danger, some people whistle in the dark to keep up their spirits. A song on our lips and in our hearts infuses strength into our souls, just as the apostle Paul and Silas sang songs of praise to God while chained in prison at midnight.

The Scripture reinforces this with the declaration, “You are my hiding place; You preserve me from trouble; You surround me with songs of deliverance” (Psalm 32:7). Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but he who trusts in the Lord, loving kindness shall surround him” (v.10). “As the mountains surround Jerusalem, So the LORD surrounds His people from this time forth and forever” (Psalm 125:2). When we ask for the intercession of fellow believers on earth and from those of God's children who have already gone before us into His presence, we receive help from above. Jesus, our One Mediator between God and men, “ever lives to make intercession for us" (Hebrews 7:25). “The righteous will surround me, for You will deal bountifully with me" (Psalm 142:7).

The Lord always acts over and above whatever we ask or think to care for His children. He sends His angel messengers and watchers, sometimes visible, sometimes invisible, to surround us. Other versions of Scripture translate the word surround, “to encamp round about us.” “For He will give His angels charge concerning you, to guard you in all your ways.” All of Psalm 91 is chock full of God's promises of shelter and deliverance as we abide under the shadow of the Almighty—another reminder of the covered wagon circles of safety.

Let's pitch our tent (or park our covered wagon, so to speak) together with other believers so that we may all journey life's road in safety and peace through the growing dark night of fear that threatens us when we look around at world events.

Friday, May 27, 2016

REFRESH!


My teenage grandson Jeffrey programmed my smart-phone to allow me access to emails that arrive on my main computer in my writing studio. However, when I open the cell phone after a lapse of time, not all current email messages are visible at first. One of the convenient features is an option at the lower left of the screen displaying the large word REFRESH. I click that word and Voila! all the emails that have arrived since I last checked, immediately jump on to the little screen on my smart-phone. I can receive the messages wherever I am. But not without first clicking REFRESH.

In some other places on my main computer, a symbol alerts me that I can also click there to REFRESH and receive new data. It's the open circle pictured at the top of this post—an arrow tip on the end of the circle going clockwise. When I activate that, all recent data appears on the screen. I like technology, at least the small fraction that I'm familiar with and can manage for my writing and publishing. I'm happy to be a learner from younger generations—my sons and their children! As they say on TV, "Grandchildren are free tech support!"

It's my habit each morning a good while before I actually get out of bed, even while I'm barely awake, to initiate a REFRESH gesture toward God. I want to jump-start my relationship with the Lord for that particular day every morning so I can tap into His goodness and mercy that I will need for whatever comes up that day. I want to let Him know that I'm thankful for His generous gift of a fresh, new day of life, let Him know that I love Him, am committed to obey Him, and desire to do His will on earth as it is done in Heaven. I tell Him so every day. Doesn't He get tired of my repetition?

Why should I want to do that? God knows all things already. He knows that I love Him. We have a long track record together since I first got to know Him in my childhood.

By the seashore after His resurrection, Jesus asked the disciple Peter three times whether he loved Him. After the third time, Peter became somewhat exasperated that Jesus asked him the same question repeatedly. He replied “You know everything, Lord, you know that I love You.” Jesus obviously wanted Peter to articulate it—aloud. Because of Peter's previous three times denial of Jesus, He wanted Peter to REFRESH/RESTORE/RENEW his relationship solidly with Jesus and start afresh. There was serious Kingdom work ahead for him to do, and love for the Lord was the indispensable motivation. Love would accelerate and facilitate all that Peter was to do for Jesus.

So why would I want to REFRESH? Because Jesus needs to hear my voice too. By re-declaring my love for Him each morning I REAFFIRM our relationship for each new day. I may need RESTORING too, so I pray “Restore unto me the joy of my salvation.” I may have drifted; I may have fallen short of my commitment to Him in my yesterdays; I may have let the cares of this world divert my focus from His face; I may have “leaked” my filling of the Holy Spirit and need to be refilled with a fresh anointing. I myself need to hear my own voice declaring my love for Him and my need to nestle fully in His embrace for another day. It renews my mind. The devil is not omniscient. I also need to let him hear me say aloud that I belong to God, so hands off. My verbal declaration makes him run and gets him off my back.

During the height of the move of the Holy Spirit that swept through mainline Protestant churches and the Catholic Church a few decades ago, we often sang a little chorus that expressed our warm, personal devotion to the Lord: 

I love You Lord, and I lift my voice. I worship You; O my soul, rejoice! Take joy my King, in what You hear. Let it be a sweet, sweet sound in Your ear.”
And another: “Father, I adore You; I lay my life before You; How I love You!” And then it was repeated substituting “Jesus” and “Holy Spirit” for the word “Father.” It is still my devotional habit to sing to the Lord. “Let me hear your voice,” is God's invitation in Scripture. 

Here's the clincher: My REFRESH posture and action then brings with it like receiving my current emails, the new messages from God that He wants me to know which I might have missed because I haven't accessed them yet. I take the posture of Samuel who was told by Eli to open himself to hear God's voice by declaring aloud, “Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening.” “My sheep hear My voice and they follow Me,” Jesus stated. My REFRESH action in my spirit opens my ears to enable me to hear His voice clearly without static and set my course of obedience to His specific instructions for me each new day. “Today, if you would hear His voice, harden not your hearts,” the Word of God invites. “Draw near unto Him, and He will draw near unto you.”

If I want to hear God's voice, and bring in His fresh messages uniquely for me, I need to first let Him hear my voice anew every morning. He doesn't get tired of my repetition as I REFRESH our relationship!

_______
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Thursday, May 26, 2016

IN PURSUIT OF WISDOM

I  don't know why an owl is the symbol for WISDOM. I'll have to research that. An owl always seems to look a little angry in its facial expression and that's not a very inviting advertisement for wisdom. Nor does wisdom come instantly. To "be wise" is not something we suddenly decide to be, but something acquired patiently with age and experience and walking with God. 

We need wisdom in every season of our mortal lives. In childhood, however, we really can't expect to find it because we have not grown sufficiently and life has not unfolded yet. We are too fresh, untried, and unproven. Youth is in the experimental stage; life is being tested, knowledge is being accumulated. Youthful wisdom? Not so much. In prime years wisdom and folly are being sorted out; we make some good choices; some foolish decisions take us on detours and onto rabbit trails.

It is in advanced years that wisdom is expected to flower and bear fruit and its fragrance waft to others. At least that's the proverbial ideal track. It is in our vintage years that our spiritual grapes should be ripened and sweet. Mature Christians, those who have accumulated many decades, are finally supposed to be wise. Those who come after us are expected to happily appreciate and benefit from our collected, well-tried experience. 

That may not always be so. Sometimes, unfortunately, those in vintage years speak and act foolishly. And because the young insist on making their own mistakes, they are reluctant to profit from the experience of their elders. So history repeats itself. We who are hopefully wise and mature should be careful to dispense our wisdom only when or if it is requested. Otherwise, let's zip the lips! That in itself is golden wisdom.

The wisdom I seek for myself in my mature years is wisdom to live in the will and purposes of God. In my youth, the days seemed to stretch open-ended and could hardly be counted. The aging Moses reflected on this transient life in Psalm 90: “So teach us to number our days, that we may present to Thee a heart of wisdom.” I want to choose and act prudently as the path of life narrows and my remaining days can actually be numbered. My reflection on that theme follows.

My Prayer for Wisdom

God, grant me the wisdom of mature years 
to circumvent the potential foolishness of aging.

*When You see me playing in the spiritual shallows, Lord, beckon me out of the wading pool into Your deep waters.
*If I feel bogged down in meaningless routine, turn the plain water of my daily life into “the best wine saved until last.”
*When I tend to resist change and settle in my comfort zone, grant me an open spirit and a growing, receptive mind.
*If I’ve lost my get-up-and-go, show me how to “rise and take up my bed and walk.”
*When my leaves are withered and dry, revive me to be “full of sap and very green.”
*When my fruit is scanty and sour, show me how to “flourish like the palm tree.”
*If the embers of my first love for You are growing cold, fan them into flame by Your Holy Spirit.
*When the noise of my busy activity drowns out Your still small voice, quiet me to wait on You in contemplative silence.
*If the soil of my life is depleted and lies fallow, break up the clods, supply fresh nutrients, and make straight my furrows.
*When my prayers seem to be unanswered and my spirit is arid, open the floodgates to let Your Rivers of Living Water flow again.
*Where my life is out of balance and I lose my footing, help me restore eternal priorities to keep from stumbling.
*When my vision for Your Kingdom has grown dim, touch my eyes to see again Your destiny for me.
*If I’ve become slow of speech to declare Your message, open my lips to boldly proclaim Your Good News.
*If I can't hear Your voice clearly, send Your Holy Spirit to be my hearing aid.
*If my memory begins to slip, help me remember that You never leave me or forsake me.
*When I’m weary from the length of life’s journey, draw me close to Your bosom to find comfort and rest.
*If I’m laboring to bear scarcely thirty-fold fruit, teach me to abide in You to effortlessly produce by Your wisdom a hundred-fold.
*Where some good seed of Your Word still lies dormant as I advance in years, send the gentle rain of Your Spirit so I can bear an abundant late harvest.
*When I am tired and lack motivation to press on, restore iron to my soul and strength to my weak knees and limp arms.
*When I drag my feet to do Your will, energize me with the adrenalin of Your Holy Spirit.
*When I’m short of breath from life’s fast pace, inflate my lungs with Your Breath of Life.
*If I grip material possessions too tightly, teach me to hold loosely the things of this world.
*If I open my mouth to speak foolish words, show me how to put a watch on my lips.
*When I’m afraid of the darkness around me, take my hand to walk in Your Light.
*When my emotions roller-coaster out of control, teach me to set my affection on things above, not on things of earth.
*When anxiety about the future threatens to overwhelm me, remind me of Your great faithfulness in times past.
*If my appetite becomes jaded by the world’s junk food, give me Yourself as my Daily Bread and Wine in the Eucharist.
*When I think I’ve reached the limit of my endurance, help me persevere in Your strength to run with patience the last mile Home.
*When thoughts of my mortal end cause me fear, remind me that You are preparing a Place for me in Your Father’s House.
 ++++++
Adapted from the Preface of Leona's most recent book, #3 in her Trilogy of LAND OF MORE books titled STILL MORE! FLOURISHING ON MY SUMMIT. Copies of the #3 Trilogy are available from Leona. Order by email.
Note: There are 31 petitions: One petition a day for a month to pray, meditate on, and internalize.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

SPIRITUAL POWER INCREASE


The day after Pentecost Sunday, God took us through an object lesson with spiritual implications.

My broadcast engineer son Rick was helping a new Christian radio station obtain a power increase from the F.C.C. The station's start-up wattage was only strong enough to reach the local, adjacent population. It was imperative to apply for, purchase, and have engineered a new antenna which would enhance its signal to cover parts of four states and greatly increase the gospel outreach to the ears of thousands of additional listeners. It was a costly project monetarily that had to be handled in a precise, technical manner.

The installation of the antenna to the 150 foot tower on the top of the highest mountain (2700 feet above sea level) in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia coincided with Pentecost Sunday. The original Pentecost two thousand years ago was the point of “power increase” Jesus promised His disciples. This gave us pause.

An increase of power was sorely needed by the disciples whom Jesus commissioned to go to all the world and preach the gospel. They were a band of rag-tag fragile and flawed men whom Jesus trusted to become apostles to all mankind. Even after Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection they still did not fully understand God's Kingdom plan and were hiding away overwhelmed by fear and weakness. Their human strength was limited and their spiritual insight was out of focus. They were instructed by Jesus to “wait for their power increase” before they ventured to carry forth the gospel to people immersed in the pagan culture of the times.

It would be costly—all but one of the disciples would be martyred as they carried out His Great Commission. Nevertheless, from the blood of the martyrs sprang the Church that “the gates of hell could not prevail against” to this present day.

Nor do we, as Christians living in this equally pagan world, dare to “live and move and have our being” according to our calling or state of life without the power increase of the filling of the Holy Spirit day by day. It grows more necessary and more costly as time goes on to follow Christ because this wicked generation seeks to stamp out the Light of the world, Jesus Christ. Just as “the Light shown in darkness” at the first coming of Jesus (John 1:4,5) and “the darkness did not overcome it,” so we who belong to Christ must boldly and without fear carry forth His Light until His return to earth again.

Christ has commissioned each of us to place His Light on the Lamp-stand of whatever place in life He has planted us or through whatever platform He has given us. It may not be from a high tower on top of a mountain, but to the precious people in our immediate orbit of life.

Let's not try to do so without the “power increase” of the Holy Spirit's fresh anointing day by day—cost what it may! God's Kingdom work is at stake and Jesus is trusting us!

Saturday, May 21, 2016

TOUCHING POSTERITY

po-ster'-i-ti: succeeding or future generations; all descendants of one person

I imagine that viewers of my blog are various ages, but I believe mostly adults in mid-years and those well-seasoned in life: parents, and grandparents, perhaps. All of us, however, are part of some family grouping. And by virtue of being blog viewers, we are part of the Internet community with the ability to reach out to anyone, at any time, anywhere in the world.

Many of us are separated by distance from young members on our family tree and may feel that we are limited in the impact or influence we can have on the younger generation in our familial circle. Nothing could be further from the truth! Youngsters are growing up incredibly tech-savvy these days and as a result are reachable instantly—it is we who need to be on our toes to sharpen our communications skills and get with it to prayerfully impact our posterity.

We have no excuse. Opportunities are multiple to reach out and tech-touch them. Occasions like school performances, birthdays, baptisms, sports events, graduations, receiving awards, engagements, weddings, births, relationship shuffles, new jobs, driver's license test passed, milestones of any kind—the possibilities are endless. Whatever is happening in the lives of your little or big kiddos is grist for the mill of our attempt to touch their lives. Even a “Hey, I was just thinking about you...!” might be the arrow that will hit the heart-target of a grandkid of whatever age.

Simply signing a Hallmark card or slipping a check in it is a poor substitute. Let's offer them a piece of our heart while we can. We will not always be around to do so, and we have no idea how a genuine expression of our interest might encourage them on their life journey. Yeah, I know, kids are cool and sophisticated these days and their peers are uppermost on their minds, but let's take the risk of reaching out to them inter-generationally and leave the results to God. It's a given that we have to follow our tech-touch with prayer which is the ultimate power thrust, right?

Here's a recent one of mine to a “not-yet-reader” (via parental help) but I'm thinking ahead—and praying forward....

Dear Myla Wynne, my sweet Great-Granddaughter,

We don't know each other very well yet because you are only a year old and we don't see each other very often. I live quite far from your house. But I pray for you every day that Jesus will take care of you as you grow up to be a big girl.

May 15, 2016 is your baptism day. You won't remember it because you are too young. Everyone takes pictures so that when you are older, that will help you remember the day. I'm giving you a silver frame to remember this day and Mommy will put your baptism picture in it. 
 
Baptism is such a very special day and God is excited about it! On that day your Daddy and Mommy let everyone know that you belong to Jesus, that Jesus loves you, and they love Jesus and want Him to take care of you for all your life long. As you grow older, you will learn to love Jesus too. Your parents will tell you about Jesus, your big sister Makenna will read stories about Jesus to you, and your Church will teach you about Him. 
 
We are also celebrating your first birthday this month, Myla! You have grown so much since you and I had our picture taken together on my 90th birthday. You don't remember that day because you were a little baby. That was the first day that I met you! Now you are walking by yourself!
  
I'm giving you a little birthday gift of a book of animal noises for you to listen to. Jesus made all the animals in the world. He must have had fun creating such a variety—some are funny looking, some make strange noises, some are big, some are little, some are fuzzy, some have spots and stripes. You can make animal noises too like those in the book, but soon you will learn people-talk because you are different from the animals. God made you a human person!

Your baptism day will be a big deal for the many people who love you and are joining in the celebration at your Church. I'm excited to be coming too! 

 And at your very first birthday party with all the grown ups watching, that will be your one and only chance to eat your birthday cake with both hands and stuff the frosting into your mouth!

Love,
Great-Grandma “Bubi” Leona

Thursday, May 19, 2016

TAMING A HUNGRY MONSTER


I wouldn't exactly describe my blog as "a hungry monster," although a famous Christian blogger said that about his blog recently. I do understand what he means, however. Meaningful blogging takes a huge hunk of time.

I admire that blogger. He is unbelievably prolific in posting comments about almost everything under the sun including his Christian view of politics and international events with such skill and regularity that it boggles my mind. He must have a hundred thousand viewers! He declared that a blog is very demanding and insists on “being fed daily” or his viewers/readers begin to think there is something wrong with him. Having blogged for ten years, he says that he may be in blog burnout and he plans to try some fresh blog approaches.

Okay, believe it or not, I've blogged for a decade too, but I am small potatoes in comparison. I'm not comparing. I'm certainly not an able commentator on world events and I'm not in his league. On my blog Home Page in the right hand column I tell my viewers honestly what to expect in my blog.

WHAT MY BLOG IS ALL ABOUT:

I primarily share excerpts from my current writings and books in progress and personal reflections on my life experiences as a Christian. Far from being consistent in my posting, I might offer a number of posts in one mega-productive day and then not even post for awhile due to my writing and publishing schedule and time and energy and family constraints. Some of my posts have found their way into my published books. Depending on the length of the generous bonus life span the Lord is giving me on Planet Earth, and the strength He provides, I'll stop writing when God brings me to His Finish Line! But if He still needs writers and editors in Heaven to help out the Angel Communications Department, perhaps I'll have an opportunity to serve God by continuing to write in His presence in our Eternal Dimension!”

I've pretty well kept up my “feast or famine” posting. Since what I post has its source in what is happening to me or what I am thinking or observing, I don't lack for ideas. I have notebooks and journals crammed with ideas. The problem is that I've also been an editor for a lifetime. I can't simply dash off a raw idea and call it a post. Truly, it takes me too long to craft a post well, edit and polish it. I often spend an inordinate amount of time finding just the right pictorial image to go with the post. I hold myself to a high standard of having something worthwhile to share with my faithful viewers or I don't post.

Of course, I don't really know who is out there in the blogosphere or who decides to check my blog on any given day. I can know how many people view my blog daily, monthly, and yearly. Through the wonders of the automatic blog overview feature, it offers me the running totals. It keeps track automatically on a graph and chart and even tells me what part of the world my viewers are in. For instance, I know that more than 119 people read what I wrote this morning before 11, there were nearly 2,000 views of my blog last month, and 56,000 views for all of my 660 posts since I started blogging. That's still comparatively small potatoes. To me, however, it is GIGANTIC potatoes because it is my God-given ministry for this season of my life. I thank God for such an opportunity to reach people without ever leaving my home. Te Deum laudamus!

Most of my viewers I've never met face to face. The Holy Spirit invisibly networked us together. Usually they have found me in some way. Lasting personal friendships have developed between some of us which may continue into Heaven's dimension. There we'll have the joy of meeting for the first time soul-to-soul! I have a prayer bond with some of my viewers which I treat with great care. I try to be a good steward of each viewer who has chosen to communicate with me for counsel or sharing or prayer.

My posts have typically been only one page long after concise self-editing. However, I'd like to experiment with a new approach and shorten my posts still more into “sound bites.” As a viewer, of course you can't hear them or chew them. What I mean is that I'll throw out a thought or an idea or a quote or a Scripture passage that I've been meditating on but have not fully developed yet. A word-snack, you might call it. Perhaps like an appetizer. In that way I could post more often and not feel that I have to wait until I've invested a lot of time on creative crafting before I post. There may not always be a picture or image with it, okay?

Contrary to some of my peers in our advanced season of life, I love change, variety, risk, and growth. Status quo is not my cup of tea. I believe in continuing to live “full of sap and very green” as David the Psalmist described what those in advanced years should still be like. (Psalm 92:12-15) Shall I try out this brevity posting and let you sample it? Bear with me as I experiment.  

Your feedback is most welcome as I may try feeding my own "blog monster" smaller portions but keep them tasty.