Thursday, February 4, 2016

LOST IDENTITY

"BE CAREFUL!" we are told. Many TV ads attempt to alert us to the easy theft of our identities.

A little scrap of paper with our credit card number or address or bank information might be the trail someone could follow to steal our entire bank account. An unscrupulous person can secretly assume our name and abscond with our possessions.

Of course no one can actually steal our identity. Each of us is who we have always been: irreplaceable and unduplicatable. No one can exactly match our fingerprints or our genetic makeup.

Nevertheless, at times we may feel that we've lost our identity when we are swallowed up by an anonymous crowd. Or when we lose the job that gave us career identity. Or we retire and no one remembers “who we were before.” It seems that we are not anybody anymore. We don't have amnesia, but we have suffered a painful loss of our identity. 

Not so! Each of us is a unique individual and Jesus calls us by name!

I'M NOT NOBODY!

There is a bursting in my spirit
to find my identity.
The world pressures me,
advocating conformity,
debasing my personality,
championing uniformity.

I abhor the abnormality
of my struggle for individuality
as I stumble around to see
whether I have any destiny.
I feel swallowed up in the futility
of being just a facsimile
of humanity.

BUT...
*Jesus knows my name!

I'm not a nonentity.
Before I was born
God predestined me
and designed Calvary
to set me free
from Satan's captivity
and break me out
of the mold of anonymity.

I'm not consigned to the monotony
of mankind's homogeneity.
In Jesus, I'm not a generality.
What a discovery!
I'm not nobody!
I'm not generic
and I'm really me
*because Jesus knows my name!
#####

* “...and He calls His own sheep by name...”
John 10:3b


Wednesday, February 3, 2016

HARPS ON WILLOW TREES


I admit that not always in my summit season or in any of the seasons of my life have I felt like singing. I've “hung my harp on a willow tree” and no song crossed my lips.

Like the captured people of God who were carried away to Babylon in ancient days, I have sometimes asked how God could expect me to sing when I'm going through an adversity. 

Sometimes I've been impatient, frustrated, and even a bit rebellious. Inside, where no one sees, I may have stamped my feet like a pouting child. I admit that I don't always sing a happy song while walking through some dark and fearsome valley or through a fiery trial or while nearly drowning in some circumstantial flood. 

Sometimes I've been confused when God is silent to my prayers and seems to overlook what I consider my urgent needs, when His hand doesn't seem to be moving on my behalf even when I've called out to Him in desperation. Or when I've been experiencing diminishing strength, been laid aside by illness, or have felt helpless and imprisoned by my circumstances. 

Nevertheless, through a lifetime of experience, I perceive that God doesn't blow trumpets to announce His plans in advance for the life agenda of His children. He promised once for all that His plans for me are good and not evil, to give me a future and a hope. Without fanfare His plans simply unfold like the petals of a beautiful flower, silently and fragrantly and according to His perfect timing. With the patience of His eternal Fatherhood, Abba God has put up with me throughout the long life He is generously granting me. He comforts and assures me with His eternal, unchanging, unconditional love when I misunderstand His guidance. 

Hindsight is always revealing. It is as if I had been blindfolded and yet walking on the Upward Way with my hand in God's hand, trusting Him to guide me over the rough places, to keep me from falling and getting bruised when I stumble. He has helped me to avoid the detours, and has drawn me on toward His predestined goal. This despite my reluctance in my later calendar years to keep walking uphill; it is too exhausting. I huff and I puff; my feet drag and my energy flags.

I've even suggested to the Lord that it might be time for me to stop on the side of life's road and let the faster traffic go by. Like retire from serving You, please, Lord? But His loving silence seems to remind me that "retire" is not on my life signpost. What He lovingly points to is rather a sign that says "reach higher!" He encourages me to press on with Him on the Upward Way, to desire more, to stretch my aging spirit, and seek to walk closer to Him.

Looking in life's rear view mirror now, I'm beginning to understand how all the experiences the Lord brought me through were meant to position me step by step into the very place and circumstances in which I find myself now in the summit season of my life. I would never have dreamed where God's guidance has taken me—but it has all been good! 

A hymn familiar to me from my youthful years by the famous songwriter of a past century, Fanny J. Crosby, expresses it well:

“All the way my Savior leads me; What have I to ask beside? Can I doubt His tender mercy, Who through life has been my Guide? Heavenly peace, divinest comfort, here by faith in Him to dwell! For I know whate’er befall me, Jesus doeth all things well....This my song through endless ages: Jesus led me all the way!”

"...through endless ages...? That covers all the decades of my long life, whatever my age, all the way to my present age and beyond into Eternity!

When I first sang that song as a teenager, dreaming down the misty and idealistic corridors of time to seemingly endless years of unknown adventures, I could not have imagined what “all the way” and “whate’er befall me” would involve. With youthful trust I simply held on to the hand of Jesus letting Him “lead me all the way.” 

God has been faithful! He has never forsaken or failed me. Now at the summit of life with the hopefully more mature trust of years, I let Him hold my hand to “lead me the rest of the way.” 

And that is a good reason to "take my harp off the willow tree" and play a praise song and do a sing-a-long!


Monday, February 1, 2016

TEMPORARY INCONVENIENCE/FUTURE IMPROVEMENT

I sat reading a popular women's magazine as I waited my turn to have my hair done recently. I always pick up some useful trivia there in addition to new recipes that I will probably never try. I came upon the following gem: "Researchers claim that singing is a stress reducer. Because it uses both sides of your brain, it literally takes your mind off your worries. You also get a shot of energy because crooning boosts oxygen and blood flow." There are lots of perks to singing.

Well, thanks but no thanks for the reminder of one of the losses of the senior stage of life! I find it especially difficult to accept the loss of my singing voice. I still have a fair measure of my speaking voice, but it too is somewhat raspy and fluctuates in pitch.

I happily sang all through childhood. I didn't have the talent nor discipline to play an instrument although I longed to do so. But I could sing. I sang my way throughout high school and college participating in choruses and operettas and church choirs. I traveled with the Women's Glee Club all four of my college years performing in concerts throughout the country during seasonal school breaks. Then lung cancer surgery and the aging factor put me at a disadvantage with diminished lung capacity. Allergies also plague me, and since I wear hearing aids, my own singing voice sounds unfamiliar to me.

Ah, so many things to learn in one's late calendar years! So many changes to adjust to in my body's natural declining condition! Saint Paul, who more than likely was quite advanced in years when he wrote his letter to the Philippians and coping with his own growing limitations, addressed the issue of changing situations and conditions. Even he had to learn to be content in whatever circumstances the Lord placed him. Nevertheless, he concluded his testimony in chapter four not with a whine or complaint on a sad note but with the challenging testimony, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." 

Since I can't sing as a performer in church or in public, I can "sing unto the Lord" in private no matter how hoarse or scratchy my tonal quality. I can even sing at the top of my lungs, if no one else is around! If I can't sing aloud, I can “make melody in my heart." Since I sing for an audience of One, Jesus, He may even applaud my efforts and I'm more than happy to comply with an encore. I'm determined to keep singing for Him and make the invisible "hills come alive with music." 

After all, the loss of my singing voice is just a temporary condition for this mortal segment of my life. By and by, in the not too distant future, I may have the opportunity to sing with an angelic chorus. Surely there is enough room in the vast universe for many choirs to praise God, and the acoustics must be spectacular! I might not even have to audition since my voice will be perfect then. The music Up There must be fantastic and no health conditions or shortness of breath will need to be factored in. 

I wouldn't be surprised if Handel or Mozart or Mendelssohn were still composing and conducting. For sure Beethoven is no longer deaf and he is finally hearing his own compositions!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

NIGHT VISION


To simplify complex technology, night vision goggles or thermal energy detectors or sensors are modern marvels that work like cameras but without sufficient light. Instead, they reflect differences of heat or energy and turn them into images that can be perceived by the human eye. 

For the purpose of our spiritual analogy, the spirit or soul with which our Creator God has endowed us is capable without such high tech devices to receive impressions and guidance from Him at night when we are at rest and with our eyes closed, without natural light. The Bible records countless such cases of dreams and visions. They are not limited to biblical literature; all of us who have a relationship with God, who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, may anticipate such experiences. We can see and hear God speak to us at night.

Of course, not every dream and vision is a spiritual message from God. Some might be nightmares as a result of eating pizza loaded with pepperoni and cheese too close to bedtime. We need to ask God for discernment.

In the Scriptures God often guided His people through dreams and visions through the “eyes and ears of their hearts,” that is, their spirits. They heard and saw clearly and discerned God's will and direction in specific cases through impressions not necessarily through their senses. It requires an openness, a willingness to hear and to obey. “Today if you will hear His voice, harden not your hearts.” At night when daytime's distractions have faded and all is still, God can more readily break through the tumult and mental noise of the day to gain our full attention.

It is a fact that our minds remain active throughout the night, although our physical bodies are at rest. We should go to bed with our “spiritual antennas” up and tuned in to God. It isn't beneficial to set up road blocks to hearing the voice of God by listening to the late news on TV or reading a novel. Shouldn't we follow the example of young Samuel who was instructed by Eli to say, when he heard God's voice calling him, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening”? At first we may not be accustomed to recognize the whisper of God's Spirit in our spirit; it will come through experience as we increase our openness to hear and see Him at night.

King David obviously had such habitual night experiences with God because he expressed over and over again in the Psalms that he sought the Lord at night upon his bed. There was plenty of light in the darkness long before electricity was invented. “For Thou dost light my lamp; the Lord my God illumines my darkness” (Psalm 18:28). David obviously sang and prayed at night, whether aloud or in his spirit. “His song will be with me in the night, a prayer to the God of my life.” “In the night my hand was stretched out....” “O Lord, I remember Thy Name in the night.” “At midnight I shall rise to give thanks to Thee.” Isaiah echoed his nighttime experience, “At night my soul longs for Thee, indeed my spirit within me seeks Thee diligently.” They experienced that God would speak to them in the night as well as in the daytime—and so can we.

Rather than going to bed wearing our spiritual “hard hats” and “ear plugs,” wouldn't spiritual “hearing aids” be more appropriate? The Holy Spirit provides them. God continues to speak in the darkness of the night as well as in the darkness of our problems. Even the visually impaired can see and hear God at night. Rather than tossing and turning restlessly and fighting sleep, shouldn't we become more aware that God might be trying to get our attention? 

Night vision goggles aren't necessary to see Jesus, the Light of the world, at night. “God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). He is present with sufficient light to reflect God's image on the retina of our spirit and speak to us when we relax and rest in Him and give Him our undivided attention. All we need to do is to invite Him: “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening!”

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

WHY THE BUMPY ROAD?


I prayed for and expected a level path when I started on Your Way. “Teach me Your way, O Lord, and lead me in a level path...” (Psalm 27:11). The Way hasn't turned out as I expected. Why so many detours? 

“Make Your way straight before me” (Psalm 5:8). That doesn't seem to be such a difficult request. It appears to be taking so much longer to get to the goal You showed me. “For You I wait all the day...” (Psalm 25:5). I don't mean to be impatient, but sometimes it's like I'm wandering with the Israelites for forty years in the wilderness. I don't think Your clock is in sync with mine.

Hills and valleys, ups and downs. It makes me dizzy. It feels as if I'm on a see-saw or a merry-go-round. Didn't You promise that You would “make the crooked ways straight and the rough places smooth?” That's more to my liking.
People in the know say that You draw straight with crooked lines. My ways are certainly crooked enough as I follow You. I was under the impression that a straight line is the shortest distance between two points. Perhaps my tape measure is different from yours? I'm becoming kind of weary with the length of life's road and it's bumpy condition.

From my perspective it seems that all these road blocks in my path aren't necessary. When You tell me the direction You want me to go, I'm willing to go. I'm eager to obey You, and I quite expect to get there in record time. I started out well but before long something always hinders me and I have to change course. This is how it goes: I am under the impression that I am following You obediently when a door opens before me—but then the door suddenly closes and I have to look for another way to go where You want me to go.

Didn't I hear You clearly? Why do You lead me to doors that always close? Sometimes the path You ask me to take leads through the water, sometimes through the fire, sometimes through the flood. I would rather have gone around those useless and painful obstacles.

All of these stops and starts and detours and delays waste time in my estimation as I'm trying to reach Your Destination.

Oh, You have a more up-to-date *GPS than I do, Lord? But the Destination is the same? It's the journey between Start and Finish that You have planned differently? You have a purpose for what seems to me an unnecessarily bumpy journey? You are concerned with my response and my trust in You when I encounter all these adverse life-road conditions? Yes, I hear You, Lord. I'm trying to understand:

For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.”

Yes, I hear You, Lord. Loud and clear. I'm trying to understand. Lead on, O King Eternal!


*GPS aka GOD'S PLAN is SUPERIOR!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

VIRGINIA COUNTRY WINTERS


WINTER STORM "JONAS" 2016
Photo 1: Marshmallow Mound tops our deck table with yard stick protruding.
Photo 2: At the right side of the snow plow hides my invisible Toyota.

 SNOWMAGEDDON


Snow fell lightly one January night
(and for several days thereafter)
as if God were in Heaven’s kitchen
making an angel food cake and then dumping it earthward:

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 Toyota in the lane
(and then obliterated it altogether
with a silk white comforter.) 
He swirled powdered sugar
with abandon down our sledding hill
while all life came to a standstill
in our deep-freezer pond.

But tomorrow (or the day after, I certainly hope!)
the warm winter sun is sure to break forth
bringing rising temps
and when the snow plow
has dug us out at last
our world will morph into a marble cake:
chocolate chip mud morsels
will dot our leaky lawn and lumpy fields
cocoa-splashes will mar
the pristine purity
of night after night when God whitewashed the landscape while we reveled in the spectacular beauty
of God’s Divine Cuisine
from behind the windows
of our warm and cozy home.

Let's look forward and embrace
the pending change of pace:
Our crusted, rutted road will become brown-sugared
with maple syrup puddles.
A lone duck may splash about with delight
in the thin, watery edges of our pond
quacking with delight at the melting sight.
That too is to be enjoyed
as another of God's cookbook recipes.

Who knows?
Certainly the weather forecaster doesn’t!
Virginia's winters always hold surprises:
God may send a second angel
to fly down and deftly apply
another fluffy layer of white frosting
on our chocolate world
before we've recovered
from the recent traumatic snowflake drama
and spread a frothy, finishing fillip
of whipped cream snow
to top His marble cake
or silver crust it all with slippery ice—
wouldn't that too be nice?

I don't dream pensively
(oh well, maybe sometimes!)
for Florida's predictability.
Come what may, I'm here to stay!
I delightfully thrive
on whatever of God's culinary menu
He decides to dish up
for our Virginia country winters!
****
Leona Choy

Monday, January 18, 2016

FRESH FROM THE BAKERY

During my visits to relatives in the Czech Republic, someone in the family left the house early every morning before breakfast to bicycle to the neighborhood bakery. They returned with exactly the number of still warm, freshly baked, large, round, fragrant loaves of rye bread the “Babicka” (grandmother) of the home ordered to provide for her family and any guests or relatives expected that day. No more—no less.

And all the bread that came through the door that morning was consumed that same day. Baked without preservatives, the next morning she would not consider serving yesterday's bread, the leftovers. It would have become hard and stale, inedible. Perhaps it would be fed to the chickens. Nothing rivaled the fresh bread we consumed at breakfast, still warm, spread with home churned butter and preserves from their own orchard. It was always accompanied by freshly ground and brewed coffee with heavy cream from their own cows.

I got so fond of eating that bread that the morning I left for my flight home, my relatives bought me a fresh one, packaged it up, and I carried it as hand luggage on board...the fragrance permeated the plane. Unfortunately, by the time I arrived home, the loaf was as hard as a rock!

It is the same custom in the Land of the Bible. Fresh bread is expected daily. In the prayer Jesus taught His disciples, He told them to ask our Father who is in Heaven, “Give us this day our daily bread...” (Matthew 6:11). It is a petition with a double emphasis: “this day” and “daily” bread, to be sure we get the point. It was a reference to whatever describes our current day's needs, not only for food but whatever is needed to sustain us in any culture. Equally it pertains to Himself, since Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life that came down from Heaven.” A flashback to God's provision for the Israelites in their wandering through the wilderness toward the promised land. That bread (or manna) divinely provided had to be gathered daily—not too much, not extra in case of lack tomorrow because it would spoil by the next day. It was meant to be used up “this day” and “daily.”

It made me wonder whether the miraculous multiplication of the loaves to the multitude by Jesus might not have been a double miracle. The multitude had already been with Jesus attentively listening to His life-giving words for three days (Matthew 15). I'm trying to get my mind around the logistics of that! If the people had initially brought bread with them, they would already have consumed it all, since they probably had no intention of being away from their homes so long. (The "bread" they would have brought would not have been the large loaves my Czech relatives relished, but probably small bun-like loaves or small flat breads. And doubtless the fish were more like sardine-size.


It was obvious that the people would have been nearly starving and in danger of fainting. The disciples had obviously taken a survey of what was available and came back to report to Jesus that all that remained was the remnants of one young boy's lunch, which for some reason he had not finished. Perhaps his mom had been overly generous when she slipped it into his lunch bag. By now what he offered Jesus would probably have been hard and stale.

Do you think that when Jesus multiplied the boy's bread, He multiplied it into more stale bread? Wouldn't you suppose that He multiplied the bread fresh and fragrant for the people? Surely two miracles would not have been too many. Would not the bread Jesus multiplied have been the best both in quantity and fresh quality?

I'm still pondering why Jesus insisted on the disciples gathering and conserving the leftovers which were many. What did He want done with the leftover baskets full? Did He perform still a third miracle to divinely preserve the leftover bread fresh as Wonder Bread and other brands that use additives to retard spoilage? I am only speculating and will wait to ask for an explanation directly from Jesus someday in Heaven.

The point is, however, that Jesus instructed us to pray each day for the provision of “this day” our “daily” bread, for the supply of our various current needs of sustenance and of Himself. He makes available to us everything that we need for our present moment, for today. What He gives us is ample, abundant, and generous and meant to be used up this very day. His marvelous grace is available for today. Tomorrow He wants us to repeat our prayer because there is a bountiful, sufficient supply waiting for us tomorrow and the next day—always available daily and not in advance! He wants us to trust Him without seeing the provision for tomorrow. 

Do I trust Him in this way?

FRESH BREAD

A fresh touch from You
I long for it, Lord!
My spirit grows stale
since I'm so fond of trying to eat
yesterday's bread or
spiritual glazed donuts
and junk food.

Each day I need to taste
fresh Bread of Life
prepared by Your hands
in the early morning
baked upon a charcoal fire
as You provided breakfast
fish and bread generously spread
for those who followed You
beside the Sea of Tiberius.

Give me this day my daily bread
Homemade Bread of Your Word
prepared by nail-pierced hands
kindling love in me
while I am fed.

Since I belong to You
I cannot live on instant food
no, cannot walk or work
sustained by man's baked goods alone
even if freshened in a microwave oven.
I must have Your wholesome Word
delivered fresh each day
from Your heart to mine.
Only that will nourish me.


“When they got out upon the land, they saw a charcoal fire 
already laid,
a fish placed on it and bread...
and Jesus said to them,
'Come and have breakfast.'” (John 21:9, 12)