Love this artist. Click here to view her blog.
Once, when I was a teacher in a vacation bible school, in a denomination I left years ago, I sat stunned and heart sore at the seemingly innocuous curriculum before me concerning Matthew 13.
We were to teach the four and five year olds the parable of the seeds. How the kingdom of God is like a man who went into the field and sewed seeds and some fell on rocky ground, some on thorns and thistles , some on a well-traveled by way and was stolen by birds, and some on good soil.
And what we were to teach the sweet’uns was that the seeds represented love.
It seemed harmless enough, sweet really.
In a deadly kind of way.
Because, it was bad theology, contradicting the interpretation that Jesus himself gave.
The seeds represent the Word of God.
We were skewing the plumb-line, and at the beginning the falseness is almost imperceptible, but as we build, the structure leans to the point that it is unstable and vulnerable to falling in winds and storms of life.
The seeds represent the Word of God.
Build on that foundation.
We are to bring the Word of God to the world. Sew it everywhere. Some hearts will be too hard, some too taken with the cares of this world, some have shallow roots. But some will be good soil, prepared by the Master Gardener’s hand and only He knows which one.
That’s why it is important to follow His command. Do what He says, when He says do it, and gird yourself for the persecution to come, strengthened by the fact that you are doing it for hearts hungry for His Truth.
I thought about it this morning when viewing the pontifications and feel good nothings being strewn about social media in the name of some worldly interpretation of love.
Christians chastising Christians that in light of social upheaval and change contrary to God’s Word, we must be loving and kind. We must not judge. We must love.
Is it love to say the popular thing? To sanction indulgences that will lead to death?
Or is it love to say the tough thing. To speak the truth that will set free.
Oh, it is the latter! Love that is tough. That will go to the cross. That will trust in God’s word and not what makes our own deceiving hard hearts feel. . .shall I say it? . . .proud for being so “loving.” As if we are more loving than the rigors of God’s word.
The indescribable gift He has given us in His Word and in His Son! At supreme cost, He has made provision for us to set us free from our own vain and tempestuous hearts, hearts that mislead us to say the popular thing in order to be crowned compassionate for embracing waywardness.
You do not, my friend, love that person in bondage more than a God who calls from the deep to him with truth. What you’ve done is just made yourself more comfortable. And the world will applaud you.
But true love, the lonelier way, the love I’m talking about is uncomfortable. Willing to say the hard thing for the lost one. Anything to keep them from the snares of the devil and the fires of hell.
Take me to task for mocking, shaming, reviling the lost, hold me up for censure if I do not bring them food, clothing, shelter in time of need. Take away my rights and call me a bigot, if I will not treat him with dignity and respect.
But do not lay blame at my door for bringing him the Truth. Rather, see to your own motivations.
It makes a big difference to re-teach a parable that Jesus himself interpreted.
Those four and five year olds needed to know that it is God’s Word we are to sew.
That is true love.
Not bringing the world our weak and inconstant love, but to bring them the Truth about the God who loves them so much He sent His only Son to die on a cross.
He is, after all, the only one who will never leave nor forsake them, the only one with the power, knowledge and ability to heal, redeem, restore.
The rest of us? Sooner or later we will fall away.
Sew that seed.
Build from there.
Sometimes her writing was too difficult for me, her surrender too scorching, her call to devotion threatening to burn up everything I held dear.
And yet, always, I would return because, in the end, she was always right.
Thank you Elisabeth for making me braver than I am. . .
Home at Last
1926 - 2015
I had a friend once who, when perplexed, would tilt her head to the side. She called it the Benjy head tilt after a little dog in the movies.
I’ve been doing the Benjy Head tilt a lot lately. At the things people say.
And its caused me to wonder exactly what were they expecting when they came to church on Sunday morning.
Exactly what is going through their heads, because it seems we are speaking a different language.
I thought we all prepared for the same thing.
You know, prepare our hearts for an encounter with the living God.
Like in the Old Testament, when the people approached the Temple or Tabernacle as one, and God descended in a cloud and there was lightning and thunder. And maybe, because we are New Testament people, that lightning and thunder begins in our hearts, and even as we worship corporately, a cloud descends upon us individually and we are taken up to behold Him in His glory?
I’m just sayin’. That expectation has Biblical precedence, so I’m not wrong to look for it, too, right?
As we converge on the parking lot surrounding our worship buildings, you see the Body of Christ, right? Taking form after a dispersal, or sending into the world for the week.
Each frail and fallen vessel carrying some spark of the indwelling Holy Spirit, and as we gather, He that is in me reaches out to fellowship with Him that is in you.
And your nerve endings tingle, right, at the approach? You are sensitive to the wind of the Spirit and where He directs you, right? You feel His hands on your face turning your head to look, or you lean your head on his shoulder to look down His arm at where He is pointing.
The quiet one sitting on the edge, unseen.
The hurt radiating like fire from the soul that just told you they were fine.
The sadness behind eyes too bright.
And no one is invisible to you. No one.
The Angry, The fallen, The Fearful, The Pretender, The Hero
The single parent, the grieving child, the sloping shoulders under weights long worn.
And the empty seat. . .
So then you are careful, right, to meet each eye, to smile softly, to touch a hand or an arm, to sit quietly beside someone who is alone, offer to pray, extend an invitation, share a phone number. . .
On, and on, and on. . . each Sunday, without fail, stepping into the River of His Love, and letting the current wash you up against someone new and someone old.
And then when worship begins, it is all about Him. No more whispering or looking about. All eyes on Him. The Only One who can do anything about all of these hurts. And you look for Him, and pray that the offering you bring today is pleasing to Him. And because of all He has done for you, there is no way you are going to sit on your hands and be self-conscious, or Heaven forbid, judge others. You are just going to lay it all out there, because He was the one who was up with you in the middle of the night struggling with pain and fear and death and loss and betrayal. You lay it all out there, and knowing that it is an offering far too small, and you make all kinds of resolutions each Sunday to do the week better, to surrender more and more to Him. To live life His way.
And when you sing the words, you are singing prayers right? And you find yourself singing the words over the days of your week, the lost and forgotten, and each soul brought in your path, and you sing the songs over the people around you and before you, and then you begin to feel Him move, and chains snap, and the heavenlies (for which you’ve been given keys) shift, and you are set free. And the week will be different, just like last week was, because you are here.
And when the sermon is delivered, it comes through a vessel, for whom you have prayed, and you listen, through your spirit for what God has to say to you that day. And you listen with discernment and prepared by your own prayer and study from a life lived in the Word. Right?
And when its over, and you are washed out the door with the tide, you do know it was not about you , right? That He will lean close and record only that which you say about Him. The other. The gossip. The judgment. The jockeying for position or territory, He spews that out , right? And you better not be hanging on to that.
That when it is over, the point is not how well this person or that has done, or who did or did not speak to you, or your own personal success. . .
The point is always, simply and only this. . .
Did God show up? And more importantly did He like what He saw well enough to stay?
"I thought I would . . . see the watery part of the world.
It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating the circulation.
Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth;
whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul;
whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet;
and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me,
that it requires a strong moral principle
to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street,
and methodically knocking people's hats off--
then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can."
~ Herman Melville, Moby Dick
Was it truly a week ago that I was in Asheville, North Carolina, settling under the soft covers in the Inn at Biltmore Estates?
I had been planning the trip since the deepest part of winter, when the landscape was snowy, the lamp light low on the frosty panes, and layers of thick sweaters and woolen socks kept the chill at bay.
We wore sandals. Our cheeks were flush from the sun and our hair filled with pollen from acres and acres of peach and blue irises, plump roses, and rows and rows of gently bred orchids. And our calves ached from climbing the steep slope of a hill in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the sweeping staircases of a four story palatial estate.
I did not expect to feel the way I did upon entering the home.
Early morning light poured in from every angle, illuminating the tiled arches far over head and landing gently on the palm fronds of the winter garden under its glass plated dome.
Bigger than Highclere Castle, the American Chateau with its Disney limestone walls and blue turrets, unravelled four acres of floor space beneath our feet. Something hit my heart and rang through my bones. Something here in the architecture was different.
At first, I believed it was the hand of the curator who had brought order and light and love to distinguish the space. Slowly I realized it was the heart and vision of a young American of last century who had drafted the most gifted architect and landscapist to create a canvas to showcase his collections, to embrace a family life with his beloved wife and daughter, and to welcome the brightest and most talented minds to re-create and refresh. It was an energetic mind, a curious and roaming intellect, a kind and generous spirit.
First, I peeled away what was missing: the dark, twisted hallways of a European castle with its many oddities and irregularities due to the ever shifting additons of ells and wings over the centuries. Heavily beamed ceilings and ornate, glass chandeliers dripping with prisms of light were missing. Dark wood paneling and heavily carved doorposts and mantels of oak were missing.
Here there was limestone, clear, clean and soft grey, reflecting the light as it wrapped smoothly over mantlepieces and archways and tiled floors and ceilings.
Here were the stark, clean lines of massive wrought iron chandliers, high overhead, like tree branches.
Here was a pattern, carefully laid out with much though and planning on how the acres of floor space would be used. A huge circle about the atrium passed by the doorways and arches of billiard room, banquet hall, breakfast room, salon, music room, each room spilling into the next through the interior, interlocking doorways. My imagination filled the space with the figure of a little girl skipping down the soaring curve of the main staircase, disappearing beyond the palms and circling round to this bench where I sit. So easy to drop out of sight, to hide in a high backed chair, or kneel behind a column, mischievous imp grinning as the footsteps of an adult echoed near and then disappeared beyond.
Opposite the atrium and its encircling chambers, beyond the great hall, the floor acreage unfurled in the long, straight line of an endless tapestry gallery hemmed with a half dozen arched glass doors to a deep, stone balustrade loggia. The loggia was trimmed with a tiled ceiling and overlooked the sweeping, panoramic view of the Mount Pisgah mountain range.
The treasure awaiting at the other end of the gallery, was the library.
Lined with thousands of books, hand-picked by the George who built the house. Book shelves that disappeared in the clouds, and approached by small ladders and spiral stairs that led to a walk that circled the room high over our heads, where more books resided, and hidden doors to the rest of the house.
And then, I realized, the fairy tale chateau that housed hundreds and hundreds of priceless objects and works of art . . . was itself art.
In the rooms, like little jewels in the clear mountain light, were the costumes of Downton Abbey, poised in action as if Cora and Robert were really wearing their Edwardian white near the palms and the Dowager leaned upon her cane in her early lavender bustle.
Father met me there in front of Violet. A unexpected longing rose in me as I viewed the slender figure and heard the ghost of her bon mots rattling laughter against the windows.
And what I knew, but could not articulate then, Spirit was laughing and eagerly waiting to share with me what lay ahead. What lies ahead for all of us who have accepted Christ. Something so much grander, kinder, clearer, lighter. There is a banquet in a mansion, and He's already there, waiting for us, and in this life, He spreads glimpses of it before us. . .
Come to the Table, He said.
Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.
~ 1 Corinthians 2:9
In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.
~ Jesus, John 14:2
“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”
~ C. S. Lewis
<All images were found on Google images with the exception of the first photo of the wisteria and the last photo of Biltmore from a distance, which were taken by me .>
Plates shifted, one slid beneath the other, as I pushed the clean dishes into the cabinet.
Small seismic shifts as china clattered, one slipped from my grasp, and shattered on the granite countertop.
The plates of the earth shifted, one sliding under the other, and a city tumbled, the Mount men have died attempting to scale, the peaks that scrape the ceiling of the world, lofty, snow covered craigs piercing thin air at the rim of the atmosphere, where man must take his own oxygen in tanks. . .these very mountains moved by the shifting plates.
God Almighty. God of the mountain that shook and trembled the Hebrew people.
Your earth shook again. Violently.
A rickshaw swayed through the crowded, narrow street, a bicycle bell cha-chinged, stubborn yak refused to climb another step, a sacred cow chewed quietly in the street parting traffic, a mother stirred a meal for her family, a teacher bent over a child, a man labored at his accustomed task, a holy man spun his prayers to heaven, and the interruption tore the fabric of the ordinary day, and the numbers numb my mind.
A city folded on itself, dumping concrete and metal, upending the gentle people in the valleys, so that they were buried in one cataclysmic, shuddering moment, losing one another.
And silence fell among the rising smoke and dust, and a keening began that pierces deep into our hearts.
For those of us who dare to listen.
But who can listen for long?
i search for a way to pray, and i find this,
God of justice and mercy,
We pray for the people of Nepal,
And the victims of any disaster,
Any violence, suffering or despair.
Grant them shelter and solace,
Comfort and consolation,
Blessing and renewal.
May a world of justice, righteousness and mercy
Come swiftly to their aid.
Grant them endurance to survive,
Strength to rebuild,
Faith to mourn,
Courage to heal,
And devotion to each other.
and then this,
Bless these first responders with endurance
To be of maximum service in this moment of immeasurable need.
Bless their limbs with strength,
Their eyes with courage,
Their hands with gentleness,
So that they become a source of hope and love.
Give them the tools they need in the days and hours ahead.
Protect them from physical harm,
Shield them from emotional pain,
And guard them from taking this trauma into themselves.
And I add . . .
i pray for the salvation of the Nepali people.
May they know the one true God and His Son Jesus Christ.
May His people be a light reflecting the Light of the One who has made a way through Death.
amen. and amen.
Prayers on this page, other than my own, were written by Alden Solovy and may be found here.
"Come, O blessed of my Father,
inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundations of the world;
for I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
I was a stranger and you welcomed me,
I was naked and you clothed me,
I was sick and you visited me. . .
Truly, I say to you,
as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren,
you did it to Me”
~ Jesus, Matthew 25:34-40
End of day slides through the windows on golden limbs and drops rainbows on walls and floor that creep silently around the room. i stretch, tired and think of pots and pans and dinner plates lining the counters. i have begun a discipline of late, inspired by sweet books i am reading by Alice Peck, finding the sacred in housekeeping, and another by Margaret Kim Peters, the litany of everyday life.
It is a chore I usually flee from, this cleaning up after dinner, claiming my right as maker of the meal to leave the dishes for the others. They flee, too, this family of mine. It is up to me to call them back.
Recalling the words I had read recently, I surveyed the stainless steel and china chipped chaos. To this I can bring order and beauty and restore the sacred.
It helps being mindful, conscious of the rattling tones of drama coming from the family room TV, the sunlight and rainbows, the gift of grace in having a home and food to eat, and husband unrolled like a long limbed mountain cat in his big chair.
For me, every night, he will do the dishes and put the kitchen to bed, but as a man would: the strainer needing a wash, crumbs hiding behind the glass of flour and sugar, washed pans sitting on the eyes of the stove, proper place to store them to his mind. What hand formed this man who will say to me after a twelve-hour shift, “You cook for me. It’s the least I can do.” The least? After what he has done all day in heavy workboots on calloused feet for me?
I am mindful, now, as I go quietly into the kitchen so that he will not hear me, of the shopping and choosing and planning that brought the golden raisins and chicken breast into our home, the afternoon making stock and freezing it, as now I wipe up the grains and pack away the burnished chicken legs from the leftover herbed chicken and rice pilaf. I am mindful of the gifts of pistoulet and fiesta ware, the soapy wand with new scrubber, and slowly the stove top glistens, the counters gleam, the stainless steal of the sink shines, the dishwasher hums, and the sharp wine of small kitchen vac removes the last traces of a swept floor.
“I was going to do that for you,” he says from the red chair, his long, muscled arms draped with deep fatigue over the back and sides of the upholstery. He lifts shadowed eyes to my face, as I kiss the thick hair that drapes over his broad brow.
“I love you,” I whisper.
“There is a tendency, I think,
on the part of those of us who are well-fed, clothed, and housed
to imagine that the needy people to whom Jesus refers in Matthew 25
are people we don’t know—
the sort of people who are served at homeless shelters and soup kitchens, at which we ought therefore to volunteer at least occasionally.
But housework is [also] all about feeding and clothing and sheltering people who, in the absence of that daily work,
would otherwise be hungry and ill-clad and ill-housed”
~ Margaret Kim Peterson, Keeping House
There is “real beauty and divine truth amid our regular chores. . . .
the process of cleaning brings depth and meaning to our lives
and reveals the sacred in everyday.”
~ Alice Peck, Next to Godliness