Thursday, August 8, 2019

Mourning


Scriptures: Matthew 5:4, Psalm 147:3, Psalm 30:11-12, and Judges 19:25-30.
Saturday I turned on the television and learned of the massacre in El Paso. Later I read of the massacre in Dayton. They are compound fractures of a nation and a world where evil has again triumphed. As I watched coverage of the El Paso incident, the wretchedness of the human condition unfolded along with the consequences of that wretchedness. The faces of government representatives and service men and women showed their confusion pain and vulnerability. It scared me. I ached for a city where I once lived. I heard a clear call to prayer to all Christians to reach out, to speak up, to seek justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God.

Psalm 147:3 reminds us that God heals the brokenhearted, that He binds up their wounds. Still these are such deep wounds. They are lethal and without comfort. Where do we turn in the face of such carnage? We are helpless and for a moment hopeless.

Jesus tells us that the mourner will be comforted in Matthew 5:4. The Scriptures speak often of mourning. Psalm 30:11-12 says
You have turned my mourning into dancing for me;
You have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
That my soul may sing praise to You and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever.

I wonder what Scripture means by the mourner. Is it simply someone who grieves a terrible lose? Maybe Scripture speaks of the abandonment of God by a whole people. I think that both of those things can be applied to mourning.
We are the mourners this week. We will be comforted. It is hard to believe with wounds so fresh, but I will put my trust in the Lord.

Recently I had the pleasure of attending a local writing seminar. It is a labor of love from one of my friends. She sets out a beautiful three-day study. We read in preparation for the seminar. We read short stories and a novel, some poetry and some essays or short works on craft and style.

This year we read Slaughterhouse Five by Vonnegut. That book has plenty to grieve about. Those of you who have read it will know that it is a parable within a larger autobiographical tale about the bombing of Dresden in WWII. It is a scalding book, which unfortunately speaks urgently of the nature of man and man’s sin. Vonnegut speaks of a people gone astray. It is not for delicate ears or even for a Sunday morning in the house of the Lord. I did not like the book much. It affronts me.

But the carnage Saturday affronts me. Much of Scripture affronts me. The final chapter of Judges surely affronts most reader. We end in tears and confusion when we read of the concubines body's final disposition.

But in the final verse we read God’s advice in an instance of appalling evil. Just imagine, the final verse says. Think about the incident. I hated learning of the massacres. I hated the news unfolding, thinking of lives snuffed out in an instant I hated thinking of the families forever wounded and in pieces. I didn't want to think of the mind that could conjure such horror and then exact it. But God tells us not to gloss over sin. He tells us not to ignore pain and suffering and the consequences of that sin. We should consider abominations in the light of day, with the aide of Scripture and with prayer. But we cannot shy away from the sinful nature of man and the urgent need of the Gospel.

The second thing this passage tells us is to act. We walk through this world as God’s children. We are not at liberty to forget our redemption. We are not at liberty to forget our sin. We should keep to prayer. We should endeavor to be in right relationship to God. We should examine ourselves and turn ourselves over to God.

The third thing Scripture says Judges 19:30 is, "speak up." This is not the place to point self-righteous fingers, but to cry out against sin. To weep, to mourn at the fact of it at it’s destruction at its horror. We cannot shrink from the world as David notes in Psalm 55:6-8 when he finds himself wishing for a vacation from this worldly world.

David tells us later in Psalm 55 that God is the judge and arbiter. He reminds us that this is not our home. Our home is with our Maker, the King of Heaven and earth, the Everlasting, Unchanging Merciful God and our Lord Jesus Christ our Redeemer.

Thank you for reading. Blessings and comfort now and for the weeks to come.
Bev
also posted at Jumping into the Deep

Monday, July 8, 2019

The Enchanted April, Book Review

The Enchanted April
For our Library Book Club we read Then Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnim.
Published in 1922, this novel continues to delight readers to this day.
I took to the book in the early pages when nervous submissive Mrs. Wilkins latches onto the idea of a holiday in Italy. The villa was advertised in the Times to those who like Wisteria and sunshine. Lotty Wilkins wasn't rich but she liked Wisteria and sunshine. She reasons that April in Italy might be possible. Then she tenaciously makes plans despite herself and her anxieties.
Lotty knows of Mrs. Arbuthnot but doesn't actually know her, yet Lotty sees her reading the same advertisement. Wondering and worried and not believing herself Lotty entreats Mrs. Arbuthnot to join her and at least inquire. It is the beginning of a journey and a mild but life changing adventure.
Eventually four women travel to Italy. Lotty is first freed of her nervousness and insecurities. Her newly sweet and true nature eventually works on the other three women who shed churlish affectations and begin to examine their lives in the beauty of a perfect April in San Salvatore.
In short chapters and different points of view the reader glimpses the human frailties and longings of each character. As I read I was slowly affected by San Salvatore also. It's gently nature, sweet perfume, and remarkable scenery, worked some small magic even in me and my petty frailties.
I understand the movie is delightful. I will watch it this week and post a companion review.
Read this book for it's gentle nudge at living a better calmer life.
Thank you for reading. Bev
Also posted at Quarter Bubble Short of Plumb

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Poor in Spirit, Devotion II

Happy Flowers
Scriptures
Matthew 5:3
Psalm 32:3-5
1 John 1

I talked in an earlier blog about the meaning of being poor in spirit. The first beatitude says blessed (or happy) is the man who is poor in spirit for his is the kingdom of Heaven. Being poor in spirit is letting go of our own wills and being poor in them in order to be filled with God's will and with the Holy Spirit. It is surrender, putting God first.

Several years ago the Session of our church was examining a new group of youth seeking confirmation and membership in our church. During the examination a knowledgeable and serious Elder asked one applicant to describe Communion and what it meant. The young man was nervous and shy. He seldom spoke and took a minute to prepare his answer. Finally the young man leaned forward. He put his arms on his already long legs and let his hands hang over his knees. Without looking up, he said, "Well, you are what you eat." Most of us began to giggle then chuckle and then belly laugh.

The young man's allegory will break apart upon closer scrutiny, but it has been useful to me as a way of understanding the in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit. While the spirit is not a physical thing, the act of filling yourself, even consuming is intentional. For me the idea of you are what you eat simplifies my focus. I'm not wandering around wishing for the Holy Spirit, but I am, instead an active participant. I consume food, television, games, diversions and entertainment. I say and pray that I hunger and thirst for the Word and nurture myself with Scripture. But if there is something occupying my belly, so to speak, I cannot take in the Word. I don't even hunger or thirst for the Word. Instead, I am full with diversions or distractions or sin.

The concept of a full belly gives me a notion of a full spirit, a spirit that won't move over or submit or surrender, not someone poor in spirit. Diversion and distraction may take over. Sin of course, fills the belly and pushes out the Holy Spirit.

In a sense we must expel our will to make room for the Holy Spirit, so that He fills us. And when it comes right down to it we don't do the expelling, God does.

One of the things we do before taking communion is confess our sins. It strikes me that one of the ways the Holy Spirit acts on us is to show us our sins that we may confess them. Our passage today from Psalm 32 speaks of groaning under sin; that God's hand was heavy on David when he wrote the Psalm. When I am struggling and willful, I too groan. Every act seems tortured when I walk in my own will and ignore the Holy Spirit.
In the early days of the church, Christians were followers of the Way. Jesus tells us, He is the Way the Truth and the Life, in John 14 then tells us later in John 14 that He is sending the Holy Spirit that He can be with us always, not as one man but the Holy Spirit in all believers.
Our passage from 1 John tells of having fellowship with Jesus and God through Holy Spirit, the triune God. First John tells us that if we confess our sins, that God is faithful to forgive us and cleanse us that we may walk in the light.
I pray that you are full in the Holy Spirit, and empty in your own spirit. I pray you are full in the Word and delight in the Way. I pray that you are happy and that your is the kingdom of Heaven. Amen.

Thank you for reading.
Published also on Jumping into the Deep

Friday, May 10, 2019

Jumping into Scripture, Matthew 5:3


Youth group painting Hagerman Presbyterian
Listen to Him
Scriptures
Matthew 5:3
Luke 6:20
Psalm 32:1-2

Recently I was in a the Bible study Discerning the Voice of God, by Priscilla Shirer. Speaking on listening to God, Shirer quotes Matthew 17:5. God says, "This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased, listen to Him." Immediately, I thought of this study. Not only does Jesus tell us how to listen to him, but God tells us to listen to Jesus. Shirer asks in this study if we can imagine a Savior who would would give His life so that we may know Him, so that we may be saved and so that we may have a relationship with Him and then this Savior wouldn't speak to us though He loved us so?
It seemed far-fetched even to me. Of course our Savior would speak to us. We have the gift of His words throughout Scripture. We have the gift of the Sermon on the Mount.
When I read the Sermon on the Mount, I have have plenty of questions, things like I'm wholly insufficient to the task. How can I, sinful woman, effect any of these in order to be blessed. But Jesus tells us how. He tells us in the first beatitude. Blessed are the poor in spirit for their's is the Kingdom of heaven.
Being an engineer, the first thing I do is break it down. How does the Kingdom of Heaven become mine? Oh, I see, it's a trick. I must be poor in spirit. I turn to Luke 6: 20 and it says poor not poor in spirit. In Matthew 19 and Luke 18, Jesus tells the young ruler, a rich man, that to be perfect he must give away all that he owns and follow Jesus. Oh no, I'm in trouble. I'm not likely to lead the ascetic life. Already I am crushed. But surely God and Jesus don't want me crushed before I even begin, and i know the passage after the rich young ruler turns from Jesus. Jesus assures us that all things are possible for those who believe.
Re-examining the first beatitude I wonder if Jesus telling us a way to understand Him, a way to receive this blessing. He is telling us to surrender our spirit to God. With God, all things are possible. All of these blessings in the beatitudes, they are available to those who surrender and let the holy spirit take over our human spirit. He is saying, do not worry, I will guide you. You are loved and nurtured in My Way, My Words and ultimately My Sacrifice. He tells us right off the bat, surrender to God. Surrender that troublesome spirit of self help. Consider yourself no longer full of your own will and way and even words so that God can move in and work in you, so that you can listen to Me.
Easter Morning 2019
This Easter Sunday, our local churches again met at the lake for sunrise services. We were too tired and too chilly to be much of our own self-help scions. We were there for, well, coffee if I must be honest, but more, we were there for Jesus. We were there to know that He had risen, that He is with us, that because of His work on the cross, we may now know Him through the Holy Spirit. We may listen to our Savior as God instructs. We get to have a two way relationship with the King of Kings. Seriously!
When I strip away my own will I pray God enters in by means of the Holy Spirit. I can pray, Thy will, not my will Father. I don't always pray this. Often I pray something like: "It'd be really cool if this was okay with You and You would help me God." For these willful prayers, God usually remains silent. That's not to say He doesn't answer, He just doesn't answer the way I wanted. It's kind of like my mom when I asked if I could go do something dangerous or harmful. Early in life, she would tell me, "You already know my answer." Later she shook her head a pursed her lips. 
Our Psalm for today speaks of a spirit without deceit. How happy, how blessed is the man in whose spirit there is no treachery For me that would be an exchanged spirit, once mine, now God's.
May Heaven be yours.
May your spirit yield so that God enters in.
May you glorify God in all that you do. Amen
Thanks for reading.
Published also on Jumping into the Deep
  


Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled Ollie McNeil Circle Devotion May 2019


Scriptures
John 14:1, 26-28

Twice in John 14 Jesus tells His disciples, “let not your hearts be troubled.” He also tells them that He is leaving to be with His Father. His disciples are understandably confused – ‘You’re leaving, and we shouldn’t be worried?Our hearts are troubled. Where do we go from here? How do we proceed without our Lord?’

I’m a worrier. I've been a worrier for a long time. When my son was young, he liked to walk in the orchards and look for dandelions. We had a big dog, a Neapolitan Mastiff, (think Fang from the Harry Potter movies.) The dog wasn’t a sheep dog, but he was a working dog, part protector and part pack animal.

Usually my son and I would venture into the dappled light before the sun became strong. We would search the grounds and the heavens for whatever we might find, a rock or birds’ nest, a butterfly or raccoon paw print. To a three-year-old anything is cause for adventure. Sometimes we made up stories about what we found, sometimes we just let the wonder of God seep into our faces.


One day, I was busy. We had built a dog fence, but the dogs had burrowed under it and I was filling holes. My son was near me, I thought, but when I looked up, he wasn’t there. I called. No answer. My heart raced. I looked to the road, where the traffic of trucks and semis seemed too fast and too near and too constant.


I called again. Then I looked for the dog thinking to enlist his help, but he wasn’t anywhere to be found.

I whistled and heard a barking answer.

In the very middle of the orchard, my son and the dog (half a head taller than my son) walked with my son’s hand on the dog's back.

When I finally rounded them up, my son said, “You didn’t need to worry, 
Momma. We didn’t go near the road and Taz was with me.” He smiled and took my hand.

For a while that day my heart was troubled. It could have been so much worse as many of my friends here know. Evenso, I have learned that not only our great mastiff of a dog was with my son, but God was and is with us. Jesus died that we may always be with Him through the Holy Spirit. He told us not to be troubled, He is with us always.

When I read these passages from John 14, I am renewed. I am reminded that this world is not my home and that I trust God so much more than the traffic on the highway. I know that bad things happen in this world and I dread times of sorrow, but God is with me even then. The Holy Spirit is my comforter and I may find peace in Him even in this ragged world.

May your spring be bright with adventure. May your hearts be light with love, and may the peace of the Holy Spirit dwell deeply within you. Amen.

Thanks for reading, Bev

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Book Review Where the Crawdads Sing

Delia Owens' debut novel, Where the Crawdads Sing is one of my favorite reads for 2018.
It is a romance, a family saga, a coming of age story, and a murder mystery rolled into one, often poetic, book. Owens writes from a remarkable understanding of nature. A quote from her website reads, "When you can feel the planet beneath your toes and trees moving about, you must listen with all your ears and,--I promise--you will hear the crawdads sing. In fact, it will be a chorus."
This tells me much about the author and her debut novel. Owens spent over two decades studying wildlife in remote regions of Africa. As a result of this research, she makes the case that mammals in strongly bonded groups form those groups of exclusively females. In Where the Crawdads Sing, Kya is a female without a group and desperately wants one. Owens subtly makes the point that female bonding is in our DNA. Kya's mother is the North Carolina marsh and her teachers are the animals that populate the marsh. She is abandoned by her biological mother, siblings and eventually her father. Kya scrapes out a living and a huge education on the water's edge, befriending rare and wonderful characters like Jumpin, the general store and gas station owner, and Tate, the young man and friend of Kys's brother that teaches Kya to read. These people help her in her greatest times of trouble. Throughout the book, the characters are well-drawn and there are good and bad folk in equal measure. The marsh too, becomes a character as well as the town of Barkley Cove. 
I read one review of this book that said the reader did not find Kya's life believable and thus could never engage with the main character. I laughed with the reviewer because I too wondered at a young woman so isolated and yet able to make her way on tired grits and very little else. For me, this wasn't a problem, but a wonder.
If you haven't read this book yet, I highly recommend it. I read it then re-read it because I hated to finish it.
Thanks for reading, and thanks for reading books. Bev

published also at bacoots.com