Friday, March 18, 2011

Cloudy Vision

"Be Thou My Vision, (an Irish hymn) is anonymous, but it comes from the seventh or eighth century. It is filled with various titles for God. The word vision is used to indicate not only what we focus on but also what we strive for. As we strive for a goal, we gain a long-range perspective that helps us see today's disappointments as trivial when compared to the heavenly vision." - The One Year Book of Hymns.

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Nought be all else to me, save that Thou art
Thou my best thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.


Be Thou my Wisdom and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, and I Thy true son,

Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.

Riches I heed not, not man's empty praise,
Thou mine inheritance, now and always;
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart;

High King of heaven, my treasure Thou art.

High King of heaven, my victory won,
may I reach heaven's joys, O bright heaven's Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,

Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.

I marvel at the timelessness of these words, written so very long ago. I don't have a great grasp of history, but enough to know that life during the middle ages in Ireland could not have been pleasant. Disappointments were probably easy to come by. No medicine, limited education, questionable food preparation techniques ("whole food" takes on an entirely different meaning) - all these were ripe breeding grounds for disappointments. Daily, if not hourly, would come reminders that your vision should be not on this earth, but on the High King of heaven.

My life in the 21st century is certainly more comfortable. Incredible medicine, unlimited education, food preparation so frightening (think deep-fried Twinkies) that "whole foods" has become the new goal. There are still disappointments, but there are also so many diversions to cover up and take your mind off those disappointments. Sometimes, I find that those diversions are drawing my vision away from the Lord and onto the diversion itself - as if comfort and solace has it's origin in that diversion. Life is easier, but my view of heaven is clouded.

These are beautiful words to help clear away those clouds. It is humbling that an 8th century writer could have a better grasp on God than this 21st century accountant..what with all my education, and awesome food preparation techniques (you should try my Brussels sprouts). But when all that gets in the way, I need to be humbled.

"Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." Philippians 3:13-14

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

New Lights

Traditions are very powerful.

Traditions bind generations together. Traditions bring comfort during change. Traditions add meaning to routines. Traditions make the unbearable more enjoyable.

Elementary School Music Programs are not so powerful.

Elementary School Music Programs test the generations. They bring discomfort, provide little meaning and are usually downright unbearable.

Tradition has changed all that for me.

This was our 8th year of attending an Elementary School Music Program involving one or more of our children. During those first few years, I arrived early, eager to get a good seat so that I could see my child and they could see me. Other eager parents and family members would annoy me by standing to take pictures, talking through the entire program, or letting their small children run around unsupervised. I took pictures and movies, I waved - everything a parent is required to do!

After a few years (and a few too many programs), I started to lose my enthusiasm. The programs were the same every year: same songs and same dances...over and over again. Parents who talked, kids who whined, instruments that squeaked - it just got on my nerves. Of course, I went to every performance. But I was beginning to dread them.

Then, something happened this year. Maybe it's the fact that our youngest will be in 6th grade next year. Only one more year of Elementary School. Maybe it's the fact that the Musical Programs are shorter. Maybe it's the fact that we also have a teenager, so I've learned to appreciate the innocence of grade school? Ok, maybe not. Whatever the reason, I found myself looking forward to the Elementary School Music Program this evening.

As I stood in the gym, surrounded by parents with cameras, whining children, and the all-around general organized chaos, I realized what I was enjoying. Here we were in the same gym, sitting in the same folding chairs, listening to the same songs. (Ode To Joy and Pepperoni Pizza were among the hits ). I was surrounded by tradition. The talking didn't bother me, because I could still hear the songs. The whining children didn't bother me...because they weren't mine. My camera's batteries were dead, but the tradition was locked in my memory.

Tradition makes the unbearable more enjoyable.

Sometimes life can seem unbearable. God is my Tradition for getting through those unbearable times. He binds generations together. He brings comfort during change. And He makes the unbearable more enjoyable. He's the Tradition I need everyday.

Today is Ash Wednesday - the first day of Lent. Begin a new tradition with God. A prayer journal will be mine. What new tradition will you begin?

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Lightning


I am constantly amazed at how God can use His Word to speak to me, even when my weekly study takes me to different topics. God can converge those seemingly unrelated topics into one, like the tiny shards of lightning that unite to form one big ZAP. It shouldn't surprise me, but because I'm human (and a "bear of very little brain) it still does. I don't want to ever lose touch with that amazement.

I've been working on a study in Isaiah this year. Isaiah has his ups and downs. (He certainly has more ups than Ezekiel - believe me). One of my favorites characteristics of Isaiah is that, even during his gloomy messages, he manages to remind those in captivity (and us) that there is a bright spot, a silver lining, something to look forward to - The Messiah. Isaiah didn't know where or when or who - but he knew that he had to keep looking forward in hope to that day. Isaiah 40:31 says, "but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." Powerful words to cling to when that silver lining is hard to find.

So I started a new devotional this past week. Turns out it's topic is Hope..placing our hope in God's promises. Because God's promises are sure, then our hope will not be disappointed. Our faith and hope has to be in something (or Someone) that can actually deliver on those promises, or we are just kidding ourselves that they will be fulfilled. That idea really gave me something to turn over in my mind and ponder.

Then this morning, the following verses were read in our service (Colossians 1:15-20)

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. And He is the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything He might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all fullness dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross.

This is WHY those who Hope in the Lord will renew their strength: He is the creator of all things, so that He gives them their strength. This is WHY we place our Hope in His promises: He is before all things and in Him all things hold together, so that what He promises, He can deliver.

And this is WHY I love studying God's Word - because of those Lightning bolts that hit me when He works through His Word to show Himself to me.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Headlights

This idea will really work....trust me.

I've discovered a great way to get in a work-out, while also checking things off your to-do list. It combines cardio, strength training, endurance and stretching. It doesn't involve crunches, resistance bands or stability balls. It gets you outdoors, but you are protected from the elements. This is so exciting - are you ready??

Drive a manual transmission, mid-sized pickup with manual windows and door locks.

That's it. Really.

First of all, that manual transmission really works your leg. Unfortunately, it only works the left leg. But there is some ab work going on when you've got the clutch partly released and you haven't found the sweet spot where the clutch and gas connect. Try holding that longer in intersections.

Pushing the gear shift around is great strength training, especially when you can't find reverse. You can push and push all you want and that thing just won't budge. But your muscles will be bulging before too long. Again, this is a one-sided exercise, as it only works your right arm.

Ahhh, but there is an alternate workout for your left arm - rolling down your window. It's best if the window sticks slightly, giving more resistance to your arm muscles. Here's another great ab bonus: Rolling down the window while holding in the clutch, right foot on the brake - that takes stability.

As an added bonus, you will also be able to sweat off those pounds even if you don't perform the window exercise. Because it is nearly impossible to roll down a window and shift the car, the chances of rolling it down while driving are very remote. You will just have to sit and sweat until you come to a stop.

Stretching is always very important and it isn't overlooked with this workout. When your passenger door is locked and your passenger wants in, you will S--T--R--E--T--C--H across the seat to unlock that door. Be sure to remind your passenger to lock the door every time they leave the car, so that you will get all the benefits of the stretch.

"But wait" you say, "how does driving a car give me a cardio workout?" It turns out that cardio isn't done in the car, it's accomplished by getting out of the car and walking.

Because this car is not at all fun to drive, you won't drive to every storefront at the strip mall. You'll be very happy to get that thing in any parking space you can maneuver and then just hoof it to all the stores. You may also spend less because you don't want to carry all those bags with you while you shop...although more bags means more weight lifting.

I have tried this plan and can guarantee it works. Driving a manual transmission mid-sized pick will certainly reap you some health benefits. I think I might even know of a mid-sized pickup that will be on the market soon....don't delay. Call now.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Battery Powered

Perhaps you read today of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling that the Westboro Baptist Church is protected under First Amendment rights to protest at military funerals and lambaste the grieving families with hate speech. Somehow, this falls under the category of free speech. I don't like that and I don't agree with it - but this isn't going to be a political post. Instead, I'm writing what truly upsets me about Westboro Baptist Church: How they are mispresenting Christians and, by doing that, how they are mispresenting God.

Christians tend to get lumped all together, like so many batteries tossed in a drawer. You have no idea which are good and which are dead. So when the Wii-mote needs new batteries, you are faced with trying each one to see which have juice. UGH! It's so much easier to just throw them all out and start with a new pack. (It's even better to buy rechargeable Wii-motes, but that ruins my analogy).

When you lump all Christians under one heading you, perhaps unknowingly, lump God under that heading as well. It's easy to categorize all Christians as judgemental, based on the rantings of the Westboro bunch. Their members hold up signs that read "God hates the USA" and "You're going to hell". (Hmm - isn't Hell a proper noun? Shouldn't it be capitalized? Just wondering.....) If Christians are judgemental, then surely their God must be as well. Who needs a God like that?

Not me.

Don't get me wrong. I fully believe in God's judgement and His wrath. But I also fully believe in His grace and forgiveness. If you rely on His grace and accept His forgiveness, you can avoid His judgement and His wrath. See..that's in the Bible as well, but it seems the Westboro bunch sort of skipped over that part.

To fully understand God..well, as best as a human can do, you need to know Him from all the angles: judgement, wrath, grace, forgiveness, love, etc, etc. Picking one and throwing out the others doesn't give you a true picture of God. Groups who call themselves Christians and only talk about one angle, aren't talking about my God. They aren't reading my Bible. And they don't represent me.

This is why you need to go back to that drawer and test each battery. Don't throw them all out - there are probably 5 or 6 good ones in there.