Category: Devotional

God Reviving Me One Morning

A photo I took on one of my walks on the river trail not far from my office.

Stressed, working hard to prepare books for publication in the midst of several life adjustments, one morning I knew I had to attend to my soul. I drank my coffee and read a devotional article that said: “Am I willing to continue yielding my life wholly to God? If so, there is power for me…. God promises help to accomplish the task toward which His Spirit points me.”

I wrote a list of the things on my heart that had become burdens, which I then prayed about and gave to God, again.

Then I read: “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all that we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!” (Eph.3:20-21,NIV) I prayed this scripture, inserting my name and then the names of our family members and generations. Assurance came.

Then, because I find solace and renewal in nature, I drove down to the nearby river trail. There my senses were immediately overwhelmed and filled with the sights and sounds and smells and textures of that lush spot where grassy farmland meets the river that flows down from the Rocky Mountains. Nature was burgeoning with life.

One thing my husband and I are learning as we live in this high place of Colorado—We are learning to appreciate and “seize” the moment. There is such constant change. Here on the river trail, if you don’t come down here for a couple of weeks, you hardly recognize the place next time. All summer, layer upon layer of grasses and flowering plants keep coming up, replacing the last layer, each a little higher than the last, reaching for the intense sunshine which often gives way to evening thunder clouds. In the early summer, wild roses were blooming under the giant cottonwoods. Later they had dried up and purple thistle had risen 5 to 6 feet tall, bright and stately. You might think them renegade weeds in your garden, but out here, they’re royalty. Clouds of foamy yellow flower heads will grow here and there, and every shade of foliage.

Bird songs abound! I recognize the sounds of killdeer, red-winged blackbirds, and others. I see the orchard oriole that was here last time, and the bullock’s oriole, the eastern kingbird, and many others. A rabbit hops near the river’s edge. Farmers are irrigating today, obviously, because the wet river banks and shallow water indicate most of the river’s flow here has been diverted to the canals. I watch several huge river-bottom fish, and their backs often rise above the water’s surface and I can see the golden eye high on their foreheads. They glisten in the sunshine and are too big for the six snowy egrets nearby to tackle. But if a bald eagle happened by, they’d be easy prey, so visible in the shallow waters. In a clearing on the other side I see prairie dogs with their young. They stand up straight above their holes and suckle their little ones who then lick their mothers faces. They’re cute. And they supply food for the many hawks and owls around here.

In the shady places under the heavy cottonwoods, myriads of butterflies float and flutter. I see one group that fly this way and that and round and round in sync as if propelled by a little twister wind. How do they synchronize their flight in milliseconds like that? The hot sun intensifies the scents of grasses mingled with damp river smells. Several cyclists ride by me, calling out “on your left.” Two lark sparrows perch on the fence and stay there watching me, showing off their harlequin faces, feathers glowing like polished bronze in the sun.

I’m thankful for this day, and this place, and God’s glory all around.

Back at my car, I give thanks to God. As I walk into the house, a CD is playing and I hear the words of a gospel song, “Morning by morning new mercies I see….Great is thy faithfulness.” Tears smart my eyes but I “seize the moment” and find joy in it, and in knowing God is in it!

Susan Roberts Interview

 

Are you listening, in prayer, to what the Lord may be asking you to do? Are you watching for His answers? Susan Roberts describes how saying “Yes” to the Lord led her on an adventure of devotional discoveries. I interviewed Susan to find out why and how she wrote Everywhere I Look, God Is There.

The Wounds and the Promise

“We are committed to describing the world not just as it should be, not just as it is, but as—by God’s grace alone!—one day it will be. And we should never forget that when Jesus rose from the dead, as the paradigm, first example, and generating power of the whole new creation, the marks of the nails were not just visible on his hands and his feet. They were the way he was to be identified. When art comes to terms with both the wounds of the world and the promise of resurrection and learns how to express and respond to both at once, we will be on the way to a fresh vision, a fresh mission.” –N.T. Wright in Surprised by Hope (Harper Collins, 2008, p.224).

In this context I offer the following free verse from my forthcoming book, Remembering Softly: A Life in Poems :

LIVING WOUNDS

Christ’s wounds—

holes, gaps, gashes?—

remain, continue there,

healed; no pain or festering.

But they remain

places on the body

of the God-Man,

remembering.

A mystery!

There,

in the wounded place

we are part of Christ.

The nails are gone,

the sword withdrawn,

the thorns pulled out.

But these wounds live,

efficacious.

When His followers also

stand gashed and riddled,

touching our wounds to His;

bearing scars from

our own sins and

those of others

but festering no more;

together we form

places of healing

in the body of Christ.

~Catherine Lawton

Opening to Adventures in Prayer

bee on hawthorn flowers

My husband and I have a bee hive in our backyard, and I have planted many nectar-producing flowers for the bees. We also grow vegetable and berry gardens. Since we welcomed bees into our gardens; the flowers, berries, and herbs have flourished noticeably more. I’m sure the salvia flower stalks and peppermint blossoms bloom longer than they used to before so many bees were relishing closeness with them. The flowers seem to respond and love the bees as much as the bees delight in the flowers and the nectar they produce. Of course we, also, enjoy seeing the well-being of our gardens and eating the honey that results!

Similarly, I believe our relational God longs to commune with us, to create well-being within us, and to influence the course of the future together with us, as we pray.

Our view of God and his providence affects how we pray. If the future is open to God, our prayers and petitions to him can also be open and answered by him in more possible and creative ways than we can begin to imagine. In The Uncontrolling Love of God, Thomas Jay Oord asserts that God has given creatures genuine free will to make choices and to respond to him in ways that affect the future. For that reason, though the future is not pre-determined and known conclusively by God, “the future is full of possibilities, and, being omniscient, God knows them all.” We can live and pray in hope and expectancy. The believer’s life of prayer can be a life of adventure.

This prayer relationship with God reminds me of the relationship I observe in my garden between the flowers and the bees. Deep calls to deep as God calls us to intimate prayer and contemplation with him. As we respond and allow him access, he searches our inner being and comes to know us more and more thoroughly. I believe that to be known by God is to be transformed.

If God is Spirit and omnipresent in every moment of time—all the time everywhere—we can and should pray in the spirit everywhere and all the time.

Because “God lovingly invites creatures and creation to cooperate to enact a future in which well-being is established in surprising and positive ways,” we can and should cooperate with him in faith: praying, trusting, and working toward goodness and his will and kingdom to come. We can be looking for shalom to blossom and grow.

If God’s essence is uncontrolling love, we can and should pray uncontrolling, loving prayers. According to scripture, God actually shares his nature with us. If this nature is essentially kenotic, “self-giving, others-empowering love,” we can pray self-giving, others-empowering prayers.

God is far beyond the comfortable boundaries we have set for him in the past. It’s overwhelming and unsettling at first to consider this, but God is so much bigger than we have believed. How can he also be personal, hearing our prayers, far bigger and far closer than we have imagined? God’s essential being is love and he relates to each of us intimately.

Our open and relational God is calling us to:

  • Praise him.
  • Confess to him our lack of faith, trust, hope, and loving action.
  • Give thanks to him for enlarging our hearts and vision.
  • Bring supplications to him, interceding on behalf of the people and places we see that are far from the well-being of shalom.
  • Listen to and commune with him. Receive and respond.
  • Pray in the spirit always.
  • Say “yes” to what he is calling forth in and through us.

As we watch and pray that God will call forth cooperation from—and give shalom to—his people and all of creation, the prayers of a righteous person avail much! We are co-creators of the future with him! He delights in this.

It is much like the bees that seem to draw out more blooms and fruit from my garden. Through prayer we can work with God to see his kingdom grow. Each one who truly cooperates in prayer and action with the Spirit of God increases his kingdom, his will, his working for good and overcoming evil in this world.

“We know the whole creation has been groaning,” kind of like a garden longing to open its petals to sunshine and bees. Perhaps the world is waiting for us to respond to our almighty and ever-present God in open, obedient, watching-for-possibilities prayer. Perhaps the more people respond positively to him, the more grace is available, like a well-pollinated garden. We have been too passive-aggressive, lazily saying “But God is in control,” on one hand, while on the other hand complaining and becoming angry at the way the world is going. God calls us to be active in faith and prayer and love toward him and toward his needy world. I don’t think it’s irreverent to say he hovers over us like a buzzing bee seeking access to our hearts, waiting for them to open their closed petals to him, to give of the nectar of our lives to increase goodness and to sweeten the future.

If it were true that God sees one set future, determined since before time began, we would have a big God. But the open view of God describes a far bigger God! He sees every possibility. He sees how our ongoing, potential actions and choices in every instance may cause repercussions that affect those around us.


Note: I wrote this piece because I believe in prayer and I wanted to engage with Thomas Jay Oord’s teaching after reading his book, The Uncontrolling Love of God  (NavPress, 2015). This entire post first appeared at http://uncontrollinglove.com and then at http://thomasjayoord.com . I don’t agree with all opinions and philosophies expressed on those sites, but I’m thankful to have the opportunity to participate in the conversation.

He Restores My Soul

Photo of the Pawnee National Grasslands

Vast solitude under changing skies

On Memorial Day we decided to get clear away from office, computers, books, and other projects. My husband and I enjoy birding and wildflower viewing, especially after such a wet spring. So we drove out to the Pawnee National Grassland, bringing our dog Jasper with us. This protected habitat on the prairie of Northern Colorado provides nesting ground to a colorful variety of migratory birds.

Some years the grassland—vast solitude under changing skies—is hot and dry. This time we found it cool and green. Wildflowers dotted the native plant life. Prickly Pear had started opening their blooms. And the birds! They foraged in the grasses, perched on fence posts, did aerial gymnastics to catch flying insects, scratched in the sandy roadside, hunted from the sky, and paddled on small ponds.

We walked a little ways on a trail through the grasses. Larry took a picture of Jasper and me:

Pawnee-May30-CandJasper

We identified 25 bird species, including Vesper Sparrow, Prairie Falcon, and Loggerhead Shrike. At one point along the gravel road we spotted a bird that looked like a miniature roadrunner. It ran on the ground with its tail held high. We watched it through binoculars and checked our bird guide (and the birding app on my cell phone, the only technology we used that day). It appeared to be a Sage Thrasher. Then the bird lifted into the air and we thought our chance to observe it was over. But it landed on a fence post just ahead of where we had stopped our car in the narrow road (The occasional approaching car or pickup could be seen miles away and we could pull over). As the breeze ruffled its feathers, the Sage Thrasher lifted its head and sang! And sang and sang. What a show. It felt like a gift to have this bird—uncommon in our area—perch and sing for us. I took a picture the best I could with my iphone 6:

102_0790

Here’s a better (borrowed) photo of a Sage Thrasher singing:

A Sage Thrasher

Used with permission of sagegrouseinitiative.com

In the wonder of this bird perching and singing so close to us, we felt even more connected with nature around us.

Connection is important. We connect with people, share ideas, express creativity, and conduct business through keyboard, screen, digital images and sounds, artificial light and wifi. This virtual world is full of potential and fascination. But experiencing life through technology can gradually drain our souls. One way I know this soul drain is happening is, when I go to bed, close my eyes and, instead of drifting to a peaceful sleep, I see images and text, web pages and video flashing across the screen of my mind. (This is why I generally turn off my computer well before 10:00 p.m.)

King David said, “He leads me in green pastures and beside still waters. He restores my soul” (Psalm 23).

Once in a while we need to unplug, go out into a world that engages all the senses, and let our souls be restored. Nature and the rediscovery of wonder offer a gateway to a restored soul. Carol O’Casey, author of Unwrapping Wonder, writes, “I escape the expectations of ministry and take a walk on the wild side. Whether exploring field or forest, marsh or meadow, or the edge of the sea, in the natural world I am transformed. There, in the solitude of nature I experience God’s presence.”

That night, after a day of birding on the prairie, my husband and I went to bed. When I lay my head on the pillow, I began to realize what a gift I had brought home with me from the grassland. When I closed my eyes, my mind wasn’t filled with a screen through which virtual images came at me. No. Instead, I was still seeing Lark Buntings, Horned Larks, and Longspurs winging, swooping, twirling in the air. I was still hearing the songs of Meadow Larks, Brown Thrashers, and Mountain Plovers. I was still watching Swainson’s Hawks soar on high and kite in the breezes. I was still enjoying the yellow, blue, and red wildflowers and smelling the sweet grasses. With these images, sounds and smells came a peaceful, delighted and deep sense of Presence—the presence of our Creator, our Redeemer, the Restorer of our souls.

Gifts are always better when shared. To my surprise, when Larry got in bed and turned off the light, after just a few moments he said, “I’m still seeing birds.” Lying side by side in the darkness, we compared notes and agreed that it had been a wonderful day.

A special sense of attunement and restoration has stayed with me all week—even as I am typing this at my computer.

Writing is good for spirit, soul, and mind

JournalWriting

Today I’m sharing a guest post written by a friend, a retired pastor who writes encouraging, daily meditations for his Facebook followers. This kind of writing takes discipline and a heart that is attuned both to the Lord and to people and their real needs.


Writing is good for spirit, soul, mind. I don’t mean texting or e-mailing. I mean paper, pencil, and eraser writing. Because it’s slow. You have to be thoughtful. There is time to choose words, create effective phrases, eliminate unnecessary words, refine thoughts, evaluate what you are saying.

Things written penetrate deeper, with more impact, and last longer. Proverbs 7:13 advises writing God’s wisdom and instruction deep within your heart. Hebrews 8:10 records God saying, “I will put my laws in their minds and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.”

I think it was my friend, Jim Copple, who said to write something every day. In writing, spirit, mind, and soul get to breathe deeply. A spark of thought grows into a flame, and I grow. Having lighted a candle, I may pass the little flame on to whomever may need or find it useful.

Write something every day. No, not a “to do list.” Write a prayer, a personal note, a journal entry, or even just random thoughts. Paper and pencil have advantages over lighted screens and keyboards. A writing, praying, thinking place in your home is also beneficial.

What could it hurt to give it a try?

~Larry Lewis

Larry Lewis and his wife, Frances

Eternal Snows and A Sacrifice of Love

A blizzard during Easter week (which we had here in Colorado) is a new experience for me. Pure white snow covered the ground when I wanted spring color to dot the landscape. But during this holy week, the pervasive, gleaming whiteness began taking on significance and speaking to my heart. The words of a familiar, Irish poem came to my mind:

“I see his blood upon the rose
And in the stars the glory of his eyes,
His body gleams amid eternal snows,
His tears fall from the skies.”
                       ~Joseph Plunkett

As the storm passed and sun shone, the gleaming snow cover became for me a constant reminder of the body of Jesus—his very life—layed down, poured out, for us. As the ground, the trees, even the houses received the crystalline snow driven by the wind, so by faith we can receive Christ’s pure sacrifice, applied to our hearts by the grace of God. This complete, loving, redeeming sacrifice then covers our sins, bringing forgiveness, reconciliation, and the hope of eternal life.

The effects of this “eternal snow” go even farther, however. Today the snow on our yard, trees, and garden has melted and watered the greening grass and the perennials that are waking up for spring. Similarly, the gracious provision of Jesus not only covers us, but seeps into our beings, giving newness of life to our hearts and minds, nourishing our souls, imparting the very character of the One who poured out his life for us.

Now I’m viewing this snow during Easter week as a gift from God. Sometimes visual images and metaphors reach into our hearts more effectively than words of reason. Sometimes they help the words of truth get from our minds to our hearts. How thankful I am for these true words:

“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (I John 4:10)

“I lay down my life…” (John 10:14)

A Crown of Thorns

CrownOfThorns

Drops of blood or tear drops?

“They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand and knelt in front of him and mocked him.” (Matthew 27:29)

We are told that creation itself moans because of the curse put upon us. Everything bears the mark of humankind’s sin. I don’t know how to understand it–but I believe plants, animals, and all of creation respond in some way to the God who made them. If a thorn bush could think, I wonder how it might have mourned to know that its branches were used to hurt the very One who had made it. If a bush could have shed tears rather than causing blood to be shed, and a bush could choose, I wonder whether the bush would have chosen tears.

−A Maundy Thursday thought from the devotional section of the book, God’s Healing Herbs, by Dennis Ellingson.

Ten Best Books I Read in 2015

books-on-shelves

Here’s an eclectic list of books, varied in subject, genre, and form. I like to find the best in popular books, old and new, and find hidden gems that are less-well known but sometimes even more worthy of being found on a “best-seller” list. Perhaps you’ll discover a new favorite among these:

(In no particular order)

  1. STONE BY STONE: Tear Down the Wall Between God’s Heart and Yours by Jasona Brown (WhiteFire, 2015) – I’m part of a group of prayer ministers in my church. We spent several months this past year reading and discussing this book and praying together over personal issues that came up. Stone by Stone brings to light obstacles in our hearts that hinder us from freely and fully receiving God’s love and living in wholeness, in the joy of the Lord. Topics covered include:guilt, unforgiveness, lies believed, trauma, and unhealed memories. I enjoyed the conversational style of the author, the way she so transparently shared her own story, and the way her compassion for hurting people comes through.
  2. A GUIDE FOR LISTENING AND INNER HEALING PRAYER: Meeting God in the Broken Places by Rusty Rustenbach (NavPress, 2011)  –  As the title indicates, this is a comprehensive guide. It includes personal stories from the authors life and examples from other people’s lives as well. I recommend it to anyone desiring to remove barriers to intimacy with God and to be free of negative emotions that have plagued you for years, to experience release, freedom, and healing of emotional wounds. This book can lead individuals step-by-step in that healing process, and it can equip groups like the one I’m in, to facilitate a listening and inner-healing prayer ministry for the wounded people the Lord brings to us.
  3. THE LANGUAGE OF GOD: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief by Francis S. Collins (Free Press, 2007)  –  Science has not been my forte. But this is a fascinating book.  Like many Christians, I had some skepticism. Can you really believe both science and the Bible? Collins, a pioneering medical geneticist who headed the Human Genome Project presents a clear and sincere personal testimony of coming to faith in Jesus. He also discusses scientific discoveries in an easy-to-follow way that I actually enjoyed. He says we don’t have to choose between science and God. Especially helpful is Collins’ explanation of how and why a Bible-believing Christian may accept the theory of evolution.
  4. SHE WALKS IN BEAUTY: A Woman’s Journey through Poems selected and introduced by Caroline Kennedy (Grand Central, 2014) –  I love poetry and have a collection of poetry books. Some are antiques that belonged to my great-grandmother. Some are tomes I studied in college. I turn to poetry in times of deep emotion and it helps me walk through those times. Well, for my birthday last year I received a Barnes & Noble gift card. I decided I wanted a current volume of poetry. I remembered seeing a small “Poetry” section in our local B&N. When I went there, that section had disappeared, but a few poetry books were squeezed on half a shelf somewhere at the bottom of the “fiction” section. Sad. The pickings were slim. But She Walks in Beauty stood out to me. After scanning the topics (“Falling In Love” “Marriage” “Work” “Growing Up and Growing Old” “Friendship” “Silence and Solitude”) I bought the book. It didn’t disappoint. Ms. Kennedy included poems by some of my “old” favorites, such as Frost, Yeats, Browning and also introduced me to contemporary poets. She even included Christian mystics such as Teresa of Avila and poetic passages from the Bible. The poems cover nearly every aspect of a woman’s life. To me the best parts, though, were Ms.Kennedy’s insightful, personal, and beautifully-expressed introductions to each subject group of poems.
  5. SOLDIER’S HEART: A Novel by Michele McKnight Baker (Heritage Beacon, 2015) – I read this Civil-War era novel in manuscript form. Many fiction manuscripts have crossed my desk through the years. But few have made as strong an impression on me as this one did. An agent sent me the manuscript. During 15 years of acquiring manuscripts for Cladach, only twice have I failed to win a contract for a book I really wanted to publish. Soldier’s Heart is one of those. The characters, the setting, the time period, the twists of plot, authentic conflicts, and the theme of generational sins and reconciliations make Soldier’s Heart an unforgettable read. What we now call PTSD, often diagnosed in military personnel returning from war, used to be called “soldier’s heart.” If you enjoy Christian historical fiction—read this novel.
  6. ALL THINGS BRIGHT AND BEAUTIFUL by James Herriot (Bantam, 1974) –  One winter day I felt like reading something cozy and familiar; so I perused the well-worn volumes of my personal library and pulled some James Herriot books off the shelf. I first read his warm and wonderful series of Yorkshire-vet tales in the 1980s. The Chicago Tribune (according to the back cover) said this book was “bursting with love, laughter and the joy of life” and a “soul-satisfying autobiographical book. Human beings just naturally respond to a writer as lovable, wholesome, eloquent, humorous and well-stocked with anecdotes as James Herriot.”  I agree. Worth keeping for decades and reading over again.
  7. ALL WE LIKE SHEEP: Lessons from the Sheepfold by Marilyn Bay Wentz and Mildred Nelson Bay (Cladach, 2015) –  I read this book more closely than any other on this list, since I edited it! When Marilyn first sent her completed manuscript, which I had agreed to publish, I had just read a couple of James Herriot’s books. He describes so vividly his experiences with sheep and other farm animals. I looked forward to more such stories from a sheep farmer I knew, right here in Colorado. During the revision process, I asked authors Marilyn and Millie, “Do you enjoy your sheep? Do you love what you do— the farm, the outdoors, the mornings and evenings, the barn, the pastures, etc? Your choices of words, images, vignettes will help me experience the sheep farm vicariously. I want to smell the sweet hay, to hear the lambs bleat, to feel a newborn lamb, the bite of a chilly midnight during lambing season. I want to laugh and cry with you as you deal with rogue dogs and coyotes, search for a lost lamb, watch your flock come running as they recognize your voice.” Marilyn and Millie caught the vision of “creative nonfiction” and accomplished the feat of writing their shepherding experiences as stories with dialogue, sensory details, and emotion. In an entertaining way, the authors “show us” as well as teach us why the Bible says we are all like sheep.
  8. YOU CAN’T MAKE THIS STUFF UP: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Nonfiction—from Memoir to Literary Journalism and Everything in Between  by Lee Gutkind (Da Capo Lifelong Books, 2012) Speaking of creative nonfiction (as I did in #6 and #7 above)—a style popular in journalism today, and the style I prefer for memoirs and other nonfiction—this is a definitive book on what it is and how to write it. I read this book in preparation for a workshop I presented at the Writers on the Rock conference. A secular, colorfully-written book, by the expert on the subject, that includes many examples and exercises. I read the Kindle version.
  9. THE UNCONTROLLING LOVE OF GOD: An Open and Relational Account of Providence  by Thomas Jay Oord (Intervarsity Press, 2015) –  I have some of my preacher father’s and some of my preacher grandfather’s theology books that were handed down to me. I’ve acquired and studied other, more recent theological books, mostly written from the Wesleyan-Arminian perspective, as well as broader Evangelical and even a few Reformed works. In recent years, have enjoyed books by N.T. Wright and Jurgen Moltmann. I heard about Thomas Jay Oord before I knew of his many books. Since we had mutual acquaintances, I responded to Mr. Oord’s request for readers to review his then-forthcoming book, The Uncontrolling Love of God. I read it in pdf form. This book provokes thought and lays out a convincing case concerning why evil happens even though “God is love.” You can read my Amazon review of the book here.
  10. LES MISERABLES by Victor Hugo (Penguin Audio, 2009) I own three video/DVD versions of Les Miserables — an old movie, a more recent movie, and a stage musical production. The story—with its timeless themes of justice, mercy, and redemption—always inspires and the music lifts me. I wanted to read the book, but haven’t yet tackled that thick volume. Instead, I started an Audible membership and downloaded this Audible/audio version of the great classic. My husband and I listened to it on a long road trip and enjoyed this abridged, well-narrated version of the book. An accessible way for tired or busy eyes to devour and relish great literature.

 

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