Category: Offering HOPE

Scattering Books Like Seeds

In my mind, a publisher distributing books is like a farmer broadcasting seeds. We send them out in every direction, hoping they fall on ready, canstockphoto2973557-sowerprepared soil that will receive the message and take it to heart.

This wintry time of year, seeds lie dormant in the ground waiting, sealed. When days grow longer and warmer, the seeds will awaken, sprout and eventually produce leaves and fruit.

Same with books. You may buy a book or be given one, but the season of your life isn’t right yet. The book sits on a shelf, or under a pile of other volumes—or a list of Kindle files—you plan to read sometime. Then one day you pick it up, or click it open, and start reading; and you marvel that these words are exactly what you need at this time of your life.

Casting/sowing seeds or books takes faith. A Christian publisher must believe that these books, which contain kernels of life-giving truth, will be carried by the Wind of the Holy Spirit. And when prepared personal soil opens to them, we pray that their message will be watered by the Living Water. The resulting fruit will be minds and hearts growing and encouraged to flourish in hope, wholeness, spiritual insights, and joy.

So I choose the mindset of an under-gardener. My Father is the Gardener. By his grace I’ll do my part. His is the overall plan, purpose and power. The resulting fruit cannot be fully seen or measured this side of Heaven.

Then, how can we fail? Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must lick my finger and hold it to the wind.

Experiencing Wonder

carol-and-chickadee-web 

Carol O’Casey was born to be wild. As a field biologist, pastor’s wife, and author she says:

As soon as I could walk I toddled outdoors to watch tadpoles knit themselves into frogs and clouds quilt the skies. I was at home in nature. Connecting it all to God would come later. Much later.

Those childhood years as an amateur naturalist fueled my passion for nature and led me to pursue a degree in marine biology. Yet, somewhere in the middle of a hardcore science education, I met a man studying to be a pastor. Who says God doesn’t have a sense of humor? Suddenly my world of science collided with the world of religion. Little did I know I would soon become a biologist and a pastor’s wife.

While God doesn’t promise us a life of comfort, he does promise to walk beside us. So I navigated the road of the ministry, rough edges and all. Along the way, God provided rich rest stops that soothed my soul. I found hope in his gift of nature as I escaped the expectations of ministry and took 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 was transformed. There, in the solitude of nature I experienced God’s presence.

What about you? Are you burdened with expectations? Do you feel drained from the demands of the day? God’s creation has the power to restore wonder. And wonder connects us with the divine.

Renowned agricultural researcher George Washington Carver experienced awe in his encounters with the natural world and exclaimed,

“I love to think of nature as unlimited broadcasting stations, through which God speaks to us every day, every hour and every moment of our lives, if we will only tune in…”

In a society obsessed with speed, we must slow down, tune in. How often during an average day do you tune in—or tune out? What daily distractions can scramble your signal?

Perhaps Moses, the ancient futurist, could be considered the pioneer of tuning in to the God frequency. Moses was a murder convict on the lam, wandering in the wilderness, when he stumbled upon wonder. He could have missed the whole shebang. I’m thankful he didn’t. Consider Moses’s journey en route to wonder:

Moses sees: To avoid murder charges and Pharaoh’s pursuit, Moses escapes to the wilderness. While tending the sheep on the far side of the desert (read: the middle of nowhere) Moses sees a sight that piques his curiosity: “Moses saw that though the bush was on fire, it did not burn up” (Exodus 3:2).

Moses slows: Moses moves into step two of his journey to wonder as he intentionally veers off course and investigates. In our frantic, time-starved lives, we often fail to notice what we are seeing. Not Moses. Moses, in the act of holy wondering, pursues this sight of wonder. This burning bush intrigues him and he desires to know more.

Granted, this is probably easy for him to do. After all, what else do you do in a desert in the days before Kindle, Internet, cell phones—conveniences that, while helpful on one front, distract us from the wonder of nature on the other. Moses entertains himself with the world around him—in this case, a burning bush that does not stop. I guess he had become tired of counting sheep (sorry, I couldn’t resist).

Moses connects: Because Moses slows to see, he experiences step three on the journey to wonder: Moses connects in a conversation with the God of the universe. “When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look…” (Exodus 3:4). Whoa. Let’s just park there for a minute. Did you catch that? God was watching him the whole time!

God was watching and waiting to see what Moses would do with this wonder created to catch his attention. Imagine God, in eager anticipation, peering out from behind the curtain of his magnificence, waiting to see how Moses would respond. Would Moses look? Would he divert his attention from his everyday duties to notice this amazing sight sparked into existence especially for him? He did.

What happens next dazzles the mind. God calls to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And so begins a personal conversation with the Creator of the universe. How amazing. While Moses leads the sheep through a wasteland of wilderness, dutifully engaged in the ho-hum routine of life, the Creator of the cosmos calls to him. God calls to Moses the murderer, Moses the runaway, Moses the coward hiding in the desert.

Let’s be real. There is no hiding from God. When God wants us, he finds us. His presence goes before us, wherever we go. His presence waits for our attention.

Notice how Moses responds to God: “Here I am.” Three simple words. Honest. Concise. To the point. Through wonder, the burning bush is seared into Moses’s mind; God gets his attention and Moses is ready to listen. No excuses (those come later). Perhaps Moses is stunned speechless. I know I would be. What would be your response to such a call?

“Great are the works of the Lord; they are pondered by all who delight in them” (Psalm 111:2). As a “wonderologist” (one who studies the wonders of nature), I delight in the details of creation. From the bumblebee that manages to fly on wings that appear too small for its ungainly body; to the dragonfly that rises from its waterlogged larval form and morphs to a powerful airborne adult; to the barnacle that literally stands on its head and snatches its meals with its legs, God entertains and delights us with the endless wonders he has created.

Now I confess, I’ve never seen a burning bush; but then, I’m no Moses. I’m a regular old child of God hiking through creation for a glimpse of the Master. Mind you, nature doesn’t solve my problems, but it does reset my “worry-ometer.” When I explore his wonders, I worry less. Care to join me? You don’t need a degree in science or a month in the rain forest to find wonder. All you need is a willing heart and a few minutes of time to intentionally see, slow, and connect with God and creation.

~Carol O’Casey

from the Introduction to the book, Unwrapping Wonder: Finding Hope in the Gift of Nature

 

Both Wise and Innocent

Photo ©David Lawton

As the world seems to get smaller, do you feel more and more powerless? We continue to believe that each individual—and each group—makes a difference. What we do, how we think, our actions and prayers—along with the currents of God’s purposes and the showers of his love—cause ripples that can bring lasting change for well-being in our world.

“I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil….The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.” (Romans 16:19-20)

Searching and Seeking

An October walk through New England woods

Photo: David Lawton

“For the Lord searches all hearts and minds, and understands  all the wanderings of the thoughts. If you seek him … you will find him” (1 Chronicles 28:9, AMP).

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

Quiet, Strong, and Positive Social Justice

 GUEST POST:

Think of the most polarizing social issues. Now think of your daily life, the people around you that you love, that you meet, that you pass at lunch on the street. If you didn’t watch the news and weren’t inundated by media, would you be full of animosity and vitriol towards any of them who hadn’t wronged you personally?

Your response to my question might rightfully be that people wouldn’t be aware of important issues and problems without so much media. Maybe. But I wonder whether media isn’t causing the problems to snowball and take on global lives of their own, instead of quietly and locally wasting away?

People might actually get along better as local individuals—and better recognize that perhaps they actually do get along pretty well with all kinds of people with all kinds of views—if they weren’t constantly hooked into the mind-feed. And I can guarantee that the issues wouldn’t be dominated by sound bites and catch-phrases promoting simple dichotomy of complex issues and crushing the possibility of honest dialogue.

And that’s where I should end the post; but I’m going to continue in a sort of wistful way to say that we can’t take away the press, even if it is often hired to promote special interests in their attacks of other interests. But we can take a break from the constant mind-feed and, instead, consider anew the real people around us, consider our own decisions and thoughts and actions and how we might do some good in the world.

Maybe that could be social justice. And maybe it would be quiet and strong and positive, acknowledging the imperfections—not only of the injustice-doers, but of the world generally, and especially ourselves. And there would still be crime, and there would still be poverty, and there would still be inequality, but maybe we could all be more loving, more content, more peaceful and thereby make our lives a little better and make the lives around us a little better.

–David Lawton


Photo Credit: Collage © Mark Fraley. Original Art from the book, Creation of Calm by Mark Fraley.

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.
  • Be prayerful 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 later at http://thomasjayoord.com ). I agree with some, but not all, opinions and philosophies expressed by the writers there, but I’m thankful to have an opportunity to participate in the conversation.

An Early Lesson in Racial Reconciliation

Corcoran-bday-1958

 

Children can feel the tensions, prejudices, and injustices that can exist around them.

When my sister and I were about 6 and 7 Daddy pastored a church in a coastal town in Central California, where the parsonage was in a racially-mixed neighborhood. We thought nothing of the fact that we played with Black children. We went into each others’ homes and each others’ apron-clad mothers gave us drinks of water and fresh-baked cookies. I only remember feeling acceptance and friendliness.

Then we moved to a valley town where 2/3 of the student body in our elementary school were Black and Mexican-American, many the children of transient farm workers. In this school in the 1950s, I first experienced racial tension. There I first heard the “N” word used. We were naive little girls, unprepared for the sights of gangs fighting on the playing fields, busloads of kids shaking their fists and yelling out the windows. As insults and epithets flew, I thought, “What is this?!” At the age of 9 I didn’t know anything about the civil rights movement taking place in our country.

I do remember Daddy driving us to a farm workers camp and the shock and sadness I felt when I saw how some of my classmates lived. No sidewalks, no trees, no grass. Just dirt and squalid shacks that couldn’t really be called buildings. No indoor plumbing, out by the cotton fields, with no respite from the hot sun.

Some of our little friends at school bragged about how they didn’t have to go to school during the cotton harvest. They were going to pick cotton with their family and make lots of money! Bev and I went home and told our parents we wanted to pick cotton and make money and not have to go to school! Mother shook her head. “Girls, you don’t know what you’re talking about. It’s back-breaking work. The cotton plants cut your hands and make them bleed. And the farm workers get paid very little. Those children’s parents need the extra money their children make just to help them subsist.” I had a hard time believing my mother. When we drove by fields of ripe cotton, the bursting heads looked white and soft as cotton balls.

We were learning about divides between people groups that couldn’t be crossed.

My second-grade sister had a more personal learning experience. She got into an argument with another little girl on the playground, probably over the rules of a four-square game or something. It just happened that the other girl was Black. As the girls hurled insults at each other, the worst thing my sister could think to say was, “You’re nothing but a big chocolate sundae.” Understandably, the girl took offense. She could have yelled back: “Well, you’re just plain vanilla ice cream.” Instead she hit my sister pretty hard and by the time I showed up on the scene, there was my sister on the ground, crying. I got scared and ran home (we lived across the street from the school) to tell our parents Bev was hurt. Daddy came to the school, found that only Bev’s pride was wounded, and made her apologize to the girl.

Well, that was really hard for Bev to do. But later, she and the little Black girl became friends. When Bev had her 8th birthday party, she invited this girl. The picture above shows the two of them with me (age 9) in the middle.

If only reconciliation were always that simple.

Or maybe it is that simple:
Wise and caring authority figures who bring us together, don’t hide from suffering, help us face the truth about ourselves and each other, encourage asking for and receiving forgiveness, then give us opportunities to celebrate our common humanity. 

Better than Destruction and Despising

san-francisco-85652_1920

I’m starting a series of guest posts from authors. Today we hear from John Buzzard, whose first book, Storm Tossed, is a war memoir (of more than one kind of warfare).

As John shows here, we humans have a tendency to embrace “us and them” attitudes. We point fingers and condemn, when Jesus says to love and pray. Especially in these days of polarizing politics and issues, even Christians can find themselves in the position of using our energies protecting “our group” while, in essence, wishing that God would destroy the “other group.” John tells about a time he found himself in such a situation:


by John Buzzard:

I moved to Alameda, California, and got a job with a security company guarding the former Naval Air Station. Going from a police officer to a security guard was humbling, but I took it on faith God had something better in mind for me. My wife and the kids and I moved into a small, expensive apartment and started attending a local church.

I drove a white pickup truck around the base from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. When I got tired I’d park on the tarmac, pour myself a cup of coffee, listen to the radio and gaze at the lights of San Francisco and the Bay Bridge. I was shocked to hear radio talkers mocking God in the name of tolerance, promoting perverted lifestyles, and encouraging hatred towards Christians.

“Oh Lord, why do You allow that wicked city to mock You and fester in sin? Why not destroy it?” I prayed.

Immediately I sensed the Holy Spirit saying to me, “Your prayer is like that of Jonah. Just like the people of Nineveh, I do not wish for these people to perish, but to repent. What if I had pronounced judgment on the world when you were still in sin? Pray for the salvation of the city, rather than its destruction.”

My attitude changed. Instead of despising many of the people of San Francisco, I felt sorry for those enslaved to the power of Satan. My prayers changed. The radio stations I listened to also changed. I found a couple of good Christian stations that provided solid teaching. At the end of my eight-hour shift I’d feel invigorated.

Over time, I also felt the Lord was telling me not to be ashamed of my own past, because there are so many people trapped by sexual sin. If they only knew my story, they could see there is hope.

 

This post is excerpted from the book, STORM TOSSED by Jake Porter (a pen name for author John Buzzard).