ARCHIVES: February 2016


02.26.2016

Love and Good Deeds

This month, about 250 folks in our church have lumped themselves into informal “Lent Groups,” small gatherings of a dozen or so people who meet weekly to discuss various passages from the gospels. Robbie and I host a group where we don’t know all of the participants very well, and this week, our new friend Nicole brought me these flowers, which she said were “just a little something from the garden.”

Hebrews 10-24

To Nicole, the bouquet was a simple hostess gift. To me, it was a huge blessing. And it brought to mind the words from Hebrews 10:24-25:  Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

What a wonderful charge, particularly as we move toward Easter! Let’s use these verses to heighten our awareness of how we can encourage others, turning them into today’s Friday prayer:

Heavenly Father,

Help me consider how you might be nudging me to spur others on toward love and good deeds. Renew in me a desire and a commitment to get together with other believers, and let me be a source of encouragement and strength to those who need to know more of your love.

Amen.


ARCHIVES: February 2016


02.25.2016

The Cleats of Peace

So my Bible Study group is halfway through Priscilla Shirer’s Armor of God series, and this week the lesson is all about the shoes of peace.

I can’t recap the whole teaching, but the nutshell version is that we cannot survive the storms of life unless we have God’s peace. Peace is what secures our footing. It provides stability. It allows us to to both stand firm and to move forward when everything around us seems like a chaotic mess.

Which is why, I guess, the Apostle Paul chose to focus on shoes as the piece of Roman armor that correlates to peace. And listening to Priscilla describe the sandals that the soldiers wore (lots of laces for ankle support, cutaways to provide ventilation and allow for movement, and thick leather soles with hobnails sticking out the bottom to allow a soldier to “dig in”), I couldn’t help but think that Paul could have picked a better word in Ephesians 6:15. Shoes are nice, but what we really need in life is a good pair of cleats.

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Because life (and buckle up, because here comes a Deep Thought) is a whole lot like lacrosse.

Robbie plays for Sewanee: The University of the South. As an attackman, his job is to put the ball in the goal. The opponent’s job is to stop him, using what looks (to a mother, anyway) like anything short of murder. Robbie plays with a short stick; his defender has a long one, and even with all of the padding that some NCAA person decided the guys needed to wear, my boy comes out of every single game with slash marks, bruises, and even (on more than one occasion) the entire imprint of some other guy’s lacrosse head (strings and all) embedded into his body, like a 3-D tattoo.

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Sometimes, it’s not just the defenders who make life hard. Sometimes it’s the environment. When Robbie was growing up, we watched games where it was 118 degrees on the turf and the refs had to stop the game every ten minutes so that the players could hydrate. We also saw contests in the sleet and snow, where the field turned into a slippery, icy mess. And, now that Robbie is at Sewanee (which is on the top of a mountain), there are some games we have not watched at all, simply because there was nothing to see. Here’s the snap Annesley took on the sidelines last weekend:

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I’d go on, but you get the idea. Life is hard, and we all take hits. Sometimes we find ourselves on slippery ground, or searching to find our way in the fog. Paul wasn’t kidding when he said that in order to stand firm and be ready to move, we’d need the right footwear.

So how do we get that? How do we strap on our own shoes of peace?

I wish I had pages and pages so that I could rip off everything that Priscilla Shirer had to say. Her study is seriously fabulous, and if you want to get the whole thing, click here. In the meantime, though, I’ll leave you with my favorite takeaway:

Trust fuels thanksgiving. Thanksgiving activates peace.

If you want a life that is marked by peace – the kind that cannot be shaken, no matter how hard you get hit, how slippery the ground is, or how foggy the future looks – start with trust. Isaiah 26:3 promises “perfect peace” when you trust God and keep your thoughts fixed on him. You can shore up that trust (supporting your ankles and digging your spikes into the ground) by taking hold of some Bible verses and letting their truth soak into your heart and mind until they become an anchor, firm and secure. (If that’s new territory and you aren’t sure where to start, post a comment on this blog to let me know what your need or concern is and I’ll message you back with a few of my favorite Scripture promises.)

Trust fuels thanksgiving. And thanksgiving, when wrapped around the concerns and requests in your life, activates peace. Check out the progression in Philippians 4:6-7:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

So here’s the action plan, as best as I can tell:  Trust God. Cover your concerns with thanksgiving. And get yourself a good pair of peace cleats so you can stand your ground and be ready to go, no matter what life throws your way.


ARCHIVES: February 2016


02.19.2016

The Skies Proclaim

Psalm 19 opens with an account of how the whole earth hears God’s voice. Day after day, night after night, “the heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”

Psalm 19

Nature speaks volumes about God’s majesty and power, but it’s the Bible – God’s written word – that brings the full message of redemption and grace. As we marvel at God’s creative beauty (and we’ve had some glorious sunsets on these winter days!), let’s take King David’s prayer from the very end of Psalm 19 and make it our own today:

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. (Psalm 19:14)

Amen.

(And Katie C., thanks for the pic from Coronado Beach!)


ARCHIVES: February 2016


02.18.2016

A Life Well Lived

When I was in high school, nobody had ever heard of Martha Stewart, Bunny Williams, or even Pottery Barn. Anyone who was anyone decorated with posters. The guys all had that eye-popping red swimsuit shot of Farrah Fawcett; we girls chose a more varied mix of rainbow-colored peace signs, Shaun Cassidy or that other Hardy boy, and anything that looked good under a black light.

All of the cool kids got their wall art at Spencer’s. I got mine from my dad:

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Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Dad bought the poster at the Christian bookstore (the same one where he and Mom got my extra-large “Jesus is Lord” purse, but that’s a story for another blog). I knew the poster wasn’t cool (neither was the purse), but I liked it. I taped it onto the wood paneling of my bedroom wall, just above my orange beanbag chair and my collection of Peter Frampton albums. When I went off to U.Va., I hung it up in my dorm room, just above my bed, right across from my roommate’s shrine to Bruce Springsteen.

I know my dad meant for the message (which you can read for yourself in Matthew 6:8) to point to my Heavenly Father, but I felt like it applied to him, too. Dad usually did know just what I needed, and he was always quick to provide an encouraging word, a sound bit of advice, or even, sometimes, a material gift. Like this tennis racket, which I had not asked for (and clearly did not think I needed):

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The best thing my dad ever gave me was an introduction to Jesus Christ. A pillar in the church, a softball coach, and a bright light in our community, Dad came home one night and said he’d been to a men’s meeting where someone explained that it wasn’t about being a “good” person. If you wanted to experience the abundant life here on earth, and then get a ticket to heaven for eternity, you had to have a relationship with Jesus. That was big news to my dad, but when he broke it down for me (starting with the fact that I was a sinner and wrapping up with an invitation to grace), it made perfect sense. I confessed my sins, asked Jesus to be my Lord and Savior, and never looked back.

I was eight years old.

My daddy was only 61 years old when doctors discovered an inoperable, golf ball-sized tumor in his brain. When they started using words like Stage 4 and glioblastoma, we knew there was not much that they could do. We spent the next twelve months singing praise songs, counting pain pills, and letting Dad use what we decided must be Russian words when we played Scrabble, as the malignancy stole more and more of his brain. We also prayed, both for a miracle, and for God to be glorified.

The first prayer, for the miracle, didn’t happen (at least not in terms of a return to physical health, but I guess when you get right down to it, getting to spend eternity in heaven is nothing if not miraculous). But the second prayer, the one for God to be glorified, did. Dad lived well, and he died even better, leaving a legacy of faith for his family and friends. He pointed us down the path where we could grow closer to God in a deep and life-changing way, and he left us secure in the knowledge that we would one day see him again.

I miss my father more than I thought I would, after 15 years. (Grief is funny; you think it’s over, and than it just sort of sneaks up, unannounced, and jumps you.) There have been plenty of times in my own parenting when I wished, more than anything, that I could have my own daddy around, just to talk things over. But, as one friend who knew him put it, “Jodie, you don’t need to talk to your dad. You already know what he’d say.”

And I do. He’d say “Pursue Jesus.” He’d tell me that of all the things I run after in this world—being a better wife and mother, writing a book or a blog that someone might actually want to read, decorating my house with something (anything) other than posters—there’s only one thing that matters, only one thing that lasts.

And he’d be right.

My father would have been 77 today. I don’t know how much time people in heaven have to pay attention to stuff on earth (and I kind of hope it’s not a lot, cuz I’d hate for him to know how bad I still am at tennis), but if my dad does have a chance to check in, I hope he’ll see that I’m still trying. I’m still running hard after Jesus and, even though I trip and fall way more often than I’d like, I don’t plan to quit.

Allen Rundle. 1939-2001. A life well lived.

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ARCHIVES: February 2016


02.12.2016

Friday Prayer for Someone You Love

2 Thess. 2-16-17

You can’t really go wrong with flowers or chocolate, but this Valentine’s Day, consider giving a prayer to someone you love. Here’s what I’m praying for you today:

May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.

(2 Thessalonians 2:16-17)


ARCHIVES: February 2016


02.09.2016

Bake Up Some Love

This blog is not, normally, a place where you’ll find culinary tips or new recipes. And for good reason. Remember the Mac-n-Cheese post last summer? Drain the fat and then add it…

Yeah.

But with Valentine’s Day just around the corner, I thought we might venture into the kitchen once again and bake up a little love. Because who doesn’t love cookies? Or, perhaps more to the point, who doesn’t love easy cookies? (Particularly when the Bible verse that you would be holding up, if you ever got on TV at an NFL game, is Leviticus 3:16: All the fat belongs to the Lord.)

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Anyhow.

You can whip up these simple shortbread hearts in minutes, and then let em chill for an hour or two before rolling them out. (And here’s some good news for the busy baker: NOTHING BAD WILL HAPPEN if you get distracted and forget you are making cookies, and you wind up leaving the dough in the fridge overnight.)

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 3 sticks butter, softened
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • a heart-shaped cookie cutter

Here’s what you do (and I use a stand mixer, but a hand-held will work just fine):

  1. Mix the butter and powdered sugar together until light and fluffy.
  2. Add the flour and salt, and then the vanilla, and beat well.
  3. Gather the dough into a ball (scrape down the sides of the bowl) and wrap it in something like Press-n-Seal. (Wax paper works, too, or even a zip-lock baggie.) Put the dough ball in the fridge for at least an hour. Maybe even two. Or whatever.
  4. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to 1/4-inch thickness. (Some people like fatter shortbread cookies, so 1/2-inch is fine…you might just need to bake em a little longer). Use your cookie cutter to make heart shapes and place the cut-out cookies on ungreased cookie sheets.
  5. Sprinkle the cookies with granulated sugar.
  6. Bake at 325 degrees for about 20 minutes (you don’t want shortbread to “brown” so take a peek at about the 17-minute mark).
  7. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool, and dust with additional powdered sugar if you like that look.

Depending on the size of your cookie cutter (mine is about two inches long), this recipe yields at least 30 cookies, meaning that you can show the love to at least one other person. And if you don’t have a heart shaped cutter, no worries. Hillary (who requested the theme from Jurrasic Park as part of her wedding prelude) got a set of dinosaur cookie cutters as a shower gift, and I am sure they will work just fine. Better, maybe. Because nothing says I love you like a plate of shortbread stegosauruses and a night at home with Netflix.

 

 


ARCHIVES: February 2016


02.05.2016

Friday Prayer for Your Soul

It’s February.

If you’re like me, you’re flipping through the calendar to see when Daylight Savings Time begins (ugh – we’ve still got like a month to go), you’re tired of your same old sweaters, and your soul is just plain weary.

You need some greener pastures.

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I love this painting by my friend, Sally Corpening. It’s called “The Lord is My Shepherd,” and I’m grateful to have this image as a backdrop for our Friday Prayer. Pray this one for yourself, or for someone you know who needs God’s refreshment today:

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for being our shepherd, for giving us all that we need. Let ____ rest in green meadows today; lead ____ beside peaceful streams. Renew _____’s strength. (Psalm 23:1-2, NLT)

Amen

 


ARCHIVES: February 2016


02.02.2016

Happy Church

A lot of people like Christ. It’s the Christians who can sometimes be less…appealing.

Why is that? Well maybe, for starters, it’s because Christians are people. But according to author Tim McConnell, there’s more. In his view, one of the main reasons why folks aren’t all that attracted to Christians is that Christians (and Christian churches, especially) are just not all that happy.

I get that. When Robbie and I were newlyweds, we volunteered to teach Sunday School for a spirited group of fourth graders. Sometimes we’d play a version of Pictionary where the kids would draw things from that week’s lesson (Daniel’s lions, Jonah’s whale, ten scabby lepers) on the chalkboard. The contest always provoked a lot of giggling, and sometimes the cheering could get a little loud.

One Sunday, our door burst open. It was the teacher from the next class over, and she was clearly not happy. “What on EARTH is going on in here?” she scolded, stomping her feet. “STOP it! Don’t you know this is GOD’S house?!”

Eek. Robbie and I were barely out of college. We had no idea that God didn’t like Pictionary. Or laughter.

McConnell is all about laughter – and he says that God is, too. And hope. And joy, even in the midst of pain or suffering. Which is interesting, given McConnell’s pedigree. He’s a Presbyterian minister who is not, by his own admission, “naturally happy.” (He brought Kierkegaard’s The Sickness Unto Death along on his honeymoon.) But on the theory that our moods are often the product of our attentions and activities, McConnell has chosen to “embrace the practice of happiness.”

FullSizeRenderAnd, in his new book Happy Church, he invites us to do the same.

For some churches, that may require a shift in the way we approach some of our most familiar disciplines. For example, McConnell believes that Bible reading (a regular part of most churches’ liturgy, regardless of the overall worship style) should be a breeding ground for gladness. Churches that are pursuing what McConnell calls “radical joy” encourage listeners to try a verse on, to use and obey it in everyday life, take it out for a test drive, if you will. In happy churches, the Word is not just read. It works.

Likewise, McConnell says, the happy church sings. You might read that line and think, “Not me.” But if you do, you’re missing out. McConnell points to what he calls the “divine bounce” (God reveals glory; we return praise) and he has a boatload of research that points to both the rightness and the necessity of singing. It doesn’t matter whether the tunes are “psalms, hymns or spiritual songs” (Colossians 3:16), McConnell says that when God’s Spirit shows up, songs happen.

(And just as a sidebar here, I wish McConnell had interviewed me for his book. When it comes to singing – or doing much of anything – our family mottos is: If you lack talent, use enthusiasm.)

McConnell serves up plenty to chew on (and yes, there’s a chapter on eating), but my favorite section is the one on prayer. When the church prays, he says, “We are pulled out of our loneliness into active community, we are connected to God and feel his presence, and our prayers are fulfilled when we see the activity of God connected to our prayer life.”

I like that.

And I like the way the book wraps up, with a challenge to modern day churchgoers to stop squabbling about things like pews, worship styles, or other polarizing issues and start advocating for happiness. Because when it comes to being a beacon of gladness in a world that desperately needs a reason to rejoice, McConnell tips his hat to the Beastie Boys. It was true in 1986, and it’s still true today:

(You gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party!).




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