Wednesday, July 1, 2015

To Hear Like A Robin

As I looked out my window I saw two birds foraging in the morning grass.  One was a starling, black feathers gleaming in the sunlight.  The other was a robin, with a chest round and red like an apple.  The starling moved at a steady pace, walking and pecking at the ground, constantly moving.  The robin, however, would take a few steps, and then stop.  His head would tilt and cock, intently listening, and then he would peck the ground quickly.  He would take a few more steps, stop, wait, listen, and peck.  I watched for a few minutes at the two birds and their completely different methods.  There didn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason in the starling’s walk, but there was intentionally and mindfulness to the robin.  Finally, the robin took flight, seemingly riding on a stream of golden sunlight into the nearby tree, where he rested, a flaming jewel against the jade leaves and cerulean morning sky.  The starling meandered over to a gathering of his friends and they all just kept walking and pecking, walking and pecking.

Jesus in Matthew 13:9 tells the people, “He who has ears let him hear.”  He tells us in John 10:27, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” 

The word hear is used over 360 times in the Bible.  How often to we stop to hear God?  I don’t mean a quick prayer as you multitask, commuting in your car or running on a treadmill.  How often do you stop whatever you are doing, and take time to be alone and listen with every fiber of your being, soul and spirit for God’s voice?  How often do we obey His command to be still and know He is God?

The psalmist writes in Psalm 40:6, “I delight to do Your will, O my God; Your law is within my heart.”  How can we delight God if we don’t take time to listen so we know Him and know what delights Him?  How can His word be at home in our hearts if we do not hear it?  We are told in Luke 8:17-18 to take care how we listen, for whoever has, to him more shall be given.  God wants us to hear Him, to know Him, and the more we spend time with Him He promises to give us more of Himself.  He wants to be known, as intimately as a man and woman when they come together in one flesh.  He calls to us, sometimes in the thunder (Psalm 81:7), sometimes in a whisper (1 Kings 19:12-13).  The God who spoke and called all into being is calling us.  Stop!  Listen!

I want my spiritual life, my relationship with God, to emulate that robin.  I want to spend my first morning moments with Him.  To begin by stopping to be wholly in the light of the Son, then listen silently without motion or distraction until I hear His voice, His directives, followed by immediate, unwavering obedience.  Only then will I take the next few steps as He has led.  Only then… until it is time for me to fly away to find rest nestled in Him.Him.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Lent: Looking for the Cross Day 11

Photo:  Linda Cannon

Sadly, one area in which we lose our ability to truly see the Cross is in religion. We go through a myriad of spiritual gyrations, disciplines and dances in an effort to perform the dance of good enough until we drop, hopeless and exhausted, never really having any assurance that we got a passing grade. 

The simplicity of the Cross is hard to embrace. So we play connect-the-dots on our perceived path to salvation, hoping that if we can clean up, be good enough, say enough prayers, perform enough good deeds... Well, there you go, you'll be in!  But when is enough enough?

Jesus has told us, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life." (John 14:6). It is not what we do. But what God has already done in His unmeasurable love, grace and mercy. "For God so loved the world, that He gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him" (John 3:16-17).  God has already paid the price for our sin and condemnation -- all we need do is accept His free gift of salvation by giving Him our lives. 

Photo:  Linda Cannon
Religion is man's reaching up to God. But nothing we ever do will be "good enough."  So let go of trying. Instead, grab hold of Jesus, accept His gift to you. See the Cross in the field of your futile efforts of connecting the religious dots... And rest in the assurance of eternal and abundant life in Jesus Christ when you ask Him into your life as Lord and Savior. 

Friday, March 6, 2015

Lent: Looking for the Cross Day 10

Lent – a time of releasing, giving up.  I read a posting on Facebook that challenged the readers to give up their “gadgets and technology” from sundown one day to sundown the next (sort of like a technology Sabbath).  Giving up my internet, my iPad, and (gasp, she breaks out in a cold sweat as she writes this) my (dare she actually put it in print) attached-at-the-umbilical-cord smart phone?”  Seriously?  How will I live, breath, manage?????  I shake just visualizing this barren wasteland of unplugged!

This also got me to thinking (a dangerous endeavor)… how can I go about giving up not simply the toys/tools of my life, but the underlying disease for which I use these implements of distraction… yes, I’m going there.  BUSY-NESS.  How do I give up, release, let go of this lifestyle that is wearing me down, stealing my joy, and probably killing me softly?

Fully admitting it is my own hand which feeds this ever-hungering monster that I call my daily calendar, am I at a point where I can even stop?  Am I addicted to busyness?  To the maddening pace of rushing like a crazy woman from job to school, meeting to gym, office to client, lunch/dinner with friend to church activities?  Is living in such a manner that I am perpetually frazzled, frayed, tense and tired – and barely ever feeling 100% -- giving any glory to God, giving my best to my beloved husband, treasured family and friends, and all my varied responsibilities and positions?  Barely making deadlines, being so worn out that procrastination becomes my only guilt-ridden method of stopping, falling into bed only to fight through a night of classic stress-related, Technicolor, detail-crammed dreams where I find myself always late, lost or frantically not ready… I say I don’t want to live this way, and yet every call, appointment, and commitment is one I have chosen to add, selected to feed the beast of “just one more thing.”  I have struggled for years with this disease.  How often have I joked that my life is like a hamster wheel, and someone has fed my hamster crack!

Dear God, I crave YOU.  I am hungry and thirsty for your peace… I want so much to stop the thought fest in my brain long enough to pray, really pray and hear You.  I confess I have no idea how to be still before You in order to know You.  Yes, I read my one-minute daily devotional and listen to sermons on the radio and podcast, pray during my commute, catch a quick video on the internet and hear the Sunday sermons... but we both know that has nothing to do with spending quiet time just with You, reading Your word, just being still.

Be still, cease striving, the Hebrew word says to sink, relax, let drop, abandon, refrain, forsake.

Okay… I am clueless, Papa.  But I come before You and ask Your help because I do want to cease striving, drop everything at Your feet, forsake all else in order to gain You.  And yes, I am warped enough in my sick little brain to think, “Uh-oh, is He going to put me in a coma or break my leg so I will stop?”  Not that I would be surprised, because I realize in my rebellious heart sometimes You have had to take unusual measures to get my attention.  But as the Michael Smith hymn goes, I am desperate for You.  So take my iPhone, my tablet, my Google calendars, my multiple email address, blogs, my shattered and multi-tasked, wrung-up self and my 24/7s.  Teach me how to live each moment as You would have me live.  I pray for the eyes, wisdom and discernment to choose not the easy good-from-bad but the best from the good.  Whether this is a season of activity or a season of rest, help me live it so I know it is on Your time frame, and not my own. 

Instead of constantly looking at the clock, let me instead rest my gaze on the Cross.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Lent: Looking for the Cross Day 9

Photo:  Linda Cannon

I am a very stubborn, independent, proud and self-reliant woman. I do not like to need or depend on anyone. I will do it myself, thank you very much. I will handle it and most of all control every step of it along the way. I will forge my own path in the darkest of nights, through the midst of any storm. That's just the way it is. That's just the way I am. Period. End of conversation. 

Or is it?

Tonight I drove for 90 minutes smack dab in the middle of an ice storm to get home -- normally a 15 minute ride over 10 miles of suburban side roads.  I don't freak about driving in bad weather, but my knuckles were firmly clenching the steering wheel the whole ride and, in the morning, I have no doubt whatsoever that I will probably find permanent indentations there. I pulled into the driveway and breathed a sigh of relief and a quick prayer of thanks for a safe ride. 

As the ice-encrusted driver door slammed shut creating a frozen symphony of shattering icicles, my eyes caught the first glimpse of it. There it was... the Cross. Covering the path I had taken to get into the driveway... shining and as big as life. The Cross was with me, every inch of the way. Through every red light, every turn, every slippery corner. 

Why am I so worried, fearful and obsessed with letting go? Giving the control of all life's issues to Him (like I ever really had control anyway)? Every mile of my path is covered by the Cross.

Today I give up control to You, precious Lord. Today I will trust in and rely upon You, acknowledge and obey You. Please direct my path this day. Amen. 

Lent: Looking for the Cross Day 8

Photo:  Toni Campbell (see note below)  
Is your Cross ever hidden by the "full" of your life?  Has the comfort, the plenty, the ease of a life with warmth and food and the general necessities met taken up all your shelf space... Yet still you find your heart barren, longing for more?

You look, but see nothing. You go through a closet crammed with clothes and shoes and jewelry and purses, yet proclaim you have nothing to wear. You stack your shelves (and credit card debt) sky high with your instantaneous "I'll feel better once I have this because I really need it" self-centric pleasures. But no sooner is it out of the designer bag than you weary of it (like a two-week old Christmas toy long forgotten) and are on to the next magic distraction that will momentarily fill your longing but soon gather dust on your heavy-laden "self shelf"

It is the season to strip away all that hinders you from seeing, hearing, and giving first place to The One Who was nailed to the Cross... Sacrificing all for You. 

Today, empty your self shelf. Unburden yourself, unchain yourself from whatever needs to go. For it is only when we empty our shelves of self that we will clearly come face-to-face with the Cross... and our Savior... THE ONE AND ONLY fulfillment of every need now and forevermore. 


Photo Credit:  My friend Toni Campbell -- she wrote of this photo:  "I asked a volunteer to take a picture of our empty shelves in The Pantry to share online with our request for food donations.  Look at the pipes above the shelf.."  

Friday, February 27, 2015

Lent: Looking for the Cross - Day 7

Photo:  Linda Cannon
One of my favorite old hymns is "I Have Decided to Follow Jesus."  The words declare, "the world behind me, the Cross before me... no turning back, no turning back."  It communicates a steadfast resolve to turn our back on our old, sinful ways and to look ahead to the daily glory of living with our eyes on Jesus, our hearts and lives given to Him. 

When I peer back in the rear view mirror of my life I can see the Cross - in mercy and grace, woven amidst each day, even when I was not living for Him. He was still loving me, seeking me.  Even when I didn't want to hear and ran with all my might to pathways far away... dark paths that left me empty and broken. The Cross was calling me even in those selfish, sin-laden days of disobedience and rebellion, extending love and forgiveness. 

Gaze turned forward... the Cross before me.  Communicating life, hope, the promise of now and forevermore with Jesus. Now I live for Him, now my life is His and my future is in His hands. And while the journey may have bumps along the way, and turns I may not anticipate or understand, my heart rests in the peace and confidence that I am in His will, and He is in control. 

So as I travel forward, no turning back, I can't help but think of the fitting lyrics of a modern song of praise:  "Jesus, Take the wheel!"

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Lent: Looking for the Cross Day 4

Photo:  Linda Bush Cannon
This is my coworker and friend Bob.  He commutes by train, and on the first morning of Lent he was met by a priest at the Princeton Junction train station from Trinity Church, where they have a program called "Ashes to Go".  The priest was administering ashes right at the station. 

The church reaching out to people - and proving that God doesn't need a fancy sanctuary for worship - it can be as simple as a train station platform!

Finding the Cross on the station platform... beautiful.

Lent: Looking for the Cross Day 6

Photo:  Linda Bush Cannon
In the bitter cold of the darkness, as the moonlight turned the powdery snow into a shimmery blanket of diamonds, I took off my glove and drew a Cross in the frozen canvas.  I stood there in the silence and prayed, my breath carrying my frosty petition up to Heaven.  The near zero air hurt as it entered my lungs, so I gasped a hasty “Amen” and bolted for the warmth of my kitchen door.

Looking for the Cross –  God, am I so secure in my warm little world, enveloped by the creature comforts and affluence of my American Christianity, that instead of seeking You I choose instead to run back to what I perceive to be the easy safety of my daily existence?  Do I whisper a pious prayer of routine that I add to my checked off To Do List, then escape the possibility of discomfort, inconvenience… even danger?

Oh God forgive me.  Take it all, take it all… just give me Jesus.  Break my heart for all that breaks Yours, give me Your eyes, Your plan, Your will.  

Psalm 83:16  “Cover their faces with shame, Lord, so that they will seek Your name.

Deuteronomy 4:29  “But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul.”

1 Chronicles 22:19  “Now devote your heart and soul to seeking the Lord your God.

Psalm 27:8  “My heart says of you, ‘Seek His face!’  Your face, Lord, I will seek.”

Lent: Looking for the Cross Day 5

Photo:  Nicole Portine Ott, taking a photo of her daughter Abigail with her Daddy, Curtis.
Looking for the Cross...

The simple act of a precious child touching her father’s hand.  Laying one chubby little soft finger over the strong, working hand of her daddy.  

God is that close to us.  Always reaching His hand, His heart towards us.  All we need do is respond, reach out to Him, grab hold tight. Our heavenly Father - eternally there, guiding, loving, seeking us.  Offering His unconditional love and strength.  Seeking our best, with plans for a life we can’t even begin to imagine… And when we seek Him with all our hearts, He is there… always.  It's a promise.

"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart."
Jeremiah 29:11-13 NIV

Lent: Looking for the Cross Day 3

Photo:  Linda Bush Cannon
This morning I was getting gas at 5:30 and the temp was 4 degrees -- and I was feeling sorry for my little, cold self, UNTIL... the poor gas attendant came up to my car, looking like the little brother in the movie "The Christmas Story", all bundled up barely able to move. Suddenly I felt guilty for needing gas!

As I sat there in my warm, comfy car across the road a guy was riding his bicycle (I'm assuming to work) - complete with flashing lights and those glowing reflector stripes on his coat. This is obviously his regular mode of transportation.

Lent -I am looking for the Cross. I am seeking Christ and to be like Him and to clean out the mind/body/soul/space clutter.

Forgive me, Lord, for the clutter of being so self centric that I don't realize each moment all you have given to me. For when my eyes are on me, they aren't on You.

Thank You for my blessings this morning as I sit in a warm car and a warm office, space heater fully cranked, drinking a hot cup of tea. I am humbled at how wealthy and privileged I am to have so much. Teach me to be more appreciative for the little things that really aren't! And help me let go of all the blessings that I have turned into "rights" or become so blinded to in my selfish endeavors of greed and comfort.

The photo is a picture of my car logo... Funny how I never saw the Cross until this morning.

Lent: Looking for the Cross Day 2

Photo:  Heather Bush
The Cross is humbling. The path of the Cross takes many turns, but is never more than one step at a time. It beckons us come, all ye who are weary and heavy laden, and Christ will give you rest. Too often, however, we are so busy or distracted that we never see the Cross… even when it is before us at the very next turn.

Look down at the pattern of the Cross in this kitchen floor.

It is only when we lower our head that we can “see” the Cross. It is in the everyday, the mundane, the walking across the floor to get a cup of coffee, the mindless acts we perform without a second thought. The walking dead. We trample the Cross, walk right by, completely oblivious to its message and gift. Too proud to believe. Too weary to care. But there it remains, day in, day out, whispering your name. The Cross… ever before you, ever loving you, offering you life, abundant, eternal life.

Take time today to sit in your kitchen, the common room of most homes, often the heart of the home, lower your head, and spend time with the Christ of the Cross.

Lent: Looking for the Cross Day 1

Photo:  Linda Cannon
Lent Day 1

I am looking for the Cross. I want my eyes to be laser-focused to see the Cross everywhere I am, everywhere I go. Because we see what we look for in life. Look around and notice everything red. Now close your eyes and remember everything blue. See what I mean? You remembered what you were trying hard to notice.

This Lenten season I have challenged myself, and my friends, to find the Cross. In the obvious, and in the obscure, in the natural, and in the most bizarre. I’m doing this as a reminder to myself that all I am, every breath I take and every moment I am given life here on earth, needs to be built on Christ, and the Cross, and all He has done for me, on all His blessings and promises, and His return. I am basing this on Hebrews 12:2 – keep your eyes on Jesus!

Today I took this photograph of a handicapped bathroom stall. The symbols screamed out to me. First, you can see from the highlights (mine – the walls/floors were not stained in any way) that there are crosses everywhere. So even when I think my life is “in the toilet”, the Cross is there with me. And as a former bulimic, who was handicapped for so long in the chains of this eating disorder, a handicapped stall took on a whole new meaning for me. There are handrails in this stall – embedded in the Cross tiles – I know He will hold me up and help me in my weakness. There is water – dirty and clean – symbolizing how He washes me and flushes away all my sin. And it’s not polite to talk about, or politically correct to show a toilet – and I love that because the Cross was never meant to be polite or politically correct. 

And finally, there is the realization that the great equalizer in life is that EVERYONE, EVERYONE needs a bathroom, rich or poor, celebrity or common folk. Just like the Cross.

This is my gift of praise to Christ my Savior on this first day of Lent.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Dr. Jeckyl to Mrs. HIDE!

In a recent sermon I heard by Dr. Tony Evans, he used an illustration of the Christian as a sponge.  He said (and I’m paraphrasing from my unreliable memory) that when you squeeze a sponge what comes out is what has been stored on the inside.  So when you are put in a pressure situation, what comes out of you in the process is exactly what has been hidden within.  That analogy has stayed with me, and sadly, hit home in a big way over the last few days.

I’ve been under a lot of little pressures building layer upon layer, and have felt them rumbling and bubbling and churning inside me like molten sewage, furious to erupt.  The more I felt squeezed, the higher it rose in my chest, and within the last week I have watched it gush out in muddy sludge, spewing negativity, eye-rolling putrid attitudes and a sickening 3-V vocabulary (vicious, vitriolic and venomous).  I have been ugly and sinful, embarrassed at the sloppy slurry of slime that is being squeezed out of me… ashamed and disappointed in myself that I am not who I had hoped I was at this point in my walk with the Lord.  This is not to say that I have to be little Miss Barbie Perfect 24/7/365, but I have so not been the example of Christ, and this above all is what saddens me.  Out of the abundance of my heart the mouth speaks, and the abundance in this heart has NOT been the treasure trove of that which is true, honorable, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent or praiseworthy.  The quiet and gentle spirit which I seek to cultivate and nurture has morphed into a spirit of grumbling, screeching, discontent from one hot mess of a person I do not like or wish to be around.  I have gone from the proverbial Dr. Jeckyl to Mrs. HIDE!!!  

So today, on this first day of Lent, it is time to start again.  I seek forgiveness for my words/attitude, from both Christ my Lord and those who have been caught in the shrapnel.  I humbly learn the lesson that my maturity level needs serious work, and ask the Lord to squeeze until every drop of me is gone, that I might then absorb His Living Water and be filled to a juicy, dripping overflow of His Holy Spirit.