Category Archives: Christian Living

Holy Fire and Human Flailings

Lord Jesus, please hear the heart of Your Handmaiden.

I read this morning in Leviticus 10 of the death of Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu.  As is the case every. single. time. I. read. it, my heart aches for Aaron and his wife and his family.  Here is Aaron, in his mid eighties at least, and his sons — were they reckless youths?  We know they had no children according to the scriptures.

It seems so harsh, Lord Jesus, so final, so – well, so without warning.  I always struggle when I plow my way through this passage and read of a father who “said nothing,” when it happened.  A father who wasn’t allowed the “comfort of mourning,” wasn’t given any time off from his job, all under the thread of death.  “And Aaron . . . obeyed.” (Lev.10:7)

What must he have felt, though, and how could he have dealt with it?  There was no arguing about who had passed the severe judgement, no arguing with this God who had, always had, the final say, the trump card, the final word, supreme power , ultimate authority . . . This morning I feel like this fuzzy, rebel brain is at the very edge of an answer that can help this aching heart.

First of all, Lord Jesus, I do not know the whole of the circumstances that let up to this.  From what it says, the boys, (young men) were duly warned, thoroughly instructed and well aware of what the protocol was.  And because you are GOD (who has the final say, ultimate authority, etc.) what you did was right – and (though I choke when I say this) GOOD.

Father-God, in this whole nitter-natter about “Why?” and seeking to come to acceptance and peace, I feel like I am missing something important.  Something to do with your Holiness.  Something about the God-Fire Purity that is the essence of this “I AM” God, whom I’ve chosen as my God, but whose very essence I do not begin to comprehend. I cannot capture the depth, the intensity, the incomprehensible HOLINESS that is God.  Awesome, Powerful, and Eternal — and yet, You love me like a protective Father; care (infinitely more than I can imagine !) what is going on in my heart and call me to reflect that Holiness with purity.  And it occurs to me that when I offer anything else back to you except “Holy Fire,” it spells DEATH.

But why?  Lord Jesus, Why?

Is it because that what is at the root of the “strange fire” is an attempt to appear right before you, and before those watching?  That is not only prideful and deceitful, but an affront and a contradiction of WHO you are, and WHAT you are.  And this strange fire cannot help but be swallowed up, consumed by the intensity of your Holiness and Purity.  It’s not as much a  judgement call by a Holy God as it is a very natural consequence.  It’s almost like a tiny flame, inching up a glowing wick to a stick of dynamite, assuming he is the victor because he burned the wick all the way to the end. None of us would say it was the dynamite’s fault for totally encompassing and extinguishing the flame.  We would think it ridiculously ostentatious for other flames, looking on to accuse the dynamite of wrong doing, or hasty judgement or of unfeelingly, arbitrarily “making rules” that explode with deafening brilliance and force and destruction and death.

Oh, Holy God, our God!  Passionate and pure and intense and full of fire.  Not because you decide to be, but rather it is because You ARE.  Somehow you decided to use poor, wretched humans to reflect your perfect Holiness — elevating us to sons and daughters (Family!) and we accuse you of being unfeeling or unfair when we fall victims of our own foolish, selfish, and prideful plans that cannot begin to stand before you- Glorious, Awesome, Righteous, Burning Holiness and Purity.

And it is just that, Heavenly Father.  I cannot stand before you, pretending to have any fire that matters to you at all.  I feel exposed, weak and useless in my wretched reasoning and the offerings I bring.  I want to cower in the darkness, away from your throne, wondering what to do next.  But I hear words of hope, ringing in this head that I want to cover.

“For we have not an high priest that cannot be touched by the feelings of our infirmities . . .  in all points, tempted like as we are . . . ”

Ah, Lord Jesus!  My Brother, My Redeemer!  The one whose fire is the only fire I can offer back to the Father – I eagerly and frantically and deliberately and with nothing to repay you, choose you!

The fear melts away, the bitterness running off my heart in rivulets as You become Righteousness in me; rekindling the Only Fire that is acceptable to God The Father.

And my heart gives grateful, humble praise.

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Another Sunday with the Littles

I got to spend time with The Littles at our country church in Slower Lower Delaware this morning.  The class has the same four children, but this morning I looked into their faces and saw how much they have grown up in the four short months that they’ve had another teacher.  Katie and Judah have a new baby brother, which got discussed thoroughly and delightedly.  Jamison, far more verbal than he was four months ago, joined in the conversation with feeling and much expression.  Charis, the oldest, was thoughtful and participant, but the only one without a brother (or even a sibling for that matter) was quieter than usual.

We sang the song that we had used to open class time last year, and they all remembered and helped along.  My heart warmed to hear each of their four voices soar in the familiar words and tune.  The story we were covering today was the story of Jesus coming to John the Baptist for baptism, and I laid the background of what John’s mission was, and desert lifestyle and diet and his message to the people of his time, and there were appropriate expressions of disgust at the garment of camel’s hair, and talk of “throwing up” over the locusts and wild honey.  (Especially the “grasshoppers” business.)  And then we got to the part about Jesus being baptized by John.

The teacher’s manual provided a cutout that made a dove “spinner” to emphasize the dove that descended upon the head of Jesus, and each of them had their own spinner and a chance to try it out.  Also suggested was using ribbons for blessing and praise.  I had made each of them a “Blessing Stick” by attaching ribbons to a 12″ dowel stick, and after speaking a blessing over each one of them, I told them that we were going to use the sticks with singing a song.  They gathered, excited and gloriously distracted and yet eager to sing.  We sang an old children’s song that I learned many years ago, using the sticks in different motions for the two different phrases.

Hallelu-, hallelu-, hallelu-, hallelujah!  (Shake sticks in front of you)
Praise ye the LORD! (Wave in a wide arc over head)
Hallelu-, hallelu-, hallelu-, hallelujah!
Praise ye the LORD!
Praise ye the LORD!
Hallelujah!
Praise ye the LORD!
Hallelujah!
PRAISE YE THE LORD!

About the third or fourth time through it they really got into it, and there was much waving about of the ribbons and the words were intelligible and they even got the standing up and sitting down motions that we were using.  But time was getting a little short to finish everything up, so we went back to the table to get the coloring pictures and take home papers and one last activity from the home papers.

“Pra-a-a-a-i-i-i-i-s-e-e-e   y-e-e-e-e-e–e–e–e—e the L-o-o-o-r-r-r-r-d” warbled Charis in a vibrato mode as she pulled her chair back up to the table. “Ha-a-a-l-l-l-e-e-e-e-el-u-u-ujah!”  She was really putting her soul into the music as she sang with pronounced showmanship.

After a time or two of this, Katie looked at her with puzzled disdain.  “Charis,” she said with a hint of annoyance, “why are you singing that song like a goat?”

Charis looked at her pityingly.  “That’s opera!” she said and resumed her song.  It went on and on.

“Charis,” I interrupted.  “Do you like opera?”

“Oh, yes!  I love it!” And she resumed her song again.  I listened as she sang and could hear the “opera” in her rendition.

“I think you could be an opera singer some day,” I told her.  “You seem to have the voice for it.”

“Really?” She asked excitedly.  “I would really love that!”

“I think you could,” I told her, “but you would have to study hard and get a trainer and all of that.  But I think for now, maybe we’ve had enough opera.”

“Okay,” she said agreeably, bent her head to her papers, and started to sing again.  Then stopped.  “Oh, dear!” She said impatiently.  “Now I got that song in my head!”

I think we all did.

And I smiled to myself as I thought about this class of LITTLES.  They are growing so big and it’s happening so fast.  Life is moving right along and the happenings of our world are impressing themselves on their minds and hearts.  They live in a world that is divided by hate and bigotry and mixed messages and uncertainties and so much division in the Family of God.

And I’m trying to sing a song to this old world.  It’s the Story of Jesus and His Love.  I would like it to be vibrant and full of harmony and joy and hope and love.  I would like it to catch on with the people around me.  I would like it to stick in their minds and I would like them to wave banners of light and beauty and blessing.  I would like them to “jump out of their chairs” at the right moments and I’d like them to do it with unity and peace and courage — but mostly to bring His Love to the rest of the world.

I’m singing it the best I can.  I’m singing it with all my heart.  I’m singing it when I’m thinking about it, and I’m singing it when I’m not.  Because it’s stuck!  Not only in my head but also in my heart.

And it’s my fervent prayer that no one wonders why I’m trying to sing like an old goat. I do make mistakes in the music.  I sometimes jumble the words.  I sometimes even forget them.

But the basic melody of JESUS, friend of sinners, hope of the world, SAVIOUR — This, I pray will be heard.  And whether the listener likes opera or classical or modern or country, may it fill their ears, stick in their heads and find its way to their hearts, inviting them, drawing them into The Family.

“Oh, LORD JESUS!  May it be so!”

 

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Simply Gifts

 

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Two years ago this morning on our Yoder family google group, a picture was shared that has warmed my heart over and over as I have thought of it. In many Mennonite Churches, the practice of Feet Washing is still practiced as part of our communion services. From my precious Daddy’s family of eight boys and three girls, only three boys and one girl remain. Two of my uncles live in Delaware, and shared the pastoral responsibilities of the Central Mennonite Church for many, many years. They are very different men, but are good friends. Both of them are aging.  Uncle Dan turned 90 in February and Uncle Jesse will be 85 in September. Uncle Dan lost Aunt Mary Lois almost 18 years ago. Uncle Jesse and Aunt Gladys are still living alone in their house at the end of Pleasant Cove Lane. Both men are examples of men who live their faith in shoe leather, and I love them both. My cousin, Naomi Miller’s husband, Rob, took this picture in their communion service two years ago, and it has been viewed over and over again. What a treasure! (Thanks, Rob!)

I love the family that I belong to.  On both sides, (my father’s and my mother’s) we’ve been blessed with a heritage that is rich and full and good. But in the things that we have that are so good, we are also charged with two things. One is that we are not to brag about the things that we have.  Listen to these “God Words” from Jeremiah 9:23-24  (New Century Version)

23 This is what the Lord says:

“The wise must not brag about their wisdom.
The strong must not brag about their strength.
The rich must not brag about their money.
The Mennonites must not brag about their heritage
Nor the Yoders and Werts (and Yutzys) their lineage.
(Whoops! It doesn’t say those last two lines. I put that in there!) 🙂
24 But if people want to brag, let them brag
that they understand and know me.
Let them brag that I am the Lord,
and that I am kind and fair,
and that I do things that are right on earth.
This kind of bragging pleases me,” says the Lord.

The second thing we are charged with is something that we often forget in the self centered society in which we live. It’s found in Luke 12:48b where JESUS says: ” . . . From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded. And from the one trusted with much, much more will be expected.”

May God grant that we who claim to be His People would live humble, unselfish lives. Serving others, loving others, giving to others, but always mindful that what we have has been given to us.  Gifts!

My heart gives grateful praise.

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“Classic Injustice Collectors”

It was an ordinary Friday Morning, January 22, 2016, to be exact.  I was straightening up my kitchen, doing meds and trying to make some resemblance of order on the counter where everything gets stashed, when a story came on NPR’s Morning Edition.  I was half listening, half off in another world when something caught my ear. For real!

The announcer was talking about acts of violence that were blamed on ISIS, when there  is no verifiable connection between the perpetrator(s) and the ISIS organization.  The phrase that caught my attention was this:  “The attacks dubbed as ISIS-inspired in this country have tended to be the work of what law enforcement officials call ‘classic injustice collectors.'”  (Dina Temple-Raston) (*See link at the end of this post if you wish to read the entire story) The commentator went on to say that these are people who have been nursing various resentments for years, and when someone or something happens to push them too far, they “re-invent themselves, using whatever cause will give them a greater sense of purpose as well as . . . publicity.”

“Classic Injustice Collectors.”  That phrase stuck in my mind as I reviewed some events that I’ve been spectator and party to over the last months, and with a pang I realized that it is that business of “injustice collecting” that often plays havoc in my life and in the lives of people I love.  As people of principle, it’s easy for us to accumulate the injustices of our world and the circles in which we move, and to have a sense of being called to bring justice. Especially if it is people we love.

Let me hasten to add that there are injustices of the world that we ought to address.  The poor, the prisoner, the alien, the defenseless and enslaved.  We should never hold back from doing what God has moved on our hearts to do.  But there are many other things that I’m reminded of with vivid (and regrettable) clarity.  There have been so many situations where I have chosen to let my feelings run away with me (“I’d rather be mad!”) or wanted my own way enough to withdraw (“If you don’t play my way, I’ll just take my ball and go home!).  Over and over again, it’s easy to think that people are being insensitive or intentionally hurtful when in fact they are just unaware of how a particular thing might be looking to us and might be unaware of what it is that we desperately want or need.

And yes, that can be hurtful, too.  To think that people don’t care enough to find out what it is that we need, or how we feel or where we are vulnerable can really add to our sense of inadequacy, unimportance or injury.  And so, we collect the injustices like it’s our job, tallying them up, holding them seethingly in our hearts and then, one day when no one, (maybe/probably not even ourselves) is expecting it, it all comes pouring out in the name of a cause that it somehow felt right for us to align ourselves with.  And people are surprised at our venom, confused by our alleged motives, frightened by our rampage and bewildered in the aftermath.  (Where did that come from, and why?)

I find this especially hurtful in the Family of God, but I’m suggesting it is nearly as prevalent here as in general society.  We are “Classic Injustice Collectors” with a spiritual twist.  And sometimes it’s so easy for me to justify what I am feeling with a Biblical injunction or instruction.  I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be a part of a church family.  About how easy it is to carry a grudge quietly or to be so thin skinned that almost anything can set the wrong way with me.  And this morning, again, I was thinking about the words of Jesus when He said that we are to go the second mile, turn the other cheek, bless when we are cursed, pray for the ones who persecute us.  And the words in Corinthians when we are instructed to give up our rights for our brothers and sisters and that we are to forgive.

Forgive.  That’s the word right there.  The only way to living free of the bondage of having to collect is to forgive.  Where else in all the world is there a word that encapsulates a loosening of chains like this one?  I looked up synonyms for this word and some of them are extravagantly descriptive.  (“dismiss from mind”  “bear no malice”  “wipe slate clean”  “allow for”  “bear with”)  Words that would change the state of my heart as well as my outlook if I were to just live there!

I honestly believe that it’s impossible on our own.  And when I say, “that’s what GRACE is for,” I know it sounds trite, overused and simplistic.  But it’s still Truth.  God’s GRACE, extended so freely to us, is the means by which we extend grace to others, offer forgiveness, live in forgiveness, and empty out that collection of offenses.

We all have things that we feel we have to have, or we want deeply.  I really like it when I can feel understood.  Even if someone doesn’t agree with me, if they understand where I’m coming from, that feels good.  There are a few other areas that are very important to me, and I’ve written and re-written this paragraph as I’ve tried to defend myself against past charges.  It suddenly occurred to me that I was collecting offenses again, as I thought about complaints that have troubled me that I wish I could somehow straighten and disagreements over petty things that I’ve allowed to fester in this old heart.  Some of these are as old as our marriage.  Some are a recent as this week.  Will I never learn?

And so, tonight, once again, I turn a heart that knows the darkness of the suffocating blanket of offense to the light of God’s truth and the blaze of His Holiness.  May He shed light and truth and peace into those corners where old affronts and injuries (real or imagined) cower, awaiting the chance to rear their unseemly heads.  And may the freedom wrought by their dispersal be that which will lead more than this Delaware Grammy Home.

I’m not able to do this.  But I know the One who is.

For this and for so much more, my heart gives grateful praise.

 

http://www.npr.org/2016/01/22/463861480/what-does-it-mean-if-an-attack-is-isis-inspired

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Of Mice and Mankind

I was pushing Blind Linda’s wheelchair out to the DART bus this morning when I was caught rather flat footed by something on the floor of the entry way.  A dead mouse. It looked like it was trying to get out the door, but didn’t make it.  No blood, no guts, just lying there with its tail out behind it.  It startled me, and made me wonder if Certain Man knew something I didn’t about mouse bait.

I’m not mouse freaky.  They don’t scare me to death, or even cause me to scream or climb on things.  (I once had one drop on my head in the chicken house and run down my shoulder and jump and scurry away.  I didn’t even scream that time.  Probably because it was rather dark and I didn’t realize what was happening until it was jumping off my shoulder in the dim light.  But I digress.)

When I saw this mouse on my floor, I was trying to maneuver BL’s chair around a very tight space in a difficult corner and my first glance was fleeting.  But the sight of it caused me to stop and reassess the situation and I suddenly discovered that my first assumption was very. very wrong.

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It  wasn’t a mouse at all.  Oh, boy!

But I’ve been thinking ever since about the “dead mice” on the floor of my life that I shrink back from, and wish someone would dispose of for me and that I think I can smell, and that feel so repulsive to me.

Brothers and sisters, in the Family of God, I propose to you that a whole lot of the stuff in our lives that is attracting the attention that a dead mouse would on the floor of our proverbial entry ways, is nothing more than a dried leaf.  There are things that we should give no more than a fleeting glance, and brush them on out without giving them the audience and attention that a dead mouse might attract.

It’s time to help push the wheelchairs of the people of this old world around difficult corners, through the tight spaces, towards the bus that will take them to where they need to go.

Let’s not let the harmless stuff that looks like so much like something else sidetrack us on our way to Heaven.

Matthew 22:36-39 (NCV)

36 “Teacher, which command in the law is the most important?”

37 Jesus answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and most important command. 39 And the second command is like the first: ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.

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