Monday, August 22, 2016

Wheat Ridge: Cats That Search for Narnia

 Cats That Search for Narnia

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. James 1:5-6, ESV
The two cats that allow us to live with them are designated as indoor cats. This is not their choice, but is their best chance at longevity. A while back, my husband accidentally provided the cats with unexpected freedom. He released them into the garage from the house forgetting that the garage door was open. Quickly realizing his mistake, he rushed outside to find them sitting in the driveway seemingly stunned at their good fortune. The chase that ensued will be mercifully left to your imagination.
For quite a while after this, the cats would eagerly chase me down the stairs and beg to be let into the garage. They would clamor into the garage as if they were searching for the door in the wardrobe that led to their personal magical Narnia. Once they realized the door was not to be found, they would slink back into the house in feline despair.
As sinners trying to survive in a sinful world, we are constantly on the search for a magic fix to our lives. We look for the next diet, the next investment, the next political candidate, the next relationship that has the potential to fix old problems or bring joy to old lives. In that search, we hold tight to our doubts and are driven and tossed by the wind. Instead of searching the garage or the old dusty wardrobe, we search social media. We search in vain.
God has blessed us with many ways to make improvement in our lives. I certainly do not want to discourage anyone from making needed health-related changes. Yet, we need a way to search that does not randomly toss us from idea to idea. We need wisdom, and wisdom is found only in God.
Proverbs has a few things to say about wisdom. We are encouraged to be attentive to wisdom (2:2), that wisdom is a comfort (2:10), a blessing (3:13), and the path of righteousness (4:11). For those of us in a constant search for wisdom, the following verse sets us on the right course:
For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding; He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; He is a shield to those who walk in integrity. (Proverbs 2:5-7)
Wisdom is not found in the world. The wisdom we seek is not found in our abilities, in our striving, or in our desire to be wise. Wisdom is found in God and in God alone.
The verses from James remind us that not only do we find wisdom in God but that wisdom is centered in God. In this way, it is practical in our lives. God’s wisdom, found in our God-given faith, is integrated into every part of our life and learning. If we rely on ourselves to find wisdom, it will only elude us.
Wisdom is a part of faith development and faith development happens in the Word and Sacraments. God blesses our seeking, our surrender, and our immersion in the Word. He provides both the motivation to seek wisdom and the wisdom itself. We are blessed, indeed.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Toxic Fear

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
    whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
    of whom shall I be afraid?
When evildoers assail me
    to eat up my flesh,
my adversaries and foes,
    it is they who stumble and fall.
Though an army encamp against me,
    my heart shall not fear;
though war arise against me,
    yet I will be confident.
One thing have I asked of the Lord,
    that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
    and to inquire in his temple.
For he will hide me in his shelter
    in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;
    he will lift me high upon a rock.
And now my head shall be lifted up
    above my enemies all around me,
and I will offer in his tent
    sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the Lord. Psalm 27:1-6

We live, work, and try to raise our children in a world that supports a culture of toxic fear. We are systematically bombarded with stories that inspire fear. We eagerly click through to watch videos and read incendiary comments about people and events. Fear pushes us to hide away, to build walls, to build weapons. Fear keeps us from trusting and from loving. This toxic fear invades our thoughts and endangers our emotional, physical, and spiritual health.

Immersing ourselves in fear only proves to push us into actions that cause more fear. 

This fear leads to blame and ultimately, to hate.

Toxic fear creates an addiction to fear. We can’t get enough of it and the false sense of security brought on by our sad efforts to protect ourselves.

Toxic fear turns our hearts away from God. It convinces us that we are the only ones who can bring about our own safety. And fear leaves us with doubts about God. 

Instead of trusting in God we trust our own opinions, our perceptions, our arguments, our actions, and even our weapons. 

We fall victim to the false comfort found in memes such as "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."

Except -- for some good guys, their guns do not keep them safe.

Except -- some good guys with guns turn into bad guys.

Except -- as Christians we know that our sin guarantees that none of us is a good guy.

Except -- we are to put our trust in God, alone.

Toxic fear is a cruel liar.

It is not my intent to criticize gun ownership or the defense of the Second Amendment. It is simply my intent to remind myself that we cannot rely on guns, or politics, or money, or philosophy, or intellect, or armies, or anything of this world to save us.

Only God saves us. Only God protects us. Only God loves us with a perfect love.

So what do we do when faced with fear?

First, we repent. We repent of our lack of trust. We repent of our fear and our hatred. We stop making assumptions about the guilt of another and focus on our own. We beg for forgiveness and ask for God’s help. We turn to the Word and Sacraments, admitting our complete and enduring helplessness.

Second, we learn to praise God for His love, His salvation, and His protection. We tell Satan we have no room for toxic fear in our lives.

Third, we rightly fear God and in this fear we seek to serve Him. We ask Him to use us to stop encouraging fear, and instead work on the side that seeks to stamp it out.

Everything we need to survive this world is found in Him.

Serve the Lord with fear,
    and rejoice with trembling. Psalm 2:11

Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord! Psalm 27:14 

Monday, May 23, 2016

Wheat Ridge: Invented Languages
Click through to read my devotion on invented languages. While you are on the site learn about this wonderful ministry.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Part of Something Big

This past Sunday I got the chance to teach first grade Sunday school. The story for the week was “Jesus Teaches His Disciples to Pray.” We had interesting discussions about prayers. We analyzed our prayers and found that they mostly consist of requests. We practiced prayers of thanks, praise and confession. It was a good lesson with a cool group of children.

Then I remembered that I had spent the previous summer teaching the Lord ’s Prayer in sign language as part of our twice a month children’s messages. I asked the class to sign with me and was touched to see they remembered and could sign each petition. Because of careful study that beautiful prayer has been installed deep within their brains.

The prayer becomes grace as it weaves its way into their faith.

I love using sign language to teach children things. It keeps their hands busy while their brains learn, it connects movement to new learning, and it exposes them to another language other than their home language. I was happy to teach them the Lord’s Prayer in sign, but their knowledge of this prayer is not my doing. I am blessed, along with the parents, teachers, and pastors of the children in our church. We are blessed to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. We are a part of God’s work to teach His Word.

I am the director of child and family ministry at our church. When I recruit members to volunteer for various events I often encourage them to “find their joy.” I try to emphasize that working with children is a “get to” not a “have to.” God provides joy in the teaching and sharing of His Word. 

There is grace in service and it works its way into our hearts.

There is joy whenever God’s Word is taught or learned, whenever it is spoken, read, or heard. Such actions grow our faith and increase our joy.

There is joy in God’s Word.

There is promise in God's Word.
There is grace in God’s Word.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth: it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Isaiah 55:8-11

Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Potter

Kintsugi is the Japanese art of fixing broken pottery with precious metals such as gold, silver, or platinum. The result is a re-making of old, broken pottery into a new piece. A piece once again useful and arguably more valuable than before.  The practice is related to the Japanese philosophy known as wabi-sabi which looks for beauty in the flawed.

As a child of God who feels her age more and more each day, I am enamored by the metaphor of Kintsugi. I love the idea of taking something old and not only making it new again, but in the process making it even better than before.

Be merciful to me, LORD, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and body with grief. My life is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning; my strength fails because of my affliction, and my bones grow weak. Psalms 31: 9-10

I feel older by the day, hour minute. In the morning I carefully roll out of bed and limp until my legs seem to remember how to walk. Like a five-year-old just starting school routines I have to prepare my school bag the night before so I don’t forget important things like lessons, thumb drives, and lunch. During the day, I sit horribly close to the computer and squint while reading. Bedtime seems to always require some sort of anti-inflammatory or analgesic medication in order to bring on the respite of sleep. I even have broken bones fixed not with gold, but titanium steel.

 And let’s not even talk about my new fear of falling again.  My lifeline necklace is just around the corner.

Because of all my enemies, I am the utter contempt of my neighbors and an object of dread to my closest friends – those who see me on the street flee from me. I am forgotten as though I were dead; I have become like broken pottery. Psalm 31:11-12

I am not sure what made the Psalmist's friends flee from him, but I suspect my tendency to repeat favorite stories as if no one has heard them before contributes to the look I see in the eyes of my friends when I approach.

We are broken pottery are we not? We have wear and tear. We have experienced grief and tears. We participate in our own breaking through our selfish desires, our lack of trust, or sinful nature. 

We are broken.

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and have given us over to our sins. Isaiah 64:6-7

Even in our brokenness we strive to be useful. Much as Job used shards of pottery to scrap at his sores, we hope that in our sin we can still do good. But as these words from Isaiah indicate – even our righteous acts, are good deeds, our attempts to be useful, are like filthy rags.

We are useless.

But, that is not the end of our story.

Yet you, LORD, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. Isaiah 64: 8

God is our potter.  He does not dismiss our brokenness as un-fixable or unusable. He does not toss us onto the garbage heap to be buried in the landfill. Because He knows us He looks at our brokenness and sees potential. We belong to Him. He is our creator. And He is our re-creator. He scoops up the shards of our broken life and applies the precious metal of forgiveness and grace. 

He makes us new again. . . and again, and again, and again. 

We are precious and beautiful and valuable through the work of God.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Faith in the rainroom

This art installation offered people the opportunity to walk in the rain and not get wet. It must have been an eerie experience. Your senses of sight, smell, and hearing would have registered “wet” but your sense of touch would have denied the fact.

The installation worked with a special camera that saw the shape of individuals and turned off water sprinklers above them. Each individual would see and sense rain all around, but would stay dry.

I love this example because it is a mix of science, art, and experience. I also love it because I see it as a metaphor for my faith life. 

I want to go through life seeing and experiencing everything – but I don’t want to get wet, or hurt, or tired, or discouraged. I want God to protect me from all of that.

But God uses the wet, the pain, the weariness, and the sadness to teach and shape me. If I were to go through life without pain, I would stay the same. I would never grow. I would come to the false assumption that I did not need a Savior because I had no need of comfort.

Life has pain and weariness. Life is not fair or just. Life is life and I live what happens, feel what invades my heart, and learn the lessons in spite of me rather than because of me.

The rain helps me to feel the joy of being warm and dry. The rain reminds me that I am open to the dangers of the world and in need of protection. The rain, in its own way, teaches me to live and trust God.

God does protect me. He surrounds me with His love. He nurtures my faith in Him. He brings good out of my rain and uses me to reach out to others. The rain in my life does not come back to God empty. 

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
    and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
    giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it
. Isaiah 55: 8-11