Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Gospel in 300 Words

Happy Resurrection Sunday!  Sometimes, on holy days such as this, we go through the motions of tradition without thoughtfully evaluating the meaning.  The gospel is only powerful to us if we truly understand what we have lost through sin and what we have gained through Christ.  So, to help us do that, here is...

The Gospel in 300 Words

God created the world perfectly. He also created people—his children! Though in communion with God, they didn’t trust he was good. When they disobeyed, sin entered the world.  This sin became part of man and permeated humanity with brokenness.  But God, truly good, was also just; he couldn’t tolerate sin. He sent these children away (though he spoke of a future Savior!).  Banned from their Eden home, and living in a world of brokeness, they were separated from their Father. It was as if God regretfully said, “I love you, but don’t come near.” These people, now sentenced to death, spent generations trying to mend the rift they had created: following laws God had given, making sacrifices to cover their sin, trying to be good enough. God required they be perfect to pay the price for sin; they knew they couldn’t succeed.  Then the unexpected appeared!  The promised Savior!  Jesus was born a baby but still fully God.  And because he was God, he was able to live the perfect life that God required…of us.  He fulfilled all the laws and became the One Perfect Sacrifice…for us.  He did this in our place…instead of us. Just as sin had come through one man, “so by the one man’s obedience…many will be made righteous.” He died on a cross…in our place.  At the moment of his death, the curtain of the temple was torn apart; as if God was saying, “Now, finally, come close.” When he rose from the dead, he defeated all sin for all time. But he didn’t just leave us sinless; he imputed his righteousness in us! Now this is the heart of the gospel: By his life, his death, and resurrection, he reconciled us back to God!

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
Ephesians 2:13

Sunday, February 19, 2017

12 Things I Learned from Watching Downton Abbey

Normally, I am not a TV watcher.  Partly because we don’t have cable and partly because I have never found any series that truly captivated me.  I enjoy reading and prided myself in my ability not to get sucked in to any of that mind-numbing entertainment. 

Enter Downton Abbey. 

I get it, guys! I get it! 

I realize I am late in the game on the British Drama (I watched it via Amazon Prime for free!), but I have never been so fascinated with a television show ever.  I sometimes watched in batches (also known as binge-watching to the younger set), so willing was I to waste time sit in my chair by the fireplace and relax with the 1920’s aristocratic Crawley family.  I was obsessed with the goings on upstairs AND downstairs in the impressive mansion.  And now that I am done (and good thing, since I was clearly ADDICTED), I actually miss the characters, some of them more than others.  Actually, the ones I didn’t like began to grow on me by the end.   

I also made my dog watch it with me.  He was the most fascinated with Isis (did Robert and Cora actually sleep with the dog between them when the pup was dying??? I like dogs, but really).

And lest you think my mind has turned completely mushy by ingesting so much at Downton at once, I have written a blog recording observations I made whilst watching:

1.  Sitting down for tea and cake several times a day is a very good idea.  I don’t know about y’all, but the reason that this show appealed to me was because my life was so busy and I was craving some relax time.  The British folks in Downton weren’t burning the candle at both ends (in fact, they weren’t burning candles at any ends near the completion of the series when they had all those new-fangled light bulbs), if you know what I mean, but they were certainly open to stop whatever they were doing to sit down for tea and yummy-looking cake.  If we adopted this habit, I think we would all feel less frantic and happier—especially if we used cute little teacups with saucers. And if we never had to bake the cake.

2.  Breakfast in bed after you are married also seems like a very good idea.  Come on now; who doesn’t like breakfast in bed?  Especially if it happens EVERY DAY.  I did notice, though, that after the Downton folks got a toaster downstairs, breakfast seemed very toast-centric (which seemed reminiscent of my children’s offerings when they sweetly brought me breakfast in bed for Mother’s Day) for both the family and the servants.  But, hey, Cora seemed to like it.

3.  Speaking of Cora; I’m glad she’s not my mom.  Cora seemed so completely aloof at all times (except of course with the hospital fiasco when she actually showed some preferences.  Oh, and that time that Mary had that dead guy in her bed; she seemed pretty perturbed then too) and so completely out of touch with reality that she didn’t even question the fact that her middle daughter went to Switzerland for almost a year to learn French…really.  Did Edith seem especially fluent when she returned, Cora? Did you even ask her about her trip?  EDITH WENT TO SWITZERLAND TO HAVE A BABY!! A BABY!! And Cora had no clue.  Even when the child became “their ward,” Cora thought everything was just dandy. Lady Cora did have a few redeeming qualities but let’s just forget those right now and pretend she was a bad mom, K?

4.  Babies. Can we talk about birth for a second?  I have personally had four babies and each and every one of those births was a huge messy affair.  Both Sybil (I’m sorry no one but your husband Tom talks about you Sybil.  I really liked you and I’m sorry you died because they didn’t take you to the hospital) and Mary birth children on the show and are seen lying in perfectly crisp, very white sheets minutes after the birth.  Maybe if you are a British aristocrat, even birthing a baby is a very neat and tidy affair.

5.  Babies turn into children. Funny how that happens.  It is also funny that none of the parents on the show seem to really care about being part of their children’s lives.  What do these children do when they aren’t all sleeping in one room together in their little beds being creepily watched by their sometimes very mean nannies?  Does the Downton crew actually interview their nannies before they turn over their children’s lives to them? Do the children actually know who their parents are?  Do the grandparents know who the children's parents are?

6.  When you don’t have a job and you live with your parents, you have plenty of time to change clothes.  Did anyone else notice that the people of upstairs Downton seemed to be changing their clothes a lot?  Was this fun for them to have someone dressing and undressing them multiple times a day?  And, on a side note, did anyone else notice that Dickie (Lord Merton) who is supposedly in bed dying from a blood disease descends the stairs in a shirt and tie (with a robe over them, of course) in one episode when Isobel Crawley comes to visit him?  Weird.  If someone is supposedly dying, remove their necktie so they can breathe, even if they are British.

 6.5  When you don’t have a job and you have a ladies maid, your hair ALWAYS looks good.  Seriously, I need one of these.  Or maybe I just need new hair.

7.  Now that we are talking about clothes, why was Baxter sewing ALL THE TIME?  I mean, these people didn’t look like they were being especially rough on their garments with all their sitting up straight and drinking tea.  I don’t think they even wore any of them long enough to wrinkle the fabric.  But Baxter keeps sewing and sewing and sewing—both with the new “sewing machine” and by hand in the candlelight.  Was she just really slow at mending?  Or were the Crawleys more active in their off-screen time?

8.  Shining shoes seemed to be a full time job as well.  Is it just me?  Or did you also think that the servants spent a HUGE amount of time shining shoes?  Maybe shoe shining needs to become more of a priority in my life.  Or maybe I need to hire someone full time to shine my shoes so I, too, can have nice footwear to go with my nice hair (see point 6.5 for clarity).

9.  While we are on the subject, can we talk accessories?  Specifically gloves.  I want to talk about elbow length gloves.  As my hands and I get older, I notice that they are very blotchy and leopard-like.  Maybe I should start wearing elbow-length gloves all the time so that people assume I am much younger than my chronological age and so that they know that I am a human and not a feline because we all know felines never wear gloves.  For more insight into my aging woes, check out this post.

10.  Downton had an abundance of guests but that’s okay because guests aren’t a problem when you have a cook and servants.  The Downton folks must be extremely popular, or maybe they are just the right distance between all the other towns around because they have an abundance of guests.  Cora is always okay with this, though, because it causes her no extra hardship and she still gets to eat breakfast in bed.  Also, I am wondering how old one had to be a kitchen maid in the aristocratic era because Daisy looks right around 10. 

11.  We all need to write more letters.  After I finished watching the Downton series, I wrote a bunch of people actual paper and pen letters.  I was motivated by all the letter reading, writing, posting, and expecting that was part of the Downton day.  The letters I sent, however, were normal size and not the mini letters that everyone opened at the Abbey.

12.  Sometimes mean and conniving people are just really unhappy.  And by this, I am referring to Barrow, who has numerous problems that we shall not mention here.  His biggest problem is that he is not very nice.  And nobody is very nice to him.  And when his partner-in-meanness, Ms. O’Brien, leaves, he gets extra nasty.  But at the end, when they pull him out of the bathtub almost dead, I felt a little bit sorry for him and I tried to remember all the times that he had been a little bit kind.  It was difficult. I have other keen observations about Mary and Edith’s meanness to each other and Mary’s general meanness overall, but I will stop here so as not to sully their characters.  Also, I’m glad I don’t have to ride horses side-saddle in a dress because that would make me mean as well.  And probably the horse too.                                                        

That's all I got folks.  Let me know if you want to have a Downton reunion of sorts where we all get together and relive our favorite shows and commiserate about the psychological health of little Marigold; or even if you just want to come over and have tea and bring me some yummy cake.  

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Grace Year

The year 2016 was a bit of a roller coaster for me with my oldest child moving to the other side of the globe and my youngest leaving home, but I prepared for it and gave myself extra grace.  For me, this grace looked like coffee with lots of half and half, salted almonds, and massively huge bags of tortilla chips.  It also looked like me being a little nicer to myself. 

At one point (actually, most of my existence previous to this year) in my life, I forced myself to do lots of things and I was very disciplined—mostly because I thought that was how I was supposed to be.  It seemed to be the mode of operation for all the women I admired. So I chose to work hard at working out, eating right, and being diligent with a mostly-regular quiet time.  I got up early, made lots of food from scratch, and kept a clean house. 

Now, however, as I am nearing the half-century mark (and am a novice empty-nester), I am starting to find out who I really am…and that I don’t enjoy all that structure so much and that I really prefer slowness to speed.  I have discovered I am a nicer person if I don’t try to be someone that YOU want me to be, but, instead, tap into the person that God made ME to be; He’s the only One that needs to approve anyway, amiright? 

And you know what?  I’m not really the tough girl I used to strive to be, nor am I very brave; I only look that way sometimes because I hang out with my adventurous family.  I’m actually the one that cries like a baby when the hiking gets hard and hyperventilates when I have to climb mountains.   I’m just a normal, sometimes fragile, middle-aged (wow, I have never used that adjective to describe myself) gal who resists change like the plague and who happens to like cute things that look like animals (you know, like the cow-shaped cream pitcher that allows you to dispense milk while simultaneously pretending the animal is vomiting) and flannel sheets with rabbits on them (not actual rabbits, though that would be cozy). 

I have taken to walking in the sunrise with my exuberant pup most days rather than performing exercises that make me want a four-hour nap by 9 a.m.  I let myself eat a cookie with my coffee and have no guilt about it; I even bought a cookie jar shaped like a fox to put them in.  Brent and I have been doing a Bible read-through in the mornings where we read a passage and then talk about it, and I haven’t been as rigid about spending my own time in the Word, nor have I been journaling regularly. But I am gaining a depth of knowledge from listening to Scripture being read to me.  In fact, each night when I go to bed, I am anxious for morning to come so we can have our coffee/Bible time all over again.

Since my kids are out of the house and my morning schedule is much more lenient, I am allowing myself to sleep in occasionally (but not if it makes me miss my coffee date) and enjoying the coziness of my flannel sheets and the deliciousness of slumber. I occasionally purchase convenience products as part of my meals and have chosen to not look at the labels but instead, to enjoy my reduced stress level.  Also, I often just consume tortilla chips from a giant bag for an entire meal, and I’m okay with that. 

My house is easier to keep clean now, with less people inhabiting it, but it still gathers dust and pet hair and cobwebs.  Uncharacteristically, or maybe not really (who am I anyway?), lately those things haven’t really bothered me.  Occasionally, if someone is coming over, I will pull my sweater sleeve over my hand and do a quick dusting of the china cabinet.

And, instead of feeling a loss of control by giving some of these former “necessary things” up and loosening my grip on some of the others, I have felt a new freedom and a deep-seated joy in my paradigm shift. I am not suggesting that these changes are all positive, nor necessarily permanent, but switching things up a bit has helped me successfully navigate formerly unchartered territory.  I am also learning that spending more time on what I enjoy actually fuels my mind and body to complete the drudgery  important things that all card-carrying adults must do (ie: laundry, unloading the dishwasher, and buying actual food).

Lately, though, I am hankering for a bit more structure and will likely pick up some of the dropped balls; others, however, will continue to sit on a lower shelf; they don’t need nearly as much attention as I formerly gave them.  And like the “chips for supper” decision, I’m okay with that. 

In this year, the grace year of 2016, the year I lowered my expectations for who I am and what I should accomplish, I am much more content with who God made me to be.  In conclusion, I guess I write all of these to convince myself that even in a time of great transition, I’m still okay.  Life is still good.  And the liberties I have given myself to “grieve” and adjust—to be more childlike and less hardcore--have made me feel less frantic and frazzled.  That’s what we all want, isn’t it?  Just a little sanity mixed in with our craziness?  We always think we are in control; we really never have been.  However, being nice to myself in my year of transition has leveled out the bumps of this wild ride and made the bruises not nearly so bad.  At least nothing a Hello Kitty band-aid and a few tortilla chips can’t fix.

This is real life folks, not dress-rehearsal.  I am planning on enjoying it fully. 
How about you?

Happy 2017!

“In my anguish I cried to the LORD, and He answered by setting me free.”
~ Psalm 118:5

Friday, December 30, 2016

Stop Feeding It--repost

Brent and I are planning to an extended fast to ring in the new year 2017.  The last few years, we have adopted the practice of doing a one day fast most weeks, but we thought doing a longer time of food denial might help us do a little re-set on our diets, our priorities, and our prayer life.  I thought about writing a blog about fasting, but when I looked through my archives, I found this from December of 2012 and thought it appropriate even though it refers to a different kind of starving...

I once had a very wise 7th grade English teacher who, when asked how he got his dog to stop pooping inside the house, said,

 “It’s simple; I just stopped feeding him.”

Cute.  Now, if you love your dog, I wouldn’t recommend that.  And maybe if you want to keep feeding your dog and he won’t stop pooping on your carpet, you could get some diapers and cut out a hole for his tail, or you could hook up a bucket-type thing—like you see on horses in parades—to catch anything falling from his little hiney.  Or you could train him to do his duty outside.  Novel idea. 

You know though, when you apply this idea to sin in our lives, it makes perfect sense.  We can struggle with sin all we want, but until we make a decision to demote it to it’s rightful place—with us being it’s master through Jesus’ resurrection on the cross—and it being our slave, we will have no victory (I wrote about that in my last post.  You can read it here). Really, it’s all about starving;  starving our sinful habits until they are no longer habits, saying “no” to ourselves when we struggle with an appetite for temporal sinful pleasures, and ignoring our feelings (by listening to our minds that are filled with God’s truth) when they thirst for vengeance, unforgiveness and immorality.

If we want sin to stop coming out of us (believe me, dear reader, I could have written that in a much more creative, distasteful way), we need to stop feeding it.  We need to crave God’s glory more than our pleasure.  We need to see long, like God does, and not short, like we do.  And we need to make choices that make us look more and more like Jesus and less like ourselves.

So, here’s to starving our sin (and our dogs, but only if we don’t like them. Kidding, I’m kidding.  Don’t report me) until old habits die and new life appears.
No carpet cleaning necessary.

What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 6:21-23

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Newborn King

This is my new grand niece, Amelia Josephine, born two just two weeks before this picture was taken.  I had the privilege of spending her very first Christmas with her along with lots of extended family.  We spent most of our holiday time ooing and ahhing over her tiny perfection and watching her 22-month-old brother do cute things.

As I held little Amelia in my arms, I was struck by the reality—THE REALITY-- that Christ was born to us as a baby--A BABY!  At this time of year, we read and sing of this fact often;

"You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger." 
   "The little Lord Jesus lay down His sweet head." 
"Holy infant so tender and mild" 
 "Glory to the newborn King"

But do we truly understand what Christ did for us by becoming utterly helpless?  Do we comprehend how He left His place in Heaven and confined Himself in skin?  Do we grasp how our most powerful God allowed Himself to sleep silently in an animal trough?  Can we truly fathom that the same voice that created the entire universe now limited Himself to a feeble cry?

It’s absurd, really.  A limitless, ageless God chose to intersect time and space and become a limited, time-bound man; and not just a man, a baby; tiny, helpless, poor.

So why did He do it?  God saw His children needed Him.  Yet, because of their sins, there was no way they could get to Him.  So He became one of them, and He lived among them to save them and bring them close again.  Not only did He live with them; He loved them; and He died for them…and in their place.  And then He rose again—conquering death, their greatest foe. 

He chose to enter the world in a way that none expected; not as a king; wearing extravagant robes and sitting on a royal throne, but as a baby; swaddled with strips of tattered cloth and lying in a hay-filled manger.  Our mighty, strong, omniscient God chose to come to us in the most unthinkable form, wrapped in skin and humility; a tiny newborn babe.

Just like little Amelia.  Just for little Amelia.  And just for you too.

What child is this, who, laid to rest,
On Mary's lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing:
Haste, haste to bring him laud,
The babe, the son of Mary.

She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.
~Matthew 1:21

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thankfulness Things: Love


For my last Thankfulness Things post, I want to share the thing I am most thankful for:  unconditional love.  Humanity has trouble with this one—even the best of us—but God extends it freely. 

When we surrender our right to ourselves and ask Jesus to be our Savior, He exchanges our sin for His Righteousness.  He gets our rags and we get His spotless garment of forgiveness and love.  The trade is mighty uneven.  Even so, because of the shedding of Christ’s perfect blood for our sins, we are covered with “Jesus clothes” and our Holy Father sees as clean and pure.  We can do nothing to earn this; it is purely unconditional Love that gives it.  Because Jesus took our sins to the cross with Him, He is our ultimate sacrifice, our propitiation, our substitute, our payment—by His wounds we are healed.  I love this quote by Tullian Tchividjian in his book, One Way Love, The Gospel of Jesus Christ announces that because Jesus was strong for you, you’re free to be weak. Because Jesus won for you, you’re free to lose. Because Jesus was Someone, you’re free to be no one. Because Jesus was extraordinary, you’re free to be ordinary. Because Jesus succeeded for you, you’re free to fail.”

And because Jesus loves you unconditionally, you can be sure you are precious to Him.  The good day/bad day scenario doesn’t work with God.  He loves you all the time because of Jesus.  He sees you as righteous every day because of Jesus.  His judgment is assuaged because Jesus satisfied it.  He views you as He views His son, because of Jesus perfection—not yours.  God can love us unconditionally because all of the conditions of righteousness were met in His Son. 

We can do nothing to deserve His love.  That is why it is called “unconditional”, but we can extend to our family, our friends, even our enemies to show them what true love is.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” 
~John 3:16

The love of God is greater far
  Than tongue or pen can ever tell.
It goes beyond the highest star
  And reaches to the lowest hell.
The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
  God gave His Son to win;
His erring child He reconciled
  And pardoned from his sin.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Thankfulness Things: Sanctification


I love to walk in the early mornings and see the day wake up little by little.  The sky, usually deep dark blue when I begin, turns all shades of pink, purple, and orange as the sun peeks over the horizon.  It does this every day—whether I can see it or not; sometimes the clouds cover the splendor; other times, I don’t get outside until the sun is fully up and all I see is the big blue sky.  Regardless of the weather or my activity, though, the sun continues to rise.  When I walk, the verse, The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, that shines brighter and brighter until the full day”(Proverbs 4:18) often comes to mind and I am filled with gratefulness that God is continuing to work on my rough edges and selfish desires.  God promises me that if I will allow His Spirit to work in me and if I will obey Him when I feel like rebelling, He will be faithful to His job to change me into the Tori he intended since the creation of the world. 

Sometimes, when I have chosen not to use my renewed mind, or when my time in the Word is lacking, I struggle to act Christianly.  And sometimes, even when I am doing “all the right things”, I still mess up because I am human and faulted and weak.  The times that I fall are the times that I doubt God could ever use someone as clumsy and clunky as me.  But He can, because even though I am faulted and tempted by my rogue emotions, God uses imperfect vessels to carry out His perfect plans.  He does this purposely to help us remember we aren’t as great as we think, But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”(2 Cor 4:7) because He is so much greater than we can imagine. 

In the same way that I can’t control the rising of the sun, I can’t control the speed of my sanctification.  I can, however, take hold of the promise that it is happening within me, even without my awareness.  God is good like that. 

“In general, the soul makes greater progress when it least thinks so, yea, most frequently when it imagines it is losing.” 
~St. John of the Cross

O to grace how great a debtor daily I'm constrained to be!
Let thy goodness like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee
Prone to wander Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love
Here's my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above