Peace for the Day

Devotions for our daily angst.


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Florence Foster Jenkins

Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the earth. (Psalm 100:1NRSV)

I get Florence Foster Jenkins. Although she couldn’t carry a tune, hit a note, and had an uncertain sense of rhythm, she sang with gusto, determination, and – at least in the movie version of her life starring Meryl Streep – from the heart.

As a teenager, I, too, lived in a diva fantasy world. I just didn’t perform it for all the world to see. It stayed in my bedroom in front of my full length mirror. When no one else was home. And the windows were shut tight.

With ‘tude and New York shtick. Tears glisten in my eyes as I take my final bow. The Academy Award speech I always had prepared resonates through-out the theatre. Demurely, of course.

I moved on from movie soundtracks to rock and roll where I’d sing back-up with Rita Coolidge to Joe Cocker’s Feelin Alright. Or freewheeling on Maggie May with Rod Stewart. (Okay, I admit, I still sing my heart out with that one especially on summer days in the car with the windows rolled down. Sigh. Good memories.)

Don’t rain on my parade with facts. Please don’t tell me to wake up because you’ve got something to say to me. I’m fully aware I can’t sing. I realize I rarely get the words right. Even though I taught aerobics, my rhythm isn’t great. Tune? There are so many of them and they get confused and jumbled up. I swear the song coming out of my mouth is not what I hear in my head.

But I love music. And I love to sing. Especially to God. Thankfully, He wrote a Scripture specifically for me and for all singer wannabes! Psalm 100:1 says to “Make a joyful noise to the Lord.” He gets me. Those who hear me might not be feeling too good themselves, but I’m feeling alright singing my heart out to God. To all the Florence Foster Jenkins around the world – sing on, my friends, sing on.

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Love Lessons Learned from Mom

I’ve invited my dear friend Gayle to share today. God has a way of using our mothers – and our children! – to teach us. I was so frustrated with my parents when they wouldn’t allow me to help them. In my rant to the Lord, I heard, like Gayle, “Ah-ha, maybe you’re not so different from them. I stand ready to help you if you’ll let me.”  Enjoy my dear readers and send your own lessons learned to us.

Mothers!   It’s so much easier to see another’s faults, isn’t it? So much easier to remove the splinter from someone else’s eye rather than yank that beam out of my own. My relationship with my own mother recently brought this home to me in a big way.

My elderly mother and I have never had a warm and fuzzy relationship, and we have lived very different lives. As she has aged, I’ve had a difficult time adjusting to caring for her needs while at the same time living my own busy life. Folks my age have been described as the “sandwich generation” for just this reason.

As I drove to pick her up for yet another doctor’s appointment, I discussed my frustrations with the Lord. She’s stubborn. She ignores the things my brother and I tell her she should do or not do to avoid troubling physical conditions. By disregarding our advice, the inevitable happens, and the very people who tried to help her avoid the mess in the first place are the ones she calls to clean it up. This is a pattern with my mother, and I was resentful and frustrated.

Suddenly, God opened my heart. I do the exact same thing! How many times had He instructed me to do or not do a particular thing, I ignored his warning, and I ended up reaping the consequences He tried to help me avoid? Then what would I do? Run crying to God asking Him to clean up my mess—a mess He did everything He could to help me avoid in the first place.

But how did my heavenly Father handle it? Did He talk down to me, sternly reminding me of His words with an “I told you so!”? No. He just loved me unconditionally and pulled me out of the muck and mire. He didn’t even remind me of just how many times I’d wallowed in the same mud pit!

I humbly admitted what He already knew: that I wasn’t offering the same forgiveness and patience, the same unconditional love and understanding to those dear to me. And the truth is I am fully capable of loving the way He does, because the Holy Spirit, the Helper, equips me with the ability to do so, if – and it’s a big if — I let him.

Driving down the road that day while praying for a smooth trip to the neurologist with mom, I recognized that she was the iron God was using to sharpen me. It was a reminder to me—as both His daughter and hers—that I am still a work in progress and my mother, no matter what her age, still has things to teach me.

Iron sharpens iron; so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend [to show rage or worthy purpose]. (Proverbs 27:17)


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Honor

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier GuardsThese people draw near Me with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, but their hearts hold off and are far away from Me. Matthew 15:8

Instead of a donkey (Numbers 22), God used a television show to start me thinking about honor. (Such an old fashioned notion.) The use of cursing God’s name as a basis for the majority of the dialog caused me discomfort and led to intense internal discussions. I cringed every time I heard the characters swear but, in truth, I didn’t want to stop watching. It took me a few weeks and a lot of wheedling with myself and God to finally conclude I could no longer watch the show. By doing so, I was not honoring Him.

About the same time, I stumbled across Mark 6:4-6 NIV. Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.

The wonderful thing about reading the Word is that no matter how many times I’ve read one verse, in a moment of clarity, I understood it in a totally new way. I noticed a link between honor and faith and miracles. The people in his hometown did not honor Jesus; therefore, He could not do any miracles there.

Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology defines honor this way – “to give weight or to grant a person a position of respect and even authority in one’s life”.[i] We hear about very few miracles across the church in America. Could it be, I wondered, connected to our lack of honoring Him? We don’t grant him the position of respect and authority that we once did. Bringing it closer to home, I examined my life. Do I honor God?

Honor is not an idea to be worn like a badge. It’s a core value that requires action. At the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetery, the Honor Guard protects the tomb 24-7 365 days a year. The maid of honor helps the bride prepare for the wedding. Medal of Honor recipients acted valiantly beyond the call of duty. Students elected to the National Honor Society maintain at least a 3.0 grade point average and participate in extracurricular activities.

I want to honor God, in practice. I yearn for the Holy Spirit to nudge me when I’m not. Like Chris Tomlin sings in the song Amazing Love “It’s my joy to honor You. In all I do, I honor You.” That’s my prayer.

[i]  http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionaries/bakers-evangelical-dictionary/honor.html


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Easter Garden

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“Jesus, having prayed this prayer, left with his disciples and crossed over the brook Kidron at a place where there was a garden. He and his disciples entered it.” John 18:1 MSG

“Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb…” John 19:41 RSV

When I consider God, I am awed. Get this. The fall of mankind occurred in a garden. Most of us have heard of the Garden of Eden, Adam, Eve, and the serpent. But did we ever tie this together with the fact that in a perfect counterbalance to the fall, the physical redemption of mankind also took place in a garden? Selah – pause and think carefully.

That rocks my world. So I started researching Biblical gardens. Until recently, I don’t think I recognized how many gardens God intertwined in his book. Sometimes I read the words of the Bible without really, well, reading the words of the Bible. How many times have I read about the crucifixion and the tomb where Jesus’ body was laid without seeing the words “in the garden”?

Then there’s Gethsemane, the Olive Garden. Per the National Research Council of Italy, the olive trees in what is considered to be the Garden of Gethsemane, are some of the oldest trees known to science. (Reuters (October 20, 2012)) The name itself speaks to what happened to Jesus while he was there prior to being arrested. Gethsemane translates “olive press”. In ancient times, the oil was pressed out of olives by a large millstone. It rolled over and over them breaking down the olive flesh to extract the precious oil.

Jesus understood the agony of a Roman crucifixion. The Romans made sure the executions occurred in a very public place, like the main road in and out of town, where all could see as the passed by. When he entered the garden, Jesus knew exactly what he was about to face. Each Gospel writer explained the event from a unique perspective but the point was the same. Compiled they provide insight into the pressure Jesus must have felt. He plunged into an agonizing sorrow, a sinkhole of dreadful agony. He said, “This sorrow is crushing my life out.” He prayed on all the harder. Sweat, wrung from him like drops of blood, poured off his face.[1]

That the stress and weight – pressure – of what he was about to endure occurred in a garden called The Olive Press was no coincidence. It was, simply put, God.

[1] Matthew 26:38, Mark 14:32-34, Luke 22:41-44 The Message


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Lavish Love

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In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us. (Ephesians 1:7, 8 NAS)

Lavish. Expending or bestowing profusely, expended or produced in abundance, sumptuous, luxurious, unrestrained, extravagant, or grand. What an extraordinary word. One I don’t usually associate with God. Righteous, holy, stern even, but lavish? Never. Yet the Bible says he lavished the riches of his grace on us.

That’s what I love about God. He doesn’t just love. He loves lavishly.

In the physical world, I see it everywhere I look. When I contemplate spring, which I’m doing a lot as unseasonably late snow and ice storms hit, I think of clear blue skies, sun, and warmth. Which leads me to flowers, trees, and birds. Beauty. Zest. The world teeming with life. And God. The God who made this world in all its breathtaking glory and abundance.

My favorite flower is the daffodil. Each and every spring, I stand amazed as I watch the plants in my garden come up. The standard single yellow cup resting on a yellow plate to stems covered in small clusters of creamy white with bright orange centers that smell deliciously sweet. Plain to lacy. Short to tall. Large. Tiny. Grouped together or singly, they color the yard with graceful beauty. There are 25 different species with 13,000 different hybrid varieties of the Narcissus plant. WhDafodilsy? I mean wouldn’t one do?

Then there’s the color green. I think sometimes as I walk through the neighborhood in May and June oohing over all the shades of green that the Lord would get tired of hearing me. Between leaves, stems, and grass, the color ranges from almost black to just about white. From the rich dewy green of grass to the bright light-green of newly fringed fir trees to the multitude of greens seen in leaves on a variety of trees.

I don’t think it was a mistake when David wrote Psalm 23: 2 “He makes me to lie down in green pastures”. The color green soothes, calms, and refreshes the soul. In spring, the green spectrum is revealed in all its glory. It’s a natural color balm for the eyes and spirit. But really, isn’t one shade of basic green enough?

Take Hawaii. Is there any place on Earth more stunningly beautiful than the Hawaiian Islands? Set out there in the Pacific Ocean, the colors are crisper and more vibrant than on the mainland.

I could go on to discuss the countless stars, galaxies, cells, atoms, and quarks in the universe. I’m not a scientist. I don’t know if there was an explosion, big bang, boom, or a pop. What I do know is this – there is a God who created this incredible world for us. I can’t look at it without thinking of him and his love. His lavish love. I think it makes him smile when we enjoy it just like we’re tickled when our children or grandchildren play with the presents we give them. daffodil 2

Father – Thank you for beauty and for the senses you gave us to enjoy your creation. You are truly amazing and this world is awesome. Help me to see it through your eyes and with your heart.


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The Greatest Valentine

                  christian-valentine-collection“For God so loved the world that he gave…”John 3:16

February 1974, 41 years ago, I opened the greatest gift I’ve ever received.

It was a cold January night and to tell you the truth, I never saw it coming. Stars glinted against the clear coal-colored sky.  My friend and I were tooling to my house for the evening, she in her green Ghia and I in my white Nova. How could there possibly be ice on the ground on such a beautiful night?  The idea never entered my 18-year-old mind.

Well, the Nova hit a patch of ice and went spinning. As the world twirled around me, my friend and I played a dark game of bumper cars. The Nova finally stopped on top of a side rail. It perched in a precarious position, ready to topple over at any minute. The Ghia landed in a ditch. The Connecticut State police arrived. Our parents showed up. No one was hurt and thank God we actually had no drugs in or on our bodies. My friend went home to her house and I to mine.

Within a matter of seconds, I was car-less and trapped in very rural Connecticut.

School was still on winter break. I was stuck out in the middle of nowhere and bored silly. It was half a mile from the main road just to get to our house and a 20-minute drive on that main road to get to any road that went anywhere near a destination I’d want to go. So it didn’t take much thought when my sister called to say Robbie, a guy who worked in their bookstore, a cute guy who worked in the store, wanted to take me to the Burning Bush on Friday night. I had no idea what the Burning Bush was, but since it was near the University of Connecticut, how bad could it be?

Now my sister and her family had “got religion” and “born again” at an Episcopal Church in California. It didn’t have much effect on me until they decided to return east. And actually, I’d been too busy finishing high school and starting college to care.

I was raised Greek Orthodox which was literally “all Greek “and incense to me. That wasn’t so strange because growing up my best friends were Catholic and church was all Latin to them. Their service was shorter but I didn’t have to endure CCD, the Catholic Church’s education program. We all had to fast during Lent. Everybody on our street went to church back then whether we liked it or not.

For some reason, as I waited for Friday and freedom, the only Bible verse I knew rambled through my head. We’d lived in Nebraska for a while when I was little and I was allowed to attend Vacation Bible School, something my 8-year-old heart longed to do because of the neat Popsicle stick crafts advertised in the church window. We glued stick boats and memorized John 3:16.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  

The verse wound its way through my thoughts and wouldn’t go away.

Friday night and freedom arrived. I gussied up in my best pair of tattered jeans. Robbie arrived and we sped off into the night. The Bush turned out to be a campus coffeehouse. It was a dark night outside but inside, the lights burned bright. Hippies were everywhere and some people were playing guitars up front.

I decided that if I could endure a 2-hour service chanted totally in Greek, I could survive the night. The musicians played Christian folk songs, something I’d never heard. Everyone sang and clapped and laughed. I’d never seen such a joyful group of people.

Finally, the room grew quiet and we all bowed our heads. I wasn’t thinking any life changing thoughts. I had no premonition that a major turn in my life was about to happen. I was just sitting there marking time and sort of listening to the curly haired guy who was up front talking. He shared that I didn’t have to feel alone anymore and that dark emptiness inside that I’d lived with all my life would go away all by having a relationship with Jesus Christ.

I’d attended church all my life, but never heard Christianity was anything more than a religion, one choice out of many. When the man asked who would like to meet this Jesus, my arm, much to my amazement, shot up and I went down front to pray. Everyone was excited for me and I felt happy, but that was that. The date was over and I went home, never to hear from Robbie again.

It’s dark in the country when you turn out the light. There were no streetlights or neighbor’s lights or store lights. The dark engulfed me, but somehow, against the blackness of my room, I felt all lit up. That place inside of me that had hurt so bad for so many years was gone. It was filled with warm light and a sense of being truly loved.

It’s Valentine’s Day. The time of year we think about giving and receiving gifts of love. For God so loved the world that he gave mankind, all of us, the greatest gift of all over 2000 years ago. All we have to do is open it. I pray that if you’ve never said “hey” to Jesus that you take a minute and talk to him. Nothing big, no fancy words. Just tell him you’d like to see if he’s for real. You won’t regret opening this gift of love one minute.