October 24, 2016

You, Me & the Sea

We are a week away from time falling back so my feet hit the floor this morning in darkness. I slipped on my robe and walked in my rut to the kitchen, pulled one of the porcelain mugs from the middle drawer of the dishwasher because I’m partial to its thin rim with the slight curve perfect for sipping the beans roasted dark but not burned. I think about how heat changes things, makes them hard and beautiful, like the white clay that made my cup, or the bitter and sweet ground beans surrendered yet again to being scorched for the benefit of others.

Yesterday, after church I made some slaw for supper then slipped out to the porch with my books. It was the Sabbath and I was resting on the wicker couch on a golden autumn afternoon. I turned on music— movie scores and opened Mary Oliver’s new book, a collection of essays, a book titled, Upstream. It wasn’t long until I was in tears. I swallowed them, tasted their salt, accepted that swallowing tears always makes me thirsty.

It’s taken a lifetime to accept who I am rather than who I wish I was. Like so many, I thought I might be able to minimize the depraved state I am in—apart from Jesus. I think this is the deceiver’s foremost lie— that we aren’t that bad. When we believe his twist on truth, the bible says we choose disobedience, rebellion, which puts us under the wrath of God (Ephesians 2:1-3). But there is something worse than just being under God’s wrath as crazy as that sounds. To believe the twisted thought that we are bad, but not that bad, keeps us from desiring the life God has for us in Jesus.  “We are half-hearted creatures,” writes C.S. Lewis in the “Weight of Glory”, “fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by an offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” 

We ate leftover red beans and the slaw for supper. Warm banana pudding filled bowls for dessert, but the bananas weren’t ripe. They could have stood a few more days sitting on the counter coming into their own, sweeter, just before death.

Mary Oliver ponders the creative life as the third way of life, what seems to the world a reckless way of living—which she hopes it is. Reluctantly, I believe she’s onto something. The creatives gather along the edges of life, gather the chaos into something beautiful. It seems reckless to those who are ordering their lives around productivity—making the world go ‘round. It seems frivolous to be picking wildflower bouquets along the road and arranging them in a minnow bucket.

“The clock is still ticking…Every day, twelve little bins in which to order disorderly life, and even more disorderly thought.” (Mary Oliver, Upstream)

 We are living in time, but living for eternity.

Ray Stedman said the third way of life is that of a Christian who is not conformed to this world. We can reject conforming to the patterns in the world, refusing to wear the clothes of the world and using its words, resist fitting in, if you will. We can reject the culture’s magnetism but backing away from the world, we Christians, with intention, are tempted to form our own tribe with its own cultural norms, its own outer garb, and to speak in a language "outsiders" can not translate easily. As a Christian and a creative, I know this tension. We live between two worlds.

“Genuine Christians belong to neither of the extremes which are always present in society. They have to contrast with both. And therefore they get attacked from both sides, if they are really standing where Christ stands. One of the indications of whether your Christianity is genuine or not is whether you do get attacked from both sides, because Christianity is a third way of life.” (www.raystedman.com, Ephesians 2:1-3, The Human Dilemma) 

We are not to be creators of chaos. A Christian creative is never called to make chaos. We are called to set chaos right—to be reconcilers. This reflects the heart of the One who has called us to this third life, this vocation with eternal dividends.

To stir up the chaos, to gather it for the purpose of disseminating it, is the work of the enemy of the eternal soul. It is the kind of creative activity that fills the air, the sin-polluted air of the world’s rulers, who lust to keep the sons of man under the judgment of God’s wrath.

Living in the chaos without hope is torturous. So much of the world knows this pain well. The good news is Hope sits in the wings ready to take flight if we’ll accept and be real about our depravity---our need; if we'll receive God’s grace. Pride says don’t do it—you’ll give up your options, you’ll lose your life.

Jesus said, “Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.” (Luke 17:33)

We cannot grab hold of what will preserve our lives if we don’t let go of our desire to save ourselves— which is, of course, the biggest lie of all. We must give up our membership in the fellowship of the walking dead.

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:1-6)
“But God…in mercy…in love…even when we were dead…raised us up with him and seated us with him…” This is our reversal of fortunes, but I’m afraid the words have become too familiar that we scant take notice. What a shame, for they hold the “weight of glory,” our hope, seated with Christ now and for all of eternity.

A friend asked me in a text why I thought Jesus saved us? Was it because He wanted us to love him and follow him? She’s been feeling the fire, the in-between with its pain and its gifts.

My reply was simple, an attempt to reconcile the chaos: “He loved and saved us because He wanted us to be able to sit next to Him ….” 

We should take him up on the offer, take our seat. It’s was costly, but it's free. I've always loved a holiday at the sea.

Linking with Jennifer Dukes Lee's Community.

October 16, 2016

Why I'm not Surprised and Why You shouldn’t be Either

I don’t want to be one of those prophets who shouts, “Peace, peace!” when there is no peace, but I wonder at how many Christians have become unglued because times are uncertain.

“I notice that the Bible gives a decidedly unromantic picture of life on earth. God doesn’t censor the soul-raw moments of His best men (and women). He refuses to airbrush fear, despair, failure, and discouragement. I wonder if He included these spiritually X-rated parts to deflower my distorted picture of what it means to walk with Him.” (Jean Fleming, Pursue the Intentional Life, italics mine)

I’ve been reading what people are saying on their social feeds about the election. I have been reading their words realizing there are motivations behind the words. 

I see a lot of despair, some discouragement, and a whole load of fear. 

The words from one of the Apostle Peter’s letters came to mind as I considered the pleas for right thinking and the shame talk running through the feeds and comment threads, many of them directed to Christians by Christians.

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And,

“If it is hard for the righteous to be saved,
what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”
(1 Peter 4:12-18)

It’s interesting that in the Gospels Peter is portrayed as the one who wanted things to be a certain way (under God) and seemed intent on going down fighting when circumstances were contrary to his expectation. He wasn’t into hearing anything about Jesus dying. He didn’t want Jesus to wash his feet. He cut off the soldier’s ear when they came to arrest Jesus in the garden. Then he lurked around feeling sorry for himself and denying his association with Jesus when things turned grim. 

It’s a wonder that Peter didn’t jump ship altogether. There was something in him that believed there would be a reversal of fortunes and he was going to be the first in line when things turned toward his point of view. Peter had hope.

I think all of us have been like Peter at one time or another in our walk of faith.

The reversal of fortunes happened, of course, but it looked nothing like Peter had envisioned the few years before when the disciple laid down his fishing nets and followed after the unorthodox rabbi, who in his mind, was going to set things straight for the nation of Israel.

I wonder exactly when it was that Peter decided to live by faith?

Was it a morning after the resurrection when Peter and his buddies had fished in the dark and caught nothing? Was it after the sun rose on their discouragement when Jesus filled their nets?

Was it after the breakfast Jesus’ cooked for the fishermen when he pulled him aside and asked Peter if he loved him---three times? Was that the day Peter let go of his need for a painless path through life?

Jesus told Peter the truth-- that things were going to be difficult:

“Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." (John 21:18)

I picture the scene as emotionally charged. I imagine Peter’s mouth falling open with Jesus’ forthright declaration about the future of his disciple. The reality hangs in the air for a pregnant pause, and then Jesus says, “Follow me.” (v. 19)

If you read the account in John 21, you will see that Peter doesn’t accept his lot without protest. He turns around and points at John and says, “What about him?” (v. 21)

Peter seems so familiar.

By the time he writes the words in what the Bible numbers his first epistle, he has grown up in his faith. He has matured. He’s no longer overtaken by circumstances.

Instead of being surprised by the “fiery trials,” Peter has these admonitions:
  • rejoice that you are sharing in Christ’s suffering (that’s a big turn-around since his night of denials)
  • consider insults as blessings (but don’t bring them on  because you are a meddler)
  • praise God for suffering when it is because you bear the name of Christ
  • remember God’s judgment doesn’t begin with the pagan but with those who are in the household of God
  • have compassion for those living without Christ (and remember they are reading your comments too)

And then this, the last verse in 1 Peter 4:

 “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” (v. 19)

It doesn’t say be right.

Peter had come a long way since that day on the dusty road when he answered Jesus’ revelation of His death and resurrection with these words,

"Never, Lord!" ... "This shall never happen to you!" (Matthew 16:22)

It is time to let go of fear and grab hold of faith, to look up rather than around.The mission has not changed. The News is still good and we should live in light of it.

These are days of opportunity to grow up in Christ, to let the truth of the Bible speak into our lives and give us hope. He is the anchor for our soul in troubled times.

October 6, 2016

How my Prayer Life Transformed when I Ditched the List

A Facebook friend of mine, a guy I went to college with who is a preacher, asked a question online—“What do you love about prayer? How do you struggle with prayer?”

Almost everyone answered the second question with something having to do with staying focused. I understand, because I've been there.

I don’t think I answered his questions very well, but this is how I commented— 
“I once made long lists of prayer requests but now I listen for the Holy Spirit to bring to mind those He has for me to pray about---which of course is a great mystery but also a great comfort. He has taken over my prayer life and has transformed it. The hardest thing for me to get my head around is how he loves us all the same---his everywhere presence. It's just too wonderful for me.”
I struggle sometimes with the personal nature of God and the fact that he is personal with everyone. How can he keep all our chattering straight? And what about those heart cries, those groanings from the depths that have no words but are prayers all the same? It's a lot to wrap the brain around.

I believe God has challenged me to a lifestyle of prayer that is dependent on him. I wasn’t good at praying through lists. I rattled them off and then I forgot many of them. Now, when the Holy Spirit brings someone to mind, especially someone who has a need or is hurting, I take it as an opportunity to pray. I believe each prompting is “what is mine to do.” Those who come to mind are my prayer assignments. It amazes me how God has orchestrated the things I pray about all through my day. Sometimes, I pray for my people, those very close to me; sometimes, I hardly know them.

Does prayer change the mind of God? I don’t think so, though there are stories in the Bible that show that God responded to requests to change circumstances. I do think He, in his wisdom, can change the course of things as He looks at his greater purposes to bring about his kingdom upon the earth. He knows there is more than one trail up the mountain.

The example that comes to mind was when God was going to step back from leading Israel to the Promised Land. He was concerned that He might kill them. (Exodus 33 is one of the greatest chapters in the Bible in my opinion.) God was being merciful and gracious when He told Moses he would send an angel with them instead. Moses would have none of it. He would rather risk death for all than to go forward without God. 

God promised He would go with them and give them rest. He wasn’t going to snap his fingers or twitch his nose and put them in the land. They would move toward their destiny and He would be there with them as they stumbled along toward the promise.

I’m beginning to understand prayer as a way of life, a way of communion with God who loves me and who loves others through me. As I express the longings of my heart to God and ask Him to show mercy, give healing and hope, or to give direction to those he brings to my conscience mind, I'm amazed at his desire for me to be part of this cosmic mystery to influence the unseen world with the power of prayer. I am humbled at the restraint God has toward me as often I stumble along. On days when I am discouraged and want to give up, He touches my heart with longing and I move forward as He leads me in his grace.

There’s no doubt that prayer is a conversation. The Lord knows we need this connection in a world that rages against him and is intent on distracting us. Knowing God cares about the things we care about is a great comfort. Nothing is happening apart from his sovereignty. Instead of worrying about things too big for me, I turn my concerns back to God and release them.

This prayer approach has transformed my prayer life. As I’ve heard the promptings of the Holy Spirit, as I have listened, my confidence has been boosted, my faith has been strengthened and my fear has been squelched. I remember that God is in control. I trust him for my needs and the needs of others. I remember his plans are good. I fall in love with people he loves as He allows me to carry their burdens.

Today, I am humbled and grateful that God has entrusted me with this little bit of understanding concerning prayer. It is transforming my relationship with him and helping me to understand his love for me and others. Instead of hating the longing that often grips my soul, I accept those heart pangs as “cords of kindness” that tie me to the heart of God.

I’ll still make lists when prayer request time comes around, but I'll not likely look back on them. Writing the request down keeps me engaged at the moment and gives me the opportunity to acknowledge God’s activity in the presence of others. Then and there, I submit to God to give me “what is mine.” 

And when someone asks me directly to pray for them, you might be asking? That request "is mine to do." It's a no-brainer. 

If you have a prayer request, I want to know about it. Would you share with me in a comment or message me in private on Facebook or Instagram? 

Be encouraged. God cares about the things concerning you.

September 26, 2016

Lost Dogs, Metaphors, and Life

Naomi on a silly day.

We lost Life.
The gate was left open. 
We all took out
and wandered the neighborhood.

The girls held their mother’s hand,
walked the pavement in their velcro tennis shoes,
cried out through the chain linked fences,
Zoe! Zoe! Zoe!

Where are you Zoe?
    Pain rained down her cheeks---
grief, on the face of a child. 

Zoe! Zoe! Zoe!

How she longed for life 
to lick her salty tears
with that sandpaper tongue.
Where had Life gone?

The lost lives unaware, 
enslaved to her true nature,
padding along, on the trail of a calico cat,  
sniffing the fragrance of lampposts. 

In hope, we believe that
wanderers will go home
when they get thirsty—the
first step it seems,
to being found.

These are the bones of a poem that has been simmering in me since we rolled up the windows and drove home from Annie’s house last Friday morning. I’ve been thinking recently about how God uses metaphors to teach us deeper things. He uses metaphors in the Bible in abundance and He uses them in daily life if we are paying attention to what is happening around us.

Annie scared me to death when she called on Friday morning. I heard the panic in her voice and my stomach knotted before she told me why she called. She needed help and asked me to come quick. Zoe had disappeared. Naomi had left the gate open and Annie wasn’t sure how long the dog had been lost. She needed help to find her so Jeff and I jumped in his truck and drove over.

We drove up and down the streets south of Moore. Annie called, said a lady had told her she had seen her over there. It was a good ways from the house and I was hoping she was wrong. We turned down toward a day care center thinking Zoe might be trying to make friends with some of the kids playing outside. That’s when we saw Annie walking up the street holding Naomi’s hand. Olivia was running along beside them weaving on and off the curb. It was hot; their faces were flushed and they were sweating. Naomi’s eyes were swollen from crying; guilt was weighing heavy on her. 

They crawled up into the truck and buckled in. Annie was between them. They all called for Zoe out the back windows. Olivia echoed Annie in words and in pitch. Naomi called out too through her tears. We rolled along hollering and looking to see if she might dart out somewhere from between fences and old houses or cars sitting in driveways. Annie wanted to go back to the house to get her car so we could cover more ground. 

Naomi was losing hope after walking all that way. Annie assured her that Zoe was smart and could find her way home. I wasn’t so sure, but I prayed Annie’s confidence was truth. I prayed too because God cares about lost dogs and little girl’s hearts. He knows the pain of loss. It’s one of his specialties—mending lost hearts. The three of them quit hollering when we turned up the street toward the red brick house they call home. As we came up the small grade of the hill, I saw Zoe come loping through the yard with her tongue hanging out. Her eyes were hidden behind a wad of black fuzzy hair. Liv grabbed her up and held her. Zoe thinks Liv is a dog.

Zoe, the word, in the Greek language, means life.

We found life in the front yard.

I couldn’t work it into the bones of the poem—at least not yet— but I’m wondering if there’s a bigger lesson for me about how I need to be more concerned for the lost, to feel grief for those who are far from the garden gate and the God who loves them, who is calling out to them, Life! Life! “Come all who are thirsty and drink, come to the waters.” Come home. You are lost but you can be found. 

This event (what others might consider as a trivial drama concerning a dog) seemed significant to me as far as metaphors go. As we drove away relieved, I felt like God was telling me to remember the lost, to grieve for those who are far from him. It seems that Christians in these times are mad at the lost, angry that people are acting out of their sin nature---like we all have. Why do I not grieve like I once did for those who are lost? Why do I not holler out the windows calling to them, introducing them to Life? Why are Christians hollering accusations out the windows and driving off? Wouldn't it be better to call to them, not to accuse them but to scoop them up and hold them? Is this my responsibility? Is it up to me? Are they not thirsty for something they can only find if they go home? 

I think it is up to me... and it’s not up to me—a paradox that I sit with today.

 I’m feeling a bit thirsty myself but I know there is a Fountain. I think I'll have a drink and I'm hoping to have somebody who is thirsty to join me.

September 19, 2016

Beauty and the Beach

     Jeff pulled a red wagon full of beach stuff to the same spot each day of our beach trip. Despite that, each day we stepped into change. Some days the waves rolled calmly, the water like liquid jade. Other days the waves forced their way to the shore as if they were jockeying to be front of a line. One morning offered an overcast sky; other days the grands and I named the clouds as they floated like sheep grazing in a vast blue pasture. Thunderclouds billowed up late one afternoon after a mostly cloudless day. We became witness to a sunset that laid down its tangerine rays on shallow waves smoothing the powder sand as they rolled back to the "deep end" (the girl's reference to water up to their chins.)

     The afternoon of the storms, Olivia helped me cut the tough ends off of brussels sprouts we were preparing for supper. Through the kitchen window, I noticed the clouds building. Later, after we finished eating, an orange glow filtered into the great room of the beach house. The rain had come and gone.   

    We debated for a moment whether or not to head down to the beach. We knew we had to hustle because once a sunset starts it doesn't last long.

     I grabbed my camera and we scrambled toward the door and down the street to the beach access. Jeff perched Olivia on his shoulders so we'd make better time. We weren’t sure we would make it but it was worth a try.

     As I headed down the boardwalk in the shadow of scrub bushes creating a natural tunnel before opening to a panoramic view of the Gulf of Mexico. I met a woman walking toward me. I thought we had probably missed it since she was leaving. Instead, she commented as she passed, “I’ve got to go get my camera.” I picked up my pace. 

     High above the beach that was a blinding sugar white earlier in the day, the landscape softened to a warm glow, peach and pink and luscious. The low clouds on the horizon, the place where the sun was setting, glowed fuchsia. Another huge thunderstorm seemingly boiling out of the sea appeared to be illuminated from within.

     Lightning streaked from the storm but at a safe distance. We stood on the edge of the salty sea and watched the show in wonder. 

Naomi and Olivia were wearing white tees I had bought them earlier in the day. Naomi’s shirt pictured a mermaid with wild curly hair not unlike her own, and Liv’s had a yellow polka-dotted wiener dog in profile across her chest. The tails on their shirts were long so they wore them like dresses. They ran circles in the shallows in their panties as the light faded on the day.

That evening on the beach, I felt the power of beauty. The emotion was much like the feelings of loving and being loved. 

Beauty begs the heart to be present because the moment will never come again in exactly the same way. It should be acknowledged as a gift from God. I recently read thoughts by poet Luci Shaw who reflected on how God could have made the world only functional, but in his grace, He made his creation beautiful. Beauty is a gift given, above and beyond, out of God’s own love for beauty. He gives good gifts to his children.

Why did we race from the house to the beach? We did it for the chance to step into beauty. We could have missed it that September evening. We could have stayed in and numbed ourselves in the flickering light of the television. Jeff, Annie, the girls and I chose to hurry back to the beach filled with hope. Hope did not disappoint. In fact, the beauty outdid our expectations.

I learned a similar lesson about beauty when we were in Switzerland this summer. The mountains captured my attention and made my heart leap with gratitude on the crystal clear day we rode the trains from Zurich out to the snowcapped Alps. The forecast called for a change in the weather. It came as predicted. Several days later the clouds moved in. The morning we hiked into the Gastern Valley the cloud deck lowered as we walked the level path through the narrow valley. The peaks were obscured from view though occasionally we saw through the veil to the massive rock walls in the hanging valley.  We stood in one place and counted eight different waterfalls within our sight. 

The temptation was to be disappointed in what we could not see. Instead, we entered the beauty of the earth and clouds, the mountain stream carrying the white silt of glaciers  carving a vein into the valley floor. The cold water rushed away to gather itself somewhere we could only imagine—a place where it would enter again into the circle of life to be resurrected to fall as rain upon the sea.

I’m in awe at how God takes the water from a glacier and drops it into the sea. We think we only want sunny days but it’s the clouds that often bring the most arresting beauty. 

Life is fullest in sunshine and cloud.

Artists try to capture beauty with paint, the words of a poem, a photograph, the notes on a keyboard. Beauty moves the soul to record what is quickly fleeting, to acknowledge  the gift before letting it go. We can choose to gather up the beauty as artists, to remember the day when baby girls grew into their curls, ran in circles like sandpipers on the shore as the sun slid away, another day. 

The response to the gift of beauty is always gratitude.

Night falls; beauty turns the page and we whisper the simple prayer, “Thank you, Jesus.”

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”  (Colossians 1:15-17 ESV)

September 8, 2016

Fear's Offering

Fear attacks in the cover of darkness when all the world is quiet, hounding us as we cast our gaze over our shoulders, again and again. 

They say that you shouldn’t run from a bear should you encounter one in the wild. They (whoever they are) say to stand your ground, to make yourself big, to back away slowly but not too slowly. I’ve never heard anyone say to run toward the danger. If you tangle with a bear there’s a good chance the bear will win. Fear is a different kind of beast. Most of the time fear is puffed up and not as dangerous as it is threatening. Even if what we fear eventually happens, fear will have already taken more than he deserved, distracting us from the beauty found along the path that leads to life. 

The reality is most of the time what we fear doesn’t happen. We gave it our attention for no good reason.

I am not fearless but I am willing to face my fears, at least most of them. I think. Like most people, I am tempted not to go into the forest because of the possibility of encountering a bear. I can’t be destroyed by a bear if I stay in the house. 

    If I do not go I will not smell the leaves under my feet turning to dirt, nor hear the trilling song of birds along a gurgling stream rushing over gravel beds on it’s way to the river. Nor will I pick a wild strawberry and taste its tart acid upon my tongue. I won’t encounter a bear and I won’t live. I will never sing praise in the shade of the forest to the God who created it and said it was good.

 Fear reminds us of our vulnerability. It’s the vulnerability we hate even more than fear. We think we might be able to shake the fear, but vulnerability is a wild thicket of a beast that will never be killed back. We hate that control is an illusion. Even if we never encounter a bear, we know we might die sitting in a chair having never encountered the things that offered us laughter, or tears, or gasps of wonder——anything that would have made the hairs on our arms stand up and tell us that we are alive.

And fear throws his head back with glee to know he has set us up to live in the mire of regret. No one can get back the days given over to fear.

Control is the fruit in the garden. Every day we are tempted to take it into our flesh again. And now, we know who we are. We thought it would be good for us; we deserved to know, to decide for ourselves; being rational, it made so much sense.

 Control has such a bitter aftertaste.

There is hope; there is always hope. God is near, calling our name as we hide in the bushes. He has found us in our nakedness and covered us in his grace. Only in abiding in Him can we step from the bushes to live full, abundant—free from fear. free to love.

Love pitches his tent by a stream by the Tree with those deep, deep roots. Fear puts down his stakes in the backyard, surrounded by a privacy fence. He goes to sleep under the spell of the neighbor’s air conditioner.

Living in fear is not only a sin problem; it’s a trust problem— and at its very core, it’s a love problem.

August 24, 2016

Sweet Like Honey

I almost missed the best sermon I ever heard. It was preached on a Sunday night and we had thought about staying home, skipping church. 

It seemed to be a usual worship service like many others I had attended until the preacher stepped behind the pulpit and began quoting the Sermon on the Mount. He didn’t preface what he was about to say. He preached Jesus’ words recorded in Matthew 5-7 with inflection in his voice. The room hushed like no service I’ve ever been in before or since. No one got up to go to the restroom. It was awesome.

My first attempt at memorizing a passage from the Bible happened the year after I graduated from college----Philippians 2:1-11. The verses flowed from my tongue like a glorious poem. Not that I actually said the verses to anyone. That wasn’t the point. I was beginning my walk into legalism back then. I was intent on getting God on my side and making him proud. 

For a long time, I could have quoted those verses if the opportunity presented itself, but I couldn’t do it today. In fact, I doubt I could say the 23rd Psalm aloud and get all the words straight. 

I’ll confess something about my efforts at memorizing Scripture. I've memorized chapters of the Bible but they've never stuck in the place in my brain where I can spit the words back out. As I look back on these efforts, I realize the Holy Spirit was in my failure. During an attempt to memorize Romans 1 several years ago, when I got to the verses near the end, the lists of sin man has exchanged for the glory of God, I would be undone with grief. (I am an ENFP --my feeler is strong!) I came to understand my grief was nothing compared to the grief the Lord has toward those who are trapped in sin---the grief He feels when I’ve stepped into a pit of my own undoing.

God’s word is a sword. It cuts to the core of who we are. The piercing of God’s Word is crucial to living a transformed life, what some call living from the inside out. 
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  (Hebrews 4:12 ESV)
It occurred to me in the middle of my exasperation that God wasn't helping me memorize the chapter. He wasn't the least bit interested if I could spit out what I was repeating to myself day by day. He knows me and how being able to quote long passages could lead to self-righteousness and pride. His desire was for me stay in one place and dig in. My struggle to memorize became a gift, transforming my life in ways difficult for me to describe.

God’s Word always fulfills his purpose to lead us deeper into relationship with the One who loves us most.

I spent most of this past year “memorizing” Hebrews 12. I had forgotten the lesson from my days in Romans 1 and became frustrated when I couldn't speak the powerful verses verbatim. Although I was failing miserably, I couldn’t let it go.  Let’s just say, I’m a little bit of a scrapper. I kept at it thinking that one day if I was faithful, everything would click.

Something clicked, but not in the way I thought it would. One Sunday afternoon it was 110 degrees outside and I was curled up on the couch. I decided to give the verses a run through. All of the sudden, the verses began to open to me with fresh insight. God used his words to speak to me personally, meeting me right where I was. After all those days of learning and repeating, reading and writing, the words began to awaken my spirit and move me closer to the heart of God.

God’s words may or may not be in my brain, but no doubt his Word is in my heart. My inability to memorize has become a means to meditation, what I call steeping.  Steeping in God’s Word is transforming my life, helping me grasp the depth of  God's love for me, and for others.  

I may not have the words of Bible memorized but it doesn’t mean I don’t know truth. Truth is a person. He has given us the words of life in our language. It is an incredible gift that we need but often neglect. 

The prophet Ezekiel ate God’s words and they tasted to him like honey on his tongue. 

You may be asking, what of the hard passages in the Bible?  I ask you to consider even the difficult words of the Bible can be swallowed because God’s plans always include redemption. Whatever God gives to eat, even if it’s tough and we have to chew on it awhile, is holy and leads to life.

There is no need for a big study book to go deep into the Word of God though you can learn a lot from them. If you keep digging in one place, you’ll me amazed at what you unearth. 

Here a few other suggestions for tasty passages you might “memorize” (all or part):

Romans 8
Ephesians 1
I John 3
I Peter 1
John 14
Psalm 27, 84, 91, 103, 121

The past couple of weeks I’ve been having Psalm 62 for breakfast. 
Will you share what passages have tasted sweet on your tongue? What words of life have you gobbled up lately?