Sunday, October 30, 2011

Gratitude journal

This week I am grateful for many things, but especially for this little boy, Elliott Benjamin Worley, who celebrated his 4th birthday in the backyard yesterday.

It was a pumpkin super-hero party. All the super-heroes were there, including this guy:

And these friends:

Here's some of the fun:

Happy Birthday E! You're a true super-hero.

Love, Lala

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Oh magnify the Lord with me... Psalm 34:3

I've been learning a lot about thanksgiving lately in my personal Bible study. I'm doing a word search on it. My search has led me to verses like this:

I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving. - Psalm 69:30

When we give thanks, we magnify God.

Magnify - to extol. But also, to increase the apparent size of. When we magnify God, we do not increase Him; He already fills the whole earth. When we magnify God, we increase our ability to see Him.

I have a thing for magnifying glasses. I collect them. And those paperweights that magnify whatever picture is glued to the bottom. I am fascinated with them. I also increasingly need to use them, as I am growing older and can't thread a needle or read fine print on how to set my watch.

My boys loved magnifying glasses. They could spend endless hours scrutinizing leaves and bugs and the innards of disassembled TV remotes.

I can find myself hunched over my circumstances, examining every inch of my emotional innards, until my vision is so blurry I cannot see straight.

I can magnify my circumstances, or I can magnify God.

I see this choice played out in scripture. From the belly of the fish, Jonah says, "With a voice of thanksgiving, I will sacrifice to you," and cries out, "Salvation belongs to the LORD!"

David declares the same thing in Psalm 3, and when? Fleeing from Absolam, his own son bent on killing him.

John sees the believers gathered around the throne, crying, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!" in Revelation, his great letter to the persecuted church, in the death grip of Rome.

And Mary cries out, as she enters the fiery trial of bearing the Messiah, "My soul magnifies the Lord!" She doesn't make much of the implications of being an unwed mother, of explaining it to Joseph, of hoping anyone believes in virgin birth or the coming of the Christ. She may not understand yet that a sword will pierce her own heart, that her son will be sacrificed. She magnifies the God who has come to save His people, just as He promised—who will save her.

The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God! - Psalm 50:23

I am not enduring any fiery trials right now. But I have some friends who are. My heart is heavy for several friends who are in the belly of the Red Devil, that poisonous chemo that is the only hope the world offers to save them from the cancer that threatens to kill them. When I think of them, I am overwhelmed by their mouth sores and hair loss and weak bodies. One said, "My esophagus hurts to exist."

How can I pray for them? I feel helpless. I can go over their list of woes, worrying before God, who already knows. And I do this sometimes. Or I can magnify the God who is their only salvation. Giving thanks from the belly of the whale may sound like I don't appreciate the magnitude of their circumstances. Quite the contrary. But I, and they, need to appreciate more the magnitude of our God.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Gratitude journal

Thanks makes now a sanctuary.
Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts

When the kids were little, I started keeping a gratitude journal. I read that Carly Simon kept one. Each day she took one picture—something that caused her to be thankful or joyful. She glued it in her journal and wrote a couple of sentences about it. When I started doing that, I was using a Polaroid camera and handwriting each entry. The boys used to love to look through those big journals. I still love them. I know I'm in trouble when I've stopped keeping a gratitude journal, when there are no pictures or moments recorded. It means I've stopped noticing the presence of God.

So I will be posting my gratitude journal here every week. Today Dennis gave me a very special gift: the Molly Maids came and cleaned my house this morning. So here is what I am grateful for today: a clean house.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Careful how you listen

This week in my Wednesday Bible study we are going to learn how to read Jesus' teachings with understanding. When I was preparing I was reminded of something my friend Luci Freed said years ago: "Jesus was an effective teacher because he asked great questions and he told great stories." I am a storyteller, and I have always loved Jesus' stories. Here's something I learned about his storytelling:

Every Rabbi taught in parables, and many of the parables Jesus used were being taught by other Rabbi. It was the Rabbi's interpretation of the parable that caused you to follow a particular Rabbi's teachings. It was Jesus' unique interpretation of the parables that were radical.

Parables are meant to be heard, not read. Think of a parable much like a stand-up comedy routine. The speaker draws you into his story, and then he delivers the twist or punch line. It's meant to have an effect on the listener, to draw a reaction. The reaction to the twist reveals the heart of the listener.

That's why you should always pay attention to who's in the crowd as Jesus is teaching. There are different types of listeners – the inner group of disciples, the larger group of followers, Gentiles and other outsiders (women, the sick, tax collectors, prostitutes), and Pharisees/other Rabbi. Watch for the reaction of the different listeners. Consider how Jesus' teaching about the kingdom would fall on their hearts and reveal whether they welcomed the kingdom he was bringing or not.

I was pondering that this afternoon as I finished another sermon research file and emailed it to the preaching team. Preachers do something in sermon study called exegesis - that is, they interpret the text by asking a lot of questions of it. And one question we always ask is, "How would the people of that day hear this?" I need to put myself inside the head of each person in the story and hear the truth through their filter. Will they welcome it? Will it be good news? Or will they be threatened by it? Will they reject it?

A second very important task of sermon study is to exegete your congregation. How will the people you are teaching hear this? Will it be good news? Hard news? Will it break their hearts? Will it set them free? Or will it rock their world, so much so that they take up their comfort zones and walk away?

I have the strangest experience every Sunday. I have studied the day's text weeks or months ago. I know what is coming, what the people are going to hear. It's kind of like knowing a bomb is about to be dropped, or a surprise is about to be sprung. And I know what is going on in some of the people's hearts. Sometimes I want to warn them, "This is going to be hard to hear. But hang in there. It is true, and it is the best thing for you." Sometimes I want to call certain people up and say, "Be there Sunday. You need to hear this. It's good news."

Here's the thing about thinking you know what's coming. Quite often you forget to exegete yourself, but Jesus never does. That word you thought you knew, that text you took apart for days, it falls upon your heart, too. And you are revealed.

Jesus always said at the end of a parable: Be careful how you listen.