Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Legacy He Left Behind: In Memory of Thomas Osborne

I didn’t know him first or last, and I didn’t know him best.
But I watched the life he lived, and I must say…I was impressed.

I mostly watched from a short distance, sometimes from close by,
And I saw with my own eyes the legacy he left behind.

He wasn’t well-versed or well-read.
He wasn’t a great orator, not well-traveled or well-bred.

There were no fancy titles at the end of his name.
There will be no great public records of his fame.

Some say there is no legacy of mention in Tommy’s name,
But I must object to such a swift dismissal.

He was a caring son. A faithful husband. A loving father.
A proud grandfather. And a generous friend.

His work ethic was strong, and he frequently
Worked his hands to the bone to provide for his family.

His giving nature and great compassion led him to reach beyond his own,
Extending to the church and to all he met.

He knew more than his fair share of grief and difficulty,
Yet he effortlessly lightened the hearts of others with a corny joke and a grin.

The first to admit his own faulty humanity, he was slow to take credit
For the good he accomplished, and quick to praise others.

Those are the blocks with which Tommy built his life.
A life that, now finished, stands as a humbling memorial
Of what is truly valuable in life.

Very few in this room can say they were not blessed by him in some way.

And I am proud…

That I am the girl his son married, his grandchildren’s mother.
And I am thankful that they had no other, for their “Papa Tommy.”

You see, his legacy lies not in the places he went,
Great speeches he made, or the books he read.

His legacy lies in the home he made, the lives he touched,
The faith he held, and the love he gave.

His life cannot be defined by a simple list of academic or professional conquests.
Tommy’s life was steeped with what really counts in life and death,
The things valued not by man, but by God.

So when I tell Ahava and Isaac about their grandfather,
I have a deep well from which to draw.

And they’ll be taught to work hard,
To be honest and humble, to love God.

Taught to care and share, to laugh and love,
Just as Tommy taught Doug.

They will be Tommy’s legacy,
and I thank God that I get to be a part of that.

Monday, September 10, 2007

One Little Life

The best cat that ever lived, Milady Rogers Osborne, died today... September 10, 2007.

The vet called this morning and said that Milady was severely anemic, dehydrated, weak and uncomfortable. She could feel a large mass in her stomach and intestines, that it was fast-growing because it wasn’t there a month ago. She said she was crying a pitiful meow as she petted her. She said that Milady was going to die.

And I am in Charleston, 5 hours away from the vet’s office.

The vet said she could try to keep her alive until the weekend with a blood transfusion, but that the best thing for Milady would be to put her to sleep. She told me to think about it and call her back.

There really was nothing to think about. It was all already there in my heart. There was just no way I could make that precious little cat extend her suffering just so I could have my selfish little teary-eyed goodbye. I called the vet back after an hour of crying, praying, and talking on the phone with Doug, my mom, and Joannis. And I told her to go ahead. She assured me that she would be with Milady when she passed.

I had known in my heart that Milady was going to die. I had prayed about it a lot earlier last week, and I asked the Lord if she was going to die. He actually told me yes, and that it would happen soon. I asked if I should put her to sleep before we went to Charleston, and He said it depends on whether or not I wanted to be there when they put her to sleep. I told Him I didn’t know what I wanted to do about that. I didn’t want to think about it. I just wanted to push it away from me. There was too much else going on, what with my in-laws living with us while my father-in-law recovers from brain surgery and receives treatment for lung cancer. Then there are the other health issues like Isaac’s peanut allergy, etc., and car issues that seemed to add to financial burdens. I felt nearly overwhelmed, and I didn’t want my cat to die in the midst of all this other stuff. Why now? I asked. No answer to that one.

And then, Wednesday and Thursday she was eating a little better and seemed to be slowly regaining her strength. The vet had told me that if it was just an ulcer (and not cancer), that the ulcer medication would take two or three days to help. It seemed to be helping, so maybe it was just an ulcer after all. Maybe she wouldn't die (yes, absurd I know, especially in light of a previous conversation I had with Someone). I couldn’t bare the thought of putting her down if it wasn’t a certainty that she had cancer, but we just couldn’t afford exploratory surgery for her; nor did I want to put Milady through that.

So I waited. Time came for us to leave for Charleston, so I took her to the vet to stay, asked them to please call me if there were any changes, knowing they’d take good care of her.

And then today she’s gone.

And I’m heartbroken. The best, most loving, most gentle cat in the entire world is gone. She was mine for almost 13 years (it would have been 13 years in October). She was 13 and a half years old, born sometime in the spring, in May or June of 1994. I got her when she was 5 months old. I wasn’t there when she was born, and it turns out I wasn’t there when she died…even though I had always thought I would be.

No doubt about it, God had sent her to me. And I sent her back to Him today via a cell phone call.

I’m feeling a lot of guilt over not being there when she died. But if I had been there, I’d have been on a crying jag, and Milady would have been distressed about that and trying to comfort me. She always tried to comfort me when I cried. She would circle my legs, get in my lap, kiss my eyelids with her nose, meow at me. I can't tell you how many times her fur was wet with my tears over the years. This was just what she did. She was my Little Comforter. It was probably most peaceful for her to go exactly as she went, with a compassionate vet who gave her peaceful comfort while she went to sleep.

My roommate Aubrey used to tell me that if anything ever happened to me, she wanted me to leave Milady to her in my will. I told her to get in line, because several others had said the same thing. I’m telling you, this was one special cat. And she was mine. For some reason unbeknownst to me, God decided to let me be the one who owned Milady.

It was October 1994 when I first met her, back when I was in college. I had decided to visit the Watauga Humane Society (in Boone). I walked past all the dog cages, but most of them were timid or aggressive with fear, so I moved on to the cat room. I’d had a few dogs in my childhood, but I’d had close to a dozen cats.

Back then all the Humane Society cats were in a room no larger than a dorm room. There was a bench in there, and lots of shelves and cubby holes lining the walls, where cats would perch and space themselves out. It was a crowded little room--I counted at least 30 cats--but the employees kept it very clean. I went in and figured I’d pet some of the cats. Each cat wore a little paper band around its neck with a name given by the Humane Society employees. Most of the cats would circle my leg and move on, and some would pause if I scratched their heads, but most were just not that interested in being petted. But after a moment this one little bob-tailed 5-month-old kitten jumped on my lap, put one paw on either side of my neck and rubbed her face against each of my cheeks. That was my first ever Milady hug. I fell in love with this little creature. I lived in the dorms at the time, but I didn’t care. I had to rescue this precious animal. The name the employees had given her was Alice. After spending some serious bonding time with her on that little bench, I mustered up the strength to leave her there with a promise that I would return for her. I didn’t know how, but I would do it.

The guy I was dating at the time lived in an apartment off campus. I talked him and his roommate into letting her live there until the end of the semester. Then I took my roommate and best friend, Joannis, with me back to the Humane Society and I adopted this little kitty cat. Joannis wrote a check for her because I didn’t have the cash on me. She stayed at that apartment for two months, I guess, and then I moved out of the dorms and into an apartment of my own. And that was the beginning of my life with Milady.

Thirteen years is a long time. I mean, think about it. It’s the amount of time it takes to go from Kindergarten all the way through twelfth grade. And any kid will tell you that seems like a lifetime. And it is. It’s a cat’s lifetime. I always told her that she had to be one of those cats that lived to the age of twenty. Apparently she wasn’t listening.

I just can’t believe she’s gone. Did you know she saved my life once? Or maybe I should be more specific: she saved me from being partially scalped and knocked unconscious. It was back in college, at my Birch Tree apartment. I had hung a heavy (and I really mean heavy) mirror above the head of my bed. I used three anchors in the sheetrock to make sure it didn’t fall. And that night I sat in bed doing my devotions as usual, my head resting against the wall beneath that mirror. Milady was on the nightstand, probably licking the lightbulb, as was her habit during those days. Suddenly she was on the other side of me, standing on my pillow, her front paws on the wall just beneath that mirror. She meowed at me and looked up at the mirror and meowed repeatedly. I sat up from the wall and pushed her away. And that was when the mirror fell. It came straight down into my pillow, right where my head had been. I’m talking a 30 pound mirror, or more. This thing was huge and had a heavy mahogany frame. It would have scalped me, given me a concussion, or cracked my skull. And after it hit my head, it would have fallen over my face and probably broken. The anchors had held. They were still in the wall above us. So what had happened? The mounting cable on the back of the mirror had broken. I don’t know if Milady could hear it unraveling, or maybe God had her do what she did. Either way, that cat saved my life.

Pud Tat. Pudda. (both derivatives of “Puddy Tat” from Sylvester and Tweety) Mrow. Cat. (when I was annoyed) These were my other names for Milady.

Thank God that she is no longer suffering. Thank God for the time I had with her. It’s amazing, the impact of one precious, furry little life.

Goodbye, Pudda. I love you. Thanks for picking me that October day, for being mine.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

I was almost roadkill

I was almost hit by a car this evening. I returned my cart to the front of the grocery store while Doug buckled the kids into their carseats. And as I was crossing the road in front of the store on my way back to my car, a woman turned out in a black car and headed straight for me. I was in the middle of the road, and she didn't see me (even though I was wearing a white shirt and have really pale untanned legs that were showing below my jean shorts). I jumped, but couldn't get out of the way and, on instinct, I screamed. Very loudly. It was a freaky, almost blood-curdling scream. She swerved and stopped, missing me by maybe two feet. I shrieked "what is wrong with you?!?" because it scared me so bad. And I stepped away and was able to see in her driver side window and she waved at me as if in apology, but had her cell phone glued to her head, too busy talking on the phone to even drive without hitting pedestrians. I yelled, "get off your cell phone!" And she said "F**k you!" and sped off. I was dumbfounded. Not only had she nearly killed me, but she then cussed me. That pissed me off. Doug sped up to me, having heard me scream (as did the entire parking lot), and I told him about the crazy woman (not my original word choice, but I won't expound on the ugly language here) who nearly hit me. He looked for her. Good thing he didn't find her, because he was seething. Every turn we took as we left the parking lot and for a mile, he said, "is that her?"

It took me over a half hour to come completely off that adrenaline high. I hate that feeling. But I thanked Father that nothing happened. I wasn't hit by a car today. That woman didn't have to get off her cell phone, and Doug didn't get himself arrested for aggravated assault, threatening and cussing at a bad driver.


Tuesday, April 17, 2007

What Looms on Your Horizon?

Have you ever noticed how in-tune we are with our geographical location? Maybe I'm just an anomaly in this, but it hit me yesterday when I was thinking about Virginia Tech. It's 129 miles away, 2 hours and 13 minutes from my house. I felt shoulder to shoulder with my neighbors in Virginia when I heard the news that there were two people killed, then more news poured in that the numbers had soared to 31, then 33. Thirty-two people were massacred, not including the killer, on a college campus just two hours from my house. Blacksburg, VA, looms on my northern horizon.

Does it loom on yours? If not, then you need to pause for just a moment and get your bearings. Stop and think about it for just a moment. Where are you? Where is Blacksburg? Is it east of you? West? North? South? Think about it for just a moment. The geographical position of Blacksburg, VA, in relation to you isn't really what's important, though. What is important is that you take pause and realize that these folks are your neighbors, that Blacksburg's horror and loss really does brush shoulders with you.

And while you're pondering that, take a moment to ponder some of the even greater tragedies that happened yesterday. Think about the scores of people who were slaughtered yesterday in Sudan. Think about the thousands of people, men, women, and children, who saw their homes and loved ones washed away in the floods in Mozambique and Bolivia two months ago.

But they're a world away. That's a different continent. Several different continents. That doesn't affect me.

Yes, it does. It should.

We must all realize the senseless loss of such tragedies, whether we're 10 minutes away, or 10 hours. Whether it's a college student turned psychotic shooter or an Islamic regime trying to exterminate those who possess a different faith and a different skin color, whether it's a hurricane that ravages our continent's southern coast or heavy rains that wipe away entire villages one continent over, it does affect us. We must all come to terms with the fact that sometimes bad things happen without apparent explanation. We must face the fact that we don't always have control of our surroundings. That we are vulnerable. That our children are vulnerable.

How does that make you feel? Kinda scared, huh?

That's the reason why most folks choose to ignore the tragedy of loss in our world...until it gets too close to our homes. Until it looms on our horizon. Until it's in your face and you can't ignore it anymore.

It's time we expand our horizons. It's time we felt others' loss. It's time for us to shake off our slumber, come out of our protective cocoons--realize that those cocoons are just an illusion--and come to terms with the fact that we're all in this world together.

Now let's step back from that vista for just a moment and take a look at our horizon through God's perspective. He loves every person who died yesterday in that massacre. He loves every person in Darfur, in Somalia, the women and children imprisoned unjustly and executed in Iran, the American soldiers in the midst of civil war in the sands of Iraq.

I heard a very interesting statement yesterday on Focus on the Family: that you love Jesus Christ only as much as you love the person you like the least. I think that's true of our compassion for those who suffer as well, that we only love Christ as much as the person in need for whom we've prayed and felt compassion the least. Jesus himself said that what we do for the least of these we do for Him, and what we refuse to do for the least we refuse to do for Him (Matthew 25).

It's easy to feel grief over Blacksburg and to lift prayers to God for those involved in the Virginia Tech massacre. And it should be. We should each pray fervently for those directly affected. And we must deal with the realizations this tragedy brings to the surface about our own personal security and safety. But it should be equally easy to feel grief and lift prayers for those who suffer in Sudan, India, Honduras. You get the picture.

Now, what looms on your horizon? Feel Blacksburg, to your north, your south, your east or west. Stop for a moment and feel Blacksburg. Then expand that horizon just a little.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Sin in the Camp

This week is the Feast of Unleavened Bread. It started Monday at sundown and will continue until sundown of next Monday. This is the week that God commands us to remove all the chametz, the leaven, from our homes and eat only unleavened bread. This is, of course, a physical representation of what we should be doing spiritually. In scripture leaven represents sin. So as we remove the leaven from our cupboards, we should also be searching our lives, removing the sin from our hearts and minds.

Father has been showing me a lot this week about sin, and how insidious it is, and I'd like to share one such experience today. I washed a load of baby/toddler laundry yesterday. At the last minute, I threw in Ahava's new sundress, a navy blue affair with white polka dots. I had a second of hesitation about it, thinking that the color might bleed onto the other clothing, but shrugged it off and decided it was probably colorfast. Boy was I wrong.

This morning I went back to the basement to work on laundry again. I emptied jeans from the dryer, then started pulling baby clothes out of the washer and tossing them in the dryer. I pulled the dress out first, then other clothes. Sure enough, blue stains were all over Ahava's new summer clothes! I muttered, "Oh, no! It's all over everything!"

And God said, "Just like sin, it affects everything it touches." Wow. That was profound. That's how I know it was God, because that wouldn't have just come to me.

You may think you can isolate one sin, allow one little indulgence, but know this: that sin affects everyone and everything it touches. According to Paul (1 Cor 5:6), "A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough." A little sin ruins everything else. And just like those blue stains, after sin has entered, it's sometimes very difficult to remove completely.

I pulled all the clothes (except the dress) from the dryer and rewashed them with lots of stain treatment. And I thanked God for the lesson. I'm back at the drawing board today, searching, asking God to show me places where I've been complacent about sin in my life and in the lives of those that I've allowed to influence me. Unwise associations, some of which I've foolishly sought out myself. I think it's time for me to take another scriptural principle to heart, one spoken of frequently in Proverbs, that we should be selective of the counsel that we keep.

Just like a plague or an infectious disease, sin spreads from person to person. We sometimes unwittingly infect ourselves with the hands we shake, the communal air we breathe...the company we keep. No wonder God was so adamant about removing the sin from the camp, about isolating the unclean for seven days, then re-examining it to see if it was still unclean. Perhaps we, the body of Christ, should apply this principle to our own lives and to the church in general.

Have we become complacent about sin? Have we winked at sin, allowed ungodliness in any measure to enter the body? If so, we've leavened the whole body. After all, a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough.

It's time that we remove the leaven, that we search our hearts and ask God to do the same, so that we might see clearly and remove speedily any impurity that keeps us from reflecting His likeness. Yes, certainly there is grace, and we should extend that grace to others. But as Paul said (Rom. 6:1-2), grace is not an excuse to sin. A little sin infects the entire body. As we extend grace, we can also stand firm in our convictions and refuse to allow sin in the camp. The two can go hand in hand...grace and purity. Mercy and godliness. For we see a perfect combination of the two in Christ. His purpose was not just to show us mercy and grace without limit, but to cleanse us of all unrighteousness so that we could stand pure and spotless before God.

A precious friend and I were talking today about what happens when you are faced with sin. You must deal with it. Sin that is not dealt with grows, multiplies, spreads like a cancer. A gut-wrenching example of this concept is King David's failure to deal with the sins of his firstborn son, Amnon. Recorded in 2 Samuel 13, the repercussions of Amnon's sin and David's inaction were felt for years, throughout the land of Israel, and included a national revolt and much bloodshed. One sin unchecked infected all of Israel. A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough. So what should we do? Get the sin out of the camp.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Know thyself

Okay, so I finally did it. I sent my first ever query letter to a literary agent today. I clipped the envelope to the mailbox next to my front door and waited most of the day for the postman to pick it up, because he comes at different times every day. And when he finally showed up, I nearly ran outside and snatched the letter from his hands. But I managed to contain myself and let him take the letter away to its destiny.

I'm trying to find a perfect balance of optimism and realism. The odds are that I'll get a rejection letter, that I'll get multiple rejection letters. In fact, the odds of ever getting my book published are against me. But thinking like that never benefited anybody. So I've decided that I may very well be the first author to find a literary agent with just one query letter. I may very well be the first author who is published by the first publisher who read their work. I may make history! My book may be a #1 New York Times bestseller, at the top of the charts until my second book bumps it to the #2 slot. Publishers might scramble to sign me on for a sequel (which is already written, by the way). My book may very well start a revolution, changing the way folks think about God and their relationship with Him. Folks might line up outside bookstores, hoping for me to autograph their copies of my book. It could fly off the shelves by the hundreds. Stores could have a difficult time keeping it in stock, because the demand is so high. Fan fiction sites could start popping up (that made me laugh out loud!) based on my characters.

Hey, it could happen!

No matter what happens, though, I know that I am an author. I know I'm a writer. I know who I am. And although that might be validated by seeing my work in print, my identity will not be deleted by a rejection slip. "Know thyself." I know myself. Do you?

Saturday, March 31, 2007

"Eli! Eli! L'mah sh'vaktani?"

Christ (Yeshua) uttered these words while He was hanging on the cross, the last words He spoke before He pronounced "it is finished." What does "Eli! Eli! L'mah sh'vaktani?" mean? The English translation of that phrase is "My God! My God! Why have you deserted me?" So does it mean that God deserted Him in His moments of dire need? Does it mean that He was no longer God? No. No to both of those questions.

Most folks have heard sermons on Christ's death, and most have heard common explanations for this statement. One explanation is that God could no longer look at His Son because He was covered in the sins of the whole world, and God cannot look at sin. Another is that Christ felt so overwhelmed, so alone in that moment, that He cried out in desperation, asking God why He had left Him. Perhaps these are good explanations. Perhaps.

I think that the key to understanding what Yeshua was doing by saying this phrase lies in understanding both the Tanak (Old Testament to most Christians), and the Hebrew mindset and traditions of the time.

Rabbis, even in Yeshua's time, commonly had many pupils or disciples (talmidim in Hebrew) who hung on their teacher's every word. Rabbis called or invited the most promising Torah students to be their talmidim for a Torah cycle (which, in Yeshua's day was approximately three and a half years).

It was common practice for a rabbi teaching his disciples to throw out the first few words of an entire chapter in the Torah that pertains to the lesson at hand. The students would scramble to remember the rest of the scripture, knowing that deeper understanding of the lesson at hand lies within the passage. There was no need for the rabbi to recite the entire chapter, or even to say "look at this book, this chapter." Instead, he'd throw out the first verse. The rabbi knew his students would pick up his meaning, study, and connect it for themselves.

Yeshua from Nazareth was a rabbi. His talmidim called him rabbi. He taught them for a Torah cycle (three and a half years). These men were not just rough, uneducated fishermen (although some of them were fishermen by trade). All men were required to be educated in the Torah, and He called or invited each of them to be his students. And you can be sure that they hung on His every word.

Now picture this: Yeshua is hanging on the cross, nails through His wrists, the weight of His body making his shoulders dislocate. The way His body is hanging, He must push himself up on that nail through His ankles every time He takes a much-needed and labored breath. This is excruciating agony, suffering like most of us have never witnessed. The weight of the world's sins are resting on His shoulders. He's past exhausted, weary unto death from suffering and loss of blood, but His mind is clear and He is going over the prophecies about this moment in eternity. Everything must be complete. Every prophecy concerning His death must be fulfilled correctly. He sees them gambling for His clothes; bystanders are jeering at Him, soldiers mock Him and offer Him vinegar, all unwittingly fulfilling the prophecies about His death with their insults and actions. And our precious Rabbi's mind, the mind of God, reflects on Psalm 22, which begins with "My God, my God, why have you deserted me?" and goes on to prophesy all these things. He pushes Himself up on that nail, takes a breath, and cries out that first line, and the disciples who are within earshot take in a sharp breath. Their minds race over the passage, and the rest of Psalm 22 comes to their remembrance.

How moving it must have been to realize that His last lesson to them was with His very life.

Our Passover Lamb

Passover begins Monday night this year. Passover is the night when Christ sat down with his disciples, His last supper with them. It's the night He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. The night He was arrested so that the next morning He could become our Passover Lamb, our Deliverer, our Redeemer. While the hundreds of thousands of passover lambs were being sacrificed at the temple altar, He hung on that cross so that He could free us from sin. It is appropriate that the Jewish people also call Passover the Festival of Freedom. God used the Exodus from Egypt to paint a type and picture, a representation of what Christ would become for us, a shadow of our Messiah. Just as He brought His people out of Egypt (Mitzrayim is the Hebrew word for Egypt, and means bondage, sin, the world system), He clothed Himself in humanity and set us free from sin.

He was the unleavened bread (leaven represents sin). The Feast of Unleavened Bread begins on Passover and lasts for seven days. During that seven days we do not eat anything with leaven in it. (Ex. 12 & 13; Deut. 16) At the same time, we ask God to search our hearts, to help us purge ourselves and deliver us from the leaven in our lives.

That year Passover started a little later in the week (although the sequence of events and timing, particularly whether He was crucified on Aviv 14 or Aviv 15, is hotly debated in messianic circles). Jesus was crucified at the same time as the morning lambs were sacrificed. He died at 3:00, the same time as the afternoon lambs were sacrificed. And He was buried just before sunset. He was in the ground three nights and three days, and He rose at the end of the Sabbath, just as the sun was going down to begin the first day of the week and the Festival of First Fruits (which is always on the Sunday after Passover begins, or as the Bible puts it, the day after the Sabbath following the first day of Passover). He was the First Fruits of the Father, risen from the grave and presented as a wave offering. Coincidentally, this year Easter falls on First Fruits.

Isn't God awesome? He delivers His people from physical bondage. Then He delivers His people from spiritual bondage on the same day, a couple thousand years later. He created a "moed," an appointed time, that we are to celebrate every year for the rest of eternity (Ex. 12:14; 1 Cor. 5:7-8). This is a commandment from God to His People. If we were supposed to celebrate it, to commemorate it every year, how much more so should we be celebrating these appointed meetings with God now that Christ's death, burial, and resurrection have brought double meaning to them?

Thursday, February 15, 2007

First Prayers

Ahava said her first prayer last night. At least, it's the first prayer she's said that we know of. We were doing her Building Our Legacy devotional with her (we're a day behind in her book), and were trying to explain to her what prayer is and how to do it. So her first prayer was "God bless Daddy. Amen." How sweet is that? Doug and I looked at each other, hearts on our sleeves, and said wow, her first prayer! Moments like that just make your heart burst with love, what Max Lucado calls a "love burst."

I imagine that's what our Heavenly Father feels like when He hears our prayers. To His ears they sound like the humble, broken sentences of a two-year-old. And the fact that we're even attempting to talk to Him probably makes His heart burst with love.

To some it may sound strange to attribute such a human emotional response to God, but I think we've missed it somehow when we attach our own preconceived notions to God and strip Him of His emotions. The Bible talks in great detail of God's emotions. The ones that stick out in most folks' minds the most are the ones where He's really ticked off and His anger flares up. There are plenty of instances of just that happening, yes. But there are also plenty of instances where we actually read that His heart melts with love. The interesting thing about Him is that, when it comes to His children, He can't stay angry for long. Just like us as parents. We may get angry with a child for deliberately disobeying or for being rebellious, but the anger is like a flash in the pan compared to our enduring love for them. That's how our Heavenly Father is.

Isaiah 54 is a perfect example of His heart wavering in its' anger, overcome by His love and compassion for His children, even when they do wrong. Take a look at verses 7 and 8: "'For a brief moment I forsook you, But with great compassion I will gather you. In an outburst of anger I hid My face from you for a moment; But with everlasting lovingkindness I will have compassion on You,' Says the Lord your Redeemer."

It's later in this chapter that He gives us a beautiful promise, a proclamation of His protection: "'No weapon that is formed against you shall prosper; And every tongue that accuses you in judgment you will condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, And their vindication is from Me,' declares the Lord." Now that's powerful. That's a heritage that each and every believer, as a servant of the Lord, can and should embrace to the fullest.

And look at the entire book of Hosea. The House of Israel (the southern kingdom, consisting of ten of the twelve tribes, the ones we commonly hear called the "Lost Tribes" today) rebelled against Solomon's son and against God's commandments. They turned their backs on God's appointed times and His Sabbath, and started worshipping the pagan sun god. God was so angry with the House of Israel that He told them He would no longer have compassion on them, and declared that they were no longer a people. In Hosea 1:9 he declares, "...for you are not My people and I am not your God." Total rejection from the Creator of the universe. That's gotta sting. We're still feeling the effects of that one today.

But He couldn't stay angry for long. In the very next verse, His love for them overwhelms and pours out, and He declares, "Yet the number of the sons of Israel Will be like the sand of the sea, Which cannot be measured or numbered; And it will come about that, in the place Where it is said to them, 'You are not My people,' It will be said to them, 'You are the sons of the living God.' And the sons of Judah and the sons of Israel will be gathered together, And they will appoint for themselves one leader, And they will go up from the land, For great will be the day of Jezreel."

These are just a few examples of God's love being stronger than His anger. The epitome, the ultimate illustration of God's love for His children, is Christ's sacrifice on the cross. Can you imagine what it must have been like for the Creator of the universe to clothe Himself in flesh and walk among sinners? John 1:4-5,10-12 says this of Christ's earthly presence among man: "In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it...He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name."

Can you imagine what it must have been like to willingly die in the hands of your own creation? John 3:16 starts with the words "For God so loved the world..." Wow. Stop for just a moment and think about that. God loved you and me so much that He willingly died for us so that we could be with Him. There is no greater love than that. Jesus said in John 15:13-14, "Greater love hath no man than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends, if you do what I command you."

Knowing the great love that the Father bestows upon us, how can we not pray? How can we not attempt to communicate with Him? Our prayers may be humble, like that of my two-year-old daughter, or may be great oratory works. But they're still viewed the same by our Father, as the attempts of His children to communicate with Him. I imagine that in those moments where we offer our first prayers to Him, where we try to reach Him, unsure of ourselves, of whether He's even listening, but desperate to be heard, that His heart melts. And in those moments we are held in the hands of a loving Father, listening to His children's first prayers with delight.

That reminds me of Jeremiah 31:20, where Father muses over Ephraim (another name for the House of Israel): "'Is Ephraim My dear son? Is he a delightful child? Indeed, as often as I have spoken against him, I certainly still remember him; Therefore My heart yearns for him; I will surely have mercy on him,' declares the Lord."

His heart yearns for us, even when we're rebellious and wallowing in our sin. Even then, Father's love reaches out to us, and He delights in us, in our feeble attempts to communicate with Him.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Divine Imagination/Knowing Christ

In my previous post, I mentioned what I refer to as divine imagination. I got this term from a song by Michelle Tumes, called "Dream." Here are the lyrics:

I believe there is divine imagination
Give it wings for it created aviation
Every little hope you're holding inside
Every little gleam you keep in your eyes

Before a seed became a flower there was a vision
The dream is planted deep, He'll shower it with wisdom
Flowing with the love that's making you smile
You've waited and you've prayed, you've dreamed your whole life
Your soul begins to fly

There's a dream in your heart
And His heart is your prayer
You can move mountains with your life in His hands
He'll tear down the walls and He'll walk where you can't
Have faith in the power to believe He's given you a dream

I pray your dream will leap beyond your expectations
You'll see miracles; He has no limitations
Listen to His voice a spark will ignite
Let him be the strength to carry your life
He'll raise your spirit high

There's a dream in your heart
And His heart is your prayer
You can move mountains with your life in His hands
He'll tear down the walls and He'll walk where you can't
Have faith in the power to believe
He's given you a dream

You will find the bloom beneath the sunshine
Reach inside and sail to His horizon
Every little hope you're holding inside
Every little gleam you keep in your eyes
You've waited and you've prayed, you've dreamed your whole life
Your soul begins to fly

There's a dream in your heart
And His heart is your prayer
You can move mountains with your life in His hands
He'll tear down the walls and He'll walk where you can't
Have faith in the power to believe He's given you a dream

Faith in the power to believe
He has given you a dream
Faith in the power to believe
Gotta have faith in the power to believe
He has given you a dream
Faith in the power
I believe that, even today, God does inspire people to write, to paint, to sing, to create and invent. And even deeper than that, I believe that He converses with those who love and follow Him. I also believe that He talks to different people in different ways, depending on our individual giftings, reservations, talents, and misgivings.

My imagination is one of the greatest gifts God gave me. God uses it to bring me closer to Him, to teach me, to guide me, to admonish and to inspire me. It’s extremely powerful, and, sadly, the devil has used it against me more times than I can count. That's why I must be on my guard at all times, taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:5).

In my first post I said that God (Jesus, to be more specific, in case that helps) told me to do something a little weird (fasting secular fiction for 40 days). I also said He sits in my living room, that He wears a white robe and sandals, and that He has a great smile. And no, I'm not delusional. How can I see God? Nobody has seen God and lived, right? The bible says so. And I'm not contradicting the bible here, so don't get all worked up. I'm not talking about a mountaintop experience with the unbridled power of Yahweh, like Moses experienced on Sinai. I'm talking about His gentle presence in the heart of me as a believer.

Anybody can conjure up images of Christ, or who they think Christ is, in their imagination. That's the beauty of imagination. But in order to really let your imagination be a vessel or tool for Him, you've got to know Him first. There are imitations out there, and any believer can be deceived. I know because it’s happened to me. This is why discernment—the ability to tell whether what we feel/hear/imagine/see/read is really of God, of our flesh, of worldly influence, or something else—is essential.

In John 10, Jesus tells a story to help us understand what it means to know His voice. He tells about the shepherd and the sheep. Here are his words in verses 4b-5: “…the sheep follow him [the shepherd] because they know his voice. A stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers.” He goes on to explain that this story is an illustration of Christ’s relationship with us (v. 11, 27): “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep…My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.”

So how do we know when something is really of God? How do we know when we’re hearing His voice? It’s simple. Listen to Him. Get to know Him, and you’ll recognize His voice. And how do you get to know God? By reading the Bible and through prayer. The only way you will ever know God’s voice is if you spend time reading the Bible. And reading the Bible is a sure thing. It’s the divinely inspired word of God. It is the ultimate authority. His opinions, His personality, His very essence are contained within the words of your Bible. In fact, He and his word are one and the same. He is His word. John 1 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

So, if you want to know Jesus, read the Word of God, the Bible. The entire word of God, from Genesis to Revelations. Read it over and over, for it is the voice of God. And when you’ve become acquainted with the written form of Him, you’ll start to sense His leading in your everyday life—in your decisions, in the song you hear on the radio, in the words of a friend, and in your own thoughts. Immerse yourself in the Word of God. Renew your mind by “washing” it with the Word of God.

Ephesians 5:25b-26 says “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word.”

The word of God washes and cleanses us. It changes us, and it changes how we perceive the world around us.

Ephesians 4:23 tells us to “be renewed in the spirit of your mind.” The verses around it tell us how to do that, by laying aside our old sin nature and putting on the new self we received through Christ and which was created in the likeness of God, in righteousness and truth.

Romans 12:1-2 tells us to present our bodies as a living and holy sacrifice to God, “and do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”

The mind is a battlefield. That’s where the enemy wages war against us. And that is why it is essential to renew our minds daily with the washing of the Word of God. Remember that 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 says “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.”

It's fascinating really, that in my mental conversations with Him, I can only hear answers to my questions when I know the scriptural basis for those answers. Otherwise, He doesn't reply, just points me back to scripture. If I want to know His heart, I must read it for myself. But after I have read Him, I recognize Him. And, just as importantly, I learn by default to recognize what is not Him.

So I can sit here and say that yes, I can see my Messiah sitting in my living room with me (in my mind's eye). He reads over my shoulder, laughs with (and sometimes at) me, and guides me when I let Him. I disappoint Him, I'm sure. But He loves me anyway. And I want to know Him more, so that I can hear more of Him and be more like Him.

No, He's not physically there, but He is in spirit. The Holy Spirit is our guide, the One who ministers to us on a daily basis, and He knows that my imagination is very visual and is the best way to communicate with me. So He uses it, and I honestly do believe that He speaks to me at times. I just have to be still and listen…


Hi there. My name is Renee, and I'm a writer. A novelist, actually. I'm also a Messianic Christian, a wife, and a mother. And I guess some might say I'm an artist, although my artistic talents are limited to combinations of paint and silk.

My husband and I recently started attending a great church in our area. I love this church. It's nondenominational, and seems to be spirit-filled. The praise and worship is energetic, and most importantly, the pastor's teachings are biblically grounded and usually hit home for me. We're probably going to join this church soon. It's the first place that has felt like a church home to me in several years. Right now the entire church is participating in this program that they developed, called Building Our Legacy. It's a 40-day period in which each member spends time with God in reflection, prayer, and daily devotions, guided by a book that was written by members of the church. It's a really neat program, and I've already been blessed and challenged, and I'm only in the first week.

I normally read a lot. A whole lot. And I read a lot of secular fiction. But right now God has put me in a time-out, so I'm not allowed to read any secular fiction for a 40-day period, which conveniently coincides with this church program.

It's for the best, I know. I mean, I read so much some days that I can't stop thinking about it and can't fall asleep at night. Hello, that's not healthy, you know? And not all of what I've been reading lately is Christ-centered, to say the least. So I'm not reading anything except my bible and devotional. For 40 days. And I may read my own novels, which are still works in progress and are definitely not secular in nature.

Now, some folks out there probably wouldn't believe that God would speak to an individual today, much less that He would tell me to fast something as bizarre as secular fiction. But there it is. And He did. He didn't tell me to cut it out entirely, just for 40 days. I can do that. I mean, when the Creator of the universe is sitting in your living room, in His white robe and sandals, it's pretty easy to do what He says. He has a great smile, by the way.

And no, I'm not delusional. I'm just honest. Some might say that I have an unusual relationship with God. Part of it, I'm pretty sure, is the creative imagination that He gave me when He shaped and molded me in my mother's womb 30-some years ago. But it's also Him, and it's also real. Keep in mind that we're talking about a thing called faith here. Let's keep that in perspective.

You know, I never thought I'd create a blog. I've usually been the one person on the sidelines who made fun of blogs and refused to read them (well, okay, that's a lie...I read Anderson Cooper's blog sometimes, and I stumbled on this one blog by a Muslim-American woman that fascinated me). And I certainly never thought I'd write anything like what I just wrote in the paragraphs above and put it on a blog for the entire internet to read. Wow. Freaky. But there it is, so let's go with it. Maybe I'll write about divine creativity and imagination. Maybe I'll write about Hebrew Roots of Christianity and Torah. Maybe I'll even talk about my journey as an author. Or maybe I'll just brag about my kids. This is kind of fun, after all.