Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Irene Answers The Doubts Of My Youth

Faith never came easily for me in my 20s and 30s. At least, not faith in God's willingness to care for my physical needs. When friends would point out His faithfulness to care for me, I would nullify their words of encouragement by cynically answering, "Okay, He provided this time. But will He  take care of me when I'm 50?" As evidenced by my tone, the implied answer was, "Gee, Deb...maybe He won't." And therefore I could justify my pessimism.

Now I'm a month away from my 58th birthday (stay tuned for upcoming posts lamenting my accelerated approach to said birthday), and I wish I could go back in time to talk to that younger version of myself. The Lord indeed has provided for me, and He in fact has  done so far more abundantly than I could ever have imagined. Tropical Storm Irene and her aftermath highlight His wonderful and detailed involvement in my life. Despite all the frustration and, yes, potential danger John and I have experienced since Sunday morning, I find myself actually rejoicing in His obvious protection and concern. Frankly, I'm seriously wondering if I have the stamina to recount all the ways He has carried us through this situation.

Our biggest worry, as might be expected, was losing electricity. John uses a ventilator during part of the daytime, and a different type of ventilator during the night, so electricity is literally a matter of life and death for him. Evacuation would have been, at best, difficult for us, and potentially harmful to my health on levels that I'll keep private, but if we had no electricity for more than a few days, staying in our apartment would certainly put me on the fast track to widowhood. So, as other apartments in our building have lost partial power (each apartment has two circuits, so rarely is any unit completely stranded) and the management office is totally without power, we're utterly astounded that we have full power!

Sunday started out amazingly well, with Irene being downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm. A friend who lives nearby came to get me up, but we decided I'd go back to bed after relieving myself in case no one could get to me at bedtime. A lazy day in bed rather appealed to me, to be truthful! (Hey, I'm not above taking advantage of circumstances...) So, after my friend left, I watched local news coverage of the storm while John tended his online businesses. All was well until Comcast went out.

And (you guessed it, folks), Comcast provides our phone, TV and Internet!

Undaunted, we praised God that our DVD player would still function, and that we had a cell phone. Our neighbor from across the hall, also bereft of her Comcast services, reported that half her electricity was out, as well as the building's elevator. She also wanted to make sure we were all right, since some of the neighbors had asked her about us.

We settled down to watch our DVD, a quirky B-rated movie from probably the 1930s entitled "My Dearest Secretary," starring an extremely young Kirk Douglas. About three-quarters into it, my evening Personal Care Attendant came. She had been unable to reach us by phone, and she wanted to see if we were okay. By that time, the storm had quieted down, making it pretty evident that she'd be able to come back at bedtime, so she put me in my wheelchair. Although I couldn't go online, I could study the Bible with e-Sword and play Bookworm. The Bible Study was tremendous, reaffirming  God's initiative even in accomplishing our sanctification! Bookworm wasn't quite as positive--I lost at Level 37. (For almost two years, I've been trying to reach Level 40.) Despite Bookworm's lack of cooperation, I was deeply touched and grateful that my PCA would go out of her way to look after our well-being.

Early Monday morning, our apartment manager appeared at our door, very anxious to know how we were. Her obvious concern for John's ventilator needs brought tears to my eyes. So many of the neighbors had helped us out and demonstrated compassion and concern Sunday that her visit simply confirmed that God has us in just the right building. I praised the Lord for using Tropical Storm Irene to show us how many people truly care for us!

Our adventure continued, with my morning PCA unable to come due to a sinus headache. (Those are dastardly; I had some horrible ones when I lived in Memphis.) Praise God for John's cell phone enabling us to call a friend who had wanted an excuse to see us anyway. After getting me up, she was able to get a Tracfone card so John could add minutes to his cell phone. Normally, we use that phone strictly for emergencies, so we hadn't kept many minutes on it. Irene has changed that policy!

The rest of Monday went okay, though the lack of elevator, Internet, land-phone and TV began to annoy us. Such beautiful weather! And us on the third floor! But I made great progress on the digital portrait I've been doing since...ahem! And I had an extremely profitable Bible Study.

Yesterday, my morning PCA still couldn't come, but the young lady who had filled in during her vacation happily came. She knows my whole routine, and lives closer, so we discussed the idea of being a regular back-up, as well as her staying overnight during blizzards this winter. To our delight, she was agreeable! How interesting and wonderful that God used the insecurity we faced to provide longer range security!

Once I'd finished studying the Bible, I had the idea of composing this blog post in Notepad. Although the lack of Comcast started wearing on me, I was thankful that I could at least prepare this post. I could see the Lord using my time without Internet access to show me different avenues for serving Him through my writing and, a bit ironically, social media.

This morning, Comcast came back, and the elevator began working. Instead of jumping online, however, John and I went to MacDonalds for lunch, taking advantage of the beautiful weather! On the way, John took a photo of a lamp post (belonging to the apartment complex nearest our complex), obviously victimized by Irene.

Indeed, the Lord has blessed me, caring for more details than I could squeeze into this post. Through all that happened during the first three days since Irene visited Massachusetts, the Lord Jesus Christ has faithfully cared for me in ways I never would have imagined in my 20s and 30s. May this annoying, frustrating and very precious time assure me that He has a secure future for me.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Irene Can't Chase Me Away

As much as I miss my family,  California itself holds little attraction for me. I'm crazy about Boston! Sure, I have fond memories of the wheelchair-accessible path at the summit of Mt. Tamalpias, the delicate green grass of Buffalo Hill in Terra Linda during the "false spring" of February (which I could see from my bedroom window) and the deep friendships with various people at Church of the Open Door (where I worshiped for nearly 30 years). But California has never captivated my heart the way Boston has!

A few nights ago, John and I talked about God's goodness and interesting provision in bringing me here. As a college student, I felt little interest in American Literature, with three exceptions: Nathaniel Hawthorne, Emily Dickenson and Robert Frost. And of course, Louisa May Alcott has had my heart since eighth grade! As a young adult, I read a fictionalized biography of Abigail Adams, loving the descriptions of her devotion to her husband and wanting to see the section of Braintree (the area that's now the city of Quincy) where she'd run through the woods. I'd dream of Old North Church, and the lanterns telling Paul Revere which way the Regulars were coming.

When I first traveled to Massachusetts to meet John (after a year and a half of chatting with him online), I told myself that if the relationship didn't work out, at least I would have seen Boston. Obviously, we were sure during that visit that we really were in love, and eventually I moved here. To my surprise, however, I neglected to leave my heart in San Francisco. The longer I've lived here, the more I believe my heart has always been here, waiting for me to join it.

Now Hurricane Irene is a scant 12 hours away from Boston. I've never experienced a hurricane before, and I'm not looking forward to this one. I've wished I could go back to California while she unleashed her fury here, and I'm struggling to trust that the Lord will provide for me and John.  But even now, I'm not homesick. Rather, I'm looking forward to  my next time in  Boston, seeing all the places that remind me of Louisa May Alcott, Abigail Adams and Paul Revere. I am more sure than ever that God meant for me to be here!

Friday, August 26, 2011

A Little Randomness Never Hurt Anyone

The chief drawback of having graduated from a Catholic college is the inability to play when I write. "A graduate from this institution shall be able to write in clear, cogent prose," the student handbook read. And I took it, perhaps, as seriously as a command issued from Mount Sinai. But our dinner guests should be arriving in 69 minutes, and I can't possibly discuss any of the topics on my mind adequately in that amount of time, so I'll break with the tutelage of certain nuns (most of whom aren't living anymore anyway), and throw out a few random thoughts.

For instance, does anyone understand the purpose of underarm hair? Sorry for being gross, but its existence has troubled me for years. If anyone has a clue about it, let me know. Really. I'm serious!

Also, has anyone thought about Goldilocks and the Three Bears? Why is Goldilocks considered a protagonist? She's guilty of breaking and entering, petty theft, vandalism and vagrancy. But she's a gorgeous blonde. Obviously, that makes it okay!

And speaking of blondes, is Carole Channing still alive? I should Google her. I could never figure out if she was entertaining or irritating.... Great! Now I hear her voice in my head singing "Hello Dolly!" Would I prefer her rendition or Louis Armstrong's? Let's settle for Barbra Streisand's.

But anyway, I have company coming, so I'd better close. Hopefully, I'll entertain them as delightfully as I flatter myself that I've entertained you!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Romance Of Eating In An 18th Cenutry Warehouse

A romantic Italian lunch in the North End sounded perfect for our anniversary yesterday, followed by a lemon cannoli from Mike's Pastries (since we'd be in the North End anyway). But as we passed Durgin-Park in Quincy Market, I couldn't help wondering if the threshold was really as prohibitive to wheelchairs as it looked. As those who read my blog with any degree of regularity know, I browse lots of websites about various attractions in Boston, and years ago read something (that remained vague in my aging memory) about Durgin-Park dating back to Colonial times. As anyone would expect, such an historic link (even though it eluded me yesterday) gave me a yearning to eat there.

John, enticed by the awning advertizing prime rib as its specialty, decided to brave the menacing threshold, which his wheelchair took quite easily. While he was inside asking if anyone could  assist me, I managed to enter. That threshold wasn't a problem at all! What was I thinking all those times we sadly avoided eating there?

The $44.95 price tag on their prime rib caused us to order the "Poor Man's Roast Beef." Wow! For $10.95, we got a slab of beef do big we couldn't finish it (even though we shared the order), ample mashed potatoes and a generous serving of cole slaw. The $4.95 side order of "Buttered Button Mushrooms" astounded us--the oblong serving dish looked to be about 7 inches long! Wanting to save room for a cannoli at Quincy Market afterwards, we couldn't finish the mushrooms either, but we ate more than half.

Well, today I had to do a little research on Durgin-Park, in hopes that my memory about it dating back to Colonial times was accurate. I'm extremely pleased by what I learned! Peter Fanuiel built Fanuiel Hall in 1742 to be used as a marketplace, and subsequently built a waterfront warehouse which included a dining hall for the market men, as well as for crews of the merchant vessels that docked in Boston Harbor.  In 1827, John Durgin and Eldrige Park acquired it, establishing it as a Boston landmark. Their third partner, John G. Chandler, named it for them after their deaths.

Who knew that simple Yankee cooking in, of all things, a warehouse would be so perfect for an anniversary meal?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Nine Years Of Joy

During my engagement to John, two friends of mine went through divorces, and a third began confiding in me about her marital troubles. I was deeply saddened for each of them, but also very sobered as I approached my own marriage. As the wedding drew closer, I reflected seriously on the opening statement John's pastor would read, which would insist that marriage is "not entered into unadvisedly or lightly, but reverently, discreetly, soberly and in the fear of God."

I don't regret having been confronted with the difficulties of marriage, or the fact that many marriages fail. Far too often, people have weddings, giving much more thought to the dress and the reception venue than to the sacred commitment that they make. When I made my vows to John, my giggles weren't because I had a flippant attitude (as one of my guests surmised), but because the promises to love, honor and obey my husband through worse, through poverty, and through sickness until God parts us by one of us dying physically weighed on me with extreme gravity. My friends' struggles, coupled with my firm conviction that adultery is the only Biblical basis for divorce (and even then by no means a mandate to end a marriage), forced me to recognize that I was doing something that God would judge! And I came to that altar with fear and trembling.

How I wish more brides and grooms held such a reverent attitude!

Imagine, then, my total astonishment at how delightful my marriage has been. Yes, we've had challenges, disagreements, flat-out yelling matches and pressures. And there have been days that I've wanted to leave. But truthfully,  those times are so fleeting that I have to work hard to remember them. During that first year, I actually had to ask my married friends why they didn't tell me how wonderful marriage would be!

Of course, John has a lot to do with the success of our marriage. Early on, Paul's injunction in Ephesians 5:25, "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her," gripped his soul, and his commitment to live out that command of Scripture is nothing short of breathtaking! I'm not, sad to say, as diligent about submission to him, though his unconditional love for me gives me a growing desire to show him such respect. And, oh my!--such a kind, godly man is extraordinarily easy to love!

On a deeper level, I'm thoroughly convinced that the Lord has blessed our marriage, as we keep Him in the center of it. We believe that He brought us together to serve Him. People watch us, and we know that our marriage reflects His grace and power to a world that needs to see Him. He uses us, not because we are in any way spiritual giants, but because He is incredibly merciful. Therefore, we take seriously our call to represent Christ''s relationship with His Church. There's great joy in knowing that He is intricately involved in our marriage, and that He's using it for His Kingdom!

Tomorrow will mark our ninth anniversary, though we started celebrating yesterday with a trip to the Museum of Fine Arts, and a romantic lunch at its New American Cafe. I'll leave you with the photograph our server took of us, confident that you'll notice that our joy in being married has remained vibrant.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sealed For His Works

Once the Lord brings a person to salvation, that person will not lose or forfeit that salvation. Ephesians 1:13-14 assures us that the Holy Spirit has actually sealed  our salvation!

In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.

If God seals us with "the Holy Spirit of promise," how would it be possible for us to break that seal, even through our disobedience? Are we so arrogant as to imagine that our sin (even our habitual sin) has power over the Third Person of the Trinity? Well...yeah. At least, I'm that arrogant! Often, when I hurl myself all too willfully into sin, I quake with fear that I've successfully managed to damn myself much as Esau sold his birthright for a lousy bowl of stew.

But God has sealed me to Himself, forgiving all my sin....not just the sin I committed prior to accepting Him.

Yet, this doctrine of eternal security is often abused by people who are either new Christians or (more predominately) by people who haven't genuinely experienced the grace of God. True grace comes to the one who recognizes the true wretchedness of his (or her) sin, seeing how sinful thoughts, attitudes and behaviors offend the holy God. Jesus promised to reject religious people who, while claiming to have done great things for Him, never confess their utter sinfulness or their desperate need for Him. They refuse to obey His basic command to love Him with all their heart, soul, mind and strength (see Luke 10:27). The Lord denies such "Christians" admission to His Kingdom:

Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness! Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock:"

The covenant God effected through the shed blood of Jesus Christ and promised through the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel guarantees that the Spirit Whom God gives us--the same Spirit Who seals our salvation, mind you--actually causes us to walk in obedience to the Lord!

Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. ~~Ezekiel 36:25-25

When we are sealed into His covenant, in other words, He seals us for His purposes, rather than to enable us to continue indulging in self-centered pursuits. So, while our sin can't overturn our salvation, it rather defeats the purpose of it! Consider, in closing, Paul's words in Ephesians 2:1-10:

 And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.
  But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

I Keep Experimenting

The mask I did last week was okay. I mean, it filled all the tutorial's requirements, giving me the right to call it "successful," so on that level I'm pleased. And I certainly learned a few new techniques, which is the whole purpose if me belonging to PSPFamily in the first place.

But I never  liked the element of having text as part of the mask. To me, it seemed distracting, unnecessary, and decidedly unappealing, though I guess it's popular, or hip...or something that my conservative mind is too dull to understand. At any rate, it bothered me. The writer of that tutorial is welcome to it, but I am very uncomfortable with it, preferring to create something more feminine and (I believe) refined.

So I adapted, modified and experimented yesterday and today, finally ending up with a mask I love. I'm using it in pink and very pale green with a wedding photograph of friends who will be celebrating their 25th anniversary this week, but obviously showing that example would violate their privacy.. So I used it with bolder colors to frame a portrait I did several years ago.

This mask is much more in keeping with my tastes and personality, and I'll undoubtedly use it frequently. Of course, I'll be making more masks, loosely based on this tutorial. Yes, now I'm having fun!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Misunderstood Grace

He seemed to love Jesus, and I was so lonely in Memphis that his promise to marry me  tempted me to stubbornly shut my eyes (squeezing them extremely tight, actually) to the myriad of red flags that everybody else couldn't help but see. Thankfully, the Lord blocked the proposed marriage, and two months later brought John into my life. Looking back, many comments he made should have caused me not only to doubt the wisdom of dating the man in Memphis, but also to question his salvation.

One of his statements should have been the ultimate tip-off that he had absolutely no understanding of God's precious grace. His line was enough to make me resist his sexual advances that evening, but had I pondered it more thoroughly, I would have realized how very little he knew or respected the Lord. Trite as it was, he said, "We can do it; God will forgive us."

Tuesday, I blogged about the new heart and new Spirit that God places in us as a result of His covenant. I insisted that our obedience contributes absolutely nothing to either our salvation or the retention of that salvation. I tried to demonstrate that obedience to the Lord, while being an essential element in a relationship with the Lord, comes through His Spirit working in us rather than being a product of our own efforts. The Holy Spirit, when He regenerates us into children of God, creates within us a desire to emulate our Heavenly Father's holiness. He gives us a desire to obey the Lord.

Certainly, we all too often neglect, ignore or deliberately quench His Spirit by choosing momentary (and sometimes not so momentary) acts, thoughts and attitudes of willful disobedience. Why Christians willfully sin is a deep topic that I must reserve for another day, but the Apostle Paul acknowledged the spiritual battle we experience in Romans 7.

As Paul confesses his failures to perfectly obey the Lord, however, notice his affirmation that, at the core of his being, he hates his sin.

13 Has then what is good become death to me? Certainly not! But sin, that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful. 14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. 15 For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. 16 If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. 17 But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. 18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. 19 For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. 20 Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.
21 I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. 22 For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. 23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24 O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!
So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin. ~~Romans 7:13-25

Paul's sin obviously causes him deep anguish. Even though he practices it, he hates his behavior and considers himself as wretched and in need of the Lord's intervention. Clearly, the Holy Spirit gives him such a disgust over sin that he longs to repent. In other letters (particularly Galatians), he describes obedience as "walking in the Spirit," again attributing anything he does correctly to the Holy Spirit's activity in him. And he knows that his sin causes grief to the Spirit, Who in turn causes him to grieve over his sin.

Now contrast Paul's utter disgust and grief over sin with people such as my ex-boyfriend, who flippantly invoke "grace" and "forgiveness" as a license to sin. Any conviction they may feel is fleeting, and they continue their indulgence with little concern over how God feels about their actions.

Has such a person, so comfortable in such a duplicitous lifestyle, really received the new heart and Holy Spirit that comes through God's covenant? Has he truly understood the wonder of the Lord's grace? Or does his casual presumption of automatic forgiveness indicate an estrangement from the God Who gives His covenant people a heart to obey?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Grace To Obey

The common objection to the idea that we contribute nothing to either our salvation or our sanctification has to do with the fear that Christians will abuse such security by distorting it into a license to sin. It's far easier to believe that, once we are saved by grace, the Lord somehow transfers the responsibility of maintaining His gift of salvation back to us.

In discussing God's covenant in Adult Sunday School, some people rankled at the idea that the transaction has nothing to do with us. One lady firmly insisted that obedience plays a necessary role. Until recently, I would have adamantly agreed with her, quite honestly. I have always gravitated toward Scriptures like John 14:23-24:
Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father’s who sent Me.

 Oh, how luscious to think that my obedience could elicit the Father's love! That Scripture put me in control of my salvation...of my relationship with Him. Of course, when I sinned (and particularly when I willfully sinned), I'd fall into deep despair, fearful that I had forfeited my salvation. Although I never would have admitted it, down deep I ferociously clung to the belief that my behavior, rather than the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, ultimately determined my destiny.

But read John 14:23-24 again, this time against the backdrop of Ezekiel 36:25-27:

Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. 

The sprinkling of water signifies God's cleansing, but also His covenant. Notice that He gives us a new heart, putting His Spirit in us.  Therefore, both the desire and the ability to obey the Lord originate with His Holy Spirit. If we obey, our obedience is evidence, not of our own innate goodness, but that He lives in us! Sometimes, yes, our flesh tries to take over, plunging us into sin, and rest assured that I plan to deal with that reality in a future post. But my point this evening is that God has recreated the Christian's heart, placing it it a love for Him and for His will. He has done it all because we can do nothing.

Indeed, His grace covers everything.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Tinkering With My Little Angel

I didn't like how my mask worked Saturday. It needed a mat layer between the background layer and the mask layer. Why? To conceal the edges of whatever image I'm trying to frame, as well as covering the background layer outside the mask's frame.

So I added a mat layer, using the selection tool to cut out the space where I needed the background layer to show. Then, to supply an image to frame, I inserted my Little Blonde Angel tube (a "tube" is an image isolated from any specific background). As a finishing touch, I applied a frame I'd made some years ago.

Here is my result:

Sunday, August 14, 2011

I Had Nothing To Do With It

"Daddy!" I shouted proudly from the oversized three-wheeler that the physical therapist had modified for me, "Daddy, look at how fast I can go!" My father did look up from his gardening...just in time to watch me take a sharp corner, tip the trike over and crack my head on the brick border of   his flower bed. Once he and mom  got me up and nursed the goose egg on my head, they gave me a well-deserved scolding for showing off.

Sadly, I've continued showing off my abilities long after that incident as an eight-year-old daredevil. Many of my actions cry out for an audience, begging for admiration and approval. As a blogger and as a digital artist, I struggle to share my work in a way that isn't self-promoting, and have to confess daily all the seemingly innocuous things I do in order to call attention to myself. Sometimes, I feel like that eight-year-old tricyclist, still calling people to look at me as I strut my stuff.

That self-promoting attitude has infected my relationship with the Lord, especially as I confront the new covenant, which Jeremiah described in his prophecy:

33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 34 No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”(Jeremiah 30:33-34)
In another post, I'll address the question of how this promise to Israel extends to the church, but today I don't want to digress from what God's been teaching me concerning His covenant with us. If you'll examine this passage, you'll notice how one-sided this covenant is. God does everything; His people do...nothing!

As our Adult Sunday School class explored this covenant last week and this morning, we grappled with the issue of our responsibility. Do we contribute to either our salvation or our sanctification? If we fail to obey, do we forfeit our salvation? Does our obedience seal the deal? (Wow--all those questions will keep me blogging for months to come!) The  conclusion was that God gives us even the desire and the ability to obey Him. Therefore, He leaves us no room (not one inch) for self-congratulations.

For most of my Christian life, I found this doctrine offensive. I wanted to say that I had  brought something to the table. "Abba, Father...look at me! Look at my obedience! Look at my ministry for Your Kingdom! Look at what an asset I am!" Fifty years have past, and I'm still showing off to my Father!

But  my Savior corrects me, saying, "No, daughter...look at Me. I am the Author and Finisher of your faith, and I will not share My glory." He reminds me that His blood accomplished my atonement, that all my good works were prepared in advance by Him, and that His Holy Spirit seals my salvation. I had nothing to do with any of it, lest I boast in myself. The focus remains where it belongs: completely on the wonderful Lord Jesus Christ.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Meeting The Challenge

A few days ago, you may recall, I mentioned having decided to try one of the "Summer Fun" challenges for PSPFamily. I think declaring that intention gave me motivation, because I've spent  yesterday and today working on it...especially today. I want to do more masks, tweaking this technique to better suit my personality and taste (the text is not my style at all), but I definitely learned a few things.

Here's what my Advanced Mask looks like:

Of course, a mask is always much more interesting when it actually gets used, so I took one of my old digital portraits, created a simple backdrop, and applied my newly created mask. I didn't do the best job, but it's kinda cool.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll go post these to the PSPFamily forum.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Significant Writer's Block

Silence doesn't necessarily mean having nothing to say. Sometimes, it results from too many germinating ideas, none of which has reached sufficient maturity for introduction into public conversation. Writer's block isn't so much an absence of material as it is an abundance of material that has yet to take form and direction.

For example, this past Sunday the Lord used our Adult Sunday School class to get through to me (after over 40 years of me being a Christian) that my works have nothing to do with with my salvation status. No sin I commit has power to snatch me from the Father's hand! Although I've always known I was saved completely by grace as a result of Jesus' blood shed for the remission of sin, somehow I always believed my obedience to the Lord maintained that salvation. But the covenant that puts my salvation into effect was never between me and God. Rather, it's between Jesus and the Father.

Am I eager to write about this covenant, and why God still wants me to respond to Him in obedience? Oh yes! I'm excited! As our teacher spoke Sunday, I felt like jumping out of my wheelchair, screaming, "Hallelujah," and dancing around the Prayer Room! When I took Communion later that day, I finally understood how it expressed the covenant! I'd love to write about all this, and maybe doing so would solidify it in my mind. But, to be honest, I'm simply not ready.

I'm still sorting it out, trying to live in it for a while until I can successfully articulate it. You see, I know people will think I now believe I can willfully sin, reveling in disobedience. And that's not at all what I believe! I know Jesus considers obedience to be evidence of a verifiable relationship with Him....that if I willfully sin continuously, with no desire to move toward repentance, the authenticity of my salvation would (and, in fact should) rightfully be called into question. At the moment, however, the concept is still very new, and I'm still learning exactly how it works itself out in everyday life. I'm not yet equipped to answer all the questions that inevitably arise in this discussion.

This topic is just one of several topics swirling around my mind lately, and the others are equally embryonic. So I've been tongue-tied, not writing much of anything because I felt--and still feel--entirely overwhelmed by all the Lord is placing on my heart and mind. Perhaps that sense of being overwhelmed keeps me from premature sharing, though, as I humble my heart before the Holy Spirit. Silence, sometimes, can signify learning.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Creating The Mask

The time has come for me to revive my interest in Paint Shop Pro. I've been half-heartedly working on a digital portrait for...well, actually, I'm not sure how long ago I started it, which (in a weird way) spares me the embarrassment of admitting how long I've been "working" on it. Or not working on it, but able to claim that I'm working on it.  If I told you whose portrait I'm working-on-but-not-really-working-on, I'd be even more embarrassed, of course.

Anyway, I do need to start producing something, regardless of what I do with that particular portrait. So yesterday I visited the PSP Family forums, and found their Summer Fun Challenge. This challenge offered links to several Paint Shop Pro tutorials, and I found a tutorial on creating an advanced mask.

Here's the link: Creating an Advanced Mask.

While I'm not thrilled with every single element in this tutorial, it will teach me techniques that I've wanted to learn for quite some time. I've practiced it a bit today, and think I've gotten an idea of what I want to do with it. At least, I'll try making a mask with it! It will be a bit time-consuming, but if I can master it, I'll be able to use it as a frame, or as a background. I'm looking ahead to a variety of projects! Maybe even a backdrop for the portrait...?

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Juicy Gossip

Some comments on my blog appear on Facebook, where I regularly provide links to my blog posts. One Facebook comment on yesterday's post read simply: "Sounds like gossip to me."

Naturally, my immediate reaction was an mixture of defensiveness and frustration. You see, I know I struggle with the sin of gossip. I confess it regularly, asking the Lord to examine my motives when I speak (or write) about other people. I pray that my words (particularly in this blog) will honor Him. And as I typed yesterday, I made a conscious effort to conceal the identities of people, wanting to protect their privacy and reputations.

I was disappointed in one friend, and troubled by a growing trend I see among Christians. My intent wasn't to gossip, but instead to communicate my discouragement as I watch people dear to me turn in harmful directions. But despite my efforts, perhaps I fell into gossip after all. (Sigh!) Please pray that, if I did in fact cross the line into gossip, the Holy Spirit will make the matter very clear to me, giving me guidelines that will enable me to walk in repentance.

Actually, I've been noticing how subtle gossip is in American culture. Lately, I've participated in conversations about people on the news. Mostly parents accused of harming or killing their own children. Some of the situations have made national headlines; others are local to New England.. "Well, you know," I'll say in a certain tone of voice, "Channel 25 said..." And I'll repeat Channel 25's allegation as clear evidence of the person's "obvious" guilt.

People might consider that discussing (and speculating on) a news story isn't really gossip, since the matter at hand is already public knowledge. Yet, aren't we still talking behind that person's back, forming conclusions based on what a handful reporters insinuate? Furthermore, aren't we clicking our tongues about their sins and shortcomings because doing so makes us feel superior ("I would never do that!")? Well, friends that's  gossip!

How about things we say concerning politicians. In criticizing their policies, do we sometimes slip into character assassination? Of course we do! If they belong to the party opposite ours, in fact, so much the better! Every sexual indiscretion, questionable affiliation, brush with substance abuse and social blunder becomes a delicious morsel, to be savored and intensified with anyone willing to indulge with us. As a result, we feel ever so much better about voting for our candidate (whose equally shady personal life we conveniently manage to separate from the policies he or she represents).

If I did gossip yesterday, pray that the Holy Spirit will  convict me and work repentance into me. In fact, if you agree that I gossiped, please correct me, explaining how I crossed the line. Maybe I need instruction on how to express my concerns about the condition of American Christians in a manner that avoids sin. May we all learn to manage our words in ways that honor our Lord Jesus Christ.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Seeing The Blindness

Just this afternoon, a friend from my past sent me a letter, explaining how someone close to her has fallen into deceptive theology, ruining his marriage and pouring other troubles on himself. And yesterday, another friend posted on his blog about changes in his theology that I find disconcerting (though I'm waiting to see if his future posts will give more clarity on what he truly believes). Other friends I've known for decades have either fallen into false teachings, or have blatantly walked away from the Lord completely.

As I watch people I've known and respected choose aberrant beliefs, the initial temptation is to wonder what changed their thinking. They've read the Bible, and sat through many of the same sermons that I sat through, yet as we're in our late fifties and early sixties (more or less) our beliefs are widely divergent. And, frankly, I've also changed from being a Charismatic Arminian to being a Baptist with decidedly Calvinistic leanings. I'm sure they wonder what changed my theology.

Yet, the people I'm grieved over today aren't my Charismatic Arminian friends. The points at which I disagree with them aren't matters of salvation, nor do they contradict the Bible. In contrast, I see my friends (such as the one mentioned in the letter I received today) embracing ideas, behaviors and lifestyles that very  obviously reject the teachings of Scripture. And I'm deeply saddened that they've chosen spiritual blindness.

I must do two things in response to seeing their blindness:

Firstly, I must pray that the Holy Spirit will open their eyes to His truth. Not to Calvinistic theology necessarily, but to basic Biblical teaching that keeps their faith pure before God. I must pray for God to woo them back to Himself, as Hosea wooed his adulterous wife. When the Lord gives me opportunity to do so, I must confront their error, reasoning from the Scripture...and then trust the Holy Spirit to  use what I've shared to restore them to truth.

Secondly, I must recognize my own vulnerability to deception. I must stay in Scripture, and attend church, Adult Sunday School and Bible Study, where any deviant ideas that come to me can be examined in the light of God's Word. I must be open to correction, realizing that I could fall into deception if I fail to rightly understand Scripture, or if I tweak the Word of God in order to accommodate sin in my life.

Jesus said that the road is narrow and difficult, and that few people find it (Matthew 7:13-14). As a see people increasingly run the risk of missing it, I'm grieved and sobered. Lord, open all our eyes to Your glorious truth!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Sinners Are The Ones Grace Amazes

The second stanza of "Amazing Grace" may not be as well-known as the first, and probably not as beloved. Yet, its lines best describe a genuine conversion to Christianity:

'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved.
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.

Before anyone can  truly appreciate  the grace of God that freely pardons sin, he (or she) must first understand that he (or she stands) condemned before a holy God who will never adjust His righteous standards to accommodate anyone's sin. Yes, that position is painful. Does anyone really enjoy acknowledging  the condition of total depravity? It seems as if we willfully blind ourselves to any possibility that we are, by very nature, sinners. We very much prefer the comforting delusion of "high self-esteem." Surely, we assure ourselves, we're not as bad as Adolf Hitler, Osama bin Laden...or our ex-spouse!

Once the Holy Spirit breaks through our self-deception, He frees us to see the truth that we desperately need a Savior. That beginning point of the conversion process isn't fun. When I first went through it in January 1971 (during the two weeks prior to giving my life to the Lord Jesus Christ), I experienced terror and loneliness, knowing that I deserved eternal separation from God. At that point, I hadn't yet understood that Jesus had paid for my sin. I only knew that I had violated His standards...standards that I would never attain! But, looking back, I'm so very grateful that the Holy Spirit spoke to me through the pages of Scripture that horrible winter, because He prepared me to receive His forgiveness in a way I never could have if I'd been left to believe I was "basically a good person."

Grace definitely taught my heart to fear, and I rejoice that it did. But God did not leave me there! Rather, He completed the work of grace by answering those fears through Jesus Christ and His redeeming work on the cross. Jesus bore the punishment for all sin as He hung on that cross, and His Resurrection three days later confirmed that God the Father accepted His death as sufficient atonement. I didn't have the theological vocabulary to explain it that wonderful day in 1971, but I knew He had paid my debt so that I could spend eternity with God.

His amazing grace saved me, both by revealing the wretchedness of my sinful heart and by mercifully pulling me out of my wretchedness. The first grace hurts to the core, but without it the second grace would lose its wonder. Who would (or even could) treasure salvation that he (or she) didn't see as necessary?


We don't understand how God cut the red tape so quickly, but John's wheelchair batteries have been replaced! Thank you, Lord Jesus!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Only Train Stations

After taking the bus to Ashmont Station, and then the subway to South Station, we prepared to catch a Commuter Rail train to Back Bay Station, where we needed to renew our Transportation Access Pass cards (which expire this coming Monday). As John and I watched the board to see which track our train would be on, he noticed that his battery indicator light on his power wheelchair was yellow....meaning that his battery hadn't fully charged Tuesday night.

We believed John's chair could still make it to Back Bay Station and back, so we grabbed the train. Of course, I was vocal about how disappointed I felt, since circumstances may prohibit going to Boston next week. I longed for the Boston Common, the Public Garden and Quincy Market! Yet we sat in the cramped, noisy office at Back Bay Station with people just as grumpy and impatient as I was. I knew we'd be forced to return home after our errand instead of enjoying the perfectly beautiful weather wheeling down the Rose Kennedy Greenway after a cannoli at Quincy Market.

After returning to South Station, John's chair was definitely slowing down, confirming that we couldn't wait till the 3:38 train home. I mourned for my beloved train buddies! Meanwhile, John called both of his Personal Care Attendants, trying to arrange for one of them to meet us at the busstop in our town, get our key to our apartment and fetch his battery charger.

Once we made it to the train platform, John put his chair on manual mode, and the conductor pushed him onto the train. So weird riding the 1:55, with people we don't know! The conductor helped John off the train at our stop, and the buses were already there. Sadly, John's chair was barely crawling, and my attempt to tow him failed. Thankfully, the bus drivers saw us and waited (one was the driver that usually picks us up when we come on the 3:38).

Both of John's PCAS got to us 15 minutes after we got off the bus. Once one of them got the charger, we went to a bank where some of the employees know John, and they kindly permitted us to charge the battery for half an hour. With John's PCA driving his car to keep an eye on us, we made it home.

Despite the frustration and disappointment, I see now how well the Lord protected and provided for us. I'm not sure when John will get a new battery (that depends a lot on Medicare), but I'm slowly starting to trust that, if we can't go back to Boston for a while, God will use us here. Someone, keep reminding me of that perspective!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Recurring Forgotten Idea

Each night, the idea circles around my head, as I'm lying in bed. People have suggested that I wake John and ask him to jot it down. I wake the poor man enough as it is, wanting the covers or the fan adjusted to suit my capricious body temperature. And even then, he manages to stay half asleep, which alleviates the guilt I feel for disturbing his sleep. So no, waking him up merely so he can serve as my secretary just isn't an option I'm willing to consider.

Still, it frustrates me that something that is so clear to me at 5:47 a.m. completely vanishes from my memory by the time I can sit at my computer. What vortex did the idea slip into? Why can't I retrieve it?

But here I am, rushing to type a blog post before any of the predicted thunder storms force me to shut down my computer (John has wireless, but even he goes offline when we hear thunder). And that wonderful idea that I'd mentally composed in the sleepless darkness has disappeared. The more I try to recapture it, the less I recall.

It was something about the Lord...

Yeah, well that's a big help!

Maybe the Holy Spirit will bring it back to my mind tonight. Not that I'd awaken my husband with it, but perhaps so I can pray about it. Maybe, instead of it being  blog material, it's something the Lord wants to work into my heart privately. It's possible that I'm wanting to share something that He's still in the process of teaching me, and He blocks it from my mind when I try to cheapen it into a mere writing project. Next time it whispers in those night hours, when I'm lying next to John but alone with God, I'll ask Him what He wants me to learn. Maybe then, I'll remember.


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