Monthly Archives: February 2008

A Sacred Song

“Then King David went in and sat before the LORD, and he said: ‘Who am I, O LORD God, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far? And as if this were not enough in your sight, O God, you have spoken about the future of the house of your servant. You have looked on me as though I were the most exalted of men, O Lord God.’” (1 Chronicles 17:16-17).

He was a composer of music. A poet of lyrics. A singer of songs. A man in pursuit of his Maker. His name was David, and he was God’s beloved. He talked to God in the way that I want to talk to God. With real words. With truthful intent. With raw, unedited emotion that trusts the process…that believes that the One who is on the receiving end will receive my words with grace…with mercy…with love.

David’s life was meant for a song, for indeed, he had known the grace and mercy and far-reaching love of his God. David knew what it was to be exalted among men. Greater still, he lived his journey knowing the exultation of his Father, and in the end, we benefit from the remnants of such a gracious knowing. We are left to the great examination of David’s life by studying the song he left behind—his walk of grace as sung to us through the words of scripture.

Many of his melodies are recorded in the Psalms—a book of songs that lead a heart on pilgrimage. They are meditations for the soul that harmonize with our emotions to orchestrate a tune of perfect pitch. We cannot help but be moved by their effecting power. No matter the season of our current living, we find our story within the Psalms and take our place alongside our spiritual ancestors to chorus its truth.

This generation boasts some modern-day Psalmists—poets who pen God’s truth with the same raw emotion of King David. Psalmists who create songs that span the spectrum of human preference and personal taste, but who remain unified in their purpose to move our emotions and our wills to a higher place of worship…of acknowledging the Song-Giver.

I asked my Bible study friends regarding their preferences for worship…for songs that quickly move them into the presence of our Father. Some preferred contemporary songs, while others chose the hymns of their youth. Songs like…

I Can Only Imagine. This is the Day. You Raise Me Up. Shackles. His Eye is on the Sparrow. I Know My Redeemer Lives. He Lives. It is Well. How Great Thou Art. Great is Thy Faithfulness. Believe. Open the Eyes of my Heart. Awesome God. Beyond the Sunset. Praise You in the Storm. The Anchor Holds.

These are just a few of the pilgrimage songs that mean so much to the women in my life. But there was one song that received more press than the others. A top vote-getter. A song well familiar to pilgrims for nearly three centuries.

It was penned by the heart of a psalmist named John Newton. John grew up in England during the 1700’s where he was groomed for a life at sea. John worked as a crewman on fishing vessels and would later stand at the helm of many slave-trading ships. His conversion to Christ came through the hardships that he experienced while at sea. Tempestuous storms and fevered sickness carried John on pilgrimage to Jesus, and once he arrived at grace, his heart turned to the pursuit of the grace-Giver.

John would spend the rest of his years preaching about this God—this water-Walker who met him in the storms of life and who offered him such an amazing grace. It was a sweet-sounding grace that permeated his wretched condition and brought him home to his Father. In 1772, as John was preparing for an upcoming New Year’s Day sermon, he pondered the thoughts of King David as found in 1 Chronicles 17:16-17:

“… ‘Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far?’ … ”

John’s heart echoed with the similar sentiment of King David, as he penned his thoughts to write what would become one of the most cherished pilgrim songs of today. Amazing Grace. Grace Amazing. A favorite song…psalm…scripted by the hands of a man who had experienced the fullness of such a sacred bounty.

I, too, have known such a portion. God’s amazing grace began its work on my behalf long before I had the heart and the will to receive its effecting power. But there came a day when I did perceive it and, thus, received it and began my pilgrimage home to my Father.

I may not be able to write a tune like King David or John Newton, but the Song of their hearts persists deep within me. He scripts my days and pens my purpose. He punctuates my life with meaning. He is the melody of his Father’s love. His name is Jesus, and, indeed, his grace is amazing.

Today, I sing because of it. Not out of requirement, but because this listless and stammering tongue can think of nothing or no one more worthy of my praise. I want to be a psalmist like David…like John. And so I pray…

Father, take my words…my raw, unedited emotions…and script them for your eternal purposes. Let me not be afraid of my voice. Instead, let my voice be the instrument that you use to sing your peace, your grace, and your love to world that longs to hear a better Song. A world that needs to sing a better Song. You are that Song, Lord. You have written your melody upon my heart. Today, I release my voice to sing its grace. Amen.

And now…sing with Chris Tomlin—one of God’s most anointed psalmists of our day—this familiar song of old.

peace for the journey~elaine

A Sacred Passing

“What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ.” (Phil. 3:14).

Some moments are worthy of our words…worthy of our remembrance. This is one of them.

We buried her yesterday. Sixty-four years worth of flesh buried beneath our grief for a life gone too soon. A life named Maxine. A woman I called friend.

I haven’t known her long. When my family moved here four years ago, we became friends through Bible study. She was not a member of my church, but never let it be said that she did not belong in my church. Long before I called this community my home, she was here…living out the faith that claimed her heart from an early age.

It is a faith that sustained her through some of life’s darkest moments…moments that have known my participation. Cancer moments. Six years worth of disease. A disease that has infiltrated our little community with reckless abandon and with determined resolve. One month ago, I buried another Bible study friend for the same reason. And can I just say…I don’t like burying my friends. I like having them in my life.

People move me. They always have. I would trade many of life’s earthly pleasures to simply have a cup of mocha with a friend…to sit across the table from one of God’s children and to engage with them in sacred conversation. God designed us for relationship. It has always been his plan, and it is a plan that I consider to be one of the most precious privileges given to us as believers in Christ.

Maxine taught me a lot about relationship. She was a woman of extraordinary grace and beauty…thru and thru. From the inside to the out, her faith journey was poetry in motion. Every room that she graced and every word that she spoke was a moment worth remembering, for wherever she was, God was right beside. Being with Maxine was like being next to Jesus. She embraced those around her with the great big, all-surpassing, unconditional love of God. Whether in health or in affliction, Maxine was all about her Jesus, and I am a better person because of it.

On one of my last visits with Maxine in the hospital, she caressed my hands with her warm embrace, and through the effects of her morphine drip, she uttered to me the words…

“He’s still on the throne, Elaine. God is still on the throne.”

Indeed, poetry in motion. Grace-filled poetry from the lips of one of God’s saints.

I shall not soon recover from the impact of Maxine’s presence in my life. Two years ago, she bought me a bracelet inscribed with the words, “I count all things loss that I may gain Christ.” (Phil. 3:8). I wear it today as a reminder that despite life’s losses, Christ is the ultimate Gain. Maxine gained Christ long before she dropped her cloak of flesh. But in that moment on Thursday…in that one suspended pause of time from her “here” until her “next”…she gained him face to face. Father to daughter. Savior to sinner. Creator to his most prized creation. An embrace for all eternity.

I will miss Maxine in the days to come. I will want for her presence in my life. But none of my missing or my wanting, would keep her from knowing what she now knows. Her faith has been made sight, and she has received her “well done.” Today, I am all the more eager to receive mine.

Of all the “things” that Maxine could teach me…could give me in this life…a hunger for God’s presence is the best. We are all headed to God’s presence, my friends. One way or another, we will all make that pilgrimage to his feet. Some of us will go gracefully. Some of us will go cursing the inevitable. But make no mistake…all will go. And in a single pause, we will bow before our God and receive our “next.”

What an incredible beginning to an inescapable ending! Eternity with Jesus. Eternity with Maxine. Eternity with you. How I pray for your participation alongside me in the most sacred pilgrimage we will ever make. Who we stand to gain will be worth every loss we have known, and so I pray…

Take from me, Lord, that which will keep me from You. Nothing I have known in this life is worth losing eternity with You. You are the Gain that trumps all my losses. You are my “next.” My forever and always. And until my faith is made sight and I see you upon your throne, keep my feet to the path of grace. Give me a Maxine kind-of love for your world and a Maxine tongue to sing your praises. Amen.

peace for the journey~elaine

Love Tied to a Tree

Love Tied to a Tree

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:9-10).

I would have missed it if had done what I had wanted to do.

What I wanted to do was to sleep. What I did, instead, was to put on my running shoes and head outdoors for a little bit of routine and a whole lot of boring. As I was lacing up my shoes, I told the Lord that this was a choice of my will…not of my “want to.” He was going to have to push me out the door and get my feet to moving. After all, my flesh is weak and usually defaults to my wants. He agreed with my assessment. So he pushed, and before long, my “want to” caught up with my will as I found my stride along the path of my usual.

The weather was cool and crisp, reminding me that winter’s end has not yet come. The sun’s brilliancy reminded me that a spring’s blossom is just around the bend. With ipod blaring and the pavement beneath my feet, I quickly found my rhythm, believing that the benefits of such an obedience would outweigh the boring.

Benefits that include…

Better health.
Better mind.
Better spirit.

God has always used my time outdoors to accomplish this three-fold blessing. The mingling of flesh with my mind and spirit encompasses the full package. It is therapy of the cheapest, yet sometimes, most profound kind. I allow God to teach me in these moments. I open up my eyes to see, my ears to hear, and my mind to conceive the possibilities of all that he wants to reveal.

Today was no different. As I rounded the corner of mile one, my vision was captured by a scene that I shall not soon forget. Caught in the brambles of barren tree branches and contrasted against the brilliancy of the blue sky, was a shimmering red bundle of something. The height of that something made its identification difficult, but as I drew closer, my suspicions were confirmed.

That bundle of “something” was in fact a bouquet of balloons. Valentine’s balloons. Somebody’s “something” had blown away in the night amidst the winds of a tempestuous storm. Somebody’s expression of love had left its intended home to now find its home amongst the tangled branches of a wintering tree. Somebody’s surprise traversed the landscape to now become my surprise, and I could not escape the sacred possibilities of such a revelation.

Love, in the form of a Valentine, made its way to this tree to teach me. Love tied itself to this tree to give me a blessing…a “Happy Valentine’s Day” blessing. Love, battered by the winds of change, tangled itself smack dab in the middle of this tree whose grip was tight and who kept it there long enough for me to notice. Long enough for me to receive the benefits of such an engagement—better health…better mind…better spirit.

For the next two miles, my mind was transfixed on this modern day parable that had painted itself across my winter sky. The profundity of such a moment is not lost on me.

Two thousand years ago, Love, in the form of a Son, made his way to a tree. Love tied himself to a tree to bring me a “Happy Valentine’s Day” blessing. It was a message that he scripted with the blood of his very own hands. Love, battered by the winds of the tempestuous storm that began from the very beginning, drove him to a purposeful tangling amidst thorns and brambles whose grip was tight and who kept him there long enough…long enough…simply long enough to finish love’s completing work.

God’s bouquet of Love chose his confinement upon a tree. He traversed the soil of humanity for this one purpose…this one moment of lingering internment upon a cross where his “want to” and his flesh caught up with the will of his Father. God’s “something”…God’s Someone…left his intended home with the sacred intention of becoming the world’s Valentine. The world’s Surprise. The world’s Revelation.

He hung upon the tree of winter…a Calvary tree…knowing that a spring’s blossom awaited his full surrender. The air was crisp and cool, and yet the brilliancy of the Son reminded the world…reminds the world…that death precedes the birth of a bloom. That beneath the branches that boast emptiness, lie the buds which are readying themselves for a bursting forth that can only be described as miraculous.

A resurrection!

An Easter morning!

Better health. Better mind. Better spirit. Indeed, I would have missed it if had done what I had wanted to do. But I would have missed everything. I would have missed Grace. I would have missed Love. I would have missed Jesus.

I cannot consider such loss, for Jesus is all the world to me. I cannot go back and pretend that I do not know the Truth because long ago, Truth was revealed in my heart, and I have kept to his path ever since. I cannot imagine not understanding and believing the impact of a Calvary Love, but there are days when I am prone to forget. Days when I need to break from the confines of my “want to”, lace up my shoes, and push my flesh to a point of remembrance.

God is always faithful to reveal himself to me when I choose such an obedience. Today, he revealed himself through a bouquet of love that was tied to a tree. Tomorrow holds a revelation all its own. I can hardly wait to get there. Until then, I will bask in the shadow of the blessing that hangs in surrender upon a tree in my neighborhood. It is a blessing that says “Happy Valentine’s Day!” This day and every day.

See Him. Hear Him, and conceive the possibilities of such a gracious grace. What wondrous love is this! It is a love I want, and so I pray…

Father, you are everything to me. I cannot imagine my life without you. You breathed your love over my life as you tied your Love to a tree at Calvary. No greater love have I ever known. It is a wondrous, undeserving, and lavish love that cannot be measured with words, with music, or with pictures. It can only be adequately known and expressed within the deep recesses of my being. You are there God, for your Spirit lives within. Hear now my expression of love as it encompasses my frame and brings me to my knees in full surrender. You, alone, are worthy of such devotion. I receive your Valentine…you Son Jesus as the Love of my life. I return my love back to you. Where it is not perfect, perfect it, Lord. Where it is flesh, replace it with faith. Better health…better mind…better spirit. That is what I want, so I pray for eyes and ears and a mind to receive the fullness of such a gift. I stand ready to receive. Amen.

peace for the journey~elaine


Gettin’ our Bounce On…

OK…fellow bouncers…this one is for you.

I can’t believe what a blast I had with each one of you last night! Truly, God was in our midst and gave us a great beginning to our seven week pilgrimage together.

Road signs…road signs. Which one was your favorite? I am torn. As I journey on pilgrimage with God and with you, I need to heed the “Ditch the Witch” sign. I am always relieved to see the “Weight Limit: 6 1/2 tons” sign and the “Bournemouth” sign is a good reminder to me that my silence is necessary if I am going to be able to hear God along the way. Perhaps my favorite, though, would be the “Misty Meadow” sign. It reminds me that I am almost home. You see, after a “timber crossing” and a “slow…funeral in progress”, there always comes a spacious place–a garden of God’s grace. When I turn on “Misty Meadow, I’m entering the territory where my daddy resides, and what awaits me when I arrive are the arms that have always stretched long and wide and high and deep. My Father’s love is a grace that I have never been denied. Neither have you. Sometimes we simply don’t bother to make the trip.

Well, girls, this is one I am willing to pilgrim alongside each one of you. We may not know about the “outlets” and “warning signs” that lie ahead, but we have a God who does. And still he asks us to come. To run our race. To walk it. To crawl it. To simply do it. His promise is to abide with us every step of the way.

What do we stand to lose if we don’t?

Spacious living. Time with our Father around the table of grace. Words of commendation for a journey well done. A privileged commissioning to go and bear his fruit to all peoples of the world. We can make the choice to live life at status quo, or we can put on our shoes, point our feet toward Zion, and begin the pilgrimage toward our Father’s house.

How I hope and pray that you decide to come along for the ride.

College has commenced at the Mount of Olives, my friends. Come and “transform your life one night a week.” Our Professor stands at the podium, and the seats are filling fast. I hope to see you in class next week.

peace for the journey~elaine
OK…your turn. Feel free to comment about anything that God is teaching you through this study. This is not about me and feeding my ego. This is about you telling the rest of us what is on your heart. What “road signs” is God intentionally placing in your path this week? What Scripture means the most to you in this time? What prayers do you want to be prayed over your life? What profound insights can you share with one another? This is as much a corporate pilgrimage as it is an individual one. Feel free to use the comment section as the Spirit leads.

A Sacred Shaping

“Hear O Israel: the Lord our Lord, the Lord is one. Love the Lord you God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them upon your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).

I’m a church girl. Always have been. From the cradle to my current, church is what I do. It shapes how I live. It stands as the cornerstone of who I am. I was made for the church, and the church was made with me in mind. I believe that God knew I would love his church…even from the womb of my mother. He graced my life with parents who took his commands seriously…this impressing and implanting of his truth upon my heart from the very beginning. I want the same for my sons and for my daughter.

I see so much of myself in each one of them. Good things and some things tended toward the negative. My children are, in part, the product of my shaping. Many years ago, my young son Nick bought me a plaque that I keep at my bedside as a constant reminder of the awesome responsibility that God has entrusted to me.

“Mother, I am what I am because you are who you are.”

He couldn’t have known at his tender age how the truth of these words resonates with the truth of Scripture. He just knew that we were connected somehow and that my life shaped his. How grateful I am for this reminder as I continue to parent young hearts and minds with this old and ancient truth.

Impressing. The Hebrew transliterated word sanan meaning “to whet, to sharpen … to teach incisively. The idea here is that just as words are cut into a stone tablet with a sharp object, so the Law should be impressed on the hearts of the children of every generation.”[i]

God was serious about his Law, and he entrusted his children with the task of seriously chiseling that Law into the hearts of the generations to follow…of sharply scripting his truth onto the tablets of their hearts. There were no “maybes” or “when it’s convenient” in his directive. It was precise in its application…daily application. Whether sitting or walking. Whether at rest or at work. God’s truth was to be the topic of discussion.

It’s not always been easy for me to implement his instructions. I am prone to my wandering…to my need for control…to my unbelief. Rather than default to his teachings, I often fault the process with my children by littering their minds with my own teachings. What emerges is loosely shaped hearts molded toward earthly perspective. God meant them for so much more…for eyes and hearts fixed on eternal perspective…on things unseen and things not so easily understood.

God designed them for the journey of faith. He fashioned me for the same pilgrimage, and together we will walk this path of grace until one day our faith is made sight and we behold our covenant God…our covenant keeping God…face to face.

Nick is almost nineteen now. He is off to college and his heart belongs to God. Only by the grace of God did I have a hand in that process. But there are three others who remain under my roof this night. The shaping continues.

It is a shaping that happens every Sunday morning when we make the choice to Sabbath with our God. It happens every morning when we leave the house for school with a sleepy rendition of “This is the day!” It happens at meal time when we bow our hearts in thankfulness. It happens in the car when we sing along to the songs of faith that I have been singing for over forty years. It happens when we close our eyes at night and remember to breathe a night’s peace over a night’s sleep. It happens…

When special occasions roll around like birthdays and holidays.
When conversations turn to questions like, “Where did I come from?” or “Where does God live?”
When knees know scrapes.
When fever claims our flesh.
When mouths wound with words.
When friends shun our friendship.
When bad things happen to good people.
When mommy and daddy forget to remember God and his Word and his directive to shape.

It simply happens…these opportunities to shape and to impress the truth of my God onto the hearts of my children. Of all the things that I could give them in this life…I want to give them Jesus. I want to shape them for the journey of faith. I want them to be church boys and one little church girl who all grow up to be men and one woman who follow hard after God’s own heart.

I could do other things with my life. In fact, I have spent most of life doing these other things. But for this one thing…for this one opportunity of profound kingdom teaching…I would gladly surrender all other pursuits. Children are meant for shaping, and for some reason beyond my understanding, God has entrusted me with such a sacred gift.

Humbly I accept the gift, knowing that anything less than an “all my heart and all my soul and all my strength” kind of love toward them will leave their hearts unshaped and ill-prepared for kingdom living. I cannot deny them the splendor of a Calvary grace and of the promises from a covenant Father who fashioned them from the dust and breathed eternity into their very hearts.

And so tonight, when my little princess descends the stairs with tears in her eyes because she is afraid, I will respond with grace. I will give her the extra tuck that she needs and remind her about a God who hems her in from behind and before, and who has ordained all of her days before one of them came into being (Psalm 139). We will sing “Jesus loves me” for the thousandth time and believe that this simple melody of God’s love will soften our hearts and calm our fears for a night’s sleep.

Shaping hearts for eternity. That’s what I am doing with my life these days. And when I am weary…when I am weak with the “doing”…my God is strong. I know that he who began a good work in me and in the lives of my children is faithful to see us all through to a perfect completion. Indeed, my Jesus loves me, and I am forever indebted to such a wondrous grace.

May God continue to shape and to impress our hearts with his Word so that we might, in turn, impress our world with his love. It is the most sacred trust we have been given. Guard it well, my friends, and spend it lavishly.

peace for the journey~elaine

[i]Baker and Carpenter, The Complete Word Study Dictionary Old Testament (Chattanooga: AMG Publishers, 2003), 1179.

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