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May 18, 2010

Chapter-a-Day Isaiah 43

Danger. "Don't be afraid, I've redeemed you. I've called your name. You're mine. When you're in over your head, I'll be there with you. When you're in rough waters, you will not go down. When you're between a rock and a hard place, it won't be a dead end— Because I am God, your personal God, The Holy of Israel, your Savior." Isaiah 43: 1b-3a (MSG)

I'm in over my head...because I chose to jump in the deep end.

I'm in rough waters...because I dismissed the dark clouds on the far horizon.

I'm between a rock and a hard place...because I just had to check out what was over the edge of the cliff.

Despite my willfulness, in spite of my foolishness, undeterred by my senseless choices, God is there to protect, to save, and to guide.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and squeakywheel

May 17, 2010

Chapter-a-Day Isaiah 42

Many paths from which to choose. "But I'll take the hand of those who don't know the way, who can't see where they're going. I'll be a personal guide to them, directing them through unknown country. I'll be right there to show them what roads to take, make sure they don't fall into the ditch. These are the things I'll be doing for them— sticking with them, not leaving them for a minute." Isaiah 42:16 (MSG)

There are mornings when I wake up and set out with no clear sense of direction, but with an overwhelming sense of burden. Everything seems muddled and the road ahead seems to branch off in a million different directions. I feel the need to take three or four different paths today because of competing demands. Which way do I go first? Which path should take precedent? If I take that path, will it eventually merge with the others? Maybe this is the wrong way to start.

This is why I regularly find it beneficial to start the day in a little quiet time with God and His Message. I regularly find God speaks directly into my circumstances and my need through which ever chapter we're reading.

I'm headed off into the day, but I know God has a hold of my hand. He is directing me. He won't leave me for a second.

Thanks for the reminder, God. I needed it today.

  Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and wheatfields

May 13, 2010

Chapter-a-Day Isaiah 41

Everyone needs a first aid kit. Don't panic. I'm with you. There's no need to fear for I'm your God. I'll give you strength. I'll help you. I'll hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you.Isaiah 41:10 (MSG)

There is a first aid kit in the back of my car. There's another one in the boat at the lake. When I was a lifeguard as a teen it was mandatory to know where the first aid kit was located. You never know when you might need it. It was, perhaps, that very realization as a teenager which made me think about the idea of a spiritual first aid kit.

It was simple. I jotted down a few verses that provided me with encouragement and reminded me of God's faithful provision, power, protection and promise. Isaiah 41:10 was always one of the verses in my "kit." I would then fold up the paper and stick it in my pocket. Throughout the day, as I reached into my pocket and felt the paper there, I was reminded of God's message. I would quickly, mentally think through the verses. When stress or anxiety would rise, I would reach into my pocket, or simply remember what was there. The verses popped to mind and reminded me of God's presence. The simple discipline of responding to negative emotion with positive reinforcement from God's Message was a lifesaver.

Throughout my life, as I have faced difficult legs of life's journey, I've gone back to the practice of sticking a spiritual first aid kit in my pocket.

What verse(es) would you put in yours?

May 12, 2010

The Long Day

I got out of bed at 4:00 a.m. yesterday to be on the road for the airport. I'm in Salt Lake City this week working with a client. My 6:20 flight experience "mechanical delay" when one of the navigation computers decided that we were five miles away from where the plane sat. After long conversations with the mechanics, they decided to "reboot the plane." While talking to a mechanic on the ground, the pilot opened the cockpit window. It got stuck open. So, we had to deal with that as well. Almost two and a half hours later we were told that we'd just "go" and see if everything worked (not exactly what you want to hear as an airline passenger). While we were going through the safety briefing the video screens on the right side of the aircraft inexplicably shut down. So we had to reboot that and watch it over again (are you sensing a problem?).

By the way, Ryne Sandberg and the I-Cubs were on the plane, too. I was sitting at the gate and started to look around. "Hey, that's Ryne Sandberg!" "Hey, that's Michah Hoffpauir!" "Wait a minute. That's Sam Fuld!" I must admit, the die-hard Cubs fan in me, at some point, I wondered if THAT was the source of our bad luck. I don't believe in "the curse of the goat," but if I did I'd begin to wonder if it extended off the ball field and onto airplanes.

Fortunately, everything DID work and, after getting re-booked by United on the last flight of the evening, I was able to get on stand-by and arrived in Salt Lake City just two hours later than planned. As I sat in the lobby of the client waiting to start my work day, I realized that I'd already been traveling for 10 hours and now was starting my work day.

It felt good to get to my hotel and go to sleep.

Chapter-a-Day Isaiah 40

Remembered no more. "Comfort, oh comfort my people," says your God. "Speak softly and tenderly to Jerusalem, but also make it very clear That she has served her sentence, that her sin is taken care of—forgiven! She's been punished enough and more than enough, and now it's over and done with." Isaiah 40:1-2 (MSG)

As a kid, I was in trouble plenty of times. I was grounded, spanked, put in time out, sent to bed, had my allowance garnished, and had my mouth washed out with soap. Yet, with all of that, my parents did not hold my sins against me. There were no grudges held. My parents continued to believe the best in me and, once the punishment for my infraction was complete, I was never reminded of my sins. In fact, to this day I will occasionally ask my parents if they remember when I did this or that naughty thing. Usually they just laugh and shake their heads. They have no recollection.

That's what is awesome about being in reltionship with Christ. Even though God is all-knowing and could remember every heinous detail of our sins, He chooses to forget them. When Jesus died on the cross for our sins, the blood of His punishment covered all of us. The punishment was complete. It's over and done. When we place our faith in Christ, we are covered by that ultimate sacrificial act of love. Softly and tenderly, God calls us home to receive His blessing instead of His curses, just ike the Prodigal Son.

I catch myself, on occasion, remembering my own sins and choosing to project God's punishment and disappointment on myself. I think I need to imagine God's quizzical look (much like my Earthly parents when I ask them if they remember this or that naughty act). I need to see God scratching his head and saying, "I don't remember that at all."

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and [ henning ]

May 11, 2010

Chapter-a-Day Isaiah 39

Hezekiah replied to Isaiah, "Good. If God says so, it's good." Within himself he was thinking, "But surely nothing bad will happen in my lifetime. I'll enjoy peace and stability as long as I live." Isaiah 39:8 (MSG)

It is one thing to say "If God says so, it's good" when it's someone else who will suffer. It's another thing to utter a heartfelt "Good. If God says so, it's good" when you are the one facing the suffering. There is something that feels really selfish and shallow in Hezekiah's word and attitude.

And yet, am I that different?

God, help me be content to trust you in the face of difficulty and suffering. Give me compassion and help me to actively love those who suffer in ways I never will.

May 10, 2010

Chapter-a-Day Isaiah 38

God is my belayer. It seems it was good for me to go through all those troubles. Throughout them all you held tight to my lifeline. You never let me tumble over the edge into nothing. Isaiah 38:17 (MSG)

I have, on a handful of occasions, gone rock climbing. I went through very basic classes to learn safety and had the experience of working my way up a few simple rock faces. I enjoy it, though sIowa does not provide a plethora of rock climbing opportunities, so I haven't actively pursued it.

Even on a man-made climbing wall, however, you can find yourself high in the air. Your muscles ache and begin to spasm from the unique tension and demand that climbing puts on them. It would be easy to fall. That's why you should always be tied to a belayer who can ensure that, in the event of a fall, you will not fall far.

We all see our share of troubles in this life. It is a part of the journey. We live in a broken world with other broken people and we are bound to experience the effect of it. Sometimes life feels like a rough climb up a sheer face of nothing but troubling obstacles. But when God is our belayer we can trust that  He holds the life-line and will not let us fall to our death. We may lose our grip and slip down the face of the cliff, but God holds tight so that we can approach the rock face once more, find our grip and begin the ascent again.

photo courtesy of wikipedia

May 09, 2010

Tulip Time 2010

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It was a cold, rainy and blustery weekend for Pella's 75th annual Tulip Time celebration. Every one of the six weekend parades forced onlookers to wrap up in blankets in an effort to stave off the chilly temperatures and wind chills. It didn't, however, dampen the fun and celebration. On Saturday the world record was set for the most people Dutch dancing in klompen (wooden shoes). Madison joined in on the record.

We had our neice, Sophia, with us Thursday through Saturday. Sophia's mommy packed lots of shorts and warm weather clothes for the weekend, so poor little Sophia was stuck wearing the same outfit all weekend (the only one warm enough), but she didn't complain. She had a blast playing with all the kids at Chad & Shay's on Friday night as we gathered to celebrate our friend, Mark's birthday.

On Saturday, Wendy's folks and sister Suzanna came down to enjoy the day. Wendy's mom is an administrative assistant to former Iowa Governor, Terry Branstad. So, the Governor stopped by our house on his way up to the square. Wendy's college roommate, Tracy, pulled Tom out of the crowd to join in the Dutch dancing prior to the afternoon parade.

This morning (Sunday), Madison sang with the combined Pella High and Pella Christian High choirs at the community worship service. The service was scheduled on the town square but was moved inside the 2nd Reformed Church due to the weather.

So, another Tulip Time in the books!

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May 07, 2010

Chapter-a-Day Isaiah 37

The boss' office. Hezekiah took the letter from the hands of the messengers and read it. Then he went into the sanctuary of God and spread the letter out before God. Isaiah 37:14 (MSG)

In earlier years, as an employee, I would have different types of interaction with my boss. Sometimes, as with team meetings, I merely listened to the information or marching orders. There might be the occasional small talk conversation or pleasantry in passing. I might pick up the phone to call with a quick question. There were times, however, when I had an issue which required a deeper conversation. I might make an appointment so I could have my employers dedicated attention for a period of time. I would prepare and spread out my issue or question in great detail.

Our relationship with God is often like that of any other authority figure in our lives. Sometimes I sit back and take in what God has to tell me. Sometimes my conversation with God is not much more than small talk. I might call him up in a popcorn prayer to ask a quick question. And then there are times when I find myself in Hezekiah's position. My situation calls for more earnest conversation.

I like the way Hezekiah approached God. He went to the sanctuary and "spread the letter out." I'm reminded of Jesus going to the mountain side in the early morning hours. Sometimes it's good for me to physically go to a place where I can have a private appointment with God. It's good to take the time to "spread out" my thoughts and feelings in detail.

If I made an appointment with my employer and spread out my issue in a private setting, I think I received a better hearing than if I tried to say something in passing or catching him in the hallway. The quality of the response I received was generally better as well. Why would it work any differently with God?

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and seaworldsa

May 06, 2010

Simon Estes (& Madison!) Kick Off Tulip Time

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Simon Estes, Iowa's world-renowned bass-baritone, kicked off Tulip Time with a pair of concerts. Last night, Madison and the Pella High choir joined Estes in concert. Grandpa and Grandma came down to enjoy the concert. Estes, who is a famed performer in opera's around the world, was born in Centerville. He and his wife have returned to live in Iowa, and he is doing a series of "educational" concerts around the state to raise money for scholarships.

Estes was outstanding, singing a range of music from opera to broadway to spirituals. He was joined in the concert by local soprano Natalie Chamat, who was absolutely delightful. Pella's choir was equally outstanding and certainly held their own. The concert ended with Estes and Chamat joining the choir singing "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."

As Madison prepares to graduate in a few weeks, she is winding down her high school choir career. Singing with Estes certainly ends things on a high note.

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