Thursday, January 17, 2019

Scripture Pictures

Scripture Pictures during family devotions
Recently our son-in-law taught us how to memorize scripture using a technique his grandfather taught him: Scripture Pictures.

You take a piece of paper or a notebook and a pencil, choose a verse you want to memorize, then draw stick figures and other symbols to illustrate the verse.

Be encouraged, you don't have to be an artist to do this! Although your art skills will likely improve with consistent exercise.

I've been playing around with this technique during my continued study of "the fear of the Lord" in the book of Proverbs. What I'm discovering is that my mind often gravitates to an image I want to portray on paper. For example, for me I visualize God as light, so my symbol for God or LORD is a circle (never-ending light, love, purity, holiness, acceptance, etc.) with rays emanating from the circle. The rays are my reflection of the Holy Spirit drawing me in. One ray is a cross, symbolizing Jesus and His grace.

Another person might portray God as a triangle with each point representing one person of the Trinity. In other words, you seize upon the image that best reflects that concept in your mind, so that you can more easily memorize the verse, in most cases without even trying. There's just something about the brain, eye, hand coordination that helps us process and digest information.

In my experimenting, I'm also discovering that I'm coming up with certain symbols for repetitive words and concepts. Each person can devise his/her own catalog of symbols that best aid memory. For example, I use an equal sign to represent the word "is". The "fear of the Lord" is consistently represented by a stick figure bowing with arms lifted toward the Sunlight.

Below is an example of my effort for Proverbs 1:7: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.

In some cases (perhaps many), others would not make out my symbols. That's okay. The important thing is that I know what they represent, so that the image sparks the memory of the word(s).

 Here are a few more of my efforts. My goal is to do one verse at least 2 - 3 days a week. I've reserved a special notebook just for my Scripture Pictures.

Not only can this scripture memory tool be used as an individual, but also during family devotional times and in other small group settings, where participants can share illustration ideas with each other to help capture the best reflection of the verse.

Just for fun, I close this post with Proverbs 17:6a: Grandchildren are the crown of old men (and old women, too)!  :)

Happy drawing with eternal impact!


Thursday, January 10, 2019

The Papa Prayer by Larry Crabb: A Book Review

But if God is so good as you represent Him, and if he knows all that we need, and better far than we do ourselves, why should it be necessary to ask Him for anything? 

I answer, "What if He knows Prayer to be the thing we need first and most? What if the main object in God's idea of prayer be the supplying of our great, our endless need--the need of Himself? Hunger may drive the runaway child home, and he may or may not be fed at once, but he needs his mother more than his dinner. Communion with God is the one need of the soul beyond all other need: prayer is the beginning of that communion, and some need is the motive of that prayer. So begins a communion, a talking with God, a coming-to-one with Him, which is the sole end of prayer." (George MacDonald)

Thus begins Larry Crabb's book titled, The Papa Prayer. At once intensely personal and richly didactic, Crabb nudges the reader toward a life of purposely relating to God through prayer. While reading, I had the feel that the author presented as a friend who'd invited me to his home for a chat, except this was no exchange of mere cordialties over coffee. This was one friend sharing with another the lifeline he'd discovered and could not hoard. 

Crabb admits that he is a first-grader in the school of relational prayer but seeks continued growth. Through a desire for intimate communion with God that extends beyond mere petition, Crabb uses the PAPA acrostic (named such in honor of his beloved grandfather). 

Below is the PAPA prayer in a nutshell (excerpt from page 10 of The Papa Prayer).  

P: Present yourself to God without pretense. Be a real person in the relationship. Tell Him whatever is going on inside you that you can identify.

A: Attend to how you're thinking of God. Again, no pretending. Ask yourself, "How am I experiencing God right now?" Is He a vending machine, a frowning father, a distant, cold force? Or is He your gloriously strong but intimate Papa?

P: Purge yourself of anything blocking your relationship with God. Put into words whatever makes you uncomfortable or embarrassed when you're real in your relationship with Him. How are you thinking more about yourself and your satisfaction than about anyone else, including God and His pleasure?

A: Approach God as the "first thing" in your life, as your most valuable treasure, the Person you most want to know. Admit that other people and things really do matter more to you right now, but you long to want God so much that every other good thing in your life becomes a "second-thing" desire. 

The Papa Prayer includes a simple four-day plan to develop the habit of presenting, attending, purging, and approaching. Each day unpacks a learning objective, a Bible passage, a reflection question, and an illustration of the prayer focus for that day. 

But please don't settle for the mere "nutshell!" Crabb does so much more in unpacking the four elements. Wordy and repetitive at times, Crabb seems overly careful to deliver a compelling presentation. Still, his authenticity is refreshing. This is a book worth reading thoughtfully and prayerfully. Definitely worth savoring and pondering. In the midst of a slew of endorsements, I found the one below most intriguing.

I'm thankful for this book. I suspect that God is far more thankful--thankful like a tired father is thankful to get his preschoolers past the candy aisle at Walmart. I suspect He's thankful for someone who would help His children speak their deepest desire, forget the candy, and know their Father. Our Papa is sweeter, richer, better than any candy this world has to offer. With practical advice and helpful examples, Larry coaxes us into our Father's lap, where we lose ourselves and find ourselves in Him. -Peter Hiett/Senior Pastor of Lookout Mountain Community Church. 


The Papa Prayer (2006), available used or new in ebook, audio, paperback, or hardcover. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Angels Unawares?

Joanie Cahill, Free Images 

The other evening, I felt like I was caught up in a "Touched by an Angel" rerun. In my quest to minister to my shut-in neighbor, Cecile, I took her to the hardware store across town late in the afternoon. Afterwards, she guided me along side roads to bypass the heavy after-work traffic.

At the end of one dark road, I stopped, looked to the left, then pulled out, making a right turn. I nearly collided with a car in the wrong lane. Our lane! Nose to nose with us. I quickly swerved to the shoulder and ran over something horrendous. The car suddenly felt heavy with a peculiar groan as I coaxed it down the road. Quite similar to my inner groan. I inched the car to the next open spot only yards away, parking in the small lot of a closed antique shop.

Hands anchored on the steering wheel, I turned to Cecile in the passenger seat. "Well, I think it's the back right tire."

She opened the door and peered outside. "No, it looks fine to me."

I wasn't so sure. "Let me check, just in case. Something doesn't feel right."

Once outside, I examined the back tire. Sure enough, it looked fine. Then I checked the front right tire. Totally flat. Ugh!

I took a deep breath. Okay, regroup . . . and pray. This is an opportunity to show Cecile how the Lord will come through in a difficult situation. Don't miss this!  

Opening the driver's door, I slipped inside. "Lord Jesus, we need Your help," I prayed out loud.

"Yes!" Cecile echoed. "Maybe you can get to Ralph Edward's place a couple streets over," she offered. She knew the man. He used to live in our house, and he worked on cars.

"I don't think so," I countered, sensing the features of my face scrunch. "The tire's totally flat."

"Oh, this is all my fault." She fidgeted in her seat. "If I hadn't asked you to take me to the store, this never would've happened."

"Don't blame yourself, Cecile. We're not going to play the 'if onlys.' The Lord knows all about this." I spoke with growing courage. I wanted her to catch a glimpse of God at work, for I knew she needed to see that. "Let's trust Him."

She pointed straight ahead. "Maybe that market up there."

While she didn't want me walking in the dark alone in a bad part of town, she was still willing to let me venture out. Since our options were limited, I forged ahead. Purse tucked close to my side and ignition key clutched in my right hand, ready to gouge an assailant, I plowed on, feigning a confidence I did not feel, boots scuffing the well-worn dirt path. Two dark figures with lit cigarettes scurried past.

Abba Father, help me. I inwardly breathed and kept on moving.

At the convenience store, a Middle Eastern clerk tended a customer while a tall African American youth wearing a white cap stood behind another counter eyeballing me. He looked available, so I hurried over. I explained what happened and asked if he had a phone I could use to call my husband, because I didn't have a cell phone, nor did Cecile.

"Nope, no phone." He didn't even bat an eyelash, standing there over his hot dogs. Even the smell didn't tantalize me at that moment. I sighed and darted to the other clerk, now fumbling with some receipts. The youth followed, I suppose eager to find out how this would all go down. "Do you have a phone I could use?"

Black eyebrows bobbing, he shook his head.

My heart dropped. "Okay, well, I really need some help. Could either of you change my tire?" All those times my husband tried to show me how to work the jack in our early years of marriage with me huffing and complaining. I should've listened.

"No, sorry, I can't help you," he muttered. 

This was getting nowhere, and Cecile sat in a car growing colder by the minute. I thanked the clerks (for what I don't know--a place of refuge for a few minutes if nothing else), and braced myself to walk the creepy path back to the car. Though only a couple doors down from the store, the car seemed far away. But a lot can happen in a few feet.

And so it did . . .

Right past the store, I turned my head to the left and saw an auto shop tucked back from the road. An OPEN sign flickered on the garage door. My eyes widened, and I leaned in to catch a better view.

Could this be the help You're sending, Abba? 

I maneuvered my way through the shadowy lot, past cars and equipment on either side, eyes fastened on that OPEN sign, and followed the arrow to the left indicating the ENTRANCE. Uncertain what I would find on the other side of the door, I reached for the knob, cold to the touch. Standing tall (all 5 feet, 3 inches of me), I pushed the door open.

In the small shop, one large bell-of-a-man with sock hat covering his head sat in a swivel chair. His baby-like face looked harmless enough. Another smaller man with glasses and a Latino look puttered about. He approached when I entered. I rattled off my story, his face full of curiosity and concern.

"Can you help me?"

"Carefully inch your car down to our lot, and we'll see what we can do."

I felt better already.

The auto shop was only one lot ahead of where my locked car housing Cecile and her goods was parked. I nearly flew out the door, speed walking to the next lot. I unlocked the car, slid inside, and cranked the engine, all the while filling Cecile in.

I crept the car next door and pulled up to the garage. The door slid open, spilling light into the darkness. What a welcome sight!  The mechanics gestured me inside, indicating with their customary hand signals when to move to the left or right and at last come to a stop.

I got out of the car while the large man stooped by the flat tire. Amazing he could do that! I wondered how he would maneuver to his feet once the job was complete. The smaller man uttered orders while stepping around to the trunk to retrieve the spare. I followed, then popped the lid and grimaced.

Piles of stuff--like an old attic. I apologized and started digging through the assortment of boxes, Frisbees, broken rake, and golf balls. We quickly devised a system, he handing me an item, and I placing it on the cement. A random golf ball escaped a grocery bag, clinking its way over the floor. A nervous giggle escaped my throat. Embarrassing, to say the least. At last he unearthed the spare tire.

Minutes later I thanked the men as the smaller one placed the severely damaged tire with large hole in the trunk, followed by all the junk.

"What do I owe you for your trouble?" I wrung my hands in an effort to stay warm.

"Oh, nothing." The small man smiled, his accent definitely Spanish. "Merry Christmas!"

"Thank you so much! You were certainly an answer to prayer tonight!"

In the car, I backed out of the garage, all the while verbally praising the Lord for His provision and His protection.

Only Abba knows the full impact of that evening in Cecile's life and in the men's lives (or were they angels?)--Cecile said she'd driven that route lots of times but never noticed that auto shop.

And while I venture a guess at the impact in my own life--a deeper appreciation for my Father's faithfulness, I still ponder the event and His working in and through it that perhaps only eternity will reveal.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

No More Hiding

Earth rumbled. Mountains trembled. Smoke streamed from flaring nostrils. Fire spewed from his mouth, igniting coals. He broke through the darkness with hailstones, fire, and a thunderous voice. Swift arrows flew, along with a multitude of lightning flashes. Water rushed. The world stood bare.

Sounds like a scene from a fantasy novel or movie, doesn't it?

But the image couldn't have been more real for the psalmist David who cried out to the LORD for deliverance from his enemies, and from Saul, in particular. For 20 plus years, Saul hounded the threat to his throne--David, the one God had anointed through Samuel as the future monarch of His people.

Out of the depths of despair, God, David's rock, refuge, shield, horn of his salvation, and stronghold, rushed on "wings of the wind" (Psalm 18:10b) to rescue His beloved from the jaws of the enemy. In His anger at those who would attack His chosen one, the LORD in full fury personally and swiftly arrived to vindicate and deliver David.

David's humble testimony leaps off the pages of Scripture.

He delivered me from my strong enemy,
And from those who hated me, for they were too mighty for me.  
They confronted me in the day of my calamity,
But the LORD was my stay.
He brought me forth also into a broad place;
He rescued me, because He delighted in me.
-Psalm 18:17-19

No longer did David need to cloister in caves or hide in the clefts of the rock. THE Rock had crushed his enemy and ushered him into an open place. The Benson Commentary says it well: "Out of my straits and difficulties; out of little caves in which I was shut up and imprisoned; into a large place" ( Indeed, He brought David into a place of freedom because He crushed the enemy before him!

I believe the LORD wants to do the same for us who battle the enemy of our souls, the evil one who longs to defeat us with his lies and hold us captive to do his bidding. God wants to deliver us from the bondage of sin and bring us to an open place of freedom. No more hiding! Because the enemy is conquered through the power of the LORD. 

In the verses that follow, David acknowledged his righteousness, that he kept himself from his iniquity. How tempting it must've been to retaliate when pressured by Saul's pursuit. Being the mighty warrior David was, he could've easily reached out his hand against the LORD'S anointed. However, for that very reason, in the integrity of his heart, he could not, even though on at least two specific occasions, Saul was within reach and in David's power to kill. David chose not to sin against Saul and departed from those close encounters with clean hands.

We play a part in God's deliverance over sin. As the Holy Spirit sheds light on specific sins to confess and forsake, we participate with the LORD in our growth process. Charles Spurgeon, preacher and author, once wrote, "Be resolved in the power of the Holy Spirit that this particular sin shall be overcome. There is nothing like hanging it up by the neck, that very sin, I mean. Do not fire at sin indiscriminately; but, if thou hast one sin that is more to thee than another, drag it out from the crowd, and say, 'Thou must die if no other does. I will hang thee up in the face of the sun.'" That is ruthless treatment of sin in our lives, and in reality, no less will do. Otherwise, we play games, minimize, rationalize, trivialize, and criticize others for the very sins to which we fall prey. Far worse, we fail to make substantive progress as Christ followers.

With David, let's cry out to the LORD for deliverance from our enemy while working with Him to put to death the sin that so easily besets us, knowing that He wants us to experience that place of freedom. The place where we no longer need to hide because He has delivered us.

Thus, we can celebrate from a place of strength and victory. The enemy had no power over David, nor does he have power over us, as long as we yield ourselves to God who has promised to do His good work within us! 

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Pain: A Sacred Trust

How does one put pain on paper? This sacred trust . . .

  My daughter and family left yesterday, and then it was quiet.

Except for the throbbing memories . . .

Of little heads held against my breast in parting
Of love notes left behind
Of wonder at a cicada chirp
Of yard sales and curbside finds
Of catching fireflies in the moonlight
Of roasting marshmallows around a campfire
Of splashing in Roanoke River
Of pink pigs and tutus
Of scriptural conversations around the table and in the car
Of bake-offs and beach trips
Of sandbox fun and tea parties
Of music and laughter
Of walks to the willow tree
Of stick figure people on the fridge
Of grace and ballet
Of tender hugs and sweet, sloppy kisses
Of juice skies and thoughtful questions
Of stories read and touches to the face in the darkness
Of lolli-pops and bubbles
Of water balloon fights and "homemade" volleyball
Of songs to the elderly
Of care packages to neighbors
Of pumpkin carving and Christmas tree stands
Of countless stroller rides around the block
Of rocking and reading
Of hurts and healing
Of biking and boating on Carvin's Cove
Of babies birthed, of ministry fruit, of fostering/adoption
Of remodeling/decorating the bathroom with Parisian theme (not knowing you'd be in France 12 years later)
Of prayers prayed through bittersweet tears

Thank You, Abba, for 12 years packed with preciousness. I know more good and godly gifts await from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow (James 1:17). Thank You for the forever gift of you, Abba.

Thank You that I can use this pain of separation, this sacred trust, to comfort others, too (2 Corinthians 1:3-5). Thank You that this pain, this sacred trust, deepens my appreciation for the sacrifice of Your Son to save me. And because of Your gift, I am compelled to share Him with others. This pain, this sacred trust, lifts my gaze to eternity--to my real home in heaven with You where no sad separations will take place for those who love You and are called according to Your purpose (Romans 8:28).

Keep my heart tender, Abba. Always moving in Your direction. Always bowed before Your throne. Always clinging to the Cross. Always rejoicing in God my Savior. Always leading others to You.

Then this pain, this sacred trust, will have served its purpose, now and for all eternity.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

The End of One Story, the Beginning of Another

I flip through the calendar, a gift from my missionary daughter. Family face after family face jump off the pages. Grandkids roasting marshmallows during our Grandparent Camp, splashing in a sparkling pool, tip-toeing through ocean waves that kiss the shore, digging in the sand, holding each other in a group huddle, baking cookies, carving pumpkins, wrestling on the floor . . . well, the list could go on.

Good times at Mission Manor, the name we've given our home since we house our missionary kids from time to time when they come off the field.
I pause to reflect on a quote written beside one calendar page.

Sometimes you have to let one story end so the next one can begin, so says Winnie the Pooh.

I lower the calendar to my lap, ponder the truth of that statement.

How we've lived that with all three of our missionary daughters and their families who are spread around the world. If we've learned anything in the last 14 years since our firstborn left for India, it's that the missionary life is one of many transitions.

One story ends, another begins.

Currently, one family lives with us until August when they hope to leave for language school. God gifted us 12 years with this daughter and fam as they served in inner city ministry in our hometown. Now, the Lord is leading them to overseas ministry. It will be an adjustment for all of us.

But we must let that story end, so that a new story can begin in Africa.

Each story has its share of joy and sorrow, adapting, moving forward to embrace the next God-given task for His glory.

For His glory! Isn't that the ultimate purpose of every story? At least I think it should be . . .

That He might be exalted among the nations; that He might be exalted in the earth! 
(see Ps. 46:10)

His grand story of redemption through Christ will never end. Those who know and love Him will be singing the glory of this story for all eternity! May we be forever grateful/humbled that He has invited us to play a part.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

30-Day Praise Challenge!

Hope you're enjoying summer with time to relax and regroup. Yet, even in summertime, a noisy world screams at us in a plethora of ways!

One helpful exercise you might want to incorporate into your daily quiet time is a Good Thoughts list based on the words in Philippians 4:8. I've found that dwelling on what is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good report, excellent, and worthy of praise provides a powerful uplift to my day. Many others testify to the same.

It can be even more rewarding to watch for these concepts in Scriptures you are already studying. Be sure to write them down. Chronicling adds to the richness, which you can then share with others. The samples below are drawn from this morning's quiet time in Genesis, chapters 1 and 2. Here's how to do it. Keep in mind the words may vary according to your translation.

TRUE: Name something that is true, i.e., God (Eloheim) created the world and all that is in it! (Genesis, chapter one). God's glory in the majestic mountain range at Carvin's Cove (later in the day while sitting at the Cove); my life held in a holy, loving God's hands. (No need to write complete sentences--often a word or two will express something that is true. Notice that I also drew from what was around me and what I know to be true about God from other scripture passages. The idea is start small. Over time, you will likely add depth to your list).

HONORABLE: Marriage (Genesis 2:24-25, also reminded me of Hebrews 13:4).

RIGHT: Leaving parents, cleaving to spouse (Genesis 2:24); praying with Jonathan and family this morning before they left for Indiana.

PURE: the marriage bed (undefiled--Heb. 13:4); a holy God; quiet moments with Abba Father.

LOVELY: the precious stones mentioned in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:11-12). Reminded me of the precious stones of the holy city in Revelation 21:18-21; ripples on the water at Carvin's Cove.

GOOD REPORT: the Lord God pursues (Genesis 3:9); God made garments to cover Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:21)--a foreshadowing of how Christ would later shed His blood to cover my sin.

EXCELLENT: the work God has given me to do (Genesis, chapter 2).

WORTHY OF PRAISE: Grandchildren sharing about Togo in VBS the other evening.

If you're up for it, take the 30-DAY PRAISE CHALLENGE and see if jotting down feedback on these words  helps you think in a more godly way. I find that the list grows in depth and variety the more I engage in the exercise, which is exciting and fulfilling!

For additional devotional resources, check out my book, Breathe Deeply God's Grace.

Scripture Pictures

Scripture Pictures during family devotions Recently our son-in-law taught us how to memorize scripture using a technique his grandfa...