Tuesday, November 25, 2014

ABCeason of Thanks

Things for which I am thankful:

A - Angel Brooke Roth Stanley, our oldest child, who came through our first floundering attempts at parenthood with flying colors.

B - Beloved, which is my pet name for my wife. She has lived through much and loves to encourage others.

C - Christmas may or may not be an attempt to Christianize basically pagan celebrations, but it's the one time of the year it becomes positively stylish to smile at strangers and love your neighbor as yourself.

D - This letter is the beginning of the names of all my siblings, who each had their individual impact on making me the person I am. And when specifically thinking of my older siblings, I'm thankful for the laughter and singing while doing dishes together.

E - Emanuel...yes, that's with just one "m". It's my son Curtis' middle name; taken from his maternal great-grandfather. Curtis is a living example of God's grace being a free gift and good works being a response.

F - Forgiveness...I need it, but could never earn it. And there's a joy that comes from giving it, too.

G - Georgina, my mom, who married young, raised five children, taught us to pray, loves tenderly, laughs easily, and now misses her husband of 67 years.

H - Hobbes, the tiger half of Calvin & Hobbes.

I - It's a Wonderful Life stars Jimmy Stewart and makes me cry every time I hear "To George Bailey, the richest man in town!"

J - Jesus is so much more to me than my words could ever hope to express. I am so thankful for his patient love, his ruthless determination to make me a better man, and his selfless sacrifice on my behalf.

K - Kelly Jo Roth Haug, our youngest child and free-est spirit. She embraces life and love and friendships with an open heart, in spite of having reasons to close herself off.

LLaparoscopic surgery was an excellent choice when removing my gall bladder.

M - Music has a way to touch our hearts and move our keisters that can't be approached by mere words. It also gives me a language with which to worship.

N - Larry Norman was one of the originators of what is now called Contemporary Christian Music...he made music that expressed a down-to-earth belief in an out-of-this-world love.

O - Oswald Chambers, author of My Utmost for His Highest

P - Paul, as in the Apostle Paul, wrote an awful lot of the New Testament.

Q - Queen Esther's story not only gave us the great line, "who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this," but also was at least part of the inspiration for a great song by my next object of thankfulness.

R - Rich Mullins, the ragamuffin troubadour who wrote "Awesome God," but more importantly, imperfectly lived out his faith for the benefit of all the rest of us who can't quite seem to get it right either.

S - Shonda Diane Roth Hall is our second daughter and lives the farthest from us. Her hugs are missed by us but her tender heart is demonstrated to the children she works with daily.

T - Thanksgiving is not only a great excuse for temporary gluttony, but offers the opportunity for families to spend some time loving on each other.

U - United States of America...living here has it's negative aspects, to be sure, but my limited amount of time spent on foreign soil has helped me appreciate the abundant blessings that come just from having been born here.

V - Valley Christian Church is a group of loving people that has been our church family for over 20 years.

W - Living water, as in Christ living in me: "Whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life." (John 4:14 NIV)

X - There was a xylophone (okay, actually a marimba, but I needed an X) in the music room of the house of one of my best friends. Good times.

Y - Yahoo's free email

Z - The zest of life; full of adventure, boredom, thrills, surprises, love, insecurity, laughter, and hope.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Truth is...I had to really think hard to come up with some of these. It's not a bad thing to put some effort into recognizing one's blessings.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Undragoning of Eustace

"There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it" is probably my favorite opening line in all of literature. It is the first line of C. S. Lewis' The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader", which is Book 3 in the Chronicles of Narnia. (Book 5 in the modern all-in-one editions of the series, but they're wrong...not bad, just wrong.)

Also high on my list of favorite literary moments is Eustace's account of how he got changed back into a boy after having been transformed into a dragon by sleeping on a dragon's hoard while full of selfish, dragonish thoughts.

"I knew it was a well because you could see the water bubbling up from the bottom of it: but it was a lot bigger than most wells - like a very big, round bath with marble steps going down into it. The water was as clear as anything and I thought if I could get in there and bathe it would ease the pain in my leg. But the lion told me I must undress first. Mind you, I don't know if he said any words out loud or not.
"I was just going to say that I couldn't undress because I hadn't any clothes on when I suddenly thought that dragons are snaky sort of things and snakes can cast their skins. Oh, of course, thought I, that's what the lion means. So I started scratching myself and my scales began coming off all over the place. And then I scratched a little deeper and, instead of just scales coming off here and there, my whole skin started peeling off beautifully, like it does after an illness, or as if I was a banana. In a minute or two I just stepped out of it. I could see it lying there beside me, looking rather nasty. It was a most lovely feeling. So I started to go down into the well for my bathe.
"But just as I was going to put my foot into the water I looked down and saw that it was all hard and rough and wrinkled and scaly just as it had been before. Oh, that's all right, said I, it only means I had another smaller suit on underneath the first one, and I'll have to get out of it too. So I scratched and tore again and this under skin peeled off beautifully and out I stepped and left it lying beside the other one and went down to the well for my bathe.
"Well, exactly the same thing happened again. And I thought to myself, oh dear, how ever many skins have I got to take off? For I was longing to bathe my leg. So I scratched away for the third time and got off a third skin, just like the two others, and stepped out of it. But as soon as I looked at myself in the water I knew it had been no good.
"Then the lion said - but I don't know if it spoke - You will have to let me undress you. I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.
"The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I've ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know - if you've ever picked the scab of a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.
"Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off - just as I thought I'd done it myself the other three times, only they hadn't hurt - and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly looking than the others had been. And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me - I didn't like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I'd no skin on - and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I'd turned into a boy again."
Truth is...we can try to better ourselves through self-help and determination, but it takes the drastic work of a mighty lion (of the tribe of Judah) to really make us what we were born to be.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

You Can't Gross Out God

In first-century Palestine, people afflicted with the lesions, pain, and ulcerated hands and feet of leprosy were Untouchables. They were generally quarantined and required to warn anyone that may happen to come near: "Unclean! Beware! I am unclean!"

Nevertheless, there was at least one such sufferer who went against common practice and actually approached someone...someone pretty well-known for his ability to heal diseases:

Then a leper came to Jesus, knelt in front of him and appealed to him, “If you want to, you can make me clean.” Jesus was filled with pity for him, and stretched out his hand and placed it on the leper, saying, “Of course I want to — be clean!” At once the leprosy left him and he was quite clean. (Mark 1:40-42, Phillips)

Jesus didn't have to touch the leper. There are plenty of examples in the Bible of Jesus healing people without actually touching them. And yet, for this person at this moment, Jesus was moved by sympathy to break through convention and connect on a personal, physical level. He wasn't grossed out, he was compassionate.

Truth is...God is never repulsed by anyone. No one is ever disgusting enough for God to shy away from. And we're not just talking physical attractiveness here, okay? Even the worst of sinners is welcomed with open arms. All it takes is an approach and a request.

Thank you, Yahweh, for not gagging when you think of me.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Nobody Likes Me, Everybody Hates Me...

It is oh so very easy to find fault with the person we see in the mirror. We know the dark secrets about ourselves that we keep hidden from the rest of the world, and we are fairly certain that if the world really did know all about us, they wouldn't like us much at all.

Shine the light of this passage from Brennan Manning's Abba's Child into your dark corners and see what happens:

God loves who we really are - whether we like it or not. God calls us, as He did Adam, to come out of hiding. No amount of spiritual makeup can render us more presentable to Him....His love, which called us into existence, calls us to come out of self-hatred and to step into His truth. "Come to me now," Jesus says. "Acknowledge and accept who I want to be for you: a Savior of boundless compassion, infinite patience, unbearable forgiveness, and love that keeps no score of wrongs. Quit projecting onto Me your own feelings about yourself. At this moment your life is a bruised reed and I will not crush it, a smoldering wick and I will not quench it. You are in a safe place."

Truth is...I suspect you need to hear these words because I know for certain that I need to hear them. And I know this, because I absolutely relate to more of Manning's words - found in the foreword of the same book:

There have been times...when the felt presence of God was more real to me than the chair I am sitting on; when the Word ricocheted like broken-backed lightning in every corner of my soul; when a storm of desire carried me to places I had never visited. And there have been other times...when I identified with the words of Mae West: "I used to be Snow White - but I drifted"; when the Word was as stale as old ice cream and as bland as tame sausage; when the fire in my belly flickered and died; when I mistook dried-up enthusiasm for gray-haired wisdom; when I dismissed youthful idealism as mere naivete; when I preferred cheap slivers of glass to the pearl of great price.