I Saw the Queen

34678752_UnknownRecently, I went to the Braemar Gathering in Scotland. It is the most famous of the Scottish highland games. Supposedly, one member of the royal family attends each year. We expected someone royal but were astonished and thrilled when we discovered Queen Elizabeth was coming.

She rode onto the field in a dark limousine. The crowd began to clap and cheer as the royals were led by tartan-clothed pipers and drummers playing “Scotland the Brave.” As she exited the vehicle, I held my breath and stood—waiting for a first glimpse. The Queen arose. She wore a beautiful turquoise blue suit trimmed in black and coat to match. A rimmed hat rested neatly on her head. The crowd clapped and cheered. It took a few minutes for the family to settle onto the covered dais. Queen Elizabeth, Prince Charles and Princess Anne were all present. Wow! Unexpected!

The finals began, and we watched as brawny men heaved on ropes in a tug of war battle for first place. Some flipped cabers that were 19’6” feet long and weighed 175 pounds; other men flung 50+ pound weights over poles or went round in circles then threw them for distance. Some ran sprints or long distance. Others hurled themselves over poles in high jumps. Young girls and women did Scottish dances on a raised stage in front of the Royal Family.

The weather was perfect. What an unforeseen experience! As the family left, Queen Elizabeth looked our way, waved and smiled. (I’m sure it wasn’t at us-but…) We laughed and teased about being invited to tea, but being too busy to accept. And we joked about it in a Scottish accent. The family probably went to Balmoral Castle located near Braemar.

Later, when we passed by the turnoff to Balmoral, we continued our silly banter about going to visit the Queen.

If we had tried to go to the castle for tea, we would have been denied entrance. We don’t possess the right lineage or position in society—or an invitation.

It was a joy to see Queen Elizabeth—but later, when I reflected on that privilege, I couldn’t help but compare the brief glimpse of the Queen with the daily invitation and the honor of getting face-to-face with the King of Kings.

I can have coffee, tea, and a meal in the presence of God. I can talk with him on walks and laugh with him over funny things. I can weep and get snotty nosed and messy in his presence, and though he is the most Royal of all Royals, he has condescended to call me his child.

Our daily entrance into his presence should excite us just a bit—maybe like the thrill I felt upon seeing the Queen.

God has provided through Jesus Christ this incredible, glorious honor. But we are flawed, human, and emotional and don’t always experience pleasure in his company. That’s okay. He gets it. He knows our frame. Sometimes we’re tired, tried, or tied up in knots over something.

What don’t want to do is to perceive prayer or communion with God as common and humdrum. Prayer is so much more than words, sentences, and lists tossed into the heavens. God has granted us union with Christ and entrance to his presence IN CHRIST. It’s a provision of communion that is so utterly mind-blowing that I can’t truly comprehend its glory and am wonderfully humbled by the gift.

I saw the Queen. One day I’ll see Jesus face to face. But today I see him by faith, and it’s more real and thrilling to me than seeing the Queen of England briefly at the highland games in Braemar, Scotland.

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An Altared Course

I wrote this several years ago but did not post it. I though I would today for all of you who face unexpected sorrows in your altered life. 

One of my favorite books is Hinds Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard. The book features an unlikely heroine, Much-Afraid. She wants to go to the High Places—a place free from her Fearing relatives and the troubles she finds in the Valley of Humiliation where she lives.  The Shepherd agrees. He gives her two unwelcome traveling companions: Sorrow and Suffering. Because she is crippled, she must trust them and let them help her through the rocky valleys and precipices in the mountains.

As she travels the difficult paths, she frequently faces crises of faith. At those moments, she cries out to the Shepherd. He offers wisdom and love to help her endure the struggles. She faces consistent disappointment over the paths chosen by her Shepherd and guides. At those pivotal intersections, she must make an altar and sacrifice her expectations—usually with a broken and contrite heart. The offerings are consumed in fire and become beautiful stones. With each sacrifice, she matures. With each surrender, she grabs onto the hands of Sorrow and Suffering a little more firmly.

Today I went to the nursing home to visit my mom. She didn’t speak for a long time; the conversation is always one-way. As I fed her (she can no longer feed herself), she began to respond a little to me. “Yes,” she said, as I asked her if she liked the potatoes. She smiled, too, when I fumed about the bad language on “Bridezillas” and found another station to watch instead. I am grateful for every small thing with her. I stared at her as she fell asleep, and I wondered how God gets glory from this. Yet he does, somehow. How God blends his sovereign purposes (which I don’t always like) with his infinite mercy and love is a mystery I can’t comprehend. I know it’s true, and I will try to rest in the unknown wonder of it all, but trusting is difficult when life brings sorrow or suffering.

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For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it;
You are not pleased with burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
A broken and a contrite heart,
O God, You will not despise. Psalm 51:16-17 (NASB)

Like Much-Afraid, I place things on the altar. Today I place my happiness, her health and a sense of “normalcy” in our relationship on the altar. I give thanks for the small things, and I attempt to rest in his sovereign purposes and love. And like many paths we plan for ourselves, this is one he has altered for his glory. I take the hands of Sorrow and Suffering and walk the path in front of me. This is the road he has selected for my mother and my family. This is not a journey I would have chosen; it is not one she, my family, or I expected, either. But God intends to get glory from it, and he will. Somehow.

It is, after all, an altared course.

 

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Thoughts on Colossians 3

O God, how I love your word! Colossians 3:1-17 has deeply convicted me while reminding me of this glorious position and place I have in YOU.

Your gentle reminder to set my mind on things that are above not on things that are on the earth encourages and convicts me.

I am encouraged because I am living in heaven with you–seated in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. That should be the focus. You and your glory. You and your people. Seeing you in your beauty urges me to think about what you want. It enables me to let some things go, too.

I am convicted because I’ve been tied up in knots over the party at the end of this month. This wedding celebration is not—or should not be the focus of my every action. I am busy fretting about what others will think. Will it be enough? Will everything be okay? How can I make it perfect? And I’m missing the mark.

The mark is, “How can I glorify you and give you pleasure in this celebration? How can I
love? How can I show compassion, kindness, meekness and patience through this?” The mark is to seek the things above. I’ve been angry. My heart has been in an uproar, but in you I need to bear with others and forgive—lavishly and repeatedly. I can still hold others accountable, but only because of love.

A few words from your scripture and I see afresh. But I am also told why these things should be abandoned and released.

I’m dead.

pexels-photo-533833I’m dead to this world (even if I don’t feel it most of the time.) If I’m dead, then my life is already in heaven with God. I’ve been given a new self. The old self is truly gone. This new self is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator—you Lord Jesus. You heavenly Father. You dear Holy Spirit. I am such a ninny. How quickly I forget and get caught up in the cyclone of human existence. After all, we do live here. But always, even in the storm of busyness, I need to keep my eyes on you.

I’m reminded, too, that the word of Christ needs to dwell in me–richly. I need to teach and admonish, sing hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs—with thankfulness. I need to quit dabbling in your word and live in it—like a home—like a tabernacle of love and peace.

And of course, lastly, I am to do all things, in word or deed, to the glory of God the Father and in the name of Jesus Christ. I’m to give thanks. Lately, I’ve been too full of complaint to be thankful.

Why do I seek to find meaning and purpose from the things I do—when I need YOU more than all things on earth? You make me complete. The other stuff is just going to burn. If it isn’t done in love and out of the heart of God—out of your Spirit, it’s rubbish.

Thank you for these moments of silence in your word. I needed them. I love you more than words can say. I want to live like it is truly so!

 

 

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Annunciation–Be Born in Me

Recently, in the Church calendar, we were reminded of the annunciation. The angel Gabriel enters into the world to declare something that should cause our breath to be taken from us.

God was entering the earth. He would be called Jesus; he would be the Son of the Most High God. He would establish a kingdom that would not end.

DT5656Many women of Mary’s age and era wanted to be chosen to bear the Messiah, but Mary was visited. An angel. A big, Gabriel angel found her and spoke. This was a day of awe in heaven and on earth. I don’t know what it might have looked like as angels peeped over the edge of the heavens to see what God was doing, but I can imagine. Gabriel was on assignment. It had to be really BIG!

God was becoming a man. Did it rock the heavens when they saw that God Almighty, whom they worshiped in holy awe, choose in Christ to become a man to lead mankind into a restored relationship with himself? Did the angels scratch their halos? Did they gather to ponder this wonder?

I love the picture of the annunciation—for in that announcement there was great promise. Christ would be conceived in Mary—in some ways as a picture of him being formed in us. The Holy Spirit conceives Christ in her. The Holy Spirit hovers over her—according to Luke 1.

In another way, the Holy Spirit hovers over us and conceives God in us—places Christ in us. At that moment, we are born again. I don’t know the exact process, even though I’ve heard what people THINK it is. Whatever it is, it is supernatural. Beautiful. He places himself in us so that we can be in him.

But it all began with humility—a humility that we can’t comprehend. A willingness to suffer the daily difficult distance between mankind and God—stubbed toes, splinters, and bloody wounds—and ultimately the horrendous cross. God wanted so much for us. He wanted us to experience union with himself—and there was no other way.

The Annunciation says, “Hold on! I’m coming. I’m here to change you from the inside out by my holy presence growing in you. I’m coming as God among men so that I might leave my children to be lights in the world. I leave them behind to glorify me in the wake of my sacrifice.

Who acts like that? Only our God!

Be born in me, O Lord. Be born in us.

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Noise

There is too much noise in this world. Try getting away from it if you live with others or go anywhere. Television, radio, Internet, and Facebook hammer at my soul. Constant chatter and banter grieve.

While writing this, I got a text that popped up on my computer. I replied, and a whole series of texts and remarks followed. It was a hilarious chain of comments. I was belly laughing through it. But that just shows how my desire for silence can be so easily impeded by the pleasant banter of wonderful friends.

Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy all those things. But I’m in a season where I CRAVE silence and solitude. All the noise creates an atmosphere of chaos. I can’t think or get beyond my head, and I really want to. I want to worship from deep inside my heart.

 

Have you ever felt that words just aren’t enough? When it comes to worship and praise, I sense that deeply.

I have the same problem, when I experience something so profound that language fails—the birth of a child, the sacrifice of a friend, vistas so wide and deep that I gasp at the immensity. Vocabulary also breaks down when I experience a growing awareness of all that God has done for me through Jesus Christ. “Wow!” just isn’t adequate.

When I draw close to God, I often do it with language. Worship, praise, and Scripture all serve me well as I try to place an accurate “image” of God before me with biblical pictures, promises, and poetry. These words fight the unbelief and mistrust in my own sin nature; they are a response to the temptation to doubt God and his goodness.

But, when I’m in deep communion with God, silence seems to say more than words. At those times, talk seems like a poorly played tin whistle. Un-intelligible. Insufficient. Twangy.

With unuttered words, I bend my silent, needy, and hungry heart before a Holy Triune God who has welcomed me into his presence. There are no words. I experience his love and union with him in quiet worship.

All the chatter and banter of texts and Internet, phone and television remind us that we are connected to the world and to people. We are hooked—in more ways than one. And that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We need people. But for now—for this brief moment in my life, that’s not the only thing I want.

IMG_1018I want communion with God in holy wonder, love, and awe-filled silence.

 

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Hollow

Hollow

I’m hollow. The others got to see.
He stood in their midst and spoke – or so they said.
But I was off on some fool’s errand.
We were like
Rats those dark days – hiding in corners.
Death had come and our band of men would surely cave
The Master was – dead – buried – I saw it all.
And when I heard them speak of what they saw – I swore that only
Touching with my eyes and hands would satisfy my unbelieving heart.

And everyone waited, hoping for another desperate journey into madness –
For so it seemed to me – this vision of the impossible.
And they re-lived how each had felt, what was seen
And it drove me wild.
I had no tale to tell and nothing to fill the fissure formed when he died.
The image of his crowned, bent, and bloody head and his severed body seared my soul. The metallic scent of HIS blood had been all-consuming. Death had been absolute.
I feared hope. I would not hope.

Then He appeared.
A mystery in white.
My flesh prickled.
I gasped, eyes wide in unbelief.

It could not be.
Life restored to that ripped, red, and ravaged flesh?
It couldn’t be.

“Peace,” he said.
My heart turned violently – spinning wildly between hope and disbelief.
“Be,” he said.
It thuSt.thomas-postndered in my ears.
“With you.” The words were breathed onto me.
Me, the doubter. The cynic. The hopeless.

And He met me as I was.
Needing to use my eyes, not just my ears, to believe.
I fell; my feet no longer sure,
Shaking, weeping, joyful, stricken.
Driven to the madness of seeing the living dead –
This totally Other Man
Who stood before me as a wounded risen Lamb.

 

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Experiencing Awe

IMG_1366The title of my blog is “An Invitation to Wonder.” It is called that because I love experiencing wonder and awe—and I want others to experience it as well.

To have those experiences regularly, I must take time to pause, look, listen, taste, smell, and feel the world around me—the world that is present today. I can’t always take a trip to a beach or the mountains—or some never-before-seen place. I only have NOW.

This pause can be excruciatingly difficult in my busy, break-neck world. I am, quite often, driven. I create lists and check each item off one by one. I dash by fall colors, ignoring their brilliance, or if seen, I simply say, “Wow!” I rush through a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, ignoring the amazing flavors rather than savoring each sip with thankfulness. By hurrying, I don’t breathe in the wonder or take the opportunity for awe.

Being still AND silent AND worshipful doesn’t come naturally. You have to force yourself to be still. Experiencing awe is a practiced habit.

Research has been done on what happens to a person who experiences awe. It benefits mental health. It takes our minds off of ourselves and enlarges our mind as we become aware of a larger world around us. Those who experience awe regularly are more prone to volunteer to help others. Experiencing awe also changes our perception of time. It slows us down and keeps us in the present—a place where we need to be if we are to truly live life well. (Live Happy online magazine “Embracing Awe” Dacher and Jonathan 2003)

Years ago, when God first expanded my heart for deeper worship, I began to experience awe. I am often inspired by the intricacies of beauty found in nature. Most of us can lie on our backs before a cloudless, moonless sky and be taken aback by the immensity of the heavens and our insignificance DSCN1318before such a spectacle. When I first saw the Smoky Mountains, I experienced something similar. The same was true when the Tetons burst from the floor of the earth and consecrated a moment from east to west—from north to south.

While there, my husband and I awakened while dark to capture the world in the first light of dawn and photograph the deep shadows of early morning. In the evenings, we watched the western sky become inflamed—scanning the horizon for animals—hoping to spy elusive creatures hiding in the shadows on the edges of forests. We always found breath-taking awe.

I am convinced that God gives me many of these moments, because when he does, I give him hearty applause. Those wonder-filled minutes awaken in me deep admiration and create worship. That is one advantage of being a believer. When I encounter magnificence, I can also worship the creator. So my experience can, and should be deeper than someone who doesn’t believe. As a believer I can bow and have my mind and heart expanded beyond my eyes to the unspeakable greatness of God Almighty—of the Triune God—Holy, Holy, Holy.

But I am still limited.

Scripture makes it clear that I see through a glass darkly. It won’t be until heaven that I truly see—and I can’t imagine the wonder and amazement I will know then.

IMG_1504But for now, I’ll have to be content with what I can see here and now. I invite you to do the same—today—tomorrow—everyday. Pause. Look for it. Then worship the God of the wonder that is before you–a baby’s toes, a babbling brook, a tiny flower tucked in a dark corner, or the flavor of the first sip of coffee in the morning.

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