Saying YES to the Invitations of Psalm 23!

Last Saturday, I was privileged to give the eulogy for my friend Joann at her memorial service.

The well-known, well-loved 23rd Psalm are words King David wrote from the perspective of a sheep whose shepherd is the Lord. They are a small piece of his testimony, and they are a small piece of Joann’s testimony as well.

Throughout her life, Joann said yes to the invitations Psalm 23 offers. In saying yes, it shaped who she was, defined the qualities she lived by, and resulted in blessing everyone she knew!

The Lord was her shepherd. As a young teen, Joann said yes to a life of faith. That decision influenced all the choices that came her way. She chose to attend Multnomah Bible College in Oregon, (now Multnomah University) as a way of feeding her faith.  While at Multnomah she attended the church where Jack Mayhall was the youth pastor. Upon graduation, The Mayhalls invited Joann to live with them. She said yes and it was during that time that Joann was introduced to The Navigators.

Joann’s life of faith was anchored by Hebrew 6:14, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” And God faithfully worked that through her life in many ways. I’m thankful to be one who was blessed by Joann’s friendship.

He led Joann in paths of righteousness for his name sake. Saying yes to a life of faith led Joann to say yes to the sovereignty of God. Her subsequent journey took her from Oregon, to Washington, to Colorado, to California, to Germany, back to Washington, to England, to Spain, back to California, to north Africa, and back to Colorado.

Saying yes to the sovereignty of God led to full time mission work as a single woman. During the early 60’s Joann provided leadership for the women’s ministry for The Navigators in Los Angeles.

It led to her marriage to Jack in Pasadena, California in 1962. It led to having three children born in three different countries.

And it led to 17 years of ministry in the country of Spain where she and Jack raised their children. All three are bi-lingual and knew when Spaniards were in their home, only Spanish was spoken.

In saying yes to the sovereignty of God, led to saying yes to living her God-created design.

Even though I walk through the valley … you are with me. Even in difficulties, Joann said yes and God’s presence was real to her. She knew the reality of trusting God to provide food for her growing family. On one occasion in Spain when their refrigerator was bear, a neighbor came over saying they were leaving on a trip and would Joann and her family take the food that was in their refrigerator. Experiences like that cement the goodness of God in your heart. “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5

He prepares a table in the presence of enemies. Joann said yes to the price of hospitality. The enemies of Psalm 23 were the noxious weeds that could harm the sheep. It was the shepherd’s responsibility to go ahead and clean the table-land of the weeds.*  For Joann, the weeds she rid her home of were the weeds of her American culture. She adapted to whatever culture she was living in and learned how to prepare welcoming tables for their friends. When living in Spain, she decorated her home with a Spanish motif; when Spaniards were in their home, she served Spanish food. It was natural for her.

She was feisty and fun. She loved the games of Rook and Pit using them to invite their friends in for weekly tournaments in Spain. Joann was competitive, she always won.

Joann was an elegant lady. Her mother groomed her well in etiquette saying if she was ever invited to dine with the queen of England, she wanted her to know what fork to use. Although the invitation from the queen never materialized, during their years in Spain they were invited to dine with dignitaries on several occasions and Joann was always very comfortable.

And it was always a treat to be invited to have tea with her. She served with grace and I felt very special.

Her friendships manifested themselves in her ability to be a wise counselor. Joann said yes to speaking honestly, hopefully, and truthfully when invited to help another with life issues. She  would love enough to share truth with a another, but she would hold back from the need to fix the issue. She trusted God to speak to the other. It was life-changing for the recipient.

Joann said yes to finishing well. Although she lived with Parkinson’s disease the last 20 years of her life here on earth, she continued to love well. I often would ask for her wisdom in different situations I was facing. Her words always spoke life to me.

You could hear her conversing in Spanish with friends from their home in Colorado. She never lost her heart for the Spanish people.

She would often accompany Jack visiting Manitou Springs, a small town near Colorado Springs to talk with the people about God and to give away Jack’s books. Her gift of friendship made it easy to sit in a coffee shop and start conversations with the baristas.

“Again Jesus spoke to them saying, I am the light of the world.
Whoever follow me will not walk in darkness,
but will have the light of life.”
John 8:12

Joann followed Jesus as a wife, as a mom, as a missionary and she knew the light of life.

I imagine if Joann was here with me, she would ask me to share this testimony with you …

Surely goodness and mercy have followed me
all the days of my life,
and I am dwelling in the house of the Lord forever.
Psalm 23:6, personalized

*A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, by Phillip Keller.

 

 

Do You Have a Plan?

It was about five years ago. We’re empty-nesters. And I’m sensing a desire welling up inside.

I want to keep growing spiritually.

Recorded in my journal is Psalm 92:12-15, “The righteous flourish … and grow … still bear fruit in old age … ever full of sap and green … to declare that the LORD is upright; he is my rock …”

I pray over those truths regularly. They communicate my heart. I want them to describe me in my ‘old age’ (not that I’m all that old).

But what did that look like? How can I guarantee it? What were my next steps? I wanted a plan, a New Year’s resolution–kind of. (This was happening during spring and summer that year.)

I researched programs at several seminaries. I looked into spiritual direction certificates. I checked out other programs designed for spiritual growth. I did everything I knew to do. Nothing seemed quite right. I put my search on hold.

Two months later the invitation arrived in the mail. It was an opportunity to be part of the Beta program for a Certificate in High Trust Leadership, an online course designed and offered by the Trueface ministry. I was very familiar with the ministry and the leadership of Trueface and their goals which I greatly appreciated. I was not familiar with the course.

My response surprised me. I was neutral. Couldn’t this be an answer to my prayers? Wouldn’t this help me in my spiritual growth? Yes and yes, but still I was neutral.

Bill affirmed the opportunity. Sue, I think you’ll like this course. But he left me to discern God’s will. It took three weeks; I signed on ~ still feeling quite neutral.

But, I don’t feel neutral any more!

Perhaps Janet’s allegory will give you a glimpse into  HTLC, (High Trust Leader Certificate), click here.

My personal name for the course is High Trust Living or Experiencing the Reality of  Applied Grace.

The next 16 week course starts in just a couple of weeks. I’d love to have you join me on this  life-changing adventure. Click here for more information. You’ll find three great resources on this site:
1. The Two Roads Video. It is about 4 minutes long and by the way, John is one of the instructors of the HTLC.
2. The offer to download the first chapter of The Cure. Do it. This book is another piece of HTLC. 3. Scroll all the way to the bottom where the HTLC program is highlighted. There is a ‘learn more’ button and a ‘sample lesson’ button. This just might be the plan you are looking for if you want to continue growing spiritually in 2018.

Do you have questions? Please leave them in the comments. I bet others have the same ones.

Bonus: When you go to Janet’s site, on her resource page is free e-book download of the post you just read. You might want to take advantage of that and read it to the children in your life. Thank you, Janet.

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.”
Proverbs 3:5 and 6

 

 

The Invitations of Christmas, Come and Worship

Re-calibrating my heart to God’s invitations.

Our Nativity scene

“Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
let us kneel before the LORD, our maker!
Psalm 95:6

I’ve been pondering worship for a long time–years really. Is it merely a synonym for what I do on Sunday morning?  Is it only the part of the Sunday morning service that involves singing?

My answer is no. Worship is so much more. Psalm 95, the Garden of Gethsemane, my desire to trust, and the Christmas narrative have all given me glimpses into my understanding of worship.

When Jesus invited Peter, James, and John to accompany him to Gethsemane before his crucifixion, he had one request for them, watch and pray. He was asking them to be spiritually awake, to have the alertness of a night-time guard who does not have the advantage of light, to be hyper-vigilant. Kind of like the shepherds who were guarding the sheep the night Jesus was born.

Watching must be a part of worship. God is asking me to be awake and alert to his activity all around me, to uses all my senses, not only what my eyes see.

“When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.'” Luke 2:15. The shepherd’s worship started with being aware, aware that the message of the angels was a message from God. And they trusted. I’m thinking, even their journey was an act of worship.

Their worship was contagious. “… all who heard it (about the birth of Jesus) wondered at what the shepherds told them.” Luke 2:18. “… Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” Luke 2:19. “And the shepherds returned glorifying and praising God …” Luke 2:20. (underlines mine)

The wise men, those familiar with Old Testament prophecy, followed a star to find Jesus.  “When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts …” Matthew 2:10,11.

The wise men also trusted. Their worship also began with a journey, and led to rejoicing, awe, and giving gifts, a great celebration.

The shepherds and the wise men hurried to be with Jesus, into his physical presence. An appropriate response to the invitation they received to come into his presence.

I too want to respond in worship to the invitation that is always there for me to come into his presence. I want to watch, to be hyper-vigilant to the activity of God all around me; I want to respond in trust like the shepherds and the wise men; I want the experience of celebration to characterize my worship on normal everyday Tuesdays and on the wonder that Christmas day brings.

I love the traditional Christmas hymn, Angels from the Realms of Glory. Click here to be reminded of the Christmas story and our invitation to come and worship.

Next Thursday, Echoes of Grace is on Christmas break. I look forward to being back with you in the new year starting January 4, 2018.

And if you haven’t read of some of the other invitations Christmas brings, please scroll down and read, Come to Me all who Labor and are Heavy Laden, November 30.
Come and Have Breakfast, December 7.
Come and Return, December 14.

May this be a Merry Christmas responding to the invitations of our savior.

The Invitations of Christmas, Come, Return

Re-calibrating my heart to God’s invitations.

“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord:
though your sins be like scarlet,
they shall be white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool.”
Isaiah 1:18

Long before I knew anything about the Old Testament prophets like Hosea and Isaiah quoted here, and long before I was aware of an invitation coming my way, God was initiating toward me.

I’d always believed in God. Church and youth group were part of my upbringing. I’m so thankful for these traditions started in my family. My high school guidance counselor recommended Hope College because of its association with the church our family attended at the time.

But during my years at Hope, my heart was opened to another reality. Church was supposed to be more than a Sunday morning activity, more than a Christian tradition. It was not something I did just because I was Protestant.

“I’m after love that lasts, not more religion. I want you to know GOD, not go to more prayer meetings.” Hosea 6:6, The Message

The ah-ha came during the fall of my sophomore year at Hope. That night our college-aged youth group hosted a singing group from another campus. Their message in song and story connected with me. They spoke of a personal relationship with God. Being a Christian was more than their religion, it was a relationship with God, it was their identity. They shared about the gift of Jesus who was born a human baby to pay the penalty for my misdeeds, to be the sacrifice for me. Jesus was a gift from God offered to me, a gift to be received.

The ah-ha demanded a response and so with my good friend, Shirley and a gal from the other campus, I prayed. I thanked Jesus for taking the penalty for my sin. And I told him I wanted to receive him, that gift of relationship, of friendship.

“‘Come, Sit down. Let’s argue this out.’ This is GOD’s Message: ‘If your sins are blood-red, they’ll be snow-white. If they’re red like crimson, they’ll be like wool.'” Isaiah 1:18, The Message

Two significant things happened that night:

1. I returned to my dorm a different person. Not only did I believe in God, I had now received the gift of becoming part of his family.

“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,” John 1:12, italics mine.

This verse has been a favorite since then. It’s recorded in my prayer journal and I often allow it to remind me of my true identity.

2. Shirley introduced me to Bible study as a way to listen to God, to develop my new found relationship. My Bible was no-longer just a history book to be read.

Over the years as my new-found relationship with Jesus has grown, other Bible verses have become special to me like I John 3:1 which speaks of both the depth of God’s love for me and also the truth of my identity.

“What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it–we’re called children of God! That’s who we really are.” I John 3:1, The Message

And those Old Testament prophets … there is still a lot I don’t understand. But I do see their contribution to my story. Their words often express my heart. I’m thankful that because of Jesus, my sins are as “white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18). And as Hosea communicates, the Lord continues to come to me, to woo me to return, so I respond and come.

Like the invitation to come and have breakfast with Jesus this invitation to return is always out there for me, for us.

Gifts are only gifts when they are received. This Christmas what will it look like for you to receive the gifts offered to you by God?

If you want a fellow-sojourner to talk more about this or to pray with you like Shirley did with me, come … my invitation is for you, my door is open, the tea kettle is on.

If you missed the other invitations I’ve shared on Echoes of Grace, I invite you to visit them…

November 30, Come, all who Labor and are Heavy Laden.
December 6, Come and Have Breakfast.

Next week, December 21, Come and Worship.

 

 

 

The Invitations of Christmas, Come and Have Breakfast

Advent, an opportunity to re-calibrate my heart to God’s invitations.

“Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.'”
John 21:12 (italics mine)

John 21:4-13 records the third time Jesus appears to his disciples after the resurrection. The disciples had returned to what they knew, fishing. But this was a frustrating night–no fish.

Jesus knew. And he recognized the perfect opportunity to love his disciples well.

“At dawn …” (verse 4). Jesus waited for the right time, the time that he knew the disciples would be frustrated. These professional fishermen had caught nothing all night. I imagine they were feeling discouraged.

“Jesus said to them, ‘Children, do you have any fish?'” (verse 5). Jesus initiated toward his disciples, his followers, his children.

“He said to them, ‘Cast the net on the right side of the boat,'” (verse 6). Jesus guides them to the success. He knew what was important to them.

“When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread.” (verse 9). Jesus was ready; he served them. He knew they would be hungry.

“Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.'” (verse 10). Jesus honors them. He acknowledges their hard work, their obedience, and their ability to contribute to the breakfast.

“Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.'” (verse 12). Jesus invites them. Oh how good those words must have sounded to the disciples. Perhaps they heard …

Come, I’m ready for you; breakfast is prepared.
Come, be nourished.
Come, be with me.
Come, so I can be with you.
Come, enjoy.
Come, relax.
Come and rest. Your work for the night is done.

Advent, Christmas is coming. In this season of the good news of great joy, I too can identify with the disciples. Like them, I am a child of God. And like them, my normals can frustrate. I’m not making the progress I want to make. And in the midst, Jesus is here and Jesus offers me the same invitation,

Sue, come, I’m ready.
Sue, come be nourished.
Sue, come be with with me.
Sue, come, I want to be with you.
Sue, come enjoy.
Sue, come relax.
Sue, come and rest.

My heart is to respond. Yes, Jesus, thank you for your invitation. I’m coming. I want to have breakfast with you. I feel so cared for, overwhelmed, thankful, wanted, loved, humbled, and so much more.

“We can only be said to be alive in those moments
when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.”
Thornton Wilder

 

 

My Ark, Trust and Rest

I was weary … weariness stemming from the busyness of a fall that was physically and emotionally taxing. In my spiritual life an opportunity more than ever to apply what I’ve been learning about rest and resiliency this year. It felt like diving into deep water.

 

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me,
for I am gentle and lowly in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Matthew 11:28-30 (italics mine)

This verse has been my life-line this fall. As I’m learning to trust its truth, I’m experiencing rest because

Trust and Rest are first cousins!

As building my ark (a safe haven for rest) continues, I’m learning that that trusting God is the basis for experiencing rest.

Noah demonstrated that for me in the words recorded in Genesis.  Noah walked with God (Genesis 6:9); Noah found favor with God (Genesis 6:8); Noah listened to God and obeyed (trusted) (Genesis 6:22, 7:5); Noah experienced God’s faithfulness (Genesis 8:1); Noah worshiped God (Genesis 8:20). Noah lived out his name, the one who brings relief or rest (Genesis 5:29).

I want to be like Noah, a woman who walks with God, listens to God, obeys (trusts) God, worships God, and experiences God’s faithfulness and rest.

Trusting the truth of Matthew 11:28-30 has been the diving board for me, the key to living as Noah and experiencing rest.

Here are a few of the lessons that are leading me to rest.

  1. Rest is an invitation. Jesus invites me to come to him in the midst of my weariness. He asks me to learn from him … not learn of him or about him. Jesus is able to rest in the midst of the storms of his life. When I learn from that, I can respond to (trust) that his invitation for rest is for me too in the midst of the storms of my life.
  2. Circumstances don’t invite me to rest; circumstances invite me to trust which leads to rest. When life was especially hard this fall, I began to pray, God, your yoke doesn’t seem easy or light at the moment, it seems HEAVY. But I want to trust that what you are allowing as I walk with you is light. So will you take the heavy and leave me with the easy and light. Amen.
  3. Rest is a choice. Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, a Silicon valley strategist says, “You have to resist the lure of busyness, make time for rest, take it seriously, and protect it from a world that is intent on stealing it.” His words seem true to me. In the midst of our travels this fall there were times when I had the opportunity to trust that rest was important and to opt out of certain good activities and choose rest. One afternoon in North Carolina, I slipped out from the conference to wander through the shops of Black Mountain. For me that was so restful. (And I even purchased a couple of Christmas gifts.)
  4. Trusting Ephesians 2:4-6, I have been affirmed in my spiritual practice of sitting and staring. “But God … made us alive … raised us up … seated us with him …” It is very restful for me to start each morning with a cup of coffee, sitting in my favorite comfy chair, and enjoy God’s creation outside my windows. The quietness of this time leads me naturally to listen for his voice. It is good. After several days of sitting on airplanes, sitting in meetings, or even sitting with friends enjoying a good meal, sitting with God leads to rest.
  5. To rest is to practice humility. I won’t respond in trust to Jesus’ invitation or Noah’s example, unless humility leads the way. I was challenged with Hannah Anderson’s words in her book, Humble Roots, “As long as we refuse to accept our pride is the source of our unrest, we will continue to wither on the vine.” And, “When Jesus calls us to take his yoke, when he invites us to find rest through submission … He is calling us to safety.” (chapter 2)

Rest flows from Trust; they are first cousins.

Thinking through these questions from Matthew 11:28-30 has led me to trust and to rest this fall.

Where are my places of heavy laden-ness today?
Do I want rest in those places?
What would it look like to respond to Jesus’ invitation to come to him today?
How can I learn from him today?
Do I believe that he is gentle and humble? How does that relate to me?
Am I willing to give him those things that are heavy and trust him with his light burden for me.

” … in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”
Isaiah 30:15

Building my ark of rest has been a several year journey and I suspect God will continue to teach me.  You can follow this journey by reading through these past blogs:
http://suesgracechoes.blogspot.com/2015/09/the-message-of-picnics.html

http://suetell.com/reflecting-on-the-gallop/

My Ark

My Ark, An Update

You might also enjoy this post from my friend Emily. www.emilypfreeman.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

So Thankful for Beauty

One of my favorites from this fall. North Carolina

This Thanksgiving I’m overwhelmed by the gift God has allowed me to enjoy this fall in his many varied pictures of beauty. From summertime in New Jersey, summer-like in Hawaii, fall in South Carolina and North Carolina, winter in Austria, summer-like again in Florida, and with a few snippets of Colorado sprinkled in.

I especially love the changing leaves of autumn. And our week in North Carolina was a special gift to me.

One morning as I sat enjoying God’s creativity, these words came and I offer them as a Thanksgiving gift for you. At the end, I’ve created a photo journey to share in pictures some of the amazing sights I enjoyed this fall.

The Gift of North Carolina in Fall

The lodge nestled among the hardwoods
Surrounded by gold, rust, orange, and green,
A feast for my eyes.
As the sun slowly slides across the sky,
Or on the days of clouds,
Both picture God’s beauty.

I love listening to the leaf showers
Creating a carpet below.
A feast for my ears.
As the winds gently ruffle
And as the leaves meet in air,
I become statue-esque … but alive
Quietly aware.

I hold my hands out,
Palms turned to the sky;
An anticipating child …
Will the leaves come close by?
The feast of touch.

I shuffle my feet along the carpeted ground,
The feel, the crisp, the aroma of fall all around.
A feast of fall smells.

The clean clear air awakens and lifts,
I breathe deeply in to enjoy this fall gift.
I pause and I linger inhaling again,
Closing my eyes to sharpen my ken.

This feast of God’s goodness,
Just a taste in the beauty of autumn,
in the beauty of seasons,
in God’s abundant creativity,
and offering of love.

NJ in September

Mom’s home in New Jersey

New Jersey in September

Sunrise at Oahu

Cultivated beauty in Hawaii

Hawaii

Loved the aqua water in Hawaii

Hawaii

We could see this lighthouse from Bellows AFS, Hawaii.

 

Greenville, South Carolina

North Carolina

North Carolina

A favorite North Carolina hike

North Carolina

 

Duke U Chapel

Colorado in October

The Alps from the , November

St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Vienna

The village of Perchtoldsdorf

Vienna

Vienna

Cafe Landtmann, Vienna

Vienna

 

Cultivated Beauty, Florida

Florida

Florida

 

Christmas is Coming

Blessings to you all this Thanksgiving. I am so very thankful for each of you.  Sue

Words From The Wise, Our Stories

“The purpose of story is to generate a relationship–to promote trust and intimacy, to gain acceptance, and to have an emotionally healing experience. We can argue statistics, we can debate theories, and we can challenge philosophies, but there is something about a person’s raw, honest story that connects with us on a deeper level and get us out of our head into our heart … sharing our stories is really sharing our faith in what God is doing in our lives. Our stories connect with others at the heart level,”
Framing Faith, Matt Knisely, pages 29, 30.

“Our stories connect with others at the heart level,” YES! This has truly been my experience.

When I share about my struggles with comparison, I see the heads of my friends bob up and down. When I share about living with a husband who went through a very dark time of depression, my friends open up to me and want to know more.

As I’ve learned vulnerability — not just transparency, I’ve learned to allow myself to be human. I experience God opening the two-way doors of encouragement. Others breathe more easily and are set free to share their stories, and I am able to receive their love in a newer, deeper, more authentic way. When we share our stories with one another, something special happens — a very special connection.

Recently I’ve heard that when someone is living with deep grief, they need to share their story 200 times. And in the sharing, there is healing. We need each other.

Do you have a friend you feel free to be real with?

 

I’d be honored to listen.

 

 

“A friend loves at all times,
and a brother is born for adversity.”
Proverbs 17:17

 

 

Words From The Wise, Please or Trust

“There’s an incredible phrase in Hebrews: “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” (italics mine) This statement shows us the path we must take. Only by trusting can we truly please God! If our primary motive is pleasing God, we’ll never please Him enough and we’ll never learn trust. Pleasing God is a good desire. It just can’t be our primary motivation or it will imprison our hearts … When our primary motive becomes trusting God, however, we suddenly discover there is nothing in the world that pleases Him more! Until you trust God, nothing you do will please God.” The Cure, Lynch, McNicol, Thrall

The verb form of the noun ‘faith’ is trust.

I bet if you’re a parent or grandparent you’ve experienced this. I know I have. And sometimes I’ve been surprised that my grandchild has trusted me so explicitly.

But I am a child too, a child of God. And I think this pictures what God desires from me, complete trust. A willingness to bring all of me and cast myself into his arms.

What has God asked you to trust him with these days?

The book I quoted above, The Cure, is part of the High Trust Leader course that I’m faculty for. What I love about this course is it helps me practice these principles, not just agree to them. Let me know if you’d like to learn about it. I like to call this course, High Trust Living.