Month: September 2015

Clogging: Not a plumbing problem

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Psalm 107:15, “Oh that men would praise the LORD for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men!”  King James Version

 

Sometimes God’s love and His plan unfold in ways we never would have predicted or imagined.

“Clogging is not a plumbing problem,” proclaimed a ragged T-shirt worn by the director of our Bailey Mountain Cloggers dance team at Mars Hill College in the beautiful hills of western North Carolina. This championship-caliber group has represented the now-university very well over the years in a region where clogging remains a popular form of dance, combining quick tap steps and lively kicks with creative formations that resemble square dancing.

After my sister joined the Bailey Mountain Cloggers, I became interested. Successful my second time trying out, I danced with the team for one year – my senior year. Jane had already graduated; I wish we had had the chance to be on the squad together! The team danced at college hoedowns and in a handful of competitions. During the 1982 January mini-term, we loaded ourselves into a van pulling a U-Haul trailer of luggage and sound equipment. Thus began a tour that would have a life-changing impact on me.

For several days we performed at schools and other institutions in Florida. Then, we stopped back by the college, took a day to wash dirty laundry and to re-pack, and headed north to Ontario, Canada, for more performances and a local television spot.

Something unexpected was happening to me during that trip. Twenty-one years of age at the time, I had struggled with a terrible nail-biting habit virtually my entire life. Perhaps only those who have been down the road of unbreakable habits can understand the self-disappointment, the embarrassment, the unanswered prayers for an instant miracle, and the unsolicited input of other people ranging from censure to pity that a hard-core nail biter endures. During that tour of clogging performances, the audience participation dances had us holding hands with strangers in a large circle and “promenading” with our assigned partners. Too, we rode for hours at a time in that dirty van, before the days of hand sanitizer and anti-bacterial wipes. Under those conditions, even I found the common sense not to put my fingertips into my mouth. Enough days of this routine passed that – miracle of miracles – my fingernails grew enough for me to see what I had been missing all of those important years. I was amazed and intrigued. I was astounded and proud.

With only a minor setback or two over the next few months, a very long and unhappy chapter of life was closed for me forever. Rare is the day that goes by without my feeling immensely thankful for how God worked through that one-of-a-kind experience, rescuing me from what I saw as a wretched pit of personal failure. Who could have guessed that God would send my miracle at that particular time, through such unusual circumstances? I am sometimes heard to say, “I am wearing ten miracles all the time.”

The writers of scripture knew how important it is to review and to retell how and where God has led His people. You and I have personal stories to share of what God has done.

 

Originally published September 22, 2009 as an email devotional

How a poet says “sunset”

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“The heavens are telling the glory of God and the expanse [of heaven] is declaring the work of his hands.” Psalm 19:1, The Amplified Bible

I think most of us associate positive connotations with the word sunset. Photos and paintings of sunsets normally are created and admired because of their brilliant color splashes across the sky and their moment in time with visible rays of sunlight (like the view pictured, which I photographed at Fairhope, Alabama). After the sunset thrills our eyes, the beauty of full darkness, when stars are sparkling overhead, captivates us, too. We find the night sky mesmerizing, thought-provoking, and romantic. See the Bible verse above and some stanzas of poetry below, all demonstrating a poetic response to the beauty of the heavens.

Contrast this with a young, unhappy child’s reaction to the hymn that begins, “Now the day is over, night is drawing nigh; Shadows of the evening steal across the sky.”1 In a classic children’s book, The Secret Language, eight-year-old Victoria North is a new boarding school student suffering crippling homesickness. When the quoted hymn is sung at the music hour after supper, it makes Victoria cry. I imagine she would have felt just the same if the selection had been a similar title with similar imagery, Day is Dying in the West. Mary A. Lathbury’s text has been classified as a funeral hymn, but, to the person not predisposed to be sad, it begins with reflective, well-crafted praise of God’s handiwork seen in sunset and then in the starlit sky:

“Day is dying in the west; heav’n is touching earth with rest;
Wait and worship while the night sets the evening lamps alight
Through all the sky.”2

A poet’s responses to beautiful sights often arise from thoughts that have turned serious, and serious contemplations sometimes progress toward the melancholy. Melancholy’s primary meaning is dismal, depressed, downcast, glum, mournful. But, there is a second category of meaning that isn’t about despair. Melancholy is similar to “sanguine” (as a personality type more than a passing mood), defined as pensive, analytical, and quiet. I didn’t realize the folks at Merriam-Webster ever met me!

Melancholy’s last four letters spell holy. A nice tie-in with the serious worship of God.

How another poet says “sunset”…

Have you taken in the fiery glow
Blazing brief and brilliant as the sun is sinking low
And sweeping strokes of graphite gray
Communicate the cryptic closing statement of the day?
How splendidly is fashioned this farewell!
And, never to diminish beauty’s spell,
The trees are draped in blackness where the day and night have met,
Stunning in their stately silhouette.*

*Have You Seen the Sky? (2002), stanza 4 of 6, by yours truly.

Nineveh 4:11

What, you don’t remember seeing the book of Nineveh listed in your Bible’s table of contents?

After some energizing discussion in adult Bible study class on August 30* about the prophet Jonah’s experiences related to the city of Nineveh, I found my attention drawn to the very last verse of Jonah and I decided that one might debate whether the main character in this Old Testament book is the title character. The extent of Nineveh’s need and the city’s targeting by God for a well-timed warning might overshadow what Jonah saw and felt and learned, if reporters had interviewed some of the 120,000+ who were spared rather than punished.

As is frequently the case with Bible stories, this one has several angles of equal importance. God directed His servant Jonah to the city of Nineveh as much to teach Jonah something as to bring a word of warning to Nineveh’s inhabitants that would result in their repenting of their sins and avoiding imminent destruction.

In a sense, God “set Jonah up” to learn a whopping big lesson that goes something like this: God is full of mercy and compassion, slow to anger, and rich in love – not just to His family, but to everyone, including a city of great size and of even greater evil. (And here we’ve been thinking the whopping big part of Jonah’s story was the fish!)

The last verse of this short Old Testament book describes Nineveh as a city of 120,000-plus inhabitants who were so blind and misguided they didn’t know their right from their left. We might say that spiritually they didn’t know whether they were coming or going; they didn’t know which end was up; they were completely “out of it.” Clueless. We are not told that many or any of those folks were seeking the one true God or any kind of spiritual guidance at the time. But we can easily imagine that, because they were living without God’s laws, there was an awful lot of bad and sad stuff going on. (Sound like another time and place we know of?) Our compassionate God saw the dire situation of the Ninevites. To quote a song, He “looked beyond their fault and saw their need.”

If we ever need proof that God pursues those who don’t even have Him on their minds, we can add to the body of evidence the story of His reaching out to Nineveh. Jesus said, “Seek and you shall find.” He didn’t say this that we know of, but apparently it’s true: “Some will find even when they haven’t been seeking.” Indeed, “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” Luke 19:10

You creative writers out there ought to sit down sometime and fashion an account of these events from the viewpoint of an inhabitant of Nineveh. Jonah 3:3-10 would be the basis – and would be the sum total unless Jonah happened into the East Nineveh Starbucks and divulged to the locals all about the ship and the storm and the fish and (later) the vine. The short, short version of “the book of Nineveh” might read like this: “A prophet came into town and made us aware that our ways were so evil we were in for immediate destruction by the God whose laws we were violating. In fear and desperation, we all – from the king on down – repented and fasted and prayed for God’s mercy. And we were spared! How grateful we are to have had our eyes opened to the truth! Indeed, God’s way is right and is best for us.”

Jonah 4:11, “Should I not care about the great city of Nineveh, which has more than 120,000 people who cannot distinguish between their right and their left, as well as many animals?” HCSB

On a humorous note: When I glanced at Jonah 4:11 in the Holman Christian Standard Bible, I thought it was saying that the Ninevites couldn’t tell their right from their left as well as many types of animals could do that. “Now, my little goslings, remember we will be turning LEFT up here after we waddle past the pond you are seeing on your RIGHT.” Then I read in other versions, “and [which has] much livestock” (or “many cattle”). God was saying, “Does it really surprise you that I care about Nineveh, which has more than 120,000 people and which also has many animals? It would make me very sad to destroy them, whom I created.” I guess that little comma after the word “left” makes the difference. Never underestimate the importance of punctuation – especially in the Bible!

 

*Lifeway’s MasterWork periodical series, Summer 2015, seventh and final session based on Compelled: Living the Mission of God by Ed Stetzer and Philip Nation.