Grace is Greater than______________

Have you given up anything for Lent? I have a young friend who said he gave up self-loathing. I was dumbfounded (which is all too rare in me), but this past weekend I heard the same thing from a sweet older lady in Sunday school.

Do you struggle to forgive—either yourself of others? Are you experiencing deep pain in your life? Do you have wounds that just won’t heal? Are you seething with bitterness, raging with anger, fantasizing about revenge, or despondent over your brokenness? Do you believe that if God really was good and all powerful, He wouldn’t allow all the sin and evil in our world?

If you’re struggling with any of these issues, then I’d like to recommend Kyle Idleman’s latest book, Grace is Greater. Kyle is the bestselling author of Not a Fan, but he’s also the pastor of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky (reported to be the fifth largest church in America), where he preaches to a congregation of over 20,000 weekly. This pretty much insures that he’s a super engaging speaker and writer, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he knows what he’s talking about. Nevertheless, after reading his book, I’m convinced he does!

The term “grace” has been overused but under-understood for at least a generation. Grace is Greater breathes fresh insight into this matchless subject. Kyle’s subtitle is apt: “God’s Plan to Overcome Your past, Redeem Your Pain, and Rewrite Your Story.” No matter where you are on your own spiritual journey—even if you’re just staring down the path wondering if it would really lead anywhere—you’ll find lots to motivate, challenge, and help you grow in grace.

Kyle is a great story teller, and we all know that stories are the sugar that makes the medicine go down. We remember stories. We retell stories. We learn from stories. In under 200 pages and ten thoughtfully (but also playfully and transparently) crafted chapters, Kyle addresses his (and our) mistakes, hurts, and circumstances, sharing through scripture and example how God’s grace is not only equal to but greater than each of these challenges.

“But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen” (2 Peter 3:18).

Bourke’s Luck Potholes in Mpumalanga: Not All Potholes are Problematic!

                Do you go crazy trying to avoid all the potholes in spring? In Michigan, the winters are so brutal that by springtime roads are pocked with depressions where the ground has heaved, leaving broken asphalt and treacherous traps just waiting to pop the tires of unwary commuters. So, when we were told we were going to stop along the Panoramic Route between Kruger National Park and Johannesburg in South Africa to see “the potholes,” I wasn’t particularly impressed…until I saw them!  These potholes have been created by the confluence of the Treur & Blyde Rivers                                                      at Blyde River Canyon, where centuries of wear have formed deep, cylindrical depressions in the sandstone bedrock. They are indeed potholes, but they’re not the dangerous ones we see in America. These potholes are grand and spectacularly beautiful formations in layered shades of rust, amber, brown, and taupe.  Their name refers to Tom Bourke, who was an unsuccessful gold prospector in this area, but I think he found something better than gold! Today, tourists (like Alan and me) come from around the world to marvel at the natural beauty of this area. So, the next time you see a pothole in your road, please avoid it to be sure, but remember that some potholes can be beautiful. How about us? Is the wear and pressure in our lives revealing natural color and creating unique patterns of beauty in us, or are we becoming broken and depressed? God intends the floods of time and pressure to transform us (particularly at the confluence of ourselves with another “river”).He cutteth out rivers among the rocks; and his eye seeth every precious thing. He bindeth the floods from overflowing; and the thing that is hid bringeth he forth to light. But where shall wisdom be found? and where is the place of understanding? (Job 28:10-12)   But now thus saith the Lord that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine. When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour (Isaiah 43:1-3)

(All photos taken on our trip to South Africa at Burke’s Luck Potholes,  2016.)

Rise Up, My Love (228): Would You Like Eyes of Peace?

“Thine eyes like the fishpools in Heshbon, by the gate of Bath-rabbim” (Song of Solomon 7:4). A gate where multitudes passed by for water suggests a broad gate and an extremely busy thoroughfare. For the husband to experience his wife’s eyes as deep reservoirs of water beside a busy gate brings to mind a husband who—in the midst of the press and rush of business—could stop to drink in his wife’s beauty and find himself refreshed by the placid, unruffled serenity reflected in her eyes. There is nothing so appealing and calming as bright, clear, peaceful eyes in the midst of a world of confusion…not eyes that have been blurred by staring at earthly possessions, fired by anger, or clouded by guilt, but eyes with clarity, depth, and purity…eyes like the reservoirs of Heshbon—deep calling unto deep (Psalm 42:7)—reflecting the radiant image of the Son of God. “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:18). Dear Lord, please give us such eyes…eyes that “are ever toward the Lord” (Psalm 25:15). Give us eyes that sparkle and shine with eternity’s “I love you” and hold heaven in their heart. Eyes that reflect the depth of your character and can guide blind travelers searching through the trackless deserts of this world for reservoirs supplied by your springs of living water. Please give us eyes that reflect the perfect peace of one whose mind is stayed on you (Isaiah 26:3)…whose eyes are calm with the quietness that only you can give. “When he giveth quietness, who then can make trouble?” (Job 34:29). Oh, Lord, teach us to open that door which separates soul from spirit in our inmost being and retreat to the spiritual world, closing the door on the yearnings of our flesh so that we might focus without interruption on you. Please give us “eyes like the fishpools in Heshbon, by the gate of Bath-rabbim.”

“Peace”
There is a peace which cometh after sorrow,
Of hope surrendered, not of hope fulfilled:
A peace that looketh not upon tomorrow,
But calmly on the tempest that is stilled.
A peace which lives not now in joy’s excesses,
Nor in a happy life of love secure;
But in the strength the heart possesses—
Of conflicts won while learning to endure.
A peace that is in Sacrifice secluded,
A life subdued, from will and passions free;
‘Tis not the peace which over Eden broodeth,
But which triumphed in Gethsemane.” —Jessie Rose Gates
( Found in Lockyer, Dr. Herbert. Love Is Better Than Wine. Harrison: New Leaf Press, 1981, p. 116)

Savory Cream of Mushroom Soup

After a fabulous buffet one night at the Rosen Shingle Creek Resort in Orlando (where Alan’s conference was held), Alan and I both agreed that our very favorite dish had been the creamy mushroom soup. “Shocking!” I thought to myself. How could something so simple be so delectable?  Well, after talking to the waiter, doing a little online research, and experimenting a bit, I’ve come up with a recipe that Alan and I think is at least a worthy competitor. Here it is:

Savory Cream of Mushroom Soup
(serves 2-4)

2 T. (Tablespoon) butter (Melt in an iron skillet.)
1 chopped onion (Choose your size depending on your love of onions.)
1 T. fresh garlic (or dried; saute with onions until starting to caramelize.)12 oz. sliced mushrooms (any type you prefer; saute until starting to brown.)
3 cups water
1 T. chicken bouillon powder
1 T. rosemary (fresh or crushed)
1/4 teaspoon basil
Pepper to taste
1 bay leaf  (Add all ingredients and simmer for 15 minutes.)3 T. flour (easiest if whisked together with cream first; I failed!)
1 cup light cream (Heat entire mixture until it’s simmering but not boiling.)                             Serve immediately, while it’s still piping hot.

Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a fatted calf with hatred.” (Proverbs 15:17, NKJV)

The Horrible Truth about Deep Water Horizon and Deep Waters

Seven years ago, on April 20, 2010, Deepwater Horizon exploded into a firestorm that could be seen for 40 miles, resulting in the largest oil spill in U.S. history. Deepwater Horizon was an offshore drilling rig that had successfully drilled the deepest oil well in history (over 10,000 ft. deep) in the Gulf of Mexico just a few months earlier, and           on April 20th, the crew of 126 were hard at work testing the new well               at Macondo Prospect, forty-one miles off the coast of Louisiana. Deepwater Horizon cost almost a million dollars per day to operate with equipment and crew, and although there were issues with safety, the project was over a month behind schedule and overdue at a new site, so the decision makers decided to test the well before they were sure all the work was properly completed and all the concrete had time to cure.  The movie dramatizing this disaster is excellent and rated PG-13, but it is so graphic (and bad language) that I recommend it with caution. As one who’s inexperienced with the technical side of oil drilling, it was somewhat hard to follow what was happening, but the message was crystal clear: Often those who take the risks and make the decisions are not those who suffer the greatest consequences for their greed and irresponsible selfishness. Eleven men died, scores of men suffered, and the responsible companies ended up spending not millions —but billions—of dollars trying to recover and compensate for the damages. As we make important decisions, let’s remember that if we choose selfishly and unwisely, we’re not just going to hurt ourselves, we’re likely to do more damage than we could ever possibly imagine.  But my people would not hearken to my voice; and Israel would none of me. So I gave them up unto their own hearts’ lust: and they walked in their own counsels. Oh that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways! (Psalm 81:11-13)

God’s Compass: Have You Found True North?

God’s Compass, a 2016 release from Liberty University’s Cinematic Arts program, is truly outstanding. To my mind, it’s one of the best yet in the Christian film industry, particularly in the areas of acting, pacing, and script. Had I been an actress, it’s a movie I would have been honored to have been in! In fact, it even got a 7.2 rating from IMBd.  The story follows the life of a retiring high school principal, Suzanne Waters, who goes immediately from celebrating her retirement to coping with a series of crises surrounding the birth of her first grandchild, trying to help a juvenile delinquent (and her overly busy surgeon son), solving a mystery, and processing the recent death of her beloved husband.  There is definitely some suspense, and there’s a humorous plot twist,
but there’s also a great lesson to be learned.  By faith, Suzanne perseveres in in making godly, gracious decisions (which appear absurd by human reasoning), and there’s a warm and wonderful happily-ever-after ending
that made me sigh contentedly and lifted my spirit. God’s Compass: Finding Your True North,
affirms the rightness of following God through dark and difficult circumstances and sacrificing for the sake of others, only to find that joy awaits
those who are willing to put the needs of others ahead of their own. And, isn’t that the Truth? It’s certainly been true in my life. Besides all that, there’s no sex, no violence, and no profanity!   🙂I just loved it, and I’m already looking forward to their next release, Extraordinary. Way to go, Stephan Schultze and the Christian film industry!!!

Trust in the Lord with all thine heart;
and lean not unto thine own understanding.

In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.

(Proverbs 3:5-6)

Anticipating the View from God’s Window

“God’s Window” is in South Africa and was our first stop on the Panoramic Route between Kruger National Park and Johannesburg.* For  those of you who read my blog on a regular basis, you might notice that I haven’t written anything about Africa for a month, and that I have as yet to say one word about our safari in Kruger National Park, which is likely to be even more interesting to you than the view from God’s Window.

I apologize. At the most interesting sites, I take hundreds of photos,
and it takes hours…no days!…to choose and process the best to share. This requires unhurried days at home without any heaven-sent opportunities to interact with family and friends
(which often fill many days to overflowing).

That aside aside, I want to share three favorite stops along this famous Panoramic Route in the coming week before April begins and I try to finish telling tales from our adventures in Southeast Asia last spring. (I will return to African experiences sometime, though, because they were great!)Renier, our travel guide in Africa, explained that God’s Window was a special place in Mpumalanga along the Drakensberg escarpment where the cliffs drop over 2,200 feet to the “lowveld” (low grassland) below, opening up vistas of the entire Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve, and on a clear day you can see some 150 miles to the border of Mozambique!**                         That’s pretty close to “On a clear day you can see forever!”                                                   We were all super excited! Unfortunately, by the time we actually got there, clouds had filled the canyon and we couldn’t see anything but a sea of mist. So disappointing!  😦  But, how like life on earth! We have hopes and dreams and prayers for vision, and sometimes it does seem like we can see everything clearly from God’s window…from His perspective. However, other days our vision is totally obscured, and we have no clue what the future will hold. No matter how clear or cloudy the present is, may we keep calm and carry on with what we know to do (even if that means not going very far), waiting patiently for the clouds to lift and the Lord to give us more vision for the next steps in our journey.  And when the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the children of Israel went onward in all their journeys: But if the cloud were not taken up, then they journeyed not till the day that it was taken up (Exodus 40: 36-37).

(Photo credits: *First photo from South African Tourism: http://www.southafrica.net/za/en/articles/entry/article-southafrica.net-gods-window
**Photo from Wikipedia
I took the animal photos during our safari in Kruger National Park and the rest on our trip to God’s Window and along the Panoramic Route in South Africa.)