Five Minute Friday: focus

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It was an art perfected on lazy sunlit afternoons: distilling the whole of the sun’s magnificent power into one blinding pinpoint through the lens of a magnifying glass. It took patience, a steady hand, and an eye that could keep gazing in spite of tears from the power of the focused sun.

And then there was the reward, when light and glass aligned just right: the sudden curl of smoke, perhaps an almost-flame at the edge of the newly-created black burn line.

Delighted, I used the sun to burn holes through leaves and write my name on small blocks of wood. I didn’t know that I was learning things about lenses and light.

Outside today the sunlight is bright and cold, and I think of how the whole fullness of deity was brought into focus in the frail human frame of the Christ, how, through Jesus, God the consuming fire is distilled into a blinding pinpoint capable of burning a man’s heart within him.

Under His patient hand and eye, we see the curl smoke and the edge of flame, and find that we ourselves now bear His name.

The Old Testament God thunders out “You are mine,” and Christ’s nail-torn hands show us how this is true.

focusToday I link up with Kate Motaung and her Five Minute Friday crew, writing on her prompt, focus. The button above will take you to her site to read more about it and join in if you wish.

©2016 by Stacy Crouch

learnings: January 2016

Today I’m linking up with Emily P. Freeman of Chatting at the Sky to share things I’ve learned in January.

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It’s been a few months since I wrote a things-learned post. I’ve been learning so many things and waiting for my world to turn just a bit right-side up. Or for the upside-down-ness of it to start to feel normal. But in any case, here, in no order of importance, are some things I’ve learned in January.:

  1. When you have upstairs neighbors, it’s possible that they may decide to vacuum at one in the morning. And you may wake up perplexed, then go back to sleep again.
  2. The BBC, though acknowledging that competition was quite stiff, declared tea the winner in the tea vs. coffee debate. Since I’ve long ago settled this as true in my own mind, I approve of the BBC’s conclusion.
  3. Ultrasound technology is incredible.
  4. Somehow, while the sheet and coverlet manage always to creep up and up the bed at night, the electric blanket, sandwiched between them, creeps down and down the bed, so that I find myself groping around my legs for it in the middle of the night. (When the neighbors are vacuuming.)
  5. Playing piano in church with a banjo and guitar and cajon and vocalists is way different from playing in church with an organ and a choir. And, while in some ways the things I play in this new context are less technically challenging, for a pianist coming from years of hymnals and organs and choirs, it is very challenging.
  6. Sometimes, on a cold, dark evening when you’re alone and not feeling spectacular, an unexpected friend showing up on your doorstep is exactly the medicine required, and you find yourself overwhelmingly grateful for said friend.
  7. World magazine, even in back issues, is excellent reading to get my mental juices flowing again. And in the December 12, 2015 issue, I found a gem in Andrée Seu Peterson’s column “The Real Me.” She argues that acting in a godly manner when we feel sinful is not, for a Christian, hypocrisy:

    “… the truth is I am not my dark side. It is not fraudulent to be slow to speak and gentle of demeanor. To consciously ‘put on’ these godly behaviors is actually a biblical command: Ephesians 4:24: ‘Put on the new self.’ Obedience is not hypocrisy.

    “It’s new-creation time. I try it on for size and walk around in it. And I foresee no plans to stop at some point putting on the mind of Christ.”

  8. Chocolate cake is more fun to bake in a dozen little blue ramekins than in one sheet or two round pans. If you happen to have blue ramekins, I recommend this method. Ramekins or not, I recommend chocolate cake:
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  9. There’s a Friends of the Library book sale store in the Metrocenter Mall in Jackson. Admittedly, I never would have ventured there except out of the necessity of changing my name on my driver’s license. But, having successfully changed said name, my husband and I were excited to peruse the book sale. It made me wistful for all the library-ing days of my growing-up years, and delighted me in bringing home new treasures.
  10. One such new treasure is Elizabeth Gouge’s The Child of the Sea. Historical fiction revolving around Charles II of England, it’s different from her usual stories, and, while I haven’t finished it in order to thoroughly endorse it, I have enjoyed the escape into a long time ago in a land far away, riding Gouge’s luminous prose.

 

There have been so many other things learned, but there’s a little peek at my January. I’m thankful for it.

©2016 by Stacy Crouch

Five Minute Friday: quiet

“Better is a dry morsel and quietness with it

Than a house full of feasting with strife.”
—Proverbs 17:1 NASB

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Though I’ve been alone with myself in the house nearly all day, it’s only tonight that the quietness arrives, a quiet I feel in my soul and down my weary spine.

This is the quiet of finished tasks, an end of trying to do enough for the day. How much I have done today may be small, but now is the end of doing. Now is the time for being. And for being quiet.

“Cease striving and know that I am God,” the Lord commands in Psalm 46:10 (NASB). Other translations render it, “Be still.” Sometimes, in my mind, I read it as, “Hush.”

The Lord invites us to rest in Him, to make an end of trying to do enough for our lives, our salvation. “The one who has entered [God’s] rest,” the writer of Hebrews tells us, “has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His” (4:10) (NASB).

Here I am quiet in the sufficiency of my Savior, who has “done for us all our works” (Isaiah 26:12, ESV), the Savior who declared on the tree of the curse, “It is finished” (John 19:30).

He does not require great doings of me, but declares that the work God requires is believing in Him (John 6:29).

Here “I have composed and quieted my soul; Like a weaned child rests against his mother, My soul is like a weaned child within me” (Psalm 131:2).

No strife here: He leads me beside quiet waters and spreads before me a feast (Psalm 23). I am glad.

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Today I link up with Kate Motaung to write on her Five Minute Friday prompt, quiet. The “quiet” button above will take you to her site, where you can read more quiet posts and join in Five Minute Friday yourself.

©2016 by Stacy Crouch

time

 

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By divine coincidence this morning my scripture reading included Psalm 90 and the first half of Ecclesiastes. Both are caught up with time, and it seems to me, reading them together, that Solomon was familiar with Moses’ Psalm.

“The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty, yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away,” Moses observes (Ps. 90:10). And Solomon asks, “What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation . . .” (Ecc. 2:22, 23).

“You return man to dust,” Moses remarks, “and say, ‘Return, O children of man!'” (Ps. 90:3). And Solomon echoes:”All are from the dust, and to dust all return” (Ecc. 3:20).

Time is brief for humans, both seem to sigh, and death comes soon to all of us.

But both notice a contrast, too: “Before the mountains were brought forth or ever you had formed the world, from everlasting to everlasting,” Moses says, “you are God” (Ps. 90:2). “Whatever God does,” Solomon perceives, “endures forever” (Ecc. 3:14).

God isn’t like people. His relationship to time is not like ours.

Prophet and Preacher agree that it is important to understand this.

Moses prays, “Teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart a heart of wisdom”(Ps. 90:12). And Solomon admonishes us, “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come . . . and the dust returns to the earth as it was and the spirit returns to God who gave it” (Ecc. 12:1, 7).

Life comes to an end; be wise with your few days.

But how? Solomon says “Remember your Creator,” and in the Psalm we see Moses talking to his Creator, asking God to remember him: “Return, O LORD! How long? Have pity on your servants! Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days” (Ps. 90:13, 14).

The other answer both seem to give to the conundrum of our little time is to work: your days are few; use them.

“There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil,” Solomon says. “This also is from the hand of God” (Ecc. 2:24). Yet Solomon seems to undercut this at other points, pointing to the vanity of toil: “As he came from his mother’s womb he shall go again, naked as he came, and shall take nothing for his toil that he may carry away in his hand” (5:15). What good, the working, then?

In his final entreaty, Moses helps to illumine the question: “Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!”

The working must be established by God, because, as Solomon says, “Whatever God does endures forever.”

Remember that the time is short and be wise. Remember your Creator; work at works established by God. Be working for the eternal things and not the dust that returns to dust.

“Fear God,” Solomon says, “and keep his commandments” (Ecc. 12:13). This is our answer to the problem of time.

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Last week Kate Motaung’s Five Minute Friday prompt was “time.” I didn’t write, but I’ve been mulling over it and poetry ever since. I’ve been thinking of T. S. Eliot’s J. Alfred Prufrock and his assurance that “there will be time, there will be time,” and contrasting it to Andrew Marvell‘s urgency at hearing “time’s wingèd chariot” always at his back. I’ve been thinking of the relationship between our awareness of time and the actions we choose. Prufrock, with seemingly all the time in the world, allowed fear to rob him of “the strength to force the moment to its crises,” while Marvell’s sense of urgency drove him to immediate action. If Prufrock had also heard “time’s wingèd chariot,” might he have found the strength to ask his “overwhelming question”? All of it coalesced, in a way, with this morning’s Bible reading, which is why this post, and not one about poetry, is the one I wrote. It took more than five minutes, but I credit Kate’s prompt for planting the seed.

©2016 by Stacy Crouch

Five Minute Friday (on Sunday): first

Life has afforded me many firsts lately. It’s inevitable, when you’re just over two months married. With our wedding coming just before the holiday season, it feels like we’re only now figuring out what real life together looks like. (So far, it looks pretty nice.)

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Still, all the firsts can be overwhelming to me. (It occurs to me that I’m like a cow in liking to walk placidly along well-worn, habitual paths.) And so in the midst of firsts, I have to go back and go back to the really First things, the foundational things.

Like the fact that Christ is before all things and in Him all things hold together. Before all things: First.

And the thing that Paul says is of First Importance: that Christ Jesus died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures.

He’s called the chief cornerstone — the first one, from which and on which and against which the whole building stands.

He’s called the firstborn from the dead and the firstborn among many brethren.

And the idea is that He is first, but we follow. He died for our sins and rose again that we might die to sin and rise with Him into everlasting life. He makes of us living stones in His building. He makes us sons and daughters of His Father the King.

And it doesn’t matter how many things are new and different in this new year: these are the real First things, and secure in these, we can face all the others.

Cheers

Linking up with Kate Motaung to write in the first Five Minute Friday link-up of the year, on her prompt: first. The “first” button above will take you to her site.

©2016 by Stacy Crouch

Whatever is true

When you feel under the weather on the day before Christmas Eve, it makes sense somehow to retread old journal entries. Then sometimes it makes sense to share one of them. This part starts with a question: Father, what would you have me do?

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise, the fruit of lips that confess his name.

Through Jesus, who was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; who, being in very nature God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself; who has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, on whom the chastisement for our wellbeing fell, by whose stripes we are healed; who is before all things and in whom all things hold together, who is the head of the body, the church, preeminent in all things; in whom the whole fullness of God was pleased to dwell through him to reconcile all things to himself; who makes peace by the blood of his cross.

Jesus, thank you.

He loved me while I was dead in my sins, loved me for no good in me, because no good dwells in me, and while I remained in that miserable state, Jesus died for me. I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me; I am a new creation; the old has passed away, the new has come. 

There is therefore now no condemnation for me, for I am in Christ Jesus and the law of the Spirit of life has set me free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death, so that neither death nor life, Angels nor rulers, present nor future, powers, height nor depth, nor ANYTHING ELSE IN ALL CREATION will be able to separate me from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus my Lord.

This is as true today as it was when I was writing it over a year ago, because this is the unchanging word of God. And this, friends, is what we celebrate at Christmastime.   
Copyright 2015 by Stacy Crouch

Five Minute Friday (on Sunday): reflect

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“It’s not the going, it’s the leaving,” I complained to God, 13 years ago, looking at another move, arguing with Deuteronomy 31:8. (The LORD is the One who goes ahead of you; He will be with you.) He answered me with Job 40:2, Will the faultfinder contend with the Almighty?

It comes back to my mind often. I’m okay with going, but I HATE to leave — to leave comfort and security and the beloved familiar. Leaving is hard and scary.

And it came back to my mind this morning, during communion, as I realized that my Lord is the Lord who left heaven’s glories to enclose the fullness of deity in a tiny human body so that God could bleed anguished human blood for the sins of the world.

He left his Father’s throne above — so free, so infinite his grace!

And it came back again during a sermon on God’s call to Abraham to leave the beloved familiar and go live as a stranger in a strange land of promise . . . that in his offspring — in CHRIST — all the nations of the earth would be blessed!

When we celebrate Christ’s arrival on earth at Christmastime, we celebrate the fact that He left heaven for our benefit. And, while we partake of immeasurable riches of glory in Him, we can be sure that while He may call us to go — and to leave — He will be faithful to His promises to go before, and be with us, and make us, by faith Abraham’s offspring, a blessing.

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Today I took Kate Motaung’s prompt, reflect, as an opportunity to share things on which I’ve been reflecting. And it took me longer than five minutes, but I’m okay with that. The “reflect” button above will take you to Kate’s site where you can read about Five Minute Friday and see what others have written about reflect.

©2015 by Stacy Crouch