Terri Kraus

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Bestwords Blog

100 Most Beautiful Words

Spread out, not focused or concentrated
Sweet, sugary.

Reflections on Lent:  Dennis Bratcher

Lent is a way to place ourselves before God humbled, bringing in our hands no price whereby we can ourselves purchase our salvation.  It is a way to confess our total inadequacy before God, to strip ourselves bare of all pretenses to righteousness, to come before God in dust and ashes.  It is a way to empty ourselves of our false pride, of our rationalizations that prevent us from seeing ourselves as needy creature, of our "perfectionist" tendencies that blind us to the beam in our own eyes.  Through prayer that gives up self, we seek to open ourselves up before God, and to hear anew the call "Come unto me!" We seek to recognize and respond afresh to God’s presence in our lives and in our world. We seek to place our needs, our fears, our failures, our hopes, our very lives in God’s hands, again. And we seek by abandoning ourselves in Jesus’ death to recognize again who God is, to allow His transforming grace to work in us once more, and to come to worship Him on Easter Sunday with a fresh victory and hope that goes beyond the new clothes, the Spring flowers, the happy music.  
        But it begins in ashes. And it journeys though darkness. It is a spiritual pilgrimage that I am convinced we must make one way or the other for genuine spiritual renewal to come. I have heard the passage in 2 Chronicles 7:14 quoted a lot: ". . .if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land." This usually is quoted in the context of wanting revival or renewal in the church, and the prayer is interpreted as intercessory prayer for others. But a careful reading of the passage will reveal that the prayer that is called for here is not intercessory prayer for others; it is penitential prayer for the faith community, for us. It is not to call for others to repent; it is a call for us, God’s people, to repent. It is our land that needs healed, it is our wicked ways from which we need to turn, we are the ones who need to seek God’s face. 
        Perhaps during the Lenten season we should stop praying for others as if we were virtuous enough to do so. Perhaps we should take off our righteous robes just long enough during these 40 days to put ashes on our own heads, to come before God with a new humility that is willing to confess, "Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner." Maybe we should be willing to prostrate ourselves before God and plead, "Lord, in my hand no price I bring; simply to the cross I cling." That might put us in a position to hear God in ways that we have not heard Him in a long time. And it may be the beginning of a healing for which we have so longed.
O Lord, begin with me. Here. Now.

Receiving Forgiveness:  Ruth Haley Barton

“While the truth that we cannot escape God’s all-seeing eye may weigh us down at times, it is finally the only remedy for our uneasiness...Only under God’s steady gaze of love are we able to find the healing and restoration we so desperately need.”
Marjorie Thompson, Soulfeast

Confession is good for the soul because it opens us to the extraordinary experience of being forgiven. All of the lectionary passages for this week affirm the joy of forgiveness and the excitement of new beginnings as part of our Lenten journey.
The Gospel reading, in particular (Luke 15:11-32), records Jesus’ powerful parable in which the prodigal son returns home radically humbled, seeking forgiveness, and finds himself in the middle of a party—not a birthday party or a wedding party or a retirement party but a forgiveness party! He discovered what we all have the opportunity to discover—that while the “godly grief that leads to repentance” is real, confession does not ultimately lead us to shame or obsession with our sin; rather it leads to the experience of cleansing and release. You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free, Jesus.

Lenten Quotes
Oswald Chambers:

It is not repentance that saves me; repentance is the sign that I realise what God has done in Christ Jesus.

Sinful men and women can be changed into new creatures by the marvellous work of God in Christ Jesus, which is prior to all experience.

Martin Luther:

There is no justification without sanctification, no forgiveness without renewal of life, no real faith from which the fruits of new obedience do not grow.

Lord Jesus,
You are my righteousness,
I am your sin.
You took on you what was mine;
yet set on me what was yours.
You became what you were not,
that I might become what I was not.

Jean P.F. Richter:

Humanity is never so beautiful as when praying for forgiveness, or else forgiving one another.

Frederick Buechner:

[cross+red+7.jpg]Romantic love is blind to everything except what is lovable and lovely, but Christ’s love sees us with terrible clarity and sees us whole. Christ’s love so wishes our joy that it is ruthless against everything in us that diminishes our joy. The worst sentence Love can pass is that we behold the suffering which Love has endured for our sake, and that is also our acquittal. The justice and mercy of the judge are ultimately one.

Francois Fenelon:

When you find that weariness depresses or amusement distracts you, you will calmly turn with an untroubled spirit to your Heavenly Father, who is always holding out His arms to you. You will look to Him for gladness and refreshment when depressed, for moderation and recollection when in good spirits, and you will find that He will never leave you to want. A trustful glance, a silent movement of the heart towards Him will renew your strength; and though you may often feel as if your soul were downcast and numb, whatever God calls you to do, He will give you power and courage to perform. Our Heavenly Father, so far from ever overlooking us, is only waiting to find our hearts open, to pour into them the torrents of His grace.

Rain at Winter's End
Ruth Haley Barton

‟Look, a little cloud no bigger than a person's hand
is rising out of the sea!″

~I Kings 18:44

I love the way the rain comes at winter's end
     to hose down the sooty earth,
          and wash away the dirt that comes from who-knows-where.
Oh God,
I need a cleansing rain in my life,
     dirty as I am with the grit and grime of these dark years.
My heart is hard and crusty
    like patches of old snow in the yard,
            my life littered with trash I don't recognize
                             and dead, brown grass where it used to be so green.
Today I would settle for a little cloud
    no bigger than a person's hand
            far off in the distance
                 rising out of the sea of this disillusionment.
Today, if I saw such a cloud
     I would run like Elijah--
            loins girded,
                 strengthened by the hand of the Lord
                        in hopes that I could be there when the deluge came.
Warm rain
            Softening the hardness of my heart
                        Washing away the pain
                                    Enlivening this dead earth.
Today, if I saw even a hint of such a cloud,
            I would lay myself down upon the earth
                        and bow my heart low
Waiting for the miracle that would signal the changing of the season
            the end of this drought
                        the coming of spring
                                    in the winter of my heart.

Whoever wishes to be my follower must deny his very self, take up his cross each day, and follow in my steps. 
Luke 9:23

Go and learn what the Scriptures mean when they say, `Instead of offering sacrifices to me, I want you to be merciful to others.' I didn't come to invite good people to be my followers. I came to invite sinners. 

Matthew 9:13  

God's kindness leads you toward repentance. 
Romans 2:4

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Bestwords Blog

100 Most Beautiful Words

A book peddlar.
To blend together; to combine different things.
A focal point of admiration.  

Reflections:  On Creation

G. K Chesterton (England/1874-1936)
"Perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony.  It is possible that God says every morning, 'Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon.  It may not be automatic necessity that he makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never gotten tired of making them.  It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned, and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.  The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore."

George Appleton (England/1902-1993)
Glory to you, O God, Creator and Father,
for the universe in which we live,
and for men made in your own image.
Glory to you, O Christ,
who took a human body
and redeemed our fallen nature.
Glory to you, O Holy Spirit,
who made our bodies
the temple of your presence.
Glory to Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
whose will it is that we should be made whole
in body, mind and psirit.
Glory to God to all eternity.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (France/1881-1955)
"Our duty, as men and women is to proceed as if limits to our ability did not exist:  We are collaborators in creation."

From Spoken Worship, by Gerard Kelly (Zondervan, 2007)

Fit me in somewhere
in this giant jigsaw, God,
somewhere in this work of art.
You're working,
select a space my shape can fill
and with a puzzle maker's skill
let my contours find their fit without contortion.

Evidences of a Creator, by Regis Nicoll
It is said that if you really want to know an artist, don’t read his biography, study his art. Whether it is a painting, drawing, or sculpture artwork says something not only about its subject, but its creator as well.
In the beginning was the Word. (John 1:1)
In a recent episode of Antiques Roadshow, a furniture expert was presented a rather unexceptional-looking table. I’m no carpenter, much less an accomplished woodworker, but the table struck me as something I could put together in an afternoon in my workshop.
The piece was unimpressively simple with no decorative embellishments and no maker’s mark; yet the expert identified it, on the spot, as the work of George Nakashima, an innovative furniture maker of the last century. Cradled in that unadorned, unmarked piece of wood was information sufficient to identify the craftsman with the certainty of a DNA analysis. I was duly impressed.
The universe is also a crafted work and, as scientists have plumbed its depths and probed its expanse, they have marveled at its information-richness.
From the eerie behavior of subatomic particles, communicating instantly over galactic distances, to the biological software of cellular machinery, to the host of delicately balanced parameters that govern the cosmos, information, as scientists are coming to learn, is the fundamental ingredient of the universe. Physicist John Archibald Wheeler once put it this way, “Every physical quantity derives its ultimate significance from bits, binary yes-or-no indications.” In computer-ese, that’s information.
Paradoxically, the fundamental ingredient of the material world is not material. While its transmission depends on material means—sound waves, electromagnetic signals, ink and paper, photographic images, and the like—information itself neither consists, nor is a product of, matter.
Consider the cells of our body. During the course of a normal life span, every cell in the body, including the brain, is replaced many times over. The molecules that make up our bodies are undergoing constant change and, yet, those changes have no commensurate effect on the instructions that govern cell activity, or our personal library of knowledge, memories, beliefs and aspirations.
The existence of information is evidence that reality is more than matter moving under the influence of physical forces. At the root of nature is order, an order we neither invented nor imposed. So where did it come from?

In the beginning

When John wrote, “In the beginning was the Word,” he was revealing something elementary about the Creator and his creation: God is a communicator whose handiwork, like the Nakashima table, contains no artist stamp, but teems with information made intelligible through words.
We think in terms of words. We process our feelings with words. Words are information carriers that, when governed by rules of vocabulary and grammar, form language, the organizing structure of information. Words and language are in-built into creation itself. As the Psalmist writes,
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hand. Day after day they pour forthspeech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all of the earth, their words to the ends of the world.
The logocentric creation reflects its logocentric Creator who, with three words, “Let there be,” filled the void and turned chaos into cosmos, giving form and order to what was formless, making it intelligible. He is no ADD-afflicted deity who begets and forgets as He moves on to other divine amusements. Instead, with three more words, “Let us make,” He fashions a pair of intelligent beings to tend His creation and enjoy fellowship with Him.
Like the rest of creation, the proto-couple come factory-equipped with language. No sooner are they formed from the dust of the earth, than Adam and Eve are given instructions and, from the get-go, they get it! Not only do they understand God's utterances, they understand how those utterances relate to their earthly home and their moral duties—they recognize and make sense of relationships. More on that in a moment.
Adam proceeds to apply his inboard lexicon in naming the flora and fauna, as Eve uses her language skills in the epictete-a-tete with the Serpent. All this, mind you, without ever having had to diagram a sentence, memorize a vocab list, or endure a course in earth science.
The story of Genesis opens with the Creator creating an intelligible world with intelligent beings endowed with a tool, language, enabling them to apprehend, communicate and use information.

Relationships galore

Language presupposes relationships—true and knowable correlations between objects and subjects, causes and effects, sensory inputs and human perceptions, man and his environment, matter and energy, forces and the objects they affect. The arresting successes of science and the practical utility of mathematics confirm that there is congruence between what is, and what can be known. Real and cognizable relationships make our universe comprehensible.
That realization has provoked comments from the palace guard of scientism that would peg-out any “baloney detector” within shouting distance. Consider this from Princeton physicist and Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg: "The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless."
Comprehensibility suggests point-less-ness? To the contrary; comprehensibility is evidence of point-ed-ness—purpose, goals, ends. For example, gravitational effects point to the purpose of objects to follow the contours of spacetime, quantum behaviors point to the purpose of matter stability, and DNA coding instructions point to the purpose of cell manufacturing and repair. Teleology forms the warp and woof of the universe.
Dr. Weinberg is flummoxed to explain how all this teleology came about from a non-intelligent process; so it is “pointless.” This is an uneasy Article of Faith that he has to accept if he’s to keep divine fingers off the machine.

A divine gift

The pre-eminent relationship presupposed by language is that between creation and Creator. As intelligent design theorist William Dembski writes, “Human language is a divine gift for helping us to understand the world and by understanding the world to understand God himself.”
Language enables intelligent beings to say intelligent things about the intelligible world they inhabit; it points to an immaterial reality, and a Source of intelligence who desires to be known. Human knowledge is not confined to the Kantian sensible world; humans can know and say meaningful things about the super-sensible world, as well. In this unified schema of reality, the knowledge-building power of language is immense, as was evident at the dawn of civilization.

From language to tongues

Within a few generations of the Flood, a universal language enabled the descendents of Noah to build the World Trade Center of Babylonia. Aiming to “make a name” for themselves, they laid the foundations of a skyscrapered-megalopolis in the plain of Shinar. The enterprise was a double affront to God. Not only were they shirking God’s command to “fill the earth,” their monolithic tower was a bid to achieve divine-like status through human effort.
The divine response was quick and effective. The language God had given Adam and Eve was atomized into a multitude of “tongues,” thwarting communication and putting an end to the ambitious urban project. Thus began a deepening of the alienation man had experienced with the Fall.
With no common language, mankind was forced into tongue-centered enclaves. Enclaves became cultures that, over time, became increasingly isolated from each other with their own set of social customs, conventions, and values. Within each culture, language, which had created culture, was being changed by culture. Still under the conviction that truth existed and could be apprehended through language, new words, and new meanings to old words, were introduced reflecting changes in cultural needs, attitudes and beliefs.
But the malleability of language and the relativization of truth gradually led to the denial of language as a carrier of meaning. According to the late deconstructionist Jacques Derrida, a linguistic expression is nothing more than a string of characters with no fixed truth content or relevance. Ironically, Derrida, and his fellow deconstructionists, spent decades writing libraries of books and essays, filled with, uh, language, to educate the logocentric masses with the “truth content” of their philosophy.
From Eden to the philosophy wing of modern universities, language is a gift that ever points to the Giver. The Lord of Hosts is also the Lord of language, whose gift is given that we may have fellowship with Him and, in fellowship, know Him.
Regis Nicoll is a freelance writer and a BreakPoint Centurion. His "All Things Examined" column appears on BreakPoint every other Friday. Serving as a men’s ministry leader and worldview teacher in his community, Regis publishes a free weekly commentary to stimulate thought on current issues from a Christian perspective. To be placed on this free e-mail distribution list, e-mail him at: centurion51@aol.com.

Romans 1:20
Since the earliest times men have seen the earth and sky and all God made and have known of his existence and great eternal power so they will have no excuse when they stand before God at judgement day.

Psalm 136:5-6
Give thanks to him, who made the heavens so skillfully.
His faithful love endures forever.
Give thanks to him who placed the earth among the waters.
His faithful love endures forever.

Book Review:  The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak

From the cover:

It is 1939.  Nazi Germany.  The country is holding its breath.  Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.
By her brother’s graveside, Liesel Meminger’s life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow.  It is The Grave Digger’s Handbook, left there by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery.  So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordion-playing foster father, learns to read.  Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor’s wife’s library, wherever there are books to be found.
But these are dangerous times.  When Liesel’s foster family hides a Jew in their basement, Liesel’s world is both opened up and closed down.
In superbly crafted writing that burns with intensity, award-winning author Markus Zusak has given us one of the most enduring stories of our time.
My review:
This is one of the most unique books I’ve read.  Both in writing style and format, it sets itself apart from page 1.  To begin with, the narrator is Death.  One review sums it up as follows:

Death recounts all this most dispassionately—you can tell he almost hates to be involved.  His language is spare but evocative, and he’s fond of emphasizing points with bold type and centered pronouncements, just to make sure you get them (how almost endearing that is, that Death fells a need to emphasize anything.)  “A NICE THOUGHT,” Death will suddenly announce, or “A KEY WORD.”  He’s also full of deft descriptions:  ”Pimples were gathered in peer groups on his face.”
  Death, like Liesel, has a way with words. And he recognizes them not only for the good they can do, but for the evil as well. What would Hitler have been, after all, without words?  As this book reminds us, what would any of us be?
The narrative is completely absorbing, both triumphant and tragic, with a richly-described setting and vivid  historical detail.  It is a very intimate glimpse into the wartime lives of ordinary people in a small German town, struggling with the frightening changes in their everyday lives and in the world swirling around them.  With a cast of interesting and well-developed characters, there is wry humor and sadness, both in the relationships and in the circumstances in which they find themselves.  It is compassionately written and filled with very touching moments that will move you and remain with you.  One particularly poignant passage:
Those first few months were definitely the hardest.
Every night, Liesel would nightmare.
Her brother’s face.
Staring at the floor.
She would wake up swimming in her bed, screaming,and drowning in the flood of sheets.  On the other side of the room, the bed that was meant for her brother floated boatlike in the darkness.  Slowly, with the arrival of consciousness, it sank, seemingly into the floor.  This vision didn’t help matters, and it would usually be quite a while before the screaming stopped. 
Possibly the only good to come out of the nightmares was that it brought Hans Hubermann, her new papa, into the room, to soothe her, to love her.
He came in every night and sat with her.  The first couple of times, he simply stayed—a stranger to kill the aloneness.  A few nights after that, he whispered, “Shhh, I’m here, it’s all right.”  After three weeks, he held her.  Trust was accumulated quickly, due primarily to the brute strength of the man’s gentleness, his thereness.  The girl knew from the outset that Hans Hubermann would always appear midscream, and he would not leave. 
  Not leaving:   an act of trust and love, often deciphered by children

To add an additional layer to the story, it is apparently based on the true story of the author’s grandmother.  This is a must-read, a book that stands out on my list of favorites.  I am wondering at it being classified as a young adult book, because I would never have thought it to be so, and would stress that it most certainly deserves the attention of adult readers.  I highly recommend  it.  An exceptionally great choice for a book club discussion, our group talked about it for hours and everyone was equally enamored with both the writing and the story.  It has won numerous awards.  I only wonder why the Pulitzer isn’t included in that list.