SJT – Redemption (Midwife Openings)

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This week’s theme Spiritual Journey Thursday word “REDEMPTION” had me scratching my head at first. I know the traditional religious meaning of the word “redemption” is the rich concept of salvation from sin through the atonement of Christ. But one also hears the word redemption used in another way. I read or hear it used often as a theme in story or movie.

(The site ranker.com, for example, has a list called “The Best Movies About Redemption.” The opening paragraph describes the theme:

“Some of the most beloved movies of all time feature the theme of redemption. These are the stories that motivate us to hold on to hope, fight to survive, always believe in the best, and recognize that anyone can change. This theme reminds us that life is a series of choices, and for every act of injustice there is justice around the corner!”)

One of the dictionaries I consulted defines this type of redemption:

“the action of regaining or gaining possession of something in exchange for payment, or clearing a debt.”

Many Bible stories include this theme. The story of Joseph comes to mind. Another much shorter tale is the one of the two midwives who defied Pharaoh’s command to kill the Hebrew male children as they were delivering them to help Pharaoh control the Hebrew population explosion. Bible commentaries suggest these two women, Shiphrah and Puah, were Egyptian overseers of a guild of midwives and that they were middle-aged. The Bible tells their story in Exodus 1:15-21.

Some years ago when I was writing a series of poems on Bible women, I wrote one about them. Here is their story of redemption:

Shiphrah and Puah (Artist unknown)

Shiphrah and Puah (Artist unknown)

Midwife Openings

Pharaoh said,
Kill each newborn boy!
Midwife code, training
each prospective mother cell
cries, Our lives, not theirs!

We will risk
raising Pharaoh’s wrath.
We fear God Yahweh.
To commit infanticide
means blood on our hands.

Hebrew boys
live despite king’s plot.
Yahweh smiles on us.
We grow great with fruitfulness!
Midwives may apply.

© 2015 by Violet Nesdoly (All rights reserved)

spiritual-journey-framedThis post is linked to Spiritual Journey Thursday, hosted by Holly Mueller at Reading, Teaching, Learning.

What’s your favorite story of redemption? Have you experienced redemption in this way?

SJT – Mercy (In the DNA)

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Mercy is one of those words we bandy about so freely in Christian culture, it becomes almost invisible. I gained a fresh appreciation of its richness when I looked it up in the dictionary before writing this post:

Mercy:
1. Kind or compassionate treatment of an offender, adversary, prisoner etc. in one’s power; compassion where severity is expected or deserved.
2. A disposition to be kind, forgiving, or helpful.
3. A thing to be thankful for.

Mercy comes from compassion, kindness or other ennobling sentiments.

Opposites of mercy are harshness, severity, implacability, punishment, chastisement, vengeance. – Funk and Wagnalls Dictionary

It’s what God had for us when He sent Jesus and had Him take the penalty our sins deserved. It’s what I’m supposed to extend to others. And there’s the rub. For like so many Christian qualities, showing mercy is counter-intuitive. It goes against every atom of fairness to let the person who hurt me get off free. Look at how the crowds clamber for justice when a policeman has shot someone in the line of duty. Suggest mercy to that crowd and you’re likely to start a riot. It’s in me and all of us to want to get even, to make things right with our own style of justice.

I was pondering why we, or at least I, find that giving mercy is hard. I think it has something to do with feeling that I’m giving up control. When Christians extend mercy, we give up control to God. We’re saying with our actions that we believe He has the situation in hand and will sort it all out fairly in the end, better than our scolding, punishment, or tit for tat ever could.

The Bible story that illustrates this beautifully is David’s behaviour when his father-in-law and deadly enemy King Saul is hunting him. One day David finds himself in the cave with Saul. His men tell him, This is your chance.  Take matters into your own hands and kill him.

He resists them, and instead, just cuts a piece off Saul’s robe to prove how close he was. Later even that seems to bother him. 1 Samuel 24:1-12 where this story is told, ends with these telling words from David to Saul:Let the Lord judge between you and me, and let the Lord avenge me on you. But my hand shall not be against you” (emphasis added).

The challenge for me is to get to the place where extending mercy becomes my default position. I want it to be in my DNA.

Kale

“I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food” – Job 23:12 (Photo of kale from Pixabay.com)

In the DNA

We bite into apples
bread, cake, meat
taste, chew, swallow.
They disappear, digested
become absorbed into muscle, bone
fingers, toes, skin, lashes
brain cells, our very DNA.

We bite off Your word
Blessed are the merciful …
   Be reconciled to your brother …
   Forgive up to seventy times seven …
meditate on these things
swallow them into the busyness of our days
Now that they’ve been ingested
are they being digested
becoming the muscle, bone, skin
of loving acts, kind words, patience
mercy, forgiveness
altering our very DNA?

© 2015 by Violet Nesdoly (All rights reserved)

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spiritual-journey-framedThis post is linked to Spiritual Journey Thursday, hosted by Holly Mueller at Reading, Teaching, Learning. Today the theme is MERCY.

Denominations–members of One Body

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At a Bible study class I attend, this week one of the class members bemoaned the existence of denominations. Her sentiment caught my attention, partly I’m sure because I was already thinking about the topic for this week’s Spiritual Journey Thursday. But partly too because I don’t agree.

Yes, I know we can look at denominations as a bad thing–a sign of disunity in the church. However, I think of denominations as another example of the diversity in the body of Christ. Just like individuals are parts of the body of their  congregations, with each member having its body counterpart role to play, so church denominations, with their various emphases, priorities and projects, play different roles in their communities and in the universal church.

I myself have benefited from three denominations.

CCMBC_logoI grew up in a Mennonite home (Mennonite Brethren to be precise). It was a rich culture of faith rooted in the Bible that expressed itself in foreign and home missions, with a strong emphasis on knowing what and why we believed as we did. Music was important. I studied piano and was part of many choirs. Social justice was a value. All our churches supported the MCC (Mennonite Central Committee), the relief arm of various brands of Mennonite churches. The MCC raised money to help in natural disasters around the world and aided third world entrepreneurs. My Mennonite community was also big on peace. Only one of my uncles participated in WWII and that as a medic. My dad and the rest were conscientious objectors.

 

C&MAThrough many years as an adult, our family attended Christian and Missionary Alliance churches. Again we were enriched by being part of vibrant congregations. Community outreach included wonderful Christmas and Easter choir productions. Sunday School and Awana programs were great for the kids.  A missions conference was the highlight of each year with slide shows and displays of mementos from snake skins and ebony carvings to Bibles printed in illegible scripts.

 

PAOCFor the last fifteen years, my husband and I have attended a Pentecostal church. We were attracted by the sense that the Holy Spirit was at work in this particular assembly. These years have built on all that I’ve learned and experienced in the denominations I was part of in my youth and middle age.

There are practices of other denominations I’d love to explore. The three I’ve been a part of do not use liturgy. In my minimal exposure to it, I’ve been impressed with the richness of its readings, creeds, and prayers, and the value of yearly reliving the cycle of my faith’s holy days.

I’ve also wondered what it would be like to live in community–as in having all things in common like the first Christians in the New Testament churches did.

When Christian denominations compete and tear each other down they can be a bad thing for sure. But when we view each other as partners, family members, even members of the same body with different gifts and roles, denominations are surely an asset to the gospel and the Kingdom of Heaven.

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This post is linked to Spiritual Journey Thursday – hosted by Holly Mueller at Reading, Teaching, Learning. The topic this week is DIVERSITY IN DENOMINATIONS.

Annie Vallotton

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Annie Vallotton Bible illustrations

Annie Vallotton drawings from Good News For Modern Man, pp. 114 and 165 (1966 edition).

Annie Vallotton

“I drew some of the drawings eighty to ninety times before I achieved the one I wanted. I wanted to get to the truth, which is the most important thing.” Annie Vallotton ( from an interview on the Bible Illustration Blog)

Pharisee stands tall
hands clasped over robed paunch
beatific smile on heaven-raised face
while tiny Publican (rendered in five lines)
crouches in the distance
head down, shoulders stooped.

Beat-up rag of a traveler lies
arm out, helpless. Good Samaritan
kneeling beside grabs attention
with the tilt of his featureless head.
Even donkey across the road
looks concerned.

Minimalist, stick-figure theology
cartoon-like but not funny
iconic, simple
elegant, out-of-time
“maximum expression
with a minimum of lines”
more literal than interpretive
emotion-filled as freeze frames in a play
Annie Vallotton’s black-and-white
line-drawings illuminating
Good News for Modern Man.

Illustrations so simple they look
like a child could draw them.
So clear a child can grasp their truth
and adults looking on become
children again.

© 2015 by Violet Nesdoly (All Rights Reserved)

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I was fascinated by the Annie Vallotton illustrations when I first saw them long ago in my once new, now yellowing paperback Good News For Modern Man. When I was putting my children’s devotions online some years ago and seeking pictures, I contacted the Good News Bible people and they actually gave me permission to use the Vallotton illustrations on the blog (with attribution)!

Annie Vallotton was born in Switzerland in 1915, lived much of her life in France, and died only two years ago (in December 2013) at the age of 98. Articles and interviews reveal that she was a gifted but humble woman who valued truth, loved the Bible and its stories, and wanted people everywhere, especially children, to love it too.

Today I draw attention to her patience, obvious from the epigram in the poem above. Imagine drawing something 80 to 90 times to get it right!

Her example is a nudge to me to let things take the time they need. As a writer, I want to have the patience to ruminate, to give thoughts, ideas, and opinions time to form, to proofread carefully, to revise after the piece has had some time to cool, to curb my fingers from typing the flash emotional response on social media. Above all, I want to take the time to step back and consider, am I being loyal to God’s truth in all that I write—even the things that make no mention of God at all?

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spiritual-journey-framedThis post is linked to Spiritual Journey Thursday hosted by Holly Mueller at Reading, Teaching, Learning, where the theme this week is PATIENCE.

How to look for a church

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Next to the beginning of the new calendar year, the beginning of September is the time we make the most changes in our lives. The kids start a new school year. All kinds of activities from kids’ soccer to adult classes get underway. If we’ve moved, we’ll be exploring a new neighborhood. If we’ve decided to start attending church or go to a different one, chances are good we’ll make that change in September too.

For those of us who have ever church shopped, we know how crucial those first visits to a church are. When we’re new, we notice things that long time attendees have surely become nose-blind to—from the cliquish clots of people in the foyer to the way the building actually smells.

What I was most sensitive to when I was visiting a new church with the thought of maybe making it our church home was, do these people seem friendly? Would we fit in? And, do I sense God in this place?

In September it’s probably a good idea for those of us who are church old-timers to be on the lookout for new people. Let’s notice them. Let’s greet them with warm smiles and welcome handshakes. Maybe we could even invite them for lunch, remembering how we would have appreciated that when we were new.

Elora Presbyterian Church

Elora Presbyterian Church – Elora Ontario (Photo © 2015 by V. Nesdoly)

My poem is a bit of advice to those newbies:

HOW TO LOOK FOR A CHURCH

Pretend you’re visiting
a family of distant relatives.

Of course you don’t expect
to get an invitation for lunch
and all your social needs met
by a bunch of third cousins.
And it doesn’t matter
that the stairs smell of mildew
and water stains the ceiling
or that amongst themselves
they’re way too happy and loud
and hug a lot.

What may catch you by surprise
even make you want to return
is how the Father you share
meets you there
puts His gentle but persistent hand
under your chin
to raise your face
and meet His eyes.

© 2015 by Violet Nesdoly

spiritual-journey-framedThis post is linked to “Spiritual Journey Thursday” hosted by Holly Mueller at her blog Reading, Teaching, Learning where this week’s theme is “church.” Drop by and follow the links to what others have to say about “church.”

Agenda-Less

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A few months ago I heard Phil Vischer (creator of Veggie Tales) tell in a video lecture how his veggie empire and the dream of his film studio becoming the Christian Disney came crashing down. He was devastated.He came through that time wiser and having learned some lessons. I took a few notes as I was listening. Here are some bits from my scribbles:

“He who has God and many things is no better off than he who has God alone” – C.S. Lewis.

He learned to wait on God. His passion shifted from making an impact to God Himself. He had to die to his ambition and misplaced sense of identity.

He summed up his talk with three points:
1. God loves you the way you are even when you’re not doing anything at all.

2. When the time comes to be doing something for God, don’t worry about the outcome. That’s His job. The impact God has planned for us doesn’t happen when we’re pursuing impact, it happens when we’re pursuing God.

3. Beware of your dreams, for dreams make dangerous friends.
“Why would God want us to let go of our dream?
Because anything you won’t let go of is an idol.”

In the poem below, written some years ago, I grapple in my own way with living the self-directed life. It’s something I continue to battle. However, it’s important that I do because I believe the secret to true FREEDOM for a disciple of Jesus is the repeated and continuous relinquishment to Him of dreams, agendas, and outcomes.

Cultivator in grass and flowers

Photo © 2015 by V. Nesdoly

AGENDA-LESS

“And when I stop telling God what I want, He can catch me up for what He wants without let or hindrance….He can do anything He chooses” Oswald Chambers.

All my life
I’ve lived by agenda
guided myself by purpose
– be the best piano player, student, teacher, writer
governed by goals
– practice four hours, study six, work ten, write always
derived meaning, direction, identity
by pursuing them.

But such a penchant becomes a burden
when I become drive-obsessed
my life possessed by looking for evidence
my purposes are planted in reality.
This turmoil stirs and shakes
the vat of inner life
especially when best efforts all fall short
or when reaching one goal
leaves me still thirsty
mirages into another.

And so I seek a new agenda –Yours
to keep in step with You
give You responsibility
for my agenda.

Do I now need to change my course
mount a different horse?
Leave home and family, say,
and be a missionary?
Go into a different
line of work?
No. That may well be taking
my reins in hand again.

It only means
to change place
from plowman to ox
labor under Your easy yoke
my efforts synchronized
with Your large purpose
as I plow my small
furrow in Your field.

© 2015 by Violet Nesdoly (All rights reserved)

spiritual-journey-framedThis post is linked to Spiritual Journey Thursday where the theme this week is Freedom. Spiritual Journey Thursday is hosted by Holly Mueller at Reading, Teaching, Learning.

Watch a video of Phil Vischer giving his talk on dreams to the Convocation of Liberty University.

Denial

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Happy Fall and welcome to September!

The past few months of relative quietness here have been a period of thinking for me. I’ve asked myself, why do I do this–write, especially poetry? Why do I post it here? Do I want to keep doing this?

This June before holidays I lived under a cloud of particularly thick ennui. Maybe I should just stop writing altogether… but what would I do? 

It has been good for me to ponder these questions.

In the beginning of August, after a great holiday (and a writing break) I felt revived but continued to wrestle with, what do I do in the fall with the poetry blog?

As a Christian, perhaps it was to be expected that I would need to get as close as possible to the bone in quizzing myself. The question that finally floated into my mind to help me sort through this is from the Shorter Westminster Catechism:

Q: What is the chief end of man?

A: Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.

In applying that Q&A to my situation I asked, would I be glorifying God if I stopped writing, that is, using the talent and expanding the skill and interest in words that is part of who I am?

Does it please Him when I squirrel away my writing in binders on the shelf? Do any of us have insights and realizations just for ourselves? Or are they given to bless and help others along the way? (Not that I ever feel that everything one writes needs to be shared!)

How can I better glorify Him with what I do?

Can I do that here?

How would it look?

I have decided as a result of introspection and prayer to be more open and candid about my faith in the poems I post here. In other words, in the days ahead you’ll find more poems that reflect my spiritual pilgrimage and beliefs. Of course I’ll also still write about nature and other topics that catch my fancy.

Enough philosophizing! It’s time for a poem. This is one I found in my binder, written a number of years ago.

Crow

Crow – Photo © 2015 by V. Nesdoly

Denial

Me: This lamp will be perfect for the table where my husband studies.
Clerk: What does he study?
Me: Uh, uh, …oh stuff.

He studies the Bible.
I know that.
It’s really the only thing he studies.
But did I say it?

No.

Automatically I veer toward cowardice.
My default setting: Be private about your faith
After all you don’t want to appear
odd, different or, heaven forbid,
be expected to explain!

On my way through the park
crows call triplet caws
and I hang my head
embarrassed, ashamed
robbed of excuses.

I will go
into my closet
and weep.

© 2015 by Violet Nesdoly

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Added September 3rd: My Poetry Friday friend Margaret Simon invited me to join in on “Spiritual Journey Thursday” hosted by Holly Mueller at her blog Reading, Teaching, Learning where this week’s theme is “paying attention.” Thank you, ladies! I hope you teachers don’t mind being joined by an ex- who has been away from the classroom lo these many years, but who is still trying to pay attention to what God is teaching her.