Friday, December 30, 2011

Friday, December 9, 2011

Relax! It Doesn't Have to Be Perfect

For to you is born today, in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this is a sign to you. You will find the babe wrapped, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.  
Luke 2:11-14
I was once told that it isn’t Thanksgiving without green bean casserole.  As if green beans, mushroom soup and fried onions make us thankful.  Could we not be thankful if we gathered around pizza or hot dogs? 
I think the lack of celebrating Thanksgiving in its purest sense by being deeply grateful is what leads people straight into having a materialistic Christmas. If we don’t acknowledge our thankfulness for all we have then we feel we need more.  And more and more. 
There’s even a current commercial being run that boasts it can give you “more Christmas for your money.”  We are being sold the lie that Christmas means having as much as your credit card will allow.  And when we buy it then our focus on what’s truly important becomes very fuzzy. 
We can get so caught up in the rituals and traditions that we forget the true meaning of the holidays.  Green bean casserole is nice (so they say!) and so is turkey.  Gifts are wonderful and so is spending time with family. 
But so much emphasis is put on having the picture-perfect Rockwell holiday that many feel left out when they can’t live up to those expectations.  And that’s when people become depressed during the holidays.  I know.  I’ve spent a number of holidays that looked more like a Picasso. But Picassos are beautiful, too, you just have look a little deeper and remember...
it’s about the Lord, not us. 
Christmas is about celebrating the birth of the Christ Child.  The Savior of all mankind came to take away the sins of the world!  How awesome is that?! Celebrating Him begins in our hearts, not on a Martha Stewart dinner table and not with a lot of charged-up gifts under a lighted tree that will take half the next year to pay.
No matter where we are, no matter what’s going on around us, if we have family or not, if we have money for gifts or not, we are the richest when Jesus lives in our hearts and we celebrate Him.
And if we have spaghetti for Christmas, so what?  Have it with gusto and thank God for it!   After all, Jesus’ birthday wasn’t picture perfect, either.  But the joy in the stable and beyond was immeasurable. 
If you’re having a difficult time this Christmas and you’d like some prayer, I’d be more than happy to pray for you.  Just leave a comment or send me an email.  Or you can click on A Place for Prayer Requests at the top. 
God bless you!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Suffering with Purpose

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ,
so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed. 
1 Peter 4:12-13

I’ve been reading a devotional called The Gospel According to Job by Mike Mason.  I may have mentioned it once or twice.  It follows the story of Job and his sufferings and compares them to Christ and the lessons we learn in the Gospels. 
Job suffered in every way imaginable way including having to put up with the insufferable and ignorant advice given by his so-called friends.  They accused him over and over.  But because we were given a peek into the conversation between God and satan that led to Job’s sufferings, we already know that God considers Job a righteous man. 
But Job is caught in the middle between God and the men who came to impart their religiosity.  And in the end, God instructed the men to offer their sacrifices to Job, saying that Job would pray for them and He would hear his prayer and forgive their sins. 
Job is given the position of being a type of messiah, a foreshadowing of the mediator between God and man, Jesus Christ.
At the end of the story, we know what happened to Job.  God blessed him more than at the beginning, much like Christ received back His throne and rightful place at the right hand of the Father in heaven, along with all the souls that were saved, once His work here was done.
But I wonder what happened to the three men when all was said and done.  Once God told them they had sinned, once they offered their sacrifices and were forgiven through Job’s righteous prayer, I wonder what happened to them when they went back home. 
Were their hearts changed?  Did their encounter with the Living God, and with a true man of faith, dispel the incorrect beliefs they had previously held about God?  Did they change from men of religion to men of faith?  Personally, I don’t see how they couldn’t. 
And if their hearts were changed, if they believed, did they go back to where they lived and tell their family and friends?  Did they go back and preach faith rather than religion?  And did word of a just but merciful and loving God spread throughout the land? 
Could it be that along with millions of people throughout the centuries who have been comforted by identifying with Job and his intense suffering, those fiery trials were meant for his present time as well?  Could God have used a righteous man’s faith and steadfastness during suffering to change the very hearts of those around him (including his wife’s)? 
Just as Jesus Christ, an innocent man, suffered for the purpose of salvation of all people both then and now, could the mystery of Job’s seemingly unwarranted suffering be made clear in a similar purpose: to spread the good news that in faith in God alone there is righteousness?
If so, can we see that purpose in our own suffering, that as we walk through it in faith we are a light to those around us, believers and unbelievers alike?  I think so.  No matter how little we may understand about all the reasons we’re going through whatever we’re going through, we can always rest assured that it is for the purpose of glorifying the Lord.    
Job had no idea of the impact his trials and tribulations--and his faith in God--would have on the world.  And we also have no idea how God wants to turn the world around us upside-down for Him as we walk through our own shadows with faith. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Giving Thanks For the Greatest Gift

"And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind,
and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them."
Ephesians 2:1-10

I shudder to think what my life would be like without the Lord.  What I would be like, or if I would even be. Before Christ I was on a one-way track headed for a collision with...something.  Any number of things could have ended my life.  And I'd have faced a just and holy God with no payment for my sins.  I'd have faced an eternity without His goodness and light and love. 

"But God...."

God came rushing in when all others had rushed out.  He showed His mercy to me by preparing me all my life to receive His offer of faith and belief in His Son, Jesus.  And on a day I thought was a simple visit to a church, having no idea there was more to this life than my eyes could see, He touched my heart. 

He showered me with grace and the rain has never ended. 

And so, I am thankful for the most precious gift I have and will ever receive, God's gift to me of salvation. 

Thank you, Lord!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thankful For Lessons Learned

Today I'm thankful for the lessons God's taught me over the last year.  Well, is teaching me...

He's taught me a deeper level of hope, faith, trust, grace, endurance, patience (oh so much patience), and compassion. 

Compassion's been a biggie.  I always felt like I was a compassionate person, but God's taken me to a whole new level of compassion.  And grace.  Grace has to go along with compassion. 

I've noticed that I have compassion for people who seem to be one thing on the outside, like cruel or angry or selfish, but I know on the inside they're really lost and fearful, many times with no one to help them.  I see beyond the rough exterior, through the wall, and into the hurting heart. 

How can I do that?  Because I've been there.  I understand at least some what they may be feeling.  And that's only come from enduring trials. 

Those trials have been my lessons, in many ways. I wish I could have learned an easier way, like, by osmosis.  That would've been much easier than ripping my heart out.  But if heart surgery is what it takes, then I will trust in the great Surgeon. 

And of course when there are lessons there are tests.  Instead of learning compassion long distance--that person in the news or in someone else's life--I've faced some of those people up close and personal.  Sometimes I pass the test; sometimes I fall flat on my face. 

When I pass I know it's only by God's good grace.  When I fail, I ask forgiveness and get back up again. 

It's been a year in the trenches, otherwise known as God's classroom, but I know I'll come out the other side more like my Jesus.

Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.  Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult.  On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. 
1 Peter 3:8-9  

What are you thankful for? 

Monday, November 21, 2011

I'm So Thankful For God's Strength!

I am so grateful for the strength of God.  There have been days that have melted into weeks and beyond when I didn't think I could take one more step.  In those times it is only by the strength that comes from God alone that I rise and continue on for another day. 

No matter what comes, He is my strength, and for that I am forever thankful. 

The Sovereign LORD is my strength; He makes my feet like the feet of a deer, 
He enables me to tread on the heights.
Habakkuk 3:19

What are you thankful for?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Giving Thanks for Song (And That God Hears My Heart!)

It is good to give thanks to the LORD, and to sing praises to Your name, O Most High;
To declare Your lovingkindness in the morning, and Your faithfulness every night,
On an instrument of ten strings, on the lute, and on the harp, with harmonious sound.
For You, LORD, have made me glad through Your work; I will triumph in the works of Your hands.
Psalm 92:1-4

Today I'm thankful for the gift of song.  All we do and say and think is to be done with an attitude of praise and worship.  But God has given us musical abilities just for the purpose of praising and worshipping Him.  He's given our hearts the desire to worship and when our heart can hold it no longer, we can sing out our worship with the gift of song.  

We have voices that are made to worship in melody and harmony, to sing a tune of notes and words that, when formed together, shout the gladness of our hearts at the greatness of our God.  

We may not always feel like it because difficult circumstances have left us wondering...  But we sing out anyway as a sacrifice of praise because we know that He is still worthy.

Our rhythmic voices join us together as a family as we rise our thanksgiving to the heavens and to the very throne room of God as a sweet-smelling sacrifice.  And as we join with the Lord, we are filled with refreshment and joy.

Someday my voice will sing as well as my heart (and my heart even more so!), but until then I will keep singing the praises of my God and know that He hears my heart.  Praise the Lord!

What are you thankful for?    

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Stuff I'm Thankful For, Part Deux

So today I'm thankful I got to spend some time walking around shopping with my son.  I don't get to do that very often these days, what with him being all grown up and cool now.  We shopped for dress shirts, smelled some candles and noticed how crazy tall some people were.  And it's nice to see how much of a gentleman he's grown to be. 

Sing praise to the LORD, you saints of His, and give thanks at the remembrance of His holy name.
Psalm 30:4

What are you thankful for? 

Putting the Thanks Back in Thanksgiving

I have a little pet peeve that we here in America mostly go right from Halloween to Christmas and forget all about Thanksgiving, except that it's a day we stuff our faces silly, watch a football game or two and maybe catch a parade.  Sometimes we even take the whole meaning out of the day and just call it turkey day. 

We forget to be thankful for our heritage as a country, for all our freedoms it gives us and for the men and women who have fought and died for that freedom.   We're surrounded by so much abundance that we lose sight of the tremendous blessings and opportunities we have. 

So I say, let's bring back Thanksgiving! 

1 Thessalonians 5:18 tells us:

"In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you."

If you ever want to know God's will for your life, this is something that should always be on our list--to be everything. That doesn't leave much room for argument, does it?

Why is it so important to God that we have thankful hearts?  Because it makes us see our lives and the whole world in a godly way.  Through eyes of thankfulness we learn to be grateful, to be content, to give, to be compassionate. 

And from it all we have joy.

We all have so much for which to be thankful.  Even the bad stuff has a silver lining, we just have to see it through eyes of faith. And if we take the time to look, I think we'll find we have more to be thankful for than we thought.
So, I hereby resurrect Thanksgiving!  From today until Thanksgiving, I'm going post something I'm thankful for every day and I'd love to hear what you're thankful for, too!

11.19.11 ~ I'm thankful for all the people in my life and the love and grace they show me.  From my family, to friends (that includes you!) to caregivers, and even to strangers that God puts in my life for a brief moment to make me take good, hard look at myself, I am thankful.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Forging of a Man or Woman of Character

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete,
not lacking anything.
James 1:2-4

I am drawn to movies about sports and war.  The funny thing is I don’t especially like either.  It’s not the competition or the violence I like, but the stories within the story. 
The team of young men, black and white, and their newly-appointed black coach, who want to play football amid the backdrop of integration in a small southern football town in the early ‘70’s. 
The coach and the team persevere through struggles among themselves and from the town.  They begin to forge friendships with one another as they work hard, harder than other teams are required.  And their hardships knit them together.  In the end, the young men are bound together in brotherly love and an entire town learns to love, too. 
*     *     *
The schoolteacher who is called to serve his country and leads a band of men whose mission it is to find and save one man from the fate that befell his brothers.  All he wants to do is go home. 
But first he has to face and fight the ruthless enemy time and time again, all the while leading men who are dying, fearful and angry.  Against all odds, he saves the young man and goes home, although not the way he wanted. 
*     *     *
It is these stories of selfless courage, of commitment, of dedication that inspire me.  When everything says quit, they don’t quit. Oh, they may want to.  They may want to quit more than anything else sometimes. 
But in the middle of this hardship, they realize what is important.  It is the dream, it is the mission they must accomplish.  They keep their eyes focused on the goal during the day as they face an enemy of racial hatred or an enemy of war, and at night when they’re left alone with their thoughts. 
Their trials developed the character they already had but didn’t know was there.  And they discovered they were more than they thought.  They were more than a team who aspired to play football and more than an English teacher or a band of men called to serve their country. They were men who stayed the course, facing enemies both within and without, to do the good and honorable thing. 
I love these stories because this is what we need to remember in a life that is full of facing our own personal battles.  And as we do, if we choose to put our trust in God, we gain strength and courage and wisdom, we come through the other side and our faith in Him grows.  And we go on to face another battle for another day.  And little by little, if we don't give up, a godly character develops.  We may not see it happening as quickly as we can in a two-hour movie, but it is happening.  It just takes a lifetime. 
So gird up, my friends!  Be ready, be prepared, be alert.  Be prayed up and repentant and humble. We never know what a day may bring. We may not face war or an entire town of people, but we will face something.  But with the Lord, we’ll never face it alone. 
And in the end, we will be victorious.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Fight the Good Fight, Keep the Faith

I watched The Book of Eli again.   And again, it’s left me with a feeling of determination, of gravity, of sober-mindedness about my faith in God and my desire to serve Him well to the end.

Just to let you know, this will contain major spoilers. So if you’ve never watched it, watch it first, if you like, then come back.  I’ll wait.

But a warning: it is rated R, and in the case of this movie, that could stand for raw and rough, but also for revelation.  There are several instances of very strong language and many scenes of disturbing violence.  Normally I wouldn’t recommend a movie with that level of crudeness, but the context in which it’s used in this movie is not gratuitous but conforms to the grave time and situations within the story.  If you’d still rather not watch it, read on anyway.  I’ve included enough of the story that you won’t miss out on the message. 

So why would I watch a movie with such violence and vulgarity?  Because it is an excellent allegory of our lives--as messy and ugly and painful as they can be—as we walk with the Lord. 

*       *       *

“You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts." 2 Corinthians 3:3

A man named Eli wanders through a barren land some thirty-one years after an apocolyptic destruction of the earth and most of its inhabitants.  He carries only a backpack and a few weapons which he skillfully uses against the violence he finds at nearly every turn in this lawless land.
Eli guards with his life the contents in his backpack: a book.  But not just any book.  It is the only copy of the Bible left on earth.  He’s been traveling with it since the destruction and his job is to take it west.  Why?  Because a Voice told him to.
The Voice leads him through peril after peril.
Eli comes to a futuristic old west town of lawless men, run by one deranged man whose goal is to find a Bible.  He knows there is power in the Bible and he wants power. He’s managed to enslave a group of people, including a blind woman and her daughter.

The man discovers the contents of Eli’s pack.  Eli takes off in a hail of bullets, leaving several bodies in his wake.  Eli is unharmed.
Eli is back on the road, dutifully headed west, when he discovers the teenage daughter of the blind woman has followed him.  They find shelter for the night where he removes his most guarded possession from its cocoon and begins reading.  The illiterate girl asks him to read to her and he begins to recite scripture from memory.

She asks him if he reads it every day.  He responds, “Without fail.” 

As they continue on in their journey west, the deranged man and his band of not-so-merry men have found Eli and the girl. After a gunfight, Eli finds himself standing in the middle of the men while the ringleader has a tight hold on the girl and a gun pointed at Eli.  Eli has hidden the Book, and the man wants it.  Eli stands in total confidence that the protection he’s known for thirty-one years will continue.
And then, Eli is shot.  He stumbles and his face twists with confusion.
The man snarls at Eli, “Where’s your protection now?”  And we wonder the same thing.  Why would God allow him to be hurt?  And even more, why would God allow him to be placed in a position where he feels he has to give up the Bible to this abusive, power-hungry man?

Eli gives up the Book’s hiding place, it is taken and the men are gone with the girl.  Eli gets back on the road and continues his journey west, led by the Voice, as if nothing has happened.  The girl musters some courage of her own, and finds her way back to Eli.

They reach the ocean where they cross by boat to a sanctuary.  The guard asks him why he’s there.  He says he has a copy of the King James Bible.  The girl looks at him quizzically, and so do we.
They enter the sanctuary where they meet with the proprietor who is in the process of collecting a library of books which have become precious in this post-war era.  He’s never seen a Bible.  He, the girl and Eli sit down.  Eli asks for some paper.
Meanwhile, the man is back in the old west with his stolen Book of Power.  The Book is opened and we see the pages but there are no words, only raised dots.  The blind woman stands in front of it, having no clue as to the treasure that lay right in front of her.  He screams at her to read it.  She throws her hands down in anger, and she feels the dots.  Time stands still for her as she realizes this is a Bible, a Bible she can read. 

Back at the sanctuary, Eli begins to recite the Bible, from memory, word by word, verse by verse:

Gen 1:1  In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

Gen 1:2  And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the
                 deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

Gen 1:3  And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

We are taken up close and we see Eli’s eyes, and suddenly realize that he is blind.  And yet, he sees more than anyone because the truth of God is written on his heart.  It is the light from the sun and the voice of God that led him, gave him discernment, and filled him with wisdom to walk across the country for thirty-one years, facing death at every turn, fulfilling his mission. And so it is with us.

My friends, our life in Christ is a journey, and we’ll most surely encounter struggles, pain and evil along the way.  And God will use those times of trial in ways we may not ever know until we stand with Jesus in heaven.  Because Eli was shot and the girl’s life was at stake, he had to release the Bible. No doubt the Voice told him to, a Voice with which he had become very well acquainted.  And in doing so, the Word of God that gives freedom to the humble was taken back to a lawless town and the truth was spoken.  Ironically, the man who wanted to use it for his own gain lost the very power he coveted. 

And because Eli persisted in doing God’s will, the Bible was produced again en masse, and its message filled a lost and dying world.  Eli sums up his belief about the Bible’s message by saying it’s about doing more for others than for yourself.  And so it is. Rather than saving Himself, Jesus Christ died for us so that we can be saved and live with God forever.  And this is the message we carry in our hearts. 

Whatever comes along on your long and winding road--the good, the bad and the ugly--our ultimate purpose is to carry the Lord, and with Him, the inspired Word of God, in our hearts. We are the living letter of God given for our own lost and dying world.  Keep focused, keep true and finish well.
“I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.”
2 Timothy 4:7-8 kjv

Monday, October 31, 2011

God Is Good...All the Time!

(Speaking of Jesus) who, in the days of His flesh,
when He had offered up prayers and supplications,
with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death,
and was heard because of His godly fear, though He was a Son,
yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered.
Hebrews 5:6-7

“God answered my prayer for (insert your prayer).  He is so good!”

We often hear people say this, and it’s true, God is good and faithful to answer our prayers.  But what about when He answers them with a “no”?  Or even worse, the dreaded “wait”? 

Do we say things like, “God didn't let me get that house!" or "God hasn't brought me a husband or wife!" or "God didn't let me get that job I wanted!" or "God didn't heal me or my loved one!  He is so good!”  Not usually.

Are we sending ourselves, and each other, a subtle message that God is not good when He doesn’t answer our prayers in the way and time we wanted?

Hebrews tells us that even Jesus prayed loudly and with tears to be saved from death.  He knew He had to face this death, but His humanness recoiled from the horror of it. 

Jesus, God’s beloved Son, knelt in the garden, alone, sweating drops of blood, pleading to His Father to take the cup of suffering and death from Him. 

And the Father heard His prayer.  But His answer was no. 

God had a good reason for telling His Son no.  He had a greater purpose than keeping His Son from seeing death.  He wanted to keep all of us from a spiritual death. 

The death of One for the life of many.  And God is glorified daily. 

And it says that Jesus learned obedience by what He suffered.  Jesus prayed and then rested in His Father’s wisdom to answer the prayer according to His good and perfect will. 

And in saying no, God was so good. 

When we pray to the Father, through Jesus Christ, with an attitude of godly fear--a reverence or respect—we can know our prayers have been heard.  And then we rest in God’s wisdom to answer according to His good and perfect will. 

Through the “no’s” and the “waits” we can have assurance that we are being moved in the direction of God’s plan for our lives.  And as we rest in His wisdom, we learn obedience through the things we suffer.  We learn that God has a greater purpose to accomplish than He could if He answered yes to every prayer.  We learn that it is by God’s grace and mercy that He sometimes answers with a no or a wait.

So if our prayers aren’t answered in the way or the time we want, we can still say, boldly and with confidence, He is so good!

Friday, October 28, 2011

A Place for Prayer Requests

Hello Friends,
Prayer is where we find victory in every circumstance we face. It is there we meet with the Lord and find strength, courage, wisdom and discernment. 

I'd be delighted to join you in prayer. Just leave a comment or email me.  Details aren't necessary if you don't wish to leave them.  Jesus knows. 

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble,
whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is
admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
Philippians 4:6-8


Monday, October 24, 2011

Riding Bicycles and Other Wild Adventures

If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.
Psalm 139:9-10

I must’ve been no older than five or six.  I held onto the handlebars of my little two-wheeler for dear life, glancing back at my dad as he pushed me down the center of our cul-de-sac.  I was wobbly and unsure.

Sure enough, after a few practice runs, I looked back and saw my dad standing there where we had started with a proud grin on his face.  It was a scary and thrilling moment.  I rode on for a bit and then turned around and peddled back to him.   

Now I am grown up and, inevitably, the time came that I didn’t need my dad anymore.  But now I have my heavenly Father and I will never outgrow my need for Him.  He guides me and never lets go.
Those first risks I took on a child’s bike were preparation for the more formidable adventures I have faced since.  Now, instead of facing a scraped knee, the Lord and I face wild waves in a darkened sea, swinging rickety bridges, and flames leaping from the mouths of volcanoes. Metaphorically speaking, of course.

Funny how sometimes I’ll get through one of these adventures (we’ll just agree to call them that) and keep on going, forgetting to look back to see where my Father is headed, or if He’s still standing back there, waiting for me. 

I can put my brain on auto-pilot in the morning, assuming all is status quo, not realizing I’m headed straight into a tornado. 

I need to go back and grab my Father’s hand again.  I can’t go through these adventures without Him and survive.  Not well, anyway.  There’s a lot He wants to teach me along the way, like how to love and forgive when I’m staring into the jaws of a crocodile, or how to trust and even have joy when I'm climbing a vertical rock. 

And one fine day, I’ll sit down with my earthly dad and tell him about all the adventures the Lord and I had and what I learned.  And I’ll thank him for trusting me with my first push. 

Q: What great adventure are you and Lord having and what is He teaching you?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Lessons From a Rosebush...or, Is It Pruning Season Again?

I am the True Vine, and My Father is the Vinedresser.
Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away.
And every one that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bring forth more fruit.
Now you are clean through the Word which I have spoken to you.
John 15:1-3

I don’t know about you, but this isn’t usually what I picture when I think of a rosebush.  Not many stoop to admire bare canes studded only with thorns.  

But the caretaker of this rosebush appreciates the work he has done in order to sculpt a living, growing masterpiece.  He knows that a lack of pruning will create a spindly, weak plant.

He has a vision for the beautiful and useful plant it will be when the pruning is over, colorful buds begin to re-appear and the powerful fragrance it gives will attract birds, bees and us when it is once again in full bloom.
The funny thing about pruning a rosebush is that it’s done just when the plant seems to be at its most beautiful--full of large, boldly-colored, intricate blooms.   The husbandman, in his wisdom, decides when and how much to prune each plant and for what reasons according to its individual needs.  Pruning a plant too early or too late can have devastating effects. 

Like the regal rosebush, we who are the children of the King find ourselves in varying stages of growth.  Some are newly planted and some are full of energy and ready to begin blooming. 

Some are full of growth and busy being pollinated by birds and bees or being picked by a child to give to his mother.  Some are being carried down the aisle by a bride and others are being used as a perfume or a healing medicine.  Some inspire song lyrics (or part of a band’s name), and some are being showcased in paintings and admired by many. 

And some have been pruned and lie dormant.

Pruning for the rosebush is as easy as sitting still.  Pruning for us can be a little more painful.  Sometimes it can be so painful we aren’t sure we’ll survive it. 

Pruning can come in the form of trials through financial loss, relationship struggles, in sickness, the death of a loved one or removal from a ministry.  It can come through sacrifice like a move across the country or world. 

All these can cut into our flesh and leave gaping wounds.  But the Caregiver of our souls binds up our wounds with His Word, applies the Son and fresh water through His Holy Spirit.  And when we are filled up and the time is right, we will begin to bloom again. 

We can’t see all the reasons why pruning comes at the time it does and why we sometimes have to be cut back so far.  But God knows the reasons.
Some Reasons to Prune Rosebushes and Us

1. To remove old, dead and damaged wood;

            Sometimes a part of our lives may be over, or we may have allowed some bad attitudes, like unforgiveness, to creep in and damage our faith, and they need to be cut away to allow for new and exciting things to begin growing.

2. To shape the plant;

            God shapes us as we mature so that we grow up in all areas and no part of us is lacking.

3. To remove canes that are growing in the wrong direction;

            Sometimes we may pick up some wrong thinking about who God is.  We learn to put away these false ideas about Him as He reveals who He really is so that we can know, love and worship the One, True God.

4. To encourage vigorous blooming and new, healthy shoots;

            Sometimes we feel like we’re cut down in the prime of our service to the Lord.  But God knows that we will be even more useful and more capable when we identify with the Lord in His suffering and so adopt His mind, His humility, and His heart toward people.  God changes our attitudes so that we are even more productive than before.

Whatever the individual reasons for our pruning, it is all meant to clean us up.  I find it interesting that in the verses in John above, the word for prune has the same meaning as the word for clean in the last verse.  What seems to us to be meaningless pain and suffering is really the Lord cleansing and preparing us during a time when we are still and listening intently to Him as we read His Word.  He grooms us so that we will reflect His beauty and magnify His Name. 

Wherever we are in our growth, we will soon find ourselves in another season, many times one we didn’t expect.  But God has a vision for you and me.  He knows each of our needs and how best to accomplish His plans. 

As we realize more and more that there is indeed a master plan, we can grow to appreciate the beauty of every stage of growth, offering comfort to others, being patient with ourselves and trusting in God's loving and wise hand.    

Monday, October 10, 2011

Waiting in the Dark

I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in His word I do hope.
Psalm 130:5

We’ve recently noticed how much our dog is losing his eyesight, especially when he comes in from lying out on the back patio in the sun.  Jake loves surveying his own little personal Ponderosa.  But when he comes in the house he’ll walk right into a pillow that’s been left on the floor or into a piece of furniture.  Or he’ll come in and just stand there, looking lost, as if he’s waiting for his eyes to adjust to the indoor light again. 

I let him in after his sunbath today and he did just that--stood there looking dazed, confused and thoroughly lost, not knowing which way to go.  There was nothing I could do but I wanted him to feel safe and not so alone.  So I sat down with him, pet him reassuringly and asked him, in a voice I reserve just for cute little babies and Jake, if he wanted me to wait with him until he could see again. And I did.  We sat there together, waiting, until his vision returned.

That is what the Lord does for us.  

There are times when the trials of our lives make us feel like everything around us is dark and we don’t know where our next steps should be.  What we could see the day before, those things that used to make sense, no longer make sense.  A fog descends around all logic and no answers come.  Even God may be silent.  And all there is to do is wait. 

Waiting seems to be the hardest thing to do.  The time ticks by like dog years and if the wait is long enough it can seem almost unbearable.  The pressure to do something, anything, can become overwhelming as our logic wants to take over. But waiting does not imply doing nothing.  When we wait on the Lord we are hoping, we are trusting, and we are growing as we learn to put all our faith in our Lord and in Him alone.   

So when darkness comes we wait for God to show us the way again--where to plant our next steps, which road to take, which decisions to make.  We wait for Him to give us insight into what to do next.

And while we wait, God sits with us.  He sits patiently by our side, loving us and calming our fears until we can see again.  He waits with us until the path is ready to be revealed, until the way has been cleared, until the events are lined up, until the other person is ready, until…

And when the time is just right, the fog is lifted, the light invades the darkness, and He gives us the vision for the thing He has prepared for and known about all along.  Some answers may come in this life, and some, not until the next.  But they will come.  And until then, He is there.  And since we always need sight for something new, He is always with us.  So take His hand and wait with Him until you can see again. 

Do you wait patiently for God to show you what to do next or do you have a tendency to try to run ahead in the dark?