Thursday, December 24, 2009

CHRISTMAS BEAUTY




MERRY CHRISTMAS! 

"I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year."

Charles Dickens

She came toward me bearing the beauty.  It was an amaryllis in full bloom that looked like a bowl of peppermint lolipops, with its tall stalks and bright red and white flowers.  "I just didn't know what to buy you," she said.  "I sure hope you and your husband enjoy it.  I thought it was so pretty."  

That precious one's joy in giving melted my heart.  Christmas gifts always dig deep into my soul's soil, for during the holidays, everyone has so many other people to think about and so much to do.  Boxes of candy, gift cards, loaves of banana bread, homemade cookies, ties for my husband, necklaces for me, tins of popcorn, flowers, candles, cash, and anything and everything are received into our lives with a lot of loving thoughts.  To us, each remembrance is a sweet sacrifice of self and finance.

We received the gift of the aforementioned Christmas amaryllis several years ago, and it remains very special to me, not only because of the lady whose grace and love gave the gift, but also, for its symbolism and its continual living message. 

This very day, this very moment as I write, the pretty peppermint-like flower lives and speaks because of its symbolic nature.  What was once a present of gratitude and fondness now means more to me than it ever has.  The tall, pristine winter flower symbolizes pride and beauty, just as a rose symbolizes love.  That message of the amaryllis is personal and moves my spirit.  My own amaryllis became a symbol of my personal testimony of  the spiritual conflict of true beauty and pride. 

When I first learned about the amaryllis and discovered that it represents pride and beauty, the two ideas sounded worldly and humanistic, like a theme from a short story whose heroic, self-sufficient character teaches the value of human strength.  But God refreshed my thoughts and gave me a personal message of Christ's strength and His hope for my own need.

Pure loveliness is Christ Himself.  Jesus is beauty incarnate, and His beauty reaches far beyond our frail, worldly concept of outward appearance.  Christ, in complete humility and sacrifice, divested himself of the glory of heaven, became a baby, grew up in a small, common village, and as a man and the Son of God, gave his life for our salvation by dying shamefully on a cross, then rose again for our justification, and now lives, sitting at the right hand of God, our Father, praying for us, always interceding on our behalves.

Jesus is true beauty.  He is pure.  He is noble.  He is real.  He is incomparable.

Pride is the opposite of true beautfy.  It is anything raised above the knowledge of Jesus; i.e., whatever longs to function and/or achieve on its own.  Pride is not pretty.  It grieves the heart of God and makes me amazingly unattractive to Him.  In heaven, Christ intercedes for me.  And I know He prays that I will lose my miserable pride and gain His glorious beauty.

In constant awareness of my own need and humanity, I search continually in my heart for the loss of pride and the real image of Christmas, the King's beauty.  Jesus, King of kings and Lord of lords, was born into this world, as a baby in a self-imposed state of utter humility, just for my need, my deliverance, and my redemption.

My search for inner beauty often leaves me disappointed.  Oh, yes, Jesus lives in my heart.  He is my life.  My All in all.  But my imperfect state of being yearns for the selfless love and giving up of self that comes with a deeper walk and a greater faith.

On my own I am hopelessly selfish.  But, with His love, God has enlightened my thoughts and has given me a new gift of the hope of a holy life in which God will be pleased:  the letting go of my own self and the reaching forward to Christmas beauty. 

Christmas day, not only will I share joy and blessing and comfort with my family, but also, I will share with the Lord an awareness of Himself and His glory in light of Who He is alone and in light of who I am compared to Him and His almighty power and endless love.

And in God's endless love, together, we can all wholly rejoice.  We can celebrate Christmas, the birthday of the one and only Savior of the world and of ourselves, despite whatever weakness or problem or burden we have.  Yes, we rejoice because of Who Jesus is and His great love for us!  May we all be overwhelmed by that amazing love and enjoy God's gift of life.  Praise Him!  Edify Him!  Exalt His name!  He is worthy of it, and He intends Christmas beauty and joy for you. 

Regardless of pain, regardless of imperfection, regardless of situation, Christ is who He says He is.  He is our Christmas beauty for all days and all times.  And His love is always present with us.  Soak in His comfort and peace.  Breath in His love for you.  Whisper His name with a grateful heart.  And study His beauty, His loveliness, that was first revealed to us in the form of a tiny baby that was humbly born in an animals' stall. 

"No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him" (ICorinthians 2:9, NIV).



Christmas hath a darkness;
Brighter than the blazing noon;
Christmas hath a chillness
Warmer than the heat of June,
Christmas hath a beauty
Lovelier than the world can show:
For Christmas bringeth Jesus,
Brought for us so low. 

 

Christina Rosetti    

Saturday, December 05, 2009

OF STARLIGHT


I am not alone at all, I thought. I was never alone at all. And that, of course, is the message of Christmas. We are never alone. Not when the night is darkest, the wind coldest, the world seemingly most indifferent. For this is still the time God chooses.

Taylor Caldwell

When I was growing up, our family had a red tree topper.  It was a tall spire with an open globe stuffed with angel hair.  Each year we would find it packed away in our little attic.  We always took it from hibernation, and put it in its proper place atop our prickly tree.  Finding the red swirly object was not my favorite part of tree-trimming.  I was never too happy with the spire.  Not that it wasn't pretty; it was truly quite elegant, but it just never said "Christmas" to me.  I wanted a star.  In my childlike faith, a star said "Jesus."

One Christmas season, my parents noticed the red spire's beauty waning.  Its angel hair had thinned, its plastic had begun to crack, and its paint was chipping.  A new topper for our tree was added to our shopping list, and it was decided that we would buy a star.  So, we went star-shopping and brought home a lovely five-point symbol made of gold tinsel and colored lights. 

I could not wait to see it crown our little artificial Scotch Pine tree.  At last, when I did see the gllittery star settle on the tip-top branch, I was elated to see it glow brightly with joy of Christ's birth.    

Several weeks ago, when we had the fire incident, we lost our Christmas decorations.  I have thankfully been able to salvage the sentimental items.  I do not know if they can be cleaned and used again, but they will be kept!  I could never let go of paper snowmen made in a kindergarten class, a little handprint engraved with "Steven," a clothespin angel with "Chris" written on its back, and homemade felt frames and clear, acryllic-shaped trees sprinkled with glittery images of my sons within.  No Way!!!  Though they are sooty and smoky, they will at least be stored with our most precious family belongings. 

Included in our sooty collection of Christmases past is a tree topper.  It is not a star.  It is a lighted angel dressed in ivory tafetta with beautiful white wings edged with gold glitter.  As a family, we always enjoyed the angel atop the tree.  It reminded us of the proclaming of Christ's birth to the shepherds and the rejoicing of the heavenly beings as they recited, "Glory to God in the highest."

With the loss of our angel topper and other Christmas ornaments, my husband and I decided that a shopping trip was in order.  We knew our temporary apartment home would never feel like Christmas without a tree and trimmings, so Jeff  and I ventured to Walmart Thursday night and bought an inexpensive pre-lit tree, gold and red glass balls, sparkling snowflakes, and twinkling crosses, and tiny little angels.

And, yes, we bought a star to place atop our new tree.  It seems made of iron and is covered in gold with clear lights embedded within.  It will glow with joy, just as the tree topper did in my childhood Christmases. 

After buying our new Christmas decor, we meandered around our city.  I noticed no stars visible in the heavens.  It was quite overcast here in northern Alabama, and fog had settled into the Tennessee Valley.  Surveying the starless sky led my thoughts to the star, the shining heavenly ornament that graced the heavens and announced the birth of our Savior over 2000 years ago. 

The real star of Bethlehem was an amazing sight!  It brought awe and "exceeding great joy" (Matthew 2:10) to the wise men and other seekers when they beheld its glory in the heavens over Judea.  That stunning celestial body proclaimed the path to a king, the King of all kings, Jesus, the Messiah.  Though much speculation is made about its cosmic components, the nitty gritty of its make-up matters little.  What really matters is the spiritual significance of the star.  It is beautifully powerful.  Its prophetic praises move my soul.

For those in ancient Judea, its shining was a testimony of the One, real Light Who had come into a dark, depraved world.  Our Savior, the Son of God, the sinless One, came to sinful earth to suffer, to be our Redeemer, and to rescue us from evil and death.   

Our personal, kinsman Redeemer, Jesus, the Holy and Anointed One, the Son of the living God was then proclaimed, is now proclaimed, and will forever be proclaimed Savior of the world. 

The Greek word for Savior is Soter, and the Greek word for save is sozo, which means to protect, heal, preserve, to make whole.

Christ came to save you, and He came to do even so much more.  Being saved is only the beginning, and the depth of the Greek word sozo reveals God's dynamic plan for your abundant life.

We are saved by grace through faith.  We are saved, delivered from our sin and brought to the kingdom of God's light.  We no longer have to fear dying and going to hell.  We are no longer slaves to sin.  We no longer have to settle for isolation, intimidation, and incompletion.  God, in His sovereignty, is in control of our lives. 

He gives us great promise for our earthly journey.  He gives us a pathway to an abundant life of healing.  Jesus delivers from turmoil and leads us to peace and wholeness. 

"To make whole" is not only to be delivered from sin, but also it is to be brought to completeness.  Jesus came to this world not just to purchase our souls, but to heal our lives, to mend our broken hearts, to give us a sound mind, to give us abundant living:  Love.  Joy.  Peace.  Patience.  Kindness.  Goodness.  Faithfulness.  Gentleness.  Self-control. *

The star, the heavenly symbol placed in the heavens to give divine proclamation of the birth of the King, also glowed with the greatness of God, illuminating lives in ancient Judea, and it remains today in our hearts, leading us to the truth and riches of God's kingdom. 

Yes, today, the star of Bethlehem shines.  The star is still ours to behold.  It remains visible in our souls.  It glows unhidden, uncloaked by our Creator.  Shining forth, giving light, and telling truth to all who will look upon Him.  Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, the Light of the World, our Savior, is present with us to bless, to heal, to deliver, to make whole. 

Yet not everyone looks upon the Star.  Many refuse to see Him at all.  And not everyone who does look upon Him believes.  Not everyone who sees Jesus sees a Savior.  Some see Him as an interuption in their busy holiday plans.  Some see Him as a controversial icon.  Some see Him as a wise teacher worthy of quoting.  Some see Hin as a simple carpenter wtih great ambition.  Some see Him as a madman.  Some see Him only as a man who somehow made history.

How do you see Him today?  When you see a Star adorn a tree, when you look into the heavens, when you hear "Jesus" spoken, when you read His words, when you hear, "Merry CHRISTmas," What do you really hear?  Whom do you really see?  Do you see Him for the King He is?  Or do you see Him in obscurity, unsure of His power, beauty, and grace?

As a Christian what does your soul bear?  What do you want from Jesus?  What thoughts make your heart burn with burden?  What is lodged in your spirit like a seed in your tooth?  What mountain holds you back from shining as God's child?

Does peace seem impossible?  Does exceeding joy seem elusive?  Does holy vision seem blurred?  Does something feel broken?  Do you need, dear friend, "to be whole"? 

Jesus is the Star who eternally shines with healing power!  And, . . . healing love!

Reach out to Him and grasp the love He has for you this season in your life.  Christ's love will make a miracle out of the mountain that stands in your way.  You can remember this Christmas as the time your life changed forever.

How?  By five simple steps:  1) look up to Him as the shining Savior; 2) humble yourself before Him, proclaiming Christ as Lord over all your life; 3) pour out your heart to Him, telling the Lord your deepest thoughts, fears, and needs; 4) praise God for His great love for you and personal intervention in your life; and 5) stand in faith, waiting patiently for His work, coninuing in an attitude of praise.    

As Christians, we feel the conflict of perfection and carnality.  In our hearts, we long to please God; yet, being human, living in a fleshly temple, we make mistakes.  We mess up.  We sin.  We go through depression.  We get discouraged.  We deal with imperfect thoughts.  We feel alone.

But, we are not alone because we all go through these struggles.     

Yet, we do not give up!!!  We turn to Jesus!

Look on Jesus today!  See His Star that proclaims truth to all nations and to all people and to you!  By believing Him, through trust in His name, by following the path that proclaims Him Lord of All, you, too, will be like those of ancient Judea and everyone who calls on His name.  As you receive His abundant life and allow His authority to rule your heart, you, dear friend, you will rejoice with hope and "exceeding great joy"!



*The fruits of the Holy Spirit, Galatians 5:22
Research is from e-sword. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

BOUNTIFUL


Thou hast given so much to me,
Give one thing more, - a grateful heart;
Not thankful when it pleaseth me,
As if Thy blessings had spare days,
But such a heart whose pulse may be Thy praise.
 George Herbert
1593 - 1633

Bountiful. . . giving freely and generously; liberal; marked by abundance; plentiful; lavish; princely; munificent. The nature of the one who gives bountifully is loving, caring, giving, kind, sincere, and selfless. That description defies the root of human nature. But not God's. Our God is bountiful.

He pours into our lives and world liberal abundance.  He spiritually gives us everything we need to surge with growth in Jesus Christ.  And truly, God gave His only Son, Jesus Christ, God's most bountiful gift, freely to us.

So who can give legitimate argument to the goodness of God?  Who is so blind that God's handiwork is invisible or vague?  Who can stand against God's testimonies?  Who can deny His holiness?  Who is like our bountiful God?

No one can compare to Him!  He created the world and all life, and set eternity in order.  He framed creation with His lovingkindness, and He daily reveals His presence.  With each sunrise, God's voice announces His mercy.  With each sunset, our heavenly Father lovingly kisses the night with promise of tomorrow. 

Nature is a testimony of our Creator's sovereignty.  The beauty of the earth, the majesty of the heavens, the nobility of the eagle, the graceful stance of the deer, the sustenance of the seed, the yielding of bread from wheat and rye, the opening of the dogwood bloom in the spring, the closing of the evening primrose in the day, the fabric of DNA that gives form and distinction to our mortal bodies, and all other existence tell of God's glory!

Consider the breath of God.  His own breath is our channel of life.  The Hebrews referred to it as nâphach, meaning to inflate, blow hard, scatter, kindle.  God's breath makes us living souls, weak humans who must have the life of God within to kindle them and make them spiritually alive.  The "LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being" (Genesis 2:7).  God's own breath began human life.  Not just once in the beginning of creation, but later, too, with a new existence.

Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, breathed on his disciples so they would receive the Holy Spirit, our Comforter, our Compass, our Counselor.  Jesus "breathed on them and said, 'Receive the Holy Spirit'" (John 20:22).  In his commentary notes, Matthew Henry states that during creation, Almighty God gave life to man, which began the old world.  And that when our Savior breathed on his disciples, He signified new life for a new world.

God created breath as a channel for life, both physically and spiritually.

God created living mortal beings of flesh and blood and weakness to demonstrate His Almighty glory!

God created the splendor of the seas, the majesty of mountains, the terror of tides, and the complex abilities of human beings combined with the possibilities of His earth's sources to point to God's greatness and goodness.

The intricate complexities of life and every living thing and the order of the universe speaks.  Whispers.  Proclaims.  Declares.  SHOUTS the truth of His name. 

He is El Shaddai, The All-Powerful God.  He is Elohim, The Creator, our Master Designer.  He is The Everlasting God, El Olam, our Eternal God.  He is the only God!  He is the only One, true God!

And our loving Creator of our world and our lives is not a clockmaker, who designed, created, and wound just to watch His creation work.  NO!!!  Our God is the Ancient of Days, active in past, present, and future, and He is Yahweh Rohi, The LORD is my Shepherd, who gives daily bread, holy compassion, and loving leadership, and divine provision to those Whom He loves, His own.

Praise Him!  Remember His Name!  Call on Him!  Believe in His Word!  Don't be fearful of speaking His truth and proclaiming Him as God! 

Declare Thanksgiving, 2009 your time to give your God glory and praise and honor.  Friends, He is our Source of all things!  All thanks we have to give, whether for family, friends, finances, church, country, health, home, and so many other blessings, are from our heavenly Father, Who delights in pouring good into our lives!

As you prepare your Thanksgiving meal, as you gaze upon your family and friends, as you go to your place at the table, remember your Lord of mercy.  Keep His goodness before you, and let an attitude of praise reign in your heart.  In doing so, your Thanksgiving holiday will be mightily blessed and remain as a testimony in your life each day.  Letting praise reign is a seed of a mighty tree that will, if watered and fed, grow and show abundant fruit. 

One small seed of determined worship is a beginning.  One small seed of praise can be the beginning of a great harvest.  Praise is the planting of bounty.  Let the seed of thanksgiving rule your heart and mind.  May this thankful time be the start of a new season of worship in you!  Your life will be spiritually bountiful, abundant, plentiful, for the only, true bountiful One will live and reign in you as true thanksgiving for Him lives in your heart and flows from your lips.

Scripture is from the NIV Bible.
Definition from thefreedictionary.com.
All research is from e-sword resources.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

A FEARFUL SOUND!


"So surely as the stars are fashioned by His hands, and their orbits fixed by Him, so surely are our trials allotted to us: He has ordained their season and their place, their intensity and the effect they shall have upon us."
Charles Haddon Spurgeon

"'That fearful sound of "fire" and "fire,"/Let no man know is my Desire.'" Her richly spoken words are numbing reality.   How well I remember first hearing those poetic phrases penned by Anne Bradstreet, initially learning  them in a college classroom.  I sat amazed as a non-traditional student who was in ignorance at the depth, honesty, intensity, and persuasion of a Puritan poet, whose out of abundance language brought life to page and truth to the journey of Christian living.

America's first woman poet poured many lyrical prayers and meditations of surrender and sacrifice.  In 1666, she lost all her material possessions to a devastating fire.  In 2000, one year after graduating from college, I had the privilege of reading and teaching her poetic verses of those losses to tenth graders.  I felt passionate about Anne's experience.  I wanted my students to share my passion and relate to her pain, to travel three centuries back with me to Anne's new world and connect with the soul-searching saga of one woman and her God.  To hear this woman's heartbeat and understand her godly affection and her influence in 17th century Amercia and our 21st century American life. 
In hearing her voice and heart, Anne Bradstreet became my heroine because of her faith in God and scriptural priorities.  Anne's courageous conclusion of "Upon the Burning of Our House" leaves me speechless each time I read it.  Breathless praise stills my soul when I walk with her on her voyage of private pain and sentiment to her letting-go of futility and grasping of holy, raw truth. Anne's godly take on life and loss bears hard in my soul, and it witnesses the fact of God's grace.  It is a grace for all us; yes, sweet friends, it is just as real now, in 2009, as it was in 1666. 
God is immutable.  He doesn't change.  His promises, his passions, his pleas for us are the same yesterday, today, and forever.  Thus, Anne's words remain.  Their urgency and appeal still move us.  They are timeless.  They speak truth.  They know love.  They give hope. 

"The world no longer let me Love, My hope and Treasure lyes Above." 
I have read those last lines so many times, yet I never imagined they would have their own particular part in my life.   

Last Sunday afternoon, November 8, I kept Olivia and Ella, two of my grandchildren. Both my son, Steven, and his wife had to work, and I savored the opportunity to have a little grandma time with the two little sweethearts, whom we call Baby Doll and Ella-Bella. Their mom arrived about 5:00 pm to take them home. Raychelle, my daughter-in-law, and I and the babies were in my den. Mommy and I were getting babies ready to go when suddenly we heard a terribly loud sound, like a gun or explosion.
We immediately and quickly moved toward the back door, opened it, and inhaled a noxious fume that had already saturated our screened porch and carport, where Raychelle had parked her car. Her engine had exploded, and flames were already licking their way toward our roof. We dared not approach our porch, which was engulfed with dense smoke. Rather, we grabbed the babies and the phone and quickly ran toward the opposite end of the house and out our front door.

Countless calls, copious words of comfort, two crying babies, and five fire trucks later, the drama ended. And its ending began a new adventure of awestruck, broken gratefulness to God for sparing the lives of Raychelle, Olivia, and Ella. The imaginations and discussions with family and friends have centered around God's mercy and grace. Two minutes later, Raychelle, Olivia, and Ella would have been in the car on their way home. My spirit is shaken with thoughts of those possibilities, but my spirit soars with gratitude for God's lovingkindness that spared our grief, and please believe me, words are really, really inadequate, but their inadequacy has not stopped my effortless giving of thanks.
Just as the explosive BOOM travelled beyond our home to surrounding neighbors, bringing sudden jolt and concern to all of us, I have been symbolically exploded from normal, day-to-day living into a sudden, compulsory journey of soul-moving praise and soul-searching surrender!

We have had some losses. I count them now as nothing.  They are replacable. Just things made out of elements of this unholy earth that God will one day fold like a garment.

What is a carport, a porch, stuff in an attic, insulation, smoke-damaged sofas and chairs and curtains and linens, and water-damaged wood? What are sooty-smelling clothes, quilts, books, lampshades, and carpet? Really, what are they?

What is it to be a little discomforted and inconvenienced?  What is to stand with your family and feel the shock of now and the wonder of tomorrow?  What is it to seek temporary stay?  What is a real home?
And what does it mean to be real and give everything we own to Jesus?  To put into perspective worldy elements that are at one momen material gifts from God and the next moment worthless gifts to Him?  What is annoying about picking up a lace garment so delicately formed, and tediously woven, one of many that was freshly laundered with particular care, but now reeks with toxic fumes and an oily pine scent meant to mask nasty smoke?  
By God's grace alone, his unmerited favor, his worthy, divine intervention for our unworthy, weak, fleshy abilities, everything, all of it, means rejoicing for what is new.  The passing, departing, of one frame of reference to a new point of vision.  A welcomed opportunity for a more certain path of this Christian life that can be obscurely bright - i.e., dim of understanding, yet oh so light with promise.  A possibility of looking behind at less and looking forward to grasp more.  A newer appreciation of God's mercy and grace, which I must have in volumes every moment of every day of my pilgrim life. 
From the perspective of limited loss (things could be much, much, worse), it feels pretty good to be inadequate, and though I'm living in the neighborhood of faith versus reason, my spirit is striving to soar with the uncomplicated truth that not understanding my entire life is absolutely OK.  What freedom there is in that one Biblical truth!

Do I need prayer?  Sure, I do.  Always!  But, please rejoice with me, too, for out of darkness comes light!    What Satan means for our discouragement and demise, God means for our good in Christ.  Hallelujah!  Friends, that is shouting ground! 
Sunday night after Steven, Raychelle, and babies were safe at home and Jeff and I were safe in a hotel, I went to the bathroom to get ready for bed.  For a few moments, the significance of everything rushed in like a flood.  The tears flowed as I thought of God's salvation and our unworthiness of his gift.  To be honest, my immediate reaction to the trauma had been quiet. I was speechless and just did not want to talk.  But the awareness of God's hand could not quench my praise and the knowledge of our near true losses were overwhelming to realize.
Thank God for his deliverance and salvation!  Thank God for his divine intervention!  Thank God for his provision and power!  And thank God for you, and I pray that as you ponder these words, he will move in and through your life with his mighty anointing and the reality of his love and lordship!  So many of you have been through and are going through hardships.  As I write, I am moved by your courage and victory as you face illness, family difficulites, lost loved ones, financial discouragements, depression, fear, death, and on and on. 
Please hear my heart.  God loves you.  And, he is at work to prove what is good and holy and acceptable in your relationship with him.  Jesus reigns!!!  Not just in heaven.  No, Christ reigns in your heart and life!  Within you is his kingdom!

And he hears your heart today.  He Who formed your heart knows the depths of it.  He Who formed your life knows the purpose of it.  The Lord, our omniscient Creator, knows your way.  And if that way is too narrow, or steep, or rocky, or unstable, or dark, or whatever, our God will deliver you and set your free! Beloved, may God bless you and reveal to you now and forever his everlasting love for you.   

"Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness" (Lamentations 3:22-23, NIV).

Below are images of God's divine intervention from last Sunday.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

THE LONG, SOUGHT-AFTER


"Gratitude is the fairest blossom which springs from the soul."

Henry Ward Beecher


"Tha-nk yooou." Southern charm slipped through her lips like sweet tea through a sieve. The beautiful inflections in her little lady's voice were rich with heritage. I listened closely, as her dear, expressive style traveled two doors down the hospital hallway to my room, where I was waiting for outpatient surgery. Time seems suspended when expecting that trip down hospital corridors into the bright, cold, sterile operating room. The pause not only seems slow, but is slow, and the need for diversion moves one to find it wherever it's available.

An early spring day, five years ago, my husband and I found diversion in the elegance of an elderly Southern lady and her gentleman husband, who kept passing by our door, making trip after trip to please his little wife, who was also awaiting a medical procedure, with phone calls to family and questions for the nurses.
Though I could not see her, the precious belle made me smile and occupied my interest, and such occupation was much more enlivening than lying in an antiseptic environment, surveying ceiling tiles and equipment that I did not know about and did not want to know about.
What amused me most was not her accent, though. It was a very deep Southern drawl, which is not nearly as common in the modern South as it once was in past generations. And being born and raised in Georgia, it wasn't the first time I had heard long, drawn-out vowels, and, moreover I have been known to draw-out a vowel or two or three myself.

What impressed me was her perfected Southern charm and her insistence on showing tremendous appreciation for all things, whether simple or slightly stunning. She had me convinced that we were in the best hospital in the world with the best nurses and doctors to be found anywhere on earth right there in our very presence. And her silky, smooth, complementary nature was only surpassed by her courage and calm.

Two hours of listening and absorbing her heart and demeanor left me inspired. I hoped for such charm and genteelness. She was a for real steel magnolia! I didn't want to waste an opportunity to learn from a genuine Melanie Wilkes.
Now reflection has its true place in our lives. And with eventual hindsight, I had to get real! I was inspired by my memories of her spirit and poise, and though I would never forget her amazing likeness to gentle southern belles from old classic movies, I realized my thoughts had to run deeper than the grasping of a demeanor or the outward beauty of kindness or gracious, grateful living.

As a child of God, my grasping must reach toward a higher goal. A life of sincere thankfulness and merciful expression to God and others must be my deliberate hope and intentional prayer. The necessity of a pure, total, thorough, vocal, surrendered life of sincere gratitude for God, i.e. a heart of worship, must be my focused goal in life, for, as Jesus said, those who worship in spirit and truth are "the kind of worshipers the Father seeks" (John 4:23).

Let that truth sink in! God seeks worshipers! He is seeking worshipers who are for real. He wants our praise to be forthright, honest, sincere, and faithful. His Spirit seeks out those who honor Him and aren't ashamed to show it. Such was the case one day as Jesus walked the sandy soil toward Jerusalem, determined to pass through Samaria and Galilee.

The omniscient Christ knew He had an appointment in a tiny Samaritan village along the way. He knew ten needs awaited Him there. He had beheld their poverty. He had heard their calls. He was drawn to them by holy compassion.
But the dusty road seemed surely hopeless to the ten, whose weak bodies and inferiorities brought them daily wander, agony, and shame. Roaming around for relief and pity only brought the men taunting, humiliation, pain, and fatigue. The disease was dreadful. The separation from society unbearable. The strain of their voices reasonable, as the ten tired from crying, "Unclean, . . . unclean, . . . unclean." The lepers were cast-offs, rejects, failures. They stood as symbols of sin and not real men.

Nearing the village, Jesus saw their needy, snowy forms. And, . . . the ten saw Him. They knew His name. They knew of His power. They had heard of His miracles. He had healed the lame. Delivered from demons. Restored souls. Spoke divine authority. Raised the dead. Created new wine.

Now was their day. Now was their hour. Now was their moment of hope.

As Jesus drew nearer, the ten kept far away. They dared not approach. Yet, belief stayed in their spirits, surged through their souls, and finally, faith gave way to uplifted voices. They could hold their cries no longer. "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!"

Christ looked at them. Spoke to them. Brought divine authority to them. Christ voiced the lepers' deliverance. "Go, show yourselves to the priests."
Then, . . . hope became visible. For as the men made their way to the priests, all were cleansed. Healed, by the Word and by their faith.
Ten faces fixed like granite toward their ordered destination, focused on their flawless forms.


Suddenly, one stopped in his way. He turned. The lone healed man perceived his wholeness. Eyed his transformation. He felt the freedom from pain past. He knew faith made new life. Knew "unclean" was no longer his name.

With loud praise, with voice of triumph, with legs of strength, with flawless, pure skin, the Samaritan ran to Jesus. And falling, casting himself at Christ's feet, that one raised his voice in glorious adoration, and thanked Jesus, Whose mercy gave him new complexion, Whose spoken words released an outcast from bondage, abandon, and torment.

Looking at the grateful man, Jesus simply replied, "Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? Were there not any* found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?. . . Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well."

I do not know what happened to this grateful man, whose thanksgiving even now compels 21st century hearts to praise. Surely he showed himself to the priests. Then, perhaps, with a soul overwhelmed by God's glory, with new life, he forever testified of the Lord's mercy and the healing power of Jesus Christ. For, the grateful, healed man had a heart of worship, and his heart of worship led him to a personal encounter with the Lord. The one who stayed to give glory to God received a closer look at the Anointed One. His heart of worship and compulsion to praise brought him face to face with Jesus. How could he ever be the same again, when forever he remembered Jesus' piercing eyes of love and the Lord's personal notice of his heart of worship?

God loves a thankful heart! When you have a heart of thankfulness, God moves in your life and changes who you are. Why? Because a thankful heart moves the hand of God. Your honest praise reaches His heart. And your focus on His glory and adoration of Who He is, overcomes the fleshly focus of self and the world.

And as your thanksgiving increases, as your heart of worship grows, perspective of God and life deepens. What is truly important comes to light. You soon see that those little things you thought you needed really aren't so great after all. You soon know the truth of God's Own priorities for your life! And with His priorities in place, everything is new. His peace that passes human understanding becomes reality in you. Through your sincere praise, God escorts you to a walk of perfect peace.

Think for a moment about worshiping in spirit and truth (John 4:24). How can defeat overcome a heart of worship? It is impossible because a heart of worship, real worship, heartfelt thanksgiving, is a state of faith. Glorifying God with you words and with your life allows Him to reign within you. His ruling presence becomes your life's reality! And defeat and despair are incapable of standing in Christ's ruling presence!

"I love you, Lord. I praise you, Jesus, for Who you are and for how you are moving in my life. You are the only, one, true God! And, I thank you for being the great I Am and moving with power in my life."

Jesus sought the lepers to give them mercy and to show us His desire that we glorify Him, at all times, in all things. Dear friend, in every moment of your life "give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you" (I Thessalonians 5:18). God hungers to hear your praise!

Will you be that one who stops in the way, wonders at God's work, turns, falls at His feet, and gives glory and honor to Jesus? Will you be that one who takes the extra effort to find intimacy with Him is so worth the trip? Will you be that one to place worshiping God and having a grateful spirit above getting on with your life? Will you be that one who loves Him first and clings to Him most? Will you be that one to whom Jesus says, "Arise"?



*emphasis mine
The cleansing of the ten lepers is found in Luke 17:11-19.
All scripture is from NKJV and NIV.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

HEAVENLY DELIGHT


"A house needs a grandma in it."

Louisa May Alcott

A southern summer's day was a sweet dream when I was ten years old and in my favorite place. My grandma was blessed to live in an antique-filled Victorian home in a quaint old town, just a short hour's drive from Atlanta, where I lived. What a perfect place her home seemed! An oval beveled glass door led from an old-fashioned, roomy front porch to a living room filled with a glorious staircase, an old coal fireplace with a mahogany mantle, and stained-glass windows that reached so high, almost, it seemed to the soaring ceiling.

I wanted to call it mine, but was so happy to be there in brief. Just blessed to be with my Grandma and spend days with her. Those humid days passed so quickly, yet while there I clung to Grandma like honey on a buttermilk biscuit.

I was her shadow. And she never seemed to mind. She seemed happy to have a frolicking granddaughter beside her night and day for a "spell."

She taught me much. Quality and quantity. Partly because I fiercely questioned her about anything and everything that visited my ten year old brain. But mostly, Grandma taught me because of love. Her love was unique. It went beyond instruction and gravitated to discipleship.

I specifically remember one quiet day when, as customary, I followed her from room to room. She told me she had some "sprayin'" to do and she had to be alone. Most naturally, I assumed inquisition.

"What's sprayin', Grandma?" My ten year old mind just couldn't wrap around the idea of spraying being so important. And what in the world was she talking about anyway?

I watched the back of my little gray-haired Mom's Mom walk away from me, but she quickly turned, and with her eyes, cauterized a hole through my skinny, dangly figure, adding distress to my confusion. "Andrea, don't you know what sprayin' is?"

"No, mam." I started to feel defensive. I didn't understand the big deal. But I knew my simple curiosity had led me to trouble. I sort of felt I had come in from a sandbox and needed a bath.

Grandma turned again and walked. I followed. We stopped in her makeshift closet, which was really a large hallway in the back of her aged home. Surrounded by clothes and shoes and scarfs and coats and whatever else fancied her, we stood and stared at each other, and though she was under five feet tall, her presence seemed as mighty as a red oak.

"Grandma, what's sprayin?" My stubborn curiosity was not deterred, for I knew my grandmother's strong heart of discipline could be melted by her compelling, loving leadership. As expected, my young ignorance was too much for her to resist.

"Andrea, do you mean to tell me you don't know what sprayin' is?"

"Nooooo," I slowly answered with hope of subduing dissatisfaction.

"You've never heard of it? Don't your mama spray?"

Interest was now eating me alive. I thought I had stumbled onto a family secret. Or maybe spraying was something grown women had to do to stay clean.

"Andrea I can't believe you don't know about prayin'!"

"I thought you said sprayin', Grandma!" I was at once relieved and disappointed. Happy to be out of the woods. Sad that I was now devoid of a divulged secret.

"I know what prayin' means. And my mama does pray."

How my sweet grandma and I ever had such a misunderstanding I do not know! It looks like one of us would have sooner known the difference between a p and an s. Nonetheless, she was satisfied and relieved, and refocused, my gray-haired companion told me it was her time for prayer. Grandma remained in her closet, while I made my way into her nearby bedroom, and lingered there to listen to a melodious voice speak to God for each and every one of her children and grandchildren. It was like hearing an angel. So sincere, so pure, so heavenly, so selfless, so vibrant and alive, so true, and so unforgettable. It was spoken words showing unseen power.

As Grandma lifted her voice to the Lord, I would occasionally sneak a peek from around the bedroom corner. And with increased courage, I finally made my way into her closet to stand behind her and watch. Grandma's back was toward me, and she was on her knees, weeping, crying out, lost in a heavenly world of praising and asking and receiving. Her head even swayed in rhythm with her resounding words.

Etched in memory as a faithful portrait, those sterling moments on a sultry, summer Georgia day changed my life. If ever I had doubted what prayer was, the mystery was solved. Surely, Grandma had taught me to pray.

She had given me a foundation, a beginning point from which God could build prayer truths later in my life. And today, many years later, I am still learning truths, still searching for a deeper well, still grasping for greater power in prayer.

In our omnipotent God can I only find power in prayer. God is infinite. Limitless. And I am human and fully aware of my many limitations. And yet, those limitations should not bring me a dab of discouragement. FOR, Christ has given a promise! "[W]hatever you ask the Father in my name He will give you. Until now, you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full" (John 16:23-24).

ASK! GIVE! RECEIVE! Action verbs! And some of Jesus' final words to His disciples before His passion began. And the message in that scripture from John is greater still, as it reveals His and the Father's heart. THEY WANT US TO PRAY! THEY WANT OUR JOY TO BE FULL!!! Christ has shown us the key to prayer and joy! It begins with a gift of contract left to us from God the Father and God the Son. We can use the name of Jesus to implore our Father to respond to our needs!

And our needs, all of them, God knows all about and fully understands. "For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him" (Matthew 6:8).

Before. Not just when. Before. God knows. He Sees.

El Roi is one of my favorite names of God. Its Hebrew meaning is The-God-Who-Sees and is described in The Woman's Study Bible as The Responder to needs!

Hallelujah! Oh, how the Lord loves us!!! He looks! He sees! He knows! That prayer truth fills my soul with unspeakable, bubbling joy!

God is so amazing! He loves us so! He longs for us to pray!

He watches us! Examines our needs with His divine eyes. Looks for us to look to Him! Wants to share life with us! All of life! To have communion with us!

And God wants us all to recognize our need for Him! To see our needs in light of Who He is! God wants to fill a void in us that cannot be filled any other way but by prayer. God wants us to see Him as our Father. And from our parental relationship with Him, God wants to meet our needs, to answer our prayers. And our answers will come as you and I see God as El Roi, as our very own Father in heaven, Who loves and cares for us, Who sees, and Who wants us to connect with Him through the name of His only Son, Jesus Christ.

Let's take a quick but closer look at John 16:24. Notice again the reason for answered prayer is "that your joy may be full." The Greek word John used for joy is chara, which means calm delight, the cause or occasion for joy, or exceeding gladness. It emphasizes the abiding permanence of joy.

Pleroo, the Greek word for full, means to fill to the full; to make complete in every way; to bring to realization; to cause God's will and promises to receive fulfillment. Pleroo is also found in John 15:11 and I John 1:4.

Consider also that the Greek word for ask implies a continuous state of asking! And remember that Jesus, in John 15, had just revealed our necessary state of abiding in Him, a living, constant, unbroken relationship where we remain fixed in Christ. Through union with Him, we take our needs to God, those needs that our Father already sees and understands, and we ask for divine intervention in the name of Jesus.
And the God Who sees us and the God Who hears us is the God Who answers us. He answers that we remain in a constant condition of calm contentment. He answers that in the middle of a mess, in the context of need, we can have delight, contentment, peace, joy. Our imperfect, fleshly life can have perfected joy through the Holy Spirit.

Joy is ours to realize. It is ours to ask. Christ is ours for abiding. Yes, simply asking, just pouring out our hearts to our Savior, to our God, will bring us joy complete. For our asking is our faith in action when Jesus is our vine and we one with Him.

As I close this post, I am asking myself, "Andrea, why in this world would you ever doubt The-God-Who-Sees? Why should you ever use God as a spare tire(please see quote at post's end)? Why do you sometimes delay asking when God desires you have delight?"

My friend, God longs for the melodious sound of your voice. Yes, your cry to Him is like my grandma's were to me. Sweet harmony. Yours is the voice of His beloved. And your rejoicing is the overflowing completeness of His kingdom revealed in you. Right now, God's hands are extended to you. In them he holds your joy.

JUST FOR US TO PONDER. . .
All of us have a measure of faith given to us by God. How much faith does it take to receive not only salvation, but the fulfillment of joy?

How do you, in your walk with God, reach a level of prayer that leads to completion of joy?

What specific times in your life do you remember abiding joy?

Hagar said that the Lord was to her ""the God Who sees me" (Genesis 16:13). Have you ever experienced such helplessness as Hagar did and in your despair, been blessed by the presence and intervention of El Roi?


"Is God your steering wheel or your spare tire?"

Corrie Ten Boom
Research is from e-sword.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

COLLISION!


"Faith isn't the ability to believe long and far into the misty future. It's simply taking God at His Word and taking the next step."

Joni Eareckson Tada

Just ten days ago, my husband and I returned from Springfield, Missouri, where we spent several days with our younger son, Chris, who was hospitalized. A late afternoon phone call had turned a typical Wednesday into flurry. The following morning, we rushed to Missouri, not knowing what illness had gripped Chris's life. His symptoms were intense and confusing to us and the doctors. And for some time, the culprit remained a mystery. Accordingly, the enemy worked his work of fear, speaking untruths to our minds.

Many stormed heaven on Chris's behalf! The prayers of saints poured into the throne room! God's people prayed! And Chris improved. Glory to God!!! (The doctors told Chris just two days ago he tested positive for salmonella. More tests are pending, and we believe, know, Chris will be 100% healthy!)

We left Springfield once Chris was home and stabilized. As we travelled back to Alabama, we were met by a car that swerved into our lane. Jeff and I gasped, inhaled, spoke the name of Jesus. My husband had just enough room and time to move to the right, avoiding a tragedy for our family.

Arriving home about 10:00 Monday evening, I unpacked our suitcases, while Jeff went to Ruby Tuesday's to get us a salad. We ate, watched a little television, and got ready for bed. Our phone rang early Tuesday morning. You've had those phone calls. The ones that feel important when you hear the first ring. I had just awakened, but was still in bed. Jeff was in the kitchen making coffee, and he answered the phone. Five minutes later he came into the bedroom and announced that a dear friend had, in the night, left his mortal body to join the Lord. It was sudden death. Unexpected. A shock.
Danny's death was a blow to his family and all who knew him. He was a vibrant, fifty-seven year old man, who made everyone who knew him feel a little more special after leaving his presence. My husband and I stood in line at the funeral home two hours before we were able to greet the family. Danny was much loved.
Ten minutes after arriving home from the visitation, my phone rang. Seeing it was my sister, and knowing a late evening phone call from her was rare, I answered with concern and immediately heard the stress in her voice. "I hit a deer on my way home from work tonight. I think my car is totaled."
My sister, Nancy, was OK, but the pressing thought of a near-missed tragedy bore its truth through my heart like a laser. Later, we learned Nancy's life was spared because the deer did not go through her windshield. Our family praises God, and deems my sister's survival a miracle. Angels were near, and saved us from overwhelming grief. My dear friends, I am not sharing these incidents out of fear. I am not sharing out of depression or anxiety about the future. I am certainly not sharing to gain pity or to manipulate emotions. I am sharing because of reality. The reality of our faith! The reality of our lives! That our fleshly tabernacles are simply housing our souls, which can depart this world in a matter of seconds. With no warning. With no control of ours or others. With no choice of life or death.

And such stark reality brings home a collision of faith and flesh. Recent circumstances have brought me face to face with self. I have looked. Searched. Questioned. Pondered and wondered my faith, its strength and its weakness. Looked in the eyes of uncertainty and realized the shaky state it can bring. Realized the only certain situation in this mortal life is uncertainty itself.

Collision of faith and flesh is stunning. It is gritty reality right in your face. It can be quite rude and ugly. Its abruptness raises personal inspection, a microscopic look of survival faith, that part of your life in God that is left when living gives you less than best, or worse that worst.

A simple knowledge of God, dear friends, is not breath enough for survival faith. No, survival faith, the shattered remains from collision of faith and flesh, must have something more. Deep roots, fertile soil, good water, tender care. A divine taproot that glues faith fibers together, so that no tugging, pulling, or digging can transplant or destroy our life in God.

Greater than physical life and greater than human emotions, survival faith is staying strength. Our lives are fragile. Tender. Always changing. In a moment's notice or less, our world can turn upside down. Stability turn to chaos. Joy become sorrow. Love lead to loss.
But for the taproot of Jesus Christ, our faith would be vague in those moments. Without Him, we would stumble in our darkened rooms for faith's failing glow.
Yet, there is no stumbling, when our taproot is strong. Jesus is divine light and strength. He is our intercessor. He is our peace. Our comforter. Deliverer. Friend. The I Am Who is more sure, more certain, than every uncertainty. The Faithful, Changeless One Who remains in our faithless, vague moments.

I desire divine light and life. I am praying God will purify my faith. To be honest, it's an intimidating prayer. I fear what testing it may bring, but the silent alternative will only give stagnation: a state of inactivity; still waters, without current or circulation. What an unbearable thought of compromised Christianity! No, I must choose to venture into deep waters with God.

I don't want to be stale, my dear friends. I want, need, must have living water that mightily flows through my spirit. I crave a river of God that sanctifies and changes who I am. Not only for myself, but for my husband, my children, grandchildren, family, church, and friends. And most of all, for the glory of God! That God would be glorified in my life in all things! That in everything I do others would see less of me and more of Jesus!
Many have chosen deep waters. So many saints have had devastating, life-changing collisions, not just potential traumas, with faith and flesh. So many servants of God have given all they have for the kingdom. Their stamina of faith puts me to shame! Their lives of victory challenge my life of less! Their belief in God for great things proves my life simple. Their joy in trials gives me hope, however, for pure faith!

May the Lord give us grace to allow Him to take survival faith and multiply its seed. With joy, let's pray to grasp Christ's hand and trust Him as He leads to deep waters, though their isolation and profoundness overwhelm us. May every challenge in life send us to the mirror; to see reality of flesh; to face the truth of human inability; to turn to a limitless God; to hope in the Hope of our salvation; to trust in His name, El Roi, the Responder to needs; to take Christ's hand and believe His leadership as best, even if He guides to deep waters. Even if faith and flesh collide!

Heavenly Father, please help me to learn complete trust in you. It is a process, dear Lord, and I must yield to its work in my life. May I, in faith, take your hand, in all situations, and walk with you to deep waters. In Jesus' name, Amen.

*When thinking of those whose faith has survived truly amazing challenges, I am reminded of Paul, Abraham, Joseph, Daniel, and so many others in the Bible. I also think of Elisabeth Elliot, Corrie Ten Boom, and Catherine Marshal, and Amy Carmichael. And then there are those so closely connected, whose everyday personal lives are overwhelmed with the need for survival faith. I have seen many here on blogger, whose lives are beautiful testimonies of God's amazing grace and His ability to carry us when faith and flesh collide.

When you think of survival faith, whose life most influences you? Perhaps it is one from God's word, or another saint from history, a contemporary individual, even someone you personally know.


*Research and scripture are from www.thefreedictionary.com and www.biblegateway.com




Thursday, October 15, 2009

SWEET SHOP



"Memory... is the diary that we all carry about with us."


Oscar Wilde, "The Importance of Being Earnest"

Pressing my nose against the glass, I glared at the plenty. Their presence was within arm's reach, yet untouchable through the clear, clean shield. Chocolates, pastries, cakes, candies, pies, rolls. All looked divinely created. The scent, undaunted by the glass case, seemed from heaven. The dream of taking home such sweets surged through my eight year old imagination. Jubilation!

As I peered through the glass, my heart pounded for the passing pleasure of a chocolate eclair. My favorite. And my father's. Thankfully. So, anytime a shopping trip to Rich's department store in Atlanta was deemed by my mother as a definite Saturday diversion, I knew my father would, just before leaving, stop by the store bakery and reward us for our patience and fortitude.

I loved inhaling that distinct scent that wafted through the white bakery box. I could not wait to get home, where Daddy and I would sit and enjoy our eclairs together. The taste of the chocolate icing and the flaky, fresh crust is now lodged in my temporal lobe. It seems unforgettable. Which explains my undeniable weakness for pastries, which I must presently curb, when possible.

We all have those special sweet shop memories. The delights of dining, feasting, on our favorite confection. Their tacky presence in our brains brings us blessing when we ponder their unique flavor and unforgettable smell.

We are designed, wired, by our Creator, to remember. To not forget. To absorb our experiences. To take in our perceptions. To have them unite and form in our fleshly tabernacles attitude and purpose.

Attitude of self. Of life. Of others. Of God.

Purpose. Of being. Of belonging. Of reason.

Attitude and purpose. Joined together. Come from a lifetime of moments.

Here it is that our personal "what if's" begin. What if our memories, unlike those from the Rich's bakery, are not so sweet? What if our memories are full of pain, sorrow, suffering, confusion, hurt, abuse? What if our memories hold armfuls of choice words that still echo, making us cringe, condemned, holding us prisoner in a cataclysmic state? What if our memories are our own private world of pain?

In Biblical history, one suffered such a private world. His life was an epitome of Jewish zeal and perfection. A Pharisee of Pharisees. A leader of leaders. A man setting the example for God's chosen people.

Until, . . . that bright and shining moment shocked suddenly, and his world was struck down. And destroyed. Completely vanished. Everything. Except the memories.

The Apostle Paul was never the same after his trip on the Damascus Road. He had seen Jesus. Heard Him. Believed Him. Knew the Lord's forgiveness.

And the greatest persecutor of the church of the living God was never the same again. Saul turned. Walked away. Became Paul. And our world has never been the same again.

What great doctrine, what inspired words of the Holy Spirit spoke through Paul, as he penned most of the books of the New Testament.

Yet, in Paul's still moments, agony collided with joy. Memories clung. Past sin collided with present grace. The sights and sounds of stonings, tortures, floggings of the innocent remained. Echoed. Resounded. Stood.

And were it not for Paul's great walk with God, the Apostle could have crumbled under the stress of his past.

But, . . .

God had not only saved Paul's life from sin and chaos, but also, Christ had brought healing to his harrowed mind. And though Satan longed to hold Paul in condemnation and suppress his new voice, a voice that proclaimed the gospel of Jesus Christ, Paul, through grace, found victory. Vicious memories the enemy meant for death, God used for life.

In Romans 8:1-2 Paul wrote, "So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death." Paul knew the sanctifying power of salvation. Utter cleansing. Total healing. Real life.

And though the struggle and power of distressing memories were troubling, the power of Christ stood greater against their chained voices, giving Paul the liberty to proclaim, "Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us" (Philippians 3:13-14).

Sour became sweet. Grief turned peace. For Paul. For us. For we, too, deal with anguish. With the not-so-nice thoughts of our pasts. Whether we have a few unpleasant experiences, or whether our lives were, or perhaps are, full of chaos and abuse, God is able, my dear friends, to heal. The Prince of Peace can reach your heart today, right where you are, and give you joy despite the many sorrows you carry.

I have carried sorrows. My own dear father, with whom I shared eclairs, who taught me to tie my shoes, who took me to church, whose arms made me safe, whose love I knew, passed away when I was twelve. My loss sent me into a spiral of confusion and pain.

Dear friends, I am nothing but a product of God's grace. Of Christ's life-giving, nail-scarred hand that reaches down to the deepest grief and need and pulls the undeserving out of a vicious pit. How thankful I am to know Jesus! I can write not because of personal resilience. No, I write because of the work of Christ in my life!


And if today you are carrying sorrow, aching memories; if now your soul is troubled by past sin, old grief, recurring regrets, know this: God does not respect one person above another. What He has done for me and so many others, He will most surely do for you. The grace God gave to the Apostle Paul can also be yours. "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever" (Hebrews 13:8).


Turn your eyes to Christ. Give your whole self to Him. Let God be the God of your past, present, and future. You, my dear friend, will never be the same again.



Wednesday, October 07, 2009

GOD HAS A TREE


“God will not permit any troubles to come upon us, unless He has a specific plan by which great blessing can come out of the difficulty.”

Peter MarshallThe soft glow of light came through a single window. Though faintly seen, it gave relief. I was tired and eager for a soft bed, but my heart leaped with excitement to see the gleam of a lamp through the panes. A rush of anticipation seized my thoughts. To walk to the door. To tap on its hard wood. To hear its familiar creak as it widely opened. To see my mother's small frame standing in her tiny kitchen. To hug her neck and see her rejoice as she held her our little sons. To walk in and inhale the purity of a place that alone could feel so safe and smell so unmistakably distinct. To be home.

Through our early years of long distance living, the same scenario played again and again. Jeff and I would plan the day. We would set a leaving time, a particular hour, and anxiously await departure like two wrens perched two minutes from dawn.

It was a joyful time of forward thinking and living! The hope of soon-to-come distilled our loneliness and added life to our lives. Yes, we had our own sweet nest, which we so loved. And our call to the ministry was without regret. The sacrifice of nearness of extended family was ours to make, and we did so willingly, by God's grace, with joy, and in peace.

But how grateful we were for those few moments of the special soothing presence of mothers, grandmothers, brothers, and sisters and others. It was ease and removal of pain for two young lives who had come to know the grief and stress of bearing God's call; for while our baptism of ministry fire had brought new mothers, and brothers, and sisters, it had also brought new knowledge of the ways and means and labor in God's vineyard. That some well-meaning or not so well-meaning people say and do hurtful things.

We soon came to realize that such was part of our sacrifice. That if God so allowed bitter words, He was only using them for a sweet purpose. And that the cross was our only hope for removing the stinging acid that could eat away our souls.

No one enjoys the thought of drinking from Marah. God's chosen people were dismayed and murmured against Moses when a three-day journey in the desert brought them to that bitter place. Thirsty, dry, exhausted, they discovered waters that seemed an oasis but were quickly declared sour. It may have seemed to them a cruel gesture. They must have hastily remembered the sweet waters of the Nile, widely known for its pleasant, smooth taste.

And the Israelites didn't waste a moment. Their complaints about Moses' leadership were vociferous. "'What are we going to drink?' they demanded."

He didn't know. Didn't have a clue. But, Moses turned to God. He realized his helplessness. The wilderness life was new to him, too. And Moses knew the company was too tired to continue. There was no other source. BUT GOD!

In response, in faith, Moses, lifted his voice to the Lord, and God heard him and showed him a piece of wood, a tree. Moses threw the wood into the water, and the molecules of the bitter were altered. It became sweet, drinkable liquid, perfect H2O. And their thirsty, parched bodies were satisfied.

Now, I have to confess to you that I can feel no judgement toward the Israelites when I read Exodus chapter 15. I am not sure I would have responded any other way than they. No, it's not very spiritual, but had I and my family been without water in a vast nomad's land for three days, my patience would have been thin. In my thirst and desperation, I, too, would probably have cried and complained. I can only hope and pray that I would have ultimately lifted my soul to God as my source.

A sermon by Charles Haddon Spurgeon speaks to our need to always realize God as our source. And, within that sermon, his remarks about Marah are so timely for us. He talks about the humanness of the Israelites and their struggle with the flesh, their failure to have faith in Him who had just delivered them from the power of the Red Sea.

Yet, Spurgeon also speaks of our deeper need for grace in trials. For the necessary of sweet in bitter. The voice of wisdom while waiting. The lifted hands of faith in a dry place. The source of hope that turns troubled waters into palatable drink.

We must have a flow of the living liquid of life. We must all spiritually survive. But when bitterness challenges us, when words of others pierce our hearts; when we have financial loss; when there's little money for the doctor and nothing in our bank account for medicine; when we see the tread showing on our tires and our children need new shoes; when God in silence dwells; when drained from ministry; when a sudden shock wave collapses the world around us; it is at these points of testing we most need the cross of Jesus. We must cry to God to show us sweet wood.

As I read the thoughts of Spurgeon about Marah, I found his words so compelling. "As soon as we have a prayer God has a remedy. The remedy is near at hand; but we do not perceive it till it is shown us. 'The Lord showed [Moses] a tree.' The tree had been growing for years on purpose to be used. God has a remedy for all our troubles before they happen to us."

Praise God! Rejoice in those words! They are not just for his 1871 listeners, but they are for you today! God has grown wood for you, dear friend. Its sweetness is there, and your faith, your precious voice lifted to Him in prayer will reveal its place and purpose.

That God would so plan our steps amazes me! We have a heavenly Father who allows our trials and in His omniscience sees our future desert places. In seeing, God plans. Makes our ways of escape. Personally, in forethought, God plans our paths of deliverance. He plants the seeds for our pieces of wood. God, dear ones, crafts our destiny.

It is all set in order. And when our Marah moments come, our desperate disposition leads us to choice. Die from despair, drink the bitter before us, or cry to God with every ounce of energy and faith we have and wait for his tree.

Be encouraged today, dear friends. If a vast, dry desert has led you to Marah, do not give up. Do not despair. Do not give in. God has a tree. He grew it for you. For this time. For His purpose. For your good. Accept it. Place it in your bitter water. Then drink its life. It will heal your soul. Dry your tears. Soothe your weary voice. And make alive your desert place, so your way is perfect.

Quote from C.H. Spurgeon from biblebb.com
Scripture reference in Exodus 15 is from NLT.