Thursday, November 18, 2010

BREATHE ON PURPOSE

This season lingers with whispers of His grace.

The massive tree ten steps from my picture window has now shed most of its leaves. The tree top is green and gold. The lower part is sparse with golden, withering growth, and as I watch the wind gently blow through the oak's branches, the golds, piece by piece, fall gracefully eastward. The new fallen leaves then waltz in the cool, November air, looking to nest on our ground. They seem to seek for rest from their shady work, while they wait to be cured and carried away.

I love to watch their descent. I love to walk in the dead leaves and enjoy their crunchy texture and think of the hope they give. 

Hope?

Yes. My falling and fallen leaves speak of a forward glance. They make me think of Thanksgiving, Christmas, a new year, and even a spring to come. The death of an old season gives me pause, as I anticipate celebration with family and build expectation of new life in a season to be born.

Yes. Fall gives me pause, an intermission, a tarrying, a choice time of lingering, a restful breath, a temporal stay from past activity.

Author Eudora Welty spoke of a pause as a slowing down, "like a merry-go-round after a ride." I can relate to her metaphor. As a child, I loved a merry-go-round, and if given a chance, I would still love to step onto the huge turntable and pick my seat, hoping for a carriage, where I could sit and enjoy riding and watching.

I would hate for the ride to end, but the slowing down before its stop would pull my heart and head into balanced reality.

Balanced reality. Restful waitings. Temporary stays. Intentional breathings.

When placed together, those four phrases sound very enticing.  In imagination their ideas resonate with desire.  In reality, they are met with resistant pleas.

They are, nonetheless, part of our Father's pattern for Christian existence. 

God's word is full of intentional breathings.  Thank of Jacob's fourteen year wait for Rachel; Joseph's three year wait in prison; Jonah's three-day stay within the fish's belly; Jesus' three-day wait on Resurrection power; the disciples 120-day wait in the Upper Room, and our Father's sovereign choice to rest one day after His six days of creating the world.

Jesus spoke about the need for restful waits. His words to His disciples when they were weary from ministry anchor my soul. Listen to His authoritative, compassionate plea, as Jesus speaks of the need for pause:

"Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest" (Mark 6:31, ESV).

Receive those words for your life. Not only were they spoken for Jesus' disciples over two thousand years ago, but Jesus speaks them for us now. In my mind, I can hear His compassionate, Shepherd's voice. It is so personal and caring. Its gentleness breaks my soul in pieces. To grasp His loving reach is so humbling.

Yet, I sometimes tire in my grasp. Have you ever prayed with tired arms? "Father, I know you love me. I need you. I can't live without you, but my soul is weighed down with __________________. I long to reach back, to let the power of your love soak my dryness. Help me rest and believe."


The Greek word Jesus uses for rest in Mark 6:31 is anapauo (an-ap-ow-o), which means to cause or permit one to cease from any movement or labor in order to recover and collect his strength; to refresh; to give one’s self rest; to keep quiet; to be calm and have patient expectation.

Some seasons of our lives feel like a movie stuck on pause. Can anyone relate?  The seeming suspension of time is frustrating and discouraging. The sense of stillness is unnatural to our flesh and makes us question our purpose and future. The craving for rest is powerful, but seems beyond reach. Isn't it ironic that the simplicity of ceasing can be such a war for us?

The craving of resting in Christ vs. the desire to find our own way is an exhausting fight, and it's a war we cannot win on our own. A lot of things may help, but only One can deliver. Only Jesus' strength is perfected in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Take time for breathing. Yield to Christ's call. Create a place for some restful waiting. Let Jesus' words give life and healing as you choose to be in His presence.

He speaks. He offers rest. He extends renewal.

As falling leaves prepare my tree for a new season, so God's pauses in our lives prepare our souls for fresh grace. Rest is not a delay of God's best. It is part of His best. And, friend, for spiritual wholeness, it's really not an option.

Take His hand and go with Him. By yourself. Find a quiet place and rest your soul in the strong arms of your Father.

Waiting and Expecting,

Friday, October 22, 2010

KEEP TIGHT IN CHRIST


Patience can be defined as the tolerance of delay.
from thefreedictionary.com
We imagined an easily accomplished afternoon.  A visit to the allergist.  A visit to the bank.  Other errands, and caring for our granddaughters.  Our one vehicle requires careful planning of our days.  Last Tuesday's needs created opportunity for Jeff and I to juggle a busy schedule.

With two girls in tow, safely attached to their car seats, Jeff would drop me by the doctor; then, he would go the bank, finish the errands, and take the children home.  I would call him on my cell when my appointment was done.  It seemed so easily managed.   

And so it was easy until I walked out of my doctor's office, picked up the phone, dialed home, and received a "cannot complete your call now; please try again later" message.  "OK," I thought.  "I must not have a good signal inside the building.  I'll step outside and call."

Same number.  Same message.  Same problem.  I couldn't get through.  I tried again.  And, again.  And, again.   

I scanned my phone for numbers.  Maybe someone else could get through.  I found my brother's number and gave him a call.  He phoned my home number and called me back.  "Andrea, I'm getting a busy signal."

I scanned my phone for my son, Steven's, work number.  He proved very difficult to reach, but after a long while, I got through to him.  He tried to call his dad and got the same "Your call cannot be completed" message.  Steven would see what he could do to help me and call me back.

I was stranded for now. 

I stood outside the beautiful brick building, its four columns gracing a covered portico, which gave me shade.  The afternoon was very warm but not hot, and a light breeze occasionally lifted its gentle presence across my face. 

I remembered a hair clip was in my purse, so I dug through the depths of pictures, eyeglasses, papers, book, pens, mints, and everything else and found the clip at the bottom, took it, and put up my hair. 

I ignored the looks of the passersby, who were going in and out of the doctors' building. 

I waited.   

I thought of walking the three miles home.  "If only I hadn't worn these shoes with heals.  (They were only two inches, but for me may as well been five.)  Why didn't I wear my cushy, black sandals?"

I waited. 

I thought of how my patience span was much less elastic than it had been an hour before. 

My cell rang.  It was Steven, who said he couldn't leave his job at present, but was sending someone to take me home. 

I waited.  Longer.  And longer, still. 

A new problem began to grow in my soul.  I felt an urgent choice arise within, as on one hand my flesh begged for permission to be angry, and on the other hand my spirit remembered words hidden in my heart.

I breathed, and prayed.  "Father my days were all written in your book before I was conceived.  Help me, Lord, to hear you here, in this place, in my now.  Holy Spirit, help me to rest in you.  To be patient.  To do what pleases you.  To see in you in this frustrating, passing moment."

Minutes later, still alone, my son called with news that my deliverer was lost.  I walked in front of the building and found the address number, so he could call my rescuer and give her clearer directions.  Yes, I am one of those people who just might forget to include an address with directions, but please remember my Father loves me anyway.

Several minutes later, a lovely young girl named Stephanie pulled up in front of me.  "Are you Steven's mom?"

"Yes!" which was said with a huge, huge, huge sigh of relief.

Realizing my new friend needed gas in her car, I asked her to stop so I could bless her for blessing me.  Afterwards, we spoke of her children and the difficulties of being a young mom.

Stephanie glanced at me.  "You're different than I thought you would be.  I was afraid you would be mad after waiting all that time, especially when I couldn't find you."

Feeling very humbled by her candor, I told her I was so thankful she could help me and I was in no way mad at her or anyone else.

We parted with a connection and a God-placed nearness.  I knew she wasn't a Christian, and though I hadn't won her to Jesus, a seed was planted.

That seed was placed in her soil because the Lord had given me grace to keep tight in Christ. In my weakness, He gave me strength to make the choice to "Be still, and know" that He is God (Psalm 46:10).
I wish I had a picture to share of my dear Jeff's shocked face when he opened the door to find me standing there, my face red from stress and warmth and my hair plopped on my head like mashed potatoes on a plate.

"What in the world?"  he asked, as he and Olivia and Ella stood gazing at me in awe.

I explained it all.  He picked up the phone to find our service was down.  A few phone calls later found us with a new provider for our landline.   I love my husband!

And, I love You, Lord!  What a wonderful friend and shepherd You are!  Because of Your grace, I could keep tight.  Because your word was fire in my heart and hope in my soul, Stephanie could wonder why I was not angry and rude.

My son shared the whys with Stephanie when she arrived safely back to her job.  And, I pray God will nurture the tiny, tender seed in her heart with His great love.

I wondered later:  "Why didn't I call directory assistance and get a taxi?"  Sometimes being a little dull around the edges is a useful tool in God's hands. Truly, His grace is functional in everything great and all things small.

Friends, keep tight in Christ,

Friday, October 01, 2010

HE WALKED THE WAY


Summer is gone!  I am not saddened by its disappearance because I do not like hot weather, and I loathe humidity.  What a relief it is for this southern girl to awake to crisp, breathable air each morning! 

The cool air and colorful strength of fall means more than breathable, physical change.  It speaks of a transition time that holds new meaning and purpose.  It begins a journey toward celebration of harvest festivals, Thanksgiving, and the birth of Jesus.

This current fall morning, our forward journey includes the continuing story of the November 2009 fire we had in our home.  I would have never believed it possible!  Who would have known that we would still be in the throes of it all?  Yet, God's good has walked with us and will walk with us through fine details that will be completed.  Through God's grace, we will finish our climb to the mountain above us and look down at the smoky valley with God-enpowered vision. 

What a faithful God we serve!  I could not have walked this way without His presence!  Sometimes Jeff and I pause to question the process of what seems a year of our lives lost to an explosive second.  Yet, God's grace immediately interrupts our pauses, speaking peace, speaking patience, speaking hope, speaking faith, and speaking the reality of what could have been true disaster.

I share a story this fall 2010 morning because of divine intervention.  Sweet Olivia, my three year old granddaughter, was spared injury and possible death from the explosion simply because she didn't want to leave Mimi's house an autumn afternoon in 2009.  If you're not familiar with the story, you can read about it here:  http://aparsonswife.blogspot.com/2009/11/fearful-sound.html

Olivia and her younger sister Ella spent some time with me Tuesday.  While a frozen pizza baked in the oven, we all snuggled up on the daybed in our little walk-through bedroom.  I love cuddle time with my grands and take advantage of every cuddle opportunity.

I was whispering "I love you" in their wee ears when Olivia suddenly lighted from my arms, walked to the bookshelf, and brought me a book.  I saw that it was The Wind in the Willows, a classic that will be fun to share with my grandchildren when they are a little older.  Expecting to read a bit from her choice, I was surprised when she said, "I want to read you a story, Mimi."  Of course, she cannot read, but as any three year old, she wants to believe she can, and I humored her pretension.

"Okay," I said, with no reservations, yet having no clue that God had shown up with a blessing prepared for us.

Olivia entitled the book He Walked the Way.  In hearing those words, I knew our cuddle time was going to be more than our usual grandmother-granddaughters bonding.  It would be a bonding session with Jesus.  God had chosen to sweeten my current fall morning with a real message about real life and real values.  With each of the page, Olivia "read."  I'll share with you her story.

"Jesus had a cross....He had a cross.  He walked the way....He walked the way for Livvy....He walked the way for Mimi....He walked the way for Ella....He walked the way for Papa....He walked the way for Bubba....He walked the way for Mommy and Daddy....He walked the way.  Amen."

Jesus walked the way.  Truth spoken from the lips of one too young to fully grasp her words entwined its beautiful vine around my heart! 

Those words are the summation of our faith.  Isn't His walking the beginning and ending of all our experiences?  Don't the lines in the sandy soil that led to Golgotha's Hill mark every conscious decision of our lives?  Don't the images of Jesus' compassion and his sweat and blood and suffering give us faith that makes us stand when our world is rocked or turned upside-down?  Doesn't his resurrection give us hope that is not tied to temporal things?  Doesn't the vision he gives us reveal the true meaning of living?  

Yes, He walked the way.  He walked a way that was scorched with pain of every kind, so I can walk freely in the Spirit.  Thank you, Abba Father, that you sacrificed your only Son for me, for my family, for everyone of us.  

Jesus walked the way for our freedom, so that we can have salvation, freedom, joy, peace, leadership, deliverance, healing, and so much more.

Whatever your journey requires, Jesus has surveyed your steps.  He has walked your way.  He knows your way.  He is the Shepherd that leads you on your way and will carry you when paths are too rough for your treading.

I love passing Olivia's story on to you!  Rejoice!  You do not have to fear!  You are not alone and never will be!  He has walked, is walking, and will walk your way!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Your Shepherd's Calling . . .


"The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want . . ."  Psalm 23 must have been one of the first scriptures I ever learned because I cannot remember not knowing it.  And as long as I've known it, I have loved it.  To embrace the impassioned, ocean-deep words of David's soul is comforting.  His heart's voice is like a balm, still giving life after 3000 years with God-breathed language. 

I have lately been pondering Psalm 23.  Something about a valley walk makes their message even more life-giving.  Something about living around shadows, of the need to feast in the presence of trials, of the desperate, exhaustive search for peaceful rest and restoration, lifts Psalm 23 from comforting to miraculous.

Dwelling in the pastures of the 23rd Psalm is drinking from an endless well of calming waters.  Who does not need that today?  I cannot imagine a 21st century Christian who is exempt from the harshness and desert-like terrain of our society.  Most of us live on the fringes of a spiritual heat stroke or wilderness dehydration, and sometimes we are so busy caring for others we don't even hear our own soul's pleas for help.

But, if we stop, simply pause, and listen, if we pull aside and face our exhaustion and fears, if we grasp courage and let the Holy Spirit whisper in our ears, we will let go of our busyness for a time and know our need.  We will see, with godly vision, our real selves, not just the smoke screen that is created with the environments of life.  And seeing with godly vision creates a desire to find the still waters of which David wrote.

In my own seeking, I've been thinking about Elijah.  The prolific Old Testament prophet surely walked close to death and lived in the presence of his enemies.  He expended himself in gut-wrenching ministry.  Elijah prophesied drought for Israel for their embracing of other gods; he ran from the wicked, murderous schemes of Ahab and Jezebel; in obedience to God, he proved to Israel the folly of their idol worship by building a water-drenched altar where Yahweh showed up with His fire and was once again proclaimed the One, true God; Elijah ordered the killing of 450 priests of Baal; he then ran for his life from Jezebel's vow to kill him.  No wonder Elijah became so exhausted that all he could do was sit under a Juniper tree and be nourished by angels.  Empty, exhausted, and depressed, the Prophet needed divine intervention.  Regaining strength, Elijah travelled forty days and nights and finally hid in a cave, and perhaps we might think of that lonely, dark, empty place as the cleft of a rock.  Yes, a cave carved by our Creator for Elijah's need.

We all know the story well.  God showed up again.  This time He was there to prove Himself to Elijah.  Yahweh spoke.  Not in the wind, an earthquake, or a fire, but in a "still, small voice."  The original Hebrew words that describe God's "still, small voice" tell us much about our loving Shepherd.  Their meanings are calm, whispering, very thin, light, peaceful.  A heroic, but fragile Elijah needed a tender Shepherd's voice to speak to his wounded, broken, fearful soul.

Sweet friends, aren't you glad that your God knows you through and through and calls you by name?  Not only does He call you by name, but God also knows how to call you and from where to call you.  He knows the very tone to use and the providential echo that will capture your focus. 

The same Shepherd to David and Elijah is your Shepherd this moment.  He is where you are.  He is what you need. He your NOW God!

Working mom,  Jesus is your path to a quiet place.  Stay at home mom, His green pastures will feed your soul and give you strength and resources to care for your family.  Empty-nester, your lonely spaces will overflow with His joy.  Grandmother, pray in confidence for your children and grandchildren, for you do not have to fear evil.  Weary servant, listen for your Lover's voice, as He whispers truth.

In my quiet time this morning, God led me to one of my favorite scriptures:  Lamentations 3:22-23.  "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."  What a great beginning for this day and everyday of my life and your life!!!  To grasp the reality of God's love, compassion, mercy, and faithfulness is everything we need for every circumstance.

Hang onto His truth.  Praise Him for all the good He's shows you.  Cling to His word and love with all you have, and keep these verses from Lamentations before you, for through their reality in your own world, you will not lack.  You will not be in want.

God is good.  I am overwhelmed with thankfulness for His merciful nature.  Our Yahweh is a giving God.  He is our personal Shepherd, who guides us lovingly through our lives.

Trust in His staff and rod now.  Yield to His boundaries.  Yield to His complete knowledge.  Yield to His hand.  Yield to His tender voice.

I love you, friends.








*NIV scripture references

Friday, July 23, 2010

HOME


Dear Sweet Friends,

 I have not left blogging or lost my heart for you.  On the contrary, you are always on my heart.  My scarceness in the blogging world results from overwhelming tasks and honest exhaustion.  Be assured of my thoughts, prayers, and love for you, as I reestablish my home and try to recover.  I pray Philippians 4:19 for all of you, knowing that our Father God sees you and loves you and longs to be your everything in every situation of your lives.  

Your Heart-Partner in Jesus,

Andrea 

With a deep breath, and unabashed thanksgiving, I can proclaim that we have returned to our home.  Yes, after eight months of separation from our own small piece of earth and earthly possessions, Jeff and I have crossed one major hurdle in this current race.  I never expected our extended itineration from personal property.  Yet, God in his sovereignty, knew and chose that we have that separation and return. 

And, as you know, anything God allows, anything He touches, He makes good.  For, "we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28, NKJV).  Years ago, I heard Elisabeth Elliot, with her precious voice of humility, talk about the "good" in that verse.  She said that it is not a particular state of happiness spawned by circumstances.  The good, Elisabeth said in her wise way, is that God, with omniscient, Fatherly vision, does what is for our best.  Our best is that which is for our eternal good, whatever draws us nearer to God's heart, whatever conforms us to the image of Jesus Christ. 

His desire for our good is the condition behind all our personal trials.  God views and weighs the pain, the process, and results:  physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and eternal.    

In light of God's complete vision, He ordains and allows the events of our lives, for He knows what will purge us, renew us, and conform us to the image of Jesus.  Because of God's grace and his Fatherly good, I can work through all the moments of November 8, 2009, the process of the fire, and the outcome, which is yet to be known.   

Speaking truthfully, it has been very difficult to deal with the memories of the fire:  watching my home in flames and my grandchildren scream in panic and cry with fear.  The aftermath of petroleum fumes hovering in our home and attaching to our things continues to linger, and the pain of not knowing the final results of our insurance claim, along with the sting of anger for insurance adjusters and contractors makes me lean the harder on God and His grace.  I stand in His grace and by faith alone as I try to grasp the idea of loss and what ifs, and deal with many other issues that are always attached to trauma and major life events.

Attached to everything are true feelings that are very human.  But there is a divine issue greater than my human comprehension and fleshly experiences.  To find peace in all things earthly, in all things humanly spoken, I must complete my thoughts with two words:  but God.

But, God!

 I have always loved that two-word phrase that grammatically unqualifies as a sentence, but supernaturally qualifies as victory.  But, God made, makes, and is making all things new and all things good.  And just what the good of our experience is will be fully revealed in eternity, though yet even with my darkly glassed vision (1 Corinthians 13:12), some details are already tangible.

As I write, there remains a lot of physicality to our situation.  Don't mistake me.  I am thankful, ever so thankful for all God has done and brought us through.  My thankfulness, however, doesn't change the leftovers we now face.  Much is left to sort through.  If I fix my vision on the leftovers and see only the mess of it all, I will miss the miracle of God's ability to multiply His grace and provision. 

God is the faithful One, and One particular mighty provision lies amongst the chaotic condition of our home.  It is powerful and eternal.  It is exact and undeniable.  The voice of God, with the power of all His names, speaks through current disorder and pain.  Reigning above earthly mystery of things lost, piles of  dishes, clothes, books, papers, pictures, and other residuals is the presence of my Shepherd.  He speaks peace in this confusion.  I therefore do not just see eight months of pain and more months of stress and work, I hear the mind of One most holy, who alone understands and knows me and searches my heart and is working on my will and vision.

Thus far, my Father has chosen to share a few truths that have captivated my heart.  God has faced me down with all of them.  His words are very easy to accept in my mind, but my spirit is weak and battles, though self will not win, for I am locking in on that divine voice of reason.

One truth I will share with you now.   Perhaps it is the most prolific and the sum of all God's teaching sessions. 

That mighty truth is new eternal perspective.  Whatever my eyes see or my mind conceives is being framed with words that can comfort and heal, shatter and cleanse, or shake and refocus.

A chair is a chair.  It has a purpose.  It provides a place for one to sit.  If it is a beautiful piece, then I am thankful for its aesthetic gift, but its form and presence are a very simple part of my life and have nothing to do with my joy or quality of living.  Only God can give me joy.

And I may choose to receive joy in my life through things or through God.  If I receive joy through things, my life is based on what is only earthly valuable.  That choice makes for shaky faith and contentment that is very timid.

If I choose, however, to receive joy from my walk with God, my life is based on what is heavenly valuable.  What is heavenly valuable will never depreciate.  It will remain forever.  I therefore have no fear of loss, and my faith has firm foundation. 

Eternal perspective:  seeing through eyes that look for eternal purpose in all things, in all situations, in all trials, in all relationships, in all joys, in all of life.  It is a framing of grace only God can give, and I am finding it a process, not a photostatic change.

Thank you, Father God, for your patience.  It is your longsuffering that pilots us to our knees.  It is your grace that guides us so faithfully to eternal vision, for You know without it our conformity to Your Son is limited by our fleshly dreams. 

I love you, friends! 

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Mud Pies and Straw Castles


With hands stained orange from Georgia clay, I clasped rich soil.  The sweet ground most always was tough at first. But my sand bucket, shovel, old serving spoon, and outside spigot meant no problem. Adding water to a little well dug in the earth, I knelt and plunged heart and hands into the mix.

Dirty knees did not matter, much less little hands, bare feet, and nails all grimy due to digging and designing. I could not have cared less of summer heat then. Besides, I was shaded by dense wood that I thought reached the sky.

Taking curved fingers, I reached, scooped, held, turned, and shaped til the softened earth became round. I then flattened into little pies that made me proud and happy.

It was hard work for a young girl who found escape and childhood dreams in a backyard filled with great shade, climbing trees, pine straw, footpaths, and sounds of nature and neighbors near. It was deliverance from summer boredom. It was discovery. I felt I owned that yard of Georgia soil.

It was really my father's dirt, not mine. And yet, it did belong to me, for my dad always told me that what belonged to him and my mother was also mine.  And my delight in our land brought great joy to Daddy and Mama. They would watch from open windows and enjoy my imagination and their quiet.

My imagination never seemed to tire. When dusk settled in over Georgia sky, I heard my name and knew to leave my outdoor world and go to the spigot and wash. Later, a cast-iron tub, ivory soap, inside water, and prissy pajamas removed leftover play and welcomed my nights to paper dolls, books, and more pretend. Before I went to bed, Daddy would sometimes have to dig splinters from beneath my tender fingers that had used pine straw for imaginary walls in imaginary homes. I fell asleep with thoughts of old ground and new plans for the soil and make-believe world I so loved.

The soil never changed.  It was old ground that was always waiting on me. Even if I returned to it today and searched my childhood home, that old dirt would still be there. The earthy smell would remain as it did in the 1960's. I could probably find the same spigot, take a little water, get on hands and knees, and dig my childhood well and make mud pies and feel the red clay soften and conform to my desire.

And if I returned to my childhood yard and made mud pies again or built a straw house, I would most likely look around and ask the proverbial question, "Where did time go?"  At my new age of fifty-one, it is a question I ask often.  Wondering how years can fade so fast is the one not-so-soothing thought that, as my grandma used to say, reminds us most "things never stay the same." Things are always changing.

Now, at this point in my life, my questions of time are changing. Accepting the uncontrollable, my thoughts now veer from "Where has time gone?" to "What has time done?" "How has it changed me?" "What has experience done to my person, my walk with God, my relationships, my life?" "Am I a better person?" "Have I made my dirt conformable to the hands of my Digger-of-Wells?" "Is God really my Potter?"

"Do I let Him change my dirt to His desire?" "Who has designed my plans and my dreams?" "Are they His?" "Or am I still busy with my own mud pies and straw castles?"

It's a hard thing to leave your own life alone, to give all you have to Jesus. From an early age, we're used to making do and making up as we go along. We're taught the importance of potential. Of dreams. Of purpose. Of lending ear to self. Of living up to ideal best. Of setting sail to the world's winds. We are told by educators that we are the masters of our destinies.

For a Christian, the worldly philosophy of mastering one's own destiny brings conflict to the soul.  That conflict can even be war between the flesh and the spirit, as we strive against humanism and voices that plead for the salvation of personal choice over letting go and surrendering to God.  Perhaps the natural inner conflict of letting go of our own lives is one reason the Apostle Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 13:11-12.

"When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known."

As a child, Paul said he spent his time in childish things: his own imaginings, desires, designs, childlike behavior, talk, and dreams. But, when he became a man, a Spirit-filled, Christian man, Paul said he gave them all up for a greater cause. The greatest cause.

Paul did something that few of us accomplish as thoroughly as he did. He surrendered completely. He totally relinquished everything to Jesus Christ, the Savior, our Redeemer, our Rock, our Deliverer, the Lord of all. His life was absolutely centered in His Savior.  Paul's only cause and his reason for living was Jesus. Christ was the Apostle's motivation for planning, for dreaming, for loving, and for losing.

Holding nothing back, he solidly proclaimed, "For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21).

I like to envision this mighty warrior of God as he penned that bold truth about self death to the Philippians from his prison cell in Rome. As I try to grasp this great statesman of faith, I remember another proclamation of Paul's pen:

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you (2 Corinthians 4:8-9).

What does it take for death of self? I believe there is much individuality in the answer. We all have our own particulars that God sees - those things that are spoken between Abba Father and us.  But, regardless of the details, dying to self so that we can live in Christ is a process of pain and denial, one that requires God-supplied grace.

As the heat of summer 2010 burns its way into my real, now world, I yearn for God-supplied grace. I need denial. I need surrender. I need death. I want to forget about my "straw castles" and "mud pies" and let my Potter and Master Carpenter take my hands, my feet, my eyes, my ears, my lips, my world and form and shape them for His glory.

His holy hands are never far away.  They are always reaching, touching the depths of our hearts and far corners of our souls. They find things we didn't know before. His hands crush, dig, and make a well in our souls that only He can fill.  He pours water, works, and shapes. And though it may not all seem pleasant now, God's handiwork promises a forever bright future. And, here is how we know that truth:

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future" (Jeremiah 29:11).

Let's live that promise today! Take it personally!  It is yours!  Though the Potter's hands may challenge the world's view of living, and though at times we may feel pain, his hands will never harm. His hands are always for our good, and we can and must rejoice in that fact!!!

Seeking death and life in Jesus,

Friday, May 28, 2010

DAYBREAK


"We live by faith, not by sight."
2 Corinthians 5:7, NIV

Provincial:  adj.  Of or relating to a province; limited in perspective. 

The hardwoods in my home are being refinished.  My choice of stain color is called provincial.  It is a medium shade and the sample looks so right when placed by the fresh, neutral walls and white trim.  Imagining the contrast of the walls and floors and focusing on the look, feel, and smell of new is now turning impatience to anticipation.  I hope provincial and all preceding choices will bring out the best in our home.

When all the work in our home is complete, our little 1941 cottage will be quite a different kind of comfort than it was before the fire, which was last November.  You may read about it here.

What was once a quaint, crowded, space full of vintage finds will be a cheery home of light and life.  Soft colors of beige, cream, yellow, ivory, and white now grace the walls.  Happy hues are a turn from the bright gold, rose, and deep taupe we had before.  I chose light colors because my heart cried for anything that would lighten our life and lend oxygen for a new beginning. 

The shock of the sudden, involuntary transition the fire caused for Jeff and me still bears on our souls as the final, remaining reparations come to a close and we look toward returning home.  In the midst of it all, we are and have been in awe of God's faithful handiwork and peaceful presence.  God is amazing in his detailed weaving of our life threads.  What began seven months ago as shock is growing into surrender.  Seven months of struggle becomes weary.  Seven months of stress-survival tells truth.  Seven months of waiting sizes up a lifetime of seeing.  Seven months of seized self moves once thought needs to the only desired compartment of the soul. 

In biblical terms, scholars often say that seven is God's number of completion.  "By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work" (Genesis 2:2, NIV).  "And the words of the LORD are flawless, like silver refined in a furnace of clay, purified seven times" (Psalm 12:6, NIV).  Seven, in God's terms, can represent perfection.  The complete work of Adonai, God, who is flawless authority.

By any measure, as a Christian, I am not flawless.  If I told you I felt like refined silver, I would be lying.  In truth, I will not be perfected until my journey on this fallen sod we share is over.  I can rest in that fact, however, knowing God will continue his work of grace in every place he leads.  He has planned this earthly journey for me, and he owns its map and my provision.

During this short, seven-month season of my journey, God has provided moments of solitude.  Time is a gift.  And time alone, when tied in small sprigs, is like delicate baby's breath.  Fragile, elegant, and gracious.

These small sprigs of solitude were only the outer wrapping of God's gift.  The real blessedness of this seven-month season has been an awareness of God's presence and his peace that passes understanding. 

As we draw closer to closure of shock and aftershocks, God's mark on this unstable season becomes clearer and clearer.  His holy hand has left its imprint on the whole landscape.  And seeing his seal in the picture reminds me of my limited and God's unlimited.  The two are incomparable.  I, Andrea, very human, frail, full of questions, and short on vision versus God Almighty, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, complete in love and vision, infallible Savior.

Yet, I wrestle. . .

trying to find answers, to grasp rest, to see light on a dark path, to know how, to explain pain, to envision the finished work of grace and bear the rebuilding of our lives.

My own struggling has caused me to search the book of Genesis with wonder about Jacob and how he felt as he sent his family and all his possessions across the Jabbok River, while he stayed the night alone in darkness and wrestled with God until daybreak.   

"So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak.  When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob's hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man" (Genesis 32: 24-25).

Jacob, the man who always took the initiative, who always made a way for himself, who always felt strong, who always created solutions, was, in his lonely, empty place of struggle, made helpless by God.  God dislocated Jacob's hip joint, which was the very strength of Jacob's ability to wrestle.  Jacob was then forced to face his human futility.  As he limped away, however, he was not dismayed.  Why?  He was blessed and had a new name for his new life that awaited him when he returned to his homeland.  Jacob had been  touched by God.  Eternally challenged and eternally changed. 

"Then the man said, 'Let me go, for it is daybreak.'  But Jacob replied, 'I will not let you go unless you bless me.'  The man asked him, 'What is your name?'  'Jacob,' he answered.  Then the man said, 'Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome' (Genesis 32:26-28, NIV).    

"You have struggled with God and with men and have overcome."

"You have struggled" and you "have overcome."

"Yes!" God says to all who wrestle til daybreak for blessing, "You have overcome." 

Struggling means I am human.  Wrestling means I intend to conquer.  Wrestling til daybreak means fighting for a forever-changed moment.  It is holding on for a dawn of hope.  It is hanging in there for an appearance of light, and it is denying fatigue and accepting brokenness.  Wrestling til soft light is seen at a distant space means I have, in that night, overcome self.  Overcoming self means Jesus reigns greater in me now than he did in a time past.

I have a very long path of daybreaks behind me, and a very long path of perfecting processes ahead of me.   I will leave these seven months changed and a little more surrendered.  I hope to leave the provincial vision of my pre-fire life and reach to embrace new vision as we return to our home.

As future testing seasons approach, I, hopefully, will not see them with dim, limited, provincial vision.  I pray to see them with God's unlimited vision.  Yes, my eyes can see what he visions when I submit absolutely to God's creative voice and will.

I am merely human and within my own power, so limited.   We, who all originated from dusty earth, who depend on God Almighty to hold our world together, who trust his word for the air we breathe, can share the vision of our Creator!  Through Christ, we can have faith-vision, and faith-vision is what overcomes the world.   "For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world - our faith" (1John 5:4, NASB). 

Friend, we may have no answers.  No details.  No professional title.  No human help.  Little worldly stuff.  

But, . . .  we can have the eyes of Jesus. 

His seeing is not provincial.  His perspective is complete.  His focus is flawless.  His eyes are pure. 

Just lean back in his arms and rest your weary head and allow Christ's victory to strengthen you and be your strength.  You will soon find faith vision, and all sight will be new.

Praying you this day,

Thursday, May 13, 2010

God's Stones


When I was a child, we had a bucket of rocks on our fireplace hearth.  They were the weights that held up my mother's artificial green tree and kept it from toppling.  The bucket of beauties came from rivers in the Smoky Mountains, where we sometimes vacationed.  The stones' surfaces often caused me to run my small fingers over their outer character.  I well remember feeling their somewhat sandy texture.   

My interest in my mother's stones inspired backyard rock-hunting.  My family was blessed with a lot filled with Georgia red clay that was carpeted in Bermuda grass, and filled with tall, Longleaf pines, Dogwoods, Maples, and Oaks.  The shaded, hilly land provided many hours for jumping in piles of pine straw and digging for rocks.  I loved finding God's stones.  Their various textures, colors, and weights of  captured my childlike curiosity. 

My favorite find was white marble.  (I did not then know its name.)  Determined, I would dig until I noticed it's white glitter peering up at me through the fiery soil.  I would pry it from the earth with my stick-shovel and caress it with curiosity.  It looked so beautiful and made me think of purity and diamonds.  My eight year old lips proclaimed it "crystal," and I loved holding it and watching it sparkle.  Every time I found a "crystal" rock, I washed the red clay from it and saved it, thinking it really was something special.

My eight year old imagination did not comprehend how close to truth I was.  I recently learned white marble forms when very pure limestone rock is buried deeply and exposed to high heat and great pressure.  I now understand what I could not get then:  anything that goes through a lot of heat and pressure is special because of the deep, undisturbed process used in its formation.  "Crystal" is a marvel because of its forming.  It is also a marvel because it begins in a very pure state of limestone.

It is pure in its beginning, yet, incomplete.  It is formed through specific circumstances that change its nature. 

Purifying.  Burying.  Working.  Changing.  Forming.  Becoming.  Being. 

White marble and God's unlimited capacity for analogies provide our limited understanding with more than a lesson in geology.  The way of white stone is a study in soul truth.

God's loving heart works purity in our lives, and He chooses to place our sanctified souls in the fire and vice of testing.  The Father's omniscient eyes anticipate the coming crystal result that will sparkle with divine, diamond-like specks.  Snips and shards of Christ's character that combine to create God's special stones.  His keepsakes.  Worthy of washing and holding and loving and marvelling.  Stones of life.  God's treasured collection.  His own.

With this truth planted in my own soul's soil, I today cling to Jesus Christ, the Rock of my salvation.  And I long to learn of His character and search and dig for more of His truth. 

In the process of seeking and digging, however, I often become frustrated.  Time limitations, daily duties, and physical hindrances get in my way.  My "arms" tire.  My will grows weary.  It feels that I have little of me left to unearth the treasures I crave.  I wish for instant success in my search.  I want to see more now.  Know more now.  Love more now.  Be more now.

But the understanding character of Father God has patience with my way and likewise speaks stillness to my restless heart.  As I grow weary with the process, He says, "Be still, Andrea.  Know that I am God" (Psalm 46:10, NIV).

Be still.  Like white marble.  Unmoved in waiting.  Unshaken in surrounding storms.  Yet, changeable with God-designed elements that will one day make me glitter in the sun. 

While waiting for the glittering reflection of Jesus, I pray for abandoned surrender, and sometimes I must search for it just as I search for Christ's reflection.  I not only need surrender to the final formation, but also surrender to the process that will get me there. 

And prayer, with whole heart, will keep me in His earth, planted in the place He has destined for design, so that I will get there and find Jesus' reflection.  

We can all find rest in His destined place.  We find that rest when we relax and let the process of Christ's forming work within us.

It sounds so simple.  Not!

When I was in labor with my sons, I well remember the words of the nurses.  They would gather close to me and strongly encourage.  "Don't fight the pains, Andrea."  I struggled with their counsel.  It was hard to let go.  My own nature wanted to fight against the intensity I felt in my body. 

As well, my carnal nature fights against the intensity of God's process, but as I stand on Philippians 4:13, I am able to do what is unnatural.  "I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me."

We are all in a formation process.  And prayer is one important element that guides our transformation.  Friend, would you join me in prayer?  Would you mind if I approached the throne of grace for you today?  This very moment, as I write these words, I sense our Father's enormous love for you.  You, one very special stone, who are His child.

Dear Father God, I seek you with a heart of praise for your processes.  It is your love, Oh, Lord, that buries us in the hot, dry, weighty places.  It is your eyes of love, Oh, Lord, that comprehend the glittering reflection of your Son that is and will be in each of us. 

 I pray for my friends.  Each one is a choice offering.  Each life is so individual.  Each need is so particular.

Yet, you know, Oh, Lord.  Yes, you know each one.

 
I ask You to fill your beloved with peace, with grace, with comfort, with trust, with faith, with joy.  Jesus, let us experience the power of Your holy presence that lifts us from our ache to our knees and to our feet.  May we all be overwhelmed with the realness of Who You are and the power of divine love that we have yet to know fully. 

 I ask You, Jesus, Who suffered for our liberty and healing, to strengthen, edify, and encourage each one who was destined to read here today.  Yes, Lord, You have set your love on her or him.  You care so much more than we can now know.  You care about things that seem small and things that are great, and nothing is too hard for You.  

Lord, You are good.  Your mercies do not fail.  They are new to us each day.  And we thank you for them, for Your merciful nature gives us hope in every circumstance.  Your grace, Father, gives us patience with the process, and please let it be so in all our lives.  

In the name that is above every other name and with faith in His name,

Amen.

Thank you for the honor of praying for you, and thank you for being here with me and for me.  You are precious in the sight of God. 

Shining Together with You as His Living Stones,






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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

On River's Bank


Swimming in cool, rushing waters, . . .

I move gracefully toward a goal, feeling the freedom of flowing currents, knowing power over depth.  My arms move effortlessly, without fatigue or pain.  My legs are straight behind me giving me strength.  My head stays above the flood; my eyes focus on destiny.

Such describes my dreams of rivers. 

Yet, much irony lies in those dreams.  In my real life, I cannot swim and have a deep respect for bodies of water.  I do not like water in my eyes or ears.  And two near-drowning incidents have left their marks on my mind.

Still, I love rivers.  Particularly those mountain streams that move with life and air and sky and wind.

I easily remember special places where such rivers live.  There is an old country store with a grist mill in the North Georgia mountains, and behind that store is a wooden walkway where one can watch the turning of the wheel and trout swim in the currents.  The rushing waters cascade with perfect harmony.  Their music echos in my soul.  It is a God-created tonic.  I have stood there several times drinking its peace.  

Yet, greater still is drinking in the peace of another river.  It is that "river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells" (Psalm 46:4, NIV).  It is a river I do not fear, even in my real life.  It is a river more pure than any other river.  It is a real river of relief.  It is a river that thunders with praise of divine power.  It is a river for tasting, drinking, wading, and plunging, and for walking of its banks.

It is my river.  And, it is your river.  

To be honest with you, friends, I need a drink from that river.  I need to stand on its bank and wade into its effervescence.  To be affected by its persuasive authority.  To be guided into its healing falls. 

For, all channels that rill from its presence make glad the sacred places of my life.  All streams from its Source make glad the scarred places in my heart. 

"Glad" in original Hebrew means to rejoice or cheer up. 

So, placing my own heart-spin on Psalm 46:4, I perceive that river as the Holy Spirit and paraphrase the following: 

When my heart is in need, when my life feels broken, when I reach my endpoint, I can fall on my face and seek my Creator of rivers.  He will send His Holy Spirit to fill my emptiness and heal my hurts.  His sacred presence will change my mourning into dancing, my pain to praise, my endpoint to a new point.  

The past several months have been a tiring swim.  I am slightly stretched.  I miss my home and my familiar surroundings.  Our church is suffering need.  Physically, my health is daily challenging.  And, other needs unspoken now, press and weigh.  Yet, like David,  "I am still confident of this:  I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living" (Psalm 27:13, NIV). 

In the New King James Version, that scripture reads, "I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living."  And verse 14 ends the psalm with some of the most encouraging words in scripture:  "Wait on the LORD; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; wait, I say, on the LORD!"

Sometimes we have to wait to wade, to venture out into and drink His living water.  We sit on the bank so thirsty and fatigued, yet so hopeful because of faith's vision.  

Turning to the Word in those dry, dessertlike seasons is our refuge.  Because. . .  

We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you (2 Corinthians 4:7-12). 

My suffering does not compare to Paul's or so many others; yet, it is working my death and His life in me.  I guess what I'm saying, dear friend, is that His grace is enough.  And, though sometimes it seems all we have, we stand unshaken because it really is all we need.  And, I believe.  No, I know future glory will reveal that truth in all of us. 

Unyielding, I vision His water!  Unshaken, I proclaim that God is in control!  Unmoved, I stand by grace!   

On His River's Bank,  

 

Saturday, April 17, 2010

FAILED LETTERS


Like crumbled crackers, broken words are scattered into thousands of dusty pieces.  Only God can take their dry, brittle, breaking moments and reshape them for His glory.  With His handling, fatally spoken words and broken promises will no longer be death letters.      

A hot pink brush I bought at the beauty supply store was wrapped in plastic, printed with promising words.  They were clear:  the brush would soften skin.  "May even use on hands and elbows."  I bought the barlike scrubber, took it home, unwrapped it, and placed it by my bathroom sink.

I wanted softer hands, so before walking away, I could not resist an immediate trial.  I soaped up with silky expectations and began to scrub. 

"Owww!"  I gasped, startled.  The very touch of its harsh nature against my sensitive knuckles hurt!  I tried again, with a much gentler touch.  No way!  Its sandpaper texture was hopelessly painful.  My hands were quickly reddened even by light scrubbing. 

I wondered if I had picked up the wrong package.  No, I absolutely remembered the writing on the wrapper.   

The words were a broken promise, and all I could do was feel regret.  I could not change the nature of the scrubber's gritty, pink sand.  It was what it was.  Disappointed, I placed the pumice in a container with my pedicure brushes. 

Disappointment is the natural product of broken promises.  The broken words on the wrapper of the pink pumice only cost me a little pain and $1.10.  It was a simple, frivilous experience.  But other broken words, sincere-seeming, heart-spoken letters of promise, cost so much more.  Their pain is real and deep; they are complex and drastic.

We have all known the deep pain of failed letters.  We have all experienced life's climatic changes of broken words.  Words undone.  The unravelling of language delcared with assurance.  Such seasons cast clouds over our souls.  They wound to our spirit's core.  Our hearts are cut by their vanity and meaningless shards. Their faithless nature rocks our world and our faith in those who spoke them, and it can threaten our faith in God. 

As a pastor's wife, I have seen many suffer with the sting from promises failed.  Words spoken were first apples of gold.  Their eventual intangibility turned them rotten and bitter.  The spouse who promised to never cheat again; the repentant father who drank again; the children who said they would never do drugs again; the mother who promised she wouldn't leave anymore; the parents who pledged prayer with their children but were always too busy; the boss who said he would understand missed days but never did; the insurance company who said they would pay medical costs but blamed someone for not reading a clause; the family who in great disbelief realized the hopeless words of a doctor who had said everything would be OK; the teenager who married to honor her parents and later dealt with deep betrayal of her new husband.  And, you can think of so many you know who are victims of words unfitly spoken.

Words unfitly spoken are the opposite of those Solomon spoke, when in Proverbs he said words fitly spoken are like "apples of gold in pictures of silver" (Proverbs 25:11).  Appropriate words are beauty.  As perfect and ripe as the most lucious apples in the most exquistie setting is the language of love.  Fit words are appealing, and their appeal is appetizing.  Their taste is sweet.  Their gift, comforting and nourishing.

Yet, "unfit" words are unhealthy, unappetizing, inappropriate, and incompetent.  They, contrary to golden apple in pictures of silver, are rotten fruit in a moldy basket.  They are voices of vice, meant for destruction.  Sour.  Bitter.  Unedible.  Indigestible.  Such is a picture of broken promises, or malicious daggers.     

Perhaps you have encountered the dagger of unfit words.  Someone you held in esteem told you something that created a chasm in your relationship, or someone misled you, either intentionally or not intentionally, which brought a sea of grief to your life. 

I have encountered unfit words.  Plainly, it is pain at its worst.  It bruises the soul and scars the heart.  It creates bondage and breeds rejection.  YET, touched with God's healing balm, the worst wounding words become beauty.  Like a sweet butterfly, they join enjoy transformation from a stale, embryonic state to winged life.  The ugly, vile, vain language no longer holds captive but is captured by the Creator and remade into God's glory.

Transformation is possible, friend!  It is God's gift for all His wounded warriors.  In many points of dark crises of my soul, God has spoken light into my nightmares.  Illuminated with Jesus' love, I have had to cling to shimmers of hope until Christ casts His cross in my waters and healed me.  Each time, it was a marvellous miracle in my life!  It still is.  I am comforted so much to know God hears every spoken word and wayward thought.  I can, with promise, share the joy of God's grace that is only found in a healing Jesus.  And, I will forever praise Him for His pure words that were and are a curing, comforting balm.

If you have received unfit words, please now receive the following unbreakable promises.  Set their purity and holiness and perfect fit above your painful memories.
  • The "words of the LORD are flawless, like silver refined in a furnace of clay, purified seven times" (Psalm 12:6).
  • "All your words are true; all your righteous laws are eternal" (Psalm 119:160).
  • "The eyes of the LORD keep watch over knowledge, but he frustrates the words of the unfaithful" (Proverbs 22:12).
  • "So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it" (Isaiah 55:11).
  • "'My Spirit, who is on you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will not depart from your mouth, or from the mouths of your children, or from the mouths of their descendants from this time on and forever,' says the LORD" (Isaiah 59:21). 
  • "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away" (Matthew 24:35).
  • "If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you" (John 15:7).
Dear friend, God is faithful, loving, merciful, and healing.  He loves you with zeal and passion.  He covers you with that love because you are His child.  His very own.  And He watches over you and yours.

Take heart this very day and give all broken words to Him.  Jesus will speak to every letter the enemy has lodged in your soul.  He will reach into that secret place of your spirit and pick up all broken promises.   He will handle them.  Reshape them.  Breathe on them.  Give them new purpose.

With His handling, fatally spoken words and broken promises will no longer be death letters.  They will be language of life and living.  What once caused refluxive bitterness will become promise and peace.

God heals. . . . He's reaching now toward your worst word wounds.   

Glorifying His Transforming Power,





List your own scripture that edifies God's word in your life.  Meditate on its reassuring truth and be prepared to use it during temptations and discouraging times. 


All scripture is from the NIV.
Definitions from http://www.thefreedictionary.com/