Tuesday, June 28, 2011

#205 The Morning Altar

If this patio could talk, you would know everything you'd ever want to know about me. I live for this time of year. Not having the luxury of year-round warm weather, this Michigan girl longs for the days when I can have my quiet time outside.

Beth Moore taught me how to Believe God and Break Free on this patio. We studied our favorite subject of all time right here...Jesus The One and Only. Kelly Minter led me to rid myself of any other God but Him, and taught me through the story of Ruth, how important it is to leave a legacy for the future generations. More recently, Tammie Head joined me every morning and moved me from serving God as a duty, to an all out delight, in my relationship with Him.

For the first summer in a long time, I'm not going through a structured summer Bible study. I have felt the Lord leading me to spend time with Him...just Him...every morning. A time to read His Word, and only His Word, to see what He would have to speak to my heart and to my spirit.

Some mornings it seems as if He's not speaking at all. Do you ever have those times with Him? You read the Word, you pray, but it's just not happening? You don't get anything profound or earth-shattering in your reading? Especially if you find yourself in Leviticus or Numbers. So you pack up your stuff...your Bible, your pen, your journal, and get up and start your day. If no one has ever told you this before, let me be the first to assure you, that's normal and it's okay. God is tickled pink that you spent the time with Him. He is pleased with your commitment to give Him first place in your day.

As the morning rays of sun came through the trees this morning, I remembered other times here. This patio has seen me laugh with the Lord. He does have a real sense of humor sometimes. It has heard me cry and heaven knows, it has heard me cry out. I have mourned here. I have begged God here. I have been confused and laid fleeces here, searching for some sign of direction for important decisions. I have been absolutely terrified here, and had that fear replaced by peace right in this spot. I have put my knees to these patio blocks and worshiped on my face here.

When I look up at the morning sky, I often wonder how close heaven really is. Is it just beyond the clouds, painted on the blue palette that I can see with my naked eye? Is my Savior THAT close? When the apostle John was on the isle of Patmos he looked up and saw a door standing open in Heaven (Revelation 4:1). When Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Haran, he lay down to rest and had a dream. He saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and angels ascending and descending on it. And above it, stood the Lord. (Genesis 28: 10-13). Is God...is Heaven...that close? I wait, but the sky doesn't open above me. But I think that a little glimpse of Heaven opened around me.

The early morning sun was streaming through the trees.

I saw flowers that had bloomed overnight. Lilies were beginning to wake up and open into beautiful pink and orange trumpets.

Yellow flowers promise cucumbers.

There will be tomatoes and green beans for supper soon.

The breeze is blowing through the trees. A neighbor makes her way to the fence to chat for a minute. Butterflies flutter. Squirrels and rabbits frolic. Birds are at the feeder. A new day has dawned. Fresh. Another day. Another chance at life. Another adventure. Another sign of the faithfulness of my God.

That patio became a morning altar on which I worshipped. Somehow, a little bit of heaven revealed itself in my corner of planet Earth. Supernatural met natural in my own backyard. And it was beautiful. If the beauty of the creation is even one iota an indication of the beauty of Heaven, how beautiful Heaven must be. If the beauty of the creation is even one iota a foretaste of the beauty of God, how beautiful He must be!

Open your eyes and look around. God is giving glimpses of Himself and Heaven all around us. You may not spend your quiet time on a patio like mine, but whether you meet with God on a porch, or a farm watching amber waves of grain sway in the breeze, or a balcony in the city, or right there at your table, Heaven may not open above you, but it will be evident all around you. Right there is your call to worship. Right there is your morning altar.

"Oh praise the Lord!
This earth is crammed with heaven!
Oh, praise the Lord!
And, Christian, look around!
For every bush you pass with fire is flaming,
And every spot you tread is holy ground."
--Anne Ortlund

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Beholding Glory

friday favorite things | finding joy

Friday, June 24, 2011

A Titus 2 Lesson

About a month ago, I had the privilege to speak to a group of women at my church who call themselves "The Mature Women of Grace". MWOG's for short. I was slightly overwhelmed over what I, a 54 year old woman, could possibly say to a group of seasoned, older women. They have lived, and loved, and lost, and experienced so much more than I have. What could I say to them that they didn't already know?

Knowing that my only hope was the Word of God, I found myself in Paul's letter to Titus.

"Teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God." (Titus 2:3-5)

After a little bible study, I was impressed in my spirit to let these precious women know that we, the younger generations following after them, needed them. They have been commissioned by God in His Word to train us and to teach us. We need them. In our fast-paced, disposable society, our elders can often feel cast aside and useless. They may feel that their usefulness has outlived itself and they should just be quiet, sit in a corner, and wait to be taken to glory. According to Scripture, that is the farthest thing from the truth. 

You may be a Timothy (perhaps of the female persuasion) today. You're raising littles or you're just finding your way in life. Or you may be a Eunice, like me, in the middle aged years of life. Still parenting, now grandparenting, experiencing a mixture of the stages of life, wondering where you go from here.  (2 Timothy 1: 5) But can I tell you something? We need those Lois's. We need the wisdom they have gleaned through years of experience doing this thing called "life". We need them to pass down their faith, the Word of God, and godly counsel. We need to be listening to women who have not followed the ways or wisdom of this world, but the ways of God. Those who have stood strong, fought the good fight, are finishing the race, and have something to share with us.  

With that in mind, as we closed that day, I asked each MWOG to write down, on an index card, one piece of advice they would give to those of us in the younger generations that follow them. I would like to share some of their words with you. I pray that in the way that only God can do, His Spirit will give YOU a word for today, for this season of life you are experiencing; for such a time as this.

  • No matter how tired or busy you are, you are never to let a day go by without doing a kindness to someone!
  • Guard your hearts from evil, letting the words and the meditation of your heart be pleasing to God. (Psalm 19:14)
  • Patience
  • Remember God loves you and you are never alone.
  • God never comes too early and He never comes too late. Wait upon the Lord and accept His answers.
  • Let go and let God.
  • Read your Bible. Pray everyday if you want to grow. There is joy in serving Jesus.
  • Look for God's hands on your life, and His grace. Trust Him and wait on His will for your life.
  • Try to be an example to your family and those around you. 
  • Share your thoughts to others with God's love and His Word, using Scripture.
  • Listen more than speak and be very aware or discerning of tensions building in relationships. 
  • Be not moved by the things that are urgent but keep your mind on the important things.
These words are profound in their simplicity. Maybe that's what happens as we grow older. As one of the ladies said, perhaps the urgent things step aside for the important things. As it should be. Oh, that we could learn that lesson earlier than our golden years!

Thank you to all of the Lois's in our lives who are willing to teach us by their words, their experience, and their godly example. We need you. We value you. We are listening to you.

Lord, help those of us who are Eunices and Timothys to heed the advice and imitate the faith of those who come before us.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

#204 "If We Could Only Believe"

I was able to spend Monday and Tuesday with my granddaughter, Ashton, while her parents were out of town. As I prepared for her arrival on Monday morning, I prayed for all of the usual things. I prayed that we would have a good time. I prayed for huge amounts of patience. I prayed for a quickening of my mortal body, which doesn't move as quickly as it used to when my own kids were three. I also prayed that somewhere, sometime, in the coming two days, I might be able to speak the name of Jesus to her.

I could have been one of those weird-o Christians, and when Ash handed me the red bottle of play ketchup, I could have said, "Oh, Ash! It reminds me of the blood of Jesus." Don't laugh. I've actually heard that one before in a restaurant. But I thought that was a little much for a toddler to absorb.

Instead, our days were filled with eating plastic food, coloring, and watching first-class children's TV (insert hint of sarcasm). We played inside. We played outside. We watched bugs and decided that they were really yucky. We filled the bird bath so the birds could be clean. We danced like ballerinas. We played golf in the yard and gave each other congratulations and gold medals. We watered the flowers and cut some for a mini-bouquet.

Barbies cried "Help" in their distress and were saved by Tinkerbells flying to the rescue. Baby dolls were fed and diapered. Friends were made at McDonald's and there was fun at the park with Pippy (aka Chuck). We ate together, pottied together and had a fun sleep-over in Gigi's bed. I'm still exhausted, but it was a wonderful couple of days.

About a half hour before Kelly and Dan came to pick her up, Ashton crawled up into my lap to snuggle and began to sing "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star." When that was over she effortlessly transitioned into "Jesus Loves Me This I Know....." We sang it twice and my heart....oh, my heart.

We didn't need to spend time on theology lessons or Bible studies for three year old little girls during our time together. Ashton is secure in the love of her parents and her grandparents. But most importantly, even though she doesn't truly understand it all, she knows that there is Someone out there, and His name is Jesus, and He loves her. That's all she needs to know for now. My little Miss Ashton has already found the firm foundation on which to build her life.

Her little feet are already planted on a firm place. They will grow and so will she. Life will bring sunshine and storms, joys and sorrows, exhilarating happiness and deepest pains. But she already has the rock solid foundation on which to withstand any storm, trial or pain for the rest of her life. The Solid Rock of Jesus Christ.

So simple. So true. Jesus loves me. This I know. For the Bible tells me so. You know, if we who are grown could just get this. I mean, really get this. Jesus loves me. Yes! Jesus loves me. Yes! Jesus loves me. The Bible tells me so.

If we could believe this, maybe we would stop worrying so much, stop and smell the flowers, and cut bouquets. Maybe we would fill bird baths with water, and skip, and dance like ballerinas, and hold hands, and make friends with strangers, and cuddle, and sing. Maybe we would run as if we had wings.

But most of all, maybe we would really believe that there is Someone out there, and His name is Jesus, and He will always come to our rescue when we cry for help.

Friday, June 17, 2011

His Mercy Is Enough

I'm quite the control freak. I'm getting better, but I always think that if I don't have my hands in all my "situations", then I'm displaying an attitude of indifference.  God is beginning to show me that's it's quite the contrary. Let me be honest. God's been showing me this for a long time. I am now just beginning to see and understand.

Last night, I found myself in an old familiar place in my house, thanking God for the journey of the past day and talking to him about some things that happened. I was reminded of another time, some years ago, when I sat in that same place just before going to bed, and poured my heart out to God. I can look back now and see that He was oh, so faithful and good to me. I remember the things that I prayed for. I remember the tears rolling down my cheeks. I remember the seeming hopelessness of the situation. Today I see the Glory of God. Today I see the Ephesians 3:20 God in all of His Majesty. Today I see that He did exceedingly, abundantly, above and beyond anything I could have ever thought, imagined or dreamed in that situation. Why should today be any different? Why should this situation be any harder. Is anything impossible for God?

As I pray out loud, my spoken words are often the answers to how God wants me to deal with situations. The Holy Spirit helps me pray and I hear His words coming out of my own mouth, directing me, counseling me, comforting me, and convicting me.  I heard Him speak again last night. Perhaps what I'm learning will help you today in "the situation" that you are in.

  • Don't lose sleep over your problems. The Bible tells us that God doesn't sleep or slumber. (Psalm 121:3) He doesn't even take a nap. He is going to be up all night anyway, so give your problem to Him and let Him take care of it. You need a good night's sleep. Echo the words of David, "I will lie down and sleep in peace for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety." (Psalm 4: 8) True joy and peace don't depend on circumstances, but on the knowledge of God's provision and protection. Rest your head on your pillow and sleep with the full assurance that God is awake and taking care of your business.

  • Lay your problem on the morning altar. So you got a good night's sleep, but the second you open your eyes your thoughts are on that situation. That probably never happens to you, but I know that I can relate. Don't waste much time getting to a quiet time with your Heavenly Father. If you stay your mind too long on that problem, you will lose your joy before your day even begins. God promises that He will keep in perfect peace the one whose mind is stayed on Him. (Isaiah 26: 3) David sought the Lord early in the morning. (Psalm 63: 1) He wrote those words from a desert. He had issues and problems. He knew that early in the morning he needed a quiet time with God. By the end of the psalm, David was singing songs and rejoicing. He didn't let those problems ruin the rest of his day. Cast your care. Talk to God about it. Hear what He wants to say to you in His Word. Then leave that problem on the morning altar and begin your day. I promise you, my friend, it will make all the difference in the world. You will have your joy back. You will have peace. Your family may even thank you, because your mood will be sweeter, knowing that God has your problem in His hands.

  • Acknowledge that you don't know everything and that's okay. The famous saying is that ignorance is bliss. Sometimes, in a strange way, I believe it is. We don't know everything about our situations. We only see with our naked eyes what God sees from beginning to end. (Isaiah 46:10) Not only that, but sometimes....sometimes...the situation is worse than we know. Stick with me here. Thinking back to that other time in my life and that situation I told you about, things were in actuality, worse than I knew. I believe that at times, God spares us from the knowing of every intimate detail of our problems, because we would just plain out be overcome. It would be too much to handle. And that my friend is mercy. Your situation and my situation today may be more than we know, but God in His mercy spares us those details. We really don't need to know them anyway. They are God-sized issues that need God-sized solutions. His mercy in our not-knowing needs to be enough. It needs to be okay.
Every spring, a family of birds builds their nest in my bathroom vent. When I sit on the patio, I watch the parent birds flying in and out of the vent with all manner of goodies in their mouths to feed the babes. Those young ones can't see anything beyond the door to the vent where they watch for mom and dad to come and take care of them. They haven't a clue what their parents are facing on the outside of that door. The danger. The predators. The reality that mom or dad may never come back. All they know is that they trust that they will be taken care of. And all the while they sing.    

So is this kind of behavior apathetic? No, I choose to call it hope. Is it denial? No, I choose to call it faith. Indifference to our problems?  Far from it. It is the resting of a troubled soul in the arms of a loving God who sees, and knows, and cares, and provides, and is faithful to His promises. And if the situation is more than we can bear, His mercy is enough.  

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

#203 "Who Am I?"

"Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children, and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." (Ephesians 5: 1-2)

In order to convey what I want to say today, I have to bite the bullet and be totally transparent. What I'm about to reveal is something I've only discussed with God.

Ever since I can remember, I have always wanted to be someone else.

In kindergarten, I wanted to be Patty with the pretty dresses and long flowing curls. In elementary school, I longed to be Elaine because she had a sister, and a HUGE attic bedroom filled with games and books, and privacy. Please don't think I'm a true nut case, but I even punched the lenses out of my sunglasses to make it look like I wore glasses. Elaine did. And I wanted to be Elaine. I can't even begin to name all of the girls I wanted to be in high school. The cool girls; the ones who were the most popular. The ones who always got the guy. The cheerleaders and the scholars. It all depended on who I was fixated on at the moment. If they wore a sweater vest over their rolled up uniform, so did I. If they wore their blazer, so did I. I can't even bring myself to speak of a ruse that I pulled in college, because I thought something someone else did was so cool, and I wanted to be viewed in the same way.

After graduating from college, I was an adult, right? Chronologically yes. But I was still turning my attention to other women who I admired for one reason or another, and I set out to be just like them. I wanted to be an accomplished gardener. I wanted a body perm and clothes like someone else. I don't think they do body perms anymore do they? Gosh, I hope not! I wanted to embroider towels like one. I wanted to have things in my home like another. She was having a baby. It was my turn to have a baby. I was an imitator. I was a poser. I wanted to be like everyone else. Deep down inside, I may have even wanted to BE someone else.

I'm sure there is a whole lot the psychologists could tell me about the reasons behind all of this secret, strange behavior. I will not dishonor anyone to justify the things that I exhibited for most of my adult life. I will only name it.

For many reasons I was so insecure about who I was, that the only way I felt I would be accepted was to be just like someone else. The bare me just wouldn't be exciting enough, interesting enough, rich enough, eloquent enough, smart enough, beautiful enough, or God help me, good enough to measure up. So I constantly strove to be an imitator of those who were all those things. Or at least they appeared to be.

A sense of freedom and release gradually grew over the years after I became a Christian, and after I started reading God's Word on a regular basis. God lovingly and gently began to tell me who I was in His eyes. The more I made up my mind to believe God when He told me how much He loved me, and that He loved me just the way I was, the less I compared myself to others. I wish that I could say it was a Damascus Road deliverance, but that would be a lie. Freedom came one inch up the sides of the pit at a time, and I slid down the slippery slopes on more than one occasion, falling chest deep back into the mud and the mire. But at least I knew what I was doing and could more quickly run to Jesus for a big gulp of fresh air. I never really got why this was such a big deal. No one knew. Just my God and me. It was a secret, held close, and when I fell, it was never a public spectacle. But don't you agree that it's those hidden faults, those secret sins that do the most insidious damage?

I am praying that if you're secretly exhibiting this same behavior, I can share the revelation that delivered me one morning. My Savior and I were discussing this yet AGAIN. I wasn't just outwardly manifesting my feelings of insecurity. That was bad enough, considering that I should have been believing God about who I am IN HIM. That morning, God showed me this:

Wanting to be like, or to be someone else, meant that I was a total ingrate as far as who God made me was concerned. I was ungrateful for the life He had given me, the gifts that were meant for me alone, and the circumstances that had been allowed by my Heavenly Father, just for me. If I were content and grateful for MY life, I would never want to imitate or be like someone else. Gosh, I hope it takes you less than 50+ years to get this, dear one.

Ungrateful. When that word hit my spirit, I was wrecked with godly sorrow that brought tears streaming down my cheeks. God had been exceedingly, abundantly, beyond good to me all of my life, and I was ungrateful? All I could bring myself to say was "I'm sorry!" and repeated it over and over and over again.

Because this was a part of my behavior, I recognize it so easily in others, especially out there in the blogosphere. She will remain unnamed, but there is a very popular Bible teacher who everyone is trying to imitate in their writing and their speaking. I see her unique phrasing and mastery of words repeated in countless tweets every single day. Recognizing my downward descent back into the pit, I actually had to take a break from this teacher's books and videos some years ago in order to allow God to do His work, the work of making me uniquely ME. Friend, if God desired two of her, He would have made her twins.

We are called to be imitators of Christ. There is nothing wrong with godly mentors, friends and leaders who influence our Christian journey. The apostle Paul wrote a few times about wanting people to imitate Him. (1 Cor. 11:1; 1 Thess. 1:6) But we can cross the line and fall neck deep into striving to be that fallible human being that we admire so. We can long for their life, their ministry, and their unique calling. Can I tell you that person is only human? They will make mistakes; they will fall. Here's a revelation: their life isn't perfect either. They weren't made to be put on a man-made pedestal. Only Christ Himself will never fall, will never err, will never let you down. He is the One and Only who is worthy of your imitation.

God has prepared an amazing life for you. He prepared it specifically and uniquely for you before the foundation of the world. Every part of your physical, emotional and spiritual DNA has been molded by the Potter Himself. You are here at this time, in this place, with your own gifts, talents, abilities, family, work, ministry, circumstances and situations for such a time as this.

I don't have a clue if anyone reading this can relate to what I've shared. If not, then at least I got this out there in the atmosphere and it isn't hidden anymore. But if you can relate in any way...praise God and stop!

When we put a lot of thought into giving a gift to someone we love, we pick it out with much care, wrap it just so, and excitedly anticipate the opening of the gift. There is nothing worse than not getting the reaction we had hoped for. We want the one who received our present to love it, thank us for it, and cherish it, because we put so much into the process, right up until the moment they cut the ribbon and open the box.

How must our Heavenly Father feel when He has worked painstakingly to prepare our life, our gifts, our talents, and every minute detail of our lives just for us, and instead He finds us longing for the life He has given someone else? There is no gentle way to say it. We are ungrateful. Just as it would hurt our heart to suffer this kind of reaction from someone we gave a gift to, I believe we grieve our Father when we do the same.

"Rabbi Zusya said that on the Day of Judgment, God would ask him, not why he had not been Moses, but why he had not been Zusya." ~Walter Kaufmann

Who are you trying to imitate? Whose life are you longing to have? True freedom and true abundant, overflowing life will be yours the day you climb up into the fresh air and thank your good and loving Heavenly Father for the life He has given YOU. He only wants you to be YOU. That's all He expects because you are one of a kind and He has a wild ride in store for the rest of your days.

He loves you just the way you are.

Living the Word with you,

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Tuesdays with Jesus #202

#202  "Sweet Communion"
June 7, 2011
"As often as possible, Jesus withdrew to out-of-the-way places for prayer." (Luke 5:16 The Message)
He rose early in the morning while it was still dark. On tip-toe, He made His way around His sleeping friends. Laying a hand on each one, He smiled and whispered how He loved them so. They needed their sleep because the road ahead would be steep and long. They didn't fully understand what was happening and they would need all of the strength they could muster for the coming days. Let them sleep. A time was near when slumber wouldn't be as sweet.
He moved quietly out of the house and felt the coolness of the Jerusalem morning on His skin. Wrapping His cloak a little tighter around His shoulders, He made His way toward the hills; the hills that His very own hands had created. His sandaled feet grew wet with the morning dew, until He found just the right solitary place, to get down on His knees, and begin to pray.
Oh, that we could have been hiding a stone's throw away to eavesdrop on those moments. Wrapped in our own cloaks to keep us from the morning chill, what would our ears have heard? Something so supernatural. Something so beyond our finite human understanding. God talking to God. Son speaking to Father. The Only Begotten enjoying sweet communion with the Majesty in heaven.
Scattered throughout the Scriptures, we are given glimpses of Jesus praying to His Father. He prayed as He was being baptized, and the heavens opened to the Father's voice as He told His Son that He loved Him and that He was well pleased. Jesus was heard praying right before Lazarus walked out of the tomb. He offered prayers of thanksgiving before His last earthly supper with His friends. At that same supper He prayed aloud for Himself, His friends and get this…He prayed for you. (John 17:20-26) One night, in an olive grove, Scripture allows us to listen in on the soon to be Lamb of God praying the most agonizing prayer to ever pierce the atmosphere from earth to heaven.  And in a voice so weak that only those at the foot of the cross could hear, He cried words of feeling abandoned and then total submission before He breathed His last.
Those were the big moments. But it's those daily, early in the morning while it was still dark prayers that captivate me. Those are the ones I wish I could've heard. I can only surmise. I can only imagine.
I imagine that He prayed for strength. Jesus breathed our very air and His calloused feet walked the sod of this earth for three years. He was God in a human body. We know from Scripture that He grew tired, hungry and thirsty. He needed an impartation of physical strength to keep going from place to place to minister to the people. He needed emotional strength to keep His eyes fixed on Jerusalem and what awaited Him there.
I imagine that He prayed for patience. He needed patience for those who didn't understand. He needed patience when multitudes followed Him wherever He went. He needed patience to meet the needs of those who followed when all He wanted to do was take a rest. He needed buckets of patience for those Pharisees. He could have smote those self-righteous religious types with just a mind bullet, but He never did. For that He needed patience.
I imagine that He prayed for perspective and focus. At any time, they could have made Him King. He could have been exactly what Israel had hoped the Messiah would be. He could reign and free them from Roman oppression. But if He allowed them to make Him King, He never would have become our Savior. For that He needed focus and the right perspective. He needed the Father to remind Him that all things would work together for good and certainly for the best.
I imagine that He prayed when He would watch many people turn and desert him. I imagine He prayed about His relationship with the man Judas who He knew every waking moment of every day would eventually betray Him. It would take only the heart of God to endure Judas for three long years. I imagine He prayed for His family when they didn't accept Him or understand Him.
I imagine that He prayed words of daily submission to the will of His Father. He would one day offer the ultimate sacrifice on the Cross, but each and every day I imagine He offered Himself as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.
We all need strength, patience, perspective, focus, healing of our broken hearts and relationship issues. We need a time to offer ourselves as living sacrifices at the beginning of each day. We can never know what we will face in the waking hours ahead of us. We need to follow the example of Jesus by wrapping our cloak tightly around our shoulders early in the morning, making our way to some solitary place to get on our knees and pray.
We can only imagine the conversations that took place in solitary places during the early morning hours on the hills of Jerusalem in those days. What sweet communion there must have been between the King of the Universe and the Prince of Peace. That same sweet communion can be yours.
If Jesus needed this daily time with His Father, don't you?
Living the Word along with you,  
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