Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Strong Tower

"The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe." Proverbs 18:10

This past weekend I experienced the blessing of a strong tower in several ways. I was sitting in the heat of the day drawing, however I was in the shadow of a tall tree and I was not hot nor sunburned from my time outside. The song "He is my strong tower" went through my head and it got me thinking how God is refreshment in the middle of the heat of life.

The next day, I was reading my Bible under a tree when it started to rain...first a few drops and then a steady rain. I was not wet at all due to the shield of the tree. Again, like God sheltering us during trials.

An awesome storm blew up that evening. I was staying in a cottage that didn't have a radio or anything to find out news about this storm, so I prayed. Later I found out a tornado did go through near the town. I was kept safe in the house and protected from natural disaster. Again, my God is my protection in the storms of life.

These three tangible times of being protected and even refreshed help me really experience the truth of the verse in Proverbs...truly He is all I need!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Life in the Pasture

As an American hard work and independence are what the culture breeds into us. This tends to make our hearts into work horses or race horses--always working, always running. However God says to "Be still and know that I am God." (Is. 46:10) I like the RSV which says "Cease striving and know that I am God." Stillness and rest feed the heart and awaken it to God's presence and His still, small voice. Its hard to hear a whisper in the midst of a storm!!

There was a time in my life that all ministry, friendships and familiarity was removed from me due to a move and some other events. Honestly I was a little depressed feeling like I was put out to pasture and of no use. However, God started working in my heart to show me He had actually brought out into the pasture for my own good--to nourish me deeply with good food and stroke my overworked horse muscles with rest. As I contemplated Ps. 23, "He makes me lie down in green pastures" I realized I didn't even know what was good for me and He had to make me lie down for a while. So what felt like being put out to pasture was actually Him pasturing me for my own refreshment, health and life in Him as well as WITH Him.

Chuck (my husband) has a big project at work this week. He had several problems he was trying to work through. Nothing was coming no matter how much time and energy he put into it. As he rode the train home, his mind was given some rest from the situation and also the space to free it up to really think. Presto...the solution came to him after a half hour of rest.

Rest, beauty, quietness, space all feed the soul so it can flourish and we can finish our race here on earth well. Have you eaten or lied down in the pasture recently?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

God's Garden

I just finished rearranging my perennial garden. I have sore arms and legs to prove it. I have sandy soil which means there are few nutrients in the dirt and my plants end up being smaller than expected and dry out easily due to the water running right through the ground. With each plant (about 100), I dug a large hole and filled it in with two shovels of black dirt before setting my plants in to take root. To top off my project (literally and figuratively), I spread dark brown mulch on the surface of the whole garden. I asked myself why? Well, to make it look better, to keep the weeds down and to help with moisture retention--all so the roots would have the best possible conditions in which to grow, knowing this is what causes the blooms I'm after. But why did I pick dark brown. Well, I have to admit I think I was trying to make it look like I have rich soil all over the garden.

Our hearts are a lot like the flowers in my garden. We start out planted in poor soil. With God's help, those roots must be dug up and placed in rich soil for real life to spring forth, for real transformation to occur. If we are just learning about Him and gathering facts or going through the motions of what we think a Christian is, then we are really just spreading mulch on the garden of our heart; making it look good on the outside, but really there is nothing deeper. Or we can focus on the blooming--wanting to be seen by others and getting our identity there. There still will not be the BEST yield of blooms because our roots are still in poor soil and eventually the plant will wither and die due to burnout. Jesus told us to abide in Him. This means to draw from Him much like roots in soil and not just "mulching" the surface, nor trying to blossom without internal nutrients. Whatever our roots are growing in, that's what is providing the food for growth. Real change happens internally when places in our heart that are sickly or altogether dead or dying are uprooted. These roots are dug up by conviction of sin and repentance, recognition of lies believed that are contrary to what God says, or seeing the wounds that cripple us. By taking them to the expert Gardener, He will place them in the life sustaining, rich soil of His Word to bring truth and life. His presence will tenderly care for the plant through replanting, pruning, fertilizing and watering so that healing and growth can produce blooms. This involves time investment, sometimes pain and for sure an emptying to be filled with something greater and then its time to BLOOM from the inside out!!

I've tried to make a pretty garden by just adding mulch on top to give the appearance of beautiful life, but the flowers on the plants tell the true state of my garden. Next year I'm hoping for a bumper crop of flowers and much growth due to the time and investment I made this summer. Now the plants need time to rest, deepen their roots and draw up the nutrients to grow into a lovely, colorful garden.

Our hearts need rest and time to draw richly from God's spirit to blossom into all we were meant to be. There are no short cuts to growth. Believe me I've tried in the garden and in my walk with Jesus! Just as I'm expecting my garden to be more glorious next year, so my heart is becoming more glorious for Him as I abide and grow to reflect more of Him, my true life source.

"And we who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit." 2 Cor. 18

How about your heart--are you focused on your bloom or your roots?!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

He Loves Me

Feeling a bit fried this week. I've signed up for too many things out of guilt and not God's prompting--ok, I've learned my lesson about heeding His still, small voice. If He's not in it, neither is His grace to carry out well intentioned plans!!

Feeling kind of sorry for myself, I asked God for some inspiration for my heart. RIGHT as I was finishing asking, I heard the loudest "chirp" coming through my window from the bird feeder. It was an indigo bunting. He's a favorite friend of mine from nature whom I haven't seen for over a month. Truly it was a gift from the lover of my soul. God owns the universe and He ordered a "special delivery" of an indigo bunting to thrill my heart as a love gift from Him. This brought a smile to my face, a tear to my eye and a wellspring of gratitude to my Eternal Bridegroom who sees my heart and knows what I love.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Lessons From Our Sheepdog

A few weeks ago we got a dog, "Kody", that is a mix of two sheep dogs (border collie and blue heeler). Since we got him from the humane society, we don't have any history of his short 4 month life. It seems he could have been a stray or on his own for a while for a bit because of the way he scavenges for food and his longing for affection yet uncertainty with trust. Observing his behavior toward us, especially when it comes to food, makes me think of my heart toward God at times.

We have adopted this little fur ball into our family and long to shower him with love and treats. At first when we gave him a treat, zing, he was off and running, quickly munching his snack. It was like he didn't trust us enough to stay near with such a precious morsel. When we brought him his meal of good grade dog food, he seemed more content searching for chewed gum that my 5 year old evidently has littered the yard with. He just can't fathom that he is cared for, nor recognize the good food versus flavorless gum (perhaps that's what he survived on when we was ownerless) The gum is familiar food and the healthy stuff is foreign to him. As time has passed and trust has grown, he now receives the treats and stays near as though to enjoy it together. As far as meals, well, he is eating his share of dog food but I don't think he'll ever give up his gum!!

Like Kody, we have been adopted into God's family after wondering the world scavenging for life wherever we thought we could find it. I know God longs to lead me and give me good things. But like Kody, as soon as God's treat is given I can be off--longing to receive direction or understanding from Him but not so sure how to linger in His presence for the shear delight of it. As I draw near and worship and listen to His still, small voice, I find that that is the tastier treat--the very presence of my true Father. I am giving up my "gum"--things like the approval of others, service for the sake of being seen and appreciated (as opposed to Him leading and opening the way for His glory), critical thoughts that steal much of my joy, fear of the unknown, etc. I have chewed on these so long, it can be hard to give up because they are so familiar--praise God that Jesus came to give me life that is truly life with joy, freedom, peace, love and all the fruits of the spirit. Truly His word, His presence, His truth is the real meal. May Kody and I quit looking for chewed, flavorless, lifeless gum when the Master's hand has something so much better!!!

Hindsight is 20/20

God never ceases to amaze me at His leading. When I seek Him and listen to His promptings, I find myself being led to some pretty counter-intuitive decisions. Take the addition of our puppy as an example.

Chuck and I had promised our daughter, Amber, a puppy for her 13th birthday seeing as animals is one of her "glories". She set out researching and decided she wanted/must have a smooth coated collie/German shepherd mix. She found a local breeder (do mixed breeds really need a "breeder"?) When we got discussing this as a family, we realized those dogs are gigantic for our rather small house that seems full to the brim with 7 people living here 24/7 already! Her spirits were crushed when we told her we didn't think that size would work well--is this how parenting is suppose to work when you're trying to bless your child? Her next choice after searching some dog rescue sites was a 3 legged blue heeler/border collie mix. I had some concerns about health,etc. and Chuck just had a flat out "no"--another tear session. Logic would tell us that the end of summer would be the best timing with our planned vacations, etc. Perhaps she just needed to wait.

The following day, Monday, Amber, while crushed in spirit, realized that the 3 legged dog was helping her see what her true desire was concerning a breed so she prayed (unknown to me) for a blue heeler/border collie mix that was young. The next morning the kids and I were having a devotion with Psalm 16 and we were discussing God making known the paths to life. I asked what paths are we at the beginning of that we need God to show us which is the path to life? The dog was an obvious one. We prayed, then the idea to check the humane society website came to mind. Popped up before our very eyes was the most adorable puppy AND the guess at his breed was border collie/blue heeler!!!! We went to see him and well, the rest is history!!! We now own, Kody, a four month old mix who is the smartest dog I've seen and can't get enough love, attention and belly rubs.

Its like God saved him just for Amber. He was available for adoption the week previous (the day after Amber's actual birthday AND the day we were leaving for vacation) BUT he developed kennel cough and they had to treat him before he could be adopted. He was quarantined for a week to receive medicine and then became available the day after Amber prayed!! This is now Tuesday and we were going to Valley Fair the next day--not a good time to bring home a puppy with human wisdom. However, we had peace to move ahead. He did fine in the make shift kennel we made for him to stay in while we were gone the whole next day.

Three days later, Snickers, our 15 year old Sheltie started going down hill. We went to the vet and had to start making decisions about treatment vs. putting her down. After many tears, we did decide to put her down.

Human wisdom and all the websites would have told you to not get a new puppy on the heels of losing a pet. We probably would have heeded this. OR with the loss of Snickers, a new puppy could have seemed like we were getting another family pet. With getting Kody a week before having to put down Snickers, it was clear in all of our minds and hearts that Kody was Amber's dog and we were faithful to our promise to her.

Of course Kody won't replace the place in our heart for Snickers, but having him around sure helps heal some of the hurt and also shows us how much life Snickers had lost at the end, somehow justifying a bit having to lose her. We also realized how much bonding takes place during puppyhood due to their constant need of care and their overall goofiness. So thankful Amber prayed for a young dog as opposed to the convenient two year old, potty trained mature dog--we would have missed out on a lot of laughs!!

God is good. His plans far exceed my reasoning and understanding. I have faith that He does make known the paths of life that are truly life because He knows the future, all the details and He owns the universe. Oh that I would seek and trust Him more!!

Ode to Snickers

We had to put down Snickers, our dog of 15 years, yesterday. Wow, was it harder than I expected. Yes, the head says its the right thing to do, BUT then there's the heart!!! The heart screams, "No". I find myself asking why...why is it so hard to say goodbye other than the obvious! Part of me thinks its the moral dilemma of saying "ok" to death. Part of me feels the loss and separation. The mind can rationalize all it wants but the heart must speak for complete healing or we are only half living. I know with God healing more of my heart in recent years, there is increased joy but now I realize there is also increased pain. I wouldn't have a hard heart no matter what, this is just the reality of our God given emotions and heart!

As I ponder my heart, it makes me think of God's heart toward us. He created Adam and Eve to live in fellowship, in deep communion face to face that would not have an end. However with the fall, they and now we choose to live apart from Him. I know the thought of being without Snicker's presence brought on fear and loneliness. How must God's heart be, knowing we are separated without Christ from Him? Of course He has complete fellowship within the trinity, just as I have fellowship within my family, BUT still something/someone is missing. How gracious of Him to send Jesus to ransom, redeem and restore our relationship to Him. He gave us a heart to desire worship of Him, but how many will truly respond to the yearnings of the heart to be filled by Him and not humanly fill it with religion, addictions, busyness or just totally dismiss the longing and live half hearted? Praise God for His wooing us and working in, through and around us to open our eyes to Him. But are we willing to surrender, to come near just based on who He is and not what we can get? What a risk He takes to desire to love us and be loved in return. Even once we repent and believe in Jesus atonement, do we fully seek Him, desire Him, just enjoy Him and trust Him for LIFE? (John 5:40, 10:10,17:3, 26)

The flip side of my loss is the having to experience death. This is hard for the heart because it was made for eternity, not death and separation. This is the fruit of not trusting God's word. This pain I feel is one of the side effects of the fall. Why was it "easy" for Adam and Eve to seemingly choose this pain over LIFE? Well, because they had no clue what death was, so it was easy to dismiss God's warning to them that that would result if they didn't listen only to Him. How many times might God lead me to something that I don't fully understand because I haven't experienced it before or cant' see how it will work out with my finite mind? I realize I do the same as Adam and Eve, I doubt, circle in my head with rationalism or just dismiss His leading. I am not above my forefathers! Oh my limited heart that just will not surrender fully to Him in trust, knowing His ways are higher than my ways and that He truly is the path of life from the joy of His presence (Ps. 16:11). I want to know Him more that my trust might increase, that I might delight in Him alone and reap the blessings of obedience--taking Him at His word without doubt. I have been so blessed when I've stepped out based on His leading especially when I didn't have full understanding because it really was Him going before me and the dependence upon Him allowed me to rest, trust and love Him more.

It does help me to know Jesus was troubled when He was faced with His own death, even knowing He would be resurrected and ascended into heaven. He knew He would be taking the sins of the world upon Himself which would remove Him from His Father's presence. This separation was overwhelming to Him and He asked for the cup to be taken from Him, yet He surrendered to God's will and not His own (Mark 14:36). Death is not of the kingdom of God and yet its a very present reality in the fallen world. Yet, I grieve and live not as someone without hope---death has been destroyed and we have victory over the grave through Christ (I Cor. 15:26, 56-57)

I'm still feeling the sting of death but I know my redeemer lives and in Him is all the peace, joy, comfort and life that this grieving heart was created to enjoy. I also long for Him,
knowing His heart grieves when His children remain far off and don't draw near (Heb. 10:22-23)

Chicks and Hens and Jesus

Our hen hatched out some chicks yesterday--we still don't know how many as we can only hear the peeps because they are huddled under her wings and out of sight. I have been longing for this day/experience as I've been thinking about Luke 13:34 "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!"

We have raised chicks in a box with a heat lamp (a brooder) but this is our first time having a hen mother the chicks. I wanted to contrast the two as this is so relevant to our walks with Jesus and also Heart Revolution ministry--through our events God removes what keeps His children from coming under His wings so we might know Him deeper, trust Him and LIVE for Him--check out the comparison:

Raising chicks with a brooder (similar to being a non-Christian or a Christian who only knows the historic/factual Jesus, but not the LIVING savior)

The chicks are on their own, taken from their mother really, and placed in a sterile environment to satisfy their instincts. The owner of them has to force their beaks into the waterer to teach them to drink, or they would not know the water source. The chicks have a huge pecking desire and will peck anything from food, to bedding to feces--they simply do not know what to nourish themselves with as they do not know food from refuse! Some die because their crop gets plugged with bedding. When the chicks get bigger and are introduced to the adult flock, if it is done improperly, the adults peck the heads of the chicks and try to kill them. There is no mother to defend them from the "bullies" or any other enemy, so the chicks hide with their heads in the corner trying to protect themselves from being mauled--if they are pecked and live, they are scarred for life and the feathers never grow over that wounded place!

Hen and Chicks (taking refuge in Jesus, the living savior and listening for His voice)
Chicks with a hen have a consistent heat source to warm them coupled with a shelter from the storms--underneath her wings. The hen will lead the chicks out and show them what to drink and eat. With her voice she will cluck to direct them to something for their benefit or with that same voice gather them to herself when she sees danger--indeed she is a refuge, shelter and strength for the chicks, just like Jesus. AND she defends her chicks from the attacks of the other birds or any other enemy--they are fought for and protected because they are not on their own. Because they are led and defended, the chicks have the freedom to explore their surroundings--they don't need to hide in small, safe places like a brooder nor hide in a corner, unsure of their acceptance, just to survive.

Because of the loving care of the hen and the familiarity of her voice, the chicks are secure in their trust of her, run to her in times of trouble and can venture out to really LIVE knowing they are protected and fought for. The chicks feed on good food being shown what to eat so they are not choked or killed by something they shouldn't eat/find comfort or nourishment from. This is just like trusting Jesus has not left us abandoned, He is the mighty warrior defending us, He is the voice of truth that sustains us with rich nourishment and replaces the soul-killing lies from the enemy with truth so we might stand strong and come out of hiding or seeking comfort from anything other than our heavenly Father who longs for us to draw near, under His wings---

Let's run to HIM!!!!

Good Bye Pride, Hello Humility

I'm reading Ephesians right now and came to 5:1 about Christ giving Himself as an offering and sacrifice to God. A few days ago I read a devotional to my kids about sacrifice so I've been letting that word rumble around my head for a few days--do we really ask Him what sacrifices He would delight in us offering (not legalistically to make ourselves feel better, but that which He reveals as a means to draw nearer Him in obedience to His spirit). I asked God what He would like me to sacrifice---"Pride" came to my heart. That's IT--the heaviness on my heart is pride!!!. With a confrontation with a lady in my small group and the heaviness in my heart afterwards, I felt like I had failed but really, its PRIDE. Thinking I'm doing the teaching, convicting, leading others to intimacy with God, etc. That is the Holy Spirit's role and the other person's responsibility to respond!!!! I am to fix my eyes on Jesus and persevere in my walk with Him and declare His work/truth but the fruit is His. Its so easy to take ownership because our flesh is weak!!! This is also so close to the "its all up to me" lie I live under from the agreement I made when my dad died (it was my flesh agreeing with the enemy to put me in bondage to taking on more than is what God would have out of fear, feeling like I'm on my own, etc.--all to overburden me and to get my identity in duty/service and not Christ.)

Although I'm not an elder, due to God's calling I have been placed in leadership, so in a way first Peter 5 applies "be eager to serve(not because you must, but because you are willing), not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being an example to the flock...clothe yourself with humility."

Praise God for conviction of sin---good bye pride, hello humility!

Blessings to you this glorious day in His-story--He's on the move, may we open our eyes to see Him and follow!!!

Cleansing Fire

Isaiah 55:10-13

"As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, 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. You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. Instead of the thornbush will grow the pine tree, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow. This will be for the LORD's renown, for an everlasting sign, which will not be destroyed."

God says He replaces thorns and briers with pine and myrtle for His renown and it will not be destroyed! I was walking yesterday where a fire had burned up dried out cat tails on one side of the trail. The other side was not touched by the fire, therefore it had dried out plants from last year mixed with the new green growth of this spring. The new growth coming up on the side where the fire had been was so much greener and healthier than the side where there had been no cleansing fire--the growth was smothered and covered up by the death/weeds of last year. This reminds me of our hearts--sin, wounds, the bondage of lies all cover or crowd the life that is hidden in Christ. Oh, come cleansing fire--Father send your Holy Spirit to burn down all that hinders Your life in us.