A Fork in the Road

Oct2013 013I was finishing up the book God Is Not Mad at You by Joyce Meyer.  In the end she was talking about how to move from being milk drinkers to meat eaters in our spiritual lives.  She was saying that we are milk drinkers when we live on the messages of God’s love and grace all the time.  And that we are meat eaters when we eat for ourselves and then do something, like give instead of receive.

For years I was a milk drinking Christian just as Joyce confesses.  I lapped up the messages of God’s love and grace to me.  It was like I really wanted someone to give me a warm bottle all the time and if they didn’t I turned my heart away.  I was so needy.  And I was afraid.

Finally I started to pick up a fork.  I got out the Bible and began reading it on my own.  It was hard at first.  I didn’t always know where to begin.  But as I did it I started to learn a lot.  And I started to grow without even realizing it.  When I read a story about forgiveness, I didn’t turn my heart away.  Instead I listened.  God never shoved anything down my throat.  He simply held out the fork of meat.  In a sense saying, “Would you like a bite of this?  You will have the strength to go a lot of places with me if you swallow these truths.”  And in a sense I would say, “Ok, I’ll try a little of that.  Where do I need to forgive Lord?  And just how can I do it?”

And so a life long relationship of eating at the table of the Lord began.  It really is the richest of fare.  There I am strengthened to face the challenges in my life.  There I am filled with the energy to go the distance with God and to enjoy myself as I do.

“Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity..”   Hebrews 6:1 NIV

 

Cold Hot Fudge Sundaes

file931279076990I was out to eat with my husband and two friends of ours.  Everybody except me ordered hot fudge sundaes for dessert and the waitress brought them out.  After a few moments I took a taste of my husband’s and was surprised to find that the fudge was cold.  Instinctively I spoke up, “A cold hot fudge sundae?  I can’t believe they gave you all cold hot fudge sundaes.  I mean what’s good about a hot fudge sundae is the HOT fudge, right?”  The sundae eaters frowned a little as if just realizing that their desserts were somehow flawed.  I could tell they were considering my words, and I was feeling a little smart for noticing such a problem when one of the friends said, “That’s okay if it’s not hot.  It’s good.”  His words surprised me.  They were genuine.  And they were spoken without rebuke.  Everyone went back to enjoying their desserts and I shut my mouth.  What else could I do?  Grace had poured on the scene.  The gospel had come to dinner.  Mercy was triumphing over judgment right before my eyes.  The atmosphere at the table went back to being pleasant.  The waitress was not summoned.  And her tip would not be cut short.  As I watched my husband and my friends finish their desserts I found myself wishing– wishing to be a person who eats cold hot fudge sundaes with the same grace.  What is the gospel if it is not lived out in small things?

 

Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room

Oct2013 008

My mom was recently admitted to the hospital with internal bleeding.  They were thinking that maybe an artery got punctured when a tissue sample was taken the week before.  She was being given blood and waiting.  Waiting for the next day when they would go in and look around, and hopefully find and solve the problem.  While they waited I worried.  I was thinking about how another family member had not fared well under a similar circumstance.  I was 1,000 miles away and in a state of anxiety.  Running rehearsals for impending disaster.

After about a half hour of fretting something came over me.  And I started thinking that maybe it was wrong to focus on what happened to my mother’s family member, what happened in her physical family line.  I began to feel a challenge before me.  A challenge to focus on her heavenly heritage instead of her earthly one.

I got my Bible out, but wasn’t sure where to turn.  I was looking for the passage about the people walking in darkness seeing a great light when I stumbled upon these words of Isaiah in chapter 8.  The Lord has given me a strong warning not to think like everyone else does.  I was gripped.  I felt the words were for me.  I felt like God was warning me to think about him, to think like his child.  I flipped over to the Psalms looking for words about my spiritual heritage.  I found these in Psalm 77 (NLT) Oh God your ways are holy.  Is there any god as mighty as you? You are the God of great wonders! You demonstrate your awesome power among the nations. By your strong arm, you redeemed your people… When the Red Sea saw you, O God, its waters looked and trembled!  The sea quaked to its very depths…  Your road led through the sea, your pathway through the mighty waters- a pathway no one knew was there!  Wow.

I could rehearse human frailty or I could recite Holy wonders.  That would be my choice going forward.  It took me a moment to realize that it would not be an insult to my mother if I chose not to worry and fret my way through this.  That instead it would honor God, invite Him in.  It would be one way I could “prepare Him room” this season.  And wasn’t that what I had been singing about?

 

“Dah Who Dor-aze”

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It was one of those days when all seemed wrong in the world.  A day when you wonder if you will really win the fight of faith you are in.  Darkness was rising, my hopes sinking.

As I got ready for bed that night I was just plain heartbroken.  I fell to my knees in prayer and could say only one thing, “Lord, do we really win?”  Then I cried.  I cried for what upset me that day and I cried for the sorrows of the whole world, as best I could know them.

After that I crawled into bed.  My husband, a pastor, had recently preached about Paul and Silas singing hymns at the end of a hard day.  The shoe fit, so I put it on and laced it up the best I could.  I found some hymns on my iphone and tried to sing along.  Then I reached over and turned out the light.

I had been lying in bed for twenty minutes and was just ready to drop off to sleep when I heard it, a voice in my heart.  It said one thing, an odd thing for a hot August night.  “The grinch will not stop Christmas from coming.” it said.  The voice was so matter of fact.  And the message was given as a doctor might give a simple diagnosis.  It was given as if I was to, in light of that diagnosis, go to sleep, rest well, and rise to live in hope.

“The grinch will not stop Christmas from coming.”  I began to think about that old Dr. Seuss story.  I compared it with my own day.  The grinch crept into Who-ville with plans of spoiling everything.  He snuck into “Who” homes, snaked across “Who” floors, and cursed “Whos” under his breath, as he stole what they had hoped for.  He even swiped the “Who hash.”  He took it all!  Or did he?

Suddenly in my mind’s eye I was zeroing in on the end of the story.  The part where all the “Whos” great and small, in spite of it all, hold hands and…. sing.  Sing like Paul and Silas.  Sing like I had attempted.  “Dah Who Dor-aze” they sang.  I never understood that song.  Until now.  Now I know what it means.

It means that our enemy can take from us a lot of things, but he can’t take the big thing.  He can’t stop God from showing up.  He can’t stop God from filling our hearts with hope today, and he can’t stop Him from setting everything right on that Great Day.

As I began to fall asleep for the second time that night I heard that voice one more time- quiet, calming, true.  It said, “Keep singing Cindy Lou.”

 

“Just when I need Him, Jesus is near.

Just when I falter, just when I fear.

Ready to help me, ready to cheer.

Just when I need Him most.

 

Just when I need Him, Jesus is strong.

Bearing my burdens, all the day long.

For all my sorrows, giving a song,

Just when I need Him most.”

 

-William C. Poole

The Best Thanksgiving Dinner

DSCN0046Thanksgiving.  We arrive hungry and leave full.  If all goes perfect, we sit down with family around a table beautifully set and a meal lovingly prepared.  And hopefully, for a moment, cares and sorrows and disputes are set aside.  Empty plates and full bowls sit before us.  Grace is said.  And we dig in.  Delighting the host or hostess who has sacrificed for this special moment, we partake ravenously.  And rapturously.

As good as this gets, there is yet a better table.  Where people pull up from all walks of life.  Yellow and brown.  Weary and worn.  Cares and sorrows and disputes are cast aside, along with fears, and mistakes, and pretending, and pain, and labors of every kind.  Here, the Lord says grace.  Over you.  Here, the Son washes feet.  Breaks bread for broken people.  Serves up… himself.  To give you peace, forgiveness, a second chance, another helping of mercy.  This is the table of abundant love.  Won’t you sit and stay awhile?  Delight your Host and partake ravenously.  Rapturously.

“Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?  Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.  Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live.  I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love…”  Isaiah 55:2-3 NIV

 

Spurred on by a Hobbit

A Hobbits Home

“Adventures are not all pony rides in May sunshine.”

That’s a quote from The Hobbit a Tolkien story that is one of my favorites.  In that story a homebody hobbit named Bilbo is recruited for the adventure of a lifetime. It’s a noble adventure. But the hobbit is terribly fearful, often tempted to turn back, and frequently wishing to be in his cozy home with the tea kettle singing.

Listen to some of these chapter titles. “Out of the Frying Pan into the Fire,” “Riddles in the Dark,” “Fire and Water.” Good gracious, the hobbit had to walk through some tough chapters on the way to a glorious finish. But guess what? He made it. And before it was all over, he found his courage and defeated a great enemy.

When Tolkien wrote The Hobbit he intended that it reflect the Christian life and our spiritual journey. So it teaches us about the kinds of days and experiences we will have as we go forward with the call God has put on our lives. From the little hobbit we learn that we will not always feel strong or brave as we move forward in faith, but we should keep moving anyway. Feelings are not our master. Sometimes we won’t get the things we are used to, served on time and in the way they were before. The hobbit missed his delicious meals, his comfy couch and his evening tea time.

Yet, in the midst of it all the hobbit found delight in some unexpected and wonderful blessings. Because, although there will be rainy days, hungry days, and scary days, God will have some surprising and delightful provisions for you along your way. One of them is friends. The hobbit knew the joy of good companions, companions with a similar purpose seeking the same end. So, get yourself some Christian friends. The hobbit also knew the wonder of coming across a warm little house (when he was cold and wet) with dinner on the table (when he was absolutely starving) and a sublime bed to sleep in (just when he was at the end of his little rope). When you think you can’t go on, God will do something to fill your cup and give you the rest you need. Just remember to accept the provision when it comes your way. It will strengthen you for the days ahead and keep you from becoming a bitter traveler.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Matthew 11:28 NIV

You Don’t Drink Alone

Tea Cup

My niece Anne gave me a cup. The china is Lenox, the pattern is Chirp, and the cup was given to invite me into a fellowship. Aunt Bee started this fellowship that has one mandate: use the cup to drink your morning coffee and remember each other as you do. A beautiful and simple idea.

Our Lord Jesus drank from a special cup. It was a cup of suffering and pain. A cup full of hard things to swallow. It was a cup of trusting God when things get really difficult. A cup of keeping your vision when darkness closes in. It was a cup of sticking to the plan when the plan isn’t fun. A cup of doing things God’s way even if it seems unfair. It was cup of persevering during times of loneliness and betrayal. It was a cup of forgiving. And above all, it was a cup of salvation. Jesus drank from this cup.  And he and said his followers will drink from it too.

Can you accept this cup? Will you decide to walk through hard times God’s way? If so, one of the first joys you’ll know is that you never drink alone. Jesus knows what you’re going through and He is with you. I am too.

“For we do not have a high priest [Jesus] who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are– yet was without sin.”

Hebrews 4:15 NIV

It’s Not Too Late

Man Waiting on Bench

I like the story of Jacob and here’s why. Because even though he started his journey on the wrong foot, God let him know it wasn’t too late to put the right foot forward. Now that’s good news for everybody.

Jacob left home on the run. He lied to his father, schemed against his brother, and is on about a 500 mile walk to his uncle’s when he stops to rest for the night. With a stone for a pillow he falls asleep. Now you’d think with all that’s gone on he’d have a nightmare about his brother catching up with him and killing him right? Instead he has the most wonderful dream. And the dream is from God.

In the dream God does not give Jacob a lecture, though he may have earned one. In the dream God does not tell Jacob all the things he should do to make amends, though that is probably what I would have done. In the dream God does a surprising thing, he gives Jacob his blessing. He says, “I will give you and your offspring the land on which you are lying. And many people will be blessed through you. I am with you and will watch over you and I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised.”

When Jacob woke up he was amazed. And his thoughts went something like this, “Wow. God is here? God is giving me His blessing? God is making me these promises? Well then, I accept Him as my Lord and will worship Him.”

When Jacob got up from that place he was still on the same journey. He still had a long way to go and many steps to take. But he was a changed man. When he put his next foot forward I think he was encouraged instead of afraid. I think He was hopeful instead of doubtful. And I think he was thinking about how everything would somehow work out, because God had said so.

Here is good news. Good news for a person who has started anything on the wrong foot. All is not cursed. It’s not too late to find God on this journey you’re on. He’s still there for you. Watch for Him. Listen to Him. Trust Him. Worship Him. This is truth for your travel pilgrim. Will you lace up these mercy shoes and walk on?

       “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go…”  (Genesis 28:15 NIV)

 

The Missing Lady Slipper

Every year I look forward to a little spring event.  It’s the appearance of a single Lady Slipper on a bank of our property in the woods of Craig County, Virginia.  It’s that time of year and for the last three weeks we’ve hopped on the four-wheeler and headed out in hopes of seeing that single pink jewel that grows in the middle of some thorny vines.  And for the third time we’ve come up empty.  We can’t find it.  I’m worried because the power company came through and killed a broad path of foliage right next to where she blooms. Or was it right over where she blooms?  I don’t know.

Why do I like that Lady Slipper so much I wonder.  What does it matter to me if she shows up again?  Well, for one thing the Lady Slipper is Minnesota’s flower, and Minnesota is my home state, so we have a little kinship.  Also, that wild orchid is a mystery, a wonder, a flower of fortitude.  She blooms alone.  None of her kind are anywhere in sight. And she is the only Lady Slipper I have ever seen in real life.  How did she get there I always wonder?  What is her story?  I would love to know.  Anyway, the last time we went to look I was feeling a little sad thinking that she would probably never come back.

It was dusk back at the cabin and we were lounging around watching TV, snacking, shooting the breeze.  The weather was drizzly and we were all pretty tired when Jake surprised me by saying, “Do you want to take a ride out and see the flowers I found on Tub Run?”  Tub Run is a road behind the cabin that Jake had jogged earlier that day.  After my disappointment over the Lady Slipper he told me that he had seen some new purple blooms on Tub Run.  “Sure,” I said.

I put on a Carhartt jacket, pulled the hood up and we headed into the drizzle.  It was a nice ride on the four-wheeler; snaking our way through the forest on that gravelly road.  Every here and there Jake would stop and point out what looked to me like small but spunky purple Irises.  I was surprised.  In all our rides up and down Tub Run, I had never seen them before.  The Irises liked it on the steep bank of the road.  They were getting their footing, even sort of taking off in spots.  I took a picture.  We had the best ride on Tub Run, getting a little wet, pointing out moss, talking about swollen creeks, deciding on an Iris to take home for my terrarium.

That night I was washing my face before bed.  I was thinking about the day. A good day.  I was thinking about the gone Lady Slipper and the new crop of Irises, sad on one hand happy on the other, when this verse came to mind.  “See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?  I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.”  I smiled.  It was a great way to sum up the day’s flower hunt.  It was great way to sum up some other things I was looking at, looking for, too.  It was a good verse to go to sleep on.  And, to wake up to.

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.  See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.”
Isaiah 43:18-19 NIV

How to Build Anything

In the book of Nehemiah the people of God have a huge task in front of them.  They are rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem.  From rubble.  Halfway through their work they are attacked by a powerful weapon.  Words.  “What are those feeble Jews doing?” the enemy says.  “Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble?  If even a fox climbs on that wall it will break.”  Do you feel the sarcasm?  Do you see the shame and doubt those words carry?  As Nehemiah counters the attack his method is noteworthy.  He doesn’t speak to his enemy, he speaks to God.  In prayer he lets out his hurt and frustration.  Then he and his people return to the task at hand.  That’s called focus.

When God is doing something in us or through us, Satan will oppose it with his words.  The words will attack our mind.  They will ridicule and aim to shame.  They will cause doubts to rise up.  “Do you really think you can change?  It didn’t work the last time you tried?”  “Look at the situation you’re in.  Do you really believe God can make something out of it?”  When thoughts like these enter your mind, don’t argue with yourself.  Pray to God.  Ask Him to address what assails you.  Then return to the task he’s called you to do.

“Remember the Lord who is great and awesome.”  Nehemiah 4:14