Friday, December 31, 2010

The Unopened Gift

Remember the last time you received a gift-wrapped package from someone? Picture the box, wrapped in iridescent white paper, and tied with a beautiful bow. When you were handed this gift, what did you do? Did you open it immediately, eager to see what was inside? Did you want to personally thank the one who gave you such a gift? I suspect that most would open the gift right away so the giver of the gift could see the pleasure on your face as you received this present. But did you ever take a beautifully gift-wrapped package, put it on a shelf or in the closet, and leave it there unopened? I can’t imagine doing such a thing, can you?
If you gave a gift to a loved one, would you be offended if that person never opened it? Would it bother you if you paid a good deal of money to purchase this gift, only to have it sit, unopened, on the shelf? Or what if you hand-made a gift, and spent countless hours laboring, in love, to create something special? Would you be upset if the recipient of this gift didn’t even open it?

The one who longs to give us good gifts is God, your heavenly father. We are quickly able to receive His gifts of love and peace. We may at times neglect to use these gifts, but we have opened them and have expressed our gratitude to God for His generosity.

There is one gift from God, however, that we often find difficult to open: the gift of forgiveness. Psalm 86:5 (NKJ) says, “For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, and abundant in mercy to all those who call upon You.” Unfortunately, many of us believe that our sins are just too terrible, so we cling to them. We know God forgives sins, but He surely won’t forgive this? We just can’t force ourselves to untie the bow and tear open the paper to receive the gift of forgiveness. Sometimes the problem is that we can’t forgive ourselves. “How could I have ever done that horrible thing?” we might wonder, and the beautifully wrapped package stays on the shelf, untouched.

God paid a great deal to give each of us this gift of forgiveness. He spent a great deal of time laboring on this gift as well, thirty-three years, as a matter of fact. For thirty-three years God’s son lived as a man on this earth, away from His home in heaven. That’s a long time to work on a gift of love. And He paid a high cost for this gift, too: He paid with His life. Don’t you think He would want us to open this gift?

Father God, forgive me Forgive my many sins, both those I have recently committed and those of long ago that I harbor in my heart. Help me accept Your gift, wrapped in love and the sacrifice of Your son. Help me take it off the shelf, unwrap it and accept the forgiveness inside.

I John 1: 8-9 “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Christmas Gifts

Christmas is over. The presents have been opened and the wrapping paper thrown away. Already most of us have forgotten some of our gifts and who gave them. At our house the “biggest” gift was our new grandson, Simeon, who was then just six weeks old. Of course, everyone wanted to hold him, to touch his oh-so-soft skin. We all exclaimed over a smile, and the trusting eyes looking at everything, taking it all in. A new baby is indeed a precious gift, so beautiful, so tiny, and so totally helpless and dependant on us for everything.

Don’t we all receive the gift of the newborn at Christmas, the gift of the Christ child? He must have been just as precious, just as beautiful, just as tiny, just as helpless. But this baby is the one of whom John wrote, “In the beginning was the Word, and the word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made” (John 1:1-3 NKJ). Our God, who made the moon and the stars, who made the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, all the animals on the earth, and yes, who made us, willingly left his throne of glory to come to earth as a tiny, helpless baby. Let us not forget this most precious Christmas gift.

Lord Jesus, as we contemplate this gift, we humbly honor and praise you. What a dramatic transformation: from omnipotent being, reigning in heaven, to a helpless babe, lying in a manger. May the memory of this sacrifice, this precious gift, remain with us and inspire us to more diligently seek Your face.

Hebrews 1:10 “In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands.”

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Hear the Crying

Imagine if you will, Christmas day in history, more than 2000 years ago in the small town of Bethlehem. Jesus is born. Do you feel the crisp early morning air? Do you smell the animals and the hay? Listen. Do you hear the newborn crying? Can you see Mary, seated on the floor of the stable, holding her tiny son? Can you see her rock back and forth, back and forth to comfort and quiet this tiny babe?

Thirty years later, behold a dry and barren land. The voice of John the Baptist cries out

in the wilderness. “Make straight the way for the Lord,” he calls to any who will listen. Now that the crying baby is grown, his cousin John cries for the repentance of his people.
Three years later it is the mother of Jesus who cries. She kneels and weeps at the foot of a rugged Roman cross. High above her head is the broken body of her baby boy. The once tiny babe is grown and men have nailed him on this cross. She cries for her son who is suffering, who is dying.

In just a few days, everything changes. Now those bitter tears, those agonizing cries have turned to miraculous cries of joy. The son who was crucified on a cross is no longer in the tomb. He is alive!

As you contemplate these cries, think about your own preparations for Christmas. Did you spend many exhausting hours shopping, wrapping, cooking, cleaning, and baking, to prepare for Christmas? Did you cry in anger, frustration, or fatigue?

Through your tears, remember, the babe who cried in the manger is the Lord who died on the cross. He is the same Lord who was resurrected and is alive. He is the same Lord who takes away our sins so that we, too, may be blameless and live forever in heaven.
Once again, we hear crying, the crying of our hearts. We cry, needing comfort, remembering our sins. We cry in repentance, preparing our hearts for His coming and living in our lives. We cry in grief, remembering His sacrifice for us. We cry in joy, recognizing His resurrected life in us and anticipating eternity with Him in heaven. We cry tears of delight, for we realize that even though all the shopping and wrapping are not yet finished, we are, finally, truly ready for Christmas.

Psalm 34:15 “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their cry.”

Saturday, December 18, 2010


Ubiquitous. I like that word. You-bik-we-tus. Strange word. It means “something that is present or seems to be present everywhere at the same time.” Once I first heard the word I noticed it more and more often. Listen and you will hear it too, “ubiquitous.” The word itself has almost become ubiquitous.

What has truly become ubiquitous in our society is the cell phone. Everywhere, it seems, there are cell phones. Their ringing interrupts meetings, movies, and plays. Rings tones sing out everywhere. In the middle of a quiet dinner, the person nearby is loudly talking to a friend, telling details of her life I don’t want to hear. Everyone knows how ubiquitous, ever present, and annoying the cell phone can be.

I have decided not to let the sounds of all these cell phones and cell phone users annoy me. Sound like an impossible task? In order not to be annoyed, I let the cell phone serve as a reminder. Whenever I hear or see the phone, I remember that God is ubiquitous, present everywhere at the same time, omnipresent. No matter how often I hear a cell phone or see or hear someone talking on the phone, I know God is more ubiquitous than the phone. Every second of every day, He is here beside me. When I am in the grocery store, driving in my car, attending a play, or hard at work, He is beside me, loving me, seeking me, wanting me to seek Him. I can talk with God more easily and more often than anyone can talk on a cell phone and it doesn’t cost a cent! He is ubiquitous. So when the phone rings? Annoyance is replaced by the confident assurance that God is with me and, instead of irritation about the phone, I express a prayer of thanksgiving to my all-powerful, all wise, all loving, ever present, ubiquitous God.
Omnipotent, ubiquitous God, whenever the phone rings, let that remind me of Your holy presence.

Psalm 139:7-9 “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Rock

I took advantage of the late December 60 degree afternoon by walking along the nature trails in Pawnee Prairie Park. The ground is soft beneath my feet, and the view is fantastic. The various paths meander through scenic routes. One can walk through short grass, cedar forests, deciduous trees, or beside the curving Cowskin Creek. Here the air is fresh and crisp, and I step out briskly, working off my December overindulgences. Quickly I begin sweating lightly, and push up the sleeves of my sweat suit. After half an hour, I stop to rest beside the creek. Here a large tree trunk curves over the water’s edge: a perfect place to sit and listen to the rushing water. Large chunks of cement have been dumped into the creek here at its bend, and I sit and listen to the water gurgle over and around them. I wonder if I could hopscotch across the stream on these rocks; it is only ten feet wide. I stand up on the rock nearest to the bank. It is solid and easily supports my weight. Leaning over slightly, I put my foot on the next rock, which is also solid, but slippery. I hesitate, and then lose my nerve. I can’t risk fallingoff these rocks into the cold water when I am two miles from home and warmth. It would be exhilarating to cross the stream, but my fear keeps me from attempting it.

In Psalm 18:2, David speaks of God as his rock: “the LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge.” Isaiah also speaks of God as his rock: “Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD, the LORD is the Rock eternal” (26:4). If God is our rock and our fortress, do we put our trust in Him, knowing that His firmness will hold us up? Instead of placing our weight on him, how many times do we lose our nerve, just as I did by not trusting the rock to help me cross the stream? When we fail to trust our eternal Rock we never experience the blessings He has reserved for us.

Help me, Father, to rely on Your strength and to trust Your support. Give me the courage to step out in faith, knowing Your strength is sufficient for my needs.

Deuteronomy 32:4a “He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just.”

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The King of the World

When I opened the back door, I heard a small voice yell, “I’m king of the world.” In a yard nearby a small boy perched about eight feet high on top of his backyard playground equipment. With tousled hair, smudged cheeks, and torn jeans, he was quite an unlikely looking king of the world.

Jesus, too, came as an unlikely king. In His day, He was expected to be a great and powerful king who would be victorious in vanquishing the Roman conquerors. As a king He would be expected to have certain qualities: wealth, power, authority, and the ability to conquer with force. On the surface, it didn’t appear that Jesus had any of these powers. As a carpenter and son of a carpenter, he certainly was not wealthy. As an Israelite living in a conquered country, he had no political power, nor did he have an army of men providing military might. His authority appeared limited—He used none over Caiaphas, the high priest, or over the Pharisees or the Roman rulers who put Him to death.

But looking below the surface, one can see Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was, and is, King of the world. Those who know Him realize that He has wealth far greater than we can imagine—even His streets are paved with gold. He is far greater than any king or army that ever existed or ever will exist, for His might created all the heavens and the earth, every animal and plant imaginable, the highest mountains and the deepest oceans. He is commander-in-chief of a host of heavenly angels who would have rescued Him from crucifixion if He had commanded it. His power is far beyond our ability to comprehend, and His authority is endless. Even while He was on earth as a man, He had the authority to calm the waves of the sea. Think what authority He commands now, reigning at God’s right hand! Yes, He was an unlikely king of the world, but He is our King of kings and Lord of lords. He has wealth, power, and authority, but he chooses to conquer with humility, sacrifice, and love.

Almighty Father, King of creation and King of my life, even though you have all power and authority in heaven and earth, you do not abuse your authority or force your subjects into submission. Thank you for giving each of us the choice to yield to your authority. Give us the wisdom to choose wisely.

Matthew 26:52-54 (NIV) “’Put your sword back in its place,’ Jesus said to him, ‘for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?’”

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Swinging the Sword

The story is familiar. We have known it since childhood. On the night Judas betrayed Jesus, an armed crowd came at night to arrest him. To protect his master, Peter “reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear” (Matthew 26: 26:51). The loyal disciple attempted to save Jesus with violence. Today’s Christians are familiar with Jesus’ out-of-the-ordinary response to Peter’s sword swinging: “’Put your sword back in its place…for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?’” (Matthew26:52-53).

I don’t have a sword, but if I did, I could neither swing it in a controlled manner, nor use it effectively to defend someone. Still, there is a message for me in these verses. How often do I take up the sword of independence, swinging away, trying to solve all my dilemmas? “I can do it. I can save you. I can handle this situation.” Acting on my own, I hack and hew with my sword, wearing myself out, and worsening the situation.

Did Jesus, creator of heaven and earth, need followers to protect Him? No, for He could call on God’s army of angels to obey His every command. Why do I not understand His willingness to protect me? Peter didn’t understand either. I have scriptures and the Holy Spirit to help me and still do not understand; there is no need to swing my sword. Almighty God, commander-in-chief of all the angels, is in control. I must rest behind His shield of power and love.

Oh God, help me lay down my sword and yield my “strength. “ Only then can I win my spiritual war.

Isaiah 58:11a “The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.”

Sunday, December 5, 2010

I Wonder

I wonder what she thought. Mary. I wonder what she thought when she felt baby Jesus moving and kicking inside her womb. Yes, the angel had told her this child would be “called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35b), but she still must have wondered the very things all expectant parents wonder: What will he look like? Will he have my eyes? My smile? What will he do when he grows up? Will he be kind? Will he be happy?
Surely God kept the truth of Jesus’ death from this young, expectant mother. Knowing about his crucifixion ahead of time would be far too painful to bear. But His father, God, knew what this baby would grow up to be. His father knew he would be executed on a cross while still a young man. He knew about the crucifixion long before Jesus was born, and he still allowed it to happen; in fact, he planned this baby boy’s death long before Mary carried the son of God in her womb.

Why would a loving father plan the execution of his son? Of course, you know the answer. The human birth of the son of God, his life, death, and resurrection are all part of the plan to cleanse us from our sins and enable us to become adopted sons and daughters of God. His pain while on earth allows us to live abundantly and to spend eternity with God in heaven.

As we celebrate the season of our savior’s birth, remember that Christ was with God from the beginning, assisting in all of creation. Think of the sacrifice he made by living on earth, and allowing men to crucify him. What a wondrous Christmas gift!

Father, as we celebrate the birth of Mary’s baby, let us not forget this infant is the child of God whose sacrifice saves us from our sins.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Searching for Undersea Treasures

Some people contentedly swim along the surface of the water or wade in the shallows, hoping to stumble upon shells or other treasures. But they are unwilling to dedicate hard work to find treasures. Others who seek treasure are more realistic; they invest in proper diving equipment and explore the depths of the ocean. They may not find what they sought: gold or sunken ships on the ocean floor. But the sea is filled with other kinds of treasures--the wonders of all the life that teem in the ocean: fish of all kinds, lobsters, clams, sharks, whales, jellyfish, and octopus. Under the sea hide coral caves, mountains and volcanoes. Those who are persistent find many treasures.

So it is with our spiritual lives. Too often we are content to skim the spiritual surface. We hope that our brief foray into spiritual matters will result in that lucky find: blessings overflowing from a loving God. He is, of course, a loving God, but He desires that we diligently seek Him. Just as the serious treasure hunter invests much time and effort into seeking his undersea treasure, so we learn to invest time and energy seeking God’s treasures. Treasure hunters rarely work alone; together they are safer and more likely to find treasure. We too are more successful working together to seek our treasure. If we diligently seek God’s spiritual treasures, we will find them. We may frequently be surprised at what God reveals to us, but we will never be disappointed.

Oh God, you promise to reveal yourself to those who diligently seek you. Make me persistent in my searching. Show me how to search beyond the shallow waters to discover your spiritual treasure.

Deuteronomy 4:29 But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Child's Walk with His Father

“Let’s go,” the father called to his four-year-old son.

Jimmy scampered over and reached his small hand up for his dad’s firm grasp. Eagerly he tugged on the strong arm, “Let’s go, let’s go,” he sang.

Small hand wrapped firmly in the larger hand, out the door they walked, down the sidewalk. Jimmy hopped and skipped and gleefully noticed everything. “Wow! Look at that bird. Look, look, an airplane.” He paused momentarily to point and stare skyward.
Soon a large German shepherd barked noisily at them. Jimmy jumped, edging closer to his dad. “Daddy, I’m scared, carry me,” he pleaded.

“Don’t worry; I won’t let that dog hurt you.” Dad scooped Jimmy up and swung him onto his broad shoulders.

Soon they came to an intersection. “Stop!” called Jimmy. “Look left. Look right. Any cars? No? Okay, go,” just as his father had taught him. Together they safely crossed the street.

“Daddy, I want down.” Once again, strong arms lifted Jimmy off his dad’s shoulders and set him safely on the sidewalk.

Jimmy, like most young children, loves to spend time with his dad. With childlike faith, he puts his hand in the strong hand of his father, trusting him completely. Together, they walk wherever the father chooses, knowing their time together is more important than the path they choose. Even though they utter few words, they communicate. In times of difficulties or danger, the son instinctively draws closer to his father, who carries him.
In the same way the small child trusts his father on his walk, so we trust our heavenly Father on our life’s walk. Trustingly, we place our hand in His. We talk to Him, expressing our delight in what we encounter, and our fears of what lies ahead. No matter what, we confidently walk with Him on whatever path He chooses. If we listen to His words and follow His advice, we know we will avoid danger, just like the child who learned to look both ways before crossing the street. Will our walk always be pleasant? No. Will we ever become fatigued or frightened? Yes. Will there be times of great difficulties? Of course. But like a small child, we confidently look up and say, “Daddy, I need help, carry me.” Whatever difficulties we face, our Father, who listens to our pleas, picks us up with his strong hands, swings us up on His broad shoulders, and carries us safely though life’s journey.

Father God, teach me to have child-like trust in You.

Psalm 16:11 (NIV) “You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Dress for Success

Every morning as I prepare for my day, I decide what to wear. Looking in my closet and dresser, I have choices to make. Do I wear a skirt today? Slacks? Jeans? What top coordinates with the skirt or pants? Both must match in color, and appropriateness for the weather and occasion. Next, I must decide on appropriate accessories. Which shoes? Belt? Scarf? Jewelry? All these choices must match one another to create a unified whole. Once I make my decisions and dress, I’m ready for the day.

Just as I am able to choose daily what clothes I’ll wear, I have choices in what to don from my spiritual closet. What shall I wear today? Shall it be a spirit of complaining or a spirit of gratefulness? If I wear the spirit of complaining, I must also put on bitterness and accessorize with sorrow, for these create a coordinated ensemble. Before deciding, I wonder, “Is this what a child chosen by God would wear? Is this appropriate attire for the daughter of the King?” No, I must discard those clothes and choose to wear the spirit of gratefulness today. To match gratefulness, I must choose compassion and humility, for they naturally complement one another. In order to accessorize, I choose good deeds for my feet. To top it all off the sparkling gem of God’s love unifies the ensemble. Now I’m ready for the day.

Father, help me choose wisely from my closet of spiritual clothing.

Colossians 3:12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothes yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Mr. B.'s Records

Let me introduce you to an acquaintance of mine, Beelzebub, Mr. B. for short. Mr. B. is a great accountant. He keeps the ledger for souls, your soul and mine. Meticulously, he records every deed, every selfless, honorable act we’ve ever done, as well as every selfish, unkind word or act anyone has ever committed. He even keeps track of all those good deeds we could have done or meant to do, but never actually accomplished. With great relish, he keeps track of our every word and deed. Let me take you to his office where we can watch him work with his latest client, Mr. Everyman, or Mr. E.

As the door creaks open, we see Mr. B. seated behind an enormous, highly polished wooden desk. Mr. B. sits in his black leather chair, perched on the very edge, leaning toward Mr. E. who fidgets in the opposite chair. Wide open on the desk lays a gigantic ledger, its pages opened to the E’s.

“Ah, friend,” Mr. B. exclaims, “I see you shoveled snow off the sidewalk for the elderly widow in your neighborhood. That definitely earns a plus sign on your soul’s ledger.”

Mr. E. shifts in his chair and smiles tentatively, his chest rising slightly with pride in his good deed. A shadow of a sly smile creeps over Mr. B’s face and his eyes glitter with excitement. “But,” he exclaims triumphantly, “You failed to shovel last month, you only mowed her yard three times last summer, and you rarely visit her. That comes to four marks on the plus side, and…let me see…20 marks on the negative side. That makes your overall score a negative 16.”

Mr. E’s shoulders visibly slump, and his eyes drop to the tops of his shoes. “But I thought….”

“You thought!” interrupted Mr. B. “Let me remind you that I am the bookkeeper. I will let you know your score! At this point in your life, you are definitely in the red. You must try harder!”

“Yes, sir,” Mr. E. mumbles, “I will try harder to do good deeds. Honest, I will.” Slowly, he stands up, turns and shuffles out the door.

As the door closes, Mr. B. chuckles. “What a sap!” he says to himself. “He’ll be mine soon. Then he’ll pay dearly for what he owes!”

Many years later, Mr. E. once again enters Mr. B’s ornate office. Even though he is now elderly, he walks with a straight back and chin held high. Mr. E. sits in the guest chair and makes eye contact with Mr. B. Once again, the huge ledger lays open on the shiny desk. “Well, well, well,” Mr. B. says, examining the open book. “You have done many honorable deeds since we last met. Feeding the hungry…check…giving to the poor…check…volunteering at your local school…check….. Well, you’ve earned several hundred points on the plus side. “Now for the negative…you lost your temper…check…said a few bad words…harbored a grudge…didn’t forgive your neighbor…Hmm, it seems you have far more than one hundred checks on the negative side. That means you owe me—you are at a negative three hundred and sixty-three. Since your time on the earth is nearing its completion, it appears you will be in debt to me. But don’t worry, you have all eternity to pay off this debt.” As Mr. B. looked up from his ledger, a broad smile covered his face, but his eyes stared coldly at Mr. E.

Mr. E. sat straight in his chair, a slight smile playing about his lips. He shifted his weight in his chair and reached into his pocket, pulling out an official looking paper. “I believe you have made a mistake,” he simply said.

“What! How dare you question my bookkeeping!” shouted Mr. B. He stood up and lunged over the desk toward Mr. E., glaring at him. “You are mine; there is no mistake!”

“Oh, but there is a mistake. You see, I have a receipt. Here is a copy of it.” As he said this, he handed a small slip of paper to Mr. B.

“This is impossible!” sputtered Mr. B. as he read the neat printing on the tiny sheet of paper. “He can’t have paid your debt. You are mine!”

“Oh, but you are mistaken.” Mr. E. spoke his words quietly and calmly. He paid my debt many years ago. He willingly left his heavenly home to become a man. He willingly died a painful death on a cross, all to erase my debt. If you don’t believe me, just look.”

Mr. B. glanced down at his carefully written ledger. His face turned red, then even brighter red as he stared at the “E” page. Right before his eyes, every mark slowly erased itself until all had disappeared.

“You see,” said Mr. E. My ledger is clean. I owe you nothing. My soul is free of debt.

The printed words on the little slip of paper simply said, “Mr. E.’s debt—PAID IN FULL.” Signed, Jesus Christ.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Pieces of the Puzzle

My sister-in-law is great at working jigsaw puzzles. She can recognize minute differences in shape and can work a puzzle row by row, from top to bottom and left to right. I am amazed by her skill. I, on the other hand, work puzzles the way I suspect most people do. First, I dump out all the pieces, turn them over, and match similar colors. I look carefully at the picture on the box, for without that I would be unable to piece the puzzle together. Sometimes I find several pieces in a row and make progress quickly, but at other times I don’t seem able to fit together a single piece. I study the pieces and I study the picture, trying to make some sense of it all. Eventually, I have an “aha! moment” and realize where a certain section goes or recognize my own misunderstanding about the big picture. After much hard work and effort, I am finally able to put all of the pieces of the puzzle together and can see the completed picture.

Isn’t life often like a big jigsaw puzzle? As we live we are able to find the border pieces and make some sense of the events of our lives. At times we are perplexed. Nothing seems to go right. Difficulties surround us, threatening to overwhelm us. We hardly know which way to turn; none of the pieces seem to fit together. That’s when we must look at the picture on the box. God, in his wisdom has given us a picture to follow when we are putting together the pieces of the puzzle of our lives. His holy word gives us guidelines on how to live our lives, enabling us to see the picture more clearly. His holy spirit also resides within us, telling us which pieces will fit with others, telling us how to make the picture whole. How often do we ignore his quiet voice and struggle to finish the picture, not finding the correct combination of pieces? Then we remember to keep our eyes on the picture. Without it we cannot complete the puzzle. God gives us guidance to make sense of our lives, to complete the picture, if we keep our eyes steadily focused on him. With God’s guidance we make progress, and the pieces fit together. But the picture will never be whole until we see Him face to face in heaven. Then and only then will the picture be whole, and only then will we have answers to our questions. When the puzzle is complete we will live in perfection with our almighty God.

Father in heaven, I thank You for your great wisdom, power, and knowledge. Forgive my feeble efforts to put together the pieces of the puzzle of my life; help me to completely trust You to complete the picture.

Psalm 139: 3-6 You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD. You hem me in—behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me.  Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

First Kiss

Frost has kissed the forest. Many of the leaves and grasses have succumbed to its deadly touch. Yellow and brown leaves flutter from the trees. The stream is littered with autumn’s golden snowfall. As I wander off the soft, sandy trail, my feet crunch noisily through the leafy debris covering the forest floor. Looking up, I see many of the trees lifting dark, barren branches skyward. Others sport a few green and yellow leaves, but these too are destined to drop to the forest floor.

It’s silent on the forest floor. No birds call. No animals chatter to their mates. High above in the treetops the wind blows, rustling the remaining leaves. The rustling grows to a roar as the wind rushes past barren branches. So much around me seems dead, lifeless. Yet, I know the forest lives. As I walk I hear rustling in the dead leaves and know small animals run and hide from this human invading their territory. I stop a moment at the stream, listening to the rushing waters bouncing over the rocks. That sound always soothes my soul. I look at the brown grass and the barren trees around the stream and I imagine their roots digging deep into the soil. Above the soil they appear dead, yet their roots continue to draw nourishment into the living plants.

So it is with my soul. At times it becomes brown and looks lifeless. Life is difficult, and I struggle from an unresponsive spirit and lack of enthusiasm. But then I go to a still place and listen. Just like the wind rushes through the trees, God’s voice rushes through my soul, giving me peace. I listen. I learn. I allow the roots of my soul to draw up spiritual nourishment. I rejoice, waiting patiently for that first green blush of Spring to sprout in my soul.

Psalm 30:5b NIV Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.

If I Could

If I could
I'd wipe your tears
And hang them up to dry.

If I could
I'd paint a smile,
Add sparkle in your eye.

If I could
I'd erase the pain,
Draw sunshine 'stead of rain.

If I could
I'd knit some fun,
Threads of sorrow all undone.

If I could
I'd draw her here
You'd see her face to face.

But all of this
Can only be done
By God's most heavenly grace.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Autumn Leaves

John 15L5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

Tenaciously the last autumn leaves cling to the cottonwood tree. Like a thousand yellow butterflies they flutter. The dark branches stretch heavenward—a stark contrast to the leaden sky. Yet still the butterflies flutter, rustling in the breeze. They seem to be the only life in this mid-November sky.

I have become one of those tenacious butterfly leaves: fragile, fluttering in even the slightest breeze. By the thinnest of threads I cling to the tree. I am delicate, but the tree to which I cling is strong and long-lasting. Though it appears devoid of life as winter nears, its branches are thick. Its roots reach down deep into the rich soil, drawing up nutrients and water to sustain it over the winter. Only the tree can give life to the fluttering leaf.

The ground under this cottonwood tree is buried beneath its leaves. Once green and golden, high on the branches of the tree, they now lie matted to the earth, brown and brittle, one indistinguishable from another. As soon as they let go of the branches of the majestic tree, they flutter slowly downward, to certain death.

The tree has given the leaves life. They began as buds in the spring, and then leafed out greenly, giving glory to the tree. Their entire lives are spent on the tree; all their nourishment comes from its strength.

Christians are like the leaves on the tree. God, our maker, is the tree: strong, stable, giver of life. In the beginning of our spiritual lives we are small buds, barely discernable on the mighty tree. Next, in the spring of our spiritual lives, we shyly blush green, and begin to show a hint of His majesty for all to see. As we draw on his strength and wisdom, we slowly leaf out, giving glory to our maker. Later, our greenness deepens and matures, and His glory is evident to all who care to look. At times, the winds of our lives buffet us, but as long as we draw our sustenance from God, our spirits flourish in spite of, or because of, those storms. As long as we cling to our maker, all is well with our souls and our lives illustrate His glory.

As we grow and learn from the life-giving spirit to which we cling, we reach the autumn of our lives. Then we loudly and boldly proclaim the glories of our maker in new hues: yellow, red, orange, and rust. What a glorious God sustains us! Through bitter winter weather, He sustains us, as long as we cling to His nurturing branches. When, at last, it is time to leave this life, we let go, and flutter slowly to the ground where we rest beneath the everlasting arms of our Maker.

Oh God, no matter what my circumstances may be in life, may I always glorify you, for you are worthy to be praised!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Footprints in the Sand

We walk along the water’s edge, watching the foam from the waves rush up, attempting to capture the sand, then fall back to join the blue ocean water. Our heads down, we look in the sand for shells or coral unbroken by the battering waves. I stoop down to examine a piece of elkhorn coral broken from the reef 200 yards offshore. Scott has continued walking and I observe his footprints. Here at the water’s edge his foot sinks several inches into the soft, wet sand, leaving a deep impression. But only for a moment. Then the hungry waves rush onto the beach, carrying sand back with it into the waves. The deep imprints of his footprints instantly fade to a small indentation in the beach. Another wave sweeps ashore, totally obliterating his footprints. It’s as if he had never walked along this beach. Here for only a moment, his footprints are totally erased from the sandy beach.

The Bible reminds us that we are on this earth for but a moment, like flowers that wither and grass that fades away. This verse (I Peter 1:24) comes to mind as I watch the waves erase his footprints in the sand. Once we’ve gone from this earth our memories last for a time, but then are slowly washed away until new generations walk the sands of life, leaving their own brief footprints. I think about how I’ve spent my short time on this earth. Have I done anything of lasting significance? Have I lived my life so that it affects someone else for eternity? My time is fleeting. I must keep my eyes on the eternal, for the footprints quickly wash away.

Oh God, keep my eyes on the spiritual, eternal things of life. May the path I walk leave footprints to help others to know your eternal power, loving-kindness, and saving grace.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Spiritual Wrestling

The once gray skies have cleared, and the dome above me is bright blue. I look away from the mirror-like lake, up at the trees. The thin white branches dotted with their remaining yellow leaves highlight the brightness of the blue autumn sky: a 65 degree treat on a mid-November day. Lying on my back, I watch as high, thin clouds move rapidly across my line of vision. The blue sky is marbled with white, the clouds showing evidence of upper atmospheric turbulence and wind. White terns soar high overhead, gliding effortlessly on the wind. I hear a nearby splash—of fish?—I hear but never see them. I wonder what life lies beneath the glassy surface. The ducks have already flown to warmer climates, but the occasional splash and the ever-widening ripples tell me that life teems just below the surface.

Isn’t this the way of the spiritual world? We see just a ripple, hear an occasional splash to remind us, but we are typically oblivious to the spiritual life all around us. We are oblivious to the spiritual battles being fought for us, oblivious to the spiritual turmoil within the lives of people all around us.

In Ephesians 6:11-12 (NKJ) we are warned to “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” A similar warning can be found in I Peter 5:8: “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” Just as there is unseen life beneath the surface of the lake, so there is unseen spiritual life. Just because we cannot see Satan or the other “spiritual hosts of wickedness” does not mean that they do not exist. Just because we cannot see them does not mean they are not actively working to win our souls or the souls of our loved ones. We “wrestle” against these unseen enemies Satan and his followers have declared war!

The battle rages, yet we often sit complacently on the sidelines, blissfully ignorant that our souls are threatened. Do we approach our lives as if we are preparing for battle? If not, then we may be overcome by the enemy.

Almighty God, open my eyes to the spiritual battles raging around me. Assist me as I don Your armor. Give me strength to fight this war that I might win glory for you.

I John 4:1 “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Buoy Me Up

The ocean is relatively flat in this sheltered harbor. Gentle swells buoy us up and down as we tread water 50 yards from the shore. We’re more accustomed to clear, flat, chlorinated swimming pools. Swimming in the ocean is a rare treat. Quickly we notice the buoyancy of the salt water is quite different from pool water. With just gentle kicks or quiet sweeps of my hands I keep myself afloat. Before long I discover another surprise. Between the salt water and my additional pounds, I can afloat upright, breathing easily, without kicking or stroking. I cross my legs and place my arms down at my sides. Still upright, my head stays above water. Keeping very still, I find my body gradually tipping; the waves have tipped my balance and I find myself on my back, still afloat. The same thing happens when I face the shore. This time my body gently tips forward, and I now float on my stomach. Being able to stay upright in the water with my head above the water without working to stay afloat amazes me! Very quickly we both adapt to this new buoyancy, enjoying ourselves in the waves, staying above water effortlessly. All we need to do is a few gentle hand strokes or kicks to keep our balance.

If only it were so easy to adjust to God’s buoyancy! After many years and many trials I’ve learned that God keeps me afloat even in the darkest of times. He keeps my head up even in the biggest waves of life. Yet still, how often I vigorously kick and press my hands against the waves, working desperately to keep my head above the water, forgetting that God buoys me up. If only I could learn to relax and allow him to buoy me up and keep my head above the waters that threaten to suffocate me. How often I kick and struggle, wearing myself out instead of giving in and allowing God to take control and buoy me up.
Father God, help me to trust in You and allow Your buoyancy to keep my head above the waves. Buoy me up Lord, buoy me up.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Secure in His Arms

Deuteronomy 33:27 “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.”
Tonight I am wide awake. My body is relaxed, my eyes are closed, and my breathing is deep and even. But my mind is wide awake and running, running, running. I am snuggled up against my husband, the back of my head and my neck resting on his arm. The tensions of the day stored up in the muscles of my neck and back slowly dissipate. The heat from his body keeps me warm, his deep, regular breathing soothes me, and the strength of his arm beneath my head makes me feel safe, secure, and loved. Even though I am wide awake, I relish this time of peace and contentment.

As my body enjoys this wide-awake repose, my mind questions, “Isn’t this the way God wants you to rest in Him?” His arms are always there, willing to provide my refuge, but how often I fail to turn to them. Instead, I turn my back on his arms. Then, the muscles of pride, self-reliance, and worry knot up, making me miserable. If only I would turn to His arms and allow Him to take my burdens, He would ease my pain. Often I stay huddled far away from his warmth, cold and alone. If only I would snuggle up to him, his warmth would radiate into me. If only I would listen to his voice and rely on his strength, I would know I am safe, secure, and loved. “He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carried them close to his heart” (Isaiah 40:11).

Father God, teach me to rest secure in your arms.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Seedling

I Corinthians 15:20 “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

Sitting on the glider on the backyard swing set, I bask in the beauty of an early spring day. As I rock gently back and forth, the soft squeaking of the glider mesmerizes me, like the gentle creaking of a comfortable rocking chair. High in our mulberry trees, the male cardinal calls for his mate. A beautiful bush grows three feet taller than our privacy fence, its branches laden with pale green leaves and thousands of tiny, fragrant white flowers—sweet-smelling, like honeysuckle. A black butterfly, splashed with white spots and bold, orange stripes, lights on the flowers; he is hungry for their nectar.

The sunshine warms my face and arms. A breeze blows—not a typical Kansas gale, but a gentle breeze, enough to ruffle my hair and start the cottonwoods softly whispering. Far overhead planes from nearby Mid-Continent Airport drone, whisking their passengers to some distant city. The bark of the neighbor’s dogs occasionally punctuates the quiet morning; they beg for our attention.

Scott works in the garden, turning up the rich, brown soil. It’s time for the second round of beans to be planted. One by one, he drops the seeds into the soil, and then buries them deep in the brown earth. Soon we’ll enjoy the tender vegetables.

Consider the miracle of the seed. Buried two inches beneath the surface, the lifeless seed slowly awakens to new life. As the sun warms the soil, the seedling begins to stir until it cracks the seed open, much like a chick cracks the egg which shelters it. After the seed has cracked open, the seedling toils to break free into the fresh air and sunshine. Bent over, it slowly pushes through the earth, letting its back do all the work. Within a week the soil cracks and splits, evidence of the seedling’s labor. In another day the pale green seedling appears, still bent over. Soon the seedling completely emerges from the dark earth, and straightening its back and unfurling its leaves, it stands erect, lifting its head toward the warmth of the sun. Carefully, we nurture the seedling. Providing water and keeping the weeds away, we anticipate a harvest of delicious green beans.

Observing the plant life that God has created makes it so much easier to understand spiritual truths. Planting a seed and watching it germinate and grow is a metaphor for resurrection. Watching seeds emerge from their burial and watching perennials, dead through the winter, emerge to new life prepares our feeble human minds to understand resurrection and anticipate the glorious new life that awaits us in heaven with God. We need not fear death. We need not fear being buried in the earth, for we know, like the seed, we will rise to a beautiful new life, basking in the Son’s bright light.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Child's First Steps

II Peter 3:17, 18 “Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.”

Do you remember watching a baby learn to walk? First she holds tightly onto her mom’s hand, walking only with the reassurance of her mother’s grip. Soon she bravely lets go and takes a few tentative steps on her chubby legs. Back and forth she walks the few steps from Mom to Dad and then back to Mom, smiling the whole time. She has complete confidence in her parents; they will not let her fall. After her confidence grows, she will briefly venture out on her own. The steps are slow and the child is wobbly, sometimes swaying to capture her balance. She falls often, usually by plopping onto her padded bottom. But she doesn’t give up; she continues moving. After falling, she may crawl toward her goal and then get up and walk a few more steps. So it goes: walk, walk, plop, crawl, crawl, walk, walk, plop. Over and over she toddles her erratic walk. Sometimes she is off balance and lurches to one side; sometimes she rushes to keep from falling forward. But she keeps walking. She keeps learning. Before you know it, she is running. She runs everywhere. She is so full of the joy of running that she forgets to crawl.

When we first accept Jesus Christ as our Savior, we are born again; we are once again babies. We do not, of course, physically become babies. Instead, we are born as spiritual babies, brand new to the spiritual world. As spiritual babies, we must learn to walk spiritually. Our heavenly Father will watch over us as we take our learning steps. Like a small baby, we are tentative at first, unwilling to venture out on our own. Just as the earthly father encourages his children to walk, our heavenly Father encourages us on our spiritual walks. Like our earthly fathers, He holds his arms out to us, hoping we will be brave enough to walk toward Him. With God’s guidance and encouragement, we gather the courage to take a few tentative steps. We wobble, just as the baby does. Yes, we fall down. Unfortunately, unlike the baby, we sometimes refuse to move. The key to improving our spiritual walk is to keep trying, just as the baby does. When we lose our balance and fall, we cannot be content with just sitting. We must get up and continue to walk; if we cannot walk, we must crawl. Learning to walk with God is a slow process: walk, walk, plop, crawl, crawl, walk, walk, plop. The baby does not give up when she falls; neither should we. Over and over we continuously step toward our Father. No matter how wobbly and unsure our steps, we make progress toward Him. Before long we will find ourselves walking toward our God with confidence, perhaps even running with joy.

Oh God, our Father, guide us as we learn to walk with You. Teach us, encourage us, help us stand back up when we fall; help us walk toward You on our spiritual journeys.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Safe In His Arms

Today I venture off the usual broad path through the mowed natural grasslands. I wander onto the narrow, curving paths that transport me into a tree filled shadow land, cool and welcoming. I marvel at the quiet calm, broken only by the sound of my footsteps and the intermittent calling of birds, searching for their mates. The shadows provide a welcome respite from the late afternoon sun. This twisting dirt path through the woods supplies shade for my body and relief from the sun’s glare. As I travel through these woodland paths, I must carefully watch where I place my feet, for tree roots criss-cross my way. While absorbing the beauty around me I remain aware of the roots below, surfacing on the trail.

I remember another time, another path, other tree roots. It was prom night. My boyfriend (now my husband) and I went to prom with two other couples, both good friends of ours. After prom we walked in the woods, enjoying the pre-dawn scenery and longing to watch the sunrise together. My friend Becky walked in front of me and her boyfriend Bob walked in front of her. As we trekked down a steep incline, Becky caught her foot on one of the tree roots and fell forward, screaming a long, drawn out “Bob!” Bob, who walked several feet in front of Becky, and was at the bottom of the incline, calmly turned and caught her. Her toe stayed captured by the tree root, and her body stretched parallel to the ground, her foot at the top of the incline and her upper body shoulder high to Bob, who caught her from below. She escaped injury because Bob held her safely in his arms. Over the years Scott and I have often laughed over this incident. Although Becky’s tripping could have injured her, all turned out well because of Bob’s calm, steadfast nature; he safely caught her, preventing harm.

Continuing my woodland walk, I focus on the roots beneath my feet. I realize the tree roots that I can see on my path represent only a small portion of the roots filling the ground below me. Throughout this woodland the roots grow under ground, only occasionally surfacing along my path, only occasionally visible to my eyes. A passage of scripture runs through my mind, over and over: “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deuteronomy 33:27). Just as the roots create a vast network in the ground below me, so my Father’s arms stretch beneath me, ready to catch me when I fall, ready to support me when my walking falters. Even when I cannot see His arms, they are underneath, providing comfort, providing strength. All I need to do to feel the strength and comfort of His arms is to call out His name. Just as my friend Bob caught Becky in his arms when she called out his name, so my God will catch me in His arms. I may stumble, but He will catch me; He will protect me.

Two weeks ago, at my high school reunion, I learned that Becky had died earlier this year. Even though we had not kept in touch, I mourn the loss of a dear friend. But I am comforted by two images: Bob catching her on that walk in the woods and our heavenly Father catching her in his everlasting arms. Never again will she fall. Never again will she need to call out for help, for she rests in our Father’s arms.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Like a Roaring Lion

1 Peter 5:8 “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”
The Ghost and the Darkness is a frightening movie about two man-eating lions. It depicts a true story, set in the late 1900s in Kenya. Watching it, one can imagine the terror of the villagers as one by one, people from their village are killed and eaten by lions. The lions might strike anyone who wanders away from the safety of the village, leaving the bare bones for loved ones to discover. Sometimes, the lions enter the village at night, padding silently on their huge paws. Quietly, they enter a hut, and then drag some poor unsuspecting victim, screaming, into the brush for dinner.

Scripture tell us that “the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (I Peter 5:8b NKJ). Life in modern America--where the only time we might see a lion is while it is sleeping in a cage at the zoo-- anesthetizes us to the real danger of the lion. The people in rural Kenya understand the fear and the danger from a roaring lion. We need to realize just how dangerous our roaring lion, Satan, truly is. We are just as vulnerable to his attacks as a villager, alone, facing a hungry, man-eating lion.

How do we protect ourselves from the roaring lion? We must be vigilant, watching for his attacks, putting on God’s armor for protection (see Ephesians 6:10-21). We must live our lives full of truth and righteousness. We must be prepared to share God’s good news.

We must carry a shield of faith to protect us from Satan’s sharp claws and teeth. Our heads must be protected by the salvation of Jesus Christ and by the word of God. Additionally, we must pray constantly. Only God’s mighty power can protect us from the roaring lion.

O God, keep me ever mindful that Satan is always on the prowl, eager to devour my flesh, eager to devour my soul. Remind me daily to put on Your armor that I may withstand the attacks of this ferocious predator.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Beckoning Whispers

As I sit in the kitchen, the sound of the sea beckons me. From the beach house, the waters whisper, calling me to the beach. I grab my sunscreen and my towel and walk across the street and into the soft, dry sand. I sink ankle deep with each step I take, the gentle waves whooshing louder the closer I come. In moments I reach the water’s edge. It’s beauty never ceases to amaze me. Blue stretches before me, as far as my eyes can see. Summer’s gentle swells roll on the beach, breaking only a foot from the dry sand. Only when I step into the water do I feel the strength of its pull. Standing ankle deep, my feet sinking into the sand, I let the waves break against my legs. Small as they are, I feel their strength as they rush to the shore and break against my legs, splashing up to my waist. I brace myself as larger waves approach, knowing they have the strength to knock me down. After breaking, the waves rush back to their ocean home, pulling against my legs, beckoning me to come deeper, to immerse myself in their crystal clear waters.

I feel the strength of the small, summertime Pacific waves, and I look beyond, seeing the blue curve of the ocean’s edge, miles out to sea. I marvel at the power of the waters, stretching for thousands of miles in every direction as I stand on the North Shore of Ohau. What tremendous power lives in this ocean! It’s so great and so strong my mind cannot fathom it. Nor can I explore its depths. I observe only what washes ashore and what I can see from a few hundred yards out, as far as I feel safe swimming. Farther in the ocean, the waves boom and crash against rocks and coral, thundering across the bay.

Just as the gentle waves washing the shore call to me, God calls his people in a still, small voice. In the quiet times when we listen for His voice, he calls to each of us, beckoning us closer to Him. As we walk closer to him, listening for His voice, He speaks clearer, louder. Only when we immerse ourselves in God through prayer, His word, and others, can we begin to feel His power, the power that created the ocean’s waves, that created the booming surf. As I wander at the edges of God’s greatness, experiencing His waves along the shore, I sense the awesome majesty and greatness of Him, stretching farther than my eyes can see, deeper than my mind can conceive. I hear his voice in still, small whispers, washing my soul clean, and I long to plunge in, swimming stroke by stroke nearer to the heart of God.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Caterpillar's Change

II Corinthians 5:17 (NKJ) “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold all things have become new.”

Picture the caterpillar. With its belly nearly dragging the earth and its tiny legs working furiously, it inches along, making its way from one plant to another. On the plant it blends in, its green color camouflaged by leaves. It spends its life contentedly munching its leafy green diet. But one day the caterpillar drastically changes. It stops eating and spins a cocoon around itself. Here it stays, snug and secure for a time. We don’t know exactly what happens to the caterpillar while in its cocoon, but we do know it emerges totally changed. The caterpillar, once confined to traveling slowly on its little legs, can now fly. In its freedom, it flits from one flower to another, its diet no longer green leaves, but the sweet nectar of the flowers. It no longer shows dull green, but instead displays beautiful colors in its gossamer thin wings. What was once a slow-moving, plain creature has become a free-flying, colorful work of art. The old caterpillar has passed away; it has become a new creation.

Like the caterpillar, we are to become new creations. When we are “in Christ” we no longer crawl with our bellies close to the ground; we no longer see ourselves or others from an earthly perspective. With Christ, our perspectives change. Before, hundreds of earthly concerns reigned central in our lives: making more money, driving the latest cars, wearing the latest up-to-date fashions. When we crawled like a caterpillar, we saw other people from an earthly perspective: how they looked, how we could judge them, whether or not they were part of the “in-crowd.” We loved to gossip about others; we loved to tear others down in order to build ourselves up.

But we who are “in Christ” have become new creations; we have gossamer wings with which we can fly. Christ in us lets our thoughts soar heavenward. Suddenly, our earthly concerns seem less important; we are more concerned with gaining fruits of the spirit. Acquiring these becomes more important than acquiring material goods. We now view others from a different, higher perspective. Christ in us can love others through us. Instead of seeing other’s faults, Christ lets us glimpse what He sees in each of His beautiful human creations. He lets us see what each person could become through His love. Instead of gossiping about others, we now talk to God about them, lifting them up in prayer.

Are you concerned that you haven’t undergone this metamorphosis? Then look to the example of the caterpillar. Before the caterpillar could change, it needed to spend time in the cocoon: sustained time alone with God, studying His word, listening to His still small voice, talking with Him, and hearing the testimonies of all the “new creations” in His word.

Father, wrap us in the cocoon of your love and wisdom and make us butterflies. Work the miracle of change in our lives. Create us anew as beautiful new creatures flying on the wings of your spirit.

Wordless Love

I Peter 3:15-16 “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”

I don’t remember hearing my parents say to me, “I love you,” but I know that they do. They have always shown their love in countless ways. When I was growing up they worked hard to provide a comfortable home, food, and clothing. They made sure my brothers didn’t pick on me, at least not too much. Even today, they still listen when I have something important to say. They encourage me when I’m discouraged or when I start a new venture. Their eyes shine with pride at my smallest accomplishments. Their actions, not their words, have always left me feeling secure and loved.

I have never heard Jesus say to me, “I love you,” but I know that he does. He provides my every need. He sometimes allows difficulties in my life, but never more than I can bear. He always listens to me and knows my heart, even when I don’t talk to Him as often as I should. He is the source of my abilities and is pleased when I work hard to develop them. When I’m discouraged he wraps loving arms around me, encouraging me to continue. And those very same arms stretched wide open on the cross for me. Because of His willingness to become sin, I have been adopted into his family and will live forever with him in heaven. His actions leave me feeling secure and loved.

Through our own wordless love we let others glimpse how loving our savior is. When we understand another’s feelings, or listen to his problems, we show God’s love. When we assist an elderly neighbor or babysit a friend’s children, they are aware of his love. When we accept others without judging them, they can see God’s love.

“Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brother, love one another, deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God” (I Peter 3:22-23).

Oh God,  humble so we recognize your demonstrations of love, and show us how to act in loving ways for others.

The Golden Key

Galatians 5:13 “You, my brothers were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.”

Angela stirred under her down comforter, reluctant to get out of bed. She yawned and stretched her entire body like a cat waking from a nap. Consciousness gradually dawned on her sleepy brain; she rubbed both fists in her still-closed eyes, and then slowly opened them, one at a time. The awareness of something hard in her right hand startled her, removing the last fog of sleepiness from her mind. Gingerly, she opened her hand and peered at her palm. “What’s this?” She muttered to herself. Radiant in the early morning light, a golden key lay in the middle of her palm. Never had she seen a key like this. It resembled an old fashioned skeleton key, covered with an intricate design. Strangely drawn to its beauty, she held the key up to bedroom window, examining it closely in the early morning sunlight. Its design looked vaguely familiar, yet unlike anything she had ever known. Each curving line softly caressed its neighbor. How did I get this key? What does it open? She whispered as she turned the key over in her hand.

Angela gasped as a golden door suddenly materialized in her bedroom. Trembling, she approached the glittering door and placed the key in the keyhole. With a loud click, it opened and Angela ventured into another room where everything dripped with opulence. A six foot long chandelier lighted the room, its thousand crystal teardrops reflecting the artificial light. She noticed her reflection in the dark, rich, mahogany furniture. How surprised she was to see she was no longer wearing her pajamas. Instead she wore a full-length white satin gown and a mink stole. Earrings studded with diamonds sparkled in her ears. They coordinated with the diamonds in her necklace, bracelet and rings. She heard herself speaking on the telephone: I don’t care who you step on, just make the deal. A shiver as cold as diamonds ran through Angela’s body.

Suddenly the elegant room disappeared, and another door glowing with a veneer of vibrant colors materialized. Come in, a voice hissed. Quickly she unlocked the door and walked in. Bright lights flashed from the ceiling, casting eerie shadows. Liquor flowed freely from a fountain in the center of the room. Young dancing couples swayed in every corner of the spacious room. Looking into the full-length mirror in the entry-way, she saw herself with an attractive young man. Her tight leather mini-skirt showed off her long legs. Her see-through blouse shimmered in the light. She walked unsteadily in her three-inch heels, spilling her drink on the young man. As she giggled, he smiled, took her by the elbow, and lead her into a nearby bedroom.

Instantly the music and the partygoers vanished, and a third door, made of rough-cut wood, appeared. Quickly Angela unlocked and opened the door. This room was plainly furnished with hard wooden furniture. The only sound she detected was muffled crying in the corner. In the glow of the candle-lit room, she saw herself, wearing a plain brown dress. Swiftly she walked to the woman who sobbed in the corner, sat down beside her, and put her arms around her. “There, there,” she crooned, “how can I help you?” Her hands patted the other woman’s back and smoothed the hair from her tear-stained face.

“Thank you for your help,” the woman stammered. As Angela felt a warm glow run throughout her body, the room faded away. Once again Angela found herself in her own room, still basking in the warm glow. She heard a gentle voice speak softly to her heart. “The golden key you hold in your hand is the key to your future. Use it wisely.”

God, help us to make wise choices in our lives.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Stagnant Pond

John 4:13-14 “Jesus answered, ‘Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’”
All is still. Cars scurry by on nearby 13th street, rushing off to their various destinations. Sitting here at the park I hear the distant laughter of children playing. A basketball bounces off the cement court; the clang as it hits the backboard echoes across the grass. A Cessna drones, far overhead. An occasional jogger puffs by, the slap of his running shoes spanking the pavement.

Activity surrounds me, but my world stands still, as if I’m dreaming or sleepwalking. I observe everyone else’s activities, yet I sit, only my writing hand and pen moving across the page. This stillness provides blessed relief.

I sit on a large gray rock six feet above a man-made pond; more rocks rim this small pond’s perimeter. The lowest twelve inches of the rocks surrounding the pond are blackened, evidence that the water has receded. The remaining water, brown and stagnant, is filled with yellow-green algae. Its surface is littered with yellow and brown leaves. Small branches broken from the tree overreaching this pond lie lifelessly on its murky surface. Human trash adds to the dismal scene: a red cup, a white plastic fork, a Styrofoam plate, and a half-submerged Coke can.
Lord, today my body and soul feel dried up and wasted like this little pond. I come here today for a time of rest, reflection, and renewal. I seek rest—wanting Your strength to re-invigorate my body. I seek peace and quiet to allow Your peace to wash over my mind. I seek Your spirit here in Your beautiful creation, so that Your living water will fill my soul, allowing it to bubble over. Make me a sparkling spiritual pond, not stagnant, not filled with trash, but alive with living water, so clean and beautiful that anyone who thirsts for Your living spirit will drink her fill.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Lift Up Your Eyes

Isaiah 40:26 “Lift your eyes and look to the heavens; Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.”

Have you ever had the opportunity to spend some time away from the lights of a city? Try it sometime. Drive at night to the most remote spot you can find, get out of your car, spread out a blanket and lie on your back. Look up at the stars. If you have never spent time just looking at the stars, you are in for a treat. Look up… at the stars! What a marvel they are, scattered like diamonds across the sky! Clustered together so far away, the stars in the Milky Way stretch like silver dust strewn in the expanse of the heavens by God’s mighty hand. His power is awesome. He threw the stars, vast burning furnaces, so far away that they don’t consume us with their flames, but instead cast a soft, faint glow in the blackness of night. How amazing He is! In their own quiet way, the stars scream the wonder of their creator, our God. What a testimony they give to His power and greatness!

How often do we actually see the stars? How often do we consciously look at them? How often do we acknowledge their Creator? Think about all the other wonders God surrounds us with that we don’t even see, let alone thank Him for creating. Do we see the beauty in the curve and greenness of a blade of grass? Do we see the wonder of a sunny yellow dandelion or of its delicate seeds? Do we appreciate how marvelous a flower is? The colors, scents, textures, and shapes of each flower are uniquely beautiful. Do we admire the various blues of the sky? Or the changing shapes and colors of the clouds? If we only look, we can see God’s creation. If we only look, we can see God’s miracles. His creation and His miracles literally surround us. How often do we acknowledge them? How often do we take them for granted and allow them to become ordinary? Instead of appreciating God’s miracles, we trudge, head down, through life, oblivious to His splendor.

God, forgive us for failing to recognize Your hand in the seemingly everyday things which surround us. Show us how to walk with our heads up and our eyes open that we may see Your marvelous creation! Open our understanding that we may acknowledge Your holy presence in our lives. Open our hearts that we may be filled with praise for the wonder of You.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

As The Deer Pants for Water

Psalms 42:1&2 “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.”

It is late August. The hot sun scorches the earth. The brittle grass browns and breaks. Moisture-starved leaves yellow and flutter to the ground. The baked earth, cracked in every direction, cries for rain. Insects buzz in erratic dances—nothing else moves. The stifling heat rises in nearly invisible waves.

Safe in her thicket, the deer stirs. She must drink. Gingerly, she ventures to the brook to quench her thirst. Frequently, she pauses to sniff the air, sensing wolves and other predators lurking nearby, eager to taste her flesh. They too must drink, so her danger heightens as she nears the life-giving water. In spite of the danger, her extreme thirst drives her to the stream, for she pants for water. She must drink.

On a hot summer’s day we guzzle glass after glass of cold, refreshing water, attempting to slake our thirst. If our souls truly pant for God the way the deer pants for water, what would we do?

O God, give me a thirst for You. Make the thirst in me so strong I must satisfy it. Give me the discipline to drink deeply at your never-ending stream.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Eyes Have It

As I taught the simple rhythm game, dozens of pairs of dark brown eyes danced with glee. Huge smiles covered the faces of the beautiful children sitting on the floor with me in this church in the poorest section of Matamoros, Mexico. In spite of the language barriers—the children spoke no English, and I spoke only a little Spanish—we communicated. As we clapped, snapped, sang, and did crafts together, their eyes sparkled. Later in the day, whenever I glanced up from my work preparing for the next day’s Bible school, one or more small brown faces peeked through the church windows. When I smiled and waved, their hands waved furiously, smiles broke out, and brown eyes danced with glee. Pure joy shone out of those huge, dark brown eyes.

Sophia often sat, watched, and listened. Sophia, who spoke no English, loved to be near us. Part of the day she stayed at her tiny home a block and a half away. There, she watched the men in our group saw boards, pound nails, and paint turquoise walls. Her eyes watched as the new edition to her home, a 10 foot by 20 foot room, doubled the size of her tiny house. Sophia, mother of ten, one deceased, watched her house grow. Sophia, quietly sitting in a folding chair at the church, watched the children laugh, play, and learn at Bible school. Sophia, active member of her church, sang praise songs at the top of her voice and knelt on the hard tile floor to silently pray. In her eyes I saw tremendous gratitude. In those big brown eyes I saw amazing peace.

Seventeen of us traveled to Matamoros, Mexico in two rented vans. For six days we worked in Mexico, joining God in the work he was already accomplishing there. I looked into the eyes of my 16 companions. Some eyes glowed the same dark brown as those of the residents of Matamoros. Others shone bright blue or green. At first glance what I saw in those eyes was fatigue. They worked all day in the heat—110 degrees plus heat index—and slept at night together on the roof, praying for a breeze, scattering when it rained. All this produced deep fatigue. Looking past the fatigue, however, I saw more. In those eyes was resolve: pound one more nail, paint one more board, help one more child, serve one more meal. In these eyes I saw true servanthood. In spite of the unbearable heat and the extreme tiredness, I saw the eyes of the eager servants wishing to do God’s will.

The eyes…the eyes are what I remember most. Whether the brown eyes of the locals or the multi-hued eyes of their guests, I saw something special shining in all those eyes. Through the eyes, as clear as a cloudless sky, I saw the love of Christ shining through.

Vacuuming the Carpet

As I vacuum the living room carpet, the hum of the vacuum and the back and forth motion of the machine soothes me. Hungrily, it picks up dirt and debris from the floor. The bits of torn paper, the little clumps of dirt, all are whisked away by its mighty wind. With nothing on my mind but the cleaning, I think about the hidden dirt the vacuum sucks up greedily. Deep within my carpet’s fibers lay tiny bits of dirt, unseen to human eyes. Even though I cannot see these specks, the vacuum pulls them out of my rug. By the time I finish, the carpet looks clean; it even looks newer through its transforming cleaning.

My mind wanders. Isn’t this the way God cleanses our souls? Sometimes we have surface dirt others can see—the pieces of paper, the garden soil tracked in on our shoes. But what about the tiny specks of dirt and soil deep within the soul? Fortunately, God is willing to cleanse all the dirt.

Now my rug is clean, the pile stands up, and the room looks beautiful. I’m glad I will never have to vacuum the rug again. What? You tell me that I will have to vacuum again?

The same is true with my soul. When I accept Christ and confess my sins, He cleanses my soul.

Oh God, there’s much dirt has been tracked in on my soul. Help me to plug in your spiritual vacuum for cleansing.

I John 1:9 NKJ “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Light of the World

Isaiah 60:1-3 “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.”

Light—it’s available at the flip of a switch. Even in the darkness of night, we can light a room, an entire building, or the outdoors as brightly as daylight. We have lights in every room, on nearly every street corner, and even our highways. Businesses are brightly lit, even when closed; brightly colored neon lights beckon us to come in and shop, eat, repair, relax. You name it, we light it. With all of this technological ability to light up our world, do you think it strange that candles are so popular? Didn’t they, after all, become obsolete when Edison invented the electric light? A candle gives only a faint glow in a darkened room, not enough to clearly see someone across the room, not enough to easily read by. Curious, isn’t it? Today, when we can light the whole world with electric lights, candlelight is very popular.

God’s Holy Word is filled with imagery of light. When God first created the world, He said, “Let there be light” and there was light. In John 1:4&5, Jesus is referred to as light. “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” There were, of course, no electric lights when Jesus walked on the earth, but the impact of His life was electric! People flocked from miles around just to see Him, hear Him speak, and to witness His miracles. The religious leaders of the day were so intimidated by Him that they conspired to put Him to death. Their intent was to extinguish Jesus’ light. For three days it appeared that His light had been extinguished.

Jesus Christ came to light the darkness: the darkness of evil, the darkness of the lack of knowledge of His saving power. He was able to do this by being born as a human, by dying at the hands of men, being raised from the dead and ascending to heaven. So, after He ascended to heaven, what happened to His light here on earth? His spirit came to kindle a light in each of us. Matthew wrote the following about the believers in Christ: You are the light of the world…. Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven (5:14a &16 NKJ).

Now I don’t know about your light, but I know for sure that my light is not electric! My light is feeble, and at times it barely flickers. My light is like one solitary candle, providing a little soft illumination. Picture a room with one small candle burning. It is difficult to see in this poorly illuminated room; there is more darkness and shadow than light. But what if a second candle is lit? What if your little light joins with mine? What if others, one by one, add their own little glow to our lights? Soon we can see one another across the room. Soon the shadows flee; soon the light overcomes the darkness. When, together, we let the light of Jesus shine in us, we can create light enough for all to see. “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine”…won’t you shine with me?

Lord of light, help me to remember that my little light, shining in my little world, enables others to see your glory.

A Work of Art

Many admire the beauty of glass, its colors sparkling with the sun’s light. Stepping stones decorate gardens, the glass embedded in the stones. Stained-glass windows in churches inspire awe and reverence.

Anyone who works with glass knows the process of creating these works of art. After deciding on a pattern, the craftsman scores and breaks the glass, leaving tiny splinters and sharp edges. After cutting the glass, the artist grinds its edges smooth. During grinding, powder-fine pieces of glass fly off. When the pieces are shaped and smoothed, the artist arranges them into a stepping stone or solders them together for a stained-glass window. After the final project is completed, its beauty is far greater than the original pieces of uncut glass. With hard work, the glass is transformed into a work of art, matching the image in the artist’s mind long before she broke that first piece.

There is a parallel between the artist cutting and grinding the glass and God forming us into His image, creating our unique stained-glass. Before God begins crafting us, He sees how the finished product will look—more beautiful than we can ever imagine. Just as the artist cuts and breaks the glass into the correct shapes, so God shapes us. Whenever our lives are filled with difficulties, this may be God’s hand at work in us. Once the pieces of our lives are cut into proper shapes, God grinds them smooth. Cutting and grinding may not be pleasant, but God, our designer and artist, will complete the work He has begun. The longer He works in our lives, the more we resemble His image. The more we yield to His touch, the more His light shines through us. Someday all the jagged edges of our lives will be smoothed by God’s touch; someday He will shape us into His perfect work of art, allowing His love to softly glow through the colors of our lives.
Father, thank you for the work you are creating in me. Even though cutting and grinding may be unpleasant, the end result is well worth it. Thank you for forming me into your image.

Hebrews 13: 21b “May he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”