Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Fields of Grace

During my morning walk on the nature trails, a song kept running through my head: “Dancing with my Father God in fields of praise.” But my mind changed “praise” to “grace.” Over and over I heard those words in my head: “Dancing with my Father God in fields of grace.” My feet kept the rhythm as I walked and contemplated those words. “Grace” quickly moved to the forefront of my thoughts. My grandmother, named Grace, lived graciously. My mother, also named Grace, was a gracious hostess who loved a house full of company. My name, Nancy, means “full of grace,” my cousin named her daughter Grace, and one of my granddaughters is Emma Grace. Grace has become a family name.

The song, of course, refers to a different kind of grace, the grace of God who is willing to forgive all us sinners and allow us access to His throne room. Only through His grace will we be able to enter the kingdom of heaven. The idea of dancing in fields of grace is so joyous and freeing. Can you imagine dancing for joy in God’s presence?

As I continue walking, the words sink home. Isn’t the church our field of grace? None of us is perfect. We all desperately need God’s grace. The church is merely a family of people who’ve accepted God’s grace. But it’s more than that. It’s a family of people who extend God’s grace to others and to each other. Let’s be sure that “grace” is a family name in our church. Just as we’ve received God’s grace, let us all freely extend grace to one another and dance together joyfully with our Father God.

I Timothy 1:14 “The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Leafy Canopy

During these hot summer months my time walking has been spent in the nearby Pawnee Prairie nature trails. These trails meander from Kellogg to Pawnee and from Maize to Tyler. Depending on the day and my mood, I can travel through grasslands, through cedar forests, deciduous woods, or along the banks of the Cowskin Creek. My walking time gives me great exercise, a wonderful view, and an opportunity to clear my mind and come to that still, quiet place where I can talk with and listen to God.

Lately, I’ve chosen the trails that wander through the woods, where the overarching branches of the walnut, cottonwood, ash, and other trees provide a leafy canopy that protects me from the worst of the sun’s heat. Under this green canopy I find protection from the sun and enjoy temperatures ten to fifteen degrees cooler than the sunnier pathways.

As I walk, I listen for the telltale breaking of twigs or crashing through the underbrush that signals me to look for deer. (Earlier this week I saw five deer grazing, including two fawns with white spots still dotting their tawny coats!) As I walked on Monday, I heard a different sound, one I hadn’t heard before. At first I couldn’t place it, but then reality slowly dawned: I was hearing raindrops pattering on the leaves over my head. The rain was light and the leafy canopy caught all the drops; I didn’t feel one. All the green over my head protected me from both sun and rain. My protection wasn’t complete, of course. I was still hot on my walk and if it had rained harder, I certainly would have been soaked.

As I continued my walk, listening to the rain pattering overhead, I thought about God’s protection. He protects and shields us from the storms of life, but He doesn’t promise to remove them. Like a leafy canopy, He deflects the heat of life’s difficult moments and shelters us from life’s storms. But, just as I choose to walk in the shade on hot days, we also have choices. We can seek God’s refuge when life gets hot or stormy, or we can walk in the open, on our own. Which path will you choose?

Isaiah 25:4 “You have been a refuge for the poor, a refuge for the needy in his distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat.”

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


As I’m outdoors watering my flowers, a ray of sunlight catches my left hand, and the light reflects off my wedding rings. I pause a moment and turn my hand back and forth, watching the colors of the reflected light. Depending on which way I turn my wrist and which facet shines back the sun’s light, I see different colors: warm orange, bright red, cool blue and green, bright yellow, deep lavender, and bright-as-the-sun white.
I’m amazed at the beauty of all these colors reflecting off a gem far smaller than the nail on my pinkie finger. When I think about how the diamond was formed—carbon buried far below the earth’s surface exposed to tremendous heat and pressure—I’m even more amazed. How God can take a common element and craft a precious stone that endures and provides such beauty is beyond my understanding. Once the diamonds are mined from the earth, trained professionals shape them, cutting all the different facets that allow the small stone to reflect the colors of the rainbow.

I don’t understand the physics behind all the different facets on a diamond reflecting brilliant colors. But I do understand this is something precious, something to appreciate and enjoy.

I finish watering my flowers and go back into the house. I think about the differing reflections off the facets on my diamond. Isn’t this how God works in the lives of believers? God is so complex, so multi-faceted, that none of us can fathom everything about Him. Yet we each have God’s light shining into our lives, and we reflect that light back for others to see.

One person may understand a degree of God’s love and reflect God’s warm glow to others. Another person may allow God’s joy to shine brightly in His life. Some reflect compassion or faithfulness. Looking within the church, one can see a rainbow of colors reflecting God’s light. All reflect His light, even though the colors may differ. Just like ordinary carbon eventually becomes a diamond, so ordinary people willing to follow their Savior reflect His glory. Only when those ordinary people allow God to form their character do the various reflections on our multi-faceted God come together. Only with God’s help can so many different people with differing ideas learn to reflect God’s glory in unison, sparkling like a precious diamond for the world to see.

I Corinthians 12: 4-6 "There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men."

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Watching the Lava

Several years ago my husband Scott and I flew to Hawaii for our niece’s wedding. While there Steve, Blossom, Scott and I spent a couple of days on the big island of Hawaii. One afternoon we visited an area that had recently been covered by a lava flow. Since the lava was now cool, we walked on the hardened lava to the newly formed beach, several hundred yards farther into the ocean than the previous beach. The lava, hard, crusty, and smooth, undulated in small, rolling hills. When we reached that beach, I was startled to see black sand. I thought it would take hundreds of years to erode the lava to create this black sand, but one of the local men informed me how the sandy beach actually had been formed. When the extremely hot, molten lava poured off the land into the much cooler ocean, the extreme difference in temperature caused the lava to explode, instantly creating black sand. 

Eager to see a current lava flow, we inquired about the feasibility of viewing the lava. The breezes blew landward during the day, creating caustic clouds, unsafe to breathe, so we couldn’t go then. We could, however, view the lava flow at night, when the breezes blew seaward. That evening, we drove 20 miles on a curving road far from any habitation. When we reached the barricade, we pulled over and climbed of the car. The soft glow of billions of stars dotting the inky sky provided the only light on this pitch black night.
Flashlights in hand, we walked down the road, and then carefully picked our way along a narrow, rocky path. Small groups of people, all with flashlights lit, stared the same direction. After walking a couple hundred yards, we perched on a large rock, turned off the flashlight, and looked for the lava flow. Across a small bay, about a quarter of a mile away, we saw it. It was absolutely breathtaking. Contrasting with the dark water, a red-orange glow illuminated the land behind it. As the molten lava spilled into the sea, a huge steam-cloud rose into the night sky and drifted slowly over the Pacific Ocean. By watching carefully, we saw the waves crashing against the flow of the lava. We sat spellbound for over an hour, staring at the magnificent sight. Then, in the silence of the still, quiet night, Steve began to sing: Oh Lord, my God, when I in awesome wonder, consider all the worlds Thy hands have made….

What a perfect song for the moment, for we beheld the beauty of the worlds His hands have made. Only the brilliance of the starlight and the red-orange glow of the lava broke the darkness. We watched as God created new land in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. We imagined the new black sand beach being formed by His hand. The beauty and power of our God left us amazed and humbled. Here we sat on a rock, miles from civilization, watching a tiny sliver of His creative power. I see the stars; I hear the rolling thunder, Thy power throughout the universe displayed.

Oh God, keep us ever mindful of how great Thou art!

Deuteronomy 10:21 “He is your praise; he is your God, who performed for you those great and awesome wonders you saw with your own eyes.”

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Will It Ever End?

This summer has been extremely brutal. The 100 degree temperatures started in June. Nearly every day in July was scorching. My yard has turned to a crunchy brownish-yellow, the top three inches of my hedges are brown and scorched from the sun’s merciless heat, large cracks criss-cross the backyard, and even my native Kansas wildflowers wilt in this oppressive weather.
Stepping just outside the front door, I am immediately drenched in sweat. Even in the house, when I am not working, my body sweats. Getting into the car has been an adventure. The steering wheel is so hot I can barely touch it, and I dare not touch the metal on the end of the seatbelt.

The heat—endless days of 100, 105, 108, and even 111—seems as if it will never end. Will I ever stop sweating? Will the rivers ever run full again? Will the gardens ever flourish again? Will this extremely hot summer never end?

But this week finally brings a promise of fall and cooler weather. I awaken to the sound of thunder and rain drumming on the roof. I open the front door and breathe in cool, fresh air. Yes! This summer’s heat will end. Yes! Cooler weather will come. Why did I ever doubt?

How easy it is for mankind to doubt and complain. Thousands of years ago the Israelites loved to doubt and complain. They had God in the form of a cloud and a pillar of fire to guide them. They had manna fall out of the sky to feed them. Their God had parted the Red Sea to enable them to escape Egypt. But they doubted; they complained.

And in this modern day, whenever the weather stays hot or life gets tough, what do I do? I doubt. I complain. What do I have to complain about? Why do I doubt? I serve an ever faithful God. I need to take my mind off the summer heat, take my mind off life’s trials and focus on God and His promises. Psalm 145:13b-16 NIV The Lord is faithful to all his promises and loving toward all he has made. The Lord upholds all those who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down. The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time. You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.

Lord, forgive my doubting and complaining. Give me instead a spirit of rejoicing in Your faithfulness.

Monday, August 8, 2011

A Dry and Thirsty Land

This summer’s heat has been brutal. Even before summer officially began we had temperatures in the 100s, rare for June. In July the heat was oppressive, often reaching above 105. Hearing 108 degrees on the weather forecast became routine, and the actual temperature reached 111 three times. The number of days we’ve reached 100 degrees or more this year is now at 41. Even in our air-conditioned homes we sweat. The heat in the closed up car can literally take one’s breath away.

With just a brief foray outdoors the effects of the heat is evident. Instead of a lush, green lawn, a yellowish brown covers the yard. “Crunchy” is not normally an adjective I’d use to describe my yard, but it is appropriate this summer. The hedges on the north side of my house have literally burned in the sun. The top two to three inches of these hedges are brown and brittle from the sun’s merciless heat.

Large cracks criss-cross the back yard and perennials wilt in the heat. Our tomato plants refuse to set fruit, even with diligent watering. Even the purple coneflowers, native to Kansas, and accustomed to hot summers, fail to flourish in the heat. Their flowers are small and the normally bright purple petals lack their usual brightness.

This morning I sleep in until 8, and wonder whether I should walk. I’m not so sure I can stand the oppressive heat. But when I look out the front door, I see gray cloud cover, a rare sight this summer. I open the door and feel cool, clean wind blow in my face. It feels so good! Immediately, I open windows and let the 74 degree freshness blow into the house. With excitement, I lace up my walking shoes and head outdoors.

Less than ¼ mile from home, I see the first raindrop before I feel others, cool and refreshing to my skin. Drops as large as half dollars dot the street. I scan the sky, looking for lightning. Seeing none, I decide to continue toward the nature trails for my hour-long walk, rejoicing in the clean, cool rain. The rain is sporadic and I’m sheltered by the trees in the nature preserve. With every step I take, I thank God for the refreshing rain and the cooler weather.

We had rain last week, too, a welcome respite from the heat, but the temperatures quickly climbed back to over 100 degrees. Walking on the trails, I see how the previous rain has affected the woods. Instead of brown grass growing alongside the path, green reaches toward the sky! How beautiful the bright green appears!

As I walk, I thank God for the refreshing rain, and ask His spirit to rain on our land. In many ways our people are as dry and thirsty as the Kansas prairie this hot summer. So many souls are dry and parched, thirsting for the living water of God’s spirit. But just as the dry, crunchy grass can once again sprout new, green leaves, so also can souls escape a spiritual dryness.

Rain on us, Lord, rain on us. Fill our souls full to overflowing with your love, mercy, and grace. Green us up, Lord, green us up.

Isaiah 44:3 “For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.”

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Heat Wave!

This summer’s heat has been unbelievable! As I write this we’ve already had 38 days of 100 degree or hotter temperatures, with no relief in sight. Surprisingly, many of those 38 days have been 105 or hotter, even three days of 111! And we still have another seven weeks of summer. Even in air conditioned homes and cars, we sweat, praying for an end to the heat.
This morning I ventured outside to walk in the shade of the nature trails. Evidence of the heat-stressed outdoors surrounded me. Thousands of dry yellow leaves littered the sandy path. All around me, as usual, the grasses waved in the breeze. Rather than their usual forest green, however, the grass looked brown and brittle, as if it had already been bitten by autumn’s frost. As I reached the bridge over the Cowskin Creek, I saw how the heat has eaten up this little creek. I watched it flow silently and sluggishly, a mere third of its normal size.

Returning home, I ventured into our little garden. The heat has taken its toll here as well. Even though we soak the ground with water, the plants looked wilted and stressed. Tomato plants filled with blossoms refused to set on fruit in this heat. We hope for a fall harvest—when and if it ever cools enough for tomatoes to grow.

We’ve given up on watering the lawn, leaving it to go dormant. The grass crunched beneath my feet as I walked back to the house, praying the yard wouldn’t die. Large cracks break up the soil’s surface as it begs for water. I prayed for God’s mercy, for a respite from the heat, and for life-giving rain.

A scripture pops into my head: “If my people, who are called by my name…” I call myself a Christian, so I guess this verse speaks to me and to other believers. “…Will humble themselves and pray….” Hmm…this sounds to me like God is calling me proud. I have to think about his one. What are the ways I exhibit pride? I’d better quiz myself.

1. Do I…(sometimes, usually, always) rely on my own abilities rather than God? Guilty.

2. Do I…(sometimes, usually, always) think I’m better than those “sinners” out there? Ouch! Guilty.

3. Do I…(sometimes, usually, always) neglect my quiet time with God? Guilty.

4. Do I…(sometimes, usually, always) spend most of my prayer time talking to God rather than listening? Once again, guilty.

The verse continues “…and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways….” Typically, Christians don’t think of themselves as “wicked,” but it sure seems God is saying that about those of us who are “called by His name.” Thanks for opening my eyes, Lord, and help me spend more time in Your word and in prayer. Show me the path where you want me to walk.

Okay, how does the rest of the verse go? “Then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land” II Chronicles 7:14. So, this is one of those if…then verses. If I become humble, seek God and pray to Him, He will hear my prayers, forgive my sins, and heal my land? Well, I know the land needs healing. It needs cooler temperatures and refreshing rain, for sure. And yes, I need healing as well. I need humility and forgiveness. I need the refreshing rain of God’s Spirit to fall on me and heal my soul.

Thank You, Father for your healing touch, on the land and in my life.