Saturday, November 8, 2014

A Woodland Sanctuary (reprise)

As I walked on the nature trails, I wandered off the beaten path.  Large toadstools nestled under a grove of blue spruce trees attracted my attention.
Pushing aside branches, I walked fifteen feet, entering a small clearing.  The ground, carpeted with years of accumulated needles, felt soft beneath my feet.  A chorus of crickets broke the silence.  In the distance a woodpecker drilled, searching for insects.  Inside my clearing, all was shadow, quiet and still; it became a sanctuary that soothed my soul. A smattering of bright red sumac leaves provided stained-glass windows.  I sat on this carpet, gazing at the beauty all around me, and I felt the presence of God.  Strains of “This Is Holy Ground” ran through my head. 
Looking out an opening between the horizontal branches, I observed the golden radiance of the late afternoon sun. Outside my sanctuary, the seed heads of the natural prairie grasses glowed transparently in the sun’s light, creating a stunning contrast to the shadowy grove.  The scene was breath-taking: I had to capture it on film.  When I put the camera to my eye, it was focused on the branches in the foreground.  They seemed large and dark, like horizontal prison bars, and the golden glow of the grasses in the background was barely noticeable. I refocused the camera. Then the tall, dried grass, shot through with light, became the focus of my picture; the branches in the foreground almost disappeared.
I took my picture, and I thought:  how many times in my life do I focus on the tree branches right in front of me that impede my spiritual way, and thus fail to see God’s light just beyond?  How many times do I allow myself to become discouraged over minor problems instead of focusing my thoughts on the brilliance of God’s majesty or the comforting glow of his love? It’s all a matter of focus.
Remembering the lesson of the camera’s focus enables me to thank God in all situations and focus on His spiritual light shining beyond my earthly troubles.
Father let my eyes see beyond the earthly; let me steadfastly watch your spiritual light.  May I always focus on the wonders you have created, on the wonder of you.
 Hebrews 12:2-3 “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.”

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

John's Vision

This morning I’ve been reading about John’s vision of heaven. I can’t imagine how amazingly beautiful it will be. The streets and buildings made of pure gold and precious gems: sapphire, emerald, ruby, turquoise and other gems I’ve never heard of, let alone seen. The thought is overwhelming.

Surrounded by all this beauty sits our God, with a voice like rumbling thunder. All the 24 elders fall down and worship the Almighty. Tens of thousands of angels and all the creatures in heaven and earth sing His praises. And it is glorious. And I want to be there, lifting my voice in praise to the King of kings.

Then comes the sobering part: each person was “judged according to what they had done” (Revelation 20:12b). What they had done. Not what they hadn’t done. Not by what sins they hadn’t done. No, they were judged by what they had done. And I think, “What have I done for God in my life? What more is there for me to do? Before I’m judged.”

Almighty God, show me what you want me to do.


Saturday, May 3, 2014

Returning soon...

My apologies for not posting in so long. Computer issues and life have both been throwing me a few curves of late. All is well, but the writing has been temporarily shelved. I will be back soon!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Down a Slippery Slope

Watching Olympic skiers and snowboarders fly down their slippery slopes has been so much fun. I’m amazed at how their strength, hours of practice, and natural athleticism enable these athletes to control their speed as they whiz down the mountain-side.

Occasionally, the unthinkable happens. The athlete loses control and careens down the mountain. The consequences are devastating. After all the years of hard work, the athlete is disqualified from the event. Even worse, an out-of-control fall sometimes results in a major injury.

This afternoon I had my own encounter with a slippery slope. No, it wasn’t in the mountains. My mid-western home state has only gentle hills that closely hug the earth. No, it wasn’t on snow. While it has been a bitterly cold winter with lots of snow and ice, the past few days have been warm. Temperatures in the 40s and even 50s have melted most of the snow, so I wandered out on the nature trails. Ice lingered in the shaded spots, and the trails were wet and muddy, but I stayed on the sides of the paths, allowing the dried grass to provide a secure foothold.

One misstep is all it took. Stepping with my left foot on the gently sloping right side of the path, I felt my foot slide out from under me, and bam! I found myself in the mud. Resting on my left knee, the shin side of my right leg, and my right hand, I hurt. I wondered for a moment how long it would take my husband to find me on these meandering paths. My right wrist and leg hurt, but I quickly realized I wasn’t injured. I was able to get to my feet and continue walking. The pain lingered for a while, and the jeans would have to be laundered, but I came out no worse for the fall.

I am thankful I wasn’t injured in my fall down the slippery slope. As I continued walking, I thought about spiritual slippery slopes. Some appear mountainous, like substance abuse or infidelity. Others seem like tiny little slopes, like gossip or criticism. We all have our own slippery slopes, don’t we? A fall down any of these, whether mountainous or tiny, can be deadly.

Unfortunately, we venture onto those slippery slopes of sin and we fall. Fortunately, our God is full of grace. He is willing to gently lift us up and dust us off. He whispers, "Go, and sin no more" and sets us back on level ground.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Through the Meadow (Reprise)

Walking the nature trails, I travel across the middle of a large, open meadow, at least ¼ mile long and just as wide. Everywhere I look across this open landscape, I see the dead, dry, dun-colored native grasses. Here and there a deciduous tree dots the landscape. Winter weather has shorn them of their green garments, and their barren branches stretch nakedly toward the wintry sky. A slight breeze blows, rustling the dried grasses. My view is dull and bare.

My soul feels as dried and barren as this meadow. The enemy has frosted the joy from my heart and I hear the rustling of negativity and loss of hope.

But then I think about the creator of the meadow, the grass, and the trees. I notice the graceful lines of the barren tree branches and the lovely contrast of those dark brown limbs against the pale blue sky. I look toward the light and notice the seed heads on the dried grasses shining in the winter’s low sun. In my heart I praise God for the stark beauty of this field. Without a whimper, the enemy slinks away. He is no match for my creator.

Once again, spring blooms in my soul.

Job 33:26 “He prays to God and finds favor with him, he sees God’s face and shouts for joy; he is restored by God to his righteous state.”

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Shattering the Ice

Half full? Or half empty? How we view our glass of life changes our perspectives. I tend to be a glass-half-full person. I keep a joyful attitude by focusing on what I have, rather than what I don’t have. When I view the glass as half empty, however, the results are disastrous.

When a winter storm battered my community, I tossed and turned all night, hearing the freezing rain and sleet drumming on the roof and windows. I worried about the slippery roads I’d have to maneuver on my commute to work at the local high school. Finally, unable to sleep, I got up in the pre-dawn dark to watch the weather on television. I hoped school would be cancelled so I could stay home safe, warm, and able to sleep. Watching, I learned an inch of ice and sleet had fallen. Travel was treacherous. When I looked out the window, I saw the street glistening from its icy coating. I saw danger and a half empty glass.

The alphabetized list of school closings appeared on the television. Anxiously, I watched it scroll across the bottom, waiting for “Wichita” to appear: Andover, Augusta, Derby, Goddard, Haysville, Maize, Pratt, Valley Center, Wellington…. No “Wichita”! Every school district was closed except one, mine! I huffed about, upset that I had to venture out in the dangerous weather. I couldn’t see one drop of joy in my glass.

Anger bubbled as I anticipated the icy drive. Why had our superintendent decided to keep school open? Along with anger, I worried: getting safely to school, students driving on ice, scraping a one-inch layer of ice off my car, and driving 15 miles home in rush hour traffic.

Driving on the slippery streets, I gripped the steering wheel and prayed my car would stay on the road. After a forty-five minute commute, instead of the usual 15, I walked gingerly across the ice-covered parking lot, grumbling to myself.

When the bell rang, only one third of my students were present. School was in session, but little was accomplished because so few attended. Not a drop covered the bottom of my glass. Frustrated and tired, I fretted and complained. After school, I left early to beat the afternoon traffic. Still grumbling and complaining, I scraped windows in the bitter cold. As I pulled out of the parking lot, however, my attitude changed. At last, I began to see my glass full.

The low winter, late afternoon sun shone through the ice-covered world, changing the landscape into a magical fairyland. The dried winter grasses sparkled in the sun. The squares of ice-coated wire on the roadside fences glimmered and gleamed. The trees sparkled like huge crystal sculptures. Everything danced with light. Finally, I focused on what filled my glass. I forgot my frustrations and complaints as I viewed this breathtakingly beautiful world! All I could do was thank God and marvel at His winter beauty.

My spirits lifted and I rejoiced in the crystal world. I thought how my glass-half-empty, whiny attitude had clouded the entire day. With the light dancing on the ice, I drove home, thankful for so much: a good job, a warm house, a reliable car, and a God who opens my eyes to see beauty in every situation. His light shone through my grumbling, complaining attitude, letting me rejoice in the half-full glass. Joy shattered my complaints like ice crystals breaking off the tree branches.


Sunday, January 12, 2014

Mr. B's Records

Let me introduce you to an acquaintance of mine, Beelzebub, Mr. B. for short. Mr. B. is an accountant. He keeps the ledger for souls, yours and mine. He records every selfless, honorable act we’ve ever done, as well as every selfish, unkind word or act ever committed.. With great relish, he keeps track of our words and deeds. 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 a huge, highly polished wooden desk. He sits in his black leather chair, leaning toward Mr. E., who fidgets in his chair. Wide open on the desk lies a gigantic ledger, its pages opened to the E’s.

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

Mr. E. shifts and smiles tentatively, his chest rising slightly with pride in his good deed. A sly smile creeps over Mr. B’s face and his eyes glitter. “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 positive marks, and…let me see…20 negative marks. That makes your overall score 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. You are definitely in the red. You must try harder!”

“Yes, sir,” Mr. E. mumbles, “I will try harder.” He stands, turns, and shuffles out the door.

 As it closes, Mr. B. chuckles. “What a loser! He’ll be mine soon. He’ll pay for what he owes!”

Many years later, Mr. E. once again enters Mr. B’s office. He is now elderly, yet he walks with a straight back and holds his chin high. Mr. E. sits in the guest chair and looks at Mr. B. Once again, the huge ledger lies open. “Well, well, well,” Mr. B. says, examining the ledger. “You have done many good deeds since we last met.  Feeding the hungry…giving to the poor…volunteering at your local school…. Well, you’ve earned several hundred positive points. “Now for the negative…you lost your temper…said a few bad words…harbored a grudge…didn’t forgive your neighbor…Hmm, it seems you have far more than one hundred negative points. You have a negative three hundred and sixty-three. Since your time on earth is nearing its completion, it appears you owe me. But don’t worry, you have all eternity to pay off this debt.” As Mr. B. looks up from his ledger, a broad smile covers his face, but doesn’t reach his eyes.

Mr. E. sits straight in his chair, a slight smile playing about his lips. He shifts his weight and reaches into his pocket, pulling out a small piece of paper. “I believe you have made a mistake,” he says.

“What! How dare you question my bookkeeping!” shouts Mr. B. He jumps up and lunges 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.” He hands the small slip of paper to Mr. B.

“Impossible!” sputters Mr. B. “You owe me!”

“You are mistaken.” Mr. E. speaks quietly and calmly. “My debt was paid by one who left a heavenly home to live on earth. He willingly died a painful death to erase my debt. If you don’t believe me, look at your book.”

Mr. B. glances at his carefully written ledger. His face turns red as he stares at the “E” page. Right before his eyes, every mark against Mr. E. slowly disappears.

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

Mr. B looks at the little piece of paper in his hand and reads: “Mr. E.’s debt—PAID IN FULL. Signed, Jesus Christ."