Be Separate

Driving down my street this morning, I once again noticed a gorgeous tree. It is absolutly captivating. When you see it, you just want to keep looking. It is beautiful, that’s true. Many trees are. It is tall and its branches are widely spread. That’s not unusual. However, this tree is VERY different from all the rest. The street is lined with trees on both sides of the pavement. Years ago, I’m told the county government planted trees all along the sidewalks of our subdivision. Though I don’t know exactly who planted this one, I do know one thing: it stands out from all the rest. Why? It’s blooms are YELLOW. VERY YELLOW. There’s no missing this one. Other trees blend into the scenery as you pass by. Not this one. There are no signs that read, "Big Yellow Tree This Way" or "Giant Yellow Tree Next 50FT." Road signs would not be needed, because the vibrant yellow blooms command your attention.

How different am I? A wife, a mother, a friend, a sister, a teacher….I live a varied existence with many such titles, but am I DIFFERENT? Do people spot me from a distance and immediately realize that I am a Christian? Do they think I am even after taking a closer look? I hope so. It is with the strength of God that I "bloom" at all. Throughout everything that I accomplish in life, I want to blossom into deeply rich colors that glorify Him.

Wilderness

Spring is a wonderful time of year. Objects that appear lifeless engage in a transformation of renewal, causing the most brittle looking branches to burst into vigorous buds. What has long appeared to be a wilderness may now show evidence of the silent inner working of each plant and tree. Brown and barren, they had held the secret of the change that was yet to come.

I am well acquainted with the wilderness—areas of spiritual wilderness, that is. Praying about a matter while sadly watching the leaves of the situation turn brown and wither, yet hoping for a resolution and  struggling for understanding. At a time when I am not expecting it, I am sometimes reminded of the continual work of God.

As I trudge through the leaf pile of discouragement one more time, my eyes are drawn to a speck of "color" nearby. Further inspection leads me to the conclusion that God had indeed been hearing my longings and has already begun the process of change in the circumstances that had so burdened my heart. Could it be? Definitely….a tiny budding branch of hope, green with newness and moist with the life giving water of  answered prayer.

 

 

 

Draw Near

I’ve been driving by them almost every day. Beautiful, gorgeous flowers along the side of the road. Long stretches of purple color greet each motorist with a new reminder of spring as they continue to multiply and bloom. Exactly what are they like? I didn’t know; I could have identified them as plants, named their color and estimated their height. Really seeing them for what they were with knowlege of their intricate beauty? That would take some effort.

Days had passed. Weeks, actually. Then, I decided I would do it.  I found a semi-safe looking place to turn off of the highway. I exited my car and began walking into the sea of lavender stretching toward the sky. After those moments of spending the time necessary to fully appreciate what I had only admired from afar, I can now speak with greater knowledge about these lovely flowers.

If you were to take a poll of everyone you knew, asking them if they believed in God, I am confident that most would say that they do. If you questioned further about His specific attributes and character, I am equally confident that most people would begin to search for words, faltering from lack of personal knowledge.

When I looked at the photographs I had taken of the purple foliage, I discovered things about the plants that I had not even noticed while walking among them. There was yet more to learn.

Day after day, will I choose to "drive" through my life quickly, viewing God’s presence in the distance but failing to draw close to Him? Will I be satisfied to give only vague descriptions of His great love and provision? Will I spend the moments of time in prayer and Bible reading necessary to speak  about Him with greater personal knowledge?

 

Wounded

I was unprepared for the pain. In somewhat of a hurry to leave for work this morning, I was closing my closet door. It is a sliding "pocket" door, which means the entire thing retreats to the unknown space between two pieces of sheetrock when it is in "open" mode. It has a metal latch that form fits its companion design in the door frame. It often doesn’t connect into position properly when closing unless I give it a good, solid, forceful slide out. This morning was no different; except that I somehow failed to remove my fingers from the latch area. A scream that I didn’t know I could produce filled my home as the fingers of my right hand were caught in the way.

Throbbing pain sent me almost immediately to my next thought process–this was only a door slamming into my hand. What about Jesus? What about the nails? How could I ever understand His great suffering and how He endured it for me—and for you?

Thank You, Lord, for paying the price for my sin.

 

Remove the Covering

Noah was a great man of faith. He was obedient, even when others ridiculed him and his directive from God. His faith was consistent throughout God’s timetable of events. He had faith in God because he believed God.

Noah was commanded to build the ark, so he built it. He was commanded to take the animals on to the ark. The animals came. The flood covered the earth as God had said. Now, it was time to have faith that he could one day leave the ark. After a dove that he had set free failed to return, Noah knew it was time. Time to uncover the ark and look for God’s provision. He had the faith to remove it and see what God had done. With the covering lifted, Noah saw the dry ground. His faith had become sight!

Is it time to uncover an area in your life and see what God has been doing? Is the next step God has for you just outside the confines of your current situation? Genesis 9:18 begins, "So Noah went out……"

Behold the Ships

In one of my favorite songs the lyrics state: "May the words I say and the things I do make my lifesong sing–bring a smile to You."  (Lifesong by Casting Crowns, 2005)  What do my words bring? I am sometimes surprised by my own critical tongue or the lack of patience I display. I do want my words to bring a smile to God. I want Him to be pleased. What I say can be helpful or hurtful.  The "rudder" of speech can take my ship to places of edification, comfort and love; it can just as easily cause discouragement, bitterness and doubt. I hope for wisdom to know the difference.

Yesterday and Today

Jesus. The Son of God. Master, Savior. Healer of the sick. Comforter. The risen Lamb.

In Revelation 1:17c,18, Jesus says, "Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades."

We can rejoice this day in knowing that Jesus is alive. Alive forevermore.

 

Risen

Mark 16:2 says, "And very early on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen."

This is speaking of Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome. They didn’t know, of course, when they started out that morning that Jesus was alive. They were bringing spices they had prepared to place into the tomb.  In looking at this verse, I thought of it this way: "…they came to the tomb when the SON had risen."  Three decades before, Zacharius had prophesied, "Because of the tender mercy of our God, with which the Sunrise from on high shall visit us.." (Luke 1:78)  What a wondrous revelation was about to be disclosed to these three women and to Jesus’ disciples.

 I wonder if the angel that was sitting inside the tomb felt excitement and joy to be telling the good news. When he said, "He is risen; He is not here;" was he filled with praise at the unfolding of God’s plan of redemption? At the birth of Jesus, heavenly hosts shouted, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased." (Luke 2:14)

Jesus is risen—-HE IS RISEN, INDEED!

 

They Rested

When a funeral is over and you go back home, there is an unusual oddness that seems to permeate existance. It’s a sort of blank feeling mixed with a heavy heart and lack of direction. "Well, what am I supposed to do, now?’ can be an unspoken thought running its course throughout every other thought.

The Bible tells us that Joseph of Arimathea took the body of Jesus down from the cross, wrapped it with cloths and laid it in a tomb.  The women who had come with Jesus out of Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid there. Then, "on the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment."  What thoughts must have been in their minds as they returned home? Surely, they were exhausted and filled with tremendous grief.  They obeyed the commandment. They rested.

 

In the Garden

I attended a Good Friday service this evening. As visitors were admitted in to the building, we were invited to walk to several different areas for personal reflection. On one table there were long thorns from the type of bush that is thought to have been the one used to create Jesus’ crown. Going on further, there were nails, spikes and a roughly constructed hammer.  As I moved from one emphasis to another, I had been instructed to place one of the small reminders of the suffering of Jesus into a bag that had been given to all those who entered.  Among them was a single thorn, a nail, and a cross.  At each area, a written message was provided for the participants. Nearing the end, we were encouraged by the realization that Jesus did not stay in the tomb. He’s alive!

I wonder what the garden looked like that surrounded the tomb where Jesus was laid? Would it have been filled with blooming flowers or vines cascading from the rocks? From it’s very creation, Jesus knew it would be the chosen place for the resurrection. 

Today, on Good Friday, I am in a quiet mood as I consider all that Jesus endured in order to offer salvation and forgiveness of our sin.

 

The Mount of Olives

What are your habits? Occasionally, our son’s dog will get out. When she does, the neighborhood hunt begins. Our family descends on backyards and driveways, leashes and collars in hand, ready for the catch. If we hadn’t seen her when she escaped the confines of our home, we begin our search at one specific place–the house in the cul de sac with multiple pets. It has proven to be a favorite spot for our young explorer. So, what about you? Do people know where to look for you? What about me?

Jesus knew what He was about to endure on the cross. What did He do? He spent time with His disciples and He went to the Mount of Olives to pray. The Bible tells us in Luke 22:39 that, "He came out and proceeded as was His custom to the Mount of Olives;"  It was His custom. What is our example? We must pray. We must acknowledge that God is with us always, in constant awareness of our prayers. Is it your custom to pray? When times are difficult are others likely to find you communicating with God?

Distractions seem to draw me away from what I know is best; often I find myself distraught over a matter, without first praying for guidance and peace in the situation. As I continue in my walk through life with the realization that Jesus is my Savior, perhaps the distractions will become less effective and my focus will grow ever clearer on what He would have me to do.  It should be my custom to pray.

 

Rest

I have a lot of childhood memories. Some of them are good and some of them are, well, not so good. I can recall being very anxious about certain things that were beyond my control. Tucked away in my mind are recollections of how God comforted me in those times of need. It was almost a feeling of relief as I relinquished my heavy emotional load in the realization of His help. God was showing me even then that I could bring my fearful thoughts to Him. After all these years, I still have not forgotten His faithfulness to me as a child.

The journey from worry to calm is not traveled alone. God is there to show us His control over situations that disturb us and steal our joy. Our salvation comes from Him.

 

I Will Praise You Forever

They all looked so pretty in the parking lot. Yesterday, the store I was about to enter had rows of flowers and plants for sale, greeting every customer that drove by.  I just had to get a closer look. After some careful perusing, I chose three plants to purchase.  One of the plants looked healthy, but had no bloom. I could see what type it was by looking at the leaves and the information on the pot. I didn’t know exactly what color it would be. I chose it anyway. I would just have to wait and see.

It was already dark when I removed my new plants from their containers and transplanted them into a ceramic foliage bowl. I carefully lifted each one out of their nursery pots, their intricate maze of roots intertwining with the damp and arid soil. Gently I placed them into their new home. After watering my new treasures, I left them near our front fountain, joining other splashes of color from hearty plants already in place.

When I came home after work today, I glanced toward the fountain area. A  beautiful, solitary pink bloom was emerging from the clump of leaves. Delicate and new, it was proudly unfolding. I was very pleased.

God understands us even when we have trouble knowing our own selves. He sees the potential for gorgeous blooms, though the rest of the world may only see leaves. He takes note of our stature, believing that we can grow to new heights if we only allow Him to transplant, water and prune us to His liking. He gently lifts us out of the comfortable soil into the new larger containers of life where we can expand and grow as we were created to.

Even when we cannot detect the "bloom" in ourselves or in others, cherish the fact that God sees what we cannot. In His perfect timing, a burst of color will come forth, announcing God’s sovereign work in our lives, producing fragrant petals for His glory.

 

Love One Another

Yesterday I heard a man speak about his experience with cancer earlier in his life. He recounted the ordeal of chemotherapy and his time spent at the hospital. Determined to serve God throughout any circumstance, he walked the halls of the hospital with his IV in tow, going from room to room asking a simple question: "Is there something I can pray for you about?"

Even in his weakened state, he desired to reach out to others in the name of Christ.  Jesus said, "This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you." (John 15:12) As I begin my day tomorrow, I hope I will ask myself, "How can I show God’s love to someone else today?"

Anguish

It’s Easter time. A season of reflection about what our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has done for us. The pain and agony that He endured was the payment for our sin. What is sin? I’ve been told that it’s anything that you say, think or do that displeases God. All of us are guilty. All of us may be forgiven. Jesus paid the price. We need only to accept this payment, repent of our mistakes, and, believing in Him, allow Him to guide us as we live out our lives no longer condemned.

 

Forgive Them

Our son was attending a reinactment of the last supper with Jesus. It was taking place in a nearby town. They had unleavened bread and bitter herbs. They removed their shoes and had their feet washed. As I waited outside for the conclusion of the meeting, I walked around the church grounds, browsing. I was unfamiliar with several areas. Lovely trees, blooming flowers. I passed a quiet memorial garden bathed in the sound of a bubbling rock fountain.

Just beyond, I saw them. I hadn’t noticed them before. Standing tall into the dusky sky were three crosses. The one in the center was draped in a long, flowing purple cloth. In years past, I had seen other crosses displayed by the side of the highway or at other churches. This was the first time I had ever stood at the foot of a cross.

Jesus died to purchase a way for all people to spend eternity with Him. He heals, He saves, and He forgives. Thank You, Lord, for forgiving me….

 

Follow Me

You can always find them. That is, if you’re up that early. At the most inconvenient times, it seems, fishermen are out in their trucks, pulling their boats to a nearby lake. Later in the day, rows of trucks can be seen lining the shores. Why go to all this trouble? The answer has many facets; however, the bottom line is this–fishermen love to fish.

How do I know? Think about it: almost everyone works hard for their income. Great care is taken in deciding how to spend it. Trucks and boats are expensive.  Fishing gear isn’t cheap.  People spend their money and time on what they really care about. Television shows are devoted solely to the topic of better fishing. Monthly magazines model the newest way to fish successfully. Those who are found searching the waters for the catch of the day never tire of hearing of the latest challenge of another fishing buddy.

I think I have finally figured out what I really want to do in life. I want to be a fisher. A fisher of men.

If I speak, I want it to somehow draw someone closer to God. If I write, I want it to do the same. If I teach, my desire is to bring others closer to Him. If I take photographs, I want them to bring God glory as they speak silently to those who view them. If I sing, I want the words to turn the ears of those who listen toward their loving Father.

Where should I go to fish? Down the road. Up the hill. At the store. In my home. The hospital, the church, the gas station, the school. I will have to be intentional. God will teach me along the way.  The question will be: Do I really want to fish?

If the answer is yes, His instruction is simple: "Follow Me."

 

Blessed

What is the kingdom of God? Jesus said in Mark 10:14, "Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these."  So, then, who are like children? What are the attributes of a child? Trusting, forgiving, compassionate.  Accepting, loyal, tender.  Think of a little one’s reaction to a newborn puppy or a tiny duckling. With eyes that reflect awe, they care for the helpless and the precious. When visiting a nursing home, they extend a tiny hand to join a wrinkled one, greeting an aged smile with an open heart. They pick lovely flowers that have brought them joy, only to impart on a mission to deliver them with haste to a mother or father they love.

When we come with child-like faith to understand our great need for God, I am convinced that He accepts us, forgives us and loves us. Ours is the kingdom of God.

 

Nest by the Waters

Birds are so fascinating. I love to watch them go about their day to day routines—pecking the ground in search of food, flying effortlessly in the wind, singing serenades from the trees. Birds seem to know so much. They fly south for the winter and fly north for the spring. They guard their young in the nest after having constructed it in just the right way. Who teaches the birds? Who gives them instruction? Of course, it is their heavenly Creator who instills their knowledge.  With this knowledge, where do they go? They stay close to His provision wherever He wills them to be.

Birds could not be found setting up a nest where no water or food could be found for sustenance.   Some live near the equator while others live closer to the snowy poles. Their places are prepared. Their obedience is sure. Yet, they stay near the source of provision. 

As each day begins,  I may choose to draw close to God, who is my source of life. What if I don’t? I may find myself in a dry, barren place, thirsty without relief–hungry with no nourishment in sight. What is the answer when I make the wrong choice? Return to my Heavenly Father who freely gives wisdom and knowledge to His children, staying close to His provision in the place where He wills me to be.  When I am there, it seems that I find myself singing in the midst of the branches, held up by His compassion and love.

 

We Wait for You

It was time for lunch. As I opened the can of tuna, a voice rang out in our kitchen. The voice of our cat….

Often when I open a can of tuna, I take it to our cat’s dish and drain the water from the can.  A sort of "feline soup." He loves it. In fact, when the opener first pierces the can, he begins his imploring solo. Today, as I was draining the fluid over the feeding dish, he came right up to where I was pouring and positioned his head right under the stream and began drinking. Unwilling to fill my pet’s fur with tuna water, I stopped serving and left him to finish his treat. The thought actually came to my mind, "I could have given you so much more, had you not been so impatient." By the time I had reached the other side of my kitchen, that thought was somehow speaking to me.

How many times might there have been that God was ready to give me more of what I yearned for, yet I was too impatient to wait for His timing?  Had I moved too quickly in situations, taking things into my own hands instead of seeking His will? Had I settled for one ounce of tuna water when I could have had two? Had I picked some budding flowers only to find that they would have bloomed more beautifully had they been allowed to mature a little longer?

 

 

 

Great Treasure

Are you rich? I’ve known some people who had acquired many fine things–cars, homes, furnishings, boats, pools, clothing. By most standards they would be considered wealthy. But what if the standard changed and their belongings were viewed in a different light?

Don’t get me wrong–I enjoy nice things. However, I have come to value people and relationships far more. What does my home contain? A couch, a bed, a table–the usual items. Yet, there’s more. God has given me many gifts. The floppy eared dogs that greet me upon my arrival home each day. The cat that I find curled up next to me when I awaken in the mornings. The sound of our oldest son playing the guitar in his bedroom. Another son sitting at his computer arranging and composing music. Still another son riding his bicycle down the hill or contemplating an interesting bug in the front yard. My husband joyfully creating the latest woodworking project in the garage. My house is blessed with relationship. Though not totally free from occasional conflict, my house is filled with love.

Am I rich? You bet.

The Memory

Think back: who in your life has left a gentle mark, forever changing its course by their encouragement, their commitment and their love to you? It may be a parent, a grandparent, a spouse…..  Perhaps a 3rd grade teacher or a youth pastor.  The old custodian at work all those years that greeted everyone with a smile and assurances of prayers every single day.  Could it be the neighbor that was always there to help when illness struck? The Sunday School teacher that convinced you that God could do fantastic things in your life if you were willing to let Him?  Chances are, there are many memories of dear souls who have invested in you—nurtured you.

Voices from the past speak silently in times of decision making, conflict, or even great joy. Mentors continue their task of loving stewardship long after they are gone.  My hope is that I may leave gentle marks of encouragement with my family and others, in order to lead them ultimately closer to a continual life of fellowship with God. I am thankful for the memories of those who took the time to strengthen me toward that goal.

 

Understanding

Have you ever looked back on something you’ve said or done and thought, "Why did I do that?"  Perhaps guilt and regret come as partners to your thinking. I have had this experience.  How could I ever have had the attitudes that produced my words and actions? 

As a work in progress, God is teaching me; He is allowing change to occur through the learning process of life. He is giving me a new understanding of what is pleasing to Him. I am not who I was before and in the future I will be different still. God is molding us into His likeness, forgiving us when we fail along the way.

For the Good of Those

As I was visiting with a friend tonight, I was sharing my thoughts on some difficult times that I had experienced in life. Looking back to the years gone by, I can’t understand exactly why I had to go through some painful seasons. I do feel that God has used some of the harder circumstances that I have faced to prepare me to have an understanding of others in need who are dealing with similar situations. In all things God works for the good of His people.

Open My Eyes

Do you ever wonder why a certain speed limit has been posted on a road you are traveling? Sometimes it can be frustrating if you are in a hurry to arrive at your destination and the speed limit sign is encouraging you to slow down. What if it seems like an empty road? Straight, no curves. Nothing to warrant moving traffic at such a reduced pace. What do you do?

Making the choice to obey the law, you resign yourself to poking along for no good reason. Suddenly, quite a distance away, you see a car up ahead, pulling out into the road. Seconds later, as you pass the area, you read another sign: hidden driveway.    Hmmm. That was why….

I sometimes want to go a little faster in my life than God wants me to.  I want things now.  Or maybe, tomorrow. But next year? Ten years? Do I really have to go that slowly?  Only God knows about the "hidden driveways" in the path that He has set before me.  I must follow His directions if I am to be where He wants me, when He wants me there.  He sees what I cannot. I must trust in Him.