Somebody cut me a stick for this marshmallow, please.

(Full read at dawnlizjones.wordpress.com)  I have mentioned the “bush that ate Nevada” previously.  This gorgeous spectacle of botanical proliferation still, at this writing, thrives at the end of our driveway.  Its blooms are, unfortunately, not quite as astounding as in the past.  Some of the inner, older core of the bush/tree have died away, but not before sending out plenty of new shoots in every direction. Of course, these new shoots, which have now redefined the bush itself, are impinging upon other places that, well, should not be impinged upon.  The end of the driveway, the asphalt itself, seems to be sprouting forsythia (life is so tenacious), and it had become a safety hazard when attempting to pull into our street, since my beloved, little $5 sapling has succeeded in semi-hiding oncoming traffic.  There was only one thing to be done—prune. 

Even the most uninitiated gardener may have some cognizance of the first advantage of pruning; that is, it only makes for a thicker, more luxurious plant.  I will admit that I probably have not been as consistent in my pruning process as needed, so when I did “get around to it”, it would generally be a fairly massive, (and messy),  project.  Getting rid of at least some of the dead wood, recovering at least some of the driveway, and clearing visual space for motor vehicle safety— these took some serious effort.

We all know about God’s pruning in our lives.  Sermons are preached on it, we are encouraged to recognize and embrace the process.  But it doesn’t make it any easier.  Sometimes the pruning project isn’t even about us personally; it may about an organization, a group, even a church.  As God allows a particular entity to prosper, the core sends out new shoots to continue the work of the bush as the older core finishes, having done its previous part.  And sometimes the old needs to be pruned away so that the new can redefine the life of the bush—new wine in new wineskins, and all that.  Now, this is not to say that the old is useless; no, far from it!  Although the old branches may not continue to produce the bright yellow blossoms as in the past, yet they are extremely useful in other and very important ways, (and this is where our culture misses it so often!)  The old branches on my forsythia still support life—nesting and hiding places for the birds, support for the new living branches, and when placed in the fire pile, they help become dirt for the other areas in the garden.  How we so often waste the precious resource in our zeal to accomplish so-called “greater” things!  Oh, that we would recognize and reap the benefit of what the older generations have to give to us!  We frequently prefer the flashy over the stable, the things that catch our eyes, rather than the things that enlighten our hearts. 

Additionally, God’s life-pruning process also includes a safety factor.  Sometimes our quest for big-ness prevents us from seeing oncoming danger.  I can think of more than one specific plan I had that was not allowed to happen, due to one circumstance or another, and I praise God (from this side of the idea) that it was not allowed to happen!  What we sometimes see as road blocks to may actually be God’s “bridge out” sign, and we are wise to heed it. 

One last thought about the Bush-That-Ate-Nevada.  Our cycling club had a nighttime ride that ended at our house for a marshmallow and s’mores bonfire.  So much fun!  However, I did not have enough roasting sticks for everyone.  What could be done?  I trimmed off several green limbs from my mega-bush, some that even had multiple “ends”, and we could roast two or three marshies at a time on one stick! 

Shouldn’t we allow our Master Gardener to do the same thing? We may be planted and growing and producing what is “normally expected”, and He may come along and seemingly cut us down from what we anticipated His work through us to be. The main bush still survived, but the severed sticks have been commissioned for a new project, and are exactly what is needed.  But rest assured, it is only so that He can use us in a different, more creative capacity.  He promises that, “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which He prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” How wise is our Gardener, and how perfect is His plan! 

(The s’mores are really good, too….)

Advertisements

Why Wait??

(full read at dawnlizjones.wordpress.com)

I am quickly becoming of the opinion that there is no better way to celebrate than to have friends over into the garden.  So far, I have had a small family reunion dinner, my oldest daughter’s “Skype” bridal shower (she was in California and one sister was home in Missouri, and the other sister was in New York City—hurray for technology!), a private evening bistro with my husband and his poetry, and a bluegrass birthday party.  One day, I thought I would ask a few girlfriends to come over for an “open air” breakfast in the late morning.  Two of these ladies are quite accomplished and creative gardeners, and my spot of earth was far behind what they have mastered.  In fact, there was still dirt laying around in various spots from fixing some of the stones in my yard.  But is a garden ever truly completed?  I tend to think that, since it is made of living things, then a garden must be viewed itself as a living organism, ever changing, ever challenging, fluid as opposed to finished.  It would be a shame to put off entertaining until I had enough…enough what?  Enough flowers, enough bird feeders and butterfly attractions?  And what for?  To impress them?  Not on my budget or expertise!

I wonder how often we fall into the same restrictive and lock-step way of thinking in other areas of life:

  • Can’t have the boss (or pastor, or in-laws, or fill in the blank) over until the house is big enough.
  • Can’t have children until we can pay to put them through college.
  • Can’t take a vacation from my job until the next deal is closed.
  • Can’t give money to my church until I get a raise.
  • Can’t play with the kids until the dishes are done. (Oh, I beg of you not to make that mistake!)  
  • And here’s the really big one: can’t tell someone about Jesus until I get my own spirituality together.

Our can’ts are camouflaged as responsibility, when in reality they may be precariously postponing what is really important for what is merely urgent (at best), or selfish (at worst).  Please don’t get me wrong; boundaries—whether they be relational, emotional, financial, to name a few—are important, but so is our choice of who (or Who) is Master of the garden gate.  I need to remember the story of Mary and Martha, two of Jesus’ good friends.  Martha was concerned with preparing to entertain Jesus, and Mary with actually entertaining Him by sitting attentively at His feet.  Who was being most productive?  Would Martha’s house ever be “good” enough to entertain the Son of God?  And yet, when the opportunity was presented, she was in danger of missing out on the best house guest ever!  Obviously, Jesus did not expect perfection (by cultural expectations) before making Himself gloriously and generously at home.

  • I would hope that the people with whom I associate will choose to identify me by my character, rather than by the square footage of my property. Let me honor God with the property of which I am His steward, and leave others’ opinions up to Him.
  • Certainly we have financial obligations to our people, but care must be taken to not overburden ourselves with future concerns over which we have little or no control.
  • Someone who is married to his job can find his marriage to his spouse dissolve without him being aware of it until it is too late. A vacation doesn’t have to be a long expensive undertaking, but a regularly planned evening away—ALONE—can bring health and vitality into not only a relationship, but also into the job as well. And a caution to stay-at-homes: this means you, too!  Check the chatter about the kids with your coat at the restaurant and focus on some exclusivity with your one and only.
  • We somehow feel that giving money to God is a chore, like getting our teeth pulled. We have to psych ourselves up for giving what we think we can’t afford, or for beating back the guilt feelings when we don’t. An Olympic diver doesn’t start learning his craft by jumping off the high dive.  Start small.  It’s okay to ask God to increase our salary, but I should ask Him to increase my giving first. 
  • Yes, dishes need to be done, and we are not to use any excuse for a slovenly lifestyle, but that whole “cleanliness is next to godliness” is not in the Word of God. Our children are a gift from the Lord, more than our dishes. They need us to let them know that in very tangible ways, and the most important is giving them of our time.
  • And, of course, the perfection of our lives is not the witness that Jesus is looking for. It is the consistency of love, and constancy of attendance on Him, of sincere repentance with corresponding behavioral decisions. It is His perfection of character that engulfs the flaws of mine.  Good grief!  How can I adequately bear witness and represent a Holy God!?  To feel any remnant of adequacy to this task is the epitome of pride and hubris.  No, I must not wait until I esteem myself a “better person”, and wholly rely on His Holy Spirit’s adequacy within me.

What opportunities are presented to us today? I want to be extremely careful to not allow them to pass by because of short-sighted nonsensical statements that include “can’t…until.”  On the contrary, I want to challenge myself to evaluate every self-imposed restriction that would threaten to put off what would bless someone—

—and many times that someone turns out to be me!

 

 

Eat Up!

(Full post at dawnlizjones.wordpress.com)

I’m not an expert on Jewish customs by any means, but reading the Old Testament about the Passover during this season is intriguing.  Of striking interest to me is the part where the Hebrew people are warned that, once the Passover lamb is sacrificed and served up on a platter, they were to use up the whole thing in some way or other, not to leave any remaining until the next day.

What’s that about?

Here’s my take.  Leaving meat unpreserved in a hot place for several hours (like overnight) causes spoilage and rancidity.  Not just the ugly worms and bugs that we can see crawling all over the leftovers, but more importantly the ones we can’t see!  It’s not just about had badly it stinks, or how unappealing it appears served up for breakfast. The bottom line is that spoilage causes illness, and rancidity causes death. 

I think of it analogously as Jesus our Passover Lamb.  God intend us to “eat” Him completely, receiving all His words, all His commands, all His love, and to trust Him completely, or to use a good old-fashioned word, “whole-heartedly”, as opposed to “half-heartedly”.

Taking just pieces of Jesus causes spiritual spoilage and rancidity.  Like empty legalistic behavior, hypocrisy, selfish ambition, and the list goes on.  In a nutshell, it not only stinks, but causes death—in ourselves and others.  The truth is that most of us have been there, on the giving or receiving end…or both.

The good news is that, even though Jesus’s Passover sacrifice of Himself for us was a onetime event, Passover itself comes around every year.  Our God is One of second chances, and third, and fourth.  Grace is truly amazing.

So here’s to encouraging us all to make sure we “fully consume” the Passover Lamb.  It’s really the only way to not have spiritual stinkiness in our lives.

And really, even though we have to chew on it sometimes, it’s pretty tasty! 

The “art” of baking….not.

Baking is an art form, one in which I am not well versed in.  I approach baking much like I approach gardening: instead of the manicured lawns with sculpted flower beds, I’m more the scattered wildflower variety with a yard fertilized by my dog.  Nonetheless, here are a few equally scattered thoughts about baking anyway.

Starting with friendship bread—someone gives you a small bag of tan-colored, semi-liquid mush, accompanied by a sheet of specific directions which, if followed correctly, will produce some very delicious sweet bread.  The unique thing about Friendship bread is that part of the instructions tells me to save some of the mush to give away to someone else.  The more I follow the directions, the more sweet bread is produced and the more I can give away (or eat).

Now, I kind of think faith is like that. 

Andrew Murray, in his book With Jesus in the School of Prayer, refers to some of the hard sayings of Jesus, liked moving mountains and all that.  Jesus even said that “greater things than these you will do since I go to the Father”.  Wow!  I mean, really, He brought people back from the dead, pulled money out of a fish’s mouth, withered a fig tree with a word, stopped a storm at sea, commanded demons into a herd of ham, and on, and on. 

Sometimes it’s tempting to sweep these sayings under the modern day carpet with excuses—He just meant that for His disciples at that time in history, or the generic He was referring to “something else”.  (Reminiscent of the serpent’s original question to Eve concerning eating from that certain tree—“Hath God really said…..?”)

Or else I can shrug my shoulders and relent that I just don’t have enough faith.  Now there’s a real cop-out. Or I should say, a half-truth, something the old serpent is equally quite good at.  Of course I don’t have enough faith!  Duh.  But that does not stand to reason that I don’t have ANY faith.  In fact, God tells me that He has given EVERYONE a measure of faith.

My pastor says that we all make choices, including choices concerning my relationship with Jesus. LIke my Friendship bread starter dough, I am given directions on how to increase the faith God has given me, improve upon it.  In essence, I am responsible for reading and following the directions:

  • I am given a measure, even a cup, of faith. I must receive it, even if it’s like a friend giving me the bag of ugly-looking mush. Doesn’t look too tasty to begin with! (1)
  • Mixing my faith with other ingredients particularly happens in regularly hanging around other mush-loving people. (2)
  • Lots of patience, waiting, comes in the form of study, and personal time spent alone with the Lord Himself, and my nose in His Book. (3) “Those that are pleased with Christ must study to be pleasing to him; and they will not find him hard to be pleased”, says a wise old commentator.  (4)
  • Shaking the bag regularly. You don’t have to be very old to know what the shaking of life is like. But it’s the shaking and squeezing of the mush that activates the yeast, which eventually makes the bread rise.  In other words, it gives the bread “character”!  (5)
  • Part of the directions include putting my faith into a hot oven for a specified period of time. Yeah, this is also a fun one. No explanation needed. (6)
  • Giving a cup away. As someone once said, faith is personal, but true faith is never meant to be private. Something about not putting a lighted candle under a basket… (7)

Like friendship bread, I am given a portion of faith, and it’s up to me to decide what I’m going to do with it. When you follow the directions, it’s pretty amazing what can happen with a bag of mush.

 

  • Romans 12:3
  • Hebrew 10:25
  • Jeremiah 29:13
  • Henry, Matthew (2010-11-07). Unabridged Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible (best navigation) (Kindle Locations 136223-136224). OSNOVA. Kindle Edition.
  • James 1:2
  • Daniel 3 – I love this story!
  • Matthew 5:15

These Old Charming Houses

“Old houses have charm.”

Sure, okay.  I guess that depends on your definition of charm.  Like an obstinately leaking flat roof or creaky floor joists.  We have lived in our “charming” abode for over twenty years, and are s-l-o-w-l-y but surely getting it upgraded from charming to more functional.  Central air and the first attempt at a new roof came when we moved in.  Since then, we have successfully vaulted the flat roof, gutted and remodeled the downstairs bathroom, put in new ceilings, and improved the whole picture with new aluminum siding.  Currently, we are completely re-doing the upstairs “water closet”.

Of course, “we” is a euphemism for our wonderful and patient contractor, Dusty (which, personally, I think is a terrific name for a contractor, if you get my drift.)  Bob and I can barely hammer a nail in straight—that is, if we can find the hammer.  Dusty and his men really know their stuff.  And they didn’t even raise a stink when my over-curious husband checked out their work area to see the progress, promptly stepping into some construction goo that they had just carefully spread prior to laying the tile.  They have vision, and that gives them purpose.  They’re going for both functionality AND aesthetics!

 I love these guys.

But regardless of how careful and considerate they are (and they are!), when construction is in progress, you just can’t plan to dine a royal party in style in the middle of it.  And you also don’t want to rush the work, either.  It needs to be done properly and under experiended supervision so that the electricity doesn’t burn down the house and the plumbing doesn’t, well, you know.

Life is similar.  We all need to be remodeled, upgraded, re-done.  We are all under construction, and have our times of messiness.  People close by step in the sticky goo of our moral confusion, or have to be careful not to trip over the ripped off wallboard of our pain. 

Like my contractor, God is not deterred from His vision and purpose for us. All my goo, all my dust, it’s all temporary.  And Jesus didn’t die on a cross just to make me “functional”, although some of us would be thankful even for that!  No, He made the supreme sacrifice to make us beautiful, to make our lives count for eternity.

This Easter, don’t be afraid to hang up the “Under Construction” sign and put on a hard hat.  It’s what He now lives for!

So Who Needs Crayons??

Here‘s the scenario: I’m in the back yard early in the morning trying to have some undistracted time with the Lord, but my attention is consistently drawn to the sensate beauty around me.  Albeit my patio garden couldn’t hold a citronella candle to some of the other gardens around in this area, yet the songs of the birds, the wind in the trees, the morning sunshine dappling through the leaves, the color and contours of the flowers and the cool of the morning air all combine to lure me away from exercising the discipline I had intended.  Adding to that, my imagination now wanders to various projects I would like to work on next to improve certain areas of my little spot: weeding, fertilizing, installing liners to prevent runoff when the summer rains make their appearance.  So, yeah, I’m definitely having some difficulty staying mentally on my original task this morning.

Then it hits me—wait a minute!  This is how God Almighty thinks of me!  Psalm 139 tells me that His thoughts are continually toward me, and that if I could count them, they would outnumber the sand!

He sees me as more beautiful than a garden’s beauty, more distracting (if that were possible for God) than the delights of my own current diversions.  His mind is consistently excited about the work He intends to accomplish in me next: shoring up the new plantings of faith and growth so that the inevitable rains of life will not wash the progress away, rooting up the weeds of shame and fear that cause damage to the mind and heart, watering and feeding for greater growth, and, yes, pruning, which is necessary for new branches to appear and for increased productivity.

But what is even more amazing is that this work of the Master Gardener is NOT due to any anger or frustration on His part.  It is, much to the surprise of many who would consider themselves “religious”, an expression of His joy, just as it is a joy for me to work in my garden!

  • I’m not angry at my garden because of the weeds and the poor soil, or the rocks in the wrong places. Of course, I don’t want it to stay that way. So also does God Almighty, in His wisdom and sovereignty, make decisions about what needs to be changed and rearranged in my life to fit His grand, overall design. Now, I can submit willingly to His decisions, or I can choose not to.  Have you ever had a weed that “fought back” when you tried to pull it?  When it didn’t just slide out with the first yank, what happens next?    When the weed refuses to be pulled, it gets uncomfortable for the weed, as well as all the ground around it, at least for a while.  Ouch.
  • I certainly don’t give up on my garden during the winter seasons of dormancy, but cover up the roots to keep them warm and alive until the inevitable return of spring. Neither does my Heavenly Father disown me in the winter seasons when it “appears” that nothing is happening, or it looks like all the former beauty of passion and enthusiasm has withered away and disappeared.
  • It is my pleasure to work in my garden heartily to spread the ashes of “recycled soil” from my burn pile to other areas for increased nutrition. Ashes are not pretty; and the burning process gets pretty hot, and then smolders for a long time creating even more ash. The pile itself isn’t much to look at, but the soil is some of the most fertile in my entire yard.  So also does my Father consider when He views the ash piles in my life—the heartaches, the disappointments, the bad decisions, even the sin and corresponding consequences— to give me “beauty for ashes”.  (Isaiah said that…)

Here’s to the beautifully distracting colors of spring!  And the reminder that we are even more beautiful to our Gardener.

Hey!! Where’d the #moon go??

I love the night sky.  I love sitting under a quiet canopy of stars in the early pre-dawn morning before the tree frogs have stopped their singing and the birds kick in with their own.  When I was a kid, I thought I wanted to be an astronaut.  I grew up with Captain Kirk, and the Starship Enterprise, and “live long and prosper” and all that.  Forget Barbie and Ken; that final frontier was what I was about!

That is, until I told my mom, to which she insightfully replied, “Oh, so you want to be an engineer?”  That’s all it took to crush my dilithium crystals to smithereens. 

Needless to say that I never pursued my dream—no, I should only refer to it as a fantasy—of galactic exploration.  Even so, as I said, I still love the night sky, that time of the earth’s rotation when we get a glimpse of spatial eternity.  As I look up, the moon is a mere sliver of reflected light in the sea of dark nothingness.  At first glance, it would seem like the moon has been disappearing.  Now, if someone had been enjoying the night skies for the first time over that past thirty days or so, this apparent lunar exit could cause several things in the uninitiated observer: disappointment, fear, frustration and confusion, to new a few.  How unfair for such a beautiful thing to only last but 30 days!  But to someone with even a very limited experience with astronomy, like me, this phase is, well, just that,..a phase… 

…which brings two thoughts to mind:

  • Although I can barely see it now, yet because of my history with the moon, I know that this illuminated piece of rock will come around again. Actually, it has never left; it’s still up there. In fact, it’s still up there in its entirety, just hidden, and only temporarily at that.
  • Secondly, the waning of the moon isn’t the end of the moon. It’s only the present completion of the moon’s natural progression. It’s not dying, not disintegrating.  On the contrary, this progression is an important part of its existence, its identity.  The moon is preparing for the next appointed phase.

Writing this very sentence, I am 53 years old.  (I just had a birthday this month, thankfully, as they say, considering the alternative.)  By this time in my tenure on the planet, I have learned a little about phases.  Some are inevitable, some are not, but one thing remains true of both—they pass.  We can learn to recognize and navigate through them by learning from experience (that of others or simply our own).  Or we can deny their existence and pretend nothing has changed.  Either way, similar to the “immutable changes” of the moon, phases will come and go, and will inevitably leave the marks of change in their wake.

This is where it gets sticky, this change thing, since we tend to cling to the emotional status quo, even if the status quo is toxic.  Change brings uncertainty, which in turn, if we allow it, can breed fear.  That is another reason why some things in our lives must be as immutable (and in this case, more so) than the moon itself:

  • With God, sometimes our “seeing” Him, sensing His involvement and His control over our circumstances, is eclipsed by other things. Whether our spiritual senses are dulled by physical/mental components such as fatigue, stress, (or even hormones), or whether the cause is more seditious, like sin, God is still Jehovah Shammah, the great “I Am Present”. (1) And He promises to never leave us or forsake us, as we continue to cling to Him. Period. (2)
  • Like the progressions of the moon, the God of the universe is always progressive. Not that God changes, as He is Himself unchangeable. (3) He doesn’t go through “phases”, but He knows that we have to.  It is a necessary component of who we are.  If a project or a ministry or a relationship has seemingly disintegrated before our eyes, it is wisdom to “fret not”, (it doesn’t do any good anyway), and to remain faithful and humble and, yes, maybe even courageously inquisitive as to what God is doing and going to do on our behalf.  This will allow God, in His loving sovereignty, to take us through the progression He has designed for us.

The unfortunate one viewing the waning of the moon for the first time is unfortunate only if he believes that what he sees happening if all there is and ever will be of the moon.  His perception, as is ours, is tainted with inexperience and impatience.  Giving in to our limited perception (and the emotional response that frequently accompanies it) is like turning my eyes from the night sky forever, since there will obviously never be another moon.  How silly!  No…how tragic.

Patient waiting, as for the return of the moon, is the mark of someone who understands the concept of phases.  Because God is always preparing, never retreating.

  • Ezekiel 48:35
  • Deuteronomy 31:6; Hebrew 13:5
  • Malachi 3:6

The #Grace of a Talking Ass, ….er, #Donkey

My good friend, Kelly, asked me to participate in a halftime show during a fundraiser donkey basketball game for her small Christian school.  I love big animals, having grown up in the ‘burbs with little access to the farm.  We were to “ride” donkeys while picking up money people threw on the floor.  Needless to say, it was riotous fun.  But I experienced firsthand why the donkey has a reputation for stubbornness.  Case in point:

Once upon a time long, long ago, there was this guy named Balaam.  Not a nice man.  Popular, but not someone you would want to escort your daughter to prom.  He was well known and respected as a person who could effectively “bless” or “curse” whole sections of the population.  Not curse, as in the ineffective and banal expletives that are thrown around today.  No, evidently this man had something unnatural about him, something powerful, and not altogether healthy.  However, to superficially read the account, it almost sounds like he was at least trying to wear a white hat, but as the story unfolds, it turns out that he was, well…not a nice man.

The Hebrew people were coming to the end of a very long road trip through an exceptionally trying desert.  They had learned a lot of important stuff, generally the hard way.  By now the other people whose lands the Israelites were coming upon, including that of a king named Balak, had heard the accounts of how God had miraculously extricated them from slavery in Egypt and provided for them throughout their time in the desert.  Understandably, it made King Balak a little unsettled that this massive group of wandering foreigners was heading straight for his territory, and naturally he assumed the worst.  Whatever was a pagan king to do?

Send for Balaam, of course.

When King Balak’s messengers arrived at Balaam’s doorstep to request a customized curse, the prophet made no bones about it that he could only say what this Hebrew God wanted him to say.  (At least he got that right.)  Initially God told not to go, but when Balaam was offered more money the second time, it was just too tempting and God relented.  (Asking God a second time after a clear answer the first time is not always a wise option.)  However, God knew what was below the surface in Balaam’s heart—greed and selfish ambition, and definitely not what God necessarily had in mind for His own people.

Saddling up his long-trusted donkey, Balaam sets off for the palace, with visions of gold dancing in his head.  To his surprise, and consternation, however, his otherwise reliable transport decides he doesn’t want to go forward, (which, from personal experience now, I realize is not altogether unnatural for a donkey, except perhaps this one.)   First his old companion intentionally turned off the road, and Balaam beat him.  Then he squeezed up close to a wall for “no reason”, crushing the so-called prophet’s foot, and Balaam beat him.  A while later down the road, the poor creature just laid down.  You can guess Balaam’s response, but it’s the donkey’s that I find most interesting—he talked.

(Unfortunately, the Bible doesn’t record Balaam’s initial reaction to this event, so obviously it must not have been terribly important to the account.  But, oh, to be a fly on the sweet snout of that animal!)

Suddenly, the supernatural realm—that Balaam hypothetically operated in—was opened, and there stood a seriously intense and summarily displeased angelic messenger.  (Once again, Balaam’s first response is sadly omitted.)  The words of the angel are quite instructive, if not discouraging, and Balaam gets an attitude shift that speaks well for his limited knowledge of the God with whom he was dealing.

Here is one point, among many that could be made from Balaam’s experience which relates to our modern day dealings with life, and the God of that life.  There are times, more than we would care to admit, during which we think we are following God’s will, when in reality our own attitudes are expertly hidden from us.  The bricks of our piety are often mortared together with anger, offense, jealousy, greed, to name a few.  Because God loves His children, He knows how dangerous these attitudes are, and how necessary it is for our welfare that they be removed.  It may be that those around us clearly see the danger that is standing directly in the path, and our anger and frustration with them is not only uncalled for, but unwise.  Granted, it takes humility to allow God to show us the “error of our ways”, even if it comes through humble means, but it is imperative that we see. 

Moral of the story: it’s always a good idea to pray for the grace of a talking donkey while we walk the pathway of this life.   Otherwise, the sword’s gonna hurt.

#Wind –friend or foe?

(Excerpt from God Loves Birds, by Dawn Jones)

Rogers and Hammerstein, the famous composers of the old time musical, Oklahoma!, immortalized the words, “and watch a hawk making lazy circles in the sky.”  Sitting at my table outside I happened to look up into the blue above me and saw just that. Of course, it could have been a turkey vulture, a little challenging for me to tell at that distance, and naturally it wouldn’t have quite the same poetic ring to it as in the song. Regardless, the beauty of it was mesmerizing.  This bird was expressing part of her innate wiring, and doing it with seemingly effortlessness and grace. 

The other interesting observation in this scenario was that the cloud movement was indicating the wind was decidedly out of the northwest.  The bird, however, was completely unhampered by the direction or the velocity of the airflow, and in fact, when she was apparently done with that particular circumference, commenced heading into a direct headwind! 

Now, granted, I’m a Purdue Boilermaker, but decidedly not from their renown aeronautical engineering department.  Even so, I seem to know that this bird’s impressive flight pattern had something intrinsically to do with the set of her wings, rather than merely the direction and strength of the air current. She has no control over the wind, but full control of her feathers.  She understands and has mastered how to work with the wind, or better, to make the wind work for her.  It is her nature to do so.  And unlike us humans, she doesn’t even know how to complain if the wind seems to be going the wrong way, or how to whine if the wind seems too strong.

We humans, however, are of a higher order.  We are well versed and abundantly proficient in the art of complaining and whining.  And, unfortunately, it is not even an acquired art—it has been hard-wired into our code since, well…since we left the first Garden.  Our original two parents somehow couldn’t see fit to work within God’s set perimeter, even though back then there weren’t even ten commandments, only one: don’t eat from that tree, just that one, only one.  All the plethora of foliage and fruit were available and in abundance and could be enjoyed without restraint, but just not that one.  And we all know the rest.  (Not that I could have done any better.  I probably would have built a tree house up inside of it and invited my husband in for afternoon tea with forbidden-fruit turnovers.)

There’s just something about wanting what we are not supposed to have.  Or are warned against.  Or belongs to someone else.  Or are supposed to wait for in the future.  And we have a penchant for whining when we can’t get it…now.  Consider:

  • That certain house, or car, or job
  • Or maybe retirement!
  • Children, or grandchildren,
  • Or maybe getting the children out of the house!
  • Social reputation, positions and status
  • Or maybe solitude and quiet!
  • Friends and relationships, or even marriage,
  • Or a better, more satisfying, more stable marriage!

According to that same perspective, we complain when the “wind” of our expectations blows in a way that appears contrary to our desires:

  • Economic recession and financial loss
  • Health issues, both personal and with our loved ones
  • Unexpected bills and other un-planned-for responsibilities (children, aging parents, to name a few)
  • Even the so-called “Acts of God” (what a bum rap THAT is!) that leave untold pain and destruction in their wake.

The lists of things we choose to be discontent about are as long as they are differently perceived by each person.  And just when we think we may have conquered one, there are plenty more in the queue waiting to pop up on our emotional screen.  Despite this challenge, God calls us to contentedness, and promises that such a discipline brings great gain. (1)  Linda Dillow, in her wonderful book entitled Be Still My Anxious Heart, writes about acquiring this skill of contentedness in all areas of life, such as employment, relationships, even in our own physical uniqueness.  It takes time, and it takes effort to surrender our “wannabes” to God’s, but both the time and the effort are well worth the end product of contentedness.

However, lest we misunderstand, contentedness and surrender are not equal to resignation.  True heart surrender to our heavenly Father’s plan and purpose—however strange and nonconforming it may be to our own—brings a peace that He really has everything under control, things are progressing according to His design, and since I don’t have to figure it all out (I’ve tried, and it’s painful), I can trust Him to tell me where to step next.  Resignation, on the other hand, is giving up.  Quitting.  Taking my ball and going home.  Instead of peace, I open myself up to bitterness, jealousy, and unforgiveness.  And these guys are very, very dangerous playmates indeed.  They tend to bring more unwanted guests into our lives, and sometimes we might not even be aware of them! (2)

One of these all too familiar hangers-on is stress.  My husband tells me that stress is caused by unmet expectations.  And everything in our modern psychology tells us that we need to decrease our stress.  Logically, then, it would seem to follow that we need to modify our expectations, and learn to use our emotional and mental energy to harness the unexpected, the disappointing, the uncomfortable and downright painful things that life occasions for us.  Thankfully, we have the very best Teacher to help us do just that.  God’s Holy Spirit residing in each believing Christian is available for immediate access. (3) It is in learning to listen for His voice that we can release ourselves from the grip of gripe and the power of self-pity.

In this we place life’s uncontrol-ables, all of them and without reservation, into the capable hands of the One Who controls both the direction and the velocity of the winds of life.  For in truth, only He can teach us to spread our wings… and fly. (4)

  • 1 Timothy 6:6
  • James 3:16
  • Ephesians 3:16; John 14:26
  • Isaiah 41:10

Fire Up the Christmas Tree…in #March

(Excerpt from God Loves Gardens, by Dawn Jones)                                     I let the dog out on this beautiful Sunday morning as the sun was coming up, the birds were waking up, and the new flowers are starting to push their way up.  I look across my yard to the unsightly large black spot next to the fence where I finally got to burn the annual Spring cleaning—leftover leaves, twigs and branches, and, yes, even the old Christmas tree. But I don’t have to see the blackened area to remember my efforts from the day before.  My 50+ year old frame is reminding me enough!   Initially, the left over burn pile looks like an ugly scar on my landscape, until I realize what it represents.  This spot will be where I plant my tomato starts again this year.  And they will become monster bushes due to the wonderfully fertile soil provided by the after effects of my efforts from yesterday’s hard work.

We know that burning adds the nutrients into the soil, and this can be likened to the process of consecration, A.K.A. dedication, of ourselves to God. (I like the word “consecration”.  It’s a good old-fashioned churchy sounding word that’s packed with meaning.)  It’s only when we are truly consecrated to God that we become pretty useless TO the world; that is, the world cannot use us for its own purposes, and we become liberated from the shackles of their devices, such as the need for popularity, status, wealth…fill in the blank. Not that these things are intrinsically evil, but the “need” for them sure is!   Likewise, it’s when we are completely devoted to God—His honor, His plan and purpose, His timing—that we are, in a very real and spiritual sense, burned up to Him in a way that we become “the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place” described by Paul, and we become useful FOR the world in the way God intends.  And lastly, if we neglect this consecration process, this burning sacrifice of our lives to God, then we can be assured that we will, indeed, be burned out by the world and its effects upon us.

Having said that, as I contemplate the black spot in my garden, several things come to mind:

Leaves: (many of which have been sheltering the gardens to keep the roots warmer over the somewhat brutal winter we just had)  We also can tend to hide under some of our past comforts for fear of the winter storms in our lives  Life is cold at times, bitterly so.  We naturally seek to protect our inner selves.  But I also knew it was time to rake away the leaves, because they were now preventing the full warming rays of the sun to nourish the new plants.  Same with our souls.

Twigs and branches blown down by the storms which are no longer able to produce life:  Left to clutter the yard, they will make it easier to trip and fall, and more difficult to mow, to play with the dog, and do the things that a yard is for.  Like the personal offenses held onto and residual guilt feelings of my own past offenses forgiven, yard waste is simply in the way of progress.

Muscle aches from the effort:  I can’t sit inside and expect it to just happen on its own.  Similarly my personal cleansing is a cooperative effort with God.  The word effort is important here.

My burn pile is ringed with stones and brick to contain the burning process:  I also watch over it carefully, spraying outside the stones as need should the fire jump into the grass and spread where it is not appointed to go.  Personal boundaries are important.

The ongoing process – just as each new season here in southern Missouri brings more leaves and twigs to be processed, so our lives are a continual cleanup project.  Pull out the rake!