Friday, March 23, 2018

Spoiled Fruit

"Cain brought some fruits of the soil…But Abel brought fat portions from…the firstborn of his flock…So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast….Then the LORD said…'If you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it’"Gen. 4:3-7.

At the time my sister was diagnosed with terminal cancer I had been studying the word of God and pursuing intimate and deeper fellowship with Him for a few years. My pursuit of God had become a daily passion as I realized how far I had to go. When my sister began her journey with cancer, it took on a ministry of its own, providing an example of faith and hope for all no matter what circumstances people faced. It was a time when God was highly honored, and faith revered. Beth’s grace inspired all to strive to attain the same grace. Her courage astonished everyone making us dream of possessing that same courage but praying we would never have to. People testified to her amazing responses of faith in her heartbreaking circumstances. I am not proud to admit that I had feelings like Cain but as it was included in the Bible, the feelings must be recognized as part of humanity. Over the course of eleven months, as cancer crept into new places in Beth’s body, jealousy crept into new places in my heart. I desired for the faith garment she wore to appear on my life. On some unconscious level I believe that my desire to display faith became greater than my desire to display God.

I remember the December morning when I came over to move her into the Hospice House. I was standing next to her watching her put on her makeup. We had packed up her things and as she looked at her face in the mirror she began to share with me one of the most disturbing realizations. Her peace was met with my horror as she explained that her daughter had emotionally moved away from her and was connecting more deeply with her dad. Beth’s words…'and that is okay’…still haunt my soul as a mother. That could never be okay except through the grace and power of God. Her explanation was not that Syd had done anything wrong but was rather praising God that He was preparing her daughter for what might lay ahead. (Beth never gave up hope for an earthly miracle.) ‘But Abel brought...portions from the firstborn of his flock…’ I cannot imagine the impact on God’s heart that day…what precious rewards that sacrifice must have stored up in Heaven for her…a true Abraham/Isaac moment.  The further I moved away from this experience, the more revelation God gave me. The sin of jealousy did creep in and crouch at the door of the heart. I was downcast and had allowed these feelings to master over me.

When we are trying to acquire the approval and praise of others, we are giving 'Cain' offerings to the LORD...spoiled fruit. But when we surrender those things most precious in our lives we are standing before God offering up sacrificial portions. I recognize the price Beth had to pay which was nothing to envy…it cost her everything...but the favor she is experiencing in Heaven is unparalleled to anything on earth. Beth never saw herself as faithful warrior and over-comer as so many others viewed her. She wore a garment of humility and grace when considering her faith, feeling unworthy of those titles others gave her.

Every heart is connected to the heart of God and that relationship is sacred and private. God never intended for us to measure ourselves against mankind, but rather against the Son who sacrificed everything. We must look to our own sacrifices that God is calling us to offer. Sacrifices look different for everyone, and many are hidden in the heart, but God honors and blesses every single one.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

A Tangled-up Mess

For as much as a surpassing spirit, and knowledge, and understanding, interpreting of dreams, and declaring of riddles, and loosing of knots, were found in the same Daniel.” Daniel 5:12

This chapter is one of the most peculiar stories in the Bible in my opinion, but one I’ve always loved. ‘King Belshazzar held a great feast for a thousand of his nobles, and he was drinking wine in the presence of the thousand. Suddenly the fingers of a man's hand emerged and began writing on the plaster of the wall of the king's palace, and the king saw the back of the hand that did the writing.’ Daniel 5:1-5. The king could not interpret what the handwriting said so the queen reminded him that Daniel had the Spirit of God within him. Through this Spirit he would be able to understand what was written…solve the riddle…loosen the knots of interpretation.

Yesterday I was going to volunteer at an organization for the day. I glanced up at my window seal and noticed for the millionth time my knotted up black pearl necklace. I have had this necklace for over 10 years and for the last 5 years it has remained in a tangled mess. The knot is so tight and both Bruce and I have tried multiple times over the years to untangle it. I had placed it on the window seal to take it to a jeweler, and of course it has laid there for 6 months. I had ten minutes before I needed to leave and picked up the necklace again. I was playing with the one loose end and began thinking about the impossibility of loosening the knot that had been there for years. My mind began wandering about several things that needed resolution in my life. As I pondered these things my hands were rolling the different pearls between my fingers. My mind returned to the necklace and I heard myself say, ‘Lord you could just say the word and this necklace would be loosened.’ I know how crazy this sounds but at that moment I saw the intersecting chain that needed to be threaded through another and within 5 minutes the necklace was completely straightened out. It was as if He took over my hands and began moving pearls under and over…in and out…weaving the fine chain where it needed to go. I immediately knew God was showing me that every unresolved matter in my life was in His hands. I was so encouraged to know that things that appear tangled up in my life are in the perfect order of God's resolution. I was completely in awe and will never wear this necklace again without thinking of this experience.

I began considering how all of us probably have ‘knots’ that have been there for years…knots that we have tried to loosen on our own only to fail. When we take matters into our hands we can end up with one knotted necklace for sure. No matter how tangled the mess, we can call on God to take over and show us how to move through our difficult seasons. We need Him to thread His peace and understanding revealing how to endure the things that have us knotted up. We must let go of our failed attempts at controlling the outcome of our circumstances and allow Him to straighten it out for us.

Like Daniel, we as believers have the Spirit living within each of us. We have access to the same power that Daniel used to ‘loosen the knots’ of the riddle. We can call on that power that raised Christ from the dead to raise us up in hope, comfort and encouragement. We can pray that God would place His hands around ours and untangle our circumstances. I pray that you allow God to loosen whatever has you ‘knotted up’ today so that the beauty of your life can be displayed.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Very Good Indeed

"I have chosen Bezalel, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability, and knowledge in all kinds of crafts…people are to work based on everything the LORD has commanded. The LORD has given them wisdom and understanding to know how to do all the work…" Exodus 35:30-36:1

I will admit that until this story I had never heard of Bezalel.  I doubt he is mentioned prior to this chapter.  He wandered onto the pages as an obscure character out of the blue.  He had a skill no doubt…some type of artisan ability.  But what made him special was that when he came on the scene he came with the fullness of the Spirit of God.  God took his talent and infused it with power and this ordinary worker became the lead man to build an exquisite temple for their extraordinary God.  I wonder if he realized his wisdom and understanding had exponentially increased overnight?  Was he amazed and surprised by the abilities he possessed realizing it was the supernatural filling of the Spirit?  He had to be both humbled and grateful for the work God gave Him to accomplish on behalf of so many.  Were there moments when the enormity of the requirements of the job taunted him ?  We don’t know these answers, but we do know Bezalel was human with fears and insecurities.

God’s timeliness of His word never ceases to amaze me.  The subject of work has certainly been considered over the past two years as we have been in the valley of a two-year drought.  Bruce’s faith has been both tested and tried during this season.  He has been faithful in believing that God is orchestrating the circumstances that will eventually lead to work.  Daily he lays it at the Lord’s feet and walks in acceptance and confidence as the monthly pages blow off the calendar.  Last night he told me that he was asked the other day how he will feel when work does resume.  Would he feel confident that he could still make an impact with all the time that had passedHad he lost any self confidence through this experience?  Bruce told me that his answer began with stumbling words, attempting to formulate his response.  Then the clouds receded, and clarity shown bright.  He answered that he was confident that whatever God had called him to accomplish, and whenever the call came God would equip him to successfully do the work. 

Some of the toughest times are times when we are called to wait…times that seem empty of purpose… times that call out to our deepest fear and greatest need.  For one person who has loved and lost it a time of grief wondering if their healing will ever come.  For another person it is a time of illness when weeks fade into months.  For someone else it is a time of waiting on God to arrange employment… a partner…a pregnancy…this list goes on and on.  God is first and foremost a Creator.  In every minute of every day His hands are forming opportunities for each one of us.  Like creation He breathes wisdom into anything we are called to walk out.  His power is at our fingertips because we have been filled with His spirit.  We can also walk in confidence whatever situation He brings our way, because like Bezalel we too have been chosen by God and filled with His spirit to accomplish great things.  The most beautiful things in our lives will appear when we allow the Creator to create.  It is what He does best, and we are reminded of this daily through the beautiful sunrise and sunset. 

God saw all that he had made, and it was very good indeed.” Ge 1:31

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

No Place Like Home

"And I remember that some of it wasn't very nice. But most of it was beautiful. But just the same, all I kept saying to everybody was, 'I want to go home.' And they sent me home…And this is my room - and you're all here! And I'm not gonna leave here ever, ever again because I love you all! - there's no place like home. There's no place like home.” Dorothy, Wizard of Oz.

I was reminded of a scene from the Wizard of Oz this morning when Dorothy awakened and was surrounded with everyone who meant anything. She recounted a dream where life was mostly beautiful, but some of life wasn’t very nice. But her joy was complete because she was finally home, and she would never leave again.

A while back I remember a dream as vivid as if it was my reality. I was standing in my foyer when I opened the door to greet someone. First Beth my sister walked in, and I immediately wrapped my arms around her and we fell to the ground. We began rolling around like children, laughing and teasing. I looked up and saw my dad walking in the front door and I jumped to my feet like the floor was on fire. I grabbed and hugged him tightly and began telling him how much I missed him, and how much life stood still when he went away. The love in his eyes and the laughter in his voice told me wherever he had been, was necessary and he was as happy as I was to be together. As I turned around my eyes met the sweet and tender eyes of my Grandmother Miller. I began weeping and thought I would never let go of her. I told her in the dream I believe I had missed her presence most. She was my earthly representation of a person completely hidden in Christ. In the dream she was somewhat surprised that I said that, true to her humble character. When I awoke I laid there and relived that dream over and over in my mind. I rediscovered life with these three people through the connection of a dream.

One day we will all close our eyes to this world, and as we open them up we will rediscover all our loved ones. They will surround us and will give us their full attention as we reconnect with their heavenly bodies. There will be laughter, love and joy as we tell them how much we’ve missed them. We might try to explain the beauty of our lives they missed. We might try to share some of the tough times…heartbreaking times…cruel times. Maybe we will be in mid-sentence when suddenly we turn around and there standing in the door is the One whose presence we have been waiting most to see. Our Father in Heaven…and holy is His name…His will has come…and has been done moving us from earth to Heaven. All else will fade away because we will realize that what we knew in part has now been made fully known to us. We are all together again…forever and ever…and Dorothy is right…there’s no place like home!

"Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely." 1 Co 13:12

Monday, March 19, 2018

Here's To Redemption!

Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” Psalm 30:5

Any of you who know me well know that I LOVE March Madness and college basketball. I can’t even imagine the perseverance and work that goes into the practices and competitions. Nor can I comprehend the dedication of those young athletes who have dreamed about their NCAA tournament moment since childhood as they dribbled in the parking lots of their neighborhoods. These focused minded athletes directed by wonderfully skilled coaches give us all the benefits of watching the culmination of years of their hard work and dedication. But this weekend something happened that has never occurred in the NCAA Tournament, casting our eyes on something else. A number 16-seed upset a number 1 seed in the opening round breaking a 135-game losing streak for a 16-seed team. The defeated opponents were stunned and completely devastated for they have had a near perfect year. That would have been enough…that would have been crushing. But what happened after that was so much more devastating. The media continued talking about and showing the faces of those heartbroken boys highlighting the enormity of their failure. It doesn’t matter who wins the 2018 NCAA Tournament because this tournament will be defined by the failure of someone instead of the win. But the man who has coached these boys is a man of God and has shown in the past that he refused to allow society to define him by his achievements or failures. ‘Bennett is a Christian, vocal but not pushy in his faith, a walking example of grace and humility. But I pray that Bennett's words come true: That no matter what I think or what you think, neither Bennett nor his players define themselves by those 40 minutes of basketball. And that for this coach and this program, joy will come in the morning, after a dark night. So, here's to the Virginia Cavaliers winning the 2019 national title. Here's to redemption!’ Writer Reid Forgrave,

We can all relate to this experience as we have all failed and had to face our own circle of friends and family. We can’t erase the failures in which we walked, but we have the promise and confidence that God can. When we truly repent of these failures He forgives us of our sins, and ‘remembers them no more, casting them as far as the east is from the west.’ (Hebrews 8:12, Psalm 103:12) Man might still define us by our actions, but God defines us by His love. Man can only see the outward circumstances of our lives, but God sees the condition of our hearts. When we have truly sought forgiveness and turned away from our sinful behavior, we are guaranteed redemption. But not on the court, for the redemption that we will walk out is one that leads to the ultimate championship…and we will cut down the nets of Heaven!

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.” Ephesians 1:7

Friday, March 16, 2018

The Voice of Legacy

A few years ago, I was with my mother at the doctor’s office. He was going over some things that he thought would be beneficial for her health. He said something that I have never forgotten that really made a huge impact on me. He said to her that what she does in her 80’s will determine how she will experience her 90’s. For some reason that simple truth was echoed in shouts that day. I began examining my own life to see if there were things that didn’t support my overall goal of balanced health. I discovered that I could be healthier in all areas today to better ensure my tomorrows. I determined the more I take time to walk in my 50's the healthier my heart will be in my 60's. I believe that this goes for everything. If I pursue peace in my 50’s my 60’s might be less chaotic. If I get in the habit of choosing grace over bitterness in my 50’s I might be more compassionate in my 60’s. If I seek gratitude for where I am today, with all its gains and losses, I just might experience deeper joy in my tomorrows. What does all of this end up looking like? It’s called legacy and we don’t even realize we are building one until we are gone. Our actions speak the unfolding story of our hearts, and once we no longer have a voice on this earth our legacy will tell our stories.

I was thinking of this when I woke up because today is 8 years that Daddy’s legacy began speaking the story of his life. What a story he had and what a legacy he left. He showed four little girls and one amazing wife what a man of God looked like. He walked out his beliefs and lived a life of complete integrity and loyalty to faith, family and friends. He led a ministry in full-time service without pay for the last 10 years of his life that brought young children who didn't attend church to Christ. I am so grateful that I had a dad who exemplified Christ and gave Him all the glory. Our legacies echo the story when we reach our eternal destination recording one decision after another completing the book. In eternal prospective, I believe that the way we will experience Heaven will be dependent upon the way we served on earth. I’m so grateful that as believers Christ left the ultimate legacy inviting us into His story, connecting us with His sacrifice and rewards.

When our legacy eventually finds it voice what story will it speak? What we do and how we live today will determine how we experience our tomorrows and our forever's.

I am sure of this, that he who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

The Wings of Freedom

A butterfly starts life as a very small, round, oval or cylindrical egg. When the egg hatches, the caterpillar will start his work and eat the leaf they were born onto. One day, the caterpillar stops eating and spins itself a silky cocoon. Within its protective casing, the caterpillar radically transforms its body, eventually emerging as a butterfly. From the outside of the cocoon, it looks as if the caterpillar may just be resting, but the inside is where all the action is. Within the cocoon the old body parts of the caterpillar are undergoing a remarkable transformation to become the beautiful parts that make up the butterfly that will emerge. As soon as the butterfly has rested after coming out of the cocoon, it will pump blood into the wings in order to get them working and flapping – then they get to fly.

My sister Beth entered into this world April 20, 1965. We were blessed to have her born into our family and she grew up with her own flare and adventuresome spirit. She was the one in the family who marched to the beat of her own drum. Then in March of 2008 her body took on what would be the vehicle that took her to heaven…cancer was her cocoon and work began inside her body like never before. From the outside we saw the fight…the struggle…the deterioration of her body…the quiet and unreachable silence near the end…eventually her flight home. But, we never got to see the emergence of the butterfly from our viewpoint. I began thinking this morning what did heaven see while looking onto her cocoon? We saw her crawl into this world like the caterpillar, grow into a beautiful woman and eventually cancer spun its dark cocoon. On our end the activity stopped but on heaven’s end it was just beginning. I’ll bet they could see through the cocoon, watching her change…waiting for her beautiful flight into the skies of heaven. Then finally on earth’s calendar March 15, 2009 they saw the breaking of the cocoon…they held their breath…their excitement arose because she was getting ready to fly! I’ll bet the angels could fully visualize the beauty of her emergence. As light broke through her darkness, she exchanged fight for flight. She found herself flying high in the garden of God where she found new life and movement in her new body. Oh sure, the first movement was probably clumsy and awkward, but she was experiencing new found freedom…freedom from sickness and freedom from sadness. The gardens were full of beautiful butterflies, and she discovered that the struggle and fight within the cocoon was the work required for the ultimate freedom with God.

One day we will all emerge from within the cocoon and join the others who have been transformed forever into the beautiful creation God formed. Grief can be so selfish because from our standpoint we see a broken empty cocoon but from Beth’s standpoint, she is walking out the perfect life that God promises each of us.

We love and miss you, thinking daily of you Beth Ann!