ImageMy neighbor’s peach tree is starting to bud. And there’s one tiny, fragile pink blossom on my azalea bush deep in the middle of the branches. Maybe it’s hiding from a likely frost; we haven’t had much winter yet this year. Could it be spring already?

My mother moved in with us just after Christmas. All of us are making adjustments as we’re learning to live together. Our seasons are changing, too. Mom’s having some days of winter when she feels fragile and vulnerable, moving slowly and taking extra precautions against things that weather her. I, on the other hand, am in a season of private summers that midlife brings with its heat waves and lightening.

But despite the shifting seasons, fruit is evident. The Holy Spirit is always the Spring in our lives as believers. Earlier this week, Mom and I were traveling in the car, and she suddenly looked over and said to me, “Thank you for all your kindness to me.” For a moment, I was baffled; isn’t “kind” what I’m supposed to be?

Only later, I realized that Mom was seeing beyond me. “I myself no longer live, but Christ lives in me,” Paul told the Galatians (2:20, NLT). Later, in chapter 5 he said this: “But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives, he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness…” Mom saw what God is producing through the Holy Spirit. God is growing His fruit in me, and sometimes it ripens and someone else gets nourishment from it. Notice that I had nothing to do with growing the fruit; the Holy Spirit is the One producing it.

On the other hand, when I’m “working” at doing what I think should happen, several versions use this wording: “Now the works of the flesh are obvious…” and a gory list follows (Galatians 5:19-21). The flesh works, schemes, tries to “please God,” and the results are disastrous. And in my life, when my flesh is “working,” the results aren’t pretty. It can look like pettiness, perfectionism, sarcasm, passive-agressive anger and other nastiness.

The Spirit produces good fruit. Once in a while I get a glimpse of Him busy in my life, and I’m in awe of God. It’s normal that He’s there, blooming and ripening love, joy, peace, patience and all the rest all the time! His life in me is a miracle, and every day it’s full of new surprises — just like Spring.

 

Radical Change

June 10, 2011

I sometimes wonder what my grandmother would say if she suddenly came back from heaven and landed in today. She died in 1981, when cell phones were something 007 used and microwaves weren’t yet standard equipment in every kitchen. No one dreamed of a satellite dish being connected to his house, or of watching “movies on demand.” Personal computers eluded anyone with an average salary. Considering buying one machine that would copy, print in color and send fax messages was just a dream! And what about keyless entry, digital cameras and GPS?

She’d be confused by our language, too. “Gay” used to mean happy and light-hearted. Marriage didn’t need a definition. “Identity theft” and “store card” would earn you a blank stare. Security meant money in the bank and a lock on your house, not a gun in your car.

I’m glad my grandmother is with Jesus. But there are people living in isolated situations, for whom the modern, technological world is just as confusing as it would be to her. They’re losing their hunter-gatherer lifestyles and some are even losing their languages to aggressive groups.

Developing a writing system for a previously oral language lets people know their identity is worth preserving. Translating books into that language builds their self-esteem as a culture. Training translators from that people group to do the work displays their dignity and reinforces their potential. And giving them God’s Word offers them abundant life and eternal hope. In the midst of upheaval and radical change, they will have an anchor. (Learn more at www.theseedcompany.org)

A Writing Lesson

May 15, 2011

You probably never thought to wonder about how writers practice their craft. Last week I attended a writers’ conference. A few hundred of us chose from more than 190 classes offered during the week on everything from writing fiction to effective marketing. Since my primary objective involved the non-fiction writing (mostly short articles) I do for The Seed Company, I looked for classes about that genre.

One of our homework assignments said: “Choose something you care about, something that’s important to you. Then write about it half a page or so, using words of only one syllable.” Exceptions included names, multi-syllable words of 5 letters or fewer (into, over, area, etc), and contractions. I thought I’d share mine with you  You might like to give this a try. It will stretch your vocabulary and wake up your creativity. Enjoy!

Sketch of a Friend

I met Monet when she was two weeks old. Her long white, black, brown and burnt-red fur caught my eye. I’d not seen such a fun face on a cat, like she smiled all the time! Her pert black nose, round, mint eyes, tiny white toes…a fluff-ball of color. And on her back, she wore a stark, white patch, like an art pad. What a joy—a soft, sweet pile of purr in the palm of my hand.

Now, at nine, she still makes me laugh. She sleeps a lot in the day, but oh how she sleeps! On her side, foot on face, like “leave me be!” On her belly, paws curled, eyes tight. And she snores—slight squeaks and grunts. Her ears turn at small sounds, and those eyes, half- mast, find mine.

My best beast-friend, she’s proved quite smart. She talks at me each night when I ask her if she’ll go to bed. She runs to the door, pulls it open with her paw and—with a dash down the hall—dives into the den to wait for her treats. I get a good rub on the leg, and one of those cute smiles of which I’m so fond. Then I say good night, and close the door. And she starts her night hunt for toy mice, string snakes and cloth balls. They keep her busy while I sleep.

Master Gardener

April 9, 2011

 

Enjoying Spring!

I’m sitting by my bedroom’s bay window watching a pair of bluebirds flutter around the birdhouse where they’ve built their nest. The Japanese maple in my flowerbed is almost in full leaf, waiting for the purple irises underneath it to show their color. Columbine have put up their buds, and the pink peonies are almost ready to explode into their glory. I watch God unfolding spring and it makes me worship. I open the Word and read about the Master Gardener: 

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so that they will produce even more. You have already been pruned for greater fruitfulness by the message I have given you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful apart from me (John 15: 1-4, NLT).

This Scripture bothered me for a long time. I couldn’t see past verse 1: “He cuts off every branch that doesn’t produce fruit” (the Amplified adds, “that stops bearing”). I focused on what God would do with the pieces He had cut off. But I’m not the vinedresser! It’s God’s business what He does with the dead wood.

In fact, the Greek word expressed here in English versions as “cut off, remove, take away” doesn’t mean that at all! The Greek word is actually “airo,” transcribed in the interlinear versions as just “take.” It means, “to lift, carry, take up or away.” It is much more expressive than our English version of “cut off.”

This rich verb makes a significant difference in considering a vine. Vines have runners that trail along the ground and get sidetracked. Some of them, if left to themselves, will run along the ground and develop sucker-roots to try to become new vines themselves. That activity saps the strength of the vine and weakens its ability to bear fruit. So a diligent Vinedresser lifts up those errant branches and trims away the suckers. Perhaps He doesn’t need to prune them; maybe He simply redirects them.

The idea of this passage isn’t wrath. The focus of the passage is the love of God. His love cares for the life of the vine. The Vinedresser rejoices when it bears fruit. He will do whatever it takes to bring the potential of the vine to fruition, including wounding productive branches through pruning so that in the right season, their fruit is sweet. He may dump smelly fertilizer around the roots or cover the vine for a while if there’s a frost while its blossoms are still tender. If I’m in Christ, I don’t have to worry about what He’s producing in me. He is going to do what it takes to make that happen.

Now I can see God at work, both in pruning scraggly branches and in jerking the errant ones out of the ground and trimming off their suckers. And it there’s dead wood clinging there that has already accomplished His purpose, I’m sure He knows what to do with that, too.

A Letter from My Father

February 7, 2011

As I get to know my Father better in the community at Grace Life, I’m involved in a small-group environment. One of our “assignments” was to write a letter to God. That was an exercise in exploring how we relate to Him. The next week, we listened to what He was saying to us and wrote it down as His letter to us. He spoke to me through 1 Corinthians 13, and since several people commented on it also encouraging them, I thought I’d take a risk and share it with you, too. 

One danger is that you might think God could only speak to you through Scripture. He might speak to you through a movie, a book, a billboard, a flower, a friend, a child… He can do what it takes to tell you how much He loves you and longs to share His life with you. This is just one expression of my journey. If it moves you toward Him in any way, please keep going…

My beloved child,

If you could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but you didn’t love others, you would only be making noise. If you had the gift of prophecy, and if you could understand all my secret plans—if you understood EVERYTHING there is to know—but you didn’t have Love, you would be nothing. If you gave everything you had to the poor and even sacrificed your body, you could brag that you’d done it all, but if you didn’t love others, you would have gained nothing. Do you see that all your efforts to say the right things, know the right things and do the right things are empty? Who are you trying to impress?

I AM patient and kind. I don’t express myself the way people do: through jealousy of you or boasting about myself or snubbing you or being rude to you. I don’t make demands of you. I AM unchanging; I don’t become irritated with you or keep tabs on how many times you mess up. I AM grieved when you make choices that hurt you or respond with injustice to others, because I know that’s not who you are! I rejoice with you as you respond to the Truth and live out of that. Rest assured that I never give up on you. I never lose faith in you; I AM your hope, and I will never disappoint you. Child, that can bring you real peace if you’ll believe it!

Everything you know now will become useless, obsolete. But I AM eternal. You only understand snippets of whatever it is you think you know; that’s just a tiny “trailer” of the whole show. But when I finish revealing my work in you, you’ll recognize the face of my perfect Son in your own reflection, and nothing else will matter. So why do you worry?

When you were a child, you spoke, thought and acted like one. But as you’ve grown up, you’ve put aside those things that used to fascinate you. In the same way, realize that you’re really not seeing things clearly even yet. When you stand in my presence, you’ll understand everything just as clearly as I understand you now. Faith is for the meantime, to use until you get here. Practice trusting me, and it won’t be long until you don’t need patience and faith any more.

Three things will last forever: my faith in what my Son did for you, the hope you have that’s fulfilled in Him, and my Love. It’s who I AM. And I AM in you!

 In persistent, unfailing LOVE,

Your Father

To Write or Not to Write…

January 29, 2011

A good reading spot...

Some people have asked me if I am writing another book. I never quite know how to answer that; I have started several on paper, a few in my head and many random chapters that are stashed away in my computer. So yes, I am writing. But no, not actually to produce a book. At least, not writing to produce my own book at the moment.

But I’m helping a few other people with their stuff. I’m delighted to recommend to you a wonderful book of true stories from the experiences of a friend of mine. It’s called Angel Tracks in the Himalayas (by Gary Shepherd). I guarantee the riveting stories will challenge and inspire you. You’ll follow Gary through miracles and heartbreak and find answers to questions you didn’t know you had.

It was my privilege to read some of Gary’s material and offer some input before he published his first book. And now he’s working on a second. I love the stories, and it’s fun to get to help him. For me it feels like going behind the scenes on a movie set!

Another friend, Jaki Parlier, is also working on her second book. Her first, entitled Poking Holes in the Darkness, detailed the adventures of Jaki and her husband, Jim, as they went to Papua New Guinea a few decades ago to serve among the Managalasi people as Bible translators. Jaki’s trials and triumphs in learning to love touched me a deep place. She and Jim were the first Bibles the Managalasi ever read. Humbling, gripping and painstakingly honest, Jaki shares from her heart. I’m honored to be trusted to help her with her sequel.

In addition, I’m helping with The Seed Company’s blog. You can read it at www.blog.theseedcompany.org . I believe I have another post coming this weekend on that site. But you’d enjoy reading it any time; many different writers contribute to the blog.

Thanks for reading. And do check out the two books I mentioned. If you can’t find them on the web, send me a note and I’ll let you know how to get copies. Happy reading!

Grace for Christmas

December 15, 2010

I know people for whom blogging is like breathing. They do it regularly and quite deeply. It helps sustain the life of their businesses, their ministries or their hobbies. But if it was like breathing for me, I’d be in serious trouble. I think by now I’d be beyond resuscitation; no one goes three or four months without breathing.

After Mom was diagnosed with colon cancer (in September), life became a bit more hectic than my normal slightly abnormal routine. My sister and I swapped out with Mom’s care, but I felt a little awkward to hibernate with my computer when she is so seldom here. So I will admit to neglecting the blog for some time with Mom. She’s gone back home now, fully recovered and so far, able to live on her own.

I have also felt overwhelmed. When emotions are running all over the board, it’s hard for me to focus on writing anything worth reading. Since that time, I’ve settled into a new, smaller church congregation, and I’m grateful for where the Lord has led me (with my husband’s blessing).

Our pastor has been doing a series about “The Family Album.” He encouraged all of us to bring family pictures to set on tables all around the edges of the sanctuary. And in his sermons, he’s discussing the genealogy of Jesus. We’ve looked at some of the “saintly” people mentioned in Matthew 1. What a messed up bunch! Abraham lied about his wife, claiming she was his sister…twice! Check out Genesis 12:10-20 and 20:1-10. Those weren’t his only failings, either. Leaving him, have a look at Jacob, who cheated his brother out of his birthright, lied to his father, and later married two sisters and had kids by them and both their maids. Judah, one of Jacob’s sons, made it into the genealogical list along with his daughter-in-law by whom he fathered twins. That’s one long, disgusting story that reads like a soap opera in Genesis 38.

One point I’ve taken from these fractured lives is that none of these people were perfect. God was the one who chose to use them, not because they had any merit at all, but because He is God. He chooses, calls, and blesses people out of His own righteousness, not that of the people involved. He showcased His grace through the people who became the ancestors of Jesus.

Fast forward to the birth of Christ. God burst through a bloody placenta and landed in a messy, smelly cave full of dirty animals: just a foretaste of human existence. He knew what it would take to reach us (even before He created the first of us!). That same grace that chose the flawed patriarchs and the helplessness of human infancy has chosen me! It’s shocking—almost scandalous—the lavish love that He pours out. Christmas assures me that nothing I can do will cause Him to disown me, shun me or even distance Himself from me. Celebrate! God lives with us!

Meditation from John 2

September 8, 2010

I recently started rereading the Gospel of John. It make take me a year to finish it at the rate I’m going. I’m not doing a chapter a day. Sometimes it’s one chapter; sometimes it’s five verses or just one paragraph. Or sometimes, like this week, it’s been one whole chapter over and over for several days. There’s a new portrait of the Savior in every chapter. This is long, but if you’ve got time to hang with me through this few pages-worth, I hope you’re encouraged as I was. I’d welcome your comments. Here’s the passage. I love the New Living Translation (NLT):

The next day there was a wedding celebration in the village of Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the celebration. The wine supply ran out during the festivities, so Jesus’ mother told him, “They have no more wine.”

“Dear woman, that’s not our problem,” Jesus replied. “My time has not yet come.”

But his mother told the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Standing nearby were six stone water jars, used for Jewish ceremonial washing. Each could hold twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus told the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” When the jars had been filled, he said, “Now dip some out, and take it to the master of ceremonies.” So the servants followed his instructions.

When the master of ceremonies tasted the water that was now wine, not knowing where it had come from (though, of course, the servants knew), he called the bridegroom over. “A host always serves the best wine first,” he said. “Then, when everyone has had a lot to drink, he brings out the less expensive wine. But you have kept the best until now!”

This miraculous sign at Cana in Galilee was the first time Jesus revealed his glory. And his disciples believed in him (Jn. 2:1-11).

The text notes that Jesus’ mother “was there.” She must have been there already when Jesus and his group arrived. Since Nazareth is not too far from Cana, maybe this was a relative’s wedding. Perhaps Mary was involved in helping plan, host or serve at the celebration. How else would she have known they had run out of wine? Also, why (if she didn’t have hosting authority or was just a guest) would the servants have listened when she gave them instructions?

According to commentary in the NLT notes, these weddings could last a week! Who knows at what point in the party, Mary told Jesus, “They’ve run out of wine.” Running out of wine meant depleting the “spirit” of the party; it was another way to tell the guests they were no longer welcome. The hosts were at the end of their resources. They had a need, and Mary knew Jesus had the answer. Did He not want to help her? Why did He tell her, “Dear woman, that’s not our problem. My time has not yet come”? It’s almost as if He rebuked her and told her to mind her own business, but I don’t think that’s the sense of the answer. Did He mean that He didn’t intend to help, but then changed His mind? I don’t think that’s it, either.

Jesus looked for empty, ready vessels. He used what was common for an uncommon purpose. The symbolism is unmistakable: He filled the vessels used for cleansing. He, Himself, was the common vessel—a human-flesh body—holding the miraculous cleansing blood of deity. He both started and ended His revelation of Himself to the disciples with the blood of the grape, symbolizing His own blood: first at a wedding, last in the upper room. His time had not yet come; He was not yet ready to fulfill the pouring out of His own blood for cleansing, but He filled these cleansing vessels with miraculous “spirit” that reinvigorated the celebration (gave “life” to the party!).

With that wine, he also met a need most people were unaware of: He cleansed the reputation of the host and reinforced the relationship between the host and his guests. He did it in a quiet, secret way, since He wasn’t ready to reveal His true identity to the entire world. His time had not yet come. But His actions said many things to the watching disciples:

  1. I care about the details of your needs.
  2. I can deal with any problem, meeting it with resources you haven’t considered.
  3. Relationships are important to me: myself with my mother; the host and his guests; my intimacy with you as my friends (trusting you with my secret).
  4. I am able; you can trust me.

Jesus gave step-by-step instructions, and the servants never asked questions. Maybe it was their job to be obedient to whoever was in charge, but Jesus was a stranger. They just did what He said without question or argument. Three steps:

  1. Fill the jars
  2. Dip out some of the contents
  3. Take it to the boss

Until the final step, they were at no particular risk. But their faith passed the test when they took it to the master and he revealed the miracle without even knowing it. The servants knew what Jesus had done. Maybe they told the disciples, or maybe they told Mary and she told the disciples. But somehow, word got around, because “this was the first time Jesus revealed His glory. And His disciples believed in Him.”

In retrospect, Jesus revealed more to us at the Cana wedding than He did to those watching. They didn’t know yet about the upper room. They didn’t know that His vessel would be smashed and the wine of His life poured out to cleanse sin…

Portrait #2 of Jesus: the PROVIDER – the new wine

Rest on Purpose

August 23, 2010

I recently heard a troubling sermon. Here is one of the verses used as a text:

Tell the people of Israel: “Be careful to keep my Sabbath day, for the Sabbath is a sign of the covenant between me and you from generation to generation. It is given so you may know that I am the Lord, who makes you holy” (Exodus 31:13).

I’d always figured that didn’t apply to American culture. But it bothered me because it was instituted long before the Law of Moses, by God Himself at creation. He rested. I don’t think it was because He was tired; He was resting on purpose, not out of necessity.

So after Shane preached about it a few weeks back, I couldn’t get it off my mind. I pulled some reference books off the shelf and researched a few things. What I discovered encouraged me.

Shane had said that we are commanded to keep the Sabbath, not in a legalistic sense like the Pharisees did, but because God set it up that way. He knew we’d need the time to refocus and prepare for the week to come. He noted in his message that refusal to “take a day off” indicates that I think I’m indispensable. I think my world can’t run without me. “If I don’t do this, it won’t get done.” By my refusal to slow down and drop the “urgent” stuff, I’m implying that I am in control. I’m actually denying that God is sovereign. More than that, I’m actually trying to play God’s role in running my life. Ouch!

The key verse listed at the top was an eye-opener for me. First, it said, “Be careful.” If I am not intentional about rest, I will slip into that control mode by default.

Next, I noticed that “the Sabbath is a sign of the covenant.” The Sabbath is not the covenant; it is a sign of the covenant. So I looked up “covenant” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, 1970). It gave the Greek word that’s used in the Septuagint (the Greek O.T.). I won’t try to write that here, but the part of the definition that caught my attention noted that in contrast to the English word that signifies a mutual agreement between two parties, “it does not …contain the idea of joint obligation, it mostly signifies an obligation undertaken by a single person.”

Maybe that seems convoluted, but consider this: the Sabbath is a sign of the covenant that God made. God rested—ceased working—when His creative work was complete. When I take a day off to refocus, I’m showing that the unique promise, or covenant, God made with me is important. He made the new covenant and sealed it with the blood of His Son: He’s promised that Christ’s work for me on the cross is complete. My break from frantic work is a sign that I trust Him. It gives me an opportunity to focus on Him and cultivate that relationship on a deeper level.

How will I live that out? Shane gave the example of cutting the grass. He said that if lawn work wears just you out, makes you sweat and takes the place of time with your family, you shouldn’t do it on your Sabbath. But if it gives you the only time you get outdoors alone in nature, it revitalizes you and offers you time to pray and meditate, go for it. It’s not the activity, it’s the focus. And Sabbath may not be Sunday for you. That’s okay, too. But whenever it is, it should be an intentional day to re-create: rest on purpose.

It’s a point of growth for me. I hope it will be for you, too.

Facts Versus Truth

July 26, 2010

I seldom read fiction, but when I do, I always learn something. Sometimes what I learn isn’t very profound. At least I usually increase my vocabulary by a word or two. But in a historical fiction novel I read recently, I discovered a lesson I will never forget. So I thought I’d share it with you.

In a dream, an Old Testament character was telling the main character about the difference between facts and truth. He explained that it depends on whether you choose to believe the facts, or seek the truth. I don’t remember the exact lessons he used and since it was a borrowed book and I don’t have it before me, I’ll improvise.

For example, follow the Israelites out of Egypt. Running scared with Pharaoh’s army hot on their trail, they round the bend and come to a screeching halt at the shore of the Red Sea. Oops… now what?! The facts were looking pretty grim. Fact: We’re trapped! Fact: We’re defenseless! Fact: There is no way out of this, and we haven’t had many swimming lessons!

But the truth was that God had a plan. He had it all along, and He wasn’t the least bit worried, frustrated or surprised by the rapidly approaching Egyptian horde. The truth was something the Israelites couldn’t see yet.

Here’s another example. What if you’d been Sarah, childless since you married as a teenager. Now you’re way past menopause age, and some stranger promises you’re going to have a baby? No wonder she laughed! The facts didn’t add up. But the truth was part of a promise, and the One who’d made it was as good as His Word. When she was 90, Sarah had that promised boy, and maybe as a celebration of God’s sense of humor, they named him “Laughter.”

Some of my favorite books in the Bible are 1 and 2 Kings. I love standing with Elijah and watching God defeat the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel. Talk about facts flying in the face of truth! There had been a drought for years, and King Ahab blamed Elijah for it (read 1 Kings 17-18). God was punishing Israel for their idolatry under the leadership of wicked King Ahab. But Elijah sent Ahab a message and challenged the prophets of Baal to a contest. Get these odds: 450 to 1. Elijah was God’s only representative.

What would you have thought if you’d been in the crowd? Here are the facts. Baal’s group far outnumbered God’s faithful. Even the king was on Baal’s side. Baal’s priests got to go first. They were loud and persistent.

But Elijah wasn’t worried. After hours of their desperate dancing and frantic begging, they finally exhausted themselves. The prophet patiently rebuilt the altar his adversaries had desecrated. Then he even poured water all over the sacrifice and the altar, soaking the thing three times! As if the odds weren’t stacked against him already…

Elijah didn’t worry about the facts. He had somebody far more powerful than the king on his side. He had truth. Actually, he had the Author of Truth. Baal’s crowd had no clue what they were up against. When God got done, His fire had licked up the bull, the wood, the stone altar and even the dust around it.

Truth always wins out over facts. But sometimes it takes a while for us to see it. That’s what I’m learning. In situations when I have the opportunity to worry, become anxious, get angry or frustrated or get my feelings hurt, I am trying to stop and consider. What are the facts in this situation? But what is the truth? Will I stop to ask the Author of Truth to show me what that is? Will I choose to believe Him when He does?

Don’t settle for the facts. Go for the Truth.