Order from Chaos

The last rose of the season.

Do your feet hit the floor running in the morning? Are there more tasks on your ‘to do’ list than there are hours in the day?  Does chaos rule at work, home? Is there never enough energy and time to equal what has been put on your plate?

If so, count yourself as normal.  A fallen world falls on us in many different kinds of ways.  We experience that fall from grace through tragedies, disease and  loss of loved ones, but also in the day to day struggles of work and life that bring us stress, anxiety and exhaustion.

Genesis 3:19 says:

“By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken, for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

That verse carries with an underlying promise of trouble and striving.   Jesus confirms it when He says:

John 16:33 (partial)

“……In this world you will have trouble…….”

It’s a hopeless place to leave things isn’t it?  God, however,  didn’t choose to leave things there.

The fall of man didn’t surprise Him.  He had a plan and a purpose.  He knew we needed a Savior.  He gave us Jesus.  He gave us someone who knew trouble.  He gave us One who knew exhaustion (remember the story of Him sleeping on the floor of a storm tossed boat?).  God sent One who knew what it was like to have people constantly needing Him, seeking Him, confronting Him and draining Him.  He gifted us with One who knew what it was like to have a monumental task to complete in a short period of time (His ministry was accomplished in three years….). God gave us a Savior who was also a man who experienced a fallen world in ways we will never approach.

The last part of John 16:33 gives us hope from the God-man who intimately understands our struggles:

“…But take heart, I have overcome the world.”

Belief in Jesus grants us an  eternity in a heaven we cannot fully imagine. But, we can count on the promise that all things there will be pleasant, beautiful, fulfilling and peaceful.  Time will never be an issue, because heaven is forever.

However, the reality of  heaven can seem far away in our day to day struggles.  That’s why God gave us the here and now of the Holy Spirit, which is the presence of Jesus, The Overcomer!   He knew we would need His presence, as that Spirit,  inside us to give us strength for the journey, peace in the moment, grace under pressure and wisdom to apply to the madness.

God is above all.  He is waiting for you to lay your day at His feet.  Early in the morning, give it to Him, even before your feet hit the floor.  Ask Him to order your day, establish your priorities, give you the energy, patience and the strength you need, not just to endure, but to live the moments.  Ask Him  to forge in you the character He desires for you to have.  Keep asking.  Stay focused on Him.  Stay close.  Remember that He is a God of order, not chaos.

Notice the dew drops. Look not just at their presence, but the order with which they have fallen on the petals.

Colossians 1:17  (Italics, mine)

He (Jesus) is image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.  For by Him, all things were created, things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities, all things were created by Him and for Him.  He is before all things, and in Him, all things hold together.” 

Ask Jesus to hold it all together for you.  Ask Him to order your day. Keep asking.  Keep seeking.  Believe that He can!

 

The Wonder of the Leaves

Crisp, clean fall air surrounds one of my favorite times of year.  Late season humidity  meets the cool of the night and leaves behind more than a memory.  Dew drops, left from the encounter, elevate the gossamer strands of spider webs in the grass to elaborate jeweled structures, glinting in the morning sun.

Late season roses add a gently sweet fragrance to the morning air and the  leaves of the trees which hem our meadow are beginning to reveal their colors.

Each season offers unique opportunities to see God’s hand in His creation.  If we look with eyes of wonder and curiosity, ready to see His signature on every facet of nature, we can see Him in beautiful ways.

It is so with the  wonder of the fall leaves.

When the hours of daylight are long during the growing season, plants take in energy from the sun.  They combine this energy with water and nutrients absorbed by the roots.  Chlorophyll, which feeds the plant, is produced in the leaves, making them vibrantly green.

As the daylight hours shorten, less chlorophyll is made.  The chlorophyll drains out of the leaf as the plant absorbs it, and since little is made to replace it, the color that is naturally in the leaf all the time is revealed.

The beautiful colors that we enjoy in the fall: scarlet, gold, orange, yellow and purple, are always present in the leaf !

As the plant or tree produces sugars, the colors deepen throughout the growing season.  Trees, for example, which produce more sugar (such as the Sugar Maple) have vividly red leaves.

However, even the most radiant colors are dominated and obscured by the green chlorophyll in the leaves during the spring and summer.

As the chlorophyll production diminishes, due to the shorter daylight hours, the stem end hardens and the leaf begins to die.  When the stem is completely hardened, the leaf falls away. The glorious color in the leaf is evident for only a short period of time, and does not become obvious until the leaf DIES TO ITSELF.

In a way, it’s similar to the fact that stars don’t “come out at night.” They are in the sky, all the time, it’s just that the light of the sun is so bright it obscures the light of the stars.

It’s amazing to me that the vibrant colors are present all the time! We can learn a beautiful spiritual lesson from that natural truth.

Luke 9:23 says “Then He said to them all, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”

God’s ‘colors’ aren’t evident  when we are confident in ourselves and do things in our own strength.

However, when we deny ourselves or die to self, His colors shine through vividly!  When we surrender our lives to God, we give Him our hopes, dreams, desires and future.  We put others first.  We serve, we give, we love. We set aside headstrong ways and willful actions and become submissive to the Creator and Redeemer of our souls, out of love for Him.  When we die to self,  people see God in us. His glory becomes evident!

It’s also interesting to note that if conditions are favorable during the growing season and the leaves receive optimal nutrition, their color brightens; waiting to burst forth when the chlorophyll fades away.

If we nourish our souls daily with the sweetness of God’s Word, then our relationship with Him deepens and the colors of His graces are ready to burst forth into a world which desperately needs Him.

This is one of many wonders in our natural wold that God has put His personal signature on! As you enjoy the gorgeous colors of the leaves this fall, reflect with wonder on the Creator,  thank Him for living inside us and ask Him to help you die to self and live for Him, so that all the beautiful colors of His character may be revealed in you.

Leaf photo credit: Morgan

 

 

 

BELIEVE. EMBRACE. APPLY.

Beauty captured.

God wants us to know Him and listen to His voice; not the voices of the world that seek to mislead us.   Those world ‘voices’ are demanding and incessant.  How is it possible to  tone those out and focus on Him?  This is not something that we are able to do by ourselves! It’s only when we are able to rest in His grace that we can do this!

 

The Feather Touch of His Grace

Sighted by wondering, expectant eyes

The sign read Harbor Island.  An immediate picture came to mind: a jewel of land carved away from the shore by the sea, white sand beaches fringed with impossibly blue water.

The girls and I were headed back to our hotel after a day of exploring the shores of Lake Michigan.  My husband and his K-9 partner had to be in Grand Rapids, MI, for a yearly certification process. We were able to tag along.  They worked, we played.

We had already toured the oldest working windmill in the United States.  We’d stood, spellbound, as we watched Friesian horses gallop across the pasture behind it, black manes flowing in the wind.  We spent time on a quiet beach with a lovely view of a quaint red light house.  We were mesmerized by the azure waters of Lake Michigan and had felt the soft white sand of its beaches under our feet.  We’d eaten thick, juicy burgers, crispy fries and creamy milkshakes at an adorable beach café.  We’d climbed a sand dune and raced through the tunnel beneath it.  It had been an extraordinary day.

“Let’s take a detour,” I said.  “That island may be something we don’t want to miss.”

“Mommmm, can’t we skip it?” the girls pleaded.  “We’re so tired…all we want to do is get back to the hotel.”

“It won’t take long,”  I replied.  “Besides, it may be worthwhile! Sometimes the best part of a vacation is when you go off the path.”

Both girls moaned.  My tendency to go off the beaten track was well known and sometimes not appreciated.

Still, I couldn’t resist.

We turned onto Harbor Road and followed the signs.  I stopped on a patch of gravel, mostly overtaken by weeds.  In front of us rested a derelict pop up trailer.  An old metal building stood behind us, housing several boats covered in plastic shrink wrap.  Trash littered the ground.

Morgan took one look out the window and said, ”I’m staying in the car.”

“Well, I have to walk Frosty.  Just come out for a minute.”

Olivia came with me.   Morgan remained, determined to sit it out.

We walked Frosty along the edge of land.  Weeds and grass grew down to and into the water.  No white sand to be seen.  Trash and debris bobbed along the shore.  Colonies of algae and scum rocked on the gentle waves.

Olivia spied a paddle, washed up on the shore.  She immediately wanted to enact the law of “finder’s keepers.”  To her, the paddle had great potential, especially since she and her daddy were engaged in a  boat building project back home.

Though I appreciate her resourcefulness, I had to say no.

Her attention was next attracted to something white moving in the distance.  “What’s that?” she asked.

I glanced over quickly.  “Probably just another trash bag.”

“No, no, it’s not,” she said.

“Well, run over and see,” I told her.

A moment later, she came racing back.

“It’s a swan, Mom. A SWAN! Not a trash bag!  A SWAN! I have to get Morgan.!”

After hearing this exciting news, Morgan jumped out of the car with her camera and hurried away with her sister.

It was, indeed, a beautiful swan, gracefully preening itself close to the shore. Debris littered the edge of the water.  The girls watched quietly as it stretched a wing and set sail.  We stood there until it became a dot of brilliant white against the horizon.

The beauty of it stood out in the less than perfect surroundings. Perhaps, for that reason, it was even more beautiful  than if we had seen it along a bank, graced by willows and white sand.  The unexpectedness of it added to our appreciation.

As we turned to leave, we saw one lovely feather marking the swan’s presence on the shore.

Beauty recognized.

The girls talked about the swan for the next fifteen minutes, getting great pleasure out of the fact that I had mistaken it for a trash bag.  That’s o.k., it was a good, unspoken lesson about not taking things at face value.

Initially, I was caught up in disappointment, because the island was not what I expected.  If it had not been for the expectant, wondering eyes of my child, I would have missed the swan; passing it off as just trash blown there by a careless wind.

My youngest one, however, saw possibility.  My oldest girl saw beauty in what was left behind.

How often do we get caught up in the disappointments of life, eyes fixed on the broken things, on the debris, on the damage; mourning because what we are experiencing is not what we expected?  When we are too much in the moment, focused on the here and now; caught up in everything we perceive as wrong, we can easily mistake what God is in the process of doing.  We forget that He holds the ability to create and recreate. We may  miss the beauty of  His hand in the moment, and be in the wrong mind set to see the beautiful things His grace  will yet reveal  in the wake of the storm.

If you are in the midst of brokenness, with the debris of ‘what could have been,’ piled at your feet, be encouraged to look with eyes of possibility and wonder.  If you are a believer, God has placed His Spirit in you.  That Spirit is the Spirit of creation, and God is in the business of using brokenness to create beautiful.  Only He can work during  the storms to make and leave behind things of real beauty.

Character refinement, deeper trust in Him, the ability to empathize with others and bring them comfort, or the grace to find peace that is not dependent on circumstance, are all beautiful “feathers” that show His presence. Usually, these are blessings left behind only because of hardship; and in the contrast to the debris of the world, they shine with more startling beauty.

Brokeness gives us opportunities to draw close to God and rely on His strength and grace because we realize our complete inability to be successful on our own.  Believe that He can work in every situation!  Believe that His Spirit lives within you, enabling you to overcome.  Embrace and apply that concept! It is real.  It is truth. Ask Him to give you wondering, expectant  eyes that see possibility and beauty instead of debris.

Romans 4:25-5:5 NIV      

(Italics, Mine)

 “He (Jesus) was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,  through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we[b] boast in the hope of the glory of God.  Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

PHOTO CREDITS: Morgan

An Artist’s Touch: Sifted and Cherished

Scroll down to April 9th to catch the beginning of the Sifted and Cherished Series.

Scroll down to April 9th: the beginning of the Sifted and Cherished Series.

Although God may sift you in the trials of life, you are cherished beyond measure by Him.  Believing the truth of His love is critically important.  Knowing this truth leads to an understanding of His perfect grace and the salvation which results from it.  The knowledge of grace is intended to make us feel free, loved and saved by Him.

Free, because we see that a relationship with Him and eternity beside Him is guaranteed, based on His promise alone, not on anything we do.  Once saved, there is nothing we can do or undo to change His gift of grace.   Nothing else is needed except faith in Him.  We are not even saved by the strength of our faith, but by the grace of Him in whom we are faithful.

Recognizing that, then, makes it easier to endure the trials of this world.  The fall from perfection created the troubles we live through, but the God who loves us and has redeemed us through His Son can use those trials to draw us closer to His side and deeper into the shelter of His wings, refining us in the process.

It all has to do with perspective.  To an artist, perspective is the concept of making three dimensional objects appear three dimensional on a two-dimensional surface, such as paper or canvas.  Perhaps you can imagine a painting of a trail through the forests that is rendered with such depth that you feel as if you could step into the picture and travel where it takes you.

There are various techniques artists use to add depth and reality to their pictures, making two dimensions seem like three.

I believe we often see spiritual things in just two dimensions: the here and the now.  God, the Master Artist, sees things in multiple dimensions. His perspective is complete, ours is not.

God is a master of technique, with an eye for the perfect perspective.  He sketches with broad strokes, light touches, working with shadow and light, creating, erasing, adding in depth and character as we walk with Him.

He sees our future, individually and how it relates to others whose stories we will enter. He sees into the depths of our spirits and the hidden hurts of our hearts. He perceives the inner workings of our thoughts and knows the words of our lips and movements of our hands before they become reality.  He knows how He wants to render the picture of our lives and how each moment blends with the lives around us.

His perspective is the most excellent.  To maintain a right perspective for our lives,  we must focus on Him, trusting His great vision and the kindness of His love.

Several years ago, my daughter’s cat, Chloe, jumped onto the kitchen windowsill and knocked off a little vase which sat there.  Part of the edge broke away when it hit the sink.  The fragments were too small to glue back in place, so I intended to throw it away.  As I walked to the trash can, I re-read the words on its surface:  Live   Love   Laugh. 

A friend had given the vase to me years ago while I was in the hospital recovering from a serious infection.  At that time, I didn’t feel like living, loving or laughing, but I kept the vase.  I now know that God used that time of sickness in my life to teach me about Himself, to grow my trust in Him and to move me forward along the path He had for me.  I’m so thankful for that trial, although it was very difficult for me and my family.

Slowly, I replaced the vase on my windowsill, turning it so that I could see the brokenness.  It became more beautiful to me as it took on a deeper meaning: Our promise of life eternal with Him cannot be taken away by the brokenness of our world or our lives, because we live  with His Holy Spirit in us.

We have God’s love and presence with us always, through the sifting of trials, and we can laugh (rejoice) through those trials, because in Him and by His grace we are free from sin and cherished by His heart.  Through it all, we can trust that He is in the process of making us like His Son.

My prayer for you: that you will live in Him, love Him because He first loved you and laugh with joy in your spirit because He is with you always, even to the end of the age.

If you are not yet God’s child, have faith that He sent His Son to die for you.  Confess your sin and accept His grace.  Pray in your heart and believe in your mind.

1 John 1:8-9 (NIV)

“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sin, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

Hidden Within: Sifted and Cherished Part 5

The wheat that grows in the Southeast where I live is different than the type that is planted in America's Breadbasket, but it is still beautiful!

The wheat that grows in the Southeast where I live is different from the type that is planted in America’s Breadbasket, but it is still beautiful!

Scroll down to April 9 to catch the beginning of the series.

Golden wheat stretched into the Kansas horizon.  Wind rippled through the stalks, like waves on the open sea.  The field beckoned to me like a field of poppies.  I wanted to stop my truck and get lost in that sea of gold, but I drove on.  The Rockies called me forward.  There was purpose in my journey.  Although I didn’t acknowledge it at the time, I was trying to run away from a world of hurt, trying to go to a place where I could find myself and forget myself.  Little did I know that the place I sought would hold no answers, but that the One who had allowed brokenness to enter my life did.

The mountains did not give me answers, but I know now that God gives us mountains in life to climb to bring us closer to Him, and to make us more like His Son.  He can use the trials, heartaches and mistakes we make to craft us into vessels He can use.

Difficulties (either ones we can’t control or ones we bring on ourselves), can become tools in God’s hand to refine our spiritual character and develop our trust in Him, to change things about us  that aren’t in alignment with the pattern Jesus has set for us, craft empathy within us so that we can sincerely comfort others, and through it all, give us opportunities to glorify Him.  The latter one is not because He needs the glory, although He deserves it, but so others can see the light of His truth and existence in our changed lives or in our belief, held steadfast despite life trauma and difficulty.

In Matthew, Chapter 13:24-30 Jesus tells the Parable of the Tares (weeds).  He explains in verses 36-43 that the parable speaks about God’s coming judgement.  In that instance, wheat symbolized true believers, and tares were symbolic of those who were counterfeit.

Jesus was a master at using tangible, familiar things to help people relate to the abstract spiritual concepts He taught.

While researching material for the Sifted and Cherished series, I was drawn to study tares and uncovered another spiritual analogy that seems applicable to the life of believers.

In the Holy land, tares refers to a weed that is called wild wheat.  The plant and seed heads look like cultured wheat, but the seeds are black.  They have a bitter taste, and, if eaten can cause dizziness, vomiting and if consumed in quantity, can become a sleep-inducing poison.

Women took the winnowed grain and painstakingly removed the tares by hand.  If the tares were left in the grain and ground into flour, the women knew that the bread they made from it would poison those they loved.

Although farmers of the day tried diligently to remove the tares from their fields, it proved nearly impossible, because the tares were hardy and prolific.

God painstakingly uses trials to remove the tares from within us, where their hardy roots anchor deeply into our sinful nature.  This is something only His knowing hand can do; and He does it because He loves us too much to leave us the way we are.  He knows the tares of our flesh can strip joy from life, cause anxiety over things we can’t control, bring sickness to relationships, cause damage to His character, (because we represent Him on this earth), and ultimately, remove us from the blessings He wants to bestow on us.  Salvation, not earned, but given, can never be taken away, but a life lived in the flesh of human desire, willfullness, self-reliance or weakness of faith, keeps us away from God’s peace, blessing,  and perfect will for our lives.

The miles I climbed in the Colorado Rockies years ago and the beauty I saw impacted me greatly, but nowhere near the way God has impacted me in the life I have traveled since then. I had so much to learn.  In hindsight, I realize my greatest spiritual development came at the expense of hurt, tears and trouble.  I had many tares God needed to remove and I know there are more He will yet search out. He knew exactly which trial or consequence I needed to go through to handpick a specific tare from my character or spirit.  Some tares, I hate to say, He had to pick out more than once.

My prayer is that now I will be more willing and open to His hand, quicker to trust Him, more able to find peace in Him, more likely to be teachable, more likely to ask “what can I learn, Lord or what do I need to change?”

As you approach this new year, I pray that you too will be willing to open your heart to God’s discerning eye and master-hand.  He sees all, anyway; He desires us to be willing. Let’s ask Him to remove the tares that prevent us from knowing Him deeply, steal our joy, retard our spiritual growth or poison us into a spiritual sleep.  All of those move us away from God’s blessing, perfect will and purpose for our lives.

James 1:2-4 (NIV)

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

Romans 8:28-29 (NIV)

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him and have been called according to His purpose.  For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son, that He might be the firstborn of many brothers.”

CATHEDRAL MOMENTS

fullsizerender-2

I can be very hard headed about some things.  Ask my husband.

Running is a good example.  Once I start a run, I don’t stop until I’ve reached my goal, even if my feet or knees tell me I should.

A few days ago, however, I couldn’t keep from stopping.

One tall tree on the far side of the road was ablaze with color.  The early morning sun turned the leaves to gold and burnished bronze. I stared at it for a moment, but the stare was not enough.  I crossed the road, climbed up the bank and worked my way under the branches.  They arched over and around me.  The finest cathedral, made by the hands of man, could not have been more beautiful.

Leaves floated softly to the ground, making a gilded path for my eyes to follow.  I was surrounded completely by glowing color.  It was easy for my heart to leap from the wonder of the leaves to the wonder of He who created them.  My hands lifted to praise Him.

In that moment, I felt stresses and frustrations snap away.  Major storms had not recently plagued me, but many small ones had: tiredness, low energy, to-do lists too long, never enough time to write, people I love going through stresses and heartache, girl drama, dog drama, daily frustrations, every-day failures, the list could go on.  I’m sure you have your own list, as well.

My hands stayed up until all my stresses came down.

As I made my way back to the road and finished my run, the golden moment lingered and helped me see with a different light.  Big storms can make big chains that topple us and drag us off course, but many small chains often do the same.  In some regard, they are more dangerous.  Ferocious storms strike us  dramatically, causing great fear which makes us run to the Father.  Small ones, that come as ordinary stresses and frustrations, land on us with less velocity, making us feel as if we can manage them ourselves; the mind-set satan wants us to have.

He wants frustrated, tired, annoyed and stressed out people.  I admit I’ve fallen headfirst into his trap, tangled up by Lilliputian chains.  God orchestrated my cathedral moment beneath the tree because He knew something I needed to be reminded of.   Praising Him breaks the chains.  Satan cannot stand in the presence of real worship.

That morning was also a reminder that the world is not our home, no matter how much we try to make it be.  My quest for life to be smooth and unrealistically trouble free creates frustration. I should instead look at the glitches with different eyes: ones that seek Him in even the smallest of things, ones that consistently see beauty and goodness even in the mess, ones that are willing to see that it’s ok for me to rest and take time for things (like writing) that nurture me and satisfy my spirit.

As believers, we have a perfect place in eternity to look forward to, filled with unending golden moments.  This truth, if gripped tightly, can give us joy in the chaos; and, while we’re here; in this beautiful but often crazy life, we have a Savior willing and able to give us rest, and teach us as we stumble.

I’m challenging myself to look for moments to praise and rejoice in Him, to thank Him, to focus on His face, and to allow myself time to use the gifts He’s given me. I hope you will challenge yourself to do this as well, and I pray that God will bring you your own cathedral moments.

Hey, Vicky, this one is for you.  Thanks for your prayers.

Philippians 4:4-8  (NIV)

“Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again: Rejoice!  Let your gentleness be evident to all, the Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving,  present your requests to God, and the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.”