Heavenly Peace in the Afternoon

IMG_5329It’s December 1, and my first post in a fairly long time.  I have missed the act of sharing small insights the Lord has shared with me, with you and others.

In a timespan that started on October 28, I can now count two family surgeries, two-out-of-three craft shows, and one major holiday as “in the past.”  Whew!  I had really underestimated the emotional and physical toll all that would take.

But today, December 1, feels different.  After a week or so of brutal winds, considerable snowfall and walkways covered with ice, the sun is shining and it is relatively warm to sit outside.  IMG_5332This California-Arizona sunshine girl is thoroughy enjoying what heat can creep through a midweight sweatshirt and sweatpants on this wonderful bright afternoon.

I am sitting on the front garden deck.  A few birds swing by to pay their respects and share their songs…then they pause to gauge how stradled birdmuch birdseed remains in the feeder before moving on to nearby pine branches.

My garden blooms do not sit with me, of course.

IMG_5327And the garden sign is wrapped with Christmas lights, not greenery.  But no matter.  Even without glorious blooms and bright colors, this remains a garden.  Dormant roots rest before vigorously pursuing their production again in a few months.  Each brown stalk reminds me of a green one yet to come.  My snow-covered containers are tubs filled with a hopeful future, each one waiting for its season to transform anew into an object of beauty.

Although it is daytime, I hear the refrain of “Silent night, holy night; all is calm, all is bright,” run through my mind.

It occurs to me that sometimes as we sit in the dormant garden of our lives, we most clearly see, and most deeply appreciate, our Savior, Comforter and Encourager.

IMG_5330Jesus always sees our snow-covered brown stalks as promises of the next season to come, of new life and new vigor, new glory and new strength.

Heavenly peace.  I may not be sleeping, but I can certainly sense it all around me…

“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit”   (Rom. 15:13)

The Lord’s Song Over Me

Coffee sign, Grand LakeThe warm smell of multiple brews of coffee enticed me to wait for my companion in the bistro area of the grocery store.  I approached the multiple 3-person tables and sat down at the only unoccupied set of chairs.  An unexpected sense of ease and peace rushed over me.

I mused that maybe it was simply the act of sitting and doing nothing that brought on that unanticipated calm, as the week just ended had been intensely focused on tasks and chores, long hours and short nights.

Yet what I experienced felt intensely social.  It was as if I were actually part of the small-table community and had stepped in to visit a familiar group of friends.  The sensation was both pleasant and curious, as I knew no one there and was sitting alone.  But that friendly hum of background voices was ministering to me like an uplifting song.

Then came an ah-ha moment…maybe it “felt” like a song because the Lord was actually singing over me right there, in the midst of the commonest of situations.

Zephaniah 3:17 states, “The Lord your God is in your midst, a victorious warrior.  He willIMG_5737 exult over you with joy, He will be quiet in His love, He will rejoice over you with shouts of Joy.” (NASB) The Living Bible translation phrases the end of that scripture with, “It is the Lord Himself exulting over you with happy song.”

I have been touched before by His representatives in nature — through a prolonged bird’s reverie or  the ear-catching sound of water navigating its particular path.  The Psalms frequently refer to Nature singing praise to its Maker, the Lord: “All the trees in the forest will sing for joy” (Psa. 96:12); “Let the mountains sing together for joy” (Psa. 98:8).  In Psalm 96, “Sing to the Lord, all the earth.” (Psa. 96:1)

But this song shared an undeniably Personal touch, weaving His Presence of fellowship and camaraderie into a moment of intimacy just for me, just for that moment.  It brought refreshment, energy, a deep sense of thankfulness and reset strength for the day ahead.

Mark 6:8 states, “For your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.”

I definitely needed His song on that day.  Each and every one of us have moments, hours, days, when the uplifting of His song in our lives brings much-needed renewal.

IMG_8463And I say, Thank you.  “You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You understand my thought from afar.”  (Psa. 139:2)

Thank you, indeed — my Friend, my Guide, “my refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust”! (Psa. 91:2)

The Kingdom and a Cup of Coffee

June 11, 2019:  I must be tired this morning, as evidenced by the fact I poured the sugar into my coffee cup…before I poured in the coffee!  That may be the common sequence for you or most of my coffee-drinking friends, but not for me.  And as I stared at the granulated crystals in disbelief, I started to chuckle.

The Lord often brings Scriptures to my mind at the oddest times.  In that moment, glaring into my sugar-only coffee cup, that act represented the futility of effort without purpose, and I thought of Ahimaaz.  No, not by his exact name at first…but I recalled the Old Testament incident of the youth who insisted on running a considerable distance to King David as if he had an urgent message — even though he had been given no message to carry.

In 2 Samuel 18:19-32, Ahimaaz the son of Zadok earnestly requested that Joab allow him to carry news of Absalom’s death to King David.  Joab refused his request, stating, “You are not the man to carry news this day, but you shall carry news another day.”  Ahimaaz repeated his request to run, to which Joab responded, “Why would you run, my son, when you have no reward for going?”  Finally, Ahimaaz insisted that even without a message to deliver, “But whatever happens, I will run.”  Joab finally gave consent for him to go ahead and carry out his plan.

Ahimaaz not only ran the full distance, but ran with such great speed he actually passed the Cushite messenger Joab had commissioned to perform the task.  And, upon arriving, bowed before King David with a greeting of generically good news.  Since he was unable to answer the specific questions on the king’s mind, he was instructed to “Turn aside and stand here.”  The actual messenger had been observed from a distance and was now approaching.

Sugar in a cup devoid of coffee.  That’s what Ahmaaz was, on that day.

And unfortunately, we all fall into that category at one time or another.

Path up mtn, RMNPThe apostle Paul pointed out to the Corinthians, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize?  Run in such a way that you may win…therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air…” (I Cor. 9:24, 26)

Tiredness.  Distraction.  Misdirection. The monotony of too-full days following one after another.  The world and the enemy work overtime to procrastinate or eliminate any sense of divine destiny we may contemplate. The goal is to conform us to a role of subservience, being little more than slaves whose lives unceasingly focus on meeting worldly obligation and expectation.

IMG_9112Prayer.  Worship.  Reflection on His thinking, His priorities, His lifestyle.  Aligning choices with His wisdom.  Discovering our part in His plans and consciously choosing to focus and move forward in that direction with deliberation, acknowledging that we are His hands, feet, and voice on the road we travel.

In Acts 20:24, Paul makes reference that he needed to “finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus.”

It is not only Paul who had a course and ministry to finish, but the same Christ Jesus also gives to each one of us a course and a ministry.  Paul taught those in Ephesus, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Eph. 2:10)

Some of our courses are what the world labels “grand” or “extraordinary”…and some are what the world would consider modest, perhaps even inconsequential.

Zach with cakeYet, was Jesus’ command to His disciples, “Permit the children to come to Me” (Mark 10:14) any less holy, God-breathed, or manifesting-the-Father’s-love than His command to Lazarus, “Come forth!”?  (John 11:43)

Not really.  There is no greater wonder than an omniscient, all-wise and loving God who states that “The kingdom of God belongs to such as these,” with respect to children.  As translated in The Message, Romans 9:21-22 asks the question, “Isn’t it perfectly obvious that the potter has a perfect right to shape one lump of clay into a vase holding flowers and another into a pot for cooking beans?”

IMG_9172And there we are.  Some of us shaped as coffee cups that are truly breathtaking in their intricately shaped handle and elaborate gold-leafed, colorful adornment….and some who are one-shaded, simply designed, functional without any specific distinction.

The shape of the cup is not ours to choose…our choice is to liberally be filled with His coffee and not conduct our lives as empty vessels containing only a small scoop of sugar.

Bird Steps and the Path of Wisdom

I was watching a small black bird carefully weave its path through piles of birdseed recently kicked to the deck by a sunflower seed-thieving chipmunk.  I was amazed at how carefully the bird chose which seeds to eat, walking right over some kernels while stopping to furiously peck at others.  Despite a diverse mixture of shapes, sizes and textures, I consider the round-and-the-long to all fit into a single category:  birdseed.  Each and every kernel providing a perfect diet fit for any bird to eat.

And then the Lord brought the word wisdom to my mind.  That quite-small bird possessed an even tinier brain.  Yet its loving Creator had instilled the appropriate amount of divine wisdom within it to recognize and choose which seeds were most beneficial to eat when presented with a wide selection to choose from.IMG_5447

And in that moment, I “got the message” — at least one of the messages:  quite often the seeds we choose to accept for our personal life-nourishment lack the wisdom God gave a bird.

Twice in Scripture, the word “leaven” is mentioned and each time it shares the same warning: “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough?” (I Cor. 5:6, NASB) To the Galatians, Paul spoke, “A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough.”  (Gal. 5:9)

These are short but significant statements, worthy to serve as launch pads for personal reflection and assessment.

It’s no secret that the world offers us many different seeds; on some occasions, they are hurled in our direction with such force that it feels like we are being blasted by a sandstorm.  Like the bird, we need to proceed with caution as we look around us and see what has landed at our feet.  For each one will bear its intrinsic destiny of fruit.  Just as we have the free will to choose nutrition-anemic Twinkies over vitamin-packed blueberries for our bodies, so we have the same free will to choose “junk food” (or even poison!) to plant the rudiments of future devastation into the soil of our souls, into the gardens of our faith. IMG_3318

Which brings us back to being mindful regarding the leaven in our lives.

Hebrews 5:4 teaches, “But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.” (NASB)  The Passion Translation states that scripture in this manner:  “But solid food is for the mature, whose spiritual senses perceive heavenly matters.  And they have been adequately trained by what they experience to emerge with understanding of the difference between what is truly excellent and what is evil and harmful.”

Perceiving spiritual matters.

The most public current flowing through our culture is to portray “spiritual matters” devoid of any relationship with a relational, holy and good God.  Or, to flip the coin, that same current pulls in philosophical and socio-political dregs that attempt to redefine the nature of the phrase “spiritual matters,” blurring and twisting boundaries between “truly excellent” and what may be categorized as “evil and harmful.”img_7251

Think about the practical applications of knowing and embracing this discernment:  The difference between what is truly excellent and what is evil and harmful.

I sometimes feel like the Ben Gates character in National Treasure, when he reads a key phrase on future destiny from the Declaration of Independence and then states, “Nobody talks like that anymore.”

The truth is, we should.

We breathe and walk in the midst of a generation and culture in desperate need of understanding these two concepts.  We carry out our everyday lives in the midst of a generation and culture whose surrounding influences have flipped and twisted the concepts of “truly excellent” and “evil and harmful” nearly beyond recognition, enticing us all to eat that harmful seed of non-distinction.

And some of us have.  The leaven of each concept, mixed and roiling internal conflict within us, silences our voices and dulls our convictions.

Yet His Spirit encourages us with the words, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if IMG_8744there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” (Phil. 4:8, NASB)

These are not mere “good thoughts” to keep a smile on our faces throughout the day.  These are terms of warfare.  Standards by which crooked paths may be set straight.

Truth.  Honor.  Right.  Purity.  Loveliness.  Good repute.  Excellence.  That which is worthy of praise.  Each of these is leaven to be stirred into the dough of our conscience, courage, and love towards others.  Each of those, once planted, is a seed from which roots will form and a powerful crop will emerge.  The enemy is always seeking to supplant each one with a counterfeit, a substitute loyal to himself.

Urgently, brethren, we need to order our path with “bird steps” – carefully examining the seeds that are thrown before us, rejecting as unpalatable those seeds that defy His wisdom.  Let us carefully embrace and nurture those that will enable us to walk as He walked, “making the most of your time, because the days are evil.” (Eph. 5:16, NASB)

Looking Up from an Avalanche: Why God Chooses Rain

The prediction of a significant mid-week “blizzard event” has indeed come to pass and is in progress.  As the snow piles up on our deck ledge, pushing upwards of 9-10-11 inches in stature, I am enjoying the view from inside, sitting close to the warmth of the fireplace.snowstorm from the window

Just twelve hours earlier, at midnight, I had been lulled to sleep by the steady and relaxing sound of rain falling on the deck, the roof, plunking on the outside metal BBQ.  As I drifted into a wonderful rest, I unexpectedly recalled the words to a mid-80’s song whose first line was, “It’s beginning to rain, hear the voice of the Father….”  The gentle, relaxing melody had whispered me into slumber.

In quick curiosity I looked up the title of the tune and discovered it was a Jimmy Swaggart creation, made perhaps more famous by Bill Gaither a decade later, when I had first heard it. The second line invites, “Saying whosoever will, let him drink of the waters, For He said, ‘I will pour My spirit upon your sons and daughters.’ So if you’re thirsty and dry, look up to the sky, it’s beginning to rain.’”

And as I looked out the window at the fierce downpour of wind-whipped white, I had the whimsical thought, I’m so glad God doesn’t offer us His Spirit as a snow storm instead of a gentle rain. leaf edge drops

At first I chuckled at the rather fanciful comparison. Then, as I thought about it, an ah-ha moment of sensing divine wisdom arose.  The word that came to my mind was avalanche.

Colorado’s winter-into-spring transition has already birthed a significant number of avalanches due to radical temperature swings: 28-degrees and snow one day, 60-degrees two days later, snow and 28-degrees two days after that.  Freeze-thaw-freeze….and then a white cloud billowing dramatically into the air when an avalanche is triggered and sheets of snow recklessly plunge down the mountainside.

This cycle of nature and the intervals of stress-ease-stress in our own lives forms a pretty good parallel.  Oftentimes, the triggering point in our lives is just as unexpected – and with little warning, here it comes, a significant emotional slide that leaves us bewildered and sometimes displaced, wondering just-what-happened and facing the uncertainties of what-comes-next.

This is not a back-slide, mind you…but a slide layered by frustration, unmet expectations and exasperation when the things we think we know about God’s nature, His transforming power in our lives and on this earth appear stymied, nullified, thwarted despite our prayers and anticipation of results.

IMG_2571In I Thess. 5:24, Paul teaches, “Faithful is He who calls you and He also will bring it to pass.”  (NASB)  The Message translates that verse, “The One Who called you is completely dependable.  If He said it, He’ll do it!”

That’s not a bad place to securely hang your hat, once you’ve gone through the effort to retrieve it from the snowfield.

The Amplified Bible, Classic Edition offers a rendering that is the most thought-provoking to me: “Faithful is He who is calling you (to Himself) and utterly trustworthy, and He will also do it (fulfill His call by hallowing and keeping you).”  (I Thess 5:24)

I admit it – I have never spent much time thinking about the specific intent of my heavenly Father hallowing (setting aside for holy use) and keeping me expressly to fulfill His goal that my ears and heart would be open to hear, respond, embrace His persistent and loving call.Single rose in the spruce

In similar theme, Hebrews 12:2 describes Jesus as “the author and perfecter of faith.”  (italics added)

What encouragement and hope to strengthen ourselves in Him!  In I John 3:2, we are reminded, “Beloved, now we are children of God and it has not appeared as yet what we will be.”

We are creations in process and He Who saw us before our beginning, also sees us beyond our life on this earth.  That fully includes those times before the avalanche, after the avalanche, and – especially — during the avalanche.  It is unlikely we can fully declare our lives a “No Avalanche Zone,” and Jesus warned those who listened, “In the world you have tribulation. (John 16:33)

He did, and we do. And He encourages us to “take courage; I have overcome the world.”

raindrop on leafHis Spirit gently sends us His comfort, loving reassurance and guidance in the soft kindness that mirrors rain, not the chilling touch of snow.  It is a metaphorical rain that melts the frozen and hard areas of our hearts and lives and allows us to firmly embrace and stand in the security of His Love.

Singing for Joy in the Temple

Overwhelmed by a sense of joy in the Lord, I wrote this quick post and want to share its moment of exultant praise with you!

February 27, 2019:  It is a beautiful morning and I have received a wonderful and unexpected gift:  this warm, sun-filled morning with many different species of birds passing through, singing and wing-flapping and chirping on the way.  Psalm 84:1 reads…Fall-Winter Journal, 2018-19

bird on feeder roof macro

2019: The Year to Transform Our Thinking and Discourse from “Anti-” to “Pro-“

IMG_7787It’s mid-January.  The snow falling outside may not be leaving particularly deep mounds of white on the ground, but the air is swirling ferociously with the conflict of storm fronts colliding and wind streams circling around one another in perfect ambush.  Dancing, falling, whipped-around snowflakes both drift and plummet downward as unseen forces manipulate and twist their normal course.

It is a nasty day outside.

And in my estimation, it rather closely mirrors the political climate in our country, right now.

So much so, I am strongly feeling that leaning into focused prayer should be an immediate response regarding a growing intolerance towards publicly living and celebrating a faith-based life.  I am inspired anew by the admonition in I Tim 2:1, “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all godliness and dignity.”  (NASB, italics added)

I believe that the “we” in this scripture is both a personal “we” – you and I – as well as a collective “we” for those who had come to know Christ in that era.  In our present case, here in America, a collective “we” – as in, “We, the people.”IMG_7295

While flipping through emails, I read the heading, “They Will Come for the Churches Next” and immediately clicked in to a politically foreboding article authored by Matt Walsh.  It was a follow-up piece to a day-before article regarding the startling amount of publicity being given to Second Lady Karen Pence’s return to a former employer as a current part-time employee.

When I first heard that announcement, I had two reactions of surprise:  first, I didn’t realize that the position of “Second Lady” would allow Pence to take on a “normal job” simultaneously, primarily for security reasons.  Secondly, I assumed she already had a full schedule of doing those goodwill-gesture and support activities necessary to whatever-it-is Second Ladies choose to highlight.  I found her choice a little puzzling, but thought it was rather down-to-earth and remarkable of her to engage in private-citizen employment while maintaining a public-citizen role.

Then followed a variety of Pence-focused announcements released on different days by different media sources, all of which easily summarize as pretty much one single statement — “Vice President’s Wife Takes Job at Anti-Gay Private School.”

And the descriptive twisting of facts almost made the truth of the issue unrecognizable.Concealing storm

Yes, Karen Pence was returning to work in a school she had already worked for, in former years.  Yes, it was a private school, the very school from which her daughter had graduated years earlier.

However, it is not an “anti-gay school.”  It is a pro-Christian-morality school.  And because we who identify as Christ-ians are constantly being described as “anti” rather than “pro” when represented by those who are not-Christ-ians, I believe we have fallen into a self-injuring trap:  we define ourselves in the same way, as being “anti” rather than “pro.”  We are therefore re-active to their agenda and narrative, rather than pro-active to His.

And therein lies the problem.  Here’s an example:

Pro-life…that would mean anti-abortion, I can hear the conversation shift.  No, “pro-life” is pro-life…pro-unborn, pro-just born, pro-toddler-through-adult, pro-geriatric, pro-working-years and pro-retirement-years, pro-adoption into both natural families and Jesus’ spiritual family. Pro-you-moving-forward-positively in wherever you fit in any of those scenarios.  Pro you-discovering-the-purpose-and-giftings-of-your-life.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10, NASB, italics added) The Common English Bible translates Jesus’ phrase as, “I came so that they might have life—indeed so that they could live life to the fullest.”

Silhouette of pine branch2Yes, pro-life – verbally and actively supporting those principles, laws, philosophies and theologies that allow for abundant life, “life to the fullest.”

Our thinking and discourse are significantly limited, tainted, and shrouded by the restrictions of working within an “anti” mindset. It turns a reality of “us, together” into a perspective of division, you-and-me-on-opposite-sides.  Thus, we end up speaking from a defensive or holier-than-thou posture when talking to others.  Yet in a pro- stance, we are better able to stand firm as representatives of Jesus’ Kingdom, gladly extending His open invitation for all to believe in Him and step into the Light to join Him there.   We are encouraged by Jude 1:22-23, “Try to help those who argue against you.  Be merciful to those who doubt.  Save some by snatching them as from the very flames of hell itself.  And as for others, help them to find the Lord by being kind to them…” (The Living Bible)

It is now the start of February.  In the last two-plus weeks, much publicity has revolved around four Covington High School Catholic teenagers wearing MAGA hats to the Right to Life March and the various encounters that occurred.  Judicial nominee Brian Buescher was verbally grilled regarding his charitable volunteering through the KnightsDownload April 18 031 of Columbus and how his political views may be impacted by serving in a faith-based organization.  New York State has signed into law legislation that allows for “legal” abortion to be performed right up to the minute of a baby’s birth, and other states are pursuing similar laws.  On January 1 of his year, Hawaii became the eighth state/province in America to allow assisted suicide for the elderly.

None of these – nor the dozens of issues that will erupt over the next year – are no-opinion issues about which we should be prayer-less, complacent or silent in expressing a pro-life opinion, not an anti-this-or-that opinion.  Jude 1:3 encourages us, “Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith that was once for all handed down to the saints.” (NASB)

Once for all.  Our pro-humanity, pro-generational Abba contends for us, singing and speaking Truth into every circumstance.  Let us do the same regarding the issues that impact our freedoms, our witness, the soul of our country