January 14, 2020: Taking down the Christmas lights.
As I laboriously wind and unwind the connecting strands wrapped around the deck handrail, I start to chuckle: why did this wind-and-rewind seem like such a quick process a month BEFORE Christmas…but had now become such a boring and taxing task three weeks after?
The answer, of course, boils down to a matter of simple anticipation.
And as I thought about it, I realized how powerfully motivated people are when they have a firmly pictured (or clearly imagined) end result in mind. My mental image of the house deckrail gleaming with colorful mini-lights as the darkness descended during these short days brought me immense pleasure. In fact, the more I imagined it, the more I enthusiastically expanded the light display to new areas.
Now that I am carrying out the reverse action, the opposite emotion is also true. The resulting absence of light as the holiday decor is removed brings me a deep, inward sigh of regret as I anticipate and picture the now unbroken-darkness.
As a result, the task now seemed long and unrewarding, like an unwanted destination coming into sight even as you continue moving towards it. And that sense of drudgery reminded me of the many passages in Scripture that encourage us to build an anticipation of an expanded perspective of our lives, both through consideration of revealed Truth and focusing on eternal realities.
Hebrews 12:2 encourages us to be “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith,” as we journey through the ups and downs of our lives. We are to anticipate hearing His voice, experiencing His Presence and guidance, as we “fix our eyes” upon Him. In other words, picture the outcome of walking in close fellowship with Jesus, and draw on that to give you strength and vision.
Paul stated to the Romans that he did not consider his life “as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus.” (Acts 20:24) We are to anticipate a destiny to be fulfilled, a calling answered, a flow of His life through ours to impact others. Mentally picture yourself engaged in His wonderful works and redemption throughout the neighborhood and out into the world.
That’s exactly what I’m going to do in the weeks ahead. Focusing on the act of searching for Him, reaching out through me, to touch and comfort and bring peace — a beautiful representation of His Light shining in the darkness.
September, 2019: This year’s Fall is finally upon us. The leaves morphed into their glorious colors late this year due to our abundant rain throughout the summer. I am so hoping that in starting late, they will remain bright and beautiful for a longer stretch of time.
I always want to start a “Fall display” around the house early…and this year is no exception. It is not easy to avoid the overtones of Halloween when shopping for outside decor, particularly…so I put on my creativity cap and started looking around at what I might do.
Scarecrows and mini lights wrapping around an aspen trunk are this year’s perfect solution. I enjoy the humor and goofiness of decorative scarecrows almost as much as I love the interesting pumpkins that show up in the stores as October moves in.
But it’s really the focus on “the harvest” that makes me pause, stop and ponder. No matter what the world looks like around us, we have God’s promise that Jesus’ Kingdom is advancing.
One of Jesus’ most famous quotes is, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” (Matt. 9:37) Worldwide, previously small pockets of Christian persecution have expanded, even against the backdrop of testimonies regarding God’s Spirit touching large groups of people. Matthew 9:38 leads us to Jesus’ next thought — “Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.”
“His harvest” is everywhere, and this is the perfect season to intentionally focus on energized prayer. His harvest is not only in far-flung foreign lands–with eyes to see, we also find it at the grocery store, in school board meetings, in our neighborhoods, at retirement groups and hospitals, in national politics and in the place each of us works. We are now the Word made flesh, bearing-and-sharing His image and Presence through every interaction. If we cannot make a personal appearance and impact, His Spirit collects and addresses the prayers we share over people, situations, events. He honors each prayer seed planted.
Every autumnal season carries carries an overarching, spiritual “John the Baptist mantle,” a time of reflection and preparation to anticipate God doing something amazing and unexpected. At least superficially, our American culture is drawn into considering and contemplating the concept of “harvest,” which is an open invitation to each of us to seize those moments and pick up our sickles.
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 their way. Returning snow is predicted for the upcoming weekend, but on this morning there is a warm, soothing freshness in the air like a fresh spring day.
Psalm 84:1-3 reads, “How lovely are Your dwelling places, O Lord of hosts! My soul longed and even yearned for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God. The bird also has found a house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young. Even Your altars, O Lord of hosts, My King and my God.” (NASB)
The Message translates this same portion of Scripture, “What a beautiful home, God-of-the-Angel-Armies! I’ve always longed to live in a place like this, always dreamed of a room in Your house, where I could sing for joy to God-alive! Birds find nooks and crannies in your house, sparrows and swallows make nests there. They lay their eggs and raise their young, singing their songs in the house where we worship! God-of-the-Angel-Armies! King! God! How blessed they are to live and sing there!”
So, today – this day of beautiful, bright sunshine and singing birds nearby – I am in His temple, singing for joy to God-alive, as “Your body is a Temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you…” (I Cor. 6:19, NASB)
I am so thankful for the sparrows that find “nooks and crannies” at our house, as well as in His. As I sit here and worship, they are singing their songs, and we worship together to the God-of-the-Angel-armies.
January 2, 2019: The sun has risen and is currently creating beautiful contrasts between the glittering folds and shadows of the day-old snow as it fills the mounds and dips of the dried-grass landscape.
But last night was dark. Very dark.
The moon was shrouded by clouds. Only a single neighboring household joined me in turning on its Christmas lights, despite the fact that New Year’s Day night is typically included in that stretch of time we call “the Christmas season” when the colorful lights continue to burn for a few more days before saying their final farewell for another year.
Welcoming 2019 with an outpouring of darkness, rather than light, struck me as a sad greeting indeed.
As I peered down the dark, unfriendly-looking street, the Genesis phrase of “formless and void” slipped into my mind. Then came the entire verse: “The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.” (Gen. 1:2-3)
I thought about that action: moving over the surface of the waters, brooding, hovering, preparing.
“Then God said, let there be light; and there was light. God saw that the light was good.” (Gen. 1:3-4a)
I instantly saw the parallel: Just as the Spirit was moving over that surface, reverberating with gloom and obscurity, so indeed He moves, hovers, makes preparations over the darkest waters on the surface of our lives, our souls, in our circumstances.
And, for exactly the same purpose: to bring Light.
To focus Light down the sometimes-narrow, deep burrow of our our pain and tears.
To inspire with Light as we converse with Him, sharing our petitions and outcries, our perspective and focus.
To shine Light in those times when the adversary has successfully surrounded us with swirling, misdirecting mists of indecision, doubt, distrust.
To bring Light to our estimation and esteeming of others, our fellowship with those in the Body, co-heirs with us in His grace, forgiving and honoring as we have been forgiven and honored by Him.
To manifest His Light in us, touching those who do not yet know Jesus with that Light, kindness, resolution, revelation. To demonstrate a greater Kingdom than the one we see in our daily activities, a more enduring alliance on which to anchor our souls in uncertain times.
As Father, Son and Spirit shook Hands and approved as One that the Light was good, we are starting a new year of opportunity to “walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light.”(I John 1:7)
December 17, 2018: Politically-Correct Christmas-phobes tout survey that states “Santa needs an update.” The only encouraging thing about this survey is that a VERY SLIM number of respondents were cited — a mere 800 for both the United States and Britain. Not sure what demographic the marketing company chose, but the suggestions are pretty startling — including a gender-neutral Santa….hmmm…..is the demographic really that hard to figure out?
December 12, 2018: God must be continuing to talk to me about rest…and perhaps He is wanting me to share one of His thoughts on this topic with others.
Uncharacteristically, I took a nap today.
I didn’t think I was tired enough to sleep mid-day (especially since I had just finished a full cup of coffee at lunch) but I was feeling chilled from head to toe. So, laying down after lunch in front of a heater, I fell right asleep. When I woke up, I felt a strong sense of self-frustration similar to when I have lacked self-control when shopping, or procrastinated on an important project even while watching the clock and counting down the time while the deadline continues to draw nigh. How could I have taken the time, with so many things to do?
Determined to accomplish some noteworthy task before the dinner hour, I began reading email headlines, and one instantly caught my attention: a daily devotional partly titled “Exchanging the guilt of rest for the gift of rest.”
And I will admit it — I started to laugh. OK, Lord, let’s see what it says.
One of the author’s summation points is, “As we realize that grace abounds in the area of rest as well, we see possibilities and not limitations — the joy and not the duty of it.”
Possibilities, joy. I actually meditated on that line, really pondering the fact I had exchanged an hour-plus of “doing” for the benefits of an hour-plus of physical and emotional restoration. Grace abounding in the area of rest.
That is a concept that is actually rather foreign to me…that phrase runs contrary to the verses that so often flip through my mind when I think about sitting and doing nothing for a bit: “Laziness casts into a deep sleep, and an idle man will suffer hunger” (Prov. 19:15); “He who sleeps in harvest is a son who acts shamefully” (Prov. 10:5); “Do not love sleep, or you will become poor” (Prov. 20:13)
And while these are significant life-habit verses of which to be mindful… I continue to learn that their wisdom needs to be balanced with our loving Father’s call to “Cease striving and know that I am God.” (Psa. 46:10, NASB)
That is the part I often forget or overlook. The universe – or even my small part of my overall sphere of life – will continue in its workings if I step out of it for a short break, whether it is for rest, contemplation, or simply emotional decompression. The Message translation states, “Step out of the traffic! Take a long, loving look at Me, your High God, above politics, above everything.” (Psa 46:10)
Now, I am not equating a couple hours’ nap with the conscious act of carving out specific time to take a long, loving look at Him. However, I do have an increased sense of thankfulness and gratitude for His loving care when I think about Jesus tenderly encouraging His disciples, “Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while.” (Mark 6:31)
“Awhile” can be a tough amount of time to secure until after January 1…and with a hectic, demanding lifestyle full of children or responsibilities at work and elsewhere, that time can be difficult to secure any month of the year.
But that phrase, grace abounding in the area of rest, has captured my attention. Moreover, it opens my perspective to view time for rest, refreshment, and rejuvenation as a loving provision smilingly offered by the One who knows us best, rather than assessing it as personally falling short of ideal time management.
December 6, 2018: How do the heavens proclaim the glory of God?
I was deleting excessive emails when I opened an online publication whose name I did not recognize. Quickly scanning down the page, I read this paragraph: “Turn your eyes towards nature and you will find nothing idle. The heavens, by their perpetual motion, unceasingly proclaim the glory of their Creator. The sun, moon, and stars, with all the brilliant planets which people almost infinite space, daily follow their courses for the benefit of man. The growth of plants and trees is continual until they have attained their appointed strength and proportions…”
I immediately thought of the contrast between the outworking of ever-busy nature and the fact that the Holy Spirit so often calls us to do the opposite — to rest. In Matthew 11:28-29, Jesus calls out to the people, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” In Mark 6:31, He entreats His disciples, “Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while.” Paul sought “refreshing rest” in the company of the Roman believers (Romans 15:32) and Hebrews 4:9-11 promises, “So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His. Therefore, let us be diligent to enter that rest…”
Resting from works. That baby in the manger, precious Son revealing the Father and dwelling among His earthly family members who are often too busy to notice Him…let us adore and glorify Him as we take deliberate, conscious time to spend time in His Presence during this special season and beyond.
December 3, 2018: Politically Correct Christmas-phobes have begun their bellyaching. As reported by theblaze.com, “The beloved Christmas movie, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, has been called out as ‘seriously problematic’ for its displays of bullying, racism, and homophobia — not to mention verbal abuse, sexism, bigotry, lack of acceptance, and even exploitation of workers.”
December 1, 2018: A wonderful surprise.
A friend who moved out of the area left me two Christmas cactus. Although I received her steadfast assurance that “they bloom every year” I didn’t actually expect to see any December blooms on the ends of their thick, succulent leaves.
And yet here they were, one on each of two plants — and in two different, equally lovely colors.
Expectation. I had been heartily assured that the flowers would come, but I had no expectation of seeing them.
James 1:5 states, “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” And it will be given to him.
They bloom every year, spoken directly and from experience — a pretty simple statement to take at face value and accept with anticipation. The apostle James continues, “But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” (James 1:6-8)
I’m so thankful that these plants were faithful to their nature, their natural cycle as God had created it, and not dependent on my faith in their ability to produce. By that standard, I would have had no blooms whatsoever.
May I treat and accept His holy wisdom with a different mindset, a certain expectation that He is faithful, that he will generously and abundantly share His wisdom with me through His Spirit and His guidance, faithful to His own nature and not mine.
November 14, 2018: I am thinking about the ever-ongoing need for godly wisdom as we traverse complex cultural waves, our comings-and-goings, and the difficult situations we all face from time to time.
I read an online devotional this morning and the author, Boyd Bailey, was focusing on the benefits of God’s wisdom, even stating that wisdom “is a gift, it does not come naturally.” He wrote, “Wisdom is a cherished commodity…wisdom represents a word from the Lord, so its value is enormous…it is a gift that protects you from decisions that could haunt you for a lifetime and gives you the confidence to carry on or stop.”
Immediately Proverbs 14:12 comes to my mind: “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.”
I have always pretty much equated this with a person’s choice to walk in deliberate disobedience to the Word or, perhaps, continue in activities clearly defined as sinful. But as I ponder the proverb, I am impressed by how significantly it contrasts “natural thinking” with godly wisdom.
So important is this concept of my-understanding-versus-His-understanding, it is repeated a second time in Proverbs, word for word. Proverbs 16:25 states, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” The Common English Bible (CEB) translates the scripture this way: “There is a path that may seem straight to someone, but in the end it is a path to death.” (Prov. 14:12)
A partial second scripture came to my mind and I researched the concept, “sow to the wind, reap the whirlwind.” When I found the entire phrase, it emphasized the significance that walking a course of wisdom should have in our life.
The prophet Hosea stated, “For they sow the wind and they reap the whirlwind. The standing grain has no heads, it yields no grain. Should it yield, strangers would swallow it up.” (Hos. 8:7) The Living Bible elaborates that description through its translation, “Their cornstalks stand there, barren, withered, sickly, with no grain.”
And I propose, such is a description of a life riddled with folly.
Our Heavenly Abba’s promise to each of us: “He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; He is a shield to those who walk in integrity.” (Prov. 2:7) We have only to stop in our way, ask, seek, and pursue His direction.
October 1, 2018: Fall is already one week old.
It is truly my favorite season, next to whatever the most high-flowering month of summer would be. And within a week I will be bringing out one of my very few hand-pieced, quilted creations, which happens to be a pumpkin.
In 2008, I made three of them — one for each daughter, and one my husband insisted I make for ourselves. One pumpkin label reads, Don’t like McCain, Don’t like Obama, vote The Pumpkin for President, to commemorate the 2008 election year.
My favorite pumpkin so far this year is the gnarly greenish-blue one my mom bought at the grocery store. What a beauty! No artificial face carved into those magnificent features, God made it perfect just the way it is, and it brings me delight every time I look at it.
I’m not sure why I enjoy looking at pumpkins. Perhaps it’s their diversity, though each is not as unique as an individual flower. Still, every pumpkin has an individual appearance. Deep grooves, shallow grooves, tall and thin, short and squatty, gourd-shaped, round, bumpy or smooth. Whether I carve a pumpkin or keep it in a natural state, I enjoy just the sight of it.
I have carved pumpkins to proclaim the name of Jesus and the goodness of God, close to the top of my “favorite things” list. Even without a specific “purpose,” however, I thank God simply for His creativity in creating pumpkins and rolling them out every Fall.
I Timothy 6:17 states, “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy.” I added those italics, by the way, to focus on that specific part of the verse. God supplies us with all things to enjoy — and it’s my opinion He does so with a smile, because His kids enjoy such things.
The Message translation of Psalm 111:1-3 states, in part, “God’s works are so great, worth a lifetime of study–endless enjoyment! Splendor and beauty mark His craft; His generosity never gives out.”
I do think of Fall as a generous season. I know that is a description usually reserved for December, the month of Christmas. And, of course, God’s generosity is clearly display then, as well, through tradition and culture and prophetic proclamation. But Fall bears a different sort of generosity, for a different purpose. For Fall brings with it the season of harvest. Paul teaches in 2 Cor 9:10, “Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness.”
How many seeds are in a pumpkin? Well — lots! And every one of those beautiful, irregular, discolored-miscolored-orange colored pumpkins serves as a reminder that He is the supplier of whatever seed we need to grow the harvest of our destiny. Seeds for inspiration…for provision…for faith…for love…for change…for perseverance…His generosity never gives out!