On the Road or Off in the Ditch?

“Pass through, pass through the gates, and go from old to new.  Prepare a new path for the people.  Build!  Build up a highway for them to come to me!  Remove every hindrance and unfurl a banner for the nations!”  Isaiah 62:10  (The Passion Translation)

 

Recently, I ready a contemplative piece that caught my attention.   The author mentioned the frequency with which we lament that we are “going through some things” as a way of expressing the pressures we feel due to life’s circumstances.  He then reminded the reader that the point is that we ARE going THROUGH!  Suddenly,   I realized that I often assume I AM going where I need to go, and that I am proceeding along the correct pathway, when in reality, I am wallowing in the ditch alongside the road I thought I was navigating.  Indeed, in our contemporary usage, the expression “I’m going through some things” smacks more of self-pity than of the progress the word choice should indicate.

God invites us to transition; He invites us to leave behind baggage and sorrows of the past.  On occasion, He even directs us to abandon the activities and seasons that brought great joy to our lives, as He has appointed an end to those seasons and is calling us forward to as-yet-unfamiliar adventures.  How can God release new experiences to us if our hearts and hands are already overloaded with regret, sins, sorrows, business, and even nostalgic memories of bygone eras?  He beckons us to pass through the gates, proceed from old to new, and begin to encounter the next season He has ordained for us. 

As we pass through the gate and enter into new “land,” He commands us to prepare the path for others and build a highway (an easily navigated path) for them to come to Him, the King of the universe.  He instructs us to remove obstacles and hindrances that might lead to stumbling or needless delay and set up His banner of love for all people.   

Obeying these instructions requires that we ourselves make every effort to STAY on the highway.  That means we can ill afford to slip aside, fall into the ditch of depression, or lick our wounds.   The challenge is to recognize when we have slipped into that mindset of wallowing in the ditch while thinking we are still on the road.   (After all, deception would not be deception if we recognized it readily, would it?)  As one who tends to be overly sensitive to my own responses to my surroundings and excessively scrutinize my own heart, I can easily veer off into the soft grass and inadvertently tumle down into the stagnant waters of self-reproach, sorrow, and missed opportunities.  

Holy Spirit, reveal to me when I have strayed from Your highway and even failed to go through the gate through which You have appointed me to pass!   Restore to me the JOY of Your salvation, Father, and renew a right spirit within me!   Thank You, Lord, that You have called us to pass through the gates and build up the highway rather than  wallowing in failure or sadness.  You set our feet in a wide place and enable us to move forward.   Amen!  May it be so!

 

 

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Got Joy?

“I’ve got that joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart.  Where?  Down in my heart.  Where?  Down in my heart…”1   Sound familiar?

As children of God, the joy that we always have through the Holy Spirit can be stifled.  We can let our own problems, perhaps magnified or intensified at this time of the pandemic, take us over.  We can forget that in Jesus Christ we can overcome.  We can forget that joy helps us overcome.

In this time (that will pass) of COVID-19, if we’re not careful, joy is supplanted by sorrow, fear, and worry.  I don’t know about you, but I find that it has been too easy to succumb to the things that can bury my joy.  Whether it’s tuning in too much to the news of the progress and devastation of the virus…or it’s seeing loved ones (via FaceTime) suffer even more with the added stress and worsening of their illnesses…or it’s being socially isolated, not able to be with others, including at church…

What are we to do?  How are we to handle all this?

Abide in the Word.  Pray.  Worship.  And trust God with it all.

It’s one thing to stay in the Word.  Many of us do that.  Prayer, like breathing, comes easily.  But worship?  Worship at home when we don’t feel like it?  How important is that anyway?

When I discovered last week that I had cut back on worship time, I realized how important worship is.  (It seems that I’ve had to learn this lesson more than once!)  In the worship, my focus is on God and there is joy!  As I behold the beauty of the Lord, as I recognize His sovereignty and faithfulness, as I delight in His presence, joy rises up within me.  It was never really gone, of course, but it had become somewhat hidden.

“Oh come, let us sing to the LORD!
Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving;
Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms.
For the LORD is the great God,
And the great King above all gods.”                  Psalm 95:1-3 NKJV

“Rejoice in the Lord always.  Again I will say, rejoice!”         Philippians 4:4 NKJV

“…the joy of the Lord is your strength.”     Nehemiah 8:10b NKJV

In order to be strong in this season and experience the fullness of His grace, let us rejoice!  Let us worship!  Let us glorify our King!

 

1  George William Cooke.  In Barry Bobb’s All God’s People Sing, Concordia Publishing House, 1992.

 

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Ordinarily Extraordinary Amid the Extraordinarily Ordinary

DishesSometimes we become restless, bored, and dissatisfied with the seemingly incessant pace of ordinary life.   One of my former professors once stopped for the night at our home on his way across the country.   He had only known me when I was a university student in a specialized academic context.  When he visited us, my husband and I were in the throes of keeping our five young children properly fed, clothed, and out of danger. My days primarily consisted of preparing meals, grocery shopping, washing and ironing mountains of clothing, supervising outdoor play, and taking various toddlers to the bathroom.  That didn’t count homeschooling the homeschooled ones and helping the public-schooled ones with their homework assignments.  To top it off, we had moved from a beautiful, mountainous European nation to a dry, barren wilderness town in the Panhandle of Texas.  We were culturally, physically, and spiritually challenged.

As our professor friend prepared to resume his journey after less than 24 hours in our home, he inquired how I managed to survive in that environment.   I responded by explaining that I really didn’t have time to engage myself in any academic or cultural pursuits beyond my own routine of caring for the children.  “Do you find it fulfilling?,” he asked.  “I know it is my job at this point in my life,” I replied.

The fact was, I longed for significance.  Although I was familiar with the old adage, “The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world,”  I failed to see any evidence of such greatness in my life.  Despite the fact that I adored my children, I began to wonder who I was.  The days were a blur of activity, yet I wondered whether I was pleasing God or not.

I had much yet to learn about the extraordinary nature of God and how He intervenes in our ordinary lives.  I did not understand the extraordinary power He imparts to our lives as ordinary people in our ordinary places.  The story of leprous Naaman the Syrian warrior in 2 Kings 5:1-19 illustrates this point well.  Naaman made the trek to visit the prophet Elisha for the purpose of requesting healing from his leprosy.  To Naaman’s astonishment and annoyance, Elisha advised him simply to wash in the Jordan River seven times, and he would be clean from the leprosy.   Naaman was clearly disappointed and even angry at this proposed solution to his problem, as he had expected the prophet to pronounce powerful words from God;  he had hungered for a more dramatic encounter.   Washing in a river seemed rather banal, as he could have done the same at home and spared himself the trouble.   However, Naaman’s servants persuaded him, saying, “My father! If the prophet had asked you to do something really difficult, wouldn’t you have done it? So, doesn’t it make even more sense to do what he says, when it’s only, ‘Bathe, and be clean’?” (2 Kings 5:13)

The story concludes with Naaman’s change of heart to obey the prophet’s directive to wash seven times in the Jordan River.  He was then completely cleansed of the leprosy that had afflicted him.  

This story grips my heart, as I realize that the Lord often injects His extraordinary power and presence in the humblest and most ordinary aspects of my life.  As I reflect on various scenarios of life with our children, I see certain glimpses of God’s glory, glory of which I was unaware or to which I was blinded at the time.  Their gifts, their quirks, their enthusiasm, their questions, their beautiful smiles and whimsical antics were expressions of God speaking of His extraordinary creative power.

He often works in ways we do not see.  He does not always trumpet forth His plan in advance.  He works extraordinary wonders in our daily, ordinary lives.   Our Lord is ordinarily (typically) EXTRAORDINARY and reveals Himself in our extraordinarily ORDINARY lives.   How wonderful He is!  Many of the miracles He works use very normal props:  loaves, fish, a stick, a rock, a word of hope.  Often, He has not exaggerated or dramatized His work in my life; He has simply done what He wanted to do, sometimes in the quiet, secret places of my daily routine.

Lord, open our eyes to see Your glory in the smallest things, in the most ordinary moments!  May Your Presence infuse our very being and transform us to experience Your miracle-working power in the apparently powerless places of our days!

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The God of the In-Between

Book.twowheelsgroverIn view of our need to get some exercise beyond wrestling matches with the vacuum cleaner during this season of isolation, my husband and I decided to venture out on our bikes.  For various reasons, I had not actually ridden any bicycle (apart from a very tedious stationary bike) for twenty years.   Although I feigned interest, I was secretly hoping that we would end up postponing this outing, as I lacked confidence in my balance of late (largely due to multiple successful but traumatic eye surgeries).  

Despite the fact that I had learned to ride a bike without training wheels when I was five, the challenge seemed daunting.  After all, after six decades of life, one’s perspective changes!  Moreover, the surfaces to be navigated near our house are often irregular and far from level.  As my husband aired up the tires,  I dubiously inspected the dusty gear shifts on the ancient handlebars.  Tremulously, I mounted the bike and wondered if I would make it around the block. 

However, when I began to pedal (quite vigorously, due to my fear of tumbling to one side!), the old thrill returned!  As my husband sped on ahead of me, I shifted the gears quite easily and streaked on in his wake.   Suddenly, I was in a different world — remembering the freedom I had felt as a young person riding a bike around my neighborhood, to classes at college, and even as an adult around Lake Dillon in the Rocky Mountains.   I stopped wondering whether or we would ride back home via the same route.  Instead, I meditated on what the end goal of this test ride might be and contemplated what adventures might lie before me.  

Exhilarated, I nearly forgot myself as the bike lurched with a sudden change in pavement.  Forced to look down just beyond the front wheel, I noticed gaping cracks in the sidewalk and changes in the level of its surface.  A squirrel unexpectedly darted in front of the bike and barely avoided certain death.  With a fresh resolve to pay more attention to my immediate surroundings, I purposed to abandon my reveries.  

That deliberate focus on the immediate challenge, however, robbed me of any sense of purpose.   Even as my husband continued to pedal swiftly on, I was distracted by what I would or would not encounter on the ground directly ahead of me — so much so, that I lost him and didn’t know what direction he had taken.  (Of course, it turned out he waited for me at a crossroads and had been keeping an eye on me the entire time!)

The situation reminded me of two specific lessons:  

When our children were young, we enjoyed a book entitled Two Wheels for Grover, a story of Grover’s hesitation (despite the encouragement of others) about learning to ride a bike and how he conquered his fears.  I could certainly relate!   The fact was, the lessons learned in the past about overcoming challenges are available to me still, and I certainly felt confidence and strength return once I dared to confront the task!

Secondly, I love the truth about God being the God of the first and the last, the Lord of the “already” (the things that have already been established in the past) and the “not yet” (those things He has yet to fulfill).  What a glorious juxtaposition of what He has completed and what He has yet to complete (yet regards as completed)!  His fulfillment of His plans and purposes is in process based on what Jesus did at the Cross.  Healing, freedom, and deliverance from earthly sorrows and pain are provided for by the Cross  and Resurrection, but some aspects of that Kingdom-appointed fullness have yet to be manifested this side of Heaven. 

Somehow this truth connected to the bike ride for me!  I dared not turn to focus on what I left behind me, as I would surely lose my balance and topple over.  When I focused inordinately intensely on where I was headed, I risked overlooking hazards in my immediate path.   When I was absorbed in looking directly down in front of the bicycle, I did not appreciate the ride and failed to gain the greater perspective of the journey.

Suddenly, it occurred to me that, if God is the Lord of the “already” and the “not yet,” He must also be Lord of the “in between,” the journey from where we have already been to where we are headed.  HE is the stability of my times, and HE is able to sustain me, alert me, and carry me to new places.  He is my compass and strength as I travel on these heretofore-unknown roads.  

As we read in Isaiah 33:6, “He will be your constant source of stability in changing times,
and out of his abundant love he gives you the riches of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge.  Yes, the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure! Yes, the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure! (The Passion Translation)

Father, thank You that, “You know every step I will take before my journey even begins. You’ve gone into my future to prepare the way, and in kindness you follow behind me to spare me from the harm of my past. With your hand of love upon my life, you impart a blessing to me…Wherever I go, your hand will guide me; your strength will empower me.  It’s impossible to disappear from you or to ask the darkness to hide me, for your presence is everywhere, bringing light into my night. There is no such thing as darkness with you.  The night, to you, is as bright as the day; there’s no difference between the two.”  Psalm 139: 4b-5, 10-12

 

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Battling for Breakthrough: Lessons from the Dirtmeister

Historically, I have considered myself a meticulous housekeeper;  however, since the last child graduated from college and various volunteer commitments began to fill my days, I have become less rigorous in actually executing my formerly meticulous practices.  Lately, a careful observer would certainly have noticed an impressive layer of dust on the ledge above the front door, and the blinds only looked clean at night.  I excused myself by reasoning that I am home far fewer hours now than when I was shepherding a tribe of children and their young friends; moreover, I reasoned, most people would consider my home clean and inviting, as I am assiduous in cleaning bathrooms and the kitchen, and I am a neatnik by nature.

Even so, as the months flew by, I felt an increasing concern that the house was screaming for attention, and I simultaneously began to dread the length of time it would take to clean everything properly.  Thus began my experience with staying home to avoid exposure to COVID-19.  Finally, my months of procrastination screeched to a halt:  unable to tolerate the ever-expanding pile of cleaning chores at home, I carefully made a list and grouped various tasks into categories that could be tackled over the course of several days.

Last Friday morning, I faced the most daunting task:  two days of vacuuming everything in the house:  blinds, shutters, window sills, baseboards, floors, carpet, and area rugs.  I had remembered that our vacuum cleaner was heavy as well as powerful, but somehow I did not recall it being THIS heavy!  I speculated how much time might have passed since I had last dragged this veritable “dirtmeister”  all over the house, up and down the stairs, all the while disconnecting, attaching, and re-attaching the various vacuuming tools for different surfaces.  This machine, however valuable and effective it might be, had never felt this ponderous!  I wondered to myself whether I simply had somehow morphed into an elderly, feeble lady since my last rodeo with this vacuum cleaner.

In addition to its impressive weight, the machine kept tipping over backwards when I attempted to pull it along behind me.  To make matters worse, the tube accessories that connected to the hose flew apart quite often (except when I wanted to pull them apart to attach a different tool).  Suddenly I found myself vacuuming with a tool attached to nothing.  As the hours of battle wore on, the level of my ire was growing.   That night, with calves aching from dragging this megaton machine around the house, I collapsed into bed.   Perhaps I needed more rest and more regular exercise, in view of my new weakling status.  I consoled myself with the thought that I had vanquished at least half of the house.  As Scarlett O’Hara valiantly declared in the film Gone with the Wind, I asserted, “Tomorrow is another day!”  

The next day continued in the same vein; I tackled the master bedroom and was hopelessly losing the hose behind me and jerking on the recalcitrant beast when it refused to move forward.   Apparently, I started addressing the vacuum as if it were alive, yelling, “Come OVER here!  Stop breaking!”  Unbeknownst to me, my husband came downstairs to check on me, as he had actually overheard my yelling from the upstairs office on the other end of the house!  

At some point in the throes of this battle, I remembered a parenthetical comment my husband had made during the first day of this wrestling match.  I suddenly decided I might as well check the dirt bag to verify whether or not it needed to be emptied.  As I unzipped the cloth bag containing the dirt collection bag, I was aghast to see a bulging vacuum bag that was inflated to the point of bursting (mercifully, it had not done so!).  After laboriously disconnecting it, I lugged it out to the trash — horrified to discover that it weighed as much as a newborn baby!

A few moments later, still aghast at the volume of dirt packed into that bag, I fitted the dirtmeister with a clean bag and re-initiated my quest to finish vacuuming the house.  To my astonishment, I was no longer an elderly weakling!  The machine followed my lead quite readily without toppling over, and I lifted it over obstacles with ease.   (The hoses still fell apart, and one of the tools broke, but I persevered.)

The lesson was not lost on me:   how many times to we long for breakthrough into a new season without realizing we are encumbered in entering it?   How often do I exert an earnest effort to do what needs to be done without considering that I may be carrying detritus around with me that actually impedes my progress into the new season (in this instance, a clean house and a new sense of order in our personal space)?  Oddly, I had wondered for a day and a half why the battle was so fierce and the burden was so heavy — not realizing for a moment that the greatest source of the problem was my own baggage, baggage that belonged in the trash!

Jesus Himself invites us to come to Him when we find ourselves overwhelmed and weighed down by things visible and invisible:. “Are you weary, carrying a heavy burden? Then come to me.  I will refresh your life, for I am your oasis.” (The Passion Translation) Father, expose any hindrances to my spiritual growth that I may be lugging around with me.  Show me what to do to divest myself of things that should be consigned to the trash bin — dead things from past seasons, sins You already forgave, pain You want to lift from my heart.   Help me to be willing to respond quickly to Your revelation so I will be able to move more easily into breakthrough. Empower me to recognize and discard the harmful burdens of the past.  Be glorified in and through Me, Father!  

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The Holy Hunker

And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.  (Jeremiah 29:13, NKJV)

In these days of increasing challenges, I find myself scrambling to meet obligations, yet grasping for some sense of routine and normalcy — even without an international health pan(dem)ic!  It seems that life these days is being lived on an increasingly precarious edge.   Attempts to cut back, set boundaries, and re-focus on personal priorities often are sabotaged by the urgency of various commitments to which I strive to be faithful.

Suddenly, I find myself confronted by governmental directives to cease and desist from routine activities:  gathering, traveling, meeting together in small groups, using public transportation.  Events I may have felt led to plan or even just attend are summarily cancelled.  Even education is moved online out of concern for infection.

What is the good news about this outwardly imposed isolation?  How could hunkering down in the bunkers of our homes or apartments lead to anything remotely positive, particularly when we witness the economic impact of the corona virus (and understandable fear of it) wreaking havoc with people’s jobs, incomes, and bank accounts?

What remains?  Personally, I am confronted by my own insignificance and human sense of helplessness.  However, I believe the Holy Spirit is calling me to seek Father God more passionately.  Desperation can be good for the soul; the Lord promises to meet me when I seek Him with my whole heart.   After all, He gave Himself wholeheartedly for me, and He is faithful even when I am faithless (2 Timothy 2:13). He is always listening; He longs to hear my voice cry out to Him, and He loves the sound of it!

What an amazing thought that the God of all Heaven and Earth wants my full attention!  I certainly do not deserve HIS attention, yet He gives it to me!

May I cease my restlessness and fretting, and may I seek the Lover of my soul with my whole heart in a deeper way than ever before!  Moreover, may my “hunkering down” not be self-protective, but outwardly directed to the magnificent Lord of the universe.  He wants to heal and touch, not only me, but the hearts of many around me who need His Presence and love in the midst of this season of trouble.  May my response to Him during this tumult be pleasing to Him, and may I reach out to others in need rather than focusing on my own losses, in Jesus’ Name!

 

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What Glasses Are You Wearing?

How do you see others?  Through dark glasses tinted by hurt?  Through rosy-colored glasses which gloss over problems?  Or through clear glasses, seeing as God wants you to see?  It makes a huge difference how we relate to others depending on how we see them.

Through prayer I’ve realized that I’ve sometimes seen others with dark or rosy-colored glasses.  I have been especially prone to this regarding people close to me.  Where there’s been problems in the past, related to the individual or not, I’ve found that my hurt and brokenness have given me poor vision at times.  I used to think it was how the others were, and, of course, there is truth to that.  After all, both individuals enter into relationship with their own brokenness that needs healing by God.  However, what I am responsible for is myself and my part in the relationship.  I can’t fix another’s problem.  I am to pray for healing for us both and do my part to promote a God-centered, healthy relationship.

What do I mean by dark glasses tinted by hurt?  Where there’s been rejection, perceived rejection, mistreatment, abuse, or neglect, we can wear dark glasses.  The relationship is filtered through the darkness.  Often there is anger, explosive or silent.  Unexpressed feelings or withdrawal because of fear.  Mistrust.  Misunderstanding heaped upon misunderstanding.  Thinking the worst when the facts prove otherwise.  Seeing the other with a skewed perspective, not a right perspective.  This all describes seeing the one who hurt you as well as others who have not hurt you that way but who resemble one who has.  Do you see anyone with dark glasses?

What about rosy-colored glasses?  When these glasses are worn, things look better than they are.  Rosy, bright, one could call this view optimistic although it’s not.  Why would anyone want to see things this way?  Sometimes we want it to be that way.  We don’t want to deal with the problems at hand in the relationship.  It seems easier to sweep the mess under the rug, so to speak, and ignore or deny it.  We can be afraid of the truth, afraid to confront when it’s necessary, afraid the relationship couldn’t hold up to working through problems.  Wearing rosy-colored glasses is a way of coping.  Do you see anyone with rosy-colored glasses?

The Lord wants us all to have clear vision, and He gives it to us as we ask.  The Spirit of Truth witnesses truth to us.   Truth brings clarity and right understanding in the relationship.  God’s Word is Truth and God heals.  “…(love) does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth;  bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never fails.” (I Corinthians 13:6-8a NKJV)

We can hold onto hurt and pain or we can give it all to God asking Him to heal us.  We can choose to love and forgive unconditionally.  Even with what we thought were impossibly difficult and painful relationships, we can see with clear vision, we can be healed, and we can see what God will do in restoring and rebuilding our relationships.

“The LORD will guide you continually,
And satisfy your soul in drought,
And strengthen your bones;
You shall be like a watered garden,
And like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.”      (Isaiah 58:11 NKJV)

May His living water spring up in you anew today, bringing clear vision and healing!

 

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