Scented

IMG_20180508_155429614

You don’t even have to round the corner to smell it; it almost assaults your senses as soon as you step out on to the small back porch. Confederate jasmine run amok…a neighbor’s gift to the previous owners untrimmed and unmitigated in the slightest for the four years or so that we’ve lived here.

It was tidy once, but no longer. It has taken over the small trellis meant to support it, reached on up for the branches of the maple tree at the corner, wound its way over to the roof…and…I’ll have to do something about it this year. I caught a few tendrils trying to reach in through the crack of a window sill casing.

Beautiful, abundant, breathtaking in both scent and beauty…and intrusive…or trying to be, anyway.

I love the scent of this beautiful invader but, to tell the absolute truth, when caught in the right wind, it can be downright overcoming. It will almost smother you with the goodness of it–some kind of aromatic cross between gardenias and honeysuckle and all here within reach and easy viewing.

It reminds me of something Paul wrote to the church at Corinth long ago, when he said,

For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task?” 2 Corinthians 2:15-16 (NIV)

I see this flowering vine and I’m reminded that as followers of Christ we, too, are called to be abundant in our production and reach those around us in ways that they can’t avoid noticing because we’re just that different. We’re supposed to “smell different” from those in the world…and act that way, too…because we’re called to BE DIFFERENT from the world.

Some people will love us for it and some will hate us. Others will just be annoyed. The one thing we shouldn’t be, though, is easily ignored. We are to put Christ on full display in our lives and turn Him lose to take over everything in His way. Another thing we shouldn’t be is so full of our own goodness that we fail to be approachable or willing to share our Jesus with those who may not look like it, but so desperately need Him.

In a world where it seems every news cycle is full to the brim with the latest misdeeds of those we should be able to trust, this is a hard thing. Who IS equal to the task? Certainly not me. Not on my own, anyway. Not you, either, I’d suspect. We’re often too full of ourselves and yet too aware of all of our own misdeeds…and that’s part of our problem. If we belong  to God and have asked for His forgiveness, we ought to be bold enough to celebrate the forgiveness–sweet, overwhelming, totally invasive forgiveness–that comes by asking the One who never sinned to cover ours. Once those have been covered, we need to make the choice to celebrate the Forgiver in no uncertain terms and live our lives in ways that honor and glorify Him. It may seem a little too corny for some in our “sophisticated” society, but I believe Chuck Swindoll had it down when he said,

“Few things are more infectious than a godly lifestyle. The people you rub shoulders with everyday need that kind of challenge. Not prudish. Not preachy. Just cracker jack clean living. Just honest to goodness, bone – deep, non-hypocritical integrity.”

I love that quote and had it on my office wall for years to remind me that each interaction–whether patient or staff member, phone call or personal encounter–was an opportunity to live that out…and in so doing, live out what Christ had called me (and YOU!) to do for Him.

I want to be pleasing in His sight and I want to be an aroma of Christ before God. That will require both submission and pruning…and a willingness to let Him sort out which one is needed when and who needs to hear about His work in my life next. My job is to be available for either, let Him scent the air, and give Him free reign to make me equal to the task.

Grace and Peace!

Advertisements

Out of joint

Sometimes following Jesus is easy and sometimes, to be completely honest, it can be a real pain. That’s not the “churchy” thing to say, but it is the truth–especially if you’re really serious about desiring to do it well.

There is an Old Testament account of a man facing the possibility of trouble who wrestled with God. All through the night he grappled and held tight. He refused to let go until God gave him a blessing. He got what he asked for, alright; he got his blessing and a little something extra. He walked away a new name…and a limp.

That happens sometimes when you’re determined not to let go of God and you’re desiring His blessing. I use the present tense here on purpose because I know it to be true. I’ve been wrestling with God this morning about something and, as a result, it’s not my hip, but probably more accurate to say that my nose is out of joint about it.

God has a funny way of working on me. He’s so good to allow me to teach His Word and be in a position to give counsel at times. He gives me space to recover from doing those things and retreat from the energy expenditure, as well. As a deep introvert, that’s a critical blessing for me and I value it highly. As my Creator, He knows that AND (not BUT–AND!) this morning He put a thought into my head about considering the possibility of that going away for a bit.

Let me be clear: He hasn’t asked me to go DO a hard thing yet, He’s just asking me to consider the possibility of doing a hard thing…and I balked. Big. Time. I get why He’s pushing me to even consider this. I deeply appreciate that He’s still speaking to me and stretching my faith. I want to be able to run joyfully toward every single thing that He calls me to do, but this morning…well, I just felt a big old “No” rise up at the very thought of this thing He brought up to me.

How do I know it was from Him? Well, let’s just say that it isn’t anything I would ever choose to do on my own. I’ve got multiple “reasons” why I wouldn’t want to do it and only one really concrete reason to consider it: because I made a decision to and have the privilege of belonging to God. (that sounds like two, but it is actually just one thing, I promise.)

If/when the rubber meets the road, I will respond with a “yes.” I know that. That decision was made a long time ago. My problem is that I would wish to say that I can’t wait to do whatever He might ask of me–as SOON as He mentions it…and, as evidenced by my response this morning, that’s not where I am just yet. I hate that. I really, really hate that. I thought I was better than my response today, but apparently, I am not. It is humbling. Perhaps that was the point.

My husband says that determined obedience is enough for now and that if–or when–God actually asks me to do this thing, that will be the time to get to doing with a right attitude, but I’m still wrestling with this idea. I am making progress already, though, and I’m grateful for that. I am deeply aware that becoming a person of influence doesn’t automatically come on the “easy pay” program. It means things might–will!–often become uncomfortable because the people who are watching need to see God at work in every area of our lives…and they need to see Him win. Although I first balked at the very idea, now I am wrestling with the possibility of doing it the with the right attitude. My nose is still out of joint a bit about it, but at least I should be able to walk without a limp today…

maybe.

I guess we’ll see.

Praying all your joints remain in place today and that mine gets back in line as quickly as possible.

Grace and Peace!

More God, anyone?

“Mark 9:23-24 has been a prevailing favorite of mine for the last year or so. I’ve always had such a strong and unwavering faith that God COULD do whatever He chose. My question over the past year was WOULD He choose to do what I was asking. I’ve found that as I ask for Him to show up in me and make my prayers be in agreement with His will and always for His glory that my faith has become even stronger. As I pray this, “Lord, I believe, but help my unbelief!”-prayer I am asking God to come into those places where there may be a gap of faith that I’m not really cognizant of right then. This prayer strengthens me and it forces me to reconcile my human imperfections with His perfect expectations and abilities. I’m praying it for the two of you this week and I can’t wait to see how He shows up and strengthens you, as well. You are SO loved!”

I just texted this to friends in the midst of trials this week. As I hit the Send-button I immediately thought of several others for whom this prayer also feels appropriate right now…Including me.

We all have these days when we’re asking God to show up and show out FOR us–and we REALLY do need that!–but what we also need, perhaps even more, is for Him to show up and show out IN us!

If that feels like where you are today, know that God is not only able and willing, but He is just waiting for the invitation to show up and make you more like His Son. This prayer for increased belief is ALL about that. It is ALL about increasing our dependence and seeing His perfection. It is about so much more than just getting what we want…It is about getting more of WHO we need into those places we might not even see in ourselves right now. It is about strength for the journey we’re on and giving God the opportunity to shine through all of those cracks we have so that the world will see and wonder…And ask…

…so that we can tell them about a God who wants them to know Him personally.

… about a God Who lives and loves us unconditionally…Even when we doubt.

When you get right down to it, this is a prayer for an increased Presence and an increased witness. It’s an invitation for a front row seat to a blessing that He’s been waiting to share all along:  More God.

And who doesn’t need more God?!

“Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”  Mark 9:23-24 (NKJV)

Grace and Peace!

Passing

I got a text the other day from a friend requesting prayer. That’s not unusual. She and another friend were going to be doing prison ministry that evening and she was requesting prayer that they would be able to share God with those inside…and not be offensive in the process. I know. THAT part was unusual. I also know that several eyebrows just rose—and for different reasons.

Some of them rose because in this day and age who worries about offending people who are already in prison? Some of them rose because they already know that sharing the Gospel…the Good News…the information that we’ve all been born into sin and are in desperate need of a Savior is offensive to many. Some of them rose because the very idea of trying not to offend seems to be a new one.

We’ve all watched for a while now as our society has gotten more and more “truthful” and less and less loving. I put those quotation marks around the word truthful because what passes for truth these days is often a lot more personal opinion and political outrage than actual truth. Unfortunately, that outrage is happening on all sides of almost every argument. Democrat, Republican, Tea Party, or Independent. Religious right, left, or repulsed (of any faith). World view, political leaning, religious affiliation all seem to have at least one thing in common right now: the determination to scream the loudest and use the most offensive way possible of grabbing the attention…because that’s really what they’re after: the attention.

Father God, help us! We’ve made an art form of being offended and raise in triumph our abilities to offend.

Word to the wise: offended people rarely listen. Even more rarely do they look for ANY good in those who are offending them. Rarer still are those who are converted and then espouse any expressed belief which has covered itself in words and deeds that offensively take them far from their comfort zone or that shout them down without listening or caring about anything but being heard.

There are such people. We know this because of Scripture. The New Testament is largely comprised of the writings of one such man, Paul. Seen any of those people lately? Probably not. Pauls are the exception, not the rule.

The Apostle Paul went from being a rising star in the religious elite, full of his education and even more full of indignation—full of himself! —to being one of the most powerfully erudite servants of God–and others!–ever to be on record. What caused this drastic change? The only thing that can change anyone: a personal encounter with the living God. Yes, Pauls in our day and age are rare…but they don’t have to be!

No matter what ideology you espouse today, know this:  what passes for “right” in our world today bears little resemblance to actual righteousness. That only comes from God. He is the true standard for both righteousness and for love. Without His help, our world is doomed to the cacophony of the loudest offended spirit and the anger that inevitably follows which leads us into violence and creates a circle of offense that gets passed along in the name of all things holy. Riots, looting, and leaving a trail of trash for others to pick up once you’ve marched to express yourself won’t draw others to your cause or help them think your sense of entitlement worthy of their efforts on your behalf. Neither will using Scripture as a battering ram instead of a loving invitation to relationship with the only One who actually can make a difference. Think about that before you raise your voice, write that Facebook post, share that joke or use words designed to hurt others in the name of teaching them your truth, or call them names and cast aspersions at those who may have beat you to the punch…all in the name of doing good. If it didn’t work ON you, then why would it work FOR you?! It all reminds me of this verse Paul wrote to Timothy:  “…having a form of godliness but denying its power.”  2 Timothy 3:5 (NKJV) It isn’t really good at all…it’s just passing itself off as good.

No, what passes for truth and righteousness these days in the public arena is just that. Passing. It isn’t the real thing and it isn’t going to last. Only God’s word will last and it is absolutely full of admonitions to do life differently than what we’re seeing today. Like it or not, we are temporary. He is eternal and so it only makes sense to follow the path of the One whose ways will outlast us all.

 

cropped-heart
”Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling,
And to present you faultless
Before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy,
To God our Savior,
Who alone is wise,
Be glory and majesty,
Dominion and power,
Both now and forever.
Amen.”

Jude 24-25

 

Grace and Peace!

Day 29–NCN2016

I went to sleep with news of wildfires causing evacuations in the mountains and woke up to the sounds of rain. Answered prayers.

As I checked my phone for messages and found the one that said another pay period had just been completed, I remembered that just one year ago that was an email that wouldn’t have come because there was no job. Answered prayers.

The news out of Ohio State University yesterday said people were injured and their futures were not yet clear. This morning I read that all expected to make a recovery. Answered prayers.

My phone pings regularly with reminders throughout the day to pray for this person and that one, for this situation, and for our nation. I am still waiting for some of those answers to make their way into our world.

Today, as we head into the last two days of NO COMPLAIN NOVEMBER, I am reminded that there are a lot of things that need to be changed in our world. I am reminded that there is more work to be done in areas both political and personal. There is room for change and, yes, a desperate need for it in many areas.

I am also reminded of answered prayers. Of how God has provided. Of how things used to be and how far we’ve come. Of progress made and of relationships that are in my life as a result of those changes. I am grateful.

Yes, I am grateful…and also convicted. How often have I complained instead of praying? How long have I ignored instead of helping? I’ve found that my life walk tends to correspond to my prayer life. (ouch.) How can I expect God to respond when I remain in neutral? If I am to change the world where I live, what am I to do next? How can I take this discipline of watching my words and curtailing my complaints and move forward toward the peace I want for the relationships I’m in and the world where I reside?

I cannot change it all, but I CAN PRAY–and I CAN put hands and feet to those prayers where they intersect with where I am today. I can choose to be kind. I can choose to smile first. I can offer to help. I can be intentional. I can continue to incorporate NO COMPLAIN NOVEMBER into the other 11 months of the year and use my words to build up rather than destroy. I can push past my own comfort barriers and look to the needs of others.

What can YOU do where you are? What prayers will you pray? What words will you use? What actions will you take and what difference will you make where you live?

We will never make changes in the world that we aren’t willing to make within our own hearts first. Don’t be discouraged by that “small start” and don’t ignore the importance of it! If we each make and then model that choice of personal responsibility for our words and deeds, the whole whole world would change…and some of our prayers would be answered a lot sooner than we might think. It’s easier to pray for “the other guy” to change, isn’t it? That way we don’t have to think about how we might be contributing to the problem instead of being part of the solution. (again, ouch.)14804222571921199874857.jpg

There’s a small sticky note over my kitchen sink that says, “If all your prayers were answered, would it change the world or just yours?” It’s my reminder to pray larger prayers…to become a person of influence and to be ready to change the world right where I am, first, by praying while I go about even the most mundane of tasks and, second, to be God’s representative out in the world as I leave my home. (now there’s a job for us!)

We’ve made a good start toward positive change in the world this month by participating in NO COMPLAIN NOVEMBER! Now, whatever shall we do next? (smile) Just something to think about…while you continue to curtail those complaints for the next two days…

Grace and Peace! (and NO COMPLAINTS!)

 

A higher standard of grace

In my recent searching for the quiet life, I’ve deliberately made some time for some introspection.  I’ve also been reading a bit more lately and was amazed to learn something new about myself the other day as I read a work of fiction.

No, I am not fictional.  (grin)

I did, however, immediately identify with a character that was told that although she lived and proclaimed God’s grace for others, it was something that she often withheld from herself.

Uh-oh.  Ouch.  That hurts.  It’s true, though.  I’ve done that.

I’ve done that a good bit, apparently, even though I never recognized it until I saw it in print the other day.

I was raised to have high standards and I was always told that I could “do better”—and there’s nothing wrong with that!  At least there’s nothing wrong with it until you allow that to somehow supersede God’s own standards for His children and it begins to erode the basis for your relationship with Him.

I’m aware that I can be pretty hard on the people I love, but I’ve always rationalized it away with the knowledge that as much as I pushed the ones I love to excellence, I’ve always pushed myself even harder–much harder.  My husband is aware of this trait in me and has often told me to “lighten up on my wife” when he’s seen it in action.

I’m not going to say that the practice of and search for excellence hasn’t worked for me a good bit of the time.  It has.  I’ve been successful in a wide variety of areas as a result of that driven behavior and so have some of the people I’ve been pushing/dragging along behind me.

And then there’s grace.  Oh, I believe in grace.  I’m convinced that it is real and necessary for each of us to have a relationship with God.  I’ve extended it countless times to others because I knew that was what my God would have me do…and I’ve also denied it to myself.  I’ve punished me further than God has.  I’ve had times when I’ve been aware of my need for deeper relationship with Him and yet held back because I knew some of the things I know about me.  Somehow I accepted that God could easily forgive my sins all those years ago when I asked Him to do so, but sometimes when I would mess up in the here-and-now, I would beat myself up about it instead of rushing to ask for His forgiveness to be extended to me yet again.  I have lived the Galatians 5:4 life at times:  “You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.”  Choosing the law (my standards) over grace…fallen from grace…yes, that sounds right on target.

“Oh, Father God!  Not again!  Aren’t you tired of me asking again?!  I am.  I am so tired of asking your forgiveness for this.  I know better!  I should do better!”  All followed by much mental flagellation…and overwhelming sorrow and a time of withdrawing from the One I need most.

Does that sound familiar to anyone else?  A self-imposed spiritual time-out.  It sounds like a spiritual thing to do.  It isn’t.  It’s the exact opposite.  It is straight from the pit of hell.

Yes, we need to be remorseful when we sin, but it doesn’t need to stop there—or stay there.  Forgiveness isn’t about making you feel “less” or creating distance between you and God.  It is about restoration and healing.  It is about the purifying touch of love that brings with it the desire not to miss the mark in the future.   It is the extension of grace—unmerited favor— to one who needs it so desperately and has no other possibility of acquiring it even with her high standards.

Grace.  The very essence of the word washes over me in a different way as I write this word today.  This word that I’ve read and lived and taught and ignored all at the same time.  I am humbled and I am drawn up on to the lap of my God by that word today.  Grace.  It’s time I raised my standard of grace up to meet my God’s…and applied it to myself.  I hope you’ll do the same.  There’s plenty of room in the lap for you, too.

Who God looks like today…

In some families–especially in mine–there are often traits of similarity so strong that people who haven’t met you before can tell who you’re related to when they see you.  There are physical characteristics and even similar tastes that transcend the miles between family members.  Several years ago, for example, my mother’s oldest sister (a former teacher from West Virginia) arrived in our home town and stopped by a local store.  She was extremely surprised to be called by my mother’s name…by a former student of my mother’s here in Mississippi.  The lady quickly realized it wasn’t my mother before her and corrected herself, but assured my aunt that she knew who she was related to just the same.  Though they hadn’t discussed it–or even been aware of it until that visit!–both sisters had chosen the exact same hairstyle and the same frames for their glasses…not to mention their height and facial similarities.  They lived over 800 miles apart and my aunt had never entered that store before, yet they were immediately identified as family.  Blood doesn’t lie.

Neither does Scripture.  John 1:12 tells us, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (ESV)  That means that when we choose to believe that Jesus is the Son of God who died to pay the price for our sins so that we can spend eternity with God, we become family.  We may live a world apart and not even speak the same languages or know any of the same people, but we’re still family according to God.  We’re His children.  As we grow up in Christ, we begin to look more and more like Him…in our thoughts, our actions and our attitudes.  Those things transcend our locations and our native languages–even the physical families to which we belong.

Even though we have Biblical accounts of those who have talked with Him, wrestled with Him and walked with Him, Scripture tells us that no one has ever seen God in all of His glory.  I’m good with that.  I’m good with that because I’m amazed at just the parts of Him that I have seen and I’m pretty certain I couldn’t handle seeing Him in all of His glory right now.  Take today for example.  Here’s what God has looked like to me today:

  • He looked like my husband when he told me that I was loved this morning.
  • He sounded like my mother as she called to get the address of a relative so she could bless them–despite their choice not to spend time with our family in recent months.
  • He looked like the friends who have left silly and encouraging messages on my phone and Facebook page today.
  • He sounded like my precious little 92-year-old friend who called to tell me she was thinking about me today and ask if we could pray for our two husbands as they’re facing recent health issues. (Mine is 47–hers is 95!)
  • He looked like my favorite AC repairman who came as soon as I called about the water leaking through my ceiling and soaking my chair.
  • He sounded like my prayer partner as she requested prayer for the health of someone who has tried to cause her family injury.

I’ve been overwhelmed by the ways God has shown up here today…and I hope you’ve been able to see the Family resemblance in the people around you, as well.  Who does God look like where you live?