Thursday, April 23, 2009

Paradise Awaits

Sydney has been sick for a few days, so we have logged in the hours watching Top Ten Beaches in Caribbean, a Baby Story, Jon and Kate plus 8 and the Food Network.  The beaches on the one show were exclusive, secluded, indulgent and what I would consider a personal paradise.  Our version of Paradise is at best only an inkling of what I imagine God created for us.  Fruit at our finger tips, fresh water never filtered, soft ground to walk on so no need for shoes, cool ponds for dipping, and a perfection that only He could conduct.  And the best part, His glory shining through us, a constant walk with Him and the ability to talk to Him for as long as it took.  No time restraints.  And no reservation required.   A place of paradise where work, self, suffering, pain or oppression were not part of the mix. His grace was sufficient to live on and with, in the garden.  We were graced to be a part of God's domain in paradise.  This picture from a few years ago is when our family was blessed to go on a family trip to what William and I would consider a slice of paradise.  The same place we spent our honeymoon, only this time 25 years later and with all six kids. We knew we were coming to a place in our lives and our children's lives, where all of us being together like that was, yes, Paradise indeed.  We sat on this porch every evening looking out, watching the waves, quiet, contemplating and enjoying being side by side.  Our little paradise moment forever etched in my mind.  
I recently spent a few hours with a close friend.  I was helping her with a computer site, me?, and we got to talking about the Lord.  Then some of the others who work with her came in and joined in.  Two hours go by and we are still talking about God.  I told one of them this is what I pictured it to be like in paradise and will be again one day.  No bother with what time it is and you can just talk to the Lord all you want.  If we all could/would only spend all of our days in paradise conversing, co-laboring and mingling with God what a world this would be.  We have been given the burden however because of our consequence to "till the  land" and work.  Which would indicate to me the work, jobs or duties we were given in paradise were not considered work, but joy.  Perhaps this is what God means when He says My joy is your strength.  When we walk, work and serve in His joy it is His strength that sustains us in our fallen world.
As I was walking today in the balmy cool morning I noticed the new growth on the trees, the green grass that is emerging through the brown, people out working on their homes, squirrels hunting for food and all was well in our neck of paradise.  "Livin the dream" as some folks say. One of the trees had these pollen like streamers hanging from each end of its branches that looked like bright green chandeliers.  They were long and clustered together like the crystals on an ornate crystal light fixture.  Then I passed under a type of pine where the  branches grew only on the top of the main branch coming from the trunk and nothing pointed down.  Everything pointed to the heavens so it was flat on the underside of each branch like a canopy and ceiling.  It was really sort of like something out of a storybook.  I thought about how hard we all are working to get back to paradise.  How hard we are all working to make our own paradise within our dwelling places.  Paradisaical notions that WE can create an idealized place where we live positive, harmonious and timeless lives are all only temporary appeals to our senses.  One hurricane away from wreckage.   We have confused a place of contentment with a land of luxury and idleness twisting human descriptives into the meaning of Paradise.  Are we able to grasp the concept of paradise within?  In Luke 23:43 Jesus says to the thief while nailed to the cross," Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise".  Here the commentary says this "garden place" refers to the state of blessedness from death to resurrection.  In 2 Cor. 12:4 Paradise is identified with the place of blissful fellowship with God.  And in Rev. 2:7  John reveals more of Jesus when Jesus says,"He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God."  There is a lot going on in this verse, but I think it ties in with this idea of paradise within rather than lost.  Jesus is asking us to develop our spiritual ear when he says "He who has an ear".  Well we all have ears, but what He is revealing is that He will talk to us. Just like He did in the garden.  He is asking us to listen to what the Spirit is saying to the church.  And the church is us folks.   When forced to choose, obey God, not man!  A wise believer takes the time to listen with his spiritual hearing to what the Spirit is saying to him. Someone who hears and follows the voice of the Holy Spirit does not need to fear the deception that leads to abandoning God.  He who hears will walk where Jesus requires and asks and will grow in the things of God.  He who overcomes, gives us hope that we can overcome, and is also a military term suggesting combat against forces of the evil one.  All believers are overcomers, and those who remain faithful in the midst of persecution gives proof to their faith.  The tree of life symbolizes spiritual sustenance to maintain eternal life.  Paradise, a Persian word for garden, designates the heavenly garden of God where the perfect fellowship that God and humankind enjoyed before the Fall.  I am coming to a greater understanding of what true paradise is and how we can achieve it.  Listen, trust and obey.  I spin an endless web of words that only end up entangling me in my own web of misconceptions or unbelief.  When all I have to do is listen, trust and obey.  The product of those three ingredients is paradise within.  I listen closely to His Word, His prayers and His Voice.  I trust that He is who He says He is and can do what He says He can do.  Then I, with His help and to the best of my ability, obey. Obedience for me is multilayered.  It has to do with obeying as much as it has to do with submitting, relinquishing control, submerging to His hand, emerging within His grip, stepping aside, allowing Him access,  spiritual agreement, covenant making, subjecting to His Will, adhering to His plan, correlating to His mindset, deciphering His message, accepting, embracing, complimenting our established relationship with Him and I am beginning to think this list could go on forever.  I think you get the picture.  
Paradise may be lost according to Milton, but for brief moments or for long extended times our relationship with God is what connects us back to Paradise.  He gives us those glimpses of paradise within us in Him.  I am finding it more and more satisfying and important to journal these times of paradise in my life.  It can be as simple as talking to a friend for two hours, noticing something about a tree on a walk, or as grand as hearing His voice, His call.  He tells us we only see in part, and what He reveals is so beautiful so, "I can only imagine what it will be like when I walk by His side".  I can only imagine when all I'll see is forever staring back at me. Don't just continue to exist without being a light in the darkness.  Let your paradise shine for all to see His Glory that is within thee.  Your Paradise awaits.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Reign Down

Another rain came this week threatening outdoor weddings, low water crossings and a general inconvenience from the norm of dryness.  I think I speak for most in the Hill Country and across Central Texas when I say none would dare complain about rain.  It was enough to bring lightening and thunder, enough to wash the pollen down from the trees and enough to raise water levels.  There were breaks in the rain when the light was diffused and I took this photo of a tree where the water was just hanging there forming grape like drops that caught my eye. What caught my eye most was the light within each drop.  They look as if they will burst at any moment either from the tension the water brings or from the light they are holding inside each drop.  Rain washes away dirt, dust and leaves left scattered when they get picked up and carried off as the water rises.  Leaves look greener, dirt looks richer, flowers look brighter and streets look cleaner.  We are so grateful for the rain.  We are blessed at the fullness it brings to so many things.  
Each one of these drops brought to mind that God is our source and we are like these drops of water.  Once we receive Him we are full of His nourishment, full of His glory and full of His light.  So full in fact, we might appear ready to burst, but His strength holds us together like the surface tension in these drops.  His strength guides us, protects us and teaches us when it's time to water and when it's time to harvest.  With the rain comes new growth and also with His reign there can only come new growth.  I can see in my own life where I need Him to reign and each of these drops represents for me all the areas that need watering.   I love to stand in the rain, lift my face to the sky and thank Him for His reign.  That all those drops are pooling together to wash over me like a flood before the dryness comes again.  He is sending those rain drops. Each one will specifically hit the ground to touch something to effect change, to effect growth, to effect newness in life shining His glory from within.  Each molecule contains potential.  I don't see a drop, I see a river.  I don't see a seed, I see a forest.  
There is a funny story, joke, whatever you want to call it that I like to tell sometimes........there was a terrible flood.  So bad that the National Guard, Coast Guard and local officials has to use every measure for search and rescue. The waters were rising in this one man's neighborhood.  A National Guard member came by in a tank early in the flooding and offered to help the man to safety.  His reply, "No thanks I know my God will save me".  And he refused help.  Next an air boat came by with a Coast Guard official as the water had forced the man to his roof.  His reply, "No thanks I know my God will save me".  And he refused help.  Next a helicopter hovered over the man's house with a ladder dropped for him to grab.  His reply, "No thanks I know my God will save me".  And he refused help.  Well the man drowned.  When he gets to heaven he asks God," Lord why didn't you save me?  I told everyone about you and that you would come and save me. I trusted you God to save me.  Why did you let me drown?"  God's reply," I sent three people".
What does this have to do with raindrops? Well not much really except for me it is an example of when God is reigning in our lives we are more sensitive, more available, more teachable and more likely to allow Him access to do what we know and believe He can do rather than do what WE think He will do or should be doing in our lives.  Just as this man had faith God would save him he missed the fact that he was already saved by grace.   He just needed rescuing.  
Notice in the picture how the light in each drop is in the same place at the bottom of the droplet.  That light is reflecting the light from above though it appears at the bottom of the droplet.  Jesus is the light of the world whose light comes from God above giving us a firm foundation of His glory to stand upon and shine through us.  As we come in contact with others our surface tension may burst open spilling out all His glory, all His light to all we might meet along this journey.  "This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine".  Our drops of His reign, drops of light, drops full of His Glory are waiting to smash into something, spreading His love, His message, His peace wherever we may go.  Step into His reign, feel His goodness wash over you, filling you up to potential reflecting His Glory effecting change and growth.  1 Thess. 2:13 "For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the Word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the Word of men, but as it is in truth, the Word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe".   
A welcome rain recommending that we welcome His reign even when it's not raining.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter People

Our pastor today mentioned that we are and should be Easter people.  I have thought about what that means to me.  By definition it is the most important and oldest festival for the Christian Church celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  By my definition of it is the most important reason I can celebrate the freedom Jesus has brought in my life.  His resurrected life that lives in me every day.  I think about the struggles the Jews had that led up to His crucifixion.  The Seder dinner with all its parts and traditions has special meanings.  I am probably not getting them all right, but what I can remember from Good Shepherd is this.  The bitter herbs that remind us of the hyssop they used to cover the doors with blood to protect their children.  The salty water for the many tears that were shed while they were in slavery.  The egg that symbolizes new birth that comes with Jesus' resurrection life in us.  The lamb shank reminding us of the perfect sacrificial lamb and His blood that was shed for us.  The sweet apple mash giving us the hope of the promised land and freedom that comes from knowing and loving God.  So many symbols, so many traditions, so many things to be thankful for.  The word Eucharist comes from the Greek meaning grateful referring to the body and the blood of Christ, but for me it is so much more than that.  My mindset is eucharistic as I celebrate God's hidden passion in me molding me into an Easter person.  Walking in celebration as the new life in me is discovered and rediscovered daily as I look to Him.  
One of our family traditions is to have a bunny cake on Easter.  William's mom has made a bunny cake for years.  Complete with ears, feet and jelly beans.  I took to heart when she pulled us aside before she went home to be with Jesus and told us we were now stepping into a new role.  I realize she meant it means more that just a bunny cake, but what I didn't realize was how meaningful a little cake could be to a family.  I thought it's just a cake.  We can make another cake or have some other kind of dessert.  The look on my girls faces told me I had to step up to the plate and keep that flame alive.  It was the first thing they would look for when they went to her house for Easter.  I had no idea how to form a bunny out of round cakes, not that hard really and never was around her when she made it.  I thought, well  it will not be exactly like hers, but it will be my rendition of hers.  I got my sisters incredible wedding cake recipe, took the Barefoot Contessa's cream cheese icing to ice the cake and then made the rest up as I remembered her version.  These two pictures represent both versions.  Hers is the one with William in the picture, and my version is the other one. You can see the cascarones on the counter she and her kids made that she pulled out every year after packing them safely away.  My sister told me of some of the traditions she is beginning with her grandchildren with egg hunts, games and food she prepared for Easter.  Traditions are fun and the only way they are carried on is if we carry them on.  What I love about this example of the bunny cake is that it is and was made with so much love.  We too were made with so much love to have, to give and to share with others.  God created us to love Him so that we could know and learn how to love others.  He teaches us all about love in His living example in Christ.  We don't place too much emphasis on the Easter bunny around our house, just as we don't place too much emphasis on Santa.  My children have known from the get go, they are not real, but pretending about them has always been fun.  The thing is they know its pretend.  Some kids are devastated when they find out the truth about the Easter Bunny and Santa.  I guess I just never wanted them to have to find out that truth and wanted them to know the REAL TRUTH.  The real truth that is Jesus. He is the real deal. Isn't it great that we never will find out that Jesus isn't real?  He is REAL!   He is alive and living through and in us everyday.  Setting ourselves up with truth and the real deal with Jesus is what makes us Easter people every day.  Keep His love alive by renewing our minds, fixing our eyes on Him and preparing our hearts in season and out.  Let those bunny cake moments and traditions take root as a reminder of the love He poured out for us as we get to share with others the character and spirit of Easter all the time.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Filling the Empty Space

Last weekend I had the opportunity to go out to camp for one night and hang out with William while he was on duty. Sydney and I took a couple of hikes both days we were there and it was so great to get out and walk around.  It was gorgeous, mild days, cold nights with a wind that would suddenly sweep in as a reminder of winter that is leaving as spring is taking over.  The flood of sunshine over the canyon made the lime green tress pop and the water sparkle.  It was like a blanket had been lifted making you aware of all the new life taking place out there.  The birds were discussing and scoping out new places to live.  Deer were hanging close to waters edge, protected by trees shadows.  Vultchers were paling around relocating to a different spot in the trees.  Two perched high on a dead tree seemed iconic considering the image we have been given of them in most stories, movies and photos.  I had my camera and was just taking all kinds of pictures.  Mostly looking for Valentines and found about 30.  I have one posted here on this sight, but you can see more if you click on my link listed in Links.
As I was taking pictures I was thinking about the shape of a heart and searching high and low for them.  I found them in the water, in the mud, in trees, on rock walls and splashing water.  It was amazing as I asked my eyes to be open, so that I could see them.  Every time I found one I thanked God and said to myself, "I am loved by God".  What a sweet reminder for me when maybe somedays I need that reminding.  I need that nudge that I am much loved by God, and I am my Beloved's and He is mine.  As I walked around seeing the Valentines it suddenly hit me that He fills the empty places.  As I thought about the shape of  hearts I would draw it is just the outline, but as I looked for them around camp they were usually filled in or a solid object. Only He can fill our hearts to their fullest, only He can make us solid and whole.  It was a silly lesson, but seemed like a huge revelation at the time.  It was one of those ah ha rheama moments and the light goes on in my head.  I have to empty myself of me, so that God has room to fill me up.  Eph. 4:10 says,"He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things".  He came down so that He could fill our lives with Himself.  The key word here for me is "might".  It's our choice and He has given us that freedom of free will, but it is our choice to move out of the way and allow Him to operate. Otherwise, we stand in the way filling ourselves with self.  "And blessed be His glorious name forever!  And let the whole earth be filled with His glory".  Ps.72:19  He desires for us to be filled with His glory, so what are we waiting for?  Why are we not receiving all of that? HELLO?  In the book I am reading Searching for God Knows What by Don Miller he talks about how before the fall Adam and Eve had His Glory shining through them.  They knew no self.  We have been trying to get back to His glory ever since.  The war began in a sense at the fall, but what we must remember is Jesus took that battle on for us at the cross so that His glory could shine once again through us. "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled".  Matt. 5:16
What are we waiting for?  Hungering and thirsting after the things of God are my hearts desire and when we do, He promises I WILL be filled.  What fills me is I AM.  I can see myself as I am through I AM.  I trust God to keep His promises.  I know He is for me and not against me.  All I have to do is daily ask for the infilling of His Holy Spirit, move self out of the way so that His glory can come and fill my empty places.  A friend once told me, "Where Jesus lives there is no room for fear, anger, doubt, envy, lust, and only room for the fruits of the Holy Spirit which are love, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, longsuffering, self-control and joy". Gal. 5:22.   When you look up the word fruit in your bible you may find many verses. Some of the leads go like this......"fruit is better than gold, I create the fruit,  fruit is found in Me, and a good tree bears good fruit", just to name a few.  This Easter week lets hope we can get His fruit bearing Spirit in us as our revelation moments of His sacrifice nourishes our souls as it fills our empty spaces with good fruit.  Amen.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Are You Ready?

I like to think that I stay in a perpetual state of preparedness, but I am not always as prepared as I would like to be. My son in law, who is a US Marine, is trained to be prepared.  I love that about him. He is trained to be prepared for the unexpected as well as the expected.  The thing about being prepared is that it takes training. j He will fly his cross country flight this weekend and he would not be going unless he was fully prepared for the basic flight to Tuscaloosa.  
There was a friend in Colorado who was the epitome of preparedness.  If you invited Bill Perrault on a trip you could rest assure that if you forgot something he had it, in different sizes, colors and enough to outfit an entire group of 12.  We love that about him.  It may not be your size, but when you are standing on the side of a 14,000 foot mountain and a sudden blizzard blew through, you are not looking for fashion statements.  I would want him to be my partner on the Amazing Race.  
God prepares the way for us.  He is so wonderful to show us the way, to go before us and make a way where there seems to be no way.  This week I posted a vlog on YouTube call Isaiah Sanchez.  It is all about how God makes a way, prepares the way and guides the way so that His glory can shine in us.  
While I was in Houston this past week I was given an opportunity to pray for someone but not in the usual way.  My sister and I were having dinner at Carrabas with a friend of hers we both have known for years.  We were discussing the Lord, her lecture she was preparing to give the next day to her bible study and what God was doing in all our lives.  I went to the restroom during the course of dinner and something that doesn't usually take place in a restroom happened to me.  As I came out to wash my hands, a woman was standing there digging in her purse and greeted me not with hello, not with how are you doing, not with any kind of greeting, but with a question.  She asked, " Will you please pray for me"? As I began to wash my hands I said "of course I would be happy to, what do you need me to pray for"?  She said, "please pray that I would not choke on my food".  She repeated it over and over and over.  I said ok as I took her hand in mine and asked her her name.  I said, "Let's pray right now, right here".  She pulled her hand a little as if to pull it back, and I wasn't letting go, so she retreated back into my hand and said, "ok".  So I prayed for her.  Then when we were done she asked if I would ask my family to pray for her not to choke on her food.  I said I would.  Considering I think of you all as family I ask that whenever you think of her, Mary B, that you would lift her up.  I left with an excitement that God would use me to help her in some way.
Are we ready?  Are we ready to "give an answer in season and out of season" as God asks us to be?  2 Timothy 4:1-5 says," In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of His appearing and His kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage with great patience and careful instruction.  For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine.  Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.  They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.  But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry".  How are we living up to this charge? How do we prepare ourselves daily to meet, greet and receive the gifts He has placed in each one of us to preach, to minister, to rebuke, and to encourage?  We get prepared when we fall on our knees everyday, claiming His glory, His righteousness and His mercy to shine in us.  I won't deny this is a daily, sometimes minute by minute thing I ask the Lord to work on in me.  Christ in me, Christ for me, Christ through me every step of the way.  I must prepare myself the way of the Lord and the way for the Lord to use me in manners that are not my own.  Eph. 4:12  "to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ".  Do we notice that verse is telling us we are a work in progress?  As we progress and press on toward the fullness of God in the knowledge of Christ as He prepares us in season and out of season to give an answer to a fallen world.  Get ready, fall on your knees and receive His love as He prepares our heart.