Friday, July 26, 2013

Turn It Up!

Last week we celebrated VBS, also known as Vacation Bible School.  Every night we gathered at our church with over 200 children and gads of volunteers to jump and sing and dance and learn about how God is always with us, leading us, saving us, and then working through us to bring His Love and Light to the world.  Once again I got to teach faith skills to a group of children, Kindergarten through fifth grade.

One of the nights focused on the Israelites and the time they spent in the wilderness after God rescued them from slavery in Egypt.  During our faith skills time, we focused on how the Israelites grumbled and complained, and how important it is to let go of our complaints so that we can praise God instead.

I have been sitting with this lesson all week, ruminating on how true it is today, how its truth has been woven into the fabric of my life, how intricately it is linked to seeing God's power burst forth in our own lives.

I'm a practical girl.  I want to see what something looks like.  Theory is fine, but if it can't be translated into actual practice that I can wrap my life around, I'm not interested.  And when you are trying to teach the Big Truths of God to children, it had better be practical. 

During that night at while I taught faith skills, the Holy Spirit brought to mind a simple explanation of praise that is still bouncing around inside of me.  My children have taught me everything I really need to know about praise.

That sweet little one will hold me close at night.  Draped across my lap he holds me close and whispers, "You boo-ti-ful Mommy."

I try to stop and soak up the love, resting my heart in such simple grace.

My middle son jumps into life with both feet.  He is all in or not in at all.  But I love spending time with him because no matter how simple the activity, as long as we are together, he will always come away with an exuberant "That was awesome!"  I love hearing it!  I love sharing awesomeness with him, living the awesomeness together.

And my oldest child?  He is a thinker.  He is constantly reflecting on his experiences, learning from them, taking in the lessons, processing them with endless questions.  And sometimes out of his reflections, after the thing has passed, will come a simple, deeply felt, "Thank you for . . . ."

I treasure those moments.  Because they are rare in an active boy's life.  Because they come from a deep place.  Because they are pure gratitude.

I know life is hard.  I know in my bones how scary uncertainty can be.  I know what it is like to be surrounded by people, yet to feel agonizingly alone.  I know the pain of regret, disappointment, betrayal, rejection.  I know life isn't fair.  I know life is hard.

But what I have found is that no bad place is ever a match for God's Glory revealed in dark places.  Such Glory is always available to us.  God ushers His Glory into our lives as we praise Him.  In the praising we are promoted.

I don't know how else to say it.

As we praise Him, we are promoted to a better place.

As we focus our will and heart and mind on the simple act of . . .
--telling our Lord He is beautiful, seeking and seeing His beauty;
--enjoying His presence and work in our lives, responding exuberantly to His work, declaring His awesomeness;
--reflecting on How He has blessed us, offering a simple, yet deeply held, "Thank You;"
all that is life as we know it is immersed in His Greatness and His Goodness and things become different.

The seed of our transformation is planted, and nurtured, and watered in our praises.  We are changed.  And all around us begins to change.  Our hearts our opened to our Helper.  Our eyes are open to His Help.  Our ears are opened to His Voice speaking into our darkness and calling forth His Light.

And it's not about how we feel.  If we don't feel like it, do it anyway.  This is where the power is.  We push through what circumstances and feelings and the world is telling us to PRAISE HIM ANYWAY.  And when our praise is costly, because it is hard, when it is truly a sacrifice, because it doesn't come easy--God moves in a big time big way.  This is the thing the enemy does not want you to know.  This is the thing the enemy wants to avoid.  You praising God when the only way you can do it is by faith, since the feelings aren't there.

We see it in scripture all the time.  My favorite place is where Paul speaks of Abraham:

"No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised."  Romans 4:20-21

Abraham didn't start out strong.  But he grew strong as he gave glory to God.  His belief and trust in God grew strong as he honored, praised, and worshipped God.  It reminds me that when my faith is lagging, there is only one thing I need to do.

Turn it up!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The World Is My Canvas

One of our summer activities has been sidewalk painting.  To be honest, I think I have enjoyed it more than the boys have.  Last year I became the art lady for the pre-schoolers in my classroom.  The other teachers tackled the heavier stuff:  math, science, literacy.  I did art.  And Jesus.  And somehow I found a way to link the two.  I discovered something about myself in teaching little ones how to do various projects--there is a creative soul in me that needs to get out.  This summer I've had moments where I could learn what it means to do that. 
So while the boys lost interest in their sidewalk chalk spiders, I picked up a brush and began painting the sun.
Creativity never really originates with us at all.  In fact, our creative impulses are the reflection of a greater Creative Pulse giving Life to the whole world.  God's breathes into us, and we are created, we are made alive.  His idea of us came before we did.  I love the way the Psalmist explains this mystery:
For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother's womb.  I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.  My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.  Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.  In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.  Psalm 139:13-16
It is wondrous to me to consider that the stuff of who I am came about with forethought and purpose.  Kind of like any creative endeavor I do.  Regardless of the medium of expression (it could be writing, sewing, drawing), I see it in my head first.  And then I set about bringing that idea to life. 

Consider this with me--God liked the idea of who we are so much that He had to give it life!

He just had to.  He couldn't imagine His world being complete without us in it .  And the making of us brings Him joy, to see us walking around in the world with all the expressions of self He put there brings Divine Delight.

But here's the big difference between God as Creative Spirit and us as creative souls:  When we complete a project, it is done.  When God gives us life, the creative endeavor has just begun. 

Ephesians speaks of this:  "For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life" (2:10).  Other translations say we are His workmanship; another says we are His masterpiece.  We are what His thought expressing Itself in love has produced.  And the perfect expression of His original Intent finds fulfillment in Jesus Christ.  AS we live and move and have our being in Christ, God's creative endeavor finds completion.

I love how the completion of our creation is found in the "good work" God also thought of ahead of time to have us to do.  Like puzzle pieces fitting together--

                The stuff of who we are--
                                                                 --perfectly matches the work God made us for.

How cool is that?

I begin to think that to understand the work God has for us, we also must understand and EMBRACE the design of who we are.

No more complaining about our quirkiness.  No more trying to be something we are not.  No more allowing someone else to remake us into a design they believe is better.


That is heavy.

And oh so important.

Because here's the thing:  Since we are co-creators with God in this life we are called to live, His part can be excellently done while ours can be forever left undone.  The works God prepared are to be our way of life.  But we can always choose to live another way.  We can choose to try to be something we are not.  We could choose to not live into the purpose for which we are made.

And something Beautiful that could be never gets the chance to live.

John Wesley said "The world is my parish."  And I'm so glad he not just said it, but lived it.  He was made to be a pastor to the world, since the church in his day didn't want him.  And while not all of us are called into ordained ministry, every single one of us was Created in Love, by Love, and for Love.  God created us with Intent.  Part of that intent is the transformation of the world through the stuff of who we are.

It is more than okay to give expression to the deepest passions and creative impulses in our soul.  It's more than okay to paint our lives on pavement.  It is more needed than we know.  Not only is this world is depending on it . . .

The world is waiting.

Monday, July 08, 2013

They're Baaaack!

It's been exactly two years since I found them, those insidious little creatures that suck the life right out of everything they touch.  Holy cow, they are disgusting!  I am speaking of course of bagworms.  Two years they showed up and wreaked havoc with our landscaping, but brought some powerful insights along with it.   I was thinking the other day how nice our evergreen bushes look in front of our house.  They have grown lush and big.  They are a vibrant, deep green.  They look beautiful. 

A far cry from how they looked a couple of years ago.  Bagworms had invaded one of our bushes and left a hole where green was supposed to be.  It seemed like every day that summer I was finding new cocoons, trying to pull all of them off before permanent damage could be done.  I discovered in my perusal of the internet that one of the best remedies to apply was soapy water.  Each pinching session ended with a good spray-down of water and dish detergent.  Persistence paid off;  eventually they were gone.

And then the other day I noticed it.  One isolated cocoon growing on our otherwise beautiful bush.  I began a careful perusal of the whole thing.  Sure enough, back where no one could see, there was a whole nest of them, camouflaged in the very foliage they are destroying.  Let's just say I set to work once more!

The last infestation we had was more in your face.  The attack was right out front, hard to miss.  This one was hidden, tucked away behind the lush beauty of outward health.  It snuck up on us.  Both times speak to me of the spiritual battle we fight everyday. 

Two years ago I was learning to let go of a ministry God had miraculously placed in my lap, and just as suddenly led me away from.  In the grief and pain of learning to let go, the temptation to retreat into bitterness and despair was real.  In my face real.  Each day I had to choose God.  Sometimes it was about each minute:  what am I going to do in this minute?  Am I going to trust Him or not?

In some ways, temptation in the hard times is easier to recognize.  It is expected, easy to spot.  And in that sense, easier to fight. Yet in this season of my life, it is subtle, more hidden.  Harder to place and name.

What name does temptation go by when the biggest prayers of your heart have been answered?

I have been praying for God to do something amazing in my husband's life for years, to give him his heart's desire, to open a door for him where he could use his gifts, where he could experience joy and fulfillment.  And God has answered those prayers in amazing ways.  After years and years of praying God has been faithful, and answered in a way only He could. 

I am deeply grateful.  And so blessed that I got to participate in the unfolding wonder of God's work in Tim's life.  I got a front row seat to the miracle and was allowed by God's goodness to pray it through from beginning to end with every part of me.

In the lushness of this summer of answered prayer it is easy to lose sight of the rhythm of Grace.  Routines are topsy-turvy.  I am surrounded by little boys so much of the time.  When I am not, I have a hard time getting myself to the quiet place.  It is much more of a challenge to hear the Divine Whisper.  It would be so easy to glide through on the beauty of what God is doing in my husband's life and think that is enough.  I forget I still need God more than I need His long awaited answers to my prayers.

And this is the heart of the temptation I face now, when everything is looking up and our hopes are being realized.  The enemy would have me be complacent.  The enemy would sneak in and suck the life right out of me, wrapped in the very goodness of this new life God has given.  The truth is that the unsettledness within me is a gift.  The nagging feeling that I'm missing something is the beacon that gets me looking for God's Hand and Heart.  It points me to my true home.  Because my true home has more to do with the Word my Shepherd speaks to my heart each day than it does with the Word that has already been fulfilled. 

Just like I discovered the first time I faced this enemy, I have to be washed in the Word each day.  Once isn't enough.  Even in good times God's Holy Word in my life is like breath in my lungs.  Without it, even when the sun is shining and all the birds are singing, something in me dies.  I can't stand to be dead!  I want to be alive with every fiber of my being!

Because there is something in me that believes God isn't finished with me yet.  Even though we have had an amazing journey, something in me insists that it is far from over.  But I will never recognize the new road if I fail to listen to the new Word God is saying to me. 

And I feel like traveling on.

To see where this journey began, you may enjoy reading "Washed with the Word,"  from July 9, 2011.