Messy Faith

Sun warmed breezes over a calm, clear lake.

Young voices expressing the joy of warm water on their sun kissed limbs.

A small gray cloud bank on the northwest horizon as waterfront time closes.

storm clouds

Campfire inside as the cloud bank billows.

Weather alerts on adult cell phones.

The difficult, but prudent decision to move all the campers and staff to the retreat center right at bedtime.

Once there, the only hint of a storm was the light show out the distant window. In our shelter we could not hear the thunder, the howling winds, or the twisting and cracking of branches and entire trees.

When we returned to our cabins, it was pitch dark and raining, so it was morning before the damage was seen.

What a mess it was!

Branches, some large, most small, were strewn across the playing field like all the plastic tags from the day’s game time.after the stormtree down 1

tree on benches

One large, ancient tree finally gave in to this final storm—for the tree—of  hundreds of storms.

Rather than my normal morning walk, I began to pick up branches.  As I worked my way across the parking lot and sidewalks, I noticed that my new walking shoes were getting soiled.

dirty shoes

It reminded me that getting involved in the disarray of the world rubs off on me. While I don’t choose the dirt, it is unavoidable.

And when I come away from it, I need to rest.

To submit to having my feet washed.

The gospel of John relates Peter’s response to the Lord’s final act of service before his great sacrifice.

“so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.  After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

 Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

 “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”

Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

 “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”  (John 13:4-9)

 

Life is full of storms.

Storms make messes.

We need to help remove the debris, even if some of the dirt gets on us.

After helping getting rid of the rubble, we need to go to our Savior.

Allow him to minister to your need, refreshing you to go back out for more clean up of the wreckage all around us.

tree and chapel

Renew Your Mind

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:1,2

The first time I read through the entire Bible systematically was during my year at Bible college as a class assignment.

Though there was a great sense of accomplishment for reading the entire Bible, it wasn’t enough. For multiple years I fell behind after the book of Exodus when the readings were mostly lists of families or rules for sacrifices. Even when I tried plans that mixed up Old and New Testament readings, I’d miss a few days, and give up.

My earliest teachings were that I should begin the day with a quiet time, starting my day with God.

Bible & tea cup

It was a set-up for failure when I had to get my family and myself out of the house by 7:30 a.m. Returning after long, taxing days, feeding the family, and often attending an evening activity seemed to absorb every minute. Some days I barely managed to offer a nutritious tidbit and keep the clothes clean, dry, and wearable.

My quiet times were sporadic at best, and most often neglected.

Nearly three years ago, a new friend invited me to read through the New Testament in a chronological Bible. It seemed more do-able.

  1. I discovered that the format of Bible readings for each day were grace-filled, allowing me to jump in on the date rather than feeling I had to catch up on a missed reading.
  2. I broke through my expectation of reading first thing in the morning.
  3. On-line discussion drew me to the reading whenever I had a chance.

After successfully-more or less, as I missed a day here and there-completing the New Testament, I accepted the challenge to read through the entire Bible in 2014. And I invited members of our church to join me.

The format of the printed Bible and accountability of a group have helped me continue to read God’s Word consistently.

Team 365 at retreat center

The second year, it was fun to make connections or comparisons of Scripture that I’d not seen or heard a teaching on before.

Nearly three years later, I’m discovering that my mind is being renewed. Last week, at training sessions in which I have a leadership position, my mind went to an example in the Bible to help illustrate the situation we faced.

The first year I read through the Bible, I was probably a bit legalistic about it. But it is becoming a necessary part of my day.

We don’t do the renewing, we simply subject ourselves to it. We submit our mind to God and let Him fill it with His truth. He is the guardian of our makeover.” From “Indeed: Exploring the Heart of God” from Walk Thru the Bible

In my garden, I can provide healthy plants, enriched soil, in a location with sunlight and water when the rains don’t come often enough, and keep the weeds out of the space. However, I cannot do anything to make the plants grow and produce fruit.

Bean teepeeBeans

Likewise, I expose myself to God’s Word, eliminate the negative inputs around me, but the Holy Spirit is the one remaking me to be more like Christ.

If you want your mind renewed and transformed, join me in the Bible reading adventure. It will help you learn to walk by faith!

walking Granny home

Coping with Life Pressures

Puffed with dew and light

As I am reading through the Bible this year, I have come to the book of Proverbs, the lists of wise sayings. The one that caught my eye was Proverbs 24:10 “If you fail under pressure, your strength is too small.”

A science experiment proves that having less pressure inside a can will cause the can to collapse.

http://www.stevespanglerscience.com/…/incredible-can-crusher

Sometimes it feels like the pressures around us multiply: work complications, weather worries, family frustrations, failures of friends, health handicaps, separations like divorce or death.

On our own, these forces could lead to personal collapse. Physical illness, depression or more subtly, apathy, tempt us to shrink back, to avoid risk, to be like the can and fail to be used as God created us to be. (Eph. 2:10)

River edge

With Christ living within us, His strength keeps us strong. I John 4:4 “My children, you have come from God and have conquered these spirits because the One who lives within you is greater than the one in this world.”

Michael Larson

Today, let His greatness keep your inner man strong.

Ephesians 3:16-19
Father, out of Your honorable and glorious riches, strengthen Your people. Fill their souls with the power of Your Spirit so that through faith the Anointed One will reside in their hearts. May love be the rich soil where their lives take root. May it be the bedrock where their lives are founded so that together with all of Your people they will have the power to understand that the love of the Anointed is infinitely long, wide, high, and deep, surpassing everything anyone previously experienced. God, may Your fullness flood through their entire beings.

(sunset photo by Michael Larson)

Lenten Series: In the Garden

After a cold, dark winter most of us revel in this change of season. And my mind turns to the garden.

Even though it is too early for most plants to poke through the frozen ground, wandering around my flower beds lets me enjoy the warmth and sun. Soon the tulips and daffodils will sneak up, and then seemingly overnight, break open the bright, cheerful blooms

.P1040055 P1040113 P1040049 P1040069 P1040112  peonie red

The garden is a place to meditate, to be still, to listen for God’s voice, as the old hymn expresses so lyrically. Not only do the birds sing, but worms quietly go about their work of enriching the soil. Every part of the garden links so beautifully to analogies about my walk with God.

“Spring has sprung!” My dad often said that after a few nice days. Though he would be antsy to begin turning soil, preparing his fields for planting, he would spend hours in the shop repairing and maintaining the tractors and implements. And often he would be humming or singing this song as he prepared for his garden, the fields.

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Not only did my grandmother love this song, she also loved her garden. Though as a child, I didn’t appreciate it, I remember the bright yellow and red rows of four o’clocks. During the winter her entry was filled with coleus potted in empty coffee cans, waiting for warmth and sun to once again be set outside.

deep red

The legacy of hymns, God’s garden-whether my grandma’s flowers or my dad’s fields-and a positive expectation of life is a treasure in my life.

Where do you picture walking with God?

I come to the garden alone,
While the dew is still on the roses;
And the voice I hear, falling on my ear,
The Son of God discloses.

Refrain:
And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own,
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

He speaks, and the sound of His voice
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing;
And the melody that He gave to me
Within my heart is ringing. [Refrain]

I’d stay in the garden with Him
Tho’ the night around me be falling;
But He bids me go; thro’ the voice of woe,
His voice to me is calling. [Refrain]

My Lord Knows the Way Through the Wilderness

Imagine the back-breaking work of building pyramids.

Feel the heart-break of mothers whose baby boys are ripped out of their arms and thrown into the Nile River.

Cower in terror as the water source turns to blood.

Hear the squish of frogs underfoot, so thick you can’t take a step between them.

Fight the urge to itch the gnat bites, gnats so numerous that day turns to night.

Then a reprieve, though you hear rumors of neighboring villages being black with flies, coping with the stench of dead livestock.

Soon there comes a report of mysterious boils breaking out on everyone in surrounding neighborhoods.

A few days later, the skies rage and churn from gray to black to green to ice-white. Hail destroys all the crops of nearby areas.

Then, with little remaining in the fields, the skies darken once again. Locusts march like a conquering army, consuming any stalk or leaf that escaped the ice-pounding.

Then comes the word.  The word awaited.

Kill the lamb and place the blood on the doorposts of your home. Make bread without yeast for you must eat quickly.  Ask your neighbors for their gold and jewelry.  When the food is ready, eat with your shoes on, for you must be ready to go.

So begins the journey of the children of Israel out of Egypt, bondage, slavery toward the Promised Land.

The Red Sea prevents them from running away from Pharaoh and his chariots. They are afraid. And God tells them to stand still and watch as He fights for them.

Then God makes a way through the sea, using the means of deliverance to destroy the army of Pharaoh.

The mighty hand of God revealed His power to all the people.

Now they face the wilderness. Shouldn’t they trust Him, this God that brought them out of Egypt, a land of slavery and depravation?

Time and again, the people complained.

Over and over, God met their needs and gave them their desires. His presence was with them in a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.

All they needed to do was follow.

That’s all that I need to do.

But many times, I’m more like the children of Israel than I care to admit.

I want my own way.

I think I know better.

I don’t trust that God is big enough and strong enough and smart enough to meet my need.

His Word is full of stories of His faithfulness, His promises, His love, His mighty arm.

Creation glows with His majesty, His splendor, His imagination.

His gift of love in Jesus came to be my Passover Lamb, the perfect, unblemished sacrifice.

I want to follow better.

I want to trust more.

I want to learn to walk by faith.

My Lord knows the way thru the wilderness –

All I have to do is follow;

My Lord knows the way thru the wilderness –
All I have to do is follow.
Strength for today is mine all the way,
And all I need for tomorrow;
My Lord knows the way thru the wilderness –
All I have to do is follow.

Words and Music by Sidney E. Cox
© 1951 Singspiration/ASCAP.  All rights reserved
Used by permission of Brentwood-Benson Music Publishing, Inc.

Here I Raise my Ebeneezer

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Frozen white blankets landmarks. Blizzard conditions veil the neighboring house in a curtain of swirling ice crystals. Even the rocks edging the garden are smoothed out of existence.

But under that frosty coverlet are stone markers. In summer they contrast with graceful, living, changing plants and flora.  Many function as guides for mowing, to protect those perennials that emerge more slowly. Two or three remind me of the friend from whose ditch I rescued them.

This week’s hymn contains an unusual word. 1 Samuel 7:12 (NIV) says 12 Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer,[a] saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.”  The footnote says Ebenezer means stone of help. 

Where are the “Ebenezer” markers in your life? Have you set an Ebenezer marker in your home or garden? 

Do we need a “stone of help?” A visible reminder that God is at work? Something that brushes against our consciousness? An item that is somewhat out of place to remind us of God’s work in our world.

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Even a small pebble, smoothed over time in one’s pocket serving as a reminder of God’s help in our lives.

And if stones seem hard and unyielding, perhaps fountains capture your thoughts.  When you walk by a water fountain, think of this song and the blessings of unending grace.  Use your imagination to see an Ebeneezer in your daily life. Fountains, songs, mountains, stones, flaming sunsets, whatever is around us can be an Ebeneezer.

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Come, thou Fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing thy grace;

               streams of mercy, never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise.

               Teach me some melodious sonnet,sung by flaming tongues above.

               Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it, mount of thy redeeming love.

               Here I raise mine Ebeneezer; hither by thy help I’m come;

               and I hope, by thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home.

               Jesus sought me when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God;

               he, to rescue me from danger, interposed his precious blood.

               O to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be!

               Let thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee.

               Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love;

               here’s my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above. 

                       written by Robert Robinson

Bearing the Marks

Isaiah 43:1,2a “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you.
I have called you by name; you are mine.
When you go through deep waters,
I will be with you.
When you go through rivers of difficulty,
you will not drown.”

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Prairie dwellers anticipate spring, especially when the snow has fallen and blown for several months. This past winter tenaciously grappled with spring long past its appointed time.

Finally the warm temperatures, bird song, and mini suns on dandelion greens offered the perfect setting for an evening amble.  After a day in training sessions, the freedom of movement and mind was revitalizing.

Two years previous we were unable to meet for our annual session due to flooding. Last year the evidence of the previous season was rampant, though the dangers of the flood dissipated nearly ten months before.   Earthen dikes, rock walls, mud-crusted and flattened grasses were littered with sticks, branches and rubbish. Many trees appeared to be lifeless. And few people were choosing to be in the trash-strewn park.

As I meandered along the pathway, I noticed the difference a year later. Spring green grass stretched upward to the heaven.  Mother and Father Goose tried to corral their ‘teenage’ goslings that preferred to swim their own direction.  Youth aimed at disc golf ‘holes’ as they cavorted irreverently in the outdoor cathedral.

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Then I noticed them. At first I had only seen the lovely spring color and leaves, but my vision now centered on watermarked trees.  Small waxy plate-leaves rustled on the towering cottonwoods. Delicate petals covered the flowering plum and apple trees. Gum-coated pine cones were forming on the spruce.

Yet all of them carried a mark which bore testament to high waters.  Life continued, moved forward, advanced.  But even with evidence of life-bearing sap, the scar of floodwater was there.

Sometimes the streams of life rush around and nearly overwhelm us. The debris in the churning floods batter and beat us. Even when the chaos ebbs, the standing water drains us and impairs normal growth.

But the trees continued to sprout their leaves. Within their nature, they trusted that chlorophyll and sunshine would bring life. At first, the stirrings were feeble and unsure. By the second season, the leafy canopy shaded the park.

So when we bear marks on our lives, take courage and faith that our lives have purpose.  Though it may feel pointless, continue to press deep into Him. Pray. Soak in His words. Be silent in His presence. Growth and resilience become visible when we depend on God.