Archives For growth

Speaking of trusting God

October 18, 2016 — 1 Comment

In our Instagram, instant-Facebook, instant-Twitter world, it is helpful for me to remember that growth cannot be hurried. It takes three years, not three days for a grape vine to begin bearing fruit. It takes 180 days, not 180 minutes for the grapes to mature.
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“Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way
to something unknown, something new.

Yet it is the law of all progress that is made
by passing through some stages of instability
and that may take a very long time…

Give our Lord the benefit of believing
that His hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.
Above all, trust in the slow work of God,
our loving vine-dresser. Amen. ”
Pierre de Chardin

♦◊♦

“My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following Your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please You does in fact please You. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that, if I do this, You will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore I will trust You always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for You are ever with me, and You will never leave me to face my perils alone.”
Thomas Merton
rope-bridge

The ultimate promise

April 8, 2015 — 2 Comments

Springtime is such a hopeful, joyful season–
new sprouts come to dead wood

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new colors bloom in tired landscapes
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The spring season in our life is also full of joy–
a new marriage
2015 4 7 archive easter products 2015-04-05 010 a new baby

and full of hope–
a new class, a new habit
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a new start.

But new isn’t always joyful or hopeful.

Sometimes new is unsettling–
in a new job, a new neighborhood, a new country
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Sometimes new is uncomfortable–
in new shoes
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or with new construction.

Sometimes new is painful–
from a new family configuration because of graduation
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or death.

Throughout scripture, however, when God promises something new, it is always joyful and hopeful:
a new name
a new heart
a new spirit

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a new creation
a new birth
a new life

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a new covenant
a new commandment
a new way

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It’s the newness of growth where there was stagnation,
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the newness of life where there once was death,
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the newness of healing where there once was pain.
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And it’s the ultimate promise,
“I make all things new.” [Revelations 21:5]
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Where is God bringing new growth in your life?

What new compassions has God given to you today? [Lamentations 3:22-23]

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The desert and the parched land will be glad;
the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom;
it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.

Isaiah 35:1

“In the whole plant world there is not a tree to be found so specially suited to the image of man in his relation to God, as the vine. There is none of which the fruit and its juice are so full of spirit, so quickening and stimulating.

But there is also none of which the natural tendency is so entirely evil–none where the growth is so ready to run into wood that it becomes utterly worthless except for the fire.

Of all plants, not one needs the pruning knife so unsparingly and so unceasingly. None is so dependent on cultivation and training. But with this none yields a richer reward to the gardener.”
Andrew Murray in Abide in Christ

♦◊♦

————-
Parables of wise pruning [with thanks to various gardening websites]

Prune most of the growth
“Standing in front of a mass of tangled grape vine and wondering what to do with it can be a scary experience for the novice or even for the more experienced pruner. Don’t be afraid to cut. When you finish, about 90% of last year’s growth will be cut.”
Lesson: It’s best to trust the Master Pruner and give Him free rein.

Watch out for too many shoots
“In many areas with deep soils and high nitrogen content, grape vines are very vigorous and produce too many shoots. Even when vines are not too vigorous, some shoot thinning is usually needed to take out unproductive shoots with no fruit clusters, or those that are too closely spaced. This is called canopy management. The aim is to balance the productivity of the vine and the amount of leaf and shoot growth.”
Lesson: Since we generate more possibilities than we can do, it’s best when we let the Gardener decide which ones to keep.

Don’t crowd the growth
“Each grape shoot needs 14 to 16 well exposed leaves to properly ripen a grape cluster. If too many shoots are crowded together, the leaves do not get enough light for effective photosynthesis. It is important that all the leaves get good sun exposure, because shaded leaves only function at about 6% of their capacity, and may not be contributing at all to ripening the grape cluster.”
Lesson: Less can be more. God doesn’t stuff.

And watch out for suckers

This sucker has to go.

This sucker has to go.


“Suckers are like a new baby plant that has suddenly come into being connected to the relatively massive root system of its older parent: in short, it is young, vigorous, and has a lot of food. For this reason suckers are able to grow very, very fast, easily many feet in a single season. They are your toddler outgrowing pairs of shoes. Your teenager stealing the credit card and going on a spree. Suckers are ravenous nuisances” robbing energy from the main plant.
Lesson: The most vigorous shoots are not necessarily the ones God will keep.

♦◊♦

If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.
John 15:5-6

Getting rid of good stuff

August 20, 2014 — 2 Comments

Recently I came back home after a trip away and discovered my eyes could see much better than before. No, I didn’t get new glasses. It was simply the clarity that comes from time off.

As I unpacked, I saw what I am usually blind to: closets stuffed to the gills in the bedroom, in the hall, in the kitchen; an appalling amount of flotsam and jetsam that I’ve allowed to take up residence on the front hall table, the bedside table, the family room side table [are you seeing a theme? Perhaps if I just got rid of my closets and tables, the barnacled clutter would disappear…]

Untouched photo of the bedside table (I had to resist the urge to make it look neater!)

Untouched photo of the bedside table (I had to resist the urge to make it look neater!)

It’s not just my closets and tables though. The floppy days of summer seem to generate an overabundance of ideas and possibilities:
places to go, people to see, movies to watch,
books to read, recipes to try, websites to explore,
blogs to follow, social media to track.
I can wander through hours and hours of free time like a happy lost puppy, utterly clueless as to where I am going.

It was clear I needed a serious bout of pruning. So riding on the post-vacation wave of good intentions, I set to work on a hall closet that resembled a vertical junk yard. I took everything out and spread it all over the guest room.

Each day I’ve been spending a half hour figuring out what I should keep, what I should throw away, and what I should give away. I’m happy to report it’s going remarkably well because the limited time means I never reach the point of brain fatigue when everything ends up in the ‘decide later’ pile.

Making progress! [fortunately I failed to take a 'before' picture of the closet in its full chaos.]

Making progress! [fortunately I failed to take a ‘before’ picture of the closet in its full chaos.]

Pruning my life
Pruning back my schedule has been much trickier. It’s hard for me to let go of possibilities which don’t require any space and don’t cost any money. All they require is a bit of time. But unfortunately I have a limited supply.

Whatever I say yes to is also a no to a hundred other ideas. But what to let go of? None of the possibilities are bad. Unlike the old rusted paperclips I easily tossed in the trash, it’s hard to discard perfectly good options.

But on a grape vine, fruit comes from saying no even to healthy shoots because the branch can only feed so many clusters. It’s the same with the branch of my life; it can hold only so many projects. I have to decide what to say yes to and what to put in the ‘not in this lifetime’ box.

Healthy, pretty but sapping life and heading to becoming an overgrown mess

Healthy, pretty but sapping life and on its way to becoming an overgrown mess

So I took a mental hacksaw and tried to trim back my schedule. It did not go well. I became paralyzed when I considered all the appealing activities. To get rid of any of them felt like cutting off a limb[!]. I gave up and the next day I took another stab at it . After a few more days of failure, I realized there was only one solution. I had to give my pruning shears to the Gardener.

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.
He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit,
while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes
so that it will be even more fruitful.
John 15: 1-2

 

Note the cuts on the vine which enabled the luscious cluster of grapes to grow:

Note the cuts on the vine at the top of the picture which enabled this luscious cluster of grapes to grow
 

It may sound like this is over-spiritualizing the problem. Do I really need to involve God in the mundane choices in my life? Does the Master of the Universe care if I spend another fifteen minutes on Facebook? And do I really need His help weeding my creaking, overcrowded bookshelves?

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The Lord of the trivial and mundane
As I think about it, the answer is yes. By His redeeming love I am attached to His vine, and He has become Lord of all my life, not just my soul. He rules the trivial as well the profound.

This means He is the Master of my internet use.
He is the Director of my free time and my social life.
He is the Lord of my to-do list and my I-want list.
He is the Landscape Architect who sees the whole design of my life and how it fits into His grand scheme.

The gardener doesn't just think about one branch on one vine. He keeps the whole orchard in mind.

The gardener doesn’t just think about one branch on one vine. He keeps the whole orchard in mind.

 
If He truly is the Gardener in charge of my life, I need to let Him prune every twig on my branch. Especially since I don’t have a good pruning track record when it comes to how I spend my time. Invariably I choose what is most comfortable and most convenient for me. I never make painful cuts.

unfruitful and overgrown from lack of pruning

unfruitful and overgrown from lack of pruning


 
Letting the Master Gardener go to work
That’s why if I want to deal with my overstuffed hours, the best place to start is sitting at His feet, exposing all the stems that grow off of my main branch: my work, my relationships, my service, my health. This often requires untangling the overgrown shoots that have gotten twisted into knots.

Then, I need to listen for His guidance about what needs to be trimmed, what needs to be cut off, and what can be saved for the ‘maybe later’ pile.

However, identifying what to say no to isn’t the end. The final step is to open my heart to the Spirit’s scalpel and actually cut the unneeded suckers and shoots. That’s the hardest part for me. I start to balk at God’s plans. I second guess His choices.

But the Gardener doesn’t work against my will. He doesn’t force me to expose my branches and give them to Him. He doesn’t demand that I submit to His pruning. He waits patiently. But if I’m wise I will let Him remove whatever He wants: the good growth, healthy options, and pleasant possibilities that take life-energy away from the work of the vine.

 

A grape vine that has been faithfully pruned each year.

A grape vine that has been faithfully pruned each year.

 

It’s a painful process but the results are good. I find I can breathe more easily. I have space to grow. My hours aren’t crowded out. I have time to focus on His best for me. And this in turn produces abundant fruit, fruit not destined for my own consumption but fruit that He will use to help feed a hungry world that is starving for true nourishment.

What about you? Do you have branches in your life that have become overgrown? Are there shoots that need to be cut back to produce rich, abundant fruit? When will you spend some time with the Gardener so He can go to work?

…work out your salvation with fear and trembling;
for it is God who is at work in you,
both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

Philippians 2:12-13

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“A nineteenth-century teacher in the Celtic world, Alexander Scott, used the analogy of royal garments. Apparently in his day, royal garments were woven through with a costly thread, a thread of gold. And if somehow the golden thread were taken out of the garment, the whole garment would unravel.
So it is, he said, with the image of God woven into the fabric of our being. If it were taken out of us, we would unravel. We would cease to be. So the image of God is not simply a characteristic of who we are, which may or may not be there. . . . The image of God is the essence of our being. It is the core of the human soul. We are sacred not because we have been baptized or because we belong to one faith tradition over another. We are sacred because we have been born.
But what does it mean to be made in the image of God? In part, it is to say that wisdom is deep within us, deeper than the ignorance of what we have done or become. It is to say that the passion of God for what is just and right is deep within, deeper than any apathy or participation in wrong that has crippled us.
To be made in the image of God is to say that creativity is at the core of our being, deeper than any barrenness that has dominated our lives and relationships. And above all else, it is to say that love and the desire to give ourselves away to one another in love is at the heart of who we are, deeper than any fear or hatred that holds us hostage. Deep within us is a longing for union, for our genesis is in the One from whom all things have come. Our home is in the Garden, and deep within us is the yearning to hear its song again.”
J. Philip Newell, Christ of the Celts

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“When confronted with suffering that won’t go away or with even a minor problem, we instinctively focus on what is missing,…not on the Master’s hand. Often when you think everything has gone wrong, it’s just that you’re in the middle of a story. If you watch the stories God is weaving in your life, you… will begin to see the patterns. You’ll become a poet, sensitive to your Father’s voice.”
Paul Miller

♦◊♦

“Almighty God,
who wonderfully created us in Your own image
and yet more wonderfully restored us
in Your Son Jesus Christ:
grant that, as He came to share our human nature,
so we may be partakers of His divine glory;
who is alive and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.”
Christmas Collect

Recently on my Sabbath day, I read Ashley Cleveland’s memoir, Little Black Sheep. She’s a Grammy Award-winner singer and songwriter, with a throaty voice and the rhythms of black gospel music although she grew up white in the refined, rich, and religious south of the United States where going to church was what nice people did–along with living secret broken lives.

Ashley tells her journey from respectability to grace, with a whole lot of detours in between. When she was a teenager, she decided to follow Jesus, but she kept stepping off the path. Again and again, she gave in to her particular temptations: drugs, sex, alcohol. Again and again, she’d return to God and ask forgiveness. Again and again, God took her back. For years, her life was one endless zig zag. Zig onto the path, zag off the path.

Occasionally I would have a brief period of sobriety. I would begin to feel a tiny spark of hope; I would clean the house, swim laps in my friend Constance’s pool, and start a diet. I would offer a few tentative prayers . I would call my mother, confess everything (very bad idea), and tell her that I was turning a corner, that I could feel it. Then on an ordinary weeknight, I would find that I could not sit still, that my skin prickled and tingled, that I could not bear my own company, and I would be out the door, heading to downtown Petaluma or down the street to the drug dealer’s house.

Along the way, she got pregnant and kept the baby. Again she turned to God, and again she returned to drinking. Again she hit bottom. Then she went to treatment and stayed sober for seven years.

I knew I couldn’t continue as I was and survive, but I didn’t feel relief; I felt beaten. I thought, even then: I don’t think I want to live without a drink. But I did want to try for Becca’s [her daughter’s] sake. I wanted to know that I had done everything within my power on her behalf.
…I found an AA meeting before I left Knoxville and at the end of the meeting went forward to receive the silver chip that is also called the Desire Chip , indicating the crossroad to choosing a new way of life.

Usually, that’s where the story ends. Or at least that is where we want the story to end: in glorious victory and triumph as another testimony of God’s loving power, another miracle of God’s great redemption.

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But after seven years of freedom, Ashley started to drink again and entered into the long dark abyss once more.

Drinking occupied the bulk of my thoughts. It was the first thing I thought of on waking: “I had two glasses of wine yesterday. Will anyone notice if I have three today?” It was the last thing I thought of at night : “I think I’ll skip it altogether tomorrow, or maybe just one beer … Yes, just one.” In between, my awareness of my thirst lingered on the periphery of the entire day.

…I began to have small encounters with God in my morning devotions. In my efforts to cloak my descent back into my addiction, I would make a show of wholesome activities like prayer and Bible study: five o’clock in the morning., and all is well! I would feel His still, small voice break through my prayers with a simple: “Give Me the drink.”

If I were her friend or a member of her family, this would be the point where I’d give up on Ashley. I’d say, “Look how many times she has screwed up. She takes grace and then she falls away. She’s obviously not serious about putting her life back together. It’s time to shake the dust off our feet and leave her behind.”

But God never gave up on her. God never shut the door. He kept knocking. He kept wooing. He kept waiting.

And then,

“…one morning, for no particular reason, I walked into an AA meeting. I hadn’t drunk myself into a stupor the previous night, I hadn’t been back to jail, I don’t remember what prompted me to go, only the ordinariness of the day. Perhaps the recent vacation where my pronounced detachment from my family and desire to be alone with the wine bottle had done it. Perhaps the fact that the liquor-store clerks recognized me now had done it. Perhaps the prayers …

Thirty years of zigging and zagging, and God’s mercy never failed Ashley. This time, she was truly ready to begin the long, slow process of rebuilding her life through the power of the Holy Spirit. And He was there.

I awoke to find my Savior was wooing me with such tenderness and love that I couldn’t resist. I awoke to my marriage and found that my husband was ready to jump in and do the heavy lifting (and letting go) that a union of value requires. I awoke to find my children.

The story of the continuing grace of God in Ashley’s life gives me great hope. First, it gives me hope for myself, specifically for those deep-rooted flaws in my character that continue to send up their shoots trying to strangle my heart. When I need to go back and ask God to forgive me for the millionth time, I sometimes hear the accuser asking me if it’s really worth to keep struggling; how is it possible that He would take me back again? The story of Little Black Sheep demonstrates that indeed all things are possible with God. He never, ever gives up. And He gives enough grace for the day. Like manna, His mercies are new every morning.

Second, it gives me great hope for the other broken, sinful people in my life. God waits for them too. It is not my place to write ‘the end’ on their stories. God asks me to be as patient with them as He is with me. He asks me to be kind, tenderhearted, forgiving others as He has forgiven me. And He gives me the power of His Holy Spirit which is really the only way I can give this supernatural love to others.

What about you?
Where in your life do you need to zag towards God for the millioneth time?
And who do you need to hold out hope for?

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“Little Black Sheep” by Ashley Cleveland

“The boy told the shepherd: there’s a fearful storm
So I went out to the field to drive the flocks home
I counted every lamb into the keep
All except for one
That little black sheep

Chorus:
Little black sheep, little black sheep
In the howling wind with no relief
In a cold, cold world nothin’ sounds so sweet
As the voice of the shepherd to a little black sheep

Little black sheep, he ain’t nothin’ but trouble
He’s not worth much and he’ll cost you double
Shepherd says he knows but he won’t sleep
He’s gonna go out and find
That little black sheep

Chorus

Now the little black sheep was the wandering kind
But the shepherd brought him back every time
Mama says: child, when your pride starts to creep
You best remember we all just
Little black sheep

Chorus”

Jesus, as a mother you gather Your people to You:
You are gentle with us like a mother with her children.
In Your love and tenderness, remake us.

Often You weep over our sins and our pride:
tenderly You draw us from hatred and judgment.
In Your love and tenderness, remake us.

You comfort us in sorrow and bind up our wounds:
in sickness You nurse us and with pure milk You feed us.
In Your love and tenderness, remake us.

Jesus by Your dying we are born to new life:
by Your anguish and labor we come forth in joy.
In Your love and tenderness, remake us.

Despair turns to hope through Your sweet goodness:
through Your gentleness we find comfort in fear.
In Your love and tenderness, remake us.

Your warmth gives life to the dead;
Your touch makes sinners righteous.
In Your love and tenderness, remake us.

In Your compassion bring grace and forgiveness:
for the beauty of heaven may Your love prepare us.
In Your love and tenderness, remake us.”
Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1109

♦◊♦

But for right now, friends, I’m completely frustrated by your unspiritual dealings with each other and with God. You’re acting like infants in relation to Christ, capable of nothing much more than nursing at the breast. Well, then, I’ll nurse you since you don’t seem capable of anything more. As long as you grab for what makes you feel good or makes you look important, are you really much different than a babe at the breast, content only when everything’s going your way?
I Corinthians 3:1-4 [The Message]

♦◊♦

Nursing infants gurgle choruses about You;
toddlers shout the songs that drown out enemy talk,
and silence atheist babble.

Psalm 8:2 [The Message]

The balanced dance

October 23, 2013 — Leave a comment

A few years ago in early fall, we stayed at a wonderful cottage in New Hampshire. Being a natural early bird, I had the pleasure of taking the morning shift when 2-year old Lucy did her rooster imitation, usually a few hours before the other adults in the house were ready to meet the day.

Lucy had recently started to dress herself, and one chilly morning she picked out a tank top and shorts to wear. I found a pair of socks for her which she put on and then took off. A long sleeve shirt ended up with the same fate. I showed her what I was wearing: jeans and socks, a long sleeve shirt over a tee shirt over a tank top. Later on the cooler porch, I added a sweater.

I asked her, “Won’t you be cold?” She shook her head.

I said firmly, “You are going to be cold.” She pretended not to hear me.

Now grandparenting is a tricky business, especially when the parents are getting much needed sleep. I quickly considered the cost-benefit ratio between Lucy bursting into a powerful tantrum that would wake up the entire house, and letting her wear only the tank top and shorts [even if it might put me at risk of being considered a negligent caregiver].

I opted for choice number two and we went to play and have breakfast. Later I felt her fingers which were like icicles. She was nonplussed, though I did manage to convince her to put her crocs on her equally cold feet.

I found it hard to believe Lucy didn’t mind the cold. Perhaps she didn’t feel how cold her arms and legs were. Perhaps after a hot summer, she didn’t like the feel of clothes on her skin. Perhaps…well who can fathom the mind of a two year old?

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The next morning I got smarter. This time she chose a sundress complete with thin straps and I acquiesced with a shrug. But once we were downstairs and she asked me to tell her a story, I made up one about a little girl named Lucy whose cold fingers wanted her to wear a long sleeve shirt and whose cold toes wanted her to put on socks.

Amazingly, the story worked. After some negotiation about which long sleeve shirt to wear [a striped one was nixed by her as was a nice white fleece, but one with little flowers was deemed acceptable], I felt very pleased with my renewed parenting skills. Lucy was even willing to put on leggings in addition to socks. Suddenly the little sundress was appropriate for a brisk New England morning.

Because I loved Lucy, I wanted to prevent her from feeling discomfort or pain. If she had been older, I might have let her experience the consequences of her choices even when they weren’t pleasant. But with a 2-year old, much of what I said was designed to help her avoid harm. “Hold my hand when we cross the street.” “Don’t stand up on the chair. You’ll fall over.” “Be careful eating the noodles. They’re hot.”

Often on that weekend, Lucy would remind me, “I used to be a baby, but now I’m a big girl.” In many ways, she was right. She no longer wore diapers, she didn’t need to be carried, she could dress herself and feed herself.

Since I didn’t want her constantly asking me for help, I was happy to let her make decisions for herself whenever possible. I let her decide what she wanted to eat and what she wanted to play with. I let her choose which long sleeve shirt to wear. But she still needed to rely on my wiser judgment about choosing a long sleeve rather than a short sleeve. And I didn’t mind when she needed to hold on to me while she put on her pants.

It was a balanced dance between the two poles of dependence and independence. When would I assert my authority over her and when would I let her exercise her free will? When would I give her autonomy and when would I dictate what needed to happen?

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Later, Papajack and I played Ping Pong with Lucy. He held her up to the table and showed her how to hold the paddle. When her mother came, Lucy instructed her, “You hold the paddle like this and push away from you.” I smiled as she parroted what she had just heard. She sounded so authoritative, as if she had been playing all her life.

There are some similarities between my relationship with Lucy, and God’s relationship to me–and some differences too. I’ve progressed beyond being a spiritual two-year old. I’m less apt to throw tantrums. Most of the time, I don’t accuse Him of not loving me, or blame Him for being too restrictive, or chafe against His discipline. I’m more willing to follow His direction because over the years, I’ve learned He always has my good in mind.

And yet there are still times when I sound like a directive child, telling God how to care for me or what He should do in a situation, as if He has no idea. When He doesn’t answer my requests, I can still whine and complain.

I continue to make bad choices and fail to follow His guidance, just as Lucy ignored my warning not to run too fast down the hill. And just as she came to me for sympathy when she fell, I also turn to God after my willful failures.

Sometimes He lets me experience the consequences of my bad decisions, and sometimes He saves me from them. But no matter how petulant or obstinate I behave, He is always there, waiting to love me and comfort me under the shadow of His wings.

As the perfect loving parent, He never gives up on me. He continues to shepherd me so I can become who He created me to be, fruitful and flourishing in the light of His love.

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What about you? How has God been shepherding you? Where have you been listening to His direction and where have you been ignoring it?

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! I John 3:1

[edited from the archives]

I resisted upgrading my day planner for a long time. All around me, people were twiddling on their iPhones and smart phones and BlackBerries. But I kept using an old-fashioned paper and pen planner.

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Eventually I capitulated (publishing a book will do that to you—too many new contacts and events to keep track of]. So I bought an everything-but-the-phone mobile device:

in its early days

in its early days

I got it just before going on a trip and I was glad to leave my heavy, bulky old planner behind. My new one was smaller, lighter, and better in so many ways.

It does everything my old planner did and 1000 times more. It’s a camera, a bible, a dictation transcriber, an alarm clock, and a stack of three-ring binders [go OneNote], a video recorder, a photo album, a library, an internet browser, a music and video player, a calculator, and a video conferencing center [aka Skype]. All this in a slim silver case equal to 20 index cards.

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Yet I couldn’t bear to throw my old day planner away. I had carried it with me for 12 years, using it every day,  and I loved it well. It felt comfortable; it looked attractive, I knew the system and had customized it for my quirks.

A few weeks after I got home from my trip, I discovered a new use for it:

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I kid you not. My new mobile device was so small and light, I sometimes misplaced it. I sometimes dropped it going from one room to another. My old planner was the perfect holder for it.

And since I was already carrying the planner around with me, I started keeping notes in it again. Before long I was running dual systems, trying to have the best of both worlds.

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Suddenly I appreciated the Jews and the disciples of John in Mark 2 who wanted to hold on to their old ways.

In the new kingdom, Jesus was going to do something new and different. Old routines and rituals would not be able to hold it. They had already been stretched to the limit. There was no more give. It would be like putting new wine in old wineskins. Sooner or later, it would burst, ruining both the content and the container.

It’s not so much that the old covenant system was faulty. It made sense for that era, just like my old day planner worked fine in the era of cars and tidy to-do lists. But now I’m a flying traveler with a baggage weight limit and multiple writing projects.

Still I find myself holding on to my old wineskins. I don’t want to have to choose between the old and the new. I don’t want either/or. I want both/and.

We want the old flesh and the new spirit at the same time. We want a comfortable, cultural faith, and a transformed life.

But the new life Jesus brings is not a spring cleaning, or a cosmetic change. It is not just rearranging the furniture. It is not buying something new and slipping it into something old.

The Ancient of Days wants to go beyond old sin-bounded forms.

Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.
Isaiah 43:18-19

If we’re going to have this living water, we need a new heart.

Thank God He gives us both.

I’ve just come back from a two-week stay in the country of Childhood. It’s a special place with its own unique culture.

The national flag is a well-loved blanket.

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The national anthem is a rotating chorus of cries, whines, and laughs. A benevolent dictator runs the country, and bribery is not unheard of. Justice can be swift. But the citizens are cared for with the best that love can offer.

A visitor quickly learns that the casual mention of candy can become an instant obsession. Daily naps are required–so adults can have a chance rest. And you need a firm hand if you are going to hold a wobbly infant.

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These observations are not merely cute. Jesus said we need to receive the Kingdom of God like a little child. So how exactly do children go through their days?

Children live in a timeless place
*They have short memories. They don’t hold grudges.
*They are more focused on the process than on the results of what they are doing.

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*They don’t mind failing. They try again and again and again and again.
*They only worry about one day at a time. They don’t believe in making for tomorrow [so suggesting that a cookie be saved for another day holds no appeal]

They know who is boss [most of the time]
*They are utterly dependent on their parents for the day’s schedule. They don’t wake up and ask themselves “What am I going to do today?” They go downstairs for breakfast and find out what’s on the agenda.
**They look up a lot.

2012 3 16 elc three melc 291
*They ask for things all the time. They don’t filter their requests. They know who has the money.
*Even when they disobey, they know who is in charge.

Their physical state makes a big difference
*They are grumpy when they are hungry.

Food=no grumpiness

Food=no grumpiness

*They are grumpy when they are wet.
*Too many sweets can turn them into a bouncy ball.
*They are grumpy when they are tired.

Simple pleasures are the best
*They love stories and songs.
*The sillier the better. They like to laugh.
*A cheap trinket lasts five minutes. But they can spend hours playing at the beach. They delight in primary materials–water, dirt, stones, the wind, birds, and blocks.
*They love to celebrate.
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Life is learning
*Their days are one big discovery.
*They are curious, and are always asking why, but their parents often have to simplify the answer so they can grasp it.
*They imitate their parents and learn from them.
*They aren’t afraid to ask for help.

Other admirable charms
*They get up early.
*They love family time.
*They easily share their emotions. There’s never any doubt when they are happy and when they are sad.

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Happy family time

*They say what they think, without pretense.
*They hate being apart from their parents.
*They get dirty a lot, and have to take a bath every day, but they don’t mind. Bath time is fun.

If I go back over this list, substituting myself as the child and God as the parent, I get a clearer picture of what Jesus meant when He told me to be like a child. Ask often, have fun, obey the boss, go with the flow, get clean, pay attention to the physical.

I tend to forget that last one. It’s easy for me to think that my physical state has nothing to do with my spiritual life. But there’s no solid wall between the two. One affects the other.

When I’m tired or hungry, I find that irritation and grumpiness and anger spring up like weeds. When I’m well-rested it’s much easier for me to be gracious and charitable, and experience the love and care my Father wants to give to me. No wonder one of His loving commands is to take a sabbath day of rest. As a wise pastor once said, “Sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is sleep.”

2012 2 29 elc one 142

What about you? What aspect of being childlike do you need to develop?

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! I John 3:1

usa sept 09 139

[adapted from the archives]

Here we are, already heading into the third week of the new year. Just a dozen or so days ago we turned a new page and felt that wonderful surge of hope.

We looked at the blank calendar and saw a chance for a fresh start. Anything seemed possible–new habits, permanent change, winning an Olympic gold medal.

fresh hope

fresh hope

Some of us may have made a New Year’s resolutions, perhaps one of the top five from last year:

1. Lose weight
2. Get organized
3. Spend less, save more
4. Enjoy life to the fullest
5. Stay fit and healthy

In recent years, being older and wiser, I’ve gotten away from making promises to myself. With my dismal track record on achieving past resolutions, it has seemed futile to set myself up for an inevitable fall. So I no longer make a no vow to lose x number of pounds or spend x amount of time on a project.

However, I’ve discovered I don’t need to set goals in order to fall short. Last week at the end of one day, I realized I had fritted hours away . And I had nibbled well past any semblance of healthy eating.

Yet even though I had no resolutions to break, I was still discouraged. It was hard not to listen to the chiding voice: “What, failed again??? Still no self control after all these years? Why do you even care?”

If I had listened to this voice for much longer, I would have gorged myself on a big box of chocolates and spent the rest of the week clicking on one web link after another. The way of cheap grace can be so appealing.

That’s not the way of Jesus though. When I listened to Him, I heard Him saying, “Today I’m calling you to change the direction of your mind and your heart. Turn away from activity that only pleases your ego and come to Me.” In other words, He asked me to repent.

I felt really discouraged then. Discouraged that I needed to repent for the millionth time . It felt so tedious to repeat my ancient litany, “I’m sorry. I’ve screwed up again.”

But this discouragement didn’t come from God. Yes, He judges, but He doesn’t want to pull me down. In fact, He wants to encourage me, only not by giving me false hope that perfection is within my grasp if only I try a little harder. Instead, He wants to encourage me with an uncomfortable truth: I am going to fall again and will always be in need of His grace.

Martin Luther likened this to shaving:

“Original sin is in us, like the beard.
We are shaved today and look clean, and have a smooth chin;
tomorrow our beard has grown again,
nor does it cease growing while we remain on earth.
In like manner original sin cannot be eradicated from us;
it springs up in us as long as we live.
Nevertheless we are bound to resist it to our utmost strength,
and to cut it down unceasingly.”

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The mark of a Christian is not perfection. A Christian is one who knows they are God’s beloved and reaches for the hand of grace after they have fallen down again. That’s the sign that I follow Jesus: I come back to Him after I have turned away.

When I think I can repent once and be done with it, I set myself up for discouragement. It’s like someone expecting that one day’s shaving will give them hairless face or legs forever. That’s more than God expects of me. He knows I am but dust. Jesus didn’t come because I was almost perfect, but because I was hopeless.

That’s why the biggest danger I face this coming year is not the possibility of missing the mark. The biggest danger is that I will stop being willing to take the grace He offers.

I am walking with Jesus. Being with Him is what counts. My efforts to change don’t affect His love towards me, and neither do my failures. I simply need to be prepared to reorient myself to Him daily.

following the sun

following the sun

It turns out there is one resolution I want to make this year: To give up being discouraged about my need for daily grace.
Because regardless of how often I fall, He will always be there to get me back on my feet so I can continue the journey with Him.

What about you?
Where do you need to change your direction again?
Where do you need to replace discouragement with God’s grace?

The grip of greed

January 8, 2013 — 5 Comments

A friend recently shared with me what happened at a community Christmas party they gave for refugees from a Middle Eastern country. When it came time to hand out the gifts to the children, chaos ensued.

Living here in a similar culture, I could easily envision the scene: the shoving and shouting and pushing forward, the disregard for the others in the crowd, the elbowing others away from the pile of gifts.

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The geography of greed
Now lest you think that this behavior is limited to people from the Middle East [not that the thought would ever cross my mind], I just watched the movie classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life” which has an identical scene. Residents of Bedford Falls make a run on the Savings and Loan with the same shoving and gnashing of teeth.

Or think of trying to get on a subway at rush hour, or buy the season’s hottest fad at Walmart–or even get a pastry during coffee hour at our multicultural church. Public shovefests seem to be a fact of life everywhere in the world.**

An absence of greed
Jesus lived in a Middle Eastern culture too. I can imagine that as a boy He might have experienced this kind of chaos one day when there was a run on figs at the market And after His public ministry got into full swing, people were always shoving to get closer to Him, sometimes almost crushing Him [ Luke 8:42].

But there is one place in the gospels where there’s no mention of a jostling stampede and that’s the feeding of the 5000. Picture a huge crowd of hungry people from a culture where waiting one’s turn is not a value. Doesn’t it seem a real marvel that there’s no mention of people getting trampled?

Another marvel: everyone was provided for. Given our grabby human nature, I find it astounding that everyone “had their fill.” In other words, they were stuffed.

IMG_3729

A third marvel: there were leftovers! Think about those baskets of extra pieces. Didn’t anyone take loaves and put them under their cloak so they could sell them on the journey home?

Maybe another miracle happened that day, a miracle even greater than feeding a crowd. Maybe Jesus changed people’s hearts so when the bread basket was passed around for the third time, they were able to resist the temptation to take some for the road.

Greed in me
I don’t know if that second miracle really happened that day. But I know I need Jesus to change my heart like that because over the last months, I’ve realized how greed runs rampant in me. Like an auto-immune virus, it infects my life at every level.

I take it as a sign of my material wealth that most of what I am greedy for is non-material. Yes, I’m greedy for money, but I’d give all my money to satisfy my greed for:

more time,
more talent,
more success,
more affirmation.

You may not ever see the voracious appetite I have for these things. I’ve been trained to stand politely in public. I know how to appear civil and humble, and not visibly ambitious. But inside I have the greed of Gollum, desperate for my precious.

Why worry?
Most of the time I’m not too concerned about how greed infects my life. I can go months or years not paying attention to it. That’s dangerous though because greed can do a lot of damage:

*Greed is time-consuming.
It eats up all of the hours in my day as I strive to get more. I can’t let up the pace, not for a moment. There’s no time for balance and rest.

*Greed is greedy.
It never has enough, never. I once met a person with two Mercedes, a ranch, a swimming pool, and tennis courts. But they didn’t feel rich because their neighbors had more. At the time, I remember privately rolling my eyes. But I’m no different. As a writer, I have much to be thankful for. I’ve published short stories and a book. But I find myself restless and discontent. Greed is always asking, “But what have you given me lately?” while it demands all of my energy, effort, and resources.

*Greed warps my heart.
With its driving desire that “I must get this or else–,” greed makes me thoughtless of others. It’s like I’m wearing blinders. Whether I manage to gain what I’m greedy for or keep grasping for it, I simply don’t see the people around me–unless they get in my way. But then I’m not seeing them as people, only as obstacles to be pushed aside or run over.

*Worst of all, greed leaves no room for God.
Jesus warned that we can’t serve God and money at the same time [Matthew 6:24]. And he told a pointed parable about a rich fool whose overriding fault was not being rich towards God [Luke 12]. When I fill my life with self, there’s no space for God. Instead of becoming wealthy, I end up poor where it matters most.

That’s why I need to release my death grip on greed. Somehow I have to pry my hand open, and trust God to put good things in it.

Honestly, I’m not sure how I can do this. How can I replace my drive to acquire more with the peaceful enjoyment of God’s abundance? What practical steps can I take?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.
How have you been able to loosen the grip of greed in your life?
Or if greed isn’t one of your signature sins**, what wisdom do you have to share?

And how do you find ways to be rich towards God?

Links and Notes

**I do wonder if Germany and Switzerland and Japan have displays of public greed. Does any one have firsthand experience of this happening in one of those countries?]

**”Our signature sins become so familiar to us that we often trust them over the truth.
They become so precious to us that we even forget they are sins.” Michael Mangis

Watching for weeds

August 7, 2012 — 3 Comments

I weeded one of our ficus plants today. Over the years, it has been plagued by several stubborn weeds. Recently, a rather innocent-looking feathery plant decided to move in to the pot. I decided it had to go. Continue Reading…

I love reading your comments on these reflections, especially when I share something I am struggling with. It encourages me.  As I replied to one commenter a few days ago, “It’s nice to know I’m not the only one–in fact I think being in community is something else that helps me stay on the altar.”

That reaction of mine has made me think more about how connecting with others keeps all of us from slinking away from God. Continue Reading…

I grew up surrounded by snow-covered evergreens, blazing maples, acorned oaks, and flowering apple trees. I didn’t see a palm tree until I was 15 on my first trip to southern California. As I remember it, what impressed me most were not the tall skinny trees but the largeness of the uncrowded sky.


Living here, I’ve found it easy to take for granted the palm trees that line the streets and poke up over the walls of back yards. But gradually, I’ve come to appreciate their beauty…


I love the way they catch the breeze I’ve come to appreciate their variety too. There are 2000 species of palms, but basically two main types of palms, fan and feather.
fan palm, of course
feather palm at sunrise
I’ve come to appreciate their fruit like the bunch of dates here [but they also produce coconuts and oil]

My favorite place to see a palm tree: against the southern mountains*
*although we think of palms growing in humid, tropical climates, there are some varieties that do fine in temperatures of 5-10F [yes, that’s 5 farenheit, not celcius].

They grow straight and strong, living long and fruitful lives, so it’s no wonder the psalmist used them as a metaphor for following God:

The righteous will flourish like a palm tree,
they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon;
planted in the house of the Lord,
they will flourish in the courts of our God.
They will still bear fruit in old age,
they will stay fresh and green,
proclaiming, “The Lord is upright;
He is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in Him.”

Psalm 92: 12-15

Man is born broken. He lives by mending. The grace of God is glue.

Eugene O’Neill

***

P.B.P.W.M.G.I.F.W.M.Y.
“Please Be Patient With Me, God Isn’t Finished With Me Yet.”

***

The moment of redemption is a seed in the soil of our lives.
Obedience, service, works, lordship are blossoms from that seed.

[paraphrase from Dallas Willard, Spirit of the Disciplines]

***

I ain’t where I ought to be
And I ain’t where I thought I’d be
But thank God I ain’t where I used to be

Fred Haring

***
This week’s special
I’ll give you a new heart, put a new spirit in you.
I’ll remove the stone heart from your body and replace it with a heart that’s God-willed, not self-willed.
I’ll put my Spirit in you and make it possible for you to do what I tell you and live by my commands.

Ezekial 36:26,27 The Message

I love living five minutes from the ocean, fifteen minutes from a good beach. We can choose from quite a variety from rocky coves to fine lagoons. I don’t go as often as I’d like, but thanks to Sam and Jeff, I went several times last month.


Unfortunately, for all of their natural beauty, the beaches aren’t very clean. Pop quiz: why?
1] Students are not indoctrinated with litterbug campaigns at an impressionable young age.
2] There are no trash cans at the beach.

3] The diligent city street sweepers don’t patrol the beach.
4] The culture views public space as no man’s land, not as their civic responsibility.
The answer: all of the above. The result:
The beach is strewn with all kinds of trash including broken bottles that have shattered into dozens of pieces. How the pieces get scattered along the soft sand is a mystery to me, especially in places where the parking area isn’t covered in asphalt. Walking to the water requires looking down so you can dodge the dangerous and unsightly bits of glass.
But amazingly, the ugly shards of glass will eventually be worn down into smooth, pebble-like pieces of sea glass. It’s an impressive transformation by the simple forces of water and rock. Some people collect it and turn it into beautiful jewelry. Trash turns into treasure.**

How long does it take for the pounding surf to soften the edges of glass? A season, a year, a decade? No one really knows. In the States, thanks to plastic and litterbug campaigns, sea glass is becoming harder to find and people are beginning to make it from scratch. One man estimated it took a few weeks of nonstop rolling around in an electric tumbler to wear down pieces of glass.**
I have my own sharp edges that God is smoothing down. Years after I invited the Holy Spirit to take up residence in me, I’m still being polished.

I used to despair that the jagged parts would never become smooth. I’d look at an older kindly saint and assume they were just born that way. Now I know better. Soft edges come from the long loving work of God.

Dallas Willard, in The Divine Conspiracy talks about the gaps in this world between the places where God rules and those still under enemy control. “Sometimes the places where God’s effective rule is not yet carried out lie within the lives and little kingdoms of those who truly have been invaded by the eternal kind of life. The interior castle of the human soul as Teresa of Avila called it, has many rooms, and they are slowly occupied by God, allowing us time and room to grow.”

I like that image of God’s slow and steady occupation in all the corners of my life. I’ve sometimes wished for instant change and sudden miraculous reforming, God takes a slower approach–either because of my stubbornness or His gentleness [I suspect it is both.]

It’s not always pleasant to tumble through God’s sanctifying surf. But it’s necessary if I want to avoid wounding people with my own brokenness and instead become an instrument of grace.

His Holy Spirit, moving and breathing in you, is the most intimate part of your life, making you fit for Himself. Don’t take such a gift for granted.
Make a clean break with all cutting, backbiting, profane talk. Be gentle with one another, sensitive. Forgive one another as quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you.
Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with Him and learn a life of love.
Ephesians 4:30-5:2 The Message

**Links
Liliana Designs Sea Glass Jewelry

How to find real sea glass: The best time to look is during the spring tides, or during the first low tide after a storm.

How to cheat and make your own sea glass:”I put together a large volume tumbler for smoothing broken glass. With a hammer and brick in a basin, I break bottles into small pebble size pieces. Then I load the tumbler with the glass, some coarse sand, some lava rock and water.”

That sinking feeling

December 14, 2010 — Leave a comment

I grew up in the land of potholes. I learned to scan the road ahead and dodge the tiny craters that can threaten to blowout a tire. Sometimes I suffered a jarring thump when I overlooked one. There are a fair number of potholes here too, caused by the stress of traffic and overloaded trucks.

Sinkholes are different. Some form naturally, as limestone or sandstone dissolves. Others are man-made, like this one that appeared in our neighborhood.


The pressure of water from very heavy rains caused a drainage pipe to break at the connection point. This break washed away the dirt under the asphalt until the road above did not have any support and collapsed. For some time cars drove over the place, without knowing a problem lurked underneath. But then one morning, the road gave way and a car ended up in the hole.

My DH, as they say in the blogsphere [dear husband, not designated hitter] had some wise reflections on this:
“When we come to church, we can be like the road on Avenue Tadla. Everything looks normal but underneath trouble is brewing and a breakdown can be just a matter of time. Many of us are carrying anxieties that we do not share with each other. Sometimes this is because we don’t want to be that vulnerable and sometimes it is because we are not permitted to share what is making us so anxious.

It is necessary to have close friends with whom we can share the difficult and painful issues in our lives . We need to do what we can to find the strength we need from each other to handle the tensions we experience. This is important but we need more than human help to face the tensions of life.

What is really so wonderful is that God who loves us does not deal with us on a superficial level. While we may be able to put on a game face and go out into the world and to church and hide our concerns, God sees deeper into us that we can ourselves and it is at that level that God deals with us.

The Holy Spirit who is at work in us to make us holy does not deal with haircuts and manicures and makeup. The Holy Spirit is doing a deep work in us and wants to make us strong by being strong at our core so the surface does not collapse. The Holy Spirit does not simply put up braces to keep the outward appearance looking good, he builds us up so that we stand on a solid rock, well supported to face the difficulties of life.”

It’s been almost three weeks since the sinkhole appeared. Since then it’s become a much bigger and deeper hole as a crew slowly works to scrape out and shore up the hole. It’s going to be a long careful job to get it ready to be refilled.

When sinkholes appear in our lives, it can be devastating. It can feel hopeless. But I was reminded of something Corrie Ten Boom’s sister , Betsie, said shortly before she died. “No pit is so deep that He is not deeper still.” Yes, God is equal to the task of bringing wholeness to my heart.

Those who enter into Christ’s being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death.

God went for the jugular when he sent his own Son. He didn’t deal with the problem as something remote and unimportant. In his Son, Jesus, he personally took on the human condition, entered the disordered mess of struggling humanity in order to set it right once and for all. The law code, weakened as it always was by fractured human nature, could never have done that.

The law always ended up being used as a Band-Aid on sin instead of a deep healing of it. And now what the law code asked for but we couldn’t deliver is accomplished as we, instead of redoubling our own efforts, simply embrace what the Spirit is doing in us. Romans 8:1-4 The Message

The one marvellous secret of a holy life lies not in imitating Jesus, but in letting the perfections of Jesus manifest themselves in my mortal flesh. Sanctification is “Christ in you.”

Sanctification means the impartation of the Holy qualities of Jesus Christ. It is His patience, His love, His holiness, His faith, His purity, His godliness, that is manifested in and through every sanctified soul.

Sanctification is not drawing from Jesus the power to be holy; it is drawing from Jesus the holiness that was manifested in Him, and He manifests it in me…In Jesus Christ is the perfection of everything, and the mystery of sanctification is that all the perfections of Jesus are at my disposal, and slowly and surely I begin to live a life of ineffable order and sanity and holiness: “Kept by the power of God.”

Oswald Chambers

***

In efficacious grace we are not merely passive, nor yet does God do some and we do the rest. But God does all, and we do all. God produces all, we act all. For that is what produces, viz. our own acts. God is the only proper author and fountain; we only are the proper actors. We are in different respects, wholly passive and wholly active.

Jonathan Edwards

***

And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like Him as we are changed into His glorious image.

II Corinthians 3:18

This Week’s Special
For His unfailing love toward those who fear Him
is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth.

He has removed our sins
as far from us as the east is from the west.

The Lord is like a father to his children,
tender and compassionate to those who fear Him.

For He knows how weak we are;
He remembers we are only dust.

Psalm 103:11-14

Snow white walls

October 12, 2010 — 1 Comment

We’ve just had our entire house repainted. It had been six years since the plaster-over-concrete walls had been done and they were in desperate need. Every room had significant peeling and cracking [leprous might be a good description]. In several places there were bubbly water stains from inside and outside leaks . I dealt with it by saying there was a certain charm to these crusty old walls. It was like living in Venice, Iliked to say [minus the gondolas and prosciutto and churches and renaissance paintings].



But denial only goes so far and we couldn’t ignore our unsightly walls any longer. So we endured the expensive, time-consuming, messy and highly disruptive project. [I’ll spare you the details but it was like living in the middle of a construction site.]


The results though are wonderful: pristine smooth white walls with no blemishes, no cracks, no flaws. Each room is a beautiful blank canvas waiting for the pictures to be rehung.


Except…perfection doesn’t last long. The painters weren’t even finished when a few patches of paint started to blister. There was not even one day where the entire house was completely flawless. The same thing happened before, but I hoped these painters had found a super glue-like paint that would seal the walls. Instead, I’m going to have to live with the perennial problem of old soft plaster and too much moisture from living on the coast. Already, the question is not if we are going to have to repaint the walls yet again, but when.


That sounds pretty much like my spiritual house where the interior walls are in constant need of attention. I confess [scrape off old paint], receive forgiveness [put on new paint], enjoy the smooth surface, and then realize in dismay, there’s another place that has gotten out of hand. It never ends.

The amazing thing about God’s grace is that when I take on the righteousness of Christ, all He sees are pristine walls. That’s such a wonderful state to be in, with all my offenses covered up. I too easily forget that and fall into the trap of thinking I have to keep my walls perfect so that God will accept me.

But it’s also possible to fall into the trap of cheap grace where confession becomes like putting on whitewash–a quick temporary fix that doesn’t get at the root of the problem.

What I really need are new walls. I need the decayed and broken areas in my life completely remade. I need to let the Holy Spirit transform me into a new person, changing the way I think and act. But like house painting, that’s a time-consuming, expensive and disruptive process. Accepting God’s gift of salvation only takes an instant, but being made into the image of Christ is an ongoing job.
However, it’s not something I do by myself. God doesn’t tell me, “Work hard at being better and you’ll eventually get there.” He knows I’m not capable of this. Instead, I need to open the door and let the Holy Spirit move in and set up shop. Then He can begin to work with care and tenderness, making me new from the inside out.

God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. Living then in pure grace, it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him.
Rom 12:3 [The Message]