Monday, July 22, 2013

Volunteers





One day earlier this summer my husband had been working in the yard. Usually I mow the front and he mows the side and the back (he gets the harder and longer job). He came in and asked me to come out into the side yard; he wanted to show me something.

In two places tomato seedlings were growing. Right in the middle and on the edge of the driveway in the yard. We had not planted them and there had never been tomatoes there before. Robust plants. Thick with foliage. And when I looked closer I realized they already had blossoms that promised fruit. My favorite fruit.

I looked at my husband and began my usual barrage of questions when I don’t understand something, “How did they get here? How in the world did tomato plants get in the middle of the yard?”

My husband grinned at me, “I’m not sure, Honey.” (He handles my barrage patiently.)

We talked and discussed this oddity. We concluded that an animal must have decided to snack on last year’s tomatoes in the middle of the yard—spilling seeds into the grass. During the winter the seeds buried and sunk beneath the grass and earth. In late spring the seeds grew back through the dirt and the grass and pushed through to find the light.

Seedlings that begin this way are called volunteers.

I didn’t think about this oddity anymore until I was meeting with a friend of mine at The Cairn. She’s the precious young woman from Covered. We were discussing how to navigate daily life with and around people. People who said they were friends, but then their actions speak otherwise. We were discussing the fact that there are some people who are hurting, wounded, sad, angry, lost (for whatever reason) and they don’t want anyone speaking into their lives. But we need to love and be kind regardless. We need to care for and about them because those small spaces of kindness plants seeds. And really, most of the time, that’s all we’re asked to do—plant seeds.

And then I remembered the volunteers. I remembered the unexpected seedlings in my yard that are now almost ready to bear fruit.

Something or someone had dropped seeds onto the ground of our yard. Unknowingly a squirrel or a rabbit or bird had sat on that space of ground and eaten a tomato. And they let the seeds drop where they may.

Then the way of the growth of all things began.

We never know when or if a volunteer will rise from the seed dropped. But we need to drop them anyway.

We simply need to plant seeds: of kindness, laughter, patience, joy, understanding, encouragement and love. Just drop little seeds in the ground wherever. When we sit, stand or walk we need to eat the fruit of His grace and let the seeds spill out onto the ground.

And when the volunteers push up through the hard ground to find light, someone else will come along to water them, to stake them up, to prune them. And it’s likely that someone else beyond that will enjoy the fruit.

But the volunteers always start with a seed. Fruit always begins with a seed…

and with someone willing to spill and drop the seed onto the ground.



















Thursday, July 18, 2013

Two Are Better than One


Two are better than one,                      
because they have a good return
for their work:
If one falls down,
His friend can help him up.
But pity the man who falls
and has no one to help him up!
Ecclesiastes 4: 9-10




When this photo of my two grandsons, Elijah and Judah, showed up on my Facebook page my breath was caught in my chest. I have prayed for these two little boys since the moment I knew they existed. But when this image appeared on my screen God used them to teach and remind their Noni of truth.


Solomon, in all his profound wisdom, wrote a book from a viewpoint of life without the cover of God’s umbrella, but in the midst of this rather depressing treatise there are some truths that will change you life. They are simple truths. Not complicated theology. Not intricate doctrine. They are the bread—simple manna.

Both Elijah and Judah are in the stage of learning to walk. Tentatively they take steps and reach from one piece of furniture to the wall and back again. Sometimes, when they forget themselves, they let go of their safety ropes and take steps. Sometimes they take five or ten steps before they lose their balance or realize that they are walking unaided.

I watch them with delight. Utter delight. Their little arms stretch forth, their little legs move out and their little eyebrows draw together in concentration. This is work for them. This walking. And I (and their parents, grandparents and aunts) cheer and shout and clap for them regardless if it’s three steps or twelve.

But we don’t remember how hard it was to learn to walk. We don’t remember when our bodies did not have muscle recall to be mobile and ambulatory. We don’t remember ten steps being an accomplishment.

Walking is such an integral part of our lives that it has been relegated to a place close to breathing. To involuntary muscle activity—like our hearts beating and our lungs inhaling and exhaling.

In Scripture our way of life is often referred to as walking.
We are to walk in the Spirit.
We are to walk with God.
We are to walk in truth.
We are to walk in righteousness.
We are to walk in God’s light.
We are to walk humbly with God.
We are commanded to walk in love.

And like Elijah and Judah we learn to do this walking in stages. We are like these two little boys—taking tentative, cautious steps. In the beginning we hold out our arms to balance. We grasp the pants legs and hands of people around us. We reach out to another place of security in order to move forward.
But what we forget, what we often fail to remember, is that we do not learn to walk alone. We need each other. We need the strength of another’s arm or the steadying of another’s hand. We need someone to help us up when we fall. When we stumble we need someone to reassure us that it is worth getting up and trying again.

Many of us try to walk this Christian life out alone. God, help us. We have embraced our independence in such a way that it often excludes the help of others. We dismiss needing help as weakness. We dismiss dependence as frailty. But sometimes strength is realizing that we need to take someone’s hand. We need to allow someone to put their arms under our arms and lift us up when we fall.

One of the reasons I love to watch Elijah and Judah is that when they stumble or fall there is no shame. No embarrassment. No expressions of failure. There’s no pride. No hubris in their little hearts. Sometimes there are tears, but they are short-lived. These little boys look around, rotate and attempt to get back up on their feet. Or they take off crawling until they get their courage to stand again.

But they will take the risk again. Over and over. I’ve watched them.

But when I fall down instead of immediately rotating my backside to get up again I am far too concerned with who has seen me fall. If I stumble I am so embarrassed that I miss the cadence of my steps for a while. I realize that I am often too concerned with who has witnessed my stumbling.

I don’t want anyone to see me stumble or fall. And that is just too bad. It’s going to happen. It has happened. More than once. And my pride, the ugly hubris of my soul, is hurt every time. Every time. Pride holds and nurses bruises for a long time. And I am guilty.

But my grandsons are teaching me that we are ALL going to stumble and fall. Elijah and Judah already understand that toys on the floor, uneven driveways, rocks on the road, and socks on the stairs are inevitable parts of life.

We need to learn from these little boys.

Sometimes we just need a hand to steady us until we can plant our feet again. Sometimes we just need someone to look at us when we fall and say, shake it off; you’re ok. Sometimes we need someone to pick us up and pat and rub our backs and wipe away our tears. Sometimes we need someone who will set us back on the ground and put their fingers in ours and lead us.

Walking is part of our lives in Christ. Our Father has called us to walk. Walk out our lives.

But He did not call us to do it alone.

Someone will offer us their hand today. Someone will stop and help us to stand back up. Oh, that we don’t refuse that help and aid because we are embarrassed, full of shame or too prideful.

Maybe we won’t be the ones who stumble and fall today. The stumbling and falling may happen to someone else today.

If this is the case then let us be the first ones to hold out a hand and help them whether it be to say, shake it off; you’re ok! or to rub their backs and wipe away their tears. Let us stop our first impulse to immediately tell them why they stumbled. What good does that do if they are embarrassed? Let us stop trying to analyze why they fell. What good does that do if they are hurt? Offer a hand or an arm instead. When they are steady on their feet again, then we can show them the rug in their way or their shoelace that were left untied.

Today remember the Elijah and Judah lesson: in this walking way of life two are better than one.













Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Covered


At the beginning of this summer something came to an end and something began.

In April a group of women from various churches began to gather together for a simple women’s bible study. We were going to meet for seven weeks and work through a study together.

Little did we know.

I should have known this was going to be something quite different than I had ever experienced before. Earlier in the year my husband and I worked through a book called Draw the Circle by Mark Batterson. This is a 40 day prayer challenge based on the book The Circle Maker by the same author. During those 40 days the Spirit challenged me. During those 40 days I kept asking the Father to please show me the next step I needed to take,and He answered me in ways I wasn't quite expecting. In the course of that prayer challenge I knew I was being called to lead a women’s Bible study at our church. Our women were hungry and eager.

I began looking at and reading various women’s studies. At this point due to a recommendation on Ann Voskamp’s blog I bought and began to read Idol Lies by Dee Brestin. Midway through the book I stopped. Just closed the book. It was hitting far too close to home. I met myself far too often in the pages of this book, so I put it aside. I needed to go back to breathing.

Later with trepidation I came back to the book. I finished it, but the finish did not come easily.

When it was announced that I would lead a women’s study the search for the right one became a priority. I prayed and prayed. And then I prayed more. I narrowed it down to two.

For weeks I leaned toward one, but then as I prayed I began to sense a strong leading toward Idol Lies.

What happened in the coming weeks seemed surreal. There were times after our Sunday night sessions that I would leave and wonder if I had truly seen what I had just witnessed. From the beginning the women decided they were going to be real and transparent and honest.

Real with each other. Transparent with God. Honest with themselves.

Week after week I watched them and the Spirit would whisper to me: This, this is what the Body looks like. This is what happens when women (or men) decide they want more of the Father and less of themselves. There were nights that I would pray and ask the Lord to hold back the river of tears that swam behind my eyes. I knew that once the banks overflowed I would not be able to stop.

James explains that when the Body of Christ participates in true confession then there is healing. And that is what I was privy to—I was privileged to witness women confessing the existence of their idols and asking for ways to break them and crush them.

I was amazed at the sheer and profound lack of judgment among these women. They shared freely and openly. Many women shared things that had never seen the light of day, things that had been hidden in the dark, buried under years of debris and fall out and shame.

I was amazed at the immediacy with which these women came to the one another’s aid. How quick these women were to lean in and pray and encourage and exhort. This encouragement was not soft; it was not just emotional, but edge-worthy and piercing at times.

I was amazed at the consistency of follow-up these women had for one another. We created a closed Facebook page and during the week notes would be posted for further prayer and some of the kindest and most beneficial words would be offered.

I was amazed at the vast depth and breadth of experience these women held collectively. The diversity of age and walks of life and church affiliation were extensive.

I was amazed (are you getting that point yet?). I was amazed what our God can do and will do when his people call on him, when his people seek him with all their hearts.

During out time together a theme ran as a crimson thread through every meeting. This thread became our banner. We literally sat under this banner every week: the beautiful word and concept of God’s HESED.







The covenant love of God for his people. His women.

We are loved by and through God’s loving-kindness. We are bought and ransomed and redeemed because of God’s great HESED. The working definition the women of our group began to use was:

The consistent, ever-faithful, relentless, constantly pursuing, lavish, extravagant, unrestrained, furious love of God.

The relentless and fierce love of God covers us. It is his covenant with us—this covenant of grace love. And when we walked into our fellowship hall and bared our souls and spirits to one another the banner of that love literally hung over us. But even more through the daily posts on the FB page this concept of God’s covenant love would be extended over and over. Many times these women would say to one another I pray our Father’s HESED over you. May you know His HESED today.

I watched women pray over each other. Lay warm hands on one another and pray heaven down and into each other.

None of us were ready for the study and our time together to be finished. But God, our Abba, knows how to not only begin all things, but he knows how to end all things.

I had been meeting with one of the young women of the group outside of the bible study. God had been pursuing her, chasing her with his Hesed—offering her a new life, a new story. One day while we were in The Cairn she told us that she wanted to take her relationship with the Lord to another level. She wanted to make a commitment to him; she understood that he had made a commitment to her, but she knew she needed and wanted to be baptized. So, we discussed time and place. She chose to be baptized with our Idol Lies group as her witnesses. She wanted these women to be privy to her testimony that Jesus is who he says he is.

The last night of our Bible study we drove to the home of one of our women. Almost thirty women gathered around the glistening pool—pristine and blue. The sun was shining still. The water lapped against the steps.



Idol Lies Bible Study Group 2013

And there we watched a young woman allow God to wash away the power of the idols in her life. We watched as a young woman died—died to the slavery and bondage that comes from the clasping claws of idols. And we watched her be resurrected. Resurrected into a new life, resurrected not as a slave, but as a servant: a servant of the Most High God. His Hesed covered her that day. God’s precious, relentless, lavish and extravagant grace love became the banner over her as she walked out of the water and up the steps.

We came up onto the deck around the pool and the young woman was wrapped in our banner—the one that hung over us for weeks. Somewhere in the crowd an angel began to sing.








Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I’m found. Was blind, but now I see.

I tried to sing the words. Because of the choked places in me they were only whispers, and then I could only mouth the phrases. As I walked back to the house to change those words followed and trailed after me.

Then I remembered how we started the study. We began with the words from Hosea 6:1-2:


Come, let us return to the Lord,

He has torn us to pieces,

But he will heal us;

He has injured us

But he will bind up our wounds.

After two days he will revive us;

On the third day he will restore us,

that we may live in his presence.



During this Idol Lies study we were torn to pieces and we were injured. But God himself bound up our wounds. He healed us that we might live in His Presence. And isn't that what it is all about anyway? Regardless? That we may LIVE in His Presence?

Our prayer for you is that you know this Hesed of God. May you come to the place that you know you are covered. Our whole group prays that blessing on and for you. May you accept and enter into the covenant grace and love of the Father.

Glory, what a Savior!

He finishes everything he starts.









Idol Lies by Dee Brestin. The redeeming work? Only our good and gracious God!





Each woman received their own Hesed banner at the end of the study.


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Lily Lesson


I was, and am, reminded of Matthew 6. And my guess is the lilies don't spend their days asking for rain.                                                                

                                            –Anna Vaughan, In Medias Res



Often I have pictured Jesus during this Sermon on the Mount. Bible story books have him sitting on a hillside surrounded by a sea of people pressing forward to hear. Yet, when you look closely at the text it says that Jesus’ disciples came to him. And it was them he was teaching. He was teaching the disciples—for sure the Twelve—those who had made a commitment and decided to follow this rabbi from Nazareth.

In this mountainside teaching Jesus tackles a plethora of issues. He instructs about pretension, the letter and spirit of the law, about divorce and adultery, prayer and fasting, narrow and wide gates, trees and fruit and judging others. He talks about treasures and wherever you decide to bank you treasure, wherever you hide it, store it or put it that’s where your heart is going to be. And he cautions that’s where your mind will return over and over and over.

Can’t you see him look around? Can’t you see him look into Matthew’s face? Peer into Andrew’s eyes? Can’t you see him hold Judas’ gaze?

Were the disciples’ heads reeling at this point? Was Nathaniel taking notes? Was anybody?

Jesus is looking around the group seeing who is paying heed to his words. And Jesus points upward toward the birds that are flying in endless spirals and gliding on the wind. “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them." And Jesus posed a question that I wonder if anyone knew the answer. Jesus knew the answer, “Are you not much more valuable than they?”



Wind Currents

Seems rhetorical. And yet how many of us would hesitate with the answer? Yes, we know we are more valuable than birds, but are we sure? And then he connects this whole visual with worry.

Birds don’t worry.

They don’t know the old adage the early bird gets the worm. They understand that the worms are plentiful and they will find one.


They just seem to know that the ground is covered with a feast for them.

What prompted me to mull over this passage in Matthew 6 is the quote at the beginning.

Lilies don't spend their day asking for rain.

Lilies don’t worry.



Solomon's Finery
 I hadn’t read the Matthew 6 passage in a long, long time. But when I reread it a phrase caught my attention. Just six words out of Matthew 6. It is here in this passage about not worrying, in this teaching on a mountainside about how to live, those six words arrested me.

They do not labor or spin.

Birds and lilies do not worry.

Quite often I spend my days laboring and spinning—moving from one thing to another. Rarely ever do I finish one thing before I start another. My mind works overtime spinning every possible scenario and every viable detail of a myriad of should do’s and must do’s. My heart tends to spin frizzy slender threads from a worn spindle.

But when I read Anna’s quote about the lilies I remembered.

The lilies don’t have a rain dance. Eventually rain will come whether they ask or not—the rain is not dependent on their asking. The lilies are dependent on the goodness and faithfulness of their Creator.

They don’t labor and spin to win anyone’s approval or attention or favor. And yet they are frocked in finery befitting a king.



My Abba Father, please help me to remember and retain the lily lesson. Enable me to grasp the lesson of the birds and live daily dependent on your relentless faithfulness.

Teach me how to live without the constant laboring and spinning, the endless demand on myself to always be in motion and to continually be striving. Show me how to release all my anxieties to you. Sometimes, Father, I don’t know how to do that, and other times I just can’t remember how. Show me how to live and simply be—to grow right up out of the dirt and blossom, to lift right up into wind currents and soar—in you and your grace. Show me how to live there instead of this continual place of grasping and worry. Let me, help me and enable me to trust that even if I forget to ask you will send rain. Amen