Costly Perfume

I read something recently that said something like, “ Whole fields are crushed to make an ounce of fragrance”. This thought has been rolling around in my mind lately as I am enjoying the short season of bloom happening with my roses in the backyard. Here are a couple pictures taken last week:

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I purchased the roses last year because of their sweet fragrance. Yeah, I was “that lady” walking around Lowe’s sniffing the roses like a weirdo. They were beautiful and so intoxicating. I stumbled around between the aisles, drunk on their lovely scent. I couldn’t narrow it down to just one, so I bought two bushes. Yes, two. $50 bucks in roses. I skipped happily home, imagining a glorious season of clipping fresh blooms, filling my house with beauty and dreams.

But the dream turned nightmarish before I got them in the ground. What did I know about caring for roses? First of all, I about died while digging up the hard ground to plant them. Preparing the soil? Pish Posh. A tiller? Nope. Just me and a shovel in a hole that could be big enough to plant a swimming pool soon. But I persevered.

Roses in the ground. Check.

The next problem I noticed was the blooms were very delicate. I am talking f.r.a.g.i.l.e. The same day a rose opened, the petals fell to the ground. Like the entire flower. Clumps of petals fell , leaving behind an ugly potsherd of a center nub.

Vases of blooms all summer long? Uncheck. Potpourri, maybe? 

I had hope.

Until the beetles arrived.

No one told me about the blasted beetles. Ugly, black beetles took up residence in my roses. I am talking a whole nation of them. In every crevice, everywhere. These beetles brought brothers, and cousins, and nephews, and, well, you get the picture. It was nasty. My beauties were gone in a matter of days. The beetles destroyed them. Completely. All of them. Every.one. My rose bush corpses stood naked and ashamed the rest of the year. I had hoped for roses, now had only thorns. Life lesson, anyone? Something about beauty and ashes? 

So, this year when the roses started to bud and bloom, Glory! I got ready with the camera. I snapped some pictures to remember what once was. I even managed to clip a few that I enjoyed indoors for a minute, until a band of earwigs filed out, and I moved the rose bowl back outdoors. Sigh. No clue about bugs and roses.  Seriously, who knew roses were so hard to grow? So much against them. Such a short cycle of bloom and beauty before the barren begins again.

Is it worth it?

This is the question I ponder as I tend my roses. The Christian life can feel like this. So difficult, and so much comes against us. Can we really hope to be a long-standing sweet perfume unto the Lord? I thought of Mary, who poured every ounce of her costly nard over Christ before the Cross. “Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume” (John 12:3).

Judas, the traitor, objected to such waste. The hypocrite – who later traded his Treasure for 30 pieces of silver. Hardly competent to criticize.

But Jesus, our Treasure, spoke up for Mary. “Leave her alone…it was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial” (John 12:7). The Rose of Sharon, whose hour had come, the hour when His seed would break and fall to the ground, producing many more. He who lived this question out in his own life, “Is it worth it?” HE thought her act was worthwhile, appointed even for the hour. Yes, the roses are worth it, though fields are crushed for an ounce.

Though we are crushed in its making.

Could our lives be a costly perfume? A brief season of fragrance we can offer to the Lord, or not. The choice is ours.

But so is the result.

The life that pours out has fruit that lasts in the treasury of heaven. This life bears more than brief roses, and leaves behind more than naked shame. His promise, “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten” (Joel 2:25) means little, until you’ve stood in your own ravaged garden, clinging to crushed remains, believing there will yet again be a season of beauty.

When You Have a Thinking Problem

“Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain” (Psalm 139:6)

I was discussing the Meyers-Briggs personality test with my son recently. A counselor in the prison offered it to him as a means of self-discovery. He is an “ENFJ”. On paper, we have some similarities, and one striking difference. Whereas, he is a strong “F”, or feeler, I am a strong “T”, or thinker. As we discussed the differences between the two, a lightbulb of sorts went off in my head.

I’ve realized for some time how my thinking (I should say over-thinking) leads to trouble. I am a person who will think and re-think every possible angle of a situation, looking for anything that I could have done differently to change it, prevent it, or improve the outcomes. This has led me to take on more responsibility than is truly mine, especially with regard to my children. That being said, you can imagine the type of grueling self-analysis and scrutiny that goes into trying to understand a son in prison. Let’s just say, I have been sorting through the “yours, mine, and ours” pile for years, trying to determine what parts I need to “own”, what parts are their responsibility, and what parts are the common pre-disposition of our fallen nature. The sin disposition we all share, whether or not we “own” it, and that can only be dealt with in Jesus. (Praise God for His grace!)

My son tells me often I beat myself up too much. He doesn’t want me to take on anything of his situation. I appreciate that he is in the process of recognizing his responsibility, even if he is slow to acknowledge the true cure (Jesus!). I also appreciated the opportunity to look at my thinking problem again, and glean the learning the Lord is showing me from it.

Years ago, a friend of mine quoted Psalm 139 to me in regard to my situation. “It is too lofty for you”, she had said. And it was true. The situation was so much bigger than me, my frail and limited understanding, and my impotent thinking power. In these years, I am learning (slowly) the meaning of “leaving it all quietly to God”, what it means to “be still” before Him in absolute trust of who He is, and the power He has to redeem life, relationships, and situations.

All in His timing, and His ways….which are MUCH higher than mine.

“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9).

He allows us to be put in these situations, I believe, not only to show us our own limitations, but to reveal His limitless power and all-sufficiency. Coming to the end of our own thinking capacity, drives us to our knees – the best posture to receive true wisdom from on high. The only posture where wisdom is possible, because all true wisdom comes from God. We can’t think our way out of a wet paper bag… that is a trustworthy saying worth taking to heart!

Oswald Chambers once said, “You can’t think your way out of a spiritual muddle….you must obey your way out of it”. I love that. Oswald has a memorable way with words, doesn’t he? And his advice also happens to be absolutely true. Take it from a muddler, who has made a long-standing practice of mulling it over, and over, and over. One who has been proud of her ability to think on her feet, think of creative solutions to problems, think her way out of a jam. This thinking is the way of stumbling in deep darkness, we don’t even know it is ourselves we stumble over. The way to light is through obedience, “Casting down imaginations and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:4).

Think of it this way: casting down our higher thinking opens us up to thinking from on high. The Lofty One, in high and holy places, dwells with the lowly and contrite in spirit (Isaiah 58:15).

And a note to the worriers: this over-thinking is the road to regret, guilt, and self-loathing. “Godly sorrows brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret” (2 Cor. 7:10). Take Him at His Word, and leave your worries there.

 

Boots on the Ground

This might be a strange topic for the Christmas season, but something I wanted to share. I have been studying the book of Revelation this year in my Bible study class, and so we are taking a close look at “end times”. Biblical prophecy is a complex matter, often with elements that have been fulfilled, and some “not yet” fulfilled. The matter is further complicated by the differing opinions of the scholars. There are so many different beliefs on the same passages, it is hard to form a solid understanding.

But that is exactly my prayer this year.

I want to know, and take to heart, what the Lord would have me learn from this year. I am praying for concrete, tangible take-aways from all intangible, often symbolic, complexities. Mostly, I want to know what I need to know to live my life effectively for Him – now. Today, and every day, until the end comes; one foot in front of the other.

When the study began, my first thought is that studying the end is not so different from studying the whole, and, specifically, the faith required is the same faith required to believe any of it. I am not sure why, at first, it appears to be so different and complex. If we believe Jesus is the Son of God, prophesied as “the child born to us” (Isaiah 9) at Christmas, Jesus the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29), Jesus who rose from the grave (Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, John 20), and ascended to heaven (Matthew 28, Acts 1), then why do we struggle to embrace the Jesus described in Revelation? He is the same Jesus. All the other things recorded about Him have been true, and happened just as the Word of God said. Why do we question or doubt the certainty of a final end – judgment of the earth?

Our leaders have been talking about the “certainty of judgment” the last couple of weeks. They have also acknowledged the hardship in looking closely at the fact that judgment is real, and coming. It is difficult to think that the world as we know it will be destroyed, and all who reject Jesus will perish. It is a sobering and unsettling reality. But it should unsettle us. It should ignite a fire under us in how we are living life today. Who are we telling about this? Who needs to know? But this presents a whole host of other problems, doesn’t it? We don’t want to be an alarmist, labeled a fanatic. We fear rejection, ridicule, and scorn. Don’t we? I have to admit that I do.

I believe understanding Revelation is critical to “growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord” (2 Peter 3). This is not an area where we can rely on others to interpret. Just as faith forms in concrete ways from studying the other parts of the Word, so it must be with Revelation. I would encourage you to get into the book of Revelation. For local friends, Bible Study Fellowship offers classes for men, women, and children. We have a welcome class the first week of every month. Please consider this for the first of the year, we are only on chapter 7 this week. There is plenty to go, and learn.

Last week, my group was talking about the fear we all have in the increased violence and killing in our world. We talked about how fearful we are to be in public with our families, and how God has called us to be a light and hope to others as the terror increases. We prayed for one another to get free from our fears by focusing on Jesus – the Sovereign Lord – who rules and reigns over every aspect of every life. In the middle of this discussion, the Lord brought to mind a concrete visual (just as I have prayed). I thought of the Scripture we cross-referenced this week in Zechariah 14, as we talked about the “great and terrible day of the Lord”. It says, “Then the Lord will go out and fight against those nations, as He fights in the day of battle. On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south”.

In this country, we talk a lot about whether or not we should send troops to the Middle East to address the savage terrorism there. We look to political candidates for leadership and actions. Who will put the “boots on the ground” in the conflict?

Jesus is coming, and His boots will split apart the mountains when He sets His foot upon the Mount of Olives. I want you to think about that. Jesus Christ, with His nail-scarred feet that shine like bronze glowing in a furnace (Revelation 1:15), will set foot on this earth again. And when His boots hit the ground, the battle belongs to Him. All terror and sin will be removed from the earth in its final judgment.

Let this thought encourage you, and terrify you in the fear of the Holy Lord. Let this thought stabilize you because He has set our feet upon a ROCK – that cannot be shaken. Though the mountains give way, His covenant of peace will never be removed (Isaiah 54:10). If we belong to Him, we have nothing to fear in the day of judgment.

This Christmas, as you behold the tiny toes wriggling in the manger, see the feet that will crush the head of Satan when Jesus once again sets foot on this earth.

 

 

What to Do with Your Wild Places

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A few canvases from a Take heART Party last weekend

I had the opportunity to lead an art party over the weekend on the theme of “Be Still” (Psalm 46). In preparing for the evening, I was blessed myself in studying the context of the Psalm. I revisited some things personally, that I had nearly forgotten in the rush of a busy life. It is good to regroup occasionally, and reassess our spiritual lives. Knowing where we are is the fountain of shalom peace – wholeness, well-being – because, in truth, we are all a work in progress. Thank God we are not who we once were, and thank God He is not done with us yet!

We all have unfinished places inside of us. Places of pain, we’d like to avoid. Hard places, we don’t want to deal with – and don’t know where to begin if we did. Being still is being willing to let God see those places. Bringing our naked needs and desires, our frustrations and tears, our disappointments and fears, before Him. Expecting Him not only to hear, but to know. To know us better than we know ourselves, and to trust in His Sovereign care. His utter dependability in all things. Underneath are the Everlasting Arms that hold us together when we think we are falling apart. He is the Rock that stands, when all other ground is sinking sand.

And sinking is often our first response to our unfinished places. We shrink back, recoiling in on ourselves, in a futile attempt at self-preservation. This is equivalent to Adam and Eve sewing the fig leaves – a completely failed attempt to hide their nakedness before an all-knowing God. We forget that life comes only from Him, and in Him. We have no ability to bear fruit in ourselves. Apart from Him we really can do nothing. And nothing means nothing. Nada. Zilch. It takes awhile to get this truth from head to heart.

We are all sun-scorched plants in the vineyard of the Lord, a planting for His own glory. Let us remember He is our shade, our water, our good soil in which we grow. Let us turn toward Him, not away. Turn and be healed; be willing to wait in His presence for as long as it takes. Trust Him with your unfinished places. Trust in His timing. Trust Him with that thing that seems too big for you, that you fear might swallow you whole. Trust that He is bigger than your need and fully in charge of your life. Trust that He has a good purpose for what He allows, and His purposes will stand – forever. Just as you will stand in Him.

I had a vision of myself as I meditated on Jesus’ words, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:38). I see Jesus approaching and I am like a cornered mare. I have been tethered, saddled, and backed into a corner. Jesus extends a hand, approaching slowly, as I snort and stomp and inch further back into my stall. Slowly, purposely, He steps closer; speaking softly, kindly, as He ever-so carefully rests His hand upon my head. His touch instantly calms the wild inside me, and the peace I feel witnesses to His absolute trustworthiness. I am going to be ok. He knows exactly what He is doing in my life.

“Be still and know”Psalm 46:10.

Trust the Lord with all your heart, even in the wild, unchartered places within “being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion” (Philippians 1:6).

Weathering the Storm

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“O my child, I am coming to you walking on the waters of the sorrows of your life; yes, above the sounds of the storm you shall hear My voice call your name”
– Come Away My Beloved, Frances J. Roberts

We had looked forward to this vacation for months. My family loves the beach. I so enjoy watching my kids play there. My daughter loves to observe the sea life. One of my favorite images is of her, laying on her belly, sandy feet up, examining her latest find. My son runs his legs off, up and down the shore. He loves to chase the birds and dig in the sand. This year, he was delighted with his new board, and announced he is now ready to “boogie”. He graduated from a baby board to a big one. So much growth in the span of a year. So many wonderful memories we have from our trips to the beach. And this year, we almost missed out on more because a storm was coming.

Headed right toward us.

We were so discouraged by the reports on Hurricane Erika. She was moving powerfully, destructively, through the islands off the coast. Mud slides, floods, deaths. Her dangerous path devastated each place she touched, and she was getting a little too close for our comfort. We were alarmed to learn she was expected to hit the coast of Florida by the weekend – the same weekend we were set to arrive at the beach.  The weather reports were not good. Solid rain, thunder, lightning. We didn’t know the protocol for a hurricane threat, and wondered if we’d even be allowed on the island. And, if we were, would we want to be there?

We prayed about it, and continued to monitor the situation. We considered canceling or going someplace else, the opposite direction. I checked the beaches all the way up the East coast. I have to laugh now at the thought of us trying to outrun the storm. Far enough North to not get the rain, yet South enough to get the warm temperatures. It was a gamble, at best. In the end, we decided to head that direction and see what developed overnight, at our half way point. By the next morning, Erika had changed course and was losing power. Good news and answered prayers. The weather still forecasted doom and gloom for our week but we felt we had to at least try to go as planned. So off we went, hoping for the best, but fearing the worst.

I am happy to report our beach trip was better than anticipated. I praised God all week for allowing us to have this vacation time together. In weathering the storm, I learned some things about life too. As I walked the beach the morning after one of the worst storms, I noticed debris everywhere. Piles of broken sticks, coughed up like giant fur balls, littered the shores.

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I kept hearing, “weather the storm” in my spirit as I weaved through the ruins purged from the sea. Our beautiful beach looked ugly, wrecked by heaps of brokenness. I wondered if it would ever be the same again as I quietly sat – listening and watching. God’s word to Elijah came to mind, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by”. Elijah stood, listening, waiting, try to make sense of his life. “Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks….but the Lord was not in the wind” (1 Kings 19:11). After the wind, came an earthquake, followed by a fire. But the Lord wasn’t in those either. Finally, a “gentle whisper” came to Elijah. When he heard it, “he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:13). The Lord’s question caused Elijah to examine his life. I found myself doing the same in the quiet aftermath of the storm. Each crash of the waves seemed to wash over my worn soul and whisper renewed hope. Socrates once said, “An unexamined life is not worth living”. Weathering the storm is necessary if we are to hear the whispers that follow it.

Everything about us wants to “duck and run” when trouble rises. But what if it is only by sticking it out, through the storm, that we learn who it is that commands them? Jesus said, “It is I, do not be afraid” to his disciples, who were desperately trying to row a way out. Instead, What if we put down our oars, take a breath, and trust the Lord of the Sea to steer our ship? To the storm, Jesus said, “Be quiet!” Who is this King of Glory that even the tossing waves settle at His command? Have you stood through your storm long enough to hear the whispers rise in the settling?

We live in a world where storms are common, and deadly. Where three-year-old little boys wash up on shore; a life dashed, along with our hope of ever finding a refuge far from the storm. We cringe, we fear, we instinctively turn away. No one wants to face the harsh reality in the wake of the storm. It’s ugly, and life is different on the other side. But there is a sacred rhythm at work in the wreckage. The waves of His love continue to heal and restore life.  I noticed, by the end of the week, most of the debris was gone, and a new path had emerged. A path still bearing the scars of the storm. A solemn, yet sure, sign of survival. I knew it then: the purging had been necessary. I felt it in my soul – new space, with room to breathe, move, grow, change.  I had heard Him whisper in the washing of the waters. His love, like a siren sounding above the noise of my life; peace falling on me, wave upon wave.  The surface glittered like radiant diamonds on my last morning there, a treasure out of the darkness. I turned back toward the hallowed ground of my storm-tossed life with a renewed sense of courage; made brave in the breaking of His Sovereign Hand.

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As Your love, in wave after wave
Crashes over me, crashes over me
For You are for us
You are not against us
Champion of Heaven
You made a way for all to enter in

You make me brave
You make me brave
You call me out beyond the shore into the waves
You make me brave
You make me brave
No fear can hinder now the love that made a way

Read more: Bethel Music – You Make Me Brave Lyrics | MetroLyrics

More photo “treasures” from my trip:

Top: a seagull in flight, whispers, “look at the birds, Your heavenly Father cares for you”
2nd: a hibiscus in bloom, says “see the lilies of the field, they neither toil nor spin”
3rd: the reeds of the marsh, whisper “a bruised reed He will not break”.
Last: The palm trees shout, “Hosanna!”

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