Tuesday, July 31, 2012

In His Shadow

Whenever I can steal time with my kids and grandkids I’ll take it, so last week those of us who live locally escaped to Big Bear Lake for a few days. I brought home some fantastic memories, and one great insight.

It was a wonderful time of boating and parasailing on the lake, roughhousing with my three grandsons, and playing board games with my family and laughing so hard it hurt. On the last morning we decided to take a walk before wrapping things up.

The neighborhood was gorgeous. Luxurious vacation rental homes were surrounded dark green pine trees and framed by that uniquely mountain blue sky. My son, Derek, watched the unusual way my three-year-old grandson, Ryder, was walking.

 family hike for His Shadow

“What are you doing?” he asked Ryder. Ryder had been looking down as he walked close to his Aunt Bethany, carefully moving, stopping, or turning when she did. He had stayed close to her side most of the weekend, so this was no exception. He shyly looked up at Derek, and very softly confessed: “I like to walk in her shadow.”

He chose to walk in her shadow. Because he loves her and enjoyed her company, he thought it a good thing to copy what she did.

And there is was…I realized that all I really want is to walk in Jesus’ shadow.

If I am in His shadow, I am also surrounded and enfolded by His presence. I am near to Him, following Him, and walking where He leads. And there is no place I would rather be.

Like Ryder, I choose to walk in the shadow of the One I love.

How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.                                                                                                                             Psalm 36:6-7

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”                                                                                                                              Psalm 91:1-2

Further reflection:

  1. Does walking in someone’s shadow have a positive or negative connotation for you?
  2. Take your journal (or other paper) and make a list of the benefits of walking in Jesus’ shadow.

Lord, I want to walk in Your shadow. I yearn to stay close to You, to go where You go, and follow where You lead. Thank You for making room for me in the shadow of your wings, and for the promise of rest there.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Lessons from Lady

I’ve learned a lot from the dogs I’ve owned.

When I was a kid we had a dachshund named Baron von Bruno. Bruno came to us from a home that also had two very big dogs. Bruno had learned that if you don’t eat fast, you don’t eat at all. To say that Bruno ate fast is like saying a tornado is a big wind—it’s a gross understatement. Unfortunately, I never really bonded with him.

Then there was Iggy, short for Ignoramus. That was an appropriate name for him, as he wasn’t very smart. A German Shepherd mix, he just didn’t understand that barking and jumping on my kids were not the right way to get attention. In spite of all our efforts we just couldn’t break Iggy of his bad habits. When he nipped and broke the skin on one of the neighbor kids, he had to go. I was the only one sad about it.

Duke was one of my favorites. He was this big, imposing Labrador/great Dane mix whose deep, ferocious bark was enough to send the postman running. Safely hidden behind that intimidating demeanor beat the heart of a marshmallow. While I have no doubt that Duke would have protected us at all costs, when he perceived no threat he was just a great big lug who loved his family. I was his favorite. He followed me wherever I went, even waiting outside the door whenever I took a bath and greeting me afterwards like I’d been gone forever. Though Duke died several years ago, I still miss him.

All of my dogs were different. Some of them were by nature compliant, others very hard-headed. Some were easily satisfied, others never so.

I’ve decided that I want to be like another of my dogs, Lady.

golden_retriever_4

Lady was the first dog I owned as an adult. She was a beautiful golden retriever, and from the day we brought her home she was loyal to the core. One of her greatest delights was to obey us, so when discipline was necessary Lady would tuck her tail between her legs and plead for forgiveness. Her soft brown eyes and her whole body communicated her regret. She was always sincerely sorry and quickly learned from her mistakes.

However, there was a quirk to her personality; she would only obey us when we could catch her eye and have her look at us, or when she was close enough to hear our voice. If she were too far away she would follow her own impulses, even if they put her in danger.

One of the clearest examples of this happened as I was walking her one day. I slipped her off the leash, knowing she would stay close. What I hadn’t counted on was the arrival of another dog on the scene. When this malevolent mutt challenged Lady, she wanted more than anything to fight. Every instinct commanded her to do battle. The dogs circled each other, intent on looking a weak spot in the other to attack. I shouted at Lady to come, but she was too focused on the enemy to hear.

As panic escalated the volume in my voice, my words finally penetrated. She turned to look at me, and her self-will and the instinct to fight visibly drained out of her. The desire to please me overrode her other emotions, and she meekly trotted back to my side. Though she may not have understood why I didn’t want her to fight, she trusted me to know best.

I learned a lot from that dog.

She modeled for me the importance of staying close enough to my Master to hear His voice. When I listen to Him, I am content to do what He asks (Isaiah 30:21). When I wander too far away, I don’t even hear Him when He calls to me.

She demonstrated the necessity to look at my Master instead of the circumstances around me (Hebrews 12:1b-2a). He is a good Master. Obedience not only pleases Him, but benefits me as well. If I take my eyes off of Him, my self-will inevitably gets me into trouble.

She exemplified the reality that I cannot always understand my Master’s ways, because they are different than mine (Isaiah 55:8-9). I can trust Him to know what is best, and I can always go to Him to seek forgiveness when I do wrong (1 John 1:9). He is quick to forgive, and helps me learn from my mistakes.

Lastly, Lady taught me that loyalty to my Master is to be my first priority (Exodus 20:3). He requires—even demands it—but He is also deserving of it.

When things are right between me and my Master, everything else is right in my life. Even Lady understood that.

Further reflection:

1. Which of these are hardest for you to do; staying close to Jesus, focusing on Him, understanding His ways, seeking His forgiveness, or being loyal?

2. Why is that true?

3. How do you think your life would be different if you allowed Jesus to be your Master in these different ways?

Father, You are a good Master. I long to be like Lady, desiring only to please You, and eager to listen for Your voice. When I don’t understand Your ways, please help me to trust You to know what is best. When I do wrong, help me to quickly and sincerely seek Your forgiveness. And when other things seek to hold first place in my heart, remind me that You alone deserve it.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

My Tanzanite Ring

Some gifts are precious because of what they communicate about the nature of the giver.

There was a tanzanite ring I saw once at our local mall that was just my taste. The color of the lovely purple stone was enhanced by the small diamonds surrounding it. I really wanted that ring, but my husband and I decided we’d rather continue to eat than buy it. With three kids in college at the time it was a pretty easy decision.

Several months later Alan and I managed to get away to the beach for a few days, courtesy of one of those timeshare promotions. As we browsed through one of the stores in the area, I spied it; my ring, and it was on sale! I pointed it out to him, and even tried it on to show him how it was just made for my hand. In disbelief I heard him say, “We’ll take it.”

tanzanite ring

Quickly reality coupled with a large dose of guilt set in, and the words tumbled out of my mouth; “Honey, thanks, but you know we can’t afford it.”

Firmly and decisively Alan repeated; “We’ll take it.”

I wear my ring almost every day, not only because it is beautiful, but also because it was an extravagant gesture of Alan’s love for me.

Because of the way He loves us God, too, is extravagant in the gifts He gives.

He delights to give us His extravagant grace. It is grace that made a way for us to be reconciled with Him (Ephesians 2:8-9). Grace gives us both the desire and the power to do what pleases Him (Philippians 2:13, NLT). Blessings that we do not deserve flow from it.

From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. John 1:16

God also rejoices to give us His extravagant mercy. Where grace gives us what we do not deserve, mercy chooses not to give us what we do. Mercy frees us from condemnation (Romans 8:1). Mercy chooses compassion over righteous anger (Psalm 51:1, Lamentations 3:22-23). It is mercy that, on the cross, exchanged our sin for the righteousness of Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:21) and gave us birth into a living hope through His resurrection (1 Peter 1:3).

Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.                               Micah 7:18-19

Both grace and mercy are the result of God’s extravagant love. That love sought us when we turned away from Him. It continually calls us to a deeper fellowship with Him. Unchanging and unconditional, His unfailing love fills the whole earth (Psalm 33:4-5).

I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples. For great is your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies.                                                                                            Psalm 57:9-10

We cannot earn His gifts. We can only praise the One who gives them so extravagantly.

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.                                                                                        Ephesians 2:4

Further reflection:

  1. Has anyone ever given you an extravagant gift?
  2. How did you feel about it?
  3. Take a few minutes to ponder God’s gifts, and journal a prayer of thanks to Him for them.

Father, when I stop to think about the richness of Your gifts, I am overwhelmed. The grace, the mercy, and the love that flow from Your heart are beyond my understanding. Help me never to take them for granted, but to give You the praise that You deserve.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Like a Child

Though she was barely two-years-old, she clearly understood the meaning of the word “goodbye.” She was not a fan.

Our daughter, Lisa, had just pulled up at the Fort Wayne airport to drop off my husband, our daughter Beth, and me. We took turns leaning in to say good-bye to little Emma. Her little face crumbled in dismay as she began to understand that we were actually leaving.

Twenty seconds after Lisa drove away I got this text from her: “Emma’s crying.” Though we were sad Emma was upset, it was also felt good to be missed.

We had spent five days in Indiana with our two daughters, their husbands, and little Emma. Though it was a short visit, we’d squeezed in a lot of togetherness. Much of that time was spent playing with Emma.

 Emma for like a child

 

I had chased her as she giggled, both of us sure that if I caught her it would be fun.

We’d taught her to call us by name. She already had “Papa” down pat, and had learned to say “Beh” for Beth. Though Grandma was a harder title to master, she did manage something like “grammy.” I’m absolutely sure of it.

When she needed help with something, she brought it to one of us, knowing we’d be willing.

We love her and she accepts it without question. No “Do you love me?” No “why do you love me?” No “Do I deserve it?” She just knows that we do.

It’s that kind of childlike, unquestioning faith that God wants us to have about His love for each one of us.

He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 18:2-3

Kids don’t always know all the right words to say to explain what they are thinking, and that’s okay. We’re just glad they come to us! When we talk to our Father, we don’t need to get all the words right either. God understands them before we even speak them (Psalm 139:4), for He hears the whispers of our heart .

For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying.                                   Romans 8:26b-27a, NLT

Kids don’t question the love we have for them, they just accept it. They know it is real, and it is trustworthy. How much more can we trust our heavenly Father, who loves us perfectly?

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!                                                       1 John 3:1

He yearns for us to come to Him, sure of our welcome, and confident that our Father loves us. He delights in us when we ask for what we need, knowing without question that we are loved. Above all, He rejoices when we receive, and then rest, in that knowledge.

Just like Emma.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?...I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.                     Romans 8:35, 38-39

Further reflection:

1. Do you know that God loves you?

2. Do you ever struggle with accepting it?

3. Use your concordance to look up the word “love”, and write down what you learn about the reality of God’s love for you.

Father, Abba, my Daddy…I know that You love me. Yet sometimes I struggle with feeling like I don’t deserve it. In my head I know Your love is perfect. Please help me, like Emma, to simply accept it, and to rest in the assurance that Your love is unchanging and unfailing.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Melanoma!

“It’s just a funny mole”, she said.

“Get it checked!” we urged her.

We had all noticed the mole just above Barb’s left knee. Its unusual flatness had a border that kept changing, and it was a funny, dark color. When Annette’s husband, Ken, left Barb cute little notes all over the house encouraging her to see a doctor, she finally relented and made the appointment.

The doctor later confessed his first, unspoken thought was, “She’s a goner”. What he actually acknowledged was that it was suspicious looking, and ordered an immediate biopsy. The pathology report came back with words no twenty-three-year-old wants or expects to read; malignant melanoma. That same week a plastic surgeon was called in to remove it. Then in order to prevent any loose cancer cells from escaping and growing elsewhere, he repeated the procedure one more time, cutting a little deeper and a little wider.

melanoma

The already tight bonds of our family strengthened even more as we waited for those lab results, knowing that new growth could mean serious trouble. Melanoma spreads so quickly that often by the time the patient is diagnosed the cancer has already metastasized throughout the system, and is incurable. It was a very tense couple of days, but to our relief that second pathology report showed a border of clean, normal cells. Whooping and hollering and praising God followed the news.

The doctor’s initial fear had been that the melanoma was too advanced to halt. If Barb had waited even two weeks more before seeing him, she probably would not be here today. Praise God that she listened to the people who loved her, and heeded their counsel.

In a very real sense, sin is a lot like Barb’s cancer. It appears harmless enough on the outside, and so it is easy to rationalize away, or assume that it’s no big deal. But inside, unseen, it is spreading and growing, insinuating its sickness deep into otherwise healthy hearts and minds. There is no good in sin; like cancer, it seeks to corrupt and destroy, and the only cure is to completely remove it. There can be no compromise; any sin that is allowed to remain unchecked is a danger to our spiritual health.

Sometimes it’s hard to see, or admit, how bad our sin is. Often, someone else who is more objective sees it better than we do. I’ve learned that if someone who is truly seeking my best interest confronts me with an area of sin and urges me to cut it out—I need to listen! I cannot always see the effects of sin, because the greater damage is what happens deep within my soul.

The good news is that I have the best surgeon to bring healing—Jesus!

My part is to first go to Him, and let Him check me out. His diagnosis is always accurate, “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)

Once He reveals the malignancy of the sin inside me, He wants to do what I cannot; eradicate it. All I have to do is to agree with His findings, and ask Him to operate. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. “ (1 John 1:9)

His goal is to take that which is unhealthy, and exchange it for something better; heart surgery is often required. “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 35:25-26)

Let the Surgeon do His work.

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge. Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place. Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Psalm 51:1-10

Further reflection:

  1. Has anyone ever come to you, concerned about your wrong choices or behavior?
  2. Did you heed their words, or not?
  3. What was the outcome either way?

Father, Your forgiveness is one of the things for which I am most grateful. So many times I have let sin take root in my life. So many times I rationalized it away, telling myself it wasn’t that bad. It was only as I lived in the repercussions and the pain and regret that sin caused did I acknowledge its ugliness. Every time I came to You, seeking Your mercy, Your pardon, and a clean heart You answered with forgiveness. My heart is Yours—it is all I have, but it is all You want.