Monday, November 14, 2016

Beauty For Ashes

Everybody has something in life that they appreciate. Music, art, photography. For me, I like crooked sheds. Yes, I know, that's not particularly exciting, but neither am I. Up here in rural PA, everywhere you go you have the opportunity to find a new shed. Well, actually, it would be an old shed. They have faded and warped planks, and usually they are bowing outward in a last-ditch effort to stand upright. They probably held animals, or maybe the farmer's supplies. The roof might sag, and the door hangs off it's hinges, and generally there is some species of climbing plant winding it's way up the side.
Why, oh why, do I love these little buildings? Well, they're a work of art. There is beauty in the way they are broken, and every single one of them has a story that I will never know. Kind of like people. I bet you know someone who's "a little off", maybe listing to one side, with a gaping hole in their roof somewhere. They are generally people who you wouldn't give a second glance, or maybe you'd even walk by on the other side of the road. They don't look too appealing, and when they talk you might hear that broken hinge. You're missing out. You're missing an opportunity to see beauty in another form, and to hear a story before the story is gone. You see, God sees art where you see brokenness. God sees beauty where you see decay. He's not looking at their building, He's seeing that that is only temporary and will one day fall away. He is peering through the cracks and seeing their heart. The heart that needs love, the heart that needs Him. Be challenged to hear the story behind their broken hinges today, and to touch the heart that is hidden behind the splintered wood. Carry love somewhere love has never been before.

1 Samuel 16:7
But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."

Psalm 139: 1-18                                                                                         You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
    and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.
Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.
13 For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts,[a] God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them,
    they would outnumber the grains of sand
    when I awake, I am still with you.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Mustard Seed Faith

In the process of making dilly beans this week, I spilled the mustard seed container. Not wanting to waste the spice I needed, I tried to collect them as they rolled across the counter. They're awfully tiny, and hard to pick up with fat fingers. (Maybe they're hard to pick up with skinny fingers, too, but you'd have to ask someone else) You wouldn't expect life lessons during canning, but there was one. There are quite a few mountains we're trying to scale here at home at the moment, and just when we think we've conquered Everest, the rope breaks. I'm sure a few of you have gone tumbling down a rocky slope a few times, too. You would think that to overcome the big mountains, you would have to have "big faith". As in, the amount of faith I have is directly proportionate to the outcome of this situation. That thinking leads to a lot of self-blame. "It must be that I didn't have enough faith, or this wouldn't/would have happened". OK, you can all stop feeling sorry for yourselves now. Take a peek at a mustard seed. It's ridiculously small, yet that's all the faith God says we need to do big things. Luke 17:6 "If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it will obey you." Mustard seed faith. Teensy tiny, because the outcome really is not about you. You are simply being obedient by putting into play your itty bitty seed of faith, and the big part all gets done by that big God you've been talking to. :)

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Ministering Jesus Is Everything

I walked through the wet grass during work hours this week, and ended up with damp socks.  Now, I know in the grand scheme of things that that is not a huge deal, but it taught me a lesson.  Lesson #1, don't walk through wet grass during work hours.

Lesson #2 will take me a couple more minutes.  It was a great work day, we had some fun things planned for staff meeting, and all of my charting was done (bonus points).  I should have been having a grand time, but I was so distracted by those darn damp socks that I couldn't focus on the positive. All I wanted was to go home and dry my feet.  Kind of silly, right? I mean, it's not a death's door problem, it was just an annoyance, but it was preventing me from joining in the fun.  It made me wonder how many times I have missed that in someone else?  How many times have I forgotten to speak to a person's most immediate need, before pressing on to my own agenda?  

Sometimes I get frustrated, because I want to speak to someone's heart and I feel like they aren't hearing me.  I want so much to reach them for Christ, that I run right past the opportunity to be Jesus to them.  I haven't cared for their most immediate need. If Jesus were walking on earth right now, he would have given me His dry socks.  He would have taken them off His own feet and covered mine, and in doing so, He would have both warmed me physically and made me feel loved.  Isn't that what it's all about?  It's about loving our neighbors and our enemies and, in so doing, leading them to Christ.  Not bashing them over the heads with the gospel and wondering why they don't respond.  

As you go out and walk through your week, as people are sent across your path, sit down. Listen.  Find out what their most basic need might be that day, and meet it.  Be hands, be feet, be salt, be light, be the one who cares for the body so that Jesus can minister to their soul.  

James 2:
14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 

15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 

16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?





Sunday, May 15, 2016

Cornerstone

OK, I don't usually weigh in on controversial topics, but I have an opinion. Feel free to stop right here and move on if you don't want to read it. There are a ton of issues right now in our Country that go against everything we believe as Christians, but I think we're trying to fix them in the wrong way. The only way we're going to effectively change a crumbling government, a cracked morality, is to build up the foundation on which it stands. While Jesus walked on earth, He didn't spend His time walking around in front of Caesar's house with a sign. He didn't shout about how terrible the Romans were. He started at the core of the problem, the people. He was a carpenter's son, by the way, so I'm pretty sure he knew a little about buildings. He went to the most tumbled down part of the foundation and He started to build it up. He went to the lepers, who had their own little encampment of sorry selves, and plopped Himself in the middle of it. He sat Himself between the prostitute and the angry crowd. He went TO the woman at the well. So, here's my suggestion, find someone today you wouldn't normally go TO, or defend, or sit with, and do just that. Someone took the time to do that for me, or I wouldn't be writing this post. If you want to change the top, you have to start at the bottom, otherwise your building is going to keep swaying until it falls over in a heap. Ephesians 2:21 "In Him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit." Take a few minutes to read the whole chapter, it was too long to copy and paste. smile emoticon

Sunday, May 1, 2016

After The Rain

I spend time sitting with families who are suffering, and the one question I always hear is "why". "Why me?". "Why us?". "Why not them?". It is a reasonable question in the midst of pain. That depth of wondering if somehow we have earned grief, or been randomly chosen to endure tragedy. I have been there, sitting in the dark, asking, looking for answers in the silence, pouring words out in tears.
It is in the backward glance that that suffering takes on new meaning. Somehow, that seed of affliction that we can not bear comes to rest in our heart's soil. We can not see it, most times we don't recognize that it even existed until it bursts forth. Days, months, years into the future it takes root, and something grows. Empathy, joy, purpose. Or, perhaps, bitterness and anger. What have we allowed our heart to become in this adversity? Nurturing soil, or cold stone?
With that "looking back" on times of hardship, I've found that the question should not be "why?", but "what?". What will this suffering produce in me? What will it produce for others? What will I do with it? What gives honor to that which was lost, and purpose to the pain? When we focus on the "what" instead of the "why", we move our mindset from blame (guilt, fault, responsibility) to bolster (strengthen, boost, fortify, renew).  
Grief is important, it gives time for our tears to soak our heart's garden, but it is not meant to be forever. A time is coming, after the rain.

Hebrews 10:23
 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.

...we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope.  Romans 5: 3,4

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Winging It

For the past two weeks, there has been a Cardinal slamming himself against the sun porch window. Nothing I do discourages him. Today, he has decided he needs a little more momentum, so he flies back a few feet and then slams into the window. I shooed him away, I hung things so he could see it was a window, but he persists. We've named him Adam. Dearest Adam, you have all of the "out there" just for you, and you continue to insist that you want something that isn't in your own best interests. In fact, what you're doing is dangerous and will eventually result in harm or death. You even bring a friend now and then, and encourage her to do the same thing. If nothing else, I thank you for giving me a picture this morning of what my life sometimes looks like to God. "Dearest Michelle, please quit slamming yourself against that window. I have something so much better for you." 

Take a moment and re-evaluate your path today. Are you walking in His will, or are you beating yourself against a wall of your own choosing?

Monday, February 8, 2016

Piles of Promise

Here in rural America, neighbors show up with all kinds of things at your front door. Meals, garden produce, cookies, pumpkins, and this week, mine showed up with a load of manure.  Now, most people wouldn't consider a smelly pile of muck a gift, but we gardeners think that scores as high as a rooster on a rooftop (or some other such nonsense-y rural talk).

It's Winter here.  My gardens are a frosty, barren bunch of wooden boxes, plastic pots, and grassless land.  They don't look very impressive, but that's not what I saw when the manure came.  I saw tomatoes in August!  This is the time of year the farmers break out the spreaders and start throwing all those cow flops on the corn fields.  Me, I just use a shovel, but the goal is the same:  fresh produce this Summer!

I got to thinkin' (because I'm writing all rural-ly today), that God might have some lessons for me in that pile of poop.  First, it was a lesson in needs met.  It wasn't even on the "things I'm sure I need" list, but it was something I recall saying to myself as I hung out a load of laundry last week. "Gosh, I'd sure like to top off those raised beds before I plant again this year." That was it.  No shaking fists, or pleading, just a single thought.  Lesson #1:  God loves you so much that He meets even the smallest of needs.

As I shoveled that dung into the wheelbarrow, I glanced around at the garden.  It doesn't look like much this time of year. Some brown stalks of what used to be vegetables, a pile of rolled up garden fencing, and the carcasses of some squashes everyone refused to eat.  If I look at it from the surface, I'd say nothing at all was going on there.  Dead. Stagnating.  Yes, from my point of view, maybe, but underneath the surface things are happening.  My onion bulbs are resting, waiting to green up in Spring, and my garlic is tucked in in great anticipation of bursting forth in another month or so. Lesson #2: sometimes we feel like our lives are at a stand still, that God's not doing a darn thing, but that's only because we look at the surface.  We're totally missing what's going on down deep.

Manure needs time to compost, so basically you shovel it on in Winter and let it sit on the ground until Spring. That's when it works it's miracles.  Later on, not right this second.  Lesson#3:  God sometimes lets us sit under a pile of crap for a little while.  It doesn't feel so good, and we aren't very good about waiting for time to pass underneath it.

Those alpaca/llama poos didn't walk to the gardens all by themselves.  My neighbor muscled it into a cart, drove it over here, and deposited it in a heap.  I put on my old clothes, grabbed my friend "Spade", and worked up a sweat moving it from ground level, to wheelbarrow, across the yard into the places I wanted it to go.  Lesson#4:  the manure of life can be a struggle.  It can mean lots of hard work on your part when it comes your way.  Growth requires participation.

I finished the work in the gardens this morning, and when I was done I had to change my clothes. The yucky ones went right into the washing machine with a goodly dose of lavender detergent.  Last lesson:  God doesn't leave us sitting in our own stink.  When we ask Him, He gets us through the stagnant season, and through the stinky messes we find ourselves under, most of which are of our own making.  I forgot to tell you that when my neighbor called and said she needed to re-home some manure, I ASKED for it.  I asked for it.  I bet you asked for a little one time or another, too.  That's OK.  If we always got things right, Jesus wouldn't have needed to go to that cross.  You're forgiven when you ask, and Jesus takes all your stink and washes it away.

This little lesson from the Winter garden is meant to be a simple reminder of God's love to myself.  Sometimes, I feel a little forgotten in the Heavenly realm when life is hard.  If you get anything out of this, that's a bonus.  God started us all out in a Garden, and He knows what He's doing.  He's cultivating a Spring crop for an Autumn harvest, and I can't wait to experience the fruit of His labors.
Job 5:6 For hardship does not spring from the soil, nor does trouble sprout from the ground. 
7 Yet man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward. 
8 “But if I were you, I would appeal to God; I would lay my cause before him. 
9 He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted.



Monday, February 1, 2016

Hide It Under A Bush, Oh No

I've been thinking about the sermon yesterday. That's good, right? LOL Pastor Joe talked about Genesis 3, and it always breaks my heart. That part of Genesis, I mean. The part where God is walking in the garden, and His children hide, and He calls out "where are you?". I remember the old days, when clothes racks in stores were round and my little boys would hide in them. They'd disappear, and I'd have a long moment of panic. "Where are you?!" And then I'd find them, and be both relieved and mad at the same time. It's that feeling of dread that comes back to me when I read Genesis 3. How God must have felt when His kids went "missing". The frantic searching, straining to hear their voices to know that they were OK. I want to say I'm better than that, that I would never have touched the forbidden fruit, that I'd never hide from God, but that's not true. I think this story pains my heart because it's so close to my own truth. How many days does God cry out "Michelle, where ARE you?". Where is your mind? Where is your heart? Where is your praying voice? Where ARE you? I long to walk with you, to counsel you, to lead you and give you direction, but you've gone missing. Please come out. I love you. No matter what you've done, I still love you. So, today, I ask myself, and you, where ARE you? It's time to come out of hiding. God longs for relationship with you, and it's not Him who is quiet. He's crying out your name, and you're in the bushes. Come out! Confess. Repent. Be freed, and then go back and burn that silly bush you were in. Genesis 3