The act of writing, of sharing the circumstances, the gifts and the graces planned and carried out by my Savior and God brings joy, peace, and contentment to know that He has my life in His hands. My prayer for those who read, who share in what I continue to learn each day, many times through my weakness, is that you will be encouraged to look for God's presence and grace in your life also.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Learning to say "Thank You" for the hard things

Thirty-four years ago life was difficult.  Not quite two years after the accident, I was in effect a single mom caring for a baby just 18 months old plus a kindergartner and first grader..., and Larry wasn't making much progress. There was little sleep, a lot of work, and streams of tears running down my cheeks soaking my pillow most nights. [our story in brief is here.]

But a couple days before Thanksgiving, the Spirit began reminding me that we are to be "thankful in all circumstances, for this is the will of God for you," until I finally sat down at my typewriter and began typing some words of thanks, and once they started coming, I began realizing a little of what God was doing for me.

Reading it now, after all these years, I can read the pain between the lines....pain that left me breathless at times but there is also hope....."and hope never fails."

But in order to get to the point of being thankful for hard things, I had to reach the end of me and my pride, my independence, my abilities, my dreams. I had to understand that my life really was about God and His glory, His honor, His praise.  

And isn't it good that He is always the one teaching us to be thankful even when we don't want to be.

So because of His grace, His steadfast love and faithfulness, I could say and can say....

Thank you Lord for teaching me to say "Thank you,"
Thank you for being patient with me while I learned.
Thank you for the friends that were there
    and they weren't just a few,
Who stood by me and loved and cared while I yearned
    for the things I thought I had lost.
Thank you Lord for teaching me that I had not lost
    but had gained so many things that only you can give.
Thank you for peace.....
The amazing peace in my heart when my world has gone mad.
It comes from knowing you care and that this journey will end
   in the glory of your love and light.
Thank you for letting me meet others who have greatly suffered too.
They have taught me much about becoming more like you.
Thank you for trials, both big and small
And the knowledge that in my life patience they are "working."
Thank you for your love;
A love that has held me close when no one could fill that loneliness so deep.
Thank you for loving me when I doubted your very existence—
Your never ending presence that You would always keep.
Thank you for opening my eyes to the wideness of your mercy
   when it all seemed so very unfair.
Thank you Lord for the songs you have written through those
   who have suffered so deeply in years gone by.
Thank you Lord for teaching me to listen to the words
   and not to question why.
Thank you for the truths in your precious word
Those that help me see more clearly
That this life I have dear Lord
    is yours and yours alone
To do with as you will
    and all I have to do is yield myself completely
And my needs you will fulfill.
Thank you Lord for teaching me to say "Thank you."

Happy Thanksgiving.....and my prayer for myself and you is that in the coming year each and every day will be filled as we offer our praise and thanksgiving to our God for all He is doing around us, for all he blesses us with, and yes, even for the hard, hard things that He uses in our lives to grow us and make us more like His Son, Jesus Christ.

[please note the dead flower in the picture above.  We tend not to notice because of the beautiful flower just above it, but we need to know that every picture isn't perfect or pretty, but the reality is there are hard things, dreams that die, but there are always new ones to come, new life that happens and because of the hard times, we get stronger and more thankful because we know fruit is being produced. There are a lot of life realities that this picture shows.  I would love to hear what some of you might see in this picture.]

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Anticipation of Iris once again in the Spring

With the warm weather hanging on this fall, I have been working out in my yard most every day for a few hours. Cleaning off the dead, dividing some crowded plants, enjoying the birds at the feeders, soaking in the warmth--actually trying to hoard warmth for the colder days coming.

In digging up several overgrown crowded Iris clumps and splitting them, I have been able to plant several dozen Iris in different places, even some new colors given to me.

I love Iris.
 They grow in almost any kind of soil.
   They like it dry.
        They require very little work--a little food, a little water....
             They bloom in the spring when beauty and color are much appreciated.
                  And they bloom big!! Really BIG.
 Which means they make for great pictures.

But a couple days ago when I was outside digging and watering and planting, I got to thinking about these little Iris tubers, about dead, that will bring so much joy, Lord willing, in about five or six months.  Some will be absolutely jaw-dropping and send me to my knees in praise and wonder at what God has done.

But aren't His surprises, His blessings, His graces that are lavishly bestowed on His children more than we could ever imagine.  And they come at the most unexpected times in our lives.

Times when there has been loss,
   Times when we have been hurt,
       Times when we are without answers.
   Times when He wants us to know that we are loved.
       Times when He wants us to know that He knows all about what is going on,
            Times when we are fearful of the unknown.
   He never changes.
        He is always here with us.
              He will always provide for us---more than we ever thought.

A friend just shared a story with me about an answer to prayer...she had been feeling especially frustrated over some health issues that have gone on and on with no resolution.  She had just told the Lord she really needed some encouragement, some affirmation that He knew what was going on.  The phone rang, but she almost didn't answer...all those calls before the election and taught her not to answer. But she felt she should and on the phone was another recorded message but from Charles Stanley.  She said usually his calls ask for  donations but this was different. He said something like, "You need to know that God wants to encourage you today.  He knows what is going on and He wants you to be thankful in it because we are to give thanks in all circumstances...."  She was amazed since she had never had such a direct answer to prayer so quickly.

Isn't God good....

So once again as winter approaches, I know that when I look out on my frozen garden,
 covered in snow and ice,
     colored brown and grey with no hint of color,
          with no sun to warm the earth....
I will know that underneath that cold surface there lies the makings of a beautiful explosion of color and surprise come May and June.  Of color that responds to spring warmth because of winter's fearful cold holding them in bondage for a short time. Why?? So their inner beings could be renewed, so their time clocks could be set, so the bugs would die, so they could regain their strength as they lay quietly waiting for His signal to come forth.

And once again I will get out my camera and my Bible.  My footsteps will be quiet as I walk through the garden enjoying and marveling over the wonder of what God does each and every year.  And I will remember, always remember that hope comes out of pain, life comes out of death, warmth comes out of cold and hope springs forth from fear.

Thank you God, for your wonderful works to us in giving us the renewed sense of God's plan for the ages...to bring glory to Himself and to Himself only and not to man.
Thank You, for the hope of the coming spring,
                        for the encouragement that in your plan for us,
                               for the flowers that will bloom again by your plan and purpose,
                                     each year, each spring, by your grace, in your time. AMEN

"For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope." Jeremiah 29:11

"So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal."
 II Corinthians 4:16-18

Romans 8:24-25 "Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer."

The following poem describes the Iris and its beauty.

Iris, Most Beautiful Flower

Iris, most beautiful flower,
Symbol of life, love, and light;
Found by the brook, and the meadow,
Or lofty, on arable height.
You come in such glorious colors,
In hues the rainbow surpass;
The chart of color portrays you,
In petal, or veins, of your class,
You bloom with the first winter,
With the last, in the Fall, you still show;
You steal the full beauty of Springtime,
With your fragrance and sharp color glow.
Your form and beauty of flower,
An artist's desire of full worth;
So Iris, we love and crown you,
 by Edith Buckner Edwards

Friday, November 2, 2012

Walking by the Spirit, not by the flesh...

[this is a lecture I shared 11/01/2012 for Women's Bible Study on Galatians 5:13-26]

So we have just spent seven weeks learning and reviewing that our salvation is by faith alone, by Christ Alone by grace alone. Do we believe it? Of course we believe it because it is true. 

Now the next question is what does living in freedom from slavery to sin, slavery to the Law look like? 
     How do we not keep thinking we need to please God? 
            How do we keep our motives right seeking to be obedient in all we do so God gets the glory and honor and praise but not doing it so we look good?

Paul really begins to answer this delimna here in Chapter 5. The help he gives us here is practical truth that we can hang on to.

In review (we can never hear this enough) what Paul has been telling the Galatians is that their salvation is by faith alone...by Christ alone and by grace alone. By faith you have been "saved through grace and not by works." Again, none of our works can earn favor with God. For those who have been justified by God, for those whose faith is through Jesus alone by grace alone there is nothing we can or can't do that will endear us more to God, our Father--our Abba Father. He sees each of his sons and daughters through the lens of Jesus' righteousness.

Paul has used various arguments here in Galatians to convince them that if they had to add to the Gospel in order to pacify God, if Jesus sacrificial death was not enough to make us right with God then...
  1. Christ didn't need to leave his throne and come to earth and then die, [but he did come down and he did die]
  2. The Galatians would have to not just keep one part of the law that they added on but every single bit of it [and they couldn't and we can't]
  3. This would leave us slaves to sin forever because they can't keep the law...no one can

Now that Paul has made his undenible arguments and condemnations against the Judaizers, against those teaching this false doctrine of needing to do something more (circumcision) in order to be saved, what does Paul do in his letter? He begins presenting the case for their being free and what that looks like. That is an important truth for us to understand.

We do have Freedom in Christ

In verses 13-15, Paul says, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another”

Paul earlier in 5:1 talked about freedom when he told us why he died for us, why he paid the penalty for our sin.... “For freedom, Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”

--This is an important truth. When Paul says “stand firm” that is exactly what he means. To not stand firm for freedom from slavery to sin, would once again put us back under slavery to sin. Once we buy into the idea of pleasing God, we are stuck because we can never please God through what we do or don't do.

But there are three things we need to understand about freedom.

         1. Freedom from slavery can be misused in two ways...It is kind of like driving on a road. I grew up here in Colorado on a dairy farm, two miles north of Elizabeth. The two miles were on a gravel road, sometimes referred to as “roller coaster road.” There were some hills that could really be great fun if the road was dry but very frightening if the road was slick. The ditches on both side sof the road seemed deep and something to be avoided. However, over correcting the car on either loose dry gravel, or over correcting when the road was sticky, slimmy goo resulted in ending up in one ditch or the other and getting out of the ditch was seldom an easy task. It usually meant walking home to get Dad and the tractor.  If the car was damaged we were in big trouble.

And so it is with freedom from slavery to the law, there is a road of liberty that we are on but there are two ditches...two ditches that Paul tells us to stay out of.

In verse Paul warns the Galatians not to go back to the yoke of slavery, to all the rules and expectations. But some are afraid that freedom will be too easy for “weaker” Christians. I mean if there are no “rules” to keep, no checklists to keep people controlled, some might go crazy with sinning. And so the law loving, checklist loving people decide to come up with some “rules” some expectations to keep themselves and especially others from sinning too much....but as these rules grow and grow they end up on a slippery slide that pulls everyone deeper into the ditch of legalism, a "yoke of slavery.".

The other side of the ditch is the licence to sin Paul addresses in verse 13 “Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh...” We must not use our freedom as a launching pad to indulge our flesh. These are the people those in the legalism ditch are concerned about. These people  really do believe that anything goes because we are under grace. They know we  have been totally forgiven so nothing can be held against us. That gravel road is dry in this case, but because of the speed and danger involved in the “fast” life, they end up in the ditch of license. They are totally involved in self and what they want to do and having their selfish desires fulfilled. The problem is they feel no need to serve those around them, to lift their brothers and sisters up, to be encouragers.  They are very me oriented.
  1. One Scripture passage that explains the delema well is from I Cor chapter 20
    23 m“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. 24 nLet no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. ...
31 So, whether you eat or drink, or uwhatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 32 vGive no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to wthe church of God, 33 just as xI try to please everyone in everything I do, ynot seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.”

Which leads us to the proper use of our freedom in Christ and that is to “serve one another in love.” Jesus told us in John 15 “This is my commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.” John Stott said that “Christian liberty is service not selfishness.” and I would add it is also not control of others under the pretense of keeping them from sin. We need to stay out of the ditch on both sides of the road of "liberty" as we serve one another through love.

A key to our living in freedom is “one another”....we must live in community with our brother's and sisters in Christ and serve each other. But that won't happen if we are stuck with the law, with rules about how we need to live and act. John Hanneman said “God wants us to grow so that we love out of freedom and not serve out of duty. The law will not help us accomplish this ultimate goal. Our efforts to do so may look good, but they will not spring from a love that is based on freedom. Legalism inhibits love. When we are controlled by law, by performance, and by our preoccupation with seeking approval, we will not be free to love. We will through duty love so that we might receive love and approval in return. But no amount of law keeping will transform a selfish heart to a loving heart or a bound-up spirit to a free spirit. Freedom is possible only in Christ, through his Spirit. And this is why God has set us free—that in community and in relationships we might express and experience a love that is free from all taint of legalism.”

What Paul is saying here is really important....We are to use our freedom from the law to serve others through love. Jesus told his disciples in John 15:13 “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” We are to love our neighbor as ourself and when Jesus was asked who our neighbor is he told the story of the Good Samaritan where the Priest and the Levite who should have been willing to love the wounded man but didn't --probably because of fear for their life. Instead the Good Samaritan loved his enemy even though doing so went against every single cultural distinction and could have cost him his own life.

Henry Nouwen describes God's love in us like this. “The leap of faith always means loving without expecting to be loved in return, giving without wanting to receive, inviting without hoping to be invited, holding without asking to be held. And every time I make a little leap, I catch a glimpse of the One who runs out to me and invites me into his joy, the joy in which I can find not only myself, but also my brothers and sisters.”

Living under law does not free us to love and serve others unconditionally. When we live under the Law we are trying to please God, to live up to what we think He expects of us, to show others what a great Christian we are. When we understand that we are free of all that, we are free to listen to the Spirit, to follow the Spirits leading, to love our enemy, to go into places that could cost us our security, our reputation, our life because all of those things are in God's control.

Then we see Paul's warning in verse 15.
“But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.”

These are strong words that speak of the community of believer's possible self-destruction. Even though he uses the words “one another" we have a negative connotation. Here those not serving each other in love, who are not loving their neighbor as themselves, are literally acting in cannibalistic ways to devour each other

Hanneman said, “If we do not give ourselves to love, things can go in the opposite direction. Efforts to control sin can have more devastating effects than the sin itself. Rather than building itself up in love, the community feeds on one another. People become critical, judgmental, selfish and complaining, pointing out each other's faults, consuming one another.”

As we have talked about before. Serving others through love and not falling back into trying to please God by following the rules is impossible in the flesh. Let's face it we are by nature selfish. We are born with a sin nature that does not automatically put others first. 

I remember when my oldest was about 15 months old and we visit other mother's with kids.  I would be shocked when older children would take away toys Greg was playing with.  I would think to myself, "Greg will never do that!"  But guess what in a few weeks he was taking things away from others also. 
 Oh yes, we can train our children to be more giving, but it is not a natural thing to do.

Everything in us says, “me first.” The last few years there has been this fad in America to wear “me first” buttons. Or things that idicate to others that it really is all about me. Would you believe that there are botiques and clothing stores named “It is all about me!” There are posters for your walls, pillows for your bed, sweatshirts and tiarras that actually announce to the world “it is all about me.” to help you remember that everyday.
But putting yourself first isn't a God-centered belief. It is from Satan who takes the commandment to love others and twists it by saying, “if you don't love yourself first, you can't love others.”

The truth is I don't have to be taught to love me, I do that automatically.   The problem for us comes when others don't love us like we think we should be loved. Then we don't feel  as "loved" as we think we deserve to be loved. 

That can cause a real problem if we don't get our focus, our purpose for living in the right place. If our focus is not to serve others through love, then our self-serving desire to be loved by others becomes the paramount goal of our lives. We are hurt easily because no one on earth can love us as we need to be loved which actually leads to a lot of hurt. The answer is as God says “through love serve one another.” “Consider the interests of others more important than your own interests.” 

You see, we do need to be loved.  It is the biggest need we have, but when we look to people here on earth to love us, we will be disappointed.  There is not a husband, a boyfriend, a father, a brother,  a friend, a mother, a grandma, anyone on earth who can love us perfectly.  They don't know what we need or how we need it.  But God does.  God created you, He formed you in your Mother's womb, he knit you together just like he wanted you to be.  And He loves you with perfect love...he laid down the life of His only Son because he loves you. 
And because He love you, God says to love others as He loved us.... In I John 3:1 it says “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God;...”

Jesus in the sermon on the mount talks about what loving your neighbor really means...and it is NOT something that the world asks us to do. Matthew 5:43-48 “You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?...”

But then Paul in verses 16-26 tells us of how that kind of love is accomplished...how the desires of the flesh can be subdued...how we can actually begin doing the things we really want to do.

We must walk by the Spirit.

In verse 16 he says we are to “walk by the spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Remember back in chapter 4:6 Paul says, “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of this Son into our hearts, crying 'Abba! Father!' So you are no longer a slave but a son and if a son then an heir through God.” When we became sons, when we were adopted into the family of God, became members of the covenant of believers, we were given the Holy Spirit. He dwells in you and in me.

There are 3 verbs used to describe the Spirit in the life of the believer.
First in 16 we are to “walk by the Spirit.” That is imperative...something we are to do. It indicates forward movement, an acknowledgement that he is right here beside me, we are in-step marching together. And we both have the same purpose to subdue to put down to squelch the desires of the flesh because the Spirit and the flesh are opposed to each other.

Then in verse 18 Paul says, “If you are led by the spirit, you are not under the law.” That is a rhetorical question if you have been justified by Christ. Each one of us who have been called by faith, are being led by the Spirit and we are not under the law. That is an imperative statement. It is factual. The action here is happening on the part of the Spirit. He is leading us....he is directing our way...he does show us the way to do what we really want to do and that is be like our Father in heaven.
And then in the last verse Paul makes a statement that should be a huge encouragement and a warning also. “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.”

Again the “if” is really an acknowledgement that everyone who is justified lives by the Spirit because the Spirit indeed is in them leading them Our part?? We must keep in step with the Spirit. Don't lag behind, realize that you are not alone living this Christian life. The Spirit in us gives us victories. The Spirit constantly is reminding us of what Christ taught. “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” And so that list of the works of the flesh, the sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like that, have no control over us. They have been crucified with Christ Jesus.

And once again, because we live in the Spirit, we are led by the Spirit and we walk by the Spirit there is the Fruit of the Spirit...not fruit of Darnly or Mary or Sue. Not fruit of Pastor Bates, Billy Graham or even the church as a whole. Fruit of the Spirit. And just like fruit from an apple tree--an apple grows not because of anything the apple tree tries to do...anything the apple tree has learned to do...anything the apple tree works to do....I mean really have you ever seen an apple tree working???

Apples come because that is what the apple tree was created to produce, was given the power to do through it's inherit make up. The seed was even planted by someone else. Again in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said “So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.”

The fruit that shows up “on” us, that others see comes from the inner man.....from the inside of us...from the Spirit within. And isn't it interesting as you studied this weeks lesson that all of these fruits have to do with loving others, there purpose is to feed others. I think it is interesting that apple trees don't eat their own apples. And just as they don't produce fruit for their own benefit. The Fruit of the Spirit is not to bless us, to feed us but to bless others, to nurture others, to feed them, to serve others in love. If we aren't walking by the spirit we will be incapable of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness , gentleness, self-control, all of which is of huge benefit to those around us. But also, if you notice, these fruits of the Spirit are all modeled by God to us as He shows his love to us.  He personifies each of these qualities which in turn the Spirit produces in us so we can bless others as He blesses us.

The last thing I want to do is talk a little about the Spirit that is within us. You can look at the handout that has some things we learn about the Spirit in the Bible. We need to understand just how essential the Spirit is to our Christian walk, just what he was sent to do and even how we can see his work in our lives..

I hope each of you will use this sheet to refer back to to remind yourselves of what you have in the Spirit. Who He is, Why He is, What He does for you always.

I also pray that God in his power will made each of us more aware of the Spirit's leading, of his Living in us to help us serve one another in love. I pray that each of us will ask God to help us see the work of God, of Christ, of the Spirit in our daily lives. But we must watch for him, look for him, give thanks for the Spirit's work that does enable us to love, to really love as God loves us.

When we see the works God has prepared for us to do, works that there is no way we could do in our own power, when we see the Spirit enabling us to reach out to those who perhaps hate us, to those who don't understand us, to those who would rather see us gone from their lives....when we can reach out to them in love rather than condemnation or disdain, wanting good not evil for them, we will know that the Spirit is indeed living in us, leading us, and enabling us to walk in step with him.