Friday, September 23, 2011

The Fragrance of the Honeysuckle

As I was out running through my neighborhood yesterday morning I was met by the fragrance of the Honeysuckle. Beautiful, sweet, and pleasant. As I was running along, every so often I would notice it again. When I would turn and look, sure enough I could see the little white flowers peeking out from behind a weed patch along the side of the road or sometimes planted in someone's flower patch in their front yard. It was often barely noticeable except for the beautiful fragrance. I recognized the smell right away. As a matter of fact, I actually was waiting, anticipating its arrival. The fragrance is so distinct it brings me back, reminding me of a time about a year ago.
Last spring I was preparing for the Marine Corp Half Marathon. It was the week before the race so I was planning to do a relaxing 6 mile run in the battlefield. We are blessed to live only a mile from the Spotsylvania Courthouse Civil War Battlefield.  In my quiet time that morning I had been reading about the fragrance of Christ. Paul tells us in 2 Cor. 15, "Christ, through us, spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of Him. To God, we are the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing." As I began down the road at the entrance of the battlefield, I was suddenly keenly aware of the fragrance around me. It was so strong I had to stop and figure out what it was. It was inviting and beautiful. I wanted more.
With the contrast of the highway behind me and cars whizzing past, the path in front of me looked so peaceful. The road into the battlefield is quiet and serene. A beautiful place to run. Often a place that has become my sanctuary as I commune with God while I run; surrounded by nature and flooded by this fresh scent of the honeysuckle. It was as if God was inviting me into the sanctuary that day. Running down the battlefield road I smelled it again and again. I felt that God was speaking to me about the fragrance of His presence. It was such a powerful experience of His love for me, I will always associate the fragrance of the honeysuckle with the memory of that day. It will always be a reminder to me of the fragrance of His presence.
As I run down the road, even at times when I can't see that Jesus is with me, when I smell the honeysuckle, it will remind me that He is right there with me- just as He promised- all the time.
The fragrance of the honeysuckle-the fragrance of Christ- The aroma of God.
I prayed to God that He would be so close to me I could smell Him! As He came close, He reminded me that I will begin to smell like Him- and that He wants me to be the aroma of God to others.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Feel Your Pleasure

About a year ago I took an interest in a new hobby. I bought myself a road bike and started cycling with a couple of friends. One of them had done a lot of riding with the local cycling club and at one time had even completed a Century Ride, a 100 mile event that I would compare to a runner completing a marathon. This was a whole new world for me. I was the Rookie and had a lot to learn. I loved every minute of it.  We would  load up the bikes and head down to Caroline County on Saturday mornings to ride out in the country where the roads are much safer. Once we had our helmets strapped, our shoes buckled, gloves on and our water and snacks ready we would gather up in a prayer circle before taking off. Each of us straddling our bike with the front tires touching, nose to nose, holding hands much like we did for a long Saturday run during marathon training.
When Shari prayed she would always ask the Lord that we might feel His pleasure as we ride. That was such a beautiful thing to ask of God. That we might feel His pleasure. What a beautiful prayer. Each week Shari would ask again for His pleasure. When I asked her how those words had become a part of her prayer life she asked if I remember the movie Chariots of Fire. Oh yes, from back in the 80's! A good movie that brings back lots of wonderful memories. (Fritz and I saw that movie together with a group of college friends long before we ever started dating!) When Eric Liddell was asked why he felt so strongly that he would not run on Sundays, in his explanation he said, "I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure." Shari was touched by those words and began praying that she too, would feel His pleasure. How beautiful. God does allow us to feel His pleasure when we ride. It is exhilarating, refreshing, cleansing, challenging, and peaceful. Much like our life.
I remember Mike Yacconelli speaking at Youth Specialties saying that if he died today he would say of his life, "What a ride! What a ride!" Three days later this well known, highly respected, much loved author and teacher in the christian community was killed in a car accident on the way home from the convention where we had just heard hi speak. Mike Yacconelli was the founder and president of Youth Specialties, the National Youth Workers Convention. His statement about his earthly life, "What a ride!" would become his legacy. He felt God's pleasure in his life.
Last week when we returned to our cars after a couple hours of riding I smiled and said to Shari, "I feel His  pleasure.!" Since then I have thought about those words several times and find myself praying that I might feel God's pleasure at other times as well. As I was driving to school the other day saying my morning prayers, I asked God that I might feel His pleasure as I teach the children. As I seek to give Him honor and glory by showing love to those I encounter, that I might feel His pleasure. It was as if God spoke the words to me- not that I was speaking to Him. I felt that He was telling me, "Feel My pleasure!". God began to open my eyes of understanding to receive this new word from Him. He wants us to feel His pleasure in all that we do. To feel His pleasure when I spend time in His Word, when I spend time with my kids, my friends, my family. When I write, when I run. His word says, "whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him." Col. 3:17, and then in verse 23, "whatever you do, do it heartily as unto the Lord."The more we feel His pleasure, the more intimately connected we feel to Him. We recognize His voice when He speaks, we hear, we see, and feel His presence, and we are drawn to Him. We experience Him. As we experience Him- we feel His pleasure.
In a time in life where I feel so much pain, it is comforting to feel His pleasure. In the years of Fritz's illness and the days and weeks leading up to and following Fritz's death, our family has faced the crucible of adversity. We have stared long and hard at hopelessness, despair and death. Painful trials have become a lifestyle. Pushing the pain away in order to cope with the trial of the day has been the daily challenge. At the same time, knowing we are on a journey- a peaceful journey in which God has not forgotten us is where we find our peace. I thank God that in the midst of this pain, He is showing me His pleasure. The prophet Isaiah spoke these words long before Jesus spoke them himself saying He will 'give the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness' Is. 61:3. 
Today Kelsey and I will go to Lynchburg to visit Kristin for the weekend. We will get pedicures, go out for dinner, and watch football. We will go to church together before saying our good-byes.
Lord, I pray we might feel your pleasure as we ride today.

Friday, September 16, 2011

God's Proving

When the power of God invades our life, the impossible is about to become possible. We don’t always recognize God’s work in our lives; it often comes in the form of trials and difficulties, not the happy times we have naively grown to expect, or to think we deserve. We may even feel we are entitled to certain amenities of God; things like good health, relationships with family and /or friends, enough money to live comfortably. These things are not too much to expect from God, are they? However, if we are to recognize His power in our lives, we need to see God’s favor at work instead of seeing trials and difficulties when things don’t go as we had planned. God’s word tells us that there will be trials of various kinds and many will suffer according to the will of God! In the epistle of James we read, ‘My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing’ (James 1:2-4).  Peter also wrote, ‘…after you have suffered a little while (the God of all grace) will perfect, strengthen, establish and settle you.’ We want the blessings of God but we tend to reject the trials that go with it. We do not see the power of God in our lives because to us, His work looks more like a pregnant teenager, or a murderer.  This is how the impossible became possible in the life of Mary, the Mother of Jesus and for Moses, the servant of the Living God. This is how the power of God manifests in us as well.
Mary was just a young girl when an angel appeared to her to tell her she had found favor with God and was blessed among women. Who of us would not be excited to hear news like that! News from an angel! We all would love to hear that God is about to bless us and that we have found His favor.  None of us would anticipate what Mary is told next nor are we likely to think of it as a blessing. Mary is told by the angel that she would become pregnant- not by Joseph, the one to whom she is betrothed to be married, but by God Himself!! This sounded more like a reason to fear for her life than God’s favor at work in her life. More than likely, Mary had not pictured in her mind’s eye that this is what the favor of God would look like. Her response to this news is amazing and shows the depth of her faith and her character.  She simply said, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be unto me as you have said.”  She believed God could do something great in her life. She believed the angel when he said, “For nothing will be impossible.” The power of God was about to invade her life and the impossible was about to become possible.
Moses was a murderer. He also wrote a good part of the Old Testament scriptures that are contained in the Bible. He was a Hebrew who had been raised as an Egyptian in the home of the Pharaoh. He had become upset by the way he saw a Hebrew slave being treated and ended up murdering the Egyptian. He fled for his life, leaving the home of pharaoh and returning to his own people, the Hebrews, to live as they did. After leaving his boyhood home in Egypt and returning to his own people, Moses had an amazing encounter with God. God appeared to Moses in a burning bush and tells him that his name is I AM. The Hebrew word that we translate to mean I AM is YHWH. The English inserted vowels in the word so that we could pronounce it, but originally it was merely the sound of breath; the sound of breathing; the sound of God breathing His Spirit into man.   Moses grew to know the Lord in a deep, personal way; the way many of us long to know Him.  Moses’ faith was challenged and deepened by the encounters he had with the Living God. With each encounter, God revealed His character to Moses through His many names. It was in the encounter with YHWH at the burning bush that God told Moses that He wanted him to lead his people out of slavery in Egypt into the land of promise. The power of God was about to invade his life and the impossible was about to become possible.
 Jehovah Rophe, the God who heals, was revealing Himself to the children of Israel, by His servant Moses. After the Israelites left Egypt and crossed the Red Sea, following Moses to the Promised Land, they came to a place of testing. The water was bitter and so the place was called Marah, which means bitter. They quarreled and cried, wishing Moses had left them in Egypt where they had been slaves to Pharaoh.  The Lord not only provided water for them but manna and quail to feed them. As they continued on the journey, once again they came to a place where there was no water.  The place was called Massah and Meribah, meaning testing and quarreling. And again they began to murmur against Moses.  This place of testing where the water was bitter would prove their faith. They tested the Lord saying, ‘is the Lord among us or not?’ Jehovah Rophe not only healed the bitter water, he became the remedy for the bitterness of the people, all people, through his Son, Jesus Christ. The impossible became possible as they witnessed God’s proving. 
 If we seek to deepen our faith, we must seek to become more faithful as Mary did; and as Moses did; and as the Israelites did as they journeyed to the Promised Land.  Faithfulness and deeper faith will only come about through times of testing which allow God to prove our faith. God has certainly been my hope, encouragement, strength and help as He has proved Himself to me through his Name.  I have come to realize the trials that I am facing now are the work of God’s favor in my life. Through painful trials, blessing will come. I will be changed, and He will be glorified. The impossible must become possible. 
A few years ago my search for God, by name, began with of a book a friend had given me. One of the names that seemed to touch my heart and speak to me personally as I studied was Miqweh Yisrael.  The Hope of Israel introduced Himself to me by walking me into the most hopeless circumstances I could ever imagine. In the Hebrew scriptures, hope is often connected to the expectation that God is a deliverer who will save those who trust in Him. It urges us to wait confidently for Him to act. Biblical hope is a new kind of strength, enabling us to be patient and enduring regardless of what we face.  This is the kind of strength I would need in order to get through the next season of my life. During the times of not knowing what to hope for, God has been Miqweh Yisrael to me. For two millennia the Christian symbol for hope has been an anchor. What better way to picture the One who is utterly reliable, completely steady, invulnerable to all the forces of evil that threaten us?  If our hope is grounded in God, we will not be destroyed when gale force winds begin to blow in our direction, when fear, pain, grief, and disappointment threaten to overwhelm us. No matter how terrible the storm, we can survive because God is with us.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Time We are Given

One day several years ago, as I was leaving for work in the morning, I was feeling a little discouraged. The price of gas had risen to over four dollars a gallon. Thousands of people's lives had been devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Fritz was scheduled to have an MRI of his brain in order to diagnose over a year of unexplainable symptoms. What was happening to our lives! Where was God!
It was the end of September, long after dragonflies, but there he was, lighting on the tall, gone-by Tiger Lilly. Reminding me that he was still there, quietly doing his work, faithful, merciful and loving; intricate and beautiful; beyond understanding. So like my God. Tender beauty in his wings. Strength in his body. Wisdom in his eyes. Comfort and joy in his presence.
The dragonfly has a way of coming back, reminding me that he is still here long after the hot summer season has passed. The day we went for the brain MRI, the dragfonfly showed up in the ladies restroom. Fritz had gone down the hall with the nurse to have the test done, leaving me in the waiting wait. I slipped into the restroom to pray. After a few minutes I looked up and noticed on the wall beside me, a large picture of a beautiful dragonfly. Once again, the dragonfly reminded me that God is with me. When I don't see him, when I am alone and afraid. Even in late October....he came back again....for me.
A few months later we were heading to Dulles Airport. Fritz was driving. I was stressing. The traffic was terrible. Kristin (our oldest daughter) was flying home from Boston, MA after spending a week with some friends of our family. As we inched up the highway, the clock seemed to take giant steps forward. I couldn't stand the thought that we would be late and wouldn't be there when Kristin arrived. This was her first time flying alone and know, mothers are going to worry. I put my head down to pray and when I looked up again my eyes landed on the license plate on the car ahead of me. It read DRGNFLY. I immediately felt the reassurance that God was with us and that He heard my prayer. The dragonfly came back again....for me. Over the years the dragonfly continues to come back when I least expect him, reminding me again and again that God is with me. He knows I need a constant reminder of His presence.
When my grandmother passed away three years ago my aunts and uncles planned to have an estate sale of all her belongings. Before the sale, all the grandchildren were offered the opportunity to look through her things to see if there was something special that we might like to keep. There was a little dragonfly pin. I don't remember ever seeing Gramma wear it, but there amidst a small collection of costume jewelry, there it was, begging to come to me. But it was too late. By the time the word got to my aunts and uncles that I had requested the dragonfly pin, it had found its way to a little antique shop in Cape Cod, MA to be sold!
A year later, in June of 2011 my Mom and Dad had just returned from RI where they had been visiting relatives. When they returned, Mom handed me a little red box. I had no idea what it was. When I opened the box I was so excited to see Gramma's beautiful little dragonfly pin inside. The dragonfly came back again....for me. God is here.
Fritz is confined to bed, too weak to even sit in his wheelchair. He is using the oxygen machine day and night to help relax his breathing. God I need you. Sitting under a tent at the cemetery, the casket right in front of me, it is a hot summer day. The crowd of people around the little tent trying to step out of the sun and straining to hear the words. The last words that were ever spoken for Fritz. I sat next to my mother holding her hand. Our pastor's beautiful wife filled the air as she sang Near to the Heart of God. The dragonfly came under the tent, flew over the casket with the beautiful red flowers laying across the top, then right over my shoulder, past my mother and out the other side. God you are always with us. Thank you for the dragonfly.
I recently met a new friend who shares my passion for dragonflies. When I realized our common interest I could not help but ask her what significance the dragonfly held for her. She explained to me that the lifespan of a dragonfly is very short- only about a day. All they are to do in life they are to accomplish in the relatively short period of time they are given. She continued by explaining that we also must accomplish  what we are to do in our lifetime in the relatively short time we are given and that we never know how long that time will be. How beautiful. How true.

Monday, September 5, 2011

A Kernel of Wheat

When Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem the crowd that had come for the Feast went out to meet him shouting, "Hosana!" (which meant "save"!). This is interesting because Jesus' name in Hebrew was Y'shua which means 'God who is saving His people'. The crowd that gathered that day was the same crowd that was with him when he raised Lazarus from the dead. They had spread the news, so many had come out to see Him as he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. Jesus knew this was the ride down the road that would lead to death. He also knew he had to die in order to live. He had said to his friend Martha just days earlier, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die." Jn. 11:25. Jesus now turns to the crowd; to those who were crying shouts of Hosana and says, "the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am my servant will also be. Jn.12:23-26.
Jesus had explained to his disciples that he would suffer many things. He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Then He said to them all, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it."
The God who saves, Y'shua, Jesus, chooses to die, that we might live. That is how He saves us. We have to die if we want to live. Paul said in his epistle to the church of Philippi, "But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ....I count all things loss but for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I might win Christ....that I might know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto His death. Phil. 3:7-10. Paul also said, "For to me, to live is Christ, to die is gain." Phil.1:25.
He who suffered is the One who is saving. He who died has been resurrected and He who was dead now lives. Man was destined to die once, but after this the judgement: so Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation. Heb. 9:27,28.
Remember what John talked about on the Island of Patmos? The suffering, the kingdom, and the patient endurance that are ours in Christ. Suffering is part of the plan for saving. Dying is part of the plan for living. Job, whose life was the epitome of human suffering said, "though He slay me, yet will I praise Him." Only by His last breath, as a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, do we live and produce many seeds.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Dying to Live

I suppose that dying to self begins the day we receive new life by confessing our belief in Christ. When we believe in our heart and confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord, we are saved and we become a new creature in Christ. Our new life consists of daily dying to self as we grow in our faith and understanding of God and our desire to glorify Him with our life. Many of us do not truly begin to understand this concept. We don't understand the covenant relationship that we have entered into with God. And we don't understand that our life is now hidden in Christ and that the life we now live we live by faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave His life for us. He loved us. We are called to sacrifice as He did because He loved us. This is so counter-intuitive that we can hardly wrap our mind around it. He died because He loved us and we are called to do the same.
I began to understand this a few years ago when Fritz first became ill. It didn't happen voluntarily or without kicking and screaming in protest. But as God began to peel my fingers off of my life using one unthinkable struggle after another, it was only after my fingers were loosed, my hands open, and my fists un-clenched that I began to see that God wanted me to die to self so I could receive the riches of His glory, the spirit of wisdom and revelation so that I might know Him better. The eyes of my heart began to open and I could see and know the hope to which He was calling me; the riches of His glorious inheritance, and his incomparably great power for those who believe. That power is like the working of His mighty strength which He exerted in Christ when He raised him from the dead and seated him at His right hand in the heavenly realm. Ephesians 1:17-20
Dying to self is hard. Really hard.The flesh puts up a good fight! When Fritz first became sick I was so overwhelmed by life. I remember returning from John's Hopkins University Hospital after receiving the news from the Dr. that Fritz had a disease called MSA which was short for YOU WILL DIE. (That's all my brain heard that day.) I came home asking how can I just go on living?! The answer is that I must die too. The kids were in middle school and high school. They were still young enough that none of them could drive. As Fritz's illness worsened he was no longer able to drive either. I was overwhelmed with the responsibility of being a parent to three busy teen-aged kids who lived very busy lives. The responsibility I felt with my job was very stressful. Fritz's needs were changing quickly and we had to continuously make adjustments to accommodate his physical limitations.  The worst thing was I felt horrible about worrying about myself at all! Fritz is the one who was suffering. What I was going through was nothing compared to all he had to give up. But I had no choice, if I was going to be able to take care of Fritz and our family I had to figure out how I was going to stay alive.  Emotionally I was alone and afraid. Fritz was the one who had been given a terminal diagnosis, but I felt as if I too, was going to die! This is when I began to realize I had to die to self.
This is also when God began teaching me about the patient endurance that John speaks of. I was already running the race, but I had not been willing to follow the author and finisher who is now seated at the right hand of the Father because of His love for me. I had been just running around seeking pleasure. I had to die to self, to everything I held dear to my heart, and allow God to peel my fingers off my life. I had to trust Him. This was a lot easier to say than to really do. When my understanding of this was not merely words in a song or something nice to say; when it was flesh and blood, my husband's flesh and blood, my kids, and my own, it was the hardest thing I have ever been called to do.  I remember going to our pastor to talk. When Pastor Daniel asked me how I was doing I nearly fell apart. I told him I was barely hanging on. Little did I know, that is exactly where God wanted me, barely hanging on. As a matter of fact, God wanted me to completely let go. To trust Him with my life; with my kids, with my husband, my job, my church, my finances; all that I was afraid of, and all that I held dear.
Fritz is no longer struggling. I am no longer struggling. I do know Him better. He is showing me the riches of His glorious inheritance through His faithfulness every day. His strength in me is like the power he exerted when He raised Christ from the dead. Fritz is now resting. I am breathing. God is reminding me every day that I am alive and He is opening my eyes to see the hope to which He is calling me.