Great Expectations-Part Three

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I had to laugh at myself.  Within two hours of Part Two posting to the blog, I found myself in a situation exactly like the one I described: perhaps some relief from pain but it was going to require a doctor’s visit, a referral, no doubt more co-pays…my insides tightened and I could only think, “great.  I’ll just pay for all that then, shall I?” Then the thought came, “didn’t you just post on how God has taken you through medical stuff and financial hardship?”  Indeed I had.  Had I learned anything from the experience?  Yes, but I have to admit my first inclination is usually stress and anxiety and THEN remembering the goodness of God.  And so, I write these for my own edification. 

In part two I did write about a series of unfortunate events and how I expected my Father to reveal Himself to me as the Lord who healeth me and, instead, found myself face to face with the Father who loved me and wished His name hallowed above every other on earth.  I am still learning all this means and it’s a theme I hope to explore in the future.  For now I wish to answer the questions: if I am to expect that all the promises of God are Yes in Christ yet experience has taught me God rarely does what I expect in the way I expect it, what am I supposed to be expecting when I pray? Is there a secret to a victorious life in Christ?

I believe there is and that the secret isn’t so secret.  I believe the answer is found in the Indwelling Spirit.  1 Corinthians 1:20 says “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ.”  In Christ.  Two words that appear over and over again throughout the New Testament.  If God’s promises are In Christ, then it must follow I must be in Christ in order to receive them. 

In part two, I also quoted; “But seek (aim at and strive after) first of all His kingdom and His righteousness (His way of doing and being right), and then all these things taken together will be given you besides. (Matthew 6: 33, Amplified)  In Luke 17 verse 21 I find, “Nor will people say, Look! Here (it is!) or, See (it is) there!  For behold, the kingdom of God is within you (in your hearts) and among you (surrounding you).  (Amplified)  Acts 17: 28: “For in Him we live and move and have our being…” and the second half of 1 Corinthians 1:20: “And so through Him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.”  In just these few scriptures (I could quote more but I’d end up copying the entire New Testament) I see how important it is to understand “In Christ” and that there must be something in me that shows me what this means and enables me to say “Amen.”  That something is a Who: the Holy Spirit.

There are two beautiful passages about the Indwelling Spirit found in the Gospel of John.  I can’t choose between them so I’m quoting both:  “I have told you these things while I am still with you.  But the Comforter (Counselor, Helper, Intercessor, Advocate, Strengthener, Standby), the Holy Spirit, Whom the Father will send in My name (in My place, to represent Me and act on My behalf), He will teach you all things.  And He will cause you to recall (will remind you of, bring to your remembrance) everything I have told you.” (John 14: 25-26, Amplified)

And then: “But when He, the Spirit of Truth (the Truth-giving Spirit) comes, He will guide you into all the Truth (the whole, full Truth).  For He will not speak His own message (on His own authority); but He will tell whatever He hears (from the Father: He will give the message that has been given to Him), and He will announce and declare to you the things that are to come (that will happen in the future).  He will honor and glorify Me because He will take of (receive, draw upon) what is Mine and will reveal (declare, disclose, transmit) it to you.  Everything that the Father has is Mine.  That is what I meant when I said that He (the Spirit) will take the things that are Mine and will reveal (declare, disclose, transmit) it to you.  (John 16: 13-15, Amplified)

Because I know the risen and ascended Lord Jesus Christ, His spirit dwells in me as me teacher and guide.  As Paul says, “But if you are guided (led) by the (Holy) Spirit, you are not subject to the law.  What is the law?  The law, or Old Covenant, was based on IF/THEN.  Now, under the New Covenant and the Indwelling Spirit, I find there is a different way to live.  Rather than trying to please a remote God and earn blessings from Him with my good behavior and the fact that I (mostly) keep His commands; I live from the fountain of His life within me. 

But, I know some of you will ask, aren’t you taking some of these scriptures out of context?  Doesn’t John 14 also say, “If a person (really) loves Me, he will keep My word (obey My teaching); and My Father will love him and We will come to him and make Our home (abode, special dwelling place) with him.”  (John 14: 23, Amplified).  Doesn’t that sound like it’s an IF/THEN?

It does and I hope to explore the meaning of these scriptures in more depth in later posts.  In closing this one, I say truly, Our Father’s promise in Ezekiel 37 is made reality with the Holy Spirit:  “A new heart will I give you and a new spirit will I put within you, and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my Spirit within and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you shall heed My ordinances and do them.”  Paul assures me in Philippians that, “(Not in your own strength) for it is God Who is all the while effectually at work in you (energizing and creating in you the power and desire), both to will and to work for His good pleasure and satisfaction and delight.” (Philippians 2:13, Amplified)   

I wasn’t sure how to describe living from the Indwelling Spirit but I chanced to listen to Malcolm Smith’s Webinar # 340 and he put it perfectly.  Now that we have the Indwelling Spirit, we no longer live from IF/THEN but now BECAUSE/THEREFORE.

I love that.  However, with shifting my focus from If/THEN to BECAUSE/THEREFORE, what do I expect from God?  The answer is everything and nothing.  I do not expect specifics.  Rather, I expect that He will keep His word that all His promises are “Yes” in Christ Jesus.  I don’t expect that nothing painful or hurtful will never happen to me.  I do expect that He who lives in me will be everything I need at all times: All in all.  With Paul, I will all the more gladly glory in my weaknesses and infirmities, that the strength and power of Christ (the Messiah) may rest (yes, may pitch a tent over and dwell) upon me! (2 Corinthians 12: 9b, Amplified) His joy fills me and, through Him, I say “Amen”.  May He and He alone be glorified.

An excellent study on the Indwelling Spirit.

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/indwelling-spirit-andrew-murray/1111009163?ean=9780764202278

Here’s Malcolm Smith’s webinar if you are interested.

Great Expectations-Part Two

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Last week I began writing about my struggle to understand why, if all the promises of God were “Yes” in Jesus, did I not see them manifest in my life, and my feelings of failure because of that lack.  There did seem to be a law in place as expressed in Exodus 15: 26: “If you listen carefully to the Lord your God and do what is right in His eyes, if you pay attention to His commands and keep all His decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord who heals you.”   Since I was not healed, I had to have missed a step somewhere. 

I do not wish to infer I’ve spent the last seventeen years pursuing healing. At that time, my Heavenly Father revealed Himself to me in a way I had never known.  At that moment, I realized everything I had ever thought about Him had been mistaken and that I knew nothing at all.  Every day since then has been an opportunity to, in the words of Yoda, unlearn what I have learned. I focused on “But seek (aim at and strive after) first of all His kingdom and His righteousness (His way of doing and being right), and then all these things taken together will be given you besides. (Matthew 6: 33, Amplified)  Amen. So be it. 

Then, three years ago, I re-discovered a bible teacher I listened to as a child.  He spoke of the promises of God, especially healing, and said it was so in Jesus and that I should expect!  Expect?  Expect what?  I was seeking Him with my whole heart, what more did I need to do?  I couldn’t argue with the scriptures I heard quoted.  It did seem there was an aspect to my life in Jesus I was failing to appropriate.  How to do so?

There have been moments of intense frustration as I tried to figure it out.  There have been moments when I’ve been so angry I’ve cried out to God; “just tell me what you want!  Why is this so hard?”  It was a deeply confusing time and it was about to get worse.

With my limitations, I only work part-time which means I don’t have a great deal of extra cash.  While I was struggling to figure out why I was not experiencing the fullness of the promises of God, I had a minor procedure that still required my going under anesthesia; a process that proved to be rather expensive.  A month later, I was rear-ended driving into work which aggravated all my old injuries of that car accident from years ago.  I missed work and pay.  A month after that I ended up in the ER as yet another health problem came to a head.  Major surgery was scheduled that was going to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.  I had insurance (thank God!) but I still had to pay a portion of the cost.  Less than a month before my surgery I was in another car accident (not my fault!) where I ended up in the ER AGAIN.  More expense.  Then came the surgery and recovery, and then yet again another minor surgical procedure.  I didn’t have insurance for this cost and had to dig into my savings account.

In the midst of these health/physical struggles, the parameters of my job changed.  I couldn’t drive myself anymore but had to take the train to work.  This has always been my one point of refusal when accepting a placement: I don’t go downtown because I can’t take the train.  It is too hard on me physically and I get terribly dizzy and sick to my stomach: probably complications from my TBI.  Now, I had to take the train and I didn’t see any way out.  I had taken some financial hits and would be a fool to quit.  Then there was the job itself.  There was no one else who knew the job the way I did so I didn’t see how I could quit and leave them hanging.  Maybe this was it!  I began to pray that finally, when I needed Him the most, my Father would heal me so I could do what I needed to do.  Trusting He would be my strength, I began to ride the train.

My days ended with indescribable agony.  The pain was so bad I couldn’t breathe. Finally, the pain got so bad I had to say “when” to the job.  I had reached another crisis point.  It was when I had nothing left that my Father came to me, wrapped His arms around me, and opened my eyes.

I saw that, even though He and I had developed a deep, personal relationship, I was still hallowing another’s name above His.  What do I mean by that?  I mean that a word had been spoken to me and the word sounded good and right.  Fulfilling that word seemed to be honoring God and I stepped out in obedience to that word without ever checking it with God and being sure the voice I was listening to was His.  I expected Him to give me the strength to do what I believed I needed to do.   

Why am I telling you all this?

All of these things were piling on each other, one after another, and I was clinging to Jesus by my fingernails.  Why?  When everything seemed to be so opposite of what I believed and it didn’t appear He was with me at all; why didn’t I decide I’d been utterly mistaken, there was no God, and I was on my own to figure out this life as best as I could?  The answer is because I know Him.  He has revealed Himself to me step by step, situation by situation over the years and I KNOW He lives and He loves me. Still, I didn’t quite understand: I expected an answer to healing and He showed me the importance of hearing and obeying no voice but His. 

To be continued…

Great Expectations-Part One

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Yesterday was the anniversary of the car accident that left me differently-abled.  I am grateful to be walking and that, once my hair grew back in, I was not left with visible scars but I do live with limitations; both physical and cognitive.  Which brings me to what I want to discuss in this series of posts:  I say I have a relationship with Jesus…why then am I not healed?

2 Corinthians 1: 20 says, “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ.  And so through Him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God”.  There are many promises of healing I could quote from both the Old and New Testaments but, for the sake of brevity, I’m going to focus on Exodus 15: 26 which states, “If you listen carefully to the Lord your God and do what is right in His eyes, if you pay attention to His commands and keep all His decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord who heals you.”  If He is the Lord who heals me and this promise is “yes” in Jesus, then I should be able to expect healing, right?

And, it does seem Exodus lays out the rules for receiving healing.  IF I pay attention to His commands and keep all His decrees, THEN He will heal me.  I have attempted to pay attention to His commands and keep all His decrees.  I attended churches (not forsaking the assembling like Hebrews 10:25 says!) and attempted to do what they told me to do.  I read my bible, attended multiple services per week, and devoted time to prayer.  Then, I would miss a day of reading or a prayer time. Since I could not do these simple things on a regular basis, how could I expect God to heal me? 

I sought healing through biblical methods.  I had hands laid on me, was anointed with oil, stood in healing lines, and was prayed over.  One traveling evangelist insisted that if he laid hands on me I WOULD be healed so I imagine my disappointment when he did so and I was not.  Of course then the fault was mine because “a double-minded person is unstable in all they do” and “such a person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord” (James 1: 8 and 7) so my still being in pain caused me to doubt which meant I didn’t really trust God and didn’t have any faith so He could not heal me. I had these things said to me.

Then I realized that, if I was following the rule laid down in Exodus, all I had to do was pay attention to His commands and keep His decrees.  What simplicity!  Jesus only left me with one: “Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”  (John 13:34)  Well, has anyone else tried this?  Have you found it as difficult a command to keep as I have?  Failure after failure after failure.  No wonder I didn’t have my healing!  How could God heal someone who so consistently fell short of His standards of behavior?!

Have any of you been subjected to this?  If you have, know I empathize with you.  I have been trapped in this never-ending cycle of just not being good enough to please God and finally receive of His promises.  I was already tired from the effects of the car accident and all this striving only made me more so.  Then, I had a life crisis so devastating I was certain I could not and never had heard from God.  I had failed Him so completely I should just curl up and die so He could send me to hell and get it over with.  It was in this place that I met God!  The living God.  The gentle, loving Father who so desired a relationship with me, He sent Jesus into my darkness and death to get me and bring me out.  (John 3:16 and especially 17!, John 17: 3, Ephesians 2: 4-7)

My feet were set on a new path and I began to get to know The Father.  I do not say the path has been easy.  In fact, it felt like the moment my Father began to show me who He was, the floodgates of hell were opened in my life.  Even though…through every devastating circumstance, my Father has revealed a little more of Himself to me and I have been filled with awe and wonder.

But still I struggled with limitations from the car accident and, as the years went by, I developed other health problems.  I prayed about them, tried to “Amen” all the promises of God, and received no miraculous healing.  I ended up having a major surgery and afterwards had the opportunity to speak with a close friend.  I told her how I had prayed leading up the surgery-that I would be spared having to go through it-and how the answer I had received had been “no”.  I told my friend that, while I could accept the no, I had expected things to be different.  It had been years since I’d come to know The Father in a new way and I’d expected I would level up somehow: like in a spiritual video game. 

We both laughed at that but, after hanging up with her, I continued to think about it.  That had been my expectation: that with greater understanding came greater blessings.  Wasn’t that the rule?  Within a few months of this conversation, I had to have another minor procedure.  I threw up my spiritual hands.  Whatever the secret was, I clearly had not discovered it.

Again, while a painful place to be, it is not a bad place to be.  It has been my experience over the last seventeen years that these valleys of deepest darkness are where my Father’s light shines brightest.  And so it proved.

To be continued…

Bible verses are quoted from the New International Version

Declaration

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May Christ through your faith (actually) dwell (settle down, abide, make His permanent home) in your hearts!  May you be rooted deep in love and founded securely on love.  Ephesians 3:17, Amplified


My roots reach deep
Into the One who IS
First of firsts
Within me the rich soil of life
Though the tempest roars
And the locusts swarm
The Harvest comes
I am Faith Unstoppable.

I stand planted
In the One who WAS
Inhabiter of time
The rock of my salvation
Though the mountains crumble
And are swallowed by the waves
I do not falter
I am Faith Unshaken.

I have my shelter
In the One who IS TO COME
Making all things new
My fortress, my tower, my strength
Though I'm bombarded
By flaming arrows
I stand strong in the gap
I am Faith Immovable.
 
 

Making My Footsteps the First

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This coffee mug was a Christmas gift from my Mother.  The phrase on it spoke to me but I was not purchasing things for myself so put it back on the shelf. My mother had seen and surprised me with it.  In case you can’t read it (I’ve had the mug for some years and it’s been through many washings), the phrase is “Each new wave rearranges the patterns in the sand so we can pretend our footsteps are the first”.  I can’t tell you why this phrase spoke to me the way it did but, as the Holy Spirit has worked in me, opening the eyes of my heart to the truth of who Jesus is in me; I have garnered a deeper understanding of this phrase.  Even though the Holy Spirit has been at work in God’s people for over 2,000 years, each revelation is new to me. When my eyes are opened to see, it’s a brand new discovery. 

For instance:

There was a time I used to read Matthew 27:46 where Jesus cries out “My God, My God, Why have You forsaken me?” and thought I understood how He felt.  There have been so many times when I’ve walked through such darkness I was certain God had forsaken me.  I couldn’t hold that against Him though because He’d forsaken Jesus too so at least Jesus understood how I felt.  This is a terrible belief to hold and I thank God He didn’t let me keep it for long.  The Holy Spirit led me to Hebrews 13:5 where I read, and the Amplified translation says it best: “Let your character [your moral essence, your inner nature] be free from the love of money [shun greed—be financially ethical], being content with what you have; for He has said, “I will never [under any circumstances] desert you [nor give you up nor leave you without support, nor will I in any degree leave you helpless], nor will I forsake or let you down or relax My hold on you [assuredly not]!”  While this passage is more about financial worries, this promise of God appeared to hold true for every aspect of my life especially when the verse 16 says “So we take comfort and are encouraged and confidently say, “The Lord is my Helper [in time of need], I will not be afraid. What will man do to me?”

Here was a thought:  If God promised to never leave nor forsake me, was my belief that He had forsaken Jesus mistaken?

I began to read the bible with this question in mind and saw Isaiah 53:4 which states, “surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by Him and afflicted.”  This struck me.  “Punished by God” is how I saw Jesus’ sufferings and death but this scripture appeared to tell me that wasn’t true.  Then the Holy Spirit drew my eyes to 2 Corinthians 5:19 where Paul writes “…God was reconciling the word to Himself in Christ” and Colossians 2:9 which states “in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.”  With these two passages ringing in my mind, I began to question my interpretation of Matthew 27:46.  If I were incorrect and The Father had not forsaken His son, what did Jesus’ words mean?

Then came the day when the Holy Spirit answered that question.  I was reading Psalm 22.  I cannot count how many times I’d read it before and felt David’s pain but had NEVER realized what was going on.  The opening lines of this Psalm are exactly Jesus’ words on the cross.  I have read the writings of bible teachers who have said that every Jew within earshot would not have needed Jesus to say anything more.  They would have known the Psalm in its entirety just hearing the first lines and would know exactly what He was saying.  What was He saying?

Even though David wrote this Psalm hundreds of years before Jesus’ birth, this entire Psalm is about Him.  As the Holy Spirit opened my eyes to that truth, I read through the Psalm in dawning wonder.  Passages leapt out at me.  “He trusts in the Lord, they say, let the Lord rescue him” (verse 8) I found paralleled in Matthew 27:43.  I discovered the horror and shame of crucifixion in verses 16-18 of the Psalm: “they pierce my hands and my feet.  All my bones are on display, people stare and gloat over me.  They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.”

I read David’s words and saw that they mirrored Jesus’ agony.  I continued reading and knew for certain God had not forsaken Jesus on the cross for the Psalm itself declares Jesus was not forsaken in verse 24: “He has not hidden His face from him but has listened to his cry for help.” 

The Psalm ends on a note of exultation.  Verse 31 says, “They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it!”  The last words of the Psalm, “He has done it”, are exactly Jesus’ words when He cries “It is finished!”

I couldn’t believe it. It was like I’d never read the Psalm before.  My entire mind was flooded with revelation and I had an entirely new bible.  I also had an entirely new understanding of Jesus’ cry on the cross. I read the Psalm again and then went back to Matthew 27 to read the entire passage.  And then I read it again because I finally saw what Matthew’s gospel was saying. Jesus’ cry on the cross was not a cry of agony at being abandoned by God.  Rather, it was a shout of triumph.  Even when the situation looks as bad as it possibly can, my God shouts His triumph.

This was a brand new discovery for me and the Holy Spirit and I delighted in it together.  I felt like I’d been the only one ever to have seen this to be true even though, at the same time, I knew I could not be.  Indeed, I am not the first nor will I be the last but it doesn’t matter.  I delight in my seeing.  Those who have already seen share my delight and I have an equal share in the delight of their having seen.  Even though many have walked the shoreline of this particular revelation, the Holy Spirit made the sand smooth so that I felt my footsteps were the first.  He makes it smooth again once I’ve passed so that another can discover Him for the first time.

*All scriptures are quoted from the Amplified and NIV translations.

Song of Songs

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Some of the best poetry ever written appears in the Bible in the Song of Songs: the Song of Solomon. One of my favorite lines is SOS 6:4; Thou art beautiful, My Love, as Tirzah. There’s something musical about it and, while musing on it, I wrote this poem.

Love Song

Thou art beautiful, My Love

There is none to compare to Thee

Thy face shines upon me

I am amazed

Thou art gentle as doves, My Love

There is none like Thee

Thy love surrounds me

I am awed

Thou art water to my soul, My Love

There is none beside Thee

Thy hands hold me

I am safe

Thou art my desire, My Love

There is none over Thee

Thy heart calls to me

I am consumed

Thou hast prepared a place, My Love

You bring me to Thee

Thy blood has bought it for me

I am loved

Thou hast written my name, My Love

There it reads before Thee

Thy book is opened for me

I am known

Friendship

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What can I

A mere Creation

Create in myself

To tell you

The One Who Creates

Of my heart?

How can I

Mere dust

Say in words

To tell You

The Source of me

What I feel?

What is there

Inside of me

New to You?

Thoughts of mine

When told to You

You are surprised?

How can I

Bought by You

Belonging to You

Tell You in words

Of all I would

If only I could

If words were enough?

Tell me, You say

Tell me all

I want to hear

All you would say

To Me

The Invisible One

Who gave The Word

So You and I

Could Speak together

Of all that We will

Because We can

Just a Butterfly

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By the Water at the Reservoir

I like symbols.  I enjoy how symbols can open my eyes to truth I had not yet perceived.  I do try not to get carried away looking everywhere for symbols and hidden meanings and I especially am careful about looking for signs from God.  1 Corinthians 1:22 has always felt like a warning about looking for signs so I have sought to know God’s voice for myself, therefore rendering null and void any need for a sign.  And yet, what about those times when God is there-I know it because His presence is always with me-and yet He is remaining silent?  There are few things more frustrating in my spiritual journey than when God is remaining silent as it usually happens during a time when I need to hear from Him the most.

 I mentioned before how a crisis some seventeen years was merely a catalyst for Jesus to reveal Himself to me in a different way and set my feet on a new path.  Coming to know Him in greater intimacy has not happened all at once. It has been an awful painful wonderful glorious journey: one I’ve survived by relying on Him day by day.  I recently realized I have seen aspects of His character He has been bringing me to see over the course of the last three years. I can look back now and see how it all worked together for me to KNOW what I know today but, at the time, the butterfly was just a butterfly. 

It all started three years ago when my doctor found a lump in my breast.  I hadn’t noticed it.  It truly felt like it had appeared overnight.  My doctor was concerned but not overly so.  She thought it could be a result of an ongoing hormonal imbalance and I was to come back in a month and she’d see if it had changed size or gone away.  I prayed every day of that month, asking He who is my Healer to take it away.  I went back for my follow up visit knowing it hadn’t gone away and having no idea what was going to happen next.  Painful and invasive exams were what happened next, culminating in a biopsy.  I had to wait a few days for the results of my biopsy and, while there was an enormous chance my lump was benign, there was a chance it wasn’t. I couldn’t think, felt numb, and sought the peace I normally find in nature by taking a walk at the reservoir.

It was a beautiful, warm day but I felt I was carrying ice around in my very marrow.  The what if was a whirl-a-gig inside my mind and, although I knew He was with me, He wasn’t making me any specific promises.  I didn’t know what to pray for.  He is my Healer-I believe that with everything I am-but I couldn’t deny He hadn’t healed me-the lump was proof of that- and I felt my foundation of faith was rather shaky beneath my feet.

I managed to make it to my favorite bench placed right by the water before I felt I couldn’t go any further.  I sat there in the warm sunshine, listened to the insects in the long grass, the birds on the water, and just waited in His presence.  Surely, alone in this place, He would speak comfort to me.

As I sat, a small yellow butterfly appeared, flitting from flowers to blades of grass.  I have always thought butterflies symbols of spiritual truths: their beauty, the way the gland at the base of their skull consumes their caterpillar life and the butterfly emerges from that death (our death swallowed in His life!); they have so much to teach me about walking with God.  Thus, I always enjoy seeing butterflies and have never had a moment where I did not feel closer to God when I saw one.  I watched that tiny creature, so yellow it looked like sunshine come to life, and waited for a message from God.  There was nothing. 

 I couldn’t help laughing at myself.  Perhaps I was looking for too much.  Were it a story I was writing, the butterfly would have been the harbinger of great peace and spiritual growth.  Instead, it was nothing more than a creature doing what it was created to do.  A pretty creature, certainly, but nothing more.  The butterfly was just a butterfly.  I was not living inside a book. I had no promise from God that I did not have cancer.  I had no idea what I might be facing in the coming days.  I still had to go home and wait for my test results.  I rose from the bench and made my way home.

My results arrived and I did not have cancer.  My relief was beyond my ability to describe.  Still, the presence of the lump meant my hormone imbalance was more serious than I thought and I could potentially develop severe problems.  I turned out I already had and I ended up having a major surgery only a year later.  I had not developed cancer but though again I prayed, it was a surgery I was not spared. 

And yet, there was never a moment when He was not with me.  It wasn’t that I was not afraid nor in pain.  It wasn’t that I lied to myself and assured myself there was no reason to be afraid.  There was every reason and there were some I hadn’t even considered until I read through and signed my pre-surgery paperwork.  Rather, there wasn’t a step I took He didn’t take with me.  That fact was something I only truly realize now as I am having some painful complications from that surgery, am having difficulties getting treatment for those complications, and have no fear at all.  Irritation at the roadblocks-Jesus does not make me superhuman-but He infuses me with His strength to look into the unknown without fear. How is such a thing possible?  I don’t think it would be if I hadn’t had it cemented in me through experience that He keeps his promises and does not ever leave me nor forsake me.  Whatever my next moments, days, and years hold, I know that I don’t face anything alone.

Oddly, that little yellow butterfly has never been far from my mind.  I was so sure then it meant nothing and yet it has come to be important to me.  Perhaps I don’t have to look for signs or symbols.  Perhaps He gives them to me and then gives me recognition and understanding when the time is right.  I do know I will never again see a butterfly as just a butterfly.

Desire’s Tree

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This week I’m sharing a poem I wrote a few years ago. This one was inspired by Proverbs 13:12; Hope deferred makes the heart sick but when the desire comes it is a tree of life (NKJV).

Tree of Life

One thing I have found is that God often means

Something different in His Word than the various things

I think it should mean as I read

And I’ve wondered aloud whether God really cares

As He rarely sees fit to answer my prayers

In the ways I feel that I need

Like the Tree of Life that desire should be

Is not the very same Tree that I see

As I confess His Word and I stand

For it’s my wants and desires I expect will grow

And bear fruit in my life even though I do know

Something different could come from God’s hand

How difficult then to give up my own schemes

And live for the far more beautiful dreams

My Father is dreaming for me

I long to know Life’s Tree for all that it is

Not my desires but all that are His

And become the green branch He wants me to be

I strive to leave behind all the things that I’ve thought

To press into the Life His Precious Blood bought

And to rest in His wonderful shade

And as He chops down my shriveled, gnarled, old tree

Behold, at last, I can finally see

The True Tree of Life God has made

Icons and Idols

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Madeleine L’Engle is one of my favorite authors.  I was 9 or 10 when I first read “A Wrinkle in Time” and was thus and forevermore hooked on her writing.  Through the years, I’ve moved from her-would they be considered Young Adult books?-to her adult fiction, to her journals, to her essays.  A short time ago, I found “Penguins & Golden Calves: Icons and Idols in Antarctica and Other Unexpected Places” and, I must admit, had a knee-jerk reaction to the words “Icons and Idols”.  I believe I’ve mentioned before I don’t have an extensive religious background but that doesn’t mean those beliefs haven’t made their way into my mental processes.  Aren’t icons wrong?  Aren’t icons and idols synonymous?  Do I have to stop reading one of my favorite authors?

 I had already read the The Genesis Trilogy by Ms. L’Engle and had found them beautiful.  My faith had grown reading these books and so, trusting Ms. L’Engle wasn’t about to let me down now, bought this book.  I have never been sorry that I did so and, like every other book written by Madeleine L’Engle I have read, this one made me sit down and peruse my own life.  Did I have icons in my life?  If I did, was that wrong? Did I (gasp) have idols?  How could I know?  What was the difference?

In my attempts to answer these questions, I first, I looked to the dictionary definitions of icon.  My Second College Edition New World Dictionary of the American Language give me: “an image, figure, representation.”  The Webster’s New Reference Library: An Encyclopedia of Dictionaries stated “a religious image painted on a panel.”  I have seen icons fitting these definitions and appreciated them as art but they’ve never inspired me to pray or worship.  There is nothing in those painted images that remind me of the vibrant apostles who were flogged, jailed, stoned, driven from cities and towns, and, in some cases; killed.  Neither have I been transfixed by any image of Jesus.  How could I possibly be so?  What image could ever compare with He who is utter livingness as revealed in Revelation 1: 10-18?  The answer then is no: by these definitions, I have no icons.

Madeleine L’Engle has a personal, more extensive definition of Icon.  She writes; “What do I mean by icon?…I am not thinking of the classic definition of icons so familiar in the orthodox church, icons of Christ, the Theotokos, saints, painted on wood and often partially covered with silver.  My personal definition is much wider, and the simplest way I can put it into words is to affirm that an icon, for me is an open window to God.  An icon is something I can look through and get a wider glimpse of God and God’s demands on us, el’s mortal children, than I would otherwise.” (Page 8)  And then: “If something does not lead us to God it is not and cannot be an icon.” (Page 10)

By this definition, there are many things I would consider icons.  Waterfalls, rivers, oceans, mountains, ravines, the sky overhead…all at one time have revealed some aspect of God to me that sent my heart soaring in worship and praise at the greatness of His love. On a smaller scale, I suppose I would say turtles are an icon.  From their shells to their slowness to their determination, I see in turtles something that reveals who God is to me on this spiritual journey.  So then yes: considering an icon as an open window to God, I have many such icons in my life.

If I say I have icons, do I then have idols? Just what is an idol?  Can an icon become an idol?  It seems that yes they can because Madeleine L’Engle also writes, “You may not turn an image into God, because that is to turn an icon into an idol.”  (Page 14).  Before I can worry about whether or not I’ve been turning my icons into idols, I must understand what an idol is.

Returning to my dictionary, I find the following definitions for Idol: “an image of a god, used as an object or instrument of worship.”  It seems to me that, to turn an icon into an idol, the heart of the matter (literally and figuratively) is worship.  The Second Commandment says “You shall not make for yourself a carved image-any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall now bow down to them or serve them.” (Exodus 20: 4-5a)

I suppose the fact that I have a turtle pendant would mean I possess a graven image but it was not given to me as such nor do I worship it.  I see aspects of God revealed in nature but that doesn’t mean I become an Animist.  Do I then believe that, as long as they do not become idols, icons are acceptable?  I live in a world I perceive with my senses.  How else is an invisible God going to reveal Himself to me except through the works of His hands?  Romans 1:20 says “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world.”  It is not idolatry to find God in His Creation as long as, I think, I do not stop with the creation but continue to look through that window to Him.

Madeleine L’Engle writes “Jesus should be for us the icon of icons.  God sending heaven to earth, ‘Lord of lords in human vesture.’”(Page 93). 

Jesus as The Icon.  I admit to a bit of knee jerk reaction at that thought as well.  And yet, Colossions 1:15 does state, “Christ is the visible image of the invisible God” so perhaps the thought isn’t sacrilegious after all.  While it doesn’t hurt to give my life a thorough examining, perhaps I will merely thank Him for revealing Himself to me no matter how He chooses to do so.  And, I can thank Him that I don’t have to stop reading one of my favorite authors.

The quotes were taken from “Penguins and Golden Calves: Icons and Idols in Antarctica and Other Unexpected Places” by Madeleine L’Engle published by Shaw Books in 2003.