Pruning

I am growing tomatoes this year. Or attempting, in my own amateurish way. I have had mediocre results for the past two years, and true to my stubborn nature, I’m trying again. 🙂

One thing (possibly the only thing) I’ve learned about tomatoes is that they require vigorous pruning. Otherwise, they shoot leafy branches in every direction, and though full and luxurious-looking, they don’t give up much by way of edibles.

(My 3-year-old would disagree; he thinks that since we eat the leaves of our herbs, he can munch on all the foliage in the yard. I’ve caught him grazing several times.)

Many a day last summer found me hacking away at my little ‘mater plants, leaving stark, wounded stalks behind. But we got a lot more tomatoes out of them!

Once again, nature reminds us of a spiritual truth: like a tomato plant, we all need a little ‘pruning.’

What do I mean? Well, when I am making a fool of myself, I’m counting on you, dear friend, to give me a kind but jarring smack-in-the-face to wake me up.

This we should expect of our friends, and this we should also commit to those we love.

“Faithful are the wounds of a friend…” (Prov 27:6a)

What would the world be like without mirrors? What would we know of ourselves?

We’d likely dress for comfort, and not to impress. My hair would be sloppily blobbed on the top of my head—always—and secured with a scrunchy. The term “fashion faux pas” would not exist, though it would probably apply more than ever.

We need mirrors. And when we don’t have a full-length mirror to carry around with us, we need true friends. Loyal. Kind, but honest. Unafraid to oppose you for your own sake.

It is the loving parent who says, “you’re not going out in that,” or, “you’ve really messed up here. You need to fix it.” But why leave this hefty job to parents alone? It’s obvious we still need some pruning at this point: do we all don the Underpants of Profound Wisdom, or receive a full varnish of Dr. Miracle’s Mistake-Repellent Spray-Tan, the second we turn 18? Uh, I know I didn’t.

If I’m being honest, the majority of serious mistakes I’ve made have happened since I left home, while my parents weren’t close by to knock me back into the middle of the ‘straight and narrow’…and frankly, the kind but searing words of a friend have been my saving grace. Literally.

“Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it.” Psalm 141:5, ESV

A faithful friend loves you enough to let you know you’ve tucked your skirt into your pantyhose before you leave the bathroom, or that your breath rivals the stench from the monkey house at the zoo (what IS IT about that place? Is it the …er, mud-flinging that produces the wretched fog? Perhaps there’s a lesson in that, too…). Or that you’re really going to mess up your life if you do _____________. (Hint: a scripture or two would be helpful for backup; just don’t prepare a full-length sermon. Perhaps a sermonette, or exhortation. Poetry or a vigorous round of Charades would work nicely, too. Scripturally sound, of course.)

A true friend will risk offending you for the sake of a heartfelt warning.

Just between you and me, I will admit (don’t tell anyone) that I actually crave a little honest rebuke once in a while. Not the kind where we’re yelling at the top of our lungs and the truth comes out with crushing, brute force… but sometimes I yearn for someone to gently remind me how obvious my flaws are, and that I need a little self-control/Binaca.

To me, even negative feedback is better than none at all. And honest criticism is far better than insincere compliments slathered thickly on the ego.

“…deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.” (Prov 27:6b)

So, get out those pruning shears and be a friend today. 🙂

–what’s that? “Not my job,” you say? Hmm.. Are we the Body of Christ? (Yes.) Paul spoke in Galatians 2:11 of his uncomfortable, yet necessary job of confronting Peter, his fellow apostle, for hypocrisy. Peter seems to have taken the rebuke well, since in his own epistle, he calls Paul “our beloved brother.” It may not be the initial example that comes to mind when one asks to be used of God…yet it is just as valid and needful as other, more glorious operations of the Body.

Oh, and one last word: if it’s not spoken with humility and kindness, it doesn’t count. (Many thanks to you, dear friends. You know who you are.)

He lives, and so shall we!

It takes a lot of faith to believe someone who is dead will live again.

Lazarus was not only dead, but stinking. Any hope of healing was gone. Martha said, “if only you were here a few days ago, my brother would still be alive..”

But that’s just it. Sometimes we want God to heal us, heal our situation, fix the problem. But God knows it is impossible to be healed from ‘sin sickness’ without dying first. “Without shedding of blood is no remission (of sins)” (Hebrews 9:22)

For if we were healed without dying first, we could still live on unto ourselves, not having crucified the ‘old man’ of sin. The real problem would remain.

Life lived unto ourselves is no life at all. Jesus replied to Martha, “I AM the resurrection and the Life.” True life, as Adam and Eve experienced before the fall, can only be where sin is absent, and this only happens in Jesus. So when we are resurrected with Christ, it is His life we live, not our own.

“God commended His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
‘Commended’ here means “brought together.” So God brought His love and us together. But since He cannot abide with sin, sinless blood was required for us to be brought together with Him. He shed His own blood to cover our sin, erasing the curse of death that separated us from Him. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself” (2 Cor 5:19).

But blood can only be transferred where there is an open wound.

In Isaiah chapter 1, the people of Judah were brimming over with sin, filthy, with hands ‘full of blood’ (bloodguiltiness). God described them as full of sores, open wounds, “putrifying sores,” from head to toe. But it isn’t simply the presence of sin that brings His forgiveness; if that were the case, we’d all be saved already without repentance.

In Galatians, where Paul said, “I am crucified with Christ,” the words literally mean “impaled together with Christ,” as if the nails and sword that pierced Him pierced us too in the same thrust. This requires something of us. Something voluntary. It isn’t just the sickness of our open wounds that readies us for His blood…it is the voluntary nearness to Jesus in the act of dying to our sins that prompts Him to bring His love to us. “Draw nigh to God, and He will draw nigh to you” (James 4:8). And when we are crucified with Him, “mortifying the deeds of the flesh,” the blood shed in His death flows to our open wound, annihilating the poison in our blood, abolishing the bonds of death. Praise God!!

When death occurs, the first thing to decay is the blood. The curse of sin was passed to us through the ‘bloodline’ of Adam. Leviticus 17:11: the life of the flesh is in the blood, and when diseased, that means the death of the flesh is in the blood.

Why is Jesus the only one who could save us? Whereas sickness is spread among man by infected blood, Jesus’ sinless blood is not subject to this. Rather, healing is spread by His blood…a reversal of the curse of sin. This could only happen outside the paternal bloodline of Adam. Jesus, Son of God, was the only one who could conquer sin.

How imperative that we have His blood cover us! There truly is no hope, as Martha felt, otherwise. The disease will not be cured without death to sin…for if sinful man is not killed, he will yet have his reward: ‘the wages of sin is death’ (Romans 6:23). Our choice is either death now, voluntarily, being crucified with Christ, that we may LIVE with Him…or death later, without hope of resurrection.

What is that hope? David said, “Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell.” Our death (repentance) and burial (baptism in His name) is our step toward Him. It is the “draw nigh to God” part. And because He will not leave us buried in the ground, “He will draw nigh to you.” He brings us to life, not just a cleaner version of our former selves, but NEW, as if the sinful man had never lived!

The mark of this is evident: “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God” (Romans 8:16). This happens with Holy Ghost baptism, evidenced by speaking in other tongues (Acts 2).

Because He rose again, so shall we! Not only in this New Birth, but even more to His glory on That Day!

So, what shall we do? Shall we choose to live on in sin, asking again and again for healing, when what we need to do is die? Or shall we choose to die now, and find true life in Jesus?

I choose now! Now is the day of salvation. While it is yet day, let us draw nigh to God with repentant hearts, crucifying the old man, that we may live in Him!

“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”

Happy Easter!!

Don’t mention it

Exodus 23:13: “And in all things that I have said unto you be circumspect: and make no mention of the name of other gods, neither let it be heard out of thy mouth.”

And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. (Eph. 5:11)

Talking heads, everywhere. About everything. Nothing is taboo, even in the pulpit (gasp).

Oh, that unruly member, the tongue!

Nay, though nature has hedged it in with a double barrier of the lips and teeth, it bursts from its barriers to assail and ruin men [ESTIUS].

You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. (Matthew 12:34)

If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. (James 1:26)

Oh, be careful, little tongue, what you say…

The secret ingredient

A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of one’s birth; better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for that is the end of all men; and the living will take it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, For by a sad countenance the heart is made better. (Ecclesiastes 7:1-2)

Sorrow: the element that makes one’s life sweeter.

Solomon writes here about life. Had he not known the pain of death, the sweetness of life would not appear to him.

I speak not of sorrow left to mold and embitter the heart, but to deliver one in agony to the feet of Jesus, where that sorrow can be turned to joy, and the master carpenter can craft from splinters and dust a new building for His glory.

Those who have tasted cookies baked without salt understand that without salt, the flavor has no balance. That savory element is needed to define the sweet. To put it in context, if you will.

Tears shed in sorrow enhance the sweetness of life.

We found out two days before our daughter was born that my husband had a very large brain tumor. It pressed on his brain stem and had cost him his hearing on one side. We knew the Hand of God was directing the details, so we sat back and trusted, trembling, but confident in His faithfulness. And when she was born, there was something complex and beautiful about the joy we felt this time. There are few surprises in the birth of your fourth child, but we rejoiced in a new way, knowing the mercy of God that keeps us daily and, while not preventing every storm, gives us peace and strength to ride it out.

Why would God allow such difficulty to come in a young man’s life? Because it is now, early, that He wants us to learn the beauty of sorrow, the glory in suffering, the joy that is set before us that renders the present suffering unworthy of shame.

And why does He not change our circumstances when we ask in faith, believing? Might it be to train our eyes Upward, looking to Jesus, the (Author and) Finisher who knows the End and that it is good?

There is purpose, always purpose, in suffering. And yes, it is good. Oh, that we would grasp that purpose and take it to heart! Thereby the heart is made better, and life is sweeter.

I’ve got it

love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance…

they’re all there. Installed when the Holy Ghost came in.

Why do I doubt it? This is the Spirit of Christ we’re speaking of. He is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think. That power is in me, if I have the Holy Ghost.

So why don’t I feel it?
Because I must ‘stir up the gift,’ as Paul said to Timothy. Often. How to have access to this bottomless resource of all that is good and needful? Stir it up!

No more asking God for strength–the Joy of the Lord is my strength, and that comes with the Gift.
No more asking for patience, because longsuffering came with the package.

And no more requests submitted to God because I don’t feel like putting forth the effort. Too comfy right now…”will do that later, Lord, but while you’re around, would you add another cushion under my left foot? It’s a bit achy. Scratch the ol’ big toe while you’re down there. And how’s about a sandwich?”

Really? Has He done so much for me only for me to reject the bit of effort required to follow Him?

It’s like refusing to drive a Jaguar because turning the key in the ignition sounds like too much work.

Ok, I’ll admit it’s a bit hard to stir it up sometimes, especially when it’s been a while and the sediment on the bottom of the soul is rather thick…like trying to re-distribute the layer of oil on the top of natural peanut butter while it’s still cold from the fridge.

But that’s the deal, folks.
It’s a free gift, but it’ll cost you.
The reward is immeasurable, but elbow grease will be involved.

If you’ve seen the beauty of vinegar and baking soda at work, you understand that sometimes a little stirring is all it takes to get the reaction you need.

…hmm..chemical reaction. Should blog about that, too.

Nutshell: If you have received the Holy Ghost (which you need!), you have been grafted into that Root that draws from the everlasting well, and if you have repented and been baptized, there is no cloud of sin to obstruct the Sun from your face. You are the tree in Psalm 1. You have ‘access to the excess,’ as one of my favorite preachers once said.

You are not ill-equipped to fulfill your role in the Body of Christ! You’ve got everything you need. The treasure is there. Stir it up!

(much appreciation to Rev. Rufus Parker, whose ‘Morning Manna’ on January 19 inspired this post.)

We cannot but speak…

We cannot but speak what we have seen and heard… (Acts 4:20)

My eight-year-old is a talker. Everything he notices, everything he hears gets repeated. Everything that’s on is mind is spoken out loud. It can drive us all a bit crazy. 🙂 It’s all innocent observation and interest, and for the most part, it’s thrilling as a mother for me to see his mind developing and watch him make new connections between principles and facts. He loves to learn, and I love that about him. But he is a talker.

One issue we have in particular is his tendency to tell everything about every scene in a movie he has seen before, spoilers and all. There is no boundary in his mind (yet) that prevents him from ruining the movie for someone else who hasn’t seen it.

He is literally unable to hinder any previous experience from making its way out of his mouth. The memory is so real, the excitement so potent, that it is unthinkable to keep it to himself alone.

I find intriguing the human process of experience-to-thought-to-words to which we are all bound. Intake determines product, “garbage in, garbage out,” “you are what you eat,” etc. I’ve blogged about that before. But it’s so true, I’ve got to address it again.

What we have been watching, we talk about. What we have been listening to, the conversations we’ve heard, are what we repeat.

What am I listening to? What do I put before my eyes? it is inevitably that which will come out of my mouth. Because we are made to be witnesses. And whether we use that element in our design for good or evil, we will nonetheless use it. Witnesses of something.

Our eyes are always seeing…what is it they see? For it is of this that we will witness. What do we hear? It is this we will repeat.

You cannot but speak that which you have seen and heard. It will come out, despite your attempts to stifle it. It is the natural flow to life.

Herein lies the beauty of God’s perfect plan. Having designed us with this tendency to repeat and reproduce what has entered our existence by our senses, He placed in us this ‘treasure in earthen vessels‘ that is so powerful, it trumps everything else! No experience can compare. And it’s ongoing… ‘further up, further in,’ so to speak. There’s no end to this amazing trip, so there’s always something more to say.

It is therefore my goal to seek Him with my eyes, studying His Word, and listen for His Voice with my ears…the ‘witness’ part is inevitable.

God plans ahead

Throughout this whole ordeal, we have had good days and bad days. A hill followed by a valley, good news followed by bad news, hopeful, positive moments followed by disappointment…and then more positive moments.

Today, dear friends stopped by and we were blessed unexpectedly by them. We sat on the hospital bed together after they left and wept at their generosity. Their kindness was a direct sign from God that His plan is secure, even though our plans fail. We are unsure of the future; He is not.

Later this evening, after Wes fell asleep, I noticed his scar seemed to be swollen a bit. Yes, it’s just me. No nurse or doctor has confirmed my observation, but let’s be real: if anyone knows to the detail what my husband’s head should look like, it is I. My gut tells me that in the morning, the doctors will take one look at him and say, “yep, you’re gonna need a shunt.” More surgery, more time in the hospital, more time away from the kids. This is a heart-wrenching thought.

I have felt repeatedly through this process that I’ve had enough, that I don’t want to face this anymore, that the end of this struggle must be near–I can’t handle it much longer.

But I will look at the pattern, and remember the grace of God.

The surgery to remove the tumor went without a hitch. It was a huge success, with both teams (ENT and Neurosurgery) extremely proud of their work and confident of the future. In the words of Dr Thompson, it was a ‘formidable’ tumor. Very large, and could have done great damage to the brain stem and facial nerve. But it didn’t.

God preserved his life. Beautifully, miraculously. This was an unspeakable relief. Two weeks of improvement and increasing strength followed. Then after improvement and relief came disappointment, which we suffered when meningitis set in.

Recovery, setback. Blessings, struggles. Plenty, poverty. Gladness, sorrow.

See the pattern? 🙂

The God who knows the end from the beginning prepares us for future trials by strengthening us today. Little do we know as spiritual children what great need we will have to fall on the Rock, to return to the altar we built the day the Holy Ghost baptized us. The unspeakable joy that washes over a new soul reborn is the same which will carry him through the difficulties of life, when everything stable will be threatened. It will be his strength.

God, the ever loving, everlasting Father who loves His children more than anyone, knows where our road will lead, so he packs in our little travel bag just what we need to get us to our Destination.

This Holy Ghost, this Spirit of Christ, the ‘foretaste of glory divine,’ is the meat to sustain us until we reach That Other Shore. Oh, that we would carry it with reverence, protecting it, cherishing it, nurturing it! It is our most valuable possession, and our only hope.

Jesus spoke to His disciples in John 14, telling them He would be leaving soon. He began the chapter with the promise “I go to prepare a place for you.” The value of such a promise is unknown until one is forced to cling to it in desperate fervor. He knew they would later be tested, and would need to remember His words. So He followed with another promise: “I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you…the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

Who can appreciate peace but they who have been shaken by chaos and tumult? What is the value of comfort unless it be compared to one’s struggle, pain, and sorrow?

Soak in His presence today! Feast at His banquet table! Eat the Word. Accept His strength, surrendering all. I beg you, invest in the full armor of God. The day is coming when you will need it.

And above all, remember the Promise, that He “hath begotten us again unto a lively hopeTo an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:3,4).

leaning, clinging, trusting

By the grace of God, I have been able, for the most part, aside from a few weak moments, to keep a stiff upper lip throughout this ordeal.

Yesterday, however, someone had the nerve to post a sappy love song on Facebook, and like a moron, I clicked on it. Within seconds, I was a puddle. (Click here if you must, but be warned.)

Somehow, love is sweeter where pain has made the heart raw. I count myself among the blessed few to feel an acute sense of mortality, yet to have the chance to cherish those I love while they are still here. So many have suffered loss without a moment to say goodbye. Those folks hold my deep regard, and my heart aches for them.

Jesus wept. Lazarus had died, and Mary and Martha were mourning the loss of their brother. Jesus came to Bethany, and they came to him (at different times) and said the same thing: “Lazarus wouldn’t be dead if you had only come earlier.” But Jesus’ reaction was different to each woman. With Martha, He gently reassured and corrected her, saying “I am the resurrection and the life.”

But when He saw Mary weeping, He wept, too.

This was the same Mary who, bearing the scorn of others, had anointed His feet (‘in preparation for burial’) with the costly ointment, and washed them with her tears, humbly drying them with her hair. This same Mary, forgiven much, had sat at His feet, listening to His words, while Martha was crossly running around and resenting Mary for not helping her.

He had no logical reason to truly be sad about Lazarus—He knew that in a few moments, he would live again. What struck His heart, I believe, is the sight of one of His beloved in pain. Though He knew Mary’s sorrow wouldn’t last long, He still felt it just as deeply as she.

We have not a high priest who cannot be touched by the feeling of our infirmities. He is compassionate, understanding our feelings of helplessness and sorrow when we are powerless.

He cares for His own. He mourns with us, cries with us, though not in despair, because in Him we have hope. And on His everlasting arms we lean, more aware than ever of their strength.

The intense pain felt in difficult moments sharpens the color of life, bringing meaning into the most mundane details, teaching us to appreciate the small things that He has ordained. I am determined to see Him in everything, to catch the lingering scent of Him where His hands have expertly carved our path.

His strength is perfect when our strength is gone. There is no covering up ‘no strength.’ It is the lame man who was carried to Jesus by his friends. It is Lazarus, dead in the grave. It is the realization that you can do nothing to fix your situation.

And it is moments like these that teach us to collapse on the Rock, to cling to Him like a belt, and know that we shall not be moved.

When I met Him

“you know Me.”

It’s that familiar Voice pulsing through every meaningful spiritual experience, every burst of clarity from Scripture…the breath on my cheek when profound truth appears in my mind…the inexplicable sweetness in even the most painful experiences…the knowledge through the searing pain that He is Truth, He is love, He is faithful, and that all that He does is good.

The doubt that arises from the pit of hell that questions “do I really know Him?” is empty, with no basis in truth.

What is true—what I KNOW—is that 20 years ago,

standing on a cement floor at a humid Illinois campground,

on a Wednesday night in July,

I met Him.

Physically, spiritually, mentally, with more joy and inexplicable wonder than I could ever convey in words. What I had hoped, prayed, yearned, wept for finally happened that night.

Summoned by the preacher, who asked “If you don’t have the Holy Ghost, come up to the front,” I walked to the altar wearing my gray drop-waist dress with the pink scarf, and lifted my hands. I remember an odd feeling in the pit of my stomach as I made my way past the rows of folding chairs…like my body knew something big was about to happen. Two pastors’ wives prayed with me.

It wasn’t immediate, and in fact, I distinctly remember getting a bit discouraged after a few minutes…there was a bit of a power struggle, I think, because I wasn’t getting what I wanted when I wanted it.

Then, just as I gave up, something came over me, and excitement and a lightness..weightlessness.. all over my body, and my tongue started to move. It was more than the stammering lips I had experienced before. My mouth was forming strange words I couldn’t understand, and they just kept coming. I didn’t even want to stop and take a breath. As soon as it began, I knew what was happening, and remember smiling as big as I could as God’s spirit flowed through me. I opened my eyes, and the two ladies were excited, praising God, smiling with me and shouting. I did not want it to stop. I felt–physically–like I could just jump and float away.

After a few minutes of pure joy and surrender, letting the presence of God wash over me in waves, I looked around in the crowd and saw my friend Allegia from my home church, who was also praying for the Holy Ghost. Trembling under the power of God, I staggered over to her, grabbed her arm, and started praying with my heart while my mouth still worshipped in another language. Within moments, she was filled with the Holy Ghost, too! It was awesome. Truly the best night of my life. I was eleven years old.

At Illinois Junior Camp, they had a tradition of writing the names of each kid who received the Holy Ghost on this big chalkboard on the platform. Each child got to go up to the platform and tell the preacher, then write his/her name on the board. I wrote my name up there, and was so overjoyed. The desire of my heart had finally been fulfilled.

My life has never been the same. God altered my course that night, and I love Him. More than anything, or anyone, anywhere. He is the lover of my soul, the very reason I live, the One whose face is reflected in the faces of my children, the source of companionship and intimacy and unequaled friendship and love that is embodied in my husband, the presence I feel when viewing creation, the calm answer to every uneasy question my mind brings up.

There simply is no other God. He has been the best friend, refuge, strong tower, comforter, teacher for the past 20 years (as of July 27), and it is His presence and the knowledge of Him that brings value to every experience I have in life.

Have you received the Holy Ghost since you believed?

The Map and the Compass

I am repeatedly struck by the absolute necessity of balance in the Christian life:
that is, balance between the Word and the Spirit.

To clarify, it is my belief that one needs the Word of God–that is, the Bible itself–and the constant flow of the Holy Ghost to navigate this life.

I once heard it put so eloquently:

The Bible is the map, and the Holy Ghost is the compass.

With the map, you see where you need to go, and the general impediments and route that you must take to get there.
The compass identifies where you are in relationship to the map.
Without one, the other is useless.

“Marvel not that I say unto you, you must be born again!”

These words were spoken by Jesus to Nicodemus, a man well educated in the Scripture (to that point, namely the Law), yet not yet acquainted with the Holy Ghost baptism & New Birth. The extensive knowledge he had of the ‘map’ was not enough! He needed to be born again. He needed the Compass, the tool by which ‘all things, yea, the deep things of God‘ are explored.

The Holy Ghost enables us to unearth the treasures of Scripture; It leads us into all truth!

The Word of God defines, divides, identifies absolutes in black-and-white, and the Holy Ghost shows you your position on the map.

Spiritual GPS! 🙂