...running the course God sets before us, no matter the cost, no matter the task, to the end, for His glory

Monday, November 15, 2010

From Water to Wine

Disclaimer: as I have tried to write this post for the past two weeks I have fought more with my husband than any time in the last two months! I could just hear the enemy whispering in my ear, "How can you write about sacrificial love? You can't write about what you don't practice!" So with much fear and trepidation I defy the enemy and offer these humble thoughts that I need more than anyone else does. I don't write from the standpoint of victory- but of faith that God's truth is God's truth, no matter what.

The sun sat just above the trees, …the music had played, …the mother of bride had cried,… and now the minister spoke, “Jesus, Himself went to a wedding, and blessed it with the first miracle, of changing water into wine.”

We have been to many weddings in the past few years. I have often heard this miracle mentioned when the minister speaks to the new couple. But as I sat at this wedding I had a totally new thought and realization of a deeper meaning in the picture this story paints for us.

Scripture is that way- so deep and layered and meaningful. Even a Scripture we have read and heard multiple times has more to teach us. It IS living and active.

The story of Jesus’ first miracle is found in John 2:1-10 and is a familiar story.

Jesus goes to a wedding and the wine runs out so His mother asks Him to fix the problem, because moms want to fix problems- even other peoples’ problems.

When Jesus has the servants fill the water jars with water I wonder what everyone was thinking? This was not the obvious solution to the dilemma. These were not even water jars for holding drinking water. They were special jars for holding water for purification.

The wine that came from the water that was poured into the purification jars was of excellent quality- the steward called it “the good wine”. The word for “good” can also mean choice and exceptional. Not the everyday wine. Not the cheap stuff, but the kind that is reserved for special occasions.

As I watched these two precious souls entrust themselves to each other I was struck that when we come to the marriage altar we bring our love for the other person and our good intentions. But that love is really an offering of water.

It gets poured into each others’ lives, but as all long-timed married couples know, the love you bring to the wedding, while wonderful and warm and lovely, will never be enough to get you through a lifetime of good days and bad days, of gains and losses, of triumphs and tragedies.

For that, your love must be transformed and multiplied. It must become the kind that is more about giving than getting.

It must become the kind that can bear all things.

That can believe all things.

That can hope all things.

That can endure all things.

But now we are no longer talking about a natural kind of love. Now we are talking about a supernatural kind of love. We are talking about a purified love.

What our love needs is a purification jar and Jesus.

In a recent ministry letter, a teacher I deeply admire, Dwight Pryor (www.jcstudies.com), wrote this about marriage:

Far more important than falling in love is the biblical mandate of growing in love, one toward the other. Only then can the highest goal of marriage be achieved: not satisfying personal desires, but sanctifying the name of God. If all this sounds more sacrificial than sensational, it should. Authentic love is never self-serving.”

Most of the “love” that we see in the movies coming from Hollywood is about what you get, not what you give. About if you are satisfied, not if you serve another. About finding “the one”, not about being “the one”. About finding a “soul mate”, instead of bringing to your marriage a soul satisfied and completed by Jesus.

So how do we move from self-serving love to authentic love?

Jesus speaks to us how we are to love one another:

Luke 6:32, 35: “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them...But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing back.”

John 13:34: "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”

I John 4:19: We love, because He first loved us.

In other words, we need to have a love that moves from water to wine.

The water kind of love continually needs to be drank over and over because it does not satisfy for long- so it continues to look for ways to be fulfilled. Instead, what the water kind of love needs is to be poured in the purification jars and be miraculously transformed by the Lord who not only is the only One who can work the miracle, but also the One who showed us what sacrificial, authentic love is all about.

So the next time you feel your “cheap wine” love running out,

and when all you have to bring to replenish the wine with is water,

then give it to Jesus and let Him transform it into love of exceptional quality…into authentic love…into the “good stuff”.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Blind Man's Bluff

“Over here, over here!”

“No, not that way, this way. Come this way!”

I hated being the one in the middle in the childhood game, Blind Man’s Bluff. It seemed impossible to ever catch anyone as they had the advantage of sight and I had no advantage at all. It always felt like I would almost tag someone, and then they would avoid my grasp at just the last moment.

But now I am a grown-up and I don't play blind man's bluff anymore, and yet...

As I was trying to go to sleep several nights ago I was feeling much like the child in the middle of the circle, blindfolded and stumbling, only this time it was not playmates surrounding and mocking me. Rather it was tasks and needs and projects and work undone that danced around me, just out of reach. It was if I could see what needed to be done but could just not figure out how or when to do it all. It was all just beyond my grasp.

And the more I tried to figure it out, the more out of reach, the more difficult, the more impossible it all seemed. So I did the most effective thing I could think of at the time- fret and worry and complain. As I blindly tried to get a hold of something, ...anything..., in the middle of all that cacophony of noise, suddenly there was something else, notable for its stillness and quietness; it was the Voice:

I am right here.

Grab on to Me.

Could it really be that easy?

I grabbed.

Onto the Hand that is sure and steadfast and everlasting.

And peace settled down over me as I lay in my bed. My wakefulness and fretfulness subsided as I drifted off to sleep in the arms of my Savior.

And nothing was figured out.

And nothing was solved.

And nothing was fixed.

And all was right in the arms of my Lord.

Psalm 4:8:

I will lie down and sleep peacefully, for you, Lord, make me safe and secure.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

I Stand

by Susan Macias

I stand with my face embraced by the sun

There is joy in life, something new has begun

The God of all goodness, He loves and provides

His heart is toward me, in Him I abide

I raise my hands, praise the God of good gifts

All comes from above, songs to Him do I lift

I need Him, I trust Him, in face of all that I see

I seek Him, I find Him, His hand is on me.

I stand with my face stung harsh by the storm

There are difficulties ahead, beware, be warned

Trials and suffering, and death to my dreams

I stumble, fall down, and wince at the sting

Faltering and feebly I raise hands to my King

Quietly, but firmly, my voice starts to sing

I need You, I trust You, in face of all that I see

I seek You, I find You, Your hand is on me.

I don’t know the result of the good and the bad

But I’ll stand and praise whether happy or sad

The God who walks beside me on pathways of light

Is the God who stays with me in the valley of night

He redeems, He restores, and doesn’t waste a thing

He works all together for the good that He brings

I need Him, I trust Him, in face of all that I see

I seek Him, I find Him, His hand is on me.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

What am I Doing Today

One thing I love about homeschooling is reading aloud books about people I have never heard of before. I have learned more as a homeschool Mom, exploring things with my kids, than I think I ever did in school.

We are studying the founding and colonization of America among other things right now and are reading a book about someone I was not familiar with- John Eliot.

He was one of the early Puritan settlers in the newly formed town of Boston and the book we are enjoying is "John Eliot: The Man Who Loved Indians" by Carleton Beals. It is one of those lovely old out-of-print treasures that is worth, like all treasure, searching out.

In this book John is having a conversation with Margaret Winthrop about heaven and while they are talking he is pulling weeds.

Margaret comments, "John, you always tell me to look up to heaven, but there you are pulling weeds."

"Heaven is found by doing what needs to be done well and with a clear conscience. If I knew I were to be called to heaven tomorrow, I would do exactly what I'm doing today." John replies.

After reading that sentence out loud I just stopped short.

How am I living? And if I knew I were to be called home tomorrow, would I change anything?

Would I pull weeds?

But what is wrong with pulling weeds? Why is that not holy and consecrated? Why would I think of it as any less worthy than writing or postulating or teaching or some other seemingly noble task? Is there actually anything more worthy about those types of things?

I actually find it is easier to have a right attitude when I am doing one of those "holy" things. I am very aware of the importance and the weightiness of the action and respond accordingly.....


...wait a minute. What makes baking a cake, or folding laundry, or listening to a young reader, or PULLING A WEED any less valuable or any less weighty?

I have been feeling very overwhelmed in the past few months with not only heavy heart matters but also with multitudes of needs, activities, and requirements. I have been, in response and possibly desperation, meditating on the verse in Matthew 6:34:

So then, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Today has enough trouble of its own.

I actually wake up in the morning with the thoughts crowding in and the needed tasks pressing forward in my mind all demanding immediate attention and remonstrating me for not attending to them sooner.

I have found the above verse to be the perfect counter move to those pesky and demanding thoughts. I can simply pray,

"Okay Lord, exactly which of these things would you like for me to worry about today?"

I am then freed up from worrying about any of the others.

And many times I am surprised at what the Lord directs my heart toward. Maybe what seems so important to me is not so important to my Lord after all.

Maybe "weed pulling" is the most consecrated, kingdom-building, Christ-honoring activity there is for me to do.

But where have my misplaced priorities come from? I think one of the things that contributes to the false idea of the unimportance of the mundane is that it is these daily, thankless tasks that take so much time that they seem to compete with our time to do the "exceptional".

Which leads me to my favorite theologian and most convicting critic: Oswald Chambers:

"it does require the supernatural grace of God to live twenty-four hours in every day as a saint, to go through drudgery as a disciple, to live an ordinary, unobserved, ignored existence as a disciple of Jesus. It is inbred in us that we have to do exceptional things for God; but we have not. We have to be exceptional in the ordinary things.

Do I still have my "right" attitude, and "peaceful" countenance, and "contented" heart when I am sweeping the floor? When I am cleaning up after one of my family? When I am pulling weeds? And do I try to be exceptional in these ordinary things? Do I view them as holy?

Are they "important" enough for me to react with the realization that they are so important that God has given them to me to do today?

As John Eliot said, "Heaven is found by doing what needs to be done well and with a clear conscience. If I knew I were to be called to heaven tomorrow, I would do exactly what I'm doing today."

May it be so in my life.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Where am I Planted?

Psalm 1:1-3

How blessed is the one who does not follow the advice of the wicked,

or stand in the pathway with sinners,

or sit in the assembly of scoffers!

Instead he finds pleasure in obeying the Lord’s commands;

he meditates on his commands day and night.

He is like a tree planted by flowing streams;

it yields its fruit at the proper time,

and its leaves never fall off.

He succeeds in everything he attempts.

We gathered at the river, in a kind of circle, perched on old camp chairs, singing hymns in a cathedral of cypress trees. Having gone camping with good Christian friends all weekend, it was a joy to end it with a Sunday morning service by the river of the state park. Sure, there were a few awkward or questioning stares from people who floated by us in tubes or boats, but that is okay. Hopefully our joy in worshiping the Lord shone through.

As I looked at the big trees surrounding us I could just hear Psalm 1 resounding in my head. There was one particular tree that was huge and especially beautiful and I began to wonder about how old it was and what it had lived

through and wishing it could develop the Narnian ability to be a talking tree. I would have loved to ask it some questions. But we were not in Narnia, but rather in southwest Texas. And for a tree to survive in Texas it has gone through many, many years of harsh conditions. Years of drought. Years of flood. And only a very few years of "just right" conditions.

How did it survive?

And more importantly, how did it thrive?

To survive the drought years it needed two things. First, it needed to be very near the river, where it could receive dependable moisture. This I can attest to being true for this tree- it was very close to the water's edge, the only source of water that was visible for miles. Second, it needed deep roots to tap the water below during the times the river ran dangerously low or even dry. And in Texas, rivers can do both. Now, while I can attest to the location of the tree...it was right by the water...the only testimony of its roots are the massive circumference of the trunk and the soaring height of its branches. So while I couldn't see the deep roots, I could see the evidence of them.

To survive the flood years those roots did not need to only be deep, but they needed to also be wide and be very, very strong. Cypress trees can actually survive under prolonged flooding as a matter of fact, which is a very difficult task for any tree.

Flooding and drought offer widely divergent stresses for the tree and for it to be able to survive both and even better yet to THRIVE is a testimony to its strength and flexibility.

What about me? Where am I planted? What is the depth and breadth of my root system? Is there evidence of those roots? How capable am I to handle the divergent stresses in life?

The above Psalm offers two sets of observations on the "blessed man" and they are both about things he actively and volitionally chooses to do. First he needs to choose to NOT. NOT to follow the advice of the wicked: because what are the chances the wicked are going to give you good advice? NOT to stand in the pathway- the road or direction- of the sinner: because that road on which you are standing will soon be the road on which you are walking and it is a direction you should NOT be going. And lastly, NOT to sit in the seat of scoffers: because when you are sitting with those who scoff and mock godliness, pretty soon you will be doing the same thing.

What happens when you take wicked advice, get on the sinner's road, and sit with those who mock the Lord and His people?

This tree is in my back yard and it could not survive an especially strong and vicious storm. And just as this tree was devastated by having insufficient roots, our bad decisions to purposefully follow people and paths that are not God's best for us can have devastating effects for us and those around us.

Next in Psalm 1, the "blessed man" is described and what he needs to actively DO. DO find pleasure in obeying the Lord's commands: because they are for your benefit and protection and will be the best "advise" you will ever receive. DO meditate on, concentrate upon, memorize, and embed those commands day and night: because what you think and meditate upon you will eventually become.

And what is the result of all that obeying and meditating?

He is like a tree planted by flowing streams;

it yields its fruit at the proper time,

and its leaves never fall off.

He succeeds in everything he attempts.

Oh, Lord, help me stay planted in You.

Please grow my roots deep and wide in Your Love

in Your Commands

in Your ways.

And at the proper time may the fruit you grow

bless those You put in my path.

And may my deep roots be evidenced by branches

that soar in heights of praise to You.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Silver and Gold

Everyone knows silver and gold are valuable. Today, in this era of economic uncertainty it seems even more valuable. What makes gold and other precious metals valuable are that they are rare. There is not a lot of them on the earth and they are also hard to find and obtain.

And the purity of the metal will also greatly effect the value of the metal. 24-karat gold is the most pure and the most expensive. At today's prices, 10 grams of 14-karat is worth $235.11, while 10 grams of 24-karat gold is worth $415.77. The quantity of the karat of the gold represents the purity of the gold.

But how does gold go from a rock to a shiny bar? Have you ever heard of the refiner's fire?

Psalm 66:10 "For you, O God, tested us; you purified us like refined silver."

Oh, yeah. The refiner's fire. For gold, which has no nerve endings, senses, or feelings, this may be a hot process but it is not a painful one. But for us....who do have those pesky feelings and such...it is not necessarily pleasant. All right, it is usually most unpleasant. It can even be painful.

Proverbs 17:3 "The crucible is for refining silver and the furnace is for gold,
likewise the Lord tests hearts."

Why would God test and purify our hearts, which causes pain, if He loves us?

Because He loves us.

Because He loves us too much to let us rest in our impurities. In gold, those impurities are called dross. Merriam-Webster defines dross as: the scum that forms on the surface of molten metal; waste or foreign matter. Ummm.....I don't think I want "scum" in my life. It makes me think of the nasty, smelly green stuff floating on top of a stagnant pond. I don't want any of that!

But this definition makes me think of something else as well. When I think about the dross as foreign matter I realize man was not designed "in the beginning" to be a substance containing "scum". When man was created "in the image" of his Creator, there was no scum, no foreign matter, no waste. Oh, the terrible destruction and cost of sin. It pollutes and contaminates our hearts and our minds.

So, we enter, by our loving Father's leading, into the fire. In the old hymn "How Firm a Foundation", this picture is beautifully painted with words:

When through fiery trials thy pathways shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.

God is the pure and holy One, and to the greatest degree possible Believer's want to reflect Him. And the gold of our lives will reflect Him better if it is clean and pure and shiny. He does not place our path through the fiery trials because He does not care for us. On the contrary. Just like when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were in the fire (Dan. 3), when we are in the fire we are not in the fire alone. When He places us in the fire, He stays with us all along.

I Peter 1:7: "Such trials show the proven character of your faith, which is much more valuable than gold – gold that is tested by fire, even though it is passing away – and will bring praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed."

Is it hot in your life right now? Lean on the One who brought you there and has stayed with you in the fire.

Deut. 31:8 "The Lord is indeed going before you – he will be with you; he will not fail you or abandon you. Do not be afraid or discouraged!”

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Fruit from Death

Plop. Bounce. Roll. Splat.

I kept hearing this sound over and over on the roof. Something was falling with fair regularity upon my roof. Something hard, but not too heavy from the sound of it. But what was it?

Finally it struck me. It was acorns. After a very wet Summer and Fall for south Texas standards, our oak trees
are brimming with them. And we are sur
rounded by oak trees.

I always loved acorns- how they wear little hats that can instantly with a twinkle of the imagination be turned into a doll's tea cup. I love their greens and browns. I love how they hang in pairs.

But as I listened to the acorns drop noisily onto my roof over several weeks I began to think beyond the romantic view of acorns and began to think about what was happening to the acorns. Why were they falling and what were they falling for?

Now, to set the background, there are some things going on in my family that have the potential to be discouraging and downright disheartening. When a dream dies, or a relationship ends, or a shortage occurs it can be painful. There can be death to a vision or death to a dream. And death always involves grief.

"I tell you the solemn truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains by itself alone. But if it dies, it produces much grain." (Jn 12:24)

That is why, after all, the acorn can't stay hanging in the tree. If all it every wanted to be was an acorn it could hang there and look decorative, but all it would ever do is hang. How many acorns are on an oak tree? Well after a little research I found the rather unscientific estimate of "thousands". But one reason it is hard to pinpoint is that the number can fluctuate so much each year depending on the weather. But while the number of acorns on a tree can fluctuate, the productivity of a single acorn can not- there is only one seed per acorn. Only one.

And the only way that seed will get in the ground is for the acorn to let go of its comfortable, life-sustaining position and drop to the ground. And there it must die. It must die to its previous position and status and affluence and security- all that it had while hanging on to big old oak tree. But if it dies...

"But if it dies, it produces much grain."

And then it can grow into a tree and produce thousands upon thousands upon thousands of acorns.

Out of death comes life. At least with God in the middle of it all.

And God is in the middle of it all...OF IT ALL! He is with us in the midst of the struggle and pain. He is there to console, comfort and redeem. He is there to plant us, nourish us, water us, and then cause the growth so that when "it dies, it produces much grain."

"To console those who mourn in Zion, To give them beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning, The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; That they may be called trees of righteousness, The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified." (Isaiah 61:3; NKJV)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

I had a lightbulb moment today.

I was wondering about the question- when something bad happens did God cause it or just allow it?

I guess that while I completely believe and rest in the sovereignty of God, I do not believe He causes bad things. He did not desire or cause Eve to take a bite of the apple. But He did allow her the free will to choose the apple. Even though He knew of the consequences it would cause. Even though He knew it would hurt her and everything around her. He allowed it.

And all of that is fine in the academic- but when something bad happens in your life, there is another question-
Why did He not stop it from happening?

Today, my son walks through a more painful situation than I could have ever imagined
-why did God not protect him?

Today, I learned of a young man that was terribly hurt in a tragic car accident
-why did God not prevent it?

Today, we are struggling financially
-why did God not provide?

And then the light bulb went off.

God does not have to demean himself to reveal His truth to me, but out of His love, he sometimes does.

This is what He showed me:

He allows these things because He is able to carry me through them.

No, this revelation is not rocket science, but think about it a minute. If something terrible occurs in your life, your Heavenly Father is right there beside you ready to catch you, to carry you, to sustain you, to lead you. Yes, He allowed it to happen, but He never desired for you to go through it alone. And He knows your needs and He has designed His solution to bring you closer to Himself.

That really isn't saying He designed the pain. It doesn't mean He desired for someone to sin against me. It doesn't mean He directed the car to run into me. But it does mean if God was not SUFFICIENT enough to carry me through the ordeal, if He was not COMPLETE enough to make up for the loss, if He was not CARING and TENDER enough to assuage the broken heart then the difficulties would be just that- difficulties without any redeeming value.

But since God is SUFFICIENT enough, and COMPLETE enough, and TENDER enough then not only does He bring good out of bad, but He tenderly cares for His children to enable them to weather the storm. He will love you, He will care for you, and He will transform that situation into something that changes you, but does not destroy you.

Thank you Lord for Your sustaining, changing, redeeming power and might and that You allow nothing into my life that You are not prepared to carry me through.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

"And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose." (NET Bible)

"That's why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good." (The Message)

Romans 8:28. One of the most repeated verses in Scripture. I believe this verse. I believe God uses all things that occur in our lives to some good or growth or ministry or maturing. Nothing is wasted with God. Nothing.

But sometimes, something happens that screams in your face, "No way, not this one. There cannot be anything good that comes out of this!"

What do I do when I see a road stretching out in front of me that looks like waste and destruction?

Do I believe it then?

Do I truly believe God will use this, will work this, will rework this, will not let this destruction only be destructive? Do I really believe this? Really?

Yes. I REALLY do.


"To console those who mourn in Zion, To give them beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning, The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; That they may be called trees of righteousness, The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified." (Isaiah 61:3; NKJV)

"For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for a lifetime; Weeping may last for the night, But a shout of joy comes in the morning." (Psalms 30:5; NASB)

"So I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten" (Joel 2:25; NKJV)

"He will deliver Israel from all the consequences of their sins." (Psalms 130:8; NET Bible)

I believe it because of WHO God is in His very nature. He is a God of Redemption. The whole of Scripture points to God redeeming his people, of Him bringing beauty out of ashes, of Him taking what was loss and making it gain. Without Him everything bad would just be bad, everything destructive would only destroy, everything failed would just be failure.

"you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope." (I Thes. 4:13; NASB)

Hope. The answer. The reason. The foundation.

Not hope in myself or those around me. But hope in the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe.

"Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." (Heb. 11:1; NIV)

So today, when I do not see a way out, when I do not understand what has happened, when I ache for things to change, I look up. I wait. I hope. I believe.

God WILL bring beauty from ashes. He will guide us down this road to His desired end.

I believe.

Is. 51:10-12

Did you not dry up the sea, the waters of the great deep?

Did you not make a path through the depths of the sea,

so those delivered from bondage could cross over?

Those whom the Lord has ransomed will return;

they will enter Zion with a happy shout. Unending joy will

crown them, happiness and joy will overwhelm them;

grief and suffering will disappear.

“I, I am the one who consoles you. Why are you afraid of mortal

men, of mere human beings who are as short-lived as grass?