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

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)