June 23, 2010

Of Quagmires and Quandaries

I get myself in a quagmire every so often. It starts like this. I start reading from the Gospels. This time it was Luke 12, mostly red letters. Should be lots of good stuff just for me from Jesus right? Takes about 2 verses before I begin to get this sinking feeling, this sense of condemnation that Jesus is talking about me and what He says is true and… what am I to do with that?
Watch what you say. Nothing is hidden that will not be known. (Gulp.) Have you ever said anything (or thought anything) that you’d not want repeated out loud? OK well keep moving…

Ah a ‘have no fear’ passage. That always hits the nail on the head for me. Strike two. Oh and it continues with one about being a bold witness for Christ…hmm. That sounds like a Strike Three!

But there’s no stopping. Soon we’re into the Rich Fool’s story. He loved his stuff. Enough to enlarge his storage spaces for it so he could relax, assured that he would have enough in case of come-what-may… Not a happy ending to that one. Do you know anyone like that, any pack rats hoarding treasures?

And on we go while the sinking feeling grows. Never mind fear, now we’re dealing with anxiety. None needed, not over your life, your food, your body, your clothes… what’s left to direct my anxiety towards? It’s all about priorities. Am I seeking the Kingdom first or looking out for myself? My heart will be wherever my treasures are.

OK. Maybe I’m just too introspective but I find it hard to be around Jesus’ words for more than a sentence or two without a sense of my own shortcomings. And it’s not like I can just reach down and pull up my socks. This stuff gets to the core of who I naturally am. If I try to be brave and keep reading it gets worse. Jesus is coming back. Will He find me doing His will (that’s a little elusive at this point, or maybe not elusive enough, depending how you consider it) when He comes. Because, oh here’s a ‘cringer’ “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required”. I know I have been given much. What do I have to show for it?

I am at this point pretty well mired in guilt. Jesus has a lot to say that shows up who I am at heart. Continuing to Chapter 13 we have a tower falling and killing 18 people who are no more guilty than myself. And the warning, ‘unless you repent you will all likewise perish’. (Gulp again.)
Repentance is pretty key here, and is perhaps the answer to my quandary over how to take these words and find life in them, not just guilt.

Then Jesus tells a parable of a pathetic fig tree. It’s not bearing fruit despite being planted in this man’s vineyard. He says, “Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground.” Yikes! Fortunately he decides to give it one more chance—some tilling and manure and a year’s time to get producing. And I’m feeling like an unproductive fig tree now.

Need I go further to explain the quagmire I find myself in. Here are Jesus’ words, words meant to give life, to reveal a radical ‘nother Kingdom, a high calling. And here am I, living out of keeping with this kingdom. And trying to straighten myself out. Yes, that’s why I’m reading Jesus’ words in the first place! And facing guilt and death instead of life and peace. But do you know what comes next? Jesus comes across a woman who has had ‘a disabling spirit’ for eighteen years and could not fully straighten herself. Ah, here I am, disabled by guilt unable to straighten myself out. And what does Jesus do? He calls her over and simply says, “Woman, you are freed from your disability, and He laid His hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God.” (Luke 13:10)

I went to bed last night chewing on these things and trying to find resolution. Is it in repentance? Trying harder is not going to ‘cut it’; I know that. What is my problem anyway? Bouncing these things off my best counselor and friend this morning we reasoned that it seems to be an issue of unbelief. For every one of these instructions of Jesus there are reassurances of God’s care, God’s promises, God’s provision for every need. In short, things to be believed. Why then do I focus on the negatives? I could blame temperament. Mine is surely fallen. I have need of vision of how God designed me to function within this personality without the sinful habits of negative, unbelieving thought. This is surely wrong thinking that I should cringe to read the Words of the One who comes to feed my my daily bread and wash my feet along the journey… Lord, forgive, straighten, heal…for Your glory, that this old fig tree may yet bear fruit worthy of its Keeper.


The Sequel—Justified Freely by His Grace

It occurs to me that I have been praying recently to be shown my own sinfulness lest I take my salvation for granted and hum along in a smug self-righteous state. Hmm. Could be I’m seeing it. What do you think?

But also this passage (Acts 26:18) grabbed my attention. Jesus is giving Paul his mission to the Gentiles—“to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” Dealing with sin is the point of the Gospel, and not just our initial salvation but also our sanctification is by faith. Where did it start to be about my effort to get things right?

Paul goes after the Galatians for this and how many times must I read it to drill it home?! Apparently once more: “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?…Does He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?”(Gal.3:3-5) There it is again, faith. Hearing with faith. It’s not about whether I feel forgiven, accepted in the Beloved, justified by His grace… It’s about standing up straight, looking Jesus in the eye as He leans over and says, “Woman, you are freed from your disability” and believing the work is already done. What else does “justified freely by His grace” mean? It’s about God’s righteousness, not mine, that he made this plan to justify the one who has faith in Jesus. (Rom.3:24ff). And my part? to acknowledge where I am and to believe that He will fulfill all these good words in me in His good time…

So where’s the quagmire? Where the quandary? I had a friend once look me in the eye after I was finished reciting my woes and say, “I don’t think you really have any problem…” Took me kind of by surprise. Reminded me of my tendency to magnify what I perceive as negative. And it may be just the counsel I need to hear this time. I am disabled only by my unbelief. In all truth I have “redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of [my] trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon [me], in all wisdom and insight….to the praise of His glory!” Eph.1:7,8ff What more is there?

Only thanksgiving for His glorious grace that reaches down to straighten a disabled woman and show mercy on a barren fig tree…

"Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin." (Rom.4:7,8)

It's amazing, this grace in which we stand! May He give us eyes to see it more and more...


P.S. If you've made it to this point, you deserve a break! Come by and we'll have tea ( ; And bless you for sharing my mental meanderings. It means much. --LS

June 16, 2010

Left-over Seeds...

Today was the day for cleaning up all the left-over seeds that didn’t make it into the ground this season. There are packages of every description—from the standard glossy illustrated ones to brown paper rustic, from little wee ziplocks to yogurt containers rattling with them…

Leftover Seeds

I hate this job. Not because it’s messy but because it always bogs me down in guilt and regret. After all here are all these seeds just waiting for a chance to grow up into something altogether different. How can I throw any of them out when I consider what they could become— a flourishing bunch of swiss chard or a brilliant sunflower or scores of other glorious things….But seeds get old and the truth is unless they hit the dirt they will remain as they are—alone. Jesus said something about that. Only if a seed is buried in the earth, and gives up life as it has known it (dry and sterile, but safe) will it ever find life as it was intended to be. It must be transferred from its cozy packet to the perils of the garden--soggy soil, rot and molds before it germinates and the potential ravages of creeping, crawling, slithering and flying assailants afterward. It’s a risk. But to cling to life in the seed packet is to welcome sure death. The life of a seed is short-lived. Hmm… Jesus said something about that too: “He who would save his life, the same will lose it.”

So why do I stash these little treasures? Why not toss them to the wind, scatter them in the soil, plant them somewhere, anywhere?! Because I’m afraid of losing them, of having nothing to show for my efforts. What if they don’t grow? What if they do and are devoured prematurely crushing my hopes. If I hold on to them I can yet dream of what they will become. I can gaze at their glossy packages and maintain my idle hopes of great harvests to come. But what yield have I for my stash? Planting seeds takes faith, not mere idle hopes. No risk, no garden. I can plant; I may remember to water, but it is God that makes things grow. And here at my kitchen table in the nitty gritty of seed-sorting and filing I am faced with my own want of faith—no joke. There is a certain false security in hoarding. Just ask the rich fool with the barn building strategy. Yikes. And that other fellow, the unfaithful servant who tucked his minas away in a napkin rather than risk investing them…he missed out big time! (See: Luke 12:17; 19:20) No wonder I don’t like this job. It reminds me how sparingly I have sown.

So what now? I’ll just have to build bigger boxes to store more seeds. Just kidding. This year I will relinquish some to the trash and some to the compost in hopes they’ll either sprout or feed the worms.
And I’ll repent of my miserly hoarding in the face of a gracious God’s provision…And I’ll trust Him for the right harvest, that comes with sowing the seeds He provides!

And while I’m at it, maybe it’s not too late to sprinkle some foxglove seeds around… Imagine what they may become some day…


May the one who “supplies seed to the sower and bread for food supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way…” (II Cor.9:11ESV)


June 7, 2010

Alive and Well

I'm alive and well, as are the bears.
I ventured across the highway this evening only to discover my old tracks overgrown.

I forged along anyway--in quest of good cheer,
a lift of spirits,
an improved state of mind.

I've been mulligrubbing over summer's slowness to show itself,
resenting the chill,
tromping along head down...argh alder saplings in 'my' way,  blackberry tangle, sprawling spring growth.
I'm in over my head (quite literally) but forging through..
Louie picks up his pace, suddenly looking alert and eager and trots out of sight-- and oh! a dog is barking up ahead, must be someone else out here crazy as I am.

No wait. That's Louie's bark, his "Bear!" alert.
Rats.  Can't see ahead, can't see much of anything.  In this tiny corridor wedged against a chainlink fence it occurs to me this is probably the bear's primary passage too.

I clamber onto a big stump to survey my situation.
Louie's barking and charging a big black hulk. The hulk turns and charges in return.  Louie dodges and turns and back and forth they go.  I'm standing on my stump yelling to be sure the bear doesn't come this direction!  Waving.  Hollering, "Louie, NO!. Louie, Come!..."

Mr. Bear's loathe to leave his grubbing grounds for this pesky barking dog but now there's someone hollering from a stump...He rises on hind legs to get a better look. Huh?  Must be surprising to see a two-legged One out here.  He begins to retreat, but not without stopping every few paces to check his back, rearing up on hind legs to see if I'm in pursuit-- I'm NOT.

So, we're temporarily out of mischief, but I still have this whole tangle of clear-cut to circumvent now that I've parted ways with that bear corridor.  And once I straggle my way to the old dirt road I yet have a long dim trail overhung with trees and flanked with rampant undergrowth to navigate.  We're not home free yet!
[Make noise, that's the key.]
A running monologue with Louie grows old after the first unanswered comments.  A hymn sing might just do the trick. Lots of words. Lots of volume.  And so I commence.  (This is something I'm normally quite shy of doing, for fear of being heard.  But now, that's just the point ! and it's unlikely anyone else is so foolhardy as to be out here brambling in bear country at this time of day anyway!)

All Creatures of Our God and King suits the occasion.  All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name is forceful and emboldening... And soon I'm bellowing Praise My Soul the King of Heaven followed by Jesus is the Sweetest Name I know. No, that one's too sweet-sounding.

There's a LOT of fresh bear poo all along my way now--and Louie's dashed up the path barking again off to the side in the overgrown undergrowth.  I can't see the bear.  But neither can it see me!
[Keep singing-- loudly!]
Maybe some percussion would be good about now.
Bring on my sticks... "The j-o-y of the L-o-o-o-ord is my strength [strike sticks], the joy of the L-o-r-d is my strength [crack!]...

And the reality of what's happening in my soul makes me chuckle.  I started on this walk my spirit dragging in quest of fresh joy but unwilling to fight for it.  And what am I doing now?!  Singing my heart out, with urgency, declaring what I know to be true whether I feel it to be so or not.

And just maybe a hint of joy is creeping over me in this bear-infested wilderness as I sing because after all, I am alive and well!
And I'm in hot pursuit, not of bears, but of Joy!
Joy really is my strength!

"But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head."  Psalm 3:3 
btw: Have you seen John Piper's book: When I Don't Desire GOD: How to Fight for Joy   It has resurfaced at my house recently.   It's excellent and practical help for re-orienting your source of joy to Christ above all.  Think it's time for a refresher myself!