Monday, July 4, 2011
A special little box sits on the desk in my Little Farm Road office, a gift from a co-worker of years gone by. It contains cards featuring the works of that famous “Painter of Light,” Thomas Kinkade. The first portrays a farm nestled in the shadow of massive snow-capped mountains captioned, “Steeping my life in beauty brings color to my days and a song to my heart!” While my little farm is situated on sun kissed open prairie, far from the mountains, I enjoy the native beauty of this Southwest Florida setting with its colorful tropical flowers and the curious characters they attract.
I begin each morning collecting a fresh supply of hibiscus – the bright red, yellow and uniquely designed “Painted Ladies” to fill the copious array of glass bottles which used to be filled with another of my delights – maple syrup! Recently while tending to the daily arrangements, my thoughts went to the caption on Kinkade’s card with a sense of confirmation that, indeed, such beauty blesses my life. And, yes, it brings a song to my heart when I remember the One who “sends me flowers.”
“It is good to praise the Lord and make music to your name, O Most High, to proclaim your love in the morning and your faithfulness at night,… For you make me glad by your deeds, O Lord; I sing for joy at the works of your hands.” (Psalm 92:1-4)
The overtures of love delivered by my God fill my soul to overflowing with joy in him. The splendor of creation speaks, reminding me that the Lover of my soul is behind it all – he is the source. His own loveliness is displayed in the detail and diversity of my flowers. Through them he communicates that the “little things” really do matter to him. Surrounded by the majesty of his handiwork, I experience his presence and he whispers, “I love you!”
For me, tending the garden symbolizes the partaking of a joint-venture with the Creator. I prepare the soil, do the planting, weeding, watering; he brings the life, he makes the flowers grow. That is his response, the expression of his love to me. We are the Lover and the Beloved – I turn my hand over, spread my fingers open and he fills them with his grace. My heart is warmed by the thought that it pleases him to bring me pleasure and in turn I long to please him. I cherish the intimacy we share.
“The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you. He will quiet you with his love. He will rejoice over you with singing.” (Zephaniah 3:17)
Saturday, June 4, 2011
Regarding: "One Thousand Gifts" by Ann Voskamp
A critiquing trio, we’d met for a Cracker Barrel breakfast and review of Patricia Hunter’s post, written at Ann’s request, concerning Patricia’s idea to share a journal of 1,000 gifts with two friends. Neither Robbi nor I had read the book, but based on Patricia’s summary we agreed the shared journal was a great idea, offered a few editing suggestions and moved into a discussion of criticism One Thousand Gifts was receiving. It seems the controversy surrounded the final chapter, the joy of intimacy, which opens with the line, “I fly to Paris and discover how to make love to God.” Apparently some have found the thought of “making love to God” offensive. I felt no such offense because, as I told my colleagues, “I know exactly what Ann means!” And, I knew then I had to read One Thousand Gifts for myself.
I love the subtitle, A Dare to LIVE FULLY Right Where You Are. Ann shares a quote from Augustine bringing to light that joy has always been the goal of the fullest life. With a backward glance, she reflects on what Jesus counted a vital component to fullest life when, having less than twelve hours more with the disciples He so loved, “…He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them…” (Luke 22:19 NIV). She goes on to point out that “He gave thanks” reads “eucharisteo” in the original language, and asks herself the question, “Can it (the giving of thanks) lay a sure foundation under a life? Offer the fullest life?”
Her quest to seize this holy grail of joy by returning again and again to the table of the euCHARAisteo, the table of thanksgiving, serves as the major theme of her book. Readers, hungry for fullest life, who approach One Thousand Gifts with open mind and heart, will find their souls deeply satisfied at this table.
For me, the practice of eucharisteo became a way of life many years ago and I was captivated by her masterful presentation. Chapter by chapter the rhythm of Ann’s story crescendos toward its culmination in the final chapter where fullest life, truest joy is experienced in communion with the Lover of her soul. How regrettable some fail to grasp this high and holy calling. The distinction between those who partake and those who stop short can be recognized in a passage from that final chapter where Ann sees God’s call for oneness as a call to communion. She draws upon Jesus’ teaching in the Gospel of John concerning the union of Vine and Branches stating,
“He’s calling to come and celebrate being made one, and in Him, by Him, to bear the fruit of the full life round. …there is no real reality, no full life, outside of the relationship with Love, because God Himself wraps Himself eternally in relationship: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit existing in relationship, an encircling dance of communion sweetest. God is love – everywhere! everything! – and He can only be love because He exists in triune relationship. …when I am in union with Christ, I too am lavished with the love the Father has for the Son. In union, that love is mine – ours! I can’t simply ignore His serenade because I’m unsure, uncomfortable, uninterested, thinking I’ve claimed Christ as my Savior already anyways. God is relationship and He woos us to relationship and there is nothing with God if there is no relationship.”
There it is! “I’ve claimed Christ as my Savior” – but, “God is relationship and He woos us to relationship.” By faith in the finished work of Christ He becomes my Savior, but intimacy with God is a matter of relationship. The question for critics is one asked by Ann a few lines down in the chapter, “How receptive to God do I really want to be?” In other words, do we only want to be saved or do we want to know God intimately?
There was so much to savor in this book beyond its major theme that One Thousand Gifts could have been titled, One Thousand Words of Wisdom. As readers we come to a book from many different orientations and the message it brings to individuals can be as varied as the needs waiting to be met. The longing to live fully likely served as a universal launching point for readers of One Thousand Gifts, but the paths to that place of fullest life will have rambled in sundry directions.
In conclusion allow me to share the view from where it took me.
“…and the two will become one flesh,” went beyond words for my husband of thirty-eight years and me – it painted the picture of our life together. When Michael was diagnosed with a massive brain tumor and died less than three months later, parts of me were buried as well. From all appearances, my life hardly skipped a beat. It was what couldn’t be seen by the casual observer that was missing – deep within emotions had been deadened so that I wouldn’t feel the pain. My coping mechanism created a host of self-protection techniques – subtle ways of doing and being designed to spare me emotional pain – ever again! Unfortunately, those same emotions need to be free to function in order to experience earth’s greatest pleasures. Five years later I long to throw off this shroud of death in my soul and breathe life once again. This was where my path to fullest life was being blocked.
It’s amazing how powerful our words are – it only took a few of Ann’s to speak to my heart. As so often is the case, the real root of my problem was a failure to completely trust the Lord. She spoke in the chapter, go lower, of palms curled into protective fists and said, “My own wild desire to protect my joy at all costs is the exact force that kills my joy.” Wisdom Words for me. Letting go, loosening the grip was my need. Being willing to open the palm and receive whatever God has for me, trusting that it will be good whether it feels pleasurable or painful. Her words in the next chapter, empty to fill, became my own confession, “I turn my hand over, spread my fingers open. I receive grace.” And, God’s grace will be sufficient no matter what is placed in my palm.
In the final chapter, the joy of intimacy, when Ann fearfully considered a trip to Paris, she said, “I have no idea what those seven days in Paris could hold. I think that’s the point. Wasn’t it time to fully live?” I answered, “YES!” And, you know what, I find that I’m again living fully right where I am.
Saturday, May 21, 2011
“NEVERTHELESS, I (Cynthia Cabo Sellers) am continually with You; You hold me by my right hand. You will guide me with Your counsel, and afterward receive me to glory.” (Psalm 73:23-24 NKJ)
Rising early, have you ever approached the new day with a prayer to the One you are certain is There, but not quite sure Where? Then you open His Word, flipping the pages randomly to a passage which leaves you standing amazed that its message, without doubt, was tucked away just for you by the Lover of your soul for a moment such as this?
That was my experience this morning and the words of love from my Lord were penned by the Psalmist long before I knew Him. His Spirit delivered the communiqué with such tenderness and affection that its intention for me could not be overlooked. His devotion to the one He loves could not be resisted. My heart melted and once again my soul found restoration in His presence.
Healing began with the first word. “Nevertheless…” Meaning, “in spite of that” – in spite of what? SIN – my foolish sin. And, I had done it again. In spite of my foolish sin, the Psalmist reminds me that I am continually with God – no, better yet He is continually with me! It says, “You hold me by my right hand.” I can only offer eternal praises and thanksgiving that my continuing on with God depends, not on my ability to “hold His hand,” but on the fact that He holds me by my right hand!
Not only that, in my helpless state He promises to come along side with divine assistance through all life’s trials and gives me assurance of eternal life when the days on earth are done. “You will guide me with Your counsel, and afterward receive me to glory!”
With those blessed words of forgiveness and encouragement I was ready to begin the new day fully satisfied once again. I know I’ll sin again, but He will be right there holding me by my right hand, lifting me out of the muck and mire with His strong arm; offering mercy and grace from His heart of love. Restoring my soul!
Saturday, April 2, 2011
APRIL 24TH the Church will celebrate “Resurrection Sunday.” Perhaps that was the subliminal message tucked away in the back of my mind as I studied Paul’s epic prayer for the Ephesians this morning while I nourished body and soul, taking it all in with a fresh pot of coffee at hand. Wrapping your mind around the substance of his prayer could threaten a “blow out” but beyond that, have you ever noticed one of his sentences is over 130 words long? He’s on a roll and just prays on and on. Each phrase is loaded with dynamite truths – not possibilities, probabilities, prospects, likelihoods or chances – they are concrete realities! Listen up as he begins with “Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers:
... that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come!” (Ephesians 1:17-21 NKJ)
QUITE A MOUTHFUL, wouldn’t you say? One could spend a lifetime ruminating on the fodder provided in that single passage of Scripture. And a sumptuous meal it would make indeed! However, I’d recommend slicing it into smaller portions for better digestion. Chewing on just a morsel now and then. Maybe something like this:
Think about why God gives us the “spirit of wisdom and revelation.” One thing is sure – it’s specifically related to the idea of getting to know Him better. OR,
Consider the necessity of “the eyes of your understanding being enlightened” so that you can begin to grasp what is meant by all the spiritual concepts which follow. OR,
What goodies are packed into “the hope of His calling” or “the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints.” BUT
The one which rocketed off the page during my breakfast was “what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe.”
AMAZING GRACE! It is the very same “mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead.” That extraordinary divine force by which Jesus Christ was raised is the same power at work in and though believers today. The implications are staggering! Standing in awe of such colossal might existing to accomplish the perfect will of God in my life, leaves me wanting for words to express the wonder of it all on paper. I can only invite and encourage you to ponder the point for yourself in your own moments of daily devotion.
With so much going for us, why should we spend time worrying, fretting, hassled, complaining, nit-picking, fault-finding, moaning and groaning, discouraged, disheartened, depressed, disillusioned, doubting, just plain unbelieving? Yes, I think that’s it – just plain unbelieving. If we believe that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, by the authority of Scripture, we are obliged to believe in the offer of the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe.
So when we greet one another on April 24th with the familiar, “Christ is risen!” “He is risen indeed!” let’s remember that the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe is, in truth,
“according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come!”
Nothing less than Resurrection Power! AMEN