Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Book Review - Gabby, God's Little Angel: Sent to Show God's Love

Gabby, God's Little Angel: Sent to Show God's Love by Sheila Walsh, illustrated by Marina Fedotova (Thomas Nelson, Inc. 2011) is a delightful children's story of a guardian angel-in-training. Fun-loving, talkative Gabby may be a little angel but God's given her a ginormous first assignment: to guard Sophie and show her how much God loves her.

Sophie's adventurous spirit and over confidence in her abilities sends Gabby on a wild ride her first day on duty. From climbing trees to bucking horses, Gabby flies to the right, swoops to the left and cartwheels, head-over-heels to protect Sophie from harm.

I liked how the author depicted Gabby as a whimsical, not-so-graceful angel because little children (5 years and younger) will relate to the fairytale quality of the story, yet be taught that God's angels are real and relateable.While depicting God's angels more biblical as strong, fierce warriors can be effective for  an older audience, it could be frightening to younger children.

The illustrations are warm, engaging, and inviting to the reader young and old. Her attention to detail captures the reader and draws them into the story. I can't wait to read this to my three-year-old granddaughter.

To purchase your own copy of Gabby, God's Little Angel please visit: Tomas Nelson, or

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Sky Freedom

"Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." Isaiah 40:31

Yesterday, eyes heavenward I watch four black crows against clear blue skies - soaring, gliding, enjoying the weightless freedom. They land in high branches for rest beneath a green canopy, hidden from sight.

Eyes close, peace settles -  contrasting recent stormy days. Drinking sunshine, my body warms and my mind wanders and wonders, "How would it feel to soar against blue skies?" And I long for sky freedom.

Weary today, I rest. Still longing weightless flight, I invite God's presence. He speaks:

"Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." (Isaiah 40:28-31)

I drink His words deep - fill with living water. Spirit-quenched freedom refreshes my soul sends my heart soaring against blue skies. He fills my mind with God-sized dreams. Unlimited possibilities empowered by God strength and God gifts - this is sky freedom. This is heavenly, winged flight.

Are you physically or emotionally weary? Have you lost sight of your God-sized dreams? Even your little dreams? Then climb a high branch, hidden from sight, and in God's presence (his Holy Spirit). Let Him quench your thirst, fill your heart with living water and whisper His dreams for you. Only when He fills us can we pour out to those in need around us; only when He empowers can we find strength to move forward; only when He breathes on us do our dreams take flight.

Lord, may we stop and rest in your presence today. Renew our strength and breathe in us your breath of life. Empower us through your Holy Spirit so we, with you, may accomplish great things for your Kingdom here on earth. Amen.

Monday, August 29, 2011

In the Eye of the Storm

"Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings. I stay close to you; your right hand upholds me." Psalm 63:7-8

Hurricane Irene's predicted path places my home to the right of her eye-the windy side. Exhausted by two days of preparation at both our home and our parents' brings me to nervous cleaning inside today. Awaiting my husband's safe return before the storm, I pray. I pray between small piles of laundry, with every mop slosh across the kitchen floor, and dusty swipe-Lord, protect.

Another storm raged yesterday-threatening our foundation-filled with hissing, incongruent words and lethal arrows. Like Eve in the Garden, my head believed twisted lies spoken as truth, but the words made no sense in my heart. 2 + 2 = 4 my husband says. But this time, the numbers didn't add up. My mouth and heart did not align. A sign my husband soon recognized: twisted truth only comes from one source--Satan himself.

In chinked armor my husband held my hands and together we waged war against our Enemy in Jesus' name--the most powerful weapon we know. Praying,"Jesus come. Jesus come. Jesus come." The storm passed but left me shaken, almost convinced the lies held truth. I realized how susceptible marriages (even good marriages) are in the hands of the Enemy.

Storm warnings come days in advance and allows us ample time to prepare and protect our homes and families. Spiritual storms have warning signals, too:
        • You're a Christ-follower
        • You've taken a step of obedience
Satan prowls around those who love the Lord like hungry lion seeking to kill and devour; not just scratch or injure. He's out to destroy. Although he's cunning, we can prepare and protect ourselves for his storms by spending time alone with God:
        • Reading God's Word
        • Prayer - speaking and listening to God
        • Thanksgiving - being watchful of God's little graces even in the midst of raging storms
Then, when you find yourself in the eye of the storm, your heart and mind are prepared to recognize and wage war against the Enemy and you can pray- Jesus come. Lord protect.

Dear Jesus, come. Come into our midst. Calm the storms. Send your angels to protect our hearts, our homes, our marriages, our families. In your precious name, Amen.

"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I [Jesus] have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." John 10:10

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Thankful Thursday: My First Love

We love because he first loved us. 1 John 4:19

He's wooed me forever-called me beloved. Drawn me ever close to his wounded side. Today was no exception. Love songs streaming loud around every corner on my forty minute ride. His words of affection penetrate my very core-wrapped tight around my heart, like I've never felt before.

Singing back to him, my heart overflows. Love songs from me given back to him. Praise for his goodness. Praise for his kindness. Praise for his everlasting arms. Tears cloud my eyes. Curves in the road. Slowing down I ask, Lord, how have I never known your love like this before?

Married many years. Lord, I can't remember when I've loved you more than him. It makes my cheeks burn flush. It's a very different love. And when I tell him, I'm more in love with you, he smiles and he nods at me, "It's all very good." He understands me completely because he loves you too.

For Lord, you are our first love. The One who makes us so. You give up everything to call us your very own. We choose to call your son Savior. Follow his lead back to you. Our sins, he's forgiven. Washed our hearts white as snow. He's filled us completely- healed every broken part.

Lord, we love you more because you first loved us.

So, on this Thankful Thursday I give thanks for:

1. God's love songs, sung right to my heart
2. Long drives on country roads
3. My husband who understands my first love

What about you? What are you thankful for today? How has God wooed you?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Filled to Pour Out

"Be confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." Philippian 1:6

The sitting package weighs heavy on my mind. My husband wraps a prayer around me in whispers to the One who created me for this: an empty quill--filled from the Source to pour out His healing words across a page.

Pain and wholeness, hopes and dreams sealed tight in green and white, carried through glass doors. Obedience and sacrifice layed down. Let go. Now waiting.

Borrowed patience waiting. Silence fills and words run scarce. God speaks: 

"Write those things I say to you. Write and hold back nothing of all I shall say to you. For I shall speak to you in the darkness and shall make your way a path of light...Do not doubt or hesitate, for I the Lord your God go before you. You already have My promise that the work I begin I am able to carry through to completion." (Frances J. Roberts, Come Away My Beloved, Barbour Publishing, 2002)

Sweet words poured out upon my heart from the Source of all my writing. He's in control and will fulfill his every purpose. I wait on him and watch and give thanks.

"The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me. Your love O Lord, endures forever-- do not abandon the work of your hands." Psalm 139:8

"For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." Ephesians 2:10

Lord, as I wait on you, seek your face--empty me and fill me from the well with water to quench my thirst-that always satisfies.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Nothing On My Mind

Cotton candy clouds saunter overhead against sky blue, teasing me below with holes of sunshine. A lazy summer day poolside, radio on, eyes daring clouds move faster so sun may warm my goose-bumped skin. Nothing on my mind.

Deep breaths, shallow dips, high noon. Late summer's rustling breeze. Grass cut, weeds plucked, raspberries last crop, roses late bloom. Bittersweet August.

Used to be a busy time. School shopping, bargain basements, stationery stores. New jeans, white sneaks, backpacks, lunch bags, dance class, band camp, uniforms, and schedules. Drive here. Go there. Always on the run. Days gone by.

Sun sets, cool nights,  white moon. Early autumn's creeping change. Leaves fall, birds fly, squirrels gather, bees work overtime. Bittersweet August.

Tiny, twinkling stars scatter pretty patterns against sky black, beck'ning me below with with balls of light. A quiet summer's night, crickets' song, eyes daring sleep away so day may never end. Nothing on my mind.

"So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun." Ecclesiastes 8:15

Monday, August 22, 2011

God's Heartbeat

"Do not hold against us the sins of past generations; may your mercy come quickly to meet us, for we are in desperate need." Psalm 79:8

My Father's heart beat deep inside my chest. His mercy overflowed and caught me by surprise. For once, I understood his compassion towards us.

Condemning lies shouted in my ears before my feet padded across the bedroom floor, Saturday morning. Words that had no merit or permission to attend my soul crept into subconscious cracks and tripped me in early consciousness. "Lord come," is all I could muster through the accusations to shake loose the grip of my prowling Enemy.

Later, in the midst of fellow wordsmiths the Enemy pulled up a chair next to mine, disguised as a colleague. He took control of a jeering minority and publicly mocked of the work of the Master...His saving power...His name. "Lord come," I prayed again. But it didn't seem enough. I was ready for a fight, to defend His name but then He spoke:

"When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly."
1 Peter 2:23

Sunday came. The sabbath. My husband and I traveled in the sunshine to quieter places to worship and bask in His company, stopping only for breakfast. In a sleepy river town we took our seats under the canopy at the Whistle Stop Cafe and enjoyed our gourmet eggs and coffee and yes, fried green tomatoes. 

To our right, two couples discussing the just-heard sermon on following the passions God placed in our hearts. I know that sermon. It's where God has me today.

To our left a group of three, friends of the owner, commiserating about the disciplinary injustices of parochial school nuns and southern baptist schoolmasters. Their faith now dead because of them.

Caught in the middle of two polar opposites my heart quickened and tears welled up - my husband bewildered by my visible reaction. I choked back tears, not for myself, but for all those who've never known God's compassion, or love, or mercy - only the Enemy's distorted truth. I felt God's heartbreak, His mercy, His compassion and caught a glimpse of how He saw these people.

I begged God for words again. What syllables could I offer to change their minds? Was there any convincing I could offer to help them see the true God? Only silent prayers were offered to an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent God.

In times like these how do you react? What advice can you offer to one so muted?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Thankful Thursday: His Name

"God exhaulted him to the high place and gave him the name that is above every name..." Philippians 2:9

Thoughts of ordinary names never entered our minds when we had children. Our children weren't common. They were gifts from heaven - nothing short of the miraculous - and their names would reflect our hopes for their future.

God names us, too. He calls us by a name that reflects His purpose for us, our heavenly character. He's done this since the beginning of time: Abram (exalted father) became Abraham (father of multitudes), Sarai (contentious) became Sarah (mother of nations). He renamed Jacob (holder of the heel) Israel (God contented), and changed Saul (prayed for) to Paul (humble).  Do you wonder what God calls you?

Regardless of our names (birth or God-breathed) scripture says there is no greater name than the name of Jesus: 

"... when he [God] raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything.." (Ephesians 1:20-22) so "...that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father." Philippians 2: 10-11

On this Thankful Thursday, I give thanks for God's miraculous gifts:

1. Aaron Daniel (Exalted and knowing God is his judge)
2. Torrie Ana (Victorious and full of grace)
3. Jesus, Yeshua, Emmanuel (God with us).

For Jesus is my salvation, mercy with a face, my holiness, and worthy of all praise!

These lyrics by 33 Miles, just moved me today:

"Salvation has a name, mercy has a face.
Holiness was crucified and He rose to give us grace.
 Jesus our holiness,worthy of all praise!"
What are you thankful for today?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

"You is Kind. You is Smart. You is Important."

Aibileen and Mae from the movie The Help.

"This is what the Lord says-he who created you...he who formed you: 'Fear not, for I have redeemed you, I have called you by name; you are mine.'" Isaiah 43:1

Last night we enjoyed a double-feature movie date: Captain America and The Help. Both films gain four stars but there was a recurring scene in The Help that grabbed me. (Don't worry, I'm not a movie spoiler).

Three-year-old Mae Mobley was the highlight of Aibileen's mornings when she arrived for work at the Mobley's Mississippi home. Her black hands were a stark contrast to Mae's southern white complexion as she cupped them around Mae's chubby cheeks and woke her gently from sleep with her southern drawl, "'Mornin' Mae. You is kind. You is smart. You is important." And Mae would repeat, "I is kind. I is smart. I is important."

Throughout the story, this cute morning exchange became Mae's sustenance when she was rejected by her mother and felt starved for her affection. As I watched Aibileen protect Mae's heart time and again by repeating these words over her, I pictured God doing that with us; loving us like His own because we are His own.

Today's scripture says, "...he who created you...he who formed you (says) 'Fear not, for I have redeemed you, I have called you by name; you are mine.'" (Isaiah 43:1 NIV) What an amazing statement! We can be rejected by our earthy family (mother, father, sister, brother, husband, wife or children) and of course, it's devastating, it's painful...all of that. But, if we have Christ as our Savior, God calls us His own. He created us and He knows us. He calls us by name and we can call Him Abba, Daddy. He cups His hands around our cheeks, looks us in the eyes and whispers, "You are kind. You are smart. You are important," and "You are mine."

You created us. You formed us from the dust of this earth and chose to breathe life into us. You named us and we are yours. May we be drawn to you as our Daddy and know how wide, how deep, how high your love is for us.

"And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." Ephesians 3:17-19

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Notice Grace-Gifts

"Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good. His love endures forever." Psalm 136:1

I'm a mess. Tears spilling over my cheeks, staining my shirt. God's words, penned by a stranger yet sister in faith, Ann Voskamp, leave me in beautiful ruin. My eyes newly opened to God's extravagant love whispered in ordinary things.

Her God-journey challenges my heart notice Him in the midst of my daily struggle and count my blessings; not for counting's sake but for giving's sake. For if we count our blessings as "things" we tend to hoard and want more. But if we count them as gifts of God's grace, then we are compelled to give thanks and share God's grace-gifts with others.

We enter conversation with God. We step into community with one another. We form relationships that lean to grace, lean on grace, fill with grace. Grace-gifts that are unmerited, but freely given.

With the counting of gifts and the offering of thanks, we fall in love with the God who calls us by name, who fills us with grace and we glow like a blushing bride. His bride. And He, our husband and giver of all good things.

Lord, thank you for your daily, constant grace-gifts. You overwhelm my heart with your love for me until it overflows. Keep me ever conscious of your grace that I may never take you or your love for granted. Teach me to celebrate and give thanks and offer Your grace freely. Amen.

"The trumpeters and musicians joined in unison to give praise and thanks to the LORD. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, the singers raised their voices in praise to the LORD and sang: “He is good; his love endures forever.” 2 Chronicles 5:13

Monday, August 15, 2011

Sneaky Little Words

"And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all." Acts 4:33b

Saturday, God's peace attends my soul. Countless hours caught up in green life of earth with rain soaked grass, bushy leaves of raspberry limbs, even weeds between the cracks of brick. Sharing space with a slumbering cat, I fill my mind with God's good graces and read. My heart full of His lush earth filling every sense of mine with contented praise. 

Coffee shared with a childhood friend and giggles heard of grandchildren close. Meal shared with son and wife. Life is good. Heart overflows. Daylight gives in to darkness. Sleep comes.

A new day. What could go wrong? My heart alert to all good but ways of old thinking flow in and pour out. Husband's heart destroyed by three sneaky words. "I knew it." Words that spill in one single moment when my guard is down. Too late. No take-backs.

 Lord, forgive. Lord, save. Lord, how?


Grace from God to forgive. Wash anew. Start again.

Grace from Husband to forgive. Start again.

All grace.

"However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace." Acts 20:24

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Thankful Thursday - Gifts of the Heart

"Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth."
 1 John 3:18

Our granddaughter stampeded through the back door with a giggle, her arms wide open, and her hands gripping a sheet of white paper. On it was her masterpiece: a hand-drawn anniversary card showing her Gramsie and Pops standing next to a flower and her three-year-old signature, strongly resembling blades of grass.

I lifted her up off the floor for a tight squeeze and an Eskimo kiss (cuz real kisses are yucky) but she surprised me and landed her wet lips on mine. Her mama and baby brother handed Pops a container of blueberry and cinnamon muffins. Mmmmmm our favorites.

These precious, heart-made gifts meant more than an expensive cruise or store-bought gift. They were made with their hands wrought with love from their hearts. What more could anyone ask for?

So, on this Thankful Thursday I'm grateful for:

1. Wet kisses from my granddaughter

2. Heart-made gifts

3. Anniversaries

What are you thankful for? Please share what you're grateful for today so we can all be reminded of the simple things in life that God blesses us with each day.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Happy Anniversary

"A cord of three strands is not quickly broken." Ecclesiastes 4:12

Today we celebrate the day our lives were joined in marriage. Barely twenty, we walked the aisle of the steepled church as though we were the only two there. But we weren't.

Family and friends filled the pews and witnessed our vows. The minister prayed a blessing  and pronounced us husband and wife. We sealed our forever promises with a tender kiss as though we were the only two there. But we weren't.

We labored over our children, our home, and our jobs. We learned the strength of wedding day promises with every storm that blew through our door. Many nights we suffered as though were were the only two who knew. But we weren't.

In the midst of all the joy and in the depths of all the struggle our God was still us, through us, and between us...keeping us until death us do part.

Today we drink in the memories of all our years like a fragrant wine. We thank our Creator for making one another for each other and pray His presence be ever with us in the years to come.

Happy Anniversary, Peter.

I love you,

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

I Got This One, God!

"So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it." Isaiah 55:11

Gym class was a nightmare. Showing off my negative athletic abilities twice a week in front of twenty-five classmates was frightening. It wasn't like I was the last one to be picked for a team or left alone on the sidelines but athletics just wasn't my thing. But I did have one good day in gym class; a day I'll never forget.

It was basketball season and Ms. Bevans was filling in for our regular teacher. She split us up into two teams and we took our allotted positions on the court. I think I was center. At the sound of her whistle she threw the ball between me and my opponent and the other team took possession of the ball. At least the pressure was off so I could concentrate on blending into the background and avoiding the ball until the final basket was made by someone else.

Suddenly, I turned around and coming straight at me was that orange ball. "Oh no!" I thought, putting my hands out and closing my eyes. The ball landed in my hands perfectly and like a hot potato I flung it towards the basket. It formed a perfect arc and I scored two points for my team.

"Wow! Perfect! Did you all see what she did?" cried Ms. Bevans. I was never so proud and I never repeated that perfect play ever again. But for one moment in time, "I got it!" I was set apart from my classmates as the athletic expert. The positive attention felt great but shooting that one perfect basket did NOT make me an expert in basketball.

Isn't it that way in our walk with the Lord, too? We gain a bit of confidence, maybe some public accolades for our ministerial accomplishments and it all feels so good. All of a sudden we're an expert.

Then a friend approaches us for spiritual guidance. It's so easy to say, "I got this one, God," and proceed to speak our own wisdom into their life rather than leading them to the source of wisdom, God's Word. When God entrusts us with His children, he does not expect us to usurp His authority, but rather to teach them to recognize His voice through reading God's Word and simply listening for His still, small voice in the silence of prayer.

God doesn't need us but He does choose to use us in each other's lives to point to Him as the Source of all wisdom, truth, and grace in this game of life.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Time Out!

"At daybreak, Jesus went out to a solitary place..."
Luke 4:42

A small, wooden, high-backed chair sits empty in a corner of my dining room. It caught my attention at a town-wide craft fair over twenty years ago and it's initial purpose was strictly ornamental. But as my children grew and I began a home day care, I soon discovered it was the perfect size for a child's bottom. Yes, you've guessed it. It became the "time-out chair."

For most children, a few minutes of solitude in the time-out chair helped calm the situation and improve their attitudes. Sometimes as adults, we need to a few minutes in the time-out chair too, even if we're not the ones who caused the ruckus.

Yesterday, I sent myself to the time-out chair. Oh, not the same chair, but my quiet chair; the one in my office.

It had been a rough Sunday morning of waking up late leaving us gulping down eggs without coffee and racing to church. Half way to the highway, my husband and I wondered if we should even go since our attitudes were so bad. But, we continued on, mostly out of a heart of obligation rather than worship. It ended up a bad decision.

Later that afternoon, I snuck away. In complete silence and solitude I rested in God's embrace and His Word, confessing my bad attitude and drinking in his grace. He filled me with His peace so by the end of my time-out I could walk in harmony with my husband and enjoy the company of my family.

We all have need of a time-out now and again. Even Jesus slipped away from the crowds to spend time in solitude, thinking and praying to his heavenly Father. If Jesus needed that quiet time, how much more do we need it?

"Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed." Mark 1:35

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Thankful Thursday - Everyday Things

"Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful." Colossians 4:2

Much looms in our everyday existence of job, home, family, school. Responsibilities that clamor for our attention all at the same time. They speak so loudly and hyper-focus our attention on the details that we tend to ignore the larger picture of beauty around us.

God calls us to lift our eyes above the details and focus on the world He created around us; to be watchful for Him in our midst. When we do this we set our thoughts on the larger picture and in the midst of all the stress He sends us little reminders that He is in control.

Author Ann Voskamp in her book One Thousand Gifts reminds us that God is in the everyday, even in the ugly if we open our hands in gratefulness. She takes us on a journey of thankfulness in the minute details of existence and God shows up. He shows up and wraps His strong arms around our frailty and loves us. Who doesn't need that hug today?

Paul also encouraged us to live a life of watchful gratitude. In his letter to the Colossians he encourages them to devote themselves to their relationship with God (prayer) "being watchful and thankful" (Colossians 4:2). It's easier to be thankful when life is easy and much more challenging when life is difficult to bear. But that's the point, isn't it?

So here's my challenge: Each Thursday, before the weekend comes in it's swarm of doing, let's take time to list three things we are thankful for. We'll call it Thankful Thursday. I'd love your input each week so please feel free to share three things you are thankful for in the comments.

On this Thankful Thursday, I am grateful for everyday things:

1. Home-grown peppers
2. Sticky grandchildren in bathtubs
3. Generations laughing around the dinner table

Okay, now it's your turn. What everyday things are you thankful for?

"Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name." 1 Chronicles 29:13

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Sanctification: A Process of the Heart NOT The List - II

"The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23

We opted for a patio garden this year. Only a few manageable planters set out around the deck of the pool; enough to fill our salad bowls with tomatoes and our chili pots with peppers.

It was a wet spring and the peppers sprouted fruit shortly after transplanting. The tomato plant blossomed quickly but soon all the flowers withered and died. At first I thought it was because of the heavy rains but when the storms subsided and sunny, hot days followed, fruit still evaded this pitiful plant. I pinched back sucker stems from the bottom and tried to cultivate the soil the best I knew how until a gardener friend suggested I add compost to the soil. "Seems like the poor plant is using all its energy to grow leaves and needs a little boost of nutrients to give it energy to produce fruit," she explained. Sure enough, within days after adding that black, nutrient-rich compost to the soil, fruit appeared.

It's like that with our spiritual lives too. Just like adding compost to the tomatoes created a more conducive soil for yielding fruit, there is spiritual compost that feeds our souls and produces spiritual fruit. This is the ongoing process of sanctification.

Our spiritual compost is the Word of God, spending time alone in prayer and worship. By reading the Bible, we learn God's story and begin to identify our place in His story as well. We feed our minds with Truth and our lives begin to transform from the inside out. Prayer is God's way of communication. It's really just conversation between us and God; both talking and most importantly, consciously listening for God's voice. Worship is simply honoring God in all that we do, (work, play, parenting, lifestyle) as well as corporate worship at our churches. 

As we fertilize the soil of our souls through this process of discipleship and with the help of the Holy Spirit, our minds and our lives become more like Christ's, naturally yielding the spiritual fruit spoken of in Galatians 5:22-23 (love, joy, peace, patience, faithfulness, kindness, gentleness, and self-control).

God also equips us with spiritual gifts (administration, apostleship, craftsmanship, creative communication, discernment, encouragement, evangelism, faith, giving, helps, hospitality, intercession, knowledge, leadership, mercy, prophecy, shepherding, teaching, wisdom, tongues, interpretation of tongues, healing, miracles, and prophecy). He gives us these gifts to empower us for a specific purpose in order to build the Kingdom of God on earth and to encourage one another in our faith. These gifts are not earned nor grown, like spiritual fruit, but rather they are freely given. (See 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, Ephesians 4, 1 Peter 4, 1Timothy 2, Exodus 31, and Psalm 150). Sometimes they are coupled with our natural talents God has embedded into our DNA and other times he endows us with a gift that is beyond or natural abilities.

Sanctification is a natural, ongoing process of freely surrendering our lives to Christ and allowing His Holy Spirit to transform us into His likeness by cultivating the soil of our hearts, minds, and souls with spiritual compost. The Holy Spirit does not give us a "to do" list of characteristics and gifts to be checked off because fruit is grown, not acquired and spiritual gifts are given, not earned.

"Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will." Romans 12:2

"And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit." 2 Corinthians 3:18

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Sanctification: A Process of the Heart, Not THE LIST

"But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God--and righteousness and sanctification and redemption..." 1 Corinthians 1:30

We don't need one more thing to add to our "to do" list. We aren't looking to learn five more steps to be a better person. Life is complicated enough, busy enough, hard enough not to add more to our already full plates. So when anyone suggests we strive to become more Godly, more Christ-like we tend to shrink back and say, "Not now, Lord." Why? Because we think it will be a long list of things we are responsible for doingWe're looking to take things off our plates, not things to heap on top of what's already there.

That's exactly what I thought when God recently gave me the gift of a new word: sanctification. When God places a word in front of me multiple times, in multiple settings within a short span of time, he's asking me to pay attention. I've sat on this word for a week thinking I've got too many things on my "to do" list already but it keeps coming up in everything I read so I guess God's trying to say something.

The dictionary defines sanctification like this: to purify or free from sin; to make holy, set apart as sacred; to make productive or conducive to spiritual blessing. The first two definitions add nothing to our "to do" lists. It is a free gift, if we accept it. But the third definition leans towards a cooperative effort on our part with God.

First, it is by Christ's death we are purified, set free from sin once and for all therefore, I am made holy before God. There's nothing we can do to earn that; nothing we have to do to become sanctified except confess with our mouths and believe in our hearts that Christ died for my sins (Romans 10:9).

Second, Christ calls us out, sets us apart as sacred before God as the Church: " those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ..." (I Corinthians 1:2).

Now here comes our part...sort of..."to make productive or conducive to spiritual blessing." To receive a spiritual blessing, we must be in a state where our lives are conducive, ready to produce the good things that bring blessing. But how do we do that on our own? How do we know what the "right" things are? Is it all up to us to know, to do? Yes and no.

When Jesus was preparing to leave his disciples in charge of his ministry he said, "But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you" (John 14:26).  We are not left on our own to figure out how to make our lives more conducive, more open to God's blessing. He has sent his invisible, Holy Spirit to take up residence in our hearts, to lead the way.

Let's continue this conversation tomorrow...Add it to your list.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Come and Dine

"On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine—the best of meats and the finest of wines." Isaiah 25:6

The clang of an old farmer's dinner bell, the tinkling cattleman's triangle from the back stoop, a mother's familiar voice calling to her children playing 'round the neighborhood. All different yet the same as they beckon family to the dinner table.

Gathering for dinner at the summer cottage was always a delight. Sun kissed cheeks freshly showered, gathered together at the Lion's Claw table ready to satisfy their hunger after a day at the shore. But instead of digging in with both hands, we paused to give thanks. We didn't fold our hands or bow our heads in prayer as you'd expect. Rather, we raised our voices in song, inviting one another to Come and Dine not only at our table, but Jesus' table.

“Come and dine,” the Master calleth, “Come and dine”;

You may feast at Jesus’ table all the time;

He Who fed the multitude, turned the water into wine,

To the hungry calleth now, “Come and dine.” *

We had so much to be thankful for. We still do. Much more than food. Much more than family sharing a name or a home. Much more. We have a God who became man, who lived among us because He loved us; who died for us. Who lives again, for us. Who satisfies our every hunger.

Our God beckons us to dine with him. He's reserved a seat for each of us at his banqueting table with the choicest foods, the most exquisite wines, topped with His never ending love. He will not call us with a clanging dinner bell, the tinkling of a cattleman's triangle from the back stoop, or a shout from across the back lawn.  No, our God is a gentleman. He whispers in our hearts and holds out his arms and simply says, "Come."

Are you hungry?

Lord, you beckon us to join you at your banqueting table where you satisfy our every need; where you fill our souls with manna from heaven.

*Come and Dine by Charles B. Widmeyer, 1907 (Public Domain)