Saturday, August 29, 2009

Beside Still Waters

The twenty third Psalm has always been a mainstay of my life. I have been drawn to it time and again over the course of my forty-three years of serving God. There is a simple truth that lies in each verse---a truth that speaks to me in the midst of the severest trial or the most heart wrenching tragedy.
Verse two speaks to my heart today, "He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside the still waters.". Green pastures---still waters---a beckoning to rest and trust. The opposite of storm and strife, the place of refreshing, a time of letting go---how we all need this place and time where weariness can disappear and where cares can be laid down. How I need this place today.
It is interesting to note David's choice of words, He MAKETH me...". This leads me to believe that perhaps we are not good at recognizing our own need for letting go of burdens and cares. Is it possible that we tend to think that, if we carry the load just a little further, we will eventually be able to resolve it ourselves? Is it possible that we tend to think of our burden as something we just have to bear and so we try to carry on without realizing God is longing to help us? It is the persistence of our human nature that places God in the position of "making us" lay the burden down and give it to Him. But it is here, in the place where we are made to go, that we really see how God cares for us and desires us to be refreshed and renewed.
Green pastures---just the phrase brings to mind a view of lush grasses, beautiful wild flowers, gentle breezes and shading trees. My grandparents had such a place in the mountains of Kentucky. I would often sit on the front porch of their little cottage home and gaze out upon the beauty of the pasture land before me. Even as a child, I can recall the settling of my spirit as I looked upon the beauty of the view. My grandfather had a huge porch swing and I would just sit and swing looking at all the trees and flowers and the green grass and thinking that no artist could ever paint a picture as beautiful as the one I was seeing. I can recall many times falling asleep in the swing. I was as if the view lulled me to sleep. I wonder if that is how God would like it be with us? Do we dare to believe that God wants us in a place where we can be lulled to rest, even if for a short time, so that we can continue on with renewed strength and vigor?
Let us not forget the still waters. Do you know that sheep will not drink from running water? No matter how thirsty they are, they will not drink from any source where the water is not still. It is as if they are frightened by the rushing of water over the rocks in the river bed. How frightened have we been sometimes by what we are called upon to face and endure in this life? How many times do we call out to God to help us and, at the same time, we cannot see Him as the source of Living Water. Not a dry riverbed, not an empty well, but a source of supply that never runs dry---a constant satisfaction to a life that is barren and dry. This is where He leads us. He leads us to Himself so that we can "with joy...draw water out of the wells of salvation." (Isaiah 12:3). You see, salvation does not just mean repentance---it also means "deliverance". So, to draw refreshing and strength from God, the source of living water, is to also find deliverance, not necessarily from the burden (although that does happen), but from the weariness of bearing it.
Oh, how we need to be led by the still waters. How we need to lie down for a while in the green pastures. The next verse of this lovely Psalm tells us that, after this rest, He restores our soul. Oh! how we need this lovely repose today. How we need the rest of the green pastures of God's spirit. How we need the still waters for refreshing and restoring.
May today bring to each of you a time of rest---a time of peace---a few moments where you can lay down the load and rest yourselves in Him. The beauty of the old song comes to mind:

"Where He leads me I will follow,
Where He leads me I will follow,
Where He leads me I will follow,
I'll go with Him, with Him,
All the way."

Today may He lead you, may He rest you, may He refresh you so that you, too, may go all the way. He restores my soul in pastures green and beside waters still. You come, too.

In Grace,

Thursday, August 27, 2009

My Redeemer Lives

You will need to stop the music on the playlist to listen to the post for today. This video of a disabled son and his father has brought tears to my eyes and hope to my weary heart today. Dick Hoyt's son, Rick, was born with cerebral palsy. After refusing to put him in an institution, his father determined to make Rick's life as rich as he possibly could. When Rick learned to speak via an elaborate electronic device, life became "normal" for Rick in that he could communicate with those around him.
The Ironman competition came as a result of Rick's desire to help another disabled individual. Dick was challenged by his son's desire and so began an inspiring adventure in which Team Hoyt has touched the hearts of millions across the world.
As I watch I wonder--how many times has my God carried me through the deserts and mountains of my life? How many times has God pushed me through when I could not do it for myself? How many times has he carried me across the dark waters of tribulation and heartache when my life was so broken I would surely have perished on my own? My God has done all this and more for me.
Just as the love of Dick Hoyt for his son, Rick, pushes him almost to the point of going beyond his endurance---just as the desire of a father becomes showing his son the joys of life---just as the father takes pride in the son and what they have accomplished---so does God do this and more for those of us who love Him.
Dick Hoyt is a hero to his son Rick. In like manner, God is a hero to me. In fact, He is more than my hero---He is my Redeemer. And, yes, I know my
Redeemer lives. Please note the look on the son's face as they cross the finish line. I know I will have the same smile when I cross the finish line of my life and, weary and worn, enter into the presence of the same God who carried me to the gate of Heaven. It is then I will know for sure, indeed, my Redeemer lives.

In Grace,

Thursday, August 13, 2009

When I Dream

As a child, I had a huge imagination. I would make up my own stories and write my own "books" (I have always loved to write). As I got older and began to plan my own life, I started having my own dreams about what my life would be like. I dreamed of being a gospel singer---I dreamed of being a teacher---I dreamed of being a nurse---I dreamed of being an author. As I read about places around the world, I dreamed of traveling to Paris, London, Venice and Greece. I dreamed of cruise ships and moonlight dancing. I dreamed of Prince Charming and I dreamed of the children I would have.
What I didn't dream about was a life that would go on without the people I loved. I didn't think about marriage ending in betrayal and I didn't dream about a body wracked with pain everyday. I didn't dream about a faith that would be tested beyond its limitations. I couldn't imagine a life without hope. I did not anticipate dreams shattering and my whole world coming to a halt. I couldn't see these things happening---but they did.
For the longest time, I lost my dreams. I lost my vision of a happy life and a joyous future. I had no dreams to dream. I awoke every day, I went to work, I continued my responsibilities at my church, I spent time with my children, and I did it all feeling like it was someone else inside me. I felt like I had lost myself. My dreams were gone. No more writing, no more dreaming, no more hopes for the future. It was all gone---lost to the pain and agony of a life unfulfilled.
Ah, but we all know that God brings us 'round at the appointed time. I remember sitting on my sofa, looking at the clock and realizing four hours of time had gone by. I had been sitting in that same spot, unmoving, for four hours. There were times when I would say to myself, "Breathe, Marie. Just breathe.". Oh, how my heart hurt and how I wanted to retreat from life. I purposely stayed in the numbness of it all because it hurt so much to feel anything. But, as I said, God brings us 'round.
I heard His voice--I felt His presence. It was as if He sat next to me, put His arms around me and began to rock me. His presence was so real. I began to cry. No, I began to weep, great weeping sobs that swept over my entire body. Heaving sobs that came from my very gut. All the pain, all the sorrow, all the agony, burst forth in wave after wave of weeping. A scripture regarding the loss of the families of King David's soldiers says, "...they wept until they had no more power to weep...". That was me. I cried until I could cry no longer. Then, I slept. For the first time in months, I slept---soundly.
I awoke knowing that God had reached through the darkness of my life and had filled it with His light. I made coffee, I read the paper, I played my piano---and I sang!!! I sang until my throat was sore. I called my mother and asked her if she would make me breakfast. I ate with Mother and Daddy for the first time in months. Mother looked at me with tear-filled eyes while I ate her wonderful homemade biscuits and gravy. Daddy sat at the head of the table and looked me in the eye and said, "I knew you would come back sooner or later.". Mother hugged me as I got ready to leave that morning. Her heart was so full she could not speak but she hugged me tight. Daddy grabbed me and lifted me off my feet to swing me around Mother's kitchen while I laughed aloud like I did as a little girl. I had begun to heal.
That dark time of my life took place a long time ago. I have not forgotten those awful hours nor do I wish to. I want to remember what it was like to lose hope and dreams. It helps me remember now what it is like to have those hopes and dreams restored. It helps me understand others who are experiencing their own loss of dreams. It helps me pray effectively.
So what do I dream about now? I dream about traveling to Paris for my 60th birthday. I dream about singing gospel music on stage. I dream about writing books that will encourage the body of Christ. I dream about a grand-daughter. I dream about finding the love of my life. Most of all, I dream about being a woman God is proud of. I dream of being the woman of Proverbs. I dream of Heaven and I dream of the smile of God. Praise my precious Lord whose great love and mercy gave me back my dreams. I dream of Him--when I dream.

In Grace,

Friday, August 7, 2009

How Long, O Lord?

Our pastor recently ministered on Psalm 13 where David asked the question, "How long wilt thou forget me, O Lord?". His message centered on the fact that so many times our test/trial seems to go on beyond human endurance and that it is at these times we wonder how long it will last. It was a very moving sermon.
As he spoke, my mind went back to the testimony of a lady I had met at a women's Bible study several years ago. Her name was Cindy Ruhl and she spoke from deep personal experience. Cindy had developed a chronic condition that riddled her lower body with excrutiating pain. No medication or other therapy relieved, or even lessened, the discomfort. Finally, in desperation, the physicians on her case placed Cindy in the hospital and began a barage of tests---all of which proved nonconclusive. Her pain became so unbearable that Cindy would often weep and wail from her hospital bed. In a final effort to alleviate some of her pain, the doctors packed her lower body in ice hoping it would numb the pain---and it did. Finally, the pain abated enough that it was at least bearable. It was then that Cindy and
God began their journey through what David called, "...sorrow in my heart...". What wonderful things God showed her at this time.
Lying in her hospital bed, Cindy began to question God's purpose for her suffering. Realizing that nothing comes to us without first being filtered through the hand of God, Cindy knew there was a reason for what she was enduring. For this, she began seeking God with every waking moment available to her. She was surprised when God led her to the book of Acts and the story of Paul and Silas in prison (Acts 16: 24 - 26). The story took on a deeper meaning when the words of verse 24 leaped off the page, " ..thrust them into the inner prison...". The inner prison was the darkest part of the jail, having no windows, no candle, no visibility at all. It was the place where the worst offenders were kept and into this place went the great apostles of God. It was a place of darkness and desolation.
Looking at her illness as a prison of pain and a place of deep desolation, Cindy began to identify with the beloved men of God. From her previous study of this passage of scripture, she recalled that this dark dungeon was also the place where the criminally insane were kept. Here, among the cries of the insane and in total darkness, were Paul and Silas. And here, they began to sing. No doubt, it was the first time that the walls of the darkest cells had rung with the voices of God's anointed. Here, again for the first time, those reeked with the enemy's torturous mind heard the praises of God. Isn't that just like God to place us, the true lightbearers, in the darkest of places so He alone can be the source of light?
Cindy understood that her purpose was not to figure out the reason for this valley of sorrow, but to render praise to God that He counted her worthy to be His lightsource. Determination rose up within her---determination that said, "I will praise Him in this storm. I will give Him all the glory.". Surrendering her life and herself to God's Divine purpose, Cindy made a decision that day to praise God for life, health, and strength. No matter what.
What I recall most of all, and what left a lasting impact with me, were Cindy's final words. As she stood before us, still in pain but finally controlled to a certain degree with medication, she looked over the faces of all of us before she spoke. I will never forget what she said, "When you really desire the will of God for your life, it won't matter what you are enduring. It will not concern you about the passing of time, it will not concern you about what others think of you and how you are facing the situation. What will concern you is how God wants to use you during this time. His will becomes your obsession and your relationship with Him becomes all consuming. With that in mind, you can say, 'let the trial begin'.".
My trials and tests have seemed so small in comparison to what my dear sister in Christ endured. Nevertheless, my circumstances hurt to the core of my being. I was humbled, beaten and broken by life, but, yet, I've endured. By the grace of God I have endured. God is faithful. I can lift both hands today and say to you, "God is faithful.".
My pastor was right when he explained that the answer to the question, "O Lord, how long?" is simply this--as long as it takes. As long as it takes for us to realize that it is not all about us. It is all about God in us bringing light to a dark world. God in us showing the world that it is possible to live in victory no matter what the circumstances. God in us saying, "LET THE TRIAL BEGIN!".

In Grace,

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Who Knows?

This past week was Vacation Bible School week at our church. It was great!!! The children were beside themselves with anticipation making each night a true adventure. My grandsons were both able to be present every night and, since they missed VBS last year, it seemed a special treat to them to be able to be there this year. Along with the other children they played Bible games, made crafts, learned new songs, listened to stories of their favorite Bible characters, guzzled snacks and treats, and, over all, had a wonderful time.
The last night of the week was a special night. This was the night when the entire group of children gathered together and sang for their parents and family members. It was precious! Tears welled in my eyes as I looked at the faces of the children I have come to love and listened to their voices join together. The joy on each child's face, the pride they took in their singing--it was just so touching to watch them. My mind went back to the time when my own children were small and how they also enjoyed learning about Jesus.
As I sat there and looked over the group of children, my mind recalled the scripture, "And He gave some apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;...for the work of the ministry...". I began to consider just what I was looking at. Which one of the childhood faces I was looking at would be tomorrow's pastors--which one would be a future teacher or evangelist? Which one of those children would be called to a foreign nation to work on the mission field? Going beyond the scriptural reference--which ones would be the worship leaders and musicians of tomorrow? Just where would each one of them fit into into God's future church? Oh! how I yearn for them all to know the beauty of service. How I long for each of them to lay down at night knowing the peace that comes from having touched a life with the gospel of Christ. My heart longs to tell them how glorious it is to stand in the congregation of saints, knowing that you have been used of God to bless and/or instruct them in what it means to know our Jesus. Oh! the richness of Christian service--the joy of being in God's employ. There is, indeed, no greater glory.
I have not always felt this way. There was a time when I sang and played music from a sense of duty. God gave me talent--I gave it back to Him in each service I attended. But I gave it out of obligation, not joy. That is until I accompanied my father to revival services at a small church in the mountains of Kentucky. The church was not much bigger than one of the Sunday School rooms in my father's church. The piano was old (ancient it seemed), with only the middle keyboard making sound. When Daddy preached he had only about a five foot square to move around in--that was rather limiting for Daddy who tended to speak as much away from the Bible stand as he did behind it. And, of course, there was no central air conditioning. And, of course, the revival took place at the hottest time of midsummer. However, I played and sang my heart out during that meeting. I have a strong voice and, since there was no sound system, it held me in good stead.
My whole attitude changed one night toward the end of the revival. I was very hot and decided that I would step out to the small porch at the front of the church to get some air. Daddy had preached a stirring message and I had sang what he had requested. As I stepped out onto the porch I caught my breath in amazement. I could not believe what I was seeing. Men and women alike, who had found no room at the small altar inside, were kneeling at the bumpers of their cars for makeshift altars. They were crying in repentance, asking God for forgiveness for the wrongs of their lives. Tears fell down the weathered cheeks of men who had spent their lives working hard for their families with little reward. Women whose hands were worn and reddened from homemade soap and scrubbing floors, were lifting those same hands in praise to our precious Lord for His forgiveness of their sins. The smiles that covered the lined and worn faces brought radiance to those same faces and brightness to the eyes that were now filled with tears of joy.
I could not move for a moment. The overwhelming presence of God that filled that small church and extended to the parking area which, now filled with humble people praising God, had become an extension of what was taking place inside. I began to weep uncontrollably. I was ashamed that I had taken this glorious gospel, this talent I had been given, this Godly heritage I had been given, all for granted. I came to realize, with repentance and a new vision, that God wants more than just going through the motions. He wants us to use what He has given us and use it with joy. He wants to work through us to accomplish His purpose---and He wants us to enjoy the working. I have never forgotten those lovely mountain people who taught this preacher's daughter that simple fact.
So, I look at the smiling childish faces in front of me and I wonder. I wonder will they really continue to love what they do for the Lord in the future as much as they do now? Will they give everything they have to give and then dig deeper for just a little more--all in an effort to please the God they serve? Will they cheer each other on and stand by each other's side, knowing that together they can accomplish anything? I wonder. Will God bless me to live to a ripe old age so that I can be there to hear the first sermon, rejoice in the first song, thrill to the first music played and, by example, let them know that the joy they feel now is nothing to be compared to what they will feel when that first knee bends because of their obedience to Christ. Dear God, I pray it will be so.
Who knows which one of them will lead the church of tomorrow? Only our great and loving God knows that. But this one thing I do know--it is my responsibility to lay an example of service before the children and youth of today that will make Jesus Christ irrisistable to them. If I can convey, by word or deed, the joy of serving Jesus and do it in a way that will draw the little ones I love to Christ, then I will have been a success. Who knows which one will pick up the blood-stained banner and, in the words of the prophet, shout, "Here Lord am I. Send me." Who knows? God knows and, one day, so will we.