Tuesday, July 31, 2012

When Are We Open?

 “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” 
(Matthew 5:16)
"Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.”
(Matthew 7:6)
     Along our country road (translate: very dusty!)  we have an abundance of chicory plants.  They are a beautiful azure blue, and line the road as I drive to the old highway.  The plants themselves are rather unpleasantly skeletal:  they are thin and light green, but the beauty of those blue flowers more than makes up for it.
     Curious thing, however: they are only open in the morning.  When the sun rises, there they are—open and taking in the morning light.  But in the afternoon, when I come home, all I see is their is their skeletal forms with no beautiful blue flowers.
     I never really noticed it before.  I would drive the road each day in the morning, enjoying the parade of blue, and then in the late afternoon when I returned home, it was just the plants themselves.  Then it struck me…what is missing here?  Our dusty road is beautiful in the morning, but rather plain and unsightly in the latter part of the day. 
     Then I asked my husband, and he commented that the plants were preserving moisture by closing their flowers in the heat of the day.  I thought how interesting—in the scorching heat of the summer, they close their lovely flowers to preserve themselves.  Reasonable in a desert.  Reasonable in our walk with Jesus?  Do we close our flowers in the heat of day?
     I have two verses that stand out to me, the first being what Jesus said about throwing our pearls to swine.  He acknowledged that the very thing that gives us life will be destroyed by those who do not care and are actively aggressive towards us and our message.    After Jesus’ arrest, I think of how He was silent in front of Herod yet spoke to Pontius Pilate.  He knew which leader would receive His pearls of wisdom, and who would just destroy them upon hearing Him speak. 
     But Jesus also said to let our works shine before men, so that people will glorify His Father in heaven.
     So, do we close our flowers in the heat of the day (to preserve ourselves)  or do we stay open, morning, noon and night (regardless of the cost)?  I think, as with so much of Jesus’ teachings, that it’s a matter of the heart.  Jesus went into the mountains to pray and refresh Himself, away from the crowds and sometimes away from the apostles.  He needed His Father’s presence as much as those flowers need the morning sun to grow, and we need Jesus in our lives. 
     Yet, He went away from the crowds to refresh Himself, just as those flowers close in the heat of day, so whatever moisture they have, they can keep.  We need to separate ourselves away from the hurley-burley of our lives, to sit at His feet, be refreshed and preserve our hearts, for the days are hot and can wick away our joy very quickly.  His heart was to save all mankind; His time in the mountains was not selfish, but needed because of the great task before Him:  His saving death. 
     But then comes the next morning!  After we have “closed up” (spent time in Him) and we have been refreshed, we can reassert our joy and purpose in Him, and be all the more open to what He has for us in this day. 
     Our beauty, reflecting our time in Him, will line the dusty roads of people’s lives, and remind them that God is good.  If our hearts are refreshed, then we can truly do His work, so others will see it and not praise us but praise Him!  My chicory reminds me that they grow only because of the sun/Son!  Us as well!
Precious Father:  It is so easy to run, run, run and do, do, do.  Then, after a season, we are dry, our joy wicked away and we forget who we are in You.  Help us to seek Your refreshment, close up for a time, and have our hearts renew their vigor in Your presence.  It is only them we can truly be open and cause others to see You reflected in us.  Always, in His precious name, amen.


Saturday, July 28, 2012

Where Do You Take Refuge?

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”
(Psalm 46: 1, KJV)
“In his feathers he shall deliver you and under his wings you shall have refuge; his truth shall surround you as a supply of armor.”
(Psalm 94:1, Aramaic Bible in Plain English)
     I have written before of the little frogs that inhabit our area.  It still amazes me—little green frogs in the high desert.  Not toads, mind you, but little frogs with soft, moist skin living in an area that is experiencing 100 degree days this summer.  I see no running water, and yet I find them all over my house.  I mean, literally.
     I have a little plaque outside my door, and it is about a quarter of an inch away from the house, hanging on a nail.  Sure enough, underneath that plaque, is a little frog—hiding.  I can see it under there and every day when I go in through my front door, there it is.  Another little one grew too big to hide under it, and now another one is there—it is a small tight space, but still provides refuge.
     When it is really hot, I will pour a bit of water on the wall, and it will run down under the plaque.  I remember studying frogs as a kid, being reminded that toads don’t need water, but frogs need it to keep their skin moist.  So, I feel so sorry for these little green neighbors that I try to help out. 
    Imagine my surprise then when I moved my large round outdoor thermometer, and underneath it, hiding in the thermometer itself, was a gathering of little frogs, of all sizes!  One time, my son and I counted five of them, all nestled together, in this thermometer!  The thermometer was smack dab in the afternoon sunshine, and we put them on our cool patio table, thinking it would be safer for them to be on it.  We even put some water on the table for them.  Were they content?  No.  Within a few minutes, they all had made their way off the table, crawled up the wall and went back under the thermometer. 
     Despite our best intentions, these little green guys seem to know where it is safest to go, in such dry and unwelcoming conditions.  Even if we think we know what’s best for them, they seem to resist our efforts, and go back to where it is safest for them.  Perhaps the dry air is not nearly as perilous as the birds that could swoop in and grab them.  Near a stream, their natural hiding place may be under rocks, so up on my hill, my house became a challenge: find the rocks!  And so a plaque and a thermometer became reasonable substitutes—providing the same kind of hiding place.  A bird could not get a frog underneath the thermometer, if the bird even knew the frog was there.  The plaque?  No—too small area for the bird to reach into and where would it perch to do its hunting?   
     In a word:  brilliant.  The frogs have figured it out and are grateful (I’m sure) when I leave them alone.
     Where do we take our refuge?  The world offers all sorts of ideas to take residence in, and some are genuinely offered.  If you make a lot of money, your wealth can be your cushion!  If you have a good job, you will be more content!  If you have a good family, you have all you need!  Are these unreasonable ideas?  No, but let’s think about them from a frog’s point of view. 
     Money can disappear, like the water I pour on the frogs.  Jobs can be lost and family—because the members are human after all—can disappoint us.  But where is the safest place to take refuge, away from the swooping birds of sin and disappointment?  Under His thermometer!
     The Scripture talks about hiding under the shadow of His wings—the safest place for a baby bird, whose own wings are too weak for it to safely fly away from danger.  The shadow provides coolness, and David wrote his psalms in a land that has deserts all around it.   He takes of taking refuge on the rocks—the places in the desert where the elevation allows you to see all around you, and a cleft rock allows you to hunker down, and be safe.
     Bottom line:  God is our refuge, our Rock, our Shelter.  The frogs seem to know where it is safest, contrary to what I think.  But God’s creation is a lot smarter than I am and His Word tells me that I should take refuge in Him alone.  I need to be like those frogs and put myself daily under His care.  I will not be disappointed.
Oh, Rock of Ages:  Let me hide in You, pure and simple.  There may be many well intentioned ideas floating around out there that promise me safety, but it is in You that I will have the surest Refuge. Thank You for these little green ambassadors that teach me where to go:  under Your protection and love.  In the name of He who died for me, amen.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Our Fire

“Carry each other's burdens, and in this way
you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)

     We just experienced a fire.  We have lived in the mountains for six years and this is the first time I have experienced this kind of fear.  I was making the bed and opened the windows and I saw a plume of smoke coming up from the hill near my neighbor’s house.  I wondered, what is going on?  The smoke started getting thicker and thicker and I ran outside to see what was happening.  I ran back inside and called my husband.  It was then my heart started beating faster.  My husband told me to wet down the roof, so I grabbed the hose and started wetting down everything. 
     Then I saw flames rising about 10-20 feet above my nearer neighbor’s house, and occasionally the smoke was black—indicating a structure was burning.  I thought my neighbor’s house was going to burn up.  He has several dogs I pictured dying inside his house and I started to cry.  I kept wetting down the house, all the while watching as the fire raced up the hill near my other neighbor’s house, and I thought that it was going to burn as well!
     I wondered where the fire department was.  I finally saw flashing lights near the top of our road, but I kept wondering, will they be able to save our houses?  Then my husband arrived and within a few minutes, so did the sheriff, who said we had to evacuate.  It was then I realized that I may be coming home later to nothing.  We grabbed our cat, stuffed him into a kitty-carrier, and then drove down the road, past flames, fire personnel and lots of fire trucks. 
     We went to the highway and drove down to a vista point, where we could watch the drama unfold.  People pulled over and were watching.  I wanted to scream, Hey!  That’s my house over there!  I told a few people but I just had to stand there and watch.  The helicopters flew overhead, dumping water and fire retardant and I cheered inside my heart each time they did so. 
     We then watched in horror as the fire jumped our road and set a hillside ablaze, right next to another neighbor’s house.  The first fly-by of the helicopter missed; the second helicopter dropped the water and it was a direct hit and we cheered out loud this time! 
     The sheriff wouldn’t let us return to the house for quite a while, as the  fire crews were making sure that the smoldering area would not reignite; we talked with our other neighbors, and got to know them better.  One poor guy just went out for pizza, and hadn’t been able to return; his wife showed up, very worried.   She had not been willing to evacuate their home and then feared something had happened to her husband.   Finally the sheriff gave us the go-ahead, and a convoy of cars rumbled up the road, surveying now what looked like a war zone.
     I popped out of my car and walked over to a group of firefighters and thanked them for their service; I called them the “unsung heroes of the event” and they sheepishly said, “You’re welcome.”  I know it’s their job, but all I could picture in my mind was the Colorado Springs fire and how these brave lads staved off such a disaster for us.
     What did I learn from all of this?  “No man is an island” to quote the poet John Donne; we all rely on each other, because what we do or don’t do effects each other.   Our lives do matter, even if we keep to ourselves.  A lot of times people move to the mountains to get away from it all—yet that fire taught me that no matter where you are, you still need people.  My church family called me when the fire started, to check in and see how we were doing.  They hugged us at church and still are emailing me to see if we are OK.   
     The moral of the story?  We need each other:  to laugh with, to cry with and to walk with as we journey through this life.
     For a photo gallery of the event, go to my husband’s blog at: claytonecramer.blogspot.com

Precious God:  You are so good.  I thank You for Your provision and that no one was hurt nor lost their house.  I pray for those who have lost all; Your comfort comes through the hugs and tears of Your children.  Let us always be mindful of how much we truly need You and each other.  Always in Your Son’s precious Name, amen.


Monday, July 23, 2012

Summer Hills, Winter Snows

“The wild animals honor Me…because I provide water in the desert and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to My people, My chosen, the people I formed for Myself that they may proclaim My praise.” (Isaiah 43:20-1)

     The deer are happily wandering the mountains these days, seeking the food that abundantly grows all around them.   They especially love my hanging bird feeders—it’s fast food for them!  They just knock the bird feeder about and then eat what falls to the ground.  Or they go to my bird feeder boxes, and eat the seed from there.  One buck in particular had a hard time getting his head into the box—those four point antlers kept getting in the way!  The wind knocked one of my hanging feeders to the ground.  How does a deer get the seed out of that?  Stomp on it.  The deer got the seed and I had to replace the feeder. 
     In the winter, the bird feeders are even more attractive to the deer.  How hard is it to knock about a feeder or stick one’s head into a box, as opposed to pawing at the snow and trying to find some forage beneath it?
     Then I got the brilliant idea to fill the bird feeder boxes with something the deer would like—to help them through a long winter.  Then I read an article in our local paper that said DO NOT PROVIDE FOOD FOR THE DEER OVER THE WINTER.  Bummer.  At first, I thought, wow that’s harsh.  The females are struggling to find food for themselves and their babies who were born late in the fall, so why not help them along?
    But the article made a very telling point:  if you feed them in the winter, the females then do not teach the younger deer how to paw through the snow to find food, and the little ones don’t learn this survival skill.  What if a deer cannot find your feeder?  Or it’s empty?  The article said it’s simple:  the young will starve to death—not because there isn’t any food available to them, but they don’t know how to find it under the snow.
     How often do we see a person standing with a sign, asking for money, and in trying to be compassionate, we give them some cash?  Or someone wants something from us, and instead of showing that person how to accomplish the task, we simply do it ourselves, and then wonder why this person keeps coming around, asking for more. 
     We need to have two characteristics to navigate this idea of Christian charity.  We must have both compassionate maturity and mature compassion.
     Compassion, just by itself, may cause us to inadvertently do something that is contrary to a person’s welfare.  I want our deer to survive the whole year, but my compassionate placement of food for them may actually cause harm by making them dependent on me for their survival, instead of the provisions that lie beneath, under the snow.
     Maturity is the ability to see beyond the moment, and to see cause and effect in situations.  We’ve lived long enough to see what can cause what, and we might judge the situation quickly.  Because of our experience, we might be tempted to say, “Oh, you shouldn’t have done that.  Now see what happened!”  Or, “I wouldn’t have done it that way—here’s a better way, even though it’s a little late now!”  We stare down on someone from our platform of experience.  Yet our attitude could become one of, “Oh well—that’s what you get.”
     Now, combine the two:  wisely discerning the real need of someone, based on experience, can lead us to provide the best possible response.  We can see cause and effect in someone’s choices, and we share what we observe with compassion and not judgment.  We still may not act—it may that person’s responsibility to act, just as it is the mother deer’s responsibility to prepare her young for the winter. 
     It is not the summer hills that test who we are, but rather the winter snows that show our character.  If we provide the “food” and not the “how to” to find it, we might actually be making things worse for someone, despite our best intentions.  And worse still, we might be stepping in when that person should be turning to God—He is, after all, our ultimate Source and Provider.
Father of All:  Help me to be compassionately mature as I face the hungry “deer” around me, and to respond in a way that reflects Your love.  Help me to see to the real point of need, and not just act in a way to makes me feel better.  Let me be Your hands and feet, walking in maturity as I grow in You.  In the name of the One Who is Our Source, amen.  

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Caught on the Barbwire of Fear

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?…So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29 & 31)

     When you live in the country, there are little tragedies everywhere:  a beautiful kestrel, having been hit by a car, now is a chaotic bundle of feathers on the road; this majestic bird is now grounded forever.  A quail, who had been hit by a car on a road I walk, literally was breathing his last in front of me—his eyes were closed, but I could see his chest rising and falling.  I have seen beautiful snakes who had ventured out onto the roads to sun themselves and then fall prey to the tires of a car.  
     The saddest one of all that I have seen is a dead deer, caught on a barbwire fence.  I walk a road that veers off from the river.  It is a dirt road, with no lights save distant ones from farmhouses and porches.  I don’t usually see deer during the day—I presume they are hunkered down in the shade, away from the heat of the sun.  But in the cooler parts of the day, out they come.  This deer probably came out in the early evening, onto a road that is quite dark and is used a lot.
     From what I can see of her, this is probably what happened:  a car came down the road, she turned, saw the headlights and was partially blinded by them.  She then panicked and tried to run.  Her instinct said to run up the embankment that would take her safely into the hills.  The other side of the road is a vast field, and may not have felt as safe to her.  She bounded up the embankment, not seeing the barbwire fence, or at least forgetting about it in her fear—and boom--into it she went. 
     Why did she die, however?  Couldn’t she have disentangled herself from the wire?  She made it part way over—couldn’t she have fought the wire and tried to get the rest of her body up and over?  Did the force of impact kill her?  Now, all is left of her is a dried carcass straddled over the fence.  She saddens me each time I pass by her.  Her carcass is a sad silent testimony to a small tragedy that occurred along a dusty road.
     I think we would all agree there is a lot of sadness in the world.  Just turn on the evening news, and there is little to celebrate.  I know that broadcast news tries to lighten the bad news with human interest stories, to make the world a little less dark of a place.  But the bad news is just that, and a nice story here or there doesn’t always lighten the burden.
      But I think the greater tragedy is the fear that grips mankind.  People fear, and with good reason, war, murder, rape, and death.  People struggle every day, fearing there will be no food or not enough food.  People look for work, fearing their loss of earning a living will lead to the loss of their home and all that they have worked for.  People fear for the safety of their children.  People fear their governments, who butcher their own people and threaten the world with a nuclear holocaust.
      But, the One Who knows the number of hairs on our head, and knows when a sparrow falls to the ground, also knows our fears.  He knows how we can panic, and run right into the barbwire of fear—becoming entangled and alone.  If I, a sinful human being, can have compassion for a dead doe on a fence, how much more does the Heavenly Father ache for mankind, and the fears that grip us so?  He offers us a new way to see the world:  He is intimately engaged with us, and is not a distant, uncaring Being. 
     But, why does He let people suffer?  Perhaps a better question is, why do we let people suffer?  In exercising our wills, we have chosen to rule this planet poorly, so much so that when He returns, even the animals will cease to fear:

“The wolf will live with the lamb,
The leopard will lie down with the goat,
The calf and the lion and the yearling together,
And a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
Their young will lie down together,
And the lion will eat straw like the ox…
They will neither harm nor destroy on all My holy mountain,
For the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
As the waters covers the sea.”  (Isaiah 11:6-7 & 9)

     Jesus is the Prince of Peace, the Light of the World—the Very One Who came to save us, and release us from our fears.  Someday, His whole planet will be under His dominion of peace…until that day, He meets us where we are, and seeks to disentangle us from sin and death.

Precious Lord:  I need to know, more than ever, the Prince of Peace, for the world is a scary place, filled with fear and pain.  Let me reflect Your light, and let me promote Your peace.  Let me rest in the knowledge that You are still engaged with this world—if I doubt, then let me consider:  why did You come to die for us then?  It is Your love that will ultimately cease the strivings of this world, and it is Your love that calms my fears.  Always, in the name of the Prince of Peace, amen.

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