Sunday, October 21, 2012

Take Flight!

They will soar on wings like eagles; 
they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.  (Isaiah 40:31)
     This picture captures it all:  a beautiful hawk taking flight.  My son took this picture the other day.  This hawk (we believe it’s either an osprey or a red-tailed hawk in light phase) was perched on the roof of our shed.  James ran (quietly!) into the house to get the camera, and just as he made ready to take the shot, it flew off.  We are proud of this shot, because taking pictures of birds is no easy task!
      It sits up on the roof, watching its domain with a beauty and dignity that these magnificent birds possess in spades.  It sits there often, and as I drive up our driveway, I love to see it there.  It reminds me how easily grounded we can become, and yet how we can take flight in Him.
      Isaiah 40:31 is one of my favorite Scriptures, but the surrounding verses are wonderful.  So, let’s start with verse 27:
Why do you say, O Jacob,
and complain, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord;
my cause is disregarded by my God”? 
      Wow:  that is the voice of someone who is grounded:  held to the earth by pain and indignation that the Lord is somehow forgetful or dismissive of the cries of His children.
      Verse 28: 
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. 
      The way to counter the feeling the God is nowhere to be found, is to be reminded of the character of God:  He is and will always be, and is not subject to our failures or weaknesses.  He cannot grow tired or weary, and it may appear that His apparent silence is neglect—but His wisdom is such that He knows our needs.  He is moving, even if our timing and His don’t match.
     Verses 29-31:
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.
     Here’s this key:  “hope in the Lord”—the best way to untether yourself and take flight is to put your hope in Him.  Why?  Because of His character:  Who He is.  It is hope in Him that makes those feelings that overwhelm us to lessen their grip.  It is hope in Him that allows us to spread our wings.  That hawk knows that when it throws its wings wide open, it will fly.  It won’t fall down to the earth.  It relies on its past experience that open wings mean flight.  So, we need to remember how God has worked in our lives in the past, and read His Word to gain greater insight to Who He is.
     Verse 31 concludes:
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.
     The hope in the Lord reinvigorates our strength, and with renewed strength, we can take on the tasks that await us with joy and power.  But notice one thing:  nowhere do these verses tell us that we will feel these things first, and then move forward.  No:  we put our hope in Him and His unchanging character.  Who He is will remind us of His faithfulness to us and throughout the history outlined in His Word. 
     We stand on His promises, not on our feelings.  Feelings are a lot like toddlers:  they doddle along, and make us slow down.  But grab those toddler feelings by the hand of hope, and bring them along.  Eventually, the feelings will come into line, but meanwhile we are standing on His promise of renewal and strength.  Take flight and know that He is the wind beneath your wings.
Heavenly Father:  I am grounded, with my feet bound to the ground.  But this hawk reminds me that heaven awaits, and Your promise to provide renewal and strength still stands.  Help me to open up my feeble wings that droop with disappointment, and trust You as I head skyward.
In the name of the One Who Never Changes, amen.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Change the Landscape!

“But thanks be to God, 
who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ 
and through us spreads everywhere 
the fragrance of the knowledge of him.” 
(2 Corinthians 2:14)
     The autumn is finally here.  After a long summer, with many fires burning throughout the state, the rain that has come is such a blessing.  It has quelled the fires and refreshed the land.
     The autumn in Boise is sadly a too-brief affair.  But it is glorious, as all the trees turn color.  While we are not New England, we still get quite a show, largely due to the monotony of the late-summer landscape.  The wild grasses have all turned light brown, and the sage is a gray-green.  The sage is blooming with its mustard-colored blossoms, and that provides some color, but otherwise, the high desert terrain remains rather quiet in its colors.
     Then the trees, with the ever cooling nights, explode into color.  The greens of late-summer leaves turn to golden yellows or breathtaking reds.  Like Roman candles, they seem to be on fire.  

      Many trees are in a process of changing, with some leaves still green, while others, on the same tree, are turning red and yellow.  These trees are a wonderful kaleidoscope of autumn itself—change happening, day by day, slow but sure and beautiful.
     The most outstanding result of the trees changing color is how they alter the landscape:  they are very noticeable now against the grasses.  They were rather innocuous in the summer, but now their colors enliven the landscape with beauty.
     As Christians, we sometimes blend in the landscape of our world a little too well.  We don’t say or do anything that makes us stand out, for we are embarrassed by those brothers and sisters—however well-intentioned they may be—who stand out in jarring and obnoxious ways.  In order not to be like them, we may go to the other extreme, and be not much different from those around us. 
     I like what my brother said about trees—they are “so stoic and consistent.”  They simply are.  They don’t consciously seek to alter their colors on the landscape.  They are part of the landscape and they have role to play.  As Christians, isn’t that the same with us?  Aren’t we part of what God is trying to do:  reclaim this world?  C.S. Lewis talks of God invading the world—He is reentering its sin-filled land and reclaiming what is rightfully His, away from Satan.  Satan is indeed the “prince of this world” but that doesn’t mean God has, in any way, capitulated to Satan’s temporary ownership of this planet.  We are God’s invasionary force.  Christ was the first to step into the enemy’s camp, and trumped Satan’s greatest weapon—death—with His resurrection. 
     But what if we are here, and we so blend in (I accidentally typed “bland in”—that fits too) that the landscape is not noticeably different with our presence?  Our colors are muted and we have no distinction from the grasses around us.  What a shame! Think of it this way:  be the “other side.”  Yes, there are those who stand out in the landscape and are an embarrassment to the kingdom, but should those folks then be the only ones that are out there?
     How about living in such a way that we are the counter-argument to those who are misguided in how they present Christ?  We shouldn’t force our witness; it should just be there, a natural outgrowth of our love of Christ and His love for us.  In other words, our love should be what makes us stand out in a dreary landscape:  a love on fire, in reds and golds and oranges that draw others to us, so we can point the way to Him! 
     Jesus used light as His metaphor: “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).  Or fruit:  “This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” (John 15:8)
     In other words:  light and fruit and trees are all in motion:  growing, moving, and ultimately showing the world that God is here, and He’s taking His planet back:  one soul at a time.
Lord of all that is Good:  I am small on this rather large and overwhelming landscape of brokenness.  Let me be light:  reflecting Your face, as the moon does the earth.  Let me be fruit:  growing and becoming a sweet nourishing presence.  Let me be a tree in autumn:  ablaze with Your glory, giving beauty to ugliness.  May my life only reflect You and Your love.  In the One Who is Love, amen.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Shedding Skin

     I found a fully shed skin from a snake recently.  It was a rather ghostly object lying on the ground.  I have found a snake’s skin before, but it wasn’t whole.  This is the first one I have found that literally looks like a snake—it has a mouth and eye holes.  I can picture its inhabitant very easily.
      The skin also tells a story of not just a previous occupant, but what a struggle it was to release this skin.  The skin is twisted, like a loose corkscrew.  It tells that the inhabitant had to struggle to shed this skin.  It had grown too small for the snake and at some point, the shedding began.

       It must have taken awhile, and how vulnerable a snake must be while the process is underway.  As the snake is twisting and turning, and the skin is slowly coming off, the snake is most likely not able to defend itself.  A snake’s usual method of defense is a quick retreat under the bushes.  Or, if it has no easy cover to take refuge under, it coils and strikes.  
      But a snake shedding its skin probably can’t do either, and must patiently await the moment when it can slither away from its previous covering—larger and older and now ready to face the world.   A Scripture comes to mind here—look at 2 Corinthians 5:17-22: 
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
     Interesting, isn’t it?  When we accept Jesus into our heart, He is in the business of making us new:  new attitudes, new heart and new desires.  Of course, the old person is still there, but we are slowly being made into the image of Christ: “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” (Romans 8:29)  In order to be conformed into the image of His Son, we have some serious shedding to do.
     We find the skin we’re in too tight after a while:  we can’t move forward to those areas that He is calling us to.  Then the shedding begins and once we leave certain attitudes, desires and behaviors behind, we find this new skin gives us freedom to love and serve Him.
     But just as the snake must shed its skin many times over its lifetime, so must we shed our skins periodically, to grow in Him and become ambassadors for Him, to be part of the reconciliation process that He is offering to the world.  Reconciliation occurs first between us and God, and then reconciliation takes place between us and others.
     But just as the skin I found shows a struggle, our conforming into His image is not an easy or quick process.  He gives us the strength , but we must have the will to endure the twisting and turning.  I couldn’t stand there and just tear the skin away from the snake—I would injure it.  Part of the shedding process is exertion and it makes the snake stronger.
     It is challenging to exert control over our wills to move away from those things that impede our walk with Christ.  Paul likens it to a race:  “Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-4).
     But Christ is faithful to the process: “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6).
     Once we leave our “skin” behind, we need not return to it.  It no longer fits, and we know that He is faithful to us.  The snake was no where to be found when I found its old skin.  And why would it?  It was free.  So, too are we:  “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36).
     Don’t be discouraged by life’s trials:  maybe your “skin” is getting too small and freedom is just ahead!
Lord of All:  My “skin” is too small—I know this because I don’t have the freedom I long for in You.  Help me to be patient, and accept the twists and turns as old skin tears away.  Let me realize that beauty lies beneath, and that You will “provide for those who bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.” (Isaiah 61:3).  In His Name Who is sufficient for me, amen.

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