Friday, August 30, 2013

Be a Sonflower

The days are dry.  The grasses that sway in the afternoon breezes are straw-like:  lightweight, brittle and snap at a touch.  The hills are beige, the grass is beige and the only green is sported by the grayish sage brush that grows in clumps here and there.  The skies are a hazy gray with a light touch of blue.  The sun rises an angry orange and the heat is oppressive, enveloping you when you walk outside.

Yet, despite the heat, the muted colors and the smokey skies, we are beseiged this summer...with sunflowers.  They are everywhere.
They dance in the sparsely grassed fields.
They line the roads, nodding as you drive by.
They do their best to decorate the burned trees from last year's fire.
They rejoice with the new growth that has since sprung up since that fire.
They add a much needed splash of lemon yellow to a dreary land.
They are not in a beautifully tended garden.  They are everywhere there's some soil and sunlight.

I have been enjoying the lesson I am learning from them this week.  They are an excellent example for me in my walk with Christ.  I need to dance in the joy He provides and the hope He alone can offer--where it is the most sparse is where the dance is needed the most.  I have a joy and hope that I can display to others--not for their approval of me, but to start a conversation about why I am dancing: "In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven."  (Matthew 5:16)

I need to be where others are--along the roads of life.  I must acknowledge my fellow travelers on this planet, and try to catch their eyes with a smile.  We are the most lonely in a crowd because others fail to even look at us. 
Many lives have been scorched by sin, sadness and separation.  If I can hurt with someone, pray with someone and share with someone, I will be showing how Jesus has "decorated" my life: "Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ." (Gal. 6:2).

The love of Jesus, flowing out of me, can reach people in a way that mere words cannot: "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres." (1 Cor. 13:4-8)  

In a dreary landscape, where people's hearts and minds are burdened with so much, a splash of kindness, of love, provides much needed color. 

Finally, Jesus' love in us shouldn't only be expressed in church.  That's the easy part--God's garden is clean, neat, full of smiles and seeming simplicity.  We need to take Jesus' love outside the garden, into the dry dusty fields of this world, relying on His soil and sunshine to make a difference.

Our world is in the long dry days of summer, with fires burning out of control.  Solution?  Be a Sonflower.

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Church of One? or ONE?

     Ah, the hummingbirds at my feeder.  They are a never-ending source of faith lessons.  This summer, we have had one very insistent black-chinned hummingbird who staked out the feeder in early in the season, and would not allow any other hummingbird to drink from it.  Last summer, we had a bunch of hummies coming and going but this summer, not so much.  
     This male would sit in the Russian olive tree and guard the feeder.  He would wait and wait and as soon as any other hummie came along...SWOOSH!  He would dive-bomb that bird and then fly back into the tree and resume his guard duty.  Occasionally, a female (his mate?) would come and drink, but I noticed that even females would be driven off and after a while, no other birds would be present.
     Did he drink from the feeder?  Yes, occasionally, but the vast majority of his time was spent guarding the feeder.  It's lonely at the top.  Obviously, this bird has commandeered this feeder as his own.  Despite the fact it's a "public" feeder, his behavior speaks volumes about how he views our feeder.  Oh, excuse me...HIS feeder.
     How often do we go to church and have the mentality of this wee bird?  We walk in and wonder if we will "like" the church.  In other words, what are we going to get out of it?  We notice other folks and look at their clothes/their way of talking/their friendliness (or the lack thereof) and make a judgment.  Then it's the music (too loud?  too hymmie?  too modern? too slow?)  and then here comes the pastor.  Hawaiian shirt?  Suit?  Jeans?  Cool shoes?  Flip-flops?  Then the sermon...
     You get the idea.  We are constantly monitoring our reaction and how we see the goings-on.  If any one of the aforementioned categories are lacking or are irritating, we decide that this church isn't for us.
     But, back to our hummie.  By the time we have driven away the people, the music and the pastor, it leaves just us...we become the Church of One.  Louis XIV (a very arrogant king of France) once said, "L'etat, c'est moi" ("The state is me.")  Do we have the same idea (although unlike Mr. Satin Pants, we wouldn't parade around saying so) that "L'eglise, c'est moi"--"The church is me."  It's all about how I react to what I see.  But, after much church hopping/shopping, we find it's lonely at the top.  
     Solution?  "Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching."  (Hebrews 10:23-25).  Why were the readers of this letter forsaking gathering together?  Perhaps they believed that Jesus would return any day now, and they thought, why bother?  Yet, the writer gives compelling reasons to meet together:  love, encouragement and hope.  
     Wow!  How are those wonderful things achievable?  By getting to know one another well enough to engage in their lives, and they in mine.  If I am flitting about from church to church, I will not get to know people well enough to really enter into fellowship with them.  "Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ." (Gal. 6:2).  Isn't it interesting that the only "law" we are to follow is loving one another?  Our love will be the biggest witness of all about Who Jesus is: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-5).
     So, if we want the church to not be the Church of One, but the Church of ONE, what to do?  These are some compelling hallmarks of a "good" (that is, Biblical) church:
1.  The Bible is preached in its fullness:  Verses are not cherry-picked out and the emphasis is on His Word, not story-telling, psychology or personal narrative.  We are confronted with His Word, and our hearts are convicted.  God's Word, is by definition, confrontational:  "For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." (Heb. 4:12).   The Word is the very foundation of His Church, for it tells of the ONE Who died to make this life in Him even possible.  The Word ultimately is sufficient:
"All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work."  
2.  Love:  Is it really offered?  Are people genuinely concerned for you?  But, equally, can you offer love and have it well received? 
     That's it.  The rest--music, Hawaiian shirts, shoes--pale in comparison to a gathering of believers who sincerely seek the Word, and walk in His love.  Our life in Him is lived in community--with Him and with each other. 
That same Russian olive tree last winter is a much better "church."  More challenging (you mean I have to get along with all of you?)  but in the end, more of what He had in mind.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

We Are ALL a Work-in-Progress

     By the late summer, living in the high desert, the color options are a tad limited: we have a generous array of browns, beige, sage green, some spring greens and a dash of yellow (wild sunflowers) and a lovely spot of blue (thank you, chicory).  So to have a lazuli bunting show up to the feeder is a cause for celebration!

     They are an astonishing combination of rusty red and a lovely blue.  I had never seen such birds before I moved to Idaho--I am used to the Western blue bird.  It has the same basic color combination, but in northern California, I wasn't so eager for bright color.  Leaving near the coast, I filled my color quotient daily!  I do love Idaho, but by the end of summer, the rather sedate color scheme needs a bit of encouragement and the buntings are made to order.  The other day, one showed up that was not quite so inspiring:
     Then, it hit me:  it's a baby!  This little guy is on his way to getting his beautiful plumage, but he's not there yet.  I just assumed that buntings are always beautiful.  
     What a profound thought as we walk with our fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord:  we assume that they will always be beautiful:  kind, loving, patient, reflecting Jesus.  And yes, many are on their way to getting their beautiful "plumage":  they really want to reflect the Lord's work in their lives.  But what happens when they have a bad day?  How do they act if they are tired/upset/angry/disappointed?  Then the "plumage" isn't so lovely to behold.  They are a bit raggedy as they show up to our feeder.  Are we then rather judgmental?  "Hey, you love the Lord!  You should always reflect that!"  
     But let's reverse this, and I become the bird.  I show up raggedy to the many feeders I visit, and I wouldn't want someone to look out of their kitchen window and say, "Wow!  Look at her--she isn't a beautiful blue like all Christians should be."  I would want to turn around and say, "I am having a bad day.  I would like more beautiful plumage, and I believe I am on my way there, but today is not a good day."  In other words, I would like a little mercy for my less than pleasurable shade of Christian blue.
     I believe that's what the "judge not, lest you be judged" scripture is all about.  Let's look at the passage:
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye"  (Matthew 7:1-5).  

     I apply the Golden Rule to this, and by reversing it, I think we get to the heart of the matter.  We like to judge:  we look out our kitchen windows and notice how blue or not blue others are, and in doing so, we feel superior.  The focus shifts from our inadequacies to those of others and for a moment, we can feel our blue is best.  So, while we do the judging, we want JUSTICE.
     Now, by reversing it, we are the ones being judged.  We are well aware of our inadequacies and someone pointing them out to us is not a surprise to us.  We are very aware of the specks in our eyes.  They itch and burn and keep us from clear vision about ourselves.  So, when we are being judged, we want MERCY.  We want people to understand us and our needs and hope that they can find some leniency in their hearts.  In other words, we hope that they find some compassion for us and our raggedy blue.
    But, if the standard is not me by which I judge, but Jesus, suddenly all of our blues need time to reach their fullest beauty.  We are humbled by Jesus' brilliant blue, and so my blue is not better than my brother's or sister's.  
     We are all a work in progress:  Paul could confidently say about his fellow believers that he was "confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." (Phil. 1:6).  So, next time someone less than blue shows up (or maybe it's you that less than blue!) remember:  we are all under the skillful training of Christ and it takes time.  It's little wonder that patience is one of the fruits of the Spirit:  we so need it for ourselves and others!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

HEY! Who Moved My Feeder?

     In a word, "wow."  This has been quite the busy last few weeks.  Once again, the hummingbirds have provided a good parallel to what I have gone through.  Let's start with them.
     Originally, my hummingbird feeder was attached to my kitchen window.  The benefits were many:  I could get an up close and personal view of the hummies as they fed; I could take good pictures of them; and it is always a treat to watch their amazing wings finally fold--if only for a few seconds--as they lower their beaks into the feeder.  They look around with sweet but anxious faces and their little feet cling to the feeder and then WHOOSH, they are gone.  Hummies are like a shooting star--if you're not looking carefully, you will miss them.
     So my feeder allowed me to watch my "shooting stars."  But there is one problem.  The high winds we have up on our hill means the feeder may blow off and hit the ground, or all of the sugar-water splashes out, leaving a sticky mess on the window.  
    So, after the last storm, I moved the feeder to the raised bed.  Oh my, did I cause a ruckus in the hummies'world.  One particular male--a black-chinned hummingbird--was especially irked.  He flew several times up to the kitchen window, hovering and looking in.  He had the "HEY!  Where's my feeder?" look in his wee birdie eyes.  He kept flying around and was joined by a few equally confused? irked? female hummies.  I was waiting for a phone call from their lawyer--a loud humming sound over the phone would be a dead giveaway.  Yet, the feeder isn't that far from its original site--I moved it only about ten feet.  It is still full of yummy sugar-water.  Nothing has really changed in my mind--same feeder, same water, just a different spot.  But to the hummies?  Everything has changed.
     And so onto my world.  My husband, for the last few years, has had occasional shortness of breath.  His doctor attributed it to the cold dry air.  He was getting increasingly tired.  We attributed that to getting older.  Then, last month, he was afflicted with a kidney stone, whose pain sent him into the ER and into a procedure to blast it away.  It was 7 millimeters, so he wasn't going to pass it for love nor money.  In the course of all the tests being run in the ER to determine what was wrong, the nurses noticed his heart sounded funny.  So, after the procedure for the stone, we now switched gears to understand why his heart sounded odd.
     Long blog short:  his aortic valve needed replacing.  My husband is only 56, so we were a bit shocked.  It is either a congenital defect or the result of a high fever he suffered as a young child.  Either way, the doctor said that surgery was the only option.  Wow.
     Thankfully, it was not the open-heart kind of surgery--the doctor would put in the valve via an incision.  So, one week ago, my husband went in and had the valve replaced, and is slowly but surely, recovering.  We really had our feeder moved:  one minute we are enjoying the summer and then WHOOSH:  kidney stone, angiogram, and then heart surgery.  
     I flew up to my Lord's kitchen window and looked in.  I wasn't angry--just perplexed.  But I am thankful, for without the kidney stone and the resulting tests, Clayton may have found out about his wonky heart in more of an emergency situation.  I am thankful I have my Lord's kitchen window available to fly up to; I cannot imagine facing those long hours in the corridors and waiting rooms of the hospital alone.  Our family and friend have been lovely--prayers, emails, cards and lots of love have come our way.  But having your feeder moved is never easy.
     What have I learned?  A few things:
1.  Feeders get moved:  Sometimes we are privy to why, but most often we are faced with a challenge with no easy answers.  And yet, Jesus is standing there, moment by moment.
2.  Jesus uses people to speak to us--a stranger, a loved one, a distant friend.  Allow Jesus to use those around you to be His hands and feet.
3.  Trust that a moved feeder is not an absent feeder:  Jesus is still Lord, He still loves us and is still bringing beauty from ashes: "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."  (Romans 8:28).  Notice something here:  not everything is good that happens, but God can transform the negative into the good.  Only He can do that and trust Him to do so.
4.  God is speaking, whenever you and feeder are.  He is never absent:  "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deut. 31:6).
     Feeders move, but "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." (Heb. 13:8).
     God is good.

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