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November 2, 2009
Command, I Promise, Now You Choose!"
Proverbs. 1:28, 29
on "The Fear of the Lord is a Treasure"
"You shall fear
the Lord God, and serve Him . . . for the Lord your God is a jealous
God." (Deut. 6:13-15)
This command sounds a bit frightening, doesn't it? It you didn't know the character of the
Person who said this to you, you just might run. But think of it this way: Here is the One who created you in order to delight and have
pleasure in your company. He
planned every part that went into "knitting you together" in your mother's
womb. (Psa. 139) He made you in such intricate detail
for certain purposes to live this life on this earth. For some of us it seems a very long time, for others
tragically short. That is, to us
it is tragic. This verse sounds
like our Creator has deep emotions which are like a lover - a jealous
You say, "But I don't want to be afraid of someone who loves
me, and I certainly don't want to be his servant!" You are missing His point. He knows that He, the "I AM" is the very essence of
love. You become a slave to the
one you fear.
"Delight in Me!
Take pleasure in my love for you!
Respond to my love! You are
my beloved! Give yourself to
Me. I want to be the number one
person in your love-life. I want
you to care more about what I think about you than what others think about
you. Be afraid of bowing down to
someone who is not worthy of your love and all your energies. I am a jealous God and will be jealous
of anything or anyone that takes you from Me!"
Now with this declaration of love our Creator-Lover gives us
promises. They are like exquisite
diamonds. We can either take them
to be true, or disregard them as worthless.
"And the Lord
commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our
good always, that He might preserve us alive. . ." Deut. 6:24
honor are in his presence; strength and gladness are in his place. . . Fear before him . . . you'll
be stable and unmovable." I Chron. 16:27-3
Lord of Hosts himself, and let him be your fear, and let Him be your dread, and
He shall be a sanctuary." Isa. 8:13, 14
". . .In the
fear of the Lord is strong confidence and His children shall have a place of refuge." Prov. 14:25-27
Just look at a few of the promises that He offers to those who
will fear Him instead of others!
Blessings on our children Ex.
Respect earned Neh. 5:9
Given authority Neh. 7:2
Taught of the Lord Psa. 25:12
Friendship with God Psa. 25:14
Revelation of truth Psa. 25:14
Abundant goodness Psa. 31:19
God's attention assured Psa. 33:18
Angelic protection and deliverance Psa. 34:7
Provision for all your needs Psa. 34:9
Given a heritage Psa. 61:5
God's steadfast love Psa. 103:11
God's compassion Psa. 103:13
Provision of food Psa. 111:5
Wisdom Psa. 111:10
Blessings from God Psa. 112:1
Blessings related to family life Psa. 128
Protection Psa. 115:11
Companionship of others who fear God Psa. 119:63
Fulfilled desires Psa. 145:19
God takes pleasure in us Psa. 147:11
Healing and refreshment Pro. 3:7, 8
Ability to avoid evil Pro. 16:6
Satisfaction Pro. 19:23
Honor for women Pro. 31:30
Steadfastness Jer. 32:40
Names recorded in God's book of remembrance, God's special
possession and special protection Mal.
God's mercy Luke 1:50
Acceptable to God Acts 10:35
This all sounds like FRIENDSHIP
WITH GOD doesn't it? The Fear of
the Lord in us results in God being fulfilled because that is why He created
us. The resulting intimacy
But, the fear of the Lord is a
CHOICE. Few choose it!
"Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they
shall seek me early, but they shall not find me: for they hated knowledge, and
DID NOT CHOOSE THE FEAR OF THE LORD." Proverbs. 1:28, 29
October 17, 2009
"'I AM' That's a Name?!"
Part 5 on "The Fear of the Lord is a Treasure"
Moses, after fleeing for his life from his home in Egypt, took care of the flocks that belonged to his father-in-law, Jethro. On this particular day he was on the backside of the desert by Mt. Sinai, minding his own business. The idea of delivering his people was certainly on the "back burner" of his mind. He had failed. He had fled, but God had not. God got his attention all right!
"Any old bush will do," God might have thought. And so he placed Himself where Moses could see something astonishing.
Moses was astonished, turned aside and moved with caution toward the bush that didn't crumble under the crackling flames. The Lord saw Moses coming towards Him. Actually, Moses was coming to see the burning bush, not God. God knew that, but still called out to him from the bush on fire:
"Here I am."
"Moses, don't come any closer! Take off your shoes. The place you are standing on is holy ground. Moreover, I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob."
Moses covered his face, terrified to look upon God. But God continued to speak.
"I have seen the affliction of my people in Egypt. I have heard their cries. I know their sorrows. I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians. Moses, I have an errand for you. I want you to take a message to Pharoah."
"Whoa, God. Why are you coming to ME? Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring your people out of Egypt? Back to the home that I have run away from? Remember God, I tried to do Your work and it all backfired on me!"
"You'll not do this alone, Moses. I will be with you, and you will return with my people to this mountain. As a matter of fact, you will serve me on this very mountain!"
One has to wonder which was greater in Moses at that time . . . the fear of Pharoah or the fear of God?
Terrified at the thought, Moses answered, "Yes, Sir! But WHO will I say has sent me? I can't just say, 'Here I am again. This time I will deliver you!' God, they won't believe me."
God, understanding Moses' heart, declares the most dynamic, two-word description of Himself: "I AM (Ex. 3:14) has sent you. Everything that you are not. Everything that is perfect, all-powerful, all-knowing, has sent you, Moses! Do you need more than that?"
There is no more perfect way to describe Him. He tells us to stand in awe of God who is EVERYTHING that we need.
I find this pattern in some of God's choice servants: They see, they hide, they listen, they obey.
1. First they see God in a new way and worship him.
2. Seeing God, they hide their face because they see the utter holiness and goodness of God and their own darkness.
3. They stop to listen to God, and sometimes argue with Him. Moses gave four arguments.
4. They obey Him.
"Let all the earth fear the Lord, let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him! For he spoke, and it came to be, he commanded, and it stood forth." Psalm 33:8-9
"Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power. . ." Heb. 1:3
So just by His spoken words, God creates, holds together, destroys, and re-creates heavens and earth. That's awesome power!
October 5, 2009
"But I Hate to Give up Those Things!"
Part 4 on "The Fear of the Lord is a Treasure"
We have to understand the importance of hating sin in order to please God and fulfill His command to fear Him, but the reward is great!
- "The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil: pride, and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate." Proverbs 8:13
That means having God's attitude toward sin at all times. The more we study the holiness of God from His perspective and His Word, the more we will understand the extent of His hatred of sin. He knows it will destroy us. He created us for His pleasure and to have intimacy with us. He does not want us to be destroyed, but fulfilled with abundant life. Therefore He has no tolerance for sin. He says, "You shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy" (Lev. 19:2).
- "The fe ar of the Lord is a fountain of life." Proverbs 14:27
What a paradox! Fearing the Lord feels like a dead-end street. There seems to be no connection to abundant life. In our pride we feel we know what is best, and what is certainly more fun. Even though we are created in God's image, left to ourselves our own "fountains" run dry or become stagnant and polluted. Without the fear of the Lord we remain true to our fallen Adamic nature and never know the only Source of "Living Waters."
Now He would never command us to do anything that He does not make full provision for us to attain. If we CHOOSE to walk in obedience to the next thing He tells us to do, His holy life will start to be seen in us. And it can start now. So is there a reward?
- "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." that he might fear; and he feared me, he stood in awe of my name." Malachi 2:5
September 14, 2009
"Back to School?"
Part 3 on "The Fear of the Lord is a Treasure"
Yes, it was back to school for me. I was determined to discover how "the fear of the Lord" gave me wisdom, and I was learning that it was all wrapped up in God, so I had better start taking notes. I was astonished to discover over 400 references to "the fear of the Lord." Most people I know refer to the fear of the Lord as "awe and reverence." When I read about the children of Israel trembling with terror at the very thought of God speaking to them directly, and begging Moses to speak to God and then tell them what He said, well, that sounds like something quite different. I needed to find out what this strange phrase actually meant.
"Fear" is an inner attitude of submission. You become a servant to the one you fear. The fear of the Lord is to recognize God's power and position and our position as His dependant creatures. So the next hurdle is to know what God's character is, what His ways are like, and whether He can be trusted.
The Scriptures tell us that it is imperative to fear God and not man. They produce totally different results.
The fear of the Lord leads me to ultimate fulfillment whereas the fear of man leads to slavery and oppression. The fear of the Lord leads me into an intimate relationship with God, my Creator, whereas the fear of man leads to alienation from God and man. The fear of man is tormenting because he can not be trusted always.
God has clearly defined the fear of the Lord for us. We need to understand what it IS, in order to understand what it is NOT.
"The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever: the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward." Psalm 19:9-11
To think that His judgments are absolutely true and fulfilling! Is there anyone -- our parents, even the closest of our friends, our relatives, our spouses -- that we could say that about? Absolutely true and righteous? They have it right every time? They understand every motive? God does. What a rest comes into the heart when one can trust, utterly trust, the judgments of the lover of our soul.
I enrolled in the school of "The Fear of the Lord." I was in Kindergarten.
August 31, 2009
"An Anchor of Hope"
Part 2 on "The Fear of the Lord is a Treasure"
"Turn you to the stronghold, you prisoners of HOPE. . ." Zechariah 9:12
Back in the 60's there was a little chorus written by Ruth Caye Jones that went like this:
"In times like these, you need a Savior.
In times like these, you need an Anchor.
Be very sure. Be very sure.
Your Anchor holds,
And grips the solid Rock.
This Rock is Jesus,
Yes, He's the One.
This Rock is Jesus,
The only One.
Be very sure, be very sure,
Your Anchor holds,
And grips the solid Rock!"
I want to throw out an Anchor to you today. HOPE. Not an "airy-fairy" wishful thinking kind of hope that has no reality. This hope is real and it is strong. Let me tell you something about HOPE.
The word "hope" in the Hebrew is "tiqvah" which means literally "a CORD" (as an attachment). It means expectancy, a thing that I long for. It comes from the root word "qavah" meaning "to bind together."
1. It is the same word used in Psalm 71:5, 6 "For thou art my hope, O Lord GOD: thou art my trust from my youth. By thee have I been holden up from the womb: thou art he that took me out of my mother's bowels: my praise shall be continually of thee." (Can you see the "umbilical cord"?)
2. It is the same word used in Jeremiah 31:16, 17 when the Prophet is speaking of Rachel, refusing to be comforted, weeping for her children, and he says, "Refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears: for thy work shall be rewarded, saith the Lord: and they shall come again from the land of the enemy, And there is HOPE in thine end, saith the Lord, that they children shall come again to their own border." (Can you see him "roping" them in?)
3. It is the same word used in Zechariah 9:9, 11, and 12 when the Prophet, Zechariah, says, "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, o daughter of Jerusalem: behold thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation. . .As for thee also, by the blood of thy covenant I have sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is not water. Turn you to the stronghold, ye prisoners of HOPE. . ." (Can you see the cord lifting them out of the pit?)
4. It is the same word used in Joshua 2:15. The Israelites were moving in to take Jericho, and on into their promised land. Two spies were sent ahead and they stayed in the house of a harlot named Rahab who gave them information. She described to them how the fear of God had fallen on her people and they were terrified of the Israelites. "For the Lord your God, he is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath!" Meanwhile men of the town had seen the spies and informed the King of Jericho. You remember the story how Rahab hid the Hebrew spies on the top of her roof, covering them over with stalks of flax. Rahab pled with them to show kindness to her and her household by saving them alive when they returned with their armies. When all was clear, she took a scarlet cord to let them down secretly from her window over the wall.
"Swear to us that you will not say a word about this to a soul! Our life for yours! And when the Lord gives us the land we will deal kindly with you and your family that are with you. But be certain to bind this scarlet cord in your window so that we will know where you are." And then off into the night they vanished.
The Cord! The Cord! Straight-away she bound the cord in the window. That Hebrew word is "tiqvah". The same word for HOPE. How many times do you think she looked at that window to make certain that her cord was firmly attached in those next days. And what did she whisper to all her family? No one else would be saved. The city was utterly destroyed except for Rahab and her family. Rahab is in the direct ancestral line of Christ.
5. Heb. 6:18 In the New Testament, the writer of Hebrews is speaking of Jesus Christ being our High Priest. He speaks about having "full assurance of hope unto the end" (vs. 11) because of Jesus Christ. Vs. 18 "That by two immutable things (his oath and His promise), in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us: which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast."
I am going to be sharing with you my discoveries about "The Fear of the Lord" and how it can give you HOPE!
August 18, 2009
“Anger, Fear and Pots of Geraniums!”
Part 1 on “The Fear of the Lord is a Treasure”
Isaiah 33: 5, 6 ". . . Wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of your times, and strength of salvation: The fear of the Lord is his treasure"
I was three and a half years old. We had just escaped internment by the Japanese on the Island of Sumatra during W.W. II. We had dodged submarines for three months on the high seas. And now, America was very new to me, so different from the jungles, and perplexing. Mother and Daddy had rented a small apartment with glossy, polished floors. We were near to Grandma and Grandpa’
;s home. I remember bursting in the door, eyes blazing with excitement at what I had discovered outdoors when my mother put her finger up to her mouth and whispered, “SHhhhhhhhhhh... I’m so sorry Sweetheart, but we need to be very quiet because Mrs. So-and-So, downstairs, does NOT like the noise of children’s feet!”
Oh, I had heard daddy and mother say it so often. I had just forgotten, and anyway, why was this old lady so peculiar!! I longed for the jungles where I could run and play as loudly as I liked. But this was once too many times. I turned around and banged the screen door loudly behind me. Angrily I sped down the long verandah, catching glimpses of bright red geraniums in clay pots. They beckoned me to shove them over the edge, into the courtyard below. What a lovely racket they would make! I stood at the top of the stairs, and the geraniums sat perched on every other step leading to the garden. An angry impulse rushed into me to push every one of them over the edge. I stood poised to do the deed. And then, a Presence stood beside me. It was not my mother. It was not the landlady. I was alone. All it would take was a good shove, several of them, and I would feel so much better. But no. The fear of the Lord came upon me. He restrained me from carrying out my wicked thoughts. It is my earliest memory of His Presence. He didn’t scare me. He was simply there. A holy Presence. I chose to obey. The part that I remember so vividly was the war that took place inside my little heart, and then the peace that followed my choice.
Would that I had always made the right choice to obey! I did discover though that He enrolls his children into His “School of the Fear of the Lord,” if they really want to learn. He has paid the tuition. We just need to want to learn, choose to learn, and take the tests. In this School I learned that the fear of the Lord led me to obey Him. This in turn led me to love Him, in the same way that a child who obeys his parents becomes close to them.
What are we to do in times like these? Do we fear the Lord in such a way that we care more about what He thinks, and end up loving Him more? Or do we fear the world in such a way that we care what the world thinks and end up loving the world more?
We usually think of “perfect love casting out fear.” We all believe that God is Love. But then why are we so full of fears when we know God loves us? Could it be that we don’t truly fear God because we aren’t obeying Him?
How do we prepare ourselves for the days ahead, the very thought of which strikes terror into some hearts. Some of us are immobilized and full of fears at what the future may hold for us and our families.
How do we prepare our children and grandchildren?
The children of Issachar were men that had an “Understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do.”
“Understanding the times has more to do with interpreting the known than seeing the unknown.” ~ George Otis, Jr. In “The Last of the Giants”
The word, “Understanding” in the Hebrew is “binah” meaning “insight”, and the root word “byn” is “to distinguish, to separate.” Both are used synonymously with Old Testament words for “WISDOM”.
In times like these, if we are to “understand the times,” we need wisdom. And the Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. We are told in Proverbs 1:29 that those who refused to respond to correction “hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the Lord.” The fear of the Lord is an act of choosing (involving the will) and not an emotional response of fear. We choose to turn from pleasing others primarily to please God. Just imagine! We can actually please God! We can give Him pleasure!
The fear of the Lord can overcome the fear of man, the fear of circumstances that explode in our faces, the fear of loss of security, the fear of death, the fear of what our society is doing to our children, the fear of what our relatives think, even the fear of the demonic.
Learning to fear the Lord is going to be KEY. It is the key to our joy. It is the key to our understanding. It is the key to wisdom. It is the key to our inheritance! So I want to talk about The Fear of the Lord in this next series.
August 3, 2009
"The Amethyst Ring" - Part 3
"Intimacy with God through the fear of the Lord"
In previous parts of "The Amethyst Ring" (see Devotional Archive) I talk about the inheritance that I longed for from my mother when she died. Psalm 34 is important to me because it describes how King David deals with one of the greatest threats in his life. It prescribes an antidote to my fears. The antidote is The Fear of the Lord - turning our paralyzed selves to be free, joyful, and productive children of the reigning monarch, King Jehovah!
Psalm 34:1 (ESV) "I will bless the Lord at all times. His praise shall continually be in my mouth! The first step is to sing praises and worship God! (Because everything is right? No! You sing praises TO SOMEONE. David is resolved and fixed. Not "I feel like it," but "I will bless the Lord at all times. His praise shall continually be in my mouth!") That means in every situation, under every circumstance, before, and during trials. He would never be done praising because he would never be satisfied that he had done enough. Not just in his heart, but with his mouth!
Vs. 2. "My soul makes its boast in the Lord. . ." What scope there is for holy boasting in Jehovah! Boasting in His character, His ways, His covenant, His promises, and confirming other people's trust in a faithful God!
Vs. 3. "O, magnify the LORD with me. . ." When one uses binoculars to see something in the distance, everything close at hand will blur out.
p;nbsp; Vs. 4. "I sought the Lord and He answered me. . ." How confused David was. Resorting to lunacy, yet his poor limping prayer had an acceptance and brought him comfort: the more reason for celebrating the abounding mercy of the Lord. If sin could blockade the mercy seat it would be all over for us, but the mercy is that there are gifts even for the rebellious.
Vs. 4b. ". . .and delivered me from all my fears!" Oh! God makes a perfect work of it. He clears away both our fears and their causes.
Vs. 5. "Those who look to Him are radiant. . ." What a means of blessing when one concentrates of the Lord. There is new vitality, liberty, and love in looking at the Crucified One!
Vs. 5b. ". . .and their faces shall never be ashamed." Their faces were covered with joy not shame right in His presence.
Vs. 6. "This poor man cried. . ." Here David returns to His own case. So utterly rejected, friendless, his life is in jeopardy. His prayer was a cry, a poor man's cry but none the less powerful in heaven, for the Lord heard him! And to be heard of God is to be delivered "and saved out of all his troubles!"
Vs. 7. "The Angel of the LORD encamps around those that fear him, and delivers them."
; What a promise to rely on! You may not be "delivered" from the particular trial, but you have the certainty that He will be with you IN that trial, and He will deliver you from fear.
Vs. 8. "O, taste and see. . ." make a trial, an inward experimental trial of the goodness of God. You cannot see except by "tasting" it yourself.
Vs. 9. "O, fear the LORD, you His saints. . ." Pay to the Lord humble childlike reverence. Walk in His laws. Obey His will. Tremble to offend Him. Hurry to serve Him. Don't fear the anger of men. Don't be tempted to sin because of their threats. Fear God and fear nothing else. Can you just imagine being pleasing to the Lord?
Vs. 9b. "For those who fear Him have no lack!" Fear of man and circumstances is immobilizing, oppressive and full of torment. After Psalm 34 David is no longer paralyzed by fear. He is actually motivated by the fear of the Lord. David started in the fear of the enemy and ended in the fear of the Lord.
Yes, that morning was a turning point in my life with God. It became an ANCHOR for me. Walking in the fear of the Lord wipes out the fear of man. And as it grew, so did my hope! And with my hope came a longing to have the fear of the Lord active in my life.
It is a good thing. It is a clean thing. It gives me new confidence in who my God is and who I am in relation to Him. Besides that, it gives me a promise. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom!"
All my life I had been troubled by saying the wrong thing at the right time. (Or the right thing at the wrong time!) My Chinese name was "Heavenly Reasoning" and my family laughed when they heard the translation. Oh, it was all in good fun, but I knew why they were laughing. All my life I had been troubled by my lack of natural wisdom. I thought age would bring it and that's why I always wanted to be older than I was! I loved every birthday, thinking that surely this time I was getting wiser! Little did I know that God was going to hand me the key to my inheritance: The fear of the Lord leads to wisdom, joy, and intimacy with God. I would receive far more than mother's amethyst ring!
July 20, 2009
"The Amethyst Ring"
That morning was a turning point in my life with God. (See devotional July 6, "The Amethyst Ring" Part 1) Learning and walking in the fear of the Lord wipes out the fear of man. I began making lists of verses with "the fear of the Lord" in it. Hundreds of references, and then I wrote them out in long-hand, mulling them over in my mind. I discovered that the fear of the Lord fell into categories. I started making new lists with the categories and putting a code by the verses. It grew and grew. And as it grew, so did my hope! And with my hope came a longing to have the fear of the Lord active in my life.
"Go back, Arlita," the Holy Spirit seemed to be saying to me. "Find out where David was when he wrote that Psalm!" (I Samuel 21) Here we find an astonishing story where David flees from King Saul to the town of Achish, in Gath. This is where the giant, Goliath came from. David had been anointed King of Israel but not yet crowned. Some of the servants recognized him and said,
"Is this not David the King's son in law? Did not the people sing of him in dances, 'Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands!'"
David hears the servants and becomes terrified of the King of Gath. David plays the fool with singular success! He feigns madness and changes his behavior. He crawls up the walls, scrabbles at the gates, and saliva drools down his beard. When we are controlled by fear we do stupid and foolish things. Fear immobilizes us. It is oppressive. It is full of torment.
The King of Gath drives him away and he flees to the cave of Adullum - a hidden place in the mountains not far from the Dead Sea. Desert surrounds this mountain range. Tucked up high in the crevices are caves with hidden springs and waterfalls. Ferns, mosses and date trees grow in abundance. For centuries the waterfalls have tumbled down and made pools that are quiet. Little hart (small deer), panting after the water brooks, can often be found drinking in safety. It is here that David composes the poem, Psalm 34, to commemorate the event. It is well to mark our mercies with memorials.
Psalm 34 (ESV) prescribes an antidote to our fears. The antidote is The Fear of the Lord - turning our paralyzed selves to be free, joyful, and productive children of the reigning monarch, King Jehovah!
July 6, 2009
"The Amethyst Ring"
It was 1983. My mother was dying of breast cancer. A few weeks before Mother went into a coma she had a wonderful day. Her mind was clearer than it had been in a while. She decided that she wanted to give to my sister, Andrea, and me her jewelry before she died. But along with that, she wanted to tell us the story that was behind each piece. Some had been given to her in China or some other country, some from grateful friends, and others by daddy on special occasions.
With pen and notebook I began recording the stories. We propped mother up with mounds of pillows and then we cuddled up beside her on the king-sized bed, laying each piece out, one at a time. It wasn't that they were so terribly valuable. They were sentimental. Soon she had rings on all her fingers and she started giggling. Andrea and I chuckled to see mother in such array, (and so out of character!) displaying her jewels. Daddy came in to see what it was all about. "Girls! You all need to get some sleep now!" But then he settled in beside mother, pulling the pillow over his head, pretending to get some sleep. We just kept right on -- mother telling her stories, Andrea picking out another piece, and I. . .writing down the stories. Soon daddy lifted his pillow and said, "No, that isn't how it happened! Let ME tell the story!" And so daddy was in on the fun as well.
Late that night we tucked into bed. I buried my head in the pillow and tears flowed. I knew that I was to get her amethyst ring but I didn't want mother's amethyst ring. I wanted HER. And then the Lord spoke into my heart so plainly. "What DO you want of your mother's?" I sensed the presence of the Lord. The question reminded me of the one God asked Solomon. I felt as though God would really give to me what I asked for. I stopped weeping and began to think deeply. The sun rose behind the great oak tree outside my sliding glass doors before I knew what I would ask for. I knew now. JOY. The kind of joy that enabled Mother to go through days and nights with bombs falling and still remaining steady. The kind of joy that patiently cared for six children while war moved them from one country to the next. The joy that became exultant in the face of the Communist take-over of Shanghai, giving birth to her sixth child and enduring a horrendous typhoon all about the same time. Yes, that's what I wanted from my mother.
I reached for my Bible, knowing that mother would be waking soon, asking for her hot Ovaltine. I needed to get my day underway. I turned to the book of Hebrews where I had been reading. And there it was. The KEY to my inheritance of JOY from Mother! It described her precisely. In amazement I read:
Heb. 1:9 "You have loved righteousness, and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions." (ESV)
How does one love righteousness and hate wickedness? Especially since some "wickedness" doesn't seem all that "wicked." Mother did. Yet she always identified with me in my bad bits. She would frequently say, shaking her head, "Oh, sweetheart, you got that from me!"
Immediately a verse I had memorized as a child came to my rescue, "The fear of the Lord is to hate evil." Just a verse memorized. Oh, how many of those I had learned. But today this one stood out like pure gold. Hating evil, loving righteousness resulted in gladness and joy! My heart cried out to God, "Teach me the fear of the Lord!"
Again memorized Scripture answered me, "Come O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD. What man is there that desires life and loves many days, that he may see good? Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit. Turn away from evil, and do good; seek peace and pursue it. The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous, and his ears toward their cry. . ." (Psa. 34:11-15 ESV)
The question facing me now was HOW do I actually get my inheritance of JOY?
June 22, 2009
“Of Gardens and Stars”
Who IS your God? Where does He live? Another way of asking it is, “Where is the Source of water for your garden?"
“For this is what the high and lofty One says, that inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.” Isaiah 57:1
God lives with those who are crushed, and broken (in the Hebrew text). They are empty.
Take a look at Psalm 147:2b, 3.
“He gathers the outcasts of Israel. He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”
Now look at the very next verse: “He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names. Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure. The LORD lifts up the humble. . .”
The Psalmist has barely taken a breath as he leaps from the crushed and broken, with whom God lives, to the very stars of the universe. Let’s look at just one of these stars that he names.
Did you know that there is a star by the name of “Antares,” in the constellation of Scorpio and it is called a “super giant” star?
Antares is 390 times the size of the sun.
Here's one way to visualize it:
Make a dot on the paper and consider that the Earth.
Now, make that dot 1 ½ million times larger and consider that the Sun
Now, Antares is 390 times the size of the Sun.
Here is another way to visualize it:
Take a hollow rubber ball and let that represent Antares.
Inside the ball you could fit Venus, Mercury, Mars, and the earth
And all these could continue in their courses without touching the sides of the ball!
This “super giant star” isn’t even the largest of the stars. And astronomers now think there are over 200 billion universes.
Let’s reverse the sizes. Instead of looking at the stars let’s look at an atom. How big is that? Take a 6 ounce teacup of water and change each atom into a grain of sand. It would cover the state of Texas fifty feet deep! So how great is our God?
The God of the atom and the God of Antares is the same God who gathers together the outcasts, who heals the broken in heart, and binds up their wounds. He tells the number of the stars, and He calls them all by their names! Is He enough for you? Can He be your Source to bring water into your garden so that fruit grows?
He is the God who says, “Be still, (be quiet. be content) and KNOW that I am God.” (Psa. 46:10)
Psalm 62 says, “Rest in the Lord (Be silent to the Lord” in the Hebrew) and wait patiently for Him.”
“I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power . . . to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ . . . that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church . . . forever and ever! Amen!” (Ephesians 4:16-21)
Is Jesus enough for you? If He is, your “Garden of Contentment” will thrive.
June 8, 2009
"Be Patient! Be Vigilante!"
When I make a garden I want it done yesterday! It is very difficult for me to hold steady and patiently plan. I want to see the fruit of contentment now. I can hardly stand to feel this restlessness inside of me.
I don't know of a gardener that doesn't feel the same way. But they will all tell you that patience is needed for fruitfulness. Patience and weeding. That takes vigilance! It means checking my spirit daily, even hourly to see what else is growing up in the fertile ground of my mind. It means looking inside to see if I have really relinquished my own natural ways, strengths and tendencies. It means accepting God's agenda. Do I really believe that God's agenda is better for me than my own?
I would like to do NOTHING but what I was created to do.
To love and adore Him.
To go and bear His fruit that will remain!
Now that's contentment.
I ask myself each morning when I wake up, "Is Jesus Christ enough for you, Arlita?" Deep inside our heart can we trust the Husbandman or the Vinedresser of our life? What grace do we need next for our soul? Can we believe for its supply? Can we trust Him not only for our difficulties but for our barrenness as well?
"Is anything too hard for Him?" God said this to Sarah when she laughed at the outrageous statement she had just heard. She was barren and the angel was telling her that she would conceive and have a son in her old age.
Let me tell you about the Gorse Bush:
In the springtime these bushes burst into golden blooms. 7,000 feet high in the mountains near Big Bear Lake, California, all the way down the switchbacks and winding highway to San Bernardino they cheer the weary traveler.
The Gorse has strong, sharp thorns and all year long the thorn has been hardening and sharpening. Then spring comes! The thorn does NOT drop off and it does NOT soften. There it is. Uncompromising as ever. BUT halfway up the actual thorn appear two furry balls that are mere specks at first. These furry balls break straight out of last year's thorn into a blaze of golden glory!
There is a line in F. W. H. Meyers' poem, St. Paul that says, "(He) Setteth in pain the jewel of His Joy!"
Take the very hardest, sharpest thing in your life -
the place of difficulty,
outward or inward,
and expect God to triumph gloriously in that spot!
It is a principle God uses over and over. It is part of His character to want to transform every form of suffering into something glorious! Our garden is going to be glorious.
Sometimes we are tempted severely to run from the process - or even take our life to escape the brutal stripping. But then His purposes wouldn't be fulfilled in you. True, you aren't seeing your purposes fulfilled, but then, are yours greater than His?
"Death is the gateway to Life." said Lillias Trotter in her "Parables of the Cross." In her beautifully illustrated book Lillias Trotter talks about dying to one's self; and has illustrated the Gorse Bush in watercolors. My mother-in-law gave me this treasure of an old book years ago and I have often gone to it for strength and comfort.
"Without a true death there can be no resurrection," my own mother once told me.
Jim Elliot, the martyred missionary to Ecuador said, "He is no fool who gives what He cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose!"
If we want our gardens to be filled with contentment, if we want resurrection life, we must be willing to abide by the rules of the garden. Only then will fruit result! We let ourselves "die," trusting God for the "resurrection" and for the life that is going to pour into us. We cover it over with "topsoil," that is, blessings - for others, particularly the ones who have hurt us. Next comes the watering with prayers of thanksgiving regularly for the fruit that is going to come. He promised that it will come. He promised that it will remain! Eternal fruit.
Let's read our text again from John 15:
"I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener . . .(vs. 4,5) Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. If a man remains in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing. . . (vs. 9-11) As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you. Now remain in My love. If you obey My commands, you will remain in My love, just as I have obeyed My Father's commands and remain in His love. I have told you this so that My joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. (Vs. 16) You did not chose Me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit - fruit that will last . . ." (NIV)
In other words: "I am the source of your life, your joy, your ability to bear fruit, your fulfillment!
Apart from me you can do nothing. Even I can do nothing of my own initiative and I do nothing of myself. It is the life of the Father." (John 5:30) Picture an empty well. We are the empty wells and we need water for our garden. Where and Who is the Source of your water?
May 26, 2009
"Triple Soil Nutrients"
We are almost ready to plant the seeds of “contentment!” The “soil” (of our natural self and very human reactions) – need to be amended. We need some “manure, blood meal and top soil.” These are the ingredients:
Manure: “I confess my ________ (my reaction) as sin.”
Blood Meal: “I repent. Please cleanse me with Your blood.”
Top Soil: “I forgive _______ (name of person) for _______.”
When we have done that we are ready to plant those seeds! There are three steps to the planting.
FIRST: We dig the holes, allowing the seeds to “die” in the ground.
Today there are many voices (even in Christendom) that tell us that the root source of our problems is a lack of self-love and self-esteem. It sounds good. It even sounds plausible.
To know the truth about man we must run the plumb line of God’s truth.
Who knows us? Who made us? Who knows what makes us react? Who knows what we need?
The Word of God tells us that our problem from the very beginning in the Garden of Eden was unbelief and rebellion. This sin cuts us off from God, and God is love. Jesus said, “If you don’t forgive your brother, neither will your Heavenly Father forgive you.” When we cut ourselves off from His love then we begin to search for a substitute. What we identify as self-love and self-esteem is not far from self-pity and it feels good.
Self-love is a poor, deluding, SUBSTITUTE for God’s love that deceptively puts man at the center instead of God. Self-love and self-esteem will teach you that you have worth and value APART from God. That is the devil’s lie.
SECONDLY: We cover the seeds with a “dressing” of mulch called “blessing.”
“I Bless (name of person).” (After, of course I have forgiven them)
When we do this every time the person comes to mind, God cleanses and heals our soul.
THIRDLY: We water the seeds with regular prayer for that person.
“I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power...to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ...that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church ....forever and ever! Amen!” Ephesians 4:16-21
“Freely you have received, freely give.”
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May 18, 2009
"From Hatred to Healing"
One Christmas Eve our family was gathering all together. Snow had fallen days before and the walks and steps were terribly icy. Our daughter Sarah and her family arrived. She gathered up presents out of the car and hurried through the snow to the door. As she gripped the door handle she slipped and crashed through the French doors. Her arm was slashed from the wrist all the way up her arm. Three doctors in our household sprang into action. That evening was spent in the emergency room while the rest of us painfully carried on with the celebration for the sake of the rest of the family. Hours were spent in the emergency room where they painstakingly removed every shard of glass. At last they were able to flush it clean and stitch her up. Many months passed before she had full use of that arm.
You see, when we have been hurt, obstacles to healing are automatically present and need to be removed. Here is where forgiveness comes into action.
If the injury is not forgiven, or accepted as being one of those things that God has actually permitted into our lives for our spiritual maturing, it will fester and move into self-pity. “But” you say, “I didn’t deserve it! Tell me! What did I do to deserve that kind of treatment? They are the ones who need to confess their sin!”
Let me ask you a question: Do we deserve ANY of the good that God showers onto us? The Bible tells us “No.” We deserve nothing. Nothing but hell because of our rebellion. We have been GIFTED with life, but not because we deserve it. So the minute my heart cries “I did not deserve this treatment from them!” I need to stop right there and say, “Father, forgive my arrogance. I was thinking I deserved far better because of all the things I have done for them.” That self-centered arrogance, in itself, puts me on the same level with the one who hurt me. We BOTH need the cross and His cleansing.
Now, suppose we want to feel the comfort of self-pity for just a little while, and our mind rehearses over and over again, while we are folding clothes, driving the car pool, or making the salad. It feels good. We really have said and done so many right things to that person. What’s more, they seem to have no idea how much we love them!
A few rounds of this can easily turn into resentment and the next time we see them in the grocery store, we find a different aisle to walk down, looking earnestly at all the soups and noodles. Or we simply don’t invite them to our home. Or we refuse their invitation to the family dinner. The resentment becomes anger. It swiftly goes rancid and turns into bitterness.
I MIGHT forgive them IF they say they are sorry. But if not, forget it! And them!
Suppose they DO say that they are sorry, it does not get rid of my bitterness. I still have to make a choice to forgive them. I can get free of my bitterness unilaterally, whether they say they are sorry or not.
The only thing that gets rid of my bitterness is confessing my self-pity, anger and bitterness to God as SIN. Because “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” But first we have to see our reaction as sin.
Now suppose we hold on to that bitterness. It will eventually turn into hatred. What does Jesus say about that? He says that if we hate our brother we have already committed murder. “WHAT? That’s going a bit too far, Arlita. You are saying that because someone else hurt me, I can end up at the end of this cycle? MURDER?” Yes, if you don’t allow the cleansing process of the blood of Jesus into your heart and thought life.
That’s why it says, “Beware lest any root of bitterness spring up, cause trouble, and defile many.” Have you ever seen bitterness go through a family? It can go through a congregation like a prairie fire.
Jim Wilson, in his book, How to Be Free From Bitterness* says, “The world has two solutions:
Keep the bitterness in and make yourself sick or let it all out and make everyone else sick! God’s solution: Dig up the root. Get rid of it.”
This takes our humbling and the grace of God.
The Bible says to get rid of all bitterness. Surrender it to the Father. Dig it up, break up the hard clods, and take out the big roots. Amend the soil, submit to God’s solution, and be set free.
Ephesians 4:31,32 “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”
The last six words are the only basis we can forgive others. Not for their sakes. Not for our sakes. “Even as God for Christ’s sake.” This is our hope for healing.
* How to Be Free From Bitterness by Jim Wilson, Community Christian Ministries, P.O. Box 9754, Moscow, ID 83843-0180
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May 11, 2009
"From Hurts to Hatred"
C. S. Lewis said, “Forgiveness is a beautiful word, until you have something to forgive.”
God needed to take us through experiences that would show us basic principles having to do with forgiveness -- basic principles of facing the truth about ourselves. He had to break us to a point where we cried desperately to Him to deliver us. God saw that we thought we were right and it was other people who were wrong. Now there are a lot of times when this is true but God seems to be much more interested in our reactions than He does in what is being done to us. I felt I could change Papa. And then I felt I should be changing Joe, after all, wasn’t I his “helper?”
Bitterness is based on sin or hurt affecting you. It is not concerned with how big the sin is; it is based upon how close it is. Likely candidates are: fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, children, boyfriends, girlfriends, roommates, immediate superiors, immediate subordinates, co-workers, business partners, other relatives, and God. 75% of all murders in the United States are within the family or closest connections.
It’s often because we really do love them, deep inside, that it matters so much. And the reason we don’t deal with this sin is that we think it is the other person’s sin.
We say to ourselves, “When they say they are sorry, then I will forgive them!”
Or “Suppose they never change? Suppose they never see where they are wrong?”
I don’t think that Papa ever thought he was doing the wrong thing!
Walls build up between you and the more often you think about it, the more pain it brings, or the more they don’t change, the more distant you become. It’s a desperate cycle. It is impossible to create a cycle with one person. It always takes two people and only one is needed to end this cycle. I need to tell you that I ended up loving Papa!
How did I get rid of the roots of bitterness and remove the rocks and debris?
We are not responsible for hurts done to us. But we CAN do something about our reaction to those hurts.
Here is the sequence, carried out to its fullest expression that we experience when hurts are not dealt with and left to fester: SIX BLOCKS
HURTS > SELF PITY > ANGER > BITTERNESS > HATRED > MURDER
1. Hurts: Wounds, caused either knowingly or unknowingly, open us up to infection.
2. Self Pity: Says, “Why ME? What did I do to deserve this? Nothing!”
3. Anger: Resentment that remains inside or boils over depending on your personality.
4. Bitterness: Layered Anger. Anger held onto or not dealt with. Anger gone rancid.
5. Hatred: Judgment is meted out to the offender. (Am I God?)
6. Murder: The natural outcome of hatred either in our hearts, or in actual fact.
My focus was on the hurts, and certainly not on my reactions. Here is where the boulders and roots had to be removed from the garden of my heart. And here is where the Holy Spirit began “digging up the fallow ground.” Here is where I found the Spirit of Christ picking up the boulders and digging out the roots.
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May 4, 2009
"I Didn’t Deserve That!"
So! Suppose we have decided we ARE going to have a “garden” with the “Plant of Contentment.” We begin to evaluate the place for the garden, that is, our hearts. The more we look, the more clutter we see.
Take a deep breath, and let’s roll up our sleeves! Dig it up. Break up the hard clods. Take out the roots.
Now Paul says to get rid of all bitterness and to be kind and compassionate one to another, BUT before the bitterness can be removed, we need to recognize it and yank it up by the roots!
It’s fairly easy to see when other people are bitter. You can see it in their eyes and in the lines of their face. You can see it in their mouth when they’re smiling or laughing. You can even hear it when they protest that they are not bitter. The last person to recognize that he is bitter is the person himself.
Guilt is what we feel when we sin. Bitterness is what we feel when others sin against us. My friend, Jim Wilson*, has said that a good rule of thumb is this – bitterness remembers details. You have had thousands of conversations in your life, most of which you have forgotten. But this one took place 5 years ago, and you can remember every single word, and the inflection in their voice. You can remember what they were wearing. You know exactly what happened – which means, you are probably bitter.
You say, “No, I just have a very good and accurate memory!” Memory is helped by REVIEW, REVIEW, REVIEW! Usually we don’t mull over the wonderful things as much as those things which hurt us. We generally think about how right we are and how wrong they are. This starts up a cycle of hurts, which leads to being critical and putting up walls to protect ourselves. The cycle is one of resisting and trying to change the other person, or withdrawing.
Let me tell you about my own bitterness.
I married into a wonderful family, a missionary family very committed to serving the Lord. When Mama and Papa retired -- in their 70's -- they returned to the States and came to be near us. Nothing could have pleased us more! I was longing for my children to be near grandparents, and I hardly knew Joe’s parents because they had been away all those years in Europe. I wanted to be a wonderful daughter-in-law, and besides, I missed my own parents greatly. It was May, and all the flowers in Moorestown seemed to welcome them “home.” Our home would be their home until they found their own place.
Papa wanted to be in charge. My best kitchen knife was found in the garage where he used it for cutting up cardboard boxes. My largest spoons were measuring out fertilizers. These irritations turned quickly into hurts. And he had no intention of moving to his own place. We had definitely succeeded in making them comfortable!
Picture a child’s toy which nests one block into another. When I would experience the “Hurts” I would feel sorry for myself and start nesting it into a larger block called “Self-pity,” and that block slipped easily into a larger block called “Anger.”
One day Papa opened our mail, flashing the phone bill in front of me and saying, “You’re going to put my son into the poor house!” My hurt, self-pity and anger slipped easily into a bigger block called “Bitterness.” Every so often I would “play” blocks by taking them all apart in my mind and building large towers. Before long, I didn’t like having Papa around. Could “Hatred?” be the next block? Surely not! But was that possible?? Now I had five different blocks to “build” and “play” with!
One day I drove into our driveway and I was astonished to see Papa teetering on the very top of the roof of our three-story home. He was brandishing a long black broom dripping with tar. He stopped long enough to wave to me with it. “I’m saving Joe money by tarring the roof! He doesn’t have to put a new one on!” he shouted jubilantly. He had also managed to line the gutters with plastic Sunbeam bread wrappers, tarring them down, so that we didn’t need new gutters either! Fortunately he was way up high, on top of that roof, and I didn’t need to see him for a while.
I calmed down enough, BUT it never occurred to me to consider MY reactions. I deserved to feel all the anger boiling up inside of me. When were they going to get their own home?! If he could scramble up onto the roof of a third-floor house, then surely he wasn’t too old to care for his own place! Besides, he could have fallen from there and killed himself! But it never occurred to me, even then, that I was getting dangerously close to murder in my own heart which would have been the SIXTH Block that I was playing with.
Not until one afternoon. I had recently finished decorating the entire house. The old steam radiators were painted discreetly to blend in with the color of the walls. I opened the front door, carrying my bundles, to be greeted by a beaming Papa! “I have been painting ALL the radiators shiny black so that the heat can radiate into the rooms!” I swept past him, put my packages down and headed up to my bedroom. I didn’t dare to shout at him, so I cried alone. Still I didn’t talk to God about it. I DID talk to Joe about it. You never could have convinced me that MY attitude was wrong.
Somehow Joe soothed my feelings, and life went on. My hurts, self-pity, anger, bitterness, and my hatred were certainly not MY fault. Look at all we were doing for them! Strange that I didn’t talk to God about my own attitude. I cried out in self-pity to Him, but never dreamed that I was as culpable as Papa because now I could say I hated having him around. Jesus would say that I hated him
I played my gracious role on the outside, but the despair and resentment had to spill out somewhere. It took 4 years for God to sort us all out. Keep on your old jeans and rolled up sleeves because there IS going to be a garden with the “plant of contentment!” Do not grow weary.
“Therefore lift up your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.” Hebrews 12:12, 13.
* How to Be Free From Bitterness by Jim Wilson, Community Christian Ministries, P.O. Box 9754, Moscow, ID 83843-0180
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April 27, 2009
"Of Gardens and Roots"
The writer of Hebrews says in chapter 12:14, 15, “Strive to live in peace with everybody, and pursue that consecration and holiness without which no one will see the Lord. Exercise foresight and be on the watch to look [after one another], to see that no one falls back from and fails to secure God’s grace (His unmerited favor and spiritual blessing), in order that no root of resentment (rancor, bitterness or hatred) shoot forth and cause trouble and bitter torment, and that many become contaminated and defiled by it.” (Amplified New Testament)
I had work to do with my new garden at the condo, but I also had work to do in my heart.
Years before we moved to the condominium we had a tree outside our back door. I could hardly wait to plant snowdrops and daffodils under its branches and thought it would be easy to simply insert them between the roots. I pictured flamboyant impatiens for the summer months. Year after year I would spend money for new planting material and finally gave up. Not a thing was going to grow in that place because of the vast network of roots that had taken over. The roots stole all the nutrients right from under them!
Roots, being underground, usually cannot be seen. But you can often see the evidence -- like cement sidewalks being heaved up. Roots drink the nourishment out of the soil and it is difficult to get other plants to grow where great roots are drinking.
Bitterness is like that. It is often hidden, under ground, but you can see the results!
“Bishops Weed” comes up in the early spring, full of fairy-tale beauty, reminding us of Queen Anne’s Lace. The name itself (at least the first part) makes us think of purity and holiness...but Ah! Come the end of June the leaves look like lace with holes all through them. They are a foot tall, rapidly filling the garden and crowding everything else out. It is nearly impossible to get rid of them! The only way is to dig up the earth surrounding the plant and replacing the soil. If even a smidgeon of a root is left, it rapidly multiplies again! That’s Bitterness.
And so, suppose we have decided we ARE going to have a garden that will give us contentment and bring others contentment, we’ve committed ourselves to doing it, we’ve made a plan, we’ve evaluated the place, and seen what clutter needs to be removed. . .WELL. . .
Let’s roll up our sleeves! Dig it up. Break up the hard clods. Take out the Roots.
···· Jeremiah 4:3 “Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among thorns.” (Fallow means it is left uncultivated, unplanted, untrained, inactive, and it is said of the mind.)
···· Hosea 10:12, 13 “ Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the Lord, that He may come and rain righteousness upon you. You have plowed iniquity; you have reaped injustice; you have eaten the fruit of lies.· Because you have trusted in your own way . . .”· The more we trust in our own ways, the harder our hearts become. The harder our soil is.
···· “See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no ROOT of bitterness springs up and causes trouble and by it many become defiled.” (Heb. 12:15) ESV
···· Eph. 4:31-5:2· “GET RID of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
“Oh, Adam was a gardener, and God, who made him, sees
That half a proper gardener’s work is done upon his knees!”
~ Rudyard Kipling
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"Of Gardens and Contentment"
The move was sudden. It was a difficult decision. We chose a small condominium where we could plant our own tiny garden if the Condominium Board passed on the plans. A garden had been taking shape in my mind all winter long. The ground began to thaw, the mourning doves began cooing, and I knew exactly what I wanted. I bought the plants, got out my garden tools and knew I had a day of bliss ahead of me. It didn’t take five minutes for me to find out that there was exactly 1 inch of topsoil and underneath was solid clay. It is the only time gardening when I sat down and actually cried.
Wouldn’t it be sheer joy to simply plunk in seeds of “Contentment” and watch them grow? But it just doesn’t happen that way. I was anything but content that day. Then God started speaking into my heart. “Arlita, your heart right now is like your garden. You’ve found there is work to be done in breaking up the hard clay. Only then will you have your garden. And contentment is the same way.”
“Lord, how do I go about it? This ground is simply too hard. I don’t know where to begin, and I certainly am not strong enough to break it up.”
“Arlita, you’ve just taken the first step. You’ve recognized that you can’t have the garden that you long for. Now, recognize and admit that you don’t have the plant of contentment either.”
That night I did a lot of soul-searching. Paul says in I Timothy 6:6 “Godliness with contentment is great gain.”
It sounds as though Paul is saying that we might be “godly” but have no fruit of contentment in our garden. Perhaps we have other fruits and flowers, but no contentment.
What does contentment look like? Webster’s dictionary says it is “a state of peaceful happiness or satisfaction to the full extent of one’s desires.”
The Lord continued to speak into my heart.
“Arlita, do you really want the “Contentment” plant? It’s costly.”
I thought of this plant in tandem with my own little garden.
Little did I know what it would eventually take in my condo garden! My husband had to use a pick axe and crow bar to loosen the clay. He remembers the pain of it to this day. It was unusable and we had to load it up in a wheel barrow and simply dump it. New top soil and manure was brought in and year after year it has gradually been amended. A Japanese Plum tree stands there now, graceful and tall, overshadowing the seasonal plantings.
To garden is to take part in mystery. To place seeds on the waiting earth, cover them with soil, moisten them, and wait in hope and expectation is a statement of faith. The people of the Bible understood this, so it is not surprising that Israel’s prophets and poets made use of garden images in their proverbs, psalms, allegories, parables, and prophetic utterances. What could I learn from them?
First I had to commit to paying the price. I must stop crying and do something. I decided right then and there I would pay the price of changing the ground. It would take time, patience, money, blood, sweat and tears.
Secondly I had to evaluate the place for the garden. For the plant of Contentment, that meant my heart. Contentment is a matter of the heart. Does it have heavy roots, rocks, sandy soil, rocky soil, clutter?
I decided that I had work to do!
“Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy; break up your fallow ground: for it is time to seek the Lord, till He come and reign in righteousness upon you.” Hosea 10:12
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"Of Swallows and Babies”
We were visiting family in France one spring, and we took a vacation down to the Southern part along the Dordogne River. I was excited when I saw that our ancient cottage was only 15 minutes from the village of Carrenac, the place where Fenelon had been banished to in the 17th century. This Christian Brother had been the Spiritual Advisor to the women in the court of Louis XIV. His thrust was to teach them how to love God with all their hearts while living in that decadent society. I had gleaned much from his writings and yearned for God the more. So! One of the first excursions we made was to that ancient village perched above the river.
With awe we walked up the stone steps leading into the courtyard of the monastery. Figures of the Apostles were carved in stone over the archway and Christ was in the center, holding a book. The courtyard was laid out in a square with a covered walkway all the way around. Great arches reached high above the walkway and we stood silently, thinking about the man of God who had walked here daily, praying for his people, lifting up his arms and soul to God like these arches.
All at once I became aware of a continual din of chirping noise and great swoops of swallows in the air. As I looked more closely I saw hundreds of swallow's nests tucked into the nooks of the arches and then I saw the tiny heads and huge beaks of baby swallows squawking for more food. Their mothers would circle up into the air, disappear and then return with more food in their mouths.
Immediately the Scripture came to my mind, "Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself where she may have her young -- a place near your altar." (Psa. 84:3) Here were literally thousands of swallows being mothered and nurtured near the altar in a place of prayer. That night, in the margin of my Bible I wrote, "Father, here are my children and grandchildren. I place them on your altar and release my hold and my "rights." You are the Lord of hosts and will protect and defend them."
Later that evening we were having dinner high on a cliff, overlooking the monastery. We suddenly became aware of thousands of swallows circling above and around us, not going anywhere, but rather swooping and swirling in a great dance. We watched as they reveled in their joy and exuberance. Then, I realized here were our swallows. They had left the nests after a long day of feeding, tending, and nurturing their young. Here they were joining together in a great celebration. I nearly burst with joy as I said to Joe, "That's what Mothering is all about! Feeding, caring, tending, nurturing, disciplining, and training all day long. But there comes a time every day when a mother must leave her children in the care of their Heavenly Father and she must worship Him with everything that is within her."
Many are those times when a Mother's love cannot do for her child (or grown child) what she longs to do and we need to place them on the "altar" as our gift to Him. We release them to Him. And we release them with joy – it is a sacrifice of joy.
Another year and another trip back to France and this time it was in the fall. We could hardly wait to go back to our swallows again, and walk the paths that Fenelon had walked and prayed. This time we walked into the courtyard and there was dead silence. We stared up into the arches with disbelief. The nests were there but empty. Not a swallow to be seen. Our disappointment was palpable. The following day we were exploring a fortress and as we stood high on the ramparts we became aware of birds swooping in great arcs. Our swallows! Why, of course! They had grown up. They had flown the nest and here they were at the Castle Gates.
The Lord spoke to my heart once again. "What did you expect when you gave your children to Me on the altar?" It was a powerful picture to me of accepting the responsibility of motherhood, releasing them back to God, worshiping Him no matter what, and then rejoicing that they were shoulder to shoulder with us, protecting the "home front" and winning victories!
"Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate." (Psa. 127:3-5).
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"Of Ugly Stubbs, Branches, and Fruit"
The storm stopped (see previous devotional). I came out freezing. But coming down the mountain hope itself was planted in my soul. It would be two years though before the sun would begin to thaw me out.
My godly mother came to visit. She didn’t condemn me. She didn’t “preach” to me. She poured herself out in love, serving our family. She mopped the floors, gathered seashells with the children, made moss gardens, and simply loved us all. As she was packing her bags to leave on the plane she looked into my eyes and said, “Sweetheart, without a true death, there can be no resurrection.” That’s all she said. I knew what she meant. I had to repent completely and not be defensive. I had to give the past to my loving Lord who had died to pay for my sins.
I felt “sap” rising inside me. It was hope, reminding me that I was connected into the Vine. My thinking became clearer as depression lifted.
Jesus said , “I am the Vine, and you are the branches. You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, that you should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain . . .” (John 15:16)
You and I live and grow drawing life from that central vine. We are branches of that immortal divine stem!
The vine itself is not used to make anything – furniture or tools. (Unless it is used for wreaths on which to hang artificial fruits and flowers!) Its sole purpose is to carry life to the branches and to produce fruit.
Why did Jesus use that metaphor? A vine’s natural habit is to grow quickly and luxuriantly wild, trailing here and there, wherever it wills. But since the vine-dresser wants quality fruit, he will not permit the branches to trail wherever they choose. Each branch is carefully tied to a stake. Its arms are stretched out and bound crosswise.
My husband and I have been in the south of France in different growing seasons and have watched the grapes at their different stages of growth. I can still picture those vineyards with the branches bound to their stakes – not free to flow – their arms stretched out crosswise – bound, drawing their life from the vine.
We spoke with a vine-dresser. He said, “Oui! The vine must suffer much and be properly cared for by cutting. The best vintage comes from good stock, from suffering cold winters, hot summers, periods of wet, periods of dry, and much pruning!”
I had to make a choice. What would that look like in my life? Let’s take another look at our grapevine.
Soon the branches break into bud, joyous with green tendrils and leaf. They grow quickly and lush, lavish in their life – gloriously free! But someone has been watching. Someone who has a vested interest. The vine-dresser comes with pruning hooks and shears. He strips the branches bare of all their innocent pride. He cuts deep and sure. The bleeding limbs harden into wood. On pruned branches the fruit ripens – more full, more precious. The longer they grow, the heavier they become. They are bound tighter to carry the weight. The fruit turns crimson. The leaves droop and wither in the sun. BUT still the life-blood flows into fruitfulness.
Then comes the vintage. The fruit is ripe. Surely now the vine can glory and rejoice a little in its crowning glory; even though it is bending low under the weight of its fruit. But ah! Hands are ready to tear down the treasures of grapes. Feet are near to tread them in the winepress. And the land will be full of joy!
Now, the vine stands stripped and desolate, having given all. Its own dark time has come. No one gives it comfort, or thanks for its gift. Now the branches are cut back and piled into heaps – cut back to the very stem – disfigured. Alone – through dark days to come. The vine stands alone out in the fields – in the frost and snow. It stands alone and steadfast through all the winter winds.
And next year...BLOOMS AGAIN!
The branches are not bitter for the torment.
They are not barren because of the fruit they gave up.
They are fulfilled.
I chose to relinquish my “natural” ways and “rights.” I chose to submit to the spiritual fruit-producing process. We have to place even our “fruit” on the altar. As we hold out our arms relinquishing our way of doing things, we then accept something far greater than what we gave up.
Secondly, I chose to accept God’s purposes in my life. I had hope that I would “bloom” again.
This is the picture of Christ’s disciple.
Ugo Bassi, back in the 1800's, said in a sermon to people dying in a hospital:
“The vine from every living limb bleeds wine.
Is it poorer for that spirit shed?
Measure thy life by loss instead of gain;
Not by the wine drunk, but the wine poured forth
For love’s strength standeth in love’s sacrifice,
And whoso suffers most hath most to give.”
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"Stakes in a Snow Storm”
Our family was living 7,000 feet up on Big Bear Lake, California. I was disillusioned, disappointed, and alienated from God. We nearly lost our family, and one another, during those four years of rebellion. That was in 1971.
I whizzed down the mountain one morning, slowing down for the hair-pin curves. I noticed a snow storm was closing in rapidly. Before long my windshield was covered and my wipers barely kept up with swishing the snow off. To my relief I saw the tall, 7 foot markers with reflectors pounded deeply into the mountain side.
When we first came to Big Bear Lake a friend had said that it was necessary for these markers to be placed a few yards apart all the way down the mountainside. If you kept close to those reflector lights on the stakes, keeping them in line, they could keep you from careening over the precipice in fog or snow storms.
I leaned forward toward the steering wheel to see more clearly, keeping my eyes on those small lights. I could see three in a line ahead of me. Hugging the side of the mountain I crept slowly. I didn't dare to stop. There was no place to pull over and if I did stop, I could be hit from the rear. I crept on, inching my way around the tight curves. The steep slopes lay just feet away from my tires. First light, second light, now I could only see as far as one reflector light at a time. The snow fell in mighty fury. My heart was heavy with silence. The minutes froze into several hours, as I moved from one light to the next.
Then something startling happened. A little song came creeping into my heart. I hadn’t thought about it for years.
Why should I feel discouraged, why should the shadows come,
Why should my heart be lonely, and long for heav’n and home,
When Jesus is my portion? My constant Friend is He:
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.
I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free,
For His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.
I knew I wasn’t happy. I certainly was not free. Hope was lost, but the song kept singing. Then God began to speak into my heart. "Arlita, someone very wise drove those stakes into the rock for such a time as this. You've lost your way in the storm of your life and there are "stakes" that have been driven in the Rock of Ages for such a time as this. Turn your eyes to Me, your Rock, and the “Stakes” I have laid out in My Word. Obey them, one by one, and you'll not fall over the precipice. I will be your light. I'll bring you through the storm."
I did make it through that snow storm, and the biggest storm of my life. I had to make a choice to obey that Voice. His Word became the literal light to my path.
There are “stakes” that could save your life and your family's. Here are some of those “stakes” that I had to hang on to.
The first stake is that the God who created the universe created you with a purpose.
Two, He didn’t just create you, He loves what He created, exactly the way you are.
Three, He longs to have you respond to Him in a very simple way.
Four, He knows the road you are walking on and understands why you are there.
Five, believe it or not, He wants to walk alongside you on that very road.
Six, because He is God, He is able to comfort, guide, rescue, and instruct you. He doesn’t expect you to be able to cope with life.
So if you are in a storm or a fog, come to the “stake” that was pounded into the earth. Jesus Christ hung on it. God, Himself hung there on purpose! He died and became alive again on purpose so that you and I could live with purpose. That’s His promise! To be light in your darkness.
“I am the light of the world; he who follows Me shall not walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life.” (John 8:12) (New American Standard Version)
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Of Almonds, Old Age, and Fruit
This is my birthday month and I am seventy! I have always loved birthdays. Knowing that February comes in the dead of winter has always brightened bitterly cold days. I could celebrate! I know that my parents celebrated. Almond trees waved in full bloom the day they brought me from the hospital to our California home. It was a symbol of life and hope coming out of a tree that seemed dead, naked and leafless. Every birthday my mother reminded me of that day, seeing the reddish, pale pink and flesh-colored blossoms form their canopy of welcome on my special day.
Its Hebrew name, shaked, means "wakeful, hastening." Perhaps that name was given because it put out its blossoms so very early in February. It was one of the first to dare to blossom in such cold. And so I have been thinking about that life, my life that burst forth from my mother's womb on a cold wintry day. And I have thought about Aaron's rod that not only budded, but had blossoms and its fruit all at the same time! (see Numbers 16, 17)
I feel as though my life is as short as a "season." It is going past all too quickly. I want to bear fruit in my old age. And yet I want to be as fresh as a new almond bud that blossoms fully with the fragrance of Christ's life in me. Yes, all three at the same time - bud, blossom and fruit!
The almond tree is referred to in Eccl. 12:5 illustrating the haste with which old age comes. When the blossom is ready to fall it is exactly like white snow-flakes, perhaps a very fitting symbol of old age, with its silvery hair and its wintry, dry, barren, unfruitful condition. In full bloom on a distant hillside it has a certain likeness to a head of white hair. The word shaked comes from a Hebrew root meaning to "watch" or "wait". In Jeremiah 1:11, 12 there is a play on the word, "And I said, I see a rod of an almond-tree (shaqedh), Then said Yahweh unto me, Thou hast well seen: for I will watch (shoqedh) over my word to perform it."
Mother would often say, "Without a true death there can be no resurrection!" And so as I look forward to my new year, I want to be dead to my natural self. I want to allow the "sap" to rise within me even in the wintry days, breaking into full bloom with fruit that will remain all because Christ lives in me.
So how do I do that? I need to choose to relinquish my own agenda, to "watch" and "wait" to see how God wants me to live today. Just one day at a time. I need to get silent before God and listen to what He is saying to me out of His Word, allowing that "sap" to rise up inside of me. Only then can the bud burst forth, fragrant blossoms wave, and fruit cover my branches.
Jesus said in John 15, verses 16 and 17, "You did not choose me, but I chose you, and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should abide (remain); so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you love one another." (ESV)
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