God’s Many Colors

We’ve had a couple days of stormy weather here in Kansas; and for any of you who know me, you know what that means.  Sky pictures!!  I just love looking at our beautiful skies here in the flat land, especially from my vantage point in our daughter’s former bedroom, up on our third floor.  I have taken hundreds of pictures over the years from that same spot.  These pictures show many various scenes of the same scene, if that makes sense.  No two views of our sky are ever identical.

I’ve learned a lot over the years by watching our God-given sky.  It’s no surprise that I’ve also written about it in the past.   The Skies From My Window

We get some amazing storms here in Kansas.  The variety of pictures is limitless.  I love our sky here no matter the season or the weather, but I do have to say that the most stunning skies are the ones that present themselves during the storms.  Just look at some of the shots I took during our storm from two nights ago.

From the beginning:

WP_20180529_20_13_47_Pro

To the middle:

WP_20180529_20_33_57_Pro

 

 

To near the end:

WP_20180529_20_41_26_Pro

All were gorgeous in their own unique way.

I was thinking about yet another storm that roared through during the night last night.  Bright lightning…ferocious winds…heavy rain – we got a hefty dose of all that.  God pruned our trees during the night, for sure, as we awoke to lots of small branches all over the yard.  And though I couldn’t take pictures in the dark, the vivid lightning is still fresh in my mind.

The storms outside our windows have often reminded me of the storms that also come into our lives.  Whether the storms of life come in with a soft wind that builds over time…or if the storms blow in with a gusto that knocks us off our feet…we all face them, at one time or another, and another, and another.

And just like the majority of my most beautiful sky pictures are taken during the storms, so the majority of my most beautiful experiences with God happen during my storms of life.

In fact, James  – when speaking about our trials of life – uses the word “various” to describe them.  And guess what this word can also mean?

Multi-colored!

Just like my stormy, colorful Kansas sky, so my trials are described by God as being multi-colored.  Here’s what James says:

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter VARIOUS trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.  And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”  (James 1:2-4)

Storms, and trials, can be intimidating and even dangerous.  But God uses James to tell us that we need to consider – to make a conscious judgment – about our multi-colored trials.  And that conscious decision is to face our storms deciding to be joyful.  This joy isn’t of our own nature, but is a fruit of the Spirit in our lives.  And sometimes it takes awhile to feel that joy, that’s for sure.

And remember that joy isn’t happiness.  Joy is a deep-in-my-heart contentment because I know and trust that the God Who brings the storm is the God Who brings it for a very good reason.  I can look ahead to what He promises will come as a result of the storm, too.

Endurance.  That means “abiding under difficulties.”

And endurance produces perfection, which is maturity.

And maturity makes me complete, which means “full development.”

These traits aren’t just academic notes on a piece of paper.  They are real characteristics of a Christ follower who has endured the many difficulties and trials of this life on earth.

Just like the most vivid skies are stormy skies, my most vivid pictures of God’s character have been taken during the storms and trials of my life.  I have learned the most about God during those rocky times that I have needed Him the most.

Sunny skies are nice, and pleasant, and restful, and needed.

WP_20180531_06_44_13_Pro

But stormy skies are teaching skies for me…huge, magnificent photos of God’s mercy…God’s grace…God’s love…God’s protective arms around me.

So when the storms come, as they certainly will, may I not spend the time hiding and worrying and doubting.

May I clearly see the storms, not as an intrusion, but as instruction.

And may I spend the time taking picture after picture of the beauty that God is painting for me, using the palette that only He holds.

WP_20180529_20_55_49_Pro

 

 

 

Lessons From the Carrot Patch

Gary and I were doing lots of outdoor work one autumn weekend, partly because it was our neighborhood clean-up time and partly because the coming winter was urging us to ready our gardens before the cold weather hit. On Saturday I had been clipping and yanking out the dead growth in the flower beds. There was plenty to do and the piles were filling up our big outdoor trash can quickly. I had decided that if I had time I should visit the vegetable garden to see what I could pull up there. It was certainly time to be done with it, tidy it up for winter, and begin dreaming of a hopefully better vegetable season next year.

 
For several days I had been thinking about what I would try to clean up over the weekend and it hit me that I hadn’t even checked the status of our carrot patch. I had walked by our dying garden several times lately and had seen the sparse, stunted growth of the carrot plants. They were very unimpressive and hardly merited a second thought from me. The familiar lacy growth did remind me of the time several years ago that we first planted carrots. I was so excited about pulling up carrots that I became very impatient and was checking every few days to see if any had grown underground. One evening Gary, the kids, and I were outside when I stepped once again in the garden to bend over and do a little digging in the carrots. I gasped when I saw a large, orange protrusion in the dirt. A huge carrot!! I scooped back more dirt, reached down to pull it out, and discovered a very large and very fake plastic carrot. And out in the yard was some very loud laughing from my very amused family! They got me!

 
I grabbed my garden bucket from the garage, stepped over our little used-to-be electric wire fence into the garden, and walked over to the small carrot patch. We had planted quite a few carrots this year but many of them had died in the brutal heat and the awful drought of that past summer. I wasn’t at all hopeful that these measly few plants would produce anything of significance. They were hardly worth the effort, I assumed. Plus I remembered the beautiful, lush potato patch from earlier in the summer and how its yield was laughable and disappointing. Surely I could expect no more from this puny little row of struggling carrots.

Wichita-20111015-00327

I bent over and gave a pull – and was surprised to see a pretty orange carrot slip out of the dirt. Well! After several more pulls and several more carrots, I was greatly encouraged. Certainly these were not state-fair-worthy carrots, but they were far better than what I had expected to find. Gary helped finish out the row with a pitchfork and we ended up with a healthy little pile of carrots. Despite their small size and their dirty exteriors, they were a delight to us – an unexpected gift at the end of our difficult growing season. And guess what I had just bought the day before when I shopped for groceries? Yes – a bag of carrots! O ye of little faith, I thought.

Wichita-20111015-00330
I must admit that I am so often attracted to what is outwardly appealing, like the lush growth of our potatoes that fooled us into believing we had a bumper crop of delicious spuds. In reality they were only showy to the eye but had no substance and no real growth. It can be so tempting to participate in the ministries that are evident to all but to neglect the ones that are considered menial or boring. Or to not give much time or attention to people who are marginal to us – who maybe even annoy us. Can we lend a helping hand; make a phone call; fix a meal; send a card; clean a toilet? Sometimes God takes away the up-front, public ministries to put us in a place where we struggle; where our efforts seem puny and small, unnoticed and unimportant. Everyone gathers around the public persona but the unimpressive one is rarely given a second thought. Who wants to be a little dirty carrot when we could be a big, beautiful tomato that everyone looks at with pleasure?

Wichita-20111015-00328
But God knows the work that is being done away from the public eye, the glory that is being given to Him through the efforts of those that He is using to quietly further His kingdom work. Paul talked to the Corinthians about this in I Corinthians 1:26-29: “For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God.”

 
All ministry with pure motives is valuable to God, but if our lives are changed for whatever reason and we find ourselves feeling like our work is sparse and we struggle with insignificance, may we be faithful to grow and serve where God has placed us. Remember that the work God is doing underground will one day shine for His glory and praise.

 

 

Tucked Away Promises

I woke up yesterday morning to the faint sound of thunder, so I went first thing to my favorite window and saw this:

WP_20170916_07_22_37_Pro

What a beautiful sight any time of day, but to me a special morning blessing!  It only got better a short time later when I went outside and saw a faint second rainbow in the sky.

WP_20170916_07_33_37_Pro

Before long, the lightning got brighter and the thunder was louder.  Then came the rain.

WP_20170916_09_02_31_Pro

And after the rain, our rainbows reappeared.

WP_20170916_08_52_40_Pro

The same scenario repeated itself as soon more rain fell.

WP_20170916_09_02_05_Pro

I was up and down, inside and outside, and enjoying the rain with Gary as we watched from inside the garage.  Some of the lightning was close and scary.  Some of the thunder was loud and unsettling.  But we were safe.  And we were thankful for the rain, which brings growth and nourishment to our yard and gardens.

I was especially touched as I read once again the verses from Psalms that I had just read the day before:

“But as for me, I will sing about Your power.  Each morning I will sing with joy about Your unfailing love.  For You have been my refuge, a place of safety when I am in distress.”  Psalm 59:16

The rainbow that I first saw reminded me of the fact that it’s vital for me to have a grasp of God’s promises before the storms hit.  It’s so important for me to have that knowledge of what God has to say to me, found in the Bible, tucked into my brain and my heart.

I need to be reading His Word, remembering His promises, and learning WHO God is…..and doing this every day.  Days add up to weeks, then months, then years.  Looking into His Word, listening to God, talking to Him……just like looking up every morning and seeing a beautiful rainbow that catches my eye and grabs my attention.  That’s what I need to be doing with God’s Word.

Then one day…..BAM!!!  The storm hits, in whatever form that takes, and even though the beauty of the rainbow may be hidden by clouds, I can still trust that it’s there.  I can still trust that God is there, with His promises that are highlighted in my Bible and hidden in my heart.  I don’t need to be afraid, distressing and exhausting though my situation may be.  That’s because I’ve gotten to know God intimately over those days and weeks and months and years.

Not it’s time to put into practice what I’ve put away.  It’s not the power of positive thinking.  It’s the power of God’s promises…..of God Himself!!  He will give me comfort and safety in the storms.  He will be my place of safety in my distress.

And I could also sing this old wonderful hymn this morning in church:

          Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest,

          Sun, moon, and stars in their courses above.

          Join with all nature in manifold witness,

          To Thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love.

          Great is Thy faithfulness!

          Great is Thy faithfulness!

          Morning by morning new mercies I see.

          All I have needed, Thy hand hath provided.

          Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.

At the end of the day, I can see God’s hand all over my life.

WP_20170916_19_46_33_Pro

 

The Surprise

I was walking through our vegetable garden one day in early summer, looking at the pretty little plants growing so nicely where Gary and I had placed them.  There was the summer squash on the front row, along with some zucchini.  The tomatoes were already inside their tomato cages that Gary had put up, and behind them were our okra plants.  Cucumbers were on the side of the garden near the tall oak tree.  We have a simple garden this year, not as full as it sometimes is, but enough for us and hopefully some to share with others.

Everything was where it should be, growing as we had hoped at this point, with no visible bugs or other problems that I could see. Weeds hadn’t started taking over yet, either, so I felt content as I turned to leave the garden.

But wait.  What was this?

I stopped between the tomatoes and okra as I noticed a plant growing in a place where we had not put a seedling.  It wasn’t a weed.  It looked for all the world like……a cucumber?  But what would a cucumber be doing here, when the rest of the cucumbers were all the way over on the other side of the garden?

I hadn’t planted it there.  Gary hadn’t planted it there.  Hmmmmm…….

I stood looking at it, wondering what to do.  There are any number of ways that a cucumber seed from last year ended up under the soil and then growing again this year.  I’ll never know for sure.

But what I did know was that I would not have planted that cucumber in the spot where I found it.  It was too near the edge of the garden, for one thing.  It might get all tangled up in the okra or try to climb the tomato cages.  It might want to grow out into the yard where Gary mows.  It might not flourish under the sunflowers that were soon to be planted right there where its leaves had sprouted.

Bottom line……that volunteer cucumber was just not at all where I would have put it.  I didn’t want it there.  I could think of all the reasons mentioned above that I didn’t want it growing where it had sprouted.

It hadn’t been in our garden plan at all.  Now here it was, intruding in a place and at a time that I hadn’t intended for it to be.  I hated to uproot a growing vegetable plant, however.

“Well, OK,” I thought.  “I guess I’ll leave you here while I decide what to do.  You’ll probably die anyway and then I won’t have a decision to make after all.”

And with that, I turned and walked out of the garden……my garden that now held a stray cucumber plant.  A plant that messed up my plan.  One that, honestly, I didn’t want.

I watched that vagabond cucumber plant over the next days…..days that became weeks.  I left it where it was, more curious as time went on to see how it would fare.  And guess what?  My stray cucumber plant grew beautifully!  In fact, it grew better than the other cucumbers that I had so carefully planned and planted on the other side of the garden.

WP_20170709_20_44_48_Pro

It wasn’t long before I saw the first tiny little spiny cucumbers growing under its leaves.  I tended it carefully, pulling its curly tendrils away from the tomato cages…..guiding the growing vine out of the yard and back to the garden…..watching another of its vines growing up a tall sunflower stalk.

WP_20170822_08_20_19_Pro

The fruit of that unwelcome cucumber has been beautiful and sweet.  We’ve benefited from it very much, and so have others with whom I’ve shared.  I’m so thankful that I didn’t follow my first response and pull the cucumber from the soil!  I’m thankful that I stepped back, gave it time, let it grow, and then enjoyed the sweet fruit…..and the lessons it has taught me.

A__6F7E (2)

One thing we all know, if we live long enough, is that life is full of surprises.  We can be going along just fine, things working out the way we had planned, when BAM!!  We hit the proverbial wall.  Suddenly, things are NOT going as planned.  Now what?

As followers of Christ, we’re certainly not exempt from those detours in life.  In fact, God does put situations and events and people into our lives for a purpose that sometimes only He knows.  Maybe He’ll share it with us and maybe He won’t.  So again, what do we do?

Do we try to fix it?  Get rid of it?  Ignore it?  And if we can’t do any of those, do we argue with God?  Get angry?  Get bitter?

I mean, admit it, there are things that happen to us that that we just can’t see any reason for.  Really, God?  I would NOT have done that.  I would NOT have put that situation in that place in my life at all.  I mean, maybe another time…..another place…..or better yet, not at all!!

So, God, this wasn’t in my plan.  I had my life pretty well mapped out, you know.  Grow up….college….job….husband….kids…..family…..

I didn’t plan on Aaron falling back into my arms that Sunday afternoon 25 years ago, seizing and bleeding and unconscious.  That was most unwelcome.  I didn’t plan on being given his further diagnosis of autism 7 years after that.  I mean, isn’t Epilepsy enough?  I didn’t plan on still being his caregiver when he’s almost 33 years old.  Don’t You know about empty nest?  How welcome, on many days, THAT would be?

So…..this plant that You have placed in my life?  Why did You put it there?  I might agree to it in some form…..over there, in another area, to a different degree.  Here….just let me decide where it goes and how big it grows, OK?  Really, I would never have put it there in the first place…..in case You want to know.

But oh my goodness, what God has taught me over the years from that little unwanted seedling that popped up where I didn’t plan it!

What I’ve learned can be summed up with one verse in one of my very favorite Bible passages.  Psalm 18:30:

“But as for God, His way is perfect.”

There you have it.  Eight little words that speak incredible volumes about God and His sovereignty.

It doesn’t say that His way is easy…..fun…..pretty…..popular…..understandable.

Or fast.  Gary and I are in this life with Aaron for the long haul.

We each have our own situations that God has put, just so, in our lives.  As we stand and look at whatever that is, we must choose whether to accept God’s placement in our garden or to spend our life hating it.

But let me tell you, when you accept that God’s way is perfect and you let Him be that Master Gardener in your life, you’re going to one day see fruit.  You’re going to see growth in your life that you never thought possible.  You’re going to see beautiful fruit like peace, joy, thankfulness, wisdom.

And best of all, that fruit is what you’ll be able to share with others…..especially others who are suffering.  Comforting as you have been comforted…..blessing as you have been blessed.

God does know what He’s doing, after all.  His way IS perfect, and perfectly placed, in each of our lives.

WP_20170819_08_31_20_Pro

 

 

Did God Say?

No matter the kind or the size of your garden……vegetable, flower, small, large, shady, sunny…..there is one thing that your garden will always have. 

Weeds. 

Pesky, fast growing, determined weeds.

It’s amazing how quickly they grow, even during times of drought.  We used to laugh when living in Arizona, telling each other not to pull the weeds in our yard because they were the only vegetation that was green!

Weeds themselves come in all kinds and sizes, shapes and colors. Some weeds are very obviously weeds.  One doesn’t even have to look or think twice before pulling them up, hopefully by their roots, like these weeds that were blatantly growing in our vegetable garden recently.  Lots of these weeds were either pulled or tilled over the past two days. 

WP_20170709_20_38_00_Pro

If you could take a look in our Rose of Sharon bushes, however, you would find another sort of weed.  You might have to look hard, though, to find the intruder.  Can you see it?

IMAG00618

The first time I noticed this plant was when I was pruning our Rose of Sharon bushes two years ago.  The Rose of Sharon bushes were growing well and blooming beautifully as I began to prune some of the dead branches away, as well as some of the growth that was in the way of the lawn mower. 

I saw the rich green and the pretty shape of these leaves.

WP_20160917_11_08_41_Pro_LI

At first I was deceived by their beauty, thinking that they were a part of the Rose of Sharon.  But then it hit me.  Wait.  These leaves, pretty as they were, were NOT Rose of Sharon leaves. 

I investigated further, tracing the growth of this new plant, and soon discovered that this pretty plant with the lush leaves was actually a vine.  It was a vine that was curling itself around my Rose of Sharon branches.

WP_20160917_11_10_32_Pro_LI

Two years later, I’m still fighting this same vine.  It wraps and wraps itself around each Rose of Sharon branch, insidious in it’s desire to choke out my bushes…….my flowering bushes with their pretty blooms of white, purple, and pink. 

WP_20160917_11_08_16_Pro_LI

If I left this vine to do its crafty work, it would soon overtake my entire Rose of Sharon garden.  Every branch would eventually be choked and would die, leaving only the vine to prosper there. 

It’s my choice.  I can have Rose of Sharon bushes there, or I can have an area full of this vine. 

But this vine is a weed…..an intruder, as I said, that wants to destroy my bushes.  As pretty as the vine may be, it will only bring death to the bushes that I really want to grow.

So I continue to fight this stubborn vine.  I cut……I unwrap its tentacles from around each Rose of Sharon branch……I yank and I pull and I toss it in the trash. 

IMAG00622

Yet the only way to permanently do away with each new vine growth that I find is to pull it up from its roots.  I must locate the source of the growth and deal with it on that level……the roots.

WP_20160917_12_06_54_Pro_LI

Weeds remind me a lot of sin.  Some sins are very obvious to us.  We may see certain sins in our life and have no doubt about the fact that they are wrong.  Just like the weeds among my vegetables, those sins we know need to be yanked up and thrown out of our lives. 

WP_20170709_20_44_08_Pro

But then there’s that other form of sin……the vine. 

WP_20160917_11_08_27_Pro_LI

I think it’s interesting that the very beginning story of mankind occurred in a garden.  God designed this gorgeous place for His creation, Adam and Eve, as well as all the animals and plants that He so carefully created.  God gave Adam and Eve great freedom, along with a free will. 

We all know the tragic story, how one day Satan slithered into the picture.  He was captivating and wily, changing God’s words around ever so slightly to Eve in a way that made her doubt God. 

Satan was beautiful, and he showed Eve how beautiful the forbidden tree could be to her.  He would never have convinced her to sin if he had shown her the truth of his lies…..if he had shown her that pain and sorrow and death would follow her sin. 

We all know the tragic result, too, of this tragic story.  Look around today and we see it still, more and more as our culture continues to decline. 

Satan hasn’t changed one bit.  His method is still to deceive us by masking sin in beauty, much as my ugly weed was masked as a lush, lovely vine. 

Sin today is presented by the slick Hollywood version, all painted and desirable to those who can’t…..or won’t…..see beneath the surface, where broken lives and death prevail. 

The arguments are as old as Satan in the garden himself. 

“Did God say?” he whispers in our ear.  “God didn’t really mean it that way.  Those words may have been for a time long ago…..a culture far removed from our own…..but not for our progressive world today.”

“Did God say?” he softly hisses again.  “How hateful that sounds.  You don’t want to be known as a hater, do you?”

“Did God say?” he continues as we are lulled to sleep.  “God just doesn’t want you to be free to be you.  You should follow your heart, not those old words in that old book.”

“Did God say?” he again suggests.  “But you must find your own truth.  Your truth may not be what the Bible says.  Be who you are, without any regret.”

It’s so easy to listen to such charming words, especially when those words embody the popular ideas that are absolutely everywhere around us.  Our movies, our music, our classrooms, our books, our advertisements, are all jammed full of these world views. 

Satan has taken such a hold on our culture now that he is entwined in every area.  He has curled himself around our thought processes and our lives in such an invasive way that we hardly recognize him anymore.  It’s all so loving and so warm and so free to think this way…..to live this way…..until it’s too late. 

Satan would never want you to see the end result.  Paul told the Corinthians that Satan was an angel of light.  He comes at us with bright promises of a life lived the way we want, full of self-satisfaction and fun and acceptance.

But Jesus also said that Satan is the father of lies.  His lies sound so pleasant, so current, so loving and right.  But what he doesn’t show us is the death that always comes from sin.  Death of dreams, death of a relationship with God, death of living in God’s plan, and eternal death in hell. 

Satan and his lies must be dealt with at the root.  Go back to the source of his lies, the evil that he represents, and know that Satan hates God.  Satan hates me.  Satan hates all of us, and he wants us to die eternally.  He is a murderer.  And you and I are the ones he wants to murder.

Sin brings death, but Jesus came to bring life.  He took our sin on Himself on the cross, suffering for sins that He never committed.  Suffering so that you and I could be free….free to live in His grace and His forgiveness.

We don’t have to sin.  We don’t have to have Satan’s lies choke out the life God wants us to have.  Repent…..turn around from your sin and turn to the God Who truly loves you…..and accept His grace and salvation.  Follow Him.

And be wise to the ways of our enemy.  Lush green leaves among my Rose of Sharon were really there to kill.  So is Satan, with all his clever words and his compelling beauty. 

You might need to do some serious pruning in your life, but never will you regret the decision to let the right plant grow in your life’s garden.   

WP_20170711_13_22_59_Pro  

The Plans I Have For You

I think most of the nation has had a milder than usual winter.  Here in Kansas, we really haven’t had a winter to speak of.  Trees were budding, bushes were bearing leaves, and perennials were poking out of the ground in February!

I shouldn’t have been surprised…..but I was surprised……to walk past my front flower bed one day in February and look down to see that my Salvia had made an appearance.  There were fresh little green leaves sticking up through the ground, unaware that the month was only February.  Salvia don’t look at calendars.  They only respond to the warmth of the sun and the mildness of the nights.

WP_20170218_12_31_30_Pro

Something occurs deep underground, in their roots, that awakens them and urges them to respond.  It’s God’s miracle of growth, not tied to the month of the year but to the environment around them.  And even though that environment can at times be harsh still at this time of year……at any time of year, really……their roots stir under the right conditions and so they grow.

I was tempted on that February day to lean over and clear off all the dead leaves that looked like a hindrance to the Salvia’s growth.  But I left the leaves for insulation against the cold nights, and the snow that I knew could still come.

I’ve watched the progress of my Salvia over the past few weeks.  The picture from this morning shows how much growth has occurred.  The dead leaves, old mulch, and other clutter hasn’t prohibited my Salvia’s growth at all.  The perennial nature of this flower is alive and well as those new leaves push through all the mess around them.  It just faithfully grows and grows, quietly but strongly flourishing.

WP_20170307_10_36_13_Pro (2)

This morning in my quiet time with the Lord I read some verses that are very familiar to many of us.  They are words spoken by God to the nation of Israel, recorded by the prophet Jeremiah.

“For I know the plans that I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for calamity, to give you a future and a hope.  Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.”   Jeremiah 29:11-13

These are verses of such encouragement and hope for all believers, not just for the nation of Israel during the time of Jeremiah.  But do you know where Israel was when God spoke these words to them?  They were being held captive in Babylon.  They were not in their home country, living freely, but were held as captive slaves in a harsh land far from all they knew and loved.

In the ten verses preceding these verses above, God had given some instructions to His chosen people through a letter written by Jeremiah and delivered to the exiles in Babylon.  God told the people to settle in to their new life in Babylon.  He told them to build houses and live in them; to plant gardens and eat their produce; to take wives and bear children; to increase and not decrease; and even to seek the welfare of their new city, praying to the Lord on its behalf.

You know how long God told them to be faithful in their captivity?  Seventy years.  SEVENTY years.

So when God then said that He knew the plans that He had for them……plans to give them a future and a hope……He also knew that this promise wasn’t coming to pass tomorrow.  He laid it out there for them.   He told them to live as He commanded and to be obedient to Him, even in their dire situation, for seventy long years.

God’s promise was given to them in the middle of less than ideal circumstances.   It wasn’t to be fulfilled immediately.  But while they waited, God wanted them to live their lives fully and faithfully to Him.

In fact, many of those Israelites would never see the promise come to pass.  They would die in Babylon.  Yet God still commanded them to be obedient and live the way He wanted.

How about us?  How does God want us to live every day?

He wants us to follow the example that He continually sets out there in His Word for us to see.  He wants us to be faithful to Him, to obey Him, and to grow no matter what is going on in our lives.

We may be going through awful times so full of grief and stress that we wonder how we can get out of bed every day.  God knows.  He understands.  He loves us.  He provides what we need.  He promises us a future and a hope.

But relief may not come today.  It may not come tomorrow.  Or the next day, or the next.  But like He told His people in Babylon, He says to you and to me today.  “Call upon Me.  Pray to Me, and I will listen.  For you will seek Me and you will find Me when you search for me with all your heart.”

It’s simple, really, but so difficult to do sometimes when our surroundings are bitter and hard and scary.  Call upon Him.  Pray.  Seek Him with all your heart.

Read His Word with an open heart to hear what He has to say to you.  Ask Him to lead your steps.  Obey what you know He tells you to do in His Word.

God will speak to you.  He will lead you to Himself.

And in the middle of your pain and your stress, you will grow.  Just like my Salvia in the middle of deadness all around it and the coldness of some nights…..still pushing through and growing, as God intended.

God loves you.  He truly does have a future and a hope for you as you follow Him, but not always…..in fact, seldom……without the suffering and sadness of this life.

But what a beautiful work He is doing in you and in me as we faithfully respond to His love and to His word in our lives!

So grow!  Grow where God has put you!

IMG-20120428-00282

Possess Your Possessions

Last summer we enjoyed a fabulous tomato crop in our little home vegetable garden.  It was, by far, the best tomato growing season in the 17 years that we had lived and gardened in Kansas.  We picked buckets and buckets of tomatoes, much to our great delight.

wp_20161110_14_29_29_pro

We ate fresh tomatoes with our meals.  We ate fresh tomatoes by themselves.  We ate fresh tomatoes on sandwiches.  We gave tomatoes away to neighbors and friends.  I canned delicious salsa.  I also canned 34 quarts of tomatoes.  And Aaron gave tomatoes to his friends at his day group, which made him very happy.

wp_20161023_17_31_14_pro_li

wp_20161022_17_36_33_pro_li

Now, I could have stood at the edge of our garden every day just enjoying the sight of those tomatoes on the vines.  I could have talked about how many were growing there, told everyone about them, and taken some pictures to share.  But what good would any of that have been?

wp_20160915_17_19_18_pro_li

In order to really partake of my tomatoes, I needed to take possession of them.  That meant, in this case, to go to the garden with my bucket in hand and then pick each tomato off the vine.  It meant putting the tomatoes in my bucket, bringing them in my house, washing them, and then using them in whatever way I wanted at the time.

wp_20160913_13_18_35_pro_li

I read an interesting verse one day.  The verse is Obadiah 17 (only one chapter in Obadiah).  This verse is referring to a future time, even future for Israel today, but a time when Israel would finally enjoy the fullness of God’s plan and blessings.  What jumped out at me was this phrase:  “And the house of Jacob will possess their own possessions.”

So how do you possess your own possessions?  I mean, if they’re your possessions, don’t you already possess them?

Well, it’s kind of like my tomatoes in the garden.  They were my tomatoes……my possessions……but I didn’t POSSESS my tomatoes until I really TOOK possession of them.  There is a huge difference in looking at those tomatoes, and really taking possession of them in order to fully partake of and enjoy them.

God made a covenant with Israel, one in which he promised to be their God and that they would be His people.  He promised them a land and many blessings.  God’s covenant is unbreakable and will never change.  But full enjoyment of all the benefits of that covenant, and of God’s full blessings, hinged on one word…..one sometimes very difficult word.

“Now then, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, then you shall by My Own possession among all the peoples…..” (Exodus 19:5)

See the difficult word?  It’s the word “obey.”  God wasn’t referring to covenant status here.  His covenant itself depended only on Him.  But covenant enjoyment depended on obedience.

God said, “All these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you IF you obey the Lord your God.”  (Deuteronomy 28:2)

Obedience equals blessing.

God repeatedly told Israel that obedience is better than sacrifice.  He told them over and over that the land and the enemies therein were their possession.  But they couldn’t fully possess their possessions until they obeyed God.

Obedience equaled full partaking of God’s promises and His blessings.

Possessing their promised possessions.

What about me?

As a follower of Christ, God has given me many great and precious promises (2 Peter 1:4).  He promises peace, power, wisdom, strength, and so much more.  These are my possessions in Christ, but not fully possessed by me until I walk in obedience.

Repentance of sin and walking in obedience are the keys to fully possessing all the wonderful possessions that I have as a believer.  It’s really very simple, but also very difficult.  Difficult because I so often want my own way.  Simple because God is full of forgiveness when I repent.

So I can stand on the edge of the garden, so to speak, looking in at all the beautiful promises of God given to me in His Word.  But only when I choose to read my Bible and learn of God’s will and His ways for me…….and then choose to obey……will I be fully in possession of all His promises for me.  I’m not talking about salvation.  I’m talking about living a full life the way God intended for me to live as His child.

I love the often unsung fourth verse of the old hymn, Trust and Obey:

But we never can prove the delights of His love,

until all on the altar we lay.

For the favor He shows;

For the joy He bestows;

Are for them who will trust and obey.

I don’t want to just look at God’s favor and God’s joy.  I want to possess God’s favor and possess God’s joy……to partake of those promises, fully.

Possess my possessions!   

wp_20160918_18_41_26_pro_li