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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Sheltered in the Shadow

It was a warm day, the air-conditioner’s cool air felt refreshing as Mom and I drove to Fairview to see Aunt Marie. She continued to live alone then in the two story rambling house on a tree-shaded street. Age treated her well, I thought as she welcomed us into her living room. We settled and Aunt Marie began a conversation. She told stories of long ago when she was a child, when she accepted Jesus as her Savior, going to school, meeting Uncle Jacob, and how they struggled to make a living and raise two daughters.

After each story, she rocked in silence and then commented, “I always wondered how it would all turn out.” Sometimes she learned, sometimes she waited for years to know ‘how it would all turn out”.

Now, I know what she meant, for I wonder, too. Now she knows ‘how it will turn out’ for she lived in the shelter of the Most High.

And I wonder, too. Life gives so many questions day to day – and no answers. Life’s weather seems no longer to be a stretch of sunshine – and then a quick storm. But we live from storm to storm. Earthquakes seem more numerous. The political situation is tenuous in nearly every country as well as the economic climate. I tremble at the fate of Christians in countries being at risk for their next breath to praise God.

And I wonder, How will it all turn out?”

We wonder about he big things – then there are the everyday things – closer to home. The big decisions in life can cause changes in the little things. What is in the future? How big is my faith? What is truth? Who can I believe? Are my big decisions in keeping with what I say I believe? When getting my teeth cleaned, I grip the chair arms in anticipation of pain. Is that what I do in life?

Or do I fling my arms out to embrace life and let the little decisions stay in line with my faith in God? Do I respond faithfully in love with the tiny irritations and inconveniences – the little things? Do I consciously realize that God creates each individual in love and anticipation? Am I able to ‘look on the heart’ and refrain from ‘labling’ or judging those around me? Do I listen to God? Do I hear His voice in my heart? Do I love like God?

In the future, will there be hunger, physical and/or spiritual, or trials for those I love? Will there be heartache for ‘those who come after’? Am I able to trust the Creator of the universe? Do I let Him lead in my life? Or do I try to take control?

Then I read Psalm 91 and I no longer ‘wonder ‘how all will turn out’! As I read, I can feel my heart muscles relax as my mind grasps the meaning of the words. I can feel the energy of faith surge through my being. Blessed be the Lord!

I bless David for writing Psalm 91.

1 Those who live in the shelter of the Most High
will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
 2 This I declare about the Lord: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I trust him.
 3 For he will rescue you from every trap, and protect you from deadly disease.
 4 He will cover you with his feathers.
 He will shelter you with his wings. His faithful promises are your armor and protection.
 5 Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night, nor the arrow that flies in the day.
 6 Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness, nor the disaster that strikes at midday.
 7 Though a thousand fall at your side,
 though ten thousand are dying around you, these evils will not touch you.
 8 Just open your eyes, and see how the wicked are punished.

9 If you make the Lord your refuge, if you make the Most High your shelter, 10 no evil will conquer you;
no plague will come near your home. 11 For he will order his angels to protect you wherever you go.
 12 They will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.
 13 You will trample upon lions and cobras; you will crush fierce lions and serpents under your feet!

14 The Lord says, “I will rescue those who love me. I will protect those who trust in my name.
 15 When they call on me, I will answer; I will be with them in trouble.
 I will rescue and honor them.
 16 I will reward them with a long life and give them my salvation.”


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Gift of Listening

In the grocery store line, I had to wait. I noticed a four year old boy ahead of me, and glancing back at him, I saw his gaze was stoic and unrelenting. What was he thinking? I smiled, and there no smile in return. Then I mimicked his hands. He shifted the position of his hands, and I did, too, following his lead. Still he had the stoic stare. After several changes, I saw a glint in his eyes, just as his Dad was ready to go. He turned to go, but turned once more to look at me.

Now I will wonder, what did he ‘hear’ in that exchange? Each time we meet someone, whether we know them or not, we are in the act of listening. Language should be no barrier when we listen with our hearts. Body language accompanying speech speaks loud and clear. This can cause misunderstandings.

“I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.” – Robert McCloskey

In today’s world we communicate in sound bites with no depth. Is this to protect our hearts from investing in someone else’s life? As I click ‘Like’ on Facebook, was that really listening? What is the long range result of this type of split second communication?

When a Mother and her child communicate, do they hear each other? Listening can become an emotional roller-coaster ride as they both fight for ‘turf’ as the teens approach. Listening requires emotional and spiritual maturity.

When ’because I said so’ is not enough, then communication needs a thoughtful approach. Using a mental ‘other’s point of view’ can clarify how to communicate with someone. Walking in another's shoes, slides, pumps, sports shoes or boots is the way to clarify how the words are interpreted.

The first duty of love is to listen.” – Paul Tillich

Once I spent a long evening in a school bus, listening to a harangue of a co-worker. My ears felt beaten and my spirit was crushed. Then I asked myself how many times have I inflicted on others a barrage of words and emotions and they looked for an escape. It is amazing how we can learn much by listening.

Long ago I learned the term, ‘active listening’. This doesn’t include the activity of planning one’s response to what you are hearing. It is asking questions of what you are hearing. It is discerning truth and how it applies to you.

How many listen in the classroom and quickly dismiss what is being said as not concerning them. Not only in the classroom does this happen. One way of not impaired listening, is to carry on a conversation with whom you are sitting with while a guest speaker holds forth.

Report Card Time was always a capitalized happening for me. A formal way of evaluating my effort in learning for a period of time is that report card. When I began teaching, I learned that Report Card Time is the evidence of testing and unwritten subjective values. I always felt that a child’s grade was really my evaluation of the ability to teach.

One day I brought home an “F” in Math. I knew I was in for it. I could expect at least a spanking and lots of ‘yelling’. There would be some one-sided listening on my part when I handed my report card to my Dad. That was the day that Dad communicated with his heart and I listened with my heart. Tears poured down his cheeks. And he looked at me with such a disappointment. He communicated and I listened. When I sat in the math classroom and the number of problems on the paper could circle the earth twice, I remembered the disappointment and the forgiveness he extended. My grades came up the next quarter.

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. James 1:19-20

Learning to listen to our parents teaches us to listen to God our Father. James goes on to say in 1:22-25:

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

We are to listen to truth. In this day and age, how do we know truth? We search for truth, even as Job did.

In Job 37-40, God questions Job. And when I read this Scripture, my world again becomes one of faith and trust in the God Almighty. My questions are answered. Even as Job says, “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted. 
3 You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’ 
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.” Job 42:2-3.

One praise hymn comes to mind:

Friend of God

Who am I that You are mindful of me? That You hear me when I call.

Is it true that You are thinking of me? How You love me it's amazing.

“Be still and know that I am God….” Psalm 46:10

Dear Lord, Give me a pure, child-like heart that listens only to you!


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Pathway to Wisdom

When I was a child, I felt secure in a yard enclosed by a white picket fence. When I ventured out of the yard, I met the world. When I was old enough to go to school, I learned the way to school. It was safe in 1935 to walk then. One day Mom told me that we were moving that day, and I would have to walk home from school. When 3 pm came and we were dismissed, I looked the way I usually went home. I knew that wasn’t right, I turned the other way. Where was our new home? It is one thing to have Dad or Mom nearby, but another matter, to be all alone on the street and find home.

A feeling of lost-ness and despair came over me. I shrugged away thoughts of never finding home where my two younger brothers were and my Mom. Eventually a teacher, who knew the situation, put me on the right path to home. When I found the Water Tower Park, (Clinton, OK) I found our home street and our ‘brown house’. What a relief. What joy I felt as tears streamed down my face. I ran the last part of the way, sure of the welcoming arms. Home!

When I see little baby feet – in pictures and a newborn baby now, I wonder in awe. I praise God for His marvelous creation of feet. The feet that follow different paths in life on easy paths or rocky paths, shod with shoes or barefoot. Mother sent me to the store to buy a loaf of bread when there wasn’t time to bake. I clutched the dime in my hands and when I came to the short cut down the hill, I knew the sun-hot red dirt wouldn’t be easy to cross in my bare feet. That thought hastened my steps. Large red ants threatened to bite me, and I now recognized the large sized sticker plants. There were dangers all the way to the grocery store.

The feet of Abraham carried him as he travelled many miles according to God’s bidding. The feet of Moses as he led the Children of Israel in the Wilderness followed the leading of the cloud and the pillar of fire. The feet of refugees through the ages from natural disasters and war as the people fled to other.

From the time we begin to learn to walk, we follow in the footsteps of others. We depend on those close to us to not lose their way as we follow. Each parent, at one time or another, looks into the faces of their little ones and see the absolute trust and love in their eyes. How can we but pray for God’s wisdom and His strength to lead our children wisely.

Last night I took a sheaf of letters that Mother wrote during the 70’s. Each letter spoke of the path she has chosen in life. Her letters, typewritten, on paper that is now fragile, speak her heart. Several times her handwriting intrigued me…and in one letter she quoted this scripture and asked me to read it: But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness. James 3:17-18

Her writing reveals a heart of peace – one that found joy in life around her – from those who were toddlers in the faith and those who made great strides in God’s Kingdom. Her feet carried her about as walked the two miles to school, to piano lessons and to church. Her feet carried her to college to learn, and down the aisle for a 50 year long happy marriage.

How many miles did she walk to care for her children, and when they left, her steps did not cease. How many pans of rolls, kettles of soup, aya (custard) pies, cinnamon rolls, cookies, chicken casseroles came from her kitchen to warm the hearts of those who needed encouragement? How many hours did she spend prettying God’s Garden, so she would have flowers to give ‘shut-ins’? How many hours did she practice the piano to give music to her church family, in weddings or funerals?

She taught me how to walk and she taught me the paths of peace and servanthood by being considerate and submissive. And she left me a letter, saying read this, James 3:17-18. As steps began to falter and slow, we know that we are almost home. We know the One who has led us all the way - opens His arms to welcome us.

The pathway to wisdom is learning to walk hand in hand with Jesus our Lord. Straying from that pathway leads to destruction, chaos and fear.

Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding, Proverbs 3:13

Get wisdom, get understanding; do not forget my words or turn away from them. Proverbs 4:5

I instruct you in the way of wisdom and lead you along straight paths. Proverbs 5:1

Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. Colossians 3:16


Tuesday, April 05, 2011

The Search for Contentment

Contentment is a treasure - That hides deep in my heart

Contentment is a way sure - Caused by thankfulness to ensure.

Have you ever witnessed a God-Creation that takes your breath away? A glorious fall tree, a rainbow, a sunrise or sunset, or clouds of various colors? That is when I know the contentment that God IS, and I give thanks. The contentment I know comes from Him. I give thanks when we hear from our children and grandchildren. I give thanks for answered prayer for all prayers are answered. I give thanks for God whose thoughts are above my thoughts and I can trust Him.

Psalm 19:1 - The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

The words to the old hymn, “And He walks with me and He talks with me. And He tells me I am His own….” come to me and I know that He is the author of Contentment.

Contentment – is an elusive condition of the heart. It is like humility. If you think you have it, you don’t. It is not a goal to aspire to in itself. It is difficult to take a picture of contentment to remember a moment. But we have reminders in God’s creation and His Word and being dependent on Him.

Contentment is a response to thankfulness, to a smile, to a sunset or a sunrise God created. Contentment spreads through one’s being like the warmth of the sun on a cold day. Contentment is much deeper and lasts longer than fleeting happiness.

  • Contentment is hearing voices sing God’s praise in deep harmony.
  • Contentment is listening to a prayer of a child or a spouse or a parent.
  • Contentment is knowing you are loved.
  • Contentment is an oasis of love.
  • Contentment is watching bread rise and then bake with a tantalizing scent of home.
  • Contentment is a hug in a warm embrace or holding the hand of someone you love.
  • Contentment is hearing you have no cavities or when you recover from an illness.
  • Contentment is saying thank you, and know a ‘you’re welcome’ is just around the corner.
  • Contentment is having a true friend.
  • Contentment is looking into a baby’s trusting eyes.
  • Contentment is being chosen.
  • Contentment is hearing the words, “I love you.”
  • Contentment is reading God’s Word aloud.
  • Contentment is watching huge snowflakes cascade down from God’s storehouse.
  • Contentment is hearing a friend pray for you with tears in their eyes.
  • Contentment is writing or receiving a note of encouragement.
  • Contentment is knowing you have given your all.
  • Contentment is going to sleep in the arms of God, in ultra security.
  • Contentment is knowing you don’t have holes in your socks.
  • Contentment is knowing you KNOW Jesus!
  • Contentment is being thankful in all things.
  • Contentment is only available through dependence on Jesus.

Contentment has many different robes to wear – love, peace, joy, thankfulness, patience, self-control, goodness, kindness and gentleness. Each ‘robe’ lends itself to a state of contentment. Contentment knows no limitation of poverty or gold. It is the treasure of the heart.

The tattered robes that signify dis-contentment are worry, chaos, turmoil, anger, hate and a critical spirit. Busyness in life chokes out contentment. It is said that we must stop and smell the roses….I say, We must stop and give thanks to God and then we will know contentment. Trust begets contentment. Peace begets contentment. Contentment lies beneath the sacrifice of praise.

Job 36:11 If they obey and serve him, they will spend the rest of their days in prosperity and their years in contentment.

1 Timothy 6:6 But godliness with contentment is great gain.

Proverbs 19:23 The fear of the LORD leads to life; then one rests content, untouched by trouble.

Philippians 4:11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstance

Hebrews 13:5 Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

Isaiah 8:17 I will wait for the LORD, who is hiding his face from the descendants of Jacob. I will put my trust in him.

Isaiah 12:2 Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The LORD, the LORD himself, is my strength and my defense ; he has become my salvation.”

Isaiah 26:3 You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.