Over the course of the past two months, the phrases, “I’m too busy,” and “I know you are so busy,” have seemed to grate on my nerves like fingernails scraping down a chalkboard—you know that feeling—making me wince and cringe more than ever before.

We have many metaphors and parables, especially Jesus’ words to Martha as her sister sat eagerly at his feet, something she was “too busy” to do. But most of all we have Jesus’ warning about being too busy in Luke 8:14:

“The seeds that fell among the thorns represent those who hear the message, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the cares and the riches and the pleasures of this life and so they never grow into maturity.” (NLT)

We might think these words are directed toward new believers, surely not to those who have accepted God’s call of upon their lives and who have been walking with Jesus for many years, but indeed, many of us are not growing into maturity because we, too, are so pressed, crowded and preoccupied by the cares, riches and pleasures of this life. Perhaps we, more than any others, need to heed these words of caution from Jesus. There is no doubt that most of us are “too busy.”

In Centering Prayer in Daily Life and Ministry, Thomas Keating writes about a way of going through the day, giving our close attention to each task, “disregarding every other thought” which leads to “a deeper level of contemplation.” (p. 17) When we are going through the day allowing the message to be crowded out by the cares of our lives, or of other stresses pulling on us, we become those seeds in the thorns, destined never to grow into maturity.

Keating goes on to explain what contemplative service really is:

How we work—attention. Why we work—intention. This leads to the third and final quality of contemplative service: Who is doing the work?…Without intending anything special, without necessarily doing something special, people begin to find God in us as we humbly do what we are supposed to be doing. Complete submission to God allows the divine energy to radiate, and others seeing this have a sense of being in touch with God or in the midst of a community where divine love exists. This is what a Christian community is supposed to be, whether it is a family, parish, or organization. This third way of working or acting in daily life might be called “transmission.” (p. 18)

A life that is being lived on overload—overwhelmed by the daily “to-do’s”—cannot be a life lived in contemplative service where the how, why and transmission work together with the Holy Spirit as he grows us into spiritual maturity.

Questions for Reflection:

Am I currently living at a pace that others observing me would say I am “too busy?” Have I actually heard that said of me, either about me or to me directly?

Have I gotten really good at multi-tasking?

Is it hard to fall asleep at night because of the pressures of the day and the stress of tomorrow?

Conversely~

What or who is my first waking thought? The first words I utter upon awaking?

Is there time in my day to spend exclusively with God, where HIS agenda is paramount?

Am I able to allow God to use me in other’s lives spontaneously because I have extra time built in to each day’s schedule?

Memory Verse:

“So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy.”

1 Peter 1:14-15a

Devotional with a Tree

September 10, 2010

I headed out behind our lake house to the shore along which are quite a few pine trees of some sort to choose a tree upon which to meditate. I noticed one tree with some flat rocks right beside it where I could sit. I brought a towel to put on the ground, so I put it down on one of the rocks and sat down.

I asked God about the roots of this tree and felt as if it has one large, deep tap root going down to the source of water below ground with many other roots, like capillaries, fanning out around the tree, but the one tap root is the most critical. This is true of my life, as well. I have many smaller roots going into important aspects of life, but my tap root is the one that goes into the water of Life, my Lord Jesus Christ. That is the most critical!

What touched me most was seeing the holes where some of the branches are broken off. I imagined the heavy weight of snow in winter and the pressure from heavy winds stressing the bond between the limbs and the trunk until they gave way. It was interesting to see the fresher holes and compare them to the older holes which have healed over. It was very obvious to tell the difference. I prayed for God to both hold onto those limbs in my life which need to stay connected and to allow the branches which need to be stripped away to break off. I feel a quiet trust that the holes left by those branches which he removes will heal well.

As I rose from the towel covering the rock, I felt a sticky sensation between my workout pants and the towel. I will never forget this devotioanl due to the fact that sap dripped onto the towel between the time I laid it on the rock and when I sat down! My tree prepared that parting gift for me before the spiritual work was done. Isn’t that just like God’s preparation of the gift of salvation before I was even born?

My professor in my current course of my master’s degree pointed out the following: Sap is sometimes called the blood of a tree because it circulates inside a tree, carrying nutrients and water throughout the tree. The sap is basically a nutrient transport system inside the tree; a tree would die if sap didn’t circulate inside it. Tree sap not only benefits the tree, but it also benefits people. Tree sap is extracted and used to make maple syrup, latex, resins, hair removal and other products. Tree sap is sometimes added to natural soaps and bath care products due to its nutrient contents. The sap also helps to hold things together.

I’m glad that God reveals aspects of his nature through his creation. This devotional exercise was deeper than I thought possible!

In Luke 14 Jesus tells the parable of the dinner.  The man in the parable is giving a big dinner; he has the table loaded with good food and he sends his servant out to those to whom the invitation was sent to attend.  As we read, “…they all alike began to make excuses.  The first one said to him, “I have bought a piece of land and I need to go out and look at it; please consider me excused.’  Another one said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please consider me excused.’  Another one said, ‘I have married a wife, and for that reason I cannot come.’”

As the parable unfolds, the man, upon hearing this from the servant when he returns, becomes angry and gives all the seats at his table to others—the poor, the crippled, the blind, the lame, and others from the highways and along the hedges—so that his house may be filled.  He ends this parable with these chilling words:  “For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste of my dinner.”

We live in a nation where our highest government official declared a national day of prayer—a time for our people to gather and pray, each according to our faith.  So I ask you, where was the Church today?  What were the excuses that kept us away from our sanctuaries as God created space for our community of faith to lift up the needs and desperation of our country to God Most High?  How many crowded the temples of other faith traditions?  And crowd those temple for the prayer hours every single day?  I’m put to shame by their devotion when we can’t muster up half as much enthusiasm for the Creator God!

We love to quote 2 Chronicles 7:14:  “if…My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, [and] will forgive their sin and will heal their land.  Now My eyes will be open and My ears attentive to the prayer offered in this place…”  Where were we today?  What excuses did we give for not acting on the passage we love to quote?

It seems to me the Church does not take corporate prayer seriously; maybe it’s because we don’t understand intercessory prayer and how much it can change hearts and a nation, or maybe it’s because haven’t experienced the unleashing of the power of the Holy Spirit when people gather and pray together, I don’t know.   I’m wondering what kept us away from our sanctuary today.  What could have been more meaningful and more Kingdom-focused than coming together and praying for our nation, our state, our community, our congregation?  May God forgive us for our passivity.

We are all so familiar with the words of Psalm 23 that I wonder if a parallel there to the parable of Luke 14 escapes our notice:  “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.”  How many of us are making excuses about why we cannot come to His table?

There was a table prepared today—not by any man or woman, but by the Almighty God in the spiritual realm.  If you weren’t there, you missed a great feast!

Silence is Golden

February 27, 2010

Some time ago, I read a study about how difficult it is for nature shows to find more than one hour of uninterrupted natural sound.  Bruce Rutkoski, nicknamed Natureguy, writes the following at http://www.natureguystudio.com/bio.html:

Today, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find places that are free of human made noise, where good recordings can be made…I seek out remote locations to avoid noise from motorcycles, cars, trucks, trains, oil/gas rigs, and everything else no one wants to hear in a nature sound CD. However, air traffic recognizes no boundaries and requires considerable editing. It may require 2-3 years of accumulated recordings to produce a single album.

Our world is getting increasingly noisier and louder!  Noise has a serious impact on our bodies and minds.   Take a look at section on “Stress and Noise” at www.fi.edu/learn/brain/stress.html.  You’ll be astounded at the health impacts noise has on us.

With this reality in mind, let’s take a look at what King David wrote in Psalm 62:1—“For God alone my soul waits in silence.”  How difficult it is for us to echo these words—but how necessary it is for us to be able to do so!

I’m not sure why we surround ourselves with so much noise; perhaps it’s simply out of habit…when we walk into a silent room, it may be our custom to turn on the radio or the television or to make a phone call.  Or perhaps it’s a way to hide from silence, in which we might find ourselves faced with uncomfortable thoughts or even memories.  It might be that there are many reasons why we surround ourselves with noise of some type.

But how important is it to make space in our days to sit in silence!  It is no secret that noise distracts us.  In the spiritual formation workbook, Connecting with God, the authors write, “God uses silence to prepare us for ministry, to speak to us.  Yet most of us set aside embarrassingly little time to stop talking about it and actually be quiet with God…being so trapped in the everyday responsibilities of life that we don’t feel like we can ‘waste’ time being silent before God can be just as desperate a situation.  Without periods of silence, our souls shrivel up and die…we come face-to-face with spiritual atrophy when our lives are filled with constant noise from which there is no respite.”

How about you?  Does this resonate with you?  If you have to admit, embarrassingly so, that you set aside little or no time to be quiet with God, how do you plan to address this?

At first, practicing solitude or silence before God can feel very awkward and even uncomfortable.  There can be so much noise in our own minds that even when there isn’t any outside noise, we are still not silent!

Have you had that experience?  I have!  If this is your experience, I encourage you to keep reaching for silence until your mind quiets and you can experience solitude, true solitude.  This is not so that you can “empty your mind,” but so that God can inhabit your thoughts while all that strives to crowd Him out is pushed aside.  Colossians 3:2 encourages us to “set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on the earth.”   The more you set the intention to make time in your day to do this, the easier it will be to come to that point of silence and the sooner in your practice you will experience that silence.  I’d love to hear your experiences here as you seek God in solitude…how is it going and how are you experiencing God in your practice?

Accountability is Good

November 28, 2009

I’m realizing that I like being held accountable.   Currently I am in two online accountability groups:  one for my daily walk with God and one for my fitness and nutrition.  Now, in both of these areas, I feel like I know what to do. But unless I am sharing with others whether or not I did what I know to do, I find that I am not doing it as well as I could be.

[Okay, I realize that last sentence sounded a bit like Paul’s “the good I want to do, I don’t do and the evil I don’t want to do is what I do (my paraphrase).”]

What is it about accountability that makes such a difference?  I wonder if it’s the competitive side of me–I hope not.  Maybe it’s the truth that I don’t want to walk alone in my life.   I want someone else to be involved in my life, whether I’m going good or not, especially in these two areas.

The first accountability group is the Nine O’Clock Club.  It is a weekly blog where the members of the club post how many days in the past week we spent a minimum of 1/2 hour in communion with God in some way–the goal is an hour!  It’s a “walled garden,” so we can be open and honest with each other and our individual struggles and successes in the pursuit of the Holy God.  (Let me know if you want to join with us.)

The other one is an email group.  We are each tracking our caloric intake and exercise as well as our weekly weigh-ins.  Not all of us are seeking to lose weight, but whatever the goal is for each person, we are supporting one another.  It is amazing how fast I can lose a pound (or more) a week when I am being intentional about what I am eating and how much exercise I am doing.   I am finding that the choices I make are changing, based on how many calories I want to allot for each meal/snack.  I’m also shocked at just how many calories are in two tablespoons of maple syrup!!!

So, long story short, accountability is good!  Scripture supports this throughout the old and new testaments.  It might be fun to ask you to respond with what scriptures you can find that talk about this aspect of our lives.  Want to give that a go?

Respond to this post with the verse that comes to mind regarding this topic.

There Are No Strangers

August 20, 2009

My kids have gotten so used to me having conversations with random strangers that they just roll their eyes and look at each other as if to say, “here she goes again!” when it happens.   I don’t know why people feel drawn to strike up conversations with me (or then again, maybe I do!), but at any rate, it seems like I must have “that kind of face” or maybe I look like a big sister or little sister or something…or maybe it’s because I go everywhere with a big smile on my face!

Today, though, I can tell you it was because of the shirt I had on.  Yes, you heard me right, because of the shirt I had on.  My husband just bought me the coolest new top, a black tee shirt top with fleur de lis swirls on it and a large cross outlined in blue rhinestones on the left side of the tee.  It really is neat!

As I walked down the baking goods aisle of the local Vons store, an older woman walked toward me.  She commented as we drew nearer to each other, “great shirt!  Did you get it in town?”  I proceeded to tell her yes and tried to describe where the shop was that I had gotten it.  When she asked me if it was a Christian store, I replied that it wasn’t, “but I’m sure she has some Christian blood in there somewhere.”  “Don’t we hope we all do?” was her response as we parted ways to my “amen!”

As I rounded the end cap of that aisle, she had rushed around from the next aisle to meet me there.  “I was just  baptized yesterday in the Cedar Lake here!  Calvary Chapel…and I’m 60 years old!” she beamed at me.   My congratulations to her was from one sister in Christ to another, no strangers here!

You see, the way I look at it, we all have the potential of spending eternity with one another–and if God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, then I love those he loves.   See why I walk around with that smile on my face?  I’m so glad to have met, if even for just a moment, a sister in the Lord today; I’m looking forward to spending a lot more time with her someday.

My mama used to say of me when I was a toddler, “Elisabeth never met a stranger!”   May that still be said of me today, I pray in Jesus name!

Our Security

June 25, 2009

I’m still in a state of disbelief as I post this entry.  Our soon-to-be eighteen-year-old daughter came home later than normal (with permission) Sunday night.  In her hurry to get in before the appointed time to be home, she left her house key in the lock outside.  When we found it in there the next morning, my husband and I looked each other and felt relieved that, even though the key was in the door, the alarm system had been armed.  Not a good thing, but not a huge big deal either.

Now I am finding out that the installation of our new phone system actually terminated the signal for the security system.  We thought we were secure, when in fact we were completely vulnerable that night.  Yikes!

You can bet that I’m journaling a lot today about my gratitude that our security ultimately is not even with that alarm system, but with the Lord God Himself.  He is our protector, our shield, our fortress.  How ironic that when I realized that the security system was offline, I suddenly felt panicked and scared for a split second.  Then I remembered Who I serve and how amazing His protection is.

Now, I don’t plan to test the Lord and repeat that incident.  I do believe God wants us to do our part in keeping our families safe.  I look back on my life and see many occasions when I know that, thankfully, God made up for my lapse of alertness or diligence.  That’s the kind of God we serve.

Although I do rely on our security system in the physical, natural realm, ultimately, God is our security and He is our great protector.  I will not be afraid!

Mistaken Identity

April 17, 2009

I have written before about a snorkeling “incident” we had in Hawaii with my husband and our two youngest kids.  They were quite young and very excited to be out in the ocean with all the brightly colored and wonderful fish.  Suddenly my husband called out to me, “Beth, bring Trey over here to see the barracuda!”  Now, I know he said barracuda, but in my mind, I heard piranha.  I’m thinking, “what is he, nuts?!  Taking our kids over near a bunch of piranha??”  I was so freaked out–I didn’t even have the sense to compute that we weren’t in the Amazon River–we were in a quiet bay in Hawaii. 

Pretty sure there are no piranha there.

But I had a bad case of mistaken identity–or rather, I had given the poor barracuda a case of mistaken identity.

This memory surfaced afresh for me last night when I prepared a nice seafood dish (no, it wasn’t barracuda), dusting it with a fine layer of paprika just to give it a pretty color and nice presentation.  When my middle daughter took a bite, she yelped.  “Ouch!  It’s spicy!”  (This is the daughter who can’t handle anything with any kick to it.)

“Oh my goodness, Cassandra,” came my impatient response.  “It’s just paprika!!  That’s not hot enough for you to even taste!”  But she continued to insist that it was hot.  Now Ivan had doused his with Tabasco, so he wasn’t going to be an accurate gauge for whether it was hot or not and I didn’t take any of the seafood, so I couldn’t either.  She actually got up, rinsed it off under the sink and then continued to eat.

Suddenly, as I sat there kind of thinking things through, I realized that I might have once again been the one who suffered from mistaken identity.   Did I grab the Cayenne pepper, thinking the bright red powdered spice was actually the Paprika?  Surely not…I had put the Cayenne pepper away, hadn’t I?  Well, with these thoughts going through my head, I got up from the table to just double check.

You know it…I had put the paprika away and had indeed sprinkled the seafood with Cayenne pepper.  No wonder she was yelping and squawking.  Poor little honey!

It reminds me of how many times we can lose sight of our own identity in Christ…accepting the whispered lies of the one who wants us to forget who we really are:  “You’re a loser…you won’t ever lose that weight…you can’t do anything right, no matter how hard you try…you are suffering from a bad case of wishful thinking…” and we accept that we are defeated before we even try.

Listening to the Voice of Truth isn’t that hard, if you just learn how.  There are a few ways that come to my mind; if you think of some other ways, please comment at the end of this note for those who will read after you.  One important way is to read in Scripture…who does God say you are? 

I am God’s child.

I am a friend of God.

I am a member of Christ’s Body.

I am a citizen of heaven.

I am born of God.

There is a list of these “I am” statements at the Freedom in Christ website:  http://www.ficm.org/whoiam.htm with Scripture reference for any of you who, like me, might suffer from mistaken identity from time to time.

Never forget that you are you are one of the ones for whom God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, so that you might have everlasting life!  Amen!

Kite Children

March 5, 2009

As our children become older, they remind me more and more of kites!  Yes, kites…  Let me explain:

Do you remember flying kites in your youth (or if you’re lucky to have remained youthful, maybe you still fly kites to this day)?  When the wind was steady and constant, you could let the kite out farther and farther, until you could barely see your kite, but you still felt its tug on the string.

When the wind was gusty, you had to keep the line a little (or a lot) shorter.  The kite would dip and soar with the wind as it did a beautiful dance in the air.  The pull on the string would increase and then lighten as the kite responded to the wind. 

What about the really turbulent winds?  You would have to either back up slowly or even run backward in short bursts of speed to keep the string taut and keep the kite aloft.  At times the kite would dance and gyrate, seemingly out of control, yet as long as you held the line tightly and maintained contact with the kite, keeping it out of trees and power lines, you were good.

And then there were the moments when your kite, under the influence of a downdraft, would suddenly turn its nose earthward and, giving in to the pull of gravity, literally dive to the ground!  Nothing you could do would stop it from smashing into the earth it had been trying desperately to escape just moments before.  Rushing forward, you would check it closely and anxiously to see if it was damaged in any way. 

We watch our children stretch up higher and higer toward independence and adulthood, pulling at the string in our hands and we hold on, knowing on the one hand that we can’t keep them on too short a line, but knowing on the other hand what the battering winds of society, peer pressure and the pull of the world can do to them.  So when all is calm and steady, we let them climb, all the while holding the string firmly in our hands.  That string connecting us reminds me of the Holy Spirit and the way He lets us know when the winds are getting stronger, more turbulent and we need to reel in or back up a little to bring the line taut and keep this most precious kite aloft.

Sometimes though, our kite-children turn nose down and head for the earth, giving in to society’s gravitational pull, and dive downward.  At those times, remember, you are holding the string in your hands.  You are not flying this kite all alone!  We rush forward in those times, check for damage and then help our kite-child soar again in a divine partnership with God.

Our children aren’t meant to stay in our hands forever.  Eventually the string will be pulled out of our hands and they will begin to fly under their own power.  Yes, we are aware of potential power lines and trees that might snag them, but we take comfort in the sure knowledge that the string is still connected to the kite and held by the hand of the One who loves them far more than we can ever love them.

It is helpful as we watch our kite-children grow up, making choices and decisions we are not comfortable with or even downright opposed to, that our God is the One who, like the widow who swept her house for that lost coin (Luke 15:8), goes to the ends of the earth to gather His sheep to Himself.  He leaves the 99 and searches for the one whom He loves dearly (Luke 15:4). 

When watching our children make choices and decisions that trouble us or even tempt us to be frightened for them and for the consequences, remembering Paul’s words, as he speaks of believers and unbelievers united in marriage, in 1 Corinthians 7:14 brings such comfort:  “for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy.”  Holy!  As in sanctified, consecrated, set apart for God’s purposes!!  Even when turning nose downward and heading for the ground?  Even then!

I questioned God in prayer asking if Romans 8:28 was a promise that applied to my wayward child:  “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”  As I asked that question, I felt prompted to recall the comforting words of 1 Corinthians 7.  They are called, because they have been set apart, holy through a believing parent or parents.  They have been taught to love God and, praise Him, He loves them with a love that will never sever the string by which they are held to his side, pressed there tightly under His wing.

So believing that all things—the dips and whirls, the downward swoops and the crashes—are caused by God to work together for good is our act of faith.  It is our choice as parents of these wonderful, beautiful, amazing kite-children.  Ahhh, it so much better to trust and hope and wait for God as He flies these precious kites, urging them ever more toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14).

Under His Wings

January 28, 2009

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers!  How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me,” Jesus plaintively grieves over Jerusalem in Matthew 23:37 just prior to going to the cross.  This passage of Scripture has always haunted me through the years as I have pondered the “why” of seeing people all around me refuse the call of Jesus on their lives in various ways…even as I have not let Him protect me under His wings in various ways myself.

My grandfather had chickens on his Nebraska dairy farm.  It was amazing to watch the hens “round up” their chicks and hold their wings over them, hiding them from the ever-watchful eyes of the circling birds of prey above.  As I have meditated on this passage, I have remembered these natural protective instincts of these hens.  It comes to me that as the hen covers the young with her wings, the chicks are pressed against her body, sheltered by the wings, but also supported and warmed by the mother’s body.

What does this metaphor mean for us on a deeper level?  Can you see how Jesus protects us under His wings by pressing us into His body, the Church?  We were never meant to go through life on our own, with a stiff upper lip, isolating ourselves when things get tough at home, on the job, or at school.  We have the body of Christ to lean against, gathering stability, warmth and support. 

Scripture tells us that we are to bear one another’s burdens, thereby fulfilling the Law of Christ (Galatians 6:2).  We can’t share each other’s burdens if we have no idea what we are each carrying individually.   I encourage you to find a group of believers and allow the Lord Jesus to shelter you under His wings, pressing you up against HIS body, the Church.  Maybe you’re already in a church, but not really connected with anyone there…let Jesus press you against His body by opening up your life to others.  You will begin to experience a new dimension to being “protected beneath His wings.”