Hearts and Flowers

Dear Reader,

Thank you for your patience during the recent lull in my blogging. To explain in the fewest possible words,

I met the man of my dreams and fell in love.

There is nothing like meeting your soul-mate at long last to hijack all your attention and derail all your work plans.

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You are not forgotten readers. I intend to get back on track and begin to post regularly once more.

As we roll into February and everyone else talks roses and chocolates I will attempt to temper all my romantic hopes and thoughts with words of rest and reassurance found in Christ.

That is my plan, my mind may be distracted by thoughts of my Beloved and wedding plans, but I will attempt to share words of inspiration and reflection that will be meaningful for those in all relationship statuses.IMG_2739

I will begin by reflecting on the nature of wisdom.

I wrote before about defining success. Wisdom is often viewed as the quality of having good judgement. In James chapter three wisdom is described as being of two kinds. He refers to one kind of “wisdom” as being, earthly, unspiritual and devilish. This is said to come from envy and selfish ambition. He said that this type of wisdom leads to every kind of wickedness.

James is right in pointing out to us that why we are looking for wisdom will often affect what type of wisdom we acquire.

If we merely want to prove a point we look only for the facts that substantiate our opinion. We may not even consider or notice factors that work against our preconceived notions. Our ambitions can easily blind us.

The other type of wisdom that James mentions is A Gentle Wisdom described in James 3:17,

“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.”

In my opinion this is the wisdom I value the most. I don’t want to be blinded by an agenda. I do not appreciate ideas that are driven by someone’s ulterior motives.

The quest to find Gentle Wisdom is long and arduous.

The journey has a variety of challenges and the landscape changes and we are refashioned by the adventure. This is the pilgrimage of life. If we are not shaped and refined by the process we are not really engaged in the journey.

When we encounter life fully and skirmish with the truth we learn more of Gentle Wisdom.

In some respects it is only possible to see this wisdom after we are wounded and battle-hardened by the struggle of life. Wisdom is the reward of those who grapple with Truth and Life. Those looking for the easy way inevitably end up seduced by the worldly wisdom that leads to despair. For those who undertake the campaign for Truth the victory is not the cessation of all difficulty, but the blessing of Gentle Wisdom.

Endeavor to hold fast to the Truth and Gentle Wisdom will be the crown that is placed upon the head of the righteous.

If we fight for a crown of our own making we will drive ourselves to defeat. Abide in Christ-the Truth and victory is assured.

Grace and Blessings on you all in 2016!
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Do You Practice?

Brushes are versatile and solve many of our needs. We can brush our hair, clothes, clean electronics, or paint with a brush.

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Cleaning and painting are important activities. Despite the functionality, I wonder how many people today actually have brushes? I have noticed in stores a tendency to see paint rollers over brushes. Clothing brushes are rare to see today. We seem more likely to take garments to dry cleaners and shoes to the shoe-shine. Hair brushes are often made with plastic bristles so that they can be used on wet hair.

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My favorite brushes are used for painting, but not walls. I confess that not being an experienced wall painter I used a paint roller. Painting watercolors has made me aware of brushes in a way that I never was before. The variety is astounding. Varying the construction slightly creates an inviting array of results.

Effective use of all brushes requires practice.

In our modern culture we do not often allow ourselves the time to master the use of brushes. Practice is becoming something of a lost art. In most areas we expect to become functional almost immediately.

  • How much time do we spend practicing?
  • Do you practice? If so, what do you practice? Is it a sport or a musical instrument?
  • Or did you give up practice time when you left school?

The demand to be instantly competent has crept into our culture with stealth. It can be difficult to find a time when church choirs can practice. People want choirs. They even want to be in choirs, but they have no time to practice.

  • Why has practice become less important than actual performance?
  • Do you think God only hears you during worship?
  • Or is it that we unconsciously feel like practice is unimportant since the congregation will no long hear?
  • Have we been acclimated to value only performance and not practice?

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In some ways I wonder if this has even crept into our attitudes toward children?

  • Have you not heard of parents who search high and low for something their child has natural talent for?

If the child believes he/she must be “great” at an activity in order to participate they will never learn the value of hard work, or the sense of accomplishment when they finally master a skill that challenged them.

Where I worry most about this is in the area of our faith.

  • Who has mastered faith?

No one! We practice our faith. If we feel that we are really weak in one area, that is the place where we need to practice most. When we remove the time to practice and believe that we need only perform, how will any of us retain our integrity and be able to worship?

  • Why would worship be a performance?
  • Who are we trying to impress?

We are created to worship simply because we are made to stop and tell God how wonderful He is. It is not about what we get out of it. It exists to give God glory.

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I think that we leave the doing of faith, like the singing and teaching in church, to the professionals out of the same place that causes us to take the suit to the cleaners rather than brush it ourselves. We don’t have skills to brush mud off wool. We aren’t skilled musicians. We are not trained theologians. Someone might ask us a question that we cannot answer about the Bible.

We need to relearn the art of practice in our culture. There are plenty of skills that we can learn if we practice. It is good for us to learn how to hold a paintbrush even if we are not planning on becoming professional painters. Most of all we need to let the children around us learn that we do not need to perform every minute. There is time to learn all our lives. We can try, and fail and try again. We can worship God as imperfect creatures. Making time to practice is a productive use of time.

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Schedule some time this week to practice something. Perhaps some use of a brush that you have never mastered would be your choice. This might be the time you clean out your electric shaver, or paint a door, a picture, or brush your cat.

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  • What about one-hundred strokes with your Grandmother’s beautiful hairbrush that you inherited and never used?

The biggest challenge of all is not to tell anyone what you practiced. Let it be an offering between you and God. Tell Him that you will try to be more patient in practicing your faith. What is seen is temporal what is not seen is eternal. We need to allow ourselves time for the eternal.

Define Success

imageI am thinking that how we define failure and success tells more about our faith and character than we like to admit. It is relatively easy to say that we are followers of Jesus when times are stable, but it is another thing altogether when it will cost us significantly to behave in a meek way. How do we define success? Is it a nice house, a good job and others treating us with respect?

As Christians we are called to view success as following our Servant-King and responding with gentleness even when life-changing issues are on the line. Failure would be recounting who did and said what, and when. Assessing the situation from a worldly, get-ahead viewpoint would be failure. It should not about us or our feelings. It is all about glorifying God. Contributing to dissension and conflict would be putting ourselves first.

If our job as the Church is to demonstrate Christ’s teachings, then we are required to turn the other cheek. Human desires include slamming the door on our way out to shake things up a bit. That is not what our Savior taught.

A friend once told me they worried about me being such a “gentle person.” They feared that others would take advantage of me. After the conversation I pondered their comments and realized that by the Christian definition  for success, they had paid me a very great compliment.

It is surprising what incidents linger in our long-term memory. When I was interviewed for my job in the Church I was asked one question that startled me. I had been asking and answering questions in the appropriate college graduate manner when I was asked how I saw myself leading. I paused because I felt an answer jump up in my heart that did not seem an appropriate response. I felt the answer driven to my mouth by a force too great to resist. It was a Church so I replied honestly with the truth I couldn’t contain. “With great love, I hope.” I never forgot that part of the interview and I have unceasingly endeavored to live up to the style of leadership I believe in.

I have loved the Lord in the good times and the hard places. To love is to put the beloved ‘s best interest ahead of our own wishes. I will always have great love for my congregation. I have done all in my power to serve and please them all. I have fervently sought to share the love of the Lord and His Word.

This is a season where my health has become an insurmountable problem. My chronic health problems have been exacerbated by trying to remain upright for too many hours a day. My body withstood over a month of the new schedule, but I became ever weaker with mounting tachycardia and fainting. In the end I had a second full outbreak of chickenpox, which is not healing as it should. I am being forced into a period of rest.

To the core of my heart I am grieved that we have come to the end. As an optimist, I cannot help but add that according to 1 Corinthians 13:8, “Love never ends.”

How do you define success? Please tell us about a time of transition that you have experienced. Share with us what you think are some of the hallmarks of a life well-lived.

How Do You Define Success?

Merriam-Webster defines success this way,”favorable or desired outcome; also : the attainment of wealth, favor, or eminence.” I have been defining success as seeing my will accomplished. I hate to admit it, but that is what I have unconsciously done.

I thought that I had learned to surrender my life to God. The truth is I had released control of now to God, but I had hung on to expectations for the future. I called it hope for the future, but it was really my expectations to see my dreams fulfilled, my expectation that God would give me what I wanted someday, since He wasn’t giving me what I wanted right now.

I didn’t think I was making deals with God, but the effect of what I was saying to Him was, “You can do what you want with my life now as long as I end up getting what I want in the end.”

Lately I have found myself feeling a great weight upon my life. I couldn’t define the burden for quite a while. I am recognizing that the weight is the burden of disappointment that God did not give me the life I wanted. Naming the feeling has lifted some of the heaviness, but I know that I need to lay this boulder down at the foot of the cross.

I have been working, striving, carrying the future on my shoulders. I am Atlas again. Every time I think I have freed myself from the habit of transporting burdens that do not belong to me I discover I am unknowing hauling around another.

I have been defining the future and success. The future belongs to God and real success is following Jesus. Real success can’t be getting what I want. I am only human, finite and limited. I want to see God’s will accomplished. That is what we are all praying in the Lord’s Prayer when we say, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. ”

The intellectual side of me has long known this but alas, the “practical” side of me has been trying to “manage” things that are too big for any human. I have been trying to usurp God’s role when I demand that He gave me what I want. Every year I know more than I knew the year before. Why would I demand my own way when I will learn and refine my desires over time?

Real success isn’t getting the outcome I want. Success is learning to desire God’s outcome and the faith to trust that it is better than anything I could possibly dream up myself.

How have you been defining success?
Are you learning to value God’s plan more than your own?
How has He surprised you by leading you to places that surpass any you would have thought of on your own?