Thursday, July 28, 2011

Adding the Bloom of God's Grace

Barb Harwood photo

This morning I conducted a little inventory of the sin God has removed from my life. I thought of the times when, even though I asked God to help me stop sinning in a certain way, and really wanted to stop, I also found I was still attracted to that sin; it had become habit, or a comfort/escape mechanism, or a way to avoid having to learn to deal with people and issues constructively.

But I found that, as I continued in prayer, whether God removed the sin quickly or over a period of time, at some point, when I was tempted to sin in that way again, I couldn’t. I found no attraction in it, and the thought of sinning in that way repelled me. Eventually even the temptation itself, in those areas, stopped. I praise God for His Holy Spirit and victory over sin!

As I sat outside this morning, looking out on my mini-meadow of a perennial garden and thinking about all the ways God has purified me, it struck me that I tend to spend a lot of time asking God to remove sin from my life, and not nearly enough time asking Him to grow Grace. If He takes away sin, He can also add Grace. Just as the majority of perennials in my garden are currently in full bloom, I, too, can have the majority of me be God’s Grace in bloom as well.

As sin goes away, the void can be filled with Grace. Certainly it is Holy in itself to have sin removed. But I don’t think I’ve sought or cultivated the Grace of our Lord Jesus. I think I’m so relieved to have a sin removed that I immediately begin praying about the next sin! I guess what I’m saying is, along with the requests to purify us from our transgressions, we can ask that the many Holy Graces of God grow in us. Because as great as sinless living is, and a wonderful testimony, even greater is sinless living that also bears the fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control; Galatians 5:22-23). God overcoming sin in us is only half of our witness; His abundant Grace growing out of that is the other.

My garden began as a clean, weed-free, freshly turned plot of earth. But instead of leaving it as a nice tidy piece of rich soil, I planted lilies and daisies, Black-eyed Susan’s and Yarrow, Butterfly Bush and Prairie Milkweed. In the same way, God’s Grace planted and lived out in us is the bloom on the cleansed and purified heart.

“Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place. Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” Psalm 51:6-12

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’” 2 Corinthians 12:9

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:4-9

Friday, July 15, 2011

Getting Back on the Horse

One month into being an “empty-nester” and I’m trying to, as they say, “Get back on the horse.” Having life as an at-home mom for the last 20 years end literally overnight has caused a bit of a blip on the radar screen. Okay, to be honest, it feels more like a complete blackout!

Life is like that, isn’t it? Whether it’s a life change in circumstances, facing the death of a loved one, losing a job, moving to a new city, starting college far from home, or losing everything in a disaster, life is guaranteed to serve up overwhelming circumstances. And when we’re standing in the shadow, the darkness is all we see. The key is to eventually let God lead us out from the shadow to where His light is still shining in the source and sustainer of light, Jesus Christ.

Jesus has been showing me His light in subtle and slightly admonishing ways this past week. The first instance was in hearing my dental hygienist talk about her 90-year old mother who lives in an assisted living facility. Her mother is almost blind, but her mind is sharp. I asked if her mother is still positive about life. My hygienist answered with an enthusiastic, “Yes! She never complains!” And although the 90-year-old mother said it would be nice to have her vision again, her attitude was that of, “If that’s the only thing wrong, I don’t have much to complain about.”

Then, Tuesday night, as my husband and I stood in our backyard watching a full pearlescent rainbow, our 84-year old neighbor came out and joined us. She lost her husband--her best friend--in March. As we chatted, she mentioned that she and her sister were going up north to go hiking and to climb some rocks where they knew there was a great view of the valley below. Then they were headed to her cabin for the night. My neighbor’s exact words were, “We’re going to have a ball!” In my thoughts, I knew exactly what my neighbor was doing. She had decided beforehand that she and her sister “were going to have a ball.”

The third way God spoke to me this week came in the form of a July 9 interview with Dick Cheney in The Wall Street Journal. Commenting on the 5 heart attacks he’s survived since age 37, Cheney said,

“You could, and some people do, become so fixated on the disease that they, well, they don't get to get on with their lives. You've got to get on with your life."

Well said. We can go so completely inward in our sorrow, grief, melancholy, memories, aches, pains, recovery, frustrations, etc. that we don’t ever come out. Even Jesus wept. But He was also obedient to His Father’s will, and in obedience got on with living life on this earth in the unlimited Grace of the Father.

Cheney also provided a humble reminder of the brevity of time on earth when he said,

"No matter what kind of problem I've run into, there's always been a solution for it. Now, obviously, there will be a point where there aren't any more solutions, and I'll have used up my time. We all do."

Good reminder! Time here is not time in heaven. We’ll have eternity up there, but not here. Time here is a gift God gives to use for His glory and furthering of His kingdom down here. Ecclesiastes 3:1 assures us there is a time for everything. Not just one thing, like pain, but everything, like healing and joy and new experiences. In short, moving on. If we stay stuck in the one painful thing, Satan gets a foothold and God can’t use us, or our experience, in the next thing here on earth.

Funny, isn’t it, how God ministered to me this week through the former vice president, the mother of my dental hygienist (a woman I’ve never even met) and my elderly but very robust next-door neighbor. Instead of feeling sorry for myself over my kids being gone, I’m inspired to ask God to grant me a get-on-with-life attitude and a grateful heart too.

“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:12

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Hold My Heart

"In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will." Romans 8:26-27

"This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us--whatever we ask--we know that we have what we asked of him." 1 John 5:14-15

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Christians in Action in New Mexico

Smoke from a fire rises in the distance miles from Santa Fe, New Mexico, Friday, July 1, 2011.
Photo Barb Harwood

One of the thoughtless comments I try to call people on when they say it is, "The Church isn't doing anything." I like to ask people how they know, out of all the churches in this world, that none of those churches are "doing anything." You would have to go into each and every church and get to know each and every person to find out how they are serving. Many people in the congregation may not be involved with a program inside their church. But as Christians, they may serve in other organizations like the Red Cross or Salvation Army. Many are hospice volunteers, care for aging parents or a disabled relative, or visit the incarcerated. Many are at-home moms who have chosen to home-school their children. Every parent raising a child in the Christian faith is "doing something;" in fact, I believe the Biblical training up of our children is our first call when it comes to serving God.

So to help counter this negative attitude toward The Church that I believe comes from a pride of feeling superior to The Church, I will occasionally highlight some of the things Christians and "The Church" are doing in the world. Will it ever be enough? Of course there's always more to be done, and more people are always welcome to become involved. But consider for a moment: If all the Christians across the globe stopped their outreach and ministries, who would fill the void?

Maybe the people who are constantly harping that "The Church isn't doing anything" could find something to do and do it, and stop worrying about what everybody else is, or isn't, doing.

Read here how The Church is helping the firefighters and evacuees of communities affected by the fires in New Mexico:

"Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality." Romans 12:9-13