Saturday, April 12, 2014

Unbelievably Fragile... Unerringly Strong...

        Each spring I am reminded of the faithfulness of God.
        It's not the beauty of the  flowers budding out or the trees sprouting leaves all over the place or even the return of mild temps accompanied by sunny days.   All those are wonderful things but, for me, the sudden appearance of a hummingbird at our feeder is the thing that never fails to remind me of the faithfulness of my God.
       That little smidgen of a bird, beautiful and feisty (yes, they have a bit of an attitude!), pops up just like
magic at the same time every year and when it does, my heart rejoices.  And marvels.  At how a little no-nothing poof of feathers with a super long beak can be so fascinating.  And how such a tiny creature can travel thousands of miles, across the Gulf of Mexico (or so I've been told), on those little tiny wings and still, unerringly, hone in on our little feeder in a nondescript town in a pretty nondescript state.  (I mean, sometimes I wonder, "Hey, bird!  What's wrong with you? Why don't you go to California or Florida??? Or even Galveston? Or Gulf Shores??   But Mabelvale??!!!
      Yet every year we have one or two birds at our feeder, right on time, faithfully.
      William Blake wrote a poem with these lines, "Little Lamb, who made thee?"
       When I see "our" hummingbird return each year, my heart rejoices because I know Who made that little bird and all his kith and kin.  That little bird isn't faithful per se; he's programmed.  He doesn't know I watch him and feed him and if he did, he probably wouldn't care.  (In fact, I don't even think he likes me...)   He certainly doesn't travel all this way just to bring joy to me.  He travels because instinct tells him when to travel.  And where to travel.  And that instinct comes from the One who created him.
        I don't know about you, but I need a faithful God.  I can't invent such a being or even imagine such a being but throughout my life, I have needed such a one and He has been there for me.  This is not to say that there haven't been times when I felt I was alone, abandoned, forsaken.  But during those relatively brief spells in my lifetime, there came a moment when things changed.  Like turning a dark corner and suddenly finding the exact thing that I needed to bring me out of my temporary despair.  Like someone knew where I was emotionally and had actually placed just the right message in front of my eyes.  Or provided just the right   shoulder to cry on.  Or even had given just the right amount of money out of nowhere.. Or ... yes, like someone had even gone to the trouble to direct a little tiny, ornery poof of feathers straight to  my feeder on a beautiful cloudless day in April.  Have you had an experience like that?  Where you feel even God has abandoned you and then suddenly you turn a corner and you stumble across the very thing that you need and it hits you, "God knew I needed that!! Only He could have done that for me!!"

        A week or so ago I started a new lady's Bible study, Stronger, by Angela Thomas.   This one speaks to my heart like few studies ever have.  This morning I only got through the first two pages of today's study and then, well, I just  got stuck there. I just kept reading and re-reading, highlighting, and underlining, thinking and praying and... smiling.   Like the hummingbird sipping at my feeder, I just kept drinking in the words on those two pages. She talks honestly about all the major struggles that we can face in life. But she dwells on the strength that God can provide.  Today's lesson was on the struggle called "loneliness".
       Loneliness.  We all have to deal with it.   No matter who we are, where we live, how many people walk with us - there will be times when we walk alone.  Even in a crowd, it is truly possible to feel alone.  Grief can do that to you. Disappointment can do that to you. Pain can do that to you. Heavy burdens can do that to you. There are a ton of things that can hedge a person in and make them feel all alone.
       And yet...  there is this - a place to camp as well as a stake to peg our tent to in times of storms:  Hebrews 13:5.  I will never leave you nor forsake you.
       Mrs. Thomas writes about this verse and then quotes from the Greek scholar Kenneth Wuest where he stated,    "The promise and guarantee in Hebrews 13:5 was spoken by God Himself."   
       By God Himself....
       The same God who made the hummingbird  also spoke those words.  For you. For me.
       Wuest goes on to say that the Greek word for "forsake" actually is a combination of three Greek words. From one word, kata, you get  the idea of rejection or helplessness.  The second word, leipo,  means "to leave".   But the third word, eg, is the one that interested me the most. It means someone who is feeling helpless or defeated " the midst of hostile circumstances."  What could be worse than feeling rejected and helpless while surrounded by hostility?    Sometimes in the South we express this ultimate type of abandonment by saying, "The whole world has turned against me!" (Or "agin" me, as my grandma used to say :).
       But God doesn't!  Wuest says the original Greek for this one tiny (fragile as a hummingbird's wing??) Bible verse actually reads like this:   "I will not, I will not, I will not let thee down, leave thee in the lurch, leave thee destitute, leave thee in straits and helpless, abandon thee.'"   (The emphasis is mine).
       As I read these words this morning,I  thought about Hebrews 13:5 and then watched the hummingbird at our window.   And it came to me quite powerfully that the God who caused that bird  to beat his  little wings a thousand times over, across land and sea,  just to get back to one feeder out of thousands - that this  same God is the One who has promised He will not abandon us, even in our most desolate times.
      And if He can cause a smidgen of a bird to travel thousands of miles in order to  land on a little speck of a  feeder in Mabelvale, Arkansas, then He Himself can certainly,  unerringly hone in on our fragile hearts just when we need Him the most.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Yes, I Can Get Excited about That...

     Metamorphoo.   [Meh tah mahr FAH oh]  Meaning to "transform".
     As I get older, my mind wanders.  Like as  in I sometimes need a mental leash and/or a keeper.  This is especially true when I'm tired and today I was tired.  At some point during Sunday school or worship, I saw an inset in my Holman study Bible.  Honestly, I don't even know how I got on that page in my Bible because it was in Matthew and the Sunday school lesson was in Proverbs while the sermon was in Ephesians 4.  As I've indicated, my mind can sometimes wander far afield.
      The word "metamorphoo" was used in Matthew 17:2, a verse that describes Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration.  The verse says that Jesus was transformed in front of His disciples, that Peter, James, and John - to their astonishment I'm guessing - saw Jesus' face shine as bright as the sun and, according to the Scripture, even his clothes got in on the act as they also shone with a bright light.  Pretty amazing!
     I knew a Muslim many years ago who was attracted to Christ but who was determined not to convert, at least for a while - maybe even for years and years.  He loved the Bible and he enjoyed church but he was afraid of the cost that he would have to pay if he left Islam.  One night, as he was riding to church with his friend, the friend challenged him.  Basically he asked the Muslim, "What would it take for you to believe in Christ?"  The Muslim, wanting to end this conversation once and for all, searched for the most impossible thing he could think of and blurted out, "I would have to see God."  The friend swallowed hard and said, "Well, we'll pray that happens then."
     They went on to church and during the service, as people were passing the communion plate, the Muslim looked up and saw a blinding white light at the front of the church.  He said the light was as bright as the sun and yet it didn't hurt his eyes.  He looked away to see how others were reacting to this phenomena and when he looked back at the front of the room, the light was gone.  However,  he knew...  He knew Who the light was and he didn't hesitate to commit to Christ. What he had thought would take years took only a few minutes.
    I've had a Chinese friend tell me the same thing - that when she prayed alone in her room to receive Christ, even though her room was dark, a light began to shine until it filled the entire place.
    Back to Matthew 17:  Jesus was transformed  and the disciples were suddenly able to see Him as we will all see Him someday. They got a glimpse of His glory, the glory that He temporarily laid aside in order to "empty Himself" and become like a man for our sake. (Phil. 2)
    But there's more.
    II Corinthians 3:7-18 talks about the difference between the old covenant, the one mediated by Moses, and the new covenant, the one initiated, fulfilled, and sealed by Jesus via His sinless life and His death.  The difference is like night and day. Or as the Holman study notes say, it is like comparing  the light of a waning and waxing moon  to the ever brilliant sun.  
    Paul goes on to remind his readers that   Moses' face shone whenever he met with God in the tabernacle.  Just being in the presence of God caused Moses' face to shine with an unearthly glory.  But this glory-by-association, if you will,  began to fade as soon as Moses left the tabernacle.  
    Whereas the glory of the risen Jesus will never fade.
    And then Paul makes an  astounding statement in II Cor. 3:17 - 18.  "Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  We all with unveiled faces, are looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory..."
     I thought about that.  As we meditate on the glory of the Lord,spend time in His presence, we are being changed.  Transformed.  That's what the Bible says. 
      We are being metamorphosed into the image of His Son, we are going  from glory to glory:
      I thought of Colossians 3:1-4.  In that passage Paul wrote that we are to " what is above, where the Messiah is seated at the right hand of God."  He goes on to say that we are to set our mind on the things that are above as compared to the things that are on the earth.. And then he caps this passage with stunning words, "When the Messiah, who is your life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory."
     This week I have thought about loved ones who have gone on to be with the Lord. I've recalled scenes from my childhood, my teen-age years, my college days, and the early days of our marriage.  There are a lot of people already  in Heaven whom I miss.  There are a few days now and then when I would give almost anything to be able to visit with my grandfather, my mom, etc. I would love to be able to sit down with them and talk to them about events that we shared, reminisce, and/or just see their faces once more.
     But until today I never really thought about sitting with them in glory, literally.
     I never thought about how meditating on God - who He is and the glory that surrounds Him - I never thought about how doing that enables Him  right  now to change me bit by bit into His likeness, into a reflection of His glory.
    And that one day all of His children, including the ones I now love and miss,  will be revealed with Jesus and all of us will be "wearing" His glory when we meet again.  Wow!
    Several years ago when a man in our Sunday school was told that he had an advanced form of an aggressive lung cancer, he looked at the doctor and said, "Well, I can get excited about Heaven."
    I respected him for that but didn't really understand his mindset.  Until today when my mind wandered, my attention was arrested by a funny Greek word, Metamorphoo, and some disparate verses in Scripture suddenly began to come together  in my mind.
    And then, finally, right on the heels of looking at first one verse and then another, I suddenly had a flashback to a time when I was sitting  with my next door neighbors, an elderly couple who were like adopted parents to me. And I recalled  them singing country songs like, "I'll fly away, oh, Glory... I'll fly away!" and "Will the circle be unbroken.." - songs I considered old fashioned and "out of date".
    Until today...
    Transformed by the glory of Jesus, starting now as I  sit at His feet and reaching completion when I go to be with Him.
    And, yes, I can get excited about that.

    Psalms 84:5,7.  Happy are the people whose strength is in You, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. They go from strength to strength; each appears before God in Zion.

    II Cor. 4:16-17.  Therefore we do not give up!  Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day.   For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory.  

    Romans 8:18.  For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us. 


Friday, April 4, 2014

Of Boogey Men, Storms, Songs in the Night, and Other Things...

     I am really, really afraid of severe storms and have been since I was a child.
     My maternal grandmother, who is now with the Lord, was terrified of storms among other things and I spent a lot of time with her when I was a preschooler so I figure I got my fear from her.  She also  taught me to be afraid of the Boogey Man (not kidding) - an invisible being who was capable of opening the bedroom window from the outside in order to grab me and drag  me off to parts unknown for reasons I never understood.
         She also taught me  to be afraid of the dark and at the same time  to be afraid of  "peeping Toms" who were drawn to lighted windows - a paradox of immense proportions for me. (Incidentally, she lived out in the countryside where our nearest neighbor was a herd of cows and I never caught any of them standing on their hind legs with binoculars in their front hooves staring through the curtains at us, Chick-Fil-A notwithstanding.).
    She also established a bedtime ritual which has remained alive in my memory, lo these many years.
   This little short woman, somewhat hunched over, would watch the 10:00 news and comment on every murder, serious car wreck, massacre, or whatever Chet Huntley (or whoever he was) would solemnize.  All the while I sat on the floor surrounded by my baby dolls, sucking my thumb, staring wide-eyed at the specter of local and world chaos which was being brought to  me via her black and white t.v. screen. (Thank goodness they didn't have internet or widescreen t.v.s, CNN or FOX news 24/7 back then.  If they had,  I probably would have spent the rest of my life curled up in the fetal position, sucking my thumb).
    Right after the news, she would get a broom and sweep any dirt or dust into the center of the house.  She always wore a house dress, hose, and thick, black, hard-soled shoes and as she swept each room, I would follow closely behind her, knowing that the next thing was lights out which meant the house was about to become the Boogey Man's domain for the next ten hours or so.  Joy...
    After the trash had been deposited in the wastebasket and the rooms passed her inspection, she would go through each room again, her big black suitcase of a  purse under one arm (so the Boogey Man wouldn't get it) and a flashlight in the other.  I can remember to this day literally clinging to her skirt at that point, my eyes glued to that small circle of light on the floor as each room turned from light to dark and our world narrowed down to what only the flashlight could reveal.  I also remember that her shoes sounded like gunshots going off to my small ears as she clomped across the wooden floors.  Let's just say, bedtime was nerve-wracking...
     I slept in the same room with her although the word "sleep" is a little misleading.  She had mice or rats (Or both) in the attic and in the top of her closet and that didn't bother her too much. She'd put out rat poison from time to time but essentially she was really, really hard of hearing.  So almost as soon as her head hit the pillow, she'd be snoring while I'd lay huddled in bed listening to the rodents have a "big time", as she would have said, romping around in the top of the closet next to us.  To this day I hate mice!
    My grandmother loved me, no doubt about it.  But she had a unique view of things.  She taught me to wear clean underwear -  in case I was in a car wreck and had to be taken to the hospital. (And in fact, when my mom was  a teen-ager, she would wake my mom and my uncle up in the middle of the night when it was really stormy... and make them put on their Sunday best in case they got blown away in the middle of the night.)   She was terrified of death; my mom had known Grandma to leave every light on in the house  back in her younger days when a relative or friend passed away.  Yet she seemed to love funerals as she got older.  She literally perked up at seeing people at a funeral service - people she hadn't seen in a while - and we used to marvel at how visiting at funerals seemed to animate her to no end.  Ditto for standing around and visiting after Sunday night preachin' while we kids played tag until I was the only one left - at which time I became fodder for the mosquitoes buzzing around the church's Night Watcher which propelled me into whining and pleading until grandma finally said good bye to her friends and we headed home.
     But I digress...
     I am really, really afraid of storms, the dark, and being caught in a car wreck wearing underwear that is less than pristine.... Ha!  The underwear is not a problem - I have a washer and use it frequently (in case you are wondering.) And the dark is not a big deal because I have electricity, candles, and a flashlight.  Storms are a different matter....
     And it had been predicted that we would have a doozie  of a weather system passing through our area sometime Thursday evening.
     My poor husband had been sick the night before and was exhausted all day Thursday so he came home early telling me he had to get some rest.  That, of course, worried me...  My first thought was, "The storms will interrupt his sleep and he'll be in even worse shape on Friday."
    Not so.
    He was sound asleep when the storms came but I wasn't. And neither was our Pomeranian mix, Buddie, who is also terrified of storms.  So, yeah, we both ran to the bedroom at the first boom of thunder.
 Another ground-shaking burst of thunder and I didn't care if I woke Phil up or not - I leaped into bed (no small feat at my age) and plastered myself against him. In fact, if I remember correctly, I tried to position myself so that he would be like a human shield if tornadic winds started to suck us up into the rafters. If we went.. he was going first!
     Okay.  Phil is a really, really sound sleeper.
     He almost came to  - not quite- and mumbled a question - something about me being alright?
     I assured him I wasn't.  He kind of nodded and then resumed snoring while I held his arm in a sort of vice grip.  That was fine with me. I wasn't looking for conversation, just the assurance that if I went, I wouldn't be going alone!
     Then Phil began to squirm around and mumble something else, like, "uhhh... 'kay... Buddie.. goooood dog... get... feet..  goooodddd dogg... "
     So I now knew that all three of us were in bed - me clinging to Phil's back like an overweight limpet while Buddie was anchoring  Phil's  feet to the mattress, all the while shaking like a leaf no doubt -   while all heck was breaking lose right above our heads (or so it seemed to me.)  And still Phil managed to sleep.
    At one point,  however, I did feel the need for verbal reassurance.  The weather had whipped itself up into such a frenzy that I seriously thought I was just a few minutes away from Kingdom Come,a place I hadn't really planned on visiting at 1 a.m. last night. Without any hesitation or compassion, I got right in Phil's ear and bawled, "I AM TERRIFIED!!!
      And the point of this story?
     Grandma may have put the fear of something or other in me (some of which was necessary!) but thankfully God gave me a husband who is both a sound sleeper and also pretty fearless, not to mention compassionate and one who loves the Lord.
      My frantic message must have gotten through to him because he grabbed my hand and, to my amazement, began to sleepily sing the words to a hymn!    At first I thought he was crazy but within seconds I was listening to the words of the song,  All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name.  And then, after he had fallen back into a fitful slumber (no doubt) I continued to sing quietly as  the storm quieted down  within and
without me.
       Wow!  My grandmother was a great lady (quirky and fearful but a great lady).  But she can't hold a candle to my husband who taught me a valuable lesson last night - the secret of singing about Jesus in the midst of a storm!
      Today I saw a picture on FB that said, "If your husband is your best friend, share this!"
       Did I post it on my FB?
       You bet your sweet bippie I did...