by Patty Morwood
The New Year is an opportune time to revamp spiritual habits, notably the presence or absence of meditation. I usually begin my devotions with a Psalm and then several chapters in whatever portion of Scripture I’m reading at the time. But meditation hasn’t been part of my program.
Things changed this last year. So, I want to ask you: have you read Timothy Keller’s Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God? I’m in a small group which has been together for several years; we usually read Puritan sermons, but this last year we decided to be modern, so we chose this book.
It’s the richest blessing we have experienced in quite some time. So I’ve chosen one part of Keller’s book to challenge you in this new time of a new year.
Meditation is actually listening to God’s “voice” in Scripture and thinking slow and hard on what’s there. You will ask basic questions of a passage, of God and finally of yourself … in this order.
I was surprised to learn that meditation is hard work, demanding the use of my mind more intensely than I previously thought. Really hard work. I wish deep thinking would burn calories!
To begin right, you need a good rich translation of the Bible – the ESV or the NKJV or the ASV – and a prayer journal to write in … for believe me, you will need to write as you meditate.
First, there are two basic over-all questions to ask of any passage in the Word:
1) What does the original author intend to communicate, and 2) what role does it play in the whole Bible, in other words how does it “move along the main narrative arc of the Bible which climaxes in salvation” through Jesus Christ?
Obviously the answers you find with these two questions lay the ground upon which to build the rest of your understanding. Just these two questions keep you from going off-text into error and being too enamored with your own subjective feelings.
Second, Keller moves his reader to a few teaching points from Martin Luther. With these you analyze the passage for things to praise, to repent of, and to petition (ask).
Therefore to praise, ask: what does this passage show me about the character of God so I can praise the lover of my soul?
To repent, ask: what does this passage show me about myself so I can repent?
To petition, ask: what does this show me to petition Him for?
Can you tell that by now you are in the meditation-world? You’re reasoning from Scripture, one question at a time. You are having to think it out; I hope you are doing this ‘corem deo’, before the face of God. Because oh boy, is this beautiful!
Third, after exhausting your efforts with the two basics and then with Luther’s questions, you can really exhaust yourself with questions that help you evaluate yourself.
Unfortunately, most of us tend to do self-evaluation first, before we really know the passage’s thrust and how it connects with the rest of the Bible. Red light! Error likely happens when you begin your quiet time in this manner, focusing on yourself. Only analyze yourself spiritually after you have done the hard work listed in the paragraphs above.
To evaluate yourself in prayer and meditation, use such questions as these:
What wrong thoughts and habits-of-mind develop when I forget this passage?
If I don’t embrace this passage, what sinful feelings will spring alive in my mind and heart?
What should I quit doing in my daily life? What should/must I begin to do in my daily life?
Am I living inside this truth at all? Do I take the need to change seriously?
And very importantly, consider the timing of evaluating yourself … ask: why is God showing me this right now?
It’s important to use this experience in every waking moment after you have put down your Bible and gone forward with your day. Savor what you learn in meditation; preach the truth to yourself continually. Use what you learn in meditation to encourage other believers.
And in time, you will begin to see yourself being molded to the character of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is godly, powerful, real, and beautiful.
by Taylor Abigail
In June, four major Hollywood studios, Lucasfilm, Disney, Warner Brother, and 20th Century Fox, sued VidAngel for supposed illegal activity. VidAngel is a movie content filtering company. Their mission is to provide a service for people to choose how they watch movies at home.
"As content creators, we love movies and TV shows that are compelling and well-crafted. Not only do such movies entertain, they also change behaviors and minds of people — we believe movies help change lives. That’s why we provide movies and TV shows to our customers in a personalized and inexpensive format." - from VidAngel website
(see video of VidAngel's business model below)
The supposed illegal activity centers around the relationship between two laws: 1. The Family Movies Act (2005), 2. the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, and VidAngels suspected infringemnet.
(see video about the battle below)
While the legal battle continues, VidAgel has been required to discontinue their services until further notice. A family in Flordia began a petition to save VidAngel and the movie filtering pracitce (see http://savefiltering.nationbuilder.com).
VidAngel is not the only movie filtering service available. Clearplay is a smaller company than VidAngel but also helps families filter inappropriate movie content. Historically, all movie filtering companies and products have been under attack from Hollywood despite Congressional acts legalizing the practice.
While the lawyers talk federal regulations and legalities, the threat to movie filtering raises an important conversation for Christian women. As media becomes increasingly more risque, especially for families, how can believers continue to think on all that is good, noble, lovely, and true (Philippians 4:8)?
This battle is much larger than it may appear: the beautiful and holy has always been at war with the ugly and profane. Ephesians 6:12, "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."
As women who strive to live with a pure heart and a pure soul, it is important to always let the beautiful penetrate our world and act as a shield against darkness. May we continue to pray that good reigns over evil so that we may live up to our holy calling.
by Patty Morwood
Do you plan spiritually for your new year; do you give thought to what could be your spiritual focus?
I do, and I begin by searching Scripture for a passage that says to me “spend time here”. Though none of us knows what the New Year brings, we can prepare for the work the Lord Jesus will inevitably do in us by cultivating a submissive heart.
My Scripture choice illustrates where I want to grow in the coming months; they are lines I can meditate on and pray about … and then walk with the Lord learning to become.
Below is a cascading thought-sentence that augments Galatians 5:22 - 23, my spiritual focus for 2017. Every day I will meditate and pray and cooperate with the Holy Spirit… so these character qualities can be grown in me.
Beginning January 1 and every morning following, I will rise early-early, when the sky is still deep and black, and make a cup of tea. My Bible and prayer journal will be where I left them the day before… open and ready.
And I will submit myself to the Lord and prayerfully choose ...
No occasion justifies hatred
No injustice warrants bitterness
I choose love because today I will live for God and love what He loves
I refuse to nurture a critical spirit
I refuse to blame or hurt
I choose joy because today I will remember who I am in Christ
Living every day cognizant that I am a forgiven woman changes everything
Extending that same reconciliation and grace to others honors God’s name
I choose to forgive so I may show what peace actually and truly is
No failure is beyond God’s grace
His patience with me shows me how to serve others
I choose patience, for God has blessed me with His Holy Spirit
Cynicism and unkindness deny God’s desires for me, a woman of His own choosing
Hypocrisy destroys my witness
I will be kind for such is God’s treatment of me, His former bitter foe
I will be overlooked and even denigrated before I will boast
I will confess before I accuse
I choose the Godly strength of goodness
My husband will not question my love
My family never fear I will not listen
I choose faithfulness to this very household God has given me
If I raise my voice may it be only in praise
If I clench my fist may it be only in prayer
If I make a demand may it be only of myself
I choose God’s gentle way to grow Christlikeness in me
I am a spiritual being, thus one day my spirit will soar heavenward
But while on this earth, I refuse to let self-indulgence rule
I choose self-control physically, mentally and spiritually
LOVE, JOY, PEACE
To these Fruits of the Spirit I commit my day
If my life exhibits them, I will give thanks
If not, I will seek His grace
And then, when the day is done, I will thank the Lord for the strength to give the good days and the more difficult days into His hand
Won’t you come along with me?
by Patty Morwood
Blessed is the woman whose heart is set on pilgrimage.
Psalm 84:5b paraphrase
It hurt when I was young. And it continued for years. The behavior finally slacked off but the disdainful looks and comments lingered. My heart broke. Over time I couldn’t see myself and didn’t even know myself. Pain does that.
I believed I forgave. I believed it for a long long time.
I would pray, searching the Scriptures for verses I could journal-pray from, in any attempt to climb out of rejection, someday. I wanted to be beautiful on the inside when God’s eyes swept by, not so barren.
Time passed. Children grew up, married and had their own children. I eventually shut down whole parts of my inside self. Because you see, bitterness had wrapped itself around my heart, and its root system was more complex than I was even aware of.
I didn’t see it at all.
Then, as I was teaching a Bible study just a few years ago, things changed. It wasn’t that years had worn away the imprint of rejection and pain. It was God’s viewfinder lens that did it.
It was the ancient people and that horrible desert. The Israelites wandered all over the face of Sinai, a forsaken land of red and black ground, crisscrossed with caravan trails but home to no settlement. The eye could scan 360 degrees from any given point and see no marked change of relief for miles and miles. No green. Just red and black, sand and rock everywhere.
Hot Kham-sin winds in spring and intense summer heat. Winters close to single digits. Sometimes water in trickling wadis, but mostly percolating here and there from deep underground reservoirs. No rivers or pools upon which to see the moon’s reflection rippling on a quiet night along the shore.
Years ago I visited that land and wandered it myself. My backpack held a Bible and notebook, my thermos brimmed with water. As I surveyed, I imagined young Israelite children playing on the edges of the trudging thousands as they walked and camped. Their elders’ had refused to warrior into the Promised Land. Though He had said He would lead them just as He had been doing since they left Egypt.
There would be glorious victory and a permanent homeland after 400 years, nine or ten generations in a foreign place, with God Himself as their mighty general King.
But even when Joshua and Caleb insisted they follow God and go, and even with abundant evidence of the land’s abundant produce – the people refused. Their slave-hearts couldn’t go forward, they were rooted in that desert.
So, wandering outside the boundaries of home became their chosen destiny. For an entire generation, as they trudged and died off, children and grandchildren were born and trudged along with them.
The kids grew up hearing of massive building projects, inordinate birthing of male babies and Moses’ little arc in the river Nile, great petrifying plagues, God’s promises and the craven fear of their elders when they refused to follow Him into the land.
Regret-filled voices and blaming accusations probably colored every conversation they overheard every day of their childhood.
I imagined them grown and newly married in the same red-black setting where they had frolicked as a child. Then in time, their own children trudged at their side too. It must have been a hard mix for them all, those forty years: positive anticipation in the youngers and bitter grudges in the olders. Hope and failure and nowhere to go to escape it all, except into the boulders and rocks, crevices and ledges ever before their eyes.
I realized that day as I lectured on a portion of Deuteronomy that I had spent near forty years wandering a landscape just like Sinai: the landscape of my unforgiving heart.
Sinai perfectly describes my bitterness. God saw it every day, and even though He faithfully sustained me with manna, I was certainly a slave-minded ugly. I was rooted there.
Just think of the hardest plant to root out of the ground, a fierce unyielding thing with a complex root system. When you attempt to remove it, you invariably rip off or cut into the smaller roots, which ensures a nightmare: a fresh new generation of that plant next season.
Therefore, you can’t leave even a hair of a root anywhere.
How to root it out? Well, first prune. Prune all, branches and greenery down to the trunk root.
Next, water what’s left and water it well. So when you’re ready to pull it out, there will be less breakage and thus less chance of regrowth. Dig a very wide hole around it, perhaps three times wider than the plant itself and carefully water and loosen, water and loosen. Eventually it can be lifted out. You don’t want to leave anything behind, so get on your hands and knees and search through the dirt for even the tiniest roots.
It’s a drastic job. Some have even said you can cover the area with plastic and build a raised bed in the same place and that will end it all. If you want to be really sure, if you’re absolutely intent on wiping it out, just remove all the topsoil and have new soil delivered. That should do it!
Do you have bitter unforgiveness that needs this kind of treatment? Have you given house to this horrendous thing, all the while telling yourself it wasn’t there?
Have you nursed it and let it live in comfort? Is un-love, then, your new personality type?
I’m urging you: the war to conquer must be fought. Search the scriptures, journal your prayers for deliverance. Enlist prayer partners for the long trek out.
BUT, most important, be honest with yourself. Ask God to show you what your heart really truly seriously looks like.
Then dig deep and wide, and water well with the Word of God.
Remember that the power in a good war is the power of the Holy Spirit. He can lead you out.
I look back now and see purpose in the unjust pain inflicted and the years of wandering in unjust bitterness. It wasn’t a waste; it was what God used to grow a strong woman.
I don’t think I could have ever grown as He has grown me without my sojourn through the desert.
He has walked beside me, a pillar of smoke by day and of fire by night.
And, when unforgiveness tries to grow again I know what to do. I first look honestly at my own heart. Then I cooperate with the Holy Spirit: prune, water, loosen carefully, root out radically.
Come my friends, and warrior into the Promised Land!
It’s a warring pilgrimage to victory. And I promise, victory is your destiny.
“For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
2 Corinthians 6:21
“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son …”
Romans 8:28, 29a
Do I really think that God plans good for Christians no matter what is happening to them? Perhaps you and I should ask ourselves that question periodically. Asking it out loud, no matter what I’m doing always stops me in my tracks. At least the tracks of my thinking.
I was well into my adult years when I realized that my brain was working on things constantly, without me even knowing it. When my children were young I’d go to bed exhausted – having six children running all over an acreage does that – but unable to sleep because my mind was seeing quilt designs and colors and fabrics.
I’ve since realized that my mind thinks all kinds of things, not just artistic designs. And it thinks without my permission. Easily it’s sinful thoughts living there, because I’m a sinner.
So I take care with what is in my mind; it’s one of my chief daily efforts. Memorizing Scripture and reciting it back to God, and singing hymns and praise songs when I’m busy around the house or chatting with friends are always the starting point for training my mind to think Truth.
Even so, that ole’ mind can still be pretty sloppy sometimes, when I’m not paying detailed attention to it. In Jerry Bridges’ book, Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts, various subjects having to do with trusting God’s sovereignty are discussed. Often he returns to Romans 8:28 and 29 as the best reason to trust and the best explanation for pain and trouble.
This is where I realized my sloppy thinking was circumventing the peace gained by trusting God. There is a ‘good’ that you and I can actually expect in our lives, even if our circumstances are horrible and continue to be horrible. I’m praising God for Bridges’ explanation because I had blindly begun to assume, without realizing it, He will work that good into my life which is copacetic to what my idea of good is.
Even though Scripture clearly shows it’s the grating pain of adversity, not comfort or ease or prosperity that is God’s instrument of choice for sanctifying His people. Even though since first century AD the Church – and the persecuted Church of today -- has gloriously impacted the world from the fires of suffering that God didn’t abateit wouldn’t apply to me. Even though somewhere Christians have always lived in want, without opportunity to better their families’ lives, and in physical sickness without remedy.
And even though the Church has suffered more in the 20th century than in all of history combined, I just slid into keeping myself unscathed.
God is God, so He doesn’t make mistakes, He knows what He is doing in usesing all things for the good of His people.
There is cosmic purpose in it all: That’s because of what ‘good’ really is. VGod predestined us to be conformed to the image of His Son. And that Son is good, actually the only good of all time, ever.
This is no glib feel-good statement. It is He Who knows what is necessary … and He works adversity and blessing to fashion Christlikeness in us hard resistant sinners.
Sinners with renegade minds of our own. Sinners with the propensity for refashioning reality in our own image. But think: our story is a God-given story because it’s a story of sanctification and is tailor-made for each of us. What a blessed and challenging life we who are loved-by-God are to have!
Therefore, in light of Romans 8:28 and 29, our prayers can be three-fold: One) that we would submit to Him in all things because His purpose is for our good; and Two) that we would watch over our minds’ thinking, for this readies us to meet Him in our sufferings and difficulties rather than fighting against Him; and Three) that we would cooperate by believing and trusting God’s Word. When we’re hemmed in, pressed down, and cornered in the hard things, remember God’s Word!
But more than remembering, go further: wrap this truth around your soul and use it to guard your susceptible mind because -- what heavenly joy this is! -- He is working all things for ‘good’ – His image in you.
by Patty Morwood
I describe it as a slow glowing simmer surrounded by dark darkness but given to sparkling moments of blinding glory.
This is the Christian life in the Kingdom of God; the “already but not yet” of living as a believer whose place of citizenship is not only here but there, in a Kingdom that’s beyond our imagining.
We know His kingdom will one day be in its glorious fullness when the end of time has passed, sin and disease and suffering are banished, His people gathered in, and all tears gone for all time. And Jesus face-to-face! But meanwhile, we are sojourners while in this place, on a path that is really hard.
My friend Elizabeth lives in the hard and the glorious. Her husband Michael is a man slowly dying of stage 4 Sezary Syndrome, his cancers leeching his very life before her eyes. I watch her and listen; and I see a woman living a life of glory as she cries out for protection against fears that lurk and taint everything with darkness.
How did this woman learn to walk so strong and upright on this hard path?
She answers first with her background: “I was taught His Word by family, church, books and godly mentors. I bless His name for all the praying generations before me. I have a rich inheritance by His grace!”
And living today, every day? “I dare not go into a day without seeking His face, His words, His blessing, His will and His intervening in the lives of those I know and love. I am desperate for His Presence first thing in my day. This is my place.”
What do you mean by ‘place’? Circumstances? An actual ground on which to kneel and stand? Several answers follow.
She first says, “In this cancer journey, I see how He prepared a place for us in the fields and forests of Clinton County, Ohio. Daily we bless Him for giving us such a splendid acreage as our ‘Heaven’s Hill.’
“It soothes and restores our souls when we step out onto the front porch to watch the sun rise or sit on the back deck soaking in the beauty while the sun sets the woods aflame.
“We’re surrounded by trees, gardens and wildlife, both of us energized and healed by simply walking in the woods.”
In addition, the Lord prepared another place: the staff at the James Cancer Center at Ohio State University. Just an hour away it is their source of medical direction and care. It’s not surprising the Lord has directly addressed their need for help: at the James is one of the world’s foremost specialists in Sezary Syndrome, a rare cutaneous lymphoma, and a collection of remarkable, attentive and kind medical specialists and non-medical personnel.
Years ago God gave them a place at home for learning the skills of caring for the dying. Mike’s Uncle Bud lived his last years with Elizabeth and Michael and died in their home under hospice care. Her father sacrificially cared for her mother for ten years while a rare brain disease slowly took her life away.
“I certainly had no idea that the Lord was preparing me to spend years loving Michael in a similar fashion.”
And there is this very human place of touch: “I notice in Scripture how often God speaks of holding us by His right hand or our being upheld by His everlasting arms or sheltered under His wings.
“We have both learned the healing power of touch. Just a few minutes of gentle skin on skin massage to his neck, arms or back brings relief to both of us. Sometimes I think the person giving the touch gets more results than the one receiving.”
I asked her how Christ has met her in this hard place since Michael’s diagnosis. I had reasoned that peace must be elusive always and fears multiplying daily. That she is exhausted by the creeping power cancer has over their lives.
She says sometimes she struggles with sleeping at night, and can wake with a sick fear.
“So I start my day by looking for Him. I get up, go to my place which is a comfortable old corduroy-covered chair. Nearby is my basket of books… my Bibles and an assortment of devotionals. Due to this retired season of life, I now have the luxury of time to sit quietly and be still before my Lord.
“I ask Him to steady my mind and show me what He has for me that day in His Word. After reading and praying, I ask Him to show me His will for that very day and to help me do His will. I surrender myself and my day to Him.
“And I walk out of the room a new woman full of His assurance and His peace and His strength.
“I really do have a new solid center. Though outwardly I may be wasting away, I am strong and renewed in my inner man by His Spirit.
“This is very much a one-day-at-a-time process. When I’m scared I call myself back to the reality of His Presence right now in this place.
“This journey through the Valley of the Shadow of Death with Michael has freed me to be more child-like in my absolute dependence on His daily love and provision. I need Him. And He is here.
“It’s impossible to capture my satisfaction in His goodness. I’ve tried. So I’ll close with these words from John Flavel’s tiny book, Triumphing Over Sinful Fear: ‘When will we learn to trust Him in everything? Whoever lives by faith never dies by fear. The more you trust God, the less you will torment yourself.’”
Won’t you choose the hard but glorious way described here? You can be strong.
Begin by asking God to help you remember how He has prepared you for the challenging things you are living through and has equipped you to pour yourself out for the well-being of another, as you grow in dependence on Him.
Elizabeth looked back and realized all the places God had met, trained and shaped her: her background and heritage, a rural home and acreage to share with Michael, the James Center, living with Uncle Bud and witnessing her father with her mother those last years, God’s “touch” experienced through each other and even through their doctors, the prayers of His people.
And most vividly now, the blessing of meeting Him first thing in the day. This will train your inner eyes and inner ears to hear and see how God answers when you call out for His Presence.
You too can start your days with the “first thing” every morning … time in quiet, with an open Bible on your lap or on your smart phone.
And another ask, that He would form in you what delights Him: a surrendering heart.
What a beautiful sight, this slow glowing simmer, in this not-yet full Kingdom living!
Author’s note: Michael and Elizabeth have three adult children and seven active grandchildren. They themselves are active members of First Baptist Church, where Michael is treasurer and Elizabeth is deacon of missions.
He crafts beautiful furniture out of oak, walnut and cherry trees in his studio just a few feet from their home on top of their beloved ‘Heaven’s Hill.’ And his laughing place is sometimes still the golf course, where recently he made not one but two holes in one.
Beautiful Elizabeth makes meals to Michael’s tastes and sits by his side to just share life together. She participates in a long-standing Literary Club for Christian Women of Letters and Bible studies, and drives a ’97 Dodge Dakota truck answering to the name “Black Beauty,” so she can haul manure for her gardens and rescue discarded furniture for re-finishing and a fresh new life.
By Cornel Warren Originally featured in Fall 2016 of Live with Heart & Soul Magazine
All photos Copyright Pearl Communications 2016. All rights reserved.
As I descend the earthen steps into the wild woods of Old Man’s Cave a canopy of leaves and branches envelopes me and the sun is dimmed by a haze of green. Even in steamy July, the shade seems to block out the humidity and time’s hand slows. Such magnificence deserves a second glance. I bend down low to look closer at the mossy stones, covered in a delicate dusting of tiny green life. Those white speckles are actually tiny white flowers, blooming so small that it makes you wonder why they even bother. But someone sees. God sees. And He leaves little treasures like these all around us.
Every footprint I make leaves a footprint on my being: God has hidden precious treasures here for me.
We were by nature...
In an age where every part of our identity is being called into question, and where terms like “gender spectrum” leave us scratching our heads, the tranquility of nature grounds us. Here there are no questions of identity. Here it is all nature. Ephesians 2:3-5 comes to my mind.
We “were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ.” (NIV)
Our nature was once wild; wild like the branches and vines tangled above me. Our hearts were once hard; hard like the moss-covered stone, carved and cut by hundreds of years of wind and water. We were once children of wrath, just like the world.
I look at the leafy brush growing out of the rock. Is that how we once lived, trying to sap strength and nourishment out of cold, dead stone?
Our wisdom is folly to God, and when we take a step back to examine our lives, we see our folly as well. The forest is a good place to take a step back. It’s still. Our minds can think clear and hear, absorb the wisdom that He speaks to us. There are no flashing lights, no drone of talking television sets flooding our thoughts with what is supposedly important. Yes, something happens when we get into nature.
His rich mercy
When I spend time in the wilderness, I often wonder what it would have been like to find this place as a frontiers-woman. Here I would have stood, after an arduous journey and I would have to build a home. I would have to carve out a place for myself between the rock and the trees and the bramble.
When my eyes first saw the light, I didn’t realize where I’d landed. It was all new and strange and I had to learn to understand. And the more I learned, the more I understood that I had, indeed, found myself in the thick of the forest. The wild forest was inside of me. I was by nature a child of wrath. Wild.
But God... God, who is rich in mercy and greatly in love did not leave me to fend for myself. He changed Himself to make a place for me. He found that wild child filled with thorns and brambles and He loved me.
I walk on to the Cave. It is dark, cool and damp. As part of the sanctification process, we are taught to exterminate any evil that might have taken root in us. But then all we are is empty, cold and dark. The absence of our wrathful nature is not all there is. That is not the life of abundance. Paul continues in Ephesians 2:6-8 “and [He] raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”
His kindness and grace is beautiful. It is a blanket of green, peppered with miniature flowers. His love grows in us as we grow in Him. First we are hard as stone. But we see His love, and we can’t help but be transformed by it. His rich mercy doesn’t leave us in the wild. It doesn’t even leave us when the wrath is gone. It continues to press in, deeper and stronger until we burst into life like the sun bursts through the leafy canopy.
At His Word
A short drive back on the winding Route 664 and we turn once more into the wilderness where our cozy two-bedroom cabin stands almost blending in with the backdrop of trees and hazy green. We are less than an hour from Columbus, and my cell phone barely works.
I listen some more. God isn’t finished with me yet. The full life, the life of abundance, that’s His desire for us. He shows me how much life there is in the forest: tall, old oaks and maples, honeysuckle, ivy, moss and mosquitoes. There are song birds and woodpeckers and whitetail deer and yellow jackets. The nourishment God provides sustains them all, and us all.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” Ephesians 2:9-10 reveals a bit more love: we are not in our own hands, but in all-powerful Fatherly hands. Those hands bring forth life. They touch us and fill us and grow an abundant life within us. And then it starts to spill out.
I smile at my Father, and He smiles at me, and my daughter smiles as she dances around in the leaves. God’s abundance grows without bounds. He liberates us to experience it to the fullest! We are not responsible to save ourselves. We are responsible only to take God at His Word: we are His workmanship and our salvation is His precious, perfect gift to us. And He doesn’t stop there.
He fills the empty caverns of our lives with wonderful blessings: good works that He prepared for us to do, beautiful paths that He has for us to walk in.
When we visited Hocking Hills, I was eight months pregnant with a ten pound baby and I could feel life within me. The anticipation in the final month was exhilarating: Who was this little boy going to be? How much would I grow to love him, and he me?
God anticipates our love for Him the same way. He loves us first, draws us close and keeps us safe. But He also raises us. We are His workmanship. He waits eagerly for us to love Him back. He hides treasures all around us and celebrates our delight with us when we discover them. Tiny flowers blooming for almost no one to see, the grass of the field, the sparrow in flight.
Our lives in Him are full, and the more we experience of Him, the fuller we become of life. Nature helps us see, and the Word helps us hear.
Father, help me to find you more often. Quiet my heart so that it can be filled with you. Work on me some more, Lord, and fill the caverns of my heart with your abundance. Show me Your secret treasures, Lord, that I might rejoice with creation at the majesty of our Creator. Amen.
by Patty Morwood
One day I came across a psalm that instantly “talked.” Every line was rich with meaning for me. And oh, how I needed to be reminded of God’s economy of things.
Apparently I had long ago written in the margin of Psalm 73, “God’s sanctuary: the godly woman’s lens for life.” No other beckoning was needed. I put on my magnifiers and settled in with my pen and a cup of tea. This was going to be a slow meditation in search of a fresh, clean reset of perspective.
In the first verses I saw a common predicament that many Christian women live in: themselves saved by the redeeming work of the Lord Jesus Christ, but living and working among unbelievers - being worn down and sawed off raw.
For the psalmist, the salve for his oppressed state-of-mind came when he walked into the sanctuary, presumably packed wall-to-wall with thirsty and needy worshipers just like himself.
It’s true for us, too, the company of righteous believers is where we can rest, finally distanced from gangs of the wicked. For five or six days of any given week the lives of the ungodly live large before our eyes; talk of evil, always punctuated with laughter and jokes, floats through the classroom, the office, and sometimes even the hallways of home.
Do you feel like this psalmist, whose feet nearly slip because he is surrounded by prosperous ungodly people and it eats away at him?
Do you smart because the wicked wear pride as an adornment, a badge of power?
Weep because your colleagues or husband or students actually believe God will not know their sin?
Feel trapped in cords of ugly when they mock God’s wisdom and even His existence?
If you are worn down spend time with Psalm 73. Its author is finally healed of his great burden when he walks into the sanctuary where he is surrounded by the redeemed, where words of life and the beauty of worship dance with joy to the highest heaven.
Finally he understands: God has really set the wicked in slippery places, though the psalmist felt that he himself was sliding down at an accelerating rate. The wicked – those who persistently deny God and disparage His universal rule – will one day, in a moment, meet destruction!
What is the healing truth in this contrasting description of two people-types, the redeemed and the degenerate? It is the shout of victory in verse 25, the literary climax of the song: a believer’s desire for none else but God, Himself. This is the clear lens that reshapes perspective and renews one’s ability to do more than cope.
Let me paraphrase that verse: there is none in heaven but God Almighty and none else upon earth that I desire!
You and I may feel our hearts cast down, our physical bodies barely surviving, but in reality God Himself holds our souls and God Himself strengthens our bones.
It is good for us to draw near to the Lord, GOD in the sanctuary of believers … and also privately in the Word, specifically in this case, by praying through Psalm 73. Experiencing the Lord’s Presence teaches us to breathe the good stuff: His love and power toward us and our Christian sisters the world over.
How can we help but declare His works into the pathways of the wicked? How can we resist the call to stand in the sanctuary with other downcast women? This is our life mission. This is our vocation … and this can be our sheer delight.
by Patty Morwood
A few days ago I hiked through a forest with friends, bending down often to collect the fiery red and orange leaves strewn on paths and boulders. I remarked to myself, again, that leaves don’t really matter in this annual recollection; it’s the Tree itself that grips me.
It always does at this time of year when they begin to go dormant and release their deadening leaves into the cooling wind.
Just few years ago during this very same season, my husband and I rode an antique train up a mountain in West Virginia. A swath just a few feet wide had been cut through a vast sea of trees to allow the old tracks to still hold that old train as it made its eight-hour trek to the top, where miners who had worked deep in the mountain in the 1800s had built a town for their families.
Periodically a family member would take the long ride down to civilization for necessaries or to find a doctor. The ride down, the ride back up. Two days surrounded by trees.
To this day it’s the only sight to see through the windows. No structures, no light, no sky even. Trees stretched upward so high one doubts their top branches really exist. Trees packed together, marching in lock-step to the summit of their mountain. An endless experience for any passenger rocking to and fro with hours more to go.
But I was riveted. “Patty, what are you thinking?” he queried. “About the Tree,” I answered as thousands of them sped by my window, a silent witness.
The Cross is our reminder today of a saving love so startling that hymnists and poets over centuries have penned the most glorious language to portray it. But the Cross was a terrifying sight, an anathema to even speak of for those on the ground who witnessed its use in ancient times.
The Gospels barely mention it; we know His feet were nailed to the pillar and His arms to the crossbeam.
Instead they wrote of the week leading up to it: palm branches, poignant gatherings at Lazarus’ house, the Last Supper and Gethsemane, the trial and the screaming “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” of the midnight rabble, the brutal trek of a nearly unrecognizable Man through the streets of Jerusalem.
And they wrote of its victory-day afterward: women laden with spices suddenly face-to-face with the Resurrected One, followers on the road out of Jerusalem walking and talking with their Lord unknowingly, the lying collaboration between natural enemies: soldiers, government and religious leaders.
In those days everyone knew the inhumanity and the agonies of the Roman cross. Everyone had seen it. Why go into it when expensive scrolls were needed to explain the new fresh Gospel circulating where Paul and Peter and Barnabas and Luke had traveled with their life-changing story of love?
But you and I must take a long hard look at the Cross. We don’t see this sort of thing ringing our cities that teem with shops and theaters and walking paths and parks.
But the Romans would leave the pillar entrenched in the ground just outside the towns or even at a crossroads, standing mute as a warning to occupied peoples of what would be the fate for the next rebel against their rule. Afterward they’d throw the body into a shallow pit nearby for the carrion to feast on until they reached the stripped-clean skeletons layered underneath.
Their bodies were nailed as one would nail a marker or a sign. Huge nails; powerful blows hammered by soldiers deadened to the cries for mercy.
But that one particular Tree, that monstrous obscene Cross, was stained with a deep red drained from a God-man willing to be there. The most beautiful of men died impaled because of you and me. Because our sin so long ago had incurred the wrath of God and the greatest mercy of God … so long ago.
For us, for you and for me. For the joy of our salvation.
Why would I write this now? Why not save this essay for Easter Week?
Because fall is the season marked by millions of trees undergoing a remarkable change right before our eyes; many families plan excursions into areas of spectacular fall foliage. Because we decorate our dining tables with vibrant leaves collected from trees shutting down for winter. Because rustling is a sound that awakens and reminds.
Because I can’t any more look at trees in this season with a simple enjoyment.
Never again will I be able to hike a forest, wrap my fingers around bark for balance, bend down with the impulse to collect, without experiencing the deep mournful regret for sin and an ever-deepening awe and gratitude for our Lord’s bloody rescue.
What’s the triumph of this past year for you? Even if it seems to be the smallest thing, let its significance wash over you. What’s the pain of this past year for you? Even if it seems to be the smallest thing, let its significance wash over you. Come Christmas and New Year’s, even amidst the celebration and joyful gatherings, it’s easy to feel like we are tumbling to a swift halt as the year closes. Memories we wish wouldn’t have happened, friends we long to see again, and the reminder of broken families can send our minds into a tailspin.
It’s so important to reflect on our past. I recently heard a quote, “Our past doesn’t dictate our future but makes our present profound.” This was spoken by a young man with stage 4 esophageal cancer. The message of his talk and context of the quote was the power of perseverance and finding the joy in the journey. His doctors don’t know why he is still alive, but he is; walking and speaking and sharing God’s strength.
What about your past has made your present profound? In what ways do you believe that your past will dictate your future?
Jeremiah 29:11 “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
Proverbs 23:18 “There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off.”
Our pasts influence who we are and where we are headed, but they are not our sole identity. The names Christ gives us completely cancel any name or fate our pasts have given us. Free, beloved, pursued, righteous, blameless, and adopted are just a few in the lengthy list of our new names.
Maybe this Christmas season, the time when we celebrate the Messiah, is the perfect time to renounce what’s happened and to step into the hope we have because of Jesus. He died to rescue you, to be close to your heart, and to give you freedom to be your best self.
Your present is profound, your future full of hope, and your name given by the Christ Himself. Let’s celebrate this renewal together.
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