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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Rebirth of Spring

Ah, spring! Spring in Atlanta is captivating. Nothing compares to the smell of blooming gardenias, the vibrant colors of azalea flowers and the freshness of the white blooms on dogwoods. I could spend my days breathing in the beauty (you know, as long as I take my Zyrtec).

Honestly, fall is my favorite time of year but fall in the south is a slow process of moving from hot, less hot to a little chilly with some leaves changing to freezing winter. Spring in the south involves instantaneous change. One morning the trees are bare and the next morning there are buds. I lived in the northeast for a few years and my experience with the seasons was the opposite in Boston. Fall was a very sudden change. The warm summer days quickly changed to chilly mornings and changed leaves. I think spring moves slowly in the north because of melting snow and the slow waking of plants after such a long, harsh winter. In the south, plants never endure harsh winters so they never truly go dormant.

As spring is beginning here in the south, I can’t help but compare the rebirth of spring to spiritual rebirth. While the changing from winter to spring seems instantaneous to the eye, anyone who knows anything about horticulture knows that plants and animals spend their entire winter preparing for the rebirth of spring. Birds build nests in preparation for their offsprings’ arrival. Trees and plants slough off the dead to make way for the fresh blooms and green leaves of spring.

My spiritual transformation process is no different. When I became a Christian at 18 years old, to the onlooker I looked to have changed instantly. But, God had spent my entire life preparing my heart to receive the light of His word through Jesus Christ. I had heard the Gospel story probably 20 plus times growing up in the Bible belt, but God had to work through circumstances and events in my life so that my heart would be plowed up to the point that when I heard the story my senior year in high school; I finally understood the call.

The years 2012-2016 were very difficult years in the life of my family. My husband and I experienced the death of both his father and my stepfather. I stepped down from a ministry position that I dearly loved. And, our second child was born with a birth defect that required a very invasive surgery and long recovery process. The suffering and grief and hard work we experienced in those few years stretched me in ways I never thought I could be stretched. It wasn’t all good stretching either. There was a lot of depression, questioning, anger and bitterness involved in that process. But, what wasn’t obvious was that God was preparing me for a rebirth in my walk with Him.

In the past year, I have experienced an awakening in my life that to the outsider might seem instantaneous like the blooming of the trees in Atlanta in spring. But, I know that God has spent the last few years sloughing off the dead things in my heart in order to produce something beautiful that only He can produce. The dogwood doesn’t just decide one day it’s going to bloom. The pruning and blooming is a process set in motion by the Creator each winter and spring. It’s the same with my life. I don’t just wake up one day and say, “I want to be different. I want revival.” I wish it was like that, but I know by experience that the process of spiritual rebirth only takes place when God initiates the pruning and the blooming. My prayer is that I would allow the pruning during the “winters” of my life so that I can experience the beauty of the “spring” fruit.

“Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” John 15:2 (ESV)

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Good, but Hard

Change, ugh! I am not good at change. I'm adverse to trying new, hard things. It is so much easier to sit in the comfortable space of sameness. Part of that is doing new things is hard. It's hard to learn new steps, new processes, new technology, etc. Wouldn't it be so much easier to have an idea and then for everything to fall into place on it's own, without the hard work?

My other issue with change is that no matter how good the new thing seems, new things involve taking risks and putting myself out there. What if I fail? What if no one responds? What if this new thing is a waste of my time? What if I didn't hear God correctly? Maybe He isn't calling me to this new thing and if He isn't than surely it's not going to work out.

It's so easy to get stuck in this discouragement cycle. We can all experience it whether it's a new job, a new baby, a move, a new ministry, etc. We hear what we think is a clear call from God, we finally get up the courage to lean into this new thing and then the doubt starts creeping in. It comes in many forms. It may sound like, "Who do you think you are?" "Why would you be able to do this thing?" "This is too hard, you are not able." "I'm not gifted or talented enough to do this thing God is asking of me." "I don't have time." "I don't like doing hard things and being stretched." "I'd rather do something fun."

I deliberately changed my pronouns in that string of quotes because sometimes discouragement comes from without. Whether it's from actual people or from the voice of the great deceiver, it can all derail us. And sometimes, we are our own worst enemy. We allow the doubts within to crowd out the voice of God.

For me personally, I know what God is calling me to and it is very good, exciting and life-giving. But, it is and will be hard. It is new and requires a lot of risk-taking. Part of me wants to crawl under my desk and hide, while the other part of me wants to dig in with all my heart and soul.

Which voice will I listen to day in and day out? Will I listen to the voice of God who is calling me to this great, new thing and who promises to be there every step of the way? Or will I listen to and allow my own voices of self doubt or the discouraging voice of Satan to keep me from doing what God has designed me to do?

What good, but hard thing is God calling you to right now? Which voice will you choose to listen to as you lean into this new thing?

"I know that You are for me
I know that You are for me
I know that You will never
Forsake me in my weakness

And I know that You have come now
Even if to write upon my heart
To remind me who You are"

(You Are For Me, Kari Jobe)

Monday, March 6, 2017

Wilderness Wanderings

As I sat in church yesterday morning, I was reminded that the Lenten season is to resemble a type of wilderness wandering. Our fasting during Lent is meant to mirror Jesus' time spent in the wilderness, fasting for 40 days and 40 nights, in preparation for the beginning of His earthly ministry. Our fasting during Lent is to be a time that prepares us for the celebration of the beginning of the Easter season that commences on Resurrection Sunday.

Wilderness wanderings have always been an integral part of the story of God's people. Abraham, after being called by God to leave his home of Ur, wandered for years in and around Canaan. This time in Abraham's life wasn't just a time of physical wandering, it was also a time of spiritual wandering. Abraham and Sarah spent many years waiting for the fulfillment of God's promise of an heir and a home. During this time of wandering, they don't always wait well. They often take wrong turns and take matters into their own hands. Those bad decisions often have disastrous consequences. But, that season in their lives was also used to prepare them for the work God was doing as a part of a larger story. He was preparing them to be the family that would usher in His restored kingdom by creating a nation through them that would be His chosen own and through whose line the Redeemer would come.

The nation of Israel would later experience several wilderness wanderings both physically and spiritually. Because of their grumbling and complaining as they are ushered by God's hand out of captivity in Egypt, God disciplines the nation by causing them to wander for 40 years in the wilderness right outside the Promised Land. Not only was this time of wandering a punishment, it was also a time of preparation. God was establishing them as a nation, giving them the Law and preparing them to be the people through whom He would bless the world.

Like Israel and later Jesus, I am often called to wilderness wanderings in order to prepare me for the work God is going to do in my life. Sometimes that's an intentional time that I deliberately set in motion like the fasting of lent in order to be spiritually ready to feast at Easter. And sometimes, through circumstances and events outside of my control, God leads me into a time of wilderness wandering in order to strip all of me away so that He can remind me that He is in control. That stripping away prepares me for the work He has planned for me to do at a future time after the wandering. Thankfully He doesn't leave us while we are wandering and He doesn't leave us in the wandering. He always brings us out of the desert back into the Promised Land.

My prayer for myself this Lenten season is that I would be open to the stripping away of me in order that God might mold me in preparation for the celebration of the arrival of Easter.

"...for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure." Philippians 2:13