Flourishing in the House of God

olive tree

Psalm 52:8 “But I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God; I trust in God’s unfailing love for ever and ever.” Sometimes I think about the blessing of being a grandmother (which I am now) and maybe even a great-grandmother one day. Oh, to be able to see a fourth generation! To be able to see God’s unfolding plan in my grandchildren’s children. With the hope of a long life span and continued production of fruit, the olive tree provides an image of “aging well” by God’s grace and provision.

I retreat to the Outer Banks twice a year with five of my girlfriends. One of our fondest traditions is to feast on green olives, tuna salad, and carrot salad prepared by one of our special ladies. It’s not an everyday thing to eat lots of olives, but we think it is a treat! We truly desire to flourish in the house of God together, now after many years, just like the olive tree pictured in Psalm 52:8. Remembering that our common faith in Jesus Christ brought us together in Bible study many years back, “flourishing” for us has been a continuing spiritual journey. (Always easier at the beach, of course!)

In Psalm 52, David vents his indignation about enemies. In particular, Doeg the Edomite, exposed his whereabouts to King Saul who was trying to conspire against David to kill him. Already David had spent a lot of time running and hiding from King Saul and he didn’t need any more complications to foul up his escape from Saul’s harmful intentions.

Harmful intentions bombard us daily. We wonder how much more we can take. Conspiracies, real and imagined, plague us continuously. Maybe not death threats. But, plots to cause us harm. The enemy of our souls is always looking for a button to push. I have experienced a few whoppers in my lifetime…

What I have learned is that I admire David for choosing to pour out his complaint to God in prayer, preferably as a first response. When I become enslaved by my preoccupation with injustice or the evil actions of someone toward me, I want an olive-tree-like response to be prompted in me by the Holy Spirit. Turning quickly to Him, no waiting, no agonizing, only depending on His strengthening. His unfailing love.

After processing his life-threatening problems, David chooses to trust in God’s unfailing love. David’s writings indicate that he does not want to be forever locked into a personal prison of bitterness and fear. He is, after all, a man after God’s own heart, though not perfect. Something inside his heart causes him to seek God again and again, though sometimes not first.

What is it about the olive tree? It is unwavering. Unmovable. Olive trees can live a really long time, even a thousand years. The tree continues to bear fruit despite the ravages of aging. Even with a gnarled trunk. Even with a hollowed trunk. There is life. There is continued flourishing.

Today I researched the health benefits of olive leaf extract. Just to name a few -gastroprotective, neuroprotective, antimicrobial, anticancer, anti-inflammatory, antiociceptive (reduces pain stimuli), antioxidant (prevents cell damage/oxidation). Even protection against Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. The nutrient oleuropein found in olive leaves sounds amazing – an antidote for so many bad things that ravage good health. (I’ll be taking this soon!)

So, when I consider the limitations of old age (to which I am relating more and more), the gnarled joints and the hollow bones, I am inspired by David’s hope of continued usefulness in the house of God. Though the trunk might get twisted, irregular, and full of bumps and cracks, flourishing can still happen. Steadfastness. Anti-inconsistency. Faithfulness. Anti-fearfulness. Trusting God completely… Unmovable. Unwavering. A strong tree living well.

In Bible history, cultivation of the olive goes back to the earliest times in Canaan. I discovered that cultivated olives are planted using shoots that grow at the base of another olive tree, rather than seeds. The imagery of such shoots is used in scripture to reference the blessing of children around your family table (Psalm 128:3) and the prophetic Messiah (Isaiah 11:1). I pray that all the shoots around my table will be faithful followers of our great Messiah into the 5th and 6th generations, even those I will not see with my earthly eyes.

While the olive tree’s fruitfulness is not hampered by bare and rocky ground or rainless summers, the tree somehow overcomes its vulnerability to hostility. Still able to thrive, the olive tree is known for its tenacity in great heat with minimum water. The tree’s wood is resistant to decay and when olive tree waste is burned, it becomes renewable energy producing 2.5 times the heat of burning wood. Even the ash becomes a wonderful garden fertilizer.

What a comfort to read the Psalms! Psalm 52:8 makes the olive tree’s attributes worth our study. David envisions the spiritual aspirations of the faithful with his image of this special tree. You might recall the heartiness of the olive tree was apparent after Noah’s flood receded and the dove returned with a healthy olive leaf. You might already know that the olive branch has long been a symbol of peace. Extending the “olive branch” is what the steadfast in the Lord do. It’s what the courageous of heart do. It’s what the faithful do. Living like this sturdy tree in the house of God is the only way to flourish.

Happy New Year (2019)!

 

 

 

The Call of the City

George McDonald

These words, this poem, by George MacDonald… Powerful…

As I read the inspiring words of this poem, I couldn’t help but hear an echo in my heart.

I said: “Let me walk in the field;”        I want to pick my places, I say.
God said: “Nay, walk in the town;”     Your life is Mine, He says.
I said: “There are no flowers there;”   I have good excuses, I say.
He said: “No flowers, but a crown.”    See the bigger picture, He says.
I said: “But the sky is black,                 But, I’m afraid of the city, I say.
There is nothing but noise and din;”   It is polluted and void, I say.
But He wept as He sent me back,        The city, He guides me with compassion.
“There is more,” He said, “there is sin.”  Goods reasons are there, He says.
I said: “But the air is thick,                   But, someone else is better, I say.
And fogs are veiling the sun.”               I am not clear-headed, I say.
He answered: “Yet souls are sick,        There is need to be addressed, He says.
And souls in the dark undone.”            My mission, My agenda, He says.
I said: “I shall miss the light,                But, I am comfortable here, I say.
And friends will miss me, they say,”    I’m attached to my friends, I say.
He answered me, “Choose tonight,      Trust Me and make a choice, He says.
If I am to miss you, or they.”                 Friends or Me, choose, He says.
I pleaded for time to be given;              I need more time to think, I say.
He said: “Is it hard to decide?              Following is what you decided, He says.
It will not seem hard in heaven,          Heaven was your first choice, He says.
To have followed the steps of your Guide.”  So, follow My Spirit, He says.
I cast one look at the fields,                  I contemplate where I am.
Then set my face to the town;               I shift my direction to the city.
He said: “My child, do you yield?         Are you coming with Me, He says.
Will you leave the flowers for the crown?”  Keep the crown before you, He says.
Then into His hand went mine,            I crossed with Him, hand in hand.
And into my heart came He;                 He gave me courage to move forward.
And I walk in a light Divine,                 He gave me His Light for my path.

The streets I feared to see.”                   He removed by doubts and fears.

Psalm 94:18-19 “When I said ‘My foot is slipping,’ Your love, O Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul.”

Smell The Roses

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In my curiosity, I can find no definitive meaning of “The Rose of Sharon” from the Bible (Song of Solomon 2:1). Yet, there are some “leap of faith” connections that I place in my “poetic license” file at this special time of the year. I am not alone in noticing the possible typology of Jesus Christ as the Bridegroom (the Rose) and the Church as the Bride. I have been fascinated over the years that the Rose of Sharon has become a “thing,” including a lovely appliqué quilt pattern. So many things in God’s Creation “pour forth speech.” (Psalm 19)

Song of Solomon 2:1 says, “I am a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys.” The bride is the speaker of this statement. Between brief research of my Bible notes and some internet checking, the closest translation of the “rose” is crocus (a member of the crocus family or hibiscus family), a very humble flower. Very unlike the powerful, special occasion red roses that we shop for at the florist. Instead, an understated, simple flower. Many colorations, but predominantly red-pink-purple hues.

“Sharon” is more positively a place – the Mediterranean coastal plain between Joppa and Caesarea. In Solomon’s day, “Sharon” was considered a place of great fertility. Song of Solomon 2:2 goes on to say, “Like a lily among thistles is my darling among the maidens.” The bridegroom is now the speaking this. He acknowledges the contrast of the quiet beauty of his maiden against the devoid and raw places.

In this season of Advent, with all the reds and greens, we celebrate the humble and simple baby born in Bethlehem. The Rose. The Rose that stood in a great valley against all the odds and atrocities of human kind. The Rose that would be trampled one day. The Rose that would bring about such amazing healing. The fertility that would bring life to lost souls. The supreme peace offering. The flow of love.

Having just enjoyed a very cup-runneth-over Thanksgiving with my family, my only impatience is against the barriers that swoop in to prevent the flow of continuous gratitude for blessings in my life, and most especially the presence of the Rose (Jesus), the sweet aroma of the life and meaning He breathes into the mundane. The things that steal the vitality out of this season of celebration, I am up against. I keep reminding myself to smell the roses.

The valley of tears, condemnations, unmet expectations, sicknesses, anxieties, inconveniences, the all-about-me stuff, the complaining spirit, the darkness that chases away the flickering light. All these things are the thieves of my soul.

But, my blessings simply cannot be hidden, however weighty the distractions pressing in, even like the understated rose in the coastal plain. If I can continue to picture the Rose of Sharon as symbolic of Christ and the Church, and without wildly overreaching on a brief biblical reference in the Old Testament, I see the Rose in so many things…

Salvation. Bought with a price. The turning of my heart toward Him. The amazing grace of Jesus Christ. My family. My existence. My ability to enjoy. My yearning to worship Someone other than my favorite idols – food and drink (pumpkin spice lattes), work, comfort, achievement, self-preservation, even ministry. Anything that eclipses the smell of the Rose in my life threatens to snuff out the thriving of my eternal soul. I know this.

One of my favorite blessings was spending the day before Thanksgiving with my oldest granddaughters preparing for the Thursday feast. While one spent time in the kitchen with me primarily (clocking serious long hours), the other went on very important errands with Pop Pop. The joy of time spent working on something important. It was definitely a season of smelling the roses. Yes, at times – exhausting! But, there was great anticipation of a delicious array of foods to come, including country ham, turkey and oyster stuffing, some new recipes and some old favorites. The fruitfulness at the end of many hours of thought and work. The satisfaction of seeing grandchildren playing together. The comfort of a fire in the pit. The perfect climate outdoors featuring fall colors and cool temperatures.

One moment we expressed thanksgiving to God in prayer. We reflected on the Rose of Thanksgiving. By His grace, we actually have family. By His grace, we actually celebrate faith in Him. By His grace, we look ahead to Christmas. By His humbling work on the cross, by His entry into the world as a baby, He became our Rose of Sharon. I hope to smell the roses of this season by simplifying, slowing down, not getting anxious, and not bending to crazy expectations or misguided traditions. I plan to create some white space, some margin, some time to remember the Rose of my faith. All I want for Christmas is to enjoy the mass of blessings that I did nothing to earn, but that I receive with thanksgiving from Him, and most importantly the Rose of Sharon – Jesus alone.

Psalm 107:1-8 “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever. Let the redeemed of the Lord say this – those He redeemed from the hand of the foe, those He gathered from the lands, from east and west, from north and south. Some wandered in desert wastelands, finding no way to a city where they could settle. They were hungry and thirsty, and their lives ebbed away. Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and He delivered them from their distress. He led them by a straight way to a city where they could settle. Let them give thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love and His wonderful deeds for men.”

Smell the roses. Smell the Rose.

 

Camp Cones and S’Mores

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When you think of things that make you happy, what do you remember? For one, I remember special things that my husband does when our granddaughters are at our house. The special traditions. The special treats that he is totally responsible for dreaming up and doing, especially the memories that are pressed into the hearts of our grandchildren. Most of them would say they can count on Pop Pop’s delicious waffles for breakfast if they have stayed overnight. But then, there are also those times we sit around the fire pit and roast marshmallows under Pop Pop’s supervision, and more recently camp cones and s’mores.

I am the “tag along” at these special moments. The bystander. The one who gets to appreciate the moments and count my blessings. And sit back and enjoy. I get to be very grateful that my husband is a wonderful Pop Pop! I get to marvel at the blessing of family. I get to focus on what God is doing in my family. And this, I did a couple weekends ago.

Psalm 78:4-7 “We will not hide them from their children; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, His power, and the wonder He has done. He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which He commanded our forefathers to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget His deeds but would keep His commands.”

There is a pattern at work here. The passing of traditions. The legacies of life. I have spent over half of my life being professionally involved in, promoting, and otherwise supporting Christian school education. I am convinced that Christ-centered education is the only true education and that if done well, it reaps benefits in the lives of its recipients, mostly beyond school days, during the challenging days of adulthood, marriage, family, and careers…

But the most important tradition – the most urgent legacy –  is Jesus Christ Himself. As we enjoyed s’mores outside in the dark, my young granddaughter surprised us all with her present depth of faith in Jesus. Can you imagine my unsurpassed joy, when recently sitting around our fire pit, my 9-year-old granddaughter began passionately recounting Bible stories with full-on characters and their names and stories from the book of I Samuel!? She recited Psalm 1:1-2 also, “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.” Yes. And yes!

When she asked for my Bible and flashlight, and then continued telling Bible stories around the fire pit, I experienced a heavenly “burning bush” moment of my own! This was indeed, for me, the maximum supernatural joy that can be experienced on earth, when you see that God has allowed you to have had a small part to play in the spiritual formation of a grandchild. I can’t even describe it fully.

Credit does not belong to me. It was simply not by promoting or being involved in Christian education, although these are good things. Or by any other flawed attempt to impress my Christian values on my progeny. Jesus authored this wonder! It was simply by inviting Jesus Christ in. Choosing Him in return. Knowing Him. Loving Him, serving Him, having faith in Him, and passing it on by His grace to the next generation. God pulled back the veil for a moment and let me see the miraculous unfolding of faith in one grandchild! I still can’t describe it fully.

In John 15:5, Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in Him, he will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing.”

Underneath the sky, the night. Around the fire and the delicious s’mores, I saw some amazing fruit. Joy upon joy!

Faith Over Fear

Faith Over Fear

It was a gospel journey that brought my group of beach friends together. It started in the late 1980’s when we were young moms. Although, the beach retreats didn’t start until 2011. I always enjoy this extraordinary getaway with my spiritual sisters twice a year, more so now that I am not working full tilt in full-time ministry. I am usually the early riser in the group. It doesn’t matter if we have stayed up until midnight binge-watching “Jamestown.” I’m still up in the quiet of the morning seeing the sun rise through the kitchen window while coffee is brewing.

Saturday morning of this getaway (9-29-18), I was reading My Utmost for His Highest (Oswald Chambers). This quote struck me: “The realization of the (God’s) call in a person’s life may come like a clap of thunder or it may dawn gradually… but… it is always accompanied with an undercurrent of the supernatural – something that is inexpressible and produces a ‘glow.’ ”

We were a fairly informal group until a certain discipleship training course crashed into our lives. It was called MasterLife. I don’t know if it was the scripture we memorized, or the all-morning prayer solitude one day, or the continuous prayers we prayed, or the hard homework questions we discussed. But, our lives were changed. And we answered unique calls. It’s possible that the greatest call came and directed us to minister to our own families. It wasn’t a clap of thunder. It dawned gradually.

Many children and grandchildren later, our families remain the greatest arena of our faith testing. The greatest arena of our fear. The greatest arena of heartache. The greatest puzzle. The greatest arena of hard questioning. The greatest arena of life and death cycles. The greatest arena of the stretching to which God calls us. Yet, the place where our faith has been built up.

Twice a year, we come to the beach “mountain top,” but that is not where we are allowed to stay. We often (sometimes reluctantly) return to the “valley of life” with a refreshed perspective. Because of a call whispered to us by God, we step ahead in faith. A spiritual touch happens. A supernatural undercurrent. An inexpressible lure.

Joshua 1:2 says, “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you (Joshua) and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them – to the Israelites.” Just as God was preparing Joshua ahead of the crossing, God prepares us. We get ready. While we wrestle with our fears, God’s promises remain trustworthy. He refuels us with His Word. He gives us courage and resolve. We leave the beach.

Joshua 1:5-7 says, “No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go.”

Faith over fear. It’s the message of Joshua. The call of God. The glow. Be strong. Be courageous.

 

The Inexplicable “But God”

12 Stones

Joshua 3:11-13 “See, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth will go into the Jordan ahead of you. Now then, choose twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one from each tribe. And as soon as the priests who carry the ark of the Lord – the Lord of all the earth – set foot in the Jordan, its waters flowing downstream will be cut off and stand up in a heap.”

This makes me think of times in my life. When God’s redeeming love seemed inexplicable. When the river of my life has clearly been at flood stage, I look back and see that God stopped the flowing of the water from upstream and piled it up in a heap while cutting off the water flowing downstream. I crossed on dry ground again and again and my memories are like the 12 stones taken from the River Jordan (read Joshua 3 and 4). They are the testimonies of God’s amazing grace in my life.

At best, childhood is perilous. But even more so, the teen years are no exception. Perilous. And despite some really dangerous decisions and lacks of good judgment, God spared me in my teen years. Sometimes I wonder why. And then I remember that my parents were always praying. I never seemed to be able to poke out of the protective bubble that those prayers locked around me. Same with the college years. Same with my parenting years. Same with my professional years. Some profound rescues occurred. Definitely, I passed through on dry land and knew the reality of God’s intervention. “But God” is still something I whisper to myself often. I need to remember…

Joshua 3:3-7 “Giving orders to the people: ‘When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the priests, who are Levites, carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it. Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before. But keep a distance of about a thousand yards between you and the ark; do not go near it.’ Joshua told the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.’ Joshua said to the priests, ‘Take up the ark of the covenant and pass on ahead of the people.’ So they took it up and went ahead of them. And the Lord said to Joshua, ‘Today I will begin to exalt you in the eyes of all Israel, so they may know that I am with you as I was with Moses.’ ”

The memories of these providential rescues in my life serve as the 12 stones from the middle of the Jordan River. God’s miraculous interruptions have done nothing but point me to His redemption. I have even seen Him erase damaging memories to reflect His great love. Inexplicable.

Here are some of my favorite “But God” passages:

Acts 13:30 “But God raised Him from the dead, and for many days He was seen by those who had traveled with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now His witnesses to our people.”

Psalm 66:19 “But God has surely listened and heard my voice in prayer.”

Romans 5:8 “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Although the photo above is only representative of the 12 stones of remembrance in Joshua 3 and 4, the waters around me continue to stand up in a heap. Life’s circumstances remain at flood stage 90% of the time. I only know which way to go when I follow God closely and have an unwavering faith in Him, His mercy, His power, and His salvation. “But God.” He is the reason I cross on dry ground.

 

Happy Places

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Photo credit: Kim Clayton Lance

Psalm 85:8-13 “I will listen to what God the Lord will say; He promises peace to His people, His saints – but let them not return to folly. Surely His salvation is near those who fear Him, that His glory may dwell in our land. Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other. Faithfulness springs forth from the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven. The Lord will indeed give what is good, and our land will yield its harvest. Righteousness goes before Him and prepares the way for His steps.”

Everyone has a happy place, either in their heart or in a physical location. Some friends and I would agree that the beach is the happiest of places, but mainly with a good book, a good chair, and a good cup of coffee. I have a sister-in-law who is the happiest every summer spending time on one of the Thousand Islands (NY). The place and the heart are both tied together. Married really.

I love the photos of Kim Clayton Lance (ApertureoftheSoul – FaceBook)! They speak to my heart. What she captures on her camera might mimic what it is like when I capture some great truth(s) from God’s Word. Unexpected. Swift. Powerful. Urgent. Happy. The place and the heart, tied together. I love the photo of the little church with the background of vastness and beauty. It makes me contemplate God.

There is a moment when the scripture (especially a passage from Psalms) touches a place in my heart that surprises me. The place and the heart, tied together. I am very familiar with God’s Word, but lean toward complacent and comfortable. I respect God’s Word, but sometimes don’t expect it to move me. I know God’s Spirit enlivens the eyes of my heart, but I forget to invite Him in.

I am happy when God brings together the place and the heart. Today, in Psalm 85 I contemplated the perfect marriage of love and faithfulness. God tied them together. The perfect marriage of righteousness and peace. God tied them together. And, it felt just like the marriage of the little church with the majesty of the mountains behind it! Perfect. Happy. Place. God’s design.