Monday, June 19, 2017

Relationship Idolatry

What follows is a story I shared in the context of teaching a Bible study on forgiveness and relationships. Even in the midst of losing an important relationship, God may be able to teach us something so that we may draw nearer to him.

"Thou shalt have no other gods before me." Exodus 20:3
"No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon." Matthew 6:24

Susan married a man whom she considered better than herself. She had poor self-esteem from her childhood, and wrong decisions in her young adult life made it even worse. When she found someone whom she considered "good" who loved her, she based her worth on his opinion of her.
She married the man and trusted him implicitly, believing everything he said about life, principles, and even God and the Bible. She put him on a pedestal. Then, when he left her after several years of marriage, Susan was shattered to the point of feeling suicidal. Susan had made her husband her idol; she valued his opinion more than God's.
Idolatry is like spiritual adultery; it is loving someone or something more than God. God says Susan is forgiven for whatever she has done wrong, but her husband, by rejecting her, showed unforgiveness. Susan, therefore, did not feel truly forgiven. Her husband's rejection would not have been so devastating had she not put him in God's place in her life. If her husband, knowing everything about her, rejected her, then how could God truly accept her? Obviously, her self image was based more on what her husband thought of her than what God thought of her.
When another person is given the position that only God should have in our lives, many things can happen. When Susan idealized her husband, she put an unbearable burden on him. She subconsciously expected him to be godlike – – perfect, incapable of failure, able to know and fulfill her every need. He was her all in all – – husband, father, and even savior. No human can withstand those types of expectations; he is a failure just by being human. Being someone else's everything is too much pressure.
If you have allowed the rejection of another to shake your faith, to separate you from God, to deeply damage your own self image, then perhaps you have placed that person above God in your life. Tell God about it; ask him to reveal to you His truth.

Lord, I confess that I have been guilty of idolatry, that I have put someone or something else ahead of You. I ask You to forgive me and to take first place in my life. I accept what You say that I am: fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14) and precious in Your sight. Father, take away any hidden idols in my home or in my life – – anything that would keep my loyalty from You or stand in the way of our relationship. Thank You for revealing these blind spots in my life and for cleansing me from all unrighteousness. (I John 1:9)

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Monday, January 19, 2015

Songs in the Night: The Promise of Winter Wheat

Songs in the Night: The Promise of Winter Wheat:      I love the green blush of winter wheat tinging a dull brown field in cold January. I start thinking of seeds and growing things, young...

The Promise of Winter Wheat

     I love the green blush of winter wheat tinging a dull brown field in cold January. I start thinking of seeds and growing things, young calves and earthy smells. Glancing across a highway-side field of tender sprouts, I smile as I recall my grandparents' farms of forty years ago in Baylor County, Texas--memories evoking thoughts of farmhouse Christmases with family bunched around an oilcloth-covered wooden table in a sun-splashed kitchen, and through the window the expanse of a field of winter wheat spanning the nearly mile-long stretch from sheet-metal roofed house and barns to river--a broad green carpet on a frosty day.

   I recall the two-mile drive out onto the gravel road, past the mailbox and over the hill to the highway and tiny community crossroads where,  in my mind's eye,  I turn the corner by the cotton gin and pull up to the pick-up crowded parking lot of a white-washed country church surrounded by those fields of green. Inside, the pews are filled with the faithful, familiar faces of Red Springs--many who have known me since my infancy and prayed for me and my family through the struggles of the years. I may not recall their names,  but their faces are dear; they hug me, shake my hand, and pat my cheeks.  Our family crowds into a pew towards the front on the left side  with a view out the window to the fields. I can't picture that pew without seeing my grandma there and my aunt at the piano playing the hymns up front. The worshipers are faithful, though the season is cold and unfruitful. The green fields bring forth a sigh of hope for a future spring.

     When I spent my first northern winter isolated from family in sub-zero Iowa in a drafty old house with a new baby, Grandma wrote to me about her crops and cows and plans for the spring, including news about her church and our family. A daughter of a preacher/farmer, a daily Bible reader, and a widow, she lived alone on her farm from her early sixties and battled diabetes with twice daily insulin injections, but it was she who encouraged me when I felt sorry for myself--she with her  description of twin calves frolicking in the field of winter wheat and her plowing her garden in preparation for spring planting. She reminded me of my blessings and told me to focus on my priorities and day to day responsibilities and let God handle the rest. Precious are those practical, time-worn letters and the memory of my Godly, wise grandma conveying her word-pictures of the winter wheat.

   The rolling green gives way to roadside drabness as I drive, but my thoughts continue pondering the promise of the winter wheat. Not only is it January outside, but I am experiencing a winter of sorts in my life circumstances and a dullness in my spirit. The fresh green of the field sets my heart to pondering, and so I write.

     Wikipedia informs me that winter wheat actually requires the cold months to be able to head out in the next season.(1)  Without thirty to sixty days of the dreary days of winter, the plants won't undergo "vernalization" and make grain! Those tender green sprouts are a promise of the golden wheat in the summer, of warmth  and harvest, of new life; but, the growth comes after those months of chill, and the golden grain after the waiting.

     Perhaps I am like the winter wheat and am undergoing "vernalization" in this season of waiting and enduring. Yet, I must not wish this time away, because doing so might sacrifice the fruit of the harvest later on. It is a time for me to be still, read God's Word, worship Him,  and let my roots grow deep. Like my grandma and the faithful saints in the country church, I need to get my thoughts off of myself and my circumstances and look out the window to see the bigger picture, and to trust that God sees the biggest picture and knows what He is doing.

    When my son died, someone gave me a framed scripture passage which I keep at my office on a wall where I see it frequently:

" For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace." 
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, English Standard Version (ESV)

       This season, this time, is for a length and purpose of God's choosing. I need to trust Him with it and have faith that He will accomplish His purpose. Two verses later in this passage, the writer continues,
 "11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end."   I may not know in my lifetime what business God is about, but I know He is about His business, and He will make it beautiful.

     An agricultural website tells me that winter wheat is useful for grazing,  for enriching the soil, for weed and pest and control, and for a cash crop. (2) Once harvested it is a high-protein, nutritious grain. I see none of that value now while traveling down the highway watching the fields or as I regard my current state of mind.  But, for now, the sight of winter wheat rests my eyes, elicits fond memories, and reminds me both of the wisdom and faith of my grandmother and the sovereignty of my Lord.
"As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease." Genesis 8:22 NIV


Friday, May 9, 2014

Two Vases and a Teacup

     How the years have flown by! As I approach Mother's Day, I sit at home alone today, putting off the list of chores I need to do and remembering the childhood days of my children.
      I  bought my older daughter a pretty crystal bud vase for Mother's Day this year. And, when doing so, I remembered that she at one time gave me a beautiful little blue and white speckled vase in which I could put the wildflowers that she so lovingly gathered and brought to me clutched in her hands. That vase has grown more precious through the years and serves as a vessel in which I  put delicate,  lovely, thin-stemmed flowering sprigs in the spring. 
     My younger daughter fashioned a vase for me from a slender jar, some wire, and multicolored glass beads. That bud vase is also dear to me, and I look for it, especially when I want it to hold a single lovely flower. There have been many days that I have carried it to the office with me to set on my desk where I can share a beautiful flower with my patients.
      I realized today , as I watched the rain drops streaming down outside my window and noticed the drooping flower petals in my garden, that it's not the flowers I treasure so much as the vessels into which I put them. Those vases have become symbols of who my daughters are as persons. The blue one is a simple, round-bodied clay vase textured with raised white dots. The daughter who gave it enjoys having a very simple home with clean lines and a modern touch. She abhors junk-drawers and messy closets and is much more of a minimalist than  I. The blue reminds me of her beautiful eyes and of how they sparkled when she gave me the vase. I see her eyes now as she sings to her children and lovingly snuggles them in her lap as she reads stories to them. The vase is a symbol of her because it holds good and lovely things, just as my daughter does. She embodies the lovely, giving spirit of a sweet young mother. She is so beautiful to me as I watch the way she devotes herself to her husband and children and lives out her faith in Christ in daily, sacrificial ways.
     The vase that my younger daughter made is also uniquely representative of her. The colorful beads catch the sunlight, and the wire is twisted around the glass in such an artistic free-form manner. She is so much like the vase--it a work of multifaceted artistry , and she a  free-spirited artist herself-- a young woman of many interests with a sparkling personality. When I add lemon-lime soda to the water to preserve fresh flowers, the fizziness again reminds me of this daughter; her personality is effervescent.
     Both daughters are the bearers of good things--of beauty and freshness,  of life--a fragrance of God's creation and Presence within them. I'm thankful today for those daughters and for the vases that remind me of them. But what about my son and the "teacup" in the title of this blog entry?
     My son and his gift are not forgotten. I don't see him in a bud vase, but I do in the teacup he gave me when he was a little boy. It is a simple white mug bearing a multicolored rainbow heart with this inscription above  it:  "May your day be filled with love". I think of him every time I drink from that cup and realize that this cup is a symbol of him. He was a very loving child and wore his heart on his sleeve. Even today,  he is loving, generous, and sensitive. I value that teacup, but I treasure the son who gave it to me. And, when I read the words on the cup, I realize that my days ARE filled with love--the love of children, a family, my friends, my church, and--most of all--my Savior, Who loved me enough to become a child-vessel of God Himself, lived out His very human life among us, suffered as we do, was betrayed and abandoned as we are, and was broken as He sacrificed Himself so that we might have new life, forgiveness for our sins, joy in each day, and hope.
     I am thankful this Mother's Day weekend for the gifts from my children but much more thankful for the givers themselves. They are a reflection of the Giver of all good things. They are God's gifts to me and to His world. I see Him in them. 

"Children are a gift from the LORD; they are a reward from him."
Psalm 127: 3 (New Living Translation)

 Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens.  He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.” James 1:17 (NLT)

 "In the sight of God, who gives life to everything..."  I Timothy 6:13a

Monday, November 4, 2013

Songs in the Night: The Untended Garden

Songs in the Night: The Untended Garden:       I started my garden early this year, in spite of my gardening friend's warning never to put out my tomato plants before Easter. S...

The Untended Garden

     I started my garden early this year, in spite of my gardening friend's warning never to put out my tomato plants before Easter. She was right. I lost some pepper, tomato, and eggplant seedlings to late freezes, and my cucumbers were stunted and never quite recovered. However, I persisted in putting out tomatoes and even planted some late peas, which produced abundantly due to our cooler than average spring.
     Because of this cool spring, my tomatoes were just coming into full production as we were leaving for our two-week summer vacation. I had picked a couple of good pots of green beans also. I encouraged friends to come by and pick whatever they wanted while I was away. Perhaps they did, because there were no tomatoes left, other than wormy, rotten ones, and the green beans were all gone when I returned. The squash had succumbed to the squash bugs, the cucumbers had dried up, and weeds had overtaken the dried-up peas. I even had trouble locating my pepper plants amidst the tangle of weeds that had taken over in my absence. Even my herbs had flowered and lost their pungency as a result of neglect. There was little garden left to tend, and the change had taken hold in such a short time!
     Yet, I knew that I had not cared for this year's garden as well as I had others in the past. My time was divided for the first six weeks of summer because we had workmen in our house redoing cabinets and drawers and doing repair work. We also lost two huge trees that fell during one of our spring storms, and I had to tend to their removal. I was distracted from tending my garden and kept up only the minimum care of it before ultimately leaving on a two-week trip to Nova Scotia. What did I expect to happen? Did I think that it would miraculously take care of itself in my absence? That it would set and bear fruit for me?
     My first thought when I returned home and walked out to my overgrown garden was that it  was a picture of a spiritual lesson. That early garden had been a result of my work and care--the preparing of the soil; the planting and watering of seeds; the weed-pulling, pest-preventing,  pinching, and pruning; and even the protection from the elements when the frosts threatened. This late garden was the result of my not working--my neglect.
     I intended for that garden to bear fruit, and lots of it. I had my mouth all ready to enjoy weeks of tangy, sweet, juicy homegrown tomatoes; crispy, cool cucumbers; yellow straight-neck, zucchini, and pattypan squash; and crunchy green beans. Yet, the only fruit left was blighted by disease, stung or infested with insects, or choked by weeds. None was fit to eat.
     With disgust and despair, I walked away from that garden and virtually ignored it for the rest of the summer, occasionally venturing out to see if I could find a few jalapenos or bell peppers that seemed to keep producing even in the massive overgrowth of grass and weeds. But, for the most part, I gave up on this year's garden.
       God created man and woman and put them in a garden. Again and again in scripture God uses agricultural references to teach us about the Christian life. What was He saying to me through the ruin of my garden? What was my take-home lesson? At mid-summer I wasn't even sure I wanted to know. But, now that fall has come, I am ready to learn.

First, gardens are meant to be tended.

" The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it…" Genesis 2:15

     Generally I am a pretty good gardener.I learned at the side of my grandmothers and my mother, and I benefited from the produce of their wonderful gardens. I go out almost daily to check for bugs and weeds and to see if my garden is getting ample water or if it needs to be fertilized.  But, God is a much better gardener than I.
     God tends His garden as He sees fit. Jesus tells us that He is actually the vine, and we are branches of that vine.

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”  John 15:1-2 (NKJV)

     When God talks of His garden and His care of it, He is talking about taking care of us, His people. Through His attention to us, we grow and thrive.

  " He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, Which yields its fruit in its season And its leaf does not wither; And in whatever he does, he prospers."
 Psalm 1:3 New American Standard Bible

     God's word is like food and water for the seed, and He will cause His garden to flourish and bear fruit.

 "As the rain and snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it." Isaiah 55:10-11

     When I looked at the neglected shamble of a garden in my back yard this summer, I realized that I had been too preoccupied with the business of life to tend to it and bring about the result I had hoped for. And, I wondered what God, as the Master Gardener, had been hoping for me during this time. He sends me His living water, His word, His spiritual food. I, however, had been neglecting to receive it. The spectacle of my neglected garden was a metaphor for my untended soul. I could feel the dryness, the lack of growth, the spiritual thirst in this branch of the vine.
     Fortunately, the specter of my untended garden was a jolt to my sensibilities. I knew that God was speaking to me. I finally decided to listen. No matter how stressed or busy I am, no matter how many times I am unable to attend my Bible study class or my church worship services, I can still find ways to connect to the Vine, to drink of the Living Water, and to ask for restoration. So, I consciously sought out a Bible study this fall to challenge me to stay in the Word. Even when I haven't been able to attend due to other obligations, I have an assignment to complete. The lessons forced me into the Word.  I have started  listening to digital Christian books  when I travel or to streaming Christian programs on my smart phone, and I found an old box of books by one of my favorite Christian authors of the last century in my mother's barn that I am rereading. I am up to book number 22 by that author now. And, every time that I am able to attend worship services or choir practices, I do. 
     I am now feeling more refreshed and renewed, and, like the leaves of a drooping plant finally given a refreshing drink of cool water, I can feel myself unfurling, stretching, and reaching out for more.
     One of the reasons we plant a garden, I think, is because we have the Spirit of the Living Lord within us. We yearn to be like our Creator. He loves to see us grow, and our own gardens give us pleasure as well. But, at present, it is more important for me to tend to the garden of my soul than to my withered, sun-parched herbs. Thus, I have dug up the dead plants, pulled out the weeds, and prepared the soil for another season. The ground will lie fallow for this fall and winter, but my inward garden will not. I thank God that he doesn't give up on us and that He holds onto our hand even when we get distracted and tend to loosen our grip. And, I can depend on Him because He is the life that is in me. 

"For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand outside. I would rather stand at the threshold of the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness. For the Lord God is a sun and a shield; the Lord gives grace and glory; no good thing does  He withhold from those who walk uprightly. O Lord of hosts, how blessed is the man who trusts in You!" Psalm 84: 10-12

     God will be both my sun and my protection when I seek him. As long as I stay connected to Him and consistently seek His face, I thrive. I will be like the tree planted by the stream of water. 

     I thank you, God, that even in the autumn, when the season is cooling and the leaves are falling, that you bring new growth to my spirit and pour into my life your grace and love.