Tag Archive | Bible

The Geography of Peace

Points of PeaceI don’t talk about it much in my blog, but I write fiction. It’s a hobby that borders on obsession. I have over thirty books published, and I’ve realized in many of my books I favor certain locales. One is the beach. I write a whole lot of stories around beaches. The other is gardens. I have an entire series named after a garden. I’m a bout to publish an entire series that takes place on an island surrounded by beaches. To me, being on a beach or in a garden is the ultimate in peacefulness.

Peace isn’t easy to come by, is it? I’m an introvert. I might be classified as a Highly Sensitive Person, which means the chaos and noise and busyness of life drives me a little bit nuts. It’s probably no surprise that my visions of peace include gardens and beaches. In my perfect versions, both are quiet and isolated, filled with life but not too many people.

This summer, for the first time in nearly a decade, my family is taking a vacation. Last time we vacationed, we were a family of six.  Now, due to adulthood and marriage, only three of us will be vacationing. It’s going to feel strange. But it’s also needed. We’ve needed to get away for a long time now. And I really, really need a beach.

To me, a beach is a place to discover new things. Sometimes I see dolphins. I collect shells. Find living animals on the sand, like horseshoe crabs and starfish. I listen to the surf and the birds. I watch the sky, which changes from sunup to sundown in amazing colors and shadows. I taste the tang on my tongue from the salt in the air. It’s nothing like my normal life living in a midwest suburb. It’s new and different and exciting and peaceful all at the same time.

The beach isn’t nearby. We’ll drive for twelve hours to get there. I can’t swallow down the difficulties of life and then take them to the beach to release them once a decade. That isn’t the plan. I need to find peace in more ordinary places.

God speaks often of peace. Peace that doesn’t depend on a beautiful, quiet location, although I think it’s fine to head someplace peaceful on a regular basis. Peace that doesn’t require life to stop so we can catch our breaths. God speaks of peace that comes from him, from his love and his Son and his Spirit. That kind of peace is accessible all the time, in any location and any situation.

That leads me to my other locale, the garden. If you’ll let me be fanciful for a moment, I want to say the beach is my glimpse of eternity. Huge, powerful, comforting, and something outside of me. All I have to do is stand on the sand and watch God’s beauty unfold.

The garden is peace for this world. Still beautiful, but also easier to access. A garden can be grown in the smallest plot. It can thrive in the harshest environment with a little care. That’s the peace I need on a daily basis, the peace that passes understanding, peace that can thrive regardless of circumstance.

But I do have to tend it. The garden peace requires me to delve into God’s Word. I’m almost three weeks behind in my Bible-in-a-year plan, so it’s easy to see why I might be lacking in the peace department, because I’m not as close to its source as I ought to be. Garden peace requires me to pray and to live  rhythms of thankfulness and mindfulness, celebration and meditation, always keeping God at the forefront in a world that tempts me to forget him completely.

In my books I put character after character on the beach so he or she will slow down and experience peace. Characters weed the gardens or sip lemonade in the shade of a tree or pet sheep in a quiet barn. I write peace all the time, because it matters to me. Instinctively I know life isn’t supposed to be chaotic and crazy. It’s supposed to be restful yet productive, created by a God of order and filled with supernatural love. Everything should fit. The tyranny of the urgent isn’t part of the life that should be, the life that will be again one distant day.

This life will have struggles and heartache. The peace of God doesn’t mean life will be easy. Not here, anyway. That’s later. But he has given us the promise of peace anyway, both the occasional evening on the beach when the wind of the Spirit soothes us from head to toe as He whispers of an eternal oasis as well as the peace of the garden, God’s work and love here which we can find in any situation if we’re willing to look for it.

I will keep writing peace, because it matters. In a world of darkness and uncertainty, it matters a lot. I pray this summer you will find peace. I hope you will find a plot to garden and tend the daily peace God promises. And I hope every now and then you will feel that comforting breeze of the future peace, the one that will never end.

 

 

The Quest for Intimacy and Truth

file000864438299In December I attended a conference on the Holy Spirit where I finally managed to trust that God knows me as his daughter. The intimacy that has come with that revelation has changed everything, allowing me to see the world through different eyes, dig into sealed places in my heart, open my life to nudges of the Spirit.

Of course, as with every mountaintop experience, there is the fear that I will forget what I learned and go back to life as usual, my default settings. Nothing would make Satan happier than for me to return to doubt and fear, for me to see God as angry and suspicious and not the Father who loves me and delights over me.

To keep this from happening, I’ve been looking at ways to spend more time with God, looking for ways to increase my intimacy with him. More time in the Bible, more time in prayer, being careful with my schedule so I don’t fill it with things that choke out my light, even emptying my house of extras that distract me from time with my family and friends and other blessings he gives.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of books and teachers out there who mix things together that shouldn’t be mixed, and sometimes I can be sucked into that. The idea that intimacy with God has to be a mystical thing filled with visions and new teachings and new truths; sometimes I fall for that. A little New Age mixed with some eastern religions, sprinkled liberally with talk of Jesus, and viola–a person has this new mess on her hands that’s just as bad as her lack of faith in God’s love.

Anyway, it has to boil down to truth, and that comes from one place. Yep, that would be the Bible. As I read about prayer, as I draw closer to God, as I look to add true spiritual disciplines to my life to increase my intimacy with the God who loves me, I have to guard the truths with everything I have. Every extra-biblical resource I read must faithfully stick to Scripture. And I find so very many of them don’t. There are no new truths. I don’t need new truths. I simply need to learn to live out the truths God already gave me. He says to pray without ceasing. He says to love him more than anything else. He says to turn my life over to him and follow him and take up my cross. Frankly, it’s easier to find books that say Hey, Jill, this is all about you. God loves you, so simply bask in that and get a big head and meditate on how awesome you are. Um, sure. Who doesn’t want to find some way to make herself the center of everything?

However, the truth is I am loved, and God delights in me, but he also put me here in enemy territory with a mission. I am a beloved warrior child. I am here to share Dad’s truths with a darkening world. I don’t have time to bask all day and be vain. He wants to love me, heal me, sing over me, and stick in a sword in my hand so I can fight for the other people he loves, heals, and sings over. Only a lot of them don’t know that yet. Head out, my daughter, and rescue your other siblings. My other children need to know what you know, so love them and guide them home.

As I dig through the good and the bad, I’ll share with you what I discover. I don’t want to default back to useless. But I don’t want to swing so far to the other side that I’m useless in new ways. I want to guard truths, breathe God with every breath, grow comfortable in the knowledge that I am loved with an everlasting love, and fight battles for my lost siblings. I want to love outwardly and not focus inward all the time. And I plan to listen to the Spirit as he leads me to true teachings, true teachers, and true friends, so I will not waver.

Spirit Bridge

In my reading this week, I came across a paragraph that hit me like a ton of bricks, except in a good way. Okay, maybe a ton of kittens and not bricks. It had to do with obedience. The writer of a devotional I’m reading pointed out that love is the key to obedience. I didn’t disagree, but I I had it backwards. I felt I had to obey to prove I loved. And that doesn’t work. When I tie how much God loves me to how obedient I am today, God’s love appears to waver. That’s not true.

No, the writer said, the focus is Jesus’ love for me. I don’t have to work to obey. (Yes, I make choices, but just bear with me here.) My focus isn’t scouring the Bible to know all the rules to obey. The focus is scouring the Bible to know how much Jesus loves me. Do you see that? Not how much I love him–because that’s sporadic and shifty and a sure recipe for disaster. No, how much HE loves ME. And once I get it, I will obey out of gratitude. I hate to use the word gratitude, because if feels too neutral and small. Big gratitude. Monster size. The kind that brings tears. All-encompassing. Life defining. Epic. The stuff of legends. BIG.

So my Bible reading has shifted into a search this year. Paul wants me to know how wide and deep Jesus’ love is for me. I can get on board with that goal. So much easier than proving I love God when some days I don’t. I was building a bridge to God based on my love.  Not a solid bridge. The Spirit says it was built by Jesus’ love for me, and it came from his side to mine, not something I built to him. I don’t see that yet, not always and not clearly, but it’s there, solid and safe.

The day after reading this I was reading yet another writer, and she was walking through the passage in Mark where little children are brought to Jesus and he says we have to approach him like children. And the question was what does that mean? I have kids. I love kids. But my first thoughts were entitled, whiny, self-righteous…  Yeah. I don’t think Jesus meant all that. But I want to understand it because this has to do with his love for me. It has to do with obedience in a way, but more with how I view God and how I view myself. How can I approach Jesus as a child?

Two days before this I’d read Psalm 131, and the Spirit nudged me back there, where David compares himself to a child. He says he doesn’t involve himself in great matters. Like a child in the back seat on a long drive–the child says Are we there yet? but doesn’t demand to see the map and navigate. He trusts Dad and Mom know the way. David talks about resting against God, having a quiet soul, a calm soul. Knowing God was talking, I excitedly pulled up Bible Gateway on the computer and looked up this Psalm in all the English versions, adding adjectives from different Bible versions: humble, dependent, satisfied, safe, peaceful. That’s how I am to approach Jesus as a child. Like a chubby, well-fed child who is so content he lounges, dozing, on Mom’s chest. It made sense now.file0001368323435

Jesus wants me to get it, so he corrects me. He wants to show me his love. When I look for it, he’ll gently draw me closer and make connections.  Right now, my connections to God feel something like a rickety rope bridge over a chasm. I don’t yet trust it. But the Spirit and I are hauling logs this year, filling in the bridge with planks, adding to the rails, building better supports. They’re there already on his end, but I have to learn to see them on my side. Instead of simply opening my eyes, he lets me work, lets me feel each log with my fingers, pound each nail, smell the sawdust, makes the connections real for me so I won’t forget, so I’ll know this bridge not simply by sight but with all my senses. Soon I’ll be able to fly across that bridge with complete faith. Satan won’t be able to set it swaying in every breeze.

Because my word of the year is coming into play: Reestablish. I’m learning about love and obedience and listening to the Spirit as he makes connections. I knew all this once, but not deep in my soul, and God is reestablishing everything in my spirit so I can hear and understand and then turn and do what he wants me to do. This time the bridge is strong because I’m intimate with its every curve and step, because the Spirit and I are exploring it together and he’s showing me its tiniest details. This time, I walk it for the right reasons, because I know I am loved with a patient and everlasting love.

Row the Boat

cropped-depositphotos_27196041_original1.jpgTwo posts ago (here), I talked about getting lost and drifting away from some important truths, like who God is and who I am and what it means to trust God.  You know, little truths like that, those foundational ones that make the difference between loving God and being afraid of God, between victorious living/spiritual growth and, again, being afraid of God.  Yeah, I had a little bit of fear going on.

This fall, God decided it was time for me to quit sitting around in my boat drifting, letting every current sweep me here and there.  The oars were in the boat, and yet my arms hung at my sides, useless.  I was lazy.  I was tired.  Maybe sad, because I let that inner voice, the one who is a mean girl, say terrible things to me about my successes (or lack of such), my age, my friendships, my history, all reminders that I’m not the greatest thing to hit the planet.  God had had enough of my wallowing, so he picked up my hands and set them on the oars and told me, in no uncertain terms, to row the boat.

But I don’t know what direction.  I don’t have a plan.  I’m not good at anything.  I fail a lot.  Surely I’ll just row in circles or find an abandoned island and continue to be alone. What if rowing the boat doesn’t get me anywhere?

Row. The. Boat.

Last fall, my church participated in the Community Bible Experience.  As a church, we read the New Testament in two months.  We met in small groups and discussed the reading.  I hadn’t had a Bible reading plan for a while.  But with this group, I did.  If the Word of God is the oars of my boat, then the CBE, for those eight weeks, was my map.  I had a direction. I had a plan.  I rowed that boat, and I wasn’t adrift.

God blessed me those two months.  Anyone who’s ever been in a Bible study group with me will assure you that I am completely useless in a Bible study group.  This is not me underestimating myself.  This is the truth.  I am an introvert among introverts, and faced with a group of people, I shut up.  Rarely do I make a peep.  And yet, God set me in the most amazing group.  My oldest son, who hadn’t pursued God in some time, participated. My youngest son participated.  The leader’s wife was as introverted as I was.  Everyone was simply easy to be with.  And the Spirit, tired of being ignored while I drifted, sort of jumped up and down and forced my lips open, and I think I might have talked during every single meeting.  Sometimes more than once.  I shared spiritual truths God was speaking to me.  It was surreal.

The greatest part of the CBE was that we didn’t answer set questions.  Each week, we simply expressed what we had learned in our reading.  What had touched us.  That open-ended discussion led us in all kinds of directions.  It meant whatever direction God sent me in during the week was okay for discussion, too. Usually Bible study questions try to lead where the writer wants to go, and I never want to go there. I always seem to forge my own path, and with CBE, I could do that.  All of us did, and we loved skipping along the paths of the others in the group. If those paths crossed or loop-de-looped, that was fine.  As long as we were honest and shared our paths, it was all good.

As I said, God greatly blessed that time.  My hands were back to the oars.  I was sweating and working, and a person sweating and working has less time to wallow and worry and overthink and create false narratives for herself and God. And I was sharing spiritual insights, and the responses of the group said maybe I wasn’t as lost as I’d thought.  Maybe I was a daughter after all.

So, drifting became motion.  I was still somewhat at sea.  The mean girl was still in there lying about who I was and how God sees me.  But I had put my hands back on the oars.  I’d let the Spirit use my lips in a group. Communication between my oldest son and me began a time of restoration. I knew that if I kept rowing, I would be okay.

And that’s true, although it’s never quite that easy, is it?  I was now rowing, but I had a few storms to row through, some choppy waters to navigate.  And those, of course, we’ll continue to tackle as the story unfolds.

 

Soul Diligence

DSC03371 “Only take heed, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things which your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life; make them known to your children and your children’s children—” Deut. 4:9 (RSV)

Lately doubts and fears and negativity have been stronger in my life than God’s truths and victories, and I keep running into the terms soul care and soul tending.  The words resonate. I imagine my soul and me at the spa, maybe the beach, refreshing, renewing: warm gentle breezes, meditation, a dewy glow about me as God builds back up things I’ve let fall down. But you might notice that, at the top of this website, the phrase on the menu isn’t soul care. It’s soul diligence, and it comes from the verse in Deuteronomy above. I think I’m way past the place where a spa day will fix my dilemma.  I fear God and I have some serious work ahead.

My daughter is a massage therapist. I struggle with shoulder pain, and she can fix me up in an hour. With a couple sessions, I’m good to go for a few months. It’s restful, and I love it, and I would pay her almost anything when the pain gets bad and I can’t function.

My son is a personal trainer. Last January I started to train with him twice a week. It was hard. Painful and sweaty, and at first I was a wimp. But it got easier, and I got stronger, and I realized I didn’t have to go see my daughter as often. Sure, I still get sore and need a massage, but the two disciplines work together, strengthening and refreshing until I can move with ease through my days.

Soul care or soul diligence might have two parts, too. Meditation is calming and peaceful. Digging into the Word for truths is harder work.  Together, they produce a stronger soul, one better able to deal with whatever comes. And we all know stuff comes. No road is clear and sunny and smooth all the time.

Personally, I have to have a plan. For years I read through the Bible once a year starting in January. Then a couple years ago, I didn’t read the Bible in a year. I decided I would try something else. But I didn’t plan something else, and that year I read very little Bible at all. And then I took that lack of discipline into the next year. And my soul was vulnerable to attack, to wounds, to lies and defeat.

This year, I intend to be diligent. I’m reading books on soul care, meditation, things of that sort, but I also have a plan for the sweat work. I’m going to read the whole Bible this year, and the plan I’ve chosen is a thematic one from BibleStudyTools.com.  I wrote a post about Bible reading a few years ago, but the bottom line is don’t lose the sweat work. I can say from experience that it all falls apart after that, and it takes more than a soul day at the spa to put things back together.

Since I’ve not been disciplined lately, I know the first few miles are going to hurt–like running uphill with shin splints. I haven’t built soul workout time into my schedule for some time. Maybe you haven’t, either. But it will get easier, and pretty soon we can all lope along together stronger, wiser, moving at a good clip over the smooth paths, the rough paths, through the wind and the rain. And hey, I’m more than happy to share a few soul spa days with you all, too. This journey is long, so we’ll pace ourselves and enjoy the trek as we go.

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So, I mentioned in my last post that I wasn’t going to lecture. And this is a lecture.  But I had to get this one out early, because I think it’s pretty foundational for my goal of finding God’s paths again, and apparently when I get excited, I lecture. (Mom thing!)

Anyway, I’ll race you to the next bend!! And maybe after that, we can share a soul spa day and enjoy the view.