25 April 2014

Oh, how He loves us.

A while back, I was thinking about this life, and the untold billions who never knew Christ. As I mused on how on earth they would ever receive a fair chance at salvation, I was reminded of Joseph's vision of the Father & Son, where Alvin was with them. Alvin had no Melchizedek priesthood leader, no ordinances. Yet he was with the Father & Son after his death, and Joseph was given to know he received exaltation. This life is, as father Lehi says to his son Jacob in 2 Nephi 2:27:
"Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and call things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself."
It's to see what we desire in our hearts, and what we do about those desires. As I kept on meditating on this, God told me so clearly and simply that this life would still be an absolutely fair test, with the same potential for exaltation, without ANY interaction from God, whatsoever. Without the church. Without interaction from Christ. Just our consciences to guide us. (He still had to triumph over sin & death so He could pay our debt to justice, but that could have happened quietly, without prophecy and without a following.)

That idea came so cleanly, so clearly, so quietly and simply into my heart. I asked, "Then why, God? Why all of the effort and failure and heartache to work so much with your children? When you know so many will take what You give them and transform it into bludgeons to use on one another, especially the downtrodden and weak? Why go to all the effort?" His answer was so typical of Him, and so all-encompassing:

"Because I love you."

The true test is in our hearts--whether we are Mormon or Muslim, Jew or Gentile, American or Aborigine. Our life circumstance doesn't matter a single bit. Our access to "saving ordinances", et al, as members of the LDS church only provides a different arena in which to act out the desires of our hearts. I haven't yet pondered on why it is that some are blessed so richly (like my husband and myself), born to families that are pretty darn good, raised with sufficient food, clothing & shelter, without serious abuse from those that are supposed to love us, and then grow into adults who try to keep God's commandments and are blessed with so much safety as a result. But the answer I got that afternoon was astounding to me: God goes to all of this effort, all of this heartache, all of this rejection because He loves us, and He can't NOT do it.

God  ROCKS  my world. :oD

23 April 2014

Spring Will Prove

I went out this evening and sat for a few minutes in the quiet of the van, stuffing the shopping bags back into their little pouches and folding the ones that didn't stuff so they'd all fit into one bag. It was warm, and the quiet felt velvety in my ears.

Looking out over the yard, I watched the white pines sway in the breeze, gratefully soaked in the residual heat collected by the dark green metal during the brief sunshine today, and yet felt overwhelmed. There's so much to do, so much to do to finish the house in time to finalize the mortgage on schedule, in addition to the heavy load I carry as a wife, mother, homemaker and homeschooler, and the tears came back. I thought of the house, upstairs, of the clutter partying on every flat surface and the dust and dog hair that collects in the corners faster than I've ever seen, anywhere, in my entire life.  My gaze fell on my little Japanese maple, and I remembered planting iris rhizomes from my mother-in-law last spring. 

And God whispered to me, "Go look at it."

I left the soft warmth of the van and walked through the crisp breeze toward my tree. When I drew close, I could see them . . . the tiny beginnings of this year's iris that might (just might) bloom this year. Not all of them survived the transplanting, but there are quite a few new shoots coming up around the base of the tree.

While I stood, looking, I found a few roots that had been pulled up by deer, or cats, or frost heave. Most were mushy and empty, but one felt heavy when I touched it. Picking it up, I found it wasn't completely soft--one end was firm and smooth, with two tiny sprouts starting from it: one root-colored, and one leaf-colored.

I began pulling at the soil with my fingers, and made a shallow trench. Setting it in place, I thought to myself that while the odds weren't all that great, it now had a chance. Irises are tough critters.

I stood and looked at the ground under the tree, and saw the brambles and weeds that were beginning to take over the area we'd carefully cleared, and felt the immensity of the work before me begin to descend once again. I turned away, back towards the house, the discouragement pulling at every step.

Once again, my eyes fell on another gift: a hydrangea that Vern & the children gave me last Mother's Day. It has looked pretty sad all winter, and we wondered if it had made it. God said, "Go look at it."

I walked up to the wire enclosure we put around it to keep the chickens off, and looked down at the uninspiring rags of last year's growth, wondering what I'd see. 

And then, I saw.

Just barely, as they weren't that visible from the top. Little buds, pushing up from the base of the hydrangea amongst the old branches.

And then, looking closer, I saw that those old branches weren't all dead after all . . . some of them were showing green underneath the papery bark, for as the branches swelled and grew inside of it, the dried and brittle covering split. God whispered, "I will make it grow." And I knew it would be beautiful again . . . gloriously so.

As I looked at the rest of the plant, wondering how much had survived, God whispered again, this time in a complete thought without words, that we would need to let the plant grow and bud and leaf out a little, to see what was yet quick, and what was dead. We needed to let that new life prove itself by its growth.

And then would come the pruning.

I stood there, seeing the ravages of winter, and the damage the new growth had done to the protective but unyielding sheathing on what had survived. I saw the upper branches, gnarled and straw-like that would most likely fall under the shears in a few weeks, and God whispered that I was seeing myself.

I've been through a hard wintry season in  my life. A season of trying, and testing. A season that has threatened everything I have ever believed, ever trusted, everything I thought I knew. And now that Spring is returning, one lovely moment and one Spring rainstorm at a time, I'm seeing new growth budding from the parts of me proven through my circumstances . . . the very innermost heart where God lives.

Through that wintry season, He was the Master Gardener. And now, as Spring returns and His plans are coming to life in me, the pruning will come . . . once the dead and dying wreckage can clearly be distinguished from the vital, new, living creature in Christ that He has made me.

It's alternately nerve-wracking and exhilarating. Sometimes I'm pretty sure I know what is good, and what has survived . . . but I'm not always right.

When I came back with my camera, to better share this with you, He showed me the branches of my little Japanese maple, showing the same symbolic pattern as the hydrangea.

Sometimes it's proving to be the larger, more impressive branches that have died back, while the smaller, more tender branches survived.

It's kind of a tangle, really. But this I know: my God isn't just the Good Shepherd, He is the Master Gardener, and He knows a true branch when He sees one. I can trust Him, for even though He will ask for things I have long loved, or in which I have found temporary comfort, He will not ask me to relinquish anything that I truly need to make it back to Him. 

And in that, I rejoice. 

14 April 2014

You Can Only Fool Yourself

Now go and completely destroy  the entire Amalekite nation—men, women, children, babies, cattle, sheep, goats, camels, and donkeys.” ~1 Samuel 15:3
God's instructions are clear, simple, and straightforward. We best understand them through His Spirit, but even without the Holy Spirit's assistance, we can easily understand the meaning of His word.
Saul and his men spared Agag’s life and kept the best of the sheep and goats, the cattle, the fat calves, and the lambs—everything, in fact, that appealed to them. They destroyed only what was worthless or of poor quality. ~1 Samuel 15:9
But how often and quickly do we humans take what God has said, and then put our own spin on it? How readily do we add to His instructions and will because it is appealing to us? We tell ourselves that we're fulfilling His command, but in breaking what we see as only part of His word, we disregard it completely. Adding even just a drop of gasoline to a tall glass of milk makes it completely undesirable.
Then the Lord  said to Samuel,  “I am sorry that I ever made Saul king, for he has not been loyal to me and has refused to obey my command.” Samuel was so deeply moved when he heard this that he cried out to the Lord  all night. Early the next morning Samuel went to find Saul. ~1 Samuel 15:10-12
The Lord cannot look upon sin with any degree of allowance. No matter what we personally believe our state of obedience is, wrong thinking about that state won't save us. Justification, excuses, they don't change what we've done. When we continue on in our idolatrous ways (putting our own desires or fear of mortals above and before what He instructed us) we utterly reject the God of Israel, our Savior and Redeemer, who gave everything for us. When we're in harmony with God, and listen to His Spirit, we are alive to the tragedy and loss that idolatry is. My heart goes out to Samuel, who had to go through that--had to witness Saul falling from the Lord's favor, despite the pleadings of an entire night.
Someone told him, “Saul went to the town of Carmel to set up a monument to himself; then he went on to Gilgal.” When Samuel finally found him, Saul greeted him cheerfully. “May the Lord  bless you,” he said. “I have carried out the Lord’s command!” ~1 Samuel 15:12-13
And meanwhile, those who have rationalized their idolatry continue on, having convinced themselves that all is well, they are blessed, and the Lord will be so, so pleased with what they've done. (After all, they worked their tails off getting it done, and look at what they accomplished!)
But Samuel replied,  “What is more pleasing to the Lord: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams. Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft, and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols. So because you have rejected the command of the Lord, he has rejected you as king.” ~22-23
Samuel lays it out so clearly here: don't do it. When we transform the holy word of God, we break His command. Obedience to what God actually said, what He actually commanded is what He wants. Not the fat of rams. Not sacrifices. All of those things are already His . . . all He wants is our love. He wants a real, close, familiar relationship with each of us, so He can continually reveal to us more of the true extent of His love. Saul had convinced himself that he had done what the Lord commanded--but his delusion was no guard against the truth of what he had done.

I've been feeling lately that this time is one of urgent preparation, that I and my family need to draw close to the Lord, for the time is far spent. I need to know God, truly, for myself, and have a living, constant connection with Him as I go through each moment.

Father, thank you. Thank you for Your love, your patience, and the incredible Gift of Your Son that makes my happiness and peace and intimacy with You and Him so much easier. I praise You for Your eagerness to reveal Yourself to me, for the way you continually offer peace and freedom, righteousness and rejoicing, even in the hardest times. Lord, I pray that the hearts of those who profess Your name will be softened. That those who do many things in Your name might have a radical encounter with Your love, and be changed forever. Open their hearts and minds to know You, the only true and living God. You are good, faithful, kind and loving, and I rejoice that I can trust You completely, in everything, because You are perfectly just, too. I know that anything I endure for You will bring support and strength down from Heaven, and that You will redeem the pain, redeem the time, and bless me on every hand for what I might experience because I follow You. Lord, bless and guard my family. Lead them in the ways of truth and righteousness. Reveal Yourself to us more each day, and always show us better how to follow You, how to follow, Jesus, how to follow the Word of God. In Jesus' beautiful name, amen!