Spring Forward

“Do not remember the former things, Nor consider the things of old. Behold, I will do a new thing, Now it shall spring forth; Shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness And rivers in the desert,” Isaiah 43:18-19 NKJV

Some things should move with us. Memories. Love. Lessons learned. Others are meant to be forgotten and buried such as regret, disappointment, and fear.

Spring as a verb means to move in a forward direction; it also suggests momentum and height. Some of us have lost our momentum. We may not be stretching ourselves to attain the heights God wants us to achieve.

It takes effort to let go of pain and hurt. Remaining somber and disgusted doesn’t allow painful memories and emotions to fade. It takes determination to forgive, forget, and reset.

Now is the time to renew our minds and embrace new opportunities. As fresh buds bloom and we transition to a new season, consider the new thing God may be asking of you.

Behold, I will do a new thing, Now it shall spring forth; Shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness And rivers in the desert. Isaiah 43:19 NKJV

New Hope

My garden isn’t looking so green these days. The dead of winter has left it a mere remnant of its former self. The frigid temperatures experienced here last month, the lowest in twenty years, didn’t help either. Even my typically hardy pansies succumbed to the frigid temperatures.

Just when I thought I needed to dump out one of my pots to plant anew, I saw the tiniest buds of life. I didn’t think much of it a week ago. Today those new buds are now larger and offer a bit of hope for the future. Apparently the weather wasn’t enough to kill this plant after all. The funny thing is, I don’t even know what is growing. I’ll simply have to wait and see. Most people would count it a minor victory considering all that was lost, but I appreciate these random surprises.

That’s one of the joys of the garden as it is in life. There is always something new budding if we take time to be still and take notice. God readily uses what is existing and from it brings forth something new. New ideas often stem from previous failures. The wisdom gained from what doesn’t work is often a springboard toward something that will.

The New Year provides opportunities for new things. The dead zone that is currently my garden offers hope for new blooms not based on what I see but rather what I have learned through the years. The garden is faithful–its perennial blooms will emerge once more. I know the potential is there. I only have to nurture what already exists and wait patiently.

Though far too early to plant right now, it is never too early to dream about what can be. I’m ever searching the garden for signs of new life. Yet, unlike the garden, God’s potential in us and through us is limitless.

What signs of hope do you see for the New Year?

Devotional Prompt: Behold, I will do a new thing, Now it shall spring forth; Shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness And rivers in the desert. Isaiah 43:19 NKJV

Into the Light

Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” John 8:12 NKJV

Christmas has always been my favorite time of year. As a young child, I was mesmerized by Christmas lights. As an adult, I rationalize reasons to put them up earlier and earlier each year. Now older and hopefully wiser, I realize that what we all hunger for is the true Light that promises peace, joy, and salvation.

As we journey through life, we can find ourselves in dark places. The loss of loved ones can be especially profound this time of year. Physical and mental illness can leave us feeling isolated. Political clatter and economic uncertainly can drive us to hibernate and move away from the Light that sustains us.

I suspect Jesus proclaimed that He was the Light of the world to give us hope in increasingly dark times.

But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9 NKJV).

The gift of Christ as our Savior grants us freedom from the dark and offers a glimpse of the Light that awaits us in eternity. I’ve learned over the past decades to nourish myself with the Word of God. Inspirational devotionals, television programs, and old-fashioned testimonies always chase away my dark thoughts and inspire me.

That said, I am honored and humbled to contribute to the Christmas issue of Refresh Magazine, a Lighthouse Bible Studies Publication. The latest issue celebrates not only the Nativity but also offers uplifting articles that recognize heartfelt issues that often multiply this time of year. Grief, depression, and loneliness are addressed. It’s refreshing to see a publication touch upon the realities that can accompany the holiday season. Yet, this issue also offers Christmas miracles and bits of Bible trivia. My favorite article thus far is Just a Shepherd by Dorcas Asercion Zuniga. It offers a fresh perspective on the traditional “background” characters associated with the Nativity.

Refresh Magazine blessed me with the opportunity to shed a little Light this year. We should continually strive to brighten the days of those in need and to check on those we miss, especially at Christmas.

You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:14-16 NKJV).

Wishing you peace, joy, and Light.

Merry Christmas!

Great Pumpkins?

But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed (James 1:14 NKJV).

When I was a kid and cartoons were scarce, I would watch the Charlie Brown televised specials. They were broadcast like clockwork, an indicator that the holidays were upon us.

The Halloween episode didn’t resonate with me as much as Thanksgiving and Christmas. I could relate a little too readily to Charlie Brown’s misplaced trust in Lucy, his failed attempt at a costume, and his receipt of rocks instead of candy. Still, the dominant theme around Linus’ obsession with the Great Pumpkin is even more significant now that I am decades older.

Linus placed all his hopes and dreams into one idea to the detriment of time spent with family and friends. I suspect we all have great pumpkins in our lives that steal more time and attention than they ever deserved.

Our pumpkins disguise themselves as the very things we desire. They tend to come packaged with a fear of missing out—erroneously magnified in our minds. In hindsight, I recognize situations in my life where I wasted time and worried when I should have trusted God. The fear of losing something—like a job or an opportunity—can loom so large in our lives, we fail to view things in their proper perspective.

The Great Pumpkin Linus sought didn’t exist. He dismissed correction from his harsh but well-intentioned sister, Lucy. Suggestions and questions directed at us when we are desperate aren’t usually well received either. That’s why it’s vital to keep our focus on what is true and everlasting.

In a world of continual news and notifications, it can be hard to hear God. But it is possible. God corrects us with prompts and whispers—it’s up to us to hear and obey. When we take the focus off of our pumpkins and center it on God, we can then discern that our pumpkins and their promises are far smaller than we imagined.

Is your faith in God or in an illusion?

Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning
(James 1:16-17 NKJV).

Hidden Potential…

As posted on Green Garden Therapy.com where you can find Lilka in the garden.


For the twenty years I’ve lived in my home, I assumed the trees in my backyard are some variety of maple based on the shape of the leaves and their brilliant fall color. Only recently did I realize that they are instead American sweetgum. This is rather amusing considering my yard is scattered with their brown spiny seedpods.

I noticed birds picking at the seedpods a few days ago. Apparently, they provide quite the buffet. That’s when I realized the seedpods were hanging from my maple imposters. All these years, I thought those brown balls were just wandering over from my neighbor’s yard.

Curiosity got the better of me, so I did a bit of research. First, I was perplexed when I found that you can purchase these same seedpods online. Pinterest has several uses for them. There is quite a demand for something I consider yard trash.

More importantly, I learned that the seeds found in these pods contain shikimic acid—one ingredient in the prescription antiviral Tamilfu. As a pharmacist, I find that fascinating. What I consider a nuisance is loaded with healing potential. The sap from this same tree is thought to have antiseptic and antifungal properties as well.

My newfound discovery makes me wonder what other things in life are right in front of me that I’ve underestimated and underappreciated. As creatures with our own prejudices, I think we often fail to see the hidden potential in things (and people) unless we are forced to. Some people readily see the positive in everything. Still, for most of us, it takes a bit of work.

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Gardening has taught me that there is usually far more to everything than I can physically see. In these challenging times, let us seek to find the hidden potential in all of us.

Devotional prompt:  The Lord opens the eyes of the blind; The Lord raises those who are bowed down; The Lord loves the righteous. Psalms 146:8 NKJV

Clarity…

This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart;
Ephesians 4:17-18 NKJV

 

The ice pictured here was photographed a few years ago in Alaska. It was so clean and clear because it lacked the impurities found elsewhere. Likewise, we need to get away to obtain that same sense of clarity in our mind and spirit. The chatter of people, things, and social media can cause us to forget our purpose and pull us away from the very things God tasks us to do.

There are several references in the Bible where Jesus left the crowds (and his disciples) to be alone and pray. In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus stepped away from those closest to him to be alone. What’s interesting is that the disciples Jesus asked to stay up with him failed him three times that night.

Those closest to us can fail to meet our expectations as well. When we face trials, we may instinctively call other people to draw them into our troubles.

Yet, what if we choose not to solicit the sympathy and opinions of others in trying times and, instead, seek the God who sees the end from the beginning? What would change if we habitually went away—accessible to God’s ministering angels— to be strengthened for the crosses we must bear?

If Jesus had to be alone to gain peace and perspective, how much more necessary is it for us to remove ourselves and eliminate the noise of doubt and fear?

It doesn’t require a grand vacation to gain the clarity we need. Sitting alone and embracing the silence a few moments a day may be all it takes to organize our priorities. Praying in a closet or the solitude of a car can produce calm over chaos.

What could be more important than the ability to hear God and visualize His plans for our lives? What opportunities can we unlock by learning to shut out the things (or people) that steal our time and energy?

I challenge you to break away and create new routines in 2020. Put yourself in positions and places where you can abide with God. Do whatever it takes to gain the peace and perspective that will give you confidence to walk the path He has for you.

We receive salvation by grace. Yet, I’ve learned that peace of mind and clarity of purpose require effort on my part. Solitude renews my mind. Silence allows me to hear God. I’ve finally learned to sit down and be still which generates a fruitfulness that running around like crazy never produced.

Seek and hear God like never before.

What you focus on will inevitably determine what you see…

 

Dark Places…

For You formed my inward parts;
You covered me in my mother’s womb. Psalm 139:13 NKJV

Dormancy is defined as “a state of suspended animation.” In botany, it means “not actively growing but protected from the environment.” I’d been in a state of relative dormancy the past two years, tucked away and in the dark. However, I was recently surprised by new areas of growth.

My frequent pangs of grief have thankfully passed. I am no longer just going through the motions or drifting along with the flow. Seeds of purpose planted years ago may finally be taking root. I’ve been working part-time and loving it. I’m pursuing a writing career in earnest with encouraging results. I’ve taken a few classes. I’ve even picked up my camera again.

Physical or mental illness, grief, and disappointment can leave us feeling isolated and in a very dark place. Still, these same dark places and periods of dormancy can facilitate the growth necessary to eventually produce fruitful results.

The seeds I plant in my garden require isolation, a few downpours, and a fair amount of heat if they are ever to grown into the plants I desire. These same conditions in our own lives often cause discomfort, distress, and leave us searching for God. The promise of a blooming season can seem long lost as we linger in the dark.

Yet, transformation occurs in the dark. Beneath the surface roots form. What was once a seed evolves into something entirely different.

God does the same with us.

In our painfully quiet times, we can gain wisdom and clarity that would not otherwise be found. The darkest times in my life forced me to rethink and regroup—reconsider visions and dreams that faded long ago.

Dark places aren’t necessarily bad spaces. Everyone talks of Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, but little is mentioned about that Silent Saturday where Jesus was alone and entombed in the dark. When He emerged, some of the people closest to Jesus did not recognized him.

Now when she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” She, supposing Him to be the gardener, said to Him, “Sir, if You have carried Him away, tell me where You have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” John 20:14-15 NKJV

If our Father felt it necessary to transform His Son in the dark and away from everyone else, surely each us can be transformed during our darkest days as well.

Allow your dark places to prepare you for your purpose and the harvest yet to come…

Into the Deep!

When He had stopped speaking, He said to Simon, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” But Simon answered and said to Him, “Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net.” Luke 5:4-5 NKJV

The very things we long for, pray for, and make resolutions toward will never happen unless we move out of shallow religious routine and into deeper fellowship with God.

Miraculous things happen in the deep. You will not find an Orca where you can easily pick up sea shells. We often wait on God for a breakthrough even as He waits patiently on us to venture into the unknown. Deep means different things for different people. Your “deep” may be a new career, hobby, or even in a break in stale religious habits that no longer yield spiritual fruit.

 Scripture depicts how Peter fished for hours and came up empty. As a skilled fisherman, he should have caught something. Defeated, Peter gave up. Yet, at the prompting of Jesus, he moved away from the shore and caught a haul too large for his boat to contain. That’s the kind of miracle most of us are praying for!

Still, when the realities of life interfere with our plans, we can become scarred and bitter. Consequently, we may play it safe and refuse to trust once more. Yet, the safety of the shore is only an illusion. Shark attacks readily occur in shallow waters. Our personal sharks often lurk about: doubt, fear, and naysayers who can never envision what God would do for us!

To receive God’s best we must brave the deep with Him.

  • Make God a priority;  talk complain less and listen more.
  • Dig deeply into the Word. Don’t merely read the Bible, study it.
  • Seek God not for what He can do but for His presence and direction.
  • Dare to attempt the impossible when God says “yes” while everyone else says “no.”

 We must allow God to stir us up and out of complacency!

I want to experience the kind of wonder Peter did out in the deep with Jesus. I would rather a dynamic relationship with God into the unknown than to sit idly along the shore without Him.

What about you?

So He said, “Come.” And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. Matthew 14:29 NKJV

Christmas Presence

For Ashley, a post from Christmas past…

 

“Do not cast me away from Your presence, And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me,” Psalm 51:11 NKJV

Many people who celebrate Christmas and even some who don’t find themselves rushing around with too much to do and too little time to do it this time of year. A few are stressing over hosting duties. Others have parties they must attend. Still, more are in a frenzied search to find the perfect gift. If retailers had their way, we would all be enticed to buy more presents!

However, I challenge you to breathe a little and focus instead on God’s presence.

God is ever waiting for us to come before Him, worship, talk with Him, and listen to what He would say.

If some of us would only slow down, we could enjoy the goodness of God instead of falling into the trap of running ragged to meet the expectations of others. If only we put that much effort into pleasing God.

 If you want to truly embrace the reason for the season, come into God’s presence. Slow down. Sit down. Bow down. Allow God to enter in your spirit and your space.

Christ’s birth and death provides us not only salvation but also the privilege to connect with God without the need for a mediator, high priest or intercessor. Jesus Christ left and ascended so that the Holy Spirit could be available to us. Such a perfect gift our Savior gave us, yet we often fail to “enter in” and appreciate the comfort and peace only He can provide.

The pursuit of things and our attempts to please others can often leave us with little time for God if we aren’t careful.

So, if you are in a continual state of chaos this holiday season, I implore you to run toward His presence. God can calm, refresh and restore. Allow Him to dictate your Christmas season and prompt you to be a blessing instead of constantly stressing.

Choose to end this year seeking God with a renewed passion. Allow each gleaming light to remind you of His Light. The best gifts can’t be placed under a tree. Only God can provide peace, joy, and unconditional love.

May you be overcome by God’s presence this Christmas season.

“You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore,”
Psalm 16:11 NKJV

“Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord,”
Acts 3:19  NKJV

Fruitful?

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
Galatians 5:22-23 NIV

I finally grasped the difference between busy and fruitful at some point in the last few years. I once ran myself ragged trying to do far too much and none of it to my satisfaction. I now realize fruitful doesn’t equate to a steady stream of productivity coming off a line.

As in my garden, there are times in the process of bearing fruit that seem barren. It looks like nothing is going on. There are dry patches and periods of dormancy. Then there are times when the storms of life inundate us, and we feel like we will never feel the warmth of the sun (or Son) again. Yet, it is all part of the process.

Few things of any substance grow without considerable changes to their environment and a substantial amount of time.

Some things sprout overnight, like the weeds I’d rather be rid of. I’ve grown wary of anything that offers instant gratification. Things that are truly valuable like fulfilling relationships, accomplishing goals and realizing our dreams tend to take time and attention to not only develop but to also keep those things alive.

  Thankfully, God rewards faith and patience as evidenced by Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Joseph, Moses and a slew of other flawed yet willing figures in the Bible. And God rewards us as well.

If we do not give up on those dreams God plants within us, we can eventually yield the promised harvest if we trust and obey. This also means keeping the faith when we are pruned (as were our heroes of the Bible) so we can eventually produce something good!

Pruning is painful and leaves lasting scars. But it is necessary. God would have us reach for the new things He wants to give. Instead, we often hold fast to dead dry things. When we are stubborn, God simply rips away the very things (or people) we are clinging to for our own good.

Left to ourselves, we can produce a lot of different things.

Doubt. Fear. Worry.

But that is not what God ever intended. Our Father wants more for us in this life.

From the fruit of their lips people are filled with good things,
and the work of their hands brings them reward. Proverbs 12:14 NIV

So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ,
that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead,
in order that we might bear fruit for God. Romans 7:4 NIV

I’m striving to produce those things our Father desires, not just whatever happens to come to mind.

I’ve also learned that becoming fruitful means enduring temporary pains to produce long-term gains. I’ll admit that lesson probably took a lot longer than it should have to learn.

Thankfully, God is patient. God’s power working in and through us can produce a harvest that truly glorifies Him and even allows us to love one another in the process.

What are you bringing forth?