Thursday, July 26, 2012

... and Jesus was in the Middle

Get ready for goofy --- there's a big portion of my thinking that is "odd" --- Steve says he definitely has a "nothing" box in his brain --- i laugh and think to myself, "i have a well-decorated-ultra-colorful-goof box in mine". We are perfect for each other. :)

So in that goof box, i've been pondering a lot about the "middle". Why? no clue. But usually if a thought visits me often enough, i'll sit with it a while and prayerfully try and discern if there is any value in it from my Abba. If not -- i "take that thought captive". So thankful for His warnings to us to be careful with what we allow to roll around in our heads. But sometimes i find there is some value to the thought especially when i begin to dig through The Bible looking for more of it.

The goof-box thought this week has revolved around "the middle".

Where did that come from?? Well, i was caught in the middle of a tough situation --- you know --- that "peacemaker" position where you know both sides (from each side's perspective) and you feel God's urgings deep inside to help mesh the two sides together. 
It's the stitching spot -- 
-- love-thread is needed
The two pieces are completely separate, independent, autonomous --- but they will be much better if they can be unified, combined, blended.
Before i would have said i was "stuck in the middle", but now, with Heaven-tinted lenses i see it as an opportunity to foster what i know my Father loves ---- peace and grace among His children. 

While pondering on "the middle" ---- here's how the colorful goof-box in my brain rolled:
I was born in the middle. It's a good place to be.
You're not the first born --- where big dreams and expectations find a resting spot.
You're not the last born --- where last hopes and visions of perfection linger.
The first and the last are still great places to be born (pros and cons to everything for sure), but...
The middle child gets to chill. You're nothing "new" and your not the "grand finale".
Some people claim to have big issues over the middle-dynamic. But, my parents must have done it really well, because i didn't feel dissed with that middle positioning.

Think about a car ---
--- the bugs and mud hit the front of the car --- and the back of the car can never see where it's going --- but the middle -- well that's where the cushioned seats are with the big windshield for viewing.

Think about a ship ---
--- if there is a rock or iceberg the front of the ship is going to take the impact --- and the back of the ship is always working, motors, propellers, rolling waters churning hard --- but the middle-- that's where the cabins and restaurants and pools are found.

Think about any animal --- you pick
--- the front (head) is always working, looking, listening, chewing, --- the back, well i'll not go there -- but the middle, it's just along for the ride neatly packaged and wrapped in a blanket of fur or scales or feathers.

Yep --- see what my goof-box is like.

Several years ago, we witnessed a dear church undergo war within its walls. Beautiful church, beautiful people -- but it was under an attack from the enemy of our Lord, and it did not weather the battle very well.  It was so disturbing to see gentle, kind people become obstinate and unbending. Both sides were staunch and hard. Both sides had very good points, both sides were working to do what they thought to be best for the church body. But we (our little family) ---- we found ourselves smack dab in the middle. Most of all, we did not feel the issue at hand was important enough to argue over. Quickly, two camps formed within the Body of Christ; i often pondered how God felt about it all. As i prayed about it --- two overwhelming thoughts rolled through me --- 1) the realization that God likely cared much more about the actions and attitudes of His children than about the issue they argued over --- 2) God was not being praised -- He was not at the center -- He was not the focus. The Savior was not being worshiped. "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done" was being overlooked completely and i felt the grief of the Giver deep inside me.

These were hard days for us. We were not involved in the fight ---- but the many things we were being taught in the middle of the situation was like taking a crash course on swimming just before being tossed into the deep -- during hurricane season with no life-boat. We knew God would teach us, we drew very close to Him and talked to no one around us.

During this time, the pastor of the church approached us to express his displeasure with us that we were not identifying ourselves with one "side" or the other... We were perplexed that he was not a fellow peacemaker --- but instead he was acting as a recruiter for his "camp". See what i mean by a "crash course". He "explained" to us the danger of being "caught in the middle"; saying, "what happens to an animal walking down the middle of the road?" What???? He continued by saying, "Any animal walking down the middle of any road ends up getting hit and it becomes roadkill". He then looked long and hard at us, as if to convey a deep hidden message to us through his eyes, but would stop short of saying the terrible words with his lips. I was STUNNED. A pastor was trying to pressure us to take sides in a church dispute by threatening us with potential demise like an animal in the road. While we were shocked, i'm thinking my Abba may have gotten angry over that one.

I pondered it long that evening ----- and all my heart could hear from Heaven was ---- what position did Christ take on the day He gave all??  Christ was in the middle between two thieves. Christ was in the middle between Heaven and Hell. Christ hung in the middle between a Holy God and an evil Enemy. My Savior saved much positioned squarely in the middle. 
Middle ---- works for me.

So lately --- as the notion of "middle" has visited my goof-box often i've carried it to my Abba (yes, He will even let us carry these sort of things to Him), asking Him if there is any value in it ---

Scripture has many references to the "middle".
The tree of forbidden fruit was in the middle of the Garden of Eden. (Genesis 3:3) But so was the tree of LIFE. (Genesis 2:9) (... there can be much tension in the middle - great contrasts can be seen)
And once the Lord opened up the earth in the middle of the Israel camp and swallowed up two men along with the families and possessions after they had disobeyed Him. (Deuteronomy 11:6) (many witnesses surround what happens in the middle of something)
But God also save the Israelites by giving them safe passage right through the middle of the Red Sea. (Exodus 14:21-22)
We know that the first will be last and the last will be first (Matthew 20:16) --- (not sure what that says for the middle...)
When God instructed the Levites to set up HIS Tent of meeting, he told them to place it in the middle of all the camps. (Numbers 2:17) (love it that my Father could have chosen ANY position, and He chose the middle)
When the 4 men seeking help and healing for their crippled friend couldn't get through the crowd to where Jesus was, they lowered their friend through the roof right into the middle of the crowd and in front of Jesus. (Luke 5:19) (Jesus was obviously --- in the middle...)
When Shammah, one of David's mighty men, took his stand and defeated the Philistines, God gave him this great victory in the middle of a field. (2 Samuel 23:12) (which means he was "surrounded" by enemies, just before God gave him the victory)
When Noah built the ark, he did so with the center crossbar extended from end to end at the middle of the frames. (Exodus 36:33) (not sure exactly what that means, but Steve says guys will get it) :)
When the Israelites were preparing to cross the Jordan River, the Lord told the priests to stop in the middle of the river "on dry ground" until all Israel has passed by. (Joshua 3:17) And then he instructed them to take twelve stone from the middle of the Jordan and place them together on the other side. (Joshua 4:3) (not from either shoreline to mark the beginning or the end --- but from the middle -- hmmm...)

The place of the peacemaker is always found in the middle of the turmoil.
The strength of any building will rely on the spine at its middle.
The control of any wheel is found at its middle.
The Savior gave His all in the middle.

"Here they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle." (John 19:18)

When we find ourselves in the "middle" and it feels uncomfortable or hard ----- be encouraged ----- you are in good company. Our Lord does lots ----- in the middle.

©2012 Donna Taylor/Reaching for the Robe

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Traveling through the Valley of Question Marks...

Does God "speak" into your world?
Do you know the solid, sure "whisper" of the One who Redeems?
Do you think God's "voice" is only for the "holy" --- not for the "ordinary"?
Do you ever hunger to hear less of what is so loud around you --- and more of what the Life-Giver has to say?

Several years back a friend told me he does not believe God speaks anymore. This Christian gentleman believed it was arrogant and self-righteous to suppose GOD would speak --- today.
Even as he spoke --- there was a distinct longing in his eyes. The strength of his unconvincing words did not mask the sadness of the "child" in front of me. We talked long over it --- i heard his tales of others who believed as he did. I prayed and asked God to reveal to me with certainty if i was misguided in my belief that HE whispered to my soul --- and breathed life into my tired world when He did so. So i began a pilgrimage to learn, ask, seek ---- research.

I found --- that without a doubt --- my Abba does still speak to his children.

In a tear-filled crescendo of asking --- the One who saved my soul whispered inside me declaring He was grieved that some would silence Him through pious "holy" arguments. He may speak through the Holy Spirit, He may speak through the Father, He may speak through the Son, ----- goodness --- if He spoke through a donkey's mouth (Numbers 22:28) ---- will He now allow us to limit Him and silence His words to us.

So while it is very true, some believe our God does not speak to His children and has not since the arrival of the Holy Spirit at Christ's ascension --- my soul knows my Father's voice and this I can not deny. Unfortunately, there are others who "use" the "voice of God" for their own manipulative purposes saying God has spoken to them when in truth they simply want their way and will use even the name of God to accomplish their plans. This twisting of truth --- either already is or will soon be a matter of great discussion and discipline between them and God --- God will not be used or mocked.

I've had friends ask me how it is i know that God is speaking to my soul. Some ask with comradery, thankful to know others still "hear" His whispers too. Many ask with a longing in their eyes. Some ask with a wondering sometimes akin to skepticism. But all ask i believe, because we have a common longing --- we want to know that our Abba is truly near. We want to hear Him.

In my earlier years, i can not say that i felt/heard God speak to my heart. During those years, instead i was busy learning about Him and trying to obey Him. I would do what i hoped would please Him, and for the most part i would refrain from doing what i thought would anger Him.
Then as i grew both emotionally and spiritually, i began to want more --- i wanted to know my Savior. So i began "talking" with Him as i prayed to Him and pausing --- hoping to hear... I began reading His Word daily --sometimes understanding it and sometimes not -- but ready regardless. Then, it slowly came --- always laced with His Word i had been reading --- i began to hear His whispers in my soul.

Three things i know for certain:
- God rarely, if ever yells (He is not a coach trying to win a game. He has already won.) - God rarely, if ever rushes His children (He is not a salesman trying to seal a deal. The deal has already been sealed.) - God will never speak to His children in ways contrary to His Word (He is not a politician, trying to gain followers by telling them what they want to hear.)

Today's writing is a tiny example of the way my Yahweh speaks to my soul. May it bless and encourage you as you too listen for the Savior's own whispers to your soul.

Months before, during winter's cold, we had driven deep in the mountains and had come across a beautiful place. There, a wide river curved and curled perfectly beside the roadway, and arching over the river a massive tree spread its limb. The river danced around the rock ledges and boulders; the sunlight on those gurgling ripples glowed white. With little imagination, i could almost convince myself the white rolling waters were giggling as the sunlight touched them. It's where the water gets to fly briefly, rolling off the tall rock and traveling smoothly in midair until it once again plunges into the water held down. Why wouldn't water laugh when the sunlight hits it during mid-flight?

For today's picnic date, we hoped to find this special place again.
Picnic packed we retraced our path hoping we could remember the way. North to Dawsonville, then east to Ellijah, turn right towards George Mountain, then left on the road to Aska. Right in the old town of Dial, and somewhere very near there, we'd re-find it. But as we came to the place where we thought it would be, we were shocked to find it "missing". We rode up and down the road several times --- there was the river, but where was the tree? Where was the dirt knoll under the tree limbs, that perfect place to sit and write while my favorite guy fished till his heart was content. We passed through four times, trying to find it, disappointed each time. And so we continued on, questioning our memory and linking right up with a good dose of confusion.
If we had not both seen the picture perfect spot, we would have doubted our clarity of mind. I even said to Steve, if you had not seen it with me, i would be quite certain it was only a dream. But, we, together, knew it was real, so we could encourage each other to continue searching.

We drove for many miles, trying to remember the way, but always finding ourselves in places we had never been before. Surrendering our picnic plans, we ate in the car as we covered ground in the search. We laughed at ourselves and joked that we'd driven miles into the mountains to each sandwiches from home.
Then it came, this whisper in my soul. Not so much clear words as i will type them out now --- but more of a conversational whisper for the heart. And it said, "I know exactly where you are donna, and i know exactly where the beautiful tree beside the creek is. I made you both. I'm not lost. I'm not toying with you either. Today's drive is about something much bigger than finding a
place you once saw and now want to revisit. 

You thought you knew the way. 
You do not.
But I do not expect you to know the way.
I want you to look to me. 
I love it when you embrace your uncertainty, and hand it to me. 

Because I can do much with a child that is looking -- to me --- for me. 

Just keep moving forward. No matter what. I'll get you to where I want you to be."

As we rode along, i shared with my Steve what had flowed into my heart. He smiled that warm smile.

We kept going, miles passing by. Finally turning in the direction of home and admitting we were disappointed. We talked of other things. We knew the way back home, but not the way to where we thought we would be going on that day.
Then suddenly, we rounded a curve and in the same moment both shouted, "There it is!" Exactly as we had remembered, but far, far from the place we had expected it to be. We parked and pulled out our fishing poles, camp chairs, books, etc. We were amazed that no one else was there, not a car in sight, we had this oasis in the mountains all to ourselves.
Now earlier this same morning, while the sun slowly climbed higher, Steve and i had sipped our coffee, read our devotions together, and began praying ----over many things -- over many people -- and for me, i had prayed over doubts. Am i allowed to admit, i sometimes have doubts. Doesn't make me look so great does it? i am not! But oh how i love the One who is.
On this particular morning i confessed to Steve that i was concerned over this and that ---- and if God was actually going to follow through with what He continues to whisper to our souls. We both hear His beckoning ---- "Leave all this, follow me, speak my truths, love, lay down what is comfortable, pick up the bag of ambiguity -- I can do much in your world of question marks."
Steve and i prayed and talked ---- it's a beautiful thing when God's encouragements flow to us through the one we promised forever to.

But here on this riverside --- no sooner had i sat down beside the laughing water, in this place where men created nothing and God created it all, i heard Him clearly again.
Such a beautiful reminder -- His response to my groaning words at sunrise. "little donna, you had a vision in your mind of a place you had seen and today wanted to go back to. At first, during the excitement of packing the picnic and readying your self for the day, you thought you could remember exactly how to get here, you thought you knew the way. But then as the day rolled on, and what you expected to see was not what was before you, you became quietly discouraged. You wondered if the vision in your mind was even real. You doubted your ability to remember clearly. You became discouraged. You were not arriving at the dreamed of place in the time you had predicted. When you stopped once along the way, there were flying gnats and the air felt stifling. Even this was used to feed discouragement since you automatically assumed the hot air and flying pests would surely be at your hoped for spot beside the river. This made the dream, the vision, seem less appealing. Discouragement took another bite.
You thought you knew. You did not. But i knew the appointed time i wanted you to arrive. I knew there were people earlier in the day filling up the place i was holding for you at the time of my choosing. Or perhaps there was a snake there that would have surely dealt you harm. Or could it be that if your car had traveled there earlier another car would have veered into your lane and ended the joy all together. 

I knew what was needed and i knew when the time would be exactly right. 

Your doubt doesn't alter the vision,
 but it can make the journey much more difficult

I will never leave you or forsake you. (Hebrews 13:5)
I will see you through to the end. (Matthew 28:20)
I will make a way for you in the desert places. (Isaiah 43:19)
You will always find refuge in Me, under my wing. (Psalm 91:4)
All of your fountains are found in ME." (Psalm 87:7)

Whatever your dream or vision from God may be, oh how I hope my ramblings bring you a full dose of encouragement. We all get discouraged, but our Abba has much to say in the valley of question marks. He created the valley, not so He could toy with us there --- but rather, because He knew we would grow there. He knew we would need to look to Him there. He loves when we look to Him.
The valley of question marks... I think it may be one of His favorite places to walk with us --- He has our full attention there.

©2012 Donna Taylor/Reaching for the Robe

Friday, July 6, 2012

Acceptance-with-Joy --- valley lingo

During my quiet times these mornings, i'm reading through several books at one time. Steve and i together read out of "Jesus Calling" and "My Utmost for His Highest" each morning and then we read one chapter a day from "Hinds Feet on High Places". We are indulging ourselves in extended times with God every morning --- we're taking seriously those words in Matthew and Jeremiah.
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you." Matthew 7:7
"You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart."
Jeremiah 29:13

And as God, the Sculptor, the Potter, the Master Weaver forms us more fully and re-makes the parts we have shattered in our humanness ---- i am endlessly amazed at how clearly He speaks. Sometimes the words come through whispers to the soul --- and then other times -- they come through black ink on white pages right before my eyes. He's doing it over and over again. What a patient, kind, persistent Shepherd it is that i follow. Bleating and Baaing sometimes ---- but bending my knees and bowing my head always.

I'm revisiting an old book, to reconnect with an old friend --- and hear again, the message she has for me. If you've never met Much-Afraid, you should --- she's like a close cousin, or best friend, or even like a look in the mirror...

Poor little Much Afraid, she was fairly certain her journey to the high places had little chance of succeeding since her two companions, Sorrow and Suffering, were to be her daily guides. Not only that, but her lame feet, oh how they did cause her to stumble about weakly and slow them all down woefully. But she trusted the Good Shepherd to see her through to the high places she dreamed of and He had promised to her.

Then one day in their journey, the pathway they were to follow led downward. Down, into the desert valley lands. Where only sand and dust imitated a red carpet for her weak feet. Much Afraid reeled backward, refusing to move forward. How could the Good Shepherd mean for her to descend into the valley below ---- when He had promised her she would journey with Him to the High Places? She was horrified at the road ahead of her.

"I can't go down there," panted Much-Afraid, sick with shock and fear. "He can never mean that -- never!  He called me up to the High Places, and this is an absolute contradiction of all that He promised." 
She then lifted up her voice and called desperately, "Shepherd, come to me. Oh, I need you. Come and help me."
In a moment He was there, standing beside her.
"Shepherd," she said despairingly, "I can't understand this...
He looked at her and answered very gently, "That is the path, Much-Afraid, and you are to go down there." 
"Oh, no," she cried. "You can't mean it. You said if I would trust you, you would bring me to the High Places, and that path leads right away from them. It contradicts all that you promised." 
"No," said the Shepherd, "it is not contradiction, only postponement for the best to become possible."... "it may be months, even years, before that path leads back to the mountains again."...

.... and that is where Much Afraid built her first altar...

..."Much afraid learned many things which she had never heard before...

... one morning she was walking near the tents and huts of the desert dwellers, when in a lonely corner behind a wall she came upon a little golden-yellow flower, growing all alone. An old pipe was connected with a water tank. In the pipe was a tiny hole through which came an occasional drop of water. Where the drops fell one by one, there grew the little golden flower...
...Much Afraid stopped over the lonely, lovely little golden face, lifted up so hopefully and so bravely to the feeble drip, and cried out softly, 'What is your name, little flower..." The tiny plant answered at once in a tone as golden as itself, 'Behold me! My name is Acceptance-with-Joy."

(from "Hinds' Feet on High Places pages 81, 82, 91)

"God gives us a vision, and then He takes us down to the valley to batter us into the shape of the vision. It is in the valley that so many of us give up and faint. Every God-given vision will become real if we will only have patience...
He (God) is never in a hurry. Yet we are always in such a frantic hurry...
God has to take us into the valley and put us through fires and floods to batter us into shape, until we get to the point where He can trust us with the reality of the vision...
Ever since God gave us the vision, He has been at work. He is getting us into the shape of the goal He has for us, and yet over and over again we try to escape from the Sculptor's hand in an effort to batter ourselves into the shape of our own goal
The vision that God gives is not some unattainable castle in the sky, but a vision of what God wants you to be down here. Allow the Potter to put you on His wheel and whirl you around as He desires. Then as surely as God is God, 
and you are you, 
you will turn out as an exact likeness of the vision.
But don't lose heart in the process.
If you have ever had a vision from God, you may try as you will to be satisfied on a lower level, but God will never allow it."

(from "My Utmost for His Highest" July 6)

I read again today, that Mother Teresa committed to at least 4 hours of prayers every morning. She said she could have never survived the work ahead of her if she had not begun it with long mornings with God. In years past, i often wondered what in the world she could find to talk with God about for four hours.
Now --- i understand.
Valley paths --- bring understanding.

"I'll turn my hands upon thy heart,
And purge away thy dross,
I will refine thee in my fire
Remake thee at my cross."

(from "Hinds' Feet on High Places" pg. 90)

Photos taken by Maggie at Mesa Verde (CO), Great Sand Dune National park (CO), and Monument Valley (UT).

©2012 Donna Taylor/Reaching for the Robe