Saturday, April 29, 2017

Yet I WIll Rejoice

The days had dawned overcast and gray for the last several mornings.  The muddy brown of early spring found puddles in which to collect.  Umbrellas accompanied those leaving their homes, and the wet seat of my car reminded me that my once pristine sun-roof had turned twenty this past January.

So many things crowded my to-do list that I wondered how they would all get done.  The next day we were to leave on an out-of-state trip, but another thought flashed on the radar screen of my mind, beeping at odd moments, corralling my thoughts in one important direction: I must visit my friend before I left-- the one who’d been diagnosed with multiple brain tumors three months before.

I’d been praying for an opportunity to share Christ with her and had sought, each time I saw her, to plant little seed thoughts of spiritual things.  I’d left tracts and even an audio presentation for her, but I knew I needed to open my mouth and share with her how she could know, from the Bible, that she would have eternal life.  Thus, I’d prayed for the right opportunity, specifically asking for an absence of distractions, that I might openly share the Gospel with her. While I believed God would open the door, I also knew I had a job:  I must walk through that open door.

And that day, after a week of rain, a situation occurred that nearly distracted me from God’s plan.  It tugged at my spirit, seeking to bring it down into a mindset of discouragement and defeat.  But I knew that spirit was not of God. 

“Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; 
the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; 
the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls:  
Yet I will rejoice in the LORD
I will joy in the God of my salvation. 
The LORD God is my strength, 
and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet
and he will make me to walk upon mine high places”—Habakkuk 3:16-18.

Some years ago, these treasures tucked away in Habakkuk had ministered to my spirit.  They reminded me in a spiritually difficult time that, although eternal results do not appear to be occurring as we would like to see them, we can—in the midst of such circumstances—rejoice. 

A fig tree
I was reminded of what I'd learned of the fig tree back in January on our trip to Israel.

“Do you see this tree?”  Our guide had asked, as we made our way through a nature preserve to the historic site of Tel Dan.  When we looked up, we discerned two tiny pieces of fruit on the tree, which towered a few feet above the tallest member of our group.  Our guide identified this as a fig tree and explained that this tree should always have some kind of fruit on it.  He reminded us how Jesus had cursed the fig tree He passed which had no fruit.   

While the fig tree should hypothetically always have fruit, it doesn't always blossom.  And sometimes that's how the spiritual world around us looks-- as we note a seeming dearth of eternally significant fruit in the landscape about us.  And it is in those difficult times that we must rest in these directives from Habakkuk--rejoice!  Regardless of what you see around you, take heart and joy in God.

As I asked God for His help in giving the Gospel to my friend, He directed me to claim Habakkuk 3:17, go forward in faith, and rejoice in Him.  He also amazingly granted me an extra hour in that event-packed afternoon so I could make the visit which I desired.  What a gracious God He is!  

“Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation.”  I was quoting the verse as I parked my car.  I was speaking it quietly to myself as I made my way out into the dreary rain and rehearsing it in my mind as I walked down the halls of the building where my friend lived.

I knocked on the slightly-opened door and a voice I did not recognize signaled me inside.  Looking up, I noticed a friendly nurse, who had not been there the week before.  After I had introduced myself, the nurse informed me it was about time for my sleeping friend to awaken, though she'd experienced an unprecedentedly difficult night the evening before.  

My friend was curled up on her bed when I entered the room, face slightly swollen from her illness.  Oxygen tubes extended from her nose and mouth, but she was completely cognizant.  We had several things in common, and as I shared with her the truth of being born again, from John 3, her intent look and manner informed me that her heart was ready to hear. 

“No, I haven’t come to Christ,” she told me, after I’d shared with her my testimony.  Like me, she had been raised in a very religious home, but today she'd heard from God’s Word that it was not baptism or communion that saved a person—it was repentant faith in Christ. 

“Would you like to be born again?” I asked her. 

“Yes,” she said.

“You can do so now, right here, in this bed," I told her—mentioning how in my own story, I had gotten saved as a child, ready to be tucked into bed for the evening.  You don’t have to be in a church building or anything.” 

She told me she wanted to turn to Christ later--when she was alone, by herself. 

Together, we prayed and I asked God to continue to help my friend understand her spiritual need and to give her freedom from the feeling of pain.  When I said “Amen,” she added, “If it be Thy will.”

After leaving the visit that day, I called some dear sisters in Christ and prayed with them.  I feel confident that my friend did, indeed, trust Christ for salvation, as she indicated she would.

Door of Opportunity
My friend passed away within days of my return.  She had slipped into a coma and then departed from this earth before I could see her again.  How grateful I was for God’s open door, for His direct answer to prayer in allowing me to see her and share the Gospel with her, and for her words to me that she would come to Christ.

With the events surrounding that visit, I was reminded of our need as believers to ever walk in faith, live by the truth of God’s Word, and be continually aware of the devil’s devices to distract us from a very intentional goal of our Savior--to “seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).  Anything that diverts us from this mission must not capture our attention. Rather, we must place our gaze upon Him, our eternal Strength and Savior, so that we might gladly proclaim His name.   

Has He not redeemed us to be to the "praise of His glory" (Eph. 1:12)?  Let us then stand ready, ever aware of the enemy’s strategy for our minds and hearts to be distracted by times of barrenness or a seeming lack of eternal fruit and instead walk by faith, following the voice of our Savior, our ever-present Help in trouble.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Bloom with Grace: A Lesson from the Buganvellia

Glossy leaves cover the Buganvellia bush most of the year, but this April, it burst into color.  Laden with blossoms, its fuchsia blooms brighten the garden with their singular hue.  Most often, as it graces the corner of a tucked-away garden in the big city, it lies forgotten, unnoticed, and isolated.  But regardless of passers by, inconsequential to any circumstance, it perennially blooms, adding loveliness to its out-of-the-way corner in this garden plot.

Rarely do any stop to notice it.  Even less commonly do those appreciate it.  But, regardless of its clear lack of popularity, this bush thrives, almost smiling in its habitat.  Days frequently dawn dark and dismal.  Storm clouds threaten.  Ocean winds traverse, sometimes ferociously, across this rather barren spot.  A weather beaten fence, its wood greening from lichens and moss, stares back at the floral-covered bush.  Nevertheless, the shrub happily cascades flowers, dozens upon dozens of them, each day bringing forth new blooms.

How faithfully God's servants can likewise offer Him their worship as they continually give themselves to Him.  Numbers of individuals the world over labor in places where few see or appreciate them.  Some believers are persecuted, experiencing daily torture at the hands of their enemies.  Others suffer forms of verbal abuse.  And, tucked away in Christian homes the world over, numerous mothers of children labor, unnoticed by many about them.

I think of my own mother, now in her sixties, who once lived in the throes of rearing ten children.  Many of her duties cried "mundane" to thousands of her counterparts in the culture.  And yet, amidst the commonplace of daily life, she continues to exude warmth and friendliness to the many individuals who partake of her hospitality--including those in her own family.

Once, upon returning home from elementary school, I recall a transformation in our kitchen as I noted tiny strips of noodles dangling from every imaginable hanging spot around the kitchen table.  The cast iron black chairs and even the metal fixture of the kitchen light offered niches of all varieties for the drying pasta--one of several culinary experiments my mother joyfully undertook in an attempt to provide nourishing, cost-effective meals for her family.

Some delicious treats from my mother's kitchen
 No cooking project seemed too daunting for my mother to tackle--from crafting homemade candy on the marble table top to kneading loaves and loaves of the softest homemade bread--a tradition that continues to this day and finds its outgrowth in all types of creative and delicious home-baked treats (which she has shared with many others)--including sticky buns, cinnamon rolls, Swedish tea rings, and dinner rolls.

Savory soups from farm-raised chickens and a variety of garden vegetables warm weary travelers visiting from the world-over.  Hungarians around our Thanksgiving table offered praise with us one year, and my mom was sure to season her chicken soup with the paprika flavoring she purchased in that country.  Zsolnay porcelain dishes of the finest blue, rimmed in a delicate gold, and shipped as a gift from my father, added their own dimension of loveliness--as laughter, Christian fellowship, and home-baked deliciousness contributed to a special holiday.

Zsolnay porcelain
When I was  college student, a Russian violinist and his family, recent emigrants, entertained our family with a lovely concert, including numbers such as the moving minor tones of Vittorio Monti's famous "Csardas."  How I enjoyed helping my mother arrange scrumptious scones on a platter and offer samples of savory tea to our guests.

In high school, I assisted in the kitchen as we entertained a Singaporean woman.  Egg rolls, rice, and sweet and sour chicken graced our palates that evening.  Such hospitality breathed beauty into our home.

Sometimes, we found ourselves frantically preparing to ready our rooms for guests' arrival.  I took charge of refreshing the bathroom or vacuuming the living room, dusting the bookshelves, and attempting to enliven the decorations with fresh flowers.  But everyone worked together, and the end result provided memories to be treasured.

How many other children, reared in homes where parents embrace hospitality and cultivate a joy in serving others, likewise reap the benefit of individuals who, like the Buganvellia in my friend's flower garden, literally "bloom where they are planted," thriving in an element where many may not appreciate, few may notice, and even fewer may express approval.  And yet, such is the reality of the Christian experience.  Faithfulness, obedience, and service--day in and day out, 24/7, continually living out the beauty of the truths of God's Word.

Hundreds of faithful stewards in Christ's churches the world over serve Him happily where few may appreciate.  Perhaps their duties include cleaning the church building or caring for small children in the nursery.  Their daily service might be teaching others' children in a Christian school classroom or pouring out their hearts in prayer for the members of Christ's body.  Seemingly unnoticed and unseen by the eyes of many, they continue to offer the sacrifice of praise to their Redeemer as their lives offer the joy of faithful service.

And from the throne room of Heaven, the King of the Universe looks down and beholds.  He hears every word, sees every act, and notices the cheerful worship of His saints.  Their lives bloom before Him, beautifying the corner of earth where He has set them. 

May they ever bloom with grace.