Laurel Thomas

Monthly Archive: October 2013

Thursday

31

October 2013

4

COMMENTS

Rest in the River

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I am a recovered yo-yo dieter. Do I have a witness? Every diet began with zealous anticipation and plumped up determination. My will-power began with self-disgust. Dang, I’d blown it again. That will-power lasted until yet another diet confirmed what I believed all along. I was a loser.

I pursued this dead-end path of self-improvement for years. I’d start strong, then berate and beat myself up when I failed. I agreed with Paul in Romans, “O, wretched man/woman that I am!” There you go. I had proof of my utter despicableness. Even God agreed.

I’ve been reading a fictional account of Hosea, a prophet, and the woman he married. Her name was Gomer. Gomer was not the picture of godliness. She may not have been a prostitute by profession, but she was in her actions. I used to pity Hosea. I thought God just wanted to show how He felt about His people’s unfaithfulness and Hosea got the call. Bummer.

I was wrong. Hosea’s name means “salvation”. The Israelites of his day were moving far from their covenant with God. So, yes, Hosea and Gomer were a visual for that time. But they were much more than that. They were a prophetic picture of what was to come in Christ.

Gomer was the daughter of Diblaim. His name means “given over completely to lust”. I wonder if Gomer was molested as a child. What did her innocent eyes witness and what evil transgressed her tender heart? Defilement twisted a little girl’s heart meant to be a princess and turned her instead into a prostitute. If I was God, I would rage and make that abuser pay. But God sent Gomer a husband, instead. He led her to a place of rest.

He said, “Come to Me all who labor and are burdened and I will find rest for you. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am humble and gentle of spirit. You will find peace for your heart. For My yoke is pleasant and my burden is easy.”

The Hebrew word for rest is “nuach”. It means to guide or lead another into a place of rest. The yoke is a picture of the living Word of God. Jesus doesn’t want to be distant. He wants to be connected to us. He is the stronger one, yet He is gentle. He doesn’t force us to move faster or work harder than we can. God illustrated His heart to Gomer through marriage to a godly man. Like Christ, Hosea loved Gomer too much to let her go. That life-long commitment to love had the power to cleanse a broken, battered heart. God brought her, a social reject and outcast, His best. Not just for visit, but for a lifetime. Even when she returned to prostitution, Hosea bought her back. He took back a wife he couldn’t stop loving.

What a picture of Christ’s love for us. He wants a marriage, not a visit. Gomer is a picture of healing for God’s Bride. We can come, too. We come in our brokenness, in our filth, to the place of rest Himself. He links Himself so closely with us that we move forward together in pleasant paths of grace and truth. LIfe is not difficult with Him at our side.

What keeps us from that intimate life with Him? Like my yo-yo dieting, we buy into the lie that God uses guilt to keep us in line. If we just feel guilty enough, we’ll work up enough strength to change. That thinking is light years from truth. We are precious to Him. We can look in the mirror and say, “Hey, there’s potential in you!” We can look past the faults and failings to Him. He is strong, gentle and loving. He’ll take us where we were made to go, loving us all the way.

Monday

28

October 2013

2

COMMENTS

Heart of the River

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The biggest heist in modern history only took an hour and a half. Thieves cut $500 million of art by Rembrandt, Degas, Manet and Vermeer out of their ornate frames with knives and screw-drivers. These treasures have never been recovered.

It was 1:24 am on a Sunday morning, March 18,1990. Two men dressed as Boston policemen rang the bell at the Palace Road entrance of the museum.The guard let them in. Shortly after the imposters entered the museum, they overpowered two young guards, taping their eyes, ears and mouths shut, then shackling them face down to the basement heating pipes. The theft wasn’t discovered until 7 am that morning. Twenty-three years later, the Isabel Gardner Museum robbery still represents the largest property theft of all time.

Thieves don’t bother with anything not worth the time or risk. The greater value, the greater effort. After all, a pay-off is at stake. The Gardner Museum robbery succeeded through intricate strategy. Valuable things attract determination on both sides, one to guard and the other to steal.

We carry a treasure. It isn’t money or precious jewels. It can’t be grasped with a natural hand. It is a gift valued by God and the enemy. It is our heart.  Just like the physical heart beats and blood courses through our bodies, the spiritual heart is designed to produce life, the God kind of  life. There is a thief who targets that treasure. Why? Because of the infinite value of what our hearts produce.

We are created in the image of God. He is all about life. He paid the price to offer life in all His goodness, as well as power to conquer any attempt to abort it. He created our heart to be a womb. A woman receives the seed of a child and carries it in a hidden place. That little one grows until every part is formed and ready for delivery. Our hearts are designed to produce God-babies, God-dreams on the earth. These dreams begin in seed form and with the proper care grow into full-fledged, living realities.

Just as Adam took care of the first garden, God made us stewards of our hearts. Adam’s job was to watch over the life produced in that garden. Just like the guard at the museum, Adam let the enemy in. The treasure he was supposed to protect was stolen. We, too, can lose the potential of that treasure if we don’t know how to guard it.

Our hearts are fertile soil for the promise of God. But circumstances rise up to wage war with those dreams. Our responses either cultivate the soil or mash it into a hard, concrete-like path. We can let hard times stomp that precious heart into hardness when we give up on the dream and agree with the roar of doubt, snarling,”It was impossible, anyway.” We can let boulders of hurt, regret and pain clutter the ground of our hearts. Or we can choose to fill our hearts with stuff. Stuff that doesn’t really matter, stuff that fills our container so full there is no longer room for the dream.

Good news. This treasure can be recovered. It may get diverted, stepped on and generally abused. But Jesus Christ came to restore. Restore means to return to original intent. He paid the price for all the ways we fail and fall short. It is His plan to restore our heart to its original intent as a production center for the promises of God. So read the Bible. Let Him share His dreams. We are in them! We accept the privilege of guarding the most precious gift of all, the heart that produces Him on earth.

 

Friday

25

October 2013

4

COMMENTS

Refuge in the River

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It was a perfect storm. The dying breath of a hurricane from Bermuda ran smack into a cold front from the Great Lakes in the fall of 1991. This meteorological traffic jam was devastating. It smashed the coastline from Canada to Florida and then barreled on to Puerto Rico, leaving more than 300.000 without power. Damages totaled over $200 million.

The term “perfect storm” describes a mix of circumstances that create a huge mess. Maybe you’ve experienced one of your own. I know I have. I had blown it. Circumstances formed a perfect storm fueled by my mistakes. These mistakes were not smooth stones creating gentle ripples on the surface of my life. They were tidal waves hurling debris and overturning my shoreline. I looked for an escape route. There wasn’t one. I put the covers over my head and refused to get out of bed. That didn’t help. Shame shouted, “Pay! You must pay!” That was the problem. I couldn’t. My efforts to fix things were like stretching a rubber band over a mountain.

I needed help! I learned about refuge. Refuge was more than a hiding place. It comforted, but it also offered answers. I read about cities of refuge in ancient Israel. These cities were equally spaced throughout the country. They were available to everyone. Highways, not just footpaths, led to them. People smoothed ruts, removed stones and built bridges to keep each road passable. Big, bold signs highlighted every crossroad. Runners, stationed at regular intervals, guided fugitives there. Built on mountains, their white limestone walls could be seen even at night. Gates were never closed or locked. Refuge was not an accident. It was in place before the need arose.

The refuge I found was a package deal. I found Jesus Christ, the living Refuge, Who offered forgiveness and a path to restoration. I found some of His helpers, too. They were in a local church, a place ready for someone like me. They knew about failure, betrayal and disappointment. They had heard those hounds of hell bay, also. Their outreach was unconditional. I didn’t need to qualify. The Lord was there in the arms of kind, loving people who knew and had experienced the Savior I needed. Their generosity opened the doors of my heart, tired and dirty as it was.

I found friends who weren’t quick to make judgments. They helped me knit my story together with understanding and compassion. They lead me to the balm of His Spirit, cleansing and healing the core of me. I grew because I was safe. I learned because my pursuers were locked out, silenced by the same gate that welcomed me.

Does every church extend the arms and heart of Jesus? Maybe not. But if you ask, He’ll lead you to one. Jesus Christ is as close as the cry of your heart. But His people make up a city of refuge available to all in the midst of a perfect storm.

Saturday

19

October 2013

2

COMMENTS

Yielding in the River

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Red brown sky hurried toward the hillside, dimming the sun and filtering silt into his lungs. It was his first dust storm, complete with grit in his teeth and a queasy belly.  Like Noah’s dove, he wandered, looking for a place to call home in the barrenness of mesquite, rattlesnakes, and dust storms.

It didn’t take long to measure his losses. No more cushy comforts of the palace, no servants to anticipate his every desire. No one recognized him. That was good, because he’d been chased, not sent, far from everyone and everything he knew. One angry blow, one botched attempt to set things right sent him running as a one time friend pursued him with murder on his mind. All the training in education, warfare and relating to royalty didn’t mean much to this new assignment with a bunch of smelly sheep. He brought nothing to the desert with him, except the failure that loomed larger than any invading dust storm.

God gave us Moses, a real person, as a model for us. Moses didn’t know his life would become a picture. What only takes a few chapters for us to read, required a lifetime for him. Blood, sweat and tears are summed up in a few sentences. But the forming of a deliverer is a process God wants us to understand. He doesn’t want us stuck. He wants to encourage us, even when mistakes and screw-ups propel us to a place we didn’t plan to be.

A desert season is hot, uncomfortable and filled with regret. Shame hovers like a cloud. But in the hidden place of the heart, the Lord is preparing a recovery far deeper than we imagined. The result is a person who doesn’t have all the answers, but is willing to become a part of His answer. A private work formed in isolation becomes a public response – His answer to the cries of hurting people.

Unexpected and uninvited, transition is change that moves us forward. It doesn’t always look like progress. We aren’t the Lone Ranger galloping in on a white stallion named Silver. Growth pains are real as we stretch inwardly into a new identity we’ve never seen. The familiar beckons with a sweeter gleam as we cry, “What the heck?”

It’s a lot like making homemade bread. The grain is crushed and the nutrient rich germ is pressed into unity with the right mix of ingredients. Pressure, then heat, form a delicious loaf that smells good and satisfies our hunger. We don’t have all the answers, either. But we smell that bread baking. It is the aroma of His promise to a hungry world.

Monday

14

October 2013

2

COMMENTS

River Cry

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She knelt at the altar and sobbed. No words, only groans of despair murmured in the quietness. She felt her chest ache in tandem with her heart.

The abuse had been incessant. “You think you’re his favorite, but look at you – childless and cursed by God Himself.” Every holiday was the same. More taunts, more humiliation. Even her husband became deaf to her cries. Despair became a dark vacuum, sucking her into its depths. She ran to the church and collapsed on the floor of its empty altar.

Time paused in God’s presence as Hannah felt peace overtake her chaos. Words formed around her cries. Words with a new clarity and force found a voice. That voice was Hannah’s.

“Lord, if You hear my cry for a son, I’ll give him back to you. He’ll be yours for his entire life,” she said.

A silent watcher entered through the narthex. His angry voice interrupted her solitude.

“Take your drunk self out of this sanctuary. Have you no shame?” he asked.

Hannah looked up. Red blotches covered her pale skin and her nose ran as she stopped the sway of her body in prayer. She watched the priest’s eyes squint against the light of the stained glass window. Folds of his robe stretched against his belly. His frown mingled with rolls of fat around the tight collar.

“No, sir. I’m not drunk. I’m just sad and came here to pray.”

He looked at her and shrugged. Walking back down the center aisle, he looked over his shoulder and answered.

“May the Lord be with you and answer your prayer.”

Hannah wiped her tears and combed her hair with her fingers. She tested her legs, then rose. Gathering soggy tissue wads scattered on the floor, she squared her shoulders and walked out into the sunlight. Humming, “Our God Reigns,” she smiled and broke into a jog. God had heard. The baby was on his way.

Hannah’s story took place hundreds of years ago, when miracles were rare and God’s presence even rarer. Ministers were corrupt, guzzling wine as they swindled the people’s offerings. Miracles were only a vague hope. Hannah’s spiritual authority couldn’t tell the difference between drunk and despairing. The sympathy of her adoring husband ran thin. A second wife birthed baby after baby as she taunted Hannah’s barrenness. But Hannah’s cry brought heaven’s response and a “God-child” was born. Her prayer was like a laser beam as her entire being entered into a single, focused desire directed to the living God.

Does that kind of prayer still work? The scary, intense, no-holds-barred kind?  I think so. Our problem is that we tend to pray a buckshot version, words scattered in God’s direction, hoping one will get His attention. Blaming is one kind of buckshot. It scatters hard pieces that hit anyone close at hand, saying “It’s not fair. It’s your fault…” An inverted cry moans, “It’s my fault. If only I had…” This cry turns a gun on itself. Our bodies suffer and sickness shouts, “Stop! Your cry is killing me!” Indulgence or addiction, other sidetracked cries, anesthetize instead of bring an answer.

Our desires are important to Him. The Holy Spirit brooded over the waters at the beginning of creation, waiting for the word of God to be spoken. He hovers over our lives today, waiting for us to speak, even now. Hannah’s desire met God’s desire and Samuel was born. This Samuel became a prophet who restored God’s presence to His people. Pay attention to the cry of your heart. A God-child waits to be born.

Monday

7

October 2013

4

COMMENTS

Prepared for the River

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A scorpion skittered across my carpeted living room. I crushed it with my armored Nike 360s. Okay, maybe not armored, but heavy-duty. My foot carried a vengeful. grinding force as I said, “Take that, you foul pestilence.” Yes, sometimes I speak Old Testament judgement, if only against a scorpion threatening the sanctuary of our home.

We were moving to the desert. My husband confirmed our move from Green Country, Oklahoma to Midland, Texas. I looked at a map. How far west could it be, anyway? Midland was ten hours west on the edge of the Chihuahua desert. Any hope of weekend ventures back to our home of twenty-two years vanished. We drove past Wichita Falls, not realizing the last real trees waved goodbye as we sped toward small, medium and large mesquite bushes.

It wasn’t so bad. We met lovely people who became life-long friends. But God had a purpose for that desert season. Figuring out that purpose became a daily journey extending for four and a half years. I wasn’t the first unwilling desert dweller. In the Bible, I found desert seasons for many, especially when someone became His hand of healing or deliverance. Like Joseph, God knew a famine was coming. It might take a few years of injustice, betrayal and prison, but a man and his gift showed up at the right time with the right goods to save a nation.

A desert season comes unexpectedly, often with great loss. Perhaps it is the loss of a loved one, a ministry, a career or way of life. Suddenly alone, we feel isolated, aliens in a strange land. Familiar things vanish. Mesquite replaces blooming pear trees. Rain is rare, scorching temperatures common. It is like a burning bush. Its purpose is to capture our attention. As we come near, God speaks. He speaks big things, much bigger than the vision we thought died. Our knowledge of Him expands. In the unknown place we are willing to say, “I don’t understand this, but I’m still Yours.” It exposes the arrogance in, “You didn’t do it my way, God.” So what now? Die in the wilderness or let it become a place of divine preparation?

The desert place becomes a womb for new purpose. This purpose grows in a hidden place. Otherwise too many opinions war against it. The desolation of the desert offers solitude. In it, we come to an end of our opinions and begin to hear Him in a new way. At first our minds rage, “What about all my plans?” In the quiet places God whispers, “What about a bigger plan?” A heart is being prepared to receive God’s expansion, because the previous “house” was too small.

God spoke to the prophet Jeremiah. “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with loving-kindness, I have drawn (stretched) you.” Our preparation, though often incomprehensible, eventually becomes His answer to the cries of hurting people.  Don’t despise the desert season.  Look for the burning bush. The living God has deliverers in the making.

Saturday

5

October 2013

4

COMMENTS

Shalom in the River

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There’s a canyon near Questa, New Mexico. Massive lava rocks line the gravel path leading to its floor, where the Rio Grand and Red River meet.

The Red River is pristine. It’s so clear you can watch brown trout shimmer against the polished stones lining its bed. The Rio Grande – not so much. It overwhelms the gentle Red with a torrent of muddy chaos as the two rivers converge.

A muddy river confronted my stillness one morning. Its murky force thrust itself into my clean, clear waters, turning them upside down and filtering silt in my emotions.

I thought about Moses and the Israelites camping by the Red Sea. Their deliverance from slavery led them to waters impossible to cross. Worse, as they looked behind, they saw the dust of every chariot in Egypt rise in billows of hot pursuit.

Things looked bad. Really bad.

One thing about God. He’s good. Okay, two. He’s bigger than any force that plots to take us out.

But how? Does He roll up His sleeves, lift His hand as a battering ram and crush the fear that rages against us?

Maybe. But most often, He promises Shalom.

Shalom, a Hebrew word, can’t be translated into English by a single word. It comes from the word, “shalem,” meaning complete. Where there is Shalom, there’s tranquility, wholeness, harmony and health – nothing good withheld. It’s the absence of disorder, injustice, lack, and evil.

There is an antithesis of Shalom. It is Ra.

Again, hard to translate. Here’s a picture to describe it. I have a beautiful bowl that’s just right for whatever deliciousness I can put into it. It’s blue Polish pottery, so it’s pretty, too. But the goal of its design is to hold food.

Here’s the definition of Ra in one image.

Someone walks into my kitchen, picks up my lovely bowl and hurls it across the room. It shatters.

The act that destroyed its function defines Ra.

Ra looms large in storms of life. It threatens to shatter our tranquility, steal our dreams and deposit the dirt of its chaos in us. Nothing makes sense or fits in Ra. It represents chaos, anarchy and all manner of evil. Bullies take over, might makes right. Freedom is bound and hopes are smashed.

God’s response to Ra isn’t a giant fist. It is Shalom in a Person. The One who stands like an invitation, waiting for our response.

Ra can’t exist in Shalom. But I’ve discovered a greater force. It’s my will. When I’m angry or someone is angry with me, when I’m misunderstood or maligned, I can choose Shalom, or give in to the flood of Ra. Each river responds to my choice.

How could such a simple decision be so powerful? I don’t understand it all. That’s okay. I can still choose the clarity of a spring-fed river in my soul- and expect it to flow in and out of me.

Shalom in the River,

Laurel

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