I don’t know what it is about orchids and why they never cease to fill me with a sense of awe and wonder, a quietude that settles heart and mind, when I gaze upon their lasting velveteen petals. They sit on my desk, peaceful, quiet, rarely changing from day to day, steady, consistent, veritably painted in place. Yet living. Unassuming, glorious little examples that fit so many analogies. I almost wonder at the Lord for stopping at ants when instructing us to seek out lessons from nature. I wonder that He didn’t list all of creation in painstaking detail. Go to the orchids, the fireflies, the grass of the hills. Go to my creation, child, and learn! Perhaps by citing one of the smallest examples, He figured we would pick up on the clue and apply this principle elsewhere. Perhaps I’m just slow to the scene.
Today, this little orchid reminds me of what we’re supposed to be: steady, consistent, blooming, unfolding, developing creatures who display our colors for all to see. But wouldn’t you rather be some fast-blooming plant? Something that doesn’t take a YEAR to develop one spray of blossoms? A flower that can grow at a microwave's pace instead of the eternity it takes to grow, bloom, and blossom into who we are created to be? I surely would! If I didn't hold closely the truth that, though this flowering plant takes eight months to bloom, when it does bloom... It lasts, and lasts, and lasts! For months, this delicate plant displays it's growth and colors, it's radiant beauty, for ALL to see! It becomes a glorious, well-developed, color-filled, exquisite example that points to the One who lovingly crafted and created it to be.
And I circle back to myself. For is this not what we are to be? Blooming, blossoming, slowly sanctified, growing, tender examples of what our Creator has made of us? I think it’s safe to say, none of us want to wait the equivalent of an orchid year to see growth which the Lord is so good to create inside us. But so often, that year, that waiting period, the time of trial, Joseph’s prison, Moses’ wilderness experience, is, of necessity, our experience, too. For if we did not have such a long time to slowly grow, we would surely bloom early, blossom too soon, and just as quickly whither up and fade away. So, I will take the wait. I will take the achingly long journey toward a day that seems forever in coming. Because when it does, it will last and last and last! And I will get to display my colors for all to see... to the glory of my Creator.
I read a quote today about God's love being strong and in one moment the phrase struck me as both beautiful and sorely lacking.
It is beautiful because the Lord is my strength and His strength is unbound and limitless. He is my protector who upholds me, His love washes away all my tears, it sustains me and keeps me going. Yet it is lacking because 'strong' does not begin to encompass the kind of love my Savior has for me! What kind of love would willingly give Himself for me? What kind of love would go to the grave and back? It is this kind of love that my Savior has for me: an undying, self-sacrificing, endlessly giving, fiercely protective kind of love. How paltry, in comparison, is love as described by this world? And how little is my own love given back to Him!
To love like Jesus is to love without reserve, to love without hesitation, to love through the cost. To love like Christ is a costly kind of love because it requires all of me, not just a part of me when it is convenient. It requires everything even when it is the most difficult - for that is how Christ loves. Yes, His love is strong. But it is so much more than 'strong.' It is passionate, deep, unending, unyielding, and eternal. It overcomes the strongest hatred, the bitterest grudge, and the deepest doubt experienced by the human soul.
The other day, my fiance and I were sitting together in a public place talking (read: smiling and staring deeply into each other's eyes) when a stranger walked by. This stranger passed by once, then twice, then said something I didn't catch. When she walked by again, I mentally cued in to what she was saying. It was this: "Gurl, he looooves you!" She then sat down a ways from us and started singing a few strains of 'Kiss the Girl' from Little Mermaid. Thankfully her serenade only lasted a few bars, then she wandered off. My fiance and I giggled, amused by her antics, and continued our conversation (i.e. staring into each other's eyes).
Later, as I recounted the event, it struck me how a total stranger took a few looks at us and recognized the obvious - we love each other. That, of course, made me think of another application. Would a complete stranger be able to take a couple looks at me and see how much I love Jesus? Would they be able to take a thirty second glimpse at my life and draw the obvious conclusion that I am deeply in love with my Savior and serve Him with my whole heart and being? Would they want to sit back and watch me interact with others out of love for the Lord and sing about what they see? I would like to think so. Maybe the next time I get serenaded by a stranger, they'll start singing about Jesus.
A few days ago, my fiance gave me this beautiful orchid. I was struck by its intense blue color and wonderered how a normally delicate flower was made to look so vibrant. While reading the tag, I had a definite 'ah-ha' moment.
These orchids are infused with a special coloring that makes them look like this the first time they bloom. The tag went on to say that while they bloomed, each bloom would progressively change from deep blue to pure white. This beautiful flowering plant instantly became that much more precious to me.
This orchid gives me hope because in this orchid I see a picture of myself. I am "colored" by sin, its effects are present in me every day and visible for all to see. But I am also transformed every day, renewed, and made a little more like Christ as each moment goes by. Each day as I watch my orchid transform from deep blue to pure white, I am reminded that I am becoming more like my Creator. I will not always be marred by sin. I will not always see its dark stain. One day I will walk in complete holiness before my Lord. One day He who has begun a good work in me will complete it. And like my orchid, one day, sin's deep hue will be removed and only the purest of white will be left behind!
Whenever we hear the story of Jonah, our default thought is typically, "He ran away from God and got swallowed by a whale." I have often pondered over the story, feeling like there was something more, something I wasn't quite catching on to, something I was missing. I had recognized the main elements - Jonah ran from God, repented of that attitude, turned back to the Lord while captive in a fish's belly, and eventually did his job. He went to Nineveh, proclaimed the Gospel, and the whole place repented.
That is often where most of our Jonah narratives cease. The narrative, however, is far from over. After Nineveh's salvation and God's outpouring of grace, Jonah does not rejoice in the work of the Lord and continue to serve Him but rather hardens his heart against God and ceases his service altogether. The End. The book literally ends with God asking Jonah a question. No "conclusion," no repentance of Jonah's hard heart, nothing.
Surely Jonah justified his attitude. The people of Nineveh had left horrific scars and deep wounds that had not yet healed upon Jonah and his people. Seeing Nineveh's salvation was the absolute last thing Jonah wanted but it was in God's goodness and sovereignty that he was to be the pivot point which turned them to repentance.
We all have "Ninevehs" in our lives. People who have hurt us, events or happenings that have left deep wounds and scars upon our soul. But we also have Jonah's choice. We can allow ourselves to be swallowed up in the mercy and grace of God or we can harden our heart into stone against Him. Perhaps more than anything else, the story of Jonah now stands as a testament to me, not of what it looks like to be repentant, but what it looks like to have a heart of stone. I pray that no matter what I face some day, I would still far rather be in a whale with a soft and pliable heart for my Lord to mold and use according to His choosing than be outside of a whale with a heart hardened and stubborn against His working.
The Devil attacks in many ways and he doesn't only use fiery darts; sometimes he gives you a poisoned apple. - Matthew Lopez
While listening to my boyfriend run through a sermon he wrote, this quote, among a few others, popped out at me. The imagery stayed in my mind long after he stopped talking. We all know that spiritual warfare is real. We also know that Satan is a master deceiver. This makes his plan of attack and battle strategy against us tricky because not every firey dart is going to be obvious.
We expect the enemy to attack us. That's not the problem. But all too often we don't expect him to be subtle or deceitful in the way he does it. We expect illness, car accidents, and a whole host of "bad things" that can happen to come from his direction. But what about an invite to a friend's party that just doesn't feel right? What about a friend request from someone who seems innocent enough but causes you to wonder if you really should accept? What about those things that seem harmless enough at first but in hindsight actually turn out to be not so good after all?
When we have given our lives over to Christ, when we have decided we are going to walk and live according to Biblical standards, when we have determined to live only for Him, Satan really has no power over us. With every temptation the Lord provides a way of escape (I Corinthians 10:13). Eternally, we are sealed unto the day of redemption (Ephesians 4:30). When it comes to our souls, the war has already been won. But Satan will still try to knock us down. If he can't have us, he can at least try to make us less effective by trying to get us to go places we shouldn't and causing us to stumble and fall. We all need to be on the lookout for these kinds of fiery darts. Let us be watchful and alert because sometimes, as my boyfriend so aptly pointed out, Satan's attack may not look like a fiery dart, but it's effect will still be the same.
What IS radical faith? Absolute. Complete. Total obedience. Walking when the way seems unclear. Stepping off the ledge of certainty into the unknown only because you know the Lord has instructed you to do so. Following blindly, willingly, unhaltingly. Plunging fully forward into the will of God no matter how crazy it might seem. THAT is radical faith.
When we think about radical faith I think often we picture Hebrews 11 - and rightly so! The "Hall of Faith" records stories about men and women of God who lived with reckless abandon, willing to give up their very lives and every detail of them to the will of God. We look at them in awe and wonder how they did it. We think we could never get there. But I'm telling you, we can!
The men and women mentioned were men and women - flesh, bone, and sinful. There was a catch, however. They were superhuman. Kidding! They were just like us. So how did they do it? By owning a radical, abandoned, wholehearted faith in the One we serve. By putting into obedience every part of their lives to God's will on a daily basis. This kind of radical faith does not come all at once but slowly and surely over time. It comes by training ourselves in repeated obedience so that when He says 'walk' and the path seems unclear we will start moving anyway. So that when He says 'run' we will not calculate the distance necessary to cross the finish line before we take off. So that when He says 'follow' we will unhesitatingly, unhaltingly, unswervingly walk after the Lord no matter the situation He asks us to follow Him in.
You know the old adage, "Practice what you preach"? Well the other day I heard a new rendition of this little phrase and it made a whole lot more sense.
Instead of practicing what we preach, or telling people to do something then making sure we're doing it as well, what if we started preaching what we practice? In other words, what if we started living out what we were supposed to do and only then talking about it? Paul basically instructs us to do this when he tells us to follow him as he follows Christ. It's not a 'do what I say' mentality, but a 'do what I do' mentality. This is the heart of discipleship. A life wrapped up in right living, right thinking, right doing and then right teaching. Teaching does not come first, doing does.
When we think about the church and various pitfalls which occur - church being boring, an astounding amount of hypocrisy, discipleship gone wrong etc, I think more often than not it comes down to this principle. It is all too easy to "preach at" people - and I think you know what I mean when I say this. We've all been "preached at." Whether by a pastor or a friend or a youth leader. The problem comes when the person speaking their message or two minute blurb fails to live out what is being preached. If we tell people to love one another then fail to do so, our lives will amount to little more than a walking textbook for what not to do. But if we actually live out the love of Jesus then let our words mirror our actions, we will do far more teaching than our words alone ever could.
This life. When lived with Christ, every single aspect of who we are and what we do becomes set apart. Our marriages become more than two people living together. Our relationships become more than what we can get out of them. Our lifestyles and workplaces take on a deeper meaning. Right desires drive us and an eternal purpose becomes the reason for doing what we do.
Just like a marriage relationship, this life is one lived with God and for God and by the grace He gives. As followers of Christ, washed in the blood, sanctified, and made holy, everything we do becomes sanctified and made holy, as well. It is no wonder we are admonished to do all to the glory of God. Our work, our friendships, our marriages, our relationships, how we act, react, interact, what we say, think, and view - everything can be used to bring God glory so everything in our lives is to be set apart.
I think I am only beginning to realize the full extent and beauty of this truth and the freedom it gives - freedom to live counter culturally, freedom to claim the promises of scripture and decide this life will be more than what the world around us says it is, more than what the culture proclaims it to be. It sets us free to live in the beauty of God's grace in every area of this life - and to do it well.
I have come to realize something recently: we are in desperate need of men. No, I don't mean because there is a dearth in the dating scene. And I don't mean that there is some funky imbalance in the general populace. What I mean is this - we need guys of all ages to rise up and become the men God has called them to be. Men unashamed of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Men unafraid of loving their wives and families well. Men who will cultivate in themselves the disciplines of a disciple of Christ and help others to do the same. Men - real men.
For some unknown-to-me reason, now more than ever we are seeing a generation full of guys, but few men. Responsibility is being pushed off, passion and ownership of life are lacking, and the drive to do something great has become a vague and misunderstood concept that always appears beyond one's grasp. Greatness has become something which can be achieved from nothing - no work, heartache, struggle, or trial. And perhaps it is this which creates a generation of lackluster guys: the choosing of apathy and complacency over the struggle which produces greatness.
Greatness certainly does not come from ease. It comes from blood, work, sweat, and tears. Greatness is produced from difficulty not a lack of it. But it can be produced! I have seen a few shining examples of those who have decided to take up the mantle and become men and to you, I applaud you. Continue on through the trials and struggles and let Him mold and shape you. Rise up and shine like the men of God He created you to be. Set the example. Walk boldly before this world and walk humbly with thy God.