Saturday, May 26, 2012

Mercy's Lap

Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience,
not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?
Romans 2:4

I was reminiscing yesterday about a sweet childhood memory. It's funny to think upon it with such fondness. It actually could have been a traumatic event to recall had it been entrusted to a less discerning soul . . . . but Poppa, in His infinite wisdom and immeasurable kindness, allowed otherwise.   53 years later, I still consider it to be an important stone set in the foundation of my life.

Her name was Mrs. McKeithen, and she was my first grade teacher. Back in those days of the 1950's in my small, southern hometown, we had neither preschool nor kindergarten, so her class was my very first experience in school. What a kind and tenderhearted person she was. We didn't just learn "readin' and writin' and 'rithmetic", but we learned Christian values and respect for others.   Ahhhhhhh . . . . the good old days!  God had not yet been expelled from our schools at that point . . . . but that's another story.

Mrs. McKeithen was definitely not a "hireling".  She was a true shepherd . . . well, I guess technically she was a shepherdess . . . . who tenderly cared for her flock. She performed a ritual each day after lunch, a time when we came in hot and exhausted from our rambunctious recess romps. She would have us lay our heads on our desks and she would walk up and down the aisles, rubbing each tiny back, while she sang soothing lullabies over her lambs. We were so bathed in love! It was in this atmosphere that my foundation stone was laid.

I was a very impulsive child, with a contagious enthusiasm for life . . . . a delightful trait at times, I'm told, but a constant springboard for trouble! Not yet seasoned in the practice of self-control, I seldom weighed the consequences of my actions or words . . . I acted first and thought later.  Living in the moment . . . . that was me!

I do not remember the identity of the little girl who sat in front of me, but I can still see the shiny nickel balanced precariously on the edge of the book storage area underneath her desk that morning. A nickel could still buy quite a variety of things back then, and my desire to have it overruled any moral thought otherwise in that moment. You guessed it!  In one seamless movement, the nickel transferred from her possession to mine. No one was any the wiser as I slipped the treasure into my pocket . . . . or so I thought . . . .

At some point that morning, the child discovered her loss and the missing coin was reported to Mrs. McKeithen. A class-wide posse was formed and a search was initiated. It was at this point that another character flaw reared it's ugly head from my six year old being. I was already a thief, wracked with guilt and fear, struggling about what to do to correct the situation without adding total humiliation to the mix.  And now . . . . enter, deception!

An ingenious solution began to emerge . . . . instead of being labeled a criminal, I could instead be hailed as the class hero! I had to act quickly.  I hid the nickel in the palm of my hand and made a sweeping motion across the floor. I pretended to pick up the lost item as I announced, "Here it is! I found it!"   I handed the coin over to it's rightful owner, enjoyed my brief moment of fame, and returned to my desk.

Whew! My plan had worked . . . . my reputation remained untarnished and I was relieved of my guilt . . . . well, kind of . . . . only what was this dreadful gnawing sensation that was now growing in the pit of my belly?

The day continued on, the daily routine unfolded in the usual fashion, and eventually our sweet rest time arrived. On this day, after the usual songs and back rubs, Mrs. McKeithen seated herself in a chair in front of the room and summoned me to come to her. She lifted me up onto her lap, wrapped her arms around me, and began to rock. As she rocked, she whispered in my ear, "You took the nickel, didn't you honey?" The total absence of condemnation in her voice melted all my defenses, and I confessed my sin with tears of remorse. The release from shame that I experienced in that cocoon of unconditional love has never left me from that day to this.  That single act of kindness offered me the way out when I couldn't find it on my own.  She continued  holding me  through the remainder of our rest period and comforted me again in that reassuring voice of hers. "It's going to be okay," she whispered, "just don't do it again."

That was the first time I was ever held in Mercy's lap.  That was the first time I ever heard those same liberating words that the woman caught in adultery heard from the Master:  "Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more."  That was my first encounter with the heart of God.

Was a potential lifetime of crime averted that day?  Maybe nothing as dramatic as that . . . . we'll never know.  But, I can tell you that even though I didn't have language to wrap around it at age six, the wisdom of that one woman allowed me to touch the reality of a spiritual truth that had existed throughout all the ages . . . . "mercy triumphs over judgement."  (James 2:13) 

She could have stood me up and made a public spectacle of me in front of my peers . . . . she could have punished me and held my crime and punishment up as an example . . . . she could have uncovered my sin to the world.  She could have pronounced judgement upon me . . . . it would have been justified . . . . I was guilty after all.  But she chose mercy, and that mercy stands triumphant even now. 

I've made thousands of mistakes since that day, falling often and failing in almost every way possible.  But my life had been launched on a course.  A compass had been set in my heart that would always cause me to seek out mercy in the same way that sailors navigate by  true north.  It would faithfully lead me home to safe harbor again and again to the place I love . . . . Mercy's lap.   

He said that you could come into his
Presence without fear
Into this holy place
Where His presence hovers near.

Come runnin' come runnin'
Come runnin' to the mercy seat
Where Jesus is callin' He said His grace would cover you.
His blood will flow freely it will provide the healin'
Come runnin' to the mercy seat

(Excerpt from lyrics to Mercy Seat by Vcki Yohe)

The LORD is gracious and merciful; Slow to anger and great in lovingkindness.
Psalm 145:8

Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne;
mercy and loving-kindness and truth go before Your face.
Psalm 89:14 AMP 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

No Pain--No Gain


My gardenias are blooming again.  Love this time of year.  The blooms are ever so delicate and fragrant.  I know that the blossoms won't last long and are easily damaged by the spring rains, so I clip the white beauties as quicikly as they appear and bring them inside to arrange and enjoy. 

I was noticing today that the blossoms aren't as prolific as usual, and realized that it is probably way past time for some serious pruning.  It caused me to reflect back on a time not too long ago when I learned firsthand the value of this process. 

Gardening is not one of my passions or passtimes.  My good friend, Rhonda, is quite gifted with all things green and growing, and she was living with us at the time.  She always seemed to know instinctively what needed to be done in the yard and when.  Our property has never looked so good as when she was here.  The grounds of her own home are a veritable Garden of Eden.  Our yard looks more like Eden after the Fall unless someone intervenes in it's behalf. . . . . sigh.

Okay . . . . back to the story . . . .

Rhonda came to me one day and asked for permission to prune the gardenia bush.  She explained that unless the bush was severely pruned, it would not produce the blooms that it could otherwise.  I innocently agreed, having absolutely no clue what this meant in reality.  I just blindly trusted her. 


Her sure and steady hands began to demonstrate her expertise at this task.  As she went to work with those big shears, I saw something in her eyes I had never seen before . . . . she was on a mission!!  She clipped. . . . she snipped . . . . she chopped . . . . she lopped . . . . she was merciless!!  By the time she had finished, it looked for all the world as if she had killed my bush.  It was totally unrecognizable!!  I was horrified and filled with regret . . . . she reassured me that it would be alright. . . . I wasn't sure at all.

As time passed, I got used to the mutilated sight of the butchered bush and didn't think about it much anymore.  Quietly and without much fanfare, it began to flourish again and put out new green growth.  Slowly, the seasons changed, until one day the little white blooms began to pop out.  I hadn't even noticed that the bush was now heavy laden with buds.  As the days passed and the fullness of time came, I was amazed at what I saw . . . the bush was completely ablaze with glory!  I have never since seen such blooms as we had that year.  I had to admit that the pruning had for sure delivered the goods.

Everytime I looked at those gardenias that spring, I thought of the following verse in  2 Corinthians 4:17 . . . .
For this momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.
I wouldn't have called the severe pruning that I witnessed momentary, light affliciton at the time.  It seemed more like a sentence of death.   But this covering of beauty I now beheld was indeed a good picture of the weight of glory, far beyond all comparison!! 

Okay, okay, she convinced me!  I now believe in the value of pruning!!

But what about when it's my turn?  What then?  What about when everything surrounding me is apparently thriving and luscious . . . . and I'm basking in the sunlight of this life I'm living, enjoying all the many blessings of God?  What happens when suddenly I see the Master Gardener's BIG shears gleaming in the light . . . . and I see that look of determination in His eyes as He approaches?  What then, when I feel everything being lopped off and falling away from  me . . . . everything that was once good and familiar and certain and comfortable . . . . and I stand there, uncovered, feeling naked and disoriented . . . . and cold . . . . what then? 

It is then that I must remember the parabolic promises of Jesus:
I am the True Vine, and My Father is the Vinedresser.  Any branch in Me that does not bear fruit [that stops bearing] He cuts away (trims off, takes away); and He cleanses and repeatedly prunes every branch that continues to bear fruit, to make it bear more and richer and more excellent fruit . . . . and when you bear (produce) much fruit, My Father is honored and glorified, and you show and prove yourselves to be true followers of Mine.  John 15: 1-2, 8 AMP

Poppa, we who are Your own know that you hold our lives in the palms of Your hands.  You are intimately acquainted with everything that touches our lives.  You orchestrate each season of our journey Heavenward . . . . you carefully watch over the ebb and flow of our suffering and joy . . . . You are faithful, and we trust in Your unfailing love for us.  We submit ourselves again to You, without reserve, knowing that You alone deserve all the glory that comes forth from these seasons of pruning.  The worthless branches, we don't want anyway . . . . the fruitful branches we offer to your process of greater fruitfuless. You are good.

Faithful are the woundings of a Friend.  Prov. 27:6
To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under Heaven . . . .  
He has made everything beautiful in its time.  Eccl.  3: 1, 11 

Here's to more excellent fruit . . . . fruit that remains. . . .and an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Rooted and Grounded in Love

". . . . that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory,
to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man,
so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you,
being rooted and grounded in love,
may be able to comprehend with all the saints
what is the breadth and length and height and depth of that love,
and to know the love of Christ which surpasses mere knowledge
that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God."  Eph. 3: 16-19

One of my favorite spots on this earth is the beautiful, Southern-style porch on the front of our 100+ year old home.  I have spent many quiet, blissful hours there . . . . listening to God, enjoying the beauty of His creation, and reflecting upon what He is speaking to my heart. 

Lately my attention has been drawn to the ancient oak trees on the property.  I try to imagine the size of the root system beneath the ground needed to support the enormous load that each tree creates by it's height and breadth.  I've been told that the size of the root system of a live oak tree mirrors the size of the tree that you can see above the ground.  That is almost unfathomable to perceive!!

Those trees are so tall that you must bend backwards to see the treetops overhead.  Their branches stretch out to unbelievable lengths, providing shade to the lawn and a haven for various creatures, and even a swing for my grandchildren. I love the trunks and branches and limbs and leaves. . . .they are beautiful through every season of the year.  But I truly appreciate those roots . . . . the tremendous bases which support the weight of those trees. . . . and all the more when an inescapable storm front rages through.  One toppled tree would irreparably damage our house.  But those massive, hidden root systems have provided the stability that the trees need in order to have withstood over 100 years of even the most violent of storms.

In the prayer above, Paul expresses his desire for the church at Ephesus to be rooted and grounded in love.  It is absolutely vital that our roots go down deep and wide into Poppa's love (for He IS love, you know) and draw all of our life from His Life.  Only then can we be grounded . . . . to lay the foundation, to found; to make stable, to establish . . . . enough to really be able to explore and enjoy the breadth, the length, the height, and the depth of that same love.  Incomprehensible . . . .yet, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul prays that we be able to comprehend it.  Yes . . . . may it be!!!

All the fullness of God?!?!?!!  Wow!!!!
Father, plunge us once again today into the depths of Your Love.  Increase both the size and the capacity of our root systems so that we may be able to draw deeply from that love through every season of life.  You alone ARE our life and in You alone do we live and move and have our being.  And as we become established in Your Love, may we come to fully know and experience all the dimensions of what that Love means to us and in us and through us.  As our roots go down into Your Heart, may our branches extend to others, providing for them all that Your love makes possible.  And when the inevitable storms come, we thank you that Your Love cannot fail.  Thank you, dear Poppa!

So they will be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified. Is 61:3

For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life,
nor angels, nor principalities,
nor things present, nor things to come,
nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature,
shall be able to separate us from the love of God,
which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.   Rom 8:38-39