Saturday, January 16, 2010

Cardinals are Commonplace

I woke to find my husband praying quietly in the bed beside me. Sinus congestion had kept him from a good night's sleep the past several nights and he'd decided to spend those hours of wakefulness in prayer, catching up on his rest with naps during the day. Not one wanting to be found sitting (or sleeping!) in another's prayer closet, I got up quickly and headed out to the kitchen to make the coffee, a little perturbed that I was forced to rise so early on a Saturday morning.

My mood improved instantly when I glanced out the window. An overnight snow had changed the dreary winter scenery into a world of white that sparkled brilliantly in the early morning sunlight. Rather than wait for the coffee pot, I made myself a quick mug of instant coffee, grabbed my camera and my jacket and headed out into the incredible beauty of the new day, hoping to capture pictures of birds against the backdrop of snow.

Brushing the snow off the seat of the wooden chair, I sat and gasped in wonder at the world around me. The birds were brightly colored balls of fluff that reminded me of beautiful ornaments on a flocked Christmas tree. Truly the snowy surprise was an incredible gift, and I was ever so glad I hadn't missed it all by sleeping in.

I picked up the camera but couldn't decide in which direction to point it. And suddenly I understood why. It occurred to me that as beautiful as any photograph of the morning would be, the pictures that always seem to mean the most to me are of subjects that nobody else would waste film on... two lawn chairs placed side by side at the garden's edge, symbolizing God's ever-present desire to meet with me... an unfinished wooden footstool, reminding me that through Christ's death on the cross my enemies are under my feet... a field of yellow flowers, representing the growth of my own faith and the power of that faith in combination with that of other believers... and other objects photographed not for their physical beauty but as a reminder of the message God spoke to my heart at one time or another concerning them. It's that moment in the Presence of God and the revelation that it brought to me that I want to capture on film and remember forever. I reminded myself that the beauty I marveled at outside this morning would be an everyday occurrence in Heaven. And yet even in Heaven, the unimaginable scenery would seem empty and meaningless without the presence of Christ. He puts the wonder in wonderful and then splashes it into a world that without it is only full of physical things.

My mother-in-law joined me on the back deck just then, her eyes wide and her mouth open in awe, just as mine had been mere minutes before. Her camera in her hand, her mission was likewise to photograph a blood-red cardinal against the sparkling white snow. Our presence was keeping the birds at bay, but I promised to fill the birdfeeders, an action certain to bring them to our backyard in large numbers. As I set about that task I smiled to myself at the lesson I'd just learned: Cardinals up close at my birdfeeders, however beautiful, are commonplace. It's those times when God comes near that truly set my days apart, marking moments I need to catch in my heart and treasure in this world, until I walk in them perpetually in the one to come.

" thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore." (Psalm 16:11 KJV)

Thursday, January 7, 2010

A PUR Heart

"It was like a shower on the inside," said my friend as she tried to describe what she felt when she obeyed God in a certain situation and felt His Presence wash over her in response.

It's a wonderful thing to jump into a shower stall first thing in the morning and let the spray of warm water wake and revive you, giving you a fresh start on a new day. Even more invigorating is it to do the same spiritually, to jump into a devotional time with the Lord and to allow His Holy Spirit to simply wash away the errors and failings of the day before and to embark upon a new chance to serve Him with all your mind and heart.

We all long to feel clean. When a recent windstorm knocked out the power in our part of town for days on end, I found that what I missed most of all (well, besides a hot cup of coffee) was a warm shower. I had simply taken the opportunity to wash myself whenever I felt like it for granted. But I know what it's like to need an inner cleansing, as well. When I was in my early twenties I worked for a company that transferred me from all that was familiar to me in a small town on the Oregon coast to a much larger city farther inland. Desperate for companionship, I was not careful about the friendships I developed and soon found myself spending time with people I had no business being with and willingly joining in with whatever entertainment they chose to engage in, whether it was wise for me to do so or not. But one day I met a guy who didn't live the way I was living. He lived a clean life, and I found in the course of my relationship with him that I was desperate to feel clean again myself. The end result was that one morning I took a spiritual shower that changed my life forever.

The freshness we feel after a morning bathing doesn't last long, however. The grime and sweat of our day's toil cling to us and we find that we have to go through the cleansing process repeatedly for the rest of our earthly existence. So, too, in the spiritual realm we need a regular soul cleansing that removes all trace of yesterday's sin to give us a clean start on today's walk with God.

King David of Bible fame knew the importance of standing clean before a holy god. Perhaps the very reason he had the royal moniker before his name was that he continually asked God for clean hands and a pure heart, as the Psalms attest. My spiritual shower times thus begin with the same plea. One morning while praying for purity I saw the word spelled differently in my spirit. "Pure" was replaced with "PUR", and an image of that water filtration system's logo appeared over my heart. I laughed it off that day, but the picture came again and again in the days that followed. I started seeing that logo everywhere I looked, from ads in magazines to even the travel coffee mug in my kitchen cabinet that promoted coffee made with water filtered by this famous system. Finally it dawned on me that God had a message to impart - that our personal purity likewise depends on our willingness to install a personal filtration system for our souls.

While God is the one who washes us clean initially and then repeatedly thereafter as we ask Him to, we ourselves also bear a measure of responsibility in keeping our hearts protected from outside influences. God has given us the Holy Spirit to filter what comes in to us through the various ports in our bodies. All of our senses, from sight, to touch, to hearing, to taste, to smell, carry messages to our hearts, and not all of them are beneficial. The Holy Spirit helps us filter out the impurities from our daily experiences and therefore controls how they affect our lives. But the system has to be installed and activated before it does us any good. A brand name water filtration system bought at a store but kept in a box on a closet shelf doesn't affect the drinking water in the home in the least. Likewise the gift of the Holy Spirit was bought and paid for by Christ's death on the cross, but it doesn't change our hearts nor impact our lives until we give it permission to operate and function as the Manufacturer designed. Installation is as easy as asking God to forgive us for our sins and to direct our paths from this point on. Once that's done the Holy Spirit comes within us and begins to actively work in our lives, directing our consciousness to thoughts, images, sounds and desires that need to be discarded before they damage that which we hold most dear.

There's an old saying that cleanliness is next to godliness. Frankly, I think the two are much more closely related than we think.

"Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me."
(Psalm 51:10 NIV)
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