Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Not Big on Bugs

“There’s a moth flying around down there,” my husband warned, pointing to the floorboard on my side of the vehicle. Concentrating on the text I was sending and picturing a tiny bug fluttering about my feet, I said, “If I don’t see it I’ll be fine. I’m not worried,” and continued tapping the screen and pushing buttons.

“Okay, I just thought I should warn you.”

Finished at last, I reached down to slip my phone in my purse, only to find a HUGE winged creature perched on the top of the front cloth panel, the size of a small bat it seemed to me, it’s black, beady eyes staring straight at me as if daring me to push the phone past it.

I didn’t scream, but I hollered good and loud. Repeatedly.

“It’s just a moth! I tried to tell you…”

“You didn’t say it was the size of an airplane!” I held my phone in my tightly clenched hands and scrunched as far away from my purse and The Creature as possible without diving into the backseat, hoping that if I didn’t look at it wouldn’t advance any more in my direction. We were headed to a wedding, and so I concentrated on whether I could make it through the ceremony without the essentials of life packed in my bag. I surely wasn’t going to touch the latter until that bug was long gone. I could envision us now, seated in the pew, watching the wedding party come down the aisle and thinking thoughts of something old, something new, something borrowed…when suddenly something flew out of my tote and scared the living daylights out of me all over again. It just wasn’t going to happen.

Have I mentioned that my husband is a hero? He pulled into the parking lot of a farm market we were driving by, got out of the car, came around to my side of the vehicle and opened the passenger side door to where I was still sitting frozen against the gearshift. Realizing I was never going to hand him my purse, he reached in and got it, set it on the trunk and began his search for the winged invader. Having apparently been scared itself as badly as it had frightened me, it had taken a tumble into the depths inside.

“I don’t see it,” Jim said.

“You’re going to have to pull everything out. It’s in there somewhere,” I said with certainty, having by this time unlocked my legs and gotten out of the car, checking the floorboard area as I did so to make sure the thing wasn’t still in the vehicle.

Resolutely he began removing items and setting them on the lid of the trunk. I carry a big bag that it’s easy to stuff a lot into, and much had been thrown in there during the activities of our busy summer, most of which were soon on display on the hot metal surface. Out came the umbrella, the water bottle, the notebook and the wallet, followed by a few unmentionables that I normally wouldn’t have brought out for public viewing. But this was an emergency.

“There he is!” my husband spoke at last, grabbing the still fluttering monster with his bare hands (ugh!) and letting it loose on the gravel parking lot. Much relieved, I packed the items back in my purse, got back in the car and quickly slammed the door shut before it could fly back inside, and we continued on our way into town.

I write the words above to give you the understanding that I’m not big on bugs of any kind. But because God is relentless in His attempts to get a point across, I found myself a couple of days later face to face with a grasshopper sitting on top of the microwave in my kitchen. I recognized it, of course. I’d seen it in a corner of the living room a day or so earlier and had done nothing to remove it, figuring it wasn’t hurting anything, nibbling on my husband’s houseplants, at worst. Surely the cat or the dog or the long-suffering spouse would take care of it eventually. Now perched on top of the appliance, it didn’t look particularly scary, but the problem with most bugs is that they don’t stay in one place. Even as that thought crossed my mind, the grasshopper launched itself over my head, causing me to duck wildly, my heart stopping momentarily in panic, and my coffee very nearly spilling all over the kitchen floor.

“I give,” I said to God a short time later. Sounding much like the plague-besieged Pharaoh of Biblical fame I pleaded, “No more bugs, evil butterfly-cousins, or insects of any kind. Just tell me what You want me to hear, and I’ll listen and act upon it.” He had definitely gotten my attention.

Not surprisingly, He brought up the subject of my reluctance to deal with things that scare me. I avoid confrontation, not just with bugs, or people who bug me, but problems and painful situations of any kind, choosing rather to run away from them than figure out a way to deal with them. It’s as if I believe they can’t bother me if I don‘t look at them, and yet in my heart I know that they’re still about the place…somewhere. And so my daily activities are hampered as I go about life with a wary eye and a tentative step, always wondering what might jump out at me from around the corner. God simply wants a better life for me than that, and frankly, He can’t use me if I’m a frightened follower rather than the fearless forerunner He created me to be.

A recent situation at work came up as an example. I love my job, except for one assignment I’m occasionally given that makes me incredibly uneasy for a variety of reasons. Yet my personal preferences carry no weight with my supervisor, who simply expects me to do and go as I’m told. My joy in my job began to disappear completely, swallowed up by the nagging fear concerning my possible job assignment each day when I clocked in at the start of my shift.

When I wondered why God didn’t deliver me out of this situation, His response was that in Him I am a victor, not a victim, and as such I didn’t need rescuing. What I needed instead was a strategy to help me overcome the problem, which He was perfectly willing to give upon request. The instructions He subsequently gave me became the stones in my sling to use against the Goliath that stood in the way of my once again enjoying my workday. When I ran at the giant instead of away from him, my fear fell dead at my feet.

Several years ago a friend of mine and her family lived in an old farmhouse they rented in a rural area of Ohio. When the weather turned cold, a couple of harmless but horrible-looking black rat snakes went up inside the walls of the house to over winter in the relative warmth of the attic. When spring came around again the reptiles were once again on the move. One day my friend and her loved ones were gathered around the table enjoying a meal when a snake suddenly dropped through the roof through the light fixture and hung above the table, dangling mere inches in front of their faces! They screamed, dropped their forks and knives and raced out the door. Only after their hearts quit pounding and they had caught their collective breath did they realize that while they were all safe and sound outside, the snake was still inside…somewhere. They had no choice but to go back in and look for it, but apparently it had pulled itself back up through the hole it had dropped through. For days after that they tiptoed around the house, opening drawers and cupboards slowly for fear of finding a snake coiled up on their underwear or towels, and examining light fixtures carefully before walking underneath them. But they just couldn’t live like that. So with the help of their landlord they went on the attack, eventually capturing and removing the snakes and blocking up the places where they had gained entry.

We simply need to do the same. Every day God spreads a banqueting table of incredible life experiences out before us, inviting us to come and partake. Yet when we least expect it, the enemy of our soul drops into our lives in the form of that which we fear most, causing us to flee from what is rightfully ours, that which has been purchased for us on the Cross and provided for our enjoyment. Because he has no place at the table and no portion in the bounty spread before us, his desire is to keep us from enjoying it, as well. Eventually we come to a place where we’re just not willing to let him get away with it any longer.

Unfortunately, the physical and spiritual insect plagues in my life have not stopped, no do I even expect them to do so any more. But neither do I fear them like I used to. Through them God has taught me that if I‘ll turn to Him for advice and assistance, I’ll find that He is still very much in the business of setting His people free.

“You shall tread upon the lion and adder;
the young lion and the serpent shall you trample underfoot.”
(Psalm 91:13 AMP)

Friday, August 12, 2011

Water Woes

I stepped out onto the back deck with my first cup of coffee of the morning and immediately sensed that something was wrong. I heard a strange noise I couldn’t identify but that sounded vaguely like running water. Looking up to see if a sudden shower was perhaps splashing raindrops on the leaves of the trees overhead before reaching the wooden planks I was standing on, I saw only sunlight and clear skies above me. Drawn by the sound to the left edge of the deck, I looked over the railing and was surprised to see that the stream which borders the yard was running like crazy, the water rushing down it’s path into the woods behind the house. The spring storms were long gone, and the summer had turned hot and dry. The local crops and ground were desperate for rain that had been withheld for weeks. Surely I would have been awakened by a storm of the severity to produce as much runoff as was flowing past the house, yet there was no sign that the surrounding property had received any relief from the deepening drought. Something besides rain was sending the water downstream. Resolutely setting my coffee cup down, I decided I’d better go take a look.

I hiked upstream to the top of the property, veering left around the fence to walk up the road, assuming the water was running down the ditch from somewhere up the hill. The brushy fence line along the side of the pavement blocked my view of anything beyond it, but the farther I went, the less clearly I could hear the water, till I gathered that I was going to have to stick to the streambed itself if I was to find the source of the flow. My feet sunk in the muck of the waterlogged footpath that crossed the stream to the neighboring lot, and I noticed water pooling around the culvert that emptied out from the other side of the road. Yet the water wasn’t coming out of the pipe, but forming a large puddle in front of it. Suddenly I noticed a spot where water was bubbling up from the ground itself. A broken water line was surely the culprit! Soon the water company was notified and before long a repair crew was said to be on their way.

Hours after the pipe had been replaced and the workmen had pulled their trucks off the property, I sat thinking about how my attention had been alerted to the problem in the first place. It was the sight of something unusual in my everyday surroundings - water flowing where none should have been - that caught my interest and led me to investigate further. And surely God uses the same tactic in drawing people to Himself. They see one of His followers exhibiting behavior inconsistent with what one would expect in the circumstances surrounding him, such as fearlessness in the face of a terminal illness, strength in time of overwhelming sorrow, or great calm in the midst of a calamity of some sort. Such responses lead the observers to look deeper into the life and beliefs of that one whose reaction is out of the ordinary. They track what they see to its Source, and oftentimes their lives and futures are forever changed as a result.

I know that the words written above are true, because they describe a similar situation that happened to me. Decades ago now, when I was first dating the man I would eventually marry, I had fallen in with a group of people who worked hard all week, partied hard every Friday and Saturday night, and then recuperated on Sunday to do it all over again the next week. I was surprised when I met Jim to learn that he didn’t live the way I and everybody else I knew was living. Rather, he found his joy in his relationship with God and the fellowship of people who knew Him. He talked about the church service that week and his Bible study group meeting with as much excitement as he did the latest softball game he’d played in, and it amazed me. I’d gone to church my entire life and believed in God, but the idea of being friends with Him and having fun in His presence was foreign to me. Intrigued, I eventually followed my boyfriend’s happiness and contentment to it’s source in a relationship with Jesus, and found that joy, peace and love can bubble out of a soul the same way that water bubbled out of the once-dry ground in my yard.

When the work crew first arrived on the scene that day, they told my husband that the extremely wet spring we’d had, followed by a hot and dry summer, was causing the ground to compact and break the pipes. The same thing has happened to some of us. A once-thriving relationship with God may have given way to a dry season in life. The increasing pressure surrounding us finally broke our hearts and brought us back to the love relationship we once knew with God and the Living Water that flows out of the same.

The repairmen went on to tell us that there were a dozen or more such leaks all over the city, and they were having trouble keeping up with the calls for assistance because of a shortage of help. And isn’t that God’s problem, as well? He says that the fields are ripe unto harvest, but the workers are few.

The truth of the matter is that people are at the breaking point all around us, and we don’t have to be on a church payroll somewhere to offer assistance. All that God asks is that we first let Christ flow freely out of our lives, and then that we be ready to point others in His direction when that running stream in a desert place draws the people around us in for a closer look.

“…Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have…”
(1 Peter 3:15 NIV)

Monday, August 1, 2011

Bunny Business

I might as well change my name from Bridge to McGregor, as I seem to have spent the summer chasing bunnies, much like the gardener by that name in Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Peter Rabbit. I don’t have a garden, and I rather like the sight of the cotton-tailed creatures hopping about the yard. The problem lies with my son’s beagle, who has an inherent hatred for rabbits, squirrels, and even low-flying geese. Especially rabbits. The minute he spots one through the living room window he’s mentally on the attack, barking incessantly and at very high volume until the intruder is removed from his sight.

But bunnies are not intimidated by a dog barking inside the house. Rather, they sit frozen in place, the one eye on the side facing the trouble watching warily and waiting for further alarms. So the barking won’t stop and the noise level doesn’t’ drop until for the sake of the still-sleeping family members I slip my feet in my flip-flops and head outdoors to chase the trespassers away.

You may wonder why I don’t just open the door and let the dog do the duty himself. But the property is not completely fenced, and he would chase the animal not just out of the yard but probably out of the county and very possibly out of the state, as well. While I don’t care if I ever see the rabbit again, I am partial to this particular puppy, noisy though he may be, and try to keep him close to home. So I take care of the problem myself.

Few things are as harmless as a bunny in the yard. Yet when Mr. McGregor spotted Peter Rabbit in his garden, he called him a thief, eating what didn’t belong to him. And this summer my spiritual life has been full of seemingly harmless thoughts that have nibbled their way into my subconscious and likewise stolen away much of my peace and joy. They are worry over life situations over which I have no control and have previously committed to God, yet they sneak back into my thought life when I’m not looking and consume too much of my time and thought life. Thankfully the Holy Spirit is my watchdog who alerts me to their presence again and forces me to run them off once more.

Perhaps your problems are much more intimidating than the bunny-sized ones that I seem to be dealing with. Yet the size of our problems is not the issue, as dealing with them is God’s job, nor ours, once we’ve committed them to Him. There’s simply nothing too large for Him to handle. But dealing with the worry over the same He leaves to us. He tells us so in no uncertain terms: “…Do not let your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. [Stop allowing yourselves to be agitated and disturbed, and do not permit yourselves to be fearful and intimidated and cowardly and unsettled.” (John 14:27 AMP, emphasis mine). In other words, “Get off your duff and chase that bit of fluff out of the yard!”

I’ve found that it’s not enough to merely chase the rabbits out of the dog’s sight, as they soon hop back to where they were feeding before. Rather I have to chase them completely off the property, pursuing them till their white bouncing backsides wiggle through an opening in the fenced boundary of the yard.

I notice that my gardener friend of storybook fame didn’t enter the bunny battle unarmed. Rather, he brandished the tool he had at hand as he ran after the intruder. And it’s surely no coincidence that the rabbit feeding times at my house seem to coincide with my devotional times, both morning and evening. It‘s as if God wanted to remind me that I likewise have my weapon of choice, the Word of God and the promises it contains, always close at hand - in my heart and on my lips, as is promised in Deuteronomy 30:14. Clearly it’s there to be used.

So the next time you are feeling disturbed or unsettled, let the Holy Spirit nudge you as He does so often to me, to look through the windows of your soul and see if there are any worries nibbling away at your peace and contentment. If you find some there, don’t just bark at them in vain, but in your best Mr. McGregor imitation, pick up your “rake” and chase those intruders all the way back under the garden gate.

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
(Philippians 4:6-7 NKJV)

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