Monday, March 30, 2015

The Scent of A God-Infused Whisper + Tea Cup Giveaway!

by Cathy Baker

Writing about the whispers of God this month has been both a joy and well, a challenge. I learned His whispers rarely tended to speak above a hush, and certainly didn't try to contend with the clatter of my cluttered days.

Be still and know that I am God. 
Psalm 46:10

As we close out this series and begin a new one in April, {Whee!} I would like to offer a tea cup and saucer from my own collection to help someone settle in to their stillness time with God. 

There's something about preparing a cup of tea (especially when using loose leaves) that brings a bustling day to its knees. Bringing the tea kettle to a whistle, allowing the tea to steep, and slowly sipping the warm beverage. By the time you're settled in your comfy chair, with tea in hand, you're ready to revel in God-infused stillness.

Marked: Gold in China, Made in Japan
If you'd like the opportunity to win this beautiful cup and saucer (my picture doesn't do the vivid fuchsia flush of the flower or the light green rims justice), you need only leave a comment on the blog sharing which post in our March series you resonated with the most. (US participants only) 

Click the purple shaded area at the bottom of this post to leave the comment. (If you have any problems, please email me via the envelope icon on the sidebar.)

Contest will end Monday, April 6th. I'll use to draw a name and the winner will be announced that day via Facebook. (Good luck!)  

Beginning this Wednesday, April 1st, we'll begin a NEW series:

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Scent of Smoldering Doubts

by Cathy Baker

I don't mind being wrong. I just don't want to be misunderstood. (That makes sense, right?)

Like, I'm perfectly okay if someone doesn't agree with my perspective on something as long as they understand my heart on the matter. This mode of thinking, however, has sometimes handed the enemy his sharpest darts of doubt to penetrate my peace of mind.

Recently, one of his darts took flight soon after writing a difficult email. I had prayed prior to sending it, asking God to check my heart. Nevertheless, this question continued to encircle my thinking: 

What if the meaning of my email was misinterpreted by the recipient? 

Enter, God's whisper: 

I know your heart. Rest in this truth. 

The enemy may have fiery darts (Eph. 6:16) but our God wields a swift and mighty sword (Hebrews 4:12) that snuffs out doubts, leaving nothing but smoldering splinters in its wake. 

When God reminded me of his truth—that he is omniscient, knowing all things, especially the heart and intentions of his creation—I could rest, and I did. Later that day, God graciously confirmed my initial concern with confirmation that my heart had indeed been understood. A praise of thankfulness quickly followed. 

How has God snuffed out your doubts in recent days with Truth? Let the praises begin!

The Lord looks down from heaven;
    he sees all the children of man;
from where he sits enthroned he looks out
    on all the inhabitants of the earth,
he who fashions the hearts of them all
    and observes all their deeds.
Psalm 33:13-15

**** Don't miss Monday's post as I'll be offering a beautiful tea cup and saucer from my personal collection for a drawing. It's a gift from me to you as we close out this month's series. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Scent of A Vulnerable Whisper

by Cathy Baker

Upstairs I gaze out the window overlooking the city street, onto the sprawling tree just beyond the concrete boundaries. Her elegant arms stretched wide like a ballerina in the finest Grande pose. 

Its bare limbs, trunk, all things, exposed.  

Vulnerability rarely comes easy. I'm an only child, and for me, it's always felt more natural to hold things closer to my heart than to my lips. 

Only in recent years have I begun to understand how vulnerability plays such a vital role if my life is to put the gospel on display.

It's one thing to be transparent, which merely means being upfront and honest. To be vulnerable, one must be willing to lay open the most tender places within, leaving them exposed for the possibility of emotional bruising. After all, the word vulnerable means able to be wounded. 

Photo courtesy of Cheryl Werner
But if I am to reflect the life and love of Christ, how could I not make myself more vulnerable, for Christ is the perfect example?

As Easter approaches, one need only look to the verbiage found in Luke 9:22 to see the vulnerability of Christ: suffer, rejected, and killed. 

He did not hide His heart...nor His love—even to those He knew would nail Him to a cross.

We love because he first loved us. 1 John 4:19

It's when I gaze out the window that I hear His whisper:

Vulnerability exposes the deepest, most tender places of the heart. It's costly, I know. But worth every bruising.

Perhaps it's for this reason I often make my way up the stairs on these winter-turning-to-spring days. Soon, this exquisite display of His whisper will be cloaked in color, no longer visible. 

In life, vulnerabilities can be hidden beneath many "cloaks of color" -- isolation, anger, pills, alcohol, broken smiles, and humor, among thousands of others. But...

he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. Isaiah 53:5

I will miss the bare branches—but even on the hottest of summer days—His whisper will linger, and I will respond with a whisper of my own: Thank You, Lord.

How has your journey dealing with vulnerability changed since becoming a Christ follower? I'd love for you to take a moment to share. We never know who will be encouraged as a result of our own vulnerability here. Blessings!


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Scent of A Scripture-Grounded Whisper

by Cathy Baker

One thing I've learned about the whispers of God this month is that they cannot be manufactured, only experienced. 

So when I felt I was coming up empty for a post, I moved outside for inspiration. 

I inhaled deeply while walking past the scrawny, but intoxicating, Winter Honeysuckle shrub. I thought of my uncle Jim who, in his final months this side of heaven, loved when I would snap off a branch and bring it to him.

I paused at the Red Buckeye Tree nearby, seeing it not so much for what it is now but what it will become in just a few weeks. Panicles of red flowers will greet our giddy 'hood of hummingbirds very soon!

Winter Honeysuckle Bush
And then there were the white/red striped camellias and daffodils. Both reminded me of my grandmothers. Grandmother loved ole-timey jonquils and Ma-Ma loved the camellias. I grow both as a nod to them and the beauty they brought—and continue to bring—to my life, even though they've been in heaven for years. 

As I made my way back to the house, I recalled Isaiah 61:11.

Red Buckeye Tree Preparing to Bud
Daffodil and Camellias from my yard
For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign LORD will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.

Just as His whispers cannot be manufactured nor can His blessings. He uses the picture of a growing garden to show that He alone is able to miraculously engineer a simple seed to bring forth life from the soil. All we can do is make the environment right for the seed to grow to maturity. 

Similarly, we can't force or make God's blessings happen but the heart can provide the right environment for His blessings to grow in and through our lives. 

His whispers are always grounded in Scripture. 

There it was, God's whisper. It's the beauty of the Word, for if we're willing to listen, He is always willing to speak.

All the earth worships you and sings praises to you; they sing praises to your name." Psalm 66:4

Monday, March 16, 2015

When Meals Become the Scent of A Whisper

by Cathy Baker

You are loved. 

It's the whisper that arose from the meals, texts, flowers, and calls I received last week after my outpatient surgery. 

The meal ministry, in particular, revealed preconceived notions buried deep beneath my own insecurities. When Carolyn, a longtime friend and former life group leader, asked if I needed meals after surgery I gave my standard answer: "That's so sweet, but I think we'll be fine." When she came back with, "Someone in the group really wants to bring you a meal," it felt strange to decline -- almost as if I would be cheating someone else out of a blessing. The next thing I knew, Carolyn emailed our entire former life group in a stealth-like manner and surprised me with a week's worth of unbelievable meals.

After several days of being a blessed recipient of this ministry, certain truths became clear:

1. You don't have to be a chef to provide a meal. (Preconceived notion #1) Some brought home cooked meals, others brought part home cooked and part purchased meals, and others brought an entire purchased meal. Every meal was a gift! You are loved.

2. The meal is a blessing but seeing the friend who brings it is the bonus. I looked forward to seeing them as much as the meal, and that's saying something! You are loved.

3. The act of providing a meal is so much more than food. As we scooped chicken and other delights onto our plates it was hard to deny the time, money, and energy spent for our enjoyment. You are loved.

4. I need to learn how to embrace the receiving end of giving as much as the doing. Perhaps the reason I felt I might be cheating someone out of a blessing if I declined is because that's exactly what would've happened. Every person who brought a meal made us feel like it was their pleasure. You are loved. 

Sometimes love comes in expected ways {wedding bands, hugs when seeing loved ones, a kiss as as your spouse heads out the door, etc.} 

But when love comes in unexpected ways? 

The whisper You are loved 
delves deep, plunging below all preconceived notions, releasing dormant joy to bubble upwards.

True ministry, one done purely out of love for another, is life changing. 

How about you? Has there been a particular way someone has ministered to you that left an indelible mark on your life? 

Thank you, Sandra!

Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered. Proverbs 11:25

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

When a Welcome Mat Spells Out L-O-V-E

by Cathy Baker

What is it? 
  • the energetic worship service? 
  • the smiles that greet you at the door?
  • the attendants waving you into the perfect parking spot?
  • the clear and colorful signage? 
  • the way your children are welcomed?
  • the Krispy Kreme doughnuts? (Is there any other kind?) 
  • the silky smooth coffee?  
  • the compelling delivery of the gospel?

The it is hospitality in a church setting. What helps our guests feel most welcomed?

It's a question I continue to ask as I long to make our guests at Summit feel warmly greeted. Truth is, it's sometimes hard to navigate. What's friendly to one person is creepy-friendly to another. Time has been spent in prayer, ideas have been researched, and brainstorming has happened over coffee. Surely there's something we can do to create a Christ-love kind of atmosphere.

Recently, while driving one morning, with no sound but my breath and God's, came this whisper:

If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 
1 Jn 4:20

There it was—a roar disguised as a whisper: 
True hospitality begins with love between Christ followers. 

We can have the Kreme-iest doughnuts and a never-ending flow of coffee but if we don't love one another? 
All else is empty.

Loving one another doesn't mean we'll always like each other at times, or even agree on every decision. And that's okay. But loving others as Christ loves us calls us to a deeper connection lived out by dying to self, sacrificing for Kingdom-glory, forgiving quickly so as not to give the enemy a foothold, and praying for one another. Although we'll never perfect the art of Christ-love this side of heaven, it is our motivation for all things, and our deepest desire.

Turns out, the real question as to what true hospitality is (at church, as well as our homes) doesn't begin with what we can do -- but rather, Whose can we be?

So, what's one practical way your church builds upon the foundation of love when welcoming guests?

"By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." 
John 13:35

Monday, March 9, 2015

When a Whisper Sounds More Like A Shout

by Cathy Baker

When the breath of God plays in the form of a melody it serenades and soothes a stirred-up soul much like a mother holding a sick child. The unsettled part of us clings and sinks deeply into a place of comfort, the Word.  

That's the only way I know how to describe a recent "God whisper" that took place while driving to the local hospital for tests. I felt unusually unsettled about a health situation that could possibly take place while Brian was in France the following week. A battle erupted in my mind between truth and lies. In that moment, I remembered a recently purchased CD. With one click of the button, God's Word, spoken through David Teems, waved the palm branch of victory in truth's direction. 

If you're unfamiliar with David, you need to get acquainted. I've listened to him for 20+ years and every class I've taught during those years heard his voice at least once. His gift is reading the Word of God (verbatim) while playing ambient music in the background. My most recent purchase was David's, Speak to Me, focuses on excerpts from the Old Testament (which I love!)

The victory that morning began when David paused, and then slowly uttered six words: 

God is our refuge and strength, 
a very present help in trouble. 
Psalm 46:1

I sat there, awestruck by the power of God's living word. (Hebrews 4:12) He knew my inner struggle, my fear of being alone if trouble came knocking. His answer came in the form of a whisper but it resonated more like a shout in my soul. 

His Word—the very essence of life, awaits to be devoured. For only then does it truly become our joy and heart's delight. 

When I discovered your words, I devoured them. They are my joy and my heart's delight, for I bear your name, O LORD God of Heaven's Armies. Jeremiah 15:15 NLT  

Awake, My Soul
Here's the best six minutes you'll spend today. David begins reading scripture around the 1:30 mark. Prepare to be blessed, my friend. Click here to watch the Youtube reading of one of my all time favorites, or click on David's CD below to view.

To God be the glory!