Here is the second set lesson notes from September’s New England Ladies’ Retreat. Several have asked that I share my notes. It seemed easier to clean them up a bit and post them here. They are not in narrative form, fully edited, or in tight order. Rather, they are a bit of rough journaling from my time with God as we poured over His word and I asked Him what we needed to learn. I am hopeful they provide a starting place for you to tuck in along side me as we are gathered by God to His heart. Perhaps I will return to them and be granted the opportunity to study even more, polish them into order, and share the lessons in full that God brought me.
The Challenge: (The Work): Tending, Filling the Soul, Guarding our hearts, staying focused
Our Response: With Summer comes responsibility-Looking out over the garden…what’s working, what isn’t…maybe it’s time to transplant
Weeds are also growing.
The Blessings: (The Joy): Growth, activity, rest, lush places, connection
For me, here’s what it looks like:
*We are deeply connected to God and feel that as we pray, worship and study. Every day is a new reminder of His grace, His love, His care.
How do we arrive at this summer? By planting and planning in our Springs. We make time with our Father regular and natural. I cannot overemphasize the necessity of weaving faith and relationship with God into every part of our lives. Rather than compartmentalizing our faith: formal worship, daily ‘quiet time’ devotional, acts of service, we should let Him breathe into us at work, at play, in the grocery store, over coffee with friends, as we wipe off sticky faces, sort out our finances, walk down the sterile halls of the hospital.
The Blessings: (The Joy) Growth, activity, rest, lush places, connection
We are CELEBRATING the seasons.
Let us Celebrate the Great Love:
Ephesians 2:1- But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in (what we need most—more than financial stability, more than a marriage, more than another car or pair of shoes, more than food on the table, more than that trip to see our children…) mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork (think of anything you create: a meal, a quilt, a day for your grandchildren, a garden, a lesson plan, a VBS backdrop…we now how much of ourselves we put into this, how we ‘return’ to it again and again, with fondness and pleasure…think of our CHILDREN, who we’ve ‘created’ by the grace and power of God!…it only magnifies our understanding more!), created in Christ Jesus (this is SO much better than created by some craft supply at Hobby Lobby or ingredient from Fresh Market!…our SOURCE of creation is the most highly prized. I can never afford the ‘best’ supplies, but whoa, God gathered the Best to create us and raise us up!) to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Summer is a time to celebrate the vibrancy of faith, when the richness of His blessings is apparent! As you look around and see the happy yellow heads of marigolds, the deep greens of forest, the bright red of cardinals…let them remind you of the richness of His blessings.
Summer is a time of growth. It is the fastest time of growth in the natural world, here in New England. Roots grow deep, flowers blossom, trees grow strong and develop the seeds for the next season.
Growth comes from ABIDING in the rich soil of Jesus!
John 15:4-11 (my favorite place to live!)
“4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” RSV
- In Greek, the word ABIDE (MEN-o) means… to remain, abide
- in reference to place
- to sojourn, tarry
- not to depart 1a
- to continue to be present 1a
- to be held, kept, continually
- in reference to time
- to continue to be, not to perish, to last, endure 1b
- of persons, to survive, live
- in reference to state or condition
- to remain as one, not to become another or different
- to wait for, await one
- in reference to place
*How many of us TARRY these days? How many of us allow ourselves to linger over ANYthing? We have bought the 21st century Western lifestyle of hurried, harried, instant living. Jesus calls us to live otherwise! ABIDE with Him! Linger. Spend time. It’s not about mowing through a scheduled reading of scripture as though it were an assignment. The reading itself of the Word is not the purpose. ABIDING and drawing near to the heart of God is! Spend time savoring a small portion of God’s word. GOD’S WORD!! It is sweet! It is life breathed by God. Drink it in! Take time and linger. Abide with God as you draw deep into His heart, turning His words around and around, laying your heart open to His lessons. What of the CHARACTER of GOD is revealed? What STRENGTH and reminder of His FAITHFULNESS does He demonstrate? What HOPE does He provide? What CONVICTION of sin does it wield, to grow you closer to Him and more like His Son?
*In summer we are deeply interwoven with the Spirit of God…we receive our nourishment and strength to bear fruit, to heal our heart wounds, to move forward, to be fruitful for Him and reach out to others. Summer’s flora does not receive what it needs without abiding in the rich soil of goodness. So are we. So…DIG IN!! Stretch your roots out to all that He offers.
*v. 5 “Apart from Me you can do nothing!…of value, of lasting worth, of importance. So, ALL that we do, all the programs, activities, family decisions, choices, if they are apart from Him, they do not bear fruit. They may bear something, but it is not the fruit of which Christ speaks.
*The place, the summer soil where we abide, is a place of LOVE. When we obey, we abide in Christ’s love, just as He did obey the Father and abides in His love.
This is NOT a home of dysfunction, but because it is GOD’S home, His arms, His dwelling place as well, His heart, it is a place of:
-healthy relationship. If you don’t have that in your marriage, your family, in your congregation, in your work place, in your extended family, you are 100% guaranteed to have healthy relationship here.
-grace-filled acceptance. Abiding in Christ means we don’t get berated for our missteps, our poor decisions, our vulnerability to sin.
-encouragement…in His word and the evidence of how His people persevere, and in His body, as we speak to one another and cheer each other on
-strength freely shared …from His heart to yours
-forgiveness 1 John 1:8,9S
–light 1 John 1:5-7
-discipline (He disciplines those He LOVES! How awful to be ignored or so hated that we are allowed to run amok, making poor and soul-dangerous decisions over and over again. That creates an empty heart. Think of the children and adults you know that have not lived in families of healthy love and discipline. They have attachment disorders. Their hearts become unable to love and function healthily. Based on what I’ve seen, I believe Satan doesn’t care if we form an attachment to him, he is just as delighted if he can cause us NOT to form an attachment to God. His greatest weapons are hurled at us to keep us from a healthy abiding in God’s love.
Now THAT is something to celebrate!
HOW do we find and live in our spiritual summer? How do we abide? Well, how do you abide anywhere?
Abiding is to take up residence. Change your address from the world, to Christ. Sometimes we do this, but then we take a vacation home in the world.
Where do our thoughts live? Our time? Our activities?
Where do we let our minds go for wisdom, comfort, reflection? Do we go to media, friends that are not of God, self-help, Pinterest, Facebook, the news?
*Don’t get me wrong, God works through ALL! EVERYthing in the world is at His disposal to teach, convict, encourage. But we must be of a discerning mind, referencing everything to Christ, and the character and commandments of God as revealed through His word.
*prayer…pray without ceasing…draw near to God and He will draw near to you (James 4:8?)
Celebrate the fellowship of believers. It is a rare one of us that does not have a part of the body of Christ with which to worship God and affirm our faith. Look at us here! Look at the arms, legs, hands and feet of Jesus that are represented here from all over New England and beyond. When we leave this place, we are still here. The fact that you are not alone in your faith remains! Ephesians 4.
We are the Precious Body of Christ.
THIS day, here in this plalce, is a “summer day”. We are here, in safety and amid the body of Christ, encouraged by the vibrancy of faith and digging into His soil!
To stay in the summer fellowship, we need to use what God has given us.
-the church and its life
-technology…create a Facebook group of encouragement and study and post through the Psalms or gospels, or another text….tweet an encouraging Bible verse to one another, to the world…share Christian blogs that use God’s word to uplift, convict and encourage
-phone a friend (or make a new one)
-use your free time (ha!) to reach out. Stop waiting for FREE time. No time is free. You always have to give up one thing to use the time for something else. Let your time have holy purpose.
Celebrate the closeness of God! In summer, our relationship is vibrant, thriving, ALIVE! It is close! God is near.
James 4:8 Come near to God and he will come near to you (NIV)
Some of us have a full work week ahead, or have lots on our heart-plate. Wherever our hours take us, hold on to the promises of our faithful God. The battles of discouragement, conflict, temptation, lack of self-control, selfishness, pride, wavering in trust…whatever our challenges, hold on to the promises!
““All who rage against you
will surely be ashamed and disgraced;
those who oppose you
will be as nothing and perish.
Though you search for your enemies,
you will not find them.
Those who wage war against you
will be as nothing at all.
For I am the Lord your God
who takes hold of your right hand
and says to you, Do not fear;
I will help you.“ Isaiah 41:11-13
Today, everyone is left-handed! Whatever you accomplish today single-handedly, clasping your right hand tightly in God’s, will be more victorious and fruitful than if you tried it with two hands.
Praise God continually! Say it your head…speak it in your words…write it in your texts and Facebook statuses…wear it on your t-shirts…sign it at the end of every e-mail…pen it in your cards
Celebrate Opportunity: Our spiritual Summers are seasons of spiritual health and involvement. We are busy loving, and working, and serving for the LORD. Somehow, God opens the tightly scheduled and demanding hours of our days, and we teach Bible class, make VBS sets, take on World Bible Students, host small groups, take a teenager, or a group of them on an outing…reach out to the downtrodden, go on a mission trip, provide a listening ear, make a meal, visit someone in the hospital, extend hospitality to travelers or fellow believers… Praise God for those moments and days of summer in which He has provided opportunity and you have heeded His Spirit’s prompting to yield your time and talents in it! These are gifts from our Father.
Growth comes by taking advantage of opportunity: (Our spiritual Summer is the season of Yes, I CAN!) As a summer plant that grows only if its roots are unclogged pathways to water and nutrients, its leaves open to the dew and rain, we thrive and grow in summer by keeping our roots deep in the nourishing soil and our souls open to the dew and rain of God!
*discipleship…spending time with your Savior…studying, watching, learning, listening …spend time in the gospels ABIDE with Him…help another Christian grow
-1:1 Bible study and prayer time
-small group studies
-offer to lead a new Christian/teen/young women’s/mom’s class
*service…we cannot be a connected body of believers without serving one another…we cannot be a Christian without a life of mission (Mt. 28:28-30?)
-teach Bible class…World Bible School teaching…babysit…chaperone teen events…emails/texts/cards…coffee dates with a sister who needs a ready ear…meals made…Pie Ministry…clean out someone’s house or closet with them…shop for the food pantry…make a craft to sell for GanderBrook camperships or mission support…
The Macedonian church—Living in the Spiritual Season of Summer 2 Cor. 8:1-7:
And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. 2 In the midst of a very severe trial, (so, is this a season of Summer or Storms for them? How about a summer storm?! It seems that SPIRITUALLY, the Macedonian church was living in summer.) their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. 3 For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, 4 they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people.5 And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us. 6 So we urged Titus, just as he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part. 7 But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you[a] — (Corinth was in a summer season) see that you also excel in this grace of giving.
The Work of our Spiritual Summer
-Transplanting: the act of moving one living thing from a place where it often is not thriving, or reaching its full potential, or the Gardener wants to try it someplace new, for his or her own purposes. Maybe it’s needed somewhere else as shade or contrast so that another plant’s wonderful qualities may become more evident, or weed control…
Thyme is a ground cover type plant..the rubeckia needs a place to grow tall and shine. They must be transplanted in order to flourish as the gardener intends.
-Because it’s summer, lots of things are green. So the unwanted, troublesome weed-greens blend in perfectly with the desired greens of vegetables, flowers, trees. And those choking weeds are relentless. In June, I spent hours over the course of several days rediscovering my garden so that I could tell the difference between the garden and the lawn. I had weeded in May, but the end of the school year came and with that came garden neglect. The job was overwhelming. But I did it, bit by bit. Of course, the next day, after the cooling rains…more tips of weed-green emerged. Arggh! I left for camp and then Alabama, and when I returned, the grass had overtaken the flower bed AGAIN! Vigilance! Vigilance is required. Those weeks slip in, unannounced and unwanted. They grow fast. It takes more time and energy to reclaim a heart, family, relationship, marriage, or church garden from neglect than it does to tend a little every day.
Digging the Weeds: Oh, this is the hard work of summer. Grass grows were it’s not supposed to…flowers need to be watered steadily. Help each other recognize the weeds in our lives and dig them out. We have weeds of distraction and sin. Help each other with the digging, yes. Finding the weeds is easy, sometimes. Digging them out is the hard part. Sometimes we need a tool to loosen the soil around the weed so we can grip the offensive plant down deep and yank it up by its root ball. Be that tool. Help dig.
What does that “digging” look like?
*the tool is the Word of God, it is always and only His word-not our opinion, or tradition, but the Word. It is a sword of offense and the Gardener’s tool of decisiveness.
Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
*speak the truth in love, to others, to ourselves. Always remember the promise of God’s grace and redeeming love.
6 Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. 2 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. 3 If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. 4 Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, 5 for each one should carry their own load. 6 Nevertheless, the one who receives instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor.
So the lesson from all of that weeding….There is no coasting during the summer season!
Growing Fruit: Gal. 5:22, 23 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires
The Work of Summer: Perseverance in Spiritual Work during THIS season: Gal. 6:1-10, esp. v. 9 and 10
7 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. 8 Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. 9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
Go to the ant, you sluggard;
consider its ways and be wise!
7 It has no commander,
no overseer or ruler,
8 yet it stores its provisions in summer
and gathers its food at harvest. (NIV)
What are our ‘provisions’: spiritual food, deep roots in the church family through fellowship and service side-by-side
Proverbs 30 24 “Four things on earth are small,
yet they are extremely wise:
25 Ants are creatures of little strength,
yet they store up their food in the summer; (NIV)
STUDY, ABIDE…soak it in!
*Acts 17:10-12 The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Beroea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with all eagerness, examining
*Psalm 119 Teach yourself to LOVE God’s word!
Fill up on fellowship
Animals gather what is good and needful to prepare for the inevitable change in seasons. We need to gather all that is good in our spiritual summers to prepare for a change of seasons. One of my favorite children’s storybooks is a tale by Leo Lionni. It has a great Life metaphor in it for storing up in summer that which will take you through the winter. It’s called FREDERICK.
Sometimes all we get is a Summer DAY, not a season. Those perfect, everything is aligned days: we start the morning off with God, and ease into a calm day of fellowship, strength and service. At the close of the day, we reflect and it is sweet harvest. Those summer days are gifts. They are times to store up and draw upon. Remember the love.
2 Cor. 9 6:ff sowing and reaping sparingly and bountifully…
What is our “spiritual summer”?
*at time of growth (victories over sin, triumph over trials, connectedness in the Body)
I feel like this: when I have established good habits of prayer and study; during and just after a unifying church effort, like a youth rally or VBS or Giveaway Day; during my week serving and fellowshipping at Ganderbrook; here, during retreats.
What do they all have in common?
*Focused and active faith
If we’re in a summer season, then let us:
*count the gifts with gratitude
*praise the Giver of all good things
Who was in a summer season?
*David (though we know he lived through many different seasons)
-Psalm 147, 148
Here, David really ‘gets’ it: In this summer season, He is content and not wanting for anything. He may not HAVE everything, but he does not WANT for anything. He doesn’t lack anything. In this season, there is rest and the knowledge of in Whom we rest. There is peace and strength, and the understanding from Whom these come. There is direction, because there is submission to the Shepherd’s leadership. There is courage, companionship and comfort. (v. 4) There is an awareness of spiritual protection, and abundance of enduring blessings. His response to this is COMMITMENT: I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever!
Summer is a time of ABIDING:
Our Spiritual Summer is a time of ABIDING, of GROWTH, or STRENGTH, of VIBRANCY.
It is also a time of WORK, tending our souls and the souls of the world and the church.
Summer has its storms, its droughts. There are challenges in summer—hard places.
This summer, just outside my front door, swirled the up and down season of summer:
Tulip assassins roaming…family of turkeys eating blackberries (and just visiting– Just walked around to the kitchen to check for bees and found a family of turkeys on my front step, looking in the screen door at me! They prefer our blackberries, though perhaps this time they were expecting a bowl full of washed and sorted berries, instead of U-pick.)… …hummingbird friends and the wonder of God’s intricacies…dead bird friends… a sweet fawn…Mr. Waddles…the bat family (poor dead baby)… bee infestation…beautiful greens, and yellows, and butterflies… turkey vultures and the bloody haunch
*Always: When you find yourself here, basking in the strength of summer…someone else is in Winter, or Spring, or Fall. Not everyone is in the same season as you. Share your summer spiritual vibrancy with your Sisters in Christ, your Brothers, the young people, the lost.
Hugs and conversation, service and teaching…Like the butterflies of summer, their presence is gentle and lovely, yet fleeting. Yes, BE that butterfly that notices and visits many of the precious souls in the garden.
It’s all part of summer…even the bloody haunch! Praise God!