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Reflections: Easter is coming

31 Mar

IBelong2theMaster_1Tim2_6

The thought that I have been rescued by a purchase has been one of the most intriguing I have ever encountered.  The thought that anyone would love enough to give their life for another is mind-blowing.   Even more mind-blowing to think I am one of those purchased through the sacrifice of another.

One of the most amazing historical quotes which I know can be found in John 15:12-15.   It goes as follows:

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command. 

I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business.  Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.  You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit — fruit that will last. 

This quote can be expanded easily to include interesting observations and reflections both before and after the section above.  But to be real, I am afraid that if I did that, the post would be too long.  So for now, let’s just focus on the section above and the fact that the annual celebration of Easter is quickly coming.  

This is a rare year where the Jewish Passover, and both the Eastern Orthodox and the Western Christian churches are all celebrating miracles at the same time.  And in reality, all of the celebrations are for one event in history: 

From a Jewish perspective, it is the miracle of God passing-over the houses of the Hebrew people captive in Egypt, who believed God’s command and covered their doorway with the blood of a sacrificed pure lamb.   That event fore-shadowed the event and person – Jeshua Messiah – fully God, yet at the same time equally fully man. 

Foretold again in Isaiah 53, where many read to learn of the suffering Messiah.  The Christian churches are celebrating the reality that Jesus of Nazareth volunteered to give up his life to pay my and your penalty for our wrong-doings and wrong choices.  As we all know: No one is perfect.   But God, He became the once for all sacrificial lamb.

Just reflect on that for a moment or two.  Then go back and re-read that quote.  Spoiler alert:  Death is NOT the end of this story.  Three days later – as promised – and prophesied hundreds of years before –  Jesus rose again to new life.  His body was raised, Jesus conquered death.  Once taken on – earthly human flesh remained – and will forever be a reminder to all – that he came to earth.  To live a perfect life, to die to redeem me.  To redeem you.

So “redeem” – How is it defined?  Do you know?  Basically the meaning of the word is to releaseGrant freedom on payment of a price.  Deliverance by a costly method.  When used of God it does not suggest that he paid a price to anyone but rather that his divine and perfect mercy required his almighty power and justice to reach down and involve the greatest possible depth of suffering.

Thus, as we see in the Exodus example, God paid a very high price for the freedom of the Hebrews from the bondage of slavery.  And we see again, in the death of Messiah – Jesus the Christ, that we are delivered from the bondage of sin and death – death as eternal separation from God.   For most of us, the more familiar term would be that a ransom was paid to free us.  A ransom of great cost to the one who made the sacrifice.  So what do we do about that reality?  What next?  Ransomed….bought freedom with a price….Now what?

Not merely so we can live a new life.  Though that is incredible in its possibilities, but so that we can be FREE.  Free from any and all bondage to weakness and unhealthy choices.   Someday, we too will have glorified bodies and will live in a place of no shame, no tears, no shortfalls, no failures.  Someday, each one of us will answer for choices made by us as we journey through life on this earth. No blame, no games.  Just face to face with pure, Holy and rightful justice.  Forever decided by one sacrifice and one decision for each of us – by each one of us.

But until then, we are commanded and appointed to bear fruit.  Fruit that will last.  Eternally.  Forever showing the benefits and sharing the good news of Jesus to set us free.   To share and bear fruit to make disciples.  Disciples, (followers), who make other followers.  To continue and uphold all we were given – freely – as a gift.  No effort of ours.  No shopping for this gift.  It is freely given of God.  The only thing we bring is our faults.  Our shame.  Our guilt.  Our short-comings.  Our choice.

And in exchange, he paid ransom for our freedom — forever.  A straight forward transaction.  We need not check out minds at the door, but instead, perhaps for the first time — fully engage in all that is possible with a new life.

So when you think about Easter, and you wonder what is so special about this holiday …know this:  It is not the name.  It is not the time of year.  It is not the celebration of spring.  Or simply even new life.  It is the celebration of FREEDOM. Of possibilities for wholeness and integrity and health and a life reconciled with God – now, daily, and forever.  Mind-blowing.  Awesome.  Love.  Love.  Love that lays down His life so that we may live with him – forever.  That is the God who loves us each and gave himself for us.  Wow.  Wow.  Wow.img_2710

With all eternity there will still not be enough ways to show God my gratitude for his gift.

Reflections on Forgiveness

22 Jan
How many of us have trouble forgiving someone who has deeply hurt us?   Or perhaps has even abused us?    Please tell me I’m not alone.  Sometimes, I have gotten an apology before I’m even done processing my “mad”.  But then again…..
Forgiveness is what God extended to us by Christ’s death.   He paid our payment.
We are not God, and therefore WE CANNOT extend faultless perfect forgiveness as God does.  However, he commands us to forgive.  In my studies of what the word meant in the original culture of the Greek N.T. –  it meant then – and still needs to mean now – that you let the person “off the hook”.  There is no debt, nothing owed.  You release them from your “right” to justice.   For many of us, that is the difficulty.  It can feel like we’re saying they don’t deserve punishment for wrong-doing.  That’s not what forgiveness says.  It really says, I won’t punish.  I won’t hold a grudge or seek to destroy or harm them in any way.  God has that covered – He is God – We are not.  And since all wrong-doing is against God it is HIS right, not ours. (See Psalm 51)
So you forgive them.  It is hard.  Sometimes very hard.   It is a choice of the will.  A MIND choice.   It is also a heart choice  –  yet sometimes the feelings of the heart are out-of-step with the heart and mind choice to forgive.   That is OK.  Feelings can catch up if fed proper perspectives.
Perhaps that out-of-step feeling is because everything did not “go back to normal”.  Perhaps it is because forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation.  Forgiveness releases you to let them experience the justice of God, and releases all your or my claims against them for justice.  We get no “pay-back”, no “I told you so”, no “satisfaction”.  That is what forgiveness does.  No claim against another for their guilt. For their actions.  Ouch.
Forgiveness on our part is mandatory. 
Reconciliation on the other hand requires confession and repentance on the part of the offender.  The offended alone cannot reconcile, but they can take a step to make it possible.  They (we) can go one-on-one to the other person and explain how we hurt as a result of their choices and/or actions.  We can remain loving and kind.  The offender when confronted must accept responsibility, confess (agree) that what they did was wrong (at least against you, the offended one), and if at all possible make reparations or repayment.
Without those steps by the offender, you can forgive, but you cannot truly reconcile.   Reconciliation brings a relationship back to the point where it can be restored – if both parties desire.   NOTE:  The relationship  may never be the same, but the possibility exists to return to level footing only after confession and repentance.
Reconciliation is on the part of the other person – the person who hurt us.  If they do not confess, apologize and seek to make reparation, we are to continue in forgiveness and do not hold that decision against them either; but the relationship will likely continue to be strained due to the ongoing sin.  There must be a turning away from wrong for reconciliation to truly occur.     https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xfkhqpl81NA
So, what is our responsibility – if the offender will not change position? The most you can aim for is from within your own heart – meaning be at peace with the person as much as is possible – be able to be in the same room, environment,  or worship session with them without any animosity or negative thoughts on your part.  I call that sometimes remembering and forgiving again – every time until the pain of the memory is gone.   However, the relationship will not be on equal footing as they may continue to hold a grudge; sometimes due to the confrontation of the hurt they caused you, sometimes due to a guilty conscience.  You can do nothing in that instance.  Be available if you feel led to do that.  Walk away if the relationship was abusive and there has been no repentance.  Repentance as in turning away – changing actions and direction.
I hope that helps you understand the difference between our responsibility and the command to forgive and the hopeful outcome being reconciliation; recognizing that is not always possible.  Reconciliation takes both parties agreeing.  By the way, forgiveness is not forgive and forget.  It’s remember and forgive again anyway.
Think about:  Remember how often Jesus has forgiven us?  Remember how many times he answer Peter’s question?  At a time when the cultural norm was 3 times to forgive – then you were “out”, a holy person might forgive up to 6 times.  Peter, to be safe added another when he asked his questions of “forgive 7 times?”  But Jesus gave an absolutely outrageous answer — essentially a limitless number — when he said “70 times 7”.   When we struggle to forgive, put the offense under the umbrella of God’s grace toward us.  The perspective of will it matter in 5 years?  If not, do not waste even 5 minutes in anger.  Simply forgive, release and more forward.

Reflections on Transition Part 5

10 Jan

Ok.  Here it is.  The last option.  It is my favorite.  Of course that is because it is my own personal approach to transitions and setting up a plan for intentional growth.  Though each of the other options can and do work – I know, I’ve used them too – This method is my favorite.

OPTION FOUR:  It’s been developed over several decades of my life.  Yet, it is still a work in process.  For me, having used this pattern for several years, I will admit there is a fair amount of cross over from one step to another.   But to help you understand it, I’m going to go step by step in the posts about this method for transitioning and encouraging a plan for intentional spiritual growth.  My suspicion is that it always will be a work-in-process.

NOTE: Until now, I’ve never attempted to explain this method to anyone.  Straight skinny:  I take a primarily spiritual approach — TOP DOWNWhy?  Because when my vertical relationship with Almighty God is aligned, then my horizontal activities reflect it.  Living by Faith requires both efforts vertically toward growth and horizontally toward growth. When my spiritual life aligns with God’s plans for my life, then the other areas of my life and the growth goals in those areas seem easier to plan and a bit easier to achieve.  No, not always, but most of the time.

The efforts of my heart, mind, soul and strength all align with what I believe is in obedience to God and His Word.  Efforts and God go hand in hand.  Not to earn God’s love, for we can never ever do that.  It is free.  The gift of new life, made possible by Jesus’ death, inspires my efforts.  And it is not that God needs i my help, for He does not.  But it because He gives me the privilege to show Him my love by following closely after Him and focusing my life to be His disciple.

Growth efforts and God in my intentions (resolutions or goals) is to show my love for all He has done in my life.  My over-arching life goal is to be a Christian BEING, DOING, not a Christian sitting or coasting.
  When that day comes, I do not want to be luke-warm.  So everyday, every moment counts.  Every second, I want to be filled with the Holy Spirit and on fire for my Lord.

Am I 100% successful, every moment of every day?  No and No.  But to quote Lysa Terkheurst: the phrase is “imperfect progress”.   I love how she speaks of this, and the phrase resonates in my heart.   Progress is never perfect on this earth.  Making progress is never totally done. Imperfectly, taking our perfectionist tendencies away, that allows us to make progress.  Inch by inch.

We move forward, try to overcome weaknesses, then we slide back, yet hopefully persevere.  We get one area – we think – under control; then God shows us another area He wants to refine, reveal or enliven. Often returning to the same areas over and over in the course of a lifetime.  Until at last, we humbly admit, we are powerless over the predispositions – but that GOD can bring healing to each and every area of our lives.

To make valuable productive progress at all in life, it is my personal belief and experience, that one must continue to grow as a person in six key areas: forgiving, loving, giving,  self-control,  learning, and sharing what we have learned.  To make progress in any one of these areas, seems to require intentional focus and intentional efforts.  Most especially, growth in these areas requires obedience to God.  It is only through God’s intervention bringing His Spirit to bear in our lives we are able to consistently steadily move to increased forgiving, loving, giving, self-control, learning, and sharing what we have learned with our fellow humans on the journey.

Moving forward does not “just” happen.  Growth rarely just happens.  Even if we seek to bloom where we are planted, food, water, and sunshine are required.  We can only grow with God’s help.  With the power of the Holy Spirit in us, and allowing God to speak to us thru the Word, work with us as we are obedient to do all that He asks of us, and being flexible to move and act in God’s timing and strength, not our own.  This does not in any way remove our responsibilities.  In fact, it acknowledges and reinforces that without Him, we can do nothing.  Nothing of eternal value.  Sliding backward, or stalling out, on the other hand — well, that is the “normal” less-than-ideal human estate ever since the Cosmic Coup.

SO….. Have I begun efforts to tie down and document intentional resolved goal-setting and growth plans for 2017?   Yes.  The process for 2017 is well underway.  It is partially documented in squeaky notes, post-its, scribbles on napkins, prayer notes, margin Bible notes, and in the soft tissues of my heart and soul.   Am I done yet?  Not quite.  Yet, that is no excuse to not start moving in obedience to what has already been revealed for action and intentions for 2017.

THE BIG STEPS of OPTION FOUR:

  • First, start with Asking God to take His highlighter to show me a verse or verses for this year (2017) that will hold meaning and challenges for me all year-long.  My intention is always to percolate this verse or verses deep into my heart and life.  One way I do that is to set a goal to memorize the verse or section of scripture provided for the year.  Sometimes other verses pop into focus as the year progresses.
  • I post the verse(s) on my bathroom mirror.   I need the reminder – always.  My challenge is to not just read it, or even to “see” it, but to recall it all year-long in each day and within various circumstances as they present themselves. Since God knows all things, and knows me better than anyone on earth and ALWAYS wants what is best for me, what better place to go?  The only true God who sees both the end and the beginning simultaneously – is where I seek objective truth.  Said another way, God’s view of me is far more important than my own view of me.

STEP ONE RESULTS — 2017 — noticing a pattern in conjunction with WARRIOR.

  • 1 John 4: 9 and 10 “In this is love, not that we have loved God, but that HE loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation of our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”  Leading areas of application is Loving and Forgiving
  •  2 Timothy 1:7   “…for God gave us a Spirit not of fear, but of Power and Love and Self-Control.”  (Read starting at verse 1 and see this in context).  Area: Love and Giving
  • Deuteronomy 31:6  “Be strong and courageous, do onot be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; He will never leave you or forsake you”  Learning – trust in particular.  *again, yes*
  • 2 Peter 1:5-8, 10   “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue and to virtue,  knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with community affection and affection with love.  For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ……Therefore, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities, you will never fail.”  Area of application:  Learning, Loving, Sharing, and dare I add self-control?

STEP TWO:

  • I pray for a word.  One single word that challenges growth.  A word which for 2017 all my sub-goals can wrap around.  A word which is representative, not just of who I am now, but who I want to be and who more importantly, GOD wants me to be in a year’s time. A word that will encourage and guide all my actions day-by-day.
  • A word that I may not even believe about myself now, but know that if God sent it, it will come true. This word is usually a verb, but not always.  For example, one year it was BELOVED.  That year this word walked through life with me in all it’s many events and flavors.  By the end of that year, it was clear to me that being Beloved by God is a special place to be.   Last year (2016) it was FORWARD.  What a challenge.
  • The word is also most often linked directly to one of God’s attributes.  If it is, in small measure in my life now, it will blossom and grow as the New Year unfolds.  I expect 2017 to be no exception in this area.
  • God always has, and I believe always will – this side of heaven – expand the meaning of the word He provides to add focus and stability to intentional growth.  Invariably, He also provides some growth directly from Him, for which I had no plans.  (Our God is good.)

STEP TWO RESULTS — 2017 —

  • The word is WARRIOR  
  • Attribute of God:  ???  Seeking this answer in prayer.
  • So far, I know that means at least prayer warrior. 
  • I am pondering if it also means warrior princess?
  • Is it to include warrior bride?
  • Does it mean defensive warrior, offensive warrior, warrior of holiness and justice?
  • YET – I can and have taken intentional action year-to-date to fulfill what I know now of how to apply that word toward growth.  More focus, more time, more resting, more listening, more intimacy in prayer with my Lord.

STEP THREE:

  • I pray about what activities and ministries which are on my calendar now.  Where am I committing my time, energy, talents, skills, and gifts?  Or maybe I’m not?  Was I in a fallow period last year?
  • I ask God to let me know (usually through his Word), but also thru affirmations from other Christian friends, or even other bloggers and books, and Spiritual Directors/Pastors, to help guide me.
  • I count on God to know if I want/need to continue these activities and commitments or if it is time to step down as a start a new chapter.  This requires sober-self-assessment.  This requires input from loved ones who are affected by my commitments.

STEP THREE RESULTS: 

  • I know I am to continue teaching our Ladies Daytime Small Group Bible Study
  • I know I am to continue with Care Calling ministry. 
  • I have been blessed to be a greeter at my church and shall continue.
  • I am trying to setup a weekly reunion group.
  • Partially complete – Prayers continue.  I believe there may still be an add and a subtract for sometime in 2017.  We’ll see how this unfolds as the year continues…….

Part of me likes to see things all laid out.  Part of me now realizes that rarely happens.  How do I balance the various roles in my life with the ministries I believe God has called me to do?  Can I reasonably participate in these and not neglect my other responsibilities?

Yep…this is my challenge.  When to move from prayer to action?  Now.   Wait for complete answer, or as in step one and two start with what has been provided and go day-by-day and step-by-step?

Next steps coming.   Drill into these concepts and not only articulate the skeleton, but flesh it out into step by step tangible items.  For now, we’ll pause here.

TAKE AWAY:  As the 2017 transition toward new intentions, resolutions, goals continues I ask God every year to increase my FAITH.  Lord,  help me BELIEVE where-ever You lead is the best place to be.  (Remember, “BELIEVE” is my favorite word)  I pray for God to deepen relationships with Jesus Christ.  I cry out for help to  fulfill my vows and hold a committed heart to relationships. The struggle is real. The challenge is real. The opportunity to grow in the knowledge and wisdom of our Lord: real, unlimited and priceless.

Until the next post…dwell on below.   Listen, meditate.  Take what may be useful to you.  For now, remember:   “Whatever is  true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think on these things.”  Phillippians 4:8

PS — This last music video is one of my favorite prayer and meditation accompaniments.  Just let God fill your heart and wash over you.  Soak in His presence, and let God speak to you.

 

 

Reflections on Christian Living – Pondering

19 Aug

Reflections on Christian Living – Just thinking out loud….Pondering

I’ve been pondering a quite a few challenges in my walk of faith lately.  I don’t know about you, but sometimes I just find it difficult to live and BE what I believe.  This thought is not limited to my Christian faith journey, it includes day to day living.  Sometimes it is as simple as knowing the laundry needs to be folded, or I need to study before a final exam in a class, which mind you – I freely chose to take – yet though I’ve attended most classes, completed most of the reading materials and thoroughly enjoyed the teacher; there is a rebel hidden in my deep heart that says “NOPE” to studying for the final.  After all, how can one “flunk” God?

It’s not a performance thing.  It’s not do good works, then  God will love you or love you more type of thing.  It’s a God loves you, therefore I want to….most of the time…do what I believe is what God would have me do.  It is living out my faith with a Christian world view.  But still, there are some times that little inner rebel voice says — “Hey, truthfully, you don’t.”  Truthfully, I’d rather be here enjoying the sounds and sites:

Waterfall_Plain  Or be playing with my rescue dog (pictured below)

Vivi's first pictures

Vivi’s first pictures

Let me be the first to state:  “I’m not perfect”.  I attend church and study the Bible, not as a hypocrite but the exact opposite.  I know I cannot do this in my own strength.  I know I need the help of others with similar beliefs.  I know I need God’s support and guidance.  So as I was noodling on that, it occurred to me, that yes, in a weird way, we can “flunk God”.  We can reject His love for us.  We can say, “God does not exist”.  Not true, but we can say it.  That is our free choice.  Our will.

But the other side of that coin is that GOD will never flunk us.  He will never fail us.  He loves us unconditionally, He is faithful, He keeps His word.  He is a gentleman and will ALWAYS honor our choices – even when He knows it will cost us eternity apart from His love.  He is not only loving, but he is unchanging.  He always keeps His promises.  And He is just and right.  Mind-blown.

He died for me.  He died for you.  He chose to lay down His life – no one “took” it from Him.  Historically, Jesus Christ did this –  knowing that some of us would reject His gift of life.  We are free to chose.  Then hot on the heels of that thought came this one:  That means that I can also miss out on His *best* for me, by only partially accepting His plan for my life.  I am the one who loses out by rejecting or failing to acknowledge and embrace the unexpected blessings hidden in my day.  Hidden treasures to be found among the mundane.  I’m the one who loses out when I allow negativity to blur my vision.   There is no sacred, no secular.  For when we belong to God, and chose God’s way – it is ALL – or at least can be –  “sacred”.  Everything can be done to His glory and honor.  Even the mundane can become an act of worship and humility.

My mind skips to what I call “God’s great equalizer”.  Every living person on planet earth has the same amount of this commodity.  We each have 7 days a week, and each day has 24 hours.  So no excuses about “we don’t have time”.  It is more a matter of how we chose to use our time.  The one denominator in this equation is that none of us know how many days we have to live.  No one.  Not those 100+years, not those in great health, not children, not even stage 4 cancer patients or oncologists can state unequivocally “You have x days” – And when they try they are often wrong.  Psalms tells us that God knows all about us.  From the hairs on our head to the days in our lives.  And no matter how long we live, it is but a breath in eternity.

So, here I am with all these varying thoughts swirling in my mind.   Bouncing like ping-pong balls off of the corner recesses of obscurity.   A moment of clarity.  The pieces of the mosaic work around into a picture.  God is interested in what we do.  Read the book of James if you doubt this.   But He is far more interested in who we ARE.  Who we are becoming.  Who we ARE dictates what we do.  If you wonder about this, Read Romans 12.  But maybe even read all of Romans or all of John.

Am I growing in Christ?  Are we, Am I, allowing the Holy Spirit to work in my day to day circumstances – unhindered – in such a way so as to lead me closer to my Lord and Savior.  I say God is important.  Do I respond to God as if He is the VIP of my life?  Do I prioritize my time with Him?  Do I recognize truth from falsehood by studying the Bible?  Do I memorize scripture so that truth is embedded deeply into my mind and heart?  I don’t know about you, but for me — this is a key step to thinking correctly.   It is so easy in today’s world of constant bombardment of ideas and plurality to fall prey to thinking everything is equally correct.  But that is not truth.

Do I take captive every thought?  Do I take captive temptations toward actions which are contrary to God’s Word?   How can I, unless I know what it says?   By obedience  to His commands?  Jesus did say, “If you love me, keep my commandments.”  So, it seems as if Jesus in speaking to His disciples thought they had listened and would remember and would DO as He had instructed.   So again today, I set aside – by choice – choosing over and over again – to say “God first”.   Not legalistically, nor in a way that shuns responsibilities or other areas in my life which God has entrusted to my care as overseer – instead doing so in a way that says: the best part of my day, my self is freely given to God.  Then the rest will happen.

Point of clarification – that doesn’t mean that I am not worthy or deserving of taking good care of myself.  It does not mean that others in my life are not important – for indeed they are very important.  It means that I chose to organize the love for others, service, and the mundane of my life around whatever God brings my way.  I chose to trust.  I chose to walk moment by moment, LEANING IN, even when I don’t understand how God could ever possibly think I can handle everything being thrown my way.   [Trust me, I’ve tried leaning OUT – it isn’t a pleasant way to live.]

His power, His Spirit, His wisdom, His word will guide me through and strengthen me.  Thank you Jesus.

Martha L Shaw - Poet, Writer, Artist

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