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Reflections on Christian Living – Seasons

25 Sep

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They say that the USA is currently transitioning from summer to fall.  It’s over 90 degrees again today.  “Fall” started a week ago.  Makes me wonder if there are other transitions happening in my life which seem to be lagging behind a new reality.

Somehow summer always seems to promote the “lazy-hazy” me.  While I love the season, and I like to garden and admire the flower beds around the house, I’m not a person who avidly pulls weeds.  I have however discovered that when I am upset or angry with circumstances outside of my control that weeding becomes a very healthy outlet for me.  I feel so much better after removing the unwanted things from the ground so that the choice items remain and can flourish.  Better still: the harvest is more bountiful.

This analogy can be true in our spiritual journey as well.  Sometimes, it seems that each of us can be a little slow, a bit inattentive, even lackadaisical about addressing what we consider “small” failures.  Bad choices.  We sometimes squirm just hearing the word sin.  But that is what  GOD calls it when we chose to live against His direction.    When we do this, when we think of sin as tiny or small, or “little white lies” — we are disregarding God’s perspective.  All sin is a reproach to a HOLY GOD.

Yet, our enemy stabs at us with thoughts and lies and justifications for “small” ordinary sins.  You know everyone is doing it – whatever it is.  It’s not a big deal, I will do better tomorrow.  I’m not perfect, no one is.  No one is getting hurt.  No one even knows. It’s not a big deal.  What happens in….stays in….  NO.   LIES from the pit.

And soon, just like the weeds in my flower box or garden, those tiny transgressions are big, ugly habits.  Habits that reinforce character flaws.  Habits that are difficult and burdensome to pull from within the fabric of our lives. Habits of both doing the wrong thing, and habits of not doing the right things.  The actions we know we need to take to walk with integrity.

The rebellion in our lives can so quickly get out-of-control.  Never more so than when we knowingly walk against the direction and life-style that Jesus teaches us to live.  In fact, I challenge you as well as myself, against the perspective that later is better than now.  It is not.  We need to learn and practice and keep short short accounts with God.  We need to regularly confess and pull those tiny weeds of sin and doubt out of our hearts.

We chose, we do control our choices.  Yet, at the same time, I doubt any one of us understands the true repercussions that choice caused and continues to cause to ripple throughout our lives.  My point?  All sin leaves scars.  Only God can heal.  Yet even then – some sins continue to have consequences for the rest of our lives – even after God has forgiven us.  Some are subtle.  Some are not.

Lest we forget, there are failures in our choosing to DO, in the bad choices we make.  But there are also failures in our failure to DO what we have been commanded to do.  What we have been taught by Holy scriptures is necessary to do to maintain an intimate relationship of continuous growth to becoming more Christ like daily.

Since the leaves on the deciduous trees are about to teach us how beautiful it can be to let go, I think now would be a beautiful time to intentionally take action to let go of some habitual sin — which we want to pretend is not a big-deal — and instead, acknowledge our rebellious heart, humble ourselves before a merciful God, receive the forgiveness only our Savior Jesus can offer, and make a change to remove something which no longer belongs in our lives.  Freedom awaits us.

Reflections: Easter is coming

31 Mar

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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 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 Transitions Part four

9 Jan

Hello again.  Is it too late to still save Happy New Year or Blessed New Year?   I don’t think it is.   Why?  Because I live by a simple principle.  It was taught to me long ago.  It is living grace.  The thought goes like this: “It’s never too late to start the day over“.  And unless your heart and God are involved – it is just words.

But with God involved, you know you can always confess, He will wipe the slate or day or week, or month, or year, or life clean.  And we have a way made for us to start over.   So, if you have been unable yet this year to put into action your good intentions toward your life and toward God, now is the time.

So here, I give you my next to last option to help you get re-started in 2017 if you need to do it.  I am still going to encourage you to write down the key thoughts of your intentions to transform.  This time, I’m going also to tell you (and me) to take them into your prayer closet or quiet space and pray fervently to the Lord for affirmation or changes to our plans for 2017.

This time, I’m going to suggest to us both, that we ALSO need to put them in open site to review and take action multiple times a day.  Just like that beautiful rose above must feed and drink water every day to avoid dying too soon, and to prevent it’s neck from being broken with failure to thrive – so too, we must drink daily from God’s Word in order for our good intentions to bear fruit.  So here comes OPTION 3….

OPTION THREE:  This is one of my favorites and yet, one which I find hard to employ.  Let me explain.  Are you familiar with mind-mapping?  If not, I ask you to do a little leg work, and Google it.  You will find plenty of examples, and possibly even a tutorial.   If you ARE familiar with mind-mapping, then in this option, one way you can use it is to start your mind-mapping by giving a major line or branch to each “area” or “role” in your life.

Examples include: work, play, spouse,parent of children, school-mom, church-member, personal development, education, etc.   It is good to sometimes include organizational goals, areas as branches that need growth – for example: volunteerism, helping others, etc.

This can be very helpful if this is how you live or see your life as individually different areas.  Realizing that all roles or areas of life connect to a single trunk.  Give the trunk a name.   If you are a homemaker, you may call the trunk of your mind-map CEO of …. Corp.   And be sure to include every major role included that is needed to help fulfill your responsibilities as a mother, wife, Christian, etc.      Using this technique can then lead to other questions to answer, and eventually to an action item, a time element, a “who, what, when, where, why” type of approach for each branch.   You can also simply call your branch LIFE.  I do.  I even include the roots underground that are ever so important to holding the tree in place, and providing the key nutrients of growth.   In past years for me I have included large roots such as church community, God’s Word, Acts of Kindness, Words of Love, and other love languages.  Above ground are the action items needed in response to these roots.  READ God’s Word daily.  R.E.A.D. God’s Word daily.

For me the challenge to this approach is not the mapping.  I enjoy the creativity of this aspect and often use it in combination with other options.  To me,  the challenge for using this option alone, is that I try to live with integrity — wholeness.

Not compartmentalization.  Meaning,  I see all roles and areas, and all of life,  as potentially sacred.  So by dividing by roles, or giving segregation a boost by putting labels into my life,  it has always seemed to me to be counter-intuitive for the way I chose to live my life.  Then again though, you may find it very helpful.I would simply encourage you to include a spiritual growth action in each and every area you identify in your mind-map.

TAKE WITH YOU: I want to give some other options for those of you who are regular New Year’s thinkers and give some guidance to those of you who have tried and failed in the past.  I also want to encourage some who have never tried to plan any intentional growth or movement in their own life to give it a try. If you intentionally try something new for 5 minutes a day, in about 28-45 days you will have established a new habit.

And that my friends is how growth happens.  In baby steps, tiny bits – every single day.
 Or nearly every day.  No, you may not see the growth in a single day or even a single week.  Sometimes we don’t see the growth over the course of a year.  Often hard work and endurance are needed to stay the course of intentional growth.   Often, it is others who see growth in us when we cannot see it in ourselves.  If that is true for you, allow it.  Let your friends and family tell you or ponder what has happened to you.

Above all, remember while it may seem that I’m saying growth is all about you.  The truth is – it is NOT.  It is all about God.  It is all about being a disciple.  It is all about a willing heart to learn and to obey, and become a disciple who makes disciples.  A strong mom who can help other younger moms.  A strong single women, who can help and guide other women.  A person with endurance who can withstand the storms of life, so that when others are in need, we can come along side and offer them support with God’s help.

Blessing upon you today.  May we be strengthened to carefully consider the time we are given in the times we are living.

 

Reflections on Transitions Part One

30 Dec

FIRST POSTED: The last week of 2016.   This will be a multiple posting blog series – Describing how we can chose to transition from 2016 to 2017.  Reflections on choices. Reflections on priorities.

It is the time of year many people reflect on the year winding down.  It is the time when many also look forward to a New Year.  I am no exception to that reflection process both backward (a bit) and forward (a lot).  I spend a lot of time in prayer, meditation, and mindfulness; pondering during the course of this month — IF I have not already done so in the last 60 days.  Some call it goal-setting.  Some call it “New Year’s Resolutions”.  Me?  I call it healthy intentional self assessment and growth.  Whatever you call it,  here is the first installment of Reflections in this series:

Review and Assessment is important

We can all learn important lessons from the past, if we live in the moment and then chose a regular time to review, assess, and document.  2016 was a difficult year.  I learned again, that each grief is unique as each love relationship is unique.  I learned that grief is the price you pay for loving.  Totally worth it, yet painful.  I learned how to find hope in the midst of a difficult time.  I learned what God provided as spiritual gifts and key steps to transition life from lukewarm to hot.

Goal setting is one method of transitioning from season to season, year to year, chapter to chapter in the various stages of our lives.  For me it results in:

  1. Separating what is truly important from what is a distraction or even irrelevant.
  2. Deciding what you want to achieve in your life.
  3. Assists in Motivating yourself.  Especially during transitional periods and trials.
  4. Can help build self-confidence — however, this is dependent upon the successful achievement of goals or resolutions.
  5. Goals can help anchor you in rough seas.  Much as a keel on a sailboat, knowing where you want to be when the storm ends is key to making it further along and safely to shore.

This week, many last-minute “Lucy’s”  also start making resolutions for the New Year.  Some leave it until either the last ten-minutes of the current year or the first day of the New Year.  For some, it is a whim.  For some it is the sheer pleasure of working under “pressure”, or as I call it “procrastination motivation”.

For some, it is apathy; a true lack of desire to change and grow.  The “I am what I am, accept me, or get out” people. And admittedly for some, taking time out of a very busy season to spend in reflection and prayer for the future seems just out-of-reach.  I heard on   the news that for 75%, resolutions are broken by Feb 15.  I think it is sooner, and it takes until mid-Feb for some folks to admit it.  I don’t make resolutions as such.

For a large majority of people resolutions sound something like this:  “Lose Weight”, “Start exercising”, “Be kinder”, “Give more”, “Be a better person”, etc.  I’ve both found and learned a variety of methods for setting New Year’s or New Chapter initiatives.  None of which suggest the clichés above are adequate for achieving growth and change.  These type of “goals” always fail – sometimes sooner, sometimes later.  Without a plan, it has been said one plans to fail.

Before we discuss the options, let’s look at what the dictionary definitions are for RESOLUTIONS and GOALS.

Resolution:  In this context, the most suitable definition appears to be “a resolve; a decision or determination to make a FIRM resolution to do something“.  And/or “the mental state or quality of being resolved or resolute; firmness of purpose.”  However, there are times I find the definition which follows the most enlightening for New Year’s resolutions:  “reduction to a simpler form; conversion”  Check our your Thesaurus for additional insights.

Goal:  “The result or achievement toward which effort is directed, aim, end.”  The dictionary includes many sports metaphors and phrases about “making or scoring a point”.  While I love watching sports, these explanations are useless for setting new-life-goals or New Year’s resolutions.  Therefore,  I find the following definition the most useful:  A New Year’s goal can be seen as “adapting ones life to achieve making a point, or working toward an objective of leaving a legacy”.

Just for fun I added the word:  Initiative: “an introductory act or step”, “Leading action to change life/lives”  This word could be seen easily in a setting of New Year’s resolutions, yet my personal favorite is this definition: “One’s personal responsible and reflective decision to act on one’s own initiative.”

For me — INITIATIVE is what I setup for each new year.  It is focused on actions and doing which over the course of the year will result in intentional growth.  The areas can be: Spirituality, Mind, Body, Professional, Educational, Relational, etc.

So….let’s do this.  Together.

 

 

 

Reflections on Christian Living – Been a while

7 Apr

Reflection on Christian Living – Been a while.

I’ve been living in a waiting room for many weeks.    Are there ever circumstances in your life you would like to change?  Things you know God can change.  Concerns you hope He will change; yet it appears on the surface as if nothing is happening.  Ever been there?

Some call it a desert experience.  I don’t call it that because for me, it is more like a closet, or waiting room or hallway experience.  In the hallway you see doors, but none has opened yet.  In the waiting room, you expect to be “called into” or “called back to” the professional person’s private space or examination room, but the wait is hours beyond your assigned appointment.  So you sit.  Or maybe it is the ER or urgent clinic and you didn’t even expect to be there, so you sit.  In the closet, you are simply cut-off from socialization and “normal” routine life.

Desk & Chair

The waiting chair

That is what this last 6 months have been like for me.  I find waiting can be a productive time.  A time to: grow closer to my God; get intimate with Jesus.  A time of increased prayer.  A time of increased Bible study and learning  where and how to apply truths that pop out at me during these times.  Truths it seems that I am unable or unwilling to notice when I’m bustling with life activities, duties, responsibilities, tasks.

Tough times?  You betcha.  Challenging days?  Oh yeah.  Frustrating?  Yes – at times;  I wanted it to end – sooner.    There has been a lot of illness for me and for my loved ones during these last months. There have been many pajama days in these weeks. Walking day-to-day with joy and hope is sometimes a stretch; I have to be honest.  Some solitude, isolation, and some new friendships built slowly, privately, and hopefully steadily.

My take away:  Slowing down, whether voluntarily or involuntarily due to circumstance outside our control is not a bad thing.  It is a good thing.  It helps us to filter out.  It helps purge the unnecessary from life in order to focus on the important.  It removes unnecessary “urgent” tasks from our life.

Response:  Thank you Lord for this waiting time.   I would not have asked for it, but I am grateful that you allowed all these circumstances into my life to prepare me for something wonderful.  Something only You can teach me; something I need now or will need in the future.  Thank you, in Jesus’ Holy name, Amen.      God you are awesome.

 

 

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.

Reflections on Christian Life – Mountain Tops and Valleys?

17 Apr

Reflections on Christian Life

Mountain Tops or Valleys

I hear many Christians speaking of mountain top experiences.  Those spiritual moments when it seems you are closer to heaven and can easily feel the presence of God.  I’ve had those.  The beauty is astounding.  The rush is real.  The fact that it took work to climb that mountain, take the risk and reach out toward the heavens is no accident either.  The path can be steep and narrow.  It can challenge us in ways we would never discover if we did not adventure out on God’s grace to the upper reaches.

Art_MontanaLake copy

And yet, if you look at mountain tops another way, they are often barren, at the very top, if they are extremely tall, they are treeless, often dry or harsh and hard places.  Some are snow-covered and frigid all year around, and many of the highest peaks on earth are simply deadly to those who chose to take the challenge and tread upon their landscapes.

Now think of the valleys in your life.  I often live in the valley.  Where it once was a dark and lonely place, seemingly filled with predators and greater danger than the mountain top –  it is no more.  It is no longer the barren desert spot.  Instead, through God’s incredible grace, I have come, over time, to realize that it is in the valleys we find still waters.  It is in the valleys where we sometimes pause in our “climbing” work, and swim in deep waters.  Reaching out daily to touch the hand of God, to say “I can’t do this alone”.

It is in the valleys where the cultivation work is done so that new growth is possible.  It is also in the valleys where abundant growth can come from irrigation for our soul.  Tilling up old habits and thoughts is no easier than climbing mountains.  It is just as difficult to trust the hand of God to protect us in the early darkness found in deep valleys and canyons as it is to trust him on the narrow climb

What has been your thinking about mountains and valleys in your spiritual journey?  How do you feel about each?  Have you ever looked or thought about these extremes in a different way than you do now?  Perhaps the opposite way?  Option 1:  Mountain top good, Valley bad, or Option 2:  Mountain top, great place to visit, but we live and grow in the valleys of life.  Option 3:  I prefer neither?

I’m curious, what have your experiences on the Christian journey been?  High, Low, Steady?  Both?  All three?

I would love your feedback, either via blog comment, Facebook comment or Pinterest comment.

Reflections on Christian Living – Lent 2015 Thoughts on Sin, Forgiveness, Relationship, Love and Growth – Part 5

29 Mar

Reflections on Christian Living – Lent 2015 Thoughts on Sin, Forgiveness, Relationship, Love and Growth – Part 5

BibleVerse_2Timoty2_11_13

This is the last in the series of 2015 Lenten reflections.  This is where I admit that growing in holiness to become the person God wants me to be is a challenge.  Is it a full time job?  It can be, it is best when it is.  Is it hard?  Often.  Do I consistently make living my beliefs – 100% of every day?  Not at all.  Consistently, yes.  100%, no.   [To see how I deal with that, Go back to Part 1 of this series]  Is it worth it?  Totally.

I’m human, there are times I question and doubt, I fear and I fail my Lord.  I’m so glad my God is big enough to handle my questions, and so gentle and loving that he doesn’t immediately strike me dead for daring to question Him.  If He wasn’t like that, He wouldn’t be much of a God now would He?   God does not EVER turn away any sincerely seeking humble soul.   God is always faithful, He loves me no matter what.

I cannot hide from his love, it infinitely surrounds me. God promises He will never leave me nor forsake me.  He promises that if we seek Him, we will find Him.  That perfect love and true promises are what keeps me seeking God.  After all, we are in a love relationship.  I want to meet with God.  I want to obey God and follow His desires.  I want to fulfill the highest potential He has planned for my life.  And in turn, God always wants what is best for me.  He can take the bad stuff that just happens to anyone walking on this earth and He turns it around for my good. (When I let Him).

In reflection this season, I am also reminded that we are called “to live at peace with everyone – so far as it depends upon us”.  (Romans 12:18)  Here too we are challenged to draw upon our faith in God – for to live in peace often times means setting aside our personal comforts – our fears and our prejudices.  We need to go outside our comfort zones to grow, leave the past behind in order to avoid harming others – all the while standing firm in our core faith.  Not because we are faithful, but because GOD is faithful.  Not because we are better or think we are better than anyone else – for we are not.  We are simply forgiven sinners, striving to live in love.

That – the “live at peace” verse – God really means that.  It includes some extraordinarily difficult choices and actions.  Things such as: not compromising truth, not looking the other way at evil, not being silence in the presence of wickedness, and not being prejudice.  Instead, we are called to help the weakest among us, to help those who cannot help themselves, and to put into action plans that honor and glorify God.  We are called to be the very hands and feet of Christ on this earth – in the now, in the here, in our spheres of influence.  We are called to be a visible presence of God’s Kingdom on earth through our lives, our actions, our choices, and if absolutely necessary – our words.   Sometimes, I am greatly saddened when I think that Christians are more often know for what they are “against” than for whom they stand for.  Personally, I think it is a fabulous prayer to ask God to be more visible in my life actions than in my words.  Personally, I think if we can season our lives with more love and acceptance for people and share what God has done for us, we would be a much more attractive people of God, than we oft times are now.

I believe that God has the best ability to convict of sin and convince in love.  I believe that God – through the Holy Spirit – points all hearts to Christ.  Everyone on this earth will make a choice before they die.   (Rom 14:7-10)

When asked about my faith or current issues, will I speak answers, give my position and offer my reasoning.  I can share my testimony of what God means to me and what He has done in the past, and what He is doing in my life now.  But I am not called to judge your life.

For me, at least, I think the cliche to “Love the sinner, but hate the sin” is trite.  I believe it is impossible to live out without hypocrisy.  Maybe someone else could do it, but not me.  When I love someone I love them.  I accept them where they are now, just as Christ accepted me where I was then and where I am now.  God accepts me fully – just as I am.  He requests only honesty from us, from me.  It doesn’t mean God will leave me there.  For He wants to see me grow in knowledge and grace.  Over time – that growth can include: changes in lifestyle, reading and mentoring in the Bible, the very Word of God.

Here is how it works for me:  unless a person has given me permission to help you see your blind-spots, and only when I know you very well indeed  – and vice versa – I have been given you permission to point out my blind spots – only then do I think that it is helpful to share areas where another person cannot or does not have the ability to see how you (or me) can improve.  Only then, do I think it is acceptable for others to point out areas where anyone needs improvement and growth.  Mutual accountability.  Mutual accountability means mutual love, guaranteed acceptance and forgiveness. *I do have one exception*

Living out my faith, or as James (Jesus brother said) – “working out my own salvation with fear and trembling…” can mean being in accountability relationships, in love sharing our lives with others, not to put down, criticize or critique, but to share honestly our lives and “bleeding edges” in confidentiality with one another.  It can, and hopeful also does,  include corporate as well as private worship time.  It can mean meditation and study in the Bible to learn what God expects from us and of us.

God nurtures us to “ever grow”.   Kind of like an “evergreen” in nature.  Some periods have greater growth, some have lessor growth.  Unless there is a draught or uprooting, there should be growth. We, (I’m including me too) should not be the same people today that we were a year ago.  Along that time, we would be growing, budding, blooming and becoming more like Christ.

Bible-ScripturesRoses

So how are we to show one another the love of Christ?  Jesus told His disciples flat out – rule #1 – LOVE ONE ANOTHER. How can we do that?  Live in alignment with God, and fulfill His purpose for our lives?  One method I have been a part of in the past was being within a prayer community for several years that encouraged small accountability groups of 3 to 5 people to meet every week and answer the following 3 questions:

1.  What have you done to nourish your relationship with Christ this week?  (One of the reasons I included the mp3 song above is because I use music in my private worship to nourish my relationship with God – I have not tried this before, but I believe if you click on the notes, the track will play for you to enjoy.)

2.  How have you studied to improve your knowledge of God and of His creation?  (Including your fellowman)

3.  What actions have you taken to share Christ in your spheres of influence?

Let me tell you, participating in those groups (3 over the course of 20 years), was one of the best tools I have honestly ever been introduced to as a method for encouraging personal spiritual growth.  What was said in the group meeting – stayed confidential between only the participants.   This time was growing, fun, and fantastic fellowship.  It was gaining a foothold in a tough place with friends to help you along the way if you fell.  It was great.  I hope to find new prayer partners to meet with regularly very soon.  (Pray with me if you will for this to happen soon)

We are commanded to seek out and spend time with others of same faith.  The purpose is to help our spiritual growth.  God doesn’t expect us to have all the answers and be a “Lone Ranger” Christian.  Trust me, we don’t have all the answers.  Again, if we did, I would think God is too small.  I trust him and have faith – even when I don’t understand all that is happening in my life or the lives of those I love.

Instead, we are encouraged to learn from one another and to keep each other accountable to hold onto integrity, to avoid hypocrisy.  The Bible says:  “steel sharpens steel”…Reflections on this truth, also keep me seeking God as part of a local community of believers.  It is in fellowship with like minded people that we can gain wisdom to have others help us see our own blind spots and to gain strength from each other as we seek to serve the Lord together.

This is part of the beauty of Easter.  Living a resurrection life.  Jesus appeared after His resurrection to over 500 of His disciples (The book of Acts).  Why do you think He did this?  I think He did it to encourage them to stay together, to stand firm, to keep the faith, and to help them realize His resurrection was a REAL HISTORICAL EVENT.  An event that continues to this day.  Now that, my friends, THAT, is worth celebrating.

IBelong2theMaster_1Tim2_6

Please leave a comment if you want more information or have questions.  Thank you for reading.

Martha L Shaw - Poet, Writer, Artist

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