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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 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 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 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.

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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.

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

Reflections on Christian Living – Lent 2015 Thoughts on Sin, Forgiveness, Relationship, Love and Growth – Part 3

27 Mar

Reflections on Christian Living – Lent 2015 Thoughts on Sin, Forgiveness, Relationship, Love and Growth – Part 3

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Decades ago, there was a movie  where one of the characters said:  “Love means never having to say you are sorry.”   True love is the exact opposite.  Over the years of our marriage, I have learned it is much more important for me to acknowledge I’ve screwed up (again) and quickly say I’m sorry, than to spend time in silence trying to come up with the “right reason”, excusing my behavior, or trying to lay the blame at someone else’s feet.  When I try – as I occasionally still do –  my husband – as a Godly man – won’t buy it.  He just asks – was what you did kind, loving, necessary, righteous (morally), gentle, caring or not?  He just lays it all out there.  Why?  Because he loves me.  Because he usually has already forgiven me – before I even ask – and because he loves me and wants to have me experience personal growth.  Now knowing he has already forgiven me, I ask you, would it be kind and loving of me to not ask for forgiveness?  Instead to just take it for granted and not communicate my remorse?

With my husband this is often – but not always true.  But with God this is purely true – 100% of the time.  God loving me always means that there is nothing I can do which will make God un-love me.  But does this give me the right to continue to live in a manner unworthy of a daughter of the Lord?  Romans tells us NO, May it never be so.  Loving God means when He says I screwed up – I agree.  Now understand, God is a gentleman.  He doesn’t stand with a big hammer, waiting to beat us over the head when we come to Him.  He will never turn us away.  Instead He stands as the Prodigal’s Father, reaching out, going out of His way to be there and wait for us to come to Him with our issues and problems.  He desires only honesty on our part.  He wraps loving arms around us, and says WELCOME HOME.

When I’ve blown it, I try to quickly turn around; leaving behind the failing pattern and seeking instead to do the positive actions that make life better.  I ask what God wants me to do.   Not just partially, not only intellectually, or with a little effort, but with my whole heart.  I pursue what I believe God tells me with my whole being, my mind, my heart, my soul.   I know that the promptings of God never contradict the written word of God.  I know they never contradict His moral code.  I know they can be confirmed with scripture, and I can consult as well, with Godly others, when necessary.

The truth is that it is not my “feelings” about God that count.  Feelings are important and need to be acknowledged.  Expressing our emotions can be key to our worship as we acknowledge who He is and who we are.   Feeling however, can lie.  They can make us believe things that are simply not true.

Some people may describe what has been happening to me this Lent as a dessert.  Referencing perhaps Jesus’ experience in the dessert. There are many examples in the Bible where people felt separated from God.  David was certainly no stranger to feeling alone and forsaken – but that feeling didn’t make it true.   (Read Psalm 46 or Psalm 70.  David pours out honest feelings to God, and God responds.)

For the entire month of February I felt  like my inner-being was in a frozen wilderness.  Nothing moving.  Nothing alive. My heart cocooned, carefully wrapped in the insecurities of doubt.  I’m out in the cold alone, I’m not “feeling” the warmth of God’s presence with me.  My soul very well knows it is me that chose to walk my own way for a short period of time.  It was me that brought the chill into the relationship through isolation.  The Bible clearly states that there is NOTHING we can do to escape God’s love.  (Romans 8:28)  It is that simple.

No one can keep any relationship warm with love at a distance.  I don’t know about you, but we all want to think that when we chose to follow God, ,that our path will be smooth and we will never struggle or have doubts, or times of passivity that lead to a cool relationship.   Efforts made to spend private time together, were displaced with other seeming priorities.  What a wasteful choice on my part.  How can anyone maintain closeness if we don’t seek out, listen to, spend time with, and want to hear from the other person.

How can I maintain closeness when I place myself away from God’s Word?  His very bread and body given for me?  After a while, like a piece of wood pulled away from a bright warm fire, my zeal cools and my heart grows cold.  As a lighthouse, I fail to burn brightly and become just a small spark, an ember barely on fire.   I ask myself, “Who moved?”   I am reminded of the truth gently by a loving God  He is still there.  He is waiting for me tell me WELCOME HOME.

During rebellious times, during trying times and circumstances, we are wise to make even greater effort to hear and study to learn from God’s word and to stay in touch with fellow believers.  Instead of isolating and trying to go it alone, and “negotiate” with God, I need to immerse myself fully in His love.  I need and want to spend time with Him, in His word, in prayer, in listening and learning.  Get more involved in being and doing.  Be accountable to keep faith alive.  Let others help me understand and deal in a more constructive way with difficult circumstances.

What counts is TRUTH.  During reflection, I realize again that the very words of God are truth.  Jesus said of himself that He is “the way, the truth, the light”.  (John 14:6)   This is a time when I must firmly plant my feelings into my faith in God.  I must confirm truth with scripture.  I need to take every thought captive to Christ (2 Cor 10:5) and get my mind and my heart back into alignment with what God would ask me to be and do.  We each are commanded to renew our minds and not to conform to the patterns of this world.  (Rom 12:2)  Romans 12 is an entire chapter on how to live a God honoring life.  The precursor is recognition of God’s gift to us in His death on the cross, as well as our possible choices in response to His sacrifice.

For me WELCOME HOME means knowing that God is faithful, even when I am not.  God is always with me; whether I feel it or not.  I know God wants only what is best for  me, yet sometimes I fear that circumstances will make that impossible.  God says – I do the impossible.  To be honest though, speaking or acting in my human weakness,  in a manner that is *not* like Jesus would have do, or would have me do, is  always possible —- until I am with Jesus Christ is heaven.  For now, we work out our salvation moving toward, not away, from God.  Becoming increasingly like Christ.

Is it an easy straight line at a nice 45 degree growth angle?  Not at all.  We walk, run, climb, fail, slip, stumble, enter into circumstances or encounter difficult life events that act as  deep water and slow us down.  Sometimes we pause for a bit. Hopefully, we then pray for forgiveness and healing when needed.  As we come back to God, we return to alignment and clear relationship with God.  I know I am not all I should be or want to be, but I also know by God’s love and grace, I am not what I once was.  The human instinct to act against God or to withhold portions of my life from God is lessening over time as I seek Him in closer and closer relationship.

As an introvert, I know just how hard it is to walk into a new church or any church “cold turkey”.  Not knowing anyone.  I also know that if I’m not willing to make healthy choices for my mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health, then I’m not willing to take chances.  Without chances there can be no changes. Without change, there is no growth.  Above all I want to grow.  I want to become MORE like Christ, and less like the old me.

I encourage everyone this Lenten and Easter seasons to make a choice to take a chance, to make a change.  What is there to lose?  Nothing but our past.  Our wilderness.  If life is going great for you?  What have you to gain?  Love.  Eternity.  Relationship.  Deep abiding faith that is unexplainable – for FAITH is the evidence of things not yet seen.  What can we lose?  The wilderness of wandering.

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

Reflections on Christian Living – Lent 2015 Thoughts on Sin, Forgivenss, Relationship, Love – Part 2

26 Mar

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Reflections on Christian Living – Lent 2015 Thoughts on Sin, Forgivenss, Relationship, Love and Growth – Part 2

Sin – not a popular word these days.  I know I would much rather acknowledge only the attributes of God being loving, kind, gentle.  I think others are similar.  It is easier on our ego and self-esteem to make God a God who is not righteous, not holy.  An easier God is just a slightly higher version of us – holy, without sin Himself, but not judgmental or righteous enough to hold people accountable and require a payment for the penalty of sin.   Somehow in our human reasoning to have a God that requires payment for sin, is to make Him petty.  That is NOT WHO GOD IS.  God is OTHR.  He is beyond anything.   In the books of Isaiah as well as Job, God Himself points out the vast differences between man and God.  He asks “Where you there when I hung the stars?”   God says “Your thoughts are not my thoughts, nor your ways my ways.”

Instead of a petty God, as some would have Him to be – quite the opposite is true.  A God that does not require a penalty for sin is not holy, is not righteous.  In fact, to make Him so, is to put ourselves above God.  Here is one reason why:  even as humans, our justice system and our sense of justice, both require people to fulfill a sentence for wrongdoing, for harming others, or even for attempting self-harm.  Suicide is illegal in most states, so even harming ourselves, according to man’s law, requires retribution.  Requires actions to save.  EMT’s called to the sight of an attempted suicide must make an effort to save the person and return them to a functioning human state.  Even humans recognize the delusion that man is in control of our own soul.  We are only in control of our choices.  And we do not often choose wisely; even when we do, it is like a reach of inches, when God demands a standard of holiness that is the length of thousands of feet.  We can never reach far enough – without God’s intervention on our behalf.  God determined that our short fallings, our sin, deserve death.  It is holy and right that He has done so.

YET IN His goodness, kindness, mercy and grace – instead of insisting we pay the penalty — before the beginning of time – GOD in His majesty and love – also determined a way for His son, Jesus, to take our penalty, to  pay the ransom price for us.   Read I Timothy 2, verses 4-6.  Or if you desire, read the entire chapter.

God does not just want us to confess our sin to Him, He doesn’t want the “box checked” and for us to then walk away and live as we choose.   God has reached out since day one to have relationship, reconciliation, and fellowship with mankind.  God seeks us, He desires us to seek Him.  He promises in Jeremiah 29: 11-14 that when we seek Him with a sincere heart, we will find Him.

In many Psalms, but especially in Psalm 51, David rightly acknowledges that at the root of all failings,  all sin is truly sin  against a Holy God.   Do we harm each other?  Most definitely.  Do we harm ourselves?  Yes.  We have only to see the example put forth in first and second Samuel to see lots of evidence.  And it continues throughout time including today.  Watch the news to see how many times people’s choices are not beneficial to themselves or others.  The reality is that sin breaks our fellowship, puts a space in our relationship with a Holy God.  He cannot meet with us when we harbor sin in our hearts.  Sin also breaks our relationships with each other.

Through Nathan the prophet, God offered David forgiveness if he would repent.  God is always reaching out to us to offer reconciliation.  It is we who are to respond.  Psalm 51 says “Against you, and you only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight”.  NOTE:  It is hugely important to read hrough the entire Psalm and to read the the context t background of what happened in David’s life leading up to this confession.  ((2 Samuel, chapters 11 & 12).   David was a lier, cheater, adulterer, murderer, and possible rapist.  Yet, when he confessed his sin, as we learned yesterday – God forgave him his sin.  (I John 1:9)   Was there an earthly consequence?  Yes, the child died.  Clearly many others were hurt.  Was there reconciliation to a Holy God after admitting wrong doing? Most definitely – Yes.

For me,  loving is forgiveness.   Being loving – toward both others and myself –  means owning and admitting my failures.   Not to live there, but to say I did it or thought it or said it, to tell God and the person(s) that I’m sorry and I want to move on in forgiveness and reconciliation.   A few weeks ago, I read something that really resonated with me.   I do not know who said it first, or to whom to attribute the quote.

Here is what it said:  “I would rather be an honest sinner, than a holy hypocrite.”   It makes a valid point – though the saying is clearly an oxymoron – for there is certainly no such person as a holy hypocrite.   To be a hypocrite is to pose. To be out of alignment between our private self, our heart, and our public self.  Most importantly, to be a hypocrite is to be out of alignment with God.  To say one thing and do another.  To say one thing and think another.  The list goes on……

We can sometimes fool people, but never God.  God looks on our heart.  He knows our every thought and motives.  Some people say that they do not attend church because it is filled with hypocrites.   Again, in reality, it is the opposite.  Church is filled with people who openly admit we are sinners, people who acknowledge we blow it.  Often. For you see, every week I attend church, every time I open my Bible to read and learn and listen to God, I am living and declaring the fact I am NOT a hypocrite.  I am acknowledging I cannot live a holy life apart from God.  I cannot live without confession.  I cannot live without asking forgiveness in all my relationships.  I cannot live without knowing that a loving God paid the ultimate price to reconcile and have a relationship with me. (Cross reference John 3:16)

I need that unending, unconditional Love.  I need that perspective.  I need that HOPE.  Knowing God is always there with me and on my side is my daily dose of reality.  Reality check – as in real eternity – not our temporary world now.   Most of the folks I know that want a close relationship with God feel the same way.  We need God.  Not the other way around.

If you want more information or have questions, leave a comment.   I look forward to your comments.  Thank you for reading.

Martha L Shaw - Poet, Writer, Artist

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