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Reflections on Devotions

28 Jan

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Last Sunday, I was asked to consider being a part of a panel discussion on Devotions.  Giving a little 3-4 minute presentation and being part of a Q&A session.   I prayed about it, and was not too surprised when it seemed that I was to leave my comfort zone and say yes.  It was an event at my local church.  Shouldn’t be intimidating…right?

Well, yes and no.  I wasn’t kidding when I said sharing my devotional life is outside my comfort zone.  I regularly have devotions.  Daily most often.  Some days more than once a day.  But then – BAM!   I said yes, and so this happened:   All week I have been struggling to be consistent and devoted to my devotions and Bible study time?   Now why do you suppose that is?   I can think of many possible answers.   But the one I encountered most often this past week is nicely summed up in the “Coffee with Jesus” at the top of this post.

I just wasn’t “feeling it.  Is is amazing to me that still after 50 years of spiritual journey, some times the rebel in my heart shows up again to take a stand.  Not as visible to others, but visible most certainly to God, and visible to me.  IF I am willing to show up and be honest with God and myself.

Some days this week, I “felt” like I was checking a box.  Yep, done with that reading.  But I didn’t “feel” it was doing any good.  But you know what?  God showed up.  And some of those days that I didn’t feel like my morning efforts were resulting in any meditation or reflection, or even explanation,  observation, application, and doing — Again, God showed up.  Later in the day, I would find myself recalling what I had read.  Encountering a situation where that scripture applied.  Thinking about one of the devotional questions for reflection.  It was amazing.  God still worked.  God was glorified.  In spite of me.  I shouldn’t be surprised by that, I know.  But I was.

Because it reminded of a very important truth. Devotions aren’t about me.  They are about God.  They are about being in a devoted relationship.  So, yeah, I looked up the meaning of devoted, devote, devotional.   (Geeky, I know).    Here is what I found:

DEVOTE — VERB.    Action.  Requires participation.  Also related to devoting, devoted.

1. To give up or appropriate to or concentrate on a particular pursuit, occupation, purpose, cause, etc.  TO devote one’s time to reading.   (Yes, this does describe one action I take in pursuit of my Lord.)

2. To appropriate by or as if by a vow; set apart or dedicate by solemn or formal act, consecrate.   (Yes, this does describe the set apart portion of my day, my week to consecrate my life to my Lord.  To seek His face, His will, His call upon my life.)

3. To commit to evil or destruction or doom.  ……

At this point I thought – Huh?  And then I remembered several Old Testament scriptures where the Hebrew people were told to “devote to destruction” certain plunder obtained in warfare.  The most common example being the false gods of their enemies.  Makes a bit more sense.  So I asked myself this – Are there things I encounter just walking in this world that “stick” to me – which I need to remove and devote to destruction.  Yes.  Some bad habits simply appear with seemingly no aid on my part.  How do I break those?  I devote them to destruction.  But I digress…..

Devotions.  My keys:  Continuity and Variety.   I continuously have a plan for reading.   My favorite is to use the Book of Common Prayer readings.  They always includes Psalms, a personal favorite, they include an Old Testament reading, a New Testament reading, and a portion of one of the four Gospels.   I love the balance it presents, and it helps me keep the big picture overview of God’s Word in mind.   And because it takes 3 church years (starting at Advent each year, A, B, C) it doesn’t repeat often.

I also continuously have other reading plans that I participate in or Bible studies that I follow.  Books for studying the Bible are wonderful guides.  Whether you go to a book-by=book of the Bible series, or a Topical study.  They can be very helpful and often have guided questions to aid in reflection and explaining Biblical passages.

For Variety, I use many small reading plans.  They are kind of what I call “treats” or “snack food”.   Most are little paragraph or two of someone elses reflections with often only a verse or two.  Some include a short prayer, some don’t.  Some are by famous historical Christian authors, some by contemporary Christian authors.  Some topical, some theological, some “random” readings.   These are like little shots of caffeine.  OK as far as they go, but it is not what I would call a meal.  The nourishment from these is a good place to start if you have not developed a daily habit of spending time with God.  It simply is the equivalent of baby-food, and I believe God wants us to grow up as we journey with Him.

What works for you?  What have you tried for devotional time?  What doesn’t work?  What are YOUR biggest obstacles?  I’d love to hear your thoughts in comments.

 

 

 

 

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 LIVING – My dog is teaching me Life Lessons

30 Mar

My dog is teaching me life lessons. Our new rescue dog, Vivi is the assistant, the Holy Spirit is the teacher.  Vivi is a gentle full breed Silky Terrier who is a beautiful black, blond and tan.  She has been with us about 4 weeks.  In that time, she has made 2 vet visits.  One to have her spay sutures removed, and one because she “smelled”, yet I couldn’t find a reason.

This is how it has played out at home:  We got her just after spay. We started building trust, new routines and rolled out the welcome mat – and boundaries.  Then comes the vet visit and discomfort of stitch removal.  Trust set back, she hides for 3 days in her kennel.  A little part of me hopes it was just the “reaction” to the additional vaccine and not our home or us.  A tiny stumble.

We restored routine, widened boundaries as commands were followed, and started again to build trust. Vivi was increasing her vocabulary and obedience to commands included in her new life.  We were making good but slow progress.  Baby steps.

Then another setback.  I thought she just needed a better bath. Vet clearance obtained.  While our dog groomer was checking her ears, she thought Vivi had something more serious going on — as it was her ears stinking, not her hair.

Indeed Vivi did have something wrong.  She has a fungal infection.  Somehow having an ear infection didn’t surprise me, since the first 6 years of her life was spent in a puppy mill, where she was ever cleaned or given proper care.   The vet gave us ear wash and fungal medicine. We are to see him again in another 10 days to ensure it is gone.  Sounds fine, right? Wrong.

They did the first cleaning and since they are professionals,  my guess they were likely more “assertive” in their ear cleaning efforts than I am, I am diligent and try to be gentle yet thorough.  Again, EARS – a small part.  No big deal right?  Wrong. Each day, Vivi gives more intense push-back regarding the chosen course of treatment.  This “little” hidden place of stink and infection challenges her level of trust & compliance.  I hate having to make her experience daily ear cleanings, but for her own good, I must.  It is my responsibility as her overseer, her caregiver.

 

Vivi's first pictures

Vivi’s first pictures

Each day, the “capture to clean” patrol takes a more effort and creativity on my part.  Each day, I wonder, “Will she ever trust me after all this?”  I am only doing these things to ensure her better health and less pain.  Yet, she does not comprehend what I am doing and why.  She only reacts to the discomfort of the process.

Eating regularly, being part of a pack, knowing who is alpha, potty training, coming/going in and out of the house is getting better, going in and out of the kennel, these have all been quickly learned.  She is a smart dog.  But stubborn, she must take some control. Taking treats from our hands?  Not yet.  Requires more trust than she muster up.  Treat from the distance of a tall teaspoon – sometimes.  Smelling our hands and seeking our company – coming along slowly.

Walking on a leash – Do not even think of her needing give total control to someone else – she has no concept of what she is missing.  No concept that being on a safe lead will give her increased freedom walking outside the fence.  Not there yet, leash on, Vivi = “sit down donkey”.   Am I the only one who sees some similarities between Vivi and my own walk with Christ?  Please tell me I’m not alone on this.

Is this how God feels when he is trying to help us and we do “sit-down donkey”?  Trying to remove something harmful from our lives?  Maybe something stinky others notice, but to which we remain unaware?  When God works with us, do we dislike it, fight back, hide, avoid, and shake off conviction to express our intense dismissal of His entire effort to bring about good and healthy chances into our lives?  Am I like Vivi? Do we get so concerned about the process, we forget WHO is in control?  Are we living as if we are doubtful of God’s unconditional love for us?  “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief”.

I think back to those first days after the Triumphal Entry to Jerusalem – we have the benefit of looking across time.  I think that occasionally makes us wonder at the disciples response.  We see what they did not.  They saw what we do not.

During that final time in Jerusalem, Jesus spent a lot of time with His closest disciples; He was trying to explain to them what was to happen – but they do not see.  They did not understand why.  Jesus did.  He knew how the week would end.  He wanted to comfort them, and He prayed with them.  He gave them final instructions and hope in the midst of the unknown. Read John 12-15.  Read what it says in John 12:16: “His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him.”    Jesus had a better plan.

In the midst of uncertainty, even trying times, I must trust the ONE to whom I belong.  Trust that God is holding me. Trust the God who is holding my loved ones in His care.  Trust that God is helping me grow and removing stink from my life.  Helping heal me from things I may not even know are hurting me.  Trust my God as He is bringing about what is best for me and for others through me.

I figure if Vivi can learn to let me clean her ears – even as she is still learning to trust our love and her place in our forever home – then I can learn to let God clean my heart, mind and actions of stinky places – even as I am learning to trust Him more and experience more of His love for me – even before I get to my forever home.

Feedback and comments are welcome.  Thank you for stopping by and visiting.  Thank you for reading.  If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to leave a comment.  Have a great day.

 

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

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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

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Martha L Shaw - Poet, Writer, Artist

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