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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

IBelong2theMaster_1Tim2_6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflections on 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 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.

 

 

 

Reflecting on Christian Living

28 Jun

Beginnings.

I asked God to forgive my sins and I told Jesus I was glad he died for me when I was 6 years old.  I trusted in Jesus for my eternity with the total commitment of a young child.  A lot happened prior that event to prepare my heart.  A lot has happened since then.

Susan school pic #1

If you believe in Jesus Christ for salvation, when did you make that decision? What lead you up to that point?   Are glad or sad that you made that decision?   Do you still believe in Jesus?

Please leave your comments – I want to know about you.

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 – 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.

 

Martha L Shaw - Poet, Writer, Artist

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