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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.

Need Prayer?

2 Apr

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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 Drift

20 Feb

Have you ever sat in a boat without an anchor and just let yourself drift for a while? It can be a beautiful thing.  I’ve drifted on small row boats and canoes floating down a slow river current.  Steering and guiding the tiny vessel only as necessary to avoid shallow rocks or wreckage on mid-stream obstacles.  Again, it was wonderful.  However, it did require paying more attention than drifting on a large fishing lake.  It meant looking ahead for possible current changes and potential river hazards.

Well that is two of the things that can happen when we “drift” in our devotions or daily time spent with God.  At first, it can seem like a bad thing; like we are not being “intentional” enough.   But when we drift, it can be a good thing as well.   Drifting allows us to Rest in His grace.  Letting Him guide our pattern through the winds and waves of life.  It can certainly appear and possibly can be the path of least resistance.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I need drifting in the current of grace,  just to have forward movement.  I’m all about intentionality when it comes to consistency and growth.  At the same time, we sometimes need pause and absorb grace.  Some drift.  Some flexability to rest in God’s grace from time to time.

My point with these boat drift examples is that every moment can be a sacred moment. Even in the moments where we think we are drifting, and simply enjoying God’s grace in our lives – IS a sacred moment.  When we see our lives as He sees it – to the extent possible – we change.  My point is, sometimes, we all need to absorb God’s grace in order for that to happen.  Sometimes, we push so hard to “do” for God, and be “productive” and “achieve goals”, we miss God’s love and grace for us.

A while back, I was pondering the idea that many believe there is a need only to be continually on-guard; looking out for hazards, being aware of the circumstances surrounding us.  Not to allow this world to have too much influence on us – but to be able to avoid rocks and backwaters and rip tides.  Circumstances can and do guide our daily actions.  There is a head/tail side of this reality.  As one friend puts it, where we stare, we stear.  At one end of the spectrum – we need to be aware and in this world.  We need to know the circumstance which surround us at every cultural turn.  But I would further propose, we need not see ONLY hazards or everything to be avoided.  Sometimes those circumstances are set into our lives to call us to attention. To ACTION.  To GRACE.

Hopefully we are aware of interruptions created or allowed by God to get our attention away from going thru the motions.  Hopefully, we are aware of the Spirit and can move in compassion when there is a need for us to be there and help another. To make a difference in a social cause. Hopefully temporary circumstances won’t make the keel come out of the water due to the whiplash of being on stormy seas. No clicking off tasks will work to fill the void for another person in need.  We must set aside our agenda and take action of love. Stormy seas are NOT the time to drift.

Intentional time spent each day with God can also mean changing it up in a variety of ways.  I personally mix it up a lot.  To me devotion time is a bit like “date night”.   I want to spend time with someone I love and who I know loves me.   But we don’t have the same date with the same agenda over and over and over and over. Same purpose, yes.  Same motions, no.

Yes, I have my preferred reading plan.  I love it.  It has helped me grow over the years.  It has taught me a ton about God and about living.  I am comfortable with it and have used it as a guide to read through the Bible on a regular – but not regimented basis.  I have used this reading plan every day for about 20 years.  I don’t feel stuck yet.  Yes, there are tough days and missing days.  I just catch up.  I don’t want to miss a word of God’s exciting revelations. Yes, there are days the readings challenge me and cause me to fall on my face before a Holy God.  Yes, there are days the readings are a warm and loving balm of healing.

I fully admit the early years were hard.  Forming the habit to read God’s word every day, well,  it felt like cutting a machete path thru a jungle of mind-weeds with every single reading effort required to develop this good habit.  Opposition came from every angle, including me.  “I don’t have time”, “What good will it do”, “I need to ‘study’ not read”. All of which is a crock.  All reasons why investing in my relationship with God was not a priority.  Lies from the pit, distractions to destroy.  But then, after a while of intense reading, I found the need for being adrift.  Not pounding things into my heart and head, but reflecting and pondering on what I had read.  Drifting in the truths already discovered.  Enjoyed from a new perspective.

Is drift the BEST thing?  I propose that it can be.  For short periods of time especially, the drift of relaxing with God can be rewarding.   Changing up our time spent with God can make a big difference in our relationship.   I don’t always do the same things in my earthly relationships, why would I think it is a good thing to check a box and get stuck in a rut in my relationship with God?

Setting aside my reading plan(s) once in a while and spending time “drifting” is a beautiful thing.  I know it may seem like “drift” is a bad thing for some of you, but I can attest to the comfort and refreshment that comes from other activities spent in God’s presence.  A nature walk.  Meditation on a single verse.  Listening to music that makes you sing in joy.  Attempts to memorize important verses God is using in my life.  Sometimes spending a little time in reflection can bring my heart to a humble position knowing who God is and who I am.   Intentional mindfulness and awareness of God and the blessings poured into my life – well folks – I’m here to tell you in case you haven’t discovered it yet — there are a myriad of methods for worshipping God.

I know many who love to say “God doesn’t see me, all he sees is the blood of Christ”.  To a degree, I get that.  Yes, it is only through the righteousness of Jesus Christ and His sacrifice and resurrection that we are allowed to boldly enter the throne room of our Holy and Heavenly Father with our praise and petitions. Jesus intercedes on our behalf. (Acts 4:12)

So, it may shock some of you to think about this truth as well.  God sees everything about us.  Every nook and cranny of our lives.  Every hidden sin, or thought, every selfish motive.  Every self-serving action.  Every God honoring moment spent in worship of our ALMIGHTY God.  God sees into every cell of our being and every aspect of our lives.  (Psalm 139)

GOD alone can confirm whether or not “drifting” for a time is a good or bad thing.  Remember this:  He loves us.  He waits and longs for us to spend time with Him.  To listen.  He calls us.  Listen – Can you hear Jesus calling you to time together?  

Wherever we are – when we take time to seek his face – He will be found by us.  Jeremiah 29:12-13.   God never fails to meet us.  He is faithful.  He is loving.  He is HOLY.  He is never-ending.  He keeps His promises.  We fail.  We all fail.  We fall.  We need grace. We need mercy.  The lesson when we fall is to get up again.  To keep on keeping on. To not give up on this most important relationship.  We all need to cherish our relationship with Jesus with all our heart, mind, soul and body.  Cherish this relationship with our time.  With our intent. With deliberate choice.  Even in busy times.

So if the best we can offer today is time walking and being with Jesus.  Hallelujah.  Praise him in the forest or on the trail or in the boat on the lake.  If the best we can offer is picking up the kids toys while they quickly nap – then fine.  Be in that moment with Jesus – right then praying for your children while you pick up, pick up and pick up again.  If the best we can offer are moments of reflecting drift while we stare out the kitchen window pausing washing dishes – then fine.   If the BEST we can offer as worship to our LORD is to take time to read and explain and apply and do (READ) His word, then great.  God wants our best; at the same time — HE truly knows whether or not our efforts are the best we can give at that moment.

Thomas Merton

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude

Pray not for want we want, but for what HE wants.  Sounds so easy to simply quote Jesus, YOUR WILL BE DONE….Yet, it is not always easy to even simply show up – with your BEST.   Do not attempt to fool an all-knowing God by not giving your bestSometimes our best is drifting in His grace and practicing the presence of Jesus Christ.  Sometimes it is not.  Be honest.  Take a sober self-assessment.  Re-read Romans 12.  Think carefully on how it instructs us to live a Godly life.  Remember that though we serve a loving God, he is at the same time a HOLY, JUST God.  He will not be mocked.

As both Matthew and Mark end, we are told to be a follower. When we are devoted, we spend time with the one we love.  Don’t let anyone fool you.  Drifting time is still holy  time:  when and if we approach it with a humble heart seeking God.  Instead of worrying about making more secular moments sacred, how about this week everyone simply make the effort to acknowledge that all our moments are a gift of God, and all moments can be sacred.

The Holy Spirit is the best navigator on Earth.  If you desire, He can drift you closer to God.

 

Reflection on I shall not want

28 Jan

 

Guest post today.  Enjoy.  I was so blessed by the author’s thoughts and the song at the end.  Be blessed.  Susan.

PS – Thank you Mark for permission to share.

https://handfulsofseed.wordpress.com/2017/01/28/daily-word-of-encouragement-i-shall-not-want/

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 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 6

19 Jan

Continue reading

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.

 

Martha L Shaw - Poet, Writer, Artist

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