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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 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 Transitions Part One

30 Dec

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

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

Review and Assessment is important

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So….let’s do this.  Together.

 

 

 

Reflections on Christian Living – Been a while

7 Apr

Reflection on Christian Living – Been a while.

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

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

Desk & Chair

The waiting chair

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

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

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

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

 

 

Reflections on Christian Living – Special Practices – Gratitude

11 Nov

Reflections on Christian Living – Gratitude – Special Practices

There are several special practices or seasonal disciplines which I undertake to spur on and encourage Christian growth, to become more Christ-like and to change-up my walk a bit in order to keep me from becoming complacent in a daily journey with Jesus.

One of these practices is currently underway. I know some friends who either call it a 30 day gratitude challenge.  Some start on November 1st.  Some start 30 days before Thanksgiving.

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I don’t have a name for what I do, but most of my seasonal practices are actually 40 days long.  I try not to miss a day, but I am not legalistic about it, as is not about that.  These practices are an act of worship.  They are done not instead of my daily practices, but alongside them.

For 40 days before Thanksgiving I begin a gratitude journal.  Often,  I publish a summary on Facebook of what I am most grateful for on any given day during this season of reflection.  We are so blessed in so many ways and simply take most things for granted.  (I’m as guilty of this as the next person).

I would encourage anyone to do this.  I recently read that you can re-program your mind toward positivity by simply thinking of 3 things a day you are grateful for, and do that practice for 21 days.  I’m a slower learner, I need the shock therapy to my heart –  40 days gives me that gift.

What I have learned over the several years of doing this seasonal practice 40 days before Thanksgiving is that my entire daily attitude shifts over the course of those days.  Yes, I am usually grateful year around, but I’m the first to admit, there are simply times I fall far short in that category, and slip into what my mom would call “pity parties”.  I say that not as an excuse, but a confession.  I need more gratitude in my life.  I need more AWARENESS in my life.  I need to praise God more often for wonderful blessings – most particularly for His mercy and grace.  Since November has some challenging anniversary dates – and at least one blessed anniversary date in it, this practice helps me to gain perspective.

In the early days, I am not alert to specific items for which I am grateful.  Those first few days are often the “discipline” part.  I do it because I know it is the right thing for me to do.  I watch, i observe life – not just my life – but life in general.  I observe the life of others, of loved ones, of those going through hard times, and those who appear to have all their blessings like ducks in a row.

As the 40 days continue, I find myself increasingly aware of the blessings in my life – even when some of those blessings are trials.  I find myself so aware some days, that there is a list of multiple items in my journal which could be listed as today’s gratitude.  If I post on FB, I pick just one to share with others.   And I happily enjoy the blessings gained of my friends posting what they are grateful to have or experience in their life.

As I near the end of the 40 days and come to Thanksgiving as the day after the seasonal practice ends, I find that the day is wonderful.  Not in the sense of the traditional holiday, big meal, and all the “stuff” or a house overflowing with extended family or friends.  Those things are rare for us.  It is a wonderful day because I realize how different my attitude and heart have become as I look back over this year’s 40 day gratitude journal.

If you have never done this, or haven’t started yet this year, it is not too late.  Start to practice the presence of gratitude and as my mother used to sing “Count your blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord has done”.

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.

 

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

29 Mar

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

BibleVerse_2Timoty2_11_13

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bible-ScripturesRoses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IBelong2theMaster_1Tim2_6

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

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

27 Mar

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

Bible_FindVerse_GiveMyHeart_ItisAllGodWantedd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Martha L Shaw - Poet, Writer, Artist

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