Tag Archives: Easter

Reflections: Easter is coming

31 Mar

IBelong2theMaster_1Tim2_6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

29 Mar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bible-ScripturesRoses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IBelong2theMaster_1Tim2_6

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 4

28 Mar

Jesus160_cross_as_bridge Picture_2PcsofWoodBridge  

Reflections on Christian Living – Lent 2015 Thoughts on Sin, Forgiveness, Relationship, Love and Growth – Part 4  

Reflections on Christian Living is in part knowing that we have all sinned, we have fallen short of God’s standard of holiness.  This fact is true of ALL of humanity.  No one is exempt from failing to please God in our own efforts.   (Isaiah  64:6)  God is very clear that in our human efforts — without Christ – we can do nothing to measure up to His Holy expectations.  The Bible makes this profusely clear in an abundance of passages.  For us – this is NOT where the story needs to end.  We have a choice to make.

This Lent season, I challenged myself  to walk in faith again through a section of scripture which helped me to find God.  I wanted to reread and restudy these verses now to expand my spirituality, to grow, to extend my borders and to go outside my comfort zone by digging deeper.

I offer all of you the same opportunity – take a journey along a well paved and ancient Roman Road.  In the book of Romans, Paul tells people to realize that in this world there is some bad news – yet in the midst of bad news there is good news waiting to breakthrough into our lives.

By good news I mean God has always loved us, and continues to love us at our very darkest moments.   His word says, “That while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”   Jesus Christ did this knowing that not everyone would accept the gift He made in offering His life.  I honestly don’t believe any other human being could do that in total unconditional love.  Only Jesus walked in history as fully God and fully man.  Only He could make a way for us to be reconciled to God.

I am in awe, just think about this for a few moments:  Jesus Christ made a way for our reconciliation to God.  His resurrection brings us the possibility of new life in Christ.  Jesus died, but he did not stay dead.  He – as God – has the power over death.  This is the miraculous truth of Jesus Christ’s resurrection.  The suffering which came with that death and the willingness of God to make such a way is part of the reflections for me during this Lenten Season.

For anyone not familiar with a set of passages known as the Roman Road, they are listed below.  Let’s each read and ponder these deep truths in our hearts as we move forward toward the Easter season of joyful resurrection. All of these passages are found in the Holy Bible, in the book of Romans.

Romans 3:10-12

Romans 3:23

Romans 6:23

Romans 5:6, 8-11

Romans 10:9-10

Romans 10:13

Romans 5:1

Romans 8:1

Romans 8:38-39  This is great news and a wonderful promise.

If you want to go deeper:  Follow-up with these verses for dessert to ponder the questions — What now?  How shall I live?

2 Cor 5:17, Romans 12: 1-3, and Colossians 3:2

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

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

27 Mar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflections on Easter Season

25 Apr

Not everyone believes or practices the “season” of Easter.  I do both.  Most in America do practice some form of a Christmas season, even if they are not Christians.  In the USA, Christmas unfortunately has become more of a retail secular holiday than a Holy-Day.  Some in America who are not Christians, do however, also celebrate Easter Day.  But they do it as simply a spring holiday to celebrate the ending of winter.  (Sounds rather anciently pagen – does it now?)  

What I like is when one celebrates Easter as a season.   It starts on Easter Day and continues past Ascension Day right up to Pentecost celebration when we in the current church remember how the Holy Spirit came down in flames (as recorded in Acts) and annointed Jesus Christ’s followers’.  Instant results:  The birth of the first Christian church and several thousand new believers on that same day!

Now, I must back up a bit in order to distinguish the difference so that one may truly appreciate the transition that happens from Good Friday to Easter.  For some, the Lenten season (40 days preceeding Easter) is a time for reflection, and can represent the 400+ years of silence between the last profit in the Old Testament and the birth of Jesus.  It can also be a somber time, a time of giving of alms for the poor, of “giving up” something special to us as an act of contrition or as an act of discipleship to Christ representing what he gave up for us when he became incarnate (Christmas), took on human flesh, and then lived as a human, among humans, and by dying on the cross, became the propitiation for our sins, making a way of reconciliation to God available to us by paying our sin penalty.  How or if you consciously follow Lent, depends upon the denomination or flavor Christian you are and how you practice your beliefs.    Lent itself is not a word found in the Bible.  But I find it a useful tradition.

Easter and the Passion of Christ, sounds like a lot – and it is.   But it can be summed up in three words.  Love, Justice and Peace.  God is perfectly ALL 3.  So is Jesus Christ.  So as I make my way thru the Easter season of celebration,  Alleluia’s pour from my heart for God’s gift to me.  His offer of reconciliation.  His reaching out to span the chasm which I could never bridge.  As I look forward to the memorial of the institution of the first Christian church as we celebrate Pentecost and the Holy Spirit coming to live within all believers.  

To breathe new life in us.   Ours now, immediately when we are born by the Spirit, not of flesh and blood.  Ours immediately as the Spirit daily continues to point to Christ, to reveal Him more fully, to guide us, to continually sanctify us and prepare us for worshiping God in heaven.  Wow.  The challenging part is just letting it happen.  INTENTIONALLY.  Not passively, thinking it will happen with no effort on our part, Spritiual grown only happens when we cooperate with what God is trying to do in our lives.   My point is this – making the effort to stay in intimate contact with our Savior daily thru prayer, reading Holy scriptures, and reflection is critical – but it’s not 100%.  Without God, without faith, it is impossible to please God.  

The Bible is not a book to be read as a novel, or simply a great story.  Though it is most definititely the latter.  It is a book sharing God’s Words, work, and will to us.  It lives, It breathes life into us as we absorb it.  It’s Christian nutrition.  I’ve heard it said, “a week without the word makes one weak”.  A week or even 3 days without prayer also separates us from the intimacy of our relationship with God.  It’s like not talking to your most cherished and loved person in this world for 3 days.  Something in the relationship suffers.  

So I encourage each one to continue to celebrate, continue to look forward, and continue to nurish your relationship with God.  Continue to know God is with us.  No matter what.

Martha L Shaw - Poet, Writer, Artist

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