Coming or Going?

Advent is a season of longing as we look to Christ’s second coming. That involves embracing the ancient anticipation of the Messiah and celebrating the sweet Nativity of Jesus. So often, Advent ends with the first coming and ignores the second. Tales of woe and fears of being left behind have tarnished our longing and caused us to leave the second coming behind in our Advent celebrations. Advent is a season of joy and hope that should be at the very center of Christmas.

When discussing the second coming with a group of young people recently, many expressed concern that Christ might come before they were ready. They wanted to live out their lives first. That made me think about my own thoughts on the matter.

Wanting to live out my life is part of my journey, and the thought of Christ coming before I’m ready is natural. Like Ricky Bobby in Taladaega Nights, it’s safest to stick to baby Jesus in the manger. I do love the manger, and the very thought of Imanu’el brings great joy to my heart. When Jesus returns, He will be God glorified. Am I prepared for the grown up, glorified Christ and the going His coming will involve? That’s the question that makes me want to run back to the manger with Ricky Bobby!

The point of Advent is hope, but hope gets lost in buying frenzies and seasonal depression. I pray my heart will stop and linger and long for Him this year. Instead of sugar plums dancing in my head, I pray for visions of love and hope and peace that play out in my everyday life as Christ desires.

The best news is that I don’t have to wait for Christ’s second coming to begin walking in His kingdom. Everyday is Advent if I look for Jesus in the everyday. I believe that comes a lot closer to the reality of His return than the fear-filled dramas written by men. Christ will not be an infant when He returns, but He will be the same sweet Lord He was, is, and will always be. His character never changes, and His love remains steadfast. That gives me hope and causes me to anticipate His return everywhere, everyday:)

Good For My Soul

The forgiveness Christ offers makes confession good for my soul. The difficult part of confession is letting God show me the areas of my life and heart that need clearing out and cleaning up. Like an attic or basement rarely visited, the places where sin hides in my heart need an opened door, a light turned on, and a good airing out.

The scriptures and lessons this week opened the door, shed God’s light on my shortcomings, and allowed His Spirit do some much-needed work. Just like in a forgotten attic, I found things I thought long gone. God bid me to take stock and clear out this week. I cannot get rid of what I’ve forgotten I had, and that’s why taking an inventory first is essential.

God lets me leave sin tucked away,  but He will help inventory the contents of my heart when I’m ready for His help. I did ask Him to help me this week and was humbled by the pile of junk He laid before me. He will help me find the junk, but it’s up to me to decide what goes. I can resist or say not now, and I often do that when faced with a mess I’m not in the mood to clean. Turn off the light, shut the door, and leave it alone for now. I was ready to face the mess, so I asked God to lend a hand.

Once God brings those things which don’t belong from the bottom of the pile, it’s easy to let go. Seeing sin is like smelling garbage; it motivates me to take action and make changes. My heart feels like an attic that’s been cleaned and rearranged into a beautiful new living space where cherished treasures are seen, and the junk is history. It’s a great feeling once I’m finished:) God provides a wonderful Counselor in His dear Son and a great Comforter in His sweet Spirit. The three working together make for an amazing design team:)

Confession is good for my soul. Truly letting go means acknowledging sin for what it is, getting rid of all excuses to keep it around, and letting God do with it what He does best-get rid of it and redesign the space. Honesty is the key to both cleaning and letting go. It isn’t easy; I feel as if I’ve been in a week-long boxing match with an angry gorilla. That’s what monkey mind becomes when confronted and asked to leave. Those racing thoughts do not go away willingly, but they do take off when they come face to face with God. The peaceful eleven hour sleep last night was well worth the battle:)

God often uses those in my path to help me recognize the need to clean. When I find myself offended or irritated, I must look deeply at that person and at myself to see what is in them that I am denying in myself. It’s like pulling teeth without novocaine and involves a level of honesty and pain that is too much to handle alone. I never like it when I see the same thing in myself, but I have to see it before I can toss it. I know I’ve truly gotten rid of the junk when that person no longer gets to me. I can then move on, and that frees space in my heart and my mind.

Freeing is the word I would use to describe the lessons this week. Confession freed my heart and mind, then God redesigned both spaces. That’s a wonderful feeling that makes me want to empty more space!  Empty space can be daunting, but it is much better than clutter. Space takes on new meaning when I let it be an empty canvas upon which God can paint His hope on my heart. Paint away Lord! Paint away:)

Change is a Good Thing:)

Singing a new song turns my heart in a new direction. When I lift my voice in praise, my heart is filled with God’s love, and I dwell in His kingdom. Nothing is the same as God calls for change. My heart has undergone serious changes lately, and God is calling it, and me along with it, to change. Mylah and Lillyann are a big part of the changes. When I am with them, I know I am in the right realm:)

God has shown me that trusting Him and getting my focus where it belongs makes more than a world of difference, it makes a kingdom of a difference. Things don’t fit anymore! God has change in mind for me, and I am ready to let Him have His way. Change involves leaving behind the known and embracing the unknown. Drawing nearer to God helps me put my trust in Him and not worry if others don’t understand the changes that come as I grow.

There are several ways to grow, and I pray I age gracefully. I do not want to cling to the past or worry about the future. It’s human nature to resist change, but maturing involves changes. Those changes will draw me nearer to God if I let them. I have the choice of rotting, rusting, drying up, or becoming ripe. God prefers ripe when it comes to aging. Holiness is a state of maturity, ripeness, and readiness to do God’s will. Like a fruit at its peak of ripeness, coming of age is a wonderful thing if I let God bring me to a place of readiness.

I can fight and fuss and fume. I can resist and wrestle with God. God knows there are plenty of old folks who do. The stench that comes with that kind of aging ruins the atmosphere in a room faster than anything. I want to age in a way that leaves a different mark in a room and in God’s world. I have beautiful friends who are aging as God desires, and I love to be near them. They are a breath of fresh air in a stuffy room and make me want to be the same.

There are many factors when it comes to aging, but one is certain. I will continue to age until I die. I don’t get to decide how I will die, but I do get to decide how I will age:)

His Ways:)

Jeremiah 33:16 says, “In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will dwell in safety; and this is the name by which she will be called: the Lord is our righteousness.”

Christ”s righteousness is at the heart of God’s ways. I cannot live the life God has for me until I acknowledge that it is Christ’s and not my righteousness that identifies who God is and who I am. I am His, and my vain efforts to get good enough to enter His kingdom keep me from His ways.

Works flow naturally and beautifully from my obedient heart if I love as God desires. I’ve spent a lifetime trying to make others happy. The futility of my ways left me depleted and those I helped bitter. Embracing kingdom love causes obedience that leads to joy. I’ve mentioned before that I believe the key Saint Peter holds to the gates of heaven is his amazing love of Christ. Peter loved the Lord and saw His righteousness first-hand.

Psalm 25:4-5 says,

Make me know Your ways, O Lord;
Teach me Your paths.
Lead me in Your truth and teach me,
For You are the God of my salvation;
For You I wait all the day.

I’ve loved these verses for a long time, but I’ve seen them in a new light this week. My walk cannot be separated from His righteousness. As I draw nearer to Him, I am humbled and blessed in seeing who He. Seeing who I am in the light of His righteousness changes me and my path. His paths and ways are about His kingdom, and that is where my journey must take me if I am to continue to draw near to Him and love as He desires.

I wish I could express God’s message for me this morning, but I am having trouble finding the right words. God is bidding my heart to go from its self-help freeways to His simple paths. Coming out of the hectic and nerve-wrecking traffic of a busy freeway and walking on a beautiful country road is as close as I can come to the image God gave this morning. I can breathe and see clearly what was whizzing past me before.

There is comfort in knowing I am completely surrounded and never alone on those freeways. The intimacy of a country road can be intimidating, but I am able to connect and love His way. I was forced to slow down this month and found myself fretting and frustrated. God reminded me that I’ve been praying for His ways, His paths, and His kingdom to come, and He was simply answering my prayers:)

As Mylah and Lillyann fell asleep on me last night, I breathed a prayer of thanksgiving for the pace of His path and the beauty I held in my arms and my heart. Understanding that Christ’s righteousness forged the path He and I are on together caused my heart to relax and take in the moment and the view. I looked down at the two sleeping angels in my arms, out at the beautiful Christmas tree filled with decorations from the past and present, and up at the full moon shining in the window. I was surrounded in a new and beautiful way, His way:)

A New Song

Sing to the Lord a new song;
Sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Sing to the Lord, bless His name;
Proclaim good tidings of His salvation from day to day.
Tell of His glory among the nations,
His wonderful deeds among all the peoples.
For great is the Lord and greatly to be praised;
He is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the peoples are idols,
But the Lord made the heavens.
Splendor and majesty are before Him,
Strength and beauty are in His sanctuary.

Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples,
Ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory of His name;
Bring an offering and come into His courts.
Worship the Lord in holy attire;
Tremble before Him, all the earth.
 Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns;
Indeed, the world is firmly established, it will not be moved;
He will judge the peoples with equity.”

 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
Let the sea roar, and all it contains;
Let the field exult, and all that is in it.
Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy
Before the Lord, for He is coming,
For He is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
And the peoples in His faithfulness.

Psalm 96 NASB

This beautiful psalm is perfect for the beginning of Advent as I anticipate Christ’s coming. Too often, I find myself singing the same old song and praying the same old prayers. This psalm lifts my heart and spirit and makes me want to join the forest and sing for joy.

Do I really think about Christ returning? I love the thought of Emmanuel and the sweet baby in the Christmas manger, but I cannot leave Him there or on the cross or in His ascension to heaven. He is coming again, and that makes me sing with great joy:)

I suppose it’s the judging that causes me to pause. I worry about how He will find me and what I will have to show Him. As soon as I say that, I remember that He is God and loves me more than I have room in my heart to hold or faith enough to understand. Judgment is going to come with Christ, but so is His love for me.  He knows, and I am learning, that this journey is about drawing near to Him and helping others do the same.

Sharing the journey is not easy because it opens my heart in uncomfortable ways, and that often gives me the urge to hide. The beautiful lessons of late have been about the difference in love in His kingdom and the world’s. Love is shared in heaven in ways it isn’t shared on earth. On earth, we hold tightly to love until it becomes lust. In His kingdom, love binds and frees at the same time. Kingdom love heals my heart and allows it to accept and give love in a way that unites and spreads.

It’s taken three years for me to understand the beautiful difference loving in God’s kingdom makes, but it’s been well worth the pain involved. All learning comes at a price; it forces me to change. That change is necessary for the growth needed to live and love in His kingdom. My heart has grown at least three sizes in three years, and it has never felt better. I thank God for loving friends and family who see me as He does and help me see the same. It allows His kingdom to come and His will to be done in my heart, and that makes me sing a new song, “and worship God in the beauty of holiness.” KJV

Seeking God

Seeking God is so much more than simply seeing Him; it is an endeavor to find His love and His will in my life and His world. God is love, and love has a very special quality. It connects as nothing else. When I look for and find God in those around me, I experience the beautiful connection love offers. It is what walking in God’s kingdom is all about. Seeking is intentional, active, and often painful, but it is well worth the effort when I find and embrace the love it brings.

Accepting God’s love allows it to flow through me.  I have several friends with whom I have a deep connection, and that blesses me as nothing else. My son and I have a sweet connection, and the love I have for him and his family connects us beautifully. If God is the center of a relationship, it will be a taste heaven. If I am separated from someone I love, it is a taste of hell. I need to feel both in order to understand God and myself more fully.

Seeking God’s kingdom seems simple enough, but it is far from easy. It requires a level of faith I am only beginning to understand and a level of honest communion that tests my trust. I know it is what God desires for me, and that gives me the courage me to keep on seeking. Courage and love walk hand-in-hand.

Finding God opens new doors but closes others. Repentance is about turning, and turning means a new direction. It isn’t easy to leave old habits, but when I realize they keep me from experiencing the joy that comes from obeying God, I can move forward and live the life God has in mind. Love is transformed and transforming as God has His way with my heart. All transformations involve demolition, and the process takes time and energy. Understanding my need for repentance is what makes seeking so difficult. The beautiful result makes me forget what I was like before, and that’s when I know I’m heading in the right direction:)

Tedious Trudge or Joyful Journey?

What’s the first thing you seek when you awake? If you’re like most, it’s a cup of coffee or something to eat. I like to linger in bed and talk to God before I start the day. My day is much better when I start it with Him. If I am worrying or whining, our time together isn’t time together at all. Worry makes it all about me, and that ruins the moment. The day goes from bad to worse. If I seek Him first thing in the morning and thank Him last thing in the evening, I find myself walking in His kingdom throughout the day.

Yesterday was a perfect example of being in His presence all day. I didn’t worry once, and God showed me how beautifully that affects my journey. Anytime I end up doing the children’s story, I know there is a lesson God is trying, without success, to teach me. I have the story today, and it’s about worry:) I’ve read and prayed over the scriptures for two weeks, and Pastor John shared the message God gave him about the powerful passage on seeking. I finally get it, and it is a transforming lesson indeed!

I hadn’t thought of the connection between worrying and seeking until John shared the message with me. Worry and trust are closely connected. If I worry, I don’t trust. If I trust, I don’t worry. It’s a simple message, but one with which I’ve struggled my entire life. Christ knows that worry causes me to miss God’s kingdom, and that makes life a tedious trudge instead of a joyful journey. God lets me decide which path to take, but He prefers I let go of worry and embrace the joy God’s kingdom has for me. Holding on to worry keeps me from seeking God’s kingdom; that makes me let go of worry as if it were a hot coal and seek God in a whole new way:)

Last night, I was getting my sparrow and lily ready for the story this morning,  and I was struck by the notion that worrying forces me to live life in a backward way. If I focus upon food, shelter, clothes, taking, making, getting, and doing, I don’t have time to seek God. Can you imagine what God’s world would look like if we all sought Him first? It would be His world and not ours. It would be His life and not mine. It would truly be “His kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven:)” That was part of the powerful lesson this week.

So why do I worry? I worry because I don’t trust God. It’s as simple as that, and God will not let me add any ‘if’s, and’s or but’s to that lesson. I have been known to take a perfectly wonderful lesson God teaches and add a little something to it, and that’s worse than worrying. That’s playing God, and it gets me into more trouble than not trusting Him. I’m humbled when I think of His patience with me and very thankful He sees me as a child learning to walk in His kingdom. Otherwise, I’d be in big trouble.

There is nothing worse than worry. It causes the past and future to invade my present. It makes me old, wrinkles my face, sours my stomach, disrupts my sleep, ruins my health, and keeps me from God’s presence. Wow, do I need any more convincing? I finally got God’s message on Thanksgiving day, and that was perfect timing on His part. Seeing Ali after seven years was icing on the cake yesterday. I told her she was my sticker this week, and what a wonderful blessing it was to hug her tightly and reconnect beautifully.

Worry causes me to look at the clock, think about the cost, wonder if I’m able, etc… Thanksgiving 2012 will go down as the week God put worry in its proper place-behind me! I pray I will remember the lessons from Matthew 6:25-33 as long as I live. I know I will as I seek Him in prayer, look to His Word, and see His world as He desires. God certainly did His part in making the lesson this week memorable, and I know if I will put Him in His proper place-in front of me, the journey will be a joy-filled walk in His kingdom that will help me draw nearer to Him and those He places in my path:)

Loving Wholly!

Wholly means completely and to the exclusion of all else, and God’s message for me this morning was that He wants me to love Him with all my heart, soul, mind, spirit, and strength. In other words, He wants me to love Him wholly! I have the tendency to hold back when it comes to love. I’ve let the deep hurts of my past cause me not to trust love, even God’s. That sounds silly when I say it out loud, but God knows it is true and wants more for me.

God reminded me this morning that the Holy Spirit will help me love wholly if I will just let Him.I love the Holy Spirit and am amazed by the holy mystery that allows Him to bring comfort and love in ways I cannot understand. He is teaching me to be a loving presence and redefining love for me, and I have made progress. God showed me this morning that I have much more to learn when it comes to love.

Whole is better than half. We all know what happens with half:) I’m guilty of being half and part and some when it comes to love. Growing in regard to love means getting whole so I can love as God desires and have the relationships He has in mind for me. I’ve settled for less than whole with love because I’ve not been willing or able to love wholly myself. I’ve loved those who cannot love me because it was safe. I thought it would hurt much less to love that way, but I was wrong. God has given me the choice of moving on or wallowing in my pain. It’s up to me as it always is.

God is whole and gives all when it comes to love. Commitment isn’t about enabling or fixing, and it is not to be part time. I’ve been deeply hurt when it comes to connecting, and I’ve allowed that hurt to lead my heart. A whole spirit, soul, and heart is required for the love God desires. Some is not acceptable when it comes to love.

I can’t pick and choose with God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit. They are whole and holy and want the same for me. Holy means spiritually pure, and the goal of this journey is to head in that direction. God gives a choice at each fork and intersection, and I have to decide which way to go. That decision is based on desire and readiness. The past two months have been a time of wrestling with God that has left me worn, weary, worried, and ready to let God lead my heart.

When God teaches me, it’s always about getting to the core of my heart. It involves getting to the place of spiritual exhaustion that causes a sigh of release and repentance. I have to turn in a new direction, and that involves change. I like to think of myself as progressive and forward thinking. That’s true unless it involves change:)

I finally cry Father! That’s more appropriate than uncle when wrestling with God. When I’ve had enough wrangling, He shows me what I need to see before I can move forward. It’s never easy to see, and that’s why I wrestle. I have kept love at arm’s length all my life, and God showed me that isn’t what He wants. He used Thanksgiving in powerful ways to help me see the importance of wholly loving and living.

Each time I come to a difficult leg of the journey, God provides sweet assistance in the form of family and friends who love me, and He always gives me a beautiful reward when I finally get it. I’m having lunch with one of my dearest friends today. I haven’t seen her in seven years, and I know the lunch isn’t a coincidence. Ali hears my heart across the distance, and we are sweet kindred spirits. She knows and loves me in a way I can’t describe. Actually, I can; she loves me wholly:) She has been an important part of my journey, and God placed her in my path at a two crucial intersections. It’s perfect that she would be here as I’m encounter another. God knows just what I need just when I need it, and I love that about Him!

Bringing in the Sheaves:)

Psalm 126 is the perfect song for Thanksgiving, and so is the hymn it inspired. “Bringing in the Sheaves” was written in 1874 by Knowles Shawl. His words were set to George Minor’s music in 1880, and a wonderful hymn was born. I marvel at the ways God’s Word sprouts and spreads. I haven’t sung the old hymn in many years, but I was reminded of it as I read Psalm 126 last night.

Psalm 126:5-6 says “Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting. He who goes to and fro weeping, carrying his bag of seed, Shall indeed come again with a shout of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.” People have been replaced by machines in the field, but the message in Psalm 126 and the hymn remind me that God’s harvest is still personal and requires His children working together to bring the sweet news of salvation to the world.

Sowing is the hard part of the harvest and involves weeping, but reaping brings great joy. Tears water the seeds. Growth is painful and never gets easier, but I must continue to grow as long as I am in this world. Age both helps and hurts the growth process. Maturity shows me the necessity of growth, but age stiffens more than my muscles when it comes to sowing, growing, and reaping as God desires.

I’ve been stiff lately, and I know it is due to a lack of yielding.  I’ve come to a place of deciding if I’m going to go to the next level or stay where I am. The choice is mine. I’ve seen what happens when growing stops; dying begins. Joy departs, and rotting replaces reaping. “Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves,We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.” I prefer reaping to rotting, so I plan to keep growing.

I can’t go into God’s field picking and choosing what to reap or worrying about what happened to my seeds. God’s field is ripe for harvest, and that is all that matters. The song and the psalm use “we” and “those,” both plural. The harvest is best done together. It is God’s field, and He deserves all the credit and the glory. I am here to bring in sheaves with joy and glorify God in the process.

Planting a seed is important, but there are many factors which contribute to a seed’s growth. That is especially true in God’s field.  The only thing that matters is to  “lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest.” John 4:35 NASB Growing impatient while waiting for the harvest, wondering if the seed I planted is part of the harvest, and worrying about who’s in the field next to me get in way of the harvest and take joy away from bringing in God’s sheaves.

It’s easy to become weary, but it helps if I grow while I wait. If I simply sit back, settle, and become complacent, I will miss the beauty of the process God has in mind for my growth. Seeds take time to mature, and that’s why there is so much joy in reaping. The growing season mirrors the season of my own heart’s growing. There is a time to sow, a time to nurture, a time to wait, and a time to reap. Resting and quitting are very different ways to wait. I love this line from the poem “Don’t quit” by an unknown author. “When care is pressing you down a bit, Rest, if you must, but don’t you quit.” 

Growing disciples is a beautiful process that requires deep personal connections in order for roots to reach deeply into Christ’s love. His love feeds and flows beautifully if I open my heart and develop relationships that allow me to walk in His kingdom and help with His harvest. Christ’s precious love makes me come rejoicing as I bring in the sheaves. Sharing it with others is what the harvest is all about:)

Grace and Gravy:)

Thanksgiving breakfast was wonderful, as always. The hum of fellowship provides beautiful background music for the food that brings a flood of memories and sweet comfort. Wayne’s gravy is as close to mama’s as it gets, so I feel her sweet presence at the gathering. There’s just something about gravy that reminds me of grace. All the elements in a meal may be wonderfully prepared, but gravy that makes the meal special. God’s grace, like that wonderful gravy, covers all He so generously provides and leaves me feeling loved in a very special way.

Anytime I have grits and gravy together, which isn’t nearly often enough, I think of Evelyn Tooley Hunt’s poem “Mama is a Sunrise.”

“Mama Is a Sunrise”
by Evelyn Tooley Hunt

When she comes slip-footing through the door,
she kindles us
like lump coal lighted,
and we wake up glowing.
She puts a spark even in Papa’s eyes
and turns out all our darkness.

When she comes sweet-talking in the room,
she warms us
like grits and gravy,
and we rise up shining.
Even at nighttime Mama is a sunrise
that promises tomorrow and tomorrow.

I cannot read that poem without thinking of Mary Sue. Mama warmed me like grits and gravy every morning, and I thought of her today as I ate food lovingly prepared by those willing to get up a early and serve others. It’s what love is all about, and love is at the heart of grace and good gravy!

I don’t know or care if the streets of heaven are paved with gold, but I’m thinking the lakes are most likely filled with mama’s gravy. Grace and gravy have a lot in common, so I believe the connection can be made without offending any theologians. I know God would agree because He knows how gravy prepared with love makes a meal very special. He also knows His grace makes love special and warms my heart even more than mama’s grits and gravy:)

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