No Greater Goal

Jesus spoke with authority, and that upsets those who place a lot of faith in their own authority. The Pharisees, Sadducees, religious teachers, political leaders, Zealots, and Essenes disagreed with Jesus differently, but they shared an unwillingness to give up their own authority. I have the same problem. That was not an easy lesson this week, but it was a very freeing one. We all have issues with authority at some level, and that causes us to miss the life God intends for us to live. Mark 1:21-28 says,

“They went into Capernaum; and immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue and began to teach. They were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was a man in their synagogue with an unclean spirit; and he cried out, saying, “What business do we have with each other, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God!” And Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be quiet, and come out of him!”  Throwing him into convulsions, the unclean spirit cried out with a loud voice and came out of him. They were all amazed, so that they debated among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.” Immediately the news about Him spread everywhere into all the surrounding district of Galilee.” NASB

It’s easy to talk about God’s love and power as long as I don’t apply the lessons to my own heart. The unclean spirit in the demoniac knew exactly who Jesus was and what He was capable of doing. Shouldn’t I have the same knowledge of His power? I struggle with my issues, but I wouldn’t have to if I would relinquish my authority and believe in His. Why is that so hard to do? It may be because I’m comfortable with my issues. They are mine and define who I am. Letting God define me means I have to change who I am, and I’m not sure I’ll be comfortable with the new me.

God’s timing and ways always amaze me, but this week’s lessons have been so very powerful that I don’t know if I will ever stop shaking my head in amazement. In addition to Mark 1:21-28, I’ve been studying  David’s anointing in 1 Samuel 16:1-13. I would never put those scriptures together on my own, but God connected them in a powerful way. Tony W. Cartledge says in the Smyth & Helwys commentary on 1 Samuel,

‘The surprising truth about the spirit of God is that we do not do something to get it. We do not have to become more attractive or even more worthy. Our openness is enough. Our not knowing is enough. Our willingness is enough. The Bible makes it clear that God delights in surprising the world by doing great things through small people. We may never be anointed with royal oil, as was David, but we can be anointed by the spirit of God. We can look forward to a future that is filled with unknown opportunities for life and service and joy. We can become the persons God wants us to be; there is no greater goal in this life.”

I was struck by his last statement. No greater goal in this life!! Giving up my authority and letting God have authority isn’t easy or we would all be doing it. The demoniac and David had something important in common; they trusted God. They both learned that God saw them in a way they could not imagine on their own. They trusted His authority, and it made an amazing difference in their lives. God will do the same for all of us.

I’m not sure what I had in mind when I thought of unclean spirits, but I think it was the stuff of horror movies that didn’t apply to me. When I realized evil spirits are my need to control, my anger, my insecurity, my lack of trust, my bitterness, etc…I was taken aback. Jesus has authority over all my issues if I will acknowledge and trust His authority and let go of mine. There is a degree of comfort in the known evil. When I let go of my issues, God will redefine me. God’s definitions of the demoniac and David were not the same as the ones they or the people in their lives had. The transformations God has in mind will always be a shock. Perhaps that’s why I hesitate to let go of those old habits and issues.

Whatever the reasons for my hesitating and complicating when it comes to my issues and authority, they pale when compared to Christ’s authority and His precious love. Together, they make for an amazing transformation. I feel the peace, love, joy, gratitude, and grace God has in mind when I surrender my authority and embrace His. Seeing those pesky issues as demons helps me call on Christ to help rid my heart of them. The Wizard of Oz theme continued into this week; God used images of those flying monkeys to make me smile and realize that I can’t handle my issues on my own. Christ already knew that; He was simply waiting for me to ask for help. It is something I must do daily if I am to live the life He desires. There is a place over the rainbow, and it doesn’t have to stay in a lullaby. I can enjoy its peace here and now. The happy ending is knowing God’s transformation will allow me to be who he wants me to be. There truly is no greater goal than that.

From The Wizard of Oz
From The Wizard of Oz

Starting Point

The starting point is more important than the final destination because it defines my journey. If I’m stuck in the past, I’m never able to catch up to myself. If I keep a foot in the future, I hobble along at a pitiful pace. I do both and end up stuck or stalled as a result. If I start where I am by making peace with my present, the journey will be as God intends. I rehash my past, rehearse my future, and miss my present.

Ice and snow have made for treacherous travel this week; when I finally did get out of the house, I found myself driving around with no destination in mind. It was wonderful to be moving after being sick and stuck indoors. Then, I sat in the sun and did nothing for a very long time. It was healing to soak in the sunshine and simply be. The best traveling is done when sitting still. It’s what allows my heart and soul to spiral upward, and that’s the destination I most desire.

Culture says be productive, go places, take charge of your own future, and never look back unless you need an excuse for your troubles. In Psalm 46:10, God has a different view.

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.” NIV

It’s silly to think stillness is the best way to move. Love is also a lot of silliness when you think about it. In fact, all of God’s ways are silly to the world. His ideas may be foolishness to some, but I learned this week that foolishness is the greatest wisdom of all. I plan to love when it makes no sense and be still when I feel like running. God reminded me this week that stillness is the very best starting point for any journey.

Circle Up the Wagons!

Circle Up the Wagons

I was a surprised by the image of a wagon train circling up on the prairie this morning, but I’m learning not to question God when He’s teaching a lesson. In the wild west, circling up the wagons was necessary for the safety of those traveling through dangerous territory. It is an effective strategy for keeping that which isn’t desirable from getting in and that which is precious from getting out.  It formed a tight-knit community of travelers and probably saved many lives.

In this day and age, the technique doesn’t work. In fact, it acts as a sort of bullseye for someone flying overhead. People have the tendency to clump together when threatened, and that is especially true in politics and in religion. It would be comical if it weren’t creating so much tension in our country and all around the world. It’s easy to throw a rock or fire a gun from the inside of a circle of wagons, but it’s much more difficult to love those who think differently that we do.

I get so very tired of the circled up right and left wings, and I’m sure God sighs each time a group of His children decide to circle up and make a stand. Pointing fingers instead of guns, the circles hurl insults and accusations toward one another while trying to get others into their circle. When God looks down upon the circles, I’m sure His heart breaks. He knows the best way to love is to let others be who they are. Christ didn’t circle up the wagons even though His followers were chomping at the bit for Him to do just that. “Let’s rain some fire down on them Lord!” was the fervent cry then, and it is the fervent cry now.

Having to be right and in control is at the heart of circling up in the political arena, and the same themes abound in the world of faith. I grow so weary of folks worrying about that which differentiates us. Self-differentiation is what God desires. He says clearly, “I AM.” He expects us to be who we are and to love each other not only despite our differences, but because of them. God forbid that we should all circle up one day and spew the same rhetoric.

Circling up the wagons is a great example of what fusion does to relationships. It was good for the pioneers to lock hands and stay very close when danger threatened them, but it is terrible for God’s children and shows a lack of faith in Him. Self-differentiation enables growth in our individual relationships with God and one another. When I feel the wagons circling up, I quickly look for a crack to slide through before the circle becomes a noose. I don’t mind if you are on a bandwagon or in a wagon train, just don’t expect me to be on or in it with you. Love me for who I am, not for what I believe. I have my own unique way of loving and living in this world, and I’m learning it’s best to stay away from those tight-knit circles if I want to love as God desires.

Ready or Not….

Weather isn’t the problem; our preparedness for it is. That’s never been more obvious than yesterday with the crippling snow in the south. The folks in Michigan accuse us of being weak-kneed, but all things are relative. Folks in Atlanta are simply not prepared for the kind of storm they experienced yesterday. The ice storms of 2011 caused them to panic briefly, but the powers that be promised it would never happen again.

We all make promises in the heat or cold of the moment, but they are forgotten as soon as things cool down or warm up. After all, it’s never going to happen again.  While we cannot prepare for or even imagine every disaster, we can be prudent. The storm was coming, and we all knew it. It is better to err on the side of reason and let go of our plans for a day than face the mess those poor folks in Atlanta faced yesterday. I remember a year when I had to wait for all the children to get home before leaving school. I was scared I wouldn’t get home myself, but there was comfort in being with others. I never had to spend the night with my students during a storm, and I’ve never found myself stranded in a storm on the side of the road. I thank God for both and pray I’ll be a little more prudent myself when it comes to future preparations.

I know I should have water, food, blankets, and flashlights in my car, but I don’t. I know I should keep my gas tank full during winter months, but I don’t. I don’t always do what I know I should do. God would interject an amen here if He weren’t such a patient, loving Father. The lesson this week has been, ready or not, the storms are coming. Preparing for the personal storms in life are not as simple as putting emergency kits together or stocking the pantry. They require emptying, opening, and trusting completely.

Stacking supplies leaves me feeling smug and self-sufficient. I’m a survivor, so bring on your worst. I’m ready and looking forward to the opportunity to say, “I told you so!!” Emptying out leaves me feeling vulnerable and dependent. I accept the reality that I cannot make it on my own. I’m ready to say, “I need You so!” There is a world of difference in the way I prepare my home and my car and the way I prepare my heart and my mind.

Ready or not, disasters will continue to come as long as we are in this world. Thankfully, they are few and far between. Ready or not, Christ is coming! Preparing for His return is never a disaster drill, even though it is often portrayed as such. Preparing for His return simply involves letting go, surrendering to His love, and letting Him lead the way home. The beautiful news is that He is always nearby and ready to help with the clearing and cleaning necessary to experience His kingdom now. Lessons in preparedness are most effectively taught in my unpreparedness. That way, I won’t forget them. God mostly wants me to be prepared to accept and share His love. Sounds easy enough, but I often get stranded when it comes to my heart! The path sometimes seems unnavigable, but then I remember I’m not alone. Christ’s promise in Matthew 28:20 is one I can count on, and that changes everything 🙂

 “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” NASB

The Road Less Traveled

Release & Restore

I didn’t realize when I started a new exercise class on Wednesday morning that God would use it to teach a very important lesson. The class, called Release and Restore, is designed to find and release stress in the lymphatic system. It involves using various balls, one with sharp spikes, to work out the tension in muscles and release built up toxins that cause soreness.

The exercises look innocent enough, and the music is meditative; but the pain that comes when the balls meet the stress is excruciating. I had the urge to scream, but my instructor bid me to relax, breathe, and push into the painful area. It’s a lot like the truth when it hits a spot in my heart. I want to cry, scream, and avoid the pain; but I know I can’t.

My muscles will never be sore if I don’t exercise, and my heart will never hurt if I don’t love. Both will atrophy and eventually feel nothing at all. My instructor is a beautiful young woman filled with lots of compassion. She looked at me with sympathy and said, “You didn’t realize you had so much tension, did you?” She was right; I didn’t, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to know at that point.

The exercise class worked the tension out of my muscles and left me sweating and sore. God’s lesson worked the tension out of my heart and left me crying and tender, but both workouts left me breathing easier and understanding my need to heed the hurt in all my muscles. Since the heart is the strongest and most important muscle in my body, I have to pay very close attention to its sore spots. My exercise instructor is giving me the tools and techniques to help me work out the toxins and relieve stress in my body, and God is giving me the same for my heart.

The Holy Spirit is an amazing Instructor, and Christ’s precious love works God’s Word into my heart in a way that allows His grace and love to bring peace that’s even sweeter than the release I felt in my shoulders, hips, back, legs, and neck on Wednesday. God knows I am a visual learner who needs an object lesson, and He had a powerful one this week. I hope I remember to let Him release my pain and restore my heart every single day. If I should forget, I’ll get a powerful reminder every Wednesday morning from my new little blue friend 🙂

Spiky Ball

Joyful Unison

Isaiah 52:7-10 is a song of joy that is appropriate for Christmas Eve. Isaiah looked forward to the coming of the Messiah. We shout in joyful unison as we look forward to His coming again.

How beautiful on the mountains
    are the feet of the messenger bringing good news,
Breaking the news that all’s well,
    proclaiming good times, announcing salvation,
    telling Zion, “Your God reigns!”
Voices! Listen! Your scouts are shouting, thunderclap shouts,
    shouting in joyful unison.
They see with their own eyes
    God coming back to Zion.
Break into song! Boom it out, ruins of Jerusalem:
    “God has comforted his people!
    He’s redeemed Jerusalem!”
God has rolled up his sleeves.
    All the nations can see his holy, muscled arm.
Everyone, from one end of the earth to the other,
    sees him at work, doing his salvation work. (The Message)

Joyful unison comes when we proclaim the good news of Christmas. Christ is at work in our hearts, and He’s coming back. That makes me sing and shout joyfully with those in my path and helps me give and find sweet comfort in times of need.

Joy isn’t happiness, and that is a problem this time of year. Lust is powerful; we grab, get, and go at a rate that leaves us spent, disappointed, and tired after lust settles. Like dust on the floor after a big party, lust leaves a mess that is swept away or under something. It causes a downward spiral. Joy follows loving obedience and fills me with peace. Joy is free, and I don’t have to stand in line or go in debt to get it. It lifts my heart and brings me nearer to God and others. Greed surrounds this beautiful season designed to offer something better than what I want or expect.

Joy, love, hope, and peace are what Advent is all about. As I look forward to Christ’s return, I am able to wait patiently because I understand that love is all that matters. The opposite of love isn’t hate; it’s lust. Wanting what I want may get me a little temporary happiness, but it keeps me from finding true joy and peace and leaves me wanting more. Trusting that God’s love is more than enough and obeying His call leads to love which leads to joy, peace, and hope. The world may not understand the difference between joy and happiness, but Christmas celebrates the birth of someone Who lived out the difference beautifully.

God’s gift of Immanuel brought, brings, and will always bring love, joy, peace, and hope to the world. It’s what creates the joyful unison Isaiah foretold. May it be fulfilled in our hearts this year.

Love Joy Peace Hope

Fading Fear and Scurrying Sorrow

Isaiah 35:1-10 paints a beautiful image of deserts blooming, fear fading, and sorrow scurrying into the night. Isaiah has a way with words, and I find hope each time a read his words of prophecy. God energizes “limp hands” and “strengthens the rubbery knees” when I find myself lost. The fact that even fools will not find themselves lost on the Holy Road encourages me to stop worrying about being perfect. Fear freezes and sorrow stops me too much of the time, so I love the reassurance I find in these scriptures of hope in Isaiah.

 Wilderness and desert will sing joyously,
    the badlands will celebrate and flower—
Like the crocus in spring, bursting into blossom,
    a symphony of song and color.
Mountain glories of Lebanon—a gift.
    Awesome Carmel, stunning Sharon—gifts.
God’s resplendent glory, fully on display.
    God awesome, God majestic.

Energize the limp hands,
    strengthen the rubbery knees.
Tell fearful souls,
    “Courage! Take heart!
God is here, right here,
    on his way to put things right
And redress all wrongs.
    He’s on his way! He’ll save you!”

Blind eyes will be opened,
    deaf ears unstopped,
Lame men and women will leap like deer,
    the voiceless break into song.
Springs of water will burst out in the wilderness,
    streams flow in the desert.
Hot sands will become a cool oasis,
    thirsty ground a splashing fountain.
Even lowly jackals will have water to drink,
    and barren grasslands flourish richly.

There will be a highway
    called the Holy Road.
No one rude or rebellious
    is permitted on this road.
It’s for God’s people exclusively—
    impossible to get lost on this road.
    Not even fools can get lost on it.
No lions on this road,
    no dangerous wild animals—
Nothing and no one dangerous or threatening.
    Only the redeemed will walk on it.
The people God has ransomed
    will come back on this road.
They’ll sing as they make their way home to Zion,
    unfading halos of joy encircling their heads,
Welcomed home with gifts of joy and gladness
    as all sorrows and sighs scurry into the night. (The Message)

The journey home should be a joyous one filled with singing because God is waiting to welcome me home with gifts of joy and gladness. Fears, sorrows, and sighs will scurry into the night, and I will be filled completely with a love unlike any I have ever known. I’m so thankful for the glimpses God gives as I make my way home because they give me hope and help me get back on the right path when I allow fear or sorrow to get me off the path.