A Candle in the Darkness (January 31, 2013)
Prayer is a candle in the darkness that leads the heart to peace, so it’s appropriate that, in the midst of a storm with no power, the second leg of this beautiful journey begins. I write this first lesson on the path to the praying life using the light from the candle from my Emmaus Walk in May 2010. It was during my walk I first heard God’s call to pray.
My reaction to God’s call was to wait for the rest of the call. I’m ashamed to say that I dismissed the call to pray as not enough. I wanted more. I needed more. There must be something for me to do. I already prayed and prayed a lot, so this was not the call I was expecting. That sounds ridiculous to me now, so I suppose that indicates I am making some progress.
Darkness is necessary in order to appreciate light. That was clear to me as I sat in the dark last night writing by candlelight. I pray I will always remember the importance of Christ’s light as I navigate the darkness of this world. When all is sunny and bright, I must also remember to light a candle of prayer. In fact, it is never more important to light a candle of prayer than in the midst of the bright lights this world offers in its attempt to imitate Christ’s beautiful light.
I huddled near my candle in the dark and listened to the wind howl as I’ve never heard it before. I have to admit here that the comedian in me so wanted to start with, “It was a dark and stormy night….,” but I resisted the temptation:) The darkness, harsh winds and driving rain forced me to be still and listen. I didn’t venture back to the church for the evening meal last night, but I did get out my laptop and listen to “Resurrection Living” from May 2011. Pastor John and I talked earlier this week about the upcoming message in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 on resurrection, and I remembered the powerful message from 1 Peter 3 on the subject. I’m so thankful my battery lasted until I finished the message because it was just what I needed.
Here is the beautiful message:
1 Peter 3:13-22
May 29, 2011 John Alden Tagliarini
“Memorial Day, which falls on the last Monday of May, honors the men and women who died while serving in the American military. Originally known as Decoration Day, it originated in the years following the Civil War and became an official federal holiday in 1971. Many Americans observe Memorial Day by visiting cemeteries or memorials, holding family gatherings and participating in parades. Unofficially, at least, it marks the beginning of summer. In 2011, Memorial Day is observed on Monday, May 30” (http://www.history.com/topics/memorial-day-history).
Five weeks ago we celebrated Easter, the resurrection of our Lord. We say we serve a living Lord. That Jesus lives within our hearts, we sing with gusto. Through the resurrection of Jesus, God challenges us to bold, fearless, faithful living.
However, as we celebrate this sixth Sunday of the Easter season, our text from 1 Peter centers on an obvious truth. There is one prerequisite to resurrection, death. Way before our Civil War, before our first Memorial Day was ever conceived, God memorialized the death of His Son by raising Him from the dead.
The deaths of our loved ones in war and conflict makes possible our freedom and calls us to responsible living which honors their sacrifices. The death of Jesus frees us from the power of death and calls us to live with clear consciences. Let us hear the scripture. [1 Peter 3:13-22]
“For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18).
Our path to God requires a living Savior, but resurrection required Jesus to die.The righteous death of Jesus places in perspective any suffering befalling us when instead of doing what is wrong, we are doing what is right. God saves us to resurrection living as defined by the death of Jesus.What difference does the death and resurrection of Jesus make to us today?
First, with Christ as Lord, God blesses our sufferings as witness.The first question Peter asked was designed to encourage us. If we are “zealous for what is good” (13), why would anyone want to hurt us. “Who is there to harm you?” (13), Peter asked. However, as quickly as he asked the question, Peter turned to the realities we all face. Sometimes people do bad things to good people.
Admitting the real prospect of suffering “for the sake of righteousness” (14), Peter says plainly, in suffering “you are blessed” (14). And he urges believers not to fear what the world can do to them.In light of suffering for the sake of righteousness, Peter advises believers to “sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts” (15). Remember, set apart in the center of your will, Jesus Christ as Lord.
We tend to suggest forming a political action committee or writing to congress. Peter recommends that we remember who is boss of our lives.Who runs your life? At whose beck and call do you turn and fall? Neither job nor family nor hobby nor even church should exercise lordship in your life. Neither should fear of harm rule your life and drive your decisions. Deliberately setting Jesus apart in the center of our wills, we listen and heed His guidance, and we draw strength from His presence.
With Jesus as Lord of our lives and in the face of difficult times, God enables us to answer anyone who asks us why and how we do what we do as Christians. The problem with this statement is that too often it falls flat at the feet of Christians who fail to find the words. What would you say to someone who asked you at lunch to describe your hope?
Or, our witness of hope is co-opted by Christians who fail to follow the rest of the verse, “to give an account . . . with gentleness and reverence” (15). They describe their hope. These, who claim to speak for God, rant about how they hope that God will smash the sinful.
The failure of the feeble is as bad as the failure of the forceful. We need to step up to the plate of witness with home-runs of godly behavior and speech. God will take care of those who oppose His will and word. He will see to their shame, let us see to our good conscience. Our answers to the curious celebrate our hope. Our answers are not to condemn the worldʼs despair. In the balance of things, Peter tells us, “It is better . . . to suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong” (17), and all this hinges on the next statement. For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust” (18). You see, our suffering is always measured against the suffering of Christ.
When you think the world is mistreating you, and you simply want to eat worms and die, first be sure your suffering is for the sake of righteousness, then compare your journey to Jesus and His cross. How does that feel now?
With Christ as Lord, God blesses our sufferings as witness. Second, in Christ, God brings us safely to Himself. As Peter brings Noah into the discussion, these two verses (19-20), raise more questions than they answer. I have neither the time nor the inclination to chase any of those rabbits. If we keep the passage in the context of encouragement to believers, who are under attack from the world, we should come to an understanding.
As encouragement, this example does not focus on the spirits in prison, it focusses on the salvation of Noah.Our popular traditions say that Noah was ridiculed and even persecuted for building an ark and proclaiming judgment, but the Bible does not make that point, no matter how probable its truth.
The work of Jesus is of one who suffered for our redemption. The example of Noah is of one whose conscience was clear. “Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord . . . Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God” (Gen 6:8, 9). After patiently waiting, God saved and judged as “eight persons, were brought safely through the water” (1 Pet 3:20).
The example of Noah confirms how God dealt in the past with someone whose conscience was clear and affirms what Jesus is doing for us in the present. As the just for the unjust, in His death and resurrection, Jesus brings us to God, just as God did with Noah.This begs the question of what God does about our unjust consciences. The answer my friends is the good news, the Gospel. Somehow in Jesus, dying “for sins once for all, the just for the unjust . . . put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit” (18), God completes the process of forgiveness. Forgiveness: God absorbing in Himself the pain and wrath of not retaliating against our evil.
This process of forgiveness led Jesus to the cross. By divine power, God raised Jesus from the dead. In the ultimate expression of forgiveness, resurrection puts Jesus back in touch with the world which crucified Him. In Jesus Christ, God, personally, offers to forgive us. Through this forgiveness we can “appeal to God for a good conscience” (21). What difference does the death and resurrection of Jesus make to us today? With Christ as Lord, God blesses our sufferings as witness. We witness to our hope with gentle and reverent words of life. In Christ, God brings us safely to Himself. Our patient God saved Noah who found favor in His sight.
We trust the work of Christ to bring us to God. In response to this grace, we are encouraged to live in good conscience regarding all our dealings with the world.Finally, through our baptism into Christ, God affirms our good conscience. Christ rules the universe with ultimate power. Angels, authorities, powers which might cause us fear and suffering are under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, our Lord. With all authority given to Jesus, He offers to forgive us. Through the resurrection of Jesus, baptism confirms our appeal. We too come through waters that would leave us dead to “walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:4).
Life today provides many ways for us to satisfy, and protect, and to care for ourselves. With Jesus as Lord, and in light of His death on the cross, and “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (21), God saves us to resurrection living. Since the resurrected Christ Jesus died for us:
“Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts” (15). Trust the atoning death of Jesus to bring you to God. Clear your conscience by accepting the forgiveness of God. Would you be willing to live like this?
(I appreciate Pastor John’s willingness to share God’s messages as they give me the desire to draw near to God)
In my study of 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 this week, I was shocked that some Christians don’t believe the resurrection actually took place. I can’t imagine leaving out that part of the story of Christ, but it’s done. Amazing! When I don’t live a resurrection life, I act as though I don’t believe it either. So, I better resist any temptations to toss rocks:) Without resurrection, Christ stays in the grave. Without faith, my praying life does the same.
The praying life is a resurrection life that provides evidence to the world that Christ is who He says He is, and His love is for all. Christ’s precious love is indeed the most precious thing on earth and in heaven. I always wonder what the angels must make of us and the way we deal with that precious gift. I let too much get in the way when it comes to hearing God’s message for me, embracing the love and forgiveness Christ offers, and letting the Holy Spirit do God’s work through me.
Since I’ve moved to the mountaintop, I haven’t had television. I have a pair of rabbit ears that help me get the closest local station with a lot of static, but I don’t have the wide selection of stations I had before. I turn on the TV if bad weather is coming or some big news event is taking place, but it’s a struggle to piece together the information from the broken signal. God reminded me last night that He feels the same way when listening to my prayers:)
The lessons on praying have come in the midst of a terrible storm, so I had no trouble praying, focusing, or listening to God. I pray I will have the same attention when things are bright, sunny, and filled with the busyness of my doing. That is the first and most important lesson when it comes to living a resurrection life and keeping to the path that leads to the praying life.
I’m ready to put God’s to-do list away and pray in a way that brings the sweet peace of His Holy Spirit’s indwelling. Jesus didn’t leave me alone, and that brings peace in the darkest storm. Last night, as the kids huddled together, I thought of how power outages have the tendency to pull us together. That calms the soul and lifts the spirit. I don’t know where the lessons will lead, but I do know they are off to an powerful start! Amazing what God can do with a storm, a power outage, and a little prayer candle.
As I Live and Breathe (February 1, 2013)
Prayer is so much more than I ever imagined it to be. I’ve read many wonderful books about praying by those who have beautiful connections to God. My favorite is the simple book “If You Will Ask” by Oswald Chambers, but “The Only Necessary Thing” by Henri Nouwen also touches my heart as does his “Way of the Heart.” When it comes to praying, I’m learning that Christ’s life is the praying life to follow. He sits at His Father’s side and prays for me without ceasing. That’s a praying life. He slept peacefully during the storms He faced on earth because He knew His Father was never far from His side. That’s a praying life. He lived and breathed prayer. A praying life is deep love and complete trust in God.
As I listened to the wind howling and tossing objects about last night, my spirit was at peace. I let God’s love wash over me and asked His Holy Spirit to be like that wind and take all from me that wasn’t what God desired. He helped me recognize and name each obstacle. Judgment, anger, frustration, and selfishness were swept away in His mighty rushing presence as I acknowledged each. I let go of resentment and past hurts. Love doesn’t keep an accounting of wrong doing were the words I heard clearly. I felt a warm sense of peace as the furnace kicked on and warm air brushed my face. I smiled and breathed in God’s loving presence in that moment. Praying brings me into His presence whether the wind is howling or a soft, warm breeze.
As I live and breathe in His Spirit, the cold north wind may topple my body, but His warm indwelling takes me out of myself and on to the path that leads to a praying life. Dr. Sophia Steibel helped me see the importance of having a praying life as opposed to a life of prayer. Love and prayer are things I talk about very often, but living them out in the way God desires changes me in a beautiful way. Irene Padgett showed me the sweet face a life of intercessory prayer. Ann Voskamp reminds me that I can have a Christian lingo without a Christian life. John Tagliarini is a dear friend and prayer partner who nudges, picks me up, dusts me off, and helps me see the beautiful effects of a non anxious loving presence. That helps me walk in God’s kingdom now. I thank God each day for those He places in my path to help me draw nearer to Him. Hand-in-hand is the way to walk in God’s kingdom, and the path to the praying life is best when traveled together.
Stillness (February 2, 2013)
The snow started falling around noon as predicted today, and it has been falling for four hours now. The girls got up from their nap and were thrilled, especially Lillyann. She yelled for mommy to come downstairs and see the snow after yelling, “Oooh! There’s a lot of it now!” Together, we got the girls in snowsuits, coats, etc., and they headed to Meme and Pepe’s to sled:) They were so cute heading down the driveway. Mylah plopped back on Lillyann which shocked her at first, but she quickly decided it was much warmer with her baby sister on top of her. It was pouring snow, and Mylah was doing a great job of keeping her dry:)
I opted to take photos and drink hot chocolate, a sure sign of my age! I love the snow and plan to go back out for a walk when it stops falling, but I gave up sledding years ago. Snow brings out the kid in me. Worries about not being able to do what I normally don’t matter when I see the transformation that occurs as white covers everything making even the mud beautiful. It’s a lot like Christ’s love except for the coldness:)
I’m learning that the praying life is a life of stillness in the storm and warmth in the cold. It’s been a week of high winds, power outages, and snow. All have been the perfect backdrop for God’s lessons in praying. Whether the imposed stillness of the storms and snow, holding Mylah while she sleeps, or laying beside Lillyann while she falls asleep, the stillness this week has been transforming. I am learning to be still and recognize God’s glory. Praying brings stillness, and that is the foundation for the praying life.
The world is so pure and beautiful right after the snow falls, and I love walking in freshly fallen snow. It amazes me how mundane objects and plants become magical when covered with a blanket of fresh snow. Stillness has the same effect. I don’t always have silence when I pray, but stillness doesn’t require silence. All things come to a stop when I allow the everyday to become an expression of God’s glory.
Decisions, Divisions…(February 3, 2013)
Life is a series of decisions that affect me and all those in my path. Every decision I make either puts me closer to God or further away from Him. It is impossible for me to make decisions that put me nearer to God without the Holy Spirit. The old saying, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” is wise indeed. Doing what I think is best isn’t the way to go. In fact, it most often leads me away from God. I have to listen to God and trust His Spirit when it comes to my decisions. His Spirit helps me obey when I don’t understand. I always understand my good intentions, and they seem perfectly right to me. Satan makes sure of that and encourages me to press on!
Being still before speaking or acting gives time to pray and allows God space in which to work. I have always been a go-getter and a doer, and I can get a lot done in a little time when motivated by those good intentions. The practice of stillness is allowing me to do what God has in mind. I still get much done, but those tiny prayers leave me less frazzled. God has given me many opportunities to practice stillness this week, and I can tell a big difference in those decisions. That’s a big step on the path to a praying life.
A beautiful side effect of the new way of praying is the quality of my sleep. Racing thoughts are gone because they are all about plowing through the day without stopping. Stillness before each decision takes care of those pesky thoughts one at a time throughout the day, and the time of prayer before sleep finishes off any loose ends. I’m finding there aren’t many left at the end of the day even though I’m busier and more connected than ever. God’s lessons are much clearer without all the static, and His Word is alive in my heart in a new and beautiful way.
Decisions will sometimes divide, but the divisions of late have been ones I needed. I have the tendency to make unhealthy connections, but I’m doing better in that regard with the help of the Holy Spirit and honest communion. The battle is always between what I want and what God desires. Selfishness and the desire to please are powerful forces, but they do not hold a candle to God’s love. Seeing Christ’s love in each decision brings a sweet unity with Him that makes each decision a little easier. My praying is most often, “I love you Lord, Thank you God, or Help me Spirit.” Simplicity is best when it comes to praying; the same is true for most things I’m finding:)
A sweet sense of peace comes with each decision that brings me nearer to God. That helps me know I’m going in the right direction and makes this journey a joy:)
The view from my bedroom as I sat and talked with God this evening took my breath away. I didn’t do much talking because His splendor left me speechless. I simply could not stop looking in awe at His amazing handiwork. I love the shafts of light that break through the clouds. I refer to them as ‘God Light,’ and they never cease to capture my complete attention.
When it comes to praying, complete attention causes the worries of the world to dissipate. Being present is what love is all about. Every evening, I’m awestruck by God’s loving presence in the western sky and in the voices of the little ones scurrying about the house. I’m surrounded in a way I’ve never been before, and my heart is loving it. Perhaps I have always been surrounded but have been too preoccupied to notice. As I look at the sun preparing to set before me and hear the sweet sounds above me, I thank God for helping me get to this place. With Him all things are new each and every day. That’s true when it comes to His magnificent light displays in the morning and evening skies, and it’s true for my heart:)
Prayer is Personal (February 4, 2013)
Prayer is very personal, and one size does not fit all. Just as we are all special, so is the way we pray. I’ve looked at models and methods my entire life in an attempt to improve my praying the same way I would look for a diet to improve my health. Praying, like living and loving, is uniquely expressed. I’m sure God is glad about that:) Otherwise, he would be inundated with impersonal rote rituals that would put Him to sleep. It would be like talking to a machine when you need answers or help. Technology is making those standard phone messages a little better, but I know of few things in this world that irritate me more than having to listen to impersonal menus with general answers that leave me wanting more.
When it comes to praying, it is easy to get into ruts that sound like those recordings. It’s like getting forwards in your inbox instead of a personal messages or flyers instead of letters in the mail. Praying is conversing with God, and I don’t have to say a thing for Him to know just how I feel. He knows my heart, but telling Him my deepest desires allows me to see and hear them. Just as talking to a trusted friend helps me hear my heart, talking honestly to God is healing. He knows me better than anyone and loves me more than I am able to grasp.
The most important element of prayer is love. The scriptures last week from 1 Corinthians 13 were about just that. Without love, it doesn’t matter if I fast and stay on my face for forty days. Love is what lifts prayers to God, and love is the foundation upon which the praying life rests. Loving someone is praying for them all the time. It is as involuntary as breathing. Love breathes life to my prayers. It allows me to die to selfish wants even when those wants seem to be right. It’s hard not to pray for all things to be made right, but I know in my heart that all things cannot be perfect. If they were, I wouldn’t learn a thing on this journey.
It is in the sufferings and hurt that I lean upon God. He is always there to get me through the darkness. If all were perfect, I would lose my yearning for His presence. That yearning is the yarn that holds my heart and this world together. Praying connects me to One who understands my heart whether hurting or happy. He cries with me or celebrates with me just as my dear friends do. That connectedness is what prayer is all about, and I’m learning to make holy connections that make this journey a praying life filled with compassion for others and a deeper love of God.
If two roads diverge, I inevitably take the more difficult one. It’s one thing that drove my daddy to distraction. He fussed and fumed from the time I was a toddler until I was grown about my propensity for the difficult. I got frustrated and lost many times as I insisted on doing things the hard way, and that has been especially true when it comes to praying. I take something simply beautiful and turn it into an uphill battle that leaves me spent and worn.
I see the error of my ways, and I know daddy must be grinning from ear to ear. I’ve had several reoccurring dreams in my life. The one about the lake went away after resolving its source, but I’ve also had one involving stairs that returned this morning with a resolution of its own. In past dreams, I’ve been confronted with stairs that either go nowhere or are too frightening for me to try. There are many variations and locations, but the stairs are always at the center of the dream and are a source of fear. I’m not sure what all the dreams might mean, but I understood the one I had this morning.
The dream was very similar to the past dreams in that there were frightening stairs. There were three sets going down. The first set of steps was unstable and led to a dark room; the second set was a beautiful winding staircase, but the steps swung against the wall and collapsed completely each time I tried to step on. The third set was behind me, and I didn’t see them until I turned around in frustration. It was a simple set of three small concrete steps that led down to a paved road which was going right where I wanted to go. It wasn’t hard for me to discern the meaning of the dream. God was clearly showing me that the simple path has always been right there. My daddy tried to tell me the same thing for decades without success.
Praying is about stopping my striving and turning to God. His path is a simple one that leads where my striving isn’t able to take me. I may continue to have dreams of steps that frustrate, but something tells me I won’t be bothered with them anymore. As I got the girls to sleep this afternoon, I thought about how pleasant yesterday and today have been. I always love keeping the girls, but I am usually completely spent by Tuesday nap time. I actually feel better than I ever have and look forward to the days when I have them all day. We eat, play, and love all day long, and I believe I’m actually getting younger. I know I’m getting thinner and stronger:)
Learning to relax has nudged me closer to God and given me the proper perspective when it comes to the girls. I’m taking the simple path with them rather than striving and worrying. Living, loving, and praying are better when I take the simple path. I’m finding it’s the one that leads to the praying life God has in mind for me. His ways are higher than mine because mine are too complicated. He will go with me when I head down the steps into darkness or try to navigate a collapsing staircase, but He much prefers for me to take His steps in the first place:)
Self Gratification and Deprecation
When it comes to self, it doesn’t matter if I focus on the self deprecation to make others laugh or the self gratification that placates me. Both leave me empty in the long run and keep me from walking in God’s kingdom as I should. I twist and play with my hair and have for as long as I can remember. Mylah loves to play with my hair, and when I took her downstairs for her bath last night, she was delighted that my hair was down so she could run her little fingers through it. It’s even more satisfying when she twists it:)
When I found that playing with my hair was a form of self gratification, I was surprised and a little embarrassed. I knew it made me feel better, but I didn’t realize it was considered an activity similar to sucking one’s thumb. I still play with my hair; I just don’t feel bad about it anymore. I do take note if I start to twist it because that usually means that something is troubling my mind or heart. I may be thinking of the day before me, or I may be hurting. That was the case when I went to bed last night.
It was an amazing day yesterday, and the warm sunshine after a week of horrific winds, water, and snow was truly a gift from God. The girls and I played outside for a long time, and I also sat in the sun by the pool. Worship was wonderful, and the singing left my heart soaring. Mylah and Lilly were adorable in the tub as they took their little washcloths and wrapped up little toy fish and sang lullabies to them. I went to bed a very happy Gigi indeed:)
As I prayed, I started twisting my hair. I knew there was something on my heart that needed attention. God helped me find and face the root of my angst, and I relaxed and slept peacefully. The lesson that God had for me in the hair twisting prayer was that much of my conversations with Him and others are about me. It’s okay to go to God when I’m hurting or seek help from a friend, but it isn’t okay for me to be always be the focus of my prayers or conversations. I sawa that my praying and conversing were self gratifying and was humbled by the lesson.
Dying to self is a painful process that leads to greater joy than any form of self gratification found on earth. Those three little concrete steps presented themselves as I left services last night, and I was taken aback when I looked down and saw the steps from my dream. God amazes me when He teaches the obvious with love, and He did just that last night. The steps leading out of the church office where the steps in the dream, and they led out of the building and into the world. I so need the filling and fellowship I get from the church body, but God gently reminded me that I need to take that filling and fellowship out into His world in a way that changes me and it.
I learned at an early age to use self deprecation to get laughs from those around me, and I still have to be mindful not to put myself down when I make mistakes or feel the need to apologize for the way I am. I am learning that who I am is who God made me to be. God is teaching me to love myself, and Dr. Steibel reminded me that we need to love ourselves for God’s sake. That was an amazing lesson during the prayer retreat that I play to remember. Self is an expression of who I am, but I have to make sure I don’t get caught up in gratifying or deprecating because that isn’t what God desires. Praying is personal, and God loves to hear my heart. Like us, He doesn’t enjoy listening to a litany of self-loathing or a rehearsal of my plans and problems. He would rather our conversations be about Christ, how His Holy Spirit is working, and how very much I love Him. He also has a lot to add to that conversation if I will be still and let Him take part in the discussion:)
Whether it’s self gratification or deprecation, it all amounts to being self-centered. That keeps me from drawing nearer to God and to those in my path. Intercessory prayer is a beautiful antidote when I find myself getting too far into myself. Remembering who God is and who I am brings our conversations to a beautiful place of connectedness, and that feels better than anything I’ve ever felt:)
Last night, we looked at Luke 5:1-11 during our evening worship time. It was a powerful message that left me wanting to know how I could reach out as God desires.
“Now it happened that while the crowd was pressing around Him and listening to the word of God, He was standing by the lake of Gennesaret; and He saw two boats lying at the edge of the lake; but the fishermen had gotten out of them and were washing their nets. And He got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little way from the land. And He sat down and began teaching the people from the boat. When He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered and said, “Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but I will do as You say and let down the nets.” When they had done this, they enclosed a great quantity of fish, and their nets began to break; so they signaled to their partners in the other boat for them to come and help them. And they came and filled both of the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesus’ feet, saying, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For amazement had seized him and all his companions because of the catch of fish which they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon,“Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men.” When they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him.”
I am always struck by those scriptures, and last night on my way home, I asked God to help me with my own fishing. I wanted a strategy. I love and appreciate His sense of humor and had to smile as two wet little girls taught an important lesson in witnessing.
Tyler was putting the new dining room table and chairs together, and Gina was at a meeting when I arrived home. The girls were playing and ready for a bath. I took them downstairs and filled the tub. They love to play in the water and have to be wrenched out when they begin to resemble pale raisins:) I put Lilly’s hair up so it wouldn’t get wet, so little Mylah, who will not normally have so much as a tiny clip in her hair, insisted on having her hair put up like Lilly’s. That took some doing as she has very little hair, but I finally got hair up and girls settled down.
They wanted washcloths, so I gave them each a soft little cloth, and they did what they always do with washcloths. They fashioned them into little blankets which they wrapped around two toy fishes in the tub. I wish I had a video of what happened next. They got very serious looks on their faces, rocked the little fish, and began singing lullabies in unison. As I watched them hold and love those toy fish, I realized God was giving me advice on how to fish for Him. Take one fish at a time and love it!
God’s fishing, like His teaching, isn’t like the world’s. I’m thankful for His sweet lessons and for the adorable little teachers whose lesson will stick with me the next time I have the opportunity to go fishing with God. He is love, so the method the girls modeled for me makes a lot of sense:)
Rehashing Regrets and Rehearsing Worries
I spend far too much of my time with God and dear friends rehashing and rehearsing instead of simply listening and loving. If I spend hours a day in prayer or conversations about me, I miss the opportunity to simply love God and those in my path. The result is feeling worse when I finish than when I began. If I stay in those precious moments and hear God’s heart and the hearts of those I hold dear, I leave the moment renewed.
When I let God fill me instead of trying to fill Him in, I end my time with Him feeling full and empty at the same time. It’s a beautiful feeling. I spent too much time yesterday rehashing and rehearsing and let worry keep me from enjoying the precious love before me. The problem with rehashing and rehearsing is both are a senseless waste of time. I miss the beauty of the moment and the love God has for me if I allow the past and the future to interrupt the present.
The praying life embraces God without smothering Him with past regrets or future worries. Prayer, conversations, and time together become precious moments that connect my heart to His and those I love. God used a beautiful sunset to capture and hold my attention this evening. I felt His loving reassurance and forgot about those regrets and worries for a moment. It made me want more, and that is what lovingkindess always does.
I pray that I will enjoy the sweet moments of love God places in the path and see them as the beautiful gifts He intends for them to be. I’m eating Belgian Chocolate Gelato as the sun finishes setting and listening to the distant chatter of two delightful little girls. I’m practicing savoring and loving every moment:)
“Speak Low if you Speak Love”
In Shakespeare’s play “Much Ado About Nothing,” Don Pedro says to Hero, “Speak low if you speak love.” God placed the same thought in my heart this morning. Don Pedro is bidding Hero to lower his voice, and it’s sound advice to all who speak of love. Love is serious and lowering the voice is an indication of the importance of the subject at hand. Valentine’s Day is coming up, and I have to laugh as I think of the way love is distorted and twisted on a day set aside to honor it. It reminds me of Santa Claus and Christmas. The intentions are great, but love gets lost in both translations:)
God also reminded me of a favorite poet and poem this morning. I used to have my students memorize “A Word is Dead” by Emily Dickinson to help them remember the power of a word spoken.
A Word is Dead
A word is dead when it is said some say.
I say it just begins to live that day.
Pastor John reminded me this week that the message from 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 is about the way we speak. I hadn’t thought of those passages in that way before, but his message and God’s lesson this morning helped me see the importance of the way we speak about love. I breathe life into each word I speak, and those words take on the life I give to them. So, I should heed the words of Don Pedro in “Much Ado About Nothing” and speak softly and seriously when I speak love. My heart is deeply touched with a tender “I love you” whispered softly in my ear. There is nothing more precious than hearing that Christ’s precious love is for me, and it is best to speak softly when I speak of His love to others.
Valentine’s Day becomes much like Christmas Day as we lose the meaning of both occasions in what becomes a contest of who gets the most and has the best. The irony is that both St. Valentine and St. Nicholas were humble men with extraordinary meekness who would literally shudder to think of how their names are misused today. This Valentine’s Day, try speaking low when you speak love. True love needs nothing more, and try the same strategy in your witness of Christ’s love to the world. Turning the volume down and using fewer words helps me love and pray like Him.
Temptation (February 10, 2013)
When Satan tells me what I want to hear,
When he says it’s best for those who are dear,
When I’m at the end of my rope,
When he offers a ray of hope,
When I am divided and filled with fear,
When I can’t feel God’s presence coming near,
When I breath in the Spirit’s breath,
When I stop and think of Christ’s death,
When I open my heart and ears,
When I take a look at my fears,
When I remember Who God is,
When I remember I am His,
Obeying, not Just Saying (February 11, 2013)
God’s Word in our greatest defense against the forces of evil in this world. And when it comes to that defense, I cannot be just saying His Word. I have to be obeying. The scriptures this week took me to the wilderness where Jesus comes face to face with those temptations. A forty-day fast left him famished, so the first temptation is, as is often for me, to eat! Jesus teaches a beautiful lesson in that He was filled with the Holy Spirit, follows His lead, and obeys His Father’s Words. Hear the Word of God.
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led around by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And He ate nothing during those days, and when they had ended, He became hungry. And the devil said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”
And he led Him up and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, “I will give You all this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore if You worship before me, it shall all be Yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.’”And he led Him to Jerusalem and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here; for it is written, He will command His angels concerning You to guard You,’and, On their hands they will bear You up, So that You will not strike Your foot against a stone.’”And Jesus answered and said to him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”When the devil had finished every temptation, he left Him until an opportune time. Luke 4:1-14 NASB
I need to be mindful as I travel in the dangerous territory of the wilderness that Satan knows God’s Word better than I do. He uses God’s Word to his advantage, but the big beautiful difference between Jesus and Satan when it comes to God’s Word is that Satan is just saying it, but Christ is obeying it. It isn’t enough to memorize and quote scriptures to others along the way, and knowing His Word does not ensure safety along the path.
Obedience is our only defense against temptation. It is the only defensive weapon mentioned in that set of armor in Ephesians, and it must be wielded as Christ wielded it, gently in total obedience. I tried to do battle on my own yesterday as Satan convinced me to run. He had me believing it was best for me and for those I love dearly. I was worn and torn by the time I got home from morning worship because I had been doing God’s job instead of my own. Winning the battle is what Jesus did on the cross, so I don’t have to fight that battle each time I’m tempted. Thanks be to God!
I must hide God’s Word in my heart and let it be a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Psalm 119:105-112 reminds me of the importance of obedience. I often don’t go past 105, but I should. Hear again the Word of God.
“Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path. I have sworn and I will confirm it, That I will keep Your righteous ordinances. I am exceedingly afflicted; Revive me, O Lord, according to Your word. O accept the freewill offerings of my mouth, O Lord, And teach me Your ordinances. My life is continually in my hand, Yet I do not forget Your law The wicked have laid a snare for me, Yet I have not gone astray from Your precepts. I have inherited Your testimonies forever, For they are the joy of my heart. I have inclined my heart to perform Your statutes Forever, even to the end.” NASB
Remembering that God’s precepts are indeed the joy of my heart puts obedience in its proper light. I cannot simply obey out of obligation. I hide His Words in my heart, not in rote memorization like a concealed weapon but rather as a precious memento of His unfailing love for me. I obey God’s Word to find His joy and sweet peace. I slept like a baby last night after a twenty-four hour bout with the tempter. God reminded me when I was face down on the mat in tears that I didn’t have to fight His battles for Him. He also reminded me that He wasn’t going to force me to obey. Obedience, like love, is a choice. Both lead me to a beautiful place of peace that opens the path to the praying life a little wider:)
The Sin of Seriousness (February 12, 2013)
The sin of seriousness is very serious indeed. It is not only accepted, but those who take themselves seriously are often seen as saints. I’ve taken myself far too seriously for far too long, but God gave me a wake-up call this week. I’ve seen the path to God’s presence as a path of piety, and it most certainly is about being devout and taking God seriously. The problem with piety is that it can lead to a pious attitude of moralizing which can quickly become hypocrisy when seriousness is directed inward.
When simplicity in worship is replaced with self-centered seriousness, God is lost in the shuffle. Sweet silence and time in prayer is lost in activities which put personal agendas ahead of God’s. The first worship services took place in the homes of believers who shared communion and prayer together so they would not forget the cost of their salvation. Now, it’s difficult to see God in all the busyness church has become. Pastor John often talks about the difference between an organization and an organism when it comes to church. The body of Christ is an organism, but it so often resembles an organization or a club. Exclusivity is as big a problem as is trying to please everyone.
Reading God’s Word and praying together is at the heart of worship. Music is also important for me, but only when it complements and doesn’t drown out or draw my attention away from praying and hearing God. I love to hear beautiful music, but I also like to hear the sweet silence of God’s people turning their hearts toward Him in unison. As we took communion on Sunday, I found myself wanting silence in the moment which is a time of profound seriousness to me. The organ music was intruding that silence, and I was irritated. I suppose my need for silence caused as big a distraction in my heart as the organ music did in my ears. Inner silence doesn’t need outer silence, so I know the problem was in me not in the volume of the organ:)
When I find myself judging or criticizing, I know I’m heading into dangerous territory. God always gives me a very vivid reminder of my own humanity to remind me not to take myself so seriously and to give me a dose of humility which is the only antidote when piety turns into hypocrisy:) The good news is that the lesson was a funny one that gave me a chuckle. The lesson itself was a serious one that reminded me that the only things about myself I need to take seriously are my sins and the price Christ paid so I could be forgiven of them. I know that was at the heart of my angst during communion.
It’s easier to look for excuses in the form of music playing too loudly or not loudly enough, ministers who don’t say what I want to hear, uncomfortable seating, not enough activities, too many activities, and on and on when it comes to problems with my worship. The heart of my worship is my heart, so when I am uncomfortable, I need to look in it instead of elsewhere to find the source of the distraction. When I find it and take it seriously, then I can worship with an undivided heart as God desires. Love is about unity, and what doesn’t unite me to God and Christ’s body will surely divide more than just my attention.
A Little Levity Goes a Long Way:) (February 13, 2013)
A sweet friend reminded me yesterday that “A little levity does the heart good.” I agree and am learning that a levity lightens the load when I go to God in prayer. God’s lesson this morning was about the power of a little laugh to lift my spirit and remind me that seriousness has its place. He appreciates humor and uses it to teach because He knows I retain much more information when humor is involved. I thank God for His sense of humor because it also brings levity just when I need it. God has an amazing sense of humor. If you don’t believe me, look in the mirror:)
I often drag my worries to God in prayer rather than running to Him in delight. Wednesday mornings are special in that I get to sleep in. After fourteen hours with the girls on Tuesdays, I’m usually ready for sleep as soon as I get them settled in. Last night was no exception, and I awoke this morning after eleven hours of beautiful sleep. Playing with children is the best sleep aid ever!! I was sad as I looked at the clock thinking I missed the girls bounding in say good morning. I was sure they had been up for a at least an hour. I’d rather hear their squeals of delight than have the extra sleep, but I also appreciated mama’s desire to let me sleep in.
Just as I was having that thought, I heard the sound of incoming squeals and sat up in bed. I told Lillyann that I thought she had forgotten me, and she jumped in bed with me and gave me a big hug. Little Mylah had stopped off to get her baby doll and carriage, but she came in with a grin from ear to ear and a story to tell. Mama came in smiling behind them. Things were as good as they get, and I truly loved and savored each moment.
God used the girls to remind me that my prayers should be just like those little ones coming to my room each morning. We had decided early on that my bedroom would be a refuge and place of peace away from everything. I laugh as I type that now because that was what we all thought would be best as we learned to live together. What we have found is just the opposite, but having it be an off limits place earlier makes it all the more delightful for them and me now. The girls love to come in and look around. Mylah always goes straight to mama’s picture and carries it around with her. I find it in the strangest places and know mama would be tickled to see her fascination with the photo:)
God’s presence is an off limits place until Jesus opens the door and gives me access. What I find when I go into His presence is the awe the little girls have when they come into to Gigi’s room. What I am learning about His sweet presence is that He delights in my coming in as much as I delight in having Lillyann and Mylah come into my room. There is nothing I like better than having them come in and crawl into bed with me. I am learning to be like the girls and come into His presence as they come into mine with delight and complete abandon.
The girls come to me when they are hurting and tired, and they come pleading for something they cannot have. I love them all the same and hold them, rock them, or tell them no with love. My Father in heaven does the same. I cry at times when I don’t get my way, and I have even look at Him with tears and ask, “Don’t you love me?” We all know how that breaks our hearts, and it breaks His too. There are times when I’m angry with Him and argue throughout an entire night or day. There was even a dark time when I turned from Him in shame and stayed away for decades.
Every morning cannot be filled with squeals, and much of my praying is for those who are hurting deeply. I am thankful for the times of levity that lift my spirit, and that squeal of delight is what love is all about. Whether I squeal, sob, sigh, or scream, God loves me all the same. That’s the beauty of God, moms, dads, dear friends, and Gigi’s; they love you no matter what, and that causes me to go to God as I would with them with joy knowing that it’s safe to say what’s on my heart. A little levity goes a long way in helping me not take myself too seriously, and it is changing the way I pray. I’m sure God breathes a sigh of relief when He hears my squeals of delight just as I do when those dear little girls converge on me every morning. What a sweet wake up call and beautiful lesson on the praying life:)
It’s not perfection and piety God desires to see
Holiness and humility will bring me to my knee.
Levity is also there and will set my spirit free:)
The Measure of My Treasure (February 14, 2013)
When it comes to love, time is the measure of my treasure. There is nothing sweeter than time with those I love, and nothing more heartbreaking than not having time together. Time is relative and in limited supply, so I turn to gifts to fill the empty space. Those presents are wonderful and easy, but they do not replace a sweet moment of sincere and heartfelt love.
Being present in an honest and loving way is how Christ loves. The Holy Spirit waits patiently for me to take note of His love. God longs for me to embrace His love now and understand that He will always love me. I’ve been in relationships with rooms filled with flowers and chocolates, but my heart was empty. God needs only time and space when it comes to love, and I plan to give Him both during this season of Lent. Isaiah 58 taught me just that last night. What I most need to give up during Lent is space in my heart for God’s love.
Valentine’s Day has always left me feeling alone and unloved. I mostly stayed indoors to avoid all the hype and showy displays. I’ve had more than my share of pity parties on Valentine’s Day and usually cried myself to sleep. I plan to spend this evening in the arms of two adorable little girls who love me very much while mommy and daddy have some time together. I love that I can give the gift of time on a day like today:)
God’s measure of love has to do with treasure and time. Matthew 6:21 says it simply, “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”Those words cut straight to the heart of love. My heart is where my treasure is, and the best way to measure my treasure is to see how my time is spent. Last night, I realized that too much of my time is wasted on what if’s and why not’s and not enough goes into what is. I miss the love God has in my path when I pine away for what I don’t have. The most beautiful expression of love is time together. It lets me know I’m cherished, and that is how love should feel.
The biggest blessing of my new living arrangement is having time I have with those I love. I have quality time and lots of it! That is what love is all about, and I’m learning to embrace the love God puts in my path and thank Him for each moment. When there is no time, there is no treasure. When there is no treasure, there is no love. Those are difficult words to hear when it comes to love. I’ve come to know what love is and isn’t, and the lessons in love, and the lessons in praying are exactly the same-Take time!! When I take time to pray, I am taking time to love God. When I take time with those I love, it’s clear to see where my heart and treasure are.
Hard to Say:) (February 15)
Mylah is adorable when she gets too excited to get her words out. This morning, when she first woke up, she really wanted to tell me about something, perhaps a dream. I didn’t understand a word she was saying, but I delighted in each syllable. She has so much she wants to say, and my heart goes out to her. I’m thankful God has the same attitude with me when I can’t find the words to speak my heart to Him.
Lillyann, Mylah, Tyler, and Gina went to see Yo Gabba Live this afternoon, so I was alone this afternoon. It was deafeningly quiet! I find it hard to write in the quiet but much easier with the sweet sounds of the girl’s laughter all around me. I talked to Cookie and Matza as I fed them earlier in an attempt to fill the empty space. Nothing fills the empty spaces in my heart better than praying, and I did a lot of that today too. Praying empties and fills me at the same time if I let go of my list and sit with God.
When praying, I’m sometimes like Mylah when she’s too excited to talk. The beauty of prayer is that I don’t have to get the words out because God already knows my heart. I’m learning that the less I say, the better. I savor moments of connection and was privileged to have a sweet moment with a dear friend yesterday as we heard one another’s hearts without words.
I have a long way to go before I live the praying life God has in mind for me, but yesterday’s sweet lesson reminded me that love speaks volumes without a single word. Love is the heart of prayer, and prayers without words are the most powerful ones. Love is best felt in a look or gentle touch, but my words get tangled up the way dear Mylah’s do when I want to say what is hard to say. That’s when I have to stop, be still, and let love speak for itself. God is love, and He knows just what to say if I let Him do the explaining.
The girls just got in from the show. Mylah was tired and at a loss for words and didn’t even try to talk. She did, however, have a sweet grin on her face. Lillyann was worn out too, but she managed to tell me that she got to touch DJ Lance!! Tyler said they stayed right up front and danced the whole time. So much for Mylah being scared by the noise and lights:) So glad to have them home, and I love hearing the house come back to life with their little chatter. God loves my little chatter too, but He doesn’t need for me to say a word to know exactly what’s on my heart and mind. Telling Him is about my need to hear:)
To Be Honest (February 16)
When I see “tbh” in my newsfeed on facebook, I have to smile. On Thursday morning, a friend described “to be honest” as fishing for compliments. I agree and think “tmwiwth” might be more appropriate. “Tell me what I want to hear” is at the heart of the shout out to others, and it is also at the heart of my cries to God. This morning, God’s lesson was about coming into His presence with a true “tbh” heart. The lesson was sobering, to say the least. My heart is never ready for God’s honesty or the honesty of loving friends when I have a “tell me what I want to hear” attitude.
The noisiness in my heart comes from Satan telling me what I want to hear and me chiming in and chattering right along. It’s very similar to those conversations I have when someone hits a raw nerve, and we both start telling each other what we want to hear. Seeking validation is easier than searching for the truth, and the resulting conversation is cacophony at it’s very best. I leave those noisy conversations having much more faith in myself as the truth fades into the background; but just as junk food leaves me hungry, so do conversations filled with what I want to hear.
A true “to be honest” is the most difficult of all conversations, and it takes my praying life to a whole new level. The truth is beautiful and will set me free, but it is a two-edged sword that cuts to the very center of my heart. La La Land is anywhere truth is avoided, and I’ve lived in many versions of it for too much of my life. Avoiding the truth keeps me from hearing, and faith is forfeited in the process. My faith depends upon hearing, and walking in God’s kingdom depends upon heeding. I cannot get to the truth unless I begin my prayers and conversations with a sincere “tbh.”
Honesty isn’t about judging, and I’m not saying that it’s up to me to tell others the truth. I do need to be honest, but God is more concerned with my hearing His truth than with my straightening out the world. Some folks feel it’s their calling to make sure they tell others what they should and should not be doing. God forbid that I do that. I’m guilty of judging far too often, and I have come to realize it’s a great indication that I’m avoiding the truth in my own life. When I find myself in those negative conversations or judging, I know it is time for a “tbh” with God.
It is vital that I say and hear the truth with love. Without love, the truth is a battering ram that knocks the breath out of me and breaks my heart. Satan uses that battering ram very well and even disguises himself as God the Smiter! I felt that smiting this morning, but God’s voice was there when the din subsided. He gently asked if those were terms I thought He would use to describe me. I knew they were not. He went on to tell me the beautiful truth that I am His daughter and He loves me. After my heart settled down, He told me the truth I needed to hear with love. Satan takes a tiny bit of truth and runs with it in his direction hoping to get me to follow along. God speaks the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, with love. Then, He picks me up, dusts me off, gives me a sweet embrace, and points me in His direction:
Testing…Testing….1,2,3? (February 17)
Luke 4:1-13 offers the sweet reassurance that Christ passed all the tests the world and Satan put before Him. Hear God’s Word.
“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led around by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And He ate nothing during those days, and when they had ended, He became hungry. And the devil said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”And he led Him up and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, “I will give You all this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore if You worship before me, it shall all be Yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.’”And he led Him to Jerusalem and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here; for it is written,‘He will command His angels concerning You to guard You,’and, ‘On their hands they will bear You up, So that You will not strike Your foot against a stone.’”And Jesus answered and said to him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”When the devil had finished every temptation, he left Him until an opportune time.” NASB
It’s appropriate for this week’s lessons to be about temptation with this scripture in the path. God’s tests are never easy because He knows just what I need just when I need it. The good news is that they are never too difficult for me to pass with the help of His Holy Spirit. The teachers in this world don’t encourage assistance, but God insists upon it. When I attempt to follow Him alone, I fail. When I allow the Holy Spirit to help and keep me accountable, I am able to pass the tests before me. God’s ways and the world’s ways are different indeed, and that is never more obvious than with the lessons in temptation.
Temptation is a necessary part of my spiritual growth. Without it, I am a lukewarm Christian at best and a pious hypocrite at worst. I not saying to look for temptation, but when it appears, I must face it. I have to be tested, but the passage today makes it clear that God is never to be tested. When I test Him, He reminds me of Who He is and Who I am not. Those are lessons not easily forgotten, and I have had more than my share of them. I’m learning to go to God in earnest, honest supplication when I find myself in the throes of temptation. He sees what I do not and helps me find His truth. It’s never what I expect but always what I need.
I’m humbled by God’s lessons this week and thankful for His patience and love. Temptations are great for humbling, and they bring me to God’s presence with the proper attitude by reminding me that I am not only human but also a sinner. Knowing that brought me to the place of accepting His love 48 years ago, and God reminded me of that special time this morning in worship. He bid me to remember that special moment when I first realized I needed Him and know that I need Him all the more now:)
Remember When? (February 19)
At worship on Sunday morning, I was asked to remember the time I first fell in love with Christ. My heart immediately went back to April 1964. I understood that Christ loved me enough to die for me, and that I could love Him back. My journey has taken me away from that precious love before, and I remembered that yesterday as I found myself unable to pray or write. It is a terrible state which reminds me of hell. Hell is separation from God, and I had a bitter taste of that yesterday as I wallowed in self pity.
I’m thankful my separation from Him was only for a day, and I thank God for reminding me of the time when we fell in love. I found myself thinking of the times I had fallen in love. There are only three, but I could only recall specific moments and dates for one when it came to falling in love. It was the most recent so perhaps that was why I could recall, or perhaps it is because it was true love. Whatever the reason, it brought sadness and joy as I recalled. I’m thankful for the sweet feeling it brought my heart, and I loved reliving it. My heart filled with excruciating pain when I recalled when I knew it was forever lost to me. Losing it was a taste of hell just as finding it had been a taste of heaven. I don’t know if I will ever find true love again. Perhaps you can find that level only once in this life. I’m not sure I want to take my heart to through that level of pain again, but I know God will lead me when it comes to love.
At the end of the service on Sunday, the invitation was to think again about that time I fell in love and accepted Christ’s love as my own. I do remember when, and I thank God that I have His love forever. Recalling the painful ending of love was a sobering reminder that I am the only one who can end my relationship with Christ. I know I can turn from Him because I’ve done that before, and I do not plan to ever do that again. My day away from Him yesterday was interminable as I found myself alone in that terrible desert.
God taught a beautiful lesson and brought much healing as I remembered when. Remembering when I met and fell in love with Him puts all into perspective, and I marvel at how He gave me just what I needed just when I needed it. His love transcends and transforms in ways. There is joy as I remember my salvation, and that is a beautiful hope in Psalm 51.
Hear God’s love and healing in verses 10-12.
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from Your presence And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation And sustain me with a willing spirit.”NASB
Under His Wings (February 21)
When I’m feeling lost or disconnected, Psalm 91:4 comforts with a beautiful image of being tucked lovingly under the very top of God’s wing. I wish I could find the photo a friend sent me years ago of a mother hen with a tiny little peep literally peeping out from under the top of her wing. I could barely see the fuzzy yellow head, but I knew that little chick was safe and loved. God has me right where that mama hen had her precious chick, and it’s a wonderful feeling.
Psalm 91:4 “He will cover you with His pinions, And under His wings you may seek refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark.”
Last night, I was feeling as disconnected as I’ve ever felt in my life, and I desperately needed the shelter of God’s wings. When I stopped wiggling, He tucked me safely under His wing until my heart settled. It’s funny how my perspective changes when I’m under that loving wing. I cannot stay underneath His powerful wing all the time because then I would never grow or learn what He desires, but it is comforting beyond belief to know that His wing is there when I need refuge or a respite.
I am empowered by the rest God so graciously gives, and I also love that He knows when to tuck me under that wing and when to let me wiggle and run in circles. Both are great exercise that tire me out and get me ready for the sweet tucking in:)
My Whole Heart (February 21)
I love with my whole heart and always have. I cannot imagine loving any other way. I got the courage to love again five years after my divorce, and my heart was broken. Tyler held me and told me that the way I love is the right way to love and not to stop because of my hurt. Those words came back to me this evening as I spoke to a friend who was hurting deeply. I realized after our conversation ended that I needed the advice myself. I give great advice and tell the truth with love, but I have a hard time hearing that truth and following the advice myself. I told her that loving with your whole heart is the right way, but it is also a very painful way to love.
I could feel her pain across the distance. It’s what love does to hearts, and I thank God for the way I love. Hurt and love go together, but never in an abusive way. When I love, I am going to hurt when those I love hurt, when they don’t love me back, or when I cannot be with them. God loves with His whole heart and is heartbroken every moment of every day when His love isn’t returned or when He is loved with a divided heart.
A divided heart isn’t capable of loving as God desires. He is a jealous God, and I can relate. Being loved when it’s convenient or when no one is looking is worse than not being loved at all. It’s a connection that leads to a very deep and empty hurt. God wants all or nothing, and I agree whole heartedly:) Love and multitasking will never go together, and shared hearts go against the very nature of love. Seeing the one you love with someone else is a pain unlike any other, and God understands it better than anyone. Like Tyler, He holds and bids me to keep loving with my whole heart and accept nothing less in return.
It’s Easier to Just Talk (February 23)
It’s much easier to talk than listen, and I’ve talked more than I’ve listened throughout my life. The need to fill empty space and the fear of what I will hear if I stop talking are at the root of my chattering. There was a popular doll named Chatty Cathy when I was young, so I ended up with the nickname myself because of my constant babbling. I noticed a difference in my praying this week as I stopped talking and heard God’s voice in the space I left unfilled.
I decided to give up space to God for Lent this year. I was having a hard time being still until I came to the place of not knowing what to say this week. It wasn’t the same as being dumbfounded; I’ve been there many times. This was coming to a place of decision and not knowing what to do or say. When lost, it’s much easier to listen to directions. As I heard God saying what He’s been saying for a long while, I knew He would let me continue down my path if I wanted. I do that most of the time, but I was tired and lost and ready to hear what He had to say.
It’s easier to talk when it comes to praying for the same reason it’s easier to talk period. If I talk, I won’t run the risk of hearing what I don’t want to hear. If I talk, I might convince myself that my path is the right one. If I talk eloquently enough, I might just convince God. Well, that’s as silly as it sounds and never works. He’s been so patient with me, and I thank Him for letting me come to a place of obedience on my own. It’s the only way to obey. God and I both know that. God never forces me to love Him or obey Him because He knows that isn’t true love or obedience.
It’s easier to have someone tell me what to do, believe, and be. The trouble with being told or forced is that I get wistful and wonder what if? That leads to bitterness and eventually anger. When I decide for myself, I get heartbroken and hurt. That breaks, opens, and enables me to grow and move on as God desires. The tears give way to resignation, and resignation turns to faith as I forget my own desires and acknowledge that He is God and knows best. I think it is at the heart of Christ’s desire for me to be like a child. I’ve felt like a contrite child this week as I struggled to convince God that I’m right. When I couldn’t think of anything else to say, He quietly said what He’s said over and over again. This time, I listened, trusted, and obeyed. It’s hard to leave the known and step into the unknown, but it’s even harder trying to convince God I know better than He does when it comes to my heart. The good news is that when I obey, I feel a peace that is indescribable. That makes listening the next time a little easier.
It’s easier to talk than to listen. It’s easier to listen than to trust. It’s easier to trust than to obey, but it’s best to remember that God knows what He’s doing and obey Him in the first place. Maybe one day, I’ll take that advice to heart:)
Tabernacles and Temples (February 24)
Last night, as I watched the sun set with awe, I wanted so badly to capture it and hold on to it. I got a glimpse with the photos I took, but I learned an important lesson as the scriptures from this week took on new meaning. Luke 9:28-36 describe Christ’s transfiguration. Hear God’s Word.
“Some eight days after these sayings, He took along Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while He was praying, the appearance of His face became different, and His clothing became white and gleaming. And behold, two men were talking with Him; and they were Moses and Elijah, who, appearing in glory, were speaking of His departure which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions had been overcome with sleep; but when they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men standing with Him. And as these were leaving Him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three tabernacles: one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not realizing what he was saying. While he was saying this, a cloud formed and began to overshadow them; and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. Then a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!” And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent, and reported to no one in those days any of the things which they had seen.” NASB
Like Peter, I want to design a tabernacle rather than allow my heart to be His temple. It’s easier to build an arena for Him than to give Him my heart. Building tabernacles keeps me busy so I don’t have to worry about this temple:) The stillness that comes from seeing Christ’s glory is all I need to empty out my temple and give God all the space He wants, and He wants all the space! Like designers on HGTV or Clinton and Stacy on What Not to Wear, you gotta let go if you want to see a transformation. A butterfly can’t stay in the chrysalis and fly:)
God blessed me with a special moment at sunset, showed me a breathtaking full moon at four, and woke me with a sweet pink and blue sky and soft white fog snuggling between the mountains like a down comforter. I didn’t get a photo of the moon or the morning sky, and the picture I took of the sunset is a mere glimpse of the glory I saw, but the lesson was a powerful one. I cannot capture or hold on to God’s glory. I can only make sure all I do glorifies Christ because that is what the transfiguration is all about. Praise be to God!
The Cost of Obedience
Disobeying God comes at great cost, but obedience is even more expensive. Obeying God costs everything I have. God lets me do some of what He wants and some of what I want for as long as I want, but He refuses to give me His peace until I surrender everything and trust. I bargain with God and do a wonderful job convincing myself that what I want is the really the same thing He wants. It makes perfect sense in my mind, but my heart just doesn’t buy it and neither does God. I gave up bargaining this week, put my persuasive techniques away, and surrendered all to Him.
Change is never easy, and a dear friend reminded me today that it’s what living is all about. As much as I would love to freeze a beautiful moment, I know I would not even if I could. God could leave me in those precious times, but He knows they would no longer be precious if He did. He doesn’t make me love Him or obey Him because He knows that won’t work. I cannot obey until my selfish tears and childish tantrums subside, and I surrender all to Him. If I obey because I do not have a choice, I will be miserable and so will those in my path.
Obedience means being in God’s presence and living a praying life. Change is part of the journey, and it’s much easier to surrender when I’m out of my comfort zone. I can refuse to change and stay where I’m comfortable, or I can trudge along in misery. It’s my choice. God will not make me do anything. I can walk off on my own and leave His peace behind if I so choose. The cost of His peace is obeying Him, and the cost of obeying Him is dying to self and trusting Him completely.
My heart may break when He calls me away from my comfort zone and into His will. Fear causes me to hesitate, but my love for Him enables me to get past my fears. I know God will bless me as never before as I trust and obey. As the beautiful hymn by John H. Sammis says, “there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus.” I want to be happy in Jesus and find the joy He has for me. Obedience is expensive, but it is well worth the cost. Disobedience is a little cheaper, but it never satisfies and always leaves me wanting more.
The Courage to Pray
Courage is “the quality of being brave: the ability to face danger, difficulty, uncertainty, or pain without being overcome by fear or being deflected from a chosen course of action.” I’m finding that prayer takes a lot of courage as I let go of the known and trust God. Facing all life brings and all God asks without fear takes courage. Praying not only takes courage, it also gives me courage. It’s a blessing to have wonderful friends who encourage and pray for me; I am very blessed when it comes to friends and family, and I thank God for surrounding me with so much love. Love makes fear flee and gives me courage. Courage and encouragement are derived from the Latin root for heart. I’ve learned that my courage has to come from God’s love. As I share His love with others, we are both encouraged.
God is calling me way out of my comfort zone. He does that when He wants me to get out of His way so He can do His work through me. I don’t understand all He has in mind, but I do know that He is calling me to leave the known and trust Him in the unknown. It’s what faith is all about, and I’m learning to be still and remember that He is God and knows what He’s doing. Once I stopped wrestling and arguing with Him, I found the sweetest peace I’ve ever known.
It’s difficult to explain to others what I don’t understand myself, but those who know and love me don’t need an explanation. I love that about connectedness; it doesn’t require words, just love. I’ve studied God’s Word for many years now, and that study has been intense during the past four and half years. God is bidding me to step out and serve those who are disconnected from Him and from society. He is using disconnection to teach me powerful lessons that I must learn before I can do what He’s asking me to do. His ways are higher than mine, and sometimes they go right over my head. That’s when faith becomes even more important. Painful is an understatement when it comes to making the changes He’s asking me to make, and uncomfortable doesn’t begin to describe my angst. He has given me peace in the uncertainty, and that gives me the courage to keep praying.
Living a praying life isn’t praying more fervently or more often. It’s having the courage to ask God to be honest, hearing His call, and answering it even when I don’t have a clue where it will lead. It also means not worrying about those who don’t understand. It means feeling His sweet presence as never before and finding those who love me dearly encourage me to keep listening. Thanks be to God. One friend said it sweetly, “I trust God, and I trust you.” That spurs me on and lifts my spirit when those who need concrete answers pull me down. When it comes to the praying life, nothing is set in stone. It makes some very nervous, but it makes others happy that I’ve pulled up my anchor and given God the wheel:)
Learning to Obey in a Different Way
To obey, according to the dictionary, is to “do as told” or “be controlled.” I’ve been thinking a lot about obedience lately as God has asked me to give up what I love dearly. I’ve struggled, cried, begged, fussed, and even asked Him quietly if He still loves me. He waited patiently and lovingly for me to obey. I decided to give up space in my heart to God for Lent, and that has challenged me to my very core. God wants me to surrender all, and I came to a place of doing just that this week.
I braced myself for the worst, but God gave me the best. He always does that, so I wonder why I continue to doubt Him. I should know by know that He is who He says He is and knows what He’s doing. The scriptures this week reminded me that my questioning amounts to disbelief. That sobering thought helped me get rid of my acquiescence and do as told with a different heart.
God’s ways are higher than mine, and I found myself shaking my head and smiling as His plans unfolded. They make absolutely no sense, but they are perfect. I love that about Him. I questioned Him about crossing lines, but He was clear that there are no lines or divisions in His body except for the ones made by others. He wanted me to cross those lines and go where He was bidding. I’ve never considered being part of more than one church, but God made it clear that is what He wants. I plan to listen and make the connections He has in mind.
If I do something because I want to, that isn’t obedience. If I do something because I believe I have to, that isn’t obedience. If I have to be bribed to do something, that isn’t obedience. I can’t barter or come up with a compromise either. When it comes to obeying as God desires, I have to listen carefully and trust completely. God knows what He’s doing, and that doesn’t have to make sense to me. God blesses beautifully when I finally obey with complete surrender. Obedience is the heart of the praying life.
Higher Than My Ways
Isaiah 55:8-9 was in my path this week as God is teaching me to trust Him. Hear what God says through His prophet Isaish:
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.” NASB
There have been many changes in my life over the past two months, and all have nudged me a little closer to God. My ways and thoughts have the tendency to isolate me from the world. In one way or another, I’ve been hiding all my life. I’ve learned that a gilded cage is no better than the dark hole. It may make me feel safe and loved, but it is still a cage.
God’s ways are higher, and His vantage point is much better than mine. He sees the entire picture when I see only a tiny piece the puzzle. He’s given me a glimpse of His glory this week and made it clear that I must decide whether or not to trust Him. Trust involves surrender, and surrender is never easy. Seeing His glory makes the letting go possible, and feeling the freedom that free fall of faith brings encourages me to not only trust, but obey in a way that brings the joy only a god of hope can bring.
David says it beautifully in Psalm 19:8.
“The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eye.” NASB
His Word and ways are right, and when I look to His commandments and obey those precepts, I find joy as my heart rejoices in a way that can only come from obeying God. It brings to mind verse 14 of that same beautiful psalm which is my deepest desire and fervent prayer.
“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
Be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.” NASB
God’s Word reminds me that His ways are higher than mine and listening to and obeying Him results in joy unspeakable. He is my rock and my Redeemer, and that changes my mind and my heart
The Law, The Prophets, and Love
1 Corinthians 13:1-3 makes it clear what happens when love isn’t present.
“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.” NASB
I never thought of these scriptures being connected to the transfiguration even though I know all scriptures are beautifully connected. The Law and the Prophets came together with Christ’s perfect love. Moses, Elijah, and Christ coming together at the transfiguration makes for an amazing scene. No wonder Peter wanted to build three tabernacles. He didn’t see at the time that Christ was bringing a special unity that would allow the law to be fulfilled according to God’s perfect plan. The prophets foretold His coming, and Jesus brought the love necessary for God’s will to be done and His Word to be complete.
Love changes everything, and Christ is God’s love in human form. Without love, we are nothing. Living the praying life means doing all I do with love. Praying is loving in its purest form. Jesus sits at God’s side and intercedes unceasingly. If that is how He loves, then isn’t it the way I should also love? I’m seeing the call to pray in a new way, so I’m praying in a new way. It isn’t as if I’ve been praying without love, but I am more aware of the love that makes prayer possible. It’s about connecting to Christ’s precious love first and then sharing His love as God desires.
I’ve struggled with the sharing at times, but I’m learning to listen and follow His lead in that regard. I’ve had the tendency to overdo, enable, fix, and veer off His path when it comes to love. The lessons in love over the past few years have helped me see love in a new light. It is a prerequisite for living a praying life. A praying life is centered upon sharing Christ’s precious love. That’s been the lesson this week, and I have been blessed to hear several messages about just that. Another beautiful lesson has been that God is all around me if I open my eyes and step out of my comfort zone.
God finally got me out of the building and into the world this week. I’m not sure what’s next for me, but I do know that loving Him and sharing His precious love is the only thing that matters whatever He has in store for me. This beautiful message on the transfiguration helped me see a glimpse of His glory, and that helped me hear His call more clearly and have the courage to obey when I didn’t understand. Thanks be to God:)
I pray it blesses you as much as it does me. Thank you John for allowing me to share it:) 130224_Glory
Fog and Faith
The fog today is as thick as any I’ve ever seen. I miss seeing the beautiful mountains in the distance, but there is a soft lesson hidden within the white mist that touches my heart. It reminds me that faith is believing without seeing, and that is a lesson I needed today. I like knowing what’s ahead when it comes to finding my way, and God is helping me to let go of that need to know. Not being able to see what’s ahead is unnerving, and uncertainty about where He is leading is even worse. The praying life is about love and requires a level of faith I do not yet have. I suppose that’s the point of the lessons:)
I don’t know if it’s human nature or just me, but I say I trust and then offer a list of questions up to God in an effort to find out what’s coming. Even with all those lessons in love about being present and staying in the moment, I still find myself with one foot in the future. The world says to get a foot in the door, but God says to keep your foot in the present and leave the future to Him. Perhaps one day I’ll learn to do that without having to be reminded.
Lillyann is like me when it comes to wondering and worrying about what’s coming, and I love that about her. If I ever get weary with her worrying, I just remember that I am the same way with God. He is patient and loving, and I ask Him to help me be the same. Lillyann is surrounded by those who love and care for her, and I thank God the love He has placed in our lives. Knowing you’re loved is at the heart of faith, and God’s love is the most powerful force in heaven and on earth. How can I not have faith when I think of who He is and how He loves.
Fog is part of living in the mountains, and I love watching it settle in the valleys. When it comes too close to home, I don’t like it. Today is was a vivid reminder to have faith when I can’t see or don’t understand what’s next on the path. The fog is lifting, and the temperature is dropping. I see the mountains, and I see the beautiful white fluffy snow clouds coming from the west. The girls are excited, and so am I. The beauty of a spring snow is that you know warmer temperatures are just around the corner. Looking forward to the snow and the sixties later this weekend.
My faith is getting stronger, but I have a long way to go. The girls don’t worry about whether or not mommy and daddy will take care of them. They play happily as all children should. They have reminded me today to do the same when it comes to my Father:)
The fog gave way to the snow last night, so I was blessed with a very beautiful view of the world this morning. The girls came running in, opened my curtains, and showed me the snow. Seeing them was even better than the beautiful snow globe they were showing me. The howling winds calmed, but the snow was still blowing in all directions. They loved showing it to me! Children have the right perspective when it comes to snow, and their excitement is contagious:)
Fresh snow is a clean slate, and there’s nothing children like better than a blank canvas upon which to create. Anyone with painted walls and children can tell you that! They have the right idea, and I love the new paint that allows them to create away. The snow invites me to be still and watch as God creates beauty right before my eyes. Snow is a miracle even when I know the science behind it, and it always fills me with awe.
Being with the kids makes snow all the more amazing. It helps that Tyler is here with a truck that can navigate the slippery slopes if necessary. Fears dissipate when I know I’m not alone. Christ promised to never leave me, and I know that has always been true. He has always been with me, and He always will be. I know families can’t always be together, and I thank God for the beautiful and very unexpected blessing of living with my son and his sweet family. Living and loving together is what God has in mind for His world. In the living and loving, we find Him in one another and in His beautiful world.
The biggest lie in this world is that it doesn’t belong to God. It is my Father’s world, and I love the beautiful hymn that proclaims that powerful truth. There is both good and bad in the world; neither it, nor we, are perfect. God in all of us and in His world. It is worth the effort of listening and looking deeply when I find Him in the heart of a friend, the eyes of a stranger, or in a snowy landscape.
Unlike a sunset, snow will not be ignored. I love that about it, and I believe that’s why children love it. Whether I like it or not, my plans are going to change. I’m finding it’s best not wait for a snowstorm to stop, look, and listen to what God has to say to me each day. This morning, He said, “Look at this!” I’m glad I did, and I love that He had my two little teachers make sure I began the day with the proper perspective. Lillyann immediately wanted to go outside and make a snowman, and little Mylah just kept saying, “NOOOO!” she wasn’t commenting on Lillyann’s question. She was just saying “snow” in Mylah talk, or maybe she heard God’s response to all our plans for the day and was just passing along His message:)
God’s Reality is Better Than My Imagination:)
Lillyann has an amazing imagination, and I love following her chain of thought. We were sitting at the dinner table yesterday when she said, “Look, it’s a fish in the tree!!” I saw the leaf she was referring to and even saw the semblance of a shark in it. She processes information as I do, and I hope to encourage her to keep on seeing what she sees and not worry if no one else appreciates it. She has a beautiful creative spirit, and I know God will use it to bless her and others in her path.
I love to look at clouds and find wonderful shapes within them, and I’m fascinated by wood and the images hiding in the grains of each unique piece. Sacred imagination is even better because it is the way I communicate with God and a powerful component of my prayers. It shapes my prayers into sweet images which are very similar to those clouds and wood grains.
The heart is between the soul and the spirit, and Jesus fills my heart with His sweet presence. When I am praying attention, I see the images He places before me:) As I draw nearer, I see and hear more clearly. I marvel at how God knows and loves me, and I thank Him for allowing me to know and love Him more. He knows I’m a visual learner, and I know He is the Master Teacher. It’s a beautiful combination that makes for a great connection.
God’s reality is better than my imagination at its very best. I’ve allowed my imagination to carry me through difficult times, and I thank God for giving me a creative spirit. It blesses me and helps me draw nearer to Him. It is a gift I have learned to embrace, and I hope I can help both Lillyann and Mylah as they each embrace their own unique personalities. It is tempting to get caught up in the imaginary at times, and I’ve allowed myself to get trapped there when my reality was unbearable, mostly in matters of the heart. Living a praying life is about staying in God’s reality.
I’m learning to let His reality become mine, and that is the best of all. Lillyann and Mylah are so very different. Mylah will lay on the floor in complete contentment as she decides how something is put together. She and her daddy share the desire to take things apart and put them back together again. Lillyann loves to be doing something and loves company. I love their unique expressions of spirit so very much and can’t wait to see how God will use their gifts.
The lessons this week have been pivotal as I have turned my attention to God and focused upon seeing His will in all things. I have been awed by God’s presence as I’ve let the things of this world fade away and embraced Him as never before. I sometimes feel the need to pinch myself to see if I’m dreaming lately, but that’s been a great side effect of living in His reality. His truth cut deeply into my heart this year and continues to do so, but His reality is a sweet balm that heals as nothing in this world.
I plan to continue looking at clouds and wood grains and thank Him for the creative spirit He has given me. He is the Ultimate Creator, and I am created in His image. It follows that I should have a creative spirit. I pray I will use the gifts He gives to see Him and myself more clearly while helping others do the same. Giving up the need to be who others desire for me to be is taking off the blindfold, unstopping my ears, and getting off my treadmill. I haven’t liked all I’ve seen and heard this week, but I don’t plan to go back to the blindness, deafness, and busyness that keeps me from seeing and hearing God as He desires. Praying attention helps me do that and live the praying life God has in mind.
What You Pray For
There’s great truth in the advice to watch what you ask for because you just might get it. I am thankful God doesn’t give me what I want, and I’m slowly learning not to ask. Obedience is more listening than I like, but I’m learning to listen. I know I must stop asking and start trusting. God knows me better than I know myself and gives me what I can’t imagine.
The lessons yesterday reminded me of my need for contact. The day was one of disconnection, and I found myself alone as I worked and when I came home. The kids went to play in Asheville, and I was home alone. As I sat in the sun, Cookie came bounding down and crawled under a space in the gate. He sat with me for a while, but left when he saw I was going to sit. He prefers movement:) It’s good to have time alone, but I was ready for aerobics as I went to workout. There were only three of us, but it was great company. I had a lot of knots that needed working out, so my body welcomed the movement and the companionship.
On Thursdays, I sleep with the girls to give Tyler and Gina time together. I love our little parties and so needed the cuddling they always give. I usually sleep with Mylah, and Lillyann sleeps in her bed. Last night, we all crawled into Lillyann’s bed, and I could tell they were both excited about that! It was the sweetest sleep I’ve had in a while. I was completely surrounded as both got as close as they could to Gigi. I thought it would be impossible to sleep in the confined little spot in the middle of that sweet pile. In fact, I told Him as I prayed that the snuggling was much better than any sleep I might end up missing. Once again, He surprised me by giving me what I can’t see.
I didn’t finish my prayer before falling asleep and slept for ten sweet hours. They stirred a little throughout the night, but they and I quickly went back to sleep in the sweet circle of love. Waking up in bed with them was icing on the cuddle cake I so badly needed after the lonely day. God knows my heart, and He knew I needed the sweet snuggling. I had to laugh at one point during the night and tell Him that my cup was running over, and He was just showing off:) He shows off a lot when I let Him do the asking. The praying life is a beautiful life that is teaching me to not only be careful what I ask for but simply listen and don’t bother asking at all;) He is God after all and knows what I need better than I.
What To Do With My Dash?
A friend reminded me this evening to think about what I do with my dash. It was a simple question that made me stop and think seriously about just that. My dash refers to the little line between my birth date and death date on my tombstone. I plan to be cremated, but you get the idea:) I’m afraid I wasn’t good company today because I decided to throw a pity party for myself and had lots of whine. Good friends come to those parties, listen to my heart, and love me anyway. I’m amazed because I don’t usually come away from them loving me! Hearing myself talk fills me with a greater desire to listen to God.
The changes since my sixtieth birthday have left me reeling and dizzy. I am thankful to be living in a beautiful home with my son and his sweet family. That change that has done my heart a world of good. There are times when I wonder if my heart will ever stop hurting. God reminded me that it will hurt as long as I choose to love. He knows that better than anyone.
My dash is about loving and living a life that is worth living forever. The journey here is more like a dot than a dash, but it is an important time of learning to love, pray, and walk in God’s kingdom. Learning is wonderful but comes at a great cost. That is true of anything worth having. My salvation cost Jesus everything, and He knows the hurt that comes from loving first hand. I would rather love and hurt than never love at all, so I trust God to guide me when it comes to loving as He desires.
What to do with my dash? Love as God loves and remember that the only thing that matters in this world and the next is loving Him, myself, and others. I don’t have to understand His love to embrace it, and I don’t have to understand His will to obey Him. In fact, not understanding is a prerequisite for learning to obey in a way that leads to joy. I am so thankful for the sweet friends God placed in my path today. Their love lifts my heart as does His. Knowing I am loved and not alone brings light to the darkness and hope to my heart.
My Prodigal Heart
My heart goes out to the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32, and I can relate to his struggle to find what was waiting for him at home all along. I don’t know what his search was about, but mine has been about finding love. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that his was the same because the need to be loved is at the root of most quests.
I feel for the older brother who is miserable in his servitude and has neither compassion nor joy for his lost brother who is now saved. He misses the opportunity to celebrate because of his own misery. Misery does indeed love company, and it keeps me from finding joy. The older brother isn’t broken, and brokenness is part of the path to God. Without it, I cannot relate to the brokenness of the world. God brings His righteousness to me through His precious Son. Until I am broken, I cannot understand or appreciate the cost of that righteousness. When I depend upon my own righteousness to be enough, I am as disappointed as the older son in the story.
Repentance requires that I admit my sin and confess to God, and that is never easy. It humbles and reminds me of the plan God put into place before He formed the world. Christ is dismissed when I think I can be good enough or work hard enough to make things right in my relationship with Him. The only way to repair my relationship with God is admit I’m broken and in need of His righteousness.
When I do that, I find myself in the position of the prodigal son, eating slop with the pigs rather than sitting at the table celebrating with God. Until I come to the place of desolation and hurt separation brings, I cannot begin to make my way back to His table. The older son believes he deserves to be honored for all he’s done, and that is worse than believing I deserve to eat with the pigs. Heartfelt confession changes my heart and mind in a way that allows me to live the praying life God desires.
Prayer begins with acknowledging God is Who He says He is. Who I am and who I am not then becomes painfully clear. The prodigal found his way home, and it was well worth the time and money it took for him to find it. The father was a good father who understood that well. God is the best Father and knows my wandering heart needs the lessons of the humbling path. Coming to the place of confession is a crossroad where I must choose the direction I will take. The prodigal could have stayed and wallowed in self pity, convinced himself it was best to stay away from those he loved, or simply given up.
Many people do just that. It’s why Christ tells this powerful story. I can go back to those I love after being lost, but I must go with a clear understanding of who I am and Who God is. Then, God and those who love me will celebrate my return. Not everyone will be happy when the lost find their way to God, especially if they take the path of the prodigal. They can miss the celebration if they want, it’s their choice just as it is mine to come home and celebrate with God.
Lessons in living the praying life are promising to be a greater challenge than those lessons in love! The open arms of the father in the story of the prodigal son are a glimpse of the glorious welcome God has in mind for me. It is a story of hope from the God of hope, and I needed it this week. I guess that’s why He put it in my path:)
Here’s a message from Pastor John that helped me learn the lessons God had for me. I thank God for His sweet Word and John for his faithfulness to it.
JOIN THE PARTY
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
John Alden Tagliarini
March 10, 2013
(God rejoices when the lost is found)
Up to Now
So far in our preparation to celebrate the Resurrection, we heard how Jesus remained faithful to God while the devil tempted Him in the wilderness. We also saw the glory of Jesus on the mountain with Moses and Elijah. There, surrounded by the Law and the Prophets, God told us to listen to Jesus.
Then, faced with a difficult question about injustice, Jesus offered hope for our repentance. Neither politically motivated atrocities nor circumstantial disasters should distract us from God’s invitation to repent since we are all sinners in His eyes. Thankfully, the fig tree is still in the ground, and there is still time to produce fruit.
Today, we find Jesus telling stories, parables about God celebrating when even one sinner repents. Jesus tells these stories as tax collectors and sinners were coming closer and closer to Him, listening to Him. He was telling these stories to answer the grumbling of the Pharisees and scribes who were upset over His hospitality to sinners. “Jesus actually shares meals with those people,” the leaders complained.
Two Short Parables
So, the Lord told two lost and found stories that each end in celebration. From the first story, Jesus draws the lesson that heaven rejoices more over one sinner who repents than many righteous who “need no repentance” (7). In the second story, Jesus emphasizes that “there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (10).
The open pasture suggests a peril for the flock which the shepherd was willing to accept in order to find the lost sheep. Nonetheless, he went out and searched until he found the lost sheep. Carrying it back on his own shoulders, he shared his joy, calling his friends and neighbors together and asking them to rejoice with him.
And by her own admission the woman lost the coin. Having to light a lamp suggests the dark corners which complicated her search. Nonetheless, she searched carefully until finding it. Then, without hesitation she called her friends and neighbors together to rejoice with her.
On My Own
Their joy over reclaiming earthly losses mirrors God’s joy in the return of a sinner. To drive home His point, Jesus tells one more story. Each of us finds immediate sympathy with one or more of the players in this story.
One can sympathize with the younger son. Even shallow reflection prompts us ask, “Why did this boy ask to withdraw from the family?”
Yes, he may have been full of pride and self-sufficiency. Perhaps he thought his dad and brother were the ignorant fossils of a fading generation. But his unusual request might also indicate many years of broken relationship.
Most children stayed with parents until marriage and close by after that. To ask for an early disposal of the estate exposed a rupture in the family relationships. Indeed, some of us may sympathize with the wanderlust and initiative of the boy. “Why, he’s just exercising his entrepreneurial spirit,” we capitalists might say. The truth about this son comes out once we find him in a far away country. Only after spending all his inheritance did he seek employment and find himself in the slop with the swine. There he came to himself and realized the importance and value of the relationship he abandoned (17). He repented and headed home. He did not expect to restore the family, only to be hired as a common laborer. The lost son began his journey home by coming to himself, realizing whose child he was. Many of us can identify with that. Certainly, the squanderer did not expect to be restored as a son. And most certainly he did not anticipate his father to throw him a party.
What’s a Father to Do?
Of course, many of us sympathize with the father. Luke mentions no mother in this story. Was he raising these children as a single parent? Most people who raise teenage children know the threat and hurt of rebellion. Too many families feel the pain of broken relationship and withdrawal.
We raise our children to become independent, then struggle to relate to them as they become themselves. There is a healthy cutting of the apron strings. But there is also a rebellion which hurts so deeply words cannot express the pain. What is a father to do?
On this day, this father showed love to both boys. Feeling compassion and out of character for older people, the father ran to meet the younger son. He called for an extravagant response to the boy’s return, a blow-out of a party.
When the elder son appeared, the father begged his understanding and said in essence, “I’ve given you everything!” (28, 31). Whatever his faults at communication or expressing love, he was like all fathers or mothers dealing with children who exercise their independence, or worse, reject their love. Father was searching for relationship, seeking to restore his family. This father was happy that a son, seemingly dead to him, was restored to life, the lost was found.
By the Book
Many of us also sympathize with the elder brother. Throughout the years, he stayed home. He obeyed his father’s every command. Yet, he never felt the love of his father. He could not remember a single time when his father gave him a party for being such a good son. Never did his father give him a boys night out. ! This boy’s complaint exposes more dysfunction and lack of communication in this family of apparent means; there were servants, a fattened calf, and goats. There were nice robes and sandals and jewelry. As the elder son, his inheritance equalled two thirds the estate, but all that stuff was not enough. He wanted to know his dad loved him.
The cynic might say that this son was simply been looking out for his own interests. After all, the pipsqueak took his share and lost it. “Now you’re taking from my stuff to give him a party. Right is right, and this party isn’t right!”
Dad was in control of the remaining estate until his death, and up to now the older son did not feel the love. But, Luke gives us none of the cynic’s view. Whatever the source of his angry disappointment, the older son said he did not feel loved. But, dad invited him, pleaded with him, to come into the party.
Grumble or Rejoice
We don’t know what this son decided regarding the party. Did he go on in or did he head down to the neighborhood bar to drown his sorrows? Friends and neighbors were rejoicing with the father and the younger son. The dead was now alive; the lost was found. Would he join the party?
I suppose the story is not completed because the response of the Pharisees and scribes was also still up in the air. Jesus was welcoming sinners and eating with them. Tax collectors were getting close to Jesus. “Right is right, and this hospitality to sinners isn’t right!”
I cannot tell you to join the party. Jesus did not directly scold the Pharisees and scribes. He told stories about people who rejoiced when the lost was found, people who invited their friends and neighbors to join in the celebration. We are left with a father asking, pleading, for the reluctant son to join the celebration.
No one can command happiness or joy or rejoicing. We can join the party, or not. However, we can choose to begin some strategies that will put us in a celebratory mood.
One, we can care enough about the lost to seek until we find him or her, regardless the perils. Lighting lamps of love and checking all the dark places, we seek the lost. Reaching out will give you greater compassion when someone returns. ! And, as difficult as it is, we let people follow their desires until they find themselves in Christ. Then, remembering the grace we too received in Jesus, we rejoice with the Lord. Amen.
Get Out From Under The Table!!
The lessons this week have been powerful in many ways, but the image of a table heavy laden and set for a sweet celebration ended the week in with a wonderful wake up call as God bid me to get out from under the table and join Him. The clear message that I’ve settled for less than He has in mind is a resounding theme I continue to hear when it comes to love. God sets an amazing table, but I continue to wait for a crumb to fall while I stay hidden under the table. I curl up at His feet and whimper when I should be sitting and enjoying all He has so graciously laid before me.
Jeremiah 29:11 is a favorite and was in my path this morning.
“For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” NASB
Romans 15:13 was also there to remind me that God’s table is overflowing with love, hope, peace and joy:)
“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” NASB
God’s table is filled to overflowing with love, hope, peace, and joy. I can remain on the floor waiting for a crumb to drop from another table, or I can join Him and others at His table and celebrate my love for Christ, the founder of the feast. The choice is, and always will be, mine. The seating arrangements are His, and He prefers a table filled with fellowship. His isn’t a table for two:)
Thoughts and Prayers
Thoughts and prayers cannot be separated, and that makes praying with something else on my mind impossible. That was the humbling lesson this morning. God gently told me that He couldn’t hear what I was praying because what I was thinking was too loud. That got my attention and reminded me of the lesson on praying attention! This was more that just paying attention; it was understanding that my thoughts are my prayers.
I can’t set aside thoughts and sit down to pray any more than I can set aside my mouth and sit down to eat. It can’t be done, and that was the clear message this morning. Proverbs 23:7 is a warning about appearances being deceiving, but it is also a powerful reminder that the thoughts within me are my truest self. “For as he thinks within himself, so he is.” That doesn’t just apply to the ruler in Proverbs; it applies to me too. When I sit down with God, He hears my thoughts. If there is a conflict between what I’m praying and what my thoughts are saying, He goes with my thoughts.
Sobering lesson this morning for my wandering mind. I am still holding on to what I want in my head, so God cannot hear the cry of my heart over the din of my mind. As I said yesterday, the lessons in praying are proving to be my greatest challenge. Give up my thoughts too, Lord? Yes was His quiet, but powerful, answer. The heart and mind must be of the same accord before my prayers are what God desires. Christ did not think one thing and pray another. He didn’t hang on to His wants and pray God’s will. He emptied Himself completely, and that is what I must also do. Letting go of those pleasant thoughts of what I want are not easy to do, but it’s necessary if I am to give up space to God and pray as His sweet Son.
There is a peace that comes from clearing out stuff, and an even better feeling comes when I give up those thoughts that fill my head. Letting go of the notion that things could have been any different is the most freeing clearing I’ve found. Learning always comes at a cost, but the greater the cost the greater the blessing that comes from it. God has blessed me beyond belief as I’ve cleared my head so He and I can both hear my heart. It changes the way I think and pray and makes living the praying life much easier.
Is There An Easier Way?
It’s been a week of great loss in my community as we mourn the death of two precious young men taken too quickly from the loving arms of their families. I also lost a dear friend who was a big part of my life and very like a sister. My heart has been going through a difficult time lately, and I found myself wondering if love is worth the pain.
The cost of loving is great, and my heart will be broken each time I chose to love. As I prayed this morning, my heart begged God to help me understand the pain. Isn’t there an easy way to love? Of course, I knew the answer before I asked the question. If there were an easy way to love, Jesus would have shown us how to love without hurting. His way of loving involves great pain, and His heart was, and still is, broken in ways we cannot imagine. Separation from God is hell, and losing loved ones is a taste of the torment of that horrid place, but choosing not to love is condemning my heart to stay there.
The good news is that God is love, and He prepared the way for us to love Him and share His love with others. It broke His heart to watch His Son die, but His resurrection sealed our hearts with the sweet assurance that His love is forever ours. Death does not stop love; it reminds me of the cost Christ paid so I could love. I plan to keep loving with all my heart because it is the only way I know how to love, and I plan to remember Christ when my heart is breaking.
An Easy Way to Love?
Why must the heart be broken
Over and over again?
Isn’t there an easy way
To love without feeling pain?
God’s quiet response to me
“It’s the only way I know.
It broke My heart to pieces
To watch my beloved Son go.
Endure the pain of loving,
And then you will understand.
The joy that comes from loving
Is worth all the the heart demands.”
A Breath of Fresh Prayer
When praying becomes as natural as breathing, the praying life becomes a reality. In a week filled with so much hurt, I found a breath of fresh prayer this morning. I’ve sighed and cried and supplicated this week, but the greatest sense of relief came when I breathed a deep sigh of giving in and giving up. The sorrow of the week helped me see the futility of trying to understand that which I cannot understand, and that gave God the space He needed to breathe His Word into me.
I came to the end of my prayer rope this week and made the free fall of faith that must occur if I am to trust and obey Him completely. I would not have let go if I could have held on. I suppose I thought I would hit something or crash when I let go, and that shows a lack of faith in and of itself. What I found was David’s sweet psalm that I always had my students memorize. The Twenty-Third Psalm came one line at a time, and it was like breathing in sweet fresh air after being underwater or in a stuffy cellar.
So thankful for His precious Word that filled my heart and lifted my spirit. Psalm 23
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.” KJV
With each line, God breathed new life into my weary heart and taught me that prayer is not only asking and crying out, it is also breathing in His Spirit. Too often, I don’t turn to God until there is no other hope or when tragedy humbles. Praying, like breathing, involves taking in the comfort and joy God has to offer or simply enjoying His precious presence. I’m guilty of talking to Him and then hanging up before He has the chance to answer. That’s as silly as only breathing out.
Take time to take in a breath of fresh prayer, and you’ll find that the free fall of faith is a simple sigh of release followed by a deep inhaling of His Spirit. It makes all the difference in the world when it comes to praying and living the life He has in mind.
Insurance or Assurance?
There are some crazy insurance polices out there!! The eleven weirdest policies are listed on this website http://usinsurancenet.com/general/unusual-insurance-policies/ I personally think Tom Jones’ chest hair should be number one, but that’s just my opinion:) When it comes to love, I can’t buy an insurance policy. The closest thing to a love insurance policy would be a prenuptial agreement if I’m concerned that my love may go south with my money, but that isn’t really insurance.
Because I don’t like to gamble, I have my fair share of policies on life, house, cars, health, etc… The insurance business thrives on my fear of losing what I have. Like Tom’s Jones and his chest hair, I am closely connected to my stuff and my body and do not want to part with it. Sadly, some folks see Jesus as an insurance policy, so they miss the joy, hope, and peace His love brings to a world filled with fear.
Jesus offers assurance, which is much better than insurance. Insurance will pay me if I lose whatever it is I’m worried about losing, but it cannot insure that I will keep it. God’s love is a different matter; it’s forever, and Christ offers a wonderful assurance policy if I am willing to trust Him and accept His love. Sounds simple enough, and it truly is simple enough for everyone to afford when they come to the place of believing He is who He says He is. The fact that it’s too good to be true keeps some from acquiring a policy that allows me to not only to spend eternity in heaven, but also walk in His kingdom right now.
Christ assures me that I can walk in God’s kingdom with the help of His Holy Spirit. He is Christ’s assurance agent, and He is much better than the very best insurance agent. The only problem with this wonderful policy is that I can refuse the offer. Sometimes I wonder why God lets me walk away, but then I remember that love isn’t something to be forced upon me. That goes against love’s very nature. God is love, so it goes against His nature to make us take Him up on His beautiful offer.
I’m so very thankful that I accepted His assurance policy back in 1964. It is a policy that gets better and better as time goes by. His policy is good for eternity, and I just keep discovering new benefits. The most beautiful one is the blessed assurance that He is mine, and I am His. I’m learning that kingdom love doesn’t have to wait until I am in heaven. It begins as soon as I let Him show me how to love as He loves. I’ve had the assurance policy with him for almost 50 years, but I’ve only just figured out that I can walk and love in His kingdom now. The healing that came today was better than winning a big jackpot or a mega million dollar lottery. Check out the policy on the list when it comes to lotteries. God’s assurance is better than the best insurance policy in this world, and I plan to hang on to my policy and help others accept His sweet offer of everlasting love.
The tragedies of the week have caused us to put aside our differences and remember that we are a beautiful community closely connected by the love we share. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if God’s family would do the same. I can only imagine what this world would be like if we all quit squabbling about details and arguing over petty differences. We are more alike than we are different, and there is no contest to see who does or knows the most. God loves all His children, and it breaks His Son’s body and His own heart when we break apart.
Families stick together, and that is never more true than when tragedy strikes. When death enters our safe haven, we cling to one another. Love causes fear and sorrow to take a back seat, and those things that once seemed important enough to fight about no longer matter. God loves His world, and He watched His only Son die to save it. When we remember His loss, we draw nearer to Him and to one another. When we get caught up in our agendas and plans, we begin to argue over who’s doing the most or who’s right about this or that.
Satan sits back and grins when we poke at one another, place blame, or point out sins in each other. God must shake His head and wonder what more would it take to get us to come together and see what truly matters. Jesus said to love God and our neighbor. This week, our sweet community has been a beautiful neighborhood. I pray that we will hold on to that spirit and not allow anything to come between us and those we love. We should love one other and celebrate our differences. God created each of us, and we are all beautiful to Him. Would that we would be to one another, so His kingdom could come, and His will could be done.
It’s possible, and if you didn’t see that this week, you were not paying attention. Join me in praying for unity as we love God with all that is within us and love each other as we have this week. The praying life is all about community. Satan argues and fusses about being right and loves to see separation and discord. God created us to be a loving community because He knows it’s the very best way to get a glimpse of Him. We each get to decide who we want to be like, and I saw an awfully lot of God this week. I’m excited about all He has in mind and look forward to seeing it work out in the faces of the beautiful folks in this community and in the world.
The blossoms in the yard yesterday were sweet smelling harbingers of spring that lifted my spirit and filled me with hope. Easter is my favorite time of year because it comes at a time when I most need a lift. I enjoy winter, but I am always happy when the cold gives way to spring. I love the flowers of each season, but those blossoms of spring are more than just flowers blooming. They give me hope and inspire me as they do many when it comes to both the temperature and my heart. God says in each bloom that love is coming. The beautiful truth found in Christ’s resurrection is like the blossoms of spring. Each Easter, I celebrate that resurrection and the sweet knowledge that I am loved.
I have a beautiful succulent houseplant that blooms during the winter. It’s tiny blossoms bless me in a special way because they come at the darkest time of the year and are all the more precious because of their timing. They remind me I am loved when I most need to be reminded. The plant is dear to me and flourishes in a window which gets the afternoon light. It’s delicate in one sense, but it also refuses to die. I’ve come very close to tossing it out on several occasions, but it always comes back to life in a way that amazes me. It’s determined to thrive, and I love that about it. Love is the same way:)
Flowers remind me of love whether they are blowing in the open spring air or sitting quietly on a windowsill upstairs. Love is expressed in different ways, and flowers have reminded me of that lately. Love, like flowers, will not be taken for granted. If they stayed the same year in and year out, we would soon not pay any attention to them. Love and flowers blossom when I am not looking or expecting them to. I almost killed the sweet little houseplant expecting it to be in full bloom all the time, and I will kill love if I expect the same.
Love blooms when it is time for it to bloom, and flowers do the same. It is best to let them both be what God intends for them to be, a beautiful reminder of the hope we have in Him. He is there in the window, the yard, the meadow, and everywhere I am. Sometimes, love will not be ignored, and sometimes I have to look closely to find it. It is always there, and it will always be. That’s the sweet hope of Easter that makes it the most blessed time of the year to me. As the flowers on my little houseplant begin to die, the daffodils and star magnolias begin to flourish. When the last of the fall flowers fade, my little houseplant will be there to remind me to hang on until spring:)
Good Grief (March 17, 2013)
I didn’t expect to kneel and weep with abandon on the altar this morning, but that’s just where I found myself. God is calling me to be part of worship in two places right now, and that’s not something I understand. I have learned not to question His ways, but sometimes He confounds me. Perhaps He knows I’ll get lost in the confounding and find Him. I love both places and know He is present and alive in both. It’s a rare blessing to find someone willing to speak the truth with love, and both Pastor John and Pastor Jeff do just that.
The deaths this week, especially Dorothy’s, left me numb. I’ve heard five amazing messages this week, and the message this morning touched me more deeply than I was prepared to be touched. God knew it was time to weep for mama. I put off weeping four years ago. I cried and cried and cried, but I didn’t weep until today. Weeping with abandon in front of others isn’t something I would have chosen to do, and it’s far too personal and intimate to do in front of others, but God knows that weeping together is part of the grieving process. I felt a sense of release on that altar that can only come when I let go of everything and let God and others hear my heart and my hurt.
It isn’t easy to let others hear my heart, but weeping frees the spirit and opens the heart as nothing else. As I watched Pastor Jeff, a big strong man, tear up as he talked of his own journey, the way was wide open for me to do the same. Letting others see my vulnerability opens doors for me and others. Jesus wept openly for Lazarus. He was a very strong man who loved his friend dearly. Perhaps He cried because He knew he was bringing his friend back into a world of pain. Perhaps he cried because he knew Lazarus had suffered and would suffer again at the hands of death.
Christ gives me hope and is my strong center. That was the beautiful message this morning. God’s grief is good grief because He is my hope, my comfort, my rock, and my redeemer. He never moves or changes, and that is the best news of all. There will always be weeping and loss in this world, but I can walk in God’s kingdom and chose to grieve as He grieves knowing that I can grieve with Him and share my grief and His love with those in my path. I will weep until I am with God in heaven, and I learned today that weeping is a very powerful form of prayer. That changes my journey in a most beautiful way. That’s good grief, and I thank God for showing me the difference between the world’s way of grieving and His.
Words Are Not Necessary
When praying and loving, words are not necessary. In fact, the lesson yesterday was that weeping is praying and loving at a deep level. As I wept, I wasn’t consciously praying or loving, but I felt a sweet sense of relief and love. God hears my heart more clearly when my mind and mouth are still, and nothing silences like weeping. Words are not only not necessary when loving, they often get in the way. When I offer consolation, advice, or comfort, I never know what to say. Weeping is not only a powerful way to pray, it’s an even more powerful way to love.
The most important lessons in the path to the praying life have been about words. All who know me, know I love words, but I’m getting better with silence and am very thankful that God is not finished with me yet. I have practiced prolonged silence at the reflection center, but I have difficulty with silence around others. I feel the need to fill the space, but I’m learning to be still. There is nothing like silence to help the spirit and heart draw near to God, and there is also nothing like silence when it comes to worshipping and loving Him. I love raising my voice in praise, and I will sing as long as I have breath in me; but silence is so sweet when it comes to praying and loving God.
I sat for a long while yesterday and watched the beautiful horizon. After a week of crying and a morning of weeping, my heart lifted in His perfect presence. The sounds from above blessed my spirit and I thanked God for Mylah and Lillyann’s healing. They have a way to go before they are up and running, but they are on the mend. While they’ve been so sick, only mommy would do, so I know Gina is worn thin. I’ve thought of God as I’ve seen the girls cling and even fight over mommy’s lap. I am the same way when I’m hurting; I want God, and nothing or no one else will do. That was a big part of the message yesterday. The only way to survive grief here is to have God at the center of my heart and life. Only His Holy Spirit can offer hope in when I am hurting. Nothing or no one else will do.
I may have a tough day today as two little girls go through mommy withdrawal. I’m hoping they are well enough to play and eat, so I can fill in while she’s away at school. I’m sure mommy will have Mylah and Lilly withdrawal as well because I’m ready for some little girl time myself:)
The Sound of My Own Voice (March 20)
When I talk with a dear friend about what’s on my heart, I am often surprised by the sound of my own voice in an atmosphere of honest communion. As I returned to the week my mama died, I let out some frustration and found that I was hanging on to something I needed to release. I also realized my selfish need for the world of others to stop when mine does. It cannot, and I’m thankful God helped me see that this week. In fact, He made it clear that the world doesn’t ever stop. It brings me to my knees when it spins out of control, and it puts me flat on my face when I try to stop it. When I look up and remember Whose world it is and Whose child I am, I find the balance I need to walk and love in His kingdom here and now.
Yesterday was a fourteen hour day with the girls, and my patience wore thin as Lillyann refused to put away her Kindle, go to the bathroom, and lie down. Poor Mylah was awakened by the music at the end of her movie, so I had two girls awake at nine o’clock. I didn’t lose my temper, thank God, but I did wonder if it wouldn’t be better to just live somewhere else, pop in once in a while with some goodies and a little cooing, and be a different sort of Gigi. I really didn’t like the sound of my own voice in the atmosphere of impatience and knew that I wouldn’t trade living with and loving this sweet little family for anything in this world. Living and loving, like praying, requires a deep connection that is much more than once in a while. It is the forever love in 1 Corinthians 1-13.
“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.” NASB
I held the girls and quietly told Lillyann that I couldn’t help her if she didn’t listen and obey. I could hear God in my own voice and had to smile. I am very like little Lillyann when it comes to obeying, and I know that getting her and myself where we need to be is not a simple task. I don’t want to take the easy path when it comes to loving God, Mylah, Lillyann, or anyone else, and I thank God for not taking the easy path when it comes to loving me. Love is not giving in or giving up. It is giving as I’ve never given before. The girls may not understand now, just as I often don’t understand God, but they will when it matters:) I plan to keep listening to God and doing what I know He wants me to do. That’s love, and that’s not always easy, but experiencing love at its truest level is worth whatever God asks me to do.
I can do my best and love the best way I know how my entire life and be miserable in my failure at love, or I can love the way God loves and find Him in the love I have for myself and for those in my path. There is no self help book or video that explains love any better than the beautiful scripture above. God continues to bring me back to His Word and His way when it comes to loving because He is love and the best teacher ever. With His help, I’m learning:)
Crusade or Revival? (March 22, 2013)
The Crusades were the darkest days of Christianity. There is nothing noble about forcing people to believe as you believe. There is nothing gallant about galloping around the globe in concerted effort to promote your agenda or eliminate everyone else’s. I am guilty of being mesmerized by knights in shining armor and tales of princesses being recused by them. I’ve had my share of knights and knaves on this journey, but I repent my fascination with that time period. There is nothing romantic or wonderful about it. There is no body count for how many died in those senseless holy wars, and there is no count on the tears that fell from heaven as countless men, women, and children were slaughtered in God’s name.
The difference between a crusade and a revival is that one comes from the efforts of those on the outside and one comes from a renewal on the inside. Easter is a time of renewal and revival as is spring. I can go out armed with shovels and fertilizer and force plants to either bloom or die, but that takes aways all the beauty and magic of seeing them peek through the soil and reach up on their own. Crusades have an “us/they” mentality. Revival has a “me/God” realization. There is a very big difference. God can have a crusade if He so desires, and Jesus could have performed the most amazing trick ever by pulling His hands away from those hate-filled nails on the far left and far right and wreaked havoc on this world in a way that would have left us believing in a different sort of Savior. We would still be shaking in our shoes and doing whatever He said for us to do. He chose to die. He chose to love. It’s what we must also choose to do. It’s much easier to wield a sword in a safe suit of armor, but God knows that force doesn’t work when it comes to love.
Revival comes from God, and it comes one person at a time. It’s the feeling of seeing how the love of God is working in the life of another and wanting the same thing. It’s coming to the realization that it is God in that person that makes a difference and letting God come to me in the same way. I have a dear friend who loves God more than anyone I know. When I first heard him speak of God, I knew I wanted what he had. I have it now, but I learned that the process of getting it involved much suffering and great loss. More people die in a revival than in a crusade because everyone who experiences revival dies to self. You cannot be revived if you are still alive and kicking on your own:) The suffering that leads to the kind of love I saw in my friend and wanted for myself wasn’t something for which I was prepared, but the love that resulted was worth the dying and every moment of the suffering.
Not everyone involved in those hate-filled Crusades died, but Christ’s love was trampled into the ground. Holy wars have the tendency to do just that, and we will most likely experience more such wars. I don’t know if it will be the Christians again, and pray that we learned our lessons from those first disastrous attempts at forcing religion down the hearts of others. I look around today and see the anger and contempt that comes from mixing politics and religion on both sides of the fence, and it breaks my heart. I know it breaks God’s even more. Let’s put our knights in armor away and bring out our Savior who never wore armor and still gives me the choice of whether or not I will love Him.
Impatience makes me want to go out and tell the weather to remember that it’s spring, but I know that this cold and dreary interlude will only make me appreciate and love the warm sunshine when the weather truly turns to spring. The same is true for my heart. After a period of cold darkness, Christ’s love is all the more wonderful.
Hebrews 12:2 says much about faith that I tend to forget.
“fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” NASB
Author is an interesting word. The origin of the word is autor “father,” from Old French auctor, acteor. It is a word I associate with God. There may be no original thoughts, as some say, but there is an Originator who has all authority. I have been thinking recently about authorship. There is much debate on the subject when it comes to the Bible, and there is a desire to understand the origin of various texts. I read an interesting article this week by Richard L. Schultz from Wheaton College called “Intertextuality, Canon, and ‘Undecidability’ Understanding Isaiah’s ‘New Heavens and New Earth’” He says it best with “Our goal in identifying and considering intertextuality is not primarily to achieve a more accurate but rather a richer interpretation,” We argue over accuracy of the text too often when a richer interpretation should be the goal of delving into the beautiful scriptures of God’s Word.
The thing I love most about God’s Word is the life it takes on when read it with an open heart. There is nothing like it in all of literature. I can read the same passage a thousand times and never hear it the same way. Those who would cement and fix or pick and peck at particular scriptures miss the beauty of seeing the whole beautiful message both the old and new testaments lay before us. Jesus is the author and perfecter of my faith, and faith comes from hearing God’s Word. Faith isn’t something I can find by by searching diligently or get by working harder. It is something I hear and take into my heart so I can move closer to God. Jesus fulfilled God’s Word in a way no one expected.
The religious leaders of Christ’s day would have preferred for Him to prove them right because that’s human nature. Jesus was fully human, but He had God’s nature and that isn’t anything at all like ours. He saw the joy before Him so He could get past the present suffering He knew He would have to endure. I have to do the same when it comes to faith. Jesus is the author and the model when it comes to trusting God when I cannot see the outcome. I may have a blurred vision or an inking of what is going on when it comes to God’s plan for me, but I will not have clarity and complete understanding until I am with Him. Jesus knew the seat beside His Father was waiting, and He had complete trust in the Author of His faith. That encourages me to hear God’s Word with a new heart that hears faith each time I open His Word and let it settle in my heart.
Gathered Into One
“Therefore the chief priests and the Pharisees convened a council, and were saying, “What are we doing? For this man is performing many signs. If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all, nor do you take into account that it is expedient for you that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation not perish.” Now he did not say this on his own initiative, but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but in order that He might also gather together into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. So from that day on they planned together to kill Him.” John 11:47-53 NASB
What an amazing display of God’s glory it would be if we allowed Jesus to “gather together into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.” The irony of Christianity is the way it has scattered and separated us when Jesus came to gather us into one. Religious authorities in Jesus’s day were afraid of unity; they are still afraid of it.
Becoming one means letting go of all identity except for that of Jesus Christ. When I join Him as He desires and on His terms, oneness occurs. When I meet Him halfway or allow my denomination or doctrines to come between us, I will never get to that sweet place of connection. The same is true for all the connections in my life. It is heartbreaking when there is a wall between me and those I love, especially when that wall allows me to see but not be connected as I desire.
Those glass walls go up quickly when it comes to Christ, and they give Christianity the appearance of being one until you look more closely at the divisions coming between the children of God. The same walls go up as we love one another. There is safety in walls that creates a boundaries because boundaries bring comfort. Breaking down boundaries makes everyone nervous. Unfortunately, that is one belief that does unite Christians.
When the walls come down, I get a glimpse of the love God so desires for His children. The problem is that when those walls come down, my vulnerability is exposed. I can’t let others know me at my deepest level because they may not like me. I can’t love Christ with abandon because people will think I’m nuts. That’s exactly what would change this world if given the chance. If Christians loved one another and God as Christ, the world would certainly think we were nuts, and that’s a lot better than what they think of us now!
“If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” If we let Him has His way with us, the same thing will happen, and I don’t mean a hostile takeover as some envision. He will take away our place and our nation and leave us forever changed. Change is the problem, and being one scares us to death. When I look to God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit and see how they are one, I want what they have. It’s what the high priests knew would happen. We can’t let everyone get what this guy is giving out. It will ruin our way of life and destroy us. Jesus does just that, and it’s a wonderful thing. Revival comes when those glass walls are shattered, and we are willing to let Christ “gather into one the children of God.” That was His agenda then, and it’s still His agenda now.
Lent and Love
I stayed home with the girls this morning since we are all trying to get back to normal after nasty bouts with a stomach virus. Being sick reminds me to be thankful when I am well, and eating solid food is something I too often take for granted. They are much better, and I’m getting there. God placed Psalm 103:8-14 in my path today, and it was just the reassurance I needed.
“The Lord is compassionate and gracious, Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness.
He will not always strive with us, Nor will He keep His anger forever.
He has not dealt with us according to our sins, Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.
As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us.
Just as a father has compassion on his children, So the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.
For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.” NASB
The words of this beautiful psalm comfort when I think of the wandering I have done. He will remove my transgressions from me, but I learned this week that I have to be willing to let go of them first. My selfishness causes me to hold to them like a security blanket or pacifier, but my love for God enables me to let go and let Him take them as far as the east is from the west. You can’t get any further away than that, and I love that His ways take them where they need to be. My ways often keep them handy just in case I need them. Sin is often disguised as good, and I’ve wrestled with God in that department most of my life. Doing what I think is best is playing God, and that is the biggest sin of all. Thinking I know what’s best for me and others is right up there beside it as it shows I don’t believe He is who He says He is.
So glad God doesn’t stay angry and even more happy that He doesn’t reward me according to my iniquities. His love is higher than any love I can imagine, but I’ve taken it for granted and even taken advantage of His loving nature. As I’m giving up space during this season of Lent, I’m getting down to the bare bones in regard to what’s taking up space in my heart, mind, spirit, and soul. It’s been the most blessed, but by far the most painful Lent of my life. God needs all the space to render the transformation He has in mind, and that involves taking inventory and carefully discarding all that is in His way. Thursday was a difficult day, and Friday proved to be even more challenging as God emptied me as never before. I didn’t like what I saw, and that’s always the case when I let God show me the truth rather than me show Him what I would like to be the truth.
The beauty of cleansing is that no matter how much it hurts, the feeling I get afterward makes me forget the angst it took to get me there. I think that’s what Lent is all about, and so perhaps this is my first real season of Lent. I’ve taken it seriously before, but what I gave up was always more about punishing me than worshipping God and remembering the cost of access to God’s amazing love. Christ came down at Christmas, and I love the beautiful season when we remember Immanuel. Easter has become my favorite time as I remember the Risen Messiah who would not let the sins of this world keep Him down. He faced them head on, took them upon His own shoulders, died for them, and rose to sit next to God and intercede for me. That lifts my heart and spirit as nothing else in this world.
Lent isn’t over yet, and I know the lessons of Lent aren’t over either. I’m sure there will be more space to clear before Saturday, but I’m not who I was on February 13th. It’s been a difficult five and a half weeks, but I’m thankful for the changes He has wrought and wouldn’t go back for anything in this world. He is God, and He knows and loves me more than I can understand. That’s the reason I can continue with the emptying out; I know it’s what’s best for me. Lent and love go hand in hand. It isn’t about punishment; it is about taking stock and remembering that my sin put Christ on the cross. He simply wants me to recognize it and get it out of His way now so He can give me what He so desires for me to have. Holy Week is a special time of worship, and I look forward to all God has in these last few days of Lent.
Knowing and Doing
God reminded me this week of the power of fasting when it comes to living the praying life. Fasting clears the mind and helps focus the heart on God. It is best when done voluntarily, but I tend to neglect the discipline of simplicity even though I know it is good for me. Knowing and doing should go together without effort, but that isn’t always true with me. Like Bugs Bunny, I know I shouldn’t do something, but I do it anyway. It’s the mantra of the spoiled child, and I am guilty of being a very spoiled child of God. I cannot pick and choose when it comes to obedience.
Feasting is so much more fun than fasting, and I have no problem diving into a feast. The good thing about a virus-imposed fast is that the very thought of food is abhorrent so there isn’t the temptation of eating. I’m as empty as I’ve ever been after this three-day bout with whatever has hold of my digestive tract, but I am beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Fasting and confession are similar as they empty me and leave space for God. I certainly have more room for Him now than I did last week. The question is what will I put back now that the space is available. Will I rent it to God or give Him the title and the keys? I have the tendency to let God rent space or stay on as a beloved houseguest rather than give Him ownership. I am supposed to be His temple not His landlady or hostess, but I’ve clearly been the lady of this manor and a gracious hostess. If I am to be His servant, I have to give Him the keys and stop trying to manage what is His.
As children, we are taught to take charge and be independent. God teaches us to let go and trust Him. The world’s message and God’s message are always going to be at odds if I try to balance both in my life. The best balancing is finding Christ in the center of my heart and holding on to Him. His yoke is easy, and His burden is light. Mine is much too heavy. He knows I must lay mine down mine before I can pick up His, and I thank Him for helping me get to that place of not only knowing, but also doing that this week. Lent is about emptying out and about doing what I already know to do. It’s a simple and very beautiful lesson in living the praying life that I truly needed.
Fulfillment is an interesting word which means to “make full, put into effect, meet the requirements, bring to an end, measure up, convert to reality, or develop the full potentialities of.” When I think of the word, I think of Christ. His coming was about finding fulfillment, and all those definitions apply to Jesus as He fulfilled God’s Word. The beautiful lesson God had for me today is that fulfillment is right in front of me and has been all along.
I have looked to places and people to find fulfillment, but they leave me wanting. If I look to others to fulfill my needs, I am not only disappointed but also angry when they don’t meet my needs. It’s a big problem with the world, especially within the church. I cannot expect a church or minister to do what only God can do. It was a problem for Jesus, as well. He did not fulfill the needs of the religious leaders of the day, and that created as big a problem for them as it does in the church today. I can’t point accusing fingers at anyone because I am as guilty as those Pharisees when it comes to expecting Jesus to conform to my wants and needs.
My only hope is finding the fulfillment Jesus brings to God’s wonderful Word and loving as He does. My love must be for all His children. Praying brings a universality to my heart when I see myself as part of His beloved. Knowing that His beloved are all who live in His world changes the way I look at needs and fulfillment. God’s love isn’t about competition or picking favorites. It is inclusive in a world that cries for exclusivity. No wonder there is such conflict in this world!
The same conflict will exist in my own heart if I cannot open it wide enough to love all as they are. Expecting others to conform to my way of thinking is looking for fulfillment in the wrong place and will lead to great disappointment. Only Christ’s fulfillment will help the heart of this broken world find what it needs and stop the anger that comes from pointing fingers at those who fail to fulfill. Until we truly understand that fulfillment has already come and is waiting for us, those fingers will continue to close hearts.
Living the praying life means making enough room in my heart for the entire world. I suppose I should have realized what God was going to do with all that space I gave Him, but He caught me off guard, as usual. I love it when He surprises me with the obvious:)
The girls are sleeping peacefully, and I’m watching the snow. I can’t help but look as winter gives her last performance of the season. It’s been a difficult winter in many ways. I’ve been besieged, broken, and bewildered during this first winter of my sixties. Since my birthday in October, I’ve been inundated with change and numbed by all God has placed in and taken out of my path. I’m thankful for where He has all brought me, but I wouldn’t want to relive these past six months!
As my world and heart are settling into a new routine and a new home, I thank God for the blessings He’s given. I didn’t always recognize them as blessings when they presented themselves, but I do now. Hindsight is notoriously clear; so as I look back, I see His hand at work in wondrous ways. His hand is always at work in wondrous ways, and I pray that I will see Him in each moment and I learn to be still and trust Him more completely.
The fifties were all about finding myself, and the sixties are proving to be all about finding God, which means losing the self I found in my fifties:) Today, I awoke with the sweetest sense of relief as God brought me to the place of rest and peace I so need. I’m glad the kids were at Meme’s and Pepe’s because it gave me the chance to be alone with God on this quiet, snowy morning. This winter has been cold and dark for me in many ways, but God has used all to show me that without the darkness, light means nothing, and without cold, I cannot appreciate His warmth. I’ve learned to look to Him, and Him alone for my light and warmth. He is the Source of love, and love is the light and warmth for which my heart yearns. Like all God’s lessons, I already knew that, but I needed the reminder He’s given me.
The path to the praying life is off to a very rocky start, but God brought me to a place of rest and peace this morning that made me smile and breathe out a long ahhh……. God knows the importance of stopping to rest along the way and knows when I need a break. The snow He provided put my plans on hold as snow always does. I’m thankful for the snow and for the sun that’s coming soon. I plan to enjoy both and learn to thank Him in all things, especially when I don’t have a clue what He’s doing because it is then that He surprises me the most and the best. I love that about Him:)
Picking, Pecking, & Pointing (May 27, 2013)
God’s didn’t give us His Word for picking, pecking, and pointing purposes, and it breaks my heart to see it used as a battering ram. It is designed to bring us together, not tear us apart. I have never understood why some are determined to use it in ways that show very little or no love at all. When asked which commandment was most important, Jesus humbled with an answer that left those who heard and understood less willing to peck, pick, and point. Matthew 22:36-40 says,
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “‘You shall love the “Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” NASB
Jesus knew that all in His presence then and all of us now fall short in following these two commandments. He also knows that we use God’s Word to point at those who have sins other than our own. If asked on a game show what the favorite pastime of Christians, I would push the buzzer and yell nit picking and win the game! I hate that about us; the world hates that about us; God hates that about us, but Satan absolutely loves that about us. We point at sins that are “worse” than ours, and I say that with lots of sarcasm. I may overeat, but I don’t do drugs. I may do drugs, but I don’t commit adultery. I may commit adultery, but….. You get the idea. The bottom line is none of us love as Jesus asks us to in Matthew 22, so we all fall short of God’s glory and have no right to point any of our fingers at anyone.
I wonder what the world would look like if Christians took those two commandments to heart and lived them out in our own families, neighborhoods, and countries. It would be a very different world. I know we’ll argue over technicalities until Jesus comes again, but I know that we will not be arguing over them once He returns. He will not be taking such questions as He has already answered them all, and He will not be zapping the list of folks we have for Him to zap. He will love, and the whole world will see Him in His Father’s glory this time. There won’t be any trials or explanations needed. If we allowed Him to have His way with our hearts now, there wouldn’t be any need to nit pick now. I have a long way to go before I love as Christ loves, and I am humbled by His mercy and grace. So glad He has the whole love thing figured out because we’d be in very big trouble if He loved the way we do!
Praising His Razing
Razing is literally taking something to the ground, and that’s just what God’s done with my heart this Lent. He started on Ash Wednesday and has been demolishing in ways I still don’t understand. I do understand that I don’t have to understand, so I suppose that indicates a little growth. The messages this week have all been about community, and I’ve been humbled by the questions they have raised in my heart. God created us to be in community, and I’ve struggled with that my entire life. I’ve seen my inability to connect as God desires in the bareness left by His razing. He made it clear that I have to deal with that before He can go any further with the building He has in mind.
I do not plan to spend another moment figuring out why I haven’t made connections as I should have, and I do not plan to ponder the problems which may lie ahead. God made it clear to me today that it’s time to move forward, forget past hurts, and let go of future worries. God is God and will work out all the details. He isn’t asking me to build, only sweep away the fear-filled failures so I can see the bigger problem with my heart.
He used the image of tearing down a rotten wooden structure and then building a brand new one on the massive termite colony that caused the other to crumble. It will be fine for a little while, but it will eventually fall. It is a familiar pattern. God will take care of my heart problem, but He wants me to acknowledge it first and give Him the license to dig deeper. It was not fun to sweep away the failures because it meant facing them one by one and forgiving myself for each. I did, however, find great peace in handing over the excavation to His loving hands.
God took my heart down to the ground and me with it the past few weeks, and now He is insisting on digging even deeper. It is much easier to give Him the space to dig now that everything is gone, and there is sweet freedom to the emptiness before me. Like the show Extreme Makeover, demolition is necessary before a new structure can be built. Watching the demo may be fun, but looking at the vast emptiness is frightening. I am excited about what God will do with the space now that it’s empty, I have no doubts that it will be much better than what the folks on the show see when Ty says, “Move that bus!!”
Until then, I’m praising His razing and not worrying about the results. God has a much better imagination than I do, and He knows what’s best for me. I marvel at God’s timing but then I remember that He’s been waiting for me to give Him the space so He can do the remodeling He has in mind. It was my prayer on Ash Wednesday, and it is my prayer this Good Friday. I pray it will always be my prayer. I might just see a tent when God moves that bus:) Whatever I see, I plan to shout “Hallelujah!!” at the top of my heart!
Seeing the God in Others (March 30, 2013)
If you’ve ever had someone see the good in you that you cannot see in yourself, then you understand the power of seeing the good in others. Seeing the good in others is seeing the God in them. Christ helps me do just that and connect in a way that changes them, me, and the world as God releases His Son’s precious love into His world. The message on this last day of Lent is the importance of that connectedness and the compassion that results when His love is recognized and released.
I am designed by my Creator to connect, and I cannot be who He wants me to be until I make the connections He has in mind. Having someone take time to help me understand Christ’s love by seeing the good and God in me gives me the courage to carry out His call to do the same for others. Love and worship must be shared. The body of Christ is connected by His love. When I think about Easter, I am reminded of the resurrection and humbled to think that the powerful love that brought Christ out of the grave is in my own heart and the hearts of all who accept His offer of love.
Christ’s love stays hidden in many, and I’ve certainly hidden it away in my own heart. Bringing His love out of the darkness and into the light of relationship changes everything. Having someone recognize that love and bring it to the surface with honest communion transforms me and allows the resurrection living and loving God has in mind for me. Jesus did not stay in the grave, and His love will not stay locked away in my heart. The grave could not contain His love, and neither can my heart. Christ’s precious love is meant to be shared, and it will be whether or not I participate in the process of sharing it or not.
Love cannot be imposed on others. To love out of fear or force goes against God’s very nature. Before I can see His love in others, I must first see it in myself. That comes when someone sees what I cannot and helps me come to the place of seeing it myself. It’s a sweet revelation that prompts me to want to do the same for others. The process is a painful one that takes time, but it is well worth the hurt to experience the delight that comes from loving as God desires. It brings out the very best when a dear friend sees the worst but still loves the best in me. Releasing God’s love into His world and helping others do the same frees the spirit and heart to connect and serve in God’s world in His way.
It’s been a crazy Lent this year, but on this Holy Saturday, I’m seeing the beautiful light at the end of the tunnel. The light is Christ’s love, and He’s waiting there for me with a sweet resurrection smile of delight on His face. God reminded me this morning that I serve a risen Savior, and that makes all the difference in the way I love and connect in His beautiful world:) Happy Easter!!
Best Change Ever!
Change is never easy, and I think that’s why this season of Lent was so very difficult for me. There were so many changes in such a short time that I found myself out of balance for a bit. This morning, as the sun broke through the dark clouds and filled the house for a few special moments, I had to smile back at God and thank Him for all the lessons. Those teachers who push me to the point of true change are the ones I most remember. I didn’t normally have a lot of affection for those teachers, but the change made me change the way I felt about them.
The best teachers are the ones who care about me, and that means understanding that I may not understand or like the lessons that I truly need. Good parents are not always popular, and neither are good teachers. Jesus was the best teacher ever, and He knew the lessons coming at the cross were going to break their hearts. He also knew they would lead to a stronger discipleship that they would need when He was no longer with them physically. Without the separation that came with His death, His resurrection would not be as powerful. He knew that then, and He knows that now.
This Lent has been more about separation than anything else as God has taken the space I offered and much more. I didn’t understand what He was doing, and I even got angry with Him for taking so much. This morning, I’m thankful and understand the necessity of taking it all. Hanging on to that which He bids me to release keeps me from experiencing all the good He has for me. My intentions get tangled up in His if I try to pick and choose or keep one foot in my way and one foot in His. Then my feet, like those good intentions, keep both of us from doing any good. He made it clear that I need to clear my heart and stop trying to convince Him to let me keep this or hold on to that.
God’s the master teacher, and the change He has in mind is the same change He had in mind on that beautiful morning when Christ rose from the grave. He gave up all to God, and the result was the single greatest change this world has ever known:)
The Deeper the Darkness, the Brighter the Light (4/1/13)
It is in the darkest night that stars shine the brightest, but the light of those stars is diminished by the light pollution of the world. When I move away from the lights of this world and my own attempts to produce light, I am able to look up and see the stars as they are meant to be seen. The same is true for Christ’s light in me. In the darkness of the desert, I appreciate the brilliance of His love.
I resist darkness, and my nature is such that I love to be around others. Community is so very important, and nothing makes me appreciate company more than time in solitude. Just as silence helps me hear, solitude enhances community. The absence of light begs for light; the absence of connection cries out for connectedness. The opposite is true, as well. Bright lights make me want to shade my eyes, and crowds can leave me looking for a getaway.
The light of Christ’s resurrection attracts me as nothing else, and sharing His light brings me closer to God and allows sweet, honest communion with others. That level of connection helps me shed light on the darkness in my heart so I can love in God’s kingdom now. It’s easy to get confused when it comes to light, but Jesus gives His Holy Spirit to help with discernment. When I ask Him to guide me nearer to Christ’s light, He is delighted to be of assistance. He waits for me to ask and lets me grope and hope to find God without Him. When my knees and heart are bruised and broken, I turn to Him for help.
Christ lights the way and leaves me in the capable, loving hands of His Holy Spirit, but I have to be ready to give up my own search and put my matches away before He can get me out of the dark desert and into Christ’s beautiful light. It’s hard to give up the need for independence and even harder to face the fears that keep me in the dark, and no one knows that better than Jesus. It’s why He promises that He will never leave me. If I would just stop wandering off and learn to trust Him, things would be so much easier:)
Oasis in the Desert
Just as the light is welcome in deep darkness, so is the water welcome in the dryness of the desert. The clear, cool water Christ offers truly does end all thirst once I stop looking elsewhere for my thirst to be quenched. I try to light my way and quench my thirst, but the light and the waters of this world are temporary fixes for an eternal problem. My need for independence and my worker bee mentality have led to frustration as I’ve tried to do what only God is capable of doing.
John 4:7-14 describes Jesus at the well with the Samaritan woman.
There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink.” For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. Therefore the Samaritan woman said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” She said to Him, “Sir, You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep; where then do You get that living water? You are not greater than our father Jacob, are You, who gave us the well, and drank of it himself and his sons and his cattle?” Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.”
These scriptures offer a beautiful description of the difference between my ways and God’s ways. I continue to think of Him in my terms rather than grasping His true nature. He is not like me, and until I come to know that at the deepest level of my being, I cannot drink deeply of His living water and become “a well of water springing up to eternal life.” His quenching is not only complete, it also connects me to the Source of eternal life and love. It’s one thing to know about God and even to accept that Jesus is His Son, but it is quite another to connect deeply and allow His love to flow through my heart.
Like the well Jacob dug, Christ’s well required making a deep impact upon this world. The digging He did was far deeper than the best well on earth. I’m sure that the well upon which He sat was one of the finest around, but it could not compare with what He was offering. In the desert, the notion of never experiencing thirst again is a dream come true. In a world that is a dark desert without His love, it is the same. What Christ offers seems to good to be true, so many dismiss it as pie in the sky. Perhaps that is because it is simply pie in the sky for many Christians who do not reach down deeply into their own hearts to find the Source of love. Christ’s love is not for wading or splashing, it is for drinking deeply. That requires faith, and faith is the heart of the beautiful scriptures in John 4.
To never thirst again is a dream that can’t be for me. Or can it? The Samaritan woman knew she didn’t deserve the water being offered, and that is the first step to receiving it. Many guard the well of Christ and believe they have the right or maybe even the responsibility to make sure that folks like the Samaritan woman don’t taint the water. If we fret about who is drinking at the well or how they are drinking, we will miss the living water so graciously offered by Christ. We are all the woman at the well; we just don’t all know it.
Breathing in God’s Presence
Lessons on the path to the praying life have been simple ones that left me changed in a powerful way. God stripped me down to my bare bones and took me to the very core of my heart in a way that left me empty and exposed as never before. In the bareness, I’ve found simplicity and felt like hitting my forehead with my open palm the way the folks on those vegetable juice commercials do:) I suppose I was thinking I would get to some higher level of praying, fall into lengthy, more complicated patterns of prayer, or master centering prayer or Lectio Divina, but the exact opposite occurred. Praying became second nature, and prayers became simple moments with God.
The point of all the lessons is that praying and living are one and the same. Praying is breathing God’s presence into my spirit as often as I breathe air into my lungs. I’ve found that praying is more necessary for living than breathing. Praying simple prayers constantly is walking in God’s kingdom as a barefoot child walking a familiar path. It is a sweet state of being that brings light in the darkness and cool water in the desert. Praying is holding God’s hand, riding on His shoulders, or resting in His arms as He shows me His world; it’s a wonderful way to travel. I don’t have to find the way or forge the path. His Son did that, and His Holy Spirit waits patiently for me to quit striving and worrying so I can delight in all God has to show me.
When prayer becomes an involuntary act of love as natural as breathing, the praying life begins. Like a newborn baby taking in her first breath, I was worn out and scared to death from the process of entering into a new way of praying. It becomes more relaxed and natural with each prayer, and now I can’t imagine praying any other way. It’s nice to know I don’t have to worry about how or when to pray anymore, and if I feel a stuffy heart coming on, I know the Holy Spirit will quickly open my prayer way if I call on Him for help. He usually prescribes a good dose of scripture because there is nothing better for prayer than God’s Word taken under the care of the Great Physician:)
Pastor John helped me see that the path takes an upward spiral when walking in God’s kingdom and connecting as He desires. For someone who has gone in circles most of her life, the circular part of the pattern is familiar, but spiraling upward was more difficult for me to grasp. God used the vivid image of Lillyann and Mylah navigating the stairs to help me understand His lesson. The big difference in spiraling upward is that each time I come full circle, I nudge a nearer to God. The hard part is a willingness to move on to the next step. The great news is that I’m not alone. The Holy Spirit and dear friends encourage me to move upward. The sobering lesson is that I can easily spiral downward if I allow my attention to move away from God.
The last lesson on the path to the praying life hurt me very deeply, but it gave me the courage I needed to spiral upward. I must choose if I will spiral upward or downward on this journey. Hesitating on the step last week almost caused me to fall. Little Mylah is finding the same to be true as she navigates the stairway.
Connecting and traveling on the path to the praying life is about self differentiation and love. As I become who I am truly meant to be with the help of the Holy Spirit and those dear friends with whom I have honest communion, I come full circle and nudge a little nearer to God and others. Some do not appreciate the spiral and prefer bringing me down. The Holy Spirit enabled me to break free of the need to please and reach a new place of loving and praying. With His help, I am able to pray at a new level.
It’s what spiraling upward is all about. As I learn to pray as Christ, I am able to let go of hurt. Praying for those who hurt me may never make a difference in them, but it really does make a difference in me. I don’t have to fix or persuade anyone; I just have to extend lovingkindness, and the Holy Spirit will do the rest. It was a powerful lesson, but I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised. Satan brought out the big guns last week, and my heart suffered as I forgot Who’s in charge and tried to handle what only God can handle. Not everyone is happy with the changes that enable me to spiral upward. I was concerned when little Mylah insisted on walking up the stairs before I thought she was ready. She would not back down, and I’m so thankful she didn’t let my fear keep her from moving up:)
I marvel at how God teaches, and pray I let Him guard my heart and the hearts of those I love dearly because guarding hearts is the work of the Holy Spirit. That was clear as God prepared my heart to pray as He desires. I’m not sure where the lessons will lead next, but I know living out the lessons in loving and praying will always be a big part of this beautiful journey.
God used the image of the winding staircase at the center of our new home to help me see that the path to the praying life is one that spirals upward. Walking in God’s kingdom is better with company, and seeing Lillyann encourage Mylah to keep trying reminded me that a little lovingkindness from a friend goes a long way when it comes to getting to that next step:)