Being Human

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” – John 1:14

We hear people talk about “out-of-body” experiences, but have you ever thought about Jesus’  unique in-body experience? For all eternity, Jesus was a spiritual being without a fleshly body. Then, one night, more than two millennia ago, He was born in Bethlehem and, with arms, legs, head, and heart, began to feel things He never felt before.

Think about that for a minute! I can almost hear Jesus describing His earthly experience this way: “I loved being on earth – being human, having skin so I could feel the sun on my back, having teeth and taste buds so I could enjoy biting into a juicy grape and sharing meals with my friends. I think I especially liked feeling the clean when I washed my feet after a long day of walking.

“I understand, too, how My perspective changed when My body was tired or hungry. And I had to make an effort to stay in touch with my Father, getting off by Myself whenever I could. I know, now, how hard that can be in the middle of earthly demands, desires, and relationships.

“One of my favorite things was seeing Myself in the Passover we celebrated every year, recognizing what My body would provide for humans I loved, causing everything to  change for them.

“There were hard things about taking on flesh and coming to earth, but I am so glad I did. You, my friends, will always know that I understand your complaints, frustrations, stresses. I really do. Now, let Me help.”

“Christ has put on our feelings along with our flesh.” – John Calvin

 

 

The “Un’s”

“Blessed are those whose strength is in you; who have set their hearts on pilgrimage.” – Psalm 84:5

What are the “un’s? in your life? Have you ever thought about it? I took it as a personal challenge to spend time with God thinking about three categories of “un’s”: Unfinished Business, Unanswered Prayers, and Unfulfilled Promises.

In God’s presence I asked if there was any Unfinished Business in my life. A relationship to mend? An apology to make? A project to finish? A goal to set? I thought of my commitment to simplify my life, to abide in Him, to be grateful always, to accept imperfection. Recognize any of these? For me they are, as yet, unfinished. In process, but unfinished.

Then, I thought about what I saw as Unanswered Prayers – those for which I was still waiting for answers. Most of them relate to people I love and pray for – health, finances, relationships, marriages, spiritual condition – you know the list. Still praying.

Then there are Unfulfilled Promises. God has promised to heal wounds. He’s working on it, but not finished yet. He promises to train, discipline, and grow us up to be like Jesus. Working on it, not finished yet.

Might you want ask these same questions of God?

  • What is the unfinished business in my life right now?
  • What are the unanswered prayers I need to keep praying and trusting God for?
  • What promises has He made that are not fulfilled – yet?

You will be both encouraged and challenged as you wait for God’s response. And I’m pretty sure you’ll gain insights that surprise you!

“Let’s not be afraid to look at everything that has brought us to where we are now and trust that we will soon see in it the guiding hand of a loving God.” – Henri Nouwen

 

He still shows up.

“Look at me. I stand at the door. I knock. If you hear me call and open the door, I’ll come right in and sit down to supper with you.” – Revelation 3:20 (The Message)

God seems to love being part of our ordinary lives. Here’s how we know: After Jesus died and was raised from the tomb, He kept showing up. And it seems these visits were most often in the places where everyday life was happening: on the road, at a meal, or at work.

Remember the story when Jesus walked with two sad disciples on the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24)? He listened to their story of the death of the one they thought was going to be their Messiah.  As they walked, He explained to them all the prophecies fulfilled in His life, but they still didn’t realize who He was.

When they stopped for supper, Jesus acted as if He was going to keep traveling, but His two companions asked Him to stay with them. And He did. As a result of that meal, their hearts were warmed, and their minds were opened to understand that God Himself was at their table. He didn’t let them see who He really was until they invited Him to dinner.

Jesus still shows up, but He is a gentleman. He doesn’t push into our lives. He waits for us to acknowledge His presence, to talk to Him, to include Him even in our routine activities. He is with us – at work, on the road, at meals, at play, and at rest. Let’s not ignore Him. Ordinary turns to extraordinary when Jesus is there!

“We need never shout across the spaces to an absent God. He is nearer than our own soul, closer than our most secret thoughts” – A. W. Tozer

Don’t Hurt Me

“Do not quench the Spirit.” (1 Thessalonians 5:19) “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God . . .” (Ephesians 4:30)

Have someone ever hurt your deeply? Has a person you trusted turned against you? Remembering those things still brings pain, doesn’t it? Often we choose to protect ourselves by avoiding such persons and being very careful in choosing those to whom we make ourselves vulnerable. It hurts too much to take big risks!

God is not like us. He risked and received great pain by becoming human. Jesus never forced anyone to follow Him. He invited and then accepted their decision. But how it must have hurt when those He invited turned away. He went on to suffer rejection, shame and even death at the hands of human beings.

God goes ever further. Now, He actually lives inside those who follow Jesus. He knows our thoughts, sees our actions, and, I’m sure, cringes at some of the things we do and say. We can’t possibly understand the the risk to which God exposes Himself by being intimately personal with us. As author Philip Yancey puts it, “Words fail to capture the enormity of descent when a sovereign God takes up residence in a person and says in effect ‘Don’t hurt me. Don’t push me away.'”

Don’t reject Him. Trust Him. Listen to Him. When we do, we find that He, who risks being hurt by us, will never hurt us back.

The sovereign God gives a choice. We can turn away, or we can turn toward Him, honoring His presence in our lives by making Him our first priority.  Then, our hearts will be overwhelmed by the constant attention of our great Lover, who simply asks that we don’t hurt Him.

“My precious Lord, I want to be often and long alone with You.” – Gary Thomas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Captivated!

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” – Proverbs 4:23

One Christmas, our young grandchild threw himself into the joy of the day.  When he opened a gift, he exclaimed, “Just what I always wanted!” The next gift received exactly the same level of excitement and expression. One gift after another, we smiled, then laughed, at his enthusiastic, “Just what I always wanted!”

That constant excitement is charming in a child, but not  in adults when it comes to our engagement in things around us. There should be varying levels of emotional response in our lives. If we are equally reactive to sporting events, politics, finances, work dramas, parenting, and social conflicts, there is no energy left for meaningful connection with God. We are simply too drained to love and respond to Him.

I’ve found it helpful to separate myself from involvements that are distracting or draining. I don’t spend much time with the news because, when I do, I am distressed. I try to take relationship conflicts to God immediately, instead of stewing about the situation for days or weeks. I daily commit my family members to God and His care so the concerns about them can fade into the distance. I do react emotionally to life around me, but I want every reponse to be appropriate to the situation.

The goal: To have God be the main focus of my emotional energy. To be mesmerized by Him, captivated by His love, curious about His Word, and longing for His presence. If I am going to say “Just what I always wanted!” about anything, I want it to be about Him! You, too?

“The more people rejoice over something outside God, the less intense will be their joy in God.” – St. John of the Cross

 

Feeling anxious?

 

“When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul.” – Psalm 94:19

Entering the stillness,
My folded hands
Remind me to slow.

Much to lay down.
Soiled garments of worry
one by one
worn too long.
Leave them.

Distractions of life
unwelcome intruders,
cluttering noise.
Turn them away.

A few deep breaths,
Air into the lungs, out of the mouth.
Refreshment coming in.
All that hinders going out.
The holy enters.
The mundane leaves.

The stillness begins to come.
Quieted mind,
Slowed body,
Ready just to be where He is.

After the stillness,
Cleaner, lighter, purer, quieter.

Distractions return one by one.
I recognize them for what they are and
Know I will need to return to the stillness;
To the One who meets me there.
Soon.

“Collect yourself in His presence with the one purpose and intent of loving Him. . . Rest in love and come to Him in . . . faith, coming for no specific claim, request, or desire.” – Molinos

“Real prayer is nothing more than loving God.” – Fenelon

One at a Time

“If we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us” – 1 John 4:12b

Everybody wants to be accepted for who they really are, not just for what shows on the surface. So, I really don’t want to judge people by appearance, wealth, religion, nationality, or color. And I don’t want people to judge me that way either.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, we realize Samaritans were not acceptable to Jews. They were seen as people of mixed-pedigree, theologically wrong, and to be avoided.

I have to ask myself who today’s  “Samaritans” are to me? The addicted? The uneducated? The poor? Those of a particular nationality, religion, sexual orientation, or political persuasion?

Then I realize I am a “Samaritan” to some – one who is labelled as “Christian” and understood only by what they think that label means. I don’t want anyone to assume that, because I am a Christian, they know my views on social issues, politics, or science. I am an individual and want to seen as such. I imagine you do, too!

The shock of Jesus’ story was, of all the people passing by, it was the despised Samaritan who stopped to help the wounded Jew. This Samaritan didn’t fit His audience’s preconceived ideas of Samaritans as a group. Some of our present-day “Samaritans” don’t either!

Jesus dealt with people one at a time: The Syro-Phoenician woman, the Jewish leader’s daughter, the rich young ruler, Zaccheus the tax collector, and many others. He listened, touched, and forgave one person at a time, no matter their background. Maybe He expects us to do the same.

“There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread, but there are many more dying for a little love.” – Mother Theresa

Does prayer work?

“You hear, O Lord, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry.” – Psalm 10:17

The most soft-spoken person in the class asked, almost sadly, “Does prayer really work?” A silence followed. Who would dare to ask that question? Of course it works! But, deep inside, most of us have doubts, don’t we? She was brave enough to ask the question for us all. I had to think about it for awhile and, over time, have come up with the only answer I know.

Does prayer work?

If you mean, do I get what I ask for? Not often. Sometimes it seems I do. The anxiety lessens, the child gets better, the presentation goes well. At other times, the answer is not at all what I was looking for at all.

Sometimes prayer simply becomes a battleground for my spiritual life. My way or His? Will I accept what God wants even if I don’t want it? Jesus exampled it perfectly in the Garden of Gethsemane.

And sometimes, I get to be part of what God is doing in this world. In some small way, I may influence His work as others have done through the ages.

Always, though: Prayer connects me to God. Talking to Him grows my trust. When I listen for His response, I learn to know Him, and knowing Him changes me.

Yes, prayer works! For God’s glory, of course, but also for my good. There’s a lot about this I don’t know, but I do know this: I’m not going to stop praying just because I don’t understand. Most days, just being with Him is enough.

“If I seek some other reward besides God Himself, I may get my reward but I cannot be happy.” – Thomas Merton

Just Say “Yes”

“I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness. . .who is he who will devote himself to be close to me? . . .” – Jeremiah 31:3a and 30:21b

Jesus is like a lovesick suitor. Always calling. Always asking the question, “Will you marry Me?”. Always wanting me to say “yes”.

As He continues to show up in my life, I begin to believe He really cares. I realize He dreamed me, designed me, and made me. I already belong to Him. I just have to say “yes” to letting Him love me.  There is some resistance, some fear, but over time, I begin to trust Him when He says He will never leave me or hurt me. He will never change His mind about me. All I have to do is say “yes”.

In the stillness
He comes.
I never know when He will come.
I just suddenly realize He is there, and
He looks at me with tender eyes,
a gentle smile on His face.
Without words, I hear
“Just say ‘yes’ to Me.”
And I do.
“Yes” to relationship.
“Yes” to love.
“Yes” to doing whatever He asks.
“Yes” to being one with Him.

Jesus wants us to move into a more intimate relationship with Him. He is overwhelmingly in love with each of us. He’s just waiting for our “yes”.

“The Lord is so anxious that we should desire Him and strive after His companionship that He calls us ceaselessly, time after time, to approach Him. . .” –  Teresa of Avila

The Way We Look at Things

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.” – Matthew 6:22-23

When things start to look fuzzy, I realize my glasses need cleaning or updating with some fine-tuned lenses. I want clear vision, both physically and spiritually. I think of it this way:

If we look at the world through the lense of money (How much will it cost? Or how much will we make?), we will never see the world as God sees it. He loves the world without regard to cost.

If we look at other people through the lense of self-righteousness or superiority, we will not be able to discern right and wrong. We will have already made up our minds.

If we look at those around us through a lense of anger, we will never be able to show love or gentleness. We will be harsh and rigid in our judgments.

If we look at our environment through a lense of negativity, we will not be able to see good in others or accept them as Jesus does. We will be critical and untrusting.

Maybe we need to evaluate our perspective. We may find we need a new way of looking at things: God’s way of compassion.

God can give us a compassionate view. He can reveal prejudices and attitudes. He can give insight and understanding. Once we allow Him to correct our vision, our relationships will change and opportunities for new ones will open we cannot yet imagine. First we have to be willing to see things His way. He will do the rest.

“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” – Wayne Dyer

The Jesus Question

 

"May prayer be made for him continually." - from Psalm 72:15

“I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in Me should stay in darkness.” – John 12:46

Most people have an opinion or belief about Jesus. Some see Him as a compassionate man who once walked around Galilee and Jerusalem doing good things for people and teaching them to live better lives. Others claim a personal relationship with Him – believing He’s with them, praying to Him, asking Him to guide their lives. For some, opinions are based on hearsay or feelings; for others, they are based on research and reading. There is no doubt that the views of Jesus vary widely.

Here are some things people have said about Him:

  • Some in the biblical crowd: “He is a good man.”
  • Others in same crowd: “He deceives the people.”
  • Roman centurion: “Surely this was the Son of God.”
  • C. S. Lewis: “Either this man was, and is, the Son of God; or else a madman or something worse.”
  • John the Baptist: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”
  • Peter: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
  • Thomas: “My Lord and my God.”
  • Bertrand Russell: “. . . clearly he was not so wise as some other people have been, and he was certainly not superlatively wise.”
  • People of Nain: “A great prophet has appeared among us.”
  • Temple guards: “No one ever spoke the way this man does.”

If Jesus walked into the room right now, what would you say to Him? About Him? Who is Jesus to you? It’s the most important question you will ever answer.

“The miracle of the gospel is Christ, risen and glorified, who this very moment tracks us, pursues us, abides in us, and offers Himself to us as companion for the journey.” – Brennan Manning

Mere Humans?

“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?” – 1 Corinthians 3:16

Have you ever wanted to be extraordinary? To be stronger, wiser, and more insightful than other people? Maybe you are and you just don’t know it. Here’s a clue:

Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, calling them out for bragging about which leader they were loyal to and then fighting with others about whose leader was more spiritual, had better ideas, or had superior credentials. Paul reminded them that when they behaved this way, they were acting like mere humans, just ordinary people (1 Corinthians 3:4). He goes on to tell them, as followers of Jesus Christ, they were much more than mere humans. Why? Because God was living within them.

He lives in us, too!

It is so easy to get caught up in intellectual debates or in following the latest teacher or preacher. It is tempting to get involved in political arguments or interpersonal conflicts. But, God is telling us we are better than that. We need to step back and realize our true role: To be occupied and controlled by the Holy Spirit. To be a holy temple for God himself. We are above the muddy fights. We are no longer mere humans. We are God’s ambassadors – His hands and feet and face to the world around us.

Knowing this challenges me to follow Jesus’ example of loving, helping, listening, touching, and, yes, sometimes confronting evil. He was not a mere human and His followers aren’t either. We are extraordinary, God- empowered humans. Let’s live it out!

“My job is not to solve people’s problems or make them happy, but to help them see the grace operating in their lives.” – Eugene Peterson

 

Accident Prone?

“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” – Mark 1:35

“A rabbi taught that experiences of God can never be planned or achieved. ‘They are spontaneous moments of grace, almost accidental.’ His student asked, ‘Rabbi, if God-realization is just accidental, why do we work so hard doing all these spiritual practices?’ The rabbi replied, “To be as accident-prone as possible.'”*

Do you want to experience more of those God moments day-to-day? You can. God wants to make Himself known. We just have to put ourselves in a place where we are able to recognize Him when He does.

There are so many ways to do that! I will mention a few, but it is important that we conduct “holy experiments” to see what works, knowing God reaches each of us through varying means. You might try these:

Scripture memorization: God often speaks through His Word. If we carry selected verses in our memories, He can call them to mind as He wishes.

Silence/solitude: Our world is filled with distractions. Sometimes we need to carve out time to be alone with God. Just us, our Bible, and Him. When we do, we learn to hear His voice and then can recognize it later, even in the busyness of life.

Praying always: We can find ways to stay in touch with God by talking to Him all day long. Sometimes a habitual prayer such as “Have mercy on me.” Sometimes spontaneous praise or conversation.

What is it that will make you more accident-prone? You may want to try some holy experiments to see!

“Ceaseless internal prayer is a continued yearning of the human spirit towards God.” – The Way of a Pilgrim

 

*Philip Yancey, Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan), 2008 (Kindle Edition), location 2037.

 

Regrets?

“. . . in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself and not counting their trespasses against them.” – 2 Corinthians 5:19a

Do you think about times you rebelled against God’s direction because you thought what He was asking was too hard or unfair? Or times when you knew something you were choosing to do was a violation of God’s standards and you did it anyway? We all have regrets, don’t we? Sometimes the decisions we made then still affect our lives today. Because of our trust in Jesus, when we confess these sins, no matter how old or new they are, He forgives. He gives us a clean slate and invites us to move forward.

But sometimes we have trouble receiving that forgiveness. We still condemn ourselves for wrong turns we made long ago. I was talking to God about that one day and it was as if He was saying this to me (and, I think, to some of you, too):

I want to heal your heart from past pains and perceived obligations so you can be more focused on Me and My world. I deliver you from pain, caused by your sins or those of others. You are free to follow Me without carrying the weight of your past. I have forgiven you, released you, healed you. Freely you have received, freely give. Now it’s all about you and Me. No more regrets. Just the present moment and our never-ending future together.

Once we receive God’s forgiveness, we find it easier to give grace to those who wrong us. So for their sake and ours, let’s face forward –  forgiven and forgiving.

“This might well be the essence of the spiritual journey for all of us- to accept that we’re accepted and to go and live likewise.” – Richard Rohr

A Slow Process

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.” – Galatians 5:22

I want patience – now! Can you relate? We really would like to be kinder, less anxious, more self-controlled, but getting there is a slow process.

No wonder! When we look at spiritual characteristics we realize these are not gifts, but fruit. We don’t unwrap the package and try on love; instead, love develops over time and grows in seasons. Here’s how it’s been for me.

Love, joy, peace: It took the first 50-some years of my life to see these life-anchoring fruits take root. They happen only as we learn to abide in Him and, for some of us, that learning takes a long time.

Patience, kindness, goodness: Then for a decade, God gave me the job of caring for a good person with many needs – companionship, listening ear, errands, appointments, counsel. At some point in the middle of it all, I realized God, in His grace, was giving me a chance to practice patience, kindness, and goodness.  Apparently, I could learn these things in no other way. Maybe God has given you a person to practice on, too.

Gentleness, faithfulness, self-control: I am now in the mature phase of my life and the Spirit’s focus seems to be on my becoming more gentle; faithfully finishing well; and exercising self-control with my time, body, and speech.

God uses circumstances to grow us into fruitfulness. It’s OK if it’s slow – watching progress through the seasons is gift enough! He is cultivating something in you right now. Look for it!

“We need a new kind of relationship with the Father that drives out fear and mistrust and anxiety and guilt, that permits us to be hopeful and joyous, trusting and compassionate.” – Brennan Manning

 

Life-Changing Prayers

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“God listens to those who are godly and who do His will.” – John 9:31

Prayer is a mystery to many of us. Why pray if God already knows what we need? Or, if we do pray, why don’t our prayers get answered? There’s no formula for effective praying, but today I will share some insights others have given me that may be helpful to you, too.

Sitting: Prayer is our response to God’s invitation to be with Him. He wants us to come confidently, joyfully, consistently, knowing we will always be welcomed. So let’s not barge into His presence brashly asking for things. First, we just sit for awhile, enjoying the pleasure of His company.

Confessing: We often will find thoughts coming into our minds during this time about things we do that hurt Him. We have to be willing to give up anything that blocks friendship with God. He knows we will never be perfect, but He requires that we acknowledge our sin and commit to being better. When we confess, He always forgives, makes us clean, and gives us strength.

Asking: Now we are ready to tell Him our troubles, pray for others who concern us, and ask Him to answer as He wishes.

Listening: Then we quietly wait for any message He may give. Sometimes it is a direction or an idea. At other times, a sense of peace, contentment, or joy. Listening, though, is the best part of prayer. Let’s not hurry away without hearing what He may have to say.

Now we are ready to face our day:  refreshed, clean, calm, energized, and prepared to serve Him and others. Let the adventure begin!

“God’s presence calms your spirit, gives you restful sleep, and quiets your mind. But you must give yourself completely to Him.” – Francois Fenelon

 

Let Me Lead

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“He guides me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” – Psalm 23:3b

Jesus went around Galilee finding many to whom he said, “Follow Me.” And they did, some following closer than others. Peter was one who was in the closest circle of all, right up near to Jesus, hearing every word, witnessing every miracle, and even being empowered to do the same himself.

Then the human inevitable happened. When Jesus was telling the disciples He was going to Jerusalem and would be killed there, Peter rushed over and said, essentially, “No way. We will never let that happen to you.” The one who was supposed to be following decided to lead. Whoops! When Jesus said “Follow Me” the implication was, “Let Me lead” and He rebuked Peter’s well-intentioned but misguided attempt at a takeover.

Do we let Him lead? Even when we don’t agree with the path He has chosen for us? Even when it seems like He is making a mistake or doesn’t understand? Following Jesus is good, but each of us will come to crossroads when we have to decide if we will let Him lead.

He wants to show us how to spend our time, how to respond to people, how to help, what to read, how to spend. He gives it as both a command and an invitation: “Follow Me.”

We are not following some trail guide randomly finding His way through the landscape of life. We are following the One who is the way. If we believe that, we must let Him lead. Anything less would be foolishness.

“If we cling to the trinkets of this world and reject the radical invitation of Jesus, we will miss out on the infinite treasure of knowing and experiencing Him.” – David Platt

 

Me, too.

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“I call on you, O God, for you will answer me; give ear to me and hear my prayer. Show the wonder of your great love”. – Psalm 17:6-7a

The bleeding woman was healed. She came to Jesus in desperation. She came secretly, pushing through the crowds, bending low to touch the edge of His robe, hoping beyond hope His power would flow through to her and stop the bleeding she had experienced for twelve long, expensive, lonely, and frightening years.

She was immediately and completely healed and, amazed, turned to leave. But Jesus did not let her go unnoticed. Instead He called her to face Him in front of the pressing crowd and He lovingly pronounced her clean saying, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”

Does anyone else want that? Do you have something in your life from which you want to be released or healed? An old wound? A destructive habit? An illness or condition? A pain-filled relationship? A spiritual frustration?

Me, too, Lord.

Heal me of my past, my pain, all that causes me to bleed.

Free me from my suffering.

May I, too, go in peace.

Me, too, Lord. 

I want to be whole, usable, intimate with You.

“God’s gift was – and is – a visible reminder that He is interested in restoring the lives of those who have been broken, battered, and desperate.” – Jo Kadlecek

 

Each Day

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“. . . inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” – 2 Corinthians 4:16b

How’s your day going? Sometimes our days get lopsided with work, serving, distractions, or anxieties. Over many years, I have found that being intentional about how I fill even the tiniest of openings in my day will have an overall effect on my sense of well-being and even my usefulness.

For me, each day should include something that

• Builds relationship
• Feeds my mind
• Takes a step toward a goal
• Refreshes my spirit
• Shares God’s love
• Is kind to my body

These things don’t have to take a lot of time, but if we don’t seek them out, they won’t happen. For example, building relationship might be spending the evening with a family member or it may be a simple hallway conversation at work. Being kind to my body might be a complete workout or it might be making good food choices at lunch. Refreshing my spirit might be taking a walk or could be as simple as gazing out the window for a few minutes, thanking God for His beautiful creation. Feeding my mind might be reading a chapter in a thought-provoking book or simply listening to a TED Talk on my iPad.

God is at work in the small stuff. He loves to use our minutes and hours to redirect our thoughts to Him. Over time, these little things change the way we see the world around us. Then, as we pay attention, we find ourselves becoming more joyful, hopeful, and peaceful. And that’s pretty great!

If you were aware of how precious today is, you could hardly live through it. Unless you are aware of how precious it is, you can hardly be said to be living at all. – Frederick Buechner

Being Stretched?

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“Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” – 2 Corinthians 4:17

Sometimes life is hard. We find ourselves caught up in situations we can’t control. At that point, we have a choice either to trust God or break into a thousand pieces. I have learned that when God puts us in that kind of a bind, He has a purpose. He is stretching us to make us usable beyond our wildest dreams. When I protested recently, He said something like this,

I know it’s hard to trust Me with everything, especially with those you love. If you can’t trust Me, trust My purpose. Everything that comes into your life is meant to help you, not to hurt you.

Look at how I stretched the disciples beyond their comfort zones:

  • Sending them out two by two, asking them to heal, cast out demons, announce the kingdom. They were fishermen and common men. These were villages and people they knew. It was a stretch!
  • Storms on the Sea of Galilee – pretty scary.
  • Confrontations with the Pharisees. My disciples honored these rulers and cringed when I countered them.
  • John the Baptist’s death. That just didn’t fit into their thinking.
  • Speaking in parables. They wanted everyone to understand what they had found. Couldn’t figure out why I didn’t speak in plain language.
  • My treatment of my earthly family. So counter-cultural. They cringed then, too.

I stretched them beyond recognition, but look who they became. Trust My purpose. It has a goal and it is good.

It is natural for us to wish that God had designed for us a less glorious and less arduous destiny; but then we are wishing not for more love but for less.” – C. S. Lewis

As a Little Child

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“I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant and their faces shall never be ashamed.” – Psalm 34:4

God invites us to come as little children, to be close, to let Him hold us. When we turn toward Him, He calms our fears by saying something like this:

Come close to Me. It’s OK. You’ll like it here.
You’re little, but I’m big.
You’re weak, but I’m strong.
You know some things, but I know everything.
You’re needy, I am generous.
You’re afraid, I am your protector.
You’re lonely, I am Love.
Just come to Me and receive everything you need.

God’s great desire is for His children to be close. He loves us infinitely and wants us to soften our hearts so we can receive His love. We do that by thinking about Him, reading His Word, praying about everything, and listening for His voice. It is always a voice of love, never criticism or condemnation for those who know and follow Him.

Let’s respond to Him with the anticipatory trust of a little child. We will never be sorry we did.

“When we hear him whisper into our souls, ‘You are my beloved child’, we can finally begin to shake off the striving and obsession that drives us. . .” – David Timms

True or False?

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“Come near to God and He will come near to you.” – James 5:8

“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”* How do we see God? If we see Him inaccurately, we may be afraid to approach Him. Let’s look at some things we may believe, but shouldn’t:

If we sin, God can’t allow us to come into His presence.
False. If we are followers of Christ, God sees us as holy because Jesus paid for our sins. God invites us to come to Him boldly as a child would approach a loving Father. Being holy is not our ticket into His presence, but as we spend time there, we find that we actually do become more holy.

God demands perfection of His followers.
Not true! God is perfect, but He knows His kids. We are weak and we fall down a lot. He loves us anyway and asks us to come, mud and all, so He can gently wash us clean. No perfection required, just a willingness to keep returning to our Father.

God can’t use us if we have some big sin in our past.
Again, false. Most often the failures of our past are our best preparation for a useful future. Whatever comes into our lives, good or bad, God will use for His glory if we submit it to Him. Our God-redeemed failures become our greatest assets.

We shouldn’t accept everything we have come to believe. We need to keep going back to the source of Truth: the Bible. There we will find a loving, compassionate, forgiving God who is crazy happy that we want to be with Him.

“Once the heart has been gained by God, everything else will eventually take care of itself.” – Madame Guyon

*A. W. Tozer

 

Freedom

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“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” – Galatians 5:1

Feeling like there is too much to do? Too many loose ends? Lots to worry about? There is a spiritual exercise helpful to me when I am feeling that way and I thought it might help you, too.

I begin to tell God my concerns, and He invites me to lay them down one-by-one. They became an imaginary pile beside me. Then I see myself walking toward Him, leaving the pile behind. I see it getting smaller and smaller as I move closer to Him.

I sense God’s pleasure as He has my complete attention. Just the two of us – lots of smiles, joy. I know I am free, lighter, less serious, more transparent, and I can sense His response, “I have redeemed you so you could be free from bondage to your own desires, from pleasing others, from feeling burdened or stressed. Live lightly.”

Then I go on in my prayer time, honestly sharing my heart and my needs, interceding for others as He calls me to do. Turning to go back, I see in the distance the things I laid down. As I get closer to the pile, I realize that I must be very careful what I choose to pick up again. Much of it I will simply leave in His hands. God has made us free. Free to be His.

“In almost everything that touches our everyday life on earth, God is pleased when we’re pleased. He wills that we be as free as birds to soar and sing our maker’s praise without anxiety.” – A. W. Tozer

 

Self-Improvement Plan?

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” Galatians 2:20a

God lives inside us. It is His goal that we simply believe and act on that fact. It is not a “someday”, it is now: He indwells those who have accepted His invitation to follow Him. He is bigger, stronger, and smarter than we are, desiring to overrule our bad decisions and live the God-life through us. If we really believed that, how might things be different?

  • We would recognize Satan’s lies (e.g. worry means love).
  • We wouldn’t be anxious about things that are far in the future.
  • We would be more discerning about people, able to see through to their hearts.
  • We would love more.
  • We would rejoice every time truth triumphs over lies.
  • We would have an eternal perspective.
  • We would serve others with wisdom and grace.
  • Our concerns about appearances would fall away.
  • We would trust Christ’s lordship of this world, doing our part, but  leaving the rest in His hands.
  • We would entrust our children to God, knowing He has a plan for each of them that includes us, but does not center on us.
  • We would learn to listen to our bodies, giving them what they need (e.g. food, exercise, and rest).
  • We would give generously.

We don’t have to adopt another self-improvement plan. We just need to yield to the Christ living within us, intentionally giving up our wills for His and letting His love, power, truth, and peace flow through us. When He lives in us, we become better people and the world becomes a better place!

“God is ready to assume full responsibility for the life fully yielded to Him.” – Andrew Murray

 

 

 

Even When It’s Hard

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“Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness, and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.” – Ephesians 5:8b-10

Every morning I pray that the Holy Spirit would help me, for that day, to deny myself, take up my cross, and follow Jesus. That is, after all, what Jesus requires of His true followers.

But what does it actually look like to “deny myself”? I have come to realize that it doesn’t mean to deny who I am, but, instead, to deny what I want. I have my likes and dislikes. I have my desires and preferences, too. But what I’m figuring out is that when those likes or preferences bump up against what Christ has planned for me that day, my desires have to take a back seat to His.

So, now I have another prayer that simply has to go with the first one:

“I want to want what You want.
But, if I don’t want what You want, I’ll do what You want anyway.”

I think that’s what it means to deny myself – to subordinate my pleasures, my comfort, and my routines to His will. To do what He wants even when it is scary or hard or confusing. Or even if I just don’t want to. No wonder it requires a cross!

“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.” – G. K. Chesterton

Still Under the Tree?

". . . they shall call him Immanuel - which means, 'God with us.'" - Matthew 1:23b

“. . . they shall call him Immanuel – which means, ‘God with us.'” – Matthew 1:23b

Imagine you want to buy a Christmas gift for a special little girl. You shop for the cutest, cuddliest baby doll you can find, put it in a box, wrap it in beautiful paper, tie it with a bow, and give it to her.

She might take the box, open it and hold the doll in her arms. But after a few minutes, she puts it back under the Christmas tree and runs off to play.

A better scenario? She opens the box, takes the doll in her arms and carries it everywhere. Months later her mom tells you that your gift is the girl’s constant companion. The doll goes to preschool, to church, and to the grocery store and when the little girl is tucked into bed, the doll is tucked in with her. As the giver of the gift, you smile – this is exactly as you had hoped it would be.

When God sent His Son to earth, it was His intention for Jesus to be with us. Many look into the manger at Christmas time, comment on the beauty of the scene, and go on about their business. Others actually embrace Him as Savior, but tend to leave Him under the tree as life draws them away.

What would make the Giver of the Jesus gift most happy? If we make Him the center of our lives, being aware of His presence with us wherever we go and in whatever we are doing.

Jesus came to redeem us so He could be with us. Look to see who He really is and how much He loves you. He came to be with us, but waits for our response. Let’s not turn our backs on the amazing gift of His presence.

“True holiness is so often swaddled in the simple.” – Ian Morgan Cron

 

Anticipation

Let’s continue our thinking about Mary and Joseph, in that cold, dark stable in Bethlehem many years ago. The baby has been born, they are holding him, loving Him, and wondering what to do next.

"The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us." John 1:14

“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.” John 1:14

Then as they look into his sleeping face, the doubts creep in: He looked like an ordinary child. Could this infant really be God? They may have thought that, somehow, deity would look different from this.

Sometimes when God directs us, we start on the path and then, when things don’t turn out exactly as we thought they would, we begin to doubt whether we heard God correctly. Did He really direct us? Did we misunderstand something?

That’s when God will reassure us if we let Him. For Mary and Joseph, God sent shepherds. Their coming to tell of angelic visitors most certainly would have quieted any doubts they had.

But after the joy, the wonder, the doubt, and the reassurance, Joseph and Mary must have been saying, “What now, Lord? How do we live with God in our arms? At our table? In our home?”

We might as the same question:  Jesus is still with us. How do we live with Him in our hearts, houses, and workplaces? The best way: in anticipation. With God among us, we sit on the edge of our seats, looking for His fingerprints, asking what He wants of us, and wondering what He will do next. We learn that, when God is with us, amazing things can happen. Watch for it!

Christmas has lost its meaning for us because we have lost the spirit of expectancy. We cannot prepare for an observance. We must prepare for an experience.” Handel Brown

It’s Not Easy

"Here I am - it is written about Me in the scroll - I have come to do your will, O God." - Hebrews 10:7

“Here I am – it is written about Me in the scroll – I have come to do your will, O God.” – Hebrews 10:7

Can you imagine what it would would have been like to be Joseph and Mary arriving in Bethlehem and preparing to give birth to a child they believed to be God’s own Son? They must have looked at their desolate surroundings and asked: What do we do? What do we need? How can we manage such a birth in such a place?

Have you ever felt that way? God has given you something to do (maybe marriage, parenting, work/school, ministry), but it seems impossible. We, too, may have to look around, see what we have, and commit to seeing it through wherever we are and with whatever we find.

Then, as Mary’s painful labor went on, maybe for hours, they might have wondered about those angelic visitations. Is this baby being born really God? If so, why is it so hard? Why is it taking so long?

We expect that if God is in it, things will go well. But not always. Doing things God’s way can be hard. Mary’s giving birth to Jesus definitely was God’s plan, but it wasn’t easy.

And finally, joy.

The struggle, the anxiety fade away when the baby arrives. I imagine Joseph looking into Jesus’ face and saying, “Oh, Mary, He is so perfect!” And He was. The perfect Son of God, come to earth to live among us.

Reliving the story of Jesus’ birth reminds us that doing what God wants can bring anxious moments, doubts, or discouragement, but if we see it through, the end result is always joy.

“Our waiting at Advent – our sacred waiting – is not just anticipation of the coming of Christ, but a commitment to be consumed in His service.” – David Timms

Throw it to Me

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“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.” – 1 Corinthians 9:24

This fall we were playing a homespun version of Frisbee in our backyard with our son and daughter-in-law and their three young children. Everybody wanted the Frisbee thrown to them. “I’m open. Throw it to me, Daddy!” shouted the Luuk and Silvia. And even 2 1/2 year-old Helen chimed in, “I’m open. I’m open!” We knew she didn’t have much of a chance of catching it, but she was eager to be part of the game. All of us had fun because every player was fully engaged, wanting to get their hands on that Frisbee and do what they could to move the game forward.

Their childlike enthusiasm made me think about my relationship with God. How often do I say to Him, “I’m open. Throw it to me.” Sometimes I am afraid He will throw it to me, and I will fumble. At other times I just hope He chooses someone else to visit the person in the nursing home, make a meal for the new mom, or lead the Bible study.

Don’t you think it would warm His fatherly heart if we made ourselves available to His will, to respond with eagerness as He directs His assignment to us? That’s the best way to know His favor and the absolute joy of making the catch and then passing it along to others who will benefit, too. And, don’t worry about fumbling – He always seems to give us another chance.

“I’m open, Father. Throw it to me!”

The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet. -Frederick Buechner

Moving It Up a Notch

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“Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” – Psalm 37:4a

I think we should move thanksgiving up a notch this year – from being thankful to being delighted. Delight means to take pleasure in, appreciate, relish, enjoy, savor, and bask in. Doesn’t that sound like a lot more fun than just being thankful? It is!

Puppies and small children are the best at being intrigued by everything they see. Delight just seems to come naturally to them! But those of us who’ve lived awhile may have to rediscover that art. How?

Mostly by paying attention, just noticing, not so quickly moving past the truly wonderful all around us. And if we are going to delight ourselves in the Lord as the psalmist writes, then we should give the most attention to the things God has made, done, and said.

So, here’s the list of things I am going to take time to notice, particularly in this season of thanks:

  • Creation
  • People
  • God’s Word
  • His involvement in my life

I plan to pay attention, then stop to thank the One who looks for special ways to delight me. You’re invited to join in the fun, too!

“The things we love tell us what we are.” – Thomas Aquinas

Good Thinking!

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” . . . whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” – Philippians 4:8

“Grant, Lord, that I may not for one moment admit willingly into my soul any thought contrary to Your love.” (Edward Pusey d. 1882)

What if God answered that prayer? It would mean that certain kinds of thoughts would be eliminated from my mind: complaining, bitterness, anger, envy, self-condemnation, and unnecessary criticism, to be specific.

Getting rid of those thoughts would, of course, would make room for thinking about things that build faith, confidence, and joy – like thankfulness, encouragement, optimism, hopefulness, and contentment.

I’m joining this 19th Century man in his prayer as I ask God to use my will and His to change me so every thought I allow to remain in my mind is consistent with His love. So simple. So hard. I need you here, Holy Spirit.

“Divine love is perfect peace and joy, it is a freedom from all disquiet, it is all content and happiness; and makes everything to rejoice in itself.” – William Law

Is He Still There?

"The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me . . . Do not forsake the work of Your hands." - Psalm 138:8

“The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me . . . Do not forsake the work of Your hands.” – Psalm 138:8

I know a potter who sits at his wheel forming earthy pots, bowls, mugs, and vases.

But, before his creations can be useful, they must be “fired”. The potter sets hundreds of pots in his brick kiln, then turns up the heat until it reaches more than 2,000 degrees. He knows his pots, so lovingly formed, must be crying out for him to rescue them and take them out of their dark place. But he doesn’t respond. Then the pots begin to wonder if he’s there at all. Why has he left them in this horrible situation?

The potter has not left them. He is always there, just outside the kiln, removing a brick now and then to peek in, checking temperature to make sure it is just right, waiting for the exact time to turn down the heat and remove the precious works of his hands.

Have you ever wondered where God is during the dark times in your life? The times when the heat is turned up and you are closed in and afraid? You cry out and He does not respond. Is He even there?

In reality, God is there –  checking on you, waiting for just the right time to turn down the heat and pull you out of your dark place. And when He does, you will be amazed at the result. You will be changed: tougher, more beautiful, and prepared for the job He had in mind when He designed you in the first place. Hang on! Trust Him even in the fire.

” . . . out of the deepest pain has come the strongest conviction of the presence of God and the love of God.” – Elisabeth Elliot

If you want to see a more complete story of The Potter, (Dave Blakeslee of Salida, Colorado) go to http://dod.org/programs/the-potter-reflections-of-a-master-artisan/

Love in His Eyes

Do you know what Jesus feels when He looks at you? Love. Pure, simple, unconditional, unchanging love. Maybe it’s the kind of love a mother feels for her baby.

"I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness." - Jeremiah 31:3

“I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.” – Jeremiah 31:3

Maybe the kind we feel when we’ve met “the one” we later determine to spend our lives with. It’s the kind of love that draws us toward Him. When someone loves us that way, it’s hard to turn away.

And yet people do. When the rich young ruler came to Jesus to ask about eternal life, Mark says, “Jesus looked at him and loved him.” Even though the guy had a bit of attitude Jesus looked into his eyes and loved him. At that point, though, the young man turned away and decided not to respond to Jesus’ love (Mark 10:17-25).

We have a choice. We can look at our flaws, faults, and sins, declare ourselves unworthy and walk away. We can look at our good intentions, deeds, and self-righteousness, declare ourselves good enough and walk away.

But let’s not do either of those. Jesus is looking at you. Imagine the love in His eyes as He sees you. Look back at Him and allow yourself to move closer and closer into His presence, into His arms. He will never turn away. His love is forever.

“We should be astonished at the goodness of God, stunned that He should bother to call us by name, our mouths wide open at His love, bewildered that at this very moment we are standing on holy ground.” – Brennan Manning

Content?

"Godliness with contentment is great gain." - 1 Timothy 6:6

“I have learned how to be content (satisfied to the point where I am not disturbed or disquieted) in whatever state I am.” – Philippians 4:11 (Amplified Bible)

“Dear God, it seems I am never satisfied. Instead I always have a new goal to pursue or want one more thing to change – a relationship, a habit, or an attitude. I am getting tired of always reaching. Instead, I sense You calling me to contentment, to quit looking for more or better. Sometimes just to stop and enjoy what is.”

“My child, My desire is that you live free of worries about appearances, clothing, finances, and food. Live, instead, close to the earth, close to Me, My name easily on your lips and always in your heart.

Slow down.

Simplify.

Contemplate.

Share.

Serve.

Love.

And always give thanks.

Oh, and one more thing: Just for today, put down your notepad, stop making lists, and simply enjoy being in My presence and walking wherever I take you. Contentment always follows when you are on the path with Me.”

“I would rather be what God chose to make me than the most glorious creature that I could think of; for to have been thought about, born in God’s thought, and then made by God, is the dearest, grandest, and most precious thing in all thinking.” – George Macdonald

 

“Because he loves me. . .”

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Because he loves me says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him.” (Psalm 91:14-15 – emphasis added)

Our Father in Heaven wants to give us good gifts. Really. Though we are never promised trouble-free lives, I can’t help noticing all the times God promises to do amazingly nice things for those who stay close to Him.

Psalm 91 is just one example. In it, God promises to deliver, protect, send angels, answer prayer, rescue, honor, give long life, and save. When we are stressed or attacked or feeling trapped, we’d like to see Him come to our rescue, right?

In this psalm, there are two things we must do to be able to receive God’s great blessings: First, we need to love Him (v. 14) and second, we are to “dwell” with Him (vv. 1 and 9). In other words, we are to make God an intimate part of lives.

Why is that important? Because we were created to be in an all-encompassing relationship with Him.  So when we live as He has designed us to live, hanging on to Him in love and living in sync with Him day-by-day, He promises to take good care of us. Whatever may happen, (and it will!) we will not be alone, we will not be powerless.

When we love and trust Him, He treats us as a Father treats His dearly loved children: responding, protecting, providing, and guiding. He wants to give us good things!

“We love God because He alone promises to fill our soul’s potential.” – Lewis Smedes

Frightened by Faith

 

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“Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” – Galatians 3:3

When I was growing up, we measured spirituality by the things a “good Christian” did not do. At some point along the way, I discovered grace: God’s acceptance of me no matter how I was doing with “the list”. God’s forgiveness of anything I have ever done or will do that dishonors Him. I like grace a lot better than rules, don’t you?

So, then why do I sometimes revert to measuring my relationship with God by how “good” I am being? If I am kind and loving during the day, I feel somehow worthy to go into his presence. If I have been irritable or have made a bad decision, I just want to avoid God all together until I can get my act together.

Then I heard something that gave me great insight: People return to the rules when they are frightened by faith. Frightened by faith? Yup. I realized, then, that there is perceived safety in those old rules. I know when I measure up and when I don’t. I can set self-improvement goals so I can feel good about myself.

Walking by faith is not that easy. It is about relationship, about learning to know what pleases God, about getting into His Word to know His will, to listen for His voice before running to the next thing. It’s about living with mystery when we long for clarity. That can be scary, but the better we know Him, the less afraid we are. There’s no better way to live.

“The reason why we so readily accept his (Satan’s) accusations is that we are still hoping to have some righteousness of our own.” – Watchman Nee

Boring Prayers?

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“He meant us to see Him and live with Him and draw our life from His smile.” – A. W. Tozer

It’s OK to admit it: Sometimes we are tired of hearing our own prayers. We have a routine of thanking God, asking Him for general blessings in our lives, and praying for specific requests, some of which we have been praying about for years. Important stuff, but maybe getting boring.

The writer of Psalm 92 has an idea that can change all that. He says, “It it good to praise the Lord . . . to proclaim Your love in the morning and Your faithfulness by night.” (Psalm 92:1-2). See the pattern? One prayer emphasis in the morning and a different one at night.

In the morning, it’s all about God’s love. When we get up (or even before) we can think about God, become aware of how much He loves us and, then invite Him into our day. As we carry His loving presence with us, we move with confidence, realizing all the good that comes our way just because He loves us.

At night, we prayerfully think back on all that happened that day: appointments, meetings, conversations, projects. Do we see how He was with us in everything we did? Even when we knew we let Him down? The response that will become natural in our nighttime prayers is to thank God for His grace, mercy, and faithfulness. Recognizing His faithfulness today makes it easier for us to trust Him again tomorrow.

With the psalmist’s morning and evening rhythm, our prayers will be fresh and new every day. And God will be both pleased and praised!

“It is good to praise the Lord . . . to proclaim Your love in the morning and Your faithfulness at night.” – Psalm 92:1-2

“Come, talk to me.”

Once in awhile Warren will offer me a cup of coffee with the invitation, “Come, talk to me.”

"The Lord takes pleasure in His people." - Psalm 149:4

“The Lord takes pleasure in His people.”Psalm 149:4

And we do talk. Sometimes an hour can go by as we share our lives, thoughts, ideas, plans, and concerns. When we are ready to get up, he often says, “Thanks for sitting with me. Sometimes I just like having your attention.”

Isn’t that how we build relationship? We spend time together – often in the company of others. But the best times of connection are when we shut out the outside world and focus for awhile on one another. That’s how love grows.

That understanding has taught me a lot about building relationship with God. He, too, likes having our focused attention – the special times when we shut out distractions and sit alone with Him.

When we sit with Him, we get to know Him.

When we get to know Him, we realize how much He loves us.

When we receive His love, we can’t help loving Him in return.

When we love Him, we are most blessed because that is exactly what He created us to do.

Our time with God might be in praying or just thinking about Him. At other times we give thanks, present our needs, sing, or listen. What is most important is that we are there: Alone with God.

I have found that when we get to the end of that quiet conversation, He seems to whisper, “Thank you for sitting with Me. Sometimes I just like having your attention.”

“I simply want to be in touch with the Divine Lover . . . the closer I get to Him, the gentler His voice becomes.” – James W. Goll

 

Two Ways to Pray

We don’t have to wait until we are better people before we go to God. He invites us to come, dirt and all. In fact, it is our recognition of the failure of all our self-improvement programs that humbles us enough to pray the prayer that God is just waiting to hear. Only then can He forgive, restore, and set us on the path to purity and true freedom.

"It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy." Romans 9:16

“It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.” Romans 9:16

Jesus tells the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18:9-14. They both went to the Temple to pray.

The Pharisee stood up and prayed boldly.
The tax collector bowed his head and would not even look up to heaven.

The Pharisee spent his prayer time telling God how good he was.
The tax collector told God how sinful he was.

The Pharisee was looking for God’s approval.
The tax collector was looking for God’s mercy.

Only one of them had his prayer answered.

When it comes to our relationship with God, it is never about our being better or about trying harder. It is always about His mercy. He is just waiting for us to see our need and ask for it.  “Have mercy on me a sinner” is a prayer He always answers.

“Our conscious need for daily mercy is our only real boarding pass for heaven. The ego does not like that very much, but the soul fully understands.” – Richard Rohr

Heavenly Daydream

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“Send forth Your light and Your truth. Let them guide me; let them bring me to your holy mountain, to the place where You dwell.” – Psalm 43:3

I was greeted at heaven’s border and told I had to leave everything at the gate. “Don’t need your purse – it just holds money (everything’s paid for here) and i.d. (we know who you are). Don’t need your clothes – you need to forget about whether you’re dressed right. Here’s a robe. You’ll fit right in. No shoes.” I took them off.

All possessions, worries, and responsibilities had to be dropped on the ground.

I left it all, and then, unburdened, moved with complete freedom toward where I sensed the Throne would be. I could hear flowing water and music. There were uncrowded crowds of people, many worshiping with faces to the ground. Angels moving, singing. Joy, peace, love, excitement, contentment.

The group opened to accommodate my unspoken (and very earthly) desire to be “up front.” Then I realized position/place didn’t matter. He was everywhere, encompassing time, space, everyone.

The overpowering feeling was one of belonging. My thoughts ran like this: I belong to God. I belong to these people. I belong in Heaven. I fit in. I am accepted, loved, valued. Not for what I do or only if I behave correctly. Just because I am me, as He made me, as He wants me to be.

You belong, too. Let Him reach you, forgive you, love you, and encompass you in His earthly embrace and then, someday, in the wide circle of heavenly belonging. It will be great to see you there!

“Life on earth matters not because it’s the only life we have, but precisely because it isn’t – it’s the beginning of a life that will continue without end.” –  Randy Alcorn

 

 

 

Afraid or Amazed?

Israel Trip Bill (310)

“They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed and those who followed were afraid.” – Mark 10:32 (ESV)

As we look at the road ahead of us in life, we can sometimes be afraid – afraid of the “what ifs” and even of the demands that will be made of us. Just think of how much more exciting and interesting life would be if, instead of being afraid, we could be amazed.

Jesus’ followers give us a hint as to how we can live so that confidence overtakes fear. In Mark 10, the disciples and many others were following Jesus on His final journey to Jerusalem. On the way, He told about His coming arrest and death, and there were two distinct reactions to what He was saying. One group was afraid and the other was amazed. Why such opposite responses? The text seems to indicate that the disciples, who were walking up close to Jesus, were amazed. The crowds, who were following further behind, were afraid.

What a wonderful picture of how to overcome our fears: Stay close to Jesus. He will never fail to amaze us. When we’re feeling afraid, maybe we need to assess where we are walking. Jesus will always invite us to come nearer. In fact, that’s exactly where He wants us to be so He can guide our steps as we walk along. When we are close to Him, amazement happens!

“A close, intimate relationship to Christ should always be your soul’s only purpose.” – Gene Edwards

10 Surprising Truths About Jesus: A Response

This is not a standard post for me, but there is something I want to share with those of you who may be interested.

"Send forth Your light and truth, let them guide me." - Psalm 43:3a

“Send forth Your light and truth, let them guide me.” – Psalm 43:3a

Every now and then I read something that I can’t quite let go of. It gnaws at me until I respond in some way. That happened last week with a blog I read titled “Ten Surprising Truths About Jesus”. Much of what was labeled as truth was misleading and incomplete. I did respond to the post yesterday and am sharing the link with you just in case you’d like to read the blog and also my fairly lengthy comment.

You may want to add a response of your own. Sometimes it is important to speak up lovingly and convincingly so sincere questioners are not led away from our faith, but, instead, can become aware of the validity of its message. May God’s name be glorified as we live out the faith we have been given.

10 surprising truths about Jesus.

 

How’s Your Day Going?

Israel Trip Deb (378)

“Praise be to His glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with His glory.” – Psalm 72:19

Early one morning I asked God, “How is Your day going?” Here’s what I thought He might be saying:

“Oh, Bev, I am so sad at the unrest on Earth. These problems (killings, racial conflict, riots, wars, poverty, deceit, sickness, death) are all a result of generations of sinfulness. The centuries-long threads of mistakes, unforgiveness, and attitudes are weaving together a tapestry that becomes darker and uglier as time goes by. Someday I will untangle it all and recreate the picture as it was meant to be, but not yet.

“In other ways, it’s a great day. The sun is shining, the rivers are flowing, the oceans are waving, and trees are growing. And that’s only the Earth. There is a huge universe you don’t even know of. I can’t tell you about it in ways you would understand, so someday I will show it to you!”

Did you ever wonder how God’s day is going? It’s OK to ask Him. He loves to share His heart with us Earthlings!

“If we cooperate with Him in loving obedience, God will manifest Himself to us, and that manifestation will be the difference between a nominal Christian life and a life radiant with the light of His face.” – A. W. Tozer

Just What I Needed to Hear

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“Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord.” – Psalm 31:24

God is always ready to talk to us. Sometimes He just has to wait until we slow down enough to listen. Then He whispers to our hearts words especially suited for whatever situation we face. I have found that, most often, His messages are variations of one of these:

• I love you.
• I will never leave you.
• Don’t be afraid.

Which do you need today? To know how much He loves you? To be secure in His faithfulness? Or to experience the peace that comes by trusting Him?

You can start the conversation by praying with honesty and sincerity about your need. You could even ask Him to awaken your heart to be ready to hear what He wants to say in response. Then just wait in quietness. His message will be perfect to meet what the ancients called your “pressing necessity”. He always knows just what we need to hear. Sh-h-h. Listen.

“He hath never failed thee yet.
Never will His love forget.
O fret not thyself nor let
Thy heart be troubled,
Neither let it be afraid.” 

 – Amy Carmichael

 

 

 

Just an Ordinary Day?

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“He has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” -Ecclesiastes 3:11

It is impossible for us to have an ordinary day. God has plans for us and for the people around us. He is at work whether we see it or not. Remember Abraham? He welcomed three strangers into his tent and then found out that two were angels and one was Jesus Himself! They were presenting themselves, at least at first, as ordinary travelers. But they were anything but ordinary.

In fact, C. S. Lewis said, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. . .” He goes on to explain that we see only the surface of people.  If we could actually see their eternal natures, Lewis says we would be tempted either to worship them or run from them. There is much more to every human being than we can possibly imagine.

Because of that, there is unseen value in our moments and our days. We cannot understand the impact of each personal engagement or individual circumstance we will face today, but, in light of eternity, each has the possibility of being extraordinary in some unseen way.

Our encounters are a unique part of God’s plan for this world and the one to come. There are no ordinary people. There are no ordinary days. Let’s fully engage the one in front of us!

“Life would be easy if providential hours declared themselves, if they met us radiant and with uplifted look and crying ‘I am one of thy great hours’. But they never meet us in a guise like that – never betray their greatness by their bearing. We hear no sound of approaching footsteps. Thy footsteps are unknown.” – George Herbert Morris

Change Me

“Be the penetrating light which illumines my intellect,

the gentle motion which attracts and directs my will,

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“. . . a longing fulfilled is like a tree of life.” – Proverbs 13:12

the supernatural power which gives energy to my body.

Complete in me Your work of sanctification and love. Make me

pure
transparent
simple
true
free
peaceful
gentle
calm
and burning with charity toward God and my neighbor.

Amen.”

This prayer (written by a woman known simply as Sr. Carmela of the Holy Spirit) touched me because it describes so much that I, too, want to pray.

Look at those words of peace, freedom, and calm, resulting, at the end, in loving God and others. Do they resonate with you, too? If so, I invite you to join with me in praying this borrowed plea often and sincerely. Only God can make the changes in us that we so desperately need.

He’s First

Do you ever wish God would just write His will across the sky so you can understand it clearly? Something like that happened to me a couple of weeks ago. Actually, it wasn’t the sky He wrote on, it was a mountain.

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“My soul yearns for You in the night; in the morning, my spirit longs for You.” – Isaiah 26:9a

I got up, started the coffee in preparation for my early morning time with God, and began a conversation with Him as the coffee began to brew. As I waited, I looked out the kitchen window toward the mountains to the southwest. A prominent snowfield was visible on one of them and had melted into the shape of a giant “1”. I looked again thinking I must be seeing it wrong. But, no, it was really a “1”. God had written His will on the side of a mountain for me to see: He wants to be first in my life!

As I prayed, I realized He wants to be the first one I think of when I wake up in the morning, the first one I turn to when I need help, the first one I recognize when something good happens in my life, and the only one I ever worship.

The snowy “1” remained there for the rest of our stay in the mountains and was a many-times-a-day reminder of God’s perfect will for me – and for all of us who are His children. When we make Him first, we are less afraid, worried, and frustrated and more often filled with love, joy, and peace. It’s the best way to live!

“Every happening, great and small, is a parable whereby God speaks to us, and the art of life is to get the message.” ~Malcolm Muggeridge

There’s So Much More!

What do we really know about God? All we can know is what He reveals: first, through creation, the Bible, and Jesus’ life and teaching. But there’s more: He seems to keep revealing Himself as we keep wanting to know Him better.

"As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." - Isaiah 55:9

“If You are pleased with me, teach me Your ways so I may know You and continue to find favor with You.” – Moses to God in Exodus 33:13

It’s a great adventure to experience God’s ongoing revelation of who He is. For example, He shows us His

  • . . . pleasure when He knows we are turning our hearts toward Him.
  • . . . joy when we discover something in His creation we never saw before.
  • . . . love when He answers a prayer way beyond what we even dared to ask.
  • . . . guidance when He brings wisdom from an unexpected source.
  • . . . grace when we try to overcome a sinful habit and fail yet again.

None of this revelation is predictable, manageable, or even made clear in Scripture, but it seems God is constantly showing us more about who He is and how He wants to relate to us. Because He never changes, we can be sure that what we have yet to learn will be consistent with what we already know. We can count on Him always to be loving, merciful, holy, just, faithful, and gracious.

We will never know all there is to know about God and what we do know is filtered through a dimly-lit mirror, but sometimes He shows us a little more. Mysterious? Yes. But also exciting. And the best part: He’s not hiding. If we want to know Him, He will never disappoint. Every time He shows us more of Himself, our response will be  amazement and thanks!

“The biggest human temptation is to settle for too little.” – Thomas Merton

The Peacock

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“Once a man is united to God, how could he not live forever?” – C. S. Lewis

Last week I met a woman who told me about her daughter Kristy who was diagnosed with cancer at age 31. When the severity of the situation was known and she realized she had only a few months to live, Kristy sat in the backyard of her Georgia home asking God to walk with her through this frightening journey.

As she sat there, a peacock strutted out, opened wide his astounding tail feathers, and just stood there. Kristy immediately knew this peacock was a gift from her heavenly Father who wanted her to know how much He loved her. But it wasn’t until later that she discovered what it really meant.

You see, early Christian tombs were often decorated with symbols showing the deceased’s commitment to Christ. The cross did not come to be the accepted symbol of Christianity until the third century. So, at the Catacombs in Rome, the most common symbols were the fish (ichthus) and the peacock. Why a peacock? In the ancient world the peacock represented eternal life.

God had, indeed, given Kristy a great message. I imagine when she arrived in Heaven a few months later, she said something like “Oh, now I understand.” And it wouldn’t have been just about peacocks – it would have been about her whole life:  the pain, the joys, the brevity, and the promise of eternal life that the peacock represented in her backyard that day.

Sometimes when we need it most, God pulls back the curtain and gives us a peek into His heart and His eternal plan. When He does, we love Him even more!

“I love the Lord because He heard my plea for mercy and listened to me.” – Psalm 116:1-2b (NET)

 

Why Not Tell Him?

"Come close to God and He will come close to you." - James 4:

“The Lord is my rock, my fortress, my deliverer.” – Psalm 18:2a

Who is the first person you call or text when you face a crisis? I hope we all have someone we can turn to when we need a listening ear or a helping hand.

I recently read about John the Baptist who was unfairly imprisoned because his theology clashed with King Herod’s lifestyle. Then, at a party when Herod had had too much alcohol and was enamored with his stepdaughter’s dancing, he suddenly ordered John’s execution. John’s disciples were notified of the beheading, so they sadly came and buried his body.

What to do now? Their leader was gone and they had taken care of handling the immediate crisis. They could have gone home in despair, but instead, Matthew tells us “Then they went and told Jesus.” (Mt. 14:12).

Why Jesus? Maybe because they knew . . .

  • He would want to know.
  • He would comfort them.
  • He would have a plan for what to do next.

I can’t think of a better way to handle any crisis, big or small, that might come into our lives. Jesus wants us to express our anxiety, grief, or loss to Him – in detail. He doesn’t start yawning halfway through our stories. More than than that, He will meet us at the point of our deepest need, the need we may not even know we have. Then He will guide us into the next right steps.

Now is a really good time to talk to Him.

“If we draw near to Him, then He will make His presence tangible in our lives.” – Henry Blackaby