I don’t like self-denial!

” . . . the Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless.” – Psalm 84:11b

I don’t like self-denial. It may relate to how I use time, spend money, or express opinions, but most of the time I want to have what I want, when I want it.

So when I read Jesus’ words, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23), I cringed inside. I wanted to follow Him, but daily self-denial just sounded hard.

Then I read John Piper’s teaching in his book Desiring God, and my view about self-denial began to change dramatically.  According to Piper, the biblical concept of self-denial is letting go of the lesser good so we can grab onto the greater good. When I started to look at it that way, I realized Jesus’ demand for self-denial was for my benefit, not His! I understood that I deny myself, not to make Him happy with me, but to allow Him to do greater things with me. Greater than I can do if I follow my natural instincts.

It makes sense in other areas of life: I choose to workout, denying myself an hour on the couch, because I value health more than rest. I deny myself a frivolous expense because I am saving for something really special later. Spiritually, it makes sense, too. We deny ourselves what we want humanly so we can receive what God wants for us supernaturally – things that are better for us than whatever we give up. Maybe it’s not self-denial at all!

 “To become like Christ is the only thing in the world worth caring for, the thing before which every ambition is folly, and all lower achievements vain.” – Henry Drummond

 

 

Is my way the right way?

“He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall remain stable and fixed under the shadow of the Almighty.” – Psalm 91:1

Sometimes when I pray, I know how I want God to answer. So I’m specific and, honestly, any answer other than the one I’m praying for will not be acceptable to me. Do you ever do that? We sometimes forget that God’s perspective is better than ours! He knows things we cannot possibly know.

Centuries ago, people asked Jeremiah to pray for God’s direction about their going to Egypt. Jeremiah gave them God’s answer: They should stay in Israel where He would keep them safe. Their response? They call Jeremiah a liar! The problem was they were already packed to go before they asked Jeremiah to find out what God wanted. There was only one answer acceptable to them and they weren’t hearing it from Jeremiah, so they were angry. What they didn’t know was Babylon was on the move and soon would war with Egypt and the refugee Israelis would get caught in the crossfire. They could not see at all what God could see clearly.

Sometimes we struggle with giving control to God, trusting His direction. When we pray about a problem and we know what we want the answer to be, we would be wise to tell God that, though we desire to have our prayer answered our way, we are willing to accept His answer, whatever it is. That’s a safe prayer because

  • He sees what we cannot see,
  • His answers are always for our best good, and
  • He walks beside us when we’re willing to go His way.

“What I think and feel as I pray, rather than the words I speak, may be the real prayer, for God ‘hears’ that too.” – Philip Yancey

There’s a better way.

“. . . by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” – Hebrews 10:14

How are you doing on your quest for perfection? Have you overcome that bad habit? Are your praying enough? Are your relationships in order? Are you eating only healthy foods? Do you do enough to help those in need?

Stop! There’s a better way.

Over many years, I’ve learned that, in spite of almost-heroic efforts, I’m not able to perfect myself. That will come as no surprise to those of you who know me! Along the way, though, God reminds me He’s the one who brought me into His family in the first place. He’s the one slowly changing my character to reflect His. Transformation is His work, not mine. My job is to relate to Him: talking, listening, learning, cooperating, submitting. That’s what He expects of you, too. When we do that, His message back to us is something like this:

When I called you, I knew who you would become. I also knew the mistakes you would make along the way – sinfulness, rebellion, bad habits, weaknesses. I never expected you to be perfect, so stop believing you can be. And never forget that My love for you does not depend on you. I love you just because you are Mine – even on your worst days.

God looks on His children with merciful eyes. We are weaker than we want to be. We will fail. When we do, He responds to our cry for forgiveness, cleans us up, and sets us back on the path. He will make us holy, but it’s going to take awhile yet!

“Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the ‘Beloved’.” – Henri J. M. Nouwen

Is it true?

“I have chosen the way of truth;” – Psalm 119:30

I read a Facebook post predicting record snowfalls for the entire Midwest this year, with snow beginning as early as September. The impressive weather map showed that we’d have five to ten times the amount of snow we had last year. Just as I was thinking of stocking the pantry, I started reading the comments and realized the article was a hoax. I was feeling anxiety over something that wasn’t even true!

Are you as tired as I am of listening to things we know are lies or exaggerations? I want to know truth – about my health, the world, family, food, finances, and everything else. Not knowing is worse than knowing, even if the truth is hard to hear.

When we take it into the spiritual realm, the stakes are even higher. My spiritual well-being is of eternal importance. I don’t want to risk getting it wrong and I don’t think you do, either! There are three areas I see in which we can discover spiritual truth:

Truth as knowledge: We pursue this truth when we learn, understand, take in new thoughts, and weigh them against what we already know, being willing to adjust our thinking as we learn more.

Truth as experience: This is when we test truth in the laboratory of life. Does it work? Does it last? Does it transform?

Truth as relationship: Whether we realize it or not, our ultimate longing is to know Jesus, the Truth. Every other truth pursuit fits into and finds culmination in our relationship with Him.

Let’s find what is true and trustworthy and discard what is false and misleading. Truth matters!

“Truth is not everything, but without it, nothing goes right.” – Dallas Willard

 

Intersections

“Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.” – Jeremiah 6:16

A few years ago, Tim Elmore posted a blog about helping today’s students find purpose in life beyond what they see in movies. He cited surveys showing students’ primary goals were becoming famous and/or rich. Elmore questioned such aspirations and suggested we should help young people find something truly worth living for, saying, “Real purpose emerges when our strengths intersect with the world’s great need.”*

Maybe that’s something we should consider, too. As we look around, we realize there are huge needs in our neighborhoods and around the world: hunger, homelessness, war, disease, loneliness, lack of opportunity, mental illness, personal conflicts, and under-education. Which of these problems has God given us strengths, skills, or insights to help solve?

Then, as Christians, we know every person’s greatest need is relationship with God through His Son, Jesus. How much of our lives are consumed with responding to that need? I sense that the more of ourselves we give to introducing people to the One who can meet the deepest longings of their hearts, the more meaningful and satisfying our own lives will be.

We pray “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.” What are you and I doing to help accomplish God’s will in our world? Maybe today we could ask Him where our strengths intersect with the great or small needs He is showing us. When we begin to serve others in God’s ways, we find another truth: When our obedience intersects with God’s purpose, joy happens!

“The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.”  – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

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*Tim Elmore at growingleaders.com, November 6, 2013.

Second Coming?

“The Lord confides in those who fear Him.” Psalm 25:14

When Jesus left earth, He told His disciples He was going to prepare a place for them and someday would come again to pick them up and take them to be with Him. That promise goes for all of us who follow Him. He does have a plan the includes returning to earth and ruling to show us how it ought to be done. No matter how good an earthly ruler is, Jesus will be lots better!

But do we spend so much time thinking about his “second coming” that we miss all the less-intense “comings” in the in-between times? The reality is that He is coming to us every day in many ways. Here are few I’ve experienced and, I am sure, you may recognize Him here as well:

• Speaking in an internal voice or nudge
• Giving insight in dreams
• Applying a truth from the Bible
• Giving comfort
• Showing me someone in need
• Providing for me
• Enabling me to do His will

Have you recognized Jesus visits in your life? He is constantly moving toward us, wanting us to see Him and respond. As Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem, He said “ . . . you did not know the time of your visitation” (Luke 19:44). He came. They didn’t realize who He was. Let’s pay attention to His unique ways of coming to us as we walk through the minutes and hours of  our days! We don’t want to miss Him!

“He converses and delights Himself with me incessantly, in a thousand and a thousand ways, and treats me in all respects as His favorite.” – Brother Lawrence

The Most Important Thing

” Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” – Mark 12:30

Anyone who’s been in significant relationships knows that loving can take effort. Think marriage, business partnerships, friendships, raising children. Long-term. Sometimes hard, but worth it.

The most extraordinary relationship we have as humans is with God. Loving Him takes attentive effort mostly because He asks for nothing less than total, life-altering love. Specifically, He tells us to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. How can we do that? Let’s look.

“With all your heart” means our love for God will be emotional. We’re to develop positive feelings toward Him and an intense desire for Him. We can’t manufacture those feelings, but we can help them grow in our soul and mind. Here’s how:

The soul is the place where we make decisions. We can choose to love God. After time, loving Him will become part of our very being, but we have to will it first.

Loving God with our minds involves intentionality: We can think about Him, read His Word, learn about Him, and try to understand His view of the world. The more we know about God, the more we will love Him. Love is a spontaneous response to knowing who He is.

And He wants us to do this with all our might – to make loving God the central thing in our lives, doing so  with energy, persistence, and determination.

Summing up, how do we love God as He desires?

  • Will it.
  • Think it.
  • Feel it.
  • Do it with all our might.

According to Jesus, this is the most important thing. Nothing else comes close!

“The first act of love is always the giving of attention.” – Dallas Willard

 

 

 

 

 

 

Greater Prayers

“We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.” – Romans 8:26b

How do we know what to pray for? So many times we face situations for ourselves or others that don’t have identifiable solutions. At other times, we may be praying for a band-aid when God wants us to have surgery. Or praying for candy when He wants us to have steak.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have God’s perspective applied to our situations so He can respond today in ways that prepare us for what’s next? We know God’s thoughts are way beyond ours – more creative, more all-encompassing, more eternal. We cannot think as He does, so how can we know we’re praying for the right things? How can we pray prayers we don’t even know how to pray?

I’ve learned that it sometimes means praying without words, silently allowing the Holy Spirit to pray through us. We can practice this wordless prayer something like this: Sit in His presence. Tell Him we yield to His will, whatever it may be. Then, trusting His character, know what He wants is better than anything we could ask for ourselves or for someone else. Quiet yielding comes from the heart, relies on God’s wisdom and love, and prays beyond words.

I believe it’s God’s way of letting us pray prayers bigger than ourselves. Amazing, really.

“Lord Jesus,
take my mind and think through me,
take my hands and bless through me,
take my mouth and speak through me.

Above all, Lord Jesus, take my spirit and pray in me; so that it is you who move and have your being in me.”

(from a prayer found in a 16th century Book of Hours)

 

He’s not hard to please!

“The joy of the Lord is your strength.” – Nehemiah 8:10b

Have you ever thought about what you can do to make God happy? I asked Him that question once and here are the things that came to my mind as I sat in His presence:

• Enjoy My creation.
• Support the weak.
• Encourage someone’s faith.
• Have a grateful heart.
• Listen for My direction.
• Take care of your body.
• Nurture your soul.

Then I realized all these things have been shown to us in His Word. We find commands there,  of course, and our obedience pleases Him. The Bible also reveals God’s heart and gives us glimpses into what brings Him joy. Some of those things are on my list above, but we find others as we read the prophets or the psalms, or see Jesus at work in the Gospels.

When we grow to know Him more intimately, we begin to see Him as a loving Father. It is then we discover He is not hard to please. What He wants most from us is relationship. Loving connection with us is such a deep desire for Him that He sent Jesus to make it possible for us to be adopted as children into His family.

Just as a caring father expresses enthusiasm when his child presents him with an undecipherable crayon drawing, our Father in heaven is delighted with our sincere, but less-than-perfect, efforts to please Him. If we just tell Him, honestly, we want to make Him happy, He will show us how. Our efforts will bring Him joy. And I guarantee God’s joy will make us happy, too!

“The truth is that God is the most winsome of all beings and His service one of unspeakable pleasure.” – A.W. Tozer

 

 

 

 

Because you asked . . .

“Even in darkness light dawns for the upright, for those who are gracious and compassionate and righteous.” – Psalm 112:4

Sometimes we labor in prayer, pleading with God for answers to pressing issues, waiting anxiously to see what He will do.

At other times, we simply mention something to Him, and He seems to respond – maybe just because we brought it up. For unexplainable reasons, God has chosen to use our prayers to change things in our world. And on some amazing occasions, He uses our prayers to bring blessings to others.

When God told Abraham he and Sarah would have a son, Abraham laughed because he was 99 years old and Sarah was 90! Not seeing how God could pull this one off, Abraham suggested his son Ishmael be the chosen one instead. But God made it clear that the new baby would be born and this son would be the one to carry on the covenant between God and Abraham.

God doesn’t stop there. He says, “. . . as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him. . .” (Genesis 17:20a). We know God had a plan for Ishmael, too, but I love that He seemed to respond specifically to Abraham’s concern. It’s almost as if God said, “I will bless him because you asked.”

Doesn’t that motivate you to ask? It does me. If we’re concerned about some person or situation, God wants to hear about it. Sometimes He gives us peace while we wait and sometimes He intervenes just because we thought it was important enough to talk to Him about. He allows us and our prayers to be the conduit of His blessing to others. What a privilege. What a responsibility! Let’s pray more.

“When we experience the love of God, we feel possibilities for newness on every side.” – Lewis Smedes

 

A Safe Place

“When you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen.” – Matthew 6:6a

I read recently about hospitals that send home a “baby box” with each new mother. The sturdy cardboard box is just big enough to hold a newborn up to six months, is finished in baby-friendly designs, has a firm mattress on the bottom, and two built- in handles for easy transport from room to room. It is baby’s safe place. Safe from drafts, conversations, siblings, and pets. Baby boxes have been proven in Finland and Canada to significantly reduce infant mortality.

We never outgrow our need for a safe place: A room or a quiet corner can become a place of peace with no distractions. A place where we have only Jesus to look toward, talk to, and listen for.

We need some designated space where we can

  • feel His closeness,
  • be our true selves,
  • express our deepest needs,
  • reveal our most unacceptable thoughts, and
  • never fear attack.

Our safe place is a wall against the outside world – a physical space where we are nurtured, nourished, calmed, and strengthened. It is there we rest and grow. Then, when we are ready, we venture out into the bigger world – prepared to face what God has for us that day. But first we need time in our safe place with Him.

Where’s yours?

“There is a quiet place
far from the rapid pace
where God can soothe my troubled mind.
Sheltered by tree and flower
there in my quiet hour with him
my cares are left behind.
Whether a garden small,
or on a mountain tall
new strength and courage there I find,
and then from that quiet place
I go prepared to face a new day
with love for all mankind.“*

 

*https://www.hymnlyrics.org/requests/there_is_a_quiet_place.php

Still Waiting

“Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.” – Psalm 25:4-5

Do you feel like you’re at a standstill right now? No wind in your sails? No sense of direction? Not sure what’s next? There are waiting times for all of us. Times when we are trying to trust God even when He doesn’t seem to be doing anything to give us a sense of His presence or will.

Don’t worry. His silence doesn’t mean He has withdrawn. Most likely He’s waiting for the timing to be right before He acts. The direction He wants to give may be dependent on many threads coming together at the right time – other people, our heart readiness, general conditions around us. His working always includes things we cannot see, so we wait until He is ready to move, to direct us, or to change circumstances.

In the creation account, we read that the Spirit of God hovered over the waters. While He hovered, the waters waited in the darkness – maybe for a very long time. Then, when He was ready, God called for creation and the earth and seas exploded with light, life, color, and glory. When the waiting was over, everything changed – radically!

The Spirit hovers over us, too. We need to quiet our souls. Rest. Trust. Allow Him to work where we cannot see, believing He is doing what is best for us, and knowing He will bring about what He desires when the time is right. It will be good!

“I am sure God keeps no one waiting unless He sees that it is good for him to wait.” – C. S. Lewis

I can plod.

“Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.” – Isaiah 30:21

Are you a plodder?

We want to soar like eagles, not trudge along like mules. We want our ideas to go viral. We want to influence thousands. We want our posts to be liked and shared, our opinions welcomed. We want to see that we matter.

C. S. Lewis put  it this way in talking about his grief after his wife’s death: “We want to prove to ourselves that we are lovers on a grand scale, tragic heroes; not just ordinary privates in the huge army of the bereaved, slogging along and making the best of a bad job.” We all hate to think we are ordinary. We have aspirations to greatness.

But, for most of us, instead of soaring, we plod. We try to do the next right thing and the next and the next. All small things, all building something that we hope will matter, even though we can’t even imagine what it will be. Instead we find ourselves on a path just putting one foot in front of the other.

Maybe that needs to be OK with us. Maybe that’s exactly where God wants us: Following the path He opens in front of us and trusting Him to make our journey significant. I think He calls it faithfulness.

So, if we find ourselves plodding along, let’s not give up. Let’s keep going, listening for His direction, and anticipating what He will do with our small steps today.

“I can plod. That is my only genius. I can persevere in any definite pursuit. To this I owe everything.” – William Carey (1761-1844), missionary to India

 

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

Can you trust the Bible?

Just a note to let you know I updated my website, Walking Together on Holy Ground, to include a page titled Bible Quandaries.

In that space, I respond to questions about the Bible that many people have posed through the years. I have posted five new questions/answers today and will add to the page from time to time. Check it out if you have questions or are being asked questions by others about the Bible, its teaching on various current subjects, its relationship to science/history, and its authenticity. All content is excerpted from newest book, The Bible for Skeptics: A Conversation for Thinking People.