Ups! and Downs

“The fear of the Lord leads to life; then one rests content, untouched by trouble.” – Proverbs 19:23

Do you ever feel like you are on an emotional roller coaster? Happy, then sad, hopeful, then despairing? You’re not alone. In fact, in the first 11 verses of Luke 5, we find Peter going through several emotions in a very short time.

Peter discouraged

He was ready to give up! He had been fishing all night and hadn’t caught a thing. Can’t feed the family with empty nets.

Peter elated

Jesus comes along, tells Peter to throw his nets in again and, amazingly, they were full to overflowing. Now, Peter is happy to be in the fishing business!

Peter afraid

Then he realizes the power and authority of Jesus and falls at his feet in fear. A man who can bring fish to the net like this must be special in a way that was simply scary. Peter knows he is not worthy to be in the presence of such a man.

Peter redirected

Being a successful fisherman was nothing compared to the plans Jesus had for Peter. He first tells Peter not to be afraid, then he calls him to leave his boats and his nets and become a fisher of men – bringing people to awareness of who Jesus is and his desire to rescue them from pain and sorrow to joy and eternal life.

We can follow Jesus closely and still have emotional ups and downs, but when we are on the path with him, he gives us perspective, hope, and abilities to accomplish what he has planned for us to do, no matter how we feel.

“True spiritual life depends not on probing our feelings and thoughts from dawn to dusk but on ‘looking off’ to the Savior!” – Martin Luther

What do you want?

“It is God who arms me with strength and keeps my way secure.” – 2 Samuel 22:33

Are you satisfied with your life? Too often, we live with general discontent without stopping identify what its cause may be. One day, two men began to follow Jesus, when he turned around and asked, “What do you want?” (John 1:38). He was challenging them to think about what they were doing!

If life is not all you want it to be right now, maybe Jesus’ question is for you today. What do you want?  What  is your deepest need? Maybe you, too, need to think about what you’re doing day by day.

In a quiet place, evaluate how you spend your time, then ask: What kind of activities, interactions, or thoughts make me feel

  • happy?
  • anxious?
  • secure?
  • stressed?
  • confident?
  • loved?
  • that my life is making a difference?

Do your answers to these questions give you some hints as to your true needs? If your greatest desires are for wealth, fame, or influence, Jesus is not your answer. But, if you want love, peace, security, joy, or purpose, you’ll find it all in him. God is love. Jesus is the Prince of Peace, the Holy Spirit brings joy and contentment, and following God’s path gives meaning and purpose we cannot find without him.

As you gain insight into the greatest needs or wants in your life,  ask God to show you how those desires can be fulfilled. By striving, working harder, looking for approval from others? Or by resting in the love and mercy of our Father in Heaven? By following the teachings and example of Jesus? Once you know what you really want, he makes the way clear.

“I’m learning the importance of pressing God for more. I want all he has to give.” – Margaret Feinberg

Mary’s “Yes.”

“I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” – Mary to angel Gabriel, Luke 1:38

The day started out like any other day in the village of Nazareth years ago. But, for young Mary, everything changed with a surprise visit from an angel who announced she had been chosen to bear the Son of God. Would she do it? Yes. She would be part of God’s plan.

Saying “yes” to God is a good thing, right? If we’re doing his will, he’ll make it easy for us. He’ll show the path, open doors, bring the right people to help us, and generally smooth the way. Not always.

Just ask Mary: finding no suitable place to birth this miracle child, thinking at one time he may have lost his mind, hearing of his embarrassing confrontations with respected religious leaders, and then watching him die a criminal’s death.

When we say “yes” to God, we know the journey with him will have a glorious end, but we must expect hindrances, challenges, pain along the way. The plan of God includes suffering. Mary knows. Jesus knows. I imagine you know, too.

If you’re suffering, it doesn’t mean God has abandoned you. It doesn’t mean you’re not doing his will. Saying “yes” to God does mean when the suffering comes, he’s there with us. When we choose to follow him, we’re never alone. When we hurt, he hurts with us. When we’re anxious, he gives us peace. When we’re in pain, he comforts.

And, finally, at the end of the suffering, there is joy. Think resurrection. Think eternal kingdom. Joy, inexpressible joy, will come.

“True joy, as it turns out, comes only to those who have devoted their lives to something greater than personal happiness.” – John Ortberg

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

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

 

 

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

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