Falling

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I assure you that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it can only be a single seed. But if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their lives will lose them, and those who hate their lives in this world will keep them forever. ~John 12:24-25

In John 12:24, Jesus says that unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains alone and useless. There is a promise of life inside the shell but when life is held closely in control it cannot flourish. We assume letting go is a sign of weakness. We cannot see the promise of waiting to get out. Only when we get to the point where we are ready to surrender and give up the try-hard life can we begin to find true life.

As long as we try to hold onto our self-sufficiency we are living a less-than life. Although Jesus accepts us as we are he never wants to leave us where he finds us. He knows what self-sufficiency does to our soul. It slowly eats away at it bit by bit. Jesus likes to bring us to the edge of our self-sufficiency and urges us to fall down to the ground in surrender. There on the ground can the kernel of wheat soak in the life-sustaining water to soften the outer-shell.  As the shell softens it breaks and light and nutrients find their way into the heart causing new life bursts forth.

For a long time, the meaning of these verses remained just beyond my understanding. I would read this scripture and almost understand, but I was not ready to give up my self-sufficiency. It was too frightening. Dying in any form is not very appealing. Besides I had relied on myself for a very long time.

Only when I felt that I no longer was capable of controlling my life that I let go and let God take over the control. I realized I couldn’t, that only God could and finally one day I decided that I would begin to let Him.  There is freedom and life in the letting. When I found that I didn’t have to be so tough I found light begin to fill my heart; with light came hope; and with hope came a new life, one where I had true freedom to be me.

Heavenly Father, I thank You for Your complete acceptance. I thank You for never leaving me the way You have found me, always pushing me to be more. I thank You for pushing me out of worshiping self so that I could truly understand who I really am as Your beloved child. I thank You for the freedom I have through You. Amen.

Dreams

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Once the council members heard these words, they were enraged and began to grind their teeth at Stephen. But Stephen, enabled by the Holy Spirit, stared into heaven and saw God’s majesty and Jesus standing at God’s right side. He exclaimed, “Look! I can see heaven on display and the Human One standing at God’s right side!” At this, they shrieked and covered their ears. Together, they charged at him, threw him out of the city, and began to stone him. The witnesses placed their coats in the care of a young man named Saul. As they battered him with stones, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, accept my life!” Falling to his knees, he shouted, “Lord, don’t hold this sin against them!” Then he died. Saul was in full agreement with Stephen’s murder. Acts 7:54-8:1 (CEB)

Paul did not want to be an apostle to the Gentiles. He wanted to be a clever Jewish Scholar. I bet he even dreamed of it when he was younger. How he would impress others by his obedience to and knowledge of the Law. Maybe at Stephen’s stoning, Paul saw his opportunity to make his dreams happen. But dreams are not God-given if they come at the cost of the lives of others.

I had a dream, to be a famous artist. Through high school, I usually placed in contests that I entered. I even won an award my Freshman year of college, “Freshman with the Most Potential to Succeed.” I am sure my professors felt that by now they would be hearing great things about me in the art world.

Sometimes our childhood dreams are not the best dreams for us. When the disappointment has passed we can discover that God has planted new dreams in our hearts. Dreams that we can be just as passionate about as the dreams we dreamed as a youth. It can be hard to let go of the dreams of childhood, but if we can open our hearts to hear God’s will we can find that our dreams have been restored in something better.

Did Paul have to give up his knowledge of the Law? No. But God wanted him to use his knowledge in a different way. His knowledge was never intended to impress others but to win souls for Christ. It was Paul’s passion that God wanted to use.

Heaven Father, I thank You for new dreams you have placed in my heart. May I always be passionate for You. Amen.

Where there is hope

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Let’s hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, because the one who made the promises is reliable. Let’s also think about how to motivate each other to show love and to do good works. Don’t stop meeting together with other believers, which some people have gotten into the habit of doing. Instead, encourage each other, especially as you see the day drawing near. ~Heb. 10:23-25 (CEB)

There seem to be many people who have begun to lose hope. Those who hunger for life’s basic needs but see no relief; those who see too many problems and cannot see a solution. When there is no hope, there is no life- we lose our will to fight, to trust, or to live.

Sometimes problems seem hopeless both to the victims and bystanders. Hope is inseparably connected to love and faith… God’s love and faithfulness. We can trust and hope that He continues to supply for the needs of many through us and through all the means available today.  Hebrews 10:23 says, “Let’s hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering because the one who made the promises is reliable”. Empowered by hope in God we can do great things

I begin to lose hope when the world’s problems seem too big to handle. My heart cries out at the needs of others and I begin to feel overwhelmed with the needs. When Pastor Amy Probst said in her sermon series Sharing God’s Abundance the words, “There is too much for us to do everything but there is enough for each of us to do something”, I began to stop looking at the “big problem” of hunger. Instead, I began to see how I could help with “small actions” by collecting food at a food drive, serving meals at the Welcome Table and participating in Crop Drops.

When I ignore a problem, I begin to believe that there is no way that the situation can change. I sometimes find that I begin to accept that that is just the nature of things. I become blind to the need. With the sweet potato drop that I participated in a few weeks back, I felt that each potato I picked up was one more meal for someone who was hungry. The sweet potato drop was a tangible situation where I could be a part of the solution instead of just ignoring the problem. Who knew that hope could come in the form or a huge sweet potato that was too big for the market? Hope not just for the people who would receive a meal, but hope for the people who gave of their time to be a part of the solution.

Through our good works not only do we see hope begin to flicker in the eyes of others but we find by reaching out that hope begins to grow in us as well. Hope is the opportunity to be a part of the solution. As we reach out encouragement goes both ways and the lines between victim and bystander are demolished.

Heavenly Father, May I not become blind to the problems of the world. May I always see with Your eyes and feel with Your heart. May I see “small solutions” to the “big problems” that face our society and be Your hands and feet in the world. Amen.

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Hands to use

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Paul went to the synagogue and spoke confidently for the next three months. He interacted with those present and offered convincing arguments concerning the nature of God’s kingdom. Some people had closed their minds, though. They refused to believe and publicly slandered the Way. As a result, Paul left them, took the disciples with him, and continued his daily interactions in Tyrannus’ lecture hall.  This went on for two years, so that everyone living in the province of Asia—both Jews and Greeks—heard the Lord’s word. God was doing unusual miracles through Paul. Even the small towels and aprons that had touched his skin were taken to the sick, and their diseases were cured and the evil spirits left them. ~Acts 19:8-12 (CEB)

God is looking for hands to use and feet to go about His work. I may not have anything special to offer, but if I give God a willing spirit He can use me for His good work. Through Paul’s hands, extraordinary deeds were being done in Ephesus. Sweat-bands and aprons of the working men that had touched Paul were able to be carried on to others for further healing. It is important to note that it is not Paul who does these special acts but God through Paul.

This is not the only miracle of this passage. Paul taught in the hall of Tyrannus from 11-4 each day. This was the hottest part of the day when the people of Ephesus slept. It is said that there were more people sleeping soundly at 1 pm in Ephesus than 1am. Another miracle I see is that Paul was so eager to teach that he worked all morning and evening and taught during the middle hours. Also the people were so eager to hear God’s word they came and listened while others rested and slept.

This surely shames me when I think of how often I complain of not having enough time to get things done. What times could I be seizing that I would otherwise claim as too inconvenient? Sometimes I feel that miracles no longer happen. What would happen if I gave my hands for God’s work? In times that might be inconvenient if I gave my hands and feet for His service would I see miracles around me?

Heavenly Father, Help me to do Your work this day. May I not be too tired in my busy-ness. Out of my thankfulness may I be willing to give up the time I think so precious so that I can see You work miracles. Through me may others see Your love. Amen.

Forgiveness

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Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, how many times should I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Should I forgive as many as seven times?” Jesus said, “Not just seven times, but rather as many as seventy- seven times. -Matthew 18:22-23 (CEB)

“Community is not possible without the willingness to forgive one another”seventy times seven”. Forgiveness is the cement of community life.  Forgiveness holds us together through good times and bad times and allows us to grow in mutual love…

To forgive a person from the heart is an act of liberation. We set that person free from the negative bonds that exist between us. We say, “I no longer hold your offense against you.” But there is more. Were also free ourselves from the burden of being the”offended one.” As long as we do not forgive those who have wounded us, we carry them with us or, pull them as a heavy load. The great temptation is to cling in anger to our enemies and then define ourselves as being offended and wounded by them. Forgiveness, therefore, liberates not only the other but also ourselves. It is the way to the freedom of the children of God.” -From Bread for the Journey,  by Henri Nouwen

Forgiveness may be the number one reason that keeps us from living free. It is hard to extend forgiveness to those who have failed us. Especially when they have failed us again, and again… and again. Sometimes I find myself asking,  “God,  just how often should I forgive?” His reply is, “Every time.”

I know forgiveness sets me free.  But this is one area I seem to struggle with on a regular basis especially when it deals with something I want to be changed and promises have been made and changes don’t come… or come as soon as I would like. But in the quiet of the night, when I am receptive again to God’s voice, I hear whispered in my ear, “Every time.”

Heavenly Father, I thank you for the countless times You have forgiven me. Give me the strength today to forgive again and every time. Amen.

Special

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Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. ~1 Corinthians 12:27 (NIV)

“Special”, my daughter used to tell me means that you are different. Being different apparently means there is something wrong with you. God didn’t make us all the same. It would be boring if He did! There is no comfort when you tell your children that God has made us all different.

Sometimes I too find myself longing for someone else’s kind of different. It might be nice to be more outgoing maybe even flamboyant. Some days I think it might be nice to not be so contemplative and analytical. Although sometimes I do find myself more outgoing than others I cannot change the personality that is me.

Henri Nouwen in his book, Bread for the Journey says this about temperaments, “Our temperaments – whether flamboyant, phlegmatic, introverted, or extroverted – are quite permanent fixtures of our personalities.  Still, the way we “use” our temperaments on a daily basis can vary greatly.  When we are attentive to the Spirit of God within us, we will gradually learn to put our temperaments in the service of a virtuous life.  Then flamboyancy gives great zeal for the Kingdom, phlegmatism helps to keep an even keel in times of crisis, introversion deepens the contemplative side, and extroversion encourages creative ministry.”

Nouwen goes on to say that we should treat our temperaments as we do gifts that help us deepen our spiritual lives. God made different people because He has different kinds of service. Instead of looking at how it must be nice to be comfortable in a crowd of people, I should use my contemplative nature as God intends, in service to Him.

Heavenly Father, I thank You for my kind of different. May I use who I am in service to You. Amen.

Margins

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Early in the morning, well before sunrise, Jesus rose and went to a deserted place where he could be alone in prayer. ~Mark 1:35 (CEB)

It is that time of year again time to schedule, plan and gather information. There is something comforting in the laying out of information and the putting plans on a calendar for me to follow. There is nothing like having “life” laid out on paper (or computer) and knowing where you will be and what you will be doing when. At the same time it is very daunting as well. Sometimes after getting into the new schedule I find there is little or no margin. I have learned just because it works out on paper doesn’t mean that it will work out in real life.

So as I look at lesson plans, art projects, Bible studies, music rehearsals and social obligations, I am reminded that I must allow some breathing room in my schedule for the “what-ifs”.  I am reminded that a schedule that I am able to begin with is not necessarily the same one that I can keep up with. I need room to breathe. I need margin in my schedule before I begin to feel that there is not enough of me to go around. As I plan out how I am going to take care of those around me, I need to also remember to give myself some space.

Jesus realized that he needed times to have space to breathe. He regularly took time to slip away for time with God. No matter the needs of the people there was still his need for quiet to spend time with his Father.

When I don’t plan some margin in my schedule so that I can find places of rest and times to connect with God I find that I can’t keep up with things. Then I find that it is tempting to cut rest and quiet to make up for my lack of time to get other things done. How crazy is that? The most needed things, rest, quiet, time with God are the things that slowly get left out when we scramble to keep up with our life.

Heavenly Father, in my planning help me to stick to the need for margins that will allow me the time I need for quiet, rest and most importantly, time with You. Amen.

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