Stressful times

An argument broke out among the disciples over which one of them should be regarded as the greatest.

But Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles rule over their subjects, and those in authority over them are called ‘friends of the people.’ But that’s not the way it will be with you. Instead, the greatest among you must become like a person of lower status and the leader like a servant. So which one is greater, the one who is seated at the table or the one who serves at the table? Isn’t it the one who is seated at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.

“You are the ones who have continued with me in my trials. And I confer royal power on you just as my Father granted royal power to me. Thus you will eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones overseeing the twelve tribes of Israel. ~Luke 22:24-30 (CEB)

Being a disciple was becoming stressful. The pace clearly had quickened during this three-year course in discipleship. The crowds had grown larger and demanded more. The lessons to be learned often seemed over the heads of the disciples. Jesus talked more and more about his own death and what was to follow. Frankly the disciples did not understand it, and the more confused they became, the more frustrated they became. We can appreciate that phenomenon. It happens to us. When we are under a heavy load for a long period of time, we often become frustrated, impatient, and sometimes not very nice to be around. We even begin to compare ourselves to others and begin to think that we deserve a little bigger slice of the reward pie than even our closest friend.

That kind of reaction to stress may explain why the disciples began arguing about who was to be regarded as the greatest among those who followed Jesus. Jesus shattered their hopes of achieving special status or special reward (Luke 22:26).

The world’s system of reward has nothing to do with the disciple’s system of reward. A disciple of Jesus Christ is called first to be servant of all, and the leader is to take the lowliest position of service. This system turns the world’s concept of leadership upside down. The first disciples found it hard to understand and even more difficult to live by such a value system. But Jesus seems to say there is no other way. Disciples serve. ~From A Guide to Prayer for All Who Seek God, Rueben P. Job

Heavenly Father, help me to keep my focus on whatever is true, not on the things that I perceive to be true. In my trials ease my frustration, bolster my patience and help me love those You have placed in my life with Your heart. Help me to serve others this day so that I can be Your hands and feet to the world. Amen.

The Love of a child

People were bringing children to Jesus so that he would bless them. But the disciples scolded them. When Jesus saw this, he grew angry and said to them, “Allow the children to come to me. Don’t forbid them, because God’s kingdom belongs to people like these children.  I assure you that whoever doesn’t welcome God’s kingdom like a child will never enter it. ” Then he hugged the children and blessed them. ~Mark 10:13-16

No one loves like a child. This is how God wants me to love Him, that unconditional love, that love that completely believes that the parent can provide for all their needs, a complete dependence for the provision of those needs. A child is free to not know all the answers but has the assurance of where those answers may be found. Children adore their parents.

The Kingdom of God is like a child secure in the love of a parent.

Heavenly Father, Thank You for allowing me to come to You as a child comes to a parent. I thank You for Your love that You pour out on me every day. I thank You that I know that I am Your Beloved child. Amen.

Rooted in love

See what kind of love the Father has given to us in that we should be called God’s children, and that is what we are! Because the world didn’t recognize him, it doesn’t recognize us.

Dear friends, now we are God’s children, and it hasn’t yet appeared what we will be. We know that when he appears we will be like him because we’ll see him as he is. And everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself even as he is pure. Every person who practices sin commits an act of rebellion, and sin is rebellion. You know that he appeared to take away sins, and there is no sin in him. Every person who remains in relationship to him does not sin. Any person who sins has not seen him or known him. ~1 John 3:1-6 (CEB)

“The word ‘radical’ means going to the root, getting down to essentials. People who get down to essentials and stay with them, no matter what the changes around them, are and remain radial. They are rooted in something that endures. The most radical element of our faith is the unconditional love of God. The more we internalize this truth, the greater the transformation that happens within us. Transformation has to do with freedom, freedom to live and love like Christ.” ~From Free to ray, Free to Love by Max Olivia, S.J.

O Lord, may I ever be rooted in Your love. May Your truths be seeded deeply and knowledge and wisdom spring forth. May the seedlings You have watered shoot forth from my heart flowing into those You have placed in my life.  Help me to stay radical in You. Amen.

Unconditional love

One of the Pharisees invited Jesus to eat with him. After he entered the Pharisee’s home, he took his place at the table. Meanwhile, a woman from the city, a sinner, discovered that Jesus was dining in the Pharisee’s house. She brought perfumed oil in a vase made of alabaster. Standing behind him at his feet and crying, she began to wet his feet with her tears. She wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and poured the oil on them. When the Pharisee who had invited Jesus saw what was happening, he said to himself, If this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him. He would know that she is a sinner.

Jesus replied, “Simon, I have something to say to you.”

“Teacher, speak,” he said.  

“A certain lender had two debtors. One owed enough money to pay five hundred people for a day’s work. The other owed enough money for fifty. When they couldn’t pay, the lender forgave the debts of them both. Which of them will love him more?”

Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the largest debt canceled.”

Jesus said, “You have judged correctly.”

Jesus turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? When I entered your home, you didn’t give me water for my feet, but she wet my feet with tears and wiped them with her hair. You didn’t greet me with a kiss, but she hasn’t stopped kissing my feet since I came in. You didn’t anoint my head with oil, but she has poured perfumed oil on my feet. This is why I tell you that her many sins have been forgiven; so she has shown great love. The one who is forgiven little loves little.”

Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

The other table guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this person that even forgives sins?”

Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” ~Luke 7:35-50 (CEB)

Recently I experienced unconditional love. No strings attached. No judgment involved. The night before I had been tossing and turning and throwing up prayers to God. I didn’t even know exactly what I needed but I knew I needed a miracle. Maybe this was the first time I actually prayed for a miracle. But let me tell you, when you ask, be prepared for an answer.

God knew exactly what I needed to release some of the pressure that I had been under. I was struggling so hard to trust and believe… struggling so hard to keep the faith that I knew. The next morning a dear friend offered a selfless gift. It was an answer to my prayer from the night before.

When you pray for a miracle you still have to do the work of accepting it when it comes. It is so tempting when we have dug that hole of despair because of our own mistakes to not accept a miracle when it does come our way. “I made this mess so I should be the one to dig myself out!” God has been in my face this season about pride. Here again I felt that old demon rising his head.

Pride swallowed I accepted her gift and was blessed beyond belief. Through this I learned what unconditional love looks like. I pray often to be able to see with God’s eyes and to love with His heart. My eyes are opened in a way I never could have understood before.

He has shown me what unconditional love looks like.

Heavenly Father, from the depths of my despair I cried out to You and You heard me. I asked to feel Your love surround me. I thank You for showing me Your unconditional love through Your earthly servants. I thank You for people who are obedient to Your will. Help me to return the love that I have been shown. Amen.

A true fast

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. ~Matthew 5:6 (NIV)

Isaiah 56 tells us “Isn’t this the fast I choose: releasing wicked restraints, untying the ropes of a yoke, setting free the mistreated, and breaking every yoke? Isn’t it sharing your bread with the hungry and bringing the homeless poor into your house, covering the naked when you see them, and not hiding from your own family? … If you open your heart to the hungry, and provide abundantly for those who are afflicted, your light will shine in the darkness, and your gloom will be like the noon.” (Isa. 56:6,7,10)

So I ask you, do you hunger and thirst for justice? True fasting is not just depriving ourselves of privilege but also sharing sacrificially to bring an end to the cycles of inequality, an end to violence and solution to starvation.

Heavenly Father, create in me a hunger and thirst for Your righteousness. Enable me this day to be Your hands and feet to those who live in darkness.  Help me love with Your heart and shine with Your light so that the darkness may be like the noon day sun. Amen.

The one who touched my heart

He said: I love you, LORD, my strength. The LORD is my solid rock, my fortress, my rescuer. My God is my rock— I take refuge in him!— he’s my shield, my salvation’s strength, my place of safety. Because he is praiseworthy,I cried out to the LORD, and I was saved from my enemies. Death’s cords were wrapped around me; rivers of wickedness terrified me. The cords of the grave surrounded me; death’s traps held me tight. In my distress I cried out to the LORD; I called to my God for help. God heard my voice from his temple; I called to him for help, and my call reached his ears. ~Psalm 18:1-6

“Becoming the Beloved is the great spiritual journey we have to make. Augustine’s words: ‘My soul is restless until it rests in you, O God,’ capture well this journey. I know that the fact that I am always searching for God, always struggling to discover the fullness of Love, always yearning for the complete truth, tells me that I have already been given a taste of God, of Love and Truth. I can only look for something that I have, to some degree, already found. How can I search for beauty and truth unless that beauty and truth are already known to me in the depth of my heart? It seems that all of us human beings have deep inner memories of the paradise that we have lost. Maybe the word ‘innocence’ is better than the word ‘paradise.’ We were innocent before we started feeling guilty; we were in the light before we entered into the darkness; we were at home before we started to search for a home. Deep in the recesses of our minds and hearts there lies hidden the treasure we seek. We know its preciousness, and we know that it holds the gift we most desire: a life stronger than death.” ~From Life of the Beloved by Henri J.M. Nouwen

I always believed that God touched me in my mother’s womb. Maybe He does us all. That would explain this longing we have deep inside us for something more, something that will complete us.  It is a comfort to know that I was made to long and search for a home that is mine. Maybe that is why I never felt that I was in a place where I completely belonged. I am meant to feel that I am only passing through. I am not meant to feel complete until I have found the One Who touched my heart. I am not meant to feel at home until I am home with Jesus.

Heavenly Father, I thank You for the Fullness of Your love. I thank You for touching my heart and calling to me from my mother’s womb. I thank you for calling to me, asking me just to seek… to seek the treasures that I would find if only I would start on that journey. I thank You for sending Your Son to show me the Way. Amen.

Beloved

Look at your situation when you were called, brothers and sisters! By ordinary human standards not many were wise, not many were powerful, not many were from the upper class.  But God chose what the world considers foolish to shame the wise. God chose what the world considers weak to shame the strong.  And God chose what the world considers low-class and low-life—what is considered to be nothing—to reduce what is considered to be something to nothing. So no human being can brag in God’s presence. It is because of God that you are in Christ Jesus. He became wisdom from God for us. This means that he made us righteous and holy, and he delivered us. ~1 Corinthians 1:26-30 (CEB)

“Don’t you often hope: ‘May this book, idea, course, trip, job, country or relationship fulfill my deepest desire.’ But as long as you are waiting for that mysterious moment you will go running helter-skelter, always anxious and restless, always lustful and angry, never fully satisfied. You know that this is the compulsiveness that keeps us going and busy, but at the same time makes us wonder whether we are getting anywhere in the long run.  This is the way to spiritual exhaustion and burn-out. This is the way to spiritual death.

Well, you and I don’t have to kill ourselves. We are the Beloved. We are intimately loved long before our parents, teachers, spouses, children and friends love or wounded us. That’s the truth of our lives. That’s the truth I want you to claim for yourself. That’s the truth spoken by the voice that says, ‘You are my Beloved.’

Listening to that voice with great inner attentiveness, I hear at my center words that say: ‘I have called you by name, from the very beginning. You are mine and I am yours. You are my Beloved, on you my favor rests. I have molded you in the depths of the earth and knitted you together in your mother’s womb. I have carved you in the palms of my hands and hidden you in the shadow of my embrace. I look at you with infinite tenderness and care for you with a care more intimate that that of a mother for her child. I have counted every hair on your head and guided you at every step. Wherever you go, I go with you, and wherever you rest, I keep watch. I will give you food that will satisfy all your hunger and drink that will quench all your thirst. I will not hide my face from you. You know me as your own as I know you as my own. You belong to me. I am your father, your mother, your brother, your sister, your lover and your spouse … yes, even your child … wherever you are I will be. Nothing will ever separate us. We are one.’” ~From Life of the Beloved by Henri J. M. Nouwen

To be called by the Creator by name. The fact that He knew me before my mother knew me. Awesome. God knew who I would be and before I even set out in this world He loved me. Simply, I was loved before I was born.

Heavenly Father, You are mine and I am Yours. I am Your Beloved. Before I ever messed up or went astray You loved me knowing the steps I would follow and the depths that I would ascend. You reached down into that darkness, even sent Your son to guide me … all because You love me. Me, even though I am tarnished and broken You still sought me. I thank You that I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Amen.

The One who speaks my name

You whom I took from the ends of the earth and called from its farthest corners, saying to you, “You are my servant; I chose you and didn’t reject you”: Don’t fear, because I am with you; don’t be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will surely help you; I will hold you with my righteous strong hand. ~Isaiah 41:9-10 (CEB)

“There is a great difference between successfulness and fruitfulness. Success comes from strength, control, and respectability. A successful person has the energy to create something, to keep control over its development, and to make it available in large quantities. Success brings many rewards and often fame. Fruits, however, come from weakness and vulnerability. And fruits are unique. A child is the fruit conceived in vulnerability, community is the fruit born through shared brokenness, and intimacy is the fruit that grows through touching one another’s wounds. Let’s remind one another that what brings us true joy is not successfulness but fruitfulness.” ~From Bread for the Journey by Henri J. M. Nouwen

Lord, in my weakness and vulnerability I find you. Please take my trials and help me bear fruit. I thank you for communities that You have provided through which I can feel Your love for me. Guide my steps, make the ground firm beneath my feet for my hope is in You. Amen.

From the ends of the earth

You whom I took from the ends of the earth and called from its farthest corners, saying to you, “You are my servant; I chose you and didn’t reject you”: Don’t fear, because I am with you; don’t be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will surely help you; I will hold you with my righteous strong hand. ~Isaiah 41:9-10 (CEB)

“There is a great difference between successfulness and fruitfulness. Success comes from strength, control, and respectability. A successful person has the energy to create something, to keep control over its development, and to make it available in large quantities. Success brings many rewards and often fame. Fruits, however, come from weakness and vulnerability. And fruits are unique. A child is the fruit conceived in vulnerability, community is the fruit born through shared brokenness, and intimacy is the fruit that grows through touching one another’s wounds. Let’s remind one another that what brings us true joy is not successfulness but fruitfulness.” ~From Bread for the Journey by Henri J. M. Nouwen

Lord, in my weakness and vulnerability I find you. Please take my trials and help me bear fruit. I thank you for communities that You have provided through which I can feel Your love for me. Guide my steps, make the ground firm beneath my feet for my hope is in You. Amen.

Through the valley

You will be secure, for there is hope; you will look around and rest safely. You will lie down without anyone to scare you; many will beg for your favor. ~Job 11:18-19 (CEB)

Solitude is the garden for our hearts, which yearn for love. It is the place where our aloneness can bear fruit. It is the home for our restless bodies and anxious minds. Solitude, whether it is connected with a physical space or not, is essential for our spiritual lives. It is not an easy place to be, since we are so insecure and fearful that we are easily distracted by whatever promises immediate satisfaction. Solitude is not immediately satisfying, because in solitude we meet our demons, our addictions, our feelings of lust and anger, and our immense need for recognition and approval. But if we do not run away, we will meet there also the One who says, “Do not be afraid. I am with you, and I will guide you through the valley of darkness.” ~ From Bread for the Journey by Henri J. M. Nouwen

O Heavenly Father, I know that You hear me out of the depths of my solitude. Help me stand my ground so that I meet my demons head on. Hold my hand as I walk through this valley. Steady my steps so that I won’t stumble and fall. I know You are my God and I am Your beloved child. Amen.

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