Lean not on my own understanding

Herod the king heard about these things, because the name of Jesus had become well-known. Some were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and this is why miraculous powers are at work through him.” Others were saying, “He is Elijah.” Still others were saying, “He is a prophet like one of the ancient prophets.” But when Herod heard these rumors, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised to life.” He said this because Herod himself had arranged to have John arrested and put in prison because of Herodias, the wife of Herod’s brother Philip. Herod had married her, but John told Herod, “It’s against the law for you to marry your brother’s wife!” So Herodias had it in for John. She wanted to kill him, but she couldn’t. This was because Herod respected John. He regarded him as a righteous and holy person, so he protected him. John’s words greatly confused Herod, yet he enjoyed listening to him.  Finally, the time was right. It was on one of Herod’s birthdays, when he had prepared a feast for his high-ranking officials and military officers and Galilee’s leading residents. Herod’s daughter Herodias came in and danced, thrilling Herod and his dinner guests. The king said to the young woman, “Ask me whatever you wish, and I will give it to you.” Then he swore to her, “Whatever you ask I will give to you, even as much as half of my kingdom.” She left the banquet hall and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” “John the Baptist’s head,” Herodias replied. Hurrying back to the ruler, she made her request: “I want you to give me John the Baptist’s head on a plate, right this minute.” Although the king was upset, because of his solemn pledge and his guests, he didn’t want to refuse her. So he ordered a guard to bring John’s head. The guard went to the prison, cut off John’s head, brought his head on a plate, and gave it to the young woman, and she gave it to her mother. When John’s disciples heard what had happened, they came and took his dead body and laid it in a tomb. ~Mark 6:14-29 (CEB)

In real life, the story doesn’t always end with “They lived happily ever after”. John gave his life for God. He never backed down from what needed to be said. He gave his all for God. He gave his life. The story doesn’t always end like it did for Daniel in the lion’s den or as it did for Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. They had great faith and stood up for what they believed and it all turned out right for them in the end.

I also can’t help but think of Paul. He tells us in his second letter to the Corinthians that there is something that he continually struggles with. He has prayed for it to be removed, but God didn’t. (2Co 12:7-10) Sometimes God asks us to live through or with a circumstance. Sometimes the answer is not deliverance this side of heaven.

Most of the time when we pray, we pray for God to do something to us or for us, But God wants to do something in us and through us. I have to remember that God sees time differently than me. I have to trust that He is working all things together for my good (Jer. 29:11) even when it doesn’t feel like he is, even when I don’t receive an answer to prayer in the way that I want it to be answered.

My part of the picture is giving my cooperation for God to work through me. God gives His self to us for His purpose only as we give ourselves to God. God does not ask me to give up who I am but for the death of self-centeredness. God asks that despite my circumstances that I allow myself to be used for His service. When I give my all in service to Him my story does have a happy ending. It might be different than the worlds’ view of the happily ever after version but when I do His will, my story in the end is happy one with Him forever in heaven.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will direct your paths.

Proverbs 3, 5-6

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time; Enjoying one moment at a time; Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will; That I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him Forever in the next. Amen. –Reinhold Niebuhr

Body, soul and spirit

Therefore we were buried together with him through baptism into his death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too can walk in newness of life. If we were united together in a death like his, we will also be united together in a resurrection like his. This is what we know: the person that we used to be was crucified with him in order to get rid of the corpse that had been controlled by sin. That way we wouldn’t be slaves to sin anymore, because a person who has died has been freed from sin’s power. But if we died with Christ, we have faith that we will also live with him. We know that Christ has been raised from the dead and he will never die again. Death no longer has power over him. He died to sin once and for all with his death, but he lives for God with his life. In the same way, you also should consider yourselves dead to sin but alive for God in Christ Jesus. ~Rom. 6:4-11 (CEB)

As a believer I have all I need for a  life in Christ. If I don’t know it I can’t experience the reality of it.

One of the Biblical truths I grew up with is how when we are baptized we died with Christ, are buried with Christ and have risen with Christ. But I am sitting right here, alive. What died?

1 Thessalonians 5:23 says, “Now, may the God of peace himself cause you to be completely dedicated to him; and may your spirit, soul, and body be kept intact and blameless at our Lord Jesus Christ’s coming.” According to this verse we are a three part whole. Thinking of myself in this way makes it a little clearer.

The invisible is easy to overlook until it’s not there anymore. When we look at the shell of a loved one that has passed on we are quite aware that we are more than just a body.

My body is the visible shell that the world sees. My soul, my mind, is the invisible part of me that thinks and feels. It interprets information that is received and it can only whether it is a lie or truth. We readily acknowledge these two parts of our being. But the third, my spirit is what links me to God.

If I take a moment and think back to the Garden of Eden I remember that Adam and Eve were told that if they ate from the Tree of Knowledge they would die. I distinctly remember them walking away from their encounter with God after their sin. (Gen 3) Weren’t they supposed to die? Their body and soul left the garden, but the damage was to their spirit, that invisible place that connected them to God is what died. Therefore every human was born into death, with a “dead spirit”.

The only way I can bring life to my spirit is to admit that it is dead and receive the One who is Life. God’s Holy Spirit makes life available leaving me with a choice. The choice I am faced with is that I can either receive truth from my circumstances by responding to what my soul, my mind tells me or I can listen to the truth that through Christ’s sacrifice I have now been united with God’s Spirit.  The Spirit feeds me Truth and leads me in the way I need to go.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; don’t rely on your own intelligence. Know him in all your paths, and he will keep your ways straight. ~Proverbs 3:5-6 (CEB)

Heavenly Father, I thank you for your guiding Spirit that speaks truth to my heart. Help me to listen to the Truth and not respond to my current circumstances as if that is truth. Help me to keep all my ways straight. Amen

Saved from self

He rescued us from the control of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son he loves. ~Col.1.13.(CEB)

Darkness is the only choice when we don’t believe. When God rescues us he takes us out of darkness into the light. The initial passage from darkness to light is our coming aware of and the need for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus came to rescue the lost, the hurt, the broken and the lonely. We get that part but this understanding of need for forgiveness isn’t the only step.

It takes more than just trying to live righteously. I can’t do this by my own strength. It is not just understanding the forgiveness side of the cross and then working to earn life. This will put me back into bondage. This is not the freedom of living in the light.

I need to be saved from my self. God didn’t save me from darkness to send me off to make new masks. Masks of try-to-do-better, try-to-be-more. This just lands me back into darkness because I cannot be better or more on my own. I need to be saved from my self.

Five years ago this is where God found me. In a terrible self made mess of self-effort, self-reliance, self-righteousness which left me in a pit of self-doubt. Well if self is my addiction, that pit was my rock bottom. At this point I was very aware that I was not getting anywhere by my own effort to live right.

I missed the point. Jesus didn’t come just to save me form my sins…  he came to give me Life. True living that could only be found from the source of all life. There is only one place to find my identity. I no longer have to move from hiding behind one mask to another. My coping skills do not define who I am.

There are two sides to the cross. Death of my sins AND new life.

Heavenly Father, I thank You for the forgiveness of my sins. I thank you that you also saved me from my-self. I thank you for not leaving me in the pit of self-doubt trying to earn my life by my own effort. Amen.

A sheild

All God’s words are tried and true; a shield for those who take refuge in him. ~Proverbs 30:5

God knows we need places to hide. Not the masks of “I have it all together” but a shield of “I know I don’t have it all together but I know the One who does”. It seems the psalms are riddled with poetic lines that sing of safe places of rest and shields from the troubles that surround at all sides.

But you, Lord, are my shield! You are my glory! You are the one who restores me. ~Psalm 3:3

God is my shield; he saves those whose heart is right. ~Psalm 7:10

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. ~Psalm 18:2

God! His way is perfect; the Lord’s word is tried and true. He is a shield for all who take refuge in him. ~Psalm 18:30

You’ve given me the shield of your salvation; your strong hand has supported me; your help has made me great. ~Psalm 18:35

The Lord is a sun and shield; God is favor and glory. The Lord gives—doesn’t withhold!—good things to those who walk with integrity. ~Psalm 84:11

God will protect you with his pinions; you’ll find refuge under his wings. His faithfulness is a protective shield. ~Psalm 91:4

God is my loyal one, my fortress, my place of safety, my rescuer, my shield, in whom I take refuge, and the one who subdues people before me. ~Psalm 144:2

This Shield protects us while we figure out how to move on in our journey. It protects us as we try to move on in our lives. Life happens, someone dies, tragedy strikes, illness occurs, a court decision doesn’t go the way we think it should, a spouse falls back into addiction, a child has been arrested. God wants to provide us with a safe place while we struggle with questions of why and how to continue on. God gives us a resting place in him while we struggle with learning the Truths and until we are able to embrace them

How do you continue forward when your heart is breaking? I have asked this a lot…

Maybe it is in the little things: a smile at my son when I feel like crying, a walk with my husband though I want to be alone, a laugh with my daughter when there is so much to do, a cup of coffee with a friend despite a busy schedule, reading my Bible even though I am mad at God…

Maybe it is in the daily tasks: of doing laundry when I’d rather stay in bed, fixing my hair when I’d rather put it in a ponytail, cooking a meal when I’d rather not eat, dusting when I’d rather just read… It amazes me how much better I feel after doing these simple acts of life.

God shields my heart while I go through the act of living until it feels right again, one smile at a time, one task at a time, a gift of normalcy not meant to be a burden but a way for us to carry on.

We are supposed to ever move on. It is the nature of living.

Heavenly Father, shield my heart this day as I take this day one step at a time. I thank you for Your love and peace that passes my present understand. Be with me in all I do and say this day, may it ever be a reflection of Your love to those I meet. Amen.

Self-relience

The real believers are the ones the Spirit of God leads to work away at this ministry, filling the air with Christ’s praise as we do it. We couldn’t carry this off by our own efforts, and we know it– even though we can list what many might think are impressive credentials. You know my pedigree: a legitimate birth, circumcised on the eighth day; an Israelite from the elite tribe of Benjamin; a strict and devout adherent to God’s law; a fiery defender of the purity of my religion, even to the point of persecuting Christians; a meticulous observer of everything set down in God’s law Book. The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash– along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant– dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ– God’s righteousness. I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally, experience his resurrection power, be a partner in his suffering, and go all the way with him to death itself. If there was any way to get in on the resurrection from the dead, I wanted to do it. ~Phil 3:3-11 (Message)

Self-reliance is living in selfishness, flesh. What does the Bible say to us about living in the flesh?

“People whose lives are based on selfishness think about selfish things, but people whose lives are based on the Spirit think about things that are related to the Spirit.” ~Rom 8:5 (CEB)
“The Spirit is the one who gives life and the flesh doesn’t help at all. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” ~John 6:63 (CEB)
“A person’s selfish desires are set against the Spirit, and the Spirit is set against one’s selfish desires. They are opposed to each other, so you shouldn’t do whatever you want to do.” ~Gal 5:17 (CEB)

The spirit and the flesh are in opposition. This struggle robs us from our true identity found only in Christ. Jesus doesn’t care about our good reputation; he cares about building our good character. Anything we do to get life and identity outside of Christ is idol worship, even service to Christ. Self-righteousness, self-sufficiency, self-effort and self-reliance rob us of a life of freedom and victory.

Our definition of sin, the bad stuff people do, the heart breaks people cause, the poor decisions people make… somehow our desire to be our own little god is left off the list. Instead of looking to God to provide what is needed, do we roll up our sleeves and take on responsibilities that were never meant for us?

How many times do I see a problem, put my limitations on it and decide what I think the solution should be? Do I miss out on a miracle because I am depending on myself? I want to live like I have a God that knows what He is doing.

It isn’t about my doing God’s work; it’s about my trusting God to do the work in me. God doesn’t want my service, he doesn’t want my independence. He wants me.

I need to live more than just believing in God, I need to live from God. I need to step out from behind my mask of self-reliance and walk in faith.

Lord, Help me in my struggle to be self-reliant. I know that when I walk in faith and live like You are in control I can see you working in my life. May I live in freedom and victory. Amen.

Masks of our choosing

Then they both saw clearly and knew that they were naked. So they sewed fig leaves together and made garments for themselves. ~Genesis 3:7 (CEB)

When we make the choice to believe Satan’s lie, we believe that we must perform for our acceptance. We realize that we do not measure up. We are aware of our nakedness, our vulnerability, our imperfection.

What do we do when we realize that we do not measure up? We scramble for something to hide our shame. We put on masks of our own making, sewn together with fear. What are some masks that we might wear in our realization that we are imperfect? Here is a small list:

My service in church will make me acceptable.
I gain respect by acting responsible.
Following the rules makes me good enough.
Acting righteous makes me righteous.
Getting up early to pray every morning will make me a good Christian.
Cooking healthy meals makes me a good mom.
Keeping my house clean makes me a good wife.
Working hard makes me a good employee.
Insert here your own insecurities…

Does God leave us in our insecurities? While we are hiding God comes looking for us. He beckons to us, calling us to come out to him. “Where are you”, he calls. He already knows our hiding spot (Gen 3:8-9). He calls to us because we have to come out of hiding in order to be found. We have to come out from behind our masks in order to be healed, in order to be made whole.

Heavenly Father, I thank you for calling to me and not leaving me behind my masks of insecurities. I want to be made whole. Help me to be healed. Amen.

The tree of knowledge

The snake was the most intelligent of all the wild animals that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say that you shouldn’t eat from any tree in the garden?” The woman said to the snake, “We may eat the fruit of the garden’s trees but not the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden. God said, ‘Don’t eat from it, and don’t touch it, or you will die.’” The snake said to the woman, “You won’t die! God knows that on the day you eat from it, you will see clearly and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” The woman saw that the tree was beautiful with delicious food and that the tree would provide wisdom, so she took some of its fruit and ate it, and also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. ~Genesis 3:1-6(CEB)

There are two trees in the garden. The Tree of Life represents a life dependent on God. The Tree of Knowledge represents a life dependent on self. Eve’s initial mistake is entering into conversation with the liar. The following mistake was reasoning with the truth.

Two lies snuck in the garden that day. One is the lie that we have to do something to be something. Remember the act of eating the fruit? The second lie that slips by us is that this performance will make us more like God. In Genesis 3:5 Satan tells the woman that by eating the fruit she will become more like God, more righteous. In her conversation with the lie she forgot the truth. In Genesis 1:27, God had already made her “in His image.”

So what does this mean? Somewhere along the way we forget that love is a gift, we begin to believe that it must be earned. God gave us the Tree of Life so that we might truly walk with him. Walking this road in life with him brings freedom. But if we choose the Tree of Knowledge aka the “tree of independence”, we are bound to ever try to earn love and acceptance. We are trapped in the lie of performance.

The fact is God already loves us. He loved us first before we ever did anything to earn that love, it already existed. Adam and Eve forgot the love they were given, in fact they wanted more. They wanted to be independent and ever since humans have been born separated from God (Rom 5:17). God has been calling to us since the garden trying to remind us that His love is here free for the taking. We don’t have to earn that love. God doesn’t want us to remain in darkness, our self-reliance. He is calling us back to Truth. He is calling us back to the Tree of Life.

Heavenly Father, I thank you for sending Jesus into the world to bring us back to the Tree of Life. Help me to fight this streak of independence that lives in me. Help me to live in the intimacy you gave us in the garden. Amen.

Out of the darkness

Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. The troubles of my heart have multiplied: free me from my anguish. ~Psalm 25:16-17 (NIV)

As many as one if four people may suffer from the disease of depression at some point in time in their life.

The news about Robin Williams has crushed my heart. I have known friends and family who have struggled with depression. There have been times that I even worried that they might take their life. With odds as high as one in four we all know people who are struggling, whether we realize or acknowledge it. Maybe you at this moment are in that dark pit.

What breaks my heart further is when someone feels that if they were just “stronger” or had “more faith” they could just pull themselves up out of the darkness. Even more painful is when they refuse to get help because it is a “sign of weakness.”

I know that the brain is a complicated organ. As I have watched family members struggle and have tried to help them seek relief, I know there is no quick fix and sometimes we have simply found a band-aide. For the moment.

Hearing about Robin Williams has stirred up panic in the very depths of me. If it has happened to him. It could happen to someone I love dearly! The news also takes me back six years ago to a pit of my own. I remember that feeling of reaching out to God to pull me out only to still be in that darkness. It took time to turn that pit into a tunnel that eventually returned me to the light. When I didn’t have hope, friends hoped for me. They believed even when I couldn’t.

The best thing you can do for someone you care about is to simply hold their hand so they know they are not alone. To hope even when they can see no hope. And sometimes to say…. “I once was so very lost, and I eventually found my way out…. ”

Heavenly Father, open my heart this day to those who might need a kind word or a hand to hold. Calm my own fears about those I love who are surrounded by darkness today. May they feel Your presence in that darkness and help them move through that darkness into Your Light. Thank You for reaching down to sit with me in my own darkness. Thank You for not leaving me alone, even though I may not have felt You, You were there. Thank You for seeing me, for knowing me and for loving me. Amen.

Leaving the past behind

The LORD said to Abram, “Leave your land, your family, and your father’s household for the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation and will bless you. I will make your name respected, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, those who curse you I will curse; all the families of earth will be blessed because of you.” Abram left just as the LORD told him, and Lot went with him. Now Abram was 75 years old when he left Haran. ~Genesis 12:1-4 (CEB)
Abram was asked by God to leave everything he had ever known. His family’s customs, livelihood, and close connections.  There are times that God asks of us to leave behind all that we have known before. Maybe the place in life that we are at is not good for us and God wants to take us out of the land of Ur into something better.Yes, it means leaving all we have ever known behind. Yes, it means learning new skills. Yes, it even means sometimes that we will need to leave people behind as we pursue a new life, a life of promise.God wants us to live in a land full of promise and hope. The road to the promise land may seem long. It may seem that He asks the impossible sometimes. Phil 4:13 says, “I can endure all these things through the power of the one who gives me strength.”Abram didn’t know what he was moving toward. He just knew that God had a plan, a plan for good not for harm. Sometimes we have to move forward knowing that God loves us and wants us to have a better life. He never wants harm to come to us, Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”I want faith like Abram. I want to step out in the direction that God has for me believing that what He has for me is better than what I am leaving behind.

Heavenly Father, help my faith to grow. I thank you for examples in the Bible that help me to understand Your will for my own life. I claim the promise you have for me in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Truth is…

Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people? ~Jeremiah 8:22 (NIV)

“Can we only speak when we are fully living what we are saying?  If all our words had to cover all our actions, we would be doomed to permanent silence!  Sometimes we are called to proclaim God’s love even when we are not yet fully able to live it.  Does that mean we are hypocrites?  Only when our own words no longer call us to conversion.  Nobody completely lives up to his or her own ideals and visions.  But by proclaiming our ideals and visions with great conviction and great humility, we may gradually grow into the truth we speak.  As long as we know that our lives always will speak louder than our words, we can trust that our words will remain humble.”~ Henri Nouwen, The Wounded Healer

Sometimes the words I speak are not the things I feel. Sometimes the smile on my face does not disclose the pain that lives inside. Sometimes the truth I speak is still struggling to take hold in my heart.

While I struggle with living the truths that I know, that doesn’t make them any less real. I know that I am a beloved child of God, even if I don’t always “feel” that love. Does that make me a hypocrite that I profess God’s love when I don’t always feel it myself? No I really don’t think so. I can’t always trust my feelings. I have to remember the truths I know. Gradually I grow into these truths. Slowly I move more toward the convictions I profess. With great humility I continue to spout that I am simply a human with a vision of one day completely feeling that Love that I know I already surrounds me.

“How long will you forget me, LORD? Forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long will I be left to my own wits, agony filling my heart? Daily? How long will my enemy keep defeating me? Look at me! Answer me, LORD my God! Restore sight to my eyes! Otherwise, I’ll sleep the sleep of death, and my enemy will say, “I won!” My foes will rejoice over my downfall. But I have trusted in your faithful love. My heart will rejoice in your salvation. Yes, I will sing to the LORD because he has been good to me.” ~Psalm 13 (RSV)

Heavenly Father, I ask You this day to so surround me with Your love that all question of its existence cannot survive. I know that there is a balm in Jesus Christ that will heal my sin sick soul.

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