Time to move on

At Horeb, the LORD our God told us: You’ve been at this mountain long enough. Get going! Enter the hills of the Amorites and the surrounding areas in the desert, the highlands, the lowlands, the arid southern region, and the seacoast—the land of the Canaanites—and the Lebanon range, all the way to the great Euphrates River.  Look, I have laid the land before you. Go and possess the land that I promised to give to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as well as to their descendants after them. ~Duet. 1:6-8 (CEB)

There are some things I just never seem to get over. Oh, yes, time does ease the pain of it but some scars will always be with us. I used to get mad at myself when “anniversaries” came around and I found myself siting in old pain. I have come to a point that I don’t get upset and instead allow myself some extra space to deal with what I know is coming. I have learned to accept that the pain is real (even if illogical) and sometimes I might need to sit with it.

One day when I was reading about Elijah, his story gave much insight. After doing a mighty deed with God in calling down rain when the false gods remained silent (1 Kings 18), when he should have been feeling on top of the world, Elijah let fear slip in when Jezebel swore to have him killed. Elijah ran away to Mount Horeb. Elijah sunk into such a deep depression that he couldn’t function. God didn’t berate Elijah but instead sent a messenger to tend him. God allowed Elijah some time to his feelings but after a little while God’s Word comes to Elijah. There is work to be done. It’s time to get back to living, back to the work you have been called (1 Kings 19).

The scripture from Deuteronomy 1:6-8 is telling the Israelites the same thing. You have been wandering around in the desert building up your strength long enough. It is time to move into the promise I have for you. Sometimes it is important to be still. In our stillness we are reminded who God is (Psalm 46:10). In our stillness we are reminded that God has a plan for our good (Jeremiah 29:11). But if we remain still for too long fear will begin to take hold.

When I get nervous about moving on, I recall verse 8 from Deuteronomy 31, “But the LORD is the one who is marching before you! He is the one who will be with you! He won’t let you down. He won’t abandon you. So don’t be afraid or scared!” Living hurts, but we are not meant to stay in the sad moments. God has promised great joy. (John 15:11)

Heavenly Father, I thank you for Your promise of joy and of hope. I thank You for the people You placed in my life to walk with me on this journey.

Checking off my list

I don’t know what I’m doing, because I don’t do what I want to do. Instead, I do the thing that I hate. But if I’m doing the thing that I don’t want to do, I’m agreeing that the Law is right. But now I’m not the one doing it anymore. Instead, it’s sin that lives in me. I know that good doesn’t live in me—that is, in my body. The desire to do good is inside of me, but I can’t do it. I don’t do the good that I want to do, but I do the evil that I don’t want to do. But if I do the very thing that I don’t want to do, then I’m not the one doing it anymore. Instead, it is sin that lives in me that is doing it. ~Romans 7:15-20 (CEB)

Jesus doesn’t have a list for me to check off. He is looking to have a relationship with me. To have a relationship with Jesus I have to move beyond practicing the act of religion into a reality of really experiencing him.

I deal with so many expectations of what life should be and I find I do the same with religion. Religion taught me to think about “what would Jesus do”. A relationship requires me to trust Jesus to do what he would do through me. Expectation in any area is dangerous but when I apply expectations to Jesus it keeps me from knowing who he truly is.

Jesus calls to us. He wants to bridge the gap between perceived control to a holy trust, between how things used to be and how they can be. Jesus wants me to know that he accepts me as I am and not just how I should be.

No matter how much I want to do the right thing, I can’t. No matter how hard I try to do good it seems I consistently miss the mark. The desire to do good is inside of me. On my own I am nothing. With Christ working in me I can be more than I am. With Christ I can do more than just try hard.

Romans 12:2 says, “Don’t be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you can figure out what God’s will is—what is good and pleasing and mature.” The world teaches us to “try hard”. It falsely promises that if we only try hard we will be successful, but only through Christ’s transforming powers can I be more than I am. God’s promise is that I can do anything if He is my strength (Phil. 3:14).

Checking things off the list is “self” reliance, trying harder doesn’t create love. From the beginning of time God’s love existed. I don’t have to earn what is already mine. Jesus didn’t come into the world to create more bondage. He came to remind me of a love that has always been mine. Jesus doesn’t want me to be trapped in the try-hard life, he wants me to experience the freedom of letting him work through me.

Heavenly Father, thank You for sending Your son into the world to set me free from the try-hard life. Thank You for the reminders that I am not to “do good” on my own but that I am to let Christ work through me to achieve Your will. Continually renew and transform me so that I may discern Your will for my life. Amen.

 

 

 

Desired

 

When the time came, Jesus took his place at the table, and the apostles joined him. He said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. I tell you, I won’t eat it until it is fulfilled in God’s kingdom.” ~Luke 22:14-16 (CEB)

The good news is that Jesus’ sacrifice of his life replaces the darkness of my life with the purity and light of his own. Jesus calls to us in our darkness because he eagerly desires to be with us. He doesn’t just want our company when we have it all together. He seeks our company even when we aren’t who we should be yet.

Here in Luke 22:14-16, Jesus was confronting the greatest challenge of his life and ministry, and yet he longed for a holy time of sharing and breaking bread. To spend time with those we love is a wonderful gift of healing and strength to all of us. And Jesus also wanted this holy fellowship for comfort and strength for what lay ahead. Even though the disciples do not grasp what is about to happen Jesus still wants to share these moments with them.

I am far from perfect or wise and yet the Savior of the world seeks time with me. This is humbling and awesome. But how can I minister to Christ? What could I offer him? I can offer him my love and adoration. One hard lesson I have learned is that sometimes we are not asked to do but to simply be. How I can minister to the Lord is by simply being at his feet and giving him the time that he wants from me. No wise words needed.

Brennan Manning shares a view of this in his book, Reflections for Ragamuffins:

“Let me share an example of ministering to the Lord in the moment of his adversity. This happened in Chicago’s South Side on Holy Thursday night. I wrote in my journal: ‘The adoration of the Lord Jesus in the Eucharist (communion) began with a heaviness within me. It’s freezing outside; the chapel is cold; my mind is opaque; but foremost is the nagging doubt about my own sincerity’. Earlier in the day I sensed a tug in the direction of non-acceptance, when I read, ‘Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.’ Do I really want to be free? Do I honestly desire a Kingdom lifestyle? What are the real tendencies and desires of my heart? Do I long more than anything else to be God’s man? To serve rather than be served? To pray when I could play? Be slow to speak, Brennan, be cautious to answer… I felt confusion and discouragement tiding within me.

Then a beautiful thing happened. I realized that the only reason I was at prayer was because I wanted to be with my friend. The doubt and uncertainty vanished. I knew I wanted to comfort Jesus in his loneliness and fear in the Garden. I wanted to watch not an hour but the whole night with him. The only words that formed on my lips were those of the little boy Willie-Juan in the fairy tale I had written the year past. Over and over I whispered, ‘I Love you, my friend.’”

Could I sit in the Garden with Jesus during his darkest hour? I would like to think I would. Would I follow him after his arrest? Well, I am not so sure. Would I be like the eleven, hiding after his crucifixion? Probably.  But I have the assurance that despite my lack of bravery, Jesus seeks me just as he sought out the eleven in the upper room after he arose from death. He wants and desires us all.

Heavenly Father, I thank You for sending Your Son into the world so that I may have a better understanding of Your Love for me. I thank You for sending Your Son to seek and to find us when we are lost. I thank You that no matter where we are found we are still desirable. Amen.

Sighs too deep for words

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. ~Rom 8: 26-27 (NRSV)

Have you ever found yourself in a place where words just seem too insignificant for what you are feeling?

When I know I should pray, but the words won’t come, when I want to cry out to God but all that surfaces is this welling up from inside of me, I am confident that God even knows these prayers. The comfort I receive in my darkest hours is knowing that even though I may not know how to pray, the Spirit- God’s Spirit will pray for me. In my weakness; God himself prays for me.

On the days when fear raises its ugly head, when life doesn’t go the way I planned, when I think I am alone in my struggles, I take a deep *sigh* and I am reminded that God’s Spirit is deep within me sighing too. Saying what I can’t. In my sigh I lift up my eyes and say “You know my heart God. You know when I lie down and when I get up. You know that I don’t have strength for this day.” My hands are not lifted because I give up. My hands are lifted because I surrender to the One who knows all my tomorrows and has my best interest in mind.

Romans 8:24-25 says, “We were saved in hope. If we see what we hope for, that isn’t hope. Who hopes for what they already see? But if we hope for what we don’t see, we wait for it with patience.” Because of my hope I looked upward. My hope saves me. I hope for what isn’t right now. I hope for the possibilities of what might be. Against all hope I wait patiently… and when I can’t hope anymore the Spirit prays for me.

When I am weak I am strong because it is God’s strength that works in me (2 Cor. 12:10). When I don’t have the strength or enough hope to lift up a prayer His Spirit prays my prayer.

So I sigh again Lord. Every breath I breathe is from You. Your breath flows through me. You sustain me. You shield me. You love me like no one else can. I know You hold me in Your hands. My hope is in You. 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.

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.

Adrift

Noah was 600 years old when the floodwaters arrived on earth. Noah, his sons, his wife, and his sons’ wives with him entered the ark to escape the floodwaters. It rained upon the earth forty days and forty nights. The flood remained on the earth for forty days. The waters rose, lifted the ark, and it rode high above the earth. The waters rose and spread out over the earth. The ark floated on the surface of the waters. The waters rose even higher over the earth; they covered all of the highest mountains under the sky. The waters rose twenty- three feet high, covering the mountains. The waters rose over the earth for one hundred fifty days. After forty days, Noah opened the window of the ark that he had made. He sent out a raven, and it flew back and forth until the waters over the entire earth had dried up. Then he sent out a dove to see if the waters on all of the fertile land had subsided, but the dove found no place to set its foot. It returned to him in the ark since waters still covered the entire earth. Noah stretched out his hand, took it, and brought it back into the ark. He waited seven more days and sent the dove out from the ark again. The dove came back to him in the evening, grasping a torn olive leaf in its beak. Then Noah knew that the waters were subsiding from the earth. He waited seven more days and sent out the dove, but it didn’t come back to him again. In Noah’s six hundred first year, on the first day of the first month, the waters dried up from the earth. Noah removed the ark’s hatch and saw that the surface of the fertile land had dried up. In the second month, on the seventeenth day, the earth was dry.

God spoke to Noah, “Go out of the ark, you and your wife, your sons, and your sons’ wives with you. ~Gen. 7:6-7; 12; 17-20; 24; 8:6-16 (CEB)

There are times that I feel that I am adrift, not knowing where I am going or what I am meant to do, literally afloat at sea and no idea what to do.

Noah sat in his ark bobbing about on an ocean, not in control of where he was going, clueless as to when his ordeal would end. All he could do was to wait on God’s timing. Eventually, over the long and landless days, waiting turned to watching. Noah watched. Amid the waiting, hope and a sense of future possibility emerged.

Amid the uncertainty and suspense of not knowing, or the sheer tedium of things remaining the same, I can learn to keep my eyes wide open, scanning the horizon of my experience. Like Noah I may have to do this for a long time until at last some green sprig signals that there is land ahead. Signs may beckon through something as ordinary as a kind word, a hug from a child, the smile of a friend, or as subtle as an inner urge whispering, “This is where you need to go.” All of these are signs and promises of hope as I am tossed about on the sea of unknowing.

Wondrous God, Your signs and promises are the rock on which my hope is built and my shelter in times of unknowing. May the memory of Your faithfulness sustain my faithfulness in you. Let me not tire of praising You, no matter how difficult the wait may seem. Amen. 

Shelter in the desert

Jacob left Beer- sheba and set out for Haran. He reached a certain place and spent the night there. When the sun had set, he took one of the stones at that place and put it near his head. Then he lay down there. He dreamed and saw a raised staircase, its foundation on earth and its top touching the sky, and God’s messengers were ascending and descending on it. Suddenly the LORD was standing on it and saying, “I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will become like the dust of the earth; you will spread out to the west, east, north, and south. Every family of earth will be blessed because of you and your descendants. I am with you now, I will protect you everywhere you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done everything that I have promised you.” ~Gen. 28:10-15

Jacob had tricked his brother Esau out of his inheritance and his blessing. Esau was so angry at Jacob that Jacob feared for his very life. So he ran away. This scripture starts with Jacob running for his life; he is scared, tired, lonely, and feeling guilty for what he has done. He knows that he has really messed things up.

When night came, Jacob was tired so he just laid down on the ground using a rock as a pillow. When he fell asleep he had a dream. In his dream he saw a ladder reaching from the earth all the way to heaven. Angels were ascending and descending the ladder. At the top of this ladder was God.

God reached out to Jacob through this dream. I think God spoke to Jacob in his dream because Jacob knew he had messed up pretty badly, he had little hope for his future and he was scared for his safety. He was in need of some good news.

In the dream God told Jacob a few things:
-God told Jacob that the land Jacob was laying on was for him and for his children (hope).
-God told Jacob that his children and his children’s children and his children’s, children’s children would spread all over the earth and all the families of the earth will be blessed through them (future).
-And this is my favorite part—God said these words to Jacob, “know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go” (security).

I make many mistakes living in this world. There are times I wonder how God could ever forgive me. But this story reminds me that God does love me even at my worst. Even more, God keeps his promises. They are not dependent on my actions. And despite the mistakes I make God can still use me.

O Lord, You alone are my hope, my future and my security. I place my trust in You. You are my rock of refuge where I can always escape. My praise is always about You. Amen.

Joy comes in the morning

Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning. ~Psalm 30:5 (NRSV)
Sometimes the “dark of night” can bleed into day light hours. During these times it can feel so hard to hold onto the truths that I know. Even though I have taken a stand against a spirit of fear, though I’ve prayed for the truth to be revealed and that I not make things to be more than they really are, anxiety doesn’t always fly away instantly.

There is a moment of clarity though. The overwhelming clouds of doubt, fear and confusion do roll away. The peace that I prayed so diligently for does begin to light up the sky. Have my problems vanished? No, my situation has not changed but the attack on my sanity is gone. I still have to continue the work I know is ahead of me. With the rays of light that begin to light my horizon I know that the endurance the Bible promises me is filling my soul. Sweet breaths of air are drifting through me as the burden seems lighter to carry. The “joy that comes in the morning” is that peace that passes all understanding.

Heavenly Father, thank You for sending Jesus to walk with me when I wander through dark times. Thank You for your Holy Spirit that gives me air so I can breathe. Thank You for the power of Jesus’ name that empowers me to endure the toughest storms that I may know the joy of the morning. Amen.

Betrayed

It’s not an enemy that is insulting me— I could handle that. It’s not someone who hates me who is exalted over me— I could hide from them. No. It’s you, my equal, my close companion, my good friend! ~Psalm 55:12-13 (CEB)

There is nothing worse in the world than to be betrayed by a friend. A friend, a close friend is someone you trust, someone you expect to be there for you in good times and bad. No one can hurt you more than a dear friend. When you have been betrayed by a friend the hurt goes so deep that you feel like you could never trust anyone ever again. You feel so alone with your feelings of hurt and betrayal. No one could ever know what you are going through.

But you are not alone. Jesus was sold out by a kiss. His betrayal led him to the cross. Peter, one of his closest friends, denied him not just once but three times. All the disciples fled in fear. Jesus was left alone. In the moment he needed a friend the most he found himself without even the dearest friends. They were all gone.

I don’t think I have ever been in a place where I have felt such complete abandonment. I have felt the sting of losing a friend that I thought I could trust but once the pain subsided some I realize that I was not as alone as I thought. But for Jesus there was no one. The hardest thing for me about this story of betrayal and abandonment is that Jesus foreknew what was to come. He did not walk into this situation blindly. He chose to die on the cross to save me even when those dearest to him had left him to fend for himself. If I had been in his shoes I imagine I would have said well if even my closest friends can’t appreciate what I am about to do for the world then why bother! But thankfully I am not the Messiah.

It brings great comfort to me when I realize that there is nothing in the world that Jesus hasn’t been through. If I need an understanding ear he is the best choice. Jesus will never abandon me. Romans 8: 38-39 says, “I’m convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers or height or depth, or any other thing that is created.” There is NOTHING that can separate me from the love of God. Even though I might find myself alone, Jesus will always be with me. The Bible tells me so.

I am thankful that I have a friend in You Jesus. There is nothing that I go through that You have not also been through as well. I know I can trust You and turn to You for guidance in all I do this day. Amen

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