Falling

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 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 in to 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

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 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.

Do you want to get well?

A certain man was there who had been sick for thirty- eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there, knowing that he had already been there a long time, he asked him, “ Do you want to get well?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I don’t have anyone who can put me in the water when it is stirred up. When I’m trying to get to it, someone else has gotten in ahead of me.” Jesus said to him, “ Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” Immediately the man was well, and he picked up his mat and walked. Now that day was the Sabbath.~John 5:5-9 (CEB)

“Do you want to get well?” These words always jump out at me.  Who wouldn’t want to get well? Thirty-eight years is a long time to be unwell.  After such a long time you might get used to being sick, and developed some strong bad habits that keep you sick. After closer inspection I am forced to ask, do I really want to get well? Sometimes I am so attached to my illness (or my addiction) that I prefer being sick. It has become comfortable. Or it could be the crutch I use to hide.

God doesn’t bring healing unless I want to be whole. I am asked to be part of the healing process. Even in miraculous healing I am expected to participate in the process. The mental desire to be well must shift to a physical act. I am asked to walk through the doors of healing.

If I am to be well I must be careful that my time is not spent in the waiting to be healed. Do I lists reasons why I can’t get well? Do I blame my circumstances? Do I blame the people around me? Am I hanging out with others who are sick as well?

I can blame my circumstances or I can allow the healing waters inside of me to be stirred. In the getting up and rolling up my mat healing can occur.

Heavenly Father, stir the waters in my heart. Give me enough strength for this day to live healthy. Bring me one day closer to complete healing.  Amen.

Forgiveness

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 when I begin to live out that which I have planned out. 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 lessons and gymnastics, 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.

The well

The woman said, “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one who is called the Christ. When he comes, he will teach everything to us.”  Jesus said to her, “I Am—the one who speaks with you.” … The woman put down her water jar and went into the city. She said to the people, “Come and see a man who has told me everything I’ve done! Could this man be the Christ?” They left the city and were on their way to see Jesus. ~John 4:25-30 (CEB)

What was the woman at the well needing? Healing, love, closure. What was it that Jesus was offering her at the well? Real love.  Not temporary, momentary love, but deep lasting love that could satisfy her for all time. She had tried to heal her broken heart, one messed up relationship at a time. Jesus gets right to the heart of the matter. “Where have you been looking for love?” In all the wrong places.

There is no condemnation in Jesus’ questions. Without addressing the hard questions healing cannot happen. “Come to me”, is his reply, “I can give you that true love you long for. Come to me and you will never be hungry or thirsty again. Come to me and I will heal your broken heart.” No matter what we are broken from aren’t these words that need to be heard?

What was the response the woman had to Jesus’ words? She immediately went to tell others what she had found. She wanted to share the good news. She went back to the same people who had probably been critical of her situation. The same people who probably didn’t know that underneath the behavior was deep pain. The woman at the well had found healing, closure and a new life. She was unable to contain the news. It bubbled up from her.

When we look to heal our brokenness on our own or through someone else, we find ourselves going again and again to the wrong places. There is only one Source. When healing is found and joy is complete we find we can’t keep this miracle to our self.  Good news must be shared even to the ones who never understood our pain.

Heavenly father, I thank You for giving me a real love that touches the depth of my soul. I thank You that healing can happen when I take the time to ask the tough questions. Amen.

Stages

 

While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul took a route through the interior and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. He asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you came to believe?” They replied, “We’ve not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” Then he said, “What baptism did you receive, then?” They answered, “John’s baptism.” Paul explained, “John baptized with a baptism by which people showed they were changing their hearts and lives. It was a baptism that told people about the one who was coming after him. This is the one in whom they were to believe. This one is Jesus.” After they listened to Paul, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in other languages and prophesying. Altogether, there were about twelve people. ~Acts 19:1-7 (CEB)

What was the difference between John’s teaching and Jesus’ teaching? The accounts of the preaching of John (Matthew 3:7-12; Luke 3:3-11) reveal one radical difference between the preaching of John and Jesus. The preaching of John was a warning; the preaching of Jesus was good news. John was just a stage on the way. He was well aware that he was just to point the way to the one still to come. (Matt 3:11; Luke 3:16) It amazes me how humble John was never taking any glory for himself, always pointing to the true glory to come.

John’s preaching was a necessary stage because there are two stages in religious life. First there is the stage where we awaken to our own inadequacies, short comings and sins. This stage is closely allied to an endeavor to do better that inevitably fails because we try in our own strength. This is the try-hard stage. The second stage is when we come to see that no matter how we may want to be better that our strength is not enough. This is the stage where we come to realize that through the grace of Jesus Christ our condemnation may be taken away. Here is the point where we find that all our efforts to do better are strengthened by the work of the Holy Spirit, through whom we can do what we never could do own our own.

These incomplete Christians in Acts 19:1-7 knew the condemnation and the moral duty to do-better but they had not learned the grace of Christ and the help of the Holy Spirit.  Because they had not learned the second stage of Christianity their religion was inevitably a thing of struggle and had not reached the stage of being a thing of peace.

So often we get stuck in the first stage and don’t move on to the second stage of our religious life. I have heard this referred to as the two sides of the cross. One side is the realization to do better, the other side is the grace that helps us to be better. Even when we see the error of our ways and repent and determine to change we can never make the change without the help which the Spirit alone can give.

Heavenly Father, I thank You for Jesus coming into to the world bringing me grace and strength beyond my want to simple want to be better. I thank You for the Holy Spirit that helps me to be more than I am on my own. I thank You the freedom to breath. Amen.

Bandages

 

God heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds. ~Psalms 147:3 (CEB)

“Do you forgive me?” My son looks at me pleadingly. *sigh* Once again I failed. No, sweet child, it is me that you should forgive.

I ran out of patience and tolerance. He had done nothing wrong but be himself.  I am so glad that I have a Savior that is more than me. When I forget to turn to Him for the source of my strength, I find myself missing the mark.

In our relationships with each other we find ourselves doing that we wish we would not and saying that which we should not. Part of learning and growing is working through our differences and learning tolerance. Part of living is learning to forgive each other. I am always floored by the wise words of Henri J. M. Nouwen. This excerpt from his book Bread for the Journey is so insightful,

“‘Time heals,’ people often say.  This is not true when it means that we will eventually forget the wounds inflicted on us and be able to live on as if nothing happened.  That is not really healing; it is simply ignoring reality.  But when the expression “time heals” means that faithfulness in a difficult relationship can lead us to a deeper understanding of the ways we have hurt each other, then there is much truth in it.  ‘Time heals’ implies not passively waiting but actively working with our pain and trusting in the possibility of forgiveness and reconciliation.”

Living in this reality that is mine is not always easy. Sometimes I take things out on the ones I am not angry with. May I always be “big enough” to admit when I am wrong and take responsibility for my part. May I always be willing to actively work through the pain in search of understanding. May I always be willing to trust in the possibility of forgiveness even when it is for me.

Grant me this day Heavenly Father, a strength that takes me outside myself to see and understand the truth in my reality. Only You can equip me with that strength and will make my way perfect (Psalm 18:32). Amen.

Made with love

God created humanity in God’s own image, in the divine image God created them, male and female God created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and master it. Take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and everything crawling on the ground.”Then God said, “I now give to you all the plants on the earth that yield seeds and all the trees whose fruit produces its seeds within it. These will be your food. To all wildlife, to all the birds of the sky, and to everything crawling on the ground—to everything that breathes—I give all the green grasses for food.” And that’s what happened. God saw everything he had made: it was supremely good. There was evening and there was morning: the sixth day. ~Genesis 1:27-31

My son came home from his last day of classes. He couldn’t wait to show me the sock monkey he has been laboring over for so very long. Proudly he pulls the sock monkey out and presents him with all grander and pomp. “See mom, here he is. He may be a little funny looking, but he was made with LOVE!!” He was right, it was a little funny looking but he was so proud of that sock monkey he had created himself.

As I look at that sock monkey that sits in a place of honor in my living room, my heart can’t help but trip a little at its crooked smile and wonky ears. The monkey’s stitches show and we haven’t gotten around to finishing up his arms but that doesn’t diminish my son’s love for this monkey.

So often I notice my own stitches showing, my crooked smile, eyes that aren’t the same size. I know all the areas that are yet to be finished. Despite all that is wrong with me, I have a Creator in heaven that looks down with love and says, “I know she may be a little funny looking and she still has some parts that need to be worked on, but I made her with LOVE!!”

Lord, help me rest in Your assurance that I have been made with love. You call me good, supremely good with my stitches showing, my crooked smile and areas that still need some work. May I ever be grateful for the grace You extend to me. Amen

Living life without regrets

Godly sadness produces a changed heart and life that leads to salvation and leaves no regrets, but sorrow under the influence of the world produces death. ~ 2Co 7:10 (CEB)

It is hard to live without regrets. There are things that follow me around. Things I wished I hadn’t done. Things I wished I had. Things I should not have said. Things I should have had the courage to say. One thing I have to keep reminding myself is that regrets are not from God. Regrets are from Satan whose aim for us is death. He doesn’t want us to live in victory so he reminds us of our mistakes. He likes to play that old familiar tune called guilt and shame. Guilt and shame are traps which produce death.

In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians there is a verse that could easily be overlooked. But this one verse says so much! Godly sadness produces a change of heart and life that leads to salvation leaving no regrets. What is Godly sadness? Godly sadness is when we realize that we are not living in the way that God wants us to live. Our eyes have not been on Him and His will for us. When we repent of our sins it means that our eyes have been opened and we are choosing to line our lives up with God’s will.

The good news is that Satan only knows one tune. Once we realize this truth we can beat him at his game. Christ came into the world so that we can know God’s truths. Christ came so that we could know how to live a life without regrets.

I thank you Heavenly Father for sending your son into the world so that I might have life. Help me to remember that you want me to live a life of joy and that when I have lined my life up with Your will for me that I can live that life free of regrets. Amen.

Getting lost

Jesus answered, “Whoever loves me will keep my word. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. ~John 14:23 (CEB)

This time of year it seems that I just run, run, run. My schedule is changing moving from the school year into the summer months. Classes are ending, year-end programs and award ceremonies are crowding into the schedule. Sometimes I look at my calendar and wonder just how I can be three places at once. Truth is I can’t but I still will stand there hoping for a miracle so I won’t have to choose between all of the seemingly equally important commitments that I have gotten myself into. On paper my schedule always works, until May or December.

On a regular basis I am easily distracted. I get so caught up in my cares and errands and worries. I forget what matters most. So easily I can get lost, wander off. It is even worse during those hectic times. All of a sudden I realize that God is not with me. Did He leave me? No, He didn’t go anywhere. I am the one who wandered off. Have you ever noticed that it is much easier to get lost than it is sometimes to find your way back. If I am paying attention I may only stray just a little and within a couple of turns I can find my way back to the road I am supposed to be on. Sometimes though I am so busy with life, talking with my children, running them places, doing laundry or working that I don’t notice that I haven’t only missed one road but several turns. By the time I look up I am hopelessly lost once again. Being lost physically or spiritually is a very scary feeling.

Often when I have found myself lost again, I take a deep breath and realize I am really okay. I know what to do. Put time with God back in my day. John 14:23 tells me if I love God I will keep His word. When I keep God’s word in my heart He will find me. He will make his home with me. Once I stop panicking, I realize God will never leave me I just need to be still for a moment, take a deep breath and look up.

Heavenly Father, save me from myself. Rein me in when I wander off. Help me to keep my eyes on you and not my circumstances. Amen.

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