Maybe it is About Me

About a decade ago, my husband and I started at a new church. As was our custom, we asked for a meeting with the pastor.  The pastor came to our house and we had a delightful conversation about this new church, a church like we had never attended before.  During the exchange, the pastor said to us something that was at the heart of this church’s mission.  He said, “After all, it is not about us.”  We nodded in agreement.

But as time has gone on, I’ve begun to chaff a little at this statement.  It doesn’t sit as well as it once did.

Recently, I took a trip across the country.  I just may have gotten to the place where I don’t pay much attention to the safety demonstrations that occurs on every airplane flight.  These days when I am seated, I quickly notice my proximity to the exits, look to see who I have to climb over to get to safety in the event of a disaster, and then settled in with ear phones and a book to read.

(Yeah.  Totally selfish.)

This particular plane had monitors in the ceiling and all the regular announcements transmitted over these monitors.  I happened to look up as the oxygen mask portion of the announcement was on:

“In the event of a decompression, an oxygen mask will automatically appear in front of you. To start the flow of oxygen, pull the mask towards you. Place it firmly over your nose and mouth, secure the elastic band behind your head, and breathe normally. Although the bag does not inflate, oxygen is flowing to the mask. If you are travelling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask on first, and then assist the other person. Keep your mask on until a uniformed crew member advises you to remove it.”

I was suddenly struck with the message that I cannot be really useful to anybody until after I put the mask on myself first.

Huh!

It occurred to me that this seems to ring true in my relationship with God.

I might not be useful to anybody until I make God my top priority.

I think we all know this, yet with this safety message I realized that my faith walk is anemic without the recognition that my love for God is the key to everything.  Jesus told us the number one commandment was new, and yet was still the same old commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might/mind.” (Matt. 22:37)

Cultivating this relationship is the most important thing I can do.  Without it, I am like a person without the oxygen mask, I cannot expect to be much use to them, let alone in my ability to love them.

I am beginning to see a strong correlation between my love for God and the fruit of the Spirit.  It is almost like a graph chart.  As my love for God grows stronger:

My love for others grows.

My courage increases; I am not afraid.

My fruit is real and not “stapled”[i] on my “branches”.

My grace towards others is measurable and sure.

My service is more effective.

My strength to do his will is inexhaustible.

My trust in the Good Shepherd is unshakable.

But the question becomes, how do I improve my relationship with God without taking on pharisaic tendencies, avoiding legalism, or creating a rote practice?

I think the answer is somewhat individualistic.  What works for me doesn’t always work for someone else.  However, there are principles we can use.  How they are achieved, it seems to me, is personal.

We need to spend time with God as we would with any friend or family member.  Time is precious to most of us.  To spend time with someone is to show how valuable they are to us.  This can be while going for a walk, sitting in prayer, or simply practicing silence with God.  My time spent with God has changed over the years.  For me it has become a simple intention to remember that God is with me and to look for those signs in my world that show his presence.  And silence.  I need the silence with God.

We need to know the person of God, who he is, what his character is like.  Several years ago I was involved in Bible Study Fellowship (BSF).  Generally, they spend a year in one book of the Bible.  The year that had the most influence on me, was the year we did an overview of Israel and the Minor Prophets.  After years of being in church, I found out about God.  He wasn’t the ogre that is often transmitted to us concerning the Old Testament God.  Rather I saw him as loving, wooing his people to right living, and being heartbroken because his people would not listen and needed discipline.  The God of the Old Testament was the same God that Jesus loved and called Father.  I would not have known these things about God, if I hadn’t purposefully studied to learn more fully about him.

We need to make memories with God.  There have been bad times and good times in my life.  God has been there through them all.  I have memories of wonderful worship experiences.  I remember when God sent comfort in one way or another.  I cherish those moments when he has answered deep longing prayers.  My memories of his faithfulness carry me through the tough times.

We need to respond to his love for us.  It all starts with God.  He loves us first.  Any love that I have for others is a result of the love he has placed in me through his Spirit.  I want to recognize that I cannot love on my own and acknowledge that God is the source of love.  It’s a very humbling practice, yet a worthwhile practice.

It is through these relationship builders that my love for God can and will grow.

Just as the oxygen mask helps me to remain focused and alert, so the love of God leads to authentic and lasting usefulness for the Kingdom of Heaven.

And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 1 John 4:16

[i] Thank you Jan Johnson for this phrase.

Advertisements
Posted in Experiencing the scriptures, God's presence, Holy Spirit, love, Loving God, Remembering, Spiritual practices | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Fresh Wind: Remembering

This was first posted as my April blog for the Grace and Such website:

As I write this, it is early March. It’s a typical March day in Southeastern Pennsylvania: cool, no snow, and very windy.  Winnie the Pooh would describe today as a “blustery day.” I live in the woods, so it seems like windy days are more pronounced. The trees are quite tall and they sway precariously back and forth, leaving small traces of themselves in the form of branches all over the yard and driveway.

One of my dogs, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, likes these windy days. When she is let outside she stands perfectly still, facing the wind, nose in the air, actively sniffing, her long ears waving madly behind her. I always wonder what she smells in the wind.  Today I hope she smells the promise of spring.

But it is the sound of the wind through the trees that is distinctive. When the wind is particularly strong, the sound is as if a train were traveling nearby, or a large truck chugging its way up the hill. The wind ebbs and flows in intensity, but it is still constant. The noise is almost consuming, and a little unnerving.

The wind reminds me of Pentecost. The time when the Holy Spirit dramatically came to dwell in those who believed in the work of Jesus Christ, the one who had left them only 10 days before. Jesus had promised his people the Spirit, Someone who would help them in their journey of faith from that time forward.

The Spirit was not unknown to the people of the time; they knew the stories of the Holy Spirit from the Old Testament. But the Spirit did not reside in people continuously up to that point. He would come in and out of people’s lives as was necessary according to God’s purposes.

On that day of the original Pentecost, according to Acts 2, the Spirit came into the place where the Disciples were gathered as a “violent wind” in NIV; “a strong, gale force wind” in The Message; or a “rushing, mighty wind” in the KJV. How ever you want to describe it, there is the sense of something you could not miss, something phenomenal. What the Spirit brought was a newness to the disciple’s experience of faith. A fresh encounter meant for their good.  From that moment on, nothing was the same. They now had Someone who provided guidance, power, and help whenever they needed it, and, in particular, when they went out to tell the world about the Kingdom of Heaven. This promise from Jesus was not just for the disciples in the room at Pentecost, but for all who follow him in faith.

I often wonder what our lives would look like, if we, too, had the experience of the violent wind associated with the Spirit of God. Would it help us to understand the power God has given to us through the Spirit? Certainly, there have been moments in every Christian’s life when it has been impossible to ignore the sense of the Spirit working in a situation.

However, the daily-ness of our lives often obscures the presence of the Spirit in the days and nights in which we exist.

While I don’t really want to live in that space, I realize I often do. It is a battle of the flesh to move from the mind numbing routines that mark my days, into a place of noticing the work of the Spirit, to live in expectancy of God’s work around me.

Living this kind of intentionality towards God’s presence is not easy. While necessary, even “quiet times” occasionally become stale and habitual. It is so easy to flow through the days without regard for the incredible resources that have been given to me. How does one overcome this state of mind?

I’m not really sure, but I believe I’ve discovered a problem in my life which gets in the way of experiencing God in a mighty way: I keep forgetting that the Spirit is here to help me. I keep forgetting why the Spirit was given to me. I keep forgetting that the Spirit is my source of strength even as I continue to lean on myself to re-charge, find purpose, and seek God.

This forgetting part isn’t working out so well.

Rather than forgetting, what seems to be necessary is the act of remembering.

Remembering who the Spirit is and what the Spirit does. When I practice remembering, I open myself to the One who is my Helper. This One reminds and teaches me to look towards God. I need to remember that the Spirit is here to assist me in sensing the presence of the living God in all aspects of my life.

By remembering, a fresh wind blows over me, and I am like my little Spaniel, facing the wind, sniffing the air, enveloped in the arms of God. In the act of remembering, I become like the disciples at Pentecost, equipped to do the work of God.

It is in this place where I can start my day with a fresh eagerness:

“What will we do today, Spirit? How will Your presence be made known to me today? Where will You take me? Who will we meet for Your purposes?”

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. John 14:26 NASB

 

Posted in Holy Spirit, Remembering | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Celebration: Life in Contrast

I wrote this blog post for Grace & Such and it was published on March 8, 2016:

A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance…    Ecclesiastes 3:4 ESV

The cycle of life.

I remember the song associated with this verse. I can still hear the Byrds singing this on my little transistor radio:
To everything – turn, turn, turn

There is a season – turn, turn, turn

And a time to every purpose under heaven[i]

This year more than any other that I can remember, I have lived this song. Two of my aunts have died. It’s been the year of the babies, as I have a new grandson, new grand-nephew, and several new grandbabies for friends. In July, we attended my nephew’s wedding; my husband got a new job; we found a new church. There’s also a great deal of sadness as our family deals with all types of health issues.

Throughout the year I have laughed so hard until tears have come down from my eyes, and wept with the same results.

The contrasts have made the celebrations all the sweeter.

Isn’t it nice how God counters the sadness with joy?

As I write this, it is the beginning of Lent, a time of reflection and repentance. The people of God take this time to prepare for Easter, but before we can experience Easter we must go through Good Friday.

Easter is everything in our faith. Good Friday is devastating … and necessary.

When I was a young girl in the Lutheran Church, every Good Friday we sang:

Stricken, smitten, and afflicted,

See Him dying on the tree!

‘Tis the Christ by man rejected;

Yes, my soul, ’tis He, ’tis He!

 

Tell me, ye who hear Him groaning,

Was there ever grief like His?

Friends through fear His cause disowning,

Foes insulting His distress;

Many hands were raised to wound Him,

None would interpose to save;

But the deepest stroke that pierced Him

Was the stroke that Justice gave.[ii]

 

This gives a brief picture of what happened on the day that Jesus was crucified. Horrible, horrible day.  And he went through all of this for our benefit, for our freedom, for our new relationship with God.

But it wasn’t the end of the story. God had much more in store. Many people were given the opportunity to rejoice when they saw the One who died, now alive, walking and eating with them.

On Easter morning we sang:

I know that my Redeemer lives!

What joy this blest assurance gives!

He lives, he lives, who once was dead;

he lives, my ever-living Head!

 

He lives triumphant from the grave;

he lives eternally to save;

he lives exalted, throned above;

he lives to rule his church in love.[iii]

What does all of this tell me? Life is full of contrasts. The sad with the happy. The good with the bad.  I guess this is my hope: In the bad seasons of life there will eventually come good seasons. If I can bear the sorrows, I will again have joys. God never promised me continual happiness in this world, despite what some have told me about coming to Him. Rather He has promised to be with me through it all…the joys and sorrows. He’s also promised those who follow Him to the end will move into the reality of His kingdom. Then and only then, will we live in continual celebration. Because He says there will no longer be tears or sorrow, but He will make everything new.[iv]

Maranatha!

 

[i] Song written by Pete Seeger.

[ii] Portions of the hymn by Thomas Kelly

[iii] Hymn by Samuel Medley

[iv] Revelation 21:4-5

 

 

Posted in spiritual practices, God's presence, prayer, fear | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Tyranny of Should

Several years ago, I was in a meeting with my Spiritual Director. I don’t really remember the content of the conversation, but I do remember that when I finished my monolog, I ended with the statement, “I know.  I should do that.”

There was a pause, and she raised her eyebrow, leaned in, and said, “Should?”

Immediately, I got it.

 Should.  A seemingly innocent word.  We all use it, often in a variety of circumstances.

But personally, I’ve become more sensitive to the word.  I’ve re-thought my use of the word and have tried very hard to eliminate should from my life.

In its purist definition, should means owed, to be obliged to, ought to.  There is a sense of expressing what is expected of us, to have some sort of obligation, and apparently, it’s a more polite form of shall.

What I discovered since the ‘aha’ moment with my Spiritual Director is, when I use the word should I am reflecting some guilt.  Like I know something would be good to do, but I haven’t got around to doing it. Things like:

  • I should write a thousand words a day.
  • I should go on the AIP diet.
  • I should incorporate weights in my gym routine.

When I hear myself using the word, in all honesty, I know I have no intention of following through on what I should do.  It feels like I’m making excuses for the actions that I don’t really want to do.  Because if I was serious and wanted to do x,y, or z, I would do it.  There would be no should.

As a believer in the salvation work of Jesus Christ, I realize that I have been given freedom from the ‘shoulds’ in this world.  Not the ‘shalls’ mind you, in fact, I prefer the ‘shalls’ or the ‘shall nots’.  In a way, it is much easier to follow these clearer boundaries of commands.

But Jesus has taken away any kind of condemnation which stands in the way of my relationship with God.  He has given me, as one of his followers, freedom to be who I am and to do what is right.  If I am carefully listening to him through the indwelling work of the Holy Spirit, then I have help to determine right and wrong, what to do and not to do.

There is no one right way to live in Christ.  The way I live my life is not exactly the manner in which someone else might live their life in Christ.  Similar, perhaps, in some attitudes and points of view, but not always the same.  I was a stay at home mom and wife, am I holier than the Christian woman who had a career and raised her children?  Umm…no.  Is the career woman more holy than I am, because she can manage her job and her family?  Nope. The way I understand God’s word: both of us are holy, loved, and treasured by him.  Both of us have been given the free will to choose how we are going to obey him in our life, as we’ve been called according to his purposes.

God didn’t give us a spirit of false guilt.  Why do we want to stay imprisoned by presumed expectations and feelings of being obligated to do such and such?  We can do nothing for our salvation.  Not a thing.  Christ has done it all.

I’m not saying we can live a life with no restraint towards sin.  Absolutely not.  We constantly battle against our sinfulness. I’m also not saying that there are not times of true guilt.  We are not without sin.

But the only expectation that is necessary is the one God places on us, and our obedience to him is imperative.  If I say ‘I should do this or that’ it sounds a bit like…. disobedience.  However, when we do sin, we know that we have been given the opportunity to confess, and will receive immediate forgiveness as he has promised.  But his love for us, seen in his crucifixion and identified by the Holy Spirit within us, is the restraint we need.

So what place does should have in my life or in your life?

These things I know:

  • False guilt is unnecessary and unproductive. True guilt needs to be handled as soon as possible.
  • The expectations of others on us does not produce a life worthy of our calling, but the love of God compels us towards a life of productivity for him.
  • Obedience is the true mark of our relationship with God, not an obscure remark motivated by something other than him.
  • We do not stand condemned before God, because we know that Jesus has given, those who believe in him, a clean slate.

With these truths in hand, should doesn’t seem to have room in my life.  Not that I want to make it a rule, but why incorporate a word so fraught with guilt into my life?   Jesus doesn’t work like that.  He’s in the freedom business.

What do you think about the word: should?  Does it have a place in your life?  What does freedom in Christ look like to you?

Posted in Forgiveness, Freedom, Spiritual journey | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Waiting

“Hurry up and wait.”

This is the expression my husband and I used when he was being diagnosed with cancer.  We would hurry to get a test done, and have to wait for the results.  Or hurry to make an appointment with a specialist and we’d wait for the day to come.  Hurry to get to the hospital to begin chemo, and wait to see how effective it was.  Waiting is so tedious, so fraught with anxiety, such a waste of time.

Waiting in line, waiting for traffic to clear, waiting for an expected package, waiting for something from God to be made clear.  All are common waiting experiences.

The other day I was out to lunch with a group of friends.  We were talking about the changes we’ve seen in our lives and lamented that kids today live in such an instant world.  They expect results immediately.  Everything is quick.  I stopped everyone, when I said, “I don’t like to wait either.  I like being able to get things now.”  We laughed, but it’s true.  I don’t like the waiting period.  Does anyone?

Over the years I’ve learned to cope with some forms of waiting.  If I’m in a line at the store, I page through a magazine.  If I’m waiting for an appointment, I pull out my phone and read email or play Candy Crunch.  But other things I’ve not learned to manage well.  Things like traffic, or waiting on God to answer prayers I’ve offered.

We are not a waiting society.  We become impatient with the waiting, both for ourselves and for others.  We can only pray for something for so long, and give up.  We think we need to do something.  We think the person we are praying for needs to do something more.  We become discouraged.  Secretly we can come to the place where we believe that God is no longer listening, He’s as bored with the prayer as we are.

I know, I know:

Let go, and let God.

It’s all in God’s timing.

When He closes one door, He opens another.

Maybe.  Sure.

These things I know: Moses waited in Midian for forty years, before God called him to lead the people of Israel.   Paul went off for thirteen years to learn more fully about Jesus, and was brought into ministry by Barnabas.  I know the Jews waited centuries for the Messiah to come.  Hannah waited for a baby.  Abraham and Sarah waited for the promise of God to come to fruition. Simeon and Anna waited into old age in the Temple for the time when they could see the Messiah with their own eyes.  The people of Israel waited until they would be able to enter into the Promised land.  Each of these stories has something to teach me about waiting.  Waiting on God.  Waiting on His promises.  The end of the waiting did not occur through the work of any one of these people.  It was all dependent on God.

When I wait, I often have Psalm 46:10 rumbling around my head. In the NIV it is “Be still, and know that I am God.”  My favorite translation of this verse is from the NASB.  It reads, “Cease striving, and know that I am God.”

My past experiences in waiting often has the waiting period end in the most anti-climactic way.  When my husband lost his job, we waited and prayed for several anxious months.  Then almost like an afterthought, he got a job.  Of course, what were we so worried about….

As you can see, for me, waiting has always been seen through a negative lens.

What I’ve learned about waiting is this:  I can do what I can, but in the end I can’t do anything. I can carry on with my life.  I can pray.  I can be angry.  I can even cry.  But in the end I must wait.  I don’t have any control; I don’t have any idea what God is doing; I have no ability to see ahead into God’s purposes.

I must believe that the God who started this journey with me will see it to completion.  I believe that God has called me and gifted me, and will use these things for His purposes.  I believe that He will never forsake me, and nothing, not even the waiting, will separate me from Him.

So I think this is what Psalm 46:10 is all about.  “Cease striving!”  (Stop trying so hard!  Stop trying to make things happen!  Just stop!)  “Know that I am God.” (I’ve got your back.  Don’t listen to the negativity of the world, I am with you and acting for you.)

Perhaps in the waiting periods of my life, God is and has been developing patience, endurance, and learning to trust Him more.

But maybe, just maybe, in the waiting there is the recognition that things aren’t the way they are meant to be.  Waiting just might release hope, a product of expectation.  Waiting shows me that there is a better way and a better place.  Waiting brings me back to the reality of my salvation, because with waiting I know that this earth is not all there is. Waiting confirms, deep within me, my longing for the kingdom of God.

Waiting, therefore, is a validation of my being a stranger here on earth, and my citizenship in heaven.

Someday all waiting will end, and I will not miss it.

It seems waiting might not be such a waste of time after all.

Posted in Spiritual journey, spiritual practices, God's presence, prayer, fear, Trusting God | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Peace on Earth

I first wrote this blog for the website Grace and Such. It was posted on December 7, 2015.  http://graceandsuch.com/index.php/2015/12/07/peace-on-earth/

 

Christmas Bells

I HEARD the bells on Christmas Day

Their old, familiar carols play,

And wild and sweet

The words repeat

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

 

And thought how, as the day had come,

The belfries of all Christendom

Had rolled along

The unbroken song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

 

Till ringing, singing on its way,

The world revolved from night to day,

A voice, a chime,

A chant sublime

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

 

Then from each black, accursed mouth

The cannon thundered in the South,

And with the sound

The carols drowned

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

 

It was as if an earthquake rent

The hearth-stones of a continent,

And made forlorn

The households born

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

 

And in despair I bowed my head;

“There is no peace on earth,” I said;

“For hate is strong,

And mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

 

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:

“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;

The Wrong shall fail,

The Right prevail,

With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

(Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)

 

This month every time I put my mind to thinking about peace, this song came into my head.  This morning I woke to the news that students are protesting at college campuses, Paris had a massive terrorist attack, and El Nino is threatening areas in the world with severe weather.  Peace seems to have gone on vacation.

 

This is not one of my favorite Christmas hymns.  I’ve always thought of it as a bit of a downer to the Christmas spirit.  But it is raw and it is honest.  Longfellow wrote this poem towards the end of the American Civil war, when all were weary and in despair over the horror of that time.  He had just learned of his oldest son’s severe injuries from one of the battles.  For Longfellow, as with us today, there is no peace on earth, because hate is strong and does seem to mock all those who earnestly seek peace on earth.

 

Honestly, I don’t think there can ever be peace in this present world.  I know many will disagree with me.  But there will always be pride, lust, and greed to bring about war, as long as we dwell in these earthly bodies.  Peace is far from the thoughts of those who fear the loss of power, right, and influence.  I do not exclude myself.  My lack of peace is often due to my own fears.

 

Yet, I believe in peace.  Throughout the scriptures peace is offered as a gift by God.  It is one of the fruits of the Spirit.  This peace seems to be an inward sense of rightness, confidence, and safety, despite the outward circumstances.  When I read the lives of the saints and martyrs, there is a common thread of perspective within each of them.  They know a peace that is beyond understanding.  Peace to sing before eaten by lions; peace to see the throne of God before being stoned; peace to be crucified upside down lest he take any honor from Jesus.

 

Peace does not seem elusive to them.  Peace seems tangible, available, present.

 

Mr. Longfellow did not allow us to wallow in the depths of despair.  He ended his poem with hope.  God is not dead.  He is alive and awake despite His seemingly silent presence.  Someday, He promises, there will be a new world.  A world where right and wrong will take their places in fair justice.  In that world:

 

 “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)

 

Jesus came to bring this kind of peace.  His offer of peace was not without a cost, but it was a gift given in the act of love.  He gives His peace to all who seek it.  All we need to do is ask Him for His peace.

 

Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you. (2 Thessalonians 3:16)

 

Merry Christmas!

Posted in spiritual practices, God's presence, prayer, fear | 1 Comment

The Open Space

Space for tree

This picture is from a corner of my great room.  I’ve been in a quandary since I realized I have a new cat who hasn’t experienced Christmas at our house, yet.  She’s a sweetheart, but a different cat personality than we’ve ever had.  She climbs; she’s not motivated by food; she gets into my yarn and bites the strands in half when I’m knitting. Hence the need for a Christmas tree strategy.
Since we’ve lived in this house, we have placed the tree in front of the big window, and at night, it is a spectacular sight.  But this year we are going to put it in this corner.  It seems safer and won’t destroy the TV, if it should come down for any reason.  Previously the space is the home of a houseplant – a houseplant that became a tree…I’m a bit of a green thumb, and sometimes my plants thrive quite well.
After moving the plant to a temporary spot, I was immediately struck by this new open space.
The plant blocked all the wonderful light!  A sense of lifting came over me…maybe, freedom?  I began to delight in the airiness of this space.
Today my yoga teacher put us into a variety of ‘opening’ positions.  She said, “As we open up our bodies, space is created, and this space allows for freedom.”
Isn’t that true of our spiritual journey?  When we open ourselves to God, a space is created.  A space of freedom.  Freedom to love without fear.  Freedom to serve without expectation.  Freedom to believe without repercussion.  Freedom to stop striving and embrace peace.  There is light in this place, an airiness, and breathing room.
We can fill  this space with many things, even very good things, but soon we long for the Light that we found in the open space.  We long for the freedom we found in the Light.
I’m trying to figure out where that plant could go when Christmas is over. I’ve found I really like the light, and the open space that was created.
Aside | Posted on by | Tagged , | 2 Comments