There is life here…

It was very close. Sometimes the line is very thin between annoyance and acceptance. It doesn’t take much to set off thoughts of being (self)righteous and drive out thoughts of loving others. But this morning (with the help of the Spirit) I was on the correct side of the line.

I was sitting in my seat at church and a little one started talking loudly, cheerfully, happily. And before I could react the Spirit said to me, “There is life here, be happy with sounds of joy“.

Then a young boy was serving communion and he held it at an awkward angle and would not let go. And before I could react the Spirit said to me, “There is life here, he wants to serve and this is the only way he knows how“.

Then the teens, don’t forget them, jumping and moving and doing things way differently than I had done at that age. And before I could react the Spirit said to me, “There is life here, they are worshipping in spirit and in truth“.

And I thought about those different ages and how Jesus had said, “Let the little children come to me” and I know that those children were not all still and compliant. They had to be moving and squirming and jumping and running around and all those things that make them children. And the Spirit said to me, “There is life here, be like a child“.

And I cried a little bit a the thought and wondered when I had become so “adult” that I couldn’t come to God like a child and the Spirit said to me, “There is life here, choice is part of life“. And I knew that I could just relax and choose to be a child in God’s presence. Making joyful happy noises, serving in the only ways I know how and wanting to worship with all my being in Spirit and in Truth.

Thank you Spirit for showing me that today.

Decisions

Yesterday I went to my wood shop and did some lathe work. This may not sound like much, but it has been over a year and a half since the last time I touched the lathe. I have done other wood work since then, little projects here and there but nothing on the lathe. I really do like turning wood but something happened that made it stop. I was injured. I ran my finger into a disk sander and …well, lets just say it took a couple of months to heal. And it did heal completely. But I didn’t go back to turning wood.

The weird thing is that I didn’t make a conscious decision not to work on the lathe. I would go into the shop and start working on a project and the lathe was there, but I didn’t go near it. I had several projects I could have done but I would always skip over those and go on to something else. To get all psychological about it, it looked like my subconscious had associated the lathe project with the injury pain and I was unconsciously avoiding the lathe.

Yesterday, I made a conscious decision to do a wood turning project. And I made it through. The project came out fine and I was able to do another and another. Like a barrier had burst that had been holding me back.

That made me think about other times that I have been injured, not physically, but spiritually. I realize that there were some times that I have made myself vulnerable and there was an injury that occurred. Either I hurt myself or someone else hurt me. And just like the accident in the wood shop, I started avoiding those situations. And I am still avoiding some of them.

Now, I am looking at those times when I was hurt and asking myself if I am avoiding situations like those without thinking about it. Are there decisions I can make that will overrule my minds desire to protect me. Can I , through sheer will, turn those situations around. And I have decided….No, I won’t.

Now before you go, what?!?, I don’t mean that I am giving up or not going to decide to go into situations that hurt me before. I mean, “I” won’t. I won’t do it by myself. I can decide to go into places that were painful. But if I do it through sheer willpower and then if it works and I make it through, it would all be me. And I don’t want that. I want my actions to bring glory to God. I want my decisions to be fully in line with what God wants me to do. If that means going to a place of injury, then ok. If that means staying where I am, then ok.

That doesn’t make my free will any less. In fact, in my mind at least, it is the ultimate in free will. I decide to go with God. All the time, in every decision, in every way. Have I gotten there  yet? No, not  yet. But that doesn’t change the rightness of that decision. Here’s the thing, when I make a decision and I make it the way I believe (through prayer and thought and love and mercy) that it is the one God would want me make then I go out on faith.

I can hear the objections already, “Aren’t you making your own decisions and just justifying them to yourself by using faith in God? “. My answer to that is no, just because I have faith I don’t have to be blind. I question, I discuss, I look at other viewpoints. The key to me is to be able to continue in my faith. God doesn’t call us to blind obedience. We have the example of Christ in the garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22), questioning, searching, finally deciding and going on faith.

In the end, that faith is the wonderful part, because it lets me be free. It lets me be free to decide. It lets me be free to accept the good things that happen, or accept the not so good things. I have faith that God will guide me, I also have faith that God will help me grow even if I get the decision wrong. I have faith that God will put people and situations and thoughts in my life that will bring me closer to him. I believe that God doesn’t confine himself to “yes” or “no” answers. He has no rules to follow but his own, he can cause that third outcome that I can’t even imagine. All I have to do is believe and follow and decide to be with God.

He will take care of the rest.

 

The Power of Grace

I was thinking about grace the other day and thought I would try something new (for me). Try saying “Grace” out loud. Did you smile? I did when I said it. I actually tried to say “Grace” while I was frowning and it is really hard to do. Then before I could stop myself I started using “Grace” as a mantra. If you haven’t thought about it before, a mantra is just a word (or sound) that you repeat to aid in meditation. Here is how it went (and remember, I said ALL these out loud).

Grace

It is easy to say smiling – Grace

It is hard to say frowning – Grace

It is so funny that you can’t say it frowning that I want to smile again – Grace

Say it enough and the joy begins – Grace

So much joy that it bubbles over – Grace

The negative fog vanishes in the light – Grace

I feel lighter – Grace

I just feel better – Grace

I feel thankful – Grace

I feel a warm glow on my face – Grace

I feel relaxed – Grace

I feel worry drop away – Grace

I feel the breath in and out of my body – Grace

I feel the love – Grace

Try it yourself, take your time, say it out loud. If you think you will look silly, go to a private place and do it. For me, this was a simple and yet meaningful time. It was not rushed at all and at the end the spirit nudged me to go even further. I repeated the Grace mantra with issues that I have.

Grace

Fear – Grace

Lust – Grace

Anger – Grace

Pride – Grace

Impatience – Grace

Depression – Grace

Uncertainty – Grace

And suddenly I realized that I was forgiving myself. This one simple word that was so hard to frown while saying, that caused joy and happiness in my heart was more than just a word. It had become mighty and living. Before this, I had never thought of Grace as an active thing. Grace wasn’t a verb, it was just a gift from God. But, by just saying the word out loud again and again it became a force that drove out the negative thoughts I had, it drove out the fear and all the rest. It had power.

I realized that, at least for me, “Grace” is more than just a one time present from God. It is alive and active in my life today. If I just allow it to work. God’s Grace is a verb.

 

 

My Big Brother

Growing up I did not have a big brother. I am a middle child with two sisters so I was a bratty little brother and a bothersome big brother at the same time. This means I have an expectation of what an ideal big brother would be like, but no experience of that ideal.

But a funny thing happened, I was adopted into a family that had an older brother. After years of doing without I now had a big brother.  And I love the feeling of having a big brother. He is my example for how to act. I adore watching him work. Sometimes he takes me by the hand and shows me what he is working on and I get to help. He lets me tag along while he hangs out with everyone else. He stands up for me and protects me when bullies pick on me. When I fall down trying to do something he picks me up, gently explains what went wrong and lets me try again. He never gets impatient with me. I can’t imagine now what it would be like if I didn’t have him in my life. It is as if it was always meant for us to be together. He goes so far beyond my ideal big brother that I can’t believe it.

I am so proud to be able to call him my brother. And I am proud of everything he has done. He is the best! Maybe you have heard of him, his name is Jesus.

You see, in Romans 4:15 it says “…the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.”. I was adopted into God’s family. And when that happened I inherited millions of brothers and sisters and one elder brother. That elder brother who has been around since before the world was made. And, even though I am an annoying little brother who acts up a lot, he treats me with respect and dignity and tells me how worthy I am to be his brother and be in his family.

Yes, Jesus is Lord. Yes, Jesus has all authority given to him. Yes, Jesus is my high priest and so many other things. But this thing is also true: Jesus is my brother. And I really, really like that fact.

From Grace to Disgrace

“Scapegoat”, talk about a word with a lot of baggage. This one is the essence of baggage. All the blame is loaded up on someone or something and they become the scapegoat so we can avoid guilt.The Israelites had a ceremony with a scapegoat in it. The priest would lay his hands on the goat and confess all the sins over it to transfer their sins to the goat. That goat became the scapegoat. Then a specially chosen man drove the scapegoat into the wilderness and it carried all the people’s sins with it (Leviticus 16:22) then the sacrifices for sin were made and the bodies burned outside the camp (Leviticus 16:27).

It is pretty easy for us to see the parallel with Jesus in this picture and we often thank God for his sacrifice. In fact, In Hebrews 13, Paul describes this very ceremony and then says something that I had not noticed before. In verse 13: “So let us go out to him, outside the camp, and bear the disgrace he bore.”

Well, as they say, that puts a different spin on things. I know I don’t often think of bearing the “disgrace he bore”. I mean, think about it, Christ has taken all the sin and shame on himself at the cross. That was the disgrace he bore. And here is Paul telling us to share with him in taking that sin and shame on ourselves like Christ did? I always thought that Christ bore that burden to the cross and it went away into the wilderness with the scapegoat forever, never to be seen again.

And my answer? Like so many things in the bible it is both: Our sin is gone and we share in sin and shame. We are saved by grace and through grace we can shoulder the disgraceful burden as sin and shame are heaped on us by the world (outside the camp). And we don’t do it alone, we join together with Christ. Just like in a football game, Christ is not standing on the field with all that burden while we sit in the stands and cheer. We are invited out there with him to be on his team and all bear the disgrace together.

And that may not be the most important thing. Because to be like Christ we have to see how Christ bore that disgrace. He was sinless and full of grace. He bore that sin and shame in spite of being sinless, it did not taint him. We have been made sinless and full of grace. Therefore we can also bear that disgrace and not be tainted. Even in these times where dirt and mud and taunting and prejudice and all kinds of sin and shame are rampant. We were taken out of the world by grace and we can turn around and go out and bear that disgrace with Jesus and not be tainted.

 

I can’t catch my breath

How far into the Bible do you have to read before you get to a statement that makes you wonder? Does repetition lead us to taking things for granted? I mean some of these things we have heard over and over and over. Look at the very first verse: “In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth.”.  How much of that statement really grabs you anymore? I know that most of the time I am in a hurry to get to the rest of the story but I want to just stop here and think for a bit about what that verse really means.

And I can’t catch my breath.

God exists outside our universe. God is so powerful that he not only made our world but all  the worlds that we can see and even those we can’t. God was there before time. God started it all. God gave it not only physical structure but gave it life. All life, everywhere, for all time and beyond.  And all the words ever written about God barely even begin to describe a fraction of what God is.

And I can’t catch my breath.

And not only did God create everything, everywhere, for all time but he cares for me. Me, as an individual, not just “me” as a faceless piece of humanity. He knows my name, he listens to me, he talks to me, he cherishes me. He actually wants my company.

And I can’t catch my breath.

All that, and more, from one short verse at the beginning of a book that contains God showing himself to us. One book that tells us just a bit about what God is like: Love, Provider, Peace, Shepherd, Righteousness, Majestic, Master, Lord, Healer, Everlasting, the list goes on and on.

And I can’t catch my breath.

And I don’t want to. I don’t want to ever take a single verse for granted. I want to always find something new and fresh and wonderful. I want to be forever not able to breath because of the wonder of God.

And I can’t catch my breath.

 

 

 

Quiet time? LOL

It’s been a tough week for quietly sitting and listening for God. Activity after activity, all crowded and noisy and wonderful. Our group was supposed to have been practicing taking  daily quiet time and praying. Well that didn’t happen very much.

In the middle of all the “stuff” that was happening I got to thinking, how do you listen for God in the noise? After all, we live in the world and the world is full of running around and being busy. Is there a secret to praying in those circumstances? Someone in my past had told me that we should look to the pattern of Jesus praying for our example, how he often went off to a quiet place to pray, like a mountain or a garden. And I accept that, Luke 5:16 says that “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed”. But, like so many thoughts I have had recently, I was shown another side to Jesus prayer. Jesus prayed in the noise and busyness also.

Look at a few:

  • Matthew 19 – People are bringing children to Jesus to pray for them (in public)
  • Luke 3 – When Jesus is praying during one of John’s baptism sessions (John was a pretty loud speaker apparently and he drew big crowds)
  • John 17 – Jesus prays after a fiery discussion of towns that wouldn’t repent
  • Luke 10 – Jesus prays aloud with the 72 he had sent out while they were bubbling over with joy and telling him all about their trips

And at the cross and the exact opposite of praying in a lonely spot,  (Matthew 27) Jesus prays the ultimate painful prayer to God, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”.

Don’t misunderstand me, I am not saying you shouldn’t pray in the quiet, alone times. Just the opposite, those are valuable times to grow closer to God one on one. But prayer in the noisy times is also part of our life with God. God has told us that he is with us always, that he is with us in the middle of trouble, in the middle of noise, in the middle of life’s messes. He is there. What is more natural than to talk to the one who is there with us. In other words, to pray.

So in my life, when things are just too noisy and busy and I can’t get time away by myself to sit quietly and alone, I know that I can still pray. That God will still hear me. I can still listen for what God says even in the noise. It is not up to me to say that God can only talk to me at certain times and in certain ways. He is way more powerful than that.