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Verse of the Day
Friday
May052017

When I Know What I Ought to Do

It’s two o’clock in the afternoon.  So far my day has included the following: an hour of exercise, breakfast with my children, packing lunches, a walk to meet the school bus, mopping the floor, four loads of laundry, meeting with a college student for two hours of mentoring, walking three miles with the stroller, raking the mulch back into the flower beds after the chickens scratched it out again, cleaning the windows, sending 13 emails, prepping supper, and finally putting my son down for his nap.  My soul is weary.  I know what I should do, but I don’t entirely want to do it.  I should sit down with my Bible and seek God to fill my weary soul.  

The problem is simple: I’m hungry.  I haven’t eaten yet, so I grab a bag of chips and some salsa (with black beans for the protein, of course).  I may as well turn the television on while I eat, so I flip through our five satellite channels.  Looks like an afternoon talk show again today.  

The salsa is gone in five minutes.  I put the chips away and notice a spider on the ceiling.  It’s time to knock the pests to the floor yet again.  While I have the broom out, I may as well de-spider the whole downstairs.  And upstairs too.

My daughter’s room is a disaster, so I take the quiet moment to sort her toys and scoot the bins back under her bed.  In the midst of this, I hear my phone vibrate.  It’s a friend in need of advice.  I sit to send the much-needed advice.  It certainly can’t wait.  While I’m at it, I get caught up on the other six texts sitting in my inbox. . . .

We’ve all been here, done this.  We intend to spend time with the Lord, but more tangible matters get in the way.  Perhaps we even create them.  

A common saying among writers is this: “When you sit down to write, you must either write or do nothing.”

We should take on the same mantra when it comes to spending time with the Lord: When we sit to seek him, we must seek him or do nothing.  We can seek him through reading the Bible, praying, listening to worship music, meditating on his goodness, thanking him, or a variety of other activities, but until we discipline ourselves to seek him or do nothing, there will generally be something more tangible to distract us. 

While growing in intimacy with Christ sets the focus on relationship and not discipline, there are disciplines that can help us grow in relationships.  My husband and I have found it very helpful to set a standard of regular date nights.  We ensure that we will have time carved out to grow in our relationship.  It requires discipline to say no to twenty-seven other things vying for our attention when date time arrives, but the discipline fuels the growth of our relationship.  In the same way, designating time to focus on Christ, and Christ alone, throughout our days ensures that it actually happens.  Discipline can help build a relationship.  Distractions can break apart even the best relationships.  

Let’s begin by simply acknowledging our hunger for God for what it is.  The next time your soul feels empty and you’re craving chocolate or Twitter or a mind-numbing television show, ask yourself, will this fill me or distract me?  Distractions are satisfying for a moment, but only an encounter with the Living God will truly satisfy that deep need.  If we can even acknowledge that this is a hunger for the Lord, we are moving in the right direction.  If we can step into a place of discipline and seek him in these moments, we are moving into a place of being filled by him.

And so I put the chips away, store the broom in the closet, put the phone on silent, and turn on a stream of worship music.  I close my eyes and silence the part of me that says this is wasted time.  It is holy time, filling time, refreshing time.  And I will walk away knowing he is pleased.

Stacey

Friday
Apr282017

The Dance

Timothy Keller, in his book Jesus The King, describes a dance that takes place between the Father, Son, and Spirit.  The dance is a beautiful display of love, honor, and respect.  The rhythm of this dance consists of the three as one being, yet exalting each other, communing with each other, and deferring to one another.  Each person, with complete selflessness, makes the other the center of His world. 

Other religions demand that you obey a list of do’s and don’ts to gain acceptance.  God offers us a gift of salvation.  The gospel is a proclamation of good news!  He loved us so much that He died for us.  He paid the penalty.  He is love.  We are accepted just as we are and He is dancing all around us.  Some believe that they must change before they come to God.  This is a lie and misconception.  We accept His free gift of salvation and THEN He changes us from the inside out.

God has given us a longing to be accepted unconditionally.  Keller points out that many storybooks relate this innate need to be rescued, pursued, and loved.  The paralytic came asking to walk, but Jesus could see his need was much deeper.  The paralytic needed forgiveness of his sin.   Jesus refused to just heal him physically.  (How cruel it would have been to grant him physical healing and leave the man devastated, once he realized that physical healing did not make his life better.)  Many obtain earthly goals only to find themselves still empty.  They need to go deeper.  They need a divine dance with the Lord to feel whole, healthy, stable, loved, accepted, and cared for.  

Religion is a very tighly woven list of do’s and don’ts that inevitably puts a person in prison.  Entering the divine dance is about being justified by faith, loving God, centering your life on Him, giving Him full control, and embracing the God who also centers His world on you.  How awesome!

Jesus blessed my socks off the day I began to fall in love with Him.  He has been faithful to lovingly and gently lead me further into this love (and I have never looked back)!  May we lean into the King as He pours out His love and acceptance on us.  May we seek hard after the heart of God and find that He is faithful, true, and loves us with a never- ending love!  His love is marvelous and there is no substitute for the journey!  

If you have not entered the dance, I urge you to take the hand of Jesus and allow Him to show you what it is all about!  

Reference: Keller, Timothy. (2011).  Jesus The King.  New York, NY: Penguin Group.

Braelene

 

                                       

Monday
Mar132017

When You Want More from Your Life

Dawn breaks over a crust of white out the window.  It feels bleak today.  What was once the fresh powder of potential is muddied and hardened, and I find my heart is in a similar place.  

I want more.

More purpose.

More joy.

More peace. 

More love flowing into me and through me.

The sun, this burning presence of white fire, ascends over the land, and I breathe in its life through the frosted windowpane.  It returns with its promise to cast out the darkness.  It is in this breathing that I realize the sun never moved.  It was the earth that turned, a constant ebb and flow, back toward the burning face of light every morning and back toward the darkness every night.  

Is this not how our hearts encounter the burning light of God?  We are hungry, and we recognize this hunger and turn toward him.  But when shadows grow long and the day grows old, we so quickly forget.  We so quickly turn back to the darkness and the things that will never satisfy.

The sun doesn’t move; nor does our God.  We may turn, but he remains.   Life is meant to be a journey of keeping a gaze fixed on him, a journey of walking more fully immersed in his love, going deeper.  It is only from this place of receiving the love of God that we can discover our purpose: to love him and love others.

The problem is not that we are unaware of this in our minds. The problem rests in our hearts, hearts from which we struggle to give love and live with purpose.  The struggle comes when we fail to first receive the love God is constantly raining down.  We must learn how to position our hearts and minds to receive more of his love.  God’s love is already fully present in the lives of his children; he is calling us to learn to recognize it, to cultivate it.

When we are living in the fullness of God’s love, this love naturally flows through us and onto others.  Our attitudes, words, actions, and motives flow from this love.  When we give, serve and love out of self-effort, our love is not wasted, but it is not all it could be.

I have encountered the reality of good intentions with wrong motives again and again in my own walk.  My intentions are good: I want to love others with the love of Christ.  My motives are wrong: I want to love others with the love of Christ so that I can feel better about myself.  

After much sacrifice on my behalf, I recall desperately desiring even a simple gesture of thanksgiving from a friend who received the fruit of my sacrifice a few years ago.  When the thanksgiving never came, I was resentful and hurt.  And then the nudge came in my spirit: Did I really serve my friend with pure motives, or did I somehow hope to feel better about myself as a result?  If I had truly served unto the Lord, his pleasure would have been enough.  My anger showed my hidden motives.  I was somehow building my self-worth through pleasing others and seeking their affirming words.  This is not the kind of love God is calling us to give.

God calls us to love well and need nothing in return, knowing that we are living, serving, and giving of ourselves for an audience of One. 

 I want his light to shine through me for the world to see, giving not of my own resources, but from his abundant overflow.  May I never serve another person to attain one more notch in my spiritual belt or to fulfill some longing in my own empty soul.  May I walk in the light, be filled with the light, and exude the light.  This is the place where we find the fullness of life.

Stacey

Friday
Mar102017

A Food Reflection

When I was young, about six or seven, I developed hives.  Although I don’t recall what caused them, I well remember that I was put on a restricted diet, at least for a time, to discover their source. 

Now, I was the youngest of five children in a family which had limited financial resources.  My mom was a stay-at-home mom, and my dad was a laborer in the mill.  We weren’t poor, exactly; we just didn’t have any money. 

When my mom did her weekly grocery shopping, she would buy one bag of chips for us. To share.  A bag of chips was a big deal.  Her challenge was how to fairly distribute the chips among us kids.  The simple equation looked like this:  one bag of chips, five kids, one on a restricted diet.  Solution?  My mom actually counted the chips out. I don’t know how she determined the number per kid; I just know I never received enough. 

Never. 

Throw in the “restricted diet” factor, and there was one potato-chip deprived, Irish kid in that household crying her eyes out. 

I clearly remember walking down the ally behind our house. 

Alone. 

The weather was warm.  I was crying. 

Again. 

I was angry. 

I made a vow to myself that day.  With fists clenched, I vowed that someday I would buy a large bag of chips and eat every single one of them all by myself.  And…I have.  I have devoured many bags of chips since that warm day in the ally fulfilling that childhood promise to myself. 

I cursed myself that day without realizing it, of course.

“Never enough” has driven my eating for most of my life; as a matter of fact, it became a theme throughout my life beyond just food.  There were other factors, too, I know, but for a memory so strong that it is still fresh in my heart over sixty-seven years later tells me that it has deep, deep roots. 

Of course, there a lesson in all of this. 

I feel the need to mourn—hives, poverty, unfairness—and to forgive my mom. 

For what?  I’m not completely sure.  Maybe for not seeing how desperate I felt.  For how hungry I was for more than just chips. 

The truth is, with things of the flesh, there will never be enough. 

Never. 

Fortunately, that empty little Irish girl grew up and has learned that she does not live by chips alone. The emptiness in my heart, in my life, was filled the day I met Him. 

Jesus is enough. Totally. 

It has taken me a very long time to understand, but, now, with a heart overflowing with gratitude, I release this memory to Him, choosing to relinquish the power of “Never enough” over my life.  

Because He is.

Myra

Friday
Feb242017

God's Creatures, Great and Small

So many times we wonder if God can use us in unexpected situations where we find ourselves. I found myself in one such situation. I had been called to California when my sister began to lose her battle with cancer. No matter what the doctors did, the cancer seemed to stay one step ahead of the chemo and radiation treatments. John, her husband, brought Suzi home, arranged care to keep her comfortable, and called in the family.

I left Pennsylvania on a cold winter day on January 9th, 2017, arrived in California at my sister’s home in the rain, and was ushered into her bedroom by my brother-in-law John. My sister lay dying, being held in comfort by the morphine she received every two hours. I let the tears stream down my face as I caressed my sister and kissed her. I told her I loved her and to watch for the angel who would escort her into the arms of Jesus. She opened her eyes acknowledging my presence. I spent the next two days sitting with her, talking and reading to her, and praying with her and the hospice chaplain as he prayed, helping her confess her sins.

On Tuesday, late in the morning, I went for a walk around the 26 acre ranch, El Sueno, which my sister and her husband John managed. I walked around the place admiring the beautiful show and race horses there. The trainers, students, and ranch personnel were exceptional. They greeted me with open arms, inquiring about my sister and John, asking also about how I was doing. I felt so much love and comfort from each person. I knew God was with me during this difficult time. Upon leaving the barn, I noticed a trainer leading a rider on a beautiful horse to the arena for training. They had paused briefly for the owner of the horse to catch up with them. I approached the horse and remarked what a beautiful creature it was. The horse stood very still, smelling my hand and looking into my eyes. I began to pet her as the rider shared that the horse’s name was Emily. Emily stood still while I patted her neck and scratched under her chin. When I stopped to answer some questions, she used her head to nudge my chest. I began petting her again. I eventually stopped and stepped away so they could proceed into the arena. I thought nothing more of the incident. 

Later in the evening, another trainer, Debbie, stopped at my sister’s house to visit my sister. She shared with John and me that they were calling me the “Horse Whisperer” at the barn. She and another trainer were watching the whole incident with Emily; their thought was that the rider was going to die at any second. Apparently, Emily was a wild mustang who had recently been rescued from running wild in the Malibu canyons. She was being trained for Dressage and didn’t actually like people. She has only let the trainer, rider, and owner pet her. Emily reacts negatively toward anyone else who approaches her. They were totally amazed that Emily would let me make such of a fuss over her, petting her head and neck, and scratching under her chin. I was totally amazed by what Debbie was telling John and me.

Later that evening, as I sat with my sister and reflected on the “horse whispering” incident, I tried to understand why this young mustang would let me make such a fuss over her. Suddenly, it dawned on me why Emily responded the way she did. As I waited for my plane to arrive in Burbank, I had prayed the God would use me to minister to those at the ranch and to all whom I came in contact with during this hard time. I asked Him to use me as a sieve to let His love, peace, and comfort flow thru me to all I encountered here in California.

Emily was calm during the exchange between her and me because she felt her creator in me. Emily didn’t feel me petting and loving her; she felt God's presence calming her, helping her to relish the feel of human hands on her. Those hands, my hands, brought her God’s comfort and love. I felt privileged that God would use me with this magnificent creature.

This has shown me that God can use us in all circumstances and in situations where and when we least expect it. God has promised He is with us in all situations, at all times. But God can only use us if we give Him permission and open ourselves to Him.

Ellen - Guest Blogger