Archive | November, 2013

Retreat to Freedom

24 Nov

I declared Friday a personal retreat. My husband was out of town, the temperature dropped below Karo, and amazingly, I had nothing on my calendar. Posole simmered in the crockpot beside a bowl of homemade Chex Mix and percolating cider. A light dusting of snow on icy streets created a perfect homebound day.

Of course, there’s always a dose of reality in any idyllic scene. I brought our old birddog, Jax, out of the 21o
air, because his twisted arthritic feet don’t do well in the cold. He’s a big outside dog; I had no idea he could produce so much poop. (Sigh) Ah, well. His comfort was worth cleaning the sunroom floor.

My goal for the day was to stay with whatever God showed me in my daily reading until I really got it. Lately, as I read Scripture, I’d write the teaching I believe the Holy Spirit had for me, pray, and then jump into my day without meditating. I hadn’t taken time to follow that teaching to its logical and practical conclusion so I wasn’t seeing the change I desired.

Here’s what God showed me: Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17 ESV).

I realized I wanted to do the retreat “right” and not waste the rare day I had to spend entirely with God. A very strong impression quickly tumbled over that thought; God wanted me to celebrate and enjoy the day. Today wasn’t about getting it right; it was about freedom. Instant tears of gratitude and praise blurred my vision. My tears pointed me to a tender place not totally healed. I really want to live in freedom, but one might suppose I prefer guilt.

I immediately thought of Romans, which probably contains more theology per line than most books in the Bible. I spent at least an hour in the already underlined fifth through eighth chapters, proof that I didn’t quite get it the first ___ (how many?) times.

Wow. So much there, but one verse really jumped out at me, “But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code” (Romans 7:6 ESV).

Life seems easier when I can check off a list—and there’s nothing wrong with a list. There’s nothing wrong with the Law. It’s knowing what I should do that creates the desire within me to do the opposite. (See Romans 7:7ff.) My flesh wars against my mind. Like Paul, there are times when I cry out, “Wretched [person] that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24 NRSV).

I’m extremely grateful that Paul didn’t stop there. I don’t think anything could have kept him from speaking those next words. Once again, I want to shout with Paul, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. . . There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 7:25a; 8:1 NRSV).

With God’s help, I will live in obedience to Him and not to self-imposed bondage. I’m usually a joyful person, but sometimes I just put on that old yoke to see if it still fits. I need to remember another bit of wisdom from Paul.

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1 ESV)

I had a freedom-filled day celebrating God’s word, good food, texting, and cuddling with Sunshine. I even finished my mystery. I felt refreshed and deeply satisfied. My prayer is that you carve out some time, so you too can retreat to freedom.

Little by Little

15 Nov

Are you yearning for the future, eager for a dream to become reality? Perhaps you’re single and longing for a soul mate. Do you have a great idea for a new business, but can’t seem to scrape together enough money or investors to make it happen? Would you like to change careers but can’t afford the schooling required? What aspiration have you discarded as hopeless?

When my ex-husband left, I taught at a Christian school that paid poverty level salaries. I changed to public school to feed my kids, but the great desire of my heart was to become a psychotherapist. I wanted to help others as my counselor helped me. However, there was no master’s level course in counseling at the local university. I couldn’t imagine moving my hurt and confused children away from family and friends, so I gave up my dream. Disappointment piled on top of an already full load of grief and rejection.

Eleven years later, I took my first class toward getting my degree and becoming a Licensed Professional Counselor. It was easy to spot fellow students who needed to work on their own stuff before they considered tackling other people’s problems. I saw myself in them as I had been eleven years earlier, with many issues to work through and much growing to do. I simply hadn’t been ready when God first planted that dream in my heart. God’s route for me was much like God’s message to Israel concerning the Promised Land.

“I will not drive [your enemies] out from before you in one year, lest the land become desolate and the wild beasts multiply against you. Little by little I will drive them out from before you, until you have increased and possess the land” (Exodus 23:29–30 ESV).

God know our capabilities, our baggage, and future obstacles. His timing is flawless and we can trust Him with our dreams and disappointments. Little by little, He prepares us to possess His best, but most of us aren’t crazy about “little by little.” We think we can handle our big dream now. That’s why I want to explore the context of an especially popular and encouraging verse—Jeremiah 29:11.

“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope” (NRSV).

I base my life on God’s goodness and the hope He offers in Jesus Christ. I’m absolutely sure God’s plans for our lives are best and we should cooperate and collaborate with the Holy Spirit in order to accomplish the good works He has for us (Ephesians 2:10). However, just like Israel, our choices affect our future.

Israel’s tribe of Judah wound up in Babylonian captivity because they chose to serve other gods and disobey the LORD . False prophets announced God would send Judah’s captives home within two years. Yet God’s unpopular prophet Jeremiah tells exiles to make a good life in their current situation (Jeremiah 29:5-7). Then he continues with God’s promise for their future.

“For thus says the Lord: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile” (Jeremiah 29:10–14 NRSV).

Perhaps you’ll realize your dream tomorrow, perhaps not. Perhaps first God will grow you, strengthen you, and prepare you. In the meantime, call upon Him. Seek Him with all your heart, not just for what He can do for you, but for who He is. Christ Himself is our hope and our future.

If you have a story of postponed dreams, please share. We’d love to hear from you.

Can I Get By with This?

8 Nov

Confession time: I customarily drive about three miles over the speed limit. I had a highway patrolman friend tell me they usually let drivers get by with driving 3-4 miles over the limit. Then our state raised the speed limit to 75. Cars traveling at least 85 mph often pass me and they usually get by with it.

Have we become a people who merely try to get by? Can I be one or two minutes late without upsetting my boss? If three minutes goes unnoticed, why not ten minutes late? If a subcontractor makes a mistake, does he correct it or leave it, knowing that “it will cover?” There are many opportunities for getting by—mop the center of a floor and skip the corners, inflate billable hours, scarcely study for a test, text instead of supervise the kids you babysit, and more.

Let Scripture guide our work ethic. “ Whatever your task, put yourselves into it, as done for the Lord and not for your masters, since you know that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you serve the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23–24 NRSV). When we think we’re getting by, we’re really cheating ourselves of the reward God has planned for us.

But there’s a flip side to getting by—we’re not giving God His due. The quality of our work reflects on Christ. “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16 NRSV). It’s crazy to think that my service could bring glory to God, but that’s what it says.

We have only One employer, One audience, One supervisor. It’s unrealistic to believe we can do all things well, much less, that we can do anything we set our minds to. However, whatever we find to do, we must do it for our Lord, Jesus Christ. We do our best because He is the best.

Not everyone will understand, appreciate, or even approve our attitudes and actions. Sometimes we’ll be blamed and criticized unfairly. That has to be secondary to pleasing God. “Live such good lives among [unbelievers] that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:12 NIV).

Christ followers aren’t to do just enough to get by. “And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles” (Matthew 5:40–41 NIV). I haven’t always lived up to this standard, but it remains my goal and gets easier as I age. I don’t want to get by; I want to make a difference. How about you?

“Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and the power forever and ever” (1 Peter 4:11 NRSV).

Overcoming Darkness

1 Nov

I’ll never forget our family trip to Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico. Deep within the earth, I beheld unimaginable formations that sent my young imagination into overdrive. At one point, the guides turned off every light and the darkness became overwhelming. I held my hand close to my eyes, yet couldn’t see it even as I touched my nose. Although Papa seemed invisible, I felt his presence and his nearness kept me from being afraid.

Were you ever in a place so dark that you despaired of ever finding your way? My darkest places have been pits of despair or fear-filled emotional caverns. Hopelessness is such a liar. It envelops you and whispers there is no escape, no cure, no solution. Don’t believe it. Even though Father is invisible, He’s with you. You don’t have to remain lost, because God is literally the light at the end of your tunnel.

It is you who light my lamp; the Lord, my God, lights up my darkness (Psalm 18:28 NRSV).

Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow (James 1:17 NASB95).

Please don’t trust unreliable emotions; instead, depend on Scripture. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105 NRSV). God’s word will guide you one step at a time. What does that mean in a practical sense? It requires taking charge of your thoughts, which control your emotions. Quit repeating the same hopeless messages. Replace error with truth. Try writing some of the following verses on note cards and post them as visible reminders of God’s character and promises.

As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the Lord is flawless. He is a shield for all who take refuge in him. Psalm 18:30 NIV

The Lord your God is with you; his power gives you victory. The Lord will take delight in you, and in his love he will give you new life. He will sing and be joyful over you, (Zephaniah 3:17 GNB).

If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you (James 1:5 NRSV).

May God, the source of hope, fill you with joy and peace through your faith in him. Then you will overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13 GW).

God never promised a comfortable life, free from trials or suffering. In fact, Paul said, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18 NASB95).  That’s why we are to “Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer” (Romans 12:12 NRSV).

I’ve experienced my share of heartache, setbacks, and challenges since God pulled me out of my darkest pit and filled me with hope. In spite of those dark places, Jesus remains my peace (Ephesians 2:14), my joy (John 17:13), and my light. I pray you’ll accept the light He offers.

In [Jesus Christ] was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:4–5 NIV).