Tag Archives: freedom

Do You Choose Ashes or Beauty?

7 Dec

It’s fireplace weather as the weatherman predicts single digit temperatures. I love rotating in front of the fire like a marshmallow on a coat hanger—equally toasted on all sides. Frequent fires produce abundant ashes.

As I transferred cold ashes from the fireplace to a trashbag, I thought how they no longer resembled the logs originally placed on the grate. No longer sturdy logs, the ash pile was now gray, powdery, and easily scattered by the slightest puff of air. Perhaps, like me, there was a time when your life was in ashes—cold, colorless, without meaning or apparent value, no longer resembling the life you once envisioned.

The Bible uses ashes to symbolize misery, shame, humility, and repentance. Deeply distressed mourners sat on ashes and threw them toward heaven, allowing the ashes to fall as a head covering. That’s why Isaiah’s prophecy was so powerful. He promised “comfort [for] all who mourn, . . .a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair” (Isaiah 61:3a).

This dramatic transformation would come through faith in God. Jesus Christ later read this passage from the scroll of Isaiah, “‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’” (Luke 4:18–21 NIV).

No matter what you’ve been through or what you’re facing, Jesus offers understanding and victory. He gave up heavenly glory to be born in a stable. He endured poverty, grief, injustice, rejection and faced every human temptation for our sake. Why then do we continue to cover ourselves in ashes when He offers a crown of beauty? Our freedom comes not through escaping our circumstances, but in accepting the love, power, and joy offered in Jesus Christ.

The fireplace wood we burn is often a mixture of pine and oak. Pine flames quickly; oak burns slowly and provides lasting warmth. God can transform our lives from ashes to oak. As Isaiah says, “They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor” (Isaiah 61:3b NIV).

My prayer for us is that we display God’s splendor, as we remain strong in His power and love.

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.

Celebrate

21 Jun

Are you ever weary? I’m not referring to fatigue resulting from hard physical work. I speak of the weariness from working too hard, too long. It may be a job, a project, a tough relationship, or even following hard after God. Today it all caught up with me. I realized I was weary.

George looked at me. “What’s wrong?” (I can’t fool hubby.)
“I have no idea.” It took some thought as to why I felt bummed. “It may be because I can’t seem to have any fun.”
In the last couple of days, I had taken several breaks from writing. House cleaning and laundry sure didn’t help—neither did gardening, reading, or watching a recorded TV show. I tried prayer, Bible study, and counting my blessings. Nothing fixed my mood.
Then George asked, “How about dinner and a movie?”
Bingo!

I needed celebration. Everything I tried was a solitary endeavor. I needed fellowship and fun. God is all about celebration. Think of the angels proclaiming Christ’s birth or the apostle Paul reminding us to “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4 NIV).

God proclaimed regular times of celebration in the Old Testament. The biggest and best was the Year of Jubilee. Every 50 years God commanded the Israelites to cancel all debts, release slaves, plant no crops, and return property to the original owner. Every generation could experience new beginnings through complete trust in God’s provision.

Jesus began His public ministry proclaiming He was the fulfillment of the year of Jubilee.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18–19 NRSV).

George’s offer made me realize I had become captive to a deadline. I grabbed Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline and read the last chapter: “The Discipline of Celebration.” It was balm to my soul. How easy it is to forget the joy of the Lord is our strength (Neh. 8:10). Joy is also a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). Lack of joy should have been a clue I wasn’t trusting God to help me meet my deadlines. My life was out of balance.

God had already provided for this evening of celebration. The place I wanted to eat “just happened” to have a Groupon—$20 worth of food for $10. Fits of laughter made a delicious meal even more delightful. We saw a good movie at the senior discount. What a blessing.

Are you weary? Perhaps you need a date with your mate, a night with the girls, or a game in the man cave. Celebrate love and friendship. Celebrate freedom in Christ. Celebrate with music, laughter, good food, and gratitude.
Just celebrate.