Friday, May 31, 2013

Five Minute Friday: Imagine

Once again joining in for Five Minute Friday. This week's word is "imagine."

What did you imagine your life would look like at this point? What were the childhood dreams you had?

Does your life today look like what you imagined? How is it different?

When I was a kid, I imagined that my life at this point would look very different than it does. But I choose not to get upset over that. I choose to look for the good. And then I don't stop imagining what things could look like in the future. Whether what I imagine is what happens or not.

If we stop allowing ourselves to imagine, our life begins to shrink. We just start surviving and making it through each day. When we allow ourselves to imagine, life becomes exciting. We see the possibilities of what could be. Life is not about surviving - it's about living.

What about you? What are you imagining your life could look like in the future? Even if those things don't happen, don't let them stop you from imagining.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Work in Progress

In Genesis 12:10-20, Abram pretends Sari is his sister instead of his wife while they are in Egypt. Pharoah takes her as his wife and then pays the price. Eventually, Pharoah returns Sarai to Abram once he discovers the truth.

You would think Abram would have learned his lesson from that . . . right?

Well, you would be wrong.

In Genesis 20, Abram, now called Abraham, does the same thing with King Abimelek. Abraham tell the king Sarai, now called Sarah, is his sister not his wife. This time God spares Abimelek the harsh consequences for taking another man's wife, but tells him the truth. Abimelek confronts Abraham on it.

When I get to reading about the second time Abraham did something he knew he shouldn't, it can be easy to start wondering why Abraham didn't seem to learn the first time. I mean, did he really expect the same lie would work well the second time when didn't the first time?

But this time I was stopped short with a challenging question:

Am I really any different?

Why do I find it so easy to judge Abraham for doing something I do all the time?

The reality is that I keep doing the same things, even when I should know from past experience that's not the choice I should make. So I don't have any reason to look at Abraham in judgement for what he did.

This all makes me wonder why.

Why do we, as human beings, seem to find ourselves still battling against the same thing over and over again?

It's because we're all works in progress. None of us is a complete work yet. God is still at work in us. And He won't be done with us until we're with Him in heaven. Until then, we'll still face battles as we allow Him to work.

Being a work in progress doesn't give us an excuse to intentionally do things we know we shouldn't. But it explains why it takes time for things to change in our lives. Why we may find ourselves making the same choice we know we shouldn't . . . again.

We need to allow ourselves to be God's work in progress. The more we allow God to work in us, the more like what He has for us we become. And the less we'll find ourselves doing things again that we already know we shouldn't do.

I'd rather be a work in progress than an unfinished project the Artist has given up on.

What about you?

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Real Living

May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships,
so that you may live deep within your heart.
May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people,
so that you may work for justice, freedom, and peace.
May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, and war,
so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy.
And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world,
so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.

This is an old Franciscan blessing that I've heard a few times. And it challenges me every time I hear it.

It speaks to a life that is not what we would consider comfortable. And that kind of a life is being called a blessing.

But it really is a life that is better than one where we seek our own comfort at all costs. It's a life that is full because it's a life where we are real.

Who doesn't want to live from deep within their heart? But do we want what we need to get to that point? Do we really want to experience discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships?

I think deep down inside we get frustrated with easy answers, half truths and superficial relationships. We really would rather have the full truth even if that means the answer is hard to take. And we would rather have real relationships than superficial ones.

Who doesn't want to see a world of peace, justice, and freedom for all? But do we want to have to learn to deal with anger at oppression and injustice?

We have to get to the point where we are willing to do the work to fight oppression and injustice. We have to be willing to channel our anger about it into working to change things.

Who doesn't want to see a world without pain, rejection, starvation, and war? But do we want our hearts to really be broken over people who are experiencing these things?

We like to keep ourselves at a distance from those things. We don't want to experience them if we don't have to. But, we have to allow our hearts to be broken over them to be able to bring comfort to people experiencing pain, rejection, starvation, and war.

Who doesn't want to do what others say cannot be done? To make a difference in the world?

Others may look at us as foolish as we step out to do what we feel we need to do. But, God calls us to make a difference and to do what He calls us to do. To defy what others tell us can be done because we're doing it with God.

This Franciscan blessing doesn't speak of an easy or comfortable life, but when I dig into it, I find it speaks of the kind of life I want to live.

What about you?

May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships,
so that you may live deep within your heart.
May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people,
so that you may work for justice, freedom, and peace.
May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, and war,
so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy.
And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world,
so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

God Keeps His Promises

I've been reading in Genesis lately. Rereading familiar stories, but hearing God speak to me through them still. I love that about God - He still has something to say to us through His Word no matter how many times we've read it. All that is required is that we'll slow down and listen for Him.

Genesis 9:1-17 records God's covenant with Noah after the flood. God made a promise to Noah that He would never destroy the whole earth again. Then He gave Noah a sign of His covenant promise - a rainbow.

So often I look at a rainbow after the rain and I think of its beauty, but I don't often stop and ponder the significance of it. Every rainbow we see is a sign of God's promise - originally made to Noah - a reminder that even all these years later God still keeps His promises.

Even in a world where we may be surrounded by broken promises of other people, we can count on God to keep His promises. The simple rainbow after a storm is a reminder of this.

We serve a God Who keeps His promises.

We serve a God Who does exactly what He says all the time.

We serve a God Who can be trusted because of this truth.

What would happen if we started to look at every rainbow we see as more than just something beautiful in the sky after a storm? What if we also began to see them as regular reminders that God keeps His promises?

Friday, May 24, 2013

Five Minute Friday: View

Joining in with Lisa-Jo Baker for Five Minute Friday. Five minutes of writing on a given word. No editing. No over-thinking what you write.

Today's word is view.

Sometimes we get caught in how things look in one place. We begin to think that view is the only way to see things.

But we miss so much when we do that. We miss out on so much when we decide our view is the only one out there - or at least the only one that's right.

What happens when we take the time to see things from a different view? How does that change what we see and what we think?

Sometimes the easiest way to get a different view on things is to go somewhere we haven't been for a while. Or just get out of the place we always view things from.

When I need to change my view, I find it easiest to get somewhere out in nature. To climb a mountain and look out over the city. To sit on a beach and watch the water. The beauty of God's creation can help us change our view.

And we need to allow our view to be changed sometimes. To be refreshed.

What's your view today? Does it need to be changed?

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Risking Vulnerability

Why are we so afraid of vulnerability?

What causes us so much fear when we feel vulnerable?

In a book I was reading recently, the author made mention that while we have become masters at other things, “we are scared to death of the intimately personal.” (Mark Steele, Christianish). Those words jumped off the page at me.

A little bit later in the same chapter of the book, the author is talking about someone overcoming a fear of heights, and comments that, “we may not have a phobia about heights, but we certainly have one about depth.” (Mark Steele, Christianish). Reading similar words a second time stuck in my head.

I’ve been thinking about it since.

Why do we have this fear of things that seem personal? That make us feel vulnerable to share them with others?

If this fear logical? Is it how we should be feeling? Or should the way we operate look different that being afraid to be vulnerable?

I think we have this fear of being vulnerable because it goes against what our culture tells us we should be. We’re told that we need to be strong. We’re told that we need to have it all together.

And being vulnerable often means admitting we’re weak. Admitting that we don’t have it all together.

Since it goes against what we’ve been told, we struggle with it.

But, when I look at Scripture, I see much that goes against what culture tells us. We’re not told we have to be strong and have it all together.

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)

We can’t help carry another believer’s burdens if we don’t know what they are. And we won’t know what they are, if they don’t tell us. To tell other believers what our burdens are requires that we be vulnerable with them.

“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” (Romans 12:15)

We can’t rejoice with people who are rejoicing if we don’t know they are. And we can’t mourn with those who are mourning if we don’t know they are. Again, to be able to do these things, they have to tell us and it requires vulnerability.

Those are just two of many times in Scripture where we are told to help each other out. It’s a common theme. And the early church is full of examples of believers helping each other with everyday life.

So, if Scripture says this is how we are supposed to live, why does it cause so much fear for many of us?

Being vulnerable with another person is risky. We have to admit our weaknesses and the we don’t have it all together. And we often have to do this without knowing 100% how they will handle that information.

We hope we have chosen well in who we share it with. We hope they won’t use that information against us in the future. But, we don’t know for sure. So it’s risky to be vulnerable. But, we can’t use someone using our vulnerability with them in the wrong way as an excuse to shut down and stop sharing.

Despite the risk, we learn there is something rewarding about being vulnerable with the right people. We see our burdens lifted. We see the power that something being a secret had in our lives broken. We are encouraged.

It may seem like a better choice to stay safe by not being vulnerable with other people, but the risk is worth it. We may find ourselves fearful in the moment when we’re vulnerable, but I do believe that the risk and the fear is worth it – even if sometimes it backfires on us.

I’ve been one of the people that being vulnerable with others scares for much of my life. I took a few experiences where it didn’t go so well and used them as my reason why I would never be vulnerable with anyone again. I thought I was protecting myself, but the truth was that I was isolating myself and it was getting lonely.

Then, a couple months ago, I was at a retreat with my church, where we got honest about our lives and where we were at with each other. Honestly, I wasn’t too sure about that. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go there. But, as I did, I discovered something. My life was not that much different than the two people I was sharing with. Sure, our struggles were different, but all three of us had them.

Learning to be vulnerable there and to continue it in the weeks since, hasn’t been a journey free of fear. I still deal with that. But, I’m learning that the freedom and encouragement that comes with being vulnerable is worth the risk and worth facing the fear every time.

We’re not as strong as we think we are. We’re not as strong as we would like to be. We need other people who really know us. God created us that way. We have to take the risk to be vulnerable. It’s the only way to really live.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Learning to Listen

I spent my May long-weekend camping with friends (hence the lack of posts since Thursday last week). It had been a few years since I had camped and far too long since I took time away from normal life that wasn't to go to something - a wedding, a conference, etc. It really was a relaxing and fun weekend.

Being away made me realize that there is something important about getting away from "normal life" every once in a while that is necessary. While I was there, I didn't worry about cleaning my house (just doing the dishes after eating), or about what I was going to wear (just wanted to be comfortable) or even what I was going to do next (I figured that out as one game or conversation came to an end). And I needed that.

I needed that time out with friends to be refreshed. It didn't take some big event for that to happen. Just some time to enjoy the company of other people and not worry about everything else in life.

The first night we were there, I woke up in the middle of the night. I couldn't go back to sleep right away, so I grabbed my jacket and headed to the beach. I sat on the beach for half an hour and just listened to everything around me. And I talked to God. No one else was up. As I sat in the silence, I was able to hear God's voice.

Sunday afternoon brought some time in a canoe. Peaceful. Quiet. Once again I was able to hear God's voice.

Monday morning was one last chance to sit at the beach and listen. And again I heard God speak.

As I've reflected on how easy it seemed to hear God's voice when I was there, I've also wondered why it seems so hard sometimes in everyday life. Often I struggle to hear God's voice.

Earlier today it struck me. The reason why I struggle to hear God's voice most of the time is because I don't slow down enough and get quiet enough to actually listen. I rush through life, and in the midst of the noise of it all, I often miss God's still small voice speaking. I heard God speak when I was camping because I stopped and made the space.

But I also know I don't have to get away to hear God speak. I can learn how to hear Him speak in the midst of my everyday life. But I have to learn how to create space to listen in it. If I don't create that space, I'll keep missing His voice. But if I learn to create that space to hear Him speak, I won't always be waiting until I can get away to hear God speak.

How are you doing at creating space in your life to hear God speak?

When was the last time you heard God speak to you?

How can you make time to hear God speak in your everyday life?

Thursday, May 16, 2013

In the Beginning God . . .

"In the beginning God . . . " (Genesis 1:1)

I didn't get far in my Bible reading the other day. I didn't get past these four words that begin Genesis 1. The first four words in Scripture.

Four simple words that convey an incredible truth.

God was there from the beginning . . .
. . . from the beginning of creation.
. . . from the beginning of my life.
. . . from the beginning of your life.

That may not seem like anything big, or anything new. But it's something important.

"In the beginning God . . ."

If God was there from the beginning, then He knows it all. He has seen it all. There is nothing hidden from Him. (Scripture tells us this elsewhere. See Hebrews 4:13.)

God has been there from the beginning of my life - from the beginning of your life.

God has been there from the beginning of anything that has happened or will happen.

That means everything is about God. Because everything comes from Him. He is the Source of everything we need.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Generosity in Giving

The subject of giving our money can be a touchy one. We don't like it when other people talk to us about our money - especially if we didn't ask them first. I don't like it, so I've usually avoided the topic on my blog. But for the last week or so, I haven't been able to shake this post. It just keeps coming when I sit down to write.

In 2 Corinthians 8 & 9, Paul talks about giving money. He was writing to the church in Corinth about a collection for the poor of the church of Jerusalem specifically. Paul commends the church for their willingness to give out of what they had to help others - even when they didn't have a lot themselves.

Now that we have the context for this writing, there are a couple of verses specifically speaking to generosity that have stuck with me.

"Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." (2 Corinthians 9:6-7)

Paul was reminding his readers of the importance of generosity in their giving. He wasn't telling them there was a certain amount they had to give, but was encouraging them to be generous.

Generosity was a value Paul was emphasizing to his readers. He reminded them of a very simple truth about the results of giving generously or giving sparingly. Generous giving results in generosity from God in our own lives. This generosity from God is not promised to be in terms of earthly wealth - Paul is speaking of a spiritual reward here. But when we choose to be generous with what we have on earth, God is generous with us.

These two chapters in 2 Corinthians are not the only place where Scripture talks about giving to God for use in furthering His kingdom. But they are the two where I've been spending my time recently. And they have challenged me in the area of generosity in my life.

Am I being generous with what God has given me?

Are you being generous with what God has given you?

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Finally Understanding What We Had Always Missed Before

Do you have verses in the Bible you read that you don't seem to understand? And then something changes and you understand what it means when you read it the next time?

That's what happened to me recently. In the midst of God doing what He's been doing in my life, clarity and understanding of something in Scripture came.

"For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that set itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)

For most of  my life, I've read these verses and liked what they have to say. They've been highlighted in every Bible I own. But, the truth was I didn't really know what they meant. What they said sounded good, but very little of what they said was true in my life.

A couple days ago I read these verses again and read them differently than before. Something made sense about them that had never made sense before. Instead of reading them and wishing they were true of my life, I read them and realized they were true of my life.

In the last month and a bit, God has been showing me what He meant when He had Paul write these words. The battle we're involved in isn't something we see on this world. It's something that requires the weapons we fight with to have divine power. Without this divine power strongholds in our lives can't be broken. God in us is the reason why we have the ability to fight these battles.

As I read these verses again, it dawned on me that I'd been having a hard time understanding what they meant and seeing them as true in my life, because I was confused about whose power was supposed to be at work. I had always read these verses as something I had to do. It was about me working to have this in my life.

But, I couldn't have been more confused about it. It's not about me. It's about God in me and through me. That's the difference I saw today when I read these verses again.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Five Minute Friday: Comfort

It's Friday and time for Five Minute Friday again today. Writing for five minutes, no editing or over-thinking, and then sharing it. Although, I will say that this week I saw another Five Minute Friday post this morning, so I knew what the word was, and I've been sort of writing this post in my head for the better part of the day.

Today's word is: COMFORT.

Do you seek comfort in your life? Or do you follow God, even if the place He's taking you isn't comfortable?

We spend our lives seeking comfort. We want a safe place to live. We want the right things in that place to make us comfortable. We want friends and things to do that bring us comfort in life.

In his letters to the Corinthians, Paul talks about God being a God of comfort. But I wonder if when we think about the comfort God offers the wrong way. The comfort God offers is not one of being physically comfortable.

What if the God of comfort is not about physical comforts, but about something else?

God doesn't promise that life on this earth will be one of ease and pleasure. But Scripture tells us He will provide us with comfort. Comfort in the midst of whatever life throws our way.

Sometimes that means we have to follow God to places it may be uncomfortable to go. Again, I'm not talking about physical spaces. I'm talking about following God into those areas of our lives where He wants to do some work.

It may not be comfortable, but we go there with a God who comforts us in the middle of it. What better way to live?

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Deal With the Roots

It's a simple gardening truth . . . if something is growing above the ground, there's some roots growing underground.

Sometimes those things growing are good, and we want the roots to be strong and grow down deep so the plant can thrive.

Sometime those things growing are weeds and we don't want them to strong roots. We hope that they have shallow roots that are easy to remove, so the weed doesn't just come back. If the whole root isn't pulled up, the weed will just come back again.

(OK, that's the extent of my gardening knowledge . . . don't ask me to keep a plant alive.)

This same concept can be applied to our spiritual lives as well. I've heard a lot about this is the last couple weeks.

If something is showing itself in our lives, it's because the roots are there for it to grow. Whether good or bad, it comes from somewhere below the surface.

Those things that are good in our lives - those are things we want to go down deep inside us. Because we want them to stay.

Those things in our lives we wish we didn't do - those sins we struggle with - those are the things where we want to remove them from our lives root and all. We really hope they don't have deep roots, because that makes it more work to remove them.

Just stopping doing something we don't like, may not be enough if it's coming from somewhere that we don't deal with. Then we're just removing the part that's above the ground and it will come back. We have to take out the root if we don't want it to come back.

It's not always easy to get the whole root out - whether in our physical gardens or in our lives. It takes work to dig down and find the whole root so we can pull it out. But it is worth it.

Dealing with the root is important. We can't ignore it, because it won't go away on its own.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Risk When We Begin to Walk Out Our Freedom

I learned an important lesson this week. One of those things I'm sure I've learned before, but that I needed to be reminded of again. One day it will stick, but until it does, I'm thankful God is patient enough to teach me the same thing over and over again.

What is the lesson I learned?

That when I try to do things out of my own effort I just end up tired and discouraged. Tired because it takes more than I have in me to do it myself. Discouraged because I find myself back where I was before God brought freedom and healing in my life.

The truth is I have to walk out the freedom and healing God brings in my life, but I can't do it in my own strength. Living it out has to be God in me for it to really work.

I've found that it can be really easy to fall into the trap of trying to live it out of my own effort. When things are going well, we can forget to acknowledge God as the Source of our victory. When things aren't going well, we think that if we just try harder things will get better. In short, we turn to relying on human effort to live it out.

But whatever we try to do ourselves doesn't help. There is only one thing we can do that does help when we've fallen into the trap of human effort. Acknowledge it and run back to God to start again with it being lived out of dependence on Him.

This week, I'm grateful that I can do this as often as I need to, because God wants it for me. So He will let me come running back. And hopefully the times this happens occur less frequently over time.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Walking into Freedom

Walls come tumbling down
Walls I've built so high
Walls I thought protected me
That really kept me bound
Sunlight shines in darkness
On places long kept hidden
Pushing away the shadows
That I've used to keep me safe
Exposing what's within me
The things I've tried to hide
I thought I'd feel ashamed
Instead I feel relieved
His love envelops me
Forgiveness, grace, and mercy
No judgement here
An invitation to be freed
Chains are broken
Prison bars are gone
Wounds are healed
He beckons me to come
Walk out into that sunshine
Leave the old behind
No looking back or holding on
To what I was before
I've been called to something better
I have been set free
I have been made new
I can start again
Now I am free
Now I am healed
Now my wounds are scars
Because He came for me
I won't forget where I came from
That's what makes me me
But I don't have to live that way
I have been set free

Friday, May 3, 2013

Five Minute Friday: Brave

Joining in with Five Minute Friday again this week. Today's word is "brave."

Being vulnerable and trusting others requires us to be brave.

It can be a scary thing to open ourselves up to being hurt. To share the stuff with others that could be used against us if they have malicious intent. We have to be brave to do it.

But it's so necessary in our lives. Being brave is required to really live. We can't really live unless we choose to be vulnerable and to trust people with our stuff. We have to be brave.

It doesn't mean we do so without thinking. We may choose the people with whom we share carefully. But have to be brave enough to actually share.

When we choose to do so we reap the rewards of being brave. Because we get to truly live. And we get to have real friends - people who know us and still love us. All because we were brave enough to start trusting and being vulnerable with them.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Desperate Faith

As I was thinking about what to write for here today, I found myself going back through some of the first posts I put up here, and I came across one that spoke to me today with where I'm at. So much so, that I'm doing something I've not done before on this blog - I'm reposting that post today.

I originally wrote and posted this on October 30, 2007.

I was reading in Mark earlier today and I was totally struck by this whole idea of desperate faith when I read the story of the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years in Mark 5:25-34.

Here was this woman who had been declared unclean by her culture for the last twelve years. She was unable to touch anything or anyone without making it unclean! She had spent all her money on doctors and nothing had gotten better . . . it had gotten worse!!! I mean, can you imagine being in her place?!?!? No one wanted anything to do with her, she wasn't allowed into the Temple to worship God because she was unclean. Her entire world had pushed her aside!

Yet, she hears about Jesus and His power to heal people. She decides that the chance to be healed is worth whatever it will take to touch Jesus . . . just to touch the clothes He wore. She knows that she will be healed if she does this. And so, she takes the chance!

She goes in amongst the crowd of people around Jesus. And slowly, carefully, makes her way towards Jesus. I imagine out of habit she was being careful not to touch anyone as she walked though the crowd . . . although, even taking the chance of walking through the crowd would not have been appreciated by anyone in the crowd.

But, she was willing to take the chance of touching someone else . . . of someone else's disdain as they saw her and tried to avoid her for the sake of being healed! She had come to such a point of desperation that she was willing to risk everything to get to Jesus! Nothing mattered to her anymore except getting to Jesus and being healed. She had faith that Jesus could heal her and so she took the risk. She was desperate to be healed and so she took the risk!

All this got me thinking about my own life.

What am I desperate enough for that I will risk everything to get it?

What am I dealing with that needs Jesus' healing touch that I am desperate enough to be healed of that I will risk everything to get to Jesus and have Him heal it?

Am I willing to risk my reputation, my pride, the respect of others to get to Jesus to be healed?

Am I desperate enough yet?

As I thought, I very quickly thought of an area in my life where I need Jesus' healing, but I'm not yet sure if I'm desperate enough to risk everything to get that healing. I want to be . . . I think. But, yet, sometimes I feel like I might be OK with that area of my life the way it is. And, yet, I know that I don't want it to remain that way.

Am I willing to ask God to make me desperate enough that I will risk everything to receive healing in that area of my life?

That's a risky prayer to pray!

Do I really want to ask God to do that?

He might not do it the way I would like.

But, I've been inspired by the story of this woman - these few verses in the entire Bible - and her desperate faith that Jesus could heal her. I want that kind of desperate faith. I want to be willing to risk it all to receive Jesus' healing touch!

And, the best part is, when we take that chance and act on that desperate faith . . . Jesus does bring healing!

As I reread this post, I found myself reflecting on one paragraph in it. The one about the area of my life I could think of then where I needed God's healing. Even now, 6 - 1/2 years later, I know what I was talking about then. Mostly because it took me that long to get to the point where I was desperate enough to risk everything to get that healing. But, now that I've been there, I don't want it to take me that long to seek healing again.