Says Easy, Does Hard

Love your neighbor as you love yourself.  Matthew 19:19 

This whole “love your neighbor as yourself” business says easy, but does hard, and there’s a reason for that.  Jesus regularly taught principles that rankled people and caused a shift in their perspective.  Jesus’ own disciples, upon hearing him proclaim in the temple that they must eat his flesh and drink his blood if they wanted to be one with him, said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”  Many didn’t, and the herd was thinned that day.

Truth:  There are times when living for Jesus says easy, but does hard!

We often face a struggle of the will when trying to put self in a bottle.  Being creatures with egos, we find it difficult to live out the fullness of this hard teaching about love. This week, though, Jesus has opened my eyes to see the contrast between how we help one another and how the world does it.  In the world, help denotes payback.  Few people who live without Jesus in their heart freely give either love or possessions. Some, but not many. Whereas inside the church, we’re all striving to share selfless love on a daily basis, and not just with church members.  Be it generosity, kindness, toys, or tools—we regularly share with others in ways that meet or exceed the way we take care of ourselves.

Today, if you are finding it hard to love others on the same level as you love you, know, you’re not alone.  We’re all finding it hard, given the day. Here is what I know: The only thing that stretches our Jesus muscles, is lifting Jesus weights.

What part of the Christian journey do you find says easy, but does hard?

 

 

 

 

 

Be a Jonah…try, try again!

Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.” Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it.  Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.”  The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.   Jonah 3:1-5 

There are several things about today’s Bible passage that pique my interest.

First, Nineveh was a large city. Large enough that it took THREE days to walk through it. That’s Big!

Also of interest is the fact that the Ninevites believed Jonah when he finally got around to speaking to them about God and the destruction that was coming. They believed him so thoroughly that they prepared their hearts for punishment, even as they hoped for mercy.

The Ninevites quick decision to take action is impressive, I think. Once they heard what God was planning for them, they immediately stopped their evils ways, confessed their wrongs, and fasted and prayed, going several days without food, nor water.  The king of Nineveh even ordered that the cattle go on a fast with the rest of the city.  Everyone in Nineveh stopped what they were doing and prayed, prayed earnestly, to the God of Jonah, Yahweh.

Can you imagine the noise the cattle made when they’d gone just one day without food or water? The wailing that must have produced–I bet the commotion put goose bumps on arms all over town–and I bet it only intensified after the sun went down!  No sleep for anyone in Nineveh until this sitch had been dealt with properly.  No sleep!

The most amazing thing about this passage for me, though, is the fact that…

God gave Jonah a second chance!

 A second change, people!!!!  How good is our God!

Like Jonah, we let the Lord down, don’t we?

Like Jonah, we run in the opposite direction from His will for us, sometimes.

Like Jonah, we care about our own skin before we care about other’s.

Like Jonah, we find serving God in ways that are relevant to him, troublesome for us.

Like Jonah, we’ve failed God when he’s called us the first time, and like Jonah, we need that second chance. 

Today, if you know anyone like Jonah, will you pray for him or her? Will you ask God to give them a second chance?  Will you ask Him to put them in a spot where they’re motivated to do what He wants them to do, even if that means rough times for them?

Will you pray for their inner fortitude, strength, and faith in the only true God?  If you will, you’ll need fortification to do that job, right?  A touch from God?!  Let’s pray…

Who do you know that is a Jonah, in need of a second chance?  When have you been in need of the same?

 

 

Healing Words Speaking Grace

The following is an excerpt from Cyndy Sherwood’s devotional, Healing Words.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  2 Corinthians 12:9a

“I have hung my hope on this truth more times than I can count. When I was remembering the horrible abuse of my childhood, his grace was sufficient. Later, when my step-daughter took her life, his grace was sufficient. When my husband had no work, his grace was sufficient. 

It is in the hard times we can most easily see his unlimited resources and his tender heart toward us.  He delights in taking care of us during adversity.  It also gives God pleasure to do great things through unlikely people.  When he accomplishes his work through weak people it reveals his unlimited power.”

Cyndy goes on to talk about grace as “a dynamic expression of the divine personality, rather than as a static attribute of God’s nature,” which is The Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible’s definition of grace.  Cyndy believes that when God transfers His power into our lives, then, we get a glimpse of His grace as it was meant to operate in our world.  “When God is working in and through us,” she says, “that is His grace.”

I love Cyndy’s description of grace in her devotional.  It speaks to partnership, and intimacy, and the give-and-take that accompanies demonstrations of God’s grace in my life.

We give our weakness to God and He fills us with His power!

Today, if you’re facing a lion, a bear, or a shadow of fear…so that you’re not sure whether you can finish what God’s given you to do or not, won’t you reach out to Him and ask for a little grace to get you through?

He’s a good, good father, and he love, love, love, loves his kids.  Today, let’s trust God a little bit more in our weakness.

What do you think about grace? How do you define grace in your life?

 

Reviewing Romans

I posted yesterday that I’m moving on with my Bible reading, and using my Bible Jar to let God direct my reading. His pick?  Ezekiel!

Ezekiel AGAIN, I should say!

This is my SECOND time reading Ezekiel in three months’ time.  Believe me, left to my own devices, I would not have picked this book to read even once, let alone TWO times, but I’m sure there is a message in there for me somewhere; one especially relevant to where I am in my faith journey right now.  I suspect it has to do with speaking boldly about the other side of grace.  You know it, right? That side of grace that is not gold-plated or fun to experience, or anything we could call human success.

THE OTHER SIDE OF GRACE

The other side of grace is punishment, and while we might do all we can to mitigate it or down right avoid it, the truth is that there are things to learn in the wood shed we cannot learn anywhere else.  Valuable things.  Timely things.  God-things!

I will be sharing some of my impressions from the book of Ezekiel once I’ve gotten into it a little further.  For now, I want to share some of what struck me as important as I read through Romans, the last book of the Bible God directed me to read.

I LOVE/HATE PAUL’S EPISTLES

I love Romans. I love Acts. I love/hate the Apostle Paul’s writings!

I love how Paul says what he thinks—exactly what he thinks–but I hate that he seems like a chauvinist sometimes.  I can say that here, because this is my blog, and it’s how I’ve honestly felt in the past when reading Paul’s work.  Today, I’m okay with who he was and what he wrote, because I can see what he says in greater context and so I don’t get so offended as I once did.  I don’t have time for all the drama involved in fighting Paul on the subject of women and how he chooses to address them in Scripture. His opinions are his (and sometimes God’s), and I’m okay with Paul being Paul at this juncture in life.  Why not?  We all add something different to the faith recipe, right?  And Paul has added a lot of spice, so I’m more likely to applaud him than dis him these days.

BUT I DIGRESS

What I really wanted to share here today is my thoughts, my significant thoughts, on the book of Romans. Here goes. I think…

Sin is awful and uncontrollable in/by us, but thankfully Jesus can handle it.

Anyone absorbed in self, ignores God.

Ignoring God causes a hobbling in my spirit, even as it displeases him.  A lose/lose proposition.

We need to give our old life a decent burial, and get on with the adventure!

Mercy is God’s thing! He grants grace to us, and not the other way ‘round.

God sets everything right between Him and us when we 1. Call upon Him for help. 2. Trust in Him to provide help. 3.  Release and relinquish those things we’d previously been holding on to that get between God and us. 4.  Practice intimacy with Him.

God will not walk away from Israel, even though she walks away from Him.  There still exists a fierce minority in Israel that trusts God, and they will be the agents of peace that partner with God when the broken olive branch (broke through disobedience), gets grafted back in.  If their break meant a grafting for the Gentiles, just imagine what their being grafted back onto the trunk [God], will mean for the world.  An explosion of power unseen before!

Placing your everyday life in God’s hands makes it possible for amazing things to happen in your life.

We should run from evil as fast as we can.

We don’t bring goodness to God, that He should be grateful to us. He brings it to us—and we SHOULD be grateful to Him!

We serve God best when we do so authentically.

Problems with being authentic begin with human pride, and are not the work of God.

We need to practice being second fiddle until we get really, really good at it!

[side note: a friend recently said something to the effect of, “I love people who race others to get to the bottom of the pile.”  I think she’s onto something there.  God first, others next, us last—always.]

Others need to be loved by us as well as we love ourselves.

It profits us nothing to be greedy—we will all kneel at the same place and time in the end.

Welcome those who don’t see things as you do, and don’t let something as temporary as food divide you.

If the way you live isn’t consistent with what you teach, then the way you’re living (or teaching), is wrong.

Jesus took on the troubles of the troubled, and stayed true to God’s purpose. Do likewise.

Hospitality is important, don’t let anyone tell you differently.

Love on others, complimenting those who deserve it [and I would add, need it].

What is your favorite passage from Romans?  Why do you love it so??

 

Ezekiel!

Happy Monday, everyone!

I’m beginning my week with writing about my quiet time once again, and the prayer jar I’ve talked about in the past.  Last Friday I finished up my reading in Romans, and was jones-in’ for my next pick from the prayer jar, but wanted to wait until another busy weekend had passed before I drew a new tab.

Can I say I’m loving the way this thing is going?  I’m loving how God is directing my Bible reading!!

I rubbed my eyes awake this morning with one thought on my mind, picking another tab from the jar.  I was so excited.

I prayed, then picked, and do you know what my finger found?

Ezekiel! 

Again!

This will be my SECOND reading from the book of Ezekiel in three months-time.  I think God must have a message for me in this peculiar book of prophecy.

Such an odd little book, but here I go…

Do you have a systematic way for reading through God’s Word?  What is your favorite passage from the book of Ezekiel?

Owe nothing but love

Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. Romans 13:8 KJV

Is it a good thing that the Good Book says to owe no man any thing, except your love?

It is if you are inclined to love.  If you seek out love and you’re willing to impart it to others, then a commandment to love one another comes as an easy guideline to follow.  If, however, you’re one taken to pride, or loving yourself more than others, or being miserly with your material belongs, you will find a commandment to love others a heavy burden…maybe too heavy to bear.

Oh, Christian, I hope you are among the former and not the later with regards to this command to love.   

Love works no ill to his neighbor… (vs 10).

The Bible is full of hints on how to love, how to encourage, and how to effectively display love in a community setting.  Life gives us plenty of opportunities to practice love too…to show love, share love, and embrace the love that comes back to us from others.  While some folks might be hesitant to love without restraint, others have this amazing capacity for love that baffles the mind, almost.  Would that we all spent more time praying for that love gift—for the Bible says love covers over a multitude of sins, and who wouldn’t profit from having their sins covered over more often?

This morning, would you be willing to pray for God to make you a more loving person?

Would you be willing to take a chance on love once more?

Would you be willing to put yourself in a position where others could depend on your love to be gentle with their hearts?

If you would, God can use you in mighty ways: exciting, wonderful, compassionate, and mighty ways!  It all begins with intentional living.  Today, let’s love on one another and see what happens.

By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another. -Jesus

Who do you find it hard to love?  What is your love language?

Disobedience & Disappointment

Then God spoke to Samuel: “I’m sorry I ever made Saul king. He’s turned his back on me. He refuses to do what I tell him.”  1 Samuel 15:10-11

Could there be any sadder words than those spoken by God shortly after having Saul anointed king?  Read the prayer prompt for this morning once again, slowly.  Can you hear the disappointment in God’s voice?  Can you tell how heartsick He is that the one he chose to favor above all the Hebrew nation turned out to be a betrayer?

Are we refusing to do what God tells us to do?

Sometimes we wander through this adventure we’re having with God with little conscious care for the things that matter to Him: Time with us. Intimacy with Him. A love that is proven through obedience. We miss out on divine blessings because of our careless attitudes, and we get God miffed when we “forget” what he told us to do, or worse yet, outright refuse.

1 Samuel 15, reminds us how angry the king’s response to God made the Prophet.  The Bible says Samuel prayed his anger and disappointment all through the night, before going to hunt the king down (vs 11-12 MSG).

Yikes!  I can’t imagine how those prayers must have energized Samuel’s resolve.  How they must have fueled every word he spoke later, when he finally caught up with the king and rebuked him publicly.  I hope I’m never the focus of those kinds of prayers, and I hope you never are either.

Today as we spend some time with God, let’s reaffirm to Him our willingness to do what he asks us to do. Easy, hard, or seemingly impossible, it doesn’t matter.  Where God’s finger points, his hand always makes a way! We have no excuses.  We can obey him! All we need to do it is a little bit of prayer to embolden us and a heart ready to faithfully serve.  Today, let’s exercise both.

When have you been disappointed by a good friend? When have you disobeyed God?

It was a Nasty, Smelly, Rotten habit

 My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love. This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality. It’s also the way to shut down debilitating self-criticism, even when there is something to it. For God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves. 3: 18-20

I was blown away when I read the verses shown above in my quiet time today.  It was as if God had one hand on my left shoulder and was peering over my right shoulder in a backward embrace as I read.  A fatherly hug!

It felt like His Spirit was running his holy finger across the page of the Bible, emphasizing each word as he underscored them for my psyche on the page.  Man, oh man, does Papa God know what I need.

“It’s also the way to shut down debilitating self-criticism, even when there is something to it (1 John 3:19).” 

THE NASTY, SMELLING, ROTTEN HABIT

I’m not sure whether I’ve shared this with my readers here before, but I’m someone who’s indulged in self-loathing a time or two…or a lot!  In the past, when I made a mistake, it became in my mind the worst mistake that anyone of my station had ever made, ever.  It totally defined me and made me miserable.

I practiced this overwhelming degree of self-criticism to such an extent that it became an addiction for me.  A nasty, dark, dank, and debilitating addiction, dripping with self-hatred and loathing, and destroying any joy I might have otherwise experienced in this world.

In those days when I was practicing my addicition, I held myself to an unattainable standard, while I made succeeding in life all about me: How much energy I had on a particular day, how much power to negate what I’d done wrong,  and how much of a force field I had humming around me to protect me from myself.  It was awful.

Sometimes there was “something to it,” this need to criticize that I felt I deserved. But there was never a legitimate reason for me treating myself the way I did.

I had no grace for Lori, and today I find that sad.

If you have not been someone prone to self-recrimination, you have no idea what I dealt with on a daily basis with this habit of mine. The fear. The anticipation associated with “screw ups” of the past, and the dread  that they might happen again…the deeply held belief that I would do it again, and that while I might be able to muster forgiveness for others who did likewise, there would be none for me.

SPIRIT CHANGE

I don’t struggle with an addiction to self-criticism anymore.  Today, I have a normal amount of distaste for the mistakes and missteps I make in life. Today, I forgive myself much sooner, love myself through Christ to a deeper degree, and expect only a usual amount of accountability and skilled performance when going about my duties for my Lord.  I’m only human.

Being human, I can’t expect to be perfect.  The belief that I can be is a lie, and not only a lie, but worse than a lie.

I have learned that striving to be perfect is akin to commissioning the carving of a false idol and positioning it in the middle of my backyard.  This beautiful statue would tower over the rest of the garden there, fill the center of it completely and draw the attention of everyone who saw it to its gracefully poised impeccability.

The problem with that plan would be two-fold. 1.  The statue would distract everyone, including me especially, from the marvel of nature that abounds because of God’s touch in our world, and 2. It would stink to high heaven!  Worse than any manure pile you’re ever smelled on a hot July day.  It would have to stink, because it would be a monument to evil.  The nastiest, rottenest, most sensual and beautiful piece of wickedness ever carved by human hands.  That is what perfection is to me now, and what I think of when I remember what I did with God’s beautiful and imperfect being: me.

THE TRUTH ABOUT THE ENEMY’S LIES

In writing this post, I want to share with my readers my new understanding that self-loathing is just another way for satan to trip us up, keep us from God, and ruin all the beauty He intended for us to enjoy in this life.  The enemy’s lies never lead to joy, but steadily send us in the other direction, until at last we are sitting on a dung pile and hating ourselves with every fiber of our being.

If you have struggled for some time with the idea of perfection and wanting to be its poster child, you know what I mean.  As I’m writing this post, God is reminding me of what Joshua said to the tribes a short time before he left them for that better land God promises all those who truly trust in him.

“…if you refuse to serve the LORD, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the LORD.”  Joshua 24:15

I’m not longer bowing to perfectionism in my life.  I know the perfect One, and he isn’t me.  Come, Lord Jesus, and help me see you more clearly. Come, Lord Jesus, and help me surrender more fully to You!

Are you someone who has expected perfection from yourself, and been unsatisfied with anything less?  Has this kind of practice made your life harder than it needed to be?

 

Hornets: Gift or Plague?

hornet nest

“The citizens of Jericho fought against you, as did also the Amorites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hittites, Girgashites, Hivites and Jebusites, but I gave them into your hands.  I sent the hornet ahead of you, which drove them out before you—also the two Amorite kings. You did not do it with your own sword and bow.  So I gave you a land on which you did not toil and cities you did not build; and you live in them and eat from vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant.”  Joshua 24:11-13

How many of you love hornets, let see a show of hands?

I thought so.  Hornets are the worst!

Every spring they begin again making their papery nests behind our window shutters and under our front porch. Every year we spray to kill as many as we can, and every year they begin again…building, building, building.

As much as they are a nuisance to me and mine, hornets provide a valuable service to God.  They pollinate his gardens, become food sources for his birds (I hear Magpies love them!), and in some cases hornets have been used of God to route armies and ensure victory for his kids.

Hornets serve as valuable tools in the hand of our mighty God!

As I pen this devotional, I’m aware that some of you you might have a few hornets buzzing around your heads.  I say that tongue in cheek, because I’m not really writing about hornets here, but metaphorical hornets; those difficult people in your life that seem to serve no purpose but to plague you.

It might be tempting to think, “If only that one could be removed from my life, everything would be fine.  Oh, how I wish God would take him/her away; far, far away.”

I’ve been there, and I know your pain, but here’s the thing: That hard to handle hornet in your life is there for a reason.  God knows they plague you, and He knows you wish them gone, but he has a purpose for them in your life today.

Today, let’s try to see the hornets in our lives a little differently.

Let’s practice forgiveness.

Let’s thank God for them despite the sting they often inflict, and let’s ask Him to bless them abundantly today.

If we can do that, JUST THAT, even as they continue to cause us pain, we will have achieved something wonderful in our attempts to be more like Jesus.

Our Lord, when crucified said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34).”  Your hornets don’t know either. If they did, they wouldn’t make life miserable for the Lord’s anointed.

Today, let’s pray good things for our enemies, for in so doing, we become more exact images of the Lord who blessed us when we, ourselves, were hornets.

 What do you find the hardest part of forgiving?  When have you acted the hornet in someone else’s life?

 

20 ways I could be more like Jesus

This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.  1 John 2:5b-6

Having recently finished up the book of Joshua for my Bible reading and devotional times, I went back to my prayer jar and pulled another tab.  1 John!  I’m excited, and I’m already learning from this teeny, tiny epistle.  Before I share with you my impressions from 1 John, though, I want to briefly comment on Joshua.

Can I say I love the book of Joshua? I do!  There is so much goodness I have gleaned from the story of Moses’ No. 1 right hand guy taking over the leadership of the Hebrew people after his death.  I love, too, that the book begins with a warning to be strong and not fearful, and to take off your shoes, for where you stand is holy ground. When I’m in the Word, I’m treading on holy ground. It was nice to be reminded of that.  It was also nice to be reminded how God worked through Joshua to confront sin, both personally and in his family of origin.  Joshua was one of two guys who believed God as he scoped out the land beyond the Jordan. There were 12 in all, but only Joshua and Caleb came back with confidence in their stride and speech, believing victory could be claimed in God’s Name.  I loved that Caleb is still alive and full of vim and vigor when the land gets divided up among the tribes, finally.  He’s 85 at that point and a self-proclaimed he-man ready to clear the land and defend her against all invaders, foreign or domestic.  What a guy. Shows you what good (God) living can do for a fellar.  Yay, Caleb.

Speaking of what a good living can do for you, I’ll switch over to 1 John and write a lil bit about the challenge I found there.

Whoever claims to live in him [God] must live as Jesus did (1 John 2:6).

Reading that statement in Scripture made me think.  How did Jesus live, and how would my life need to change in order to better reflect how he lived?  Here is the short list of what I came up with after thinking on it for a few minutes. I’d love to hear your thoughts or suggestions.

If I were to live more like Jesus, I’d have to…

Eat more fish.

Walk more.

Socialize with others more.

Worship more frequently.

Be quiet before God more often.

Always believe.

Forgive, forgive, forgive, holding nothing back.

Embrace controversy.

Be fearless.

Surrender to God more fully.

Give sin no wiggle room in my life.

Listen and obey.

Love on little kids more.

Make time for what matters.

Feed the hungry.

Cloth the needy.

Visit prisoners.

Make life personal.

When hurt, refuse to show it.

Accept what comes, with contentment and grace.

Honestly speaking, I’d have to change a lot about my current way of relating to this world to be more like Jesus.  My two biggest hurdles would be accepting what comes with contentment and grace, and visiting prisoners more. I don’t think I’ve done the former often enough, and I’ve never done the later.

What would you add to the Live-More-Like-Jesus Checklist above?  Where are you excelling in this discipline, and where are you falling flat on your face, and/or need to improve?