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Posts Tagged ‘promise’

ashesThere is something to be said about the Church calendar. Or any calendar, I guess. There is a turning of the pages and steady pace to the days and weeks and months. Some people mark the time with Christmas or the first day of school (what used to be the day after Labor Day), but for me, it’s Ash Wednesday.

Usually, when this day comes along, I have been thinking and praying and pondering how I will engage my God more deeply. This year, the day descended like roller coaster. What? When did the year pass? How is it possible that this year hellish sorrows and losses and change could be done and I am back to Ash Wednesday again. I’m not ready. I don’t have a plan.

And yet, I made it to church and I worked through the little activities of introspection and I promised to look again, to search again, to confess again, and to write again about the journey.

The ashes remind us of our mortality. I have been reminded of that every day since Mike died. It could have been me instead of him. I could have had the heart attack. It could have been different. And it still could be.

But now is now and today is what is and it’s Ash Wednesday. Lent begins and God is calling me back into the bosom of the Spirit. “Indwell. Abide. Hang out with Me, for I, Yahweh, am faithful.” Hear the voice of God.

Come prodigal daughter, it’s time to confess the truth of your vacuumed soul. Empty now. Full later.

Let go of those things that crowd out the Presence. It’s time. Make room, one step at a time.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. [John 15:5]

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tearsLike so many things in life, we are part of a circle. As we help bear the burdens of others, God bears ours (and that of the others we took upon ourselves). When a friend’s heart is heavy or circumstances pouring over them, we have a responsibility to help. Our fear is that we will be crushed or infected. But God’s promise is sure:

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. [Galatians 6:2, NIV] Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens. [Psalm 68:19, NIV]

I had the opportunity this week to meet someone new and to hear her story, filled with disapmourn with those who mournpointment and sorrow. She needed to talk. She needed someone to listen. She need to offload. My cost was only time and my faith that God would ultimately carry the most of it. We are all so similar. Human pain and loss is universal. It’s easier to see it in others than to walk it. But time does bring some reprieve and the touch of others helping us hold up our heads, our hearts, our souls.

Another brother in my extended community of faith has passed, a contemporary with my own husband. I cannot reach out physically to his wife who has moved away, but I do lift her and her family up in prayer. This lifting is a conscious carrying that is just as important as listening or talking to someone in person. Prayer is vital to burden bearing. Even though she may not know about it, God is faithful. And another, closer to me, will feel the call to hold her close, to wipe her tears, to sit and listen, to laugh when she laughs and to weep when she weeps. [Romans 12:15] It is the way of faith.

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thank youIt’s pretty simple really, and repeated throughout scripture, from the Old Testament to the New, we are encouraged to “give thanks.” It’s a natural response and when it’s genuine, it’s the cinch to a bow or knot, those words wrap up the exchange. . . for that moment, for that day perhaps. But it’s never too late to reopen the conversation and it’s never too late to give thanks, whether it’s to God or to a stranger. The words carry power, the sentiment carries humanity and when thoughtfully given, recognizes the I-Thou in the other.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. [Psalm 107:1, NIV]
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. [I Thessalonians 5:16-18, NIV]
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. [I Chronicles 16:34, NIV]
Where human thanksgings, one to another, are considered polite and, unfortunately, in many cases, somewhat rote and even cavalier, the command to give thanks to God is fraught with much more weight. This is increasingly clear when life becomes overwhelming. But Paul, in I Thessalonians, admonishes us to give thanks in ALL circumstances (both delightful and dreadful). Well, we might think, “surely God doesn’t mean I am to give thanks for illness or corruption or betrayal or sorrow?”

Yes and no. I am not giving thanks for the situation itself but I am giving thanks that God is still in the midst of that state of affairs, and because God is there, I am promised that I can have confidence in the outcome, which will be God-covered (one way or another, sooner or later). I can, if I so choose, rest in this truth. I am given the opportunity to trust God again and again. I am given the chance to confirm my faith, my commitment, my relationship with the Godhead. It is a choice to give thanks. It’s not that the world will come to an end if I don’t, but I can improve my relationship to challenges, in that simple expression.

I am the Lord, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me? [Jeremiah 32:27, NIV]

Thanks. Yeah. Just sayin.’ Thanks.

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God listensI have been told, eventually, I would grow angry over the loss of my husband, who died so unexpectedly. It’s only been a couple of months and people may be right, but today, I can’t really generate emotional wrath. With whom should I be angry? Should I blaze at Mike who experienced the widow maker, when a specific artery to the apex of the heart was blocked and caused nearly “sudden death” (or certainly within minutes). Should shake my fists at adult children who didn’t even know their father was home? Should I chastise myself for being out of town . . . again? Or, the most common fury, at God, who allowed or orchestrated this moment. But if Job couldn’t get away with it, why should I? “I know you can do anything; no plan of yours can be opposed successfully. . . . I have indeed spoken about things I didn’t understand, wonders beyond my comprehension.” [Job 42:1, 3, CEB]

Instead, I see God’s hand manifesting in my daily life now in a way that I never did before. Into my confusion, God still is. Into my sorrow, God speaks. Into my fear, God breathes.

Come close and listen, all you who honor God;
I will tell you what God has done for me:
My mouth cried out to him with praise on my tongue.
If I had cherished evil in my heart, my Lord would not have listened.
But God definitely listened.
He heard the sound of my prayer. Bless God!
He didn’t reject my prayer; he didn’t withhold his faithful love from me.
[Psalm 66:16-20, CEB]

Back in the day when I used to speak to women’s groups and conferences as well as perform my one-woman show, I would share my testimony. And at the end of the story, I would always remind them that I was the “woman at the well,” “the woman who washed Jesus’s feet with her hair,” the woman caught in the sin of adultery.” And now, in my widowhood, I am her again, for I am thrown into His mercy.

Today, I am able to stand against the bitterness that stole Naomi’s heart [Ruth 1:20] and instead, I take the refrain of Ruth, ““I am your servant Ruth,” she said. “Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a guardian-redeemer of our family.” [Ruth 3:9b, NIV] It’s enough for today.

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Stockphoto by Jessica at Deviant Art

Stockphoto by Jessica at Deviant Art

The essence of the Christian faith is very simple: love the LORD your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and your neighbor as yourself. “On these two commandments hang the law and the prophets” (so written in Matthew 22:38). And yet, most of us are not very good at this kind of loving. Whether we have been faithful followers of Christ for many years or newly minted converts, these two commands trip us up every time. And for this reason, I look forward to intentional times of reflection and self-examination to refresh my focus, whether it’s a retreat or a study or season. Yes, for this reason, I observe Lent each year.

For 2015, I have compiled a devotional for Lent (see Links), with a series of readings and scriptures for meditation. And by meditation, I mean, to read through the selections slowly, to consider, not only their meaning, but their application to present circumstances and faith.

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” [II Chronicles 7:14, NIV]

Within this scripture lives a promise for me (and any believer) which I have read often but I haven’t actively pursued. Why? Because a chase for humility has always been a fear-laden prospect for me. I have blanched at the thought of some inevitable loss or pain that might manifest as part of the humbling “package.” Humility comes with a cost, I think.

And now, here I am, in grief and recovery from the death of my husband. Intellectually, I know his passing had nothing in particular to do with my lack of humility but, at the same time, I see everything in the light of him gone. For, you see, I am humbled by the unexpected turn in our family’s resources and relationships (we lost a breadwinner, a husband, a father, a brother, and an uncle). Only his parents escaped this sorrow, for they preceded him into that place we call heaven.

praying22I am humbled by the outpouring of love from my friends, my church, my colleagues, my neighbors, and even, quite honestly, strangers too. I am humbled by the unexpected journey I face. I am humbled by the years that have passed and how I took them for granted. I am humbled by the steadfastness and nearness of God, the whispers of the indwelling Holy Spirit, as well as the memories and message of Christ Jesus. But more importantly, I am humbled by the call to pray. Really.
And for this reason, “I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” [Psalm 27:13, NIV]

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blessingToday I have decided to memorize a blessing of words and love for anyone in need. I discovered this passage today in Colossians.

Because of this, since the day we [I] heard about you, we [I] haven’t stopped praying for you and asking for you to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will, with all wisdom and spiritual understanding. We’re [I am] praying this so that you can live lives [a life] that are [is] worthy of the Lord and pleasing to him in every way: by producing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God; by being strengthened through his glorious might so that you endure everything and have patience; and by giving thanks with joy to the Father. He made it so you could take part in the inheritance, in light granted to God’s holy people. He rescued us from the control of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son he loves. He set us [you and me] free through the Son and forgave our sins. [Colossians 1:9-14, CEB]

So often, people ask for prayer, at the conclusion of a meeting or on Facebook, or even in the hallway at work. Please pray for me and I, being the dutifully believer, say that I will. But how often do my good intentions slide by and I forget that name or that circumstance. This short prayer covers so much and if I am able to put it to memory, it can be in my mind and in that moment. It’s a complete blessing, full of the riches of promise and good will, grace and hope. And so, even right now, whoever may read this post, know, that I offer these same words to you.

All of these things I pray , in the name of Jesus, who is “the image of the invisible God” [Colossians 1:15].

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Painting by George Oommen, 1997

Painting by George Oommen, 1997

How often do we have the revelation of God’s presence right where we are? Isn’t it more likely that we, too, have missed God and the experience of sacred?

When Jacob woke from his sleep, he thought to himself, The Lord is definitely in this place, but I didn’t know it. He was terrified and thought, This sacred place is awesome. It’s none other than God’s house and the entrance to heaven. [Genesis 28:16-17; CEB]

Jacob had arbitrarily picked out a place to rest. He selected a rock for a pillow. There was nothing in the physical place that would suggest divine properties. And yet, he dreamed. In that dream he saw visions of holy things and messengers and even a representation of God himself, perhaps in the Christ form (since Jesus is the physical manifestation gifted to humans to “see” God). But most importantly, Jacob recognized the time has holy.

So much is unknown about our dream lives, our sub-conscious existences, our personal spirit time. I have had some dramatic dreams in my life and they remain with me still, in some cases, thirty years later. I know those dreams to be holy, to be sacred, as offerings from God. And from them, I have made choices and decisions, the greatest one, to follow Christ and not a life rooted merely in desire.

But how many dreams have I lost? How many moments have I missed or forgotten?

Truthfully, if I could be more present in the moment, more mindful (as the Buddhists say), I would recognize God’s presence daily. If, like Brother Lawrence, I could practice prayer throughout the day, then I would recognize God’s presence by the hour or even by the breath. God’s promise to be present came as part of our covenant, when I accepted Christ Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

Within me lies the sacred. And I keep missing it. For this reason, I have started praying the hours once more, to bring myself back out of the busyness and into the divine.

 

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