foolishness

The Message that points to Christ on the Cross seems like sheer silliness to those hellbent on destruction, but for those on the way of salvation it makes perfect sense. This is the way God works, and most powerfully as it turns out. It’s written,
I’ll turn conventional  wisdom on its head,
I’ll expose so-called experts as crackpots. (a)
So where can you find someone truly wise, truly educated, truly intelligent in this day and age? Hasn’t God exposed it all as pretentious nonsense? Since the world in all its fancy wisdom never had a clue when it came to knowing God, God in his wisdom took delight in using what the world considered dumb—preaching, of all things!—to bring those who trust him into the way of salvation.
(1 Corinthians 1:18-21, (a) Isaiah 29:14, MSG)

Have you ever watched someone’s behavior and thought to yourself, What a fool? Yet, that person is absolutely sure of his/her actions, willing to defend what he/she is doing, and quite capable of doing so. This is how the world sees believers. Where else can you find someone who willingly believes that a God, who cannot be seen, would send a baby to Earth to grow up and die for us? That this same God did this, so we don’t have to do good things to make up for the bad we did. Where else is there a teaching of grace, mercy, redemption, and forgiveness, that doesn’t require restitution of some kind from the person forgiven?

Believers may be seen as being weak, foolish, confused, or delusional by those who don’t know Christ and maybe don’t ever want to know Him. These past few weeks have been filled with natural disasters of all kinds; hurricanes, forest fires, earthquakes, floods, and recently volcanic eruptions. It is causing people to start looking at Scripture and try to find a deadline for Jesus’ return. When the days pass without His appearance, we tend to look like a fool even more. While I firmly believe Jesus’ return is something to pay attention to and for, it is still our mission, our purpose to share Christ. He is The Way to salvation, to redemption, grace, and forgiveness. We will not enter Heaven’s gates without Jesus.

So, I have come to refresh my commitment to Christ. As the days of His return come closer, I know there will be more and more who point fingers and call me a fool, but there will still be others who want to know more of Jesus. My salvation was not because I saved myself, but because I couldn’t. Jesus’ love for me was greater than His love for self-preservation. It is the grace I received through Him, His death in place of mine, that saved me. It is this same grace I want to share with others, so they too, may know the joy of being called a child of God (John 1:12).

 

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grace, love, and fellowship

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all (2 Corinthians 13:14).

Paul’s letters are some of my favorite books in the Bible. They are filled with an urgent passion for those who do not know Christ to waste no time. Paul encourages them to accept the grace He offers to them through His death, burial, and resurrection. It’s as if Paul can see that the early believers’ clocks were running down and the game would soon be over. His zeal and love for those who were seeking Christ and learning His teachings comes through like an energetic Sunday sermon.

As a new believer I couldn’t see the dynamic of the Trinity the way Paul did in the verse above. I didn’t understand that each part brought something that when combined completed the character of God. It was as I studied the New Testament by using the reference verses of my favorite Christian songs that I began to see the layers.

Songs by Rich Mullins, Charlie Peacock, Margaret Becker, and of course, Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith helped my growth like a huge greenhouse. Each month as I grew, I found more and more wisdom in the words I listened to each day. Including a way to view my relationship with my husband.

The unity of the Trinity has come to be a personal reminder of what my marriage needs to look like as well. Each day I can choose to offer grace to my husband or I can criticize what  I think he should or should not do. I can choose to love him unconditionally, as God loves me, or I can withhold that love because he teased me about something that day.

Everyday, I can decide if I will spend time with my husband, offering sweet fellowship to him at the end of the day. Our jobs are mentally demanding and often we feel weighted down by the things we did to resolve the different issues we faced. I can spend time away from him, reading or working on a project or I can sit with him in the living room. We don’t have to talk, we can just be together.

Each of us has the opportunity to give grace, offer love unconditionally, and develop fellowship between ourselves and our neighbors, our loved ones, and the strangers we don’t know yet. Whether we are married, single, divorced, widowed, or our status reads “it’s complicated”, we hold these three gifts in our hands. We can hold them close and hoard them, which makes them less valuable. We can hold them out to those we encounter, offering to them the very things that were offered freely to us.

Grace, Love, Fellowship– may they redefine your life and mine, always.

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roses, daisies, and daffodils

My social media feed has been full of posts which contain a list of twenty questions to answer. If a friend likes it, they too can post to their page and encourage other friends to participate. The first question to answer is, “Who were you named after?” This question always makes me laugh when I am asked about my name. My name, Gretchen, comes from Margaret which means pearl. As a child I hated my name and wished my parents had given me something else- nearly anything else.

It wasn’t until a few years ago, that I realized the beauty of my name. I was meeting with some older women in a prayer group when another woman brought up names and their meanings. As I mentioned my name’s meaning, she immediately reminded me a pearl is made by hard work, the oyster must coat the irritant in its shell to protect itself. Eventually, the grain of sand or stone is surrounded by the smooth covering which is now coveted.

She went on to say that the struggles in my life, the experiences I had were like a string of pearls. Others may see the beauty in the outcome, but they didn’t know the battle I had faced to get there.

As we continued to talk, she shared the verse in Revelation which says we will be given a new name that only God knows. A name that has never been made fun of, misspelled, mispronounced, or spoken in anger. A name that is pure.

Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it (Revelation 2:17).

Shakespeare may have said, “A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet.” But when I think of the names we’ve been given on this side of Heaven and the names we will be given one day, I am encouraged to embrace the name I have now because it is part of my story and it’s a story only I can tell.

Best Beloved, what is your story? What name do you bear? Is it something you endure or something you embrace? Instead of being critical of what we are called maybe it’s time to remember by Whom we are called. What is our mission? Our purpose? Whether we are called by the right name or the wrong name, it matters most that He knows our name and we belong to Him.

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Eagles

While driving in the country, I often look up at the electric lines that edge the road to watch for birds, especially hawks. I love the strength and stateliness of them as they watch the ground below for prey or soar over the fields. Yesterday, my son and I were driving home when we saw a large bird, bigger than any hawk I have seen. Simultaneously we blurted out, “Bald eagle!” Standing at least two feet tall, wings tucked back, head turned slightly, the majestic bird held court high above his kingdom.

Image result for images of a bald eagle

I wanted to pull off the road and watch him. He was worthy of being watched and studied. I wondered how many other cars had driven past without ever looking up. We saw the eagle because we were looking, our eyes were open to see what was going on around us.

I thought of Jesus and how He too, is watching from the Throne Room, majestic, strong, protective, and only visible to those who want to see Him. I could go through my day with my head down, focused on the to-do list that never seems done. Or I can take the time to look around, to feel the sun warm my skin, to see the sun rays that cut through the clouds shining.

I am able to see the stars at night fill the sky like diamond dust, to hear the owls calling to each other. I watch the sun rising over the barn every day changing shadows and waking the animals to begin their day of foraging. The sun, sky, and moon working together perfectly, according to God’s great design. These natural occurrences are actually part of the way I believe God tries to get our attention. If we see the creation, maybe we will be open to seeing the Creator. It is up to us. We can either curse the creation, thereby cursing the Creator- or we can celebrate what we see because it draws us to the Maker.

It is when we forget that everything that surrounds us, including the buildings in the city made by man’s hand after being designed by man’s mind, is all evidence of the Heavenly design of God. He made us, gave us the wisdom, the skills, the abilities to make the skyscraper and the simple home. By looking at the world through Heavenly eyes, seeing all that God has touched and blessed, I see the hand of God as well. The way He created the animals and plants to live symbiotically, the way He made man to be at peace and rest. Each one of these experiences draws me closer to the One who made it all- God Himself.

It just takes the eyes and heart to see what He is showing us and sharing with us. O Best Beloved, what are you seeing? What are you missing? Let us open our eyes. To our spouse. To our children. Our friends and family. This world is in need of Jesus- let us be aware of His movements all around us.

The Incarnation of the Word of Life ] That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life (John 1:1).

 

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All in for Him

I attend a contemporary, non-denominational church in a nearby town. The worship portion of the service includes drums, electric and acoustic guitars, and three to five people leading the songs. Every now and then, we have a choir join the worship team. This has become my favorite part of the singing because of the people in the choir. There are a couple people who become so enveloped by the lyrics they are singing that their hands are soon raised, heads tilted back, eyes closed. It is no longer about joining us to sing, it has changed to singing directly to and for Jesus alone.

Yesterday the choir sang again. I immediately looked for the two gentlemen who are all in when it comes to their worship. If I have come into church in a funk or I am tired or disengaged from the Spirit, I just have to watch them as they sing. Soon after, I am lifting my arms, remembering the goodness that comes from singing praises to God. My burdens are lifted, my irritations have subsided, and I am in His presence once more.

As I left the sanctuary to go serve in another area, I was stopped by another woman who told me that she loved worshiping behind me on Sundays. I was a bit surprised, “Really?” She smiled and answered that standing behind me encouraged her as she sang the choruses and hymns because she saw me all in when I sang.

Hmmm.

I was reminded of another conversation, at another place. I had just started working at a school when a mom stopped me exclaiming, “I know you!” I didn’t recognize her face and now felt caught. She continued, “You sit up front in church- I see you with your hands in the air when we sing.” I chuckled, yes, I did put my hands up to praise God as I sang. We would go on over the next couple years seeing each other both at the school and at church. I became aware of my actions in both places and the ripple effect they caused. By being a part of the believing community I was impacting others through my relationship with God.

Dear Ones, how are you interacting with God during worship? Are you a consumer, taking it in, but not engaging fully or are you a participant? Are you all in, giving your whole heart, your whole being to God? What is stopping you? O Best Beloved, by holding back during worship, you are holding back a blessing for your spirit, but you may also be holding back a blessing for another person who is coming into to church. Let’s join together and let’s let go of what we carried into our sanctuaries on Sunday, taking up the sweet Spirit that fills the space and wants to fill our hearts as well.

And they were continually in the temple complex praising God (Luke 24:53).

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Mighty Warrior

Have you ever noticed that there are days when you need someone to come in and fight the battles that you are facing? Sure there are times when you feel you could face them on your own, but those days are not as often as you would like them to be. It is in moments like these, I find myself closing my eyes and hoping for a savior, a warrior to come in a fight my battles for me.

I find that I am tired, depleted, unable to find the gumption needed to make it until lunch- never mind bedtime. I struggle to engage, to find joy, to be compassionate with those around me. I don’t want to be this way and as soon as I recognize it, I will call out to Jesus to help me. It is a moment of rescue, of salvation, of hope being restored, when I say His name. He comes to me, gathers me close, and like a child who needs comfort, sings over me.

As the words fall on my head and heart, I sense my spirit and soul refilling with the Truth, love, grace, and mercy which can only come from the Throne Room of Heaven. My crankiness, lack of kindness, and impatience fall away until I am restored. I can re-engage in my daily tasks with a lightness in my being and know that I am not alone to face my battles.

Years ago, I heard about how God sang over us and that Scripture confirmed it. I thought it was someone’s idea or misinterpretation of Scripture. Imagine my surprise when I found the verse in Zephaniah:

The Lord your God is with you,
    the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
    in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
    but will rejoice over you with singing” ~Zephaniah 3:17.

Just like the image I had of a child in a parent’s lap, there iy was- God singing over me. Can you imagine my surprise? The closer I get to Jesus, the deeper my understanding grows, the more I find imagery of a loving parent. So many times in our misunderstanding, we can paint an image of God as an authoritative dictator. Standing over us, hands on His hips, with a leather strap hanging from one hand, waiting, just waiting for us to slip up and step out of line. Then WHAM! He will whip us and we will feel the pain of our mistakes.

But this isn’t God at all. He loves us. He fights for us. He longs to gather us together and bring us comfort and peace- things we crave and can never seem to find. All we need to do is call out to Him that we need Him. And just like a loving parent, He will come and scoop us up, tuck us close, and soothe our spirit with song. I know I could use a bit of singing after a long week, how about you O Best Beloved? 

 

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the waiting room

Have you ever noticed everyone reading, scrolling on the phones, etc. in the waiting room? However, the moment the nurse/attendant calls their name they immediately hop up, gather their things, and go with the attendant. The people in the waiting room may have seemed relaxed, but really they were waiting with expectancy.

I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope (Psalm 130:5).

We learn just how patient and impatient we are, when we are required to wait. Can we find something that will occupy our attention, do we find ourselves focused on what has not yet happened? Do we become agitated and pace, stomp our feet, or bluster at the person nearest us? What happens inside of us when we wait?

I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him” (Lamentations 3:24).

Scripture says that we are to Wait for the Lord. Not because He is trying to punish us by keeping things from us, but because He is trying to grow us. Just as we don’t allow our children to do various things until they are old enough to understand it, handle it, or care for it, God does the same thing with us. We may want something immediately, but God has eternal wisdom which sees beyond our small circle to know what will be best and what we need more.

 I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry (Psalm 40:1).

My husband knew I was the one for him three years before I knew it. We have agreed that if we had married before we were ready to be a husband and wife we would have had a very difficult time and may have even divorced. But God knew more than we did. I needed to heal from my broken engagement and grow in my faith. My husband also admits that he needed to grow in his faith and character as well.

We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield (Psalm 33:20).

God knows that I am patient, but I am also impatient. I can wait for awhile, but eventually I will become impatient. If I have to wait even longer, then I may decide what I am waiting for is not that important. Eventually, I may walk away and find something else to focus on for awhile- or even permanently.

it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord (Lamentations 3:26).

But what if what I am waiting for is Jesus? If am waiting for Jesus- and this side of Heaven that is what I am doing, then shouldn’t I be watching for Him as well? If I find myself focused on the things of here and now instead of being away that this is only temporary, then I risk not being ready when I am called or when He returns.

But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me (Micah 7:7).

Whether I am waiting for good news, healing, or a change in circumstances, I am to wait expectantly for the outcome. Psalm 27:14 says, Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord. Even when it’s hard, even when it seems like He forgot about me. Waiting for His timing and not acting on my own will mean that when He says it is time to move, to change, to do whatever, I will be ready.

keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life (Jude 1:21).

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counting the cost

On the day I gave myself to Christ I said to Him, “I have made a complete mess of my life and I know that You can do better. So I am handing it over to You.” It was true, blunt, and exactly what I needed to say. If I had written a list to compare the pros and cons of becoming a Christian I still would have seen a similar outcome.

I knew on my own I was self destructive. Not every day, but enough to recognize that my brokenness, dysfunctional and co-dependent relationships, the anger, regret, and shame I harbored were eating away at me. If the Jesus I heard about, the Jesus I learned about was even half of what was said, then I wanted Him in my life. I wanted Him in charge of my life.

There are many who may say I needed a crutch and that’s what my Christianity is – a crutch. I completely disagree. I needed life-saving surgery. God/Jesus/the Holy Spirit, this faith, were offering me freedom from the chains I wore on my soul. I would not be restored by doing good deeds, giving away all that I had, or anything else. I could not fix the broken in my life. Jesus can.

Jesus knew all the brokenness that filled the world and He knew what it would cost to heal it- His very life. And against all selfishness, He gave His life. For me. For you. For your great-great grandmother and your great-great grandchild. No matter the mess we create, there is nothing that is so bad that Jesus cannot bring healing and wholeness.

He did it for me. He can do it for you.

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

 He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.  Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children” (Revelation 21:5-7).

He has paid it all. We were worth the cost.

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take heart

To feel encouraged: Take heart. You’ll be done soon, and you won’t have to think about this paper ever again. (Definition of “take heart” from the Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary © Cambridge University Press).

Image result for "take heart"

Some days seem more difficult than others, I think. It’s the day to day sameness that tends to make the hours creep by and sap me of energy, of joy, of whatever makes me feel courageous. The words, Take Heart, have often made me pause and remember that what is happening now isn’t how things will be forever. One day, it will change. It will change. Whether the situation causing trouble will be resolved or you will find strength to continue on in the battle, something will change. So, until then, it is a matter of putting one foot in front of the other. To keep active, in motion, going forward. Until I am given further instructions.

This is where I tend to get bogged down. I can put my head down and lean into something for a season, but then I get tired. I start to wonder if things are ever going to change. I find myself leaking joy like a sad balloon. I pull myself along the path and think a bit like dear Eeyore, “Woe is me, this will never change.” Forgetting all the time, that while God never changes, life often does change.

One day it will be different. It may be different because we have grown and what used to trouble us no longer does. Or it may be that it has been resolved. Whatever way it may be, life will change. There will be music again, there will be laughter, there will be joy. We just need to trust that God is working toward this end with a bigger purpose in mind. That I will not be the same as when I started, that when I am finished I will have less of me and more of Him inside me.

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This is the end goal. To be more like Christ and to love those around me with His great love and grace. Nothing more and nothing less. It will be when I am able to see things with His eyes, that I am able to see the finite reality of life. That I will see that those around me are still in need of a Savior.

So in the meantime, it will be a decision to stand up, lace up my shoes, pick up whatever I am to carry for this season until it is time to lay it down at His feet.

When I am weary, I can remember that He is stronger and willing to help me. I am not alone. Jesus has been through all of this before and He was crowned the Victor. It is possible. I just need to take heart. 

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…remains the same

Today is an emotionally charged experience for many Americans. The anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center buildings, the Pentagon, and failed attempt on other government buildings marks another year. While many news channels will share ways communities are commemorating the date and remembering the lost.

I cannot imagine the depth and breadth of the loss families felt. What I recall from those days afterward was the quiet. No engine noises from the air, children were held closer, spouses were letting go of the old battles to re-embrace the vows they took. It was a time of reflection, introspection, and tightening of the boot straps as well. We were told battle with our enemy was eminent and it was. Now, years later, we see that it has been long, tiresome, and in many ways difficult to define the end of it.

As time has passed, many stories have been told about how God appeared and encouraged those who were in need of healing, of hope, of a new opportunity. God showed up then, He is showing up now. It is just a matter of listening for the stories. They may not be told with as much fervor, or regularity, but they are still being told. God did show up. He showed up and He showed off that no matter the storm or the struggle, He remains the same.

Our God is no different than the one who spoke with Noah and gave directions to build an ark. He is the same God who spoke with Daniel in the Lion’s Den or with Isaiah. He is the same God who sent the angels to Mary and to Joseph. God is the same God who spoke to the disciples in the New Testament and has continued to speak to people and through people for millennia. He is here, waiting to heal us, make us whole. God longs to make a restored people, to put us in families, to walk with us through this journey.

Whether He stands with us next to a crib, a hospital bed, or a grave site. He will never change. He is the same. It is our hearts that change, our attitudes, our situations. We forget our finite selves do not look at life with the end in mind. God, however sees the beginning, the middle, and the end all at the same time.

In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth,
    and the heavens are the work of your hands.
 They will perish, but you remain;
    they will all wear out like a garment.
Like clothing you will change them
    and they will be discarded.
But you remain the same,
    and your years will never end (Psalm 102:25-27).

I cannot tell you what will happen tomorrow, only God knows. The thing I can tell you is simple- Trust God. He has your best in mind. He longs to bring you through the struggles, the frustration, the challenges you are facing. He and He alone, can lead you to good pasture, to rest, to recover. To be cared for each day.

Trust Him. He will not change.

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