flashbacks

This past week has not been my favorite week. I have watched people try to row upstream against raging currents, others swept under by the waves, and still more who have sprung major leaks in their boats. It’s been a battlefield and it looks like the other side is winning.

During lunch I have been listening to different artists and albums from my early years as a believer. I have enjoyed hearing well known lyrics and recalling moments with friends when the albums were released. Today, while listening to another favorite album, I found my why. In the middle of the battles with the waves and the storms around me, I have been reaching for the moments when I felt joy, when I experienced hope, when I knew things were going to be okay. I have needed to remember.

Just like the Israelites made an altar to remember what God had done (Joshua 4), I need to build an altar to remember the good I have found in God. The times He brought comfort, the times when I needed to be pushed to continue on my journey. I need to remember why I get out of bed each morning, dress for work, and interact with people all day long. It isn’t for the paycheck. It is to remind my heart and soul that there are ever-living-never-dying souls all around me who don’t know the love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness of Christ. I may not ever explain the Gospel using a tract, but I pray the tracks I leave behind will lead them to the altar. I pray they will learn that kneeling before the altar of God means never having to wonder if what they have done or not done will keep them from Heaven.

I need to see the stack of stones to remind myself that God has seen me through the storms and the battles. He has seen the dear ones I love so much come through the battles and storms. Each time we have stepped through the other side of the battle or the storm has subsided, we have emerged stronger, leaner, and grown deeper in our faith. Jesus has never left us, even when we didn’t feel Him there. These stones are there to remind us that we are commissioned to call out His name when we need Him and to celebrate Him at the same time.

Someday the enemy may try to force us to be silent. But we need know if we grow silent, the very rocks in the altars we’ve built will cry out their praise to the Maker of the Heavens and the Earth (Luke 19:40). Listening to this music has helped me rekindle the desire, the love, the passion to continue on my journey. Like a moment of clarity, I see the reason I live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). I am using these flashbacks to spur me forward. My journey is not finished and Dear Ones, neither are yours.

Do not let the battle in front of you make you forget the One inside you and beside you. Jesus is bigger, He is stronger, He is able, never tiring, never forgetting. He is able to handle what you face and bring you through it. Be strong, Best Beloved. (Deuteronomy 31:6).

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the King’s clothes

As a child I saw the play, “The Emperor’s New Clothes” by Hans Christian Andersen. At the moment the emperor paraded his new clothes through town the children in the audience cried out, “He has no clothes on!” Just like the child in the story, the youngest saw the truth while the older ones wanted to pretend.

When Jesus said let the little children come to me (Matthew 19:14) and that we must have faith like a child, it was in part due to their ability to see things simply and have faith honestly. They didn’t try to impress those around them. It was pure, it was honest, and it was the way Jesus encouraged us to be in our Faith and in our interaction with Him. When we come to that place in our lives, when we understand that what Jesus did for us, we could not and cannot do for ourselves. At that place, we will have the choice to embrace the grace He offers or spurn it and walk away empty-handed, empty-hearted.

Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection is the opportunity to exchange the filthy rags we’ve been wearing, the imaginary emperor’s clothes, and put on the robes of righteousness He offers to us. We have been trying to fool those around us with our rags. We may put on designer labels, tell others we bought them at the high-end boutique, but God knows the truth. He knows we are standing naked, like the emperor. He knows we are just wearing rags that are dirty and torn from the heartache, troubles, and strife we have faced. He knows the truth.

He knows the truth, but He doesn’t scold. Instead, God holds out His hand to us. Like a father with real pearls in His hands, He asks us to hand him our costume pearls. It’s up to us to release the lie and embrace the truth. The decision is always ours. The robes of righteousness are not self-righteousness, instead they are robes of holiness, purity, and truth. They represent the new life we have in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).

O Best Beloved, what is keeping you from exchanging your rags for robes? Are you afraid others will mock you? That you will have to confess you cannot become righteous on your own? I recognize those concerns, so does God. Are those moments worth turning away from the opportunity to be restored? To receive healing in those broken places, the ones you thought you had hidden so well?

Don’t fool yourself, God is not fooled. He knows your heartache, your pain, your doubts and fears. He knows them and is not afraid of them. He wants to help you, hold you, encourage and comfort you. But God is also a gentleman. He will not force Himself into where He is not invited. He stands on the sidelines, waiting to come and cover you and your nakedness. To clothe you in His pure, clean, amazing righteousness. It is up to you, will you allow Him to cover you?

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away (Isaiah 64:6).

But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God (John 3:21).

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the evolution of me

My life seems like it’s never changing and yet, just the slightest variation in the trajectory will eventually show the biggest shifts. I have been thinking lately about the tasks and activities in my life that I like best and trying to see how to bring them into fruition. It’s made me realize how far I have come.

In high school, my psychology teacher asked the class what it was that we aspired to become. I remember one of the popular girls saying she wanted to be a wife and mother. I was shocked and a bit repulsed. How could a girl in the late 1980’s aspire to stay home? The glass ceiling was supposed to be breaking at any time! I believed I was supposed to go out and find a job, something gritty and yet cool. Something that would have been in a Molly Ringwald movie. But deep down, I didn’t know if that was what I really wanted. In fact, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. To be. To become.

During college my career choices were all over the place, as I tried to find my place. At first it was becoming a graphic art designer, then music, and for about two semesters I wanted to become a nurse– chemistry changed that idea. Finally, I decided to study literature and become a teacher. I graduated with a degree in secondary education/ English and became a state certified teacher. It was the closest fitting career for me. Nurturing students, helping them learn the difference between an adverb and an adjective. Sharing my love of the written word. I truly enjoyed this during the years I stood in a classroom.

Now, nearing my next decade, I realize that the girl in my psychology class was smarter than I thought. I am emotionally fed, encouraged, blessed, and at peace when I am at home. I love the role I have as wife and mother. It is the best career title I could ever have. I have come to see the value of who I am is not in the plaque on the office or classroom door, but in the difference I made at the end of the day. Does my home invite my family to relax and restore their spirits at the end of the day? Do friends know that our door is always open and there will always be a place at the table for them?

Do I allow the Holy Spirit to guide me in my interactions with those I meet during my day? Are the animals, garden, and home stewarded well, so that they last for a long time? Am I content with my tasks, both completed and still to do, at the end of the day? Do I go to bed at night knowing that what I have touched and completed was done to the best of my abilities?

These are the questions I ask myself now. These are the ways my mission, my purpose can make an impact on the world around me in the name of Christ. Hospitality, kindness, mercy, forgiveness, gentleness, love. These are the characteristics that I pray will be part of my legacy. This evolution of me from lost to found, no purpose to for a purpose; these things could only happen through the struggles, strife, striving, tears, laughter, and joy that I have found on my journey.

May you find these same blessings on your journey, Best Beloved. 

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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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