Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Life: Gift or Burden?

"The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." --Jesus (Mark 2:27)

Have you ever given someone something with the intention of it being a blessing, but it became a burden to them instead? Or have you ever found a gift that someone gave you to be more trouble than it was worth? Are there things in your life that at one time you saw as something to celebrate, but somewhere along the way that changed?

This can happen with things and with people. Possessions. Jobs. Cars. Houses. Marriages. Friendships. Children. Churches. Ministries. Holidays. The excitement we have over them in the beginning often fades as the reality of long-term endurance and upkeep sets in. Things break down or become outdated. Cars and homes require maintenance, money, and time. So do relationships. Holidays that are intended to be a day-off and a celebration often require so much energy to prepare for, the day doesn't seem worth the trouble. The thrill of receiving a particular call in ministry can be exhilarating and we can't wait to get started, but after a few months or years, we just want out.

When God gives us life, He intends it to be a gift. But for a lot of us, it becomes a burden. The same is true for many of the things in life that He intends for us to enjoy. Even our relationship with Him can become a burden. If you spend any time reading the gospels, you will see that all three of these were true for the Jewish people living at the time of Jesus. They were God's chosen people, set apart to be blessed by God, and they were, but many of them weren't living the blessing. They were burdened by their circumstances, by religious practices, by sin, by greed, and by a misunderstanding of God and His ways. The sacrifices, religious festivals, and the Sabbath were all being practiced, but the meaning had been lost. Things that were intended to be good for them had become a burden.

Jesus came to change that. He came to make God known. He came to restore what had been lost. He came to show a new way to live. He came to change people's thinking. "Repent, the kingdom of heaven is near!" He said this everywhere He went. He wanted them to think differently. He wanted them to see the beauty of God's Kingdom. And it was more than a message, it was reality. God with us. That's who He was. Immanuel.

One day some Pharisees were getting after His disciples for picking some grain to eat because they were hungry as they were walking with Jesus through the fields. It was the Sabbath, and the religious elite considered their actions to be a violation of the Sabbath law to abstain from work, but Jesus disagreed. Why? Because they were hungry. He spoke some profound words. "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." In other words, the Sabbath was meant to be a blessing, not a burden.

Thinking that we must serve religion rather than religious practices serving us leads to a lot of burden and frustration that God never intended. Similarly, people often say things or demand things of others in the Name of God that do not accurately reflect His love and His character. Jesus said that He came to bring us abundant life. Life is meant to be a gift.

Church. Ministry. Marriage. Children. Homes. Jobs. Relationships. Possessions. These are all intended to be a gift, not a burden. These are made for us to enjoy. To provide for our needs. To be a blessing. Try to keep that in mind the next time you feel frustrated by things or people in your life. And maybe some of those things or people shouldn't be there. Maybe some changes are needed. If you think that may be the case, spend some serious time in prayer and take whatever steps you feel Jesus leading you to take concerning them. But for the things you can't get rid of or shouldn't walk away from, learn to see them differently. To see their value and benefit. To believe God has a purpose. To love even when it's hard. To put the effort into them you know they are worth. To have hope, not despair.

A popular December saying is "Keep Christ in Christmas." I'd like to expand that same idea and encourage you to "Keep Christ in Life." His love. His joy. His peace. It's not just for Christmastime, it's for the other 364 days of the year too. Life is a gift.

"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." --Jesus (John 10:10)

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What's The Secret?

Then He opened their minds so they could understand... Luke 24:45

Do you ever wish other people would get what makes so much sense to you? Do you ever feel frustrated when you see others doing the same things over and over that you know just aren't going to work? Do you ever feel like you're talking to a brick wall? Do you ever feel like giving up on somebody?

I read words from the Bible like the ones above, and I say, "What's the secret? How did Jesus open their minds to understand what He wanted them to understand? Why? How? And is He ever going to do that for so-and-so? Do I need to shout louder? Pray more? Speak the truth differently?"

When it comes to opening the minds of others, a lot of waiting is usually involved. Even Jesus had to wait for that. He did a lot of teaching to a lot of people in a lot of different settings in a lot of different ways. He used illustrations. He used real-life circumstances. He used miracles. He used the Scriptures. He used stories. He used other people to declare His message. He showed them what compassion looked like. He showed them how to trust the Father. He taught them how to pray. He showed His love and His power through His death and resurrection. And when He came back to life, He went to those same people He had taught the most to and found them sitting around being more scared and confused than ever.

Hello, McFly? Is anybody home?

"John, Peter, Thomas? Wait, where is Thomas? He's not even here. Ei-yi-yi! I'm in my moment of glory here! Wake up! Open your eyes!"

Well, I'm not sure Jesus said it that way or was even thinking that, but I know I would have been. And I would have wanted to know the secret. I would have wanted to make everyone magically understand, and Jesus did that somehow. But I'm not sure how, or why, or why He did it in that moment.

Maybe someday I'll figure it out, but I do know this: It happened. That day came. When the time was right and Jupiter aligned with the will of God, it happened. And I think that's the one thing we can know. God will do it. Minds will be opened. Eyes will see. What seems impossible and hopeless isn't. What frustrates me today will eventually have its date with destiny. Because God never gives up. He never stops short of bringing someone to that moment of revelation. His truth may be out there for a long time, waiting for someone to believe, but it never returns void.

This is why the Bible is full of words like faith, hope, and believe. We cannot open the minds of others like Jesus can, but we can do what He asks of us. Love, trust, and wait...the glory is coming.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Resting In His Love

"Go and make preparations for us to eat the you enter the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him to the house that he enters and say to the owner of the house, "The teacher asks, 'Where is the great room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?'" He will show you a large upper room, all furnished. Make preparations there." Luke 22:8-12

Jesus gives His disciples instructions about where to make preparations for the Passover meal, but He had already led a rich man to prepare a room that they would find waiting for them. The disciples were to prepare for the Passover, but Jesus had already prepared a place.

We may have things Jesus instructs us to do, but any prerequisites to what we 'bring to the table' will already be in place. Sometimes we are the one setting a room up for others to come and do their part. It's not always possible to know the role we play. All we can do is what Jesus leads us to do and trust that it's part of the grand plan. And the most important element is always what Jesus does Himself--the love He shows. Our role is to help others and ourselves to get ready for the blessing He already has waiting.

I was thinking about this as it relates to the books I write. The stories talk about God's love and teach about it. They remind others (and myself) of His love, but He will always show that love in real ways. The books prepare the mind and heart; but when His love comes, it's not just a fictional story anymore, it's real.

His love was made very real for me this week as my husband faced some serious medical issues. Jesus carried me through the anxiety and brought about a very good outcome. I was also blessed by others who came alongside to offer practical help and many prayers for us. And most of all, I was reminded of God's great provision for me all these years with such a wonderful man to share my life with. The evidence of God's love is so great!

How has God made His love to you more than a nice sentiment? How have you seen it? How has His love been demonstrated to you this week, and as you look back? Meditating on God's love is always a good idea. I hope you take some time to rest in it today.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Rest For The Soul

This is what the Lord says: "Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls." Jeremiah 6:16

Rest. It's something we all long for. For our body, mind, and heart. In our circumstances and relationships. For the past, present, and future. God created rest, and He Himself rested. I'd say that makes it an important thing, wouldn't you? It's not just something we want, it's something we need. It's okay to rest. In fact, God commanded it! "Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy," He said to the Hebrew people. The purpose of the whole day was to rest. No gathering food. No cooking. No going out. No work. Just rest.

But is one day of physical rest really enough? Is that all we need? If you have lived for any amount of time, I'm sure you would agree that you need more than a day off once a week. Our bodies demand physical rest. We need rest every day. We sleep. We take breaks at work and school. We relax daily by watching television, reading, or taking a nap. Most people have hobbies they find relaxing. Some find relaxation with exercise. My dad thrives on keeping busy on his farm. It's work, but for him it's also what he loves. I feel the same way about writing. It should exhaust me, but it doesn't. It's fun. I like it. I find it restful. That's why I do it so much!

In Jeremiah 6:16 God gives a formula for rest in another sense. "Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls." And in Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus speaks these words: "Come to me all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

As Christians we often refer to Jesus as our Savior, and He is, but to some that's all He is. We often forget that Jesus was also a teacher. Before He died for our sins and rose from the grave, He spent much of His time teaching. Teaching His disciples. Teaching the crowds. Teaching the teachers. Teaching His friends. Remember Mary that sat at His feet and hung on His every word? Jesus said she had chosen what was even better than serving. To just listen. To be teachable. To recognize a need for guidance and asking God for it.

What did Jesus teach? To receive God's love. To love others. To trust in God, have faith, and believe in His goodness. To forgive and not judge. To share His truth with others, but even more importantly, to live it.

We have an important day coming up in America. Election Day. A day we all vote about measures and who we want to represent us. Democracy is a great thing, and we are privileged to have the freedoms and rights we have. But we need to be careful about how much trust we place in our rights as American Citizens, in our leaders, and even in people in general. How much are we looking to others to meet our needs rather than looking to God for that? We all have problems, and we often want to blame someone: the government, Wall Street, and those who have mistreated us much more personally: a trusted friend, a family member, a neighbor, a Christian brother or sister.

I don't know if you've realized this yet, but blaming others for the circumstances we find ourselves in doesn't bring rest. It brings anger. It brings grief. It brings despair. Peace and hope don't come from having our eyes on the problem-makers. It comes from having our eyes on the One who can give us rest. And His prescription is simple: 'Look, ask, and listen. Trust and believe." His grace is bigger than anything, and it's always enough.

The words of God in Jeremiah 6:16 contain a great promise. A promise of rest for following some very simple principles of listening to God and following His ways. But the words that follow are very sobering: "...But you said, 'We will not walk in it...we will not listen.'" God's promise then: Disaster.

It's important to not look at God's warning of disaster as a punishment, but rather as a natural result of not walking in God's ways. His ways are the right ways because they bring rest. He knows that because He made us and knows what we need. And when we deviate from what we really need, we suffer for it. Like when we don't get enough physical rest and we pay for it later with fatigue and burn out. Like when we don't eat healthy food and it results in health problems later. A healthy soul requires some basic maintenance too, but Jesus says His yoke is easy. It's not complicated. It's not beyond us. It can be difficult to go against our human nature, but not nearly as difficult as the alternative.

If Jesus was campaigning for your vote, some of His slogans would be: Hope instead of despair. Trust instead of worry. Give instead of greed. Believe in Me instead of believing you know better.

Are you listening? Are you at rest? These two things go together, dear one. There's no way around that.

I have found rest, and I want that for you, just as Jesus does. Believe in His love. Believe in His mercy. Believe in His promise: "Come to me...and you will find rest for your souls." Because you will.

"Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, his love endures forever." (Psalm 118)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, "We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be handed over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him, and kill him. On the third day he will rise again." Luke 18:31-33

Son of Man

Son of Man,
how could you have known
how could you have gone
how could you have shown
so much love

Son of Man,
how could you have walked
how could you have seen
how could you have loved
so unconditionally

Son of Man,
your life given for me
your love poured out
your mercy so extravagant
so I could be free

Son of man,
how could you have known
how could you have gone
how could you have shown
so much love

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

"The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life." John 6:63

I was thinking today about how priceless the Bible is. The words of God are written down for us to find truth in a world of conflicting messages, confusion, short-sighted wisdom, and bad news. The very words of Jesus are recorded for us to believe and live by. Jesus Himself calls them words of spirit and life, and they are! How many times have I been feeling lost or discouraged or forgotten, and His simple words have refreshed me? How many times have I felt hopeless, and a beacon of light from Heaven has enveloped me in its truth? That I am loved. That God is near. That I am safe. That faith can move mountains.

People often tell me that my words and stories inspire them. They wonder where my words come from. They are blessed, and I am glad, but it's not as mysterious as one might think. I can explain it. I speak words of truth and inspiration because I live by words of truth and inspiration. God's words to me are more than words in a book. They are more than sacred and holy. They are more than religious wisdom. They are words of my Creator who loves me, and He desires for me to know Him.

To know Him I must know what He says and interpret His words correctly. I must know His character. I must know Him on a heart level. I must know Him through life experiences, good and bad. I must read, and I must seek, and I must open my mind and heart to the possibilities. Sometimes it's easy and other times grueling, but it's always worth it.

Today I was reading about God entrusting us with things that we can share with others. I was thinking about the different things I share, from money and other tangible things, to the intangible treasures of faith, hope, and good advice. My advice today is this: read the Bible today and every day; do a Bible study, either on your own or with others. There is value in both ways. But don't do it out of duty or obligation. Don't do it just to be a Bible scholar or a know-it-all or as a platform to judge others and tell them how to live. Do it with joy. For yourself. For truth to live by. For hope to go on. For wisdom to succeed. For inspiration.

God's words are for you. They're priceless. And they're right at your fingertips, even if you must dust off your Bible a little first :)

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Children of Light

My husband and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary this week, and we went to our favorite place: Cannon Beach, Oregon. Our first date was there, and we also spent our honeymoon in the small coastal town along the picturesque Oregon shore. This year we spent our anniversary enjoying the beautiful beach with our three children. The weather was mostly good, but being the Oregon Coast, it varied from day to day. From sunny and warm, to sunny but windy, to overcast and fog; we had it all, including a bit of misty rain one morning, but we had a great time, and I took lots of pictures as usual.

I transferred the photos to our computer when we got home. Some of them were taken with blue skies, while others were mostly gray. Gray sky, gray water, gray sand. I was tempted to discard those, but one of them caught my artistic eye, and I could see it had the potential to be much more. With some creative photo editing, the gray clouds and gray water could become a hazy purple or blue, like when the morning light first illuminates the sky. Or it could glow with the colors of a muted sunset that gives a pink or orange hue to the skyline.

You can see the results, and I think the way we look at life, circumstances, others, and ourselves can also be viewed through different filters. It may be a bleak picture with the unaided eye, but as children of light, we can have a different view. In Luke 11:34, Jesus says that the eye is the lamp of the body. When our eyes are good, the whole body will be filled with light, but when our eyes are bad, darkness prevails. Gloom. Despair. Hopelessness. The outlook is bleak and gray, like an overcast sky, but that's just a limited human view. God's got Photoshop!

When I am feeling discouraged, afraid, hopeless, unloved, insignificant, or some other emotion based on difficult circumstances, I ask God to give me a different view. To filter things through the light of His love. His truth. His ways. His beauty. His goodness. Seeing the light fills me with light. Hope. Joy. Peace. Patience. May we live as children of light, for our Father is glorious--even on a cloudy day.

Friday, May 21, 2010

I received a message this week from one of my book readers who made a rather profound statement, in my opinion. She said that she reads because she loves it so much. That might sound trivial, but I'm contrasting it with how many others tell me they would like to read more but don't have the time. She's making the time. Why? Because she loves it!

I hear something similar from those who say they'd like to try writing. "I'd love to have time to write," they say. Or, "I wish I could write like you." Often I will ask if they've ever tried to write seriously, and many of them say, "Oh, I've never had the time."

Then again some have tried and simply can't, and to me that's a valid response. Writing isn't for everyone. And while most women I know can read just fine, some don't enjoy it, and that's okay too. Life is meant to be enjoyed. What do you enjoy? What do you wish you had more time to do?

I know something just came to mind. Don't ignore it. Don't put it off another day! Do it. Try it. Try something new, or fall back into an old favorite. Duties and responsibilities will still be there tomorrow. The dishes will get done eventually. A house of clutter with happy people dwelling in it is better than a spotless one with inhabitants who are enjoyment-deprived. Maybe you love to clean house, so clean away! Or maybe you'd rather be reading, or writing, or gardening, or playing a game with your kids, or sewing, or scrapbooking, or teaching others to do what you love. Whatever it is, just do it! If it will bring you joy, that's all the reason you need.

"The fruit of the Spirit such things there is no law." Gal 5:23

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Jesus went with his disciples to the village of Nain, with a great crowd following him. A funeral procession was coming out as he approached the village gate. The boy who had died was the only son of a widow, and many mourners from the village were with her. When the Lord saw her, his heart overflowed with compassion.

"Don't cry," he said. Then he walked over to the coffin and touched it, and the bearers stopped. "Young man," he said, "get up." Then the dead boy sat up and began to talk to those around him. And Jesus gave him back to his mother.

Luke 7:11-15 (NLT)

This scene amazes me on several levels. The most obvious "wow" moment is Jesus raising this boy from the dead. And that in itself makes this a great story. Can you even imagine? I know I can't, and I have a very active imagination! If I were to include someone raising from the dead in one of my books, it would move from the romance genre to science fiction, or possibly even horror. But as they say, the truth is stranger than fiction, and when Jesus is involved, things can get pretty wild.

But as I was reading this, the thing that struck me even more than Jesus raising this boy from the dead is His interaction with the mother. Some would say that Jesus performed this miracle to display His power in front of His disciples, the townspeople, and the great crowd following Him, and a revealing of His glory was certainly a result of His actions. (Great fear swept the crowd, and they praised God, saying, "A mighty prophet has risen among us," and "We have seen the hand of God at work today." v.16)

But was this Jesus' motive? To "wow" the crowd? I don't think so. His attention is clearly on the mother. He knew who she was. He knew she had just lost her only son. He knew she was alone. And 'His heart went out to her.' (NIV) His compassion overflowed.

"Don't cry," He said.

Now that I can picture. I'm sure He was close to her when He said it. His words were for her. They were personal. He was fulfilling His own teaching. "God blesses you who weep now, for the time will come when you will laugh with joy." (Luke 6:21-NLT) This mother's joy was coming. And it was coming quickly! I'm not sure laughter was her first reaction though. If it was me, I think I would have fainted and only come-to when my son was splashing some water on my face and saying, "Wake up, Mom! Jesus just raised me from the dead!"

I wonder if Jesus was thinking of His own mother when He saw this woman. He knew that she would be in a similar situation one day all too soon. Was He doing what He hoped someone would do for her on that sad day? "Don't cry, Mary. He's coming back. He said so."

This may be an unbelievable scene, and you may have trouble picturing Jesus doing something so far outside of reality. But I hope that if you need comfort today in some difficult circumstances, if you're feeling lonely or alone, if you're in need of some guidance, or hope, or a miracle of your own, that you hear Jesus saying, "Don't cry. I'm going to make it all right. I love you, and you're not alone. I'm here. Just wait and see what I'm going to do next." It might make you laugh. It might make you faint. It might be something very small in comparison to raising someone from the dead. But it will be what you need. It will be for you. It will remind you of His faithfulness. It will remind you of His love.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Way of Love

"But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on the cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you...then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful." Luke 6:27-31;35-36

As a writer, I usually think of myself as someone who can bring truth, direction, encouragement, and hope. Whether I'm writing a novel, a short article such as this, or a letter to a friend, that's always my goal. It's interesting to watch how people respond to the words I write, and I often wonder how many are listening. How many really get what I'm trying to say? How many don't get it, how many do but don't want to hear it, and how many listen, believe, and put the truth into practice? As I always say to my kids when they ask me a question I don't know the answer to: 'It's a mystery, Charlie Brown.'

I like how Jesus starts out this particular string of suggestions: "I tell you who hear Me."  Jesus knew that many who were in the crowd would hear Him, but not really listen. And He would give them that choice—the freedom to listen to what He had to say and then walk away saying to themselves, That's the most ridiculous thing I ever heard. I don't know who this rabbi thinks he is, but he's not facing reality.

The problem we often have with the words of Jesus is they're not natural. The way we normally think and function is put on the chopping block, and most of it gets axed! Our natural reaction to unfairness, mistreatment, robbery and being taken advantage of is to fight back: "No! You can't do that to me, and I'm not going to let you!" We see this every day in others and far too often in ourselves as well. On Sundays we put on our Sunday Best and go to church and sing nice songs and listen to the preacher, calling ourselves good Christians and good citizens and decent, civil people, and a lot of the time we are. But then someone crosses our path who does something we don't like, and suddenly we are their worst nightmare. And what's worse, we often judge them in the Name of God.

Jesus had a name for that: hypocrisy. And He hated it. If someone wanted to get Jesus riled-up about something, that was the way to do it. And they often did, and when He crossed them and called them out on their evil ways, then He was their enemy and someone they wanted to get rid of, and eventually they succeeded—until the Third Day.

I hear a lot of people say they pray for those they feel oppressed by. Whether it's a particular person in their life, a group of people they oppose for whatever reason, the government, or fellow Christians. And if they really do that, I commend them. But I think what a lot of us are really saying is, 'Those are evil people who need prayer,' but we seldom actually get on our knees for them. And, even if we do, this was not Jesus' only directive to those who would hear Him.

He didn't just say to pray. He also said to act. To love. To do good. To bless, not curse. To give. To show kindness and mercy. It's not complicated. It's not like Jesus wasn't being clear. It's just not natural for us, and I think that's the whole point.

What's the point of being natural? Nothing. There's no point when we act apart from God's divine nature. We live as mere mortals, and it's exhausting! We weren't meant to live that way. It's pointless. We strive for what we think we need only to discover in the end that we need something else. Not revenge. Not to be right. Not to get what we think we deserve. Not even to hold on to what is rightly ours. Those pursuits seem so urgent, but there's no satisfaction in them. Even if we rise and conquer, victory eludes us. We end up feeling emptier than when we started. And Jesus knew that. He still knows it. And He provides a new way. A new solution that actually works. A supernatural way of living that can truly make us feel alive and rise above whatever and whomever is making us feel oppressed or angry or fearful. It's the way of love.

Negative actions of others cannot be dealt with through negativity. As Paul said in Romans 12:22, Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.  He writes these words after other radical statements like, Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  And, Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgement...Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.

This way of life is not easy. It is not for the faint of heart. But it is good. It is worthwhile. It is rewarding. And perhaps best of all, it is not impossible. If you choose to live this way, you won't get it right every time, and often you will totally blow it. But it's worth the effort, and what I have found is that while it may not be easy, it's much easier than the alternative. Peace and joy will come when you least expect it. The delight of your God will be abundant and satisfying. And the more you live this way, the more you'll want to, and the more you'll love it. In other words, it's addicting.

I'll finish with the words Jesus goes on to say. Take Him at His word, dear one. Believe it or not, He has your best interests in mind. So you may as well believe it, and you will see.

"Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." Luke 6:37-38

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Rise Above

Yesterday I took some pictures of the mountain and this daffodil field. It's a beautiful view, isn't it? I have to thank my sister for taking me there and sharing such a beautiful hidden treasure. While the mountain is clearly visible from the road, the field is not. To see it and get this particular shot, you have to climb up a short slope, cross over the railroad tracks, and go down the other side, and then there they are, laid out like a blanket with the mountain as a backdrop.

One of my favorite photos of the day is of one particular daffodil. In this sea of beauty, it stands taller than those around it. Like it's happy to be alive. Like it's proud to be a daffodil. Like it knows it's standing among this glorious display and can do its part to add to the beauty. Like it matters.

I don't know about you, but I have a deep need to feel that I matter. I may be just one of billions of people on this planet, but I matter. I am beautiful. I am loved. I make a difference. I am like so many others, but that doesn't make me insignificant. It just means I need to have the faith to believe in who I am.

Jesus tells a parable about a treasure hidden in a field. He says that the one who discovers this treasure buys the whole field so that the treasure can belong to him. He says that the treasure is like the Kingdom of Heaven. The Kingdom of Heaven is all about God caring for His people and teaching them to care for one another. Being cared for requires submission, trust, and obedience. Caring for others requires love, patience, and a sense of purpose.

These things don't come easy though, do they? It sounds simple enough. Love God. Love others. But something gets in the way of those simple commands--Life. Submission, trust, and obedience become more difficult when life becomes difficult. And loving others becomes difficult when people are difficult. Would you agree with me on that? So, where does that leave us?

It's all about finding the treasure hidden in the field. In this field the treasure I found was a daffodil that had found a way to rise above the other flowers surrounding it. And I compare this 'standing proud' beauty to a person who knows they matter. Significance. It's a powerful motivator. It's something that makes us want to be good at something that will make others take notice, but this often leads to destructive thinking and behavior. We either fail in our pursuit, or we succeed at the expense of others, or we succeed legitimately but we're never satisfied. We wish we had done better. We feel inferior to others that are more successful. We reach the top of the ladder only to realize it doesn't satisfy us like we thought it would.

The problem is we try to find significance in what we do rather than who we are. What we do varies from day to day, but who we are...that is always the same. We are loved, valued, forgiven, and free. In God's eyes, we are the treasure. He found us in that field, and He bought the whole farm! And we are a part of the display of His glory.

So stand proud, dear one. You were bought with a price. And I find that when I believe that about myself, when I believe that God loves me and values me and there is nothing that can separate me from that love--not even my own failures and mistakes and shortcomings--then loving Him and loving others comes easier. I trust Him because I know He's trustworthy. I submit to His ways because I know they are best for me. And I love others more freely because even when they are difficult, God can give me the grace to endure and to love them when my love has run out.

"He did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised." Romans 4:20-21

Thursday, February 18, 2010

In His Own Words

I’m not just God; I’m your Father, and I am more than you can imagine.

I want you to experience My Kingdom right where you’re at today--My perfection for your life.

You don’t need to worry about your daily needs, I will provide them.

If you’re burdened by guilt today, don’t be; ask for My forgiveness and don’t doubt it. After all, if you can forgive others, than surely I can!

I will never lead you the wrong way, just follow Me and I will rescue and protect you from disaster.

Beyond this, what do you need? Whatever it is, just ask. Be bold! I want you to ask Me for great things. I’ll always answer in the best possible way, and I’ll be with you in everything, giving you joy and peace and filling your heart with My love.

This is who I am, your loving, generous, almighty God. And you are My child. Come to Me every day, several times a day, and I’ll keep reminding you of that.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Now they came to Jericho. As He (Jesus) went out of Jericho with His disciples and a great multitude, blind Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, sat by the road begging. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" Then many warned him to be quiet; but he cried out all the more, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" So Jesus stood still and commanded him to be called. Then they called the blind man, saying to him, "Be of good cheer. Rise, He is calling you." And throwing aside his garment, he rose and came to Jesus. So Jesus answered and said to him, "What do you want Me to do for you?" The blind man said to Him, "Rabboni, that I may receive my sight." Then Jesus said to him, "Go your way; your faith has made you well." And immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus on the road. Mark 10:46-52 (NKJV)

Have you ever asked yourself, 'I wonder what I need to do to get on God's good side?' Have you ever felt like God is pressing you against the wall like a thumbtack and saying, 'You need to do this if you really want to follow me.'? Do you ever feel like no matter how many good things you do and how many days you are faithful, it's never enough? Like God is never happy with you? Or maybe you feel like God doesn't give you a second thought; that you're not worthy of His attention and He won't even notice if you're not following Him.

In Mark 9:33-10:52, we can read about the Disciples' need to be seen as important and "great". In one instance they are arguing amongst themselves about who is the greatest, and on another occasion two of them are asking Jesus if they are great enough to be seated on His right and His left in His Kingdom. In both cases Jesus says the same thing about what awaits those who have their sights set on greatness and a desire to be first: it's a lot of work! And while some may interpret Jesus' words in a challenging way, as something to strive for through servanthood, I'm not so sure that's His recommendation. I think it's more of a warning to not get the wrong impression about what it means to truly follow Him.

The purpose of following Jesus is not to earn God's favor. It's not to show God or others how good and committed I can be. He's not looking for me to sacrifice more or to be perfect or to become worthy of His attention and love. People often expect that of me, but God is interested in something else. He wants me to recognize how much I need Him. Like a child needs a parent's care. Like a sick person needs a doctor. Like a blind man needs a miracle. I have nothing to offer Him, but He has everything to offer me.

When a rich man came to Jesus and asked Him what he needed to do to inherit eternal life, I think he may have expected Jesus to say, 'Give twenty percent of your income to the Temple instead of only ten: give me a little more and I'll reward you for it.' But Jesus told him to give everything he had. Why? Because God really needed his money? I don't think so. God's resourcefulness is not dependent on us humans. So what was Jesus really asking for? He wanted the man to let go of his self-sufficiency. He didn't want him to be placing his trust and identity in his money because riches are fleeting and require a lot of time and energy to maintain. They can be gone in a moment and become the source of a lot of worry. Having money can be nice, but it can also be a tremendous burden. Just ask the man who went away sad in his wealth. Where was his joy? He didn't have any of that.

Contrast his story with the blind man's. The blind man has nothing to offer Jesus. All he could do was cry out for mercy. People told him to be quiet and not bother the good teacher. But he didn't listen to them. He had a need, and he wanted it met, and he wasn't ashamed to beg for it. 'Have mercy on me!' he cried. And how did Jesus respond? Did he ignore him or send him away or rebuke him or tell him what he needed to do to earn God's favor? No. He asked him what he needed, and He gave him his sight because he asked for it. That's faith. Believing in God's mercy. In unmerited favor. In God's concern for His people. In God's heart that loves beyond reason.

If I was to meet Jesus face to face today, and He had one question to ask me, I don't think He would say, 'How much have you done for Me, Melanie?' or 'How have you proved your love for Me?' or 'How much money have you given?' or 'How much have you sacrificed for Me?' Those are human standards of measurement. Performance based. Law based. Impossible standards for an impossible-to-please god.

But Jesus' standard of measurement is a little different. Not 'How much have you given?' but 'How much have you received? How much do you believe in My love--My unconditional love--and in My ability to meet your need and also My willingness to.' Why do I believe that? Because of all the people Jesus interacts with in these two chapters of Mark, the two He responds most favorably to are those who have the least to offer Him. This blind man. And the children. Why? Because they are completely open to His love. To His mercy. To His openness. To His heart. They're not asking, 'What do I need to do to get on God's good side?' It never even crosses their mind. They just come when He says, 'Come closer.' They just receive His warm embrace and His healing touch.

They are "the least of these" and they aren't striving for greatness. They don't feel ignored. And they aren't concerned with their own faithfulness, just His. They aren't consumed with performance, they're consumed with His presence and His love.

And so am I. Are you? I hope so, because it's a beautiful place to be.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

They came to Capernaum. When Jesus was at the house, he asked his disciples, "What were you arguing about on the road?"

But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. Sitting down, Jesus spoke to them and said, "If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all."

Mark 9:33-35

Jesus goes on to talk about welcoming children and "outsiders"(who were actually insiders according to Jesus), and then He talks about causing "these" to sin. I think He means leading others astray by inaccurate teaching about their value and worth in God's eyes. Most, including the disciples, had disregard for their pure hearts just because they weren't seen as important in society and even among religious people.

How does this happen? How do we overlook those who are so valuable in God's eyes? By trying to get ahead. By reaching for greatness, walking toward prestige, and having the wrong focus. (Mark 9:42-47)

Jesus finishes by talking about salt and being at peace with one another. (49-50) Salt is a symbol of the covenant--God's grace, love, and faithfulness. And this is what we should be reaching out for and walking toward and seeking to receive. To receive God's love brings peace, for ourselves and with others, not striving to be first--even through servanthood. If the motive for servanthood is to get ahead, it's not any better than trying to get there through dishonest means and probably more exhausting.

A true attitude of servanthood, one that welcomes and accepts others for who they are and where they're at--this comes from allowing God to first serve me.