How can I be sure?

It wasn’t really until 1991 that I came to clearly understand how much my husband, Ron, loves me. I’m not sure why after fifteen years of marriage I was still unsure.

We know that emotional needs and expressions of love are most often experienced very differently between a husband and wife. As the author Gary Chapman says in his book The Five Love Languages, husbands and wives don’t always speak the same love language.

I still had this little doubt in my mind about how deeply Ron loved me. It was a gap that existed, not in his faithfulness, but in my understanding of his love.

I’ll never forget, in 1991 Ron and I saw Kevin Costner in the movie Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. It’s funny how sometimes a movie moment can interpret something from real life that hasn’t been clearly understood before.

Toward the end of the movie Robin Hood (Kevin Costner) says to Maid Marian, “I would die for you.” Of course, that line was written so that I would fall in love with Kevin Costner. But that’s not what happened. Instead, I turned to Ron and asked with a really shaky voice and tears welling up in my eyes, “Would you die for me?” He pulled me closer and put his arms around me and said, “Of course I would die for you. I would give my life to protect yours in a heart beat because I love you so much.”

And there it was. Those words from Ron helped me understand what was already a reality.

I felt assured of the deepest love Ron has to offer.

Not long after I read this verse, Romans 5:6-8:

 6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

And I wept.

Because I felt assured of the deepest love God has to offer.

Lonely Places

There is a story in the Gospel of Luke about a man who was covered with leprosy.  When he met up with Jesus he humbly bowed down with his face to the ground and said, “Lord, if you choose you can make me clean.”  Jesus never refused to heal anyone who asked.  So Jesus stretched out his hand to the man and said, “I do choose. Be made clean.”  The man was healed. Because of this Jesus gained many new followers and by the end of the story, Luke says, “…Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”

Because I’m a bit of an extravert I don’t like lonely places. If I am alone, I feel a need to have music playing or something random on TV so that I don’t feel like I’m alone.

But I have a need to be in a lonely place with God.  It is when I am alone with God that I have the deepest and most profound experience of God’s presence with me. Here, there is no competition for my attention except what is roaming around in my own head. Eventually I can clear away the clutter and be with God completely. Alone with God, I can bow down with my face to the ground to praise him and ask him to fix me up once again and restore me for a new day, or even a new year.

 I am here alone with God now, beginning a brand new day and brand new year as I say, “Lord, if you choose you can make me clean.”   I only hear the clock ticking with my ears but with my heart I hear God’s Spirit speaking to my soul, “I do choose. Be made clean.”

 God is Big Enough

Undone

In seven days time it will be Christmas.

About this time yesterday the imminence of Christmas made me feel a bit anxious. I still had a lot of preparations still undone. So I sat down and wrote out a detailed list of what I needed to do then set out on a six hour errand and shopping trek. Ever so often I would sit in my car and check items off my list. As the number of checked off items grew larger my anxiety about preparations diminished more and more.

Toward the end of the day I evaluated what I had left to do which somehow led me to spend some time thinking about Advent. Since it is a whole season of preparation for the coming of the Christ Child I reflected on how I was doing there. I asked myself, “What have I done so far to prepare for Jesus?”  I have a pretty good handle on the material preparations but what about the preparations of my soul for the coming of the King? How am I doing with that? Where is my list for that?

So I’m reflecting on Isaiah 61 today. These prophetic words of Isaiah speak of who Jesus will be and what he will do. It lists actions that please God.  

1 The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners, 
to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor…

These words do not make me feel anxious but hopeful.

Still, I am undone, I am unprepared to receive a King and perhaps for me to recognize this is really the point of Advent.  But Jesus will be fully prepared, full of grace, good news, healing, freedom and light.  

And so today I say, ”Come, Lord Jesus. I am unprepared for you. Please bring me your peace.”

Full of Grace

I heard a reading of Scripture  in a podcast from another Methodist church last week that captured my interest and spoke to me in a new way about this particular passage from Luke 1.  Here’s what I heard:

 God’s messenger, Gabriel, was sent to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a young woman who was engaged to man named Joseph, who himself was a descendant of the great King David. And the young woman’s name was Mary. And God’s messenger said to her, “Hello you who are full of grace! God is with you!”  And she was perplexed by his words and a bit shaken up by them. And Gabriel continued, “Don’t be afraid Mary. God has a special place in his heart for you. Because of that you are going to have a baby, a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. 

I’ve been imagining what it might feel like to hear from a messenger of God, “Hello you who are full of grace!” or “God has a special place in his heart for you.” 

Those words remind me of what an amazing young girl Mary was.  Her nature and her heart must have reflected all the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control).  After all, she was the one chosen and trusted by God for this precious and amazing mission, to be the mother of God’s Son, Jesus.

I compared myself to Mary and of course fell short of seeing in myself the nature that God must have noticed in her. I was feeling pretty miserable about myself and the areas that I continue to fail in. And I found myself apologizing to God for not being more like Mary!   

And then out of nowhere, it hit me. I sensed God saying something to me and I heard all the words in a different way.  ”Hello you who are full of grace! God has a special place in his heart for you.” 

And I was reminded. Those words are really not about us. 

They’re about God.

Deep Darkness

This morning I read our Grow Pray Study guide passage from Isaiah 9: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”

Throughout the Bible we are led to remember the experiences of people who have struggled in the darkness. God wants us to take time to remember where we have been and where we are going. Without remembering my own experiences of deep darkness I cannot appreciate the freedom and light I know today through my relationship with Jesus.

Walking in deep darkness is a phrase that can describe cycles of the human condition. Fear, anxiety, apathy, depression, confusion, crisis, pain, suffering, and hopelessness are some of the feelings that can fuel the deep darknesss. 

God created our life here on Earth to cycle from dawn to daylight and the deepest night back to dawn again.  This cycle helps us remember that as deep as the darkness may be, dawn always comes again. We can depend on it.  It gives us hope. Deep darkness doesn’t have the last word. God does. 

Today I want to remember that no matter how dark or overwhelming a situation may feel to me, God always has the last word and the last word is not deep darkness. The last word is Jesus.

Fog

This may sound strange, but I really like being in the fog!  I’m not talking about  a mental fog, but the mist that surrounds me on a foggy morning, like this morning, as I walk and think about God being present here with me. 

Fog is really a cloud that makes its way down to earth and when I find myself swallowed up in white misty fog, as I am this morning, I am reminded of the great ocean of God’s Spirit that surrounds me each moment of every day. How can I not feel his presence? Why do I struggle to take more of it in? 

Throughout Scripture God’s presence has often been represented as a cloud, especially in the story of Moses.   I love this verse from Exodus 34:5: Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the LORD.

God came down as a cloud, enveloping Moses in his presence.  Still, God had to introduce himself to Moses. That’s kind of funny but it’s also real.  As human beings we constantly struggle to live in the present with an awareness of God being near.

In this day, I want to practice developing my awareness of God’s presence.  I also want to make this my prayer for the week: God, show me your will for my life. Amen.

Where God Dwells

Before I enter into the busyness of this day, I enter into prayer and slow down my thoughts to place God at the center of it all. I think about all the people and situations I might encounter in this day.  Just as God is present with me here, God will be present with me in every moment of this day. God sanctifies ordinary people and ordinary situations and makes them holy.

I read from 1 Corinthians 3 “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? …For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.”

That last sentence is one I spend some time thinking about. ”For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.”  What an amazing thought.

Something about the way I heard that sentence today brings new understanding for me. ”For God’s temple is holy” is a phrase I can  comprehend more easily.  But, “and you are that temple,” is a phrase I have to spend some time on.  I emphasize different words in that phrase to try and gain new understanding. And you are that temple. And you are that temple. And you are that temple. And you are that temple.

I am that temple, the temple where God lives. I carry the living God with me. Wherever I go, whoever I’m with…I carry God with me.  I carry God’s heart in my heart.

i carry your heart with me by E. E. Cummings
i carry your heart with me (i carry it in my heart)
i am never without it (anywhere i go you go, my dear;
and whatever is done by only me is your doing)
i fear no fate (for you are my fate)
i want no world (for beautiful, you are my world, my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

 here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)

Good Grief

I remember reading a book once titled Good Grief. I first thought it might have been written by one of the Peanuts characters, “Good grief Charlie Brown!” is what I immediately heard in my head. But it turned out that it was a book that helped me understand healthy ways to deal with grief. The author is Granger Westberg and the book is still in print. 

The book outlines 10 stages of grief we journey through in timelines that are generally unique to each individual. The most basic teaching from this book is that grieving takes us to places we may be unprepared for but we must be patient and accepting of ourselves and the process. We’re okay! I was reminded that God wired us to cope through time, faith and relationships.  We need to let people we trust know when we need help and encouragement.

 I’m going through a period of grief right now. Yesterday I was energetic and felt completely in control. Today I’m sad and hurting. I felt a little guilty yesterday because I felt so good, I felt at peace. But I reminded myself that my mind, body and emotions know how much grief I can cope with at one time. I’m not completely in control of this process. I need to be patient with myself. I knew the tears would come again. But each day brings new progress. As I look back I know I’m better today than I was on Monday.  

 If you’re dealing with grief don’t be impatient with yourself. Take some extra hugs, talk with someone about how you’re feeling, they may be feeling the same way. Grief is something we do together.

Holy Moment

I can’t say that I really have words to express what I was given a glimpse of at 2:22am this morning, but I’ll try. My precious friend Charlene passed from this world, which is veiled with things that distract us from God, into our real world, the one where we are completely present with God for life. I’m still breathing in the mystery of that moment.

Charlene’s love for God, faith in Jesus and heart for making faith and love real for everyone within her reach provided a great gift to all of us. She helped us see what she saw, and she never shied away from helping us tighten up our focus on God. How could we miss him while in her presence? And she challenged us to do more than look for God, “living in obedience” was her mantra. How many times have we heard her respond to our questions and ponderings with…”sometimes we just have to be obedient to God and the rest will come.” When all that is swirled together with a huge flair for comedy, creativity, zany brainstorming, competitive game playing and detailed list making…well, you’ve got a whirlwind of fun named Charlene.

So last night I had the sweet privilege of being close by as my dear friend slipped from this world to the next. As she took her last breath, I felt as though I too had stopped breathing. The room was silent to me, but I know there must have been weeping. I was swept away into a place of spiritual imagination (a phrase I had only learned earlier in the day), watching her as she entered heaven. I sensed the wonder and amazement she must have been experiencing in that moment. I imagined that the presence of God swept over and through all her senses, leaving her filled with peace…leaving her filled with refreshment. Complete is the simple word that kept coming to my mind.

Then someone in the room asked me to pray.  I really didn’t want to break through the silence with the sound of my own words but I knew it was time to be present with her family. So I did my best to bless that holy moment with my own inadequate words.

All I can say now is, “Thank you, lovely Charlene, for being my friend!”

God and Suffering

Yesterday I had a conversation with a friend who was struggling to understand more about God and suffering.  When a person knows that the pain they are experiencing will likely continue for the rest of their life, and they have many years of life yet to come, the future can feel hopeless and overwhelming. When we lose someone we love, life may not make sense for a long period of time. We all hurt and we all have questions about why.

Questions like, “Why did God choose this to happen?” are valid questions for all of us to explore.  So I’m sharing a link to a sermon by Adam Hamilton, Senior Pastor of the Church of the Resurrection UMC in Leawood, Kansas. Adam explores these questions and provides a perspective on God’s role in our life and death that I appreciate. I’ve shared a link to that sermon. Check it out if these are questions you’re exploring as well.
God and Suffering

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