Living in Peace

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St. Teresa's Bookmark

St. Teresa’s Bookmark

I love these words from Teresa of Avila, a devoted follower of Jesus in the 16th century. Teresa was said to have had this reminder as a bookmark in her prayer book which she carried with her.  I imagine these words served as an encouragement to her, especially through her most difficult days.

These words echo the words of Jesus in the 14th chapter of John’s gospel.  Twice He tells His disciples, “Do not let your heart be troubled” ( v.1 and v.27).   And in verse 27 He adds, “nor let it be fearful.”  He says this to them as they are about to enter what was probably the most turbulent 3 days of their lives. Their friend and trusted Messiah is about to be taken from them in the worst possible way. Their dreams, their hopes, their expectations of a glorious future will all die with Jesus. So how can they NOT be troubled and afraid through this?

Let nothing disturb you. Let nothing make you afraid.”  How does one go through such loss and hurt and not be troubled and afraid? Jesus told them in the first half of v. 27.  “Peace I leave with you;  My peace I give to you...”  As Christians, having God’s peace is our birthright. There are many things in life which are lost, taken away, or never ours to begin with.  But God’s peace is not one of those things. True, we have to hang on to it and sometimes fight to keep it. Our adversary is always at work trying to take it from us. But God’s peace is ours to keep. Our task (by the grace of God) is to hang on to peace and not let go.

The truth is, Jesus knew what His disciples could not conceive. That is, that the turmoil and loss that they were about to go through would have a glorious ending. God had it all under control. The same is true for us. Whatever loss or pain-causing turmoil is happening in life right now is in the hands of our heavenly Father. It is under His control and He will bring good out of it. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be afraid.  If you have lost the peace that is yours in Christ, God wants you to have it back. Whatever is happening in your life is not outside of God’s sovereign hand.  He is the God of resurrection and redemption. Though we cannot see His ultimate purpose in allowing our circumstances, He promises that He is working behind the scenes for our good. Therefore we need not be troubled or dismayed.

Peace to you this day.

 

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Got Hope?

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 This I recall to mind, therefore I have hope…..

Lamentations 3:21`

I admit that I do not remember many details from the myriad of lectures I listened to throughout my seminary years. Mostly I remember the general principles conveyed. But one detail I remember is this: When someone comes to you for pastoral counseling, ALWAYS help them leave with hope. God is a God of hope. There is ALWAYS hope in Him no matter what the circumstances may be. Sometimes I too need reminding of this bedrock truth.

Hope is a necessary ingredient to life. When hope fades or is abruptly taken away it doesn’t take long to sink into despair. We cannot live without hope. But what IS hope? It is just a positive attitude we have to muster up? I hope tomorrow is a better day kind of thinking? I don’t think so. Hope in the Scriptures is much more.

Hope in the Bible is defined as confident expectation. It is confidence grounded in fact.  That ground of fact is the nature and character of God, who is called the God of hope (Rom 15:13). When nothing and seemingly no one is dependable in life, when the circumstances of our lives aren’t giving us our needed sense of security, there is One in whom we can find the hope we need. God desires to give us this inner stability that we each so desperately need.

Evelyn Underhill wrote about this in her book Concerning the Inner Life:row boat

“It is true that my little boat rolls heavily on the surface of the waves, and often makes me feel very ill; but under those waves is the firm ground of Reality, the Life of God. This sense that beyond all appearance we depend utterly on the Goodness of God, and can depend on it – this is Hope.”

        Concerning the Inner life by Evelyn Underhill, p. 126

No matter what is going on in our outer world, God intends for us to have hope in our inner world. We can have confident expectation in His goodness and love for us. That is not an empty wish.  Our confidence is in fact, the firm ground of Reality.  We are held in the love and goodness of God. The quote from the prophet Jeremiah continues:

This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, says my soul, therefore I have hope in Him.                          Lamentations 3:21-24

We can have hope in God no matter what is going on in our lives. He holds us secure in His good and unfailing love. All His plans for us are good. All His thoughts toward us are good. All His work in our lives is good, flowing from His heart of love and compassion. We can have confident expectation as we  look to Him this day.

About Faith

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“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1

and without faith it is impossible to please God.  Hebrews 11:6

I watched in church today as a blind lady made her way to the altar for communion. Though she could not see where she was going she walked confidently, her yellow Labrador leading the way. I thought about her trust, that is, her faith in her canine companion to lead her safely to where she needed to be. Such a simple picture of a trusting relationship….a person trusting the sight and good will of another.

I am convinced that is what God is looking for in me at present. God wants my implicit trust. He wants me to trust both His ability to lead me in the right direction and His goodness behind His motives. He tells us that we are to live our lives this way, walking by faith rather than by our sight. We are to trust Him with our whole heart. But in all honesty, I would rather be able to see where I’m going to make my faith walk easier. Trust is one thing. Complete and implicit trust is quite another.

Knowing this about me, I believe God in His love has at times led me to places where I cannot see at all, where I am unable to rely upon my sight. There I have a choice – to complain about the darkness and imagine the worst or trust the confession of the psalmist, “Nevertheless I am continually with You; You have taken hold of my right hand. With Your counsel You will guide me...” (Ps. 73:23).  I must admit that God has led me to this place many times. Many times I start out trusting Him but inevitably end up complaining about the darkness and imagining the worst is coming.  But in His love He keeps giving me opportunities to rise to a new level of faith and trust in Him.  He is very patient with me.

In that wonderful song Oceans by Hillsong there is a prayer that has become my own.

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior

Each day is a new opportunity to put our whole trust in Him. For that reason I thank Him for the darkness. I am grateful for His goodness and His faithfulness to lead me on a good path. I want my trust to be without borders. If I could see I would have no reason to trust. Today may my faith be made stronger in the presence of my Savior.

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I have lost count of how many times I have heard the lectures from the Formational Prayer Seminars in Ashland, OH. It is one of the many benefits of serving as a caregiver. Truthfully, the lectures are so rich that I can listen to them repeatedly for the rest of my life and still learn something new every time. This last time at the seminar was no exception.  On the subject of the character of God and how He relates to us, Terry Wardle simply stated that “God is not transactional.” He got my attention. Then as an example he explained how some of us preachers will try to be especially good the week before preaching. Perhaps skipping the extra glass of wine, or maybe being a little pickier about what we choose to watch on TV, or just putting a little more effort into our sanctification progress. The thought behind it is, if I try my best to please God then I am in a better position to receive His anointing and blessing. Thus, my congregation will get a better sermon. Silly?  No, I think he nailed a hidden attitude in many of us.  The better I am at keeping the rules the more God will bless me. Conversely, when I mess up or (God forbid) even sin knowingly and intentionally, then I can expect to be snubbed instead of blessed.

It’s really not our fault why we have the tendency to think this way. They are mental models/thought patterns that we have acquired over the years. Think about it, it’s the way the world works. We are taught that if I am naughty instead of nice then Santa will not leave me toys. If I am a good girl or boy I will make my parents and teachers happy. If I have perfect Sunday School attendance then I get a pin. When I am a dutiful and good employee I may get a raise or a promotion (sometimes). We are taught to have a transactional mindset in life. When I put money in the machine my Coke comes out. It’s how the world works.

We naturally bring that mindset into our relationship with God. When I am good He blesses me. When I sin there’s a price to pay. But that is not God’s way. Because of Jesus’ full payment for ALL our sins on the cross God’s way of relating to us is now grace.  Just grace. I do not get what I deserve. Instead I get His lavish love. God is not transactional with us.  What good news!  I mean really, is there EVER a time when you do not sin? Would you really want God to be transactional?

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him.”       Col 2:6

Funny how we know we are saved by grace yet we have a hard time living by it. Grace is a difficult mindset to live by. Something inside of us wants the control of earning our way. But that is not the way of the Kingdom. The workers who came late and worked only an hour got the same wages as those who worked hard all day. Grace! God does not deal with me according to what I deserve. EVER. That’s incredibly good news.

Yes, there are at times consequences to my sins. Just as touching a hot stove will burn my finger, sin causes pain and injury. But consequences should never be mistaken with how God relates to us. Our sins are forgiven and now nothing separates us from His love. God wants us to develop a new mindset of living totally and completely by grace. Today and always we live in the Ocean of His grace and love.  Sorry, no transactions allowed.

 

Responding to His Love

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There’s a wideness in God’s mercy like the wideness of the sea.

Jesus’ call to each one of us is a call to be aware of His presence, to turn toward Him and to surrender to His love. This is the call He offers me each and every day of my life. My response is never once for all. As Anthony of the Desert said, ‘Every morning I must say again to myself, today I start.'”   (Surrender to Love by David Benner, p.75)

It sounds so simple. God wants us to be aware of His presence. Of course He does! How deeply it hurts when the one we love takes no notice of us, has no time for us, or seems oblivious to our desire to be with them. Relationship is connection, being dialed in to the internal state of the other, living in awareness of the thoughts and feelings of the one we love. How utterly amazing that God wants this kind of connection with us. God is with us and He wants us to know it!  More than that, He wants us to experience His presence.

There is not a second that passes in which God is not completely aware and empathizing with what concerns us. His love surrounds us, fills us, and penetrates every part of our being at all times. His invitation is simply for us to receive. That is actually easier than it sounds. Openness to love requires vulnerability, a letting down of our protective defenses…many of which are so second nature to us that we no longer know they are defenses. Yet, that is what our healing journey is about. It is a journey to become more and more able to receive and rest in His love and thus become more like Him. God calls us to brave vulnerability in His presence. There we find the safety and love we long for.

So each day is a new start. Each day is an incredible opportunity to respond to His extravagant love. This is my desire – to live in the Ocean of His Love, aware of His nearness, attuned to His heart.