Tie That Shoe

Throughout life, I think each person can identify times they have been tripped up. Some of these occurrences may be pretty dramatic and life changing, others are smaller in nature. A conversation taking a wrong turn may cause a person to stumble on their journey. It might be a financial decision which derails plans and goals. There are all types of ways to be tripped up in life.

Just as our plans and journey in life can include ways we trip up, our spiritual journey in life can also include times when we have been tripped up. As you read the stories and accounts in Scripture, you hear of individuals experiencing these encounters. David, who was to be the greatest king of Israel, was tripped up when he saw a beautiful woman bathing one day (see 2 Samuel 11). Jonah thought he knew what was right and what God should do about Nineveh (see the Book of Jonah). Looking out for one’s personal welfare while trying to give to others became the life plan for Ananias and Sapphira but was not right for the community of faith (see Acts 5). Even Jesus was tempted to trip up (see Matthew 4:1-11). There are many other examples throughout Scripture.

With all these ways to be tripped up, how do we protect ourselves from them? Whether it is financially, physically, relational, or spiritual, the untied shoes in life can cause us to stumble in small and large ways. Referring back to Jesus’ temptation mentioned above, I think we are given examples of ways to avoid those stumbling dangers. In addition to that, I think it is vital for us to have someone in our lives who can serve as guide and sounding board. Someone who we can discuss our triumphs, temptations, struggles, and falls.

What trips you up in life? How have you attempted to mediate those situations? Do you have someone who can help you avoid those trips?

Carrying the Load

Living in the community which I now live in, I have become much more aware of the number of semi-trucks and trains which carry freight around our nation. The semi-trucks were not all that new to me since I lived near an interstate highway which transverses from east to west coast and another which transverses down the middle of our nation. However, I thought transporting by train was from an earlier era in our country’s history. I can definitely say it is not since I now cross at least four train tracks to do a lot of my shopping. The number of times I am stopped at a train crossing is amazing. These observations led me to think about how the loads of life are carried.

Who carries your burden or load in life?

One of the items which I picked up when I did a lot of counseling of individuals is the importance of support systems. Life is clearly unpredictable. No life escapes challenges, hardships, and brokenness. During those periods in a person’s life, having friends and family who can offer support, a listening ear, or solicited counsel can make a tremendous difference. If someone is able to walk the path with you, then there is less of a feeling of isolation. Another person can assist you in putting your burden in perspective. While you still will need to walk the path and carry the majority of the load, having a support system can ease that load for you.

The gift of family and friends is the fulfillment of the Lord’s promise to provide rest for all who are weary and burdened. (See Matthew 11:28). The Lord understands the loads which we carry. We were never intended to live life alone. God saw the importance of having others to assist us at the very beginning of creation. The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” We are to have a helper or set of helpers to join in carrying our load.

I know that there are some people who try to carry their burdens by themselves. This type of person does not share with others those times when challenges come their way. The person may even place a lot of effort into presenting an image that they are fine. They may choose not to share out of shame, guilt, or because being self-reliant was modeled in an extreme way to them. For anyone who chooses this approach, I want to say this is definitely not what God intends. God has given others to carry the load with us. Do not let this gift go to waste.

So who assists you in carrying the load? Who are the individuals which have been placed in your life right now who can provide comfort, counsel, encouragement? If you have not, identify those people now. Utilize them to help carry your burden. You do not have to go through anything alone.

The Struggle

I saw a person wearing a t-shirt which read, “The struggle is real.” After reading the words on the shirt, I began to ponder some questions. What is the struggle? Is it life? Is it a specific situation? Is it a project or task upon which effort is being made? Is it something spiritual? Is this in reference to an addiction? What exactly are we talking about here? Then I came to realize that the specifics are not what matters, what matters is the acknowledgment that for this person the struggle is real.

The truth is that all of us have struggles whether we declare it by wearing a t-shirt or if we keep them to ourselves. For some of us the struggles change over time. Others have a constant struggle like those dealing with addictions. There are times the struggle seems overwhelming. At different times we may even be able to manage the struggle and even overcome it. While facing whatever struggle is in our life, that struggle is completely real to us.

During his ministry, Jesus encountered many individuals who faced struggles. In the Bible, these struggles at times are verbalized in a spiritual sense using words which conjure up images of demons. An example of this is the man who is found naked in the graveyards outside of Gerasenes. Different stories of struggle are shared using words which create the idea of physical abnormalities. The man who was blind is an example of this imagery. In every one of the stories about Jesus encountering people with struggles, Jesus demonstrates a loving response. Jesus does not minimize their struggles but instead shows compassion, a willingness to listen, and provides for their needs. This example is one which can be very important as we strive to understand how to respond to the struggles of those around us.

Jesus also encountered struggles of his own. Stories of Jesus struggling to continuously minister to those around him are numerous throughout the Gospels. Jesus also struggles with the frustration of his message not being heard and understood by those with whom he speaks. The most poignant display of Jesus’ struggle is when he is in the olive trees on the Mount of Olives, the night of his arrest. The struggle is so intense that the author of Luke shares, “And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” (Luke 22:44) Again, Jesus gives us an example of what to do when our struggle seems so real, every time he would go to the Father in prayer.

Yes, the struggle is real, but Jesus provides examples of how to handle the struggle. Whether the struggle is someone else’s or our own, Jesus shows us the way.

The Chains

One of my favorite Christmas movies is A Christmas Carol. I prefer the version with George C Scott playing Scrooge. For me to feel like it is Christmas time, I have to watch this movie. I think the reason is this adaptation of Charles Dickens story speaks to the heart of Christmas, the attitude of giving and being set free from those chains which bind us from appreciating life.

As a Christian, this movie also reminds me of the breaking of chains which accompanied the work of the Lord. Jesus shared the love which God has for every person and gave us the opportunity to be free from the chains which prevents us from appreciating life. In his teachings and actions during his ministry, he worked at destroying the chains which society placed on people. He held leadership accountable for putting burdens of rules and expectations on the people. Jesus taught that love, not oppression, was the intention of God. He redefined social norms. He confronted boundaries established by the world. Jesus taught and demonstrated that God’s love provides freedom.

Every year when I see Marley come to warn Ebeneezer about the chains which he is forging in his life, I wonder about my chains. What is it that is forging the chain which I wear? How am I contributing to the forging of someone else’s chain? This can be a very humbling self-reflection. I always think of the lessons Scrooge learned from the three visitors as I am reflecting on how I live my life and the comparisons.

Then after some self-reflection and recommitting myself to work at providing a better reflection of God’s love, then I am reminded of the promise which I have received. The Lord has promised to remove those chains which bind me. I am set free in the Lord’s love and grace. All I have to do is reach out and accept it. Then my reflection of God’s love is a response and not a requirement. In order for Scrooge to reduce his chains, he had to change his life, his view of Christmas, and the way he treated others. The Lord takes away my chains even before I change my life.

What chains are you forging in your life? Have you allowed the Lord to remove those chains or are you still clinging to them? Are you responding to what the Lord has already done for you or do you think you still have to earn the removal of your chains?

Let the Lord remove your chains forever and enjoy the happiness of life and love!

Remove the Clog

Sometimes in life we encounter clogs. Drains and toilets clog for a variety of reasons. If you have dogs who shed, like we do, you often find that you have to deal with a vacuum which clogs because of all the dog hair it is picking up. Whatever the cause, clogs can be very frustrating and may require a large amount of effort to remove. As long as the clog is there, the flow of water, air, or other materials will be impeded.

Times in life occur when we are clogged. I had a pretty wicked cold at the end of the year and for a couple of weeks my breathing was hampered because of a clogged nose. The experience is actually what started my thought process around clogs. Realizing that I was continuously blowing my nose in an attempt to remove the clog, I began to think about how at times I can become spiritually clogged, congested so that nothing is flowing through me.

I have heard others express what I have felt at times. A person might talk about not being able to feel connected to the Lord. The individual may mention that there does not seem to be a sense of spiritual energy flowing through them at a given time. When I preached regularly and led worship, I would have times when I felt disconnected from the Lord and disengaged in some ways. There existed a hindrance of some sort.

During these periods of time, I had to pause myself to do some examination. Much like with a clogged drain, I had to determine what was the source of the clog. Only by understanding the source could I go about the task of unclogging it. After discovering the source and taking the proper action(s) to remove the clog, then I felt the Spirit flowing through me once again. I think this is vital for everyone. Self-examination done on a regular basis is necessary to discover and remove whatever may clog our lives and prevent the Spirit from freely flowing through us.

Have you ever felt that you might be spiritually clogged? Do you regularly check to determine if a clog, or even the start of a clog, exists in your life? Is the Spirit flowing through you unimpeded?

Cravings

I was in Starbucks the other day and on one of their signs said, “Feed your cravings.” The sign caused me to pause to consider the implications of what was written. Of course Starbucks was encouraging me to buy one of their specialty drinks but I began to think about other cravings and how they are fed.

One type of craving is for some specific food or flavor. Times occur when I have a craving for salty food. I want a snack that has salt detectably in it or on it. It might be popcorn or chips or peanuts. I go rummaging through cupboards at the house until I find an item which will take care of what I strongly desire. Other times I may crave not just a specific flavor but a specific food. I may be wanting a grilled hamburger with all the toppings. These cravings are pretty easily identified and often easily fed.

Another craving which may present itself but may not be as quickly satisfied has to do with human interaction. This may be a desire to have someone to hug and with whom you have physical contact. Or it could be the strong need to have an individual with whom you can talk. This craving usually requires more time to satisfy since it involves some level of relationship being established.

I am sure that you could list many other cravings that may need fed. Cravings for wealth. Cravings for fame. A craving to be noticed. All cravings require some level of effort to be satisfied. They may also require involvement of other individuals. If I followed what was on the Starbuck sign, after I made the decision to feed my special latte desire, I would still need a barista to prepare the drink so my craving could be fed.

There is one craving which we have been born with but is not always acknowledged. Each person has been born with a craving to find someone or something bigger than self. It is as if there is a hole inside us that needs something beyond us to fill it. I consider this to be our craving for God. We were designed to be integrated with God. The hunger for the divine nature is real. Many people attempt to feed this craving with aspects of this world but find that the fulfillment is not lasting and soon the craving returns. I think this is what often drives individuals to want something bigger or better than what they currently possess. The feeding of this craving with anything less than God is futile.

So yes Starbucks, I will feed my craving. I will feed it through daily conversation with the Lord. My feeding will include time spent reading Scripture and the writings of other Christians. Quiet times to reflect upon my relationship with God will be part of my effort to feed my craving.

How do you feed your craving for God? Are you even aware of this craving in your life? When have you attempted to feed the craving with something other than God?

Blessings

“You will be blessed the moment you realize that you already are.”

Bryant McGill

When I think of blessings, often what comes to my mind are big things like the home in which I live, the work which provides for us, my husband, my family, and my friends. However, recently I have discovered that there are many small blessings which fill my day and I do not pause to acknowledge. The quote from Bryant McGill reminds me that realization of being blessed allows those smaller blessings, along with the larger ones, to create an attitude of thankfulness within me.

A few days back, I was taking a break and sitting on the couch. One of our dogs, Leroy, who is a one hundred pound black lab mix suddenly decided to join me on the couch. This rarely happens, often because our smaller beagle/basset mix dog has already claimed space on the couch. This day not only did Leroy join me on the couch, but he decided to lay his head on my lap. I cannot recall a time when he chose to do this. Add to this amazing action the fact that at the time he was wearing a cone due to a medical procedure to his ear a few weeks prior. I was totally caught off guard and savored the moment. This was an unexpected blessing which filled me with great joy.

This event opened my eyes to see other small blessings in my life. Blessings like sitting outside in our backyard on a warm, sunny day while watching birds at the three feeders I have placed by one of our fences. I enjoy watching the birds and seeing what different types come to eat. One of my favorites is a cardinal which lives in the trees and bush found in our neighbor’s yard in the corner where our fences meet. Recently, as I sat outside, I noticed the brilliant red color of the cardinal’s feathers as he moved between the feeder and the fence. I decided that if he was going to be a frequent visitor, he should have a name, so I named him Roger. A small blessing which brightened my day.

Having moved into our new home last November, life had been pretty hectic at the end of the year. The holidays added to the busyness of our lives. At Christmas time, my husband gave me the awesome gift of Adirondack chairs which he painted white. I had been saying how much I wanted a pair some day. After we took down the Christmas decorations from our front porch, he moved the chairs there along with a fun half-barrel stand which he also painted white. Now when the sun is shining I can sit on our front porch, greet our neighbors, read, and enjoy the beauty of our neighborhood. This has become another small blessing in my life.

These are a few examples of the small blessings which can easily be overlooked or taken for granted. The Lord continues to give me both large and small blessings. When I take the time to realize how blessed I am, I am moved to express gratitude. The key is taking the time for such a realization to manifest. I encourage each of you to look for not only the large blessings of your life but also the small ones. I leave you with this quote…

“Not what we say about our blessings, but how we use them, is the true measure of our thanksgiving.”

W T Purkiser

The Heart

I have observed over the years that most people want to appear to be good people. They desire others to see them in a positive light. Many will painstakingly do whatever it takes to present an admirable image to the world. I think this is strongly linked to our desire to be accepted, to belong, and to even be praised. This often leads to having a bit of a false self which is the one which we parade in front of others. When we are home, and or, alone, we act, speak, and think differently. Now having a public filter is often very wise because none of us have pure thoughts all the time, but when our false image becomes predominant, we have a problem.

As I have said before, I enjoy observing people. Since this has been a pastime for me for many years, I have become attuned to people’s nonverbal behaviors. I find that the nonverbals tell you about a person much more than their words. Because of this, an individual’s nonverbals can easily betray the true thoughts and responses. These betrayals give great insight into the true self, a glimpse into the person’s heart.

Some people have become very skilled at concealing their hearts. They have discovered how their nonverbal behaviors and their own words can give insight into their hearts. So they have learned skills which cover a large portion of their true self. However, there is one who can see beyond the skills and attempts to present a different image than that which is true. The one who sees directly into each person’s heart and knows every truth is the Lord.

The writer of Psalm 139 begins with this reminder: “You have searched me, Lord, and you know me.” This author was very aware of the Lord’s ability to see into the heart. The Lord knows us completely. Not only is the Lord aware of those words we use and the actions taken which is visible to everyone, the Lord knows our thoughts and motivations. The Lord knows our attitudes and desires. Our good and our bad are laid bare before the Lord. There are no false pretenses or false images before our God.

While I am an astute observer, I must admit that some of my perceptions of others are limited. In some situations I speculate and use previous experiences to form opinions. This is not necessary with the Lord. The Spirit of the Lord is able to connect with our spirits in fullness. Our hearts cannot be fortified against the infiltrating eye of the Lord.

Even with all of this insight into the true person who I am, the Lord still loves me. The Lord knows my heart fully yet accepts and claims me as a child of God. The love overcomes any of the negative found in me. The Lord declares me good.

Achievement and Kindness

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33)

This quote comes from Jesus’ teaching which we have come to know as the Sermon on the Mount. The section of Matthew’s Gospel from chapter 5 through chapter 7 is usually considered to be the sermon which Jesus gave on a hillside overlooking the Sea of Galilee. These verses are considered to be the underlying foundation for all of Jesus’ teaching. Included here are the “blessed” statements referred to as the Beatitudes, teachings on attitudes leading to actions, love for enemies, prayer (words of the Lord’s prayer found here), material possessions, worrying, judgment, and cautions regarding pitfalls. In the midst of all this we see guidance about what we should seek in life.

I began thinking about this passage after having read an article asking if showing kindness is a hindrance or aid to achievement. The author of the article cited some studies which were conducted to help determine the role of kindness in achievement. Many people view kindness as a hindrance to personal achievement because it shows weakness and a willingness to give versus striving to obtain. However, what the studies found was exactly the opposite. Those individuals who demonstrated kindness in their professional and personal lives, tended to reach a higher level of achievement.

My theory is that by extending kindness towards others, those who receive from your acts of kindness are more supportive of you reaching a goal, or set of goals, which you have set for yourself. They may even work to help you in obtaining what you seek. While those who view a person focused solely on themselves and not expressing kindness through words and actions, are less likely to attempt to support and work for the success of the individual.

This brings me back to the passage from Matthew 6. Here we are called by Jesus to seek those behaviors and attitudes which are within the character of God. From my reading of Scripture, it is clear to me that God intends for us to show kindness to one another. In the Old and New Testament, we are exhorted multiple times to show kindness to those who are oppressed, orphaned, or otherwise in a difficult situation in life. Jesus teaches that we are to show kindness not only to those who are similar to us and whom we like but also to our enemies. Kindness is definitely a component of the kingdom of God. Therefore, kindness is something which we should seek to demonstrate.

I am led to see the findings reported in the article which I read to be in coherence with the verse from Jesus’ sermon. By seeking God’s kingdom, through kindness, a person can obtain a higher level of achievement than using whatever methods will bring others down.

A Foggy Perspective

For the first three mornings this week, our city has been enveloped in fog. My understanding is that this is pretty common during the winter months in Texas. The warm, humid air from the gulf comes up north and encounters the cooler air from the north which causes the fog to develop. Yesterday, as I was looking at the fog blanket outside our windows, I was drawn to the passage from 1 Corinthians 13:12, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”

As I was pondering this verse, I began thinking about the perspective through which we view life, one another, and our Lord. Much like the fog of recent mornings, our perspective is not clear. We are not capable of knowing all but instead only a part of each item mentioned above. The promise is that there will be a time when I will see each in fullness but for now I have a fog over my sight which prevents me from seeing the whole.

My vision of my life is limited to the current and to the past. I can anticipate the future, just as I anticipate turns and intersections when driving a familiar path on a foggy morning. However, the certainty of my knowledge regarding my future is limited. Like the warnings on the morning news to take it slow and to give one’s self plenty of time to navigate through the fog, I must do the same as I move forward into my future.

The view which I have of others is also limited. I only see what that person allows me to see. I do not know their backstory unless they tell me it. The burdens carried by the person are only visible to me if they choose to share them with me. Caution is again vital when determining how I look at someone else. This reminds me that my judgment of them is impaired so be careful how I judge them.

As I look to the Lord, I also must acknowledge my vision is limited. I cannot comprehend the fullness of the Lord at this time. I see what has been revealed to me, and others, through Scripture, the account of Jesus’ life, and my ongoing relationship with the Lord. Anticipating the actions which the Lord will take, the way in which the Lord views the world and humanity, the abilities and power of the Lord is almost impossible based on what I know. I can only see the broadness of the Lord such as the complete focus on love, the endless times of forgiveness, and unconditional acceptance which is demonstrated and testified to over and over in the lives of myself and countless others.

Yet the promise mentioned in the verse from 1 Corinthians remains for all three of these. There will be a day when I will see my life in its fullness and my future will be fully understandable. My view of others will be complete when I am able to see the whole of the person and their life. The perspective which I have of the Lord will be whole as I stand in the full presence one day. But for now, I walk in the fog of my limits and I must be mindful to proceed with caution and take my time.