teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name... psalm 86:11

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

an invitation to forgive...

This past Sunday was the last week for my husband and I to attend service at our church… it was a place we thought was going to be a rest stop but it ended up becoming a home. It’s a church that values grace & truth, wholeness, generosity, mission, and creativity. And as we move on to the new church we’ve been called to serve at, it’s a tad bittersweet because of the growth we’ve experienced and the friendships we’ve made during this past year. {Don’t get me wrong, though, we are extremely excited too!}

Our leaving is taking place smack dab in the middle of a series of messages centered around the invitations of God… looking at what exactly it is that Jesus invites us into when we choose to follow Him. I came to church on Sunday hopeful and expectant for this final message there.

This week’s invitation was: “The Invitation to Forgive”… and one of the first things our Pastor said was that we will never experience the heart of God more than when we are participating in forgiveness and showing others grace. Because forgiveness IS the very heart of God.

I guess I never thought of it that way. Dang.

Our text was Matthew 18:21-35, a parable Jesus himself spoke that illuminates this tendency we all have to want grace for ourselves, but justice for everyone else. Why is it so easy to justify and explain away our own actions and attitudes, but so hard to extend that same benefit of the doubt to those who have wronged or hurt us?

The parable ends with a harsh statement that, quite honestly, I’ve never really known what to do with. Jesus says that the fate of the unforgiving servant is the same fate that awaits us unless we forgive our brothers and sisters from the heart. I’ve wrestled with this because it seems to put restrictions and qualifications on this grace that we so often speak of as being “free” and unwarranted by anything we do ourselves.

I’m starting to get it though… to see that it’s not a statement meant to strike fear, but rather it’s an invitation to experience the freedom Jesus offers. If we are so stuck in the shackles of bitterness and anger, then either we haven’t really grasped or accepted God’s forgiveness or we’re allowing something/someone to block its power for transformation in our lives.

So how are we to respond to someone who has wounded or wronged us? We seek to have the same reaction as the king had with his servant- “The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt, and let him go.” There is so much to this simple statement that we unpacked in church but here’s the nutshell recap:

- To pity means to allow our hearts to go out to them… to allow our heart to see a bigger picture, a picture in which we’re all sinners and broken.

- To cancel the debt doesn’t mean to just brush it off and pretend it never happened… there’s healing in acknowledging the damage done, but we then “absorb the debt” like the King did and move on.

- To let them go… take them down from the hook you’ve hung them up on and release them to the Lord. Why is it important to do this? Because by this act of grace, that person might be changed.

Over and over again in scripture, we are told to “forgive as you have been forgiven”… God is the standard and the foundation of this invitation {my pastor’s words- wish I could take credit!}. We need to remember that we are not the king or the judge, we are but a servant. A servant who has been let off the hook for a debt we could never repay. A servant who is invited to be in the presence of a King who is loving and who is just.

May we never lose sight of how much we’ve been forgiven… and may we learn to live lives that exude that same grace to others so that they too may be drawn to the King.


Friday, January 27, 2012

wandering minds...

“Our minds are always active. We analyze, reflect, daydream, or dream. There is not a moment during the day or night when we are not thinking. You might say our thinking is ‘unceasing’... Our ability to think is our greatest gift, but it is also the source of our greatest pain. Do we have to become victims of our unceasing thoughts? No, we can convert our unceasing thinking into unceasing prayer by making our inner monologue into a continuing dialogue with our God, who is the source of all love. Let’s break out of our isolation and realize that Someone who dwells in the center of our beings wants to listen with love to all that occupies and preoccupies our minds.” {henri nouwen}
I came across this Nouwen quote and immediately thought how relatable it was to the way my brain works… which slightly resembles a hamster on a wheel constantly running, running, running. Mental rest and stillness are hard to come by for this girl, and the crowdedness of my head typically doesn’t mesh well with the stereotypes of spiritual discipline that we’re encouraged to pursue for spiritual growth. But I love what Nouwen says, because the real spiritual discipline is learning to invite God into where we’re at. Instead of trying to force all thoughts out of mind to focus on the holy, we invite the holy to be a part of our right now.

While there is beauty in carving out time and space from our schedules (and thoughts) to sit before the Lord, I think there’s just as much beauty in consciously choosing to acknowledge His presence in the midst of our chaos. He’s there, He knows, and He loves us just as much in the mess and busyness as He does in the calm and still.

So today, I’m choosing to dialogue instead of monologue. Me and God have been discussing the swell of emotions with my husband’s new Youth Pastor job (praise God!), the anxiousness over finding an apartment and moving sometime in the VERY near future, the friendships I feel like I’m horribly neglecting, the ongoing to-do list I just simply don’t have time for, the cleaning of our apartment that isn’t going to get done before friends come over tonight… yup, this is where I’m at right now… and I’m so thankful that God is here with me in it.

“So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering.”
...romans 12:1 (msg)...

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

our daily bread...

On Monday I realized it was time… time to start writing again… the excuse of the holidays and busyness had long been expired. So I started to put words together in my mind while perusing through my morning blog list. But then, I stumbled upon this...

It was like she had literally peered inside my head and written down my thoughts for me {but much more eloquently} and posted it before I had a chance to. Kind of a little freaky, not gonna lie. So I stopped gathering my thoughts, since they’d already been said, and moved on to something else I’d been learning.

But today I find myself reminded of this again… and I wonder if I should still share it? When I started this blog it was a way to document things I’ve been learning- what God has shown me through His Word and through life. It was a new way to explore the two things I’m most passionate about- scripture and sharing life with others. So to be true to myself, I’m deciding to still explore these lingering thoughts and share them… even if they’ve been said before…

So here’s the deal… the honest truth… although I did take a break from posting anything for the holidays, I was mentally hoarding the holy whispers and the lessons lived from those weeks so I would have an arsenal of inspiration for when I started posting things again. Seemed like a good idea, right?!

But then, when I sat down to flesh some of these thoughts out and commit them to paper, there was nothing… these once profound meditations that had encouraged me, challenged me, motivated me had seemingly lost their intensity. What was holy sustenance one day was mere ramblings now. If God’s Word is unchanging in purpose and power, then why was there this shift in the specific responses it stirred within me?

As I was thinking about this I realized… God’s Word, His truth, wasn’t what had changed. It was ME that had changed. It’s like that old Heraclitus quote that speaks of how you can’t step into the same river twice because neither you or the river are the same. It’s the same with scripture…not that IT changes… but its application for you is going to morph as you approach it through the context of each day’s triumphs and struggles, hopes and fears, circumstances and relationships, and the other myriad of things that influence and affect us on a daily basis. 

I was reminded of Jesus’ prayer… “Give us THIS DAY our DAILY bread…” When we come to His table, He is faithful to feed us. And the way He feeds us is by speaking truth and light into where our hearts are at in that moment. It’s not that God’s Word is subjective and can be read into however you please… but He has a way of perfectly intersecting our lives with exactly what we need to hear. And when we’re too busy looking back, we can be blind to the present.

I realized that I was holding onto all of my yesterdays’ bread… and just like the Israelites that tried to stockpile the manna… it lost its freshness and its ability to nourish me. And also like the Israelites, I realized that ultimately this was a trust issue- Did I trust that God would feed my heart again? Was I allowing Him to reveal Himself in my life TODAY?

…may we share in Jesus’ prayer for this daily bread… and may we release our fists and hold on to what we’re learning with open hands, so that God may fill them again…

Monday, January 9, 2012

the kind of faith I want...

2012… it’s a blank page- a new year of hopes, dreams, goals, resolutions, commitments, adventures… but I also know that for some it’s a new year of questions, doubts, fears, and frustrations. I’m kind of somewhere in the middle if I were being honest, but I’m trying to lean more to the optimistic side. I’m learning the value of change, that growth can come from transition, and that faith is best cultivated when living in the unknown. And I’m constantly being reminded that my perspective on my circumstances needs to be deeply rooted in who scripture says God is.

I came across the most fitting description of what faith should look like when you’re living in the fog of the unknown… the kind of faith I strive for. It’s words that Peter used to encourage fellow believers of his time while they were going through a season where it was hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. He writes of their steadfast faith…

“Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy…” {1 Peter 1:8}

We can take this verse at face value and interpret the word for seen/see as strictly “to perceive with your eyes”… but the beauty of the original languages of scripture is that there’s usually a deeper meaning… one that might resonate a little stronger with us. Here, for instance, the word translated seen/see can also mean “to perceive with your mind, to recognize, to detect or notice.” Forgive my boldness in taking liberty to paraphrase God’s Word, but in the context of this second definition, this verse could also read…

“Though you struggle to recognize and notice God’s work in your life, you still choose to love him; and even though right now in this moment you can’t detect that God’s hand is active in your circumstances, you still believe in His presence in your life and are filled with a deep and overwhelming joy…”

I love this. I want to be defined by this. In the darkest seasons… or the loneliest seasons… or the most confusing seasons… we can still have hope and choose to believe in God’s goodness and in His love for us. Even if we are blind to what God is doing in and through us, we can choose to trust. Even if things aren’t resolved or righted here on earth, we have the ultimate promise of restoration and redemption in heaven. THAT is something to have joy in, the type of joy that nothing and no one can steal.

This year, no matter what life may look like, may we rest in this unwavering faith based on the character of who God is and in His promises that are ours through our faith in Him and in what Jesus Christ has already done for us… may we know this inexpressible and glorious joy…