Everything that Hinders

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I memorized Hebrews 12:1 and in the middle of it are these words, “let us throw off everything that hinders”. I’ve thought about those words a lot over the last few weeks. I’ve been thinking about them because I knew God was asking me to do something I’ve failed at in the past (or at least I considered a failure). I spent a lot of time praying and asking if He truly was prompting me. I reminded Him of my past failures. I decided someone much more qualified should step in. I really didn’t want to mess things up or make any part of this situation about me. It must always be about Him, His plan, His purpose and His will. And so after wrestling for several days, I told God I would do whatever He wanted.

During those days of wrestling these words made me realize I had been wearing my past mistakes as a cloak. They were weighing me down preventing me from moving forward. The hurt had turned to fear and the fear was stifling me. Worst of all, I allowed it. I lived there, in the safe place unwilling to step out for fear of failure once again. That was until God told me to “throw off” the very thing that was hindering me.

So, I sit here a few weeks later, after completing the task, with a thankful heart. He truly was my strength in weakness. He did the very thing He said He would do. I doubted. I was fearful. I was sure I’d fail. But He knew the outcome. And He allowed me to step outside of my natural inclinations to do something special. The thing about it was the task He asked me to do wasn’t all that magnificent. It was something terribly simple. But the effects were huge.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. (Hebrews 12:1 NIV)

Forgiveness is a Process

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In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. (Matthew 18:34 NIV)

I read Matthew 18 this morning. The end of the passage is a parable Jesus shares to answer questions about forgiveness. Peter asks how often he is required to forgive. He puts a limit on forgiveness. Can you imagine keeping track of every offense by each person in your life? I’m exhausted just thinking about it!!

I know Peter was simply trying to live as Jesus would expect. I imagine he was used to following a set of rules. It’s not like that with Jesus. He was not motivated by performance. Instead, love propels Him.

The servant in the story was jailed because he was unwilling to forgive a debt. He refused to offer the same mercy he had received from his master. Likewise, when we can’t bring ourselves to forgive, we are imprisoned. Our minds are consumed with thoughts of vengeance. We justify our behavior. We convince ourselves we have a right to feel this way. We think we are being righteous when we are actually judgemental.

The reality is, we will never be free until we forgive. God forgives us over and over. He shows us mercy and love every single day. We should offer the same. We have to if we want peace. But how do we? Sometimes, everything in us wants to but we just can’t.

True forgiveness is a process. It begins by allowing God’s will to override ours. We just have to tell Him we will forgive. Then we have to pray diligently for Him to change our hearts. He will but often times it takes work. It rarely happens overnight. And it has been my experience that I have to go to Him over and over recommitting to forgive. I know in the long run it is for my own benefit to forgive. And God knows that too!

Seasons

lemonThe Christmas decorations were placed back in their rightful containers. Some were wrapped with care, others placed without protection. They will stay in those boxes until the end of the year when we again celebrate the season. It’s always a sad time, packing away the trinkets. Many carry precious memories. But life moves on and it’s time for the next season. So we put them away until Christmas comes again.

Our lives are marked by seasons. Some seasons overflow with joy. We celebrate. We embrace the blessings God provides. We are thankful. Seasons of joy are what we live for. They excite us. They remind us we are loved. They give us a reason to celebrate. But would we honestly understand true joy without pain?

No one looks forward to seasons of pain. Not one person hopes for struggles. People don’t ask for hardship or tragedy or dark times and yet they come. They come because it is in those times we see strength. We persevere. We fall to our knees and beg for God to walk with us. It’s in those difficult times we understand God and His love a little more. And when we struggle through coming to the end of another season, we are forever changed. Our perception has been altered. The world around us hasn’t changed but the way we see it has. And joy, what about joy? Joy is that much sweeter.

Each January, we make promises and resolve to live better. It all sounds great but I have far more failed resolutions than successful ones. For me, change doesn’t come because of a date on the calendar or the time on a watch. My life changes through experiences. Those experiences are called seasons. And each season is important. It adds to my life. It changes me. It makes me the person God intended. As hard as life can be sometimes, I wouldn’t give up any seasons, good or difficult.

So, for the New Year I hope to look more intently to see God. I want to be thankful when life is grand and all of my prayers are answered. And I want to see His gentle hand when things seem unfair. More than anything, I want to use those seasons and memories and experiences to bless the people He places in my path.

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance,  perseverance, character; and character, hope. (Romans 5:3-4 NIV)

Random Thoughts

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Writing was pushed to the side last week. I was too busy to put words to paper but I wanted to share some of the things that really spoke to me.

It began last Sunday with my pastor’s sermon. He used the scripture, “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 1:6 NASB) I had always applied this scripture to me. I am being perfected. I am becoming more like Christ. But he had a new spin. He explained when God uses us to do a good work, that work doesn’t die. God continues to bring His plan to pass even if we are not a part of it anymore. I was so encouraged and reminded that when God sets out to do anything, He never leaves it undone. And although we may never see the finished product, the Lord is still working. Your efforts are never a waste.

A few days later I read a blog post by Beth Moore. She is, by far, my favorite Bible teacher. She makes me laugh until I cry while striking the deepest part of my heart. She truly is gifted. She wrote a blog about memories. She shared some memories she’d like to forget. And she reminisced about precious things she cherished. Ultimately she came to this conclusion:

“So, today, Lord, I want to say to You that I am thankful. Because I remember. I remember the ditch You pulled me out of. I remember the hopelessness I’ve felt and the fears that I had no future. I remember a time when I wanted to go to sleep and never wake up. And I remember that the sun came up the next morning and the next and the next, glistening without fail on a heap of fresh mercies. I want to say that You have been right all along. And that life is such a gift. And it is precious. And passes with such haste. What we can hope is that there would be no waste.”

Every struggle and every joy creates a memory and that is a gift.  I do love her heart!!

Finally, I read a devotion in a Bible my hubby gave me almost 20 years ago. That man still makes me smile when I see him and shake my head in disbelief we’ve been together so long.  Warren Wiersbe writes in Live Like a King,

If life is to be rich and meaningful, then our joys must be the highest possible; and Jesus tells us that the highest joy possible is to see God.”

Know God is always working, even when you think He’s forgotten about you. Your memories are a gift. Use them to see His blessings in and through your life. And joy; always seek joy. We serve a God who is compassionate… and strong …and most of all, loving.

I’m Guilty

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“No guilt in life, no fear in death

This is the power of Christ in me

From life’s first cry to final breath,

Jesus commands my destiny.” (In Christ Alone)

We sang this song this weekend at church. It’s one of my favorites because it is the perfect picture of life. As we sang the verse…”No guilt in life…” it reminded me of a story about Jonah. It happened several years ago but it still rings fresh in my mind. He was playing on the bleachers while his sister had soccer practice one night. My husband told him not to play on the bleachers because it was dangerous. I’m married to “Mr. Safety”. Anyhow, the little boy playing with Jonah fell and hurt himself. He ran to his mom crying. Moments later, Jonah burst into sobs crying, “I’M GUILTY!!” He had disobeyed his dad and now his little friend was paying the price.

This morning I read the story of David and his guilt. He slept with a married woman. She became pregnant. He tried to cover it up but his plan didn’t work. So, he had her husband killed. Then he took her as his wife. It was the perfect plan. He was king. He could do what he wanted. And everything seemed to be going along as he hoped until Nathan, prompted by God, confronted him. He was guilty! He had consequences to pay. But did that mean God would never favor him again? Did that mean he would be unloved by God? Did that mean God was mistaken when He said David was “a man after my own heart”? I don’t think so.

There are times in our lives we are going to make terrible mistakes. The fact is, we are sinners. We are not perfect nor will we ever be. We try but sometimes our best efforts fail us. We are guilty. But our story doesn’t have to end there. In the midst of our humiliation, God is with us. He sees our hearts and wants to redeem us. Some focus on the consequences but I focus on the relationship. After we’ve sinned and been forgiven, I believe we are more humble. We trust Him a little more and follow His leading. We are not so eager to pump ourselves up. We refocus.

If you find yourself in the midst of a mess, know God truly loves you. He doesn’t love you because you are perfect. He loves you because He created you. He can redeem your mess. He forgives your sin. He will never forsake you, ever…even when you are guilty.

Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” (Luke 7:48 NIV)

Life is Short

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My heart was heavy and my mind was reminiscing as I drove to the church on Saturday. I was attending a memorial service for a man I had never met. I knew his name. I had seen pictures, but I had never had the privilege of sitting and talking with him. The only thing I knew about him was the woman he had married; an old friend of mine.

My friend was someone I met over twenty years ago. We met at church and realized we had the most important thing in common. We both loved the beach; still do. Way back, when I had no husband and children, we would get up almost every Saturday morning and head over to the coast for a day of relaxation. We’d set our chairs up on the edge of the water and soak in the warm sun. I am convinced there’s a beach in heaven. There is simply no better place on earth.

When I got married, my friend was one of my bridesmaids and she sang. I remember looking over at her singing that day but having to look away because I was about to burst into tears. It’s funny the things you remember. On Saturday, I became teary eyed again as I watched my friend sing at her husband’s memorial service. Her voice brought back so many memories. You see, it had been probably ten years or so since I had seen my friend.

After the service ended I made my way to see her. She gave me a big hug and I burst into tears. I told her I was so sorry. And she responded, “You never got to meet him.” You know, the older I get the shorter life seems. You think you’ll do it tomorrow. You expect everything will remain the same but it never does. There are no guarantees.

So, my question is, if we knew when our last day on this earth would be, what would we do with it? How would we spend our time? Who would we talk to? What would we say to them?

Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:12 NIV)

Insincere Love

clingingLove must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. (Romans 12:9 NIV)

I read these words yesterday but this morning they made their way into my heart. I wondered why Paul would write these words…Love must be sincere. I mean, isn’t love always sincere? I don’t think it is. I think there are times we “fake” love. We seem to be sincere but in our hearts we don’t really care or maybe we’ve simply grown cold. Perhaps this was happening to Paul. Or maybe, it’s what he witnessed.

Today I started to think about how or why we become insincere. I think the answer lies in the rest of this verse. Paul says, “Hate what is evil”. Recently, my Mom came for a visit. In the evenings we would watch the news and she was horrified at the crime taking place each day. I reassured her it wasn’t near where we live but I don’t think it brought her any comfort. Night after night the news was filled with shootings, rapes and child abuse, just to name a few. Looking at mug shots of criminals and hearing about the crimes they allegedly committed hardens your heart toward them. How can they carry out such terrible acts? How am I supposed to have a sincere love for them?

Paul finishes this verse with, “cling to what is good”. He knew the key to heartfelt sincerity was clinging to good. Each and every person was created by a Loving God. Regardless of their actions, He loves them. His love is never dependent on behavior.  I think Paul understood the only good in this world comes from God and when we cling to Him, our hearts can be filled with love.

When my kids started school years ago I challenged them to look for God. I told them He was always there. Sometimes, it was obvious and other times He seemed absent. But I reminded them He promised He would never leave them. Over the years my kids have come home with stories of God. They have noticed His hand in unexpected places. These God sightings have offered hope. They gave them something to cling to.

Life is exhausting emotionally and physically. It can cause us to become burned out and insincere. We have to remember to look for God. It is our only hope of remaining authentic in our love for those around us.