Still Working on the Bucket List

In the space within my home I call the “Bedroom/Office,” are both a two-drawer and a four-drawer file cabinet. They share that space with two small desks, two small dressers, and my twin bed. There’s very little floor space left, but I make do.

Recently I began the process of eliminating one more item on my Bucket List: “Reduce my files down to one four-drawer file cabinet.”

Presently, I’m plowing through the records in my four-drawer file cabinet and all the three-ring binders looking for stuff. I’m looking for stuff I don’t need, stuff I still need, and stuff that’s “iffy.” Some of it I wonder why I thought I needed it in the first place.

The process, after I discover those things I don’t need, is to toss that stuff into the recyclable office paper box. Those things I decide I want to keep are put in a folder, taken to the library and scanned in pdf format onto a flash drive. Then they go in the recycling box with the rest.

I’m big on recycling and this project is big on my Bucket List because the less I have in my home when I kick the bucket, the easier it will be on my children to clean up what’s left.

As I do the work of de-cluttering my physical world, I always think of how the Holy Spirit is transforming me into the likeness of Christ the same way. Some things are kept. For instance, God doesn’t take away the personality he gave me; now he’s refining it. He gave me talents that I’ve had since I was a child; now he prompts me to use them for his kingdom.

Working through the process of de-cluttering also makes me think of some of the things that have cluttered up my spiritual life.They need to go. While God transforms me, he helps me get rid of

  • Specific rules of men that have no bearing on my salvation
  • Shame or unearned guilt over past sins
  • Resentment or bitterness over the hurts others did to me
  • Worry

The key is wanting to let go of them. I know that, just like with de-cluttering my bedroom/office, I’ll always need to take inventory of my spiritual life to see what needs to go. I tend to look at some of my stuff and believe “That just might come in handy sometime.” I suppose the parallel to that is recycling the constant stream of junk mail. Rarely do I need to hang onto junk mail.

Unless it’s a coupon for coffee.

Praying For “Them”

“But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:44-45).

“Do not repay evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:17-18).

No matter how difficult it may seem to pray for someone who hurts us, it’s always the right thing to do.

With Graciousness and Kindness Toward All

Slowly, my mind is changing about judgement calls on people based on their looks, their words and actions, or their attitudes. For a long time I’ve believed it was okay to take notice and immediately place someone in a category. The categories were, of course, arbitrary, based on personal preferences, what I’d been taught was ‘correct,’ and a solid belief that I was probably always right.

What Changed? The Lord has shown me more of Himself. I see him interact with a variety of people in Bible stories and He never seems to judge the way I do. His judgements are true. Whether it’s a Samaritan woman sitting alone at a well, a group of Pharisees verbally abusing Him, a man sitting in a booth cheating his fellow Jews on their taxes, or a Centurion asking Jesus to heal his servant––the Lord sees what’s in their hearts.

I can’t see into hearts.

The best I can do, when I watch someone ‘acting out,’ as I usually describe it, is to pray for that person to find a better way of expressing themselves. Perhaps I will pray for them to find the Light of Jesus. Perhaps the person is already someone who claims to have a relationship with Him; yet they ‘act out.’

That could be me on any given day.

God’s word gives instructions for when we discover what we name as their wrongdoing.

“Don’t criticize, and then you won’t be criticized. For others will treat you as you treat them. And why worry about a speck in the eye of a brother when you have a board in your own?  Should you say, ‘Friend, let me help you get that speck out of your eye,’ when you can’t even see because of the board in your own?  Hypocrite! First get rid of the board. Then you can see to help your brother” (Matthew 7:1-5)

The Apostle Paul makes another distinction.

“What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside” (1 Corinthians 5:12).

In other words, how can we expect anyone who has not seen the Light, to behave as if they have.

Again…That could be me on any given day.

Nevertheless, as disciples of Jesus, we are given warnings and instructions about heeding the teachings and the fruit of those inside the Church.

“Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit” (Matthew 12:33).

Ultimately, I can never know the motives of one’s heart. Only Jesus knows that. Since life experiences, ill health, daily stress, and any number of things can make me ‘act out’ even when I know it’s inappropriate, I long for the grace of Jesus.

And with the help of the Holy Spirit, I could offer that grace to others as well. To extend graciousness and kindness toward all. To pray for them as I would hope they would pray for me.

Acting on Affirmations

next-life-chapter-cropRead this quote all day until you have it memorized. Repeat it to your friends any chance you get. Type “amen” in the comments because you believe it’s true. Print it out and post it on your fridge. Do all those things if you want. But…

I’ve discovered if we don’t first deal with whatever is in the former chapters of our lives and get over what’s hurting us (resentment, regrets, open wounds, and unforgiveness for example), real and meaningful progress in life doesn’t occur.

Affirmations are okay. But an affirmation is only something positive we tell ourselves which doesn’t become real in our lives until we’ve acted on it. Take for example one I found on a list for Christians:

“I see others as God’s gift to me.”

Sounds nice, doesn’t it? I believe this so-called affirmation is true. But if, in my daily walk-about, I don’t treat everyone as the gift I believe they are, my words are hollow.

God’s promises are the same. He offers so much to us that we don’t have to work for. However, even though many of those promises are a faith matter, even the most recognizable work in our lives may be accompanied by His “Now, go.”

Read about a man blind from birth in John 9:1-34. He wasn’t healed simply because Jesus put mud on his eyes. Jesus put the mud there; He did His part. Then Jesus told the man to go wash his eyes in a pool and he’d be healed. When the man acted on Jesus’s instructions, he went home with the gift of eyesight.

A friend of mine used to say, “God feeds the birds, but He doesn’t throw the worms into their nests.” Quite often, we mustn’t be content to sit and wait for God to simply come through with our need. On the contrary, we’ll discover that there’s work for us to do which coincides with the work He’s already doing for us.

Go ahead and read your “last chapter.” Then ask God how He’d like you to deal with it. I’m guessing that for you, as it was for me, He’s expecting you to do something. Listen with humility to what He’s saying to you.

Then, “Go.”

And be a blessing to someone today.

How Sweet It Is

twain-forgive-violet-quoteSometimes, for me at least, the idea of forgiving someone leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.

Over the years, with help from God, forgiving others isn’t the drawn-out, dreaded process it used to be. Matter of fact, I forgive fairly quickly now. Wait. Perhaps I should insert “sometimes” in that sentence as well.

One thing I do know is when I’m in a situation where I need to forgive, I find a good starting point is remembering “I’m that person too. If I haven’t done that thing they did or said, I’m guilty of doing or saying things as bad or worse.”

That reminder is the jumping-off point for extending mercy to others. Just as God extended mercy to me. And how sweet that is.

Hope, Anger, and Courage

augustine-on-hopes-daughters

The world is full of trouble. We shouldn’t be surprised by this. Jesus knew we’d experience trouble.

“In this world you will have trouble.” John 16:33

Jesus doesn’t leave us without hope, however, because in the same breath he says he’s giving us his peace. He says he’s already overcome the world. The Amplified Bible version adds the words “I have deprived it of power to harm you.”

Knowing his peace and the fact that troubles have no power over us doesn’t mean we hide our heads in the sand and not looking at the world’s troubles. That isn’t the message Jesus means to convey. He certainly said a lot about acting to help those in need. To be a good neighbor. Pray for our enemies. Forgive from our hearts.

Jesus got angry. But it wasn’t selfish anger; it was anger that was justified. The things that made him angry needed to be made right because innocent people were suffering. The call to be like Jesus means we follow his lead. Are you measuring your anger about a situation or against a person based on Jesus’s example?

Are you bold like Jesus? Do you take risks to make the world a better place, even if it’s just the little space of world where you live? What is he calling you to be courageous about today?

Pray for the ability to make change and bring justice to a situation as Jesus would. Then, you’re offering hope to the world that is full of trouble.

The Letter

As I begin work on a devotional book and a memoir, I’ll be spending more of my writing time on those works. I’ll still post original essays, Media Monday, Good News, and Foodie Friday, but you’ll occasionally see re-blogged posts like the one here. This story is from a couple years ago. What a difference it can make in someone’s life to write one letter.

This story is a version of what might have happened when the slave Onesimus returned to his master, Philemon. Purely conjecture, it is nevertheless partly based on facts. For the original letter from Paul, see Philemon in your Holy Bible.


I heard the door of the outer chamber open and close and went to investigate. Quartus stood with Onesimus kneeling next him. Onesimus stared down, holding out a sealed letter.

“Onesimus has returned, master,” Quartus said.

“I see that, Quartus; you may leave us.” I was full of conflicting emotions. Anger. Sadness. Confusion. Mostly relief. “The letter, Onesimus; what is this letter? Hand it to me.”

He stood and handed me the letter. He remained standing with his eyes averted while I read the whole thing through. In fact, I had to read it twice. It was from Paul, the apostle, imprisoned in Rome. The letter was a plea on behalf of my slave–a request to accept him back now that he’d become a follower of Christ.

It was a good letter and he made good arguments.

“Do you know what this means, Onesimus?” I asked him.

Onesimus nodded, his eyes still averted. “Master, I cannot speak as Paul does. His words are much more convincing. Of course, they are or I wouldn’t be here. All I know is that now I belong to Christ Jesus. I was freed from the bonds of my sin to serve Him. I suppose you could say I’m a slave in two ways; first to God and then because I’m still bound to you. That’s why I’ve returned.”

Yes, he knew exactly what it meant.

“You may go to your quarters, Onesimus.” He left and I sat down heavily on the chair by the table.

He’d made it all the way to Rome! Somehow he’d found Paul and now he was a follower of Christ and a brother. Of course, he knew what could happen to a runaway slave. But he returned.

I got up and paced the room. I pounded my fist on the table where the letter lay. I don’t know why I was so agitated. Paul’s letter requested nothing more than what my Lord would do. But forgiveness is hard, even when it’s someone you care about. And I had always cared about Onesimus. Maybe we hadn’t always seen him as anything but a house slave, but we cared about him.

I put my head in my hands and I prayed. I thanked God that Onesimus had made it safely to Rome and found Paul. It was a blessing that he could be of use to Paul so I thanked God for that as well. Then I prayed that God would give our household the willingness to accept my decision because we are bound together in love with Christ as our head. I sighed deeply before calling him to me.

“Onesimus, come!” Once again he stood before me, eyes cast down. “Look at me.”

A man is what I saw through my eyes. But now, because of what had happened for Onesimus in Rome, I saw someone else in my heart. I put my hands on his shoulders and squeezed.

“Welcome home, Brother. It will be a pleasure having you here serving again.”

One Size Fits All

When it comes to God’s grace, don’t worry about whether you qualify.

Don’t worry about whether or not the things you regret doing disqualify you.

God’s grace is immeasurable and one size fits all.

grace changes everythingHow can I be so sure? Where do I come off telling anyone they can count on God? Believe me, I understand how someone would have doubts. I did.

In fact, I remember the day when I was having a telephone conversation with a friend and a light bulb went on, so to speak. You could say the light of Jesus shined into my life and I became aware of the darkness I’d been living in. I realized how many were the sins I’d committed. That was hard to admit and I wasn’t sure I even wanted to use the word “sin.”

But there I was, crying about it. And I felt dirty. I knew I needed forgiveness, but wasn’t sure God could forgive all the things I’d done. Or failed to do.

Furthermore, it sometimes seems God isn’t doing much to make this world a better place. How can so many terrible things be happening around us if God is in control like Christians claim he is? How can we trust a God who seems absent?

I wish I had an answer to that. The best I can do is point to history. Look at how people have been behaving–or not behaving–since the beginning of time. Things aren’t worse even though it may seem that way. People have been hating, terrorizing, killing, stealing, lying, gossiping and just plain acting out for several millennia. Do you feel betrayed right now? Alienated? Misunderstood? Left alone? Jesus experienced the same. He understands every trouble we can ever know.

All I know is what I’ve found to be true because of what God tells me is true in the Bible. He says his grace is there no matter who we are and no matter the size of our sin. Believe it or not, I also count on having personally experienced grace. Ask anyone who’s been walking faithfully with God for a while and they’ll tell you his goodness and grace never fail.

Not long after that disturbing telephone conversation, I made a decision to recommit my life to following Jesus. I read and re-read the Bible and became familiar with the gospel. Not just the Gospels, as in books of the Bible, but what the message of Jesus’ birth, life of ministry, death and resurrection meant. I joined a small group of women who met regularly to pray, study scriptures and talk about living life according to God’s plans.one-size-fits-all-T-Shirts

I then understood grace. With that understanding and the peace and hope I’ve experienced, I’m sure. God’s grace is big enough to cover my sin and the sin of anyone, no matter what it is.

Go ahead and put it on today. Come under the cover of God’s free gift of grace. You may not feel like it fits yet. But God will even appeal to your logic, telling you it’s all you need if you’re willing to believe him.

“Come now, let us reason together,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool” (Isaiah 1:18)

“Whatever”

A friend of mine once said that she didn’t believe her testimony would mean much to anyone because she’d been raised in the church and gave her life to Christ when she was quite young. She said there wasn’t any really “exciting” stuff to tell. I’ve also heard numerous stories of people who’ve come to faith in Christ when they’re older, having lived a pretty wild lifestyle.

One might say that my friend was saved ‘from’ a pattern of sin and the second person was saved ‘out of’ a pattern of sin.

Whatever.

Please don’t think I take my brothers’ and sisters’ salvation lightly. By saying “whatever” I mean that, although God is pleased that we are now his children, no salvation story is better than another. I say this for two reasons.

The first reason is that both people–the one saved ‘from’ and the one saved ‘out of’–were saved by the same grace and power of the very same God. His love and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is the basis for them both.

The other reason I say this is that both salvation stories can have impact and both glorify God.

I have friends who’ve seen family members come out of a wild lifestyle to become Christ followers and it convinced them of the truth of the Gospel. But I’m also familiar with a story of a man who wasn’t convinced even after hearing those testimonies. What convinced him was the power of God to enable a person to have no desire to ever enter into a wild lifestyle.

We all have a story to tell. Each one is unique and with value. We need to tell it.

When it comes right down to it, God says we have all sinned and fallen short of his glory. No matter what age we were or what we’d done or failed to do before we came to faith in Christ, we needed the grace he extended. So every testimony matters.

Are you sharing yours?

The Best Christmas Gift

Is it too early to talk about Christmas gifts? I think not. This coming Sunday is the first Sunday in Advent. Those who celebrate the Christian calendar mark Advent with a variety of activities.  Advent gives us a chance to recognize the coming of the Savior and the gift that He is to the whole world.advent-candles-5

Today in my small group we talked about forgiveness. The subject always brings to the forefront various emotional responses.

Comments by my friends indicated that, like many other people, they sometimes have a difficult time forgiving. Some have a difficult time accepting forgiveness; especially the complete forgiveness of God.

During our last fifteen minutes we answered some questions from the book we’re studying. The final question asked us to compare one of the best Christmas gifts we’ve ever received with the grace we receive from God.

From our discussion and from what I’ve learned from scripture, here are some ways our traditional gift giving differs from God’s gift of grace.

One Size Fits All
When we receive a Christmas gift from a family member or friend, that gift was chosen specifically for us. On the other hand, God’s grace is for anyone, no matter who they are. The grace God extends to teachers, mechanics, CEOs, presidents, those in prison, people with disabilities, entrepreneurs, geniuses and baristas is one size fits all. God is no respecter of persons. The same grace that saves a blogger will save a movie producer. No kidding.

Shelf Life
Traditional Christmas gifts all have a shelf life. Even the most carefully constructed technology or the most expensive jewelry eventually shows wear. Rust and moths destroy. But the grace of God is never ending. His mercy is new every morning. God’s gift of grace will always be the same and will always be there when we need it. It never wears out.

Price Tags
That bubble bath, the golf clubs, your new iPad, her Barbie doll and the TV set as big as your living room wall come with a price tag you know is set in dollars, pounds or euros. However, God’s grace is immeasurable. The price tag attached to His grace is the life of His only Son. Who can put a price on a life? Who can put a price on the Son of God?

The Incomparable Gift
Anyone can bestow a gift we feel, see and experience with our senses. Only God can offer the perfect gift of His grace. Fur coat? Expensive cologne? Surround sound stereo system? No comparison at all to what God gave us in Jesus.

The Holidays All Come Together
As of this writing, tomorrow we’ll celebrate Thanksgiving in this country where I live. Then Sunday is the first day of Advent. Christmas, the day we celebrate Jesus’ birth, comes soon afterward. Gratitude, expectation and anticipation, and worshiping the Messiah’s birth make this time of year special for those of us who believe in Jesus and what he did for us at the Cross.

It’s not too early to talk about and think of Christmas gifts. Especially if the gifts we’re excited about are God’s acceptance of us, His love for us, and His grace toward us.

Happy holidays.
And come, Lord Jesus.