Freedom

I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out Your precepts. Psalm 119:45

♫♪♫ “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom…” ♫♪♫

This chorus has been on my mind quite bit lately.  I don’t know the whole song, just that line, but it doesn’t matter.  I sing it over and over again, joyfully reminding myself of that I am truly free.  The song is from a letter that the Apostle Paul, who called himself a bondservant of Jesus Christ, wrote to the Corinthian Church.  Paul knew a lot about freedom.  He knew that he didn’t deserve it. He knew what he had been rescued from, and he threw himself upon Jesus, offering his life to the One who had rescued him.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 2 Corinthians 3:17 

With each note, I am declaring that I am no longer bound to my old ways of thinking and living, but have a new life in which I am free to express my love for my Savior and my thankfulness to Him.

Then Jesus came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. As was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath. And when He stood up to read, the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. Unrolling it, He found the place where it was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim deliverance to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Then He rolled up the scroll, returned it to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fixed on Him, and He began by saying, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke 4:16-21

Yet we do have an enemy, the same enemy that was in the garden with Adam and Eve.  Like us, they chose to believe the lies that he whispered.

Did God really say that you must not eat from any tree of the garden? Genesis 3:1

But that wasn’t what God had said.

And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”  Genesis 2:16-17

He told them not to eat from a particular tree.  The enemy twisted what God had said, but Eve didn’t have it completely right, either.

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’ ” Genesis 3:2-3

I wonder at this point if Eve even understood what death was.  She had not seen anything die.  The Bible clearly says that sin and death came into the world through the sin in the garden.

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  Genesis 3:4-5

She chose to believe the lies and ate, and her husband, who was there when the instructions had been given, also ate.  Their eyes were opened all right, but not in the way they expected.  They were instantly aware of their sin, and they were filled with shame.  For the first time ever, they hid from the Lord who had walked with them in the garden.  Their relationship with Him, and each other, was broken.  They hid, and we’ve been hiding from God because of our sins and mistakes ever since.

Even then, the Lord had compassion on them.  He shed the first blood, right there in the beautiful garden, to make clothing for Adam and Eve.  Even then, the Lord had a plan.  Death, both the physical and the spiritual, would be overcome.  People would offer sacrifices as a temporary measure, but one day, a Savior would come who would be the final, perfect sacrifice.

According to the Law, in fact, nearly everything must be purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.  Hebrews 9:22

Because Jesus shed His blood for us, we can sing songs about freedom, because we have been set free from everything that separated us from God.  But still the enemy whispers, and we often choose to believe him.

“You’re not smart enough.”

“You’re not good looking enough.”

“How could God ever love YOU?”

“You only live once, so you’d better get all you can now!”

“You deserve it.” (whatever IT is, and whatever the cost)

Just because someone chooses to follow Jesus doesn’t mean that the enemy whispers any less, in fact, I believe he whispers even more, because now they’re a threat.  He will bring up the past, distract us, and try to get us to focus on “being good” instead of spending time with Jesus.  He certainly doesn’t want you to start telling people about your newfound freedom.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not be encumbered once more by a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1

So how can we keep from listening to the lies?  Is there a way to block them out, or make them less effective?  Yes, there is.

Jesus said to the Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, you are truly My disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

“We are Abraham’s descendants,” they answered. “We have never been slaves to anyone. How can You say we will be set free?”

Jesus replied, “Truly, truly, I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. A slave is not a permanent member of the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”  John 8:31-36

The Word of God is filled with so many truths and promises that we can fill up on.  The more we know the truth, the less we believe the lies.  The lies won’t stop coming, but we’ll have the weapon of truth to fight with. Spend time with Jesus.  My prayer is that you will come to know the freedom that Jesus offers, and that with that freedom, you will seek to set others free.

For you, brothers, were called to freedom; but do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh. Rather, serve one another in love. The entire Law is fulfilled in a single decree: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Galatians 5:13-14

A New Page

In Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them. Psalm 139:16

Some time ago, a man came to the church I attend. He had many encouraging things to say to the people in the congregation, and gave many testimonies about what the Lord was doing in India, where he was from. I had an opportunity to speak with him briefly after the service. He told me that when he looked at me, he saw a new page. He said that the pages that went before were filled with many scribbles. Things were crossed out, cancelled, but that now he saw a clean, fresh page. He told me not to let anyone scribble on this new page.

Later, as I relayed this to my daughter, she reminded me that a couple of years before, she had come into my bedroom shortly after I had awakened. She had asked me if I had had any dreams. I told her that I had had a strange dream. I dreamed that I was holding a book and there were scribbles on the pages. It didn’t make sense to me, and I quickly forgot about it.

You have taken account of my wanderings; put my tears in Your bottle. Are they not in Your book? Psalm 56:8

At the time I had that dream, my life felt like it was a shambles. I was a recently divorced, single parent struggling to function with a broken heart. I can remember asking the Lord to help me go through the motions, but to numb my heart so that it wouldn’t hurt anymore. I didn’t want to feel anything. I just wanted to be His puppet, to do and be everything that I needed to do and be, but without pain.

The Lord did better than that, though. He healed my heart instead, because that’s what He does. That’s one of the reasons Jesus came.

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives, and freedom to prisoners. Isaiah 61:1

However, the healing didn’t completely happen overnight.  Healing is a process. Even now, the Lord continues to heal me of things that have been buried too deep and for too long to even remember. But HE remembers, and He steadily works to bring those pains to the surface where He can clean me and heal me.

I have wondered why He waited until now to do some of this deep cleaning, and I think I understand now, at least partly. See, after my divorce, I told the Lord and anyone who asked that I never wanted to be in another relationship – ever. I never wanted to hurt like that again. My family and friends told me that I would change my mind, that the Lord would bring me someone – HIS choice. I continued to refuse to even consider it, until one day, reluctantly, I said that I never wanted to be in another relationship…unless…God changed my heart, the man loved Jesus more than he loved me, and he’d have to sweep me off my feet. Well, much to my surprise, He did, he does, and he did.

Because the Lord loves us so much, and wants this relationship to glorify Jesus and be everything that it can be, He is clearing away the debris so that what grows will have the best possible chance for success.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God. Romans 12:2

I know that what He has done for me, He will do for you. Just talk to Him. Ask Him for a new page, and don’t let anyone scribble on it. Ask the Lord to do the writing. When He does, the result is unbelievable. And if you are experiencing heartache, Jesus is the Great Physician and will heal your heart if you just ask.

Cause me to hear Your loving kindness in the morning, for I trust in You. Cause me to know the way in which I should walk, for I lift up my soul to You. Psalm 143:8

The Finished Product

My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them. Psalm 139:15-16

Do you ever wish you could sneak a peek at God’s book?  All of our days were written in it.  Imagine that.  Before we were even born, He knew every encounter we’d have, every broken heart, every smile, and every tear.  He knew when we’d seek Him, and when we’d wander.

Do you get impatient to know what’s next, like I do?  Lately I’ve been feeling like I’m on hold, just waiting for something to happen, and I grow impatient.  I want things settled.  I want to know what my life is going to look like a year from now, and five years from now.  I don’t think I’m the only one.

We’re used to things happening quickly.  We live in a time of microwave meals and high-speed internet.  Instant gratification.  We want to see the finished product now.

We want to see the finished puzzle, not the scattered pieces strewn across the table.  We’re so impatient to get the pieces together, to bring an end to the seemingly chaotic mess in front of us.  I’m reminded of when I was a child, and I would try to force a puzzle piece to fit into a spot I was convinced the piece must go.  It only makes sense that the blue piece would fit with the other blue pieces, doesn’t it?  Surely it must fit!  Ah, but forcing pieces to go where they were never meant to go just doesn’t work.  It offers a temporary solution, but ultimately throws the whole puzzle off.  Sometimes it feels like we’re trying to put this puzzle together without even having the benefit of a box lid to guide us.

We want to see the finished tapestry, not the tangle of knots and threads that we see on the underside.  The tapestry, a beautiful blend of light and dark threads skillfully woven together to create a stunning piece of art, greatly multiplying the effect of the individual colors.  Certainly there are some colors I would never choose, and the placement doesn’t always seem to make sense, yet in those times when we are given just a glimpse of the beauty on the other side, we see how every color is necessary in order to create something of infinite more beauty than we could have thought up ourselves.  And those knots?  They are every bit as important, as they signal the start and finish of a new vision, a new work.

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.  Ephesians 2:10

Our lives are not just random moments and seasons strung together over a lifetime, and thankfully, we’re not left here to figure it out alone.

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Psalm 119:105

We have the Bible, the Word of God.  We also have a Helper, if we belong to Jesus.

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.  John 14:26

It’s a pretty good deal, isn’t it?  We give Jesus our mistakes, intentional and unintentional, and He forgives us and gives us a new beginning.  We give Him our broken and disenchanted hearts, and He heals us and gives us a new heart.  We give Him our jobs, our finances, our families, our thoughts…everything that makes us US, and He transforms them into something useful for His purposes.  An upgrade for sure, though sometimes the process looks more like scattered pieces of a puzzle or tangled threads in a tapestry.

So why do we grow impatient with the process, or follow reluctantly?

Maybe we don’t really believe that God is as good as we’ve heard He is – as good as we want Him to be.

“Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not right.’ Hear now, O house of Israel! Is My way not right? Is it not your ways that are not right?”  Ezekiel 18:25

When I fail to trust Him, aren’t I saying the same thing?

Maybe we think He’ll withhold good from us.

For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows grace and favor and honor; no good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly.  Psalm 84:11

Everything we have, EVERYTHING, is a gift from Him. From the air we breathe to the lungs in our body, from the colors of the sunrise and sunset to the eyes He has given us to see them.  Everything we see, touch, hear, taste and smell is a gift, along with the ability to experience and enjoy those things.

Maybe we think we can do a better job of molding us than He can.

Will the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you doing?’ Or the thing you are making say, ‘He has no hands’? Isaiah 45:9

But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to Him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?” Romans 9:20

I know I have felt that at times, wondering why some areas, whether in personality, mental aptitude, interests or physical body, seemed to be lacking or overabundant.  It is a true statement that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  The very areas that I saw as too little or too much are the very things that have drawn those who are closest and dearest to me.  But even if that weren’t the case, HE is pleased with His work, and ultimately that is all that matters.

Maybe we feel alone, and don’t really believe that He cares and is with us.

You have enclosed me behind and before, and laid Your hand upon me. Psalm 139:5

And yet, the Lord keeps pursuing us.  He doesn’t give up on us.  He knows our struggles and He knows our victories, and He wants us to know that He is with us.  We are not alone, no matter how it feels or what it looks like.

O Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You understand my thought from afar. You scrutinize my path and my lying down, and are intimately acquainted with all my ways. Even before there is a word on my tongue, behold, O Lord, You know it all. Psalm 139:1-4

If I settle myself long enough to really talk to the Lord about my circumstances, invariably He wins my heart over, and I concede that His ways are higher than my ways, and His thoughts are higher than my thoughts.  He is good, and kind, and loving, and wants His very best for me.  I find that the waiting process becomes easier when I think more about who He is than what He’s doing or not doing.

If you are struggling with this today, I pray that you’ll talk to Him about it.  Whatever it is, give it to Him, and let Him give you His peace.  Another great trade – our anxiousness for His peace.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4:6-7

You are so loved.

Not Abandoned

Even if my father and mother abandon me, the Lord will take care of me.  Psalm 27:10

A couple of weeks ago I had an awful dream.  Long after waking, I was still filled with the emotions that I had experienced while dreaming.  The effects lasted a couple of days, I’m sorry to admit.

In my dream, my beloved and I were having a mountaintop experience, literally.  It was a dream come true…or at least it should have been.  Upon arriving at the destination, however, things took a different turn.  There were people everywhere, talking and laughing, and we became separated – twice!  To make matters even worse, when I talked with him later (still in the dream), he admitted that he hadn’t even realized that I wasn’t with him the second time we were separated!

To say the dream was on my mind that day would be an understatement.  I knew it was important, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on the reason it was staying with me and bothered me so much.  It wasn’t until a few days later that the Lord showed me what was going on in my heart.  One dream, two revelations.

Revelation #1:  The Lord showed me that I’ve done the same thing my beloved did, but on an even greater scale.  How many times have I gone about my day, got busy and forgot about Him?  Made decisions, made plans, spent time with family or friends, and not included Him?  He longs to be included in everything we experience.  He is our constant companion, the lover of our souls!

Revelation #2:  I’ve written before about how I lived with fear for most of my life, and it was such a part of me that I didn’t even recognize it.  Even as a Christian, it was with me, until the Lord took it away.  You can read about it here if you’re interested.  He healed me from feelings of rejection, too, but that’s a story for another day.  Well, I also lived with something else, and I didn’t recognize that, either!  This thing was behind many of my bad decisions.  It clouded my perception and judgment and negatively affected every relationship I’ve ever had.  This thing, this chain, kept me bound to a poor self image that no amount of compliments, encouragement, or personal accomplishments could erase.  The chain that bound me was a feeling of abandonment.

I was blown away by the revelation.  I grew up in what would be considered a fairly stable home with both of my parents, stable in that life was pretty predictable.  I went to school, did what was expected of me, and started earning money as soon as I was old enough to babysit.  I didn’t physically lack for anything.  I later married, and divorced, but my ex-husband and I remained on good speaking terms, so I still didn’t think I had any reason to feel abandoned.

Over the course of a few days after that dream, though, the Lord began showing me things that had happened early in my childhood and throughout my life, things long ago forgotten, that left me feeling very unimportant, unloved, and very much alone.  Kind of abandoned.

When I was a child, a common saying was that children were to be seen and not heard.  Talking about feelings just wasn’t done, so I kept them all inside, where they piled up but were never addressed.  They just became a part of me.  Hurts covered with invisible bandaids.  And to be fair, many parents at that time were raised the same way, so they didn’t talk about feelings, either.  I don’t believe they knew what to do with their own feelings, so they didn’t how to reach out to their children.  There are always exceptions, though, and if you were raised in a home where there was open communication, you were blessed.

I am learning, though, that the Lord doesn’t like bandaids.  He prefers to remove them so that He can do a deep, thorough cleaning so that true healing can begin.  And begin it does.

It doesn’t always feel good.  We like our bandaids.  We like to keep the pain buried so we don’t have to think about it or keep experiencing it.  Out of sight, out of mind.  But that isn’t His way.  He wants us to be whole, to be able to give and receive love, and to experience life fully.  He wants us to experience the abundant life that He died to give us.  He died, but He didn’t stay dead.  He rose from the dead, and in so doing, raises us from the dead, too.

Can a woman forget her nursing child and have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you.  Isaiah 49:15

Here’s the thing.  I didn’t even know I had a bandaid, or that I had these feelings of abandonment.  It was news to me.  He brought it out in the open, though, in His gentle way, and healed that part of me.  With every healing, I find that I can hold my head a little higher, and because I no longer view things through that particular filter, I am able to see things a little more clearly.  I am learning that things are not always my fault, and that sometimes people hurt us because they are hurt, too.  As the saying goes, hurt people hurt people.  True, and I am truly sorry for those I have hurt because I was hurt.

But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall.  Malachi 4:2

I know there is more there that He wants to heal, and I am confident that our great Physician will do so with the utmost care and gentleness, in His timing, as I am able to bear it.

The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim deliverance to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed.  Luke 4:18

Jesus said that He came to heal the brokenhearted and set the captives free.  I have been brokenhearted, and I have been held captive by the pain of the past.  If you have, too, I encourage you to ask Jesus to remove the bandaids in your own life, and let the deep cleaning begin.  I can’t promise it will be easy, but it will be worth it.

He tends His flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart; He gently leads those that have young.  Isaiah 40:11

About a week after the Lord dealt with my feelings of abandonment, one of my very favorite writers, Jamie Rohrbaugh of From His Presence began a series on that very subject.  Here is a link to the first article in the series:  http://www.fromhispresence.com/4-signs-you-have-a-stronghold-of-rejection-and-abandonment/.  I can’t tell you how much I have learned from her posts, and how much the Lord has used her in my life.  She is a tremendous blessing to me, and I believe she will be to you as well.

The Bread of Life

O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly; my soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.  Thus I have seen You in the sanctuary, to see Your power and Your glory.  Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, my lips will praise You.  So I will bless You as long as I live; I will lift up my hands in Your name.  Psalm 63:1-4

I have been contemplating something for a couple of weeks now.  I heard a song recently that talked about seeing I AM.  As I listened to the words, I heard a gentle whisper in my spirit, “I am the Bread of Life.”

Jesus is the Bread of Life

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.”  John 6:35

There is so much in that sentence that I know that I cannot fully comprehend the meaning.  My understanding can only touch the tip of the iceberg.

Jesus first spoke about bread when He was being tempted in the wilderness:

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry.  And the tempter came and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” But Jesus answered, “It is written:  Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.”  Matthew 4:1-4

Jesus had been led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  That sentence alone is enough to cause a tremble or two, isn’t it?  You mean the Spirit leads us into the wilderness?  I don’t know about you, but being led into the wilderness doesn’t exactly sound like a good time.  Maybe for people who love camping and hiking, being led into the wilderness would seem like fun, but not to me.  But then, as if that wasn’t enough…He leads us into a place of temptation?   A time of testing, to see if we really believe what we say we believe?  How thankful I am that He promises not to allow us to be tempted beyond our endurance, and instead provides a way out.

No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.  1 Corinthians 10:13

Jesus is the Word made flesh

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.  John 1:14

Jesus is life, the Word of God is life 

So…what have we been feeding on lately?

Jesus was born in Bethlehem, as was prophesied in the Old Testament.

But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.  Micah 5:2

Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child.  While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth.  And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.  Luke 2:4-7

Did you know that Bethlehem means house of bread?  So Jesus, the Bread of Life, was born in the House of Bread.  How like God to do something so spectacular!

“I am the bread of life.  Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.  This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.  I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.”  John 6:45-51

Again, what have we been feeding on?

I started doing something recently that has really helped me focus on Jesus as the Bread of Life.  Maybe you already do this, but it was new for me.  At the end of 2016, a few ministries that I follow were speaking about doing communion in their quiet times with the Lord.  I’ve had communion in church, and with some home Bible study groups that I have met with, but I had never had it with only Jesus.  May I encourage you to try it if it’s not something you’ve done?

I’m reminded of a song by Michael Card, Light of the World, part of which goes like this:

You are the Bread of Life, oh Lord,

Broken to set us free

So how could there be any hunger in me

If you are the Bread of Life

You are the Bread of Life

May the Lord satisfy your every hunger for Him.

My soul is satisfied as with marrow and fatness, and my mouth offers praises with joyful lips.  When I remember You on my bed, I meditate on You in the night watches, for You have been my help, and in the shadow of Your wings I sing for joy.  My soul clings to You; Your right hand upholds me.  Psalm 63:5-8

A Reason to Rejoice

“This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Psalm 118:24

Earlier this week, I found myself in a small engine repair shop, hoping for a low repair estimate for my lawnmower.  Lawnmowers, generators and other small equipment filled the two bay units of the shop, as well as the outdoor section behind the building.  Alas, my lawnmower was beyond repair.

During my conversation with the owner, I asked if he had any inexpensive used lawnmowers for sale.  One had come in recently, he said, but he wasn’t sure of the condition.  He brought it to me, tinkered with it a little bit and said that it appeared to be fine, but that he would do a complete tune up on it if I was interested, and would have it ready the following day.  Throughout our conversation, the owner’s assistant busily went about his tasks, singing and humming as he worked.  I left the shop with plans to return the next day.

When I returned the following day, the tune up was complete, but some of the tires still needed to be replaced.  The owner walked me through the shop to the outside area behind the building to see the lawnmower, where he gave his assistant instructions regarding the mower.  I found a spot to wait while the repairs were completed.

The assistant was cheerfully working as before, quietly singing and humming in the hot sun.  When he noticed that I was standing in the sun, he kindly told me that I could wait under the shade tent that was covering some of the equipment if I wanted some shade.  I smiled, thanked him, and stood in the shade while he continued working.

“A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” Proverbs 17:22

The assistant finished up the job he was doing, walked over to the lawnmower I was purchasing, and then bent over to examine one of the rear tires.  And that’s when I noticed his shoes.  He was wearing an old pair of tennis shoes, held together with black duct tape.  The tops of both shoes had come apart from the soles, and his toes were visible.  I stood in wonder as I gazed at this man.  Here he was, happily working in the sun, concerned for my comfort, singing, smiling, and wearing duct taped shoes.

When he finished, I could barely speak, but I managed to thank him, and asked permission to walk back through the bay to the front of the store so that I could pay. He agreed, after gently cautioning me to be very careful so as not to hurt myself.  I paid, and commented to the owner that his assistant was a very cheerful man. He agreed, and told me that the man has a big heart – that he feeds and cares for approximately 40 cats in the area between his home and workplace.

I have been thinking of this unselfish, compassionate man and his shoes ever since.

I don’t know his story, but I saw his heart.  This compassionate man needed shoes, but he did without in order to feed those cats.  He considers their needs above his own.  That just floors me.

“Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and He saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And He said, ‘Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.’” Luke 21:1-4

We live in a culture where the norm is to want the latest and greatest technology, the newer cars, the larger homes, designer clothing and everything else that catches our eye…everything that we’re told we need to be happy.  We love our creature comforts.  But how many of us would give up what we would consider a need to provide for someone else?  What are we willing to do without, and are we willing to do it when there is no possible hope of repayment?  When there is no one there to see it?

What would Jesus do?  It’s not just a phrase on a bracelet or t-shirt, it’s a real question.  What would Jesus do?

“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’” Matthew 25:34-40

I don’t think we set out to be self-absorbed, selfish or ungrateful people.  I think sometimes life just happens, and we trudge through it, hoping for the best, expecting the worst, and treating ourselves along the way to bring a temporary measure of satisfaction to what can sometimes seem like a very unsatisfying existence.  We’re told that this life is all there is, so we might as well get the most out of it that we can, because you only go around once, you know.  We’re told that if there’s a God at all, He just wants us to be happy.  But what happens when your idea of happy conflicts with my idea of happy?  Whose happy wins?

Throughout my life, I have heard people say that no matter what happens, we should thank God for it.  I don’t understand that thinking.  Thank You, God, for this sickness?  Thank You, God, that I lost my job?  Thank You, God, that my family is in disarray?  No!  Emphatically NO!

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18

We can lose jobs, homes, even people, but that verse doesn’t mean that it’s good, that we should give thanks for it.  The meaning has been twisted.  The verse says to give thanks IN all circumstances, not FOR all circumstances.  His will is that we be thankful in the midst of hardship, pain and suffering.  We can be thankful that He is working all things together for our good.  All things aren’t good, but all things work together for our good.

“Our soul waits for the Lord; He is our help and our shield. For our heart rejoices in Him, because we trust in His holy name. Let Your lovingkindness, O Lord, be upon us, according as we have hoped in You.” Psalm 33:20-22

If you are going through a tough time, or find yourself being less than compassionate with those around you, may I encourage you to change your focus?  We can choose to focus on the Savior who gives us life.  We can choose to focus on others instead of ourselves.  We can step out of our comfort zones and be the answer to someone’s prayer.

Reasons to be thankful are all around us if we just open our eyes.  Sometimes the Lord will even bring people across our path with duct taped shoes to remind us of this.

God our Father, Jesus our Savior, Holy Spirit our Comforter – they are all the reason we need to rejoice.

“And Mary said, ‘My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave; for behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed. For the Mighty One has done great things for me; and holy is His name. And His mercy is upon generation after generation toward those who fear Him. He has done mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart. He has brought down rulers from their thrones, and has exalted those who were humble. He has filled the hungry with good things; and sent away the rich empty-handed. He has given help to Israel His servant, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and his descendants forever.’”  Luke 1:46-55

Where the Wind Blows

“Whatever the Lord pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps.  He causes the vapors to ascend from the ends of the earth; who makes lightnings for the rain, who brings forth the wind from His treasuries.” Psalm 135:6-7

A few days before Veteran’s Day, I was driving in an area where American flags were displayed on utility poles up and down the main street.  The city does this every year for this holiday as well as Independence Day.  It’s a beautiful sight, and always brings a smile to my face.

On this particular day, while stopped at a red light, I was looking at the flags and noticed something interesting.  Some of the flags were waving proudly, while others hung there limp.  Although the flags were all on the same street, some were being moved by the wind, and some were not.  It had nothing to do with the flags, but everything to do with the wind.

“He causes His wind to blow and the waters to flow.”  Psalm 147:18

We are the same way. When we are being filled and led by the Spirit, we move where the wind of the Spirit blows us.  Some will move with fierce intensity, while others will have a slower, gentler motion.  Some may not appear to be moving at all.  The Lord uses just the right amount of wind to move us into different seasons of life, and to new places within a season.  In Him we live and move and have our being.  It won’t look the same for any two of us. As long as we’re willing to be moved, we’re being used by the Lord, and the Kingdom of God advances.

“The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”  John 3:8

There have been many times where it felt like I was barely hanging in there.  No visible wind, just hot, stale air.  It’s not something I enjoy, but I believe it is necessary.  Sometimes we are in a time of waiting for the Lord to do in the background what we can’t see with our eyes, and sometimes we simply need to rest.  And then God, at just the right time, breathes on us and sets us in motion again.

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.” Acts 2:1-4

Are you feeling stagnant?  Ready for a new season?  I know the Lord hears when we ask Him to breathe new life into us.  I believe He delights in it!

Sometimes a new season can seem scary.  There is so much unknown to us.  We want to see the whole staircase, but the Lord only gives us enough light for the step we’re on.  Then, at the time of His choosing, He shines the light on the next step.

“When the disciples saw Jesus walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear.  But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.’  Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.’  And He said, ‘Come!’ And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus.  But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’  Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ When they got into the boat, the wind stopped.  And those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, ‘You are certainly God’s Son!’” Matthew 14:26-33

I’m so struck by Peter’s courage to get out of the boat and walk on the water with Jesus.  He wanted to be with Jesus!  He wanted to do the miraculous!  And he did!  Then he took his eyes off of Jesus, and the next thing he knew, he was sinking.  As soon as he called out to the Lord, the Lord took hold of him and brought him to safety.

Are you afraid?  Afraid that if you step out of the boat, you’ll sink?  I’ve been there, too.  If you call out the Jesus, though, He will rescue you, just as He rescued Peter.  He loves you dearly, and His hands are outstretched toward you.  He is so faithful.  I have learned that it’s better to walk in the midst of a storm with Jesus than remain safely in the boat without Him.

I want to be bold like Peter.  I want to walk on the water with Jesus.  I want the Spirit to blow so strongly in my life that no one can look at me without seeing Jesus and His mighty power at work in me.  Take a step of faith.  Allow the wind of the Spirit to move you out of the boat and onto the path that God planned for you before you were even born.  His plans are good, because He is good.

He raised the dead to life.  He healed the brokenhearted and set the captives free.  He breathed new life into Israel.  He will certainly do the same for us.

“The hand of the Lord was upon me, and He brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; and it was full of bones.  He caused me to pass among them round about, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley; and lo, they were very dry.  He said to me, ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’ And I answered, ‘O Lord God, You know.’  Again He said to me, ‘Prophesy over these bones and say to them, “O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.”  ‘Thus says the Lord God to these bones, “Behold, I will cause breath to enter you that you may come to life. I will put sinews on you, make flesh grow back on you, cover you with skin and put breath in you that you may come alive; and you will know that I am the Lord.”’ So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold, a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to its bone.  And I looked, and behold, sinews were on them, and flesh grew and skin covered them; but there was no breath in them.  Then He said to me, ‘Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, “Thus says the Lord God, ‘Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they come to life.’”’  So I prophesied as He commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they came to life and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army. Then He said to me, ‘Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel; behold, they say, “Our bones are dried up and our hope has perished. We are completely cut off.”  ‘Therefore prophesy and say to them, “Thus says the Lord God, ‘Behold, I will open your graves and cause you to come up out of your graves, My people; and I will bring you into the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves and caused you to come up out of your graves, My people. I will put My Spirit within you and you will come to life, and I will place you on your own land. Then you will know that I, the Lord, have spoken and done it,’ declares the Lord.’”’  Ezekiel 37:1-14