Monday, January 30, 2012

Living with God

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father... I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. The Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. (John 14:8-9; 16-17; 26)

The Holy Spirit is a special gift from our Heavenly Father that is unlike any other gift. He pours himself into us (Spirit baptism) when we recognize him as God of our lives and accept his grace in Jesus Christ our Savior. The Spirit changes us and marks us with his presence.  He shares himself with each of us in a more intimate way than a man and a woman could ever know together. He knows and sees every bit of us and loves each of us completely.

Like a husband and wife who have been together over a lifetime and have grown to look like each other, finish each other sentences and just enjoy the silent company of each other – our relationship with God grows over time and through interaction with his Spirit in prayer, meditating on His Word, and in giving of ourselves in helping others. We begin to exhibit Christ-like behavior, to truly know God’s word, not just by rote, but as if finishing his sentences, and we find ourselves longing for and enjoying those quiet moments alone in his presence.

This is not an overnight occurrence, but a lifelong process.  Spirit baptism is the birth of our spiritual beings brought to life by the Breath of God which then flourishes into a lifetime of growth, education, and transformation occurring in the rhythmic ebb and flow of everyday life. His character influences our character. His desires grow to be our desires. If we are to have the relationship God desires us to have with him, we must seek to be with him daily and allow the relationship to form and develop over time. We can’t force it, rush it, or bypass the parts we don’t like.  God designed the process and we need to trust him even when we find ourselves questioning his wisdom. We must give to him what we would want to take control of in our own effort to hasten the results.

I find this to be a great comfort on those days when I feel like I haven't been doing my part, pulling my weight in the relationship, so to speak. God created me. He knows me. He sees me – weaknesses and all, and he loves me still. His patience is unending and his determination to walk with me again in the garden is stronger than all of my Irish stubborness, Itailian temper and human arrogance put together. His grace and love has already triumphed over my sinfulness. All that remains to be done is to learn to live into the victory with him day by day.

About the pictures:
Pittsburgh, PA (June 2010)

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Challenge Is Worth It

A friend of mine turned me onto word poems a few years ago. The challenge of picking the word to work off of and forming each line is harder than you might think but it's the challenge that makes the poem worth writing. As in life, the things that come easy to us are hardly ever valued above those things we've labored for. Which is why I think God's grace is such a difficult thing for people to understand and act on. We expect to fight and claw our way out of our shame to earn God's forgiveness. If we haven't suffered for our sin, we feel we don't deserve God's grace.....and really that's the point. We don't deserve God's grace! Never have, never will.

God's plan is that we don't have to suffer for our sin because Jesus took our judgement upon himself on the cross. By his sacrifice, he's paid the penalty for our sin and seperated it from us as far as the east is from the west. He doesn't hold our sin against us because we are redeemed in Jesus. We only need to believe it. It's that simple. Believe. Our human pride may shout, "It can't be that simple!" But really it is. It's just hard. It's hard to believe and admit we don't have control over our lives. It's hard to give a God we can't fully comprehend, explain, or manipulate, authority over our entire existance. It's hard to admit that we are insufficient or lacking in anyway. However, in my experience, the challenge is well worth living the Christian life, believing that God's grace has saved me.

Sorrow, guilt, and regret
Hang over me like
A torrential storm while
My joy drowns in the  
Emptiness that fills my soul.

Forever separated from Your glory, I fall
On my knees crying out “Mercy, Lord, mercy!”
Repentance claims my soul and invites God’s love, His
Grace to wash over and through me, transforming me.
I worship and rejoice in Your Presence, O God
Vanity flees my heart and mind, my soul
Even as I’m robed in Your Righteousness
Never again alone nor fearing the cross.

About the picture
Fichter Fairy Garden (June 2010)

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Blessing of Unwanted Places

Some years ago, I had the life I thought I always wanted, for the most part. I was married to a kind man who made me laugh. We lived in a little ranch-style home located on a half-acre lot with a big beautiful deck in the back (for him) and whole-house air conditioning (for me). We had two cars in the driveway and a whole life together ahead of us. We were struggling, but we were struggling together. Then one Thursday evening, the love of my life came into the house after mowing the grass, sat me down, and told me that he didn’t want to be married to me anymore. With that one statement, I found myself transported to a place I really didn’t want to be. We had several more discussions over the next week, but to no avail – my marriage was over and I didn’t really have any say in the matter. It was one of the toughest things I’ve had to do – live in that place of being separated and then being divorced when all I wanted to do was run back to that place of being happy and married to the gentle, caring man I fell in love with. I am eternally grateful to God for giving me a network of friends and family and a wonderful Christian counselor who were my lifeline during that time. Now that I can look back on it from a distance, I can’t help but be amazed at God’s overwhelming presence in that unwanted place in my life.

At some time in our lives, we all feel stuck for a while in a place we don’t want to be. Perhaps we are facing a life threatening or debilitating disease, or maybe we are feeling lonely and unloved, or perhaps we find ourselves facing yet another day of uninspired, mind-numbing routine. What are we supposed to do with that? We could pray that God deliver us from that place. We could talk to our friends and family hoping one of them has words of wisdom that will shed some light and show us how to get back to where we want to be. Or we could just give up the fight and live where we are.

I know that doesn’t sound appealing. I’m in an unwanted place in my life right now and I very much don’t want to give up and stay where I am. But if it’s where God has brought me, then that’s where he is too. Why would I want to be anywhere else but where God is? If I stop fighting where I am and look for God in the moment, I will have the privilege of witnessing the miraculous things he does in and through me while I’m in this unwanted place. It may not be what I planned or what I wanted, but then who am I to tell God how he should be working in my life. Looking back, it’s in those unwanted places that he has done the most incredible things and they’ve been the fertile ground out of which God has provided some amazing blessings in my life. That gives me enough hope to praise him in this moment. So, I’m going to take another breath and cry another tear if need be and then thank God for his presence in my life, no matter where I am, as long as I’m with him.

About the pictures:
Parkwood Presbyterian Church, PA (July 2009)

Reprinted from Holy Spirit Word Study

Monday, January 9, 2012

Family Reunion and Faith

My mother is the oldest of nine children and yesterday, many of her brothers and sisters, some of their children (my cousins), and even a few of the third generation gathered as we do once a year to catch up and enjoy each other’s company for a few hours. There is a whole generation between my mother and her youngest sibling. My mother welcomed her first grandchild into the world the year her youngest sister became a first-time mom. After my grandparents died and as my cousins grew older and began families of their own, the family focus shifted to our individual families, as it should. For my brothers and I, going to Grandma and Pappap’s house for the holidays no longer meant our grandparents, but our children’s grandparents.

That’s when my mother’s family decided to put one Saturday aside each year to reconnect, to remember who we were, to share who we are, and celebrate who we are becoming. Yesterday, I spoke with a first cousin who is half my age. As we talked about the past, I realized that he never knew the Grandma and Pappap I knew. He has no memories of our grandfather who I think died before he was born and the Grandma he knew was a sick, elderly woman who was always confused and not quite there – not the vibrant, gin rummy playing leprechaun I grew up with. I looked around and realized that a couple of the third generation teens there were born after both my grandparents were already gone. They have no relational connection with those two precious souls I remembers so fondly – my Grandma and Pappap. I could share all my memories, we can look at all the pictures and tell all the old family stories, but they will never have a relational connection with them like I do.

This is what God brought to mind for me when I read Joshua 24:31 last night – Israel served the LORD throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had experienced everything the LORD had done for Israel. I’ve read it many times, but for some reason, this time, it jumped off the page at me. If Joshua and the elders served the Lord, then they had to be teaching their children about the God of Israel who brought them up out of Egypt, led them through the wilderness, and conquered nation after nation to deliver into their hands the promised land that they were now settling down in. So why is it that the next generation wasn’t as faithful to God as the last?

Perhaps our limited human point of view doesn’t allow us to recognize and react to the miracles of God that we don’t experience ourselves. We can read in the Bible today about God walking in the garden with us and, because we ourselves didn’t experience this personally, we have no response or connection to the God who created man, who walked with Adam in the cool of the evening in the garden. Just as the third generation of my mother’s family can hear the stories of Grandma and Pappap, and yet have no personal connection with or emotional ties to these two wonderful people who made it possible for their very existence.

This filter of personal connection built into us makes it so easy for us to have a “what has he done for me lately” kind of attitude toward God. I can tell you all of the miracles of God through history and even the ones God has provided in my own life, but unless they affect you directly, you have no way of personally connecting with them. It’s not enough for me to tell you about Jesus. I have to introduce you to him by reaching out to you in his grace and love, to encourage a personal relationship between you and God. It may be cliché, but I need to be Jesus to you so that you might see Jesus in me, in the hope of opening up a line of communication between you and God.

Living a life of faith is about living to know him better each day. It’s about loving God with all I am and all I have, being in relationship with him, and striving to honor him in the moments of my life. With God’s help, it is possible and it’s when that goal is being met, you have the opportunity to see him in me and get to know him a little better. Even if your first impression of him comes through my flawed human example - I hope you can see that Jesus is worth gettting to know and growing to love.

About the pictures:
Parkwood Presbyterian Church Prayer Garden (July 2004)

Monday, January 2, 2012

From Dark to Light

I wish I had something incredibly profound to write about today but I don’t. Instead, I’ll simply tell you what’s been going on in my life. As I’ve mentioned before – years ago, I was diagnosed with Dysthymia (a long-term, low-grade depression). I’ve been working really hard for many years to overcome my past and to some degree, have been successful in dealing with the traumas I’ve suffered in my life. This was not my own doing or by my own strength, but by the grace and healing found only in Jesus Christ.

However, for some reason we have yet to fully identify, I fell prey to a major depressive episode (sometimes called double depression) which began in November and which I am still struggling with at this moment. Unless a person has experience with this disease, it can be difficult to understand. First I want to say that being depressed is not even close to having depression. Being depressed is a normal human reaction to painful circumstances – a process of acknowledging, accepting and moving on from a life experience.

Depression is a disease. It’s a deep empty sadness that steals the joy and energy from a person’s soul and it seems to have no beginning or end. It’s falling down a bottomless pit for so long, you don’t remember a time when you weren’t falling. It’s standing on the edge of a cliff and knowing you just have to take that one step and you pain and loneliness will end and though you may not take that one step right now, you’re afraid that there will be a moment when nothing stops you. When I’m suffering a depressive episode, I hate to laugh because it’s just that much farther my heart sinks when the laughing is over. Now before you start planning the intervention, you should know that I’ve taken all the necessary steps to ensure my safe and hopefully swift recovery. I’ve alerted my prayer warriors, my medication has been looked at, and I am seeking professional assistance.

Despite this dark place I find myself in right now, I am still filled with hope and anticipation. I know that though my health may fail, and my spirit grow weak, God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever (Psalm 73:26) And I am his. I know, even now, that someday I will look back on this time in my life and say, “See how God has rescued me. See how God has healed my pain.”  Someday, I will be able to point to this moment in my life and tell of God’s love and grace in bringing me through it. I will look back on this time of affliction with a greater love and devotion for the Lord and I will rejoice in the gift of a stronger, more intimate relationship with him.

I waited patiently for the LORD;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear
and put their trust in the LORD.
(Psalm 40:1-3)

If you are considering suicide – please seek help immediately. Call the 24-hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or go to your local hospital emergency room. I promise you, living is worth it.

About the pictures:
North Park (Sept. 2011)