Monday, January 26, 2015

Plumbing Gone Awry

For over the 10 years I have lived in this 100 year old house with Charlie (it was his house for many years before that), we have had plumbing and pipe issues.  Every year ugly, smelly sewage water would back up in our basement at least once and we would have to call in the experts to ram out the pipe outside and clear us out.  But it was never a permanent solution  We had a pipe that joined with our neighbors and between our two families, any use of water that stressed the system meant we all felt the effects.

Finally it was time to fix this mess, permanently, we hoped.  Our neighbors had access to some real experts who came in, used sophisticated equipment to get a good look at the problem and told us not only did we have some terrible tree roots clogging things up but our pipe curved a lot thereby complicating the problem. We began to look at the cash register go "ca ching, ca ching" and wondered how we were going to manage all this.  (Plus we were already in the middle of having major work done on our house, front porch and garage.)

As I fought back the panic and realized worrying was a lack of trust in
the God Who gave us all things I also began to see another picture developing  Isn't this what it is like when we have sin in our lives and it is momentarily hidden from others?  Does sin not have a tendency to taint our lives even when we think it's buried?  Just like that dirty sewer water appearing in our basement, sin rears its ugly head when we least expect it.  Just like those tree roots that covertly continue to grow and damage our water drainage system, our sin, when allowed to take root, has the same effect.  So often we don't see the "sin damage" until after it has a hold on our lives.

For example: the grudge I may hold against a family member that no one knows about, festers and multiplies and one day bursts out in the form of a nasty argument or a harsh remark.  Or could it be played out by treating a spouse disrespectfully using sarcasm and cutting remarks...without coming back to apologize, asking for forgiveness.  Like those "hidden tree roots", the negative feelings multiply and take on a life of their own.  The walls between the "offended" and the "offender" get higher and one day they are almost impenetrable...when they could have been knocked down with a simple apology and a repentant heart.

So, back to the problem in our yard.  It's going to cost us a lot of money!  Our whole yard may have to be torn up and it's going to drain our savings.  Sin is like that...there is often a terrible consequence or cost...the damaging of a relationship or the loss of a good reputation.  Maybe it is jail time or a physical illness. Sin costs.

But the biggest cost of all was borne by our Savior, Jesus Christ, Who was tortured, mocked, and hung on a cross.  He paid a price we could not possibly manage.  When we make Jesus the Lord of our lives, it is His shed blood that gives us our "get out of jail fee" card.  We are forgiven, redeemed, given purpose and hope in this life and e  get to step into the arms of Jesus when we leave this life.  We could not possibly pay the price for our sin; there is not enough money or good deeds to pay for that ticket to heaven. But we have One Who says, "Come share my yoke for my burden is light"  We have a God Who loves us so much that while we were still sinners, He died for us.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Freedom or Bondage?

When we think of the word freedom, what instantly comes to mind?  Voting rights?  Having personal choices?  Do we see the American flag waving and remember our men and women in uniform who died for our freedom?  Those images are strong and beautiful and such worthwhile memories to treasure.

But I want to talk about freedom from another perspective.  God's... What does He have to say on the topic? For me and others who choose to live according to God's will it is important to go to the Scriptures.  That's where He reveals Truth on all matters of life.

The somewhat limited concordance in my study Bible has 4 New Testament scriptures that have the word, freedom, in them.  No doubt there is much more God has to say on this topic but study Bibles can present just so much extra information.  Those 4 verses should give us some clues. (I took the liberty of putting the word, freedom, in italics where I quote scripture.)

Romans 8: 20, 21: "For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God." 

I could probably spend all sorts of time trying to figure this out but what I glean from this verse is.. a lack of freedom is associated with sin (the "bondage to corruption" phrase).  When I choose to behave apart from the plans and guidelines of God, I am actually in bondage rather than free.  God's plan for my life involves blessing and joy; when I step away from His plan, I give up my freedom.

The best personal application I can come up with is this: there was a time in my life, as a believer, that I strayed from God's plan.  I made choices contrary to His will consistently in a specific area of my life.  As a result I had to constantly justify myself, question Truth, struggle with inner turmoil and later, after repentance, deal with the terrible example I had set for my children as well as others.  It was a time of bondage, not a time of freedom.

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

There is a wonderful contemporary worship song written around this verse and, like the Romans verse, I understand this in light of the freedom we have when we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit.  It is He Who equips and enables us to walk through life unshackled by the chains of habitual sin.  I LOVE living in that kind of freedom!  It's the kind of freedom that, because of Christ, every new day offers me a fresh start.

Galatians 5:1: "For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery."

This verse is read in the context of the early church and people wanting the new Christians to continue to follow the old ceremonial laws.  Jesus' entry into the world, His death and resurrection provided a new covenant that involved changed hearts. We still  have to be obedient to God's moral standards but Jesus provided a new freedom to live out our faith in the light of HIS sacrifice, the "once and for all" sacrifice.  No more endless rules; instead God gives us brand new hearts when we make Jesus our Lord.  I now want what God wants.  My life is so rich and filled with adventures; for example, I no longer want to indulge in the books, movies, games, etc. that undermine the kind of life available through Christ.  He has given me a direction in life that has purpose and hope.

2 Peter 2:19: "They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved." 

This was in reference to false teachers of that time, but the phrase "whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved" is key to understanding freedom vs. bondage.  If I have to eat 5 hamburgers a day...I am enslaved to hamburgers! (plus I will gain a lot of weight!).  If alcohol is a necessity to get me through the day, I am enslaved to alcohol.  It can be anything!  It can even be something that seems good and healthy...like exercise.  If exercise consumes my life and I cut off service to God and time with my family, it has enslaved me.  Again, true freedom comes when we put Jesus on the throne of our hearts and live out the Truths in God's Word.

Friends, we can have freedom in any situation, no matter how difficult.  Our freedom comes from focusing on Truth, giving Jesus our lives, allowing the Holy Spirit to speak Truth love and direction to us.  Even if we experience persecution, illness, poverty, loneliness, marital issues, famiy problems (the list is endless), we choose our thoughts and our actions.  Not easy.... but do-able.  "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."  (Phil. 4:13).

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Exquisite!!!!!



I am sitting in my warm house, listening to the wind howl and watching the branches of the trees dance, as though doing a ballet, moving to their own unique rhythm.  My phone weather app says it's currently 3 degrees, going to a high of 6 degrees; tonight the low is -7.

I know, it sounds like I live at the North Pole (nah, just the U.P.!) and that life here is miserable with its cold and wind.  Now, just between you and me, I am not crazy about that wind; HOWEVER, there is such beauty because of the cold and wind and I am truly thankful for this season.  (yes, I know...I can see my southern friends rolling their eyes right about now.  :>))

I am going to attempt to describe what I see on my window.  The ice has formed irregular patterns with a whole variety of color, all within the white/gray tones.  The sun is shining through and it sparkles even more than the most pure diamond.  It is EXQUISITE!  I feel like I am living inside of a cocoon, protected in some magical way from the very elements that created the brilliance on my window.  As I write this God must have decided to turn up the beauty because the sun came out from behind a cloud and the light is so bright I can't look at it without being a bit blinded.

Because I love finding God in the small moments of my life, I feel almost overwhelmed by this experience and how He reveals Himself through His creation.

Psalm: 3,4 says, "When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?"

I too wonder, just like the psalmist....why does God gift us so freely?  What motivates the heart of God to provide such brilliant light, such incredible sparkle, color, pattern, intricate design...to a people who don't appreciate or deserve all of that?  LOVE!  LOVE!  LOVE!  That's what.   Love is Who God is.  It is His very nature. 

We see His love in so many ways...the beauty of nature...birth...a sunrise or sunset...hot fudge sundaes...long bike rides...the love between a husband and wife...and the greatest love of all, the life and sacrifice of His Son, Jesus.

So I am moving into the rest of my day with a renewed sense of joy and gratitude.  I see the glory of God, up close and personal (as the saying goes). The beauty in an icy covered window serves as a reminder today that God loves me and wants me to enjoy His presence through His creation.

I pray you will be more alert to the many ways God writes His love upon your heart...that you will experience the exquisiteness of His love as you go about your day to day activities.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Choosing an attitude of Contentment

Sunday was a blowy day here in the Upper Peninsula with a cold, brutal wind doing all it could to rip away warmth.  The wind was so strong it even blew in under our TWO front doors!  Earlier that morning, there was a small pile of cold white stuff on the floor in front of the inside door when I went to get a coat to wear to church.

But, I said to myself, how nice it is, in spite of it all, to feel safe and content.  After all, I have warm coats, a warm car, a warm house, etc.....why wouldn't I be content?  Well, I have given this word some thought today and am beginning to see areas of my life where I, perhaps, have fooled myself a bit.  Am I truly content with God's overflowing provision in my life?

I looked up the word, "content", on my iPhone (don't you love the information we have right at our fingertips?!) and it said, "in a state of peaceful happiness, satisfied, pleased, gratified, fulfilled, happy, cheerful, unworried, untroubled, tranquil, serene....(I think you get the picture.)

Does that describe me today?  Well, maybe not.  If not, why not?  I do have all those wonderful blessings described above...and much more.  Why would I not be experiencing total contentment?

I believe the answer to that question hinges not on the things I own or the circumstances of my day to day life, but on my attitude; what is going on in my heart?  Is there something I focus on with a negative spirit that I allow to steal my contentment?  Paul says in the book of Philippians, "Not that I am speaking of being in need for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content." (Italics are mine for emphasis.) And he, Paul, was a man that suffered so much!

In Lysa Terkeurst's book, the Best Yes, she says, "Refusing to release often means refusing to have peace.  I trade my peace for a weight of regret.  And it's a bad trade."  The word "release" is an interesting word.  What do I need to release to have peace?  To have contentment and joy? etc.  It's not always "what do I need to DO" but what bad habit, thought or attitude needs to leave my mind and my heart?  I envision one of those balloons filled with helium and all I have to do to see it vanish is let go of the string tied to it.  Release.  Let go.  Open up my fingers.  This week my personal challenge is to release and let go of anything standing in the way of embracing the contentment God desires for me.

What about you?