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Archive for the ‘Transformation’ Category

The call to live a life of faith can feel like a lot of hard work. To be good, do what is right and swallow our pride takes effort. The kind that, if we are honest with ourselves, we don’t always want to make. It’s hard to tithe when the budget’s tight. It’s hard to make time in your day to pray or read the Bible when you never feel like you can sit down. It’s hard to control your tongue when every ounce of your being wants to complain. It’s hard to go against the grain.

In this environment, choosing good sometimes feels like trying to push a big boulder up a hill. The Apostle Paul was no stranger to this struggle when he wrote in Romans 7:18, “I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.”

Do you ever feel like Paul?

In my last post I focused on Jesus’ words of comfort for those who follow his way. He said, “Come to me all who are weary and I will give you rest.” He was talking about the kind of rest we long for… freedom from the boulder pushing life.

In Matthew 22:36-40 a teacher of the law; a ‘good’, diligent & righteous man, came to Jesus & asked him, “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”

Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”

Jesus, in that simple yet profound statement said, when put to the test, all the laws… all the rules… all our good effort can be measured by this: Love.

Love God. Love others. Simply love.

There is such freedom in those words. Who does not want to be loved, to give love? To spend their days both giving & receiving love? There is no list of rules, there is no checklist or unattainable goodness in this life of faith. There is one request.

With you whole heart, love. With all you do, love. With all you are, love.

Today be set free in your life from the yoke, the labor, of goodness. Instead, freely come to the one who loves you as himself and take up his yoke of love. This is the way of faith.

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Rest for your soul

IMG_0883Sometimes I feel totally unqualified for my life. It’s not a new revelation or growing fear. Simply, when I look at the balance sheet of my life, with all that needs to be done and measure it against all that I bring to those tasks, it doesn’t equal out. My resources and talents are simply not enough. At least by my own measure…. I lack.

My talents, my resources, my time is never enough for my ideas, my plans, my insistence on perfection. When I consider my own ability, I don’t see what others see. I don’t see what God sees. All I can see is the lack. The problem is that the scale, by which I measure, is one of my own creation. I am the one saying what is “enough”. Living by that standard, the burden of my life, my way, can get so heavy.

It’s only when I set down my grandiose ideas about life at Jesus’ feet, it’s only then that I realize how unnecessarily heavy they are. In a world of great ideas, glossy photos, self help books & how to manuals it is easy to feel like I have to be enough. That I have to do it all. That it is realistic to expect my life to be storybook picture perfect. Jesus has another way, another standard of measure.

In Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus invited us saying, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke fits perfectly, and the burden I give you is light.”

I love this passage for so many reasons. It is one that reminds me that I am not journeying this life alone; that there is one who loves me, has compassion for me and walks with me. Jesus doesn’t simply say, “Here, do it my way. It’s better. Now get on with it.” He does not leave me to figure out how to do the new way on my own. Instead, he says to me who is struggling, “Here, let me help you. Let me show you another way. I will make this easier for you.” He fills me with his spirit, teaches me with his word and gives me new ideas for my life.

He does not look at my life through the lens of my ability or from the perspective of my ideals. He looks upon me with grace love. He does not leave me alone with my burdens. He invites me into a new way. He gives me a new measure. When I look at his version of the balance sheet of my life it is written all over with the red lined edits of grace. That balance sheet doesn’t have me come out in the negative but in the over abundant excess of his grace.

Are you weary? Heavy-burdened? Jesus offers rest to your soul.

For me, this process of lightening my burden means setting aside the ones I’ve put on myself. It means being freed to listen to the gentle teacher who says he will help me understand what my true burden should be. I’ll be writing about that process here. I’m choosing his way. Want to walk this journey with us? ~ A

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A little over a year ago, we were expecting our fourth child, planning to move across the country, preparing to sell our house & figuring out how to raise our own support for the first time ever in our lives.  Needless to say, I was feeling a bit overwhelmed by it all & when I get that feeling like I could sink at any moment I often go to the psalms for comfort. The poets of the psalms have a way of calming my soul like David did for Saul with his lyre & songs.

At that moment in my life I came to Psalm 37 & found great comfort there.  I read it over & over.  I posted it on the wall above my kitchen sink.  I prayed & meditated on it.  It was a story of righteousness in the midst of difficulty, perseverance even when the odds seemed impossible, provision in time of need, encouragement to keep hope & the promise of blessing for “committing your way to the Lord”.  The more time I spent with this chapter, the more I was challenged to ‘press on’ and the more puzzled I became with exactly how it should be done. My trouble came from this single verse:

It mystified me.  Delight? In the midst of everything…all the trials, all the adversity, all the hardships, all the fear? When it feels like I am just getting by, making it through, keeping it together, what does it mean to ‘delight in the Lord’? I wasn’t sure I was delighting in much.  “I want to know how to do that!”, I cried.  Little did I know what this past year or so had in store.

A few months ago, I decided to tackle this puzzle from a fresh perspective. I pulled out my Merriam-Webster Dictionary to see how it defined delight. There it was, exactly as I expected, ‘extreme satisfaction or gratification’ with the synonyms of ‘pleasure’ or ‘treat’ listed below. Not exactly the words I would use to describe my attitude towards my life & circumstances. Well then, I guess I was NOT delighting in the Lord or much else for that matter! Thankfully, however, those were not the only words on the page as I kept on reading.  There they were.  The words I needed. Manna. Joy.

Manna, as you may recall, comes from the story in Exodus of the Israelites who were freed from the servitude of the egyptians to wander for 40 years in the desert. It was God’s provision for them , where there was none, so that they could thrive in a place no one would expect them to even survive. I knew the story & I knew the word but I went to Merriam-Webster anyway. I was curious. It said:

a : food miraculously supplied to the Israelites in their journey through the wilderness

b : divinely supplied spiritual nourishment

c : a usually sudden and unexpected source of gratification, pleasure, or gain

Instantly I wept. Manna.  Joy.  Those were not things I manufactured.  They are not things that begin with me.  They begin with the one who gives them… freely…that we may thrive, not just survive this life!

When my daughter, our fourth child, was born last year it was after much hardship. When my water broke at 6.5 months into my pregnancy we were faced with an uncertain number of weeks in the hospital hoping to hold off her birth. Though the odds were stacked against us, I had chosen hope, waited on God, embraced His peace instead of my fear, persevered in the midst of much difficulty, embraced  thankfulness in my time of great need. I was trying to ‘trust in the Lord’ as Psalm 37 declared I should. But not until our baby was born, after 7 long weeks of waiting in the hospital, did I realize the true lesson I had been learning all this time. I was being given just what I had cried out for. It was my daughter & her amazing birth story was my lesson in delight. Her very life is God’s lesson of “sudden and unexpected source of gratification, pleasure, or gain”. His provision, entirely, ‘miraculously supplied’.

When I hold my daughter I am often reminded of that lesson.  I am amazed at the One who continually provides & cares, guides & protects for our good.  He does provide, not just our material needs but so much more! The very presence of my daughter, my husband & our 3 other  children are an amazing gift in which I can delight. My eyes are opening to a whole new layer of beauty around me and that beauty is what my heart desires! I want to see it, I want to experience it, I want to savor it, I want to taste it… Delight.

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Today I am choosing to delight in the treasures of this very moment…

 

Berries in my fridge

Pansies on my windowsill

Clean linens on the line

Bare feet in the summer

Pen on paper

Moments of reflection

A tall, cool drink

Red beads on my wrist

Sunshine & blue sky

Laughter in the yard

Eyes to see it

Ears to hear

Time to notice

 

Choosing to treasure my life & taking the time to see it means setting aside the dirty dishes littering my kitchen. That simple act of setting aside a moment of reflection completely changes my heart. The busyness of the day can choke out the beauty that’s right there waiting to be seen. I don’t want to lose the wonder in my days. Take a minute. What has surprised you as a hidden gift today?

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After posting my last blog on choosing (see The act of choosing) I’ve had a few poignant songs running through my head. One of my favorite singer/songwriters right now is Sara Groves. She writes earnestly about life & faith and does so using her own personal struggles or life changing revelations. Below is a link to a song about choosing what is precious in the hum drum of everyday life.

Listen to this: Precious Again by Sara Groves

Sunrise, sunset with no eyes to see it
Garnets and rubies ground up in the sand
Words from my children with no ears to hear it
Where is the wonder?

New tender mercies and infinite graces
Woven like threads in the cloth of my days
Deep wells of glory behind common faces
Where is the wonder? Where is the wonder?

Oh oh, I need a song that’s never old
Oh oh, I need a story never told
Promise that just when love grows cold
You’ll make it precious again

Friendship and goodwill, a sweet invitation
Kindred in spirit and eager to share
Love in familiar and long conversations
There is the wonder, there is the wonder

Oh oh, sing me the song that’s never old
Oh oh, tell me the story never told
Promise that just when love grows cold
You’ll make it precious

Press mud with holy fingers, light the ineffable
Fused in the ordinary, so much to wonder
Oh, what a wonder, wonder, wonder

Oh oh, sing me the song that’s never old
Oh oh, tell me the story never told
Promise that just when love grows cold
You’ll make it precious, oh, make it precious
You make it precious again

In our daily act of choosing, can we make the small, every day, graces we experience precious treasures? How have you witnessed grace & blessing in your life? What can you treasure today?

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The act of choosing

Each day of our life is filled with choices. What to wear, what to eat, what to do… I am ever aware of those choices since I am still the primary decision maker for my young children. Though they are simple, I often tire of those unrelenting decisions. Can’t someone else decide? It would be so wonderful if all those decisions could just be made by themselves!

Recently, I have been aware of the bigger, deeper, life directing decisions I have to make everyday. I’m not referring to ‘those big life decisions’ we all must face… college, marriage, children. No, it’s more along the lines of Francis Schaeffer’s question “how should we then live?”.

Everyday as I face a new morning I have choices to make….

Will I be thankful for this new day or begrudge its arrival?

Will I revel in the choices I have to dress myself today or complain that I’m tired of wearing my clothes?

Will I greet my children with delight or grumble under my breath as they make their regular morning requests?

And the day unfolds… with choice after choice.

The choices I make about my heart, my attitude, my purpose & my perspective have reverberating effects throughout my day & my family. I regularly forget that each action, each response, each task I undertake begins with a choice I have to make. So often I feel as though I’m living my life to just get by for another day. Bearing my teeth to suffer through until I get some sort of a break.

This realization has led me to ask some hard questions. What do I lose by living that way? What do I surrender by allowing those choices to be made by whim or circumstance? What more could I get out of life if I stopped letting something else, something automatic & unchecked in my heart, make those decisions for me?

Psalm 1:1-3 says:

“Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked or stand around with sinners, joining in with the scoffers. Those who delight in doing everything that the Lord wants think about his law day & night. They are like trees planted along the riverbank bearing fruit each season without fail. Their leaves never wither and in all they do, they prosper.”

I have read this psalm many times & always thought of the first lines in terms of the influence of others. Outside influences. Just recently I had to admit that not all wicked influences are external. When I surrender my choices I become like those standing around, scoffing, listening to the selfish, bitter, lonely or weary comments my heart throws out. I become easily influenced. My perspective is skewed. I forget to focus on the law of the Lord. Then I begin to wither and it becomes impossible to bear fruit!

I don’t want to end up being an ugly withered old tree by the side of a dry creek-bed. My heart truly longs to be a lovely, green, fruit bearing tree that my friends & family take comfort from. Yet, if I do nothing to cultivate that tree, I will never be like that.

In Luke 9:23-24 Jesus said to those who wanted to follow after him to “put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross daily and follow me. If you try to keep your life for yourself, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for me, you will find true life.”

If I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that I really do want my life to be about me. I’m not thrilled with carrying a cross and choosing a life of sacrifice. When it really comes down to it, I want my choices to be about me, for me, and not for others. Living by default plays to my sinful nature. It allows my cross to lay on the side of the road while I stop walking to throw a tantrum. It never looks lovely when I decide to go my own way & its exhausting to feel like I have figure it all out. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be so hard!

Jesus also said in Matthew 11:28-30 “Come to me, all of you who are weary & carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble & gentle, & you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke fits perfectly & the burden I give you is light.”

Taking up the yoke of daily living is a constant choice. It is relentless & never a moment passes where we do not choose. There are several options along the way…

I can try to do everything on my own, making every decision the best I know how.

I can forget trying at all & coast through the day, hoping to just get by.

I can surrender all my decisions to others, living as a victim of my own life & circumstances.

Or…I can admit my weariness, my inability, my need for direction & accept the guidance that Christ offers.

In order to delight in my life everyday, I need the constant presence of the Teacher to show me a new way. I need the awareness of the Spirit to help me see my choices. I need the wisdom of the Father to to speak into my every circumstance. I need the Holy God of the universe to break into my mundane life choices & transform them into decisions that bring life. Fruit.

I’ve decided this week to try to allow God to invade my everyday in hopes that I will begin to pay attention to the choices I have to make. I have decided to take up a challenge. To seek, to see, to listen, to enter into my own life on new terms. I am beginning with a record of thankfulness. To write down daily the ways that I see God’s blessing & activity in my life. I am choosing to discover joy. I am learning to delight.

Will you join me? Will you choose His yoke, His way? It is supposed to fit easily. Try listing a few things that you are thankful for today. It will be wonderful to see where that decision leads….

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I Surrender All

I Surrender All

Judson W. Van DeVenter, 1896

I surrender all,
I surrender all;
All to Thee, my blessed Savior,
I surrender all.

This hymn has been resonating with me the past few days.  I have been singing it while getting ready in the morning, doing the laundry, preparing meals, paying the bills & forging ahead in relationships. It has become my prayer. The more I sing it the more I realize how necessary it is for me to find the joy of surrender…

  • As we leave a steady paying job with benefits for a temporary part time position & the task of raising our support
  • As we live with almost entirely all of our possessions packed in boxes in 3 locations in 2 different states
  • As we press on to sell our house amidst an array of obstacles with very limited resources to overcome them
  • As our family of 6 learns to live with my parents, in their 2 bedroom house, for as long as is necessary
  • As we attempt to create relationships, meaning & purpose for ourselves during our time here
  • As we seek direction for our next steps in life & ministry, persevere in faith, hold fast to hope & live in love

The verses of this song speak volumes to me about the challenges we are facing in this journey of faith.  The lessons I am learning are rich & deep as I continue to learn to surrender all.

All to Jesus I surrender;
All to Him I freely give;
I will ever love and trust Him,
In His presence daily live.

I am learning to set aside my plans, my ideal settings, my preferences & my comfort for the sake of others.  I thought I was getting pretty good at that as I embraced motherhood. It is constantly a life of sacrifice but God has shown me how much more I have to grow in ‘freely giving’. The comfort I take in giving without limit is that it is all ‘in His presence’ and not one act of surrender goes unnoticed by my Father.

All to Jesus I surrender;
Humbly at His feet I bow,
Worldly pleasures all forsaken;
Take me, Jesus, take me now.
 
Surrendering our life challenges our comfort & pleasure.  In my head I know that possessions are just ‘things’ but I have discovered that my heart has yet to be convinced. Over the past few weeks, with most of my ‘things’ packed away, I have found how much my identity is wrapped up in my possessions.  What I wear, the tools I use, the comforts I surround myself with can become all too precious & important.  It has been an eye opening experience to realize how little we actually need for our day to day.  There is freedom in forsaking things.
All to Jesus I surrender;
Make me, Savior, wholly Thine;
Let me feel the Holy Spirit,
Truly know that Thou art mine.

As a mother, I have learned the sweetness of prayer without ceasing. To talk with the Father as I make lunch or stoop to tie little shoes provides me an anchor for my days & a pathway amidst the trials.  This time of trial has made clear to me how inseparable the Holy Spirit is for my daily survival.  If I were to walk through my days based on my undulating tides of emotion, my life would be a wreck. Yielding to the Spirit is my salvation.

All to Jesus I surrender;
Lord, I give myself to Thee;
Fill me with Thy love and power;
Let Thy blessing fall on me.

Surrender is for a purpose.  It is not, as we can wrongly assume, solely for learning lessons or giving up ‘our way’.  When we surrender we become useable.  We are no longer distracted by our own plans, agendas, desires & needs instead, we are free to be focused on what is truly important. Surrendering daily makes way for Him to sustain me beyond my own strength. Only then can we experience the depth of God’s words to the apostle Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

As I continue to sing this song I will hold fast to this truth: when I feel pressed & overwhelmed, ready to give up, He will empower me to continue on amidst these challenging circumstances. I surrender it all…

 

To view more paintings by Lyn Deutsch in the series ‘Hymns & Musical Instruments’ click on the image above.


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