Responsible Freedom

Sunrise 2_IMG_1787

I’ll be able to do whatever I want, whenever I want.” What budding young adult upon first striking out on their own, or dreaming of doing so, has not had that thought or something very similar? Children too, fret at times under the authority of their parents or others.

I can remember similar thoughts of my own and I see in my mind’s eye that eighteen-year-old me as she headed off to college. Admittedly, there was a little anxiety as well. Though I was “on my own” I did not leave all behind nor dump what had been instilled in me for the previous eighteen years. I brought with me my faith, my values, life’s teachings, and lessons learned from my parents and others. I realized that with this newfound freedom, there was also great responsibility.

As unfinished and developing human beings, we allow our thoughts, emotions, and actions to drive how we react to others. The familiar, “He (or she) hit me first” of children is echoed in many forms for we adults. We justify ourselves by placing blame and by not recognizing our own responsibilities within our freedom to choose.

Paul said this well in his first letter to the church in Corinth. I like that my Bible titles this section as “The Believer’s Freedom.” He said, “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others. *

Wow! That was pretty radical and certainly not something usually promoted, including today. Two words that stood out for me in Paul’s statement are “beneficial” and “constructive.” Not everything that we have the freedom to do results in good. Not everything we have the freedom to do serves a useful purpose or builds up others. While this freedom may be related to written laws or practices it is much more than that. This freedom has to do with personal character and integrity. It has everything to do with personal faith and commitment. Tied into all of this is compassion, love and care for others, and mutual respect.

That doesn’t make it right” is a common response to the child’s declaration of “He (or she) hit me first!” What are our thoughts, our reactions, or our words to everyday situations? Do they reflect responsible freedom? Do they shine Christ’s light? This is a challenge for us all, I think.

I pray that I will better walk the path of responsible freedom. May we all seek and follow that path, ever striving for that which is beneficial and that which is constructive. All praise and thanks to God who draws His children closer to Him.

*1 Corinthians 10:23-24

Flash! Crackle! Boom! Crash!

lightning-1056419_1280 WikimediaImages from Pixabay _cropped

The child that was me clutched the covers tightly around her shoulders, her frightened eyes wide in the night. The summer storm roared in as rain pounded the metal roof above her head. Wind rattled the tree limbs outside and buffeted the house.

Sizzle! Bang!

Springing from her bed, she raced to the top of the stairs, calling, “Daddy! Daddy!” … and she heard his reassuring voice above the sound of the tempest outside. His footsteps sounded on the stairs and then he was beside her, comforting her.

… I well remember that long-ago night. Staying with me until the storm passed, calming and reassuring me, my father’s presence brought safety and security. The rumbles of thunder slowly grew distant and the flashes of lightning gradually ceased.

There have been many more storms since then, storms of life, tempest tossed. The faith that was instilled in me as a child revealed our Father God, though sometimes the pounding storms distracted me. The dark has a way of intensifying things doesn’t it? Where is hope in the middle of our storms?! It is difficult to hear God’s voice above stress and pain and His footsteps have gone unnoticed or forgotten.

A browned, slightly wrinkled piece of paper is a remnant of one of those stormy seasons of my life. It reads, “He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still” (Psalm 107:29). Posted in my kitchen all these years, it is still a daily reminder that God is always with me, reassuring me and calming the storms.

Even after my father returned to his own room, his presence lingered in my mind. I knew that he was close by. I knew that he loved me, demonstrated by sacrificing his own sleep even though he was exhausted after a long day of work. My family was around me and we had survived the storm together!

Psalm 107 says so much about the storms of life. Wandering in the desert, hungry and thirsty, trouble, and darkness… We encounter and struggle with all of these. In times of distress, we can have hope and reassurance that we don’t face that alone. God delivers us. He brings us through, and His love is steadfast. I’m so thankful for that!

Just as the child that was me heaved a sigh of peace and drifted off to sleep, so can we all rest secure in God’s presence. He holds life in His hands and He’s always close by.

“He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed” … a reminder and a promise for us all. “Peace, be still!” *

*Psalm 107, Mark 4:39

Wintery Places

winter snow bush n heart_red outline

A dark night, I draw into my coat against the freezing wind and biting chill. My head aches from the cold air I draw in through my reddening nose. Memories of warmth and light seem dim, as does the path ahead…

Haven’t we all faced similar scenes in life’s journey?! Sometimes our dark nights come gradually, perhaps painfully, as those we love slowly leave us … whether through increasingly debilitating illness, addictions, mental or emotional challenges, or any number of things which result in that withdrawal. Other times we are slammed abruptly by a flying boulder which smashes all that we care about into a pile of unrecognizable debris. We are left feeling numb, angry, or broken.

How do we face life’s times of loss and the resulting debris left behind? It can be a long, cold, and lonely journey. God, who faithfully walks with me and carries me, gives me hope. Through Him, that sometimes-dimming light can grow brighter. He touches me with the joy of His presence.

I’m reminded of some favorite verses in the Song of Solomon. What a wonderful reminder this little-quoted and sometimes misunderstood book of the Bible is! God’s love poem to us!

For lo, the winter is past. The rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth. The time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. *

Like a warm scarf, God’s love wraps around me. I blink at the light shining through breaking clouds and find shelter from the driving wind. There is delight in the sparkle of new snow and clinging icicles. Friends and family bring comfort and fellowship. Warmth welcomes.

Through Jeremiah, God spoke a promise for us all:

The Lord has appeared of old to me, saying: “Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore, with lovingkindness I have drawn you. Again, I will build you and you shall be rebuilt… *

May we find in God’s love poem and His words of promise, comfort in our wintery places. Be encouraged.

*Song of Solomon 2:11-12; Jeremiah 31:3-4a

Celebrate

Christmas tree_lights_Monicore_Pixabay

That’s wonderful! Yay! Great! Congratulations! I’m so happy for you! You did it!

We enjoy celebrating those noteworthy moments in life. Whether it be the result of long hard work, another year of life, a special anniversary, or a new life born… times of celebration express joy and excitement.

I remember the celebration of my mother’s 80th birthday. Friends and family worked to make this a special surprise. The church secretary asked my mom to stop by to pick up something and the plot was sprung! What joy shone on my mother’s face as gathered family and friends all wished her a happy birthday and expressed our love for her, to one who was so giving and compassionate. I treasure that memory.

I celebrate too, the quiet satisfaction of accomplishment… perhaps a completed task for work, a finished piece of writing, simple tasks around the house, or doing something for family or friends. These daily celebrations are as important as the larger occasions and are a source of contentment and affirmation of life.

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the quiet of the night was awakened to joy-filled words of celebration! “Glory to God in the highest heaven,” the host of angels proclaimed, “and on earth peace…” When the shepherds found this newborn Son of God, they celebrated by spreading the news to all who would hear. * Can you imagine the amazement and excitement in the little town that night?

There were other celebrations in the coming days as well, the praise of Simeon when he recognized Christ and the thanks of Anna who shared the news of his birth to all of those who had been waiting for that day. *

When the wise men arrived at the home of the child Jesus, they celebrated through worship and through the giving of gifts. They too had been searching for the child who had been born to the world. *

Something which is especially meaningful to me is Mary’s quiet and strong celebration, simply stated in Luke 2:19. “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Her thoughts must have gone back to the earlier encounter with her cousin Elizabeth as they celebrated together. * After months of carrying this child, now came further affirmation. Imagine her awe and joy, and perhaps also the fear or questions about what this motherhood would bring in days and years to come. All the pain, discomfort, whispers, and exhaustion must have faded as she looked upon her son and saw the face of God.

As we travel through life, may we treasure those moments of celebrations. May we ponder deeply and long the greatest gift of all, Emmanuel, God with us!

* Luke 2:13-30 (Shepherd and Angels); Luke 2:25-28 (Simeon); Luke 2:36-38 (Anna);
Matthew 2:10-11 (Wise Men); Luke 1:39-56 (Elizabeth and Mary)

STILL

beach quiet waves-by addesia_Pixabay

“Hold still a minute, please!”

How often have we said or heard that phrase?! Whether to a wiggly child getting assistance with a coat before rushing out to play or putting finishing touches on any procedure, “holding still” is sometimes a challenge. This can be especially difficult if pain or discomfort is anticipated, such as getting a splinter out. We will ourselves, with gritted teeth and wavering resolve, not to pull back!

Our “go” and “do” society often encourages or rewards us for all those good or expected items. How do we choose when we have so many options? Group or individual activities, self-improvement, school activities and sports, community volunteers, arts and music, support groups, church and family… The possibilities are many!  Of course, there are seasons of life when things are full. Making a living and raising children, study or training for an occupation, and caring for loved ones are all important. There is satisfaction in work and events accomplished. These are positive things, right?

Besides, when we stay busy then we don’t have to think about things …things like life and faith. Who has time or energy to think?! The passing of time, especially things that make us uncomfortable or unhappy can be easily shoved aside. Even positive things can slip away before we know it. We somehow don’t get around to seeing that neighbor, friend, or family member. Things are set on autopilot, keeping up with our “to do’s.”

The problem for me with packed days of “go and do” is that I often find myself restless or stressed. By not allowing myself to pause, worry can become a norm. It’s difficult to fully relax and enjoy life. Taking time for those precious moments of stillness will renew and refresh us.

The writer of the book of Psalms knew this great gift and need for stillness, having struggled with it himself. God reminded him to “be still and know that I am God…” * The psalmist paints a picture of life as a surging sea; sometimes the waves mount up, but God quiets them with a word. *  This is echoed in Jesus’ words in the book of Mark, “Quiet. Be still” he rebuked the winds and waves. * Good reminders for us today!

My prayer for us, is that we will be intentional about our moments of stillness, however brief, and that we will treasure them. I pray for pauses to give thanks and to recognize God who brings healing and strength, and that you may heed His caring words, “Quiet. Be still.”

* Psalm 46:10a; Psalm 89:9; Psalm 107:29; Mark 4:39

Above, Beneath, and Upon

songbird n chipmunk

When I was a girl, I loved climbing up into trees. Sometimes I’d take a book with me to read, but often I would just sit… swaying gently in the breeze. I would look quietly around me and up into the sky and imagine what it might be like to experience the world like a bird. Darting from tree to tree or soaring through the air… their perspective must be so different from mine!

From the walkway in front of our small-town house, steps led down to the street sidewalk with a nice place to sit on either side. Beneath them, chipmunks made their home. It was a safe place away from the neighborhood cats! I had learned to sit very still, up toward the house, to watch them scampering back and forth. I wondered what they saw as they looked about at the world towering over them!

We people upon this earth come from such rich and varied backgrounds! Like the birds and the chipmunks which I watched, we each have our own unique perspectives. I’m reminded of the story in Acts 2 about the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles. People from all nations and speaking many different languages were in Jerusalem during the celebration of the harvest festival, known as the Feast of Weeks (Shavout). Can you imagine the crowds gathered and the diversity of the people?! Hear the shouts and voices of people making their way about the city. See the variety of clothing. Smell the aroma of foods cooking…

Then a great roaring rush of wind drew the crowds to where the apostles and followers of Jesus stood. Can you sense their amazement and confusion as they heard, from these uneducated men, the “wonders of God” in their own languages? … And thousands became followers of Christ from this one encounter.

One thing that I had never really thought about was that these very people, from all nations, then came together. They lived, ate, and worked together in their shared humanity. Their very differences were their strengths… Isn’t that so true for us as well?

I try so hard to consider the perspective of others and what might be influencing or affecting them. Some days are just more challenging than others, aren’t they?! It’s my prayer for us today that God will help us to better consider the perspectives of others and to acknowledge our common humanity. Can you see the people? Can you hear the sounds of life? Can you smell the rich aroma?

 

Open

butterfly dovetail on clover-1541704_960_720_pixabay

Open heart now do we heed
Understanding gain

A treasure box with gifts to share
Revealing many things

Open mouth what do we speak
In kindness wisdom not in folly

Careful words produced with thought
Teaching truth and life

Open ears what do we hear
To know the words just spoken

Among the mad uproar and chaos
Listening and discerning

Open eyes what do we see
Wondrous things and tragedy

Hold outheld hands to offer aid
Touching hurt and bringing healing

Open doors we knock in faith
Pass through gates of life

Walking leaping now made right
Prisoners no more

Open

From “My Words to Live By” c-a allen

One More Time!

Sunrise 1b_IMG_0887

“One more time!” What thoughts that simple phrase conjures! The enthusiastic glee of a child in a game they are enjoying. The determined efforts of someone giving their last surge of energy. The tired thoughts of a worker nearing the end of a long shift. The culmination of repeated practice to perfect some skill or project.

One more and one more again. Just one more minute… until a job is completed, until it is time to begin, until we can relax, until we get some news. One more chance… to say needed words, to see a loved one, to say good-bye, to explain or to share.

Jesus was so faithful in his call to others, receiving all who came in faith and explaining once more to his disciples what it meant to follow him and what was to come. He persevered in prayer, “once more he went away and prayed the same thing.” * Paul wrote to the church of the Thessalonians saying, “We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing.” …More faith and more love for each other! So many “mores” we read about in the Bible!

I’m thankful for my “mores,” for opportunities to be with others, for times of worship and learning, for quiet times, for growing years. And when the “mores” that I seek are no longer available, I am glad for the comfort of others, the joy in God, and the knowledge of “mores” to come. May God grant us hope, perseverance, and peace and may we seek Him in all our “mores.”

*Mark 14:39, 2 Thessalonians 1:3 NIV

It’s Broken!

moon crescent sunset -2682274_960_720_pixabay

“It’s broken!” the young child exclaimed when he saw the picture of the crescent moon in the boardbook we were looking at. “Yes, it does look broken doesn’t it?” I replied.

When I have looked at my own life and at the world around me, I too have exclaimed, “It’s broken!” Seeing only a part, I have focused on the sharpness and darkness of the crescent moon and not on its light. In the midst of struggles, it can be easy to forget that there is One greater than ourselves and our situations… that there’s more to the moon than we can see!

What can we do when overwhelmed with our own brokenness and the brokenness of others?

Jesus used several illustrations about brokenness… When the crowd of people who had come out to hear his teachings grew hungry, a few loaves of barley bread and some fish were offered. Jesus took those loaves and fish and broke them, not only providing for the needs of the people but also having basketfuls left over.

When eating with his disciples in an upper room, Jesus broke the bread and told them it was like his broken body, soon to be sacrificed for them. The two men from Emmaus were able to recognize Jesus only after the bread was broken. They understood that Jesus had been broken too and they were given the good news of life. Jesus sacrificed himself for all who come to him, seeking healing… seeking forgiveness.

By giving God our brokenness, we are strengthened and able to go on. Out of pain comes light. Like the people who followed Jesus, we too come together to support, share, and encourage.

Out of brokenness, hope and life is born! How amazing is that?!

*Matthew 15:34-37, Matthew 26:26, Luke 24:35