Posted in Christianity, Love

Gratitude with a Capital G

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Joy to the world, the LORD has come. Let earth receive its King. Let every heart prepare Him room, and Heaven and Nature sing.

Christmas is the time when we celebrate the greatest miracle ever–the willingness of an all-powerful God to become like one of us in order to save us.

He has shown the depth of His patience and His wrath throughout the history of His interactions with us. In Old Testament times, He called His chosen people “stiff-necked” and punished them with as much passion as He subsequently forgave them. Through chance after chance, the Israelites moved toward and away from Him in an ebb and flow that lasted thousands of years.

When a baby was born to a virgin in a manger, God’s people were marking off almost 400 years of silence from Him. Further, if a Messiah had come, they expected Him to be a champion who blazed against their enemies and allowed the Israelites to rule the world, overthrowing their Roman oppressors and making sure they never again were slaves.

Intead, what they got was a man who instructed them to “turn the other cheek.” The Kingdom Jesus came to establish had absolutely nothing to do with earthly rule as the Israelites understood it.

More than 2000 years later, some have still not heard His word, and some might argue that we of His Kingdom are at a stage where we are also “stiff-necked,” turning away from Him in a time when we most need what He has to offer.

For those who have accepted the salvation Christ offers, a gratitude based on the humble realization of just how little we deserve God’s love and sacrifice should be the first thought we have upon rising each morning and before we lay down to sleep each night. It should also be a gratitude that colors the way we treat everyone around us.

No one’s love is greater than God’s love for us. And the best news of all time is that His love is available to all of us, no matter who we are or what we have done, as long as we are willing to reach out with both hands and grab it–gratefully.

Posted in Christian Living, Love

The Patience Principle

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I did some errands earlier today, and it being a little over a week before Christmas, the parking lot of the shopping center I was in was full to overflowing. On any other weekend, I could pull into this center and easily find a parking space, but today I took the first spot I could find, a fair walk away from the store I was actually there to shop. I knew I had to be ready to wait and not be in a hurry if I was going to have a decent time shopping.

This evening, my cat, who is more than well-fed, decided to take an interest in my pizza supper. When it was obvious I wasn’t in a mood to share, she laid her head on my lap table and waited for me to finish. She purred and did her best to convince me with her eyes that she was deserving of some cheese, but she didn’t whine or meow.

These events were at the end of a week that had begun with me reading the book of Daniel and being struck by the patience he had, a patience that showed his faith in God and actually saved his life on more than one occasion.

I am a person who likes to have things that make me nervous over with as soon as possible, which often makes me “jump the gun,” seeking quick solutions instead of completely analyzing a situation. More importantly, in trying to find the solution quickly, I don’t give God a chance to guide me!

Daniel didn’t make this mistake. When King Nebuchadnezzar had a bad dream and called all his “prophets” to decipher it for him, none of them could manage the job. The King actually killed them in his frustration at their inability, ordering the execution of all such “prophets” in his kingdom.

Stuck under Nebuchadnezzar’s rule, Daniel went before this king with a plea to have his chance to explain the dream before also being executed. Now, I would have been tempted to interpret the dream then and there, but Daniel asked to have an evening before telling the king about the dream. Daniel then returned to his three friends, and they all prayed to God to help them. In the end, God revealed the dream and its meaning to Daniel to tell the king.

The Bible is full of stories about patience. Even those who spoke with God Himself had to practice this very important virtue. Over and over again, the Bible shows that God’s time is not the same as ours. When He makes a promise, He will keep it, even if it takes Him 40 years or 400!

A quick search brings up an abundance of verses on the virtue of patience:

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil. For those who are evil will be destroyed, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land. (Psalms 37:7-9)

Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. (Isaiah 40:31)

This website offers many more verses on the importance of patience for Christian living.

No one, of course, was more patient that Christ. How did He achieve it? The few times He expresses impatience with His disciples underscores the patience Christ otherwise practiced every day He was on this earth. Imagine trying to get a steady stream of ants to change direction without being able to touch them or put anything in their way, and I imagine that you have just a small idea of what it was like for The Lord of all things to come to earth as man and try to teach us the art of LOVE.

In this season of LOVE, when it is so much easier to feel good about the human race, let us all practice patience–with God and with each other.

Posted in Christianity, Love

Unmask Yourself

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We all need a little bit of protection now and again, a face we put on for the world at large to keep our innermost self from being wounded. But I wonder how often the protections we put on daily, those invisible masks and personality traits that we have used to wall ourselves away from the potential hurts of this world, actually keep us from truly reaching out to others as God intended us to do? After all, He is more interested in us showing love to others than in keeping our sense of pride in tact.

Actually, God is quite against pride, a fact I seem to often forget. Pride keeps me from saying “I love you” to people who may need most to hear it. It keeps me from sharing my doubts with others when realizing that we all have similar questions about this world and our places in it might have been just what somebody else needed to hear. Pride lets me fall into the trap of thinking that I am doing a pretty good job in my Christian walk, blinding me to my own sin and making me judgmental about the sin it is so easy to see in others. I believe Jesus said something about a log and a toothpick.

I learned the value of stripping away masks when I began my yoga class several years ago. Having never been an athletic person, I pre-determined that I was going to be the worst student in the class and that THAT WAS GOING TO BE OK. Approaching my exercise in this way freed me to concentrate on what was most important for my yoga, which was paying attention to what my own body was telling me as I tried the exercises. This decision to strip away my masks also allowed me to share when it was asked of me in a way that would benefit both me and my sharing partner. I have become a more open person in all aspects of my life, just because I decided to be myself in an otherwise intimidating exercise class.

As for the protection part of masks, Paul gives us directions for a far superior form of protection, available to us through the grace of God. In Ephesians 6, he writes that we should put on the full armor of God:

14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Our enemy isn’t really each other, after all. We are all in this same struggle together, and none of us escape the ultimate destiny of every human existence. Instead of masks that cut us off from each other, we should be banding together against our true enemy, the evil one who would keep us from the Ultimate One.

No mask is worth keeping someone else from the love of Christ. Next time your pride or insecurities tempt you to put one on, think about that. Loving others may mean looking a bit silly sometimes, but the ultimate goal of salvation far outweighs any indignities we might suffer.

Posted in Christian Living, Christianity, Faith

Peace that surpasses cat naps

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So, I’ve been working on emptying myself, paying attention to my thoughts, and realizing the difference between seeing people for what they need versus what they deserve.

These steps would be a hard struggle, even without a world of temptation around me. In fact, without the Spirit that dwells within me, I would find it impossible to see the narrow lane that is the way of God, much less stay anywhere near within its bounds.

Even though the love of Christ makes who I am more important than what I do, the process of being love and goodness is not without obstacles. The television beckons on a daily basis, slipping past me words and actions that would not have passed the censors when I was a child and yet are OK for even day-time airwaves. I still turn the television on. With the boon of electronic publishing, I have thousands of books at my fingertips. Do historical romances count as “clean” fiction? I doubt it. But, you’ll find quite a few of them on my Nook account.

“Do not be deceived,” Paul tells the Corinthians. “‘Bad company corrupts good morals'” (1 Cor 15:33).

The devil doesn’t show up looking like some horrible creature you want to shrink from, but as the appealing figure you only know as a deceiver if you really pay attention.

Which brings me back to the Spirit that dwells within us, the mechanism by which Christ makes “His burden light” (Matt. 11:30). Through the help of concentrating on the Spirit, we will find ourselves more sure-footed on the narrow path:

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.
Galatians 5:16-18

The last part of Paul’s admonition to the Galatians may seem contradictory. What did he mean by not being under the Law? Remember, for one, that in the time that Jesus walked the earth, the Law had become a thing that lost sight of its main goal in overwhelming minutiae. Christ told the Pharisees it was not what was on the outside that made them unclean, but what was in their hearts, remember? In living by the Spirit, what Paul is saying is that we are no longer caught under the minutiae of the Law that gets us focused on the wrong things. Instead, with the Spirit, we are guided by the love and goodness that Christ exhibited while He was on this earth. And this kind of living, rather than losing sight of the Law, inevitably ups the ante.

This piece has turned into one of those “sinners in the hands of an angry God” kind of approaches, when it promised something very different, so let me deliver on the promise of the title. Spending time in the Spirit takes practice, just like any other skill. You build up to it. You have to commit to it. But, the more you do it, the more you realize that it is so much more rewarding than the entertainments or activities that you used to do to fill the voids in your life that simply don’t cut it any more. (And you do still seek television time and good books to read. You just find yourself liking a different variety of entertainment on television more than what once interested you.)

Whenever somebody goes through a great tragedy, we often wish them the “peace that surpasses all understanding,” the peace that comes from God alone because He alone knows the truth about what is (Philipians 4:7) . But I think we get flashes of understanding when we practice our Holy Spirit muscles.

For those of you that own a cat or dog, there is nothing more peaceful than one of these creatures curled up in perfect slumber. How many times during a week do I find myself scurrying around with chores and work, glancing up to see my cats in blissful slumber and envy them their perfect peace?

And yet, if I would just take a page out of their books, stop for a few minutes, or an hour, and go to my Father with a request for that same kind of peace, won’t He grant it? Didn’t Christ give us that very example throughout His time on earth? Look at all the examples of moments when He took Himself aside to be alone in prayer.

So, here’s to knowing the peace that surpasses my cats’ naps, to daily exercises in the Spirit, to a world of wonder when we see through the eyes of God’s love.

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Posted in Christian Living, Love

A Mother’s Day In Christ

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The true message of Christ, the power of love, has perhaps its closest parallel in the perfect picture of a mother’s love for her child, the kind of love we honor on Mother’s Day. Like every mother who has stayed up nights by sick beds, given up her own freedom for the sake of the ultimate good of her children (taking away the car keys means mom has to drive, after all), or spent countless hours on her knees praying for the safety and happiness of her family, Christ did not merely state His message of love. He lived it. He continues to live it, especially through those who choose not to see the baptism by water into Christianity as an ending but a beginning.

Living a Christ-like life means always striving to be more, but not more in the sense of this world. In this world, filled with television, movie, and internet messages, more means better cars, faster electronics, fancy clothes, bigger houses, high-paying careers. In Christ’s world, more means better sharing, increased love of others, joy in what one has, faith that one is where he/she is meant to be and the discipline to walk in the narrow path of God’s truth.

When you have to spend so much time in the world, it is all too easy to fall into the trap of being of this world, all too easy to grab the more expensive brand of something because the commercials have convinced us it’s better instead of saving those extra nickels and dimes to share with those who have even less than we do. When you are of this world and not just in it, it’s too simple to fall into the wide and easy ways of this world. When we choose based on what everybody else is doing instead of what Christ would do, we make our lives simpler in that moment, but we also buy into the devil’s marketing plan, as it were, and his way leads only unto death.

We’ve all fallen victim to it, especially often during the holiday times, when so many ads want to convince us that what they are selling will make us better, happier, more peaceful. But, think about the times you have fallen victim to this marketing. Do you really feel happier? Maybe for a moment, but what then? When you rely on the devil’s marketing plan, don’t you always have to go searching for peace and happy again?

Christ’s marketing plan was simple: love. If we follow this plan, we don’t take actions that will hurt others. We strive to perfect ourselves in aspects of life that really count, like helping others, doing good, being kind, taking joy in nature and each other, including our differences. How different would the world be if these were the messages that flashed across our televisions and movie theatres and computer screens?

We can’t change the whole world, but we can change our own actions and the ways that we interact with those with whom we come into contact. What steps are you taking to grow in your walk with Christ? I will be working this week to set up my goals to mature in Christ. I believe I will start in Galations with the list of the fruit of the Spirit. What about you?

Posted in Poetry

National Poetry Writing Month #8

A Two-Step Dream

He loved her when once she danced,
skittering loops and lines
across a grit-smoothed floor,
her long, blond hair glinting white
against the strobes of lighted halls,
her skirts, always red, twirling ’round
her well-formed calves in rhythms
his heart tapped beats to.

Her heart, solid and cold, except when music
filled her senses, matched his footsteps
only when the band played, her breath
a hot promise on his ear lobes, as close
as ever she came to love.

In the circle of a dance floor,
they twirled and tangoed,
bobbing and weaving the maze
of nothing or all, forever dangling
between them like the twinkle
of gems that seal promises
so many never keep.

Now, tapping heels to any song
wafting past his easy chair, he thinks
of her lips, the plump, red orbs
just touching his cheek stubble,
the two-step all he’d ever know
of a full, gentle world.

Ramona Levacy
April 8, 2013

Posted in Christian Living, Christianity

How One Vowel Can Change Your Life

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Within the last couple of weeks, I had the pleasure/challenge of spending some time at one of the happiest places on earth, otherwise known as Disneyland. Along with all the wonderful sights of the magic land, I also got to witness up close and personal the bare truth of the mass of humanity: crying children, frustrated parents, bickering spouses, selfish line jumpers, immodest dressers. Fortunately, I also got to witness the happy side of being human, the smiles, laughter, fun and acts of kindness a happy atmosphere generates that are all part of the reason so many people are willing to open their wallets, literally, and partake in the wonderful world of Disney.

Once I got home and had time to decompress and reflect on my time in the “land,” I was struck by the awesomeness of the love that God has for us, all of us, even in our frustrated or downright mean moments, a love so strong and all-encompassing that He sent Jesus, His Son, God-made-man, to sacrifice Himself so that we might be saved. How short did I fall standing in the long line waiting to ride Space Mountain from loving the people around me as Jesus loved them, even the bored kids swinging on the aisle chains despite being told by park authorities and their parents not to? As I was soaking in the bright colors of the varied architecture and the sightings of costumed characters from various cartoon movies, did I once take time to think about the opportunities before me to love people I would likely never see again?

The answer is, of course I didn’t. I was too busy trying to get the most out of my $300 tickets, too concentrated on not giving into the exhaustion of going and going for 15 hours straight each day in order to get the most out of this opportunity to experience something I don’t normally get to experience.

Today at church, I learned a new way of looking at opportunities like the ones I missed at Disneyland. The elder speaking to us before the offering plate was passed around encouraged us to begin to think about the power of changing just one vowel in our self-talk, making the word “got” to “get.” In other words, I have “got” to be nice to strangers, even when they are rude, becomes I “get” to be nice to strangers because I understand how much God loves even me, a sinner. When I have been forgiven, how can I not also be forgiving? Why wouldn’t I want to grab hold of the opportunities afforded to every Christian to spread the grace that is the only gift we don’t do anything to deserve?

This shift from “got” to GET is profound. GET is something we want to do. GET is special. GET holds promise. GET is going to Disneyland!

In the last few weeks, I have been concentrating more and more on the spiritual practice and practices that bring us closer to God. We are only saved by the grace of God, not because of anything we do, but that in no way means that what Christians do or do not isn’t important. In fact, we can argue from the Bible that professing Christians are expected to bear fruit, to strive to be in the Spirit and not of the flesh. For those Christians who are not striving to do these things, GET is not likely to be in their vocabulary. But it can be with just the shifting of a single vowel.

Paul implores the Galatians, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (6:7-10).

In this season leading to the greatest holiday of all, Easter, the celebration that He lives, that Christ has risen, we GET to reap the benefits of His love. We GET to share that gift of grace with those who may never have heard about it before. We GET to sow the fruit of the Spirit, which is love, faithfulness, goodness, peace, joy, kindness, patience, meekness, self-control. We GET to be Christ to the world.

Change got to GET this week. The life you change may not just be your own.

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