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When Not Enough is More Than Enough

There is much for me to love about the holiday season.  I’m fortunate to have family I love, no one has died recently or around the holidays, and each year I gain new understanding about Christ’s birth and how it impacts my life today.

There is also much reason to really struggle with this season.   It’s the season of abundance and there never seems to be enough money for big expensive presents.    There is not enough money to spend on special food…not enough time to cook it all.    It’s a season of excess and it all seems like gluttony to me.

                    noun    habitual greed or excess in eating.

I can’t keep up.   I can’t compete.    I cannot represent my full love with a budget that barely dents towards a requested luxury item.   It’s not enough.

But God says His grace IS enough.   Will I go into Christmas Day filling inadequate and unnecessary?    No.   I am a child of God and I will love as best I can, and greet others with a warm welcome and genuine fellowship.  I will do what I can.

John Wesley says it best:   “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”   Just do your best.    Don’t stress.  Don’t overdo.

And be grateful for those who share their fellowship with you as well.  This year I was blessed at a wonderful staff luncheon.  The food and fellowship was plentiful.   We were all gifted with a book that will guide us into the new year and maybe our entire direction in life.   It’s Divine Directions, by Craig Groschel.

Master the decisions that will make your life everything God wants it to be.  Every day we make choices.  And those choices accumulate and eventually become our life story.

Even Teddy Roosevelt said it well   “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

It’s a busy time of year.  I’m working full time, commuting in Atlanta so lots of time in the car.  I am recovering from dental surgery (expenses, and healing).   And yet I will share with thought, word and deed my love, admiration and appreciation to my family and loved ones as best I can.  I will do what I can to make a welcome home with tasty food and good fellowship for anyone who wants to share.   I will enjoy quiet down time with peacefulness and not feel guilty as I reflect and appreciate God’s abundant grace this past year.

And I will take hold of God’s reminder that “…..“My grace is sufficient for you, for power[a] is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.”      2 Corinthians 12:9 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Amen.  Thank you Lord Jesus.

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Comfort and Joy and hope that does not disappoint

Yesterday I had almost become consumed with grief. I have been praying for several friends and it felt like sadness and gloom was abounding. I went to Chapel and I talked with God begging for mercy. We sang songs of rejoicing and Immanuel, but the sadness still filled in the air.

The meditation was about a phrase we have come to use often, even without fully understanding the implications of saying “It is what it is.” I had viewed that statement as facing the truth, or accepting reality. Sometimes it is necessary to face the issue for what it IS. The problem is that what it is does not mean the end. It is not final. Even death. IT does not have the last word.

Yesterday in my heart I was preparing for more news that the cancer had spread for a dear, sweet child who just wants to live and be happy. Why, Lord? It’s too much. It’s not fair. Also, a spiritual mentor friend announced a sudden move that surely means an unplanned job change, and stress and strain for him and his young adult children as they continue to adjust to life after the death of their wife/mother from cancer. Where is the mercy?

Yes, you are here with us Lord, but we are sad and troubled. But that is only part of the story. There is more to the story, thanks be to God.

This is the season of tidings of comfort and joy because our HOPE comes from a baby, our King and Savior who came to earth to show us everlasting love and forgiveness. And He will come again.

This scripture keeps coming before me again and again. I guess because I seem to forget it and need to be reminded. This morning I discovered Romans 5:3 is the Verse of the Day in my Bible App.

Romans 5:3-5 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

Hope does not disappoint. It is NOT what it is. Or even if it is, it is not the end of the story.

There is good news. The cancer has NOT spread right now, and there are great plans underway for more living and more happy times. There are days to look forward to. For my mentor friend, there are opportunities for new ministry and reaching people who are eager to hear God’s Word and witness a life of humor, passion and faith lived out by one who continues to persevere despite facing dark times.   His ministry continues to reach people and make an impact, and the legacy of Heather Hagler is that God IS glorified and her joy as a follower of Christ continues to spread and grow.

There is a woman hoping for her body to be healed, accepting that drastic surgery may indeed be required. She is tired of pain and discomfort. She is weary in the waiting, so ready for life to be restored. Hope does not disappoint. God WILL heal. Today is a day for living in that hopefulness as best we can. Today is a day to testify. Hope does NOT disappoint.

Worship & Prayer

So earlier this year I discovered (finally) that God is working on me to tear down walls that keep me from fully encountering His presence.    It’s not a good feeling to be open and vulnerable, so I developed some pretty strong layers to keep my emotions at bay during worship.  I wanted to grow in head knowledge, but leave my heart alone.  It’s complicated.

Thus when I get touched during worship, quiet streams of tears roll down my face and I have tried to what my dad used to say “dry it up!”   It’s kind of embarrassing.   Like crying at a McDonald’s commercial……Get a grip!

But tears are one way God has been trying to open me up and embrace the feelings of releasing stress and handing over my burdens.    Once I accept the emotions, then I can begin to FEEL what my brain knows about a loving, caring, God of grace.  And I can worship God with freedom and a desire to let Him see my gratefulness and awe for Him.  It’s a beautiful thing that I still haven’t fully grasped….but I’m getting there.

Then there is growth in prayer.    Lord, have mercy.   The freedom to rant and ramble and praise and beg to a merciful God is an overwhelming experience of merging the mind and the soul in a glorified voice.   I know this and felt this all at once with my brothers and sisters in Christ at a healing service.

There is power in prayer.  There is a celebration with fireworks when God’s people call upon Him to heal, restore and give hope.   There is comfort even in the middle of God’s mysterious ways in knowing that all things work for good for those who are called according to His purpose.  There is hope.   And hope does not disappoint because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the power of the Holy Spirit.

In the healing service I attended there was music….like a free form hymn-sing led by a pastor who belted out praise songs and lifted us all up to offer thanksgiving and honor to God.   There was piano music that set an environment of hearing and feeling the power and presence of Jesus himself.   There was the word of God presented with new light that brings new meaning to words heard many times before.    There was communion offered for each and every soul to know that God sacrificed His son for each one of us.   There was forgiveness, remembrance, and renewal.    There was and is power in the blood.

There was anointing with oil, the laying on of hands, and a community lifting up both simple and heavy burdens, speaking words of peace, acceptance, forgiveness, love and hope.   There was physical transformation as the prayers were lifted up with no boundaries of time or place or judgement or doubts.

We worship a mighty God who delights in our offering of time, and respect and honor and trust.    If you have barriers keeping you from encountering God with all that you have, pray that God will continue His work in you.   He never gives up.   He never lets go.

All honor, glory and praise be to God our Father in heaven.   Amen

 

 

 

Words are important

God is alive and shining on us.  He wants a relationship with us and for us to be all that we can be.   Many days I am so wrapped up in my “agenda” and worries that I cannot hear and do not listen for God’s direction.

Yesterday was not one of those days.   Or even in my own neglect, God was loud and clear.   On the way into work I listened to “On Being” with Krista Tippett on NPR.  The topic was the writings and work of Abraham Heschel, a 20th century Jewish Rabbi and social change agent.   I heard many wonderful insights and quotes, but I was struck by his teaching about how words are important.   God spoke, and the world was created.   Later that day, my coworker, who had also heard the show, asked me if I knew of Heschel’s work.   She is inspired by his book called “The Sabbath.”   Later that morning my friend Jedi Pastor Ken posted a graphic that included a quote by Heschel:  “God is of no importance unless He is of supreme importance.”  Simple, yet profound.

Then I was able to listen to the sermon by Rev. Jody Ray, in the middle of the series called “Love is a Verb”.   The point of this sermon is that words matter.   They can create life, or death.

I heard the message loud and clear.   I like to think that I can speak words that inspire.   Sometimes I do.   But I know that I have also spoken words that offend, cut down and convey a message of doubt and  inferiority.   Mostly I feel the need to warn or make suggestions to my children.  “Behave.   Be careful.   Don’t stay out too late.   Get some good rest.”    One of my children has resorted to just responding with the opposite.  “No, I plan to be wreckless, mom.”   Is there a better way to say, “I love you.   Make good choices.   I’m praying that nothing bad happens?”     Maybe just like that.   The worrier mom is afraid that something bad will happen, and I will probably attribute it to them not making good choices.   But I see where that projects “I don’t trust you” or “I think you might make a stupid mistake.”

Another way I use my words is to leave room for negativity.   When someone asks “How are you?”, I respond with “I THINK I’m okay.”   I have to leave room in case I change my mind or if I suddenly don’t feel like things are okay.   So who am I doubting now?

Sometimes things are not shiny, happy.    Sometimes bad things happen.   But my faith tells me that God is with me and that no matter what happens, He will carry us through.   And if it is my time to leave this earth, I trust God will still lead me.

May the words of my mouth convey HOPE and TRUST.    May my words bring LIGHT and LIFE.   May people hear the LOVE of Christ in thoughts, words, and deeds.

 

 

 

Progressing

I am trying to progress in my spiritual walk.   Well I would LIKE to, but I’m not devoted to do the work.  Well, I think I am devoted, I’m just very slow in processing God’s Word and internalizing His message for me.  And yes, sometimes I am just plain oblivious to hearing His word.

For many years now I have been getting irritated with myself for attending worship or chapel services and I although I try to sing with my full voice, I end up getting emotional and the tears start to roll, and if I try to ignore it I’ll just end up coughing and stumbling over words and I just stand there in a blubbery mess of emotion.   Am I an overly hormonal old lady?    Why can’t I control my emotions?    I do think singing praise to our father is worth feeling emotion, but it’s like something is trying to tip me over and I don’t like that feeling.

Yesterday, it was finally pointed out to me.   It’s God, trying to tip me over, empty me of myself, so I can fully embrace His presence.  Yesterday morning I was reading a devotional in my Bible App.   Here is what it said:

IN ORDER TO HEAR MY VOICE, you must release all your worries into My care. Entrust to Me everything that concerns you. This clears the way for you to seek My Face unhindered. Let Me free you from fear that is hiding deep inside you. Sit quietly in My Presence, allowing My Light to soak into you and drive out any darkness lodged within you.    From Thomas Nelson’s Jesus Calling® 10th Anniversary Expanded Edition [2014] [Sarah Young]

Hello?   My emotionalism is God helping me to release all my worries.    I hold in my stress.  Ask my blood pressure!   I feel like “life is hard, put on your big girl panties and deal with it!”    And I don’t know how to just lay down my burdens.  And who am I to just dump my stress on Jesus like He hasn’t got enough to deal with.    How rude.     How wrong of me.    If I truly understand how God planned for ME, and all of us to live and grow and prosper, I realize I MUST lay down my stress, my fear, my need to control and let God envelop me in his love, grace and acceptance and if I truly do that, then I really will cry at the release of it all.

So now I know WHY I cry at worship (even though Jen Carozza’s voice and John Carozza’s music can easily bring me to tears!).    And then Pastor McMichael’s message brought it all together.

The message featured the wisemen visiting baby Jesus (Christmas in June? Why YES, thank you!) Transformative worship requires

+ a desire to come meet Jesus
+ bringing your BEST as if you are working not for man but for the Lord
+not returning the same way as you have been changed by the power and presence of Christ working in you!

I can’t wait for my next opportunity to worship God.   I’m gonna sing and cry, and try to sing some more.    I’m gonna present my burdens to God and let HIM work in me so that HE will shine in and through me and I will not leave the same because I will be transformed.   Thanks be to God!   To God be the glory!

Hope does not disappoint

Do you find yourself wondering why God doesn’t speak more directly, only to discover that he is putting a message in your face, on your forehead, and right in front of you if you will only pay attention?

And so often you find that He works in and through the people around you.   What a blessing.   Recently I have had a wise mom and friend help me to rethink things.  She chooses not to “prepare for the worst”.

‘The way I look at things – if you focus on the worst case scenario and it happens, you’ve lived it twice.’  – Michael J. Fox

I’ve been doing it wrong.   I thought I was preparing myself.   But for what?   If you plan and prepare for the worst you are headed in the wrong direction.  Don’t waste your time.

“Life is too short and God is too real to let it go to waste,”  says my dear friend.

I had a big discussion with my 17 year-old son about LaVar Ball (Dad to a top NBA recruit and more sons in line). He has bragged that his son is already better than Steph Curry – among many other bold statements. I argued that he is putting pressure on his kids and setting the kids up for disappointment. My son argues that he is laying out hopes and expectations and is directing his children towards the best – reach for the stars.

“We acknowledge the darkness, but choose to stand in the light,” she says.

This reminds me of a wall hanging my mom made.    When I was in middle school we took a family trip to the mountains for North Carolina.   My mother found a “new kind of sewing” craft kit that had a beautiful saying, along with a border to be made of hand sewn butterflies.    It was a very aggressive project for someone new to this technique, but she was enamored and totally dedicated to completing the project.   The beautiful cross-stitch wall hanging says this:

“We are an Easter people and ‘Alleluia’ is our song!” -St. Augustine of Hippo

Easter is coming! May we all enjoy each and every day – looking forward with HOPE!

“…and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.    Romans 5:5 NASB

 

Don’t overthink – just be thankful and persevere

God has been speaking loudly lately. Pastor Carey spoke about it at Staff Chapel this week. God is speaking, telling us to listen. We need to listen. And I would add, we need to respond to what God is telling us.

The week earlier Pastor Jody talked to us, with visual props, about getting trapped – encountering a stumbling block because we take offense at something, like the Disciples did in Matthew 13:57. I can still hear the sound that came when Pastor Jody pulled the mouse trap he was holding. We allow how we FEEL to take over our thoughts, words and deeds and we could find ourselves stuck like in a trap. At the Children’s Pastors’ Conference (CPC) I attended, preacher Bryan Loritts reminded us to “Always let what you know trump how you feel. Truth is more important than feeling.”

I was going through my notes from CPC and there was a word I wanted to look up. I didn’t catch the origin, but Beth Guckenberger was talking about reconciliation. The word she used was Sulha (Sool-ha) and my notes said “hold against no more – no longer stuck by what was done against me.” I researched and went on a wild chase trying to find this word in a Greek or Hebrew Bible (thankful my boss is a theology scholar from Asbury) but we had no luck. Turns out the word is Arabic. This Arabic term, “sulha” comes from the Hebrew word for table, “shulchan”. A sulha, a meal covenant of reconciliation, is a Hebraic principle found throughout Scripture, though not specifically mentioned. This special meal becomes the means for reconciliation not just between people, but also between man and God.

Psalm 23 says….”You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” (NKJ)

Unless you understand the concept of reconciliation associated with a meal, this verse does not make much sense.

In Hebraic symbolism, God prepares a table before our enemies means that He is making the way possible for us to be “reconciled” to our enemies. That is why our cup overflows (the Hebraic symbol of joy), and surely goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our life as we dwell in the house of the Lord forever. It is our blessed assurance that God will take care of us and even our enemies, providing the way for reconciliation.

Where do we know an act of reconciliation around a table, sharing a meal? The Lord’s Supper is the ultimate sulha.

How beautiful to see Communion as an act of “no longer stuck by that which has separated me from God.” We are forgiven even for what we don’t deserve to be forgiven, and our identity is made anew in Christ.

Beth explained this so beautifully during the conference, but my notes did not transfer well. So it was like discovering it again when I did some research. A concept that I thought I understood, but explained in a new light and it brings more meaning, understanding and grace.

Then I went to my Financial Peace class and watched the video about debt. I was so enlightened that I vowed to watch the video again with my husband and adult son. Dave Ramsey physically illustrated the chains of debt that pervades our society and how it keeps us from obeying God and being able to fully live according to His will. It feels quite like a mousetrap, actually. At the end of the video, Ramsey tells us that we can get free from debt. But we have to run hard….with intensity of a gazelle. And God is waiting for us, because he loves us so and He is waiting for us. He is not mad at us. He loves us.

And if that is not enough, I just finished listening to a young adult book called “I was Here” by Gayle Forman. It is an intense story of a young woman dealing with the suicide of her best friend. The story winds through her grief and encountering hard emotions. One of the best quotes from the book is “Anything that kills hope is a sin.” That’s a good way of defining sin I think. Another point from the book is that we choose how we spend our time. We can choose to spend our time around negative things that kill hope. Or we can do positive things to move forward in a positive light. This is what God wants for us. To live in His light. Run for it….like a gazelle. Forgive others. Forgive yourself and pursue hope.

A facebook friend asked us to share favorite quotes about hope. I shared one of my favorites from Romans 5:3-5: …..”we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

Your servant is listening. Speak Lord to my soul.

Persevere – Moving Forward

per·se·vere

ˌpərsəˈvir/   verb

continue in a course of action even in the face of difficulty or with little or no prospect of success

persevere

I take from this definition that being a deer in headlights is not actually a “course of action.”   This is a condition I have mastered through many stages of life.  My excuses are 1) not knowing HOW to move forward, 2) fear of not moving in the right direction or 3) not wanting to experience any pain or discomfort.   And yet God is clearly pointing out to me that it is time to walk through the fire and move forward…..to persevere.    I could argue that I must have persevered because I’m still alive.   But have I grown?   Have I moved forward?   Have I relied on a God who promises to never leave me to help me through whatever lies ahead?    I guess not.   And I do know that God will be with me, that I should not fear, and that persevering means actually MOVING.

Lord, I believe.  Help me in my unbelief.  Let me begin with prayer.   Lord help me in my paralysis.  Guide me in the right direction.  Let me stay focused on you and your will.

This week my dear college friend and her strong boys lost their husband of 28 years/father. Julie mentored me in surviving college and in the South Carolina marching band (go clarinets!), in Tau Beta Sigma, in volunteering and majoring in Journalism and striving for excellence in all that you do. When many of us crumble in pain and loss, Julie finds ways to honor her loved ones and foster perseverance and HOPE in a God who cries with us and helps us through hard times.  In high school she lost a brother in a tragic accident.  These past 28 years she created a beautiful loving family.    She worked her way into a challenging job in the graphics department with the New York Times.  She developed her camera skills into a beautiful lifestyle photography side business that celebrates families and life and God’s creations.   And she has volunteered many hours with her church to celebrate ministry and serve others.   She inspires me so much.

Also, these past 2 years my dear pastor friend has bravely shared his journey as his wife was taken by cancer, leaving him a single parent of two teenagers.   It hasn’t been pretty at all.   Yet he has ministered to me and countless others with weekly breath prayers, meditation videos, and practical blog articles about life in the “valley of suck” that he finds himself in (http://jedipastorken.blogspot.com/).   He continues to persevere and God has been glorified brighter than ever.

As my husband and I look to make a plan for tackling some financial challenges and replacing our beloved HHR car that was given a death sentence, I know that we can make a plan for moving forward and find better days ahead.    As we continue to dream about downsizing, removing clutter, and living in a small (hopefully tiny) house, I know that if we are faithful in prayer and action, God will make a way when there seems like no way.

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. (James 1:12 NIV)

Your servant is listening.   Speak Lord to my soul.

My search for relevancy

 

I’m not quite an old church lady……but I”m working on it.    I have been with the church as a child, youth, young adult, married adult and mother.   I’ve seen different phases of worship, new ways of studying the Bible, times of looking inward, and times when social outreach programs became a central identity of the church.  At times I’ve gotten dizzy with the constant need for change in the church.  But it has allowed me to take joy and hold on to a God who is the same each day and yet continues to speak truth and wisdom and hope with each change in our world.    And truthfully, in this day and age, I cling to a mighty God for His direction and guidance more than ever.

 

As I look at my upcoming next phase as an empty-nesting- retirement-challenged-Jesus lover, I know I want to be a relevant contributor in a place that praises God in all circumstances, testifies about a gracious Savior that loves every soul, and helps people of all ages live out their calling as God’s child.   I realize my prayer means that I may have to become more aware of my surroundings, and change my thinking and my approach about reaching other people.   It may mean that I have to be flexible in ways that I have become comfortable in order to make a place for a new Christian to grow and flourish.  It may mean that I have to do things differently or step out of my comfort zone.  May I never get so rigid and set in my ways that I deter someone else from encountering God.

 

I am trusting in God to lead me.  I cling to the old rugged cross, but I take great joy in watching people learn of God’s Amazing Grace for a first or new time.
Your servant is listening, speak Lord to my soul.

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