Tag Archives: spiritual growth

Hope is an Anchor

Hebrews 6:18-20

…God did this so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast, and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.

 

In a study about heaven, I came across a new idea about the anchor. As you may know, the anchor is a powerful symbol for me. I put the picture I took of a side anchor of a bridge driven deeply into the side of a mountain on the cover of my devotional book – “People of Faith in a Changing World.”

Anchors are about hope. Not the kind of hope that says “I hope I don’t fall,” or “I hope it doesn’t (or does) rain tomorrow,” or “I hope I didn’t hurt you.” It’s the pinning or driving our confidence into a framework of the magnitude of a huge mountain.

The hope is heaven (verse 14) and the sum of all the good that God has sworn to be for us in Jesus. “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul” can be restated as “What anchors our soul is not our subjective confidence, but the sure objective reality that God has promised. This is our anchor…” The anchor is sure and steadfast. It is the finished and purchased work of Jesus, our high priest.

Okay, we are convinced that God through Jesus Christ as our anchor.

But what if that anchor is firmly secured to heaven and Christ but the other end is not firmly attached? What if I have let go? Or if I have never really grasped the end dangling down from heaven?  What if it is no longer hooked into the matching notch in my soul?

The anchor is not secure until it is fastened at both ends. It would be like laying a heavy-duty anchor on the deck of a ship and not attaching the chain to the ship. The possibility of it helping can be reassuring that it is available. But when crises is upon the ship, there may not be time to stop and connect the anchor before the crew needs to throw it overboard. And someone aboard needs to knows the proper way to connect the anchor to the ship.

Our “expert at hooking up the anchor” is Christ. He points the way. He provides the means – we call it salvation. Then he gives us ‘the enabling power to hold fast.’

So we lay hold of the hope and live our lives hooked into heaven.

I got a picture of millions of chains or ropes dangling down from heaven. Ready. Waiting. Inviting.  Waiting for us to lay hold of the rope of hope. Let us lay hold and remain as steadfast on our end as it is on God’s end.

And so we pray:  Our God, give us the courage lay hold of your hope and steadfastly attach our souls to your promise and presence. Help us live out that hope in the presence of all around us. Help us understand we don’t have to follow everyone else’s ideas swirling around us when they push and demand that we need to replace that hope with something we can touch and hold and prove. Remain steadfast In our lives and help us remain steadfast in our hope.

Inspired by and quotes from a sermon by John Piper called Hope Anchored in Heaven (Web Site: Searching for Christ)

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Lament

As I am writing a 365 day devotional book, I come across some things that signaled a change in my way of thinking. At a time I was angry with God, I discovered I could yell at God and he would not throw me out. That was very freeing. The other thing I discovered at the same time was I could be angry at God, but at the same time realize he is my only place to go for a help. It was odd, but was wonderful. This is from several years back….but I hope it blesses you. Jo Bower

A Lament
Following Jeremiah’s Tradition

Psalm 73:21-26
At one time my heart was sad
and my spirit was bitter.
22 I didn’t have any sense. I didn’t know anything.
I acted like a wild animal toward you.
23 But I am always with you.
You hold me by my right hand.
24 You give me wise advice to guide me.
And when I die, you will take me away
into the glory of heaven.
25 I don’t have anyone in heaven but you.
I don’t want anything on earth besides you.
26 My body and my heart may grow weak.
God, you give strength to my heart.
You are everything I will ever need.

 

I cry to my Lord:  You have shown me your hand. But not the fingers of your blessed caress. I feel the backside of your hand. And it knocked me down.  The opportunity you led me to believe you sent which caused great joy in myself – and all I know as we praised your name – has collapsed.  And you let it collapse.

Through all my prayers and hope and gratitude 0f how far you’d brought me, you still let it collapse.  So be it. But it’s not just all right. I’m not skipping over this with blithe remarks about God’s will be done or it’s fine. You did it And I’m deeply angry with you. What would it have hurt? Just what did I do so wrong?  Yet, hope sneaks back almost undetectable. Then it rushes to the surface. And I resist it. Hope has just led to heartbreak.

Yet I can’t help it.  It has far more resiliency than ever imagined. Why can’t it stay until I’m ready to embrace it?  I’m not yet deserted. God, you are still with me.  It is from that indisputable fact that my hope finds its origin.
Still I hesitate. Questions remain. Was it an exercise of futility fed by my need to be someone? Did I run ahead of you? Am I to pursue the dream, and so, in what direction?

Obviously positive thinking and belief alone does not always bring reality to its knees. It has brought me to mine. So much for motivational speakers.  I can’t help but feel the dream is not dead, Perhaps just postponed. But before I take it up again,  you will have to bring me to full knowledge of your hope.

But strangely, I believe all these things. I’m just fearful of letting go again. Fearful of letting hope poke its head from under the covers I tossed over it.

God, on a positive note, I have been released from a total obsession that had begun to rule my life. I’m not sure what the obsession was, 0r if it was helpful or harmful. But something was pressing down on me.  Was it that I was being driven to work on one activity to the exclusion of joy coming from other activities? Was it the fear of failure, of acceptance and criticism, or the fear of success?  Whatever it was, I thank you for deliverance.

I was down so far only you could rescue me.  Don’t let me fall back into that pit.  Help me pick up, follow the opportunities you do send . . . and know what direction you direct now. Thank you for not leaving me in my time of anger.

I will again praise your name, in a different way than before, but I will praise you.  You enabled my survival.

Post-Resurrection People

In the days following your resurrection you appeared to many different people:

You appeared to Mary Magdalen, The woman of many sins: a forgiven sinner.

You appeared to Peter, The very man who, under pressure, denied he knew you.

You appeared to  the travelers on the road to Emmaus,

Discouraged, sad of heart, defeated of spirit.

You appeared to the disciples in the upper room,

Hiding, frightened because they thought you, their leader was dead.

And even Thomas.

You appeared to him. He who needed proof to believe,

Who wanted to believe, yet was hesitant.

 

One of my novels is a novel inside of a novel. The main character was reading a novel. Both were important to the story line. I tried writing both at the same time, and realized it was impossible, so I wrote the two novels separately, using two different styles and two different voices.  When I spoke of the first novel I spoke as me, and when I talked about the novel inside the first novel, I spoke as the character of the first novel to whom I attributed that novel. My husband would tell me I sounded multi-personality-like.  Even now I sound like two different people.

Indeed, I sometimes think, half-seriously, that there are two people in me. One is the person who loves people and enjoys being with people. The other is the hermit – the melancholy creative person who wants nothing but to be left alone. While not a clinical multiple personality problem, I suspect all of us have distinct sides to our personality.

In fact, as I look at the list of people you appeared to after your resurrection I realized I have resembled many of them at one time or another.

I am a forgiven sinner. Yet a times in my life I struggle with temptation.

I know who I belong to, but at times, by my actions, I betray or even deny my faith under pressure.

I’m often ashamed about how easily I am discouraged, how often I am sad, defeated in spirit. In all the confirmation you send my way in life, one rejection one negative comment sends me down the path of discouragement.

Then there are times I withdraw from the community, frightened I am not equal to the task before me. Doubting I am the person for the job. And I need proof you are with me.

As with all the people you appeared to after your resurrection you come to me in spirit. You forgive, reassure, send people into my life to keep me on track, and by your presence let me know you will always provide the strength needed to live victoriously.

As a post-resurrection person, I learn you are constant in your relationship with me, no matter which of these people I resemble today.

And so I pray:

God, Help me embrace my faith in the power of your resurrection so I become fearful, worried, unsure of myself in my walk with you. Thank you for your constant presence and encouragement. Help me continue growing beyond the pulls of all the  influences around me.

 

 

 

 

Seeking and Accepting

Acts 17:26-28 NIRV

                    From one man he made all the people of the world. Now they live all over the earth. He decided exactly when they should live. And he decided exactly where they should live. God did this so that people would seek him. Then perhaps they would reach out for him and find him. They would find him even though he is not far from any of us.  ‘In him we live and move and exist.’ As some of your own poets have also said, ‘We are his children.’

 

  • So again I prayed, desperately seeking God’s presence. And in today’s language that is the accepted language and thought pattern. It implies digging through, creating a path, tossing out distractions, and extreme, concentrated effort. So, I approach God that way – as if it is a painful, birth process.

In Acts 17, Paul lists what all God does just to get us to seek him. Somewhere in my reading I came across this idea:

                        Maybe seeking is not just my responsibility alone

                        What if I have taken on a responsibility

                        That is not totally mine to work out?

                        What if seeking is not such hard work?

                        What if seeking God is as easy as turning my face (attention) towards him?

And perhaps the desperate seeking could end when I realize God is seeking me with the same concern I am seeking him. Perhaps I don’t need to seek out the perfect meeting place, find the perfect attitude or create the perfect atmosphere.

Perhaps grace is not so much sought as much as it is applied.

                        Perhaps it’s not so much about desperately searching for God’s will

                        As it is learning to understand our gifts,

                        See the opening doors, and recognize opportunities presented

                        As invitations to fulfill God’s will.

                        Perhaps living a Christian life is about accepting Christ first,

                        Then spending our lives learning to see God at work.

                        Perhaps I do not grow because I do not see where God’s work needs my gifts.

So today I stopped working at seeking and turned my face towards God. And found God looking me straight in the eyes.

“Ah.” He gestured toward the waiting table laden with bread and drink.

“You’re here. Have a seat.

“What’s on your mind?

“Would you like a drink of living water?”

It’s Over

1 Kings 19:4-8 (NIV)

4 while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said.
“Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” 5 Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep.
All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” 6 He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.
7 The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” 8 So he got up and ate and drank.
Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God.

So the Great Elijah had this wonderful experience
With the burning altar when God sent the Fire down and burned everything
Including the Water he soaked the wood with to prove the power of God.
However, in proving God’s power, he made powerful enemies.
And he panicked and ran.
He ended up safe and provided for by angels,
But his spirit was broken.

“The glory days are over,” he says to himself.
“Here I am of use to no one.
I don’t have anyone to serve.
I am of no better than my ancestors who couldn’t remain faithful
To God for more than one generation at a time
Before falling back into sin.
So, God, just take me home.”

No one has to live very long,
No one who has a servant’s heart,
No performer or artist who has ever had a perfect performance or result,
No pastor who knows it is time to turn the congregation over to the next person God has prepared,
Who comes to a low point following the great times of the mountain-top experience,
Can deny they know exactly what Elijah felt in that cave.

“Things will never the same,”
Something deep inside insists,
“Or ever as good the emotional seat taunts.”
We don’t leave God, but we hide out.
In fact we often find God is supplying our needs during the process.
But we are scared the opportunity for service is gone.
The special lift, or heightened communication with God or community
Will never be experienced again.

“This is as good as it will ever get. It’s over. I’ve reached the peak of life.
God, just take me home now, or I am afraid I cannot ever serve you like that again.
And I will fail you, me, and the people I am supposed to be serving.”
This is not just a pity party.
This is the loss of confidence in our ability to reproduce this kind of experience ever again,
“I cannot conceive of things ever going anywhere but down from here time.
Life will never be this good again. And I have many years yet to live.”

And most of it really is true. Life will never be the same
After one of those periods of life… after a truly spectacularly mountain-top time of service,
Service may never again be so meaningful for quite some time.
Relationships may not be as rich.
But……
God nurtures us while we flounder in uncertainty of what comes next.
And before we know something sparks that servant’ s heart.

We find a kind of perverse joy in the mundane…..
As a musician knows the joy of just practicing returns,
We experience life in normal valley as good.
Perhaps the fire on the mountain experiences will never again be part of daily life.
But it is not over.
God is, as he always was, still there – working, prompting, going before us, clearing the way
For the different, new – if not spectacular – thing he is guiding us to.

Quietly we follow.
Gently God leads.
We expect little.
God presence is often just enough.
And step by step we travel through the tunnel of transitions,
And unexpectedly emerge onto a whole new mountain place of life
Made possible by the journey that began when we thought nothing would ever be the same.

Give Us This Day

Matthew 6:11

Give us this day our daily bread,

 

For years I have prayed for people by making lists of the things I thought they needed.

And when I finished the list, I didn’t know how to continue praying for them. The other day I came across a new idea from the scripture as this verse from the Lord’s Prayer jumped out at me.

I suddenly realized I’ve wandered from the idea of God giving us what we need. I find this idea fascinating and have written about it before. But I have not applied the idea to prayer.

I imagined someone for whom I pray regularly. I could not know everything they might do in one day. I could not come up with a list of things I thought they might need for the day. This scripture suggested I pray that God would fill in the needs.

So, I began to pray for their health and needs and moved to asking God to give them whatever they needed for that day.

I was reminded that we don’t need the same things every day. One day I need courage and the next I need hope. Unless I call and request you to pray for certain things, you don’t really know what I need, but God does. And when I pray ‘God, give them everything they need for today,’ he goes into action.

That is so simple, yet so deep. Everything you need. I really like it. It comforts me and helps my worry that I am not praying for the right things for you, yet I am praying more specific than ‘help her/him/them.’

Give them everything they need for today. And tomorrow I pray for that day.

And when we need wisdom in making decisions that will affect the future, God sends the kind of help we need to make the best decision today.

Tomorrow we will pray for what we need and God sends what we need to follow through .

I CONFESS I LOVE MY LIFE

When you’ve been doing the same thing for a while
Restlessness sometimes sets in.
Needing refreshment, you look around at other people’s lives,
And wonder if you need to do something new or different.

In such a state, I went visiting – spent some time in other people’s homes.
And, you know, my life doesn’t seem so dull.
I asked myself how I could handle some of the things they face.
And God let me know what I lacked, and what I had.

I’ll take my stresses,
The ongoing problems, my financial status,
The home I live in,
Even the stain in the bathtub I can’t seem to get rid of.

So, I choose the life God has given me.
I choose my journey with the failures and successes.
I embrace my lack of certain abilities and the talents I have been allowed;
Thankful for the spouse God has given me, and the people in my life.

So, with a deep breath, expectation and dread, hope and worry,
I turn toward the new year.
With another breath, I accept what is, with my failures and successes,
And not yearn for what I do not – or ever will not – have or achieve.

Okay, let’s get on with it.
God has given me things to do, a person to be.
I confess, I do love my life,
And with that confession, I give it all back to God.

Personal Babylon

Personal Babylon
SCRIPTURE: JEREMIAH 29:1, 4-7
INSPIRATION: DEVOTIONAL DISCIPLES 08 07 2013
SUBJECT: GROW WHERE YOU ARE PLANTED
DATE: 08 09 2013
________________________________________________________________________
I’ve always thought I could be happy anywhere
If my reason for being there was good enough and I had
My piano, a place to minister, a computer with internet,
And, oh yes, my husband.
But it’s really not that simple.

There are times when life-needs cause the family clustered places to make a difference.
There are places where the culture encourages and provides venues for the gifts I have.
There are places where certain institutions are located and provide career satisfaction.
There are times God physically and sometimes, by circumstances, emotionally
Sends us to none of these places.

We feel like we’ve been exiled to our own personal Babylon,
Where we are different from everyone around us.
We are tempted to go into what I privately have called a ‘missionary mode:’
We don’t expect not to be in control, nor have close friends,
We expect things will always be different. Normal will never return.

But that’s not how Jeremiah the Prophet explains God’s message to Babylon’s exiles.
Like us, the Judeans wanted things to work like they always had.
But the old answers didn’t work anymore.
They were no longer in control of their way of living.
Something had happened and life would never be the same.

God’s message was, and is to me, to accept reality.
Meet life as it is now head-on with His help, and find new answers.
Work for the betterment of the community of people we find ourselves in.
Or allow God to use the set of circumstances we find ourselves in
To bring us to a new spiritual place and new place of service.

God will give us courage,
And insight,
Acceptance by people around us,
And the ability to adapt, accept the situation, people – our perceived Babylon.
And life can again become fulfilled, fruitful, hopeful and blessed.

Jeremiah 29: 1, 4-7 Holy Bible, New Living Translation copyright 1996, 2004

Jeremiah wrote a letter from Jerusalem to the elders, priests, prophets, and all the people who had been exiled to Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar. 4. This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel says to all the captives he has exiled to Babylon from Jerusalem: “Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce. Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away! And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.”

Respect: One Simple Thing

Scripture speaks of a party spirit, (Galatians 5:20 Amplified Bible)
But it’s not the University par-ty! par-ty! Spirit.
It’s using ideology, religious bent, difference in life style
As the excuse to angrily part ways – break fellowship
Lose respect.

Humans draw lines.
Kids wearing school uniforms may have stopped violence over clothes envy,
But I witnessed kids drawing lines characterized by
How many and the message of the arm bracelets they wore – bling.
Some societies still use ‘good families’ – we use money, position, and religion as our chalk.

We could stop there, acknowledging wealth, position, heritage and religion separate us.
But instead of stepping over the line, we use it to enable and feed our scorn and disrespect.
We personify the Biblical Party Spirit: derision becomes a journalistic tool,
We pit generations and geographical areas against each other, calling it demographics,
We attack opponents’ worth, and disrespect is a political weapon or even justifies homicide.

Why do humans draw lines?
What drives us to scorn people who bring change we fear?
Why do we generate hate over differences?
And if we say we draw lines because of some need for safety,
It is not a product or measure of the distance between us and God?

I don’t think it’s God’s fault or a defect of our design.
I’m afraid it’s when I am the only controlling interest in my life,
When all I care about is me and mine,
And all my life is centered around getting ‘us’ what we want,
Respect – the simple idea that everyone’s value is equal – is lost.

There’s a math set theory concept that puts a different spin on equality.
Two sets that contain the same number of items
Are considered equivalent – not equal in the sense of being the very same,
But of the same value.

I like this idea applied to people.
It allows for all the differences in us.
The things we value, how we are hard-wired,
Creative, spiritual, logical, color of skin,
Scientific, romantic, military bent, primarily heart belief,
Or thinking, scholarly belief, no belief, and everything between –

God equipped us, giving us the same rights and position in His consideration.
But we are not the same –
We are wildly different in ability, station in life, influence, and activity.
We must quit trying to make us be the same – valuing each other by achievements,
And begin thinking about our shared value instead of drawing ‘us and them’ lines.

I’m learning a new kind of respect.
Built on equivalence, not strict equality as we think of it.
That leaves me the right to choose my way,
Without resorting to the parting of ways with ideologies,
Without having to question my respect for people who are so different from me.

It’s such a tiny thing – respect.
Both giving and receiving respect changes us all.
So, is it really that easy? Or even that simple?
Even admitting there are people who will never understand the concept of respect,
Would our world be so different if we lived in respect of each other?

If so, how do I get the desire to respect?
And how do I overcome the desire to drawn lines?
Ho do I learn to value others as I do ‘me and mine?’
How can respect be my first reaction?
Instead of fear, suspicion, scorn or hate?

I long to make the answer easy – God.
If that’s so, why are there so many inward sighted, bitter, arrogant Christians?
Maybe it’s so hard because respect has to come from our core.
We can’t fake it – or we’re merely being civil.
And people know the difference.

So, first it has to be genuine – there can be no point of contact without it.
That means God has to change me inside so my core generates genuine respect.
But first I must want to change, I must ask God to change me, and then live accordingly.
Our society understand some things as reflected in the random acts of kindness movement,
Respect acts that way, rippling out from me. But first God must change me.

Galatians 5: 19-20 Amplified Bible (Read Galatians 5: 16 to 20 for context.)

Now, the doings (practices) of the flesh are clear (obvious); they are immorality, impurity … Idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, (ill temper), selfishness, divisions, (dissensions), party spirit (factions)

God’s All

I’m frustrated
When I try to get beyond the ‘we’re all the same in God’s sight” cop out,
And the word-service given to the philosophical acknowledgement of
Galatians chapter three verse twenty-seven’s resounding ALL.

I’m afraid we still think in terms of God approving and disapproving of everything,
And we assume we need to think in those terms.
But are we sure we have to hold opinions on everything,
And approve or disapprove of every thought, person and belief?

God’s ALL is not about approval and disapproval,
It’s about the worth of people.
And when we (Humans, not God) want to make ourselves look better,
We first make our detractors look unworthy.

People have been degrading others since the first person accepted slavery as an institution,
Since politics became a profession, since success or society’s approval, or wealth
Became the measurement of a person’s worth.
And it has seeped into the church and Christian’s attitudes between denominations and believers.

Competition seeps in and we resort to proving ourselves worthy and the ‘other’ not.
We tear down effectiveness; analyze to death with emphasis on the negative;
And apply what is no longer acceptable in today’s society to yesterday’s actions.
We try to prove worthy or unworthiness through approval or disapproval.

But God’s ALL is not about approval.
ALL who believe are worthy;
ALL have the same value.
All can become believers and be redeemed.

And as such, ALL enjoy God’s love.
With our actions we judge who God will find acceptable.
We make lists of what we agree and disagree with, approve and disapprove of
And forget God’s disapproval does not negate worthiness; it reflects our actions.

But when it comes down to politics – church or otherwise – ,
Denominational or personal survival, or establishing reputations in life or business,
God’s love goes out the window; we draw lines
And we fall back into the trap of approving/disapproving and attacking worthiness.

God, help us let You redeem our scornful natures.
Help us find the place to stand when we have disagreements of belief and ideas
Without degrading our opposition,
Without assuming our disapproval cancels Your (God’s) ALL.

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. Galatians 3:26-27

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